This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from May 29, 2007.
BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Next on SPECIAL REPORT, Iran says it has charged three captured Americans with crimes. Washington calls the charges preposterous. The president announces n ew measures against Sudan for failing to stop the Darfur genocide.
The president also hits the road to argue that the immigration bill is to about enforcement, which he says comes first. Barack Obama announces his health plan. But Hillary Clinton grabs the spotlight too . We will explain. Plu s, where are all the deaf people in that California home for the hearing impaired? Wait until you hear this story. All of that right here, right now. Welcome to Washington. I'm Brit Hume. What a difference a day makes. Monday the U.S. and Iran held their highest level diplomatic talks in almost 30 years, but today Iran made a bold move to back up its contention that the United States is trying to destabilize its government from within. The Tehran regime announced espionage and related charges against three Americans who have been detained in that country. Correspondent James Rosen has that story.
JAMES ROSEN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Haleh Esfandiari, the Iranian-American scholar subjected to months of harassment and interrogation, incarcerated in Iran since early May, has now been formally charged, a regime spokesman said, with endangering national security through propaganda and espionage for the United States. Facing the same charges is Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban planning expert arrested almost three weeks ago while working as a consultant for the Open Society Institute, founded by billionaire George Soros.
THOMAS CASEY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: It's absurd to allege that they were American spies, American government employees, or that anything they have been doing in Iran is driven by American government concern.
ROSEN: Also in jeopardy is Parnaz Azima, a grandmother of two, who has worked for nearly a decade as a reporter for Radio Farda, the U.S. funded network that airs Persian language news broadcasts in Iran. Like Esfandiari, Azima was visiting her elderly mother when the Iranian authorities came calling. They suggested today that she too has been charged with espionage, but her Iranian lawyer, Mohamed Hussein al Hasi (ph), told Radio Farda that's not true: "The only thing Ms Azima has been accused of is anti-establishment propaganda," al Hasi said, "through cooperation with Radio Farda and making reports regarding Iranian issues on this radio network. We will for sure respond," he said, "to this charge in a court of law." Secretary of State Rice said the Bush administration does not see the cases of the Iranian Americans, each of whom enjoys dual citizenship, as related to Monday's high-level talks in Baghdad, in which U.S. and Iranian diplomats discussed security in Iraq. "I think it is really just a perversion of the rule of law," Rice told reporters aboard her plane on route to Berlin. "These are people who are there trying to make life better in Iran. In the case of a couple of them there, they were there visiting their families," Rice said. "These are not people who are engaged in espionage."
Azima's bail was set at the equivalent of $440,000, more than twice the amount set in the recent case of an Iranian nuclear official charged with violating national security. Azima, however, has not been jailed, just prevented from leaving the country. A radio executive in touch with her almost daily, said the Iranians, frustrated in trying to prove her a spy, try to turn her into one.
JEFF TRIMBLE, RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY: In other words, if they let her go out and leave Iran, she would be expected to make reports on her work for Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, or otherwise basically spy on us back to Iran. She refused to do so and immediately informed us.
ROSEN: The Open Society Institute says Kian Tajbakhsh's work in Iran focused on public health issues in the wake of a massive earthquake in the southeastern city of Bam three and a half years ago, a catastrophe that killed some 26,000 people, and led the Iranian government, Brit, to ask for the institute's help.
HUME: Oh boy. James, thank you. Russia tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile today. Russian news agencies quoted the deputy prime minister as saying the weapon can overcome any existing or future missile defense system. Russia has said it would improve its nuclear capabilities in response to U.S. plans to build a missile shield in eastern Europe. The State Department would not comment on the test. But a spokesman said the proposed defense system is limited and designed to protect Europe and Russia from a limited attack by a rogue nation such as Iran. The government militia in Darfur has been putting down ethnic African rebellion using murder, rape and mutilation since 2003. Today, President Bush promised the people of Darfur that the U.S. would, quote, not overt our eyes from a crisis that challenges the conscience of the world. Chief White House correspondent Jim Angle reports.
