MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, back to work. The nation posts its largest job gain in three years, but unemployment remains unchanged at 9.7 percent. Are the millions of jobs lost during this recession ever coming back? And what stimulus options does the administration have left? Our exclusive guest this morning, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Dr. Christina Romer.
Then, the terror threat inside the U.S. A new warning to the nation's governors surfaces as a violent anti-government plot is uncovered. Plus, new airport screening rules in response to the Christmas Day bombing scare. With us, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee,
Senator Joe Lieberman, Independent of Connecticut; a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Congresswoman Jane Harman, Democrat of California; and former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff.
Finally, the president's leadership. Where does he stand after the healthcare debate? And how will he lead his party in this election year? Insights from the editors: New Yorker magazine editor and author of the new book "The Bridge," David Remnick; and editor of Time magazine, author of the new book "Mandela's Way," Rick Stengel.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: But first, the economy. The president welcomed the positive job growth numbers on Friday, saying the U.S. is "beginning to turn the corner." And with us live this morning, the chair of his Council of Economic Advisers, Dr. Christina Romer.
Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
DR. CHRISTINA ROMER: Great to be with you.
MR. GREGORY: So this was the very positive news, we'll put it up on the screen, 162,000 jobs that were created in the month of March. Some of those temporary workers working on the census, and those who are sort of underemployed, as it's measured, takes that unemployment rate still higher. Yet, with those caveats, what did this mean?
DR. ROMER: It meant we certainly had positive job growth. I mean, even when you take out what you mentioned, which is the effect of the census workers--we had some 48,000 people hired by the census in March. We also probably had a snow rebound effect. We think the big storms pushed down the numbers in February and sort of artificially pushed them up in March.
But even taking those into account, we think we had good, solid, you know, employment growth. And that is, as the president said, it's the beginning.
MR. GREGORY: The worst is over?
DR. ROMER: I think certainly we--I mean, we have been seeing gradually job losses moderate. We've now crossed the zero line and are positive. Yes, I anticipate that we're going to continue to see positive job growth as we go forward, and what I'm going to be focusing on is how big does it get; because, as you mentioned in your opening, we've got a big hole when
it comes to jobs.
MR. GREGORY: Well, speaking of that, your colleague, the Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, spoke to Matt Lauer on the "Today" program this week, and he said something that was striking. Let's show it.
SEC'Y TIMOTHY GEITHNER: The unemployment rate is still terribly high, and it's going to stay unacceptably high for a long period of time.
MR. GREGORY: People will ask why and wonder whether we're dealing with a 21st century economy where significant job creation is not possible.
DR. ROMER: Oh, I think that's, that's certainly not true. I--obviously, I absolutely think that we will be creating a lot of jobs. You know, the fact that the unemployment rate stayed constant this month at some level is pretty amazing, because we have seen...
MR. GREGORY: Nine point seven percent.
DR. ROMER: Nine point seven percent, which is, as Secretary Geithner said, absolutely unacceptable. But, you know, behind that there's just been a tremendous increase in the labor force. For the last three months, or over the last three months, we've added more than a million people to the labor force. And that's actually--that's a great sign. That's a sign that people that might have been discouraged, dropped out because of the terrible recession have started to have some hope again and are looking for work again.
MR. GREGORY: But why will it be so high for so long?
DR. ROMER: Well, I think part of it is we still face a lot of headwinds. I mean, this recession has been, as I've said, you know, an absolutely terrible one. It's also an unusual one, having been caused by a financial crisis, has created a lot of fear. That's a lot of--you know,
we still have some trouble with debt and credit availability. All of that makes it harder for us to grow, so most of the forecasts are we'll grow about 3 percent real GDP in, in 2010. That's not enough to get a lot of job growth. We'll get positive job growth, it'll be enough to probably bring the unemployment rate down a little bit, but you need faster than that to really make a dent.
MR. GREGORY: Members of the president's own party, congressmen and women at hearings recently, have raised some, some real concerns about this, the priority that jobs has and job creation has within the administration. This was one such complaint aired at a hearing where you were present. We'll show it now.
(Videotape, March 16, 2010)
REP. MARCY KAPTUR (D-OH): I find your testimony dismaying and out of touch. And I ask myself, how can we be so far apart in our views? ... Your testimony doesn't even mention the total number of unemployed and underemployed and marginally attacked in our country. That number, for your information, is 25 million people. ... People aren't working. On page three, astoundingly, you concede unemployment won't go down. You have no urgency.
MR. GREGORY: So the question becomes what options does the president have left to try to spur job creation?
DR. ROMER: Well, first thing I want to say is we have tremendous urgency. I mean, if you think about what we've done over the last year, the president has always made it clear jobs was number one. And that's why within a month of when he came into office he passed the biggest fiscal stimulus in American history. We've done repeated things--the Cash for Clunkers, extending the first-time home buyers credit. And starting last fall, the president was talking about additional things that we can do. We just did one of them. The HIRE Act that was signed a couple of weeks ago had one of the things I think can be very effective, which is a tax incentive for hiring. I'm very optimistic that that's sort of the right policy for this stage in the recovery. We see firms starting to hire temporary workers, we see demand coming back. We think this might be something that will help to push them over. But the president has emphasized small business lending. There are programs pending in Congress that we've proposed, a $30 billion small business lending program that we think we--could be very important. We've supported zero capital gains tax for people that invest in small businesses. We think that's a good policy that could help to start new firms, get job creation that way.
