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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript


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REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL): You know, by every indication that--I'm sorry. By every indication, the fighter that, that Gabby Giffords is, is, is showing full strength. She's, from what I was told by her staff last night, woke up, responded to Mark's, I think, I think his voice, moved arms and legs and then...

MR. GREGORY: This is her husband we're talking about.

REP. SCHULTZ: Yeah, her husband, Mark. And then they sedated her again. But Gabby Giffords is, for anyone that knows her or has ever met her, is the most open, warm and sweet woman. She's--the best way to describe her is that she's, she's the kind of person that tries to see the good in everyone. You know, even when, even when she's in the midst of the kind of strife that is going on in southern Arizona with the immigration laws and the, the battleground that Arizona has been, she really always looks on the bright side. She's a "glass is half full" kind of person.

MR. GREGORY: Congressman Grijalva, you work with her very closely in Tucson. I had an opportunity to meet her in Tucson just last spring at an event where I spoke, and, and had a real opportunity for a conversation about the issues that she cared about. Talk about some of that as we, as we look at some of the images of her being sworn in just this week in the mock swearing in she did with the, the new speaker.

REP. RAUL GRIJALVA (D-AZ): The, the--for, for Arizona, I think for this nation, it's, as Debbie just said, this, this is a woman who's whole future is in front of her, a rising star not only in politics, but in, in, in leadership in general. And this tragedy has left us in Tucson in shock, and then today numb, and numb about this whole--so Gabby is, is a leader in our community, someone that has, as, as was said, someone that looked at things in a very positive--what we do for our lives in politics, sometimes there's a grating and friction that's part of it. Gabby looked at, at politics as, as a mechanism to get things done and saw the good in things. And I, I, I--we're all praying for her. Our community is devastated by this. And I just--and our community has a million people, but it's small.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

REP. GRIJALVA: And, for instance, Gabe Zimmerman--and this is a shock to all our staffs and--that died, his mother gave me the first job that I ever had in that community. And so we're all connected to this tragedy, and we're all feeling it and wondering what to do next.

MR. GREGORY: Congressman Franks, you know her, as well, from the other, the other side of the aisle, but also as part of the delegation--you know, as part of Congress getting under way this week, the reading of the Constitution that was discussed by so many that the leadership wanted to do, and she read a portion of it that is particularly ironic this morning. I'm going to play a portion of that.


REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (D-AZ): The First Amendment, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: To petition for redress of grievances, freedom of speech. I mean, access to her constituents, the kind of event that she was having yesterday, was very important to her.

REP. TRENT FRANKS (R-AZ): You know, every interview I've been on, I have referenced what she just did because it is so ironic that when she had the opportunity to read her part of the Constitution that this was the one that she read. And yet, when she was out exercising that right, when she was out doing her job as a member of Congress, some deranged degenerate shot her down. And I will tell you that I think that's an attack, not only on freedom and the country itself, it's an attack on, on humanity. And a lot of people try to make the distinction between someone as conservative as I am and, and a Gabby Giffords.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

REP. FRANKS: But I will tell you that never one time did even the slightest cross word or unkindness ever pass between us. This is a precious, decent woman that did not deserve what happened to her. And I hope that somehow that we pursue prosecuting this individual, this deranged monster, to the fullest extent of the law with the greatest energy that we possibly can.

MR. GREGORY: Congressman Cleaver, I want to talk more about that access issue, and it mattered to her. She was on Twitter just before this event. And this is what she put on her Twitter feed. We'll put it up on the screen for all to see, indicating that she would be having this event, inviting people. "My 1st Congress on Your Corner starts now. Please stop by to let me know what is on your mind or tweet me later." I mean, this is the reality of having access to your constituents in a shopping mall, outside of a Safeway. She's right there, you can walk up to her, hear her, talk to her, shake her hand, or do something as awful as this.

REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER (D-MO): All of us conduct those town hall meetings. I've done one every month since I've been elected--since I was elected, called--we call it Coffee with the Congressman. And we must, in a democracy, have access to our constituents. And I think what we are seeing, though, is, you know, the, the public is being riled up to the point where those kinds of, of, of events and, and opportunities for people to express their opinions to us are, are becoming a little volatile. We have 435 members of Congress. If you rank them in terms of volatility, Gabby is probably in the last one-half of 1 percent.


REP. SCHULTZ: That's right.

REP. CLEAVER: And it just seems so ironic that she would become a victim.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

REP. CLEAVER: And she is clearly not a hothead or somebody who's prone to create controversy.

