MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, breaking news on two fronts this morning; the crash landing in San Francisco and the chaos in the streets of Cairo as President Morsi is pushed from power.
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MAN: Emergency landing. Asiana 214 heavy, San Francisco Tower.
GREGORY: A pilot’s distress call as Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crashes upon landing at San Francisco International Airport. We talk to the top investigator who arrived on the scene just hours ago.
Plus, the unfolding crisis in Egypt. Deadly clashes in the streets, and now confusion over who is in charge. We’ll have the latest from the ground in Cairo.
Plus, America’s role, now in the spotlight as President Obama walks a fine line between promoting American values and protecting American interests. We’ll hear from the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez.
Plus, our political roundtable on the fights back home. The Obama administration decides to postpone a key part of the president’s health care law. Critics claim it’s the latest evidence that the law should be repealed.
And the fight over immigration reform now moves to the House. I talk to a key Republican lawmaker involved in the negotiations, Congressman Raul Labrador of Idaho.
ANNOUNCER: From NBC News in Washington, the world’s longest running television program, this is MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
GREGORY: And, good Sunday morning. We want to go right to our developing story this morning. Tom Costello covers aviation for NBC News. He's got the latest on the tragic crash landing in San Francisco that claimed the lives of two Chinese citizens and sent a hundred and eighty-two passengers to area hospitals. Tom, as you have done some initial reporting, what is what they know? Tell us about what happened?
MR. TOM COSTELLO (NBC News): This was Asiana Flight 214. It was coming from Seoul, Incheon, South Korea, ten-and-a-half-hour flight into San Francisco Airport, and on approach at about 11:27 yesterday morning on runway 28 left, apparently by all accounts this plane came at a little low and a little slow according to eyewitnesses and literally the tail slammed into the sea barrier wall just before runway 28 left begins. The plane then slammed down onto the runway and skidded down the runway before then going into a grassy area. Immediately, the emergency chutes deployed. There was an evacuation of all 300-plus people on board this plane. Unfortunately, as you reported, there were a couple of fatalities. The investigation is now going to focus on why this happened, of course. Was it pilot error? Was there a mechanical issue? Was there some sort of a-- an avionics issue? It is interesting that the president of Asiana Airlines this morning said he does not believe that there was an engine problem. Now, the NTSB investigators have really not spent a whole lot of time in those engines yet, so what does the president of the airline know that, perhaps, investigators haven’t yet ascertained? Has he been speaking with his crew? Has the crew already suggested what the cause of this was? Was it crew error? That’s going to be very much the focus of the investigation. The NTSB has already now recovered the black boxes, the cockpit voice and flight data recorders. They are going to be on their way back to Washington, DC, and they hope they will learn from those what was being said and discussed in the cockpit, but also what was happening on all those avionic flight data screens in front of them in the cockpit?
GREGORY: All right, Tom Costello, starting us off this morning, thank you very much. The chairman of the NTSB, who is on the ground in San Francisco, Debbie Hersman joins me now. And Chairman, you’ve said this morning that you have a lot of good information to start going through. Describe what that is?
MS. DEBBIE HERSMAN (Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board): Well, we have a good number of survivors, and I think we’re very thankful that the numbers were not worse when it came to fatalities and injuries. It could have been much worse. We have crew that survived that we can interview. And significantly, we have cockpit voice recorders and flight data recorders that have been recovered, went back on a red eye last night under federal escort to DC. We hope to audition those in our headquarters in the next 24 hours.
GREGORY: I know you have an opportunity with investigators to actually go through that burned-out fuselage. Those pictures are-- are dramatic of you, also the aftermath of this flight. The-- the bit of information that you do have, no distress calls reportedly from the flight crew, and as Tom Costello mentioned, reports from the airline that there was no engine trouble. I-- I realize you can’t make conclusions. What does that lead you to believe, though, at this point?
MS. HERSMAN: You know, we have a lot of information to go through, and I think at this point everything is still on the table for us. We have to not only identify what we’re focused on, but also to rule things out. And to do that we need good evidence, we need to document that. We need to corroborate that with information from air traffic control tapes, radar, flight data recorder information, cockpit voice recorder information. And so there is a lot of work ahead of us. We will have our first full day on scene and our team will be very, very busy.
GREGORY: Is there anything at this point you’ve been able to rule out; the weather, terrorism, other-- other aspects to the crash?
MS. HERSMAN: Well, we have no indication that there was a criminal act involved here. But I can tell you we have an excellent working relationship with our law enforcement counterparts, particularly the FBI that supports us in our work. We will continue to work with them. No indication of a criminal act at this point. Good weather conditions, VFR, good visibility. We know that and so we will be look at all of that information as part of our investigation as we begin to comb through all of the data. We’re looking at hundreds of parameters potentially on the flight data recorder. That will gives us a lot of insight into this aircraft and what was going on.
GREGORY: All right. Chairman Debbie Hersman, thank you very much for joining us this morning.
MS. HERSMAN: Thank you.
GREGORY: Now we turn to the developments in Egypt, chaos on the streets. The big story of the weekend was that Mohamed ElBaradei was to be named the interim leader of the country. Then that was walked back. And just hours ago, Dr. ElBaradei canceled his appearance with me here on MEET THE PRESS. I was able to reach him by phone. He said he had laryngitis and a fever, he’s under doctor’s orders not to do any television interviews, but there’s indeed a lot of confusion about what’s going on and whether the opposition to him being an interim leader was what was really at work here. He told me that he expects to be named as early as today firmly the leader of Egypt, but he also said, his words, that the country is falling apart. That’s where I turn to NBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin, our correspondent on the ground in Cairo. The protests you’re seeing today, Ayman, pro-Morsi backers trying to get him reinstated.
