MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, the growing disaster in the Gulf. Much more oil than anyone thought spewing from BP's out of control well, and a lot of anger for President Obama to manage. Has the government done enough to hold BP accountable? And even as the president confronts problems like a jobless economic recovery and Iran's dangerous drive
toward nuclear weapons, what toll has the oil disaster taken on the Obama presidency? With us exclusively this morning to talk about it all, the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod.
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Then our political roundtable on another key week of Decision 2010. What do Tuesday's mixed results say about the anti-incumbent mood, the future of the GOP, and a whole new year of the woman in politics? With us, winner of California's GOP Senate primary, Carly Fiorina; vice chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida; NBC News chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd; historian and author Doris Kearns Goodwin; and Politico's Roger Simon.
Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
MR. GREGORY: Good morning.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: Day 55 of the oil spill in the Gulf, and news this weekend that the White House has now told BP it must devise a more aggressive strategy for collecting the oil, and the deadline for that plan is today. Also, the president speaking yesterday on the phone to the
new British prime minister, David Cameron, assuring him that the criticism of BP is not aimed at our allies in Great Britain. Joining us live this morning to discuss it all, the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod.
Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
MR. DAVID AXELROD: Thanks, David. Good to be here.
MR. GREGORY: In addition to speaking to David Cameron, the president wants to speak more directly to the American people. Tell us about that.
MR. AXELROD: Well, the president's going down to the Gulf on Monday and Tuesday to the states that he hasn't visited--Alabama, Mississippi and Florida--and when he returns, he's going to address the nation from the White House. We're at a kind of inflection point in this saga because we now know that what--essentially what we can do and what we can't do in
terms of collecting oil and, and what lies ahead in the next few months, and he wants to lay out the steps that we're going to take from here to get through this, through this crisis.
MR. GREGORY: It's a big step, presumably an Oval Office address to the nation. Why does the president think this is necessary now, and what does he want to say, what does he want to lay out for the American people?
MR. AXELROD: Well, look, there's an awful lot of interest in this, obviously, and there are a lot of people who are, who are suffering in the Gulf, a lot of concern about what the future holds. And we have some clarity now about, about the oil that's escaping, and about how we're
going to approach it, and about what this means for those communities. And we want to talk about that, and talk about the steps that we're going to take to deal with it.
MR. GREGORY: You--you're trying to plug the hole on one hand; on the other hand, trying to deliver some aid for the Gulf. Will this be part of an effort by the president to announce something of an aid package for the Gulf region...
MR. AXELROD: Well, the...
MR. GREGORY: ...to help those who are affected?
MR. AXELROD: Well, the president will announce several steps. But, as you know, we're meeting--president is meeting and, and, and his top aides are meeting with the, the BP officials on, on Wednesday, and there he's going to be very clear about what our expectations are in terms of taking care of the people who've been damaged by this crisis.
MR. GREGORY: And, and unpack that a little bit, David, because there, there is an effort there to make sure claims are paid.
MR. AXELROD: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: And how would he like to see that happen?
MR. AXELROD: Well, we want to make sure that money is escrowed for the, the legitimate claims that are going to be made and are being made by businesses down in the Gulf, people who've been damaged by this. And, and we want to make sure that that money is independently administered so that there won't be slow-walk on these claims. There are people there who live from pay--from week to week and whose livelihoods have been,
have been taken away from them here, and we want to make sure that they can get through this.
MR. GREGORY: On the aid question, though, will there be an announcement by the president for some kind of direct assistance for those who are affected?
MR. AXELROD: Well, David, I think that the assistance is going to come from BP. They're responsible for it. We want to make sure that they meet that responsibility, and that's going to be made very clear to them. It's been made clear to them throughout. But we want to set up a structure and, and, and, and protect the integrity of that fund so that people get what they're due.
MR. GREGORY: This conversation the president had with David Cameron, the British prime minister, are they in sync about the approach? Because Cameron's been concerned about some of the, the hard pushback against BP. Evidently he said to the president, "Look, we've got to have a strong and stable BP, a prosperous BP, if they're going to be able to make this
right." Were they in sync, or were there some disagreement?
MR. AXELROD: Look, the president's made clear that, as regards to shareholders, for example, that BP has its legal obligations and they ought to meet them. But they also have legal and moral obligations to people in the Gulf for this horrendous disaster. And, and we're going to make sure that they meet them. We're not interested in undermining the integrity of, of their, of their company, but it--this, this disaster has had an impact on their company, and that's of their own making.
MR. GREGORY: But in order to meet those claims, does the president still believe it's important that BP remain stable and profitable?
MR. AXELROD: Well, we believe that BP has the resources to meet the claims, and we're going to make sure that they do. They're a highly profitable company. They've got lots of assets. They have the prospect of continuing. But, but they have to meet their obligations here.
MR. GREGORY: What are we looking at in terms of a money...
MR. AXELROD: I'm not going to...
MR. GREGORY: ...a figure for the claims?
MR. AXELROD: I'm not going to--that's a--that will be the discussion between, between us and BP. But it has to be substantial enough to meet the claims that we expect to come.
MR. GREGORY: Will the CEO, Tony Hayward, of BP be part of this meeting at the White House this week?
MR. AXELROD: Well, the president invited the chairman of the board of BP to bring whomever he wants. If he brings Mr. Hayward, then Mr. Hayward will be there.
MR. GREGORY: Why--this, this question has come up about why the president doesn't talk directly to Tony Hayward, and he told Matt Lauer this week, you know, "I don't like dealing with people who are going to tell me what they think I want to hear." But that struck me as odd because the president certainly didn't hesitate to meet with all those bank CEOs when he wanted to get something done. This is the guy who runs the operation.