MR. GREGORY: What about an energy jobs bill? Will that be a priority for Democrats in Congress?
DR. ROMER: Absolutely. I mean, the president, you know, starting with the Recovery Act, has wanted to--thinks that investing in clean energy is a smart way to create jobs now, make us a healthier economy in the future. We have a program for encouraging energy retrofits, sort of an energy version of Cash for Clunkers, we think could be very effective.
I also want to mention, you know, before Congress left, they failed to extend the unemployment insurance provisions of the Recovery Act. That absolutely has to get done. The numbers we see, the 9.7 percent unemployment, we've got to be supporting those workers. And by supporting them, we support the whole economy.
MR. GREGORY: You mentioned the stimulus as a huge effort by this administration to deal with people who are out of work and to deal with a recession. And yet, again, I go back to members of the president's own party raising concerns about just how effective it's been. We see in polling that people are still not feeling it, that they--that it's still not very popular. And The New Yorker reported something recently quoting a Democrat from Virginia about the stimulus, saying this: "We should have gone in and done the kind of stimulus that would actually turn the economy around. We ended up with something that was strong enough to
prevent a depression. But it just wasn't strong enough to stimulate the recovery." Would you concede that it didn't do as much as you thought it would have done to spark recovery?
DR. ROMER: Absolutely not. I think it has done exactly what we said it would do. And I think the...
MR. GREGORY: Well, clearly, it didn't do what you said it would do, which is to keep unemployment at 8 percent.
DR. ROMER: What we had said it would do would to, to save or create some three and a half million jobs. It's absolutely on track to do that. I also think it's a big part--be--the reason we've seen, as the president said, we've--beginning to turn the corner. I think experts across the ideological spectrum give the Recovery Act a lot of credit for the dramatic change in the trajectory that, that we have seen. It has, you know, it has absolutely supported unemployed workers, it has absolutely helped state and local governments. And we are investing in this country in a way that is helping to create jobs and making us more productive in the future.
MR. GREGORY: On the issue of job creation, I've spoken to some business leaders who say, you know, "Look at the healthcare debate. Look how rancorous it was. Look how much uncertainty there is even about the outcome of, of health care's impact down the road." Look at all the talk about regulation and what some people see as an anti-business climate in
Washington generally and the administration specifically. If you're a small or a large business, why would you build a factory today? Why would you start hiring workers?
DR. ROMER: I think you'd build a factory because we see the economy starting to grow again, and I think there are going to be profit opportunities.
But I've got to come back to health care. First, we've gotten a lot of certainty because the bill has finally passed, and I think that's a fabulous development. But also, it is such a pro-business bill, especially pro-small business. It has been designed precisely to do what small business owners tell us they want to do, which is provide health insurance for their workers. They think it gives them a competitive advantage to be able to offer that. And this bill has designed--it has some $40 billion of tax credits for small businesses. It exempts them from any employer responsibility fees. It gives them an insurance exchange where they can get insurance for their workers at a cheaper price. So it is a big win for business.
MR. GREGORY: Right. But, Dr. Romer, there are also people who say it doesn't do the number one thing that many people feel it should have done, which is really attack costs that are out of control. And here's one anecdote I heard, that if you are cutting back on reimbursements to providers or, say, hospitals through Medicare, that those costs don't just go away, they get shifted so that employees of companies will pay higher prices for other tests in hospitals, and ultimately that price inflation that companies, small and large, have to deal with is still
very much there despite the fact that this bill is law.
DR. ROMER: I think that's completely wrong, and I'd ask you to read the Congressional Budget Office's own report where they say for both small and large businesses it will lower their health insurance premiums.
MR. GREGORY: You don't think costs are going to be shifted by hospitals that get fewer reimbursements through Medicare? You don't think they're going to pass that cost on?
DR. ROMER: I think, overall, this bill is genuinely going to slow the growth rate of cost. You know, we did a study, we think it will genuinely slow the growth rate of cost by about 1 percentage point per year. And, again, that is what experts across the ideological spectrum
are saying. You know, we did a comparison of what was in the CBO report for more than a year ago of game-changers, the things that would slow the growth rate of cost. Almost every one of those ended up in this bill.
MR. GREGORY: I want to ask you about a phenomenon that people are talking about this weekend that has to do with consumers, and that's Apple's new product, the iPad. There's lines around the country of people, you know, commerce in action, right? People are buying these products. But it leads to a question as to whether you think, as an economist, that consumers can actually drive a recovery that is sustained.
DR. ROMER: You know, I think this is going to be a different kind of recovery. I think it's not going to be one where consumers come roaring back as the engine of growth. They have been through a very rough two years, they've seen their house prices come down. So we--you know, we see solid consumer growth, it's definitely coming back. Their confidence is back up. But this is not going to be a recovery that's fueled by people going out, maxing out their credit cards again. I think we've been, you know, I think we're in a different world. It's going to need to come from our exports, that's why the president's been pushing his export initiative. It's going to need to come from business investment, and that's why measures like a zero capital gains for small businesses or tax incentives for investment, I think those are the right policy to make sure we get a healthy kind of growth going forward.
MR. GREGORY: Before I let you go, a couple of other important topics. One, financial regulation, the new rules of the road for Wall Street. Do you think a bill will be successful this year since you've suffered some setbacks with Republicans starting to, to back away from support of it?