MR. AYMAN MOHYELDIN (Foreign Correspondent, NBC News): That’s correct. In fact, there are rival demonstrations that are being held across the country. But for the past several days, supporters of the ousted president have been holding sit-ins not too far away from the Republican guard headquarters where they believed the president to be held. At this point, they are demanding that the president be reinstated as the leader of this country. Now, the military, which attributes its ouster of the former president to a popular revolt, says that it is trying to quickly put a civilian government here in place. They’ve already appointed an interim president to run the country but more importantly, a lot of controversy surrounding who will become the country’s interim prime minister and effectively run the day-to-day affairs. And as you mentioned, Dr. ElBaradei was the name that was floated around yesterday. In fact, his office confirmed that he would be the prime minister but late last night, initial reports suggest that some of the more conservative political Islamist organizations here objected to having Dr. ElBaradei serve as the interim prime minister. And so as of right now, there has been no appointment and this country right now remains without an effective government to run the day-to-day affairs. Now, why that’s so important? Because the security situation in the country continues to deteriorate as these rival protests have shown over the past several days. When opponents and supporters of the president get together, it becomes very violent. We’ve already seen more than a hundred people killed over the last week in terms of clashes and that is why many people here are afraid that without an effective government, this situation can continue to worsen. David.
GREGORY: All right. Ayman Mohyeldin on the ground for us there in Cairo. Thank you very much. Let me turn now to the former Egyptian ambassador to the United States, Nabil Fahmy. Mister Ambassador, welcome to MEET THE PRESS. There are reports that you would become the foreign minister in a new government that would be formed on this interim basis. But my question to you this morning, sir, is who is going to be in charge of Egypt and how does anyone govern Egypt at this particular moment?
MR. NABIL FAHMY (Egyptian Ambassador to U.S., 1999-2008): Let me start by saying that, as you said, we do not yet have a prime minister. Con-- consequently, we don’t have any nominees for any of the cabinet posts, including that of foreign minister. We are trying to establish a government. The interim president is consulting to try to get the widest possible support for the new prime minister, and hopefully he will announce the prime minister’s name within a few hours or a day-- a day at most, I hope. Once that’s set, you will also have a roadmap set out by the president how to return to the constitutional discussion and two sets of elections for parliament and for president.
GREGORY: The question about the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists is a-- is a really important one. Dr. ElBaradei told me this morning that he likened what many people call a coup to an impeachment process. The reality is that the Egyptian military had to force out the government and-- and the president was democratically elected. Will you not, as an opposition reform, figure come to rue the day that you had to rely upon the Egyptian military to achieve this kind of change?
MR. FAHMY: I think it’s important to look at the context. You have 20 to 30 million people out on the street. The military have the choice between intervention and chaos and they had to respond to that, have the president responded to the people. 20 to 30 million people on the street here is equivalent to 50 to 60 million on Capitol Hill. Your president would have responded to the people there in one political form or the other. There was no response. So I think the military acted in response to the people, not to their initiative. They did oust the president, that’s true. But then they handed over government immediately to the interim president. So the fact that they seized power or wanted to seize power is frankly incorrect.
GREGORY: But why-- but why wouldn’t this happen to the next administration against whom there might be popular dissent? I mean, the template here is for opposition in the streets to ultimately force the military’s hands to change the-- the path of democracy.
MR. FAHMY: When you’re looking at the numbers here, 20 million to 30 million people, that is more than half of our political constituency. Any president who has that kind of opposition has to understand he has a problem, he has made mistakes, and he has to respond to them. Had the president responded to the people, we would have been able to find-- find different ways to do this. This is not about what the military did. We are looking for a-- a democratic process that’s inclusive, that’s transparent, that’s accountable, that includes everyone.
GREGORY: Well, you say…
MR. FAHMY: Secularists and Islamists.
GREGORY: Let’s-- well, let’s talk about that. What is the role of the Muslim Brotherhood now moving forward? Will Islamists not believe that democracy is available for everybody except them? And what are the consequences of that?
MR. FAHMY: No, I think every effort has to be made to include Islamists. They are part of Egypt. The issue is not including them. The issue is neither side, the Islamist or the non-Islamist, can have exclusive control over Egypt. So I’m fully supportive of including them, and we intend to work towards that objective.
GREGORY: Finally, Ambassador, there is a question for a lot of Americans about the safety of Egypt right now. There are a lot of visitors from this country who go there. The pyramids themselves are just ten minutes in Giza from-- from Cairo. Before the revolution, you had some 270,000 Americans who traveled there on some sort of holiday. At this particular juncture, are you-- are you prepared to say to Americans that it’s safe to travel to Egypt?
MR. FAHMY: Needless to say there is tension and turmoil. I still believe it’s generally safe. But one of the reasons why the military intervened was to try to prevent a widespread chaos and move us into a political transition. So I would hope tourists feel comfortable in the near future.
GREGORY: All right, Ambassador Fahmy, thank you very much for your time this morning. I appreciate it.
MR. FAHMY: You’re welcome.
GREGORY: We’ll get reaction now from a terrific roundtable. Joining me, senior fellow with the Woodrow Wilson Center, Robin Wright; columnist for the New York Times Tom Friedman; columnist for Bloomberg View and also with the Atlantic Magazine, Jeffery Goldberg; and from NBC News our chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell; and our political director chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd. All right, welcome to all of you. Tom Friedman, you wrote this morning, can Egypt pull together anyone who has followed Middle East politics knows that this is a region where extremists tend-- tend to go all the way and moderates tend to just go away. What’s happening now?
