MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, during a special broadcast from New York, the president's Mideast diplomacy as he tries to thwart a Palestinian push for statehood at the United Nations.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: The bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable, and the United States' commitment to Israel's security is unbreakable.
MR. GREGORY: But there are new fears of violence as hopes fade for any peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. And the turbulent region is new fodder for the presidential race.
GOV. RICK PERRY: It is time to change our policy of appeasement toward the Palestinians, to strengthen our ties with the nation of Israel.
MR. GREGORY: This morning I speak exclusively with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. How will he manage Israel's isolation during this historic Arab spring?
Then the debate at home. The economy and taxes. Is the president's plan basic fairness or class warfare? And what will it mean for jobs? Joining me, the independent Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg.
Finally this morning, we kick off NBC's weeklong focus on Education Nation. What big ideas are driving reform in our public schools? What role should the federal government play? And what should our students know to compete in this distressed and increasingly global economy? With us, former Clinton Cabinet official now president of the University of Miami, Donna Shalala; former secretary of Education for President Reagan and host of "Bill Bennett's Morning in America," Bill Bennett; chairman and CEO of the Special Olympics, Tim Shriver; and author of the book "Fail Up," PBS' Tavis Smiley.
Announcer: Live from New York City and the site of NBC's Education Nation, this is a special edition of MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
MR. GREGORY: And good morning from New York. We are here at 30 Rockefeller Plaza to kick off NBC's special weeklong Education Nation summit, and it could not come at a more important time after another volatile week on Wall Street and fears of another recession. We're going to talk about what role education plays in keeping America competitive and getting the country back to work. More on that in a few minutes.
But first, is the Middle East about to take another violent turn? After a combative speech to the U.N. General Assembly demanding recognition of Palestinian statehood, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas returns Saturday to the West Bank and is rejecting a blueprint for peace put forward by international mediators. Moments ago, I sat down with the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Prime Minister, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Good morning.
MR. GREGORY: Good to see you in person here in New York.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Kind of early, don't you think?
MR. GREGORY: Yes, it is. A lot of drama this week in this city. Here is the scene in Ramallah in the West Bank on Friday when President Abbas made his push for Palestinian statehood in the United Nations. As those scenes played out, euphoria, pride for Abbas. This was described as a milestone moment for the Palestinians. It almost certainly will fail. And my question to you is, will there be violent consequences for that?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I hope that. It doesn't necessarily have to fail. It can succeed, but there's one--there's two pieces to--two sides to the equation. The Palestinians want a state, but they have to give peace in return. What they're trying to do in the United Nations is to get a state without giving Israel peace or giving Israel peace and security. And I think that's, that's wrong. That should not succeed. That should, that should fail. But what should succeed is for them to actually sit down and negotiate with us to get two states for two peoples, a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes a Jewish state.
MR. GREGORY: But you...
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: That's what should succeed.
MR. GREGORY: You understand, at this point, as the Palestinians say, they're not going to go with this international framework. There is no peace process right now, is there?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: It's because of them. You know, I said in the U.N., I said to President Abbas, "Look, we're in the same city, we're in the same building, for God's sake, the U.N. Let's just sit down and begin to talk peace."
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Why are we talking about talking? Why negotiating about negotiating? It's very simple. If you want to get to peace, put all your preconditions on the side, sit down opposite a table, not in a studio, by the way.
MR. GREGORY: And I've heard you say that...
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: And just...
MR. GREGORY: ...but that's not going to happen.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Yeah, but, but you have to ask yourself why is it not going to happen?
MR. GREGORY: No, no. I--we can get into that, but I'm saying to you, at this point, there's not going to be a resumption of talks.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, I'm not sure. You know, I think, I think the Palestinians are trying to get away without negotiating. They're trying to get a state to continue the conflict with Israel rather than to end it. They're trying to basically detour around peace negotiations by going to the U.N. and have the automatic majority in the U.N. General Assembly give them, give them a state. That's unfortunate. Because the only way we're going to get peace is to negotiate it between the parties. And I think, at the end of the day, even though you're very pessimistic, even though many are very pessimistic, you know, it could happen. All he has to do, Abbas, is to realize what I've just said and sit down and just do it.
MR. GREGORY: So I'm, I'm not making a judgment, I, I'm simply kind of reading where we are. Let, let me ask you this question, Israel is arguably as isolated as it's ever been in the midst of Arab spring. Turkey has turned against you, the Arab world has moved away from dictators who supported Israel, had peace treaties with Israel, and is now more negative towards Israel. In this day and age, at this particular moment, despite Israel's well-known and substantial security concerns, how can you occupy Palestinian territory at this moment?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, you've got two assumptions in your questions, and I want to parse out and actually suggest that they're wrong. The first one is that we're isolated. Well, we're not isolated in this country, which happens to be the strongest country on earth. I walked yesterday in the--in, in Central Park. You know, people met me. Jewish-Americans, but many non-Jewish-Americans and they said, "Keep the faith. We're strong. Be strong. We're with you." A former lieutenant colonel in the Marines who's now a teacher met me in a restaurant in New Jersey, great view of the United--of New York City. He said, "We're with you all the way. Stay strong." A New York NYPD policeman, he says, "I'm not Jewish. We support you. Stay strong." America supports Israel in unparalleled way, unprecedented ways, number one.