DR. ROMER: I think--yes, I think it will. I think, think it has to. I think people from both parties realize that we do need some sensible rules for the road because we don't ever want to go through this again. I think we're very confident that we'll be able to pick up some
MR. GREGORY: Also, China. Will this administration take China on and accuse it outright of manipulating its currency in a way that hurts the U.S. exports but also costs us jobs?
DR. ROMER: I mean, it--certainly the exchange rate is an issue, not just for the United States, but for Chinese consumers and for actually other countries. A lot of other emerging market economies say that what's happening with China's exchange rate is, is harmful to them. You know, we have a series of meetings over the next three months with both the president, the secretary of the Treasury, and this is absolutely going to be an issue that's high on the agenda.
MR. GREGORY: Is China manipulating its currency?
DR. ROMER: You know, I think that's going to be s omething that, that the secretary of the Treasury would, would speak on, but we're going to absolutely...
MR. GREGORY: But, but as a matter of substance, can't you just say yes or no? Why can't you say whether--I mean, it either is or it's not.
DR. ROMER: You know, we think it needs to be more influenced by market forces. I think there's no question of that. The secretary of the Treasury and the president have both said that. We're going to be working to, to get the kind of result that we want, which is something
more in alignment.
MR. GREGORY: Finally, a political question, and I know you're not involved in the politics, and yet, you know, politicians will campaign on promises and facts, and a lot of times they might have to turn to the economists and say, "Is this a fair thing to be campaigning on?" Should Democrats be campaigning this fall, taking some credit for turning the economy around?
DR. ROMER: Unquestionably. I think the policies that have been put in place, they were tough decisions on everything from the Recovery Act to the stress test, to the financial rescue. Every one of those was absolutely essential, and it's the reason we are in a much more hopeful
place today than we were a year ago. So I think they should be out there very strongly saying that they made the tough choices and we're starting to see the benefits.
MR. GREGORY: Dr. Romer, happy Easter, thank you very much for being here.
DR. ROMER: Same to you.
MR. GREGORY: And up next, the terror threat. New airport screening rules and the growing threats lurking inside this country. Our guests: former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff; the Senate's Homeland Security Committee chair, Senator Joe Lieberman; and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Congressman--Congresswoman Jane Harman.
Then the question of presidential leadership in the political landscape for 2010. Insights from two magazine editors and authors of the newly published books, The New Yorker's David Remnick and Time magazine's Rick Stengel, only here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. GREGORY: The terror threat, a look at our security both at home and abroad, after this brief commercial break.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: We are back here on MEET THE PRESS where we will have a discussion coming up on President Obama and the politics of 2010 with our roundtable; that's in a few minutes. But first, a closer look at security both here and abroad with the former secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, and two key members of Congress, Representative Jane Harman and Senator Joe Lieberman. Congresswoman Harman also on the Intelligence Subcommittee of the Homeland Security Committee.
So a few things we want to address, including some developing news from earlier today. In Baghdad, suicide bombers have struck. Some 30 dead after attacks on several embassies--the Egyptian, Iranian, and German embassies in central Baghdad.
And, Senator Lieberman, a reminder as the U.S. prepares to disengage its combat troops from Iraq. And after an election where there's still a very shaky coalition about the way forward, what concerns you seeing this?
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I-CT): Well, I think you, you've got to look at the good news first. There, there was an election there, the, the secular parties, the, the parties that Iran didn't want to succeed did better than the other parties. So there's a lot of good news happening in Iraq. I, I think what you've got to see these bombings as is a desperate attempt by the people who don't want a unified Iraq that's independent of Iran and self-governing and self-protecting to take hold.
But it is a warning to us. We're on a path now, which is an extraordinary positive path, to, to bring down our troop levels to 50,000 by September 1st. There were up way into 150,000, 160,000 not so long ago. But we've got to do it methodically and make sure that the Iraqis
can protect themselves and all that they've gained as a result of all that we've helped them do in the last few years. So, you know, this is not over, but tremendous progress militarily, politically, economically is being made in Iraq today.
MR. GREGORY: And, and, Congresswoman, this question of capacity for the new government in terms of securing the country is one that still is going to be asked again and again, not only when there's political instability, but when you see events like this.
REP. JANE HARMAN (D-CA): That's true. But I agree with Joe Lieberman that this is basically a success story, and I applaud the Obama government for withdrawing our troops on a reasonable schedule, which I think tells the Iraqis that they have to manage their future. That's a message we need to send, by the way, to the, the folks in Afghanistan as well, where I'm very troubled by the comments of Hamid Karzai in the last several days.
MR. GREGORY: And we'll get--we're going to get to that in a few minutes. I want to talk about the terror threat from abroad, though, and bring in Secretary Chertoff here about these new screening rules that just came about on Friday where individuals coming from other countries are going to be evaluated a little bit differently. And The New York Times kind of summarized how the intelligence will be used in order to identify people who need additional screenings. This is how the Times reported it. "The intelligence-based security system is devised to raise flags about travelers whose names do not appear on a no-fly watch list," which was the issue on the Christmas Day plot, "but whose travel patterns or personal traits create suspicions. The system is intended to pick up fragments of information - family name, nationality, age or even partial passport number - and match them against intelligence reports to sound alarm bells before a passenger boards a plane."
Secretary Chertoff, I should just point out in full disclosure, you now work for companies in homeland security area that are producing some of the homeland security technology that may be brought to bear. That said, what's the impact of these new rules?
