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updated 7/13/2008 12:53:05 PM ET 2008-07-13T16:53:05

MR. TOM BROKAW: Our issues this Sunday: The faltering economy tops the debate in the presidential campaign as a key economic adviser to Senator McCain says it's only a mental recession.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): I guess what he meant was that it's a figment of your imagination, these high gas prices.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ): Phil Gramm does not speak for me. I speak for me. So I strongly disagree.

MR. BROKAW: The campaigns square off. Our guest for John McCain, RNC Victory 2008 chair and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. And for Barack Obama, his campaign's national co-chair, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Then, Obama responds to Jesse Jackson's critical comments and moves closer to the political center, while McCain courts Latinos in a new ad and tries to regain his footing on the economy.

And both sides continue the hunt for a vice presidential candidate. Insights and analysis on all of this from our political roundtable: NBC News political analyst and former Democratic congressman from Tennessee Harold Ford Jr., NBC News political analyst who worked for McCain's 2000 presidential campaign Mike Murphy, and NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell.

And in our "Meet the Press Minute," we remember former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, who died yesterday at the age of 53.

But first here this morning, we're joined by the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and now a top adviser to Senator John McCain, Carly Fiorina; and the national co-chair of the Obama campaign, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Welcome to both of you. As I don't need to tell you, this campaign is running at full octane seven days a week, 24 hours a day. The most explosive comments, I think it's fair to say, Ms. Fiorina, came this past week from Phil Gramm, a principal economic adviser to Senator McCain, when he had this to say about what he says is the real state of the American economy: "You've heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession. ... We may have a recession; we haven't had one yet. ... You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of our competitiveness, America in decline. We have never been" in a "more dominant" position, "we've never had more natural advantages than we have today. We've ... become a nation of whiners." Well, not surprisingly, Senator Obama had an immediate response to that, and this is what he had to say to Senator Gramm's characterization.

(Videotape)

SEN. OBAMA: This economic downturn is not in your head. When people are out there losing their homes and property values are declining, that's not a figment of your imagination.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW: And, at the same time, Senator McCain had this response to his friend Phil Gramm and economic adviser.

(Videotape)

SEN. McCAIN: I don't agree with Senator Gramm. I believe that the, that the person here in Michigan that just lost his job isn't suffering from a mental recession. Phil Gramm does not speak for me. I speak for me. So I strongly disagree.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW: Ms. Fiorina, what is the status of Senator Gramm in the campaign of Senator John McCain this morning?

MS. CARLY FIORINA: Well, John McCain, after making the statement that you just played, was asked directly whether Senator Gramm would have a position in his Cabinet, and his response was, "Well, perhaps he'd make a good ambassador to Belarus, but I'm not sure the citizens of Minsk would welcome him." I think John McCain's been real clear that Phil Gramm wasn't speaking for him and, in fact, John McCain has said now for many months that he believes the economy is in a recession. It's clear Americans are hurting. It's--they're hurting when they fill up their car with gas; they're hurting when they go to the grocery store.

MR. BROKAW: But the question is will Senator Gramm continue to have a role in the campaign? Will he be listed on the letterhead and will he be in the meetings in which they discuss the economy?

MS. FIORINA: I don't think Senator Gramm will any longer be speaking for John McCain, and I think John McCain was crystal clear about that this week. And I think...

MR. BROKAW: But he...

MS. FIORINA: ...by the way, outside of Washington, where this is an interesting parlor game, I think most Americans are not really focused on what a bunch of surrogates are saying. They're focused on what the candidates are saying. I was in town hall meetings with John McCain all week. Not one question about Phil Gramm. Not one question.

MR. BROKAW: Well, with all due respect, we have you here as surrogates, and we hope that America is paying attention to what you have to say because the campaign is on a broad front.

But let me just play for you what Senator McCain had to say on this broadcast earlier this year in January about the economy vis-a-vis terrorism as an issue when he was questioned by my dear friend, the late Tim Russert.

(Videotape)

SEN. McCAIN: I believe that most Republicans' first priority is the threat of radical Islamic extremism. Now, I know the concerns about the...

MR. TIM RUSSERT: More than the economy.

SEN. McCAIN: More than the economy at the end of the day. We'll get the through this, the economy. We're going to restore our economy in many of the measures we're taking right now, although it's very difficult now. This transcendent challenge of radical Islamic extremism will be with us for the 21st Century.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW: So have the priorities changed in the McCain campaign from radical Islamic terrorism to the economy as the number one issue?

MS. FIORINA: I think John McCain has also been very clear that the economy is struggling, that people are hurting, and that he, as president, has a plan to get the economy growing again and to create jobs. But he believes...

MR. BROKAW: More important to him, more important to him now.

MS. FIORINA: But he believes, as I think all Democrats believe as well, that the first and most important priority of the federal government is to protect its citizens. I think that's what he was talking about. But it's also clear that government has a role in helping to create jobs and get the economy growing again, and that's why John McCain spent all week talking about the economy this week in this way.

MR. BROKAW: But in January of this year he did not anticipate that the economy would worsen as quickly as it has.

MS. FIORINA: I don't think anyone expected that it would worsen as quickly as it has. In fact, if you go back and look at the surveys of economists and what they predicted in terms a recession, you would see the number of economists who thought we would be in a recession in January was materially lower than the number of economists who think we will have a recession today. So no one predicted the economy would worsen as quickly as it has. The facts are, however, that in April John McCain also came out and said Americans are hurting, and that's why he proposed relief from gas taxes, which would create instant relief in America's pockets. That was way back in April. So I think he's understood the economy's an important issue for some time now.

MR. BROKAW: We're going to get to you in a moment here, Senator McCaskill. Both campaigns have had difficulty this past week with accusations of flip-flopping. Let me begin with Ms. Fiorina.

