Robert Gibbs and Senator Jon Kyl on "Fox News Sunday"

Robert Gibbs and Senator Jon Kyl on "Fox News Sunday"

By Fox News Sunday - July 26, 2009

BRET BAIER: And hello again from Fox News in Washington. With us now to discuss a range of issues, Robert Gibbs, assistant to the president and White House press secretary.

Robert, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."

GIBBS: Thanks for having me.

BAIER: Presidents, before prime time news conferences, usually have detailed preparation sessions. And President Obama has already had four time prime time news conferences.

Before Wednesday's news conference, did you prepare him for a question about Henry Gates's arrest in Cambridge?

GIBBS: Well, look, let's just say, it's safe to say we went over a whole lot of topics that we thought might come up, and certainly, this was a topic that was and has been in the news.

I think the president, on Friday, spoke about the fact that he hadn't calibrated his words well probably unnecessarily added to the media frenzy around what was going on in Cambridge, so much so that even the police officer, Sergeant Crowley, that he talked to, from Cambridge, asked him for advice on how to get the press off of his -- off of his lawn, and the president said, "I'm trying to figure out how to get the press off my lawn, too."

BAIER: You know, you -- so you prepared him for the question, or at least made him aware that it could come up. Did he read the police report beforehand?

GIBBS: I don't know if the president read the police report. I think the president was clear in discussing the fact that he did not know all the details of what had transpired in Cambridge.

My guess is that only a very few people know exactly what happened in every instance in that. Again, I know the president...


BAIER: I guess my question is, early on, did he determine that he was going to take sides to back his friend to the extent that he did Wednesday?

GIBBS: Well, again, I think the president discussed the notion that saying beforehand that he knew Professor Gates, that he didn't have all the details, and in hindsight understands that his words were not calibrated as they should have been.

And, look, Bret, it's our hope that, as the president said, there can be -- this can be part of a teachable moment, that we can create a better communication and a dialogue between communities and police and help everyone do their job a little bit better.

And it's our hope that soon Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley can sit at the White House and talk about some of these issues and have a beer with the president.

BAIER: Has that been scheduled yet?

GIBBS: I don't know that it's been scheduled, but it's our hope that we're going to get it done. I know Sergeant Crowley told the president he was game, and I've read that Professor Gates is the same way, so hopefully we can get that done in the next several days.

BAIER: In fact, accepting that invitation for the beer, Mr. Gates wrote this. He said that he hopes it helps. Quote, "my unfortunate experience will only have a larger meaning if we can all use this to diminish racial profiling."

So does the president believe, as Mr. Gates clearly still does, that this was an instance of racial profiling?

GIBBS: Well, I think that's an issue that the president has worked on and been concerned about. I don't think the president has come down on one side of that or the other. Again, I think he would tell you he doesn't know all the details of this.

But, if what we can do is bring Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley together to discuss some of the issues and the events that surrounded that day in Cambridge, and if that helps communities and law enforcement work together as they did in Illinois on this important issue with then-state senator Barack Obama ; if communities and law enforcement throughout the country can do that, I think we'll all be a little bit better off.

And that's what this is really all about.

BAIER: You're talking about law enforcement, here, and Friday morning, you were asked by -- about a statement by the Fraternal Order of Police supporting Sergeant Crowley.

And in response, you said, quote, "I think the Fraternal Order of Police endorsed McCain."

Were you suggesting that the Fraternal Order of Police...

GIBBS: No, no, no.

BAIER: ... was being disingenuous in their statement?

GIBBS: No, no, no, no. Let's be clear. I was asked about their statement, and then the follow-up -- before I answered, they said, "I think these guys supported -- didn't these guys all support you?"

And I said, "No, I think they -- I think this organization supported John McCain ."

BAIER: But, just by bringing up the politics, do you regret...

GIBBS: No, no, no, no, no. I don't -- I will take responsibility for a lot of things, but I'm not going to take responsibility for a question that was asked of me, where somebody says, "Didn't these guys support you?"

I've got friends that work for the Fraternal Order of Police.

This was something that was asked of me; I'm simply pointing that out. It doesn't matter who they supported in the last election or who they supported 10 elections ago. That wasn't the point here. That's not what the president thought was the point here.

This was about the notion that the president had calibrated his words wrongly. The president understands and respects the job that law enforcement has to do each and every day. It's not an easy job.

But I wasn't injecting politics into that. That was -- that was part of the question that was asked of me.

BAIER: Fair enough. Last thing: Friday, when the president came back out and said he needed to calibrate his words differently, how much, if any, did the news conference Friday afternoon, in which Cambridge police officers and union leaders said that the president should apologize to, quote, "all law enforcement personnel throughout the country," affect the president's decision to come out Friday afternoon?

GIBBS: He did not watch that news conference. He was working in the Oval Office throughout most of that day. I think that at that point, he understood that his words have unnecessarily contributed to the frenzy around this, that he felt it was important to reach out to the police officer, to explain what he was trying to say.

They had a very good conversation, and I think cooler heads have prevailed.

BAIER: Another topic. Today, Vice President Biden writes in an op-ed in the New York Times about the stimulus package, quote, "The act was intended to provide steady support for our economy over an extended period, not a jolt that would last only a few months."

