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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript - Sequester and Voting Rights

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DAVID GREGORY:
We are back with our roundtable. There's the L.A. Daily News: "Washington is totally broken." I think there's a lot of that feeling going around. Joining me now for the roundtable: Republican congressman from Idaho, Raul Labrador; managing editor of TheGrio.com and columnist for the Miami Herald, Joy Reid, first time on Meet the Press. Welcome here.

JOY-ANN REID:
Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:
Our chief White House correspondent and political director, Chuck Todd, his 900th time on Meet the Press. Columnist for the Washington Post, Kathleen Parker; and NBC news special correspondent, Tom Brokaw. Welcome to all of you. Mr. Brokaw, what do you think of this fine mess Washington finds itself in once again?

TOM BROKAW:
Well, I really think that, behind the headlines-- this is the Washington Post this morning, and it says that, "Obama seems 2014 as key to his legacy." What we have going on here, 18 months out, are both sides positioning themselves for trying to retain control on the Republican side of the House, and maybe even win the Senate; the president trying to build a legacy of some kind. There's a whole lot of politics in this, as there is in everything else. Kind of two villages, clashing with each other, who seem to occupy a separate universe.

I think it's going to be okay in the short term. But once these cuts begin to take hold and people begin to respond to them, even though who believed in the idea of smaller government, that's when the rubber will hit the road. I just don't know when that's going to be.

DAVID GREGORY:
Congressman, what do you say about that? I mean, you go home, do you worry that there's a cascading effect to these cuts? Or do folks at home say, "No, you did the right thing"?

REP. PAUL LABRADOR:
Well, most folks in Idaho are saying that we did the right things. You know, if you think about what families have had to do over the last four or five years, they've had to cut spending-- we're talking about $0.02 of every dollar that's spent in Washington, D.C., has had to be cut. We're borrowing between $0.35 and $0.42 every single year of every dollar, and we're worried about $0.02 of every dollar.

I think we need to make sure that we do the right things, and the president already told you-- in fact, the gentleman who was here before, he already told you that Republicans are going to feel the pain in their districts. That's what the president is going to try to do. He's going to try to make sure that the Republicans feels the pain in their districts instead of doing the responsible thing.

We can find ways to cut in Washington, D.C., that are reasonable, that are appropriate, that are not painful. But what the White House is going to make sure that we do is that we feel the pain because they don't want to cut government spending. They want to increase taxes and they want to increase spending.

DAVID GREGORY:
Joy Reid, the president in effect tried that and whether-- I mean, the polling shows that it was successful. Our poll shows 52% think that it's a bad idea. But here was Tim Huelskamp from Kansas in the Washington Post on Tuesday, and this was his quote: "This will be the first significant Tea Party victory in that we got what we set out to do in changing Washington."

JOY-ANN REID:
Yes, and therein lies the dilemma, I think, for Republicans, right? They built a lot of their brand, at this point a significant share of their brand, around cutting government spending. But you can't both take credit for the overall cutting of government, and then try to get out of the blame if specific cuts hurt you in your district, or if your constituents feel the pain of it.

So Republicans are trying to balance what is a brand problem, which is that they are now the party of cutting spending, of austerity. But austerity is not popular. The polling shows that the American people would blame Republicans if the pain for austerity is felt by them. So Republicans have to find a way to sort of blame the president for the specifics, but take credit for the overall policy. And that's a challenging thing to do.

DAVID GREGORY:
So what about the 2014? I mean, are we beyond thinking about this year, Kathleen? Is it about the midterms?

KATHLEEN PARKER:
Well, apparently. It's in my newspaper, so it must be true. You know, that's a very daunting task for the president. It's clearly his strategy to make the Republicans responsible for any fallout. But the Republicans are probably going to prevail in this because, just traditionally, Republicans do better in the off years. There's higher turnout. So the president's trying to buck a historical trend. And I suspect too that what's happening with the sequester and the cuts, the results of which are yet to be seen, will play pretty well in the congressional districts he's aiming for.

DAVID GREGORY:
So is that the miscalculation here by the White House, Chuck?

CHUCK TODD:
Well, look, I think the miscalculation was they didn't understand, for some reason, that John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and John Cornyn, okay, the top two leaders in the Senate and John Boehner, that they would-- what President Obama was asking them to do was, "Will you risk your political career, will you lose your job in exchange for doing a deal with me that includes these taxes?" Okay?

