MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, is Syria a game changer for President Obama as the security threats mount on his watch?
A new chapter in Syria’s brutal civil war. The administration says the Assad regime appears to have used chemical weapons.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: To use potential weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations crosses another line with respect to international norms and international law, and that is going to be a game changer.
GREGORY: If confirmed, what is the president prepared to do? Are there any good options? How should the lessons of Iraq weigh on the Obama team’s thinking?
With us this morning, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Arizona Republican John McCain.
Then, the terror debate after Boston. Should more have been done to track the suspects when red flags were raised? A debate between Republican Congressman Peter King of the Intelligence and Homeland Security Committee’s and Democratic Congressman of Minnesota Keith Ellison.
Also, this morning, perspective on the threats testing the president from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
And our roundtable this morning includes Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar as the group reflects on the Bush Library Dedication this week and reacts to the president’s big Saturday night with Washington journalists.
ANNOUNCER: From NBC News in Washington, the world’s longest running television program, this is MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
GREGORY: And good Sunday morning. Washington is a little bleary-eyed this morning after what’s come to be known as nerd prom in our nation’s capital where politicians, celebrities, journalists, all mingle for a night of some bipartisan fun, the president finding way to poke fun at Washington’s disarray.
(Videotape, Last Night)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I know Republicans are still sorting out what happened in 2012, but one thing they all agree on is they need to do a better job reaching out to minorities. And-- and look, call me self-centered, but I can think of one minority they could start with. Hello.
GREGORY: We’re going to have some highlights and reaction from last night, but we want to start with the very serious topic of Syria this morning. The looming threat after this week’s revelation about the possible use of chemical weapons, and for that we turn to Senator John McCain of Arizona who is in Arizona this morning. Senator, welcome.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ/Foreign Relations Committee/Armed Services Committee): Thank you, David.
GREGORY: As you know the White House said this week after this intelligence estimate came out about the use of chemical weapons that the case that Syria actually did that is not airtight. What do you say?
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, it may not be airtight. The Israelis and the British are far more affirmative in their assessment of it. But, David, we should not be-- our actions should not be dictated on-- by whether Bashar Assad used these chemical weapons or not. First of all, sooner or later, he most likely would in order to-- to maintain his hold on power. But what has happened here is the president drew red lines about chemical weapons thereby giving a green light to Bashar Assad to do anything short of that including scud missiles and helicopter gun ships and air strikes and mass executions and atrocities that are on a scale that we have not seen in a long, long time.
GREGORY: So the president says that this is a red line if confirmed, and he said back in-- in August, “It would change my calculus. It would change my aquation-- equation, rather.” What would you have him do at this point?
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, for about two years as this situation has deteriorated in a very alarming fashion, affected the surrounding countries, destabilized Lebanon, destabilized Jordan, and has had implications and repercussions throughout the region, we have said that they need a no-fly zone which could be obtained without using U.S. manned aircraft. We could use patriot missiles-- patriot batteries and cruise missiles to take out their air and to supply the resistance with weapons. And, as you know, a flood of weapons is coming in from Russia and Iran. Iranians are on the ground in Syria, and it’s an unfair fight. And unless we change this balance of power by not using incrementalism, then there’s every risk of a stalemate that could go on for months and months while the jihadists flood in, while the sorting out the situation after he leaves becomes more and more complicated, and there’s also the possibility that he could enact a plan B which is to withdraw to the coast (Unintelligible) areas with a-- an enclave that stretches from the Golan Heights all throughout…
SEN. MCCAIN: … along the coast, and could be another long period of conflict.
GREGORY: But, Senator, as we-- the Bush library was dedicated this week, again the specter of Iraq and the legacy of Iraq was debated in this country. Are we not more skeptical about talk of more limited military action, no-fly zones, incrementalism, as you say, as well as the strength of the opposition? Aren’t there lessons from Iraq that need to be taken into mind here?
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, one of the lessons obviously, and we hear this a lot from the administration, is that we had false information about weapons of mass destruction with Iraq. In this case, there is significant evidence that the-- physical evidence of the use of chemical weapons. And by the way, the-- the administration has said, well, they want the U.N. to investigate. The only problem with that is Bashar wouldn’t let the U.N. in so it’s a-- a bit ludicrous. So I-- I-- the fact is that whether he has used those chemical weapons or not, he’s done virtually everything else that you-- atrocity that you can commit, and that should not be the gauge. But is-- would anyone be surprised if Bashar Assad did use chemical weapons in his desperation to hang on to power?
GREGORY: So what is the limit of what the United States, in your judgment, should do to put a limit on him?
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, as I said, a safe zone of arming the rebels, making sure that we help with the refugees and an international-- be prepared with an international force to go in and secure these stocks of chemical and perhaps biological weapons. There-- there are a number of caches of these chemical weapons. They cannot fall into the hands of the jihadists, otherwise we will end up seeing those weapons used in other places in the Middle East. It’s a very dangerous situation.
GREGORY: And U.S. troops should be part of that force?
SEN. MCCAIN: I don’t know. I think that, first of all, American people are weary, as you pointed out. They don’t want troops on the-- boots on the ground. I don’t want boots on the ground. I do want to give them the assistance which would give them a dramatic shift in the balance of power in Syria, but we have to, as an international group, plan and be ready operationally, not just plan but be ready operationally to go in and secure those areas. Now, if you could do it-- whatever the composition of that force is, is something I think we have to look at very carefully. But the worst thing the American-- the United States could do right now is put boots on the ground in Syria. That would-- that would turn the people against us. And just let me say the Syrian people are angry and bitter at the United States. I was in a refugee camp in Jordan, and there are thousands of people and kids, and this woman who’s a schoolteacher said, Senator McCain, you see these children here, they’re going to take revenge on those people who refuse to help them. They’re angry and bitter. And that legacy could last for a long time, too, unless we assist them.
