MR. TOM BROKAW: Our issues this Sunday: He served as Bill Clinton's vice president for eight years, then lost the presidential election to George W. Bush in 2000. He has since focused on his environmental crusade, winning an Oscar for his documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," as well as the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. On Thursday he proposed a bold new plan to address global warming and the energy crisis.
FMR. VICE PRES. AL GORE: Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean, carbon-free sources within 10 years.
MR. BROKAW: With us, our exclusive guest Al Gore. Then, the 2008 presidential candidates turn their attention overseas, as Barack Obama makes his first trip to Afghanistan and arrives this week in Iraq; while John McCain goes on the attack with his first negative television ad.
Narrator: (From McCain political ad) Barack Obama never held a single Senate hearing on Afghanistan. He hasn't been to Iraq in years. He voted against funding our troops.
MR. BROKAW: Insights and analysis from NBC News White House correspondent and host of MSNBC's "Race for the White House" David Gregory and NBC News political director Chuck Todd.
But first, the former Vice President Al Gore.
Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS, Mr. Gore.
VICE PRES. GORE: Thank you very much, Tom.
MR. BROKAW: We were just checking the records. It was eight years ago this week that you last appeared here. Now, the old Vaudeville line would be, "What have you been doing in the meantime?" but we all know. Nobel Laureate, Oscar winner and crusader for conservation of energy and attacking the climate change that we're all experiencing in this country. Made a major speech this week. We want to begin with that. I think that probably our audience understands that there is a growing consensus that climate change is real, but the debate is really, internally, how real is it, what are the effects of it going to be, and how serious will it affect us?
This is how The Boston Globe described your audacious plan to change the way that we get electricity in this country: "Gore challenged Americans to switch all of the nation's electricity production to wind, solar, and other carbon-free sources within 10 years, a goal that he said would solve global warming as well as economic and natural security crises caused by dependence on fossil fuels."
The reaction was pretty quick and not all of it was favorable, even from those who are aligned with you in thinking that we have to do something about climate change. This is what Philip Sharp, president of Resources for the Future, a Washington think tank, had to say. "At this point I don't think there's anyone in the industry who thinks that goal, as a practical matter, could be met. This is not yet a plan for action; this is a superstretch goal." Your friends at MIT, the Energy Initiative Group up there, and they have some radical ideas as well. They said, "Can we do it this quickly? It would be very, very tough." What you have outlined, in fact, is a goal that may not be achievable.
VICE PRES. GORE: I think it is achievable, and I think it's important that we achieve it, Tom. There were also many other reactions from people who said this is the right goal because we need to reset the bar and change the debate. Our current course is completely unsustainable. We are being told by scientists around the world, particularly the international group that is charged with studying this and reporting to world leaders, that we may have less than 10 years in order to make dramatic changes lest we lose the chance to, to avoid catastrophic results from the climate crisis. We're building up CO2 so rapidly that we're seeing the consequences scientists have long predicted. And the only way to take responsible action is to get at the heart of the problem, which is the burning of fossil fuels. And the quickest and easiest way to back out the coal, which is the worst of the problem, and oil, is to look at electricity generation. And there, there have been two important changes. Number one, the cost of the new solar electricity options, wind power and geothermal power, not to mention efficiency gains, have come down and they're coming down as the demand increases the attention paid to innovation. The other change is that oil prices and coal prices have been skyrocketing and because China and other emerging economies are demanding so much of it, and new discoveries of oil have fallen off dramatically, no matter the debate over drilling, the new discoveries have been declining and the new demand has been completely swamping it, and over the long term, those prices, everyone agrees, are going to continue to go up. So now it is competitive to switch over. At the same time we're seeing our national security experts saying we're highly vulnerable with 70 percent of our oil coming from foreign countries, the largest reserves being in the most unstable region of the world, the Persian Gulf; and our economy is being really hurt badly by rising gasoline prices, rising coal prices. So we need to make a big strategic shift to a new energy infrastructure that relies on renewables.
MR. BROKAW: I don't think anyone doubts that we have to make some profound changes in this country and make some tough decisions and maybe even suffer some pain, but let's talk about the cost. This is your own group in terms of describing what this may cost. The numbers are from $1 1/2 trillion to $3 trillion as an estimate. Where does that money come from for a new president who is facing a $400 billion deficit, has two wars going on, needs an economic stimulus if it's a Democrat, as Obama has outlined--we have a housing crisis in this country--and probably diminished tax revenues?
VICE PRES. GORE: Well, those, those are not all public funds. That's the total private and public investment, which is comparable to what we would spend over that same period of time if we continued to rely on coal and oil, which is rising so rapidly in price. It's less than the cost of the Iraq war, according to Joe Stiglitz and some other economists, and it is an investment.
MR. BROKAW: We haven't spent that much on the Iraq war, but we've spent a lot of money.
