Sen. Alexander, Dean, Gingrich and Podesta on Health Care

Sen. Alexander, Dean, Gingrich and Podesta on Health Care

By Fox News Sunday - September 6, 2009

CHRIS WALLACE: And hello again from Fox News in Washington. First, some news that's probably not in your morning paper. Van Jones, President Obama's special adviser for green jobs, resigned late last night amid growing controversy over off-color remarks he made about Republicans and a petition he signed suggesting a government role in 9/11.

Still, in his resignation, Jones took a parting shot at his critics. "Opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide. But I came here to fight for others, not for myself." We'll have more on Van Jones later in the program.

Now to our top story. When President Obama addresses a joint session of Congress Wednesday night, his goal of major health care reform will be on the line, so let's start with the main question. What does the president need to say?

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, give us a brief overview. What should the president say?

GINGRICH: Well, I think the president's had a month in which the American people have said they don't want a governor plan. They would like health reform. They would like it in a way that they trust.

And he's at, I think, a strategic crossroads. If he comes in Wednesday night with a better version of what they've said for the last three months, I think that clearly the country will conclude that he is not listening, and I think that they will then have to try to ram a bill through in a very partisan way, and I think that that will, frankly, be a tragedy for the administration and for the country.

WALLACE: Lamar Alexander , as the number three Republican in the Senate, anything you want to add to that?

ALEXANDER: Yeah, I think he should say, "My fellow Americans, let's start over and let's focus on cost, cost to you when you buy your health insurance, cost to the American people for their government, and let's do it step by step. Let's don't try to change the whole system at once."

There are some things we can do to reduce costs. For example, we can buy insurance across state lines. We can allow small businesses to pool with each other. We should be able to agree on that. Let's work step by step to re-earn the trust of the American people.

WALLACE: Howard Dean, as a former governor, as the former Democratic Party chair, as a doctor yourself, what does the president need to say to Congress Wednesday night?

DEAN: Well, I disagree with Newt. I know it's a big surprise. I think that the polls show that the public does want an option to get into a government plan.

The insurance companies have been really terrible to the American people and to doctors, and I think the public wants some kind of a choice between the private insurance industry and what people over 65 have.

So I think he should stay the course. We already know this is going to be a big partisan fight in the Senate. The senators aren't going to be interested in helping put something together on the Republican side. They haven't -- they've indicated so over the -- over the summer recess.

So I think he's got to stand up and lead and be strong. What people value more in a president than anything else is strength, and that's what we've got to see on this week.

WALLACE: John Podesta, as the head of the Obama transition team, as chief of staff to -- under President Clinton, anything you want to add to what Governor Dean said?

PODESTA: Well, you know, I think he needs to do, really, two things. He needs to redefine the debate, get back to where we've been, to tell people what's in it for them -- more access, lower costs, that they won't lose their health insurance when they need it the most.

And then he's got to be specific, I think, and say what he wants in the bill. We've had a summer of, to some extent, both distortion on one side but also confusion with a lot of different plans on the table. He's got to say, "This is what I want to see in the final bill."

WALLACE: Before we get to the specific issues, I want to go back to this question of approach and pick up on something, Senator Alexander, you said.

You said he needs to slow things down and go smaller, go incremental. You think that's the way? And if he goes for comprehensive -- pushes for comprehensive reform, that's a mistake?

ALEXANDER: I do think it's a mistake, and I think that's something we've learned. We saw with the immigration bill we don't do comprehensive very well. We're seeing it with health care. We're about to see it with energy and climate change.

These 1,000-page bills that try to change complex systems don't work. And what we saw in August is this has gone from being an issue to being personal, from preaching to meddling. We have 250 million people who think their health insurance is being dramatically affected, many in a worse way.

So I think we have to take these things step by step, and the president is the president. He should say, "I'm going to clear the deck. Health care is what we're going to work on. I'm going to stay on it for as long as I need to to get it done, and here are the four or five things that we can get done, and we can do them in a bipartisan way."

WALLACE: Mr. Podesta, there does seem to be this issue of approach, either go smaller, incremental, maybe go with the things that everybody agrees on, like insurance reform, private insurance reform first -- or do you take advantage of the big Democratic majority and try to push a comprehensive bill through now?

PODESTA: Well, you know, I think there is a lot of agreement -- much more agreement, for example, than there perhaps was in 1993 -- about the need for insurance reform.

But there also is agreement that you've got to get people in the system. You've got to get the growing number of uninsured with real insurance so that they can both lead healthy lives but also the system will work more efficiently, more effectively, with an expansion of coverage. So I think...

WALLACE: So you're saying go for the whole shebang.

PODESTA: Well, I think he's got to decide what he wants in this bill. And I would say that he wants to go for as much expansion of coverage as is possible to get through the Congress.

WALLACE: I think it's fair to say that the biggest issue on Wednesday night is whether or not the president is going to call -- maintain support for the public option, the idea of a government-run insurance plan.

Governor Dean, if the president on Wednesday night says, "Look, we just don't have the votes to pass the public option, we're going to have to go for co-ops or a trigger that some years down the line, maybe three, four years down the line, would trigger and initiate a public option," is that unacceptable? Is that a defeat for health care reform?

DEAN: Well, the problem is it won't work. It doesn't add anything. If you're going to do that, just do the insurance reform. Then I would agree with Senator Alexander that if you're going to do that, then don't pretend you're doing reform. There's no point in spending $600 billion and giving it to the insurance industry. We know what they'll do with it. So you know, I'm very hopeful that he will stick to his guns and that we'll have the reform we were promised in the campaign.

