MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, the president ramps up the campaign fight a little more than two weeks before Election Day, but does he help or hurt Democrats? The view from the White House on the election landscape, how the administration would respond to big Republican gains on Election Day, and the president's role on the trail, with our exclusive guest White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.
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Then, more on the fight for control of Congress. Majority Leader Harry Reid battles for his political life as he debates a tea party-backed opponent in Nevada.
MS. SHARRON ANGLE: How did you become so wealthy on a government payroll?
REP. HARRY REID (D-NV): That's really kind of a low blow. I think most everyone knows I was a very successful lawyer.
MR. GREGORY: And in Delaware, GOP candidate Christine O'Donnell down in the polls but still grabbing the headlines.
MR. CHRIS COONS: What would you do in Washington?
MS. CHRISTINE O'DONNELL: You're just jealous that you weren't on "Saturday Night Live."
MR. COONS: I'm dying to see who's going to play me, Christine.
MR. GREGORY: One of the tight races that could tip the balance of power is in Colorado, where recent polls show a single-digit race. As our special Senate debate series continues this morning, we are joined by Colorado Senator Democrat Michael Bennet for a showdown with his challenger, Republican Ken Buck.
Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
MR. GREGORY: Good morning. Today, for the first time this election season, the president and the first lady hit the campaign trail together, heading to Ohio to stump for Governor Ted Strickland and attend a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee. But with just 16 days until the election, is there anything the president can do to stop Republicans from a major victory on November 2? Joining me now, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.
Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
MR. ROBERT GIBBS: Thank you for having me, David.
MR. GREGORY: We are just 16 days away, and there was something in The Washington Post that really caught my eye, that kind of summed up the difficulty for the president and for Democrats. I'll put it up on the screen. And it's about the West Virginia Senate race and hopeful Joe Manchin. The headline, he's got one problem, "That pesky `D' after his name. This year Manchin has one problem he can't fix. `There's not much wrong with him,' said John Jenks, attending [an event for the Republican John Raese] on Wednesday. `It's just that he is a Democrat.'" Why is that such a problem?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, there's different political environments in different states. But understand, David, the overall political environment is driven by our overall economic picture. It took us years to get into the mess that we got ourselves in at the end of 2008, and it's going to take a while to get us out. We lost eight million jobs, we saw a financial system near collapse, we have a continuing housing crisis that we're making progress on dealing with. We have positive economic growth, and we've had nine straight months of private sector job growth. It's just going to take a while to get out of the mess that took us a long time to get into.
MR. GREGORY: Just this morning, though, AP story out showing a poll, many Obama 2008 supporters defecting to the GOP. This has, in many ways, become a referendum on the president and his policies.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say this, I'm a little leery of polls that take three weeks to conduct, just as a political professional. But, again, we're in a tough political environment because the country's in a tough economic environment. It's 9.6 percent unemployment, again, eight million jobs that have been lost. But, you know, look, we've got candidates that are out there making their positive case because we know exactly what the Republican Party wants to do, David. They said it sitting probably right here in the chair I'm sitting in. They want to go back exactly to what we had in 2008. They want to start by repealing things like Wall Street reform and putting banks back in charge of making financial decisions that affect not just Wall Street, but affect Main Street. I think at the end of the day people are going to understand that message and not turn over control of Congress to people that want to take us back to what we're trying to get out of.
MR. GREGORY: Last time you were here, you made a little news, you raised some eyebrows by what you said. And I want to play what you said, but I want to play it in the full context and have you talk about it, give a--give an updated version of it. Let me--this was about the election landscape.
(Videotape, July 11, 2010)
MR. GREGORY: Is the House in jeopardy, the majority for the Democrats in the House in jeopardy?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I, I think there are--no doubt that there are a lot of seats that will be up, a lot of contested seats. I think people are going to have a choice to make in the fall. But I think there's no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control. There's no doubt about that.
MR. GREGORY: You also went on to say that there's--it will depend on how strong the campaigns are by Democrats. First of all, what--how do you see the landscape now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I--it's a--there's no question it is a tough and challenging political environment. We're the beneficiary of a lot of political real estate after 2006 and 2008 that haven't been held by Democrats for a long period of time. But look, I, I think that campaigns in this cycle are being run on a lot of local issues and issues that are important, not nationally, but to individual states and independent, independent--individual congressional districts. I think our candidates have done a remarkably good job in a tough political environment, and I think that, come election night, we'll retain control of both the House and the Senate.
MR. GREGORY: You believe that?
MR. GIBBS: I do believe that.
MR. GREGORY: What's different now as opposed to then?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think right now you see an electorate by Democrats that is actually more engaged. You mentioned the president out on the trail. He's joined today by a very popular first lady in a--in an important state like Ohio. Twenty-thousand people signed up on Deval Patrick's Web site for the event that we had yesterday, 26,000 people in Wisconsin. There's an excitement about what this president is trying to do, there's an energy around it. And we're seeing that in shrinking generic congressional ballots, and we're seeing that in a shrinking enthusiasm gap.
MR. GREGORY: The president on the trail, as you mentioned, has some pointed messages. And I want to show just a portion of one of his talks here on Tuesday.
(Videotape, October 12, 2010)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: The question is going to be whether once again hope overcomes fear. Because what essentially the other side has decided is that they're going to try to ride fear and anxiety all the way to the ballot box on November 2.
MR. GREGORY: He's accusing Republicans of riding fear and anxiety to the ballot box, and yet, with his talk about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and influence of foreign money, a lot of people question whether he's, in fact, guilty of the same thing. This is what the president said back in October in Maryland.
