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Video: Immigration, economy issues heat up

updated 6/17/2012 12:08:33 PM ET 2012-06-17T16:08:33

DAVID GREGORY:

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And good morning.  The big political story this morning, the big economic story is not happening here in the U.S.; it's happening in Greece.  Voting is moving forward there, will happen throughout the day and results later.  Certainly important to political economy and, therefore, to the presidential race here at home.  Joining me this morning, the president's senior advisor, David Plouffe.  Happy Father's Day.

DAVID PLOUFFE:

To you as well, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

Thank you.  And good to have you here.  So here is the question, with Greece in mind.  What's more important to the result of this presidential campaign, what happens in Greece or what happens in Ohio?

DAVID PLOUFFE:

Well, ultimately Ohio has 18 electoral votes.  Obviously Europe, as the president has spoken to, we're facing some headwinds in the economy.  This isn't the first year we've faced headwinds from Europe.  There's obviously a meeting of the G-20 in Mexico over the next couple days.  And I think they'll make some progress there.

Obviously the European leaders are going to get together at the end of June.  And we believe firmly that this is in the Europeans' capacity to stabilize the situation.  We have some experience with this.  We did some hard and tough things during our recession and our financial crisis.

So obviously we need Europe as a source of obviously a lot of our exports.  It's affected the global economy.  And I think for the health of our middle class and the health of our economy, we need that situation to stabilize.

DAVID GREGORY:

Europe is a big player in the fall campaign?

DAVID PLOUFFE:

Well, obviously what happens in Europe can affect our economy.  Now, obviously this is the Europeans' situation.  They only have the capacity to solve it.  We're giving advice.  We've been through a tough situation.  And obviously there's talk of things like banking unions and deposit insurance, things that would provide a little bit more stability and security.  And we're hopeful that they'll continue to make progress on that.

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me come back to the economy in just a minute.  I want to go to the other big story, and that's immigration and what the president announced on Friday to try to provide a path, work waivers initially and maybe a path towards citizenship, for the children of illegal immigrants.  Look, you don't have to be a cynic to say this is all about politics here, just months before an election.

DAVID PLOUFFE:

It wasn't about politics.  First of all, this was a decision made by the Homeland Security Department, allowed them the discretion to focus our enforcement on criminals, people who pose danger to communities.  That's really where the law enforcement focus should be.

You've got these young people here, through no fault of their own, many of them came here early, who are studying in our schools, working in our businesses, want to serve our military.  And we tried to pass the Dream Act, which would give them relief.  Congress has refused that.  Now, this is not a permanent fix, David.  This is for a two-year period, folks can come in and apply to get work authorization.  Those cases will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.  But ultimately, we need Congress to act here.  And we would sign the Dream Act tomorrow, the next day, the day after that.

DAVID GREGORY:

But Republicans say this is an end run around Congress.  Senator McCain will be here in just a couple of moments.  Says it was a power grab by this president.  Will this decision stand?

DAVID PLOUFFE:

Yes, we are absolutely confident.  Our attorneys, the Homeland Security attorneys, this is well within our boundaries to do.  But, again, Congress hasn't acted.  You know, whether it's the economy, you saw Republican members of Congress openly this week in some articles saying they're not going to do anything on the economy before the election because they want to help Romney.  It's a remarkable thing.

But this is just, again, the Department of Homeland Security.  This is an enforcement decision.  And so we need a permanent solution.  We are a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.  The president has often said those things don't need to be in conflict.  And the only pathway here, now, Senator McCain should get some credit because he, unlike a lot of members of his party currently, has tried to accomplish something with immigration reform.

And ultimately, I think we're going to get that done.  But in the meantime, Congress hasn't acted.  So if they want to do something about this, they ought to pass the Dream Act right away.

DAVID GREGORY:

This president has dramatically increased the number of deportations, getting illegal immigrants back on of the country.  He has not, as he hoped to do and promised to do, passed comprehensive immigration reform.  Why do you believe this president has an advantage over Mitt Romney when it comes to Latino voters?

DAVID PLOUFFE:

Well, obviously deportation is up.  We're doing a terrific job on the border.  We've provided more resources down there.  We really need to be focused on deporting criminals and those that have records.  80% increase, by the way, in deportation of criminals.  And that's where the focus needs to be, not on kids who are just trying to earn a piece of the American dream.

Listen, I think when it comes to Latino voters, huge supporters of healthcare reform.  Mitt Romney, if he's elected president, said he'd get rid of healthcare reform.  Huge supporters of student loans.  Mitt Romney would decimate student loans.

You know, this president has cut taxes religiously and frequently for small businesses.  And I think there's a lot of entrepreneurs in the Latino community.  Listen, we're going to have to fight for everybody.  This is going to be an exceedingly close election.  But there's no doubt that our strength of Latino voters can help in states like Nevada, Colorado, and Florida.

DAVID GREGORY:

And you told the New Yorker this week in a Ryan Linzer (PH) piece, if we win, the Latino voters will play a big role in that.  I mean, your view is that Mitt Romney can't compete among Hispanics.