VICE PRES. GORE: Well, if you--well, Joe Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, estimates the all-in cost of the Iraq war as more than that total. But, but, in any case, when you talk about a large strategic initiative of this kind, whichever direction we take, it's going to cost a lot of money. But, in this case, the investment would be paid back many times over and we could get the equivalent of dollar a gallon gasoline for cars as we switch toward an electric fleet.
MR. BROKAW: What would electricity cost in terms of the transition while it's under way? Most estimates are that it would cost a lot more money, and that would have a devastating effect on Main Street and especially on rural America.
VICE PRES. GORE: Well, I, I don't agree with that, and I think that the devastating effect on Main Street and the rest of the country is coming from the present rising costs for electricity. And the reason why is China and the other emerging economies again are bidding up the price of every lump of coal and every drop of oil, and the new discoveries have been declining, so the estimates are now that these price increases are likely to continue until we stop just taking baby steps and offering gimmicks and, instead, have a strategic initiative.
Now, Tom, among other things, you are the biographer of the, of the greatest generation, and, at the beginning of that period when they rose to that challenge, there were a lot of people who said that couldn't be done. We couldn't make these hundreds of thousands of airplanes, we couldn't mobilize to win that struggle. And yet we did. The only limiting factor here is political will. This climate crisis is threatening our country, threatening all of human civilization. I know that sounds shrill, and I know people don't like to, to hear phrases like that, but it is the reality. We have to awaken to it, and we have to mobilize to confront it.
MR. BROKAW: But what do we have to give up to reach the cost of a trillion and a half to three trillion dollars? There's going to have to be some pain, some sacrifice on the part of the American taxpayer, isn't there?
VICE PRES. GORE: Well, I, I think we should have a shift in our tax system, and I think we should tax what we burn and not what we earn, and I think we should take account of the incredibly expensive environmental costs that go into burning coal and oil. I also think that the coal and oil industries can play a big role in this if they will make good on the promise that carbon capture and sequestration will be real. Right now, there's no demonstration project, there's nothing real about it. The, the phrase clean coal is a contradiction in terms. There's no such thing as clean coal now. But the industry knows that with an all-out push toward capturing the CO2 and burying it safely, that can be done.
MR. BROKAW: I don't have to tell you that there are a good many political fights going on right now, to say nothing of what's going to happen in the future, and also you have some competition. Anyone who's been watching this broadcast or television recently has seen a familiar American figure and what he has in mind. Let's listen to some of that.
MR. T. BOONE PICKENS: (From political advertisement) I'm T. Boone Pickens. I've been an oil man my whole life, but this is one emergency we can't drill our way out of. And I have a plan. In the coming weeks, I'm going to share the details of that plan to use American technology and alternative energy to slash our dependency and break foreign oil's stranglehold on us.
MR. BROKAW: If you go to his Web site, he'll tell you that he wants to shift to wind to produce electricity and then shift natural gas to public transportation. And when he took a look at your plan, this is what he had to say. "Former Vice President Al Gore's put forward a framework of a plan that is focused on global warming and climate issues. My plan is aimed squarely at breaking the stranglehold that foreign oil has on our country and the $700 billion annual impact it has on our economy. We import 70 percent of our oil and that number is growing larger every year." As you know. "Vice President Gore's plan does not address this enormous problem. It is clear that he and I have two different objectives, and our plans should be viewed with that in mind." Don't you like the idea that T. Boone Pickens is out there on the playing field now and has what appears to be an innovative idea?
VICE PRES. GORE: I do. And, and I think it's really significant that one of the most successful oil industry figures is now investing a billion dollars of his own money in windmills. He's looked at the figures that I was sharing with you a moment ago. Wind is competitive. Just this past week, we, we saw Texas approve massive new transmission lines to use wind power for--as a substitute for the old ways of producing electricity. Now, the--I don't see him as a competitor on this. There are really a lot of common features in, in what he's saying. Now, the, the idea of using natural gas for, for cars, natural gas, I think, is an important transition fuel. It has fewer CO2 emissions than either coal or oil, especially coal. I think that it makes more sense to put the bulk of our effort to transform the car and truck fleet towards electricity because electricity can be produced from renewable sources indefinitely. It's inexhaustible. There's enough solar energy that hits this--the surface of the planet in 40 minutes to provide a full year's worth of energy for the entire world. We just have to listen to what the engineers and scientists are telling us about the advances in the efficiency and the reductions in cost of how we can use solar and wind and also geothermal.
MR. BROKAW: But when it comes to T. Boone Pickens, shouldn't it be "all hands on deck"?
VICE PRES. GORE: Yep.
MR. BROKAW: And don't you approve of the idea that he should go forward with this?
VICE PRES. GORE: He, he, he wants to, to move...
MR. BROKAW: Natural gas.
VICE PRES. GORE: ...natural gas in one direction and move wind in another direction and convert the fleet. The wind is producing electricity and the--then he wants to move natural gas into cars. But if we're going to convert cars and trucks, we, we should do it one time toward electricity.
