updated 5/5/2013 12:38:48 PM ET 2013-05-05T16:38:48

DAVID GREGORY:

This Sunday, the president under pressure, as he faces a growing debate about how safe we are at home from terror and confronts the political reality of a second-term agenda in gridlock.

As new details emerge about the Boston bomb plot, the administration orders a review about whether the government should have, could have, stopped the Tsarnaev brothers before they allegedly struck.

(Begin videotape)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: One of the dangers that we now face are self-radicalized individuals who are already here in the United States.

(End videotape)

This morning a debate about the state of our homeland security in a new age of terror.

With us, former New York City mayor and U.S. Attorney, Rudy Giuliani and Republican congressman from Arkansas and veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tom Cotton. Plus, former Democratic Congresswoman and ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, now the president and CEO of the Wilson Center, Jane Harman. And chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrat Pat Leahy of Vermont.

Then, President Obama at 100 days into his second term. Is he a lame duck?

(Videotape)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: As Mark Twain said, rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point.

(End videotape)

Jobs, immigration, health care, Syria, and the ongoing fights over social issues like abortion and gay rights in America. All taking center stage this week.

Insights and analysis from our special political roundtable this morning.

ANNOUNCER: From NBC News in Washington, the world’s longest running television program, this is MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.

DAVID GREGORY:

And good Sunday morning. We want to start with some developing stories on a couple of different fronts. First, the breaking news this morning out of Syria, where, overnight, Israeli air strikes hit targets in Syria for the second time in recent days. News of the first strike coming late Friday evening. The president was traveling in Latin America, as you know, this weekend, reacting to all of this escalation yesterday in an interview with Telemundo.

(VIDEOTAPE)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

What I have said in the past and-- I continue to believe is-- is that the Israelis justifiably-- have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has repeatedly said that they-- would be willing to-- attack as far as-- Tel Aviv. And so the Israelis have to be vigilant and they have to be-- concerned. And-- you know, we will continue to coordinate with Is-- Israel.

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

"Continue to coordinate with Israel." Andrea Mitchell's here. That's a very important line.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Indeed.

DAVID GREGORY:

Isn't it, Andrea? I mean here you have the president, who's issued a red line to Syria, saying if they move or use chemical weapons, it would change his calculus about some kind of intervention. Now the Israelis have struck. What does it mean?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well first of all, it means many people within the White House believe that the president was mistaken in issuing that red line. But now the Israelis have taken this over. They've taken this on. And this actually takes the heat off of the president. The administration is clearly supporting this.

Coordinating, perhaps, intelligence from the U.S.. Certainly a green light. No caution light here at all. And second of all, the Arab leaders are likely to be supportive, as well. We know that the Assad regime's only partners now are basically Russia and Iran. This comes just as Secretary Kerry is going to Moscow to meet with Putin. This does complicate his mission to try to get Russia to somehow soften its continuing support for Assad.

DAVID GREGORY:

The conversation I was having last night on Twitter in preparation for the program this morning, does this put more pressure or less pressure on President Obama to act on Syria, whether that means mobilizing an international coalition of some kind, or somehow backing up this red line, which, as you suggest, The Times is reporting this morning, was almost treated as a gaffe, it seems, from anonymous advisors in the White House quoted in the story.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

The administration was moving in that direction, in any case, a more active role. There's going to be arming of carefully moderated, you know, rebel groups that the C.I.A. believes are not the most radical, not the Islamists. That's a very dangerous game. But they are moving in that direction.

Secondly, there is now some more indication of a new no-fly zone, some kind of buffer. But the fact is, there has been a big division in the Arab world. The (UNINTEL) and the Turks are arming the more radical groups. The UAE, the Saudis, and Jordan are supporting the more moderate groups. And so the Arab world is also divided.

So Israel is doing this now, and doing it because Assad is so weakened that Hezbollah and Iran are now saying that, "We can call the game here," and forcing Assad's hand. The Assad regime has had pretty much in a detente, a quiet detente with Israel for decades. But now Hezbollah is demanding, and Iran is really demanding, calling the shots that these weapons be transferred to Lebanon.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, Andrea Mitchell with the latest. I know you'll be following us, Andrea. Thank you very much. Let me first initially turn to some reaction. This is Senator Leahy, Congressman Cotton, two members of Congress. Senator, do you think the administration is getting closer to providing lethal aid to the opposition in Syria?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:

I do. And I think that Andrea's analysis is very correct. I can remind the Israelis were using weapons that have been supplied by the United States. Some of our F-16s, and others. They, of course, have enormous prowess with those weapons, highly trained. But very sophisticated weapons.

