Jan. 17, 2010 — -- JAKE TAPPER, ABC ANCHOR: First of all, Mr. President and Mr. President, thanks so much for doing this.
I want to read you an e-mail I got from a Haitian friend of mine just a few minutes ago describing the situation on the ground there. He said: "The country is in total chaos, the government is totally non-existent, law and order no longer exist."
How frustrating is it for you, President Clinton, that the response has been so overwhelming and yet there is still -- supplies are not getting to the people in need?
BILL CLINTON, 42ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's frustrating, but I think we're moving on it quickly. I think having the American military, the -- President Preval signed an agreement, worked out an agreement with Hillary yesterday morning to turn the airport over.
Now the military working with the U.N. forces, they still have structure. We lost a lot of U.N. people, most of them were non-military. They're setting up distribution centers to safely distribute food and water. And they'll be able to have a widespread availability of medical care.
And that -- so I think you will see it get a lot better in a hurry now. There also was an extraordinary amount of time devoted to try and dig through those buildings, to find people living and dead. I think as that effort begins to wrap up, you will see the distribution of food, medicine, water, and basic care get better. I think the security situation will get better.
But people have to understand, not only was the city leveled and others as well west, the parliament-managed building was wrecked, the presidential palace was wrecked. As of yesterday we're still missing parliamentarians, still missing government ministers. I mean, the country -- the structure of the country was taken down, and I think the United States has done a good job and I think the international community has done a good job.
The U.N. structure was taken down. Biggest loss of life in a single day in U.N. history. So President Bush and I were talking before, people get frustrated by this, but I think if you just -- within two or three days the thing will be in much better order.
TAPPER: Mr. President, this is an unusual partnership. How did it come about?
GEORGE W. BUSH, 43RD PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, actually, I used to talk to President Clinton during my presidency. And I -- and then of course called upon he and president 41, my dad, to work together on the tsunami and then Katrina. And then when you're both retired, you kind of hang around the retirement center together and so he and I have become friends.
And I look forward to working with him. You know, one of my concerns is that these crises cause people to say, I want to help, and then they start pouring money sometimes into organizations that aren't real or perhaps dishonest. And so people really do want to help, here's an avenue for them. And they can look it up on clintonbushhaitifund.org to determine how they can help.
And then we'll make sure there is transparency and the accounting is good. And more importantly, the programs that the money goes to helps Haiti rebuild.
TAPPER: President Clinton, you've talked about this effort will take years. Before the earthquake, you had convened donor conferences to raise money for Haiti. And at one donors conference, $500 million was pledged, more than that. And before the earthquake, you were about to get on some of those donors because about 10 percent -- 12 percent of that money had been disbursed. Most of it had not.
How do you keep focus of the international community, of the donors on a situation like this? Obviously in the next month there is going to be a lot of focus, but how do you make sure that in a year or two years there's still focus?
CLINTON: Well, I think that that's part of the U.N. job. The reason I took this job sort of to be the U.N.'s outside person. That is, my job is to work with the donor nations, international organizations, the Haitian Diaspora, potential investors, and the non-governmental organizations and the philanthropists.
But let me just say, I talked to the major donor nations on the phone two days ago. They all said they would speed up their commitment and stay involved. I had a meeting with 55 non-governmental organizations and wealthy investors who had promised to -- they said they would do more now.
I think that if we keep doing our job -- if we all hang around and do this and, you know, needle and nudge people and the Haitians do what they were doing before this happened -- keep proving that they want to modernize the country, I believe we can get the long-term commitment.
BUSH: Yeah. I think it's important for the Haitian government, once this initial stage of the crisis passes, to explain in clear terms a strategy that'll mean the money will be well spent. And, obviously, a lot of people are going to be concerned about spending -- it's one thing to save lives and it's going to be another thing to make sure that the long-term development project has got a reasonable plan.
The president has been very much involved in that and told me they have developed a reasonable strategy. And it will make it much easier to track capital in the long term if that's the case.
TAPPER: And following up on that, there have been some prominent conservative voices who have expressed a concern that the U.S. has done so much for Haiti already, and throwing money at Haiti isn't going to solve the problem because that's a -- it's a corrupt government and the money never goes to the right people.
How do you make sure it goes to the right people?
BUSH: Well, first of all, the first concern is the one that everybody ought to be thinking about, and that is to help save lives. I mean, I've seen it on the TV screens. You've seen it on the TV screens. There's just unbelievable devastation.
You read the e-mail report from a person who's obviously desperate. We've got to deal with the desperation. And there ought to be no politicization of that.
Secondly, obviously, there needs to be a strategy that makes sense to people. And the president has said that, prior to the devastation, there was such a strategy that would be able to deal with Haiti as it is with a bright future. And the question -- fundamental question for the country is do we care -- beyond the storm -- or the earthquake, do we care? And the answer is I think we should, and I think we ought to care from a humanitarian perspective and I also think from a strategic perspective because it makes sense to have a stable democracy in our neighborhood.
