Transcript: Kerry, Hatch

"This Week" transcript with Sens. John Kerry and Orrin Hatch.



PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Ted Kennedy became the greatest legislator of our time.

STEPHANOPOULOS: A life in full.

KENNEDY: I plan that I shall dedicate all of my strength and will to serving you in the United States Senate.

The hope rises again, and the dream lives on.

(singing): I love sweet Rosie O'Grady and Rosie O'Grady loves me!

STEPHANOPOULOS: Our headliners this morning, two of Kennedy's closest friends in the Senate. Democrat John Kerry and Republican Orrin Hatch.


REP. EDWARD J. MARKEY, D-MASS.: Senator Kennedy's spirit will infuse the Congress.

HHS SECRETARY KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: Hopefully at every step along the way, they'll ask themselves, what would Teddy do?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Without Kennedy, what's next for health care? That and all the week's politics on an expanded roundtable with George Will, Sam Donaldson, Gwen Ifill, E.J. Dionne and Liz Cheney. All this on a special edition of "This Week.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning. He was the youngest Kennedy brother who lived the longest. The only one who could prepare for his death.

And the by the time Teddy Kennedy was buried next to Bobby and John late yesterday, you just knew it was the farewell he wanted. From the Senate he served. The sons he loved.


EDWARD KENNEDY, JR., SON: I said, I can't do this. He said, I know you can do it. There is nothing that you can't do. We're going to climb that hill together even if it takes us all day.

REP. PATRICK J. KENNEDY, D-R.I.: When he first got elected and my cousin Joe was a member of Congress and I came to Congress, dad finally celebrated saying, finally after all these years, when someone says, who does that damn Kennedy think he is? There's only a one in three chance they're talking about me.


STEPHANOPOULOS: And the president.


OBAMA: The greatest expectations were placed upon Ted Kennedy's shoulders because of who he was, but he surpassed them all because of who he became.


STEPHANOPOULOS: And with that, let me bring in senators John Kerry and Orrin Hatch. Welcome to you both.

And you both spoke movingly Friday night as a celebration for Senator Kennedy. And I want to begin with you, Senator Kerry, because you called this last year of Senator Kennedy's life the sweetest of seasons. And I wonder if you could share a little bit of what you learned and saw of your friend in his last year.

KERRY: Well, he -- he was so graceful, George. And courageous. And I think the most important thing is that he was able to see and feel the love and affection and the accomplishment of his lifetime.

So that in the end when he went, he was truly ready and at peace. And I think there is a beauty in that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that was one of the themes really of this whole week. And, Senator Hatch, you cracked everybody up Friday night when you talked about your friend, Senator Kennedy, and especially when you talked about those old days sometimes when he was feeling no pain, in your words, on the Senate Floor.

But you spun it out into a story of redemption.

HATCH: Yes. Actually, Teddy was a very religious person. And, you know, when Vicki came into his life, it changed a lot of things.

Of course, we had some experiences before that as well that were very redemptive and helpful. And all I can say is that the latter part of Teddy's life was really, really tremendous. And I enjoyed being with him, you know?

We were like fighting brothers. I mean, we would go at each other and he would walk up to me and throw his arms around me and say, how did I do?


HATCH: And I used to just laugh. And I used to really rib him and give him a rough time too.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You said fighting brothers, and I couldn't help but notice you and Senator Kerry already talking about health care right before we went...

KERRY: Yes, listen, we're going to get Orrin. Orrin is going to be our man. He is going to be the go-to Republican. He is going to do what Ted Kennedy would have done. Right, Orrin?

HATCH: All they have -- all they have to do is just start thinking straight, and I'll be right there with them, I'll tell you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But that's the big question. You say, do what Ted Kennedy would have done. And you know, this has been a big part of the debate this week. In fact, Secretary Sebelius engaged it just a couple of days ago.


SEBELIUS: The best possible legacy is to pass health reform this year and have a bill that President Obama could sign. And hopefully at every step along the way, they'll ask themselves what would Teddy do? And move it forward.


STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Senator Kerry, there already is a big debate over what would Teddy do. I mean, I think a lot of liberals and progressives saying he would fight for this public health insurance option and, you know, if that -- if you didn't have that, it wasn't worth doing.

Others look at it, and I think you may be one of them who say, no, the lesson of Senator is that he got what he could get, the perfect couldn't be the enemy of the good.

KERRY: Well, Ted would put facts on the table and he would put the reality of life for a lot of Americans on the table. And the reality of life is that we have over 87 million Americans every year during some portion of the year who don't have insurance. And almost 50 million who all of the time don't have insurance.

It costs them and costs America an enormous amount of money. We are not managing an efficient health care system. And so we are delivering worse health care for more money than many other nations in the world.

Now Orrin knows that. We know we can do a better job of providing health care to Americans. And what Teddy would do is he would fight for that public option, because he believes -- believed that the public option, as I do, is an effective -- the best way possible to be able to reduce the...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But he could count votes as well...

KERRY: Now let me just finish...

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... and the votes don't seem to be there.

