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updated 11/3/2013 12:44:43 PM ET 2013-11-03T17:44:43

“MEET THE PRESS WITH DAVID GREGORY”

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November 3, 2013

DAVID GREGORY:

First, the Obamacare debate. The Healthcare.gov website was actually offline for repairs over the weekend. Republican senator from Indiana, Dan Coats, delivering the weekly Republican radio address Saturday said the glitches are, quote, "Just the tip of the iceberg." This week, as you might have remembered, the president traveled to Boston to compare the rough start of Obamacare to what he called the slow start of the Massachusetts health care plan. But he also praised his 2012 opponent, Mitt Romney, who in 2006 as governor of Massachusetts signed that state's health care reform legislation into law.

(BEGIN TAPE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA

I've always believed that when he was governor here in massachusetts, he did the right thing on health care//if it was hard doing it just in one state, it's harder to do it in all 50 states.

(END TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

That is proving to be the case. And the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, joins me exclusively this morning. Governor, it's good to see you. Thank you for being here.

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:

Thanks, David. Good to be with you.

DAVID GREGORY:

Why do you reject the comparison, the compliment from President Obama this week, when he says, "Obamacare, based on Romneycare, and that's the right way to go"?

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:

Well, I think the president failed to learn the lessons that came from the experience of Massachusetts. First of all, the Massachusetts experience was a state-run plan. The right way to deal with health care reform is not to have a one-size-fits-all plan that's imposed on all the states, but recognizing the differences between different states' populations, states should be able to craft their own plans to get all their citizens insured, and to make sure that preexisting conditions are covered.

And there's some other differences. In Massachusetts, we phased in the requirements so that there was a slow rollout. That way you could test the systems as you went along to make sure there wouldn't be glitches. And perhaps the most important lesson the president I think failed to learn was you have to tell the American people the truth. And when he told the American people that you could keep your health insurance if you wanted to keep that plan, period, he said that time and again, he wasn't telling the truth.

DAVID GREGORY:

But, Governor, on that point--

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:

I think that fundamental dishonesty has really put in peril the whole foundation of his second term.

DAVID GREGORY:

On that point, we are talking about a small piece of the individual market, about 5%. And in your law, in Massachusetts, there were also minimum requirements for health plans in order to qualify for health insurance in Massachusetts. And the reason for that is so that you had basic plans that didn't allow presumably young and healthier people not to be adequately covered because, if they ended up getting a condition, the rest of the people have to pay for it; that hurts your risk pool.

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:

Well, we could talk about the technical differences between the Massachusetts plan and the federal plan. But the key, I think, that has really undermined the president's credibility in the hearts of the American people is that he went out, as a centerpiece of his campaign, and as a centerpiece of Obamacare over the last several years, saying time and time again that fundamental to his plan was the right people would have to keep their insurance plan. And he knew that was not the case. He could know it by looking at Massachusetts and seeing people there lost insurance. He could have learned those lessons and told the people the truth, but he didn't.

DAVID GREGORY:

Here's--

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:

He told people they could keep their plan. And, you know, it was NBC News that said, "Look, some 6 million people are going to lose their insurance." That's not some little number, that's 6 million American people.

DAVID GREGORY:

The comparison to Massachusetts though really comes down to two major points. A lot of people don't have health insurance because they can't afford it so you have to have subsidies; that's what you did in Massachusetts. And, in order to make sure your risk pool is right, you have to have enough young and healthy people in it so that ultimately health care is affordable for those who are older and are sicker. That's the mandate. You had it in Massachusetts; that's the federal system. So you say it should only be done at the state level, but here's what you said on Meet the Press back in 2007 about the idea of the mandate. I want to play it and get your reaction.

(BEGIN TAPE)

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY ON TAPE FROM 2007:

"I think you're going to find, when it's all said and done, after all these states that are laboratories of democracy get their chance to try their own plans, that those who follow the path that we pursued will find it's the best path, and we'll end up with a nation that's taken a mandate approach."

(END TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

You don't believe all the states should have adopted this, but you do believe that the entire nation should take a mandate approach. If it was good for Massachusetts, what's so wrong with taking it national?

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:

Well, what I said there was precisely right, which is that each state should be able, through the laboratory democracy model, to put in place the plan that works best for them. And if they adopt the Massachusetts plan, terrific. If they adopt a different plan, that's also fine.

But recognize, Massachusetts teaches some important lessons some states are not going to want to follow. One lesson is health insurance is more expensive in Massachusetts than anywhere else in the country. Now, that's something that Texas and Minnesota and Montana are not necessarily going to want to adopt. And you're going to see, as a result of Obamacare, premiums going up dramatically across the country.

And, again, going back, I think the key thing that the president is trying to get away from is that he told people they could keep their insurance, and that was not the truth. And whether you like the model of Obamacare or not, the fact that the president sold it on a basis that was not true has undermined the foundation of his second term. I think it's rotting it away.

And I think the only way he can rebuild credibility is to work with Republicans and Democrats and try and rebuild a foundation. We've got to have a president. We've got to have a president that can lead. And right now, he's not able to do so.

DAVID GREGORY:

That's very strong language. You're saying that the way he pitched your ability to keep a plan will undermine his entire second term. But how do you know--

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:

There's no question.

