MR. DAVID GREGORY: This morning, we’ll discuss the president’s efforts to define his opponent for voters. Again, the hot topic is Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital. Is his private sector experience his greatest strength or now a political weakness? The conflicting reports about exactly when Romney left the company. The campaigns traded attacks about whether he was there when the firm began to outsource jobs, and whether Romney was dishonest about his tenure?
More from TODAY.com
'Sopranos' stars James Gandolfini dies at 51
According to HBO, the actor was vacationing in Rome and died of a possible heart attack.
- Blake's favorite 'Voice' moment? Meeting Cher
- Guinea pig fans go extreme: $22,000 outfit, 'pignics'
- Miley Cyrus talks alcohol vs. marijuana dangers
- Say it ain't so! Cap'N Crunch not really a captain?
- 'Sopranos' stars James Gandolfini dies at 51
MR. MITT ROMNEY: I think the kinds of attacks are beneath the dignity of the presidency. I think the president needs to rein in his campaign and start talking about the real issues people care about which relate to our economy.
GREGORY: A new pretty negative turn in the campaign. So can Romney clear the air about his Bain record? And will he provide more information about his personal finances and investment accounts? And in the end, is this what voters really care about? With us senior adviser to the Romney campaign, Ed Gillespie. Then, the tax fight for the fall. Will rates go up? And for whom? The president sets up a fight over the middle class.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The fate of the tax cut for the wealthiest Americans will be decided by the outcome of the next election. My oppo-- opponent will fight to keep them in place, I will like to end them.
GREGORY: A debate here this morning with two key senators: Assistant Democratic Leader Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Assistant Republican Leader Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona.
And our political roundtable later with insights and analysis, including the veepstakes for Mister Romney. With us, Republican strategist Mike Murphy; President of the NAACP, Ben Jealous; anti-tax activist Grover Norquist; Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward; and Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen.
Also this morning, a few minutes with Bob Costas of NBC Sports, on the Penn State sex abuse scandal after this week’s devastating report about who knew what, and when?
Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
GREGORY: Good morning.
Well, you knew it was going to get nasty and here we are in this presidential fight. Really the choice is by the fall, is this going to be a campaign that turns on the Obama economy or Mitt Romney’s business record? A week ago we were talking about a bad jobs report for the president. This week, because of the Obama team going on the offensive, it’s all about Romney’s Bain record. And the president is staying with it, on a campaign trail yesterday in Virginia.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (Glen Allen, VA, Yesterday): You know, he invested in companies that have been called pioneers of outsourcing. I don’t want a pioneer in outsourcing. I want some insourcing.
GREGORY: To respond now, senior adviser with the Romney campaign, Ed Gillespie. Ed, good to have you back.
ED GILLESPIE (Senior Adviser, Romney 2012 Campaign/Former Chair, Republican National Committee): Thanks for having me, David.
GREGORY: So this period of time that matters, 1999 to 2001, and the question of Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain, is really what’s been at issue? An issue that’s been made by the Obama campaign. The Huffington Post described the issue this way, the headline, “Romney’s signature appears on Bain SEC filings during time he said he left Bain. Between ‘99 and 2001, Mitt Romney, then CEO of Bain Capital, signed at least six documents that the private equity firm filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.” Can you understand the confusion here about when he was at Bain and when he wasn’t?
MR. GILLESPIE: Yeah. And the fact is, he took a leave of absence from Bain to go and run the Olympics in Salt Lake City. If you remember at the time, the International Olympic Committee was going to pull the Olympics from the United States which would have been a huge embarrassment for our country. There was corruption. It was poorly run. It was in chaos. And they needed someone of Mitt Romney’s stature and leadership ability to come in and save it. So he took a leave of absence from Bain and left a life that he loved to help a country that he loves more, to save the Olympics. And he was not responsible for day-to-day decisions, did not participate in day-to-day decisions or the management of the company at that time. He was on a leave. So, as former SEC chairman Harvey Pitt was quoted in the-- in the story about this, it is standard, though, to, while you’re on leave, to sign those documents for the SEC. He was still CEO and had shares, but he wasn’t responsible for management. And that’s the, you know, that’s the bottom line.
GREGORY: Well, he was still financially linked to Bain. And, of course, a lot of his fortune is due to his time at Bain. Even when he was on leave, does he stand by business decisions that were made by the firm he created?
MR. GILLESPIE: He-- he actually retired retroactively at that point, David, because he-- he ended up not going back to the firm after his time in-- in Salt Lake City. So he was actually retired from Bain. But, look, Bain is a good company. It’s been very successful. It’s helped to create a lot of jobs. And the fact is private sector experience is a beneficial thing, would be beneficial in the-- in the White House…
MR. GILLESPIE: …and the-- you know, the Obama campaign and the president….
GREGORY: But, so he-- he stands beside-- behind decisions the company has made…
MR. GILLESPIE: I don’t-- I don’t what decision…
GREGORY: …about call centers or about orts-- outsourcing which in the lot of circles is considered good business.
MR. GILLESPIE: Well, in-- in terms of stands by them, I don’t know what you mean. They weren’t his decisions. He-- he wasn’t there at the time that those decisions were made. Bain is a good company. And, in fact, as you know, a lot of Democrats, Obama, you know folks take a lot of money from Bain because they think it’s a good company. It’s only when they’re distorting Mitt Romney’s record, for example, saying as has been proven inaccurate by The Washington Post and independent fact checkers this notion that while he was at Bain Capital, Governor Romney, you know, shut down American jobs and moved them overseas. It’s patently false. It’s a lie. And it’s-- it’s sad to see the Obama campaign reduced to this kind of, you know, these kinds of reckless, baseless charges.
GREGORY: Does Mitt Romney believe that outsourcing is a legitimate decision for companies to make, to make them stronger companies more efficient companies?
MR. GILLESPIE: David, you know, what’s-- what Mitt Romney believes is that we need a plan to make America more prosperous and for people to invest in the United States.
