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MR. GREGORY: Congressman Schock, what do you hear from the vice president? Is that political vulnerability?
REP. AARON SCHOCK (R-IL): You know what, I hear a lot of negativity. And what, what strikes me is disingenuous it all--is all the attack on Republicans as do nothing. As someone who's in his third year now in the United States Congress, I will tell you last year was the first year since 1974 that a Democratic House failed to pass a budget. We got a majority this year, and we didn't just criticize what the president rolled out in his budget, we actually did our own budget, as a Republican House, that did entitlement reform, something that was the unthinkable, that bent the cost curve, that put us on a projection towards balance as a country. And guess what, David, it got more votes--Republicans and Democrats voted for that budget--than any budget that passed the Congress in the last 10 years. And, in addition to the budget, we've passed 100 bills in the House that are sitting in the Senate waiting for action. And so to hear the vice president say that he doesn't have an equal partner or that somehow the House and the Republicans are just do-nothing is not only a political statement, it's just not factually correct.
MR. GREGORY: Congressman Gutierrez, has the conversation stopped in Washington? Are we effectively in the campaign argument right now?
REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ (D-IL): I think--look, when I got to Congress, I wanted to change it, so I put legislation to freeze every member's pay. That was one thing to change it. I think we have a new set of congressmen that have come really to burn the House down, and I think that that's unfortunate. Let's talk about this partnership. So we passed healthcare reform. They want to call it Obamacare, it's healthcare reform. We didn't get any help. We had to restructure Wall Street and go after Wall Street to make sure that our financial system was safe. We didn't get any help. When it came to our environment and energy policy, we didn't get any help. And I'm sorry, but we keep hearing--I mean, it's simple to be a Republican these days because there's two answers to every question, blame Obama, and if not that, cut the budget, until it comes to cutting for the rich oil producers here in this country, there's no cutting. Or cutting the military.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
REP. GUTIERREZ: Look, we need to have a conversation about putting Americans back to work. And we need to have that sense of urgency that there are people hurting out there.
MR. GREGORY: Look, this is the debate, Mark Halperin, that's playing out on the campaign trail now. And we're going to turn to you to get a sense of where this Republican race is here at the end of this week. First, this is the way the field looks right now. According to the new CBS News poll, it's Romney, Cain, and Perry, 17, 17 and 12. Herman Cain in the top tier week after week. New Hampshire is the early primary state, even--we don't know exactly when they're going to be voting next year. Romney has a more commanding lead there, 37 percent, Cain at 12. Look at Perry down at 4 percent. Christie is out of the race. Palin is not going to run. Where do things stand?
MR. MARK HALPERIN: There's the same dynamic that's existed going through Christie, going through Palin, going through all the people who decided not to run. The same dynamic exists in this race as it existed from the beginning. Mitt Romney's going to be a finalist. And then there's a question of who fills that vacuum? Republicans want someone who's tough on the president, they want someone who can get elected, and they want someone who will promise fundamental change in the economy.
MR. GREGORY: And, and your take here, Romney is up. How do you see him at the end of the week?
MR. HALPERIN: Well, he's still the strongest in the field by far. He's still raising money, he's still checking off different constituencies. I think he's found his voice at the Values Voters event in Washington over the weekend. He's found his voice on being an anti-Obama spokesman pretty effectively. What he still lacks, though, is the broad appeal that Republican front-runners in the past have had.
MR. GREGORY: Rick Perry a draw at this point.
MR. HALPERIN: He's got to define himself better than he has. He's been defined by his position on immigration in Texas, by his position on Social Security, not by his position on jobs and the economy, which he's going to talk about on Friday, finally, in, in Pennsylvania, and, and defined by his personal story. The country doesn't really know Rick Perry. And so far, so far, he's not been as strong as candidate as he thought he'd be. But Rick Perry's advisers and Mitt Romney's advisers agree, Rick Perry will be back. He will have a second chance. He needs to define himself better.
MR. GREGORY: Herman Cain is an up arrow.
MR. HALPERIN: He is filling that vacuum, the anti-Romney vacuum. As strong as Romney is--he's clearly the strongest--there is a huge hunger in the party for somebody else. And until somebody steps up, besides Herman Cain--he's specific on the economy, he's got a tax reform plan, he's got a strong anti-Obama message, and he's, he's promising that fundamental change. His problem's electability. It's very hard for him to get over that hurdle.
MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about, Bethany McLean, the political economy. Here was the Wall Street Journal headline this week as these Occupy Wall Street protests are here in Chicago, they're in New York, they've been in Los Angeles. This is how the Journal puts it: "Democrats' Populist Puzzle" is the headline. "The Democratic Party grappling with the promise and peril of the anticorporate populism the Occupy Wall Street movement, seeking to tap its energy without opening the party to charges of class warfare." I won't play this particular sound bite from the vice president from our interview this week, but he said, "Look, there is this broken trust between the middle class and between the haves on Wall Street who are, who are much healthier in this economy." How do you see it?
MS. BETHANY McLEAN: There's a lot to protest. You can pick your economic statistic to show that we've degenerated into a society of haves and have-nots. There's no question about that. But the problem is our economy has been broken for a long time. The credit bubble just masked problems that have been growing for decades. We need--we need a way to tackle this over the long term. And you can look at the protesters and say they're chaotic, they're disorganized, and the great irony is, is, is Washington really much better? And a lot of this populism, whether it's bank-bashing or, or taxing millionaires, it distracts from the fact that we have a really hard road ahead. We need a long-term plan for the economy that we want that's going to work for wide swaths of people. It's not going to be easy. So little Twinkie-sounding sound bites are, are unsatisfying in the end.
MR. GREGORY: You made a point about the banks when we talked this week which is, we got to decide what we want our banks to be. We got bank fees that are driving people crazy now, and the bankers say, "Hey, wait a minute, you passed financial regulation that made it more restrictive for us to make money here. We're still going to try to make money because that's what we do." We have to make a decision, in your view.
MS. McLEAN: Right. If you're mad at the banks and you want a different financial system, then let's talk about having a different financial system. But let's not just do this sort of mixed message of business as usual plus, plus, plus populist bank-bashing that, in the end, it's like a Twinkie. It, it sounds good at the time, it's really--tastes really good, but it's ultimately really unhealthy. It doesn't get us anywhere.
MR. GREGORY: Why is demonizing Wall Street the right approach right now? It may be a political strategy if the president can harness it. Is it really the right thing to do for the economy?
REP. GUTIERREZ: Well, here's what I think, with all due respect to everybody's opinion, there were $700 billion in TARP. I was there. The money got to the banks. They were on their knees. I don't remember anybody from Goldman Sachs or JPMorganChase saying, "Don't do it, Luis, don't do it. We really don't want the money." No, I saw the secretary of the Treasury come down there each and every day begging and imploring us. You know what, they got their money. And what did we get? We got a bill for $5 if you want to access your money. So let me, let me just say it's not bashing, it's looking at the reality. And I think that's part of the frustration and the anger of people who can't send their kids to school, who can't send them to college, who don't have a job, who are losing their mortgages.
So all I want to say is, I take on my own Secretary Geithner this week, and I said, "Mr. Secretary, we put $50 billion, we gave the banks $70 billion." Guess what, they got their money. We sent $50 billion so that people could modify their mortgages and reduce their payments. Guess what, 2 percent of that money went out to consumers in America. So, yeah, people are angry because government is dysfunctional and it's not working.
MR. GREGORY: Right. But, but here--but here's the reality, the protests, Congressman Schock, are also about the fact that the middle class is not getting any better, not getting healthier.
REP. SCHOCK: You're exactly right.
MR. GREGORY: I mean, middle-class wages are stagnating. What is your party doing to deal with that disparity?
REP. SCHOCK: Well, first of all, I'd like, I'd like to say Bethany made an excellent point. Everyone's focusing on whether you support the protesters or don't support the protesters. Why are they protesting? It's because we have failed to implement economic policy that allows more opportunity for more Americans and for the pie economically in this country to grow. And what we have to have is pro-growth policies. To your point, what are Republicans doing in the House? We've been doing a whole host of things. First of all, passing a budget that deals with entitlement reform, that bends the cost curve, so there's more confidence in Washington, D.C., that we're going to deal with our debt crisis as a country.
Second, passing over 100 bills that are waiting for action in the Senate, things that are regulatory reform, reining in some of these EPA changes, one just this week on cement companies that would put nearly 20,000 Americans out of work that are currently working if the EPA is not stopped from this regulatory change.
MR. GREGORY: Mark, Mark Halperin, let me ask a political question as well on both sides of the aisle. The president's calling himself an underdog, the vice president has spelled out in my interview the vulnerability. David Axelrod, the president's communications adviser, said this will be a titanic struggle for re-election. When I asked Mayor Emanuel what's he do to get his swagger back? Because this is not the guy who, who talked about "yes, we can" and, and had people crying, you know, when he was elected because there was such great expectation. People feel let down.
