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Video: Fiscal cliff, foreign policy at forefront of agenda

updated 11/25/2012 2:25:22 PM ET 2012-11-25T19:25:22

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  This morning on MEET THE PRESS, our special Thanksgiving weekend state of the nation, as the president prepares for his second term in office.

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America’s influence abroad takes center stage as protests once again royal Egypt after its president seizes more power undermining the country’s democratic reform.  The turmoil follows a still fragile cease-fire in Gaza as the Middle East takes another volatile turn.

At home, White House critics press for more answers about what went wrong in Libya, whether officials were truthful with the public.

(Videotape)

MS. SUSAN RICE (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Wednesday):  I relied solely and squarely on the information provided to me by the intelligence community.  I made clear that the information was preliminary.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  My guests this morning weigh in, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat for Michigan Carl Levin.  And chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, New York Republican Peter King.  Then where does America stand on the verge of a second Obama term in office?  The economy, the fiscal cliff talks, the president’s priorities in the next four years.  Our roundtable is here.  David Brooks of the New York Times. MSNBC’s Reverend Al Sharpton.  Former CEO of Hewlett-Packard Carly Fiorina.  Historian and film-maker Ken Burns and NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell.  And we’ll hear from New York Congressman Gregory Meeks this morning.  As we check-in on some of the hardest-hit victims of Hurricane Sandy and see how they offered thanks this weekend while surrounded by destruction.

ANNOUNCER:  From NBC News in Washington, the world’s longest running television program, this is MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.

GREGORY:  Good Sunday morning.  President Obama doing his part for the economy over the weekend out holiday shopping as part of small business Saturday, picking up several children’s book at an independent bookstore in Arlington, Virginia.  We’ll talk more about the economy coming up.  Meanwhile, these pictures--uncertainty in the Middle East.  More clashes in Egypt over the weekend as police use tear gas this morning to disburse protesters in Cairo.  That’s a developing story and I want to start there.  We have New York Times columnist David Brooks and our own chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell.  Andrea, this is because President Morsi has seized power, a day after brokering a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, he is now consolidating power.  How worried is the administration about it?

MS. ANDREA MITCHELL (NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent):  Very worried, but they are very, very cautious because he is their new point of leverage really with Hamas.  He is the future, they thought, of trying to negotiate something and revive the Israeli-Palestinian talks.  And now suddenly he seizes power.  He was looking for this opportunity.  He is threatened by the judiciary and the other Mubarak forces who have, he believed, stopped the constitutional process and stymied that.  But for him to do this now, at his point of greatest authority, puts the administration in a bind.  And he-- it’s-- it’s unclear how this is going to resolve.

GREGORY:  And David brooks, there’s a larger strategic question.  There’s Egypt, there’s Gaza, there’s Syria, there’s Iran.  There’s a president’s second term, this got to be dominated by this region.

MR. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, New York Times):  I think so.  Listen, it’s the Middle East, so there’s good news and bad news.  The good news first is the Obama administration did an excellent job of supporting Israel through all this that made Israel feel moderate and had made the Arabs feel realistic.  The second piece of good news is that Egypt, even under the Muslim Brotherhood, saw an interest having stability across the Sinai.  That’s very important.  The bad news is the Islamists are still in control.  They’re in control in the Palestinian areas with Hamas and they’re certainly in control in Egypt.  And there’s going to be no peace as long as they are in control, and U.S. policy has got to be a long, gradual process of trying to build up the non-Islamists in the Arab world, including in Iran, across the region.

GREGORY:  That frames it.  Andrea, David we’ll hear more from you in our roundtable.  Let me turn now to the senior democratic Senator from Michigan Carl Levin, chairman of course of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate.  Senator, to Egypt, how concerned are you?  Is Morsi, a partner of the United States, or a problem?

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI, Chairman, Armed Services Committee):  Yes.

GREGORY:  He’s both?

SEN. LEVIN:  Some of both, right.

GREGORY:  Yeah.

SEN. LEVIN:  But I-- even though there’s great concern there, I think we have to be very cautious.  We don’t obviously want to see a democratically elected autocrat take the place of an undemocratically elected dictator, which was the case before that.  On the other hand, there’s some real pluses that are possible here.  If Egypt takes some real responsibility for making the cease-fire work, we’ll stop those missiles from going through those tunnels into Gaza, and they seem to be moving in that direction that can make a real difference in terms of what’s going on in Gaza and their attacks on Israel, which have been the cause of this whole…

GREGORY:  So what would you like to see the president say--to put a brake on Morsi seizing power?  What words does the president have to use to say we’re not going back to Mubarak?

SEN. LEVIN:  He has to express those concerns and say, obviously, we want this change to be not just democratic but to also be supportive of stability and also to be protecting of minorities…

GREGORY:  Mm-Hm.

SEN. LEVIN:  …and human rights in Egypt.  He says that, but at the same time, he has got to point out that behind all of this is Iran.  Iran’s support of Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, and the way that has then filtered into weaponry that goes through Egypt, into Gaza, if that can be stopped by Egypt, and if Iran can get a message that the missiles are not going to succeed against Israel because their defenses against short-range missiles, in this case, with the Iron Dome system, but also with the Patriot system…

GREGORY:  Mm-Hm.

SEN. LEVIN:  …against possible Iranian long-range missiles, is going to take leverage away from Iran.  Keep pulling the world together against Iran.  That’s the source of the problem.

GREGORY:  What about the Gaza cease-fire?  When do hostilities begin again?  When does fighting begin again?  How much time has been purchased?

SEN. LEVIN:  If Egypt will take a strong role here to stop the tunnels from being used for weaponry getting into Gaza this could lead to a real plus.

GREGORY:  You know, I read something this week, Robert Kegan wrote, this is not a question of American influence in the region, it’s a question of American interest to take on all of these very difficult problems.  You talk about Syria, the brutal oppression there.  Condoleezza Rice former secretary of state, of course under President Bush arguing in an op-ed this morning in The Washington Post that the U.S. has to do something.  Yes, it’s risky, but there’s got to be more involvement.  This is a portion of what she writes I’ll put it up on the screen.  “The breakdown of the Middle East state system is a graver risk than-- than the risks of getting involved in Syria.  Iran will win,” she writes.  “Our allies will lose, and for decades the region’s misery and violence will make today’s chaos look tame.  War is not receding in the Middle East.  It is building to a crescendo.  Our elections are over.  Now America must act.”  So, what does America have to do?

