Interview with Joe Wilson on "Fox News Sunday"

Interview with Joe Wilson on "Fox News Sunday"

By Fox News Sunday - September 13, 2009

And hello again from Fox News in Washington. We'll talk with Congressman Joe Wilson in a few minutes about his outburst during the president's speech and whether he will apologize on the House floor or face some form of discipline from the Democratic leadership.

But first, was Mr. Obama's speech a game changer in the debate over health care reform? And let's get right to it.

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, you have a history of working with Democrats on health care reform. Did the president's speech improve his chances for getting his plan through this year?

HATCH: Oh, I think it probably did. It was, in my opinion, long on rhetoric and very -- very short on substance. But nevertheless, it was a very good political speech. Too bad that wasn't -- this wasn't 2008 rather than 2009.

But no, it was a good speech, but I really believe that the hard work has to be done, and hopefully we can -- we can all work together and get it done. But I really don't see it with what they're -- what they're trying to do.

WALLACE: Well, let me bring in Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Did the president, with his speech, improve or hurt his chances of getting health care reform through this year?

GRAHAM: I thought it was a disaster. I thought it was combative. He -- he's obviously on the defensive. He's lumping every critic in with a demagogue. He's accusing us of bickering when we're trying to have major policy discussions.

He outlined a $900 billion proposal that really doesn't make sense in how you would pay for it. So I don't think it advanced the ball substantively. And politically, it made it very hard, I think, to find a middle.

WALLACE: Well, perhaps the president doesn't want the middle.

And, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, let me ask you about that. Did the president resolve the differences between liberals and moderate Democrats in Congress?

MCCASKILL: Well, I think the speech -- he was trying to speak to America and make sure that Americans realize the kind of misinformation that has been out there.

As we try to come up with a plan that works for most Americans in terms of holding onto insurance and stabilizing insurance, there's give and take. But the president, I think, cleared the air about what is true and not true about what we're trying to get done here and why it's so important for America.

I thought it was a strong speech, and I think the polling indicated that after, that there were a lot of swing voters out there that said, "Hey, he's willing to compromise and be pragmatic. That's good."

WALLACE: Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, are Democrats in the Senate now unified behind the president's plan?

CONRAD: You know, I think Democrats are pretty much unified in the Senate around a plan that brings down costs, because that's the central goal here, and I thought the president made a very powerful case that the course we're on now is utterly unsustainable.

Anybody that says we just stay on the current course is not paying attention. We have got a circumstance in which cost has to be brought down. That's the number one issue I heard all across my state during the break.

Second, he said he's prepared to hear a better idea, so if somebody's got a better idea, bring it to him.

Third, he said, "Look, I am ready to move toward the middle." He talked about a plan that's very close to the bipartisan plan that's being developed in the Finance Committee.

WALLACE: All right. Let's break this down. There are obviously a bunch of issues here. The big issue, I think it's fair to say, going into the speech was whether the president was going to insist on the public option, government-run insurance, to compete with private insurers. Here's what he said.


OBAMA: The public option is only a means to that end. We should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal."


WALLACE: Senator Conrad, some people read the president as paving the way in this speech for dropping the public option. As one of the people -- one of the leaders in the Senate among Democrats who's looking for another option besides government-run insurance, is that the way you read it, that the president -- do you think he's giving up on the public option?

CONRAD: I don't think he's giving up. I think he made a very strong case for his support for a public option as an option. But I think he also said, "Look, I'm open to other ideas." In fact, he spoke favorably about the cooperative approach, which would provide a nonprofit competitor but would not be government-run, would be run by its membership, as all co-ops are.

So I thought he left the door open to a compromise, really across the board, in order to achieve the result of bringing down cost, expanding coverage and improving quality.

WALLACE: Senator McCaskill, as a practical matter, isn't the public option dead?

MCCASKILL: I don't know. And I think the public option in some ways has become a distraction. The meat of this matter is that we're losing 14,000 Americans from health insurance every day.

The meat of the matter is that most middle-class families are worried that they won't be able to afford health insurance next year.

And the bottom line is we -- any deficit hawk cannot look you in the eye and honestly say we can do anything about the deficit if we don't bring down health care costs.

So I think what the president tried to do is shift the emphasis of the debate to the vast majority of the provisions that are going to accomplish some of those things -- reduce the deficit, bring down costs, make health insurance available and affordable and secure for most Americans.

That's really the meat of the matter, not the distraction of whether it's a co-op or a public option. That's a small part of this. And I think he did a good job kind of re-prioritizing our debate in that regard.

WALLACE: Well, Senator Graham, let me ask you, because when they start talking -- Democrats do -- about it as a distraction, it certainly increases my feeling that we're not going to end up with a public option. Republicans have been fighting that.

Why not take yes for an answer and work with Democrats to find a compromise?

GRAHAM: Well, I think the public option is dead. It's probably been dead a long time because the public is very afraid. Eighty-five percent of the people with private health insurance like what they've got, and they understand if the public option is part of any reform measure private insurers cannot compete against the government over time.

I think one thing we can say -- if the deficit matters, which I'm glad to hear it does, and the public option's unacceptable, then the House bill is dead. We should just throw it in the garbage can, because it's $239 billion added to the deficit over a 10-year period. It has a public option. So it looks like all the action's now in the Senate.