(Videotape, October 7, 2010)
PRES. OBAMA: Just this week we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations. So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections. And they won't tell you where the money for their ads come from. So this isn't just a threat to Democrats. All Republicans should be concerned, independents should be concerned. This is a threat to our Democracy.
MR. GREGORY: A threat to our democracy, yet the White House has not produced proof of any foreign funds in the ads. And this is what The Washington Post said about this general issue. The headline: "Secret campaign money," that foreign donations are not the problem. "The gusher of secret money," they say in the editorial, "pouring into the coming election is alarming. It should be plugged for future campaigns--and could be, with the switch of a Senate seat or two. But the rhetoric about this development, from President Obama on down, is irresponsibly alarmist. ... Bruce Josten" with the Chamber of Commerce, he's chief lobbyist, "told The New York Times that the chamber's 115 foreign affiliates pay less than $100,000 in membership dues, out of a total budget of $200 million. The foreign money is kept in segregated accounts. The White House seems willing to stoke" xenophebia--"xenophobia without any evidence for its accusations."
MR. GIBBS: David, I, I think if you look at what the president said, he was extremely careful. You've got a group that does take money from foreign countries--from, from companies in, in other countries. They are running $75 million worth of ads. David, you and I don't know exactly who's contributing to that because there's a program that keeps all of their donors and--involved in these ads a complete secret. You're not going to know today, you're not going to know tomorrow, you're not going to know after the election. What's the agenda of those that would contribute and write million-dollar checks to influence races like in Colorado or throughout the country? What's their political agenda? And this is solved quite easily. Bruce Josten, the chief lobbyist, could simply open up the books, could simply show people exactly where the donations are coming from and who's paying for the ads. And I have to say, David, it, it's a pretty easy political solution to simply show the American people where the money's coming from. And since it's been a week and a half or two weeks into this debate and they haven't shown you where the money is, it, it calls into question where that money comes from.
MR. GREGORY: But isn't it striking to you, Robert, that an administration that passed healthcare reform, financial regulation, a massive stimulus to try to, you know, grow the economy, is in itself using a fear tactic here a couple weeks before the election, talking about Karl Rove, talking about the Chamber of Commerce and secret money into the campaign?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, it's just a fact. Karl Rove, who believed, quite frankly, that outside money in the 2004 race had the potential to derail our democracy before he started running a group that I think we now both agree has the potential to derail democracy. Karl's group is spending $50 million, the chamber is spending $75 million. If you add up all the conservative groups and what they've pledged to spend in this race, it's $399 million. Nobody knows who those donors are. Nobody knows what their political agenda is. What do they want from the next senator or from the next congressman? It does have the potential to derail our democracy, $400 million injected into this political campaign with no idea.
MR. GREGORY: But this is still a lot more smoke than fact. Isn't that fair?
MR. GIBBS: No. Absolutely not. Again, we could, we could know all the facts by simply having Karl Rove and others lay out exactly where their donors come from and exactly where that money--what the agenda is behind those big checks.
MR. GREGORY: But isn't the bigger issue here than Karl Rove, this poll question that Bloomberg asked earlier this month, whether people believed that children in your life will have a better life than you had? Fifty-one percent say they're just somewhat or not confident in that. The faith in President Obama and making a better future was very high when he came into office, and here's where it stands now.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don't doubt that there are concerns throughout this country and there's a deep frustration, and you can include the Oval Office in that, and getting our economy moving again. The president works every day not to do what is politically popular, but what--to do what is right. Investing in auto companies and ensuring a financial collapse didn't lead not from a recession to a great depression may not have been the most popular thing to do, but it was the right thing to do. And every step of the way, David, in, in facing economic catastrophe, Republicans said no. The people in this country, in order to affect their outlook on the future, need a party in the Republicans that's willing to come be part of Democracy and be part of government.
I don't doubt that as we look through the messages of what happens on Election Day, regardless of the outcome, the American people are going to want two political parties to work together to solve our problems. And, quite frankly, from the very get-go, from the very first day there was a coordinated strategy by Mitch McConnell and the Republicans to simply say no to everything that President Obama wanted to do, and now we know why. Because they want to go back to what happened in 2008 and 2007.
Look, Karl Rove is the architect in many of these outside groups, and I think it's pretty emblematic of wanting to take us back to the Bush years.
MR. GREGORY: Do, do you call on Democratic candidates, like Joe Manchin, like a dozen or so blue dog Democrats in a Congress to rebuff their support from the chamber of commerce that they have in, in this race?
MR. GIBBS: Look, the chamber has a--has certainly a constitutionally protected right to air ads. Nobody's arguing that they can't be involved in the election. But the president has said, and not just in the last two weeks, David, the president said this at the State of the Union in criticizing the Supreme Court's decision that groups that support Democrats and groups that support Republicans, liberal or conservative, ought to simply tell the American people where they get their money. Who's paying for the millions and millions...
MR. GREGORY: But you're not concerned about Democrats getting support from the chamber?
MR. GIBBS: No. Look, the, the, the chamber supported the president's recovery plan. The president--we would liked to have had the chamber's support in dealing with small business tax cuts that Republicans opposed and took us three months longer to get than it should have. We would, quite frankly, have liked the chamber's support on commonsense Wall Street reform that starts to put Main Street back in charge and not held hostage by Wall Street. Again, there was a coordinated effort not to have that happen, not because it was right for the American people, but because it was all a series of political points.
MR. GREGORY: I want to ask you about a, a big news item this week, and that is the, the issue of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the military. The president speaking on Thursday at an MTV town hall said this:
PRES. OBAMA: I've said very clearly, including in a State of the Union address, that I'm against "don't ask, don't tell" and that we're going to end this policy.