SEN. LEVIN:  Well, with Syria, I think we have to-- if we-- if the opposition will get its act together, and become unified, it seems to me that then we should surely support Turkey’s request for Patriot missiles as defenses against any threat from Syria.  But also we then have to consider a no-fly zone, providing the opposition in Syria comes together.  But again, all this goes looking for ways to keep the pressure on Iran and to keep taking away from Iran the kind of weaponry, both psychological and real, that they are using.

GREGORY:  I want to shift gears as we talk about your concern about our-- our national security in the Middle East.  Let’s bring it back home, and the fiscal cliff talks that are going to begin this week.  As chairman of the Armed Services Committee, of course, all of these defense jobs that are imperiled by what’s called sequestration, and in this town it means automatic spending cuts, half of which would come from defense, you’re talking about 50 billion dollars a year starting in January for 10 years unless this deal is averted.  By the deal, I mean the automatic cuts that were agreed to, to raise the debt ceiling before.  If I have got a defense job, how worried should I be?

SEN. LEVIN:  Well, I think you should be worried if you have a defense job, but we all ought to be worried whether we are dependent upon other aspects of the federal budget.  Whether we’re worried about the regulation of our food safety, whether we’re worried about our borders being secure, whether we’re worried about FBI being supported?  It’s all affected by sequestration.  The key here is whether or not the Republicans will move away from the ideologically rigid position, which has been the Grover Norquist pledge, which most of them signed, that they will not go for additional revenues.  When they move away from that pledge, and they must, as by the way all the presidents that I have ever served with, including Reagan, Clinton, and the first George Bush, moved away from a position, no additional taxes.

GREGORY:  Well, here’s all…

SEN. LEVIN:  They all added revenues to deficit reduction, a significant amount of revenues.

GREGORY:  This is actually Chambliss your-- your colleague from Georgia just this week said the following about that pledge not to raise any taxes.

(Videotape, WMAZ - Macon, GA. Thursday)

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R-GA):  You know, that pledge I signed 20 years ago was valid then, it’s valid now, but times have changed significantly and I care more about this country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  It-- it is my view that the issue of taxes is the number one stumbling block to any kind of fiscal deal.  That has to be resolved first before you can get to issues like sequestration.  When you hear that from a colleague, does it say to you that there is room, and does the president do anything short of raising tax rates on the wealthy?  Is anything short of that acceptable?

SEN. LEVIN:  Well, you’ve got to raise additional revenues, including tax rates on the-- on the wealthy.

GREGORY:  Those have to go up?

SEN. LEVIN:  They have to go up, either real tax rates or effective tax rates.  There’s ways of doing that.  Secondly, though, we’ve got to close some significant loopholes.  For instance, the ones which allow too many corporations in this country to avoid paying taxes by moving revenue overseas, the use of tax havens to avoid paying taxes in this country is an outrage.  We can end it.  There’s tens of billions of dollars a year involved in closing those kind of offshore loopholes.

GREGORY:  I’m going to leave it there.  Senator Levin, thank you very much for being here.

SEN. LEVIN:  Sure.

GREGORY:  Hope you had a good holiday.

SEN. LEVIN:  Thank you.

GREGORY:  I want to turn now to the Republican side, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Republican Congressman Peter King of New York.  Congressman, hope you had a good holiday.  Good to see you this morning.

REP. PETER KING (R-NY, House Intelligence Committee):  I had a great holiday, especially because Notre Dame beat Southern California.  And, so, I’m on top of the world.

GREGORY:  I know.  My poor stepdad.  He was an SC guy.  He’s not so happy this morning.

REP. KING:  I don’t care about him.

GREGORY:  Let-- let-- let me continue on the issue of taxes because this is important as I say, it’s going to be the defining issue.  You hear Republican Saxby Chambliss say, look, the pledge is not going to govern what I do.  Grover Norquist responding to him saying Senator Chambliss promised the people of Georgia he would go to Washington, reform the government rather than raise taxes.  Where do you stand on the pledge?  Can this be overcome?  Can revenues be raised?

REP. KING:  First of all, I agree entirely with Saxby Chambliss.  A pledge you signed 20 years ago, 18 years ago, is for that Congress.  For instance, if I were in Congress in 1941, I would have signed a-- (Unintelligible) declaration of war against Japan.  I’m not going to attack Japan today.  The world has changed.  And the economic situation is different.  Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill rez-- realized that in the 1980s.  I think everything should be on the table.  I myself am opposed to tax increases.  The fact is that speaker and the majority in leader and the president are going to be in a room, trying to find the best package.  I’m not going to prejudge it.  And I’m just saying we should not be taking ironclad positions.  I have faith in John Boehner.  They can put together a good package.  I think so far…

GREGORY:  Right.

REP. KING:  …he’s been pretty conservatory in his language.

GREGORY:  But congressman, we have seen this movie before.  The bottom line question is, what can Speaker Boehner sell?  If he goes to them and says, look, we-- we-- we cut a deal here, but tax rates have to go up.  Actual tax rates have to go up on the wealthy, like Senator Levin just said.  Can he sell it?

REP. KING:  I think John is going to do all he can to avoid an increase in tax rates.  But, you know, as-- as Senator Levin said, you can get the same results by changing deductions, changing exemptions, and that would put more of a tax burden on the rich but it would not affect marginal tax rates.  But I don’t want to prejudge any of this.  I just-- listen, bottom line is we cannot have sequestration.  We can't go off-- off a fiscal cliff.  We have to show the world we’re adults.  The election is over.  We have a speaker.  The Democrats have a-- oh, we all have a president.  But the president is speaking with the Democratic Party.  Democrats have Harry Reid.  We have Mitch McConnell.  Get them in the room.  And that’s what representative governments should be about.  No one gets all-- all they want.  If Reagan and O’Neill could do it, Boehner and Obama should be able to do it.

GREGORY:  Help people understand what-- what gets done first.  You know, the last time we visited this, it was an attempt at a grand bargain.  It was the politics of brinksmanship and it all went nowhere until a final deal that brought us to this-- this breaking point.