JIM ANGLE, FOX NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Bush turned up the heat today in an effort to stop the killing in the Darfur region of Sudan, where more than 200,000 people have been slaughtered over the past four years.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For too long the people of Darfur have suffered at the hands of a government that is complicit in the bombing, murder, and rape of innocent civilians. My administration has called these actions by their rightful name, genocide. ANGLE: The president announced sanctions on 30 companies owned or controlled by the government, including several that produce oil and one company that supplies arms to Sudan. BUSH: All these companies are now barred from the U.S. financial system. It is a crime for American companies and individuals to knowingly do business with them.
ANGLE: The United States is also imposing sanctions on some government ministers implicated in the attacks on civilians, along with one rebel leader.
BUSH: These sanctions will isolate these persons by cutting them off from the United States financial system, barring them from doing business with any American citizen or company. It will call the world's attention to their crimes.
ANGLE: The ethnic African population of Darfur has been brutally repressed by the Arab dominated government in the capital of Khartoum, sometimes by government troops, sometimes by a government supported militia called the Janjaweed. The U.S. has led the effort to rescue those in Darfur with two billion of aid over two years and by pushing for an expanded peace keeping force. But activists fear the latest actions are too little.
DAVID RUBENSTEIN, SAVE DARFUR COALITION: It's past time for this action. Unfortunately, we do not think it's going to be strong enough to work.
ANGLE: The chief goal is to get Sudan to allow the U.N. to reinforce an undermanned African Union peacekeeping force of 7,000 in an area bigger than Texas by sending in another 14,000 U.N. troops, a move Sudan has repeatedly resisted. Activists say one nation, China, could get Sudan to cooperate over night because it buys 70 percent of Sudan's oil, the chief source of wealth for the country and some of its leaders.
RUBENSTEIN: President Hu of China can call President al Bashir of Sudan and say, we think that the world would be better off, that we would be better off, that you would be better off when you permitted peace keepers to come into your country.
ANGLE: In addition, because the Sudanese government has bombed unarmed refugees, both the administration and activists support a ban on Sudanese military flights over Darfur, and even favor enforcing it with military action.
RUBENSTEIN: A no-fly zone could be supported by disabling planes after they've landed. Those planes could be taken out with missiles or other weaponry to destroy them on the ground.
ANGLE: Sanctions would be stronger if the European Union joined in and leaders there say they are open to the idea. Some Democratic presidential candidates welcomed the sanctions, but worried they won't be enough. If not, Senator Barack Obama called for unspecified action to compel Sudan's cooperation. And Senator Joe Biden said if necessary, the president should commit United States troops to stop the genocide. Brit?
HUME: Jim thank you. Jim is, by the way, our chief Washington correspondent, not our chief White House correspondent. More from him in a moment. After President Bush announced those new sanctions against Sudan, he went on the defensive on behalf of the embattled immigration bill being considered in the Senate. He started by putting himself in the place of an immigrant. Chief White House correspondent Bret Baier reports.
BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Touring a federal law enforcement training center in Georgia, President Bush pretended to be coming into the country in a mock passport control station. Later, there was no pretending as he told thousands of trainees in front of a Strengthening America's Borders banner that conservative critics are trying to scare the American public in order to scuttle immigration reform.
BUSH: If you want to kill the bill, if you do not want to do what is right for America, you could pick one little aspect out of it. You can use it to frighten people. Or you can show leadership and solve this problem once and for all, so the people who wear the uniform in this crowd can do the job we expect them to do.
BAIER: In the speech, the president repeatedly called on lawmakers to show courage and said the people who are most opposed to the bill have not read it. White House officials say the president will continue to highlight the border security measures in this bill to try to reassure wavering Republicans and will continue to tout this bill as the best chance to fix a broken system.
BUSH: My answer to the skeptics is to give us a chance to fix the problems in a comprehensive way that enforces our border and treats people with decency with and respect. Give us a chance to fix this problem. Do not try to kill this bill before it gets moving.
