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updated 12/22/2013 1:42:39 PM ET 2013-12-22T18:42:39

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

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DAVID GREGORY: And good Sunday morning. A miserable holiday weekend for millions across the country as deadly tornadoes, snow, ice, freezing rain affect much of the U.S. this morning. A lot of people having a hard time getting together with their families for the holidays. Here in Washington, it’s beginning to look a lot like a tropical depression. Incredibly warm. Temperature is around seventy degrees. But that’s it for the weather this morning. Out stop stories and key issues that we’re going to explore today--the president’s defense of Obamacare and the crisis over the government’s spine program, but I want to get started with my roundtable this morning, get some thoughts about a question that was asked of the president at the end of the year news conference--was this the worst year of his presidency, 2013? E.J.?

MR. E.J. DIONNE (Columnist, Washington Post): No, I think 2011 was the worst year. That’s when he had-- it was weaker, had to give in to the Tea Party. We got the sequester. In 2014, he stood them down. They had to back off the shutdown. The change in the Civil War and the soul searching in the Republican Party is the biggest event of this year and that’s why 2014 could be a year of action as long as he makes Obamacare work.

GREGORY: A year of action, a breakthrough year, the president says, Ana.

MS. ANA NAVARRO (Republican Strategist): Let me tell you something. If you’re an Obama supporter, friend, press secretary, you better hope this is the worst year of his presidency, because if it gets any worse, next year’s press conference at the end of the year, he’s going to have to do it holding a bottle of whiskey on one hand and a box of Kleenex in the other.

GREGORY: Top that David Brooks.

MR. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, New York Times): Worst, worst year by far.

GREGORY: Yeah.

MR. BROOKS: The big Obama project is to make government seem effective. And the health care rollout and even on the government shutdown, the government looked really ineffective this year. So that’s not good for the big Democratic…

GREGORY: And this is the test, Robert, of big, progressive government solving a big societal problem. That’s what he took on. That is the big project…

MR. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary, 2009-2011): No doubt about it.

GREGORY: …of his presidency.

MR. GIBBS: No doubt about it. I would say this is the worst year for the president. It does beat out 2011. But-- well, and especially given from where he started, the fact that the first year of his second term is historically the most productive of the second term. I will say this. If the economy continues to grow as we saw it grow in the third quarter at 4.1 percent, he might do that press conference with whiskey celebrating the fact that the economic boom has really come.

GREGORY: That’s a great setup because we’re going to talk about the economy, we’ll come back. We’ll talk more about Obamacare. I want to bring in two voices in this fight. Joining me now is Senator Charles Schumer from New York, Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma. Happy holidays to you both and welcome. Senator Schumer, here was the Wall Street Journal editorial this week and it read with this headline--“Obama repeals Obamacare. Under pressure from Senate Democrats, the president partly suspends the individual mandate. Obama’s make-it-up-as-he-goes improvisation will continue because the law is failing.” True or false?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-New York/Finance Committee): False. I think what most Americans want us to do is not repeal Obamacare, which is what our Republican colleagues are focused on, but fix it. The president is working to fix it, we are working in the Senate to fix it, we urge our Republican colleagues to join us in fixing it. The bottom line is there are a lot of good things in Obamacare that people like and the more people see that, the more positive it’s going to be. And I would just say one other thing with all the focus on Obamacare, David. The number one issue in the 2014 election is not going to be Obamacare or the deficit. It is going to be who can get the middle class going again. Who can expand middle class incomes, who can create jobs? That is far and away the issue…

GREGORY: All right. So…

SEN. SCHUMER: …that most Americans care about.

GREGORY: Fair enough. That’s going to be the argument. But Senator Coburn, you know your colleagues, especially those who are running for tough seats in the south, they’re going to make Obamacare an issue and they’re going to focus on the fact that the government seems to make changes to pacify critics. Is that the wrong thing to do?

SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OKAY/Ranking Member, Homeland Security Committee/Intelligence Committee): Well, I think they ought to talk about health care and-- and what we’re for rather than continuing to talk about what we’re against. Look, Obamacare right now causes people to spend more money, have less choice, have a higher deductible and have less freedom. The rollout and the ideas behind the fact that the federal government could manage appropriately, one-sixth of the economy is-- is proving itself erroneous. What I would-- what I would say is we need to change health care, but what they’ve done-- you can’t fix this mess. The-- the insurance industry, the indemnification industry, regardless of what you think about the insurance companies, it is on its ear now. And the fact that they granted people a hardship exemption…

GREGORY: Right.

SEN. COBURN: …everybody who signed up that had a high deductible policy should go and cancel today and ask for what…

GREGORY: So that’s-- and that’s the-- the exception…

SEN. COBURN: …is being granted to those people who have it.

GREGORY: I want to focus on that, Senator Schumer, because that’s the issue. All these exceptions-- I’m looking at a lists here of a mandate delay for those losing insurance, what you were just talking about, that you have this small business exchange site delayed a year. A large employer mandate was delayed until 2015. Does the individual mandate survive? That is the one thing that makes health care go because you make younger, healthier people buy insurance to pay for older, sicker people.

SEN. SCHUMER: Yeah, I think it does. And let’s not forget all the good things that are happening. If you have a child with cancer, you couldn’t get insurance because of preexisting condition. What agony. Now it-- it is there. And if you repeal the individual mandate altogether that would no longer exist. And as I said, as we move on here into 2014, I’m finding in New York, our exchange is working. We have competition on it. The website is good. People are saying, wow, I am getting better care at a lower cost. I think that’s going to presage what’s happening throughout the country. There have been a lot of glitches. There have been a lot of problems, but they’re getting fixed. And six months from now, many more people are going to see the positives rather than the negatives.

