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Sebelius, McConnell, and Odierno on "Fox News Sunday"

Sebelius, McConnell, and Odierno on "Fox News Sunday"

By Fox News Sunday - June 28, 2009

BAIER: Hello again from Fox News in Washington. As Democrats in Congress work on legislation to reform health care, how will the final bill take shape? For answers, we will hear later from the leading Republican on Capitol Hill, but first we turn to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius .

Madam Secretary, Welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."

SEBELIUS: Thank you, Bret. Good to be with you.

BAIER: Is the president prepared to sign a health care reform bill that does not include a federal-government-run public option for health care coverage?

SEBELIUS: Well, the president won't sign a bill unless it lower costs for everyone. And he believes that the best way to lower costs is to have some competition in the marketplace, to make sure that we actually begin to bring down the overhead costs for providing insurance to everyone and change the payment system so that we don't continue to pay for things that don't work.

So that's really one of the fundamental issues -- is how you make sure that costs come down, and I think a public option is -- competition in the marketplace is one of the best ways to do that.

BAIER: Is he open to a health cooperative plan, either consumer- owned or state-run, as opposed to a federal-run public option?

SEBELIUS: Well, he said that all serious ideas should be on the table, and certainly there are a lot of discussion items going on in the House and the Senate about how you provide that competition. And so he's eager to work with members of the Senate and members of the House to get to the final goal of providing choice for consumers and actually lowering costs by having competition.

BAIER: But his preference is a federal public option.

SEBELIUS: He's made it very clear that he thinks that's the best strategy, that's the best way forward, but again is open to the notions that are being discussed right now.

BAIER: As you know, Republican critics say having this government public option tips the scales and would result in millions of Americans either shifting off employer-based health benefits, provided insurance, or being shifted off of it, because the government plan would be cheaper but not necessarily better. Take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL RYAN: The private sector does have to pay for and account for its employees in their benefit and wage costs. The public plan does not have to do that. So there are enormous, enormous advantages. It's kind of like my 7-year-old's daughter's lemonade stand competing against McDonald's.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: What is your reaction to that, Madam Secretary?

SEBELIUS: Well, from the outset, I think the president has made it clear the playing field has to be leveled. The plan can't be tilted toward the government option.

And I think as the bills emerge -- the House bill has some protections to make sure that if people are in employer-based coverage right now, they stay in employer-based coverage.

The president has wanted all along to build on the current system, not dismantle the current system. So for 180 million Americans who have coverage provided by their employer that works for them and their families, we want to make that more stable, more solid and encourage people to stay there.

The new marketplace, the health exchange, is really for those Americans who either don't have affordable coverage at all or have -- are the so-called underinsured. The coverage doesn't cover what they really need.

BAIER: Well, that Democratic House bill would require employers to pay a penalty of 8 percent -- at least right now, 8 percent of payroll if they don't provide health care coverage.

But you could imagine an employer might do the math and think it was a better deal to not provide the health care benefits, let his employees go to the government-run plan, pay the 8 percent of payroll tax, not have the health benefits, and then be encouraged really to keep his payroll down.

Could you envision that scenario? And is that the right thing in an economy trying to get its legs?

SEBELIUS: Well, I think the issues of whether there's going to be some kind of pay-or-play feature, again, is being discussed in both the House and the Senate. The House has one version, but they also have some firewalls to protect coverage that's there in place right now.

The president feels very strongly that if you -- if you have a plan you like, you should be able to keep it. So we want to discourage employers from dumping coverage, and those protections are in the bill, again.

And there's a -- there's a protection for small business owners, an exemption that they would not be subjected to the 8 percent payroll, and some encouragement, some tax incentives, to get them into the marketplace. Often they're the ones who are squeezed by the cost of just not being able to afford the coverage.

BAIER: The big question is how this will be paid for. Both House and Senate Democrats now are considering plans to tax at least some employer-sponsored health benefits to help pay for the overall plan.

Now, that is something that candidate Obama was vigorously opposed to on the campaign trail. So is President Obama ready to accept taxing employee benefits?

SEBELIUS: Well, as you know, Bret, the president has put forward his version of what he thinks would be the best way to pay for the ongoing health care plan.

About $660 billion over 10 years in savings from the current system in redirecting the money that's not currently going to make people healthier and make them more secure would be on the table, as well as about $330 billion over 10 years in capping the itemized deduction.

He thinks that's far preferable to the ideas currently being discussed about taxing employee benefits.

BAIER: But both Senate and House have some element of taxing employee benefits, so if that bill comes to the president, does he sign that?

SEBELIUS: Well, I think discussions are under way. What he wants to do is keep people at the table and figure out the best strategy going forward, and I think there's no -- we don't currently know what the Senate Finance Committee is going to propose, and I think there are certainly active discussions under way in the House and the Senate, and that's good news.

The bottom line is the president will not sign a bill that's not paid for. The bill must be paid for and not add a dime to the deficit.