GREGORY: I understand that but this is a particular business practice.
MR. GILLESPIE: No. But-- but it is-- but it’s-- it’s linked to particular federal policies. And what we see now is the highest corporate tax rate in the world in the United States of America. That has taken place under President Obama’s leadership. Excessive regulations. The threat of punitive taxes that are-- that are…
GREGORY: I understand all that.
MR. GILLESPIE: …making it more difficult for…
GREGORY: But I’m asking a different kind of question. I mean, you know, outsourcing is a tough political topic. But if you are a business man there’s a real need for outsourcing jobs. What the President was talking about there is taking a politically…
MR. GILLESPIE: Because of our policies.
GREGORY: …charged issue…
MR. GILLESPIE: Because of our policies, David.
GREGORY: Right. But-- that’s what I’m saying that…
MR. GILLESPIE: Yeah.
GREGORY: …Mitt Romney is somebody who’s-- who is in the private sector who understands it. So would-- would he not stand by the practice of outsourcing?
MR. GILLESPIE: What-- what he believes is that American companies and, you know, private shareholders and CEOs should be free in our economy to make decision. What we need to do as a policy is to make policies that make those decisions easier to say, "I’m going to invest here in the United States. I’m not going to move my jobs overseas." The Obama policies are forcing jobs overseas, and not only by the way, in terms of making private investors look for investment overseas as opposed to the United States, but in taking American tax dollars and the stimulus package and putting it into companies and jobs, creating jobs in China and Finland and Mexico and Denmark. The-- the President is the outsourcer-in-chief with our taxpayers’ dollars.
GREGORY: All right. So just one more try at this. Does he believe that outsourcing is a legitimate business practice?
MR. GILLESPIE: What he believes…
GREGORY: In the creation of a healthy economy?
MR. GILLESPIE: We-- we can do it a fourth time if you’d like.
MR. GILLESPIE: What he believes is that American companies should be free, when you have a free economy, to make decisions that are in the interest of their shareholders. And what we need to do is make those decisions more attractive to investors here in the United States, rather than make them more attractive to go overseas which is what the Obama policies do.
GREGORY: But clearly he’s sensitive about the outsourcing issue because it’s a politically-charged issue. In that same vein, does he have a problem as somebody who ran the Olympics before with Olympic uniforms not being made in America, being manufactured in China, Congress is taking this up now, it seems to be a bipartisan sense of outrage. Where is Mitt Romney on this?
MR. GILLESPIE: He believes that, you know, we shouldn’t politicize the Olympics. Believes that, you know, we should stand by our athletes and make sure that they have the best experience possible. I know that the Olympics get politicized. But as…
GREGORY: Is it okay for uniforms to be made in China? Is this just a…
MR. GILLESPIE: What I understand is that the-- it was an American company that-- that subcontracted. I understand…
GREGORY: Ralph Lauren. But does he have a problem with that?
MR. GILLESPIE: I-- I don’t know what his response to that was. I didn’t see his-- if he was asked about it or not.
GREGORY: He says no comment. But as somebody who ran the Olympics does he not have a comment on whether uniforms should be made here?
MR. GILLESPIE: I-- I think what he said was that, you know, we shouldn’t politicize the Olympics and that, you know, this is an American company that-- that contracted out. And the fact is, again, we need to make investment here in the United States more attractive, and-- and make manufacturing in the United States more attractive. The underlying policies that make it more attractive to subcontract out to China are what is at the root of the problem here and the root of that problem is President Obama’s not being tough enough on China and their currency manipulation, which-- which Governor Romney has said he will on-- on day one begin to address in a serious manner.
GREGORY: Let me talk about tax returns…
MR. GILLESPIE: Yeah.
GREGORY: …and the issue of releasing tax returns. We compiled a list of former presidents, and the average of the tax returns they released over years, you can go from President Obama, McCain, Kerry, Bush, a lot more than the two years that Mitt Romney is proposing to release. Why not be more of an open book and release more tax returns, as his father did, as previous presidential candidates have done?
MR. GILLESPIE: Well, as you know, the standard of-- of releasing fully two years of returns, which goes above what the law requires, was a standard that Senator John McCain had adhered to as the Republican nominee in the last presidential campaign. This is standard Senator Kerry adhered to as the Democratic nominee in the-- in the election before that. And-- and the fact is, that Governor Romney is putting-- has put out already 2010 and will put out 2011 before this election. So, you know, very transparent. It’s ironic coming from a-- a White House that has proven itself to be not transparent in its policies, and-- and be worth asking them for example why they’re hiding behind claims of executive privilege and-- and that kind of thing.
GREGORY: Well, right, that’s-- that’s a separate issue. I won’t get into that today. Back in 1994 his own standard when he was running against Ted Kennedy was the following: Here was the headline from the Boston Globe, "Romney chides Kennedy on taxes. Mitt Romney yesterday challenged Kennedy to disclose his state and federal taxes to prove he has nothing to hide. Romney said he would disclose his own state and federal taxes for the last three years on the very day that Kennedy turns over his taxes for public scrutiny." So this is hardly new to-- to Mister Romney to make taxes an issue. He did it against Kennedy and even when he was running for the senate he was willing to release three years, but now he’s running for presidency, he says two and nothing more.
MR. GILLESPIE: Well, again, it’s the standard for the last Republican nominee, the last democratic nominee. And-- and the real issue here, David, is what are we going to do to make it where more Americans are filing their income taxes because they have a job? You know, under this President their household income has gone down 4,300 dollars since he took office. We have a record 41st month of unemployment rates above eight percent under this President as a result of his policies. Five hundred thousand, more than 500,000 fewer Americans are working today, and millions have left the workforce, in fact 23 million Americans are either unemployed or underemployed or have left the workforce entirely. That’s what the voters are focused on.
