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updated 3/17/2010 4:49:24 PM ET 2010-03-17T20:49:24

MR. TOM BROKAW:  This Sunday:  Critical condition.  President Obama delays his trip overseas to push hard for healthcare reform.

(Videotape)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA:  It's time to vote!  Tired of talking about it.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW:  Will he finally succeed on this top priority?  We'll ask the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod.

Then, counting the votes.

(Videotape)

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC):  I'm convinced that we'll have the votes to pass it.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW:  Will Democratic leaders be able to persuade enough members of their own party to support the controversial legislation?  We'll ask the two men charged with rounding up those votes, House Democratic Whip James Clyburn and Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin.

And he's the man many credit with President George W. Bush's rise to the White House.  Now he's the author of a new memoir, "Courage and Consequence," former senior adviser to President Bush Karl Rove.  He joins us to discuss his role in the Bush administration and much more.

And fallout from the vice president's trip to Israel.  How will that impact the Middle East peace process?  Insights and analysis from two noted New York Times columnists, David Brooks and Tom Friedman.

MR. TOM BROKAW:  But first, is the president on the brink of finally getting health care passed?  With us now this morning, his senior adviser, David Axelrod, who's in the member of--in the middle of all these intersections.

Mr. Axelrod, very nice to have you with us.

MR. DAVID AXELROD:  Thanks for having me.

MR. BROKAW:  I think it'll be helpful to the American public if we give them a kind of a road map of what we can expect in the days and maybe even the weeks ahead from a procedural point of view, because it's pretty confusing. Even congressional parliamentarians are having a hard time explaining this one.  So let us take you through now what we can expect. First,  the House will be voting on the Senate bill, which was approved in December.  The House will then also vote on a package of changes via reconciliation.  That's a procedure that they can get passed on a majority vote mostly to do with budget items.  The president then would
sign the Senate health bill if it gets passed.  The Senate passes the House's package of changes from reconciliation with a simple majority vote, and then the president would sign the reconciliation bill.  I think if you're out there, you're wondering--especially when you know the
healthcare bill is 2,700 pages all together--what does this mean for me in the final analysis?  The president has given 52 speeches on this subject.  How do you find yourself now in such a kerfuffle at the end of a year?

MR. AXELROD:  Well, I don't know if it's a kerfluffle, but I'm--it's good to have that word back in the, in the mix.  Look, I--Tom, the one thing I'm sure of is that the American people don't know or care much about the sequencing of parliamentary procedures.  They want an up or down vote after a year-long debate to bring this to a close.  And I think the sense of urgency has increased in recent weeks because we've seen rate increases across the country for health insurance:  39 percent in California, up to 60 percent in my home state of Illinois.  We're going to Ohio tomorrow in part because the president got a letter from a woman named Natoma Canfield.  Natoma Canfield was someone who had insurance in the individual market; she didn't get it through her job. She paid through the nose for it.  She was paying $6,000 a year, and it didn't cover much.  And she finally had to give it up at the end of last year
because she was afraid she would have to--she had to choose between her house and her insurance.  She was just diagnosed with leukemia, and now she has no insurance and her house is in jeopardy.  Anyway, this shouldn't happen in the United States of America.  That's what this is about, not about procedure.  It's about what are we going to do to protect the American people and give them the security they deserve?

MR. BROKAW:  I understand that, but they have to know what the procedure is before they know what comes out the other end.  And the--and a lot of people, including your friends, now have real doubts about the president's agenda and his ability to manage that efficiently in the
course of the last year.  Here was the article in The New Yorker magazine, which is generally sympathetic to this administration, saying, "The president's failure to connect to ordinary Americans" in the last year.  Scott Brown, the senator from Massachusetts who was elected by running against you with the Republican who was speaking yesterday to the nation on radio, here's what he had to say about your priorities.

(Videotape, Saturday)

SEN. SCOTT BROWN (R-MA):  Maybe you remember what President Obama promised in his State of the Union address.  He said he was going to finally focus on jobs and the economy for the remainder of this year.  I applauded him for that. Well, here it is, it's almost spring and what is he out there talking about again?  That same 2,700-page multitrillion-dollar healthcare legislation.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW:  You're going to be hearing that a lot from Republicans, not just in the weeks and months to come, but in the fall during the election time. What is the least that the president will accept for a healthcare reform bill at the end of this procedure?

MR. AXELROD:  Well, first of all, let me say, Tom, that it's interesting to hear Senator Brown make those points because he, of course, comes from Massachusetts where they enacted a healthcare reform with many of the same principles that are animating the, the, the proposal the president has advanced, and 70 percent of the people in his state say they're well satisfied with that plan.  Senator Brown voted for it when he was in the legislature; he says he wouldn't repeal it.  We just want to give the rest of America the same opportunity.

We've been concentrating, though, on the economy from the very beginning. The same people who are saying "You're not concentrating on the economy" walked away from our efforts to shore up the economy at the beginning of this administration, and those efforts are, you know, are beginning to show results.  We have a long way to go because this recession has been
terribly devastating for this country, eight and a half million jobs lost, but we--we're, we're--we believe still that jobs are going to begin growing in this spring.  The, the, the free fall that was under way when we took office has now been arrested.  So--and we just now are passing
through the House and Senate additional jobs measures.  And, and, to his credit, Senator Brown joined with us, one of the few Republicans who joined with us, on one of those measures.  So when you're president of the United States and you take office in the middle of a crisis, you have to be able to do many things at once, not one thing.

MR. BROKAW:  Let's go back to health care for just a moment.  Will the president accept a healthcare bill that includes some restrictions on abortion coverage?