The vice president has used the term jolt before to describe the stimulus, and the president has previously described the stimulus as a jolt. He said we need a big stimulus package that would jolt the economy back into shape. His first news conference, he said the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back to life. So is the administration trying to move the goal posts here about what the stimulus was intended to do?

GIBBS: I think the important part of the statement that the vice president makes in the op-ed is a jolt over only a few months. There isn't -- remember, we are experiencing an economic downturn unlike anything we've seen since the Great Depression. In fact, when we came into office, that was the real discussion, were we headed for a second Great Depression? We've now pulled back from the precipice of that, in some part because of the contributions of the recovery plan.

But understand that one piece of legislation isn't going to fully get our economy back on track. What its intention was to do was to cushion that downturn not over a one- or two- or four-month period of time, but over a two-plus year period of time, by putting money into the pockets of hard-working Americans, investing in infrastructure and investment programs, and laying that foundation to create jobs for the long term.

BAIER: So the president still thinks it's working?

GIBBS: Absolutely. I think there's no doubt that the severity of the downturn would have been longer and deeper were not for the Recovery Act.

BAIER: Health care. What's the president's expectation now? We've heard Senate leaders saying they are not going to make August 7 to get a bill done. House leaders are suggesting that it might not happen next week either. What is the president's expectation?

GIBBS: Well, our expectation and the reason that we're still very optimistic about this is that we're continuing to make progress. You know, it's unique that we are at a point in this debate where about 80 percent of what we need to get -- comprehensive health care reform that cuts costs for small businesses and families, makes it affordable for them -- we've got about 80 percent agreement. We're still working on that last 20 percent. So we are enthusiastic about the progress that's been made.

BAIER: Does the House vote this week?

GIBBS: I don't know whether the House votes this week, Bret, but I know that even this weekend, there have been meetings at the committee level to get a proposal moving forward to get more progress.

The president's test is continued progress on this. He set a deadline in order to poke and prod Congress into moving, because as you well know, having spent any time in this now, without a little poking and prodding, not a lot gets done.

We're pleased to see progress, and as long as we see continued progress, we think we're on the road to getting comprehensive health care reform by this fall.

BAIER: Why not say it to lawmakers? Stay in town until you hammer out a deal. The president has, you know, both parties -- both chambers, rather. His party controlling both chambers. Why not say, hey, just stay here, knock it out?

GIBBS: Well, we're going to evaluate throughout the week sort of where we are on progress.

BAIER: So that's still a possibility?

GIBBS: Well, look, if by the end of the week we've made enough progress that we're moving in that right direction, then having lawmakers go home for the regularly scheduled August recess is probably a good thing.

The key test on this is are we making progress, are we getting closer and closer to being able to tell that small business owner in New Jersey that the president talked about yesterday that is having to lay off people because of the high cost of insurance, who may drop his insurance coverage altogether, that we're actually acting on doing something that will help his business be more competitive.

BAIER: After watching the legislative process with the stimulus bill and now watching what's happening with health care reform legislation, does the president think perhaps now that it might have been wiser to get more involved in the early stages with producing or creating a bill, producing language from the White House, from the executive?

GIBBS: Well, Bret, each and every day our staff is up on Capitol Hill. I know the president spoke with Democrats and Republicans throughout the week about their progress on health care reform. Staff and the president met for several hours with Democrats in the White House this week again. He's been on the phone with major players in the Republican Party on health care reform. I think the White House is very intimately involved in this.

We understand that Congress has to do its job, just as the president is doing his job. Again, the test is making progress on getting affordable, accessible health insurance, and I think we're getting closer.

BAIER: Just last week, the executive branch wrote a piece of legislation, a section, sending it to Congress to be included in the bill, called the Independent Medicare Advisory Council Act, IMAC. The CBO, Congressional Budget Office, sent a letter analyzing that particular section, designed to keep Medicare costs down and produce savings, and they estimate that it would only, as drafted, yield about $2 billion over the next 10 years. And they say in this letter, quote, "in the CBO's judgment, the probability is high that no savings would be realized." The CBO goes on to say that potentially substantial savings could be down the road, but that doesn't seem like a ringing endorsement...

GIBBS: Well, you didn't put that quote up on the screen, right?



BAIER: ... a little wishy-washy. It says there is a chance for substantial savings down the road, is the next sentence. So...

GIBBS: CBO analyses are always about whether or not there's going to be a chance.

But let's understand this, Bret. The IMAC proposal was not intended to garner savings, a huge amount of savings in the first 10 years, including in that legislation and included in the CBO estimate is recommendations wouldn't come from IMAC until 2015. So the notion that you wouldn't see a lot of savings in the first 10 years for a proposal that's not going to make recommendations for at least another six years isn't that surprising.

What IMAC is modeled after is something called MedPAC, which is what Republicans in 1997 developed, in order to cut waste and inefficiency out of Medicare and Medicaid without doing harm to the quality of care.

