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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript


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MR. GREGORY: We are back with our roundtable now. Joining me, editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal , Paul Gigot ; contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine , Robert Draper -- his piece is out today on Sarah Palin , the cover story of The New York Times Magazine -- and the author of the new book "Revival" is with us, " The Struggle for Survival Inside the Obama White House ," Richard Wolffe ; as well as incoming congressman from Florida , Republican Allen West . Welcome to all of you. Congressman, let me start with you. I mean, a, a fellow Republican, Governor Jindal , talking about the searches that we've seen around the country . And remember as we look at some of this video that a lot of people think it's disturbing. These are people who are making a choice not to go through the actual machines that provide a rather revealing look at, at, at our bodies. And if they don't do that, they, they get these pat-downs. You heard him say clearly, "excessive." Is this going to become a bigger issue in Washington ?

REP.-ELECT ALLEN WEST (R-FL): I think it may end up becoming an issue, especially when we come out of this holiday season and we see how that affects us -- the travel and the, and the economy . But I think, once again, it comes back to marketing. I mean, we should have put out some type of feelers and talked to the American people about this before we go and implement this type of plan. And also, when you go back, you look at after September 11th , we had the opportunity with Israel coming and talking to us about improving our security screening procedures, and we turned them down. I traveled to Israel , and I tell you what, they have very good procedures, and you don't have to go through all of these very Draconian practices.

MR. GREGORY: Yeah. Well, this is the, this is the debate, Richard . I mean, it -- whether -- what the Israelis do, a little bit more psychological profiling through an interview, whether there's an element of profiling . I mean, the larger question is, is there a better way here?

MR. RICHARD WOLFFE: Well, let's just be clear, OK? This isn't about marketing. You know, this is about national security . You've got a very risk-averse president who, as I explain in my book, was very unhappy with the way the Christmas Day bomber was proceeding and, and berated his national security team. So, with respect, I don't understand why a Democratic president or a Democratic administration introduces intrusive security measures, and that's an invasion of privacy; but a Republican president can, you know, have no-fly lists, no-fly lists that take up thousands of people...

REP.-ELECT WEST: Well, I didn't, I didn't agree, I didn't agree with that either. But I think that one of the critical things...

MR. WOLFFE: Well, wait a second. Wait a second. Wait a second.

REP.-ELECT WEST: No, listen to me . One of the things we need to say...

MR. WOLFFE: The Republican...

REP.-ELECT WEST: is about trend analysis , it is not about profiling . And I think -- when I talk about marketing, I'm talking about talking to the American people about these changes in procedures.

MR. GREGORY: In setting it up. But where does this go, Paul Gigot ? Where does this debate go, do you think?

MR. PAUL GIGOT: I think the danger here is that the public begins to revolt against these kinds of security procedures.


MR. GIGOT: And then you risk losing public support not just for airport screenings, but for the whole war on terror and the whole national security regime post-9/11. So I think we got to think very carefully whether this kind of intrusive pat-down is what we want to do. And I think, in the end -- we've already seen them move on children. No -- children under 12 now are not going to be...

MR. GREGORY: Right. Pilots exempted now.

MR. GIGOT: That's right , pilots exempted now. I think there's going to be some real push back here, and the administration would do well to listen or lose support more broadly.

MR. GREGORY: Right. But we have to remember that -- I always say, you know, the country was here after 9/11, maybe has gone down to here.


MR. GREGORY: But, in terms of vigilance, could get right back up to here in a heartbeat. All you need is another Christmas Day attempt, or another attempt that we've heard about in months after that. And this is an effective way to deal with it , and we have to put up with some of this.

MR. DRAPER: Absolutely. And I 'm, I'm really struck listening to Congressman West of the -- of how this is not so much a debate between laissez-faire, libertarian , tea party types and the Obama administration , but a debate between them, the former group, and the former head of the Republican Party , President George W. Bush , who in the wake of 9/11 really believed that no price was too dear for security . And so, granted, there are a lot of arguments we could make in the margins about what's working and what is not. But, but finally this is about the price that we pay to be secure.

