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updated 2/12/2010 1:25:25 PM ET 2010-02-12T18:25:25

MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday: the fight over healthcare reform. The
president's approval ratings fall as opposition to his plan grows, and
Democrats question whether the White House is now backing away from a
public plan.

(Videotape)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA: What we've said is we think that's a good idea. But
we haven't said that that's the only aspect of health insurance.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Can there be a compromise, or will Democrats try to go it
alone? This morning, the debate. We'll hear from both sides of the aisle
with two key members of the Senate Finance Committee: Senator Orrin
Hatch, Republican of Utah, and Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New
York.

Then, selling the plan. Has the president lost the PR war and political
support from his base?

And what about the biggest question of all: How will reform impact you?
PBS' Tavis Smiley and MSNBC's Joe Scarborough weigh in.

Finally, our MEET THE PRESS minute: Remembering noted political columnist
Robert Novak. A look back at some highlights from his more than 200
appearances on this program over the past 45 years.

MR. DAVID GREGORY: But first, in addition to waging political battles at
home, the president is faced with two ongoing wars abroad. This week
Afghans went to the polls as Americans expressed fresh skepticism about
the U.S. war there now entering its ninth year. And in Iraq, new threats
of sectarian violence after bombers strike inside Baghdad's green zone.
Two men charged with coordinating the U.S. military and diplomatic
mission in that region join us now: Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, and from Afghanistan this morning, our U.S.
ambassador, retired Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry.

Welcome to both of you.

Let me start with you, Admiral Mullen on the question of U.S. resolve.
This was a poll taken by The Washington Post and ABC News this week, and
these were the results. Is the war in Afghanistan worth the fight? No, 51
percent. Has American--have the American people lost that will to fight
this war?

ADM. MIKE MULLEN: Well, I'm, I'm a Vietnam veteran myself. I'm certainly
aware of the criticality of support of the American people for, for this
war and in, in fact, any war. And so certainly the numbers are of
concern. That said, the president's given me and the American military a
mission, and, and that focuses on a new strategy, new leadership, and
we're moving very much in that direction. I am very mindful and concerned
about the threat that's there. The strategy really focuses on defeating
al-Qaeda and their extremist allies. That's where the original 911
attacks came from, that region. They've now moved to Pakistan.
Afghanistan is very vulnerable in terms of Taliban and extremists taking
over again, and I don't think that threat's going to go away. They still
plot against us, see us as somebody they want to, to, to kill in terms of
as many American lives as possible. And in that regard, we're very
focused on executing that mission.

MR. GREGORY: Well, let's talk about that focus. General McChrystal, our
commander on the ground, is expected to release his report, his
assessment of what's happening on the ground. Will he request of this
president more troops to fight in Afghanistan?

ADM. MULLEN: Well, McChrystal's assessment will come in here in I think
in the next two weeks. And his guidance was go out as a new commander, put a
new team together and come back and tell us exactly how you assess
conditions on the ground, take into consideration the president's
strategy. He's going to do that. The--his assessment will come in and
won't speak specifically to resources. There's an expectation we'll deal
with resources after that assessment.

MR. GREGORY: Right. Well, but Senator McCain is saying in an interview
this morning it will deal with resources, that he'll come back with high,
medium and, and low threat assessments in terms of how many more troops
you need, whether you need 15,000, 25,000 or 45,000 additional troops.
Will he come in with a specific troop request, and will that increase in
troop request meet skepticism from the White House?

ADM. MULLEN: The assessment that he will submit here in the next couple
of weeks won't specifically deal with requirements for additional
resources. We'll deal with the--with whatever additional resources might
be required subsequent to that in the normal process.

MR. GREGORY: But this question that Senator McCain raises, which is he's
afraid that there's going to be skepticism in the White House about any
request for more troops and that more troops are vital if you're going to
carry out this mission, where do you fall down on that?

ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think when we look at the strategy the president's
laid out, look what General McChrystal says he needs to--in order to
carry out that strategy, my recommendation to the president will be based
on getting the resource strategy match absolutely correct. And so we'll
see where that goes once the assessment is in here. And I've had this
conversation with the president, who understands that whatever the
mission is, it needs to be resourced correctly. That said, it'll be the
initial assessment that will be important, and then the risks that are
associated with that assessment, and then we'll figure out where we go
from there.

MR. GREGORY: But can you carry out this mission with the troops you've
got?

ADM. MULLEN: That's really something that we will evaluate over the next
few weeks after we get the assessment from General McChrystal.

MR. GREGORY: Ambassador Eikenberry, let me bring you in here and talk
about the elections this week. Already there are claims of irregularities
and fraud, voter turnout much lower than expected in the south,
particularly low among women. And we don't have a clear result yet of the
election. To what extent does this election, this presidential election
in Afghanistan highlight the challenges that the U.S. faces there?

MR. KARL EIKENBERRY: Well, David, let's talk about what we do know about
the election. First of all, it's a very historic election. It's the first
presidential provincial council election led by the Afghan people that's
taken place in this country in over 30 years. And the second point, it's
a very important election. This is an election in which, as in all
democracies at this point in time now with the, with the presidential
election, with the provincial council election, which the people are
going to the polls and it's an opportunity them--for them to renew their
ties with their government. And that's important to this process to
remember. If we look back over the history of Afghanistan over the last
30 years, we have civil war, we have occupation, we've got a complete
collapse of governance and rule of law which sets the conditions then for
Afghanistan to be a state controlled by international terrorism. Those
were the conditions that led to 11 September of 2001. So this election
that's just been completed, yes, it's, it was a very difficult election,
but it's an opportunity then for renewal of the trust in the bonds...

MR. GREGORY: All right. Well, let me...

MR. EIKENBERRY: ...between the people of Afghanistan and their
government.

MR. GREGORY: Let me jump in here. There's the question of the Taliban.
The Taliban is really enemy one for U.S. forces there. It's stronger,
it's resurgent from the period after 9/11. What does this election show,
the level of intimidation by the Taliban about the Taliban's strength and
the challenge to U.S. forces?