DAVID GREGORY:

Assuming they get the site up and working, that's a big assumption at this point, but if that happens, how is it that in the end, the same approach that you took in Massachusetts with regard to subsidies, with regard to a mandate, why don't you think that could ultimately be successful?

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:

Well, what's going to happen is people are going to lose insurance. You're going to have millions of individuals--

DAVID GREGORY:

But some people will get better plans.

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:

--lose their health care plan.

DAVID GREGORY:

Some people will end up saving money in the plans. And, yes, some people will pay more. Again, that was also the case in Massachusetts.

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:

Well, that may well be the case. But the reality is, that was not what was sold with Obamacare. Obamacare barely made it through Washington, as you know. And there's no question in my mind that, had the president been truthful and told the American people that millions would lose their insurance and millions more would see their premiums skyrocket, had he told them that at the time it was going through Washington there would have been such a hue and cry against it, it would not have passed.

Look, you begin with honesty. We can talk about what's the right plan, and there are aspects of the Massachusetts plan I think other states would be wise to adopt. There are probably aspects that states will say, "I don't want that. I've got a better idea." Let them try those things.

But imposing something that in some ways resembles what we did in Massachusetts on the entire nation is not something-- and particularly doing it, by the way, in a dishonest way, without telling people what was entailed, is something the American people are rejecting--

DAVID GREGORY:

Governor--

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:

--overwhelmingly.

DAVID GREGORY:

Final point on this. What would you have done? Had you become president-- in my interview with you in the course of the campaign you said there were aspects of Obamacare that you would want to keep, preexisting conditions, et cetera. What would you have done? You've just watched the Republican Party at the national level try to de-fund it or delay it. How would you have dealt with Obamacare had you become president?

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:

Well, I'm not president so I can't be so clear minded as to tell you what I would have done. But my own plan was to say to each state, "You've got a requirement to move to a point where all your people are insured, and where you cover preexisting conditions. We're going to give you flexibility from the federal government level to help you be able to do so."

And with regards to what's gone on in Washington lately with the shutdown, if you will, to try and replace and de-fund Obamacare, look, there's no question but that every Republican that I know of wants to see Obamacare replaced, repealed, and repaired. At the same time, the tactic of shutting down government is one which I thought was not a good tactic in the first place. I thought it would not be effective, and it was not effective.

You heard this morning, for instance, the campaign manager of Ken Cuccinelli say that when they were talking about the shutdown, they were having a hard time. But now they're talking about Obamacare and his campaign is doing better and better.

The shutdown was not the right way to go, in my view. But the right way to replace Obamacare is to elect Republicans to the Senate and the House, and ultimately the White House, and repair Obamacare, replace it, and put in place something that's going to do a better job for the American people. And let them keep the insurance they were promised they could keep in the first place.

DAVID GREGORY:

And we don't have that consensus at the moment. You mentioned Ken Cuccinelli, running of course for governor in Virginia. I want to ask you about the 2012 campaign. The new book is called Double Down: Game Change 2012, lot of political intrigue.

One aspect of it, Governor, is that when you had a family vote before you ran, you actually voted against running. When you laid out your plan to defend Romneycare, a vicious editorial the next day in the Wall Street Journal; you questioned whether you should stay in the race and whether you could ultimately win. And there's an argument that comes through in the book among some Republicans that, with the stakes so high in the 2012 election, did you not show enough fight? Did you not want to win it enough? How do you rebut that charge?

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:

Well, there's no question but that I wanted to win it. No one could have worked harder than myself and my family worked for the campaign. We were all in, 110%. And we wanted to win very desperately. We recognized what was at stake. Frankly, I was concerned that, if the president were re-elected, the economy would continue to dwindle along, we'd continue to lose credibility around the world, the American people would find it harder and harder to get jobs, and we're seeing those things happen before our very eyes.

I ran because I believed I was the most effective guy to be able to beat President Obama. It's not easy to beat an incumbent, but I thought I was the most likely to be able to do so. And I gave everything I possibly could give to make that the reality.

DAVID GREGORY:

As you know, there's a lot of talk about 2016, and that happens immediately after 2012, happened during the 2012 race, in fact. So here, from the book, is a conversation about Governor Christie. You considered him to be your running mate and ultimately you rejected him. And some of the reporting out of the book indicates that there was some concerns about his background in your own investigations and your own vetting process.

Here is what they report in the book: "The dossier on the Garden State governor's background was littered with potential landmines. There was no point in thinking about Christie further. With the clock running out, Romney pulled the plug again, this time for good. Questions about past investigations, about lawsuits, and about his health, indeed, his weight." Did you look at those issues as disqualifying, and if so, why?

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:

Well, I know that the vetting people who went through that analysis and put together their report laid everything out. But, frankly, there was nothing they found that wasn't already part of the public record and that hadn't already been dealt with effectively by Chris Christie. So there was nothing new there.

The reason I chose Paul Ryan was, as I indicated before, which is Paul had a complement of skills and experience that I thought would be helpful if he actually became vice president. I'd been a governor; I hadn't worked in Washington. He'd been in Washington. He was a budget pro. And I figured his relationships in Washington, his knowledge of the budget would be a good compliment to me. And Chris, by the way, could easily become our nominee and save our party and help get this nation on the right track again. They don't come better than Chris Christie.

