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MSNBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript

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MR. GREGORY: And we're back, joined in California this morning by the new Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, Carly Fiorina; here in Washington, the vice chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida; presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who's still getting used to the new surroundings; chief White House correspondent and political director for NBC News Chuck Todd; and a special welcome back to Politico's chief political columnist Roger Simon.

Who has really gone through a tough deal with your health, Roger. God bless you. We're so happy you are healthy and happy you're here and doing what you should be doing, which is reporting. And we're...

MR. ROGER SIMON: Thank you. And thanks to you and all those people who sent me kind e-mails and cards. It really helped.

MR. GREGORY: Oh, good. Well, we're glad to have you.

Well, there's a lot to get to, including news, Chuck Todd. You heard from David Axelrod right here that the president will address the nation, likely from the Oval Office, 8 PM Tuesday night, after he returns from the Gulf. This is a big deal. This is a big moment now where the White House says they've got to, they've got to take this to another level.

MR. CHUCK TODD: Well, there's a phrase that I've heard a lot in the White House over the past couple of weeks, and that's "command and control." Privately they'll acknowledge they do not have it when it comes to this oil spill. So this is--they are looking for a way to find out--the easiest way to get control of the situation is for the oil to stop leaking. With that not happening yet, they have to look like they're in more control of the situation with BP. So that's why you're seeing, not just the ramped-up rhetoric, these letters, getting the CEOs to come to the White House and now this Oval Office address. All of it is to deal with this leadership question because that is what's--you know, they want to say, "Oh, this"--they haven't seen any effect yet in the polls. Over the last week you're now starting to see an effect. They know it; they are worried about it. And so this is an attempt to just exert some sort of control. They may not have command yet of the situation...

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MR. TODD: ...but at least some sort of control.

MR. GREGORY: And, Roger, the other element of control, the other element of news here, David Axelrod saying they're--they want to push BP to create an escrow account where they're going to commit some amount of money.

MR. SIMON: Sure.

MR. GREGORY: That seems to be the real focus from the president, which is lock in the amount that BP will ultimately pay. That's what, effectively, a government regulator can do at this point.

MR. SIMON: If it can be predicted. They've got a dilemma. The president told me in an interview just a few days ago that the government had no greater ability to stop this oil leak than BP, so we might as well let BP do it. The trouble is, at the same time we're dependent on BP. We're fining them, we're threatening to put them in jail, we've got the attorney general going down there. You know, this is usually not the basis of a good relationship. Also, the president is a victim of that video of the gushing oil. I mean, it's a cinematic sign of his failure. And the real worry at the White House is every time he speaks, is it going to be a split screen...

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MR. SIMON: ...with him on one side and that gushing oil on the other?

MR. GREGORY: Carly Fiorina, you are now squarely in the, the political arena here out there in California. And another Republican has been pretty pointed in his criticism of the president's leadership on this, and that's Mitt Romney. The president has sometimes referred to Romney as a likely candidate for the presidency in 2012. This is what Romney wrote Thursday in an op-ed in the USA Today: "Has it come to this again?" responding to the president's comments to Matt Lauer, "The president is meeting with his oil spill experts, he crudely tells us, so that he knows `whose ass to kick.' We have become accustomed to this management style--target a scapegoat, assign blame and go on the attack. To win healthcare legislation, he vilified insurance executives; to escape bankruptcy law for General Motors, he demonized senior lenders; to take the focus from the excesses of government, he castigated business meetings in Las Vegas; and to deflect responsibility for the deepening and lengthening downturn, he blames Wall Street and George W. Bush. But what may make good politics does not make good leadership. And when a crisis is upon us, America wants a leader, not a politician." Do you think that's fair?

