MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, back to work for the president and Congress. But what'll actually get done in a lame duck session? Will debate begin on the new START treaty with Russia? Who will win the battle over extension of the Bush-era tax cuts? And will the debt
commission's ideas for slashing the deficit go anywhere? Plus, will North Korea's deadly attack against the south engage U.S. armed forces into another combat zone after the north warns that a planned U.S.-South Korean military exercise that began hours ago could put the region on the brink of war.
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With us this morning, two leaders of the Senate: Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois; and the assistant minority leader, Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona.
Then, as the post-election political battles heat up, battleground 2012 is already taking shape. Who are the potential candidates to watch? And which issues will matter most? Our political roundtable weighs in: The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne; The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan; plus, former counselor to President Bush, Ed Gillespie; and Philadelphia mayor, Democrat Michael Nutter.
Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
MR. GREGORY: Good morning.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: Just hours ago, those planned U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises began in the waters south of the disputed maritime boundary with North Korea. Joining me now live from Seoul, South Korea, with the very latest on these escalating tensions, NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel.
Richard, what is your sense on the ground there? Is this about to get worse before it gets better?
RICHARD ENGEL reporting:
There are mixed indications. People here, in what is a very snowy Seoul, South Korea, don't seem like they want a war. But all of the pieces are in place for a very, very dangerous situation. You have American military hardware that has been brought into the region. These joint exercises now under way, which the North Korean government is perceiving as a direct threat. And now, according to North Korean officials, North Korea has positioned surface-to-air missiles near to its coast, it has moved other kinds of longer range missiles onto launch pads. It has also stationed and gotten ready some anti-ship missiles. So it wouldn't take much for this crisis here, which is just at a rhetoric stage for now, to escalate dramatically further, David.
MR. GREGORY: What do you think North Korea actually wants? I mean, the Chinese, who've stepped up now, saying there should be some emergency talks, that's probably what the administration wanted to have happen. But how do you read North Korea and its desires here?
MR. ENGEL: Analysts we've spoken to here believe this has to do with domestic politics inside North Korea. North Korea clearly wants attention, it wants to re-engage in those nuclear discussions, but it also has an issue of transition that it is dealing with. The North
Korean dictator is--had a stroke, he's ill, and he's trying to pass on authority to his 27-year-old son. Just last September the son was promoted to a four-star general position. Now the son, according to officials here, has to prove that he is a military man, that he can handle this situation. So, if you look at it from the way it's viewed here, people are saying this is a war designed and being carried out for the benefit of a 27-year--27-year-old "little prince."
MR. GREGORY: Before I let you go, Richard, the country here is poised for more WikiLeaks documents, more secret government documents being released by that Web site WikiLeaks, with regard to U.S. relationships with--key relationships around the glode. How, how--globe, rather. How bad is this going to be?
MR. ENGEL: This is devastating. I've spoken to many senior U.S. military officials, and they believe that this is--well, they use words like treason, they use words like a major breech of American national security. And they wonder how the, the chief suspect accused of leaking
these documents to WikiLeaks, a, a private first class, could have managed to do this, to bring out hundreds of thousands of first military cables, now diplomatic correspondences, internal documents that are supposed to be just within the, within the ranks of politicians and
diplomats and embassies. How such a low-level person within the U.S. military could have passed this on to a foreign agent who is now putting them online.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. ENGEL: This is a major breech, and a lot of people are wondering will there be an overhaul, a, a re-examination on how America's protected information is kept secure.
MR. GREGORY: All right, Richard Engel for us in Seoul, South Korea. I appreciate your reporting this morning, Richard.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: Joining me now live from Springfield, Illinois, assistant majority leader, Democratic senator Dick Durbin; and from Phoenix this morning, assistant minority leader, Republican senator Jon Kyl.
Welcome to both of you. A lot to get to, both foreign and domestic. Let's start with North Korea.
Senator Kyl, how, how does this end? And what should the president do about it?
SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ): Well, I don't know how it ends, obviously. But what we ought to do is what we're doing right now, and that is not backing down in terms of having very legitimate exercises with the South Korean government, which we had, had--gave plenty of advance notice of. And, and then see how it, how it plays out. Obviously, we're not trying to provoke anything there. But with news--the IAEA from the United Nations just released a report a couple of weeks ago detailing how North Korea was proliferating nuclear technology to Iran and Syria. And clearly this is a country that needs to be dealt with, and I think we need to focus a lot more on it.
MR. GREGORY: But, Senator Durbin, how? The New York Times on Saturday had this headline, "China Addresses Rising Korean Tensions, but With a Warning to the U.S." They want to tamp down what's happening, they now want emergency talks, but they're the real power player here in terms of leverage over North Korea. Do they ultimately have to deal with North Korea, rather than the United States?
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): I spoke with Secretary of State Clinton last night about this, and we both agree that China can play a very valuable role here in trying to bring under control a situation which is very volatile. At this point in time we need to make certain we stand as one
nation, strong in our alliance with South Korea, determined to stop this effort by North Korea to provoke aggression. This sort of thing, I think, really calls on us to be more bipartisan, more constructive in our efforts in Washington.
MR. GREGORY: But should, should any attack on South Korea be viewed as an attack on the United States, Senator Durbin?
SEN. DURBIN: I'm not going to go any further than what the president has said. We have a strong alliance with South Korea. We will stand by them. It is a treaty obligation that goes back over 50 years.
MR. GREGORY: All right.
Senator Kyl, let's move on to the very contentious issue of this START treaty that you're in the center of. This is the nuclear arms reduction treaty that the administration has negotiated with Russia, that the president said is a priority for this lame-duck session. You seem to be
the key player here as the opponent here in the Senate. You've said, over the past couple of weeks, "I think there is no chance that the START treaty can be completed in the lame-duck session." Is that still your view?