BAIER: The biggest Democratic supporter of the bill, Senator Ted Kennedy, put out a statement praising the president's remarks, saying if the issue is not addressed now, it will take years to solve, quote, "despite the clear urgency, there are forces at play that could hinder our efforts, bumper sticker slogans that aim to divide us further, strong feelings on the many sides of this issue, and a tendency to shelve these tough issues for another time."
Opponents of this bill are highly skeptical that the so called security triggers will actually work and secure the border before other parts of the bill, like the temporary guest worker program, kick in. They also worry that by providing even some legal status to the 12 million plus illegal immigrants already in the country, that raises questions about the rule of law and the continued burden on public schools, the health care system and the job market.
STEVEN CAMAROTA, CENTER FOR IMMIGRATION STUDIES: These are all legitimate concerns. Now, you can delegitimize them by saying, well, you're just trying to scare people, but I think a common sense approach to this issue would suggest that this bill is not helpful in dealing with so many of the public's concerns.
BAIER: For now, a fragile coalition of bipartisan senators supporting this bill is holding. But both sides insist more changes are needed. Conservatives want more work-site enforcement. Liberals want more leeway on family reunification. Now the bill definitely has a better chance of passing the Senate than it does in the House, where reelection races loom next year. Both Democrats and Republicans report being bombarded by angry constituent complaints. Brit?
HUME: Bret, thank you. Later on SPECIAL REPORT, Oregon lawmakers debate how to apply the state's medical marijuana laws to the workplace. First though, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton try to one up each other with dueling policy speeches and a brand new poll is out. Those reports coming up next.
HUME: Democratic presidential front runners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are both vying for the attention of those early primary and caucus voters. And they both chose today to lay out major initiatives for righting the country's perceived wrongs. Chief political correspondent Carl Cameron has that story.
CARL CAMERON, FOX NEWS CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dueling policy speeches from the leading Democratic presidential candidate the day after Memorial Day. In the lead off primary state of New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton proclaimed herself a thoroughly modern progressive, then laid out a populist vision to correct the economic inequalities she sees in America.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Productivity and corporate profits are up. The fruits of that success just hasn't reached many of our families. It is like trickle down economics, but without the trickle.
CAMERON: She blames globalization, Republicans and most of all the president for undermining America's middle class.
CLINTON: Over the past six years, it is as if we have gone back to the era of the robber-barons. Year after year, the president has handed out massive tax breaks to oil companies, no bid contracts to Halliburton, tax incentives to corporations shipping jobs overseas, tax cut after tax cut to multi millionaires.
CAMERON: She strolled the streets of New Hampshire later. Aides denied, at times half heartily, that she was trying to upstage Barack Obama. But her speech was announced long after Obama scheduled the unveiling today in Iowa of his first speech on providing universal health care by the end of his first term in office.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: My plan begins by covering every American. If you already have health insurance, the only thing that will change for you under this plan is the amount of money you will spend on premiums. That will be less than what you are spending now.
CAMERON: Aides say Obama's plan would cost about 65 billion dollars a year and save the average family about 2,500. It would expand the existing health cares system and require employers to share some of the costs.
OBAMA: Everyone will be able to buy into a new health insurance plan that is similar to one that every federal employee, from a postal worker in Iowa to a Congressman in Washington, currently has for themselves.
CAMERON: It is not mandatory universal health care per se. It is really universal access to insurance coverage. The vast majority of what he has been proposing has been considered in legislation in various political campaigns for the better part of the last 16 years.
CAMERON: Critics say Obama lacks substance and to some extent his aides acknowledge that by putting together this health care proposal, he now can put that into his policy portfolio. But to put in to perspective how determined Hillary Clinton is to keep herself with the reputation as the Democrat's top policy wonk, her campaign says it will need six major speeches to outline her proposals. And when all is said and done, it will deliver true universal health care, something they think Obama's does not, Brit.
