MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: In 1994 he led the Republican revolution, the GOP capturing both houses of Congress for the first time in four decades. What does he think will happen in this year’s midterm elections? And how should his fellow Republicans deal with the government’s phone call database, Iraq, Iran, deficits, immigration, gas prices and more? With us: the former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.
Then, insights and analysis from John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal, Jon Meacham of Newsweek magazine, and Judy Woodruff of PBS.
And in our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE, 31 years ago the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, under fire for, yes, domestic surveillance programs.
(Videotape, June 29, 1975):
Mr. WILLIAM E. COLBY: It was improper to collect some of these things, but I think that the word “wrong” covers both the actions which technically may have been illegal and the things that we had no right to do.
MR. RUSSERT: But first, joining us now is the former speaker of the House, Republican Newt Gingrich.
MR. NEWT GINGRICH: Good to be here.
MR. RUSSERT: Let’s go right to it. This is the headline that greeted our country on Thursday in USA Today: “The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA Today. ... This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews. ... For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made - across town or across the country - to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others. ... The NSA’s domestic program, as described by sources, is far more expansive than what the White House has acknowledged.”
And this story, Mr. Speaker, led to this cover in Newsweek magazine, coming out tomorrow, a huge telephone receiver over the White House. Your reaction to this development?
MR. GINGRICH: Well, first of all, the amazing thing is—everything that has been done is totally legal. You just look at the, at the specifics of what they’re doing, it is totally legal. The real problem is the Bush administration refuses to come up front and explain it in advance. If you go to the American people and say, “We’re in a long war with the irreconcilable wing of Islam, there are people who want to kill millions of us, your government has to have an ability to track these people down, in the electronic age it has to be real time. Should the Congress guarantee that the United States government is capable of stopping terrorists, detecting terrorists and, if necessary, going back out and finding out who the terrorists worked with, once you know who the terrorists are? I bet this country’s 90 percent in favor of that, as long as there are protections against you as an innocent person having a U.S. attorney use that information for any purpose other than national security.
So, I think this administration, if they would come straight out on this, go right at the, the Senator Leahys of the world and say, “This is the choice. We’re going to have a nuclear weapon some day or a biological weapon that could kill millions of Americans. We have the technical ability to stop it. Now do you want us to be able to stop it or not?”
MR. RUSSERT: On Thursday night you said—told “Hannity & Colmes” it was defending the indefensible.
MR. GINGRICH: Because they refuse to come out front and talk about it. As long as this stuff leaks out and then they’re on defense, then you get these kind of absurd magazine covers and then you’re going to have Senator Specter saying he’s going to threaten American companies. Think about what it does to any company in the United States who would like to cooperate with the U.S. government to be told, “And by the way, you could be subpoenaed by the U.S. Senate and then, by the way, you can have a lawsuit filed,” as they—apparently two lawyers have announced they’re going to file lawsuits. Do you want this country to—and I’m a constitutional conservative. The Congress has to have oversight. Things have to be done in a legal way. But for example, I would split the FBI into two agencies. I’d have a very aggressive anti-terrorist agency and I’d be clear with the entire country and the world.
MR. RUSSERT: But you’re not troubled with the government gathering data on phone calls made in this country by American citizens?
MR. GINGRICH: Look, if you find out one morning that we now have five terrorists in the U.S. who are part of an active network who want to destroy New York City or Buffalo or Atlanta, and the government says, “You know, we could’ve tracked every call they made for the last 10 years, but that would’ve been wrong, Tim. So we don’t know who they’ve been working with. We don’t know what their network is and we can’t stop it,” you’re then going to have a totally new set of congressional hearings by the same people who will then reverse their side, totally. I do think your civil liberties ought to be...(unintelligible). Nobody who’s not involved in terrorism should be at risk. Nobody who’s making normal phone calls should be at risk. But the idea that we’re going to say to the United States government, for libertarian reasons, “We’d rather lose a city than have you gather data,” I think is totally out of touch with the danger of the modern world.
MR. RUSSERT: Back in March you said something that caught my attention on the 2006 election. “What [the Democrats] should do, is say nothing except ‘Had enough?’” Had enough of what?
MR. GINGRICH: Well, first of all, I said that in part because of something that was illustrated on your show last Sunday, which is that if you represent a party whose contract is with San Francisco and Vermont, you can hardly explain what your future is. I mean, Congresswoman Pelosi cannot explain what her speakership would be because it would be so far to the left they would guarantee the Republicans re-election. So I was saying partly they can’t possibly put together a contract with America because Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi and, and, and their allies are so far to the left. They can’t be clear what they would do—raise taxes, create more big bureaucracy, have a much weaker system of defending America. I mean, just go down the list.
Second, I think that it’s clear, whether you look at gasoline prices or you look at the issue of immigration and controlling the borders or you look at the size of spending, that people are—the very people who created the Republican majority are not happy right now with the majority because they really want the values that are essentially conservative. And I think in that sense, Republicans have an obligation to significantly change what they’ve been doing in Congress.
And by the way, I think when Speaker Hastert said the other day that the big spending Senate bill that was $20 billion dollars above the president’s request is dead on arrival and there’s no point on even going to a conference until the Senate passes a new much smaller spending bill, that was a good step towards understanding where the American people want the Republicans to be.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me share with our viewers something from the Philadelphia Inquirer from Newt Gingrich. “A dozen years after he engineered his party’s takeover of Congress, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich warned that his fellow Republicans could be swept out of power this year. ‘They are seen by the country as being in charge of the government that can’t function. ... We could lose control this fall.’ He said there had been a series of blunders under Republican rule, from failure in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to mismanagement of the war in Iraq. He said the immigration bill passed by the House was unrealistic and too harsh toward undocumented immigrants. He called congressional efforts to regulate lobbying ‘much too weak,’ and said the government had squandered billions of dollars in Iraq.” That is very condemning of your party.