But there are vehicles running today on natural gas. Chattanooga, Tennessee, has natural gas buses. It's, it's a respectable option. But I think that, I, I think that in the long term the better approach is to make this investment in a unified national grid that has low losses in transmission, that has the Smart Grid features that allows individuals to put up photovoltaic solar panels and sell electricity back into the grid and shift over to renewable sources.
Now, the other thing that Boone Pickens agrees on is when he says we really "can't drill our way out" of this because the new discoveries--and he knows about the new discoveries, he's got chapter and verse--they have been coming in at a much slower rate than the demand for oil and coal have been increasing.
MR. BROKAW: This comes under the heading of politics makes strange bedfellows. You have common cause with T. Boone Pickens, who four years ago was a principal financier of the swift boat attack ads...
VICE PRES. GORE: Yeah.
MR. BROKAW: ...against your friend John Kerry.
VICE PRES. GORE: Yeah. And, and I think it's an illustration of how this, this climate crisis has to, to push us as Americans to take this issue out of the old partisan squabbling and political fighting that we're--we have to be in this as Americans. And America should be leading the world community to confront this climate crisis.
MR. BROKAW: Speaking of which, it was not so long ago that you called President Bush a "moral coward" on this issue for not standing up to his financial interests. For the last two years Democrats have dominated the Congress of the United States--the Senate and the House of Representatives. There have been no major, sweeping initiatives coming out of this Democratic-controlled Congress. How would you characterize that?
VICE PRES. GORE: Well, I think that when, when you don't have 60 votes in the Senate to overcome filibusters, nothing can happen.
MR. BROKAW: But you can put it on the agenda and try to move the country.
VICE PRES. GORE: And they have. And, and they haven't succeeded because there is still a close battle in the Congress. But, sure, I think the Congress ought to do more, and I think that's one reason why this upcoming election is really important. But I, I want to see both parties and the Libertarians and others also coming in with constructive proposals to, to solve this. I think the focus now is past President Bush toward what's going to happen in January when a new president takes office, a new Congress is sworn in. I'm trying to enlarge the political space within which this debate takes place and reset the debate so that we focus on how, as a practical matter, when we have the political will to act, there's a concrete plan in place to really shift over to renewable energy.
MR. BROKAW: Did Hillary Clinton reset this debate when she said there should be a summer holiday on the federal gas tax?
VICE PRES. GORE: Well, I, I, I don't want to get into a primary battle that I successfully avoided getting into while it was going on.
MR. BROKAW: That's not a primary battle. She's speaking to an issue...
VICE PRES. GORE: I didn't...
MR. BROKAW: ...that you feel very strongly on.
VICE PRES. GORE: I, I disagreed with those who wanted a so-called gas tax holiday. And I think taking it from that to sort of the whole...
MR. BROKAW: Was it irresponsible on her part, do you think, at this time?
VICE PRES. GORE: I'm not going to label, I'm not going to label friends of mine irresponsible. I think that particular proposal wasn't one I agreed with, was in response to what people are feeling with gasoline prices. And we've got to respond to the gasoline price increase.
But here's the point, Tom. The people of this country are ready for bolder, more dramatic answers. The real way to bring gasoline prices down is not by going back to, to try more of the same things that have not worked in the past, but, but to say, "Wait a minute, now's time--now is the time for really dramatic shift over to renewable energy."
MR. BROKAW: But that gets back to what I was saying earlier. Is it time for American politicians, Republicans and Democrats and independents alike, to say to the American people, "We're going to have to go through some pain here; $4 gasoline, it's a price that you're paying. We're going to have to get through this. You can't expect the government to bail you out. We're going to have to move to another level in which we can produce alternative energy, and you're going to have to live with that."
VICE PRES. GORE: Well, I mean, I wouldn't put it exactly that way, but essentially yes, it's time for people--for policymakers and candidates to say to the American people what they already know, gimmicks are not going to work. We've had these little...
MR. BROKAW: But then what do you say to the trucker or to the delivery man on Main Street or to the person who has to commute in California an hour every day about what's going on in their lives because this has become a tax that runs a couple of hundred dollars a week. What do they do in the meantime?
VICE PRES. GORE: Well, it's a tax that we're now paying to Saudi Arabia and, and to the--and Venezuela and, and the other foreign oil producers that are--that are providing seven out of every 10 gallons of gas that, that, that we burn. And the price will continue to go up until we stop being suckered by this game that we've been trapped in. Incremental baby steps are no longer responsible proposals. Now is the time--and, and rarely, such times do come in the history of our nation. Now is one of them. We have to have a bipartisan commitment to change that game, to break out of this trap and shift over to renewable sources of energy. You know, as we do that, the price of the renewable energy options go down. Think about what happened in the computer revolution. They--we saw cost reductions for silicon computer chips of 50 percent every year and a half for the last 40 years. We're now beginning to see the same kind of sharp cost reductions as the demand grows for solar cells, they build new, more efficient facilities to build these solar cells. They're made out of sand. We're not going to run out of that. And when we have the investment to make more of them, the--this--the cost goes down.