SEN. KYL: It is, and it's more a view of reality rather than policy. If the leader of the Senate, Senator Reid, were to allow a couple of weeks for full debate and amendment of the resolution of ratification, then theoretically there would be time. But he has made it clear that he has
a different agenda in mind. And I, I think clearly they've got to set some priorities here. Are they going to deal with the funding of the government for the remainder of the fiscal year? They've got to do that. Are they going to deal with the issue which is on everybody's mind, that you mentioned earlier, and that is to ensure that we don't have a big tax increase, the largest tax increase in the history of the country. These are higher priority items. And if we do those things and then potentially deal with some of the other political issues that Senator
Reid has said he wants to deal with, in that event then there would not be time to do a START treaty as well.
MR. GREGORY: Well, but, Senator Durbin, here's the issue. Do you--can you get around Senator Kyl? Do you have the votes? You need nine...
SEN. DURBIN: Well...
MR. GREGORY: ...votes among Republicans. Can you get there without him?
SEN. DURBIN: I can tell you that when it comes to this issue, we respect Jon Kyl. I think he's worked as hard as any other senator, maybe more than any senator, to understand this issue and to be an important part of the policy decisions that we face. But here is the reality. We live in a dangerous world. The failure of the United States Senate to ratify the START treaty immediately is going to pose a danger to the United States and its security. And let me give a historical analogy. It wasn't that long ago that a Republican president appealed to Congress on a bipartisan basis--it was President George W. Bush after 9/11--to rewrite the architecture of our intelligence agencies with a new Department of Homeland Security. Senator Susan Collins, the chairman of the committee at that time and a Republican, Senator Joe Lieberman, a Democrat, got together and did it. They constructed this new scenario that has made us
safer as a nation and they did it during a lame-duck session. There is no excuse for us to, to ignore this responsibility and to say we'll wait several months.
MR. GREGORY: Well, Senator...
SEN. DURBIN: While we wait there will be no one--there'll be no inspectors on the ground in Russia to make sure that their nuclear weapons are safe and treaty-compliant.
MR. GREGORY: The issue is, is, Senator Kyl, what do you need all the time for? The New York Times reported this on Friday about your role, "Privately, administration officials expressed anger and bewilderment at Mr. Kyl, contending that they had given him virtually everything he
sought. Arms control advocates have been more vocal. `My conclusion is' that `he's acting in bad faith,' said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. `He asked for more earlier in the fall and they've delivered.'" Is this anything other than trying to snub the
SEN. KYL: Of course. Let me reiterate what I said before. Harry Reid, the leader of the Senate, can bring the START treaty up anytime he wants to, but he has a different agenda. He's made some promises to some political constituencies. He wants to do the Dream Act in order to appeal to certain segments of the Hispanic community. The "don't ask, don't tell" policy to appeal to the gay and lesbian community. To appeal to the unions, he wants to do the so-called firefighters federal unionization bill. In addition to various political commitments that he's made to do legislation in the lame duck session, we have to fund the government for the remaining 10 months of the fiscal year. We have to deal with some expiring provisions like...
MR. GREGORY: But, Senator, you're not being responsive. What's your...
SEN. KYL: May I just finish, David?
MR. GREGORY: Well, what's your issue?
SEN. KYL: David!
MR. GREGORY: Well, what's your issue with the treaty?
SEN. KYL: As I told you, my issue is that you can't do everything. I was stating it as a matter of reality, not a matter of policy. How can Harry Reid do all of the things we've talked about, deal with the expiring tax provisions and, in addition to that, deal with the START treaty, which by itself could probably take at least two weeks?
MR. GREGORY: How long did the last START treaty take to ratify?
SEN. KYL: We...
MR. GREGORY: How much debate?
SEN. KYL: We, we have three weeks to go before the Christmas recess, and there are, in my opinion, a lot of amendments that have to be raised on this treaty. And as a result colleagues are going to offer those amendments. Is Harry Reid just going to shut it off and say, "We only
have three days"?
MR. GREGORY: I'm sorry, Senator, my question is, how long did the last START treaty take to, to get through Congress?
SEN. KYL: It's not comparable to this START treaty. The last START treaty was a three-page document. It was agreed to by virtually every--in fact, I think the vote was unanimous, or maybe there was one dissenting vote. That's not going to be the case with this treaty, in
which there are a lot of issues.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Durbin.
SEN. DURBIN: Well, I can just tell you that we've--people across America, who subscribe to cable, ask for refunds when they turn on C-Span and see the Senate sit there day after day doing nothing, lurching from filibuster to filibuster. Come on, let's be reasonable, let's be
constructive, let's be bipartisan. We can get these things done. Let's roll up our sleeves and do it. Senator Kyl has raised legitimate issues, but the fact is, we can do all of the things he mentioned, debate them and vote on them in a responsible way before we break for Christmas. To do otherwise is really to create a dangerous situation. I agree with
Senator Richard Lugar. It is time for us to step up as a nation and face the reality that we will be safer with the START treaty. And I might say to Senator Kyl, consider the situation in Iran. They just announced yesterday that they were going to fire up their nuclear reactor. If it's
for peaceful domestic purposes, all well and good. But if it's part of an agenda to build a nuclear weapon, it's a danger to the world. Russia has helped us in dealing with this threat in Iran. To ignore and push aside the START treaty at this moment does not help our relationship with Russia in this critical issue of an Iranian nuclear program.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Kyl, I just want to zero in on one point to which I don't feel like I've gotten an answer to, which is, substantively--and by the way the old START treaty took a matter of days, you say it's not comparable, but that is the reality that it doesn't take three weeks necessarily. But what, substantively, are you not getting from the White House that you want, to say, "Yes, I can support this"?
