This Week Host Vargas Pushes Pelosi and Alexander from Left, Agrees Obama Must Be ‘Ruthless’

Quite a contrast in how ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas, taking her turn hosting This Week, approached House Speaker Nancy Pelosi versus Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, all before agreeing with Sam Donaldson when he urged President Obama to become “ruthless” to pass his health care reform bill since that’s what FDR and Truman “would have done.” She affirmed: “That's a good point.”

With Pelosi, she forwarded process questions about whether the Speaker has the votes to pass the health bill and whether it would have been “more helpful for you” if Obama had put up his proposal earlier, pressed the Speaker from the left on the size of the “jobs” bill and empathized with her struggles: “Are you frustrated so many bills have been stalled in the Senate? Almost 300 bills passed by the House that are sitting, languishing in the Senate?” Not to mention cuing her up: “How would you rate yourself in the past year?”

But with Alexander, the 20/20 anchor did not wonder if he’s “frustrated” by Obama’s intransigence as she challenged him to help pass the Democratic health bill, raised presumed Republican hypocrisy and rued the inability of Congress to pass “sweeping” legislation to provide “the changes we need in the country.” She demanded to know if Republicans will “play ball,” pressing: “Why not take what you consider to be an imperfect bill and at least attach some proposals that you support?” Raising GOP opposition to passing the health bill via “reconciliation” in the Senate, Vargas asked: “Why are you so opposed to this given the fact that Republicans have used reconciliation more often than the Democrats in the past?”

When Alexander argued Congress cannot pass such a huge bill all at once, a distressed Vargas countered: “But Congress has passed many historic and sweeping and comprehensive bills in the past. Medicare, the civil rights bill, the Americans with Disabilities Act. Are you saying that this Congress is uniquely incapable of doing something sweeping and massive and dramatic?” Alexander said yes, prompting Vargas to bemoan: “That's not good,” before she fretted: “How are we going to...empower Congress to be able to pass the sweeping kinds of changes that we need in the country?”

She wrapped up with Alexander by lamenting the conservative reaction to Senator Scott Brown’s actions:

When somebody like a Senator Scott Brown, for example, breaks ranks with Republicans and votes against a filibuster to get the jobs bill to the floor of the Senate, he gets on his Facebook page, you know, all sorts of angry postings calling him a “double-crosser,” a “sellout,” a “Judas.” What does that say about political environment right now?

Vargas, who anchored World News for several months after Peter Jennings died, at least did bring up with Pelosi the ethics issues swirling around Charles Rangel.

During the February 28 roundtable, the retired ABC News veteran Donaldson declared history is on the side of Obama, Pelosi and Reid: “This is the only chance in how many years to do this? And I think history will show that they were right if they get it done.”

(Flashback to This Week in December: “ABC's Roberts: People Will Be Thrilled by Health Bill Once They 'Understand' It, Hails Reid.”)

All of the questions aired from Vargas to Pelosi in the interview conducted on Friday in the Speaker’s Capitol building office:

- Madame Speaker, welcome back, again, to This Week. Let's talk health care. The President said, after the summit, “we cannot have another year of debate on this issue. We need decisions now.” You said on Friday, we are determined to pass health care. Do you have the 217 votes necessary to pass it in the House?

- So what are the fixes that the Senate needs to make in your opinion? Through reconciliation presumably before the House can vote on it?

- You know that the polls show that the American people are deeply divided on health care. Many of them are opposed to it, even though they are supporting certain specific pieces of it. What do you say to your members when it does come to the House to vote on this, who are in real fear of losing their seats in November if they support you now?

- Do you wish, though, that the President had posted his bill before this week? That six months ago it might have been more helpful for you, that maybe six months ago you knew that the public option was something he was willing to drop before you fought so hard for it?

- But would we still be debating this if the President had put his plan out six months ago?

- How long are you willing to wait for the ideas [from Republicans]? The President seemed to make it clear that time's up.

- But, the point is, when it does finally come to vote on it in the House, you're certain that you can muster the 217 votes that you need? Even with the differences over abortion language? There have been members of the House who voted in favor of it before, who are now saying we can't vote for this bill because of the Senate language on abortion.

