MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, the Obama agenda: health care, energy,
the economy. Where does it go from here? Where will the president push
and where will he compromise? And on Iran, the president talks tough...
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: I would suggest that Mr. Ahmadinejad think carefully
about the obligations he owes to his own people.
MR. GREGORY: ...but is the administration still prepared to talk to Iran
about nuclear weapons? This morning, an assessment at a key moment of the
Obama presidency. Our guest, the president's senior adviser David
Then, the future of the GOP after the downfall of another Republican
GOV. MARK SANFORD (R-SC): It's going to hurt, and we'll let the chips
fall where they may.
MR. GREGORY: Rising political star South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford admits cheating on his wife, misleading his staff and the state, and is now fighting for his job. Thoughts this morning on the present and the future for Republicans. With us, former Governor of Massachusetts and GOP presidential candidate in 2008 Mitt Romney and Republican senator from South Carolina Lindsey Graham.
Then the take from our roundtable: New York Times columnist David Brooks,
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, Republican strategist Mike Murphy
and former White House press secretary for President Clinton, now a
contributing editor at Vanity Fair, Dee Dee Myers.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: But first, here with us live now, the president's
senior adviser David Axelrod.
Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
MR. DAVID AXELROD: Great to be here.
MR. GREGORY: An important victory for the president Friday night on the
climate change bill, he gets it through the House. But there were signs
of division among Democrats. Forty-four Democrats voted against this. Is
this a red flag about whether this massive energy bill is going to fail
in the Senate?
MR. AXELROD: No, I don't think so. David, understand that a few weeks ago
people wouldn't have given you a dime that this was going to pass the
House. And I think there's two things. One is there's a growing awareness
that we need to move on energy. We've been waiting for decades. And this
bill will create millions of clean energy jobs, it will deal with this
energy--our dependence on foreign oil, and we have to deal with that,
and, and it deals with this deadly pollution and global warming that we
have to, that we have to move on. So the House acted. I think the Senate
will come to the same conclusion. But the bill that was crafted helped
ameliorate some of the hard edge of--that people were worried about, and
I think that will carry the day in the Senate as well.
MR. GREGORY: But Republicans say it's not going to create jobs, it's
going to kill jobs, and they say it's dead in the Senate.
MR. AXELROD: Well, the Republicans then have to come up with an answer to all
these questions: What are we going to do about our dependence on foreign
oil? What are the new industries of the future? Are we going to let these
energy jobs go to China and India, or are we going to command the future?
What are we going to do about pollution and global warming that threaten
our health and our planet? You know, what we've heard from the Republican
Party is a lot of what we can't do. The question is, are we going to step
up and deal with the big problems facing this country?
MR. GREGORY: Do you have unity among Democrats in the Senate?
MR. AXELROD: Well, I think that, as always, the legislative process is,
is filled with twists and turns. But I believe that there is a strong
desire to deal with these issues.
MR. GREGORY: But you're facing the prospect--the very real prospect of a
filibuster by Republicans in the Senate. Do you have the votes to
MR. AXELROD: Well, the vote is not tomorrow. The vote will come sometime
in the fall, and I think that we will fashion an energy package that will
move this country forward and carry the day.
MR. GREGORY: There's a lot on the agenda, and health care is the
centerpiece of all of this. But again, that fact of 44 Democrats opposing
you on climate change in the House, is this a shot across the bow that
applies to health care? Do you think the president will get a healthcare
reform bill that includes a public plan this year?
MR. AXELROD: I think we're going to get a healthcare reform bill this
year, and I wouldn't assume that the 44 who, who weren't with us on
energy will not be with us on health care. Indeed, many of them told us
that they will. So I think people understand that, that families,
businesses and the government itself is getting slammed by this
inexorable climb in healthcare prices, and we have to deal with it.
MR. GREGORY: But you're confident about getting that bill with a public
plan this year.
MR. AXELROD: I'm confident that we're going to get a healthcare reform
bill. I think a public choice will be part of it. I think the public
wants to have that option and wants to see that kind of competition, and
I think we will, we will have that.
MR. GREGORY: Well, let's be clear what we're talking about as well.
You're talking about a public sponsored, a government sponsored
healthcare plan that can exist side by side with private insurance plans,
and that allows Americans without insurance to make a choice between a
private and a public plan.
It's interesting. In the press conference this week, the president said
any opposition to that is illogical. But at the same time, he won't draw
a line in the sand, nor will you in your previous answer. And yet
supporters of that public plan, including Howard Dean, doctor, former
governor, former head of the Democratic Party, said it's got to be in
there. This is what he said as reported by The Hill newspaper on Friday:
"We are here;" he said at a rally, "we're not going away. We voted for
change a few months ago. We expect change. And if we don't get it,
there's going to be more change." That's what Howard Dean said. "`Success
on healthcare reform is a must for Democrats,' Dean told The Hill. `I
think it's going to be a catastrophic problem for the Democratic Party if
they can't get this bill out.'" And what he means is with a public plan.
MR. AXELROD: Well, first of all, I think that if we don't pass healthcare
reform it's going to be a catastrophic problem for the country, not just
the Democratic Party; for families, businesses and the country itself.
Look, we believe strongly in, in a public choice; not one that's
subsidized by the government, but one that will embrace the best
practices, that will reduce healthcare costs and give people the best
quality care. What the president said was illogical were the same people
who say that the government is incompetent, the government can't run
anything, the government shouldn't be involved in, in anything say, but
we can't let that be one of the choices because it'll be an unfair
advantage against the, against the insurance companies.
MR. GREGORY: When it comes to a public plan, though, no ultimatums from
MR. AXELROD: Well, the president believes strongly in a, in, in a public
choice, and he's made that very, very clear. He's made that clear
privately, he's made that clear publicly, and we're going to continue to
MR. GREGORY: Well, but why not say, "This is what it has to have or I
won't sign it"?
MR. AXELROD: Look, we have gotten a long way down the road by not drawing
bright lines in the sand, other than on the major points, which is that
we can't add to the deficit with this healthcare reform, so it has to be
paid for, it has to reduce costs, and we want to make sure that all
Americans have a quality, affordable health care. Those are the, those
are the things that have to be accomplished. People have different ideas.
