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Lou Dobbs Tonight

Journalists Pardoned; "Cash for Clunkers"; Health Care Heckling; Health Care Lobbying; Medical Malpractice; President Obama Overexposed?; Congressman in Meetings on Health Care Encounter Strong Opposition Crowds

Aired August 04, 2009 - 19:00   ET


LOU DOBBS, HOST: Thank you, Suzanne, and good evening, everybody.

Former President Bill Clinton winning a pardon for two American journalists imprisoned by North Korea -- critics, however, say the United States is rewarding North Korean bad behavior and the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blasting Americans who exercise their constitutional rights to protest against the president's health care plan. We'll have that special report.

And President Obama has become the country's talker in chief in his first six months in office. Some say President Obama is overexposed. That's the subject of our "Face Off" debate tonight.

North Korea today declared it will free two imprisoned American journalists. North Korean's leader Kim Jong Il (ph) gave journalists a so-called special pardon after former President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang. The North Korean news agency saying President Clinton issued what it called a sincere apology for the journalists' actions on the border with China back in March.

The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton (ph), immediately criticized President Clinton's visit, saying the trip is what he called a significant propaganda victory for North Korea. Dan Lothian has our report from the White House.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a secret mission by a high level envoy. Former President Clinton, even as he was getting flowers on his arrival in North Korea, the White House was mum. No details, no confirmation until almost 10 hours later. Why this delicate diplomatic dance?

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This obviously is a very sensitive topic. We will hope to provide some more detail at a later point. Our focus right now is on ensuring the safety of two journalists that are in North Korea right now.

LOTHIAN: According to sources intimately involved with the efforts, this was the culmination of weeks of quiet diplomacy, and that Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, was also closely involved. One expert suggests the deal was virtually done before former President Clinton landed. JIM WALSH, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EXPERT: That doesn't mean every little detail is locked down and it doesn't mean things can't go wrong. But he would not have gone unless he thought there was a good chance of success.

LOTHIAN: The two journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling were sentenced in June to 12 years in prison after being charged with entering North Korea illegally to conduct a smear campaign. According to North Korea's state news agency, Clinton met with Kim Jong Il (ph) and quote, "courteously conveyed an earnest request of the U.S. government to leniently pardon them and send them back home from a humanitarian point of view."


LOTHIAN: So there is some talk that this event could improve the relationship between the United States and North Korea. Perhaps bring North Korea back to the table. But the White House trying to create some distance between those two different issues, saying that what is taking place today has to do with humanitarian issues -- Lou?

DOBBS: And Dan, whatever the reasons of the process, it is nice to see one of these international incidents end with success. Thank you very much, Dan -- Dan Lothian from the White House.

No end in sight for another case involving Americans who were arrested on a border with Iran. Iran is now deciding whether three Americans who crossed into Iranian territory from Iraq should face espionage charges. The three Americans entered Iran by mistake last Friday. They were hiking. Iranian border guards arrested them near the town of Marivan (ph). The State Department says any suggestion that the tourists are spies is simply not credible.

Turning to political news in this country, the Senate tonight beginning a final debate on whether to confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the next justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. A confirmation vote is expected as soon as Thursday. At least six Republicans have declared their intention to support her nomination, meaning her confirmation appears all but certain.

Many Republicans, however, remain concerned about her neutrality after her assertion that quote, "a wise Latina woman would make a better ruling than a white man." The Senate tonight appears ready to add another $2 billion to the popular "cash for clunkers" program. Top Democrats and Republicans said senators will approve the additional money before they begin their August recess this Friday. The program has been rapidly running out of money. Brianna Keilar reports now from Capitol Hill.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you are shopping for a new car enticed by government rebates of up to $4,500 for trading in an old clunker, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says keep shopping. RAY LAHOOD, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: I think the last thing that any politician wants to do is cut off the opportunity for somebody who is going to be able to get a rebate from the government to buy a new automobile.

KEILAR: LaHood may be right. Republican senators opposed to the surprisingly popular "cash for clunkers" program are indicating they won't block it. South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint said "my intent is not to hold it up." Tennessee's Lamar Alexander (ph) said "he's open to discussing it." And Oklahoma's Tom Coburn (ph) asked if a vote is possible before the end of the week said "I don't know why not." Now Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate say a vote is likely before the Senate leaves town.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will pass "cash for clunkers".

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When will you do that?

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Before we leave here.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You think you have the votes for it?

REID: Yes.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: What I anticipate is that it will be completed before the end of the week.


