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updated 4/14/2013 11:59:43 AM ET 2013-04-14T15:59:43

DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, a critical phase for the Obama agenda: guns, immigration and the budget. Can the gridlock in Washington be broken?

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My lead guest this morning is the key GOP player in the immigration debate, Florida senator and prospective 2016 presidential candidate, Marco Rubio.

Also this morning, the gun debate: High emotion as Newtown families lobby for tighter gun restrictions. What chance does a new compromise on background checks have in a divided Congress?

(Videotape)

President Obama: What's more important to you: our children, or an A grade from the gun lobby?

(End videotape)

The debate this morning as part of our political roundtable: with us Democrat from New York, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Republican from Utah, Senator Mike Lee.

Finally, Jackie Robinson, baseball, and race in America. A new film about his life is out this weekend. Why his story is so meaningful even to a younger generation in the age of President Obama.

Joining us for a special conversation: Jackie Robinson’s wife of 26 years, Rachel Robinson, and historian and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.

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

DAVID GREGORY:
And good Sunday morning. Excuse my laryngitis. On Tuesday a bipartisan group of senators will present its long-awaited plan for immigration reform. The so-called Gang of Eight has wrapped up months of negotiations and will present a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for many of the 11 million immigrants who are here without documentation. With us now, the man at the center of bringing this group together, Republican senator from Florida, Marco Rubio. Senator, welcome back to Meet the Press.

MARCO RUBIO:
Thank you. Thanks for having me.

DAVID GREGORY:
I have to apologize for sounding like Peter Brady from The Brady Bunch this morning. I'm a little under the weather, so bear with me.

MARCO RUBIO:
Thank-- that's fine. (CHUCKLE) I just thought you were getting emotional.

DAVID GREGORY:
Yeah. (LAUGHTER) Let's get right to the issue of immigration and the so-called "Gang of Eight." If we were to sum up this proposal, it would be to beef up border security, at the same time, create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants now in the country. Why would you support this, given the obvious political risk that this carries in your own party?

MARCO RUBIO:
Well, three things. First of all, even if we didn't have a single person in this country in violation of immigration laws, we'd still have to do immigration reform, because our legal immigration system is broken. It's not good for anybody, the way it works right now. And this bill modernizes it in a way that's going to get broad-based support.
We also have to be able to enforce our laws. And this bill will pass a ser-- this bill once introduced, as we've agreed to, I think, will show that a broad base of enforcement measures, unlike anything this country's ever seen. And what it does is it creates a way for us to address the millions of people that are here undocumented in a way that's compassionate, but also, in a way that's responsible.
It will allow them to ultimately earn access to our legal immigration system. They will still have to apply. It doesn't reward, or it doesn't award them anything. But it does give them access to our legal immigration system through a process that will not encourage people to come here illegally in the future, and then through a process that isn't unfair for people that have done it the right way.

DAVID GREGORY:
So--

MARCO RUBIO:
Now, you talk about the political calculus? I, quite frankly, have avoided making the political calculus on this issue because, for me, and this may sound, you know, new to people or what have you, in terms of how politics works today, but what we have now isn't good for anybody. What we have in place today, the status quo, is horrible for America.
The only people benefiting from the status quo in immigration today are the people trafficking human beings across the border, and the people who are hiring illegal labor for cheap purposes. You know, so they've got to pay them very little. These are the only people benefiting from the status quo. It's bad for (VOICE) everybody else.

DAVID GREGORY:
As you well know, and the criticism is fast and furious from conservatives like Ted Cruz from Texas, your fellow Senator, who says, for those who are going through the legal process, they'll feel like chumps who are outside this country. His word, "Because those who are here illegally would get on this legal path to citizenship, even if they would pay a penalty, even if they would pay a fine and have to go through other checks. Why isn't it tantamount to amnesty, as your critics say?

MARCO RUBIO:
Well first of all, amnesty is the forgiveness of something. In fact, there will be consequences for having violated the law. And they'll be reasonable consequences. But the type of consequences (SIC) that-- consequences that ensure that there's no incentive to do it this way again.
Here's my second point. If you're waiting to come legally to the United States now, no one who has done it the wrong way will get it before you. In fact, it will be much cheaper, faster, easier and less bureaucratic if you're doing it the right way. In no way will having done this the wrong way be a reward, in comparison to the people that are waiting to come here legally, or the ones who have come here legally in the past. So I can't wait for the details of this to be available, because I think people will find that we've addressed that concern specifically and effectively.

DAVID GREGORY:
Three years ago in a debate, you were clear on this. You said to earn a pathway to citizenship, you would have to leave this country if you were here illegally, go back home, and then you could come back in. You said an earned pathway was amnesty. Yet, you've changed your mind here. Why?

MARCO RUBIO:
Well first of all, what I said throughout my campaign was that I was against a blanket amnesty. And I was and this is not blanket amnesty. On the contrary, this is not blanket anything. And secondly, it's not amnesty, because you pay serious consequences for having violated the law.
Third, we need to understand the existing law. The existing law does not prohibit someone-- the law today does not prohibit someone who violated the immigration laws from getting a green card. It simply says you have to leave the United States and you have to wait ten years. What we have done is created an alternative to that, that forces you to wait more than ten years, that forces you to pay an application fee, that forces you to pay a significant fine, that forces you not to qualify for any federal benefits of any kind, that forces you, tells you you have to work and be gainfully employed so that you're not a public charge.
And ultimately, none of the-- even with all of that, you don't gain access to the green card process. You have to apply for it. It's not, you know, it's not awarded to you. And you don't gain access to any of that until there's a universal e-Verify system in place, until there's a universal--
(OVERTALK)

MARCO RUBIO:
--entry/exist system in place.