We're willing to listen to those ideas. But that's where
we're--that--those are the imperatives that we have to sell.
MR. GREGORY: But the president's not going to ram this through, he's not
going to ram his priorities through.
MR. AXELROD: Well, I just told you what the president's priorities were,
and he won't sign a bill that doesn't, that does not meet those
MR. GREGORY: Well, all right, but let's be clear then. Can there be a
successful outcome, in the president's mind, without a healthcare reform
plan that includes a public plan?
MR. AXELROD: I think the president wants a robust public option to
compete against these private plans.
MR. GREGORY: He wants it, but he's not demanding it.
MR. AXELROD: Well, look, as I said, we're--we've not gotten as far as
we've gotten by drawing bright lines in the sand. He's going to fight
hard for that.
MR. GREGORY: All right, let me move to the economy. You were on this
program back in February and this is what you said.
(Videotape, February 15, 2009)
MR. GREGORY: Will this stimulus plan prevent unemployment from reaching
10 percent, do you think?
MR. AXELROD: Well, that's our hope. That's our hope. There's no doubt
that without it that's what, that's where we were looking, double-digit
unemployment. And that's what we're trying to forestall.
MR. GREGORY: Well, with the stimulus plan we're at 9.4 percent
unemployment. The president said this week it will go above 10 percent.
MR. AXELROD: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: It leads Republicans to say the stimulus is a failure and to
say, where are the jobs?
MR. AXELROD: Well, look, everyone--at the time that I spoke, every single
economic prediction was that the recession would be less severe than it
turned out to be. This recession that began last year is the worst that
we've had in generations, and so unemployment is higher than any of us
would like. But to suggest that it wouldn't have gone higher had we not
done the things we did I think is totally misleading.
MR. GREGORY: But the facts...
MR. AXELROD: And no, no, no serious...
MR. GREGORY: The facts are even with the stimulus...
MR. AXELROD: No, no...
MR. GREGORY: ...it went higher.
MR. AXELROD: Well, there's no doubt that we didn't, that we, we have not
broken the back of the recession and--but there's no serious economist,
David, who would argue that what we did has not contributed to a
lessening of the impact. No one's happy with that number. The president
said when the stimulus--when the Recovery Act passed that it was going to
take a long time, that, that employment was the last thing that was going
to turn, because that's the way economics works. And so, you know, we're
going to have to sail through some very difficult times here. But the
question is, are we moving in the right direction? Are we building a
foundation for economic growth for the future? And does this, does this
economic recovery package help? And the answer is yes.
MR. GREGORY: Warren Buffett said this week more stimulus might be needed.
Does the president believe that?
MR. AXELROD: Well, let's see how this, this stimulus works.
MR. GREGORY: All right.
MR. AXELROD: As everyone has noted, much of the spending is yet to come.
And let's see how this works before we start talking about the next
MR. GREGORY: How much time before you make a decision about whether more
stimulus is needed?
MR. AXELROD: Well, let's see in the fall where we are. But right now we
believe that what we've done is adequate to the task. If more is needed,
we'll have that discussion.
MR. GREGORY: All right, let's turn to the topic of foreign policy,
specifically Iran. This weekend, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saying that the
United States keeps saying that they want a different relationship, that
they want to hold talks, but they've made a mistake. He said that Iran
will now have a harsher and more decisive reply, will make the West
regret its "meddlesome stance." Something is changing on this policy of
whether to engage Iran. The president said so during press remarks on
PRES. OBAMA: There is no doubt that any direct dialogue or diplomacy with
Iran is going to be effected by the events of the last several weeks.
MR. GREGORY: Is the policy of engaging the Iranians on the ropes?
MR. AXELROD: Well, look, that's up to the Iranians. The fact is that the
permanent nations in the Security Council plus Germany have extended an
offer to sit down and talk about this nuclear issue and lay out what the
options are. One leads to participation in the community of nations, the
other leads to further isolation and, and consequences. The Iranians have
to make that decision. But as for Mr. Ahmadinejad, understand that he's
not the decision maker when it comes to foreign policy and defense policy
in Iran. His comments are meant for domestic political content.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. AXELROD: And it's a, it's a, it's a, it's a long-used technique in
Iran to try and make the United States the foil for their own problems.
His problems are with the Iranian people, not with us, when it comes to
this--the events of the last few weeks.
MR. GREGORY: Should there be consequences? The president has been now
very clear about what he thinks about what's gone on in Iran, calling it
outrageous. Should there be consequences for what the Iranian regime has
done to demonstrators?
MR. AXELROD: Well, I think the--look, everybody is dismayed and appalled
by what's happened in Iran, and the consequences, I think, will unfold
over time in Iran. I think that there are events in motion there that
they're going to have to deal with...
MR. GREGORY: But should there be consequences from the United States and
the international community?
MR. AXELROD: David, we don't have, we don't have diplomatic relations
with Iran. And the international community has made its, made its views
known. This is going to further--again, this sets them down a--the wrong
path in terms of what is in the interests of their country.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you some political questions. Should Governor
Mark Sanford of South Carolina resign?
MR. AXELROD: Boy, I'm not going to get into that. That's between him and
the people of South Carolina.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think he's abused his power, disappearing, not
telling his staff where he was, not telling the voters where he was?
MR. AXELROD: Again, I mean, obviously there's been a lot of focus on
this, particularly in the state of South Carolina. That's where it should
be dealt with.
MR. GREGORY: What about the midterm elections, as you face next year?
Chief political adviser to the president; how has the president impacted
what you think will happen in the midterm race?
MR. AXELROD: Look, I think that the American people voted for change,
they voted for action, they voted to get things done and to deal with the
big problems facing this country. I think the president has done that. I
think he's done that at home. I think he's changed the tenor abroad in a
way that is positive for the United States. So, you know, I, I think that
that has, that that is going to root down to the benefit of the
Democratic Party. The other fact is that those who oppose what he's doing
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. AXELROD: They're looking backwards, not forward. And the question is,
what are you going to do to build a better future? Don't recycle old
ideas that haven't worked. Where are your new ideas?