Let's use an example. Each and every year that this MedPAC has been available, they have forwarded to Congress a suggestion that we cut the fee that is paid to private insurance companies to handle Medicare -- basically, to do on top of what the government is always doing by paying them a subsidy. Each and every year, that recommendation comes before Congress, and Congress doesn't act. The president has included cutting that subsidy to the tune of almost $200 billion in more than half a trillion dollars worth of savings that he's identified in the first 10 years.

BAIER: I understand that, but the CBO projects that the House bill as of now increases the deficit over the 10 years by $230 billion. And this was talked about, the IMAC thing, was talked about as a key component. And the president Wednesday said, I have also pledged that health insurance reform will not add to our deficit over the next decade, being very specific, saying, "I mean it."

Now, if you extrapolate out the CBO's analysis of the House bill, the Republicans on the House Ways & Means Committee say it could raise the deficit by $750 billion or more, $1.6 trillion if you keep on going.


BAIER: So what I'm saying is...


GIBBS: Forty years -- if we add 40 years to the end of this, you could get numbers like that.

BAIER: No, no, it starts in 2015, goes to 2025. And by 2024, you're at $750 billion...

GIBBS: Well...

BAIER: ... if you're talking about savings in the long run...


GIBBS: I'm sorry, you didn't add 40 years; you added a decade and a half.

BAIER: When the program starts in 2015.

GIBBS: But here's what's important, Bret, and the president said this on Wednesday, and we talked, a little bit, about what the president said on Wednesday. The president meant what he said on Wednesday about the fact that health care reform would not add to our deficit, period.

BAIER: Period, not in the next 10 years?

GIBBS: We're not going to sign legislation that -- that adds to the deficit in order to provide health reform for tens of millions of Americans who are struggling under the increasingly high cost of health insurance.

I think what's the most important in this debate is what happens if we do nothing.

Bret, if we do nothing, millions of people are going to lose their health insurance. If we do nothing, millions of small businesses aren't going to be able to afford the coverage that they already provide. Some of them are going to have to lay people off. Some of those people that get laid off are going to enter a private insurance market that will discriminate against them if they're already sick or they have a preexisting condition.

That's what happens if we do nothing. BAIER: Back to Wednesday's news conference. Here's the president talking about what is wrong with the system.


OBAMA: Your child has a bad sore throat or has repeated sore throats. Your doctor may look at the reimbursement system and say to himself, "You know what? I make a lot more money if I take this kid's tonsils out."


BAIER: Now, since then, I've talked to a lot of doctors who were offended by that language. One of them sent me an e-mail to say, "To think that I spent 14 years training and borrowed $150,000 to become a doctor just so I can take out a kid's tonsils because it's good for my bottom line is insulting, demeaning. I'm appalled."

How do you respond?

GIBBS: Well, what we have to do is get a system in our -- a health care system that works for both the doctors and the patients.

Right now, in this country, we pay twice as much as virtually every other developed country in the world, and our health outcomes are less, right?

You heard the president talk about, imagine if you and your next- door neighbor bought the same car, yours didn't perform as well, and you paid $6,000 more. That's what our health care system is right now.

BAIER: Does the president believe that doctors literally make their decisions forced on the bottom line, that they're forced to make these decisions based on the fee payment schedule. Is that what his -- really -- his thinking is on the process?

GIBBS: The president thinks that what we ought to do is provide incentives for doctors to treat and cure patients, not be a slave to or have to just simply conform a fee schedule.

BAIER: You can understand where doctors would be offended?

GIBBS: Absolutely. But I also understand that we need to think about, just as doctors do, the whole quality of care, instead of worrying about how much somebody gets paid to amputate the foot of a diabetic patient at the -- basically toward the end course of that disease, rather than trying to look at health care -- health prevention and wellness when a kid is younger, to address childhood obesity, to ensure that that person never gets to the point where they're diagnosed with diabetes.

There's absolutely no incentive in our health care system, right now, to look at health wellness and prevention to prevent some child from becoming obese and developing diabetes, but there's the fee schedule at the end of this for what happens when you have to amputate their foot.

That's what we're trying to change. That's what will make the quality of health care better in this country.

BAIER: Robert, thanks for being here today.

GIBBS: Thanks for having me.

BAIER: Please come back.

GIBBS: I'll be glad to do it.

BAIER: Up next, the Republicans' view of health care reform and much more with Senate minority whip Jon Kyl . Stay tuned.


BAIER: (inaudible) way to get a bipartisan piece of legislation, when it comes to health care reform, out?

Give us the behind-the-scenes of what's happening with the Senate Finance Committee. And will a deal get done?

KYL: First of all, to set the stage in the House, there were three different committees, and they have not been able to bring a bill to the floor yet. They were hoping to do that within this next week, but that doesn't look likely.

In the Senate there are two committees, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which has reported a bill out. It's very much more along the lines of the House bill and what the president has talked about.

And then, in the Finance Committee, which is supposed to write key parts of it, particularly talking about how to finance all of this, we have had a lot of meetings, both formal and informal meetings, but there's been no product yet.

And one of the reasons, as you point out, is that this is very hard. It's hard to get Democrats together to agree on a bill, let alone Republicans.

I think it's important to remind folks that Democrats have a 60- 40 majority in the Senate, and a bigger margin than that in the House. So if they all got together, they could pass a bill. This isn't being held up by Republicans.