KERRY: Let me just finish. Let me finish. He would fight for it, and he would do everything in his power to get it, just like he did for the minimum wage or like he did for children's health care, et cetera. But if he didn't see the ability to be able to get it done, he would not throw the baby out with the bathwater. He would not say no to anything because we have to reduce the cost. We have to make these changes. And he would find the best way forward.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So he wouldn't agree with those like Howard Dean who say it's not worth doing if you don't have the public health insurance option?

KERRY: I think there is an enormous amount, George -- oh, here is what Teddy would do. He would say, I'm going to fight the fight, and if and when we get to the point that we can't get there, we'll see whether or not we can do enough to make good happen out of this.

And you can't make that measurement today. We have to go down that road.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You said, earlier this year, Senator Hatch, that Senator Kennedy was really missed in the negotiations, because of his ability to speak to progressives and reach out to Republicans.

What about going forward right now? Who can fill that void and is there a deal to be had here?

HATCH: One thing that Kennedy had, he could bring together all of the base groups of the Democratic Party. They wouldn't take him on once he made up his mind. And as somebody who over the last 33 years passed almost every health care bill that works, many of them with Ted Kennedy, in fact, most of them with Ted Kennedy.

Everything from orphan drugs to the three AIDS bills to the CHIP bill, you can just name it, you know, even people with disabilities. I mean, we worked on all of those together.

In every case, he fought as hard as he could, like John has said here, but when he recognized that, you know, he couldn't get everything that he wanted, but he could get a good bill by working with the other side. And making through compromise, he would always come through.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Did you think he would move in that direction now?

HATCH: I have no doubt about it. I mean, if he was here...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is it doable now?

HATCH: ... I don't think we'd be in the mess we're in right now. And look, Ted was the leading liberal in the Senate -- in the whole Congress, as far as I'm concerned. And others come very close to him, like John here.

I mean, very good people, but you know, let's be honest about it, the people out there are very concerned. They don't want a Washington-run government plan, it's just that simple. And I think that is showing up everywhere throughout America. When Medicare is $38 trillion in unfunded liability, and then they want to take $400 billion or $500 billion out of Medicare, I mean, come on, this doesn't make sense. And Teddy would have recognized that.

And look, I -- we used to get in tremendous fights, he and I, but we would always come together in the end. And it was always because both of us were willing to go to the center. And sometimes he would go to the center-right.

I mean, CHIP was a center-right bill.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what's going to...


KERRY: Yes, but one of the things that Teddy would make clear, and I want to now, is that no one is talking about a government-run, Washington-based health care plan. That is not what people are talking about.

So if we can get a reality onto the table, which Orrin is usually pretty good at doing, we can have a good conversation here.

I'm convinced we're going to do this. I believe better judgment is going to prevail. I think we're going to come back, begin this discussion anew in a way that we ought to. And I think we're...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But let me draw out something...

KERRY: ... going to get it done.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Democrats and Republicans, if you look at -- across the broad (INAUDIBLE), have agreed on a couple of components of the bill.

KERRY: Right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: These insurance reforms, you can't be denied health care if you're sick. You can't get thrown out if you're sick. A lot of Democrats, Republicans say that maybe we should have this individual mandate, to require people to buy insurance, to couple that with reforms.

Bill Bradley points out today, I think it was in The New York Times, that, you know, maybe they should include some malpractice reform as well. Are they -- those three things the building blocks of a deal?

HATCH: Yes, they really are. You know, Democrats have been unwilling to take on the personal injury lawyers. And look, there are cases that really deserve huge rewards, huge judgments.

We've got to find some way of getting rid of the frivolous cases, and most of them are. Most of them are brought...

KERRY: And that's doable, most definitely.

HATCH: Yes, and that's doable. Most of them are brought to -- you know, to get the defense costs. They know that once they bring them, the insurance companies are going to have to pay their defense costs rather than take a chance at a runaway jury.

But it's not just that. It's the other elements you've been talking about too. Those are three very important...

STEPHANOPOULOS: And then if you add some subsidies to that to move towards covering more people...

KERRY: Yes, which I think we have some -- actually, I think we have some flexibility on as to sort of the rate and manner in which you do that. So I think that there are ways to do this, George.

As a member of the Finance Committee, I've been part of this discussion, though many of us would like to see it broadened in some ways. I'd like -- I mean, you know, my question to Orrin and to others is, you know, who is the Republican? Who are the Republicans, plural, who are prepared to step up and do as Ted Kennedy would have done here?

STEPHANOPOULOS: You were part of the negotiations earlier this year but then stepped away. Are you ready to come back?

ORRIN: Sure. I've always been ready to do that. But look, you talk about an individual mandate. The problem with an individual mandate is that the people who are really hurt the most are those on the lower end of the wage spectrum.

They either lose their jobs, a cutback in pay, or the company goes overseas. Once you start doing that -- because the theory behind that is that you've penalized the company if they don't provide insurance for their people by having them have it surcharged.

And look, let's just be honest about it, it's a very difficult thing to do. There are some ways we could do this, none -- both sides...

KERRY: Actually, Orrin...

HATCH: Both sides are arguing for insurance reform. That's not the issue. The issue is, how do we put all of these elements together...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me switch to...