DAVID GREGORY:

But you obviously had concerns about his health, his weight, and other issues. If he does seek the nomination, do you think these are going to become issues? You yourself are reportedly saying in the book, "A governor's race is not an appropriate vetting process. These issues will come to the fore again." Is there something that he should be concerned about?

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:

Well, you know, I know that in a campaign people drudge up all the old stuff again, but he's already dealt with it. And with regards to his health, he provided his health records to us: His health is very solid, very good. There's not an issue there.

Look, I know that the Democrats will try and go after him, if he's our nominee, in every way they can. But you can't argue with the kind of success he's had. He's been a governor, he's about to win I think on Tuesday pretty solidly, and his record as governor really stands out. I mean, New Jersey, after all, is a very blue state. He's a very popular governor in a very blue state; that's the kind of popularity and the kind of track record the Republican Party needs if we're going to take back the White House.

DAVID GREGORY:

And it's interesting, you have told Republicans since losing in 2012 that electability is still the key. That, even though other people, other Republicans may have liked some of your challengers, that you were the guy who was best positioned to beat President Obama. Do you think that Governor Christie is the odds-on favorite to be the nominee in 2016 because he's the most electable?

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:

Well, I think it's kind of early to say who's the most electable and who would be the most effective candidate. But at this stage, you look at Chris Christie and say, "That's a very impressive guy," with a great track record, with a demonstrated ability to work across the aisle, with support of labor and blue-collar voters in New Jersey. It's a pretty compelling story. And there are some other very compelling stories. Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio; I mean, there's a long list of very capable people. But Chris Christie stands out as one of the very strongest lights in the Republican Party.

DAVID GREGORY:

Does Ted Cruz stand out to you as a potential light of the Republican Party?

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:

Look, I'm not going to disqualify anybody. But I think I've indicated some of the names that I think are most effective in becoming elected, and we'll see where it goes.

DAVID GREGORY:

Alright, we’re going to take a break here. We’re going to have more with you, Governor Romney if you’ll stick around, in just a moment. I want to ask you a little bit more about some of the issues in Washington, the president’s second term and the future of the Republican Party. You’ve at an up-close look at some of these divisions in the party. So we’ll talk about that when we come back with you in just a moment.

PLUS, THE MAN WHO WAS AT OBAMA’S SIDE AS THE PRESIDENT DEFENDED HIS HEALTH CARE PLAN - MASSACHUSETTS DEMOCRATIC GOVERNOR DEVAL PATRICK.

AND LATER - OUR POLITICAL ROUNDTABLE - OUR NEW POLL SHOWS THE PRESIDENT'S APPROVAL NUMBERS AT AN ALL TIME LOW. WHAT COULD THAT MEAN FOR THE REST OF HIS PRESIDENCY? INSIGHTS AND ANALYSIS FROM BOB WOODWARD, KATTY KAY, DAVID AXELROD AND BILL KRISTOL

BACK IN ONE MINUTE.

(***Commercial Break***)

DAVID GREGORY:

And we’re back with Governor Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee, of course. Governor, I want to ask you about the future of the Republican Party. My analysis of where Republicans are seems to reflect the split, the tension within the party. On the one hand, you have got Republican governors, there's 30 of them. They're actually governing out in the states.

At the national level, however, you have a Republican Party that seems more fixed on opposition, opposition to the Obama agenda, which they of course would defend as being the right place to stand against bad policy. But that tension has real consequences in terms of whether the party can become a national party again at the national level, can they get the White House back. How do you view that tension? You've already said you think the strategy on the government shutdown was wrong. How does that tension resolve itself? What's your prescription?

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:

Well, I think what you're going to see is, without a president to, if you will, discipline our own party, you're going to have a lot of different voices taking the party, or wanting to take the party in different directions. We're going to listen to that, as a group of voters. And ultimately, the people are going to be able to make their decision.

I think you'll find that we will be very anxious to choose someone as our nominee in 2016 who we think has the best prospects of actually winning and getting the country back on track to create jobs again, and to give the American people the prosperity and the hope that they've been looking for.

DAVID GREGORY:

But isn't this the issue? Look, the reason there is a Tea Party right now goes back to President Bush. I actually think it goes back to the beginning of a more robust security state after 9/11; the government expands to deal with security. There's also Medicare Part D. There's a lot of government spending, and then there's ultimately the bailouts, which conservatives start to rebel against. And then President Obama continues that.

And the answer has been John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012, and there's a lot of conservatives who say, "Hey, guys, that's the wrong approach. We've got to have more conservative nominees if we're going to really get healed in this party. They're not the answers." And yet, you seem to be doubling down on the idea that electability is key. But there's ranks in the party saying, "No, we've got to get back to our conservative roots.

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:

Well, electability and conservatism I think go together. I think you have a party which is conservative. And in my campaign, I think I made it very clear how I was going to get America working again, how I'd get us ultimately to a balanced budget and start reducing our debt. I had a very conservative platform. And that kind of conservative platform I think is the foundation of any successful campaign in 2016.

I just happen to think that you want to combine conservatism with the ability to get elected. You want someone who can garner the support of people across the country to say, "This is a person I trust," who will implement the kind of conservative approach that I think America is looking for.

DAVID GREGORY:

How formidable is Hillary Clinton if she's the Democratic nominee? Can a Republican nominee beat her?

