NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Lindsey Graham Chuck Schumer
Date: Dec. 23, 2012
Location: Unknown

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DAVID GREGORY:
And we're back now with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Senators, welcome both. Senator Schumer, your reaction to Wayne LaPierre? He is saying that any attempt the president makes at gun control legislation is bound to fail because it won't work and it's just a bunch of old arguments. How do you react?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:
Well, I think he's so extreme and so tone deaf that he actually helps the cause of us passing sensible gun legislation in the Congress. Look, he blames everything but guns: movies, the media, President Obama, gun-free school zones. You name it, and the video games, he blames them.
Now, trying to prevent shootings in schools without talking about guns is like trying to prevent lung cancer without talking about cigarettes. And he is so doctrinaire and so adamant that I believe gun owners-- turn against him, as well. Look, he says the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. What about trying to stop the bad guy from getting the gun in the first place? That's common sense?

(OVERTALK)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:
Most Americans (CHUCKLE) agree with it. And I just think he's turning people off. That's not where America is at.

(OVERTALK)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:
And he's actually helping us.

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator Graham, there are N.R.A. supporters, colleagues of yours in the Senate, both Democrats, primarily this week who are saying, "Look, let's not just make this a conversation about guns, as some would like to do, it's got to be a broader conversation." But I heard Wayne LaPierre say no, he will not sign onto a broader conversation if it involves any new gun regulation. Do you agree with him?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
Well, the first conversation we should have is how heartbroken we are as Americans. I don't think there's anybody in the country doesn't feel sick to their stomach. I can't imagine a worse situation than getting a call as a parent saying, "Something happened as school with shooting," or anything else, and you go there and your child is killed. So let's just start with that understanding.
Here's the conversation. We can talk all day long. We had an armed guard in Columbine. We had an assault ban. Neither one of them worked. We're talking about preventing mass murder by non- traditional criminals, people who are not traditionally criminals, who are not wired right, for some reason. And I don't know if there's anything Lindsey Graham can do in the Senate to stop mass murder from somebody that's hell bent on doing crazy things.

DAVID GREGORY:
But that can't be--

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
I do believe better security in schools--

DAVID GREGORY:
Yeah, I'll--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
--might be part of the--

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
--in schools.

DAVID GREGORY:
But there's got to be-- I mean that can't be the default of legislators in our country, that there's not a public policy role to address mass violence. When we've had the number of mass shootings, even since 2007, that are so shocking. And the question for you, Senator Schumer, from Wayne LaPierre, which is, "What did the assault weapons ban actually accomplish in terms of preventing access to high capacity magazines?" I mean the fact that that just doesn't work is still something that you're challenged by if you want to approach this legislation again.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:
Well, the amount of gun violence since we passed the assault weapons bad in the Brady law is down considerably. Is it as good as it should be? Absolutely not. But we have to keep working on this. And there are lots of different solutions.
You know, the pro-gun people who say, "Don't include guns," are wrong. And the pro-gun safety people, like myself, who say, "Don't look at other solutions," is wrong. Just as you said on your show, we have to look at a holistic solution. We cannot just make the new normal one of these mass shootings every month. And that seems to be what's happening. So we should try all kinds of different things.

DAVID GREGORY:
So what do you differently here? Because look, the American people have been through this before. You had a weapons ban for ten years. It expired. Does the president want this fight? And if he wants it, how is he going to win it? Because there are a lot of difficulties in getting a weapons ban through. There are questions about whether it would actually work, even banning these high capacity magazines. What do you do differently than what you've done before?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:
Okay, I say there are two reasons that I think it can work. How were we able to pass the Brady law and the assault weapons ban in the mid-'90s? It's because the average citizen was fed up with crime and was on our side. Because of those laws and many other laws dealing with crime, crime declined.
But now that these mass shootings seem to be almost the new normal, almost one a month, I think the broad middle will rise up. And that will help us. Because in the last ten years, the whole debate has been dominated by the small but militant number, three-four million of N.R.A. people--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator Graham, do you think the politics has changed? I mean that's the key point. As a Republican, do you think the N.R.A. has the same clout to be absolutist about this, rather than be part of a broader conversation, even if it means accepting compromises it may not like, and maybe the entertainment industry has to accept compromises that they feel infringe upon first amendment rights?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
Well, I own a AR-15. I've got it at my house. The question is, if you deny me the right to buy another one, have you made America safer? My belief is that this is a problem where you try to get mass murderers off the street before they act, by better mental health detection. You try to find ways to understand what makes them who they are.
But I don't suggest we ban every movie with a gun in it, and every video that's violent. And I don't suggest you take my right to buy an AR-15 away from me, because I don't think it will work. And I do believe better security in schools is a good place to start.

DAVID GREGORY:
Would you ban--

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
And I don't want to come on your program--

DAVID GREGORY:
--high capacity magazines, though, Senator?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
--and say-- the whole goal is to interrupt the shooter, right? Changing a magazine, I can do that pretty quick. The best way to interrupt a shooter is to keep him out of the school. And if they get in the school, have somebody that can interrupt him through armed force. So I don't want to sit here and tell you that we're one law away from solving this problem.
We're not one law away from solving this problem. This problem runs deep and it runs wide. I live in South Carolina. Chuck lives in New York. I understand how he was brought up. Maybe he tries to understand how I was brought up. But people where I live, I've been Christmas shopping all weekend, have come up to me, "Please don't let the government take my guns away."

DAVID GREGORY:
All right.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
And I'm going to stand against another assault ban, because it didn't work before, and it won't work in the future.