We're now seeing concentrating solar plants in the desert where they put up these mirrors and catch the sunlight to boil water and produce electricity. They're signing contracts for 12 cents a kilowatt hour right now, which is competitive. With the long distance transmissions lines, underground, very efficient, that take it from the centers where the solar power facilities are to the cities where the electricity's burned, this is going to bring energy costs, costs down. But we have to make up our minds that it's time to make the investment in switching over from this debilitating, dangerous, costly, dependence on foreign energy sources and polluting sources that are destroying the livability of the planet and make up our minds that we're going to do the right thing for ourselves and future generations.
MR. BROKAW: Well, let's talk about your role in that debate. This is what Senator Obama had to say about Al Gore in a future Obama administration, if there is one.
(Videotape, April 2, 2008):
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: I will make a commitment that Al Gore will be at the--at the table and play a central part in us figuring out how we solve this problem.
MR. BROKAW: And this is what your old friend James Carville, who helped make you a vice president once before, had to say about what Obama ought to be thinking. "If I were [Obama] I would ask Al Gore to serve as his vice president and energy czar in his administration to reduce our consumption and reliance on foreign energy sources." This was your response on CNN. "Would you serve in the next administration if you were invited?" "No. No. You know, I haven't ruled out the idea of getting back into the political process at some point"--this was in December of last year--"at some point in the future. Don't expect to, but if I did get back, it would be as a candidate for president, not in any other position."
How can you, given the passion that you feel about this issue and the enormity of the, of the dimensions that we're dealing with here, turn down the idea that you could be in the administration as a vice president or as an energy czar or as both?
VICE PRES. GORE: Well, I really respect and appreciate what Senator Obama and my good friend James Carville and others have said, and I appreciate Senator McCain making some generous comments. But I personally feel that my own best role is to try to bring about a sea change in public opinion. Because one of the big challenges our country has faced is that policymakers who know the right thing to do run up against a wall set up all around them by the lobbyists and the special interests and the defenders of the status quo, and the only way we're going to break out of this trap is by mobilizing public opinion with a clear vision of exactly what is at stake for our country. I think that's my highest and best use in, in public life.
MR. BROKAW: But there's no--there is no power like 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for setting the agenda, for drawing attention to it, for moving the country, and for moving Congress. Mr. Vice President, no one knows that better than you do.
VICE PRES. GORE: Well, that's correct, and I don't dispute that. I'm under no illusion that there's any position with as much influence as that of president, and, actually, I tried to get that position. But that didn't happen, and so I'm trying to serve in other ways. And, you know, I could be wrong about the decision that going back into government is not the, the right thing to do. I could be wrong. But this feels...
MR. BROKAW: Could you, could you be talked into going back into government?
VICE PRES. GORE: No. This feels like the right thing for, for me to be doing.
MR. BROKAW: It's Shermanesque.
VICE PRES. GORE: Well, a general...
MR. BROKAW: There are--under no conditions would you go back into government.
VICE PRES. GORE: General Sherman famously said, "If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve." I already ran--I, I, I'm not running for the--I didn't run for the nomination, and I've already been elected and didn't serve.
MR. BROKAW: There's no way that you could go back in...
VICE PRES. GORE: Joking about that.
MR. BROKAW: ...with or without the help of the U.S. Supreme Court?
VICE PRES. GORE: Well, I do not--I mean, I made a decision in this past election cycle for the nomination and the one before that not to be a candidate again, and I'm, I'm comfortable with the fact that what I'm doing now is, is of use. I am going to continue having these so-called solution summits all over the country, meeting with engineers and scientists and CEOs and people who are actually hard at work building these new energy--renewable energy systems. And, you know, if you go out and talk to the people who are in the laboratories and who are putting these new systems in, into place, actually building them, the debates on Capitol Hill are really kind of out of date in the sense that the new, more efficient and cost-effective renewable energy options are a--very exciting and, and they're ready to use, especially since coal and oil are continuing to go up in price.
MR. BROKAW: Let me ask you about your attitude toward politics these days.
VICE PRES. GORE: Mm-hmm.
MR. BROKAW: I was a little surprised. You're a man who was in politics at the highest level in this country...
VICE PRES. GORE: Mm-hmm.
MR. BROKAW: ...in the House of Representatives and the Senate, vice president for eight years, and yet you said recently, "What politics has become requires a level of tolerance for triviality and artifice and nonsense that I have found in short supply." Is that the right kind of signal to send to the young people of this country who, more than any time in recent memory, are deeply involved in the political decisions that we're making this year and young people who want to get into the political arena, look to Al Gore, and he said it's all about trivia and nonsense.
VICE PRES. GORE: Well, no. I, I--that quote you used was about my own personal tolerance for--bear in mind, I was in the political process for almost 30 years. And no, I encourage young people to get involved. And public service is an honorable calling, and, and I'm very excited, by the way, about the fact that millions of young people, who haven't been involved in the past, are now getting involved, many of them for Senator Obama, of course. And, and I think that's exciting.
