MR. DAVID GREGORY: And, good morning, a very difficult Sunday morning here and around the country, particularly in Colorado. Just 48 hours after we first learned of the massacre at the Aurora Movie Theater. President Obama heads to Colorado to honor victims and meet with victims’ families later today. It’s striking, the political world shut down after the massacre in Aurora. The campaigns pulled advertising from the airwaves in Colorado, campaign events were canceled. It will resume and we’ll talk about that later. But the focus now in Colorado is about the suspect, James Holmes. What motivated him? Perhaps investigators can learn more after the big event yesterday, a controlled detonation in his apartment. It was completely booby trapped and now investigators can get inside.
Joining me now live, the Governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper. Governor, welcome. I-- I speak for so many when I offer my condolences and our thoughts and prayers are certainly with the victims’ families and all Coloradoans going through such a difficult time. Tell me your thoughts this morning.
GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D-CO): Well, I think we’re all a little fractured and certainly we appreciate the support. I mean the-- the state-- the state is-- is heartbroken which I think was Hemingway and it says, “The world breaks us all, but afterward, we’re stronger in the broken places.” And I think that’s what we heard in the hospitals yesterday. We went to as many of the hospitals and visited families and the victims. And there was a buoyancy, there’s already the resilience, you know, people were-- were not going to let this, you know, define their life. They’re going to-- they’re going to fight back.
GREGORY: There is in your experience as a mayor and now governor nothing that can prepare you to lead a state through something like this and I know this has been an emotional 48 hours. You spoke on Friday night in-- in such a moving way.
GOV. HICKENLOOPER: Well, you know, you just…
GREGORY: Here’s-- Governor, I just wanted to show what you said on Friday night.
GOV. HICKENLOOPER: Oh, I’m sorry.
(Aurora, CO, Friday): De-- defies description. You can’t connect emotions that we commonly think of. I mean everyone I’ve talked to all day is filled with an anger that can’t find focus.
GREGORY: I apologize for the interruption, but it’s obviously been a difficult couple of days.
GOV. HICKENLOOPER: Yeah, it’s been tough. The-- the-- the key there is-- I mean that anger where you want to strangle this guy. At a certain point that you-- that’s got to translate into-- into rising-- you know, helping our community rise back up which-- which they will and we're already-- you know, as I visited in-- in the hospitals, we had immigrants from all over the world who have come to Colorado that were in this movie theater. A lot of them fleeing violence. And to a person, everyone said we still love America. We’re so glad we’re here. And I think that’s-- that spirit has got to triumph in the end.
GREGORY: There is this picture emerging of the victims from this massacre, and some of the stories as well of some of the incredible acts of heroism and just some of the raw pain that people are experiencing as well as they learn more about who’s perished?
GOV. HICKENLOOPER: It’s hard to describe the pain that-- that-- that folks are going through, especially the-- the families of those who-- who didn’t make it through, but the-- the acts of heroism, right, the-- the guy who-- his-- his-- his son’s girlfriend, who is I think twenty-two, gets shot in the hip and he falls on her and they’re in the front row, right, so the shooter is right over them. And instead of running away he stays there and saves her life in the end, kept her from bleeding to death. I mean, story after story. Two girls, one-- they both injured, but one actually helping the other out of the theater while the shooting was still going on, making sure she got to safety. Outside, you know, the-- a woman taking her belt off, we still-- still don’t know who she was and-- and taking a-- a-- a soldier’s leg who had been shot with a high-powered bullet through the thigh and creating a tourniquet. I mean, one after another acts of heroism. Even heroism is not strong enough a word.
GREGORY: Governor, I know you were at the apartment, James Holmes’ apartment in Aurora yesterday during that controlled detonation. What can you say this morning about what you’re learning about him? Is he cooperating in custody?
GOV. HICKENLOOPER: Well, he is-- what they describe to us, he lawyered up. He is at-- at this point not cooperating. The robot watching it defuse-- or not defuse, but make the-- be able to deactivate the system of-- of the tripwires and potential threats. A, it gives you tremendous confidence, I mean,. the FBI is working with the BAT-- the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms with the local police, the state patrol. Everybody was working together, as they did on Thursday night, right? The one-- one of the real bright lights of this is that before 9/11, I don’t think we could have ever responded to this level of tragedy--70 people that had been injured or killed, and-- and get such efficiency and get everyone working together almost seamlessly. So even that-- that safety and then also how they-- they worked with this bomb thing. We’re-- we’re getting through this, but we still can’t get into the-- to the mind of this-- of this twisted, really delusional individual.
GREGORY: And there’s no sense of what caused him to-- to go off of the-- the path he was as a doctoral student in neuroscience, somebody who-- who may have been kind of isolated and private but had a lot going for him on the outside. Nothing that gives you some insight into motive?
GOV. HICKENLOOPER: Yeah. So far nothing that I’ve heard, not-- I mean, not an iota, nothing.
GREGORY: Mm. The picture of what he was carrying is of course striking. I mean, he was armed to the teeth. Here’s a picture of the-- of the weapons that have been recovered from the scene. He had two Glocks, a 12-gauge shotgun, a Smith & Wesson shotgun, and it was Mayor Bloomberg, a former colleague as mayor in New York, who spoke out about taking this moment and refocusing some debate about guns in our country and any reasonable controls over their use and their purchase. This is what he said on Friday.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (New York): Instead of the-- the two people, President Obama and Governor Romney, talking in broad things about they want to make the world a better place, okay, tell us how. And this is a real problem. No matter where you stand on the second amendment, no matter where you stand on guns, we have a right to hear from both of them concretely, not just in generalities, specifically what are they going to do about guns.