BAIER: And if it includes taxing health benefits, he could be OK with that.

SEBELIUS: Well, he vigorously opposed Senator McCain's idea to eliminate the benefits, the non-taxable benefits, because he figures that would really dismantle the employer marketplace.

I think that he's open to discussion but prefers, again, capping the itemized deduction, returning it to the days of Ronald Reagan. For the top 2 percent of Americans, they would pay the same itemized deduction that they had during the Reagan days, and he thinks that's a preferable payment mechanism.

BAIER: At least one of the Senate plans tax health benefits at specific levels but gives an exemption for union workers. Is that fair?

SEBELIUS: Well, I think that, again, the goal is not to dismantle health coverage that people have right now, not to discourage employers from offering health benefits, and taxing employer benefits, I think, is a way to begin to discourage employers from offering coverage.

A hundred and eighty million people have coverage provided by their employers, and we want to find a way to stabilize that system, not dismantle the system.

BAIER: One of the major concerns for critics about government- run plan is a fear of rationing health care. President Obama has talked about his grandmother, who was diagnosed with cancer, terminal, and she was told that she had six to nine months to live.

She then broke her hip and she had hip replacement surgery. A few weeks later she died. Here's what the president said about that hip replacement surgery. "If somebody told me that my grandmother couldn't have hip replacement and she had to lie there in misery in the waning days of her life, that would be pretty upsetting."

So would a government-run plan have authorized that hip replacement surgery?

SEBELIUS: Well, I don't think there's anything about the public option that would ration care. Unfortunately, care is being rationed each and every day right now.

Often private insurance companies stand between a patient and a doctor deciding what treatment can be provided, what prescription can be filled, can you stay in the hospital for an extra day or two. That goes on every day in America.

We also have a situation where a lot of people are told they can't have insurance because they have a preexisting condition or someone's been sick in the family and coverage won't be provided. So we have a system right now which actually rations care and rations quality in many ways. I think that what we want to do is inform doctors, inform hospital systems, of the best possible outcomes, what we know works, what will produce the best result for patients, and encourage them actually to use those strategies to make people healthier.

BAIER: But these plans have things called medical advisory councils, a federal health board. Do you foresee that those councils would approve a hip replacement surgery in the final months of life?

SEBELIUS: Well, I think that the councils or benefit packages, as they are right now, are designed primarily by health care providers, by, you know, what is considered the best medicine, what is considered the best outcomes.

Most people have a health plan right now that has a formulary for prescription drugs, what's covered and what's not, and it's updated on a regular basis as technology develops and as new innovations come on the marketplace.

So we think that health care providers should make the ultimate decisions of what the best strategies are. But more expensive care is not better care.

BAIER: The president recently talked to the American Medical Association, and in that speech he did talk about medical malpractice lawsuits and how doctors feel legally vulnerable. He added this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I'm not advocating caps on malpractice awards, which I believe -- I personally believe can be unfair to people who've been wrongfully harmed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Now, you could hear some of the boos in that crowd. Is the president committed to meaningful medical liability reform, tort reform, in whatever comes out of Capitol Hill?

SEBELIUS: Well, as he said, he is not open to putting caps on malpractice damages, feeling that that really is not fair to victims of medical negligence.

And I think what he's encouraged about is not only finding ways so that we can reduce defensive medicine, but also driving medical quality. Unfortunately, we still have a system where 100,000 people a year die from what happens to them in the hospital -- not what brought them to the hospital, but what actually occurs while they're in the hospital.

We know that oftentimes medical care is great in one community and not so good in another community. So I think the goal is how we increase the quality of care day in and day out and lower medical error rates and lower the kinds of tests that are done just for redundancy.

BAIER: But he agrees that doctors may be paying a lot for malpractice insurance.

SEBELIUS: Well, actually, the overall cost of malpractice insurance is not necessarily the issue. It's how much defensive medicine is being practiced that's not getting a patient better but just done to perhaps prevent the next lawsuit.

BAIER: Finally, and very quickly, the H1N1 virus is still a major concern, once called the swine flu. How big will this immunization effort be in the fall?

SEBELIUS: Well, right now the vaccine strains are being tested and examined for the possibility of a major vaccination program in the fall. And I think if we decide to move forward, if the science says that's the right way to go, we could be looking at a substantial vaccination program.

The population of the swine -- the H1N1 victims is younger than usual, so -- and it transmits very quickly, so we could be looking at a fairly significant vaccination program aimed at younger Americans.

BAIER: One million infected now?

SEBELIUS: That's correct. We think there are about a million cases. Luckily...

BAIER: In the U.S.

SEBELIUS: Yes, sir. The lethality is -- has been relatively mild compared to seasonal flu, which kills about 36,000 people a year. But we don't know what's going to happen when it comes back and if it mixes with the seasonal flue strain.

BAIER: Madam Secretary, thank you very much for being here.

SEBELIUS: Thanks for having me.