And I understand the desire of the Obama campaign to try to shift attention away from his dismal record in office because they can’t run on their record. And as he said in his own speech in accepting the democratic nomination in Denver, you know, when you can’t run on your record you try to make campaigns about little things and they hold up these shiny objects and frankly we spent a lot of time on shows like these talking about that instead of the fact that, for example, if you’re a middle class worker in today’s economy you’re facing layoffs. If you’re a campaign donor to Barack Obama you’re getting payoffs. And that’s the nature of this economy where he is trying to, you know, he makes it harder for people-- middle-class workers to get and keep jobs and makes it easier for his campaign donors to get government subsidies.
GREGORY: I’m going to leave it there. Ed Gillespie, thank you very much.
MR. GILLESPIE: Thank you.
GREGORY: For your being here. Coming up, we’re going to get some response from a key Obama ally in the senate, Senator Dick Durbin. He will respond to Mister Gillespie here. Plus the future of the Bush era tax cuts, that’s a big debate as well for the fall. Also joining me the assistant Republican leader in the Senator Jon Kyl. Durbin and Kyl will square off here. We’ll also get their thoughts on this Olympic-style outrage in Washington over the uniforms being made in China. A little bit later on, Bob Costas will be here to talk about the Penn State scandal and the fallout from this week’s Freeh report. It’s all coming up.
GREGORY: Coming up here--your taxes depend on your vote in November, so your rates going to go up or not. Joining this-- me this morning for a special debate on the future of those Bush era tax cuts. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and Republican Senator Jon Kyl. They are up next after this brief commercial break.
GREGORY: Back now with Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona and Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. And Senator Durbin, let me start with you. I want to pick up on this fight in the campaign this week over Bain. This is the spokeswoman for the Obama campaign, Stephanie Cutter, bringing the charge against Mitt Romney over these signatures on these SEC documents, after he said he left Bain. Listen to this.
MS. STEPHANIE CUTTER (Obama Campaign Conference Call; Thursday): Either Mitt Romney, through his own words, and his own signature, was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony, or he was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his-- his investments. And if that’s the case, if he was lying to the American people, then that’s a real character and trust issue that the American people need to take very seriously.
GREGORY: Senator, politics is a rough sport. Was that over the top? Was that inappropriate?
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL/Assistant Democratic Leader): I can tell you the documents that were filed with the SEC, with the signature of Mitt Romney, are completely confusing. They claim that for three years he was the sole shareholder, sole director, CEO and president of Bain Capital, and he said he was gone from the scene. But we need to get down to the bottom line here, David. Why is Mitt Romney running away from his company, Bain Capital, like a scalded cat? Because there is abundant evidence that under Bain Capital, they were exporting American jobs to low-wage countries, and he doesn’t want to be associated with it. There's a way for him to clear…
GREGORY: But to suggest that he was-- to suggest that he committed a felony is not over the top, even by campaign standards?
SEN. DURBIN: I can tell you, the standards for false filings for the SEC are a matter of fact. But here is the bottom line. Mitt Romney can clear the air this afternoon on this whole issue by making a more complete disclosure of economic information. Right now, he has failed to disclose information which every candidate of both political parties running for president has made over the last thirty-six years. And I might say to my colleague, Senator Kyl, if we have one year’s income tax, even two year’s income tax from Mitt Romney that fails to meet the minimum requirement that Republican Senators insisted for every Obama nominee for the cabinet that they had to produce, so it’s a double standard.
GREGORY: All right, we’ll get to taxes in a minute. But Senator Kyl, weigh in on this Bain issue. You heard Ed Gillespie here saying that he was effectively-- though, he was on a leave of absence to run the Olympics, what do you think of your-- your colleague’s thoughts on this?
SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ/Assistant Republican Leader): Well, I think Ed Gillespie is right. If you look at the fact checkers, I look at The Washington Post. They say Obama is blowing smoke. They give him three Pinocchios. In other words, he-- he is fibbing. He’s misrepresenting the facts about Bain Capital. I think the important point that people are missing here is the final point that Ed Gillespie made. And that is that the reason that businesses find that they have to find employees in other states or even sometimes in other countries to do their work is that this administration is making it so hard to do business in the United States, and be competitive that they’ve got to do that.
GREGORY: But let-- but-- but let’s be real about this. Companies began to outsource well before Barack Obama became President of the United States.
SEN. KYL: That’s… that’s very true.
GREGORY: Do you consider it a legitimate business practice that should not be politicized?
SEN. KYL: When-- let’s-- let’s look at the symptom versus the cause. The symptom of the problem is outsourcing. The cause is when the government taxes businesses too much, when it regulates businesses too much, and when it creates too much uncertainty as with things like Obamacare. The outsourcing is accelerated because of those things. And speaking of the Olympics, it’s a-- a little bit like the president saying all right, I want to get out there and compete you runners and beat all the other countries, but in the meantime, wear this big anchor around your neck, which is the taxes and the regulation, as-- as Gillespie pointed out. We have the highest tax rate of all of the industrialized countries. That makes us very uncompetitive.
GREGORY: Are you speaking about the Olympics? Are you concerned about our athletes wearing uniforms that were made in China?
SEN. KYL: Again, I go back to-- let’s don’t politicize the Olympics. Let’s look at why an American business felt it had to buy those products because they were cheaper than the ones he could make here. It’s because of government policies here that make it more expensive to do business in the United States.
GREGORY: So you’re okay with-- with Ralph Lauren doing with the…
SEN. KYL: I’m-- I’m not going to politicize it. I want to talk about the issue. The underlying issue is why do we make it so hard for American businesses to compete that they have to buy things from abroad?
GREGORY: Senator, go ahead.