SEN. KYL: First of all, let me quote The Washington Post, which directly addressed the question that you asked. "No calamity will befall the United States if the Senate does not act this year." And in response to the charge that somehow we need to do this for the urgency of needing verification, the Associated Press did a fact check on that allegation and said, "The urgency is political. Even the administration concedes the security risk is not immediate." So there is not a time pressure to do this now as opposed to two months from now. But specifically to your question, there are a series of issues that relate, first off all, to provisions of the treaty itself and how it deals with missile defense and conventional prompt global strike and some other issues. Secondly, you have the question of modernization, which is the thing that Senator Durbin pointed out that I had been primarily focused on. And third, you have questions extraneous to the treaty but within the context, which is, is this all that's standing between us today and the administration trying to negotiate even deeper, further cuts, which it's indicated that it wants to do in its march toward global zero, something that a lot of
us disagree with. So there are a lot of considerations, and if you would like just one or two very specific, one of the things the administration has done with regard to building our nuclear complex back up, replacing the old Manhattan era 1940s buildings, for example, facilities, is to
create two new buildings which are going to be necessary, one in Tennessee, one in New Mexico. And these buildings are very costly. But what they've done is to stretch out the cost so that it doesn't show up in the 10-year projections now to be completed by the year 2023 and 2024. That's too long. We need those facilities before then. And, as a result, there probably will be amendments or at least an effort to try to get the administration to fund those a little earlier. Every year we delay is a cost of $200 million, money that could be saved if we can get those facilities constructed a little bit earlier.
MR. GREGORY: All right, let me--I want to move on to some of the domestic agenda and some of the showdowns on matters like taxes and spending. But first, we were coming off of this holiday weekend and there was so much drama around the TSA screening procedures, the invasive pat-downs at the airport.
Senator Durbin, is this debate over? I mean, does the administration need to, to come up with a better way to secure Americans at airports from potential plots involving airplanes?
SEN. DURBIN: Listen, we want to respect people's privacy. But the bottom line is, when you get on an airplane with your family, you want to know this government has done everything in its power to keep us safe. Look at what happened. After all of this furor about the pat-down and the screening and so forth, a grand total of about one percent of passengers across America during this Thanksgiving holiday season basically objected to the process that they were being offered. One percent. And we were tied in knots over this. It is not an easy
assignment to TSA to say, "Keep us safe, but don't go too far." I think they're trying to strike the right balance. Congress needs to continue to ask questions, but the bottom line is we want to be safe when we get on airplanes. We do not want an air disaster because we have gone too far in bending towards some public opinion poll.
MR. GREGORY: But, Senator Kyl, critics have pointed out two things. One, longer security lines are an area of vulnerability for passengers if terrorists were to strike at the actual security line. You know, and this is indelicate, but, I mean, there are also ways to hide explosives on one's person that even these more invasive security procedures are not
going to deal with. Is there a better way?
SEN. KYL: I think there are some other things that can be done in ddition to what's being done now, and that is to focus more on the erson than on the weapon. This is what other countries do. They, they profile, not on the base, of course, of race or ethnicity or religion, but on the basis of who looks like they may need a second screening. There are questions asked in other countries that tip people off, who are experienced questioners of people that need an addition screening. We need to share better intelligence. The Customs Department, for example,
has much better intelligence than TSA, and they need to share that with them.
There's an opportunity for pre-screening for a lot of people that don't need to be screened every time because they submit in advance to an eye scan or fingerprint, have their backgrounds checked and so on. In other words, there are a lot of things that could be done to reduce the impact. There are about 60,000 people every day, traveling, that get this pat-down procedure. One that--just one other thing, Dick mentioned Susan Collins. We were in the Netherlands right after the Christmas bomber from last year came over. And, and what they do there is use a scanner which uses a mannequin, a woman and a man figure, not a stick figure, but like a mannequin, so that the image that comes up is not of your body or
my body, but just of a mannequin...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
SEN. KYL: ...but it shows whatever we have on the body. It's just a matter of software, and TSA says they're looking at it. And I think there are a lot of other things we can do that might enable them to back off of patting down, you know, the old saying, "little old ladies and kids."
MR. GREGORY: All right, let me get to a few other issues.
Senator Durbin, President Obama will finally sit down with Republican leaders, incoming Speaker Boehner and McConnell--as well as Senator McConnell, when he comes back to Washington. He's in Washington, but when he meets with them this coming week. How should he approach this meeting, and specifically on the issue of, of Bush tax cuts and whether they're going to be extended? Is he, is he in a mind to compromise at this point?
SEN. DURBIN: I think--I don't want to speak for the White House, but I think their position is one, at least, that I share initially, and that is that we ought to say to the vast majority of America's middle income and working families, "Your tax cuts are going to be protected
permanently." That, I think, is the starting point to say to America, "Let's move forward in a positive way." There are a lot of areas of debate, and I'm sure Senator Kyl will raise some of his concerns as well. But we need to do this in a way that is responsible. I'm a member of the deficit commission. It's one of the toughest assignments I've ever had. It worries me--this one basic thing worries me. All of the cuts that we are proposing in the deficit commission for the next 10 years equal the Republican proposal in tax cuts. In other words, if the Republicans go forward with tax cuts they want, Senator McConnell's package, and we make all of the spending cuts that are proposed in the deficit commission, we'll still have the same basic debt and deficit. We'll still be borrowing 40 cents out of every dollar that we spend. We'll still be
indebted to China.
MR. GREGORY: But, Senator Durbin, I understand the position, but what's the reality? Do you see the president and Democrats here agreeing to an extension of Bush-era tax cuts at the upper level and the middle class level for at least a year, on a temporary basis?
