MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, the happy homecoming.
MS. LAURA LING: When we walked in through the doors, we saw standing
before us President Bill Clinton.
MR. GREGORY: Now the backstory. How the White House and the former
president secured the release of two journalists held in North Korea. Did
Washington pay an unacceptable price, or is this an opportunity for
finding a new way forward with the world's most secretive nuclear power?
Our guest, the man in the middle of it all, the president's national
security adviser, General James Jones.
Then, the Obama economy.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: Today we're pointed in the right direction.
MR. GREGORY: Job losses slow, pointing to signs of recovery. But when can
we expect to see Americans back at work? Is the president's stimulus plan
reaching the front lines quickly enough? Joining us, two big city
mayors--Michael Bloomberg of New York and Cory Booker of Newark, New
Jersey--on jobs, housing and fears of the swine flu hitting their cities
Finally, Congress leaves for the summer and finds a lot of heat over
health care back home. The politics of healthcare reform and how each
side plans to wage the battle this month. Our roundtable puts it in
perspective: New York Times columnist David Brooks; anchor of CNBC's
"Street Signs," Erin Burnett; and editor of Newsweek magazine, Jon
MR. DAVID GREGORY: But first, General James Jones, welcome back to MEET
GEN. JAMES JONES (RET.): Thank you, sir. Appreciate it.
MR. GREGORY: Big news; North Korea, the two American journalists back
home. This was the scene as it played out in Los Angeles on Wednesday,
former President Bill Clinton accompanying the two journalists back home.
He has since come back east and you have been able to fully debrief him.
What can you say you have now learned about North Korea and specifically
Kim Jong Il?
GEN. JONES: Well, I think that first of all I want to emphasize this was
a private mission. And we can get into that if you'd like. But this was a
private mission where--in, in which there were no official or unofficial
messages sent by this government or by President Obama. So we celebrate
the fact that we've had these--this great reunion and--but we can say
that--we can also report that the president did--former president did
spend time with the Korean leader, that he appeared to be in control of
his government and, and his--he sounded very, very reasoned in terms of
MR. GREGORY: His health is a big issue, right?
GEN. JONES: His health is a big issue, but obviously we didn't have any
time to make an assessment there. But he seemed in control of his
faculties. And the president, the former president was able to engage him
on a number of subjects. As you know, he had very--relationship with his
father and--when he was in the--when he was--when the president was in
office, and so he was able to convey his own, his personal views with
regard to the importance of the issues of the moment, which is making
sure that nuclear weapons do not appear on the Korean Peninsula.
MR. GREGORY: Well, let's talk about that, the nuclear issue. It must have
come up during their conversations. What was said?
GEN. JONES: Well, I think--I don't want to speak for President Clinton.
We're in, in the process of getting, getting his thoughts as well, we
haven't completely finished with that. But, but it's clear thus far that
he did press home the fact that if North Korea really desired to rejoin
the family of nations in a, in a credible way, that the, the, the way
forward is not to, to build nuclear weapons and to rejoin the, the six
party talks, and within the context of those talks that they could have a
dialogue with the United States.
MR. GREGORY: So North Korea has said they don't want to be part of these
six party talks anymore. Just a couple of weeks ago they were exchanging
insults with the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
GEN. JONES: Right.
MR. GREGORY: Do--did they give an indication to the former president that
that's changed, that they might be willing to come back now?
GEN. JONES: I, I think time will tell on that, David, to be honest. But
I, I'm quite sure the former president was very articulate and
persuasive, that the North Koreans know exactly what the world, the
global community, particularly the members of the six party talks expect,
and there is a path for them to, to, to move forward.
MR. GREGORY: Any positive signs, though, from the talks?
GEN. JONES: We'll have to wait and see.
MR. GREGORY: Is there a deadline, in your mind, for when they need to
GEN. JONES: I, I think this is such, this is such a big issue that--and
we're making such good progress with our relations with China and Russia
and other countries to, to, to show them the, the, the, the wisdom of
making the right decisions here. But it, it is up to them, and we--they
know exactly what, what the end stage should look like.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you a little bit about the backstory. How did
this first come up, the idea of sending President Clinton over there? You
did a lot of vetting of this idea. What were your concerns and how did it
GEN. JONES: Well, it, it actually came up through a private channel,
through the communication from the two girls to their families. And
evidently, the North Koreans implied that if former President Clinton
were to take on this mission, that they would guarantee the release of,
of the two girls.
MR. GREGORY: But it had to be Bill Clinton; couldn't be Al Gore, couldn't
be somebody else?
GEN. JONES: They specified Bill Clinton. And, and so the president said,
well, let's see if former President Clinton'd be willing to do this
MR. GREGORY: So there were no reservations in your mind or the
GEN. JONES: I, I think the, the president, from day one, gave us the task
of trying to get those girls back. And, and that was, that really was job
number one. And we thought that--and, and, and President Clinton, former
President Clinton said he would be, he would take this on in a private
way, and that's exactly what happened.
MR. GREGORY: But, but you're experienced with this. I mean, the North
Koreans say things all the time and they don't live up to their
agreements. How did you test that in fact he wouldn't come back empty,
GEN. JONES: Well, you know, ultimately, regardless of all of the, the,
the, the backwards and forwards on this--and we did, we did have, we do
have channels to talk to the North Koreans. We, we received a personal
assurance of the leader that they would grant, in their terms, special
amnesty, and that if former President Clinton came to North Korea that he
would leave with those two girls. And ultimately, you say OK.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
GEN. JONES: Let's see, let's see which--let's see if they'll live up to
their word. And they did.