SEN. DURBIN: David, let me tell you, what-- the bottom line is this. The outsourcing of jobs by Bain Capital to low-wage countries is an embarrassment to Mitt Romney and he’s trying to distance himself from his own company that made millions of dollars for him. I would say to Senator Kyl, I hope that this week the Senate Republicans will join the Democrats in supporting the measure that Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio will offer that eliminates the incentive, the tax incentive, that we have to outsource jobs and rewards American companies for bringing jobs back to America. It would be great to see the Republicans join us in a bipartisan effort to create a tax incentive to bring jobs home. Instead, they’re making excuses. Now, I have to say that Mister Gillespie and my friend, Jon Kyl, have failed to answer your question. Outsourcing, unfortunately, costs good American jobs. We need a president focusing on creating jobs in America, not a former governor whose company specialized in exporting jobs overseas.
SEN. KYL: And I-- I-- I do agree we need a president that’s focused on creating jobs in America. And you don’t do that by increasing taxes on the very people…
GREGORY: All right. Well let’s talk…
SEN. KYL: …to create jobs.
GREGORY: I want-- I want to talk about taxes because what-- what the Senate Democrats would like to do, what the president would like to do is extend the Bush tax cuts for those making less than $200,000, or $250,000, as a family and then taxes would go up on people above that. Back in 2010, when this issue first came up, this is what President Obama said back then. Watch.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (January 29, 2010): I am just listening to the consensus among people who know the economy best. And what they will say is that if you either increase taxes or significantly lowered spending when the economy remains somewhat fragile, that that would have a de-stimulative effect and potentially you’d see a lot of folks losing business, more folks potentially losing jobs. That would be a mistake when the economy has not fully taken off.
GREGORY: Well, that was 2010, Senator Durbin. If it was a bad idea to raise taxes when-- in a down economy then, why is it a good idea to raise taxes in a down economy now?
SEN. DURBIN: I think the president has drawn the line in the proper way. He believes, and I agree, that the top two percent of wage earners in America should pay their fair share. That’s what this comes down to. And if we extend the Bush tax cuts, as Senator Kyl and others have called for, it will add $800 billion to our deficit…
GREGORY: But Senator, he wasn’t willing to do that two years ago.
SEN. DURBIN: …which means it we’ll be forced to…
GREGORY: He wasn’t willing to do that two years ago because he was concerned about the economy.
SEN. DURBIN: He was concerned and still is. We have seen 28 straight months of job creation in the private sector. We want to continue it, and build on it. And we believe that asking the top two percent of wage earners in America to pay their fair share of taxes is not going to kill the economy. Instead, it’s going to make sure we move toward reduction of our deficit. The Republicans have failed to explain even one of them how we can continue to give tax cuts to the wealthiest people in our country, and realistically, honestly reduce the deficit. We can’t.
GREGORY: Senator Kyl?
SEN. KYL: We’re not talking about giving tax cuts to anyone. All we’re asking is don’t raise taxes on all Americans. And especially don’t raise taxes on the people who create the business. When you say that the high-income earners, the top 20 percent pay 90 percent of the taxes, what should they pay? 99 percent? These are the people who have enough money to invest in businesses and to create jobs. And the problem with the tax cut-- or tax increase that the president is proposing is that it falls directly on those job creators. 53 percent of the income raised would come from those businesses. And they employ 25 percent of all of the people that are working in the United States.
GREGORY: Do you think that the campaign will settle this tax issue one way or the other?
SEN. KYL: I’m-- I suspect-- I-- I-- I hope it will and I hope…
GREGORY: So, by that, I mean if President Obama is re-elected, do you think that Republicans will accept a reality where they say, you know what, if we’re going to deal with the debt, we’re going to have to have a balanced approach, some taxes are going to have to go up if spending is going to come down, if entitlements are going to be reformed?
SEN. KYL: Well I’m-- I’m believing that Republicans, first of all, are gain-- will gain control of the Senate. That means that both the House and the Senate will reject these kinds of job-killing tax increases that the president’s proposing. I think that will make it more difficult for the President to propose what he is doing now, and go back to where he was a year and a half ago when he said it would be a blow to the economy to increase taxes on anyone. He was right then, and then we had a three percent GDP growth. Now we’re under two percent.
GREGORY: Senator Durbin, before you go this morning, I want to ask you about your colleague in the House, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., a lot of mystery about what his condition is. What is going on with him and will he return?
SEN. DURBIN: I don’t have any inside information here. I called Reverend Jackson, his father, this week, and said that our prayers are with his son’s family. We want him to get well and get home soon. I think my colleague, Senator Kirk, has set the right standard by talking about his rehabilitation and the progress he’s making. I hope very, very soon that Congressman Jackson can tell us what he’s facing. I think the people of Illinois and this country are going to embrace anything he’s doing to put himself back in a good, strong position to return to his family and to Congress.
GREGORY: Do you-- do you-- but do you suspect that his political career is over or not?
SEN. DURBIN: Oh, no, I wouldn’t say that at all. I don’t know what his specific challenge is. But let me tell you, members of Congress in both parties, men and women, go through a lot of trials, physical and mental trials…
SEN. DURBIN: …and they emerge from them stronger. American people and the peoples of Illinois will stand behind a congressman who is facing his challenges head-on and they’ll support him.
GREGORY: Senator Durbin, Senator Kyle, thank you both very much.
SEN. KYLE: Thank you.
GREGORY: Coming up here we’ll get some insight from our political roundtable as they get into this issue of defining Mitt Romney’s business background. We’ll talk about the politics with our roundtable coming up here next.
GREGORY: We’re back now with our political roundtable. Joining me the Associate Editor of The Washington Post, Bob Woodward; Republican Strategist and Columnist for Time Magazine, Mike Murphy. Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen; President of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist; and President and CEO of the NAACP, Ben Jealous. Welcome to all of you. So much to discuss, but let’s talk about the battle over Bain, that has become the issue, and Mike Murphy and Hilary Rosen, here are the dueling ads. This is what the Obama team put out first on this outsourcing issue, and then how Romney responded. We’ll play a little bit of each.
(Videotape; campaign ad; 2002)
MAN: Running for governor, Mitt Romney campaigned as a job creator.
MITT ROMNEY: I know how jobs are created.