DAVID PLOUFFE:

Listen, he's going to try and compete everywhere, as will we.  This is going to be a very, very close election.  But I think it's good.  Listen, let's just talk about immigration for a minute.  Mitt Romney said he would veto the Dream Act if he is elected president.  Veto it.

uring the Republican primaries, in debate after debate, he talked about how he would just send the 11 million people home.  So if you're looking for immigration reform, comprehensive reform, Mitt Romney has been clear.  He's not going to be a solution here.  So I think the Latino community, like every voter, very focused on the economy.  Who's going to be better on the middle class?  That's a speech the president gave in Ohio this week, which is there is a choice in this election economically.  And that's what we need to focus on because rarely have we seen the differences so profound on the economy.

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, and on the economy, we come back to that.  Basically, the strategy is, if the president wins, taxes have to go up.  And you feel like you'll have the leverage, taxes on upper earners in the country will go up.  And that's really a take-it-or-leave-it deal that you'll present to Republicans.  Fair?

DAVID PLOUFFE:

Well, this president has cut taxes for the average middle-class family $3,600.  He would sign a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts for the middle class any time Congress passes it.  But this is a big difference.  The Republican philosophy, Mitt Romney's philosophy, the congressional Republican philosophy, is the same policies that led to the Great Recession in the first place.

DAVID GREGORY:

But my question, though, let's get back to my question, which is what you'll say is, if the president wins, taxes for wealthy Americans have to go up.  That's going to be the basis for any grand bargain on the budget deficit.  Taxes have to go up.

DAVID PLOUFFE:

Yes.  Here's the recipe for deficit reduction package.  It's obviously revenue.  Now, tax reform means the president is lowering the corporate tax rate.  We're interested in getting rid of a lot of loopholes and lowering rates if we can.  But, yes, the wealthiest Americans will have to pay a little bit more, do their fair share, along with spending cuts, along with entitlement reform.

Whether it's Simpson-Bowles, Domenici-Rivlin, any independent economist that says what's the recipe for a long-term fiscal package, it's, at its core, balance and fairness.  And that's been the barrier.  The reason we weren't able to get a big deal last year, the so-called grand bargain, was the insistence on Republicans to, at all costs, and by the way, it's not just on the deficit.

What is their single economic idea?  It's to cut taxes for people like Mitt Romney and somehow hope that trickles down to the middle class.  It didn't work then, and it's not going to work now.

DAVID GREGORY:

Let's talk about what worked then and what's not working now.  Mitt Romney says this is purely a referendum on the president's record, three and a half years in office, and where is the economy?  Now, Bill Clinton, the former president, who has been a surrogate for this president, sometimes off message but a surrogate nonetheless.  Back in 2010, during the midterm race, he was campaigning.  And this is how he framed the choice for voters back then.

(VIDEO NOT TRANSCRIBED)

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, the election is here.  Things have not changed.  Why shouldn't people take former President Clinton's advice and say it hasn't worked after one term; we should choose an alternative.

DAVID PLOUFFE:

Well, David, first of all, let's remember where we were.  We were on the verge of a Great Depression, caused by the same policies, by the way, that Governor Romney and the Republicans in Congress want to go back to.  We've stabilized.  We've had private sector job growth now for 26 straight months.

The president's the first person to say the economy's not as strong as any of us would like to do.  But every election is a choice.  Mitt Romney, when he was governor of Massachusetts had the worst economic record in the country, number one in debt, 47th in job creation.  So he's tried it there and it didn't work.

We saw what happened in the last decade.  Fallen incomes, lagging job growth, exploding deficits.  Mitt Romney and his congressional allies, by the way, Mitt Romney's appearing with Speaker Boehner today in Ohio, which is fitting, because ultimately he's going to pick a vice-president to run with, candidate.  But ultimately, his running mate from a policy perspective is the congressional Republican agenda.

He's adopted it hook, line, and sinker.  You want to go back to the policies where we exploded our debt, middle class falls farther and farther behind, the only answer is tax cuts for the wealthy paid for by working Americans, short changes things like education?  We need to focus.  David, this is going to be a close election.  That's not going to change between now and November.  So what we need to focus on, the politics of it aren't going to change.  It's going to be a very close election.  But let's focus on the choice and the contrast --

DAVID GREGORY:

-but Mitt Romney says focus on the record.  I mean, the reality is you talk about how bad the problems were.  This president knew that.  And that's why he chose to pass a nearly trillion dollar stimulus.  That's why he passed financial reform.  That's why you passed a healthcare law which was about our economic security.  So you did some very big things that have not really sparked recovery.  So why isn't that part of the record which should really be analyzed?

DAVID PLOUFFE:

Well, we are recovering slowly.  Everybody who lived through financial crises understands how long.  President Clinton has spoken very powerfully about this.  It takes a long time to recover from a financial crisis.  We are beginning to make progress.  We obviously have to expedite that.  And we have to stay on the right path.

Governor Romney can talk all he wants about our record.  We're happy to have that debate.  But it's equally important to say Mitt Romney is not just a safe alternative, where you wave a magic wand and say, "Oh, he becomes president and all of a sudden we are going to have the economy we all hope."  He's been very clear.  His economic policies have failed in the past.  They'll fail now.  They're not centered on the middle class.  They're going to put us further in debt.