REP. KING:  Right.

GREGORY:  Do you think that the tax issue has to be solved first before you can get to any of the spending issues, any of the entitlement issues?

REP. KING:  I think it all has to be on-- on the table.  Again, I don’t want to be sitting in a place where it has to be done first or second.  That’s for them in the room.  But I think we should all realize the election is over.  President Obama won.  He won fair and square.  We won the House.  We won it fair and square.  Democrats still control the Senate.  Slight edge to the Democrats.  Bottom line, it’s over-- it’s over with.  Let’s find a way to get this resolved as much as possible between now and the end of the year.  So both the new Congress and the president in his second term can start over with a clean slate.  We have so many issues around the world.  Let’s resolve what we can here and stop-- stop (Unintelligible) for position.  I have a lot of faith in John Boehner.  I leave it at that.

GREGORY:  So you-- you mentioned the volatility in the world.  Let’s talk about the volatility in Libya that has lead to a lot of political questions at home…

REP. KING:  Right.

GREGORY:  …over the fate of Susan Rice, the U.N. ambassador who was on this program and others, talking about the fact that it seemed to be more spontaneous, the-- the attack on the consulate in Benghazi.  And this has been thoroughly litigated.  She responded to those who said that she willfully misled the public by saying it was a spontaneous incident rather than what we know it was now, and that was an attack on our consulate.  These were her comments on Wednesday.  I’ll play them and get your reaction.

(Videotape)

MS. RICE: As a senior U.S. diplomat, I agreed to a White House request to appear on the Sunday shows to talk about the full range of national security issues of the day, which at that time were primarily and particularly the protests that were enveloping and threatening many diplomatic facilities.

When discussing the attacks against our facilities in Benghazi, I relied solely and squarely on the information provided to me by the intelligence community.  I made clear that the information was preliminary.  And that our investigations would give us the definitive answers.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  Do you accept that, congressman?

REP. KING:  No, I don’t.  First, let me just say, I think Susan Rice has done an effective job as U.N. ambassador, especially on issues such as North Korea.  But on this she was wrong.  The reason I say that is if she is sent out there to speak to the American people on what happened in Benghazi, she is obligated to do more than look at three sentences of unclassified or five sentences of unclassified talking point, because that was basically a cover story.  She had access to all of the sensitive top secret classified information.  And she knew that the story she was giving out was not entirely true.  She knew the parts had been taken out, for whatever reason, which we still haven’t found out.  So I think that she should have been much more modulated in what she said.  She gave the clear impression that we thought it came from the demonstration, and the video, and that is not the case.  She certainly toned down almost minimized the issue of the terrorist threat.  If there were any security reasons for doing that, she should not have emphasized as much as she did about the video and the demonstration because that gave a totally wrong message…

GREGORY:  But do you have any question…

REP. KING:  ..to the country.

GREGORY:  But do you have any question not to believe that she was relying upon an assessment given to her by the intelligence community?

REP. KING:  Yeah, because that assessment was incomplete and she knew it was incomplete.  She-- she has access to most top secret classified information.  As U.N. ambassador and as someone in the chain of command of the State Department, she has an obligation not just to be a puppet and take what’s handed to her in an unclassified way.  She should have sat down-- now, did she sit down with the National Security Council?  Did she sit down with David Petraeus or General Clapper?  Who did she sit down with to find out the full story?  As a U.N. ambassador, she has to know that a very condensed set of unclassified talking points tell you almost nothing.  She had an obligation to get the whole picture, if she didn’t do that, then she failed in her responsibility.

GREGORY:  All right.  Congressman, we’re going to leave it there.  Thank you for your time…

REP. KING:  Sure.

GREGORY:  …this morning.

Coming up here…

REP. KING:  Thank you, David.

GREGORY:  …where do we stand as President Obama prepares for his second term?  What can we expect over the next four years?  Back with more from Andrea Mitchell and David Brooks, plus the rest of our roundtable; historian and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns; former CEO of HP, Carly Fiorina; and MSNBC’s Reverend Al Sharpton.  Our political roundtable coming up right after this.

(Announcements)

GREGORY:   Coming up here, President Obama’s outreach to the business community.  He recently met with a group of CEOs at the White House.  What did they tell the president?  We’re going to talk to one of them who is in the room.  Honeywell CEO, David Cote, on the state of the economy, coming up next after this brief commercial break.

(Announcements)

GREGORY:  And we’re back, joined now by our roundtable; Andrea Mitchell and David Brooks back at the table, of course; former CEO of HP, Carly Fiorina; MSNBC’s Al Sharpton is here.  Rev., good to see you.

REV. AL SHARPTON (Host, MSNBC’s “Politics Nation”; Founder and President, National Action Network):  Good morning.

GREGORY:  And we’re pleased to have documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.  His new film The Central Park Five debuted in New York on Friday.  And we’ll be talking about that.  Ken, great to see you.  Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving.  And now we’re looking ahead, because things are going to get serious in Washington.  Amid all the holiday parties for the president, he’s got to try to get a fiscal deal.  Reverend Al, based on what you’ve heard here today, don’t we have to deal with this tax fight first before the president moves on to anything else?  And do you sense that Republicans are prepared to do that?

REV. SHARPTON:  I think we’re going to have to deal with the question of where the tax rates go.  No question about it.  Friday before last, the president met with 12 progressive leaders.  I was there as president of National Action Network.  The same day he had just met with Boehner and McConnell.  And I got a sense in that meeting that the president was going to be firm on dealing with that first, in terms of taxing the rich.  And then there were the questions that were on the table.  And I think he has to hold that.  He made that commitment to the public.  People voted for that.  And that-- and that should be uncompromising.  We’ve got to deal with jobs.  We’ve got to deal with unemployment.  We’re certainly concerned about that in communities of color.  All of that is going to be dealt with, though, as we deal with taxes.

GREGORY:  Carly Fiorina, the tax question is going to come down to whether the president gives on the overall top tax rates versus what Republicans want to do, which is say, look, we could do this other ways, we can raise revenue through tax reform.  We can deal with deductions that favor the wealthy.  They got to get enough money.  That’s the bottom line.  They got to get enough revenue.

