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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript

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GREGORY: On Tuesday, it's back to work for Congress, and there are two big issues that are going to dominate the beginning of the president's second term, guns and the nation's debt. Joining me now to debate those issues, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and newly elected Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Welcome back as Senator Cruz to MEET THE PRESS. Welcome to both of you. I want to start on this gun debate because as I say, even before the second term is officially underway, this debate is well underway. Here are the highlights of what the president wants to accomplish with comprehensive gun control. Universal background checks. He'd like to pursue a ban on high-capacity magazines. An Assault Weapons Ban that, of course, lapsed in 2004. And he'd like stricter laws on gun trafficking. But Senator Schumer, just as I challenged Wayne LaPierre of the NRA on this program, very hard, when-- when this initially came up, I challenge you as well with a question of, is this really going to make a difference? And Rich Lowry wrote something that caught my attention in the National Review. And I'll put it up on the screen. He write this, "Unfortunately, no one can write a law against mothers' owning guns that one day might be turned against them by deranged sons who then commit horrific acts of murder-suicide. Shooting rampages are very hard to prevent because they are so often committed by disturbed young men without criminal records who don't care if they are caught and usually want to die. These are adult facts that don't intrude on the childish world of White House policymaking. He notes Adam Lanza in Newtown, his own mother, of course, passed a background check.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY/Chairman, Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies/Finance Committee): Right. Here's the bottom line. These laws are not perfect. And you'll always find certain exceptions, but they make a huge difference. Every major person who has studied the Brady Law which is the most significant gun safety law we've passed since in the last 20 years has said it has reduced gun violence dramatically. Law enforcement is totally for the Brady Law. And the idea that felons or people who are mentally infirm or people who are spousal abusers should be allowed to buy guns, most everyone agrees on that, even when you believe…

GREGORY: But there's no overwhelming evidence that the Assault Weapons Ban dramatically reduced this incident of violence, nor was there an uptick in this kind of violence once the Assault Weapons Ban lapsed.

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, the bottom line is that during the 10 years that the Assault Weapons Ban was in effect, the use of those weapons in crimes went down a significant percentage.

GREGORY: Senator, are there-- is there any gun regulation, any restriction of gun rights that you could accept that you could vote for?

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Well, sure. I-- I think the fact that we have background checks when-- when people buy firearms and we prevent felons and those with serious milt-- mental-- mental illnesses from acquiring them, I think those make perfect sense.

GREGORY: So, universal background check is something you could support?

SEN. CRUZ: Well, the current state of the law is those background checks are in place when a licensed firearm dealer sells firearms. And I think there's a lot of room for improvement on the quality.

GREGORY: But 40 percent of the sales are-- are private citizen to private citizen. That's the loophole we talk about.

SEN. CRUZ: Well, it-- that-- that statistic is actually pretty bogus. It-- it's based on a study before the background checks were put into place and-- and so-- we've-- that-- that study is highly questionable, that 40 percent.

GREGORY: I don't know, Wayne LaPierre never questioned that study when I brought up that point. He had a question about the feasibility and-- and correcting-- collecting records, but there's still a loophole that a lot of people would like to correct.

SEN. CRUZ: You know, there actually isn't the so-called gun show loophole. That doesn't exist. Any licensed firearm dealer who sells at a gun show has to have a background check. It-- it's a requirement that applies to every licensed firearm dealer. What it doesn't apply to is personal sales one-on-one. And that's true whether it's at a gun show or not.

GREGORY: Senator Schumer, is this the most likely area of agreement…

SEN. SCHUMER: Yes.

GREGORY: …the universal background check, even more than Assault Weapons Ban or magazine ban?

SEN. SCHUMER: I would say this is the sweet spot in terms of actually making us safer and having a good chance of passing. This is it. Right now, I-- I'm the author of a Universal Background Check Bill. I'm talking to pro-gun Democrats, excuse me, and Republicans. And I think you're going to see very likelihood in the next week or two, a proposal that has broad support for universal background checks. And I would say this to my friend, Ted, if you are a-- someone who's not a felon, you go into a gun store, a registered firearm dealer and buy 20 guns, which you can, they'll do a background check on you, you can sell them to anyone you want, felon or anybody else. So there are huge holes in this law. And I would say this the last time we made progress on the pro gun safety side was tightening up this law for mentally ill people in 2007. I carried the law, and the NRA actually didn't oppose it. So I think, we have-- this is the best chance of getting something done. And I think you're going to find much broader support than we've ever imagined.