MR. GREGORY: Do you think Republicans have a legislative strategy, or do
you think they just have a strategy for the midterm elections in opposing
MR. AXELROD: I think that that's a good question to ask your next guests.
All I would say is that what we've heard primarily is a recycling of the
very same ideas that got us into the mess we're in right now. And unless
the Republican Party develops fresh ideas, they're going to continue to
MR. GREGORY: Are they constructive in their opposition?
MR. AXELROD: Well, sometimes yes and sometimes no. Just this week in the,
in the health committee on--in the Senate, where Senator Dodd has done
such a great job in moving healthcare reform along, 82 amendments were
accepted from Republican members that I think will strengthen the
healthcare bill. And that is a positive thing. We had a meeting on--at
the White House on the, on the issue of immigration, where Senators
McCain and Graham and others participated. I thought it was a
constructive meeting. So we're going to look for every opportunity we can
to work with the Republican Party and, and, and, and where, where we can
come together around the issues we're going to do that.
MR. GREGORY: A couple of points before you go. Here was a moment from the
press conference on Tuesday when there was a question that the president
took from The Huffington Post. Let's watch.
PRES. OBAMA: Since we're on Iran, I know Nico Pitney is here from
MR. NICO PITNEY: Thank you, Mr. President.
PRES. OBAMA: Nico, I know that you and all across the Internet we've been
seeing a lot of reports coming directly out of Iran. I know that there
may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating
through the Internet. What--do you have a question?
MR. GREGORY: I just want to be clear. Did the White House coordinate with
a reporter about a question to be asked at a press conference?
MR. AXELROD: The White House didn't coordinate with the reporter about a
question, we were looking for a way to get questions from within Iran. We
could--we did not have access to Iranian journalists.
MR. GREGORY: So you talked to a reporter beforehand and said, "Could you
ask a question about--from--directly from Iran at a press conference?"
MR. AXELROD: We said if you--we, we, we, we, we knew that he had been and
he was very publicly involved in getting--in trafficking and
communications in and out of Iran, and we felt it was important...
MR. GREGORY: Well, why is it appropriate to coordinate with a reporter
about what's asked at a time when we're championing democracy around the
MR. AXELROD: No, no, David, you miss...
MR. GREGORY: Is that, is that what you should do at a press conference?
MR. AXELROD: You're not, you're not listening to what I said. We didn't
coordinate with, with him about what was asked.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. AXELROD: In fact, he asked probably one of the most--the toughest and
most probing questions at that press conference. We had no idea what he
was going to ask.
MR. GREGORY: But you coordinated with him about, about that subject of a
MR. AXELROD: He was a, he was a, he was a, he was a vehicle to get
questions from Iran asked at this press conference, and that we thought
was not only appropriate but, but necessary.
MR. GREGORY: If President Bush had done that, don't you think Democrats
would have said that's outrageous?
MR. AXELROD: I do--well, I do not, because if--what would have been
outrageous is if we knew what question was going to be asked, just as if
you told us what question you were going to ask.
MR. GREGORY: Right. So you would, so you'd do it again?
MR. AXELROD: Yeah, I have no problem with what was done. We want to
foment dialogue around the world. And if we can get quotations from
within Iran asked, whatever those questions may be--and as I said, that
one was a tough one--I think we're, we're doing something positive.
MR. GREGORY: Finally, before you go, the president has not spoken
directly about the death of Michael Jackson, and yet obviously people
around the world are talking about it. And it's interesting to hear some
African-American leaders say the significance of this popular cultural
icon was significant. I mean, before there was Barack Obama...
MR. AXELROD: There's no doubt.
MR. GREGORY: ...before Tiger Woods and Oprah Winfrey there was Michael
Jackson crossing over, breaking barriers. Does the president see it that
MR. AXELROD: Well, I, I think Robert Gibbs spoke to this a little bit on
Friday when he was asked this question. Nobody asked the question of the
president when he took questions on Friday. The president obviously
believes that he was an important and magnificent performer, and, and,
and obviously he, he led a sad life in many ways as well. But his impact
is undeniable, as you can see on your own airwaves and everywhere.
MR. GREGORY: Hm.
MR. AXELROD: I mean, the reaction has been very, very strong. But we, you
know, the president has written the family and has shared his feelings
with the family, and he felt that was the appropriate way to go.
MR. GREGORY: All right, David Axelrod, thank you very much. Good luck
with your important work.
MR. AXELROD: OK. Good to be with you.
MR. GREGORY: Coming next, another rising star in the GOP stumbles. Can
South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford recover? And what's next for the
party? Two key Republicans weigh in; 2008 presidential candidate Mitt
Romney and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are next. Plus,
insights and analysis from our political roundtable only on MEET THE
MR. GREGORY: Mitt Romney and Senator Lindsey Graham weigh in on the
future of the Republican Party after this brief commercial break.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: We are back, joined now by Mitt Romney and Senator
Welcome back to both of you.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: David Axelrod making some news; first on the stimulus,
Senator Graham, talking about revisiting--the potential of revisiting a
second stimulus come the fall. Do you think that's appropriate?
SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, I think we should revisit it and make sure that it's
focused on jobs, not adding to the debt. If you had another vote in the
Senate or the House I think it would be redone, it would be more focused
on job creation, because it clearly has not helped jobs, has added to the
debt and I think it just missed its mark. So I'd love to revisit it.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think this thing was oversold?
SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah. I think, one, he comes in at a tough time. He does
something bold, he does it quick. He picked up three Republicans, lost 11
Democrats in the House. They had a chance to meet between $440 billion and $800
billion and get probably 15 Republicans, but they jammed it through. They
went back to the old way of politics, the Karl Rove style of picking off
a few Republicans. He missed a chance to have a bipartisan stimulus
package that would have created more jobs and helped people who'd lost
their jobs. I hope they'll rethink it can come back again.
MR. GREGORY: Governor, can you possibly pay for even what Warren Buffett
says should be a second stimulus, that there needs to be more medicine
not less for this economy?
FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA): Well, I actually think that you're going to
see the economy begin to turn around probably next year. Maybe you'll see
the signs at the last half of this year, but next year you'll see a
turnaround. This economy does turn around. I don't think the stimulus
that was passed is going to be much help. The stimulus that was passed
was, unfortunately, focused more on government and creating employment
inside government than it was creating jobs in the private sector.
