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Video: Biden talks 2012; roundtable analyzes economic recovery

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    MR. DAVID GREGORY: This morning, an exclusive interview with Vice President Joe Biden . We'll talk about jobs and the economy , the politics of national security and how the vice president sizes up Mitt Romney . It is a big weekend for the Obama campaign . In Ohio Saturday, the president officially kicked off his re- election bid.

    PRES. BARACK OBAMA: We are still fired up, we are still ready to go, and we are going to remind the world once more just why it is that the United States of America is the greatest nation on Earth . Thank you.

    MR. GREGORY: The big question this morning, how does Obama win?

    FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA): President Obama is out of ideas, he's out of excuses, and in 2012 it's time to make sure we put him out of office .

    MR. GREGORY: Our political roundtable is here this morning to weigh in. Republican senator from New Hampshire Kelly Ayotte , NBC News special correspondent and author of the book " The Time of Our Lives " Tom Brokaw , NBC 's political director and chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd , plus economist Diane Swonk .

    Announcer: From NBC News in Washington , MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory .

    MR. GREGORY: And good morning. Keep your eye on the battleground states Ohio and Virginia . That's where President Obama was yesterday, officially kicking off his re- election bid. And as I went through those speeches, I think we learn a lot about how the president is going to try to win, which I think is the big question. How does he do it? One, he makes the case for hanging on, even in this tough economy ; two, and you're going to hear a lot of this, it is the contrast with Mitt Romney . He will try to disqualify Romney as an acceptable alternative, particularly on the economy . And the economy 's tough. Look at the jobs numbers on Friday. Sluggish job creation is still a problem for this administration as they talk about that. With all of that backdrop, I sat down with Vice President Joe Biden here on Friday. Mr. Vice President, welcome back.

    VICE PRES. JOE BIDEN: Great to be back.

    MR. GREGORY: Always good to have you.

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: It's good to be here.

    MR. GREGORY: Topic A is the economy , as it's been for a long time and we have new jobs numbers out. We'll put them up on the screen. The unemployment rate is at 8.1 percent. Last month, 115,000 jobs created, sluggish by most estimations. The previous month, 120,000 jobs. Is this a jobless recovery ?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: No, no. Listen, look, we've created four million , two hundred and fifty thousand jobs. Last month's, by the way, job numbers have been re-evaluated. It's up to 150,000. The month before, in February, it's up to 250,000. Look, this goes up and down, but there's been a steady path, 26 months straight employment gain, private employment. And -- but there's a lot more to do.

    MR. GREGORY: But the net jobs are down in terms of jobs created. You've lost a ton of jobs over the course of this administration because of the financial crisis and there is this idea of some stagnation out there, that what was economic recovery seems to have flat-lined. Is that not a concern?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: Well -- no, it's not a concern. There is not stagnation. Look, as you pointed out, there were four million jobs lost in the six months or so before we came to office . Before I lowered my right hand on January the 20th, we lost 700,000 jobs that month and before we got our first major economic initiative passed, we lost another 3.5 million jobs. Since that point, it's been steady growth. Not enough. There's still a lot of people in trouble, but there's no stagnation.

    MR. GREGORY: Are people discouraged, is the question? And this presidential campaign , which is kicking off in a big way this weekend with the president making his official kick-off, Mitt Romney is saying, look, we need a different path. We need a different president to turn this around. And this is how he reacted on Friday to the jobs report.

    FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: The reason the rate came down was because about 340,000 dropped out of the workforce. So many became discouraged they stopped looking for work.

    MR. GREGORY: And the discouragement is real. Recent polling showing three-fourths, 76 percent of Americans still believe the country 's in recession .

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: Well, you know, for the people who are unemployed, they are still in recession . The people whose wages are stagnant, it feels like a recession . I come from a household where whenever there was a massive recession , somebody around that table is going to lose their job. And -- but here's the deal. What is Romney proposing? He's proposing, as to quote Bill Clinton , going back to the last policy of the last administration on steroids. I mean, what is he talking about? Is he talking about -- how is he going to create jobs? He talks about another $2 trillion in tax cuts for the very wealthy. You're going to create jobs, is that how he's going to do it? Is he going to create jobs by continuing to undercut getting people to college and helping them get there by undercutting education? Is he going to continue to create jobs by eliminating investments in, in research and development? I mean, what, what's the plan?

    MR. GREGORY: Well, what...

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: We've seen this movie before.

    MR. GREGORY: What -- well, but what is your warning about what a President Romney would do to the American economy ?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: It's absolutely -- look, the good news, David , and you and I have been around for a lot of presidents, these guys are not hiding the ball this time. They're saying exactly what they believe, as my mother would say, God love them. They say they want the Ryan budget , they've all voted for it and President -- and Romney says he's for it, which emasculates the very things that are

    going to allow people to -- allow us to grow this economy: education, infrastructure, innovation. It decimates people on Social -- I mean, excuse me, on Medicare and Medicaid . He goes out there and he says, well, here's what we've got to do. We need another $2 trillion in tax cuts in the next 10 years? He proposes a tax cut in addition to continuing the Bush tax cut . For people making over a million bucks, they'll get another $250,000 a year in a tax cut . These are good, patriotic people, man, but they need it like they need another hole in their head. What's he investing in? What's he going to do?

    MR. GREGORY: OK, two different visions for the country .

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: Absolutely.

    MR. GREGORY: But the bottom line is that you and President Obama have a record.

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: Yes.

    MR. GREGORY: And this recovery out of a steep recession has been much slower than in past recoveries after recessions. And this administration 's done a lot, between stimulus and health care and financial regulation . You've stepped up to the plate, taken some big swings, and yet recovery is still very, very slow.

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: It is...

    MR. GREGORY: The argument is, why not give somebody who's got a real background in business to try to turn it around?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: Well, take a look at his background in business. When he was in business, how did he save companies by filing debt on them? When he was governor, he ranked 47th out of 50 states in job creation . Look, look at what he's proposing. But let's go back to what we're proposing. In terms of recovery out of a financial recession this steep, unfortunately this is not way off. This is not slower than a significant financial recession , which this is the greatest recession in the history of America short of a depression. And if these guys would get out of the way -- for example, had they passed our jobs bill, all the experts said it would create two million more jobs. Two million more jobs. These guys wouldn't even let us put back to work 400,000 teachers, firefighters and cops by a 0.5 percent tax on the first dollar after the first million you made. Come on, man.

    MR. GREGORY: But you can't guarantee jobs. I mean, it was...

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: No, no, no.

    MR. GREGORY: ...it was this administration that said you'd keep 8 percent unemployment if you passed the Stimulus Act .

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: No, no.

    MR. GREGORY: So you can't go by those predictions.

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: No, no, no. Here's what you can go by, you can go by what the consensus among economists says was likely to happen if certain actions are taken. And by the way, the reason why that was off, that projection. At the time that was stated by some of the economists, it was estimated that the economy , the previous quarter, had fallen 5 percent. It actually fell almost 9 percent. Nobody, including all the business models of the time, thought the devastation was as great as it turned out to be.

    MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about some other matters. China 's a big story . As we've talked, there are still negotiations about the fate of the blind dissident Chen Guangchen -- Cheng, rather. What is his future and is it in America ?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: I think his future is in America . His future is that he has an opportunity to go to NYU . The Chinese have told us that if he files the papers to be able to have a -- to be able to go abroad, that'll be granted. We're prepared to give a visa right away. He's going to be able to take his family. We expect the Chinese to stick to that commitment.

    MR. GREGORY: There was a spectacle involved this week with him making claims about what U.S. diplomats told him, what the Chinese were representing, U.S. diplomats saying no, that's not how it happened. All of this a distraction as Secretary of State Clinton is in China for trade talks. How, how did it go wrong?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: Well, look, I, I can only put myself in Mr. Chen 's position. He came into the embassy, he was physically hurting, he needed medical help. He said he hadn't seen his family for a year, he wanted to be reunited. And he said, I don't want to leave China , just don't want to go back to my village. That was arranged. Understandably, by the time he gets to the hospital, talking to friends and others, he has a second thought. He said -- they said, you, you want to get out of here . You want to leave. And then he came to us and said, I want to leave and I want to leave with my family. And we got to work. Kurt Campbell 's one of the best diplomats we have. He got to work and guess what, it looks like right now, the commitment being made, that he'll be able to leave, attend NYU University and with his family.

    MR. GREGORY: What's more important to this administration , standing up for freedom in China or maintaining a very delicate relationship with this emerging power?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: Standing up for freedom . Look, when I spent more time with soon-to-be president of China , Vice President Xi . I've spent a total of roughly 10 days with him, five in China , five here. I've been alone with him for, for over 30 hours of meetings, just he and I, publicly and privately. I have never failed, including when he was at -- hosted at the State Department , to say human rights , human rights is critical to us. As a matter of fact, I tried to explain -- I didn't try -- I explained to him why it's so critical, why Americans , it's part of our DNA . And I pointed out that almost everybody who came here in the 17th, 18th and 19th century came avoiding oppression. It's part of our DNA . And if he didn't understand that, there was going to be very little ability for us to cooperate. So we have not in any way backed off of our commitment to human rights .

    MR. GREGORY: Let me talk about the campaign for the presidency.

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: Yeah.

    MR. GREGORY: Should I assume by virtue of the fact that you're here today that you're a lock for the ticket here? No question about it?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: There's no -- there is no question about it, there is no way out. I mean, they've already printed Obama / Biden .

    MR. GREGORY: Biden 's here to stay.

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: There's no I -- you are looking at the vice presidential candidate of the United States of America.

    MR. GREGORY: Does it, does it annoy you...

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: For Democrats .

    MR. GREGORY: ...has it annoyed you that there's been all this buzz about well, if the president will put in Secretary Clinton , you know, he'd be a shoo-in for re- election if he would just make that switch?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: The thing that annoys me about it is the implication that somehow President Clinton is weak and he needs some kind of -- I mean...

    MR. GREGORY: President Obama .

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: ... President Obama is weak. That's not directed at me, it's -- and it's unfair. I think -- look, we got the strongest -- in every presidential race , David , it's the only race in which the public demands one threshold test be met. Is the individual strong and is their character consistent with what they say they'll do? Is their character strong enough to say they'll do it? And we got the best candidate, Matt , and this guy has a backbone like a ramrod. This -- I think we're just -- I think we have clearly the best candidate.