MR. GINGRICH: Well, I think, I think we have to confront the fact that on a variety of fronts we’re not getting the performance we want. I don’t think—look, the people who are in charge have an obligation to deliver. The United States is a very tough-minded country, and we actually want the people we put in charge to get the job done. When you, when you’re told this morning by the person who—from 2003 to 2005 was the head of the border for the United States government, that the border is essentially an invitation to illegal entry, you know something has to change. When you learn that maybe as much as 16 of the $18 billion dollars that we sent to Baghdad for economic purposes wasn’t spent effectively, you know something has to change. When you look at Katrina and you realize that we, we—the United States government paid $1.75 to a general contractor who paid 75 cents to a contractor who paid 35 cents to a subcontractor who paid 10 cents to put the blue tarp on that was the temporary roofing, you know something has to change.
My argument with my own party is simple: I want a Republican majority, I want a Republican presidency. I think that means we have to recognize when things aren’t working and we have to fix them and not wait for the American people to get so upset that they decide to replace us. So I’m advocating in behalf of retaining our majority, that we have to be more aggressive about spending, we have to be more aggressive about energy. And, you know, I, I wish the president would call a renewable fuel summit at Iowa State and, and, and have all the major players, and propose in the next 30 days a very substantial renewable fuels bill that could significantly reduce our, our reliance on Saudi Arabia and our reliance on Venezuela.
But I think the country wants us to lead. The country would love for Republicans to be solid on this, the country does not want to go back to a left-wing Democratic majority, that they do want the Republicans to recognize things need to change.
MR. RUSSERT: They don’t want more of the same.
MR. GINGRICH: Right. They don’t want more of the—they’d rather have a conservative change than a liberal change, but they’re not going to tolerate being told it’s OK for the border to be uncontrolled, it’s OK for 11 million people to be here illegally, it’s OK to have a Senate bill which sets up a very strange three-layer tier of how long you’ve been breaking the law, for example, on immigration.
MR. RUSSERT: But let’s, let’s accept that everyone wants to toughen the border, the president talking about moving National Guard in there, both parties seem convinced to do that. What do you do, specifically, with the 11 million undocumented workers in the country? Do you send them back?
MR. GINGRICH: Well, look, first of all, I’m going to disappoint you for a half-second, because you can’t answer these questions in six-second sound bites. These are, these are hard things, all right? The United States, because the government failed to enforce the law and because many businesses broke the law knowingly and many businesses broke the law unknowingly because the documentation is so bad, the United States has now created a mess for itself over a 20-year period. I voted in 1986 for the bill which in fact amnestied three—almost three million people. It said we’re going to set up a temporary worker program, it said we’re going to control the border, and it said we’re going to enforce the law on, on employers. None of that happened. So now you are where we are today.
What the American people want’s very straightforward, and the numbers on this overwhelming, and I just wish that the, the Republican leadership would side with the American people. One, control the border; two, enforce the law on illegal employers. I mean, 84 percent of the country says the problem isn’t somebody who comes here from Guatemala or Mexico City because they want a job and to work hard, the problem is the guy—the American who’s breaking the law. Three, we assert that the the path to citizenship has to involve learning English and giving up the right to vote in any other country. Four, create a worker visa program that has a background check, that has a biometric card, probably a retinal scan so it’s really accurate and very, very hard to counterfeit, and have that card, by the way, run by AMEX or—American Express or Visa or MasterCard, because you know the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t have any possibility of running that program.
Now, two more steps to get to your—to what you asked. I think you then establish that you’re going to be very rigorous in enforcing the law, which means the jobs are going to dry up, so you don’t have to go out and chase away people, you don’t have to—you just have to say to people, “Within the next year, you’re not going to be able to get illegal work,” because it’s going to be too expensive, which also requires the government to fix its own system, because last year the government got $6 billion 400 million dollars in money for Social Security from accounts that don’t exist. And yet, nobody in the government called the company and said, “Gee, that check you just sent us was for a person who’s not here legally.”
MR. RUSSERT: But what...
MR. GINGRICH: Now—then what I would do is very straightforward, I would require—and by the way, this can all be done with—at less cost than the Senate bill. I would require everyone who’s here to go home long enough to apply legally to get a card with a biometric, to sign a contract that says, “I will obey the law, I will pay taxes, and I can be removed from the United States in 48 hours if I break the agreement.” By the way, the Senate bill requires paying a fine which is larger than the cost of going home.
MR. RUSSERT: But Mr. Speaker, many of those people have children here who are American citizens. Do they leave their children behind?
MR. GINGRICH: I—there are a lot of things you can do.
MR. RUSSERT: What do you do?
MR. GINGRICH: Look, if...
MR. RUSSERT: It’s a real issue. It’s a real human issue.
MR. GINGRICH: You go home long enough to obey the...
MR. RUSSERT: Without your children?
MR. GINGRICH: In every case, you can find ways to make accommodations. The Senate is requiring them to pay a fine to the government larger than the cost of flying home. Remember, I’m saying to people who came here illegally, “We’re going to allow you to legally go home. We’re going to allow you legally to apply for the card. But we are not going to allow people to start their career in America by breaking the law.” And I think—I, I can’t tell you how strongly I feel that if we set a pattern that breaking the law pays—and by the way, the Senate provision says you—if you—it’s going to create an entire forgery industry, because it creates three classes of people. If you’re here less than two years, you have to leave. If you’re here two to five years you can stay, but under certain circumstances. If you’re over five years you get to stay. For the first time in history, we’re going to create a forgery industry to prove you’ve been breaking the law longer...