MR. GREGORY: Can we say it's failed?
GOV. ROMNEY: Well, it hasn't been as effective as it should have been.
For, for the, for the millions of extra people who are going to be
unemployed, it has not been successful. This is a bill, if it had been
crafted properly and focused on creating jobs, we would have come out of
the recession faster and we would have had a lower level of unemployment.
It has failed in delivering the stimulus that was needed at the time it
MR. GREGORY: All right, I want to come back to the president's
agenda--health care, energy--in just a moment. But first, I want to talk
about what's going on inside the Republican Party and specifically,
Senator, down in your home state...
SEN. GRAHAM: Right.
MR. GREGORY: ...of South Carolina. Governor Mark Sanford disappeared for
five days then announced that, in fact, he'd had a mistress, he was
visiting a mistress in Argentina. He misled his staff, he misled the
voters. Should he resign?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, the first thing, I'm the godfather of Mark and Jenny's
youngest child, so I'm just going to put that on the table. My main focus
right now is can this marriage be saved? Can these kids have a mom and
dad to guide them through life? That is my main focus. I think if Mark
can reconcile with Jenny, and that's not going to be easy, that he can
finish his last 18 months. He's had a good reform agenda. And I do
believe that if, if he can reconcile with his family and if he's willing
to try, that the people of South Carolina would be willing to give him a
second chance. But he's also got to reconcile the legislature. If he can
get his family back together, I think he can continue out his term and
maybe do some good things next year.
MR. GREGORY: But you've talked to him. What's, what's his state of mind?
SEN. GRAHAM: What do you think? Devastated. I mean, you know, it's
just--this is hard for me. I mean, I'm the godfather of his youngest
child. This is not just some political observation. Devastated.
I talked to Jenny. And the one thing I can tell you, Mark Sanford is
lucky to have Jenny Sanford. And I, I hope he realizes that, and I think
he does. And these four boys are, Mitt knows--let's just pray they get
back together. But second chances are not deserved or required, but if
they're ever given, they can be a blessing. I hope Mark gets one with his
family and the voters.
MR. GREGORY: There's the personal, but there's the political, Governor
Romney. I spoke to a Republican this week who said this wasn't just a
personal problem, this was political malfeasance. Should he hang on to
GOV. ROMNEY: You know, his, his holding onto that job is really between
him and his family and the, and the people of South Carolina. It's not
for people outside the state to make pronouncements on. This is a matter
which is really a heartbreaking matter, and that's what I think you have
to focus on. You've got a family in great distress. And I'm, I'm
MR. GREGORY: But you're a former governor. It's more than that. I mean,
this is somebody who disappeared. What if there had been a crisis in
South Carolina? This is somebody who lies to the voters and his staff
about where he is. And doesn't it go beyond a personal failing?
GOV. ROMNEY: Well, overwhelmingly the heartbreak is what the public is
focused on, and what we should be focused on. And seeing this family
become healed is our highest priority. At the same time--and, and, and
not commenting on, particularly on, on, on Governor Sanford, but if you
look at this, this setting, and we've seen it time and again on both
sides of the aisle, I think you have to recognize that people that are
in, in public life ought to be held to a higher standard. That, that
when--I heard one governor, former governor say, "Well, everybody makes
mistakes." Well, that's true. But not all mistakes are the same. And not
everybody is a governor or a senator or a president. And we expect people
to live by a higher standard, because what they do is going to be
magnified. Their families are going to be hurt more by what they do.
Their, their--the things they care about will be hurt. And the culture of
the nation and the people who follow them will be hurt.
MR. GREGORY: This is what Ron Kaufman, who's a Republican lobbyist who's
close to you, Governor, said on Thursday in The New York Times: When we
in the Republican Party do these things, "these kinds of things like what
happened with Senator Ensign," who had an affair and resigned his
leadership position in the Senate, "and now with Sanford it hurts our
credibility as a party of good governing and of values."
Senator Graham, is the Republican Party still a party of values?
SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah. I think we're a party of sinners, just like every
other group in America, but we're also a party that openly talks about
good things. It is good for Mark and Jenny to get back together, if
that's possible, because it's good for families to have a mom and dad.
And it's OK to talk about those things. And part of life is failing. So
from Mark's point of view, if he can get his family back together, people
are pretty fair in this country. Bill Clinton had his problems. People
looked at his job performance, they looked at his personal failings and
they said, "You know what, we're going to put one over here and the other
over there." That's no justification for what Mark did, but I think the
people of South Carolina appreciate what Mark tried to do as governor to
change their state.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
SEN. GRAHAM: And they're very disappointed in what he did as Mark the
individual and his malfeasance at, at times, but they can reconcile the
two only if, if Jenny and Mark can get back together. I think the people
of South Carolina will give him a second chance.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think you had that kind of compassion during the
impeachment proceedings against President Clinton?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I can tell you this. I'm the only Republican that
voted against the article that dealt with lying about Monica Lewinsky,
because I think lying about a consensual affair when you're blindsided is
not a high crime or misdemeanor. The reason I vote for impeachment is
because it was a lawsuit about nonconsensual behavior where President
Clinton was accused of doing some very crude things; he manipulated
witnesses, he undermined the integrity of the legal system like Richard
Nixon undermined the integrity of the political system. That's what I
focused on, not the fact that he lied about a consensual event.
MR. GREGORY: Governor, do you think that family values, values generally
is still a central pillar of what the Republican Party stands for?
GOV. ROMNEY: Absolutely. There's no question in my mind but that our...
MR. GREGORY: And do you think the public believes this after a string of
personal failings that have happened to Democrats and certainly plenty of
GOV. ROMNEY: I, I, I don't think there's any question but that we aspire
to the highest standards of ethical conduct and that we aspire to values
that'll make America stronger. There's no question. But the best think
you can do for raising a child is to have a mom and dad love each other
in a home. And, and to say that and to say we want to see marriage
between men and women, that we want to see families raised with the
benefit of people who are married, that's a, that's a very important part
of our culture. It's part of what our, our parties believes. We believe
in life. These features are important. And do we have people who don't
live up to those standards? Absolutely. That's, that's going to be true.
