In a report on Sen. Bill Nelson's recent visit to Syria, Fox News' Bret Baier falsely suggested that "despite warnings and disapproval" from various administration officials, only Democratic lawmakers would defy the administration and meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He did not mention that Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican, is also reportedly expected to go to Syria.
On the December 13 edition of Fox News' Special Report, during a report on Sen. Bill Nelson's (D-FL) recent visit to Syria, Fox News chief White House correspondent Bret Baier falsely suggested that only Democrats would defy the administration and meet with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. "Nelson is the first in what could be a long line of Democratic lawmakers who travel to Damascus," Baier reported, specifically citing Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) as one of the Democratic lawmakers who "has already announced his intention to meet with Assad." Baier mentioned that various administration officials -- as well as "Nelson's Republican colleagues," including Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) -- were "clearly not pleased with Senator Nelson's effort." However, Baier did not mention, as several news reports have, that Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (PA) is also reportedly expected to visit Syria and meet with Assad.
For example, a December 14 Washington Post article reported: "The recommendation [of the Iraq Study Group that the United States open talks with Syria regarding Iraq] has begun a new wave of consultations with Damascus. Democratic senators John F. Kerry (Mass.) and Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) are tentatively scheduled to meet with Assad this month." A December 13 Associated Press report stated that Kerry, Dodd, and Specter are "[a]lso expected to visit Syria."
Indeed, National Public Radio national political correspondent Mara Liasson noted Specter's possible visit to Syria to meet with Assad while appearing on Special Report's "All-Star Panel," about 40 minutes after the end of Baier's report. "[L]ook," she told host and Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume, "there's some more senators who are expected to go over there, including Arlen Specter ... who's a Republican, and Christopher Dodd, who's a Democrat."
From the December 13 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
HUME: Welcome to Washington. I'm Brit Hume. In a direct affront to the Bush administration, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus today. The State Department and White House made no secret they had discouraged the visit, but Nelson went anyway. Chief White House correspondent Bret Baier reports.
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BAIER: Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus for more than an hour and later told reporters the Syrian leader, quote, "took note" of Nelson's concerns that Syria needs to help stabilize Iraq and neighboring Lebanon. Senior Bush administration officials charged that Syria has continued to fully support Hezbollah inside Lebanon and has helped create more chaos in Iraq.
At the White House, spokesman Tony Snow said the administration was clearly not pleased with Senator Nelson's effort.
TONY SNOW (White House press secretary): It is a real stretch to think that the Syrians don't know where we stand or what we think. We don't think that members of Congress ought to be going there.
BAIER: Nelson's Republican colleagues also chimed in.
KYL: Each team has one quarterback. We elect a president to be our spokesman with foreign countries, and he does speak through the State Department and, certainly, elected senators are not supposed to be part of that diplomatic team.
BAIER: Senator Nelson is the first in what could be a long line of Democratic lawmakers who travel to Damascus. Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd has already announced his intention to meet with Assad, despite warnings and disapproval from the State Department and the White House. Meeting directly with Syria and Iran about Iraq is one of the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group.
Senior administration officials have been openly skeptical that any talks would be successful.
The Baker-Hamilton Commission also did not recommend adding more troops to Iraq, but senior aides tell Fox that's what President Bush talked about with top officials and commanders at the Pentagon this afternoon.
LIASSON: He's [Nelson] saying that there was a crack open to negotiate and that he obviously agreed with the Iraq Study Group.
HUME: Then who -- and who will do that negotiating?
LIASSON: Well, the administration would have to do the negotiating. He's not negotiating.
HUME: So, he's doing -- so, notably, he was going -- so, it was a diplomatic mission?
LIASSON: Well, no, I think it was a fact-finding mission for him. He doesn't speak for the administration. He wasn't negotiating anything. It's his view that they should negotiate and, look, there's some more senators who are expected to go over there, including Arlen Specter --
HUME: Yeah, that's right -- Arlen Specter. Dodd.
LIASSON: -- who's a Republican, and Christopher Dodd, who's a Democrat.