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Special Report Roundtable - February 28

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume


REP GEORGE MILLER (D), CALIFORNIA: This bill is about restoring workers' ability to choose for themselves whether or not they want a union. It says that when a majority of workers sign cards authorizing a union, they get a union, they don't get harassed, they don't get intimidated, they get a union.

REP JEB HENSARLING (R), TEXAS: This proposal is nothing less than a full frontal assault on the workers' fundamental right to a secret ballot.


HUME: Well, that's the issue. The new system that the labor unions want and the Democrats are supporting would allow workers to simply sign a card -- out in the open, for all anybody knew, if they got enough cards signed, presto, a shop becomes a union shop.

Some thoughts on this now from Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard; Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call; and Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio.

Well folks. The president says -- the White House said today the president would veto the bill. So, the Democrats are going to run it through the House tomorrow it looks like. What happens here -- Mort. And what -- what -- by the way, who's right in the debate?

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: Well, I think the president's right in the debate and the Republicans are right in the debate. I mean, it's pretty pathetic that the unions and the Democratic Party can only get people to join unions by abandoning one of the prime principles of Democracy, namely, the secret ballot. I mean, they have to have a union steward standing over somebody, which is what's going to happen and assigning them up on card check system...


HUME: Was the secret ballot originally instituted to protect workers from intimidation by the company?

KONDRACKE: Yeah. Yes. It was. And also by the unions in 1947 as part of the Taft Hartley Law. You know, and union membership has been dwindling, it's 7.4 percent of the private sector workforce at the moment. And this is at a time when unions ought to be organizing lots of workers. When wages have been flat for the last five or six years, you know, people are suffering insecurity because of a globalized economy, the unions are clearly doing something wrong and this is not doing something right.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Look, this by itself is not going to solve all of labor's woes. I mean there's a lot of reasons why union membership is declining. But this is something that clearly the labor unions feel very strongly about. They're an important constituency for the Democrats. This bill has very -- a huge number of co-sponsors in the House, something like 233...


It's going to pass in the House and the fact is that the opponents of the bill -- now, the fact that this is an alternative to a secret ballot gives the opponents a really kind of wonderful platform, but if the companies felt that a secret ballot was harder to unionize with, they would be against that. This is about power in the workplace and the employers want to stop union efforts and the unions want to make it easier and that's what this is about. I mean, this is not about the principle of a secret ballot.

KONDRACKE: Of course it is. The principle of a secret ballot has been in existence since 1947 when it comes to union organizing and they want to change it...

LIASSON: But that's not why employers are for a secret ballot.

HUME: What Mara is saying is that neither side has pure motives.


FRED BARNES, WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, that's probably true, but I, Brit, I predict that President Bush will not veto this bill.

HUME: Why?

BARNES: Because it'll never get out of the Senate. I mean, they've already -- I think the word will be give by Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, Harry Reid, shortly, that you know, we've got enough votes to filibuster this, we are going to filibuster it. You know, McConnell's theory about the filibuster is we use it sometimes to shape legislation, you know, to get tax relief added to the minimum wage increase, and sometimes to kill legislation. And this and instance when they're going to kill this legislation in the Senate.

Look, this bill is enormously unpopular.

HUME: It's said to be unpopular with union members. Is that true?

BARNES: I don't know about union members, but union members -- it's not -- union members aren't involved here, it's potential union members, the people who would have to vote that matter and think it's unpopular with them.

Look, unions -- the truth is, in American society now, with people moving from job to job to job, they do not want to join unions, they don't think they get much out of it. So, what do unions have to do? They have to scrap the secret ballot, they have to do things like wage campaigns to tarnish the reputation of companies like Wal-Mart. They have to try to get legislation through Congress that would force collective bargaining on the TSA employees, you know, at the air -- who do airport security, because they can't win elections and they can't win organizing drives. It's as simple as that.

KONDRACKE: And if you don't believe the power of unions to intimidate, consider that there -- that practically every Democrat, blue dog, new Dem, everybody in the House of Representatives has signed on as a co-sponsor to this bill. That's because they're scared of the unions that they'll lose financial support.

LIASSON: Look, I think, the unions have a role not unlike the NFIB or a small business group on the Republican side. They're an important Democratic constituency, Democrats have taken power in the House, and they're going to at least pass this. I think people...

HUME: The Democrats risk the perception by Independents, say, and those who have sided with them in recent elections, although can't always be predicted to do that, that they are a tool of organized labor by going so hard on something that appears to be as unpopular as this is.