But not speaking about things that are important...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
GOV. ROMNEY: ...would be an enormous mistake.
MR. GREGORY: But are you sensitive at all to critics on the left who say,
you know, Republicans are hypocrites when they go out there and talk
about family values?
GOV. ROMNEY: You know, I'm always going to be sensitive to people who are
attacking on one side or the other. But I'll tell you, I'd rather be
talking about the truth and indicating that sometimes people fall short
than not saying what's true. And what is true is that America is a
stronger nation if we have a culture which includes the creation of
families with moms and dads and marriage and sacrifice for the next
SEN. GRAHAM: You know, and I don't believe Democrats are for
dysfunctional families. We don't have any ownership. I think President
Obama, quite frankly, has been one of the better role models in the
entire country for the idea of being a good parent, a good father. So
this idea that, that, that we're for good families and Democrats are
silent's not true. I think we fail on both sides. But quite frankly,
President Obama has done a lot of good in his--the way he carries himself
and conducts himself in the area of family.
MR. GREGORY: Let me just spend a moment talking more generally about the
future of the Republican Party. I spoke to a prominent Republican this
week who said the problem for Republicans is that they have failed to
take stock of what happened last year in the election. They have failed
to take stock of the demographic changes in the country. Who are the
leaders of this party and what are the issues that bring it back to
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, he's one of the leaders. The people...
GOV. ROMNEY: He's the other one.
SEN. GRAHAM: I can be a leader on an issue, quite frankly. I mean, the
Republican Party has an opportunity now to get back in the game, and we
appreciate the Democrats for making that possible. Without them we would
be out of the game. If President Obama had went to the middle and did all
the things he said he would do in the campaign, we'd probably be toast.
But he has not. You know, I know bipartisanship when I see it. You pay a
price for it. There has been no bipartisanship. The stimulus package was
Karl Rove politics; pick a few Republicans off, call it bipartisan. The
climate change bill was Tom DeLay banging heads and twisting arms to get
one vote more than you needed. So there's really been no change in
Washington and he missed the boat, and he's spending money that the next
generation can never come up with and he's growing the government beyond
most people's imagination. And we're back in the game because of their
mistakes, but we need to do more than that.
MR. GREGORY: And this is the blueprint, it sounds like, for the
Governor, are you a leader of the Republican Party? You have certainly
taken pains to separate yourself from President Obama. Are you planning a
run for the presidency again in 2012?
GOV. ROMNEY: Well, that's way beyond my horizon at this point, to think
about what's going to happen in 2012. What I'm thinking about...
MR. GREGORY: But you're laying the foundation for it, is that fair to
GOV. ROMNEY: What, what I'm, what I'm laying the foundation for is
picking up seats in 2010. We've got some governors races in '09 in
Virginia and in, and New Jersey. We've got a whole series, of course, of
Senate and House races and governors races in '10. It's important for us
to, to have a stronger message as we go forward. And I think the party
does have to stand up and be able to say, "Listen, Mr. Axelrod, you're
wrong when you say we don't have ideas." We have a healthcare plan. You,
you look at Wyden-Bennett, that's a healthcare plan that a number of
Republicans think is a very good healthcare plan, one that we support.
Take a look at that one. We, we believe in allowing people to have choice
in their health care. We believe in allowing people to have choice in
schools. That's another one of our elements. We believe that, with
regards to energy, that putting a massive tax on the American public and
on industry is not going to create jobs, it's going to hurt jobs. But
here's an idea we have, something like a tax swap that Charles
Krauthammer and Greg Mankiw have talked about. These are ways that, that
are more effective than this cap and trade proposition. We, we've got
ideas, we've got a, a mission that will allow America to be stronger and
families to have a more prosperous future.
MR. GREGORY: Is Sarah Palin also a leader of this party?
SEN. GRAHAM: Absolutely. I think Huckabee, Palin, Mitt Romney, John
McCain--because he's the most recognizable public, public figure as a
Republican, because he ran for president with a good approval
rating--congressional leaders. A guy like me who'll try to find common
ground on the issue on immigration. You know, one thing long-term about
this party, the demographic changes in this country are real. We lost
ground with Hispanic voters because of the way we behaved and the things
we said on immigration. Obama won younger voters because of the image he
projected and his positive agenda. But the biggest loser for 18 to
34-year-olds, in my opinion, is the Obama agenda. They're the ones going
to have to pay for this massive government.
MR. GREGORY: Hm.
SEN. GRAHAM: They're the ones going to lose choice in health care. So
demographically and with young people, we've got our work cut out for us.
We'll do well in 2010, but I'm worried about 20 years from now. For us to
do better, to be a party, not a club, we're going to have to adjust.
MR. GREGORY: Let me go through a few of these issues here, in our
remaining time, on the agenda. And I'll start with you, Senator Graham.
Health care; will the president achieve healthcare reform this year that
includes a public plan?
SEN. GRAHAM: No.
MR. GREGORY: What will be achieved?
SEN. GRAHAM: I think the Wyden bill, where you got six Republicans, six
Democrats, where you'll have purchasing power, given help by the
government to purchase private sector policies and reform in general will
succeed, not a government option that would destroy competition. We're
not going to nationalize health care.
MR. GREGORY: Governor:
GOV. ROMNEY: Absolutely right. We have a model that worked. One state in
America, my state, was able to put in place a plan that got everybody
health insurance, and it did not require a public government insurance
company. That's the last thing America needs. You know exactly what it
is. President Obama, when he was campaigning, said he wanted a single
payer system. That's would it would lead to. He would subsidize this over
time, it would become larger and larger, drive the private options out of
the healthcare industry. It would be just disastrous for health care in
this country. And therefore the right way to proceed is to reform health
care. That we can do, as we did it in Massachusetts, as Wyden-Bennett is
proposing doing it at the national level. We can do it for the nation, we
can get everybody insured, we can get the cost of health care down, but
we don't have to have government insurance and government running health
care to get that done.
MR. GREGORY: The other big news; Friday, the victory for the president on
the climate change bill in the House. What's going to happen in the
SEN. GRAHAM: If that's a victory, then I don't know what losing would be.
