Video: November 20: Kyl, Kerry, roundtable

updated 11/20/2011 1:10:51 PM ET 2011-11-20T18:10:51

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  This Sunday, here we go again.  Down to the wire on a debt deal.  As America's red ink tops $50 trillion this week, the so-called supercommittee charged with tackling the deficit is on the brink of failure, and again, the issue is taxes.  Has anything changed in Washington since the debt downgrade of the summer?

(Videotape, July 25, 2011)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA:  The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn't vote for a dysfunctional government.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Is it too late for a breakthrough now?  What are the consequences of inaction?  And is compromise on the big issues of taxes, entitlements, and government spending even possible in a presidential election year?  This morning, two key voices from the bipartisan committee:  Republican Whip of the Senate Jon Kyl of Arizona and the senior Senator from Massachusetts, Democrat John Kerry.  Kyl and Kerry on the debt fight.

Then, back to the campaign trail.  Newt Gingrich is up in the polls, but battling his past, this time his high-priced work on behalf of mortgage giant Freddie Mac.  Herman Cain stays in the top tier despite another foreign policy lapse.

(Videotape)

MR. HERMAN CAIN:  I do not agree with the way he handled it for the following reasons:  No, that's, that's a different one.

(End videotape)


MR. GREGORY:  And Rick Perry is looking for a comeback by getting personal with President Obama.

Insights and analysis this morning from our roundtable:  Republican strategists Mike Murphy and Ed Gillespie, plus former White House press secretary for President Clinton Dee Dee Myers, and Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson.

Announcer:  From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.

MR. GREGORY:  Good morning.

Newt Gingrich is now leading the Republican field in a new poll out this morning as the 2012 campaign figures prominently in the debt fight on Capitol Hill.  It is countdown time for the supercommittee with a Wednesday deadline for a vote.  The bipartisan committee has until tomorrow to present a deficit reduction plan to Congress and the Congressional Budget Office.  We've got two key members of that supercommittee here live with us this morning.  Can they reach a deal within the next 36 hours?  Joining me now, two members of the supercommittee, Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts; Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona.

Welcome to you both.

Senator Kyl, let me begin with you.  Deal or no deal?

SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ):  Well, there's no deal yet; but, as both Senator Kerry and I have said, we're not going to quit until the stroke of midnight.

MR. GREGORY:  But where is there potential for a breakthrough?  Anywhere?  Or is this going to fail?

SEN. KYL:  It's been very hard so far, and the--I think it's illustrated by the last offer made by Republicans.  We have not been able to do entitlement reform or tax reform.  And so Republicans said, "Well, let's see if we can salvage something here.  Let's take the areas where we've at least had some agreement in our meetings, put those together." And it adds up to about $640 billion that we could actually save in increased costs or, in some cases, derive some revenue from asset sales and that sort of thing.  Our Democratic friends said no to that offer because it didn't raise taxes.  And I think it tells you a lot, and that is that in Washington, there's a group of folks that will not cut a dollar unless we also raise taxes.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  Well, the other side of that is how Republicans feels about taxes.  And it is the heart of the matter.  The question is whether the fix was in from the beginning.  Grover Norquist, the anti-tax crusader in Washington who, if you hear critics, holds sway over all the Republicans on Capitol Hill, this is what he said to The Hill newspaper this week.  The headline, "GOP leaders promised me no new taxes.  I've talked to the House leadership and the Senate leadership.  They're not going to be passing any tax increases." So was this really a good faith offer to raise taxes?

SEN. KYL:  Well, he's not happy with it, obviously.  It was a big step for Republicans, and I think it's the only news that's really come out of this. If you look at the Democrats' position, it was, "We have to raise taxes, we have to pass this jobs bill," which is another almost half a trillion dollars, "and we're not excited about entitlement reform." The only real breakthrough here, and the word breakthrough was used by my colleague Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, was the Republican offer to actually increase the amount of revenues through, through...

MR. GREGORY:  But let's talk about the balance.

SEN. KYL:  Well, let me just finish my sentence.

MR. GREGORY:  Yeah.

SEN. KYL:  Through the tax code, which would largely fall on the upper two brackets of taxpayers.  That was a big breakthrough for Republicans.

MR. GREGORY:  But let's talk about the full, balanced picture here, which is that Republicans wanted to have a conversation in the course of trying to lower the deficit about extending the Bush-era tax cuts, which the Congressional Budget Office would say has an impact of $3.7 trillion on the deficit.  So, in the name of lowering the deficit, you want to extend those tax cuts, which increases the deficit and would not be off-set by the tax increase that you were talking about.

SEN. KYL:  How did the supercommittee get created in the first place here? When the president asked us to increase the debt ceiling, we said we're not going to do it unless we reduce the cost of government.  And so we reduced the discretionary side of the budget by over $900 billion and then the committee was created to come up with the other $1.2 trillion or $1.5 trillion, supposedly on the mandatory side.  This is where two-thirds of our spending occurs, on everything from Medicare and Medicaid to food stamps and ag subsidies and the like.  And we focused on that.  And our Democratic friends were never willing to do the entitlement reforms that would've reduced the cost of these...

MR. GREGORY:  Senator, you're not answering my question.

SEN. KYL:  I'm make--I'm getting to the point here.  This is not about extending the Bush tax cuts, it was about trying to do entitlement reform on the mandatory side of the budget.  Now, when our Democratic friends made it very clear that they weren't going to do anything without raising taxes, we then turned to, what is the best way to derive revenues?  Is it to allow the current code to expire and have the biggest tax cut in the history of our country?  No.

MR. GREGORY:  You mean a tax increase is your point that...