KEILAR: Republicans are demanding votes on changes they want to make to the bill, but here is the thing. Those proposed changes are not expected to pass. And if they did, the Senate would have to work out the differences with the House passed bill and "cash for clunkers" could run out of money over the next month because the House of course Lou has already left town.

DOBBS: And to think this wasn't a popular program. The White House going along with it reluctantly, initially and the Senate holding their noses for the most part -- quite a remarkable turnaround, isn't it?

KEILAR: It is certainly a very popular program, Democrats and Republicans have been surprised by this, lou. This first billion dollars that was allocated, it was supposed to go either until the billion dollars ran out or until November. And obviously we know that the program if left as is would only go until it would run out here possibly in the next few weeks.

DOBBS: All right, Brianna, thank you very much -- Brianna Keilar.

Well small foreign cars have turned out to be the best sellers under this "cash for clunkers" program. Six of the top 10 cars have foreign brand names -- the top seller, however, the Ford Focus. All but one on the list are compact sedans, the Ford Escape a small crossover SUV. All three major U.S. car makers represented the combined city and highway fuel economy of the top 10 cars ranging from 27 to 33 miles per gallon.

Well coming up next here our special report on health care -- tonight a critical issue that isn't part of the debate in Congress nor anywhere in the country.

Also tonight, Democrats supporting health care are facing hostile crowds.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one is talking about the government taking over health...





DOBBS: The White House tonight launching a counterattack. We'll have that for you, next.


DOBBS: The White House and the top Democrat in the Senate today blasting hecklers who have protested against the president's health care plans. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called those protestors shrill (ph). White House press secretary Robert Gibbs suggested the protests are not spontaneous. Let's listen to Gibbs first.


GIBBS: I also have no doubt that there are groups that are -- have spread out people across the country to go to these things and to specifically generate videos that can be posted on Internet sites so that people can watch what's happening in America.

REID: The American people want health care reform and we're going to do health care reform. In spite of the loud, shrill voices trying to interrupt town hall meetings and just throw a monkey wrench into everything. We're going to continue to be positive and work hard.


DOBBS: Senator Reid's comments clearly directed at protestors like these exercising their rights to protest. Here's how one lawmaker, Congressman Tim Bishop (ph), reacted to such a demonstration in Long Island, New York.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one is talking about the government taking over health... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, no, no...





DOBBS: Another congressman under fire for supporting the president's health care plan, Congressman Lloyd Doggett (ph) who was heckled by a crowd in Austin, Texas over the weekend.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Just say no! Just say no! Just say no! Just say no! Just say no...


DOBBS: And along with that an angry protest in Philadelphia attended by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Senator Arlen Specter. Here's what happened when Senator Specter talked to the meeting.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: We divide up the bill, we have to make judgments very fast and...






SPECTER: (INAUDIBLE) and understood by me before I vote.


DOBBS: The senator obviously slightly taken aback there, acknowledging many members of Congress could well face similar protests over the president's health care plan during the August recess. Joining me now for more our senior political analyst Candy Crowley -- Candy, what do you make of these protests and we just heard Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, obviously mocking these people and saying fairly straightforwardly that this is organized protests. Is that true?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, there is no doubt there are a lot of conservative groups out there who are using their Web sites to encourage people to go to their town hall meetings. But this is not some subterranean movement that they don't want people to know about. And there are groups that you heard of before, some of them well heeled (ph), Conservatives for Patient's Rights.

They've had a number of ads against a sort of Obama style health care reform. They are now on their Web site trying to reach out to some of these groups -- the tea party people that we saw on tax day. Others are saying, you know, here's where the town hall meetings are and schedules like that. There's another group, Family Research Council, Tony Perkins (ph), I'm sure you're familiar with that...

DOBBS: Sure.

CROWLEY: ... is a conservative social group. If you go on that Web site, you can see indeed where there are town hall meetings. Now, there's also an interesting place called Right Principles (ph) and I just talked to the head of that group. Now -- and his name is Robert McDuffie (ph) and he wrote a memo that has gone all over the Web about how to rock the town hall meeting. And it's very lengthy and it says, you know, go in there and stand up, you know...

DOBBS: Does it suggest whether that be a Democratic or Republican town hall meeting?

CROWLEY: It does not, but this is a group that's definitely protesting the current form of health care reform, as they see it. And he said -- and I said, so, you're starting this movement. He said you know anybody that thinks that a guy sitting in Connecticut with a Web site can influence someone in Texas to go to a town hall meeting, you know, is crazy.