I do think, Tom, that we have a very serious set of problems affecting our democracy--the role of big money, the role of lobbyists, the role of special interests. It's a very serious problem for our democracy. I think that the new Internet-based forms of organizing and mobilizing people--and that's what's gotten a lot of these young people involved--offer a real ray of hope. I'm optimistic. But I think my best role is to try to help that bring--come, come to pass and to focus on enlarging the political space so that we can start focusing on real solutions and not these gimmicks.
MR. BROKAW: With all due respect, Mr. Vice President, I can already hear your critics--and I don't do Rush Limbaugh, so I will not attempt to. But I can hear him saying on the radio, "Well, there's Prince Albert. There he was, 25 years hanging out with lobbyists, raising big money. Then he lost, and now he's above the process."
VICE PRES. GORE: Well...
MR. BROKAW: "He finds it trivial and nonsensical."
VICE PRES. GORE: ...I'm not saying I'm above the process. I was in it for a long time. And when I first was elected 32 years ago, I called for full public financing of every federal election. I introduced legislation and proposed that every year...
MR. BROKAW: And yet your guy, Obama, has...
VICE PRES. GORE: ...I was in, in Congress.
MR. BROKAW: And your guy, Obama, has turned it down. He said he was for public financing, and now he's decided to stay in the private sector.
VICE PRES. GORE: Well, there's a new reality now with the Internet-based small donor playing the dominant role. And I think that's another example of how the Internet has helped to bring about some positive changes that can give us a way to break the back of the special interest dominance that we have in government today.
MR. BROKAW: Let me ask you about your personal lifestyle, because it's been the subject of a lot of dialogue on the blogs, as you know. You and Tipper have bought a big home outside of Nashville, and you had it retrofitted. But for a time there was a comparison between what the president has in Texas at his home as being more environmentally correct than your home. The Building Green Council gave you its second highest award. But Stephen Smith, who is with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, is troubled by the scale of your home. He said, "We all need to evaluate what we ... need in square footage." Present company included. We all have to look at scale, don't we? Why was it necessary for you to have a 10,000 square foot home? Because that is going to be more energy intensive than a smaller home for just the two of you.
VICE PRES. GORE: Well, there--I don't claim to be perfect, and all of us who care about this issue are, are trying to do our part, but I, I will say this. We buy green energy. The issue is carbon. The issue is carbon, and we have, essentially, a carbon-free home. We buy from wind energy and solar energy. Our roof is covered with solar electric panels, a geothermal system with all these deep wells, and we cut our natural gas bill by 90 percent, and I'm, I'm--we're, we're walking the walk and not just talking the talk. There are always people who are going to try to aim at the messenger if they don't like the message, and I don't claim to be perfect, but we are walking the walk.
MR. BROKAW: How often do you fly on a private jet?
VICE PRES. GORE: I've--much more frequently on public transportation. I'm flying on Southwest Airlines again today. But sometimes the schedule requires that, and sometimes I do that.
MR. BROKAW: Should there be a surcharge on jet fuel, cost for private aviation, which is expanding exponentially in this country, and it leaves a very large carbon footprint.
VICE PRES. GORE: Fine by me. Sounds like a good idea.
MR. BROKAW: Let me ask you as well about what's going on in Congress right now. There's a big debate under way about whether we should have offshore drilling, and Ken Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota, whose credentials no one has to question, within his own party is leading a bipartisan effort to have offshore drilling. He comes from a small rural state where energy costs have had a big impact on everything from agriculture to the, to the shop owner on Main Street. Why shouldn't there be, in a transition period, more drilling offshore with the technology that we now have that has demonstrated in almost 50 years that we've not had any kind of a significant spill off the coast of this country?
VICE PRES. GORE: Well, we, we already have offshore drilling in the areas where it does make sense, and there are already leased lots and lots of other offshore sites that could be drilled in. There's a shortage of drill rigs and engineers, and they're, they're, they're going full out now. But the areas that are protected now are protected for a reason. The coastal economy has been hurt in the past by oil spills, and I think states like California should have the right to protect the, the areas that they know are in danger. But the larger point is this, Tom. It...
MR. BROKAW: But if Florida approves it, do you think that they should be allowed to drill?
VICE PRES. GORE: I think that the areas that have environmental values and economic values connected to the environment at stake should be protected. And the larger reason why is even if they went in that direction, everybody acknowledges, it would have zero impact on gasoline prices or oil prices. It's a drop in the bucket that would pose high risk of very important values. It wouldn't even start until 10 or 15 years from now and would likely to be--likely be sold to China anyway. And going back over and over and over again to the old ways of the past just puts off the reckoning with the, the opportunity that we need to seize now to shift over to renewable sources of energy.