MR. AXELROD: Well, let me make clear that Mr. Hayward knows exactly what our, what our demands have been from the beginning. And...
MR. GREGORY: But what's the difference with the bank CEOs? Because they understood what the demands were from the administration, too, but the president got the bank CEOs themselves in the room.
MR. AXELROD: Well, he got them in a room as an industry, and he's talked to the oil industry and other industries as well. But in this particular matter we've had--our intermediaries have been very clear, there's no doubt in the mind of BP what our, what our demands are and have been.
MR. GREGORY: Speaking about Tony Hayward, he's got an ad that BP is paying for to try to rehabilitate its image, and he's front and center in that ad. And I want to just play a portion of it for you...
MR. AXELROD: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...and have you react to it.
(Videotape from BP TV commercial)
MR. TONY HAYWARD: To those affected in your families, I'm deeply sorry. The Gulf is home for thousands of BP employees, and we all feel the impact. To all the volunteers and for the strong support of the government, thank you. We know it is our responsibility to keep you
informed and do everything we can so this never happens again. We will get this done. We will make this right.
MR. GREGORY: You were quoted this week saying this isn't a very sympathetic figure, Tony Hayward.
MR. AXELROD: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: Does the president trust this guy?
MR. AXELROD: Well, look, it's not a matter of who--we, we--it's not a matter of trust. We have to verify what they're doing, we have to stay on them, and we have from the beginning. That's why we want this escrow account. I'm not here to, to make judgments about any individual's character, but we do know that they have pecuniary interests that may be in conflict with, with the interests of, of our interests, and we...
MR. GREGORY: But, but let--but...
MR. AXELROD: ...need to make sure that the interests of people in the Gulf are protected. That is what our job is.
MR. GREGORY: But this is a straightforward question. If you are in partnership with somebody--and make no mistake, the government is in partnership with BP to get this problem solved--does the, does the president of the United States trust the man on the other end who is leading this operation?
MR. AXELROD: Our, our mission here is to hold them accountable in, in every appropriate way, and that is what we're going to do. I, I'm not--I don't consider them a, a, a partner, I don't consider them--they're not social friends, they're not--I'm not looking to make judgments about their soul. I just want to make sure that they do what they're required to do.
MR. GREGORY: Do you trust them to get the job done? Yes, no or maybe?
MR. AXELROD: We're going to make sure they get the job done.
MR. GREGORY: But it doesn't sound like there's a lot of faith there at the moment.
MR. AXELROD: Well, our job is to hold them accountable, David, and that's what we're going to do.
MR. GREGORY: Speaking about accountability, I, I mention Matt Lauer and his interview with the president on "Today" this week, and they had an exchange that raised a lot of eyebrows in terms of the president's approach to all of this. I want to play a portion of it.
(Videotape from "Today," Tuesday)
MR. MATT LAUER: ...that this is not the time to meet with experts and advisers, this is a time to spend more time in the Gulf and, I never thought I'd say this to a president, but kick some butt. And, and, and I don't mean it to be funny.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially had the best answers so I know whose ass to kick, right? So, you know, this is not theater.
MR. GREGORY: So whose butt has he kicked since he gave that interview?
MR. AXELROD: Well, look, I think from the beginning we've made demands on BP. They have responded. Where they haven't responded, we've turned up the heat on them. Let me give you an example. They wanted to drill one relief well, which is ultimately the answer to, to shutting down that well completely. We said, "No, you're going to drill two," because if one didn't work we want to make sure there was a back, a backstop. We've asked for other redundancies in terms of, of what they're doing there. And understand, when the president says he's talking to experts, we've assembled under the, under the chairmanship of our secretary of energy a group of, of the best minds in and out of government, and they've been
guiding a lot of what's happened a lot--this effort to capture the oil is largely working better now because of theories that were developed by this outside group. And we forced BP to do the things that we felt were necessary just--we now, we now--Dr. Chu and his group have devised a plan to get more oil up and captured and, and it will require more boats. We've required them to bring more tankers in to take that oil up quickly. So we've been on them from the beginning, and we're going to stay on them and make sure that they're fully accountable and that they do everything that they're required to do.
MR. GREGORY: How much pressure has the president felt, have you felt for, frankly, the president to make up for lost time in terms of showing leadership on this, projecting a sense of compassion and connection with those who are involved. I mean, you have the president ramping up his own rhetoric and his own anger level...
MR. AXELROD: Well...
MR. GREGORY: ...and you have the decision to make an address...
MR. AXELROD: ...in fairness in that, in that particular interview, David, he was responding to Matt's characterization, but go ahead and continue.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm. Right. How much pressure do you think the, the president feels to connect on this?
MR. AXELROD: Well, let me tell you something. You know what pressure is? He--we've been down in the Gulf several times. I was with him on the last trip. Pressure are--is what those fishermen are feeling down there who--whose livelihoods have been destroyed by this. People have been there for five generations. Not just their livelihood, but their way of life being threatened by this. The people down there are the ones who are under, under pressure. I know there's a great deal of speculation in this town about the political implications and the state, statecraft of all of this, but we've been--the president on day one understood how
massive this could be and mobilized the greatest response to an environmental disaster in the history of this country. He went down there and stood, I remember, on--shortly after the incident, in the pouring rain on a Sunday morning and, and, and spoke to the need to hold
MR. GREGORY: Right. But, David, but there's...
MR. AXELROD: ...and to help people in that area.