HUME: OK, Carl, thank you. There's a new poll out tonight that shows Senator John McCain and Hillary Clinton leading in the three key states that vote early next year. Thirty one percent of likely caucus goers in Iowa said they would vote for Clinton. John Edwards was second with 25 percent. Barack Obama third at 11. In New Hampshire Clinton leads by 34, followed by Edwards and Obama, and in South Carolina, Clinton again has 34 percent, with John Edwards coming in second there at 30. Among the Republicans, Senator John McCain leads the pack across the board, though he just edges out Rudy Giuliani in Iowa by two percentage points. In New Hampshire, 30 percent of likely primary voters say they will vote for McCain; 23 percent chose Mitt Romney. McCain leads Giuliani 32 to 23 percent, meanwhile, in the state of South Carolina, where Romney trails Fred Thompson, who hasn't even declared yet. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is advocating international cooperation on climate change. She went to Berlin to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who intends to push President on the issue during the G-8 summit next week. Pelosi, who opposes some of the president's environmental policies, says Congress considers climate change a top priority. Later on SPECIAL REPORT, day two of civil unrest in Venezuela after Hugo Chavez pulls the plug on a popular TV station. Up next though, why is this retirement home for hearing impaired in California populated mostly by hearing seniors? Stay tuned.
HUME: The idea of a retirement home geared specifically for the needs of people who are hearing-impaired sounded almost too good to be true for many seniors in Northern California. They were right. It was thanks to laws that prohibit discrimination in housing. Correspondent Claudia Cowan reports.
CLAUDIA COWAN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This apartment complex was constructed especially for low income seniors who cannot hear and who say they often feel increasingly isolated as they get older. Hearing impaired retirees had high hopes when they moved into this affordable housing complex in California's pricey Bay Area, where management and many staff knows sign language and each unit comes equipped with flashing door bell, video phone and other high-tech amenities for the deaf.
RICHARD BONHEYO, DEAF RIGHTS ACTIVIST: We have a fire alarm that is all based on lights in every room for the safety of the residents. And, you know, the hearing people do not need it. COWAN: But now, due to anti-discrimination laws, Fremont Oak Gardens has more hearing tenants than deaf ones. (on camera): Because the project was mostly paid for by government grants, any senior who qualified financially had to be accepted, whether or not they can hear.
RYAN CHAO, PROPERTY MANAGER: One thing that became very clear was that to make it 100 percent death-exclusive would violate state and federal fair housing laws.
COWAN: Project managers say the Bay Area's tough housing market fueled competition for the affordable units and squeezed hearing impaired seniors out. Advocates for the deaf call that outrageous.
BONHEYO: We worked so hard to meet the needs of deaf people. And then the hearing people just walked in and took it.
COWAN: Priscilla Mayer says she's sorry the deaf community feels let down, but she needed a place to live too.
PRISCILLA MAYER, TENANT: When I came to look at it, I fell in love with it.
COWAN: Hearing residents have no complaints. But many deaf tenants are so angry that at times they say it's a good thing their neighbors do not understand sign language. In Fremont, California, Claudia Cowan, Fox News.
HUME: The president of the University of Colorado has recommended that Ward Churchill to be fired. Churchill is the ethics studies professor who wrote an essay likening some September 11th victims to Nazi Adolf Eichmann. He is accused of plagiarism along with falsifying and ghost-writing articles he later cited to bolster his writings. The schools tenure panel will review the recommendation. And the Board of Regents will make the final decision on Churchill's fate. Churchill has threatened to sue if he is dismissed and says he has more faith in the courts than in the university process anyway, adding, quote, "a random group of homeless people under a bridge would be far more intellectually sound and principled than anything I've encountered at the university so far." It seems you can be following the law and still get fired from your job in Oregon if you are one of the state's 16,000 legal marijuana users. Now there are a couple proposed laws in Oregon aimed at lifting some of the haze over the law and clearing up a lot of confusion. Correspondent Dan Springer has the story.