GREGORY: Let me turn you quickly just to a couple of domestic items. This funding they came up at the week over the FAA and flight delays and new legislation to basically provide the administration with more flexibility to get the planes running on time again. What would you be prepared to do to replace the sequester or the most harmful effects of the sequester? Is that a model for what Washington ought to be doing about it?
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, I say with all due respect to my friends, it’s a little bit hypocritical on the same day when all of the focus was on the delays that we have in getting through airports. The Chief of Staff of the United States Army was saying that we are going to have-- if we don’t reverse this, we’re going to have a hollow army. We’ll be unable to defend the nation and it would take us 10 or 15 years to recover. I think we have our priorities a little bit skewed here. Look, I’m-- I’m forgiving the FAA flexibility, but I also want to give the military flexibility and I don’t want the sequestration cuts to be as steep as they are in-- on national defense. We’ve got a lot of savings we can make in national security, but right now we-- in the words of the Secretary of Defense and our uniformed service chiefs, we’re putting the security of this nation at risk.
GREGORY: I want to end on politics. You had your old friend and former colleague in the Senate, the Vice President Joe Biden, offering some political analysis about the 2008 race. Here’s part of what he said.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN (Sedona, AZ): And the truth of the matter is, Barack knows I know, had the economy not collapsed around your ears, John, in the middle of, literally, just as you were-- as things were moving, you at least would have-- I think you probably would have won, but you-- it would have been incredibly, incredibly, incredibly closer. You inherited a really difficult time.
GREGORY: If not for the economy, you would have been president, is that how you see it?
SEN. MCCAIN: No. Look, Joe Biden and I are very close friends, and I think it would have been a much closer race, but, I’ll tell you, he has-- President Obama ran a great race, and that-- campaigns matters. I appreciate the fact that my dear friend would say something like that, but I know that-- I doubt if the outcome would have been a lot different, but I can always hope it might have been.
GREGORY: All right. Senator, we’ll leave it there. More to come on the Syria debate. We appreciate you coming on this morning.
SEN. MCCAIN: Thank you.
GREGORY: All right. Turning now to Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, and Republican Congressman Peter King of New York. Gentlemen, welcome to you.
REP. KEITH ELLISON (D-MN): Thank you.
GREGORY: I want to talk about the aftermath of the Boston bombings and the-- the surveillance work, the role of the FBI. But, first, let me get your comments, Congressman, on this prospect of a huge national security test now for President Obama. How do you see it?
REP. ELLISON: Well, you know, first of all, this action is the most despicable thing. You know, Americans have to rally together to stamp out terrorist acts like this. I’m proud of the law enforcement, proud of the first responders. But what I think we need to do is to really, really back law enforcement to make sure that we fully investigate this case and we don’t need to start identifying communities to surveil or to go after. We need to come together as a-- as a nation.
GREGORY: Let me get your comment before we get to that on Syria, what I was just discussing with Senator McCain.
REP. ELLISON: Yeah.
GREGORY: This is a huge test as well as the Boston bombings aftermath, but also the Syria being a huge test for President Obama. What-- what concerns you about what we’ve seen out of potential use of chemical weapons?
REP. ELLISON: Well, I’m absolutely concerned about that, but I believe the United States could play a greater role in dealing with the humanitarian crisis. There’s a-- there’s a very, very difficult humanitarian crisis as Senator McCain pointed out. I mean, we have spillage and refugees in Jordan, in Lebanon, in-- and currently displaced people in Syria. The suffering is intense. And I don’t think the world’s greatest superpower, the United States, can stand by and not do anything. Now we have done some things and the president deserves a lot of credit for that, but I think there’s perhaps a little bit more we could do on the humanitarian front.
GREGORY: We’re talking about a red line being crossed, Congressman, and whether the United States has any military options to back up what the president said, which is that you don’t cross it or there will be severe consequences.
REP. PETER KING (R-NY, Intelligence Committee): Yeah. Listen, the situation here is complex. My concern is al Qaeda has more influence than it should among the rebels and that if we assist the rebels, al Qaeda could take advantage of that. Having said that, the president did say that there’s a red line and once the United States lays out a red line, some action has to be taken. Now what that’s going to be, I was at the briefing with Senator Kerry the other day. He really didn’t lay that out. And I think the administration is right now trying to figure out what to do. I’m not trying to minimize it, but once he laid out the red line, something is going to have to be done.
GREGORY: Something militarily.
REP. KING: Well, either that or concerted action with allies, again…
GREGORY: But do somebody else besides the U.S. have to take the lead here? Is that where we are politically?
REP. KING: I think it makes it a lot better…
REP. KING: …if somebody else-- But again, I’m still concerned about who is going to take over the rebels. And we I think allowed this to go on too long where we didn’t have enough influence on the ground in dealing with the rebel forces.
REP. ELLISON: Well, red line does not mean boots on the ground, but there’s a lot of things we can do other than that. We have been providing nonlethal military aid. But I think more coordination and dealing with this humanitarian crisis I think is essential.
GREGORY: Let me turn to the aftermath of the Boston bombings where the focus has been this week is on the now dead older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who had trips back to the Chechnya region of the northern caucuses, was interviewed by the FBI as people will remember but then seemed to fall off the radar a little bit. Congressman, where are you critical of intelligence and the FBI’s role in this?
