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updated 2/12/2010 1:18:22 PM ET 2010-02-12T18:18:22

MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, going for broke on healthcare reform.
After the divisive debate of the summer, the president will detail his
plan before a joint session of Congress this week and try to regain
control of the debate. While liberals in his party demand a public
option, centrists and Republicans oppose it. Is there room for
compromise? We'll ask the man behind the president's message and new
strategy, senior adviser David Axelrod.

Then the hard choices and political realities as the president pursues
his agenda this fall. Health care and the economy, Afghanistan and
terrorism eight years after the 9/11 attacks. With us, former mayor of
New York City and 2008 Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani;
the chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, former Congressman
Harold Ford; New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman; and special
correspondent for NBC News Tom Brokaw.

MR. DAVID GREGORY: But first, the president's senior adviser, David
Axelrod, joins us now live.

Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

MR. DAVID AXELROD: Thanks, David, good to be here.

MR. GREGORY: So here is the state, the landscape that the president now
faces on health care. A poll this week shows a majority of Americans
oppose, 51 percent, Republican leaders in the past few days have been
saying if the president's going to speak before Congress, it's time to
hit the reset button and start over. Will he?

MR. AXELROD: Well, look, first of all, understand that when people hear
the details of where the president wants to go, bringing stability to
people who have insurance today and security for them and helping those
who don't have insurance get insurance, they support this plan. So the
president has an opportunity on Wednesday to speak to the nation and the
Congress on this. I think that he'll engender great support for where he
wants to go. We've been through a long debate now. All the ideas are on
the table. It's time to bring the strands together and get the job done
for the American people here.

MR. GREGORY: Is this his plan that he'll present on Wednesday?

MR. AXELROD: Well, I think there are elements--look, all the ideas are on
the table, David. The president set forth principles at the beginning of
this discussion at the beginning of the year and now all the ideas are on
the table and the president will say we agree on 80 percent of this,
let's, let's do the final 20 percent, let's get the job done, and here's
how I think we should do it.

MR. GREGORY: But if Americans are confused, if they think this healthcare
plan is negative, if they're scared by it, some even think it's
socialism, what's the one thing that Americans will come away with on
Wednesday? What will they know about this plan?

MR. AXELROD: Well, I think they'll come away with a clear sense of what
it is and what it's not. What it is is a plan that, again, will give more
security and stability to people who have insurance today and it'll make
it easier for those who don't to get it. You said in your open the
president's going for broke. The idea here is to keep the American people
from going broke as a result of soaring healthcare costs that have
doubled in the last 10 years, risen three times the rate of wages. We
want to bring security to the people who have insurance so that they're
not thrown off their insurance if they get sick, so that if they lose
their job or change their job, they'll still have coverage, so that
people with pre-existing conditions can get insurance. That's what the
American people need to know.

MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about ideas on the table. The big one is the
so-called public option, a government plan that would be alongside
private insurance plans to try to create competition and drive down
costs. This is what the president said back in July about the public
option.

(Videotape, July 18, 2009)

PRES. BARACK 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: Does the president stand by that statement?

MR. AXELROD: You know, he certainly believes that a public option within
this exchange would be important. Let's, let's, let's focus on what the
issue is. There are 10...

MR. GREGORY: He said it must be included, David. He said it must be
included.

MR. AXELROD: He said there must--he said there must be a, an exchange
where people can get insurance at a competitive price. He believes in
competition and choice. The public option is a, is an important tool to
help promote that where there is no competition. He still believes that.
But here's the problem, David. If you don't have insurance today, if
don't have insurance through your employer and you need to get a policy,
it costs you three times as much, on the average, as it would if you had
employer coverage. People simply can't afford it. One of the ways--so we
want to create a pool in which people who don't have insurance, and small
businesses, can go and get insurance at a competitive price. And a public
option would be a valuable tool within that group, that package of plans
that would be offered, private and public.

MR. GREGORY: I just want to be clear here because in his statement, he
was unequivocal. He said it must be included. A public plan must be
included. Is he now signaling that he would compromise on that if you
could still have some measure of competition?

MR. AXELROD: Well, first of all, you'd have to take the whole statement.
He believes that a health insurance exchange where people can go, small
businesses, people who don't have insurance can get insurance at an
affordable price is still essential to any health reform and he believes
a public option would be an important part of that package. He hasn't
changed his view.

MR. GREGORY: This is what the House speaker says, Nancy Pelosi. She draws
a line in the sand. She says the following, "Any real change requires the
inclusion of a strong public option to promote competition and bring down
costs. If a vigorous public option is not included, it would be a major
victory for the health insurance industry. A bill without a strong public
option will not pass the House. Eliminating the public option would be a
major victory for the insurance companies. We have rationed care,
increased premiums and denied coverage." Does the president agree with
the House speaker?

MR. AXELROD: Well, he certainly agrees that we have to have competition
and choice to hold the insurance companies honest. We have to have
insurance protections for folks who have insurance, so they can't do the
kinds of things that they've done in the past, arbitrarily throwing
people off their insurance if they have a pre-existing condition or if
they get seriously ill. He agrees with all of that. The idea here is to
bring more security and stability to people who have insurance and to
help those who don't have insurance get it at a price they can afford.
The public option within that exchange is certainly a valuable tool.

MR. GREGORY: The reality is as a political matter, you cannot get
Republicans to sign on nor can you get moderate Democrats, maybe 10 or 12
of them to sign on if the president fights for a public option. True or
false?

MR. AXELROD: Look, why don't we let the president speak and make his case
and then we can have this discussion. I believe that there's enormous
consensus around a broad number of issues that would make a great
difference for people who have insurance and people who need insurance
and we have to build on that. And I think the president will be able to
do that on Wednesday night and we'll go from there.