MR. EIKENBERRY: Well, I think it shows, David, that there's great
excitement within this country for the Afghans to regain control of their
country, for sovereignty. We had a two-month extraordinary election
campaign that we just got through, a very exciting time in which there
was unprecedented political activity that occurred, TV debates, rallies
throughout the country. It was a very civil kind of debate that occurred.
And it was all national candidates, for the first time in Afghanistan's
history crossing ethnic lines and campaigning around the country.

MR. GREGORY: I want to bring Admiral Mullen back in here. We're talking
about the threat of the Taliban. And, you know, ultimately a lot of
Americans are wondering--you see it in that poll--what it is we're
fighting to do there. The president this week told Veterans of Foreign
Wars Afghanistan is a war of necessity. But other people have said no,
it's not, it's actually a war of choice. Richard Haass, who was around in
the Bush administration when this war was started in Afghanistan, wrote
this in The New York Times this week: "In the wake of 9/11, invading
Afghanistan was a war of necessity. The U.S. needed to act in
self-defense to oust the Taliban. There was no viable alternative. Now,
however, with a friendly government in Kabul, is our military presence
still a necessity?" My question: If the central mission was fighting
al-Qaeda, are we fulfilling that central mission still?

ADM. MULLEN: Well, David, this is the war we're in. And in fact, the
mission the president has given us is to defeat and disrupt al-Qaeda and
its extremist allies. And that's very specific and that includes the
Taliban, which has grown to be much more sophisticated in the last two to
three years and is a much tougher enemy in that regard. And they really
are linked. Across that border in Pakistan, they provide the safe haven
for al-Qaeda. They also feed fighters into Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda would
very much like to see Kabul become the capital that is was before,
essentially run by extremists. So in that regard, the--it's very much
linked. And again, it's the mission that the military has right now to
focus--and General McChrystal is doing this--focus on the security for
the people, focus on the Afghan people. And that's a significant change
from where we were just a few months ago. And it is in that focus that
both understands what they feel about their security, which is pretty bad
right now and getting worse, and moving to a direction--moving in a
direction that provides security so then we can develop governance, so
then we can develop an economy and they can take over their own destiny.

MR. GREGORY: We're rebuilding this nation?

ADM. MULLEN: To a certain degree there is, there is some of that going
on.

MR. GREGORY: Is that what the American people signed up for?

ADM. MULLEN: No, I'm--right now the American people signed up, I think,
for support of getting at those who threaten us. And, and to the degree
that, that the Afghan people's security and the ability to ensure that a
safe haven doesn't recur in Afghanistan, there's focus on some degree of
making sure security's OK, making sure governance moves in the right
direction and developing an, an economy which will underpin their future.

MR. GREGORY: But there seems to be a fundamental problem here. You know,
in the Vietnam era it was talk about mission creep; the idea of, you
know, gradually surging up forces, having nation-building goals and, and
running into challenges all along the way. You're not going to commit to
this this morning, it doesn't seem, but the reality is that it appears to
fulfill this mission--to beat the Taliban, which is stronger than it ever
was, to also fight al-Qaeda--there needs to be more troops in addition to
this goal of trying to secure the population.

ADM. MULLEN: The, the focus on the, the people certainly is going to come
by, by way of having--create, creating security for them, so their future
can be brighter than it is right now. But it isn't just that. I mean,
part of the president's strategy is to bring in a, a significant civilian
capacity. Ambassador Holbrooke was just there on his fifth or sixth trip,
and he was both--in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. So this is a civilian
military approach. It's a new strategy. It's the first one. And I
recognize that, that we've been there over eight years, but I, I, I also
want to say that this is the first time we've really resourced a strategy
on both the civilian and military side. So in certain ways we're starting
anew.

MR. GREGORY: The question for both of you is about exit strategy. This is
what the president said back in March, so the American people know when
this is going to come to an end. He said, "There's got to be an exit
strategy. There's got to be a sense that it is not perpetual drift." And
yet just a couple of weeks ago--you mentioned Richard Holbrooke, envoy to
the region. He was a forum here in Washington. He was asked how he would
define success in Afghanistan. This is what he would say: "I would say
this about defining success in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the simplest
sense, the Supreme Court test for another issue--we'll know it when we
see it." We'll know it when we see it? Is that supposed to provide solace
to the American people that we're not getting into drift when it comes to
an exit strategy?

ADM. MULLEN: Well, I've said from a military perspective I believe we've
got to start to turn this thing around from a security standpoint in the
next 12 to 18 months. And I think after that we'd have a better view of
how long it's going to take and what we need to do. Again, we're just
getting the pieces in place from the president's new strategy in March on
the ground now both on the military side--we've put forces there and we
will have--we will add more this year--and on the civilian side. So it's
going to take us a while to understand that. I don't see this as a, a
mission of endless drift. I think we know what to do, we've learned a lot
of lessons from Iraq, focusing on the Afghan people. It's a
counterinsurgency effort right now, it's not just a--what was a
counterterrorism effort several years ago. And that's why we've got to
focus on the Afghan people, their security and creating forces, Afghan
forces to provide for their own security.

MR. GREGORY: Ambassador Eikenberry, you're a former military man as well.
What's your gut tell you? How long is it going to take to succeed in
Afghanistan?

MR. EIKENBERRY: David, let's talk about progress. What--and what we would
see as progress is over the next several years that the Afghan national
army and the Afghan national police are much more in front, much more
capable and that they're able to provide for the security of their own
population. That's a several year process and beyond. What else does
progress look like? Progress looks like a government of Afghanistan
that's able to attend much more to the needs of their people, to provide
reasonable services to them, to provide security for them. And progress
look like a region in which there's more cooperation. Can we see outlines
of what progress might look like over the next several years consistent
with our strategy, ready to partner with the next Afghan administration
that emerges after the winner of this election has occurred? Yeah, sure
we can.

