Sunday Shows — Rogue Nations and Town Halls

Aug 9, 2009 6:19pm

ABC News' Kristina Wong reports: President Obama’s foreign policy on North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran were under the spotlight today on the Sunday news talk shows, but just as hotly debated was whether scenes of public anger at health-care town halls across the country were real or orchestrated.

On North Korea, president of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass called Bill Clinton's recent trip to the country to secure the release of two detained American journalists “irrelevant,” saying it had no broader implications for U.S. foreign policy.

“What Bill Clinton did, however nice it is … doesn’t change any of the fundamentals,” Haass said on ABC's "This Week."

Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, also downplayed the idea that U.S. relations with North Korea had been altered by former president's visit.

“I want to emphasize this was a private mission … in which there were no official or unofficial messages sent by this government or by President Obama,” Jones said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” stressing that the former president spoke to North Korea's leaders about releasing detainees from South Korea and Japan as well.

Jones acknowledged that Clinton expressed “personal views” to North Korea on its nuclear program, but emphasized that the possibility for direct bilateral talks remained strictly in North Korea’s willingness to return to the Six-Party talks with the United States and the four other interested nations in the region, South Korea, Russia, China and Japan.

“North Korea knows that the path to talking is through the six-party process,” Jones said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “If they come back to the talks, we will talk to them bilaterally within those talks.”

On Afghanistan, Jones tried to clarify a statement he made in June regarding troop levels, when he said, according to the Washington Post's Bob Woodward, “If there were new requests for force now, the president would quite likely have a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment.”

“I want to be clear on this. I did not say that troop strength is off the table for discussion. What I did say is that we have yet to be able to measure the implementation of the new strategy, so if you have recommendations, make it in the context of the new strategy,” Jones said.

“I won’t rule — we won’t rule anything out that stands to reason, but it is fair to say that, once we agree on a new strategy, we want to make sure it is — has a chance to be evaluated,” he said.

But GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, cautioned against having too few troops.

“Let’s not Rumsfeld Afghanistan,” Graham said on CBS, referring to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's policy of reducing troop levels and cutting costs. “Let’s don’t do this thing on the cheap. Let’s have enough combat power and engagement across the board to make sure we’re successful. And quite frankly, we all have got a lot of ground to make up.”

The president's ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, addressed Iran today on CNN's "State of the Union."

Asked whether tougher sanctions were in store for Iran’s unwillingness to suspend its nuclear program, Rice, said there would be a “stock taking” in September, when world leaders are scheduled to meet at the United Nations General Assembly.

“If there are not indications that Iran is prepared to engage constructively, to open up and dismantle its nuclear program, consistent with the proposition and the proposal that the United States and others put on the table in April, then we will look to other means,” Rice said.

She also indicated that the administration’s willingness to open a dialogue with Iran remained on the table, but would not be “out there forever.”

“We’re not going to impose any artificial deadlines," she said. "But at the G-8, the president and other leaders indicated that they will do a stock taking of where we are with respect to Iran in September, and we will do that and we will consider appropriate next steps in light of the Iranians’ response or non-response."

On the health care front, the former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich duked it out with Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean on ABC.

Given a chance to refute former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s Facebook update in which she said Obama’s health care reform would promote "death panels" deciding euthanasia, Gingrich replied, “communal standards historically is a very dangerous concept.”

“You are asking us to trust turning power over to the government, when there are clearly people in America who believe in establishing euthanasia, including selective standards,” Gingrich said.

“Look, I’ve practiced for 10 years,” said Dean, who was a doctor before he was elected governor of Vermont. “My wife is still practicing. Never once did I have a Medicare bureaucrat tell me what I could or couldn’t do for a patient, but all the time we have bureaucrats from the insurance companies calling up and saying, ‘We’re not going to cover this, and we’re not going to pay for that, and we’re denying coverage of that.’”

As for angry constituents facing Congress members back home at town halls, Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; John Cornyn, R-Texas; and Arlen Specter, D-Pa., debated on CNN whether that anger was manufactured or real. 

“This is clearly being orchestrated and these folks have instructions. They come down from a Texas lobbyist in Washington,” said Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate.

But Cornyn claimed that at a community health clinic he visited with Congressman Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, there were an “equal number of people clamoring for a single-payer system.”

“I’m glad we have this August recess, we can talk to our constituents, hear from them, and let’s keep working together to try to come up with something that makes sense, not this huge government takeover of our health care system," Cornyn said.

Specter, the Republican-turned-Democrat, said he wasn’t fazed by the boos and heckling he faced at a recent health-care town hall he held with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. Video of the event had the pair appearing off-guard.

“There's no doubt that the boos and catcalls were orchestrated, but there were many people there who wanted to talk about health care, and I didn't take the boos personally,” Specter said. “Listen, in a democracy, you can be orchestrated.  It's just unfortunate that so much time was spent away from the issues, but in my line of work, you have to be prepared for whatever comes.”

UPDATE: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared on CNN's "GPS," saying the United States would re-evaluate its efforts to entice Iran back to the negotiating table in September.

"We are under no illusions. We were under no illusions before their elections that we can get the kind of engagement we are seeking," she said.

"The president has also said, look, we need to take stock of this in September. If there is a response, it needs to be on a fast track. We're not going to keep the window open forever."

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