Moody's economists this week just said the Romney economic plan would cause more harm in the short term and slow down the recovery.  So his recipe is not going to work.  So this president is committed to making sure we continue to recover from the recession but do more than that, to rebuild more security for the middle class, which is the defining challenge of our time.

DAVID GREGORY:

You talk about Democrats right now.  A tough couple of weeks for the campaign, including a mistake the president made about talking about the private sector doing fine.  Here are some of the headlines that no doubt you see come across your desk, concerns among Democrats, a feeling that major donors feel that he could actually lose.  Jim Carville worried about Obama's message on the economy.  Are you dealing with a sense of panic among Democrats?

DAVID PLOUFFE:

No.  Listen, I think what we need to do is embrace the fact that this is going to be a close election.  It's going to come down to a few votes per precinct in a few states.  And what we need to focus on like a laser beam is fight as hard as we know how with every fiber of our being to win this election because this country cannot afford.

President Clinton actually said it would be calamitous for the country if Mitt Romney is elected president.  So the stakes here are enormous.  The choices are profound.  And what Democrats need to do and anybody who supports this, Independents and Republicans out there, is work like heck to win this election.  That's where we need our energy focused.  Not on kind of some of the hand wringing that sometimes occurs in our party.

DAVID GREGORY:

Latinos decide the race.  Can we infer that based on the attention that the president is giving to immigration, something he could actually do with this order on Friday?

DAVID PLOUFFE:

Listen, you can't say that one voting group or even one state, it's too premature to say that.  This is going to be a close election.  Listen, we're running a grass-roots campaign.  We believe in registering voters, turning them out, neighbors talking to neighbors.  Our campaign is building I think the best grass-roots operation you've ever seen to win a close race.

But, again, this is going to come down to a few states.  We think we've got a lot of strength in Latino voters and women voters.  But we're going to have to fight for every vote.

DAVID GREGORY:

Before you go, do you think and does the president believe a special council will be necessary to deal with all of these leak questions that have come out?

DAVID PLOUFFE:

No.  The attorney general appointed two United States attorneys, including a Bush appointee, to look at this with great thoroughness and investigate this completely.  And we think that's a smart move.  And obviously the president said he has zero tolerance for leaks.  And hopefully the investigation will get to the bottom of it.

DAVID GREGORY:

These are not authorized leaks about his national security drone strategy?

DAVID PLOUFFE:

Of course not.  And, listen, we don't need to leak to tell the story of this president on foreign policy.  Ending the Iraq War, a plan to end the Afghanistan War, unlike our opponent who doesn't want a timeline, decimating the al-Qaeda leadership, including Bin Laden.  This president committed to the American people that he would do certain things in foreign policy, and he's delivered on each and every one of them.

DAVID GREGORY:

David Plouffe, thank you very much.

DAVID PLOUFFE:

Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

As always.  We'll take a break here.  When we come back, more of the debate this week.  Immigration policy, our next guest called it a power grab by President Obama.  Also, how does Mitt Romney run against the president?  The man who ran against Obama in 2008, Senator John McCain joins me next.  Later on, David Maraniss, author of a new biography on President Obama, it's out this week.  He joins our roundtable for his first interview about the book.  We're back after this break.

DAVID GREGORY:

We're back.  Joining me now, Senator John McCain of Arizona.  Senator, welcome back.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:

Thanks for having me back.

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, you just heard the president's top advisor say this immigration decision was not about politics; it was about enforcement.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:

Well, something that may disturb people after the initial euphoria is over about this is that the president of the United States is now dictating that certain laws will not be enforced.  That is a rather serious step.  It's one thing to say you're not going to challenge a law in court or something like that, but I don't recall a time when any president has basically said we're not going to enforce a law that's on the books.

DAVID GREGORY:

Will the decision stand, in your judgment?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:

Well, it would have to be challenged in court.

DAVID GREGORY:

What about legislatively?  Will you try to do anything?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:

I don't think that that is the agenda that we have.  But, also, the fact is that Marco Rubio and others have been working on a Dream Act.  If the president were really serious, maybe he would call him and some of us who have been involved in this issue.

I remind you that, in 2008, the president committed to comprehensive immigrant reform.  He had overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress.  Nothing was done.  No proposal was made.  I was asked.

DAVID GREGORY:

But you've been for comprehensive immigration reform for a long time.  You worked with Ted Kennedy.  You worked with President Bush.  I mean, the Republican Party moved to the right on that issue and made that impossible.  You can't lay that on President Obama, can you?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:

I can if you have 60 votes in the United States Senate and an overwhelming majority in the House for the first two years of your presidency, no matter what the position of the Republican Party was.  So I think that this is obviously a way to divert attention from very bad news the president has had for the last three or four weeks.  I think that's very clear.

What I would like to see is Marco Rubio and others are coming up, both Democrats and Republicans, with a Dream Act that I think we could negotiate on.  Everyone has sympathy for the plight of these young people.