MR. GREGORY: What about the idea of a trigger, which is to say that you
can introduce a government plan into states if the private insurance
market doesn't succeed at driving down prices? Does the president think
that's an idea worth considering?

MR. AXELROD: Well, I'll let the president address the specifics on
Wednesday, David. But again, the goal here is to create competition and
choice. There are markets where there are insurance companies that, that
have 90 percent of the business, states in this countries. So it's very
difficult to discipline the insurance companies on price and on the
quality of care. Competition would do that and give the consumers a
better break. He's for promoting competition and choice.

MR. GREGORY: So a trigger is still possible?

MR. AXELROD: Well, again, I'll let him address this. He believes the
public option is a, is a good tool. Now, it shouldn't define the whole
healthcare debate, however. There are, you know, the insurance guarantees
that are in there for the 160 million people who have employer-based
coverage are absolutely essential so that they have, you know, the
ability to hang on to their insurance if they get seriously ill and not
get thrown off. If they have someone in their family with a pre-existing
condition, they can get them covered and so on. We have to--that there's
a cap on out of pocket expenses so if you get sick, you don't go broke.
These are the things that health reform would bring to people who have insurance
today as they hold on to the policies that they have.

MR. GREGORY: Let's look at the president's political standing over the
course of this summer as this debate has raged on. Among independent
voters, these are the voters you know well, who actually delivered the
presidency to Mr. Obama, and the numbers have flipped now. Since July,
his approval rating overall among independent voters down to 43 percent.
Did the administration lose control of the healthcare debate?

MR. AXELROD: Now look, this is a difficult issue, David. We knew that.
We've been trying to solve this for four decades and the problem's only
gotten worse as Washington dithered. But the reason it's difficult is
because it inspires great passions and we, we knew that. But let me tell
you something. The president of the United States is not sitting there
reading his poll numbers. The president--the numbers he's reading are the
12 million people who've been excluded from insurance in the last few
years because they have a pre-existing condition. He's reading letters
from people who have lost their insurance simply because they became
seriously ill. He's worried about the continued doubling every 10 years
of healthcare costs and what that means for families and businesses and
the government itself. Those are the numbers that he cares about. That's
what he's focused on and he believes that if you do the right thing, you
solve problems, that the rest will take care of itself. So you know,
we're going to forge forward, get this done. It's going to be an advance
for the American people and I think ultimately that will, will, will pay
great dividends politically. But that's not the motivation. Solving the
problem is what we have to focus on.

MR. GREGORY: Bottom line: what's achievable on health care this year?

MR. AXELROD: I think we're going to have major reform this year, reform,
again, that brings stability to people who have insurance so they're not
abused within the insurance system and gives the option to--gives the
ability to people who don't have insurance to get insurance at a price
they can afford. And brings the overall rate of healthcare spending down
so we're not on this inexorable, unsustainable climb. I believe those
things are going to happen this year. I think there's a will to do it,
the American people want us to do it, and I think we're going to get it
done.

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about this education speech the president
plans to give on Tuesday. It's created this firestorm of controversy
around the country. He wanted to address students coming back to school,
welcome them back, talk about studying, staying in school, personal
responsibility. But now you've got school districts around the country
saying, "Hold on, we want to look at this thing first. We may not show it
in our classrooms, we don't like the lesson plans that necessarily go
along with it." It may not go off anywhere near how it was intended. How
did you lose control of this?

MR. AXELROD: Well, first of all, we'll be releasing the president's
remarks in advance so everybody can have a chance to evaluate it. He's
been--he'll say the same thing he's been saying to young people
throughout his public life, which is that they have control over their
own destiny, they have to work hard, they have to study, they have to
make--they're the ones who can make something of their own lives. If--all
we can do is give them an opportunity. It's an important message. It is a
message about personal responsibility, and I would think it would be
welcomed across the country. But that's up to--people will make their own
decision about it.

MR. GREGORY: But what happened here? Are you surprised at this reaction?

MR. AXELROD: Well, you know what? I mean, I was. I was a little
bewildered by it because it--I think it's an important and wholesome
message. There's nothing political about it, and it's a shame that some
people have tried to politicize it. But you know, when the president
speaks, I think people will make their judgment. I think it's important
for a president to stand up for that principle of individual
responsibility, and I think if our young people--if he can, if he can
help one young--we've got 30--nearly a 30 percent dropout rate in this
country, if he can persuade one child in this country to stay in school,
to keep at it, to make something of their life, then the whole exercise
would have been worth it.

MR. GREGORY: Another domestic matter. Van Jones, who's been an adviser to
the White House on environmental policy, resigned overnight because of
some inflammatory comments he's made over time, including a petition he
signed that blamed the government for the 9/11 attacks. Was this an issue
that got to the president? Did he personally order that he be fired?

MR. AXELROD: Absolutely not. This was an, an--this was Van Jones' own
decision. You know, he is internationally known as an advocate for green
jobs. And that's the basis on which he was hired. He said in his
statement that he didn't want his comments to become a distraction from
the issue, which is so important to the future of our economy and
communities around the country. And I commend him for making that
decision.

MR. GREGORY: Was he the victim of a smear campaign as he alleges?

MR. AXELROD: Well, look, this is a--you know, the political environment
is, is, is, is rough and so, you know, these things get magnified. But
the bottom line is that he's showed his commitment to the cause of
creating green jobs in this country by removing himself as a, as an issue
and I think that took, that took a great deal of commitment on his part.

MR. GREGORY: But was the president offended by what he said?

MR. AXELROD: I haven't spoken to the president about this. As you know,
this, this thing has bubbled up in the last few days, and frankly, my
conversation with the president have mostly been about health care, which
is where our focus should be right now.

MR. GREGORY: Do you find it--what he said objectionable?