MR. GREGORY: And yet, on that very day the president's Justice Department filed an appeal to halt a judge's ruling that would have struck down "don't ask, don't tell." So, if the president wants the law to go away, if he wants the ban to go away, why is he still supporting the law in the courts?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let's be clear, the president believes the law is discriminatory, unjust and, quite frankly, you have men and women who are willing to lay down their life for this country. They--those people ought to be able to serve. The law that was struck down that the president opposes, we, we've got a process. One, the House has passed repeal, and we hope the Senate takes up that repeal quickly. They didn't.
MR. GREGORY: But what if the Senate does? Is there faith in the Senate that's misplaced? What does the president do if the Senate doesn't act?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we have a process in place right now to work with the Pentagon for an orderly and disciplined transition from the law that we have now to an era that "don't ask, don't tell" doesn't exist. And I will say this, David, "don't ask, don't tell" will end under this president. The courts have decided, the legislature has, has--is beginning to decide, and the president is firmly in the place of removing "don't ask, don't tell."
MR. GREGORY: But does he believe it's unconstitutional?
MR. GIBBS: You know, David, he thinks it's discriminatory and it's unjust and most of all it harms our national security. It's...
MR. GREGORY: We know his position, though. But if you keep defending...
MR. GIBBS: ...it's time for the law...
MR. GREGORY: ...it in the courts, how does it end? You can pronounce it dead, but how does it end if you keep backing it in the courts?
MR. GIBBS: Yeah, well, it ends with a vote in Congress. It's a law, and the most durable solution is to repeal that law. That's what the president asked the House to do and they did, that's what the president--I think there's enough votes to do it in the Senate. But, again, we have to get through Republican filibuster. It harms our national security. It's discriminatory, it's time for it to end. And I will say this, David, again, this president will end "don't ask, don't tell," and I think the courts--you're seeing from the courts that their deciding that "don't ask, don't tell," quite frankly, is--has--it's time for it to end, and that time is coming very soon.
MR. GREGORY: This is the Sunday New York Times Magazine, it's called "The Education of A President." And it talks about the president and the White House's vision for what happens after November 2, whether you lose control or the House or the Senate or you don't. If it's a slimmer majority. And there's a portion of the article, written by Peter Baker, I'll put it up on the screen.
"While proud of his record, Obama has already begun thinking about what went wrong -- and what he needs to do to change course for the next two years. He has spent what one aide called `a lot of time talking about Obama 2.0.'"
What is Obama 2.0? What comes next?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, there's a couple of different things. We've got to address problems that sit before us. We have a medium and long-term fiscal situation that we all understand is unsustainable, and it's only going to be solved if the two parties are willing to work together. We've got to take steps to continue education reform. And most importantly we, we've passed some important legislation that creates a foundation for long-term economic growth, Wall Street reform, and healthcare reform. And it's going to take a lot of coordinated energy and work to implement those. I think that's what the president--you'll see the folk--president focused on in the next two years regardless, quite frankly, of the outcome of this election.
MR. GREGORY: But what about--how do you say to the voters, "I hear you, there's going to be some kind of course correction." What does that look like?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think we'll have time to figure out exactly what is said after the election when we know the final results. Right now the president's focus is on getting our economy stronger and strengthened and moving forward, as he's out there making the case for, for democrats in this election.
MR. GREGORY: You said you'd never trade the job of press secretary. Do you stick by that or might you be elsewhere in the administration or in Washington?
MR. GIBBS: You know, David, and I think you would pretty easily agree with this, it is a tremendous honor and privilege to walk into that building every morning to serve this president, to serve any president. I am happy with what I do. I'd love to be the manager of the Atlanta Braves, but they hired somebody this week. So I'll just have to be inordinately happy with one of the best jobs on the planet.
MR. GREGORY: Might you run the DNC?
MR. GIBBS: I've spent no time thinking about and no time talking to people about what comes next for me. We're focused on what comes next for this country.
MR. GREGORY: All right, Robert Gibbs, thank you very much. Appreciate it.
MR. GIBBS: Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: Coming up next, our special Senate debate series continues. This week, the fight for Colorado. Democrat Michael Bennet squares off with his tea party-backed challenger, Republican Ken Buck, in a tight race that could tip the balance of power in Washington. Only here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. GREGORY: Coming up, the fight for control of Congress. Will the tea party's power be the big story on election night? It's all playing out in one of the country's most watched Senate races. The candidates, in their first national showdown, are up next after this brief commercial break.
MR. GREGORY: And we are back to continue our Senate debate series, this week turning our attention to the Rocky Mountain West, Colorado. It's a heated race that could indeed tip the balance of power here in Washington.
In the final stretch, President Obama tries to rally his base with Democratic control of Congress on the line.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: This election is a choice between our fears and our hopes.
MR. GREGORY: In Colorado, President Obama isn't on the ballot, but he's on the minds of voters, and he casts a long shadow over Democratic Senator Michael Bennet.
(Videotape, February 18, 2010)
PRES. OBAMA: He's somebody who is going to change Washington if you send him back there and give him the kind of mandate that he, he deserves.
MR. GREGORY: A relationship his opponent has used against him.
(Videotape, campaign ad)
MR. KEN BUCK: A rubber stamp for his friends in Washington.
MR. GREGORY: Two years ago, Colorado was Democrat country, where the party staged its national convention, where Senator Obama tapped into frustration among the state's independent voters...
(Videotape, August 28, 2008)
PRES. OBAMA: The challenges we face require tough choices, and Democrats, as well as Republicans, will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past.
MR. GREGORY: And we have news. Colorado also went for Obama...
Offscreen Voice: Wow.