GREGORY: All right. That’s-- that’s the marker. Senator Coburn, let’s talk about the budget deal--a small budget deal that has been passed--a glimmer of hope on Capitol Hill for some bipartisan consensus. But here’s the bottom line. They didn’t take on the hard stuff; including, we welcome in 2014, and these tough issues smack us in the face; including the debt ceiling that has to be raised come February or March. Are Republicans are going to-- are they going to demand concessions before raising the debt ceiling?

SEN. COBURN: Well, you know, I-- I guess I can’t really speak for Republicans. My thoughts are if the American people don’t believe we have a debt ceiling because we always increase it, and they don’t believe we have the discipline in Washington. The-- the-- there is a positive out of what happened last week, is, yeah, we-- we can come together and agree. What, David, I would say to you is the reason we’re in trouble on deficits and debts is not because we didn’t agree but because we did. We agreed to spend 740 billion dollars we didn’t have last year. We agreed to waste 30 billion dollars as I put out the waste book this year. We agreed to continue to let Medicare have 80 billion dollars a year in fraud in it. We’re going to have 80 billion dollars a year in fraud in Obamacare. We agreed to all those things. So the-- the story coming out of Washington is that we don’t get along, I would dispute that. We get along just fine with the status quo of the government being ineffective and inefficient. So we pass a bill that raises spending and raises taxes and denies what we promised the American people, and everybody says, oh, my goodness, how great. You grew the government some more and you charged us more taxes and you didn’t fix any of the problems.

GREGORY: So Senator Schumer, address the debt ceiling. It’s not been addressed…

SEN. SCHUMER: Yes.

GREGORY: …in this budget deal. Do you-- do you imagine another fight on this?

SEN. SCHUMER: No. I would predict that Republicans will back off any hostage taking, adding extraneous, irrelevant issues to the debt ceiling. They learned in October that if they followed the Tea Party and said we’re going to let the government default unless we get our way, it was highly unpopular. I understand there is some saber-rattling right now by Speaker Boehner and majority leader McCo-- mi-- minority leader McConnell. And that’s natural. They cut a good deal, I thought, on the budget, and they had to show the hard right that they’re going to do something else. But at the end of the day, the president is going to hold firm, no negotiations on debt ceiling…

GREGORY: Okay.

SEN. SCHUMER: …Republicans will look…

GREGORY: So…

SEN. SCHUMER: …back to October and say, we’re not going through this again.

GREGORY: So here’s a question about holding firm that some of the papers in New York are asking about you, and the topic is Iran and new sanctions on Iran. You and others are pushing for it. The president was asked about it in his press conference and he said, look, don’t do it, Senator Schumer. He didn’t call you out by name, but in effect he did. He said he knows that it’s good politics, that for you in office, for those running for office that you can look tough on Iran. He’s basically saying, give me room to negotiate with Iran and see if I can shut down this nuclear program. Back off on sanctions for now. How do you respond?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, look, there are many of us, Democrats and Republicans, in this Senate who believe the best way to avoid war and get around to give up nuclear weapons is by ratcheting up sanctions, not by reducing them. The Iranians didn’t come to the table out of the goodness of their heart. This administration still labels them a terrorist organization--the supreme leader Khomeini is still pulling the strings. And only tough sanctions will get them to give up. Now, look, I give the president credit for talking. I don’t agree with some on the hard line who say no talking until they give up everything. But the bottom line is very simple. It’s pretty logical that it’s sanctions, tough sanctions that brought them to the table. If they think they can ease up on the sanctions without getting rid of their nuclear capabilities, they’re-- they’re going to do that. So we have to be tough. And the legislation we put in says to the Iranians, if you don’t come to an agreement after six months and the president can extend it to a year, the sanctions are going to toughen up.

GREGORY: All right.

SEN. SCHUMER: I think that will make them negotiate better and give up more.

GREGORY: All right, I’m going to make that the last word. Senator Schumer and Coburn, happy holidays to you both.

SEN. SCHUMER: Thank you.

GREGORY: Thank you for your time this morning.

SEN. SCHUMER: To you and yours.

SEN. COBURN: Merry Christmas.

GREGORY: Now we’re going to-- as they say goodbye, we’re going to talk about the improving economy before going back to our roundtable, talk more about politics. The stock market as you know is at a record high. It’s up more than 20 percent this year. Unemployment has dropped to seven percent. In the third quarter of this year, the U.S. economy grew at the fastest pace since 2011. So why isn’t this being viewed as a robust recovery? I spoke exclusively with the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, about the prospects for 2014 and the political hurdles that remain ahead.

(Videotape)

GREGORY: Madam Lagarde, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

MS. CHRISTINE LAGARDE (Managing Director, International Monetary Fund): Thank you.

GREGORY: So very nice to have you. A lot of focus here on the U.S. economy right now. The actions of the Federal Reserve and the global outlook. What do you see about the rebound of the U.S. economy at the end of this year?

MS. LAGARDE: We see a lot more certainty for 2014. There has been good action taken by congress to eliminate the fear about the budget and to reduce the sequestration. We see the Fed having taken some very well communicated action concerning the tapering of the program, and those are good signs, in addition to which we see some good numbers. Growth is picking up and unemployment is going down. So all of that gives us a much stronger outlook for 2014, which brings us to raising our forecast.

GREGORY: So you talk about the Fed tapering. What does that mean for my audience that may not understand? What does that mean and what’s the immediate economic effect of it? Because a lot of people are worried about what the Fed’s been doing, buying all of those debt to create a bubble, in effect.

MS. LAGARDE: What the Fed has been doing is effectively as you said buying a lot of debt, putting a lot of liquidity into the system, making it more fluid, and effectively keeping the economy going. That’s what the Fed has been doing. Now, they said they would do that as long as the economy was, you know, low, as long as growth was tepid. The fact that they decided and announced to slower the volume of debt-- to reduce the volume of debt that they’re buying indicates two things. One is the economy is picking up. Two, the-- the unemployment is going down.