BAIER: Now, with Republican reaction, the minority leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell , who is in his home state of Kentucky.

Senator, welcome back.

MCCONNELL: Bert -- Bret, good to be with you.

BAIER: Senator, President Obama says the status quo on health care is just not acceptable, and some senior Democrats say that Republicans are just in the process of saying no and they don't have an acceptable alternative. What's your response to that?

MCCONNELL: Well, listening to them, you wouldn't recognize that America has the finest health care system in the world. We have some problems with access and with cost, which can -- addressed without wrecking the best health care system in the world.

What they really have in mind, Bret, is to create a government- run plan after which there won't be any private insurance companies. Right now we have a whole lot of private insurance companies and a whole lot of competition. That would eliminate that.

Secondly, they're not open to medical malpractice reform, as you noticed. And then when you get to the question of paying for it, it appears as if they want to pay for it on the backs of seniors through Medicare cuts and raising taxes.

So all of this in an effort to have a massive takeover of one- sixteenth of our economy -- it strikes us that a better way to go is to deal with the equalization in the tax code.

For example, right now, a company that provides health care for its employees can deduct that -- those premiums on its corporate tax return, but if you're an individual buying health care, it's not deductible. That ought to be equalized.

Prevention -- we've all heard about what the Safeway company has done to target obesity, smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and lack of exercise. They have capped their insurance premiums by aggressively incentivizing wellness.

These programs that are being kicked around on Capitol Hill would actually prevent that kind of thing. So there's much to be done, Bret, but not in the direction I think the administration's trying to take this.

BAIER: Senator, the president has said he wants whatever plan comes out of Capitol Hill to be deficit neutral -- in other words, not add to the deficit. We just heard it from Secretary Sebelius. Do you believe that's possible with what's being debated right now?

MCCONNELL: Well, it looks like they may try to pay for it, and frankly, they should, given the fact that we're on a path now to double the national debt in five years and triple it in 10.

But the -- but the real question is do you want to do something that is so comprehensive that requires this kind of cuts to Medicare and to seniors and to -- all of these tax increases when we could target the things that are askew in the system and fix them without this kind of massive overhaul.

BAIER: If a public option plan, which Republicans largely are opposed to, comes out and this is the bill that they go forward with, with a government-run option, is there anything Republicans can do to stop it?

MCCONNELL: Well, sure. I mean, I think there are a lot of Democrats who are uncomfortable with the government option, the government plan. We've had three or four Democrats who have spoken out against it. They're being hammered in their states by left-wing groups.

I think it is making them even more resistant to this bad idea that the government should take over the insurance business.

BAIER: So is there a health care plan that is workable, a compromise somehow that you think could be finished this year?

MCCONNELL: Yeah. Let's equalize tax treatment, target prevention and wellness, do something about medical malpractice junk lawsuits against doctors and hospitals that drive up the cost of health care.

All of those things could be achieved on a broad bipartisan basis and not wreck the finest health care system in the world.

BAIER: Speaking of the chances of passage in the Senate, the climate change bill just passed the House narrowly by seven votes on Friday. What are the chances it has in the Senate?

MCCONNELL: Well, I hope it won't pass the Senate. The president himself said last year you'd -- it will lead to skyrocketing electricity increases. Think of it as a light switch tax.

I think the president's right. I think it's going to lead to significant increases in electricity across America in a -- in an effort to try to deal with a global problem.

If we do have a global warming problem, and many people believe we do, we need to target it on a global basis. The way to get at it is to build more nuclear power plants which don't have a CO2 emission problem and to develop the kind of technology to burn coal cleanly.

BAIER: Presidential adviser David Axelrod said this morning that Republicans are using inaction as a strategy. And on the climate change bill, he said all of the criticism about it being a jobs killer is, quote, "a phony issue with negligible impact on average Americans." Your response?

MCCONNELL: Well, I just don't agree. I don't think sending the cost of electricity up is a god idea. It's going to cost jobs. Obviously it will. It's going to increase the business of living in America. We all depend on electricity. Think of it every time you turn your light switch on.

BAIER: Is there a workable issue -- a workable version of this bill that possibly the Senate would work on that could pass?

MCCONNELL: I don't think putting clamps on our economy when you know the Chinese and the Indians are not going to do it is a good idea. Why not develop technology to burn coal cleanly and build new nuclear power plants?

The French, for example, produce 85 percent of their power from nuclear plants. They don't have a CO2 emission problem.

BAIER: President Obama told lawmakers this past week that he wants to sign a comprehensive immigration bill this year or early next year, even though White House officials say -- and they admit -- that they don't have the votes to do that.

Is there any way to find middle ground on the immigration reform issue, considering where your party has been on this issue in the past?

MCCONNELL: Well, it's possible. I mean, we need to move forward on border security. I think we've made some progress in securing the border. But the war -- the drug lord war over on the Mexican border -- on the Mexican side of the border going along certainly complicates everything.