REP. KING: I think the FBI has done an outstanding job in solving this in those four-day-- four-day period. Having said that, I don’t think they did a full investigation beforehand. The fact is there were other items in his folder, in his file that they found. And I think they continued to give the benefit of the doubt in each instance and, therefore, just closed out that investigation. For instance, they never went to his mosque, never spoke to the imam, never spoke to a number of his relatives and, also, there were certain matters in his file that they chose to look the other way on or said there was nothing there.
GREGORY: What did they look the other way on?
REP. KING: His-- his name came up in several other instances and they said there was nothing there. I'm saying, if you have three independent references to someone possibly having terrorist connections, when do you stop saying it’s just a coincidence?
GREGORY: Well, there are reports now about his mother talking to him on the telephone that she was on a monitor list as well and that they may have been discussing potential jihad. Was the ball dropped here?
REP. ELLISON: Well, I mean, I don’t want to start assigning blame. I mean, every single day, the FBI, law enforcement protects this country. These terrorists, they just-- just got to get through once. And-- and-- and so, I mean, the fact is on an everyday basis, I feel really good about our nation’s law enforcement. But the fact is there will come a time when we can look back and see what lessons should be learned, what should we have done differently, and that’s a good, healthy process…
GREGORY: Well, let’s talk about the surveillance within the-- the Muslim community. I mean, that’s partly what you were talking about this week, Congressman King. You said this in the National Review and this is how they reported it, according to you, “Police have to be in the community, they have to build up as many sources as they can and they have to realize that the threat is coming from the Muslim community and increased surveillance there. We can’t be bound by political correctness.”
REP. KING: Absolutely. I know-- well, the NYPD in New-- is doing in New York with a thousand police officers focusing on this issue, knowing where the threat is coming from. Now most Muslims are outstanding people but the threat is coming from the Muslim community. Just yesterday Tom Friedman who is certainly no conservative, said “We must ask the question only Muslims can answer. What is going on in your community that a critical number of your youth believes that every American military action in the-- in the Middle East justifies a violent response?” It’s coming from the community. And when-- in previous times when certain elements in the community are the ones responsible for crime, the police focused on it. For instance in Boston, the FBI never spoke to the Boston police about the older brother. And afterwards there was-- basically, no intelligence files in Boston on these types of people-- these people inclined to terrorism. The FBI never even got to examining them.
GREGORY: Congressman, you’re a Muslim. This concerns you on civil libertarian grounds and other areas.
REP. ELLISON: Well, I’m an American, and I’m concerned about national safety, public safety, just like everyone is. But I think it’s ineffective law enforcement to go after a particular community. I think what we need to do is look at behavior and follow those leads where they would lead. So, like if-- if Tamerlan Tsarnaev is-- is evidencing dangerous behavior, by all means, go after him. But once you start saying we’re going to dragnet or surveil a community, what you do is you ignore dangerous threats that are not in that community and you go after people who don’t have anything to do with it. And so let me just finish up with this one point.
REP. KING: Sure.
REP. ELLISON: And-- and-- and so this-- this ricin attack, for example, that’s an act-- that’s an act of terrorism, that doesn’t come out of the Muslim community. We cannot-- we don’t have enough law enforcement resources to just go after one community and, remember, we went after a community in World War II. And the Japanese interment is a-- is a national stain on our-- on our country, and we are still apologizing for it. So…
REP. KING: No one is talking about interment. We’re talking about following the constitution. What the NYPD is doing-- yeah, they have thousand cops working on counterterrorism, 16 plots against New York have been stopped. If any of those had gone through, we’re going to have hundreds or thousands of people dead.
GREGORY: But where does political correctness get in a way with regard to surveilling potential terrorists in the Muslim community?
REP. KING: Why didn’t the FBI talk to the mosque, why didn’t they talk to the imam? I mean mosque, it’s-- it’s become more…
GREGORY: He’s an-- he was an illegal, permanent resident. Does that have something to do with in terms of what the-- what the FBI is capable of doing with Americans?
REP. KING: No. To be an American citizen, the FBI still has the right to ask questions about you. Just because you’re a citizen doesn’t mean they can’t ask questions.
GREGORY: But the question is based on what, based on the exercise of free-- free speech or actual evidence of them plotting?
REP. KING: I-- I think they’re afraid to somehow be called anti-Muslim or anti-Islam if they accept the reality that the element is coming from within the Muslim community. As in previous times, you had elements coming from certain communities. You know, Eric Holder said this keeps him awake at night…
REP. KING: …radical Islam among young people in the Muslim community. Tom-- Dennis McDonough said the same thing in 2011 when he went to a mosque in Virginia to say about the threats that have come to the Muslim community. It’s there.
GREGORY: Congressman, let me ask you. Jeff Goldberg, who-- who is-- The Atlantic journalist who has extensive reporting experience in the Middle East, said this on the program last week something that-- that the Muslim community and-- and other countries have to deal with. This is a portion of what he said.
(Videotape; Last Sunday)
MR. JEFFREY GOLDBERG (Columnist, Bloomberg View/Writer, The Atlantic): When you talk about what’s going on in the Muslim world, and we have to remember, of course, that the primary victims of Jihadism are-- are other Muslims, Muslims who don’t agree with-- with the more Jihadist elements, and so we have to ask ourselves and Muslim world has to ask ourselves-- ask themselves, you know, what are we doing to provide counter programming even on the internet? And-- and this is not something that the U.S. can fix or the-- the West can fix. It has to come from within Islam.