GREGORY: Unemployment is still high in the United States. Because if you talk to economists or business leaders, they say there’s still a lot of the uncertainty. We don’t have those animal spirits that have been unleashed, even though our stock market is performing at record levels. Why does the economy still seem to be halting in its recovery?

MS. LAGARDE: Well, first of all, I would observe that the economy has picked up and we forecast further pickup in 2014. Second, most people who invest, who hire will tell you that they are uncertain. They were uncertain. Because seeing a budget deal, seeing tapering by the Fed, which is a sign of confidence in the real economy, should lead them to invest, to hire and to be more confident into the future of the U.S. economy.

GREGORY: But how low do you see unemployment going in this country?

MS. LAGARDE: Two things. Unemployment will continue to go down. It’s around seven percent. It’s likely to move towards, you know, the high six, but certainly will continue to move down. Most importantly, what we need to see is a higher participation rate. Participation means the number of people who actually join the job market and get a job. That number has not moved up significantly, and that’s the one we will be looking at. Are people getting jobs rather than are people receiving unemployment benefits and registering as unemployed?

GREGORY: Do you see the minimum wage fight in this country going anywhere? Do you think it has an important impact on the economy, raising the minimum wage? The president, the pope have talked about income inequality being a huge problem in this country and around the world.

MS. LAGARDE: Income inequality around the world is a big issue. We-- we have done some-- some work, and there is a clear indication that rising inequality leads to less sustainable growth. Not to mention the fact that the social fabrics of society can be-- can be at stake. So reducing inequality, making sure that people have a job, making sure that there is growth, that there is adequate redistribution through various systems is important.

GREGORY: As you look at the United States and the rest of the world, last time we spoke, you were very concerned about the U.S. flirting with the debt ceiling and with default. We have another deadline approaching in February and March about raising the debt ceiling. Has the U.S. reemerged as a global economic leader or is it still acting irresponsibly?

MS. LAGARDE: It is the economic leader, let’s face it, given the size of the economy and-- and the-- you know, below potential but still reasonable growth that is picking up now. The budget deal that was cut at, you know, year end is a very good sign of respons-- responsibility, accountability and-- and realism. I, for myself, certainly hope that in February, Congress will be equally responsible and will not threaten the recovery with yet another debate about whether or not the U.S. will honor or default in-- in February. And then I, you know…

GREGORY: As a woman in power, you think a lot about these issues about women in power around the world.

MS. LAGARDE: Yeah.

GREGORY: A headline here significantly, Mary Barra now running General Motors. Perhaps the big deal is that it wasn’t a big deal that she’d come up through the company. But there are still only five percent of CEOs in the Fortune 500 who are women. But it’s not just CEOs, it seems that there are not just-- there are companies, there are law firms, large organizations who still fail to recognize all of the upside potential of women as managers, women as executives, as women being powerful as consumers as well as leaders. Why do you think that still is and what breaks that? What changes minds about that?

MS. LAGARDE: Why it is, I think it’s historically based, it’s-- it’s deeply rooted in-- in certain societies, more so than, you know…

GREGORY: The power struggle, right?

MS. LAGARDE: …the power struggle, absolutely. You know, why-- why should I leave-- leave my-- my-- my-- my seat to somebody else and particularly somebody of the-- of the other gender…

GREGORY: Yeah.

MS. LAGARDE: …is-- is sort of inherent to a tradition that has sustained over time. How can it change? First of all, because women can demonstrate that they can do the job, whether it’s, as you say, first, being great leaders in their respective environment whether corporate public, there is now evidence that women can actually do-- do the job and do it well. And I think the second reason is that it make eco-- it makes economic sense. There are countries, particularly advanced countries, like Japan, like Korea, that need to open up that job market to women, and in the U.S., as in other European countries, the participation of women in the job market, the access for women to credit is going to be conducive to more growth, to more wellbeing for-- for the people.

GREGORY: And…

MS. LAGARDE: So it’s a factor of-- of stability. It’s a factor of growth as well to-- to include as many people as possible and to include women.

GREGORY: In our politics there is a lot of focus on Hillary Clinton running for the presidency. And there’s also been speculation about you. Would you seek higher office? Do you think about the-- the presidency in France for example?

MS. LAGARDE: I don’t think about the presidency. I think about the job that I’m doing at the moment. I’ve got, you know, more-- more work to do, more years to go, and I’m-- I’m really excited about it.

GREGORY: But you wouldn’t rule out higher office at some point?

MS. LAGARDE: The future will tell us what happens.

GREGORY: Good political ads there. Madam Lagarde, thank you so much.

MS. LAGARDE: Thank you.

GREGORY: Happy holidays. Thanks for being here.

MS. LAGARDE: Thank you, you too.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: That was not a Shermanesque statement, I don’t think.

MR. BROOKS: She’s running.

GREGORY: Yeah. Ahead here on MEET THE PRESS, a different look at leadership during this holiday season.

Coping with loss. My conversation with Senator Jim Inhofe. He speaks for the first time about the tragic loss of his son in a plane crash.

SEN. JIM INHOFE: Well, I-- I probably shouldn’t say this, but I seem to have gotten more-- but at least as many, maybe more, of, oh, communications from some of my Democrat friends and I’m pretty partisan Republican.

GREGORY: Plus, spy games. The bitter fight over government spying in our freedom. Has our government stepped over the line, and is President Obama preparing to reign in the intelligence community? And our roundtable will be back. David Brooks, E.J. Dionne, Ana Navarro, and Robert Gibbs.

(Announcements)

GREGORY: We’re back. When I spend time on Capitol Hill, it's usually to report about the latest political crisis or some hot issue up there. But this week I was in the Russell Senate Office Building for a very different reason. Last month Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe faced an unspeakable tragedy. His son Perry, just 52 years old, died in a plane crash. Senator Inhofe hasn’t spoken publicly about it until now. As he prepares to gather with family for the holidays, he wanted to share his story.