MR. GREGORY: ...there, there's a tendency to write everything off as just a Washington obsession, but here's a poll from a Washington Post/ABC News poll about the public's response to how people are doing, and the results were not so good. Sixty-nine percent say the a negative response from the federal government, only outpaced by BP itself. Even a member
of the president's own party, Mary Landrieu, saying, "I just think the president underestimated how important it is for people to see his face and to hear his voice." The sense that the response has just been late in coming and has not been what it should be.
MR. AXELROD: Yeah, well, let me, let me say this. This is not a like a hurricane, it's not like a tornado, it's not like a plane crash. This is an ongoing crisis much like an epidemic, and it's--and there are millions of, of, of, of gallons of oil that have poured into the Gulf and continue
to--that are threatening the coastlines. We've got--we've put 26,000 personnel on the ground, we've put down five million feet of boom, we've mobilized 5,500 vessels into the Gulf to deal with this. We've 200 burns of oil. We've collected a millions--we've collected much oil from the surface. But it is still threatening the coastline, and no one's going to be satisfied with that. Understand no one is going to be satisfied until this comes to an end, until we remediate the damage, until we restore the coastline to its, to its natural state. And that is our goal. But this is not--it's not an easy thing to deal with for the people down there, and it's not going to be satisfying until it's over.
MR. GREGORY: I want to ask about some other topic, including the economy.
MR. AXELROD: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: This is the Washington Post headline today. "Obama Pleads for Aid Package, $50 Billion for States and Localities." As you think about the economy at large, does the president believe that more stimulus is necessary?
MR. AXELROD: Well, I think that we've made great progress, David, in the sense that when he took office, the day he walked in the door, we were losing 750,00 jobs a month, we were losing 6.4 percent in our economy. We--in other words we were shrinking and not growing. Now the economy is growing, now in the last three months we've averaged 140,000 jobs a month. But it's clear we're not out of the woods and we have to keep working at this; and that, and that's certainly the prospect--the state governments are lagging behind. The prospect that hundreds of thousands of school teachers, for example, are going to be laid off because of
MR. GREGORY: All right, but I'm trying to be...
MR. AXELROD: ...crisis is...
MR. GREGORY: Be clear. Is the president now asking for more direct aid from Congress for states and localities that are in terrible trouble financially?
MR. AXELROD: The president has reiterating the support that he--reiterating the steps that he's already supported.
MR. GREGORY: Additional aid is necessary?
MR. AXELROD: In addition, in addition to that--no, he's repeating--he's reiterating the steps that he thought that we should be taking now in, in--as we transition out of this crisis. One of the important ones that you didn't mention is help for small businesses. We want a zero capital gains tax for small businesses, we want to create the opportunity for small businesses to get loans, which has been a problem for them through this crisis. We have to continue to take steps because, yes, we've made progress, but we lost eight and a half million jobs during that recession. People are suffering out there. We want to keep this economy growing faster. We want to see an acceleration in job creation, and we have to take some steps to continue in that direction.
MR. GREGORY: Because you had, you had private sector job growth of 41,000 jobs last month, that was all. You have companies that are hoarding cash, not spending it in the private sector. You have consumers who are cutting down on their retail spending. And there's a lot of critics who say, "Yeah, there have been, there's been some sign of recovery, but it's really anemic if you have the private sector holding back." It's something of a government-infused phony recovery.
MR. AXELROD: Well, David, you and I both know that there have been intervening events such as the crisis in Greece and the European currency situation. So that has had an impact on confidence as well. We were in a pretty good skein there. But there are mixed signals. On Friday the Consumer Confidence Index was up to a two-year high. I mean, there are, there are mixed signals...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. AXELROD: ...and that's what generally happens in recovery. But we don't take anything for granted. We have to keep pushing forward, and we should not be careless about pulling out of our, out of our stimulative effort too quickly. That, that mistake was made in Japan in the '90s, and...
MR. GREGORY: So to that point...
MR. AXELROD: ...and they had a decade of deflation. That was--mistake was made in the '30s in the United States. We're not going to make the same mistake.
MR. GREGORY: So you're not--and you're not going to rule out additional stimulus if that's what the economy requires.
MR. AXELROD: We--well, the president has recommended the steps that he thinks Congress should take now. We also have more--many of the Recovery Act projects around the country are taking hold this summer, by design, that will involve a lot of private industry construction and so on. So the combination of those things will help, and we hope the Congress will act expeditiously to get that done.
MR. GREGORY: A couple of other matters I want to get to, including politics, your bailiwick. What did Tuesday mean, this primary result? What's going on in this decision here?
MR. AXELROD: Well, you know, I think it's interesting because there's a lot of conventional wisdom around about what this year is. I think that it's, it's hard to fully interpret because you get mixed results. I think, you know, a lot of people thought Blanche Lincoln would lose, the
senator from Arkansas, in her primary. She won that primary, and what it underscores to me is that good candidates running good campaigns, well-conceived campaigns, making the case for their advocacy for people in their states, in their districts are going to win. We saw that in
Pennsylvania 12, that special election of--congressional election where a Republican was expected to win, the Democrat won.
The other interesting thing about this primary is that the Republican Party continues its march right where you saw in Nevada, another tea party candidate winning the nomination. And I don't think most Republicans and most Americans believe as she does that we should abolish
the Department of Education, abolish the Department of Energy. That we should privatize Social Security. But this is the drift of the Republican Party, and I think it's going to make for a very interesting November.
MR. GREGORY: What is the president's plan for November in terms of how he'll campaign, who he'll campaign for? The record's been spotty in terms of presidential direct involvement in some of these races so far.