People used to propose cures for hangovers by having what they call the "hair of the dog that bit you," just more in the morning. Well, we've got a big hangover right now because oil is so high in price, so much of it comes from overseas. The climate crisis is really the heart of this. This is no joke, Tom. You said in your intro that there's some debate about how real it is. There's really not a debate in the mainstream scientific community. It is the most serious threat that our civilization has ever faced. Look at the fires out in California right now. Look at the epic flooding in the Midwest. Look at the stronger storms, and all predicted. The, the entire North Polar ice cap, Tom. Been there three million years, it's the size of the lower 48 states, and the scientists now say that there's a 75 percent chance it'll be completely gone during the summer in, in as little as five years. This is happening on our watch. We have got to respond.
MR. BROKAW: Well, I'm--the indication that I gave at the beginning was not that it's not real. I think that there is a growing and vast majority of people who believe it's real. The question is to what degree and how quickly is it coming, and what can we do about it?
VICE PRES. GORE: Well, we're getting...
MR. BROKAW: I think it's fair to say that even within the scientific community there's a debate about that, because I've been tracking this issue pretty carefully.
VICE PRES. GORE: Well, I, I mean, I think there's a consensus now that it's happening even more rapidly than the scientists were telling us years ago. We're seeing record high temperatures. Nine of the 10 hottest years ever recorded have, have been in the last couple of decades. We're seeing the stronger storms. We're seeing the damage that, that people--and our national security experts--the military intelligence, the Pentagon, the National Intelligence Defense Council--they have warned us about the national security threats from potentially hundreds of millions of climate refugees caused by the climate crisis. This is really--just this, this past week, the EPA said the American way of life is threatened.
MR. BROKAW: The health of individuals could be affected.
VICE PRES. GORE: That's correct. Because tropical diseases that have never been known in the United States are now beginning to move northward into our country as the temperatures increase. These fires--let me come back to that briefly--scientists are now saying that for every one degree increase in temperature, there's a 10 percent increase in lightning strikes. And with the, the, the drying of the vegetation, the dry trees and the ones killed by these beetles that are on the rampage with the warmer temperatures.
MR. BROKAW: Let me ask you some other questions. We can't ignore the political climate that exists today. When was the last time you talked to Bill and/or Hillary Clinton?
VICE PRES. GORE: Couple months ago, and I consider them both good friends. And they--she ran an amazing campaign.
MR. BROKAW: Do you think she was treated unfairly because she is a woman?
VICE PRES. GORE: Well, I think that women often face these kinds of challenges, of course, in our--in our society. But I think that she did an amazing job in changing that, as I think Senator Obama and Bill Richardson, where Hispanics are concerned, also made it possible for our country to move on into the 21st century and say, "Wait a minute, these old things that held us down in the past, we're, we're now within sight of a time where we can beyond that."
MR. BROKAW: You've had some tough things to say about this president. You called him a "moral coward," as I indicated earlier. You said he betrayed this country by leading us into war in Iraq. You also said that he acted illegally in warrantless wiretaps. He received you at the White House in November of last year with Nobel Laureates. If you don't want to be involved in politics as usual anymore, why didn't you bring that up to him at that point?
VICE PRES. GORE: Oh, well, first of all, all three of those quotes were from some years ago, and I think--I've thought for some time now that...
MR. BROKAW: Do you think he's gotten better since you made those quotes?
VICE PRES. GORE: No, I didn't say that. Maybe I've gotten better in not, in not saying things in exactly that way.
MR. BROKAW: But if you felt strongly--if you felt strongly about it and you went out and said that about him in public arenas and then you go into the Oval Office.
VICE PRES. GORE: Well, of course not. I mean, it was very nice of him to, to ask me there. And I talked to him about the climate crisis. I'm not going to start by, by...
MR. BROKAW: You're going to try to win him over.
VICE PRES. GORE: ...with a verbal slap-down and say, "Now, let's talk." That doesn't make any sense.
MR. BROKAW: If you were still in the United States Senate, would you want your friend Joe Lieberman to be in the Democratic Caucus?
VICE PRES. GORE: Oh, I'm going to leave that to the Democratic senators. I...
MR. BROKAW: Are you disappointed in Senator Lieberman?
VICE PRES. GORE: I certainly disagree with many of the positions that he's taken, but I strongly agree with many others, you know. He has been a leader on the environmental crisis, on a woman's right to, to choose and many, many other issues that don't often get attention when people get riled up about where he has...
MR. BROKAW: So he's still your friend.
VICE PRES. GORE: ...strayed from the flock.
MR. BROKAW: He's still your friend.
VICE PRES. GORE: Yes, indeed.
MR. BROKAW: What did you think of this cover on The New Yorker. This is Michelle Obama and Senator Obama.
VICE PRES. GORE: Yeah.
MR. BROKAW: David Remnick has strongly defended it as political satire because he said that's how a lot of conservatives...
VICE PRES. GORE: Yeah.
MR. BROKAW: ...have been characterizing them. And the report inside was extremely well researched and well reported about his political roots in Chicago.
VICE PRES. GORE: Yeah. That's an interesting debate. Tipper and I were talking about it last night. I really love David Remnick and The New Yorker and satire has a--an honored place in our political dialogue. I thought that was way too far over the top. And I--freedom of the press, they can do what they want, but I thought it was way too far over the top, myself. But, but you know, when you're dealing with humor in, in politics, a lot of us have had times when we, you know, you, you have to calibrate just--as, I forget who it was who said a joke is a serious thing. You have to be really careful.