MR. AXELROD:  Well, the president's view, and he stated it from the beginning of this process, is that this bill should not be the occasion to, to change the, the law of the land.  The law of the land right now is that federal funds should not be used for abortion services.  There's
nothing in the proposal that he's advanced, there's nothing in what would be approved by the Congress that would upset the existing status quo, and that's as, that's as it should be.  If there's going to be a debate on that issue, it should not be in the, in the, in the, in the course of this debate.

MR. BROKAW:  As a man who's run a lot of campaigns, can't you understand the anxiety of a lot of Democrats, in the House especially, who have to vote on the Senate bill, even though reconciliation comes next to try to fix parts of it, when they know that when they go back in the fall it's that vote on the Senate bill, 2,700 pages, the "Cornhusker Amendment,"
the "Louisiana Purchase," all the Christmas tree ornaments that are in there that they'll be hearing about when they run for re-election?

MR. AXELROD:  Tom, the only way they're going to hear that if they run for re-election is if they--if this bill does not move forward.  I've said many times that they've got to vote that Republicans and the insurance industry and others can run against them already.  What they
don't have is the accomplishment.  If this bill passes this year, children with pre-existing conditions will now be covered, there'll be an end to lifetime caps and annual caps on what the insurance companies will cover, so if you get sick you won't go broke, if you get sick they can't
throw you off your insurance.  The doughnut hole will be filled in so senior citizens will save hundreds of dollars on their prescription drugs, the life of Medicare will be extended, and on and on and on.

So if the Republican Party wants to go out and say to that child who now has insurance or say to that small business that will get tax credits this year, if he signs the bill, to help their employees get, get health care, if they want to say to them, "You know what, we're, we're actually going to take that away from you.  We don't think that's such a good idea," I say let's have that fight, make my day, I'm ready to have that, and every member of Congress ought to be willing to have that debate as well.

MR. BROKAW:  And how sure can you be about the cost of this healthcare bill? Just like in war, when you pass legislation, the first thing to go after contact is the budget estimates or what the exact costs are going to be.

MR. AXELROD:  Well, Tom, you know, as you know, the Congressional Budget Office, which both parties have a great deal of respect for, have said that the, the proposals will save $100 billion on the deficits this year, perhaps a trillion or more--not this year, this decade, and next decade perhaps a trillion or more.  And most healthcare experts believe those are, those are conservative estimates because there are a lot of cost-saving measures built into this plan, and no one quite knows how they'll work.  So they've made a conservative estimate of, of what the savings will be.  This bill will help us achieve fiscal responsibility in this country.  But biggest driving cost for the federal government is health care.  And unless we do something to change--to, as the economists say, to bend the cost curve and build economies into our healthcare system, we're going to have a huge problem down the line.

MR. BROKAW:  The president's already canceled one trip.  Is he prepared to cancel all planned travel until he gets healthcare reform finished?

MR. AXELROD:  I am--the speaker said there'll be a vote this week.  I believe there will be a vote this week.  Your next guests can speak to this.  I think there is a determination on the part of members of Congress, after a yearlong debate in which Republican ideas and Democratic ideas were incorporated into this legislation, the best thinking of both parties, that it's time to bring this to a close.

MR. BROKAW:  And you're going to get it passed.  And you're going to get it passed.

MR. AXELROD:  I'm confident.

MR. BROKAW:  Totally confident?

MR. AXELROD:  I am absolutely confident that we are going to be successful. I believe we are--we, we--that there is a sense of urgency on the part of members of Congress who have now seen what the future looks like in terms of these rate increases, who have stories like the one I
told you of Natoma Canfield, multiplied by millions, and they hear them every day.  I believe they want to solve this problem.

MR. BROKAW:  Very quickly, as we leave here, what was the president's reaction to the Israeli government announcing 1,600 new settlements in East Jerusalem at a time when Vice President Biden was there on a trip to try to express to the Israelis the importance of moving forward with the peace process?

MR. AXELROD:  I think both the vice president and the secretary of State reflected the president's thinking.  This was an affront, it was an insult, but most importantly, it undermined this very fragile effort to bring peace to that region.  We just now have started proximity talks;
that is, shuttle diplomacy between the Arab--between the Palestinians and the Israelis.  And for this announcement to come at that time was very, very destructive.

MR. BROKAW:  Why didn't the president pick up the phone and call "Bibi" Netanyahu on...

MR. AXELROD:  Well, the vice president was right there to convey the president's view.  The secretary of State conveyed that view.  The ambassador was called to the State Department and our views were made clear to them.  And I know the prime minister spoke to this this morning after his Cabinet meeting.  I think the message was received.

MR. BROKAW:  David Axelrod, senior policy adviser to the president, who's been in the news himself here recently.  We'll talk about that on another occasion.

MR. AXELROD:  OK.

MR. BROKAW:  Thanks very much for being with us.

MR. AXELROD:  Thanks, Tom.  Thanks for having me.

MR. BROKAW:  OK, David, thank you.

MR. TOM BROKAW:  Joining us now, let's turn to two men whose job it is to count the votes in their respective chambers--the Democratic House whip, Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina; the Democratic Senate whip, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Welcome both.  They're back in their respective states.  You just heard Mr. Axelrod say that he is confident, Congressman Clyburn, that the bill will be passed.  As of this morning, do you have the votes that you need?

REP. CLYBURN:  No, we don't have them as of this morning.  But we've been working this thing all weekend, we'll be working it going into the week. I am also very confident that we'll get this done.  I have been talking to members for a long time on this, and they have the will to do it.
They've been looking to us to create a way to do it.  I think we have gotten to a place where we do have the way to do it, and I think the members are going to, to vote for this.