MR. AXELROD: Well, I haven't read all of, of his comments, either, David.
Again, I'm focused on how we get health security for all Americans, how
we get this economy moving in the right direction. We've pulled back from
the abyss of a potential collapse and now we have to build for the future
and get people back to work. I think those are the things that we should
be focused on and that's what I am focused on.

MR. GREGORY: David, I want to end on a question about the other huge
challenge for this administration and this president and that is
Afghanistan. This was The Washington Post headline on Tuesday. "General,"
speaking of General McChrystal, "Afghan situation is serious and
McChrystal expected to seek more resources, but the White House is wary."
Will the president be reluctant to commit more U.S. forces to the war in
Afghanistan?

MR. AXELROD: Well, look, we have--we've been in Afghanistan since 2001
when we were attacked by al-Qaeda who were posted there. That's why we
went. We drifted for a period of years where we had no strategy. The
president ordered a strategic review in the winter and we're executing
that, but it called for a review--another review after the election and
that's where we are. He's going to get General McChrystal's reports and
recommendations as well as those of others and make a decision. But the
main thing is, we have to keep focused on what our mission was there,
which was to disable and destroy al-Qaeda so they don't threaten us any
longer, and that's the prism through which he'll make his judgments.

MR. GREGORY: Should there be a deadline for troop withdrawal just as then
Senator Obama called on the Bush administration to get troops out of
Iraq? Is it reasonable to set that kind of deadline with regard to troops
in Afghanistan?

MR. AXELROD: Well, look, we have a different situation in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is actually the place that--Afghanistan and Pakistan--where
the folks who attacked us on 9/11 are holed up and plotting against us
still. That's a problem that still exists. It's a threat that still
exists. We have to deal with it and so it's a wholly different situation.
But the president will evaluate...

MR. GREGORY: So no deadline. No deadline is appropriate?

MR. AXELROD: The president, the, the president will evaluate all that,
that--all the information that's coming to, to him now. We have a series
of benchmarks and review points set up and, you know, he's going to make
the hard judgments that need to be made.

MR. GREGORY: We will leave it there. David Axelrod, thank you very much.

MR. AXELROD: OK, David, thanks for having me.

MR. DAVID GREGORY: Now let's go straight to our roundtable. Here in
Washington, joining us, Harold Ford Jr. of the Democratic Leadership
Council; former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani; Tom Brokaw of NBC
News; and Tom Friedman of The New York Times.

Tom Brokaw, first to you. There's a lot to get to. Let's start with
health care. David Axelrod used the word security over and over again. Is
that a big theme for Wednesday night?

MR. TOM BROKAW: Well, I would think it is. I think what the president
needs to do as much as anything is clarify what he really does want out
of health care in the next year. I'm pretty dialed into this issue, and
I'm with a lot of American people who've been watching all of this. Fifty
percent of them saying they don't understand what this debate is all
about. My guess is that the number is probably closer to 80 percent. A lot of
moderate Democrats on the president's side of all this have some real
reservations about where they can get to realistically. One of them, Kent
Conrad of North Dakota, who is a principal player in that gang of six, is
terribly worried about the cost of the public option. That's more than a
trillion dollars--David Axelrod didn't raise that. At a time when the
country's trying to kick start the economy and other people across
America are being told to save more money and to cut back on their
expectations, they look at that price tag, which goes with TARP and
stimulus and the bailout of the automobiles, and it gives them some real
pause about what is achievable. There's no question that the American
healthcare system does need to be reformed at several different levels,
and I think the White House overstepped at the beginning in not having a
clear, simple plan about what we want to achieve and when we want to
achieve it.

MR. GREGORY: Harold Ford, the question of cost that Tom raises, a huge
issue. Democrats I've talked to said, "Look, you're not--forget about
Republicans, you're not going to get moderate Democrats unless that price
tag comes down. One of the ways to do that, cover fewer people. Get off
this idea of universal health care. Do you think that's what's going to
happen?

FMR. REP. HAROLD FORD JR. (D-TN): He may have to. Brokaw has it about
right. He's got to also say to the majority of Americans who have health
insurance, "How will this new health reform package affect your own
health choices? Will you be able to see the doctor that you've seen in
the past?" Many Americans with health insurance are worried about just
that. Two, I don't think the president can win over a majority of
conservative and moderate Democrats with trillion dollar price tag. I
hate to say it. We've got to make some tough choices here. Some of my
liberal friends in the Congress, my former colleagues, probably are going
to be disappointed with what the president says in the next night or so.
And some of my Republican friends, who want to be disappointed and want
to reject the president may end up supporting the president, because he
brings the price tag down, he encourages insurance reform, he ensures
that children will be covered, and he says to the country, we can--once
the economy gets back on track, we'll have a longer conversation about
this.

I was pleased to hear Axelrod say one big thing. Choice and competition.
The American people understand those issues, they understand those terms
and they resonate. If he's able to convey security with your choices
today, your doctor choices today, choice and competition, and bring that
price tag down, he might not only win an overwhelming majority of
Democrats, he might bring some Republicans along as well.

MR. GREGORY: Mayor Giuliani, you heard David Axelrod say notably, I
thought, major reform is still achievable this year. Can he do it with
Republicans?

MR. RUDY GIULIANI: Not if he has the public option. I think he gave up
the public option. I was trying to listen carefully to what he was
saying, but sounds to me like the public option is gone.

MR. GREGORY: A willingness to compromise there is what I heard.