MR. BROKAW: Mr. Vice President, thank you very much for being with us.
VICE PRES. GORE: Thank you, Tom.
MR. BROKAW: Coming up next, our Decision 2008 political roundtable. NBC's David Gregory and political director Chuck Todd.
MR. BROKAW: Our political roundtable with David Gregory and Chuck Todd, after this brief station break.
MR. BROKAW: Chuck Todd, David Gregory, welcome to both of you. Let's begin with Al Gore.
He's tan, rested, but apparently not ready to go back into government, Chuck. Let me just offer a proposition. No one is better informed on this issue of energy conservation and global climate change than he is, no one is more passionate about it. But this issue breaks along party lines as you go across the country. Do you think it is, in part, because in the eyes of Republicans and those on the right, he is still very much a radioactive political figure, and he would be better off if he appeared on stage making these presentations surrounded by Newt Gingrich and other like-minded Republicans?
MR. CHUCK TODD: He probably could use that. But I thought what was interesting about what he did this week was that he did make sure the McCain campaign was aware of what he was going to say beforehand, and what did that translate into. And, and the vice president referred to this in the interview earlier, and that is McCain had kind words about the plan. Didn't necessarily endorse specific parts of it, and I think a lot of the business community is not going to like the, the speed with which that Gore is calling for some of these things. But I, I think that he feels comfortable that he likes both candidates, and he thinks that his agenda has a chance even if McCain gets elected, sure he's endorsed Obama. So I think that's the role he's hoping for. He wants to be--I think he does want to be the unofficial energy tzar. He doesn't want to have to do the work, but he wants to be the unofficial energy tzar. And I'll tell you this, if McCain gets elected president, he's going to have a Democratic Senate and House that's even more Democratic than it is now, and I think the first thing he'll tackle is climate change. It's the first thing that they'll all agree to.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: Can I make one point related to this? I do think that, you know, inside the White House, there's always been a feeling that Al Gore thinks he's got the monopoly on this debate, and so there is sensitivity among conservatives about this that he, he commands the microphone, and nobody else can, can be an entrant into this debate. So I think he's, he's politically divisive in that way. I--I'm hard-pressed to believe that he wouldn't necessarily go in the administration if he got the platform, but I also take seriously the idea that working outside, "so I can keep making money in all of this," but he can also have a really profound impact on the flow of the debate both here and overseas.
MR. BROKAW: Well, I guess my point is that he can't be a soloist preaching to the choir, he has to be a choir preaching to a wider audience...
MR. TODD: Right.
MR. BROKAW: ...and you get more people around him.
A lot of things going on as we're sitting here. Barack Obama is obviously on the highest-profile trip yet overseas. Here's the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll on would he be a commander--good commander in chief as opposed to John McCain. McCain wins overwhelmingly on that question. But who would improve America's image abroad, more likely, and Obama is the clear winner by more than a 2-to-1 margin there. At the same time, while Obama is overseas, John McCain has rolled out his first negative ad, David, and let's take a look at that for just a moment. This is what he had to say about Obama before he went overseas.
Narrator: (From McCain political ad) Barack Obama never held a single hearing on Afghanistan, he hasn't been to Iraq in years, he voted against funding our troops--positions that helped him win his nomination. Now Obama is changing to help himself become president.
MR. BROKAW: At the time that that ad rolled, President Maliki of Iraq told a German publication that he agrees with Obama's 16-month troop withdrawal timetable, and then an official spokesperson for his government pulled all that back. I have a feeling there might have been a rocket from the White House to Baghdad over the telephone.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah. I talked to White House officials who were quick to point out that Maliki is still on board with not setting any particular timetable. It would have to be conditions-based, that he's still, he's still speaking the language of this White House when it comes to troop withdrawal. This trip is very important in tone and in substance. You spoke about the image numbers abroad. That's what Barack Obama being overseas is in part about, which is that his vision of foreign policy is change. "You didn't like the Bush years, you didn't like what a lot of people thought was cowboy diplomacy, the invasion of Iraq, etc. I'm going to have a different view. I have a different life story, a different approach to the rest of the world." But the commander in chief proposition is important. You often say, you know, to, to, to groups, "Close your eyes, imagine a crisis happening, and who do you picture in the Oval Office." Barack Obama's not winning that test right now, so he's got to have these commander in chief moments, and I think one of the things you saw this week is he's taking on McCain as a guy who will fight the last war, but who doesn't necessarily understand the new threats--fighting terrorism, fighting national security threats--and that's why getting the backing of Maliki on some kind of troop withdrawal is important for his overall vision.