Number two, you should come with me. You should come with me to Greece or to Bulgaria or to Poland. Or you should see the talks we have with the Dutch, with the Cypriots, and with others. People have a different view. They have a different view. In Italy--many, many countries are coming to realize that our demand that we have direct negotiations and that the Palestinians finally recognize a Jewish state and give this tiny country Israel the security requirements it needs, people are getting around to that. So I would, I would argue, I would challenge the received wisdom you always read it. I think...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: ...I think we're very strong...
MR. GREGORY: You're not worried about being seen--you're not worried about being seen as out of sync with the times? Even if you're right, and I know you believe you're right.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: Even if history is on your side, as you believe, is it possible in this environment that being right is not enough?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: No, it's possible that you insist on the things that make life possible for the Jewish state and make peace possible. You really go to the core of the issue, the core of the conflict. And the core of the conflict is the persistent Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel in any boundary. Get to the truth. I stand on the truth because a peace that is based on lies will crash on the realities of the Middle East.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Let me come back, I want to...
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: And the second thing, I want to tell you...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: ...I said in the U.N., you know, you know, better bad press than a good eulogy. I'm responsible for the fate of the one and only Jewish state, and I'm not going to head, you know, recklessly to feed more territory, you know, to the insatiable crocodile of militant Islam, as I call it. I, I want to first erect a wall against this, this militancy that picks over every territory that we vacate. I want to make sure that it doesn't snap its gaping jaws, as I said, and devour us for dinner. That's peace. Now, look, I know that people like me who've insisted on security, who've insisted on reciprocity, who've insisted on the real conditions of peace have not been popular over the years and over the decades. You know, a lot of good people received some bad press, but we stand--I stand for principle, David. I stand for what I think is required for my nation to survive, and let the political fashions and winds...
MR. GREGORY: Well, let me...
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: ...the winds of popular opinion in the chattering classes move aside.
MR. GREGORY: You talk about...
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: That's not important.
MR. GREGORY: ...your alliance with the United States. Back in 2002, you said Israel has had no better friend in the White House than George W. Bush. Would you say the same about President Obama?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: They've all been great friends of Israel. You know why?
MR. GREGORY: You said, "No better friend in the White House than George W. Bush."
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: When did I say that?
MR. GREGORY: 2002 on this program.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: OK. Well, they keep moving. They keep adding new people to--you know, that's the peculiar thing about our system, the leaders, the leaders keep changing.
MR. GREGORY: So George W. Bush and President Obama are equivalent in your mind.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: God, I'm not going...
MR. GREGORY: I'm asking--no, but I'm asking you a serious question.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I'm not going to start ranking. I'll tell you what, they're all...
MR. GREGORY: You did rank. But, Prime Minister, you did rank. And you said that America was behind you; and, in fact, this has been a frosty relationship between this administration and your administration. And the reality is that there's politics in this country and a presidential campaign. Just this week, you had Mitt Romney, a Republican, say of Obama that he threw Israel under the bus. Rick Perry described Obama's Middle East policy as naive, arrogant, misguided and dangerous. Do you disagree with those statements?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: David, you're trying to throw me under the bus of American politics. And guess what, I'm not going to be thrown there. So I'll tell you what...
MR. GREGORY: You didn't mind disagreeing with President Clinton's analysis this week about the Middle East.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Sure.
MR. GREGORY: Do you disagree with these Republican candidates?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I think the important thing to understand is this, and, and this is the truth about America, Israel enjoys tremendous bipartisan support, tremendous. And, and, and, you know, you just have to walk around the breadth and length of this country, it's--or fly, it's a big country--and everywhere you go, you see this tremendous, tremendous sympathy and affinity for Israel. This is what, I think, is one of the great blessings that Israel has in the, in the 21st century. So--and I think that bipartisan support is expressed by any person who happens to be the president of the United States...
MR. GREGORY: Are you concerned that partisanship is being injected into this?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: ...including President Obama. Every one of the U.S. presidents represents and acts on the tremendous innate friendship of the American people to Israel. And by the way, a piece of news, Israel is the one country in which everyone is pro-American, opposition and coalition alike. And I represent the entire people of Israel who say, "Thank you, America." And we're friends of America, and we're the only reliable allies of America in the Middle East.
MR. GREGORY: In your book, President Obama is just as much a friend of Israel as George W. Bush?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: They're all friends of Israel, equally representing this friendship of America.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you a bottom line question. There is no peace process yet, as we've talked about. What if the consequence of this failure in the United Nations ends up with the Palestinian Authority simply dissolving? Doesn't Israel then become a minority leadership over a majority population not consistent with democracy?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: We don't want that. We--I, I want them to simply sit down and negotiate a peace with us. I, I want them--I don't want them as--the Palestinians to be incorporated into Israel either as citizens or as subjects, I mean, it doesn't work. I say that to my colleagues, by the way, in the internal Cabinet meetings, I say, "Look, I want to be very clear about what I want." I just--I don't want a peace process, I want a peace result.