KERRY: The truth is we're doing that very effectively in Massachusetts. Ted Kennedy was part of making that happen -- a key part of making that happen. We went from 10 percent of our folks who had no insurance down to 2.6 percent, the lowest percentage of uninsured in the nation. And it has worked. And companies have not left. Companies, in fact, are delighted with the better distribution of costs in the state.

So what we need to do is have people who want to sit down and not be bound by ideology, not be the prisoners of a political strategy, but who want to get health care done based on the best way to get it...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me move to...

KERRY: ... done. If we did that, we'd get it done.

HATCH: Can I make a point on that?


HATCH: You know, that's one of my points that I've been making, is that Utah is not Massachusetts, neither is any other state. Massachusetts is having a very, very difficult time because of the costs involved in their program. But it is their right to do that.

Utah has one of the best health care systems in the country, most people agree with that, as does Minnesota. Because -- and I think the demographics in each state are different. I think if we give some flexibility, we might be able to have a better -- a very good...

STEPHANOPOULOS: We have to move on to another...

HATCH: ... health care system.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Another issue that...


STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. Let me move to another issue that came up earlier this week. The attorney general decided to investigate possible CIA abuses in the prisoner interrogation cases.

And Vice President Cheney this morning has blasted that decision by the attorney general.


DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: The approach of the Obama administration should be to come to those people who were involved in that policy and say, how did you do it? What were the keys to keeping the country safe over that period of time?

Instead, they're out there now threatening to disbar the lawyers who gave us the legal opinions, threatening, contrary to what the president originally said, they were going to go out and investigate the CIA personnel who carried out those investigations.


STEPHANOPOULOS: He called it an outrageous and possibly dangerous act.

KERRY: Well, Dick Cheney has shown through the years, frankly, a disrespect for the Constitution, for sharing of information with Congress, respect for the law, and I'm not surprised that he is upset about this.

The Obama administration has no intention -- I think the president himself has been unbelievably bending in the direction of trying to be careful about what happens to national security, protecting our national security interests, being very sensitive about the CIA's prerogatives and needs and so forth.

And in fact, I think there is a little bit of a tension between the White House itself and the lawyers in the Justice Department as they see the law and as what their obligation is.

And in a sense, that's good. That's appropriate, because it shows that we have an attorney general who is not pursuing a political agenda, but who is doing what he believes the law requires him to do.

And we have an administration, on the other hand, that is balancing some of those other interests.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The vice president also said that he believes that CIA officials who went outside the bounds of the guidelines they were given were justified. Do you agree with that?

HATCH: There is a real question whether they went outside of the bounds that they were given at the time. Look, I -- as the longest- serving person in the Senate Intelligence Committee, I've got to tell you, we don't want to cripple our ability to be able, in very crucial times, to get the information we've got to have to save our country and to protect our people.

I think what Dick Cheney is arguing for -- and look, how can anybody argue that Cheney has been a great asset to the country in so many ways? He is a tough guy, there is no question. He differs from the so-called progressives in the Congress.

And I really question, after all of the investigations were done, some prosecutions that were waged, and most of this material was decided not to go forward, to now go forward with this, I really question whether the attorney general is doing what is right.

And look, the attorneys, maybe you can question the opinions, but they were sincere opinions. I know the attorneys involved. They were wonderful, wonderful...


HATCH: ... lawyers who...

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... they're not going to be investigating that part.

HATCH: Well, they shouldn't investigate that part. And nor should they be prosecuting people who acted under good faith following advice of the lawyers in the department.

So, you know, and what they're doing is crippling the CIA where they're going to be unwilling to really take the risks that have to be taken during really crucial times.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Afraid that's all we have time for today. Gentlemen, thank you both very much for coming in this morning.

KERRY: Thanks, good to be with you, George.

HATCH: It's nice to be with you, George.

KERRY: Thank you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to go straight to the roundtable. And as our panelists take their seats, turn back the clock, the first debate of Ted Kennedy's first campaign.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to go straight to the roundtable. And as our panelists take their seats, turn back the clock, the first debate of Ted Kennedy's first campaign.


EDWARD MCCORMICK: If his name was Edward Moore, with his qualifications -- with your qualifications, Ted, if it was Edward Moore, your candidacy would be a joke. KENNEDY: The great problems of this election are the questions of peace and whether Massachusetts will move forward or not. We should not have any talk about personalities or families. I feel that we should be talking about the people's destiny in Massachusetts. (END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: 47 years ago. Let me bring in the roundtable to talk about Ted Kennedy. I'm joined, as always, by George Will, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Liz Cheney, former State Department official, of course, the daughter of the former vice president, as well. Sam Donaldson, welcome back. And Gwen Ifill of PBS.

