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Video: Gregory: Obama’s speech ‘seized’ the moment

  1. Transcript of: Gregory: Obama’s speech ‘seized’ the moment

    GEIST: Could be the end of the road . NBC 's Chuck Todd , thank you very much . David Gregory is moderator of " Meet The Press ." David , good morning.

    DAVID GREGORY reporting: Hey, Willie.

    GEIST: President Obama had a difficult task the other night in Tucson of comforting the people of that city, and indeed of the country. But also he tried to calm the political debate . How did he do on both counts, David ?

    GREGORY: Well, I think by all accounts he did very well. You hear compliments for him on both the left and the right, everyone across the political spectrum . And Chuck alluded to it. I mean, he did two things, which is to give voice to what people around the country have been feeling. This is something that affects people and families whether you knew the victims or not very deeply. And second, I think he took the country to a place that it didn't even know that it needed to go, talking about words that heal, not words that wound. Talking about being as big as this moment requires in our political life , in our political discourse around the country. So I think it was a moment that all agreed that he seized and kind of charts a path for where Washington and frankly the rest of the country can go.

    GEIST: David , I think we all agree civility's a worthy goal, but as Chuck just said in his piece it is back to business. The Republican House takes up the repeal of President Obama 's signature health care reform law. Why should this time be any different? Why will the conversation change?

    GREGORY: Look, I -- you know, cynicism is warranted, this is Washington after all. I think Washington can do a great job elevating moments like this to become a national moment of reflection, but Washington is also really capable of wasting these moments as well. If there's some hope, as it were, in the middle of a time here and now leading up to the State of the Union address where this spirit can be tapped into again, as Chuck alluded to, the president will do it again in the State of the Union and talk that way. We are about to have another health care debate. It doesn't have to be the way it was. There are even moves by Senator Tom Udall of Colorado during the State of the Union to have both parties sit together instead of sitting apart. I mean, these are small gestures, but ultimately it's about how the debate moves forward. We're going to have big debates about the role of government in our lives, government spending, health care and the like. It's a question of do people really want to make that turn?

    GEIST: And of course, David , Sarah Palin has been right in the middle of this conversation, even linked by some of her critics to the shooting because of some of her rhetoric. There was, of course, no evidence for that at all. Now getting some criticism for that Facebook statement she put out on the same day of the memorial. What is the long-term impact, David , on her political brand?

    GREGORY: You know, it's so difficult to gauge that because we don't know where she's headed politically other than being a really big political star, really. You know, everybody talks in terms of a potential run for the presidency for her. We just don't know if that's where she's headed. We just know at the moment she has huge political impact. I think the criticism of Sarah Palin would be that she made it more about her than it needed to be. That she was speaking to perhaps a narrow band of supporters who wanted to settle scores here after being linked to all of this in a way that was not supported by any evidence. That she didn't take an opportunity to go bigger as the president did and talk about this political moment that we're in independent of what happened in Tucson in terms of how we talk to one another. So I think that's a criticism that will carry with her. And, look, she has carried for a long time this ability -- or this question about whether she can step outside that narrow band of supporters and reach a wider audience.

    GEIST: And, David , I imagine these will be among the topics of conversation on Sunday's " Meet the Press ."

    GREGORY: No question about it, Willie . We have a special roundtable dedicated to these questions about our political discourse moving forward. Martin Luther King 's birthday. Al Sharpton will join our roundtable, Tim Shriver as well. But we'll begin with the program, with the debate about Washington , the debate over gun control. Senators Schumer and Coburn join me for that discussion.

    GEIST: All right, David Gregory , thanks so much.

NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 1/14/2011 8:00:33 AM ET 2011-01-14T13:00:33

President Barack Obama mourned victims of the Tucson shooting spree Wednesday and urged Americans not to let a political debate over the tragedy be used as "one more occasion to turn on one another."

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In a speech at a service for those killed in a weekend massacre that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords gravely wounded, the president appealed for national unity and soul-searching after the shootings. He urged Americans to "expand our moral imaginations" and "sharpen our instincts for empathy" — even with those who are political adversaries.

"I believe we can be better," Obama said to a capacity crowd at the University of Arizona basketball arena — and to countless others watching across America. "Those who died here, those who saved lives here — they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us."

Six people were killed and 13 wounded in the massacre. Police allege 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner shot Giffords and many in the line of people waiting to talk with her during a constituent event outside a Safeway store.

Story: Obama: 'Heroism is here'

Obama referred to the Tucson gunman, although not by name. "None of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack," the president said. "None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped these shots from being fired or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man's mind."

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    9. Topics: More stories, videos on tragedy in Tucson

The attack sparked a vehement debate over whether the country's heated political discourse had contributed to the shooting.

Using the massacre to address the nation's spiritual state, the president decried the small-minded nature of political debate. "If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost," he said in a speech that was frequently interrupted by applause and cheers from the audience.

"Let's make sure it's not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle."

At a time when "we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do," Obama said, the killings should make Americans ask themselves "Have we shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to people in our lives?"

Image: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
AFP - Getty Images
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has opened her eyes and signaled he could see, President Barack Obama said.

Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, was drawn into the national debate after the shootings. Last March, Giffords noted in a TV interview that Palin's political committee had targeted her district — among others — with crosshairs on her website and said "there are consequences to that action."

On Wednesday, Palin posted a video online in which she defended her actions and rebuked the news media and her critics.

Story: On Tucson and politics, Palin plays by own rules

'Powerful and uplifting'
Newspapers on the left and right of the political spectrum praised the president for his speech.

Newsvine vote: How did President Obama do with his Tucson remarks?

'Gabby opened her eyes'
During the speech, the crowd was also cheered by unexpected news that Giffords had opened her eyes and signaled she could see earlier on Wednesday.  

Story: Doctor 'actually confident' of Giffords' recovery

"Gabby opened her eyes," Obama said to a loud cheer from the audience on the University of Arizona campus, adding that the congresswoman "knows we are here." Although the president wasn't in the room at the moment Giffords' eyes opened, he said her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, had given him permission to break the news.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, three of Giffords' close female friends in Congress, were in the hospital room at that time.

Video: Obama: Giffords ‘knows we are rooting for her’ (on this page)

Dr. Peter Rhee, chief of the trauma unit, led the Obamas' 45-minute visit to the hospital.

On Capitol Hill earlier in the day, Giffords' House colleagues praised her and the other shooting victims and insisted that violence would not silence democracy.

"We will have the last word," declared new House Speaker John Boehner, fighting back tears as he described Giffords' battle to recover.

Story: Report: Loughner lost it after teen break-up

Also on Wednesday, Pima Community College in Tucson has released records of its campus police contacts with Loughner, showing the increasing fear that he stirred in his classmates and teachers.

A thread running through the documents is the difficulty of campus police to find a context in which to intervene: Until they found a violation of the student code of conduct, or a state law, police officers wrote in the reports that they weren't sure what else they could do, even when a fellow student said she thought Loughner had brought a knife to class.

The records show no indication that the college took steps to get Loughner any mental health counseling.

Campus police records show Loughner was feared

Loughner also seemed not to understand the seriousness of the fears. When police spoke with him, Loughner said his free speech rights were being violated, and seemed to have trouble understanding why he had been called out of class.

Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., authorities stepped-up security around lawmakers in the wake of the shooting.

A 32-year-old man was also arrested on a charge that he made threatening, obscene phone calls to the office of U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott last month.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle said Charles Turner Habermann, of Palm Springs, was taken into custody Wednesday morning.