    MR. GREGORY: Is it going to be a close election ?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: I think it may be close electorally. I think all these elections are close. As my Grandfather Finnegan used to say -- he was a good athlete -- he said, " Joe , remember, any team can beat any other team in any given day." But they're going to need a better game plan than the one they have now about how they're going to restore the economy by removing -- by going back to the policies of the previous eight years. They're going to need a better social policy than taking the social policy back to the '50s. And they're going to need a better foreign policy than, than one that says the Cold War 's still going on. I mean, it's just -- in my view, anyway.

    MR. GREGORY: You raise social policy . I'm curious, you know, the president has said that his views on gay marriage , on same-sex marriage have evolved, but he's opposed to it. You're opposed to it. Have your views evolved?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: Look, I just think that the good news is that as more and more Americans

    become to understand what this is all about is a simple proposition: Who do you love ? Who do you love and will you be loyal to the person you love? And that's what people are finding out is what all marriages at their root are about. Whether they're marriage is of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals.

    MR. GREGORY: Is that what you believe now?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: That's what I believe.

    MR. GREGORY: Are you -- and you're comfortable with same-sex marriage now?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: I, I -- look, I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying one other are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights , all the civil liberties . And quite frankly I don't see much of a distinction beyond that.

    MR. GREGORY: In a second term, will be administration come out behind same-sex marriage, the institution of marriage?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: Well, I, I, I can't speak to that. I, I, I, I don't know the answer to that. But I can tell you...

    MR. GREGORY: But sounds like you'd like to see it happen, if that's where the president would get to.

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: Well, the president continues to fight, whether it's "Don't_Ask,_Don't_Tell" or whether it is making sure across the board that you cannot discriminate. Look at the executive orders he's put in place. Any hospital that gets federal funding, which is almost all of them, they can't deny a partner from being able to have access to their, their, their partner's ill or making a call on whether or not they, you know -- it just -- this is evolving. And by the way, my measure, David , as I take a look at when things really began to change, is when the social culture changes. I think " Will Grace " probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody's ever done so far. And I think people fear that which is different. Now they're beginning to understand, they're beginning to understand that this as a base. I, I was with -- speaking to a group of gay leaders in, in Los Angeles two weeks ago. And one gentleman looked at me in the question period and said, "Let me ask you, how do you feel about us?" And I had just walked into the back door of this gay couple and there were their two adopted children. And I turned to the man on the house and I said, "What did I do when I walked in?" He said, "You walked right to my children, they were seven and five and giving you flowers." And I said, "I wish every American could see the look of love that those kids had in their eyes for you guys. And they wouldn't have any doubt about what this is about."

    MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you on another topic about the politics of national security . There was a bizarre moment this week with the release of these letters from Abbottabad where Osama bin Laden was hiding. And at one point he, he talks about his desire to kill President Obama , leaving you in power because he concluded you'd be, quote, "totally unprepared to lead." How, how did that sit with you? I mean, you had to come across that.

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: Well, I was delighted that President Obama acted as swiftly and as decisive as he did so we wouldn't have to worry about whether or not I'm prepared to lead. The one thing particularly in foreign policy I've never been really accused of is not being able to lead in a national security area. But look, it's -- you know, Osama bin Laden 's been wrong about a lot of things. I hope he was wrong about that.

    MR. GREGORY: The president went to Afghanistan on the anniversary of the operation to kill Osama bin Laden with a message to America that this war is coming to an end. Headlines around the world , including this in The New York Post , which sort of was a little bit more colorful. "Ka- Bull! Now Obama spikes bin Laden football in Afghanistan ," an allusion to the fact that he would not do that, that there would not be the politicization of killing bin Laden . Was all of this together in effect his " Mission Accomplished " moment?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: No. Look , first of all, the president would not have gone to Kabul to meet with Karzai to sign the document that lays out how we end this war and our participation in this war. That's what this document is, it's a war-ending document. He would not have done that had the document not been ready. For 20 months we've been negotiating that document. I promise you had he not done that unrelated to bin Laden 's anniversary he would not have gone to Kabul , number one. Number two, look, this is a signature moment in this president's administration where he did what the said he would do. He said from the beginning that he would turn heaven and earth upside down, paraphrasing, to get bin Laden because it was a cathartic moment for the nation , and to send a message to every terrorist around the world , as I said during the campaign , "We will follow you to the gates of hell if you harm Americans ." It was an important message to state . It's totally appropriate that he talks about that. It's a measure of being a commander in chief. And lastly, you know, I notice -- and I 'm not making a judgment, I don't know what Governor Romney would have done given the same, same information -- but I know he wouldn't have gotten the same information because he said he would not turn up -- turn heaven and earth to go get him. When we came into office I promise you sitting in the Oval Office with the president and the security team, he turned and said " I want you to know " and he turned to Leon Panetta who was head of the -- "I have one priority, the priority, find and get bin Laden ."

    MR. GREGORY: But you questioned -- you questioned Romney's bona fides on foreign policy in a, in a realm -- in a, in a wide area. But in this particular area you said, bin Laden is dead, GM is alive. Could you say that slogan in reverse for Governor Romney ? And it's striking, Mr. Vice President, given that at the each hour of D-Day for this operation you told this president "Don't do it, don't do it now," is what you said. And yet you're saying Governor Romney should be questioned when...

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: No...

    MR. GREGORY: ...that was your judgment at the time?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: That's a valid point. I don't know what Governor -- I didn't say he wouldn't, I said...

    MR. GREGORY: No, but the implication was that he would not pull the trigger.

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: Sure the -- implication.

    MR. GREGORY: Robert Gates was on this program a week ago saying, well, we don't know that he would.

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: Well, I, I, I don't know that he would either. We don't know. You don't know until you're in that position. All I can tell you is, and the reason why I have such admiration for this president, in that room when that decision was being made, the last call, and six of us had been meeting for five months before in secret, nailing down whether there was a possibility bin Laden was there. The president had a roll call . Everybody had some maybe yes, maybe no, I think on balance, go. The only guy who had a full-throated, full-throated go, Mr. President, was Leon Panetta . I walked out of that meeting as I usually do, I get to be the last guy to be with the president, we walked up toward the residence, toward his office and I knew he was going to go. And what I always tell him, when he said -- looked at me again, I said, "Follow your instincts, Mr. President." Your instincts have been close to unerring. Follow your instincts. I wanted him to take one more day to do one more test to see if he was there. But he did it for one reason, he had 100 percent confidence in the SEALs that even if bin Laden wasn't there there'd be no collateral damage and they'd be able to get back.

    MR. GREGORY: Bottom line, do you think that America will be weaker in the world , its national security weakened if President Romney takes over?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: Here's what I'll say, I am -- absolutely guarantee you America 's position in the world on national security is stronger with President Obama having taken over. Our alliances have been repaired. We're out of one war, a path to get out of another war. We have moved on

    relationships that have been not able to be attended to: Russia , China , South Africa , etc.

    MR. GREGORY: Would...

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: And so...

    MR. GREGORY: Would the country be any less safe under a President Romney ?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: Based on what President Romney has said as it relates to his view, for example, him saying our arch-enemy, I'm paraphrasing, is Russia , though he called it the Soviets , is Russia .

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: If that's his prism through which he views our national security interest, I would say it would not be as strong .

    MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about the ways of Washington in a concluding area here. We've talked before. I've asked you about the fact that Washington doesn't work very well right now and hasn't for now a number of years that coincides with Obama - Biden being in the White House . And you've been very critical of Republicans . Do you think that there is a modern right wing conspiracy that has aligned against this president?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: No. I don't think there's a modern right. I think the Republican Party 's been taken over by the tea party . It happens. Those things happen. My party was taken over by the far left when I got elected in 1972 . We go through phases like this. This isn't fundamentally new. What we need is a Republican Party . We need a strong Republican Party , a party that there's two or three or four people, when they're not in office or if they have a president when he's in office , can speak for the party , can make agreements. That what we need.

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm. You're going to fight about taxes all campaign .

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: Yeah.

    MR. GREGORY: If you win re- election , does that mean you go into this lame duck period where all these big decisions have to be made, including about the Bush tax cuts , which will expire by the end of the year, automatic spending cuts happen by the end of the year, if you win re- election , is your, is your position, that's it. We're not going to compromise on taxes, rates are going to go up for wealthier Americans period.

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: Yes. Because there's no way, there's no way to do anything other than hurt the middle class if we don't do that. In this election , in our view, the big idea in this election is the middle class . Will they begin to grow again? And it's not -- look, we had this whole thesis, it seems to me, from the other side that if you concentrate more and more and more wealth and success in the very top, somehow something positive is going to happen. We've always moved forward as a nation when the middle class grows. When they grow, the poor have access and the wealthy get wealthier. It's a fundamental, fundamental disagreement of philosophy.

    MR. GREGORY: But you believe this has to happen only after the election . Is it your view that Speaker Boehner , Leader McConnell , they don't speak for the Republican Party ?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: Well, let me put it this way, I have had the great honor of spending hours and hours and hours, as you've covered my negotiating the debt limit and other things, with, with the leaders of the Republican Party , and on several occasions they've prepared, they've been prepared to make some real compromise and have ended up calling back and saying, I can't do it. I can't get it done. And would it have solved every problem? No. But it is, I think that the Republic - -look, I'll give you the best example. Republican leadership said extend, extend the payroll tax . They couldn't get it done till The Wall Street Journal came in and started beating up, I mean, drum beat, beating on the, on, on the tea party types. That's the only way it could get done. In the past it would be the Republican leadership would say, OK, here's a deal, guys. This is what we're doing. John Boehner wasn't opposed to extending those taxes. But how did it happen? And I 'm not criticizing John . John 's in a situation where he has a group of people, that, that old expression. This is the tail wagging the dog. This is not your father's Republican Party .

    MR. GREGORY: What have you seen in this president over these four years, in terms of how he operates in Washington , that makes you confident that if he wins re- election he somehow can break through what's gone wrong in Washington and do something meaningful to get our fiscal house in order and restore prosperity?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: I tell you what changes these gridlocks is success. Let me give -- just give you one example. The overwhelming opposition to rescuing the automobile companies. It was viewed by the public at large, it was viewed by the vast majority of the Republicans , and even some Democrats , as a big mistake . He bet on an iconic industry if they reorganized. It worked. Now people are saying, you know, well, maybe, maybe we should take another look at some of these other proposals. If, in fact, he's re-elected, what will happen as a process to that is many of the things he's already put in place will be coming to fruition, they're beginning to take root, and the American public will demand that people begin to compromise. Just like the Wall Street Journal had to demand that the tea party guys extended the tax credit , I mean, excuse me, the payroll tax , you'll have the public, and ultimately everybody, left wing Democrats in the '70s, to tea party guys and women in 2012 , they ultimately respond to constituencies.