You said that your candidate, John McCain, he's a man that the American people understands, that he walks the talk. But let me just share with you what I think could be a Democratic ad come this fall. The ad will begin, "Oh really?" after quoting you. "Here's a man who voted against the Bush tax cuts. Now he wants to make them permanent. Here's a man who is worried about global warming, now he wants to give American motorists a gas tax holiday so they can drive even more during the summer months. Here's a man who called Phil Gramm a trusted economic adviser, had him on the bus and in pictures with him. Now he disowns him. Here's a man who said he really wasn't up to speed on the issue of whether birth control should be covered by insurance policies; in fact, he voted against it."

MS. FIORINA: Let me start by saying that Senator McCain, at the time of the Bush tax cuts, proposed his own tax cuts which would provide even greater relief to the middle class. The principal reason that he voted against the Bush tax cuts is because they were not accompanied by fiscal restraint, and he said at the time that we would be growing our federal budget deficit. Which, in fact, we did. Federal spending has increased by 60 percent over the last seven years, and he believes government has to get its house in order. He also has said that he would double the exemption for dependents from $3500 to $7,000, that he would phase out the alternative minimum tax. With all due respect to advisers, it was also Senator Barack Obama who disowned his own pastor of 20 years. So there are times when people have to make clear their own positions vs. the positions of others, and John McCain did so with respect to Phil Gramm.

MR. BROKAW: Senator McCaskill, your own candidate has had his own difficulties this past week in explaining his positions, sometimes in the same day. Let's begin with a well-known, now, sound bite about what he would do in Iraq. He's planning a trip there. This is what he had to say two weeks ago in Fargo, North Dakota, something that you supported in the same day in Kansas City. Here's Senator Obama talking about his plans for Iraq.

(Videotape, July 3, 2008)

SEN. OBAMA: I've always said that I would listen to commanders on the ground. I've always said that the pace of withdrawal would be dictated by the safety and security of our troops and the need to maintain stability. That assessment has not changed, and when I go to Iraq and I have a chance to talk to some of the commanders on the ground, I'm sure I'll have more information and will continue to refine my policies.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW: And later that same day, as you know, Senator Obama called the press together again because he wanted to clarify, as he put it, his earlier remarks. Here's what he had to say at that time.

(Videotape)

SEN. OBAMA: I intend to end this war my first day in office. I will bring the Joint Chiefs of Staff in and I will give them a new mission, and that is to end this war responsibly, deliberately, but decisively. And I have seen no information that contradicts the notion that we can bring our troops out safely at a pace of one to two brigades per month, and again, that pace translates into having our, our combat troops out in 16 months' time.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW: That confused even some of his most ardent supporters. If he goes to Iraq, and commanders on the ground, to whom he says he will listen, say, "Look, we could use 20 months, or maybe even 24 months," will he stick to his 16-month timetable in calling the Joint Chiefs in the day after he's inaugurated?

SEN. CLAIRE McCASKILL (D-MO): Listen, there is nothing inconsistent about Barack Obama's position on Iraq. From the very beginning of this campaign, he has said very clearly his mindset is we must get out as carefully and as quickly as possible. There is nothing that he has said that contradicts that. Part of getting out carefully and quickly is listening to commanders on the ground. No commander in chief would ever say, "I'm not going to listen to the guys on the ground." And that's all he said is he's going to listen in terms of how we get out. But the mindsets are very different here. You have Barack Obama saying we simply cannot afford, either from a position of national security or our economy, to keep borrowing $10 billion dollars a month from China to be mired in this civil conflict in Iraq, whereas John McCain's position, his mindset is very clear, "We're going to stay, and we're not going to change in terms of our position in Iraq." So we have two different mindsets, and I think most Americans understand that.

MR. BROKAW: But, let me be clear about this, he says he'll listen to commanders on the ground. He's going there. But before he goes there, he says, "The day after I'm inaugurated, I'll have Joint Chiefs in the office with instructions to get them out in 16 months."

SEN. McCASKILL: But...

MR. BROKAW: So the real question is why even go if you know that you want to do that in advance?

SEN. McCASKILL: Well, of course. He, he has a goal of 16 months, but obviously, the most important thing in getting out...

MR. BROKAW: But that could stretch.

SEN. McCASKILL: ...is to do it carefully. It--I mean, obviously, a goal is a goal, and he's been very clear that that's a goal. He's been very clear that he wants to be careful and reasonable about the way--in fact, his phrase is, "I want to be the opposite of what we were when we went in. We were reckless and careless when we went in. We didn't plan." And by the way, there is--talk about a shifting position, I mean, John McCain used to be very positive about George Bush's leadership in Iraq.

MR. BROKAW: Mm-hmm.

SEN. McCASKILL: As he gets closer to this presidential election, he was not as positive. And, and I hope we have a chance to transition back to the economy for a minute...

MR. BROKAW: We will.

SEN. McCASKILL: ...because there's a very clear difference between the two economic plans. One represents change and one doesn't.

MR. BROKAW: But for--just so that we can clarify, the 16 months is his goal, not a promise to the American people?

SEN. McCASKILL: Sixteen months is his goal. It would be irresponsible for a commander in chief to set in stone a date. But he believes, based on the best of military advice that he has gotten, that one to two brigades a month is reasonable. And I believe that that is his commitment to the American people, and he will keep that commitment to the American people.

MR. BROKAW: Let's begin now with the economy and the federal budget. Both campaigns have different views of what they can do in the next four years and in the next eight years. To go back to Senator McCain for just a moment...

MS. FIORINA: Mm-hmm.