But it's hard. And so there have been a lot of informal negotiations over the past three or four weeks. No bill has emerged yet. I think it is probably unlikely that we will actually produce a bill in the committee before the August recess.

But, Bret, I want to say, I think that's a good thing. You know, this is a democratic republic, where the people are supposed to tell us what to do. They've now heard about a lot of different plans, and I think it's a very good thing for us to go back home over the August recess, lay it out to our constituents and say, "All right, folks, what do you think we ought to do? Here are the pros and cons of all of these different proposals."

The American people need to speak to this. And I think, if they do, we'll make much wiser decisions.

BAIER: Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa is the ranking member of this committee, the Senate Finance Committee. Do you trust that Senator Grassley will be able to negotiate something that you will be able to sign onto?

KYL: I'm not at all sure. And Chuck's had a hard time. And Mike Enzi, who is our ranking member on the HELP committee and is also a member of the Finance Committee, has been involved in those conversations as well. And we talk about this a lot. He brings back reports frequently of very difficult divisions.

Part of it is these CBO scores that you talked about earlier. Again, for folks watching, the Congressional Budget Office is required to tell us how much he, the director, thinks it's going to cost, so that we can try to find ways to pay for it or to reduce expenses in some area so that we come out, net, without having any increase in cost.

It turns out that the Congressional Budget Office, in scoring these different proposals, has scored very little savings and huge costs, so that we'll have a deficit under either the House bill or the Senate bill, anywhere from $240 billion to $600 billion.

And they're having a hard time doing as much as they want to do and still not having that kind of budget deficit.

BAIER: What are the key sticking points for Republicans?

What are the Republican alternatives that possibly could -- could make a deal, going forward?

KYL: Let me answer that two ways. First of all, there are specific problems in our health delivery system today, especially costs for small businesses, ensuring their folks and some folks that have preexisting health conditions and so on.

But according to a Fox poll, 91 percent of Americans have insurance and 84 percent rate their insurance "good" or "excellent."

So Republicans believe that what we ought to do is focus solutions to the specific problems that are -- that exist today and not scrap the whole system and impose some kind of new government-run regulatory system, which is what the bills that the president and the House and the HELP committee are -- are doing -- that the American people don't want, either.

So let me give you some specifics. And this goes to the second part of it.

One of the things that the president never talks about, because of support of trial lawyers, is the fact that we have a -- a jackpot justice system, in terms of liability lawsuits. And we've got to get a handle on that.

Republicans want to reform that. We believe that could take a $100 billion a year in excess costs, defensive medicine practiced by physicians, out of the system. That's a way to reduce costs by perhaps $100 billion.

Newt Gingrich has talked about the fact that there is anywhere from $60 billion to $120 billion in Medicare and Medicaid fraud. Insurance companies pay a lot of people to weed out that fraud because they couldn't stay in business if they had to eat those kind of numbers.

Medicare (inaudible) the taxpayer money. You've got a huge amount of fraud in there.

Third, one of the problems is that small businesses can't band together and have the same kind of purchasing power that big businesses do. And so we support association and small-business health reform.

Fourth, here's a big one. We believe that insurance companies should be able to sell health insurance across state lines just like life insurance, car insurance, all the other.

You can buy a car insurance policy from State Farm anywhere in the -- in the country. There isn't a big enough risk pool in a lot of the states to have affordable insurance, and therefore, if they could sell across state lines, it would provide that for them.

HSA reform -- health savings accounts. We should be able to pay our premiums from savings accounts. Individuals should have the same kind of tax deduction as businesses do.

A big business ought to be able to get its claims information from insurance companies so that they can compete their insurance.

I could go on and on. There are a myriad of specific proposals that we support, and they would all have one thing in common. They would either provide greater access or reduce costs. And they wouldn't interfere with the coverage that most Americans have and like.

BAIER: So, Senator, I guess the bottom-line question: The chairman, Senator Max Baucus , and the ranking member, Chuck Grassley -- do you think, with the long list of things you just mentioned, that there is a bill that can come put of Senate Finance that is a compromise?

KYL: I sincerely doubt it. Because none of the things that I just talked about have been accepted by the Democrats. President Obama, as a senator, voted against most of the things that I just mentioned.

Those are all good ideas. They're Republican ideas, and our colleagues have voted a lot of them down, have not incorporated them into the bills.

One other thing: Why do they keep voting down Republican amendments to ensure that those -- that there is no rationing of health care?

I mean, at the end of the day, what really matters is what your doctor says you and your family need, and you having the ability to provide that for them.

Instead, the Democrat bills insert the government in between to set the rules on what insurance policies can cover and not, what Medicare and Medicaid can cover and not, and essentially ration the care that we would get. That's their way of cutting costs.

We keep offering amendments that say, whatever else you do, don't ration care; don't impose policies that would delay or deny care to Americans. And they keep voting these amendments down. Why?

Because, of course, at the end of the day, I think most of them appreciate that they are going to be rationing care, and that's the wrong way to go.

BAIER: So, if you were to guess today, you would say it's, what, highly unlikely that the president would be signing a health care reform legislation by the end of the year?