SEN. DURBIN: Well, I think we need to sit down. We haven't done that yet. And maybe this meeting with the president will kick it off. But I want to put a couple of other things on the table. We do have unemployment running out. By Christmas, two million Americans will lose
their unemployment benefits because they expire, 127,000 of them here in my home state of Illinois. I also want to make sure the earned income tax credit, the child care tax credit, and the making work pay tax credit are part of this conversation. We should be focusing on what it takes to move this economy forward. We should not be worried about the discomfort of the wealthy, but the fact that there are many people struggling to survive every day now because they have no job and no means to keep their family together in very difficult times.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Kyl, are we seeing the, the outlines of a negotiation strategy here, which is, if Republicans are going to extend jobless benefits and insurance for those without a job, that maybe there'd be some negotiating room on tax cuts?
SEN. KYL: Sure. All of the things Dick mentioned are things that have to be done, and that's what I was trying to say earlier. We have a lot on our plate to, to do before Christmas rolls around here. And all of these things need to be, need to be done. But let me make something very clear. Nobody is talking about tax cuts. We've had the rates in existence now for 10 years. All Republicans are saying is keep them in place, don't raise taxes on anyone. The job creators in this country are the ones that would be hurt the most by an increase in taxes. And so our position is, let's extend all of the current rates for some period of time. Obviously, we'd like to do it permanently, but if it's three or four years, that's fine, too. I think there is an opportunity for us to sit down and negotiate a resolution of this that's good for the economy
and, and frankly, good for everybody else.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Kyl, could, could you, could you support doing it for the middle class tax cuts, extending those first and then maybe coming back after the first of the year and taking up the question of upper earners?
SEN. KYL: Our position, the Republican position is, and I think we're pretty unanimous on this is that there should be no tax increase on anybody, particularly in this time of very difficult economic difficulties for people in all parts of the country, and especially for the job creators, the small business folks, who would get hurt the most by a tax increase. They're the ones who create the, the job opportunities and, frankly, represent about 25 percent of all of the workers in the country. They don't need their taxes raised and, frankly, that can be done in this lame-duck session if we have the time to do it, we sit down and work it out, and focus our priorities there rather then on some of the other things that I mentioned earlier.
MR. GREGORY: But that's a no, you would not, you would not vote for a middle class tax cut extension if did not include, did not include upper earners?
SEN. KYL: We don't believe taxes should be increased on anyone. Those so-called upper earners that you're talking about are the very small business folks that I'm talking about.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Final question, Senator Kyl and Senator Durbin, you can comment on this. Senator McConnell's talked about the number one goal of Republicans being to ensure that President Obama is removed from office after his first term. Is that really the accomplishment that you think about Republicans achieving here as they have more power in
SEN. KYL: Senator McConnell was talking about a political goal. Obviously, President Obama has as a political goal his re-election, so there's no big surprise there. What I talked about at the very beginning when you first talked--asked me about what could be done before Christmas was the agenda that the American people want us to focus on. Keep the government operating, deal with the unemployment extension that Senator Durbin talked about, deal with the, with the tax system, make sure we don't have a tax increase, as we've been talking about here. Those are the things that, that we need the most, and I think if we do work in a spirit of good will, we can achieve it. But I would just note, here's a headline. It doesn't look like Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, is going to be too encouraging of Dick Durbin and I sitting down together and trying to work these things out.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Durbin, you know this president well. You encouraged him to run for the presidency. As he faces the after-effects of a very difficult midterm election, what is your feeling about what political recovery looks like for him?
SEN. DURBIN: Well, I can tell you that the, the president's meeting with the leaders, Democrats and Republicans, in the White House on Tuesday. It's the beginning, I hope, of a very constructive approach. I don't know what Senator McConnell's message was from the last election on November 2nd. He said publicly that his goal now was to make sure Obama
was not re-elected as president. I don't think that's the message. I think what the American people said was, "Be reasonable. Be constructive." Let's try to focus on the big issues that count, getting eight million Americans back to work, dealing with two wars and the men
and women who are fighting them, their families at home; doing things that are basic to make sure this country moves forward in a positive way. Reliving and rehashing the political food fights of the past, not acceptable. And this notion that we don't have enough time in three
weeks to take up three or four issues, the American people basically look at us and say, "For goodness sakes, we go to work every single day. We have to get work done every day. Why won't the Senate do the same thing?" I think we can, but we need a much more positive and constructive approach. The president is going to bring us together on Tuesday in an
effort to initiate that, and I think that was truly the message of the last election.
MR. GREGORY: All right. We are going to leave it there. Senators, thank you both very much.
Coming up next, President Obama's leadership, and looking ahead to battleground 2012 and the race for the White House. Who are the potential candidates to watch? Our political roundtable weighs in: The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne; The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan; plus former counselor to President Bush, Ed Gillespie; and Philadelphia Mayor Michael
MR. DAVID GREGORY: Coming up, battleground 2010 is already taking shape. Who are the potential candidates to watch? Which issues will matter most? Our political roundtable weighs in after this brief commercial break.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: We're back with our political roundtable. Joining me on this holiday weekend: The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan; The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne; former chairman of the Republican National Committee and counselor to President Bush, Ed Gillespie; and Philadelphia mayor, Democrat Michael Nutter.
Welcome to all of you. Hope you had a great holiday.
MR. ED GILLESPIE: Thank you.
MR. E.J. DIONNE: Thank you, David.
MS. PEGGY NOONAN: Great.
MR. GREGORY: It's great to have you here.