MR. GREGORY: It's just interesting, Admiral Mullen, that he talks about
progress and not victory. Is victory possible in Afghanistan?

ADM. MULLEN: I try to focus this on what it's going to take to succeed
there given the mission that we've got, and I go and would just
re-emphasize now just on top of the progress, it's the focus on the
people and giving them a future that allows them to take care of their
own country and doesn't create an environment in which al-Qaeda and its
extremist allies can threaten us as they have and execute a threat as
they did in the past.

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you quickly about Iraq, the violence playing out
this week in the green zone; 95 people killed, an attack on the foreign
and finance ministry. This is Baghdad, where the Iraqis are now in
control. You have warned about the threat of sectarian violence that
could ultimately doom Iraq. What troubles you about what you saw this
week?

ADM. MULLEN: Well, I, I, I still think that is probably the most
significant threat is if sectarian violence breaks out in, in large
measure. And so these attacks last week certainly are of great concern
not just to me but General Odierno, Ambassador Hill and many others. And
we're watching that very carefully. That has been addressed very quickly
with Prime Minister Maliki and his leadership. In addition to that, I've
been concerned about the politics of it all; in fact, resolving the
issues particularly up north around Kirkuk. Those are probably the two
biggest threats to the future security and progress. But I've also said
we're leaving. I mean, we're, we're--in, in the next several
months--they're going to have an election beginning next year. After that
we're going to start a fairly rapid draw down of our forces. And so it's
really important that the political and military leadership of Iraq take
control and generate positive solutions for them as a country.

MR. GREGORY: Finally here, we are just days away from the eighth
anniversary of 9/11. What is your assessment of al-Qaeda's capability of
striking the U.S. again?

ADM. MULLEN: Still very capable, very focused on it, the leadership is.
They also are able to both train and support and finance, and so that
capability is still significant and, and one which we're very focused on
making sure that doesn't happen again.

MR. GREGORY: All right, we're going to leave it there.

Ambassador Eikenberry in Afghanistan, thank you very much for being with
us this morning.

And, Admiral Mullen, always nice to have a couple of San Fernando Valley
guys together on a Sunday morning. Thank you very much.

ADM. MULLEN: Thank you, David. Thank you, David.

MR. GREGORY: Appreciate it.

Up next, our healthcare debate. Will either side be willing to compromise
in order to get reform passed? Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and
Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer are here, only on MEET THE PRESS.

(Announcements)

MR. GREGORY: The debate over health care from both sides of the aisle
with Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer
after this brief commercial break.

MR. DAVID GREGORY: We are back with more on the healthcare fight, now
joined via remote by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Senator Orrin
Hatch of Utah. Welcome to both of you.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY): Good morning.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT): Nice to be with you.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Schumer, I would like to start with you. The big
debate this week is about the public option, the idea of a government
health plan that would get some competition going with private insurers.
This is what you said about the so-called public option back in June:
"The bottom line is that we need to rework our healthcare system to lower
out-of-control costs and to insure more Americans. Our current system,
dominated by private insurance companies, simply has not done the job.
That is why providing a robust public plan option as a choice for
healthcare consumers is an essential part of the solution." Do you stand
by that? Is it still essential?

SEN. SCHUMER: Yes, it is, and the reason is very clear. The costs of
health care are going through the roof. And most people don't see that
yet, they're paid for by businesses or the governments. But we're going
to hit a wall very soon. In seven or eight years Medicare will go broke,
and that will leave millions of senior citizens in trouble. On the
private insurance sector, it's the same thing. Costs have gone up,
they've doubled in the last seven years. And if that continues, and it's
likely to if we do nothing, in the next seven years there will be
millions of Americans whose employers will tell them, "You no longer have
insurance, we can't afford it," or your coverage is much less. You're
going to get less and have to pay more through deductibles. So we have to
do something. And the private insurance industry is highly concentrated.
Ninety-four percent of all markets are highly concentrated, according to
the Justice Department. In most states only two insurance companies--40
of the 50 states, two insurance companies dominate. What is the way to
bring costs down? The good old-fashioned way is to bring competition.

And the public option we've proposed is not one of these big government
control things. The government sets it up. It has a different model. It
doesn't have to make a profit or merchandise as much, so its costs are
probably 20 percent lower. But then, on a level playing field, it
competes with private insurance. And one thing I want to underscore,
David, is it not a mandate, it's an option. If you like your, your
present insurance, whether you're an employer or an individual, you keep
it and it doesn't change.

MR. GREGORY: OK. Senator Schumer...

SEN. SCHUMER: If you don't like it, you have an option of the public option,
which will help bring costs down. And so it is indeed essential to
getting the costs down, which is our number one problem.

MR. GREGORY: You're not backing away from it, but there is concern within
the Democratic Party that President Obama is backing away. Here was the
headline in the New York Post this week that spoke for a lot of liberals,
actually, both publicly and privately: "Sellout! Liberals howl as Bam
`caves' on the health plan." This is what the reference was to, the
president's weekly radio address back in July during which he said this.

(Videotape, July 18, 2009)

PRES. OBAMA: That's why any plan I sign must include an insurance
exchange, a one-stop shopping marketplace where you can compare the
benefits, costs and track records of a variety of plans--including a
public option to increase competition and keep insurance companies
honest--and choose what's best for your family.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: That was July. But just a week ago the president said this.

(Videotape, August 15, 2009)

PRES. OBAMA: All I'm saying is, though, that the public option, whether
we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of healthcare reform.
This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: You say it's essential, Senator Schumer; the president
saying now it's just a sliver. He's backed away, hasn't he?

SEN. SCHUMER: I don't think he's backed away at all. I've talked to the
president personally about this in the last few weeks. He believes
strongly in the public option. Obviously he is working hard to get a
bipartisan bill, because that would be a better bill. But I believe that
at the end of the day we will have a public option. And frankly, I
believe we could get a public option that could be passed with the 60
Democratic votes we had. A level playing field public option, where the
public option competes on a level playing field with the insurance
companies, was backed in the House by both Blue Dog Democrats and more
liberal Democrats. And I think that's the direction we're going to end up
in.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Hatch, let me bring you in here. Has the president
backed away? Does it create an opening for Republicans to maybe work out
a compromise?