But if, for whatever reason, he chooses to go in a different direction, then I'd scale back the bill. I wouldn't spend 5 cents on it.

You know, we've done that insurance reform here. We did it 15 years ago. We didn't have -- it didn't cost a nickel to do it. So if you're going to scale the bill back, then just -- let's just not call it health care reform, because it won't be. It will be insurance reform, and insurance reform is a good thing.

WALLACE: Mr. Podesta, let me bring you back into this, because this is less a debate between Republicans and Democrats than between Democrats and Democrats.

If the president says he's going to go for the trigger -- and the idea would be private insurance companies would have, let's say, till 2013 to offer an affordable insurance policy to 95 percent of Americans; otherwise, the public health option kicks in. But if they do offer that, there is no public health option.

If he goes for the trigger, can and should Democrats live with that?

PODESTA: Well, look. I think that I agree with Governor Dean about one thing. We've got to have affordable coverage that -- and we have to have competition in the system that doesn't deny you coverage when you need it, that doesn't -- isn't built around excluding people with pre-existing conditions.

I think the best way to get there is with a public option. I hope the president stays with that because I think it provides effective competition and will produce the best result.

But if he chooses to look at the overall bill and say that there's another way to get there, then so be it. We've talked about this a lot. It's time for people to get in and vote and see where the votes are in this Congress.

But I think the idea of expanding coverage -- I think what I would disagree with Governor Dean about is that spending money to give people -- we have 14,000 people a day losing their health insurance coverage. Spending some money to cover more people is worth doing.

DEAN: Well, the only problem is I don't think he'll end up covering more people. I think he'll just drive the system into chaos because of the expenses.

Look, this is an industry that -- its costs have gone up at 2.5 times the rate of inflation. The private insurance industry is not the salvation or the solution to American health care reform. It just isn't. And so I think you're going to have to expand public programs in some way.

I thought the Democrats and the president did a great thing as soon as they expanded SCHIP, as soon as President Obama took the oath of office. That kind of stuff is important. And public programs have a role. I know that Republicans disagree with this, but Medicare has been incredibly successful.

That is how you're going to get people covered. You're not going to do it by giving money to private insurance companies. It's just not going to work.


WALLACE: Let me bring Speaker Gingrich into this conversation.

First of all, I'd be curious to hear your take on what both of your Democratic colleagues here on the panel are saying. But also, the 2003 Medicare prescription drug benefit bill, which President Bush signed, had a trigger in it, a trigger that's never been pulled.

If President Obama now supports a trigger, you know, that would give private insurance companies, let's say, four years to provide an affordable insurance policy, would that be more acceptable to Republicans?

GINGRICH: I don't think so. I mean, the 2003 bill had a trigger which said specifically only non-governmental entities could be developed.

It did not have a trigger that led to government, because if you say to the government bureaucracy, "As long as you find it has failed, you get to build a brand-new bureaucracy," you have a guarantee the trigger's going to go into effect. I mean, you -- you're only delaying for four years what will become a 100-year problem.

But let me just make a -- and I agree with Senator Alexander from this standpoint. Mrs. Clinton came to see us in 1993, and we gave her our best advice, which is don't do a comprehensive bill. I said to her at the time, "Do one bill a year for eight years, assuming you get re- elected. After eight bills get through and signed, you'll have significantly changed the system."

No one can write a single bill. If the president comes in Wednesday night and says, "Instead of a 1,300-page bill, I want a 1,200-page bill" -- and I think what Mr. Podesta said was very important. The country actually is not as interested in what the president wants as what the country wants.

The country has for two months been trying to tell the president it does not want government rationing, it does not want bigger spending, it does not want decisions centralized in Washington.

Now, the country's been clear in 1,000-person town hall meetings, in every poll I've seen -- the Gallup data is devastating on this. If the president were to come in and say, "Let's try to get five bills between now and Christmas. Let's get litigation reform," which is the most popular single thing. "Let's get reform of paying the crooks in Medicare and Medicaid," which 88 percent of the country and Zogby said they would like to have as a first source of money -- because our estimate is you've got 70 to $120 billion a year of theft.

There are a number of specific bills you could pass with huge bipartisan majorities. The country would calm down. The president would be much stronger by Christmas. And we'd get a lot done.

WALLACE: All right. Perhaps the most remarkable fact of this entire debate is that with a Democratic president, a pro-reform president, and big Democratic majorities in both houses that health care reform is in such trouble.

Let's take a look at the different ways that Mr. Obama has tried to sell health care reform over the last few months.


OBAMA: It includes a historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform, a down payment on the principle that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American.



OBAMA: Over time, what we can do is bend the cost curve so that instead of having inflation go up a lot faster on health care than everything else, it matches everything else.



OBAMA: They're going to be more regulated so that they can't deny you care because of pre-existing condition, or because you changed jobs, or because they decided you're too sick and not a good risk.


WALLACE: Governor Dean, fair to say that when you offer three -- and maybe there -- I -- maybe it's actually four or five different messages -- that means you don't have one message?

DEAN: Well, let me just correct something the speaker said. You know, it is true that people don't want rationing. There is none in the bill. It is true that people don't want death penalties. There aren't any in the bill.

So a lot of the things that you heard at the town meetings were essentially straw men set up by the right and then knocked down by the right. But none of that stuff is in the bill.

Look, I think -- I think all four of us would agree that the president needs to give a strong, clear message about what he wants.

WALLACE: And has he done so, Governor? Has he done so so far? DEAN: Well, I think that he has, but, you know, that's -- that was the whole purpose from the Republican side of trying to muddy the waters and bring up all these issues that had nothing to do with the bill over the summer.