Mayor Nutter, it's interesting. I went back--I want to talk, before we get to the 2012 discussion, about the president's leadership overall, because I think it's such an important topic. I--based on my reporting, I've said, you know, the left is disappointed, the middle's disaffected, and the right is resurgent. It's a difficult landscape for him to deal with. And you said something that--to Politico back in 2008 that I think is revealing, if you think about it now. "Nutter says Obama, still basking in the glow of a mandate victory, must be straight with people in tough times.
"`You have to manage expectations,' he said. `I jokingly said I was elected mayor, not monarch. When you are elected, you are not given a magic wand to make everything better instantly. I think people have been realistic and supportive that it may take a little while to create the change that we're talking about in Philadelphia, or the change Obama's talking about across the country.'
"The only way for the president-elect to even come close to making that change happen, said Nutter, is to remind the public that he does not walk on water." Well, you know, he's come out--come off a terrible midterm election. He certainly doesn't walk on water. Is he managing
expectations the way that you said he should?
MAYOR MICHAEL NUTTER: Well, first, David, none of us walk on water. And there is a harsh reality to this economy that people are in pain, people are upset, people are angry, they are frustrated, all of those things and more. So managing expectations certainly is a big part of the job. But he's been in the job less than two years.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MAYOR NUTTER: It took a long time to get where we're going. And when you--people ignore all the things that have happened--financial recovery, economic recovery package, health care, civil rights, and a number of other steps and investments that President Obama has taken, all of which gets washed almost to the side by the daily doom and gloom that people read in the newspapers, see on TV, or are experiencing themselves. And so it's a--it's tough to break through all of that. The president has done a great job over his time. Any of us could do better, I think he's acknowledged that any number of times. But managing expectations is a big part of this job.
MR. GREGORY: But it's also leadership, Peggy Noonan. Where are his leadership moments? Where is he connected with the American public? Where do they maintain faith in him? It's worth pointing out, when he meets with Republican leaders he will be the most popular political
figure in the room, which still stands for something. But he faces a lot of challenges.
MS. NOONAN: He does. I think the way to get beyond the trouble he is in now, the way to show responsiveness, to show he is in touch with the feeling of the American people is to act as if the 2010 election happened, do you know what I mean? A big message was sent in that big wave. Don't make believe it didn't happen. Say, "I'm hearing you, I know it's happening." Start sort of a bipartisan moderation to the extent that you can. I think he can move forward with the Republicans on taxes in a way that makes the public say, "Wow, that's pretty good." Extend it. He could do the same thing, it seems to me, on START, if he brings in the past Republican leaders who have supported START in the past--George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush. Be bipartisan. Be big. Receive the message of 2010 and transcend it as a bipartisan figure.
MR. GREGORY: But, E.J., it's not just a question of his left being disappointed, but that is a big piece. Because whether you're a supporter on the left or maybe you're an independent who voted for President Obama, you may feel betrayed in some areas, whether it's "don't ask, don't tell." The president said, "I'm going to end that. I'm going to close down Guantanamo Bay. I'm going to do all of these things." And there's a feeling like he hasn't exercised some of that leadership to get some of these things done. Does he still face that test?
MR. DIONNE: Well, you know, some of the criticism, I think, is unfair, which is to say, a guy who got all of these things done--health care was a hugely difficult thing to get passed, and the financial reform, and the stimulus. A lot of us thought it should have been bigger, but it kept us from falling into a, a catastrophe. I think where he's got problems with the left and parts of the center is a sense of what are you going to fight for? When are you going to stand up to these guys? I mean, if the Republican bargaining position is what's yours is mine and what's mine is mine, if they're not going to give an inch, then I think his core supporters, but also the American people, who want somebody strong in the White House, want him to call them on it. I thought that Senator Kyl on the new START treaty, I think this is an amazing position he's taking. This is something supported by the entire range of conservative opinion,
from Bob Kagan, a neocon, to Pat Buchanan, a paleocon, Henry Kissinger, James A. Baker III. I don't know why he's opposing this. I don't think it was clear from his answer, except he wanted to block a lot of other stuff in the last Congress.
MR. GREGORY: Well, let me pick up on START with Ed Gillespie. There's a cartoon that caught our eye we'll put up on the screen, Matt Davies in the Journal News. And, and the slug on it is "The Cold War, 2010," and what you've got there at the table are Russia and the United States on one side, and Republicans on the other. Ed, is this, is this a test of whether bipartisanship is real, whether the president has the ability to make the politics tough enough for Republicans that they have to start saying yes to him?
MR. GILLESPIE: Yeah. The, the problem here is that they're a day late and a dollar short in terms of coming to terms with the START treaty and working with Congress on it. And what's so extraordinary to me about this meeting with the congressional leaders coming up, is that it's so extraordinary. The fact is, is that President Obama does not have a working relationship with Republicans in Congress, and not many Democrats in Congress either. And so they--you know, Senator Kyl has been asking legitimate questions for a long time about the START treaty. He's the number two Republican in the Senate, he is the leader in our party on these nuclear weapons issues, and the White House is essentially acted as if they're getting, you know, mail from a college intern working for a freshman House member.
MR. GREGORY: Well, that's...
MR. DIONNE: No, that's not true. I mean, the White House has made concession...
MR. GILLESPIE: No, it is true. No, it is.
MR. DIONNE: ...after concession to Jon Kyl. He wanted to modernize the nuclear force, they said, "Great." I mean, this is...
MR. GILLESPIE: Yeah. Late.
MR. DIONNE: There have been 12 hearings or something like that.
MR. GILLESPIE: Well, yeah. But look, they are not--they're trying to...
MS. NOONAN: Yeah, the White House didn't focus.
MR. GILLESPIE: It was even clear in the paper today, they're trying to work around him, and that's a mistake.