MR. MICHAEL CHERTOFF: What this basically does, David, is it takes a technique that we have used at the border for the last two or three years, and it pushes it out so that it will be applied not when people arrive in the U.S. but when people board planes overseas. So it's a good thing. We have a lot of experience using this kind of information. It has worked exceptionally well when people arrive at the airport. And so the idea of pushing it out before people board makes a lot of sense. The critical issue here is will our allies and other countries overseas be
willing to implement the plan the way we have laid it out? If they are willing to do that, it will be a win-win for everybody.
MR. GREGORY: So you've got to be able to share intelligence with foreign governments to sort of factor in to a kind of matrix so that you're not just profiling somebody based on where they're from, but based on certain red flags in the system that say, "Hey, I better, I better correlate this"?
REP. HARMAN: If I could add to that, after the Christmas bomb plot, we, I think, in linear fashion, targeted 14 countries and said everyone coming here from those 14 countries will get secondary screening. I think that that was a message to those countries that was the wrong
message. Janet Napolitano, our Homeland Security secretary, who has very ably succeeded the able Michael Chertoff, has traveled extensively to foreign governments, and I think this plan was worked out with them; and it is an intelligence-based screening system rather than a name based screening system. We are adding to our no-fly list and our secondary list. But this is the way we will capture folks who don't fit that--the, the stereotype of a Muslim male between 20 and 40.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
REP. HARMAN: Let's understand that terrorists come in all shapes and sizes, and they're not even all Muslim. I resent the fact, by the way, that Jihad Jane took my name. It wasn't her given name. But that's my point. They come in the U.S., and they're all over the world.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
REP. HARMAN: And it seems to me that, going forward, we're going to be doing something much more effective.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Lieberman, let me ask you about another big headline this week, and that was the horror in Russia with those railroad--railway attacks carried out by extremist terrorist groups. And it was something that obviously would reverberate here back in the U.S.
The cover of the New York Post showing an increased police presence on New York subways as a response to that. And the president talked a little bit about what the government is doing to head off a kind of railway attack when he appeared on the "Today" program this week.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: We have been on top of the issue of rail security and subway security for quite some time. We constantly monitor it and try to figure out how can we improve what we're doing. It is obviously a significant concern. It's not restricted to subways. It's--you know, same thing could happen at a bus terminal. And if you've got somebody who is determined to kill themselves and kill other people with them, that is always a challenge for any government.
MR. GREGORY: What's the nature of the threat, Senator, here in America?
SEN. LIEBERMAN: The, the threat is real to, to non-aviation transportation. Look, all you got to do is look around the world, not only to the terrible tragedy in Russia last week, but remember the train bombings in London and, and Madrid and earlier in Mumbai. So these are
targets. And, and we know that, and we're doing a lot, our government is, working with state and local officials to--both in ways that are visible and ways that are not visible--to raise our defenses on trains and subways and buses. But, David, to me, and I've--we, we, in our committee, we've done hearings on this, and I continue to believe that this, that, that non-aviation is the vulnerable part of our transportation system, and we, frankly, need to give it more than we're giving it now to protect the American people. I worry about this.
MR. GREGORY: Secretary Chertoff, I want to get to some domestic terror concerns. Before I do that, I want to talk about another element of terrorism. Before you were secretary of Homeland Security, you were head of the criminal division in the Justice Department.
MR. CHERTOFF: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: And so this issue of civilian trials for terror suspects is one that you're quite familiar with. Now, clearly, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of 9/11, is not going to be tried in New York. It likes he's going to be tried in a military tribunal. The question is where, whether it's Guantanamo Bay or not. Now, you actually fought, correct me if I'm wrong, to have Zacarias Moussaoui tried in civilian court.
MR. CHERTOFF: Right.
MR. GREGORY: He was thought to be the 20th hijacker.
MR. CHERTOFF: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: Where do you come down on what the administration ought to be doing next?
MR. CHERTOFF: You know, generally, of course, our--my overall approach is use all the tools. Everything should be on the table for every circumstance. That being said, the general approach we took when I was head of criminal was, if someone was caught in the U.S., at the end of the day, they wound up being tried in a U.S. court for a whole lot of practical and legal reasons, including the fact that it's easy to get the evidence if someone's acting in the United States itself. It doesn't mean you have to give them Miranda warnings, but it does mean you could put them ultimately through the system. Generally, the view was if someone was caught overseas and they weren't an American, we didn't bring them into a U.S. court because there are huge obstacles to gathering evidence and some of the process issues when you apprehend someone in a battlefield. So, without laying down an ironclad rule, my general approach is catch them here, try them here, catch them overseas, put them in a military commission.
MR. GREGORY: So you think its OK to have them in a civilian court?
MR. CHERTOFF: To, to put who in a civilian court?
MR. GREGORY: Like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
MR. CHERTOFF: I, I would, I would advise against it, frankly. I think that the evidence collection issues and some of the legal issues you'll find...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. CHERTOFF: ...even picking a jury, if you're going to set this up in a military base, will be very problematic. So I, I, I think it's a very, very difficult way to go to take him into a civilian court.
MR. GREGORY: Congresswoman?
REP. HARMAN: I think our federal court system has been the linchpin of our ability to convict people charged with terrorism-related crimes since 9/11. Over 500 people have been charged, over 300 have pleaded guilty, and they're all safely behind bars for life. And I think that if KSM
were tried in a federal court, I would predict he would be convicted and possibly executed.
MR. GREGORY: What--if, if you stand behind our, our system of law in this country, then why did the attorney general go out there and say he would never be released even if he were acquitted. Is that standing up for United States jurisprudence?