MR. THOMAS FRIEDMAN (Columnist, New York Times): Yeah, to me, David, I put this in the context of several such surges by moderates over the years. Oslo, Anbar Uprising, the Cedar Revolution in-- in Lebanon. They take it, they take it, they take it and then finally they push back and that’s really-- I was just in Egypt a few weeks ago and that’s-- that’s what I saw happening. The question is and Ambassador Fahmy alluded to it, can you get a national unity government? If you look across all these Arab awakenings, there is one principle that has to be applied-- no victor, no vanquish. Because anyone who thinks you can rule Egypt alone, or Syria alone, or Yemen alone, the lift in these countries David is so heavy. They are in such a deep hole that unless they can mobilize their populations together to lift them out of this hole, they’re all heading for human development disasters.
GREGORY: And Jeffrey Goldberg, you-- you wrote in your column this week, Morsi was freely-- fairly elected, that these demonstrators could have exercised their right at the ballot box, but they didn’t want to wait. And ultimately it was the military that intervened.
MR. JEFFREY GOLDBERG (Columnist, Bloomberg View): Right, I mean, look, the-- the simple truth of the matter is that, that this was a-- the events of last week are a victory for progressivism in a kind of way and a defeat for democracy.
GREGORY: Yeah, what do you mean by that? You wrote that.
MR. GOLDBERG: Well, I mean, look, obviously, the Muslim Brotherhood is a totalitarian party, a fundamentalist party, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, misogynistic party. Let’s not kid ourselves about what they are. So their removal from power is a good thing for women in that country for-- for Christians, for other minorities, but-- but it also reflects a defeat for democracy in the following sense. We-- we know that this is not going to be the last time the military intervenes in this-- in this process. And if there had just been some level of patience on the part of liberals, the Muslim Brotherhood might have imploded on its own accord. Now they’re put in a position to be martyrs and-- and move more radically and-- and-- and possibly get involved in terrorism like this kind of terrorism…
GREGORY: Well, and that…
MR. GOLDBERG: …you see in Egypt.
GREGORY: I think that’s the big question to people. If you look at the history of the Muslim Brotherhood, the intellectual fathers coming out of the brotherhood of al Qaeda, what does-- what does this portend if they conclude, as I suggested in my question, that-- that democracy is not for them.
MS. ROBIN WRIGHT (Senior Fellow, Woodrow Wilson Center/Author, The Islamists Are Coming: Who They Really Are): Well, this is a big challenge. What happens in Egypt really has an enormous impact on what happens across the region. And this big question of whether Islam and democracy are compatible. And the lesson for some of those who are taking to the streets in support of the Muslim Brotherhood and the only civilian democratically elected president in Egypt’s 5000-year history, is is there a place for them? Can they be part of the process? And the fact is coup is a coup is a coup. And the military acted in a way that sends a very strong signal that if they don’t like who’s in power then…
MS. WRIGHT: …they’re going to move in. And that’s not a good precedent for Egypt or the region.
GREGORY: I mean you-- you heard Ambassador Fahmy say, look-- I mean they took over but they-- they gave power back right away to a new government. I mean that’s hardly comforting for-- for Democrats.
MS. ANDREA MITCHELL (Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent, NBC News/Host, Andrea Mitchell Reports): Well, one of the big lessons here is that free and fair elections, as this was deemed by all outside observers, including the United States, does not mean democracy. What Morsi was running was not a democratic system. It was majoritarian, it was not inclusive, it was not pluralistic. And that that was eating away at the core of what we call democracy. It’s a lesson that we’ve seen before. We’ve seen it with Hamas in Gaza, that elections are one thing, but that does not mean a democratic outcome.
GREGORY: Chuck Todd, you’re just back from Africa with the president. This administration again, as it was a couple of years ago, seems bike a bystander, not a real actor.
MR. CHUCK TODD (Political Director, NBC News/ Chief White House Correspondent, NBC News): They do, but that is the one lesson they’re going to take away from what-- what went wrong in the transition from Mubarak to Morsi. You remember the United States, President Obama very involved in pushing Mubarak out, and then hands off, let Morsi go. Not this time. This time the-- the plan is you will see the Obama administration, the Obama government more involved in building the Democrat-- because it goes to what Andrea's point is and you’ve heard the president hinted this. Elections are not enough for democracy. You’ve got to learn how to govern, too. And that this time the-- the U.S. government is going to be more hands on, helping them build all parts…
MR. TODD: …of this new government both in the interim basis and in helping them hold this election, realizing the president owns this, whether he likes it or not.
MR. TODD: So there’s no more sitting back.
GREGORY: U.S. official, I talk to Andrea, confident in the military, confident that they’ll give power back right away, that this could actually turn out well more in-- in America’s favor.
MS. MITCHELL: I think it’s hope more than confidence. There’s a wonderful little detail in some of The New York Times reporting today which said that at a key moment when Morsi was being pressed by another Arab foreign minister to back off and try to salvage this, he was told when he refused to bring more people into his government that mother says this will not continue--mother being the United States. And the fact is that America has been very involved in this. They-- they took that lesson as Chuck was just saying. And Patterson, the ambassador there, criticized for sticking with Morsi too much from the street.
GREGORY: You bring up-- you bring up our Ambassador Patterson, Anne Patterson, Tom Friedman, she said this weekend in a-- in one of the statements that raised a lot of eyebrows, “Let me be clear: military intervention is not the answer, as some would claim. Neither the Egyptian military nor the Egyptian people will accept it as an outcome.” Some interpreted that as support for the Morsi government. Secretary of State put out a statement saying that’s absolutely not the case. The administration refuses to call this a coup. What is the role of the administration at the moment?