MR. DIONNE: Well, now they are, because they're astonished by his position.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Mayor, Mayor Nutter, go ahead.
MAYOR NUTTER: I mean, I, I have to--Peggy made a comment to start, who I greatly respect and admire. President Obama almost reinvented bipartisanship. Do we forget what happened in the Economic Recovery Act? No House Republican voted for it, only three Republican senators voted for it; $787 billion package to move this country out of near financial collapse, and the one--one of the senators from Pennsylvania was almost run out of his party. What are we talking about? Senator McConnell has said that his number one goal, his main, apparently, mission in life now is to take senator--President Obama out of office. That's bipartisanship? I don't think so.
MR. GILLESPIE: Well, it's not bipartisanship either...
MR. GREGORY: But, but the--right.
MR. GILLESPIE: ...when, when, at the meeting with the, with the House Republicans, when you're talking about the stimulus package, and they offer their suggestions, and President Obama's response at that time was, "I won. I don't have to take your ideas."
MS. NOONAN: Yeah.
MR. GILLESPIE: And so they...
MAYOR NUTTER: Well, it's very interesting...
MR. GILLESPIE: He, he chose a course of, of pursuing a straight Democratic Party vote on the stimulus package.
MAYOR NUTTER: Well, now they have a, now they have a seat at the table.
MR. GREGORY: A vote...
MS. NOONAN: He really did.
MR. GILLESPIE: Now they have a seat at the table.
MAYOR NUTTER: Now they have to govern.
MR. GILLESPIE: I agree with that. Right.
MR. GREGORY: All right, but here's the question.
MAYOR NUTTER: They have to stop campaigning and govern. We'll see what they do.
MR. GREGORY: Peggy Noonan, what does the president do to confound his critics? That was an observation you made in the past, that he has not done very well at that. Here are his opportunities, whether it's tax cuts, whether it's the START treaty, whether it's going to be the debt commission. Where is he going to make the politics difficult for Republicans? Because I've talked to Republicans who say, "He's making it very easy for us to say no, and that's been the case for 22 months."
MS. NOONAN: Yeah. Well, I'm afraid I'll be repeating my point, but I see no sign, really, that the Obama White House has decided, "We have to really change the way we're going forward here." They don't seem--it, it seems--it--when I look at them, I see people who think it is a concession to some sort of new reality that they don't want--if they admit, "OK, 2010 actually changed things, changed our numbers on the Hill, etc." If the president sort of shakes himself, dusts himself off and comes forward and says, "Guys, I'm going to work with you on this tax stuff," everybody in America has to know what their tax rates are going to be for the next
year, two years, three years. It is irresponsible not to do it. "I'm working with you. I'm going to concede a lot. I'm going to let this thing go forward."
MR. GREGORY: But, E.J., you made a point about, you made a point about the tax cuts. That could be a huge mistake for the president to--you know, if Democrats are to stand by working people to, to not extend jobless benefits at the time when you're extending tax cuts for upper
MR. DIONNE: It, it would be astonishing. I mean, the--there are five unemployed people for every job in America. The average payment out for--on unemployment compensation is $290 bucks a week. This tax cut for the rich people is 100,000 bucks or more for every millionaire. It would be absurd not to help the unemployed at a moment when we got almost 10 percent unemployment and unemployment compensation has a bigger bang for the buck. I think the president, on the tax cut, has gone more than out of his way. In fact, I think he's made too many premature concessions to the Republicans. Yes, I think he should say, "Let's talk about this." I think you laid out a good solution in the question, which is pass a tax cut for the middle class that everybody agrees on. If this is such a high priority for Republicans to pass a tax cut for the rich, let them do it in the next Congress.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm. Let me get, quickly, before I take a break, Mayor Nutter, this issue that we've been dealing with over this holiday season here of the TSA pat-downs. Is there a better way? Is the administration going to have to revisit this issue?
MAYOR NUTTER: Well, security measures are always subject to review. I mean, I go through the airport, and everyone wants everyone to be safe, so--and not particular intrusive. Now, at times you're going to run into some conflicts there. Can it be done differently? Can it be done better? I'm sure they could figure out a way to do it to get people through. But apparently everyone got to see grandma over the course of the Thanksgiving holiday with no long lines, not a whole lot of nonsense. Everyone wants to be safe and secure on an airplane, that is the bottom line. We seem to forget how we arrived at this point. So, you know, full-body scan or off into a separate room, you know, every security measure is always subject to review, you always want to do things better. The bottom line is safety on an airplane.
MS. NOONAN: After eight years you might want to rethink it.
MR. GREGORY: Ed Gillespie, you were in the Bush White House--what's that?
MS. NOONAN: After eight years, you might want to rethink it. We started out here, we added this, we added this.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MS. NOONAN: Now we're doing this. Stop, look back, rethink the whole thing with an eye to what will work in terms of real safety and what is unacceptable treatment of humans.
MR. GREGORY: But, Ed Gillespie, here's what the Bush administration understood, which is the American people are here after 9/11, maybe they're here now.
MR. GILLESPIE: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: They can get back to here in a moment. And as the president said over the weekend, if somebody gets through and blows up an airplane, people are not going to say, "Oh, well, they still shouldn't have had those, you know, extensive pat-downs."
MR. GILLESPIE: The challenge for, the challenge for government is always, and having worked in the White House, there is a trade-off between security and individual liberty that you constantly are trying to get right. And the line moves, you know, depending...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. GILLESPIE: ...on where public sentiment is. And it's moved. And I think that, that, you know, this is probably going to have to be adapted to, most likely by technology, as was talked about here, as I suspect, at the end of the day.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MAYOR NUTTER: Three weeks ago, we had airplanes grounded in the United States, freight airplanes, with a concern about bombs in cartridges.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MAYOR NUTTER: This threat is not over.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MAYOR NUTTER: We need to pay attention to it.