MR. AXELROD: The president--well, the president, he did a couple of events for members of the House last week when he was in Michigan. But understand, we are mounting a very large-scale effort, $50 million effort through the Democratic National Committee, something that's never been done before. We're focusing a lot on those first-time voters who were so important in 2008. And the president will be out and campaigning and making the case. He believes strongly that, that Democrats in Congress have stood up and cast courageous votes, fought for the middle class against special interests...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. AXELROD: ...on credit card reform, on student loan reform, on a series of things that can make a difference in the lives of the people.
MR. GREGORY: Is, is he the Democratic Party's greatest asset politically?
MR. AXELROD: I think he--yeah, well, I think he is. I mean, but openly...
MR. GREGORY: You think that's a uniform view?
MR. AXELROD: Well, I don't know. I mean, you'll have to poll people, and we'll go where we're asked. But I, I--but we're being asked to do quite a few things, and I expect that will be so. But here's the, here's the--what I believe. I believe that ultimately these races are going to
be decided at the local level at the, at the grass roots. And the candidates who speak to the aspirations and concerns of people in their districts and states are going to win.
Look, the Republican Party--everybody says, "Is this 1994?" In 1994, the Republican Party was nearly at 60 percent in favorability. Today, they're at an all-time low. Why? Because in the last year and a half, they've sat on the sidelines, they've rooted for failure, they've
contributed nothing. And their basic thrust seemed--and they've stood with the oil companies, the, the banks, the insurance industry, and their basic thrust seems to be "Let's go back to what we were doing before the crisis." That's not where the American people want to go.
MR. GREGORY: One more political question. Alvin Greene down in South Carolina, unemployed man who was somehow elected to become the Democratic Party's Senate candidate, is he a legitimate candidate?
MR. AXELROD: It, it doesn't appear so to me. I mean, it was a mysterious deal. He didn't campaign, he had no campaign...
MR. GREGORY: Had no campaign funds.
MR. AXELROD: He--yeah. The whole thing is odd, and I, you know, and I don't really know how to explain it, and I don't think anybody else does either. And so this...
MR. GREGORY: Do you think he should just get out of the race? Would that be wise?
MR. AXELROD: Well, I think the Democrats of South Carolina deserve a strong, credible candidate. And he would argue, I suppose, that he won the primary, so that's--that would be him. How he won the primary is a big mystery, though, and until you resolve that, I don't think he can claim to be a strong, credible candidate.
MR. GREGORY: A couple of foreign policy questions that I think are important. Let's talk about Afghanistan. Our chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, is embedded with the 82nd Airborne right now, and his--the unit that he was with, the 82nd, was actually under attack yesterday. They returned from their outpost from a two-hour hike to Arghandab, which is outside of Kandahar in the Kandahar province after they were attending a memorial service. I want to play a portion of his reporting from "Nightly News" last night.
(Videotape from "NBC Nightly News," Saturday)
MR. RICHARD ENGEL: After the salutes and prayers, Charlie Company marches back home. The Taliban are watching them. They attack as soon as the troops return to their outpost. The soldiers rush to the roof to return fire. It's the most intense assault ever on the outpost.
Unidentified Soldier #1: Get some ammo!
MR. ENGEL: They launch mortars almost straight up because 20 Taliban fighters are just a hundred yards away.
Unidentified Soldier #2: Watch and shoot!
Unidentified Soldier #3: Watch and shoot!
MR. ENGEL: But in the chaos, they're just realizing how bad it is.
Unidentified Soldier #4: And the others, how many we have?
Unidentified Soldier #5: We have two in there.
MR. ENGEL: In the guard tower on the roof, soldiers find more injured.
Unidentified Soldier #6: All right. Stay low! Stay low!
MR. ENGEL: Now, three soldiers are wounded. They're treated under fire and evacuated off the roof. The troops keep firing, now supported by helicopter gunships.
MR. GREGORY: I show you that, one, because, lest we forget, our troops are facing...
MR. AXELROD: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: ...incredible, incredible difficulties in the field...
MR. AXELROD: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: ...and are showing great valor and strength in the field.
MR. AXELROD: As is your reporter.
MR. GREGORY: As is, absolutely, Richard Engel every day. But also in the context of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who's reported by The New York Times this weekend to have some real doubts about whether U.S. forces and NATO forces can prevail in this fight. This is how Dexter
Filkins reported it Saturday in The New York Times: "According to [Amrullah] Saleh, [the former director of Afghan intelligence service] and Afghan and Western officials ... Mr. Karzai [has] lost faith in the Americans and NATO to prevail in Afghanistan.
"For that reason, Mr. Saleh and other officials said, Mr. Karzai has been pressing to strike his own deal with the Taliban and the country's archrival, Pakistan, the Taliban's longtime supporter. According to a former senior Afghan official, Mr. Karzai's maneuverings involve secret negotiations with the Taliban outside the purview of American and NATO officials.
"`The president has lost confidence in the'" ability "`of either the coalition or his own government to protect this country,' Mr. Saleh said in an interview at his home. `President Karzai has never announced that NATO will lose, but the way that he does--the way that he does not proudly own the campaign shows that he doesn't trust it is working.'" How much of a concern is that?