GREGORY: It's interesting-- it's interesting, Senator Cruz. The president said, look, to those Americans who live in states, like your own, where there are very strong gun rights representatives, you're the ones who have to rise up and pressure those senators and congressmen to-- and demand an assault weapons ban, a ban on magazines. And I wonder if the National Rifle Association has helped his cause with an ad that was released this week that talked about armed security guards, the president is skeptical that those could work, did not rule it out. But talking about the president's children and that issue of security, watch a portion of that ad.

(Videotape)

MAN: Are the president's kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school?

(End videotape)

GREGORY: Over the line?

SEN. CRUZ: Look, I'm going to let people to decide to run what ads they want. I do think there's a fundamental point here, and that-- and there is a point of hypocrisy when it comes to gun control. That many of the proponents of gun control are very wealthy, live in communities where they can outsource police protection. But you have a lot of people that are worried about preserving the safety of their own home. If you're talking to a single woman living in Anacostia, who-- who has the misfortune to-- to live next to a crack house, to hell her she doesn't have a constitutional right to keep and-- and bear arms, I think is fundamentally wrong.

GREGORY: This is-- but Senator, this is a narrower point about armed guards in school. This has happened to be an ad is factually inaccurate. The president's children are protected by the Secret Service, and that's not their own choice. And yet you're trying to make a broader point, which I understand. But you think this is a-- this is a constructive part of the debate in moving the public mood?

SEN. CRUZ: What I don't think is constructive is what the president is doing right now, which is in-- within minutes of that horrible tragedy in Newtown, the president began trying to exploit that tragedy to push a gun control agenda that is designed to appeal to partisans, designed to appeal to his political partisans.

GREGORY: Mm-Hm.

SEN. CRUZ: Number one, it would have done zero to prevent the crime in Newtown. Number two, many of the provisions are contrary to the constitutional protection of the Second Amendment. But number three, they don't work. You know, Chuck said a minute ago the Assault Weapons Ban was tremendously successful. The Assault Weapons Ban was one of the least successful bills that has ever been put in place. And in fact, when the ban expired, there were roughly 700 murders using all rifles. Today, there are roughly 300. There's less than half. This is not designed to actually solve the problem of violent crime. This is designed to assuage liberal partisans who want to push their agenda forward.

GREGORY: And Senator Schumer, to challenge you, the president did not challenge any people in his liberal base. He talked about all these measures. He did not talk about video games. He didn't talk about violence in Hollywood where he gets a great deal of his campaign funds. He didn't do anything to make his own folks uncomfortable. He just said to Senator Cruz's constituents, rise up and force him to go for gun control.

SEN. SCHUMER: David, I don't think that's fair. The president has talked about generally dealing with violence in our society. I agree with that. But to take guns off the table, you know, to not talk about guns when it comes to gun violence, is to not talk about smoking when it comes to lung cancer. It just doesn't make any sense. It's part of the problem. And we have to deal with it. Now I agree with Ted. There's a right to bear arms. I want to see that lady if she wants to have a firearm in her house. Have it. And I think those of us in the pro gun safety movement should accept the Heller decision and say there's a constitutional right to bear arms. And it's no less important than the right to free speech, the right against search and seizure. But Heller also said that there should be reasonable limitations. They're allowed reasonable limitations. I don't think that lady needs an assault weapon. I don't think she needs a 100-round clip. I don't think, for instance, that those things would help her in any way. And so to say she has a right to bear arms, yes. To say just like on the First Amendment, we say you can't scream fire in a crowded theater falsely. We have anti-pornography laws. We have anti-liable laws. There are reasonable limitations. And some in the pro gun movement and the NRA in many instances doesn't believe in any limitation at all. That is not unconstitutional. That just is dumb.

GREGORY: Let me move on to the debt. This issue will continue so will the issue over the debt and Senator Cruz, House Republicans have taken a step back on this debt ceiling standoff. Should it be raised? This is how the New York Times described it over the weekend. I'll put it up on the screen and have you react to it. Backing down from their hard line stance, House Republicans said Friday they would agree to lift the federal government's statutory borrowing limit for three months, with a requirement that both chambers of Congress pass a budget in that time to clear the way for negotiations on long-term deficit reduction, to add muscle to their efforts to bring Senate Democrats to the table, House Republicans will include a provision in the debt ceiling legislation that says lawmakers will not be paid if they do not pass a budget blueprint. Was it the right thing to step back from challenging the president over raising the debt ceiling?

