MR. DAVID GREGORY: Good Sunday morning. The president’s nominee to lead the Defense Department, Former Senator Chuck Hagel is under intense scrutiny as he and the White House try to push back against critics of his foreign policy views. To that end this morning, someone who strongly supports the Hagel nomination, the former Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, who’s here to speak out exclusively to us. General Powell, good morning. Welcome back to the program.
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GEN. COLIN POWELL (Ret.; Fmr. Secretary of State, 2001-2005): Good morning, David. Good to be here.
GREGORY: Lots of topics to get to with you, but I want to start on Chuck Hagel. Why do you think he should be confirmed?
GEN. POWELL: I think there are a number of reasons. First, I think he's had a very, very distinguished public service record that he can stand on. There are a lot of comments about different things he said over the years and I think he will have a chance to respond to all those comments as the confirmation hearings. But it might be useful just to stand back and take a look at this-- this man overall, a young man who volunteered to go to Vietnam. They wanted to send him to Europe, a nice, safe place. He said, no, I want to go to Vietnam. He and his brother went. They both were wounded. He was wounded twice. He came back from Vietnam. He went to school under the GI Bill in Veterans Administration. From there, he went to other things in life. He supported President Reagan in his run for office and as a result of that, he received an appointment as Deputy Director of the Veterans Administration. To show you the kind of courage this guy has and what he believes in, he quit after one year because he felt the Veterans Administration was not doing a good job for veterans and he couldn’t take that. He went back to private life, started a cellular company. In those days, it was something rather remarkable and new, made a fortune, did very, very well, and he continued to serve. And while he was running that cellular company, he also was president of the USO which was in trouble.
So this is a guy who knows veterans, knows the troops, knows the USO. And when people say, well that doesn’t necessarily make him a good candidate for Secretary of Defense, I’ll tell you who thinks that makes him a good candidate for Secretary of Defense, the men and women in the armed forces of the United States and their parents who know that this is a guy who will be very careful about putting their lives at risk because he put his life at risk. He knows what war is and he will fight a war if it’s necessary, but he’s a guy who will do it with great deliberation and care. Beyond that then, he went back to Nebraska, ran for Senate, became a senator, said he would only serve two terms, only served two terms. And when he was elected the second time, he was elected with 83 percent of the vote. This is a guy respected by his fellow citizens of Nebraska. Served here for a total of 12 years and what did he do when he left the Senate? He became an academic in Georgetown, School of Foreign Service, teaching the new leaders. He also has been co-chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board. He’s also on the defense policy board. This is a gentleman who knows all of these issues in depth. He is a fellow who speaks his mind. He sometimes gets in trouble with those who think he should not speak his mind, but he says what he believes and he sticks with it.
So the issues that are being raised now are important issues and that’s why we have a confirmation hearing and I’m sure that Chuck will be able to deal with those issues at the hearing.
GREGORY: Let’s go through a few of them.
GEN. POWELL: Okay.
GREGORY: On Iran…
GEN. POWELL: Mm-Hm.
GREGORY: …he has been criticized for his views. He failed to label Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, a terror organization. He’s advocated direct talks with Iran which have not borne fruit. He even advocated taking force off of the table when dealing with Iran. Steve Hayes in The Weekly Standard wrote in his blog this week, something which I’ll put up on the screen, “Hagel’s views on Iran put him to Obama’s left, he writes, although the president has made clear that he doesn’t want war with Iran, and he is in open direct talks-- has been open to direct talks, he has never ruled out the military option, as his defense nominee has.” Given some of those constraints, how would he advise this president on how to overcome the threat from Iran?
GEN. POWELL: Well, first of all, I don’t think that’s necessarily a current and accurate assessment. I think what Chuck Hagel has said is that nothing is ever off the table, but he’s one who believes in the prospects for negotiation. We have been ready to negotiate under the right set of circumstances with Iran for the last several years with our friends and allies and so, force is on the table, but I’m glad that we have people like the president and like Chuck Hagel who will be very careful when you start throwing around the terms, let’s forget this...
GREGORY: He says it’s not feasible, though. Do you agree it’s not feasible?
GEN. POWELL: What is not feasible?
GREGORY: Military option? A military option against Iran?
GEN. POWELL: A military option is always feasible, if you tell me what the option is. Are we going to blow up Tehran or are we going to go after some facilities that might be very well protective and hid-- hidden? And I think it was Bob Gates, the previous Secretary of Defense, who pointed out that the difficulty of striking these places is a real one. And, so any military option is feasible in terms of dropping bombs, but what is the result of that military attack? With respect to the Revolutionary Guard, he has reasons for why he didn’t go along with that resolution at the time and that will be explored in the confirmation hearings. For the last three weeks, we have had dueling op-eds and dueling blogs and dueling different groups coming forward, but most of the national security community in retirement that I know and many of the secretaries of defense and state that I know, and national security advisers, and very distinguished ambassadors who served in the Middle East, think that Chuck Hagel is a solid guy who speaks his mind. He’s a good supporter of Israel. He has been there and the record will show that but he is not reluctant to disagree when he thinks disagreement is appropriate.
GREGORY: Well, you brought-- you brought up Israel. He-- he referred to a Jewish lobby saying it intimidates a lot of people on Capitol Hill. What kind of thinking does that reflect? Can you understand pro-Israel senators being concerned by that comment?
GEN. POWELL: They shouldn’t be that concerned. That term slips out from time to time. There was an article this week that the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has occasionally used the same thing. And so, Chuck should have said Israeli lobby, not Jewish lobby and perhaps he needs to write on a blackboard a hundred times it is the Israeli lobby. But there is an Israeli lobby. There are people who are very supportive of the State of Israel. I am very supportive of the State of Israel. So is Senator Hagel and you will see this in the confirmation hearings. But it doesn’t mean you have to agree with every single position that the Israeli government takes.