MR. GREGORY: All right. We're going to take a break here. We're going to come back and talk about battleground 2012. Yes, it's already upon us. How does it look, from Sarah Palin to other Republicans challenging the president potentially? More from our roundtable right after this brief station break.
MR. GREGORY: We're back with more of our roundtable. If you, you know, if you don't believe that things are rough in Washington, all you got to do is look at the cover of the New York Post. From even a holiday weekend, President Obama, no Republicans involved, and he's still got a fat lip from playing basketball. He took an elbow to the lip, and there he is. He was at a ball game yesterday, and they've done a good job, actually. It doesn't look like he's got too much of an injury there. But it's not easy, Mayor Nutter. You know, you got--you mix it up. Who's got sharp elbows? Even the guys you're playing ball with.
MAYOR NUTTER: Politics is a rough and tumble business, much, much like basketball.
MR. GREGORY: Exactly, exactly. Well, Ed remembers, you know, when President Bush would go mountain biking, too, and come back...
MR. GILLESPIE: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: ...with his face scratched up. So these are active presidents.
Let's take a look at the 2012 landscape. It's interesting to think about. What are the issues that are really going to be the ramp up to the 2012 race? Here's a Marist poll, indication of where things stand. Forty-eight percent saying that they would vote against Obama if the election were held today. It's not held today. Here's some of the Republicans who are polling in double digits at the moment. You see Romney, Huckabee, Palin, Gingrich. They're the ones in double digits. Romney top of the pack. Ed Gillespie, I've spoken to Republicans who say
the only order right now, in the Republican side, is disorder in terms of that big question: Who are you going to nominate?
MR. GILLESPIE: Well, it's an exciting time. We have a big field. I mean, just saw a pretty extensive list...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. GILLESPIE: ...all of whom, you know, have a shot. And I think that's good for the party. I think new faces are helpful. I think the more that people bring to the caucuses in Iowa and the primaries in New Hampshire, the better off we are as a party. I was one who watched, you know, a pretty competitive Democratic primary between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama and thought it was actually good for the Democrats.
MS. NOONAN: Yes.
MR. GILLESPIE: A competitive primary will be good for us, and we're going to have one, a very wide open field. It's exciting.
MR. GREGORY: Well, let's come back to the, to the Republicans in just a minute.
But E.J., how much vulnerability does President Obama have as you extend out a little bit? You can look by six month chunks and see how vulnerable he, he might be as he goes into 2012.
MR. DIONNE: Well, if the economy doesn't move between now and 2012 very much, he's very vulnerable. I think he knows that, everybody knows that. I think one of the keys is, do we begin to have some real growth? And we're still going to have pretty high unemployment. Does the president sort of prepare people for the fact that we're going to come back, but we're not going to be where we want to be, but people sense that things are getting better? I think that's a critical thing. I think on the--it will also depend who the Republican nominee is. And Ed's right, a vigorous fight can be very good for a party. A divisive fight can be
very bad for the party. Will there be--does Sarah Palin run?
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. DIONNE: If she runs, is there a stop Palin movement of some kind? If that happens, what does that do to the enthusiasm on the right of the Republican Party? We don't know any of that yet.
MR. GREGORY: All right, we'll get to some of that. Let's talk about the map, though, because we were just having this debate about the role of government. This is from Politico on Friday. "Rob Collins, president of the American Action Network, a GOP-friendly group set up to support
conservatives, said ... independents willing to give Obama a chance in 2008 have left him for good over the stimulus, healthcare reform, and jobs.
"`Barack Obama's map is starting to look a lot like John Kerry's,'" said Collins, former chief of staff to House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.). `Part of this winning coalition was made up of new voters, higher turnout among African-Americans and independents. Looking at where these groups poll now, I don't see that coalition performing at the level it did in 2008. Iowa is a bright spot. But Florida, Wisconsin, Indiana, Virginia, New Mexico--these are scary places for him now.'"
Mayor Nutter, the middle of the electorate was with the president. They have moved away from the president. How do you get him back? Is it a fight with Republicans over slashing spending, dealing with the debt? What is that road to political recovery?
MAYOR NUTTER: Well, first, David, at this moment in time, President Obama's numbers are better than Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and Bill Clinton at this point in their presidencies, and many of them had much better economies while they were functioning as president. So everyone has taken into account bad times, tough times. And here's a president who walked into this. Things were bad when he showed up. The day he was sworn in, it was already tough. He has two years, and a lot can happen in politics in two years. First of all, we're already starting to see signs of things moving in the right direction in Philadelphia. And if some of these commentators would actually get out every now and then, they'd see the same thing going on in cities all across America. Companies moving into Philadelphia, expanding. We're using our economic recovery dollars in ways that are putting people to work but also inspiring businesses to invest more, which is really what that program is all about. So the president being on the ground in those cities, in those areas where people are starting to see it, feel it, and experience it, a lot is going to happen; '10 into '11, '11 is going to start the surge back into '12. It'd be a very different landscape.
MR. GREGORY: But that's not what happened in your Senate race in this midterm election in terms of people in the city. Just in, in the collar counties, you know, surging out in terms of a vote, I mean, people are, are dispirited.
MAYOR NUTTER: Well, David, I would suggest to you that we actually astounded some of the political pundits and prognosticators in Philadelphia. Forty-two percent turnout, 84 percent of the vote to the top two candidates for governor and senator in Philadelphia. So folks
understand what the president is going through, what he's all about. That's going to--that will--experience will go out into the counties as well.
MS. NOONAN: I'll say...
