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On the June 14 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, while discussing the June 5 Republican presidential debate with Republican pollster Frank Luntz, co-host Sean Hannity claimed to be "frustrated" by purported differences between the Democratic and Republican debates: "The Democrats don't get the questions on partial-birth abortion or asked if they've read the National Intelligence Estimate [NIE]. It seems like the Republicans are getting more scrutiny." In fact, during an April 26 debate, the Democratic presidential candidates faced a question on the abortion procedure that critics call partial-birth abortion, and at a June 3 debate, several Democratic candidates were asked whether they regretted not reading the September 2002 NIE on the threat posed by Iraq. Indeed, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) response to the NIE question was specifically noted by Luntz during a June 4 appearance on Hannity & Colmes.
During the MSNBC-sponsored Democratic presidential debate on April 26, co-moderator and NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams asked former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC): "Our most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll indicated a majority of Americans approved of last week's Supreme Court decision to make so-called partial-birth or late-term abortions illegal. Most of the people on this stage put out statements and criticized the ruling. A lot of American families find this just a hideous topic for a discussion. Is this a case, do you think, of the Supreme Court and the public with opinions in one place, and yet a lot of elected officials in another?"
Williams later asked Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), "On this same topic, what about your view on the decision on partial-birth abortion and your reaction to most of the public agreeing with the court's holding?"
During the June 3 CNN-sponsored debate, moderator and CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer asked Clinton: "Do you regret voting to authorize the president to use force against Saddam Hussein in Iraq without actually reading the National Intelligence Estimate, the classified document laying out the best U.S. intelligence at that time?" He also asked Edwards, "You didn't read that National Intelligence Estimate either. Do you regret that?"
On June 4, Luntz appeared on Hannity and Colmes to discuss the Democratic debate and commented that the focus group he assembled for the event reacted negatively to "Hillary Clinton's attempted explanation of why she didn't read the intelligence report." He continued: "That one the Democrats thought was awful."
From the June 14 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
HANNITY: Let's look at [Sen.] Sam Brownback [R-KS]. We have a tape of him that you also have the dials on. Let's take a look.
BROWNBACK [video clip]: I don't remember that report. I had a number of briefings, and I held a number of committee hearings. At that time, I was chairing the Middle East Subcommittee on Foreign Relations, and we held hearings on this topic, and what was taking place, and what Saddam was doing, but the issue is, is that we've got to put forward now a political plan.
HANNITY: You know, but, what, six senators read the National Intelligence Estimate.
LUNTZ: Yes, but this is the most important estimate of this entire war. This is a document that the American people expect you to read.
HANNITY: But you know what I'm frustrated -- you know. I'm watching all these debates. The Democrats don't get the questions on partial-birth abortion or asked if they've read the National Intelligence Estimate. It seems like the Republicans are getting more scrutiny. Am I -- look at Alan, he's smirking.
COLMES: Oh, poor baby. Poor baby.
LUNTZ: I was going to say, this is not something I can control, but what's great about those dials is that it shows you, moment by moment, exactly how people are reacting.
From MSNBC's April 26 Democratic presidential debate:
WILLIAMS: We'll switch now to a section of questions on mostly domestic policy, and we'll begin with you, Senator Edwards, on the topic of abortion.
Our most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll indicated a majority of Americans approved of last week's Supreme Court decision to make so-called partial-birth or late-term abortions illegal.
Most of the people on this stage put out statements and criticized the ruling. A lot of American families find this just a hideous topic for a discussion. Is this a case, do you think, of the Supreme Court and the public with opinions in one place, and yet a lot of elected officials in another?
EDWARDS: No, I don't believe it is. I would say first that this decision by the Supreme Court is actually a perfect example of what's at stake in this election. The kind of people that will be appointed to the United States Supreme Court by the next president will control whether a woman's freedom, freedom to choose, make her own health care decisions will be made by her or will be made by the government or by some men sitting on the United States Supreme Court.
So I think it's really crucial for all voters who are listening to this debate, including here in South Carolina, to make a very hard decision about who's most likely to be strong in winning this election. Now, on the issue of abortion, I think -- I believe in a woman's right to choose, but I think this is an extraordinarily difficult issue for America.
And I think it is very important for the president of the United States to recognize, while I believe the government should not make these health care decisions for women -- I believe they should have the freedom to make them themselves -- this is a very difficult issue for many people. And I think we have to show respect for people who have different views about this.
