MSNBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Thomas Coburn Chuck Schumer
Date: Nov. 11, 2012
Location: Unknown

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GREGORY: All right. More on this when we discuss it with our roundtable. Andrea Mitchell, Bob Woodward, thank you both very much. I want to turn now to two key voices in the senate, Democratic senator from New York, Chuck Schumer and Oklahoma Republican senator Tom Coburn. Senators, welcome both of you back to MEET THE PRESS. Senator Schumer, let me start with you…

SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OK): Good morning.

GREGORY: …this morning. Dianne Feinstein, the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman indicated this after the news of Petraeus, "I wish President Obama had not accepted this resignation, but I understand and respect the decision." Do you wish he had not resigned over this?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): I think I would leave that decision to General Petraeus. He's been such a hero in so many ways. I've known him. He's a New Yorker. I've spent time in Iraq with him. And, you know, your heart breaks for him and his wife. If he thought it was appropriate to resign, I leave it with him.

GREGORY: Senator Coburn, your thoughts on that.

SEN. COBURN: Well, I think leadership matters and setting an example. And I don't think he had any choice given the sensitive nature of everything that he does that he could have any questions about his character and his integrity. And so I think he did the honorable thing.

GREGORY: Senator Coburn, let me stay with you, the Benghazi questions that Bob Woodward just mentioned with new information this morning. Petraeus' own fact finding on this, preparing to testify. Both Republicans and Democrats as well with a lot of questions about the CIA's role, whether there was enough communication, whether there was enough security on the ground and why not if that was not the case that would endanger our personnel there in our consulate? What do you believe about their remaining questions and what role Petraeus still plays in answering them?

SEN. COBURN: Well, I think he needs to answer them. He was obviously the person in charge of the CIA and he has information that probably other people don't have. So I think it's still going to be important that his input comes into the conclusion and what we find about what went wrong and what mistakes were made. We obviously weren't prepared. I think you have to spend time to find out what happened and how it happened and-- and to get to the bottom of it so we don't see this kind of mistake again.

GREGORY: Senator Schumer?

SEN. SCHUMER: Yeah, I think first we ought to see what Mr. Morell has to say and is he able to give the committee the information that General Petraeus dug up when he was over there in Iraq and then we should take it from there.

GREGORY: Let's talk now about the fiscal cliff where the-- the debate turns in Washington after the election. Let's remind our viewers what we mean when we talk about the fiscal cliff. This is what's happening at the end of the year. The Bush tax cuts expire, so taxes go up. The emergency unemployment benefits end. The 2011 payroll tax holiday expires. The alternative minimum tax kicks in so taxes automatically go up. Plus, at the same time, you have nearly a trillion dollars in spending cuts that are automatic. That's what we mean by this sequester half of that in defense, also non-defense cuts are triggered. That's what has to be averted, Senator Coburn. And here's my bottom line question, my view is that if there's a mandate from this election it's about compromise in Washington. So what pain do Republicans have to accept to get to a deal in your judgment?

SEN. COBURN: Well, I think you heard the Speaker of the House put forward the-- that they're ready for the president to lead. They're ready to agree to revenue increases. But I think they're also interested in making sure that we downsize appropriately the federal government in terms of its waste. There-- there is-- there is no question that we have a government that's twice the size it was eleven years ago. And we can find the money through sequestration or directly from what the House has passed which is difference in sequestration but the same amount. I'd also remind you that the trillion dollars is over ten years so it's a hundred billion out of a 3.7 trillion dollar budget which is less then three percent.

GREGORY: But, Senator, let me zero in-- let me zero in on my question. I just think it's important before we go through the-- the litany on this, is the bottom line that Republicans losing this election means, as the president said, that they have to give in and allow taxes to go up on wealthier Americans?

SEN. COBURN: Well, I think they'd already agreed to that. I think you heard John Boehner say that already. I-- we've had votes in the Senate where we've actually gotten rid of tax-- tax credits. I think that's a given and I think the vast majority of Americans agree with that. The question is how do you do that and how do you allow taxes to rise, at the same time you fix the real problem and the real problem is uncontrolled entitlement spending and a government that has grown massively. Not just under this administration, under Republican administration. So--

GREGORY: Well, let me turn to Senator Schumer on this point.