MAN: But as a corporate raider, he shipped jobs to China and Mexico. As Governor, he did the same thing, outsourcing state jobs to India.
(Videotape, Mitt Romney campaign ad)
MAN: The Obama outsourcing attacks--misleading, unfair, and untrue. There was no evidence that Mitt Romney shipped jobs overseas. Candidate Obama lied about Hillary Clinton.
HILLARY CLINTON: So shame on you, Barack Obama.
MAN: But America expects more from a president. Obama’s dishonest campaign, another reason America has lost confidence in Barack Obama.
GREGORY: Okay. Strategists, how is this playing, Mike?
MR. MIKE MURPHY (Columnist; Time Magazine; Republican Strategist): Well, it’s the Obama game plan, which is to use television money in the summer to just try to ruin Mitt Romney so there’s no debate on economic performance, but I think what both campaigns are going to want in a few weeks when they both knocked each other silly with these more or less trivial issues. I mean, if you don’t like outsourcing, you’ve got to fire the President and the entire Congress. It’s been going on for a long time. It’s the global economy. Hopefully one campaign will understand if they move to some bigger ideas going forward, not this small ball stuff, the cynicism from the Obama campaign, this lack of a plan in-- in terms of an exciting economic plan from Romney. That will be the advantage position to get to in the election.
GREGORY: Hillary, how do you see the plan?
MS. HILARY ROSEN (Democratic Strategist): You know, I think we’re losing some context here because the context, of course, is that Mitt Romney actually didn’t have a very good job creation record as Governor of Massachusetts and is running around the country saying I’m going to be a great job creating president because I’ve have all this business experience. Well, we know from Hober-- Herbert Hoover that b-- business experience doesn’t necessarily mean a great economy. So, we have to look at his record, but Mitt Romney doesn’t want us to look at his job creating record and that’s exactly what’s going on. So, no wonder the American people are confused. When you look at the president’s ads, he’s actually talking about those periods of time when now Mitt Romney is saying he wasn’t even involved in Bain, and so what’s really the truth? Mitt Romney can clear this up. Dick Durbin was exactly right this morning--all Mitt Romney has to do is come forward with all the truth…
MS. ROSEN: …and we’ll be able to move past this issue.
GREGORY: But the reality is that in politics everything gets politicized in all these decisions. And Bob Woodward, the idea of when he was at Bain, when he left Bain is perhaps less material than whether, you know, somebody who was in private equity will or will not stand behind some of, you know, decisions that are made in the global economy including outsourcing as much as it gets uncomfortable in political campaign.
BOB WOODARD (Associate Editor, The Washington Post): Well, Mike Murphy is right. I mean, if-- you would have to fire everyone in the Congress, and all CEOs because outsourcing is a reality, I think Glenn Kessler, The Fact Checker of The Washington Post has done the excavation here and demonstrated pretty conclusively that Romney didn’t have his fingerprints on this particular period, and people who were relying on SEC documents know the value of SEC documents. I mean, they are often camouflages for what’s really going on. So that-- that’s not really the issue. I think the issue here is about all this money, personal money, that Romney has, that we don’t really know what the trustee is doing and I mean that’s a couple of hundred billion-- million dollars, I am sorry, only…
GREGORY: He is wealthy, but not that wealthy.
MR. WOODARD: And that’s a lot of money. People who worked hard to get their money, love their money, and if he’s going to be President of the United States, we’re going to really have to have full transparency on that.
GREGORY: Well, Grover, you know, you heard this week, Mitt Romney say, look if you’re explaining something like this, you’re actually losing. Would he do better to say, look, I am very wealthy, it is complex, there are a lot of investments. Have a look at all of this and now we can get back to-- to talking about jobs?
MR. GROVER NORQUIST (President, Americans for Tax Reform): Well, President Obama is attacking him on this sort of thing. Even The Washington Post says it’s a dishonest attack, so why is Obama doing it? Obama is doing it because he doesn’t want to talk about having the lousiest recovery since World War II. People are leaving the job market rather than moving into it. You know, Reagan’s recovery had about seven-eight million more people getting jobs at this point than 37 months into the recovery. This is the lousiest recovery, worse than Ford’s, worse than all of the recoveries we’ve ever had. If you’re Obama, any conversation, let’s talk about tax returns, let’s talk about Bain, please let’s not talk about-- look if you’re a successful president and you run for reelection, you talk about what you did. You talk about morning in America. You invite people to talk about your record. Obama’s doing this, please do something other than look at what Obama has done for four years.
GREGORY: Well-- and Ben Jealous, look, Politico last year-- Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith wrote in August of 2011--what the Obama plan would be: Destroy Romney. And this is part of what they wrote from their reporting. “The second aspect of the campaign to define Romney is his record as CEO of Bain, a firm that was responsible for both creating and eliminating jobs. Obama officials intend to frame Romney as the very picture of greed in the great recession, a sort of political Gordon Gekko.” In other words, you know, both things can be true. You can excavate his record at Bain and you can also be distracting from a slow economy that you’re presiding over.
MR. BEN JEALOUS (President and CEO, NAACP): You know, what we need to get back to actually talking about is how did we get out of The Great Depression? And what can we learn from that to get out of where we are right now. And we’re kind of boxed in, I think as a country. I mean, it’s-- you know, this-- right now, this president should be pushing forward further about talking about job creation. And quite frankly, Romney should be forced to talk about what is one, two, three as actually creating jobs. He’s not talking about it. He came to our folks this week and said look, we all are suffering from 14.4 percent joblessness or 14.2 percent I’m better but then he wouldn’t go further and say this is how. This is what I’ll do. That’s what folks want to hear from both of these guys.
GREGORY: Right and that…
MS. ROSEN: And--
GREGORY: …that is an important point. What-- what-- is he a man with a plan and what is the plan?