MR. GREGORY: There's been some criticism of this mission, and it centers
around this photograph. This was the picture that experts say Kim Jong Il
wanted, and he got it. There is the former president sitting right next
to him. Henry Kissinger writes this this morning in op-ed piece in The
Washington Post: "A visit by a former president, who is married to the
secretary of state, will enable Kim Jong Il to convey to North Koreans,
and perhaps to other countries, that his country is being accepted into
the international community--precisely the opposite of what Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton has defined as the goal of U.S. policy until
Pyongyang abandons its nuclear weapons program." Did this president just
hand Kim Jong Il a propaganda victory?
GEN. JONES: I, I don't think so. I mean, maybe in Kim Jong Il's mind, and
he'll play it out inside of North Korea anyway he wants. But we vetted
this, this mission with the South Koreans, with the Japanese, the
Chinese, with the Russians, and we have 100 percent support by all these
countries. We--the president also--the former president also asked for
the release of a South Korean detainee and the, the, the Japanese
abductees, which we think would be also a great picture to see the
reunification of those families, which we're very concerned about. So no,
I don't--I, I, I just think that, you know, we wanted to get those girls
out. The North Koreans gave us a, a path to that and the president of the
United States said, "Look, we want these families reunified. They
shouldn't be held in captivity." And, and by the way, if we hadn't done
that, we'd be having a different conversation tonight because--today,
because they would have--they would have said, "Well, you had an
opportunity just, just to send the, the former president."
MR. GREGORY: All right. Well, to that point, former President Clinton, he
goes to Pyongyang, he goes to North Korea, gets this result. If you want
a breakthrough with North Korea, a breakthrough that's been so elusive to
previous administrations, should President Obama go to North Korea and
talk to the North Koreans now?
GEN. JONES: That's a--that, that is the--the future relationship of our
two countries wholly dependent upon the ability of the North Koreans to
understand where they are in terms of not only just the United States,
but, but this big issue of nuclear weapons and...
MR. GREGORY: All right, but would you, would you rule that out as a
potential for breakthrough?
GEN. JONES: I, I wouldn't speculate on, on hypotheticals. I--we are
doing, we're doing the right thing with a whole family of nations.
Proliferation is a big issue. It's a big issue in North Korea, it's a
huge issue in Iran, and we are at the, at the center point of this, this,
this debate. And it's a global debate, it is not just about bilateral
relations. This is a very serious problem.
MR. GREGORY: Let, let me go through a few other hot-button issues in our
remaining moments. In Pakistan an important al-Qaeda figure, a Mehsud,
who was the head of Pakistan's al-Qaeda leadership, reportedly killed.
Are you able to confirm that today?
GEN. JONES: I wish I could, to be honest with you totally. We think so.
We, we put it in the 90 percent category, if you want. But Pakistan has
confirmed it. We know there are some reports now from the Mehsud tribe
that, that he wasn't. But the evidence is pretty conclusive.
MR. GREGORY: What, what does it mean to the United States' security?
GEN. JONES: Well, I think it's a--this is a big deal. And, and it's not
only--by the way, it's not only happening in this part of the world, it's
happening in other parts of the world as well with some--with a gradual
coming together by the family of nations to reject terrorism as something
that's acceptable. In terms of the region, it means that the Pakistani
armed forces and the Pakistani government are doing quite well in terms
of their fight against extremism. This was--Baitullah Mehsud was the
public enemy number one in, in, in Pakistan, so it's their, their biggest
target. And we've already seen evidence of dissension in the ranks about
who's, who's going to follow him. This is--if this is--if this happened,
and we think it did, this was a good thing.
MR. GREGORY: Is it still your belief that Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan?
GEN. JONES: That one's a little bit more elusive. We are still very much
on the hunt. We think that he's still in that general region. But that's
a, that's a tougher nut to crack.
MR. GREGORY: Let me...
GEN. JONES: But this, this was a big deal.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about Afghanistan. General McChrystal,
commander on the ground, is doing an assessment of the mission and what
he needs to achieve that mission successfully. The question about the
endgame, The Washington Post reports today about the long-term cost to
America. "As the Obama administration expands U.S. involvement in
Afghanistan, military experts are warning that the U.S. is taking on
security and political commitments that will last at least a decade and a
cost that will probably eclipse that of the Iraq war." What is the
endgame in Afghanistan? What kind of time frame should Americans expect?
GEN. JONES: The endgame in Afghanistan is obviously to turn the
responsibility for their security and economic prosperity and the
governance over to Afghans as quickly as possible. We're doing that three
ways. One is in March we announced a comprehensive strategy that wasn't
only focused on troop strength and security, although there's a certain
minimum there that's required, but also the, the cohesion of security,
economic development and good governance and rule of law from local
mayors all the way up to Kabul. We've generally done pretty well over
time on the security pillar. NATO, the United States and 47 sovereign
countries, are on the ground in Afghanistan. The U.N., NATO, the European
Union, the World Bank, all, all sorts of nongovernmental organizations,
all the instruments are there to turn this thing in the right direction.
The question is, how do you work--get them to work more cohesively?
MR. GREGORY: Right.
GEN. JONES: And that's the new strategy. And, and, and if we can get that
done--and we will know that fairly quickly. We're--we've published a new
set of metrics--or not published, but they're being developed in, in
concert with the congressional guidance. We have a, an envoy in--hard at
work to frame this whole thing, new commanders, new ambassadors. And we
think that it's going to change--it's going move in the right direction.
I don't--I, I can't tell you...
MR. GREGORY: At least a decade, though? I mean...
GEN. JONES: No, no, no. No.
MR. GREGORY: ...should Americans really settle--it's less than a decade,
you think, in terms of...
GEN. JONES: Yeah, I think, I think, I...
MR. GREGORY: ...our commitment.
GEN. JONES: You can't predict here where the tipping point is, just like
we couldn't really predict it in Iraq. But it will--if it's done right
and if it's done cohesively, the tipping point will be much, much
quicker, much sooner than that. We will know whether this strategy is
working in--within, within the--by the, by the end of the next year, and
we'll be able to make some prediction--maybe some predictions at that
time. But not before.