SEN. KYL:  A tax increase.  I'm sorry.  We thought that the better way to do that was to limit the deductions and credits, the so-called loopholes, derive the revenue that way and, in doing so, you can both reduce some of the rates and have enough revenue to actually apply it to deficit reduction.  And that amount was $250 billion.

MR. GREGORY:  The Bush tax cuts, though, I come back to because real deficit hawks, many of them happening to be Republicans--Alan Greenspan, former Fed chief; Michael Bloomberg, now the independent mayor of New York; and Democrats like Peter Orszag, who ran the Budget Office for this president, said let them all expire for everybody.  For the rich, for the middle class.  If you really want to get serious about the deficit, let the Bush tax cuts expire for everybody.

SEN. KYL:  If you really want to get serious about the deficit, our country has to grow economically.  We have to put people back to work.  That's what creates wealth that can be taxed.  We're not going to tax our way out of this, we need to grow.  And you can't grow if you raise taxes in the middle of a recession.  That's what President Obama said when, when unemployment was at 9 percent a few months ago.  He said don't raise taxes in a recession.  And he's right.  That impairs job creation by taking more money from the very people, primarily small business folks, who will create most of the jobs coming out of the recession.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me ask you this, is there any potential deal that's still possible, even if it's smaller?

SEN. KYL:  Well, as I said, after wringing out the larger deals that, that tried to focus on entitlement reform, on tax reform, so we could have more of a pro-growth economy, we finally said, "Is there anything that our Democratic friends would be willing to cut?" And we turned back to those items that we had discussed and had pretty good agreement on, but they weren't even willing to reduce that spending unless we also increased taxes.  And, as I said, they didn't want to do the revenue increases the way that the Toomey Plan, as it was called...

MR. GREGORY:  Senator Toomey.

SEN. KYL:  ...would, would have provided.  And the reason we did it that way is so that it wouldn't affect the tax code that goes right to business decisions, to investment decisions.  Leave that alone so there's some certainty in the private sector and, instead, focus on eliminating these loopholes, these so-called tax expenditures.

MR. GREGORY:  And is there a basis for anything there?

SEN. KYL:  Well, I hope that there--you know, hope springs eternal.

MR. GREGORY:  But I just want to come back to this one point because the other side of the political spectrum, Democrats would say, "Look, this is not bipartisan failure.  This is intransigence by the right, an unwillingness to stop protecting the wealthiest Americans." Everybody would have their taxes extended under the Bush tax cuts under the president's plan making more than $250,000, there's about $800 billion for the wealthiest Americans that he wants to raise rates on.  Even your deal here, the Republicans wanted, would've protected rates, would've brought down rates on the wealthiest Americans, and Democrats argue it's simply not fair, you've dug in your heels, you're not really negotiating in good faith.

SEN. KYL:  But in our plan, the wealthiest Americans would pay more taxes than they do now.  They would pay more taxes to create $250 billion, which comes from the itemizers, and that's primarily people in the upper brackets, that money would go to reducing the deficit.  In addition, everybody could potentially have their income tax rates reduced a little bit by the elimination of those or reduction in the value of those so-called loopholes, as they apply to anybody who itemizes their tax.

MR. GREGORY:  Look...

SEN. KYL:  And, David, just make one more point.  Nothing new came out of this.  From the Democratic side it was the same thing:  raise taxes, pass the president's jobs bill, no entitlement reform.  On the Republican side, you had the one true breakthrough and that was this new concept of tax reform, which could generate revenue from the upper brackets for deficit reduction.

MR. GREGORY:  Lower the upper brackets, do, do far less than Democrats wanted on new net tax increases, and extend the Bush tax cuts.  And by the way, House Republicans were probably not going to vote for that anyway.

SEN. KYL:  David, yes.  In fact, I think this bill, the Toomey proposal, would even pass the United States Senate, which is controlled, as you know, by the Democrats.  Hear what we were saying:  There would be a net new amount of revenue, $250 billion, of which would go to deficit reduction.  That was our offer to the Democrats in addition to which there was other revenue, as you know.  It totaled about $500 billion.  This had never been proposed by Republicans before because it would mean that people in the upper brackets, whatever their tax rate was, would be paying more taxes because their loopholes, the deductions and credits that they take advantage of would no longer exist.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, I want to ask you quickly where we go from here.  So the question is, if you fail ultimately there are automatic spending cuts that happen.  One of the big ones is on defense.  Secretary Panetta has said the following about the impact of that.  "Sequester," he said, which is the process by which those automatic triggers go into place, "will lead to a hollow force.  ...  In effect, it invites aggression." He also said in a letter to Senator McCain of Armed Services, "The impact of these cuts would be devastating for the Department [of Defense].  ...  As a result, we would have to formulate a new security strategy that accepted substantial is of not meeting our defense needs." Will you support a work around of some measure that would not--that would prevent this automatic tax cut from going into place?  Excuse me, automatic spending cuts from going into place.

SEN. KYL:  Spending cuts.  What people would know is that one way or another we're going to have $1.2 trillion in reduced spending.  It can either be done the ugly way, which would happen if our committee fails, or we can do it more intelligently.  But we do have the opportunity, even if the committee fails to work around the sequester so that we still have $1.2 trillion in savings over 10 years, but it's not done in the very Draconian way that, that Secretary Panetta is referring to.

Now, that'll require work on Congress's part and some agreement.  But I can't imagine that knowing of the importance of national defense that both Democrats and Republicans wouldn't find away to work through that process so we still get the $1.2 trillion in cuts, but it doesn't all fall on defenses as Secretary Panetta pointed out.

MR. GREGORY:  So you don't think the defense cuts will happen?

SEN. KYL:  Well, I, I, I think there's a way to avoid that if there's good will on both side.  And again, I think when the reality sets in, even those Democratic friends who would like to see more defense cuts, when people like Secretary Panetta said this would be extraordinarily bad policy for the national security of the United States, we'll find ways to work around that.