MS. CARLY FIORINA: Well, I think there's much in that that's fair. And there is a difference, obviously, between governing and leading, and running for office or campaigning. Look, BP has huge accountability here, and they need to be held to account. But the government has accountability as well. When we hear that there are 13 separate federal government agencies running around in confusion down there, when we hear that there is equipment that could be used to help clean up the Gulf sitting in warehouses, when we hear that there is assistance that is being pleaded for by local officials and that assistance is not coming, all of this leads to the impression that this is not yet an effort where the president is exerting as much control as is necessary to get this thing fixed. Of course BP has responsibility, but we also need to understand, where were the government regulators? Where was MMS, despite the fact that the leader of MMS had been brought in by Ken Salazar in a move to reform the agency, according to him? So I think...

MR. GREGORY: All right, this is the Mineral Management Service, which, which oversees these oil rigs. Congresswoman:

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL): Where, where were the regulators? This from a party who has singlehandedly allowed industry and the private sector to regulate themselves, who presided over a, an agency in MMS that was so cozy with regulators--was so cozy with the oil industry executives that they were going on trips with them, taking vacations, even sleeping with them? So, I mean, we're talking about a party that really doesn't have the right to criticize now in terms of regulation. We, under President Obama's leadership, are cleaning up that mess and make--and cleaning up the mess of the, of the oil spill. But this is ultimately BP's responsibility. President Obama has commanded over 5,000 vessels in the region to make sure that they are involved in the cleanup, 26,000 federal employees involved in the cleanup down there, mobilized and authorized up to 17,500 members of the National Guard, and is on his way down to the Gulf region for the fourth time. This is an unprecedented response to an unprecedented manmade disaster.

MR. GREGORY: Doris, let's put this in a kind of a larger frame here. Something struck me going back, looking at President Obama's interviews over time. Back in October of 2006 he was on this program, and he said something that really any candidate can say because it becomes true when you're president. Let's play that.

(Videotape, October 22, 2006)

PRES. OBAMA: Most of the time it seems that, that the president has maybe 10 percent of his agenda set by himself and 90 percent of it set by circumstances.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Et voila. Ninety--how's he doing with the 90 percent, Doris?

MS. DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, you know, it's interesting just listening to what you were saying about how much he actually has mobilized down there--17,000 National Guard, 20,000 people--and yet the impression hasn't gotten to the country about those people being there. Reagan understood the importance of pictures. I think if Reagan had been doing this he would have made sure that each time the president went down there that we saw pictures of what these people were doing because we only know it as a list, and we have to somehow counter the oil gushing picture, which is central in our mind.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MS. GOODWIN: I think the other interesting thing is when you hear somebody say, "Well, he shouldn't be showing anger at BP," the other side is we've been hearing is he's not showing enough anger. And I think one of the problems with that is he's not a man who does, by nature--he's not T.R., like Theodore Roosevelt would have been blustering. I can just imagine what he would have been saying about the BP guy. People would have loved it. But on the other hand, he has to work with BP.

MR. GREGORY: And yet--but--and yet, Chuck and Roger, I mean, the president is critical of the media and yet responsive to, to some of the demands of, of, of what's been brought up here, Chuck.

MR. TODD: Well, what's ironic, the comment to Matt Lauer--and yes, it was a response to the whole "kick butt" part of the question. But when he used the, the, the more--the harsher version of the word it was because he was responding to media criticism. Listen to his whole answer. He goes, "I don't sit around with academics"...

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MR. TODD: ..."just because"--and that was a direct response to criticism coming from columns, particularly in the Times and the Post, that have just gotten under his skin. Media criticism gets under this president's skin and he lets it show more than any president we've seen in a long time.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MR. SIMON: And he believes that the anger that people are showing is a media-generated anger and it's the media really cares about his displays and his optics and his stagecraft a lot more than ordinary people do. But what really drives him crazy is statements that we just heard from Carly Fiorina, small government Republicans now saying, "Where's the government?" You know...

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Exactly.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MR. SIMON: ...Bobby Jindal screaming into a microphone, "Where are the booms? Where's the equipment? Where are, where are the ships?" These are the same people who say, "Get government out of our lives."

MR. GREGORY: Well, and...

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: David--right.

