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updated 7/21/2013 12:58:18 PM ET 2013-07-21T16:58:18

DAVID GREGORY:

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This Sunday… The president seeks to ignite a new conversation about race in America.

TAPE - President Obama:

“Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”

DAVID GREGORY:

The president's deeply personal remarks about the after effects of the George Zimmerman trial add to the debate about stand your ground laws, racial profiling  and the plight of African American boys in the criminal justice system and our society.

TAPE - President Obama:

“If Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? (out here) and do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened.”

DAVID GREGORY:

This morning a special discussion about race relations and  the impact of the president's remarks on the black community and beyond.

With us: the president of the national urban league, Marc Morial; chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congresswoman Marcia Fudge; author and PBS host Tavis Smiley; former chairman of the RNC Michael Steele; and Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree.

Plus ...

The remarkable financial collapse of a major American city ... Detroit files for bankruptcy ... What's next for its residents - including thousands of city employees and retirees - and what does it say about the plight of America's cities in this fragile economic recovery?

We'll hear from the current and former governors of the state: the man now in office - Republican Rick Snyder and his predecessor: Democrat Jennifer Granholm. Plus insights and analysis from David Brooks of the New York Times and NBC’s Chuck Todd.

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

DAVID GREGORY:

What a unique moment Friday was for this presidency, for any presidency.  And, Congresswoman, I wanna start with you.  Describe the impact of the president coming out at the White House speaking about race in such a personal and, frankly, off-the-cuff way.

MARCIA FUDGE:

I was very proud, quite frankly.  I think that it was timely, but more importantly I think that he could feel the anger that was going around across this country.  And he felt that he needed to respond in a way that I think took a lot of courage.

For him to basically say that we have a situation where a young man is basically convicted of his own murder, that someone can hunt you down and then say, "I'm afraid," and kill you; he made it clear that Trayvon Martin had rights as well.  And he made it clear as well that African American men, for history, for a very, very long time, have had to deal with this problem.

DAVID GREGORY:

You know, as I talked to people inside the White House, there was a sense that he wanted to provide context--

MARCIA FUDGE:

Absolutely.

DAVID GREGORY:

--for this debate.  And I think it's important for people who may have missed the comments to hear a little bit more from the president on Friday, again, comparing himself to Trayvon Martin.  I want to show a portion of that.

TAPE -- PRESIDENT OBAMA:

“When Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son.  Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.  And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there's a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it's important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away.”

DAVID GREGORY:

A history that doesn't go away.  And yet, Tavis Smiley, you were critical of the president.  You said on Twitter, "His comments were as weak as pre-sweetened Kool-Aid.  He took too long to show up and express outrage."

TAVIS SMILEY:

I appreciate and applaud the fact that the president did finally show up.  But this town has been spinning a story that's not altogether true.  He did not walk to the podium for an impromptu address to the nation; he was pushed to that podium.  A week of protest outside the White House, pressure building on him inside the White House pushed him to that podium.  So I'm glad he finally arrived.

But when he left the podium, he still had not answered the most important question, that Keynesian question, where do we go from here?  That question this morning remains unanswered, at least from the perspective of the president.  And the bottom line is this is not Libya, this is America.  On this issue, you cannot lead from behind.

What's lacking in this moment is moral leadership.  The country is begging for it, they are craving it.  And I disagree with the president respectfully that politicians, elected officials, can't occupy this space on race.  Lincoln did, Truman did, Johnson did; President Obama did.  He's the right person in the right place, at the right time.  But he has to step into his moment.  I don't want him to be like Bill Clinton, when he's out of office, regretting that he didn't move on Rwanda.  I don't the president to look back, David, and realize that he didn't do as much as he could have in this critical moment.

DAVID GREGORY:

To Tavis' point, Professor, there has been criticism.  It's been building over the course of the week.  Janet Langhart Cohen wrote in the Washington Post, journalist and author, on Tuesday that he had imposed himself in this silence about race.

And she wrote this:  "During this period of self-imposed silence, we have watched our criminal laws become radicalized, our race criminalized.  Blacks continue to be faced with punishing unfairness and inequalities, soaring rates of unemployment, discriminatory drug laws, disproportionate prison sentences, unequal access to health care and healthy food, unfair stop-and-frisk policies, and accidental shootings of unarmed black men by the police; even more are treated with indifference of contempt.  We're told to stop complaining, to get over it, no one cares."  Tavis' argument that this has not been part of this president's agenda.

CHARLES OGLETREE:

I disagree with Tavis in a profound way.  President Obama's been talking about race and doing things for race for a long time, and the reality is that he walked to the podium.  He wasn't pushed to the podium, he walked to the podium.

He's been trying to have this conversation and this was the event, the criminal justice system, that pushed him over the level.  And what he said about Trayvon was a continuation of what he said when he was shot in February of 2012.  I think that what he said, and if you read his statement, his whole statement, he said, "Let's have a conversation on race.  Let's convene that.  Let's talk about, you know, we've made some progress as a society, but we still have a long way to go."