SEN. COBURN: --you have to approach both sides of it.

GREGORY: Let me turn to Senator Schumer. I'm going to ask you the same-- same question. If the mandate is compromised, what do Democrats have to be prepare-- prepared to accept as a painful outcome in order to achieve compromise?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I agree with you, the mandate is compromise. That's why we have a divided House and Senate. And I think if the House stands for anything it's cut government spending, as Tom Coburn said, and I think we're going to have to do more of it. We heard the mandate in 2010 where it was a clear mandate, cut spending and we did, we cut nine hundred billion dollars in spending that we didn't like, painful to us. But there's also a clear mandate on the other side, David, and that is the president campaigned on letting the Bush tax cuts expire above people for-- of two hundred fifty thousand dollars income. He campaigned on it clearly. He didn't back off from it. The exit polls showed that sixty percent of the people agreed with it. And I think that's the other side. And what's in my judgment, maybe a little different than Tom's, what-- what's messed up these agreements is revenues. We never really get real revenues because people believe in some things like dynamic scoring, sort of a counterintuitive view that if you cut taxes you will get deficit reduction and increased government revenues. It doesn't make sense. I call it Rumpelstiltskin, after the gnome who turned straw into gold. It's a fairy tale. So we need the Republicans to do in 2012 what we did in 2010. We hear the mandate, continue to cut spending, but they have to hear the mandate, real revenues, not this kind of stuff like dynamic scoring that Speaker Boehner did mention.

GREGORY: All right. Let me follow on that. I have talked to a top Republican in the Senate in recent days and said look, the president has got some leverage on taxes but it was-- it was nice to hear him say, this source said that he talked about more revenue, not necessarily higher rates. You have talked about that this week as well, Senator Schumer. Could you live with not raising tax rates and finding a way to get enough revenue through closing loopholes and by other means to raise revenues?

SEN. SCHUMER: Yeah. Well, it's not math-- mathematically possible if you stick by the other tenet, which parties agree on, which is not raise taxes from people below two hundred fifty thousand dollars. In other words, if you're going to get to the Bowles-Simpson number of four trillion dollars of deficit reduction, which we have to do, and you're not going to increase taxes on the middle class, two hundred fifty thousand or lower, which we shouldn't. Their incomes are shrinking. The only way to do it-- the only way mathematically I've seen to do it is go to that 39.6 percent rate. If someone can show another plan that doesn't do that, we'll look at-- we could look at it. But no one's showing one because I think it's mathematically impossible.

GREGORY: Senator Coburn, your thoughts on that?

SEN. COBURN: Well, I-- you know, I put out a year and a half ago the subsidies for the rich and famous who are the well-connected and well-heeled in this country and have benefited themselves through the tax code. And we can get thirty-nine billion dollars a year just through very simple changes in terms of tax credits and limiting total tax deductions. And that's the other way which Chuck has not recognized, is-- is if you limit total deductions and exemptions for those above two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, what you can essentially do is raise all sorts of money which nobody really wants to increase revenues because it does have a negative, detrimental effect on the economy. But in fact, that's the part of the bargain that you have to do. And we're at historic lows on revenues. So I've always agreed to it. I voted for the Simpson-Bowles, I've been a part of the Gang of Six, the Gang of Eight. I agree that we have to go there but how we go there is very important in terms of the incentives for capital investment in this country. And we have to do it in a way that does not diminish that.

GREGORY: Let me turn quickly to lessons from this election and where things go beyond this negotiation over the fiscal matters. Senator Schumer, immigration?

SEN. SCHUMER: Yes.

GREGORY: Are we going to get comprehensive immigration reform? It sounds like, if you listen to the House speaker, they've had a change of heart, they want a comprehensive plan. Is there news to be made on this?