And, George, it is remarkable. You look at that debate, the first debate, 47 years later he wrote 2,500 bills, 300 signed into law, and I was struck. You wrote this week that he may be the most consequential Kennedy brother. WILL: Yes, in the sense that politics requires patience and rewards cumulative effort, and the other two lives were cut short. History dealt Ted Kennedy a bad hand. That is, he became Mr. Democrat and Mr. Liberal at a time when liberalism just began to recede. His career is a little bit like that of Robert Taft, who for a generation was Mr. Republican. The Republicans loved him, applauded him, and never nominated him for president. In 1980, they refused to nominate Ted Kennedy. In 1984, they nominated the last New Deal Democrat to be nominated, that was Walter Mondale, and he lost 49 states. In '88, they began moving away with Dukakis. In '92, they finally elected a really different Democrat. DONALDSON: Well, you know, Eddie McCormick was right in 1962. His candidacy was a joke, except for the fact that his brother was president of the United States, and Kennedys in Massachusetts were very important. And for the first 15, maybe 20 years, I think what he did in the Senate was not something that will be his legacy. It is the things he did outside of the Senate that people remember. But it was liberating to lose that nomination fight to Jimmy Carter, get that monkey off his back, and the next few years, particularly when he married Vicki, I think the whole body of Ted Kennedy's work has to be judged. And in judging the whole body, I think I agree with George. STEPHANOPOULOS: E.J., Ted Kennedy himself put it in context, in this remarkable scene -- I don't know how many saw it -- but last night at Arlington Cemetery, Cardinal McCarrick read the letter, parts of the letter that Ted Kennedy wrote to the pope earlier this summer, and he talked about how he wasn't a perfect person, but he also seemed to use his Catholic faith and say that his public career had -- was rooted in his faith and an expression of his faith. DIONNE: You know, we Catholics believe profoundly in the power of confession, and in a way, part of that letter was Ted Kennedy's last confession, an acknowledgement of sin. What he really did is he got the last word at his own funeral, and it was an extraordinary manifesto in part. And I think he was -- his Catholicism was very important to him. He was a serious churchgoer, and it was not only a way to make a public case for his kind of liberal Catholicism, it was also a way of lobbying Pope Benedict. And it's fascinating that pope...


DIONNE: Yes, and that it's interesting, Pope Benedict's latest encyclical was a powerful call for social justice that Ted Kennedy would have endorsed almost to the last comma.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He did mention abortion, of course, in that letter...

DIONNE: He did slightly (ph). He said we want a protection for Catholic doctors within the health care plan. (CROSSTALK)

DONALDSON: ... any question about the Catholic Church. Instruct me. Why couldn't the pope have replied in his own name? STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm glad you asked that question. DIONNE: I was curious about that, as well. I think that it's possible that there's a head of state/head of state thing going on. It's possible that the pope didn't want to send a signal of endorsement, because they did disagree on abortion. But that's -- I'm not sure why the pope didn't write personally. DONALDSON: I was disappointed, although it's not my place to criticize the pope... DIONNE: Although this was a very warm reply done in the third person. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me bring in Liz here. Another contradiction of Ted Kennedy, which we saw played out this week. He was the Democrat who in the country Republicans loved to hate, but you saw so much here inside the Capitol so many Republicans loved him. CHENEY: Well, I think that goes to sort of what he was like as a man off the floor of the Senate. I think obviously, there were some very bitter partisan debates that people had with him, but I too was struck by the eulogies you heard by people like Senator Hatch and others, Senator McCain, as well. And I think also, you know, what he showed was sort of the example of a man who dedicated his professional life to service the nation. And, you know, I think at a time that we're in now for the country, it is an example and I think it's an example for young people. I hope it serves as an example for young people, sort of the nobility of public office. And I think you have to admire his passion and his perseverance even though many of us, myself included, you know, disagree strongly with him on his politics.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, speaking of the young people, you were at the funeral yesterday. You also covered Senator Kennedy in the Senate, and it was another striking moment, not only the sons but also the nieces, the nephews, the grandchildren using the litany to talk about Ted Kennedy's public works. IFILL: You know, I served on the board -- I serve on the board of the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School, and Senator Kennedy was on that board obviously as is his niece. And he not only reached out to the children of his family, he also spent a lot of time every time he visited Harvard with the students who wanted to be future public servants. Not just people who wanted to be politicians, people who volunteered in local schools in Cambridge and people who do amazing things and that would come to Washington and intern in various offices, Republicans, Democrats, you name it.

And he was very invested in that in the name of his brother and in the name of his family. But it was also an example of how Ted Kennedy, and I noticed this yesterday in all of the eulogies and all weekend long, he was known as the great lion, the great liberal lion. And he was that. But he was liberal in a way that Jack Kemp used to say he was a Democrat and that was a little "L" and Jack Kemp was a little "D."

In that he believed in expansiveness. When he defined civil rights, he thought civil rights applied to people who were disabled and to people who wanted to be married who are same sex and he thought that liberalism applied to people who needed to vote at the age of 18 and young girls who wanted to compete in athletics. He had a hand in all of these things, so very expansive. STEPHANOPOULOS: Expansive, George, but you point out that era may be over and I want to pick up on the conversations that Senators Kerry and Hatch had. Is there any way that anyone, any senator can fill that void, that niche? WILL: I don't think so, partly because this was a product of longevity and the enormous niceness of the man. People just liked Ted Kennedy. The funny thing is what's happened in this August it seems to me is the country has indicated a bifurcated mind, great affection for Ted Kennedy. But at the same time, they are having second thoughts about this president and this president is the first Ted Kennedy Democrat elected since Roosevelt. STEPHANOPOULOS: That gives me the segue that I want to take a break there because we want to come back and talk about this whole health care debate and how did Ted Kennedy's death affects it. Also, the debate over this attorney general's investigation into the CIA.