GREGORY: You as a leader as you get past the grief of what’s happened, would you like to see a re-evaluation of state laws or even a debate about how you can have a circumstance like this?
GOV. HICKENLOOPER: I think that debate is going to happen. It already has started. But-- but you look at-- at this person that's, again, almost a creature. I mean, if he couldn’t have gotten access to the guns, what kind of bomb would he have manufactured. And we’re in a time and information age where there’s access to all kinds of information. And he was diabolical, demonic in this twisted sense that he just -- I mean I-- I think of him almost as a terrorist, right? He wanted to take away not just the people in that theater but from the country our ability to enjoy life, to-- to go to a movie theater, which is for most of us is a refuge where we can get away from the rest of some of the pressures of life. And you know, I’m not sure-- it’s a-- it’s a human issue in some way. What-- how are we not able to identify someone like this who is so deeply, deeply disturbed?
GREGORY: I’m sure you have a message and the President will as well to folks in your own state who feel that-- that sense of vulnerability, who are perhaps even afraid to go out and see a movie after something like this. And, of course, the memories so still hauntingly familiar of Columbine. What do you want to say to-- to people to reassure them after an event like this?
GOV. HICKENLOOPER: Well, you know, I think part of it you’ve got to-- you’ve got to recognize and mourn all the losses. You can’t do anything without recognizing how deep that is. But-- but we’ve been in tough spots before. I mean the West is legendary for the resilience of the people out here who really have come from not just all over the country but all over the world. And that-- that we will-- we will rise above this, right? That we will not let-- the response to terrorism is not to-- to shrink away, it’s to rise up and-- and face it. And, you know, my chief of staff, her daughter is in her early twenties and she took a group of about twenty kids to go see Batman last night, just as a-- as a political statement.
GOV. HICKENLOOPER: And I think that’s-- the sense I’m beginning to get in the hospital rooms with the families, among the community, is-- is we’re not going to let this-- this son of a gun win, we’re just not going to let it.
GREGORY: Governor, thank you very much for taking the time in the middle of everything you’re doing. Again, our thoughts are with you and with all the folks in Colorado and-- and Aurora. I appreciate it very much.
GOV. HICKENLOOPER: No, thank you.
GREGORY: In just a moment we’re going to have a conversation about how as a country we can do more to protect against these kinds of threats, including a discussion about a potential renewed debate about guns. But first to get the very latest, I want to go to Aurora. My colleague Kate Snow is there. She’s been reporting from there since the very beginning. And, Kate, your reporting has to do about more of what we’re learning about the victims and some of the really difficult stories and acts of heroism as well.
KATE SNOW, reporting: Yeah. That’s right, David. We have the full list now of the 12 victims of this tragedy and they range in age from 51 years old at the oldest down to a six-year-old girl. Her name is Veronica Moser-Sullivan. We’re told by her family that she liked to swim, she was just taking swimming lessons, she loves to eat ice cream, just a cute little six-year-old. Her mother is still battling now. She’s in the hospital critically wounded with a gunshot lodged still in her neck. So a terrible story there. But among the dead--mothers, fathers, students and a remarkable number of young people, David, when you look at the list. Students who had just graduated-- one of them just graduated from high school, wanted to be an art teacher when he grew up. There were members of the military service.
And as the Governor mentioned, acts of real bravery. Several stories about men who threw themselves on top of their girlfriends in that movie theater in order to save their girlfriends. And we should mention there are still people in the hospital this morning, David, 26 still hospitalized, nine of them in critical condition.
GREGORY: There are very few morsels of information about what may have motivated James Holmes, but a couple more details about the actual act of shooting, right, Kate?
SNOW: I don’t know too many details about the acts of shooting, David. What I can tell you is that his apartment has been cleared now. The governor mentioned this or you mentioned this. They detonated a number of devices yesterday. It was booby-trapped and-- and the Police Chief here said it was meant to kill police officers who responded to his apartment. When they went in there they found a number of softball-size IEDs, improvised explosive devices. I’m told thirty softball-sized IEDs were inside. Police called it sophisticated and intricate.
What we can tell you is that James Holmes is now in jail. He’s been segregated from the other prisoners. He has his first court appearance tomorrow. He is represented by public defenders. They have cleared the theater behind me now and they’ve gone through and done forensic investigation, but tomorrow the defense team for James Holmes will be in the theater looking around for their own purposes to defend him.
GREGORY: All right, interesting details. Kate Snow, thank you very much from Aurora, Colorado. We’ll continue to follow your reporting from there.
Joining me now, Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, Democrat of New York, whose husband was tragically killed in a 1993 massacre by a deranged gunman on a Long Island train; former New York City police commissioner and Los Angeles chief of police Bill Bratton who during his time pioneered the theory of community policing that became a model around the country. Also with us former secretary of Homeland Security during the Bush administration Michael Chertoff whose firm now consults with how to deal with some of these security threats. Thank you all for being here. If there are some bigger lessons to take away, it’s what I want to try to focus on. And Chief Bratton, I was reading this morning as I was preparing, law enforcement officials fear more than anything else the lone gunman like you had right here.
MR. BILL BRATTON (Fmr. Los Angeles Chief of Police; Fmr. New York City Police Commissioner): That’s correct. For the longest time now we have been concerned with the incident that just happened, that single individual who operates below the radar, most difficult to detect, whether inspired by terrorism or whatever inspiration caused this young man to take so many lives. He remains the most difficult one to try and deal with.