SEN. SCHUMER: Yeah, I think so. Senator Graham and I have talked, and we are resuming the talks that were broken off two years ago. We had put together a comprehensive, detailed blueprint on immigration reform. It had the real potential for bipartisan support based on the theory that most Americans are for legal immigration but very much against illegal immigration. Our plan just to be quick does four things. First of all, close the border, make sure that's shut. Second, make sure that there is a non-forgeable document so that employers can tell who was legal and who was illegal. And once they hire someone illegally, throw the book at them. Third, on legal immigr-- that will stop illegal immigration in its tracks. Third, on legal immigration, let in the people we need, whether they be engineers from our universities, foreign or people to pick the crops. And fourth, a path to citizenship that's fair, which says you have to learn English, you have to go to the back of the line, you've got to have a job and you can't commit crimes.

GREGORY: All right.

SEN. SCHUMER: Graham and I are talking to our colleagues about this right now and I think we have a darn good chance using this blueprint to get something done this year. The Republican Party has learned that being anti-illegal imm-- anti-immigrant doesn't work for them politically and they know it.

GREGORY: Senator Coburn, what is the lesson for your party from this election?

SEN. COBURN: You have to be-- you have to demonstrate what you're for, not what you're against. I think that's the key ingredient. And sell your vision that's positive for America and not a negative vision about what's wrong with America. I think you have to have both. But we didn't sell a positive vision. We didn't explain to people what we're for. And I think that's the one thing that I took away from the election is that-- and that's what was lacking.

GREGORY: Do you see, Senator Schumer, very quickly, a role for Governor Romney in this process? Would you like to see the president bring him in to, say, the negotiations over the fiscal cliff?
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SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I don't know about that. But I would like to see him speak up. I think he-- you could see him struggling in the general election. The hard right had moved him so far over on issues like immigration. And I didn't think his heart was in it. So he could help. You know, we need forces to help. When either party moves too far over, they lose. Democrats too far left, Republicans, too far right. You need some mainstream Republican voices. You need the business community to speak up…

GREGORY: Mm-Hm.

SEN. SCHUMER: …on the fiscal cliff and the need for revenues. You need people like Romney and Jeb Bush and others to talk about doing a comprehensive immigration reform so that the Republicans who have the courage to stand up, and Tom Coburn has had that courage…

GREGORY: Yeah.

SEN. SCHUMER: …don't just hear from the shrill right. And Graham is willing to do it on immigration.

GREGORY: All right.

SEN. SCHUMER: He's going to say that this morning. We need other people to do the same.

GREGORY: All right. We're going to leave it there as this debate continues. Senators, thank you both very much.

SEN. SCHUMER: Thank you.

SEN. COBURN: You're welcome.

GREGORY: And coming up here, you heard where both sides stand. We're going to have some reaction to these two senators and analysis on where the negotiations go from here.

Also, the economic stakes. If lawmakers can't get a deal, what does it mean to all of us? We'll check in with the host of CNBC's Mad Money, that's Jim Cramer.

Also, we'll talk more broadly about the-- the politics post-election and more on this Petraeus scandal that's unfolding from our roundtable: Joaquín Castro, Congressman from Texas; Steve Schmidt, Republican Strategist; Doris Kearns Goodwin, the historian of course; more from Bob Woodward and our own Chuck Todd, as we continue here on MEET THE PRESS.

GREGORY: Coming up, the Dow closed Friday down nearly three hundred points for the week, finishing out one of the worst weeks of the year for the stock market, due, in part, for the concerns about the fiscal cliff. We're going to check in, in addition to our group here, CNBC's Jim Cramer on the economic stakes of this debate, whether the business community as well might be a natural ally for the White House in these talks. That's my view as-- of what could happen. We'll get into it all right after this brief commercial break.

GREGORY: We're back now, joined by our political roundtable. Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin whose best-selling book Team of Rivals is now out in paperback ahead of the launch of the movie adaptation Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as our sixteenth president. Doris herself will be starring-- no I'm sorry. No I was so excited about Lincoln. Our political director and chief White House correspondent after epic great work on the campaign, Chuck Todd. The Washington Post's Bob Woodward is still with us, Republican strategist Steve Schmidt and the newly elected Democratic Congressman from Texas, Joaquín Castro-- Castro rather who just happens to have a twin brother…

REP.-ELECT JOAQUÍN CASTRO (D-TX): That's right.

GREGORY: …who is the mayor of San Antonio, oh my God.