WALLACE: I'm going to get to this question of cost in just a minute, but I want to bring Senator Hatch into this.

The president praised you in his speech for the fact that you worked with Ted Kennedy to pass children's health care. And SCHIP, as it's known, is government health insurance.

So if you can accept government health insurance for SCHIP, why can't you accept some form of it for all the rest of Americans?

HATCH: Well, the original SCHIP bill basically was a block grant to the states where the states basically ran it. That's why it worked. If we would do that in federal health care, I think we'd be a lot better off, because we'd have 50 state laboratories developing their own plans for their own demographics.

Utah, for instance, isn't Massachusetts, and Massachusetts is not Utah. And you can say that about every other state. You know, we're talking about 306 million American people, 85 percent of whom basically think their health insurance is better than anything they can get.

Do we need to reform? Yeah. But think about it. If you deduct -- and they say 47 million people. The president said 30 million in his speech. If you deduct the 6 million who basically work for companies that provide health insurance but they don't buy it, if you deduct the 11 million people who really qualify for CHIP or -- and/or some -- Medicaid, you deduct the 9 million who early over $75,000 a year and can afford it, and you deduct the 6 million of undocumented workers, it really comes down to about 15 million people.

So we're going to throw out a whole system for 300 million and -- 6 million people because of -- 15 million people who we could subsidize and help without ruining the whole system, and we're going to save money, we're going to save taxes, we're going to have less spending, we're going to have greater choices. Come on, we're living in the real world here.

WALLACE: All right. Let me -- let me go to another issue, and I think we're -- all have been talking about that. That is cost. The president pledged that this huge new government program will pay for itself. Let's watch.


OBAMA: I will not sign it if it adds one dime to the deficit now or in the future, period.


WALLACE: Senator Conrad, you're chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. Let's take a look at the numbers and let's put them up on the screen.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projects the main House bill will add $239 billion to the deficit in the first 10 years, but that includes 10 years of taxes and only six years of full services.

The Lewin Group, a private group, looked at the second 10 years of the plan, when it's fully running, and they said it would add a trillion dollars more to the deficit.

Senator Conrad, how do you get from a trillion dollars-plus to not adding a dime to the deficit?

CONRAD: Because that plan is a plan out of one committee in the House and it's not going to pass.

What only -- the only thing that has a prospect of passing is what is happening in the Senate, in the Finance Committee, where three Democrats and three Republicans have been given the responsibility to come up with a proposal for our colleagues.

And the proposal that we are developing is fully paid for, bends the cost curve in the right way, extends coverage to 94 percent of the American people -- not everybody, but 94 percent is a big improvement over where we are now -- dramatically improves the insurance market because it reforms it, improves the delivery system by providing big incentives to adopt the best practices that are out there.

Those systems that we know are working, like Intermountain out in Utah, which is outstanding, like Mayo Clinic...

WALLACE: Let me ask you a quick question. You're talking about the Gang of Six, which is six leaders -- you're part of it -- on the Senate Finance Committee. Are you going to reach a compromise this week that Republicans and Democrats sign onto?

CONRAD: We hope to. We meet again on Monday. We have people working all weekend. A number of us have worked through the weekend. We think we are very close to an agreement. And I want to repeat, the agreement that we have the Congressional Budget Office has told us is fully paid for, bends the cost curve in the right way and does extend coverage to 94 percent of the people.

WALLACE: Let me bring Senator Hatch into this.

First of all, do you believe that they've got a deal that's going to pay for itself? And secondly, the president says, "Well, look. Even if it doesn't, we're going to have a deficit trigger, so if we don't get all the savings we think we're going to get from Medicare, we will automatically cut savings." Why isn't that enough for you?

HATCH: Well, of course, that just also pushes us into a public plan even more so that the federal government can control.

Look, you said there aren't going to be any increases in taxes. How about the 25 percent of seniors who are on Medicare Advantage? They're going to cut Medicare Advantage by $130 billion as part of raising revenues.

They're going to have an employer mandate, at least a form of an employer mandate, that basically is going to hurt low-income employees.

They've got an individual mandate that if you -- if you earn more than -- if you earn more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level, you're going to be paying up to $3,800. Now, if that isn't increase in taxes, I don't know what is.

And you can go on and on on how even with all the work that I give my fellow senators credit for in the Finance Committee, it's hardly -- and you're talking about almost a trillion dollars in spending, but that's only for seven years, because it doesn't trigger till 2013. That's one year after the presidential election of 2012. Kind of interesting, isn't it?

WALLACE: All right. Let -- let me...

HATCH: And I could go on and on. All I can say is I just do not believe that they're going to have the Republican support on this type of an approach. And I can tell you right now people all over the country don't want this.

WALLACE: All right. You mentioned Medicare. It brings us to the president's claim that he can squeeze hundreds of billions of dollars out of Medicare without in any way endangering or cutting services to seniors. Let's watch.


OBAMA: The only thing this plan would eliminate is the hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud as well as unwarranted subsidies in Medicare that go to insurance companies.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WALLACE: Senator McCaskill, do you really believe that that's possible, that you can take hundreds of billions of dollars out of Medicare without cutting services to seniors?