I wrote this for -- he says he wrote it for grassroots activists in Connecticut. He is indeed connected to those -- was a volunteer for those who put together the tea party on tax day. And he said, but you know -- he sort of tapped into -- he said you know people come to him and say I write my congressman and then I get back a letter that doesn't even respond or I get back a letter like I'm on the other side.

And he said he just feels his frustration, so they all sort of say this is not some big master plan, but it is a loosely knit group of various conservatives who are -- the insurance industry also sending a representative to 30 states trying to urge people sympathetic to them to go to these town hall meetings, so yes there is this -- there are lots of groups out there doing this.

But it doesn't seem to be some master plan of sending people who don't understand what they're talking about. They're trying to urge like-minded people to go to these town hall meetings, which they say is what town hall meetings are about.

DOBBS: Certainly part of it. It's also, if you will, synthetic grassroots if that turns out to be the case that it's organized as Gibbs suggested today. It is also quite a different thing if people are simply inspired and alerted to go to a town hall meeting on an issue that is of obviously vital interest to nearly all of us. Which is closer to the reality, as you've examined the facts?

CROWLEY: As far as I can tell from talking today, there is one central group that is bussing people from one state to another. There is by the way a group that's going out on a bus this summer to try to talk about health care that's ante (ph) the reform they see, but there doesn't seem to be say one central organizing group. But there are lots of organizing groups. And it's interesting just -- one last thing...

DOBBS: Sure.

CROWLEY: ... is if you look at the politics of this, it is in the interest of the White House and those who support the president and his bid for health care reform to say, you know what? This is all the insurance industry, it's all these whackos (ph). It's the birthers (ph). It's the you know the crazy people.

DOBBS: Oh God, don't say birthers (ph) whatever you do not on this...


CROWLEY: What I mean is -- so they're trying to -- you know and they're describing you know sort of these people that are fringe. But it is in the interest of those who oppose it to have the YouTube videos go up, to have us talking about it, because it strengthens their side. And the truth of the matter is what you're looking at here is a health care debate which all the polls show is split right down the middle and you are seeing the results of that.

DOBBS: In a highly passionate debate...


DOBBS: ... prospect. Perhaps we're going to have that great national conversation about this extraordinarily important issue. We're certainly going to do our part on this broadcast and you're leading the way for us, Candy Crowley. Thank you very much.


DOBBS: We appreciate it and by the way, you can say birther (ph) whenever you want. It's OK. It's what you say after that...

CROWLEY: I don't think so. Thank you though.

DOBBS: Thanks a lot, Candy. Up next here, an intensive effort by health industry lobbyists trying to influence the outcome of debate -- more than $100 million already being spent buying influence. We'll be telling you about that.

And between primetime news conferences and late-night comedy shows, is President Obama already overexposed? That's the subject of tonight's "Face Off" debate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) DOBBS: Health care lobbyists are stepping up their activity in Washington -- "Congressional Quarterly" today reporting that 18 congressmen overseeing the health care legislation received almost $2 million from the industry and that's just so far this year. The groups and other lobbyists have spent more than $100 million to influence the outcome of the health care debate. Jessica Yellin has our report.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Here are some staggering numbers, $39 million, that's the amount of money the insurance industry has spent on lobbying since March, $133 million, the amount spent by the rest of the health sector, all during the fight for health care reform.

SHEILA KRUMHOLZ, EXEC. DIR., CTR. FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: The phonetic nature of this is unusual by the standards of the last decade. I don't think we've seen anything like this for quite sometime.

YELLIN: This month expect the money to flow even faster as the insurance industry combats new attacks by Democrats and their allies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do the health insurance companies and Republicans want to kill President Obama's health insurance reform?

YELLIN: Democrats have decided to tag the insurance industry as the enemy of health care reform.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: You will be hearing a great deal from our members about the health insurance industry and what it has done to the health of our country.

YELLIN: The industry's response -- they say they want reform, just done their way. And they will be making that point on the airwaves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're America's health insurance companies supporting bipartisan reforms...

YELLIN: And on conference calls with reporters.

KAREN IGNAGNI, PRES., AMERICA'S HEALTH INSURANCE PLANS: The same old Washington politics of find an enemy and go to war is a major step back.

YELLIN: And they will be arguing their case at town hall meetings across the country.

IGNAGNI: We're moving to making sure that the American people in August know outside the beltway that we are for reform and what those reforms are.