And I think that what he said and what he did and what he represents to us is a sense-- people keep making him as if he's the black president.  He's the president who happens to be black, and he can do whatever he can do for all of us, but not simply focus on one issue.

MARC MORIAL:

David, what the president did is open the door--

CHARLES OGLETREE:

Yes.

MARC MORIAL:

--to begin a conversation.  One speech can't outline every single action step that needs to be taken.  And I think the president agonized.  It's not difficult to be a "carry the burdens of history" in a nation with so much history.  But what he did I think is start the process and sort of sanction, if you will, the need for there to be a discussion, and action, steps.

And I expect that there will be more.  Because one thing is certain:  The emotional is caught in the response:  The vigils of yesterday; the civil rights continuation march on August 24th; the Urban League conference that will take this week in Philadelphia.  This conversation at the grassroots level, at the community level, within boardrooms and suites also has just begun.

And I think what I hope it leads to, and what I hope we will see is not only a discussion that started and ends quickly, but a discussion that will lead to serious action steps by the nation.

MICHAEL STEELE:

But that's the key piece, the discussion that starts and ends quickly.  I hearken back to the gun debate, and the president bootstrapped the gun argument with his initial comments the day of the jury verdict in a way that was disconnected.  And if you look at the momentum behind that discussion, coming off of Sandy Hook, and the raw emotion from the American people saying, "We want something done here. Let's move on this."

What happened?  The discussion dissipated.  Then this was something that the president came out again and heralded, but then let the steam fall out of it.  So my concern on this is it's great to step to the podium-- I tend to agree with Tavis.  It's great to step to the podium to be in that moment, but then it's not so much leading but continuing to inspired the conversation so that it doesn't die on the vine--

MARC MORIAL:

But I--

MICHAEL STEELE:

--that it does get life of its own.  Because this is a conversation, quite honestly, folks, we need to have first.

MARC MORIAL:

But, look, it is the president must lead.  But the president needs cohorts, he needs--

CHARLES OGLETREE:

Well, that's where we come in.

TAVIS SMILEY:

He has that --

MARC MORIAL:

Tavis, let me make my point because my point is that in order to move a piece of legislation, in order to move action steps, the president can in fact lead.  And the president is also in an environment of continuing obstruction, that you know well, that report on.

TAVIS SMILEY:

Respectfully, Marc, nobody's argued that he has been up against a headwind.  The obstructionism is real.  But with all due respect to my friend, Charles Ogletree, the professor's wrong about this.  I would ask you, lay on the table right now the evidence of how the president has been trying, Tree, to have a conversation about race--

CHARLES OGLETREE:

I'm talking about action, Tavis, not just a conversation.

TAVIS SMILEY:

I don't think that we have a litany here of things, of moments, where he's tried to have the conversation.  To the contrary, respectfully, he's tried to avoid the conversation.  Number one.  Number two, when he says a politician can't have an impact on this, yes, he gives a wonderful speech, but he basically kicks it back to the community, to community leaders, to business leaders, to celebrities and athletes, and that's real, but the president can't absolve himself from it.  Number two. And finally, number three, I don't know how the president argued that he doesn't believe that he can have a role in leading us in a moral conversation.  This is not a political issue, this is a moral issue.  I don't know how he obviously can't lead us in a conversation on this, but he can on gay marriage?  He can on a litany of other--

DAVID GREGORY:

What is this --

TAVIS SMILEY:

--but not race?

DAVID GREGORY:

Professor--

CHARLES OGLETREE:

He can on race.

DAVID GREGORY:

Okay, but what is this, in particular?  I mean, the president spoke about wringing bias from our lives.  These are intimate conversations between blacks and whites that are very difficult to have in a big public setting.  But I think when you start boiling it down, it is the question that I thought he was asking, which is:  What is the "this" ?  There's no federal program that can deal with this.  So how does he lead and on what does he lead.

CHARLES OGLETREE:

There is no federal program that would lead on this.  But for me-- he gave a State of the Union address this past year, he talked about the idea that we have to do something about guns, and he talked very candidly about that.  He talked about Gabby Giffords, he talked about all the victims.  He says, "We want a vote.  We simply want a vote."  And that was him saying, "I want this to happen," and there was a vote, and it failed, right?  So he's been pushing that issue on and on again.

In terms of what he's done for the community, it's very obvious when you look the things that make a big difference.  He's been pushing a jobs plan from the beginning, without success.  He believes in that.  And I think that the reality is that we are expecting all these things from Barack Obama as if he is the man who can do it.  There is a congressional role, there is a judicial role.

TAVIS SMILEY:

We agree on that, though.

CHARLES OGLETREE:

And there's not just him.  There's more that needs to be done.

MARCIA FUDGE:

Professor, let me just see if I can help put some of this in context as well.  You look at what has happened in 2013.  We've got obviously the Trayvon Martin that everybody's talking about.  This is happening to black boys across this country every day.  You look at the fact that we have a Supreme Court that just gutted the Voting Rights Act.

CHARLES OGLETREE:

Right.

MARCIA FUDGE:

And they're trying to do the same thing with affirmative action.  You look at a House of Representatives who, just last week, took food stamps out of the farm bill.  You look at this past week where they have decided to block Title 1.