MR. BROKAW: First he said he could balance the federal budget within four years, and then he said no, it'll take eight years. Now he's back to four years again. If you were the CEO of Hewlett-Packard again and you were talking to Wall Street analysts and you would say, "I'm going to cut taxes. I'm going to continue to have wars in two countries. We have a housing crisis that we're probably going to have to bail out. We have a $410 billion deficit. We have entitlement costs that now represent 53 percent of our federal budget that are going up every year. But I can balance the budget," you'd be hooted off the phone, and they'd put a big sell sign on Hewlett-Packard the next morning, wouldn't they?

MS. FIORINA: Actually, I don't think so. And, as a business person, I do pay attention to the numbers, and there is a plan to balance the budget by 2013. It begins with the most important component, which is that we have to get this economy growing again. Not growing as quickly as it was, for example, during the boom years, although that would be terrific. But our assumptions are quite conservative, and that is that we can get the economy growing at somewhere between 2 and 3 percent. That's not huge. But we are going to get the economy growing again by creating the right kind of environment for job creation. That includes, by the way, not raising taxes on middle income, as Barack Obama would do; on small business, as Barack Obama would do. It means that we would not resort to isolationism, as Barack Obama would do. It also involves getting federal spending under control. As a business person, I know that when you have spending increase by 60 percent in seven years, you have a lot of opportunity for cutting spending.

And finally, it involves making sure that, as we bring troops out of Iraq, which John McCain is also committed to do--however, unlike Barack Obama, he actually has spoken to generals on the ground, he has met with General Petraeus, he has traveled to the region eight times. And so when he says that all of the savings from bringing troops home will be applied to the reduction of the federal budget deficit, he actually does know what he's talking about. So, yes, the numbers do add. We have to get the economy growing, we have to reduce and get under control out of control federal spending, and we have to use the savings from troop reductions in Iraq to lower the federal budget deficit.

MR. BROKAW: And, Senator McCaskill, independent analysts who have looked at Senator Obama's plan for the next eight years, as he extends it out, say, "The problem ... is that the Democrats have been very critical of President Bush for spending hundreds of billions of dollars on the war without paying for it and running up the deficit. ... But in effect what Obama is saying is, `I'm going to spend the same amount of money. I'm just going to spend it on something else.'" Other analysts have said, when they look at his plan, his revenues are about half of what he is going to need, because he's not going to be able to pay for all the things that he's promised the American people.

SEN. McCASKILL: Well, first of all, he has ways to pay for what he is promising. And it is much different than John McCain's economic plan. Barack Obama will not raise taxes on anyone whose incomes are under $250,000. Now, what he is going to do, he's going to take the very thinnest sliver at the top, and he's going to say to that thin sliver at the top, "We're going to put you back at a tax rate that happened before George Bush. We're going to put you back at that"--for like 2 percent of the country. The rest of the country, 95 percent of the working people in America, are going to get a tax cut from Barack Obama. You know, John McCain's tax cuts are not for middle America. John McCain's economic policy was drafted in a corporate boardroom. Barack Obama's economic policy was drafted at a kitchen table. It is about the families in America that are hurting. It's about a square deal for the workers. You know, Tom, in our country right now the average CEO of a, of a corporation makes 400 times the average worker's salary. In Japan they make 10 times. Now, this is a country we're competing with. This is a country we're borrowing money from.

MR. BROKAW: Are you suggesting that Senator Obama can do something about corporate pay?

SEN. McCASKILL: I, I, I believe he has proposals about making shareholders approve it. But most importantly what he's saying is we've got to quit doing this divide between the mega wealthy. We got to quit drafting economic policies that are all about the mega wealthy and instead get back to making college more affordable, no more taxes for seniors that make less than $50,000, and, in fact, being responsible about that. If anybody believes that John McCain can balance the budget on his plan right now, I've got a meeting they need to have with the tooth fairy. There is no way. Because he is counting the money from not fighting the war in Iraq, but yet he's saying we're going to stay in Iraq.

MR. BROKAW: But Senator Obama, balancing the budget is not a high priority for him. He's prepared to live with the deficits for the first four years of his term. And if he gets a second term, for another eight years, if necessary?

SEN. McCASKILL: Well, he is going to be responsible. I mean, just look at this week. I don't know how John McCain would have voted on fixing Medicare, because he didn't come to vote. Barack Obama did. And the statement he gave kind of took both sides. Well, there was part of it he liked and part of it he didn't like. The part that he didn't like was a modest hit on private insurance companies that made $15 billion last year on the backs of taxpayers. I mean, if you cannot stand up for a modest hit--they made 15 billion last year, taxpayer subsidized. John McCain's tax cuts include 1.2 billion for ExxonMobil. Give me a break. I...

MR. BROKAW: Where, where, where's Senator Obama going to cut spending?

SEN. McCASKILL: Well, he's going to--obviously going to have to cut spending when it--in, in some ways, in, in the defense, in terms of the war in Iraq. Now, he wants to use some of that...

MR. BROKAW: Well, wait a minute, cutting spending--almost every military analyst of whatever political stripe says however this war ends, there are repair jobs to be done...

SEN. McCASKILL: There are repair jobs. And there's no...

MR. BROKAW: ...to be done on the equipment, and you've got to...

SEN. McCASKILL: ...question that some of it...

MR. BROKAW: ...you've got to restore the American military because it's been worn out in so many ways.

SEN. McCASKILL: Some of the war dividend that we will get will go back right into the military, and Barack Obama has proposed that. But he will, in fact--and, and it was interesting that Carly referred to the boom years. That's when we had a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress. Those were the boom years. And that's the, the years we want to get back to, where we can, in fact, have responsible economic policies that are fair to the middle class, give a square deal to workers, and get us back in a competitive mode by getting all our kids in college.