And we got debate on those things, but that really wasn't debating about anything that was in the bill. So I think the president gets another chance to clearly say what's in the bill, what he wants, and that we're going to move forward.

The president is the president. He was elected by a very big majority. We have very big majorities in the House and the Senate. My experience in politics is if you don't use your majorities, you lose your majorities.

WALLACE: Speaker Gingrich...

GINGRICH: Chris, I...

WALLACE: ... for a moment, forget policy. Just as a political professional, what has -- over the last six months, what has Barack Obama done wrong in selling his program?

GINGRICH: Well, look. First of all, he's very talented and he's very articulate, and I think they're a very attractive family, so he has a lot going for him.

I think there are a couple of big things. One is James Carville's old line. It's the economy, stupid. The fact is this country is drifting towards 10 or 10.5 percent unemployment. They'd like to know -- don't tell me about the next three issues, tell me what you're going to do about jobs.

Second, the reaction in this country to big government spending has been, even to me, amazing. The American people overwhelmingly are terrified of the level of deficit spending they see coming. They think it's giving away their future and their children's future, and so they're measuring everything that happens through these two prisms. Is it going to affect jobs? Is it going to affect debt?

And on the health plan, the president, as you just pointed out, offered a wide range of conversations, none of which came down to there'll be more jobs and we'll do it for less money. In fact, they're talking about doing it for a lot more money. And the American public is saying stop.

And I think this is a political problem. That's why I said a while ago very clever presidents like Roosevelt and Reagan listen carefully and modulate where they're going within the framework of what the American people will accept.

WALLACE: Let me pick up on that with you, Mr. Podesta. I mean, what about the argument people are -- there's fatigue about huge government programs, huge government spending, deficits. And particularly at a time when people are mostly concerned about the economy, the last thing they want is another trillion-dollar program. PODESTA: Well, look. The president inherited a lousy economy that was heading to a depression and huge deficits. And he's tried to do something about that.

WALLACE: But -- all right. Even if you argue -- even if you accept that, why make it worse?

PODESTA: He's tried to do something about that first with the recovery bill that he passed earlier this year that's beginning to show signs of working. The economy is bottoming out.

And it's essential that we fix this health care problem. And I think if you talk to CEOs, or small business people, or families who have seen their premiums doubled over the last eight years, they'll tell you, "My economic security depends on secure health care that's affordable." And that's what he's trying to accomplish.

WALLACE: Senator Alexander, I want to ask you about something the president almost certainly won't talk about in his speech on Wednesday night, and that is the idea that they -- that Democrats may decide to just ignore the Republicans and push health care reform through the Senate through a parliamentary device associated with the budget called reconciliation, which means they won't need 60 votes to prevent a filibuster. They'll only need 51 votes.

You have said, and I quote, "That would wreck the Democratic Party and create a," quote, "'minor revolution in this country.'" Why?

ALEXANDER: Well, for two reasons. One, it would create a bad health care bill because under the provisions in the rules, the parliamentarian would write the bill, so all the senators would be voting on are tax increases or Medicare cuts, and you wouldn't get to put in the bill things like pre-existing conditions or buying insurance across party lines. So it would be a bad bill.

Second, it would be thumbing your nose at the American people who have been trying to say to Washington for the last several months, "Slow down. I mean, too many Washington takeovers, too much debt. You're meddling with my health care." Let's go step by step and do some things to reduce costs.

So thumbing their nose at the American people by ramming through a partisan bill would be the same thing as going to war without asking Congress' permission. You might technically be able to do it, but you'd pay a terrible price in the next election.

DEAN: See, actually, Chris, I disagree with that. I think this has been used 23 times before, including by George Bush's really controversial tax cuts when he first got in. And I don't think the American people care about the process. I think they care about the result.

WALLACE: Let me pick up with you, Governor Dean, on another issue. At a town hall meeting the other day, you explained why you think that some limits on malpractice lawsuits are not in the bill. Let's take a look at what you said.


DEAN: The reason that tort reform is not in the bill is because the people who wrote it did not want to take on the trial lawyers in addition to everybody else they were taking on. And that is the plain and simple truth.


WALLACE: Not take on the trial lawyers -- Governor dean, would tort reform be a reasonable way to cut health care costs? And would it also be a way to reach out to Republicans?

DEAN: First of all, I don't think if you put tort reform -- I said -- I went on to say if you put tort reform in the bill, you wouldn't get a single additional Republican vote for the bill, I mean, because there's going to be plenty of stuff -- I mean, the speaker's already said he doesn't like even the trigger option.

So you're not going to get Republican votes for this bill. And I thought Senator Grassley and Senator Enzi made that pretty clear. We might get one. And I think to focus all our energy in the hope that we'll get one Republican to vote for the bill probably is a mistake.

I think when you're putting together a bill like this, you try not to take on every single interest group, but -- and I think the president has done a terrific job with that, much to the dismay of some of the Republican senators.

He has worked closely with the AMA. He has worked closely with the pharmaceutical industry, the hospitals industry. The hospitals people have been denounced by the -- by some of the Republican senators for working with the administration. But I think that he's done what he has to do to set the table for a bill.

Look, I don't think this bill is in bad shape at all. I've seen polls that show that we're in pretty good shape. The president has an opportunity to clear up a lot of the confusion that's been shown in some of these meetings. And I think when he does, people are still going to want real reform.

WALLACE: Let me -- well, I just want to get Speaker Gingrich to respond quickly to that, and then I want to...


WALLACE: ... move on to other subjects.

But specifically, do you think that the president is going to end up -- given his majorities, given where the public is on all this, which you might disagree with Governor Dean on, do you think the president is going to get something substantial if he goes on the -- on the route of comprehensive reform?