MR. GREGORY: ...according to NBC News projections.
MR. GREGORY: ...and carried the state by nine points over John McCain. But much has changed in the Rocky Mountain West--high unemployment due to lost construction jobs, growing anger over government spending and the debt--giving the tea party an opening and a candidate, Ken Buck, a lawyer and former district attorney, whose tea party backing helped him beat the establishment GOP candidate.
MR. BUCK: I have cowboy boots, they have real...(censored by network)...on them, as well as county...(censored by network)..., not Washington, D.C., bull...(censored by network).
SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO): Make some...(unintelligible)...
MR. GREGORY: He is challenging Bennet, the freshman senator and former head of Denver's schools, who was appointed to the seat after Ken Salazar joined the Obama Cabinet. Their campaign, among the most contentious in the country, mirrors the national debate: Has government helped or hurt in the "great recession," and who can voters really trust to fix what's broken in Washington?
And joining us now, the current junior senator from Colorado, the Democrat, Michael Bennet, and his challenger, Republican Ken Buck, who is still the district attorney of Weld County, Colorado. That was my mistake, I apologize. Welcome to both of you.
And this is a debate that matters. If you look at the polling, we'll put it up on the screen, the latest Denver Post/KUSA poll, it's a tight race with Mr. Buck with a 5 point advantage right now, both of you under 50 percent, so a lot on the line here.
Mr. Buck, let me start with you because you do have tea party backing. The tea party is a major movement in this midterm campaign, whether it's Sharron Angle in Nevada, Christine O'Donnell getting a lot of headlines in Delaware. And the question is whether the tea party represents an extreme, insurgent political force, or whether it's a legitimate political movement. What do you say?
MR. BUCK: I, I think it's a legitimate political movement. I think what we're talking about are folks that are frustrated that we are spending so much money in Washington, D.C., and they're every bit as frustrated with the Republicans as they are with the Democrats, because the Republicans are every bit as much to blame for the mess that we're in as the Democrats. And, and that frustration has exhibited itself in a lot of energy. Folks are, are not going to try to send the same type of Republican to Washington, D.C., that they've sent in the past. And so I think it is a lot more mainstream than it has been portrayed.
MR. GREGORY: But, you know, it's--is that point, there are a lot of folks who, supported by the tea party, in the tea party, say, `Oh, there's a mainstream movement.' But there are others who say it is anything but. As a matter of fact, the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights and the NAACP are releasing a report this coming week. And here it is, I'll show it on the screen. The "Tea Party Nationalism, a critical examination of the Tea Party movement and the size, scope and focus of its national factions." And there are some serious charges that I want you to respond to. "The result of this study contravenes many of the Tea Parties' self-invented myths, particularly their sole concentration on budget deficits, taxes, and the power of the federal government. Instead, this report found Tea Party ranks to be permeated with concerns about race and national identity and other so-called social issues. ... Tea party organization have given platforms to anti-Semites, racists and bigots, Further, hard-core white nationalists have been attracted to these protests, looking for potential recruits and hoping to push these (white) protestors toward a more self-conscious and ideological white supremacy." If you're senator, do you think these elements in the tea party need to be dealt with and need to be rebuffed?
MR. BUCK: Absolutely. First of all, I haven't seen it. I've been to over 800 events in Colorado in, in the last 20 months. I have not seen that. And, and I find it offensive that folks would try to label the tea party in that way. It's just not true in Colorado. I don't know if it's true in other states, I haven't been to the other states. But I can tell you that if there are people that hold those views, they are quickly asked to leave meetings. I have not seen them in, in meetings.
MR. GREGORY: Senator, is this a legitimate question? Is this a mainstream movement? Because this is high stakes in your, in your campaign, in this debate.
SEN. BENNET: Yeah. Well, you know, David, over the last 22 months, I've had town halls in every part of our state, red and blue, and said the same thing in all those places. And what I'll tell you is this, my favorite rooms are the ones where there are Democrats, Republicans, unaffiliated voters, and tea party people, because when folks are together in a room, they actually have to listen to each other. I think one of the things that we are facing right now is that we've stopped listening to each other in our politics. So I haven't seen a lot of that either, and I have had the opportunity to engage with people who are self-described tea party people, to have a serious conversation rather than just a bunch of slogans about how we are not going to become--you know, what, what we need to do so that we're not the first generation of Americans who leave less opportunity, not more, to our kids and our grandkids.
MR. GREGORY: Mr. Buck, the issue of the tea party matters, though, because one of the big knocks against you, it's been subject to the campaign between you, is whether or not you took positions to appeal to primary voters, to get that tea party support that you're now backing away from. This is how The Denver Post editorial wrote about it on Friday. I'll put it up on the screen. "Buck ... ran as a far-right tea party conservative in his primary race against more moderate Jane Norton, and" now has been tacking--"tracking back to the center.
"It hasn't been an easy waltz. He'd trip over his feet more often in his march to the center if they weren't in his mouth. Buck's critics now call his tap dance `Buckpedaling.'
"First, he said he supports Colorado's `personhood' measure." An abortion-related measure. "Then he backed off. Now he says he isn't sure. During the primary, he told voters he'd support a Fair Tax. Then, when faced with a misleading Bennet attack ad, he backed off. He told one crowd he favored repealing the 17th Amendment, which allows for the direct election of senators, then" he "later backpedaled. His position on Afghanistan has morphed so much it's almost incoherent. Buck says he doesn't believe in nation-building yet he says we can't leave Afghanistan as a safe haven for terrorists - as if it would be possible to control events there once our troops are gone." Is that litany? Is that charge fair?
MR. BUCK: No.