MR. RUSSERT: But if you...
MR. GINGRICH: But just think...
MR. RUSSERT: If Hispanics are listening to you today, Latinos, and Newt Gingrich is saying mother and fathers have to go home, and break up the families...
MR. GINGRICH: I didn’t say break up the family, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: What happens to the kids?
MR. GINGRICH: I didn’t say anything—I didn’t say anything about that.
MR. RUSSERT: What happens to the kids?
MR. GINGRICH: I didn’t—first of all, in the age of jet airplanes—you, you, you phase this in over three years. The—there are ways to do this that can be humane, they can be compassionate, they can be caring. But I think for you to take the, the most difficult possible case, you can decide on humanitarian grounds to have a handful of exceptions.
But for you to establish the principle that we’re now going to reward those who have broken the law the longest, we’re going to create an entire forgery industry so people prove they’ve been here as long as possible, breaking the law, and you don’t think we’re going to send a signal to the entire planet:
Show up in the U.S. for the next amnesty. It was three million last time, it’s going to be—the estimate, by the way, which I think will come out from the Heritage Foundation tomorrow is that the bill in the Senate is between 30 and 50 million people ultimately allowed to become citizens under the extended family provision in this bill. Thirty to 50 million people. You don’t think 10 years from now we’re going to face another wave of illegals who are sitting there saying—I—by the way, 53 percent of all Hispanic-Americans, people who have citizenship, agree with the provision, that you should enforce the law. Because remember, many of them have relatives who’ve been sitting at home, waiting and obeying the law, hoping to get a legal visa. And now they’re about to be told that somebody who has been breaking the law for 11 years has a better place in America than somebody who waited back home to obey the law to come to the U.S. legally.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Iraq. This is what Newt Gingrich said back in 2002, when Congress was thinking about voting for the war, and this is how he approached the issue: “The question is not, ‘Should we replace Saddam?’ The question is, ‘Should we wait until Saddam gives biological, chemical and nuclear weapons to terrorists?’ We should not wait until Saddam has the full capacity to create terror around the planet and is able to blackmail with nuclear weapons. Waiting is not an option.”
And then about a year later you were on MEET THE PRESS, I asked—six months into the war—and I asked you about it, and this is what you said:
(Videotape, December 22, 2002):
MR. GINGRICH: Those people are truly evil, and we have to finish hunting them down. And until we finish that, we shouldn’t say another word about an exit strategy. We are there to stay till the job’s done.
MR. RUSSERT: Two years later, in ‘05, this is what The New York Times said you—reported your quotes: “Any effort to explain Iraq as ‘We are on track and making progress’ is nonsense.”
And then in your book, “Winning the Future”: “We should be clear: There are a lot of problems. Iraq is a mess. It is going to remain a mess for a long time.”
And then last month: “Gingrich ... claims to be ‘mystified’ by the Bush administration’s incompetence since Baghdad fell in 2003.”
And then in South Dakota in one speech: “It was an enormous mistake for us to try to occupy that country after June of 2003. ... We have to pull back, and we have to recognize it.” Later that day you said that we have to—we’ll be there for a long time. Knowing what you know now, do you believe going into Iraq was the right thing to do?
MR. GINGRICH: Well, let me start with the, the South Dakota quote, which, in fact the newspaper retracted the headline on. What I’ve said is very consistent. Saddam was very dangerous. If you ask me is America safer with Saddam in jail than it was with Saddam in charge of the government, I think we’re much safer today than we would have been, because it’s very clear from United Nations reports, and as you know I co-chaired with Senator George Mitchell a task force on, on reforming the U.N., it’s very clear from the United Nations information that sanctions were breaking down. The French and the Russians, basically, were, were being increasingly bribed to allow all sorts of loopholes. So if, if Saddam were still in power today, there’s no doubt in my mind the sanctions regime would be gone, and the Middle East would be in much worse shape than it is.
Second, the initial war was, was a brilliant campaign. Tommy Franks’ campaign, in 23 days, eliminated the government, the dictatorship, created the opportunity for us to do exactly what we’d done in Afghanistan, which is turn the country back over to an interim government. We did it in Afghanistan in three weeks. The ambassador, Khalilzad, who is today the ambassador in Baghdad, did a brilliant job in Afghanistan. For reasons which—this is why I said I was mystified—I cannot, to this day, tell you why Ambassador Bremer thought it was his job to create an American-centered system to give speeches on Iraqi television, to be clearly seen as the guy in charge. Ambassador Khalilzad did it exactly right in Afghanistan. We’ve had a much less difficult problem. It has been much more successful. We are very slowly getting back to that position today. It’s exactly where General Abizaid wanted us to be all along, and I think we will eventually win the campaign in Iraq. But it has been much longer and much harder than it needed to be, largely I think because of the mistakes that were made when Ambassador Bremer was in charge in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: And the president?
MR. GINGRICH: Well, the president’s commander in chief. I mean you can’t...
MR. RUSSERT: But...
MR. GINGRICH: ...say the president’s commander in chief except when it goes wrong.
MR. RUSSERT: ...but knowing no weapons of mass destruction, knowing the level of insurgency resisting—resistance, knowing the sectarian violence, knowing the cost, do you believe it was still worthwhile and do you believe it was a war of choice or necessity?