(Videotape)

GREGORY: For Senator Jim Inhofe, politics is his life. But flying is his passion. He got his pilot license as a young man, and around Oklahoma, he is known to fly himself to campaign events. That skill, he says, got him into the U.S. Senate.

SEN. JIM INHOFE: Back in 1994, I was running in a race and I was 32 points behind, but I was everywhere. I mean, I would get into one of my planes and I could be from the Panhandle down to southeastern Oklahoma in a matter of two hours, and it took it somebody-- or took my opponent about seven hours to do the same thing.

GREGORY: A love passed down to his two sons, Perry and Jimmy who, every year, made the trip with their father to the famed Oshkosh Air Show. But last month, a family tradition turned tragic. Perry Inhofe crashed while flying a twin engine plane outside Tulsa. He was one day short of his 52nd birthday.

SEN. INHOFE: On final approach into Tulsa International Airport, runway 18 left, he was-- we don’t know certain things, an engine that was down, but the last communication was garbled, so we don’t know whether he had shut it down or it shut down. And that would make a difference in exactly what happened. But he knew that he was going down. He avoided any of the areas with houses and where there were people and went into a wooded area. That’s Perry.

GREGORY: He had a lot of training just like you.

SEN. INHOFE: He had a lot more training than me. I mean, my other son and I are not quite as meticulous as Perry has always been about, you know, flying by the numbers, doing everything right. He was a hundred percent.

GREGORY: I have young kids. I’ve got an 11-year-old and eight-year-old twins and I think like any parent, you-- you worry about them hurting themselves or, God forbid, them losing their lives. And Perry was a grown man with a family of his own, but you have to be thinking like a young father, too, about this is your boy. How are you doing with that?

SEN. INHOFE: It’s something that you don’t understand until it happens. I can remember so many friends of mine who have lost their kids, and you don’t know what to say, you see. You know you can’t say I know how you feel because you don’t know. Now I know. And I have no doubt that Perry and I are going to be together again.

GREGORY: You have a strong faith.

SEN. INHOFE: Well, it’s not just strong faith in this. This is-- it goes beyond just getting back as far as Jesus. You know some of the listeners out there might want to look up to Second Samuel 12:23. Nine hundred years before Jesus, this same thing happened to David and he said, oh yes of course he won't be coming here but I will be going back and we will be together again. This is-- and I have no doubt about that.

GREGORY: And that gives you enormous comfort?

SEN. INHOFE: It does. It does. And it makes me kind of look forward to it.

GREGORY: We hear so much about Washington losing its way in terms of personal relations and in terms of inability for relationships to be forged to actually get work done and to compromise, but when you go through this kind of personal loss, you recognize that you’ve got some support around you. Talk a little bit about that.

SEN. INHOFE: Well, I probably shouldn’t say this, but I seem to have gotten more or at least as many or maybe more of communications from some of my Democrat friends and I’m a pretty partisan Republican. And so something like this happens, and all of a sudden, the old barriers that were there, the old differences, those things that keep us apart just disappear because it’s not just a recognition that I know how much more important that is, but they do, too. And they look out and they-- they realize that you’ve-- you’ve lost someone. And that brings-- brings us closer together.

GREGORY: Even your relationship with Majority Leader Harry Reid, right?

SEN. INHOFE: Yeah. Because, well, Harry-- we a bit-- I know we just disagree on all of this stuff, this political stuff, but you--- you don’t change in terms of your positions and what you believe in, but you change in your understanding of individuals.

GREGORY: Is there some perspective that you gain from this kind of loss, this kind of hurt that makes you think about the approach to your work here in Washington? Do you think some of what you feel changing around people comforting you through loss is something you can bring to your work?

SEN. INHOFE: Well, it-- it is, except the differences are still there. I mean right now the last bill of this session is my bill. It’s the National Defense Authorization Act. There are people I serve with who don’t really think you need a strong military. And-- and so those defined differences are-- they don’t change but your attitude changes. And you-- and I can’t help but think when I’m confronting someone on something in which we disagree that I know what they-- how they responded to my loss.

GREGORY: And as a-- as a grieving father, what’s your biggest challenge as you look ahead to the next year?

SEN. INHOFE: You know, when you have, as I described our family as 20 kids and grandkids counting and spouses, you miss one and it’s not whole anymore. And so that’s still-- probably always be a difficult thing to face up to and it’s-- it’s a reality. And you think about those things that Perry did that nobody else does, and that’s the thing that, you know, that will be missed.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: Senator Jim Inhofe reflecting about the loss of his son. And I have a couple of reactions of this with the group that’s still here. One, as a person of faith, I’m always impressed by someone, and he wanted to talk about his son because we all seek a way to elevate loss like this at a time of loss, and I thought he did that so eloquently. But as a political figure, it’s also sad isn’t it, that it’s come to this, that-- that level of surprise that in a moment like this, he’s-- that he’s surprised that his Democratic colleagues are there to comfort him in that way. Did that strike you?

MS. NAVARRO: This story struck me very deeply. It cut very deep from me. I have a-- I lost a brother, and I know what he’s talking about when he says that a family will never be whole again. So, you know, I just want to take politics out of it…

GREGORY: Yeah.

MS. NAVARRO: …and I want to say that there is a lot of families right now in America who are not whole, who have lost somebody, and particularly the first holiday season is incredibly difficult. So let’s keep them in our thoughts. Let’s keep them in our prayers.

GREGORY: Well said. We’ll take a break here. When we come back, we will talk about some politics, more about the president’s leadership this year as he looks ahead to 2014 and whether there are other glimmers of hope, a chance for our politicians to meet in the middle on some-- some topics when MEET THE PRESS comes back after this.

(Announcements)

GREGORY: We’re going to come back with the roundtable and talk politics.

A little bit later on, the fight over government surveillance. Will the president rein in the intelligence committee? A debate on that coming up-- and the intelligence community-- a debate coming up on that in a few minutes. We’re back after this.