MR. FRIEDMAN: There are so many things in Egypt, David, that are not the answer. You know, Morsi being elected and then ramming through a constitution pro-Islamist without the rest of the country really getting a say in that, that also, you know, was-- was not really a smart thing to do. So everyone has behaved badly here. You know, to pick up a point Jeff said, one of the problems in all these countries, they are pluralistic, but they have no pluralism. We forget what freaks we are. We just re-elected a black man whose middle is Hussein, whose grandfather was a Muslim, who defeated a woman running against a Mormon. No one does that. We are freaks. And the only way these countries are going to be able to govern horizontally--for all these years they’ve been governed, you know, vertically from the top down by iron fists. The ottomans are gone. The colonial powers are gone. Now the iron fisted generals are gone. The only way they can be governed is now horizontally. Can they write a social contract for how they live together with their pluralism? That’s what’s at stake here. I don’t know if it can happen.
GREGORY: Can we talk a little bit about ElBaradei? And what-- is he the future?
MS. WRIGHT: Well, he may well become the interim prime minister. I think there’s still a sense that the job maybe his. But ElBaradei is probably more attractive to the outside world than he is well-known inside of Egypt. He did noble work for the International Atomic Energy Agency for which he won a Nobel Prize. But the fact is he also boycotted the three democratic elections inside Egypt. He was calling for another one in the-- what was supposed to be upcoming parliamentary elections. This is-- you know, if you’re going to believe in democracy, you have to participate in it. And this is where we’re getting into this period that you think the last year tough, wait till the next year, because of all these natural divisions. I think actually Egypt is a very pluralistic society in that they’re a huge array and not even all the Islamists are united. And…
MR. FRIEDMAN: It is pluralistic. It just lacks pluralism. That’s the point I’m making. Okay. If that’s the problem, it’s deeply pluralistic but it doesn’t have a pluralistic effort.
MS. WRIGHT: And all of these democratic divisions are going to, I think, make the transition very difficult because it’s not just who is ruling Egypt, it’s how it’s ruled. And they have to decide on their basic problem of the constitution. It’s been suspended. Do they amend it? Do they rewrite it? And the last time around they actually did put it to a referendum and 77 percent of the people, you know, supported it.
GREGORY: Comment here.
MR. GOLDBERG: No, no. I mean look, it’s-- it’s-- it’s a very interesting thing because this was the Muslim Brotherhood’s big chance. They’ve been waiting 80 years to take over Egypt and they blew it. They put a bumpkin in charge, a guy who was in over his head, who while over his head tried to seize pretty much absolute power. We talked about a coup last week. There was coup in November-- in last November…
MR. GOLDBERG: …when-- when-- when basically Morsi tried to put himself beyond judicial review and tried to take over absolute rule. And that’s when things turned south for him. So, they-- they have blown it. And Tom is exactly right. They have not shown themselves to be ready to be the leaders of a pluralistic society.
GREGORY: Let me turn to another aspect of the U.S. response, and that’s Congress. Joining me now is the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat from New Jersey, Robert Menendez. Senator, welcome back.
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ/Chair, Foreign Relations Committee): Good to be with you.
GREGORY: Let’s talk about the U.S. response. You said back in March, that American security assistance to Egypt cannot be a blank check. Do you think the administration failed to exert the pressure, a billion and a half in U.S. aid to Egypt to put more pressure on Morsi at a time when he was becoming a wayward leader?
SEN. MENENDEZ: Well, I-- I do think that the-- the reality is that this is a very nascent democracy. This country doesn’t have a history of democracy. And what we expect of democracy overnight is not something we’re going to see here. So, we were trying to nurture along a path that would move to what really needs to happen, which is an Egypt for all. The only way that Egypt will succeed is if it’s an Egypt for all. And that means a-- a participation in the government of all different sectors of Egyptian society. And so, the reality now is what do we do and using our assistance as leverage at the end of the day…
GREGORY: So, how do we do that?
SEN. MENENDEZ: …to ensure that we end up with an Egypt for all.
GREGORY: How do we use that leverage now?
SEN. MENENDEZ: I’m sorry.
GREGORY: How do we use that leverage now?
SEN. MENENDEZ: Well, look, I think first of all, we’ll have to make sure that the military gets a very clear message that we want to see a transition to a civilian government as quickly as possible. I think we have to get a process in which we urge all of the parties to participate together, that we come to an election as soon as possible, that that can be put together. That we look at the possibility of a new constitution, and at the end of the day, you know, while we have already made some obligations on that 1.4 billion, by no means have we made the overwhelming amount of that obligation, this is an opportunity to have a pause and say to the Egyptians you have an opportunity to come together. You have to have the military understand that that’s what we’re looking for, a transition right away, as soon as possible from any efforts. They have shown themselves not to be interested in power directly because, just as in the Mubarak uprising and these demonstrations were bigger even than the Mubarak uprising, they moved towards a transition to a civilian government. We just have to make sure that the transition this time is much better, more pluralistic, and that brings an Egypt for all.
GREGORY: Chairman, you follow these closely-- these issues closely. This is a bad day for political Islam, not just in Egypt but elsewhere. The Turks apparently very unhappy about this and a lot of people are watching including Shadi Hamid who is an expert at Brookings who knows the Muslim Brotherhood very well. And this is something he wrote. He said, “2013 will stand as an historic moment in Islamic lore, shaping future generations of Islamist activists and deepening their already powerful narrative of persecution, repression and regret. America is blamed for enough as it is. There is no need to add another grievance to the list. The Obama administration would be wise to distance itself from the army’s actions and use its leverage, particularly the promise of financial assistance to pressure the military to respect the rights of Islamists.” How important is it to keep the Muslim Brotherhood in the fold here unless they separate and even take up arms struggle?