DAVID GREGORY:
But there's still a change, isn't there, Senator? I mean you said that you would have to leave the country before you could come back. And you've changed on that.

MARCO RUBIO:
But that's not necessarily what I've said in the past. What I've said in the past is that there is a pathway to citizenship, and that is the legal immigration system. And all this bill does is give people access to the legal immigration system. It allows them to earn an access to the legal immigration system. And so what we are doing is we are creating an alternative to that path that exists now. And quite frankly, it'll be cheaper, faster and easier to leave and wait ten years than it will be to go through this process that we've designed.

DAVID GREGORY:
The political problem the party faces, Republicans face among minority communities, is so large if you look at the results from the 2012 election. You've spoken to it, as have others. And I wonder whether this is enough. The party's repositioned, you're leading the way on immigration, is enough to overcome some of those difficulties. As you know, Colin Powell was on the program earlier this year. He had some comments about the plight for the Republican Party. And I want to get your response to them.
(Videotape)
COLIN POWELL:
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.
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.
(End videotape)
DAVID GREGORY:
Do you agree with that? And do you think that these efforts on immigration are enough to overcome it?

MARCO RUBIO:
Well first of all, I don't agree with the Republican Party as characterized by intolerance or looking down on anybody. And I respectfully disagree with someone who I think has served our country admirably. I will say this to you. Obviously, there's political ramifications to everything we do in Washington. But it's not the reason to do it.
And it certainly isn't the reason why I'm involved in doing this. I'm involved in doing this because I think what we have now is terrible for the United States of America. We have a legal immigration system that does not work. It does not reflect the economic needs of this country in the 21st century.
It needs to be modernized. And our agreement will do that. It will modernize the legal immigration system in a way that is more merit-based and jobs-based and less based on whether you know someone who already lives here. And that's an important development, along with the ability for people to access the workforce and the high-tech field, et cetera.
The second thing this does is it puts in place effective enforcement mechanisms unlike anything we've ever had in the history of this country before. My last point on this: I think Republicans need to do a better job of reaching out to everyone in the United States. Politics is always about getting the support of the majority of our people.
And I think the best way to do that is for the Republican Party to prove, as I think we can, that we are the party of upward mobility. We are not the party of the people who have made it. Certainly we don't begrudge people who have made it. We celebrate what they've done. And in America, we've always celebrated success.
But we are the party that stands for the people who are trying to make it, the people who are trying to start a business out of the spare bedroom of their home, who are trying to give their kids a better life. And the only way that's possible is through the America free enterprise system--

DAVID GREGORY:
But it--

MARCO RUBIO:
--which the Democrats on the left are undermining.

DAVID GREGORY:
Isn't the hole rather deep? I mean look at-- based on our recent poll, favorable/unfavorable ratings among Hispanics in this country, comparing you to Hillary Clinton here, look it. She's at 63-13. You're at 23-12. Similar advantages that the president has over you. Isn't that a sign of just how big the hole is, even among Hispanics in this country, between--

MARCO RUBIO:
I don't--

DAVID GREGORY:
--you and--

MARCO RUBIO:
You know--

DAVID GREGORY:
--and two top tier Democrats?

MARCO RUBIO:
I don't know anything about these polls. And, quite frankly, I don't spend a lot of time analyzing them. This is not about improving anyone's poll number numbers. This is (CHUCKLE) very simple. I'm a Senator. I get paid not to just give speeches.
I get paid to solve problems. This is a serious problem here in Florida. We have million-- this is a serious problem in America. We have millions of people in this country who are illegally here. We don't know who they are, where they are. Some of them aren't-- most-- many of them aren't paying taxes. It's not good for them, obviously, either. It's not good for our economy. We have a legal immigration system that our business community is telling us is keeping them from creating jobs--

DAVID GREGORY:
Understood.

MARCO RUBIO:
--not to lead the economic--
(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
But Senator--
(OVERTALK)

MARCO RUBIO:
We have immigration laws that aren't being enforced.

DAVID GREGORY:
Is there something that happens in this debate, the amendment process, additional opposition from conservatives, that causes you to step back and say, "I can no longer support this compromise agreement?"

MARCO RUBIO:
Well, I've been very clear about my principles of what reform needs to look like. And if this bill were to somehow to abandon those principles via the amendment process or what have you, certainly I wouldn't support that. But I don't anticipate that.
Now look, there are amendments. Okay? Amendments designed to make a bill better. And I think that's important. What we're working on is a starting point. It is not the take-it-or-leave-it offer. It is a starting point of reform. We spent a lot of time crafting it. I think it's a very good piece of legislation, a very good law. But obviously, there are 92 other senators who have ideas of their own. And I think that, from them, we are going to get ways to improve this.

DAVID GREGORY:
Yet--

MARCO RUBIO:
We are going to get ideas that make it better. And I welcome that. Now, there are amendments designed to undermine this. There are amendments that will be designed to make this thing undoable. And obviously, I'll oppose those, especially if that's the intent of them.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right.

MARCO RUBIO:
And so certainly, I mean I'm looking forward to an open process of debate on this.