But as we go to the break, let me share my favorite interview with Ted Kennedy. It was just before the Democratic Convention in 2004 and the senator was walking me around the grounds at Hyannisport pointing out the house where his brother Jack first learned he would be president, and I asked Kennedy how much he regretted not winning the White House himself.


KENNEDY: My pursuit is public service, not the constant pursuit of the presidency. I said that almost 25 years ago, so I have been honored to serve in the United States Senate. I love the United States Senate and we've been able to get a number of things done in the United States Senate.


STEPHANOPOULOS: We will be right back with "The Roundtable" and "The Sunday Funnies."



KENNEDY: If we're to accept the recommendations of the administration, what we're in effect going to be doing is still having two sets of medical standards, one for the poor of this country and one for the rich, and I think if we've learned one significant factor over the period of the last 20 years when the Congress and the country is focused on this issue is that what we need is one kind of a program for all Americans, rich and poor, and that ought to be quality health for all Americans. (END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Ted Kennedy saying he's not going to accept Richard Nixon's health plan in 1972. Years later, he called it one of his biggest legislative mistakes. With that, let me bring "The Roundtable" back in. I'm joined by George Will, E.J. Dionne, Liz Cheney, Sam Donaldson and Gwen Ifill and I think, George, that gets at the difficulty of this whole what would Kennedy do debate, what would Teddy do debate? He was both a fierce partisan, an ideological partisan a very pragmatic legislator at the time. WILL: Conservatives spend our lives saying there is a reason things are as they are. There are vast forces out there and there's a reason why health care is very difficult to do.

WILL: Newt Gingrich has a piece in the Washington Post this morning saying since the Second World War, only Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton had lower poll ratings than Barack Obama now has after seven months. If that is true, it is because the independents are leaving him, and more important, the elderly are. In 2008 -- and everyone in Congress knows this number -- in 2008, 40 percent of the votes were cast by voters 50 years old or older. By 2030, when the baby boomers have all retired, there will be more Americans 65 years old or older than there are Americans 18 or under. This is the politics of gerontocracy. And what we're learning is that those to whom health care is most important are most wary of this program. STEPHANOPOULOS: You know what's interesting, Gwen, is that Senator Kennedy is one of those Democrats who would have had the most credibility with senior citizens, could sell the deal if that's indeed -- if one did indeed come together. IFILL: Yes, and there's -- there's a big debate going on about whether Senator Kennedy actually had the magic wand and could have influenced the direction of this debate. I don't think that's resolved at all.

But it's also clear that people are reaching for something. There was a great deep breath taken this August. There were, you know, no shark attacks and, you know, no hurricanes that actually...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Unless you were at a town hall meeting. IFILL: Unless you were at a town hall meeting.


Well, the town hall meetings filled the void. And maybe they wouldn't have been -- wouldn't have gotten attention. There would have been unhappy people, but it wouldn't have been so vitriolic in the way it did, consume so much time. Ted Kennedy's death made people stop and pay attention to something else for a few days. Now, we'll see what happens when everybody comes back to town, back to school, in Washington, after Labor Day, and whether they start from a different spot or whether everything keeps going downhill. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, and that's the -- I was, you know, Sam, watching these two senators there, it seems like there's this sense that because, in the wake of the death, you want to be a little bit more civil. You want to try to find this common ground. But then, the closer you listen, there's still huge differences here. DONALDSON: Oh, absolutely. Two months ago I was talking to Tom Daschle, who might have been but isn't HHS secretary, but still is influential on the Obama Side about health care, who said then, we may just have to push it through with reconciliation in the Senate, meaning...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Democrats only?

DONALDSON: Yes, the Democrats only, because, if they don't get something that is meaningful -- Ted Kennedy is right; Ronald Reagan, the same way, you take what you can get from the standpoint of half a loaf, rather than nothing whatsoever. But half a loaf, in this case, if it doesn't produce the goals, particularly of reducing the increase in health care expenses, isn't good enough.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, E.J., there's a problem with this whole Democrats-only strategy -- a couple of problems.

Number one, now there's one fewer Democrat in the Senate. It's unclear whether Massachusetts will be able to fill -- will change the law to be able to fill that seat. But also, and I guess this is the deeper problem, the Democrats that you need to get to a majority want a bipartisan bill. They want the cover of Republicans on the bill.

DIONNE: Well, first of all, I'm so glad George mentioned Medicare because it is an extraordinary conservative hypocrisy you're seeing now that Republicans are emerging as the great defenders of Medicare, a program they once tried to cut. They say they hate socialized medicine. Medicare is socialized medicine. So it's a really remarkable point we've gotten to here.

