updated 2/4/2010 12:32:35 PM ET 2010-02-04T17:32:35

MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, the happy homecoming.

(Videotape)

MS. LAURA LING: When we walked in through the doors, we saw standing

before us President Bill Clinton.

(End videotape)

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.

(Videotape)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA: Today we're pointed in the right direction.

(End videotape)

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

this fall.

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

Meacham.

MR. DAVID GREGORY: But first, General James Jones, welcome back to MEET

THE PRESS.

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

his conversation.

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

come back?

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

come up?

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

thing.

MR. GREGORY: So there were no reservations in your mind or the

president's mind?

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,

empty-handed?

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

one.

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

being here.

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.

(Announcements)

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

point out.

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

changing?

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

taxes?

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

burden...

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

health care.

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

with hunting.

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

aisles.

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,

Democratic.

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

buy them.

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

solution.

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

strike.

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

working together.

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

problems.

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

break.

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

hostile.

(Videotape)

Unidentified Man #1: Open up the door. Open the door.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: From Tampa, Florida, to Austin, Texas...

(Videotape)

Unidentified Man #2: This man would be given no...(unintelligible).

(End videotape)

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.

(Videotape, Tuesday)

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.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, Thursday)

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?

(End videotape)

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.

(Videotape, Thursday)

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.

(End videotape)

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

says.

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

change.

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

here.

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

history.

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.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,