MR. GIULIANI: I think that, I think, but I think the biggest mistake the
president has made is he hasn't done cost savings. He, he hasn't put a
single realistic cost saving proposal on the table. A trillion dollars,
healthcare history is everything costs three times as much when you look
at the predictions for Medicare, Medicaid, everything else. So a trillion
dollars is the low-ball estimate of what this is going to cost. He took
off the table medical malpractice reform. Big mistake. Big, big mistake
if you want a bipartisan solution to this. You take off the table one of
the biggest ways in which you can save money and create some equity in
the system. He took off the table interstate purchase of insurance.
That's real competition. Now you can--you have 50 states that are
competing with each other, you can really bring the cost down.

MR. GREGORY: Does he have to cover fewer people?

MR. GIULIANI: If he had done what I was talking about, if he had done
medical malpractice, interstate, real significant tax reform, maybe he
could have achieved universal coverage. But I think he achieves it
through subsidies or tax breaks, not through a big government agency
trying to run health care for Americans.

MR. GREGORY: Tom Friedman, let me bring you in here. Back in 1993, when
you were a mere beat reporter covering the White House...

MR. FRIEDMAN: Oh, my gosh.

MR. GREGORY: And 16 years ago...

FMR. REP. FORD: What year was that?

MR. GREGORY: It was President Clinton.

MR. GREGORY: Right. It was President Clinton giving a major speech on
health care. And this is what you wrote. It's very interesting. "The
Clinton administration's toughest problem in selling a health care
overhaul to the American people will be boiling down into a single
evocative slogan. White House officials said today that if they had to
distill their message to a bumper sticker, it would be one word in
capital letters, SECURITY. `First and foremost will be the theme of
security,' said a presidential adviser George Stephanopoulos," who's
doing something else now. "That is the emotional core of this plan. It
speaks to people's deepest fears, the idea that no matter what happens to
you, if you lose your job, if your wife loses her job, if you switch jobs
or if your company goes under, your health care will be nationally
guaranteed."

It sounds like we're in the same place.

MR. FRIEDMAN: Yeah. That's--David, that's quite interesting, David. You
know, I, I, I'm a big believer that to name something is to own it. If  you
can name an issue, you can own the issue. And one of the things that's
happened, to pick up on Tom's point, is that Republicans named this
issue. They named it pulling the plug on grandma. And what you saw with
Axelrod, I think, was trying to retake the naming of this issue.
Security, stability, affordability, that's clearly where they're going to
go. But I also want to say, you know, one other thing because the
president's gotten a lot of criticism for--and fair enough, I think
rightly so, for not being clear about what he wants. But what about the
opposition? You know, there's only one thing worse, David, than one party
autocracy, and that's one party democracy, OK, where you don't actually
have two parties that are really truly, honestly trying to solve a
problem. When you have one-party democracy, and in this case, the
Democrats, you're--if you have to solve this whole problem among
Democrats, you're going to get the kind of mess, in my view, that you got
in the energy climate bill, OK?

Give President Obama 25 centrist Republicans in the House really ready to
work this problem, give him 10 centrist Republicans in the Senate really
ready to work this problem, I think you'll see an outcome that assures
the American people very, very quickly. So I think he's not the only one.

MR. GREGORY: So why aren't they, why aren't they there?

MR. GIULIANI: The president didn't really invite that. He said, "yes,
let's have bipartisan solution."

FMR. REP. FORD: Oh, yes, he did.

MR. GIULIANI: But if you take medical malpractice reform off the table,
which is a major Republican objective, so that's gone immediately, you
take interstate purchase of insurance off the table, that's gone
immediately, it becomes impossible for most Republicans to figure out how
you're going to save the money other than pulling the plug on grandma.
The president--remember what the president said was this is going to be
deficit neutral. Some raise in taxes, but basically deficit neutral. So
how do you reduce a trillion dollars or $750 million in--billion in
costs, without taking services away from people who get services? And the
people who basically get the services are senior citizens. So the
president has created this dilemma. He wasn't just not specific about it,
the assumptions that he made lead, lead to the conclusion that he had,
you have to cut massive numbers of people off.

MR. BROKAW: But what...

FMR. REP. FORD: That's not what...

MR. BROKAW: What has been interesting to me is that the Republicans have
raised the public option as some kind of an Orwellian monster. Half the
health care in America is already delivered by the government.

MR. GIULIANI: Right.

MR. BROKAW: Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans Administration, the Federal
Employees Health Program...

MR. GIULIANI: Right.

MR. BROKAW: ...is government run.

MR. GIULIANI: That's part of the problem. Part of the problem, half of it
already is in the hands of one massive monopoly. You make that monopoly
greater and you destroy private, private insurance.

FMR. REP. FORD: But, but, Mr. Mayor...

MR. GIULIANI: Same, same, same idea as the anti-trust law. If one company
becomes so large it wipes out all of its competitors. If that company is
the government, which right now threatens to wipe out all of its
competitors...

FMR. REP. FORD: But...

MR. GIULIANI: ...you add 40 million people to that, forget private
insurance companies.

FMR. REP. FORD: But people are...

MR. GREGORY: Harold.

FMR. REP. FORD: People under the government plans are generally pleased,
number one. Number two, the cost of private...

MR. GIULIANI: Depends upon the people.

FMR. REP. FORD: The cost of private insurance, you, I'd, I'd go with you,
Mr. Mayor, we could poll on Medicare. I think an overwhelming majority of
Americans like their Medicare, and those in the veterans program want
some improvement.

MR. GIULIANI: Three times more expensive.

FMR. REP. FORD: What's not...

MR. GIULIANI: Three times more expensive than ever predicted.

FMR. REP. FORD: That's not true, sir.

MR. GIULIANI: Yes, it is.

FMR. REP. FORD: Private health insurance inflation has gone up at double
the rate...

MR. GIULIANI: I use to pay for it.