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:

You know, anybody can be beaten. She's a very well-known figure. Obviously, if she becomes the nominee, we'll be taking a very close look at her record as secretary of state and seeing what she actually accomplished and where America has gone. I think people will have to think that the last four years, last five years have not been a great time for America's interests around the world. She's responsible for part of that, and so she'll have a record to be examined.

Hopefully we'll have a nominee that's able to do that effectively, and to demonstrate his or her own strong record, and have a kind of track record that people can look at and say, "You know what? I'd rather elect that Republican person because that person can get America working again."

DAVID GREGORY:

Governor Romney, I appreciate your time and your views very much. Thank you.

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:

Thanks, David. Good to be with you.

DAVID GREGORY:

Joining me now is Governor Romney's successor in Massachusetts, the current governor of Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick. Governor, welcome back to Meet the Press.

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK:

Good morning, David. How are you?

DAVID GREGORY:

Two key points here: How much damage has been done to the Affordable Care Act by the-- you heard Governor Romney describe it as deception, not telling the truth about that people could lose their plans, and the failure for government to administer a program this large because of this failed website rollout?

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK:

Well, you know, the Affordable Care Act is not a website, David. I think Governor Romney knows that, and the American people know that. It's a values statement, and it does a lot of good for a lot of people. That has already begun; it will continue. The website is imperfect. That will get fixed, I'm confident of that.

The website at home in Massachusetts, when we first started implementing in 2007, was also imperfect. It got fixed. And Governor Romney was right then when he said that, if Massachusetts succeeds in implementing health care reform there, it will be a model for the country, and it has been.

DAVID GREGORY:

But here is what President Obama. We take you back to some of the comments he made back in 2009 and 2013, a promise he made, a fundamental promise he made to the American people. Watch.

(BEGIN TAPE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA ON TAPE:

June 15, 2009: If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period. (Applause.) No one will take it away, no matter what. //

September 26, 2013: "So the first thing you need to know is this: If you already have health care, you don't have to do anything."

(END TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

So no matter what, "If you like your health care plan, you don't have to do anything." Was that a broken promise, or was that deception, or both?

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK:

Neither. For 95% of the people in America, that is the truth. For the small number of people who have a health care plan which in fact will not insure them when they get sick, it is not true. And that's the whole point. If you have a preexisting condition, if you have the kind of health care that disappears when you need it most, the Affordable Care Act says that has to end. It's also true that medical costs are number one cause of bankruptcy in America. That ends with the Affordable Care Act.

DAVID GREGORY:

2 million people have been told that they don't have health nurses that they can keep. And then you say, "Well, you can get another plan," except you can't because you can't get on the website. So--

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK:

Oh, well, that--

DAVID GREGORY:

--was this not sold--

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK:

Excuse me, David. I'm sorry. Finish. I'm sorry.

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, no, go ahead and react to that.

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK:

I'm sorry to have cut you off. That's actually not true. The website is a convenience, and right now it's not working very well, but it's not the only way to get information. You can sign up on the phone, you can do it in person. And in very short order, you'll be able to do it online.

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, Governor, wait a second--

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK:

The obvious benefit of the website is to be able to compare plans, to shop. Because as you shop, you save. And that's why it's urgent that the president get it fixed--

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, here's--

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK:

--as soon as possible.

DAVID GREGORY:

--what the Washington Post reports this morning. "The anatomy of this debacle," and it quotes President Obama saying, "The most important part of the health care plan is the exchange that's set up, it's the website that's set up." And he said the following, according to the Washington Post: "All of that is well and good," in other words other things they're doing to get people enrolled, "but if the website doesn't work, nothing else matters." And yet you're saying this morning that the website is not health care, it's just a website.

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK:

If the website is permanently flawed, we've got a serious problem. But we've got a rollout problem. It's been, what, three or four weeks? It took us two years to get our website right in Massachusetts, and now we have virtually universal coverage. 90% of our residents have a primary care physician. We are healthier. It has not broken the budget. More businesses offer insurance to their employees than ever before, one of the highest levels in the country. And it is approved by 84% of our population.

I think that what this whole situation has produced is actually a favor for the White House and for the president. I and many others have been saying the president needs to be out talking about the fundamental good that the Affordable Care Act does for people, and this is provoking him to do so. And I think that's a great thing.

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, I'm not sure if he appreciates the lesson. But let me ask you this final point. This is critical, it seems to me. How do you know, how can you ensure that people, young people who don't feel they need health insurance, are ultimately going to sign up to get the health insurance? And if that doesn't happen, this model doesn't work nationally.

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK:

You know what, that's a key issue, and it was for us in Massachusetts, the so-called invincibles, those young, healthy, mostly men who are in fact free riders. And there are some 30 million free riders in the United States, people who get health care but don't contribute to the system, and the rest of us pay for it in our premiums and in taxes.

And the mandate requires a basic principle of insurance, basically, which is that everybody gets insurance so you spread the risk as broadly as possible, and you begin to bring costs down. That's what's happened in Massachusetts, and in time that's what will happen for the nation.

DAVID GREGORY:

But that's a big if, right? On the national level, that's still a big if.

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK:

Actually, it's not such a big if. We've got experience in Massachusetts, and it's been shown to be not only wildly successful but wildly popular. And if we're going to have states be laboratories of democracy, let's not have good ideas stuck in the lab, let's scale them. And that's exactly what the Affordable Care Act does.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, Governor Deval Patrick, thank you very much. I appreciate your time this morning.

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK:

Thanks David.