MS. ROSEN: Well, and that’s the problem. Right now the plan that we’ve seen from Mitt Romney is just mostly significant tax cuts for the wealthy. President Obama actually has put forth multiple plans that the Republican Congress has blocked. So, the only thing we have now is a choice. This conversation may not be what everybody wants, but we do have a choice between these two candidates. And when you look at something like what Mitt Romney has done, hiding his taxes, there’s-- you-- you know, if every American hid their money and invested it in overseas tax havens, where would this economy be? You know…
GREGORY: Well, but…
MR. MURPHY: Well--
MS. ROSEN: Mike, what-- as-- when Mitt Romney does his vice presidential search or is he only going to look at two years of vice presidential candidates taxes? Is that what you would recommend he do?
MR. MURPHY: Well, honestly I’m not in the trivia business. I’m in the how do you take away the economic pain that Americans are under right now bus-- business. And I-- I agree with you, we’ve got to get a bigger campaign with bigger ideas. The sad thing is that the Obama campaign is so bankrupt on economic policy, they’ve been reduced to running this thing like it’s a local congressional race, which is just ruin the character of your opponent with negative television ads. They set the record for negative TV spending four years ago. They’re going for the gold this time. I think the country is going to reject it. You can’t run a biography anymore. That’s Mitt’s weakness because the ads destroy biography. So it’s going to come down to a jump ball of who’s got the better forward plan in the economy. I’ll take Romney in that fight. But I think sooner it starts the better.
MR. NORQUIST: But just one fact check. Hilary said the President has these economic plans that the Republican Congress has rejected. The House of Representatives for two years has been run by Republicans. The Democrats run the Senate. It was the Democrats in the Senate who voted unanimously against Obama’s own budget. So the idea that somehow he has these great ideas the Republicans are stopping, his budget is so lousy, the Democrats in the House and the Democrats in the Senate voted it down. The president said “Please, Republican House and Senate, pass my tax bill.” It was Reid who…
MS. ROSEN: Well…
MR. NORQUIST: …stopped the vote from taking place.
MR. JEALOUS: But that mean-- that mean…
MS. ROSEN: That-- that-- that’s not…
MR. NORQUIST: Well, the Democrats are rejecting…
MS. ROSEN: …that’s not exactly true.
MR. NORQUIST: His entire budget has been voted down by-- down by every Democrat quick-- pretending the Republicans are upset by that.
MR. JEALOUS: You can go back to…
MR. NORQUIST: The Democrats…
MR. JEALOUS: …(Unintelligible) 400 bills blocked by Senate rules. You know, we-- we’ve got to get beyond this coward’s filibuster in the Senate and actually be able to-- to bring real bills to the floor up--
MR. NORQUIST: Reid…
MR. JEALOUS: …and down.
MR. NORQUIST: …Reid was the one who didn’t…
MS. ROSEN: Democrats oppose...
MR. NORQUIST: …allow the budget.
MS. ROSEN: Grover, Democrats oppose because what this requires is leadership and people willing to make tough votes. When the House Republicans refused to make the tough votes, the Democrats in the Senate said, wait a minute, why-- why are we falling on our sword here? That’s exactly what President Obama said for every dollar in new revenue…
MR. ROSEN: …he has proposed.
MR. MURPHY: But everything has…
MS. ROSEN: …he’s proposed four dollars in spending cuts.
MR. MURPHY: Everything is…
MS. ROSEN: The Republicans have not.
MR. MURPHY: …frozen in an election year in Congress.
MR. NORQUIST: Right.
MR. MURPHY: It becomes a circus. Only the presidential campaign is going to lead the country and get a mandate to do something. So the responsibility is on them. It’s on the President of the United States, it’s on Mitt Romney to do better than what we've got right now with this small ball.
GREGORY: There is a sense, Bob, as I talk to people that it is true that-- that the trivial is becoming so big that we’re losing sight of some sort of balanced approach on taxes and spending, immigration reform, infrastructure for the country. Big things. That it takes to get the country moving again. Are we going to get back to it?
MR. WOODWARD: Exactly. And listen to this partisan…
MR. WOODWARD: …squabbling. I mean, it-- it’s sincere but it’s all about look what they didn’t do. Oh, look what the Democrats didn’t do. Look what the Republicans didn’t and it’s true, where is the plan, the one, two, three in a credible way from one side or the other. And-- and I think the…
MR. NORQUIST: But it-- it’s there. The Republicans in the House have passed 24 jobs creating bills and a budget. The Democrats in the Senate have not passed those bills and they haven’t done a budget. They’re not coequally--
MR. NORQUIST: …wrong on this. But one group is actually governing and Reid is not having the votes.
GREGORY: All right. But it’s fair to say what we have is-- we have his profound ideological and philosophical differences that make…
MR. NORQUIST: Correct.
GREGORY: …Washington basically totally dysfunctional. Ben, well let me ask you this to be a little counterintuitive here, is the issue even as a Democrat for Mitt Romney that he needs a better counterpunch? I mean, let’s get back into the actual, you know, blocking and tackling of campaigning. Is that what this week proves? Because the Obama team is going to be very aggressive. They learned from Bush ’04. They’re going to run that hardcore, you know, contrast election and make it a choice.
MR. JEALOUS: You know, when he came to our convention this week, what we were actually looking for is that Jack Kemp speech. You know, somebody to actually say look, I have looked at the problems. And I just don’t agree with you on the problems, here are some solutions I can agree on. This is how we’re going to deal with the credit crunch facing small businesses. This is how we’re going to actually break open contracting and make it possible for small businesses to create jobs. You can do all this as a Republican. You can do all this as a Bain Capital guy, but you got to bring some specifics, you got to talk one, two, three, and you got to make, you know, the 99 percent actually feel like you think about their problems and have real solutions that will help fix them.
MR. MURPHY: Well, I think the practical political problem it has. I mean, you could have been frozen in ice in the North Pole five years ago and they thaw you out, what-- what do you think Romney’s stances are? Well, he’s got to do Bain?