Now, the president never says, "Will you lose your job?" in the middle, but that is the fact. They would have lost their jobs. John Cornyn would lose a primary, Mitch McConnell would lose a primary. Any compromise that includes this, any new taxes on this is going to do that.

What I found interesting about last week was everybody claiming that this was such a horrible thing, but the actions didn't meet the words. There was no serious effort to stop it. And you almost wonder if these politicians are secretly going to themselves, both some of the left who would say to you they'll never get these defense cuts any other way; some of the right who will sit there and say, "There's no way we can even convince members of our own party to do these cuts. So we can blame the other side if you don't like them, but it's the only way government spending ever gets cut around here." And I think it was a silent majority, clearly, in the House and Senate, that didn't mind seeing these go through. Because if they did, they would have made a real effort--

REP. PAUL LABRADOR:
But, David--

CHUCK TODD:
--to stop it.

REP. PAUL LABRADOR:
--you know, John Boehner-- I've been a critic of John Boehner at times.

DAVID GREGORY:
Right.

REP. PAUL LABRADOR:
He has been willing to lose his job over increasing taxes, over cutting spending. He actually had a deal with the president, and it was the president who moved the goalpost.

DAVID GREGORY:
But he would have lost his speakership, though?

REP. PAUL LABRADOR:
He wouldn't have lost--

DAVID GREGORY:
Right? You don't think so?

REP. PAUL LABRADOR:
We actually increased taxes. I didn't vote for it, but we increased taxes at the end of the fiscal year.

CHUCK TODD:
That's not what John Boehner said to David Gregory in this interview--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
President got his taxes, and then later in the interview he goes, "What do you mean, David? We lowered taxes on 99.1%--"

REP. PAUL LABRADOR:
We did lower taxes on 99% of the people. But the reality is that he was willing to go to the White House, he was willing to work with the White House, and he was willing to risk his job knowing that many of us were not going to be happy. And the president continued to move the goalpost.

And that's what Bob Woodward has been reporting. And finally somebody in Washington, D.C., is telling the truth about what this president is doing. The president doesn't want a deal; the president wants a political victory. He wants a political victory on taxes, he wants a political victory on spending. And I'm afraid that he wants a political victory on immigration.

DAVID GREGORY:
Tom Brokaw, you've known Bob Woodward a long time, and this issue came up, as I asked Gene Sperling about it. And here's how Woodward reacted to getting the e-mail; he spoke on CNN this week.

(Videotape)

BOB WOODWARD: I mean, it makes me very uncomfortable to have the White House telling reporters, 'you're going to regret doing something that you believe in. And even though we don't look at it that way, you do look at it that way.

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:
You know, I told Gene Sperling that he should be offended that nobody believes that he's that threatening.

TOM BROKAW:
I've known Bob a long time, going back to his seminal days as a Watergate reporter. And I'm confident that White Houses have made him a lot more uncomfortable than that e-mail over the course of the years when he's talked to them. Any reporter who's worked in this town has been yelled at by somebody in the White House or somebody on the Hill. It just comes with the territory.

This is a speck that became a sandstorm overnight, unfortunately, and I think it's really reflective of the kind of media environment in which we live now, in which everybody's looking to stir something up. When I was covering Watergate, there was a wise old bird who did commentary for The New Republic, and his named John Osborne. He was one of the great, great commentators in this town.

He took me to lunch one day, and he'd had a blowup with the White House the day before. And he looked at me and he said, "You know, Brokaw, the problem is that journalists, all of us, we've got glass jaws. We throw punches; when somebody swings back, we go down with the first punch, screaming foul of some kind." I think that's what we have to keep in mind.

Reading Bob between the lines here in his last appearances, I think he does believe it kind of got out of his control at some point. We've got to move on. The country doesn't care about this. This is about an intramural fight in a high school cafeteria; it should be over now.

DAVID GREGORY:
I don't know if that guy knows my wife, but she says the same thing about all of us. Joy, what about this larger issue, in terms of where this goes from here? Some bobbing and weaving there from Gene Sperling about avoiding a government shutdown, but Boehner said that, "We're not going to shut down the government."

So this is going to be a fight later on. Do liberals have to come to the idea that the president is willing to give up some stuff on Medicare at a certain point, if he can get to that endgame where he might be able to get some more revenues?