MR. BROKAW:  What is the way that they can get it done?  Because I'm hearing from a number of people on Capitol Hill and other political analysts that members of the House are very anxious about voting for the Senate bill and then having that read back to them in the fall by their Republican opponents who would then ignore whatever happens in reconciliation?

REP. CLYBURN:  Well, I hear a lot of that, and there is this historic distrust that exists between the two bodies.  But I believe sincerely that we have been working together, the House and Senate leaders, along with the White House.  I think we have gotten a comfort level with each
other.  I think that we can go to our members and say to them with assurances that the Senate wants to fix this as well as we do.  They know back in the--their states that people need this reform.  We need to get rid of discrimination because of pre-existing conditions.  We need to get rid of recisions when people get catastrophic illnesses.  We need to say
to young people, "You can stay on your parents' insurance policies until you finished law school or medical school," what have you.  These things we have got to do, and the senators know that. And we cannot do all of that without this bill.

MR. BROKAW:  Senator Durbin, a lot of members of the House are looking to  the Senate, and they're looking with some skepticism about what you'll do to the bill once it gets back into your chamber.  Let me share with you now what New York Congressman Anthony Weiner had to say about all that. "Members of the House are being asked to trust an untrustworthy body.
...  I think there are a lot of skeptical members about whether the Senate, [the Senate] can deliver on the things that they say that they are going to." Can you give an ironclad guarantee this morning to Congressman Weiner and other members of the House that the Senate will play by the rules and keep intact the bill that is passed in the House?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL):  Tom, when I served in the House, we used to say in the House Democratic Caucus, "The Republicans are our opponents, but the Senate is the enemy." So I can understand the built-in skepticism and lack of trust.  But I'll tell you this, we're in the process of actually contacting every single Democratic senator.  When Nancy Pelosi goes
before her House Democratic Caucus, it will be with the solid assurance that when reconciliation comes over to the Senate side, we're going to pass it.

MR. BROKAW:  When you go among your constituents in Illinois, Senator, do they have any idea what's in the 2,700 pages of this health bill?

SEN. DURBIN:  Well, some do.  But a lady called me--I was in Springfield yesterday at the office, and a woman called on a Saturday from Nokomis, Illinois, and she said, "I want you to be against this bill, Senator. It, it's just, it's government health insurance." And then she went on to explain that her mother, her 85-year-old mother, just went to a great local hospital for a surgery under Medicare.  And I explained to her this is a government health insurance plan.  And I said, are you worried about insurance rates going up?  And she said, "Well, yes I am." And I said, "That's what we're trying to do--deal with, to make sure that small businesses can afford health insurance, that they have the same options that members of Congress have to choose from different health insurance companies, the best choice, real competition.  We want to start bringing costs down for everybody.  And we want to give people a fighting chance
against insurance companies that turn them down because of pre-existing conditions and caps on the amounts that they pay." So I'm not sure I'll ever win her over, but I think we are addressing a very serious problem. The Republicans have not helped us.  They want to stop; they want to give up.  But we're not giving up on the American people.  This is an important battle, and the president's right, we've got to win it for families and small businesses all across America.

MR. BROKAW:  When the Senate bill is reported out of the Senate at some point, if it is, will it have stripped out of it the so-called "Cornhusker Amendment," the special consideration to Senator Ben Nelson? Or what is called the "Louisiana Purchase," the special consideration for
Louisiana?

SEN. DURBIN:  Well, what Senator Nelson said is he wanted good treatment for Nebraska, but he hoped every state would get it.  And the reconciliation bill will extend the Nebraska treatment to every state in the union.  As far as the situation in Louisiana, let me tell you, Mary Landrieu fought for that because she has a situation that comes out of Hurricane Katrina that's one of the worst in the nation where every county has been declared an emergency disaster area.  If that happens at her state or in any other state, we ought to step up and help them.  Mary Landrieu's right to fight for Louisiana.  She's doing the right thing. And we ought to offer that kind of assistance to any state that deals with that kind of emergency.

MR. BROKAW:  Congressman Clyburn, as you know, there is another issue that could be a sticking point, and that is the question about what kind of coverage people who want to have an abortion would be able to get. Congressman Stupak of Michigan, a conservative Democrat, has been leading the fight to restrict coverage for abortion, and he told the National
Review Online this past weekend, "What are Democratic leaders saying? `If you pass the Stupak amendment, more children will be born, and therefore it will cost us millions more.  That's one of the arguments I've been hearing,' [Stupak] says.  `Money is their hang-up.  Is this how we now value life in America?  If money is the issue, come on, we can find room in the budget.  This is a life that we are talking about.'" He later amended his remarks to say it was not Democratic leaders, but members of the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives that he was referring to.  Are you going to cede to Congressman Stupak and
keep some restrictions on abortion coverage?

REP. CLYBURN:  I think that Congressman Stupak, who is one of my best friends in the Congress--we were classmates and we spend a lot of time together--I think he is operating in earnest when he says that he wants to see us restrict federal funds for abortion.  I believe we have done that.  I think that more people that look at this, we have just had the Catholic hospitals to endorse this bill.  I don't think they would be doing that if they were not comfortable with this language.  We have seen legal experts last week say they have scrubbed it, and they really believe that what the Senate has done is in keeping with the Hyde Amendment that we've been operating under for years now. There will be no federal funds for abortion.  And I think that most people that look at this have now come to that conclusion.  And I do believe that Congressman Stupak will end up voting for this bill because I think he's going to be very comfortable with it in the coming days.