MS. CARLY FIORINA (Vice Chair, National Republican Senatorial Committee; Former Chair & CEO, Hewlett-Packard):  Well, first of all, I think there will be probably an agreement on tax rates for the millionaires and billionaires, which is what President Obama campaigned on.  Of course, now what he’s talking about is a family of four making two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.  And if you’re living in the tri-state area or Washington, DC, you don’t feel like a millionaire at that rate.  I think we should be also talking at the same time about closing loopholes because it helps simplify the tax code.  And simplifying the tax code is critical if we want to restore small business creation and entrepreneurship in this country and we also have to be talking about where is it we’re going to cut spending.  It’s a critical part of our fiscal problems.  It’s not just a 30-day tax deal.  It is we need to make a down payment on revenue, yes, but we need to make a down payment on government reform and tax reform as well.

GREGORY:  Ken Burns, David’s colleague, Tom Friedman, wrote a column recently and I’ll put a portion of it on the screen because I think it gets to the leadership challenge for Obama, what he’s got to do to-- to really apply leverage on Capitol Hill.  Tom Friedman writes this, “I get why the president needs to stress that the wealthy will have to pay higher taxes before he can go to the base for spending cuts to restore long-term fiscal balance.  But here’s what I hope we’ll see more from the president: a sense of excitement, a sense that if we can just get this grand bargain done, we can really unlock growth again.  If everyone has to take their castor oil--the rich more, the middle class some--make them feel that it will enable us to all get stronger.  Make them feel that we’re embarking on a new journey--not to punish but to solve, not to sock it to the successful but to create more abundance for all.”  A sense of some civic duty.

MR. KEN BURNS (Documentary Filmmaker):  That’s right.  Not kicking the can down the road which is very easy.  You can see all the ways in which that can happen.  I agree with Carly.  You know, someone who’s just came out of witness protection along with Big Bird since the first debate, you’re breathing a sigh of relief but we know the pain is going to be distributed.  And I think that’s the important part and what he has to do is lead in that regard.  We-- you have to insist on keeping the campaign promises but you also have to figure out where you’re going to make the-- the revenue cuts.  And that’s going to be really painful but it’s true.  There is some clear sailing on the other side of that that permits us to have some flexibility, kind of flexibility we have not had in an awfully long time.

GREGORY:  But, David, what is the case for greater abundance?  What is the case that we are embarking on, sort of a great journey that people should not feel punished about but should feel excited about, is that case to be made?

MR. BROOKS:  We are one budget deal away from being the hot spot of the world.  Europe is in the toilet.  China’s growth has fallen down.  Middle East is going backwards.  We have a lot of potential for fracking from innovation.  We’re one step away.  If we get this-- if we can prove our nation as governable, we are really the golden spot in the world and the way you do that-- first, the Republicans have some homework to do.  They got to figure out which taxes do we least want to oppose and so that’s rates, that’s capital gains or that’s deductions.  I think they’re going to end up with capital ends.  They're going to say, okay, we’ll raise that, we’ll get the revenue that way.  But the president has homework too.  His posture on spending has been very passive, I’m all ears, you give me what you’ve got.  You got to (Unintelligible) together.  The Republicans will not give on taxes unless the president is aggressive and leads on spending.  And so-- but if they can get that done and prove just in this next couple of months, we’re governable, we really are in a golden position to go forward and do bigger things.

MS. MITCHELL:  But I think that requires a different posture from both Congress, from the Republicans, and from the president.  The president showed that he really can work with the legislators.  And remember the health care proposals where he just gave them guidelines?  It would have been a much easier process I think if he had really presented something, worked it through, sold it more.  He has to show a different kind of leadership.  And it’s not clear whether or not he’s going to spend the political capital.  Remember, the president that you covered so intensively, George W. Bush, when he was re-elected, and he said he had that capital to spend, and tried it at least on Social Security and failed.  I mean, these are very, very tough decisions.  There is a moment here.  We are at an inflexion point and if this president and this Congress can get past their talking points, get past the populace rhetoric, we are at a great moment in America because of energy and all the other things that are happening and because of the failures of the other places that you-- you cited.

GREGORY:  Well let me-- we talk about the state of the economy right now.  David Cote is the CEO-- CEO of Honeywell.  He served on the Simpson-Bowles commission.  He met with the president this week.  David, it’s good to see you.  And-- and I wonder what you could tell us about the state of the economy right now as the president embarks on a second term.  How-- how bullish are you about improving conditions?

MR. DAVID COTE (Chairman & CEO, Honeywell):  Right now, I’m not that bullish at all.  And, in fact, I’d say there’s a great uncertainty that’s just hanging over the entire economy because we’re not confident that our guys can govern anymore.  We’ve got 536 independent contractors all talking about the significance of jobs, but the one thing that they could do that would remove that uncertainty and create this job growth we’d all like, they’re not doing.  And there’s a couple of stumbling blocks.  It’s not just taxes.  We have a significant problem with entitlements.  Medicare, Medicaid in-- in particular.  Those things need to get resolved together.  If we could actually develop a four trillion dollar credible market credible plan that would cause everyone out there to say, wow, we can govern again.

GREGORY:  Yeah.

MR. COTE:  This debt crisis has been averted, the fiscal crisis has been averted.  We’ve got past all this.  There’s a lot of money on the sidelines that people are willing to invest.

GREGORY:  And-- and…

MR. COTE:  But people like me just aren’t hiring now because we’re not confident they can do it.

GREGORY:  Well, and that’s-- I think the positive case, I guess my question for business leaders like yourself, you’ve worked with this president.  You’ve been more of an ally of this White House.  You know as well as I do a lot of your-- your colleagues, fellow CEOs, are really upset with this White House.  Is there a way for him to rebuild an alliance here with corporate America, to get some of these things done?

MR. COTE:  Of course, there is.  And if you take a look at what we’ve been able to do with our fix the debt camp-- the campaign  to fix the debt, that’s a group of CEOs who have gotten together, an ad hoc group were not part of any other organization, and we’ve raised about 40 million dollars just to be driving this point that it’s tax reform that raises more revenue, and it’s entitlement reform, the ticking time bomb that’s going to kill us and we’ve got to do all this at one time.  So we are very supportive of the president being able to get something like this done.  It’s vitally important for our economy.