MR. GREGORY: Well, hold on a minute, that's--wait, because I wanted to go back to Carly Fiorina. I mean, respond to that point, Carly, for one. But for two, because there's legitimacy to that, what, what is good government, going forward, in a crisis like this?

MS. FIORINA: Good government needs to be efficient and effective. I'm not talking about small or big, but I know from the real world that when things get too big and too complicated and two expensive, as our government is now, they don't perform well. These are vast, unaccountable bureaucracies. They don't coordinate with one another, and, as a result, they're not effective. And may I just say, it was Ken Salazar who put in place the secretary or the head of MMS who just recently resigned and who came from the industry. So I think...

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No, he didn't.

MS. FIORINA: ...this is a question of the blame game to say this is all about Republicans...

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: He came from the House.

MS. FIORINA: ...saying small government. This is about efficient, effective government...

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Birnbaum was from the House.

MS. FIORINA: ...and efficient and effective response. And what the American people are seeing is an ineffective response.

MR. GREGORY: Did, did that head of MMS come from--did she work on the hill or did she come from industry?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: The head of MMS was from the House of Representatives. Liz Birnbaum came from the U.S. House of Representatives. She was an employee for many years, and then she moved from the House of Representatives to MMS. So I don't know what she's talking about. But this is a big, expensive disaster.

MS. FIORINA: And she was forced to resign because of her failure to reform the department as she promised to.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: In the year--excuse me, excuse me--in the year that she was, that, that she was there, there definitely was not enough reform, but she was cleaning up, in the process of cleaning up from years of a totally hands-off regulatory policy by the Bush administration...

MS. FIORINA: Then why did she resign?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ...in which they had a scandal-ridden regulatory agency.

MR. GREGORY: OK, but, Congresswoman, the reality is that if the president made a priority of reforming MMS, he also made the decision to curtail that reform, if it was incomplete, to move forward on more oil drilling, to...

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Which I don't...

MR. GREGORY: ...to achieve political consensus on climate change legislation. So it's a question of the choices the president made.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Look, as--well, in a--arguably in a year, you weren't going to be able to clean up that regulatory mess that, that essentially was--left, left industry in charge of itself, and that's why we ended up with this BP disaster.

MR. GREGORY: All right.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: But as someone, unlike Ms. Fiorina, as someone who represents a Gulf state, who is totally opposed to expanding offshore oil drilling, unlike Ms. Fiorina, who even in the face of this BP disaster, would continue to allow offshore oil drilling as a solution, it is absolutely...

MR. GREGORY: All right.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ...irresponsible to do that. We need to focus...

MS. FIORINA: If I may--if I may just say...

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No, no, no. You keep interrupting me.

MS. FIORINA: If I may just say, actually...

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Excuse me, excuse me.

MS. FIORINA: ...you--if I may just say that...

MR. GREGORY: Hold, hold on, hold on one second. Congressman***(as spoken)***let's let Carly Fiorina respond. Go ahead.

MS. FIORINA: If I might just say, I am not defending the performance of MMS over many years. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is absolutely correct that MMS has failed in its duties under both Republican and Democratic presidents. That's a fact. It is also true that the reason President Obama reversed his decision on shallow offshore drilling is because the people in the Gulf course--Coast were pleading for jobs and we need the energy.

MR. GREGORY: All right.

MS. FIORINA: But what I am saying is this.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No. That's...

MS. FIORINA: Do not blame someone else for the failure of government that is now sitting on this president's watch.

MR. GREGORY: OK. I want to, I want to move...

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: This is not a failure of government.

MR. GREGORY: Hold on, hold on one second. I want to move on to something else. Actually, I want to bring you in, Doris, on something that Roger wrote based on his interview with the president. This is what the president said to Roger about the role of regulation. He writes, "I think it's fair to say, if six months ago, before this spill had happened, I had gone up to Congress and I had said we need to crack down a lot harder on oil companies and we need to spend more money on technology to respond in case of a catastrophic spill, there are folks up there, who will not be named, who would have said this is classic, big government overregulation and wasteful spending."