MR. GREGORY: Congressman Labrador, this is an introduction, a horrible introduction to Congress for you. You're a brand-new member, freshman member from Idaho. Your wife, you were telling me before we started, was particularly shaken by this.

REP. RAUL LABRADOR (R-ID): She was. You know, and--you know, first of all, I, I just--my condolences to the families. It's been a terrible week, and it's a terrible way to end the week. But, you know, all I've heard about, about Gabby--and I don't know her. I'm the only person on this panel who doesn't know her. All I've heard is nothing but positive. I've heard from both Republicans and Democrats what a wonderful woman she is and what great service she was giving to, to her constituents. And I just want to make sure that we understand that she was doing what she was supposed to be doing. And she was doing exactly what all of us should be doing, which is talking to our constituents and trying to get educated on the issues. And I just hope that we can have some civility and we can move forward.

MR. GREGORY: There are real security questions that have to be raised as a result of all this. Congresswoman Maxine Waters telling Politico this morning that she has her own fears about security for members. This is what she said. "We can be shot down in our district, but we can also be shot walking over to the Capitol... We have a lot of people outside who appear to be fragile emotionally. So we don't know when one will walk up and shoot us down. We're vulnerable, and there's no real way to protect us."

Is this a wake-up call in terms of thinking about security for these kinds of events?

REP. SCHULTZ: Well, I think it needs to be a wake-up call for members who have treated security in a cavalier--their own personal security in a cavalier way. I know when I have town hall meetings, which I have regularly, and increasingly even, even very open public meetings, there are always officers present. You know, not a, not a cavalry of officers, but at least a show of, of law enforcement so that we can make sure that, that my staff is protected.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

REP. SCHULTZ: Because, remember, as we saw with, with Mr. Zimmerman's death, it's not just our personal safety...


REP. SCHULTZ: ...that need--that matters. And it's also the personal safety of our constituents, because they may come, come in and target the member, but the people in the room are all subject to, to a security risk. And so we need to strike a balance.

MR. GREGORY: You walk about that. The, the federal judge, John Roll, who was also killed--Congressman Grijalva, you know him--just a noted member of the bench, 63 years old. And there was a backstory here. I mean, this is a conservative Republican who was good friends, continues to be good friends with the congresswoman. He had petitioned her for some extra funds for some of the immigration cases that they have to handle. Left Mass, went over to her event just to say hi and to personally thank her and is dead this morning.

REP. GRIJALVA: Yeah. John, the, the chief justice there of the district court, fair man, great reputation, been a litigator and a prosecutor for 30-plus years in our community, was appointed by first George Bush to that bench, has nothing but a good reputation. And for, for him to show up to thank Gabby for her work in terms of getting additional resources for that overburdened court and to find himself, and his family to find him, now dead is, is the same commentary that Debbie just made. I mean, how, how do you explain this? But it's a huge loss for the community. A judicial loss, but also a loss of a leader in the community.
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MR. GREGORY: We certainly can't explain the loss of a, of a young girl who, born on 9/11...


MR. GREGORY: ...was president of her student council.

I want to talk about the political climate, Congressman Franks. The judge in Pima County--excuse me--the sheriff of Pima County has been outspoken in some of his remarks over the past couple of days. Pima County encompassing Tucson and, and some of the environs. And he talked about what's been going on in southern Arizona between immigration, healthcare debates, and a political climate that's highly charged. This is what he had to say in response to this.

Sheriff CLARENCE DUPNIK: We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry. ... But it's not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included. And, and that's a sad thing of what's going on in America. Pretty soon we're not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people who are willing to subject themselves to serve in public office.

MR. GREGORY: How concerned are you about the climate at home?

REP. FRANKS: Well, you know, I'm always concerned about how we treat each other. In the ultimate analysis here, that's what this is all about. This Jared Loughner had no respect for innocent human life and, ultimately, no respect for his fellow human beings. As willing--whatever his statement was, he was willing to kill someone, kill many people to make it. And, ultimately, I, I feel like that we need to realize as, as members of Congress, as, as Americans, that true tolerance is not pretending you have no differences. It's being kind and decent to each other in spite of those differences. And when we allow people like this to go unnoticed, that have no respect for their fellow human beings, I think we make a terrible mistake. Because, ultimately, if we don't have a more loving respect for each other, we, we really have no hope as a society.

MR. GREGORY: Congressman Cleaver, there's--I, I want to put this in, in a broader context, understanding what we don't know. We don't know if this was politically motivated. We know that this was a young man who felt--this is just objective facts here--disturbed, became an outlier in some ways, lashing out, had been kicked out of community college, had been denied by the military. There are lots of things that can contribute to that sense of isolation and of blaming a lot of people. Whether this was particularly anti-government, we can't say for sure. That's the, the compositive facts that we have right now.