MR. HALPERIN: Well, look, it's a false choice to say he's just going to go for the base and reject the middle or vice versa. He needs to do both if he's going to get re-elected. He needs his base to be energized. He needs people in the middle to like and respect him. He needs more of the business community, including in the banking sector, where they're very mad at him now, to be at least open to his re-election. He must wait for a Republican opponent. The, the--these are two well-meaning public servants, but they're talking past each other, as is the conversation in Washington likely to be except for that supercommittee you talked about with Rahm Emanuel. There needs to be--and, and Paul Ryan--there needs to be some dialogue because we can't wait till 2013 to address the concerns of both the tea party and the Occupy Wall Street.
MR. GREGORY: We'll take a break here. When we come back, I also want to follow up on whether religion is a new issue in the GOP primary. We'll do that. We'll take a break here. But I also want to tell you about Press Pass and our two extra MEET THE PRESS conversations that you can find online on our blog presspass.msnbc.com. First, author Michael Lewis whose book "Moneyball" is now a hit movie starring Brad Pitt, we talk to him about the film, but also about his new book, "Boomerang," on the global financial crisis. Plus, I sit down with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. We discussed his new PBS film on prohibition, some fascinating lessons from history. His thoughts on civil discourse and politics, and, of course, baseball.
We'll be right back here with our Trends and Takeways. What are the hot politic stories trending this morning? We're back with our roundtable after this.
MR. GREGORY: We're back in Chicago with our roundtable. Let's go to our trend tracker, the top stories that are trending this morning. Perry campaigning in Iowa, trying to get his campaign back on track right up there. Those protesters, anti-war protesters really, who almost closed down, did close down the Smithsonian for a period of time. Both stories getting some traction.
Mark Halperin, quickly, the other issue here is the issue of Mormonism in the race with Mitt Romney. Rick Perry had a pastor introducing him, Pastor Jeffers, who talked about the need for a real Christian in the race, and he talked about Mormonism being a cult in the view of evangelical Christians. Is this issue finally coming up in the race?
MR. HALPERIN: Big issue in 2008. The Romney campaign knows he's going to take hits on a range of issues, including this one. He's never been comfortable talking about his faith. Clearly, less of an issue than last time, but I don't think he can get the nomination without a confrontation on this issue.
MR. GREGORY: And do you think that Perry needs to do something to step up to say, "Look, I got to create some distance here."
MR. HALPERIN: Well, he, he created a little distance, but not, not enough. He's not really--he's not talked to reporters yet about his view on that. Clearly, there are going to be allies of Rick Perry who raise this. The question for Rick Perry is accountability. The question for Mitt Romney is how he handles it.
MR. GREGORY: We're looking at the primary calendar, when the voting actually starts, and all the shouting stops and the voting begins. But it's so unsettled. We think, talking to folks, that we could see the Iowa caucuses on January 3rd, but we know that Florida has moved up to January 31st, South Carolina the 21st. Nevada now on the 14th. When is New Hampshire?
MR. HALPERIN: I think they'll have to go in January. If they go back to the December, force Iowa into December, they risk undermining what they want, which is their big influence in the process. I think the secretary of state there, who has unilateral authority here, will find a date in early January that will work out. It's still not ideal right up against New Year's, but better than voting in, in this calendar year.
MR. GREGORY: Well, why do you think it's tough for Republicans right now to arrive at a consensus choice, if you look at this top tier, Romney, Cain, Perry?
MR. HALPERIN: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: What's going on?
REP. SCHOCK: I think Republicans are, are flushing out who the strongest candidate will be to win. I don't think competition is a bad thing. I'm reminded of the Democratic primary last time when Obama and Hillary Clinton went back and forth. I think, at the end of the day, that was a good thing for Democrats. Is...
MR. GREGORY: Right. Who's toughest to beat Obama in your judgment?
REP. SCHOCK: You know, I haven't chosen a candidate yet. I, I, I like the idea of them competing and, and seeing. But I think when you have over half of the country saying they're looking at somebody new, the longer that conversation takes place among our candidates, the more people that are going to get engaged. And I think, at the end of the day, what's important, David, is our party get behind whomever that candidate finally is.
REP. GUTIERREZ: I think the president, the president of the United States is getting ready, and I have a lot of faith, and I'm happy to come back here. I hope you can come back here after the election when he's re-elected president of the United States.
MR. GREGORY: All right.
REP. GUTIERREZ: Because I think people are going to see his complete record.
MR. GREGORY: All right. We're going to leave it there. Thanks to all of you very much.
MS. McLEAN: Thank you.
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