YELLIN (on camera): The insurance industry has said they will support new rules making it impossible to deny coverage based on a preexisting condition or to base pricing on a person's gender. But what they don't support is a government-run insurance option. They say that would be devastating to their business. Lou?


DOBBS: Jessica, thank you very much -- Jessica Yellin reporting.

One of the things that we have to examine as we discuss health care are the many, many elements that aren't even being discussed in Washington, D.C. around the country -- questions that aren't even being asked by lawmakers or by this administration. We're going to start asking some of those questions. We've actually already begun here this week doing just that on LOU DOBBS TONIGHT. Amongst the questions we're going to address tonight -- what can we learn from other country's health care plans?

There are no formed health care proposals despite the fact that the Congressional Budget Office is scoring some of them, despite the fact that you're hearing a debate discussed about health care. Tonight, we're going to take an existing health care in Germany. Germany has a population of about 82 million people.

Germany has the oldest universal health care system in the world. It provides health care for its entire population and has done so since the late 1800's. How do they pay for it? Well both employers and employees contribute a percentage of their income into non-profit health insurance plans, known as sickness funds.

Employers contribute seven percent. Employees contribute eight percent. Those earning high incomes can choose to get out of the system and pay for private insurance. Germany's health care system is just about three-fourths government funded and about a quarter privately funded. Germany has one doctor for every 286 people.

Compare that to the United States where there is one doctor for every 416 people. Germany spends about $3,600 per person, about 10 percent of its GDP on health care. In this country we spend more than twice that amount -- just about $7,300 per person and we spend 16 percent of our GDP. In Germany, medical malpractice awards are capped by law.

But in this country medical malpractice lawsuits are a major cause of the skyrocketing cost of medical care and part of that, of course, is so-called defensive medicine. But as Congress has considered the health care overhaul, there has been almost no debate on medical malpractice -- Kitty Pilgrim reports.


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A 1,000 page health care bill but still no limit on how much a doctor could be sued for medical malpractice under the government plan. President Obama has talked about the high cost of medical lawsuits saying a doctor should not have to look over his shoulder while practicing medicine, but has stopped short of calling for limits on medical malpractice awards. The AMA estimates that defensive medicine, when doctors perform unnecessary tests to protect themselves from potential lawsuits, cost up to an extra $151 billion a year. The Congressional Budget Office found caps on medical malpractice suits could save $4.3 billion from 2010 to 2019. But some consumer groups don't want lawsuits capped -- Joanne Doroshow (ph) of consumer advocacy group Center for Justice and Democracy.

JOANNE DOROSHOW, CTR. FOR JUSTICE AND DEMOCRACY: Both claims and premiums in the medical malpractice area are each less than one percent of overall health care costs and in fact they've been less than one percent for over 30 years.

PILGRIM: Critics of the current system have been able to attach only one amendment to the House bill that would offer states financial incentives to reduce frivolous lawsuits and encourage more out of court settlements. Congressman Michael Burgess says Congress needs to do more.

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS (R), TEXAS: If you're going to talk about major structural health care reform in this county you've got to include something that deals with the problem with medical liability. But it's absolutely unclear in the bill that we have before us. What will happen is doctors will continue to be sued just as they are now.

PILGRIM: Congressman Burgess tried to attach a limit on medical malpractice awards against doctors in the health care bill last week but it was defeated.


PILGRIM: Now this bill provides no additional protection for doctors against malpractice claims. The American Medical Association has endorsed the bill but says more should be done to protect doctors -- Lou.

DOBBS: It's really unclear where the AMA is in this and how they relate to the doctors in this country because anecdotally I don't hear that support for the AMA physician from doctors. But the idea of one percent and for 30 years, that sounds like somebody is leaving something out of the total number here.

PILGRIM: Well this whole concept of defensive medicine doing extra tests, doing extra -- every -- all sorts of extra procedures, that number is very hard to get your head around and it certainly is considerably more than one percent...

DOBBS: You put (ph) 151 billion alone for that.

PILGRIM: The AMA number is up to $151 billion a year and...

DOBBS: So $151 billion and no discussion in Congress or by this administration other than the fact the president said there will be no capping of malpractice claims.

PILGRIM: You know part of the discussion we had today with lawmakers is that many people wanted to leave this out because it's so controversial. They actually wanted to leave it out of the bill, but how do you address this -- how do you address health care reform in a bill that doesn't take this on? This is one of the major issues.