The fact is that the Democrats, I think, know what a huge price they paid as a party when Bill Clinton's health care bill went down in 1994. And I think, from left to right in that party, or left to center, they know what a catastrophe it will be if they can't pass a health care bill.

Yes, there are some technical problems in getting it through with less than 60 votes, but, you know, as Donald Rumsfeld might say, you go with -- you have to live with the Republican Party you have, not the Republican Party you wish existed. And Republicans don't want to support this.

STEPHANOPOULOS: More than -- I think that may be true, but do -- and I'm wondering if you're right about your analysis. Are the Democrats...

CHENEY: I have a view on that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And I want to bring you in on it as well. (LAUGHTER)

Are the Democrats who are for the public option now -- do you think they've absorbed the lesson you say you've absorbed, which is the consequence of failure is just too -- too deep?

DIONNE: See, I think the mistake President Obama made is sending mixed signals on the public options so early. I think he is for it. He should have defended it and described it. Right now, it's only an ideological debate. We're not talking about the actual benefits it could produce in terms of cost -- saving money.

In the end, if he fights for it and it's clear that you can't get a bill without it, then I think liberals would go along, if you could massively increase coverage. You've got to push it.

CHENEY: I think that, you know, there's a much bigger problem here. I think you've got a situation where President Obama, who is supposed to be, sort of, the great communicator, the White House rolls him out for three town hall meetings over the course of the last several months, and on issue after issue where he's attempting to provide some comfort to the American people, you know, they're looking at focus groups and they're seeing that the American people want costs down.

So the president asserts that this -- these plans, which everyone has adopted, will in fact result in a cost cut. And then the CBO and now the OMB, also, in Peter Orszag's letter, have said that's not the case; in fact, we're going to increase the deficit.

On an issue like, will you be able to keep your own health insurance if you like it, the president is out there asserting, in these town halls, yes, you can keep your own health insurance. But then, in a conference call with liberal bloggers, when he's asked about a particular provision in the legislation that sounds like it wouldn't allow to you keep your own insurance, he has to admit he hasn't read the bill.

So there's a deeper problem here. The American people are very...


CHENEY: Well, this was H.R. 3200 they were talking about.


CHENEY: But there's a deeper problem here, which is that the American people fundamentally are scared about, you know, whatever bill is being proposed, and they, sort of, look to their president, particularly one who has been such an effective communicator in the past, to be able to give them some comfort.

And when they see such a difference between the president's rhetoric and blanket assertions and the specifics in any of the pieces of legislation...

DONALDSON: You're right, in...

CHENEY: ... I think it gives us some concern.

DONALDSON: We talked about it before. This president, by July, should have said "This is what we should do. You cats have been herding yourselves; now it's time someone's got to herd you; and this is what I think we should do; Move on that" -- to his party. Be Franklin Roosevelt. Be a tough guy, no more Mr. nice guy. Instead he still wanted them to figure it out. (CROSSTALK)

IFILL: Sam, I don't know that he was going to win, no matter what he decided to do.

DONALDSON: Well, he's got to win, Gwen. If he doesn't win on this one...


IFILL: That's your opinion, Sam.


My point is that he's making everybody unhappy. The headline in The Washington Post today, the op-ed, which said, OK, we bought into the hope; where is the audacity?

Liberals are not happy with him right now. Conservatives are not happy. What will be interesting to watch, after the holiday, is what is the line that he can force? (CROSSTALK)

CHENEY: It's more than a technical problem, though. You know, the White House is now facing a really tough choice, which is, are you going to not get anything on what the president has said is his central domestic policy issue, or are you going to push it through with the Democrats.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, and that's a -- that's a -- there's a tactical problem there. Go ahead.

DIONNE: Well, I was going to say, people are torn because they're always afraid that if government does the wrong thing, they're going to lose something. But the conservatives won this debate in August because they focused on that.

Everybody has forgotten what they don't like about the current health care system. They don't like that people go bankrupt. They don't like that you can be denied coverage because you have a pre- existing condition. And Obama's task is to move the conversation back to, wait a minute, there's stuff here you don't like and we're going to fix it. (CROSSTALK)

CHENEY: That's right. But what's happened, though, now -- sorry -- but what's happened is that people are realizing that what is being proposed, no matter what the bill is, is actually worse or will make things worse than things they don't like.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Those who have insurance are worried about that right now. WILL: First, on a point of order...


... Brother E.J. says the Republicans are guilty of hypocrisy for now defending Medicare against cuts. The president is guilty of cognitive dissonance on Medicare. DIONNE: Which is worse?


WILL: He says to the elderly, fear not, Medicare is a government health program that works well. Next breath, he says, it's going broke and in deep trouble. Now, which is it? DIONNE: Well, it's both. I mean, in fact, you cannot sustain Medicare over the long haul, and he's trying to fix it. (CROSSTALK)

DONALDSON: Well, I tried to figure out why all of the elderly people, of which I am one, are against the government programs, since we're all in Medicare. I had my aortic valve replaced -- thank you, taxpayers -- and I did pay some taxes. Over $100,000, I have managed to come up with 1,800 out of my pocket.