FMR. REP. FORD: ...that public health insurance has gone up, number one.
Number two, the president from the outset, we can be critical of the way
he went about doing health care, but you cannot condemn him for reaching
out to Republicans. Max Baucus said he would not do a bill without the
Republican leader on the committee. What did Grassley do? He went home
and labeled the death panel bill. You had the senator from South
Carolina, DeMint, say if we stop Obama here, we can stop everything that
he stands for.

MR. GIULIANI: But...

FMR. REP. FORD: And three, Mr. Mayor, it's unfair. I appreciate your...

MR. GIULIANI: It's not unfair at all.

FMR. REP. FORD: I appreciate your...

MR. GIULIANI: You can't, you can't...

FMR. REP. FORD: I appreciate your talk about fiscal responsibility now.

MR. GIULIANI: But you can't...

FMR. REP. FORD: But you didn't say a word about the tax cuts, the
trillion dollar tax cuts, how we would pay for it. You didn't say a word
about the trillion dollar Medicare prescription drug bill, how we would
pay for it. You didn't say a word about the trillion dollars for the war.
Things we needed to do.

MR. GIULIANI: Right. But...

FMR. REP. FORD: But at least this president is saying, I'm going to pay
for it.

MR. GIULIANI: But the problem...

FMR. REP. FORD: So for you to be critical...

MR. GIULIANI: The problem...

FMR. REP. FORD: ...be consistent is the only thing I say.

MR. GIULIANI: Well, well, the reality is you can't tell me they're going
to do a bipartisan proposal and then take off the table two of the major
things that I want to see compromise or worked out.

FMR. REP. FORD: I would agree with you on malpractice reform.

MR. GIULIANI: That is, that is...

FMR. REP. FORD: It should be a part of it.

MR. GIULIANI: But that is, but that was, that is, that's saying to
Republicans, forget the code words, that's saying to Republicans forget
the way you look at it. We're going to do it my way. Now let's
compromise.

MR. GREGORY: Let me get a break in here. We'll have much more on the
political fallout of this, as well as other topics, when we come back
with our roundtable. We'll also talk about Afghanistan and the war on
terror, right after this break.

(Announcements)

MR. GREGORY: Our roundtable weighs in on Afghanistan and the war on
terror eight years after the 9/11 attacks after this brief commercial
break.

(Announcements)

MR. GREGORY: And we're back with our roundtable. And I have to say, if I
were ever planning a Sunday brunch, it doesn't get any better than this,
then these folks around the table. Let's get back to these serious
topics.

Tom Brokaw, still on health care for just a couple of minutes. One of the
things that I'm told from top Democrats is that the idea of
reconciliation is still more likely than not. In other words, the
president tries to get this through with a simple majority of 51 rather
than going for the 60 votes.

MR. BROKAW: Reconciliation is a process that was designed to deal with
budget issues, as you know. And they think if they go to reconciliation
and try to keep it focused on the cost of health care, that they can get
there. What do they get out of all of that? They hope that they get a
mandate where everyone has to have health insurance of some kind. And one
of the senior advisers to the administration on all of this is also
saying we think we can get the exchange process in place where states
will organize an exchange, a shopping mall, if you will, for people who
are looking for health insurance to go and have a competitive
environment. They're not saying anything about the public option in all
of that. Let me just say one other thing. At full disclosure, I'm a
public trustee of the Mayo Clinic, but I'm not involved in their debate
on healthcare reform. The Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic and other
major healthcare delivery systems in America that are doing well believe
that the administration is missing a big opportunity to restructure the
cost of Medicare and Medicaid so that you pay for performance and not
just for tests. And no one is addressing that as well. So there are so
many elements in all of this that are in play now and the administration
took a big bite and now the question is whether they can digest all of
this.

MR. GREGORY: Tom Friedman, let me end on this political question about
health care. Let's put up that graphic about the independent voters
again.

MR. TOM FRIEDMAN: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY: Because I think it's telling. It shows that Obama's approval
ratings slipping down to 43 percent, since July, down 10 points. The
issue he's got here in the Democratic Party, he's got a left that really
wants that fundamental change that he campaigned on, but he's got a
reality among independent voters and centrist Democrats who say, wow,
we're spending a lot of money here. We've got bailouts, as Tom, you know,
went, went through.

MR. FRIEDMAN: Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: It's just a difficult time to take on all this. What's his
message to his party right now?

MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, this is a framing challenge. There's no
question about that, David. You know, just a couple of things I would
say. You know, one, in terms of health care itself, to me, one way to
frame it, it's a huge competition issue. Who needs health care more than
American business today, taking the burden off business so they can
compete globally? And that is, to me, an independent/Republican issue,
you know, tends to be more than a Democratic/left issue. The second is, I
keep coming back to this point. If he doesn't have Republicans who
already take yes for an answer, let's look where the administration's
going, you could hear it from Axelrod. Public option's not going to be
there. He's drifting toward what--this idea of insurance exchanges. Where
did we see that? Hey, that was Mitt Romney's idea in Massachusetts. He's
going to drift, I think, to the idea of paying for this by taxing at
least some healthcare benefits of some people. Where did I hear that?
That was John McCain. Now, can Republicans say yes to McCain, Romney
ideas? And it's not clear to me that they aren't out to pull the plug on
Obama much more than anything else.

MR. GREGORY: Mayor:

MR. GIULIANI: I think if he, if he had a set of proposals that I don't
hear that talked about real cost containment, real reduction in cost, and
then, and then a realistic way to cover more people through tax breaks,
tax exemptions, subsidies, things like that, I think Republicans could
support it. Republicans have--I supported, along with John McCain, a
major reform of health care. If he incorporated a lot of those things in
it, I would support it.