REP. HARMAN: Well, my view is that everyone still at Gitmo, there are 183 people, should be tried either in U.S. courts, including military commissions, if that, for some reason, is if we revise the procedures there and they can withstand legal challenge, or tried abroad and incarcerated. I don't think that we should waive the rule of law for anybody. And I don't think that preventive detention is necessary in the United States of America.
MR. GREGORY: OK. I want, I want to move on because I want to get to some domestic security threats. Senator Lieberman...
SEN. LIEBERMAN: David, I want...
MR. GREGORY: Senator, yes, Senator Lieberman? You just want to get...
SEN. LIEBERMAN: I just want to get in here real quickly.
MR. GREGORY: You want to get on this? Go ahead.
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Yeah, real, real quickly. Look, we're at war. We were attacked on 9/11. And I think when you're at war, even though this is a different kind of war, people you capture, enemies who are aiming to attack you or have, in fact, attacked you, ought to be tried according to the rules of war. It's not that we're not going to have the rule of law, it's which rule of law. And so I think that the Christmas Day bomber, Hasan at Fort Hood, they're as much enemies of ours and soldiers in the war of Islamist extremism against us as the people we capture and, and put into prisoner of war camps in Afghanistan or Iraq.
MR. GREGORY: All right. I want to...
SEN. LIEBERMAN: And we make a mistake when we don't do that.
MR. GREGORY: I want to--this, this debate will continue and--certainly until the president makes a decision...
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Right.
MR. GREGORY: ...on what's going to happen with KSM.
I want to turn to the domestic threat. And there's been a lot of developments about this more recently, including this Christian militia, the Hutatree***(as spoken)***militia in Michigan facing charges of a violent plot to overthrow the government. This is from their Web site, where they showed some training. Mike Isikoff writes in Newsweek's blog about the conditions under which this is happening. "In some respects, the increase in such violent hate groups as the Hutaree appears reminiscent of the surge in militia activity that preceded the '95 Oklahoma City bombing. Just this month, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that it had tracked an explosion in extremist, anti-government `Patriot' groups, fueled in large part by anger over the economy and Barack Obama's presidency. The number identifiable Patriot groups increased 244 percent, from 149 in 2008 to 512 in 2009."
Senator Lieberman, back to you. In this highly charged political atmosphere, where you've got so much passion, so much disagreement, this takes it, of course, to a different level. But we're also operating in a recession and at a time where there's a lot of anger at Washington. How has the nature of that threat escalated, in your view?
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Well, the threat has definitely escalated. And all the conditions that you mentioned, David, are there to encourage people. Look, I would say a word of caution to my colleagues in both political parties and, frankly, in the media. The level of discourse about our
politics and about our country are so extreme and so incendiary that if you're dealing with people who may, may not be clicking on all cylinders and, and may have vulnerabilities personally, there's a danger that they're going to do what this group of militia planned to do this week. I would not overstate this threat. It is not as significant as the global threat of Islamist extremism, but it is real. And I want to assure the American people, from where I sit as the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, that your government is taking this militia threat very seriously. The FBI is on top of this. That's why, through good work and informants, they stopped this Hutaree group before they had a chance to do what they wanted to do, which is to attack law enforcement officers, to try to...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
SEN. LIEBERMAN: ...break down authority in our country.
MR. GREGORY: Right. And you had a--Congresswoman, you also had a threat to, to governors as well, you know, a letter telling them that they needed to step down.
REP. HARMAN: That's right. But the other troubling thing about this is that group was going to import the terror tactics used by al-Qaeda and other groups. They were going to use IEDs to blow up the funeral procession for these law enforcement officers that they were going to execute. Let's understand that law enforcement does a wonderful job of keeping this country safe, and without the women and men of law enforcement, who kept our Capitol safe during the protests on, on health care, I think we'd be in much worse trouble. But the point is that not all terror groups are Muslim groups, and not all of them are al-Qaeda-related. This is a global problem; and, domestically, we have a growing problem of homegrown terrorism, not just from Muslims.
MR. GREGORY: Secretary Chertoff, you've seen this from, from your position before. I mean, look, there are certainly quarters of, you know, of racism around the country with an African-American president, extreme economic anxiety, and a lot of revolution talk out there in this
opposition to policies like health care. And, you know, people may forget, if you go back to the Oklahoma City bombings, Tim McVeigh first went to Waco not to protest the government's role there, but to protest the Brady gun law. So this notion of the government doing things to you is a very powerful motivator to some.
MR. CHERTOFF: Well, you know, you always get fringe groups on both sides of the spectrum, going back, as you say, to Waco and Ruby Ridge in the early '90s, and that culminated, of course, in the Oklahoma City bombing. And then that depressed this a little bit. But it always lurks in the background. And we see it also with some of the extreme anti-globalization and animal rights people on the left. So I think we've learned how to manage this. I agree with Senator Lieberman, this is not of the order of magnitude of what we see with global terrorism.
But, look, the fact that people can get on the Internet, and they can see the tactics that are being used in Iraq and Afghanistan creates a risk that those will be copycatted here. And, frankly, we've seen that in Mexico. In northern Mexico, the criminal groups, which are not
politically motivated, actually have adopted beheadings and other tactics of terrorism as part of pushing their agenda against President Calderon.
MR. GREGORY: All right, before I let everybody go, a couple of quick, you know, foreign policy notes that are most pressing.