We are being attacked from so many sides that you have to at some point decide where you can have the most impact.  Now, I think that the president said what he believed.  He tried to make people understand that this is not just about some kid with a hoodie.  But I think also we have to look at the fact that there is a broader discussion that we need to have.  Yes, we need to have a discussion on race, but we also need to have a discussion on how we are treating poor and minority people in this country.

DAVID GREGORY:

How about the particular issue of the law that seemed to loom so large over this situation, and that is the Stand Your Ground law.  In Florida, 21 other states they have a law that really redefined the concept of what we consider to be self-defense.  The attorney general was in Florida this week and he spoke about it in a way that the president echoed later.  Here's what the attorney general said.

TAPE - ATTORNEY GEN. HOLDER:

It's time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods. // These laws try to fix something that was never broken. There has always been a legal defense for using deadly force if - and the "if" is important - no safe retreat is available.”

DAVID GREGORY:

Now, Michael Steele, some Republicans have immediately politicized this into the gun debate and said-- when I say "politicized," I'm not making a judgment.  But they are putting this into the gun argument about the ability to defend one's--

MICHAEL STEELE:

Right.

DAVID GREGORY:

--self.  In this particular case, you had the police officers who told George Zimmerman, "Don't pursue this young man."

MICHAEL STEELE:

That's right.

DAVID GREGORY:

"Don't do that."  He gets back into his car, he says he feels a threat, and he follows him --

MICHAEL STEELE:

Anyway.

DAVID GREGORY:

That's what the attorney general, what the president's talking about.

MICHAEL STEELE:

Well, and that's what the facts tell us.  But the question now becomes is this a proper role for the federal to go into or--

DAVID GREGORY:

Versus the states?

MICHAEL STEELE:

Versus the states.  To go into all 21 states now and tell them how to change their laws or to remake their laws?  No.  I mean, this is something that's going to have to get worked out state by state.  You have 21 states, other states out there as well, so it's not just Florida.

So when we start this conversation, you have people talking about, "Well, I'm going to boycott Florida.  I'm not going to perform there, I'm not going to go there."  Well, you're not going to go to the 21 other states?  There's got to be some level of consistency, number one.  Number two, on the political side of it, again, the facts of the Trayvon Martin case, this was not brought into it.  This was not the underlying argument that was made.  The defense backed off that--

MARC MORIAL:

Yes.

MICHAEL STEELE:

--as a defense.  My understanding--

MARC MORIAL:

However -- there was a jury instruction, and people have missed the fact that the jury instruction was cited by one of the jurors--

MICHAEL STEELE:

As the reason --

MARC MORIAL

--as the reason for the acquittal.  So it was an issue in the case.  And these Stand Your Ground laws, what's striking about them is how they got on the books.  They got on the books because of an effort by the N.R.A., in conjunction with A.L.E.C., to introduce them and pass them in states across the nation.  It is the role of the nation's chief justice--

TAVIS SMILEY:

And this --

MARC MORIAL:

--so who is the attorney general--

MICHAEL STEELE:

But, Marc, do you know who's used the Stand Your Ground law in Florida the most is African Americans.

CHARLES OGLETREE:

In fact, Michael, it's not just in Florida--

MICHAEL STEELE:

But that doesn't mean--

CHARLES OGLETREE:

The reality is that another group pushed Stand Your Ground, but African Americans have been using it around the country--

TAVIS SMILEY:

The hypocrisy-- since Marc mentioned the N.R.A.  The hypocrisy of the N.R.A. is on full display here.  We have not as yet heard, and I predict that you will never hear the N.R.A. say that if Trayvon Martin had had a gun, he'd still be alive.

CHARLES OGLETREE:

I think they will say that

TAVIS SMILEY

They haven't said it as yet, Tree

CHARLES OGLETREE

Let's put that out there.

TAVIS SMILEY

It’s out there --

CHARLES OGLETREE:

Let's put it right here.

MARC MORIAL:

The most important thing is that the Stand Your Ground law is one of the things that has incited and ignited, I believe, this movement across the nation which I think, David, is the beginning of a new civil rights movement to challenge these issues, because of what the congresswoman has said.  The landscape has changed. The Voting Rights Act decision by the Supreme Court, which was striking in its superficiality; the Trayvon Martin incident; and everything from the police officers not arresting George Zimmerman at the very beginning, to the need for a special prosecutor, to the fact that the special prosecutor herself did not participate in trying the case; to the composition of the jury; to the way in which the case was tried; all the way to the verdict strikes people as just mountains of evidence--

TAVIS SMILEY:

But Marc--

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me-- well, let me ask this, Professor-the attorney general is looking at this as a potential civil rights violation against George Zimmerman.  I heard the president, to me, sort of lower expectations--

TAVIS SMILEY:

Exactly.  Exactly.

DAVID GREGORY:

--for that being made.  On what basis?