SEN. HATCH: Well, I think the president realizes that a public option
isn't the last answer to everything. As a matter of fact, both
independent groups and others in government indicate that if we go to a
public option millions and millions--tens of millions of people will go
into the government plan. And the problem with the government plan is, is
that Medicare, for instance, is a government plan, it's $39 trillion in
unfunded liability. It's going to go bankrupt within the next 10 years.
The costs of the government plan will be astronomical. Keep in mind, in
Medicare they pay doctors 20 percent less, they pay hospitals 30 percent
less. Guess where those costs are transferred? They're transferred to the
people who have private health insurance, and the average private health
insurance policy goes up about $1800 a year just to pay for what the
government fails to pay for in their current government plan. So we're
going to throw out--we have 300 million people in this country, 85
percent of whom have insurance. Both sides believe that--both Democrats
and Republicans believe that we should reform the insurance industry.
There's no problem there. The real problem is are we going to go to--in a
government plan that can't even take care of what we have in Medicaid and
Medicare? And, and the point is if you go to a government plan, both
independent analysts and government analysts, the CBO, have indicated
that tens of millions of people who go with the government plan...

MR. GREGORY: Well, wait a minute, Senator Hatch, that's not right.

SEN. HATCH: ...will destroy the private health industry.

MR. GREGORY: The Congressional Budget Office did not say that. In fact,
what they have concluded...

SEN. HATCH: Yes, it did say that.

MR. GREGORY: ...is that, well...

SEN. HATCH: Yes, it did.

MR. GREGORY: The CBO said that, in fact, those enrolled in private
insurance plans would go up by three million, and they estimate that
about 10 million people, only 10 million people go into a public plan.

SEN. HATCH: Well, didn't I say tens of millions of people? Others have
said as many as...

MR. GREGORY: Tens of millions, that's different than 10 million.

SEN. HATCH: Well, that's plenty. Others are saying up to 119 million
people. It, it ranges in between. The point is, it's always more than
what the government says it is. Look, I don't think people in this
country believe that the federal government controlling everything is, is
the best system of last resort. I think we should have more flexibility
in the states to solve their own problems. For instance, New York is not
Utah, Utah is not New York. We have a tremendous healthcare system that
works out here, they don't in New York. Massachusetts, Massachusetts has
that so-called connector system. They now haven't added people over the
last two years because they're, they're almost bankrupt because of the
costs of their government plan. You know, if you go down through it,
anybody that believes that the federal government is going to take this
over and do a better job than the private sector, even with all the
faults of the private sector, I, I think just hasn't looked at the last,
at the last 30 years.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Schumer;

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I just say this--yes. The problems--Orrin is right,
Medicare costs are out of control. So are private sector costs. That
relates to the fundamental problems in the healthcare system, and it's
why President Obama feels we have to take this on. Because if we don't,
both the public sector--Medicare--and the private sector--private
insurance companies--insurance is going to become so expensive that
people won't be able to get it. And it's not 20 years away, it's five to
10 years away.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

SEN. SCHUMER: So it takes a lot of courage to take this on. What I would
say is this. We need to get at these fundamental cost problems and we
ought to try different models. There is no mandate with the public
option.

MR. GREGORY: All right. But, but...

SEN. SCHUMER: That's one of the myths that's been put out here. It's like
a college system. In New York State, in Utah there are public colleges,
private colleges. You choose the one that's best for you, and competition
makes both of them better.

MR. GREGORY: All right. Yeah, that's fine. You're arguing the merits of
the public option. But I want to go back to where the president is.
Senator Hatch said that the president realizes that it's a nonstarter
certainly among Republicans, but Democrats as well. The gang of six,
so-called, working right now on your Senate Finance Committee, they're
not talking about a public option. And the president is saying publicly,
"Look, it's just a sliver of reform." Is he not walking away in order to
get some kind of compromise?

SEN. SCHUMER: No. If you read what Mr. Gibbs said and others have said
after Secretary Sebelius' comment, it's clear that they much prefer a
public option. Obviously, we are going to try to get a bipartisan bill.
But a public option, to many, many objective observers, is essential to
bringing those costs down because it provides competition.

MR. GREGORY: Right. I understand your preferences.

SEN. SCHUMER: And at the end of the day, we will have one. We will have
one. Because I believe, even if every Republican says that they will not
be for a public option, we can find a level playing field, modify--level
playing field type public option where both insurance companies and this
option compete, and we will get 60 Democratic votes for it.

MR. GREGORY: Is that the idea of a co-op?

SEN. SCHUMER: And I think the president...

MR. GREGORY: Is that the idea of a co-op that operates in the states?

SEN. SCHUMER: No. Well, a co-op is, is a little different, because it's
not set up by the government, it's set up by cooperators. But I think you
need, in whatever comes about--and I much prefer the public option--you
need three things. First, it has to be available on day one. This can't
be triggered down the road four years from now, as the private insurance
industry just again, in its very, very noncompetitive way, continues to
raise costs. Second, it has to be available to everybody. I know that
Senator Grassley, my good friend, has this idea of 100 farmers getting
together in Iowa and forming a co-op. That's great. But that's not going
to help the rest of the citizens of Iowa or of New York or anywhere else.
And third, it has to have the strength and clout to go up against the big
boys, the big private insurance companies that actually run the show
here. And they've been as responsible, if not more responsible for
runaway costs than Medicare has.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Hatch, you're a good friend of Senator Kennedy's.
You have walked away, in fact, from these negotiations with the
Democrats. What impact is the, the loss of Senator Kennedy day-to-day on
this compromise, this search for a compromise having?