MR. GREGORY:  Do you feel some urgency to get this done?  What about the potential of another downgrade of America's debt?

SEN. KYL:  Well, again, there's going to be $1.2 trillion in savings whether the committee agrees on a method of doing it or it happens automatically, as you say.  So this shouldn't foster a downgrade or, or a run on the market or anything like that.  The $1.2 trillion in savings occurs one way or the other.

MR. GREGORY:  I want to ask you before you go about presidential politics. Newt Gingrich, as I mentioned at the outset, it now on top of the bowls--polls, rather.  You've known him a long time, since you both were in the House together when he as speaker.  Would he be a great president?

SEN. KYL:  Well, I know all of them.  I served with Rick Santorum, I served with Newt Gingrich.  I'm sorry, I don't know Governor Perry, but I know Governor Romney and so on.  All of these candidates are going to have their, their moment when there is a spotlight on what they have done and what they would do.  And I am--I am not going to endorse anybody.  I'm waiting to see how that process works out.

MR. GREGORY:  Well my point is, you know Gingrich.

SEN. KYL:  Sure.

MR. GREGORY:  Do you think he can get the nomination?

SEN. KYL:  I don't know whether he can.  And I think one of the things that this demonstrates is that you do have a group of Republican candidates who are united around one principle, and that is that another four years of Barack Obama as president would be very harmful to this country.

MR. GREGORY:  I want to ask you this.  The Occupy Wall Street movement and protests around the country have become a political issue.  And as we talk about income inequality, we talk about America's debt, this was the scene in Northern California at UC Davis.  Pepper spray being used on protesters.  Newt Gingrich was very critical of this movement.  I want to play something that he said and ask for your view on it.  This was Newt Gingrich in Iowa.

(Videotape, last night)

FMR. REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA):  All of the Occupy movement starts with the premise that we all owe them everything.  They take over a public park they didn't pay for, to go nearby to use bathrooms they didn't pay for, to beg for food from places they don't want to pay for, to obstruct those who are going to work to pay the taxes.  Now, that is a pretty good symptom of how much the left has collapsed as a moral system in this country and why you need to reassert something as simple as saying to them, "Go get a job right after you take a bath."

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Do you agree with that?

SEN. KYL:  Well, I think it expresses the, the attitude of a lot of these folks who somehow think money grows on trees and they're entitled to it.  And they don't understand how wealth is produced in this country.  It's produced by people who work and who invest, who take a risk in a small business, for example.  They hire people, and that produces wealth to the government that they can then take advantage of.  But it doesn't seem to me they have adequate appreciation of how our free market system works to produce the wealth that's really made us the envy of the world.

MR. GREGORY:  You're retiring from the Senate.  Are you embarrassed at what Congress has been unable to do on the toughest issues facing this country and this government?

SEN. KYL:  The frustration of the American people at our inability to tackle these tough problems is very real, and I absolutely agree with that frustration.  It is--their representatives in Congress ought to do a better job than Congress has been, been able to do.  And I'll just go back to this: When our democratic friends are unable to cut even $1 in spending without saying it has to be accompanied by tax increases, I think that tells you all you need to know about our runaway spending.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, we're going to leave it there.  Senator Kyl, thank you very much.

We will turn now to Senator John Kerry, also of the supercommittee, of course senior senator of Massachusetts.

And, senator, let's start right there.  How do you respond?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA):  Well, I'm glad we're starting right there because what Jon just said is patently not true.  We just cut $917 billion without one dime of new revenue.  He knows it.  We just did it.  We cut $550 billion in the healthcare act from Medicare.  We didn't raise--I mean, you know, this is just nonsense.  Look, David, if, if this weren't so, so serious I, I might laugh.  But, you know, the United States of America is in a position right now in Europe, financial system crumbling.  You asked about a downgrade a moment ago.  The downgrade may--they may look at the $1.2 trillion of sequester, but Jon just talked about how they're not going to do that sequester.  He just talked about how they're going to get out from under it. There is a real threat that, not only will there be a downgrade, but that the market on Monday will look again at Washington and say, "You guys can't get the job done." And just the political confusion and gridlock is enough to say to the world, "America can't get its act together."

MR. GREGORY:  And--but is there a path for something to get done, or is...

SEN. KERRY:  Absolutely.

MR. GREGORY:  There is.  And what is that?

SEN. KERRY:  We, we could have a deal--in the next two hours, we could have an agreement, a solution to this problem.  We could cut $1.2 trillion, and we could do it tomorrow morning, we could put it before the nation and get this job done.  And there are only two things blocking us from doing that.  One, and I've heard this from Republicans in the Senate and in the House who say to me, "The calculation politically has been made by many that they think they're going to win the Senate, win the presidency, and they want to wait until next year and just write their own deal." And the second and most significant block to our doing something right now, tomorrow, is their insistence, insistence, insistence on the Grover Norquist pledge and extending the Bush tax cuts.  Now we are not a tax-cutting committee.  We're a deficit-reduction committee.  And everybody out there has said to us, "Go big.  Do $4 trillion." We Democrats put a $4 trillion deal on the table, and it included huge, hard, though, horrible reductions on the sacred cows and things that we have been accused of not being willing to do.  We put it out there.  I've had demonstrations outside my offices in Boston.  I've had people screaming at me because we'd even dare to think of doing this.  But they went--they wouldn't accept it. They wouldn't accept a $1.3 trillion cut, $1.3 trillion revenue.

MR. GREGORY:  But you just heard him talking about the Toomey plan, Senator Toomey...

SEN. KERRY:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  ...tax reform.  Yes, it will lower top rates, but because you close loopholes and whatnot, you heard Senator Kyl say it would raise revenue.