DAVID GREGORY:

COMING UP HERE: WE’RE GOING TO BE TALKING ABOUT MORE OF THIS - OUR POLITICAL ROUNDTABLE ON SOME OF THE BOMBSHELL REVELATIONS FROM THE 2012 CAMPAIGN ABOUT HILLARY CLINTON AND NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE. COULD THE NEWS BE A GAME CHANGER FOR 2016?

AND LATER - FALL FROM GRACE - HE WAS ONCE NEW YORK CITY'S TOP COP - BUT NOW, HOW THREE YEARS IN A FEDERAL PRISON GAVE HIM A CHANGE OF HEART ABOUT THE VERY CRIMINALS HE USED TO PROSECUTE. WE’RE COMING BACK AFTER THIS.

(***Commercial Break***)

ANNOUNCER: “Meet the Press” is back with our political roundtable -- here this morning: Bob Woodward, David Axelrod, Katty Kay and Bill Kristol. Now, David Gregory.

DAVID GREGORY:

Welcome, all of you. Before we get started, the latest now on the LAX shooting that left one T.S.A. agent dead. I want to check in with our justice correspondent, Pete Williams. He has new details on the investigation, including how the 23-year-old suspect could now be facing the death penalty. Pete, good morning.

PETE WILLIAMS:

David, good morning to you. Investigators are trying to determine what got Paul Ciancia interested in the radical anti government views that were expressed in a handwritten letter he was carrying. According to those who have seen it, the note said words to the effect that if T.S.A. is going to treat every American as a potential terrorist then it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

According to the F.B.I., the note also said he had no intention of killing, quote, "innocents," and that he made a conscious decision to try to kill several T.S.A. employees. It said he wanted to instill fear in what he called "their traitorous minds." Now, Ciancia has been in critical condition in the hospital so authorities have not been able to question him. But late Saturday, prosecutors filed federal murder charges against him which could bring the death penalty if he's convicted.

A court document says he shot several rounds point black at T.S.A. officer Gerardo Hernandez, then walked away. But when Hernandez started to move, the F.B.I. said Ciancia returned and shot him again. And as we know, Officer Hernandez was fatally wounded, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

How much of a discussion will there be about additional security for T.S.A. at airports?

PETE WILLIAMS:

Well, we're starting to hear it already. But both the T.S.A. and Homeland Security say the shooting will not lead to a decision to arm T.S.A. officers, and they offer a couple of reasons. First, they say airport security has never been T.S.A.'s mission. That's in the hands of airport police or other city or county law enforcement officials whose officers do have arrest powers and do carry firearms. The job of T.S.A., they say, is to protect airline passengers by keeping dangerous things off planes.

And second, T.S.A. officers are not sworn law enforcement officials. They don't have arrest authority. They're not trained to use firearms. They could be, but that would represent a major change in their mission. Now, all that said, the union that represents T.S.A. employees says that airports need to provide more armed security at the screening checkpoints, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, Pete Williams in our newsroom here in Washington. Pete, thanks so much.

PETE WILLIAMS:

You bet.

DAVID GREGORY:

We're back with our roundtable, and I want to get back to our top story, talking at Mitt Romney and Obamacare. He had very tough criticism for President Obama just a few moments ago. Listen.

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY ON TAPE:

“Whether you like the model of Obamacare or not, the fact that the president sold it on a basis that was not true has undermined the foundation of his second term. I think it's rotting it away. And I think the only way he can rebuild credibility is to work with Republicans and Democrats and try and rebuild a foundation.”

DAVID GREGORY:

"Rebuild a foundation" is what he says is the job now for President Obama. Here is his approval rating, our poll out this week with the Wall Street Journal has the president's approval rating at 42%, disapproval 51%. It's a big deal, all-time low for him. The roundtable is here to discuss. David Axelrod, a lot to respond to.

DAVID AXELROD:

Well, you know, I'm having flashbacks when I hear that number, David, because I remember when I was in the White House in the spring of 2010, and we had the oil leak in the Gulf, and Washington was in a twitter about that. And our numbers were damaged by that. And it was, you know, "Why can't they get it done? Why didn't he know what was going on in the mineral and mine service? This is Obama's Katrina."

And then we plugged the leak, got reparations for the people in the Gulf, helped repair the Gulf. And, you know, it wasn't mentioned in the 2012 campaign. So I think it's very hard to make judgments in the midst--

DAVID GREGORY:

Health care is not--

DAVID AXELROD:

--of a problem.

DAVID GREGORY:

--the BP oil spill.

DAVID AXELROD:

No, it's not, and I agree with that. But if I was the president, I'd be less concerned about these numbers than I would about the numbers of people who are able to get on this website and buy health care. And I think they have to fix that problem. And when they do, a lot of this will take care of itself.

DAVID GREGORY:

Bob Woodward, is this a brand problem for the progressive view of government's ability to solve big societal problems? That's, to me, what's at stake.

BOB WOODWARD:

It's a good framing of the question. Obviously we don't know. And you're right, health care is not the BP oil spill, it's something that's going to go on for years and decades. And you talk to people about it and they'll say we're really in not even the first inning of a nine-inning game. And so it's going to take a while to sort this out.