GINGRICH: I think he can probably get something through. I think the question, as Senator Alexander said -- if they -- if they accept the rules of the Senate and try to ram the bill through on reconciliation and accept an honest parliamentary decision, they're going to have a total mess, because you'll only be able to have spending cuts and tax increases. Everything else -- all the real reforms will be out. If, on the other hand, Senator Reid is able to direct the parliamentarian to basically suspend the Senate rules and pass an entire 17 percent of the economy under one thing, I think you'll have an extraordinary explosion both in the Senate and in the country. So the president, I think, has got a real dilemma.

WALLACE: All right. While I have you all here, I want to ask you all about some other controversies -- first of all, as we mentioned at the top of the show, the resignation of Van Jones, the president's adviser on green jobs.

Speaker Gingrich, did he have to go or was he, as he contends, brought down by the forces of reform?

GINGRICH: I don't know enough details. I simply presume this administration said to him privately, "We hope you have a better future somewhere else." And that's a judgment that the White House has to make.

WALLACE: Mr. Podesta?

DEAN: Chris...


DEAN: I'm sorry, go ahead. I know this guy, and I just talked to him about this, so I'd like to weigh in after John does.

WALLACE: Go ahead. Go ahead.

DEAN: Well, I was just going to say, you know, this guy's a Yale-educated lawyer. He's a best-selling author about his specialty. I think he was brought down, and I think it's too bad. Washington's a tough place that way, and I think it's a loss for the country.

WALLACE: Governor, how about the fact that he had made a series of statements and had signed this petition in 2004 indicating -- suggesting that the government might have had some role or some complicity in 9/11?

DEAN: Well, he was told by the people waving those clipboards around that he was signing something else. I think that's too bad.

Look, all of us campaigning for office have had people throw clipboards in front of our face and ask us to sign. And he learned the hard way you ought not to do that. But I don't think he really thinks the government had anything to do with causing 9/11.

WALLACE: Senator Alexander, your reaction to the Jones resignation?

ALEXANDER: Well, I don't think he's the issue. I think the czars are the issue. We have about two dozen so-called czars -- the pay czar, the car czar, all these czars in the White House.

And that really is an affront to the Constitution, because the Constitution was set up to say that the president is the executive, but the people who manage the government -- the secretaries, the cabinet members, of which I was one -- have to be approved by the Congress and have to report to the Congress.

So when you take all these people and make policy close to the president and the White House to people who don't go to the Congress and aren't approved by the Congress, you're just adding fuel to the fire by those who think Washington is taking over everything.

WALLACE: All right. Let's talk about another issue that some people may say is about Washington taking over things. Conservatives and some concerned parents are upset about President Obama's speech to school kids on Tuesday.

Speaker Gingrich, back in 1991, when Democrats protested then- President Bush making the same kind of televised speech, you said the following. Let's put it up. "Why is it political for the president of the United States to discuss education?" Question: If it was all right for Bush 41 then, is it all right for Obama now?

GINGRICH: My daughter Jackie Cushman just wrote a column in which she said if the president gives a speech as a parent to students to encourage them to learn and stay in school, it is a great thing for him to do. It was a good thing for Ronald Reagan to do. It was a good thing for George H.W. Bush to do.

And I've been communicating with Arne Duncan and the team at the Department of Education. I believe this is going to be posted. People are going to see it in advance. It's going to be a totally positive speech.

And if that's what it is, then it is good to have the president of the United States say to young people across America, "Stay in school, study, and do your homework. It's good for you and it's good for America."

WALLACE: So should some of your fellow conservatives back off?

GINGRICH: Well, the president ought to post the speech, and people ought to read it.

WALLACE: Well, he says he's going to on Monday.

GINGRICH: And if he does on Monday, and if it's the kind of speech I just described -- and Sean Hannity, by the way, has publicly said this is a good thing. I mean, I think if he -- if what he says is entirely parent-oriented, it's good.

PODESTA: Chris, we finally have some bipartisan agreement.

WALLACE: We finally brought you together (inaudible).

ALEXANDER: I wonder if I could -- I wonder if I could weigh in here. I was -- I was education secretary, and I encouraged President Bush the first to make that speech. And I understand some of the concern, because, you know, people say, "Oh, here's another Washington takeover."

But of course, the president of the United States should be able to address students. And of course, parents and teachers should decide in what context. I mean, we're -- Wednesday night the president's addressing the country. We don't have to watch it. We can watch news commentators. We can watch you.

Students don't have that choice. So parents decide what to do. And teachers do. And if I were a teacher, I'd take advantage of it, and I'd put up Lincoln and Eisenhower and Reagan and teach about the presidency, and then I'd put up the head of North Korea and say, "In that country, you go to jail if you criticize the president. In our country, you have a constitutional right to do it."

I think we need to have more teaching of American history and civics in our classrooms. But teachers and parents should make the decision.

WALLACE: All right. Let me get into one more subject.

Governor Dean, the president will reportedly decide in the next few weeks whether or not to send more troops to Afghanistan. As a leader of the anti-war movement when it came to Iraq, will the liberal wing of the Democratic Party -- will you -- support the president if he deepens our commitment in that war?

DEAN: I'm not so sure I'm the liberal wing, but I guess I'm the -- I'm appointed by you the head of the liberal wing or whatever. No, I -- look, I've supported the president on this one. I think this is different than Iraq. I think there are people who mean the United States harm over there.

I think -- I was very pleased to say the -- hear the president a few months ago say, "Look, we can't win this war militarily." He gets what we have to do here. And it is true that American public opinion is not supportive of the war effort anymore.