    MR. GREGORY: Final question. This fall, who would you most like to face on a debate stage?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: Hey, you know, the -- that old expression be careful what you wish for , you may get it? I'm confident whoever I face on that stage will be, will be a good debater and competent. And the good news is, I think the distinctions and the choices about the policies are going to be so stark, it's a debate I'm looking forward to.

    MR. GREGORY: Who's more likely to run for president in 2016 , you or Secretary Clinton ?

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: I think we may run as a team. I'm only joking, obviously. I don't know. I don't know whether I'm going to run, and Hillary doesn't know whether she's going to run. It's much too early, in...

    MR. GREGORY: There's a lot of truth in humor, Mr. Vice President. Thank you very much .

    VICE PRES. BIDEN: Thank you.

    MR. GREGORY: As always. When we come back, a lot to dissect there, from 2016 to the politics of this election . We'll get reaction to the vice president's interview, including from the Romney campaign . The roundtable is here. Republican Senator from New Hampshire Kelly Ayotte joins us, as well as NBC 's Tom Brokaw and Chuck Todd , and economist Diane Swonk . Later, previewing my PRESS Pass conversation with actor and director Robert De Niro , including his thoughts on President Obama .

    MR. ROBERT De NIRO: You know, it's very easy to criticize people. I think he's done a good job. It's done other things that maybe he should have been a little stronger about, people will complain. But it's not easy to, to be president of the United States .

    MR. GREGORY: When we come back, it is the big political question of the weekend. How does the president win re- election ? The roundtable is here and will weigh in. Joining me, Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire , Diane Swonk , NBC 's Tom Brokaw and Chuck Todd . We're back right after this commercial break .

    MR. GREGORY: And we're back with our political roundtable . Joining me, NBC 's chief White House correspondent and our political director Chuck Todd ; NBC News special correspondent and the author of the book " The Time of Our Lives ," Tom Brokaw ; Republican of New Hampshire , Senator Kelly Ayotte ; and chief economist for Mesirow Financial , Diane Swonk . Welcome to all of you. Great to have you here. Our political trend tracker this morning is right on point here if you look at the big stories that people are looking at this weekend. Obama kicks off his re- election campaign and Romney sharpens his message. And so we're, we're right on it in terms of what people are talking about. And, Senator Ayotte , let me start with you. Between the president's big speech in Ohio and Virginia and what you've heard from the vice president this morning, how would you describe from the Romney campaign this pitch for re- election that you're hearing?

    SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R-NH): Yeah. Well, I think overall, with all due respect to the vice president, it's very, very sad that the candidate who ran on hope and change and uniting us in 2008 seems unrecognizable now. We've had a divisive president, we've had a president who's failing to lead on the fundamental issues, starting first with the economy . We saw that jobs report on Friday was very, very disappointing. And the most disappointing aspect of it is that people are leaving the job market . And obviously, they feel hopeless in terms of where the economy is right now. And it's two signature issues, you think about it , health care and the stimulus. When they had a supermajority in both Congresses , the Democrats -- they didn't work and they, they were failures. I mean, I hear from employers all across our state about healthcare costs going in the wrong direction under the president's healthcare bill. And then when you look at foreign policy , I give him credit for some good tactical decisions. Obviously, getting Osama bin Laden , we all give him credit for that, the drone strikes. But there's been some major strategic errors starting first with -- I would start with the one that really sticks with me and I think is a major strategic error, and that is when the people in Tehran stood in the streets in 2009 , and this president, you want to talk about standing up for human rights , they were standing for free elections and this president was silent. And eventually said something, but really talked about how that was going to impact negotiations with the Iranian regime ...

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    SEN. AYOTTE: ...instead of focusing on standing up for those people in the streets. Think about how different it would've been if somehow that would've resulted in a regime change in Iran .

    MR. GREGORY: There's a lot to get to, a lot of areas of criticism from your point of view of the president and the vice president's remarks. I want to start, really bore down on the economy a little bit.

    SEN. AYOTTE: Mm-hmm.

    MR. GREGORY: Here's a headline from Dan Balz 's piece in The Washington Post today: " Obama launches campaign against Romney , but his real opponent is the economy ." And let me go around the table on this. First of all, Diane Swonk , you heard the vice president say there's no stagnation here. This recovery is in line with past recoveries from steep recessions. Give us a reality check .

    MS. DIANE SWONK: Well, the reality -- first of all, no one piece of data is descriptive. The economy is collective human behavior and the data is our flashlight into an increasingly dense forest of economic information, globally and nationally. So that's the first part to start from. But the second issue is the reality is, yes, we had a financial crisis . And recovering from a financial crisis , when you take the foundation of capitalism and cut part of it away, it's very difficult to do. And this is a reality we have to deal with. Now were there mistakes made along the road? Absolutely. Could we have a stronger recovery today if we had less uncertainty in Washington on both sides of the aisle? I'm an equal opportunity offender because I find both sides of the aisle have offended me on their economic policy . And so I think that's one of the key issues is you are stuck within a certain range of growth. Could you have gotten a little bit more if there'd been less uncertainty and less gridlock on both sides of the aisle?

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    MS. SWONK: Yes, you could have. Coming up, we've got a fiscal cliff at the end of this year that's being kicked down the road by both sides of the aisle. We've got Europe in crisis with elections that are moving us away from a solution we need in Europe. And Europe is something that could take us along with the fiscal cliff into another recession . These are not things that we have a lot of control over. As Americans , it feels like we don't, but we elected these people and it's time that they work.

    MR. GREGORY: Tom Brokaw , there's where government plays a role and I thought the president's speech on that particular area was, was important because he talks about stark choices. Let me play a piece of the speech yesterday and have you talk about it .

    PRES. OBAMA: Look, we don't expect government to solve all our problems and it shouldn't try. Not every regulation is smart , not every tax dollar is spent wisely, not every person can be helped who refuses to help themselves, but that's not an excuse to tell the vast majority of responsible, hardworking Americans , you're on your own.

    MR. GREGORY: There is a strong place for government , he argues.

    MR. TOM BROKAW: You know, I've been all over the country and -- over the last three weeks, and with all due respect to the president, there's a real wariness out there. They've gone from having pneumonia now to having a kind of strong virus when they look at the economy . And you could use that old phrase, you know, fool me once, that's your fault. Fool me twice, it's my fault. I think that they've -- the country has felt that they've been through these kind of false upticks two or three times now in the last couple of years and they're waiting.

    MS. SWONK:

    MR. BROKAW: There's a general feeling that things are beginning to get better but not fast enough. Mixing all my metaphors here. You know, the, the fact is that they want real hard, tangible evidence in their communities, in their states , that it's going to get a lot better. And I think that they have lowered their expectations. We're not going to get back to where we were before all this began very swiftly. And my own guess is from a generational point of view, young people coming out of college now who have been through all of this, they have a different perception about what the economy will mean for them and that's the reality for both parties. We're at this stage of the -- for all the excitement and heavy breathing that we have about Romney's speech and the president's speech, we're still in the out of town tryouts. You know, this big show won't open until the end of August when they go on the stage of the conventions and hit the campaign trails in September. That's when people will really begin to pay attention, David .

    MR. GREGORY: Chuck , your takeaway from the vice president and I know you've come with a map, too, so you can lead up to that.

    MR. CHUCK TODD: No, no, it hasn't. I was with the president yesterday in both places and what I found fascinating is how the campaign realizes they have to answer this -- they have to -- they have to come up with a new question because they don't want the question to be are you better off now than you were four years ago?

    MR. GREGORY: Right.

    MR. TODD: So they came up with this new question, the president said, will you be better off four years from now? It's an acknowledgement that they can't -- if the, if the election is about simply are you better off now than you were, they lose that. So they're trying to change the conversation. And that's what makes the battleground map actually kind of interesting because we talk about this uneven nature of the economy . Well, the battleground states are an uneven nature, so you have Mitt Romney can go in certain states and talk about the bad economy and it'll resonate.

    MR. GREGORY: Right. We'll put that up. We have a map of that. Yeah.

    MR. TODD: Florida, North Carolina and Nevada. All unemployment rates above the national average.

    MS. SWONK: Right. Subprime.

    MR. TODD: Right. They had the heightened housing and all this stuff.

    MS. SWONK: They were -- the percentage of subprime prices. Yep.

    MR. TODD: You go to a Virginia , you go even to an Ohio , two states where the unemployment rate 's below the national average...

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    MR. TODD: ...and you have two Republican governors who will campaign with Mitt Romney , but don't want to talk down the economy , they want to talk -- so you have that struggle and I think that's a tactical struggle that the Romney campaign has to figure out how to grip, how to come to grips with because you have some upbeat news, particularly in the state of Virginia , which really has weathered the recession differently, mostly, I think, thanks to defense contractors and the government . But in Ohio and there's this fight over who gets credit for that.

    MR. GREGORY: Right.

    MR. TODD: Is it the auto industry or is it the new Republican governors?

    MR. GREGORY: And is the vision, Senator, that less government automatically means more certainty and therefore the floodgates opened and economic growth is ushered in? Because, I mean, you heard the vice president say this is Bush -era Republican ideas on steroids. That's the argument.

    SEN. AYOTTE: Well, David , I have to say, taking off of what Chuck said, if you do look at are you better off, the answer's clearly no, under any measure. But there's also the question of is there any hope with the failure of leadership of this president on the economic issues that it will be any better.

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    SEN. AYOTTE: And I think people will come to the conclusion, no. Why? It's not about no government , less government , it's about smart government . And I 've heard it -- you've seen it from the regulations that are coming forth on this administration , whether it's teenagers -- proposals that teenagers can't work on their family farms or what happened with the NLRB in terms of the South Carolina plant and trying to expand there. So it's smart regulation, it's smarter government and it's getting our fiscal house in order. I mean, this president has really failed to lead on that issue. Think about it , $5 trillion added to our debt. His budget failed the House of Representatives zero-to-414. And this is an issue where I think Governor Romney , he brings real strength. Having been a governor, balanced budgets, been in a position where he's worked with -- across the aisle to do that in a, in a state where it's not easy to do that.

    MR. GREGORY: The reality is, is Politico has asked in a poll that comes out tomorrow and will be made available tomorrow on the Politico website, this is still a split decision time. It's 40 to 39. And Diane as well...

    MS. SWONK: Yeah.

    MR. GREGORY: ...in terms of economic -- the effect of President Obama 's economic policies . So this question of who is the bridge to a more durable economic recovery seems to me to be, you know, the centerpiece of this election .