Now we are also worried, apparently, that they will cut some of the benefits from Medicare to make up that, so I'd have to come up with $2,100...


DONALDSON: ... $100,000.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And the way the White House tried to solve this problem was by reaching this deal with the pharmaceutical manufacturers where they would agree to...

DONALDSON: Billy Tauzin...


Billy Tauzin, the lobbyist for the pharmaceutical...


STEPHANOPOULOS: But that's the problem. They got the agreement to fill this doughnut hole, which would affect a lot of seniors, but now the Democratic leaders in the Congress are backing away from that deal.

IFILL: That's my point. How exactly do you win a fight where everybody hates your ideas, where everybody hates your approach? WILL: Let me tell you how.


IFILL: And now he's the president. That's his job. It's a hard job. But it's his job.

DONALDSON: You should know what your ideas are to begin with. IFILL: Well, yes.


DIONNE: ... what he wants to do. I think that, you know, between the Hillary Clinton approach, which was unbelievable detail, a 500-person group and zero, there's a lot of room, and he's got to move to more specificity.

CHENEY: The other thing he's got to do is deal with tort reform. The American people fundamentally know that the cost of malpractice is -- is a huge cost savings here.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You heard Senator Kerry -- but, you know, both Bill Bradley in the Times today, but also Senator Kerry, interestingly, seemed to make -- seemed to accept that that could be part of a final deal.

Let's change subjects now and get to the other big news of the week, the attorney general's decision to investigate possible CIA abuses. The president first spoke about this back in February. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen, but that, generally speaking, I'm more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards. (END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, the attorney general made this decision this week, and it wasn't necessarily a decision, I think, the White House was all that happy with, George Will. But it does appear to meet those broad parameters the president laid out. According to -- the attorney general is not going to investigate those who wrote the law. He's not going to investigate the policymakers, only those who went outside the guidelines given to the CIA.

WILL: The president speaks as though he's a disinterested bystander, and the Obama administration's position seems to be, the president cannot control the attorney general -- which is false -- and even more dangerously false, that the attorney general can control this prosecutor. If we've learned anything at all -- and we maybe haven't -- from all the prosecutors we've had in recent years, it is that they get their own momentum, they get their own agenda, they follow what they call the logic of the law, and...

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what's the danger then? WILL: The danger is that you not only start to prosecute people in a way that looks like double jeopardy in some cases, but you begin to go up the food chain toward the senior levels of the Bush administration.

DONALDSON: George, as I understand it, a person that has been called a prosecutor has been appointed to determine whether in his opinion there is grounds to proceed with prosecutions. He will make a recommendation. There are no prosecutions. He is not prosecuting at the moment.

WILL: And if he recommends yes, who is to say no?


DONALDSON: Well, as you say, it will be the president ultimately. (CROSSTALK)

CHENEY: The investigation has already been done. STEPHANOPOULOS: One thing administration officials say...

DONALDSON: By the Bush administration.

CHENEY: No, by career...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Excuse me, Sam. That's where the discussions could come in. I'll go to you in a second, Liz. That's the argument they're making, is that he just does this initial investigation, and that further on in the process, either the attorney general or the White House could then make the decision -- you know you're right, these were investigated before, it's not worth prosecuting again, even though there is some evidence. CHENEY: Well, I'm not sure that there is some evidence. STEPHANOPOULOS: If there were. CHENEY: This was looked at for five years by career prosecutors. They decided not to prosecute, except in one case where a contractor has been convicted and is in jail. In the other cases, Leon Panetta himself has laid out to his employees that they took disciplinary action where they felt it was necessary at the CIA. The other big danger here, though, is we've investigated all of this before. We are now opening what is clearly a political investigation at a moment when we need the CIA focused on keeping the nation safe. And there's no question but that when you start talking about investigating and prosecuting, people having to hire lawyers to defend against this, it is simply the case that their attention is not entirely focused where we need it to be. And I think it's very damaging (ph).

STEPHANOPOULOS: E.J., there does seem to be a dilemma here. On the one hand, the Justice Department lawyers say, listen, if there's some evidence of wrongdoing, we're bound by statutes to investigate. On the other hand, you do have this double jeopardy problem, where people were investigated under the previous administration. Even if you find some (inaudible) evidence, there might be a reason not to go forward because it does appear to be politicizing this. DIONNE: You know, what's astonishing is that Eric Holder is being accused of politicizing this when he has made a decision that has clearly made the White House unhappy. The White House would prefer this to go away, and I think what it does show is finally we do have an independent Justice Department that's making decisions on the basis of law. I don't think he had a choice. New information emerged publicly that had been there before, but there was new information. CHENEY: There's no new information. It's just not true. DIONNE: Emerged publicly -- people looked at it -- no, it was public for the first time. People looked at it... CHENEY; But that doesn't mean it's new. DIONNE: ... this raises serious questions.