GREGORY: And Congresswoman, you-- you have experienced something like this, the grief that comes with it, the shock that comes with it, and the search to do something productive afterward.
REP. CAROLYN MCCARTHY (D-NY): Well, and it is, you know, I get up really early in the morning. The first thing I put on is TV. And I saw all the news. It just brings you back to a place most victims don’t want to go to, but incidents like this and knowing what the families are going to be going through, not only today and tomorrow, but the weeks down the road. But, you know, when-- when Bill talks about the lone gunman, he’s absolutely right. But there’s one thing that they all have in common, and they had a gun with large magazines.
REP. MCCARTHY: So they could take down as many people. The police responded in 90 seconds. And yet he was able to take down 70 people.
GREGORY: And Secretary Chertoff, one of the striking details that we’ve come across this morning is that in fact his-- one of the guns jammed in the act of shooting. So you can imagine a carnage like this actually being even worse. We’ve talked about sort of being able to detect a threat like this may be less important than how law enforcement can respond when we come to try to understand mitigating these kind of threats.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF (Secretary of Homeland Security 2005-2009): I think that’s exactly right David, and I think Governor Hickenlooper really was correct in talking about the heroism of the people in the theater and the effectiveness and swiftness of the response. The truth is as horrible as this tragedy is and as much as our hearts go out to the families that have been affected, it could have been worse. And as we’ve looked at these events over time, those which are the worst are those in which the response is delayed or ineffective. So I give a lot of credit to law enforcement which was very quick in responding, and to the people who-- it’s kind of like what we saw on 9/11. They took matters into their own hands and did the best they could to protect themselves.
GREGORY: And Chief look-- Congresswoman Giffords was shot and there were a lot of questions about both mental illness potentially with the shooter and who in his life was noticing some kind of behavior. We just-- we don’t know in this particular case, but is there anything law enforcement can do better to catch the James Holmes’ of the world who are isolated, disturbed in a way we don’t yet understand and who are operating, and then building an armament, an arsenal to go after innocent people.
MR. BRATTON: So frequently here in these incidents, we find the lone gunman who are not only bad but they’re mad, mad and bad.
MR. BRATTON: And the ability to detect that in some respects, if you think of the current campaign coming out of the events of 9/11; see something, say something. The idea that family, friends, that are-- there’s an ability on the part of law enforcement, if given information about somebody whose condition seems to be deteriorating, to actually take a look at that individual. So in some of these instances, this individual, for example, as we’re learning more about him, there was a phenomenal deterioration over the last several months, an isolation. And unfortunately, he was much of a-- a significant loner, but could he have been detected and reported upon? I think that’s the direction we’re going to have to go, the idea of people understanding that if you see something, say something, as simple as it sounds.
GREGORY: And Congresswoman, one-- one piece of information to put this in context, if you look at some of the high-profile massacres that have occurred over the past several years, of course Columbine in Colorado in 1999; 13 killed, 32 killed at Virginia Tech after a gunman opened fire there at Fort Hood, 13 killed and then the most recent in Tucson in January of last year, striking Congresswoman Giffords and others. And this debate about guns and a-- a circumstance where you have somebody armed to this level committing this kind of act leads to the response you had. It also leads to a different response among gun rights advocates. One-- one of your colleagues, Congresswoman Gohmert from Texas, saying on Friday the following: “It makes me wonder, you know, with all these people in the theater, was there nobody that was carrying?” Meaning, carrying a gun. “That could have stopped this guy more quickly?” So he’s on the opposite spectrum of where you’re coming from which is to control access to more-- limit access to firearms.
REP. MCCARTHY: But David, that argument goes back even to 1993 when the NRA basically said if someone else had been on the train, so many people wouldn’t have been killed. Believe me, I’ve talked to an awful lot of police officers, commissioners of police, they said it’s the worst scenario you can possibly think of. Can you imagine in that theater, smoke, it’s dark and everybody starts shooting? I think the massacre would have been a lot worse.
GREGORY: But, you know, Secretary Chertoff, the governor made an interesting point. This is a Democrat, former, you know, Democratic mayor of Denver. He, like colleagues like Mayor Bloomberg may believe in greater gun control laws, but he also references the fact that everything was purchased legally here and we live in an age where if he couldn’t have gotten to guns, he was building bombs in his apartment as well. So the notion that somehow you eliminate that kind of danger in a gun control debate is going to be bitterly fought.
MR. CHERTOFF: Well, that’s what’s striking is you look at what we’ve heard about the apartment and the sophistication of the devices that were disarmed or disabled there, and you-- you realize that even the kinds of ingredients you can find in your own kitchen can be used to make bombs. So the problem here is with the people and not with the-- with the tools. But I want to go back to something Bill Bratton said which I think is really important. We need to understand more about the signs that show somebody is either becoming deranged or becoming a terrorist, because there’s a commonality we see again and again, which is a sudden change in behavior, usu-- usually some element of becoming more isolated and changing the way you relate to people. We’ve seen that with terrorists who became radicalized in Europe and we’ve now seen it, of course, in this terrible tragedy. So we need to understand better how we detect the early warning signs. Last thing, David, is, you know, by coincidence this week there was a report on the Fort Hood shooting. And the question there again was how come Major Nidal Hasan was not detected earlier before he committed the-- the horrible shootings in Fort Hood. And there again it was in a sense a failure of imagination. Here’s somebody who was getting radicalized, who was communicating with a terrorist over the internet and yet the people looking at that somehow they couldn’t get their heads around the assumption that somehow because he was an army officer, he couldn’t be turning in-- in a bad direction...