MS. FIORINA: Tom, since, since budgets are about numbers, let me just throw a few numbers out, if I can. The numbers in Barack Obama's plan just don't add. You cannot possibly pay for over $300 billion in government-mandated programs, which is what he has proposed thus far, and cut taxes on 95 percent of the American people at the same time. The numbers simply don't add. He has said on many occasions that he would pay for his health mandate, for example, which costs between 50 and $65 billion, by raising the capital gains tax rate on Americans $100 million. The reality is, because Obama's words have been, frankly, all over the map in terms of his economic plan, you have to go back to his record. And his record is that he has voted to increase taxes 94 times in his short time in the U.S. Senate. Barack Obama...

MR. BROKAW: In fairness, in fairness...

MS. FIORINA: ...will raise your taxes.

MR. BROKAW: ...economic analysts who are looking at both of these plans say that they don't add up; that you, in fact, can't balance the budget in four years, that, in fact, you cannot get the revenues that you say you can.

MS. FIORINA: Actually, there are a set of...

MR. BROKAW: Both of these candidates began by running by saying that they...

MS. FIORINA: ...economists who believe we can balance the budget in four years.

SEN. McCASKILL: Those are the same economists that don't approve of the gas tax.

MR. BROKAW: Let me ask you about the...

MS. FIORINA: The American people approve of the gas tax holiday. The majority of American people approve of it.

MR. BROKAW: But, but this was the senator who said that he was going to, you know, be different, that he was not going to cave in to whatever was seasonable or might have been...

MS. FIORINA: Actually, I think it was Barack Obama who said he was going to be different. I think what John McCain has is a very long record of standing up to special interests wherever they are, corporate and government. And just as a, a point of correction, John McCain stood up against George Bush and Don Rumsfeld in the prosecution of the Iraq war for many years and took a lot of heat from his own party for it. John McCain has demonstrated...

MR. BROKAW: But he's also the same senator who said that...

MS. FIORINA: ...not by his talk, but by his walk.

MR. BROKAW: ...we may have to be there a hundred years, right?

MS. FIORINA: What he said was that we might have a military presence for a long time, as we do in Japan, as we do in Korea, as we do...

MR. BROKAW: Does he continue to stand by that?

MS. FIORINA: ...in Germany. I think we have--will have a military presence in the Middle East region for a long time.

MR. BROKAW: For a hundred years?

MS. FIORINA: I think there--we've had a military presence in Japan for 60-plus years. No one objects to it. It is part of our ability to protect our interests and to provide stability. But to say that John McCain was aligned with President Bush on the prosecution of the war in Iraq is to change history. And to say that Barack Obama can pay for his plan and still lower taxes on 95 percent of the American people is to ignore the reality of numbers. I'm a business person, I can't do that.

SEN. McCASKILL: Ironically...

MR. BROKAW: Senator McCaskill.

SEN. McCASKILL: Ironically, if you, if you look at the tax plans by these two candidates, you can, in fact, bring down the deficit by giving tax cuts to most of America, as long as you make...

MS. FIORINA: I certainly agree with that.

SEN. McCASKILL: ...as long as you make a very thin sliver pay more. We have done a lot for the hedge fund managers, we've done a lot for corporate CEOs in the last eight years. And you know what, it hasn't turned out so well. We've lost almost a half a billion, half a, half a billion--half a million jobs since January; 428,000 jobs since January. And it, it--and in January, John McCain was saying nice things about the economy, so...

MS. FIORINA: That is not true.

SEN. McCASKILL: It is, it, it is true.

MS. FIORINA: By the way...

SEN. McCASKILL: He did say--he said, "This economy's in pretty good shape."

MR. BROKAW: He said, he said, he said it would take care of itself, Ms. Fiorina. We just, we just showed that. He said, the--"We'll work our way through the economy at this time."

MS. FIORINA: Oh, Tom. Look.

MR. BROKAW: Let me, let me just prove...

MS. FIORINA: I've been around long enough to know that you can make a sound bite say anything you want. The reality is that John McCain has been saying for months and months and months...

MR. BROKAW: Well, we didn't make that up.

MS. FIORINA: ...that Americans are hurting. And by the way, he has also said that every American that loses his or her job is a problem. But interestingly, at the same time that the American economy has shed 428,000 jobs, Senator is absolutely right, the one place in the economy that's working is small business; 233,000 jobs were produced by small businesses. And that's why it's critically important that we not raise taxes on small businesses, that we not raise taxes on the American people. If you look at John McCain's record vs. Barack Obama's record, John McCain will cut taxes on the American people in business, and Senator Barack Obama will raise them.

MR. BROKAW: Let me quickly move to a couple of other issues that are of great importance to the American people in the closing moments that we have.

Today, your senator is speaking by satellite to the American Federation of Teachers. The No Child Left Behind Act, which has been controversial for a variety of reasons, now there's a bipartisan effort within the House to remove the accountability section in which you have a national standard by which all schools can be measured. Just yesterday I heard Bill Gates, who's deeply involved in education reform in this country, say, "No Child Left Behind has not been perfect, but it has been phenomenal for two reasons. It's pointed out that education in America desperately needs reform, and that accountability is an important part of that." Does Senator Obama support the idea of keeping accountability as part of No Child Left Behind?

SEN. McCASKILL: Absolutely, but we can do accountability in different ways. What we have done with No Child Left Behind is squeeze the creativity out of the classroom because teachers have begun to just teaching to the test. We need to measure progress and reward progress, not hit some one number that one size fits all, but as long as we keep accountability in there, by forcing people to measure progress and judging them, and saying, "If you do better, good for you. If you do worse, you've got a problem." But that's not what we're doing with No Child Left Behind. What we have done is we have said one size fits all, so we need to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, but we need to change it so that we get accountability through progress rather than one standard number for everybody.