    MR. BROKAW: I think that's true. But what we're also seeing as......and Chuck and I have been looking at these numbers for a while, that at this stage of this year going into the fall there's not a lot of to the barricades enthusiasm for either candidate. Among their supporters, for example, it's in the 50 percent range about enthusiasm for President Obama and for Mitt Romney . So I think at this point the country , as I keep saying, is back there waiting and taking the measure of what's going on and concentrating much more on their local economies and their local interests. The other point of it is, David , that I -- wherever I went people feel excluded from the process.

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    MS. SWONK: Yes.

    MR. BROKAW: They think that it's now been concentrated on two extremes of the two parties and the big part of the middle feels left out, that they don't have a voice in it anymore. So they're turning their backs on Washington and just worrying about what's going on where they are.

    MS. SWONK: You know, and adding to that on an economic perspective, is people feel that exact issue is that we do know that problems and gridlock in Washington have contributed to our economic woes and we can blame it on whoever we want to, but the reality is it's here, it is -- like I say, I'm an equal opportunity offender because I'm offended equally. But on the other side of it, if we've got an opportunity here, the world is not inevitably going to be bad. If we took an opportunity where you look at most of the American public is they're willing to deal with over a long term period of tenure, period of time , reducing the deficit. And I think most Republicans and most Democrats , if you sit them down in a room and don't let them talk to any press during the election year they'll come to an agreement on how to do that.

    MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

    MS. SWONK: And most economists agree on how to do it. And most Americans understand that it's mostly spending and a little taxes and we've got a complicated tax code that needs to be reformed. So all these things can be solved. And the fact that we're not doing it is the frustration is that my kids know how to solve some of these problems.

    MR. BROKAW: David , there's something to keep your eye on. There's a kind of nascent movement at the moment to dust off some symbols...

    MS. SWONK: Yeah.

    MR. BROKAW: ...to get it back on the table again.

    MS. SWONK: That would be nice. Yeah.

    MR. BROKAW: Nancy ...

    MR. GREGORY: Deficit reduction.

    MR. BROKAW: ... Nancy Pelosi said it the other day...

    MS. SWONK: Deficit reduction.

    MR. BROKAW: ..that she could probably live with it. This was a big miss on the part of the president even among his admirers when that bipartisan commission worked very hard, came up...

    MS. SWONK: Gang of Six, yeah. Gang of Six....

    MR. BROKAW: ...a lot of tough medicine involved there. But this past week Jamie Dimon , who's the head of Chase Manhattan Bank , who was a big supporter of the president the last time around, he came out and said Simpson-Bowles . Nancy Pelosi , Simpson-Bowles . A number of people are finding that as maybe the kind of nexus so you can break the gredlock -- gridlock and

    find....

    MS. SWONK: Well, what better...

    MR. GREGORY: Let me -- I got...

    SEN. AYOTTE: One of the things that's unfortunate is that the president did not at least champion it. If he didn't like all of it, really champion that issue. And that's where we need presidential leadership on this issue of, of the debt and where we are. That will make a very big difference.

    MR. TODD: But this got political -- it got really politicized when the House Republicans weren't allowed to vote for it. You're right. You had the Senate Republicans in there, the Senate conservatives, Tom Coburn ...

    MS. SWONK: Everybody's got blood on their hands.

    MR. TODD: ...and Paul Ryan , who wants to be a champion of being Mr. Deficit Reduction , didn't support it. You know, he said kind things about it but didn't support it. Then it looked like it got politicized and so both sides ended up...

    MR. GREGORY: Let me get a -- I got to get -- I got to get a break in here.

    SEN. AYOTTE: But that's also where presidential leadership can make the difference on these issues.

    MR. GREGORY: All right, let me get a break in here. I want to come back, talk about some of the other hot political stories as we go around the table quickly on some of those when we come back after this break.

    MR. GREGORY: We're back with more from our roundtable . We wanted to get to some of the other hot topics of this week and go around the table on some of those topics. We'll put them up on the screen. First, VP tryouts, as we talk about the veepstakes. The president's out there, Senator Rubio of Florida appearing with him this week. Some questions raised about the relationships that Rubio had with political allies down in Florida have been an issue. Senator Ayotte from New Hampshire also campaigning this past week up in New Hampshire with Governor Romney . And there are the others as well. There's been talk about Paul Ryan , about Virginia Governor McDonnell , Chris Christie , of course, from New Jersey . And Rob Portman . So, Senator Ayotte , is this a tryout? Would you like to be on the ticket ?

    SEN. AYOTTE: Well, it's honored to be -- an honor to be mentioned in that vein, but my focus is on serving New Hampshire . And there's so many good candidates out there that Governor Romney has to choose from. You mentioned some of them. Senator Rubio , Senator Portman in Ohio .

    MR. GREGORY: Yes.

    SEN. AYOTTE: So he's got a lot of great choices.

    MR. GREGORY: What's the message you think he has to send with his choice?

    SEN. AYOTTE: I think the message he has to send, first of all, is he comfortable with that individual.

    MR. GREGORY: Right.

    SEN. AYOTTE: Is that person ready to serve as president of the United States .

    MR. GREGORY: Right.

    SEN. AYOTTE: And what does that person bring to the ticket in terms of not only geography, but in terms of their qualifications and their knowledge of the issues.

    MR. GREGORY: Are you ready to be president?

    SEN. AYOTTE: Well, I'll tell you this, I have great experience as attorney general of the state . I'm very proud of that experience and I would say I, I have some would say better experience than Barack Obama had when he was a senator and ran, having been the chief law enforcement officer of my state . I serve on the Senate Arms Services Committee .

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    SEN. AYOTTE: But again, what it comes down to for me, it's serving New Hampshire .

    MR. GREGORY: Another hot topic this week, of course, endorsements for Romney appearing somewhat weak. Newt Gingrich , Tom Brokaw , saying, you know, if it's a choice between a left- wing ideologue and Mitt Romney , I'll go with Mitt Romney . Kind of tepid in his support.

    MR. BROKAW: Well, I -- you know, having watched Newt Gingrich dribble this out over a long period of time , having won two states , one in his home state , one right next door, I'm not sure he moves the needle. I'm not sure that it makes a big difference to Romney over the long haul. Romney 's got to get the independent vote and get back somewhat toward the middle in the fall to be successful. He can't play just the extremely conservative wing of the party . And Newt Gingrich has been around the track so many times I'm not sure people take him as seriously as a lot of folks in this town do, which raises something with me that I've been -- as I've gone around the country . A lot of people say to me, what's happened with the press? What's happened with political coverage in America ? We don't feel connected to it. And then I was out on the road when the White House Correspondents' Dinner popped up again. And I looked at the C-SPAN coverage and read all the accounts of it. And if there's ever an event that separates the press from the people that they're supposed to serve symbolically, it is that one. It is time to rethink it.

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    MR. BROKAW: You know, it's -- look, I think George Clooney 's a great guy, I'd like to meet Charlize Theron , but I don't think that the big press event in Washington should be that kind of glittering event where the whole talk is about Cristal champagne , taking over the Italian Embassy , who had the best party , who got to meet the most people. That's another separation between what we're supposed to be doing and what the people expect us to be doing. And I think that the Washington press corps has to look at that. And by the way, I'm a charter member of the White House Correspondents' Association . I was there early on and often and often enjoyed it, but it's gone beyond what it needs to be.

    MR. GREGORY: All right. Point taken. Final one on our hot topics this week. The vice president, on this program, talking about same-sex marriage. He made news on this, Chuck .

    MR. TODD: He did. He went farther -- he's gone farther. I mean, basically he came out in support of gay marriage , in a -- and that was, it was clear in your interview. What's interesting there is the vice president's office reached out to me to say, yes, we know that the vice president was speaking about himself. He's not speaking for the administration , and they pointed out like the president, he's evolving on this issue.

    MR. GREGORY: All right. We will leave it there. We'll come back. We'll have final thoughts from the roundtable and also review my discussion with Robert De Niro on a big event in Lower Manhattan , the site of ground zero. After this.

    MR. GREGORY: A final thought with our roundtable . Her first -- here, rather, first, I wanted to preview a special PRESS Pass conversation. Change was in the air in New York this week. I was up there. 1 World Trade Center , formally known as the Freedom Tower , officially became the tallest building in Manhattan , taller than the Empire State Building . I had a chance to go to the World Center Hotel , which overlooks the ongoing construction site and the 9/11 Memorial , which is fantastic, to sit down for a conversation with actor and director Robert De Niro . He's become a -- an ambassador of sorts, and certainly an instrumental player in helping Lower Manhattan bounce back after the 9/11 attack. This is part of our conversation. And I point out, this was an active construction site , which you will hear behind us.

    MR. GREGORY: I was struck this week by the milestone of this tower, that it became the tallest building in Manhattan .

    MR. De NIRO: Yeah.

    MR. GREGORY: As they're building it into the fog today, it's now taller than the Empire State Building .

    MR. De NIRO: Yes.

    MR. GREGORY: What did that mean to you as, as such an ambassador of downtown that that milestone was reached?

    MR. De NIRO: It's funny because when I -- when it happened, 9/11, I thought, well, we just have to rebuild the, the buildings exactly the way they were . And then, of course, things went through so many changes, so many moving parts, obviously. So when it's finally this, I say, well, it actually looks great. It looks great.

    MR. GREGORY: So much is in a political context right now because of the campaign , whether it's Osama bin Laden or the war in Afghanistan . You're somebody who cares a lot about politics but hasn't been very involved until 2008 , when you talked about your inspiration and your support for President Obama . Are you as inspired, are you as hopeful, are you as satisfied with what he's done as president as he stands for re- election ?

    MR. De NIRO: You know, you know, it's very easy to criticize people. I think he's done a good job. He's done other things that maybe he should have been a little stronger about. People will complain. But it's not easy to, to be president of the United States . And he, he -- and that was pointed out in The New York Times I think in the last Sunday Week in Review by Peter Bergen , about all the things he did as far as bin Laden and other things that he stepped up, being a liberal president, supposedly, that were effective. Not always, you know, there's always the, the negative side of that, but he took the chance to do it, and he, and he did it, and, and ultimately with bin Laden . And I think he's doing, I give him credit and I hope he does -- I know he'll do better in the next four years when he won't have to worry whether he's going to be elected or not.

    MR. GREGORY: A reminder, you can watch the full interview online on meetthepressnbc.com. Diane Swonk , the, the economy of Lower Manhattan has changed and a lot is rebounding. Where is it today?

    MS. SWONK: You know, actually it's come back quite strong , and part of it was a commitment to be there. But, you know, it was, what's interesting is how well it's done in the wake of how many financial sector jobs were lost in that area. I mean, in one weeks time, between September 14th and September 21st , 2008 , Wall Street , as we knew it, disappeared.

    MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

    MS. SWONK: There was a major change. Yet downtown Manhattan is still doing OK. Now some of that we can debate why, but they are coming back. But I do want to make a point about we talk about all the politics here and we've had conversations in between the breaks about how many solutions are being done locally and how the economy is being helped at the local level by community colleges , by state colleges that are training people to get the kind of jobs that they actually have job offers for out there. And I think that's where you have to have hope. You never give up. I never give up on this economy and I'm a survivor of the World Trade Center .

    MR. GREGORY: Right.

    MS. SWONK: So that's a little emotional for me to see that.

    MR. GREGORY: Absolutely.

    MS. SWONK: But, but I, you never, ever give up. And I , I still have hope.

    MR. GREGORY: Great. We're going to leave it there. Thank you all very much. Terrific conversation. That is all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE

updated 5/6/2012 12:57:35 PM ET 2012-05-06T16:57:35

DAVID GREGORY:

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This morning, an exclusive interview with Vice President Joe Biden. We'll talk about jobs and the economy, the politics of national security, and how the vice president sizes up Mitt Romney.

It's a big weekend for the Obama campaign. In Ohio, Saturday, for the official start of the president's re-election bid.

(videotape)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

We are still fired up. We are still ready to go and we are going to remind the world once more just why it is that the United States of America is the greatest nation on earth. Thank you.

(end videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

The big question: how does Obama win?

(videotape)

MITT ROMNEY:

President Obama is outta ideas, he's out of excuses and in 2012 it’s time to make sure we put him out of office.

(end videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

Our political roundtable is here to weigh in. Republican Senator from New Hampshire Kelly Ayotte, NBC News special correspondent and author of the book, "The Time of Our Lives," Tom Brokaw, NBC's political director and chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd And economist Diane Swonk.

(INTRO OMITTED)

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Mr. Vice President, welcome back.

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Great to be back.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Always good to have you.

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

It's good to be here.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Topic A is the economy as it's been for a long time.  And we have new jobs numbers out.  We'll put 'em up on the screen.  The unemployment rate is at 8.1%.  Last month, 115,000 jobs created.  Sluggish, by most estimations.  The previous month 120,000 jobs.  Is this a jobless recovery?

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

No, no.  This is-- look, we've created four-- 4,250,000 jobs.  Last month's, by the way, job numbers have been reevaluated.  It's up to 150,000.  The month before, in February, it's up to 250,000.  Look, this goes up and down.  But there's been a steady path.  26 months straight employment gain, private employment.  And-- but there's a lot more to do.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

But the net jobs are down, in terms of job created.  You've lost a ton of jobs over the course of this administration, because of the financial crisis.  And there is this idea of some stagnation out there.  That what was economic recovery seems to have flat lined.  Is that not a concern?

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

No, it's not a concern.  There-- it's not stagnation.  Look, as you pointed out, there were four million jobs lost in the six months or so before we came to office.  Before I lowered my right hand on-- on January the 20th, we lost 700,000 jobs that month.  And before we got out first major economic initiative passed, we lost another 3.5 million jobs.  Since that point, it's been steady growth, not enough.  There's still a lot of people in trouble.  But there's no stagnation.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Are people discouraged is the question.  And this presidential campaign, which is kicking off in a big way this weekend with the president making his official kickoff.  Mitt Romney is saying, "Look, we need a different path.  We need a different president to turn this around."  And this is how he reacted on Friday to the jobs report.

                                                 

(videotape)

MITT ROMNEY:

The reason the rate came down was because about 340,000 people dropped out of the workforce.  So many became discouraged, they stopped looking for work.

(end videotape)

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

And the discouragement is real.  Recent polling showing three-- three fourths, 76% of Americans still believe the country's in recession.

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Well, you know, for the people who are unemployed, it-- they there you are still in recession.  For the people whose wages are stagnant, it feels like a recession.  I come from a household where whenever there was a massive recession, somebody around that table was going to lose their job.  And-- but here's the deal.  What is Romney proposing?  He's proposing, as to quote Bill Clinton, "going back to the last policy of the last administration on steroids."  I mean, what is he talking about?

Is he talking about-- how is he going to create jobs?  He talks about another $2 trillion in tax cuts for the very wealthy?  You're going to create jobs?  Is that how he's going to do it?  Is he going to create jobs by continuing to undercut getting people to college and helping them get there by undercutting education?  Is he going to continue to create jobs by eliminating investments in-- in-- research and development?  I mean, what-- what-- what's the plan?

(OVERTALK)

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

We've seen this movie before.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

What is-- well, but what is your warning about what a President Romney would do to the American economy?

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

It's absolutely-- look, the good news, David, and you and I have been around for a lot of presidents.  These guys are not hiding the ball this time.  They're saying exactly what they believe, as my mother would say, God love them.  They say they want the Ryan budget.  They've all voted for it.  And President-- and Romney says he's for it, which emasculates the very things that are going to-- allow people to-- allow us to grow this economy.

Education, infrastructure, innovation, it decimates people on Social-- excuse me, on Medicare and Medicaid.  He goes out there and he says, "Well, here's what we gotta do.  We need another $2 trillion in tax cuts the next ten years."  He proposes a tax cut in addition to continuing the Bush tax cut for people making over a million bucks, they'll get another $250,000 a year in a tax cut.  These are good patriotic people, man.  But they need it like they need another hole in their head.  What's he investing in?  What's he going to do?

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Two different visions for the country.

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Absolutely.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

But the bottom line is that you and President Obama have a record.

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Yes.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

And this recovery out of a steep recession has been much slower than in past recoveries after recessions.  And this administration's done a lot between stimulus and health care and financial regulation.  You stepped up to the plate, take-- taken some big swings.  And yet, recovery is still very, very slow.

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

It isn’t --

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

The argument is, "Why not give somebody who's got-- a real background in business to try to turn it around?"

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Well, take a look at his background in business.  When he was in business, how did he save companies?  By piling debt on them.  When he was governor, he ranked 47th out of 50 states in job creation.  Look, look at what he's proposing.  But let's go back to what we're proposing.  In terms of recovery out of a financial recession this deep, unfortunately, this is not way off.  This is not slower than a significant financial recession, which this is the greatest recession in the history of America short of a depression.

And if these guys would get out of the way-- for example, had they passed our jobs bill, all the experts said it would have created two million more jobs.  Two million more jobs.  These guys wouldn't even let us put back to work 400,000 teachers, firefighters and cops by a 0.5% tax on the first dollar after the first million you made.  Come on, man.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

But you can't guarantee jobs.  I mean, it was--

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

No, no, but-- no--

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

It was this administration that said you could keep 8% unemployment if you passed the stimulus act.  You can't go by those predictions.

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

No, no, no, here's what you can go by.  You can go by what the consensus among economists says was likely to happen if certain actions are taken.  And by the way, the reason why that-- that was off, that-- that projection, at the time, that was stated by some of the economists.  It was estimated that the economy the previous quarter had fallen 5%.  It actually fell almost 9%.  Nobody, including all the business models at the time, thought the devastation was as great as it turned out to be.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Let's talk about some other matters.  China's a big story.  As we talk, there are still negotiations about the fate of the blind dissident Chen Guangjang-- chang, rather.  What is his future?  And is it in America?

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

I think his future is in America.  His future is that-- he has an opportunity to go to NYU.  The Chinese have told us that if he files the papers to be able to have a-- be able to go abroad, that would be grand.  And we're prepared to give a visa right away.  He's going to be able to take his family.  We expect the Chinese to stick to that commitment.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

There was a spectacle involved this week with him making claims about what U.S. diplomats told him, what the Chinese were representing, U.S. diplomats saying, "No, that's now how it happened."  All of this a distraction as Secretary of State Clinton is in China for trade talks.  How-- how did it go wrong?

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Well, look, I-- I-- I can only put myself in Mr. Chen's position.  He came into the embassy.  He was physically hurting.  He needed medical help.  He said he hadn't seen his family for a year.  He wanted to be reunited.  And he said, "I don't want to leave China, just don't want to go back to my village."

That was arranged.  Understandably, by the time he gets to the hospital, talking to friends and others, he has a second thought.  He said-- they said, "You-- you-- you want to get out of here.  You want to leave."  And then he came to us and said, "I want to leave.  And I want to leave with my family."  And we got to work.  Kurt Campbell's one of the best diplomats we have.  He got to work.  And guess what?  It looks like, right now, the commitment being made, that he'll be able to leave, attend NYU University, and with his family.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

What's more important to this administration?  Standing up for freedom in China or maintaining a very delicate relationship with this emerging power?

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Standing up for freedom.  Look, when I spent more time with the soon to be president of China, Vice President Xi.  I've spent a total of roughly ten days with him, five in China, five here.  I've been alone with him for-- for over 30 hours of meetings, just he and I, publicly and privately.

I have never failed, including when he was at-- hosted at the State Department, to say, "Human rights.  Human rights is critical to us."  As a matter of fact, I tried to explain-- I didn't try.  I explained to him why it's so critical.  Why Americans, it's part of our DNA.  And I pointed out that almost everybody who came here in the 17th, 18th, and 19th century came avoiding oppression.  It's part of our DNA.  And if he didn't understand that, there was going to be very little ability for us to cooperate.  So we have not in any way backed off of our commitment to human rights.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me talk about the campaign for the presidency.  Should I assume by virtue of the fact that you're here today that you're a lock for the ticket here? No question about it?

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

There's no-- there is no question about it.  There's no way out.  I mean, they've already printed Obama-Biden.

                                   

(OVERTALK)

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

There's no-- I-- I-- you-- you-- you are looking at the vice presidential candidate for the United States of America--

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Does it-- does it annoy you--

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

--for Democrat.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Has it annoyed you that there's been all of this buzz about, "Well, if the president would put in Secretary Clinton, you know, he'd be a shoe in for reelection, if he would just make that switch."

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

The thing that annoys me about it is the implication of that that somehow President Clinton is weak and he needs some kind of help.  I mean--

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

President Obama.

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Pre-- President Obama is weak.  That's not directed at me.  It's-- and it's unfair.  I think-- look, we got the strongest can-- in every presidential race, David, it's the only race in which the public demands one threshold test be met.  Is the individual strong?  And is their character consistent with what they say they'll do?  Is their character strong enough to say they'll do it?  And we got the best candidate, man.  And he-- this guy has a backbone like a ramrod.  This-- I think we're just-- I think we have clearly the best candidate.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Is it going to be a close election?