DOBBS: As we are going to report here through this week and the weeks ahead, there is a lot that's been left out and a lot of this has not been discussed by this administration -- the Congress and I'm including both Republican and Democratic parties in that. We're going to take care of that little oversight here. Thank you very much, Kitty. Appreciate it -- Kitty Pilgrim.

Up next, tonight's top stories, including former President Bill Clinton winning a pardon for two American journalists held in North Korea. They have been freed. And four primetime news conferences in six months, President Obama, is he running the risk of being overexposed, on his birthday, certainly not. That's the subject of our "Face Off" debate tonight.


DOBBS: Now our top stories tonight. Brooke Baldwin is here -- she has the very latest for us -- Brooke.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I want to start with a development from a story that broke this afternoon, Lou -- former President Bill Clinton tonight has just left North Korea after securing a pardon for two imprisoned American journalists. They are Laura Ling and Euna Lee. They were arrested on the border between North Korea and China just three months ago in March.

President Clinton today apologized to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for the journalists so called "hostile acts." U.S. official say President Clinton bringing the journalists home with them.

And the full Senate tonight began a debate on whether to confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Senators are expected to hold a confirmation vote this Thursday.

Democrats believe they have enough votes to confirm Judge Sotomayor, but many Republicans remain a bit concerned that she is a judicial activist who will try to amend the law.

And top Senate Republicans and Democrats both this evening confident that the Senate will expand the Cash for Clunkers program before they break for their August recess this Friday. Senators are considering a measure to increase funding for the program from $1 billion to $3 billion.

The program is now at risk of running out of money because it is so popular.

And those are some of the stories we are keeping our eye on -- Lou?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Brooke, thank you very much, Brooke Baldwin. We have also just received word here that the two journalists for whom former President Bill Clinton won a pardon have in fact joined the former president on his private aircraft and are now on their way back to the United States.

And that's the latest from Pyongyang, the two journalists freed, now with the president aboard his private aircraft on their way back to the United States. Brooke Baldwin, thank you.

President Obama has held more primetime press conferences in just his first few months in office than his predecessor George W. Bush held in eight years.

With all the televised speeches, late-night comedy shows, and town hall meetings, is President Obama overexposed? That's the subject of our "Face-off" debate tonight.

Joining me now, Howard Kurtz, he's host of CNN's "Reliable Sources," staff writer at the "Washington Post," who says the president's exposure is diluting his impact. Good to have you here.

And Heidi Sinclair, a communications and branding expert, who says president Obama's exposure is carefully orchestrated and he's creating a very successful brand.

Heidi, let me start with you. I mean, as we go through this, four primetime news conferences, he's held 15 town hall meetings. He's been on everything from "60 Minutes" to the "Tonight Show" to baseball's all-star game. And you think this is -- and this is just as it should be?

HEIDI SINCLAIR, COMMUNICATIONS AND BRANDING CONSULTANT: Well, you know, he is everywhere. I recently was flying into New York, and I had a hold on my flight because he was in our air space. And I thought, OK, he's everywhere.

And I loved it. You know, it was that sense that he is everywhere, and I think there's a couple good reasons for it. One is it's reassuring at a time when many Americans would like reassurance. They want to know that their president is available.

And we are used to presidents who were not so available. We were used to having much more controlled access to the presidents, and particularly the media was often held at arm's length. So to have that kind of access is nice, and it's reassuring, and it makes us feel good.

Secondly, I...

DOBBS: I'm sorry, but I promised Howard I would give him at least two minutes here at some point.

SINCLAIR: Go ahead.


DOBBS: Let's start with these moments.

Howie, you think he's in fact diluting his impact in public policy. How so?

HOWARD KURTZ, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, being constantly in front of the television cameras may be good for President Obama personally, Lou. When it comes to selling policy, and he is the salesman in chief, he's the best, most effective weapon that the administration has on health care, for example, if he's doing it all the time, every day, then the pitch may get to sound a little tired.

My test is if you see the president on TV, do you go and turn the volume up, or do you say there's Obama talking about health care again, I've basically heard the spiel.

The fourth prime time news conference that you reference, the only news he made was at the end with the question about the Henry Louis Gates arrest. That can't be good for a president who wants to drive this debate if he's going to win the legislation he wants.

DOBBS: Let's, and if I may, I would like to address this to both of you, and you first, Heidi. We've seen in the ABC/"Washington Post" poll a decline from 65 percent to 59 percent, from the CBS/"New York Times" poll, a decline of 6 percent again. NBC/"Wall Street Journal" from 56 to 53 percent.

