‘Special Report’ All-Star Panel on Fauci Senate hearing, border crisis, Olympics

Guests: Hugh Hewitt, Morgan Ortagus, Harold Ford Jr.,

This is a rush transcript of “Special Report with Bret Baier” on January 11, 2022. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BAIER: OK, so which is it? Let’s bring in our panel, syndicated radio host Hugh Hewitt, Morgan Ortagus, former State Department spokesperson, and Harold Ford Jr., former Tennessee Congressman, CEO of Empowerment and Inclusion Capital. Hugh, what was your take of this hearing today?

HUGH HEWITT, SYNDICATED RADIO HOST: This was a low moment, Bret, for Dr. Fauci. He has had an honorable career. He has been much honored. But when you are calling the senator from Kansas a moron, he did that with Dr. Marshall, and you are arguing with Dr. Paul, Senator Paul, you have lost the two doctors on the committee.

And I thought it was particularly inappropriate for Dr. Fauci to bring up the assaults and threats on his family. Look, it happens to everyone in public life. Dr. Paul was on the softball field in June of 2017 when a Bernie Sanders supporter tried to kill dozens of Republicans. He was subsequently assaulted by his neighbor. Dr. Paul doesn’t need to be told that it’s tough to be in public life.

I think Dr. Fauci has reached the end of his productive ability to persuade Americans if cannot even engage with his critics.

BAIER: Here is some of ethics change between Senator Paul, Dr. Paul, and Dr. Fauci.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R-KY): The idea that a government official, like yourself, would claim unilaterally to represent science, that any criticism of you would be considered a criticism of science itself, is quite dangerous.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER: You are distorting everything about me. You keep coming back to personal attacks on me that have absolutely no relevance to reality.

PAUL: More people have died now under President Biden than did under President Trump. You are the one responsible. You are the architect.

FAUCI: I would like to make something clear to the committee. He is doing this for political reasons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Harold, Dr. Fauci went on to show Senator Paul’s website that says “Fire Fauci” and raising money on the side. There is a question about trying to get specifics and how we get forward as a country through this. And people looking at this hearing could say this is why they hate Washington.

HAROLD FORD JR., FORMER TENNESSEE REPRESENTATIVE: Well, first, thanks for having me on. And I watched part of the hearing and share some of Hugh’s thoughts about it. Having been in politics and even still a little bit in public life and having had my life threatened, I understand the concerns that Dr. Fauci has. But having never been shot like Representative Scalise, there is certainly a gap.

That being said, public health experts, unfortunately, have become today’s politicians. I remember a time when you used to go a doctor, and if the doctor prescribed you or gave you a diagnosis and prescribed you medicine, you believed him or her. We have reached a point now where we are assigning political labels to the kind of public health advice we get from public health experts. If we like them, they generally are probably in our party. If we don’t like them, they are generally advising on things that we think the other party may be doing.

That’s a low, low moment, particularly when you hear today that North Korea has tested a second missile that travels 10 times the sound of speed. The Russians are amassing troops, hundreds of thousands maybe, on the border of Ukraine or at the border of Ukraine, and obviously China is preparing to treat parts of the South Sea and others in the world differently than we would like for them to.

We need to stop politically kneecapping each other. The one thing public health experts all agree on is that we should all get are vaccinated and we should all get boosted if your healthy allows you to do that. That’s what will reduce hospitalizations and reduce deaths.

I think the one thing that came out of the hearing, Bret, that I found incredibly interesting, and I am hearing more and more public health experts say this, some are saying Omicron is fading and receding. Dr. Walensky was not challenged today when she said that this is just the latest variant, and we should all expect another variant and another mutation in the near term.

BAIER: Oh, joy. Morgan, this is Senator Susan Collins from Maine specifically trying track down the money. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (D-ME): Our staff’s investigation found that $850 million out of the testing budget and another $850 million out of the allocation for the stockpile were, instead, used to deal with the crisis at the southern border. I think that this is a problem that has contributed to the shortage of testing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Yes. And you have got $1.9 trillion that was pass in the COVID relief bill. Tracking down where all that money goes when you have Chicago saying, the public teachers union saying we are not going back to school is quite something.

MORGAN ORTAGUS, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Yes. And Senator Collins was right on the money in that exchange in her line of questioning. I think it’s very simple here that President Biden should be held to the same standard that he asked President Trump to be held to in the 2020 campaign. In March of 2020, President Biden, then candidate Biden, often criticized President Trump and said where are the tests? He tweeted this several times. He talked repeatedly about how he thought Trump had no plan to deal with COVID-19. When, in fact, when President Biden came into office, he had multiple vaccines available.

And he should have spent year one making sure testing was right on the money. That is something he spent the campaign criticizing President Trump for. And he should have made sure in year one to continue Operation Warp Speed to get more vaccines and therapeutics available to tackle the variants that we all knew were inevitably coming.

And so here we are three years into a pandemic, and we have seen all of our institutions, over the past, I would say, five, six years, all of our institutions have been politicized, Bret. We have seen the intelligence community politicized. We have seen the Department of Justice politicized. We have seen the Defense Department politicized. And now public health has been politicized.