MR. GINGRICH: Look, I believe that the president was exactly right in the State of the Union in 2002 to say there is an “axis of evil.” I think he was exactly right to say North Korea, Iran and Iraq are very, very dangerous. I think historians are going to look back and say that they are more troubled by what we have not yet done to figure out North Korea and Iran, both of which have made progress towards getting nuclear weapons in the following four years, than they are going to be by Iraq.
Iraq has been painful, we have learned some very difficult lessons, we are better prepared today if we have to do something than we were four years ago. But if you were to say, again, because all of history is looking forward. I would—I read the—as you know I’m on the Defense Policy Board—and I went—I read the initial report, the 100-page report the president got. Knowing what the intelligence community—not in the U.S., in Russia, in France, in Italy, in Britain—knowing what they believed in 2003, it would have been irresponsible not to have eliminated Saddam’s regime in 2003.
MR. RUSSERT: War of choice or necessity?
MR. GINGRICH: It was, it was a war of choice in the sense that we believed that sooner or later he was going to hit us, and therefore I would argue that the only question was timing. But I believe it’s much harder to make the case that the United States would be safer today with Saddam Hussein in power.
MR. RUSSERT: Because...
MR. GINGRICH: But, by the way, remember Saddam was paying $25,000 dollars to the family of every suicide bomber. Saddam had a direct relationship with al-Qaeda, and if you read the recent joint forces command report, which is declassified and has been published, which goes through all the information we’ve learned from the Iraqi generals, it’s very compelling that this was a dangerous dictatorship and that we had a very good reason to be worried about it.
MR. RUSSERT: Has our involvement and presence in Iraq and the difficulties in that war, and the costs of that war, limited our options with Iran?
MR. GINGRICH: I think we’re only limited by our own psychology. I think we clearly have the capability if we need to, to replace the regime in Tehran. We clearly have the power and capacity in the region. I—it’s hard for me to understand why people think that an America too timid to take on Saddam would have had more support from the Arab world against Iran, that an America which has shown enormous endurance and enormous courage in doing what it has to do. And I think that Iran is, in fact, the centerpiece of our future, and Ahmadinejad, the current dictator, clearly intends to defeat the United States and to eliminate Israel from the face of the Earth. And people who are watching us ought to really think through what those words mean and ask yourself, “Do you prefer to wait until we lose Tel Aviv and Jerusalem or do you prefer to wait until an Iranian nuclear weapon is in New York harbor?”
MR. RUSSERT: So what do we do?
MR. GINGRICH: I think—first of all, I think Senator Santorum has the right approach, which is a bill which says we actively support every dissident element in Iran. We have an explicit goal of replacing the current dictatorship and we do it as—if it is at all possible over the next two or three years, we do it—we do it, you know, with, with, with the kind of things we did for example in, in Poland where we very—or in Ukraine or in Hungary or in Romania where we’ve been very successful allying with the people. Remember this is a very...
MR. RUSSERT: But if that doesn’t work, will you...
MR. GINGRICH: Ultimately, if you have no choice there may be a morning you have to replace the regime militarily. That’s the last step, it’s not the first step. But you can’t read what Ahmadinejad says—and this is not a CIA analyst problem. He says this stuff publicly on television.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think the American...
MR. GINGRICH: You can’t read that and not...
MR. RUSSERT: ...people would support another war? And do you—how would the world respond to the U.S. invading another Muslim country?
MR. GINGRICH: Well, first of all, I mean, you just jumped past two or three years of trying to replace the regime peacefully.
MR. RUSSERT: No, but these are options that people policy...
MR. GINGRICH: I believe if, if the world under—is forced to confront the degree to which Ahmadinejad—first of all, why is the, why is the United Nations still allowing Iran to vote? Here you have a regime that says publicly, “We want to eliminate a fellow member of the”—you know. And he talks about “eliminate from the face of the earth.” He talks about catastrophic attack. He’s the—this—Ahmadinejad is very clear, and he’s a religious fanatic, and there’s every reason to believe he means this. This is not idle bluffing, that the morning they get nuclear weapons if he—if it’s—if he gets his say, he’s going to use them.
Now, if the American people come to believe that’s true—and all you got to do is, one, watch his speeches, and, two, watch the nine-minute cartoon they ran on television recruiting 10-year-olds to be suicide bombers—this is on Iranian public television—I think the American people faced with that would say, very sadly, “Get rid of that government. We hope you do it peacefully, we hope you do it diplomatically, but we will not accept you coming back and telling us you didn’t do it.”
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to domestic programs. 2001, the Republicans took control of the White House, had control of the House of Representatives and the Senate. And here’s the record on federal spending. It has gone from 1.9 trillion to 2.6 trillion, up 37 percent, nearly three times the rate of inflation. The budget had a $281 billion dollar surplus, is now $336 billion dollar deficit. That’s a swing of $617 billion dollars. The debt is nearly $9 trillion dollars. Gas prices have gone from $1.47 to 2.91, an increase of 98 percent. Why shouldn’t voters say they’ve had enough?
MR. GINGRICH: Well, I think this is part of why the Republican leadership has a window of a few more months to change. And I will say that I thought, as I mentioned, that I thought Speaker Hastert’s recent statement that the Senate bill is so outrageously too big that the House won’t even conference on it was exactly right. I think the Senate should be challenged to pass the supplemental bill at 92 billion. I think that the recent announcement by Senator Collins and Senator Lieberman and by Congressman Dave Reichert in the House that FEMA needs to be totally replaced and looked at from a totally new angle is, frankly, the right kind of approach to real change. I believe that the amount of spending increase you just cited is further—is proof we don’t need a tax increase, we need to control spending. That’s why, that’s why conservatives want to do what we did, you know, when we got to a balanced budget, the first four balanced budgets since the 1920s, we did it by controlling spending, reforming welfare, reforming Medicare, and we did it while cutting taxes to increase economic growth.