SEN. KERRY:  All right, let me...

MR. GREGORY:  I mean, Senator Durbin said it was a breakthrough.  Senator Durbin said it was a breakthrough.

SEN. KERRY:  Well, let's talk about--yeah, and Senator Durbin then retreated from that when he saw the numbers.  Look, Grover Norquist said this of the Toomey plan.  He called it a unicorn, and then he laughed and he said, "And as you know, unicorns don't exist." The Toomey plan, first of all, doesn't exist on paper.  It's an idea.  I was at the meeting when it was put out there.  We got excited.  We said maybe this is a way to get something done.  So we actually went to CBO.  We had the numbers looked at from joint tax committee. And guess what we came back with?  It is regressive.  It is regressive and reaches down into middle America and requires them--listen, now, even if you strictly limit--if you strictly limit the deductions the way that Senator Toomey suggested, you don't get enough money, David.  You can't get to a 28 percent, which loses you a huge amount of revenue, and wind up with the money that you need to be able to fill the gaps.  So the final thing, as most--this is the most important thing of all.  The Toomey plan is the--still results in the biggest tax cut since the Great Depression.  It would be the biggest tax cut since Calvin Coolidge, and we all know how that turned out.  Now, we didn't come here to do another tax cut to the wealthiest people while we're asked fixed-income seniors to ante up more; people on Medicaid, who are poor, to ante up more.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  But this is where I want to tell you, because the question of the Democratic commitment to taking on entitlements is something that the other side of the aisle says is not there in the way that you say it is.  Now, I want to challenge you on this point.  You were on this program back in August...

SEN. KERRY:  Challenge away.

MR. GREGORY:  and this is what you said about the debt, the debt deal at the time.

(Videotape, August 7, 2011)

SEN. KERRY:  And the real problem for our country is not the short-term debt, we can deal with that.  It's the long-term debt.  It's the structural debt of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid measured against the demographics of our nation.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  In The Wall Street Journal, editorializing, the conservative Wall Street Journal...

SEN. KERRY:  Right.

MR. GREGORY:  ...editorial page wrote this on Friday, "How can Democratic leaders defend deep reductions in the military and cuts in the domestic programs they say are vital `investments' when they block reforms that would reduce the growth rate of the major entitlements, which even under the House GOP plan would still grow by more than 50 percent over the next decade? Sooner or later Democrats must confront the reality that their unwillingness to slow entitlement spending will require shrinking everything else the government spends money on."

Senator, my reporting tells me that, in fact, Republicans offered Democrats to means test Social Security and Medicare as part of this discussion that would actually hit the rich, and Democrats said, "We don't want to do that."

SEN. KERRY:  Not true.  Not true.  We accepted.  We not only accepted that, David, we put every single sacred cow on the table.  They know, they know that they could have had many things.  A lot of us, you know, hate to even talk about it publicly because we're going to get--you know, people are going to say, "What?  You guys were thinking of doing all those things?" But a whole bunch of things were on the table for the right amount.  If people wanted to do a $4 trillion deal, there were discussions about dealing with the major sacred cows of our side.  I'm just telling you every one of them was on the table and they know it.  And it will be documented, ultimately, in papers that I know will come out of this.  But I don't want to get stuck there right now. And the answer is every one of them were on the table.  They would not do the revenue.

Look, put it in a perspective.  Simpson-Bowles, works for thousands of hours, bipartisan, Republican, Democrat, people outside of the Senate in elected politics.  They came out and said, "In order to do a deal, you need $4 trillion and you need $2 trillion of it as revenue.  Simpson--Rivlin-Domenici, $2 trillion in revenue.  The Gang of Six, which is currently sitting senators, Democrats and Republicans, said you need about $1.8 trillion to $2 trillion in revenue.  So our first offer to them was not $1.8 trillion or $2 trillion in revenue.  We caught hell from our side for putting an offer on the table of $1.3 trillion in revenue.  And everybody said, "Why'd you give up $800 trillion?" Because we knew we were dealing with real bullets here, with real votes, with the real moment, not paper that you put out in a proposal.  And guess what?  They said, "No, no, no revenue." One--now, wait a minute.  We didn't--we put $1 trillion on the table.  They said, "No, that's too much.  We won't do it." We put $950 billion on the table, "No, too much, we won't do it"; $650 billion, "No, we won't do it." Then finally, Toomey sort of floats this concept which, as we said, the numbers don't work.  So we said, "OK, we'll take your money.  We'll take the $250 billion.  We'll just do it in a way that's real, that actually measures by CBO that it's real revenue.  And guess what, they backed off of that.  In fact, they've all said, "Oh, we got too much pressure, we got backed." Because Grover Norquist keeps pushing back, and he has said there won't be revenue.

There's only one--let me repeat this.  I want America to understand this. There's one thing standing between us and avoiding a sequester and doing $1.2 trillion, and that one thing is the Republican unwillingness to not push for the Bush tax cuts to be extended now.  We've even talked to them about guaranteeing them a fast track for tax reform.  We'll do tax reform before next December.  We'll do tax reform for business.  We could lower the corporate tax rate.  We could wind up with a major initiative that will create jobs and do our country well, avoid the sequester, show that America works...

MR. GREGORY:  OK.

SEN. KERRY:  ...if they will just back off insisting that the Bush tax cuts be extended now.

MR. GREGORY:  I want to ask you about presidential leadership.  The president, after the debt debacle of the summer, said this to the American people:

(Videotape, August 8, 2011)

PRES. OBAMA:  I realize that after what we just went through, there's some skepticism that Republicans and Democrats on the so-called supercommittee, this joint committee that's been set up, will be able to reach a compromise. But my hope is that Friday's news will give us a renewed sense of urgency. That committee will have this administration's full cooperation.  And I assure you we will stay on it until we get the job done.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Just so that--hearing that last portion, even though it wasn't on the screen, is very important.  The president saying we will stay on it until we get the job done.  Republicans I talked to, Democrats I talked to say the White House has been hands off when it came to the nitty-gritty time on this.