GREGORY: Fair enough, but on a-- on a couple of measures, it seems very important, he seemed to feel so strongly about his views about Israel that he was a distinct minority in the Senate. For instance, one of only four Senators in October of 2000 who would not sign a letter expressing solidarity with Israel as there was an intifada that was going on. Only one of two Senators in July of 2001 to vote against renewing the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act. When he came back from a trip in 1998, he was critical of Israel and The Associated Press reported it this way, the headline, Senator blames Israel for The Peace Impasse. Hagel said the US must do what it can to re-energize the Mideast peace process. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has and this is quoting Hagel, “essentially stop the process, the Israeli government essentially continues to play games,“ stonewalling implementation of the Oslo peace accords. “What I fear more today is that desperate men do desperate things when you take hope away,” Hagel said, “And that’s where the Palestinians are today.” There is a sense among his critics that he views this in an evenhanded way, that they equally share the blame, Israelis and Palestinians fear a failure to achieve peace. Is that his view?
GEN. POWELL: Well, I’ll let-- you know, he should be able to give his views which he will do at the confirmation hearing. I don’t believe that these moral equivalency between the two sides which is the suggestion of that article…
GREGORY: You believe he believes there is moral equivalency?
GEN. POWELL: You will have to ask him what he believes. I-- my judgment and my knowledge of Chuck and my discussion with Chuck would suggest that he wants to see both sides come to the table and find a solution. He supports the peace process. But he is uppermost, a very, very strong supporter of the State of Israel. He's voted for billions and billions of dollars of aid to Israel. So, I have no question that when it comes to challenges that have anything to do with putting Israel at risk, Chuck Hagel will be on Israel’s side. And remember, he is working for a president. And he will follow the-- the policies of that president.
GREGORY: The renewed debate about Iraq is also occurring, the New York Times write about-- writes about that today. And his-- in his memoir, he writes something very pointed about the Iraq war. He writes, "it all comes down to the fact we were asked to vote on a resolution based on half-truths, untruths and wishful thinking. I voted for this resolution that gave the president the authority to go to war in Iraq if all diplomatic efforts were exhausted and failed. Unfortunately, it was not his intention to exhaust all diplomatic efforts.” He is talking about the diplomatic efforts you were engaged in as Secretary of State in the run-up to the war in Iraq.
GEN. POWELL: I would disagree with this characterization. We were basing all of our actions on a national intelligence estimate that the Congress asked for and was provided to the Congress by the CIA. And all of us in the Bush administration at that time accepted the judgment of our 16 intelligence communities. I presented it to the U.N. Three months before I presented it to the U.N., Congress passed a resolution, also supported by Senator Hagel and many other senators that would give the president the authority to go to war. They weren’t half-truths is what we were being told by the intelligence community. We subsequently found out that a lot of that information was not accurate and that is very unfortunate but that’s the way it unfolded.
GREGORY: Was he wrong on Iraq?
GEN. POWELL: With respect to what?
GREGORY: With respect to what he ultimately called a huge foreign policy blunder?
GEN. POWELL: He-- that’s his characterization and if people want to challenge his characterization, they will have that opportunity during the confirmation.
GREGORY: In your judgment, was he wrong on Iraq?
GEN. POWELL: I would not have called it that. I would have said that what I think was wrong was the president had more than sufficient basis to believe that there were weapons of mass destruction that were a danger to the world and the possibility of those weapons going to terrorists. And so, he undertook military action. I think that was the correct thing to do and it was well supported by the intelligence. I think we did not execute the operation well. Once Baghdad fell, there was a feeling that well that was the end of it. It was not the end of it. That was just the beginning of it.
GREGORY: Beyond his foreign policy views he’s also been controversial for some comments he made about gays. He said of an ambassadorial nominee during the Clinton administration, that he was quote, “aggressively gay” and that that would detract from his effectiveness. He has apologized for those comments.
GEN. POWELL: The apology has been accepted by the ambassador.
GREGORY: By ambassador. But he-- the question that has been raised is can he, as defense secretary, forcefully implement the reversal of don’t ask, don’t tell, at a critical time, especially when they have not resolved same-sex partner benefits, for instance?
GEN. POWELL: Don’t ask, don’t tell isn’t there anymore. It doesn’t have to be reversed. It’s gone. And I think that what Senator Hagel will do as he has said and as he will certainly testify at the confirmation hearing, that he will fully implement don’t ask, don’t tell. There were still issues that have to be resolved but I think he will go after these issues in a way that will be very consistent with the administration’s position with the law and with the aspirations of our gay and lesbian men-- men and women in military. You know, he is now responsible for them. He is now responsible for them having a proper environment in which to do their jobs and that will include making sure that don’t ask, don’t tell and the elimination of don’t ask, don’t tell is fully implemented.
GREGORY: With regard to the military budget, he has called the military a bloated organization. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey said this week that we’re on the brink of creating a hollow force. Would a Secretary of Defense Hagel preside over the hollowing out of the Defense Department?
GEN. POWELL: The biggest concern with respect to hallowing out is this sequester that’s hanging like a sword over the department. That’s what they have tried-- they have to not let that happen but with respect to going in and finding things within the Department of Defense that perhaps you don’t need or you can eliminate, if that’s what you mean by bloat, I hope he does find bloat and gets rid of it. But I'm also…
GREGORY: Do you agree with his characterization that it’s bloated?
GEN. POWELL: Well, bloated doesn’t necessarily mean the whole department is bloated. Bloated mean there is are probably things in the department that you can take a hard look at and determine whether or not you need it in light of the current situation and the strategy that we are implementing. You know, when-- when I was chairman, we saw the end of the Soviet Union, a completely different change in-- in our strategic positioning. And we eliminated a million troops and cut the budget 25 percent. That’s not the case now. But there’s no reason why a secretary of defense should go into office thinking can’t change anything, can’t cut anything. You know, the people who say that, oh, that’s terrible, he is going to try to find things to cut in the department are the same people who are saying we have got to cut spending, we have got to cut spending. Everything has to be looked at--entitlements, more revenue, and yes you have to look at the Defense Department to see if there are opportunities for savings.
GREGORY: Bottom line, does Chuck Hagel get confirmed?