MR. BROKAW: Senator McCaskill, I've talked to a number of educational reformers across the country, some of them card-carrying Democrats, self-described. They all say, quietly because they're afraid to do it publicly, the Democratic Party has to break its bonds with the teachers' union in this country. It can't move forward as long as the teachers continue to have, effectively, veto power over educational policy.

SEN. McCASKILL: Well, I don't think that the teachers do have veto power. I would...

MR. BROKAW: Do you think they have too much power?

SEN. McCASKILL: I don't. I think what Barack Obama is about--I've watched him do it on ethics reform. I've watched him, watched him do it a number of times in the Senate. What Barack Obama will do is, obviously, he's going to listen to the teachers in the classroom, but he also understands that we have an obligation, a moral obligation, to be able to teach our kids. It is very important in terms of all the globalization talk. Really, we're going to be left behind, and that's why his, his help for college kids, saying to college kids, "We're going to help you with your college education, but you've got to give back. You've got to take responsibility for your country, and you've got to work for your community as a result of getting help with your college education." That's the kind of policies that he's going to be about, and about a cooperative venture with the teachers and with parents and with educational systems, and local control across this country.

MR. BROKAW: Ms. Fiorina, you have been openly supportive of Senator Hillary Clinton and the kind of campaign that she ran. You understood, as a woman, the kinds of challenges that you--you said that you admired her, the way that she ran the campaign.

MS. FIORINA: I did.

MR. BROKAW: If Senator McCain gets elected, will there be a place in his government for Senator Hillary Clinton?

MS. FIORINA: I, I certainly don't know. That's up to John McCain...

MR. BROKAW: Would you recommend it?

MS. FIORINA: ...I know that he admires and respects her. It's not my business to recommend people for John McCain's Cabinet. But let me just say, if I may. I do have admiration and respect for Hillary Clinton. I know that John McCain does as well. I have empathy for what she went through. But let me just end on a note of bipartisan agreement, if I may. I absolutely agree that one size does not fit all in the subject of education, and that is why John McCain supports choice and competition, giving parents the choice as to how to best educate their children. He believes that No Child Left Behind was an imperfect piece of legislation. Nevertheless, there are things about it that have worked. We need to learn the lessons, fix the problems, fully fund it, and continue to focus on the education of our children as well as the education and training of our displaced workers. But he absolutely believes that we must give parents a choice as to how they best educate their children as opposed to a government mandate that says one size will fit all, which is what, from what I can tell, Barack Obama's education plan is.

SEN. McCASKILL: It's not one size fits all. It's, it's about making sure we don't undermine public education. We are who we are as a nation because we figured out how to educate our kids with public money, public education. The rest of the world has admired us from the days that we became a country, and we cannot turn our back on public education. And sometimes the word choice is code for making sure that we can skim the cream off the top into private schools and leave public schools flailing and, and in desperate need of help. And so we've got to make sure that our commitment is to our public education system.

MR. BROKAW: Will...

MS. FIORINA: There is no question the public education system has to continue to be funded and fixed.

MR. BROKAW: Will we see either one of you on the ticket as a vice presidential candidate?

MS. FIORINA: Well, that's up to John McCain and Barack Obama.

MR. BROKAW: Sounds like you'd like to accept it if it were offered.

MS. FIORINA: You know, I am doing this because I think this is a very important election. I think the two candidates...

MR. BROKAW: That's not the question is. The question is would you accept it if you were offered?

MS. FIORINA: I don't deal in hypotheticals. I think there are many, many people who would be honored to serve the country and John McCain. I am certainly among them. But he will have a long list of qualified people that he can call upon. I'm doing this because I think this election matters. I'm doing this because I think the choices are stark and clear between these two candidates. I'm doing this because I think John McCain will make a wonderful president of the United States.

MR. BROKAW: Senator McCaskill, you come from the battleground state of Missouri. You're a popular first-term senator. And Senator Obama does need help with women of a certain age. After the campaign...

SEN. McCASKILL: I think you just said I was old.

MR. BROKAW: Would you like to be his vice presidential candidate?

SEN. McCASKILL: You know, I'm, I'm going to be very honest. I am extremely honored to even be mentioned.

MR. BROKAW: Are you being vetted?

SEN. McCASKILL: You know, I have no idea as to what Barack Obama's doing in regards to vice president. But I'll tell you what, this is a popular parlor game, especially around these parts. If I were a betting person, I wouldn't bet on me.

MR. BROKAW: But have you been asked to give up certain documents? Have you been interviewed...

SEN. McCASKILL: I'm not going to discuss about the process, because the campaign, frankly, has asked us not to. I think that Barack Obama is going to--I trust his judgment. He's got--he's a very wise man and he has great judgment. He will find the right partner to change America, and that's what he's got to focus on.

MR. BROKAW: Thank you both for being here.

MS. FIORINA: Thank you.

MR. BROKAW: We think that this is a historic MEET THE PRESS moment, the first time that we've had two women who are acting as surrogates for the two national campaigns. And...

SEN. McCASKILL: Well, it's been great.

MS. FIORINA: It's been great.

SEN. McCASKILL: Yeah.

MR. BROKAW: And, and we hope to see you again along the way.

SEN. McCASKILL: Thank you.

MS. FIORINA: Thanks, Tom.

MR. BROKAW: Thank you very much Senator McCaskill, Carly Fiorina.

Coming up next, our political roundtable puts a busy week into perspective, Harold Ford, Mike Murphy and Andrea Mitchell. And our "Meet the Press Minute," remembering former White House Press Secretary, the elegant, Tony Snow.

(Announcements)

MR. BROKAW: Our political roundtable after this brief station break.