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, let's talk about what the Dream Act is.  Senator Rubio says that if you're the child of illegal immigrants, and this was, by the way, a proposal the Democrats had as well the president supported.  If you go to school, if you join the military, you could get on a path to citizenship.  Now, Mitt Romney has said he would veto that law.  And back in January, in the Fox News debate, January 16th, this was his position on the Dream Act.  I'll show it to you.

DAVID GREGORY:

That's not your view.  Do you wish that Mitt Romney would change his view about the Dream Act and immigration, generally?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:

Mitt Romney has said recently and in as short a time ago as this morning that he's willing to address this issue.  But he and a lot of us would like to see this addressed in comprehensive immigration reform because we need guest workers both in the high tech sector and the farming community.  We need to address those remaining ten million people who are here illegally, not just the children of people who are brought here illegally.

This is one aspect of a need for comprehensive immigration reform.  And I'd like to remind you that when Ted Kennedy and I had comprehensive immigration reform, it was a Senator Obama amendment that was one of the factors, there were many, that was one of the factors that killed comprehensive immigration reform.  And the issue was on the guest worker program.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.  But you can't deny it was the conservatives in the Republican Party that made a Republican president who championed this issue unable to get this done.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:

I think the major factor was probably on the right, but it was also on the left.  Those Democrats controlled by the labor unions who said that they did not want and fought against a guest worker program, which we felt was obviously something vitally important.

DAVID GREGORY:

You think Mitt Romney is wrong on the Dream Act?  He hasn't supported it.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:

He said, again, this morning and he has said previously, he is certainly willing to address that issue and also immigration reform in a comprehensive fashion as well.  He is willing to do that and is ready to do that.  He understands the plight of these young people.

All of us are very concerned about that aspect of this issue.  But I would also point out I don't think Mitt Romney, as president of the United States, would say we're not going to enforce existing laws.  That's the first time I've ever heard of a president doing that.  That may have happened, but certainly not in this fashion.

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me talk a little bit about the economy and some of the attacks that are being leveled by Mitt Romney against President Obama.  And it looks to be very similar to what Obama did against you in 2008.  So back in 2008, one of the most memorable lines, you said the fundamentals of the economy is strong.  The Obama teams pounced on that.  This is the ad they put out, you might recall.

DAVID GREGORY:

The idea here, which you thought was unfair and out of context, is that you didn't get the economy, that you were out of touch.  Well, now fast forward, the president says that the private sector is doing fine.  And here the Romney team pounces.  This is the ad.

DAVID GREGORY:

It's basically the same ad.  So I imagine that you would say to Mitt Romney, "Hey, that's an unfair knock against President Obama," just as you thought it was an unfair knock against you.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:

Of course not.  At the time, the stock market had just fallen 700 points.  Americans were frightened.  I wanted to reassure the American people that the fundamentals of our economy are strong.  It's still the best system in the world.  That's why we have Steve Jobs and Apple and Facebook and all of those things.  And I still believe that.

Now, what President Obama just said was that the private sector is doing fine.  The private sector is not doing fine.  And there's more to this than just that comment.  It's his overall view.  And he went on, in that same statement, to talk about how we need to hire more government workers, that the key to our economy is to expand the bureaucracies of government.  That's a fundamental difference between him and Mitt Romney and the reason why Mitt Romney is going to be elected because Mitt Romney believes that businesses create jobs.

Let me give you a small example.  We have a trillion and a half dollars sitting overseas, okay?  A trillion and a half dollars, double the stimulus package.  All we have to do is bring that money home.  These companies that are holding that money promise to invest and hire.  And we could have a stimulus to our economy.  Why is it that the Obama administration won't bring that money home?  It's because they want to tax them.  The highest corporate tax rate in the world is in the United States of America.  This is a kind of no-brainer stuff that, because of his view of government, that keeps us from doing these things.

DAVID GREGORY:

But there is another similarity when it comes to how to deal with and how to evaluate Mitt Romney's business record at Bain but also his experience of being governor of Massachusetts.  This has been the subject of an attack by President Obama against Mitt Romney because Mitt Romney says, "Look, I understand how to create jobs.  I was in the private sector."  When those ideas were put to a test, when he was the governor of Massachusetts, a candidate back in 2008 interpreted those results this way.

DAVID GREGORY:

Now, again, your campaign against Mitt Romney of 2008 is long over.  But the substance of your critique is what the president is critiquing Romney for today.  You don't see any problem with that, do you?  It's accurate?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:

Look, this is the height of a very tough primary campaign that Mitt and I were in.  Time after time after time, which we don't show, I showed my respect and appreciation for the fact that he was a successful Republican governor working with Democrat legislature.  The fact is that Bain, yes, thousands were laid off.  But also many more thousands were hired.

It was a tough campaign.  And you say things in campaigns that obviously are to help you.  But I can tell you this, that Mitt Romney's view of what this economy needs to be done and what needs to be done to cure this economy and the record of what President Obama has tried to do is vastly different.