REP. ELLISON: Let me assure you, Muslim leaders all across this country have roundly condemned this most recent act of terrorism and have condemned terrorism broadly and are in a-- in a number of ways in doing inter-- interfaith dialogue talking about emphasizing peace and connectedness with people, good works in-- within the community. I mean, the-- the reality is that this is going on and has been and it needs to continue to go on. But, I mean, that’s kind of the-- the-- the thing that I’m saying is that, you know, the-- the-- the community is facing this threat, but this is an American problem. There have been threats throughout this community-- this country, by-- from various sources. But, you know, the-- and Muslims and people across this nation need to think about public safety and threats and radicalism, not just-- not just one community.
GREGORY: Just a few seconds left, Congressman King. Remaining questions now, what are you really focused on that you’d like the intelligence community and the FBI to answer?
REP. KING: I think it’s important to know are there other people involved in this threat? Are there others that are still out there?
REP. ELLISON: Yeah.
REP. KING: Are there family members or people in-- in the community? That’s very important to find out. Also, what did cause them to radicalize? Was it done here? Was it done overseas? Was it done over the internet? What caused that to happen? How can we stop it in the future? Also ask why the FBI is not cooperating more with the law enforcement? Why they did not give vital evidence to the NYPD about another possible attack.
GREGORY: This is that you think a failure that needs to be learned from?
REP. KING: Absolutely. Absolute failure.
GREGORY: All right. Congressman-- congressmen, thank you both very much…
REP. ELLISON: Thank you very much, David.
GREGORY: …for being with us this morning.
REP. ELLISON: Thank you, Peter.
GREGORY: And we’ll continue.
REP. KING: Thank you.
GREGORY: And coming up here politics and presidential legacies just as all five living presidents gathered in Dallas this week for the dedication of the Bush Presidential Library, the current President faces a critical juncture as he looks at his own legacy as we approach the hundred-day mark of his second term. How is the team and the Obama agenda faring on issues like guns, immigration, national security and the economy? Political roundtable is here, as well as Tony Blair. Coming up after this break.
GREGORY: It was a big night in Washington last night as journalists, celebrities, and politicians alike gathered for the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. The night was full of laughs. And here were a couple of our favorites.
(Videotape, Last Night)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: One senator who has reached across the aisle recently is Marco Rubio. But I don’t know about 2016. I mean, the guy has not even finished a single term in the Senate and he thinks he’s ready to be president. Kids these days.
MR. CONAN O'BRIEN: Also, I’d like to acknowledge that earlier this evening there was some confusion with the seating chart. For a moment, some-- someone accidentally sat Governor Chris Christie with the Republicans. That was awkward and I apologize.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I, on the other hand, have run my last campaign. On Thursday, as Ed mentioned, I went to the opening of the Bush Presidential Library in Dallas. It was a wonderful event. And that inspired me to get started on my own legacy, which will actually begin by building another edifice right next to the Bush Library. Can we show that, please?
GREGORY: And coming up, more from the dinner last night as well as my conversation with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. But first our roundtable is here after this short commercial break.
(Videotape, Last Night)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My charm offensive has helped me learn some interesting things about what's going on in Congress. It turns out absolutely nothing. Some folks still don’t-- don’t think I spend enough time with Congress. Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell, they ask? Really? Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?
GREGORY: Why-- Mitch McConnell jokes, only really funny in Washington. We are back with our roundtable, joining me Former Counselor to President George W. Bush and former Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Karen Hughes…
MS. KAREN HUGHES (Former Counselor to President George W. Bush/Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, 2005-2007): I’d love to have a drink with Mitch McConnell.
GREGORY: …Yeah. I know. I too, yeah. Democratic Congressman from Texas, Joaquin Castro; our political director and chief White House correspondent, Chuck Todd; Republican Strategist, Mike Murphy, and Democratic Senator from Minnesota--huge Minnesota day on the program--Amy Klobuchar. Senator-- welcome to all of you. How did the president do last night?
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN/Judiciary Committee): Well, I think he was incredible. You know, he likes to do these things. It’s fun. And I really look at this dinner as a chance for him to make fun of himself for-- in a town where there’s daggers on every corner for people to come together and have some fun. And he was-- he was tremendous. My favorite line was actually when he talked about now he wanted to have his presidential library and he wanted to have it in his birthplace, but he decided he better move it into his country.
GREGORY: Right. Here, and though, I mean, there-- these are grea-- these are actual opportunities for presidents and presidents, I think back to President Bush, usually do very well at these things, plus they can take on stuff that they’re actually legitimately mad about with some humor.
MS. HUGHES: With-- with a sense of humor. And…
MS. HUGHES: …humor and humility are in short supply…
MS. HUGHES: …in Washington.
GREGORY: Right. Exactly.
MS. HUGHES: So it’s always nice to see in abundance of those. And I thought the president’s remarks were funny last night.
GREGORY: Chuck, what did we-- what-- what-- what were his favorite targets? I-- I must say we played it at the top, the bit about if you want minority outreach, why don’t you start with this minority.
MR. CHUCK TODD (Political Director, NBC News): Yeah.
GREGORY: That was very good.
MR. TODD: By the way, is it contractually-- are we okay to praise Conan? Is that okay now…
MR. TODD: He was really funny, too.
GREGORY: I thought so. Yeah.
MR. TODD: But, no, I thought the-- you know, what-- what I wonder how many people realized at the end when he did his-- you know, there’s always this part at the end where they get serious for a minute, and it’s usually the part where president say, you know, I think the press has a good job to do and I understand what they have to do. He didn’t say that. He wasn’t very complimentary of the press. You know, we all can do better. He was-- it did seem-- I thought his pot shots joke wise and then the serious stuff about the internet, the rise of the internet media and social media…
MR. TODD: …and all that stuff. He hates it. Okay. He hates this part of the media. He really thinks that the sort of the buzzification, this isn’t just about BuzzFeed or Politico, and all the stuff, but he thinks that sort of coverage of political media has hurt political discourse. He hates it. And I think he was just trying to make that clear last night.