SEN. HATCH: Well, Senator Kennedy would--first thing he would have done
would, would have been call me and say, "Let's work this out." And we
would have worked it out so that the best of both worlds would, would
work. Now, just thing about it. These people want to take and create a
government plan when Medicare is $39 trillion in debt right now. And, and
the way they're going to do it, in both the House and Senate bills, is
they're going to, they're going to take $400 billion to $500 billion to
pay for this new plan out of Medicare. And not only that, they're going
to set up an IMAC, it's called an Independent Medicare Advisory Council,
that's going to set just all the terms and conditions of health care. And
that means rationing, in anybody's language, and I think you've got to be
concerned about that. Last but not least, we have 300 million people in
this country...

SEN. SCHUMER: Let me, let me ask you this, Orrin. Just...

SEN. HATCH: Well, let me finish, Chuck. Let me finish.

SEN. SCHUMER: OK, go ahead. Go ahead.

SEN. HATCH: We have 300 million people in this country, 85 percent of
whom have health insurance. The other, the other 15 percent, you've got
six million who actually qualify from their employer but don't get it.
You got 11 million people who qualify for CHIP and Medicaid. You've got
another nine million people who earn over $75,000 a year, can afford
their own health insurance but don't--won't do it. You've got six million
people who, who are illegal aliens getting health, health insurance. When
you bring it down, that 47 million people comes down to about 15 million
people. So we're going to--and we all know we need insurance reform, both
Democrats and Republicans, but we're going to throw out a system that
works for, for 300--85 percent of 300 million people to take care of 15
million people that we could take care of with subsidies and other
approaches that would be simple.

MR. GREGORY: Senator...

SEN. HATCH: And it would be simple.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Schumer...

SEN. HATCH: I would never go to a federal government program. If we do
that, we'll bankrupt the country.

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I guess then, I...

MR. GREGORY: Senator Schumer, before you respond to the substance of
that, I want to ask you a, a tactical question.

SEN. SCHUMER: Yeah. OK, sure.

MR. GREGORY: Will the Democrats consider reconciliation, or breaking up
the bill in some way to the point where you'd only need 51 votes to get
it passed? Is that under discussion?

SEN. SCHUMER: The bottom line is we prefer a bipartisan approach, and
that's why both Senator Reid, our majority leader, and President Obama
bent over backwards. You know, it was supposed to be done, the bipartisan
bill, by June 15th, June 30th, July 15th, August 1st. They've bending
over backwards. But at some point soon after we get back, if, if we don't
have a bipartisan bill, we'll never be able to meet the goal of having a
bill signed into law by the end of the year. So yes, we are considering
alternatives. They include just getting 60 Democratic votes and maybe an
occasional Republican here or there on a bill if we can't get a
bipartisan bill, try as we might. They include looking at reconciliation,
which only needs 51, and they include a combination. We are now looking
at the alternatives because it's looking less and less likely that
our--that certainly the Republican leadership in the House and Senate
will want to go for a bipartisan bill. Jon Kyl has said he doesn't want a
single Republican vote for any healthcare bill.

MR. GREGORY: On that point of bipartisanship, or the lack thereof,
Senator Hatch...

SEN. HATCH: What?

MR. GREGORY: ...this is what the president said during an interview this
week with Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia about what Republicans have
made a decision about. Let's listen to the president.

(Videotape, Thursday)

PRES. OBAMA: I'm confident we're going to get it done. And as far as
negotiations with Republicans, my attitude has always been let's see if
we can get this done with some consensus. I would love to have more
Republicans engaged and involved in this process. I think early on a
decision was made by the Republican leadership that said, "Look, let's
not give him a victory, and maybe we can have a replay of 1993-94 when
Clinton came in. He failed on health care and then we won in the midterm
elections and we got the majority." And I think there's some, some folks
who are taking a page out of that playbook.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Senator Hatch, is he right? For Republicans, is health care
his Waterloo? Is that what they want to make it?

SEN. HATCH: Well, I wouldn't call it that, but it's extremely important.
Because what they're trying to do--you know, almost anything you look at
in the--you look at the two Senate and House bills; number one, they
demand a public plan. Whether you call it co-op plan or not, it's going
to be a public plan, a government plan. Number two, they want employer
mandates, which basically kills people in the lower end of the wage
spectrum. They're either going to lose their jobs, cut--be cut back in
pay or the companies are going overseas. And number three, they want to
push people from, from private health insurance into Medicaid.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

SEN. SCHUMER: Hm.

SEN. HATCH: Which could destroy Medicaid.

MR. GREGORY: But I'm asking about--Senator Hatch, I'm asking about
tactics here.

SEN. HATCH: Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: Have Republicans made the decision that if you beat him on
health care, you can beat him in the midterm next year, and that's been
the guiding principle?

SEN. HATCH: No, that hasn't been an approach in the Republican side. But
I do admit that I, I think virtually every Republican realizes that they
want this government plan almost at all costs. And the reason they want
to move the, the way they are is to move to a single payer system like
Canada's, Germany and France, a whole--England.

SEN. SCHUMER: No.

SEN. HATCH: Now, choose any one of those over ours and I'll, I'll tell
you, you don't know what you're doing.

SEN. SCHUMER: No.

SEN. HATCH: Our plan, as bad as ours is in some ways, and it does need
reform, I've got to tell you, it's head and shoulders over any other
plan, every--any other government in the world. But we need to work on it
together. But I've got to tell you, they're insisting on these I think
legislation-killing approaches that literally Republicans cannot go along
with. There are six Republican bills. Whether they have a chance or not,
I don't know.

But let me say this. I said from the beginning that they're going to go
reconciliation, which has never been used for a substantive approach of,
of 1/6 of the American economy or even a small substantive approach, and
that would be an abuse of the process. That was set up, reconciliation,
to solve increasing taxes or lowering taxes or, or cutting back on public
spending or spending more.

MR. GREGORY: Quick...

SEN. HATCH: The fact of the matter is if they use that...

SEN. SCHUMER: Can I just say one thing here?

SEN. HATCH: ...that will be an abuse of the process.