I think this does have something to do with security to the United States. I do believe it has something to do with the role of women in these kinds of societies. I think we ought to be supportive of the role of women and their ability to get an education and things like that. I don't think that's the only reason we're there.

But I'm supportive of the president, and I'm going to continue to be supportive of the president on Afghanistan.

WALLACE: Well, I'm glad we were able to reach these cross- party...

DEAN: Yeah.

WALLACE: ... and intra-party divide.

DEAN: You see, it can work. It can work.

WALLACE: I brought -- I helped bring you all together. Thank you all for coming in on this holiday weekend, and especially giving the president some advice on what he should say on Wednesday night. We'll see whether he takes it.

Up next, White House advisor Van Jones resigns and the battle over the president's speech to school children. Our Sunday panel weighs in on all of it when we come right back.



VAN JONES: The white polluters and the white environmentalists are essentially steering poison into the people of colored communities because they don't have a racial justice frame.


WALLACE: That was just one of many controversial statements made by -- I was going to say White House adviser -- former White House adviser Van Jones that led to him resigning overnight.

And it's time now for our Sunday panel -- Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard; Mara Liasson of National Public Radio; Stephen Hayes, also from The Weekly Standard; and Juan Williams, also from National Public Radio.

Well, it certainly is the case that Van Jones had a history as a radical, as a self-professed communist, and also, the fact that is -- that he signed a 2004 petition suggesting that there be an investigation of whether or not the government had a role in 9/11.

On the other hand, he also was the author of a best-selling and what was considered a serious book called "The Green Collar Economy." I think we all agree he had to go because of his political baggage.

I guess the question is is it good that he went. Bill Kristol?

KRISTOL: Sure. It think it would have been better if he had been fired by the president once he found out more about Mr. Jones' background than waiting for him resign, because we all agreed that he had to go.

But if you just read -- I was amused by this fact. If you just read the New York Times, you would not know that Van -- you would know nothing about this. The mainstream media did not cover this story. You wouldn't learn about it on network news.

The New York Times readers tomorrow morning are going to pick up the New York -- print New York Times and for the first time discover that there was a huge controversy about this radical who was at quite a high level of the White House.

So it's an interesting case study, I think, where the -- some of the blogs, a guy named Jim Hoft from St. Louis, Missouri, who runs a blog called "Gateway Pundit," did much more reporting on this than the entire mainstream media. WALLACE: All right.

Media criticism aside, Mara, should he have gone? I -- the question that I always ask in this -- was he a radical who didn't have a place in the White House, or was he somebody that had said some controversial things in the past but had some role to contribute?

LIASSON: Well, I think he had a role to contribute because he was a leader in this kind of green collar jobs initiative.

But his previous statements -- and in particular, really, the number one thing -- I think all the other things are objectionable. But look, signing a statement on the 9/11 attacks -- that is the reason he is not in the White House today. And because of that, he couldn't continue effectively in his role working on environmental issues. I mean, I think it's pretty cut and dried.

I think the White House took a couple days, not that long, to decide what they wanted to do, and by yesterday -- or Friday, actually, you could read between the lines, that they weren't giving him any support. And you know, he got the message and he resigned.

I mean, I think if he had stayed, he would have been a continued source of controversy, and the president would have had to defend somebody who thought the 9/11 attacks might not have been caused by Al Qaida, and -- or they would have had another round, which they're still going to get questions on, by the way, about why didn't they know he signed this petition before they hired him.

HAYES: Well, and I think -- I think that's actually the key question here. I mean, remember, at the beginning of the administration, the transition, there was this lengthy questionnaire that nominees or appointees were forced to fill out by the Obama administration, separate from the FBI questionnaire.

And on that, question number 61 has to do with this very issue. "Have you been associated with any groups that would cause us embarrassment, that people could use to impugn your character?" I'd be very interested to see from the most transparent administration in history what his response to that was.

Maybe he didn't list that. I suspect he probably didn't. But if he did, why wasn't he -- why wasn't he gone, you know, 48 hours ago?

WILLIAMS: Well, I don't think it's possible to defend Van Jones on the Al Qaida, you know, and the U.S. government being behind 9/11. That's just -- it's just unbelievable.

But at the same time, I'm struck by this in the sense that, look, this guy was not a high policy maker in the administration. This guy had a specific job in the environmental section in terms of green jobs, and that's what he was doing.

Instead, he's being now beaten up as if he was a cabinet member. He's no cabinet member.

LIASSON: Well, he was in the White House.

WILLIAMS: He's not a significant player.

WALLACE: Wasn't he a czar?

HAYES: He's a presidential adviser.

WILLIAMS: Czar -- this is another part of this madness. Czar -- all of a sudden it's all about these czars. It looks to me like ways to attack the president is what we're really talking about.

What we've got with Van Jones was a guy who was going out and giving some, I think, hysterical speeches, and oftentimes to young people is principally what the White House used him to do, was talk to young people. He wasn't in charge even of the environmental issue in terms of policy at the White House. But when you say you can judge...

WALLACE: Let me ask you -- let me ask you a question.

WILLIAMS: ... president -- you can judge President Obama...

WALLACE: Let me ask you...

WILLIAMS: ... on this, because he put him in position...

WALLACE: But let me ask you a question which I'm sure a lot of our viewers are screaming at the screen right now. If George W. Bush had had someone who not so many years ago -- three, four years ago -- had said, you know, "I'm for school segregation..."

WILLIAMS: That's a totally different issue.

WALLACE: Than saying that the -- than saying that the U.S. was involved in 9/11?