Senator Lieberman, you've heard the president say this week that he would like to see sanctions against Iran within weeks. But that's still been very--a very difficult road. Do you worry that the U.S. and the West, more generally, is drifting toward war with Iran in some fashion?
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Well, I appreciated the president's statement. And I'll tell you the truth, I worry more that we're not going to do enough to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon quickly enough. I, I believe we're at a turning point in history. Iran with nuclear weapons is going to mean this world will be a lot less safe than it is today, and there are already threats to our safety every day. We've never--this is an extremist, expansionist power. There's never been another country like this with nuclear weapons, and we've got to impose tough sanctions
quickly. I believe Congress will adopt a tough sanctions bill soon, I hope this month of April.
Secondly, they've got to be tough because, frankly, it's the last chance that we're giving Iran and ourselves not to be left with a choice of either accepting them having nuclear weapons or taking military action. In my opinion, we have to be prepared to take military action to stop the
Iranian nuclear program if they refuse to stop themselves.
MR. GREGORY: Congresswoman...
SEN. LIEBERMAN: And so far, if you look at the last three or four years, we've had threats, we've had engagement, we've had negotiations; and all the while Iran keeps going forward to build a nuclear weapon and the missiles to deliver them, and that will destabilize...
MR. GREGORY: OK.
SEN. LIEBERMAN: ...the entire Middle East, threaten Europe and America.
REP. HARMAN: This past week I was in Yemen, Qatar and Vienna, where we have a new very strong head of the IAEA, a Japanese man named Amano, who has what he calls a more balanced view and has major concerns about Iran. Why am I saying this? I think the real test will be what the U.N. will do. And I think it's good news that Chinese Premier Hu is coming here in two weeks to a terrorism summit with 45 countries, and hopefully that will be a chance for him and President Obama to talk about the U.N., where China and Russia support for multilateral sanctions is key. Congress is on board with strong, debilitating sanctions on a bipartisan basis. The U.S. will be there. But it has to be multilateral in order to really be truly debilitating. And that's what we need to do.
But, by the way, Yemen is now ground zero, in my view, for terror attacks against us. Al-Awlaki, who is an American-Yemeni who had a role in counseling the Fort Hood shooter and also was involved in training Abdulmutallab, the Christmas bomber, is at large in Yemen. He's targeted by the Yemenis, they're in lead, but we're helping. And it will be very good news if we're able to take him out and the al-Qaeda presence in Yemen.
MR. GREGORY: All right, I'm going to, I'm going to leave it there. I'll make that the last word. Thank you all very much.
Coming up next, presidential leadership. Where does Obama stand after the healthcare debate, and how will he lead his party in this election year? Insights from The New Yorker magazine's David Remnick, author of "The Bridge," and Time magazine's Rick Stengel, author of "Mandela's Way," after this brief station break.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: We are back with our roundtable this morning, joined by the editors, New Yorker's David Remnick, the author of "The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama," as well as Time magazine's Rick Stengel, the author of "Mandela's Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage."
Welcome, both of you. Interesting opportunity to talk about the president's leadership at this stage and where he stands. Let's look at his approval ratings as he comes out of this healthcare debate, as measured by Gallup: 47 percent approval, 50 percent approval--or
disapproval, I should say. This has been a pretty tough debate that he's come through, but he has achieved on health care. Where is he right now, David?
MR. DAVID REMNICK: Well, anytime you have 10 percent unemployment, you're not going to have soaring approval. Anytime the, the economy is troubled in many areas, you're not going to have soaring approval ratings, despite the personal popularity of Barack Obama. So I think,
you know, he, he's in--he's, he's not in trouble, but he's not going to be able to lift all Democratic votes in November. It's going, it's going to be a tough road in November.
MR. GREGORY: And yet you talk about, Rick, you talk about achievement in the first term. You go back to July of 2008, a Rolling Stone interview that he gave about what would be the marker, the metric for success for a President Obama. The question was just that, what would the marker that you would lay down be at the end of your first term where you say if this has happened or not happened, I would consider it a negative mark on my governance? He says, "If I haven't gotten combat troops out of Iraq, passed universal healthcare insurance, and created a new energy policy that speaks to our dependence on foreign oil and deals seriously with global warming, then we've missed the boat." He's on a course to significantly achieve at least a couple of those items.
MR. RICK STENGEL: Right. He's ringing the bell. I mean, a couple of weeks ago, remember, he was going to be Jimmy Carter, right, and then health care passed...
MR. REMNICK: Mm-hmm.
MR. STENGEL: ...and suddenly he's revitalized. But he has a whole line of things that he wants to do, including financial deregulation, energy policy. I mean, he could go and, and swing and run around the bases this whole first year. And, and basically he said, "Look, you know what, this is what I said I was going to do, I did it, and now vote for me."
MR. GREGORY: The, the flip side of accomplishment--I mean obviously presidents come here to accomplish things; but, ultimately, the--taking the measure of him as a leader, is something obviously you've done in the course of the work on the book. What have we learned about Barack Obama as president that is informed by his ascent?
MR. REMNICK: Well, we've learned what--his political patterns have always been clear. He's a man of the center left, but a deep pragmatist, and his, his style is conciliation, his style is to put his arms around as many people as possible and try to bring them into a compromise. We
saw that at its apogee in the healthcare situation. But the question is, will it apply in some of these other big questions that you raise, like, like nuclear Iran? I don't think putting your arms around Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is going to work, and he's got to get the U.N. on board. Take global warming. That's a situation that imperils us all in a very serious way, despite the science deniers. And we have to get international cooperation on an unprecedented level in order to take the measures that are necessary to reverse global warming. No single leader
can do that either. It's going to take a lot of effort and, and a lot of conciliation with other leaders around the world.