LIASSON: Certainly the Republicans are going to try to make that argument with Independents. I don't know...

HUME: Successfully, do you think?

LIASSON: To people who care about this, but I think that this particular issue -- you know, worker's rights to organize and how they do it, is really low on the list of things that Independents care about.

HUME: All right. Next on SPECIAL REPORT, the U.S. is set to join that Iraqi-sponsored neighbors' conference with both Syria and Iran, we'll see what the all-stars have to say about that, next.



TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: There will not be bilateral talks between the United States and Iran or the United States and Syria within the context of these meetings. These are organized by the Iraqis and these are the issues that are pertinent to Iraq. As for whether the United States is changed its policy dramatically, it has not...


HUME: Well, if it hasn't, you could have fooled -- you'd have been fooled if you read mainstream media outlets today. As I noted earlier, they all were saying that this represented the U.S. participation in this Iraq summoned conference in the Mid-East, about Iraq, is -- amounts to a reversal of field by the administration, a complete change of policy and so on. First of all, is it? Secondly, is it a good idea -- Fred.

BARNES: I'm not sure it's a particularly good idea, it's not a bad idea, but look, I personally have heard from top administrative...

HUME: What about a switch.

BARNES: Well, it's not a switch. I personally have heard over the last six months or maybe a year from top administration officials that they would go to a conference set up by the Iraqis that have the Iranians and the Syrians there.

HUME: And indeed, there's already been these conversations with Iraq and Syria included under what's called the International Compact on Iraq.

BARNES: Exactly. What the administration has said they wouldn't do, for the time being, anyway, is have direct one-on-one talks with the Iranians or with the Syrians. And they're not doing that. These are larger conferences. And it's quite different, the subject matter, there.

The truth is that countries that have gone into -- the E.U. and so on, and the Germans, who have had one-on-one talks and been nice to the Iranians have found that it backfired, that the Iranians took that as validation of their very aggressive policies and so the U.S. is not about to do that. This is not a reversal.

KONDRACKE: Right, I mean, if the Iraqis want to have a meeting of the countries surrounding them for the purpose of talking about Iraqi affairs, are we not -- are we supposed to boycott it? We are the major power in the area. We've 100 and some thousand troops there. We're intimately involved, so we've got to be there.

And now, if -- we're not going to talk about uranium enrichment. We've made it clear that if they want to talk about that, they have to stop.

HUME: Stop it first.

KONDRACKE: Right, that they have to stop it first. That's what that threat was all about. If the Iranian -- you know, we've been applying lots of leverage, here, in all kinds of ways. We've discussed before, military leverage, economic leverage and all of that and if the Iranians want to creep up to one of our negotiators and say, you know, we'd really like to talk about talking. I'd say, let's talk about talking and about -- even uranium, but not actually institute formal negotiations until they do what they're supposed to do.

LIASSON: That's why this might be a good idea. I mean, it's certainly no harm can come...

HUME: It might be a good idea because something good will come out of the big conference?


HUME: Or because there'll be something on the sidelines that would -- somebody shows a little ankle?

LIASSON: Either one. Either one. Look, you know, the United States talked, bilaterally, with North Korea on the -- within the context of these multilateral negotiations and it got then the deal that they got. That's another subject. This is what happens, I mean...

HUME: Do you think it was the United States talking to them or China leaning on them.

LIASSON: Both. Both. And I don't think there's any harm done with the United States talking to Iran and Syria in this context.

Now, the White House gets to claim it's not having the kind of bilateral negotiations that it's already ruled out...

HUME: Well, let's assume, for the sake of discussion, Mara, that the White House had decided that whatever it said publicly and privately was going to have a lot of intense discussion with the Iranians. Would that put pressure on the Iranians to come to terms or would it -- or would it -- or would it make -- or would it be seen as a sign of weakness?

LIASSON: Depends on how you do it. The fact that, Mort said, there's been lots of pressure put on the Iranians. The United States had been very, very aggressive, maybe the administration would come to the point where they say OK, we've put a lot of pressure on them, now's the time to see if we can get anything out of them.

BARES: Mort was talking about having talks about talks. You don't have to talk about that. There's nothing to talk about. There's one thing the Iranians have to do, they know what it is and that's to stop their enriching of uranium. If they stop that, they can have talks -- high level, direct, one-on-one in a -- big administration officials.

HUME: And you also sense, too, that there'd be all kinds of aid and all kinds of other things...

BARNES: Sure, if they do that, the door is swung open wide.

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