GREGORY: Senator, you know, we-- we’re also at a point, though, where some of these other big matters are-- are usually right-- right under the surface like Syria. You heard Senator McCain talking about his own call for action to do more after he thinks the administration has been late here getting into Syria after a couple of years. How did you react to that? What do you think the president’s next moves have to be?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Well, I’m much more focused on the future as Senator Gillibrand and Senator Graham…
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: …and I just came back from Jordan and Turkey and we met with the refugees, we met with the rebels. And I’m convinced that, first of all, the president knows that we can’t do this alone. He’s been good at reaching out to leaders. Just met with King Abdullah that we don’t want to put boots on the ground. Senator McCain made that very clear. But we need to up our game. We need to up our game with where the aid goes. We’ve learned that too much of it is going to Assad-controlled regions. That we have to make sure that we’re starting to do more with night goggles, armor, all kinds of things, and that we have to keep these possibilities that Senator McCain raised clearly on the front burner with the no-fly zone, with-- with the arming the rebels, but we cannot do this alone. And it is an incredible scene there what’s happening in Jordan…
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: …twenty-five hundred refugees a day coming in.
GREGORY: The-- what the interesting thing, Mike Murphy, as-- as a political matter…
MR. MURPHY: Mm-Hm.
GREGORY: …this is something that’s going to divide Democrats, but Republicans, too. And that’s one of the things that Senator…
MR. MIKE MURPHY (Republican Strategist): Mm-Hm.
GREGORY: …McCain has been speaking to.
MR. MURPHY: Yeah. No, it’s a complicated situation with a-- a lot of difficult politics around it. I’ve been kind of enjoying at least as an observer of Washington the red line because the red line has turned into about a mile wide. We’re now, maybe, in the middle of the red line or we’re across the red line, but it’s a problem for president. When you draw a red line, the world is watching, including the Iranians. The political problem is the country has total fatigue for this kind of thing and there’s a military problem. This is a lot easier to get into than get out of. Because, you know, what are the minimal things you try if they don’t work, does it lead to natural escalation? So, I think the Turks are going to be the key. You would need a big partner to really do it. And there’s no way we can do it alone.
GREGORY: Congressman, let me get you on the record on this. What are you thinking about?
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): Well, I think, first, you know, the revolution of the rebellion has to be accepted by the people of Syria. It becomes a lot less effective in the long term, the more it’s driven by the United States of America. However much we may or may not want to get into it. It’s also clear that we have got to be careful in accepting the intelligence that we’re getting. We know from the past that we were a bit eager in other wars to get into, specifically Iraq. So we have got to make sure that once we’re going to get involved in that kind of serious way that our intelligence is right and that we have evidence to back it up.
MS. HUGHES: But I’m concerned the window of opportunity is closing. The people of Syria feel we have let them down. We are the world’s champion of freedom. They are fighting for their freedom, tens of thousands of them are being killed and they’re waiting for our help. And I think we have an obligation. No one is for boots on the ground. But we have an obligation to lead the world and try to intervene in a smart way through arming, you know, the-- the opposition that is not affiliated with al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is only strengthening and the situation is getting worse by the day. I’m concerned the window is closing.
GREGORY: And, Chuck, we’re going to own the problem one way or the other?
MR. TODD: Well, either way and that is-- that is the-- the concern, but I can tell you that there is regret about that red line comment because if you…
GREGORY: In the White House?
MR. TODD: ...in-- in the White House in this respect, you don’t draw, I mean, they meant it, they do mean it on the chemical weapons, but saying it creates this political conversation. They didn’t want to go public last week that they had this-- that-- that this early evidence yet. They weren’t ready. And yet they knew Congress was going to get this briefing and that it-- it was all going to get out, so they decided to go public with it last week because they felt they had no choice. And it was all going to start leaking out, yeah, the Israeli have (Unintelligible) intelligence, but they are not ready. There is no good answer, the Gulf states and-- and the big difference between here and Libya, by the way, is in Libya you had the Arab community, you had the Arab League on the record saying…
MR. TODD: …we got to stop this. The Arab League has been quiet on this and I think the United States would like to see that first before we jump.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: The other…
MR. MURPHY: We all-- go-- go ahead, Senator.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: The other difference with Libya is the no-fly zone. Libya didn’t have the capacity to hit back, Assad does. So when we do this, if we do this, we have to deal with other countries and we have to get the support from the region.
MR. MURPHY: But the problem is we always work the political stuff here, so we find a solution we can believe in. The question is, is that a solution linked to reality on the ground? We always look for the good guy rebels because we know the dictator is a jerk.
MR. MURPHY: But good guy rebels could be hard to find here, say al Qaeda, Sharia law crowd that’s leading this fight.
GREGORY: Congressman, I’ve been thinking about what is the relationship between the Syria problem and how much time and energy that could occupy in-- in this White House? The president is focused on-- on his legacy he’s building in his second term and-- and immigration and then, of course, there is the economy and whether there is ever going to be a budget deal, so this debate about sequestration. So I look at those three areas and how they all come together.
REP. CASTRO: Yeah.
GREGORY: What is going to define this president’s second term?