DAVID GREGORY:

But you stick --

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:

When you look at the stimulus, when you look at Dodd-Frank, do you believe that any banking, financial institution isn't too big to fail today?  Do you believe that Obama Care isn't opposed by some 60-some percent of --

DAVID GREGORY:

But, senator, you don't disavow your critiques of the business credentials of Mitt Romney?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:

My critique of the business credentials of Mitt Romney are that he had successes and maybe had failures.  And that's, unfortunately the downside of the free enterprise capitalist system.  But overall, his record I think will stand and speak for itself.

DAVID GREGORY:

I want to ask you a couple of matters about foreign affairs, including something that's political as well.  Sheldon Adelson, the casino owner, is pledging vast sums to the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney.  New report this morning saying he may contribute as much as $100 million.  Are you concerned he will have undue influence on this election and undue influence on Mitt Romney?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:

Well, I'm not only worried about him.  I'm worried about many others.  And I've always been concerned about the labor unions who take money from their union members and, without their permission, contribute to causes that they may not support.  So am I concerned about the incredible amount of money that's washing around?  Yes.

I was concerned also when President Obama, when he was a candidate, said he would take matching funds and then didn't and then out raised me obviously by a great deal.  I'm concerned that the president continues to go around to all of these fundraisers when he maybe he should be spending more time governing.

DAVID GREGORY:

But Sheldon Adelson makes money from a foreign casino as well.  You said this week it's tantamount to foreign money getting into the campaign.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:

I think there will be scandals as associated with the worst decision of the United States Supreme Court in the 21st century.  Uniformed, arrogant, naive.  I just wish one of them had run for county sheriff.  That's why we miss people like William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O'Connor, who had some experience with congressional and other races in the political arena.

DAVID GREGORY:

Do you think Adelson himself will have undue influence on Mitt Romney?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:

Not any more than other people who give lots of money, not any more than the trade unions, the labor unions have, not any more than the whole system is broken and is a wash.  I don't pick out Mr. Adelson any more than I pick out Mr. Trumpke (PH).  So the fact is that the system is broken.  I predict there will be scandals.  And I predict there will be reform again.

DAVID GREGORY:

Before you go, Syria is a deteriorating and violent situation.  The president will meet with Vladimir Putin.  It seems to be a frosty relationship over the issue of Syria.  What do you advocate at this point that you think is the most responsible course here to try to end the violence?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:

The most responsible course, first, is the president to stand up and speak for these people.  When is the last time the president of the United States spoke out and said these people deserve our moral support?  The second thing we need to do is make it a fair fight.  It's an unfair fight now.

Russian shipments are coming in.  Our secretary of state just argued that Russian helicopters are coming in to help Bashar al-Assad while we do nothing.  We sit on the sidelines.  It cries out for American leadership.  This president does not believe in American leadership and American exceptionalism.  And so we need to give them a sanctuary.  We need to give them equipment, working with other nations in the region.

DAVID GREGORY:

But you say he doesn't believe in American exceptionalism just because he won't send arms into what could become a bloody civil war?  That's what you want to get involved in?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:

No.  Everything that the president has displayed from the beginning of this presidency is that he does not --

DAVID GREGORY:

But you are not worried about the kind of civil war we've seen elsewhere in the Middle East by adding arms into a sectarian conflict --

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:

And you are not worried about a continued massacre and slaughter of innocent people, women being raped, children being tortured and killed?  You're not worried about that?  You should be.

DAVID GREGORY:

Leaders make decisions all the time about where to intervene and where not.  We're not intervening in Darfur and all those women are being raped and kids are being killed there, too.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:

Well, of course, that's an entirely different situation.  But we did go to Bosnia and we did go to Kosovo.  And this also, by the way, would be the greatest blow to Iran in the Middle East in 25 years.  So there is a strategic aspect of this as well.

Look, you can argue the case as long as you want.  But the fact is people are being killed and massacred and tortured and raped.  And it is an unfair fight.  They are being supplied by the Russians with Iranians on the ground.  And the fact that the United States of America is not helping these people and we can is shameful.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right.  We'll leave it there (UNINTEL) obviously.  Senator McCain, thank you very much.  Happy Father's Day to you as well--

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:

Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

--on a lighter note.  Coming up here, our political roundtable.  How the campaigns are waging the fight.  We're also going to size up the candidates' biographies and how their pasts have shaped who they are today.  Joining me, author of a new revealing biography on President Obama, David Maraniss; presidential historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin; Time magazine's Mark Halperin; former Congressman Harold Ford; and the Wall Street Journal's Kim Strassel.  Roundtable after this.

DAVID GREGORY:

We're back with the political roundtable and lots to get to.  Joining me, presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, senator political analyst for Time magazine Mark Halperin, author of the new biography Barack Obama:  The Story David Maraniss is here, editorial board member and columnist of the Wall Street Journal Kim Strassel, and former Democratic congressman from Tennessee Harold Ford, Jr.  All right, welcome to all of you.

Mark Halperin, what struck me about this week is that the whole campaign was really on display.  Thursday in Ohio, competing visions about the economy.  Who sparks recovery?  Who creates jobs and all the rest?  Friday, targeting the most important electoral group out there, that's the Latino vote, the president with this decision.  Of course, David Plouffe says nothing to do with politics of course.  How do you size it up, this week?