The reality is that this is not a federal issue, it's a state issue, and states have moved forward and talked about Stand Your Ground and a lot of other issues as well.  And I think he's saying the federal government can't do anything.  We can be behind it.  Rodney King, it was the state that started, didn't do well, and then the federal government came in.  And a lot of these cases of people being assassinated, people being killed, being beaten, the federal government is there and responsive to that, but not the--

TAVIS SMILEY:

And I think, David, that's what the protestors-- and I celebrate them.  I applaud the efforts in these 100 cities yesterday.  But I think what they missed is what you've just astutely pointed out.  The president basically said to us, without saying to us, "This ain't goin' no further.  You can march and protest and rally--"

MARC MORIAL:

I don't think-- The mistake that people make is to prejudge an investigation before it takes place.

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, the attorney general will decide. But the president did seem to—

MARCIA FUDGE:

But I understand about the Stand Your Ground laws.  But there are some things we can do.  We at the Congressional Black Caucus, have put in place, at least dropped over the last couple of weeks, racial profiling laws because that's what this law is.  I don't care what they say it was; that is what it was.  And so if we start to do some things from the congressional perspective, maybe they can help.  But let me just say this:  I don't care how many laws you put in place, you cannot legislate about prejudice or bias or racism.  You cannot do it.  And so all we can do is the best we can.

MICHAEL STEELE:

But that goes to Tavis’ point about the morality of the question.

DAVID GREGORY:

Can I put something else on the table that goes to the racial profiling debate, that is provocative.  It was from Bill Cohen in the Washington Post, his column on Monday.  I'll put it up on the screen and get your reaction to it-- Richard Cohen, excuse me.

"Where is the politician," he writes, "who will own up to the painful complexity of the problem and acknowledge the widespread fear of crime committed by young black males?  This does not mean that wild racism has disappeared and some judgments are not the product of invidious stereotyping.  It does mean though that the public knows young black males commit a disproportionate amount of crime.  "In New York City, blacks make up a quarter of the population yet they represent 78% of all shooting suspects, almost all of them young men."  And, Tavis, the president made a point--

TAVIS SMILEY:

He got that.

DAVID GREGORY:

--of acknowledging that.

TAVIS SMILEY:

He acknowledged that, number one.  Number two, most blacks are killed by other African Americans and most whites are killed by other whites and I'm sick and tired of having this debate as if there's something unusual about that.  You kill people in the communities where you live and work and rob.  That's how this works, number one.

But with all due respect to Marc and Tree, all I'm saying is this:  This is not a chronos moment, this is a kairos moment.  The president, again, is the right person at the right place at the right time to do more.  I am not a part of that "anything is enough" generation.  I want the president to step in this moment, as Cohen  just pointed out, and lead us in a complex conversation about these very difficult issues.  I don't want him to shrink from the calling of this moment historically.  And we are going to regret this later on.

MARC MORIAL:

Tavis in three years we found something we agree on.

MARCIA FUDGE:

But back to your point about New York City, one of the reasons that African American men tend to make up a disproportionate number is because of profiling.  You've got two kids on a street, in New York in particular with their "stop and frisk" policies, they're going to pick up the black kid.  Not to say that the white kid wasn't committing a crime, but the black kid gets in the system and never gets out.  Or they decide, "You know, but he's from a good family.  Let's put him in a diversion program," but the black kid gets a record.  Profiling has a lot to do with those numbers as well, and they are skewed based on the perception that black kids--

MARC MORIAL:

But one thing that's  going to have to be on the table is the economic opportunities jobs.  And the obstructionism about summer jobs, jobs plans, jobs training that's taken place in this nation after the recession, when this unemployment rate is so high.  It can't be done with a law enforcement approach alone.  It has to be done with an economic opportunity approach.  So I hope that this conversation is going to confront the very challenging issue of economic opportunity.

DAVID GREGORY:

I'm struck, going back to the president's notable 2008 speech as a candidate, the extent to which he was saying in advance, "I, as a black man, even if I become president, can only do so much."  Because he talked about the country being stuck on race.  This is what else he said back in 2008.

(BARACK OBAMA ON VIDEO)

“Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy - particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.”

DAVID GREGORY:

I want to wind this up, Professor Ogletree, by asking you was that self-imposed sense of limitation appropriate?  And did he go beyond it--

CHARLES OGLETREE:

It was--

DAVID GREGORY:

--on Friday?

CHARLES OGLETREE:

--appropriate and I think he's gone beyond it.  Trayvon Martin will be with us in eternity; that's what he's done.  The president has moved Trayvon Martin up to be a symbol of racial profiling in America, and I think whether he's here or not, we're going to be debating that and discussing that.  And I think we're going to have the real conversation about race going forward.

TAVIS SMILEY:

As long as he stands his ground and leads us into a moral conversation about --

DAVID GREGORY:

But is this the wrong issue? Is it wrong to inject race into the Martin case, Michael Steele, as some conservatives and others have argued, that this is the wrong moment?

MICHAEL STEELE:

I think it’s not the wrong moment to inject race, I think race is a part of it, as the congresswoman noted, is an underlying theme or feeling, that particularly the African American community takes away from that. And it has to be addressed, you just can’t leave it on the table because you don’t believe it’s there.