SEN. KERRY:  They were asked to be hands off.  The Republicans said, "Don't let Obama come into this because, if he does, it will make it political." We've been in constant touch.  I've personally talked to the White House perhaps once a week to see, you know, if, if there was something else we could add, how could we do something.  They've been intimately involved, but carefully, so that they didn't politicize it.  And I think they did the right thing.  Can I just say something here?

MR. GREGORY:  But I--hold on...

SEN. KERRY:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  ...I want to follow on this point.  It is going to be politicized.  We have a presidential election next year.  There are four different panels, including the one the president started, Simpson-Bowles, that was not acted on.  All have failed to take on the biggest problems.  Does he...

SEN. KERRY:  Right.

MR. GREGORY:  ...the president, not face a political cost at the polls for the fact that Washington can't get the job done?

SEN. KERRY:  This is Congress.  This came out of Congress.  This is an idea that came from the leadership of Congress.  And Congress is supposed to do this.

You know, the other day, David, I, I drove through--I went to Arlington Cemetery to visit the gravesite of a college classmate of ours.  And I went with a bunch of my college buddies.  And as I was driving in there and I went by that new flat area that's full of the graves of kids from Afghanistan and from Iraq, some of whose funerals I've gone to over there, I've watched it grow.  And I asked myself as we were going through there, you know, are we living up to the sacrifice, to the level of commitment these guys made for us? Are we willing to put our political lives on the line for our country, do what we need to do because we know it's right?  And then I hear about this pledge, a pledge to a lobbyist that gets in the way of our living up to that sacrifice and doing what's right for our country.  The fact is, I took a pledge.  My pledge is to the Constitution of the United States, to defend it.  My pledge is to well and faithfully execute my duties.  And that does not include living up to a pledge to a lobbyist for a deficit reduction committee that, that is now hung up because we won't do the Bush tax cuts permanently, even though we could have accelerated tax reform by next year.

MR. GREGORY:  Two, two...

SEN. KERRY:  I just want to say this.  I say to Jon Kyl, I say to my Republican colleagues, "We're here all day.  We are ready to do $1.2 trillion, not less than it." That's what we were told to do.  That's the law.  We're ready to do it.  If they will give up their insistence of the Bush tax cuts, we can get this done.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  You've made that point.  Quick political question. You have a White House now that is trained on a former Massachusetts politician in Mitt Romney, saying that he has no core, preparing to go after him, as Rahm Emanuel did in Iowa last night, on flip-flopping.  A lot of people saying this is basically the same election playbook that then President Bush used against you successfully.  Is it going to work this time?

SEN. KERRY:  Well, I don't know, David.  I've been so focused on this deficit reduction, I honestly have not been following the ins and outs of all of that. It's--you know, let them choose their nominee and we'll see where we wind up.

MR. GREGORY:  Does Romney have a core politically?

SEN. KERRY:  You know, I--again, you know, there are few people I've met in public life who have changed on as many issues as he has, every major touchstone of American politics, from abortion to guns to war to God to gays, you name it.  So people will make their own judgments about that.  I was accused of voting once for one thing and another.  I did it as a matter of principle.  I said, "If this plan doesn't have--if this bill doesn't have a plan about this war then I would oppose it.  So I opposed it as a matter of principle, and I'll defend that till the day I die.  And, and, and he's going to have to defend his positions throughout this race if he's the nominee.

MR. GREGORY:  Senator Kerry, we'll leave it there.

SEN. KERRY:  Thank you.

MR. GREGORY:  Thank you very much.

SEN. KERRY:  Thank you.

MR. GREGORY:  Appreciate it.

Coming up, more on Decision 2012.  Newt Gingrich rising in the polls, as we reported.  Is he the new comeback kid?  Plus, Rick Perry gets personal attacking President Obama.  But did he distort the president's words?  We'll talk about that and how this deficit fight plays into the 2012 race.  Our political roundtable weighs in it all.  Republican strategists Mike Murphy and Ed Gillespie will be here; Democratic strategist Dee Dee Myers and Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post.

                               (Announcements)

MR. GREGORY:  Coming up, a new leader at the top of the Republican field and the race for the White House.  Our political roundtable is here and weighs in on the Newt Gingrich surge.  Mike Murphy, Ed Gillespie, Eugene Robinson, and Dee Dee Myers will break it all down right after this brief commercial break.

                               (Announcements)

MR. GREGORY:  We are back with our political roundtable.  Joining me now, columnist for The Washington Post Eugene Robinson; Republican strategist, former chair of the National Republican Committee, and adviser to George W. Bush, President Bush, Ed Gillespie; Democratic strategist and former White House press secretary for President Clinton Dee Dee Myers; and Republican strategist, Los Angeles resident, Mike Murphy.

Welcome to all of you.  I just like to point that out...

MS. DEE DEE MYERS:  (Unintelligible)

MR. GREGORY:  ...because they are, you know, paradoxical, I guess, to a lot of people.

MR. MIKE MURPHY:  I am, I am.

MR. GREGORY:  OK.

MR. MURPHY:  Not a Beltway insider.

MR. GREGORY:  And you are that, exactly.