MR. BROKAW:  Congressman Clyburn and Senator Durbin, it's not just Republicans who've been critical of the president.  The 43-member Congressional Black Caucus is fighting through one of the most difficult periods in its 39 history--39-year history, according to its members. The House Judiciary Committee chairman, John Conyers, told Politico that White House officials are "not listening" to black lawmakers.  Representative Alcee Hastings of Florida:  "There's not enough attention to poor people." Representative Jesse Jackson Jr.  said:  "While I respect President Obama, delivering victories for his political future should be the least of our worries on Capitol Hill." They're talking mostly about jobs and aid for poor people.

Can you assure the Congressional Black Congress--Caucus and also the American people, that by July of this year the American economy will begin to create more jobs than it begins to lose?  Congressman Clyburn:

REP. CLYBURN:  I don't know if I can offer that assurance as I can tell you this, I'm very comfortable that they will.  For the last two report periods, we have remained stable at 9.7 percent.  We have just passed a jobs bill in the House, and we are going to pass another one in the House and the Senate in the coming days.  I do feel that we are on course to get this economy moving again.  I had a meeting, along with the Congressional Black Caucus, with the president three, four days ago.  It was a very cordial meeting, one of the most productive meetings I've ever had at the White House.  I do believe that we're all on the same page
when it comes to providing health care and creating jobs in this economy. And so I'm very comfortable with the relationship that the president has with the Congressional Black Caucus, and I think we are going to be moving forward together.

MR. BROKAW:  And, Senator Durbin, can you make that assurance to the people of Illinois that there will begin to be job creation by late spring, early July?

SEN. DURBIN:  This is what I can tell them:  If the Republican senators will stop the filibusters, stop the obstruction, come across the aisle and help us, we can pass bills that will really create jobs in America and do it quickly. We want to help small businesses with tax credits to
hire unemployed people. We want to move into clean energy technology, which is going to create jobs across America.  The only way we get it done in the Senate is if some senators on the Republican side have the courage to step up and join us.  You talked about Scott Brown earlier. One of his first votes was to come across the aisle and help us move a jobs bill.  Senator Snowe, Senator Collins, several of these senators have shown extraordinary courage.  We need more of them. With that bipartisan cooperation, we can start to get this economy moving forward. Without it, we're going to be tangled up in filibusters and obstructions and obstacles.  That isn't going to create a job in America.

MR. BROKAW:  Congressman Clyburn, Senator Durbin, thanks very much for being with us this morning.  We'll be watching very carefully in the course of the next several weeks for this vote on healthcare reform.

Up next, a Republican view...

REP. CLYBURN:  Thank you so much for having us.

MR. BROKAW:  ...from a controversial and key figure in the Bush administration, now author of the new book "Courage and Consequence." Karl Rove gives us his take on the White House years and what's next for the GOP. Then, insights and analysis from our political roundtable, New York Times columnists Tom Friedman and David Brooks, only on MEET THE PRESS.

(Announcements)

MR. BROKAW:  Karl Rove, plus our roundtable with Tom Friedman and David Brooks, after this brief commercial break.

(Announcements)

MR. TOM BROKAW:  We're back and joined now by the man many people called "Bush's Brain." The president called him his "architect." Other people in the opposition called him names that we can't repeat here on a Sunday morning. Karl Rove, author of a book now called "Courage and Consequence," about the Bush years and his life in American politics.

Welcome, Mr. Rove.  Nice to have you with us.

MR. KARL ROVE:  Thanks for having me.

MR. BROKAW:  Let's get right to the business of the day here in Washington, D.C., the president's healthcare reform plan.  Is he making the same mistake that you did at the beginning of your second term when you launched Social Security reform before you had all the ducks in order, even in your own party, and had fully explained it to the American public?

MR. ROVE:  Well, there are differences and there are similarities.  The big difference is we made an effort to build a bipartisan consensus by appointing in 2001 a commission headed by former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, equal number of Republicans and Democrats, to find ways that they could recommend to Congress to save Social Security.  So we had done something which this administration's not done, which is attempt to lay a bipartisan predicate for the bill.  But they have taken on something that they have not been engaged in, which is really remarkable. The president gave one bipartisan, bicameral meeting on the 5th of last
March.  His next dip into those waters by bringing people from both parties and both houses down to the White House to discuss the issue is February 25th of this year, 51 weeks later.  Much of this has been outsourced to Congress, and the president looks aloof and disengaged.
And it's a, it's a very contentious issue, as you know.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, he's changed that now because he's delayed his trip to Indonesia, he's putting the pressure on Democratic leaders.  If they get a bill and it is a pared down bill, will the Republicans continue to run against this come the fall, no matter what?

MR. ROVE:  Well, it's not going to be a pared down bill.  They're going to pass this obnoxious Senate bill that was approved by the Senate on Christmas Eve that is stuffed with pork and is a bill that the American  people--this is pretty remarkable.  If you step back for a minute, it's a
pretty remarkable year that we've had, the, the concept of healthcare reform had a 2-to-1 advantage when the process begin a year ago.  Today, if you ask over the last couple of weeks these questions and polls about do you approve of the bill President Obama and the Democrats are pushing, it is 60 percent disapprove, 38 percent approve.  If you average all
those poll questions again, that's a pretty remarkable decline in support when the president has dominated the stage with 52 addresses, including, you know, a--two addresses to the congressional--to, to Congress.

MR. BROKAW:  But the fact of the matter is we don't know the exact definition of the final bill because it'll go through this complicated process, get to reconciliation, some of the costs will be addressed then.

MR. ROVE:  Right.  And, and isn't that amazing?  We're asking people of the U.S. House, House of Representatives not to vote on the bill but to vote on a placeholder.  And the final terms of this huge measure affecting one-sixth of our economy will be defined later, perhaps in a,
in a bill in the Senate designed to circumvent the normal order of business.  That's a pretty remarkable way to try and go pass a big piece of legislation without bipartisan support.