REP. CASTRO: Please don't call me the mayor today.

GREGORY: We'll not call you the mayor. Let me just say something. The joke and the whole fun with the split screen that will be done never, that will get old never.

REP. CASTRO: Thank you.

GREGORY: No, it's just fascinating. It's great to have you here. Congratulations on your election, a lot to get to. Chuck Todd let's start with this-- this scandal about General Petraeus. Within the White House this had to be something that really took them by surprise, but then there was a big question about does he need to resign?

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REP. CASTRO: I think the mandate very clearly from the American people was for the Congress to take action. David, we've sat here for four years in a gridlock situation and people, in 2010 and in 2012, were clearly frustrated by that. So, I disagree to a large extent, I don't think it's a rubber stamp, but I do think that the American people have said to Barack Obama we agree with you on a lot of this stuff and we want the Republican Congress to come along. Remember, some of the most intransigent folks, Alan West, almost Michele Bachmann, others in the Republican Party, who made their political careers saying they weren't going to go along with anything that the president want to do, they lost their elections.

GREGORY: Yeah, I remember, Steve, President Bush, two days after the election, holding a press conference, the president will do it next week, but not immediately after the election, and he talked about how he viewed the mandate. This is what he said back in-- in 2004.

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GREGORY: Right, we just got it here and we'll-- we'll put it on the web. But that's the point. And congressman, I guess the-- the question that Bob and I talked about is, there's a lot of spending pain in there that Democrats are going to have to go back to their folks and say, hey, this is the pain you're going to have to suffer. Are you prepared to do that?

REP. CASTRO: Oh, look, there's no question. I mean, these are tough issues and that's why there's been a lot of hand-wringing and wrangling over them. But, yeah, I believe so. I believe you've got a Democratic Congress, especially in the House and in the Senate that are willing to make those tough choices, that know that in the long term that we've got to reform entitlements.

GREGORY: Mm-Hm.

REP. CASTRO: But we want some balance. We want to make sure that there's also revenue raising that's part of it and for four years now the Republicans have been unwilling to do that, I think election will get them in gear and they'll do it.

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REP. CASTRO: David, and that's-- that's very telling because part of the fundamental problem with a big wing of the Republican Party is that when they think of Hispanics they think of folks who are illegal immigrants. What they need to accept is that Hispanics, Latinos late are part of this American family and they are not going anywhere. You have folks that have been here who are second generation, third generation, fourth generation Americans. And they're making them feel like they're not part of the United States. And that's a fundamental problem that goes beyond tone, It goes beyond rhetoric and it actually goes beyond who you elect to Congress or to the Senate. They have got Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and others now. But it's more than just the personality, it's the policies they pursue.

MS. GOODWIN: You know when I think when journalists write about this campaigning the fun part will be all the moments that we experienced together, the gaffes that Romney made, the 47 percent, the things Obama said at the first debate. But the fundamental loss of this campaign probably took place in the Republican primaries when they put out a group of people who were so far off the political cliff on issues that mattered to Latinos, to women and to young people. And that is the new governing coalition. And perhaps the fact that the economy got a little bit better is another fundamental fact. But all these other things preoccupied us for so much time, you can only, looking back, see that-- those twenty debates that bushed everybody, including Romney who became a moderate much too late to get that nomination.

GREGORY: But it's still striking. You have some 70 percent in the exit polls who believe the economy is in bad shape, 52 percent who feel like the country is off on the wrong direction. There's a lot of opposition out there to President Obama and his policies and yet he prevails because of a coalition ever expanding that believes in a certain role for government, Bob, that is opposed to where the Republicans would like to take it.

MR. WOODWARD: It is. But I think the big picture here is that President Obama has got to deliver on the big issue, which is fixing the financial house of the US federal government. It is in disarray. It's not just the fiscal cliff, it's 16 trillion dollars in IOUs out in the world. In a couple of months, in February or March, they are going to have to renegotiate an authority-- lending and borrowing authority for another trillion or two dollars. And if the president can fix that and put us on some sort of path of restoration for the economy; that is a pay off for everyone in the community not just his base.

GREGORY: Yeah.