DAVID GREGORY:
I want to get to a couple of other issues, including the gun control debate. Striking moment this weekend when you had one of the family members of the victims in Newtown actually give the weekly address that the president normally gives. Francine Wheeler had this to say. I want to play a portion of it and get your response.
(Videotape)
FRANCINE WHEELER:
We have to convince the Senate to come together and pass commonsense gun responsibility reforms that will make our communities safer and prevent more tragedies like the one we never thought would happen to us.
(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:
How do you answer Francine Wheeler when you are opposed to expanded background check, when you voted even to oppose this debate coming forward in the Senate?

MARCO RUBIO:
Well first of all, let me say that my heart, as everyone else's, goes out to these families. I actually met with these families, including her and her husband. And it was, I can just tell you, the most emotional meeting I've ever had in all my public service, for multiple reasons.
I also admire these families. Because, quite frankly, their agenda's not a political one. They are trying to turn this horrifying tragedy into a positive in some way, in terms of getting some changes in public policy. And I applaud them for that.
Here's my point, and has always been my point on gun laws. They are highly ineffective in terms of accomplishing the following goal: And that is to protect the right of law abiding citizens to possess weapons, which the second amendment guarantees, a constitutional right. And they are ineffective of keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals who, quite frankly, because they're criminals, don't care what the law is. So I'm not opposed to all gun laws, I'm just opposed to the ones that don't do those two things.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right, but--
(OVERTALK)

MARCO RUBIO:
--the right of people to possess firearms and to keep it out of the hands of criminals.

DAVID GREGORY:
But what would you need to be challenged here?

MARCO RUBIO:
And I don't think these proposals accomplish that.

DAVID GREGORY:
But Senator, there are existing background checks--

MARCO RUBIO:
Go ahead.

DAVID GREGORY:
--at the federal level. You know that. This would expand those checks--

MARCO RUBIO:
Yes.

DAVID GREGORY:
--in order to shore up certain loopholes. How is it that those additional checks would undermine the second amendment?

MARCO RUBIO:
Well first of all, we have, for example, concealed weapon permits across this country, like my-- I have one. These are people that are pre-approved in terms of getting concealed weapons permits. So perhaps there's a way to accommodate that across all 50 states, where a concealed weapons permit is treated as a de facto background check.
But ultimately, the reason why we are doing this, in essence, we are spending all of our time talking about background checks as if, somehow, criminals will no longer getting guns because they have to undergo a background check. We're lying to people. That isn't true.
The fact of the matter is that we have a violence problem in America. Guns are what people are using. But violence is our problem. And no one is having a debate about the violence problem. And I think this is a missed opportunity to have an honest and open conversation in this country about why these horrifying things are happening, not simply what they're using to carry this out, but why are people doing this to begin with?

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator?

MARCO RUBIO:
And all the focus is on laws that only law abiding people are going to follow.

DAVID GREGORY:
You know the political analysis right now as a prospective 2016 nominee. You've got to be careful not to stray too far from the Republican Party on guns, particularly when you're stepping out and trying to be a leader on immigration. So you've got to pick your areas where you're going to stand up.

MARCO RUBIO:
Well David, I disagree with that analysis. My position on guns is the same they've always been. The second amendment is a constitutional right. I didn't write that into the constitution. That's in there. And any time that you're going to do anything that impacts a constitutional right, the scrutiny should be very, very high.
And that's what I'm applying to this. If someone can produce the law that keeps guns out of the hands of criminals but protects the right of law-abiding citizens to possess them, and doesn't infringe on those rights, I would consider that. But the proposals I've seen so far, and I haven't fully read the Toomey/Manchin Compromise. But all the proposals I've seen so far do not achieve that goal. And quite frankly, they are over-promising. And we are missing a golden opportunity to have an important debate about violence in our society. Violence in our society is the problem.

DAVID GREGORY:
I want to ask you about North Korea, as the administration waits for a potential missile launch from Kim Jung Un. How do you think the administration's handled this. How do you diffuse this crisis?

MARCO RUBIO:
Well, I don't have much qualms with the way they've handled it, to be quite frank. I think they've taken the appropriate steps in terms of repositioning assets to the region to protect the United States and to make very clear that we are going to live up to our security obligations to our allies in the region.
The truth of the matter is that I think it's a mistake to view North Korea as a government. It really is more like a criminal syndicate. And this young man who's now in charge of government there is even more erratic, as hard as it is to believe, than his predecessors. So it's a very dangerous situation.
I'm glad to see that Secretary Kerry visited China yesterday. I think it's important that the Chinese weigh in on this. I think, in the long term it's in the goal of everyone to see a unified Korea that actually provides for the people of North Korea the kind of life that they need.
And I think certainly, in the short term, what we have to ensure is that all of our allies in the region clearly understand that we are going to live up to our security commitments, that we are positioned militarily to be able to defend the United States if, in fact, these guys carry out an irrational or irresponsible act.

DAVID GREGORY:
Is--

MARCO RUBIO:
And long term, to make them understand that this pattern of irresponsible behavior, followed by some sort of reward in the form of food aid, that those days are over. And that is what's very important, that we not reward that behavior with any sort of aid.

DAVID GREGORY:
You were critical of the administration this week after a trip down to Cuba by Beyonce and Jay-Z. They were seen, you know, vacationing there, walking through the streets. It was sanctioned by The Treasury Department. Isn't the broader issue here, Senator, what, if anything will it take to get more normal relations with Cuba and the United States?