DAVID GREGORY:

Alright, I realize this only scratches the surface, but it was still a good conversation, I appreciate you all being here very much. Marc Morial, former mayor of New York City, you’re gonna stick around --

MARC MORIAL:

You just elevated me (LAUGHTER)

DAVID GREGORY:

Excuse me, sorry. New Orleans, my apologies. We’re going to talk about Detroit in distress, the city becomes the latest and largest to file bankruptcy. Did the politicians fail the Motor City? I’m going to talk to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. Also, his predecessor, former Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm, she’ll weigh in. And our roundtable is here to talk about the larger question: Is there something Detroit can tell us about America’s fiscal future. That’s coming up after this short commercial break.

DAVID GREGORY:

Our political roundtable is here, and I'll talk to them in just a moment, but I want to begin with Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.  Governor, welcome.

GOV. RICK SNYDER:

Thank you, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

The historic filing of bankruptcy by Detroit is such a big story, and I was immediately drawn to something you said back in June of 2011, and I'll put it up on the screen.  The headline:  "Bankruptcy Not an Option for Cities, Governor Snyder Says.  Governor Snyder said that he won't let Detroit, or any other Michigan cities, declare bankruptcy.  'Detroit's not going into bankruptcy,' Snyder told reporters.  'We're going to work hard to make sure we don't need an emergency manager and bankruptcy shouldn't be on the table.'"  So what happened?

GOV. RICK SNYDER:

Well, we worked hard on the process because, again, that's something to be avoided, and it's not something I'm happy to be in this situation.  This was a very tough decision, but it's the right decision because ultimately the issue we need to do is to get better services for the 700,000 people of Detroit.

The citizens of Detroit deserve better than they're getting today, in addition to dealing with this crushing debt question.  We went through all the other processes we could; there were no other viable options.  And once you go through every other option, then you should consider bankruptcy.

We're at that point.  I believe it's the right thing to do now because the focus needs to be dealing with this debt question.  But even more importantly, David, the citizens of Detroit deserve better services.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yes.  And--

GOV. RICK SNYDER:

58-minute response times on police calls.

GOV. RICK SNYDER:

That's absolutely unacceptable.

DAVID GREGORY:

We have some of those stats. You have 58 minutes average response time for high priority calls; 50% of the parks closed since 2008; 40% of the streetlights don't work.  How have politicians let the Motor City down?

GOV. RICK SNYDER:

Well, again, if you look at it, this is 60 years of decline.  This has been kicking the can down the road for 60 years.  And my perspective on it:  Enough is enough.  I think there needs to be more accountability in government.  And part of the issue here is let's stand up and deal with this tragic situation and take care of the citizens, and that's what this is all about.

This was drawing that line to say, "Let's stop going downhill," because if we hadn't declared bankruptcy, every continuing day Detroit would have gone farther downhill.  This was an opportunity to stabilize Detroit, and even more importantly, longer term, I'm fairly bullish about the growth opportunities of Detroit.  There's many outstanding things going on in the city with the private sector, with young people moving in the city.  It's got great opportunities.  The last major obstacle is the city government.

DAVID GREGORY:

You've got $18 billion in debt.  A friend of mine I talked to said, you know, "Is this America?"  Look what's happened.  How do you recover?  You've got some 20,000 retirees there who rely upon pension checks, which is grossly under-funded.  How do you find a way back?  How does a city like this turn itself around?

GOV. RICK SNYDER:

Well, you get honest about it, to start with.  Again, that's about accountability, and putting the facts on the table.  And that's been a big part of this exercise is, in many cases, for the last 16 years, people have ignored the realities of the situation.  We're being real now.  We're putting those facts on the table.  And the retirees, I empathize with them.  I mean, there are a lot of good, hard-working people that worked for the city that are--

DAVID GREGORY:

Can you possibly--

GOV. RICK SNYDER:

--on a fixed income.

DAVID GREGORY:

--make good on all those commitments made to retirees for these pensions?

GOV. RICK SNYDER:

Well, let me put it in perspective for you.  One of the things that bankruptcy does allow is a positive in the sense that we were talking with a lot of creditors that one of the issues that weren't being represented well enough were the retirees.  So proactively, in the bankruptcy petition, one thing that we're asking for is the judge right upfront to appoint someone to represent the retirees.  They need to be at the table.  They need to have a voice.

And the other thing, I want to really speak to the retirees themselves now, is to the degree the pension plans are funded, that doesn't affect us at all.  The bankruptcy is about the unfunded portion of the pension liability, which is still significant.  I don't want to underestimate it.  But the funded piece is safe.  The real question is how do we address this unfunded piece.  And if you go back in history, it's an ugly history of how this pension plan was managed and all the issues--

DAVID GREGORY:

As is the case in a lot of different cities.  The role of federal government is an obvious question here because the federal government has intervened when the auto companies needed a big bailout.  You go back to the 1970s and that famous headline of the New York Daily News when New York City was in trouble was this:  "Ford to City:  Drop Dead."