MR. GREGORY: And it's interesting, Rick, Joe Klein, in Time magazine in the last couple of weeks, has said even as we look at the success of health care, we shouldn't minimize some of the shortcomings of his leadership that were in evidence in the course of that very difficult
MR. STENGEL: Yes. Look, a lot of people felt, a lot of voters felt that he took his eye off the ball, which was the economy. Remember, 80 percent of American voters who have health care like it. We almost had a financial Armageddon. The stimulus program helped avert that, but
remember when voters go to the polls what do they care about? They care about the economy, they care about the economy, they care about the economy. Jobs and the economy are the main thing on people's minds. So I think now he's got to pivot and basically say, "What I am about for the next year is the economy. The economy is changing. It ain't going to come back exactly like it was before. We're going to have to start saving, we're going to have to start exporting." And that will be his message. But it will mainly be a rhetorical message because there's a limit--I mean, Dr. Romer was, was, was trying to defend this--there's a limit to what the government can do to actually create jobs. You know, they're creating 800,000 of them, by the way, with the census, but that goes away in a few months.
MR. GREGORY: Here's a question about his style of leadership. To say that President Obama is not an inspirational figure would strike a lot of people, especially defenders, as almost heresy. But my question is, has he found a way to reach people's hearts when it's not about him and his historic journey, when it's about them and their struggles?
MR. REMNICK: Well, I, I, I don't want to get too gooey about this. He's a president. You know, he's not--that's what he--he's a politician. He's, he's out to make policy advances, policy victories. He does not have the same talents as Ronald Reagan, he doesn't have the same talents as FDR. He is himself. And there's a certain coolness to his affect. I think a lot of foreign leaders wonder why he's not in closer touch with them. Where is the love, some, some of the Israelis certainly think in the last couple of weeks...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. REMNICK: ...have--and they've been struck by his reticence, his personal reticence. But the question is, what can he achieve? What, what are the major victories he can bring? And he just had a really historic victory, we shouldn't forget, on health care, despite the limitations of the bill itself.
MR. GREGORY: I thought it was interesting, too, in terms of a political matter, Rick, how he deals with this phenomenon of the tea party movement, which Republicans are trying to figure out, Democrats are trying to figure out. Here's a portion of what he said to Matt Lauer during the course of his interview about that.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: I wouldn't paint in broad brush and say that, you know, everybody's who’s involved or, or have gone to a tea party rally or a meeting are somehow on the fringe. Some of them, I think, have some mainstream legitimate concerns. And, you know, my hope is, is that as we move forward and we're tackling things like the deficit and imposing a freeze on domestic spending and taking steps that show we're sincere about dealing with our long-term problems that some of that group will dissipate.
MR. GREGORY: How does he try to make sense of this politically, of this movement that could hurt?
MR. STENGEL: I think it's hard. You know, there's that great famous American bumper sticker, "I love my country, but I fear my government." That's what tea partiers are about. It's--they're mainly Republicans, but there's this disenchantment in the land with government as a whole. The USA Today/Gallup poll the other day showed three-quarters of Americans are basically disenchanted with governmental institutions. They are plucking people from that. But the issue for Republicans and for Democrats, and for, and for Barack Obama in particular, is how do you lure back those independents? More and more people are identifying themselves as independents, and how do I, how do I bring them back in? And, and even to go back to your previous question, I mean, remember, you know, Mario Cuomo famously said, you know, "We, we campaign in poetry and we govern in prose." He's got to govern with a little bit more poetry, I think, to get some of those folks, too.
MR. GREGORY: I want to talk a little bit about his ascent, his ambition, how we understand that and how that's playing out in his presidency thus far.
And, David, your book deals with something that's very central, which is that for Barack Obama to become sort of well-situated as a man and ultimately as a political leader he had to work out his own racial identity and sort of come to terms with that. And here's a portion where you talk about identity in the book, racial identity. You write this: "Even before he announced his candidacy, Obama was selective in talking about race. As the only African-American in the Senate, it would have been natural for him to be the most constant voice on `black issues': structural inequality, affirmative action, poverty, drug laws. But he was determined to be an individual with a black identity but a politician with a broad outlook and purpose."
MR. REMNICK: And that, and that maintains even now. You know, I had an interview with him in the Oval Office right before he was going, going to deliver his inaugural address, and we finished our interview and then he came out into the hallway and he wanted to add something very specific, because we'd been talking about race quite a lot. And he said, "Look, it's just not worth it for me to talk about race when I have to extemporize, when I have to improvise" as he did with Henry Louis Gates Jr. when--that arrest, that arrest drama. When he's in control of the subject, when he can give a whole speech as he did in Philadelphia during the campaign, and he can get to all the nuances, he will talk about it. But basically he believes, "Look, I'm the president of the United States. I'm not president of black America. And I have to lift all boats," in, in Kennedy's terms, in terms of economic improvement. "I can't just focus my rhetoric or focus my policies on, on any one ethnic group." And this has caused some problems with some of this former supporters and even supporters now.
