ABC’s Sawyer Recycles John Edwards Gimmick During Hillary Interview

On Tuesday’s "Good Morning America," Diane Sawyer interviewed Hillary Clinton about health care and recycled campaign talking points that her fellow 2008 Democrat, John Edwards, has been peddling. According to Sawyer, upon his election, Edwards will "cut off health care for Congress so that they don't have health care while the rest of America doesn’t." The ABC anchor earnestly followed up by wondering, "Would you do that or is that a gimmick?" Clinton responded by observing the implausibility of the concept. She patiently explained to Sawyer that Edwards would "have to get Congress to vote for that, of course."

The Sawyer interview did contain some surprises, however. The GMA host featured two clips from the 2008 Republican hopefuls challenging Mrs. Clinton. But the eight minute and 19 second segment also continued GMA’s habit of offering generous amounts of time to the New York senator. In March, the ABC program featured Hillary for over 30 minutes during a town hall style infomercial. During Sawyer’s interview on Tuesday, she also asked Clinton emotional, softball queries. Over video of Clinton at a ‘93 health care event, the morning show host wondered, "What do you wish this woman we're looking at now on the screen had known then that you now know, since it went down in flames?"

As noted earlier, Sawyer did ask Clinton some tough questions. In addition to featuring clips of Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani expressing skepticism over universal health care, the GMA host began the segment by bluntly asking, "First of all, how would you enforce it and who is going to pay for it?" However, other pithy questions, such as querying, "Can you realistically keep [a universal health care plan] at $110 billion?" included no follow-up with additional questions about the difficulty of holding those numbers low with the government running such a program.

Finally, little moments during the piece tended to portray the proposal as bold. An onscreen ABC graphic read like a Clinton campaign slogan. It asserted, "Clinton Unveils Health Plan: New Century, New Plan"And Sawyer twice referred to the program as "headline-making."

A transcript of the segment, which aired at 7:10am on September 18, follows:

7:10:20am to 7:18:39 time: 8 minutes and 19 seconds

Diane Sawyer: "We turn now to the Democratic presidential race and candidate Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, her headline-making new $110 billion health care plan. Under the plan, everyone would be required to have health insurance, much as we're all required to have car insurance. You'd be allowed to keep your current insurance plan or, if you don't have it, you could also choose from two government programs, Medicare, or the plan that currently insures government employees and there would be extra help for people of low-income. But there’s a lot more to this headline-making proposal. Senator Clinton has laid down a marker on this issue and she joins us now live from Washington. Good morning, Senator Clinton."

Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY): "Good morning, Diane."

ABC Graphic: "Clinton Unveils Health Plan: New Century, New Plan"

Sawyer: "Let's get right to the question of insuring the 47 million people who do not have health care insurance. They wake up the morning after you're president and they're required to have it. First of all, how would you enforce it and who is going to pay for it?"

Clinton: "Well, first, Diane, I think it is important to recognize that our current system has a lot of strengths and we build on those strengths. Many people are satisfied with their health care and they get to keep what they have now with no changes. But for the 47 million who are uninsured and the millions more who are under insured, they will for the first time, through a combination of access to the same plans that members of Congress have, also through tax credits that will enable them to afford these plans and some tax credits for small businesses, which employ the majority of Americans, to make it affordable for anyone to have access to a quality health care plan. Now, we're also going to do a lot of things to get the costs down for everyone. I have been working for several years now to support an electronic medical records system, which it is estimated would save $77 billion a year. And we're going to require insurance companies to quit cherry-picking and skimming and they’re going to have to guarantee issue and start competing on cost and quality, instead of eliminating people from coverage."

Sawyer: "Okay, let's, let’s ask some questions from a couple angles, if we can now. The Republicans, as you know, were out in force saying, First of all, you've talked about increasing taxes on those who make more than $250,000 to pay for it, also reducing waste to pay for it. But they say, for instance, Medicare is already $16 trillion over what has been funded and it's going to cost a lot more than you say. And here are some of the Republicans."

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney: "It's a European-style socialized medicine plan. That's where it leads and that's the wrong direction for America."

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani: "This is essentially a Michael Moore/Hillary Clinton approach, which is let's see if we can build socialized medicine."

Sawyer: "Can you realistically keep it at $110 billion?"