So the idea that liberal Democrats, that Nancy Pelosi and others have, that if only we had a big tax increase, that would help things, is exactly wrong. First of all, I think it would lead to a recession and there would be fewer jobs and lower income. Second, it would just feed big government. This government has more than enough money to do everything it needs to do, and the challenge is to fundamentally overhaul it. And I would just say our track record in the late ‘90s was pretty darn good. We actually managed to balance the federal budget while cutting taxes, while reforming welfare, while cutting...
MR. RUSSERT: But, Mr. Speaker, in all candor, 2001 till now, complete Republican control, hasn’t the welfare state grown?
MR. GINGRICH: I just said to you a minute ago, I think they have to have real change. I’m not, I’m not defending the current spending, I—your numbers there.
But let me take your second part, which is there’s an enormous opportunity which I think would get substantial support to take the challenge of gasoline prices and the challenge of relying on dictatorships, whether Venezuela, Nigeria, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Russia—I mean, there are a lot of unstable governments—Iraq is not a dictatorship—but there are a lot of unstable governments out there that are currently the heart of our energy strategy. And at a time when India and China are growing in their demand for energy, the need for a national strategy—and I’ve strongly supported on a bipartisan basis the concept of 25 percent renewables by 2025.
I think that Congressman Nussle’s bill on alternative fuels is exactly the right direction. The need to go to—the ability to subsidize gas stations to open up an E85 pump so you can have ethanol in large amounts. There are things you can do. I mean, my only point to Republican leaders is there are things we can do in the age of television in May, June and July that change the nature of the debate in September and October.
MR. RUSSERT: But you did say that your fellow Republicans stopped being reformers, reverted to being normal palls. And that in terms of talking about Jake—Jack Abramoff, that any effort to push this under the rug, to say this is just one bad apple, that’s baloney. You believe there’s culture of corruption.
MR. GINGRICH: I think there’s a problem in both parties. Remember, you just had the, the leading Democrat on the Ethics Committee have to step down because of allegations in millions and millions of dollars of corruption. You just had Congressman Jefferson’s chief of staff plead guilty to accepting bribery, a Democrat from New Orleans. I think that there are problems in both parties. I’ve advocated, for example, lifting any limit on contributions back home but banning fund-raising in Washington, because there’s no reason for incumbents to raise money in Washington from the lobbyists they’re working with. And I think we need a very different approach than we’ve had, frankly—I think the McCain-Feingold censorship bill actually compounds the current problems. And I think that there are—there need to be fundamental changes, and the recent reform bill did nothing in the direction of serious reform.
MR. RUSSERT: As you well remember in 1997, you were reprimanded by the House and paid a $300,000 dollar fine for not telling—sharing truthful information with the committee looking into some of your activities. Do you believe that would be an impediment to you if you decided to seek higher office?
MR. GINGRICH: Oh, first of all, I didn’t pay a fine, I paid the cost of the investigation.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, Nancy Johnson, Republican, House Ethics Committee, said it was a fine.
MR. GINGRICH: Yeah. OK. But I—if you go back and read the actual report, it—we agreed that the—it had cost $300,000 dollars to investigate.
We had one letter—out of 83 ethics charges filed by Democrats, the only allegation that had any substance was not even from 83. All 83 in the end were not problems. We had one letter, which my attorney wrote, which was technically wrong. And I said that was wrong, I took full responsibility for it being wrong, and I said, “Therefore I, out of my personal money, I will pay the difference.”
I just want to suggest to you that that’s a pretty high standard of enforcing ethics and saying we ought to do the right thing, and both the president and the speaker are under the rules and under the law. And therefore if you do something that’s not correct, you ought to pay up for it.
MR. RUSSERT: But do you believe it would be impediment for you to seek high office?
MR. GINGRICH: I, I’m sure if anything like that ever happens, we’ll have all sorts of consultants with all sorts of ways of attacking Newt Gingrich. That’ll be one of the 73 items that they’ll figure out.
MR. RUSSERT: When you were on the program in ‘03, I said, “Will Newt Gingrich ever seek elective office again?” You said, “I doubt it very much.” Is that comment still operative?
MR. GINGRICH: I doubt it.
MR. RUSSERT: You doubt...
MR. GINGRICH: We’ll drop very much, it seems to me that’s a little bit extreme.
MR. RUSSERT: You doubt you’ll run for president?
MR. GINGRICH: I doubt it at this point.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you your travel. You’ve been in Iowa four times, New Hampshire three times, and then you told the Des Moines Register that—at the Lincoln Day dinner, that you’d be back in Iowa to see the state fair, that your wife had graduated from a college in Iowa that “we hope to personally visit all 99 counties.” Is that because you love Iowa?
MR. GINGRICH: Well, first of all, we are trying to create a movement for real change. I mean, I do believe the concept the real change requires real change, and whether you’re talking about education, you’re—so you can compete with China and India; you’re talking about using bioenergy so you can be safe, whether you’re talking about transforming health so that you could eliminate cancer as a cause of death, which I think is possible, these are all real changes, these are not just cosmetics. The two places, as you know as a professional, the two places you’d most like to change the language of politics are Iowa and New Hampshire. And, and I am very committed, on a bipartisan basis, Democrat and Republican—I, I’ve suggested strongly to the Republican Party of Iowa that they spend 2007 in a bipartisan dialogue with Democrats, that they, they and the Democrats in Iowa jointly host for dialogue, not debate, not Mickey Mouse cattle shows, not, you know, clever 19-second answers, but for real conversation In the, in the Lincoln-Douglas tradition. Lincoln-Douglas debates lasted three hours each, there were seven of them.