There is -- you know, those are his overall approval ratings. On health care there has been an absolute inversion in the last month. More people oppose than supporting the president on health care.

Heidi, you talk about a sustainable brand, but Howie has the numbers on his side in this, does he not?

SINCLAIR: Well, I think those are still fairly significantly high approval ratings.

And, you know, there's a couple things going. This is not a sprint. And Obama recognizes that it's not a sprint. And he also is looking at -- you know, I hear Howard's point around you don't want to over-wear your message.

But I think there's a couple other things going for it in that he's using multiple platforms in terms of various different forums and formats, whether it's a town hall or Twitter, whatever it is, there are multiple ways of getting the message out.

And then he's taking it to the people.

KURTZ: And I agree the use of new media, this White House is very good at that and that's very good for the president.

But you look at that week when he held the fourth prime time presser in late July. That week the president talked to Meredith Vieira and Katie Couric, and Jim Lear, Terry Moran on "Nightline," and he didn't make any progress at all in selling -- admittedly the tough task of selling this complex legislation with opposition building. And here's a number that I focused on, Lou. The good news for the president is that 24 million Americans watched that press conference. The bad news is that's half as many as watched his first one at the beginning of the term.

DOBBS: Howard, you also reported that Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, went over the heads of all the networks and twisted a lot of arms to get that July 22nd primetime hour, that 8:00 p.m. eastern hour. What is the long-term effect of that, if any?

KURTZ: You can only go to the well so many times. So you have Rahm calling the heads of General Electric and Disney and CBS Corporation to try get that airtime, which cost the broadcast networks a lot of money. They give up an hour of advertising. I estimate that they lost about $40 million combined for the four news conferences.

They are getting frustrated with this president because I don't think they're automatically going to say yes if the news value is seen as diminishing and if the ratings are going down and if it's costing them at a time of difficulty for the media business, I don't think they're going to necessarily roll over every time the president wants an hour of primetime.

DOBBS: Heidi?

SINCLAIR: I would agree with that if all of those, if they're true. But what you also see is that he's selling magazines.

DOBBS: I'm sorry, if what's true?

SINCLAIR: If the -- if the ratings are down, if this, if that, if all of those things are actually true, I think that you will see less of these press conferences.

But if you look at the entire media environment and Obama's presence within the entire media environment, you know, he's a celebrity. And he is a brand.

But he is a celebrity unlike any president that we've ever had. And what's exciting is that because he is a celebrity, he's bringing government to the people in a way that we've never experienced.

So people are energized, they're following government, and they like seeing the Obamas in, you know, in "People" magazine and on "Entertainment Tonight." And they're curious and they're interested and want to know more about not just the Obamas themselves, but also about their governing and about policy.

So it's taking policy in a different way, and it's taking it out of the domain of the elite and to the people.

DOBBS: A people that you describe as insatiable. Howard Kurtz, I think suggesting perhaps there are limits. We thank you both for being here to share your opinions. Heidi, thank you very much. Howie, thank you.

SINCLAIR: Thank you, Lou.

KURTZ: Thank you.

DOBBS: Our topic for tomorrow night's "Face-off" debate, will the August recess help or hurt the president's health care agenda? Joining me tomorrow will be Michael Crowley, he is the senior editor of "New Republic," and mark Tabscott, editorial page editor at the "Washington Examiner."

Health care hecklers putting Democrats on the defensive.




DOBBS: One of the questions before us -- do we know what anyone in this country wants at this point? One health care leader joins us and tells us not to let the details get in the way. Some of the best political analysts join me to assess that and will tell us exactly what that means, next.


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, encouraging economic news today. Consumer spending rose in June for the second straight month, spending up 0.4 percent for the month following a 0.1 percent increase in May.

And another positive sign for the housing market, pending home sales up for a fifth, that's right, a fifth straight month. The number of people signing contracts to buy homes rose by 3.6 percent in June.

But not this weekend, Democratic legislators who support the president's health care plan are facing considerable protests and demonstrations. Here's one example now from a town hall event with Wisconsin's congressman Steve Kagan.




DOBBS: Joining me to talk about this and other topics, three of my favorite political analysts, Ron Christie, president of Christie Strategies, former special assistant to President Bush, Errol Louis, CNN contributor and columnist for the "New York Daily News," CNN contributor and Democratic Strategist Hank Sheinkopf. Gentlemen, good to have you with us.