(Announcements)

GREGORY: We are back with our political roundtable here. I want to get back to the big political story, Robert Gibbs, which is the botched health care rollout. We have a list of the top five from our political blog, First Read. Botched healthcare rollout was number one, with government shutdown as number two, and on and on it goes. Here’s the president at his press conference on Friday. Listen.

(Videotape; Friday)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Since I’m in charge, obviously we screwed it up. I’m going to be making appropriate adjustments once we get through this year, and we’ve gotten through the initial surge of people who’ve been signing up.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: What makes you think 2014 looks better on health care?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think they have no choice but to get it right. I mean I’ve said this all along, that the most important thing in the second term was implementing health care reform the right way. 2013 was a forgettable year in that sense. They’ve got to do all that they can to make the implementation of and-- and the sign-up period as it goes and extends until the end of March, they’ve got to make that work.

MR. BROOKS: Listen, there are two issues here. There’s first the competency issue of getting the website. That’s by far the least important issue. The most important issue is the mandate issue. Basically, when you have any big government program, you build the system and you say to people, you have to work within the system and sometimes we’re going to limit your choice. We’re going to mandate things. But the American people do not like mandates any more. We’re a much more individualistic culture. And every moment when the administration has been faced with either mandating something or surrendering on this bill, they’ve surrendered every single time. They weakened each individual mandate all the way along. So you have to expect they’re going to weaken and surrender on the mandate down the line, because they just don’t have the...

GREGORY: And then it can’t work, E.J.…

(Cross talk)

MR. DIONNE: Look, I think there is something crazy when people say where government can’t deliver health care. Ever heard of Medicare? Ever heard of Medicaid? And there’s a mandate to pay taxes for those things? This thing is complicated because President Obama chose to go for a model that is a market-oriented model that Republicans favor, of helping people buy private health insurance. That proves to be very complicated. But what you’re seeing already is there is an enormous appetite among all the Americans who don’t have health insurance to buy it. And that’s what’s going to save Obamacare. This is filling a real need in the society. And you’ve got to say, they sure lowered expectations for Obamacare.

GREGORY: But if-- yeah.

MR. BROOKS: But I’d say society is not the same as it was in the 1930s and the 1960s. There’s less faith in government, it’s much more consumerist…

MR. DIONNE: But they don’t want to get rid of Medicare.

(Cross talk)

MR. BROOKS: But so if you can’t force people into the system and people rebel against the enforcement, then you really do have a problem.

GREGORY: But this also goes to-- homage to David Brooks here-- Edmund Burke, who didn’t believe-- he believed in smaller government, because he didn’t have tremendous confidence in government’s ability to deliver something like this. And to his point, they keep backing off of some of the things they say that have to be in there.

MS. NAVARRO: Yes. And I mean I-- I don’t know how you can be so optimistic about it working better next year when all we see are so many delays. You just went through a list of them. I’ve lost track of the delays and exemptions that they’ve now granted. And I think one of the bigger problems, and actually longstanding problems, is that it has eroded the trust that the American people have of this administration and this president. And trust is a lot easier to establish than it is to recover once you’ve lost it. And that’s something they’re going to have to work on.

MR. DIONNE: Every rich democracy in the world uses government to deliver healthcare. You had Christine Lagarde on. France spends less per capita in government spending to cover everybody than we spend for just Medicare and Medicaid. So this thing can work. It needs fixes. And I think the next move by the president is to tell Republicans, do you want to fix this or do you just want to get rid of it?

MR. GIBBS: But-- and know this. That even s-- if all of these predictions are true and we’re at sort of the low point of Obamacare, we still don’t have a majority in polling the belief we ought to repeal it.

GREGORY: Right.

MR. GIBBS: They believe we ought to repair it, because as E.J. said, there is tremendous demand for particularly the uninsured or those with preexisting conditions that have always been told no by insurance companies. There is tremendous demand for it. I do think David is right, but we also-- one quibble with them is, I think the technical aspect of the website is crucially important; because quite frankly, it is the intake valve for everything in healthcare right now. Getting that and continuing to get that right is a huge, huge thing for this administration.

MS. NAVARRO: But you agree that-- that fixing the website is easier than fixing the policy? The policy is-- you know, is-- is the crux of the matter. And you’ve got problems that are going to continue to happen as the corporate mandate goes in. You know, we’re going to start seeing people…

MR. GIBBS: Well, whether…

MS. NAVARRO: …losing their insurance, and there’s going to be…

MR. GIBBS: Whether the corporate…

MS. NAVARRO: …a lot of angry people.

GREGORY: Isn’t the crux of the matter that people don’t like government telling them, this is what is best for you, as a business, this is how you have to operate? So in our quest to do good-- again, this is the argument-- it’s too coercive.

MR. BROOKS: Yeah, that’s-- I mean, the French system and the European systems, they tell you you’re too old for that operation, sorry. Or you’re not going to get that operation, not going to see that doctor, you’re going to have to wait a long time. There’s a lot…

MR. DIONNE: That, we just tell that to people by not giving them insurance.

MR. BROOKS: Well, that’s true.

MR. DIONNE: Sure.

GREGORY: But we…

MR. BROOKS: That’s why…

GREGORY: …but we-- you know, that happens.

(Cross talk)

MR. BROOKS: That’s true. That’s actually true. That’s…

WOMAN: Well, let-- let me tell you, Hispanic…

MR. BROOKS: But we have a-- we have a much more individualistic-- we don’t like government telling us what to do. And that’s just a different society than the European system.

MR. DIONNE: But none of the people who are attacking Obamacare want to repeal Medicare. A lot of the most ardent opponents of Obamacare…

GREGORY: Well, how do you even know that they want to repeal this?

MR. DIONNE: Right. No.

GREGORY: Right.