MR. RUSSERT: But you’re not, you’re not ruling out running?
MR. GINGRICH: I’m not ruling out running, but I’m also saying we have real things to do in ‘06. We have real things to do in ‘07. And it’ll be nice to have a couple of years of talking about solutions, not just talking about ambitions.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you May 11, 2005, and then May 11, 2006. There’s May 11, 2005. One year later, 2006. Newt Gingrich, Hillary Clinton—political odd couple. Do you think she’ll be the Democratic nominee?
MR. GINGRICH: Well, I think she’s the front-runner. But I think, you know, she has, she has a lot of challenges and there’s a question whether or not there’s a ceiling, that when you got down to the Hillary/anti-Hillary, whether or not she can break 50 percent in primaries. But she’s clearly the most formidable Democrat in the field.
MR. RUSSERT: Could she win a general election?
MR. GINGRICH: I, I think—this is a country which has elected a peanut farmer, an actor who made movies with monkeys. I mean, you know—with chimpanzees. I mean, many things happen in America. I think any Republican who doesn’t believe that Senator Clinton is an intelligent, hard-working professional, and that if we beat her we’re going to beat her with better ideas. We’re not going to beat her with some kind of negative campaign. We’re going to beat her because in the end, the country decides our ideas and our solutions are better than hers. And, and, and I think, I think she’s very formidable, but I also think, you know, she’s been around long enough. I mean, she understands if, if we don’t break out of the partisan mess that we’re in, if we don’t—this is why the dialogue idea I think is so important...
MR. RUSSERT: Let, let me close on that, because when you came to Congress and you took control of the Republican revolution, you were described as a bomb-thrower. Some of your rhetoric was pretty hostile. Jim Wright being a bad man...
MR. GINGRICH: Sure.
MR. RUSSERT: ...and, and things like that. Do you regret some of that vitriolic, poisonous, bitter rhetoric? And do you think it should stop on both sides?
MR. GINGRICH: Well, well look. First of all, sadly, Speaker Wright resigned with an enormous number of problems, and, and the Democratic Party insisted he resign. So what I said there, I stand by.
Second, when I was speaker of the House, working with a Democratic president, we passed welfare reform and 65 percent of the people on welfare went to work or went to school. We passed the first tax cut in 17 years. We passed the first four balanced budgets since the 1920s. If you go back and look at our record, there was a period there...
MR. RUSSERT: But now, now, now...
MR. GINGRICH: I’m just saying. Senator—Speaker—President Clinton and I were able to reach beyond partisanship. On foreign policy, I consistently tried to strengthen the presidency overseas, and I think if you were to talk to Erskine Bowles or anybody else who was in the Clinton White House in that period they’ll tell you, we were able to get beyond partisanship, to cut very tough deals, to negotiate for, for literally hundreds of hours.
MR. RUSSERT: All right, this way: Should the blogs, talk radio, cable TV—should people lower their voices, and, and, and control their rhetoric?
MR. GINGRICH: If we could get the two parties to agree to a series of dialogues for all of 2007, to have real conversation about where should America be in 2015. How do you fix our education system so it—we can compete with China and India? The very act of having the political leaders required, you know, no ninth—what we have today is, can you raise enough money to hire a consultant to get a focus group to memorize 90 seconds? I mean, it is a banal and destructive...
MR. RUSSERT: And attack people personally.
MR. GINGRICH: And attack—and then can you run nasty ads defeating the other person. When you’re both on the same stage regularly, and you and I were talking about this the other day, the Barry Goldwater proposal that President John F. Kennedy...
MR. RUSSERT: Travel around the country with John F. Kennedy.
MR. GINGRICH: That they would actually be together so people would understand. We have a country that we, together, have to go through a lot of real changes if we’re going to give our grandchildren the kind of future that our parents gave us. And that, that should be beyond either party.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Speaker, we thank you for joining us and sharing your views.
MR. GINGRICH: Good to be with you.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, our roundtable tackles the very latest Bush poll numbers and that issue, civil liberties vs. national security, coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Our roundtable with John Harwood, Judy Woodruff and Jon Meacham after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Welcome all. Let’s go to it. Newsweek has a new poll out this morning. President Bush job approval: approve, 35; disapprove, 59. Pretty much where it’s been. And then this question:
President Bush’s performance since his re-election: better, 4 percent; worse, 48; same, 47.
John Harwood, what do you make of that?
MR. JOHN HARWOOD: First of all, Tim, I have to salute my mom, the mom I’m married to and the terrific mom sitting next to me here.
MR. RUSSERT: Amen.
MS. JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.
MR. HARWOOD: It tells you something about where the Bush presidency is right now when they argue with you and say, “No, that 31 percent in the CBS/New York Times poll was too low. We’re really in the mid-30s.” It’s a very, very difficult stretch for him, and it may not get better until something significant happens in Iraq, bringing 20, 30,000 troops home this fall. But they’re trying to fight through one step at a time. The tax cut bill getting through both chambers of Congress was a step forward this past week. And the president’s now playing hard on immigration with his speech on Monday night trying to give some cover to conservatives in his party to support this comprehensive bill with border security and a guest worker program. If they can get that, that would tell the American people that on a big problem, a very emotional problem that many people are concerned with, they’re at least taking some action.
MR. RUSSERT: The problem is when the president speaks on immigration, Judy, a lot of people in his own party aren’t going to agree.