MR. CHERTOFF: …so we need to re-think our approach to this.
GREGORY: A lot of points there, but chief, can you comment on the-- on the gun issue and the coming gun debate?
MR. BRATTON: Two-- two comments, if I may. The Congressman who made the comment about if people in the theater had been armed, they may have been able to stop this individual. He was armed to the teeth with all types of bullet protection materials. The ability of a citizen to try and take that individual down equipped the way he was would have been de minimis. Fortunately, for the responding officers, it seems that his automatic weapon-- semiautomatic rifle jammed, otherwise they would have been outgunned, the initial responding officers who probably would have had 9 mm, 40 mm and a shotgun. He would have been able to, basically the way he was equipped, take them on. First responding officers weren’t SWAT officers. So this issue of arm everybody, I’m sorry, in this circumstance I don’t know that that would have made a difference.
REP. MCCARTHY: And can I say something, you know, as horrible as this tragedy was and is, you have to remember how many people are killed every single day…
MR. BRATTON: 55.
REP. MCCARTHY: …by getting illegal guns. And so when people who say, and the NRA will say that to me also, “Oh, she’s going to try and talk about gun control, gun safety issues.” I do it because this happens every single day.
GREGORY: Right. But look-- but look, you’re a politician now. And the political debate seems to be frozen on the issue of guns. Mayor Bloomberg was trying to, you know, get people to focus again. Here was the headline after Congresswoman Giffords--one of your own colleagues who was shot. And the-- the headline in the Arizona Daily Star, President Obama saying we must seek agreement on gun reforms. His own advisors here saying, yes, we’re going to get that-- that conversation started again. There’s been nothing, even after your own colleague was shot. I mean, for Democrats, it seems they don’t want to-- they really don’t want to take on this issue.
REP. MCCARTHY: I personally think that it was a fallacy after-- when President Clinton was able to pass the Assault Weapons Bill. Everybody kind of forgets about that time in history. We also raised taxes so there was a lot of things going on. I personally don’t think that members that lost that following year actually lost because of the gun issue. Myself and several other people were elected the following year on the gun issue. So I think that there’s a lot of myths out there as far as that goes. And I always look at it this way, no one from the NRA is ever going to vote for me and they’re just not. They might even come after me on other issues. But the thing of it is, as a politician, a lot of politicians know it’s the right thing to try to fight for something to save lives. They don’t have the spine anymore. They pander to who’s giving them money.
GREGORY: Secretary Chertoff, you’ve worked in a political administration, you deal with counter-terror threats but you’ve also paid attention to somebody who thinks about threats around the country to political dialogue, the coarsening of dialogue across the media spectrum from entertainment to-- to news and commentary. And I-- I was thinking, harkening back to President Obama’s words after Gabby Giffords was shot and then to Bill Clinton back in 1995 after Oklahoma City, and I’ll put something he said up on the screen. He said--back then, President Clinton--“We hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. They spread hate. They leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable.”
Let me emphasize as we sit here today, we know nothing about motivation in this particular case, political or otherwise. But President Clinton’s words back in 1995 could be true today, couldn’t they, about how some of the public discourse can fall on more vulnerable ears?
MR. CHERTOFF: I-- I think that’s right. And-- and if anything, I think the temperature has gotten even more heated in the years since President Clinton made that statement and it’s been amplified by the internet. Look, no one can say that any particular comment leads a madman to decide to do this. But I do believe that the general coarsening and aggravation of the dialogue, the fact that disagreement is often characterized as a matter of people having enemies or wanting to commit acts of violence does affect some minority of individuals. And that raises the danger to everybody.
REP. MCCARTHY: I absolutely agree. You know, since I’ve been in Congress, I’ve seen over the last several years the deterioration of working with each other. It’s-- which is really a shame, because many of us, Republican and Democrat, do work together. We actually get legislation passed working together. We still go by the old way of compromise. But when you listen to the words of some-- some of my colleagues that are inflammatory, I mean it’s something that goes out there and people will say, well, look at these politicians. I mean just in the last past week, a few of my colleagues came out with statements on other people, which were absolutely not true.
GREGORY: And it’s-- and it’s-- unfortunately, it’s kind of a bipartisan deterioration. Chief, this will come down to something that Michael Chertoff mentioned a couple minutes ago--better detection of people like this. There’s also just a heartfelt reaction that people have which is, wow, are we safe even in movie theaters for a movie premiere? To the extent that there is an overreaction here about kind of a security clampdown, does that make any difference?
MR. BRATTON: We are safe, that’s the reality, safe from terrorism, safe from these events. There are three hundred million of us. And while we all feel for this event, reality is three hundred million people did not experience it. The tragic irony of this and the continuation of these types of incidents, and they will continue, is that you-- the outrage is expressed against the perpetrator and the act is not then reflected in the part of the general public about wanting to do something about the instruments that are used to kill so many, the guns. All the polls I’ve seen recently indicate that the American population is following the political leadership who are missing in action, most of them on this issue, by increasingly being in favor of, if you will, relaxing of gun laws. Isn’t that the tragic irony out of this, the more of these we have, seemingly, we have less interest in trying to focus on trying to control some of it in terms of some type of effort to control guns.