We're open to looking at immigration reform. We've tried it in the past. It's very tough. If we get the borders secure and we need -- we can go on from there and hopefully develop a guest worker program that actually works.

BAIER: Is the immigration issue still a divisive issue for the Republican Party?

MCCONNELL: It is. I think it is a very divisive issue.

BAIER: You know, as you come up on the confirmation hearings -- two weeks away -- for the first Latina Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, is there a concern about the Hispanic voting base when it comes to both these confirmation hearings and the newly resurrected issue of immigration?

MCCONNELL: Well, you know, the Democrats filibustered seven times a Hispanic American nominee named Miguel Estrada during the Bush administration. I think we ought to judge these nominees on their merits, not their ethnicity or gender.

And with regard to Judge Sotomayor, I think the key is just to finish the job. For example, just a day or so ago, we discovered that there are 300 boxes of additional material that has just been discovered from her time working with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund.

The committee needs to have access to that material and time to work through it so we don't -- so we know all the facts before we vote on a person who's up for a lifetime job.

BAIER: What is your reaction, Senator, to the developments in South Carolina with Governor Mark Sanford ?

MCCONNELL: Look, we're working on health care and the people's business, and that's what -- that's what we're doing in the Senate.

BAIER: Do you think he should resign?

MCCONNELL: We're going to continue to deal with the people's agenda here in Washington, and that's what we're going to concentrate on.

BAIER: But being out of the country -- in his words, crying in Argentina for five days -- without telling anyone where he was, there are lawmakers who are calling for his resignation.

MCCONNELL: We're going to concentrate in the United Senate -- in the States Senate on national issues like health care and climate change and Supreme Court appointments.

BAIER: But this is the second prominent Republican to announce an affair in as many weeks, with Nevada senator John Ensign coming out. What does this mean for your party?

MCCONNELL: Bret, I think the important thing for us to do for the American people is the business we were elected to do.

We've got massive issues to talk about in the United States Senate, to debate and vote on. That's what the American people expect us to do. And that's what we intend to do.

BAIER: Senator, as always, thank you for joining us.

MCCONNELL: Thank you, Bret. BAIER: Up next, U.S. troops in Iraq are poised to pull back from major cities. We'll find out what it means from the man in charge when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BAIER: Five years ago today, the U.S. transferred sovereignty to Iraq. And a few days from now, U.S. troops will withdraw from all major cities in Iraq. Here to talk about these milestones is the commanding officer in charge, General Ray Odierno. He comes to us live from Baghdad.

General, welcome to "FOX News Sunday."

ODIERNO: Thank you, Bret.

BAIER: General, will you make the deadline of June 30th to pull U.S. troops out of major cities inside Iraq?

ODIERNO: Well, Bret, in fact, we've already met the deadline. We have already moved out of the cities. We've been slowly doing it over the last eight months. And the final units have moved out of the cities over the last several weeks.

BAIER: So there are more than 130,000 U.S. troops still on the ground in Iraq. And in recent days there has been a serious uptick in violence, at least 200 people killed in recent days in these spectacular attacks.

What is happening with this recent uptick in violence, in your opinion?

ODIERNO: Well, again, I would say that overall stability in Iraq remains good. What we've had is we've had some extremist elements trying to bring attention to themselves as well as divert attention from the progress being made in Iraq, and so we've seen a couple high- profile attacks aimed at the -- aimed at innocent civilians.

I think what this has done, frankly, is brought the ire of Iraqi citizens against these groups and I think it will harden them in supporting them. And frankly, I believe it will make it much more difficult for them to continue to operate inside of Iraq over the long term.

BAIER: General, in April you said that this deadline might have to shift based on what you were seeing on the ground. What changed for you to be able to get to this point?

ODIERNO: Yeah. Well, Bret, in May we had the lowest level of incidents we've ever had on record in Iraq. In the -- in the first three weeks of June, we did as well.

You've seen a slight uptick this past week with these high- profile attacks, but again, I would say these are just extremist elements that are attempting to bring attention to themselves, and I think this is the right time for us to turn responsibility over to the Iraqis.

BAIER: Understanding that this is part of the agreement that the U.S. signed with Iraq, are the Iraqis ready? How confident are you that they can handle the task of providing security to these cities?

ODIERNO: Yeah, I'm fairly confident, Bret. Obviously, we've been working in close partnership with them for a very long time. We've seen constant improvement in Iraqi security forces over the last two years.

We've also seen improvement in local governance, in provincial governance. We've seen some improvement in the federal government.

We've also seen the resilience of the citizens and the fact that they want the Iraqi security forces to take over security. And I think all of these factors, combined with the continued improvement in overall stability and security, makes this the right time for us to turn this over to the Iraqi security forces.

BAIER: General, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki calls this a great victory for the Iraqis. He describes it as a repulsion of the foreign occupiers and he compares it to the rebellion against British troops in 1920.

Now, understanding he's playing to an Iraqi audience here ahead of an election in January, the U.S. has spent hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq. We've lost more than 4,300 men and women there. Do you find this terminology acceptable?