GREGORY:  All right.  David Cote, thank you very much.  Al Sharpton, here is the issue.  Well, you know, Warren Buffett saying this week to the president effectively, my words, not his, don’t give in here.  Don’t give in on taxes.  You know, threaten to go over the fiscal cliff.  It’s not going to kill the economy any worse.  How does the president work his will here?  How does he get to the kind of compromise that David Cote wants and other CEOs, while still saying I’ve won this election and I need to drive things in the direction I think is best?

REV. SHARPTON:  I think he’s got to govern by the commitments made during the campaign.  And I think he will.  This is about fairness.  Why do we need to deal with the tax on the rich first?  Because we must assure Americans we’re dealing with fairness.  We keep talking about shared sacrifice, there was not shared wealth and shared prosperity.  So you’re asking people that didn’t enjoy the good times to share in paying for the tab that they never enjoyed.  So I think that when we first deal with the taxes, as you raised in your first point, and then go from there talking about how we deal with entitlements and all, you have a fairer environment to-- to govern from.  But you can’t put it all on seniors and poor people and people of color.

MR. BROOKS:  All right.  Well, you know-- you know, during the campaign, the president said there would be two dollars and fifty cents of spending cuts for every dollar of tax increase.  That’s the right formula.  And so that’s what you got to do at once.  You can’t cut-- you can’t tax your way through a budget deal.  You have to do it both ways.  You can’t take the country off the fiscal cliff.  First-- because you just can’t control it.  You don’t know what’s going to happen in the world if we have another budget crisis.  It could be cataclysmic.  Second, you can’t humiliate the Republicans on your way to a deal.  You have to give them a pathway to yes.  And the pathway to yes is some basic structural reform of Medicare, tie it with the tax increase for the rich.  That’s the deal.  Everybody knows it’s the deal.  It’s doing it in a respectful way that actually gets you there.

GREGORY:  Well, but it’s also because there’s some of the other priority, Carly, is from the president’s point of view, you don’t get to economic growth unless you find a way for the government to start investing more on infrastructure, on things that are going to create jobs, even in the energy sector.

MS. FIORINA: Absolutely.  And, look, I-- let us accept Reverend Al’s point and the president’s point about fairness.  But equally it is not fair that public employee union pensions and benefits are so rich now that cities and states are going bankrupt and college tuition is going up 25 and 30 percent or police and firefighters are being cut.  There’s a lot that isn’t fair right now.  And a lot of where money is being spent isn’t fair either.  So we’ve got to deal with both sides of the equation.  And, yes, we have to get to grow.  I think we have four actually structural problems in the economy right now.  Never mind the recession and what else is going on around the world.  Small business creation is at a forty-year low.  We have to solve immigration.  We have an education system that isn’t competitive.  And we are not innovating at the rate we could and should.  Does government have a role to play?  Absolutely.  But it’s not in picking winners and losers.  It’s in investing in fundamental foundational research.

GREGORY:  Ken-- Ken, I want to get you in on this in-- in this way, which is how does Speaker Boehner’s threat this week to bring health care into all of this affect it all?  This is what he wrote in an op-ed on-- on Wednesday about putting health care on the table.  They still want to repeal it.  As was the case before the election, he writes Obamacare has to go.  We can’t afford it, and we can’t afford to leave it intact.  That’s why I’ve been clear that the law has to stay on the table as both parties discuss ways to solve our nation’s massive debt challenge.  Congress has a constitutional responsibility to conduct thorough oversight of the executive branch, and congressional oversight will play a critical role in repealing Obamacare going forward.  They didn’t defeat it legislatively, they haven’t defeated it or in the court.  This is going to be their-- their last chance.

MR. BURNS:  This is a little bit of red meat still back to the constituency, but I think the deal has to get done.  The demographics are there from the last election.  They have to make the point.  I think what Cody was saying too about you got all these independent free agents.  We are-- we are a culture now that’s so indulgent, you know, we-- we fantasize about apocalyptic things, where-- we have secession movements, fads coming up.  We’ve got all of this stuff going on.  And what I think this is about is about process, it’s getting down to the deal.  You have to give a clear path for the Republicans to say yes, as you’ve suggested, David, and you have to get it done.  Now, he’s going to posture every once in a while.  The president has to posture to his base.  But in the end, you’re going to have to sit down and make a deal.  That’s how this government works.  Anything else short of it is not the way this government works.  And we’ve spent too long frozen in some other kind of independent free agency where everybody gets to be their own talking head.

MS. MITCHELL:  And one of the great impetuses for this is that what the voters said is we want government to work.  And that’s-- that’s part of the motivating factor here.  Look, Senators Durbin and Coburn, both sides, were working on a deal.  You’ve got Senator Patty Murray now empowered by having led the Democrats to success in their Senate re-election campaigns.  And she is the incoming head of the Budget Committee.  She is at the table.  So you’ve got a group of people on both sides who really want to make this done.  And what I think the speaker is doing is as-- as Ken just said sending some red meat, but I don’t think anyone seriously thinks that the election mandate is to revisit health care.  That is a done deal.

GREGORY:  Well, let me revisit where we started the program this morning David because I think this is important.  The president believes that a second term agenda is about restoring some faith in the fact that government can work, and this is the first test of that.  But then there is immigration reform, which he wants to get done.  There’s got to be some attention on energy.  There’s the issue of climate change.  But how much of his time is going to be dominated by the necessity for America to figure out what its new strategy is in the Middle East beyond winding down our military forces?  Because we’re needed there.

MR. BROOKS:  Yeah.  We’re going to be needed there, but we have a State Department.  We have a Defense Department.  They can do that.  I still think this is going to be a domestic policy agenda.  If we can get the yes on this deal right now, show that the country is governable, there’s really a process to go through a whole bunch of big things.  We’re sort of in an 1890 situation where we got a big-- lot of big problems hitting us all at once.  We’ve got technological change that’s wiped out wages for the middle class.  We’ve got a corrupt political system.  We’ve got ossified political structures like the tax reform and the immigration code.  If we can get that first yes over the next couple of months, we can take a series of steps on immigration, on tax reform to tackle some of these big sort of progressive area things.

GREGORY:  Yeah.