MARCO RUBIO:
Well, that's up to Cuba. If Cuba wants normal relations, there's certain things they need to do like become a normal country that respects the rights of their citizens. I thought it was hypocritical for Jay-Z and Beyonce to go down to Cuba. There is, in fact, a rapper right now in Cuba who's and a hunger strike and has been persecuted because of his lyrics.
You know, Jay-Z's a guy that wears the Che Guevara t-shirt and he doesn't realize Che Guevara was a racist. Che Guevara was a murderer and a killer. So look, he's an entertainer, obviously. He's not in the middle of any public discourse here. But I think it's important to point out when people take stances like this that are absurd.
Beyond that, I would say that the fundamental problem is not Jay-Z and Beyonce. The fundamental problem is that these trips to Cuba are being abused. They are not people to people trips. They are tourist trips that are providing hard currency for a dictatorial, tyrannical regime to get hard currency that it uses to oppress its people. And that's why these trips need to be carefully scrutinized.

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator, final question on politics. Can the nominee of the Republican Party in 2016 be a champion for an immigration reform policy that provides a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants in this country?

MARCO RUBIO:
I think that the nominee of our party needs to be someone that has answers to the problems our country faces. And immigration is a serious problem. The 11 million people, or supposedly, the 11 million people that are here undocumented, is not a theory. No one is talking about bringing 11 million people here illegally. They are here now. They will be here for the rest of their lives. That needs to be addressed.
Unless if someone believes we can round them up and deport them, they should advocate that. I don't think that's a reasonable goal. If someone thinks that we should basically make life miserable for them so that they self deport, they should advocate that. That hasn't gone over well in the past because it doesn't work.
Or we can leave things the way they are. That is status quo, and that is amnesty. Or we can try to address it in a way that's responsible. And that's what I'm attempting to do. And that's what I hope I can convince my fellow Republicans to be supportive of.

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator, thank you, as always. Thanks for not making fun of my voice.

MARCO RUBIO:
Thank you.
DAVID GREGORY:
And coming up here a personal plea from the families of Newtown victims this week. New gun control legislation moves forward on Capitol Hill but will controversial measures like expanded background checks get through a divided congress. Joining me for a debate, Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Republican Senator from Utah, Mike Lee. Later my special conversation about the legacy of Jackie Robinson with his wife of 26 years Rachel Robinson and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.

(COMMERCIAL)

DAVID GREGORY:
And we are back with our roundtable. Joining me this morning, Republican Senator from Utah, Mike Lee and Democratic Senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand, columnist for The New York Times, David Brooks, Washington correspondent and anchor for BBC World News America, Katty Kay, and NBC News Chief White House correspondent, our political director, Chuck Todd, who might just have to take over at any time. Thank you all (CHUCKLE) for being here.
Senator, let me begin with you and get some reaction to Senator Rubio. Senator Lee, on immigration, what is the bottom line here? Are there going to be poison pills that ultimately kill this legislation? Or do you see it surviving?

SEN. MIKE LEE:
I don't know. It's something that might well survive the Senate with a few Republican votes that appear to be on it. It could get through, especially if a few others join it. What we don't yet know is the details, the fine print of the bill. Some have suggested it could be as-- as long as 1,500 pages. We have yet to see it. I look forward to seeing it.

DAVID GREGORY:
What are you concerned about as you hear Senator Rubio?

SEN. MIKE LEE:
What I'm most concerned about is the fact that I think we need to undertake this in a step by step fashion. I agree with 70 or 80% of what they've been talking about. But I think we're best served if we start with border security and move onto decent modernization, the entry/exit system. We can get those things passed. There's broad-based bipartisan consensus for those things. It'll be a lot easier to deal with the 11 million once those are in place.

DAVID GREGORY:
But is the pathway to citizenship the real deal breaker for you?

SEN. MIKE LEE:
The pathway to citizenship, right now, before those other element are in place, is the deal breaker for me. It's not necessarily something that would be a deal breaker down the road. I just think we need to get the other things in place first. It's a matter of sequencing.

DAVID GREGORY:
And so I mean some of that is very process-y. But Senator Gillibrand, it seems that what conservatives want it a real down payment, literally and figuratively, on border security, before they're willing to open up the pathway to citizenship peaceably.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
I think this conversation's so important. Because the bottom line is immigration reform will strengthen our economy, strengthens our security, and really honors our tradition as Americans that this country was founded on immigrants. It's the richness and the diversity that strengthens our country.

DAVID GREGORY:
But what's different now than when President Bush pursued this, when Senator McCain, when he was for the idea of a pathway to citizenship, what has changed fundamentally that can get conservatives to a place they don't appear to be, which is to support the pathway to citizenship?

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
I think the national debate has changed. The country has shifted. And we know that if you have comprehensive immigration reform, you're going to strengthen the economy. You're going to have more people pay into the system, paying into Social Security, paying their taxes.
You're going to raise wages so you have more people invest in their local communities in our small businesses. We want to see economic growth. This is an economic engine. And again, I mean we believe that diversity strengthens our nation. It's what our country was founded on. So this comprehensive approach and this really balanced approach that does really focus on national security issues, as well, is something that I think will garner long term bipartisan support.

DAVID GREGORY:
We’re talking about immigration, but we're also talking about the gun debate this weekend. Saturday Night Live had a pretty poignant, with a laugh, criticism of what is being debated about these background checks. Here's a portion of their open last night.