He lost 40-something Democrats. The process was not changed. The process
was beating people up to make them vote for something they really didn't
want to vote for. This idea of climate change is real, in my opinion, and
the way you solve the problem is not you have some major tax on industry
and private sector. You join forces with energy independence groups and
climate change groups to get a bipartisan bill. But this bill coming out
of the House is going nowhere in the Senate. But climate change is real
and we need to do something. The gang of 10 that I was in...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
SEN. GRAHAM: ...is something to look at.
MR. GREGORY: But is--does--is there a filibuster in the Senate by
SEN. GRAHAM: I think you're going to have a--the news is that red state
Democrats are bailing out on the president's agenda faster than
MR. GREGORY: On foreign policy, before we go, on Iraq, the deadline now
to remove combat troops coming up on June the 30th. The Bush
administration several times before had a deadline to turn matters over
to Iraqi authorities, only to fail on numerous occasions. What's
different, if anything, this time?
GOV. ROMNEY: Well, what's interesting is this is not different. This is
the plan that President Bush put in place. And Barack Obama, having
campaigned against President Bush saying, look, he has an entirely
different view for Iraq, is actually following President Bush's plan. And
that's a good thing. I think it's appropriate for our troops to begin
to--the withdrawal process on the major population centers, as was
indicated during President Bush's term. The place I think that, that we
really ought to be focusing on today is what's happening in Iran.
MR. GREGORY: Well, and with that, you said last week...
SEN. GRAHAM: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...that he was timid and weak, the president was, when it
came to Iran.
SEN. GRAHAM: I said he was timid and passive.
MR. GREGORY: Timid and passive, excuse me. Has he, has he gotten better?
Has he gotten it right now?
SEN. GRAHAM: Yes. And I think the video of the young girl dying in the
street made it real to the president more than anything I could say, and
since then he's done a very good job. And the question for this country
and the world is if the supreme leader certifies the election and says
Ahmadinejad is the president of Iran, do we recognize that? I don't see
how we can now. I don't see how we can embrace this regime, given what
they've done and the way they've behaved.
MR. GREGORY: And if the president signs an executive order to, to
indefinitely detain prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, would you support
SEN. GRAHAM: I support the idea of an indefinite detention program with a
legal review. I think he should come through Congress and do it, that way
it will be stronger and in court and we'll all be on board. Bush tried
this by executive order. Come to the Congress, work with us, we can find
middle ground on this.
MR. GREGORY: We're going to leave it there. Lindsey Graham, Governor Mitt
Romney, thank you both very much.
Coming next, who's left to lead the GOP, and how will President Obama's
agenda fare in Congress and across the nation? Our political roundtable:
David Brooks, E.J. Dionne, Mike Murphy and Dee Dee Myers after this brief
MR. DAVID GREGORY: And we're back with our roundtable this morning: Dee
Dee Myers of Vanity Fair, Republican strategist Mike Murphy, E.J. Dionne
of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times.
Welcome, everybody. There is so much to go through here. Let's begin with
Republican turmoil down in South Carolina, and Governor Mark Sanford; the
end of an affair or the beginning of a new one in terms of whether he's
going to hang on to power. This was that bizarre press conference earlier
this week, a few clips.
GOV. SANFORD: I'm a bottom line kind of, kind of guy. I'll lay it out.
It's going to hurt, and we'll let the chips fall where they may.
There are moral absolutes, and, and that, that God's law indeed is there
to protect you from yourself, and there are consequences if you breach
that. This press conference is a consequence.
Offscreen Voice: Did you break off the relationship?
Gov. SANFORD: Obviously not, if I spent the last five days of my life
crying in Argentina.
MR. GREGORY: David Brooks, how much crying is going on in the Republican
MR. DAVID BROOKS: Well, over, over a long term there's a lot of
Republican crying going on. This was a story of loneliness, and we've had
so many cases; John Edwards and just a whole series of cases. My
observation about these guys, and it's bipartisan, is they work
phenomenally hard. They spend all their times climbing. They travel a
lot. They get to middle age and they realize there's some emotional
vacuum in their lives, and they go off and do totally crazy things,
including betraying their family. So to me this is a personal story about
highly successful people in private and public life.
MR. GREGORY: But is there, is there a political dimension to this? Is
this malfeasance? Does he have to resign?
MR. MIKE MURPHY: No, I don't think he has to. I mean, I feel very sorry
for him. He and Jenny are friends of mine. It's a horrible situation.
Nationally I don't think it means anything for the Republican Party. In
South Carolina it's a huge deal. He's a lame duck, so his term's ending.
The interesting thing in the politics here, big Republican ax fight,
typical South Carolina primary to follow him. If he resigns early, the
lieutenant governor takes power, giving the lieutenant governor a jump on
the others who want to be the Republican governor there. So even some of
Sanford's critics may wind up propping him up politically to keep him in
office not to give their rival, the lieutenant governor, the jump in the
primary. It's South Carolina. It's going to be, by day, Bible politics;
by night, knife fighting in the Republican primary. I think, I think, if
I have to predict, he'll hang on, though it could go either way.
MR. GREGORY: E.J., it's interesting. I asked Senator Graham, he said--I
said are values still core to the Republican Party? He said, "We are a
party of sinners." Make them no different than, than the Democrats. But
is that pillar of social values, in terms of what defines the Republican
Party, is that no longer the case?
MR. E.J. DIONNE: Well, I was struck at your interview that Senator Graham
tried to make this bipartisan all of the sudden at the end, and it was a
way of kind of pulling the Republican Party out of this mess. I mean, the
Republicans have a problem with the Ensign scandal and now the Mark
Sanford scandal. I mean, is open marriage their latest new idea?
Obviously they don't want to convey that sense. But I just hate sex
scandals as a general proposition. And you need some kind of compact in
the country where people won't parade out their perfect families, where
people will not move, including the press, quickly to a sex scandal. But
Governor Sanford, unfortunately for him in this case, really raised the
stakes here when he disappeared, and I think for a lot of people it gives
them a hook to say, "Well, this isn't really about the sex scandal, this
is about his disappearing for days when people in his own government
didn't know what was going on."