MR. GREGORY: General McChrystal wants more troops for Afghanistan. Will
he get a skeptical response from President Obama?
GEN. JONES: General McChrystal is doing what all good commanders do when
you take over a big job, you do an assessment. You--General McChrystal
has the overall strategy that's been agreed to and he is making his
commander's estimate on how to function within that strategy. And we'll
just have to wait and see what he, what he has to say. But it, but it has
to be--whatever, whatever we do is with the context of a new--a, a
strategy that was agreed upon in March, and very--a very comprehensive
MR. GREGORY: Before you go, on Iran, are there new developments this
morning about those three American hikers who strayed into Iran?
GEN. JONES: Yes, there are in the sense that the government has
officially acknowledged that they have them in their custody.
MR. GREGORY: And that's news. That had not been disclosed before.
GEN. JONES: That, that, that is as of this morning, we do have that, we
do have that confirmation.
MR. GREGORY: How does this administration deal with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
Is he in a position, you think, with the political fighting, to engage
with the West?
GEN. JONES: We certainly hope so. It--he is the figure of authority that
we have to deal with. But it's clear that there's major, major problems
going on--I won't say major problems, but major events going on inside of
Iran that have to do with the election. But we have to deal with the
figures of authority that are in position. We have sent strong messages
that we would like these three young people released as soon as possible,
and also others that they have in, in their custody as well. This
is--these, these are innocent people. We want their families reunited,
and we want it--we would like to have it done as quickly as possible.
MR. GREGORY: We'll leave it there. General Jones, thank you very much for
GEN. JONES: Thank you very much.
MR. GREGORY: Thanks for being here.
GEN. JONES: My pleasure.
MR. GREGORY: Coming up next, how is the president's economic plan faring
across the nation? Two big-city mayors. New York City's Michael Bloomberg
and Newark, New Jersey's Cory Booker weight in on what they're seeing.
Plus, our political roundtable, only on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. GREGORY: Mayors Michael Bloomberg of New York City and Cory Booker of
Newark, New Jersey, after this brief commercial break.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: We are back now with a look at the economy and the
president's stimulus plan and their impact on big cities across the
country, and we welcome Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey; and
welcome back Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City.
And, Mayor Bloomberg, I just want to again thank you for being here after
such a day of tragedy in New York City yesterday, and that midair
collision between a tourist helicopter and, and a single-engine plane
into the Hudson. This was the image of the impact yesterday and what led
to, as you told New Yorkers and around the region, a grim recovery effort
as that went forward yesterday. And as we look live here this morning,
that recovery effort is ongoing now. What can you tell us is the very
latest about what you've learned?
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I): Well, the most important thing at this point
is to make sure that our divers don't risk their lives, because this is
not a rescue effort, this is a recovery effort. The--both aircraft are in
30 feet of water. We haven't even found one of them yet; visibility's
only a couple feet. We do think we found the helicopter, we've recovered
a couple of bodies. We'll continue to search until we get everybody out.
But the bottom line is it's going to take time and we want to take care.
MR. GREGORY: Nine people killed in total, including a 15-year-old boy,
Italian tourists on that tour helicopter as well. It's such a terrible
loss of life. And also, questions about unregulated travel in the air in
that particular corridor. Are there some changes that should be made
about the fact that there can be such unregulated travel there?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Well, the National Transportation Safety Board will do a
complete investigation and figure out what happened and see whether
measures should be taken. That, in the end, will be up to the FAA.
They're the ones that set these rules as to where you can fly. These are
very heavily used corridors. Helicopters are very important to the city
and used all the time.
MR. GREGORY: For tourism. Yeah.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Tourists seem to love it. And, and for commerce. This
is--may have just been an accident, a total tragedy; or maybe, in fact,
if we had different procedures you could have prevented it. We've not had
very many accidents in the area. The last one that was most noticeable
was--notable was the plane putting down in the Hudson River, where
everybody survived. In this case, we don't think it was survivable from
virtually the instant the crash took place. And it's very tragic, as you
MR. GREGORY: All right, let's talk about the economy now. The jobless
rate now is at 9.4 percent nationally; some good news for the
administration, that jobs are being lost at a, at a smaller clip than
we've seen earlier on in the year. Here's the unemployment rate for your
two cities: in New York City, 9.5 percent, pretty close to the national
average; Newark, New Jersey, however, 14.3 percent. And it speaks to
something that's happening around the country in cities. This is what
Reuters reported last week: "U.S. cities...are now vexed by surging
unemployment with 18 metropolitan areas recording jobless rates of more
than 15 percent in June." That's according to a Labor Department report.
"It was the sixth consecutive month that all 372 metro areas in a monthly
survey registered increases in the rate. ... A full 144 metropolitan
areas reported jobless rates of at least 10 percent in the month, up from
112 in May. A year ago, only six cities had rates that high. More than
three-quarters of Americans," of course, "living in cities."
Mayor Booker, are you seeing recovery?
MAYOR CORY BOOKER (D): Well, look, there's--this is an economy and has a
tremendous amount of pain. Unemployment is often the last thing that
recovers. So we're seeing hope and possibility, most importantly, but
we're not seeing the recovery yet. And what is good, though, is
happening, is that the Obama administration is giving us a tremendous
opportunity to reframe our city and to change the narrative of American
cities. So while we're doing the blocking and tackling of trying to help
people on unemployment, trying to find ways to expand opportunities of
attracting business and the like, what we're also seeing is opportunities
to stimulate a new economy within Newark. So one of the best examples is
a new green economy. We really believe that if you're going to have the
American dream in Newark, it's got to be a green dream. And so
we're--attracted three solar companies to our city under my leadership.
We've also started training people in weatherization and have people
getting good union jobs doing that. We see opportunities to retrofit city
buildings and reduce the costs of government and energy. So a lot of the
streams of the stimulus money are setting the stage, in my opinion, to
change Newark's economy so it's ready for the 21st century.