DAN SPRINGER, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thousands of Oregon residents have been lighting up legally for nearly a decade, protected by the state's medical marijuana law. But now there is a debate about whether using at home can cost you your job.
FLORD PROZANSKI (D), OREGON STATE SENATE: It seems somewhat backwards that you would actually have a system set up as a state-sanctioned program that, but then you can't work within that state.
SPRINGER: Competing bills in the Oregon legislature address the issue. One says employers cannot discriminate against legal pot smokers because of their drug use, even if it impacts their work. Another affirms the right of companies to fire anyone who fails a drug test, whatever the reason.
RICK METSGER (D), OREGON STATS SENATE: This is a choice that an employer has. It is a choice that an employee has, whether to work for that particular employer. If they do not like it, they can go and work for someone else.
SPRINGER: Complicating the matter, a person who uses marijuana, but never comes to work under the influence can fail the drug test just the same as a person who is high while on the job. (on camera): The Oregon Supreme Court could have settled the issue, but a recent ruling left more questions than answers. The court said employers could fire medical marijuana users if the workers did not have to use pot to control pain. Business owners fear that left the door wide open to dope in the work place for anyone deemed to be disabled.
(voice-over): Dan Harmon says that is unacceptable.
DAN HARMON, HOFFMAN CORPORATION: It would substantially increase the risk to us as an employer, make our job sites a lot less safe. As you can see by this hole here, we are working around the public.
SPRINGER: Jack Thomas' boss knows he uses pot for back pain, even when he is behind the wheel of a huge pavement roller.
JACK THOMAS, HEAVY EQUIPMENT OPERATOR: He knows that I do good work and I am careful. It doesn't matter if I'm on—Either I am on medical marijuana or I'm in such pain I can't work at all. SPRINGER: Until the smoke clears in Salem, a law sold to voters as compassion for dying cancer patients leaves a lot of questions for Oregon's 16,000 legal pot smokers and their employers. In Portland, Dan Springer, Fox News.
HUME: President Bush has decided to nominate former deputy secretary of state and former U.S. trade representative Robert Zoellick to replace Paul Wolfowitz as the head of the World Bank. Wolfowitz steps down June 30th after a special panel found that he broke bank rules when he arranged his girlfriend's compensation package. The president will hold a ceremony tomorrow morning with Zoellick and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. We're going to step aside here to pay our bills and check headlines. After that, we will find out what Nancy Pelosi says about pre-war intelligence, and whether that's consistent with what she said before the fighting started. That's next on the Grapevine.
HUME: Angry protesters flooded the streets of Caracas Venezuela for the second day protesting President Hugo Chavez's decision to force a popular private television station off the air. Today the State Department expressed its concern over Chavez's actions, as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THOMAS CASEY, STATE DEPT SPOKESMAN: Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. It's an essential element of democracy anywhere in the world. And we'd certainly call on the government of Venezuela to abide by its commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Inter-American Democratic Charter and to reverse these policies that they're pursuing to limit freedom of expression.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: Correspondent Adam Housley is in Caracas with the latest on this story—Adam.
ADAM HOUSLEY, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Brit, President Chavez actually called on the people that support him from the poor neighborhoods to come down here and fight the protest. They're people he's given a lot of money to with his socialist reforms in recent years. This all stems, as you mentioned, for the RCTV shutdown, the last remaining private television station, in the country, that was national that was critical of his so-called socialist reforms. Now, we're right in the middle of an impasse right now. There's been firing in the last 10 minutes, here, from both sides. On my left, actually, you'll see the students who are, by the thousands, lined up on this avenue, a main avenue, that goes into the center of Caracas. They are here and they have turned their backs on the police because the police had been firing on them with rubber bullets from two different directions. Now, as we move to the right, you will see there is only about a 40 yard gap, at the most, between the two. There has been some rock throwing from the students towards the police. At this point, there has been no teargas fired as of yet, but you'll notice now, as we get to the underpass of a major thoroughfare, there are officers above and below there (INAUDIBLE), they have backed up with a large armored car. They were actually about 10 yards forward, but they backed up to be under cover because they were getting pelted with rocks once they opened fire with rubber bullets. That's what they were firing, rubber bullets. We have not yet seen teargas being used. This is the first unrest today. There have been protests all across this country, Brit, in response to Chavez's reforms in response to Chavez taking over the last TV station that had any, again, criticism of him, at all. So now there is only one little, small, local, cable station that has some criticism on its channel, but he has threatened to take them off the air as well saying they are inciting this violence. So at this point, Brit, a bit of an impasse, just for the moment, as I mentioned, there has been all sorts of confrontation here over the course of the last half hour or so—Brit.