I go back to the old notion of follow the money. Where is the money going in health care? And individuals are going to pay, employers are going to pay, the government's paying subsidies. But the real interesting X factor are the insurance companies. And you've got to look at what the insurance companies are doing, because they're going to have to pay these claims. Are they really going to cover people? Are they going to shy away from it? And the real answer is we don't even come close to knowing answers to that.

DAVID GREGORY:

How much damage, Bill Kristol, is being done to the Obama presidency at this point?

BILL KRISTOL:

A lot. A lot. I mean, it's his signature legislative achievement. Two and a half years to implement it, they've spent hundreds of millions of dollars, I think $600 million dollars on the website alone. Tens of millions of dollars on advertisements to try to persuade people this is a wonderful program.

And reality is that Obamacare is met by reality; Obamacare is failing and will fail. And I'm very much looking forward to being on this show with Axe in January of 2017 when finally all of Obamacare is repealed. And I think parts of it can be delayed, and even parts of it can be repealed incidentally, much more than seemed possible a month ago.

Think a month ago: How crazy is it for Ted Cruz to say that we should delay the individual mandate? How crazy is it for Republicans to say that premiums might go up? And now all of a sudden Democratic senators and congressmen are saying, "Gee, you know, we have a big problem."

DAVID AXELROD:

Spoken like a man who has good health insurance.

KATTY KAY:

It's somewhat erroneous to say at this point that Obamacare is totally sunk. I mean, we can't make that call yet because we don't know. We don't know how many people are going to sign up. We need, what, 7 million healthy young Americans to sign up to this program, and we will probably know fairly late in the six-month process because young people are not the people that sign up at the very beginning. They are young, after all.

They think they're invincible. They will take their time. They'll shop around. This is a disastrous rollout of this program. This website is a disaster. But to say that Obamacare, the policy, has failed, we can't say that. Now, it might do. If enough young people don't sign up to make this financially viable then you have a serious problem--

BILL KRISTOL:

Okay, let's just start--

KATTY KAY:

But we can't make that call right now.

BILL KRISTOL:

Can't we say that, in fact, it is not true that if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor? If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan? That premiums won't go up? And these are things--

DAVID AXELROD:

No, no.

BILL KRISTOL:

--that are already evidently not the case.

DAVID AXELROD:

No, no. We can say that, in the small cohort of people who got bad health care policies, substandard health care policies after the law went into effect, that they will have to transition to other policies.

Let me tell you something. I know something about this. When I was 26 years old, I got a health care policy. I thought it was adequate. I was healthy, and as long as I was healthy, it was good. And then I had a child who was born with a chronic illness. It cost us $1,000 a month for prescription coverage, which we didn't have prescriptions for her to keep her alive. You know, the treatments she needed outside of what was in the policy was paid for. I was making $35,000 a year as a newspaper reporter. I almost went broke. And there are a lot of Americans out there who may think that they can get by with substandard--

DAVID AXELROD:

--and I wish somebody had set standards then, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

Okay, but hold on. But, David, this is about political practice and leadership. If you believe all those things, and therefore you want to get the very best health care; you were in the White House. You were advising the president on the kinds of things he should say. Why did not you or somebody else say to him, "Mr. President, don't say, 'No matter what you're going to keep your health care plan'"? Is that bad--

DAVID AXELROD:

Hindsight is 20/20 because we--

DAVID GREGORY:

But that's why you're there, is to--

DAVID AXELROD:

There is a small group of people, David-- the vast majority of Americans, that statement will hold true for. For this small group of Americans, it hasn't. But the calamitous thing here is that the website wasn't up because many of those people who have to transition are going to get better experience for less money, but they just can't tell that now--

DAVID AXELROD:

--because they can't get on the website.

BOB WOODWARD:

David, this could be rectified. I remember early in the Obama presidency, when you were there, and there was some dispute about a cabinet nomination and the president came out and said, "I screwed up." Why not just be straightforward? Bill's right.

BILL KRISTOL:

I think--

BOB WOODWARD:

He said, period--

DAVID AXELROD:

Yes, I agree.

BOB WOODWARD:

--"This is absolute. Everyone's going to keep their insurance."

DAVID AXELROD:

I don't think there's any shame in--

DAVID AXELROD:

--saying, "We didn't anticipate this one glitch. We grandfathered a lot of policies. We didn't anticipate this one glitch." But many of those people are going to get better health care for less money when this website is up and running and they can select it.

KATTY KAY:

Beyond the actual language that was used, why wasn't there a better education effort to get out in front of this and go to Americans whose policies were going to change and explain why? I mean, there's a fairly good case to be made about minimum standards, the kind of things that can hit you if you have a substandard policy. But never was that adult process carried through from the White House. And I think that was a failing.

DAVID GREGORY:

I think what's so dispiriting to the Obama allies or fans that I have talked to is twofold. 1) If you believe, as a lot of Democrats do, that government is really the only one with the scale and the ability to solve these big problems, that you've undermined it for years if not more already with this troubled rollout. And that, of all people, the Obama people who championed computer analytics to win reelection, (you know, look at the cover of New Yorker) look so retro when it comes to technology.

DAVID AXELROD:

Yes, I'd say two things. One is we're weren't operating under the same constraints in terms of who we could recruit and how we deploy them. But, David, I tell you again, I think Bob said the key thing: We're in the early innings of the game. To declare this, the define this whole program by the website debacle at the beginning and the rollout I think would be a huge mistake.