ODIERNO: Bret, frankly, that's not exactly how I read it. I believe this is a celebration, and what we've seen the last few days is they're talking about this as a celebration of Iraqi being able to -- Iraqis and Iraqi security forces being able to take over responsibility inside of their cities.

And they're seeing it as a progression in their capacities, and I think that's the important point. And we've seen that emphasized more and more over the last several days by all Iraqi leaders, both in the local press and in the international press.

And I think that's the appropriate tone, and I believe -- I agree with that, and I think it is time for them...

BAIER: Yeah, he...

ODIERNO: ... to take responsibility inside of the cities.

BAIER: He doesn't talk publicly about the American role of providing security. What does he say privately to you?

ODIERNO: Well, we -- we've had a partnership. We've built a hard partnership here over the last 2.5 and three years, through the surge, through the dark days here in Iraq, when attacks were 10 times what they are today, when there were a significant amount of more civilian casualties. We worked very hard together to gain this improvement. There's been sacrifices by Iraqi security forces. There's been sacrifices by the coalition forces. They recognize this. We are continuing this partnership.

But it's time for this partnership to have an Iraqi lead. It's time for this partnership to have the Iraqis out front. And it's time for us to support that.

BAIER: The rules of this agreement -- do they bar U.S. troops from using armored vehicles inside cities during the day? There was a report to that effect. And is this possibly more dangerous for U.S. troops in this different scenario, being outside the cities?

ODIERNO: Yeah. First, there's nothing in the security agreement that bars us from using any type of vehicles. All our units have several sets of vehicles. They have tanks, Bradleys, Humvees, MRAPs. The commanders get to decide which vehicles they use based on the situation that they're in, and that will not change after the security agreement.

I believe that with the coordination we've set in place, with the trainers, advisers and coordinating elements we have established at each level of command -- I believe we'll be able to maintain the necessary oversight and situational awareness to protect our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines as we continue operations.

BAIER: General, what's the reaction inside Iraq to the situation on the ground in Iran, its neighbor?

ODIERNO: Well, I think it's been some -- they're just watching. I don't think there's been any overreaction. What I do believe, though, is it gives them more confidence in their government, in the fact that they just went through legitimate and credible elections to elect their provincial leaders, and the fact that they're going to go through credible and legitimate elections here for their national leaders in January, and that they will oversee those elections and they will have U.N. and international observers that will validate those elections.

And I think that will also encourage them to continue to move towards democracy.

BAIER: Just a couple quick questions. Are there fears as the U.S. draws down that Iran will somehow fill the vacuum in Iraq?

ODIERNO: I'm sure that some people have those fears. My assessment here is that Iraqis want to control their own destiny. They don't want anybody else filling that gap. So when we leave, they will -- we will leave and they will have the capability to do that.

They will not allow anyone else to come in here and try to fill the gap instead. They believe they are nationalists. They want to control their own destiny. They understand and want to have full sovereignty over their own country.

BAIER: Lastly, General, what's your biggest concern going forward? What makes you stay up at night?

ODIERNO: Well, I mean, it has to do with the potential political drivers of instability that remain. We still have much work to do in terms of Arab-Kurd relations.

We still have reconciliation to go through. We've made some good steps towards reconciliation, but they have to continue to address the area of reconciliation in Iraq. So I think it's these political issues that will be the most important as we move towards the national elections.

And I think these could cause some instability, and that's what I worry about. What I hope is these will be solved through politics and diplomatic measures and not through violence.

BAIER: General Odierno, thanks for taking the time with us this morning. Thank you for your service and good luck.

ODIERNO: Thank you very much, Bret. It's a -- it's a pleasure to be with you this morning.

BAIER: Coming up, the climate change bill barely makes it through the House and now heads to the Senate. So what's the future hold for one of the president's highest priorities? Our Sunday regulars give us their take when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NANCY PELOSI: Just remember these four words for what this legislation means: jobs, jobs, jobs and jobs. Let's vote for jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOEHNER: This is the biggest job-killing bill that has ever been on the floor of the House of Representatives. Right here. This bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Boehner with slightly opposing views of the just-passed House climate change bill.

Now it's time for our Sunday regulars -- Brit Hume, Fox News senior political analyst, and contributors Mara Liasson of National Public Radio, Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard, and Juan Williams, also of National Public Radio.

Brit, what about this bill and its chances in the Senate?

HUME: Well, the margin in the House probably tells you nearly everything you need to know about the situation in the Senate. I mean, it barely passes the House, where you can ram things through much more easily than you can in the Senate.

No one is saying now that the votes are there to pass this in the Senate. And the time -- time is not on the side of the proponents of this measure. Alarm over climate change is diminishing. It has gone from fairly high on people's list of priorities of things they're concerned about well down the list, and I think it is continuing to sink.

The arguments of skeptics seem to be gaining momentum. So my sense about this bill is that it is in very deep trouble in the Senate and may not come to a vote.