SEN. MENENDEZ: Look, it would be much preferable had President Morsi called early elections and subjected to himself to elections and shown whether he had the support of the nation. That didn’t happen. Of course, an Egypt for all includes in my mind, participation from the Muslim Brotherhood. But, you know, President Morsi himself acted rather dictatorially back in November when he said that his decrees were not subject to judicial review, when he said the constitutional assembly was not subject to-- to judicial review. So at the end of the day, while I would have liked to have seen early elections and then see him test his support among the people and the people would have had a choice and, therefore, less likely to have them be further radi-- be radicalized, at the end of the day, that’s not what happened. So now the question is can we bring everybody together to create a more inclusive society in terms of the representation that it has in government? If we can do that, then Egypt has a possibility. I-- I agree with Tom Friedman that if, in fact, it is-- if it’s not an Egypt for all, then succeeding in the future in-- in addition to the political issues, the tremendous economic challenges that exist. But we have vital national security interests here. We care about transit to the Suez Canal. We care about the Sinai. We care about not having attacks on Gaza into Israel. These are all-- we care about terrorism. So these are all critical issues in national security that we have to look at as-- as it relates to our own engagement moving forward.
GREGORY: Senator, let me ask you about another national security-- security concern that is NSA leaker Edward Snowden, who is still stuck at a hotel in this transit zone in a Russian-- in Russia’s airport in Moscow. He’s been offered asylum now by Venezuela. There’re other countries in Latin America, including Bolivia and Nicaragua, also offering him asylum. Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, what are the repercussions? What should the repercussions be for those countries if they grant him asylum?
SEN. MENENDEZ: Well, clearly, it’s-- it’s a-- it’s-- it’s very clear that any of these countries that accept Snowden, offer him political asylum, is taking a-- a step against the United States. It’s making a very clear statement. I’m not surprised by the countries that are offering him asylum. They like sticking it to the United States. I think, you know, you have to look, you know, whether you look at trade preferences that-- that may exist with these countries, other elements of our policy, our aid, our trade. You have to look at it and-- and decide, in fact, if any of these countries actually accept Snowden and he gets there, then you’re going to have to decide how you react. But clearly, any such acceptance of Snowden to any country, any of these three or any other, is going to put them directly against the United States. And they need to know that.
GREGORY: Senator, quickly, before I let you go, one domestic question--that is the fight over health care. The administration saying this week they’re going to delay the employer mandate, a key part of the health care law. How concerned are you that the administration has just sparked a new fire among critics of this health care law who say that it’s unworkable, it was not well thought out and ought to just be repealed?
SEN. MENENDEZ: Well, David, if ten angels came swearing from above that this is the best law for the country’s health, there would be opponents who would say the angels lied. The reality is-- is that this is an opportunity to get it right. Ninety-six percent of all companies in America weren’t subject to the mandate because they’re under 50 employees. Those who are subject to the mandate, 95 percent of them, already offer insurance. So we’re talking about probably one percent of the American workforce that works for a company subject to the mandate that didn’t get insurance and will be able to get it in the health exchanges that open up in October. So I think getting it right is important, and that’s what the administration was trying to do. Opponents will take any movement. Had they not taken the time, they would have criticized them for-- for not giving the right type of regulatory framework for the reporting to take place. So the reality is-- is, I think, the criticism would come no matter what.
GREGORY: All right. Senator Menendez, thank you very much. I appreciate your time. We’re going to take a break here. Andrea and Chuck, you’ll stick around with us. Jeff, Tom, Robin, thank you all very much for your insights on these issues.
Coming up here, did the Obama administration just give Republicans that political ammunition I referred to when they decided to delay that key part of the president’s reform law on health care. And is there a reason to expect any further delays now? Plus, the immigration reform fight, that moves on to House. I’m going to speak to a key Republican involved in those negotiations, Congressman Raul Labrador of Idaho. All coming up after this short break.
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GREGORY: We are back with our political roundtable. Joining me, columnist for The New York Times, David Brooks, Columnist Brooks, rather; columnist for the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne; Brooks and Dionne; Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson; and still here, of course, Andrea Mitchell and Chuck Todd. So, I want to switch gear from foreign policy to domestic policy on a lot of fights back here at home including, David Brooks, health care. You know, I talked to a business leader about a week ago. He said still couldn’t understand why the administration would pass a health care law and execute on a health care law, the impact of which was so uncertain. He said we would never do that in business. And here was another example of that. Explain what’s happened and the impact of it?
MR. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, New York Times): Yeah, what-- what they’re trying to do is regulate 17 percent of the U.S. economy, roughly the size of the economy of France. That’s bound to be a problem. That’s bound to go through messy things. And the employer mandate which they delayed is the smallest foothill of the problems. The biggest problems are things like the exchanges which is where people are going to buy insurance, where there are young people who really don’t have much of incentive to get into the system or going to get in the system. Those are going to be big and messy. And whether you support it or oppose it, you have just got to be ready for that messiness. The crucial thing for us is how does that messiness interact with the political system?
MR. BROOKS: We could be at the moment of peak messiness just as the midterm elections come around, and so the administration is concerned about that intersection and one of the things they did with this employer mandate is pushed it back until after those midterm elections. But I personally think that if we could just have the messiness, we would work it through, somehow they’d fix it, but when the political system comes in the middle that could really throw it off.
GREGORY: Well, and the political system, E.J., is House Republicans thinking back to the glory days of 2010 when Republicans took the House based on health care, and Eric Cantor tweeting this week, “Why does President Obama think businesses deserve a delay from the mandates in Obamacare, but you don’t? It’s time for a #permanentdelay.”