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Well, I think it may be close-- electorally.  I think all these elections are close.  As my grandfather, Finnegan, would-- used to say.  He was a good athlete.  And he said, "Joe, remember, any team can beat any other team on any given day."  But-- they're going to need a better game plan than the one they have now about how they're going to restore the economy by removing-- by going back to-- to the policies of the previous eight years.  They're going to need a better social policy than takin' the social policy back to the '50s.  And they're going to need a better foreign policy than-- than one that says "The Cold War's still goin' on."  I mean, it's just-- in-- in my view, anyway.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

You raise social policy.  I'm curious.  You know, the president has said that his views on gay marriage, on same-sex marriage have evolved.  But he's opposed to it.  You're opposed to it.  Have your views-- evolved?

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Look-- I just think-- that-- the good news is that as more and more Americans become to understand what this is all about is a simple proposition.  Who do you love?  Who do you love?  And will you be loyal to the person you love?  And that's what people are finding out is what-- what all marriages, at their root, are about.  Whe-- whether they're-- marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Is that what you believe now?  Are you--

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

That's what I believe.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

And you're comfortable with same-sex marriage now?

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

I-- I-- look, I am vice president of the United States of America.  The president sets the policy.  I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.  And quite frankly, I don't see much of a distinction-- beyond that.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

In a second term, will this administration come out behind same-sex marriage, the institution of marriage?

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Well, I-- I-- I can't speak to that.  I-- I-- I-- I don't know the answer to that.  But I can tell you--

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

It sounds like you'd like to see it happen.  If that's what the president would get--

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Well, the president continues to fight, whether it's Don't Ask, Don't Tell or whether it is making sure, across the board, that you cannot discriminate.  Look-- look the the executive orders he's put in place.  Any hospital that gets federal funding, which is almost all of them, they can't deny a partner from being able to have access to their-- their-- their partner who's ill or making the call on whether or not they-- you know-- it's just-- this is evolving.

And by the way, my measure, David, and I take a look at when things really begin to change, is when the social culture changes.  I think Will and Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody's ever done so far.  And I think-- people fear that which is different.  Now they're beginning to understand.  They're beginning to understand that this as a base--

I-- I was with-- speaking to a group of gay leaders in-- in Los Angeles-- la-- two, two weeks ago.  And one gentleman looked at me in the question period and said, "Let me ask you, how do you feel about us?"  And I had just walked into the back door of this gay couple and they're with their two adopted children.  And I turned to the man who owned the house.  I said, "What did I do when I walked in?"  He said, "You walked right to my children.  They were seven and five, giving you flowers."  And I said, "I wish every American could see the look of love those kids had in their eyes for you guys.  And they wouldn't have any doubt about what this is about."

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me ask you on another topic about the politics-- of national security.  There was a bizarre moment this week with the release of these letters from Abbottabad, where Osama bin Laden-- was hiding.  And at one point, he-- he talks about his desire to kill President Obama leaving you in power, because he concluded, you'd be quote, "totally unprepared to lead."  How-- how did that sit with you?  I mean, you had to-- come across that.

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Well, I was delighted that-- President Obama acted as swiftly and as-- and decisively as he did, so we wouldn't have to worry about wh-- whether or not I'm prepared to lead.  The one thing, particularly in foreign policy.  I have never been really accused of is not being able to lead in the national security area.  But look, it's-- you know, Osama bin Laden's been wrong about a lot of things.  I hope he was wrong about that.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

The president went to Afghanistan-- on the anniversary of the operation to kill Osama bin Laden, with a message to America that this war is coming to an end.  Headlines around the world, including this in the New York Post, which sort of-- was a little bit more colorful.  "Ka-Bull, now Obama spikes bin Laden football in Afghanistan."  An allusion to the fact that he would not do that.  That there would not be the politicization of killing bin Laden.  Was all of this together, in effect, his "Mission Accomplished" moment?

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

No.  Look, first of all, the president would not have gone to Kabul to meet with Karzai to sign the document that lays out how we end this war and our participation in this war.  That's what this document is.  It's a war-ending document.  He would not have done that had the document not been ready.

For 20 months, we've been negotiating that document.  I promise you, had he not done that, unrelated to bin Laden's anniversary, he would not have gone to Kabul, number one.  Number two, look, this is a signature moment in this president's administration, where he did what he said he would do.  He said from the beginning that he would turn heaven and earth upside down, paraphrasing, to get bin Laden.  Because it was a cathartic moment for the nation and to send a message to every terrorist around the world, as I said during the campaign, "We will follow you to the gates of hell if you harm Americans."

It was an important message to state.  It's totally appropriate that he talks about that.  It's a measure of being a commander in chief.  And lastly, you know, I notice-- and I'm not making the judgment.  I don't know what Governor Romney-- would have done-- get-- gettin' the same informat-- same information.  But I know he wouldn't have gotten the same information.

Because he said he would not turn up-- he'd turn heaven and earth to go get him.  When we came into office, I promise you, sitting in the Oval Office of the president with the national security team, he turned and said, "I want you to know," and he turned to Leon Panetta, who was head of the CIA "I have one priority, the priority, find and get bin Laden."

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

But you questioned-- you questioned Romney's bona fides on foreign policy in-- in a realm-- in a wide area.  But in this particular area, you said, "Bin Laden is dead, GM is alive.  Could you say that slogan in reverse for Governor Romney?"  And it's striking, Mr. Vice President, given that at the H-hour of D-day for this operation, you told this president, "Don't do it.  Don't do it now," is what you said.  And yet you're saying Governor Romney should be questioned?  When that was your judgment at the time?

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

That-- that's a valid point.  I don't know what Governor-- I didn't say he wouldn't.  I said--

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, but the implication was that he would not pull the trigger.

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Implication.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Robert Gibbs was on this program a week ago saying, "Well-- we don't know that he would."

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Well, I-- I-- I don't know that he would either.  We don't know.  You don't know till you're in the position.  All I can tell you is, and the reason why I have such administration for this president, in that room when that decision was being made, the last call, six of us had been meeting for five months before, in secret, nailing down whether there's a possibility bin Laden was there.

President had a roll call.  Everybody had some-- some-- some-- maybe yes, maybe no.  I think on balance, go.  The only guy who had a full throated-- full-throated, "Go, Mr. President," was Leon Panetta.  I walk out of that meeting, as I usually do.  I get to be the last guy to be with the president.  We walked up toward the residence, toward his office.  And I knew he was going to go.

And what I always tell him, when he said-- looked at me again, I said, "Follow your instincts, Mr. President.  Your instincts have been close to unerring.  Follow your instincts."  I wanted him to take one more day to do one more test to see if he was there.  But he did it for one reason.  He had 100% confidence in the SEALs that even if bin Laden wasn't there, there'd be no collateral damage and they'd be able to get back.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Bottom line, do you think that America will be weaker in the world, its national security weakened if President Romney takes over?

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Here's what I'll say.  I am absolutely guarantee you, America's position in the world in national security is stronger with President Obama having taken over.  Our alliances have been repaired.  We're out of one war, a path to get out of another war.  We have moved on relationships that had been-- not able to be attended to, Russia, China, South Africa, et cetera.  And-- and so--

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Would-- would the country be any less safe under a President Romney?

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Based on what President Romney has said, as it relates to his view-- for example, him saying our archenemy, I'm paraphrasing, is Russia.  Oh, he called it the Soviets.  Is Russia.  If that's his prism through which he views our national security interest, I would say it would not be as strong.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me ask you about the ways of Washington in a concluding area here.  We've talked before.  I've asked you about the-- the fact that Washington doesn't work very well right now, and hasn't for now a number of years that coincides with-- Obama-Biden being in the White House.  And you've been very critical of Republicans.  Do you think that there is a modern, right-wing conspiracy that has aligned against this president?

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

No, I don't think there's a modern-- I think the Republican Party's been taken over by the Tea Party.  It happens.  Those things happen.  My party was taken over by the far left, when I got elected in 1972.  We go through phases like this.  This isn't fundamentally new.  What we need is a Republican Party.  We need a strong Republican Party.  A party that there's two or three or four people when they're not in office or if they have a president, when he's in office, can speak for the party, can make agreements.  That's what we need.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

You're going to fight about taxes all campaign.  If you win reelection, does that mean you go into this lame duck period where all these big decisions have to be made, including about the Bush tax cuts, which will expire by the end of the year, automatic spending cuts happen by the end of the year.  If you win reelection, is your-- is your position, "That's it.  We're not going to compromise on taxes, rates are going to go up for wealthier Americans, period."

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Yes.  Because there's no way, there's no way to do anything other than hurt the middle class if we don't do that.  And this election, in our view, the big idea in this election is the middle class.  Will they begin to grow again?  And it's not-- look, we had this whole thesis, it seems to me, from the other side, that if you concentrate  more and more and more wealth and success in the very top, somehow something positive's going to happen.  We've always moved forward as a nation when the middle class grows.  When they grow, the poor have access and the wealthy get wealthier.  It's a fundame-- fundamental disagreement--

(OVERTALK)

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

But you believe this has to happen only after the election.  Is it your view that Speaker Boehner, Leader McConnell, they don't speak for the Republican Party?

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Well, let me put it this way.  I have had the great honor of-- spending hours and hours and hours that you've covered, my negotiating the debt limit and other things, with the-- with the leaders of the Republican Party.  And on several occasions, they've pre-- they've been prepared to make some real compromise and have ended up calling back and saying, "I can't do it.  I can't get it done."

And-- would it have solved every problem?  No, but-- it is-- I think that-- Republic-- look, I'll give you the best example.  Republican leadership said, "Extend-- extend the payroll tax."  They couldn't get it done till the Wall Street Journal came in and started beating up-- I mean, drum beat beating on the-- on-- on-- on the Tea Party types.  That's the only way it could get done.

In the past, it would be the Republican leadership would say, "Okay, here's the deal, guys.  This is what we're doin'."  John Boehner wasn't opposed to extending those taxes.  But how did it happen?  And I'm not criticizing John.  John's in a situation where he has-- a group of people-- that-- that old expression.  This is the tail wagging the dog.  This is not your father's Republican Party.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

What have you seen in this president, over these four years, op-- in terms of how he operates in Washington, that makes you confident that if he wins reelection, he somehow can break through what's gone wrong in Washington and do something meaningful to get our fiscal house in order and restore prosperity?

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

I'll tell you what changes these gridlocks is success.  Let me g-- just give you one example.  The overwhelming opposition to rescuing the automobile companies.  It was viewed by the public at large, it was viewed by the vast majority of the Republicans, even some Democrats as a big mistake.  He bet on an iconic industry if they reorganized.  It worked.