I think the fact that they were able to go in there shows that perhaps the Russian-supplied air defense systems are not as good as were said. Our problem in who to supply is that some of these groups are strong Islamists, al-Qaeda and others. And we've seen, like in Libya and Egypt and elsewhere, the Islamists tend to get the upper hand if they get in there.

But we have given hundreds of millions of dollars in refugee aid. We've given anti-aircraft equipment to Turkey. And the idea of getting weapons in, if we know the right people to get them, my guess is we'll give them to them.

DAVID GREGORY:

Congressman, what would you like to see the president do at this point?

REP. TOM COTTON:

Well, I hope that Senator Leahy is correct, that we are moving closer towards arming the reform-minded, pro-Western rebels. This is something that should have been done many months ago, something that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey, C.I.A. Director David Patraeus all proposed last year, according to Wall Street Journal reporting, and the president refused to do.

Right now, you have the Al-Nusra front, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda, which is on the ground, providing the best fighters, providing the most weapons, providing the most humanitarian assistance, radicalizing some elements of the opposition. So we have to arm the opposition. I think we also need to move towards imposing a no-fly zone so Bashar al-Assad cannot continue to use helicopter gun ships against civilians, and so his refugee-- so the refugees he's creating aren't destabilizing our allies like Jordan.

DAVID GREGORY:

Jane Harmon, quickly, before I move on to another topic, the reporting this morning is striking. I mean it underscores why this issue of the red line is so difficult for the president, because the U.S. does not want a true presence in Syria.

FMR. REP. JANE HARMAN:

Well, the U.S. doesn't want boots on the ground. And I think there's no chance we will have boots on the ground. I have been, for some time, for arming the opposition we trust. But this is very complicated. Andrea hinted at this, too. Hezbollah is Shia. And this crescent that supports action is Sunni. So let's understand this isn't just the Bashar group, his sect, against the rest of the world, this is now a real full-blown civil war. And the missiles that were intercepted are not dumb scuds, they're smarter Fateh three missiles that have range from southern Lebanon to hit Tel Aviv. So this is a big escalated problem. I wish we had acted sooner.

REP. TOM COTTON:

And I would just say, like, boots on the ground right now is not the question. The question is imposing a no-fly zone using aircraft and using naval gunfire. As Senator Leahy said, the Israeli strikes over the last 48 hours have indicated that those Russian air defense systems are not as robust as they're sometimes reported to be. We can stop Bashar al-Assad from killing his own people. And we can stop some of the worst violence in Syria if we use aircraft--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

I want to move on. I want to bring Mayor Giuliani in here.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

And I want to widen this out. Hold on, sir. I want to widen this out a little bit, because I think there's the broader topic that we're broaching here about national security, about our personal freedoms in America, coming out of the Boston bombing is, in part, ongoing concern about terrorism. The graphic this week in The Wall Street Journal about that growing al-Qaeda threat, even a couple of years now after Osama bin Laden is killed.

Looking in North Africa, in the Persian Gulf states, where you either have al-Qaeda with a safe haven, or, indeed, more activity. And it leads, too, to what happened last 9-11 in Benghazi, and the ongoing questions about what the United States knew about that, what the administration knew. Did they do enough to stop it? And now, new hearings coming up, new details being reported on, Mr. Mayor. Is there something here that somehow gets to why we're more vulnerable now and whether the administration has done enough, in your estimation?

RUDY GIULIANI:

Well, I don't know. That has to be investigated. I think it would be wise if the administration would kind of ratchet up its focus on this, because I think that, since the capture of bin Laden, there's been a kind of sense that al-Qaeda's on the run, the threat is less. The threat isn't less. The threat is actually more diverse now, and maybe even more complex.

And you can detect, through the Benghazi defense, which of course did come about during the election, and even during some of this Boston bombing thing. There's sort of a tendency to underplay what is, in fact, I think, a growing and pretty dangerous, and to some extent, a different kind of threat than what we were facing, you know, three or four years ago.

So whether they didn't catch it fast enough, whether this is a product of, you know, leading from behind, like I think happened in Syria, where a lot of action could have been taken a year ago that may have precluded this. But the president kind of prefers to watch these things play out before he makes a decision. I think they'd be well advised to get a lot more proactive now, because things are really heating up.