MR. DIONNE: So the-- what-- no, but a lot of the people saying repeal Obamacare, say it’s just fine to have big government for people over 65. I agree that you need to prove that government can do this competently. But we have done that on Social Security. We’ve done that on Medicare. We need to do it on this.

MS. NAVARRO: E.J., there is a-- in-- in Spanish, there is a saying-- there’s a famous saying (Foreign Language) the cure is worse than the illness. And I’m not sure. I’m afraid…

MR. GIBBS: That’s not true.

MS. NAVARRO: …that Obamacare is very much that.

(Cross talk)

MR. GIBBS: The biggest issue-- the biggest issue…

GREGORY: That-- that’s not a Spanish thing?

MR. GIBBS: …the big-- I-- I-- I’m not quibbling with…

(Cross talk)

MS. NAVARRO: Yeah, you’re going to de-- you’re going to debate Spanish with me?

MR. GIBBS: Uh-- uh-- no, no, no.

MS. NAVARRO: You know…

MR. GIBBS: I’m just-- I’m just simply saying…

MS. NAVARRO: How do they say it in Alabama?

MR. GIBBS: I-- I-- I’m just saying-- what they say is exactly what E.J. said. You can’t go to the doctor, you can’t get covered, you can't have that surgery. Let’s be clear. The biggest issue-- the biggest issue for Hispanic voters in 2012 election wasn’t immigration, it was health care…

GREGORY: So…

MR. GIBBS: …and that’s why…

(Cross talk)

MS. NAVARRO: And this administration couldn’t even get the Spanish website going until two months after it launched.

GREGORY: Okay. I-- I’ve-- I’ve--

MR. GIBBS: That’s something they’ve desperately got to fix.

GREGORY: I’ve got a couple of minutes left, and I want to talk about popular culture having a clash with politics. And-- and by this I mean Duck Dynasty. Phil Robertson in GQ Magazine got this started. For those who-- who love the show saying, “Start with homos”-- What in your mind is sinful, was the question. He says, “start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men…” He talks also about African-Americans not having a particular problem, you know, where he-- he grew up in the South. And yet, David, you had politicians, conservatives, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, others saying that the reason he was suspended was political correctness run amok, and an abridgement of his free speech. What is the real debate here?

MR. BROOKS: Yeah. They-- they’re trying to frame it as a defense of faith. And I know a lot of orthodox Christians who take a biblical and more hostile view of homosexuality than I do, and a lot of people do. But I’ve never heard those orthodox Christians express with the disrespect that he did. And frankly, in the un-Christian manner he did. So to say that this is a defense of faith, that what he said is-- is-- is strictly Christian faith? That’s not what it is. It was a disrespectful way to say a lot of ugly things.

GREGORY: Is there a double standard, though, E.J.?

MR. DIONNE: No, I don’t think there’s a double standard.

GREGORY: And liberals…

(Cross talk)

MR. DIONNE: No, because liberals have been thrown off TV networks for…

GREGORY: Yeah.

MR. DIONNE: …saying bad things, too. Look, I was very touched by one thing he said, Phil Robertson. He said the world would be different if we all loved each other and loved God. And I would love Phil Robertson-- perhaps it would pay another tribute to Pope Francis-- listen to those words when you think about people who are gay or lesbian. We could have a real change in the world. The other thing is, I don’t know why Republicans who are already suffering massive loss of youth voters, knowing that they already have most of that audience already. Why they’re rushing to this defense, I think it’s a political error. But I want just Phil Robertson to listen to his own words.

GREGORY: Yeah. And Ana, you-- you just think it’s ridiculous that politicians would want to wade into this to begin with?

MS. NAVARRO: I think it’s ridiculous that…

GREGORY: Right.

MS. NAVARRO: …Phil Robertson would want to wade into this. Look I’m a-- I’m a-- I’m a fan of the show. I happen to love Duck Dynasty, watch it constantly. And I-- you know, I just don’t understand how you go, you give this interview, and-- and you-- and you say these things. Yes, there is free speech. But all of us who are on TV know that there’s also contractual obligations to networks where you’re not supposed to say things that-- that embarrass them.

GREGORY: Right. This is not about free speech. This is about what-- a-- a morality-- a sense of morality that companies have that you work for in the media; and more importantly, advertisers who will be offended.

MR. GIBBS: Yeah.

GREGORY: You could argue about whether they’re offended about some things and not others.

MR. GIBBS: The-- the…

MS. NAVARRO: And the bottom line is, morality and sexuality are not equivalent.

MR. GIBBS: Yeah. The notion to this as an argument or a debate about free speech is ridiculous…

GREGORY: Yeah.

MR. GIBBS: …because-- you know, as Ana said, and as others have said-- look, any of us are free on this program to say whatever we want. Our employers, you know, whether they are NBC or the New York Times or a newspaper, might not like how that sounds.

GREGORY: Right.

MR. GIBBS: They might take action. Because they believe both in free speech, but they also pay us and others to speak.

GREGORY: Right. That’s…

MR. GIBBS: So, you know, it-- it-- it is-- it-- it’s a confounding thing and-- you know, you hope and you wish in the holiday season that there was a whole lot more tolerance in the world.

GREGORY: Well, we’ll come-- we’ll come back to this with some of our remaining time. We’re going to take a break here, come back and get into other debate over our rights, our personal privacy, whether it’s in jeopardy because of government spying. And should President Obama reign in U.S. Intelligence gathering? That’s the debate. Two top leaders on Capitol Hill will debate it, coming up here next.

(Announcements)

GREGORY: The hot debate this week, as you know: the future of U.S. spying programs. A presidential task force is now recommending sweeping changes to the way the National Security Agency gathers intel-- intelligence. President Obama says he’ll decide on any reforms he’s for next month. I’m joined now by two outspoken voices on the issue, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, of course; and Republican Congressman Peter King of New York. He’s on the Homeland Security Committee. Gentlemen, welcome back.