TAPPER: When you were heading up the tsunami relief with President Bush's father, one of the mottos you had was "building back better." A lot of the infrastructure in Haiti to begin with was really shoddily constructed.
How do you focus reconstruction after the rescue of Haitians and Americans in that country right now takes place? How do you focus the reconstruction so that it is better?
CLINTON: You had to have, first of all, a system you can work with in the Haitian government. And to complement what he said, before this
happened, I watched the Haiti government do things I never thought they'd do. They dramatically speeded up the time that they would approve foreign investment. They finally gave dual citizenship to the Haitian Diaspora; the United States, for example, something the old political powers were scared to do.
They want to modernize the country. So what we'll do is we'll get the donors together and we'll ask the donors to condition the release of their funds based on construction meeting certain standards and being part of a certain plan.
And I think the Haitian government will welcome that. That will give them the support they need. They want to build a modern country.
TAPPER: And last question because we're running out of time -- but to both of you.
You both have been presidents during times of huge natural disasters. What lessons can we learn from previous disasters to apply to the western relief efforts here to make sure we don't repeat mistakes of the past? And I'll start with you
BUSH: Well, I think the most obvious one that comes to my mind is that there are going to be a lot of people who want to help. And it's important to have an organization to funnel that compassion in the proper way.
The other thing is expectations are never met. Like your friend -- your friend -- I'm sure your friend has heard that, you know, Americans want to help. And then he's saying, where is it? And -- and the president is just going to have to do his very best to set proper expectations. I thought he did so today. And then funnel the, you know, the most effective organizations that he's got at his control. That would happen to be the military in my judgment, and -- and USAID to get -- get aid out there as quickly as possible so lives can be saved.
So that email turns to, When are you going to help us in the long-run?
TAPPER: President Clinton?
CLINTON: I think the lessons are in the right now -- logistics matter. Distribution channels have to be built. When there is no structure, you've got to create a structure. Otherwise nothing is sustainable. And the metaphor -- you have -- everybody has seen the pictures on television of the -- the food truck being assaulted. And then running off filled with food to be distributed.
So we have to be patient. With the military and U.N. forces there so to build those logistics. The second thing is housing always takes too long. It's the thing that takes the longest. So we need to start thinking soon -- like in the next few days -- about how we're going to provide for a long term living space for the people in a city that looks like a nuclear bomb hit it.
The third thing is keep them informed. Keep information out there. Get the radio network working again. Get the cell phone systems working again so that they're not frightened. I find that people are angrier and more destructive not because they're in trouble, but because they don't know what's going on. They don't understand. The more people understand about what's happening to them, the more they can endure the long term process of rebuilding.
TAPPER: President Clinton, President Bush -- thanks so much. Really appreciate it.
CLINTON: Thanks. Thank you.
BUSH: Thanks, Jake.
TAPPER: Thanks a lot.
BUSH: Thank you.
TAPPER: We'd like to put up the Web site where you can donate. It's clintonbushhaitifund.org -- that's all one word -- clintonbushhaitifund.org.
As the president said, the needs are almost overwhelming, but is the relief getting to those who need it most? ABC senior foreign affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz has been in Haiti tracking the relief effort this week. She joins me from Port-au-Prince.
So how about it, Martha? Is the relief effort getting to those who need it most?
RADDATZ: Well, we actually went with a convoy, one truckload of supplies yesterday. We arrived really early in the morning, expecting to track this truck, come back, and go out with another truck. It took us five-and-a-half hours to get these supplies where they were needed. But it's understandable it took that long. There was an aftershock, and all the people who were loading the goods into the truck left, the Haitian locals. They were volunteers. They've just lived through an earthquake. When they felt the other one, there was fear that the warehouse would collapse. And, believe me, it could have collapsed, because it was already damaged.
Finally, got into the truck, going through the streets, hit a roadblock. It's just impossible to drive on some of the roads. And then when we finally got there, there were also difficulties. They had to divide people up. They only wanted the women and children to line up, and you had a few younger males who were kind of pushing their way forward.
But all in all, it went fairly smoothly, but they sure didn't dole out a lot of aid yesterday, Jake. Lots coming to the airport, lots. Flights all day, in and out to the airport, but a lot is still in those warehouses because they are concerned about security.
The one scene I thought that was -- I saw that I thought was quite incredible was a helicopter flying very low over masses of people, and they just dumped boxes out. That's very dangerous. I'm quite certain that was not a U.S. helicopter. Then, of course, all the people just ran, and there was real chaos there. And that's a real dangerous way to deliver supplies.
TAPPER: Speaking of chaos, Martha, we keep hearing about reports of sporadic violence. Where is the U.S. military in all this? Are they making attempts to secure the island?
RADDATZ: Absolutely not, Jake. They really aren't. I keep hearing these numbers. There are about 4,200 American military supporting this mission, but mostly they're out on the ships. They're on the cutters. You've got the 82nd Airborne, not all of the 82nd Airborne, a brigade, about 3,500 soldiers are here. They're expected to be here sometime next week. The Marines are not yet here, 2,200 Marines.