SEN. CRUZ: Well, I think the house proposal is a step in the right direction. There is no doubt the Senate hadn't done its job. It's been nearly four years since it's passed a budget and-- and the Senate should pass a budget. But it doesn't go nearly far enough. We have a crisis. I'll tell you, I just got back last week from Afghanistan. And I had multiple servicemen and women clasp me on the arm and say, please do something about the debt and deficit. We're bankrupting the country. That's what the American people are looking for. And to date, politicians from both parties have been unwilling to take even a tiny step in the right direction. We've got to fix the problem.

GREGORY: The Senate has got to pass a budget. Do you believe that?

SEN. SCHUMER: Yes, I do. And let me just…

GREGORY: Why has it been four years since you've done that?

SEN. SCHUMER: First-- well, let me answer that.

GREGORY: Yeah.

SEN. SCHUMER: Let me first answer this. This was a major victory for the president. The Republicans now have now twice lost out on fiscal issues in the last month. First fiscal cliff and this. And I think they are losing ground on fiscal issues. On the debt ceiling, it made no sense to risk the full faith and credit of the United States for whatever agenda you have. The business community felt that. The public felt that. And so the fact that they have backed off both-- not only the idea that we should hold debt ceiling hostage, but second that it shouldn't be one for one cuts, you know, Boehner used to say that, the House proposal doesn't say that, dollar in cutting for every dollar in raising the debt ceiling.

GREGORY: But would you support a short-term measure that would force you to pass a budget?

SEN. SCHUMER: I think it should be longer because we don't want to play fiscal cliff every three months. But it's a positive step on-- on the budget.

GREGORY: There are always spending reform provisions. You never get a clean debt ceiling raise.

SEN. SCHUMER: Yes, you should.

GREGORY: That's not a question of whether you should. But historically it's not been the case.

SEN. SCHUMER: Mitch McConnell proposed it two years ago and we passed it. So they should, but let me just say this on the budget. We Democrats have always intended to do a budget this year for two reasons. First, it is not true that we haven't had budget control in effect over the last several. The Budget Control Act of 2011 put rigid spending cuts that are in effect-- that were in effect last year. We cut a trillion dollars. We didn't like it. It was much more of a Republican type proposal than ours. In effect, it expires this year. So we need-- wait, we need a budget. But second, it's going to be a great opportunity for us. Because in our budget that we will pass, we will lift tax reform, which many of my Republican colleagues liked, but it's going to include revenues. It's a great opportunity to get us some more revenues to help in part deal with sequestration and deal with the debt issue, so…

GREGORY: But Senator Schumer-- and I want Senator Cruz's response here too. The reality is the president is willing to throw the long ball on this big Sunday of football, when it comes to gun control. And yet because of his view of Republican recalcitrance, he doesn't step up and show real leadership and be proactive on a big spending cut proposal and Medicare cut proposal because he doesn't want to go there. Why throw the long ball when it comes to gun control, but not do it and take a leadership role when it comes to spending cuts?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, he did in the negotiations up to the fiscal cliff. The president put things on the table, 400 billion dollars in Medicare cuts. He was talking about change CPI, which many Democrats did (cross talk)…

GREGORY: You're talking about more revenue. That's not big enough on Medicare cuts according to Simpson-Bowles and a lot of others who think if you're going to get the four trillion in cuts, you've got to do something bigger than that.

SEN. SCHUMER: We have already done 1.7 trillion dollars in cuts. We've done 600 billion dollars in revenues. You're going to need more revenues as well as more cuts to get the deficit down. And I've talked to Leader Reid. I've talked to Budget Chair Murray. We're going to do a budget this year and it's going to have revenues in it and our Republican colleagues better get used to that fact.

GREGORY: Senator Cruz.

SEN. CRUZ: You know, David, I'll mention that there was an area of substantial agreement with what Chuck just said. He said we should never ever, ever compromise the full faith and credit of the United States. I agree. And in fact, there is a bill that I am co-sponsoring, the Full Faith and Credit Act, which provides that, regardless of what happens to the debt ceiling, the United States will always, always, always meet its debt. We will never default on its debt. That was introduced in 2010. It didn't pass because Harry Reid and President Obama didn't want it to pass. They wanted to raise the specter of a default to use. So, Chuck, you know, you and I, we could make news right now on national television. Would you agree to support the Full Faith and Credit Act and take…

SEN. SCHUMER: The bottom line is…

SEN. CRUZ: …the possibility of a default off the table?