REP. PETER KING (R-NY, Homeland Security Committee): Thank you.

GREGORY: You are on opposite sides of this and I'm fascinated by this topic. So here was Edward Snowden writing an open letter to the Brazilian people published in São Paulo. He writes, “Six months ago, I revealed that the NSA wanted to listen to the whole world. Now the whole world is listening back and speaking out, too. And the NSA doesn’t like what it’s hearing. The culture of indiscriminate worldwide surveillance, exposed to public debates and real investigations on every continent, is collapsing.” Congressman King, is it collapsing?

REP. PETER KING (R-NY/Homeland Security Committee): First of all, I think Edward Snowden, a defector and a traitor. And the fact is there is no agency that is more monitored and more watched than the NSA. It’s monitored by the courts, by the Justice Department. It’s monitored by the intelligence committees in the Senate and the House. I think it’s absolutely indispensable to our national security. The president said it’s essential. The president said…

GREGORY: But is it collapsing?

REP. KING: …there have been no abuses.

GREGORY: And first of all, if that may be true, what you’re saying in terms of oversight, but the American people had no idea what it was doing. Now you could think that’s a good thing, but there was no real debate about this.

REP. KING: I don’t think everyone has to know what a spy agency is doing. By their nature, a spy agency, it’s kept secret. That’s the purpose of it.

GREGORY: But is it collapsing? Is Snowden right about the fact that this is collapsing? Is it going to exist in the future the way it exists now?

REP. KING: If it doesn’t, it’s going to be calamitous for the country. We need the NSA to remain. I-- as I said, there were no abuses by the NSA, the president has said that. This is all to me a debate generated by the hysteria caused by Edward Snowden, and why we’re listening to him is beyond me.

GREGORY: Senator Leahy, my sister-in-law from Kentucky is here. We’ve debated this topic. And she says, David, you talk about the founding fathers and the principles of freedom, that they’re the basis of the country; but that’s not where the country is. The country wants what Peter King wants, which is these programs to exist.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT/Chair, Judiciary Committee): I think we ought to listen what the founding fathers said. That’s what kept us strong as a country for over 200 years. I think the founding fathers would be astounded to see what NSA and others are doing. You know, it’s not Snowden. In a way, he’s irrelevant on this. It’s a question of how well this has been looked at and how much the American public knows about it. I was heartened by the New York Times editorial today, which strongly endorses a legislation Congressman Sensen Brenner, a Republican, and I have introduced to reform what the NSA is doing. And the president’s panel on this, a very good panel, recommends the same thing.

GREGORY: Okay, but the panel wants to allow the bulk collection of our metadata, that digital thumbprints…

SEN. LEAHY: But with controls.

GREGORY: With some controls.

SEN. LEAHY: With controls.

GREGORY: So that’s what you support. So basically, the government shouldn’t be able to stockpile it, in your view, a third party shouldn’t have at it?

SEN. LEAHY: Well, then-- we’re going to-- the first public exposure to what the panel has said is going to be before the Senate Judiciary Committee in a couple of weeks. And we’re going to go into that at great length. But there have been problems, and one of the reasons so many of the big companies-- Yahoo!, Google and so on-- are concerned about this is the-- it gets them in crosshairs. And the other thing that bothers me greatly, we talk about what a great job they’re doing. They did such a poor job, the NSA, that a subcontractor was able to steal all their secrets. And today, after spending a millions of dollars, they still don’t know what was stolen.

GREGORY: What is if the president does not accept the panel’s recommendations? Which again, the highlights are that you can collect all the data; but the government shouldn’t be able to stockpile it, a third party has access to it. And you only get to query it, as they say, if you have a court order. That’s one-- one big piece of it.

SEN. LEAHY: We’re going to be a lot better off if the president and the Congress can work together, if we can stop having-- some in Congress will rubber stamp whatever the NSA does. And at the same time, those who say the NSA-- we don’t need a spy agency, of course we need…

GREGORY: Right.

SEN. LEAHY: …spy agency. But let’s have it accountable to the American public.

GREGORY: Why can’t you, Congressman King, take a look at these programs and rein in aspects of it? What is the proof-- I’ve heard argument-- what is the proof that absent the government being able to stockpile this metadata, that you cannot get this information and prevent an attack?

REP. KING: First of all, David, what do we rein in? There has not been one abuse cited. And the president said that himself…

GREGORY: Right.

REP. KING: …there were no abuses by the NSA. So we’re talking about something that doesn’t exist. And as far as allowing the private companies to keep the metadata, as opposed to the government, it’s still being retained. And it’s-- and what it does is it slows it down if the government needs that--

GREGORY: But are there conditions where abuse could occur? I mean, look-- I realize we’re not living in our revolutionary past…

REP. KING: David, the abuse is anywhere.

GREGORY: …but that is the purpose of our founders, which is to make sure you don’t put government in a position to abuse authority, and they are in that position, are they not?

REP. KING: But they have not done it, because they’re monitored by the courts, they’re monitored by the Justice Department. Every time you give a police officer a gun, he can abuse his authority. But the fact is, we don’t disarm our police, we should not be disarming the NSA. And I wish the president would step forward and defend the NSA. What he says is, he says there’s no abuse, the intelligence is absolutely necessary. But then he says, we have to reform it. What does he want to reform if it’s working? I wish he could say that. He having it both ways.

SEN. LEAHY: Well, I think…

GREGORY: Senator, what if-- what if the president says, look, I’m-- I’ll put some safeguards on the metadata program. We’ll still-- the program stays going. And maybe we’ll dial back some of this foreign surveillance. Is that a compromise you see in the offering?

SEN. LEAHY: That’s why we’re going to have the hearings. And the thing I say is about standing up for them. I’d also point out these are the people that had all the-- the intelligence of the United States stolen by a subcontractor; and today, millions of dollars later, they still don’t know what was stolen. That doesn’t give me a huge amount of confidence. We can make them better. We will make them better. But the idea that we must do exactly what they want or we’re not safe is not…

REP. KING: We don’t do that. But we don’t do that.