(Videotape)

Jay Pharoah (as President Obama): Good evening, my fellow Americans. As you know, over the past few months, I have made gun control legislation a top priority in my administration, which is why I’m so excited to announce that this week, the Senate voted 68-31 to begin debating the idea of discussing gun control. Let me say that again, they’ve agreed to think about, talking about gun control. Amazing!


(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator Gillibrand, isn't that really the problem? Despite all the emotion, despite the push, despite the public opinion polls, not a lot is about to be accomplished here?

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
I disagree. I think moving forward on this debate is so important because we have Republicans who say this is important for the country. And we have gun reform legislation that is bipartisan already. We have a background check bill that is now bipartisan. We have an anti-trafficking, anti-straw-purchaser bill that I helped to write that is bipartisan.
We have a lot of bipartisan support on mental health investment. I think we have a very good start on beginning to crack down on gun crime. And the bottom line is the families of Newtown, the families all across America who lost children every single day to gun violence, they deserve a vote. They deserve an answer. They deserve leadership--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, but--

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
And that is what is happening.

DAVID GREGORY:
It appears they'll get that, Senator Lee. Do you think what is called Manchin/Toomey here in Washington, which is an expanded background check bill, can it pass the Senate?

SEN. MIKE LEE:
It remains to be seen whether it can pass the Senate. It was introduced just the other day. It was interesting, it wasn't introduced until after we had voted to proceed to the bill. You know, following the tragedy at Sandy Hook, Americans have been rightfully focused on how to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future.
But unfortunately, the proposals we've seen would serve primarily to limit the rights of law-abiding citizens while doing little, if anything, to actually prevent tragedies like this from occurring in the future. So Toomey/Manchin does contain some carve-outs. But we know that today's carve-outs are tomorrow's loopholes. And that's of concern to us. This bill, I believe, would do more to limit the rights of the law-abiding than it would to actually prevent violent crime. And that's why I can't support it.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
And I disagree. Because there's so much in thee bills that have nothing to do with law-abiding citizens, they have specifically work to do with criminals. So for example, my anti-trafficking-straw-purchasing bill, in New York State, 85% of the weapons used in crimes come from out of state, and 90% of those weapons are illegal. So you're talking roughly nine out of ten of these guns used in crimes are being trafficked by straw-purchasers with the intent on selling them directly to gangs. And David, there's 30 people who die every single day because of gun violence. We have to answer--

DAVID GREGORY:
Let me get-- I want to--

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
--the pleas of their parents and the communities that are suffering.

DAVID GREGORY:
I want to get everybody involved here. But there is-- this is a tough vote for members of your own party, for fellow senators. Even you, as a Congresswoman from upstate New York, talked about guns much differently and the power of the gun lobby back in 2008 in your campaign website. It had this: "Congresswoman Gillibrand grew up in a family of hunters and strongly supports the rights of all hunters and gun owners. She's been an ardent opponent of legislation that will curb the second amendment for responsible gun owners, and currently has a 100% voting record with The National Rifle Association." You were touting that back in 2008 as a Congresswoman from a more conservative area. This is tough for Democrats.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
But that's why I know this bill will work, and this compromise will work. Because it is making sure that you protect second amendment rights while not undermining second amendment rights by saying, "Criminals have to go through a background check before they can buy that weapon," or, "Straw purchasers and traffickers can't be stemming these guns-- "

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
But the NRA doesn't believe that. The NRA does not agree.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
This is not about the NRA. This is about families. This is about America. 70% of NRA members like the background check bill, like the straw-purchase bill. They even support things like assault weapons ban. So if you're talking about people, and you're talking about America and what Americans want, Americans want these reforms. You just saw that mother who lost her child. You cannot do nothing in the face of that tragedy.

DAVID GREGORY:
David Brooks, from immigration to guns to the budget. Do you see the parties finding mutual self interest to get something done?

DAVID BROOKS:
Yeah. If you woke up this week, you would be under the illusion we're in a functioning democracy. (LAUGHTER) You know, things are working well, especially on immigration. And I've got to salute the Gang of Eight. The gang, so far, in the Senate, haven't worked so well.
But they're actually working well. The administration gave them space. I think Marco Rubio's a hero. You know, he said earlier today he's not thinking about the politics. I hope he's thinking about the politics. The politics are going to be tough for him if he runs for the president with this. But it's heroic what he's doing.
And so it's senators acting in prudent and courageous ways that we've seen this way. And I think that's true on guns, but especially on immigration. So this has been a good week for those of us who watch these.

DAVID GREGORY:
Chuck Todd, question for the senators, or comment on what he's saying?

CHUCK TODD:
Well, I would just say, I mean I agree with-- I do think the difference between immigration and guns is, in immigration, I think the emotion's been taken out of it. And that's why you're seeing, I think, a whole bunch of people attack it as public policy rather than getting-- the gun issue, because it's so emotional, I think actually makes it harder.
But Senator Lee, I guess my one question is do you not believe the metric that they're going to have with the border security? Do you not believe-- because that supposedly, that has to-- there's going to be an amount that they have to come up with and say, "Okay, the border is secure. Then the path to citizenship begins." Do you just not believe that's going to be the case?

SEN. MIKE LEE:
You know, it's not so much that--

CHUCK TODD:
Because that's what you were just arguing for.

SEN. MIKE LEE:
Right.

CHUCK TODD:
And that's supposedly in that bill.