But Matt Bai wrote something in The New York Times this morning about some of the larger questions about political vitriol in our system right now and in our country. And I want to have us react to it as the headline, the "Turning Point in the Discourse, but in Which Direction?" And he writes this: "What's different about this movement is the emergence of a political culture - on blogs and Twitter and cable television - that so loudly and readily reinforces the dark visions of political extremists, often for profit or political gain. It wasn't clear Saturday whether the alleged shooter in Tucson was motivated by any real political philosophy or by voices in his head, or perhaps by both. But it's hard not to think he was at least partly influenced by a debate that often seems to conflate philosophical disagreement with some kind of political Armageddon."

REP. CLEAVER: We are in a dark place in this country right now, and the atmospheric condition is toxic. And much of it originates here in Washington, D.C., and we export it around the country to the point that people come to Washington, they come to the gallery, and they feel comfortable in shouting out insults from the gallery. We had someone removed last week shouting out some insult about President Obama's birth. I think members of Congress either need to turn down the volume, begin to try to exercise some high level of civility, or this darkness will never ever be overcome with light. The, the hostility is here. People may want to deny it. It is real, and if we, and if we don't stop it soon, I think this nation is going to be bitterly divided to a point where I fear for the, the future of our children.

MR. GREGORY: Congressman Labrador, the--comment on that. You're a tea party candidate. A lot of sentiment in the tea party is to be very concerned about some of the government policies pursued by this president. How do you see the discourse being in any way a contribution to some of the security threats that members of Congress can experience?

REP. LABRADOR: We have to be careful not to blame one side or the other because both sides are guilty of this. You have extremes on both sides. You have crazy people on both sides. And I think what I have done in Idaho when we have some vitriol or maybe some political rhetoric that is going beyond the pale, your job as a leader is to talk to the people in a reasonable way, to have a rational conversation with, with the people in your district. And I think that brings down the level of rhetoric quite a bit down. So those are some of the things that we have to do. But I just, I just need to--you know, the American people need to understand that during the Bush administration, we had a bunch of people on the left who were using the same kind of vitriol that some people on the right are using now against Obama. So it's, it's not something that either party is guilty by themselves or either party is innocent of. And we have to make sure that we, we take care of it.

MR. GREGORY: Congressman Grijalva, in terms of Congressman Giffords herself, last spring, in the, in the heat of the heathcare debate, her office was vandalized. And she appeared on MSNBC and talked about the climate in which she was operating then. Let's take a look.

(Videotape, March 25, 2010)

REP. GIFFORDS: We have had hundreds and hundreds of protesters over the course of the last several months. Our office corner has really become an area where the tea party movement congregates. And the rhetoric is incredibly heated. ... This is a situation where people don't--I mean, they really do need to realize that the rhetoric and firing people up and, you know, even things--for example, we're on Sarah Palin's targeted list--but the thing is that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gunsight over our district. And when people do that, they've got to realize there's consequences to that action.

(End videotape)

REP. GRIJALVA: I couldn't, I couldn't agree more with Gabby's comments. You know, part of what we need to do as leaders is a discourse. You know, Arizona is at the center of a lot of division and a lot of hard politics. And from the top to the bottom of our, not only elected leadership, but community leadership, it's about the civil discourse, it's about the tone of how we do things. And Congressman Nadler said something on television yesterday. He said, you know, "We are opponents, yes, but we're not deadly enemies." And I think unless we pass that on and lead by example with our civil discourse and our good debate on these important issues like health care, people feel that there's impunity to continue to act...

MR. GREGORY: But Congressman...

REP. GRIJALVA: ...and act out.

MR. GREGORY: That's an important point because, let's be honest, there is a demonization. It happens amongst all of you, it happens in the public, it happens in the polarized aspects of the press, a demonization of the other side. Whether it's a congressman saying, "You lie," from the House floor, whether it's a Democrat who literally shoots the cap and trade bill in a campaign advertisement. Or your former colleague, Alan Grayson from Florida, compared Republicans to the Taliban. I mean, this kind of vitriol on both sides does contribute to that, that demonization.

REP. FRANKS: Well, I think, you know, we're a country that tries to solve our problems by ballots and not bullets, so a good debate is fine. But when you try to, to, to go into an area of threatening debate and things of that nature, then it's very dangerous. But I want to be very careful here. We don't want to give this Loughner too much credit here...

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

REP. FRANKS: make it somehow politically analyzed that somehow he was some person making a grand political statement. This guy was a deranged lunatic that had no respect for his fellow human beings and completely rejected any kind of constitutional foundation of this nation.