KYL: The only way that I think he will sign it -- and it's quite possible that he'll have something to sign -- is, frankly, if the American people say, we don't like the direction this is going; the costs; adding to the deficit, the new taxes; you don't get to keep the insurance that you have; rationing of health care; why don't you -- instead of trying to redesign the entire health care system, why don't you focus solutions to the specific problems that increase the costs and help those small businesses and individuals get the insurance at an affordable cost as we've discussed.

I think once they scrap the bills that are out there right now and start over with this approach, we'll have a good chance of doing something meaningful.

BAIER: Senator, your colleague from South Carolina, Senator Jim DeMint , said this this week. "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him." Your colleague from Oklahoma, Senator Jim Inhofe, said this, "We can stall Democratic effort on health reform. We can stall it, and it's going to be a huge gain for us, who want to turn this thing over in the 2010 elections."

Senator Kyl, do you agree with them?

KYL: I don't agree with that kind of language. I know what Jim DeMint has said is that he wanted to break the momentum of the inevitability of passing these liberal health care bills. They said we had to pass stimulus and do it immediately, or else the economy would see 10 percent or 8 percent unemployment. It's not going to 10 percent.

And what we're saying is, slow this down so that we don't do -- we don't make another bad mistake here. But I do think that because the language has a political implication, it's unfortunate.

Both sides talk about the politics of these issues. I don't think we ought to be focused on that.

BAIER: Do you think the president is in trouble with his polls sliding in recent days and weeks?

KYL: Well, from a purely political standpoint, yes, but again, that's not my main concern right now. He's only been in office six months, and he's got a long way to go. And right now, I'm more focused on issue like the health care that we've got to get right, and I think we need to take the time to do it. And if that means slowing down the momentum of all of this so the American people can instruct us when we come back home, then I think that's what we ought to do.

BAIER: On the topic of funding abortions and whether federal dollars, tax dollars would be used for that. Asked recently about that, if that would in fact happen as the bills that have already passed committee, it does happen, the president said rather than wading into that issue at this point, I think it's appropriate to figure out just how to deliver cost savings. Do you believe that the president is stepping back from that, and there will be some kind of commitment that federal dollars will not be used on abortions?

KYL: I hope so. Unfortunately, in the Democratic bills that passed the House and the bill in the HELP Committee, that's not the case. Funding of abortions is required.

I used to as a lawyer represent a Catholic hospital. They do not want to have to do these kinds of things, and yet there's language, mandatory language in some of these bills.

The president should step back from that. That would be bad policy.

BAIER: Now on to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. The vote in the Judiciary Committee is Tuesday. You have announced you are going to vote against that nomination. However, at least one Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Lindsey Graham , has announced he will vote for her. How many Republicans do you think will vote for her on that committee?

KYL: I'm not sure. It may just be one. Republicans are not trying to get a big vote either for or against Judge Sotomayor. Each individual Republican can vote however he or she wishes. I will vote no.

Incidentally, I will tell you that if it were a matter of having to get her out of the committee onto the floor, I would vote yes so that the full Senate would have an opportunity to vote on her, but I think it's clear that with the huge majority the Democrats have on the committee, that that won't be an issue.

I was very disappointed in her answers to the questions that we posed during the hearings, and if you want to get into a little bit more detail, I'm happy to do that. I was very disappointed.

BAIER: Well, what kind of justice -- it appears she is going to pass easily and be confirmed. What kind of justice do you think she'll be?

KYL: One of the problems is that I don't think we know. There is the Judge Sotomayor that rendered certain decisions, the Judge Sotomayor that gave certain speeches, the Judge Sotomayor that testified before our committee, sometimes in contradictory ways. And it will depend on which one actually starts deciding cases. And because I think she has some burden of convincing us of her positions on these issues, she certainly did not carry that burden, as far as I was concerned, in the committee. I will be voting against her.

BAIER: OK, finally, Senator, Alaskan governor Sarah Palin is stepping down today. Do you think she's going to run for president?

KYL: I have no idea. I think one of the reasons she may be stepping down is she wants to get out of the public limelight, with all the attention being paid to her every move, and get back to a semi-normal life. I have no idea what her future plans are.

BAIER: Do you think that was the right move?

KYL: I -- I don't want to be critical, because you never know what a family's specific situation is. I, kind of, wish she had decided to stick out her term as governor. I think she was being very effective. The voters obviously had a lot of confidence in her.

And once you start a job like that, it seems to me that you should try to finish it, unless there are really extenuating circumstances. And she did talk about the difficulty for her family. And, after all, our families should come first. So I'm just not sure.

BAIER: Senator Kyl, thanks for sharing part of your day with us. Please come back.

KYL: Thank you, Bret. You bet.

BAIER: Coming up, our Sunday regulars discuss the president's attempt to put out the fire over his controversial comments on the Gates arrest, when we come right back.




PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The Cambridge police acted stupidly.



OBAMA: Well, I have to say I am surprised by the controversy surrounding my statement. I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge police department or Sergeant Crowley specifically.


BAIER: Well, that was the evolution of President Obama's comments this week on the arrest of a black Harvard professor.

Now it's time for our Sunday panel, 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 from National Public Radio.