MR. AXELROD: Well, let me say two things. First of all, understand what this mission is. This mission is about al-Qaeda, about putting pressure on al-Qaeda on both sides of the border, about not letting Afghanistan become a safe harbor, a safe haven for al-Qaeda again. In the last 16 months, we have, we have damaged al-Qaeda in a way that hasn't occurred since the beginning. Half their--of their top 20 leadership has been killed or captured because we've got cooperation on the Pakistan side of the border from Pakistan and because of our operations in Afghanistan. And, ultimately, this is about our security, and that's why we're there. As to this issue, understand that Mr. Saleh was fired by President Karzai, so, you know, that may help color some of his interpretations. And, and Mr. Karzai rejected his, his interpretation of this.
At the end of the day, however, we've always said that this will involve the, the future of Afghanistan, it will involve a political solution, just as it did in Iraq. And, ultimately, if the Taliban is willing to lay down arms and participate in a peaceful way, that that, that would be
part of the solution. Meanwhile, we are putting pressure on them every day, and that, that very difficult footage that you show is a reflection of the fact that we are in a battle with them...
MR. GREGORY: But...
MR. AXELROD: ...and we, we are taking it to them.
MR. GREGORY: But the president wants to remove troops at some point next year, in 2011, and when you have generals expressing concern that the goals may not be met by the time the president wants them met, it, it leads to the question, is that withdrawal deadline a conditional deadline or, in the president's mind, is it a hard deadline? As he said at West Point, we have to get troops out because this cannot go on forever, regardless of what it looks like.
MR. AXELROD: Well, the president made it clear that we can't make an open-ended commitment there, that the Afghan government and the Afghan people have to take responsibility themselves, and their army, their security. And their civil institutions have to take responsibility. We--he is committed to begin that process of withdrawal in July of, of
next year, and that is--continues to be the plan, and we're going to pursue that on that schedule.
MR. GREGORY: All right, I'm going to leave it there. David Axelrod, thank you, as always.
MR. AXELROD: Great to be with you. Thanks.
MR. GREGORY: Up next, another key week of Decision 2010, as more contests for November take shape, plus the future of the GOP, the influence of the tea party, and the women who won big on Tuesday night. Our roundtable, two political leaders, one of Tuesday's winners,
California's GOP Senate nominee, Carly Fiorina; and the vice chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Congressman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida. Plus, NBC's Chuck Todd, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Politico's Roger Simon, only on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. GREGORY: Coming up, what did Tuesday's election results say about the anti-incumbent mood around the country, the future of the GOP, and the role of women in politics this year? Our roundtable weighs in right after this brief commercial break.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: And we're back, joined in California this morning by the new Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, Carly Fiorina; here in Washington, the vice chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida; presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who's still getting used to the new surroundings; chief White House correspondent and political director for NBC News, Chuck Todd; and a special welcome back to Politico's chief political columnist, Roger Simon.
Who has really gone through a tough deal with your health, Roger. God bless you. We're so happy you are healthy and happy you're here and doing what you should be doing, which is reporting. And we're...
MR. ROGER SIMON: Thank you. And thanks to you and all those people who sent me kind e-mails and cards. It really helped.
MR. GREGORY: Oh, good. Well, we're glad to have you.
Well, there's a lot to get to, including news, Chuck Todd. You heard from David Axelrod right here that the president will address the nation, likely from the Oval Office, 8 PM Tuesday night, after he returns from the Gulf. This is a big deal. This is a big moment now where the White
House says they've got to, they've got to take this to another level.
MR. CHUCK TODD: Well, there's a phrase that I've heard a lot in the White House over the past couple of weeks, and that's "command and control." Privately they'll acknowledge they do not have it when it comes to this oil spill. So this is--they are looking for a way to find
out--the easiest way to get control of the situation is for the oil to stop leaking. With that not happening yet, they have to look like they're in more control of the situation with BP. So that's why you're seeing, not just the ramped-up rhetoric, these letters, getting the CEOs
to come to the White House and now this Oval Office address. All of it is to deal with this leadership question because that is what's--you know, they want to say, "Oh, this"--they haven't seen any effect yet in the polls. Over the last week you're now starting to see an effect. They know it; they are worried about it. And so this is an attempt to just exert some sort of control. They may not have command yet of the situation...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. TODD: ...but at least some sort of control.
MR. GREGORY: And, Roger, the other element of control, the other element of news here, David Axelrod saying they're--they want to push BP to create an escrow account where they're going to commit some amount of money.
MR. SIMON: Sure.
MR. GREGORY: That seems to be the real focus from the president, which is lock in the amount that BP will ultimately pay. That's what, effectively, a government regulator can do at this point.
MR. SIMON: If it can be predicted. They've got a dilemma. The president told me in an interview just a few days ago that the government had no greater ability to stop this oil leak than BP, so we might as well let BP do it. The trouble is, at the same time we're dependent on BP, we're fining them, we're threatening to put them in jail, we've got the attorney general going down there. You know, this is usually not the basis of a good relationship. Also, the president is a victim of that video of the gushing oil. I mean, it's a cinematic sign of his failure.
And the real worry at the White House is every time he speaks, is it going to be a split screen...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. SIMON: ...with him on one side and that gushing oil on the other.
MR. GREGORY: Carly Fiorina, you are now squarely in the, the political arena here out there in California. And another Republican has been pretty pointed in his criticism of the president's leadership on this, and that's Mitt Romney. The president has sometimes referred to Romney
as a likely candidate for the presidency in 2012. This is what Romney wrote Thursday in an op-ed in the USA Today: "Has it come to this again?" responding to the president's comments to Matt Lauer, "The president is meeting with his oil spill experts, he crudely tells us, so
that he knows `whose ass to kick.' We have become accustomed to this management style--target a scapegoat, assign blame and go on the attack. To win healthcare legislation, he vilified insurance executives; to escape bankruptcy law for General Motors, he demonized senior lenders; to take the focus from the excesses of government, he castigated business meetings in Las Vegas; and to deflect responsibility for the deepening and lengthening downturn, he blames Wall Street and George W. Bush. But what may make good politics does not make good leadership. And when a crisis is upon us, America wants a leader, not a politician." Do you think that's fair?