(Announcements)

MR. BROKAW: We're back, and I'm joined now by our political roundtable of three friends.

Welcome, Mike Murphy, first of all, to the NBC News team as an analyst this year.

MR. MIKE MURPHY: Thank you.

MR. BROKAW: We all came to know you, of course, in 2000 when you were an instrumental part of John McCain's roaring success in New Hampshire and the Straight Talk Express.

Harold Ford, familiar figure to us now, former congressman from Tennessee, a Democrat. And my longtime friend Andrea Mitchell.

Great to have you all here. Let me just share with you, if I can, a, a Newsweek poll that's out this week. General election, Senator Obama, 44 percent; Senator McCain, 41 percent.

Both sides are saying their candidates are flip-flopping at this time, and Senator Obama is particularly getting a lot of attention on that count, Senator--Congressman Ford, on campaign finance, public financing. He said he was for the D.C. gun ban, then he endorsed the Supreme Court decision on it. He also voted to, to give immunity to the telecoms that were participating in the wireless wiretaps and the warrantless wiretaps, and he wants to expand aid to faith-based organizations. Is he moving smartly to the center, and is that a good idea?

FMR. REP. HAROLD FORD Jr.: First off, I support him on all of those, on all of those fronts. Primaries, as we all know, are fought on about 30 to 40 yards of a football field, each side. General elections are played on the entire field. What Senator Obama is doing, I think in a lot of ways, has been consistent with what he's done throughout his political career. I think he was labeled and probably put in a box during the primary, which often candidates are, as being probably more to the left than he really is. I think what we're seeing now is the kind of president, the kind of leader and the kind of decision maker he will be.

I fully embrace his positions on faith. I think it's important for any president, any person running for public office, high office, to lay out how their faith may influence, may impact, decision-making. More important, I think the specifics, where he called for direct and personal responsibility on behalf of many Americans, particularly young African-American men and even older African-American men, I embrace what he's done here, and I think the majority of the country across party, across region and across race will do the same.

MR. BROKAW: Did he have to move to the center, Mike?

MR. MURPHY: I think he did. But the question is how fast and artfully he does it. I mean, every candidate does this. You run to the base in the primary and then you get to the center. The question is do you race for the center so quick that people begin to think that you can slide under a closed door? Then it becomes kind of a character issue on where do you stand. So I think, I think that's up in the air right now. I think in some ways what Barack has done, he's getting closer to John McCain on the issues. It's almost an endorsement. The, the issue will be, do the American people think it's too fast too far and they start questioning what Barack what really believes in, or do they think, "Oh, it's appropriate, and frankly he's getting closer to my more centrist general election voter position on the issues." I think here in July, not figured out yet.

And I have one comment about the polls, because I've been in the campaign business a long time. I've learned, when watching national polls--I mean, this Newsweek poll, I didn't believe it when it was 15 points, I don't believe it dead even. No national poll really, in my view, anyway, really means a lot till after the conventions, the vice president and the two speeches, after Labor Day when things really get going. Because we're still in the early silly season of this.

MR. BROKAW: Well, my other take on the polls is that to do it in the large universe, especially at this time, really doesn't count. After the conventions, after the campaign begins, and then state by state, because we're really looking at the electoral map here, Andrea.

MS. ANDREA MITCHELL: Exactly. And I agree with you guys on the polls. I think that what Peter Hart and Neil Newhouse, who do the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, have been finding, and what Peter's been finding with focus groups, is that people really are not certain, that there's a lot of biography that needs to be filled in. Barack Obama will have the money to fill in that biography, but that he does have some problems. And one problem he has in moving to the center and perhaps not doing it as artfully as he might have, is the net roots, the left wing of the party, the liberal wing of the party. If it becomes a character issue, they will be much less passionate. The young voters who've been mobilized may not turn out. He has to tap into that enthusiasm. And already 22,000 people were utilizing his own Web site to complain about that vote on wiretapping. And, you know, his--using his own technology against him. So he's got to worry about that.

MR. MURPHY: Yeah.

MR. BROKAW: Well, let's hear what he has to say. We have some videotape of his response to that, in fact, in which he spoke directly to those friends, as he described them, on the left. Here's Senator Obama talking about the charges that's he's just a flip-flopper and a conventional politician.

(Videotape)

SEN. OBAMA: To this whole notion that I am, you know, shifting to the center, or that I'm flip-flopping or this or that or the other, you know, the people who say this apparently haven't been listening to me. And I have to say some, some of it are my friends on the left.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW: Can he afford to set those people on the left aside who have helped him in the primary?

REP. FORD: If I were giving a little advice, if I were giving a little advice to my friend this morning, it would be to lean into these arguments a little more, lean into his positions a little more. There's nothing to be ashamed, afraid or embarrassed about sharing your views and talking more forcefully about where you're going to take the country. Liberals, conservatives are all Americans. There are three things Americans want. One is for a strong, robust national security. Two is for us to figure out a better answer in Iraq. And three is for the get--for the next president to get this economy back humming again. I don't care where you sit in the political spectrum. So Senator Obama, I would agree with, with Andrea in strong ways in that he has an incredible biography that has to be told. I think Senator McCain's most recent ad where he lays out a contrast between himself and perhaps other things that were happening during the '60s is a compelling ad. Senator Obama has an equally powerful biography that he has to take advantage of as well. So if I were to give him a little advice this morning, it would be to lean in a little bit, not lean back. And in that, that statement there, Barack almost seemed to be leaning back a bit, a little defensive. No need to be on the defensive when, in fact, the country is with you and they want change. He has the message to, to do that.

MR. BROKAW: Did Senator Obama get any greater gift this past week than he one he got from Jesse Jackson when he thought he was off microphone and then on microphone? Turns out he was describing painful surgery on Obama that he'd like to perform because...