MR. GREGORY: Explain why.
MR. BUCK: Well, issues like the 17th Amendment. As I said, I've been to over 800 events in, in Colorado in, in 20 months. I have talked about the 17th Amendment. Someone asked me a question. I said, `The short answer is yes, but...' and then I gave an explanation of why I thought there were better answers than--to, to restoring the balance of power between the states and the federal government than the 17th Amendment. Senator Bennet has played a commercial over and over that misstates, misquotes, misleads on, on that issue. The next day, I called the person back and said, `You know, I, I've thought about it, and I, I don't want to leave you with the impression that the answer is yes.' Fifteen times more, with the Democrat tracker camera in my face, I explained that I wasn't in favor of repealing the 17th Amendment.
It is easy when you have a tracker and, and they have 100 examples of, of answers, and, and the questions are coming at you from different angles, to use tape that shows a slight deviation in the answer. It is not fair to say that I have backtracked on, on those issues.
MR. GREGORY: But isn't it also easy to flirt with positions in a primary, and then back off and say, "Well, I'm not sure I'd actually vote for that," you know, once you get into a general election? Isn't that what people really dislike about politics?
MR. BUCK: Well, they, they may dislike it, they--but people are also sick and tired of, of politicians not answering questions, politicians not being accessible. And I think it's, it's incumbent on us, if we're going to run in this kind of a race--and this is an important year, David. I think that, you know, this is a different year than most years. We've got to tell the American people that we have to live with less. We have a $13.5 trillion debt. And the only way to do that is an honest campaign with honest people. And, and I have let people know my heart. It hasn't always been the same exact words to, to the same questions, but it has been--they, they know where I'm coming from on, on issue.
MR. GREGORY: Is he a political opportunist?
SEN. BENNET: I think absolutely. I mean, I think it's very clear that he ran a primary election saying that he would privatize Social Security, that he would demolish the Department of Education, that the American people need to wean theirselves off of student loans, that he supported the personhood amendment, pro-life in all cases except for--including cases of rape and incest. He's not changed his position on that. And in the general election, even as recently as yesterday, he said, "Well, I, I don't, I don't support abolishing the Department of Education, but I wouldn't oppose it if it came up for a vote." That's not the kind of straight talk that people in Colorado want.
And what, what complicates it even further is that the primary election, virtually every dollar spent on TV on behalf of Ken Buck came from groups outside of Colorado, came from groups sponsored by people that got us into this mess in the first place, you know, that managed to drive this economy into the worst ditch since the Great Depression and double our debt. And in the general election, the same thing is happening. Eighty-five percent of the money that, that represents the TV ads that are running on behalf of Ken Buck are from outside the state.
But, but the other thing is, in these difficult times, I think it is enormously important. We're never going to say exactly the same thing every, you know, every second of every day. But the flip-flops in this race are unbelievable.
MR. GREGORY: I want to--you want to button this up before I move on to some questions. You say...
MR. BUCK: I would.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. BUCK: The, the, the media has looked at Senator Pennet--Bennet's ads. The--and in fact, the same editorial that you quoted from talks about the despicable nature of Senator Bennet's ads. They have been false, misleading, deceitful. The Colorado Springs paper talked about the fact that the--this was the sleaziest campaign in the history of the state of Colorado. And on, on Senator Bennet's side, he talks about his deep, deep empathy for Social Security; and he's on the Commission on Aging, he missed 92 percent of the meetings for the Commission on Aging. He talks about earmark reform. He voted against earmark reform four times in 2009. In 2010 he offers a bill, doesn't bother getting one co-sponsor, doesn't bother moving the bill forward in any way, but runs on the fact that he is a good government earmark reformer. It's, it's that kind of, of, of duplicity that, that Colorado voters are sick of.
MR. GREGORY: Let me move on. You can deal with some of that, but I want to move to another issue, which is the role of President Obama in this campaign. He came out to campaign for you, and back in February this is what he said, talking about the economy. Watch this.
(Videotape, February 18, 2010)
PRES. OBAMA: He was here by my side in Denver a year ago when we signed the Recovery Act into law. Wasn't a politically easy decision to make for any of us because we knew that we were already facing big deficits that had been run up over the last decade. But we had a responsibility to do what was right for the American people and break the back of this recession that was slipping into a depression.
MR. GREGORY: And yet, on that signature issue, the legacy of that, this is what you said back in September, just last month.
(Videotape, September 11, 2010)
SEN. BENNET: We have $13 trillion of debt on our balance sheet and, in my view, nothing to show for it.
MR. GREGORY: So the president said you took the tough vote...
SEN. BENNET: Right.
MR. GREGORY: ...you helped the stimulus get passed. You say there's nothing to show for it but more debt. Isn't that an admission...
SEN. BENNET: This...
MR. GREGORY: Hold on. Isn't that an admission that the major piece to help the economy simply did not work by this administration?
SEN. BENNET: Absolutely not. In fact, what I was saying when I say that, which I have said in every town hall meeting in Democratic and Republican parts of the state, is true, because what I say is we have $13 trillion of debt on the balance sheet and nothing to show for it. I say we have not even had the decency to maintain the assets that our parents and grandparents built for us--our roads, our bridges, our wastewater systems, our sewer systems; by the way, those weren't Bolsheviks, those weren't socialists that built those things for us--much less build the infrastructure we need for the 21st century. And it's not just transportation. Transit--listen.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah, but the president acknowledges that, that infrastructure spending has not been really dealt with in this stimulus bill.
SEN. BENNET: Transit and--transportation, transit and energy infrastructure as well. That stimulus package saved us from going into the second Great Depression. But that's hardly enough of a standard if the--if what generations ought to judge other generations is whether they left more opportunity, not less for them. That's the point that I'm making.