MR. E.J. DIONNE (Columnist, Washington Post/Author, Our Divided Political Heart): Well, you know, one of the things I tell that businessman is a lot of people in business that made a lot of money by taking chances. It’s not as if trying to do something new is easy and trying to do something new is often the right thing to do. And I think in the case of this health care law, David’s right, there is a clash with the political system because in the past, in many cases, we’ve always passed complicated laws that Congress went back and they could fix it. And the Republicans in this case say we’re never going to fix this. We’re going to let it run forward. We fix Social Security over and over again after it passed to make it better. I think the test-- this has been a bad week for Obama because the last thing they wanted to do is say these mandate-- this mandate won’t work as well this way and we got to…
MR. DIONNE: …want to relook and they don’t like that. But the big tasks are, do these exchanges, these marketplaces where people can find insurance work? Do they sign up young people? And will there be states out there that actually make this thing work, so that the Obama people and supporters of reform can say, look, this can work if states put their shoulder to the wheel with the feds?
GREGORY: Eugene-- Eugene Robinson, I don’t understand exactly how the exchanges are going to work, I don’t understand all the ins and outs of the employer mandate and how that works? But anybody who gets a paycheck in this country understands one thing, that there’s a new line item and it says Medicare surtax. So the tax part’s working.
MR. EUGENE ROBINSON (Columnist, Washington Post): Yeah.
GREGORY: You’re paying more taxes for Obamacare.
MR. ROBINSON: Yeah.
GREGORY: That part’s working. It makes a lot of people mad.
MR. ROBINSON: Well, yeah, look, but let’s back up for a second. This fight really is wholly political. I mean, Obamacare is not going to be repealed, right? Because they-- they’re not going to have the majorities in either House to-- to repeal it and in fact President Obama would never sign that. So, it’s going to be messy. It’s going to be politically contentious, but in the end it’s-- it’s going to work out the way it works out. And-- and, you know, if it’s a big bust, then there’s political problems down the road. But it’s going to happen.
MS. MITCHELL: But for it to work, the exchanges have to take place, and state after state now, run by Republican governors and Republican legislatures are trying to roll back or have rolled back or saying they won’t participate. And you have to have a certain coherent whole for this to work economically. You can’t nibble away at it. And, in fact, these are big bites out of it. I think also in the reporting losing that mandate is such a concession, it may not be the biggest piece of it, but it’s a-- a concession to the critics that something needs to be delayed, that something’s not working. I think that’s a politically damaging moment.
MR. TODD: Well, they’ll admit that the-- the business mandate was poorly written, that they normally would have sought a legislative fix, what E.J. was talking about but they can’t get a legislative fix out of the House. But the-- the bigger issue here I think for the administration is that they don’t seem-- they’ve-- they’ve got to build all this, they know that-- they thought that Republicans, after the election would basically concede, this is going to be the law of the land and then they would be in the mode of, okay, we’ll try and fix it, we’ll try to get as much as we can to change it in ways that we think business wants to change or to change in ways that we think will make it a little less bureaucratic and things like that but they’re not getting. There-- there’s-- you could argue that there are some Republicans that are trying to sabotage the law, that they’re hoping to not get it off the ground and then they can suddenly make the case, see, we got to get rid of it. And they’ve got some state governors that are openly trying to sabotage it. You’ve got-- look what McConnell and Cornyn did to the sports leagues, that was a shakedown, that was a threatening letter by the two leaders of the Senate Republican who essentially said…
GREGORY: When the NFL was going to come out and…
MR. TODD: …if you participate this, if you help them…
MR. TODD: …try to enact this law of the land, be careful, there’s going to be political repercussions.
MR. BROOKS: They would say-- the Republicans would say we’re sabotaging a Rube Goldberg device that wouldn’t work anyway. I mean, this is incredibly complex law so it’s not-- surely there is Republican opposition, but this is an incredibly complex law doing a lot of things, probably it shouldn’t do, we probably shouldn’t have an employer-- employer insurance at all.
MR. DIONNE: Chuck is right about-- the NFL thing was really unseemly and I don’t think they needed to go there. But what you do have if the states don’t participate is that the federal government steps in and creates those marketplaces. And that’s also going to be an interesting challenge. Can the fed show that, a) maybe a national law would have been better in the first place, all these concessions to states’ rights were an effort to get it passed.
GREGORY: Let me bring in Congressman Raul Labrador of Idaho, a conservative in the House, tea party supported. Congressman, welcome back. And let me have you weigh in on this particular issue. Why shouldn’t this be seen a different way, which is the Obama administration making a real and credible concession to the business community to make sure that this is implemented in a thorough and-- and effective way?
REP. RAUL LABRADOR (R-ID): Well, that’s what the Obama administration wants you to believe. I think they want you to think that they’re listening to the business owners. And I think you can give them a little bit of credit for that. But the question is what part of Obamacare actually works? Because if you look at-- they’ve already had to concede on other points that Obamacare is not working. Now they have to do it on the employer mandate. And pretty soon, I think they’re going to have to have some questions about the individual mandates. There’s nothing about this law that is working in the United States. All businesses are concerned. And it was interesting to listen to Senator Menendez say that this portion of the law was only going to affect about one percent of the businesses. Why is it that Democrats and this administration thought that it was necessary for them to create a law that was actually going to affect one percent of the businesses when most businesses with 50 people and-- plus were actually providing insurance to-- to their employees?
GREGORY: Let me ask you about immigration. President Bush-- former President Bush is expected to speak out about immigration reform this coming week. He could be a very strong voice within the Republican Party after the Senate has passed immigration reform to put pressure on the House. How will you respond to that? And do you think we’re going to get a bill in the end out of the House?