MARK HALPERIN:

Well, David Plouffe said two things that I think are definitely true that we all need to keep in mind as we strap in here for the home stretch.  One is no single group is going to decide this.  Yes, the Hispanic vote is really important, but there are lots of other groups that are important.

And the second thing is that the election is going to be really close.  Everybody in both parties believe that.  I think right now you can list the advantages the president has, advantages Governor Romney has.  I think what this week teased out is the one big advantage Governor Romney has right now.  He has one message.  It's going to be his message at his convention speech.  It will be his message in the debates.  It will be his message on the eve of the election.

The economy is not working.  Barack Obama is in over his head.  The president is still searching for a message.  We saw in his speech in Cleveland a restart, a reframing.  He's done that before.  I suspect he'll have to do it again.  He's not settled on what he wants to talk about, a second term or simply what's wrong with Mitt Romney.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.  And you heard from David Plouffe, Kim, a lot of about what's wrong with Mitt Romney but not a lot of ownership over the past three and a half years.

KIM STRASSEL:

Well, and that's the question of whether or not this speech is going to work because it was a reframing and an attempt to reset.  But the problem he fundamentally has is, if you look at that speech, 90% of it was about Mitt Romney.  It was the new way of attacking Mitt Romney.  It was all about how Republican ideals have brought this country to a terrible place and how Mitt Romney would continue it.

There was only about 10% that had to do with the president.  And what he fundamentally did was buckle down to some extent on what they've done for the past three years, saying, "I like my green jobs program.  I like my healthcare bill.  I want to continue with this idea of higher taxes."  And the problem for the president and his campaign and that no one is really happy with the last three and a half years.  And he didn't lay out anything new for the future.  And so he hasn't addressed that fundamental question, which is what Democrats are nervous about.  Is he looking ahead?

DAVID GREGORY:

Yes.  And, Harold, what they're also worried about is the news.  I mean, I've spoken to administration officials who say not only is there weak demand now, but as you get closer to the fiscal cliff coming at the end of the year, there's worry that businesses will pull back even further.  And then, of course, there's Greece in the news today and what's happening in Europe.

HAROLD FORD, JR.:

There's no doubt.  The president, to Kim's point and to Mark's point and a funny inflection point, he doesn't quite know what to say about the last four years other than things were really bad.  And for whatever reason, he's been reluctant to lay out where we go the next four years, which he has to do a much better job of.

This week, though, should give him some comfort.  I think Mark is right.  He's getting off to a good start, explaining what he wants to do with the economy and how it behaved differently and how markets would look differently if Romney's elected.  But he took control on the immigration issue.

I think he has to take control on two or three other issues.  He has to take control on tax reform I think before this election is up to demonstrate to Americans, particularly the markets, that the fiscal cliff, which obviously with Europe as a terrible backdrop and obviously today we all hope that things go well there in Greece.  When I say "well," that the austerity campaign wins out.

But he has to take control on tax reform, take control on (UNINTEL) reform, take control on innovation reform and demonstrate to the country here is where I will take us.  Otherwise, I'm not convinced the narrative we have now is a winning one.  I say now "we" being a Democrat.

DAVID GREGORY:

But it's interesting, David Maraniss, you write in your book about how loathe the president is to take big risks.  He may take them in the end, but he's still a very cautious person.  How does he approach this campaign through this lens of what you've learned about him?

DAVID MARANISS:

It's true.  When he was a community organizer in Chicago, his mentor there said that he kept trying to push him to confront and he wouldn't do it and he wouldn't take risks until the end when he'd take a big risk.  Now, obviously in his presidency, he's done that a few times with healthcare and with going after Bin Laden.

I think that the interesting thing about Obama in that regard is that he's never quite right at the Zeitgeist.  So people like roundtables like this are always right at the moment and Obama's not there.  He's somewhere else.  He's either before that or after that.

And he also has a tendency, I've seen, to learn and grow.  So he'll float around for a while, and he'll probably find that message.  Whether it's too late or not is--

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, that's interesting.  Somebody else who's not always right in the moment but is always hanging around with these guys in history is you, Doris.  So what do you make of, again, what I thought was so important about this week was this was not a distraction.  This was not noise.  This was very much what the campaign will be decided on, which are these two visions of what to do about the economy.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

And I think the person who wins will be who can tell the more compelling story about what caused the problem in the first people and what they're gonna do to solve it in the second place.  You know, the guy I'm hanging around with now, Theodore Roosevelt, in 1907 there was a financial panic.  It was pretty serious, pretty deep.  And the Wall Street guys and the conservatives were piling on him saying, "You caused it with your regulations."

He then gave this fiery speech where he said, "Well, first of all, if any individual actions caused it, Europe had a lot to do with it.  But it was you guys who were depositors in banks."  Banks own deposits.  They allowed them to speculate, failed as a result of it, and then there was an escalating failure.