MR. GREGORY: It's interesting, we actually found something from 1990, Rick, where he was elected to president of Harvard Law Review, which is very prestigious, and he gets a lot of pickup in that as, as you write about in the book. The Associated Press has an interview with him, and this is what he says. "`Hopefully, more and more people will begin to feel their story is somehow part of this larger story of how we're going to reshape America in a way that is less mean-spirited and more generous,' Obama said." Remember this is 20 years ago almost to the week. "`I mean, I really hope to be part of a transformation of this country.' And the future of black people and of America generally? `It depends on how good I do my job,' he said."
You talk about somebody who seemed to have his head on about where he wanted to go ultimately.
MR. STENGEL: Oh, absolutely. I think even in his memoir he was thinking about that. And he's looking at--he's in a sort of transformational figure between the melting pot America and patchwork quilt America in the sense that he identifies with both. Melting pot is we all become
Americans no matter our, our race, religion, creed. Whereas the patchwork quilt America that we've started drifting towards is we all have our separate identities. We're not Americans, we're African-American, we're Polish-American. He does wants to transcend that. And as, and as David was saying, he's not a black politician, he's a politician who happens to be black. And he does wants us all to be at the table no matter, no matter where we come from, and say, "Look, we have to have a more unified purpose. What, what unites us is, is greater than what divides us."
MR. GREGORY: Talk about Nelson Mandela, whom you write about, and the leadership lessons from Mandela. There have to be obvious comparisons and certainly questions for Mandela about what he thinks about Obama.
MR. STENGEL: Well, I did, I was telling David beforehand, I saw him during the election, and it was before there was a nominee, and Barack and Hillary were opposed to each other. And I asked Mandela, I said, "Well, who are you going to support?" And, you know, he's older now, and he smiled at me and he went, "I'm not going to go there," that universal symbol, "you're trying to get me in trouble." But I think he--that he looks at, at Obama as, as something that is very positive for the world. I mean, remember South Africa is a place that almost had a racial civil war. The fact that Nelson Mandela is one of the greatest figures of the century is that he averted Armageddon, and he did it by preaching reconciliation. Remember, they, they were a majority that was disenfranchised. But he spent most of his first year as president talking to whites and basically saying, "You know what, we're in this together." There's a lot of similarity. And there's a lot of similarity also in temperament. Nelson Mandela went to prison when he was almost Barack Obama's age. He was there for 27 years. He was a hard-headed, tempestuous revolutionary who went into prison, and he came out as this calm, measured man. You know, Obama's temperament is kind of amazing. He sort of formed it without having to go to prison for 27 years, which I wouldn't wish for on anybody. So there's some similarity there.
MR. GREGORY: I want to end with this, there was a, a New Yorker cover, and we'll put it up here, that the president specifically write--liked, rather. And you write about it in the book. And so there's the four panes of President Obama walking on water, until the final pane when he actually falls into the water. And he liked it. And, and you wrote, David, in the book, that it was a sense that, that he realized that, or that he didn't always believe his own hype. There's no...
MR. REMNICK: Well, I, well, I think he wanted to advertise the fact...
MR. GREGORY: That he wanted to advertise it in a sense...
MR. REMNICK: ...that he doesn't believe his own hype.
MR. GREGORY: ...that, right, that...
MR. REMNICK: I think he has a, he has a substantial ego.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. REMNICK: And this, of course, this cover came out before the great victory on health care. And he--I--we sent him the cover, and Barry Blitt signed it, the artist. And it said, "Dear Mr. President, please keep dry."
MR. GREGORY: But do you think he recognizes, despite enormous strength that he brings to the office, do you think he's fully aware of what he doesn't know or what his vulnerabilities are?
MR. REMNICK: Well, I think there are some people who think that he, he doesn't know what he--that he doesn't know what he doesn't know. And I don't think that's fair. I think his style in meetings certainly is of, of listening. He's not somebody who talks his way through a meeting, that he makes sure that everybody in the room has had their say, and then he processes it in a very deliberate, almost stylized way. So, no, I think he does take in a lot of information.
MR. GREGORY: Rick, what do, what do you think is the hardest thing he faces now, post health care.
MR. STENGEL: I think he faces--I mean, he has revitalized himself in his presidency, but he has to have a new mission. He has to basically say, you know what, I'm not just a pragmatic politician. I'm a moral leader, in a way. And what they've also done, which I think hurt them, is the sausage making process that was display--we all talk about how good transparency is--it wasn't good for them.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. STENGEL: And he has to move past that.
MR. GREGORY: We will leave it, leave it there. Thank you both. We will leave it there, but we're going to continue our discussion with David Remnick and Rick Stengel a little bit more about their new books. It's in our MEET THE PRESS Take Two Web extra. It'll be online this
afternoon. You can also read excerpts of "The Bridge" and "Mandela's Way" on our Web site, mtp.msnbc.com. And you can see much more of David Remnick when he appears for a special discussion on the "Today" program.
That is tomorrow morning.
We'll be right back here with some final thoughts on a big day in Washington coming up tomorrow.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: Finally here, baseball is back. The season begins tonight, but the real action is right here in Washington tomorrow when President Obama makes his opening day pitching debut. Now, of course, there's a rich tradition in Washington of presidents tossing the first pitch of the season. A century ago President Taft did it for the old Washington Senators, FDR in '38, Kennedy and Nixon. President George W. Bush marked the debut of the Washington Nationals back in 2005. Last year, and I don't want to sound bitter, but last year President Obama sat out opening day and the Nationals went on to lose 103 games. What a difference a year makes, we hope. Go Nats!
That's all for today. Happy Easter. We'll be back next week. If it's
Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.