MR. GREGORY: Quick response, Senator Schumer.

SEN. SCHUMER: OK. Let me just say this. I'm want to focus on the public
option. You know, there are some Democrats on the left side who say it
should be government only, like Medicare. There are some on the
Republican side--too many, in my opinion--who say only private insurance
companies. Why shouldn't we have an option where both compete and see
where the public decides, provided it's on a level playing field? That's
fair, that's down the middle and that's where I think we're going to end
up at the end of the day. Not with rationing, not with government
control, but just with a little competition which the private insurance
companies don't afford us right now.

MR. GREGORY: All right, Senator Schumer, let me just get in here on a, a
final point here...

SEN. HATCH: But I...

MR. GREGORY: ...in other news, with the response that we saw in Libya
this week...

SEN. SCHUMER: Hm.

MR. GREGORY: ...to the return of al-Megrahi, the convicted bomber of Pan
Am 103. This was the response that he got in Tripoli on Thursday. A lot
of folks back in New York who were family members of the victims of Pan
Am 103 were horrified at those images.

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I was horrified as well. This is a disgrace. And I
think there are two things that should happen. First, I think that our
secretary of state should immediately introduce a resolution condemning
those celebrations and calling on Gadhafi to apologize for them. And
second, frankly, I'd like to know if there was some kind of illicit deal
here. There was a story in many of the newspapers that this was done,
particularly by the British government, in return for getting an oil
contract. That would be despicable. These families didn't get over their
wounds for eight years, they never will. And to let this person out, who
was one of the greatest terrorists in the last 100 years, was despicable
and will be a blot on those who did it for a long time.

MR. GREGORY: All right, gentlemen, we're out of time. Senator Hatch and
Senator Schumer, thank you both very much.

SEN. SCHUMER: Thanks, David.

MR. GREGORY: Up next, the politics of health care and the task of selling
the plan to the American public. What are the implications for the Obama
presidency? PBS' Tavis Smiley and MSNBC's Joe Scarborough are here, only
on MEET THE PRESS.

MR. DAVID GREGORY: Joined now by PBS's Tavis Smiley and MSNBC's Joe
Scarborough.

Welcome both back to MEET THE PRESS.

MR. GREGORY: Guys, you just heard the two senators. Is there any room for
a compromise here, Joe?

MR. JOE SCARBOROUGH: Well, with who? I, I kept hearing Chuck Schumer
talking about a bipartisan bill. This is the crazy thing about this
debate. They don't need a bipartisan bill. Barack Obama and Democrats own
Washington. They've got 60 senators, a filibuster-proof majority. They
control the House of Representatives by what, 79 votes? That's what's so
funny. Barack Obama's picking fights with Fox News, he's picking fights
with talk radio types. He needs to focus on his Democratic Party. That's
the real debate here, not between Orrin Hatch and...

MR. GREGORY: All right.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: I mean, they own the city.

MR. GREGORY: The issue, though, Tavis, with his own party is whether he's
going to stick by that public option. You heard Senator Schumer say it is
essential. But that's not what the president is saying now. He's saying,
"Well, it's a sliver of reform. Let's not get crazy here. It's a sliver
of reform." Is that a backtrack?

MR. SMILEY: I think it is a backtrack, number one. A couple things, to
Joe's point about bipartisanship. I think bipartisanship is a good thing.
I don't think it ought to be done at the expense of one's principles. I
don't think that the rhetoric of reform trumps good public policy. I
don't think--let, let me put it another way. If President Obama had not
tried to reach across the aisle and fashion a bipartisan bill, you guys
would be up in arms flailing about the fact that he has not tried, that
he's not tried to work with us.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Well, first, first of all, I, I don't flail. But
secondly, this president has not exactly been reaching across to
conservatives for the past nine months.

MR. SMILEY: No, no, no. But the, the--wrong. The reason why he's in
trouble right now on this bill is precisely because he's tried to be
bipartisan rather than...

MR. SCARBOROUGH: No, no.

MR. SMILEY: ...try and--hold on--rather than trying to lead by putting
his plan out front. And to David's question, yes, he has backtracked on
the public option. When you look at what he said last summer running for
office, David, taxing the windfall profits of the insurers, out the
window; single payer, out the window; buying medicine in bulk to keep
cost down, especially where generic drugs are concerned, out the window.
And now here we sit at the end of summer and we're debating whether or
not the public option is still on the table? We have moved a long way
from where we started.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: But, but, David, I've got to say, this, this is the
narrative right now in Washington. But--I love you, but that's
ridiculous. He doesn't, he doesn't need to reach out to Republicans. The
president is failing right now not because of what some talk show host is
saying and, and not because Orrin Hatch is against the bill. He's failing
because he can't get Claire McCaskill, Democrat from Missouri, on board.
He can't get Evan Bayh, he can't get the Blue Dogs on board. This
president is like a basketball coach who not only owns all the players on
the court, he owns the arena.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: If they're fighting each other, he needs to stop
crawling up into the cheap seats.

MR. SMILEY: But to, to, to that point...

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Are--is--am I not right? And he needs to walk out and
get them to stop fighting.

MR. GREGORY: But to that point, Tavis, Speaker Pelosi has said, "We're
not going to have healthcare reform without a public option. I've already
gotten the House to get in line behind this thing." Maxine Waters issued
a statement saying the following: "Waters said she would refuse to vote
for a healthcare reform package that did not include a provision for [a
public option]." She says this: "`President Obama has been trying to
reach across the aisle to win a compromise with Republicans,' Waters
said. `It's not going to happen. ... The people of this country elected
you and gave you a Democratic majority in the House and the Senate. Yes,
we know that you are a nice man, that you want to work with the opposite
side of the aisle. But there comes a time when you need to drop that and
move forward,' Waters said. `We're saying to you, Mr. President, Be
tough. Use everything you've got. Do what you have to do. And we have
your back.'" Supporters of the president are saying, to Joe's point, "You
own Washington. You campaigned hard on this thing. Knock some heads, get
people in line to get behind you."