REP. CASTRO: Well, I mean, I think there’s no question, David, that it’s-- it’s a full schedule, both foreign issues and domestic issues that the president is dealing with. He just got into his second term, though. So, he is not quite leaving yet. And I think he’s up-- he’s up to the task and the Congress is up to the task of dealing with these issues. I think that, you know, you’re going to see the president take some time to make sure the facts are right on Syria. When he makes a decision, he’ll act swiftly. I think the Congress is going to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2013. I think they’ll bring the gun vote back. If not in 2013, then after the Republican primary before the general election in 2014 to put some pressure on those folks to vote a different way. So, I think on-- on all of these fronts, President Obama will leave his mark on some very big issues in our nation.
GREGORY: But, you know, Karen, you saw this firsthand. I mean, with President Bush coming in-- in a second term and-- and not succeeding on Social Security, the Iraq war, you know, using so much of his capital and there goes immigration and all the rest. I mean, he’s got-- the president has to coalesce around something that will define the second term rather soon.
MS. HUGHES: Well, the clock is ticking. And right now President Obama’s presidency is defined by two things, a health care law that’s proving more difficult to implement and-- and more costly than projected and massive build ups of debt and federal spending. And that is his legacy at this point. I do agree that immigration reform has a good chance of passing. I thought he was very shrewd to bring it up in the context of President George W. Bush’s Library opening and-- and to say that President Bush had it right on the immigration issue. But, you know, no day in the presidency is an easy day with…
MS. HUGHES: …with only one set of decisions. You have a lot of big things happening across the world and a lot of big troubling issues to-- to deal with.
GREGORY: Chuck, you wrote about this legacy issue for the president first read this week?
MR. TODD: Yeah, I know, it is. And Karen, I’m curious if you were to-- to sit down with President Obama, how long would you tell him that he had for a legislative agenda in a second term, how long did you…
MS. HUGHES: Probably a year.
MR. TODD: Yeah.
MS. HUGHES: Probably a year.
MR. TODD: That you have one year and I think that-- that’s what they’re operating on…
MR. TODD: …and-- and I think that the gun thing, you know, they-- they always knew they were going to lose it, just didn’t know they were going to lose so quickly. It does put more pressure on immigration to make sure it gets done and there would be this concern. And I think everybody, you know, there was this-- well, it was basically the New York Times, right? There’s New York Times, both Maureen Dowd and-- and others who just said, oh, wow, he’s losing his ability to get things done. The gun vote was just-- such a way to-- to show how he doesn’t know how to manage Washington, this town. And I think the gun vote was the wrong issue to pick on him on that. There-- there is other evidence that he struggles managing Washington. The gun vote was a different-- a different story. Immigration is going to be the real test.
GREGORY: Senator, how-- what is your counsel at this point? I know you were among the women from the Senate who met with him. There is a lot of outreach because one of the complaints on Capitol Hill is the president is not working, even his people enough to get some of the things he wants in an agenda.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Well, now that he’s put a Minnesotan in his chief of staff, Denis McDonough, always crazy. And I really think…
REP. CASTRO: Good grief, is there any other states?
GREGORY: You’re right.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: I-- I think that his outreach has been really good this year. People have genuinely liked meeting with him and believe that he wants to move forward on a debt deal to bring the debt down in a balanced way. I think that’s got to be part of his legacy as well to try to bring people together on that. The immigration bill, I-- it was an incredible week for the immigration bill. We started the week with people saying oh, we have to delay this because of Boston…
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: …and then you had people Like Speaker Boehner and Ryan come out and say you know what, this means we have to speed this up because there’s better security provisions in here. So I think it’s exciting. We had 23 witnesses on the judiciary committee and everyone from the head of the migrant workers to Grover Norquist supporting it.
GREGORY: All right. I want to come back to this issue of, well, it’s the-- President Bush’s legacy but the security threats facing President Obama as well. Earlier in the week, I was in Dallas covering the dedication of the Bush Presidential Library and I had a chance to catch up exclusively with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to talk about his thoughts on the Middle East, the Bush legacy and some of the big foreign policy tests now facing President Obama.
GREGORY: You are in this-- this pivot point politically of being so closely associated with President Clinton politically, the new Labor Party, at a time when he was refashioning the Democratic Party. And yet your legacy will forever also be entwined with President Bush and his response to the war on terror. It’s a-- it’s a very interesting place in political history.
MR. TONY BLAIR (British Prime Minister, 1997-2007): You know, there-- there was a British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, the-- when he was once asked what-- what is the toughest thing about being prime minister, he said events, dear boy, events. And what happens is that something comes of a, you know, game-changing nature, world-changing nature like 9/11 and everything changes. So I-- I was very closely associated with President Clinton, still have a good and strong relationship with him because we are both progressive politicians of a centrist persuasion. When President Bush first came in, I mean, frankly, in-- in basic political terms, I really didn’t have a lot in common. After 9/11 though, I thought it was really important our two countries stood together and I thought it was important that we took on this-- this-- this new menace with-- with-- with strength.
GREGORY: It was Churchill who said during World War II always stay close to the Americans. And there was a moment in the Bush presidency before the invasion, just weeks before at that now infamous meeting in the Azores. And I’m told President Bush said to you at a very delicate time for you politically back home, called you Tony, presumably, said, back out if you need to, don’t do this, don’t stand by me when you have to go back and address parliament if it’s going to cost you your leadership. Tell me about that moment.
MR. BLAIR: He did say that. I mean, he-- he made it clear that, you know, he understood the-- the huge political difficulties I had and that-- that I shouldn’t, as it were, put my own premiership on the line. It was more important in-- in a way, to him, I think, that I stayed. But my attitude was that, you know, there are lots of things in politics where-- where you-- you’ll compromise and you’ll maybe back off exactly what you think you should do and, you know, these are often the run of the mill everyday types of issues. When it comes to issues of war and peace and-- and life and death, I think your-- your-- I came to the conclusion your proper obligation to your own country is to do what you think is right. And I thought it was right to be with the U.S. at that moment in time and, you know, if I ended up losing my premiership, that-- that was that but I didn’t want to-- to stay on a basis I wasn’t on this issue of this importance of this and decisiveness for the world. I-- I didn’t want to stay in this. I was going to be able to do what I thought was right and I-- I thought that, you know, the world had changed after 9/11 and-- and that we had to take these decisions together.