What they will do is secure the sites where they're delivering aid. That's what they're going to do, and they're securing the airport and, in a sense, protecting the workers already here and the other military already here. I don't think you'll see anybody really roaming the streets trying to secure the island, just the aid.
TAPPER: All right, ABC's Martha Raddatz. Thank you so much for joining us.
RADDATZ: You bet, Jake.
TAPPER: Now to the two men in charge of the relief effort, General Ken Keen, U.S. military commander of the joint task force for what's being called Operation Unified Response, and here in Washington, Dr. Rajiv Shah of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
General Keen, I'd like to go to you first. Martha Raddatz just reported that U.S. troops are not out there securing Haiti, even though there are sporadic outbursts of violence, some of them horrific. We heard a report of -- in Petionville, a suburb of Port- au-Prince, a policeman handed over a suspected looter to an angry crowd. They stripped him, beat him, and set him on fire. We've also heard that some medical personnel are clearing the area because they don't feel secure.
Why aren't U.S. troops helping to secure Haiti?
KEEN: Well, we are here principally for an humanitarian assistance operation, but security is a critical component of that. And having a safe and secure environment is going to be very important. And we are working alongside the United Nations forces, which have been here, obviously, for years, and their mission is to provide stability and security. And we are going to have to address the situation, the security.
As you said, we have had incidents of violence that impede our ability to support the government of Haiti and answer the challenges that this country faces as they're suffering a tragedy of epic proportions.
TAPPER: General Keen, one more question for you. The -- we're told that, by tomorrow, more than 12,000 U.S. troops will be in the region. Will that be enough for you? And how long do you anticipate those troops staying?
KEEN: Well, today, I have approximately 1,000 troops in Haiti. And as you've mentioned, I've got another approximately 3,000 that are in the area working off of ships. And we're going to increase that footprint in Haiti as we go forward.
We are going to have to address how many troops that we need to do all of the missions we have at hand, our principal mission being humanitarian assistance, but security component is going to be an increasing part of that. And we're going to have to address that, along with the United Nations, and we are going to have to do it quickly.
TAPPER: And any idea how long U.S. troops will need to be in Haiti?
KEEN: Well, we're going to be here as long as needed. I think the president has made it very clear that we are here to support the government of Haiti and the survivors of this tragedy of epic proportions.
TAPPER: All right. Dr. Shah, officials say 180 tons of relief have been delivered to the airport. How many of the 180 tons has made their way to the Haitian people?
SHAH: Well, you know, I first want to step back and point out that, immediately after this happened on Tuesday, just before sundown -- and this is an earthquake of tremendous proportions, as the general points out -- the president immediately asked us to mount a swift, aggressive and coordinated response.
And so that's why we've mobilized a broad range of civilian and military capabilities. Nearly every part of our government, including DHS, my agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the military, our Health and Human Services, are all involved.
And immediately we began putting in place the -- the capabilities and doing the work to make sure we could get as much commodity flow and as much services down in Haiti to the people of Haiti as possible.
TAPPER: Right. But it's five days later, and still a lot of the relief effort, a lot of the aid has not gotten to the people who need it most.
SHAH: Well, it is five -- it is five days later. And -- and, you know, here's what we've done. We've -- we were the first people on the ground with the disaster assistance response team. Our urban search-and-rescue teams from Fairfax, Virginia, or Florida or California were the first teams there. They've had successes, working around the clock.
I met these teams yesterday when I was in Haiti. They work around the clock to save lives. They've saved dozens of lives, most of which are Haitian. They've also coordinated the efforts of nearly 27 other teams from countries around the world so that we have thousands of people engaged in active search-and-rescue...
TAPPER: I don't think anybody -- nobody doubts the sincerity of the effort or that you -- or the USAID and the U.S. military are doing everything they can to save lives. I think -- no one's saying you're not doing a good job or you're not working hard. But, obviously, the supplies are not getting to the people who need them most right now. What do you need?
SHAH: Well, here -- here's what we need and here's how we're doing it. We started with an effort that was focused primarily on saving lives in urban search-and-rescue. In parallel, we've put in place the conditions to allow for significant commodity and supply support to get to the people of Haiti.
Doing that took -- you know, initially, the airport was not functional. The U.S. military got in quickly, established a relationship with the government of Haiti. We are doing this in partnership with the Haitian government. I met with the president yesterday on this point and -- and secured the airport so that -- and is now operating the airport so that we can increase significantly throughput, which allows all countries, including ours, to get much more supply in there.
TAPPER: Right, there's 180 tons there right now. How much of that has gone out? And -- and why hasn't more gone out? SHAH: Well, I -- I don't know the exact number. There are not a lot of supplies piling up at the airport. Things that are getting there are going out. The challenge is, we're talking about 3.5 million people in need. We're talking about a significant degradation of what was already relatively weak infrastructure, no port access. Roads are -- are difficult to get around.