DAVID GREGORY:
Gentlemen, I know--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator, I know we could talk about this indefinitely. But I want to move on. I've only got a few minutes left. I want to get to another seemingly intractable debate. And that's the fiscal cliff. Because Congress has left town, and there's no deal here. So Senator Schumer, the President's now proposing a smaller deal. Are we going to avoid the fiscal cliff by the first of the year or not?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:
Well, I hope so. You know, if you look at the final positions last Monday of both the president and Speaker Boehner, they were this close, they were this close to a solution. The president was about $200 billion higher on revenues. Speaker Boehner, $200 billion higher on spending cuts.
Out of a $4 trillion budget, that doesn't seem insurmountable. So I hope they would keep talking. And my one bit of advice to Speaker Boehner is this: You cannot pass a bill with just Republicans. On a broad thing like this, you need both. And he has put himself with Plan B in sort of an impossible position. He has to get these hard right guys to go along with him.
If he were to say, and the president were to say, "We're going to pass a bill with a majority of Democrats and a majority of Republicans in the House and Senate," we could get a mainstream bill. Now, I know he's worried about his speakership. But what I've found in my 37 years in as a legislator is that when you show leadership, when you show real direction and courage, even people who disagree with you will vote for you for speaker. So I would urge Speaker Boehner to abandon this Plan B strategy and work on a bipartisan solution.

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator Graham, the question for you is could you vote for a bill that extended tax cuts for $250,000 and below, extended unemployment insurance, as the president wants to do, and, in some way, delays some of these automatic spending cuts? Could you vote for that in the short term?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
No. If you want leaders, then you have to lead. The President's been a pathetic fiscal leader. He's produced three budgets and can't get one vote for any of his budgets. You know, Boehner will be Tip O'Neil. Obama needs to be Ronald Reagan. Here's what I would vote for, I would vote for revenues, including tax rate hikes, even though I don't like them, to save the country from becoming Greece.
But I'm not going to set aside the $1.2 trillion in cuts. Any hope of going over the fiscal cliff must start in the Senate. Not one Democrat would support the idea that we could protect 99% of Americans from a tax increase. Boehner's Plan B, I thought, made sense. To my Republican colleagues: the Ronald Reagan model is if you get 80% of what you want, that's a pretty good day.
We had the same objective of lower taxes. I like Simpson Bowles, eliminate deductions, lower rates, put money on the debt. Tax rate hikes are a partisan solution driven by the president. But he's going to get tax rate hikes. To my Republican colleagues: If we can protect 99 percent of the American public from a tax hike, that is not a tax increase, in my book. So Chuck, maybe me and you or some other people in the Senate can find a way to solve this in the short term.

DAVID GREGORY:
But you--

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
But on the long term, David, there's not going to be a deal--

DAVID GREGORY:
You think we're going over the cliff?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
--any time soon. I think we're going to fall out of the fiscal tree. There will not be a big deal. The big chance for a big deal is at the debt ceiling. That's when we will have leverage to turn the country around, prevent it from becoming Greece, and save Social Security and Medicare. And to anybody listening to this program, I will raise the debt ceiling only if we save Medicare and Social Security from insolvency and prevent this country from becoming Greece. No more borrowing without addressing why we're in debt to begin with. That's where the real chance for change occurs, at the debt ceiling debate.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:
Well, let me say this.

DAVID GREGORY:
Quickly, Senator.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:
I don't think--

DAVID GREGORY:
Yep.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:
I don't think that using the debt ceiling and defaulting on our debt, my dear friend, Lindsey Graham, one of my best friends in the Senate, is the way to go. That's risking the whole faith and credit of the United States. And the president has told Speaker Boehner and told the country he is no longer going to hold the whole full faith and credit of the United States at risk so someone can achieve a political agenda.
So don't even count on bargaining over a debt ceiling. What we should do, look, on taxes, I know it's hard for the Republicans. But the president ran on that platform, 250, no tax increases, people below, but taxes for people above. He won. 60% of the voters said they were for it in the exit polls, including some Republicans. And yet, our Republican colleagues are refusing to go along with revenues, are risking the fiscal cliff.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:
And make no mistake about it, if we go over it, God forbid, and I still don't think we have to, the American people are going to blame the Republican Party, and they'll come right back and pass something. So I don't think the middle class is at risk.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:
If we go over the cliff, our Republican colleagues are going to come back and say, "Uh-oh," and then pass the bill we passed in the Senate already.

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator Graham, final question, quick answer: Can Chuck Hagel become secretary of defense if he's the President's nominee?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
A lot of Republicans are going to ask him hard questions. And I don't think he's going to get many Republican votes. I like Chuck. But his positions, I didn't really frankly know all of them, are really out of the mainstream, and well to the left of the president. I think it'll be a challenging nomination. But the hearings will matter.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
Will you--

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
--will have a chance to defend himself.

DAVID GREGORY:
Would you support him?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
I'm going to wait and see what happens in the hearings. But I've got questions about Chuck's view of Iran, the situation with Hamas and Hezbollah, his position toward Israel, just Afghanistan. I want to hear what he has to say. But very troubling comments by a future secretary of defense.

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator Schumer, should the president make that nomination?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:
Well, that's his choice. I think once he makes it, his record will be studied carefully. But until that point, I think we're not going to know what's going to happen.

DAVID GREGORY:
Can you support him?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:
I'd have to study his record. I'm not going to comment until the president makes a nomination.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right. We're going to leave it there. Gentlemen, happy holidays to you both. Thank you very much for your time, I appreciate it.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:
Thank you. Thank you very much.

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