MS. WOODRUFF: That’s right, Tim, division. The president—the White House needs a win badly right now. This is a rough, rough patch for them. It’s gone on a long time. They are dealing with conservatives in their own party, they’re dealing with others in the party, moderates, close to business. They’ve got to come up with something. They want to come up with something that’s going to satisfy both. But Tim, on the polls, Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster, reminds me that only Richard Nixon went this long under 40 percent. That’s how long George Bush has been in the 30s. I was in Mississippi this weekend, the reddest, perhaps, of the red states. Even there, Republican—granted it was Oxford—but granted, even there Republicans are disenchanted with this president.
Can he turn it around? Sure, second-term presidents have done that. Bill Clinton after Monica Lewinsky, Ronald Reagan after Iran-Contra. But those were one-issue problems. This is a president who has dealt with one crisis after another: Iraq, Katrina, the deficit, and it goes on and on. And it may be that there’s only one way he can turn it around, and that’s Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: And here’s another issue that confronted him. That was the collecting of data on domestic phone calls. This is what the president had to say on Thursday.
(Videotape, May 11, 2006):
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: The privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities. We’re not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans. Our efforts are focused on links to al-Qaeda and their known affiliates. So far we’ve been very successful in preventing another attack on our soil.
MR. RUSSERT: Jon Meacham, your magazine asked the people across the country about that issue. Necessary to combot—combat terrorism? Forty-one say yes; goes too far in invading privacy, 53. You heard Speaker Gingrich saying the president has to speak publicly to the country to reassure them about a program like this.
MR. JON MEACHAM: Yes. Right. There’s a lot of drip, drip, drip going on, I think, particularly with the National—the NSA, No Such Agency. Well, there’s clearly such an agency and its—we’re hearing more and more about what, what they’ve been up to and hats off to USA Today for the scoop this week. My sense is that as much as the president is going to talk about Medicare, as much as he’s going to talk about immigration, as much as he’s going to talk about the tax cuts, in our poll, 80 percent or more of folks who are disapproving of the president are disapproving of three big things: Iraq, Katrina and the deficit. So these other issues are hugely important and should be addressed, but he has these central problems and it’s very hard to change the subject.
We’re only 22 weeks away from the midterm election. Fifty-seven percent of the country in our poll says that the Bush-Cheney administration—when you ask it that way. When you say Bush-Cheney, have they gone too far in expanding executive power, say yes. So almost two-thirds of the country say that. The other factoid which is of interest is he’s, President Bush is heading into the midterm with the lowest approval rating of any president in history of polling.
MR. RUSSERT: It is interesting. You also asked this question about history. How will they judge George Bush? Above average, 16; average, 32; below average, 50. How would that rank in terms of other presidents?
MR. MEACHAM: It’s bad and it’s clearly—now we always feel that we’re dwelling with pygmies and then they become giants after they’re gone. So you have to allow for some of that. But 71 percent of the country—which is the highest number in the history of the Newsweek poll—are dissatisfied with the way things are going. You look at the number that says the president is not doing as good a—is doing a worse job or about the same. Only 4 percent believe he’s doing better.
We’ve reached this sort of moment of, of stagnation with the president, and...
MR. RUSSERT: And yet the White House advisors will say if Iraq turns around and become a beacon for democracy and there’s an immigration plan and so forth, history will look much differently on this president.
MR. MEACHAM: And—well, absolutely. And let us pray that happens, because we’re all better off if things go well, the country’s better off if things go well. But the problem is—and you saw it this week with the NSA news—is that the president is not fully—does not appear to be fully addressing the concerns of the country and of Iraq and is not just being completely straightforward about it, I think.
MR. HARWOOD: Tim, this phone records dispute is really an inkblot test for the polarization we have in our politics right now, and I would say to the author of “American Gospel,” it’s a question of faith. Do you have faith in the good intentions of this administration or not? If you explain to the American people that they’re analyzing records of phone calls, running them through a computer trying to look for patterns, if you have faith in the good intentions of the administration, that doesn’t look so bad. But if you don’t, it looks like some sort of a plot.
You know the great historian, Bernard Bailyn, once explained the American Revolution by saying its leaders were convinced that the British crown actually had a conspiracy to take away their liberty. There are a lot of Democrats who feel that way about this administration right now.
MR. RUSSERT: It is interesting to hear Speaker Gingrich talk about the rhetoric and the need for civility, because he was one of the foremost fiercest partisans in Washington. John McCain yesterday went to see Jerry Falwell—and we can have those pictures—someone that he once called an agent of intolerance. There they are together at Liberty University. And Senator McCain also addressed this theme. Let’s listen.
(Videotape, May 13, 2006):
SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ): We have fought among ourselves before in our history, over big things and small, with worse vitriol and bitterness than we experience today. Let us exercise our responsibilities as free people, but let us remember we are not enemies. We are compatriots, defending ourselves from a real enemy. We have nothing to fear from each other. We are arguing over the means to better secure our freedom, promote the general welfare and defend our ideals. It should remain an argument among friends.
MR. RUSSERT: Will it?
MS. WOODRUFF: Well, Tim, number one on the speech that John McCain gave, I think it was a smart speech. It was a safe speech. He didn’t go beyond what he said before. He didn’t say anything he’s going to have to defend. The bigger problem for John McCain, though, I think there’s to some extent too much focus, too much worry about whether it was the right thing or the wrong thing for him to go off and make a speech to a religious right group. There’s a history of prominent politicians doing that. Thirty years ago Teddy Kennedy went to Alabama, sat on a stage with George Wallace, the segregationist governor of that state. So there’s a history of that.