So what we're now doing is putting in place military assets, the carrier -- aircraft carrier arrived this week. It has 19 helicopters. A lot of the transport of commodities and supplies is through the helicopters. We are getting more and more out each day, and that's our metric of success. Every single day, we need to do more than we did before. We need to do exponentially more.
SHAH: And this coming week, we'll have even more capabilities. We'll have more troops and more military personnel actively engaged in the humanitarian mission on the island to support distribution. We're working with the U.N. more aggressively to establish a network of distribution sites to enable much more rapid flow of commodities to -- to families and to individuals in Haiti.
And we're bringing other assets to bear. The USNS Comfort, a naval hospital ship, will be 1,000-bed hospital, will get there, I believe, on the 20th. The Jack Lummus will get there this week, as well, which will allow us to get commodities and supplies onto shore without using the airport, which is a narrow throughput environment. And we're working aggressively to create alternative transport and logistics pathways into Haiti and around Haiti so we can -- we can increase the supply flow.
But this is a complex logistical challenge with countries around the world providing support, and the president's been very clear. Get in there, lean in, be swift, be organized, and make this work. And that's exactly what we intend to do.
TAPPER: General Keen, what casualty count is the U.S. military preparing for? We've heard estimates ranging up to 150,000 Haitians feared dead. What are you preparing for?
KEEN: Well, I think it's too early to tell what the casualty count is, but it's clear this is a tragedy of epic proportions. And we are working with the United Nations as we address it, and we are going to have to be prepared for the worst.
TAPPER: By the worst, would you say -- I mean, is -- is -- is 150,000 to 200,000 the top end of that? Or should we expect worse?
KEEN: Well, I think the international community or -- that's looking at those figures, and I think that's a start point. But like I said, I think it's too early to tell exactly what the casualty count will be. And, as well, we've got a lot of injured, obviously, that need to be taken care of. And everyone is pushing forward to get the medical supplies and the hospitals that we're seeing, that nations are showing up every day to put into operation. And that is going to increase our capability.
And as pointed out, we're going to have our hospital ship here this week. And we need all of that and more.
TAPPER: Dr. Shah, we're running out of time, but I want to get your thoughts on some quotes from retired Lieutenant General Russel Honore, who was brought onboard to take control of the response to Hurricane Katrina. He told USA Today, "The next morning after the earthquake, as a military man of 37 years service, I assumed there would be airplanes delivering aid, not troops, but aid. What we saw instead was discussion about, well, we've got to send an assessment team in to see what the needs are. And any time I hear that, my head turns red. I was a little frustrated to hear that USAID was the lead agency. I respect them, but they're not a rapid deployment unit."
Very quickly, should the military have been in charge of this effort, instead of USAID?
SHAH: Well, let me refer back to that quote, because I think it's -- it's somewhat inaccurate. We -- we -- immediately after this happened, the president pulled everyone together and said, "Look, I want you all to work together, I want you to move quickly, and I want you to be aggressive and be coordinated." And that's exactly what we did.
So USAID sent a disaster assistance response team and search-and- rescue teams right away. We did that also with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a number of other partners so that we could increase the scale of that effort and deploy quickly.
In parallel and right away, we began securing commodities, 600,000 humanitarian daily rations for food, units that produce 100,000 liters of water a day. We've already got four in. We have six more on the way from Dubai, and a number of others things in medicine and -- and tarps and tents, so we could get commodity flow moving. That happened in parallel. We didn't wait.
And in terms of engaging the military and the response, that happened from the very beginning. The reason we're going to have all these military assets there that will expand our distribution capability this coming week is because we acted to make that happen immediately after this disaster occurred.
SHAH: And the president was very clear about his expectations, and I was with General Keen yesterday in Haiti, and we spoke about what it's going to take to meet that. It's going to take a strong and coordinated effort.
TAPPER: All right, Dr. Shah, General Keen, thanks so much for joining us, and good luck to both of you on what looks like a very, very tough job.
SHAH: Thank you.
TAPPER: The roundtable is next, with George Will, Donna Brazile, Tucker Carlson, and Katrina vanden Heuvel, as we turn to politics and a brand-new ABC News-Washington Post poll on President Obama, one year into his term. And that Senate race in Massachusetts, it was supposed to be a shoo-in for the Democrat. What happens if a Republican replaces Ted Kennedy and is the key vote against the Obama agenda? And later, the Sunday funnies.
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O'BRIEN: When I was a little boy, I remember watching the "Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" and thinking, "Someday, I'm going to host that show for seven months."
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LENO: What's the best prank you ever pulled?
KIMMEL: I told a guy that, five years from now, I'm going to give you my show, and then when the five years came, I gave it to him, and then I took it back almost instantly.
KIMMEL: It was hilarious.
LENO: Ever order anything off the TV?
KIMMEL: Like NBC ordered your show off the TV?