SEN. MIKE LEE:
I mean it's not so much that I don't believe the metric. It's that I think it's a matter of political reality. And also is a matter of the practical implementation of these laws. We can pass things right now that would deal with border security, and that will implement the entry/exit system, and will update and modernize our visa system. We can get that done. There is broad-based bipartisan support for all those things in both houses of Congress. We can get that done.
There is a lot less consensus on what to do with the 11 million. So what I'm saying is let's get those things done right now. We will deal with the 11 million once those things are done. And I think we'll be able to convince a lot more people to support addressing the 11 million that way.

DAVID GREGORY:
Katty?

KATTY KAY:
On the immigration question, it seems that if the border security can be secured, there is no reason for the Republican Party nationally not to jump on board on this. And actually, aren't we looking in your party at conflicting pools between House districts and House races and what is clearly right for the Republican Party in terms of presidential and even Senatorial politics?
What November revealed about the changing demographics of this country is something that is clear from a policy-party point of view, but which, when you talk to individual members of the House, it's still going to be the sticking point. I mean I would love to agree with David that we are at a time of, you know, functioning government.
I mean America had got to the stage where it was almost ungovernable recently. But I wonder, when these things get out of the Senate and into the House, are we going to hit that roadblock again where individual Congressional districts, whether it's on the immigration or whether it's on gun control, are still going to gum up the process?

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
But Katty, to your point, you know, if you're just saying that border security's the most important issue, we've come a long way on broader security. President Obama's made a big commitment on that. He has 21,000 boots on the ground to do the work. They have aerial surveillance technology that they've never had before. They've done a lot. The number of confiscations that have taken place have continued to decrease over time because they're just getting it done.
So I think to say you can't do immigration reform before you do border security I think is not only a red herring, but so short-sighted. Because, again, immigration is such an economic issues. As you said, if you're taking the emotion out of it, it's a huge economic engine. If you want to put the emotion back in, I'm happy with that, too. (CHUCKLE) Because I like The Dream Act. And I think these young children who were brought here by their parents should be able to live the American dream.

KATTY KAY:
But it gets used by House members in the hundred House districts where there isn't an immigration-- a cause for having immigration reform, there are not big Hispanic voters, then that gets used. It gets used as the reason to gum up the process.

SEN. MIKE LEE:
If there's one thing we learned from the last comprehensive immigration debate we had in 2007, it's that when we play politics with this area of the law, everyone loses. We stalled out further immigration efforts for, effectively, six years. What I'm saying is not necessarily that you have to do border security first because it's the most important. These are all important issues.
What I'm saying is that it's a matter of sequencing. You've got to deal with border security. You've got to have an entry/exit system. And you've got to update and modernize our visa system so that it works. And that way, we'll be in a better position to implement and enforce whatever laws we have--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
I've only got a couple minutes left. I want to throw the budget out here, as well, during its part over Washington's deal with-- David Brooks, the criticism from Republicans of President Obama was that he wasn't taking entitlements seriously. Now he's talking about reducing the benefits of Social Security over time. And here was a key Republican who had called upon him to do that this week, and his response to the President's budget was the following.

(Videotape)

Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR): His budget really lays out kind of a shocking attack on seniors if you will.

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:
(LAUGHTER) Here's the head of the Republican Committee to Reelect Republicans in the House saying, "We asked you to do this, but now you've done it, and why are you going after seniors?"

DAVID BROOKS:
Well, that was opportunism on stilts. (CHUCKLE) But I think he was more or less alone. I talked to some House leadership people. And they're still, "We should do reform." And so I think what Obama did is the right thing to do, but it was too small.
Essentially, we've got this widening inequality problem. We've got wave stagnation. 52% of the kids born out of wedlock to moms under 30-- are born out of wedlock. And discretionary spending, all the domestic programs, health, education, welfare, that's going down to Eisenhower levels under this budget.
So I wish you'd be a little more aggressive on entitlements so we can be spending the money on young families instead of affluent seniors. And he does do that. He gets-- he goes-- takes a tiny step in that direction--

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
Well--

DAVID BROOKS:
--but not a big enough one.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
I think you make a good point. And then the quickest way to pay down the debt and reduce the deficit is create a growing economy. That's why the investments matter to David. Because, for example, investing in universal Pre-K makes a difference. Investing in high-tech manufacturer, research and development, makes a difference. Increasing the minimum wage makes a difference. Those are all priorities in the President's budget that are about economic growth. But I think he goes a long way to entitlement reform, particularly in the Medicare/Medicaid area, where they're harmonizing rebates.

SEN. MIKE LEE:
Senator--

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
--that's smart. But I do not--

SEN. MIKE LEE:
--you say "against the Social Security--

(OVERTALK)

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
But I do not agree with the Social Security cuts. And the reason why I don't agree with the Social Security cuts is because why, why, why are we cutting benefits for seniors and veterans where Social Security is not a driver of the debt?

DAVID GREGORY:
But--

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
It's just, for me, it's the wrong priority.

DAVID GREGORY:
Let me get, I want to get a comment from Chuck, too, about 20 seconds left here, to sort of--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:
No, I mean, you know, watching what happened with Greg Walden, okay, the White House, it couldn't have gone any better for them. Because here they were, about to take incoming on the left. This is exactly what Republicans thought was going to happen. The minute they wanted-- they desperately wanted the president to put (UNINTEL PHRASE) on the pad paper. Go own it, b they thought, yeah, one of the side benefits will be left, and he'll have this divisive fight. And then Walden does what he did. It gave the president a "walk away free from the talks" card.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right, I've got to leave it there.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND:
But he doesn't want to walk away from the talks.