They will fix the website, I'm confident of that. If they don't, as Deval Patrick said, that's another story. But when they do, people are going to find that there are good deals to be had that they never had before.

DAVID GREGORY:

I want to switch a little bit and talk about politics here, and the book Double Down: Game Change 2012. I asked Governor Romney about it, and we'll talk about Chris Christie in a minute, maybe after the break. Let's talk about the role of the Clintons, who seem to be ever-present in our politics, and they write in the book about the prospect of switching out Biden, putting Hillary Clinton in place. David, you say didn't happen like that?

DAVID AXELROD:

Well, I was--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID AXELROD:

--there, I'll tell you exactly what happened. That was the buzz in the political community in the fall of 2011. It was raised that, "Well, we should take a look and see if that really even makes a difference." There were no focus groups; there was no big project.

We put a question in a poll where we split the poll and we tested the Obama/Biden ticket and the Obama/Clinton ticket against the presumed Republican ticket. And what we found was what people always find when they test these things, which is the effect was de minimis. People don't vote for vice presidents, they vote for presidents. It would have been a disastrous decision. To replace a good man and a good vice president would have looked disloyal and desperate. That's the way we all felt at the time.

(OVERTALK)

KATTY KAY:

You took it seriously enough to poll it though.

DAVID AXELROD:

We felt that due diligence required that we-- Katty, let me tell you, we tested everything. And that was our job.

BOB WOODWARD:

Everything but Obamacare.

(OVERTALK)

BILL KRISTOL:

They tested that over and over, which is why the president kept misleadingly saying that you could keep your doctor, keep your plan, et cetera. They tested that.

DAVID GREGORY:

Early lead on Hillary Clinton here? The fact that they tested it, and it wasn't an overwhelming--

BILL KRISTOL:

Well, the BP--

DAVID GREGORY:

--change?

BILL KRISTOL:

--thing is different. All my Democratic friends say she's the favorite and frontrunner. And I say you're welcome to it. You know, the Republicans for years have nominated the front-runner, someone who ran the last time and lost. It hasn't worked out so well for the Republican side.

The Democrats are welcome to nominate the older candidate who's been around for an awful long time, doesn't actually have much of a record or distinction, is just there because she sucked up all the money in the party and all the donors are for her. Let the Republicans have the vigorous fight the Democrats have had in the past, among younger governors, senators, congressmen, who actually have fresh ideas. I look forward to 2016.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right. Well, we'll talk a little bit more about 2016 and Chris Christie. Governor Romney sounded like he was leaning pretty forward in Christie's direction. We’ll talk about that when we take a break. More with our roundtable and whether there’s other issues about Christie to consider. We’re back after this.

(***Commercial Break***)

DAVID GREGORY:

New Jersey election on Tuesday. Chris Christie looks poised to win. He spoke to my colleage, Kelly O’Donnell, last night.

(BEGIN TAPE)

KELLY O’DONNELL: In talking about your thoughts about what happens Tuesday and what it means down the road, it sounds like you’re planning for a message beyond New Jersey? Is that a fair assessment?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: I'm not planning for it; I just think it's inevitable. I mean, you know, I think people look at elections and they try to discern things about what they mean at that moment and what they mean for the future. And I think that what people are going to see is so unusual for what our party has created in the last couple years that invariably people are going to draw lessons from it and I hope that they do.//

KELLY O’DONNELL: When the Romney team talks about maybe some landmines during the vetting process last time around, does that plant any seeds of concern?

CHRIS CHRISTIE: any of that stuff that was in the book was all stuff that was litigated in the 2009 campaign, it'll be litigated again in the future I understand that. But the fact is, that these are just two guys are trying to sell a book -- let's not forget that. They sensationalize things, they go to low level staff to try to get a sensational book because they wanna try and make money. I understand that, I don't hold begrudge them of it, but it doesn't make it valid, and it's nothing I'm concerned about Kelly, I can guarantee you that.

(END TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

These pesky authors, trying to sell books. Katty, Christie as the future of the party?

KATTY KAY:

He certainly doesn't lack for confidence, does he, suggesting that he is inevitable and somehow so unusual. But I think Chris Christie, depsite Governor Romney, that almost endorsement of him this morning, I think he has a problem in particular with women voters.

I think what is seen as bullying, overbearing, perhaps a little bit thin-skinned, and he goes on the attack a lot. I know that it hasn't affected him in New Jersey, but I have a feeling that when he gets out into the general audience there is a character issue there that may put some women voters off.

DAVID GREGORY:

Bill, what do you think?

BILL KRISTOL:

He's awfully impressive. I like him and I think he's a great politician. He's going to win a huge victory in New Jersey. I'm surprised the Democrats didn't do a little more to try to nick him up, honestly. If I was a Democratic strategist, you know, six, seven months ago I'd say, "We're probably not going to beat Christie, but let's get some of this stuff out there in this campaign so we can then build on it for the next three years." Because he is one of six or seven, or 10 or 12 possible Republican nominees. But the media's gone overboard in anointing him, at this point.

BOB WOODWARD:

It's way too early. I mean, who in 2005 thought the Democratic nominee would be Barack Obama? Only David Axelrod.

DAVID AXELROD:

Honestly, I did.

(OVERTALK)

BOB WOODWARD:

I mean, talk about the first pitch in the first inning. You know, the question on Christie is can he really come out and say, "I'm the center of the moderate, of a new Republican Party"? Because obviously we need one.