GEN. POWELL: I think he gets confirmed. I think, he’s ultimately-- he’s superbly qualified based on his overall record, based on his service to the country, based on how he feels about troops and veterans and families. I think he will do a great job as Secretary of Defense. And I think in his confirmation hearings, all of these issues that you’ve raised, others have raised, he will be prepared to deal with. I have read some of the responses that he has already put together and I think he will make a very, very spirited defense of his position and I think he will be confirmed.
GREGORY: More broadly talking about the National Security Team. It’s interesting the president chose this political fight over Chuck Hagel. He declined to have it over Susan Rice. What was your view of her treatment in this whole process?
GEN. POWELL: I think it was not handled well. One of the problems with-- with Ambassador Rice and with Chuck Hagel, these sort of signals come out that this is who we are thinking about and you are left out there to dangle for weeks. Well, if this is who you are going to nominate, nominate them and let’s get on with the process.
GREGORY: You feel you like the president (Unintelligible)?
GEN. POWELL: In both the Susan Rice case and-- and the Chuck Hagel case, if they were sure that’s who they were going to nominate, I think it should have been done promptly, but all of these sort of test nominations that they send out there, I think just cause the media to naturally focus on it and potential opponents of that nomination just pile on.
GREGORY: Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, she is facing pressure to testify on the Benghazi matter. Do you think that Benghazi episode is a blot on her record as Secretary of State? Do you think it will affect her political future?
GEN. POWELL: No, I don’t think so. I don’t-- I don’t know what she knew about it or didn’t know about it or where she was and so we will have to wait and see how the testimony goes. But I think she's had a distinguished record and I don’t think that this one incident, which is one of these-- one of these things that those of us in-- in government have been through many, many times, where suddenly an action happens late at night, you’re surprised. Somebody gets killed. Something gets blown up. And then the after-action reports start and everybody wants to know who was at fault, who was responsible? Why didn’t we keep this from happening? Well, you can't keep everything from happening. Benghazi was a very, very difficult one and a difficult situation and maybe they shouldn’t have been there in the first place. And I think that we have had a good review of that by Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen and I don’t know whether the Congress in their examination of Mrs. Clinton will find something that they find distasteful. But I don’t think it’s a blot on her record.
GREGORY: Do you think Hillary Clinton would make a good president?
GEN. POWELL: I think she’d be good at whatever she does, whether she is interested in it or not, I will let her opine on that.
GREGORY: Broader-- the broader issue of the foreign policy team as I was just reflecting on, is the message that it appears to send. The Financial Times summed it up this way with the headline this week, “Hagel selection seals end to Bush’s policies.” “This does not look like a let’s-invade-Iran team,” said Bruce Riedel, a longtime CIA officer who has also advised presidents on counterterrorism. “It looks to me like a find-an-alternative to military action team, preferably a diplomatic solution.” Beyond Iran, it seems like this is a real rebuke to neoconservatives, those in the Republican Party who may feel there’s unfinished business in the Middle East and keep-- want to continue to project American power. Do you view-- you view it that way?
GEN. POWELL: Well, you know, the first Obama administration was also not an administration saying let’s go find some place to bomb. Neither, for that matter, was President Bush’s eight years. We fought the wars that we felt were necessary, but President Bush worked hard to try to solve other problems through diplomatic means. And so I think it’s a little too stark to make this kind of characterization. I, as you well know, always believe that we should try to avoid war. We should be willing to talk to friends and willing to talk to enemies and try to find a solution that’s peaceful. But when you do find it is necessary to use military force, use it with a clear political objective in mind and use it for a decisive result. That’s the kind of attitude that Chuck Hagel will bring to the equation. He will be careful. He will give the president his best advice on the use or non-use of military force, how to solve the problem diplomatically. I’m sure he will be a great companion with Mister Carey in that regard. It’s a good team. I think it’s a very, very good team. Now, a lot of my-- my friends in the community who are of a more rightist persuasion, the one-- ones who have been…
GREGORY: Well, the…
GEN. POWELL: …hawkings-- the hawks.
GREGORY: Well, the hawks, you think they are out of line in their criticism here?
GEN. POWELL: No, no. That-- it’s-- it’s their fair criticisms. They can make all the criticisms they want. When they go over the edge and say because Chuck said Jewish lobby, he is anti-Semitic, that’s disgraceful. We shouldn’t have that kind of language in our dialogue but they’re fully entitled to their views and I didn’t ever think they would go away and not be heard from again. But they have to remember one thing, it’s President Obama, not President McCain and not President Romney, they’ve lost two elections. The American people have made it clear that they are not particularly interested in finding new conflicts to get into. And are not particularly interested in saying, you know, sanctions are just a road bump on the way to bombing. We should be very, very careful when we sort of toss around theories of use of military for situations that might be resolved in other ways. And the other thing I’d like to say about Iran is we don’t want them to have a nuclear weapon. We are punishing them severely now with the sanctions. We ought to keep it up. Multilateral sanctions, whatever unilateral things we want to do. And let’s also remember, this is a country that’s in deep trouble, does not have a nuclear weapon yet. We don’t want it to have one. But remember what we have. I still am an old-fashioned realist that says deterrence still works and they should know what the consequences to them would be if they ever were to use or cause us to believe they were going to use such a weapon if they had it and they don’t have it yet.
GREGORY: To mix in foreign policy with some politics, I’m struck when you talk about Republicans as they. I know you insist despite voting for President Obama twice now that you’re still a Republican. But as-- as I go through your record on some social issues and even foreign policy issues, I challenge you a little bit to say on what basis are you still a Republican? Do you feel like this Republican Party has left you or have you left it?