MR. GREGORY: Congressman, is there -- do, do tea party candidates, or the tea party sentiment within Congress now...


MR. GREGORY: ...of which I think you are a part, is there going to be a battle with the, with the Republican Party on issues like this that are -- become more about libertarian concerns?

REP.-ELECT WEST: Well, I wouldn't say it's about libertarian concerns. I think that when you look at the tea party , it is about a grassroots, constitutional, conservative movement . And one of the critical parts of that is national security . But I think that we need to focus our efforts and focus our national security efforts, and not come up with a lot of these somewhat seemingly knee-jerk reactions that we're seeing with this pat-down procedure. And once again, I think that we need to understand -- define who the enemy is, first and foremost, and then make sure that we have the security apparatus and procedures in place...

MR. GREGORY: Do you think profiling is appropriate?

REP.-ELECT WEST: I don't call it profiling .

MR. GREGORY: What do you call it?

REP.-ELECT WEST: Let me tell you, I call it trend analysis , because having been a commander in the battlefield, what you look for are trends, and you focus your resources on those trends. You know, profiling has become this negative, connotative phrase. But if we continue -- and I do think, you know, from the previous administration to this administration , we have been somewhat lucky in, in the, in the thwarting of some of the attacks that we have seen. But we've got to be able to focus our security apparatus and resources .

MR. GREGORY: Richard Wolffe , let me, let me go a little bit broader here. This was a snapshot of our NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll in terms of the view toward what's going to happen in Washington here between the president and Republicans . It's a pretty, pretty dire view. Americans think there's going to be a lot of division, a lot of gridlock, little willingness to compromise by a margin of 76 percent to 19 percent. Whether it's the START treaty or the tax cuts , what's, what's going to give here? Are Republicans saying to the president, "Look, the price is now a lot higher to do business with us"?

MR. WOLFFE: They've been very explicit, haven 't they? Mitch McConnell has said he wants the president to be a one-termer. The question is, if this plays out, especially for independent voters -- if you think that independent voters are what swung the last election , where the Obama administration has lost support in the last couple of years, what do they want to see? And now you have an alignment between Democrats and independents, they want the two sides to work together. If the Republicans are serious about this stuff, about moving to this more libertarian side of things, whether it's on START or it's on this TSA pat-down stuff, you're going to have a serious threat for Republicans about giving up their national security credentials. As we saw in 2004 , that's a pretty risky position against an incumbent president at a time of war and terrorist threats .

MR. GREGORY: Look at the headlines, Paul Gigot , from The Hill newspaper and others about liberals in the president's party. The Washington Times headline, "Liberals prod Obama to show some muscle in the tax-cut battle."

"Angry left to Obama: Stop caving," that was in The Hill . So now, I mean, the president's in a position where he probably -- he realizes he's got to move a little bit on the tax cut debate, extending the Bush -era tax cuts . But the left -- and Nancy Pelosi 's back as leader of the Democrats -- is saying, "Not so fast here."

MR. GIGOT: No. The president's interests now are separate from the Democrats on the Hill . When you're in the minority, you're going to want to oppose everything that the Republicans in the majority do because your interests are becoming the majority again. The president, on the other hand , and Senate Democrats , many of whom are up in 2012 , have an interest in accomplishment and getting things done. So what I think you're going to see is the president is going to have to move to the center , at least symbolically and substantively. Symbolically, I think, in a, in a, in a tonal sense, but substantively on some issues. And I would look for it to happen on taxes , I would look to it to happen on some spending cuts. And Richard and the Democrats might not like this, but the truth is, he's going to have to do that if he wants to get re-elected.

MR. GREGORY: The -- Congressman, the -- on the issue of tax cuts , do you buy the president's argument, "Look, let's extend those Bush -era tax cuts for the middle class first, then we can come back and do the upper earners, or at least have that conversation"?