BAIER: Mara?

LIASSON: I do think that the administration got one -- a very important thing by getting it through the House now. The big urgency was to get something that it could take to those Kyoto -- those global climate change negotiations in Denmark in the fall.

They've now shown that the United States is moving at least toward something. How fast it will move, whether it will ever get through the Senate -- and I think the chances for it getting through the Senate this year are going to be really, really difficult, even though Harry Reid says it's going to be on the floor in the fall.

The CBO estimate of the economic impact of this bill was only $175 a year per person, but that's contested. So I think there's going to be a big debate about the economic impact, and it's going to determine -- it's going to be affected by how fast or slowly the economy itself recovers.

BAIER: Bill?

KRISTOL: $175 a person is, what, five, 600, seven, $800 a family, depending on how many -- how big your family is. That's kind of a lot of money to heap on families in the middle of a recession.

I think Nancy Pelosi has made a huge mistake by defining everything in terms of jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. And Republicans are going to say for the next year and a half, "Let's have that debate. Is unemployment lower than when President Obama became president? Is unemployment going up as slowly as President Obama said it would when he lobbied for a stimulus and today when he lobbies for energy?"

We're going to have double-digit unemployment. Republicans are going to be able to be the party that cares about middle-class America and about these ridiculous plans. And this really is a ludicrous piece of legislation, in my opinion. It's a job-killing and non- climate-improving legislation. It does nothing, really.

I mean, it's not going to reduce -- if you care about global climate change, it's not going to slow it down or reverse it, you know, because we're a very small participant in it, and it does nothing about India and China.

So it's a gratuitous burden added to the U.S. economy. Unemployment's going to keep going up and Republicans are going to say, "Fine, let's debate jobs."

BAIER: And are conservative or moderate Democrats who voted for this bill vulnerable now?

KRISTOL: Well, 44 of them voted against it, so there are some that are vulnerable. I think the only bad aspect of this for Republicans is the eight Republicans who voted for it, so that people can say this would not have passed but for Republican defections.

And that's from a Republican point of view in terms of having a clear message -- the Democrats wanted to heap this burden on you. It makes it a little more complicated.

Still, Obama's out there trumpeting it, and Nancy Pelosi 's trumpeting it -- this is the most important day, didn't she say, "June 26, 2009, remember this day?" So I still think it's an Obama-Pelosi victory, and I think a lot of Republicans are saying, "Great, let them have it."

BAIER: Juan?

WILLIAMS: I think it is an important victory, and it's the first time that any House of the U.S. Congress has done anything about global climate change, and I think that's a tremendous step forward.

And then when you think about this in terms of trying to develop vision -- and I think that's what you're not plugging into here, Bill -- you have to have a vision about what the American economy is going to do.

And I think President Obama has said in the future we have to look for jobs that would come from generating renewable energy, that would lessen dependence on foreign oil. These are all positive developments for the U.S. economy.

And to say, "Oh, it's just about jobs, jobs, jobs," in the short term, I think, really takes away any notion or vision of what is possible in the long term in terms of developing energy or sending a signal.

You said we're small in terms of our contribution to global warming. But if you think about the signal it sends to China, to India, as we approach Denmark in December, I think it's very important.

And in terms of the Senate, I would not bet against this bill, because I think the Republicans have no alternative. The Republicans aren't saying, "Here's the way that we can go about controlling carbon emissions." No. They said, "We don't have any plan. We just don't like what President Obama is doing."

It's just becoming a refrain. And I think it's damaging to Republican prospects when there's no intellectual energy except to say, "We're obstructionists."

KRISTOL: Can I just say one thing? This isn't an attack on foreign oil or dependence on foreign oil. This is an attack on the domestic energy industry. It is an attack on domestic oil production, domestic coal production, and on the possibility of building nuclear power plants, which is the Republican alternative, and which would produce clean energy.

It's an attack on our energy here at home. And if the Democrats want to be the party that says, "You know what? We're going to crush the domestic oil and gas industry, the coal industry, and not build any nuclear power plants," well, good luck.

WILLIAMS: No, I think the Republican proposal would be more offshore oil drilling and, you know what, no limits in terms of what's put into the air because it's going to produce jobs.

Look, I think people think that's now short-sighted. I think people are saying, you know, "What is it that we can do in terms of wind, in terms of..."

HUME: Juan...

WILLIAMS: "...solar energy, that's different and would allow America to become a leader in a new kind of energy production worldwide?"

HUME: The energy on this issue, so to speak, has been draining for some time now. This is not high on people's priority list. And that's why you hear Nancy Pelosi , not Bill Kristol, trying to sell this as a jobs bill. It isn't a jobs bill at all.

It's a bill, as everyone has noted, that is likely to further burden the U.S. economy by burdening its participants, and it's not unreasonable to say it will kill jobs.

And in the midst of it, if you look at one thing that would make a difference on clean energy, it's nuclear power, domestically produced, as is the case in France, where they're having a great time with it, and the Democrats are against it.