MR. MURPHY: It’s not like this wasn’t coming. And I have been surprised that the campaign seems to have been sloppy and defensive. They don’t seem to have their Bain act together. I think they ought to go on offense. What did Romney do? People don’t understand Bain. They-- they understand the demagogic attacks on television. They don’t know that he managed pension funds, college endowments. He was paid to be successful investing money for people who really cared about that money because it paid for scholarships, universities, firemen’s pensions, whatever it might be. They’ve got to get in and-- and have this Bain fight out in a non-defensive way…
MS. ROSEN: And…
MR. MURPHY: …and then we can move on to other things because it is jammed up right now and they’ve got to break through it.
MS. ROSEN: And-- and along that same sort of less partisan squabbling line. The president has to get back to the inspiration and give-- tell us why he-- what he’s going to be doing for the next four years outside of the echo chamber of the choice…
GREGORY: All right.
MS. ROSEN: …this will be a choice, but he-- it does require him to work harder against this partisan bickering and trying to be more forward thinking.
GREGORY: I want to get a-- I want to get a break-in, Bob. I want to come back and talk more about what the responsibilities and the, kind of, the demands are on President Obama, and his comments about that. We’ll be back with our roundtable. We’re also going to talk about their top summer reads, as well, which we thought you’d find interesting a little bit later. Bob Costas on the Penn State scandal as well. We’ll come back right after this.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (Thursday; CBS This Morning): The mistake of my first term-- couple of years was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that’s important. But, you know, the-- the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity, and purpose, and optimism especially during tough times.
GREGORY: Bob Woodward, how's he doing on that score?
MR. WOODWARD: Well, I mean, it-- it’s mixed. And we don’t know. We-- we really-- there has not been this in-depth evaluation of his performance on the economy. And that’s something that is going to come out, and I-- I think it’s-- it’s really what the campaign is-- is going to turn on. Where he says if we get-- it’s not only to get the policy right, unfortunately he and the Republicans in Congress, they have not come up with a plan ever in the last three and a half years to get the policy right.
MR. WOODWARD: In fact, they haven’t de-- defined the policy. In fact, what they’ve done is, as everyone says, kicked the can, but it’s a very large can they are kicking down the road
GREGORY: Well, Robert Gibbs had a great line, former press secretary, said, “I’ve never been to a meeting where somebody says we have a policy problem. It’s always, we have a communications problem.” And that’s effectively what the president is saying. Is that all-- is that-- is that legitimate?
MR. MURPHY: I-- you know, I think if you look at the polling, the country wants to fire him on economic manage-- mismanagement. The problem is they’re not sure about Romney yet. He’s going to have to do a lot better than that to fix this problem.
GREGORY: Grover Norquist, I have to ask you in this tax debate, whether you sense in any way, shape or form that your pledge to raise-- not raise any taxes, period, is going to hold even if President Obama wins the election?
MR. NORQUIST: Yeah, and the good news is that it held in 2011 with tremendous pressure from Obama and all the spending interests in Washington, DC. that wanted to raise taxes to spend more and the pledge, which 236 Republicans in the House have made to the American people, not as Senator Reid sometimes says to me, but to the American people, and 40 Republicans in the Senate have done the same thing that Romney has.
And the commitment is we’re not going to raise taxes. What does that mean? Means we’re going to have to reform government, make all the decision that Obama hasn’t made to reduce the cost and-- and scope of government and reform government so that it works. The pledge is what allows you to get reform in government like the Ryan plan. It worked in 2011. The argument that there wasn't agreement is wrong. There wasn’t an agreement that raised taxes the way Obama wanted. That’s what they’re unhappy about.
GREGORY: I wanted to talk about something for those who are not obsessing about the campaign as we are, every minute of the day, and find out what folks are reading around this table. I’m going to start for my summer reads. And it is Bob Caro’s book on-- on Lyndon Johnson, "The Passage of Power." I got so fired up about the president’s biography as well. Just last week I was in Independence, Missouri, at the Truman Library where they are marketing a particular pitch here for bipartisan consensus. They’d like to see a new presidential ticket in the fall, Eisenhower and Truman in 2012. And what’s so interesting about that, their up and down relationship, they got pretty nasty over personal matters and also politics. And I-- I was reminded this week, they did not reconcile until President Kennedy’s funeral, after he was assassinated, which was so interesting. Mike what are you reading?
MR. MURPHY: Well, in-- in fiction I’ve got the new Alan Furst novel, "Mission to Paris." He writes these elegantly written, atmospheric novels set in Paris on the eve of World War II. They’re just fabulous sets of series, new one out. And "A Man and His Ship" which is the story of William Francis Gibbs, the greatest American naval architect of all time who had a lifelong dream, he was a genius, to build the greatest ocean liner in America. And he did it with the SS United States.
GREGORY: Wow. Hilary?
MS. HILARY: "Passage to Power" reminds you of the days when politicians loved politics, not just the policy. And I love-- I’m reading that, too. Also, you know, rereading one of my favorite writers, and my friend in her honor Nora Ephron’s, one of her best essays, “I Feel Bad About My Neck.” And then finally a really painful but important book by Jeanette Winterson about her growing up as an adopted child.
GREGORY: Well, fancy pants, three books. Go ahead Bob.
MR. WOODWARD: A very serious history of World War II called "The Admirals" that my young daughter gave to me for Father’s Day about the great admirals of World War II: Leahy and King and Nimitz and Halsey and the-- the shared culture at the Naval Academy. And then how these are the five-star admirals in World War II who won the war at sea. Then second, I’ve read the manuscript of Jack Nelson...
MR. WOODWARD: ...one of the old great reporters here in Washington, called "Scoop."
GREGORY: Interesting. Ben?
MR. JEALOUS: Yeah, I’m really focused on two right now. One is Christopher John Farley’s great book on Bob Ma-- Marley, and really about his early life and what we don’t know about him. And then the other is Hogeland’s book about the nine weeks leading up to the Declaration of-- of Freedom from the U.K., and King George, and a reminder that the Tea Party wasn’t the great far right-wing fest that people think it is now.