REV. SHARPTON:  No.  I think the yes is important, and I think part of what the president has to deal with, David, is that we thought he had a yes in the grand bargain and then Boehner couldn’t bring in his caucus.  So let’s not act like there are not those on the president’s side that are saying, wait a minute, you had all of these people that had sign these Grover Norquist commitments that wouldn’t give any on the deal you’re talking about.  And I’m encouraged when I hear colleagues implying that maybe they will give.  I’m a preacher.  Sunday morning, I love converts calling-- maybe you all-- maybe you all are coming over this week and not being so hardlined.  But it was not the president in the-- in the grand bargain.  It was the Norquist committed Republican caucus that after Boehner made the agreement would not let him do it.

GREGORY:  And that is-- but I mean, look, you had on this program this morning Peter King saying this, Saxby Chambliss is saying it, that orthodoxy does seem to be breaking.  We can still fight about if it's tax rates over capital gains or-- or deductions but that does seem to be breaking.

MS. FIORINA:  I-- I think people know a deal needs to be made.

GREGORY:  Yeah.

MS. FIORINA:  I think these are practical people.  But I also think that the president needs at this juncture-- to go back to what Andrea said.  The president needs to provide a view of what his agenda actually is.  The reverend said he should govern the way he campaigned.  There were not a lot of big ideas in his campaign.  Taxing the wealthy is not a big idea.  Taxing the wealthy is not getting this economy back on the road to growth.  Taxing the wealthy is not a process of addressing our great opportunities and challenges.  And so as incumbent as it is for the Republicans to say, okay, we’re going to put revenue on the table, and I think John Boehner was crystal clear in his first speech after the election that revenues are on the table.  I think the president needs to step forward and say, here is my grand vision…

GREGORY:  Right.

MS. FIORINA:…for America.

GREGORY:  Especially, a grand vision about the role of government which we’ll talk more about after this break.  We’ll-- we’ll pick up on this.  We’ll come back with our roundtable.  I want to talk as well about the leadership lessons from Lincoln.  Everybody has seen that movie this weekend.  I know I did.  What can modern day politicians learn from some of these great leaders of the past? Plus, giving thanks amid the destruction, this picture of hope from New York as we start this holiday season back.  On Monday, we’re going to talk about this and also hear from Congressman Gregory Meeks from Long Island after this break.  More from our roundtable after this.

(Announcements)

(Videotape)

LEONDA (PH):  I mean, really Jay two bodyguards, only blue M&M’s, and five lobster dinners.  What a diva we have on the show tonight.

MR. LENO:  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry Leonda.

Hey, Lindsay.  You look great.

MS. LINDSAY LOHAN:  Thank you.

MR. LENO:  Well, thanks for coming.

MS. LOHAN:  Oh, of course.  Everyone is so nice here.

MR. LENO:  Well, we appreciate you being in here.

MS. LOHAN:  Thanks.

Everything okay, Mister Gregory?

GREGORY:  Yeah.  Yeah, it's all right Jay but can I get a little bit more milky butter please?

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  All right.  So, that’s how I spent part of my Thanksgiving break, appearing and doing that on The Tonight Show and we did that little gag there.  Lindsay Lohan very nice to have...

GREGORY:  Yeah.

MS. MITCHELL:  That was a gag?

GREGORY:  Yeah.  Exactly.  Exactly.  I had to do numerous takes to eat all of that lobster, I can tell you.  All right.  We’re back with more of our-- out roundtable.  The other thing that I did and I think a lot of people did this weekend is see Lincoln.  And what a film?  That-- the chronicle is such a critical part of our history and Lincoln’s presidency, fighting to abolish slavery and-- and-- and-- and winning the 13th Amendment.  And you-- you wrote David in your column on Friday, something that really struck my attention and-- and struck me.  And I’ll put a portion of it on the screen because it gets to what the leadership lessons are.  “Lincoln,” you wrote, “directed by Spielberg…portrays the nobility of politics in exactly the right way.  It shows that you can do more good in politics than in any other sphere.  You can end slavery, open opportunity and fight poverty.  But you can achieve these things only if you’re willing to stain your character in order to serve others--if you’re willing to bamboozle, trim, compromise and be slippery and hypocritical.”  Ah the nobility of politics.

MR. BROOKS:  Well, that’s it.

GREGORY:  And that really is what the movie shows.

MR. BROOKS:  Yeah.  First let me say, I’m disappointed that Lindsay Lohan isn’t on the roundtable with us.  I was kind of hoping for that.

GREGORY:  She was interested in the politics.

MR. BROOKS:  Yeah.

GREGORY:  People may not believe it.  She said to me she is very interested in politics.

MR. BROOKS:  Yeah.

MS. MITCHELL:  What is (Unintelligible)?

MR. BROOKS:  You know, that is the beauty of politics.  You know, if it was all just writing papers, then people like me could govern.  But it’s about paying attention to other people.  And one of the things the movie shows so beautifully is Lincoln has to know who he can win by just giving him a job…

GREGORY:  Hmm.

MR. BROOKS:  …patronage, who he can win by appealing to patriotism, who he can win by saying, well, your brother died, do it for him.  And so he’s really paying close attention to all these other people, getting in the trenches with people.  And the other thing that struck me about the movie there’s a beautiful scene where Lincoln’s tending a fire, and he gets down on his hands and knees, and he’s moving the wood around in the fire.  That would never happen in a presidency.  There’d be a million people to move the wood for him.

GREGORY:  Right.

MR. BROOKS:  So he was down there with people and could relate in a much more natural way how to control them with the story.  And I’m afraid we’ve made the Imperial Presidency made that so much harder.

GREGORY:  Yeah.