DAVID BROOKS:
I don't think he does. But if he's not-- but now he's got--

DAVID GREGORY:
All right.

DAVID BROOKS:
--he can claim that they're not--

DAVID GREGORY:
I've got to get a break in here. Thank you all very much. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, my voice is going to get remarkably better, as you're going to hear my special conversation that I taped on Friday about the legacy of baseball legend Jackie Robinson and what his story of struggle means today. Joining me, the woman who stood by his side through all of it, his wife of 26 years, Rachel Robinson, as well as documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. We'll also here from Harrison Ford, who stars in the new Robinson film 42, playing the man who made Robinson's story possible, all coming up after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL)

DAVID GREGORY:
And we're back. It has been 66 years since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. It was a big moment then and it is just as important now, even for a generation coming of age with President Obama. A new movie is out about his life called 42. It's Jackie Robinson Day throughout Major League Baseball tomorrow. In a moment we're going to hear from Harrison Ford who I spoke with for Press Pass this week. He plays Dodger owner Branch Rickey in the film. Here now with me, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and Jackie Robinson's wife of 26 years, Rachel Robinson. Mrs. Robinson, it is just an honor to have you here. Thank you very much.

RACHEL ROBINSON:
Oh, thank you for having me. I'm so thrilled about the film that I love talking about it.

DAVID GREGORY:
And Ken, it's always great to see you. Let me start with you, Mrs. Robinson. It struck me that you were recently at the White House and the first lady spoke so enthusiastically about the film. And she made the observation about how much has changed since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. What strikes you about how relevant Jackie Robinson's story is even today?

RACHEL ROBINSON:
Oh, I think it is relevant. I think that particularly young people need to know the history of that era so that they can make comparisons between then and now. And we have made a lot of progress in America but we still have a long way to go before we can say that we have equality of opportunity for everywhere.

DAVID GREGORY:
It is amazing, Ken Burns. The first African American president and first lady. And yet the relevance of this story is perhaps underlined by the fact that there are so many people who don't know this story. Even those who are in Major League Baseball. Younger African American players.

KEN BURNS:
Yeah, that's been the tragedy of it. And I think we've overcome a lot of that in recent years and the MLB has reached out. But we have to put Jackie in the historical context. He's the first real progress in civil rights since the Civil War. You know, this is happening not at a lunch counter, not in a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, but on the diamonds of our so called national pastime.

He single handedly transforms American social life that April afternoon in 1947. He is as important in many ways as Martin Luther King. His example is timeless. Because isn't just a good story about sports. And those of us who love baseball love the story of Jackie Robinson. This isn't just a good American story. This is almost a biblical story of such human importance about a man who could exhibit the kind of forbearance that Jackie Robinson did and do the things he did for so long against such formidable odds.
Thousands of racial slights, threats and abuse that he faced every single day in a game that requires, as George Will calls it, a kind of equipoise. You can't hit a ball with a bat, the hardest thing in sports, if you're worried about your wife being hurt. You're worried about your baby boy being kidnapped. You're worried about somebody shooting you or putting black cats out on the field. Your own teammates are spiking you or the opposing guys are throwing at your head. And he does it all. And to me he's one of the greatest heroes in all of American history.

DAVID GREGORY:
Mrs. Robinson, to what extent did your husband feel that weight, that responsibility, that sense of significance real-time? Martin Luther King wrote in 1962 of your husband, "He was a sit inner before the sit ins. A freedom rider before the freedom rides." He talked about how much what Jackie Robinson did was important to what he, Martin Luther King, Junior, was able to do.

RACHEL ROBINSON:
He certainly felt the responsibility that goes with being a pioneer. He wanted to not only focus on his role in playing the game but also in being out front with this process of fighting discrimination, fighting racism and doing it in a dignified and a positive way.

DAVID GREGORY:
How difficult was it for him? You know, he was on this program, on Meet The Press, back in 1957. And you got a sense of the importance of civil rights and politics to him when he was asked a question by Lawrence Spivak on this program. Listen to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

LAWRENCE SPIVAK: How do you answer those people who insist that the NAACP is moving very, very fast to get the rights for the Negro but seems to be doing not enough to impress upon the Negro his own responsibility as he gets these rights?

JACKIE ROBINSON: I think if we go back and check our record the Negro has proven beyond a doubt that we have been more than patient in seeking our rights as American citizens. Be patient, I was told as a kid. I keep hearing that today. Let's be patient; let's take our time; things will come. It seems to me, the Civil War has been over about 93 years; if that isn't patience, I don't know what is.
(END VIDEO)

DAVID GREGORY:
There's a natural sense that I pick up from that, Mrs. Robinson, of activism. Of his impatience that propelled him forward. How did he reconcile that with the incredible patience that was necessary to endure everything he did back in 1947 and beyond?

RACHEL ROBINSON:
Well, he was a passionate advocate for change and social change. However, he also understood that anything he did that was contrary to what was expected might destroy the opportunity. So he was careful and patient in his behavior on the field and off the field.


DAVID GREGORY:
Ken Burns, the other big piece of this film, of course, is Branch Rickey, played by Harrison Ford. An incredibly important figure as well. And I asked Harrison Ford as part of our Press Pass conversation about Rickey. Listen to what he said and I'll get your reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

HARRISON FORD: He was led by very strong religious conviction and moral conviction to break the color barrier in baseball. And what he did took enormous savvy and courage, because he was resisted by all of the other owners of Major League white baseball. Many will not remember that at that time there was white baseball and the 'Negro League.' And Branch Rickey was compelled by the opportunities he saw in the talent in the Negro Leagues to want to bring some of those men on to his team. He wanted to win, he wanted to make money; he was a baseball businessman. And he thought he could improve his team -- and to right a wrong that he felt he'd lived with.