LENO: Yeah. No, no, no.
Is -- is there anything you haven't hosted that you want to host?
KIMMEL: Oh, this is a trick, right...
KING: ... where you get me to host the "Tonight Show" and then take it back from me?
LENO: No, no, no.
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TAPPER: That's ABC's Jimmy Kimmel giving Jay Leno a good what-for there. We'll talk to our roundtable about that, George Will, Tucker Carlson from the Daily Caller, Katrina vanden Heuvel from The Nation, and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile.
Thanks so much for joining us. It's First Lady Michelle Obama's birthday today, but her husband is not going to consider the new ABC News-Washington Post poll any sort of gift. Take a look at these numbers.
Job approval. In April, 69 percent approved. Now that's down to 53 percent. It gets worse when you bear into some of the key issues. Majorities disapprove of the president's handling of health care and the economy. One bright spot, 55 percent approve of how he handled the threat of terrorism.
Perhaps most concerning for President Obama, 62 percent of those polled say the country is headed in the wrong direction, the key right track/wrong track numbers, the worst that's been in 10 months.
George, what's going on here?
WILL: Well, to his credit, this is a serious president who has decided not to hoard his political capital. To govern is to choose; to choose is to make someone unhappy. And he's made a lot of choices, almost all of them, in my judgment, unfortunate, but he won the election. He gets to do that. So he's been a serious man.
Furthermore, with regard to health care, all this investment in an unpopular bill, there is a strand of liberalism of which I think he is an exemplary that says the fact that it's unpopular demonstrates how important it is to pass it. That is, supervisory liberalism says the American people really don't know what's in their best interests and it's our job to tell them. He's telling them.
TAPPER: Katrina, are you disheartened by these poll numbers?
VANDEN HEUVEL: No. I mean, I think there was such great expectations on that glorious day a year ago, the inauguration, that this is to be expected, in many ways. I do think that some of it -- and he is a serious man, and he has summoned this country to address challenges it can no longer confront, but he has not been Barack the outsider coming into a city to change it, as he spoke about, partly because change doesn't come with one election. Change doesn't come easy, especially in this town with the lobbies and the wall of money.
I do think he has -- if he does pass this health bill, with all of the flaws, it's a monumental achievement, and it reverses a string of conservative successes, and it brings government into a new role.
The main problem, in my view, is the economy. He assembled a team which paid more attention to Wall Street than to the hurting communities in this country. And the step forward now is to get back on the side of working people in this country, job creation. Do what is needed to rebuild and reinvest in this country.
TAPPER: And, Tucker, do you think that's right? I mean, does he need more populism? Is he not perceived as the outsider that people thought he was electing?
CARLSON: Well, I actually don't think it's about him. If -- if you look at these numbers, he is still personally popular, and I think even in the -- in the dead of the midterms, when his party gets hurt -- and I think it will -- he will still be popular, because he's an appealing person. He's got a lot of charisma. People like him.
The numbers that jump out at me are inside the poll, and they're the intensity numbers. If you look at the health care spread, 44 percent are approving of the health care plan, 52 percent against, so a spread of 8 percent. If you look at who strongly approves, it's 24 percent, who strongly disapproves, it's 43 percent, a spread of 19 percent. In other words, if you're against this health care plan, you're really against it. And that's ominous.
And the same is true for the numbers on the economy. Those are the people he has to fear.
TAPPER: Donna, how -- how can the president -- how can majorities be disapproving of the president on two key domestic issues?
BRAZILE: Well, to be honest with you, President Obama is not only a serious president, he's also a president who must constantly multitask. In addition to having the focus on the economy, which was on the brink, and most Americans, I still believe, will give him credit if they believe that the changes that he has made will help them make ends meet.
But -- but he's had to inherit two wars. He's had to work with a Congress that often tries to take the lead, in terms of making the policy prescriptions. And, of course, he's worked against a -- a Republican Party that was united against him and against all his policies.
Despite all of that, there's some good stuff in here. I think he should open this up and say to the first lady, "Happy birthday." Not only is his job approval up, but most Americans consider him a strong leader. So there's some good stuff in here.
TAPPER: You know, we -- Oprah Winfrey asked President Obama how he would grade his first term. And this is the response he gave.
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WINFREY: What grade would you give yourself for this year?
OBAMA: A good solid B-plus...
WINFREY: So B-plus. What could you have done better?
OBAMA: Well, B-plus because of the things that are undone.
OBAMA: Health care is not yet signed. If I get health care passed, we tip into A-minus.
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TAPPER: All right, B-plus. Donna, you didn't give him that big a grade, huh?
BRAZILE: I gave him a B. He gave himself a B-plus. And I'm liberal. I grade on a curve. But I would like to see health care pass. I agree with him. I would like to see our troops come home from Iraq. I would like to see the plan in Afghanistan work so that our troops can come home.
I would like to see the president take a little bit more of his -- use a little bit more of his political capital to -- to really force Congress to do something about jobs and to spend less time worrying about his approval ratings and worrying about what Republicans think about him.