HUME: Is there any sign, Adam, that this protest is likely really threaten Chavez's the government? That sometimes happens.
HOUSLEY: Yeah, we've been asking that question to a lot of people that are more, I would say, doctors, lawyers, people who have been watching this, in many cases, from the three and four stories above who have been here for the problems in the past. The attempted coup in 2002 against Chavez's regime. They say this time they believe this is different because it's not just students. And also they're seeing people from all walks of life. Some of the poor population, who also wanted that TV station, are here as well. They say it's deep-rooted this time, Brit. It really remains to be seen what's going to happen in the next couple of days here.
HUME: All right, Adam, thank you very much. Adam Housley in Caracas tonight.
The Pentagon confirmed today that 10 U.S. soldiers were killed in roadside bombings in a helicopter crash in Diyala Province, yesterday, making May the deadliest month this year for U.S. troops in Iraq. Meanwhile, in western Baghdad, a pickup truck parked in a market exploded killing 17 and wounding 55. Another vehicle explosion left at least 23 people dead. We now know much more about what al Qaeda intended to do with the Iraqi torture victims that were rescued over the weekend and what those prisoners suffered during their captivity. National security correspondent Jennifer Griffin reports.
JENNIFER GRIFFIN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Forty-one Iraqi victims freed from an al Qaeda prison camp, many were malnourished after being fed only dates and water for the last four months.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They also had some rope burns on her ankles and wrists. You know, they had been tied up for a long period of time. GRIFFIN: The discovery came just weeks after U.S. forces found a cartoon book of drawings in an al Qaeda safe house near Baghdad, showing al Qaeda recruits how to torture their victims. Now after debriefing, the 41 freed captives, U.S. military commanders say the prison camp in Diyala Province, northeast of Baghdad, was not just a house of horrors, but an al Qaeda reeducation or indoctrination camp. The prisoners, most of them government workers, said their kidnappers were demanded $40,000 apiece, but if their families didn't pay, they were tortured and reeducated to fight for al Qaeda.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn't just a ransom motive. They were given the option of either join us or you're killed. If you join us then we would like to use you to conduct violent acts against Iraqi security forces or coalition forces.
GRIFFIN: Suggesting some may have been tortured to push them to volunteer for suicide bombing attacks. And for the first time, signs that al Qaeda is trying to impose Taliban-like rules on the areas where it sets up bases in Iraq, according to the commander who found the prison.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of them said the reason why they were detained by al Qaeda is because they broke some of al Qaeda's very strict rules—not smoking in public and mainly not supporting al Qaeda both openly and with their lives.
GRIFFIN: A tip from one of 100-plus local tribes in Diyala Province is what led U.S. forces to this al Qaeda facility. We've been reporting that al Qaeda has been pushed out of neighboring Anbar Province after getting on the wrong side of the tribal sheiks, there. Now, Brit, it appears that something similar may be starting in this other Diyala Province—Brit.
HUME: Jennifer, thank you. Up next on SPECIAL REPORT, after a Memorial Day weekend of retail politics, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama get down to business with their dueling policy speeches. The FOX all-stars will tell you how they did, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's time for a new beginning, for an end of the government of the few, by a few, and for the few. Time to reject the idea of an on-your-own society and to replace it with shared responsibility for shared prosperity. I prefer a, we're-all-in-it-together society.