GEN. POWELL: I think the Republican Party right now is having an identity problem. And I’m still a Republican. I’m a Republican who grew up along with George Bush XLI. I grew up with Ronald Reagan, Cap Weinberger, Frank Carlucci, that Republican Party, the Republican Party of Dick Lugar and John Tower. But in recent years, there’s been a significant shift to the right and we have seen what that shift has produced, two losing presidential campaigns. I think what the Republican Party needs to do now is take a very hard look at itself and understand that the country has changed. The country is changing demographically. And if the Republican Party does not change along with that demographic, they’re going to be in trouble. And so, when we see that in one more generation, the minorities of America, African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans will be the majority of the country, you can’t go around saying we don’t want to have a solid immigration policy. We’re going to dismiss the 47 percent. We are going to make it hard for these minorities to vote as they did in the last election. What did that produce? The court struck most of that down and most importantly, it caused people to turn out and stand in line because these Republicans were trying to keep us from voting. There’s also a dark-- a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the Party. What I do mean by that? I mean by that is they still sort of look down on minorities. How can I evidence that? When I see a former governor say that the president is shuckin’ and jivin’, that’s a racial era slave term. When I see another former governor after the president’s first debate where he didn’t do very well, says that the president was lazy. He didn’t say he was slow, he was tired, he didn’t do well, he said he was lazy. Now, it may not mean anything to most Americans but to those of us who are African-Americans, the second word is shiftless and then there’s a third word that goes along with it Birther, the whole Birther Movement. Why do senior Republican leaders tolerate this kind of discussion within the Party? I think the Party has to take a look at itself. It has to take a look at its responsibilities for health care. It has to take a look at immigration. It has to take a look at those less fortunate than us. The Party has gathered unto itself a reputation that it is the party of the rich. It is the party of lower taxes. But there are a lot of people who are lower down the food chain, the economic chain, who are also paying lots of taxes relative to their income and they need help. We need more education work being done in this country. We need a solid immigration policy. We have to look at climate change. There are a lot of things that the American people are expecting and the Republican Party, as they get ready for the next election, really has to focus on some of these issues and not ignore them. Everybody wants to talk about who’s going to be the candidate. You better think first about what’s the party they’re actually going to represent. If it’s just going to represent the far right-wing of the political spectrum, I think the Party is in difficulty. I’m a moderate but I’m still a Republican, that’s how I was raised. And until I voted for Mister Obama twice, I had voted for seven straight Republican presidents.
GREGORY: A couple of other foreign policy matters, what should the force-- the U.S. force in Afghanistan look like after next year?
GEN. POWELL: I think the president’s on track here. We’ve done by 2014-- the end of 2014, as much as we can with our troops fighting on the ground, so we’ve raised up a large Afghan army and Afghan National Police force. Let’s continue to give them assistance. Let’s continue to advise them. Let’s keep our counterterrorism people in place because it’s al Qaeda that we’re really after. Remember, we didn’t-- the Taliban wasn’t even on our-- on our list of enemies in the first few days after 9/11, it’s only when they refused to give up al Qaeda. And so it’s going to be up to the Afghan people and the Afghan forces in order to deal with any resurgent Taliban coming in. We can help them with intelligence. We can help them with-- with weapons training, whatever they need but the burden of defending their country and keeping it from falling again to the Taliban will rest squarely on the shoulders of the Afghans.
GREGORY: What about zero option? Do you leave any troops there?
GEN. POWELL: I don’t-- I’ve heard this rumor about our zero option. I don’t know if there’s any merit to it. We have to stay there. We have to have advisers. We have to watch where the money is going. We have to be able to conduct counterterrorism activity so I wouldn’t support a zero option. But there’s always a tendency in-- in Washington on these issues to say 2,000, 4,000, 10,000 that’s not the right way to go about it. As a military plan you determine, what it is that we have to do? How many advisers do we need? What kind of military assistance group do we need? And then you determine what those numbers are. I don’t know what those numbers are. The president has laid out some areas where we want to continue helping Afghanistan after 2014 and now the military will have to put numbers to those missions.
GREGORY: As you know, there’s a renew debate with the film Zero Dark Thirty about interrogation techniques of terror prisoners. This film, of course, based on the successful hunt for bin Laden. And the debate sort of harkens back to me to an appearance that former Vice President Cheney made on this program. He told Tim Russell at the time about some of the things that would become necessary. Let me show you that.
(Videotape, September 16, 2001)
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: We also have to work the sort of the-- the dark side, if you will. We’re going to spend time in the shadows in-- in the intelligence world. That’s the world these folks operate in. And so it’s going to be vital for us to-- to use any means at our disposal-- the disposal, basically to-- to achieve our objective. It is a mean, nasty, dangerous, dirty business out there and we have to operate in that arena.
GREGORY: To the extent that enhanced interrogation techniques played some role in tracking down the majorly the courier which led to bin Laden, and I choose my words carefully, do the ends justify the means?
GEN. POWELL: We have determined that enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding torture, we’re not going to do it anymore. Military didn’t do it in the first place. And since 2003, it hasn’t been done at all. I really can’t answer the question as to whether or not the movie is correct or what others have said are correct. But we can’t be a nation that is lawless. We cannot be a nation that simply ignores our obligations to ourselves, our obligations to our constitution, our obligations to our own moral standing in the world. And so be tough. If on occasion you have to do something, be prepared to answer for what you’re doing. But as the president has said and before him, President Bush was-- was also in this (Unintelligible) we do not torture people.
GREGORY: But the ends justify the means if you get bin Laden in the end?
GEN. POWELL: We do not-- we do not torture people. It is against American policy.
GREGORY: I want to end with this…
GEN. POWELL: You can always debate what, you know…
GREGORY: Torture is.
GEN. POWELL: …to your eye what torture is.
GEN. POWELL: But I know what torture is.
GREGORY: A-- a final political matter that is very important at this particular point as the president thinks about it. After the Connecticut massacre, what’s the solution? What kind of restriction should be put in place?