MR. BROKAW:  Is there anything that can neutralize a Republican attack on this bill in the fall, say, a vast improvement in the job picture?

MR. ROVE:  No.  There, there--look, there's a way for them to get the, the American people back on their side, the administration has ways, but it would involve stepping back from this bill and instead taking the more popular parts of it and beginning to move it as a series of measures over the course in the next six months.

MR. BROKAW:  Let me talk about your book, "Courage and Consequence." You spent a lot of time obviously on the Iraq war.

MR. ROVE:  Mm-hmm.

MR. BROKAW:  And in it, you acknowledge when weapons of mass destruction were not found, everyone was startled and not very happy about that.  If that had been the case before war began, you couldn't have gotten congressional authorization.

MR. ROVE:  Nor, nor in all likelihood U.N. approval as we had as well.

MR. BROKAW:  Would you have launched the war if you had not known there were weapons of mass destruction?

MR. ROVE:  Well, as I say in the book, I--we would not have had either the authorization from Congress nor the U.N., and we probably would have found--had to find--we would have found other ways to constrain his behavior.

MR. BROKAW:  But let's share a tape now with Vice President Cheney.  This is the beginning of his debate in October of 2004 when he was debating John Edwards.  Here's what he had to say about what the administration would have done.

(Videotape, October 5, 2004)

VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:  What we did in Iraq was exactly the right thing to do.  If I had it to recommend all over again, I would recommend exactly the right same course of action.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW:  So that sounds like he was prepared to go to war, weapons of mass destruction or not.

MR. ROVE:  Well, I'm, I'm surprised you didn't put up the, the, the piece of tape of John Kerry saying much the same thing in September of 2004 where he said knowing what he knew today--he was asked, "If you know what you knew today, would you have voted for the war?" And he said, "Yes, I would have."

MR. BROKAW:  But we're talking about your administration and this vice president...

MR. ROVE:  I know.  But...

MR. BROKAW:  ...and what he said.

MR. ROVE:  I know.  But, but--and I know you don't want to talk about the fact that for once John, John Kerry and Dick Cheney agree that they would have both supported the authorization of the use of force resolution. I'm merely making the point that had there not been this widespread consensus, Democrat and Republican, throughout the intelligence
community, there--we would not have been able to get the authorization for the use of force, nor would we have gotten the U.N. resolution.

MR. BROKAW:  Now, Mr. Rove, there was also sharp criticism, and justified from a lot of quarters, of the management of the war once you did go to war. The insurgency was more swiftly activated on the part of those Islamics who wanted to fight back.  We were not greeted as liberators beyond the first couple of days.  We didn't have enough troops to provide
internal security. The cost of the war skyrocketed almost from the beginning.  There was not a sharing of the oil revenues that a lot of people had promised, including the, the vice president.

MR. ROVE:  I--let me correct you.  There--you put down a lot of things here. I'll be happy to deal with them serially or together whichever you like.  But, for example, on that one, the administration emphatically said that this was not about oil.  And we thought right from the
beginning...

MR. BROKAW:  No, no, no, not about oil, but it was about...

MR. ROVE:  Let me finish.

MR. BROKAW:  ...how it would--we would share oil revenue, and it would help offset the cost of the war.

MR. ROVE:  No.  No, no.  Tom, with all due respect, that was not the policy of our government that we were going to go into Iraq and take their resource in order to, to, to pay for the costs of the war.

MR. BROKAW:  But it would be part of the consequence of getting the country stabilized.

MR. ROVE:  No.  Well, part of the consequence would be that, that Saddam Hussein, who used the oil market to manipulate prices and deny supplies to the West, would no longer be in a position to do that.  But the suggestion that somehow or another the administration had as its policy, "We're going to go into Iraq and take their resource and pay for the war" is not reality.

MR. BROKAW:  I, I didn't say that.  What I said was that there would be an oil-sharing and the revenue from that would help offset the cost of the war. And I didn't say it was a principal factor, but it was part of the larger scheme.

MR. ROVE:  No.  With all due respect, we're simply going to disagree on this. There--if you wanted to...

MR. BROKAW:  Well, let's talk about the insurgency.

MR. ROVE:  Right.

MR. BROKAW:  I was in Iraq right before the war began.  Everybody who briefed me said, you know, "We've been talking to the Iraqi generals, they're going to put their weapons in a circle, we're going to be able to move in here," and then the first thing that happens there are white
pickup trucks racing across Iraq fighting back.  That was completely unanticipated, we had utter chaos in Baghdad and most of the major cities.

MR. ROVE:  Well, you generally do have utter chaos when you have a major conflict like this.  But it--look, I think it is reasonable to, to say that, that, that the planning could have been better.  But on the other hand, very rarely do plans survive the first contact with the enemy.  And the big problem in this one was that the enemy in, in al-Qaeda decided in the--and with the onset of democracy, they said, "Democracy will strangle us," Zarqawi said to his leaders.  And they began in 2006, two and a half years after the war, to try and inspire sectarian violence, and that's when violence really began to, to, to grow.  And it's a reminder that the
enemy gets a vote in this and we have to be nimble, as we were with the surge which countered that.

MR. BROKAW:  Part of the reason that they were able to respond and that they were nimble is that we allowed the dissolution of a Baathist army, and it was not worked out very strategically at all, and we left the entire western part of the country open because we couldn't get the 4th ID to come in from Turkey.

MR. ROVE:  Well--and look, again, a--we had a plan to get the 4th ID into, into Iraq.

MR. BROKAW:  But it didn't work, and we went to war anyway.