MR. GREGORY: Let me get onto a couple of other things here that are also
interesting issues. The other speech the president planned to give on
Tuesday was an education speech to students coming back from their summer
break, and he wanted to talk about studying hard. We brought it up with
David Axelrod. Well, this has created such a firestorm. Here's the New
Canaan Public Schools, writing a parent letter, and in it they say this.
"In developing their plans our principals have considered issues such as
developmental appropriateness, curricular relevance, the time at which
the speech is being broadcast and the importance of teachers assuming
responsibility for the selection of instructional materials. In
elementary schools the administration and faculty will view the speech,
download it and after discussing it, make decisions regarding how it
might be used in the future--including deciding its appropriateness for
various grade levels. Parents will be notified, if and when, the decision
to show the speech is made." Tom Brokaw, talk about tortured language.
What's going on here?

MR. FRIEDMAN: Signs of the apocalypse. I mean, really.

MR. BROKAW: It's stunning to me. I come from a time and a place in
America where it would be thrilling to have a president of the United
States address your school about the importance of studying and staying
in school. And this president, whatever else you think about his
political philosophy, is a symbol of working hard, coming from difficult
circumstances and getting to where he is in part because of education. I
think it's so ripe for satire, it's unbelievable. The superintendent of
the Gettysburg Public School System said today that they have devised a
plan for students to be shielded from a President Abraham Lincoln who
will be coming to make an address. Look, that is the most tortured thing
I can possibly imagine, what we just read there. It sounds like East
Germany trying to form some restrictions on people leaving the eastern
sector to go into the western sector. I think it's perfectly appropriate
for parents to say, "I don't want my child to hear that. I would rather
keep them out or put them in a different school that day." But this is
completely out of control, in my judgment. And it's not--it's not
partisan. I mean, if--when I was a student or when my children were in
school...

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MR. BROKAW: ...if it had been Dwight Eisenhower or John Kennedy or Lyndon
Johnson or Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan or George Bush, the idea of
hearing a president of the United States saying we should study hard and
that's how we advance and we all need to get in on, on this, I think is
an appropriate message.

MR. GREGORY: Mayor Giuliani, you ran for president and one of the things
that I've noticed in my experience covering a Republican president,
George W. Bush, is the lack of respect for the institution of the
presidency. Whether it's people saying during Bush's time, "Hey, he's not
my president." Well, no, yes, he is. Does that trouble you?

MR. GIULIANI: Yes, it does, and Tom is right. But the difference is we
looked at President Eisenhower or President Reagan, even up to about that
point, even President Bush 41 differently. There's a lack of respect for
the president, there's a lack of respect for politicians. And David
Axelrod said, "Well, this isn't politics." Everything the president does
nowadays is politics, for better or worse. And I think that's what you're
seeing. You're seeing people distrust the president's motives or the
administration's motives. It's not just about the speech, it's about the
lesson plan. I think it's unfortunate and I think, you know, what's
the--it almost seems a shame to say what's the harm in a president
speaking to a group of children.

FMR. REP. FORD: I wish when I was in fourth...

MR. GIULIANI: I think, I think the president should be given the
opportunity to do it.

MR. GREGORY: Governor Pawlenty of Minnesota, Harold, said, "Look, the
only issue with this was it was uninvited." There's a sense that it's
been kind of foisted on the schools. Is there any legitimate criticism?
There were lesson plans that encouraged the students to write letters
saying how they could help the president.

FMR. REP. FORD: I traveled to Afghanistan in February of '02. We took
with us letters from students in our own congressional districts. I was
along with seven other members of Congress to deliver the students in
Afghanistan. We asked them to do it. The--we thought a clever and smart,
an interesting way for kids to connect. I wish when I was in fourth grade
the president of the United States--when I was in fourth grade, it
would've been 1978 or '79, Jimmy Carter was president. I wish in '82,
when I was in seventh grade, Reagan would've come and said study hard,
work hard, obey your teachers. If that's bad in America today...

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

FMR. REP. FORD: ...we have worse problems than the president going into
a, going into a school and speaking.

MR. GREGORY: What...

MR. FRIEDMAN: But David, you know, you said, it's a firestorm. And we
live in the age of firestorms. You know, today, or this week, it's the
president speaking in school. What it needs is for people to stand up and
say that's flat out stupid, OK? That's flat out stupid what you're
talking about. The president of the United States, addressing
schoolchildren in this country to study hard, work hard because that's
the way you advance in today's global economy. And instead of that, we
kind of dance around it, you know. It's flat out stupid.

MR. GREGORY: You talk about Van Jones as well, you know, the fact that in
this, in this media age, what he said, by anybody's estimation, was
objectionable, to sign a petition saying the government was behind 9/11.
But it goes to something that's going on in this information age...

MR. FRIEDMAN: David, yeah...

MR. GREGORY: ...which is you can be a target real fast.

MR. FRIEDMAN: David, when everyone has a cell phone, everyone's a
photographer. When everyone has access to YouTube, everyone's a
filmmaker. And when everyone's a blogger, everyone's a newspaper. When
everyone's a photographer, a newspaper and a filmmaker, everyone else is
a public figure. Tell your kids, OK, tell your kids, OK, be careful.
Every move they make is now a digital footprint. You are on "Candid
Camera." And unfortunately, the real message to young people, from all of
these incidents, OK, and I'm not here defending anything anyone said, but
from all of these incidents, is you know, really keep yourself tight,
don't say anything controversial, don't think anything--don't put
anything in print. You know, whatever you do, just kind of smooth out all
the edges, and maybe you too--you know, when you get nominated to be
ambassador to Burkina Faso, you'll be able to get through the hearing.

MR. GREGORY: OK.