GEN. POWELL: It’s a very complex issue and I’m-- I’m anxious to see what Vice President Biden is going to come up with, because, you know, you have deranged people throughout the country, unfortunately and they’re a part of the problem. You have to be deranged to pick up a Bushmaster or some weapon and go into a school and kill people. So how do we deal with that part of the problem? Is there an issue with violence on television, violence in our games? That has to be looked at with respect to guns themselves. I’m a gun owner. I’m a believer in the Second Amendment. I-- I know the Amendment rather thoroughly. I know the issue of a well-regulated militia. But at the same time, we also have a responsibility under the constitution and the Bill of Rights to protect our people. So, surely, we should be able to find some meeting of the minds on this issue. Why can’t we test everybody or have everybody run through a screen to make sure that they are responsible person before they are allowed to buy a weapon, either in a store or in a private transaction? Why can’t we do a better job of registering things? And with respect to assault weapons, I see no need for Bushmasters in the hands of an individual person who might be deranged. You want to fire a Bushmaster, go out to a range and fire a Bushmaster. But whether or not it’s in our overall interest to have these kinds of weapons in the hands of Americans who might not be responsible is a question we have to answer. How much are we really giving up if we said that this kind of weapon should not be readily available to anybody who wants to buy one? And so I think we’re-- we’re at-- we’re at a very important point in our national dialogue in this. The NRA feels very, very strongly. Gun owners feel very, very strongly. And the same time, the American people are concerned about the kinds of things that are happening in our society. Surely, we can’t get the whole ball of wax. I hope that there will be a way to find something in this continuum of things we can do that we’re able to do to demonstrate to the American people that this problem is being taken seriously.
GREGORY: General Powell, we’ll leave it there. As always, thank you very much for your views.
GEN. POWELL: Thank you, David.
GREGORY: And coming up here, we’re going to go inside the coming fights that will dominate Washington, not just over the president’s cabinet, but the debt ceiling, as well; spending cuts and policy issues like the war in Afghanistan and new gun control legislation. Our roundtable is here to help break it all down. Democratic Mayor of Newark, Cory Booker; former Republican Governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour; Republican strategist Mike Murphy; and our own chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell. Up next, after the short break.
GREGORY: Coming up, most American workers got their first paycheck of the New Year on Friday and they probably noticed it was a little bit smaller. What happened? Well, in order to boost the economy back in 2010, Congress lowered the Social Security tax withholding rate to 4.2 percent instead of the usual 6.2 percent for 2011 and 2012. It was called a payroll tax holiday and it meant more money in the average paycheck but as of January 1st, the holiday is officially over because Congress did not extend it during the end of the year fiscal cliff debate. So, what did that mean for your Friday pay stub? For every 25,000 dollars in your annual salary, up to the threshold of a 113,700, you will now be paying 500 dollars more in payroll taxes every year. So a worker with a 75,000 dollar annual salary saw Friday’s paycheck coming up about 60 dollars short. Up next, more on this after a brief commercial break.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA: The time has come for me to return to my wife, Sylvia, our three sons, their families, our six grandchildren, and my walnut farm, dealing with a different set of nuts.
GREGORY: You got the feeling that Panetta was waiting so long to use that term about how many nuts there are in Washington, I can’t possibly know what he’s talking about. We’re back with our roundtable. Joining me, former Governor of Mississippi and former RNC Chairman Haley Barbour; the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker; Republican strategist Mike Murphy; and NBC News chief foreign-- foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell. Welcome to all of you. Well, Governor Barbour, I want to start with you because I thought that was-- that was striking some of General Powell’s comments particularly about the-- the Republican Party. He’s now twice supported President Obama. He talks about a deep vein of intolerance within the Party. How did that sit with you?
FMR. GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R-MS; Fmr. Chairman, Republican National Committee): Well look, General Powell and I have been friends since he quit being a general and could be involved in politics. We don’t see everything the same way, but one thing very plain, Republicans in this election did more poorly among Hispanics, much more poorly among Asian Americans and-- and typically poorly among African-Americans. We have to improve our stand among all those. The good thing is with the right kind of policies and the right kind of effort we’ll do that. Remember George Bush the last Republican president got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. This is not like there’s some thousand-year history here.
GREGORY: But you once said that Colin Powell is in the mainstream of the Republican Party. Do you believe that today?
FMR. GOV. BARBOUR: Yeah, I believe he’s on the vast majority of issues. I think on that he sees it through his own prism.
GREGORY: Cory Booker, Mayor, what do you think of his-- his comments, particularly about intolerance directed toward this president?
MAYOR CORY BOOKER (D; Newark, NJ): Well, first of all, I think he’s spot on and I see the Republican Party moving away from the Olympia Snowe’s, the Lugar’s and a lot of the people, Jack Kemp is even that had a lot of great ideas and were putting a lot into the conversation. And the rhetoric in this last campaign I saw it in my community really turned off a lot of people, black, Latino, women and gay, and that was unnecessary. When I switch-- turned on the TV the other night, I sat up in my bed when I saw Newt Gingrich talking about marriage equality and how the Republican Party was going to have to start embracing some of these realities of where the country is going or be left behind. And I think that’s very, very true. And what I really would love to see, though, from both parties is stop speaking about how we can win elections and more importantly how we can address the issues of America. Because the reality is if we focus on solving problems that is good politics, a good policy, good problem solving, pragmatism always in my opinion makes for good politics.
GREGORY: Mike Murphy, you have had a lot of these similar critiques, but…
MR. MIKE MURPHY (Republican Strategist): Mm-Hm.
GREGORY: …your thoughts about Colin Powell this morning?
MR. MURPHY: Well, look I-- I agree with him on the way we’ve ignored demographics, but I was also happy to see-- hear he’s still a Republican. He has kind of been off on a little bit of Democratic bender for a few years, so that was good news to me. And I had invited him to come back home and help us modernize and strengthen the Party. We could use him.
GREGORY: Bottom line, Andrea Mitchell, you can comment on this, but one of the big questions that’s on the table, the politics of the Hagel nomination. Does he ultimately get confirmed?