MR. TODD: Republicans are panicked about this trip because they think that this is going to be a home run. And arguably, you've got some Obama folks who actually think he ought to come home right now. It's never going to get as good as it's gotten in the last 48 hours. You've got McCain suddenly in the White House parroting what Obama has been saying in Afghanistan. The McCain folks will say, "Hey, we're not parroting. We've been there before." But they clearly caught McCain flat-footed there. And then what Maliki did, even in the backtrack statement that the spokes--the government spokesperson over there said, he threw in the word "timetable."
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. TODD: He's used not just "time is right," but he...
MR. GREGORY: Right...
MR. TODD: ...threw in the word "timetable," which is--the Obama campaign said, you know, that, that--"Thank you for that release."
MR. GREGORY: It is important, though, McCain and the president will argue, if not for the surge, there--you would have never been at a point where you could have...
MR. TODD: That's a big shock...
MR. GREGORY: ...this sort of parity between Obama and the Iraqis.
MR. TODD: That's a big shock for Joe Voter, though.
MR. BROKAW: Yeah.
MR. TODD: Joe Voter in Rolla, Missouri, is sitting there going, "You know, I really would like to get out of Iraq. Oh, and hey, Iraq wants us out."
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. TODD: "Let's go."
MR. BROKAW: But is Iraq going to be the fault line in the fall, or is it going to remain the economy, Chuck?
MR. TODD: I think it absolutely remains the economy, and I think it's possible we will see how both candidates use their vice presidential choices to make that emphasis.
MR. BROKAW: And speaking of a vice presidential choice, we have a little slideshow we'd like to share with everyone because this comes under the heading "the company that they keep." Here are some of the images that we have seen this week. Barack Obama on his trip is with Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran and a Republican from Nebraska; and Jack Reed, another combat veteran, a U.S. military academy graduate, a senator from Rhode Island. He also appeared this week, however, Senator Obama did, with Evan Bayh, who backed Hillary Clinton--he represents the state of Indiana, which could be a battleground state this time--and Sam Nunn, a former Democratic senator from the deep South state of Georgia, a national security figure. And one more of our photo album slides, this is John McCain with Mitt Romney, who was a very strong contender for the Republican Party nomination. That has created a lot of buzz.
I think if Barack Obama goes into a Starbucks and orders a latte and spends an extra moment with a barista this week, that person will probably be on the list for vice president.
MR. TODD: Well, but there, there's a, there's a, there's a real reason why. Look, the timing. I've got it on pretty good authority, this is not going to be done right before the convention, and it's not going to be done during the Olympics. Well, you start backtracking when Obama's going to pick his running mate...
MR. GREGORY: Two weeks.
MR. TODD: Exactly.
MR. BROKAW: Yeah.
MR. TODD: The minute he gets back from this trip, that's what they're going to be in is in VP mode. And so this trip matters. There is some comfort level that he wants to see if he has with Jack Reed. But I'll tell you, it is--this is, this is going to happen a lot quicker than I think people realize.
MR. GREGORY: But on, on this choice--and you brought up the economy--Obama's got a huge advantage among, among voters in terms of handling the economy. I do think this is still a, a, a blank area for him. I think he could be doing a lot more to try to own this issue, to demonstrate that he's got the energy to deal with the economic crisis that the country's facing, from housing to joblessness to the energy demands. And if it's an advantage for him now over John McCain, he ought to be getting up every morning and thinking about how he seeks the energy and conveys the energy to really take command of this issue. And he may be able to do it with his number two choice.
MR. TODD: Well, I mean, let me just--one thing I think we're both overlooking about these two men, John McCain and Barack Obama, is that they're, they're creatures of comfort. They don't like to have--while they always talk about reaching across the aisle, they like to surround themselves with people they're very comfortable with. And I have a feeling one or both of them is going to pick running mates that we smart alecks here in the political world are going to say, "Oh, boy, this person doesn't help with this part of the resume, and this person doesn't help bring a state. What were you thinking there?" These guys are, I think, are both in that, in that governing mode. I'm guessing the advice that George Bush, Bill Clinton would give to these two, pick somebody you're comfortable with first, don't try to pick, pick a constituency.
MR. BROKAW: And if Obama does pick in the next two weeks, will that force John McCain's hand as well?
MR. TODD: I don't--everything we're understanding is that they realize the only thing they have to control in this process is timing, and maybe they step on the bounce. Maybe they step on Thursday of the Democratic convention will be the big speech in the football field there in Denver, and, and I wouldn't be surprised if Friday or Saturday is when we see McCain roll his running mate out, just to at least slow down the Obama freight train coming out of Denver.
MR. BROKAW: Thank you very much David Gregory, our NBC White House correspondent, and of course star of MSNBC, "The Road to the White House." Chuck Todd, our political director, we'll be seeing a lot more of you here on MEET THE PRESS and, of course, on all the platforms of NBC News and MSNBC in the weeks to come.
We have to leave it there. We'll be right back.
MR. BROKAW: That's all for today. We'll be back next week. I'll have an exclusive interview with Senator Barack Obama from London. It'll be the last stop of his overseas trip. That's Barack Obama right here next Sunday, because if it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.