MR. BURNS:  There-- there’re three things that jump out.  First of all, it’s compromise.  Shelby Foote told me that, you know, when we like to think of ourselves as uncompromising people.  That’s the problem today.  But our geniuses were compromised and when that failed, that was called the Civil War at-- at the highest level.  Second is that we’ve gotten into this government is bad thing.  Governments-- this government, for example, has been a force for extraordinary good, extraordinary good.  The list is almost endless of the things it’s done.  So we have to get back to my version of government is better than your version of government.  Let’s get back to good government.  And the third and it’s present in-- in Lincoln.  It’s less so on our tongues today, but it’s about race.  Race is always there in America.  It’s always something we don’t want to talk about.  It’s on the table.  Do you think we’d have a Secession Movement in Texas and the other places, faddish Secession Movement, if this president wasn’t African-American?  Do you think the vitriol that came out of some elements of the Tea Party would have been at the same level had this president not been Africa-American?  So to me as I look at the-- the lessons that emanate out of Lincoln, who still teaches, you know, who still tries to point us towards those better angels, they-- they-- they come in the essence of compromise, the shrewd use of process which is government, good government, government working, which is not always pretty.  It is sausage making.  And also the acknowledgment that we are still dealing with our original sin, that we could proclaim our independence with the idea that all men are created equal, and the guy who wrote those words owned more than a 100 human beings.

GREGORY:  And Al Sharpton, one of the things, you know, in the film, it talks about the concession.  They were just saying, no, just all people are equal in the eyes of the law, and that fell short of what abolitionists wanted, which was not a racial equality.

REV. SHARPTON:  Yeah.

GREGORY:  And there was the belief that, no, we can’t let righteousness drive this process.  It has to be a-- a political process, the working in the machinery to get to that place where we get slavery proh-- prohibited as a start before we get to anything else.

REV. SHARPTON:  You know, I wanted to see the movie, in part inspired by David’s column Friday last night.  And that’s-- that was the striking part to me of the film, because I’ve been an activist and an advocate all my life, leading an advocate organization.  A president has to get things done.  So even if a president is transformational as how he gets there.  And that’s what Lincoln had to deal with.  That’s the character that was played that you’ve got to back off of being a purist so we can get this done.  Now, it doesn’t mean advocates shouldn’t advocate.  We don’t govern.  We try to push as far as we can.  But at the end, they’ve got to have the president take all the pushing to say, this is what I’m going to achieve.  And I think that’s what Lincoln did.  I think that’s the challenge that Mister Obama has now.  And I think that was very critical in that-- that movie.  I wish Frederick Douglass pushing Lincoln would have been a-- a scene in the movie because I think that’s what we’re dealing with, David.  Real leaders can take pushing from all sides, but at the end of the day, they say how do I really relive…

GREGORY:  Right.

REV. SHARPTON:  …and get something concrete.

GREGORY:  And Carly, do the people love you.  Remember, there is the-- the scene where-- where his wife, played by Sally Field, says, the-- the people love my husband.

MS. FIORINA:  Well…

GREGORY:  And he used that line.

MS. FIORINA:  Yes.  And it’s not just getting things done, although it’s surely that.  It’s not just the practicality of compromise and paying attention to other people.  It is surely that.  But one of the reasons people loved Lincoln, and one of the things that gave Lincoln his steel and his passion, was he was animated by a grand idea…

GREGORY:  Mm-Hm.

MS. FIORINA:  …which was to create a more perfect union, and to abolish slavery once and for all.  And he was willing to let men die for that idea.

GREGORY:  Andrea.

MS. MITCHELL:  And one of the things also is as David was writing, politics is not a bad thing.  Compromise is not a bad thing.  And you-- you feel that…

GREGORY:  At a time when we so loathe politics…

MS. MITCHELL:  Exactly.

GREGORY:  …so many people in this country.

MS. MITCHELL:  And it’s become caricatured and demonized.  And I-- I think going back to also the-- the great new great book on Thomas Jefferson that our colleague and friend Jon Meacham has written, that-- that the political spirit of compromise is part of what created this union.  And we are the-- the sort of beneficiaries of all of that.

MR. BROOKS:  I would just say the staining is real.  I mean you really do have to deceive.  You really do bad things for your soul.  And if you’re a leader, you have to acknowledge that and you have to be aware that you’re damaged goods.  That’s one of the beauties of Lincoln.  He understood what it was doing to him.

GREGORY:  Right.

MR. BROOKS:  It’s a corrupting process, but you do it for-- you take on the sins of the country for the good…

MS. MITCHELL:  And that’s how the…

GREGORY:  I also…

MS. MITCHELL:  …idea it matters.

GREGORY:  Right.

MS. MITCHELL:  It has to be worth all that.

MR. BURNS:  But-- but we also have to take a little bit of the hagiography of Lincoln because he was within his own party.  People were disappointed in him.  He was tardy on emancipation.  People criticized from that.  Obviously, there was criticism from the other side.  He was considered a-- a failure for a good deal of it because he hadn’t been able to-- to seal the deal.  So I think that what happens is that we have to allow leadership will out.  It is also Lincoln who reminded us early on, when he was not even 29 years old, that the-- you know, realizing the great, you know, geographical force field the two oceans provided us, that we would live forever or die by suicide, that it would be our own undoing.  And I think what we see today is just an electorate sort of fed up with the notion that we’re not getting anything done.  We’re not engaging that old-staining, old-fashioned politics that requires…

GREGORY:  Let me…

MR. BURNS:  …as-- as Mister King says, dealing at the level of Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan and getting things done.

GREGORY:  Let me get to another film, that’s your film, The Central Park Five.  You said it, that race seems to be everywhere in the American story.  And here in the more modern context, the-- the awful wilding case in Central Park, rapist, and-- and these young men, African-Americans, who were-- who-- who were falsely convicted.  This was called by Mayor Koch at the time the crime of the century.  Why take this on, Ken, in the film?  What’s the broader lesson that you wanted to share?

MR. BURNS:  Well, I took it on in large part because my daughter, Sarah Burns, and her husband, the filmmaker David McMahon, took it on and wanted to tell this as a film story.  My daughter had written a book about it.  But this is-- race is ever present.  And we-- and we try to pretend.  We talked about it when Obama was elected that we were post racial.  We’re not.  Racism will exist in the breast of every human being.  It’s there and what we have to do is figure out these points where we can have lessons.  And The Central Park Five is one lesson.  It was a much more interesting story when it was this impossible, improbable, and it turns out not true story, of five young black and Hispanic boys, wilding, a wolf pack, we dehumanize them like the Scottsboro Boys.  And all of a sudden, they didn’t do it.  It was the cops had the guy who actually did it two days before and didn’t follow through.  The DNA didn’t match.  It was a bloody crime scene.  There was nothing of the crime scene on the boys.  Nothing of the boys on the crime scene.  And everything pointed towards alternative narratives, and there were very few lone voices at that time.  Reverend Al was one of them, sort of saying, wait a second, you have to stop and entertain.  And the press bought it too, which is why once they were exonerated, we spent a decade in limbo because the very agency that could be the tool of their delivery is culpable and so the reactionary force…

GREGORY:  They solved and settled the hitch.  You were an adviser to the family?