MS. CARLY FIORINA: Well, I think there's much in that that's fair. And there is a difference, obviously, between governing and leading, and running for office or campaigning. Look, BP has huge accountability here, and they need to be held to account. But the government has
accountability as well. When we hear that there are 13 separate federal government agencies running around in confusion down there, when we hear that there is equipment that could be used to help clean up the Gulf sitting in warehouses, when we hear that there is assistance that is being pleaded for by local officials and that assistance is not coming, all of this leads to the impression that this is not yet an effort where the president is exerting as much control as is necessary to get this thing fixed. Of course BP has responsibility, but we also need to
understand, where were the government regulators? Where was MMS, despite the fact that the leader of MMS had been brought in by Ken Salazar in a move to reform the agency, according to him? So I think...
MR. GREGORY: All right, this is the Mineral Management Service, which, which oversees these oil rigs. Congresswoman:
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL): Where, where were the regulators? This from a party who has singlehandedly allowed industry and the private sector to regulate themselves, who presided over a, an agency in MMS that was so cozy with regulators--was so cozy with the oil industry executives that they were going on trips with them, taking vacations, even sleeping with them? So, I mean, we're talking about a party that really doesn't have the right to criticize now in terms of regulation. We, under President Obama's leadership, are cleaning up that mess and make--and cleaning up the mess of the, of the oil spill. But this is ultimately
BP's responsibility. President Obama has commanded over 5,000 vessels in the region to make sure that they are involved in the cleanup, 26,000 federal employees involved in the cleanup down there, mobilized and authorized up to 17,500 members of the National Guard, and is on his way down to the Gulf region for the fourth time. This is an unprecedented response to an unprecedented manmade disaster.
MR. GREGORY: Doris, let's put this in a kind of a larger frame here. Something struck me going back, looking at President Obama's interviews over time. Back in October of 2006 he was on this program, and he said something that really any candidate can say because it becomes true when you're president. Let's play that.
(Videotape, October 22, 2006)
PRES. OBAMA: Most of the time it seems that, that the president has maybe 10 percent of his agenda set by himself and 90 percent of it set by circumstances.
MR. GREGORY: Et voila. Ninety--how's he doing with the 90 percent, Doris?
MS. DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, you know, it's interesting just listening to what you were saying about how much he actually has mobilized down there--17,000 National Guard, 20,000 people--and yet the impression hasn't gotten to the country about those people being there.
Reagan understood the importance of pictures. I think if Reagan had been doing this he would have made sure that each time the president went down there that we saw pictures of what these people were doing because we only know it as a list, and we have to somehow counter the oil gushing picture, which is central in our mind.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MS. GOODWIN: I think the other interesting thing is when you hear somebody say, "Well, he shouldn't be showing anger at BP," the other side is, we've been hearing, is he's not showing enough anger. And I think one of the problems with that is he's not a man who does, by nature--he's not T.R., like Theodore Roosevelt would have been bl ustering. I can just imagine what he would have been saying about the BP guy. People would have loved it. But on the other hand, he has to work with BP.
MR. GREGORY: And yet--but--and yet, Chuck and Roger, I mean, the president is critical of the media and yet responsive to, to some of the demands of, of, of what's been brought up here, Chuck.
MR. TODD: Well, what's ironic, the comment to Matt Lauer--and yes, it was a response to the whole "kick butt" part of the question. But when he used the, the, the more--the harsher version of the word it was because he was responding to media criticism. Listen to his whole
answer. He goes, "I don't sit around with academics"...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. TODD: ..."just because"--and that was a direct response to criticism coming from columns, particularly in the Times and the Post, that have just gotten under his skin. Media criticism gets under this president's skin and he lets it show more than any president we've seen in a long time.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. SIMON: And he believes that the anger that people are showing is a media-generated anger and it's the media really cares about his displays and his optics and his stagecraft a lot more than ordinary people do. But what really drives him crazy is statements that we just heard from Carly Fiorina, small government Republicans, now saying, "Where's the
government?" You know...
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Exactly.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. SIMON: ...Bobby Jindal screaming into a microphone, "Where are the booms? Where's the equipment? Where are, where are the ships?" These are the same people who say, "Get government out of our lives."
MR. GREGORY: Well, and...
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: David--right.
MR. GREGORY: Well, hold on a minute, that's--wait, because I wanted to go back to Carly Fiorina. I mean, respond to that point, Carly, for one. But for two, because there's legitimacy to that, what, what is good government, going forward, in a crisis like this?
MS. FIORINA: Good government needs to be efficient and effective. I'm not talking about small or big, but I know from the real world that when things get too big and too complicated and two expensive, as our government is now, they don't perform well. These are vast,
unaccountable bureaucracies. They don't coordinate with one another, and, as a result, they're not effective. And may I just say, it was Ken Salazar who put in place the secretary or the head of MMS who just recently resigned and who came from the industry. So I think...
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No, he didn't.
MS. FIORINA: ...this is a question of the blame game to say this is all about Republicans...
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: He came from the House.
MS. FIORINA: ...saying small government. This is about efficient, effective government...
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Birnbaum was from the House.
MS. FIORINA: ...and efficient and effective response. And what the American people are seeing is an ineffective response.