MR. SMILEY: I think they're right about that. The only point I'm making
here is had he not started by trying to be bipartisan, he'd be getting
whipped up side the head for not trying to reach across the aisle, number
one. Having said that, Congresswoman Waters and others are right about
the fact that a public option, I think, ought to be essential here. The
American people can't buy it if you can't sell it. He's the commander in
chief, but he's tried to be the collaborator in chief. That doesn't work.

MR. GREGORY: Based on what? Joe, is there--what was the bipartisan
approach to, to the right?

MR. SCARBOROUGH: I'm, I'm--seriously, I'm try--I, I'm trying to figure it
out.

MR. GREGORY: Because he was, he was, he was for a public plan in the
beginning.


MR. SCARBOROUGH: No, no, no, I, I, I'm trying to figure it out. The
president...

MR. SMILEY: I can answer that for you.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: The president was to the left on healthcare reform. He
only started to move to the center when his Blue Dog Democrats said they
weren't going to follow, when you had moderate and conservative Democrats
in the Senate saying they weren't going to follow. Again, I love Maxine
and--but this is not a problem between Barack Obama Republicans, or that
Barack Obama's been too bipartisan. It's the fact his own Democrats won't
follow him. If his own Democrats follow him...

MR. GREGORY: All right.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: ...they can pass whatever they want. If they want to get
out of both wars tomorrow, if they want to shut down the Pentagon, if
they want to ban people from wearing blue ties on TV, they can pass
whatever they want to pass. It is in their power. There's not a thing any
Republican can do.

MR. SMILEY: Joe, I think, I think you're absolutely right about that, and
I don't think that they can sell this come midterm elections. If you
control the House and you control the Senate and you control the White
House, and you told us a year ago that there was nothing in the world
more important than reforming health care, that was the centerpiece of
the Democratic plan, and that's why many Americans voted for President
Obama. If they can't get this done they can't, in midterm elections,
blame the Republicans for being obstructionists. I agree on that.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Right.

MR. SMILEY: Having said that, the answer to your earlier question, the
bipartisan effort was the president's willingness to let the House, to
let the Senate have their say on this legislation rather than demanding,
"This is the plan I want passed." That was his effort.

MR. GREGORY: All right, let...

MR. SCARBOROUGH: But Democrats own the House and Senate. These bills that
we're talking about, it's a difference between a Henry Waxman bill and a
Ted Kennedy bill. It ain't like Orrin Hatch was let in the room.

MR. GREGORY: All right, I want, I want to take a step back here and talk
about the, the huge philosophical and ideological split on this, because
it really does get to the role of government.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY: And part of the intensity that we're seeing around the
country at these rallies, where people are showing up with guns in some
cases or, as, as I referred to last week, I referred to a man outside a,
a, a rally in New Hampshire who was carrying a gun and had a sign that
was a quote of Jefferson that to a lot of people has become a motto for
violence against the government. I asked Senator Coburn of Oklahoma about
that, and this is what he said.

(Videotape, Last Sunday)

SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OK): Well, I'm, I'm troubled any time when we stop
having confidence in, in our government. But we've earned it. You know,
this debate isn't about health care. Health care's the symptom. The
debate is an uncontrolled federal government that's going to run--50
percent of everything we're spending this year we're borrowing from the
next generation.

MR. GREGORY: That's what--wait, hold on, I want to stop you there. I'm
talking about the tone. I am talking about violence against the
government. That's what this is synonymous with.

SEN. COBURN: But the, but the, but the tone is based on fear of loss of
control of their own government.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Fear of loss of control over their own government.

MR. SMILEY: This is...

MR. GREGORY: Is that what's out there?

MR. SMILEY: No. This is not about angst, this is not about anger, this is
about hate. There is a, there is, there's a set of folk in this
country--thankfully not, not, not everybody--but there is a group in this
country that does not, will not accept a legitimate Democratic
presidency, Joe, under any condition.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Or, or Republican.

MR. SMILEY: They--exactly. They will not accept a legitimate Democratic
president. And as a result, the pushback on Obama is even worse than the
pushback on Clinton. When you show up with these guns strapped to your
waist and these comparisons to Hitler, that isn't anger about government
taking control of your life.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Right.

MR. SMILEY: That is, that is unadulterated hate, and it's got to be
called for what it is.

MR. GREGORY: But, but outside there are fringe elements, there's no
question, in this debate.

MR. SMILEY: Absolutely.

MR. GREGORY: But, Joe, the question of the government in your life and
what, what, you know, conservatives believe about the government desire
to control a major sector of the economy, that's real. And it goes to
faith in government, role of government.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Yeah. I mean, I mean that fear is real. But there are
millions and millions of Americans that don't carry guns to rallies, that
don't engage in the type of hate speech that we've seen both sides engage
in. You know, the troubling part of this healthcare debate for me is
people are screaming and yelling over a public option. Ninety-nine
percent of Americans don't even know what they mean, they're just
screaming about it. It's like Robert Wright had a great op-ed today in
The New York Times talking about evolution. Most people don't even
understand the complexities of that debate. It's just we've chosen sides
and it's happened. You talk about Bill Clinton. It happened with Bill
Clinton, it happened with George W. Bush, it's happening with President
Obama and it's really disgusting, the hate speech on both sides. You
know, I still believe--like I know you do, too, Tavis--that most
Americans, they love their country, they salute their flag and they
respect their president. I can respect President Obama just like I
respected President Bush and you respected--whether we vote for them or
not.

MR. SMILEY: Mm-hmm.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: And, and it seems to me that leaders on both parties,
Democrats and Republicans alike, have a--have an affirmative
responsibility to step forward and speak out against this hate speech and
speak out against people carrying guns to rallies.

MR. SMILEY: But...

MR. SCARBOROUGH: As a guy with a 100 percent lifetime rating with the
NRA, I can tell you that not only hurts those of us who believe in Second
Amendment rights, it makes the job of the Secret Service so much harder
and our law enforcement personnel so much harder. We, we've got to tone
this debate down.