Brit, you heard Robert Gibbs' explanation of the president's evolution. Your thoughts on all of this?

HUME: Well, I think Robert Gibbs didn't add a lot, probably trying not to add a lot on this -- on this issue, but, you know, what's striking about this is the president was clearly trying to get this over with, put the firestorm out, and yet, in the end, he couldn't bring himself to actually apologize for himself.

This president who travels the world apologizing for his country couldn't quite apologize for himself. He spoke of not calibrating his words perfectly. He suggested he didn't mean to malign the -- the police officer in question or the Cambridge police department. But he said they acted "stupidly." If you say something like that, you obviously malign them.

So, in the end, this controversy may be nearing an end, but if he had made an outright apology and said he never should have waded into it in the first place, and it wasn't -- shouldn't have been a question of calibrating words; he shouldn't have said any words -- if he'd said that, it would be over. Yet here we are, talking about it still. I don't think he got the -- the job done.

BAIER: Mara?

LIASSON: I think he went a long way to tamp this down. I think the president did something really unusual, and really interesting, in that press conference, which is, usually, he's very, very careful when he talks about race. It's always, kind of, on the one hand; on the other hand. He, kind of, rises above the conflict, puts thing into a context, kind of abstract.

This was very personal. And he reacted, I think, very viscerally. This was a friend of his. He thought the police department shouldn't have arrested him; they acted stupidly. It was really like, almost -- you know, it sounded like a real heartfelt sentiment.

BAIER: And Gibbs said they did prepare for that question.

LIASSON: Yes, yes.

And then, you know, he talked to his advisers and his wife, and he saw the press conference, or he heard about the press conference, at least, from the Cambridge police, and he decided, I think rightly, that he needed to come out again and walk back the word "stupidly," which he did.

You know, he could have said "that was stupid of me to say stupidly."

He invited them both to the White House, which is a very Obama thing to do. That's the kind of thing we're used to. He's going to bring both sides together; there's going to be a teachable moment.

(UNKNOWN): Who's going to get taught?


LIASSON: You know what? Everybody since the initial incident, which Maureen Dowd, I think, rightly said was a mixture of race, class and testosterone -- I mean, everybody is trying to walk down, here. The policeman said he supports Obama 110 percent.

Everybody, I think, needs to climb down. As the president said in his briefing room comments, you know, "Everybody overreacted."

I think the big outcome of this is that this was supposed to be a week when the White House wanted to focus like a laser on health care, and nobody, as the president acknowledged, paid any attention to that.

BAIER: Bill?

KRISTOL: You know, I think they should have taken Mara's -- the president should have called Mara instead of talking to Robert Gibbs and others.

And that's a very charming formulation you had, that the president could have said, you know, "That was a stupid thing for me to say." But he can't say that for some reason. You know, that would be too self-deprecating. And I think he is an arrogant man, and he feels entitled to pass judgment on Cambridge cops or on pediatricians who allegedly are referring people to get tonsillectomies, that the cops are stupid; they pediatricians, I suppose, are greedy and venal.

He feels entitled, as president of the United States, to stand up there and pass these judgments. One of them backfires politically, and he tries to walk it back -- oh, everyone should calm down; I'll have them for a beer at the White House.

He can't say that he said something stupid.

WILLIAMS: Well, he's going to have to walk it back some way. I mean, obviously, this is politically damaging to him.

BAIER: Even more?

WILLIAMS: Yes, I think there's -- I mean, they're going to have the meeting at the White House, I hear, this week, with Crowley and Gates. And it's just -- the issue's going to continue to boil.

And if you look at the poll numbers that are out, some initial poll numbers indicate -- I think it's, like, 26 percent of Americans think he handled it well. Overwhelmingly, there's been a negative response.

Now, in the black community, I think it's, like, high; 71 percent think that what he said was appropriate. But if you stop and think about this for a second, that means that about a third of black America thinks he didn't handle this well.


And that's, kind of, surprising because, as I can tell you as a black person sitting here, there's a lot of tension between black men and police. And people are, sort of, instinctively given to the idea that, you know, police can overreact quickly.

But in this situation, the president spoke without the facts. And so you can't have a teachable moment if it's based on a lie.

And what happened was the president reacted and spoke -- he spoke about things like racial profiling, and pointed out that he had acted on this as a state legislator.

But, you know what, this was not about racial profiling. This was about a guy breaking into his house. The neighbor appropriately calls the police, who come and respond to that. And once the police come, ask "Who are you," ask "Who else is in the house?" And then Professor Gates, according to the police report, begins to berate the officer, make demands on the officer, talk about his mother, and ask, "Do you know who I am? You don't know who you're dealing with," and continues this even after the president says that Gates is pulled out of his house. In fact, Gates pursues the officer out of his house. The officer, according to the police report -- I might add, there's a black policeman, a Hispanic policeman on the scene, and they corroborate this -- the officer pulls out his handcuffs and tells Gates to stop, and Gates pursues -- continues, persistently, to berate the officer.

Now, you tell me what -- is this an instance of, you know, a poor black kid being, you know, treated badly by a cop, you know, some some kind of police harassment?