REV. SHARPTON:  I-- I-- and I led picket lines for it, and we were castigated.  But I think that part of what you that if you want to synthesize the two films, Lincoln and…

MR. BURNS:  Yeah.

REV. SHARPTON:  ….and Central Park, the price you pay is you’re going to be attacked if you go out and stand up.  But you cannot give in to cynicism.

MR. BURNS:  That’s right.

REV. SHARPTON:  …because at the end of the day, we did end up proving those young men--and you’ve put that I think in a beautiful way in this film--were innocent.  One of them ended up having to work for the National Action Network because he-- he lost thirteen years of his life, the downside.   The-- the upside is that we’ve have been able now to show this, the downside of where we are with race today, the Birther Movement, you know, that’s never happened to another president.

MR. BURNS:  Exactly.

REV. SHARPTON:  But the good side is as I watched the Lincoln film last night is a black family who was living in the White House, and many whites voted for him.  So sometimes even in the midst of-- of what seems like great despair, the country grows if we’re willing to pay a price.

MR. BURNS:  But-- but you can’t-- you can’t take your foot off the accelerator here because…

REV. SHARPTON:  That’s right.

MR. BURNS:  …the-- the-- the thing that Lincoln is talking about is the Thirteenth Amendment, that’s early 1865.  And what are we talking about now, essentially extending the-- the Thirteenth Amendment in-- in-- in sort of spirit as well as in fact.

REV. SHARPTON:  Yeah.

GREGORY:  Right.

MR. BURNS:  And that means there’s still work to do and whenever we take the eye off the ball, then you get birther movements.

REV. SHARPTON:  That’s right.

MS. FIORINA:  I want to go all the way back to…

REV. SHARPTON:  That’s right.  Voter Rights Act.

MS. FIORINA:  …to Mrs. Lincoln saying her husband was loved which he certainly was.  I-- and he clearly also was an imperfect man who engaged in questionable tactics at times, although they were successful.  I don’t think the American people expect their leaders to be perfect, ever.  In fact, I think Americans tend to embrace people in all their imperfection.  What they expect is their leaders to be up to the challenge of the time.

GREGORY:  Let me-- I want to shift gears just slightly as we-- we-- we reflect on our-- all the things that make us thankful on this Thanksgiving weekend.  And I wanted to take us a couple of minutes to go to New York with Congressman Gregory Meeks.  He joins us.  His district, of course, includes Far Rockaway in Queens which was hit so hard during Hurricane Sandy.  And congressman, it’s good to have here and I-- I wanted to make sure we were checking in to see how folks in the hurricane zone were fairing this Thanksgiving and this Thanksgiving weekend.  Tell me about the-- the week you’ve had with folks up there as we look at some of the images.

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY, Represents Far Rockaway, Queens New York):  Well, let me tell you, first, every individual on that peninsula, whether you go to the east or to the west, was affected.  There’s not a single individual that was not affected by the storm.  That being said, just listening to what your panel has been talking about, on Thanksgiving it was really spiritual, it was inspirational to see individuals come from around the city-- indeed from around the nation to try to make sure that people were eating.  I saw neighbors cooking as if it was the summertime on their grills and sharing their food with-- with other neighbors.  And people coming together saying that we’re in, we still have got long ways to go, but we’re going to be thankful that we have life.  We’re going to be thankful that we’re still here and we’re going to rebuild.  You know, it-- it-- it was an inspirational day, Thanksgiving, walking around.  The governor of the State of New York who has come to the area a number of times trying to make sure that people were being fed and looking to see what was going on, that was positive.  And then when I look at what the mayor has done recently, because we were devastated, especially our small businesses, in regards to making sure there’s grants for some of these small businesses so that they can get back on-- on their feet so that we can create jobs again, that is also inspirational and we are thankful for that.  For sure, people are still hurting, some still don’t have gas so they can’t cook in their apartment, some still do not have heat, we don’t want them to be in their apartments or homes as it gets cold.  But we are coming together and working together to try to make sure that we get people back to normal as quickly as we possibly can.

GREGORY:  What are the ling-- what are the lingering effects, I mean, as a member of Congress you’re going to have to be looking at the ability of the government to pay to help some of these folks who have lost their homes and to be insured, to actually make insurance payments for people who have lost homes.

REP. MEEKS:  That is exactly right.  Well, we’ve got to do certain things.  I mean, Michael Grimm for example and myself, Michael represents Staten Island and I represent the Rockaway Peninsula.  Peter King, who was here, we were talking while we were in the greenroom.  You know, Democrat, Republican, Steve Israel, further out, we’ve got to work together.  Governor Comeau, Governor Christie, this is not a Democrat or Republican issue, this is an American issue.  And we come together to protect and to make sure that our individuals, our citizens survive.  And so I think that you’ll see us going with a unified voice trying to say that we have to have the funds appropriated that are necessary to help people to get back on their feet.  The govern-- Governor Comeau is having a meeting tomorrow, for example, with all of those who are affected in New York, all of the elected so that we can try to come together and speak with one voice.  I think that is important and I think that we can do that in a bipartisan manner because all of us have been affected.

GREGORY:  Yeah.  All right.  Congressman Meeks, good to see you.  Thanks for sharing your photos and the experiences and of course our best to everybody in your district as we continue to check in on them.  Thank you very much.  We will take a break here and come back in just a moment.

(Announcements)

GREGORY:  Thank you all for a great discussion here.  Enjoy the rest of the-- of the holiday weekend.  Before we go this morning, a quick programming note, you can watch my PRESS Pass conservation with Jon Meacham, more on this history theme.  He’s the author of the new biography of Thomas Jefferson, called The Art of Power.  So similar to what we’ve been talking about here especially with the Lincoln film.  That’s up now at MeetThePressNBC.com.  That’s all for today.  We’ll be back next week.  If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.

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