GREGORY: In this library, the president has decided not to separate Iraq-- out Iraq. Iraq is presented as part and parcel of the war on terrorism, which is how he saw it. But won’t history judge that as a false impression that this was a war of choice that became a misadventure in the eyes of so many?
MR. BLAIR: I think, you know, the controversy around that, I mean, around how you categorize it, will remain. But what I found was that, you see, removing Saddam happened within a matter of weeks. You then spent the next, you know, eight-- nine years in a different type of battle and that was a battle against precisely the forces that are trying to destabilize the Middle East today…
MR. BLAIR: …al Qaeda on the one side, Iran on the other side, and this toxic cocktail, if you like, of religion, politics, ethnicity, tribalism. So, I mean, I never said the two things were linked in that direct sense, 9/11 and Iraq, I think the difficulties we ended up encountering in Iraq were difficulties that arose from precisely this-- this force of terror unleashed by religious extremism and I think that’s the, you know, frankly, what we still face today that if you see what’s happening in Syria today. That entirely encapsulates it as it does across North Africa, Yemen, further afield, countries like Pakistan and of course Iran.
GREGORY: It’s striking as the president was opening his library today, there emerged reports out of Syria that the Assad regime may have used chemical weapons, a red line for this administration. What lessons did you learn, did President Bush learn, that you hope President Obama takes into account?
MR. BLAIR: Well, I think the lessons are really tough, you see, and-- and-- and very difficult. And-- and I think the trouble is the lessons themselves are subject of great and heated debate. I mean, my view is that-- that in the end, the whole of the Middle East and beyond is undergoing this period of huge transition where you have these dictatorial regimes whose time is up. On the other hand, the battle for the future is between what I would call the modern-minded types of people, the people who took to the streets first in Egypt, who want what we want. But against them are various groups, Islamist groups, that I’m afraid don’t have the same concept of democracy or freedom that we do. And if any of them get-- get hold of the potential to-- to engage in mass destruction, we’ve got a huge problem on our hands.
GREGORY: And look what we’re dealing with in the United States, the Boston bombings, the prospect of home-grown terror.
MR. BLAIR: Yeah, as we found in the U.K.
GREGORY: Yeah, Britain has a lot of lessons to share about that.
MR. BLAIR: Yeah, no, of course. And the fact is I'm afraid, that this-- this ideology is being pumped around websites, is being encouraged by people in many different parts of the world and it’s-- and it’s there and it’s very hard for us to deal with. The first obligation of a government is to try and protect its people, but then you’ve got to-- you’ve got to cast out this ideology. I mean, I think this is very similar to the fight we faced in the 20th century against first of all fascism and then revolutionary communism. You know, it’s an ideology. It’s not got one command and control center, it's not a-- you know, you’re not talking about a country, but you are talking about an ideology based on a perversion of religion who-- which has an enormous force. If you don’t deal with this issue, this long-term question, this ideology based on-- on a perversion of the religion of Islam, you are going to end up fighting this for a long time.
GREGORY: You saw President Bush up close as a man during very difficult times for any leader. Talk about your relationship, what it was like to sit there today and this moment of finality even for a former president at the dedication of his library.
MR. BLAIR: Well, I thought it was a great (Unintelligible) for America today by the way. I mean, you had five presidents including President Obama, and all behaving with a sort of graciousness and-- and civility towards each other. I thought it was fantastic. And President Obama actually put his finger on it when he said it’s impossible to know George Bush and not like him. So, you know, often people say to me back home, they say, come on, you didn’t like him really, did you? And I say, you can totally disagree with him but as a human being he is a someone of immense character and genuine integrity. So, you know, you can say-- people have different views about decisions, but there’s a very few people who-- who don’t like him and respect him as a person.
GREGORY: Prime Minister, thank you very much.
MR. BLAIR: Thank you.
GREGORY: Prime Minister, Tony Blair. When we come back, more on the Bush legacy with our roundtable, how history judge the 43rd president, plus 2016 politics. Is the country done with the Bushes? Somebody brought that up, pretty close to the family this week. It’s coming up after this.
GREGORY: Back to this picture which is a rare sight in Dallas on Wednesday and is a wonderful celebration of the American presidency and Bill Clinton had this great line, Mike, where he said this is part of the eternal effort to rewrite presidential history which is, you know, the great truth…
MR. MURPHY: Sure.
GREGORY: …in all of these library openings.
MR. MURPHY: History is somewhat written in pencil and it takes a long time. I remember they once asked some decades ago, Chou-En Lai, the great communist leader in China, what he thought of the French revolution. He said, too early to tell. I kind of take that view in this stuff. But I tell you, there is a lot of smug kind of second-guessing, you know, revisionism, and we don’t yet-- know yet. What I’ll say about President Bush is, everything in the world changed in a day. The country was threatened a way it never had been before. And you can find a million little mistakes but I think the big decisions were right.
GREGORY: Karen, if you ever can get over Iraq in the public’s mind, how does he do it?