MR. ROVE:  Well, I, I--that's my point is is that, that a, a battle plan rarely survives intact its first contact with reality.  And the fact of the matter is you have to plan for the best and sometimes you don't get your plans, a la Turkey denying at the last minute the entry of the 4th ID into western Iraq.

MR. BROKAW:  I want to do something what they call in the game show business "the lightning round," get your reaction to some political developments. Sarah Palin be a strong presidential candidate for your party in the next term?

MR. ROVE:  There are several geological agents that are going to come and go before the next contest heats up.  This is her year to get ready for the hot spotlight that will fall on her if she wants to be a presidential candidate.

MR. BROKAW:  Do you think that she can and wants to get ready?

MR. ROVE:  I don't know if she wants to, and she certainly can.  She was a vice presidential nominee and did, did very well on the 63 days she was on the national stage between coming out in Ohio and the election day.

MR. BROKAW:  Of the tea party and Glenn Beck, one of your colleagues at Fox News, they're critical, not just of Democrats and spending, but also of the Republican Party...

MR. ROVE:  Mm-hmm.

MR. BROKAW:  ...during the Bush term for not controlling spending as well. Is there a danger to your party that the tea party will become the Ross Perot of the next election cycle?

MR. ROVE:  Well, and it'll require Ross Perot, a deep pockets, iconoclastic figure like Ross Perot.  I don't see so.  I think that it is a movement that has energized Democrats, Republicans, and a lot of independents to be deeply concerned about the spending and the deficits, the debt and the growth of government power, particularly under President Obama.  And right now they're going to, they're going to exact their revenge this fall, and it's not going to be pretty for Democrats.

MR. BROKAW:  You have a pretty vivid description of that weekend in which Vice President Cheney accidentally shot, not just his lawyer, but your lawyer as well.

MR. ROVE:  Well, it wasn't his lawyer, it was my lawyer.

MR. BROKAW:  It was your lawyer.

MR. ROVE:  And my personal--his personal friend and my personal friend.

MR. BROKAW:  And you heard about it on Saturday, but it didn't get out until late Sunday afternoon, in part because the vice president let his host decide how they would release that through a Corpus Christi newspaper.  And then you say, "The incident taught me that the vice
president could be stubborn and unmovable and that he detested the press." Is that the first time you thought that Dick Cheney could be stubborn...

MR. ROVE:  No, but, but...

MR. BROKAW:  ...and unmovable?

MR. ROVE:  No, but, but this was particularly stubborn.  And, and look, I understand why he felt like he was obligated to his good friends, his hosts. This was a terrible situation that had occurred on their ranch, but it was not the--it was not in his best interests nor in the family's
best interests to have it--handled in this way.

MR. BROKAW:  Throughout the book, you have some strong things to say about the press.  The press covering John McCain was "starstruck," for example.  You describe a...

MR. ROVE:  Which they were in 2000.

MR. BROKAW:  Well...

MR. ROVE:  And by 2008 they weren't, were they?

MR. BROKAW:  Well, look, I'm not arguing, I'm just--I'm, I'm repeating what you say here.

MR. ROVE:  Right.

MR. BROKAW:  You describe a Washington Post columnist as "snarky." You complain kind of consistently--and people in your position have done this for a long, long time--about the press coverage.  You're now at Fox News. Do you think that Fox News is fair to President Obama?

MR. ROVE:  I think they--on the news side, absolutely.  I think they've got first-rate individuals at the White House who do their job in as an objective, fair and balanced way.  Yeah, absolutely.

MR. BROKAW:  You don't think that they have teed up, for example, the healthcare bill and are more selective in their coverage?

MR. ROVE:  No.  In fact, look, you've got to differentiate.  NBC, for example, has MSNBC, which has opinion people like, well, you know...

MR. BROKAW:  And the--at 6:00 at night, we do.

MR. ROVE:  Right.  Yeah.  And, and, and also, you have some of those same people playing part of your news delivery at MSNBC, which would not happen at Fox.  I would--I--you know, I would not be put out there as, "an objective journalist."

MR. BROKAW:  But you appear on a regular basis...

MR. ROVE:  I do.

MR. BROKAW:  ...during the course of the news coverage during the day.

MR. ROVE:  I do.  And nobody--and they always go out of their way to make certain that people understand the context so they can take--make their own--they can put it through their own filter if they like.

MR. BROKAW:  Karl Rove, thanks very much for being with us today.

MR. ROVE:  You bet.  You bet.  Thank you.

MR. BROKAW:  You can read an excerpt of Karl's new book, "Courage and Consequence," on our Web site at mtp.msnbc.com.

Up next, fallout from the vice president's trip to the Middle East, and the week in Washington.  Our roundtable weighs in, David Brooks and Tom Friedman, here only on MEET THE PRESS.

(Announcements)

MR. TOM BROKAW:  We're back now and joined by two very familiar figures on MEET THE PRESS, The New York Times columnists David Brooks and Tom Friedman.

Welcome to both of you.

Let's begin with you, if we can, David.  There are lots of declarations that are being made in Washington this week, either apocalyptic, that this is the end of the Obama presidency, or it's the deliverance of the Obama presidency. Are they both exaggerated?

MR. DAVID BROOKS:  No.  No.  The, the White House has said, "We're all in." They're betting their whole presidency on getting this thing passed, or at least the first year of the presidency.  And they're behind.  There are 80-odd Democrats who are in, in Republican-held districts, and the votes aren't there yet, as, as Clyburn said today.  And there are blocs
of Democrats who are opposed to this thing.  There's a pro-life bloc, a cost-conscious bloc, then a couple who just want to keep their jobs. It's very easy to see how this goes down.  On the other hand, Nancy Pelosi's pretty good at this.  Barack Obama's pretty good at this.  So I
have to think it's at least 50/50 that they get it.