MCCASKILL: Well, I don't know how many ads you've seen for scooters on cable TV, but I see a lot of them. Those are scooters paid for by the American people, and a lot of them are going to folks who don't need scooters.

It's one example of many examples where we are paying for services or things instead of outcomes. And I think it's very important that we start focusing on the patient and what's good for the patient rather than five or 10 or eight CAT scans in one week so docs and hospitals are trying to pay for those machines.

There's lots of things we can do without cutting any of the services. And rankly, Medicare Advantage, with all due respect to Orrin, we just transferred a lot of taxpayer money to insurance companies. It hasn't brought down the cost of Medicare. It hasn't improved the services.

WALLACE: But -- but, Senator McCaskill, let me -- let me ask you, because this is a question I get a lot in e-mails. If there is already hundreds of billions of dollars of waste and fraud in Medicare, why would we want to trust government with an even bigger role in health care?

HATCH: You got that right.

MCCASKILL: Well, part of the problem is -- is that we've had the private sector come in and get Congress to do things. A great example is Medicare D.

For gosh sakes, where were all the fiscal conservatives, you know, five or six years ago when the Republican Congress and Republican president...

WALLACE: We should point out that's the prescription drug benefit.

MCCASKILL: ... passed a trillion-dollar program without any way of paying for it. That's a good example of where we have transferred money from taxpayers to private insurance companies, and it has not produced the kind of result the American people deserve.

WALLACE: Senator Graham...

MCCASKILL: We need to pay for this.

WALLACE: Let me bring in Senator Graham, because Democratic congressman Jim Cooper , one of the so-called Blue Dogs, who actually teaches health care policy, says that between private and public health care, we waste about $700 billion a year, so it should be easy to find these kinds of savings.

GRAHAM: Well, no one's found them before, and the only way you're going to find them now is to do something that no one's been willing to do, and that's get in here and change the system.

You're not going to find $300 billion in Medicare and Medicaid savings. This trigger idea that at a certain point in time we'll stop spending and go back and cut things has never worked anywhere else, so the trigger is a phony baloney idea.

They said the same thing in Tennessee about TennCare, "We're going to make the system efficient and that's how we're going to pay for TennCare." Listen to what the governor of Tennessee had to say about that.

I voted against Medicare Part D for the very reason that we don't pay for things around here. The Wyden-Bennett bill -- seven Republicans and seven Democrats -- is revenue neutral. I'd like to talk to the president about it.

But here's the one thing that we've learned from this show today. The House bill is dead because deficit politics apparently matter, and the public option is unacceptable, so that's a good start.

If we can kill the House bill, let's sit down with Kent Conrad and others and see if we can do something reasonable. But it is not reasonable to assume that we're going to cut Medicare and Medicaid costs to pay for other people's insurance and get $300 billion savings and have a trigger that works in Washington. Neither one of those makes sense to me.

WALLACE: Well...

CONRAD: Chris, can I just say on this point...

WALLACE: Go ahead, Senator.

CONRAD: Look, we have negotiated with Medicare providers -- hospitals, nursing homes, home health -- hundreds of billions of dollars of savings. Why are they willing to come forward and negotiate those savings? Because they know with more people covered, they are going to have more business. They're going to have fewer circumstances in which they don't get compensated, they don't get paid.

So we have gotten hundreds of billions of dollars of savings from Medicare providers because they know they're going to get more business.

WALLACE: All right. We are almost...

GRAHAM: Can I add something? Can I add something? What about the doctor fix? Are we going to let it go into effect? It's supposed to go into effect every year and we never let it go into effect. That's exactly what's going to happen with these other cuts.

WALLACE: All right. We have really less than a minute left. I'm sorry, Senator Graham. I just want to ask -- or Senator Hatch. I just want to ask Senator Graham one final question. We're about to get Joe Wilson on the show. Should he apologize to -- on the House floor? You're his fellow South Carolinian. Should he apologize on the House floor and end this controversy?

GRAHAM: Well, I think Joe needs to make it clear that what he did was wrong. He has apologized to the president. That's enough for me. It's good that the president accepted it. But I'd like to see this matter end.

Joe's a good man. He made a mistake. Don't give up on fighting health care. But what he said was inappropriate. This needs to come to the end for the good of Joe, South Carolina and the country.

I'll leave it up to his good counsel as to what to do next. But he has apologized to the president, and I appreciate that very much.

WALLACE: Senators, we're going to have to thank you all -- thank you all so much for coming in today and joining us, and we'll see how the fight over health care reform shakes out over the next few weeks.

Up next, our exclusive interview with Congressman Joe Wilson on the shout heard round the world. Back after this break.


WALLACE: Here now to talk about his outburst during President Obama's speech is South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson .


And, Congressman, welcome to "FOX News Sunday."

WILSON: And, Chris, it's an honor to be with you, and I -- I just am grateful to be here.

WALLACE: Well, let's get right to it. House Democrats have changed their mind. They've decided that they are going to make you choose early this week -- either you formally apologize on the floor of the House to all of your colleagues for calling the president -- saying, "You lie," or they are going to formally discipline you.

What are you going to -- what are you going to do, sir?