Clinton: "Absolutely. And, you know, my question for my friends on the other side is, well, what is their answer for moving our country toward quality, affordable health care for everyone? Are they really going to tell the American people that we spend $2 trillion on health care now. We don't cover everybody. We don't get the best quality for everyone in the system, and we're going to let it continue to deteriorate until it finally undermines even people who think that they’re protected because they have good insurance? You know, this is not a problem that gets better by ignoring it. And I think that the plan I've put forward, the American Health Choices Plan, really does provide the right balance between individual responsibility, employer responsibility, drug and insurance company responsibility, as well as government responsibility."

Sawyer: "But you have–"

Clinton: "And if you look at the amount of money that we can save and redirect in the system, and everyone knows it's there, I think my plan is very fiscally responsible. "

Sawyer: "But you talk about those who already have health insurance. And, as we know, a lot of them are just staggering under the cost of the premiums, which keep going up."

Clinton: "That's right."

Sawyer: "Senator Edwards and others have talked about the fact that you are not going to be capping premiums. And he is particularly tough saying that you can't be talking to the lobbyists and having them as involved in the process as you do without, without paying a price for the people who are just paying more and more and more. Here is what Senator Edwards said."

Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards: "I don't believe you can sit down with lobbyists, take their money and cut a deal. The lesson that Senator Clinton seems to have learned from her experience with health care is, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I've learned a very different lesson from decades of fighting these powerful interests, which is you can never join them. You just have to beat them."

Sawyer: "What about putting a lid on the premiums they're allowed to charge?"

Clinton: "Well, I don't think he has had a chance to review my plan. In fact, it does do that. We have limit on premium indexed to a person's income as a percentage of income. So, in fact, we do put a limit. And I think that, if you look at the details of the plan, I believe that it is the most comprehensive, realistic approach toward achieving universal coverage. Obviously, I've had a lot of experience in tackling this issue. I've taken on all of these special interests for 15 years. I don't think I'm going to be nominated for the insurance woman of the year because I have been standing up to them for a very long time. But I also think that it's important to get the votes that are needed to pass a plan, and what I have proposed has all kinds of support and individual features from people on both sides of the aisle."

Sawyer: "Senator Edwards says he knows how to get those votes and that he is going to when he's President, after six months, if he doesn't get the vote, he's going to cut off health care for Congress so that they don't have health care while the rest of America doesn’t. Would you do that or is that a gimmick?"

Clinton: "Well, he'd have to get Congress to vote for that, of course. But I think the real issue is who has the best plan? Who has the experience and the commitment of a lifetime to health care? I've been working on this issue back in the days when I was First Lady of Arkansas, working to expand health care in rural areas and during my time as First Lady here, to help create the children's health insurance program, and to do a lot of what has really helped to relieve the pain and burden on people. But I'm absolutely convinced we have got to have a system that provides quality, affordable health care to everyone, and I think I've proposed an approach I believe could get us there."

Sawyer: "A quick, final question on that. You talk about the fact that we did see you in 1994 taking a lot of knocks for the health care attempt that you were making then. What do you wish this woman we're looking at now on the screen had known then that you now know since it went down in flames?"

Clinton: "Oh, Diane! We don't have enough time for me to tell you everything. But very quickly, obviously, I know much more about the way to get things done in Washington than I did when I first arrived back in 1993. I have had the unique experience of being on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and I understand both the institutional and the personal dynamics that are at play. I also understand how important it is to reassure Americans who have health insurance now. A lot of people thought we were only concerned about helping the uninsured and, you know, we're quite easily concerned about what might happen to them and I believe my plan today will help to take care of any concern like that. And finally, I've learned that it is important to keep trying. You know, I don't give up easily. I am someone who keeps coming back to try to get it right and make it happen, and I think my years of experience and certainly now my six and a half years as a two-term senator from New York has given me both an insight and really strengthened my commitment to make sure that, when I'm president, this is my highest domestic priority."

Sawyer: "Senator Clinton, again, thanks for joining us this morning."

Clinton: "Great to talk to you. And I'm still worried about all those men who don't wash their hands, Diane."


Sawyer: "You're going to put that on–"

Clinton: "That's going to be part of my health care plan after hearing from you all."

Sawyer: "Thanks again for being with us."

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the associate editor for the Media Research Center's site.