REP.-ELECT WEST: No. I think that we need to extend those tax cuts permanently across the board. Look, I come from a -- an area down in South Florida where unemployment is at 13 percent, foreclosures are absolutely high. We are seeing closed upon closed storefronts. But yet, when you walk around here in Washington , D.C. , you don't see people getting laid off, you don't see, you know, anyone suffering, you don't see the foreclosures. There is a belief that things are not going well down on Main Street , and they need to be heard. There is a belief that it has to start from up here with the right type of cuts in the spending, the right type of cuts in the growth of government . So I think it's so important that we understand that we have to invigorate the, the growth of this country , the long-term, sustainable growth of this country , which comes from our small businesses and comes from our corporate business growth.

MR. GREGORY: All right. Well, leadership moment here. Look at some of the responses to the deficit commission and whether folks are uncomfortable with some of the proposals. Look at our polling and what it finds, pretty big numbers . Seventy percent uncomfortable with cuts in spending for Medicare , Social Security and defense . Fifty-nine percent uncomfortable with increased taxes , eliminating some deductions. Fifty-seven percent uncomfortable raising the Social Security retirement age to 69 over the next 60 years. Is it -- does all that have to be on the table for you as a freshman congressman coming in, all those cuts on the table?

REP.-ELECT WEST: I, I think everything has to be on the table. I think that we need to have an honest conversation with the American people . And I think that when you look at some of the things up here with the, the public sector compensation -- you know, we could find about $47 billion if we aligned government compensation with private sector . We need to look at our Defense Department . We need to look at, you know, how do we, you know, reform -- not reform , but how do we repair Social Security ? How do we get Social Security back into that independent trust fund account? We need to look at how do we set the conditions economically so maybe we have less people that have to be on Social Security , Medicare and Medicaid ? And I think that's one of the critical challenges we have to make going into this 112th Congress .

MR. GREGORY: Richard , do you see the president advocating for some of this, this tough medicine here?


MR. GREGORY: I mean, if the commission was political cover, I don't know. It doesn't look like a lot of cover yet.

MR. WOLFFE: I think he was serious about the deficit stuff. You know, one of the stories I tell in "Revival" is how they had to game out whether or not they would get any Republicans at all to get on this deficit commission. That's how bad the politics of this are. But the president's talked about the deficit a lot. He, he knows that's what voters care about. This is a moment when he can actually say to these incoming members of Congress , "You talk about the deficit , but if you take taxes off the table, how are you going to be serious about doing that? That's not a reasonable discussion." His position, his natural default, is to say, "The left is over here, the radical right's over there, I'm the serious grown-up in the middle." That's where he's got to play this deficit .

MR. GREGORY: Is there a grand bargain that's possible, either one of you, with regard to taxes and spending, that they're both part of an equation?

MR. DRAPER: I mean, I, I think on taxes , it's a, it's a politically winning argument for the Republicans to say let's keep the Bush tax cuts . But as Richard is saying, it presents President Obama with an opportunity to say, "You've just left $300 billion of, of a way of lopping off the deficit . You, you've left that off the table, so show me something that's worth $300 billion." You can't say earmark reform , that's $18 billion, that's chicken feed.

MR. WOLFFE: Right.

MR. GIGOT: But beyond that, beyond the Bush tax cuts and extending those, which I think won't happen for at least two years, the real opportunity for bipartisan agreement I -- here, I think, is tax reform .

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MR. GIGOT: And you saw the reaction to the deficit commission proposal to lower the top rates...


MR. GIGOT: ...lower the rates and the corporate rate to as low as 23 percent at one option. And then you broaden the base, giving up certain deductions, which would be hard to do, but I think both parties see that this as a possibility to get together. I don't know if it'll happen in the next two years, but I think this is something -- and you saw it in the reaction. The Republican reaction to this, from Paul Ryan and Jeb Hensarling and others, was, " Let's talk about this." And Nancy Pelosi said, "No way. We can't talk about it ."

MR. GREGORY: All right. Let's...

MR. GIGOT: But the president has an interest in doing so.