WILSON: Chris, I'm a civil person. I believe on civility on the floor. Additionally, on Wednesday night, I had just completed town hall meetings, the largest congressional town hall meetings in the history of South Carolina -- 1,700 people in Colombia, 1,500 in Lexington, 1,500 in Beaufort, 1,200 in Hilton Head.

People were passionate. They do not want government control of health care. And so on Wednesday night I had what one of my sons said was a town hall moment. After the speech -- I stayed for the whole speech...

WALLACE: I'm -- let me just interrupt, because we will get to the...


WALLACE: ... Wednesday night. I just want...


WALLACE: ... to ask you, first of all, though, what are you going to do this week?

WILSON: I am not going to apologize again. I apologized to the president on Wednesday night. I was advised then that -- thank you, now let's get on to a civil discussion of the issues.

But I -- I've apologized one time. The apology was accepted by the president, by the vice president, who I know. I am not apologizing again.

In fact, I've been proven correct on the issue of citizen verification. And in fact, the Senate adopted it on Friday, and then I'm very grateful on Friday night the White House has now -- is now going to include it in their bill.

WALLACE: But let's -- and we'll get to all of that, I promise.

WILSON: Yes. Yes.

WALLACE: But let's get to this question of the apology.


WALLACE: You say you've apologized...


WALLACE: ... twice, but...

WILSON: No, no, once. Once, on Wednesday.

WALLACE: Well, you issued a statement. Then you called the White House.


WALLACE: Why not apologize to your House colleagues? They say you broke the rules.

WILSON: My view is that the apology to the president, to the White House, his acceptance, the vice president's acceptance -- people know my civility. They know that this was a one-time event, and it was out of frustration. I believe in the truth. What I heard was not true.

WALLACE: So how will you feel -- because that means that they are going to vote, and they certainly will vote, to rebuke you, some form of discipline. How are you going to feel when they make you stand in the well of the House and House Speaker Pelosi formally disciplines you?

WILSON: My view is it's politics. This is playing politics. This is exactly what the American people do not want to see, do not want to hear.

They want to get -- as the White House advised, let's get to the issues. Let's discuss the issues -- the bankrupting cost, the threat to senior citizens by the reductions in Medicare.

WALLACE: But when you say you think it's politics, what, you think the Democrats are playing politics?

WILSON: Oh, yeah, the Democrats are playing politics. And this is just a way to divert attention from a bill that would cost 1.6 million jobs, according to the National Federation of Independent Business. It's a diversion from people looking at the bill and the concerns about this bill.

WALLACE: Let's go back to Wednesday night, and let's show the moment as it happened, as the president of the United States was addressing Congress. Here it is.


OBAMA: The reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

WILSON: You lie!


WALLACE: What do you think when you see that?

WILSON: Well, I have respect for the president. I have respect for the office of the president. I would never do something like that again. But I...

WALLACE: But you did do it.

WILSON: Yes. And I -- I just felt so provoked because I am on committee, on the committee -- Education and Labor. I know the amendments that were on Ways and Means -- at Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce that the Democrats voted down for citizenship verification. So I knew what he said was not true. I read the bill. I read all 1,000 pages.

WALLACE: Now, let me ask you, because we're going...


WALLACE: ... to get into the details in a minute. Do you think when the president was saying what he said there that he was lying?

WILSON: I believe he was misstating the facts.

WALLACE: Well, you didn't say that. You said, "You lie."

WILSON: Well, I truly would have said it in a different way if I had time. And I -- I respect, again, the president. But what he said was not accurate and that's why I'm glad they've now agreed to having citizen verification on Friday.

WALLACE: Now, in today's New York Times -- I have to bring this up to you...


WALLACE: ... columnist Maureen Dowd says that the shout -- she believes -- suggests the shout was based on race, and she wrote this. "Wilson clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber."

WILSON: Oh, hey, no. Hey... WALLACE: Question: Is Mr. Obama's race an issue for you?

WILSON: No, no. Hey, I respect the president. Actually, there's a relationship, in a way. His wife -- her family's from Georgetown. My family's from next door in McClellanville. So I have a great respect for the Obama family.

WALLACE: Afterwards, as we said, you issued a written statement which seemed to be an apology. You called the White House...


WALLACE: ... and certainly there apologized. But since then you have suggested, "Look, I was basically following the directions of the Republican Party." You also, if I may, put up this video. Take a look.


WILSON: On these issues, I will not be muzzled. I will speak up and speak loudly against this risky plan.


WALLACE: Congressman, if you're fundraising off the incident...


WALLACE: ... are you really sorry?

WILSON: I would never do this on purpose. But I have been -- by national Democrats, by, been named the number one target for the elections next year.

So I am -- and I appreciate the overwhelming response from people to be involved. And I will not be muzzled. I'm going to be speaking on behalf of the American people, but I will be doing it very civilly.

WALLACE: Since Wednesday, you've raised more than a million dollars in campaign funds. So, quite frankly, has your likely opponent.


WALLACE: Do you think this has helped you or hurt you in your home district?

WILSON: In the district, it's been overwhelming, Chris. People have just been loving, actually, and very wonderful, calling my wife, Roxanne, our sons, our whole family. And so people have just -- our office has been overwhelmed with phone calls, letters and contributions. And I'm grateful for each.

WALLACE: Let's get to the issue that got you so riled up. I promised we would do that.