REP. FORD: To even hear you talk about it, it's painful this morning. The reality is, he probably didn't want it at all. The fact is both Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama have talked for years about personal responsibility. I think Senator Obama's statements on Father's Day were not only appropriate, they were American. And I hope he doesn't shy away from continuing to lay that argument out as well.

MR. MURPHY: It struck--excuse me--it struck me almost like a pro-wrestling maneuver it was so perfect. And I think it paid big political gold for Barack Obama. This election's going to come down to white independents and conservative blue collar Catholics in the Great Lakes metal-bending region. And look, in any of the primary results, Obama's never been able to close the deal there. McCain has to get through, you know, the economy arguments to close the deal there. That's why it's going to be a close election. And this kind of triangulation opera we saw with Jesse Jackson is very good politically for Obama. I don't think it puts the race away by any means. I think it's going to be a very close race all the way, but it's exactly what Obama needs. McCain, to win, has to be a different kind of Republican. Barack, in some ways, has to be a different kind of Democrat. And if he's stuck in the liberal land of Jesse Jackson, he can't win.

MR. BROKAW: How much was Senator McCain hurt by Phil Gramm's comments?

MR. MURPHY: You know, I, I don't think that--it was kind of gaff week. There were about 12 of them, mostly by surrogates, and I don't think that was as bad as the Barack thing was good, simply because it wasn't McCain. It was Phil Gramm talking like an economist. McCain took about three seconds to wrap him up and send him to Belarus. We're not going to hear from Phil Gramm again. He's going to be in the witness relocation program for the rest of the campaign, I would predict. And so I think it was a, a small ding on McCain, but I thought McCain did a very good job of pivoting back to the economy, so it doesn't bother me.

MR. BROKAW: Where is Senator McCain in the vice presidential selection process?

MR. MURPHY: Well, I--they--I know they have a team under the very able A.B. Culvahouse doing the vetting. I think he's got a long list. There are a lot of strong candidates out there. If I had to guess, and this is purely a guess, I, I think some of the governors are in the front position just because again, as I said, that industrial Midwestern belt from Minneapolis through Pennsylvania, that's going to be the election for the Republicans, whether they're going to win in Michigan and Ohio, Pennsylvania or not. That's why the Tom Ridges, the Mitt Romneys, the Tim Pawlentys are all very strong. And, from a political point of view, I think you're going to get first class consideration. There's also Rob Portman, Charlie Crist, there are others, they're all excellent. But I would watch that Great Lakes are. I think somebody can play there. It's going to be very important politically.

MR. BROKAW: Andrea, Senator Obama's campaign seems to be a little more active right now in the hunt for a vice presidential candidate. I mean, they're calling around, they're vetting candidates. People are pulling out of the race, other people are being very coy.

MS. MITCHELL: Yeah.

MR. BROKAW: And some people are being very available.

MS. MITCHELL: Very available indeed. I think they need to be because--rather the campaign needs to be more active because I think the calendar forces Obama to move more quickly. His convention is first, and there is some feeling in the McCain camp that they should wait until after the Democratic convention and then immediately announce their pick and try to step on whatever momentum the Democrats get out of it. I think that Jack Reed, who is going to be traveling to Iraq with Barack Obama, who is Catholic, who is a former Army Ranger, little known. I, you know, I don't think that the electoral map is as important to the Obama camp as finding the right biography, the right foreign policy experience.

Let me just weigh in on Jesse Jackson for just a second on what that meant. I think there is a divide, a generational divide, in the African-American community, and it was most quickly expressed and passionately expressed by Jesse Jackson Jr., the congressman, who said to his dad, the Reverend Jackson, you know, should keep hope alive and basically keep his mouth shut and not be doing this. And he was clearly siding, immediately siding within, you know, a half-hour with Barack Obama on this. But there is some concern in the black community that Barack Obama, in speaking out about deadbeat fathers and all of the important cultural issues, family issues, was in some way trying to make an appeal to the white community, the white voters, the Hillary Clinton voters in Appalachia, and that that is unseemly, that that is airing the family, you know, dirty linen in public.

MR. BROKAW: And Congressman Jackson has his eye on Senator Obama's senate seat...

MS. MITCHELL: Senate seat...

MR. BROKAW: ...after all.

MS. MITCHELL: ...and would need his support.

MR. BROKAW: So he has his own vested interest.

MS. MITCHELL: Exactly.

REP. FORD: But you said--but Jesse Jackson has talked about these things in the past. Personal responsibility as well.

MS. MITCHELL: Indeed he has.

REP. FORD: But, but, but, but to Mike's point, there's a difference between what Jackson did and, and what Gramm did. Gramm came back the following day and stood by his remarks, calling a--calling us a nation of whiners and that we were in a mental recession. To Jackson's credit, he at least apologized. Barack accepted his apology, and he went on to say that it was silly what he said.

MS. MITCHELL: But the, but the difference, Harold, is that Gramm was the architect and adviser of the economic plan for John McCain. Jesse Jackson was a surrogate, you know, an endorser, but never at all close.

REP. FORD: I'm agreeing with you. I was just making the point--Mike was making the point...

MR. BROKAW: Yeah.

REP. FORD: ...that it was probably not as bad...

MR. BROKAW: Here...

REP. FORD: ...for McCain.

MR. BROKAW: ...one of the most intriguing, kind of, dialogues of the week showed up in the Los Angeles Times when Senator Obama spoke to a Hillary Clinton supporter in California, or in New York, and the LA Times picked up on it, about Hillary being on the list, and--but there's a problem, he said.