MR. BROKAW: Well, I've--one of the things I've been saying to audiences
is this question comes up a lot, and a lot of people will repeat back to
me and take it as face value something that they read on the Internet.
And my line to them is you have to vet information. You have to test it
the same way you do when you buy an automobile or when you go and buy a
new flat-screen television. You read the Consumer Reports, you have an
idea of what it's worth and what the lasting value of it is. You have to
do the same thing with information because there is so much
disinformation out there that it's frightening, frankly, in a free
society that depends on information to make informed decisions. And this
is across the board, by the way. It's not just one side of the political
spectrum or the other. It is across the board, David, and it's something
that we all have to address and it requires society and political and
cultural leaders to stand up and say, "this is crazy." We just can't
function that way.

MR. FRIEDMAN: You know, David, I just want to say one thing to pick up on
Tom's point, which is the Internet is an open sewer of untreated,
unfiltered information, left, right, center, up, down, and requires that
kind of filtering by anyone. And I always felt, you know, when modems
first came out, when that was how we got connected to the Internet, that
every modem sold in America should actually come with a warning from the
surgeon general that would have said, "judgment not included," OK? That
you have to upload the old-fashioned way. Church, synagogue, temple,
mosque, teachers, schools, you know. And too often now people say, and
we've all heard it, "But I read it on the Internet," as if that solves
the bar bet, you know? And I'm afraid not.

MR. GREGORY: We're talk--we're talking about our society. I want to talk
about a society halfway around the world that America's engaged in trying
to changing and that is Afghanistan and the war in Afghanistan. It is a
critical time. Tom Friedman, you write about this in your column today on
this question of more troops. The headline, "From Babysitting to
Adoption." "We're not just adding more troops in Afghanistan. We are
transforming our mission--from babysitting to adoption. We are going from
a limited mission focused on babysitting Afghanistan ... in order to
prevent an al-Qaeda return to adopting Afghanistan as our state-building
project. ...

"This is a much bigger undertaking than we originally signed up for.
Before we adopt a new baby--Afghanistan--we need to have a new national
discussion about this project: what it will cost, how much time it would
take, what U.S. interests make it compelling and, most of all, who is
going to oversee this policy.

"I feel a vast and rising ambivalence about this in the American public
today and adopting a baby you are ambivalent about is a prescription for
disaster."

Two Sundays ago, Admiral Mullen was on this program and I asked him about
exactly what the U.S. enterprise was in Afghanistan was. Watch.

(Videotape, August 23, 2009)

MR. GREGORY: We're rebuilding this nation.

ADM. DAVID 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.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Tom, are we fulfilling our central mission there?

MR. FRIEDMAN: David, I want to pick up with Admiral Mullen. You had him
on and he gave, I thought, a really smart speech on this week to a
veterans group in which he said, you know, "I'd rather debate this issue
than ignore it." And I--and, and what I think he was implying there and
implying here, he knows--I actually--the last time I went to Afghanistan
was following him. And I saw a lot of the things that, that, that he saw,
and it was very clear to me that the strategy has changed. Basically what
the military has concluded is that the only way we can possibly succeed
there is by building the kind of local governance, regional governance
and national governance there that will protect and serve the Afghan
people so they won't want to sign up with the Taliban for any number of
other reasons. And that's what they have concluded. But the only way to
do that is with state building 101. And I think the thing we all have to
debate, OK, and we really knew--I do believe, I do believe we have to
redebate this issue on a national level is do we want to undertake that
project in this country. Does it serve our interests? I believe it is a
fantasy to think we can go to this sort of small, mobile, you know, units
that everyone wants. That--if that had worked, do you think George Bush
would have figured that out during eight years? The reason that doesn't
work, you can't collect the intel you need. OK, if you're in small, you
know, little units traveling around the country, how are you going to
know who's who what? That's not going to happen.

MR. GREGORY: Mayor Giuliani, This is the cover of The Week magazine. It's
got Uncle Sam wading through the mud of Afghanistan and the question: Can
the U.S. ever tame Afghanistan? Is this approach the right one?

MR. GIULIANI: I'm not sure the strategy has changed. I just heard David
Axelrod say the main strategy there is to disrupt the Taliban, disrupt
al-Qaeda, that's the place from which the attack of September 11 emerged.
I hope they, I hope they remain focused on that goal, because that is a
worthy goal, a necessary one, and it probably needs more troops. I think
the president in this instance is living up to his campaign promise. I
support him completely. I think he's got the right focus. I think we have
no choice. And we can't become Afghanistan centric.

MR. GREGORY: But you say the primary thrust is eliminating al-Qaeda.
Harold, General McChrystal has made it clear: The mission is protecting
the population.

MR. GIULIANI: Well, it's the same thing.

MR. GREGORY: This is a counterinsurgency strategy, right, but I mean
there's a lot of work that goes into protecting a population with this...

MR. GIULIANI: Yes.

MR. GREGORY: ...kind of culture of poverty, with this sort of distrust of
anything that's not the Taliban, of a central government, of which
there's not much.

MR. GIULIANI: And we should get, and we should get it done. I mean, we
should, we should...

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MR. GIULIANI: ...accomplish it. I think that we ignored Afghanistan for
too long, ignored the troop requirements that were necessary there.

MR. GREGORY: Under President Bush.

MR. GIULIANI: Yeah, we did. When we, we did it because we were focused on
Iraq. But I hate to see it now reverse itself and focus so much on
Afghanistan that we don't complete the job in Iraq.

MR. GREGORY: Harold, is this, is this war winnable?