Well, here we go.  This is the latest poll.  This is how it looks in the Republican race for the White House.  It's why you've got to follow this day in and day out.  Newt Gingrich is on top at 24 percent; Romney, 22; Cain at 12.  This is Reuters.  Here's the copy of The Weekly Standard, get ready America, because is Newt Gingrich the new comeback kid?  It is worth pointing out that back in May, Gingrich starts, he comes on MEET THE PRESS and gets himself in a lot of trouble on the right when he was reacting to the Paul Ryan plan to reform Medicare and the budget.  This is what he said then:

(Videotape)

FMR. REP. GINGRICH:  I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering.  I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  He later said he didn't mean it, backed away from it.  Mike Murphy, is this surge real?

MR. MURPHY:  Well, the Belgian Navy, as I once referred to the Newt candidacy, is definitely--they've got the Corvette going full speed, and he's surging now.  He's leading the non-Romney silo.  And so it may come down, we'll see.  These surges go up and they go down because the media's a little bit like the Jurassic Park dinosaur, it notices movement in the polls and it moves in to kill it.  So we'll see what happens to Newt.  I think Mitt would be very happy to have it boiled down to a Romney-Newt race.  I think the Democrats are giggling at the idea of Newt in a general election.  But you've got to give him credit with debates and no real campaign mechanics, he's, he's conducted a surge when you want to have one, near the Iowa process, though I'd be very surprised, still, if he's ever the nominee.

MR. GREGORY:  So Ed Gillespie, what is the theory of the case for an anti-Romney candidacy?  What is the package you've got to put together?

MR. ED GILLESPIE:  Well, I think it's for those who are concerned on the conservative side of the primary electorate, which is the vast majority of Republican primary voters, that Governor Romney is not consistently conservative enough.  And so, if Newt Gingrich can demonstrate that he would be conservative on these issues, more conservative than Governor Romney would be and he can consolidate, you know, the, the Perry vote and the Bachmann vote and the others, that that would be the, you know, could give him a shot at the nomination.  I think it's a legitimate theory.  One thing about it, though, this, this process is different for Republicans this time in that we're going to have proportional delegate allocation throughout a lot of our process, which we haven't had.  There's not going to be much incentive for Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum or Rick Perry or Ron Paul to drop because they'll be likely accruing delegates along the way.

MR. GREGORY:  That's interesting.

Gene Robinson, part of this is Newt Gingrich realizing that he's got some baggage.  He's got some time in Washington to account for.  He's got a website that is about answering the attacks, setting the record straight, Newt's positions on the issues and his record.  It includes his personal life, having extramarital affairs while he was in Congress, even during the impeachment matter, saying that, you know, when he was doing all of that, it wasn't about his affair, it was about going after Clinton because he lied under oath.  Will this be enough?

MR. EUGENE ROBINSON:  Does the Internet have enough bandwidth for--to, to really go into Newt Gingrich's past.  I mean, it's a long past.  He has taken positions on issues that are an anathema to conservatives right now, including, for example, the healthcare mandate that, that is the heart of what conservatives call Obamacare, something he used to, he used to advocate. So--and his--as for his personal life, that's something he has to deal with, with social conservatives.  I think this is going to be a heavy lift for, for Newt.  You know, these, these sort of non-Mitt candidates rise and then they fall.  Some lucky non-Mitt is going to rise at the right time and, when the voting starts, and is--perhaps is going to emerge as the alternative.

MR. GREGORY:  But he's--I mean, Dee Dee, he's going for experience.  That experience should count if you're going to take on the Mitt Romney, if you're going to take on President Obama.

MS. MYERS:  Yeah.  Newt has a lot of experience in the public eye, and he's tried on almost every ideological position that there is.  He's sort of a political sociopath, right?  He constructs arguments to defend whatever he's doing at the moment.  If he's working for Fannie and Freddie or, you know, the publicly financed mortgage companies, then he has an argument that defends why him taking money for that is different than President Obama taking money from people who work there.  It's fascinating, and it goes back to when he first ran for the House in Georgia in the '70s, all the way through his career that he constructs these very elaborate arguments that will support whatever he's doing at the moment.  And there's absolutely no consistency.

MR. GREGORY:  So, Mike, he gets a lot of money from Freddie Mac...

MS. MYERS:  Right.

MR. GREGORY:  ...to be a strategic adviser.  None other than Jack Abramoff, the super lobbyist, told me in our Press Pass interview this week that this is exactly the stuff that people don't like.  Watch.

(Videotape, Wednesday)

MR. JACK ABRAMOFF:  He is doing, he's engaged in the exact kind of corruption that America disdains.  The very things that anger the Tea Party movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement and everybody who's not in a movement and watches Washington and says, "Why are these guys getting all this money?"

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  You can watch that whole thing on presspass.msnbc.com.  Doesn't the Tea Party particularly go nuts about something like that?

MR. MURPHY:  Well, I don't know.  I think Newt is right that they hired him to work on history.  The problem was it was a history on, "How the hell do we get this bill passed?" You know, it's a gray area in Washington.

MS. MYERS:  Yeah.

MR. MURPHY:  I--look, Newt's strength is his quirkiness.  He's done a good job in the debate of being kind of intellectually formidable and interesting. The problem is, does he have voter appeal?  Or is he just somebody who can shape an argument and how well will he take the second look now?  I think only one thing, if you step back, has really happened in the last four months in the Republican process, which was Rick Perry, the guy on paper who could've beat Romney, that did that seppuku debate and changed everything because now it'll be one of the weaker candidates becoming the opposition.  It looks like it could be Newt.  It's still a long time, believe it or not, 40, 45 days to the caucuses is a long time.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.  And look at the peaks and valleys.  RealClearPolitics put together this compilation that, at first blush, may look complicated.  But just look at where the pictures are.  Those are the high points for the candidates, and then the steep falls.  So if it looks a mountain in Utah, that means you've been up and then you're been down like Perry.  But then you look at Romney in that--is that fuchsia?  I'm not sure his line--but--that is pink. So it's been relatively steady.  And, Ed, isn't that sort of the thing?  I mean, there--here you've got these debates, you've got people kind of taking a look, you know, Republican primary voters flirting, "Yeah, I kind of like that guy, I kind of like this guy.  They're really going after the media or going after Obama and that seems to work." And you have just wild fluctuations.