MR. GREGORY: Did, did that head of MMS come from--did she work on the hill or did she come from industry?
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: The head of MMS was from the House of Representatives. Liz Birnbaum came from the U.S. House of Representatives. She was an employee for many years, and then she moved from the House of Representatives to MMS. So I don't know what she's
talking about. But this is a big, expensive disaster.
MS. FIORINA: And she was forced to resign because of her failure to reform the department as she promised to.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: In the year--excuse me, excuse me--in the year that she was, that, that she was there, there definitely was not enough reform, but she was cleaning up, in the process of cleaning up from years of a totally hands-off regulatory policy by the Bush administration...
MS. FIORINA: Then why did she resign?
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ...in which they had a scandal-ridden regulatory agency.
MR. GREGORY: OK, but, Congresswoman, the reality is that if the president made a priority of reforming MMS, he also made the decision to curtail that reform, if it was incomplete, to move forward on more oil drilling, to...
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Which I don't...
MR. GREGORY: ...to achieve political consensus on climate change legislation. So it's a question of the choices the president made.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Look, as--well, in a--arguably in a year, you weren't going to be able to clean up that regulatory mess that, that essentially was--left, left industry in charge of itself, and that's why we ended up with this BP disaster.
MR. GREGORY: All right.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: But as someone, unlike Ms. Fiorina, as someone who represents a Gulf state, who is totally opposed to expanding offshore oil drilling, unlike Ms. Fiorina, who even in the face of this BP disaster, would continue to allow offshore oil drilling as a solution, it
MR. GREGORY: All right.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ...irresponsible to do that. We need to focus...
MS. FIORINA: If I may--if I may just say...
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No, no, no. You keep interrupting me.
MS. FIORINA: If I may just say, actually...
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Excuse me, excuse me.
MS. FIORINA: ...you--if I may just say that...
MR. GREGORY: Hold, hold on, hold on one second. Congressman let's let Carly Fiorina respond. Go ahead.
MS. FIORINA: If I might just say, I am not defending the performance of MMS over many years. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is absolutely correct that MMS has failed in its duties under both Republican and Democratic presidents. That's a fact. It is also true that the reason President Obama reversed his decision on shallow offshore drilling is because the people in the Gulf course--Coast were pleading for jobs and we need the energy.
MR. GREGORY: All right.
MS. FIORINA: But what I am saying is this.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No. That's...
MS. FIORINA: Do not blame someone else for the failure of government that is now sitting on this president's watch.
MR. GREGORY: OK. I want to, I want to move...
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: This is not a failure of government.
MR. GREGORY: Hold on, hold on one second. I want to move on to something else. Actually, I want to bring you in, Doris, on something that Roger wrote based on his interview with the president. This is what the president said to Roger about the role of regulation. He writes, "I
think it's fair to say, if six months ago, before this spill had happened, I had gone up to Congress and I had said we need to crack down a lot harder on oil companies and we need to spend more money on technology to respond in case of a catastrophic spill, there are folks up
there, who will not be named, who would have said this is classic, big government overregulation and wasteful spending."
MS. GOODWIN: Now, you see...
MR. GREGORY: Even though it's a Democratic Congress, he could have made it a priority.
MS. GOODWIN: See, now, but that's his righteous anger, I think, in a certain sense. I mean, he really was getting worked up. I mean, one of the things they said about FDR was that he theatrically understood that he had to be an actor at times. Even when he wasn't feeling anger, he would make sure as if he gave voice to the people who had the anger. That's one thing. The other hand of it, though, I think, is the crisis is just beginning. Whatever he should have done more, should he gone down there earlier, should have done more, now's the real crisis, is the cleanup. And just as you said, he's got to take command of that.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: (Unintelligible)
MR. GREGORY: All right.
MS. GOODWIN: And I think this speech the next night could be as important as Johnson's speech in Selma was...
MR. GREGORY: All right.
MS. GOODWIN: ...to mobilize the country for a climate energy bill, if he does it right, not just get the votes in Congress, push at that Congress from the outside in to say, "You think this is ugly, just like we thought the troopers were ugly when they were beating up on those civil rights marchers? Let's do something about it."
MR. GREGORY: All right. Let me get in here. I want to take a break. I want to come back and talk about Tuesday night's primary night and the politics of this midterm campaign. We'll do that with our roundtable when we come back after this short break.
MR. GREGORY: We're back now with our political roundtable talking about politics, Decision 2010, and what happened on Tuesday night. Here were some of the headlines about the results from Tuesday. From The Wall Street Journal, "Women Candidates Come Into Their Own." The Washington Times, "Primaries engender a year of the woman." The AP headline, "Deja Vu All Over Again: 2010 Looks Like the '92 Political Year of the Woman." Here were some of the results to bear that out. We were talking to Carly Fiorina, who is now the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate from California. You had former state Representative Sharron Angle, who is now the Republican nominee for the Senate in Nevada. Senator Lincoln, of course, the incumbent, she holds on, Democratic nominee from Arkansas. Meg Whitman, who's running for governor, is a Republican in California. State Representative Nikki Haley, Republican candidate for South Carolina governor. She still has a runoff that she has to win.
So, Carly Fiorina, is this about being the year of the woman or is it about outsiders to the process that are making a mark? What is your take-away?
MS. FIORINA: Well, I think it's a little bit of both. But I think what you're seeing now is candidates are reflecting the diversity of America. And isn't that a wonderful thing? Isn't that a wonderful evolution? I think it is a natural progression, and I think it's worth celebrating.