TAPPER: Katrina, what -- what grade would you give him for his first year?
VANDEN HEUVEL: I -- I did a B. I do think he brought into our politics an energy and an activism that he needs to retrieve. We're talking about intensity, the intensity of that election -- and, yes, you campaign in poverty, you govern in prose, but retrieve the intensity. Why should the Tea-publicans, these Tea Party baggers deform what is real about this country, which is communitarianism, which is about a responsive, strong government?
So President Obama needs to retrieve that. And I do think he has restored a role for government, which in my view is the overarching issue of our time. I -- I -- I think on Afghanistan, the escalation on Afghanistan, he didn't break with the national security consensus, which so many believed he could have had the courage to do.
And, again, we -- banks, the bank bailout. This is confused by so many Americans with the stimulus, which was the largest net new investment in anti-poverty programs in this country. He must take on the greed in this country. He must say, "I am on the side of working people." And the White House is beginning to.
VANDEN HEUVEL: ... but the levy on banks is critical. So is the financial transactions tax and a windfall on bonuses. And then, will financial reform take on the army of lobbyists and show you are on the side of the people? That is the arc of history in our country.
TAPPER: But I'm amazed you gave him a -- with all these things you want him to do, I'm amazed you gave him a B.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Because I believe that there's the potential -- and you know what? I believe it because I still think that he is open to pressure from below, and that is where great social change has come in this country. Donna and I were talking earlier. If Martin Luther King, Jr., were alive, he would march on this White House because he would say, "Don't escalate the war in Afghanistan. Get on the side of working people, because if you don't, you're going to undermine the reform agenda and the possibilities of a great presidency."
We need from below. And I think this president is capable of...
TAPPER: Mr. Will, I sense that you have something you want to say.
WILL: Well, first of all, he's hired an army of lobbyists, so it's hard for him to take on the lobbyists en masse. Donna said you graded on a curve, and I gather that means you graded him against Chester Arthur and Millard Fillmore and James Buchanan. Fair enough.
Look, in -- in foreign policy -- and my grade is a B-minus for him -- in foreign policy...
TAPPER: That's a pretty good grade for you.
WILL: Well, not because I approve of what he's doing. He wasn't elected to do what I want him to do, and to be a good -- to be a president with the mandate as he construes it.
In foreign policy, he has achieved in one year the constructive result of demonstrating that the problem was not George W. Bush. He has shown that you can be immensely popular and that has no cash value dealing with the Israelis and the Palestinians, the North Koreans, the Iranians, climate change, et cetera.
In his anti-terrorism policy, he's essentially extended the Bush policies. And in domestic policy, he has done in one year what it took Lyndon Johnson two years to do, between 1965 and '66, which is revitalize the Republican Party.
TAPPER: Tucker, I feel like I'm going to the Russian judge in the Olympics.
CARLSON: Oh, thank you very much.
TAPPER: Your grade?
CARLSON: I gave him a D, and I did it only because he answered Oprah's question. Any seasoned politician would say, "Far be it for me to grade myself. The American people will render a judgment." And I think that's -- I'm only half-kidding. I think there's a level of political ineptitude I did not expect. I never, like George, expected him to do my bidding. You know, I don't agree with his policies.
But from day one, from the first piece of legislation, the stimulus, he has shown much less cleverness than his campaign showed in 2008. Letting the Congress write that legislation was a rookie mistake, and that's been followed by a series of rookie mistakes. So leaving aside my policy differences, that has been stunning, A.
B, I think the level of cynicism, at least from -- totally unexpected, the carve-out that unions got in the negotiation over the health bill, on paying the tax on their so-called Cadillac plans, so over the top, you wouldn't expect -- I wouldn't expect that from Bill Clinton, actually.
So I am -- I give a D, and I'm stumped (ph).
TAPPER: Later today, President Obama is going to Massachusetts, where he's going to be putting some of his political capital on the line to campaign for the Democratic Senate candidate there, the attorney general, Martha Coakley. She's had a bad couple weeks. Here's a clip from a radio interview she did a couple days ago where she was talking about Rudy Giuliani campaigning with the Republican candidate, Scott Brown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTHA COAKLEY (D), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: Probably, if it weren't so close, Rudy Giuliani wouldn't have come, either. And, besides, he's a Yankee fan. I just want people to know.
(UNKNOWN): Yeah, but now Scott Brown has Curt Schilling, OK?
COAKLEY: Another Yankee fan.
(UNKNOWN): Curt Schilling, a Yankee fan?
COAKLEY: No. All right, I'm wrong on my -- I'm wrong...
(UNKNOWN): The Red Sox great pitcher of the bloody sock?
COAKLEY: Well, he's not there anymore.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Curt Schilling responded yesterday saying, "I've been called a lot of things, but never -- and I mean never -- could anyone ever make the mistake of calling me a Yankee fan. Well, check that. If you didn't know what the hell is going on in your own state, maybe you could."