Here are some of the facts about the auto bailout and about the current debt that Detroit has.  You had $80+ billion that flowed to the auto companies when they needed help; now you've got a total debt in Detroit of $18 billion.  Is there not some money that should be available, even from that initial bailout money to the auto companies, to help the city?

GOV. RICK SNYDER:

Well, I'm not going to speak for the federal government.  What I want to speak to is a solution, and I view they can be an important partner in solving problems.  I'll give you one illustration of tangible things we're doing, because this isn't about just writing checks.  This is about improving Detroit.

One thing I'm proud of is that we're partnering with the federal government, the city, and the state working together is blight removal.  We're going to be starting to implement a $100 million program to remove some of those 78,000 blighted structures in Detroit, hopefully within the next 30 days.  That's one of the positive steps.  So we don't need to wait for all the bankruptcy end.  We're moving now on improving Detroit and getting better services for those great people.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, Governor, we'll be watching.  Thank you very much for your time here with us today as I'm going to make my way over to our roundtable where we will hear from, among others, the former governor of Michigan, Democrat Jennifer Granholm.  I want to consider and try to understand the way politicians speak about Detroit, how they've always done it.  Consider this, from President Obama, from October of last year.

TAPE - PRES. OBAMA:

We refused to throw in the towel and do nothing. We refused to let Detroit go bankrupt. We bet on American workers and American ingenuity, and three years later, that bet is paying off in a big way.

DAVID GREGORY:

And good morning to all of you.  Governor Granholm, when the president speaks about Detroit, he doesn't mean the City of Detroit--

JENNIFER GRANHOLM:

Right.

DAVID GREGORY:

--he means the auto companies.  They got better; Detroit did not.

JENNIFER GRANHOLM:

Right.  And that's a really important distinction because people are assuming that, when he said, "We're not going to let Detroit go bankrupt," that he meant Detroit, the city.  It's two different entities.  But the City of Detroit is the poster child for the de-industrialization of America, David.  Since 1950, which was the heyday of Detroit's burgeoning auto industry, there were almost 300,000 automotive or manufacturing jobs in the city, 300,000.  Today, it's 27,000; that's a 90% decline in good-paying manufacturing jobs.

So the real question is, not just about tearing down blight, is what are we going to do as a nation to create good-paying middle-class jobs in a country that has a policy of being completely hands off with the economy?

DAVID GREGORY:

You--

JENNIFER GRANHOLM:

We have to have a manufacturing policy, an advanced manufacturing policy, and give the ability for states to develop clusters that will help them compete.

DAVID GREGORY:

Some of the criticism, Governor, from conservatives who say, "Look, you've had 50 years of Democratic rule in the City of Detroit.  You've had unions not only in Detroit but in other cities who are pursuing pensions and retirement policies that are completely unsustainable," and that there has been some level of denial, even you.

In 2009, Time magazine interviewed you, and the question was, "Will Detroit ever really recover, in your honest opinion?"  You said, "Absolutely.  We have great bones in the city and as a state.  We have more engineers in this region than in all the other states, plus Canada and Mexico, combined.  We're in a tough period because we have an auto crisis and a financial crisis, so we're hit harder than any state in the country."  And yet, what you're saying today is it's much bigger than the financial crisis that--

JENNIFER GRANHOLM:

It is bigger.

DAVID GREGORY:

--happened to Detroit.

JENNIFER GRANHOLM:

But the whole point of my saying that is Detroit does have great bones but what we need is a strategy nationally, like other countries have, to keep and create good-paying middle-class jobs here.  And we need a Congress that would support that strategy.

Let me just quickly say, David, you talk about the pension.  Moody's has said that cities across the country have $2 trillion worth of pension, unfunded liabilities.  This is not just Detroit.  There are 50,000 communities across the country that have lost factories since the year 2000.  This is not a Democratic problem; this is a problem across the country.

DAVID GREGORY:

Chuck Todd, who let Detroit down?

CHUCK TODD:

Oh, I--

DAVID GREGORY:

Which politicians let them down?

CHUCK TODD:

I think it's there was poor governance in Detroit for a very long time.  This turned into a machine political town if you follow-- you know, in my 25 years of following politics, you know, it was a city-- and I remember the first reform movement of Detroit, when Dennis Archer got elected mayor, replacing the Coleman Young era, was that first attempt.

And there was a lot of cities that did that.  You saw a whole movement; it was here in Washington, D.C., the first post-Marion Barry mayor.  And you saw these attempts.  But, you know, one mayor couldn't change things because you had 30 years of cronyism.

DAVID GREGORY:

Let's just talk--

CHUCK TODD:

It was a machine politics--If I told you that a city on the border of America's largest trading partner couldn't figure out how to diversity its economy, you have to sit there and say that it's not just poor city governance.  Poor business leadership, poor governance on a-- it is sort of remarkable that Detroit, where it's located, has not ended up in the position--

MARC MORIAL:

But, you know, the bigger issue here-- because this, Detroit, and what the governor has mentioned, and other communities in other urban cities is the result also of public policies at the national level when it comes to trade, when it comes to the failure to invest in manufacturing, to watch all of our jobs to abroad and not have a response.