SEN. SCHUMER: Hey, I support the McConnell proposal. Let us raise the debt ceiling. No strings attached. And if Cong-- the president can raise it as he should be able to and if Congress wants to reject to two-thirds, the McConnell proposal is a good Republican proposal…

SEN. CRUZ: But let me-- let me ask…

SEN. SCHUMER: …I hope you would support it. That's the way to go.

SEN. CRUZ: Hey, let me ask a very simple question. A bill that says regardless of what happens with the debt ceiling, the United States will never default on the debt, would you support that or not?

SEN. SCHUMER: I support the concept. I'd have to look at the bill. The best way to do that is the McConnell Amendment.

SEN. CRUZ: Well, we may have just made news.

GREGORY: Let me ask you two quick things. On this program last week, General Colin Powell was here. He talked about what he-- he worried about a dark vein of intolerance in the Republican Party in some quarters. You-- you are part of a-- a stream of new faces in the Republican Party, minority faces and voices in the party that seem to stand against that. How did you respond to it?

SEN. CRUZ: Well, I-- I saw that interview. I-- I respect General Powell a great deal. I-- I was disappointed with those comments. I-- I think he was buying into some of the partisan attacks. If you look at this last election, for example, I think the most racially divisive comment of the entire election was Joe Biden's comment where he said if the Republicans win, they're, quote, "Going to put you all back in chains." That made my heart weep to see a sitting vice president playing to racial fears and playing on those issues. I think that's unfortunate. I don't think it has any place in politics.

GREGORY: Chuck Hagel, you were very tepid on MEET THE PRESS a couple of weeks ago.

SEN. SCHUMER: I was.

GREGORY: And now you've met with him, you're more comfortable, you'll support him.

SEN. SCHUMER: I am.

GREGORY: What changed?

SEN. SCHUMER: Here's what changed. What I said on your show is I was going to sit down and talk to him because I had real concerns. I did. I spent 90 minute-- minutes with him. I-- I asked him very specific questions on the things that troubled me. His answers were forthright. And they were answers that allayed my concerns. Should we keep every option on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran? Yes. I went further. I said, do you-- do you think we can tolerate a nuclear Iran. He said, no. And I said to him, well, then, if we had to use military as the only choice, would you. He said, yes. Second, I asked him is Hezbollah and Hamas, should they be labeled terrorist groups. Yes. Should Israel be forced to negotiate with them if they don't recognize Israel's right to exist, if they don't renounce violence. No, absolutely. Third, sanctions. Do you support increased sanctions? Would you support unilateral sanctions? Yes. I asked him. The difference-- there were differences between those statements then and now. He said they were five, six, seven years ago. The world has changed. Even George Bush didn't have a regime against Iran at that point in time. I told him I was going to make these remarks public.

GREGORY: Hm-Mm.

SEN. SCHUMER: And he said, go right ahead because I'm going to say the same thing at the hearings. When he-- at those hearings, he's going to allay the concerns of many people. It's sort of interesting, David, one final point. Neither APAC nor Anti-Defamation League nor American Jewish Committee or any of the major groups has come out against Hagel, most of the opposition to him comes-- it's seems politically from the hard right.

GREGORY: All right. We will leave it there. You spend your morning with Cruz, and then you get to hang out with Beyonce as chair of the Inaugural Committee so you…

SEN. SCHUMER: Oh, wow. And Kelly Clarkson. I love her.

GREGORY: …Kelly Clarkson.

SEN. CRUZ: And-- and David, let me point out, everyone of those issues that-- that Chuck just mentioned…

GREGORY: Yeah.

SEN. CRUZ: …for Hagel, he disagreed in his record with Chuck Schumer, on Israel, on Iran, on Hezbollah. Hagel's record is directly contrary. And I'm always skeptical of confirmation day conversions. I understand it is difficult to oppose a president of your own party. Chuck Schumer has been a terrific defender of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. But I think this Hagel co-- nomination is-- is very concerning.

GREGORY: All right. I'm going to leave it there. This debate will continue. I'm out of time. Thank you both very much as these debates continue.

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