GREGORY: Right. And of course, that-- the-- the opposite view would be to emphasize that these guns were purchased legally and that we have to focus on the individual. There will be more of this discussion to come. Thank you all for being here…
REP. MCCARTHY: Thank you.
MR. BRATTON: Thank you.
GREGORY: …and commenting on it this morning.
MR. CHERTOFF: Thank you.
GREGORY: Michael Chertoff, thank you as well. When we come back, we’re going to talk politics as well. We’re going to talk about the political campaign, which was shut down, as you know, because of this tragedy. Still a lot to talk about as it resumes tomorrow, including some of the turning points in the race in the weeks ahead. The roundtable is here and up next, David Brooks of The New York Times; Strategist, the Democrat Bob Shrum; and Republican Steve Schmidt. Also here, former chair of DC-- chancellor I should say of Public Schools, Michelle Rhee. Political roundtable is coming up next.
GREGORY: Coming up, what are the turning points of the campaign that are still ahead? The roundtable is here and we’ll weigh in after this brief commercial break.
GREGORY: We’re back now with our Political Roundtable. Joining me now, founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of DC Public Schools; David Brooks, columnist, of course, with The New York Times; Republican strategist Steve Schmidt; and Democratic strategist Bob Shrum. Welcome to all of you. This was the scene on Friday at the White House, flags there lowered to half-staff in the wake of massacre at Aurora at the movie theater there. And, the campaigns as I mentioned, came to a complete halt, as-- as if the political world really shut down. We heard from both President Obama and Mitt Romney on Friday.
PRESIDENT BARAK OBAMA: There are going to be other days for politics. This, I think, is a day for prayer and reflection.
MITT ROMNEY: Each one of us will hold our kids a little closer, linger a bit longer with a colleague or a neighbor, reach out to a family member or friend.
GREGORY: David Brooks, we come after events like this and-- and hope that there’s some kind of constructive national movement that can occur, what is that?
MR. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, New York Times): Right. Well, the theme of the show so far has been, do we focus on the guns or do we focus on the person? And I think the candidates are going to have to figure that one out. I personally think the focus should be on the person. There are two hundred and fifty million guns in this country. If somebody wants to get their hold on a-- their hands on a gun they’re going to be able to do it. It’s just not that practical. But we also have the situation where we have a lot of 20-year-olds who are living in this under-institutionalized world, lonely, not a lot of people dealing with them.
MR. BROOKS: At the same time a tremendous hunger for fame. And you see the rise of these spectacle killings. And I’d like to see a debate about that. There’s not an obvious political solution, but as some of the people like Mister Bratton said there’s a civil society solution where we all look out for people who are just drifting between the cracks.
GREGORY: And if anybody has got experience like you do, Michelle, trying to identify vulnerabilities in especially younger people and they can manifest themselves at-- at such an early age, particularly in schools.
MS. MICHELLE RHEE (CEO & Founder, StudentsFirst): Yeah, I think one of the challenges that comes about in a-- in a tragedy like this is people want answers. Why did this happen or what is the solution? And so too often people want to identify one thing that can be changed that will ensure this never happens again. We do the same in education, what is the silver bullet? And the fact of the matter is I think when you hear these-- these conversations that go on, is that there is no one thing. It’s actually going to be complicated solution. It’s not just the availability of guns, it’s not just how violent video games are. This-- you know, in order to solve this problem in the long term, it’s going to-- it’s going to take a very comprehensive approach looking at lots of different angles.
GREGORY: Yeah, I mean the person versus the gun, Bob Shrum, you heard Congresswoman McCarthy who said look, it’s a myth that the ‘94 a-- Assault Weapons Ban hurt Democrats politically. The reality is we may believe that it’s just lunacy for somebody who build arm up like that, but there’s not really a gun control debate in politics anymore.
MR. BOB SHRUM (Democratic Strategist; Senior Adviser, John Kerry 2004 Presidential Campaign): Yeah, there is none. I think the issue is settled. I admire the Congresswoman but I was on a phone call with House Speaker Foley, Dick Gephardt and the President-- President Clinton in 1994 when he decided to push ahead with the Assault Weapons Ban and the Brady Bill, which have now both expired. And Foley and Gephardt said, look this is going to cost us a lot of Democratic seats in the midterms and it did. The numbers have gotten worse since then. The situation has gotten worse. You can’t even get the Congress to prohibit people who are on the terrorist watch list from buying weapons, they won’t accept that. So-- David, you’re right, we’re going to have to focus on the person because we’re not going to be able to do anything about the guns. We’ve reached a state of stasis on this issue and we’re not going to move on it.
GREGORY: Right. A lot of, you know, gun rights advocates would say well, that’s where we ought to be on this and we should focus even as the Democratic governor of the state said on the fact that forget the guns, the guy was building bombs, he could have done either if he wanted to carry out this attack.
MR. STEVE SCHMIDT (Republican Strategist): Well, that’s right. It’s absolute orthodoxy in the Democratic Party that the majority was lost in 1994 because of the passage of the Assault Weapons Ban. So there is a consensus as Bob said in this country today that there’s not going to be any further gun control measures passed by the United States Congress, it’s an absolutely settled issue. People absolutely will not take on the NRA. It’s the most powerful interest group in Washington, DC.