MR. GREGORY: But I know what you want. But what if this happens, what if the P.A. gets dissolved?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, it's not our choice. I think, I think the choice is that they have their own independent state which recognizes our ancestral connections to this land, but also recognize the fact that we have unique security requirements because we're a country that could conceivably be the width of Manhattan, which is kind of hard to defend in a tough neighborhood. If we have their recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and the security requirements, there's no reason that we won't have peace. And that's what I'm working for. But the choices there--I can't...
MR. GREGORY: Right. But, but...
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: ...I can't--you know, President Abbas has to turn to his people and do what I did--and it's tough facing your constituency, it's tough addressing your base--and say, "You know, it's over. I recognize a Jewish state, Israel is here to stay. It's not just a fact that it's here today, gone tomorrow. It's going to be here forever."
MR. GREGORY: But let me pick up on that point.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: And that's the peace that we're going to make.
MR. GREGORY: As you said in your state, President Abbas referred to the crime of Israel being 1948, 1967.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Oh.
MR. GREGORY: Isn't it quite clear that the Palestinians will never accept Israel as a Jewish homeland? Isn't--do you fear that the two-state solution is no longer viable?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: You know, I was so disappointed to hear him say that because he was, he was going back, I was trying to move forward. I said, "Listen, let's, let's talk." You know, I have deep, deep connections to this land, the land of Israel, the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jacob was the father of Benjamin. That's my namesake. Four thousand years we've been connected to this land. But I recognize there's another people living there. You know, let's sit down and work out a solution. Then comes President...
MR. GREGORY: Prime Minister, my question...
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: ...then comes President Abbas...
MR. GREGORY: ...is the two-state solution alive?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, you tell me. Now, then President Abbas comes in, he says, "This land has been, you know, sacred for, for Muslims and Christians for 2,000 years." Hello! You know, "We've been around there. Two thousand years. I mean, Jesus came from a certain place, you know, from--there's this Bible thing which precedes it. What is this? Why can't you recognize our history? Why can't you recognize the Jewish connection to the Jewish land? And why can't we work out--recognize the past, seize the future?" And I'm willing to do that. And I gave a speech--and you heard my speech, it was--look, I wouldn't say it was a softy speech, it was a tough speech, but it was conciliatory. It said to him, "Listen, here's my hand." Right hand. "Here's my hand. Reach out to it, grasp it. Let's make peace." And that remains--you know, if, if you ask me what's the main thing, the simple thing? If you strip away everything and all the arguments, the fact is, David, you can tell me now, you can ask me a question, are you willing to sit here, change your plans, stay in New York another day and have President Abbas come here and start peace negotiations even right now on the, on the Sunday show? Well, in the afternoon, take him some time to reach here. The answer is yes. I would do it.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you a final point.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: And he would not do it.
MR. GREGORY: Prime...
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: And that, that remains the issue. So if we want to get a two-state solution, it's his decision.
MR. GREGORY: Final point.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Because from my point of view, we can get it with peace and with security.
MR. GREGORY: Former President Clinton has been critical of you and your approach, and he said the following to foreign policy this week. I think you're familiar with that, I'll put it up on the screen. "Bill Clinton affirmed that the United States should veto the Palestinian resolution at the United Nations Security Council for member-state status because the Israelis need security guarantees before agreeing to the creation of a Palestinian state. But the Netanyahu government has moved away from the consensus for peace, making a final agreement more difficult, Clinton said. He said, `That's what happened. Every American needs to know this. That's how we got to where we are,' Clinton said. `The real cynics believe that the Netanyahu government's continued call for negotiations over borders and such means that he's just not going to give up the West Bank.'"
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: You know, I regretfully, regretfully and respectfully disagree with the--with former President Clinton. He should know more than anyone else that in the peace conference that he presided in Camp David in 2000 with Arafat and former Prime Minister Barak, it was the Palestinian side who walked away from his own parameters. And in 2008, President Bush can tell you how the Palestinian side, led by President Abbas walked away, just would not close in on another prime minister's suggestions. And in the two and a half years since then, anybody conversant with the facts knows that I made these offers again and again, called for two states for two people's, froze the settlements. Nobody did that ever for nearly a year. They didn't come, they don't want to come, and they go around to the U.N. So I disagree with that. But...
MR. GREGORY: His premise is that the West Bank would never be given up, you say that's not true.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: No, we, we could arrive in an, in an arrangement that takes care of Israel's security needs and gives the Palestinians a life of dignity for themselves, but they have to have leaders who are prepared to do it. And you know what, I hope they do, not only for our sake, for their sake, too.
MR. GREGORY: All right. We're going to leave it there. Prime Minister Netanyahu, thank you very much.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you. Good to talk to you, David.
MR. GREGORY: Thank you.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: From the Mideast to the debates back home, the economy and jobs. Joining me now, the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg.
Mayor, thanks for having us in the fair city.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I-NY): Thank you for coming here. No rain, so it's--everything's good.
MR. GREGORY: We're, we're all good. Education Nation, and we'll talk about that in just a couple of moments. Let me ask you about the economy. This has been a tough week in financial markets, the worst week for the Dow since October 2008. Here was The Wall Street Journal on Friday that seemed to capture some of the anxiety, "Markets swoon on recession fears." What do you see right now that concerns you?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: What goes on in Europe concerns us greatly because, if Europe comes apart, the E.U. comes apart, then you're going to have enormous impact on America, that's a very big trading partner of ours, and people own securities around the world in this day and age. And then the partisanship in the United States. Think about it, one month later, David, we are a few days, a week away from shutting down the government again. It spooked us a month ago; it's going to spook us now. People have no confidence that Washington, both sides of the aisle, both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, are coming together and trying to do what's right for the economy.