FMR. REP. FORD: It depends on how you define it. I think disrupting,
trying your hardest to disband al-Qaeda and prevent terrorism there and
prevent it on our soil remains in the forefront. Some of the criticism
this week from noted conservatives have focused on whether or not we are
focused as much on Pakistan as we should be. It's important to note, as
Tom has, Afghanistan, our bases there are critical to us being able to
effectively address challenges that might disrupt al-Qaeda in Pakistan,
too. The Afghans as--I read Tom Friedman's column and I agree with him
about 99 percent of the time. I take issue a little bit with some in the
column only because I happen to think that there's a difference here.
Although the Taliban and for that matter Afghans, were not as--we didn't
have a ready partner as we did in Iraq in Afghanistan today, it's
important to know that 90 percent of the country, if not more, is not in
favor of what the--what the Taliban wants to do. Two, the elections were
bad but there was some positives that came out of it. It's also clear
that these people are more pro-American. I think we have an obligation
here and a responsibility, because if you offshore this
responsibility--we tried it in the '90s and it didn't work--as painful as
it may be to maintain and for that matter conduct a new strategy that may
require new troops, I think the president's going to be forced to do it.
I hope we can find an easy and quick way out of it. But at the same time,
I would much rather do this than five to 10 years from now have this
president be asked and blamed.

MR. FRIEDMAN: I think we should have discussion...

MR. GREGORY: Tom, Tom--let me get Tom Brokaw to weigh in here.

MR. BROKAW: Well, I--there's a lot of concern in the administration. And
people were advising the administration about the level of corruption in
this election. They see that as a great opening for the Taliban that they
can take advantage of that. It's like the subcontinent have the Olympics
of election corruption. Iran was in first place, now Afghanistan has
moved into first place. And this has been going on for some time. I was
in Islamabad four years ago and had a meeting, brief meeting, with Karzai
in a hotel, and three of the parliamentarians who'd accompanied him took
me off to the side and said, "You have no idea what's going on here. It's
his family using this as a cash register of this entire country." The
best line I've ever heard about Afghanistan, and most people who look at
Afghanistan from this distance think of Kandahar and Kabul, but it's this
very remote, disconnected country of tribes. And an expert on Afghanistan
said to me one day, "The problem with Afghanistan is the Afghans have
reversible turbans. It depends on who's in town that day. And they've
learned that over the years through a lot of occupation. You know,
they're not just going to stand up and salute the American flag because
we happen to be around. It depends on who's in town that day.

MR. GREGORY: Right. Rudy Giuliani, the bigger question about Afghanistan,
the war initiated after 9/11 as we approach the eighth anniversary now,
is the country, is the United States safer since 9/11?

MR. GIULIANI: I do think it is. But I thought Tom's column answered
itself. If the premises are correct. If, in fact, that is the
place--well, it is the place from which the attack of September 11
emerged.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MR. GIULIANI: If it continues to be, if our intelligence tells us that
continues to be the place we have to be the most concerned about, then we
have to do whatever is necessary to eliminate it. And if that requires
some form of village building, town building, nation building, then for
our own safety we're going to have to do it. But the main thing is, is
your intelligence correct, are the premises correct? I think they are. I
think we're safer than we were. We're not as safe as we would like to be.
I think--it's indisputable that we're safer than we were before. We've
got much better intelligence. We've got a much more active pursuit of
terrorism. We've got them much more on the run. Thank God we haven't been
attacked. The day that it happened, I was told that we were going to get
attacked multiple times, both that day and in the next week, and for
three months I was waiting for the next attack and getting intelligence
from every source imaginable, every one of the agencies we talk about,
that New York should be ready for multiple attacks over the next two to
three years, and the United States should be.

MR. GREGORY: But we still don't have bin Laden.

MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, David, to pick up on the mayor's point, I
think there is sort of--the threat we faced after 9/11 has sort of three
components, and I've tried to distinguish between terrorists and
terrorism. I think we are safer for a lot of the reasons the mayor
referred to. Our intelligence is better, our global cooperation is
better. There's no question. We're going to spend this Labor Day weekend,
you know, out biking. Bin Laden's the one in the cave. That's the, that's
the first thing to remember. So I think--and that's why we--one big
reason we haven't been attacked. But there are two other components to
this threat. One is the misgovernance in that whole part of the world
that has produced the pathologies, the angry young people, unemployment,
that produces not only the terrorists but the people behind them. And the
third thing is the, the sort of the religious, the war of ideas. And
there we've lost. You know when I'll feel safer? I'll feel safer, David,
when more people in the Muslim world turn out to protest a bombing in the
heart of Baghdad that kills hundreds of innocent people than Danish
cartoons.

MR. GREGORY: I've only got a minute left, but I've got to get to politics
before we go. Mayor Giuliani, you have said you're thinking about running
for governor of New York. What troubles you about the state of New York
now that will inform that decision?

MR. GIULIANI: Well, I'm still, I'm still thinking about it. I think the
same things that trouble most people about what's going on throughout the
country. I think the, well, the budget of New York is way out of control.
It's $120 billion, $130 billion, just a 9 percent increase in spending at a time
in which we're, we're dealing with less for most, for most people. Taxes
have been raised and are going to be raises astronomically. A big problem
in New York. We're already losing population as a result of that. People
are making plans to live somewhere else. And we have a whole upstate
region that hasn't had economic development for, for way too long. Those
are the things that would trouble you the most.

MR. GREGORY: You sound like you're inclined to run.

MR. GIULIANI: Then you've guessed something I haven't guessed.

MR. GREGORY: If you're still thinking about it, when will you make up
your mind?

MR. GIULIANI: Once we get through this political season and we get
finished with whatever is going on right now. There are, there's an
important race for mayor in New York City going on. Important race for
governor in New, New Jersey and Virginia. I have my favorites in each one
of those races. I'm working hard...

MR. GREGORY: So a November, a November decision?

MR. GIULIANI: Something like that.

MR. GREGORY: All right. We'll leave it there.

We got to a lot. Thank you very much. If we had more time, we could take
on physics as well. But we're going to leave it there. We'll be back
right after this brief station break.

(Announcements)

MR. DAVID GREGORY: That is 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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