GREGORY: Let’s talk about politics more generally. The President has got a moment here as he’ll go out to Colorado, as he did after Tucson and-- and-- and speak and help people grieve and that’s very much his role. Mitt Romney is headed out on a foreign trip. Here is the-- the latest breakdown of where this race stands and the head-to-head just couldn’t be any closer as we put it up on the screen. It is Romney 45 and President Obama at 43 percent according to New York Times/CBS Poll. Let me stick with you guys, Bob Shrum, does somebody have an advantage here beyond the numbers that shows us this is a-- a razor-tight race?
MR. SHRUM: Well, I think there are a couple of things underneath these numbers that actually are pretty good for the President. First of all, as Nate Silver from TheTimes has pointed out, the President has led in 80 percent of the polls in the swing states. And that begins to tell you the electoral landscape works for him. Secondly, Romney is losing Hispanics by 48 points. And as Steve will tell you, you can’t lose Hispanics by 48 points be a Republican candidate and get elected president. Thirdly, I think Romney insisted so strongly that this was purely a referendum. If you feel kind of bad about the economy, vote for me, I’m not going to tell you much else about myself, that he opened a way for the President to define him during what I regard as a critical post-primary summer season, which is now ending as the Olympics begin.
GREGORY: Steve, how do you see it?
MR. SCHMIDT: Well, I think when you look at the numbers, there’s some news in there that’s very bad for President Obama. The fact is that the approval level for people-- his handling of the economy is now in the 30s. The pessimism in the country is rising. The wrong track number is increasing. And Mitt Romney has been on the defensive for the better part of a month. He has been pummeled, he has been defined. The-- the media narrative in-- in Washington has been terrible for him. And the only thing that’s happened is the race has got in even tighter. So I think fundamentally the economic argument that the President is making is not working. And we wouldn’t be talking about Mitt Romney’s taxes if the President was able to talk about an economic recovery, which clearly he can’t.
GREGORY: And Michelle, you’re focused, of course, on education reform, what of course all politicians say is such an incredibly important issue but then they don’t talk about it in the course of the campaign very much. The one thing that people want fixed, the economy, is not fixed. How much trouble is that for the incumbent President?
MS. RHEE: Well, look, I-- I think we’ve talked earlier about whether we should focus more on policy or the individuals. And I think in-- in the presidential debate we should focus a little less on the individual bickering and more on the actual policies. You know, as it pertains to-- to the economy, I think that one thing that people are missing in this is that we are never going to be able to fix this country’s economy in the long run until we fux-- fix our public education system. You know, if we were just to be able to cut the number of high school dropouts in one year in half, we could add 45 billion dollars to this country’s economy. Why aren’t we having the conversations…
MS. RHEE: …around that.
GREGORY: And you are having the conversation, the Olympics are about to start, your group has a new ad out. I want to play a portion of it to give people a sense of what the message is.
(Videotape; New Ad; Studentfirst)
MAN #1: Well, if the U.S. is going to catch up to the rest of the world, it has to be now, but frankly it’s not looking good.
MAN #2: It appears the once-proud U.S. program has been relying too much on its reputation. I’d say they’re completely unprepared.
MAN #1: Wow. This is an embarrassment.
MAN #2: Oh, the U.S. can’t be satisfied with this performance.
WOMAN: The sad truth, this is our education system and it can’t compete with the rest of the world. We need reform now. To see what you can do, go to studentsfirst.org/olympics.
GREGORY: Laugh there. But it’s a pretty-- pretty tough message.
MS. RHEE: Right. The Olympics are going to start in five days. It is a time of incredible pride for this country. Our young people are out there, you know, number one, beating everyone else, and yet e-- educationally our kids are 25th out of 30 developed nations in math and nobody is paying attention to that fact.
GREGORY: David Brooks, you’re writing in part about just the-- the gamesmanship of the campaign, but it goes to something I think Michelle was saying about a real focus on alternatives. What the vision is? Why Mitt Romney wants to be president, after all? And you wrote this in a-- in a column on Tuesday that I’ll put up on the screen. You talk about his capitalist, you know, narrative. “It’s been the business of his life to take companies that were mediocre and sclerotic and try to make them efficient and dynamic. It has been his job to be the corporate version of a personal trainer: take people who are puffy and self-indulgent and whip them into shape.” You write about Romney, “That’s his selling point: rigor and productivity. If he can build a capitalist vision around that, he’ll thrive. If not, he’s a punching bag.” Is he more of a punching bag right now over releasing his taxes, o-- o-- over the years in his experience at Bain?
MR. BROOKS: Yeah, releasing the taxes won’t help. I-- I don’t care about the issue particularly. Can anybody think about a president who was either qualified or disqualified by some of the tax reform? That is irrelevant. What’s relevant is who the guy is? He has an amazing personal story. His family was really an (Unintelligible) going across the West, poverty, building an empire, poverty, building an empire. He can’t talk about it because it involves Mormonism. He is personally a decent guy. For some reason, he’s not willing to talk about it. He’s a hidden man. And so, one of the turning points in this campaign is when he comes out, and if he can come out, and I don’t know why they’re waiting so long.
The second thing is, as Michelle said, people are-- people-- I personally find this an incredibly consequential election and incredibly boring election because the two campaign staffs, they’re on their iPhones, they’re responding to whatever the campaign-- other campaign did five minutes ago and the rest of us just don’t care.
GREGORY: Hmm. Bob?
MR. SHRUM: Well, look, I think Romney-- for the reasons David was-- was talking about, does remain a kind of hidden figure. It does make him a punching bag. My disagreement with Steve is that if you set a definition of somebody in the summer, they got to live with that definition all through the campaign unless they use the convention to change it. And I’ll tell you, on this tax issue, Steve and I have both been there. You sit down with the candidate and you say, "Look, we should release these tax returns. I mean we’re going to get beat up if we don’t release these tax returns." And either Romney or people in his campaign who have seen it said, "We’ll take worse damage if we release these returns than if we hold on to them." So I think he’s going to live with this issue all the way through.