MR. GREGORY: But what seems to be the issue that's hanging out there is that most Americans don't believe the stimulus has helped. You have been in lockstep with this president. Congressional Quarterly says you voted with the president 97 percent of the time. And in an editorial by The Denver Post, endorsing you, I should point out, this is part of what they say: "Michael Bennet for U.S. Senate. Since [Bennet] was appointed senator ... he has been running for election and, at times, running scared. ...
"If he had bucked his party and his president on just one major issue, and in turn showed some Colorado independence, it would have been much easier to endorse him. Instead, his 20-month career has been frustrating to watch, leaving voters, and us, with a difficult choice.
On December of 2009, "for example, he made an impassioned speech on the Senate floor, blasting Washington lawmakers for their dirty dealing as they patched together a health care bill larded with special deals. ... Then, three days later, he voted for the bill.
"The current health care bill is law because of Bennet's one vote. That vote, and his speech, epitomize his short Senate career: So much potential, yet not enough spine."
SEN. BENNET: Well, let's focus on the potential question. Listen, I, I did vote--I did cast a vote for health care, and I also said that I thought the process was horrible. The status quo before we passed health care was also horrible. And part of what we needed to do was clean up the way Washington does its business, I completely agree with that, because it--it's one of the things that's eroding confidence in the American people and what's going on in, in this town. I also think that it's clear that the recovery, you know, package has grown the GDP somewhat and saved thousands and thousands of jobs in my home state.
Look, when I agree with the president, I agree with him. When I disagree with him, I disagree with him. He's done some things that were not helpful to Colorado, and I've fought back--canceling the Orion Project, making sure that we didn't change the tax treatment for natural gas producers in our state. And I might say, also, that today I was endorsed, not just by The Denver Post, but the Grand Junction Sentinel, who endorsed John McCain and Bob Schaffer, a Republican who ran for this seat.
MR. GREGORY: But on the big ticket items...
SEN. BENNET: And one of the--let me, let me just say, one of the basis for their endorsement was my willingness to reach across the aisle to work with Republicans and, and my opponent's stated desire to be the chief filibuster of the United States Senate if he gets back here.
MR. GREGORY: On the big ticket items, the ones that have really contributed to the debt, you were with the president.
SEN. BENNET: I, I don't disagree. And the president said, you know, in the clip that you had...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
SEN. BENNET: ...that a lot of tough choices were going to have to be made here. And it's true, the choices are tough. And the politics right now are not supporting the aspirations we have for our kids and our grandkids. They're not allowing us to make--or they haven't allowed us to make even tougher choices that we're still going to have to make going forward.
MR. GREGORY: Why is that unreasonable in your view?
MR. BUCK: I'll tell you, Senator Bennet does one thing in Washington, D.C., and then comes back to Colorado and talks about a completely different thing. He has spent--on his watch in Washington, D.C., been part of the spending of $3 trillion. That's $3 trillion. We can talk about $13 trillion on the book; $3 trillion dollars has been accumulated since he's been in D.C., and that's something that he has to take responsibility for.
MR. GREGORY: And you take responsibility, as well, for what Republicans did in terms of running up the debt before that?
MR. BUCK: David, I have said over and over that Republicans are every bit as much to blame as Democrats, and I am not going to be one of those Republicans when I get to Washington.
MR. GREGORY: So to that...
SEN. BENNET: Well, just to be clear on that point, though, the, the budget, the budget proposals that he's made would blow, without even talking about the tax cut extensions, $1.3 trillion more of a hole into our budget than we already have and, and, depending on what we do with these extensions, an additional $4 trillion of debt on the balance sheet.
MR. GREGORY: Well, let me ask you on that point, do you agree with Republican leaders who say that tax cuts do not have to be paid for?
MR. BUCK: No, I don't. I, I think we've got to find spending cuts. And I don't know what you're talking about in terms of tax cuts.
MR. GREGORY: Well, extanding--extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the highest earners. The president says it all the time, it would cost an extra $700 billion. Should those be paid for if the--if, if Republicans like you want to cut that deficit, bring it in balance, do you then have to pay for the tax cuts you want to extend?
MR. BUCK: Well, first, David, where are the families going to pay for the money that they've got to send the federal government? That's, that's the bigger question to me. Secondly, though...
MR. GREGORY: But how can that be bigger? You either believe in the balanced budget or you do not. If you extend tax cuts, you said just a moment ago they have to be paid for. Then how do you pay for it?
MR. BUCK: Well, the, the--we pay for it by cutting spending. We also pay for it by growing government. When we leave money in the hands of taxpayers, they buy things, they pay taxes, they grow government. It's not a one for one exchange in the first year, but, but it would be bad, in my view--and, and I--every economist I've talked to has told me that it would be bad in a recession to try to increase taxes.
MR. GREGORY: Well, and you think there should be an extension on all the tax cuts for at least a year.
SEN. BENNET: For a year. For a year. In part to figure out how we do pay for it. I mean, the same thing that Ken is saying right now is what the Bush administration said when it created these tax cuts to begin with, and what we saw was the first period of economic growth in our country's history when middle-class income fell.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
SEN. BENNET: Our middle-class...
MR. GREGORY: But not--it's not fair to compare him to all Republicans. Republican leaders don't agree with what he just said, which is that you have to pay for tax cuts. So isn't he--aren't you guys more in line, wouldn't you say?
SEN. BENNET: Well, I didn't--I actually didn't hear him say that. I heard him say that you pay for it, and also by growing government you pay for it. I'm not quite sure what that means. But...