MR. GREGORY: Yeah. Go ahead.

REP. FRANKS: And I would say, you know, when you, when you consider some of his readings being the Communist Manifesto, I don't know where the guy's coming from. More than anything else, it was bizarre, not politically integrity.

MR. GREGORY: Congresswoman:

REP. SCHULTZ: Just based on what Trent just said and what, what everyone has said, I agree, it's our responsibility to, to make sure that we set the right example and set the tone of civility. But the shock jocks and the, the, the political movement leaders that are out there on both sides of the aisle need to get--have some pause as well. I mean, the, the phrase that you just used, "we, we use ballots, not bullets," the actual reverse of that phrase was used in my district by someone who was almost the chief of staff to an incoming member of Congress where she said at a rally, at a tea party rally, "We will use bullets if ballots don't work." So the rhetoric outside needs to be toned down as well. But we have to set the first example.

MR. GREGORY: All right. We're going to take a quick break here. We're going to come back and continue this discussion with our special roundtable, a special edition of MEET THE PRESS. More right after this.


MR. GREGORY: We're back on this special edition of MEET THE PRESS, joined again by our roundtable, colleagues and friends of Congresswoman Giffords after the shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona.

Congressman Cleaver, House business has now ground to a halt. We know from Republican leaders that, that work will be suspended this week, including what was going to be the big debate about the repeal of health care. So business is a little bit uncertain moving forward. What do you think should happen?

REP. CLEAVER: Well, first of all, let me thank Speaker Boehner. I think this was the, the right move. This was not the week for us to go into a seven-hour debate on something that is very divisive.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

REP. CLEAVER: But I, I, I think that as soon as we can we need to come back to deal with the business of the, of the people. But we, we ought to come back with a different attitude. Congressman Frank mentioned earlier that, that we don't know why this happened. And I think--and I agree with it. It doesn't matter, however. This ought to be a wake-up call to, not only the members of Congress, but the people in this country, that we're headed in the wrong direction. Congress meets a lot, but it rarely comes together. We are coming from, from two different points of view--which is a democracy and we ought to do that--but we, we come for the purpose of fighting. And, and it's, it's entertainment, I guess, for the nation, for some. But for some it, it gives them an excuse to exercise the bitterness that, that may be deep inside of them. And we've, we've got to watch what we say, and we're not doing it. It starts when--in campaigns. You know, campaigns now are opportunities for people to say anything and do anything about one--to each other and about one another. And I think it's, it's devastating, and it'll probably get worse unless something dramatic happens.

MR. GREGORY: Congressman Labrador, I mentioned the tea party in this context because, not to assign any blame, but because of some of the views about the role of government. Because you mentioned how divisive healthcare reform is, Congressman Cleaver. It becomes so divisive because questions about what government should be doing, what government shouldn't be doing. Whether government is--what--is it doing something to you, or something for you? How do you avoid the debate becoming this fundamental and this divisive when those are the issues at stake?

REP. LABRADOR: Well, I think you have to continue with the debate. I think, I think it's the way that you present that debate. It's some of the words that you use, some of the rhetoric that you use. But we can't use this as a moment to try to stifle one side or the other. We can't use this as a moment to say, "Well, that side doesn't have a right anymore to talk about the issues that, that are--they're passionate about." I think it's just our job as leaders to, to show that we can talk about these, these issues and, and talk about them in a rational way. I mean, I, I saw something as I walked in this morning, I saw two members of Congress from two different sides giving each other a hug, a hug. I think me--maybe people need to, to see that more often, that even though we disagree passionately about the issues, that we can actually get along and we're actually friends.

REP. CLEAVER: But--and I, I agree. And, and, and Trent Frank and I are friends and we work together, you know, and I, I would be stunned if I, if, if I ever heard him shout out an insult. That's just not who he is. But what has happened to the debate is one person or one side--Republicans or, or Democrats, it doesn't matter--they say, "I'm right and you're evil." And that is what's damaging this country.

MR. GREGORY: Right. Well, and to that point--Congressman, you can respond to this--President Clinton, on the 50th--15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, spoke about political discourse. And, and this is what he said that maybe provides some counsel to the conversation we're having now.

(Videotape, April 16, 2010)

FMR. PRES. BILL CLINTON: What we learned from Oklahoma City is, not that we should gag each other or that we should reduce our passion for the positions we hold, but that the words we use really do matter because there are--there's this vast echo chamber, and they go across space and they fall on the serious and the delirious alike. They fall on the connected and the unhinged alike.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: And let's remember again, what we don't know about this suspect is whether he was motivated by anti-government rage. He may certainly qualify as the unhinged, the unconnected, the delirious, someone who's looking to lash out at authority in all forms because of what was going on in his life, and it's pretty easy to tap into a debate that's going on about politics.