MR. GILLESPIE:  Yeah.  Incredible fluctuations; but, as you said, Romney's remained pretty stable throughout and that's the one question.

MR. GREGORY:  Yeah.  And why should he worry?  I mean, honestly, what can--what should give him worry except that a lot of conservatives don't seem to like him.

MR. GILLESPIE:  Well, what would give him worry is--well, it's that...

MR. GREGORY:  Yeah.

MR. GILLESPIE:  ...is there a ceiling?

MR. GREGORY:  Yeah, right, I mean, is...

MR. GILLESPIE:  That's his question obviously, is there a ceiling?  And are folks shopping?  And--but are they willing to, at the end of the day, buy when it comes to Governor Romney?  And that's the big question in this primary right now.  And Mike's right, we're not going to know until people start actually voting.  That's the beauty of what we do.

MR. GREGORY:  Go ahead, Gene.

MR. ROBINSON:  Well, no, I was going to say, I--I'm not quick to rule out a possible comeback by Rick Perry simply because he's got a lot of money to spend.  He now--granted, he doesn't show signs of this revival that I'm, I'm tentatively predicting.  But I think he as the best chance of any of the others of, of dislodging Gingrich.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.  Something doesn't ring true about the, the Gene Robinson hug around Rick Perry here, politically.

MR. ROBINSON:  I love the guy.  I just love the guy.

MR. GREGORY:  Yeah.  Well, let's come back and talk about Perry, and let's talk about Herman Cain and the rest of this field, and also the president's prospects and performance right now.  More with our political roundtable right after this.

                               (Announcements)

MR. GREGORY:  We are back.  Gene Robinson's pick for president, Rick Perry, is on the campaign trail trying to revive.  And he's running an ad getting personal with President Obama.  This is what it looks like.

(Videotape from Perry political ad)

PRES. OBAMA:  We've been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades.

GOV. RICK PERRY:  Can you believe that?  That's what our president thinks wrong with America, that Americans are lazy.  That's pathetic.  It's time clean house in Washington.  Obama's socialist policies are bankrupting America.  We must stop him now.

I'm Rick Perry.  I approved this message.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Dee Dee, this was a distortion of what the president actually said and who he was calling lazy...

MS. MYERS:  Right.

MR. GREGORY:  ...at this APEC meeting.  He was asked, "How do foreign investors look at the United States right now?" And his point was that, you know, "We've been lazy selling America to those foreign investors." The CEO of Boeing, who was asking him that question, was nodding his head at the time; and yet, that's the direction that Perry's going.  Will it work?

MS. MYERS:  Right.  Well, he's trying to break out of the, out of the pack. He's trying to draw some attention to himself and, you know, it'll work with some voters.  He still has a lot of money, as Gene pointed out in the last segment, so he does--there is the possibility that he could revive.  The problem is that once you get off a 30-second ad and get him into an actual conversation about real events in real time he can't answer the question.  He has shown himself up to the job of being engaged at the level that a president needs to be engaged.  And that is still his Achilles' heel.

MR. GREGORY:  Ed, you know Texas politics pretty well and certainly know Perry from back in--you know, in the Bush days.  He was the one who--he had the money, he had the Tea Party credentials, the anti-establishment stuff to put it all together against Romney.  Is it possible to come back at this point?

MR. GILLESPIE:  Yeah, I think, I think it's a very fluid race.  I don't disagree with Gene on that.  I think there's still time for people to rally and fade, and I don't know.  I will, I will say this.  I, I think it's a fair shot, and you can say that the president made it specifically about our ability to attract foreign investment.  But he said, "We've gotten a little lazy.  It's our fault." It's not the fault of a 35 percent tax rate vs.--which is higher than any other industrialized nation except Japan.  He's also, you know, said that, that we've gotten a little soft, and he has said that we've lost our ambition.  The president has said, in a number of things, that has put--that put the onus on the American people as opposed to Washington and his leadership or policies.  I think that was a fair shot.

MR. ROBINSON:  You know, I, I, I actually agree that he should have chosen a different word.  It is a distortion of what he said, but it left him open to this, to this attack.  But, you know, Rick Perry's problem, as Dee Dee said, is that he doesn't seem to be able to put together sentences.

MR. GILLESPIE:  Right.

MR. ROBINSON:  He had a good line the other day.  He said, "If you want to see God laugh, tell him your plans." And somebody responded that, "If you want to see God cry, show him this Republican race."

MR. GREGORY:  Well, but I want to come back to this point that Ed's making. I mean, do you agree with that, Mike, that--I mean, is the president really open to this idea, this narrative of, you know, as Mitt Romney says, "apologizing for America"?  I mean, is that fair?  Is it not a distortion?

MR. MURPHY:  My, my view is that the tape in the ad was out of context; and, therefore, I think that particular ad is pretty hard to defend.  But the tone of the president's remarks on many things has skated close to Jimmy Carter malaise speech.  So I think the argument about that tone and some of his earlier remarks is legitimate.  It's hard for me to defend the use of that tape and that ad.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.

MR. MURPHY:  And let me just quickly echo.

MR. GREGORY:  Yeah.

MR. MURPHY:  I think Perry's got one more shot.  We'll know in about 10 to 15 days if the big media spend he's made has done anything to bring him back to life.  If not, I think it'll be pretty tough.

MR. GREGORY:  Herman Cain.  If the topic is Libya, this is his answer.

(Videotape, Monday)

Offscreen Voice:  So you agreed with President Obama on Libya or not?