MR. WOODWARD: And he's got to think much more broadly, the job of the president is to find the next stage of good for a real majority and he's capable of doing that.

MR. TODD: Let's look back at the Republican Party. How did they become a coalition of special interest forces? They really do look like the Democratic Party of the "70s and "80s where they seem to-- the leaders in Washington can't control the special interest groups. And this is what happened to the Democrats, labor, all of these special interest groups that were-- the-- the folks in Washington knew what the right way was to try to win national elections. They couldn't quite do it because they were-- basically, they succumbed to their base. The Democratic Party started with Bill Clinton and Obama successfully has been able to carry this over, has never been able to allow the base of the Democratic Party, special interest groups, to overtake the national message. The Republican Part, it's unbelievable that they have allowed to happen.
MR. SCHMIDT: Conservatism is a serious governing philosophy that has served this country well. But to too many swing voters in the country, when you hear the word conservative now, they think of loons and wackos. We gave up five U.S. Senate seats over the last two election cycles by people who were just out there, completely extreme, manifestly unprepared for the offices that they are-- that they are running for. Our elected leaders are scared to death of the conservative entertainment complex, the shrill and divisive voices that are bombastic and broadcasting out into the homes. And this country is rejecting the social extremism of the Republican Party on issue after issue. And if you look at the four states that legalized gay marriage, on a range of issues our coalition is shrinking and the Republican Party has a lot of soul searching to do if we are going to assemble a majority…

GREGORY: Do-- Doris, I want to get to one other thing here which is, you know, the movie Lincoln is opening around the country. And obviously the divisions in America were so profound at that time during the civil war. And yet today, in a different way, we still have so much polarization. Here is moment where the president-- President Lincoln in the film is talking about why it's so important to push for the abolition of slavery.

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GREGORY: Can't wait to see it. You brought your own movie clip, as Chuck pointed out. The polarization then so profound; as this president now strives to be a great president, like Lincoln, what is his challenge to break this polarization? Does it all come back to bipartisanship at some level?

MS. GOODMAN: What it comes back to is a combination of conviction, which is what we just saw Lincoln talking about and the willingness to compromise. Without a question in fact the whole movie is about the idea that in a session of Congress, after the election in 1864, they have to get this amendment passed and they have to do everything they can. At one point he says, I'm clothed by immense power and I'm going to have you use it to get these votes no matter what you have to do. I'm just going to go back to what Bob said. I think what the president needs to do is to bring some CEOs into his top positions, FDR did that. He brought in the head of Chrysler. He brought in the head of Sears and Roebuck. What about bringing Romney in to deal with this whole problem of how do you keep manufacturing here rather than going abroad? What incentives to use? What sanctions to use against countries that are not dealing fairly? I think you bring people in but you don't lose your conviction. So you got to start with what matters to you but then you compromise on everything else. And I think it can be done.

MR. WOODWARD: And-- and think of the powerful olive branch that Speaker Boehner issued this week, where he said to the president, "We want you to lead." For the Republican leader to say, "We're willing to follow to a certain extent," now he puts limitations on it, there's no question about that. But for him to say that, you're going to go into the House of Representatives…

REP. CASTRO: But-- but I think, Bob-- I think part of the-- part of what you see and what you've seen with John Boehner is that he'll say one thing and then have to reverse course the very next day, which we saw this week…

GREGORY: And that's the-- yeah.

REP. CASTRO: …and that's the challenge that Chuck was speaking to.

MR. TODD: Right.

MR. WOODWARD: But as the New York Times story points out and some people I've talked to I think he is getting more control and more authority…

(Cross talk)

MR. WOODWARD: …in the House Republicans. We'll see.
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GREGORY: Got to take another break here. We'll be back with more in just a minute.

GREGORY: Thanks to you all for a terrific conversation. Before we go, a quick programming note for my PRESS Pass conversation this week. I sat down with buzzfeed.com editor-in-chief Ben Smith to talk about what really was the first presidential campaign in the social media era. You can watch it at meetthepressnbc.com. That's all for today, a special day for MEET THE PRESS as we celebrate turning 65 years old, proud to be the longest-running television program in the world. It truly is humbling to be a custodian of such an important American institution. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.