BAIER: Another story we followed this week was the strange case of South Carolina's Republican governor Mark Sanford . After going missing last weekend, he showed up Wednesday at the capitol in Columbia to announce he had an affair and was asking to be forgiven.

On Friday, his apology tour continued at a cabinet meeting. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK SANFORD: Based on the way that I've disappointed, you know, my wife, my boys, close friends, family, South Carolinians at large, I think the -- always a question you're going to ask yourself in really -- in the larger context of leadership is what's it all mean and where do we go from here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Brit, there are multiple calls for him to step down in South Carolina. Does he resign? And what does it mean for the GOP overall?

HUME: Well, he may be able to ride this out, but his effectiveness as a politician at any level, including in South Carolina, is obviously greatly diminished.

It might have been a little different if he was a member of the other party, which is not so censorious about these things. Witness the case of Bill Clinton, who is still revered in many circles despite the shenanigans in the Oval Office. But the point is that Sanford is a different -- is in a different category. His national political hopes are dashed, and they never were very great anyway. So I mean, I think he could possibly survive, but I wouldn't be -- but it wouldn't surprise me at all either way.

I think he could -- you know, he could be simply rendered completely ineffective and out of office in a matter of a few days. He's a laughingstock. That's the problem for him. He's a laughingstock.

BAIER: Mara?

LIASSON: Yeah, I'm not sure about his prospects in South Carolina, but certainly his national ambitions, whatever they might have been, are over.

And I do think it adds to the general woes of the Republican Party. I mean, you go down the list of Vitter, Ensign, Larry Craig. I mean, there are a lot of these scandals, and I think it adds to this weight on the GOP.

I mean, they were at 22 percent approval rating, I think, in the last national polls that were taken. And I think this is a problem.

Now, in 2012, yes, they're going to have a standard bearer, and I'm sure that person is going to be an absolute straight arrow, but this is not good news for Republicans.

BAIER: Of course, we have Spitzer, McGreevey...

LIASSON: Yes.

BAIER: ... other Democrats who are in the...

LIASSON: We have those, too, but they're not trying to regroup themselves and carry the banner.

HUME: Spitzer is.

LIASSON: Spitzer?

HUME: Yeah.

LIASSON: He's trying to restore his reputation, but he's not going to run for anything anytime soon.

BAIER: Bill?

KRISTOL: Well, my concern, in light of what the House of Representatives did this week, is think of the carbon footprint of this affair. Flying all the way to Argentina? I think it's really irresponsible in our age of dwindling and limited resources.

LIASSON: You should have local -- you should think local.

KRISTOL: Well, absolutely. (LAUGHTER)

BAIER: Not globally.

Juan?

WILLIAMS: Well, I just think it's a problem for the party in terms of the hypocrisy quotient.

But you know, from my point of view, as long as he can get it back together with his family, and that's what he says he's doing, if the Republicans in the state of South Carolina are afraid of their lieutenant governor so they're not pushing to have him moved up, it sounds to me like we'll have 18 months more of Mark Sanford to kick around.

BAIER: And there's the lieutenant governor, Andre Bauer.

Panel, we'll take a break right here.

But when we come back, the back and forth between President Obama and Iranian president Ahmadinejad -- so how will the protests play into future U.S.-Iran relations? The panel breaks it down in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BAIER: On this day in 2000, Cuban exile Elian Gonzales returned to family members in Cuba following a Supreme Court order. The court ended a seven-month international custody battle over the 6-year-old Cuban boy which began when he floated into Florida waters.

Stay tuned for more from our panel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The Iranian people will be the ultimate judge of their government's actions, but if the Iranian government desires the respect of the international community, then it must respect the rights and heed the will of its people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: President Obama ramping up the rhetoric on Friday about the continuing protests over the Iranian presidential election.

And earlier today, the foreign secretary of England, David Miliband, demanded the release of eight Iranian employees of the British embassy in Tehran. They were picked up for allegedly taking part in illegal protests. Miliband called their detention harassment and intimidation.

We're back now with Brit, Mara, Bill and Juan.

Juan, what about this latest development and the Iranian situation overall?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think what we're seeing this weekend is that the authoritarian regime really has taken control. What was key here was the debate inside Iraq among the elites, people who felt that the...

BAIER: Iran.

WILLIAMS: Iran. What was key here was that you had the -- as I say, the authoritarian elites really pushing hard and having some debate about what is going to be the future of Iran.

And now it seems as if the clerics have backed down, and in some cases the clerics have said that the protesters should be treated as rioters, and that they should be punished, and that there's no sense in which you welcome this debate or the protest.

And now you have Ayatollah Khamenei and Ahmadinejad with -- holding these British workers. And I guess that's because there are no Americans, because there's no American embassy there.

So essentially, what they're doing is absolutely thumbing their noses at the international community and blaming the international community for fomenting the protests, rather than acknowledging the fact that there is a homegrown protest that is of sizable consequence because of the problems with the election.