MR. GREGORY: Can you explain how that impacts businesses? Because we hear it, it's a conventional wisdom that a lack of leadership, uncertainty, means that businesses aren't hiring. They're making money, they're doing more with less, and yet they're not hiring.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Well, nobody has any confidence. If you're a bank and you have money, would you make a loan when people are talking about putting you in jail for what happened in the mortgage crisis three, four years ago? You hunker down. If you're a business, would you go take a loan and expand and hire more people when every day there's talk about different regulation, different tax policy? Business has to know what it's going to be in the future to plan because hiring people is a long-term commitment. If you're an individual, would you go take that extra vacation, buy a new house and that sort of thing when you're not sure whether Washington is going to do what's right to keep job creation going in America? That's the--in the end, it is confidence, confidence, confidence.
MR. GREGORY: So--and the job of confidence, as you have said before, is the chief executive...
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Well...
MR. GREGORY: ...is President Obama.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: There is no question. It is the president's, but he needs some help from both sides of the aisle and both--and, and, and from Congress.
MR. GREGORY: How do you assess his leadership at this point on the economy, on the way forward? Is he exercising leadership? Does he have a vision?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Some things I agree with, some things I don't. I think he has a vision, I think he's pushed some things which may or may not make a difference, but at least he's trying. On the other hand, keep in mind, everything that we talk about in Washington is viewed in the context of is it good or bad politics, not is it good or bad for the economy.
MR. GREGORY: What about the economy? When do you see substantial economic growth and that jobless number beginning to come down?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Well, you're not going to do that until people feel better about the future. You're not going to feel better about the future until they see Washington pull together. I hope it doesn't have to wait, you know, a year and a quarter until the next presidential election. We can't wait. And I keep saying, whether you like the president or not, everybody has to pull together and help the president because, as the president goes, so goes the country, as the country goes, so goes your job, your ability to feed your family, your government.
MR. GREGORY: The big economic debate right now is about taxes. The president, this week, was in Cincinnati, taking it to the Republicans. This is a portion of what he said.
PRES. OBAMA: Now the Republicans, you know, when I, I, I talked about this earlier in the week. They say, "Well, this is class warfare." You know what? If asking a billionaire to pay their fair share of taxes, to, to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or a teacher is class warfare, then you know what...
Offscreen Voice: Let's get it on!
PRES. OBAMA: ...I, I, I'm a warrior for the middle class.
MR. GREGORY: Does that trouble you?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: It does trouble me. You can't define what's middle class, what is wealthy, what is poor. Every time you have a jump, people play games to get on one side or another. And I think it's not fair to say that wealthy people don't pay their fair share. They pay a much higher percentage of their income. They have a higher rate than people who make less. The Buffett thing is just theatrics. If Warren Buffett made his money from ordinary income rather than capital gains, his tax rate would be a lot higher than his secretary's. And, in fact, a very small percentage of people in this country pay a big chunk on their taxes.
If you're going to raise taxes, you're going to have to raise taxes on everybody. I would suggest 2 or 3 percent on everybody. For the average person that's 150 bucks. For the wealthy, it's a lot of money. But that's the only way that you're going to get something through Congress. It's also true that, if you're going to cut back, and we cannot balance the budget, David, but without increasing revenues and reducing expenses. If you're going to reduce expenses, you have to reduce expenses for everybody. You have to take away some of tax breaks for the wealthy, and you have to cut back on some entitlements. Because, unless we do all of these things, it just doesn't work. And what's good theater and what's good politics isn't necessarily good economic policy.
MR. GREGORY: You and Warren Buffett are both billionaires. You both have big public platforms in terms of when you speak, people listen. Do you think he's doing a disservice to the debate when the facts are that millionaires will pay on average a 29.1 percent of their income in federal tackets according--taxes according the Associated Press fact check.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Well, I think a lot of it's just theater. I think that it, it's more than a sound bite, economic policy, and we should look at what the real data is rather than just go and say one guy pays more than his secretary or doesn't.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about politics now, it--because it is a big part of the debate over the economy and over taxes. There's talk now that there's still dissatisfaction in the Republican field. You know Governor Christie of New Jersey well. There's a lot of people pushing for him to get into the race. Do you think he will? Do you think he should?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: I don't know whether he will. I've never talked to him about that. He's been a good governor in New Jersey. He's shaken things up in a, in a state that's had problems that have gone on and on and on. Some things he does I agree with. Some things he does I don't agree with. But if he wants to run, he, he certainly should just get in there and go do it.
MR. GREGORY: Would he be, would he be a formidable candidate?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Yeah. I think he would be a credible, formidable candidate. If you take a look at all of the Republican field at the moment, there's a number there that obviously don't have any chance to be, either to influence the dialogue or to be the nominee. And there are some that do.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: And some I know, and some I don't.