© 2013 msnbc.com

Photos: Mourning follows deadly shooting in Arizona

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  1. A hearse carrying the remains of U.S. District Judge John Roll arrives at the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church before his funeral on in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Jan. 14. Roll was killed in the Jan. 8 shooting that left six dead and wounded 13, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. (Morry Gash / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Mary Kool holds a single red rose outside the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church where the funeral of U.S. District Judge John Roll was to take place. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Mourners arrive at the funeral service of Judge Roll. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A flag recovered from ground zero is raised during funeral service for 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green at the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Tucson, on Thursday, Jan. 13. Green was the youngest victim of the shooting rampage. Green was born on Sept. 11, 2001. (Mamta Popat / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Left to right, Roxanna and John Green, mother and father of Christina Taylor Green, and their son Dallas Green, arrive at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church for her funeral in Tucson on Thursday. (Mamta Popat / Pool via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 2,000 mourners were in attendance at the funeral of Christina Taylor Green on Thursday in Tucson. (Mamta Popat  / Pool via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. People dressed as angels line the street leading to the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church where the funeral for Christina Taylor Green was to take place in Tucson on Thursday. Hundreds, dressed in white, lined the streets for more than a quarter mile of the funeral procession. (Mike Segar / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. John Green kisses his son Dallas on the head as the family follows the casket of Christina Taylor Green at her funeral mass in Tucson, on Thursday. At left is Christina's mother Roxanna and at right is Camden Grant, Christina's godmother's son. (Rick Wilking / Pool via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A young mourner carries flowers and a teddy bear to the funeral of Christina Taylor Green in Tucson on Thursday. (Mamta Popat / Pool via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cindy and John McCain listen during the funeral service for shooting victim Christina Taylor Green in Tucson on Thursday. (Greg Bryan / Pool via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A woman holds the service program from the funeral for 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green outside St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Tucson on Thursday. (Mike Segar / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Arizona's McKale Memorial Center during the memorial service for victims of the shootings in Tucson. Obama told the crowd on Wednesday, Jan. 12, that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had opened her eyes for the first time since being shot in the head during the attack on Jan. 8. Six people were killed and 13 wounded by the lone gunman. (Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Daniel Hernandez , the 20-year-old intern credited with likely saving the life of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, hugs her husband, NASA shuttle commander Mark Kelly, as U.S. first lady Michelle Obama applauds. (Jim Young / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. First lady Michelle Obama holds the hand of Rep. Gabrielle Gifford's husband, NASA shuttle commander Mark Kelly, as they listen to President Barack Obama speak. (Jim Young / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. People sing the national anthem during the memorial service on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson. (Chris Carlson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at the start of the memorial event. (Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. People line up at the University of Arizona campus for the memorial service. (David Becker / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Barb Tuttle is overcome with emotion at a makeshift memorial outside the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Jan. 12 in Tucson. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Women waiting in line for the memorial service look at the campus paper at the University of Arizona. (Rick Wilking / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Mark Kelly, husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, holds his wife's hand in the congresswoman's hospital room at University Medical Center on Jan. 9. (Offiice Of Gabrielle Giffords / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Ron Barber, 65, district director for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, is visited by Giffords aide Daniel Hernandez in his hospital room on Jan. 9. Hernandez rushed to Gifford's aid after she was shot. Hernandez said that while he held the wounded Giffords, he asked another bystander to put pressure on Barber's wounds. He also asked Barber for his wife's phone number and then shouted it out to someone so that Barber's wife, Nancy, could be informed of the shooting. (Gabrielle Giffords' Office / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama observe a moment of silence with White House staff members on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Jan. 10. (Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Congressional staff observe a moment of silence to honor victims of the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on the steps of the Capitol in Washington. (Michael Reynolds / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Rachel Cooper-Blackmore, 9, adds a note to a memorial at Mesa Verde Elementary School in Tucson, on Jan. 10. Christina Taylor Green, 9, was killed during the Tucson attack. (Chris Carlson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Rachel Crabb, 5, holds hands with teachers, parents and other students during a moment of silence for her slain schoolmate, Christina Taylor Green, at Mesa Verde Elementary School on Jan. 9. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Candles are lit on Sunday at a makeshift memorial outside University Medical Center in Tuscon, Ariz., for those killed or wounded during the attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords . (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Ellie Steve, 6, from left, Lucia Reeves, 6, and Zoe Reeves, 18, gather for a candlelight vigil outside the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., on Sunday. (Chris Carlson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Six balloons representing the six people killed in Saturday's shooting spree, as part of a prayer vigil.Rep. Gabrielle Giffords battled for her life on Sunday after an assailant shot her in the head and killed six others in a rampage that has launched a debate about extreme political rhetoric in America. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. People console each other at a makeshift memorial located outside the University Medical Center on Jan. 9 in Tucson, Ariz. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. The American flag flies at half-staff on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on Jan. 9. In a brief statement Sunday morning, House Speaker John Boehner said flags on the House side of the Capitol in Washington will be flown at half-staff to honor the slain aide, Gabe Zimmerman, of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Thirty-year-old Zimmerman was among six killed Saturday. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. The congregation prays for the victims of Saturday's shooting in Tuscon, at the Pantano Christian Church in East Tucson, Jan. 9. (Rick Wilking / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Monty Edmonds, 36, left, of Tucson; Maggie Kipling, 34, of Tucson; Leigh Harris, 50, of Phoenix; Bella Furr, 21, of Tucson; and Sarah Herrmann, 22, of Tucson participate in a vigil at University Medical Center for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot during an event in front of a Safeway grocery store Jan. 8, in Tucson, Ariz. (Laura Segall / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Emergency personnel use a stretcher to move Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head outside a shopping center in Tucson on Saturday. (James Palka / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Ernie Freuler fights back tears as Ray Lilley takes photos of the scene outside the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head by a gunman who opened fire outside a grocery store, Saturday, Jan. 8, in Tucson, Ariz. (Chris Morrison / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A law enforcement officer stands outside the home of Jared L. Loughner, identified by federal officials as the suspect arrested in connection with the shooting of U.S Representative Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., Jan. 8. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. People gather for a candlelight vigil for the victims of the shooting in Arizona at the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Saturday Jan. 8. (Jose Luis Magana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Vera Rapcsak and others hold signs outside the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday after she was shot while meeting constituents. (Chris Morrison / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Emergency personnel attend to a shooting victim outside a shopping center in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday, Jan. 8, where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others were shot as the congresswoman was meeting with constituents. Rep. Giffords, 40, a Democrat, took office in January 2007, emphasizing issues such as immigration reform, embryonic stem-cell research, alternative energy sources and a higher minimum wage. The gunman shot Giffords in the head, seriously wounding her, and killed six other people in a shooting rampage at a public meeting in Tucson on Saturday. Giffords was airlifted to a hospital in Tucson where she underwent surgery. One of the doctors who treated her said he was optimistic about her recovery. (James Palka / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. A woman places flowers by the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Capitol Hill in Washington on Saturday after she was shot in Tucson by a gunman who opened fire, killing six people, including a U.S. district judge, John M. Roll. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. In this photo provided by The White House, President Barack Obama talks with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer about the shooting. (Pete Souza / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Emergency personnel at the scene where Giffords and others were shot outside a Safeway grocery store in Tucson on Saturday. (Matt York / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Law enforcement personnel work the crime scene on Saturday. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. A medical helicopter evacuates victims from the shooting scene. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
    Morry Gash / AP
    Above: Slideshow (45) Mourning follows deadly shooting in Arizona
  2. Image: US Senate holds hearing on Gun Control
    Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA
    Slideshow (26) Former Ariz. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

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