MR. GREGORY: Quick point here, yeah.

MR. SMILEY: Back--yeah. Back to the healthcare debate though, where this
hate is spilling out in these rallies, I don't understand how we can even
have a debate about the fact that health care's got to be reformed.
That's the one thing I'm heartened by, that at least the leaders here in
Washington seem to agree that the problem has got to get fixed. When you
got 46 million people left out of a process, when the--those persons who
think they are insured find out how underinsured they really are when a
catastrophic illness hits. In the most multicultural, multiracial,
multiethnic America ever, we still have health disparities that we could
have balanced those disparities out by the year 2000. Eighty-five
thousands folk in the year 2000 alone would still be living. When 80
percent of the folk who are not insured, David...

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MR. SMILEY: ...come from families that have part-time and full-time
workers...

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MR. SMILEY: ...the system is broken. It's got to be fixed.

MR. GREGORY: Well, let me hear from both of you in that. This boils down,
I think, the discussion I had with the senators and here, what's the way
forward? The president is facing an intensity gap that could carry over
into the midterm elections. He's losing support among independent voters.

Joe Scarborough, what does he do in the amount of time he has left to
forge a compromise and to succeed here?

MR. SCARBOROUGH: He stop shouting at people in the cheap seats and he
brings the players into the White House. He talks to Claire--"What do you
need?" He goes LBJ, "What do you need?" He brings in Evan Bayh. "Evan, I
know Indiana, a lot different this year than it was last year. What do
you need? What can you agree with?" And then he brings in, on the other
side, Nancy Pelosi, Henry Waxman, and he does what leaders do.

MR. GREGORY: He's got to get more personally involved.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: He brings them together.

MR. SMILEY: Yes. It--the bottom line is that Dr. King warned years ago
against taking the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. We're not going to
reform health care doing it gradually. He's got to be bold about this. My
grandad, David, said all the time, if you're going to stand, stand. If
you're going to sit, sit. But don't wobble. The president is wobbling on
this issue, and he can't do that if we're going to reform health care.

MR. GREGORY: I think I'm going to make that the last word. Tavis Smiley,
Joe Scarborough, thank you both very much.

Up next, our MEET THE PRESS Minute remembering longtime reporter,
columnist and MEET THE PRESS panelist Robert Novak.

MR. DAVID GREGORY: Finally here, in our MEET THE PRESS Minute we remember
Robert Novak, who died this week at the age of 78. He had a long and
illustrious career in journalism. He was known as a reporter's reporter;
tough, dogged and well sourced. His columns were a must read, and his
appearances on this program over the past 45 years were always
enlightening. Two years ago he spoke to Tim Russert about his long
association with MEET THE PRESS.

(Videotape, July 15, 2007)

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Bob Novak, you have been appearing on MEET THE PRESS
since August 9th, 1964. Remember the first guest?

MR. ROBERT NOVAK: Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield. Mike Mansfield
was a--had a different problem than most guests. His questions were--his
answers were too short instead of too long. In fact, he really liked the
yes or no answer. And so you--I was, I was warned that I would run out of
questions with Senator Mansfield, and I did.

MR. RUSSERT: Were you nervous?

MR. NOVAK: I was so scared, I can't tell you. This was really the, the
big time. Actually, the column had started in May 15th, 1963, but I, I, I
suddenly was--realized I was in the big time when I was invited to MEET
THE PRESS. I've been watching MEET THE PRESS since it started, and it--I
just had to pinch myself to believe that I was on it.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: And on it he was, more than 248 times. Here's a look back at
some highlights, starting with that first nervous appearance in 1964.

(Videotape, August 9, 1964)

MR. NOVAK: Senator, do you think there's any chance that the Senate will,
after all, enact some legislation requiring disclosure of senatorial
income in the wake of the Bobby Baker case?

(End videotape)

(Videotape, July 16, 1972)

MR. NOVAK: Senator, you, you repeatedly differentiate between the
Republican Party and the committee to re-elect President Nixon. On July
1st, you said the Republican Party certainly had nothing to do with the
Watergate caper.

SEN. ROBERT DOLE: Right.

MR. NOVAK: Are you suggesting maybe the committee to re-elect President
Nixon did have something to do with it?

SEN. DOLE: No, no, I'm not suggesting it at all.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, January 20, 1974)

MR. NOVAK: Do you think that the president should have been more
forthcoming in trying to get to the bottom of this?

GOV. RONALD REAGAN: Well, once again, you're talking about something that
is before the courts, and the determination will be made there. It's now
before the grand jury, with regard to that.

MR. NOVAK: No. No, that wasn't my question, sir.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, August 27, 1995)

MR. NOVAK: Mr. Secretary, you've spent the last week calling Dr.
Karadzic, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs, a war criminal. You really
think as a diplomat it's helpful to call the person that you are--need
the agreement from a war criminal?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Bob, that's a very fair point.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, July 15, 2007)

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to "The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting
in Washington."

MR. BOB SHRUM: Here he is.

MR. RUSSERT: Why are you the prince of darkness?

MR. NOVAK: A reporter, old reporter for Washington Post at that time,
John J. Lindsay said--we use to cover the Senate together and talk about
things, and he thought I was so gloomy about the future of Western
civilization, I was all of about 28 years old then, that he thought I was
the prince of darkness. And the name stuck. A lot of people call me the
prince of darkness, though, because I'm for small government, low taxes,
individual economic freedom. And of course, a lot of people, even a
couple of them at this table, think that makes you the prince of
darkness.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Robert Novak. He and his family are in our thoughts and
prayers. And we'll be right back.

MR. DAVID GREGORY: Be sure to tune in to MSNBC for the premiere this week
of "The Kennedy Brothers: A Hardball Documentary with Chris Matthews."
It's on Thursday evening at 7 PM Eastern time, only on MSNBC.

That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

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