MR. GREGORY: Mayor Bloomberg, are you seeing recovery? You were here in
March, you said there was a crisis of confidence. Do you see any of that
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Yeah. But let me first say something about what, what
Cory can't say, but it happens to be true. He has one of the most
difficult jobs in America. He's taken over a city where you've had many
years of underinvestment and lack of foresight and terrible government,
and he really is the future of Newark. With him, they have a chance to
rectify things. Not going to be easy. He's got a tougher job than I do.
In New York City, we do see some green shoots. Businesses are doing
slightly better. But remember, we still have people losing their homes,
we still have people losing their jobs. I'm encouraged for the future.
New York is unique and the country is getting better and the president's
programs, I think, are helping. But nevertheless, we can't walk away and
say, "Well, all we got to do is sit back and it's going to get better."
So we're trying to focus on helping small businesses by reducing their
taxes and giving them loan programs, training people for the jobs that
are available and not necessarily the jobs they had, making sure that
when the other industries come back the people that we need will be
there. And I think what you're seeing is we've saved $2 billion or $3 billion
over the last few years because we thought that the good times would end.
We're using that now to get through this tough period. But we're also
working hard to attract businesses from around the world to come to us,
because we have to have a future.
MR. GREGORY: Is the stimulus getting to the cities?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Well, in New York's case, the city's case, we've had a
couple of billion dollars in what you'd call budget relief, mainly for
education and Medicaid. We've had some stimulus monies, a small--much
smaller amount for infrastructure and those kinds of things. I think the
main thing that the stimulus program has done so far, however, is given
the country hope that there will be more economic activity down the road.
Because remember, most of the stimulus money hasn't been spent yet.
MR. GREGORY: Hm.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: The infrastructure money we've got, the requirement was
shovel-ready projects. We had some, we're actually putting it to work.
We're trying to create new jobs, jobs that would not be there otherwise.
But we do have a crisis of confidence, and I think this president can
look back on six months in office and say, "I've gotten the country a
little bit through that, I've given them some hope." We still have a long
ways to go. Nobody's going to suggest the--should suggest that this is
easy. But I think the--you've seen the worst and now, if you have worked
in the past and made investments and diversified your economy, you're
going to have a future.
MR. GREGORY: Let me talk about taxes. Mayor Booker, if the president
wants to expand government with not just a stimulus program but also a
massive healthcare overhaul, can he keep his pledge of not raising taxes
on the middle class? Is that the responsible thing to do?
MAYOR BOOKER: Well, look, in our cities we're finding that the more we
can create tax incentives, the more we can create tax-free zones, the
more you stimulate economy, the more you create opportunity. If we're
going to create competitive cities for the future, we've got to continue
programs like the one started by Jack Kemp and supported by many
Democrats, which was enterprise zones and things like that. So I'm
hoping, and my conversations with the Obama administration is that
they're looking at ways to create--may create more competitive cities so
we can create--compete with the Mumbais, the Dubais, the Shanghais,
cities like New York and cities like Newark. But the challenge is, is
that when you want to do more and provide more as a government in terms
of services, you've got to figure out a way to pay for it.
But let's take the reality of health care, for example. Right now urban
hospitals are being crushed under the weight of paying for the uninsured,
paying for undocumented immigrants. I've had two hospitals close in my
city that sent out tsunamis in terms of waves of people that need help
and need support. We've got to find a way to pay for these things
because, unfortunately, the cost is getting passed on.
MR. GREGORY: Well--but that, but that's the question, can you do all of
that? Can you relieve that crunch and just tax the wealthiest Americans,
or do you have to extend that?
MAYOR BOOKER: You, you have to talk about the problem in the totality. If
you don't have things like tort reform, if you don't have things like
advocating prevention programs, if you start working more aggressively in
the totality of the problem, I think you reduce the burden on the
taxpayer. And that's why cost control...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MAYOR BOOKER: ...is one of the most important parts of this conversation.
MR. GREGORY: All right. But I want to, I want to stay on taxes.
Mayor Bloomberg, this is something that you wrote in, in May in Newsweek
magazine about sort of the challenges for President Obama. You wrote, "If
[Obama] isn't afraid to throw traditional political calculations out the
window--and risk seeing his poll numbers plunge into the 20s--he will
earn many more long-term victories, and deeper respect and support from
voters." Is he living up to that, or is this refusal to think about a
middle-class tax hike inconsistent with that admonition?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Well, I think it's two separate questions. I think he is
living up to that. My advice to him is there's two important things to do
when you take office. One is to build a team, number two is to address
the toughest issues right away, because then you have time to take
unpopular decisions and win the confidence of the public back when your
decisions turn out to be the correct ones. And he has. He can't take on
everything, but he's certainly taken on a number of controversial things
here. And he's been dealt a tough hand, although it's fair to say that
every president coming into office has a tough hand. This is not an easy
job. I think he is doing exactly what he should do. He'll have some
failures. He won't--and there's no easy answers. Everybody wants more
services, nobody wants to pay the--pay for them. You can only get so much
money, so much blood out of a stone. You have to share the burden. We
have to make sure that we're competitive with countries overseas, as Cory
said. We're in an international competition for the best and the
brightest and for jobs.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: And this country's immigration policy, for example, is
driving the industries of the future overseas. If you take a look at
where the most innovative medicine is being done, it's being done in
India. And an awful lot of the doctors doing it were educated here.
MR. GREGORY: But does the president have to look beyond the rich for
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Oh, yeah. They--there's just--the middle class bears the
real burden here. That's why the middle class is getting hurt. And what
you, you keep hearing in on--I take the subway in the morning.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: And people, everybody talks about what their complaints
are. It's New York. And paying taxes is something nobody likes. Now, they
like the services that taxes pay for, but you have to have a--the
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Everybody's going to have to, to sacrifice. Everybody's
going to have to reach in their pocket if we're going to have a city and
a country of the future.