GREGORY: Interesting. Grover?
MR. NORQUIST: Well, for work, Scott Rasmussen, the pollsters book, "The People’s Money," good polling that on taxes…
MR. NORQUIST: …and spending. For fun, I’m rereading Steven Saylor’s collection of books, some series Roma Sub Rosa, murder mysteries placed in Caesar to Augustus’ Rome where you have a-- well, it goes through real history and real murders and real situations in ancient Rome and he puts a murder mystery in the middle of it and solves it. But every night, I read there’s a monster at end of this book because I have a three- and four-year-old, and so that-- that I read the same thing every night.
GREGORY: That’s it-- right, that’s important.
All right. Thank you all. By the way, you can go on our website and see all of these selections as well as some staff picks as well. Because you’ve got to be thinking about the book club during the summer when folks are taking some time off.
All right, before we go here, I want to switch gears for a couple of minutes and talk about the fallout from the Penn State scandal this week with the Louis Freeh report. Joining me now from London, NBC’s lead prime-time anchor of the Olympics, Bob Costas. We can get to your reading too, Bob, but I wanted to start on the very serious matter of-- of the fallout from-- from Penn State. And I want to show something…
MR. BOB COSTAS (NBC Sports): Mm-Hm.
GREGORY: …to our viewers, you may not be able to see, but it was a-- a cartoon that was out this week in an Alabama newspaper by J.D. Crowe and the Press-Register, a college student looking up at that statue of Joe Paterno saying, “Say it ain’t so, Joe Pa.”
MR. COSTAS: Mm-Hm.
GREGORY: The-- the-- the tragedy of Joe Paterno as revealed by this report brings-- bring-- brought home in what way to you this week?
MR. COSTAS: Well, I think when the dynamics of the Sandusky situation first began to emerge the most benign interpretation might have been for somebody to quote Edmund Burke about Joe Paterno and to say that all that’s necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. And it appeared for a while that maybe that’s what happened, either that Paterno didn’t fully grasp the severity of the situation. He was somehow oblivious. He was guilty of neglect. Unfortunately, for Paterno’s legacy, the Freeh report makes clear that in some sense he was complicit that in some sense he was among those who enabled Sandusky, not only to get away with what he had already done, but to continue to victimize other children. So this does irreparable damage to Joe Paterno’s legacy. Does it invalidate every good and worthy thing he did besides winning football games and he did many good and worthy things besides winning football games? No, it does not invalidate those things, but it may overwhelm them.
GREGORY: And, Bob, we talked this week what’s all the more tragic is what gave Paterno all the power that he had…
MR. COSTAS: Mm-Hm.
GREGORY: …was doing different things than a lot of programs were doing around the country.
MR. COSTAS: Yeah. Yeah, if this had happened some place else, where it’s seemingly win at all cost, and rogue coaches who jump from job to job for money and recruiting violations and all that sort of thing, it would have been just a-- as tragic for the children who were victims. But it would not have had the same kind of resonance as the Penn State situation does. Because, as you said, Joe Paterno’s power derived not just from victories, but because of what he himself called the grand experiment, that somehow you could win without NCAA violations and he never had any. His players graduated at an admirable rate. Even professors at Penn State who were skeptical of football factory-type environment conceded that those kids went to class. They, by and large, didn’t take gut classes. They, by and large, were recruited for the right reasons. But eventually, over time, he built up such power that there was no oversight. Think of it this way. If a sociology professor were accused or suspected of the type of actions that Jerry Sandusky was at first just suspected of, and if the heads of the university were about to move against that sociology professor, and the head of the sociology department said, you know, I don’t think so. I don’t think you should report this to child protective services, I think the compassionate thing to do would be to just talk to this sociology professor, and then ease him out. Would he have that kind of influence?
MR. COSTAS: Would he be able to obscure good judgment that way? I don’t think so.
GREGORY: The question is, to me, all week has been how does this happen in a big institution? This is much bigger than a sporty story. How do you get to a point in a big institution where you fail the most basic moral test, which is protecting innocence, and in this case, children in your midst, who…
MR. COSTAS: Mm-Hm.
GREGORY: …who didn’t have any business being on a college campus under these circumstances in the first place. How much pain do you think Penn State should feel as a sports matter, as a sports program, should it be made an example of? How do you see this playing out?
MR. COSTAS: Well, I think now in the aftermath of the Freeh report that the powers that be at present at Penn State ought to have the good grace to suspend their football program for at least a year, perhaps more, without the NCAA stepping in. But if they don’t, it’s a pretty good bet that the NCAA will step in, and render its version of the death penalty, which is to suspend the football program for at least a year, possibly longer than that. And some people will say, well, wait a minute. That’s not fair to the players involved. There’s always collateral damage when justice is meted out. If a team is suspended from participating, let’s say, in the NCAA basketball tournament, that’s not fair to the kid at the end of the bench who’s a good student and had nothing to do with it. But that’s what happens. So if that happens, then you can fairly say to members of the present Penn State football team, you are free to transfer anywhere you want.
MR. COSTAS: You don’t have to sit out a year, or your scholarship is extended beyond this if-- you’ve to wait two more years, you still have that eligibility to fall back on.
MR. COSTAS: And all the members of the staff have to be paid by Penn State. You can mitigate the damage that way. But if they play football come September at Penn State, something’s wrong.
GREGORY: All right. Bob Costas, thank you so much for being here. We’ll, of course, see a lot more of you as our-- you head up our Olympic coverage in just a couple of weeks. Thanks, Bob. And…
MR. COSTAS: Thanks, David.
GREGORY: …before we go here, a quick programming note. You can watch my Press Pass conversation with actress Sigourney Weaver. She plays the secretary of state in a new series that debuts tonight on USA Network called Political Animals. That’s up on our website, meetthepressnbc.com. A lot to check out on our website this morning.
That is all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.