DAVID AXELROD:

Well, I mean, I think this is the big question. You know, Mitt Romney said, "Here's a blue state governor who's a Republican." He is a blue state governor who is a Republican and he got dragged way to the right by activists in the party and he became unelectable. Christie has to resist that, I know Bill would disagree, if he's going to be competitive nationally.

DAVID GREGORY:

ALRIGHT, LET ME GET A BREAK IN HERE. MORE WITH OUR ROUNDTABLE IN A MOMENT. BUT FIRST, COMING UP: HE SENT CRIMINALS TO PRISON FOR LIFE, BUT THEN ENDED UP IN JAIL HIMSELF. MY COLLEAGUE MATT LAUER AND HIS EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH BERNARD KERIK, ONCE NEW YORK CITY'S TOP CRIME FIGHTER, NOW PUSHING FOR CHANGES IN THE LAW, AFTER THIS.

(***Commercial Break***)

DAVID GREGORY:

The U.S. has 5% of the world's population but 25% of the world's prisoners. And according to a recent poll, a majority of Americans believe too many people are in prison in the U.S., spending too much money to lock them up. This week, the Smarter Sentencing Act was introduced in the House of Representatives, cutting half many of the nation's mandatory sentences on nonviolent drug crimes. A similar bill is also before the Senate.

My colleague, Matt Lauer of the Today Show, conducted an exclusive interview with Bernard Kerik, police commissioner of New York City during 9/11, and then of course nominated by President George W. Bush to run the Department of Homeland Security.

But, as you'll recall, in 2009 he pled guilty to lying to White House officials, and to tax fraud. Kerik served three years in a federal prison, and he has a unique perspective on the criminals he once sent to jail. He explains why he is now an evangelist of sorts for reform of mandatory minimum sentencing.

(BEGIN TAPE)

MATT LAUER:

Talk to me about some of the ways your perspective on federal prison changed.

BERNARD KERIK:

Matt, I've been in law enforcement my entire career.

I've stood in a courtroom with really no compassion-- and sent people to prison for ten years, 20 years, 30 years, and life.

I think what stunned me the most about walking into Cumberland was that I was then housed with men that were doing those same sentences that were there for first time, non-violent drug offenses.

MATT LAUER:

The core of your argument here, is these minimum mandatory federal sentences are not doing what they intended to do.

BERNARD KERIK:

No. You-- you know what? When I came into the system, I didn't realize-- it's a nickel. Hold it. Feel the weight of it? Feel it?

MATT LAUER:

Yeah.

BERNARD KERIK:

I had no idea that for five grams of cocaine, which is what that nickel weighs, five grams, you could be sentenced to ten years in prison. I was with men sentenced to ten years in prison for five grams of cocaine. That's insane. That's insane.

MATT LAUER:

So what do we do? You want throw out the minimum mandatories?

BERNARD KERIK:

I think the minimum mandatories have to be addressed.

I think we have to have real life improvement programs.

You have to mandate discipline, education, life improvement skills. Mandate it. And you know what, Matt? If they do what you want them to do, get rid of the felony conviction.

MATT LAUER:

Take it off their record.

BERNARD KERIK:

Get it off their record, because they're doomed to failure if you don't.

MATT LAUER:

Put yourself in the position of a member of Congress who's facing re-election though, how does that person go out and not get painted as soft on crime by wanting to do away with some of these things?

BERNARD KERIK:

You know what? I'd say that they have to grow-- they have to get the courage--

MATT LAUER:

You can say what you were gonna say.

BERNARD KERIK:

They just have to get the courage to do their job. That's what they have to do. Don't be afraid of looking soft on crime. There are p-- they-- there-- their answer to looking soft on crime is to do nothing. That is not the answer. That's stupid on crime.

MATT LAUER:

But do you think, as people start to have this debate about what to go forward, people can put the fact that you are now a convicted felon aside, and look at that unique experience you bring?

BERNARD KERIK:

You know, what? You don't wanna listen to me, don't listen to me. Go look at it yourself.

If the American people and members of Congress saw what I saw, there would be anger, there would be outrage, and there would be change, because nobody would stand for it.

(END TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

He may be a flawed messenger, David Axelrod; is there political will to take on something this fundamental?

DAVID AXELROD:

I think there's a growing consensus on this, actually. You see Rand Paul and the Republican Party, the president, and some others, talking about this issue. Our prisons are overcrowded, they're busting at the seams, and we're sending people, as he said, to prison for things that we shouldn't send them for. We should send them to programs where they can heal themselves instead of becoming hardened criminals in prison.

DAVID GREGORY:

No life skills is what stands out to me, when we want people to get back into the economy.

KATTY KAY:

Yes, and you had the numbers: 5% of the world's population, 25% of the world's prison population. It makes no sense for America economically, and for those people coming out of prison. But what stuns me about that interview is that he didn't know this. That here is somebody who's in charge in law enforcement, New York City's top cop, and he didn't know what he was going to find when he got there.

DAVID GREGORY:

So, Matt will interview Bernard Kerik live tomorrow morning on “Today.” You’ll want to see that. We are back with more right after this.

(***Commercial Break***)

DAVID GREGORY:

We're back. Thank you to all of you for a discussion this morning. That is all for today; we'll be back next week. Now celebrating our 66th anniversary, if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

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