WALLACE: Are illegals banned from the president's reform plan or not? Let's take a look at House Bill 3200, perhaps the main House bill.

Under the title "No Federal Payment for Undocumented Aliens," it says, "Nothing in this subtitle shall allow federal payments for affordability credits or subsidies on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States."

Congressman, as you read that, wasn't the president right and you wrong?

WILSON: No, because there's no enforcement, and that's why they've agreed and so did the Senate on Friday adopt enforcement provisions. And then the White House itself on Friday had said it will be changed to have enforcement provisions.

I'd read the bill. I was familiar with the amendments. I knew it didn't have any meaning at all.

WALLACE: You know, since the incident -- and you're quite right, the White House has said the president is going to put even stronger enforcement measures in his plan to make sure that illegals do not participate.

The Senate Finance Committee has said it's going to do that as well. Do you feel that your outburst is responsible for that?

WILSON: I do think I brought the issue up. Yes, I do. And I -- I'm grateful even for recognition in the New York Times as they discuss this particular issue. It was the lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal Friday about truth and what was in the bill.

I think I've really -- I think -- and I didn't mean to do this, but I believe that I've certainly brought attention to all the issues. But one that's, again, crucial to me is jobs. And this bill will cost jobs at a time of high unemployment.

WALLACE: So let's go back, because you say you are not going to apologize again, and that means that you're going to be brought to the House floor some time this week in front of all of your colleagues, stand there on the House floor in the well of the chamber, and Speaker Pelosi is going to read out a discipline, a rebuke of you.

Is that going to be tough for you? Are you going to feel proud? Are you going to feel embarrassed?

WILSON: No, it's going to be tough, because I respect my colleagues, and I respect civility, and I support civility, and I -- this was a -- as my son said, a town hall moment. But I respect civility and I promote civility in every way, particularly on the House floor.

WALLACE: But you're not sorry you did it in the sense that you think you did the wrong thing. WILSON: Well, I did. I apologized to the president one time, and it was accepted by the president, the vice president, and so I -- I believe that the American people know that I'm a civil person, a person who respects the institution of the House.

I have apologized to the president. I believe that is sufficient.

WALLACE: Congressman Wilson, we want to thank you so much for coming in today.

WILSON: Thank you.

WALLACE: Please come back, sir.

WILSON: Well, I look forward to it. thank you.

WALLACE: It could be an interesting week for you.

WILSON: No -- well, (inaudible).

WALLACE: Has been a few interesting days already.

WILSON: Yes. Yes. Yes.

WALLACE: Up next, those tea party protesters come to the nation's capital, but did their march on Washington resonate through the halls of Congress? Our Sunday regulars weigh in after the break.



TEA PARTY ORGANIZER DEBORAH JOHNS: We are in a battle, ladies and gentlemen, for our freedom against our government and it's time to take America back.


WALLACE: That was a taste of the tea party protesters. Tens of thousands of them marched on Washington Saturday and made their voices heard on the National Mall.

It's time once again for our Sunday regulars and, yes, the gang's all here -- 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, welcome back from your summer vacation. We missed you.

HUME: Thank you.

WALLACE: And we're going to put you right to work. What do you make of the taxpayer march on D.C.? What does it say to the Obama White House? What does it say to the Republicans?

HUME: It is a further reminder that on this issue, regardless of what the polls say about who favors what, almost all the intensity is with the people who are resisting the president and the Democrats in Congress on this issue.

Even, I would say, Congressman Wilson, whom you had a very interesting interview with -- you see what kind of a man he is. This is a man most of us had not heard of, I think it's fair to say, in the country and to many of us in the media. You know, he's a pretty quiet guy.

His outburst -- these town hall meetings were held with this same sort of atmosphere you saw on the Mall yesterday, all of it -- you add it all up and what you have is all the intensity on the issue is with the resistance.

And that's something that all these Blue Dog Democrats and others who are considering voting for this bill have to worry about, because we're now dealing with an electorate who -- the opponents among whom will vote against you on this issue alone, where -- whereas that -- I don't think that's true -- people who are for the bill or for other things -- they feel they're -- you know, it's not -- it's not a single issue make or break.

WALLACE: Mara, do you agree that -- that -- and it's not, I think, just health care. I think we're talking about the whole Obama agenda with a lot of big government and a lot of big spending. Do you think all the intensity is with the opponents?

LIASSON: I think that when you look at polling, you see the -- the thing that's changed the most, you know, as the president's numbers have gone down is the intensity of the opposition has gone up dramatically. I think that's true.

The question is how big is it. I mean, what we still don't know -- and I think we'll know soon when there's an actual plan with details that people can look at -- whether this is a small but extremely intense opposition to this or whether this is a big, broad reaction to the government interventions in all sorts of parts of the economy. And I'm not sure yet what it is.

There's no doubt that the intensity is very fierce against this, and certainly some Blue Dog Democrats are going to be worried about it, but I do think what the president did this week is he moved health care farther to the center, made it a little more comfortable for conservative Democrats and moderate Democrats to be able to find a way to vote for it.

WALLACE: Bill, before we get to the president's speech, I want to stay on the so-called tea party movement, if you will. Is it all good for the GOP, or is there a risk for Republicans that some of the more extreme protesters could turn off moderates, could turn off the center?