MR. BUCK: Well, let me explain to you. Here...
SEN. BENNET: ...my point is, my point is...
MR. BUCK: ...you grow government because as people have more money they spend the money and government grows. When we put people back to work, the government grows, we increase revenue and we decrease unemployment benefits.
SEN. BENNET: Well I'm definitely not interested in growing government, I can tell you that.
MR. BUCK: I'm sorry, growing the economy. I apologize.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. BUCK: Growing the economy.
MR. GREGORY: You're talking about growing the economy.
MR. BUCK: Right.
MR. GREGORY: Is there also a reality that how do you pay for an extension of middle-class tax cuts?
SEN. BENNET: Yeah. I think there's a reality to all of it. I mean, the, the, the top 2 percent is $700 billion. All of them together are, are $4 trillion. And we're going to have to make some very hard choices to make sure that our kids are not bearing a debt that we were unwilling to deal with.
MR. GREGORY: Mr. Buck, I want to ask you about women who are taking a hard look at this race and deciding how they're going to make up their minds, and some issues that have come up, controversial issues, for you. You've taken a hard line position on abortion, saying you'd vote for a ban even if it includes rape and incest. During the primary campaign, you said, you said that voters should vote for you because you don't wear high heels. And then there was an issue that's gotten a lot of attention, as a district attorney, about a 2006 date rape case. You declined to prosecute. You told the Greeley Tribune, "A jury could very well conclude that this was a case of buyer's remorse," after you looked at the circumstances of the case and decided not to prosecute. A lot of people thought that was an insensitive remark. The woman who was involved in this case has been critical of you, saying that your tone was one of, in essence, attacking her. It was not the first time that your judgment or your ethics as a lawyer has been questioned. And I wonder whether you regret using those words, and whether you think women should give some weight to those issues in deciding whether to vote for you.
MR. BUCK: I, I, I think women as well as men are concerned about jobs and the economy and spending and, and other issues. They're concerned that when their kids graduate from college they have an economy and they have a future in this country and they, they have the same opportunity that we've had and our grandparents have had. But I'd like to talk about a couple of those issues, if I can...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. BUCK: ...to clarify some things.
MR. GREGORY: OK.
MR. BUCK: Rape case came into our office, it was reviewed by an attorney with--a prosecutor with 30 years prosecutorial experience who's now on the Colorado Court of Appeals. He declined to prosecute. Two female chief deputies reviewed the case, talked to witnesses, they, they declined to prosecute. The case went to another chief deputy who had handled many of the high-profile rape cases in the, in the Denver metro area. He declined to prosecute. I met with this young lady, explained the circumstances. I then sent the case to the Boulder County district attorney's office for, for Boulder County because they had a lot of experience with date rape as a result of the University of Colorado being in that county. They declined to prosecute and told me that the case couldn't be prosecuted. It was after this--the young lady made this case public that I had to explain to the newspaper exactly what...
MR. GREGORY: But do you regret the way you either talked to her or talked about the case?
MR. BUCK: I don't regret the way I talked to her. I think, I think the--it is important that a prosecutor approach a victim with, with a certain amount of reality, and that's what I tried to do with this victim. I didn't blame her at all.
MR. GREGORY: Right. But what about what you told the Greeley Tribune?
MR. BUCK: What I told the Greeley Tribune, I gave them five or six reasons why I thought a jury could decline this case.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. BUCK: One of the reasons was the fact that she had regretted this relationship, and she had buyer's remorse as a result of the relationship that she had with this young man.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. BUCK: That is, that is something that I think when, when someone decides to make a case public, the public has to understand why.
MR. GREGORY: Senator, is this an issue?
SEN. BENNET: I just--I, I do think it's an issue. Look, I have a lot of sympathy for the victim in this case. He just used the language again, buyer's remorse, and is the father of three little girls. I just think that's the wrong way to talk about this kind of set of circumstances, especially when you're a prosecutor.
MR. GREGORY: All right, we're going to leave it...
SEN. BENNET: I...
MR. GREGORY: ...we're going to leave it there. We're going to come back. We want to get to some other issues. We're going to take a quick break. More from our Colorado's candidates for the U.S. Senate when our special debate series continues, right after this brief station break.
MR. GREGORY: We are back to continue our special Senate debate series with the candidates locked in a tight race for the Colorado Senate seat.
I want to do a bit of a lightning round here. I want to get to some issues here and have shorter answers on these things.
And Mr. Buck I want to start with you. The issue of gays in our country, in a debate last month you expressed your support for "don't ask, don't tell," which we talked about with Mr. Gibbs, and you alluded to lifestyle choices. Do you believe that being gay is a choice?
MR. BUCK: I do.
MR. GREGORY: Based on what?
MR. BUCK: Based on what?
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. BUCK: Well...
MR. GREGORY: Why do you believe that?
MR. BUCK: Well, I guess you can, you can choose who your partner is.
MR. GREGORY: You don't think it's something that's determined at birth?
MR. BUCK: I, I, I think that birth has an influence over like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that basically you, you have a choice.
MR. GREGORY: Does that put him outside the mainstream of views on this?
SEN. BENNET: I absolutely believe he's outside the mainstream of views on this.
MR. GREGORY: About Afghanistan, for you, Mr. Bennet. If President Obama and General Petraeus were to determine that they need a significant number of troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond the July 2011 deadline, is that a position that you'd be able to support?
SEN. BENNET: My position is that we ought to begin bringing our troops home in July '11. And there will be troops there, they'll have to leave troops there, and I recognize that. But this is the longest shooting war in our country's history.
MR. GREGORY: But if a significant number of combat forces must remain to achieve U.S. goals, you'd be for it or against it?