REP. LABRADOR: You know, I hope we’re going to get a bill. I think immigration reform is necessary. As you know, I have been negotiating on immigration reform now for some time. But my concern with the Senate bill is that they put the legalization of 11 million people ahead of security. The legalization happens first, and then the security happens second. And I think the American people are not going to stand for that. In fact, if you look at this Obamacare debacle that they have right now, this administration is actually deciding when and where to-- to actually enforce the law. And that’s what some of us in the House are concerned about. If you give to this administration the authority to decide when they’re going to enforce the law, how they’re going to enforce the law, and you-- you tell them that it’s okay if they decide if there’s going to be 20,000 troops or if there’s going to be-- I mean 20,000 border patrol agents or it’s-- or they get to determine when the border is secure, I can tell you that Janet Napolitano has already said that the border is secure. So what’s going to happen is that we’re going to give legalization to 11 million people and Janet Napolitano is going to come to Congress and tell us that the border is already secure and nothing else needs to happen.
GREGORY: But Eugene Robinson is the roundtable still here, take-- take this on. I mean, you’ve got John McCain, who just a few years ago was doing campaign ads saying secure this darn border first…
MR. ROBINSON: Mm-Hm.
GREGORY: …who’s saying that Congressman Labrador and anyone who cites insufficient security at the border is just looking for a way to kill this bill…
MR. ROBINSON: Right.
GREGORY: …and that it’s not-- it’s not a credible opposition.
MR. ROBINSON: Well, if we actually look at what’s been going on, on the border, the border is much more secure than it has been in the past. And there are those who argue it will never be-- there will never be an impregnable fortress wall between the United States and Mexico. It’s a 2,000-mile-long border. And what the-- the House Republicans seem to be demanding is something that no one can deliver. So what’s the point of that? I-- I think-- look, this is-- it seems to me a pretty good compromise from their point of view because they do get 20,000 new border patrol agents and-- and a lot of bells and whistles that weren’t there before.
GREGORY: And a long path to citizenship for those who are here illegally. It’s a pretty arduous process.
MR. BROOKS: They are here, you know, I’ve seen a lot of intellectually weak cases in this town. I rarely seen as intellectually a weak case is the case against the Senate immigration bill. The Republican say they want to reduce illegal immigration. The Congressional Budget Office says the Senate bill will reduce it by a third to a half. They said they want economic growth. All the top conservative economists say they’ll produce economic growth. They say you want to reduce the debt. CBO says it will reduce the debt. All the big major objectives the Republican stand for, the Senate immigration bill will do. And so the-- the other things they’re talking about are secondary and tertiary issues whether we get 86 percent border protection or 90 percent, compared to the big things this bill does, they’re minuscule. Mystified by what…
GREGORY: Congressman, respond to David Brooks on that.
REP. LABRADOR: I’m-- I’m sorry, but what-- what I just heard was totally ridiculous. If-- if you listen to what the CBO said, they said that it’s going to be between a third and 50 percent reduction in illegal immigration. That means that every five years, we’re going to have to do another Reagan amnesty. What the American people want is a secure border. They understand that there is going to be economic growth. And I agree that there’s going to be economic growth when you have immigration reform, that’s why I’m a big proponent of immigration reform, but for somebody to sit here on national TV and say that that it is actually a weak argument for us to argue that we want something like 90 percent security, I think it’s-- it’s actually beyond the pale. What we need to do-- look-- look at just one thing. There’s two-- two components of the law that we need to-- that we need to change. For example, the-- the ICE agents have told us that if they could work with the local communities, with the local law enforcement agents, they would be much more effective in securing our-- our interior. The Democrats do not want any local enforcement of immigration laws. We do it with drug laws. We do it with all these other things where-- where we have these task forces between the federal-- federal and state and local agencies, and the Democrats do not want to do with immigration. We could do that and we could curtail a lot of the illegal immigration. There’s a lot of other things that we can do to make this law stronger.
GREGORY: David-- David, respond to that.
MR. BROOKS: The CBO said that it would reduce it by a-- by a third to 50 percent, and what I hear the Congressman saying is he won’t support it unless it’s a 100 percent because we’d have to go back and do a Reagan.
REP. LABRADOR: That’s-- that’s not what I say. Don’t-- don’t put words in my mouth.
MR. BROOKS: Okay, well, let me say the current law produces this X much illegal immigration. This law cuts it significantly. It’s better than the current law generally when something is better than we have got, generally you want to support that thing.
GREGORY: All right, let me take a quick break here and come back and talk more about the politics of this, that’s impacting a lot of these House members, even the Senate supporters of this as well. Back with our roundtable and some of these hot button issues right after this.
GREGORY: This was the scene during the African trip. President Obama and Former President Bush in Dar es Salaam, dedicating the memorial there, laying a wreath at the site of the terrorist attacks back in 1998. Chuck Todd, the pure politics of immigration, I mentioned President Bush because he’ll speak out about this, he’s been reluctant to do so. He’s going to put more pressure. I mean, here you have, you know, a Republican congressman, a conservative columnist arguing the merits of this. This is really a big debate within the Republican Party.