"It was you guys who abused the power in the railroads and the oil company.  And I've saved you from that.  My regulations are making it better, and I'm going to double down on the regulations."  I think what the president has to do is say we're at a fork in the road.  He almost has, to use your words, "I am doubling down on what I did."  He didn't do enough on the stimulus.  He didn't do enough investing in the future.  The things he believes in, he has to say we need more of it.  And that's our future.

And he has to diagnose that what went wrong has gone wrong for 20 years, not just the last four years.  The middle class has been squeezed for a long time because of an unfair structure because of lack of investment.  And then you go forward with your diagnosis to the future.

DAVID GREGORY:

The problem is--

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

But you tell a story from beginning to middle to end.

DAVID GREGORY:

But part of that story, the Republican seems to have done a pretty good job saying, no, government's not really the answer, even if, on the substance, a lot of people believe that the government is the only one to really inject more into the economy at this stage.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

Well, and I think, again, this is a problem.  He presented this as two visions, okay?  But he doesn't want to talk about the past.  He doesn't necessarily want to lay out the future yet.  And then when you get down into the nitty-gritty of the campaign, what I found so fascinating about this Hispanic announcement is, when you step back, what his campaign's actually been doing is, rather than a grand, unified theme, they've been out there targeting these constituencies that put together part of the Obama coalition in 2008 and trying to energize them one by one, by throwing things out there to them.

So there's been the war on women.  You've had the president out touring campuses to talk about student loans.  You've had the gay marriage announcement, which was designed to build up the liberal base.  Now you have the Hispanic vote because they know they have a general weakness with the general population with some of these other groups like the white working class, with ex-urban voters.  And so they're going to have to get these votes out in big numbers.

DAVID GREGORY:

But to quote, Senator John McCain, Mark, I mean, you have to do some things to win elections.

MARK HALPERIN:

Well, Harold talked about the inflection point we're in now.  I think one thing you saw that in David Plouffe's presentation today.  They're hoping that they can take the three weeks of bad news into an opportunity to rev up their supporters, to have big donors start writing big checks to say here's a Republican writing a $10 million check.  Where are our $10 million super PAC checks?

To have Hispanics say, "Look, if this is the kind of immigration policy you want, this is your time to get revved up."  We'll see in the next few weeks, we've not had much national polling since the president's bad three weeks ended.  Let's see where they are.  There's a real argument to be made that the election can be decided not post Labor Day but in the next few weeks.

DAVID GREGORY:

I have author question, Harold, about the outreach to Hispanic voters.  What about Mitt Romney, from his point of view?  He's still straddling the line on the Dream Act.  He's not quite there.  He's worried about shifting positions again on immigration after he had to run so far to the right in the primary.

HAROLD FORD, JR.:

There's no doubt.  Campaigns, I hear what Kim is saying (UNINTEL).  Most campaigns are that way.  I mean, you find yourself at the beginning trying to shore up your base.  And this president has to shore up excitement and enflame excitement in those various groups, Hispanics, the gay community, now the communities that will rev up for him.

I think the president, as he talks about Romney, remember, campaigns that have been successful, presidential wins in the past, have taken the opponent on with his strength.  Romney's strength, he says, is the economy.  Obama's tried to talk about private equity.  I don't think that was the right thing to do.  I think you go after him and show where he wants to take the country.  If, indeed, Paul Ryan, I heard Plouffe saying this this morning, if the Paul Ryan plan is the blueprint for the budget for Mitt Romney, then the president has to explain what the Paul Ryan plan means for Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania.

Double down that way because I think if you double down with some of the regulations, Romney will point out, well, the healthcare stuff didn't work for you.  If you're the telecom industry, it won't work for you because since the 1920s you've had the same regulations.  If you're in the oil and gas industry, Governor Cuomo this week issuing permits for natural gas exploration.  They'll say, "He's doing it.  Why aren't you doing it, Mr. President?"

Lay out what Romney would do, how America will look differently and do it specifically.  But at the same time, I still believe Kim's right in half of what she's saying.  The president has to have a message about where he's going to take us the next four years.  And if you don't have that, I don't know how you convince people that you deserve four more years.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

I don't see why he hasn't got a message yet.  I mean, maybe it's not simple enough, it's not clear enough.  But he's talking about investing in education.  He's talking about investing in infrastructure.  That word is not a great word, "infrastructure."  He has to tell what it means to put these people on jobs that are not now working because the system isn't giving them those jobs.  He tried it, but he didn't do enough.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

He wants to do more.  He has to tell--

HAROLD FORD, JR.:

He has to capsulize--

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

Instead of bureaucrats that are getting more jobs, he has to talk about firemen, policemen, soldiers, teachers.  That's who our government is.

KIM STRASSEL:

Well, part of the problem is that all of this involves spending more money.

MALE VOICE:

Right, right.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

And then he needs--

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me get a break in here.  I want to come back and talk more about what has shaped these two candidates.  David Maraniss is here to talk about what shaped President Obama with his new book.  We'll talk a little about that when we come back with our roundtable after this.

DAVID GREGORY:

We're back with our roundtable.  We're talking about how both campaigns are waging the fight but also a little bit more about what drives these two men.  And David Maraniss, your book Barack Obama:  The Story is coming out this week.  And you, of course, have written about Bill Clinton, won the Pulitzer Prize for that biography.  And you write about the parallel between these two figures, two presidents in your book.