SEN. BENNET: I would have to look at it then, but what I want to make clear is that I believe the president needs to honor the commitment that he made to begin bringing our troops home. I don't know what significant is. I imagine that there will be a substantial number of troops there for the foreseeable future.
MR. GREGORY: And you could support that?
SEN. BENNET: But I, but I believe what the American people need to see that our commitment there is coming to an end.
MR. GREGORY: How do you answer that, Mr. Buck?
MR. BUCK: Well, I, I don't think we set artificial deadlines. I think that we, we set realistic goals, and, and we try to accomplish those goals. I don't think we should be nation-building, I don't think we should be staying there over the long-term. I...
MR. GREGORY: What if General Petraeus says, "You know what, it's July 2011, but if we're going to achieve our goals, we can't pull any troops out. May need more troops, may need to surge up again here." Well, you could support that because you don't believe in deadlines?
MR. BUCK: No, I didn't say I could support that. I don't believe in deadlines, I don't believe in telling the enemy when we're going to withdraw. I need to know what he thinks the goals are. And if I agree with those goals, then evaluate at that point.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you a question about the Supreme Court. Obviously a crucial role as a U.S. senator, confirming a justice who's nominated by the president. Which sitting justices would you have voted against?
MR. BUCK: I would have voted against Justice Sotomayor, and I would have voted against Justice Kagan, for two.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm. Are there Clinton-era nominees as well, down the line?
MR. BUCK: Perhaps. I didn't, obviously, study them as much as I have the last two.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm. For you?
SEN. BENNET: I probably would have voted against Justice Thomas, and, and, and I've been disappointed by what Justice Roberts has done. I think--my own view is that the president has a constitutional prerogative to nominate people, and if they're qualified, they ought to be confirmed, even if I disagree with their positions on a lot of things. I think one of the most graceful moments over the last 20 months, since I've been in this job in the Senate, was Lindsey Graham's statement before he cast his vote for Elena Kagan that set out the president's constitutional prerogatives and his constitutional obligations as a United States senator. I thought it was a class act what Lindsey Graham said, and I wish we saw more of that in the United States Senate.
MR. GREGORY: Mr. Buck, this is kind of related to something you told The Washington Post back in July, and I want to put it up on the screen. "There's a conservative movement within the Republican Party that distinguishes a lot of us, and we recognize that Republicans are a big part of the problem. ... I don't have any deep friends in Washington now, and in six years I won't have any friends." Is that...
MR. BUCK: Other than you, David. Other than you.
SEN. BENNET: I'll be you...
MR. GREGORY: But is that part of the problem?
MR. BUCK: Yeah. But you won't be in Washington, that's the problem.
MR. GREGORY: But is that part of the problem, that you want to come to Washington and not have any friends? How do you solve problems if you can't work with people on the other side?
MR. BUCK: Yeah. And, again, I think if you take that literally, you, you reach that conclusion. What I was saying there is I'm not coming to Washington, D.C., to make friends. I'm coming to Washington, D.C., to do the people's work. And the people's work has to do with reducing spending and cutting budgets and, and trying to get a grip on the size of government. Will, will I meet people here? Will I develop friendships? Sure. But I am not going to let those friendships interfere with my obligation to do the people's work.
MR. GREGORY: Who, who's a Republican--you've talked about working with both sides--who's a Republican you admire? You talked about Lindsey Graham.
SEN. BENNET: I just mentioned Lindsey Graham. I, I wrote a bill--I wasn't here for the bailouts. Ken doesn't know that, but I wasn't here for the bailouts. I was here to write a bill called the Pay It Back Act that said that the money that came back from the TARP-recipient banks should be used dollar for dollar for deficit reduction. Bob Corker was an original co-sponsor on that bill.
MR. GREGORY: Senator from Tennessee.
SEN. BENNET: Johnny Isakson from Georgia, a Republican as well, helped with that bill. It passed with broad bipartisan support.
MR. GREGORY: (Unintelligible)
SEN. BENNET: That's what people in my town hall meetings want. They're sick of the hyper-partisanship. They don't want to send somebody back to D.C. that says I'm going to be the chief filibuster or I'm going to put my track shoes on...
MR. GREGORY: All right.
SEN. BENNET: ...because I'm going to filibuster so much. She--he should save his time. There are people back here that will do that.
MR. GREGORY: All right. We've got about...
SEN. BENNET: What we need is cooperation.
MR. GREGORY: I've got about a minute left, I want you both to take this. This is from Facebook. We partnered up with Facebook's politics page, and we've solicited some questions for you on the page, and here's one that we chose. Ashley Newberg: "This is what I would ask them: What do you hope to accomplish, both in your political career and in life in general (outside of politics?" But you've got to be very brief. Mr. Buck:
MR. BUCK: In my political career, I'd like to see a constitutional balanced budget amendment.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. BUCK: And in my life, I'd like to play more golf and, and get a decent handicap.
MR. GREGORY: There you go.
SEN. BENNET: I--this isn't a hard question for me because I've spent my whole life outside of politics. This is my first exposure to it. I hope to be able to accomplish a set of policies that make--create more opportunity, not less, for our kids and our grandkids. Outside of politics, I hope to raise my three little girls to be productive and happy citizens.
MR. GREGORY: All right. We're going to leave it there. Thank you both.
Early voting starting in Colorado, and Monday night, Bill Clinton, the former president, campaigning for you and for the Democrats out there. Strikingly, he seems to be one or the more respected political figures on both sides in Colorado right now. So a hard-fought contest, and we'll, we'll be watching.
And we will be right back.
SEN. BENNET: Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: That is all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.