MR. TODD: This is a total huge debate in the Republican Party. And the question is does President Bush’s voice enhance the argument of sort of the business wing of the Republican Party, which is the ones that are pushing to get this done in a pragmatic way, who simply look at this issue with Hispanics and say, jeez, let’s just get this issue behind us, or does he make it worse? You know, how politic-- you know, one of the reasons he’s slowly gotten back into positive territory in his poll numbers is he’s not gotten involved in politics. This is a step in the politics. Let me tell you something else, David. White House, now I have-- they had been so confident that they were going to sign immigration reform this year. For the first time I-- I am hearing that there is some doubt seeping in, that they think that maybe the House won’t act. What they need is they need an-- they need something to sort of force Boehner to like at the last minute bring it to the floor the same way that the fiscal cliff deal happened. The problem is there’s no trigger at the end of this year. There isn’t the end of this Congress. There isn’t this. So I don’t know how this happens by the end of this year and suddenly now the White House doesn’t see a path to how this happens...
GREGORY: Right. Fire is all around them, no real second-term agenda when they have to deal with all these problems.
MS. MITCHELL: And immigration was going to be the one thing that they could have pointed to. And I think that conversation with John Boehner and the president, the president doesn’t have a whole well of trust in Boehner saying, you know, hang with me, I can get this done by the end of the summer. Boehner still doesn’t have the support and you heard what-- what Congressman Labrador has been saying, they don’t have a Marco Rubio on the House side who can try to work around the edges…
MR. TODD: It was supposed to be Paul Ryan.
MS. MITCHELL: …and bring it together.
MR. TODD: It was supposed to be Paul Ryan…
MS. MITCHELL: And he’s gone silent I think.
MR. TODD: But you know what, Paul Ryan has never been brave on the political front.
GREGORY: Well, but…
MR. TODD: Always been brave on policy but never on politics.
MR. ROBINSON: There are Republican constituencies out there, the business community center that are pushing for immigration reform. And-- and you have to imagine that the House Republicans, even the tea party-backed Republicans are going to hear from-- from people in-- in their districts and-- and people from whom they raise funds.
GREGORY: Well, and Congressman, there is you, somebody who’s been pushing-- I mean, you’re an immigration lawyer. You’ve been pushing for reform. I’ll paraphrase something that you were quoted as saying in June in the National Journal, that we’ve got to fix the system and that Hispanics essentially have stopped listening to Republicans. Isn’t that a bigger concern than some of these policy differences that you have with David Brooks or others who would support the Senate legislation?
REP. LABRADOR: I actually think if we don’t do it right politically it’s going to be the death of the Republican Party. If we do it right, I think it’s going to be good for us. But if we don’t do it right, what’s going to happen is that we’re going to lose our base because we’re still going to have a large number of illegal immigrants coming into the United States. And the Hispanic community is not going to listen to us because they’re going to always listen to, at this point, to the people that are offering more, that are offering a faster pathway to citizenship, all those things. So, I think we lose on both grounds if we don’t do it right. However, if we do it right, if we actually cut down illegal immigration by a large percentage, if we actually do it in a way that actually brings more legal immigrants to the United States-- one of the problems with the Senate bill that we haven’t talked about is that the non-ag guest worker portion of the Senate bill is actually starts out at 20,000 guest workers per year. Think about that. I’ve had some congressmen say do you mean 20,000 per county, 20,000 per state? And it’s not, its 20,000 non-ag guest workers per year for the entire United States. You’re not-- you’re not going to cut back illegal immigration by only bringing 20,000 guest workers to the United States.
GREGORY: Let me-- and there was another moment of the week that before I run out of time, I want to get to. And it had to do with two first ladies, a current and former, talking about life in the White House. Michelle Obama making some comments. It got a lot of attention. I’ll play a portion of it and get some response.
(Videotape; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania/Tuesday)
MS. MICHELLE OBAMA: I’ve just found it just a very freeing and liberating…
MS. COKIE ROBERTS: Hmm. No…
MS. OBAMA: …opportunity.
MS. ROBERTS: No-- no state prisoner?
MS. OBAMA: No. No, they-- there are prison elements to it, but it’s a really nice prison. So--
MS. LAURA BUSH: With a chef.
MS. OBAMA: You know, you can’t…
MS. BUSH: Yeah.
MS. OBAMA: …complain. But there-- there-- there is definitely, you know, elements that are confining.
MS. ROBERTS: And-- and she said that…
MS. OBAMA: It’s-- it’s a-- a great privilege. So while people that are sort of sorting through our shoes and our hair-- whether we cut it or not, you know…
MS. BUSH: Whether we have bangs.
MS. OBAMA: Whether we have bangs. Who-- who would have thought?
GREGORY: Andrea, White House is prison.
MS. MITCHELL: And-- and I’m so glad you played the whole thing because it was Cokie Roberts quoting from Martha Washington, I believe. She’d written a book on first ladies who described it as a prison, and that’s what Michelle Obama was responding to…
MS. MITCHELL: …in a-- in (Unintelligible) way and also giving some serious thought to how it’s such a privilege to be first lady. And, of course, the, you know, blogosphere-- the conservative blogosphere took off on Michelle Obama describing is it as a prison, which is not what she did.
MR. DIONNE: And she said it’s a…
MR. DIONNE: …very nice prison and that was a very honest answer.
MS. MITCHELL: The chef said…
MR. TODD: No, I-- I thought it was only supposed to be us reporters that complained of the prison confines of-- of the White House. Look, I do think it was interesting to-- to see the two of them. And-- and you do-- you know, Michelle Obama has never been ecstatic about how life is like in the White House. This was a-- this was a professional woman, had her own business career and all this stuff and suddenly it’s gone. But she’s gotten-- she’s gotten more comfortable.
GREGORY: All right. A quick break here. My thanks to Congressman Labrador as always. We’ll speak to you soon. And we’ll be back here in just a moment.
GREGORY: Thank you all for the conversation. And there’s Marco Rubio-- and abortion, which is going to be a big topic this week which we’ll no doubt be talking about next week. That is all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.