REP. SCHULTZ: We, we have to think about our word choices carefully. That's true. But we also have to realize that someone who is unhinged, someone who is mentally unstable, we don't know--the, the slightest thing could, could set them off. But what--we do have to make sure that among our responsibility is to be civil to each other. I mean, I, I, I've engaged in heated debates many times with colleagues who I don't agree with on the issues. But you have to be a human being who recognizes and has respect for one another when you leave that room. We, we fight and debate in an arena. But you have to leave that intensity in the arena and respect one another as Americans and as human beings.

MR. GREGORY: Congressman Franks, I want to bring up the issue of guns here because it is specific in some cases to the laws of Arizona, where concealed weapons are allowed as part of a law, as well as a background check. And I should also point out, Congresswoman Giffords is an avid supporter of, of Second Amendment rights, of gun rights. So this is not a clear left/right issue. But this is what Paul Helmke, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, he issued a statement, I want to put a portion of it on the screen. "We also are deeply concerned about the heated political rhetoric that escalates debates and controversies, and sometimes makes it seem as if violence is an acceptable response to honest disagreements... We, as Americans," the statement goes on, "can and should do more to restore civility to our political discourse. And we can and should do more to address the easy access to high-powered guns that make it too easy for dangerous and irresponsible people to disrupt and destroy the lives of innocent Americans, and political leaders who are simply trying to serve their communities and our" countries. Where does this debate move?

REP. FRANKS: Well, I--you know, I've had--heard a lot about the type of gun that was used here. But what a lot of people don't realize is that's the same basic Glock 9mm that most--many police agencies use. So it's not that the gun was evil. It was--and it was in the hands of an evil person. Maybe a police officer with the same gun there could have prevented a lot of people from dying. So I don't, I don't know that we can, we can focus in on that.

But I think that Debbie is correct. I think the, the real issue here is that we, we need to have--be able to have debate here in this country. We need to be able to, to advocate our position strongly. But, ultimately, we need to have some ground rules. We need to realize we're not all here very long, that life is a precious miracle that beggars our imagination, and that when we don't treat each other as fellow children of God, therein lies the great problem. And if somehow that was the, the ultimate focus of our political discourse, we're all trying to get through this life together and make sure that future generations have a better life than we had, then I think sometimes a lot of that debate would, would get, get better.

I will say one important thing.


REP. FRANKS: And that is we don't want unhinged guys like John Hinckley or, or this, this guy to be the ones that are the sentinels of our debate. We don't want to have to change what we say because we're afraid some lunatic might not like it.

MR. GREGORY: Congressman:

REP. GRIJALVA: I, I think accessibility, particularly in Arizona with the, the highly, highly permissive gun laws that we have in that state, has to be examined. That doesn't mean denial of, it means accessibility and how--and the other thing I think, as part of this civil discourse is all of us as, as elected officials need to, to repudiate those that take this political debate further, whether it is a radio show, whether it is an organization that makes targets of people, that brings the discourse to that hate level, to that anger level.

MR. GREGORY: Congressman Labrador, quickly...

REP. GRIJALVA: I think we need to repudiate that.

MR. GREGORY: ...a, a view about the guns, the debate here.

REP. LABRADOR: We have to be careful of this debate a little bit. Washington, D.C., last week had seven murders, and they have some of the most--strictest gun laws in, in the United States. So I don't know that it's the gun laws that are going to make the differences. It's the responsibility that each individual has to, to carry guns safely. And, and, you know, there's still a question about law enforcement. This man was known to be deranged, and he was also known to have already said some things about certain officials in town. So where was law enforcement? And we need to ask those questions.

MR. GREGORY: Is this, Congresswoman, in the final thought here, is this a, is this a moment?

REP. SCHULTZ: It is a moment, and it should be a moment. It's a moment for both parties in Congress to come together. We, we absolutely have to realize that we're all in this for the same reason, to make America a better place. And I hope that the Democratic and Republican leadership will come to--will make a decision for us to have some kind of, not just token unity event, but a--you have a retreat this week, and we have ours the following week. We should have an event where we spend some time together talking about how we can work better together. And then we can move forward together and try to avoid tragedies like this in the future.

MR. GREGORY: All right, we are going to leave it there. Thank you all for being here through such a difficult time.

Our thoughts and prayers are certainly with Congresswoman Giffords and her family, and we send our condolences and let the families of the victims know that they, too, are in our thoughts and our prayers.


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