MR. GREGORY: What about Rick Perry? Now, he, he loses the straw poll in Florida. It turns, we know this morning now, that in Michigan, Romney won that straw poll, so Perry comes in second there again. Do you think his candidacy is fading?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: I don't know. That's--the pundits will tell you better than I, and it'll go up and down a million times. And keep in mind, the press wants a battle, so they'll always try to knock down whoever's ahead and promote the guy that's behind or the woman that's behind. I will say that some of, some of these candidate's positions really trouble me. To, to not believe in science is just ridiculous. But then also to accuse Perry of doing something wrong with a vaccine and--when he probably did what's right, to accuse Romney of doing something wrong with health care in Massachusetts which, in all fairness, turns out to be the only healthcare change that really has worked. I mean, both of these two candidates, and they seem to be ahead at the moment, have things that I agree with and have things that I don't agree with. And...
MR. GREGORY: Has, has anything changed your view about the need for a third party, a third way? And do you think it's any more viable in this lack of leadership climate?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: I've always thought a third party candidate is not a viable thing, and I'm certainly not going to be one. But if somebody wants to run, you know, there's this organization that's going to be able to get you on the ballot in all 50 states. That's good for democracy. But the truth of the matter is, the public tends to vote with one of the two major parties.
MR. GREGORY: Will you endorse any candidate?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: I'll have to see. Probably not, because I've got to work with whoever wins.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: I have an obligation to do what's right for the city of New York and not just to go out there and express my views. Even if I think it's right for the country, my job is to make sure that New York City benefits from whoever is in office, and I'll work towards that.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think the president can be re-elected with unemployment so high?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Oh, yeah. I think that incumbents have a real advantage. And if I were the president, I'd go out there and I'd emphasize the things I have done, and I'd say, "Some things haven't worked, and I'm sorry about that, but I keep trying." And I'm--and I think the president is a very viable candidate, and you're going to have a real horse race here no matter who the Republican nominee is.
MR. GREGORY: Let me spend a couple of moments on education. It's been a top priority you--priority for you during your years as mayor. More recently there's been some criticism about larger class sizes, polls indicating that there's disapproval of you among a majority of New Yorkers about education.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Well, wait a second. There, there, in all fairness...
MR. GREGORY: I'm asking you, what do you think is the, the right assessment?
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: There was one, one poll that said the public wasn't satisfied with the improvement in education. The intellectual dishonesty in that poll is just mind-boggling. There were only 10 percent of the people in the poll, who were asked in the poll who send their kids to public schools. If you don't work in the public schools or you don't send your kid to the public schools, how would you know? If you go and you survey the parents, they are overwhelmingly--they overwhelming think that the school system is dramatically better. They love the choice that they have. They love the fact that we keep opening new schools and closing failing ones. They love the fact that we've raised teachers? salaries 45-odd percent over the last 10 years to keep them from leaving the city. They love the fact that we've increased our school budget by over 105 percent in the last 10 years. It's our number one priority. They love the fact that we're focusing education on the kind of things that will help kids get jobs.
Our objective is to make everybody college ready or career ready or both. And in the olden days we had vocational schools for automotive and aviation. Today we have them for design and art and graphics and medicine and law and computer science. We even have a deal with IBM where we have a school that goes nine, nine through 12 grades, nine through 14 grades. First nine through 12 in the public schools, and then you stay in and you get a junior college associate degree. And then IBM puts you on the top of their list for them to hire you. It's--we're focusing on the things that matter to parents, and they love the schools. And when you do the surveys, and this constant dissing of what our parents have done and our teachers have done and our kids have done, I find just disgraceful. The truth of the matter is, we have increased by 50 percent the percentage of our kids that get high school diplomas. Now, the high school diplomas may not be as good as you'd like them to be, but you can't get a job in our sanitation department without a high school diploma. Most companies won't interview you unless you have a high school diploma. You can't join the military without a high school diploma.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: So that is something. And we're also reducing the gap between our minority kids and those who have scored much better on the, in the school system.
MR. GREGORY: Perfect segue into our conversation on Education Nation. Mayor Bloomberg, as always, thank you very much.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: My pleasure.
MR. GREGORY: Appreciate it so much.
And coming up, as NBC Kicks off its weeklong coverage of Education Nation, a special discussion. More of what we've started here about public schools and how politics and policy affect the debate over reform. Also, how to keep America competitive in an increasingly global economy. Plus, we will have the latest on the race for the White House in 2012. Joining us, University of Miami president Donna Shalala; former Education secretary Bill Bennett; president and CEO of the Special Olympics, Tim Shriver; as well as PBS' Tavis Smiley. After this short break.
MR. GREGORY: Coming up, a special discussion about public schools and how politics and policy affect the debate over reform. Joining me, Donna Shalala, Bill Bennett, Tim Shriver, and PBS' Tavis Smiley. They're all here on our special set. It's coming up next after this brief commercial break.
MR. GREGORY: We are back with our roundtable. Joining me now, former secretary of Health and Human Services for President Clinton, now the president of the University of Miami, Donna Shalala; chairman and CEO of the Special Olympics, Tim Shriver is here; author of the book "Fail Up," PBS' Tavis Smiley; and former secretary of Education for President Reagan and host of "Bill Bennett's Morning in America," the aforementioned Bill Bennett.