Now people are saying, "You know, well, maybe-- maybe we should take another look at some of these other proposals."  If, in fact, he's re-elected, what will happen as a process of that?  Is many of the things he's already put in place will be coming to fruition.  They'll beginning to take root.  And the American public will demand that people begin to compromise, just like the Wall Street Journal had to demand that the Tea Party guys extended the tax credit-- I mean, excuse me, the payroll tax.  You'll have the public and ultimately everybody, left wing, Democrats in the '70s to Tea Party guys and women in the 2012.  They ultimately respond to constituencies.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Final question.  This fall, who would you most like to face on a debate stage?

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Hey, you know, the-- that old expression "be careful what you wish for, you may get it."  I'm confident whoever I face on that stage will be-- will be a good debater and competent.  And the good news is, I think the distinctions in the choices about the policies are going to be so stark, it's a debate I'm looking forward to.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Who's more likely to run for president in 2016, you or Secretary Clinton?

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

I think we may run as a team.  I'm only joking, obviously.  I don't-- I don't know whether I'm going to run.  And Hillary doesn't know whether she's going to run.

(OVERTALK)

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

There's a lot of truth in humor, Mr. Vice President.  Thank you very much--

                                                 

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Thank you.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

--as always.

(TEASE AND COMMERCIAL OMITTED)

DAVID GREGORY:

And we're back with our political roundtable.  Joining me, NBC's chief White House correspondent and our political director, Chuck Todd, NBC News special correspondent and the author of the book The Time of Our Lives, Tom Brokaw, Republican of New Hampshire, Senator Kelly Ayotte, and chief economist for Mesirow Financial, Diane Swonk.  Welcome to all of you.  Great to have you here.

Our-- political trend tracker this morning is right on point here, if you look at the big stories that people are looking at this weekend.  Obama kicks off his reelection campaign, and Romney sharpens his message.  And so we're-- we're right on it in terms of what people are talking about.  And Senator Ayotte, let me start with you.  Between the president's big speech in Ohio and Virginia and what you've heard from the vice president this morning, how would you describe, from the Romney campaign, this pitch for reelection that you're hearing?

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE:

Yeah.  Well, I think, overall, with all due respect to the vice president, it's very, very sad that the candidate who ran on hope and change and uniting us in 2008 seems unrecognizable now.  We've had a divisive president.  We've had a president who's failing to lead on the fundamental issues, starting first with the economy.  We saw that jobs report on Friday was very, very disappointing.

And the most disappointing aspect of it is that people are leaving the job market.  And obviously, they feel hopeless in terms of where the economy is right now.  And it's two signature issues.  You think about it, health care and the stimulus.  When they had a super majority in both Congresses, the Democrats, they didn't work.  And they were failures.  I mean I hear from employers all across our state about health care costs going in the wrong direction under the president's health care bill.

And then, when you look at foreign policy, I give him credit for some good, tactical decisions.  Obviously, getting Osama bin Laden, we all give him credit for that, the drone strikes.  But there's been some major strategic errors, starting first with-- I would start with the one that really sticks with me and I think is a major strategic error.

And that is when the people in Tehran stood in the streets since 2009, and this president, you want to talk about standing up for human rights, they were standing for free elections, and this president was silent.  And eventually said something, but really talked about how that was going to impact negotiations with the Iranian regime instead of focusing on standing up for those people in the streets.  Think about how different it would have been if, somehow, that would have resulted in a regime change in Iran.

DAVID GREGORY:

There's a lot to get to, a lot of areas of criticism, from your point of view of the president and the vice president's remarks.  I want to start, really bore down on the economy a little bit.  Here's the headline from Dan Balz's piece in The Washington Post today.  "Obama launches campaign against Romney, but his real opponent is the economy."  And let me go around the table on this.  First of all, Diane Swonk, you heard the vice president say there's no stagnation here.  This recovery is in line with past recoveries from steep recessions.  Give us the reality check.

DIANE SWONK:

Well, the reality-- first of all, no one piece of data is descriptive.  The economy is collective human behavior.  And the data is our flashlight into an increasingly dense forest of economic information globally and nationally.  So that's the first part to start from.

But the second issue is the reality is, yes, we had a financial crisis.  And recovering from a financial crisis, when you take the foundation of capitalism and cut part of it away, it's very difficult to do.  And this is a reality we have to deal with.  Now, were there mistakes made along the road?  Absolutely.  Could we have a stronger recover today if we had less uncertainty in Washington?  On both sides of the aisle.

I'm an equal opportunity offender, because I find both sides of the aisle have offended me on their economy policy.  And so I think that's one of the key issues is you are stuck within a certain range of growth.  Could you have gotten a little bit more if there'd been less uncertainty and less gridlock on both sides of the aisle?  Yes, you could have.

Coming up, we've got a fiscal cliff (?) at the end of this year that's being kicked down the road by both sides of the aisle.  We've got Europe in crisis with elections that are moving us away from our solution we need in Europe.  And Europe is something that could take us, along with the fiscal cliff, into another recession.  These are not things that we have a lot of control over, as Americans, it feels like we don't.  But we elected these people, and it's time that they work.

                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Tom Brokaw, there's where government plays a role.  And I thought the president's speech on that particular area was important, because he talks about stark choices.  Let me play a piece of the speech yesterday and have you talk about it.

(videotape)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

Look, we don't expect government to solve all our problems, and it shouldn't try

Not every regulation is smart.  Not every tax dollar is spent wisely.  Not every person can be helped who refuses to help themselves.  

But that's not an excuse to tell the vast majority of responsible, hardworking Americans, "You're on your own.”

(end videotape)

                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

There is a strong place for argument, he argues.

                                 

TOM BROKAW:

You know, I've been all over the country in the last three weeks.  And with all due respect to the president, there's a real wariness out there.  They've gone from having pneumonia now to having a kind of strong virus when they look at the economy.  And you could use that old phrase, you know, "Fool me once, that's your fault, fool me twice, it's my fault."  I think that the country has felt that they've been through these kind of false up-ticks two or three times now in the last couple of years.  And they're waiting.

(OVERTALK)

                                 

TOM BROKAW:

There's a general feeling that things are beginning to get better, but not fast enough.  Mixing all my metaphors here. You know, the fact is, that they want real, hard, tangible evidence in their communities, in their states, that it's going to get a lot better.  And I think that they have lowered their expectations, that we're not going to get back to where we before all this began, very swiftly.

And my own guess is, from a generational point of view, young people coming out of college now who have been through all of this, they have a different perception about what the economy will mean for them.  And that's a reality for both parties.  We're at this stage of the-- for all the excitement and heavy breathing that we have about Romney's speech and the President's speech, we're still in the out of town tryouts.  You know, this big show won't open until the end of August when they go on the state at the conventions and hit the campaign trails in September.  That's when people will really begin to pay attention, David.

                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Chuck, your take-away from the vice president?  And I know you've come with a map, too, so you can lead us to--

                                 

CHUCK TODD:

No, it hasn't-- I was with the president yesterday in both places.  And what I found fascinating is how the campaign realizes they have to answer this-- they have to come up with a new question, because they don't want the question to be, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"

                                 

TOM BROKAW:

Yeah, right.

                                 

CHUCK TODD:

So they came up with this new question.  The president said, "Will you be better off four years from now?"  It's an acknowledgement that they can't-- if the election is about simply, "Are you better off now than you were?" they lose that.  So they're trying to change the conversation.

And that's what makes the battleground map actually kind of interesting.  Because we talk about this uneven nature of the economy, well the battleground states are on uneven nature.  So you have Mitt Romney can go in certain states and talk about the bad economy and--

(OVERTALK)

                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.  We'll put that up.

                                 

CHUCK TODD:

Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, all unemployment rates above the national average.

                                 

DIANE SWONK:

Sub prime had--

(OVERTALK)

                                 

CHUCK TODD:

You go to a Virginia, you go even to an Ohio, two states, where are the unemployment rates?  Below the national average.  And you have two Republican governors who will campaign with Mitt Romney but don't want to talk down the economy, want to talk-- so you have that struggle.  And I think that's a tactical struggle that the Romney campaign has to figure out how to grip-- how to come to grips with.

Because you have some upbeat news, particularly in the state of Virginia, which really has weathered the recession differently, mostly, I think, thanks to the defense contractors and the government.  But in Ohio, and there's this fight over who gets credit for that.  Is it the auto  industry or is it the new Republican governors?

                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

And is the vision, Senator, that less government automatically means more certainty, and therefore, the floodgates opened and economic growth is ushered in?  Because, I mean, you heard the vice president say this is Bush era Republican ideas on steroids.  That's the argument.

                                 

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE:

Well David, I have to say, taking off what Chuck said, if you do look at, "Are you better off," the answer's clearly no, under any measure.  But there's also the question of, "Is there any hope, with the failure of leadership-- this president, on the economic issues, that it will be any better?"

And I think people will come to the conclusion no.  Why?  It's not about no government, less government.  It's about smart government.  And I've heard it-- you've seen it from the regulations that are coming forth on this administration, whether it's teenagers-- proposals that teenagers can't work on their family farms or what happened with the NLRB in terms of the South Carolina plant and trying to expand there.

So it's smart regulation.  It's smarter government.  It's getting our fiscal house in order.  I mean this president has really failed to lead on that issue.  Think about it.  $5 trillion added to our debt.  His budget failed the House of Representatives zero to 414.  And this is an issue where I think Governor Romney, he brings real strength, having been a governor, balanced budgets, been in a position where he's worked across the aisle to do that in a state where it's not easy to do that.

                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Reality is the political is asked in a poll that comes out tomorrow and will be made available tomorrow on the political website, this is still a split decision, Tom.  It's 40 to 39.

                                 

DIANE SWONK:

Yeah.

                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

And Diane, as well, in terms of economic-- the effect of President Obama's economic policy.  So this question of who is the bridge to a more durable economic recovery, seems to me, to be, you know, the centerpiece of this election.

                                 

TOM BROKAW:

I think that's true.  But we're also seeing (UNINTEL) and Chuck and I have been looking at these numbers for a while, that, at this stage of this year, going into the fall, there's not a lot of "to the barricades" enthusiasm for either candidate.  Among their supporters, for example, it's in the 50% range about enthusiasm for President Obama, and for Mitt Romney.  So I think, at this point, the country, as I keep saying, is back there waiting and taking the measure of what's going on, and concentrating much more on their local economies and their local interests.

The other point of it is, David, that wherever I went, people feel excluded from the process.  They think that it's now been concentrated on two extremes of the two parties.  And a big part of the middle feels left out, that they don't have a voice in it anymore.  So they're turning their backs on Washington and just worrying about what's going on where they are.