But what strikes me at the end of the day is we've elected another riverboat gambler.  President Obama is risking his presidency on a 50/50 chance.  Would you risk your house on a 50/50 chance?  I wouldn't.  And so like President Bush, we, we've elected a couple guys who have confidence and are willing to risk a lot on 50/50 chances.  The--you're the expert on this, but I happen to think guys who've been through World War II, that generation of leaders from Eisenhower to, say, Bob Dole, they wouldn't have taken that chance.  They knew what happened when the odds went bad.  But now we have a generation of presidents that love the
risk, that believe in themselves.  That makes me a little nervous.

MR. BROKAW:  Tom, turn the clock back nine months.  Is this what you expected from President Obama in terms of managing his agenda and his administration?

MR. TOM FRIEDMAN:  You know, once he got through what he inherited, which was a, was a huge economic mess, it doesn't surprise me.  I mean, you know, why do you come to Washington?  Why do you want to be president?  I think it is to throw the big one.  So--and I, I, I think if he doesn't get this through, I really don't know what the rest of his presidency is
going to be about, not just in substance, but I think if this--if the Republicans can stop him on this, I think they think they can stop him on everything.  So it doesn't surprise me that he's, he's going for the long bomb here.

MR. BROOKS:  Could--just to switch sports here, I mean, this is the debate they have in the White House.  My favorite sport is home runs or singles.  And they believe in home runs, or the long bomb.  I, I'm more of a singles guy.  I remember when the Mets had a guy named Dave Kingman who hit like 30 home runs a year and struck out like 500 times a year. I'm more--especially in a culture where people are so cynical about Washington, I think you hit a few singles, you go--you get that thing going so people'll have some faith in government, and then they can trust you a little more.  I, I'm just become very averse to this home run mentality.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, one of the concerns that I have just as a citizen is I don't know how this healthcare bill, given its current construct, lands, eventually, out there in terms of the cost and how it works.  It strikes me, at this point, that it has some of the DNA of the Department of Homeland Security.  I mean, it's got all of these wings and branches and elements and other parts of it, and until you hit the trigger and put it out in the country, you don't know what the consequences are.

MR. BROOKS:  Yeah.

MR. BROKAW:  And that's a big part of this.

MR. BROOKS:  Right.  I, I, I understand why people would be fervently for it. This will cover 30 million people.  That is a serious moral accomplishment.  I lean against because it will not slow the route of healthcare costs.  We now spend 17 percent of our economy on health care.
It'll go up to 20, 25.  All the stuff that I think is more important--education, infrastructure, competitiveness with China, the stuff Tom writes about--we won't have money for that.  And a lot of the deficit control is totally bogus.  We're have 10 years of, of revenue to pay for six years of costs.  We're--with the--it's really based on an excise tax, and that's gutted.  And so I'm really worried about the cost, and that's why I lean against right now.

MR. BROKAW:  All right.  Let's talk about something else that was in the news this week and almost got overwhelmed by the healthcare reform except for the audacity of what it was.  Vice President Biden goes to Israel to have a high-level meeting with the prime minister to talk about trying to get the peace process started again.  While he is there, the Israeli government announces that they're going to build 1,600 new settlements in East Jerusalem. Tom, you had something to say about that.  The secretary of State had something to say about it.  We're going to begin by sharing her interview with Andrea Mitchell.  Here is Hillary Clinton.

(Videotape, Friday)

MS. ANDREA MITCHELL:  Here you are with the Middle East just beginning to approach negotiations, and Israel announces an expansion of settlements. It was really a slap in the face to the visiting vice president.

SEC'Y HILLARY CLINTON:  It was, Andrea.  And I've expressed that directly to the prime minister.  It was not just an unfortunate incident of timing, but the substance was, you know, something that is not needed as we are attempting to move toward the resumption of negotiations.  ...  It was insulting.  And it was insulting not just to the vice president, who
certainly didn't deserve that.  He was there with a very clear message of commitment to the peace process, solidarity with the Israeli people.  But it was an insult to the United States.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW:  And that's Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Today, in The New York Times, Tom Friedman, who really began his career or certainly commanded all of our attention by writing from the Middle East, has written this.  "Biden should have snapped his notebook shut, gotten right back on Air Force Two, flown home and left the following scribbled note behind:  `Message from America to the Israeli government:  Friends don't let friends drive drunk.  And right now, you're driving drunk.  You think you can embarrass your only true ally in the world to satisfy some domestic political need with no consequences?  You have lost total contact with reality.  Call us when you're serious.  We need to focus on building our country.'" Has it ever been more serious between the United States and Israel in recent years than this?

MR. FRIEDMAN:  No, this is a serious crisis, Tom.  But I, I put it in--first of all, I think the president, the vice president, secretary of State did exactly the right thing for American interests and for Israel, by, by the way. I think we got to put this in a, in a broad context, all
right?  I think what Hillary--Hillary's reaction and Biden's reaction, first of all, they were speaking for many secretaries of State, many presidents in the past who have had Israeli settlements shoved in their face before, during, and after a visit by Israel saying, "Look, you guys do what you do, but we need to take care of our politics." So there's a lot of backstory here, this isn't just about that trip.

Second, I think we need to keep the following in mind.  What have we been--we, the United States--been doing for Israel rightly, I believe? We didn't, we didn't fight the Iraq war for Israel, but the fact is, in taking out Saddam Hussein, we took out a guy who had scud-missiled Israel and was giving $25,000 to any Palestinian who committed suicide against Israel.  We have fought against the--what I think was the tendentious Goldstone Report on, on the Gaza war on the world stage.  We've helped Israel protect it from that.  We've been trying to organize a global coalition against Iran.  And we give Israel, in the FY 2011 budget, $3 billion in military aid, the most advanced equipment. So let's put that context on.