Welcome to all of you. This is such a big topic. It's such a, I don't know, it's complicated on one level, it has a lot of layers, but it's so important.
Bill Bennett, have we succeeded in this country in making education an economic issue rather than just a social issue?
MR. WILLIAM BENNETT: Oh, I think we have. I mean, everyone's so focused on economics now and you see the connection with education. We know the effect of good teaching and good schools on kids' abilities to get jobs. We know about skill deficits. And we know, very simple, in the most global way, if you have higher education, if you've completed college, the unemployment rate is about 5 percent. If you've finished high school, your unemployment rate is about 9 percent. If you haven't finished high school, the unemployment rate's about 15 percent. That's a--those are big numbers and important numbers, but they still tell us something.
MR. GREGORY: So, so, President Shalala, where are we with broad sweeping education reform? The president spoke this week. He's ushered in a program called Race to the Top that followed No Child Left Behind in the Bush administration. But we're not there yet.
MS. DONNA SHALALA: We're not there yet. We're in fits and starts, and we still fail to recognize that it's not just metrics and testing. It's investment in teachers, in families. The economic dimension is very clear. I was at a dinner party, a mother got up, who's a very distinguished scientist, and said she had to get home and help her daughter with her homework. The two waiters, their faces changed. They were working their second jobs, they couldn't get home to help their kids with homework. That's another economic dimension of education. We know the parental support, community support, makes a difference. It's not just the metrics of testing and putting pressure on the schools and on the teachers. This is a big issue.
MR. GREGORY: Tavis Smiley, you, you have a special report that's out that you've done called "Too Important to Fail" about African-American males in the country who are still falling behind in the educational system. Is government the answer? Is a more muscular approach of government, is it actually showing some results?
MR. TAVIS SMILEY: Before I get to the, the, the issues specific to black boys, let me just say I don't think this is as complicated as we make it. This is not a skill problem, this is a will problem. Does America have the will to make education a priority? We know the things that work. Why don't we scale up those things that do work. To your earlier point, David, the politics often get in the way, and that's the case specifically with black boys. In some states, not even 50 percent of black boys finish high school. You put on top of that a disproportionate use of suspension and expulsion and special education. On top of that, David, you put poverty, long-term poverty, and crime and drugs and gangs, it's no wonder that this problem exists. It is a national disgrace. But here's the point. If the numbers that are impacting black boys, that are engulfing them, were the case for white boys in America...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. SMILEY: ...it wouldn't just be a national disgrace, there'd be a national emergency. Again, it's not a skill problem, it's a will problem.
MR. GREGORY: Well...
MR. SMILEY: These boys are disposable and invisible. They don't matter.
MR. GREGORY: But let--there are areas in inner cities throughout the country where there are programs, privately funded in some cases, Tim Shriver, that are successful. What is working there that can become more of a national model that may be outside the purview of what government may try to do in public schools?
MR. TIM SHRIVER: Well, I, I think the question really isn't do we have high expectations. I think what's happened in the last decade is we have high expectations. Democrats and Republicans came together 10 years ago, passed legislation that said we want to be more focused on ensuring that every child learns. What's happened, however, unintentionally, I think, is that we've narrowed expectations. As Secretary Shalala says, we've focused too much on tests, too narrowly on performance measures that don't allow students to be motivated, that don't allow teachers to teach, that don't allow the arts, physical education, activities of those kinds that inspire kids. We don't have an inspiration nation, we have a blame and recrimination nation when it comes to education. Teachers are the focus of what everybody thinks is wrong, rather than looking at the ways in which kids' families can be engaged in the school and invited to do the kinds of things that are the 21st century schools--social skills, optimism, persistence, resilience.
MR. GREGORY: Well...
MR. SHRIVER: These are the things that inspire young people which have been pushed out too frequently of the curriculum.
MR. GREGORY: Bill, do you worry about the--I mean, the accountability movement is really behind reform. That's taken hold, but now we've, now we've gotten into a pretty polarized place, even in education reform. So what are the big ideas now that you think are working?
MR. BENNETT: Some of that polarization is good, by the way. Let me be--say one word for tests. If we don't do the tests, we don't know what Tavis just reported. You have to do the tests to find out how the patient is doing. When you do the test, you find out in the NAEP scores, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 53 percent of black fourth graders cannot read at a basic level. That is a national disgrace and needs to be shouted from the roof tops. Particularly since we're spending a lot more money on education and we know how to teach reading.
You asked about things that work. Right here in this city, not far from where we are, Harlem Success Academy Number One in the same building with P.S. 149. The success rate of the charter school is tremendous, very encouraging. Let's do what they do. Let's use the will to do what they do and not what they do in the failing school. I'm going to come back to something very quickly that Donna said and Tavis picked it up, too. Actually, Tim did, as well. Two critical adults in this business, teachers and teacher accountability, and I'm for it. I also think we should pay our good teachers a lot more. The other adult is the parent. It really does make a difference in a society when 30 percent of our kids don't live with their fathers, when there are a lot of people who can't go home and work with the kids on homework. All the research is clear, the teacher's the single most important factor in the school. The single most important factor in the child's education is a parent. The parent's attitude toward education and the parent's interest in that child's education.