I think the narrative here is going to go from Bain, outsourcing, taxes, off-shoring, to his policies. So, it’s going to be the guy who took over companies and made them lean by cutting people’s health care benefits, now wants to cut Medicare, privatize it, has endorsed the Ryan budget. It’s going to cost seniors $6400 more a year. You can debate whether or not you agree with that but there’s a narrative here that the Obama campaign is building, and so far I cannot find a narrative from Romney beyond, "Gee, if you feel kind of lousy about the economy, give me a try."
GREGORY: Right. Well, not a bad strategy by the way when you’re out-- when you’re in a bad economy, but…
MR. SHRUM: But-- but I think he’s going to get a lot of pressure from a lot of Republicans…
MR. SHRUM: …to go out there and say something more. I think he has to say something more about who he is and what he wants to do?
GREGORY: Steve, just answer that, but also start with the tax biz, I mean, your campaign and when you ran the-- the McCain campaign in 2008, he was vetted as a VP. There were-- he released-- how-- how many years of tax returns to-- to you guys?
MR. SCHMIDT: Well, the-- the reports are that he released 20 years of tax returns to the-- to the campaign. Senator McCain released two years publicly…
MR. SCHMIDT: …so, you know, that’s exactly what Mitt Romney’s pledged to-- pledged to do. But what-- what I would say is there is a…
GREGORY: Romney gave your campaign…
MR. SCHMIDT: He gave…
GREGORY: …when he was being vetted 20 years.
MR. SCHMIDT: …he gave 20 years. But-- but no one has ever released 20 years of tax returns. And, look, again, I think if the President had a-- had a record of economic recovery that he could run on, we wouldn’t be talking about Mitt Romney’s taxes. And I don’t think there’s an appetite in the middle of the electorate amongst the people who will decide the electorate to talk about this for the next 107 days. The reality is a 107 days left to go, not all these days are of equal importance. Mitt Romney has some big events ahead. The vice presidential selection, the convention speech where he’s an opportunity to lay out a governing vision for the country. And, of course, we’re going to have three presidential debates. They’re going to have audiences bigger than 50 million people, 90 minutes long. A vice presidential debate. And those are the important moments that lie ahead where Mitt Romney is going to have to make a case that he should be president of the United States laying out a vision. At the end of the day, I think people will say what is the plan to turn this country around?
GREGORY: Steve Schmidt looking at my notes again because that’s exactly what I want to talk about when we come back from the break, talk about some of the turning points ahead in this campaign. How both sides try to win those moments and what it will mean from the campaign? More from our roundtable right after this.
GREGORY: We’re back with our roundtable. I want to talk about the turning points in this campaign. But I want to go back to you, Steve, quickly. It came up in the break. The obvious question--all those tax returns from Mitt Romney, is there anything in there that would be a real problem?
MR. SCHMIDT: Well, he’s an extremely wealthy man…
MR. SCHMIDT: …and his tax returns do not look anything like the average American.
GREGORY: But did you actually see them? Did your campaign see them?
MR. SCHMIDT: No, I-- I never-- people in the campaign saw them, I never saw them. But they’re-- but look, I-- I think on the-- you know, commonsense would tell you they’re-- they’re extremely complicated. And at the end of the day, no one is standing there to hand you a gold medal saying, “Hey, congratulations, you’ve been really transparent here.”
GREGORY: But anything in there that made Senator McCain and his team say, no, I don’t think we should choose Mitt Romney?
MR. SCHMIDT: There is-- I-- I think that as Mitt Romney went through this process, what I-- what I can tell you is that he’s a person of decency with the highest ethical character and background and there was nothing that-- that was disqualifying, that the pick in 2008 wasn’t about any deficiency with Mitt Romney, it was a political decision that we made in a very bad political circumstance.
GREGORY: Let’s go to our turning points and the first one we have up there is, Steve has already referenced, and that is that the-- the-- the governor will choose a running mate as early as probably after the Olympics, maybe that week of August 5th. Michelle Rhee, as you look at all of this and the potential veepstakes, what do you think is important here? This is one of those campaign moments where it’s a presidential level decision.
MS. RHEE: Well, as a Democrat, I don’t think it really makes a whole lot of sense for me to weigh in on this, but I-- I think, you know, from a very layman, normal person standpoint, it seems to me that what the Republicans need right now is some energy, some momentum, you know, a-- a real person who can help to bring some life to the-- to the campaign and some excitement. And so I think that’s what people are going to be looking for.
GREGORY: You talk excitement; we go to some of the top candidates being discussed. You’ve got Governor Bobby Jindal from Louisiana who’s on that list; Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota; and Rob Portman, the senator from Ohio.
MR. BROOKS: Not since Justin Bieber dived alone, has there ever been such excitement. But, you know, I’d go for gravitas. I personally think Portman is the right pick. Look, something is going to happen in the world.
MR. BROOKS: The-- the big political event that happened in last week was the Spanish bonds went crazy. That means the European crisis is more likely. The Iranian crisis has to be gotten more likely as Israel’s patience has begun to wear thin. So two big things are possible over the next 107 days. So you want a vice presidential candidate who seems up to that. So I’d go for the boring, brave guy.