Then let's look at the moment we're in.  We have an Israeli prime minister from the right who actually could deliver the right.  He's done actually a lot of good things on the ground in the West Bank.  You have to give him credit for that.  We have the best Palestinian leadership
we've had in a long time. And we have a Sunni Arab world obsessed with Iran, ready to work with Israel more than ever.  You'd think in that context Israel could say to the United States, you know, "You're doing all this for us, we're just going to stop settlements in Jerusalem, in
the West Bank, not temporarily, not moratorium. We're going to give you a chance to actually test the other side whether they're for real.  We've got enough settlements, we've go enough housing. Barack Obama, this Bud's for you.  We're going to do this for the American people." Is that
anti-Semitism, is that anti-Israelism, to ask that of an Israeli government, to ask, act first in its own interest and then in America's interest?  I don't think so.

MR. BROKAW:  Does that also have an impact on the relationship between the United States and the Iraqi government, which just had elections this past week, and in the face of renewed violence there, but they seem to have turned out pretty well.  So that Iraqi government has a strong alliance with the United States.  But can't the anti-United States elements in the Middle East say, "You've just made a deal with the devil? Look what they're--what's going on in..."

MR. FRIEDMAN:  You mean with the Israelis?

MR. BROKAW:  Yeah.

MR. FRIEDMAN:  Yeah.  I mean, look, everyone in the Middle East is watching. You know, Tom, we both grew up in the Midwest.  You remember, we used to talk about the Minnesota State Fair.

MR. BROKAW:  Right.

MR. FRIEDMAN:  I used to go the state fair as a kid.  There was a guy at the Minnesota State Fair who could guess your weight.  I was fascinated with that as a five, 10-year-old.  How does he get--and if he didn't get it right, you won a Kewpie doll or whatever.  In the Middle East, people can guess your power from a hundred paces.  They have to.  That's how,
how they survive.  And if we look weak, vis-a-vis our closest ally in the region, that will have regional implications.

MR. BROKAW:  Let's talk about this country and what's going on here right now.  You said to me over the weekend that you're going to be spending more time looking at America because there's so much going on at this time.  Let's share with our audience what David had to say recently about the political climate.  "In a sensible country, Obama would be able to
clearly define [his modern brand of moderate progressivism] without fear of offending the people he needs to get legislation passed.  But we don't live in that country.  We live in a country in which many people live in information cocoons in which they only talk to members of their own party and read blogs of their own sect." Has the political culture been hijacked by the mechanics of the information technology?

MR. BROOKS:  Well, I do think everything--everybody gets to pick their own reality these days.  The--a lot of liberals think Obama's been very weak and he's not forceful enough.  I think he's been amazingly tenacious on Afghanistan, on health care, on education.  Pretty tough guy, I think. A lot of conservatives think he's a socialist, trying to turn us into
Sweden.  Give me a break; Is that what this health care is about?  But people like that because they want all differences to be 180 degrees rather than 30 degrees. And so they get to pick that reality because it makes them feel good.

MR. BROKAW:  Tom, are we at a kind of turning point in America in terms of being able to make this a functioning country again or are we dysfunctional?

MR. FRIEDMAN:  Well, this is what worries me, that, you know, I've been saying for awhile, Tom, there's only one thing worse than a one-party autocracy, the Chinese form of government, and that's one-party democracy. You know, in China, if the leadership can get around to an enlightened decision, it can order it from the top down, OK?  Here, when
you have one-party democracy, one-party ruling, basically, and the other party just basically saying no, every solution is suboptimal, you know. And when your chief competitor in the world can order optimal and you can only produce suboptimal, because what happens, you know, whether it's health care or the energy bill, votes one through 50 cost you a lot, votes 50 to 59 cost you a fortune, and vote 60, his name's Ben Nelson. And by the time you've made all those compromises, you end up with the description David had of the healthcare bill, which is this Rube Goldberg contraption.  I really hope--I hope, personally, I hope it passes, I hope
it works, but I can't tell you I think it's optimal.

MR. BROKAW:  If we can just--I've been wanting to share this on MEET THE PRESS for some time.  Looking forward beyond the elections this fall about the political future of President Obama, here are some numbers that people may want to keep in mind.  These are the unemployment rates in key states in 1982, well into President Reagan's first term.  Look at the
screen.  Michigan, 16.8 percent; Alabama, 14.3; Ohio, 13.9; down through 12 and above.  That went on into 1983.  Did it spell the end of the Reagan presidency?  Not exactly.

MR. FRIEDMAN:  No, no.  You know, Tom, we were talking on the train yesterday, and it get--it gets to the point David was raising in his column. Why do I not travel abroad anymore?  Because this is the greatest show on Earth.  And it's not just a show.  It's that what happens here affects the whole world.  A lot of bad things happen in the world without us; not a lot of good things.

MR. BROOKS:  I got to get on this train ride.

MR. BROKAW:  You're always welcome, David.

Thank you very much, Tom Friedman, David Brooks.  Thanks very much for being with us.  We'll be right back.

(Announcements)

MR. TOM BROKAW:  A programming note:  Watch MSNBC today for my documentary called "Operation Yellow Ribbon," the story of how the town of Gander in Newfoundland provided refuge and comfort for some 7,000 air travelers whose flights were diverted there right after 9/11.  We have had an astonishing reaction to this documentary, which first showed
during the Olympics.  A lot of people wanted to see it repeated.  It will be today at 1 Eastern time on MSNBC.

That's all for today.  David Gregory will be back next week.  If it's
Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

Discuss:

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