MR. GREGORY: Let me take a break here. We're going to do that, we're going to come back, talk about the battleground 2012 . The campaign's already started, whether we like it or not , and we'll talk about specifically the " Sarah Palin effect." Some news on that this morning, thanks to Mr. Draper . Our roundtable continues right after this.

MR. GREGORY: ...the battleground 2012 . I thought Governor Jindal said he doesn't want to be president yet. Didn't rule out being on a ticket in 2012 . And when you write a book like "Leadership in Crisis ," I think you're positioning yourself, but we'll put that out there. Let's talk about Sarah Palin . Here is The New York Times Magazine that folks are waking up to around the country, and on the cover, "The Palin Network: How the GOP 's Leading Shadow Candidate Runs Her Guerilla Organization ." Robert Draper , you wrote this piece. You talked to her. A portion of this is from your interview with Governor Palin . She says this, "I know that a hurdle I would have to cross, that some other potential candidates wouldn't have to cross right out of the chute, is proving my record. That's the most frustrating thing for me the warped and perverted description of my record and what I've accomplished over the last two decades. It's been much more perplexing to me than where the lamestream media has wanted to go about my personal life . And other candidates haven 't faced these criticisms the way I have." Her record does matter. Her ability to be seen, as Karl Rove says in his piece in The Wall Street Journal this week, can folks look at her and imagine her in the Oval Office ?

MR. DRAPER: Well...

MR. GREGORY: She's not there yet.

MR. DRAPER: That's the big question. I mean, what she was referring to was her record as governor of Alaska , but I don't think that moves the needle on her approval ratings. I mean, I think that, that, you know, the, the question that she's going to have to answer is, if "commonsense conservatism" is shorthand for "I haven 't learned the issues." And, and, you know, she has done more to close the substance deficit . I mean, her -- she's had increasingly wonkish speeches. But yeah, there's this cognitive dissonance of seeing her climbing a glacier. It's kind of a cool visual, but is that the same visual of being in the Oval Office ? I mean, she's got a ways to go on that.

MR. GREGORY: She, she spoke, as well, in this new show that she's got on TLC , five million viewers, an interesting clip from her reality show . I want to show that.

MS. SARAH PALIN: You know, having every word, every action scrutinized and, in some cases, mocked, I can handle it. I, you know, I kind of have asked for it, right?

MR. GREGORY: Congressman, it is interesting. I mean, she's certainly out there in the arena. Look, she endorsed you.


MR. GREGORY: What kind of impact did that have? And what is your assessment of her strength after the midterms?

REP.-ELECT WEST: Well, I have to tell you this, right now I haven 't even been sworn in, so I think the most important thing we need to be focused on is, how do we take care of the problems that are facing this country ? Because if we don't do that, if this Republican Congress and the House of Representatives does not do that, it does not matter who you put up for president...

MR. GREGORY: Fair enough.



REP.-ELECT WEST: So that's what the people are looking for. Now, I will tell you this, you know, she did endorse me with four other military candidates back in March of this year. It was good to have her endorsement because she does have a, a reach to the grassroots movement , but it is also incumbent upon me to be able to, once I get that trust and confidence, to come up here and prove myself worthy of what the people have shown. But this is also

important: The, the world is Machiavellian , not so much Kantian , and the next president of the United States has to understand that there are wolves out there. And the next president of the United States is going to have to sit down at a table and stare down some very tough customers.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

REP.-ELECT WEST: And I think that's the number one criteria we need to be thinking about as we move forward.

MR. GREGORY: It's interesting, Richard Wolffe , if you look, Ron Brownstein has written some about this for the National Journal , the idea that there are some similarities, if you look at the, the landscape on the right of how a candidate Palin could draw votes away from a Mitt Romney or another candidate that, that he describes it as a "beer-wine track phenomenon." But in other words, the working class white voters, in the way that Hillary Clinton got those voters in her primary fight with Obama , that that's the space that she could occupy as well.