GREGORY: Interesting on that-- that list. You all can weigh in on whatever, but the other thing that we’re talking about too as a turning point is going to be the conventions. Bob, a lot of people watching. It is an opportunity not just for the candidate to make a big speech but to also have some high-profile speakers there that can try to reinforce a message.
MR. SHRUM: Yeah, it’s also an opportunity to get in deep trouble by having some high-profile speakers who do real damage.
MR. SHRUM: I mean, the first George Bush had real damage done to him by Pat Buchanan at the 1992 Republican convention. Al Gore in his acceptance speech in 2000 actually gained about 13 to 15 points. It doesn’t happen very often, but those speeches can be defining. As can these, by the way, these vice presidential picks. And I agree with David, I’d-- I’d go with Portman for one simple reason, he’s serious, he’s not a gimmick. He might help in Ohio. Everybody says it doesn’t matter…
MR. SHRUM: …the vice president doesn’t matter unless it does damage. Some year that’s not going to be true and he might help in Ohio. And, by the way, Joe Biden, I think, helped a lot in Pennsylvania and Florida in 2008.
MR. SCHMIDT: Well, I-- I think there’s a very small list of Republicans out there who pass the threshold issue, the gravitas that they’re ready to be president of the United States on day one, god forbid something should happen to President Romney.
MR. SCHMIDT: And Pawlenty and Portman and Jindal are all people on that small list.
GREGORY: It’s also about risk threshold as you say…
MR. SCHMIDT: Right.
GREGORY: …that depends on what your standing is in the campaign.
MR. SCHMIDT: Well, that’s right. I think that in 2008, for example, we were willing to take high risk because the political situation was very bad. Four years later, very different political situation. I think it’s going to be a very low-risk decision.
GREGORY: You know, when we talk about turning points, Michelle Rhee, we also talk a little bit looking a bit ahead here to the presidential debates, they really do matter because you get to a point, especially in a deadlocked race, where Americans are really tuned in and they’re watching these two interact with each. It’s not all the outside money and the ads. They are going to be forced to engage on policies, on direction, on vision, the things that you’re trying to be focused on and what you’d like to see the campaign focused on. That could be a big moment.
MS. RHEE: Yeah. And we’re, quite frankly, hoping that there is more of a focus this time on education and education issues. Second to jobs, it is really a top of mind for Americans and the vast majority of Americans know that the public education system is broken and want to know what these two candidates think about how we’re going to fix this, what the solutions are.
GREGORY: Is it too forward-looking a problem to be focused on? Is that the issue that either of…
MS. RHEE: Well, David…
MR. BROOKS: I-- I-- I disagree. Michelle is a big hero of mine. But I-- I would say please keep education out of the campaign.
MR. BROOKS: The campaigns kill subtlety. And Barack Obama has a very brave education policy right now. If he had to campaign on that in the middle of the campaign with the NEA, he would not have run on that campaign. So campaigns polarize and simplify.
MS. RHEE: But that’s-- that-- that’s sort of saying, you know, as a Democrat because he’s going to take bold stands on education, we sort of have to hide that or else the-- the teacher unions are going to go nuts. To me that-- that-- that’s sort of not-- not the best argument. I mean, we have to be focused on what the-- what the American people want to know and hear about. And what-- what their everyday reality is is they need to send their kids to school every day knowing that they’re going to get a great education so they can compete in the global marketplace.
GREGORY: Can I-- I’ve got a minute left. Can I end on something that I just read about this morning and that is the statue at Joe Paterno at Penn State is going to be taken down.
MS. RHEE: Yeah.
GREGORY: How do you react to that?
MR. SCHMIDT: My-- my firm is involved in Penn State and I should disclose that, but, you know, I think it’s an appropriate decision for the-- for the school to have made. And, obviously, it’s-- it’s a very sad chapter. And it’s a profound moral failing.
MR. BROOKS: Yeah.
GREGORY: Mm-Hm. (Unintelligible)…
MR. SHRUM: We-- we shouldn’t put up statues of living people. You’re going to make yourself a hostage to fortune. And that’s what’s happened here. He became a symbol of Penn State. On the basis of what we now know, no, I think they have to take the statue down.
MR. BROOKS: Right. We-- we put up statues of people we admire…
MR. SHRUM: Yeah.
MR. BROOKS: …and it’s hard to admire him right now.
GREGORY: Interesting, interesting. How does-- how does a community, an educational community rebound from something like that, Michelle?
MS. RHEE: Well, I think that, again, what we have to do is focus just on-- on the kids and what is in the best interest of the kids and that has to be the driving force of every institution. Every administration is not about, you know, the-- the-- the institution itself.
GREGORY: That was the big failing.
MS. RHEE: Yeah.
GREGORY: I don’t think anybody disagrees with that. Michelle, all of you, thank you very much…
MR. SHRUM: Thank you.
GREGORY: …for an interesting discussion. Before we go, a quick programming note--you can watch PRESS Pass, my conversation online. And this week it's with former state department official Anne-Marie Slaughter, also at Princeton University she sparked quite a debate this summer. The people are still talking and reading about, writing a piece entitled "Why Women Still Can’t Have It All." That’s on the Atlantic website. There’s a link to it on our website as well, meetthepressnbc.com to watch the PRESS Pass conversation. That is all for today. We’re going to be away for two weeks during NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, which we hope you enjoy. But we’re going to return on August 12th with full coverage of the campaign as we gear up for the conventions. It’s going to be a big campaign.
If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.