MR. GREGORY: Dee Dee:
MS. DEE DEE MYERS: I think it's interesting how the fact that his
disappearance became a national story. That was probably something put
out there by Governor Sanford's enemies in South Carolina...
MR. DIONNE: Yes.
MS. MYERS: ...who wanted to focus attention on that. And then he walked
right into the trap by going to that press conference totally unprepared,
without having thought it through, maybe in the middle of a midlife
crisis. But it does reflect on, you know, a Republican Party that's built
on, in recent years, on two pillars: fiscal responsibility and family
values. George Bush destroyed and the Republican Congress destroyed the
pillar of fiscal responsibility, and now characters like Governor Sanford
who, you know, sort of didn't practice what he preached, have taken down
the other. And so the Republican Party finds itself in the position of
having to redefine what its base mission is.
MR. MURPHY: But we don't define presidential elections--excuse
me--backwards. And while this is an entertaining sideshow, and this one
was particularly entertaining as these go, for kind of cynical watchers
of politics the presidential race is going to be about issues in the
future. And on those grounds I think the Republicans could be very, very
MR. GREGORY: Let's look at the slate of, of, of national leaders in the
Republican Party. We'll put it up on the screen, some of the faces: Haley
Barbour; Newt, Newt Gingrich; Jon Huntsman has, has hurt his chances with
an affair that came out; Sarah Palin; Mitt Romney; Ensign; Huckabee.
Excuse me, I said Huntsman; he's--I meant, I meant Ensign. There was no
affair with Jon Huntsman. He is taken out, he's gone over to China to be
ambassador. Excuse me, excuse me. And some of the others down the road.
What is--David Brooks, how does this Republican Party of the future chart
a new course? If you look back historically, from Nixon to Reagan and
George W. Bush, in each case it was not only a kind of a, an indictment
of the past, but also a charting of a new course for the future of the
MR. BROOKS: Right. I take a maximalist view. I fall to the British
Conservative Party; they had to lose three national elections before they
changed. I think this Republican Party's going to have to lose two or
three national elections. So I take the long-term, most pessimistic view
possible. But how--what is the route back? It's two things. The first
thing: boring, sensible practicality. And that's why I think of the
potentials Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana, is the most sensible
short-term answer to the Republican problems, a guy who's just a good
manager. You got a guy, Barack Obama, in the White House, fantastic guy,
happens to spend a lot of money. And so that would be my short term.
The long term is they have to learn to talk to people in densely
populated parts of the country and to young people. And so the answer to
those problems are the same. They have to learn to talk the language of
community and common endeavor. It's been too much individual, profit, tax
cuts. It has to be community, what we can do together, including in some
MR. GREGORY: I just want to make sure that everybody heard that, that I
misspoke when it came to Jon Huntsman. My apologies. No family turmoil
MR. MURPHY: Mrs. Huntsman's on the other line.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah, yeah, yeah, my apologies. But speak to that, Mike.
MR. MURPHY: Mm-hmm. No, I kind of agree with David. I hate to be
pessimistic about it. I think we're in a paradox of opposition, which is
what works in the short-term, which is complete opposition to certain
policies. And I think President Obama, by going to the left not the
center, has given us an opportunity in the short term with health care
and other things he's doing. We're going, we're going to win some seats,
which is a good thing. But it may teach us exactly the wrong lessons for
the long term, where we have these big demographic problems and we have
to modernize conservatism. It may take a, may take a bit of a meltdown
before we come back. And I think it needs to have more social
libertarianism and, and maybe not a complete, unerring defense of perfect
capitalism at all times and out of control free market.
MR. GREGORY: E.J., how do you size up the Republicans?
MR. DIONNE: Well, you know, I am struck that, that there are two kinds of
Republicans out there right now. Younger Republicans tend to say, "Wait a
minute, we can't just go back to Ronald Reagan and re-create that. That
was a long time ago. These are different circumstances, and we've got to
think of a new kind of conservatism." David just blew up the old
conservative philosophy; in fact, both, both our...
MR. GREGORY: He does that.
MR. DIONNE: ...Republican friends here, because what they're saying is,
well, they can't be as socially conservative as they used to be, that was
the one pillar, and they really have to say capitalism isn't perfect. So
I think what you're talking about is a need for a wholly new
And to go back to Sanford for a second, what really disturbs me most is
what he did in his public life, the notion that you could turn down the
stimulus money that was basically designed to help the poorest people in
South Carolina. No one paid as much attention to that as they should
have, and now we're doing all this stuff on his personal life.
MR. GREGORY: Another historical reference here. Let's look at the
approval ratings for George W. Bush at a similar point, June of 2001, and
President Obama now. And there you see it on the screen; Obama more
popular, 56 to 50 percent.
Dee Dee, how's the president doing overall in terms of his agenda?
Climate change legislation, a big deal, a big priority for this
president, got through the House, but you heard Senator Graham say this
is going nowhere in the Senate.
MS. MYERS: Well, you know, we've heard that before about different Obama
proposals, and we'll see what happens. They have not lost a lot so far.
The president's been very successful in moving his big items through the
Congress. And one of the things that he's done really well, and this sort
of goes back to the point you were making about the future of the
Republican Party, is stitching together a broader view and, and, and
trusting the American public to understand that all of these proposals
fit together in some way--climate change legislation, healthcare
legislation, stimulus package--all toward remaking the economy. And I
think those are powerful arguments. And I don't think we've heard the
last from a president who's been able to rally the public to his side
making not simplistic arguments, but complicated arguments. And I think
the same will be true on climate change and health care. I think the
public understands that unless we solve some of the big underlying
problems, including--it's not just a climate change bill, it's a end our
dependence on foreign oil bill as well, which is a national security
argument. Those arguments are still compelling, the president still makes
them in incredibly effective ways, and we haven't heard the last from
this administration. They're, they're going to fight and they're going to
MR. GREGORY: You talk about health care. Mike, David Axelrod on this
program today making it very clear they are not going to ram through a
public plan, even though it's clearly what the president wants and it's
what liberals expect out of healthcare reform.