MR. WOLFFE: Right. But her basic problem is that she has a 35 percent approval rating among independents.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MR. WOLFFE: When you start that that low among a group that has essentially decided every election in recent memory, you've got a huge problem, a mountain to climb. And combine that with the popularity of the grass roots among the primary voters in the Republican party , it's a dynamic that is going to tear this thing apart. And it reminds me of Howard Dean . I covered Howard Dean in 2004 . Strong grassroots support, people looked at the numbers and said he's not going to make it. I think that's one of the reasons why Sarah Palin did well in the House level, but not so well in the Senate race. I mean, her Senate -backed candidates did not perform well and that's because the wider appeal is not there.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm. She's going to shake things up, though, for Iowa , that's for sure.

MR. GIGOT: Well, I -- well, I think so, if she does decide to run. Politics, though, is additive, as Richard points out. You've got to build on your base. I think the field is wide open, the Republican field, and I think she has a chance to get the, to get the nomination if she runs. She has a lot of likability, people really think that -- they love her sincerity. She comes across as real, not practiced, not canned. But she does have to make the case to people that she can do the job. She has to look presidential , and that will -- and particularly, to people in the suburbs around Philadelphia and the suburbs. Republicans did very well in Wisconsin , for example.


MR. GIGOT: How are you going to make the sale to those swing voters and independents? You want a state like that.

MR. GREGORY: What did you learn about how the Palin world operates, though, that is clearly unconventional and is not following any script? I mean, if Republicans are known for the next one in line and a lot of order...

MR. DRAPER: Sure. Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: ...this is -- she's not playing with that script.

MR. DRAPER: It is the polar opposite of, say, the Bush organization of 2004 . I mean, it's people playing outside their lanes. No one has a title. People essentially do what's in front of them. And Paul and I were discussing it before, I mean, there's -- it's -- those of us in the media who tried to reach out to the Palin organization are faced with, you know, endless delays and, and often pocket vetoing. And, and, and it is not an organization that can any way transfer itself to a campaign structure. Palin herself recognizes that. She said as much to me. But he question is, will she be able to bring in people whom she trusts, who are capable of doing this sort of thing. Trust is a huge issue with the Palins . They feel like they were really burned in 2008 . And the question is, how much of an informing characteristic will that be going forward?

MR. GREGORY: All right. We're going to take another break here, quickly. We'll come back. We'll have some final thoughts in just a moment from our roundtable . Don't go away.

MR. GREGORY: We're back with our roundtable . Some closing thoughts. Richard Wolffe , the book is "Revival." How does the White House , how does the president think about the road to recovery politically right now?

MR. WOLFFE: Well, for a start, there's a reason, one of the reasons I called it "Revival" is because 10 months ago this guy was written off for dead. Health care was dead. He was finished. Two months later, he gets health care and, incidentally, a treaty with the Russians. It's happened time and again . Through the primaries, when Sarah Palin was nominated, this guy was over. There is something of the comeback about him, and they're hoping it's going to happen again. How does he do it? He's got to get back to where he was in 2008 , the change guy , change the way business is done. If he's just another inside Washington politician, he's going to be in trouble.

MR. GREGORY: But everybody I talk to, Congressman, says this is not somebody who tacks to the center , doesn't play small ball, was not a tactical player. And that, that becomes a choice for him, just as conservatives have a choice about how they want to use this power they've got.

REP.-ELECT WEST: Absolutely. And I think the critical thing is to look at the first 90 to 120 days . What is the relationship between the House GOP , the Senate , and the administration ? I think you have to look and see what is going to be the impact of this incredible freshman class that's coming in that's one-third of the House GOP . I think it was very -- the historical metaphor I use comparing Nancy Pelosi being brought back in as minority leader, Pickett's charge . I mean, if we had given Picket another division and told him to go and try it again. So I think that those three things are going to be the interesting dynamics.

MR. GREGORY: What is your mandate as you come to town? What is your mandate?

REP.-ELECT WEST: My mandate is to listen to the American people , the people that sent us up here. And the mandate is to do something about the, the growth of government , the, the spending of government , and get back to a constitutional based principle of governance.


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