- You mentioned jobs. Members of the House have already weighed in on the Senate jobs bill saying it's too small and does too little. The Congressional Black Caucus says it shouldn’t even be called a jobs bill. Should you agree to the smaller, incremental approach given that unemployment is the single biggest issue in this country right now?

- Is it okay to do it in that smaller, incremental way, not the big dramatic way the House proposed?

- The ethics committee, on Charles Rangel, said that he has violated the House gift rule. How can he remain in such a powerful position as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee when, in fact, there are further pending investigations and this public admonishment has taken place?

- If there are further admonishments, though, should he remain in this position?

- But you understand this is why so many Americans think Congress is corrupt. It just doesn't -- it doesn't look good. It doesn't pass the smell test.

- Let's talk a bit about the coming elections in November. You had recently -- and the Tea Party movement -- do you think it will be a force to reckon with? You had said last summer that it was a faux grass roots movement. You called it the “astroturf movement.” Is the Tea Party movement a force?

- So, common ground with Nancy Pelosi and the Tea Party movement?

- Finally, President Obama, when asked to rate his year in office, gave himself a B-plus. How would you rate yourself in the past year?

- Are you frustrated so many bills have been stalled in the Senate? Almost 300 bills passed by the House that are sitting, languishing in the Senate?

- Dare I ask you to grade the Senate?

- Madame Speaker, thank you for joining us.
Vargas, live to Alexander:
- We are joined now by the Republican point man at the health care summit, Senator Lamar Alexander. Senator, welcome to This Week. You just heard Speaker Pelosi and President Obama say, time is up, we’re not scrapping the plan, we’re not starting from scratch, this is it. Are you going to, are the Republicans going to, offer some amendments and play ball?

- But he has said he's not going to scrap the bill. He's moving forward, with or without you, so why not be part of the process? Why not take what you consider to be an imperfect bill and at least attach some proposals that you support?

- You had said, in your opening remarks at the health care summit, you quoted Senator Byrd when you called on the President to renounce using reconciliation to push the bill through the Senate with the simple majority vote, saying quote, “it would be an outrage to run the health care bill through the Senate like a freight train with this process.” Why are you so opposed to this given the fact that Republicans have used reconciliation more often than the Democrats in the past?

- Why political kamikaze [for the Democrats, as Alexander charged]? We know that Americans don’t support health care in general. But when you start drilling to the specifics, a lot of people do support some of those specifics.

- When you say political kamikaze, are you saying that if the Democrats push this through, they will lose all their seats in November? I mean, what are we talking about here?

- You also said in your remarks at the summit that Republicans have come to the conclusion that Congress quote “doesn't do comprehensive well. That our country is too big and too complicated for Washington.” But Congress has passed many historic and sweeping and comprehensive bills in the past. Medicare, the civil rights bill, the Americans with Disabilities Act. Are you saying that this Congress is uniquely incapable of doing something sweeping and massive and dramatic?
[Alexander: Well the answer is yes, in that sense.]
That's not good.

- So the country has changed or Congress has changed?

- Your colleague, Senator Evan Bayh, recently announced his resignation, basically throwing his hands up in disgust saying Congress is broken and I don't want to be a part of it anymore. He cited you as one of the few Republican Senators that he felt he that could find common ground with, work with, agree with. How are we going to fix Congress and empower Congress to be able to pass the sweeping kinds of changes that we need in the country with people like Evan Bayh just take their, go home, in essence, give up and go home?

- But very, very quickly, when somebody like a Senator Scott Brown, for example, breaks ranks with Republicans and votes against a filibuster to get the jobs bill to the floor of the Senate, he gets on his Facebook page, you know, all sorts of angry postings calling him a “double-crosser,” a “sellout,” a “Judas.” What does that say about political environment right now?

- Senator Lamar Alexander, thank you so much more joining us this morning on This Week.
From the roundtable:
SAM DONALDSON: What the Democrats have to do now is pass the bill. Put back the public option, since it’s their bill, and pass it...The President has to drop his George B. McClellan mask and become Ulysses Grant. Be ruthless. That’s what a Franklin Roosevelt would have done, that’s what Harry Truman would have done.

VARGAS: And Sam that's a good point, because Paul [Krugman] you've been arguing that the President should be more ruthless....

DONALDSON: This is the only chance in how many years to do this? And I think history will show that they were right if they get it done.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center