MR. GREGORY: Donna:
MS. SHALALA: I agree with that. In fairy tales, the children are saved by caring adults. We need more caring adults in the lives of our children.
MR. SMILEY: Yes, we do.
MS. SHALALA: But it's not just formal teaching in the classroom.
MR. BENNETT: Correct.
MS. SHALALA: It's coaches. It's people that are involved in kids' lives at every level, and it's supporting their parents. Their parents need better jobs. So that they can help them with their homework and don't have to work two jobs.
MR. GREGORY: Can, can I button up one other thing, Tavis?
MR. SMILEY: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: I mean, when we have a more muscular federal role to have this conversation, to have a lot of money poured in, are you concerned--and, Bill, maybe you'll respond--that you have another round of Republican candidates talking about shutting down the Department of Education? Is that part of the solution?
MR. SMILEY: That would be tragic if that were to happen, number one. But I think there is a role for government to play here. We--again, the, the, the, the bastardization and the demonization over the last few years of teachers and of unions and of collective bargaining, that is not the answer. I was in a bunch of--a, a, a, a group of young folk yesterday, Secretary Bennett, in Washington, part of the Teach for America program, a great program, I think we all applaud their efforts, and Wendy Kopp. But these young folk were complaining to me about how they're being told that they have to teach to the test, and they're, they're not being allowed to be flexible and to be creative in the classroom because they have to teach to the test. The one thing I want to--I agree with everything Tim said except for one thing, I still think in this country, and this might surprise you, the one thing that George Bush said as president that I do agree with, I love that phrase, "the soft bigotry of low expectations." That is still the case in this country...
MR. BENNETT: That's correct.
MR. SMILEY: ...for too many students, the soft bigotry of low expectations. If you don't expect them to learn, if you don't expect them to succeed...
MR. GREGORY: All right.
MR. SMILEY: ...then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
MR. GREGORY: Let me--Bill, let me get your response...
MR. BENNETT: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: ...after the break. I'll take a quick break here.
MR. BENNETT: OK.
MR. GREGORY: We're going to come back. More of our conversation, including this important question, which is what should our students know at this point in order to qualify for this very difficult economy? More with our roundtable after this.
MR. GREGORY: We're back with our roundtable. Bill Bennett, I want to pick up on this issue of the federal role--you have Republicans saying shut down the Department of Education again. Is that a--is that the right idea?
MR. BENNETT: Yeah, that's that pi¤ata that's in...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. BENNETT: ...every one of these debates. I was held hostage until Ronald Reagan sent a letter to the committee saying that he wouldn't abolish the department, otherwise I, I wouldn't have gotten the job. George Will asked me once, "Must you exist," you know, as the secretary of Education. No, you don't need a Department of Education, but you have one, you're likely to have one. It should do good things and encourage the right things rather than the wrong things. I think this secretary of Education has encouraged a lot of the right things. But when you look at what works, what succeeds for kids, federal education department matters less than the adults in that place, in that child's life in the home and in the school and on the playing field.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. BENNETT: You get that right combination of adults, that child will succeed.
MR. GREGORY: Well--and, and, Donna Shalala, this question that I keep coming back to, which is what should our students know, what should our graduating seniors know in this economy, in this moment in time? And that plays into the role of higher education.
MS. SHALALA: Well, it does. And clearly they have to know how to read and write and how to speak. But more than that, they have to know how to absorb new knowledge because we can't predict what they're going to need to know 10 years from now. We do know that they have to have a set of skills so they can absorb new technology, so they can understand the new things that are coming at them, and that's very important. And higher education has a role. We need to drive down requirements for the schools. In the 19th century, we increased the quality of the schools by higher education saying, "You can't come in unless you have these skills, unless you've taken these courses." We did that in Wisconsin when I was there, it helped to transform the secondary school system. We gave the secondary schools seven years to meet the new requirements of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Higher education has a role here in demanding that kids be better prepared before they enter.
MR. GREGORY: Tim, it's not just, you say, what students should know, it's how they should learn which is really important.
MR. SHRIVER: Well, I think the, the good news is we've learned a lot about how children learn. We've learned also that we can teach some important skills that we didn't know we can teach. We can teach children to be good problem solvers. We can teach children to be optimistic and persistent. We can teach children to understand their own feelings and, and, and be able to channel those feelings in productive ways around learning tasks. When we do that well, when we do the social and emotional side of the ledger well, test scores go up. So when we think about kids who are underachieving, we've got to look at the underpinnings of motivation, attention, inspiration. We've got to get the kids involved in owning their own education. And I, I agree with Secretary Bennett...
MR. SMILEY: It's...
MR. SHRIVER: ...in saying that the federal government doesn't have to be--can't--shouldn't be an obstacle. But the federal government can also be an invitation. It can be asking the question--you know, the question that I love is what would it take for every teacher and every parent and every child to leave the school at the end of the day inspired? That's a question we can ask ourselves, not just...
MR. SMILEY: We can't--yeah.
MR. GREGORY: But, Tavis--but is character education a necessary part of school reform? If we, if we have to acknowledge that the whole child is somehow...
MR. SMILEY: Yes.
MS. SHALALA: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: ...let down by what's happening outside the schoolhouse?