CHENEY: It's five years old. DIONNE: The Justice Department can also have serious questions about what we now know is a very politicized Bush Justice Department and how it dealt with these cases. And so I think -- there is this issue of the food chain, and I think that's why ultimately you can't just prosecute a couple of people and end it there. And so that's why I think you're going to end up with some kind of a truth commission, a study of this whole thing. Because we have got to figure out how to deal with it. (CROSSTALK) IFILL: Yes, I'm not convinced they're going to open up the whole can of worms, but if you're a Democratic president and you are a Democratically appointed attorney general, and you are holding your hand as CIA inspector general's report which says -- I wrote this down -- "the enhanced interrogation techniques used by the agency under the CTC program are inconsistent with the public policy positions that the U.S. has taken regarding human rights."

Even if this has been investigated before, how do you as a Democratically appointed attorney general and a Democratic president not say let's take a look at this, even if it's a slippery slope as George says? CHENEY: What you do is you say it has already been looked at. I mean, that's the piece of this...

DONALDSON: By whom? CHENEY: By career prosecutors. DONALDSON: In the Bush administration Justice Department. CHENEY: But, Sam, they were less political than Eric Holder, who is a political appointment. (CROSSTALK)

CHENEY: But the other point here that's important to look at...

DONALDSON: Had that 2004 report been made public and then they look at it, the public looks at it and they say, all right, so drilling by the guy's ear, perhaps raping a female member of his family... CHENEY: First of all, OK, that is totally -- that is just inexcusable. DONALDSON: It's in the report.

CHENEY: It is -- nobody raped anybody and nobody...


DONALDSON: No, (inaudible) they threatened it. CHENEY: There is a big difference. But let me -- the other point here to look at...

DONALDSON: Oh, if I threaten you but don't actually hit you, there's a big difference, but you can call me to court. (CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: The law said that the threats were illegal. I mean, it's against the law.

CHENEY: No, wait a second. That's not clear. And the standard -- we don't want to spend a whole panel here on the standard for the legal investigation.



CHENEY: You guys have misstated the standard for the legal investigation here, and I would point you to Andy McCarthy's excellent piece in National Review Online, which goes through what the standard is that the Justice Department should have applied here, which is the notion that you need evidence, that you can move beyond the presumption of innocence in a court of law, that torture occurred and that is not here, and that was, as I said, it was looked at before. But the other point that is critical to me...

DONALDSON: Everyone except one person that I know of (inaudible) says torture and waterboarding is wrong.

CHENEY: The lack of -- waterboarding isn't torture. And we can go down that path. But the lack of seriousness here is important. (CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: I got to go to another question here. CHENEY: It also goes to the point about moving the interrogations out of the CIA into the White House. And I think that the fact that the White House can't even tell us who is in charge of these interrogations now combined...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, they say that there has to be broader sharing, that's what everybody wants, the FBI, the CIA...


STEPHANOPOULOS: But I do want to get to the other question of the information we gleaned from all this, and whether it was -- it was worth the interrogations that were conducted.

WILL: This is why my liberal friend here, the law of averages having caught up with him, has got something right. We ought to have a commission. Fred Hyatt in the Washington Post suggests this morning, Sandra Day O'Connor and David Souter, bring them down, set it up, and answer some factual questions.

For example, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was reticent. He was waterboarded 183 times and became loquacious. Did it have something to do with that? And was he useful? Because whether or not these techniques are immoral or how immoral they are surely depends on whether or not they work.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And how useful the information was, whether it could have been gotten in other ways, these are big questions. (CROSSTALK)

DIONNE: Right, and because the CIA's own office of legal counsel raised questions in its report about how effective these methods are, and the worst thing would be to do something wrong and have it been ineffective. DONALDSON: And (inaudible) say it saves lives, and that may be. STEPHANOPOULOS: If it saved lives. CHENEY: If? Hold on. If you read the documents that were released... (CROSSTALK) STEPHANOPOULOS: Sam, Liz, go ahead. DONALDSON: All right. I'm with Admiral Blair, who is our top intelligence guy. Supposedly everyone comes under him. He said he thought we did receive some useful information from these techniques. He then said, the part that's left out by people who take the first part, but in our relationship with the rest of the world and the way the United States is viewed by the rest of the world, it was not worth it. We have lost more by those techniques than we gained. I am with Admiral Blair. CHENEY: Well, I would suggest you read the documents in their entirety.

DONALDSON: I read what he said.

CHENEY: In their entirety, the documents that were released, because in those documents it makes absolutely clear not only in the inspector general's report, page 91, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed provided information that was inaccurate and incomplete prior to being waterboarded, but also if you read the addendum to that document, which is an interview that was done with a senior CIA official, makes clear that that information could not have been gained through other ways, says that the techniques were invaluable and that they worked. The documents -- let me finish... DIONNE: It does not prove that waterboarding produced that. It just doesn't.

CHENEY: Guys, guys, the documents demonstrate conclusively that the enhanced interrogation program provided information that saved lives. Four former CIA directors including...

DONALDSON: Why did the Bush administration renounce waterboarding in its last two years?


STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to have to continue this...

CHENEY: Dennis Blair said it worked. And the White House edited that part out of his statement. (CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: We are out of time. I just say this one other -- the inspector general said -- the inspector general in the report, the inspector general said that finally it is a subjective interpretation, which is probably why the commission is needed. You guys continue this in the green room. END