The second thing that grates many, many people is that we could bail out the automobile companies at a very hefty price, we could bail out the banks at a very hefty price; but when it comes to urban communities where the poor are, when it comes to the deteriorating infrastructure of urban communities, we have excuses.  We have an effort to simply say, "Well, the problems are in city hall.  Get your governance straight and then we'll help you."

What I hope this means is that there's going to be a renewed interest in American urban communities, and for the national government to recognize we need a concerted effort if we're going to compete with China and India to bring back good-paying--

DAVID GREGORY:

Is that the fair comparison, though?  I made it, with Governor Snyder, about the federal bailout and the outstanding debt of Detroit.

DAVID BROOKS:

Yes.  Listen, we've got two narratives here.  The one narrative is it's deindustrialization; the other narrative, it's institutional failure.  Deindustrialization didn't only happen in Detroit.  It happened in Nashville, it happened in the twin cities, it happened in San Francisco, and most other places adapted.

CHUCK TODD:

Pittsburgh, I mean, Pittsburgh is probably the best parallel--

DAVID BROOKS:

Because they had economic diversity, they had education, and they did not have institutional failure.  Detroit, to me, is Decline-ism 101, whether it's the Roman Empire, the British Empire, the Spanish Empire:  You've got entrenched elites, there are entrenched special interests.  They're together forever and ever.  They get a culture of mediocrity.  They get a culture of cronyism.  And it just collapses.

DAVID GREGORY:

There is this bigger question.  You think about major institutions, whether Washington is broken.  Schools, cities.  George Packer, we discussed the book that he's written called The Unwinding:  An Inner History of the New America. And he writes this, in part:  "No one can say when the unwinding began, when the coil that held Americans together in its secure and sometimes stifling grip first gave way. Like any great change, the unwinding began at countless times, in countless ways.  At some moment, the country, always the same country, crossed a line of history and became irretrievably differently.  If you were born around 1960 or afterward, you have spent your adult life in the vertigo of that unwinding.  You watched structures that had been in place before your birth collapse like pillars of salt across the vast, visible landscape."  You think a lot about this concept of whether this is American decline, or if this is something much more temporary and narrow.”

DAVID BROOKS:

It's not American decline, it's class.  We've had a lot of discussion about race on the show today; to me, the class divide is bigger than the race divide.  If you're in the educated class, college-educated communities, you're not seeing decline.  You've got intact family structures, you've got rising incomes; you're doing fine.

If you're in the less-educated, whether you're African American, Latino, white, Asian, you're seeing collapsing social structures, you're seeing 70% of African American kids born out of wedlock; 65% of Latino, high percent of poor white kids.  And so what you're seeing is this collapse of order on the bottom.  If you're born into a certain class, there are certain railroad tracks.  You just go along the tracks, and--

MARC MORIAL:

You know what, David, that's inconsistent with what the 20th century was about.  Because what the 20th century was about was the rise of the middle class and the opening of doors of economic opportunity.  And I think that the class divide, combined with the race divide, is America's greatest 21st century challenge.  But what's changed is the world in which we live.  The world in which we live, with new competitors all across the globe, and within the changing demographics of America.

And so we had substantial progress in the middle of the 20th century when it came to closing the class divide.  We've departed from that.  And what I'm concerned with is that we, in many, many polite circles, do not think that that class divide is a challenge to America's economic competitiveness.

DAVID GREGORY:

And, Governor, you know, my mother, born in Detroit, grew up at a time when a middle-class job in Detroit was possible, that you could really think about sustaining a family on.

JENNIFER GRANHOLM:

Well, that's the whole point is what is-- if we want Congress to act on anything it is on a strategy to keep and create middle-class jobs in America.  You're right, but we're ensuring the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and that large scope of poor, the group is getting larger.

So how do we create, in a global economy, middle-class jobs in America?  Other countries are doing this; we have not.  We can learn from Germany.  We think that, because we are exceptional as a nation, that we ought not be borrowing best practices from other countries.  But in fact, the other countries have figured out how to crack the code to create advanced manufacturing jobs in their nations.  Why can't work?  It's because we have gridlock in Congress that refuses to have any hands on when it comes to the economy.

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me get a break in here; come back.  I want to return to the topic of the president and his comments on Friday.  Beyond race, but also leadership, where he's choosing to really make an impact in his second term with a lot of big issues at stake as well. More with our roundtable, right after this.

DAVID GREGORY:

In our remaining time, I want to spend a few minutes going back to this topic of presidential leadership, the president talking about race.  David Brooks, I wanted your perspective.  And David Maraniss, who wrote a biography of the president, writes this morning that his sense, and I'm paraphrasing here, that once the president had reached the White House, now quoting, "It appeared that his intense interest in the subject of race diminished.  He would be judged by the content of his presidency not the color of his skin.  Race seemingly became unimportant if not irrelevant to the first black president of the United States.  He rarely spoke about it."  This, a big departure.