MS. ANDREA MITCHELL (Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent, NBC News): Most likely, yes, presidents get their choices. We’ve seen in cases such as John Tower where that didn’t happen. There is a point where at times if something is said at a confirmation hearing where something else comes out that we wouldn’t expect in this case where the opposition can reach critical mass. It was here on MEET THE PRESS that Chuck Schumer indicated his ambivalence to say the least. He is a key player here. And if Chuck Schumer and other Democrats decide that they’re going to go against this then they have got a real problem. Chuck Hagel has been talking to almost I think thirty senators privately. He is working it very hard. You saw what Colin Powell said today. He has other advocates, Brent Scowcroft, Tom Ridge, others who have known him for many years and support him. But he too is in a different part of the Republican Party. It’s not just that he had difficult personal relationships, but he really offended John McCain in 2008. He didn’t endorse Barack Obama, but he traveled with him and that was a tacit endorsement going to, you know, Iraq and Afghanistan with Obama and it really angered McCain.
GREGORY: And Governor Barbour one of the questions that actually Andrea raised in-- in-- in discussions with us this week is how does somebody who has got such tough relationship with Republicans help this president lead, you know, big budget cutbacks at the Pentagon? Won’t that be tough on Capitol Hill?
FMR. GOV. BARBOUR: Well, it remains to be seen. I-- I think this. He certainly wasn’t picked to improve the president’s relationship with Republicans. And like General Powell, I’m not sure exactly why he was picked. But as Andrea said normally the presidents get their choices for the cabinet and these hearings I think will be contentious, particularly on Iran and Israel, on Hamas and Hezbollah and we will see-- I should tell you Chuck Hagel and I have been friends since the mid 70s when we were young staffers. His wife is from Meridian, Mississippi. That may be enough to help him. But-- but the fact of the matter is, this is going to be about substance and about some things that are part of America’s future and Senator Schuman-- Senator Schumer I think put his finger on that.
GREGORY: This is really, though, Mike, about the fights the president wants to pick and the ones he is going to win.
MR. MURPHY: Mm-Hm.
GREGORY: And we are seeing that already in this nomination process.
MR. MURPHY: Yeah, I-- I am puzzled by all this. I think the president has forgotten the campaign is over because we went through the fiscal cliff negotiation and it was an absolute steel wall on any spending cuts, which every expert said is a huge part of the problem and huge part of the solution. President shot all that down. Now he has got to pick and as Haley says and others, the job of the defense secretary is going to be about managing real-- real budget problems particularly because the president doesn’t seem to have any interest in entitlements. So it is a contentious pick. We are going to have a fight; I think the president is favored to win and he has more votes in the Senate, but we are fighting over secretary of defense. That-- that is not a way forward. Then it’s a same thing with Jack Lew, totally qualified to be treasury secretary, but all Republican negotiators will tell you, it is hardnosed and hard to deal with. So the president seems to be digging and fighting more than trying to get some solutions here, which surprises me.
GREGORY: Cory Booker, part of this fight, part of this nomination process has been done almost nothing but attract criticism. There is an issue of diversity in the cabinet, as well, and the tale of the images that have been presented. The New York Times image that was about-- a story about the lack of diversity among the president’s senior team--we’ll put that picture up--that showed during the debt fight. All white men surrounding him. Valerie Jarrett apparently not visible there because Dan Pfeiffer is standing in front of her. The White House released a counter picture that pointed out that you had Kathy Ruemmler who is the White House Counsel; Valarie Jarrett, senior advisor. Nancy-Ann DeParle who is a deputy chief of staff…
MS. MITCHELL: And is leaving…
GREGORY: …but-- but who is leaving. But is there a problem with the president not pursuing more diversity, more women in his cabinet? Are you troubled by that?
MAYOR BOOKER: Well, look, to me this almost seems swift voting. If you look at the data and the numbers. I mean, taking a person’s strength and trying to create a weakness out of it. The president has about 50 percent of White House staff are women, which is twice of percentage that Bush had and significantly more than what Clinton had. And if you look at his appointments to the court, we have the first time ever three women on the Supreme Court, two of them appointed by the president.
GREGORY: Big cabinet jobs, white men.
MAYOR BOOKER: You know, look first of all, the cabinet is not fully-- fully fleshed out, right now.
GREGORY: The big ones, big jobs.
MAYOR BOOKER: Well again-- well, please don’t diminish cabinet level positions as certain ones are big and certain ones are not. And in-- and for a domestic policy guy who has to deal with the city everyday thinks there are many cabinet positions that are very important, I mean. But let’s just focus on two things. One is that is very disingenuous to show that picture when 50 percent of the staff in the White House is women. And number two, to me is very important to understand this is a president who has expanded health care opportunities for women. This is a president who stood up on his first legislation for Lilly Ledbetter Law. If you look at his policies and his practices he is changing the focus on the country...
GREGORY: I think a lot of women Andrea would disagree with the idea that this is swift voting this administration.
MS. MITCHELL: Let me just say. That was a White House photo. That picture was taken by the president’s photographer and that indicated who was around him when he was dealing with the fiscal cliff negotiations. That’s what that picture represented. At the highest levels of the White House and in the cabinet you have men and they are white men. Now, num-- the numbers-- we can play the numbers game but as another Democratic president said during a transition in 1992, you’ve been counters, you women’s groups, so we’re, you know, counting heads. I am going to fill these jobs but they were at lower levels. The fact is that men help elect the president. Women voted for the president in the great-- in greatest numbers but the men on his team were the predominant people. You have two women who are the White House deputy chiefs of staff--Nancy-Ann DeParle is leaving this week--but two women and neither of them are being mentioned in any of these trio balloons to replace Jack Lew. And that’s why women including women in the White House-- I’m going to tell you, I wrote a story about this, this week. And I did not get one complaint. I get lots of complaints from the White House about things that I say and do and you know, well, sometimes it’s correct. Sometimes I have to correct something, but not one person and I talked to several people inside the White House women and they said, no, we didn’t have any problem with what you wrote about this week. The women are not happy.
MR. MURPHY: You know, I-- I got a horselaugh out of it because you see that picture old rich white guys, it looks like Romney voters. You know, they are going to have to rename the cabinet table millionaire’s row. But I think there is a bigger indication here which is the cabinet is getting smaller. He is not looking for opposing voices. There are no super stature people there…
MS. MITCHELL: Exactly.