Donna, are Democrats going to lose this seat, at least in part because of rookie mistakes like that?
BRAZILE: Well, that is a rookie mistake. And, look, if Obama can go to Copenhagen to try to bring the Olympics to Chicago, can go to try to get climate change, clearly, he can go to Boston to rally a demoralized base and to ensure that Democrats turn out. If Democrats turn out, Democrats will win. And I think...
TAPPER: But that's not -- those are not (inaudible) I mean, he did not get the Olympics for Chicago, and he did not get much of a climate change deal.
BRAZILE: But -- but -- but doing nothing is not an option, because his entire domestic agenda hangs in the balance. That's why it's important to go out there to rally people, to get those Obama voters who came out in 2008 to once again go to the polls and to explain to them the connection between voting for Ms. Coakley and completing his domestic agenda, which, by the way, has been very good.
Tucker, I wish we had more time, because we could really go down and call the role, from the economy to health care to the serious struggles that this country faced just a few months ago and demonstrate how this president has led by example, but he's going up there. It's the right thing to do.
VANDEN HEUVEL: I think it's a wake-up call. I know everyone says she's run a lackluster campaign. It's Massachusetts. But it's a wake-up call in the sense that Democrats cannot run as managerial -- as a managerial party moving forward. And I think that's part of what the campaign was, partly because Democrats haven't been challenged.
I think you do need to retrieve, if not populism, the passion. Part of what President Obama, I fear, did in the timid response to the unemployment situation, which is, by the way, a legacy -- if the Republicans were in power, we'd have a barter economy and 25 percent unemployment. But he opened the door to the tea bag intensity, which is -- which has real force, no question about it, and could undermine a generation of progressive work.
So I think Democrats need to retrieve that intensity and take back -- I hate to quote William Butler Yeats with George Will at the table, but the worst should not have the passionate conviction. The best must retrieve those convictions.
TAPPER: And Democrats are trying right now to -- to gain some steam in Massachusetts with this bank fee that President Obama has proposed on -- on going after bank bonuses, purportedly, with the new bank fee. Do you think that's going to have any traction?
CARLSON: This is late-stage alcoholism. This is denial, OK? This race is not about Martha Coakley. Sure, she's a bad candidate. John Kerry keeps getting re-elected from Massachusetts, so that's no barrier to getting elected in that state. It's not about Martha Coakley. It's about the president's policies.
His health care plan is polling at 36 percent in Massachusetts right now. Nationally, it's polling at 44 percent. It's lower in the most liberal state in the country, probably because they already have a species of it under Romneycare.
The point is, this is a referendum and it's explicit -- if you watch what Scott Brown is saying on the stump, it's an explicit referendum on Obama's policies, economic policies more broadly and health policy more specifically. That's all it's about. And Democrats need to figure that out and respond to it, or they're really going to get creamed in the midterms.
WILL: It's largely health care, but there's something else involved. Between Christmas and New Year's, the Scott Brown campaign took off with an ad by Jack Kennedy saying, "Cutting taxes is good for the economy and good for Democrats and good for Republicans." But on health care, Scott Brown says this is a referendum on the president's signature issue. Elect me, and I will be the 41st vote to stop this thing.
The fact that the president is flying to Massachusetts indicates this is, A, a referendum on him and, B, he's already lost the referendum, because he has to go up and...
BRAZILE: Scott Brown does not provide health care to his own employees. This is really a campaign that Scott Brown has largely defined in the last -- in the closing days of the election, because Martha Coakley did not really go out there and campaign. She really took time off, and that's -- you never do that. You give your opposition the ability to organize.
And he's basically campaigning as, I am running for Ted Kennedy's seat, but this is not Martha Coakley's seat.
VANDEN HEUVEL: And, also, Coakley is going to put Brown on the spot. It's late, maybe. But she's going to say, are you on the side of the people or the banks?
TAPPER: It's Sunday, Katrina. When's she going to do that?
VANDEN HEUVEL: But -- but -- but, George, seriously, the -- the messaging out of the White House is clicking into gear. The idea of a responsibility tax on these banks, which have cost people jobs, homes, I think it's a test for the tea baggers moving forward, too. Which side are they on? Are they on the side of the people, as they claim? Or are they...
CARLSON: ... will you stop with the tea baggers thing? I mean...
VANDEN HEUVEL: ... that tax cuts create jobs.
CARLSON: Come on.
WILL: ... tax on banks stimulate bank lending? I mean, I thought the...
VANDEN HEUVEL: It's to retrieve money to pay back Main Street to invest...
WILL: If it's retrieve TARP funds, you should understand that most of the TARP funds that are not coming back to the government are in Detroit. And I don't think I've heard you...
VANDEN HEUVEL: I don't -- I think that's a fact check.
TAPPER: But there -- there is -- there is an excellent point to be made about the fact that -- that if Scott Brown wins, health care is really in trouble.