SEN BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My plan begins by covering every America. If you already have health insurance, the only thing that will change for you under this plan is the amount of money you will spend on premiums. That will be less than what you're spending now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: So, it was Hillary Rodham Clinton on the economy today and her ideas for it. Barack Obama on the healthcare system, or at least the health insurance system, and his ideas for that. Some thoughts on this and the race in general, from Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard; Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call; and Nina Easton, the Washington bureau chief of Fortune magazine—FOX NEWS contributors, all. And a special welcome back to Mort.
MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: Thank you.
HUME: Good to have you back, Mort. Let's take a quick look at a couple of—a poll today. This is from the American Research Group which did a national—it was also polled in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina. And what this poll shows that is that Hillary Clinton is leading everywhere. It's only a plurality, of course, then John Edwards is, apparently, second everywhere. With Barack Obama, who is thought—and is thought by many to pose the greatest threat to Ms Clinton to Senator Clinton running third in these places. And Bill Richardson, as you can see, is—constitutes the second tier of the top of it, anyway.
So, with all that in mind, what about these speeches? What do they tell us? What is the situation in the race appear to be—Nina.
NINA EASTON, FORTUNE: Well, I think the most interesting thing about these speeches was the extent to which both candidates borrowed from the No. 2 candidate we saw there, John Edwards. In the case of Hillary Clinton there was almost a "to America: speech theme running throughout her remarks today. You know, the haves and the have-nots, the trickle-down hasn't occurred and how can we address that. She even talks about unions. And she used almost the same language that John Edwards used with me in an interview about unions saving the middle class. Then Barack Obama borrowed from Edwards on the healthcare plan. You know, the details are different, yes. But it involves both their healthcare plans are large government rolls that would be subsidized by business taxes and increasing taxes on individuals at the wealthy end. So, it's very—to me it's like they're all joined at the hip on domestic policy, in particular, and so the race starts to become who do you like better, who you trust better, who do you believe?
KONDRACKE: Yeah, it's populism busting all over here with both Obama and Hillary blasting away at drug companies and.
HUME: There doesn't appear to be any new Democrats in this race, does there?
KONDRACKE: There are no new Democrats and they all want to increase taxes on the rich, back to the—at least back to the Clinton levels and provide a lot of benefits. Obama says that this is curious. He says that insurance premiums will come down and yet, he's going to eliminate the ability of insurance companies to discriminate against people with preexisting conditions. So, if have a serious illness, you get coverage just like everybody else. Now, if that's the case, it's going to raise everyone's premiums. So, I don't know how he gets away with that. And needless to say, not one of them addressing healthcare problems has anything to say about medical malpractice claims, you know, trial lawyers and all of that, because they're part of the Democratic constituency.
FRED BARNES, WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, the worst thing is they don't have anything to say about using market forces which you need very much. You know, Hillary's speech was pure liberal boilerplate. You'd never think that the economy was in great shape over the last few years, particularly after the stock market bubble burst in her husband's administration leading to a recession early in the Bush administration and so on. And the effect the tax cuts have had. I mean, when you see Hillary use words like "fairness," that means big tax hikes and I think that's what she has in mind. Obama, I thought his speech was better. I thought he made a valued effort to healthcare reform without engaging in getting new free-market forces. And the family he talks about in the beginning is a family that buys their own—individuals buying health insurance and it costs too much, they're going bankrupt, but he doesn't mention there is a simple solution. John Shadegg of Arizona has proposed this for years—and that is to have a national market. This guy is in Iowa, he can only buy health insurance in Iowa. And I'm sure there are cheaper plans in other states, but he can't go there. That's a simple solution that might work, there. But mainly, look, you're not going to get any cost controls without competition and free market forces getting involved and they're not talking about those.