MR. GREGORY: Do you agree, Congresswoman?
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, I always think it's funny when the media declares something "the year of the woman." I mean, are we...
MR. SIMON: It happens every year.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yeah. Are we, are we only entitled to one every 18 years or so? I mean, that's...
MR. GREGORY: All right.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ...that--that's a little...
MS. GOODWIN: It's like that's what Barbara Mikulski was teasing about.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yeah.
MS. GOODWIN: "The year of the asparagus, the year of the carrot."
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Right.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah. Well, though, what's actually--yeah.
MS. GOODWIN: But I think something is different here. I think what's different is underneath, there's a social revolution that's gone on in the last 20 years. Women are now 60 percent college graduates, 68 percent master degree graduates. More PhDs, more--almost 42 percent
MBAs. They're coming into their realm in every sphere of society. They're going to be in politics.
MR. GREGORY: Well, also...
MS. GOODWIN: We're late for the world at large, but they're coming.
MR. GREGORY: ...it's also, to me, it was actually my wife, Beth, who made this observation, which I always take seriously, which is, look, I mean, talk about who's the ultimate outsider. I mean, men are still running most things.
MR. SIMON: Right.
MS. GOODWIN: Right.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: But...
MR. GREGORY: And not always doing such a great job.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: David, let me just jump back in here for a
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ...because the, the underlying problem here is that across the board, particularly with Republicans, it isn't the year of the woman. We have 104 members that the NRCC--a 104 races that the NRCC has put on their "young guns" watch list. Of those--and they had a much ballyhooed aggressive attempt to recruit top female candidates--they have seven women out of 104 on that list. I mean, this is a party that has a brand that women simply don't want to run with and that women don't want to vote for because they don't share the values that women care about.
MR. TODD: The headlines did feel like an attempt to shoehorn in an, an idea just to sort of make some sort of national perspective out of something...
MS. FIORINA: Does the press ever do that?
MR. TODD: Yeah, exactly. However, I thought mechanically what was fascinating about all of the victors--Nikki Haley, in particular; Meg Whitman as well, Ms. Fiorina, as well as Sharron Angle, is--and Blanche Lincoln--all of them had to withstand huge negative ads. It is harder to
run a negative campaign against women candidates. That is a fact. And I think women candidates in a toxic political environment are more likely to survive right now because the public, part of it is I think they don't believe it yet that somehow women are as dirty as male politicians because of what you just brought up. But second is that, is that, is that...
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Probably because they're not.
MR. TODD: ...women are just--women's campaigns are better at sort of withstanding this a little bit.
MR. GREGORY: Roger Simon, what, more broadly, is happening here in terms of Tuesday? Conventional wisdom gets turned on its head, an incumbent can hold on like Blanche Lincoln despite organized labor coming after her. You just have an anti-establishment sentiment out there that seems to be more powerful than even an anti-Washington sentiment.
MR. SIMON: That may be true, but it's important to keep in mind that all but two of the 217 House members who ran for re-election won their primaries. So it's not exactly a huge wave of anti-Washington feeling. Secondly, I hate to rain on the parade here, these women have won
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. SIMON: We ought to come back in November and see how many of them...
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Right.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. SIMON: ...get elected.
MR. GREGORY: We've got a program every Sunday, though, right, so we got to keep it going here.
Carly Fiorina, this is something you told The New Yorker in June about the political parties. "So what I sense is a lot of frustration with a government they view as out of touch, distant, arrogant, maybe corrupt--and it's a fatigue with professional politicians, of both parties." As a Senate candidate in the Republican Party, can we expect you to buck your party? And what issue that Republicans hold near and dear is something that you would find yourself parting company with?
MS. FIORINA: Well, let me first say that I've never been in politics before. I've never run for office. But I think our Founding Fathers intended this to be a citizen government. It's what, "of, by and for the people" means. And what I sense in the state of California is a lot of
people agree with me. And they think that the lessons we learn in the real world would help in Washington. You know, common sense, problem-solving ability, actions speak louder that words, results count. Those are things that people want to see more of in Washington. If I am
fortunate enough to win this seat in November, it will be because the people of California send me to Washington, not the Republican Party. I am my own person...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MS. FIORINA: ...and I will continue to be my own person.
MR. GREGORY: I have to say that sounds a little Schwarzeneggeresque. Are you a Schwarzenegger Republican?
MS. FIORINA: I have very different core values than Arnold Schwarzenegger ran on. But I believe that this election is going to be about jobs. We are destroying jobs in California through bad government policy. Since the institution of the stimulus package, our unemployment picture has deteriorated substantially. And this election is about out-of-control government that is taxing too much, spending too much and borrowing too much.
MR. GREGORY: All right.
MS. FIORINA: And you look at every poll in California, you will find that the Democrats, Independents and Republicans all think those are the issues in this election.
MR. GREGORY: Fifteen seconds, Congresswoman. Final word.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Craig you'll note, you'll note that Carly didn't mention anything that she disagrees with the Republican Party because she essentially doesn't. She's pro-gun, she's anti-choice, she supports expanded offshore oil drilling as a solution to our energy
problems. She has literally bought into the entire agenda lock, stock and barrel and continues to want to push this--the United States towards private industry away from balance...
MR. GREGORY: All right.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ...which is what President Obama has been pushing for.
MR. GREGORY: The debate in California and beyond will go on. Thank you all very much.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: And we'll be right back.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: Before we go this morning, a quick programming note. Tune into MSNBC Wednesday at 7 PM Eastern for a Chris Matthews special, "The Rise of the New Right."
That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.