MR. BENNETT: Right.
MR. SMILEY: In a word, yes. I've been saying for years character education is terribly important, number one. Number two, to your question of what kids need to know, kids have to learn how to think critically for themselves, as Tim put it, problem solving. And when you teach to the test, this is my problem, kids don't learn how to think critically for themselves, number one. And what they should also know, very quickly, Thomas Friedman famously said that the world is flat, I'm not so sure it's flat as much as it is tilted. And it's tilting more and more against us. That is to say that, to your earlier point, we're in a global environment, a global world, and if we don't get this education right for our children, the country ends up being--bearing the brunt of that. So our renewed focus on our children is ultimately a renewed focus on this country.
MR. BENNETT: Let me just say a word about the disciplines in the global economy. A lot of outsourcing, which a lot of us regret, takes place not just because wages are lower over there, but skills are better. People go to India because people know math and science better. So a word for the disciplines here...
MR. GREGORY: Do we need more vocational educational rather than the typical four years?
MR. BENNETT: Yes, we do. Because, if you look right now in this job market, people are looking for welders, they're looking for mechanics, they're looking for plumbers, they're looking for aeronautical engineers. And we have too much disdain for that.
MR. GREGORY: Quickly, President Shalala, I do have one question. Should college athletes be paid?
MS. SHALALA: No, they should not be paid. And I feel very strongly about that. But I do know that we still have a magnificent higher education system. Whatever we say about the rest of the world, we're still preparing...
MR. GREGORY: Well...
MS. SHALALA: ...those scientists, and, and no one can replace the great research universities in this country.
MR. GREGORY: All right. I want, I want to get another break in here. That was it, she said no, that was it. We could have had a debate on that for an hour.
Offscreen Voice: Yes, we could. Yes, we could.
MR. GREGORY: Unfortunately, we'll have to do that another time. We're going to take a quick break here. We're going to come back with our Trends and Takeaways, talk a little bit about Republican politics as well before we end this hour. We'll come back right after this.
MR. GREGORY: In our final moments here, I want to talk a little bit about some political news. Some developments this weekend. The Florida straw poll showed Herman Cain on top of the Republican field, and it was Rick Perry who said he'd win that. A disappointing second place finish. Just this morning, the Michigan straw poll, what does it show? Mitt Romney on top, again Rick Perry coming in second.
Bill Bennett, a disappointing showing for Perry in the debate this week as well. How do you see the--this race on the Republican said?
MR. BENNETT: I don't see, I don't see what happens. I think it's totally up for grabs, and I think you're going to see more talk about other people getting in. That's what I think about that.
MR. GREGORY: You think Chris Christie is a viable option?
MR. BENNETT: Well, we say that. I'm going to--I may try Paul Ryan again. I'm part of that team. But we'll see. But, no, Perry's got to perform better. I mean, people talked about this thing being too long and we have too many debates. It does have an effect, doesn't it? It does winnow. It does give people a chance to take a look. So I think it's wide open.
MR. GREGORY: And you look at our trend tracker this morning. Romney vs. Perry is on top. Chris Christie as a, a news item is number two. And Obama highlighting education this week is number three.
In our Press Pass conversation that we do each week that's available on our blog, we spoke to the communications director for the president, Dan Pfeiffer, and this is what he said about the, front-runners at the moment on the Republican side.
MR. DAN PFEIFFER: What I do know is that, at least of the two front-runners that are running, Governor Perry and Governor Romney, both of them are tremendously flawed candidates. They are both folks who have adopted positions that are antithetical to what most middle class, what most Americans in the middle believe. They have, you know, Governor Perry is a--someone who has led the tea party. Governor Romney is someone who is being led by the tea party.
MR. GREGORY: Donna Shalala, you worked for Bill Clinton. Where do you see President Obama right now? Is he vulnerable? Or if you look at this field on the Republican side, is he still a front-runner in the general election?
MS. SHALALA: I think he's a front-runner, there's no question about that. It's sort of the Wild, Wild West. For those of us that teach politics, it's an awful lot of fun if it wasn't such a serious business. And it is a serious business. And the president is, is--has a real race ahead, no matter who the candidate is because of the economy, but I really think he's the front-runner.
MR. GREGORY: What's the leadership test for him at this moment?
MR. SHRIVER: Well, I, you know, I think, look, this is the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps this week. I think we've got to remember that the goal of politics is not to make points but to make a difference. I hope that both Republicans and Democrats will see this election as a challenge to inspire the American people, not to build American government, but to inspire the American people to take some ownership themselves of their futures. Americans are hungry. Kids are hungry. They want to grow up in a diverse and successful world. They want to be contributors to their communities. And neither political side has quite mastered the art of asking as much as they've...
MS. SHALALA: Tim makes a...
MR. SHRIVER: ...they're focusing.
MR. GREGORY: I'm, I'm, I'm going, I'm going to make that the last word. I'm afraid we're just out of time.
MS. SHALALA: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: Thank you all very much. Thank you for remembering Peace Corps as well.
And before we go this morning, a quick programming note. You can watch continuing coverage of NBC's Education Nation all weeklong, right here on NBC, as well as MSNBC.
That is all for today. We'll be back next week in Washington. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.