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MSNBC "Meet The Press" - Transcript


Location: Unknown

GREGORY: That frames it. Andrea, David we'll hear more from you in our roundtable. Let me turn now to the senior democratic Senator from Michigan Carl Levin, chairman of course of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate. Senator, to Egypt, how concerned are you? Is Morsi, a partner of the United States, or a problem?

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI, Chairman, Armed Services Committee): Yes.

GREGORY: He's both?

SEN. LEVIN: Some of both, right.


SEN. LEVIN: But I-- even though there's great concern there, I think we have to be very cautious. We don't obviously want to see a democratically elected autocrat take the place of an undemocratically elected dictator, which was the case before that. On the other hand, there's some real pluses that are possible here. If Egypt takes some real responsibility for making the cease-fire work, we'll stop those missiles from going through those tunnels into Gaza, and they seem to be moving in that direction that can make a real difference in terms of what's going on in Gaza and their attacks on Israel, which have been the cause of this whole…

GREGORY: So what would you like to see the president say--to put a brake on Morsi seizing power? What words does the president have to use to say we're not going back to Mubarak?

SEN. LEVIN: He has to express those concerns and say, obviously, we want this change to be not just democratic but to also be supportive of stability and also to be protecting of minorities…


SEN. LEVIN: …and human rights in Egypt. He says that, but at the same time, he has got to point out that behind all of this is Iran. Iran's support of Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, and the way that has then filtered into weaponry that goes through Egypt, into Gaza, if that can be stopped by Egypt, and if Iran can get a message that the missiles are not going to succeed against Israel because their defenses against short-range missiles, in this case, with the Iron Dome system, but also with the Patriot system…


SEN. LEVIN: …against possible Iranian long-range missiles, is going to take leverage away from Iran. Keep pulling the world together against Iran. That's the source of the problem.

GREGORY: What about the Gaza cease-fire? When do hostilities begin again? When does fighting begin again? How much time has been purchased?

SEN. LEVIN: If Egypt will take a strong role here to stop the tunnels from being used for weaponry getting into Gaza this could lead to a real plus.

GREGORY: You know, I read something this week, Robert Kegan wrote, this is not a question of American influence in the region, it's a question of American interest to take on all of these very difficult problems. You talk about Syria, the brutal oppression there. Condoleezza Rice former secretary of state, of course under President Bush arguing in an op-ed this morning in The Washington Post that the U.S. has to do something. Yes, it's risky, but there's got to be more involvement. This is a portion of what she writes I'll put it up on the screen. "The breakdown of the Middle East state system is a graver risk than-- than the risks of getting involved in Syria. Iran will win," she writes. "Our allies will lose, and for decades the region's misery and violence will make today's chaos look tame. War is not receding in the Middle East. It is building to a crescendo. Our elections are over. Now America must act." So, what does America have to do?

SEN. LEVIN: Well, with Syria, I think we have to-- if we-- if the opposition will get its act together, and become unified, it seems to me that then we should surely support Turkey's request for Patriot missiles as defenses against any threat from Syria. But also we then have to consider a no-fly zone, providing the opposition in Syria comes together. But again, all this goes looking for ways to keep the pressure on Iran and to keep taking away from Iran the kind of weaponry, both psychological and real, that they are using.

GREGORY: I want to shift gears as we talk about your concern about our-- our national security in the Middle East. Let's bring it back home, and the fiscal cliff talks that are going to begin this week. As chairman of the Armed Services Committee, of course, all of these defense jobs that are imperiled by what's called sequestration, and in this town it means automatic spending cuts, half of which would come from defense, you're talking about 50 billion dollars a year starting in January for 10 years unless this deal is averted. By the deal, I mean the automatic cuts that were agreed to, to raise the debt ceiling before. If I have got a defense job, how worried should I be?

SEN. LEVIN: Well, I think you should be worried if you have a defense job, but we all ought to be worried whether we are dependent upon other aspects of the federal budget. Whether we're worried about the regulation of our food safety, whether we're worried about our borders being secure, whether we're worried about FBI being supported? It's all affected by sequestration. The key here is whether or not the Republicans will move away from the ideologically rigid position, which has been the Grover Norquist pledge, which most of them signed, that they will not go for additional revenues. When they move away from that pledge, and they must, as by the way all the presidents that I have ever served with, including Reagan, Clinton, and the first George Bush, moved away from a position, no additional taxes.

GREGORY: Well, here's all…

SEN. LEVIN: They all added revenues to deficit reduction, a significant amount of revenues.

GREGORY: This is actually Chambliss your-- your colleague from Georgia just this week said the following about that pledge not to raise any taxes.

(Videotape, WMAZ - Macon, GA. Thursday)

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R-GA): You know, that pledge I signed 20 years ago was valid then, it's valid now, but times have changed significantly and I care more about this country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: It-- it is my view that the issue of taxes is the number one stumbling block to any kind of fiscal deal. That has to be resolved first before you can get to issues like sequestration. When you hear that from a colleague, does it say to you that there is room, and does the president do anything short of raising tax rates on the wealthy? Is anything short of that acceptable?

SEN. LEVIN: Well, you've got to raise additional revenues, including tax rates on the-- on the wealthy.

GREGORY: Those have to go up?

SEN. LEVIN: They have to go up, either real tax rates or effective tax rates. There's ways of doing that. Secondly, though, we've got to close some significant loopholes. For instance, the ones which allow too many corporations in this country to avoid paying taxes by moving revenue overseas, the use of tax havens to avoid paying taxes in this country is an outrage. We can end it. There's tens of billions of dollars a year involved in closing those kind of offshore loopholes.

GREGORY: I'm going to leave it there. Senator Levin, thank you very much for being here.


GREGORY: Hope you had a good holiday.

SEN. LEVIN: Thank you.

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