KRISTOL: I think there's always that risk. But look, this is -- people are upset about a series of pieces of legislation, but I don't think we should underestimate the importance of health care itself.

This is a huge effort to transform something very important to people's lives -- one-sixth of the U.S. economy. This isn't a tax cut. On a tax cut, you ram it through, you make some squirrelly arguments, your taxes go up 3 percent, they go down 7 percent. It has real consequences on people's jobs, while it -- still, it's only money.

This is health care. And that this thing is being rammed through is what really offends people. I've talked to a lot of people who went to town hall meetings. One reason they went in August is they thought this thing -- this railroad -- this was being railroaded down the track. This was their one chance to stand up and say, "Wait a second. Wait a second. You haven't even read your own bill."

Mara just said well, it will be interesting this week to see what -- see the actual plan with the details. We haven't seen that. And what is -- what is their plan, though? What do -- what do they intend to do -- Obama? There's no plan yet with details, yet the thing has to be passed...

LIASSON: We're getting a lot closer and we've got a lot more...

KRISTOL: ... has to be passed within a month. It's a total outrage. It has never happened in American history. It's something that will change every family's life, that affects the country so fundamentally.

It's the biggest piece of domestic legislation -- what do you think, 25 years, 35 years? And that this thing is -- they wanted to jam this through before the August recess. That's really wrong. I just -- just from the point of view of how a democracy should work. And I think that's what's most upset people.

WILLIAMS: Well, I think that it's not jamming through to the point that it is democracy at work when people are having debate and discussion about the particulars of the bill. That's the good of people turning out in large numbers yesterday, people who were saying, you know, they have specific concerns. I'm all for that. I think people should be involved in the country.

But the question is if you don't know what you're talking about exactly, how can you have a protest? Because you know what? The big criticism against President Obama -- and I think this is totally legitimate -- is he has not spoken out until now. He has not made it clear what he believes in.

And even the speech that he gave this week, there are details missing. So people have every right to say, "Give me the details." But at this point, what are you protesting against? And that's why, you know, there was a flavor to yesterday...

WALLACE: You don't think that we have the...


WALLACE: ... we have a pretty strong outline...

WILLIAMS: ... from what is an anti -- just anti-Obama...

WALLACE: You don't think that we have a pretty strong sense of what the president's calling for?

WILLIAMS: Now we do. I think now we have a clearer sense after the speech on Wednesday that he wants everybody to either be covered, to have -- you have to buy your own insurance or be covered somewhere or pay a penalty. He wants employers to do it. We understand that.

And we understand that he favors the public option but, as you revealed in your interview, it's not likely to stand by it and allow it to block final passage. But that's not -- I don't think that's what the people who are here -- and there were, you know, passionate people here yesterday -- were out here about. I think they were saying -- still talking about "death panels."

WALLACE: Is that what you think this is about, "death panels," unreasoned opposition? HUME: Well, no, I don't. I mean, I think the core elements of the proposal, including its cost, have been a matter of record for some time. There are varying estimates.

But there are no estimates that say that any of these measures are not going to add to the deficit. Senator Conrad was talking about producing a bill that will be -- that won't do that, but he hasn't done that yet, nor have the other committees that are at work on that in the Senate.

So what you have is the possibility of the entry of the federal government into the insurance market, which worries a lot of people.

It is -- it is not hard to understand why people believe that that so-called public option will lead to employers by the thousands, maybe millions, abandoning the health care coverage they now provide, paying the fine, which will be less, and leading inevitably toward more and more people getting their insurance from the government, more and more toward a single-payer system.

People don't want that. They're scared of the cost. They don't like the direction it's going. And they don't like the substance of what they're hearing.

And the complaint that it lacks details -- that's not what these people are out here complaining about over the weekend or at the town halls. They don't like the details they have heard, and they don't like them a lot.

And I think the striking thing about the president's speech, Chris, was that there was very little outreach to the center and to the right on this issue. It seemed to me from -- what he was saying was he was trying to keep things together in the House of Representatives, where it's been thought that a bill would pass.

WALLACE: Let me bring Mara in...


WALLACE: ... because it seems to me that what the president was trying to do was not -- he doesn't expect to get many, if any...


WALLACE: ... Republican votes. He's trying to bridge the divide within his own...


WALLACE: ... party. He's trying to reassure independents...


WALLACE: ... and he's trying to reassure seniors.

LIASSON: Yes. WALLACE: On that basis, how did he do?

LIASSON: I thought he certainly did a lot of good for his own party. They only think they can get one, maybe two, Republicans. I think he signaled...

WALLACE: In the Senate.

LIASSON: In the Senate. I think he signaled to the -- to the -- to the Senate, to the moderates in the Senate, you're -- this is not going to have a public option in it -- and to Blue Dogs in the House. I think on that count he went pretty far.

I think he did rev up his base by being pugnacious against the Republicans. That's what they wanted him to do. At the same time, he kind of threw a couple olive branches to the Republicans, not very meaningful, but there were some little substantive ideas of theirs that he adopted, and that tells independents, "Look, I'm still a bipartisan guy."