(Cross talk)

GREGORY: But why doesn’t Congress demonstrate the courage to pull back the power that’s given to the president…

SEN. LEAHY: Well, this is why we…

GREGORY: …and that was given to him after-- these programs have been re-upped time after time by the Congress.

SEN. LEAHY: We have tried. We have tried. In fact, I joined with a very conservative Republican, Dick Armey, to put sunset provisions in some of the Patriot Act. And that has required the committees to look at it. We can do it.

REP. KING: David, there has not been one abuse cited. I live in New York. I lost about 150 friends, neighbors and constituents on September 11. If the NSA had had this metadata in 2001, that attack probably wouldn’t have happened. They would have spotted that call in San Diego. Secondly, I live in New York, and knew the NSA would stop these (Unintelligible) bombing of the New York City subway system, which would have killed four or five hundred people. In fact, there’s no one-- no one has come up with one abuse. And you’re saying rein in-- what do we rein in? A system that works? Let’s not unilaterally surrender.

GREGORY: All right.

REP. KING: And let the president come forward and defend a system that works.

SEN. LEAHY: Of course. Of course, there are reviews that take just the opposite position on that…

GREGORY: Right.

SEN. LEAHY: …who say that the information was there before 9/11 and it was not acted on.

GREGORY: All right. I’m going to-- the debate will continue…

REP. KING: They didn’t have the power to do it. They didn’t have the power to do it.

GREGORY: I’m going to leave that here today. Congressman King, thank you very much.

REP. KING: Thank you, David.

GREGORY: Senator Leahy, Merry Christmas to both of you.

SEN. LEAHY: Thank you. Merry Christmas to you. And to you, Peter.

REP. KING: Thank you, Pat.

GREGORY: And we will-- this debate will continue in 2014. Our program will continue right after this as the roundtable is back, looking at the early line on 2016, right after this.

(Announcements)

GREGORY: Final thoughts here from the panel on spying. We’ve got a few minutes, so we should just be able to resolve this. What do you think?

MR. GIBBS: What…

GREGORY: Leahy and King. So what’s the right answer? What’s the president going to do?

MR. BROOKS: I’m a pretty serious national security guy…

GREGORY: Yeah.

MR. BROOKS: …but I think if Dwight Eisenhower were here, he’d be worried about the concentration of power in the intelligence community. I do think we got to ratchet it a little back, not all the way, but just a little bit. And I think that’s what the panel recommended. So, I’m sort of for it. We should not legitimize Edward Snowden, though. You should not be allowed to destroy a policy for some narcissistic…

(Cross talk)

GREGORY: Right. I don’t disagree with that but it doesn’t it come back-- doesn’t the public deserve a Congress that is capable of putting emotion aside and rethinking these policies? Congress has not been willing to address the power given to the executive since 2001?

MS. NAVARRO: You want Congress to put emotion aside and rethink policies? Surely you’ve been drinking, this morning, David.

GREGORY: Thanks, everybody.

MR. GIBBS: You know, I think we are going through a correction. America is good at self-correction.

GREGORY: Yeah.

MR. DIONNE: And that we--

GREGORY: But it takes a while.

MR. DIONNE: …after 9/11…

GREGORY: Yeah.

MR. DIONNE: …we ceded all kinds of power to the executive, some of which I don’t think we should have ceded in the first place. Nonetheless, it was understandable after 9/11, Americans are stepping back and saying, wait a minute, how much of this is actually protecting us? I thought that the president’s commission, one of the most devastating things was, we can’t point to a case where the bulk collection actually prevented it.

GREGORY: And by the way, before any-- before anybody-- you know, criticizes me or anybody else saying oh, that’s some liberal argument, it’s-- it’s both a liberal and a conservative argument to say, we can come back to the same place, but let’s debate it.

MR. GIBBS: Right.

GREGORY: That’s-- that’s a point. We don’t know a lot of this stuff that’s been done.

MR. GIBBS: There should-- there should be a full-thrown debate. Because-- and I go back to David’s point on health care-- we have to reinstitute some trust in government. And I think regardless of where you sit on this spectrum, I think some of the revelations that you’ve seen have even shocked those that knew some about the program.

GREGORY: Right.

MR. GIBBS: And I think putting in some common sense safeguards that if we’re going to collect that metadata, that it be housed with phone companies, and that a court order is needed to go get that information from a third party to look at it.

GREGORY: Right.

MR. GIBBS: Those are sensible safeguards that won’t tear down our ability to stop a terrorist.

GREGORY: Well and I-- I mentioned my sister-in-law, so I should mention her sister who is my wife who is in law enforcement who you know well, said the fact that it is so broad, that this bulk collection is so broad, is what makes it safer. Because the government is not concerned about who is looking at what website. They are really just collecting data to be able to protect the country.

MS. NAVARRO: Well, the bottom line is, this is a tough nut to crack. And the-- the debate between privacy and security is a very difficult one to balance out. And I think the president and congress are going to have to figure out a balance. I suspect he’s going to end up accepting some of those panel recommendations and rejecting others.

GREGORY: All right. Thank you all very much. Happy holidays. We mentioned Burke (ph), the founding fathers, my wife, my sister-in-law--

(Cross talk)

MR. DIONNE: I’m smarter already.

MR. GIBBS: It’s like a civics class.

GREGORY: And-- and the French health care system.

MS. NAVARRO: And Merry Christmas and Feliz Navidad.

GREGORY: Feliz Navidad, and thanks to all of you. Check out something I wrote online as well, an essay about the debate over big government, whether compromise is possible. It’s called Glimmers of Hope. We’ve posted it on our website MeetThePressNBC.com. And remember, you can follow me all week on Twitter I’m @davidgregory. That’s all for today. Have a very Merry Christmas. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.

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