BAIER: Bill?

KRISTOL: Yeah, I don't think it's over. You know, this revolution wasn't going to succeed in one week, and I'm not sure it's been successfully crushed in two weeks.

If you look at the history of these things, they go up and down. You know, look -- there were many times I went back and looked for a few minutes. There were many times in late 1978 people thought the shah had succeeded in quelling the problems and had sort of restored his upper hand, and then of course, ultimately, he was ousted.

We don't know what's going to happen here, but I certainly don't think it's over, A. And B, in terms of Obama's foreign policy, it's a huge moment. I mean, it's over. He cannot have engagement with Iran as the centerpiece of a serious foreign policy to deal with the Middle East.

He is not going to be able to engage successfully with this regime if it cracks down. If it succeeds in staying in power, it's going to be, I think, even more hostile than it has been, even less prone to make any kinds of concessions, et cetera.

So is he willing to -- is he just going to kind of mindlessly go on this path, and let them get nuclear weapons and possibly force Israel to take action if it feels it has to? Or is he going to actually rethink where he is and go for what -- as the Washington Post put it yesterday, the serious realistic policy on Iran now is now to help accelerate regime change.

That's the only prospect for Iran, not being a nuclear power. It's the only prospect for any relative peace in the Middle East. And there are ways to do that, with serious sanctions, not waiting for Russia and China. Let's see if Obama is able to rethink his Iran policy in light of changing reality.

LIASSON: I think they already are.

BAIER: Mara, there has been an evolution in the president's...

LIASSON: Oh, there's no doubt...

BAIER: ... approach. LIASSON: ... about it. Yeah, there's no doubt about it. I think that's already happening at the White House. I mean, first of all, his rhetoric, slowly but surely, day by day got tougher and tougher. He's now said he has to wait and see what happens before he engages with Iran.

I think that a line has been crossed. Everything is changed. This regime has discredited itself, if not de-legitimized itself. It no longer -- when it shoots its own people, everything changes. It's no longer the Islamic republic. It doesn't have the sway. Even across the region, Islamist parties have -- the foundations of those parties have been shaken.

And I think that the -- also, the reaction of Europe is important. I mean, one of the things the White House always wanted was -- the reason they were going to go forward with engagement was if it failed, which a lot of them expected that it would, at least they could turn to the Europeans and say, "Look, we tried. Now it's time for tougher sanctions." I think that they'll be more easily gotten now.

BAIER: Brit?

HUME: You know what was distressing about this from an American point of view was that the president was two beats behind the music all week long, and he finally ended up with some strong words of condemnation, which is what a lot of people had imagined he would say right at first.

He seemed not to recognize what this episode told us about that regime. Many people already thought this was a brutally repressive -- really, a police-state regime. He seemed slow to come to that realization, so he hung on for days to the idea that you could still engage with these people, which I think was unrealistic from the start.

And I sense here that, in addition to a foreign policy that he had devised and was planning to pursue, there was also a political component to this. You notice in his wording about what the -- what he kept saying the Iranian protesters wanted. He didn't say freedom. That's George Bush's word.

He kept talking about justice. This wasn't about justice, except in some broad sense. This was about freedom and about a free election. And I think that he was afraid early on that if he gave voice, as he eventually did, condemned the regime, called for the freedom of these people, he would be charged once again by his political base with emulating or imitating George W. Bush , which is something he very much did not want to do, and I think in the -- and I -- and I think it hurt him.

LIASSON: I think the White House was also legitimately concerned about becoming an issue in Iran, which they became anyway -- you know, being accused of meddling in Iran -- and also raising hopes that it couldn't follow through on. I mean, look at George Bush -- George H.W. Bush -- I mean, raising hopes of dissidents and the democratic forces in countries, and then we don't come to their aid in the -- in the end.

BAIER: Bill?

KRISTOL: You know, what strikes me, listening to Brit and Mara, is -- and Brit referred President Obama time and again. Mara kept talking about the White House. This is Obama's policy. On Iraq and Afghanistan, he sort of deferred to General Petraeus and to the experts who said, "Let's not get out of Iraq too fast." There was bipartisan support for a surge for troops in Afghanistan.

But Secretary of State Clinton is nowhere to be seen. Dennis Ross, who was in charge of Iran policy, has been moved into the White House. This is -- this is the centerpiece of President Obama's own personal foreign policy, and he will be judged by this.

And if he stays on a course of sort of pathetically hoping that he can engage this regime when he can't, and they just chug ahead to nuclear weapons, and maybe Israel feels it has to attack them, and we end up in a terrible place nine months from now, or a very dangerous place nine months from now, I think that's a huge problem. And I think it's not out of the question that he rethinks this.

WILLIAMS: Well, I just think it's -- if you go to axis of evil and cowboy diplomacy -- no better result than what President Obama has on his hands at the moment.

BAIER: Thanks, panel.

 

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