DAVID GREGORY:

Senator Leahy, is there a "there" there when it comes to Benghazi? Are there questions that have to be answered that reflect on--

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:

Oh, there--

DAVID GREGORY:

--how vulnerable we are and what we're doing about it?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:

Oh, there are questions should be asked. I know I chair a committee that handles the State Department's budget. We put in extra money, a great deal of extra money, for embassy security.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

I mean that's what we're hearing about--

(OVERTALK)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:

Let me finish. And that was blocked by the House. They said they didn't want to spend the money. Whether that would have made a difference or not, I don't know. Should we look at Benghazi? Yes. But keep in mind that's just one place. We should look at our security throughout our embassies, because there will always be easy targets.

If you can attack an embassy, no matter where it is, you attack the United States of America. And the symbolism is almost as great as what they knocked out. They didn't destroy any part of America's capability, as tragic as it was, in going to Benghazi. But the symbolism was enormous, and that's what they were aiming for.

DAVID GREGORY:

Were warnings ignored on Benghazi, Congressman, in your judgment?

REP. TOM COTTON:

I think that there are cables before the Benghazi attack that suggest that the people in Tripoli and in Benghazi knew that they were going to be facing a potential attack. Steve Hayes's reporting over the weekend shows that the C.I.A. was aware during the attack happening, certainly before Susan Rice went on the Sunday talk shows the Sunday after the attacks, that these were al-Qaeda-affiliated operatives. And then, during the attacks, the president said that he issued a directive, and there was no follow-up on the directive. He didn't go to the White House Security Room, and he didn't follow up to see if that directive had been pursued.

DAVID GREGORY:

Jane Harman, and Mayor Giuliani, as we look at all of this, whether it's jihadist elements operating in Syria, whether we look at, now, this widening plot out of the Boston bombings, they wanted to attack, reportedly, on July Fourth, there are others now involved, friends of Dzokhar Tsarnaev, who show their pictures, who are involved, at some level, of clearing out some of the materials from his room, what does this tell us about what we're up against here, specifically in the Boston plot, and this question of, "Are we any safer?" Jane?

FMR. REP. JANE HARMAN:

The answer to that question is yes and no. I agree with Rudy Giuliani that the threat has evolved. We have decimated core al-Qaeda. And President Obama deserves a lot of credit for doing that. But now there are these affiliated terror groups, al-Nusra is one, in Syria, and that are capable of morphing and changing and attacking.

And then there's homegrown radicalism, which is what I think we really have to talk about. The Tsarnaev brothers may have had some training, we'll learn, in Dagestan (PH), maybe. And we may have missed a clue from the Russians. But be that as it may, there are going to be other people like this. They have to be right once, we have to be right 100%.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

FMR. REP. JANE HARMAN:

That's not going to happen. Our tactics are really pretty good. But we need a narrative about what the United States stands for--

DAVID GREGORY:

You know--

FMR. REP. JANE HARMAN:

--that will win the argument with the next kids. And that is why we need to close, in my view, Guantanamo Bay. And we need to put a clear set of rules around how we use drones. I support drone strikes. But it needs to be clearer that we are living our values.

DAVID GREGORY:

Mayor Giuliani, you've spoken out pretty strikingly this week about your views of what's happening in the investigation into Boston this week. What do you make of it?

RUDY GIULIANI:

Well, I think the investigation since the time of the bombing has been excellent. I think that, unfortunately, there were an awful lot of signals that were missed beforehand. And Jane Harman is absolutely right, this has kind of morphed into a situation in America where we have these homegrown terrorists. But we shouldn't claim surprise. This has been going on since 2005-2006.

FMR. REP. JANE HARMAN:

Yeah.

RUDY GIULIANI:

I mean the attack in London in 2005 was homegrown terrorists in London. That should have said to us, "We're going to have the same problem here." Chris Christie, when he was U.S. attorney, had a case involving an attack, an attempted attack, on Fort Hood. Once again, homegrown terrorist. He was the first to really alert me to the fact that this was a much bigger problem than exists.

So we shouldn't be claiming, "Oh my goodness, we just found this out." We should be trying to figure out why the heck didn't we react to this faster three, four and five years ago? And with regard to the investigation, the point that I'd like to make is that these men who were arrested, who were involved in the cover-up and were involved in obstructing justice, like to point out something that hasn't been focusing on enough. They were aware of the fact, according to the complaint now, the F.B.I.'s sworn complaint, they were aware of the fact that those two brothers were involved in the bombing three to four hours before Officer Collier was murdered.