And Dr. Fauci, the performance today was just below the expectations we have of a nonpartisan civil servant. If he wants to run for office, he should go file and run for office.

BAIER: Hugh, Harold mentioned China. Very quickly, we’re getting ready for the Olympic Games, yet they are locking down cities in China.

HEWITT: It’s crazy. It’s crazy to go to the Olympics. Not only is genocide underway in China, it’s 62 miles to on 14 million person city that’s been locked down now. Sending our athletes there when China routinely lies about every aspect of this virus from the time it came upon us until the moment of yesterday, is just nuts. The games should be postponed.

BAIER: Up next, President Biden makes a push for voting rights reform.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I ask every elected official in America, how do you want to be remembered? Consequential moments in history, they present a choice. Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Well, President Biden making a pitch for voting rights reform, saying it’s essential, saying so essential he would give up the filibuster, eliminate it, or put it on hold in the Senate, something he fought for as a senator back in the day. Making a construct there of an interesting pitch to elected officials.

We are back with our panel. Harold, that was quite a close from the president, either you agree with my pitch on this voting rights bill or you are George Wallace or Bull Conner or — what did you think of that?

FORD: The Joe Biden that I know from 20 years ago would not have framed it quite that way. I don’t think if you are opposed to some of the things that are being proposed around voting rights that you are Bull Conner.

Here is how I would have advised him to do it. I think there are three pillars to protecting voting civil rights. One is you want to make it possible for every American to vote, make it easy. Number two, ensure and enforce voter eligibility. The foundation of that is the voter I.D. law. And three, make it where have you impartial referee to help settle disputes before you go to court, not a partisan state legislature. Republicans have to remember, there will be Democrats in charge at times, and Democrats know there will be Republicans in charge at times.

I think you’ve got to figure out the votes you don’t have and meet those people where they are. I’m not sure you convince Senators Sinema and Manchin with the speech that the president gave today. As much as I agree with him we need a voting rights restoration and we need to renew the voting rights act, and I would pass the John Lewis act to do that, I’m not sure he accomplished that today with that rhetoric.

BAIER: And that’s the bottom line, Hugh, is the number of votes you have, and you don’t have them no matter what the speech was today in Atlanta. In fact “Politico” says “Dem’s filibuster conundrum, it’s not just Manchin and Sinema. Mark Kelly is one of a handful of Democrats still weighing what to do about the party’s drive to allow sweeping federal elections legislation to evade the Senate’s 60 vote threshold. And the range of views and Democratic hesitance reflect the gravity of the debate. For a caucus that prides itself on unity, there is plenty of nuances in the Democrats’ views. Some like Senator Jon Tester of Montana like a talking filibuster, but are, quote, not crazy about making an exception for voting rights. Meanwhile Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire says reform is need but is promoting more modest changes.” They had problems in voting in the Senate, not necessarily how it’s phrased in Atlanta. Right, Hugh?

HEWITT: Bret, this has been a dead issue since December 19th when Joe Manchin told you on FOX NEWS SUNDAY he would not vote to change the filibuster. So it’s all theater. I was watching the president today and thought he was doing a pretty good job with his speech until he went way off the rails, ended up calling everyone who is concerned about voter security Jim Crow 2.0. When you go off the rails that suggests to me desperation, desperation about his numbers, desperation about the outcome, desperation about his base. And that desperation is deserved. They have not moved the needle a bit. Mitt Romney gave a speech in defense of the filibuster today which was very good. He is the center of the Senate. This is a doomed effort.

BAIER: Meantime, Stacey Abrams, who is running for governor on the Democratic side, Morgan, did not show up for this event today. The president was asked about that. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC ANCHOR: Stacey Abrams has a scheduling event. Her car is getting a tune-up, so you can understand.

GOV. BRIAN KEMP, (R) GEORGIA: She is realizing Georgians aren’t buying what he’s selling, and she is trying to avoid him because of his faltering poll numbers.

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: She also agrees with the civil rights groups who think this thing is all phony.

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We’re all on the same page, and everything is fine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you insulted she is skipping the speech?

BIDEN: I’m insulted you asked the question. I spoke to Stacey this morning. We have great relationship. We got our scheduling mixed up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Scheduling mix-up. If the president is coming, you fix the schedule, don’t you, Morgan?

ORTAGUS: Listen, I have it on good authority Stacey Abrams called something called Biden-itis, and that is a political allergic reaction to President Joe Biden when you are running for governor, especially in the state of Georgia. I kid, but that is actually what stood out to me most today in addition to what Hugh mentioned about the political desperation. Listen, you have bottom barrel polling numbers, inflation through the roof, supply chain issues, Americans costing exorbitant amounts to fill up the gas tank and you can’t get the basic grocery items that you need. This is what you do. You don’t try to pass legitimate bipartisan voting rights. They haven’t tried to do that. They haven’t worked on this it from a policy perspective. They aren’t working with Republicans or even moderate Democrats. In fact, I guess moderate Democrats who vote against this will also be considered racist by President Joe Biden as well. That doesn’t even seem like a smart strategy for going in to 23 and 24 if you are trying to get anything done. This is a political exercise today, and a bad one.

BAIER: Interesting to watch. Panel, as always, thank you.

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