No, I don't think so at all. And apparently the president wasn't aware of any of this when he spoke out.

BAIER: And Mr. Gates, in accepting the invitation for the beer, said he really hopes it helps, especially when it comes to the issue of racial profiling.

So you're saying it's going to continue even as this summit continues over the beer at the White House?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know what? It seems to me that, if you bring this issue up -- and this is so key. The president -- part of the president's appeal is that he is a racially healing force in our nation. I think a lot of people voted for him hoping, get us past this point.

Instead, he has injected himself in such a way -- he said he ratcheted it up. He has done such a -- such a disservice to us, in terms of racial understanding, here, that he has hurt the country at this moment and, I think, hurt himself.

HUME: It is testament to the American people's belief that racism is a bad and evil thing, that "racist" is such an insult, such a dirty word. It is really quite a terrible in contemporary America to be labeled a racist or thought a racist because the judgment against it is virtually unanimous. It is unacceptable behavior.

And it is -- unfortunately, that fact has placed into the hands of certain people a weapon. That word itself is a weapon. Note how quickly this professor was to hurl it at this police officer.

And his continued compliant that racial profiling, his insistence that racial profiling was involved here -- he continues to wield this weapon.

This is, as Juan correctly points out, the very kind of thing that one hoped that Barack Obama would get us past, and that the fact that this election would help to get us past.

But that -- as long as that word is hurled around willy-nilly, the way it seems to be, and freely as it is used indiscriminately and unwisely as it was in this case, I think we have a way to go.

BAIER: Mara, when you look at that poll that Juan referenced, that 26 percent say that the president handled it well; 46 say poor, and then the breakdown of 71 percent African-Americans -- of the people who thought that he handled it well, 71 percent were African- America, 22 percent white.

What do you see that suggesting?

And does it hurt the president politically, moving forward?

LIASSON: Well, first of all, I'm assuming that -- that poll was taken before Friday. Is that correct?

It was since -- before he came out to walk his remarks back?


They were reacting to his initial -- initial comments at the press conference?

(UNKNOWN): No, no, I think the poll was Friday night and Saturday.

(UNKNOWN): Friday night.

LIASSON: I still think the president -- look, this is reminiscent of the Jeremiah Wright controversy. It hurt him, but he managed to rise to the occasion and deal with it.

Now, I think he can do that here. I think he started on Friday by coming to the briefing room. He's going to have them both up to the White House. And there's a lot that the White House can do with a meeting like that.

And who knows what else the president does, going forward, about this. But I think it's possible -- I think it was a misstep on his part, but I do think he can correct it. I think that's bad -- that poll number is bad. That's not what you want. Btu I do think the president can -- can do a lot of things to -- to correct that or change it.

HUME: I fear we will have to await the arrival of the next president to apologize for Barack Obama , as he so repeatedly on behalf of previous presidents.

BAIER: Last word?

WILLIAMS: Part of the tension, here, of course, is that -- I mean, like, I've been in my house and had cops coming over in response to an alarm. But I tend to be very deferential. I think it reveals something about the nature of the anxiety of being black and dealing with cops, you know. But you want to just say, "Yes, sir," and help them if they think someone's hiding in a closet. Let them do it.

The behavior here would indicate that this was not the way black men usually react to cops. And so something different's going on here, but it's definitely not about racial profiling and, I would argue, not about racism, although so many people want to make it about this bigger issue, including our president. BAIER: Well, we have to break here, but when we come back, health care reform held up by Democrats. Is this a serious problem for the administration or a legislative bump in the road?

We'll be right back.



REID: It's better to have a product that is one that is based on quality and thoughtfulness rather than trying to jam something through.

REP. STENY H. HOYER, D-MD., HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Certainly the speaker and I both had the hope that we would be able to pass the health care bill by the time we left here on the 31st of July.


BAIER: That was Senate Majority Leader Reid and House Majority Leader Hoyer raising doubts this week about making an August deadline for passing health care reform legislation.

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

Juan, where do we stand with this and will it get through?

WILLIAMS: Well, where we stand is that they've missed the deadline. And of course, President Obama has said he wanted that deadline as an instrument to force something at this moment, because he fears that politics are going to interfere (ph) the closer we get to 2010. And I think that's right. So there's a big hush here as people are thinking, well, exactly what can be done before the recess? Will Speaker of the House Pelosi force some kind of vote in the House? It doesn't look there's any possibility on the Senate side.

So we're headed into the recess, and there the White House says they want to somehow build grassroots pressure, especially on conservative Democrats, to say that health care needs to be fixed, and not to get lost in the weeds about cost and tax bills and all the like.

But here in Washington, that's all the talk is about, is about the cost of paying for this health care legislation.

BAIER: At the president's suggestion, when he says it has to be deficit-neutral. It can't raise the deficit over 10 years. That's why all the costs...


WILLIAMS: Without a doubt, that's what the president promised, and I think this week he lost an opportunity to express confidence, to take the reins once again. He has adopted sort of the anti-Clinton strategy, which is not to lay out exactly what he wants, in the hope that all the voices, the multitude of voices on the Hill, can be heard, and then he will come in as the final arbiter. But the result has been that it has been nitpicked to death, and that the cost issue has become preeminent as opposed to the issue of fixing what many say is a broken health care system.