Wow, it looks like quite a reception there, and already the debate as organized by the White House at least, is, are these real grassroots responses, or are they synthetic Astroturf as Lloyd Benson once referred to them? What's the deal, hank? HANK SHEINKOPF, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Some may very well be manufactured and some may be a contagion, and some may in fact be very concerned. Look, we're talking about fooling with the economic issues in this country, health care being the significant one, and voters historically going back feel when you fool with the economy you're fooling with a well-timed time piece, very well cared for.

When you fool with it, suddenly people get nervous. And that's part of what's going on, Lou.

DOBBS: Errol?

ERROL LOUIS, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": What concerns me are the instances where it's clearly over the top. You've got in at least one case a congressman hanged in effigy, where it's starting to get really ugly, really nasty.

What also concerns me is in some of the cases, you have people clearly trying to shut down debate. That memo that you talked about with Candy Crowley, it references tactics like standing up and shouting down the congressman before the first question gets asked.

That to me is the opposite of debate. That to me is intolerable. It's not the best way to get the conversation started, but at least we've aired the issues. I think any real Astroturf groups have been put on alert that they're being watched.

RON CHRISTIE, PRESIDENT, CHRISTIE STRATEGIES: I think it's very real. You're looking at the Congressman Docket, who is in Texas, not exactly the most conservative area in the country, Keith Ellison in Michigan. You're looking at Arlen Specter and Kathleen Sebelius in Pennsylvania. These people are very concerned.

You're talking about a dramatic transformation of one-sixth of the American economy and people are saying slow down a little bit. Do we need to get it done by the August recess? Do we need to rush this through in September?

I think people want to know if these politicians are so intent on pushing something through, and it was very key, Lou, that Congressman Ellison when someone asked him, would you put your family and yourself on this health insurance plan, he said that's a good question, but let's move. He wouldn't answer the question.

DOBBS: Why do you think there is this reluctance to answer these questions? And I think it's interesting, Erol, talking about, if that is stamping out discussion. Erol says he's a little alarmed by the fact that there would be this protest before even a question is asked.

But let me put it to you, gentlemen, this way. This is a president saying he wanted this thing passed by this Friday. Passed! We don't even have the details of the plan. Who is the one tramping out public discussion, public debate? Is it that heckler, or is it this administration?

LOUIS: My sense of it is, what I would personally prefer, is we have a bill, and then you can pick it apart, you can kill it, you change it around, you can keep what you like. At least we have something --

DOBBS: Are you saying we have a bill passed?

LOUIS: Right now you've got like five different committees who have worked on this. If we can get one version that everybody --

DOBBS: Are you saying passed?

LOUIS: Agreed upon.

DOBBS: How in the world can you agree upon a bill -- this is why I ask you, and I would love to hear your answer. Who is trampling out debate and discussion here? Is it the president or is it that heckler?

LOUIS: Listen, you know that we're watching the lobbyists spend over $1 million per day, and we know that their strategy has been let's delay it, and then we'll kill it.

And so to the extent we know that's going on in the background, I think strategically is understandable to say we're not just going to walk into that trap and let them spend $100 million to kill any kind of a conversation.

DOBBS: You really mean this, don't you? You really mean that this country should -- do you agree with that, Hank? You're the Democratic strategist.

SHEINKOPF: Look, I am a supporter of the administration and I am a Democratic strategist by birth, I think, and I don't know what else there is to it.


I think that Errol has a point, and I should have thought of this before, the attempt to stifle dissent is one side is true. The president trying to ram this through on a Congress that one day wants it rammed through and the other day wants to step back and take a breath, which is consistent, by the way, with the leadership of this Congress, that's a problem.

I would like to see one version of something so that we can have a national discussion about what is the most important decision we're going to make for quite some time. That's what I would like to see as an American. As a Democrat...

DOBBS: How do we get to that one version without a national discussion and conversation? We're the only broadcast on the air talking about the health care plans of other nations on this broadcast. Think about it. We're the only ones talking about it, we're the only ones talking about the real elements of health care and the impact of public policy decisions.

You're not getting it from the Congress, you're not getting it from the Senate, you're not getting it from the Republican leadership or the Democratic leadership or this administration or the Senate or House.

SHEINKOPF: Politics first, getting the people's work done second. Nobody wants -- the Congress doesn't want to take the risk. Remember, next year they run for reelection. This thing blows up, they got a problem.

The president, taking this kind of loss early on in the term, not good should this not work. It's got to work for him and for the Congress.