And I'll put a piece of it up on the screen.  You write, "When I wrote a biography of Clinton, one central theme that emerged from my study of his past was a repetitive cycle of loss and recovery.  Whenever Clinton was on top, one could see the seeds of his own undoing.  And whenever how is down, one could see that he would find a way to recover.  Again and again, this pattern in his life played out in his presidency.

"With Obama, a comparable recurring theme is his determination to avoid life's traps.  First, he escaped the trap of his unusual family biography with the challenges it presented in terms of stability and psychology.  Then the trap of geography being born and spending most of his childhood in Hawaii, along with four formative years on the other side of the world in Indonesia.  And finally the trap of race in America with its likelihood of rejection and cynicism."  What a compelling and interesting and different biography that he has.

DAVID MARANISS:

You know, the other interesting part comparing those two is that they both came out of dysfunction.  And Clinton got past that by just plowing forward.  You know, he would reinvent himself and forgive himself and the world every day and just keep going and not deal with the contradictions in his life.

That got him to the presidency, got him into trouble in the presidency, and then he figured out how to get out of it.  He was an ultimate survivor.  Barack Obama also comes out of dysfunction.  And he spent ten years of his life, from the time he got to Occidental College as a young man to the time he went up to Harvard Law School, ten years, really tried to figure himself out.

All of the contradictions of race and of not knowing his father, since it's Father's Day, all of those things, he tried to figure out very, emotionally, spiritually, racially, and he sort of did it.  And that helped get him, as an integrated personality, to the White House and got him in trouble there.  Because he figured, "If I can resolve all the contradiction of myself, why can't Congress?  Why can't this world?"  And he wasn't ready to deal in that transactional way which Clinton was so terrific at.

DAVID GREGORY:

That's very interesting.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

And I think one of the big differences, too, is that Clinton had a vulnerability to want to be liked.

DAVID MARANISS:

Oh, absolutely.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

And to be loved, which gives you a natural curse and a gift as a politician because you draw people towards you magnetically.  As you point out in the book, Obama is more a participant, an observer, of his own life.  He's standing outside.  Perhaps his mother, the anthropologist, perhaps losing that mother for long periods of time though she loved him, losing the father, he sees his life on the outside in.  Some of our great figures have been like that.  But you don't feel that same connection to them--

DAVID GREGORY:

--isn't it still interesting--

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

--like Clinton does.

DAVID GREGORY:

Harold, I mean, as a politician, you understand that need for that one-on-one combat or courting.  And it seems to me that presidents sort of represent something to a lot of people because, if you look at all the facts of your life, you could be scratching your head saying, "Wow, how did he become president?"  Right?

HAROLD FORD, JR.:

I'm sure my friend and previous guest is thinking that and maybe Mitt Romney will be thinking that after the election.  What he has shown, I mean, I couldn't agree more.  I think most great politicians come from a little dysfunction.  And people who are successful in life come from some of that.  I do hope that, to the point you're making about the back and forth and observing, and they're given a lot of advice, that team is, so I don't want to give them any more advice.

But I do hope he becomes a little bit more of a participant, challenge Congress to come back and vote on Simpson-Bowles.  Challenge Congress like he did on the oil and gas subsidies and like he's done on the Buffet tax.  Challenge Congress to come back and fill in the things which he wants to do the next four years.  He has to be a participant that way.

DAVID GREGORY:

Mark, one of the things that's interesting, we talk about competing personalities.  And you also have Mitt Romney, that Time magazine cover about raising Romney and how much he learned from both of his parents.  How unique is this?  Both parents sought high office and they failed.  And what did he learn from those mistakes?

MARK HALPERIN:

You know, it's strange, as you say, it's unusual to have both your parents.  But I know he doesn't consider himself a politician.  He's one term in office in Massachusetts.  Thinks of himself as a business person.  For those of us who spend a lot of time thinking about how are the president and Mitt Romney similar, how are they different?  I think they're both pretty detached from politics.

They both like public policy.  They're both in politics for the right reason.  They don't think much about politics.  The thing I find most similar about them, they are the two least mercurial presidential candidates I've ever covered.  They are even tempered.  They rarely get mad at their staff.  They rarely get caught up in the daily media political freak show.

They're very focused on what they want to do.  And, again, I won't name names, but there are a lot of people who have run for president recently who get a lot more caught up on what's on cable TV, what's in the paper.  Those guys do not.  And I think it makes them a pretty even match up.

DAVID GREGORY:

David, quickly, you also have the specter of two fathers here in their lives that loom large.

DAVID MARANISS:

Completely different, although Romney's father goes to Mexico.  Obama's father in Kenya.  So (UNINTEL).  But Romney is the youngest member of his family, just adored and worshipped his father.  And Barack didn't know his dad, you know?  And it was probably lucky that he never lived with him.  And that's another lesson in my book.

DAVID GREGORY:

And there's a picture from a visit when Obama was in--

DAVID MARANISS:

The only time he really saw him, ten years old.

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