DAVID BROOKS:

Yeah.  It seemed superficially unimportant, but it's important to remember race is his first subject, as it would be if you had a black father and a white mother.  And all the mental habits, he breached all the other issues, grow out of the way he framed race and the way he started thinking about race. His tendency to do, "On the one hand, on the other;" his desire to reconcile opposites; his ability to see different points of view:  All the stuff we've come to see him apply to every other issue, it started with race.  And I thought this speech was one of the highlights of the presidency.

I thought it was a symphony of indignation, professionalism, executive responsibility, personal feeling.  It had all these different things woven together, I thought beautifully.  But it's important to remember, race is how he thinks.

DAVID GREGORY:

But again, I come back because I want to make sure to represent that other side as well.  Some conservatives have said, "Look, this was the wrong moment to inject race into the trial," their view, and for the president to speak out in this way.

DAVID BROOKS:

Yes.  I guess I would disagree with them.  I think if the young man had been a white kid and the older guy had been a black guy, it would be a different verdict.  And the president said that, and I think that happens to be true.

JENNIFER GRANHOLM:

I think that this was the president speaking as a witness to white people.  It was really a conversation to explain to white people why there was so much angst in the African American community about this.  And the reason why this was an important moment is because we have not arrived-- and those in the conservative community that would say that this was not about race need to understand that the moment they can say that, "I would trade places with an African American person and feel like I've not lost any of my benefits or privileges," that's the point we will have arrived.

DAVID GREGORY:

But, you know--

JENNIFER GRANHOLM:

But haven't gotten there yet.

MARC MORIAL:

I would say this:  This is a moment for the Obama presidency, and Barack Obama was the person.  Because I believe that he addressed something that I know has been deep in his consciousness for the first five years of his presidency.

I think what he may have thought is that actions speak louder than words.  That, in fact, if you confront health care disparities through the health care law, predatory lending through Dodd-Frank, that if you in fact enforce the civil rights laws, that would be enough.  But I think what this may be a recognition of is that the power of the presidency is the bully pulpit, the power to shape hearts, minds, and ideas.  The power to lead the nation.

It's important to look at Barack Obama's presidency as a transformative presidency in terms of what the nation will become in the 21st century.  We've got to seize this moment as a nation, and I think Barack Obama opened the door.  And my prayer and hope is that it's going to be a conversation that's going to lead to concrete steps and action, not just by the president, but that it's going to spur others.

DAVID GREGORY:

And, Chuck, but if you look at other areas, how does the president use his second term?  Where does he intervene on some of these key issues?  We see how he's done it here, and as the mayor points out we'll see where he goes with that.  Whether it's immigration or the implementation of health care, he also is now starting to use that bully pulpit.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, what was interesting about the conversation that you were having at the beginning of the show, and the debate particularly with Tavis of, you know, too much caution when it comes to--

DAVID GREGORY:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

--this.  You know, actually, in many ways, that description of President Obama on many issues where he's too cautious, he waits too long to speak out, he waits too long to use the bully pulpit.  Well, by the way, one other observation that I wanted to give on the speech that he made on Friday is that was also the son of an anthropologist.  People always forget that.

His mother was an anthropologist, an observer of communities interacting.  She did it obviously overseas in Indonesia, and you see that.  It's always been sort of the intellectual way he looks at this.  It bit him politically when he did, "Cling to their guns and Bible," but, again, that was Obama being anthropologist.

DAVID GREGORY:

And a law professor, right?  I mean, Ogletree was saying before the program, he said, "Look, he poses the uncomfortable questions and lets people grapple with that"

CHUCK TODD:

And then he backs away.  But remember, he always-- one of the things on race-- and David Maraniss says, "Oh, he wants to back off."  You know, when he was thinking about running for president, one of the greatest assets he thought is just him winning the presidency.  He could be a total failure as president; winning the presidency meant he was going to have cracked a ceiling, broken a ceiling for young African American men.

He knew that just the action, not the words, the simple action was going to make him a role model and say, "You know what?  This is no longer-- young African American men have-- you know, it's not just about getting out of poverty through athletics or through entertainment.  There are other ways here."  He was going to be a role model via--

DAVID GREGORY:

Gene Robinson said, "No caption necessary."

DAVID BROOKS:

Look, remember, he's pushing immigration reform.  Among Americans under five years old, whites are a minority.  And we're going to have a very different conversation in a few years when it's much more multiethnic, when it's Latinos, when it's Asians, when it's all these other groups.  I'd be fascinated to see how the racial discussion will look.  It won't just be two things--

MARC MORIAL:

And it's already transforming.  I was at the National Council of La Raza yesterday and the discussion is already changing about the dynamic of the nation.  But the important thing is we're at the beginning of this transformation and we've got to seize the moment.

CHUCK TODD:

And it might come from cities where this has already happened:  Miami and Los Angeles--

DAVID GREGORY:

Absolutely.

CHUCK TODD

--where it was blacks and whites, and then now Hispanics, whites-- it's a complicated conversation.

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me get a break in here. We will do that, we’ll come back with more, including a tribute to the pioneering journalist Helen Thomas, who died yesterday at the age of 92.

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