MR. GREGORY: Right. Does he have to reconsider that promise not to raise
taxes on the middle class?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Well, I think we'll see down the road. You know, in the
end, the president has to deal with the reality, and some of the things
are beyond his control. He's--makes commitments and he tries to live up
to them, and I think the courage of being able to say, "Look, the world
is different than I anticipated or what it was before, and I'm going to
have to face that." It's fine. It does not mean that he's going to have
to raise taxes on the middle class.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: But we certainly are spending an enormous amount of
money that we don't have, and we've got to get our costs under control.
We've got to be a lot smarter in defense purchases. We've got to be a lot
smarter, as Cory pointed out, in providing medical services. One of the
big problems with health care is that we spend a lot more than they do in
Western Europe, but they have a longer life expectancy that we do.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: There's something wrong. And addressing that issue, are
the people in there giving--doing the things that we want? Do we have the
right hospitals in the right place? Are we relying on the right tests?
Tory mentioned--Cory mentioned tort reform. And unless you do tort reform
and immigration reform, you're not going to really fix the problem with
MR. GREGORY: Let me talk to you both about a very important public safety
issue, and that's the issue of guns.
Mayor Bloomberg, you have spearheaded an effort called Mayors Against
Illegal Guns. You've spent $2.9 million of your own money in that effort.
You recently were successful in defeating the NRA. There was a, an
amendment in the Senate that would have allowed individuals to carry
concealed weapons across state lines. You defeated the NRA, that, that
measure failed in the Senate. But even in defeat, the NRA claimed some
silver lining. This is how the Las Vegas Sun reported it last Sunday:
"[Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid] voted in support [of, this was
Senator Thune's Concealed Weapons Amendment], as did 20 of his Democratic
colleagues--a sign of the gun lobby's power and the lengths the party has
come in supporting the Second Amendment right. Even in defeat, the NRA
was pleased. This was the first time the legislation had been brought to
a vote in the Senate and it won vast bipartisan support from 58
senators." How can you muster the clout and the power to take on the NRA?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: We have 450 mayors representing 50 million or 60 million people.
It's the mayors--Cory, myself, John Peyton in Jacksonville, Tom Menino in
Boston--mayors who have to go to explain at the hospital, to the loved
ones that their sons, daughters, spouses, parents aren't coming home. We
see the damage of illegal guns, and I think that we can pull together.
You know, the NRA doesn't spend that much money. If you look at what the
real numbers are, I think that we can pull together here and raise enough
money--and incidentally, in the past I gave some, I did my share, but
there are plenty of other people that did as well--we can raise enough
money to take on this issue and explain to Congress this is just an
outrage. there's a federal law that says criminals can't have guns, and
we should enforce that law and get guns off the streets.
MAYOR BOOKER: Mm-hmm.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Nothing wrong with the Second Amendment. Nothing wrong
MR. GREGORY: Will you personally put more money in?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Oh, I, I'm going to not only do that myself, I'm going
to ask plenty of other people to do it. If you want to beat the NRA, you
have to go out and get your message out. And it costs money to do that.
And that's all we're trying to do. And I don't think this was a, a
victory for me in the NR--in the Thune Amendment defeat, this was a
victory for America. This was a victory for all of our police officers
across the country who would have been more at risk with their lives if
the least--the lowest standards were applied to everybody, which is what
the Thune Amendment was about.
MAYOR BOOKER: But we've got to break out of this left-right debate,
because this is not an issue of the NRA vs. the liberals. This is an
issue that, I mean, both Mayor Bloomberg and I agree, that I'm not
concerned about law-abiding citizens having access to guns. Not one
shooting in my city last year was by somebody who went, had a background
check, bought a gun and shot somebody in my city. Does not happen. What
we're concerned with is these myriad of laws that, that create a flow of
illegal weapons into our cities that most Americans--in fact, Mayor
Bloomberg, again, his extraordinary leadership, polled gun owners, and 80
to 95 percent of gun owners agree that these laws should be changed.
Example, how it is that you could be on a no-fly list as a, as a
potential terrorist, but you can still go to a gun shop and buy a trunk
full of--trunkload of weapons? How is it that you can--have to go to a
retail shop and have a background check done on you to buy a gun, which
we all accept as reasonable, but you have a loophole at gun shows? Which
means, again, a terrorist or somebody with malevolent intentions can go
in, again, get a trunk full of weapons. Most gun owners, the overwhelming
majority agree that these loopholes should be closed.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm. All right...
MAYOR BOOKER: So this is an American issue, it's a left-right issue and
another coalition that Mayor Bloomberg has pulled together across party
MR. GREGORY: Mayor Bloomberg, are you disappointed with President Obama
for not leading the charge against assault--this ban on assault weapons?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: No, but I'm certainly going to urge him to do so. I
talked to Arne Duncan, for example, the other day. He's the education
secretary. And Arne said to me one of his signature issues is guns. He
said when he was in Chicago he watched 12 years--12-year-olds get shot by
some crazy guy with an illegal gun, and it's just got to stop. And I
couldn't agree more. So I'll certainly urge everybody. This isn't a
battle where you want to assign blame. And as Cory pointed out, it's
north, south, east, west, big city, small city, Republican, Independent,
MAYOR BOOKER: Mm-hmm.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Same people say there should be reasonable controls. The
Supreme Court has said reasonable controls are constitutional. We--not
trying to get rid of guns, we're simply trying to get guns out of the
hands of criminals where the federal law says they don't have a right to
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you, you talk about education. Swine flu this
fall, what impact is it going to have in both of your cities, especially
this question of whether schools should be closed as a result?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: We dealt with the swine flu this past spring. We made
the decision repeatedly whether to keep a school open or closed,
depending on the percentage of kids that reported to the nurse with a
fever and cough. The experts basically say if the child appears sick or
you appear sick, stay home until the symptoms go away. But closing the
schools isn't the right answer in most cases for a variety of reasons.