I think he tried to do a lot in the speech. I think the big -- the biggest black hole in there is he didn't say how he was going to pay for a good half of the cost of this, and that's what people are worried about. They don't believe it's possible to cover 30 million more people without...

WALLACE: All right.


LIASSON: ... paying more.

KRISTOL: Can I just say one thing? He is leading his party off a cliff, and Speaker Pelosi is going to lead his party -- her party off the cliff if they try to rebuke Joe Wilson .

He has apologized. It will be a disgrace if they do some stunt in the House to try to humiliate this man, who is, in fact -- has a reputation for bipartisan on the Armed Services Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee he's on.

Obama and Pelosi are leading the party off a cliff, I think, and I hope a lot of Democrats say, "Slow down. Let's take a look at this bill."

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

But when we come back, are Democrats ready to give up on Afghanistan eight years after the 9/11 attacks were launched from that country? Our panel's thoughts after the break.


WALLACE: On this day in 1814, Francis Scott Key composed the lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner during the British attack on Fort McHenry in Maryland. He was inspired that the American flag survived the artillery assault.

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



CARL LEVIN: The larger our own military footprint there, the more our enemies can seek to drive a wedge between us and the Afghan population.



PELOSI: I don't think there's a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan in the country or in the Congress.


WALLACE: Senator Carl Levin and Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week, just part of the growing opposition in the Democratic Party to the president possibly sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

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

So, Juan, is the -- if the president decides in the next few weeks to send tens of thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, as apparently U.S. commanders on the ground want, how much resistance is he going to face in his own party?

WILLIAMS: He's going to face substantial resistance. He's already sent 21,000 more this year. We're now up to about, I think, 68,000 Americans there. And the whole question is what is this intended to accomplish and for how long.

Senator Russ Feingold has said, "Let's set a timetable if you want to do this." But nobody wants to set a timetable. The question is if the surge had some impact in Iraq, would a subsequent surge now in Afghanistan really deal with the problems there, or would it simply mean that we are entrenched in a war where victory seems very distant and difficult.

The recent elections seemed to feature fraud, outright corruption. What change is being made in Afghanistan that would justify further loss of American life?

But I was over at the White House this week, and you still hear language -- talk about this being the war of necessity, not the war of choice. If Iraq was the war of choice, this is the one that we've got to win in order to stop Al Qaida and the Taliban from taking root and doing subsequent terrorist acts.

WALLACE: Which brings up an interesting question, Brit. Speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars last month, President Obama called Afghanistan a war of necessity. This is an issue, I know, that you have talked about a lot since he became president.

Do you think Barack Obama will take on the left wing, the anti- war wing base, of his party on Afghanistan?

HUME: I think it's doubtful that he will, but listen to -- listen to what Senator Levin says. It sounds very familiar, if you remember what Democrats and other critics were saying at the time of the surge in Iraq.

What we learned, I think, from Iraq is that a counterterrorism strategy, a counterinsurgency strategy, relies initially on the suppression of the violence. And in that atmosphere other good things can take place. But that's job one.

If you don't have enough troops to do it, you can't do it and you can't succeed. The question for Barack Obama is, Democratic resistance or not, is he willing to fail in Afghanistan, and I worry that he may be.

WALLACE: What do you think about the -- specifically this question? Because so far the president hasn't shown a lot of stomach for, when it comes to it, taking on the left wing of his own party on a variety of issues.

Is he going to do that...

LIASSON: I think...

WALLACE: ... on Afghanistan...


... particularly when he put out that marker...


WALLACE: ... war of necessity?

LIASSON: I think he has no choice. If -- now, the other question is is the left really going to be in full revolt against him. You know, I don't believe that's going to happen either.

I think Carl Levin is saying things like, "Let's not send more troops until we've seen if the -- if the Afghan troops can step up." I mean, there's a lot of...

WALLACE: Yeah, but he's talking about a year or two down the road.

HUME: Years.

LIASSON: Yeah. I think that this president has to, quote, "win," however he defines it, the war on Afghanistan. He has to. He said it's the front line in the war on terror. He said George Bush made a mistake, he drew the front line in the wrong country.

I think he has to listen to the generals, do what they say and succeed in Afghanistan. I don't think that he can afford to leave Afghanistan to the Taliban. I just don't.

KRISTOL: Yeah, I think he's probably going to accept the recommendation of Generals McChrystal, Petraeus, Admiral Mullen, Secretary Gates -- pretty united front -- that we can't simply win by going offshore and doing counterterrorism. We have to do a real counterinsurgency, and that requires more troops. Everyone who's been there says that.

And you know, when he makes that tough decision, and a lot of people like Nancy Pelosi , who just wants to get out -- and Senator Levin has a more nuanced position -- if he doesn't -- wants to sort of gradually get out. You know who's maybe supporting President Obama? Joe Wilson .

LIASSON: John McCain .

KRISTOL: Joe -- John McCain and Joe Wilson on the Armed Services Committee were -- talked about it right up there. He's been -- he's been to Afghanistan nine times. His sons served in Iraq. And he said -- I said you're -- I've known Joe Wilson a long time. You know, he's not that partisan.

He says, "Quite the contrary. I've been saying to my conservative friends, some of whom are going south on Afghanistan, we have to fight and win there. And if President Obama as commander in chief does the right thing, we absolutely have to support him."