DOBBS: Let's see if we can figure out what works for the people. That's the next part of this conversation. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


DOBBS: We're back with our panel.

And Hank, as I'm saying, why aren't the interests of the people first? We've got a lot of, frankly, lip service from both parties, but the actions of this Congress and this administration -- I mean, you know, choose your poison.

SHEINKOPF: Because the first job is to get reelected, Lou, and the special interests that are lobbying against it or for it pick up the tab for those elections by contributing to PACs and by funding independent expenditures on 527s and putting up the money on a constant basis. This is not a system where the Congress responds to people.

The Congress responds to interests. The president responds to people. It's a very different set of circumstances. That's why he's running around all the time.

DOBBS: So we're fools to allow this congress to touch a sixth of this economy?

SHEINKOPF: We're fools to not put the pressure on the Congress by saying, look guys, get the work done. What do we pay you for?

DOBBS: Here's something that caught my eye. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius writing an op-ed in today's "Washington Post" said "lifting the burden of worry" is what she called it.

This is a line that I found interesting. "We can't let the details distract us from the huge benefits that reform will bring. The urgency behind reform has nothing to do with the schedule of Congress and everything to do with the needs of the American people."

It sounded like a variant on president Obama saying the deadline was set by the people. What is this? What is that language? Explain to me what this is. LOUIS: I think of it as the response -- as we were saying a minute ago to, if you know there are actors who are acting, maybe not quite in bad faith, but certainly in their interest, and that those who want to end this process are going to try to delay it and then end it.

It puts you in a peculiar position in the White House. You have to risk the political schedule of the 2010 election or you have to sort of sit and wait and try to conduct a debate, knowing that there are people who are going to stretch it out endlessly.

DOBBS: We're talking about real people here who could probably use a better system -- by the way, the use of the word "reform" here is specious on the part of every journalist. There's nothing in this that is reform which implies better.

CHRISTIE: But this is the exact thing we've seen with this administration -- trust us. Don't worry about the details, trust us.

We saw the stimulus bill that hasn't been stimulating the economy. You look at the Cash for Clunker program. For goodness sakes, Lou, if they can't run a program for $1 billion...

DOBBS: They fixed that. They're going to run one for $3 billion. But that's not nothing to do, Ron...

CHRISTIE: But it's the devil of the details. They don't want the American people looking at the details of this, because if they do, they'll recognize this isn't reform, this isn't bringing down costs, this isn't bringing down the curve of making sure that we can have people covered.

It's all about ramming something through because that's politically what they want to do, which is entirely different of, is this in the best interest of American people and, is this the best prescription for reforming our health care system? Two entirely different issues.

DOBBS: Two entirely different issues. The issue that remains is, what do we do? And we have a Congress no one seems to trust, a president whose approval ratings on this policy are declining. Is doing nothing here arguably better than doing just anything, which seems to be the other prescription?

SHEINKOPF: One of the things we should do, probably, is ask the Congressmen to shut down the machines that sent out the form letters and start talking to people about it.

If we don't do something, we're going to ration health care in this country in our lifetimes. We're going to decide who lives and who dies upon dollars. There's something wrong about that. That's where this is headed.

DOBBS: Do you want -- you know the countervailing argument to that?

SHEINKOPF: Which is?

DOBBS: Do you want government making that very same decision?

Gentlemen, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

We'll have more answers next time, right, guys?

LOUIS: Always.


DOBBS: Thank you very much.

Up at the top of the hour, Campbell Brown -- Campbell?


We've got some more breaking news in the story you've been covering, Bill Clinton's successful mission to bring home two U.S. journalists held in North Korea. We're going to have the very latest for you on that coming up in just a moment.

Also, flying while drunk. You're going to meet a commercial airline pilot who flew a 727 totally trashed. He went to prison for it, but how many other drunken pilots are still out there putting the public at risk? We'll talk about that.

Plus my exclusive one-on-one with "The View's" Whoopi Goldberg. She is tonight's newsmaker.

All that, plus a mash-up of the day's top stories, Lou, at the top of the hour.

DOBBS: All right, thank you very much, Campbell.

We'll be right back.


DOBBS: We've got time for a quick e-mail.

Patricia in Nevada said "Let's make a deal. Americans will consider the possibility of health care reform as soon as our government officials prove they can successfully run Medicare and Social Security."

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Thanks for being with us tonight. Join us here tomorrow for all of us. We thank you for watching. Goodnight from New York.

Next, Campbell Brown.