VANDEN HEUVEL: I agree. I think we should abolish the filibuster. But, no, I mean, we are...
TAPPER: But that's -- but that's...
VANDEN HEUVEL: That is a serious issue.
TAPPER: And here's the question.
VANDEN HEUVEL: And -- and it's...
TAPPER: Why would President Obama's signature issue that he's been working so hard, that Ted Kennedy clearly would have been behind, why is it so unpopular in Massachusetts?
VANDEN HEUVEL: I'll tell you. There are several reasons. One, just nationally, some of it is the way, I think, President Obama managed it. It took too long. And part of the reason it took too long is this is an enormous social piece of legislation.
But he wasn't bold enough at various points. He didn't get involved enough. He took too many lessons out of the Clinton administration.
But let us not forget: We are living in a period when bipartisanship has to go out the window. You have a Republican Party which wants to cripple this administration. And part of that is bringing down health care reform. And we are living through a period -- and Tucker and George may disagree -- I would argue of modern, unprecedented rhetoric savagery, where you have night in, night out an illegitimate president who wasn't born in America. People believe this.
CARLSON: Can I just state the obvious facts? And that is that Democrats have a 60-seat majority in the United States Senate. They have an overwhelming majority in the House. They can do whatever they want. The debate is not between Republicans and Democrats. It's within the Democratic caucus.
VANDEN HEUVEL: But the House is different, because the rules...
CARLSON: OK, but let's just be real. They run everything. That's not a criticism. It's an observation of fact.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Come on.
BRAZILE: Democrats are as diverse as the party. And, unfortunately...
CARLSON: It's not between the tea baggers, whomever -- whatever they are. It's between the Democrats.
TAPPER: Health care reform is -- is coming close to final negotiations. And one of the big points in this has been some concessions that labor unions exacted for support for this -- for this health care reform bill, specifically in terms of a delay before those who have so-called Cadillac plans are taxed on that plan. Until 2018, they have time to renegotiate with management, because a lot of them negotiated better health care in lieu of higher wages.
This type of negotiation, behind the scenes, is not what President Obama promised when he was campaigning. He promised it would be an open negotiation.
BRAZILE: Well, Jake, the fact is, is that we've had so many -- we've had congressional hearings. We've had congressional markups. We've had floor debate. We've had...
TAPPER: But we have -- but we have that every...
BRAZILE: We've had town hall meetings. We're at the -- we're at the finish line. And what -- what Democrats are trying to do is now pull all of these various pieces together and present one final bill that can go to CBO, get scored, and then take it to the vote -- take it to the floor for a final vote. That's what this is about.
And if this Republicans want to campaign against all of these good items in this bill, then bring it on. Bring it on.
WILL: I want to befriend Donna's friends here, because they have an insuperable problem. They're trying to pass a bill that is, A, huge, B, radical, C, unpopular...
WILL: ... and, therefore, D, they have no choice but to resort to serial corruption, beginning with -- beginning with the carve-out for Medicare Advantage people primarily in Florida, followed by the $300 million bribe to get Senator Landrieu's vote in Louisiana, followed by the $1 billion over a decade purchase of Senator Nelson's vote from Nebraska, followed by the payoff to the unions, which is the least they could get, considering that they have given $400 million to Democrats.
BRAZILE: ... Republicans do, too, when they're in charge.
WILL: ... industry was last seen in this town rallying around a special fundraiser for Mrs. Coakley in Massachusetts.
VANDEN HEUVEL: First of all, I wish that these negotiations, health care negotiations, would be on C-SPAN. The idea that this bill is radical is laughable. Medicare for all, which is part of the DNA of our country, should be what is on the table. Instead, this has been diluted, mostly by lobbyists and by obstructionist Democrats, too, I will admit.
The deal, though, that labor got is good for all middle-class Americans, middle-class Americans who have been shafted in these last eight years under Bush and Cheney.
WILL: It's not good for at least the 70 percent of Americans who are not in unions.
VANDEN HEUVEL: And, you know, the clean, simple thing, George, which would raise your hair on end, is if there had been a surcharge on the wealthy. I believe the wealthy in this country could afford to pay a little more, and it shouldn't be a burden on the middle class. And these are not Cadillac benefits. Let's not use that term. These are Chevy, if that. They...
CARLSON: ... for defending the indefensible, to -- I mean, I think there are many parts of this bill you could defend, as someone who agrees with the ideological aims of the bill. But to defend the carve-out for Obama campaign contributors, these unions, is a pretty bold thing to do. And I'm...
VANDEN HEUVEL: I admire boldness, and...
BRAZILE: ... support the middle class.
TAPPER: There's one more contentious deal that I wanted to talk about, but we're not going to have time. They'll have to talk about it in the green room, and that is the contentious deal going on right now between NBC, Jay Leno, and Conan O'Brien, but we will have to leave this conversation. And the roundtable will continue in the green room on abcnews.com. And you can get political updates all week long by signing up for our newsletter, also on abcnews.com.