WILLIAMS: I just said that was indefensible, Chris.

WALLACE: Well, I know, but...

WILLIAMS: But -- so, I mean, to me, that is really beyond the pale. I didn't like it when he started talking about, you know, white corporations and calling people by derogatory names in front of audiences.

WALLACE: But is there another side to this?

WILLIAMS: The guy behaved badly and he should have been chastened for it. But if you're asking me as a matter of an appointee, a sort of mid-range appointee, who didn't have to be confirmed, I just don't see why we are spending time on a Sunday morning national talk show about this guy.

KRISTOL: May I just spend 20 more seconds on it? Valerie Jarrett is one of President Obama's closest friends and one of his closest, most senior White House advisers. She gave a speech earlier this year boasting about recruiting Van Jones for the White House.

He was not an obscure person that President Obama and Valerie Jarrett didn't know. He was someone they went out of their way to bring into the White House, and they still need to explain why they did that.

HAYES: Yeah, and -- no, look. The White House blog currently, to this -- right now calls him a visionary. I mean, he's gone. It calls him a visionary. This is something...

WALLACE: OK. Let's turn -- let's turn to another controversy this week, and that is -- there's a long history of presidents making nationally televised speeches to school kids. As was pointed out in -- with our blue-ribbon panel -- you're, I guess, just our red-ribbon panel -- that Reagan did it in ‘86, Bush 41, Bush -- H.W. Bush did it in ‘91, and it never caused nearly as much controversy as this Obama speech on Tuesday is going to.

And perhaps one reason is because of a lesson plan that the Education Department sent out to school districts which, as you can see there, suggested students write letters about what they can do to help the president and discuss how will he inspire us.

But, Mara, even though the Education Department has rewritten that, taken that out of the lesson plan, the controversy continues.

LIASSON: Yes. Well, first of all, when you ask why does this cause more controversy than those other presidents, because everything now causes more controversy than anything in the past, just because of the nature of our political discourse and technology.

However, I think that was the thing that sparked the controversy, that unfortunate line in that lesson plan which has since been withdrawn.

I don't think there's anything wrong with the president doing, as presidents have before him -- giving an inspiring back-to-school speech to students. I think that people who object to that in and of itself are overreacting.

But I do think that was unfortunate to make it into -- to politicize it. That's what that initial lesson plan did, and the Education Department was right to withdraw it.

WALLACE: But, Steve, I talked to a top White House official this week who said when people actually see what's in the president's speech, some conservatives who have been railing against this are going to look silly. And it was interesting that both Newt Gingrich and Lamar Alexander today basically said, "Back off."

HAYES: Well, I'm with them on the substance of the president's speech, and I think it was highly unlikely, as suggested by the chairman of the Florida Republican Party, that he was going to go in and indoctrinate kids on the benefits of the stimulus. Wasn't going to happen. WALLACE: Incidentally, we should point out that the head of the Republican Party in Florida, Jim Greer, has gone into school classrooms and made speeches himself.

HAYES: Exactly. Exactly. I mean, I don't think that was actually the problem. I think the problem was entirely this lesson plan. And the lesson plan, I think, was offensive.

I mean, you did have him asking school -- young school kids how they could help the president, how does the president inspire you. I mean, I think that -- the entire controversy stems from that.

And there was interesting reporting in the Washington Times. I think everybody's been blaming that on an Education Department bureaucrat we don't know about. But the Washington Times reported that that actually came out of a meting between White House staffers and Education Department staffers.

WALLACE: But, Juan, I'm...

HAYES: So it would be interesting to know.

WALLACE: ... I'm not sure I agree that it all came just because -- I think that certainly gave way to it -- the Education Department lesson plan. But it just seems that this president, who campaigned about breaking down the old partisan divides, has become sharply polarizing in this country in a very short period of time.

WILLIAMS: Well, certainly, the -- what you -- I look at this controversy and I don't even think it's about a speech to young people, because so many presidents, as you pointed out, have given such a speech, including -- I mean, even, you know, sort of right-wing icon Ronald Reagan several times. I've covered this.

But all of a sudden, I think this is an indication of how polarized our political discourse is in this country, that simply saying to kids something so important as, "Stay in school, work hard, persevere," and the idea that you would recognize and acknowledge your president, someone who is of such outstanding academic background -- talk about someone who's made it in America by merit and hard work.

And the idea that somehow now, "Oh, no, that's a bad thing, and that's" -- you have radio talk show hosts telling your kids, "Don't go to school that day, stay away from school" or Jim Greer down in Florida saying, "He's pushing a socialist agenda." That's just madness.

That's part of an irrational fringe on the Republican Party side, and I think it damages whatever Republicans have to say with legitimate complaint about President Obama.

WALLACE: All right. We're over time in this segment.

But, Bill Kristol, would you like to defend the irrational fringe?

KRISTOL: Absolutely. I hear the words "irrational fringe" and I...


KRISTOL: ... I start to defend them. Two points. The Education Department in its authorizing legislation is not supposed to do curriculum. Why was there a lesson plan at all? It's not just there was one bad sentence. Why is the federal Department of Education giving teachers a lesson plan for a speech by the president of the United States?

And secondly, the reason there's more suspicion of President Obama is he would not -- if the first President Bush went into school, it wouldn't occur to you that he would criticize Democrats or criticize his Democratic predecessors.

With President Obama, he's been so political and so willing to pivot against former President Bush, and Republicans, and big business and all that, that you do -- it's not crazy for people to think that there might be a political agenda.

WALLACE: All right. We have to take a break here.

But up next, President Obama heads to Capitol Hill this week for a make or break speech on health care reform. What does he need to say to regain control of the debate? Some answers when we come back.



VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: I know the president's going to lay out for you very clearly on Wednesday what he thinks those pieces have to be and will be.



MICHAEL STEELE: The president next week is going to give a speech again on health care, and he's going to try to tell us or give us another alliteration of his health care plan.


WALLACE: That was Vice President Biden and Republican Party Chair Michael Steele setting expectations for the president's address to the nation Wednesday on health care reform.

And we're back now with the panel.

So, Mara, first of all, is it a good idea for the president to even give this speech? You've got one analyst I read this week who compared it to a game of Texas Hold ‘em and said, "With this speech, Obama is all in."

LIASSON: He's already all in. He has to give the speech. The idea that somehow he can -- that the fate of health care won't matter to him and if he gives this speech it will matter more -- no.

Health care is the single most important issue on his domestic agenda. He has to give the speech. He has to clear up confusion. That's where we are right now. People have no idea what is in this plan. There isn't an Obama plan yet. Hopefully by the end of Wednesday night, there will be one.

He has to explain how much it's going to cost them, how it's going to hold down their costs, and his target audience are people with insurance.

He also has to figure out in this speech, I think, where he thinks the center of the Democratic Party is. You know, all this talk from some Democrats on the left saying that he shouldn't waste his time making compromises just to get one or two Republicans -- well, he has to make compromises just to get his centrist Democrats.

In other words, if you're going to go -- if you need 60 votes in the Senate, you have to figure out a plan that will get the Mary Landrieus and the Evan Bayhs and the Ben Nelsons, maybe. And if you do, I bet you also get Olympia Snowe and maybe Susan Collins .

So he has to figure out where the center of his own party is, and that means making some very delicate conclusions about the public option...

WALLACE: Well, I was going to say...

LIASSON: ... whether he's going to throw it over, make some kind of compromise.

He can't pull the rug out from under it completely, because that means he's betraying all the Democrats in the House, but he has to leave the option open for some kind of compromise.

WALLACE: I mean, that clearly is the kind of linch point here, Steve, that -- where does he come down on the public option, the idea of a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers.

As a practical matter, it would seem, especially in the Senate, that he has to throw it off and go with either co-ops or a trigger, but we are hearing that this weekend he got fierce pushback from the left.

HAYES: Yeah, that's to be expected, though. And I think he's not going to -- it is inconceivable to me that the left will actually fight him on this if he decides to go the route of a trigger option, I mean, which is exactly what I think he's going to do.

I think he'll propose some kind of a trigger. He will hold up Olympia Snowe as the Republican idea behind this trigger so that he can call it bipartisan, however implausible that might be.

And if he were really smart, I think he would embrace some limited tort reform. Then he can say, "Look, I've been listening to Republicans. This is too important not to include, not to have a broad health care reform bill, and we're going to make this compromise."

WALLACE: Is that the way to go? And will Democrats, especially the left wing of the Democratic Party -- will they just go along for the ride?

WILLIAMS: I think that's the key of the speech. To reiterate something Mara said, I think he has got to create a coalition of Democrats that's strong enough, believes in this and is willing to move forward.

He can do some outreach to the Republicans, but if you listen to what the Republicans have been saying, from Senator Grassley and Senator Enzi on Senate Finance, they really aren't into this. They really don't -- haven't been defending the idea that we need health care reform in this country.

So what you're going to get, I think, from the president is redefining...

WALLACE: But does he -- does he support the public option, or does he not support the public option?

WILLIAMS: I think he supports the public option but says he's open to compromise. He says he wants a public option. He's said this all along. He wants a public option. No question about it. But he's willing to negotiate.

WALLACE: I think he's got to say -- I think he's got to say more than that. I think he's got to be more specific than that.

WILLIAMS: What's -- how can he be more specific than saying, "This is what I want in the bill?"

WALLACE: I -- he could -- so you're saying he's going to not go for the trigger. He's not going to go for the co-ops.

WILLIAMS: No, he's going to -- no, he'll say -- he'll say he is open to hear about these things and possibly negotiate, but he's saying, "If you want to know what I want, I believe we need a public option to guarantee that there is choice and competition with private insurance companies that would deny you coverage if you have pre- existing conditions, deny you portability and the like."

The one thing that President Obama has remaining after, I think, what was a terrible -- politically, a terrible, disastrous August for him, is he still has the approval rating and trust of the American people, especially as compared to Republicans.

He is vastly more trusted than Republicans on this issue, and what he's got to do on Wednesday night is say, "Here's what I believe in and here's why I believe it's necessary, and here's my vision for how I can meet your needs of the American people." He hasn't done that yet.

It's been a tragic example of political mismanagement by this White House -- a surprise, given how well they ran the last campaign. But he's got to turn that around right now.

WALLACE: It seems to me, Bill, that what Juan is suggesting, "I'm for the public option, but I'm willing to listen to other ways to get there," is basically what he's been saying for the last few months, and I would think that every newspaper reporter, TV reporter, in town is going to say, "You know, he hasn't changed his mind."

KRISTOL: He's given 27 speeches primarily on health care. He's mentioned health care, of course, in every press conference interview and other speech that he's given.

There's been no shortage of exposure to President Obama's views on health care. He needs to -- in my view, the only way he succeeds is if he does what Newt Gingrich suggests, break it down and accept some incremental pieces of legislation that would fix particular aspects of the health care system.

WALLACE: You don't think there'd be a revolt in the Democratic Party if he were to do that and basically forego comprehensive reform?