BAIER: Bill.

KRISTOL: I would say on substance, the more people are in, the less chance there is (ph) that this is sound legislation, and that's what is hurting it. I mean, there is no great, huge television advertising campaign. There's no Harry and Louise. The Obama forces have more behind them in terms of paid media, and friendly mainstream media, I would say, than the opponents. They're just being heard on substance.

On politics, they cannot pass this on a partisan vote, or if they do, I believe they will pay a huge price in 2010. Social Security -- think of pieces of legislation (inaudible). Social Security was passed with overwhelming support from Republicans in 1935. Medicare, the great accomplishment of Lyndon Johnson, a huge overhaul of health care system, Republicans split about 50/50 in the House and the Senate.

You cannot reform 18 percent of the American economy, with drastic changes that imply the possibility of rationing -- as the president himself says, a fundamental change in the way we provide health insurance and health care in this country -- on a partisan vote, jamming things through with 219 Democrats in the House. And if he tries -- I hope he takes this to the floor this week and forces the Democrats to vote on it. I think the Republicans will just say, fine, let's go on record with the current Democratic Obama-care proposals. And then let's go to the country and say, do you think this is a good idea, or do you want to send a heck of a lot more Republicans here in 2011 to repeal a lot of these very -- these tax increases, these rationing provisions and the like?

BAIER: Mara.

LIASSON: This is not the final bill. I mean, if the House can get something to the floor -- I think the only way the House can get something to the floor is if the Senate Finance Committee actually comes out with a package this week that provides a more centrist, more conservative, more bipartisan alternative to what's on the House floor, and that might get you just the number of Blue Dogs, conservative Democrats in the House that you need to vote for it by saying, look, this is to move the process forward, that's why I'm voting for this. And in the end, when these bills are conferenced, I want something that looks more like the Senate Finance Committee bill. That's the best situation I can imagine for before the recess.

HUME: Now, wait a minute, so, Mara, what you're saying is that they'll vote for a bill -- they're going to vote for a bill that they don't like in the House of Representatives, on the strength of the fact that there over in the Senate, there's something better being proposed that might later be adopted in conference?

LIASSON: Yes. I mean, I don't think...


HUME: Somehow, that doesn't sound like (inaudible) for passage to me.

LIASSON: No, they can -- this is one step in the process. This is -- they are trying to pass the House bill, they are trying to pass the Senate bill. Eventually, they will be melded.

You can lose a certain number of Blue Dogs in the House. The Democrats have a big enough majority. They've got a cushion. They have just got to keep enough of these guys on board.

And what they all said this week -- the Blue Dogs have been very, very transparent. They want this to be deficit-neutral. They want it to bend the cost curve down overtime...


LIASSON: They don't want the big tax increases, which Pelosi has already responded to and said...


HUME: But they're going to have to vote -- they'll still be on record as having voted for those things as they vote for this bill.

LIASSON: No, they're going to change the bill to make it more appealing to the Blue Dogs.

BAIER: You think if they go home, it gets harder or easier?

LIASSON: Without a bill? I personally think if they go home without a bill, it gets harder.

The Senate is going home without a bill no matter what. They might have a Senate Finance package to talk about at home, but I think it gets harder.

HUME: Bill (inaudible) is right. The more the public sees this and the more the public sees the performance on it, the less the public likes it. And it's a reminder once again of what a colossal blunder it was for the administration to allow the Congress to write this bloated and up to now ineffective stimulus program, at a cost of something like we've never seen before, $787 billion, which blew a hole in an already swelling deficit, which enormously enlarged it, and left them with no money to pay for initiatives like this. That's why he is burdened by the need to make it deficit-neutral, because he's broke. The administration, the Treasury is broke. That's why all these unattractive methods to pay for it -- tax increases and assorted other cuts in things like Medicare, which are popular, are all on the table, and that's one of the reasons why the bill is so difficult to enact, because it has to be paid for because the stimulus bill already soaked up all the money.

WILLIAMS: But the country needed a stimulus package, given the depth of the recession...

LIASSON: But not all of the $787 billion...


HUME: Remember this, Juan, that...


HUME: Remember this about the stimulus bill. The long history of the stimulus is that by the time it takes effect, recessions are almost always over. The big player in recovering from recessions always and every time, the Federal Reserve, which was doing all it could...


WILLIAMS: We don't know what the story -- the bottom line is written on this stimulus yet, and don't forget that for all the people who were talking about deficits, when it came to a Medicaid prescription drug benefit under the Bush administration, it wasn't paid for. When it came to two wars, they weren't on the books. They are not paid for. So a lot of this deficit is really not to be blamed on Obama.

BAIER: That's it for the panel. We'll see you next week. Don't forget to check out panel plus after this show. Our group continues the discussion on our web site, We'll be right back with the final word after this.


BAIER: That is it for us today. A reminder: Check out the show's blog, "Wallace Watch" at I'll see you Monday at 6 p.m. Eastern for a special report. Chris is back here for the next "Fox News Sunday." Make it a great week.


For more visit the FOX News Sunday web page.
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