One, the kids probably aren't going to stay home, they're going to go to
the park where they're just a likely to catch it. Two, remember, a lot of
parents have to work, and missing a day of work to take care of the kid;
or worse, leaving the child home unsupervised, puts the child in danger
or hurts the family. And number three, there's just no evidence that it
really stops the flu. A lot of this is by the time you find out, people
are already infected. The good news is this has been a relatively mild
version. The bad news is we don't know what's going to happen before. But
even the president recommends that we keep the schools open. And the
Center for Disease Control, now run by my former commissioner of the
Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, has said basically evaluate it
every time. But closing the schools as a blanket thing is not the right
MR. GREGORY: But, but, but...
MAYOR BOOKER: Let me just add...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah, go head.
MAYOR BOOKER: ...to that again, because again, we have to do the basic
blocking attack that's going to protect our children, especially, from
this challenge. But I don't want to lose something that Mayor Bloomberg
has been a national leader on. We can't allow the challenges of today
distract us from the opportunities of tomorrow. The real health crisis
going on in our schools right now--and again, we need to give full
attention to swine flu. But the real health challenges in our schools
today is the overwhelming obesity problem amongst our kids, type 2
diabetes appearing and childhood diabetes. And these are the kind of
things that we have to have a comprehensive health initiative, education
initiative so not only parents know what to do if their kids have the
sniffles, but I also want parents to know what to do to prepare their
kids to be nutritionally fit to learn. And we as Americans have a
comeuppance, because the long-term health problems that are facing our
kids today that we could address are going to have an effect on our GDP
in the, the level of billions.
MR. GREGORY: Before you both go, I want to talk politics.
Mayor Bloomberg, you're up for re-election for a, for a third term, and
here's the headline recently about the poll. Polls suggest the mayor may
be losing some ground. You were up in June by 22 percent--22 points,
rather, over William Thompson, your, your rival. Now that's narrowed to
10 points. Why do you see the race tightening?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Well, number one, the polls don't matter other than the
one that's taken on November 3rd, Election Day.
MR. GREGORY: I've heard that before.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Right. Number two, I think of--some of these things are
how you ask the question. But number three, I can't worry about that. I
got elected twice because people wanted me to listen to them and then do
what I think is right and stand up to the--even if it's not good
politically, but just focus on not giving away the store, making sure the
government is efficient and delivers the kinds of services people want
for the least cost. And I'm going to continue to do that. That will
resonate with some people, and others say, "No, no, no. I want to have a
political environment where I can get my friend appointed, or I don't
want to change something because it's worked and I'm comfortable with
it." And I happen to think there are new things you can do all the time,
and if you don't you won't have a future. And I'm just going to do what I
think is right.
MR. GREGORY: As you know, Mayor Booker's very politically astute, and on
Twitter he recently offered some sage advice. This is what he wrote: "My
advice for Bloomberg re-election: Fenty"--talking about the mayor of
Washington D.C.--"and I both have liberated scalps. If Mike shaves his
head, young, hip vote is his, victory assured." So, Mayor, you can make
news here. Will you shave your head for re-election?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Let me equivocate on that and, and duck the issue. But I
think--my hair is falling out at sufficient rate that I won't have to
shave it. It's going to be gone.
MAYOR BOOKER: It's for a pre-emptive strike. It's time for a pre-emptive
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: I know you're going to say that.
MAYOR BOOKER: Let me, let me just tell you something. I've--I have
endorsed Mayor Bloomberg. He's a Republican. We cast our country too
simplistically in left-right debates. He's been a leader in bringing
America together around gun issues that are sensible for all Americans.
He's brought people together around lowering carbon footprints in cities,
the left-right coalition. This is the way we need to move forward. We
have issues in this country that unite people. I have the right-leaning
Manhattan Institute working with me ex-offender re-entry programs because
it's a huge drag on our economy to spend billions of dollars warehousing
people and miss the opportunities if we can help them to get into work
where they'll produce tax receipts and benefits for society as a whole.
I'm proud to sit here with a Republican, because that's the only way our
city's going to--our nation's going to move forward is left and right
MR. GREGORY: Your name has been mentioned, actually, with the potential
to get into the race for, for governor of New Jersey. Governor Corzine
has sort of doubled down on that financially. He's staying in the race.
He's vulnerable, as you well know. What will this race for governor of
New Jersey say about actually the president's performance?
MAYOR BOOKER: Well, I think the--this is two separate issues. Governor
Jon Corzine has been a governor that has been extraordinarily successful.
Murder in our state has gone down 24 percent. He's had to cut the state
budget $4 billion, but yet he's increasing investments in education in
over a billion dollars. The problem with Jon Corzine right now is most of
the state of New Jersey does not realize the tough cards he was dealt and
the great decisions he's made under difficult, difficult circumstances.
And as far as Obama, look, we have two races nationally right now,
Virginia and New Jersey. Many people want to use them as a litmus test
against the incumbent president. But understand this. We're in a down
economy, we're facing incredible challenges; every incumbent in America
is going to face very difficult times in their re-election. This has
nothing to do with the president. We are in a national crisis; hopefully
we'll be coming together to be dealing with this.
MR. GREGORY: All right.
MAYOR BOOKER: And it shouldn't be about, you know, watching the stock
market, the daily uptick or downtick of polls. It should be about solving
MR. GREGORY: We're going to leave it there. Mayors, Mayors Booker and
Bloomberg, we got to run. Thank you both for being here today.
Coming next, Congress faces heat this August over health care back home.
Who will win the battle over reform? Our political roundtable weighs in:
David Brooks, Erin Burnett and Jon Meacham after this brief station
MR. DAVID GREGORY: And we're back. If you thought the healthcare debate
was heated in Washington, outside the Beltway it's gotten down right
Unidentified Man #1: Open up the door. Open the door.