                                 

DIANE SWONK:

You know, adding to that on an economic perspective, is people feel that exact issue is that we do know that problems and gridlock in Washington have contributed to our economic woes.  And we can blame it on whoever we want to.  But the reality is it's here.  Like I said, I'm an equal opportunity offender, because I'm offended equally.

But on the other side of it, if we've got an opportunity here, the world is not inevitably going to be bad.  If we took an opportunity where you look at most American public, is they're willing to deal with, over a long term, 10 year period of time, reducing the deficit.  And I think most Republicans and most Democrats, if you sit them down in a room and don't let them talk to any press in an election year, they'll come to agreement on how to do that.  And most economist agree on how to do it.  And most Americans understand that it's mostly spending, and a little taxes, and we've got a complicated tax code that needs to be reformed.  So all these things can be solved.  And the fact that we're not doing it is the frustration, is that my kids know how to solve some of these problems.

                                 

TOM BROKAW:

David, there's something to keep your eye on.  There's a kind of nascent movement at the moment to dust off Simpson Bowles.

(OVERTALK)

                                 

TOM BROKAW:

To get it back on the table again.

                                 

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE:

Yeah.

                                 

TOM BROKAW:

And their--

                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Deficit reduction--

(OVERTALK)

                                 

TOM BROKAW:

Nancy Pelosi said--

                                 

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE:

Deficit reduction.

                                 

TOM BROKAW:

--the other day that she could probably live with it.  This was a big miss on the part of the president, even among his admirers, when that bipartisan commission worked very hard, came up--

(OVERTALK)

                                 

TOM BROKAW:

--a lot of tough medicine involved there.  But this past week, Jamie Dimon, who is the head of Chase Manhattan Bank, who was a big supporter of the president the last time around, he came out and said, "Simpson Bowles."  Nancy Pelosi:  Simpson Bowles.  A number of people are finding that as maybe the kind of nexus so you can break the gridlock and find--

(OVERTALK)

                                 

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE:

--that's unfortunate is that the president did not at least champion it, if he didn't like all of it, really champion that issue.  And that's where we need presidential leadership on this issue of the debt and where we are.  That will make it--

(OVERTALK)

                                 

CHUCK TODD:

But things got really politicized when the House Republicans weren't allowed to vote for it.

                                 

TOM BROKAW:

Yes.

                                 

CHUCK TODD:

You had the Senate Republicans in there, the Senate conservatives--

(OVERTALK)

                                 

CHUCK TODD:

And Paul Ryan, who wants to be a champion of being Mr. Deficit Reduction, didn't support it.  You know, he said kind things about it but didn't support it.  Then it looked like it got politicized--

(OVERTALK)

                                 

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE:

But that's also where presidential leadership can make the difference on these things.

                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, let me get a break in here.  I want to come back, talk about some of the other hot political stories as we go around the table quickly on some of those when we come back after this break.

(COMMERCIAL OMITTED)

DAVID GREGORY:

We're back with more from our roundtable.  We wanted to get to some of the other hot topics of this week and go round the table on some of those topics.  We'll put them up on the screen.  First, VP tryouts, as we talk about the veep stakes.  The president's out there.  Senator Rubio of Florida appearing with him this week, some questions raised about the relationships that Rubio had with political allies down in Florida, have been an issue.  Senator Ayotte, from New Hampshire, also campaigning this past week up in New Hampshire with Governor Romney, and there are the others, as well.  There's been talk about Paul Ryan, about--

                                                 

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE:

Well, I want--

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

--Virginia Governor McDonald, Chris Christie, of course, from New Jersey, and Rob Portman.  So Senator Ayotte, is this a tryout?  Would you like to be on the ticket?

                                                 

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE:

Well, it's honor to be-- an honor to be mentioned in that vein.  But my focus is on serving New Hampshire.  And there's so many good candidates out there that Governor Romney has to choose from.  You mentioned some of them:  Senator Rubio, Senator Portman in Ohio.  So he's got a lot of great choices.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

What's the message you think he has to send with his choice?

                                                 

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE:

I think the message he has to send, first of all, is he comfortable with that individual?

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

                                                 

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE:

Is that person ready to serve as President of the United States?

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

                                                 

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE:

And what does that person bring to the ticket in terms of not only geography, but in terms of their qualifications and their knowledge of the issues.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Are you ready to be president?

                                                 

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE:

Well, I'll tell you this.  I have great experience as attorney general of the state.  I'm very proud of that experience.  And I would say I have, some would say, better experience than Barack Obama had when he was a Senator and ran, having been the chief law enforcement officer of my state.  I serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee.  But again, what it comes down to for me, it's serving New Hampshire.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Another hot topic this week, of course, endorsements for Romney appearing somewhat weak.  Newt Gingrich, Tom Brokaw, saying, you know, "If it's a choice between a left wing ideologue and Mitt Romney, I'll go with Mitt Romney."  Kind of tepid in his support.

                                                 

TOM BROKAW:

Well, you know, having watched Newt Gingrich dribble this out over a long period of time, having won two states, one in his home state, one right next door, I'm not sure he moves the needle.  I'm not sure that it makes a big difference to Romney over the long haul.  Romney's got to get the Independent vote and get back, somewhat, toward the middle in the fall to be successful.  He can't play just the extremely conservative wing of the party.

And Newt Gingrich has been around the track so many times, I'm not sure people take him as seriously as a lot of folks in this town do, which raises something with me that I've been-- as I've gone around the country, a lot of people say to me, "What's happened with the press?  What's happened with political coverage in America?  We don't feel connected to it."

And then I was out on the road when the White House Correspondent Center popped up again.  And I looked at the C-SPAN coverage and read all the accounts of it.  And if there's ever an event that separates the press from the people that they're supposed to serve symbolically, it is that one.  It is time to rethink it.  You know, it's-- look, I think George Clooney's a great guy.  I'd like to meet Charlize Theron.

But I don't think the big press event in Washington should be that kind of glittering event where the whole talk about is Cristal champagne, taking over the Italian Embassy, who had the best party, who got to meet the most people.  That's another separation between what we're supposed to be doing and what the people expect us to be doing.  And I think that the Washington Press Corps has to look at that.  And by the way, I'm a charter member of the White House Correspondents Association.  I was there early on and often, and often enjoyed it.  But it's gone beyond what it needs to be.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, point taken.  Final one on our hot topics this week:  the vice president on this program talking about same-sex marriage.  He made news on this, Chuck.

                                                 

CHUCK TODD:

He did.  He went far, he's gone farther.  I mean basically, he came out and supported gay marriage.  And that was clear in your interview.  What's interesting there is the vice President's office reached out to me to say, "Yes, we know that the vice president was speaking about himself.  He's not speaking for the administration."  And they pointed out, like the president, he's evolving on this issue."

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

All right.  We will leave it there.  We'll come back.  We'll have final thoughts from the roundtable, and also, preview my discussion with Robert De Niro on a big event in lower Manhattan, the site of Ground Zero, after this.

(COMMERCIAL OMITTED)

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

A final thought with our roundtable her.  First-- here, rather.  First, I wanted to preview a special press pass conversation.  Change is in the air in New York this week.  I was up there.  One World Trade Center, formerly known as The Freedom Tower, officially became the tallest building in Manhattan, taller than the Empire State Building.

I had a chance to go to The World Center Hotel, which overlooks the ongoing construction site on the 9-11 memorial, which is fantastic.  To sit down for a conversation with actor and director Robert De Niro.  He's become an ambassador of sorts, and certainly an instrumental player in helping lower Manhattan bounce back after the 9-11 attacks.  This is part of our conversation.  And I point out this was an active construction site, which you will hear behind us.

(videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

I was struck this week by the milestone of this tower.  That it became the tallest building in Manhattan. As they're building it into the fog today, it's now taller than the Empire State Building.  What did that mean to you, as such an ambassador of downtown, that that milestone was reached?

                               

ROBERT DE NIRO:

I's funny, because when I -- when it happened, 9/11, I thought, 'Well, we just have to rebuild the buildings exactly the way they were. And then, of course, things went through so many changes, so many moving parts, obviously -- so when it's finally this, I say, 'Well, it actually looks great. It looks great.'

                                                                               

DAVID GREGORY:

So much is in a political context right now, because of the campaign, whether it's Osama bin Laden or the war in Afghanistan. You're somebody who cares a lot about politics but hasn't been very involved, until 2008, when you talked about your inspiration and your support for President Obama.  Are you as inspired?  Are you as hopeful?  Are you as satisfied with what he's done as president as he stands for reelection?

                               

ROBERT DE NIRO:

You know, it's very easy to criticize people.  I think he's done a good job.  He's done other things that maybe he should have been a little stronger about, people will complain.  But it's not easy to be President of the United States.  And he -- and that was pointed out in the New York Times, I think in the last Sunday Week in Review, by Peter Bergen, about all the things he did, as far as bin Laden and other things that he stepped up -- being a liberal president, supposedly -- that were effective. Not always -- you know, there's always the negative side of that. But he took the chance to do it, and he did it.  And ultimately, with Bin Laden.

I give him credit, and I hope he does -- I know he'll do better in the next four years, when he won't have to worry whether he's going to be elected or not.

(end videotape)

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

A reminder you can watch the full interview online at meetthepressnbc.com.  Diane Swonk, the-- the economy of lower Manhattan-- has changed, and a lot is rebounding.  Where is it today?

                                                 

DIANE SWONK:

You know, actually, it's come back quite strong.  And part of it was a commitment to be there.  But, you know, it was-- what's interesting is how well it's done in the wake of how many financial sector jobs were lost in that area.  I mean in one week's time, between September 14th and September 21st, 2008, Wall Street, as we knew it, disappeared.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

                                                 

DIANE SWONK:

There was a major change.  Yet, downtown Manhattan is still doing okay.  Now some of that we can debate why.  But they are coming back.  But I do want to make a point about, we talk about all the politics here.  And we've had conversations in between the breaks about how many solutions are being done locally, and how the economy is being helped at the local level by community colleges, by state colleges, that are training people to get the kind of jobs that they actually have job offers for out there.  And I think that's where you have to have hope.  You never give up.  I never grew up in this economy.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

                                                 

DIANE SWONK:

And I'm a survivor of The World Trade Center.  So that's a little emotional for me to see that.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Absolutely.

                                                 

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE:

Wow.

                                                 

DIANE SWONK:

But you never, ever give up.  And I still have hope.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Great.  W going to leave it there.  Thank you all very much.

                                                 

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE:

Thank you.

                                                 

DAVID GREGORY:

Terrific conversation.  That is all for today.  We'll be back next week.  If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

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