MS. MITCHELL: Well, this supporter, Jill Iscol, has been in every primary state. She's a passionate supporter of Hillary Clinton and a big fundraiser, a bundler. She and several others who have been willing to be named in The New York Times and elsewhere as not willing to come on and support Barack Obama, so very reluctant. Obama called her and took a risk, apparently not a great risk--I mean, not a, not a smart risk, in talking to someone who's that passionate about Hillary Clinton and saying that his concern about putting her on the ticket is Bill Clinton and all the, quote, you know, "baggage" that that would bring, that that complicates the factor. She immediately went public.

MR. BROKAW: How seriously should we take his raising of Hillary Clinton when he's talking to a Hillary Clinton supporter, however?

MS. MITCHELL: I think not. I think that this is to try to bring the Hillary money on board. He really does need their money. People have been saying, you know, "Why is she demanding that he help her raise money?" He needs that kind of money, the big dollars, because he has opted out. And after the convention he is going to need general election money to the tune of $50 million a month.

MR. MURPHY: I would be stunned if he picks her because he'd pick somebody who's the symbol of the Washington he ran against, he'd pick somebody with an agenda beyond his for four years. You, you empower Bill Clinton to go out and make news again. On every level it's a crazy, wrong pick. And I would--I think this is just diplomacy. I'd be stunned if he picked her.

MR. BROKAW: How happy would the Republicans be if Hillary Clinton got a roll call vote at the Democratic convention and a big night?

MR. MURPHY: Ticker tape parades, you know, dogs--cats chasing dogs. The world would turn upside-down. And we've had a rough year, so we would be very, very happy. We're scared of Tim Kaine. Because if they can get some electoral action going in Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia, which are all Republican-tilting states that could get into play, we are in huge trouble; just like they're terrified of Tom Ridge.

MR. BROKAW: What about Senator--what about former Senator Sam Nunn?

MR. MURPHY: Possibly, for Georgia. I think Kaine's the stronger candidate just for the politics of it. But, you know, we, we're all political-like, so I don't have to talk about who could do the job. So just on winning the election, I think Kaine is very strong. You can also argue for Bayh out of Indiana and the Midwest, that key region I talked about. But if--the Kaine thing is audacious, but if they could get something going on the Atlantic coast there, it's a big problem for the Republicans.

MR. BROKAW: If we keep, keep this up long enough, we can go through the entire telephone book of the country.

Harold Ford, you want to weigh in here?

REP. FORD: No, I, I think that both, both, both Andrea and Mike have been on point. Democrats have a good roster and a good, a good match. I think the analysis of Senator Clinton is, is, is probably spot-on. She got a lot of votes, she can raise a lot of money. You got Tim Kaine, who I think is a fascinating and an intriguing pick, and a wild card pick in some ways because the country doesn't know a whole lot about him when you pick someone this late in the game. But I like him. I think he, I think he represents a lot of what you're saying.

MR. BROKAW: But if you had two unknowns without national...

REP. FORD: But even Rendell...

MR. BROKAW: ...security...

REP. FORD: Right.

MR. BROKAW: ...that's an issue, isn't it?

MR. MURPHY: Yeah. But I don't think the vice president...

MS. MITCHELL: But you need national security...

MR. MURPHY: ...can solve that. People are either going to take or I hope not take Barack Obama on that issue. And there's--you've always got kind of the balance problem. You pick a wizard at something as vice president, you diminish the guy you got. So you pick somebody who's 10 times more qualified than Obama on foreign policy, the real message is Obama's unqualified. So I, I don't know. I'm of the old school, play a region with somebody who can, who can bring in the electoral college, the states--like poker, if you get the right card.

MS. MITCHELL: John McCain ruled out Tom Ridge on the basis of abortion on an interview, you know, right on MSNBC.

MR. MURPHY: I think this is the year of ruling stuff in and out, based on the last week. I don't think he's the front-runner, I just think he should be considered along with Romney as the top pick.

MR. BROKAW: Well, thanks for getting me through these early stages of my new MEET THE PRESS responsibilities under circumstances that none of us would have chosen, obviously. It's good of you to be here. We'll look forward to seeing you more in the weeks and months to come.

And now for our MEET THE PRESS Minute. Former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow died yesterday after a brave and inspirational battle against colon cancer. He was a very popular man. He appeared here on MEET THE PRESS with our late Tim Russert in February of 2007, and he spoke about the administration and the job that he loved as press secretary.

(Videotape, February 18, 2007)

MR. RUSSERT: The other day you were asked about pre-war planning and how it had been overly optimistic, and then you said this: "I'm not sure anything went wrong."

MR. TONY SNOW: Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: Is that your view of the war in Iraq?

MR. SNOW: Well, no. I'm putting it this way. When you say "not sure anything went wrong," what I was referring to is the notion that somehow somebody's going to have perfect foresight of what's going to happen in a time of war. The old cliche is that battle plans never survive first contact with the enemy. So what happened is people came together and put together what they thought was their best estimate of was--what was likely to happen.

MR. RUSSERT: For seven years you were host of "Fox News Sunday." Do you like being on that side of the table, or this side?

MR. SNOW: You know what, this is the best job I've ever had. I, I love doing what you did, although I'm glad I'm not getting thumped by you in the ratings anymore. But I really love this job.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW: It's been a tough season for all of us here in Washington. Tony Snow, an elegant man, loved and respected by so many, dead at the age of 53. He was a graceful spokesman with a great taste for music. He had strong political views, but he had friends across the political spectrum in this city and beyond. He went out as he lived, with great conviction and with great dignity. And his family is in our thoughts and prayers this morning.

I'll be right back.

(Announcements)

MR. BROKAW: That's all for today. We'll be back next week with an exclusive interview with former Vice President Al Gore. That's right here next Sunday because, if it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

Discuss:

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