MR. GREGORY: From Tampa, Florida, to Austin, Texas...
Unidentified Man #2: This man would be given no...(unintelligible).
GREGORY: ...to Romulus, Michigan, town hall meetings over health care
have turned chaotic; death threats against members of Congress, taunting
and shouting, even fistfights. Democrats claim it's all political theater
organized by reform opponents.
MR. ROBERT GIBBS: I also have no doubt that there are groups that
are--have spread out people across the country to go to these things and
to specifically generate videos that can be posted on Internet sites.
SEN. KENT CONRAD (D-ND): I mean, is that what we've come to in the United
States, that we're going to have people basically functioning as thugs,
coming into meetings trying to disrupt them, shouting people down?
MR. GREGORY: Republicans in office and on the airwaves insist the anger
is real, reflecting real fears about a government takeover of the
healthcare system. But the rhetoric has become extreme.
MR. RUSH LIMBAUGH: There are far more similarities between Nancy Pelosi
and Adolf Hitler than between these people showing up at town halls to
protest a Hitler-like policy.
MR. GREGORY: White House advisers say the tactics will backfire against
the GOP. But can the president retake center stage of this debate?
And we're joined now by Jon Meacham of Newsweek magazine, CNBC's Erin
Burnett and David Brooks of The New York Times. Welcome to all of you.
So, David, that is the question. What's going on here and how does the
president retake center stage?
MR. DAVID BROOKS: I hadn't seen the Rush Limbaugh thing. That is insane.
What he's saying is insane. But I guess I would say the, the first thing
is it has been a conventional wisdom among the smartest people in
Washington that this is such a tough issue you got to do it on a
bipartisan basis. And the Obama administration, for better or worse,
decided not to do that. There was a thing called the Wyden-Bennett bill
that really could have launched a bipartisan, so leaders of both parties
could have gone out to these town meetings. They didn't do it, they chose
more or less a Democratic plan and now all hell is breaking loose. And we
are now--and it's not just the crazies, among whom we just saw some. But
if you take overall poll ratings for health care, they are--people
are--the American public is now as skeptical as they were when Clinton
care collapsed. So there--it's not just the crazies, there's a real
public concern about real issues, aside from the stuff that Rush Limbaugh
MR. GREGORY: Well, you talk about that in terms of approval rating. Look
at this from the Quinnipiac poll this week when it had to do with the
president's handling of health care. Here are the numbers. Approval's at
39 percent, disapproval's at 52 percent, Erin. And that's the big
question. I mean, the big battle lines about whether this is manufactured
grassroots organizing opposition against health care; the truth is there
are people who are angry, there are people who are opposed, whether
they're being whipped up in some circumstances or not.
MS. ERIN BURNETT: You know, I think that's absolutely true. And you've
seen those numbers drop dramatically in terms of approval just over--if
you look at the numbers at the end of July even over the past couple of
weeks, how dramatically they've dropped. Americans don't want health care
that isn't bipartisan. And I think people are really starting to focus in
on the health care plan is focused on extending coverage to all. The
cost-cutting that might be required as part of real healthcare reform
doesn't really appear to be a significant part of this bill. And that's
getting through. Most people, when it comes down to it, sort of like the
health care that they have, and then they get afraid that that's going to
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MS. BURNETT: So that's partially, I think, what you're seeing.
MR. GREGORY: But, Jon, also, the question of where is the president's
leadership right now? Because is--there's the criticism that he's
overlearned the lesson that Bill Clinton learned, which is you can't
dictate to Congress, let them do it. But what is he really for? And in
the absence of that, people are sort of whacking everything.
MR. JON MEACHAM: Yeah, I think that's exactly right. My sense is that if
you ask a lot of even very well-informed people what's in this plan, I'm
not sure a lot of people could really explain it. And I think that it's
an unusual failure on the president's part to execute a kind of public
education. I don't think he's made the case for this. And now to go to
the insane point from our conservative colleague, now you have the
extremists taking over and it turns into a very predictable, very
un-Obama-like fight of the extremes, where you're going to have the folks
coming in saying socialism, socialism, socialism. You're going to have
the left saying that they're all crazy. And by the time it's over, what's
really going to happen? And I think that's--this is, this is the
opportunity. The president has an opportunity here to step in and say,
"Look, we've all--it's hot, it's August. Let me explain what this plan
really is." And I just have--I personally have not understood that.
MR. BROOKS: He had...
MR. GREGORY: David, Sarah, Sarah Palin on Facebook, to the point of the
opposition, this is what she writes: "The America I know and love is not
one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand
in front of Obama's `death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide...whether
they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil." There
is the rhetoric; there's also the question of what's true and what's
false in what people are arguing about this notion of a death panel.
MR. BROOKS: Yeah. Again, that's crazy. If--the, the, the crazies are
attacking the plan because it'll cut off granny, and that--that's simply
not true. That simply is not going to happen. The real reason for public
skepticism is that Obama very eloquently and very truthfully said, "We've
got to bring down healthcare costs." Everybody's healthcare costs are
rising. It's eaten into your wages, it's eaten into the budget, it's
eaten into everything. And the problem with the House plan is that
instead of bending the cost curve down, it would increase the cost curve
so inflation would be 8 percent a year when it's all implemented, and
that's just disaster. So what the Obama administration has got to do, and
I agree with Jon about this, is make this Obama-like; which is to say,
"We're going to produce a plan." And from I hear, by the end of this
month they will have a plan. And they are going to say, "This is what we
stand for." And you can't sell anything without a plan. But it's got to
be a plan that actually cuts costs so you can have a rational discussion
instead of the scare stories about cutting off grandma.
MR. GREGORY: And my, my reporting tells me, out of the White House, they
are going to focus on this message of consumer protection from the
insurance companies, and they say they've got polling which indicates
once Americans hear that message, support goes up.