WILLIAMS: Senator, thank you.
Senator Obama, on this same topic, what about your view on the decision on partial-birth abortion and your reaction to most of the public agreeing with the court's holding?
OBAMA: You know, I think that most Americans recognize that this is a profoundly difficult issue for the women and families who make these decisions. They don't make them casually. And I trust women to make these decisions in conjunction with their doctors and their families and their clergy. And I think that's where most Americans are.
Now, when you describe a specific procedure that accounts for less than 1 percent of the abortions that take place, then naturally, people get concerned, and I think legitimately so. But the broader issue here is: Do women have the right to make these profoundly difficult decisions? And I trust them to do it.
Now, there is a broader issue, though. And that is can we move past some of the debates around which we disagree and can we start talking about the things we do agree on? Reducing teen pregnancy, making it less likely for women to find themselves in the circumstances where they've got to anguish over these decisions. Those are areas where I think we can all start mobilizing and move forward rather than look backwards.
From CNN's June 3 Democratic presidential debate:
BLITZER: All right. Hold on, hold on. I want to bring Senator Clinton in. Senator Clinton, do you regret voting to authorize the president to use force against Saddam Hussein in Iraq without actually reading the National Intelligence Estimate, the classified document laying out the best U.S. intelligence at that time?
CLINTON: Wolf, I was thoroughly briefed. I knew all the arguments. I knew all of what the Defense Department, the CIA, the State Department were all saying, and I sought out dissenting opinions, as well as talking to people in previous administrations and outside experts.
You know, that was a sincere vote based on my assessment that sending inspectors back into Iraq to determine once and for all whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and using coercive diplomacy was not an unreasonable act.
What I did not count on, and what none of us did who voted to give the president authority, is that he had no intention to allow the inspectors to finish their job.
Now, we can argue about the past, or we can answer the question you asked about from the National Guard. Our troops did the job they were asked to do. They got rid of Saddam Hussein. They conducted the search for weapons of mass destruction. They gave the Iraqi people a chance for elections.
BLITZER: All right.
CLINTON: And to have a government. It is the Iraqis who have failed to take advantage of that opportunity.
BLITZER: So let me just be precise, because the question was: Do you regret not reading the National Intelligence Estimate?
CLINTON: I feel like I was totally briefed. I knew all of the arguments that were being made by everyone from all directions. National Intelligence Estimates have a consensus position, and then they have argumentation as to those people who don't agree with it. I thought the best way to find out who was right in the intelligence community was to send in the inspectors.
If George Bush had allowed the inspectors to finish the job they started, we would have known that Saddam Hussein did not have WMD and we would not have gone and invaded Iraq.
BLITZER: Senator Edwards, you didn't read that National Intelligence Estimate either. Do you regret that?
EDWARDS: No. Actually, I think that -- that I would agree with some of what Hillary just said. I think it's true that -- I was on the Intelligence Committee -- and I don't think Senator Clinton was, but I was on the Intelligence Committee. I received direct information from that. I met with former high-level people in the Clinton administration who gave me additional information, and I read the summary of the NIE.
I think I had the information I needed. I don't think that was the question. I think one difference we do have is I think I was wrong. I should never have voted for this war. And this goes to the issue that Senator Obama raised a few minutes ago. He deserves credit for being against this war from the beginning. He was right. I was wrong.
And I think it is important for anybody who seeks to be the next president of the United States, given the dishonesty that we've been faced with over the last several years, to be honest to the country. We have to -- we have to re-establish trust between the American people and the president.
BLITZER: All right.
EDWARDS: And that's going to require any of us who want to be president to be open and honest with the American people.
From the June 4 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
HANNITY: All right, I don't like this. Does that mean, every time I take a shot at Alan that --
COLMES: Which is like every other second.
HANNITY: -- the dials are going to go down? You know, I'm a little afraid of that. But in all seriousness, what's scary about that, though, Frank, is that what you're saying is, if you compare and contrast - here's Edwards says, "You guys didn't show leadership." And he's like, "Wait a minute, I'm the guy that didn't vote for this thing, you did," that that's perceived negatively.
LUNTZ: That was the second-lowest reaction, the second-worst reaction of the entire two hours. The only thing that was worse than that was Hillary Clinton's attempted explanation of why she didn't read the intelligence report. That one the Democrats thought was awful.
COLMES: We're going to -- by the way, only six senators read that report, the NIE, by the way.