JOY-ANN REID:
Well, you know, obviously liberals are not happy with any idea that cuts Medicare. And it was interesting that the whole deal that came together, the Budget Control Act in 2011, left Medicare off the table. It's such a hot issue, and I think Republicans maybe have some regrets that they didn't try to get that in there. Because this deal that was done did not include Medicare.

That said, the president has put chained CPI on the table in the past. His base doesn't like it. But I don't see how you get to a compromise when Paul Ryan, who's the budget writer in the House, is coming back again to this idea of voucherizing Medicare. He's bringing that back again. And this was an idea that Republicans almost universally supported. They voted it through in the House. They paid for it, to some extent, with their constituents during the midterms.

But, you know, I think that bringing that idea back is such a non-starter that I can't imagine a compromise position between the White House -- which is saying they want to protect Medicare recipients -- and vouchers. I don't think that's going to fly with Democrats at all.

DAVID GREGORY:
Kathleen, I've just got a few seconds before we get to a break. What's striking to me is that these issues are still so hard, and that the election didn't seem to solve them completely enough.

KATHLEEN PARKER:
Well, that's a statement rather than a question so I'll just talk about something that I want to talk about.

DAVID GREGORY:
No, but, I mean, is that true? I mean, why didn't it?

KATHLEEN PARKER:
Why didn't it? Because, look, the Republicans cannot give on taxes. They simply can't. It would damage their brand permanently. And the president is unwilling-- he is insisting on raising revenues through taxes. There's no way to have a meeting of the minds when these differences exist, and that's not going to change. The sequester is going to continue through the fiscal year.

However, and I think it's very important to make this note, this is some flexibility in how the sequester cuts are applied, despite what's been said. Next week, or this week, rather, the Congress is going to pass a bill, a defense appropriations bill, allowing defense to have some flexibility in how they apply those cuts. And there's more to say on that, but it's not quite as extreme as it seems. And the Republicans, there's just no real reason for the Republicans to give at this point.

DAVID GREGORY:
Let me get a break in here.

DAVID GREGORY:
This was Wednesday on the Capitol, this was a moment of actual bipartisan agreement. Rosa Parks honored with a statue on Capitol Hill. And it just came at a really interesting time this week, with a debate in the Supreme Court about the future of the Voting Rights Act, what kind of society we want to be, and whether times have changed in our civil rights struggle.

And Joy Reid, I wanted to ask you about part of that debate. Here was Justice Scalia saying something that got a lot of reaction about why he seemed to be suggesting Voting Rights Act is not still necessary. A portion of what he said.

(Videotape)

JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA: I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It's been written about: whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

Again, the Voting Rights Act mandates states like Mississippi, Louisiana, others in the South and elsewhere, to get federal permission if they're going to change the way people access voting. How did you react to that?

JOY-ANN REID:
First of all, it was a very antebellum phrase, so it was jarring just to hear it. He's said it before; this is not the first time that Anthony Scalia has used the term "racial entitlement." And I think one of the ironies in it is that his apparent objection to section five of the Voting Rights Act is that it interrupts the sense of entitlement of political officials to interrupt the demographic tide, and to shape the elections to sort of thwart it, right?

Because what's happening here, and the reason section five is so relevant, is that you do have politicians that are attempting to alter the process. Whether it's cutting down early voting days, whether it's instituting voter ID. There was one instance that was argued during the court case about a municipality that literally stopped having elections because the demographic tide was turning against the white emerging minority, and so they just stopped having elections to avert the demographic tide.

So this is the sense that people feel entitled to change the political process to stop mainly minorities from gaining political power. So it's sort of an ironic use of phrase, not to mention a very, let's just say, throwback phrase for--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
Congressman, is it still necessary to have the Voting Rights Act?

REP. PAUL LABRADOR:
You know, clearly Congress voted for it overwhelmingly. The question is whether it's constitutional, whether it's necessary. You know, I can just talk about the example in Idaho. Idaho has one statewide elected official that is Hispanic. I'm one of two congressmen in Idaho who is Hispanic. It's a majority white state; it's about 90% white, and they have no problem voting for racial minorities to represent them.

I think we need to start rethinking all these things. You know, in fact, I welcome all minorities to move to Idaho and to move to states that are willing to vote statewide for minorities.


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