MS. GOODWIN: Now, you see...

MR. GREGORY: Even though it's a Democratic Congress, he could have made it a priority.

MS. GOODWIN: See, now, but that's his righteous anger, I think, in a certain sense. I mean, he really was getting worked up. I mean, one of the things they said about FDR was that he theatrically understood that he had to be an actor at times. Even when he wasn't feeling anger, he would make sure as if he gave voice to the people who had the anger. That's one thing. The other hand of it, though, I think, is the crisis is just beginning. Whatever he should have done more, should he gone down there earlier, should have done more, now's the real crisis, is the cleanup. And just as you said, he's got to take command of that.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: (Unintelligible)

MR. GREGORY: All right.

MS. GOODWIN: And I think this speech the next night could be as important as Johnson's speech in Selma was...

MR. GREGORY: All right.

MS. GOODWIN: ...to mobilize the country for a climate energy bill, if he does it right, not just get the votes in Congress, push at that Congress from the outside in to say, "You think this is ugly, just like we thought the troopers were ugly when they were beating up on those civil rights marchers? Let's do something about it."

MR. GREGORY: All right. Let me get in here. I want to take a break. I want to come back and talk about Tuesday night's primary night and the politics of this midterm campaign. We'll do that with our roundtable when we come back after this short break.

MR. GREGORY: We're back now with our political roundtable talking about politics, Decision 2010, and what happened on Tuesday night. Here were some of the headlines about the results from Tuesday. From The Wall Street Journal, "Women Candidates Come Into Their Own." The Washington Times, "Primaries engender a year of the woman." The AP headline, "Deja Vu All Over Again: 2010 Looks Like the '92 Political Year of the Woman." Here were some of the results to bear that out. We were talking to Carly Fiorina, who is now the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate from California. You had former state Representative Sharron Angle, who is now the Republican nominee for the Senate in Nevada. Senator Lincoln, of course, the incumbent, she holds on, Democratic nominee from Arkansas. Meg Whitman, who's running for governor, is a Republican in California. State Representative Nikki Haley, Republican candidate for South Carolina governor. She still has a runoff that she has to win.

So, Carly Fiorina, is this about being the year of the woman or is it about outsiders to the process that are making a mark? What is your take-away?

MS. FIORINA: Well, I think it's a little bit of both. But I think what you're seeing now is candidates are reflecting the diversity of America. And isn't that a wonderful thing? Isn't that a wonderful evolution? I think it is a natural progression, and I think it's worth celebrating.

MR. GREGORY: Do you agree, Congresswoman?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, I always think it's funny when the media declares something "the year of the woman." I mean, are we...

MR. SIMON: It happens every year.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yeah. Are we, are we only entitled to one every 18 years or so? I mean, that's...

MR. GREGORY: All right.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ...that--that's a little...

MS. GOODWIN: It's like that's what Barbara Mikulski was teasing about.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yeah.

MS. GOODWIN: "The year of the asparagus, the year of the carrot."

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Right.

MR. GREGORY: Yeah. Well, though, what's actually--yeah.

MS. GOODWIN: But I think something is different here. I think what's different is underneath, there's a social revolution that's gone on in the last 20 years. Women are now 60 percent college graduates, 68 percent master degree graduates. More PhDs, more--almost 42 percent MBAs. They're coming into their realm in every sphere of society. They're going to be in politics.

MR. GREGORY: Well, also...

MS. GOODWIN: We're late for the world at large, but they're coming.

MR. GREGORY: ...it's also, to me, it was actually my wife, Beth, who made this observation, which I always take seriously, which is, look, I mean, talk about who's the ultimate outsider. I mean, men are still running most things.

MR. SIMON: Right.

MS. GOODWIN: Right.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: But...

MR. GREGORY: And not always doing such a great job.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: David, let me just jump back in here for a second...

MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ...because the, the underlying problem here is that across the board, particularly with Republicans, it isn't the year of the woman. We have 104 members that the NRCC--a 104 races that the NRCC has put on their "young guns" watch list. Of those--and they had a much ballyhooed aggressive attempt to recruit top female candidates--they have seven women out of 104 on that list. I mean, this is a party that has a brand that women simply don't want to run with and that women don't want to vote for because they don't share the values that women care about.

MR. TODD: The headlines did feel like an attempt to shoehorn in an, an idea just to sort of make some sort of national perspective out of something...

MS. FIORINA: Does the press ever do that?

MR. TODD: Yeah, exactly. However, I thought mechanically what was fascinating about all of the victors--Nikki Haley, in particular; Meg Whitman as well, Ms. Fiorina, as well as Sharron Angle, is--and Blanche Lincoln--all of them had to withstand huge negative ads. It is harder to run a negative campaign against women candidates. That is a fact. And I think women candidates in a toxic political environment are more likely to survive right now because the public, part of it is I think they don't believe it yet that somehow women are as dirty as male politicians because of what you just brought up. But second is that, is that, is that...

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Probably because they're not.

MR. TODD: ...women are just--women's campaigns are better at sort of withstanding this a little bit.

MR. GREGORY: Roger Simon, what, more broadly, is happening here in terms of Tuesday? Conventional wisdom gets turned on its head, an incumbent can hold on like Blanche Lincoln despite organized labor coming after her. You just have an anti-establishment sentiment out there that seems to be more powerful than even an anti-Washington sentiment.

MR. SIMON: That may be true, but it's important to keep in mind that all but two of the 217 House members who ran for re-election won their primaries. So it's not exactly a huge wave of anti-Washington feeling. Secondly, I hate to rain on the parade here, these women have won primaries.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MR. SIMON: We ought to come back in November and see how many of them...

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Right.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MR. SIMON: ...get elected.

MR. GREGORY: We've got a program every Sunday, though, right, so we got to keep it going here.

Carly Fiorina, this is something you told The New Yorker in June about the political parties. "So what I sense is a lot of frustration with a government they view as out of touch, distant, arrogant, maybe corrupt--and it's a fatigue with professional politicians, of both parties." As a Senate candidate in the Republican Party, can we expect you to buck your party? And what issue that Republicans hold near and dear is something that you would find yourself parting company with?

MS. FIORINA: Well, let me first say that I've never been in politics before. I've never run for office. But I think our Founding Fathers intended this to be a citizen government. It's what, "of, by and for the people" means. And what I sense in the state of California is a lot of people agree with me. And they think that the lessons we learn in the real world would help in Washington. You know, common sense, problem-solving ability, actions speak louder that words, results count. Those are things that people want to see more of in Washington. If I am fortunate enough to win this seat in November, it will be because the people of California send me to Washington, not the Republican Party. I am my own person...

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MS. FIORINA: ...and I will continue to be my own person.

MR. GREGORY: I have to say that sounds a little Schwarzeneggeresque. Are you a Schwarzenegger Republican?

MS. FIORINA: I have very different core values than Arnold Schwarzenegger ran on. But I believe that this election is going to be about jobs. We are destroying jobs in California through bad government policy. Since the institution of the stimulus package, our unemployment picture has deteriorated substantially. And this election is about out-of-control government that is taxing too much, spending too much and borrowing too much.

MR. GREGORY: All right.

MS. FIORINA: And you look at every poll in California, you will find that the Democrats, Independents and Republicans all think those are the issues in this election.

MR. GREGORY: Fifteen seconds, Congresswoman. Final word.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Craig***(as spoken)***you'll note, you'll note that Carly didn't mention anything that she disagrees with the Republican Party because she essentially doesn't. She's pro-gun, she's anti-choice, she supports expanded offshore oil drilling as a solution to our energy problems. She has literally bought into the entire agenda lock, stock and barrel and continues to want to push this--the United States towards private industry away from balance...

MR. GREGORY: All right.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ...which is what President Obama has been pushing for.

MR. GREGORY: The debate in California and beyond will go on. Thank you all very much.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you.

MR. GREGORY: And we'll be right back.

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