KRISTOL: Well, they can revolt all they want, but I don't think they can get comprehensive reform through. I do not believe he can get 218 votes in the Senate -- in the House from Democrats or 51 votes in the Senate from Democrats for a comprehensive reform bill.

The American people are against it. They've looked at this for six weeks. They're consistently now against it. I believe never in American history has a major piece of domestic legislation passed when the polls suggest that by a pretty settled and pretty substantial margin the public doesn't want it.

LIASSON: You know, he's not going to say all those things on Wednesday night -- "I'm going to break it into so many bills." That might be the end result, but you -- he still has to get two bills out of Congress. He still needs a House bill and he still needs a Senate bill.

What people at the White House are talking more and more about is in the Senate having to do it in at least two pieces where you put the things that can pass by reconciliation, the things that the parliamentarian will accept -- those can get 50 votes.

But then the popular health insurance reforms where they think they can get more support than 60 votes -- you pass that under regular order. That might be the end. He's not going to get up Wednesday night and start talking about, you know, how they're going to split up these bills.

WALLACE: But you know, this idea -- and this gets a little bit in the weeds, folks, but if it ends up being split and there's some stuff that is pure policy, has nothing to do with the budget, you would pass -- like the health care reform...


WALLACE: ... portability, pre-existing condition -- you pass that with 60 votes...


WALLACE: ... and then the other stuff which involves money you have to vote with only 51 votes -- but there's some real problems, as Newt Gingrich pointed out. You've got to be deficit neutral within five years. I'm not sure they meet that.

HAYES: Well, there are parliamentary problems, but there -- there's also the broader public problem. People don't want a lot of the things they're proposing.

WALLACE: All right. Thank you, panel. See you next week.

And don't forget to check out the latest edition of "Panel Plus" where our group here continues the discussion shortly after the program ends on our Web site,

Up next, our Power Player of the Week.


WALLACE: On this day in 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales, was laid to rest, ending a week of mourning after she was killed in a Paris car crash. Over 1 million people lined the procession route to pay their respects.

Stay tuned for more from our panel and our Power Player of the Week.


WALLACE: As we first reported in March, every part of President Obama's time in office, from the grand events to the private moments, is being captured for history by one man, and he is our Power Player of the Week.


SOUZA: People can go back in 50 years and look back at this set of pictures and get a good glimpse of this presidency.

WALLACE: Pete Souza is chief White House photographer, his job to record everything President Obama does from the moment he leaves the residence in the morning till he goes home at night. That means taking between 500 and 1,200 pictures a day, from big events to what he considers more important.

SOUZA: For me, it's always the behind-the-scenes moments, because I'm in situations that other photographers aren't.

WALLACE: Souza showed us his favorites, some of which had never been seen by the public before. On inauguration night, he shot this picture of the first couple.

SOUZA: He was in the freight elevator going to one of the balls, and it was cold, and he put his jacket over his wife's shoulders, and then they kind of touched foreheads. And you know, he's got these staff and Secret Service guys in the background not wanting to pay attention to this little private moment that's happening.

WALLACE: The president watching the super bowl.

SOUZA: You see the president signaling touchdown, and there's some dispute as to whether it was a touchdown at first. And he's already saying it's a touchdown. WALLACE: Then there was a photo-op in the Oval Office with the governor of Vermont.

SOUZA: As soon as all the press photographers left, the president said, "Well, let's move the furniture back into place," and the thing that's funny about it is he's moving the furniture, but the governor doesn't quite know what to do.

WALLACE: Souza was the only photographer to shoot the redo of the swearing in.


OBAMA: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...


WALLACE: Was he overwhelmed by a sense of history?

SOUZA: In that particular case, it was, "Oh, my God, the light in this room stinks. How am I going to make this picture work?"

WALLACE: If Souza is business-like, it may be because he spent five years as White House photographer for Ronald Reagan. And surprisingly, he says that president was harder to cover in private.

SOUZA: In some ways, he was a difficult subject, because he was very formal in his ways. He didn't show big emotions.

WALLACE: What he remembers best -- moments when Reagan forgot about the camera.

SOUZA: There's the one picture of him throwing a paper airplane from the balcony of a hotel in Los Angeles -- pictures of him at the ranch. You know, I think those pictures humanized him.

WALLACE: Souza met Barack Obama while covering his first year in the Senate for the Chicago Tribune.

How do you feel about the opportunity to chronicle not one but two of our most historic presidents?

SOUZA: Oh, I think I'm the luckiest photographer in the world. I'm not in this job because I'm the best photographer in the world. I'm in this job because I met Barack Obama in ‘05 and he liked me, so I just think I'm, you know, a lucky SOB.


WALLACE: If you want to see more of Pete Souza's photos, you can check them out at

Up next, we'll hear from you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WALLACE: Time now for some comments about our interview with former Vice President Cheney that you posted on our blog, "Wallace Watch."

Mike T. had this suggestion about investigating past White House administrations. "Why stop at the Bush crew? I am sure they can dig up a ton of stuff from Clinton's reign."

But Bill had a different take. "One hundred years from now, Cheney will be remembered as the main architect of the torture program conducted by the U.S. after 9/11."

And Michael offered this comparison between presidents Bush and Obama. "One administration erred on the side of safety for all at the expense of a few. The other administration erred on the legal rights of a few at the expense of safety for all. You pick where you want to live."

Please keep your comments coming. You can find us at

And that's it for today. Have a great week and enjoy the rest of your holiday, and we'll see you next "FOX News Sunday."


For more visit the FOX News Sunday web page.
Don't Govern on Fantasies
E.J. Dionne · November 10, 2014

Fox News Sunday

Author Archive

Follow Real Clear Politics

Latest On Twitter