MR. MURPHY: …like a Leon Panetta, Bob Gates or of course Hillary Clinton. This is the yes sir cabinet. And that-- that’s troubling because we have big problems and it seems to be shrinking to a very White House centric…
GREGORY: Haley it is interesting to describe as a band of brothers cabinet just go around not a team of rivals.
FMR. GOV. BARBOUR: Well, it’s-- it’s to me it’s even more-- it’s beginning to look like a staff.
FMR. GOV. BARBOUR: It’s beginning to look like-- more like the president’s staff than the president’s cabinet.
MS. MITCHELL: But he would argue he was elected why shouldn’t he have the people around him that he…
FMR. GOV. BARBOUR: He-- he’s got every…
MS. MITCHELL: …that would agree with his policies.
FMR. GOV. BARBOUR: …he has got every right to it but a lot of presidents in their second term have become more and more isolated listening only to the people that agree with him and that’s what Republican presidents as well as Democrats…
FMR. GOV. BARBOUR: …I don’t mean that…
FMR. GOV. BARBOUR: That is what has struck me.
MAYOR BOOKER: Just a good couple of things to say. First of all, nobody was saying this in his first term. And we know what that looked like from Hillary Clinton to Valerie Jarrett. His second term is not-- is not clear, all the seats have not been filled around the table. In addition to this, it’s not a staff, I mean, Chuck Hagel was a Republican, is a Republican and has diversity in that point. So, give him some time to finish-- fill out his staff. And more importantly as I want to keep coming back to is this election was fought over the issues that are important to America. And women clearly saw that this is a president that will fight for, affirm and advance equality and justice for them.
GREGORY: All right, let me-- I want to get back to some of the issues again. The fight he’s picking, the fight he could win or lose in the second term. I want to talk about that with the group when we come back, right after this.
JOE BIDEN: There is nothing that has pricked the conscious-- consciousness of the American people. There is nothing that has gone to the heart of the matter more than the visual image people have of little six-year-old kids riddled, not shot with a stray bullet, riddled, riddled, riddled with bullet holes in their classroom. And the public demands we speak to it.
GREGORY: The vice president who is going to submit this week his package of legislation to the president on gun control measures. Haley Barbour, you were chairman of the Party back during the ‘90s during the Assault Weapons Ban and those politics. Is there something different about this push now that makes it more politically successful, in your mind?
FMR. GOV. BARBOUR: Well, of course, this awful, terrible thing that happened in Connecticut, good God, I mean, people are emotionally involved and it’s awful.
GREGORY: But does it…
FMR. GOV. BARBOUR: But the problem is almost everything that was done is already against the law. I mean, you know, the governor of Connecticut said they had the fourth strictest gun law in the United States.
GREGORY: Right. They didn’t have a magazine ban, you know, a high-capacity magazine ban.
FMR. GOV. BARBOUR: But this is-- you know, what-- what we are talking about here is-- is something really awful. I am glad there is starting to be some attention on the mental health side.
FMR. GOV. BARBOUR: It’s a tough, tough, tough issue. But look, if you make it a crime to have a gun, only criminals will have guns. That’s just a fact.
GREGORY: The-- the reality is that we bump up against the constitution and all these arguments, Mike, which is with regard to privacy issues and mental health under greater transparency or certainly the Second Amendment or the First Amendment, when you get to video games, that somehow going to have to be resolved.
MR. MURPHY: Yeah.
GREGORY: And the optics were there in terms of a big, inclusive approach. But does the president want this fight?
MR. MURPHY: Well, politically it’s very diff-- difficult. Democrats historically backed away in the last ten years from gun control politics. But I’ll-- I’ll say this, as usual, the easy political bumper sticker stuff that might make people feel good is the least effective stuff. What will work is the hard thing. We got 300 million guns on the street. So sure, you can ban assault weapons. It doesn’t change the existence of guns. We have a much smaller number, if you kind of profile the type of lunatic we get in these attacks of crazy, young adolescent males, probably a couple of thousand of them. We really need to change the mental health laws and commit the money. There’re big privacy issues. But we have to fight that fight and do the harder thing.
MR. MURPHY: Because it’s easier to control a small number of crazy people than 300 million guns that are already out there.
MAYOR BOOKER: But this debate is-- is-- is so tiring to me because we always are talking about the wrong issue. So, there are over 30 people murdered every day, almost a Virginia Tech every day in this country and-- which would lead this debate is pragmatic, consensus and data. The reality is, is-- in my-- in my streets, the majority-- assault weapons, hey, I-- I would support an assault weapon ban but it’s only going to affect a small percentage of the murders in this country. Right now we have 74 percent of NRA members that agree with pragmatic changes to gun safety laws that would stop murderers in my-- in my city, murderers in Chicago, murderers in Los Angeles, which are the murders that are happening all over our-- our country right now. Let me just give you a specific example.
GREGORY: Wait-- wait, what-- what is this specific solution, though?
MAYOR BOOKER: Let me give you the specific-- look, so let me give you the specific solution. Right now, if you were on the terrorist no-fly list and can’t get on a plane and fly into Newark, you can still go into the secondary markets, gun shows, private sales, internet sales…
MAYOR BOOKER: ...and buy trunk loads full of weapons. We’ve traced the guns that are killing people on my streets and they’re coming from the secondary market. Everybody, gun owners, over 80 percent of gun owners America say you should not be able to just go anywhere and buy a gun without a background check. You fix that…
MR. MURPHY: Yeah, America, all right…
MAYOR BOOKER: …data shows-- hold on. The data shows if you’re a woman murdered in this country, 50 percent of-- of those women are murdered by someone they know. In places that have shutdown these secondary markets, they’ve been able to drop that 40 percent. If you wanted to keep people safe, let’s not waste political capital on the margins of this debate.
MS. MITCHELL: I’ve been…
MR. MURPHY: But it’s not a waste to talk about mental health. You-- you were right about the gun show loophole, everybody ought to get a background check. I’m for that…
MAYOR BOOKER: And so then let’s just do that (Unintelligible) people safer.