HUME: Next on the panel, one day after his historic talks with the U.S., Iran charges two Iranian-Americans at least held in that country with espionage. Just what's Iran up to? The FOX all-stars on that, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THOMAS CASEY, STATE DEPT SPOKESMAN: These are individuals who are private citizens. They are not party to any of the policy disputes between the government of the United States and the government of Iran. It's absolutely absurd to think that they in any way, shape, or form pose a threat to the Iranian regime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: And yet these three Iranian-Americans—and we will show you what they—who they are and what they look like—are charged with espionage or at least espionage-related crimes by the Iranian government as of today. This on, one day or so after the U.S. has engaged Iran in direct talks, subject was Iraq, of course, for the first time in decades. So, what does all of this say to us about, A, first of all, what about the—what chances there are these people ever getting out of there and secondly, what about—what we—what can we do to get them out and secondly, what good did the talks do?
BARNES: They did not good. And what's even more true is, these are people, particularly Mrs. Esfandiari, who lives out here in Potomac, Maryland. She works for the Woodrow Wilson Center for Lee Hamilton. Lee Hamilton is probably the foremost American advocate of engaging the Iranians. Remember, he and Jim Baker wrote the Iran—the Iraq Study Group before, advocating that. She has been one who's tried to have scholarly conferences with Iranian scholars and so on.
HUME: And she wanted to visit her mother.
BARNES: She's been visiting her mother for years. She had a visa to go in—had an Iranian passport. She'd been there dozens of times to visit her 93-year-old mother. And suddenly they arrest her. Look, it shows you, for one, what the Iranians are like and it shows you two, how much they care about having engagement with those in—Americans who want to talk to them.
KONDRACKE: Look, I think there are two things going on here. One is that we've been squeezing them on various fronts, economically and so on and so they're squeezing back using people with dual nationality. Secondly, I think that the regime over there is scared to death of individual contacts with Americans. It's a deeply unpopular regime. The United States is very popular, in fact, among ordinary Iranians and these people represent contacts for them. And the Iranians were afraid of a so-called velvet revolution, the way there was in Eastern Europe, that somehow might topple them. There're paranoid to begin with, so they're taking it out on these people. I don't know what we're going to do to get them back.
EASTON: And I suspect that Haleh Esfandiari's big crime was she wrote a book on women in Iran and how they are trying to live with dignity under this fundamentalist regime and trying, in some ways, to subvert it on a day-to-day basis as they live their lives. Nothing could be more threatening to this regime than women gaining rights and being part of society and being exposed as operating underneath—underneath in a way that...
BARNES: She may be charged with writing propaganda. She's charged with espionage. Which is a capital offense.
KONDRACKE: And it may be that what the Iranians may are doing is setting up a trade. They'll release these people in return for their so-called "diplomats" who are in fact terrorist agents of.
HUME: That were captured in Iraq.
KONDRACKE: Captured in Iraq.
BARNES: Her husband didn't believe that this was really serious when they first attained her, and kept everything quite. Didn't want to go public with this at all because he just assumed the Iranians would questioned her and then let her go. And now he's gone public, of course, and actually now—particularly now that they've charged her with espionage. Look, these are not people who are interested in sitting down and having chats and maybe they'll change their mind that way.
HUME: That's it for the panel. But stay tuned to find out why war zones aren't the only dangerous news assignments, that's next.
HUME: Finally tonight, television news producers always want their correspondent to be on the air in the middle of action when they do their reports, but even that has its risks, even when covering celebrations.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot of noise going on behind there, so I'm speaking very loudly. What's it looking like? Well, (INAUDIBLE), as you can tell, it's been hard to work in these conditions, but you have to make do with what we have. The atmosphere here has been fantastic over the last hour, covering (INAUDIBLE) the world cup championships...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Manchester! Manchester!
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HUME: Manchester apparently won. And that's SPECIAL REPORT for this time, please tune us in next time and in the mean, more news is on the way — fair, balanced and unafraid.
Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. EST.
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