MR. GREGORY: Well, let me, let me, let me come back to, to, Peggy on this. The Palin factor is big in a lot of ways, like E.J. suggested. Does she run and what impact does she have, even by threatening to run, on the rest of that field as you look at those Republican numbers?
MS. NOONAN: Let me just say before that, I think Obama lost the center during health care because he seemed not to be moderate. His great hope now is that the Republicans in power will, in comparison, make him look moderate. If they overstep, that could happen and that could save him.
As for Palin, everybody's waiting to see what her plans are. She's in Iowa now on her book tour.
MR. GREGORY: On her book tour, yeah.
MS. NOONAN: I thought your question to me was going to be, "Why is she in Iowa?" And I was going to answer, "So that we would all talk about why she is in Iowa." You know?
MR. GREGORY: In Iowa.
MS. NOONAN: Nobody knows what she's going to do. My own personal opinion, my guess actually, is that she will not run. But until she decides she is or she isn't, she freezes things up. She takes the oxygen out of the room, and a lot of guys who are thinking of running are going to hold back and watch, see what she does.
MR. GREGORY: It's--Ed Gillespie, it, it's not just Palin, it's also the tea party influence and, and how Republicans perform over the next six months to a year, right, that might determine who they want their standard-bearer to be and where the real center of power is. Because even if she doesn't run, she will still command a lot of attention.
MR. GILLESPIE: Absolutely. And she, she drives coverage and drives agenda and--but, look, the fact is, from a Republican perspective, for Republicans in Congress and those seeking the nomination, the good news is that right now we are not whipsawed between our base and the middle of the electorate. Most independents are with Republicans on the core issues of taxes, jobs, economy. And the Democrats are whipsawed between their base and, and the vast majority of voters in the middle. And that's what you're seeing right now, David. In fact, it's not so much how we talk about things, it's what we're talking about. We just talked about this lame-duck session of Congress. Their agenda is gays in the military, getting subsidies for illegal immigrants for college, the START treaty with Russia, new environmental regulations, and FDA reform.
MR. DIONNE: And the Disclose Act, so groups...
MR. GILLESPIE: And most Americans and most...
MR. DIONNE: ...like yours that spent a lot of money...
MR. GILLESPIE: And--fine!
MR. DIONNE: ...in the last election have to say where the money came from.
MR. GILLESPIE: And that's what--and E.J. that's what you care a lot about. Do you think most Americans are at the water cooler right now saying, "Boy, please pass the Disclose Act."
MR. DIONNE: They are overwhelmingly for the Disclose Act.
MR. GILLESPIE: In the lame duck session of Congress, they're not talking about jobs and they're not talking about the economy.
MS. NOONAN: Guys, you have a few weeks here.
MR. GILLESPIE: The fact is, Obama, Reid, and Pelosi, they have their fingers on the pulse of the country. I'm just not sure which country. You know, they're not talking about the things that most Americans are talking about, which is jobs, taxes, the economy, and the largest tax
increase in American history...
MR. DIONNE: The Republicans--jobs is absolutely right. And...
MR. GILLESPIE: ...in a little more than a month, E.J., and they have done nothing about it.
MR. DIONNE: And you know what the problem for the Republicans is, that they are whipsawed between a right wing that managed to nominate candidates in Nevada, in Delaware. They needed a write-in candidate to save them in Alaska. And I think the interesting dynamic in the
Republican Party is a lot of establishment Republicans feel under enormous pressure from this right wing not to cave at all, not to moderate at all. And it's going to be very interesting to watch how the leadership deals with this right wing that's standing behind them with bayonets.
MS. NOONAN: Oh.
MR. GREGORY: All right, let me take another break here. We'll come back with some final thoughts on this in just a moment. Don't go away.
MR. GREGORY: A couple of quick pieces of business. Ed Gillespie, just to button up the 2012 discussion, you've been around in the White House when a sitting president thinks about re-election. How does the president go about this, you know, play against type here, where he looks at that landscape and, and tries to be successful?
MR. GILLESPIE: Well, he's got to be concerned about the Great Lakes. He has got to be looking at the results from this election in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and, and he has got to be thinking, "What am I going to do?" And I think that comes back to the question of jobs, David, and especially in the, in the industrial Midwest. And if I were the president in this White House, I would be thinking, "How do we reconnect with those voters in the Great Lakes, because it's hard to see a path to re-election without picking up a lot of those states.
MR. GREGORY: The nap--the map really does narrow when you think about
MR. GILLESPIE: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: It's not about the whole country.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: OK, last but not least, Mayor Nutter, I have been saving a very special--the sports news that is rocking the city of Philadelphia. And I know what you're thinking, and it's not that. The Philadelphia Phillies could not hold on to their first base coach, the
great Davy Lopes, number 15 there, with the Phillies skipper. He is now returning to Los Angeles, where he belongs, to be the first base coach for my Los Angeles Dodgers. He is finally back. It's a stunning blow to the city of Philadelphia. How did this happen? And I'm just happy that it did.
MAYOR NUTTER: Well, I'm happy that you're happy. And I--Charlie Manuel and I have an agreement. I don't tell him how to run the team, and he doesn't tell me how to run the city. Everything's great. Two--three World Series appearances.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah, they're still pretty good. But we're very happy...
MAYOR NUTTER: Two in the last three years, we're very excited.
MR. GREGORY: ...to have Davy Lopes back. Has the city, has the city embraced Michael Vick?
MAYOR NUTTER: They have. Michael Vick is a great player, but he's also doing some off-field things...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MAYOR NUTTER: ...demonstrating that he's also a great person, learned from his mistakes. Philadelphia is a city of redemption and a city of second chances.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Well, that's your sports roundup for this morning. That's it for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.