MR. MURPHY: Well, the public plan is really the camel's nose under the
tent for single payer. The single payer crowd knows they can't get that,
so they create kind of this shark device, this public plan to go eat all
the insurance companies. So, yeah, I thought that was a huge concession
and an important one. The tragedy, I think, of health care is this bill
has a lot of health care, a trillion-plus dollars of health care. It
doesn't have any reform. There's a great reform idea, which is
Wyden-Bennett, which has the individual mandate that is, I believe, part
of the solution, out of...
MR. GREGORY: Where you have to buy insurance if you're uninsured.
MR. MURPHY: Everybody has to have insurance. But it also uses the private
insurance market in a more regulated way, with real cost controls. It's
the real solution. And hopefully we're back into those principles,
because this public option thing is a killer both for the Republicans and
I think politically for Obama.
MR. GREGORY: David Brooks, you wrote this in a column this week about
healthcare reform: "Healthcare reform is important," you wrote, "but it
is not worth bankrupting the country over. If this process goes as it has
been going--with grand rhetoric and superficial cost containment--then we
will be far better off killing this effort and starting over in a few
years. Maybe then there will be leaders willing to look at the options
staring them in the face." And yet, the president says if it's not done
this year it won't get done.
MR. BROOKS: Well, it won't get done maybe in the next two years. But
my--here's the--there are two issues here. One is, are we going to pay
the trillion dollars for the bill? That, I think, they'll probably do.
The second and to me most important issue is, will they, as they call it,
bend the curve, the total cost of health care to American society? That
they're doing--Obama does a great job of talking about, but he hasn't
done any of the hard choices to actually do that.
MR. GREGORY: Because that does mean managed care in some way. That means
if you're consumer, you cannot get everything you want from your
MR. BROOKS: Right. It means saying no.
MR. GREGORY: ...and have it paid for.
MR. BROOKS: And, and here's my fear. I think they're great at passing
legislation. They will do whatever it takes to pass legislation, and I
never count them out. But I'm afraid their policies are designed to pass
legislation, not always to solve the problem. And I think that's, that
was the stimulus...
MR. GREGORY: You know, that's interesting, though. Before you get to the,
the substance of health care, E.J., it is interesting. Is this pragmatism
and the art of compromise on the part of this president, or is it
weakness? I mean, what should be championed, what should be criticized?
MR. DIONNE: I think it's his strategy, and at some points he's right not
to intervene too hard in the congressional process. I mean, imagine if
that global warming bill had been down, had gone down this week. This
whole panel would be about the death of the Obama presidency. The
Democrats can't pass legislation. That was a huge deal. There were other
times when he needs to intervene. And I think you're getting to the point
in health care where he will.
I love hearing the Republicans talk about Wyden-Bennett now. They could
have passed that when they controlled the Congress. Now you've got a
series of proposals where people are really trying to find some common
ground, and now they're going back to Wyden-Bennett. I think it's a
In terms of the public plan, the public plan is a good idea and the
president actually gave a good defense of it when he said, look, if the
insurance companies, the private insurance companies are so great and so
efficient, why are they so afraid of this public plan? I think the issue
now is, do you have a real public plan in a bill, or if you give it away
do you get significant insurance reform that will have a decent--one
of--that that insurance exchange that they're talking about, will it have
good rules around it so people can get health coverage?
MS. MYERS: But I always find it curios that, you know, there's criticism
of the White House for not taking the healthcare bill and writing it. We
MR. GREGORY: Right. Right.
MS. MYERS: ...in 1993, it was a catastrophe. You know, ended up with a
MR. MURPHY: It was a bad bill.
MS. MYERS: Well, but it...
MR. MURPHY: It was single payer. Nobody wanted it.
MS. MYERS: But it's--you're, you're destined to write a bad bill when you
do it, I think, removed from the legislative process.
MR. GREGORY: Well, the...
MS. MYERS: You--how do you get 60--a bill that will be acceptable to 60
senators without working with the Congress and letting them take the lead
on it? I don't think that's possible.
MR. MURPHY: No, that's reality. But the tragedy of Obama is no
president's been elected with as much political power as he has in a
long, long time, and he's wasting it on more special interest legislation
when he could ram through the tough real reform stuff. We couldn't get
Wyden-Bennett done. I've always been for Wyden-Bennett. But we could get
it done now in a big bipartisan way, because this guy has the power to do
it and he does believe in healthcare reform. Obama could really go right
up the middle and force some tough reforms through. Instead we're getting
the same stuff. A cap and trade bill that the Democratic super
environmental left doesn't like; there's no nuclear power in it, which is
an obvious CO2 solution. I think he's failing to reach the potential he
has with his great amount of power, and that's the tragedy.
MR. BROOKS: It--I was thinking about what, what I've been doing wrong as
a, as a journalist. I think I've spent way too much time thinking about
Obama, because he does the, he sells the policies. The decisions are
actually being made on Capitol Hill by the chairmen.
MR. MURPHY: Exactly.
MR. BROOKS: They give a lot of power away to Capitol Hill for reasons
that mystify me. Because, as Mike says...
MR. MURPHY: He's the...(unintelligible).
MR. BROOKS: ...he has--potentially has a lot more power than he uses.
MR. DIONNE: But all, all of this depends--you know, this is a nice
conversation about, oh, gee, Obama could find the middle. But where are
the Republicans on this? Most Republicans have decided, and it may be a
smart political strategy, that they just want to block Obama's proposals.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm. Right, right.
MR. DIONNE: The number of Republicans actually willing to work with him
is very, very small.
MR. GREGORY: But we should also point out that this was an area on the
stimulus, too, where the White House acknowledged and conceded it was a
problem, turning over too much power to Congress to allow them to write
the stimulus bill.
MR. DIONNE: Well, except that the stimulus bill the House produced was
closer to Obama than the compromise that came out. And again, on global
warming and bipartisanship, there were two Republicans in the House who
voted for the president's bill.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. DIONNE: One was Mark Kirk, the other was Mike Castle. Both want to
run for the U.S. Senate next time. Maybe they're potential candidates.
MR. GREGORY: OK. All right, we're going to have to leave it there. A lot
more to talk about, but we're out of time. Thanks very much to all of
you. And we'll be right back.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: That's all for today. We will be off the air next
Sunday due to NBC's coverage of the Wimbledon tennis finals, so we will
be back here in two weeks. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.