MR. MURPHY: …but you have 300 million guns in circulation and if you don’t address mental health, you don’t address mass…
MAYOR BOOKER: But this is where you’re wrong. This is-- one thing you’re wrong, one thing you’re right. Legal, law-abiding citizen does not kill people. I-- I’ve looked at all the shootings in my city and could only find one that is done where somebody had a gun legally. I’m not worried about you buying a gun, you buying a gun but-- but-- so that’s where-- where people need to stop about all these guns in circulation. They don’t concern me. The guns that concern me is that the ability for a-- a criminal with…
MAYOR BOOKER: No, no, no, the-- the-- the mental health thing is very important.
MR. MURPHY: Yeah. Yeah.
MAYOR BOOKER: That is absolutely true.
MR. MURPHY: Yeah. You’re arguing against new guns going to people, I’m with you. But you can’t say the crime in your city is not guns that are already in circulation that might have been bought legally and then sold and moved on.
MAYOR BOOKER: If you shutdown the…
MR. MURPHY: There’s no time machine. You can’t go back and get them…
MAYOR BOOKER: But there’re ways to shutdown the secondary market. If you say you lose your gun, you should have to report that.
MAYOR BOOKER: But the-- the mental health issues-- to have 19 states in America, to have less than a 100 people reported as mental health bars from bringing guns into the federal database, that is a problem. That is a problem.
MR. MURPHY: I agree.
MS. MITCHELL: Now, I’ve been told that the president is going to do the big things. He’s going to do the Assault Weapon Ban. He‘s going to do the background checks that he has spoken of this. He’s not going to back off from it. So-- whereas some of us thought frankly watching Joe Biden and talking to people around-- around this task force that he was not going to go there. When this gets reported to the president, very quickly, by the end of this month, he is going to take some very big steps now. He’s only-- it’s a fight he wants to take on clearly-- they may not get it. The politics aren’t there yet but he’s going to at least engage Congress on it.
GREGORY: I just got a couple of minutes and a couple of things I want to get to quickly. First of all, for you, Mayor Booker, you’re taking on some of these big debates and you might actually take them on in the Senate. You filed your papers to-- to run for the Senate in New Jersey to take on Senator Lautenberg. Is that what you intend to do? Will you run?
MAYOR BOOKER: Well, again, you have to file the papers even to do research on the issue, even to-- to travel on the issue. And so we’re complying with the law before we do any exploration of the Senate run. We’ve got a-- we’ve got to file (Unintelligible) but that’s my intention but it’s over a year away. And a lot is going to change between now and then.
GREGORY: Senator Lautenberg called you self-absorbed and disrespectful.
MAYOR BOOKER: First of all…
GREGORY: One of his spokespersons did. Excuse me...
MAYOR BOOKER: Thank you. And (cross talk) spokesperson.
GREGORY: …speaking-- okay. But the-- but the-- the idea that you have not really worked out with Senator Lautenberg what his plans are, any missteps in terms of that?
MAYOR BOOKER: No. Again, this is really early. We’ve reached out to him. We even had a trip down here to speak with him, but he-- he wasn’t able to-- to speak. Right now the Senator, who I support, needs to focus on the debt ceiling, needs to focus on funding for Sandy. I have two very good senators in the Senate. We’re going to support that. This campaign is over a year away. You know New Jersey has got to focus on a governor’s race and a legislative race. But for me to do a good exploration, the due diligence for running, I have to follow up…
GREGORY: But you’re not ruling out challenging him?
MAYOR BOOKER: I’m not ruling out anything right now, but I think it’s-- it’s-- it’s premature to be speculative.
GREGORY: Finally, I-- I don’t want us to leave without taking on a topic that has been big this week, if you saw the New York Times with the Hall of Fame voting reflecting the steroids era, there it was. The Inductees, a blank page, the likes of Barry Bonds and Sosa and others were not inducted. And now you’ve got Haley Barbour, Lance Armstrong, preparing to do an interview, of course, famously winner of the Tour de France, but has lost those titles because of doping accusations. It appears that he may make some confessions here. He'd like to be reinstated, according to some of the reports be to be able to compete in the Olympics or to do triathlons and the like. How does this work? Public mea culpas and-- and reinstating his-- his good name?
FMR. GOV. BARBOUR: Well, it doesn’t do anything about excessive federal spending. We know it.
GREGORY: But a lot of people are talking about this. Do you have a view on it?
FMR. GOV. BARBOUR: Well, look, the-- the doping deal is-- is-- is very good for America. For the people that-- that are making the decisions say you got to play by the rules if you want to get the benefits. Now, that’s just the way-- that’s the way it ought to be in our country. Some-- you know, some of those people I thought were-- some of those ball players, baseball players, I genuinely admired, crazy about, but people ought to be held to this-- to the standard of the rules.
MR. MURPHY: I’m tired of the contrition culture. He is guilty and disgraced the-- his sport. I don’t think Armstrong ought to get any quarter at all and ought to be banned for life.
GREGORY: Anybody disagree?
MAYOR BOOKER: Well, I-- I just want to say the-- the-- the real story here is the kids who look up to these people as heroes…
MS. MITCHELL: Exactly.
GREGORY: No doubt.
MAYOR BOOKER: …and I see what’s going on in high school football culture, I see what’s going on at the college level. It is-- it is-- it anguishes me deeply what children now are thinking that this win-at-any-cost culture is what we are creating as opposed to sportsmanship and honor and integrity in our sports.
MS. MITCHELL: Now hear-- hear for the Hall of Fame. But baseball should not be diminished by the inclusion of-- of these players. They have disgraced themselves, and they have not disgraced the game, which is the greatest.
GREGORY: You know, what would-- would only enhance baseball and not diminish it? If finally the Veterans Committee would vote Steve Garvey into the Hall of Fame for his prowess, his-- his durability. He is my favorite baseball player of all time. We’re going to take a break. We’ll be back in just a moment.
GREGORY: Great conversation. You want Dale Murphy in the Hall of Fame, Governor. Duly noted. Thanks to all of you. That is all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.