MR. CAIN:  OK, Libya.  President Obama supported the uprising, correct? President Obama called for the removal of Khaddafy.  Just want to make sure we're talking about the same thing before I say yes I agree or no I didn't agree.  I do not agree with the way he handled it for the following reasons: No, that's, that's a different one.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Dee Dee, if foreign policy were the dominant issue for Republican primary voters, that may be, you know, the end of the campaign.

MS. MYERS:  Right.

MR. GREGORY:  It's not, he's still hanging in.

MS. MYERS:  Well, but he's--his support is declining.  In the Reuters' poll we see he's down eight points.  These things sometimes take a while to catch up with voters.  But I think the sexual harassment charges sort of opened him up to, to deeper scrutiny.  These kinds of things I think are ultimately disqualifying.  You cannot have a president who says things like, "I'm going to be elected to lead not read..."

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MS. MYERS:  ...as if you don't need to be able to read and to listen and to do all the things presidents can do.  And I--so I think he's--his, his, his 15 minutes have now passed and Newt Gingrich has ascended.  But his 15 minutes only lasted, what, like four weeks, five weeks?  So that tells us that it's entirely possible we could be on to the next Republican by the time the Iowa caucuses on January 3rd, and that could be Newt Gingrich.  But I'm here to say that I think it'll--it will not be.

MR. GREGORY:  I resent that you think that we in the news media have a short attention span.

MS. MYERS:  I know.  I know.

MR. GREGORY:  But other than that--Mike, you wanted to make a point.

MR. MURPHY:  Well, wait a minute, I saw that video, and I thought, "Hell, Perry's found a running mate."

MR. GREGORY:  Oh no.

MR. MURPHY:  They've brought together.  Cain is a force of personality.  I don't think he's going to be the nominee.  I think the legacy of Herman Cain is going to be a discussion about a consumption tax when we have the big train wreck about how we're really going to pay for all this stuff in 2013 after the failure of the supercommittee.

MR. GREGORY:  Another break here.  We're going to come back.  I want to talk about Occupy Wall Street, its political impact in 2012.  We'll come back with that.  Plus, our Trends and Takeaways, a look at what was said here today and what to look for in the week ahead, and what are the hot political stories trending this very morning.  Right after this.

                               (Announcements)

MR. GREGORY:  Final moments here with our roundtable, but still a lot to do.

Ed Gillespie, you heard Senator Kerry say the markets may look at an inability for the sumpercommittee to get a deal done and we may be downgraded again. The politics on both sides, for Republicans and for the president, have to take a hit after another failure, no?

MR. GILLESPIE:  I, I think probably.  I think the, you know, approval rating for Congress will go down, the approval rating for the president will go down. I think that this will be seen--will reinforce a narrative of a lack of leadership on the president's part.  He literally phoned in a call to the, to the chairs of the committee, was not engaged at all.  And I think they both take a hit on this.  It pushes the debate into the presidential election where, where it probably belongs.

MR. GREGORY:  Let's look at our, our trend tracker here.  Gingrich brushes off baggage, he's got that new website that we talked about already.  The Iowa Religious Forum, and it gets to the point about whether, Mike Murphy, Mitt Romney is going to make a play in Iowa.  Governor Branstad said, "He better or else he's going to be in trouble."

MR. MURPHY:  Well, Governor Branstad needs him to.  We've got to keep the franchise now of a caucus alive.  I think there's one number in the presidential race that's the most important, which is Rick Perry's negative in Iowa.  As long as Romney beats Perry, and Perry can't get started, Romney can take a second or maybe even third place finish in Iowa.  They got, again, David Kochel running kind of a secret campaign.  It's now not so secret.  But the hand's still on the throttle there.  And with Perry diminishing, if the ads don't buy Perry back, Romney may not have to invest all the way in Iowa.

MR. GREGORY:  We also--Senator Ayotte endorses Romney, of course, in New Hampshire, New Hampshire senator, a key endorsement there.

Dee Dee Myers, I want to ask you about Occupy Wall Street.  We talked about these pictures out of Davis in Northern California with protesters being hit by pepper spray by the police.  And, of course, just--you've seen the movement from New York and around the country.  Is there an identifiable movement still?  Is there a message that's actually going to resonate for Democrats in 2012?

MS. MYERS:  Yeah.  I think the movement is amorphous, and it's unclear where it's going; but I think there is a message that's coming out, and now all of a sudden we're talking about the huge growth in inequality in this country over the last 30 years...

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MS. MYERS:  ...and how all the benefits for 30 years have gone to the richest of the rich.  The top 1 percent have seen income growths nearly 300 percent, while the bottom 20 percent have seen income growth of 18 percent.  The tax rate, meanwhile, you know, it's the lowest point in G--of--lowest percentage of GDP than it's been in a couple of generations.  How has this happened?  How have we gotten to this point?  And I think, all of a sudden, the Wall Street movement and the, and the Republican primary, quite frankly, has thrust this question into the center of the debate.  And I think we're going to hear it through 2012, and I think it's a good thing.

MR. GREGORY:  The week ahead here is interesting.  The look out here as we get toward the holiday of Thanksgiving, still a lot going on.  We mentioned the--Senator Ayotte endorsing Romney.  That's going to happen today.  A CNN national security foreign policy debate will play out on Tuesday.  And then the president actually is going to be in New Hampshire pitching jobs on Tuesday as well.  So a lot to follow there.

We're going to leave it there.  Thank you all very much.  Have a great Thanksgiving, and we'll still be thinking about politics and talking about it next week.

MS. MYERS:  Around the family dinner table.

MR. GREGORY:  And to all of you, we, we wish you a very happy Thanksgiving and holiday week.  We, however, will be back next week because, if it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

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