(END VIDEO)

DAVID GREGORY:
And what did he see, Ken, in Jackie Robinson?

KEN BURNS:
Well, it's interesting. There was huge debates about why Jackie was picked, because they knew he had a fiery temper. Would he be able to control it? But he knew that, by going to UCLA, had been with other white players in other sports and could handle it. And that he had this intelligence. And part of that passion could also be restrained. He could also understand the moment.
And Rickey's an important, important figure because he's doing it not just for business. And a lot of people want to play that up. And not just for this moral thing that ate at him since he was a young teacher at Ohio Wesleyan when he saw a young man try to pull his black skin off. He says, "Mr. Rickey, it's my race. If I could just change it." Denied a room at an Indiana hotel.
This lived with Rickey and ate away with him. It was his Methodist faith was a lot of that. And I think he connected, and Rachel can correct me, with Rachel and Jackie on the level of that as well. This was a great moral question to. And in some ways what's so remarkable about Harrison Ford's portrayal of Rickey, because it feels like he's just walked out of the photograph, is that he's the original method actor. As in Methodist. That is to say his faith is part of his everyday conversation

DAVID GREGORY:
Mrs. Robinson, what did you think of the movie?

RACHEL ROBINSON:
I am very pleased by the movie. Actually, thrilled by it because I waited almost 30 years to see this film made. And one of the concerns I had from the very beginning was that it should be authentic and it is very authentic as well as powerful. And I think that it's also very inspiring.
One of the things I hope will come from this is the fact that young people will be educated about the period. Will be inspired to think about their own lives in this context. And that they will want to be more productive and more linked to the society and I think beyond their own professions and beyond their own lives. So I'm very thrilled about it and I hope it will have a strong impression, particularly on young people.

DAVID GREGORY:
It's significant. It's also very tender. And I want to show a clip and get your reaction to it.

(Videotape)

RAY (RACHEL): Promise me you'll write?

JACKIE: When have I ever not written?

RAY (RACHEL): I want you to know I'm there for you even if it's words on paper.

JACKIE: Ray you're in my heart.

RAY (RACHEL): You're getting close now and the closer you get the worse they'll be. Don't let them get to you.

JACKIE: I won't. God built me to last.

(End video)

DAVID GREGORY:
That of course you and your late husband as portrayed in this film. Yours was a beautiful love story against a very difficult backdrop, wasn't it?

RACHEL ROBINSON:
Yes. It was. We had waited five years to get married. We were engaged for five years. And when Mr. Rickey called Jack and made this offer to him, the excitement we felt was as much about being able to get married as well as his having this job opportunity.

But I want to emphasize the notion of commitment, because I think commitment is something that comes through in this film. That we were committed to each other regardless of what happened in the outer world. And drew on our own love and the depth of our love and our determination to protect it and our family.

And also we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that we did have a family right away. And having a child and being connected and loved and loving him was an important part of the motivation that Jack felt for being very careful about how he conducted himself.

DAVID GREGORY:
And Ken Burns, your film about Jackie Robinson is in the works coming out in 2015. So there's a lot more to learn about all of this.

KEN BURNS:
Always. He's an endlessly important and fascinating character. The relationship that you were just talking about between him and Rachel is central to it. Without Rachel there's no Jackie Robinson in a way, because she was that rock and that backstop for him.

And my only complaint with the movie, which I think is otherwise great, is that the woman, who is incredibly attractive who plays Rachel, isn't quite as beautiful as Rachel is herself. And that's my only small nitpick on that. And we're looking forward to filling out-- this covers a relatively short period in his life and we plan to delve into what brought him to baseball and what he did afterwards, because at the very end of his life, in his last public appearance at the 1972 World Series where he's being honored and feted, the 25th anniversary year of his arrival and integrating Major League Baseball, and therefore integrating the United States, he is saying, "I'm very pleased and proud but I'm going to be more pleased and proud when I see more black faces down on the third base line."

He would die 10 days later. To the very end he was doing what Frederick Douglass was doing. Agitate, agitate, agitate. Remind us that we've got a goal ahead of us and let's aim for that always. And I love that about Jackie. I love the fact that Rachel has not hesitated in any of these years since Jackie's been gone, and it's way more years than she was with him, I am so sorry to say, in keeping up that fight. In keeping up that awareness for the quality and pushing for the scholarships that the foundation does. And this is a huge part of moving forward in the face of what is inevitable troubles. We're still struggling with race today.

DAVID GREGORY:
And, indeed, your film, The Central Park Five, is on PBS on Tuesday. As you say, not unrelated.

KEN BURNS:
The story just continues.

DAVID GREGORY:
Ken Burns, Rachel Robinson, thank you both very much. And we'll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL)

DAVID GREGORY:
Thanks to all of you for bearing with my voice today. That's all for us today.
A reminder, you can see more of my special press pass conversation with Harrison Ford who stars in the new Jackie Robinson biopic "42"-- that's at MeetthePressNBC.com.
And a quick programing note, an important one, on Tuesday Savannah Guthrie will have a wide-ranging exclusive interview with President Obama at the White House. That's Tuesday on TODAY.

For us here, we'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.


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