John McCain’s bigger problem down the road will be does he keep the same position on gay marriage and, and even larger than that, his authenticity, Tim, is all around his position on fiscal issues. And, and if he changes his position, which he’s articulated for some time, that he’s a fiscal conservative, you know, some Republican supply-siders are saying that’s what he’s changed, that he now favors extending the tax cuts, making them permanent, that to me would raise questions about whether John McCain is, is the Straight Talk Express guy we thought he was.
MR. RUSSERT: Jon Meacham:
MR. MEACHAM: Well, I thought it was a great speech, actually, McCain gave. He did it in a way—you know, my old friend and editor, Charlie Peters, liked to say, “People listen to sermons by reformed sinners,” and McCain said, you know, “I’ve not always heeded the injunction to love one another as I want to be loved.” And he said very directly that we have to not only tolerate one another’s beliefs but respect them. He did it smartly at Liberty in the context of disagreement about the war in Iraq. What I found fascinating is obviously, the lessons of that can be applied to anything else, any contentious issue. And what he was arguing for was an American way of talking about issues in a way that’s sort of straight out of a tradition. There’s a line of John Adams, “I hate polemical divinity and polemical politics and I just want to do good by my neighbor and do right by the creation of which I’m an infinitesimal part.” And that was sort of the spirit in which McCain was speaking.
And I think there’s a connection between these two things. I think if the president were a bit more open, a bit more vocal about what’s in his heart and what the honest problems are we’ve encountered in Iraq and elsewhere, I think that his numbers would go up because people would begin to see that he’s honestly struggling with these issues.
MR. RUSSERT: John:
MR. HARWOOD: Tim, a couple of years ago, John McCain and the people around him had a decision to make, “Is the right way to run for president to go third party, to run independent, or to run within the Republican Party?” Once they chose that fork in the road, to stay in the Republican Party, speeches like this were given. And his team thinks it’s a good thing to get it out of the way now rather than next year when he announces for president. There is some cost.
You know, I, I wrote a story recently about John McCain, described him as a maverick, and the editor said, “Wait, isn’t that wrong? Isn’t he a former maverick?” But I tell you what, when you have taken on a president of your party on taxes, torture and campaign finance reform, your street cred as a maverick is pretty solid.
MS. WOODRUFF: And I think it’s important to add, Tim, that I don’t, I don’t think what John McCain’s people are trying—what John McCain is trying to do is, is assume that he’s going to win over the religious right, the religious conservatives, for him I think it’s more about reducing their anti-McCain passion.
OFFSCREEN VOICE: Right.
MS. WOODRUFF: I mean, there’s been a lot of animosity there. And if he can just cut down on some of that, that works to his benefit.
MR. RUSSERT: One last poll question before we go, quickly. 2006 election.
Who should control Congress? Thirty-five percent say Republicans, 52 Dems.
Is that a slam-dunk, or is there still time?
MR. MEACHAM: I think we may be looking at 1994 all over again with the—and the opposite result, I really do.
MR. HARWOOD: I talked to a Republican strategist yesterday, he said if the election for the House was held right now, we’d not only lose the House, we’d be down 10 seats. But one advantage the Republicans have, $44 million dollars of cash at the Republican National Committee; they’re going to be well-funded. And down the stretch, they think they may have an advantage there.
MS. WOODRUFF: Democrats already worried about what it means if they only win one House, then they’re going to have to do something. And what are, what are they going to do? And it’s interesting that that’s already the worry.
MR. RUSSERT: Some Democrats saying, “Maybe it’s better if we don’t win, that way we can have the issues.” Enough, enough, enough. To be continued. Thank you, all.
We’ll be right back. Our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE from 31 years ago. The director of the CIA talking about, what else, domestic surveillance. He was right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. In the 1970s, several government investigations and commissions were very critical of the CIA. On June 29th, 1975, CIA director William Colby appeared on MEET THE PRESS to answer those charges.
(Videotape, June 29, 1975):
MR. LESLIE H. GELB: In the wake of the disclosures about CIA collection of 10,000 or more dossiers of bugging and surveillance and whatnot, you did not refer to these activities as illegal, in fact you said they were not illegal, they were mere missteps.
MR. COLBY: I have said that they were wrong. I think “wrong” is a word that covers the—those few missteps and misdeeds that CIA has conducted over 28 years.
MR. GELB: Does “wrong” mean illegal? Does “wrong” mean illegal?
MR. COLBY: Sometimes it does. Sometimes it merely means that we were outside our charter, although there’s nothing otherwise illegal about the activity.
MR. GELB: Does “outside the charter” mean that it was illegal?
MR. COLBY: It means that it is wrong for CIA to do it.
MR. GELB: Well, was it illegal for the...
MR. COLBY: It was not necessarily a crime that it be done, but it was wrong for CIA to do it.
MR. FORD ROWAN: I’d like to ask you something about, not the CIA, which you administer, but in your role as director of Central Intelligence, you oversee the entire intelligence community, and I would like to ask you if the National Security Agency regularly monitors telephone calls between foreign—between American citizens and citizens in foreign countries.
MR. COLBY: I think the National Security Agency’s activities are, are known to include the, the following of foreign communications. I think that’s all I would like to say about that.
MR. RUSSERT: Clearly a man who understood the words “plausible deniability.”
We’ll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: Stay with NBC News for live coverage of the president’s address to the nation on immigration tomorrow evening. Brian Williams anchors our coverage at 8 p.m. Eastern.
That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS. The Buffalo Sabres keep winning, but enough of that, today is the day all about mothers. Happy Mother’s Day.