MS. HUGHES: Well, I think history has a way of right-sizing things, right? The-- the short term politics tends to magnify controversy and minimize accomplishments and what you heard was the beginning of that this week with Democratic presidents praising President Bush’s big accomplishments. Higher standards in our schools, millions of lives saved in Africa. I would have added prescription drug coverage for senior citizens that both parties had tried to get done. And George Bush got it done. Tax relief for every American that they’re still feeling today and I think by-- the huge accomplishment which was recognizing as President Obama praised his strength and resolve in the aftermath of 9/11 recognizing the gravity of the threat and making the tough decisions to help our nation confront it.
GREGORY: Senator, how do you see it?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Well, I-- I didn’t agree with his decision to go into Iraq. I think some of the fiscal decisions are clearly still haunting us today with the debt. But I will say working on this immigration bill back then I overlapped with President Bush for two years, he put together that coalition that’s going to succeed now.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: And it was very, very important. He was ahead of his time. Secondly, when that 35W bridge collapsed in Minneapolis six blocks from my house in the middle of a river, in the middle of a summer day, he was there a few days later. He made sure it got funded. We worked with him and that bi-- bridge got built within a year and you don’t forget that.
GREGORY: Chuck, Josh Bolten, the former chief of staff…
MR. TODD: Yeah.
GREGORY: …told me in an interview this week, he sort of took on Republicans saying what the Senator just said, those people who believe that there was fiscal insanity during the Bush years are wrong about that and Republicans ought to start supporting it because, you know, fiscal austerity and fiscal balance was not the priority after 9/11.
MR. TODD: You know, it’s funny in talking with some Bush officials during the run up to the library, they were briefing us, that seems to be the-- the issue that sort of got under the skin of some of you guys, Karen.
MS. HUGHES: But it’s not right. It’s not accurate.
MR. TODD: It’s the issue of the fiscal of Republican on Republican attack here…
MS. HUGHES: Right.
MR. TODD: …on this front and these presidential libraries. By the way, the first draft of obituaries. It-- it must be a weird thing to be president because you’re sitting there and everybody’s wondering what are you going to say because it’s the same type of feeling. It’s almost like weird living eulogies. But you bring up the prescription drugs. You know, the Obama administration is looking at the pre-- prescription drug rollout which, by the way, all the run-up was, oh, my God, you guys can’t handle this, this is going to be chaotic, to model the healthcare rollout. After the prescription drug…
MS. HUGHES: Well, it's enormously popular and thirty-five percent-- coming in thirty-five percent under the projected cost.
MR. TODD: And-- and before-- before it was done, people-- before you guys started doing it, there was all this concern. Do they know what they’re doing? Is this going to work? And seniors are going to be up in arms about it. And-- and so they’re actually using the prescription drug…
MS. HUGHES: The difference is we injected private sector competition and…
GREGORY: Right. Oh, my gosh. No more Bushes. I’ve got-- I’ve got two minutes left and I-- I’ve to get to 2016 politics.
MR. MURPHY: Prospect to 2016.
GREGORY: Prescription drug stop. Yeah, right. Barbara Bush, the shot heard round the world about her son from the TODAY Show. Watch.
(Videotape, Thursday TODAY Show)
MATT LAUER: Mrs. Bush, would you like to your son, Jeb, run?
MS. BARBARA BUSH (Former First Lady of the United States): He-- he’s by far the best qualified men but, no. I really don’t. I-- I think it’s a great country. There are a lot of great families and it’s not just four families or whatever. There’s just-- there are other people out there that are very qualified, and we’ve had enough Bushes.
GREGORY: Lord, it sounded like Jesse Jackson, stay out the bushes. I mean-- Karen, what did that mean? Come on, you don’t have to protect Jeb. You know, you…
MS. HUGHES: I think most moms can understand the instinct of a mom to protect yet another son from the spears of the-- of the political process.
MS. HUGHES: And, you know, I think that-- that’s exactly what it was. But Jeb Bush has big shoulders and-- and if he decides to run, I think he’d be a great president.
GREGORY: Well, that was interesting.
MR. MURPHY: That’s what we call New England encouragement. I’ll tell you this, I don’t know what Jeb’s going to do. I work for him by disclosure. But I think if he does decide to run, he will one day be president of the United States.
MS. HUGHES: And I will add that…
MR. TODD: Well, but I-- but I think, David…
MS. HUGHES: …Barbara Bush used to say when-- when Governor Bush was running, she-- she once predicted that-- that he couldn’t beat Ann Richards. We all know how that turned out. So.
REP. CASTRO: Well, I think-- I think part of the challenge for Jeb Bush, I think he would still be very formidable in the Republican primary. But there is a risk that the Republican primary has moved beyond him, has moved so far to the right that he wouldn’t be able to win that thing.
MR. TODD: He himself said that. He himself-- but Jeb Bush said this in 2012, “He thought-- I thought I was a conservative, and look at what’s going on here.”
GREGORY: Also a warning for Hillary Clinton.
MR. TODD: But I thought-- that’s right. She was channeling the whole-- and there is going to be a part of the country that says, wait a minute, what?
MR. TODD: Don’t we have new people?
GREGORY: All right.
MR. MURPHY: It’s going to be Hillary versus new, I think. And Jeb could move that primary, which is the best reason for him to run.
GREGORY: All right. Let me get a break in here. We’ll come back right after this.
GREGORY: Our friend, Mike Murphy, said Hillary Clinton versus new. He was not predicting that Newt Gingrich…
MR. MURPHY: Yes.
GREGORY: …was going to be the nominee. All right. Thank you all very much for the discussion. Before you go, and we go, you could see my full PRESS Pass conversation this week when I sat down with four former advisors to President Bush at the dedication of the Bush Presidential Library and museum in Dallas. That’s on our blog, PRESSPass.nbcnews.com, some interesting reflections. That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.