MR. MEACHAM: Oh, yeah. I mean, who--people love their doctors and hate
their insurers I think is a fairly basic way of looking at it, and I
think they just need to talk about that more. You know, Obama has said
that the thing that has, has interested him most as president is that he
thinks that the country is interested in complexity and will listen to
explanations. I just don't think there's been that effort on health care,
for understandable reasons. There's a hell of a lot going on, as you just
heard from the mayors.
MR. GREGORY: Well, we're going to talk about...
MS. BURNETT: But I'm thinking--yeah, sorry.
MR. GREGORY: I'm sorry, I want to talk about the, the economy, to, to
that point, Erin, and bring you in on this. Here was the good news this
week. This was the, the job loss chart, and here's what it shows. It
shows that job losses slowed to the lowest level since August of 2008.
You see that orange bar is the number of job losses, over 200,000, but
it's a lot better than it's been. There is a flip side, though. There is
some bad news. Another chart that we can show you, it shows you people
who have been out of work for six months or longer is actually at the
highest point that it's been in some time, topping out in July. What do
we make of this?
MS. BURNETT: It's a, it's a tough one, because--and you saw this playing
out in how the administration reacted to the numbers on Friday--there is
something to celebrate in that you can't go from losing 600,000 jobs a
month to adding jobs the next month. It's a process. So we are clearly in
the midst of that. That is about as good as the news can get, though.
That--what you also saw in the unemployment rate was a lot of people are
dropping out, they're giving up looking for jobs. We are going to see,
likely, an extension of the already extended unemployment benefits, so
we'll get a little bit of help there. But it raises the question I think
you raised with the mayors; the stimulus money, is it really working? How
quickly is it going out the door? And the most important question for the
economy is once that money is spent--and we're going to get $100 billion
for each of the next five quarters. We have a lot--we have plenty of time
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MS. BURNETT: But once that, that is spent, what is next? What is next?
What is going to drive this economy forward? And the president has said
that's going to be alternative energy. We don't yet have, interestingly,
an energy bill or a real alternative energy policy.
MR. GREGORY: We do have cash for clunkers, though, one aspect of the
stimulus that they hurried to, to reauthorize.
MR. BROOKS: And that part was great. Listen, when they came in office
they said, "It should be timely, temporary and targeted." That's why a
lot of people argue they should just ram $400 billion into the economy as
quickly as possible through payroll tax cuts, whatever they can do.
Instead of doing that, they had a, a very complicated stimulus package
that was spread out over a long period of time. Maybe 10 percent, maybe
20 percent, maybe 28 percent, depending on how you count it, has gone out
so far. And that has had some success, it has plugged some of the holes,
as the mayors were saying. But it has not tremendously stimulated the
economy. Meanwhile, we've got another $400 billion at least, or $500
billion, all of it borrowed, that we haven't spent a dime of. And that's
going to come out somewhere in the out years, and that has relatively
little to do with stimulus. So I really think they should have gone back
and done a, a temporary, targeted thing like, like the cash for clunkers.
That was great.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm. But...
MS. BURNETT: Cash for clunkers, though, was a tough one.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MS. BURNETT: I mean, you're getting an immediate pop from that. But, you
know, I've been talking to auto executives over the past couple of days,
and they're saying, "Look, we might be having, in a sense, an auto bubble
now." You're going to get production, factories are going to reopen,
you're going to have all that. But we do not have the demand in this
country to sustain...
MR. GREGORY: To sustain it over time.
MS. BURNETT: ...that sort of car buying.
MR. BROOKS: But a stimulus that's taken consumption that's going to be in
the future and moving it to today. That's all stimulus does. It doesn't
do anything long-term.
MR. GREGORY: Right. It's not--it's--right, it's not a long-term plan.
MS. BURNETT: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: Well, I, I would be remiss if we didn't spend a little bit
of time on one of the images of the week, and it's such a great political
story, and here it was in Burbank, California. You had a former president
and a former vice president, Clinton and Gore, with the two journalists
from North Korea coming home. And there was the much commented on
lingering hug between the two.
Jon Meacham, a fascinating political story.
MR. MEACHAM: Oh.
MR. GREGORY: They were together in the '90s, after the 2000 race they
were estranged for a while. They seem to be back together again.
MR. MEACHAM: Yeah. It, it's the new--it's like the Bush-Clinton
"Brokeback Mountain." You know, we're back, we're back to that. I, I
think the--what's so terrific, in a way, is Clinton was able to get these
reporters out. That's a very serious matter. We are--North Korea is a, a,
a foe of almost epic--possibly epic dimensions, and anything that gets us
in there to get a sense of who these people really are is a good thing.
Sending the--sending Bill Clinton, whose emotional intelligence is off
the charts, was really lucky for us. If anyone can come back and paint a
character sketch of what's going on with those people, it'll be Bill
Clinton. And I just want to say, if, if it's all right...
MR. GREGORY: Sure.
MR. MEACHAM: ...there are two places where this is going on right now.
Newsweek has a correspondent, Maziar Bahari, who is being held in custody
without access to a lawyer and without a formal charge in Iran. There are
a number of show trials going on in Iran as that regime, like the North
Korean regime, tries to hold onto power. And would urge all of us to pay
attention to the situation in Iran, in that we have people who are being
held without due process, which is personally tragic but also a
significant political story, because it's about a regime trying to fight
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm. In about 20 seconds, David Brooks, General Jones
talking about the potential for a breakthrough with both North Korea and
Iran with this spirit of engagement. Is there something that happens out
of North Korea that paves the way for that in a different way?
MR. BROOKS: You know, I think both cases the regime is more likely to
change than the, than the nuclear program. We've got to focus on changing
that whole regime, not just trying to persuade really crazy regimes to
end their nuclear programs.
MR. GREGORY: OK, we're going to leave it there. David Brooks, Jon
Meacham, Erin Burnett, thank you all very much. And we'll be right back.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's
Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.