So I think President Obama will do the right thing. His chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel , is not, I think -- is nervous about it. I'm not sure -- his political operatives are saying, "Don't be Lyndon Johnson again." But I think he'll do the right thing and he'll have Republican and conservative support.

WALLACE: Bill, let me...


... let me just follow -- wait. Let me just follow up, Bill, on this, because I want to ask you, what's -- what's at stake in Afghanistan? What are the chances that even if we send more troops in we can defeat Al Qaida and the Taliban?

And Juan brings up the point we -- it appears we had rampant election fraud in the presidential election last month. What are the chances we'll ever get a viable state there?

KRISTOL: Well, the chances that we can suppress the Taliban are very great. The chances of a decent viable state are pretty good. The chances, if we do suppress the Taliban, of Pakistan not falling apart and, in fact, improving, which it's done over the last few months, are great. And the cost of defeat is just unacceptable.

The idea that the Taliban would drive us out of the place from which 9/11 was launched because we don't have the will to -- and the intelligence and the -- to fight and to win -- I think the consequences around the world, throughout the Middle East, the Islamic world -- the message that would go out everywhere would just be disastrous for us.

WILLIAMS: By the way, your message is not consistent among the conservative side of this argument. There are some conservatives who are very much opposed. So let's not make this into somehow that Democrats or liberals are necessarily opposed.

And by the way, Brit, I think you're out of step here with President Obama. President Obama has taken on his left wing in, in fact, sending more troops already to Afghanistan and in bombing, the consistent bombing, the drones, over Pakistan.

I don't think there's any question this is a man who is engaged in fighting a war on terror, whatever you want to call it. So to say he's somehow weak-kneed or wimpish on this war effort or -- that's just not fair.

HUME: I didn't say -- I didn't say...

WILLIAMS: That's not right.

HUME: ... he was, Juan. I agree with you. I think your point is well taken, and I hope you're right. I just fear that when it gets down to it politically, he won't do it. He won't send the extra troops. He won't see it through. I hope you're right.

WILLIAMS: I don't think he...

HUME: I'm glad to hear you say what you said.

WILLIAMS: I don't think he has a choice. I think the key thing is that he wants this somehow to be resolved before you get into a primary process going into the next presidential race. That -- that's fair to say.

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

Good to have you back, Mr. Hume.

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

Also, please check out our blog, "Wallace Watch," at, where we have a number of interesting features.

Up next, our Power Player of the Week. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: As President Obama pushed Congress the other night on health care reform, there were all kinds of forces at work behind the scenes, and none is more formidable than our Power Player of the Week.


STERN: I think it starts the final phase, you know, of this process, which is taking votes.

WALLACE: That was Andy Stern the morning after the president's speech to Congress. Stern is head of the Service Employees International Union or SEIU. With 2 million members, it's the fastest growing union in America, which makes him one of labor's most powerful voices.

STERN: There are 435 people down the street that have to make a choice about the future of our country.

WALLACE: Stern is using that voice to push for government-run health insurance, but he seems to understand why the president is hedging.

Were you disappointed by what the president said about the public option?

STERN: He is not the dictator here. He's just part of the American process. And in the end there will be a vote in the Senate, I believe, on the public option, and we're going to see.

WALLACE: Stern knows all about votes. He showed us the war room where two dozen people mobilize SEIU workers across the country.

So if you hear Congressman X s wavering a little, you can...

STERN: We send word out to his district. But we want them to know that people are watching what they do.

WALLACE: SEIU, which represents health care workers, public service employees, private security guards and janitors, worked hard last year to elect Democrats. They spent $71 million, putting 100,000 volunteers in the field, and making 13 million phone calls, and it paid off.

How much clout does SEIU have?

STERN: I think we're heard.

WALLACE: If you make a phone call to a top White House official, does it get answered?

STERN: Yeah. We feel like we have a lot of access.

WALLACE: In fact, while we were talking, nurses from SEIU were at the White House helping the president sell health care reform. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I want to say thank you...


WALLACE: Andy Stern was a social service worker in 1973 when he got involved with the union.

STERN: I was the last one in the room at a meeting that I went to because they were serving pizza, and I was elected unanimously as the assistant shop steward.


STERN: And here I -- and here I am.

WALLACE: He sees unions as a way to help working people lead better lives, and his current effort is part of that.

The fight for health care reform is personal for you, isn't it?

STERN: Yes, it is.

WALLACE: Seven years ago, his daughter Cassie died from complications after spinal surgery.

Do you think about Cassie often during this debate?

STERN: She'd be 21 next week. And I really think about, you know, what would have happened if we had had a health care system, you know, that really could take care of people, you know, a lot more effectively. She'd still be here with me.

WALLACE: Stern says unions must adapt to a global economy, but the basic mission is the same.

STERN: It's about seeing millions of people have a chance to live their dreams. And it gets me up every day, you know, excited and believing that America again can face the challenges we do in the 21st century and build a new economy that makes dreams come true.


WALLACE: Stern says after health care reform the president has promised to push the Employee Free Choice Act, or card check, but he acknowledges they may have to find some other way to make union organizing easier without taking away the secret ballot from workers.

And that's it for today. Have a great week and we'll see you next "FOX News Sunday."


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