DAVID GREGORY:

At MIT.

RUDY GIULIANI:

If these three men-- yes. If these three men had not engaged in that obstruction of justice cover-up, if they had notified the police, the way any decent young men would do, there is a chance, and a pretty good chance, that Officer Collier would be alive today.

DAVID GREGORY:

Congressman, you're--

RUDY GIULIANI:

And if I were the U.S. attorney--

DAVID GREGORY:

But, yeah, let--

RUDY GIULIANI:

If I were U.S. attorney, I'd be charging them with a conspiracy that embraced murder as a predicate act. Because one of them actually said something very dramatic. One of them said, "I didn't expect to ever see him again alive." So that conspiracy embraced the possibility of a violent aftermath to this situation.

DAVID GREGORY:

Congressman, the larger point that the president made this week is we're dealing with something new, we're dealing with radicalization inside the homeland, how do we deal with it? I want you to take on what he said during his press conference this week. Watch.

(Videotape)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

One of the dangers that we now face are self-radicalized individuals who are already here in the United States -- in some cases, may not be part of any kind of network, but because of whatever warped, twisted ideas they may have, may decide to carry out an attack. And those are in some ways more difficult to prevent.

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

And the polling shows this, too, obviously there's some things we just can't prevent.

REP. TOM COTTON:

Well, we don't know if Tamerlan Tsarnaev was purely homegrown or if he was affiliated with al-Qaeda operatives in his return to Dagestan, a place from which he had sought refugee status with his family. More broadly, though, we have to recognize we are still in a global war against radical Islamic jihadists.

And the president, by his policies and by the words of senior officials in his administration, are removing us from a war footing and putting us back into a law enforcement model. Five terrorists have reached their targets under Barack Obama's administration. All five of those were promptly given their Miranda warnings and treated like common criminals. We haven't sent a terrorist to Guantanamo Bay in over four years.

(OVERTALK)

REP. TOM COTTON:

We captured Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, a hardened terrorist, a member of al-Qaeda central. We didn't send him to Guantanamo Bay for interrogation, we sent him to New York, where he got Miranda rights, taxpayer--

(OVERTALK)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:

Okay, let me--

DAVID GREGORY:

Senator--

(OVERTALK)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:

Let me respond on that. Because it is a shibboleth to suggest that sending him to Guantanamo would help. He was given his Miranda warning, and as the public accounts have been, he wouldn't shut up. He kept on, kept on, kept on. He has given an enormous amount of intelligence.

We've had a tiny handful, four, five, six, military commission successful prosecutions. We've had hundreds in our courts. What are we afraid of? What are we afraid of? The law enforcement did a superb job in Boston. These people are before courts. Mayor Giuliani and I are both prosecutors. We would love to prosecute this case.

DAVID GREGORY:

But signals were missed here.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:

And--

DAVID GREGORY:

Signals of--

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:

Signal--

DAVID GREGORY:

--this radicalization were missed.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:

Okay.

DAVID GREGORY:

Tamerlan Tsarnaev--

(OVERTALK)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:

And but that has nothing to do with Guantanamo. The fact is we will always have-- we're a nation of 325 million people. Are there going to be people like the man who blew up Oklahoma City? He was radicalized in a different way. Let us figure out how we respond on this.

My committee will have the director of the F.B.I. and others before it. I want to know how much did the Russians give us before. Were signals missed there? Sure, ask those questions. But let's not overlook the fact that our law enforcement did a superb job here--

DAVID GREGORY:

Fair enough.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:

--as there are people who should be prosecuted them in court including--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Jane Harman--

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:

--covered up.

DAVID GREGORY:

--here's the question that Time Magazine asks on its provocative cover this week: "Homeland Insecurity" is the banner headline of the edition. And the question is do we need to sacrifice privacy in order to be safer? Is that going to be the immediate lesson from the Boston bombings?

FMR. REP. JANE HARMAN:

Well, I think we could use more cameras in common areas. That's what Britain has. And that's why they were able to identify the subway and bus bombers in 2005 very quickly. And Boston has a small police department. In New York, if these folks had tried this, they probably would have been identified faster.

But let me make a couple of points. First of all, not all of these plots are associated, in any way, with al-Qaeda training. These are people who go on the internet and look at Inspire Magazine. This guy admitted it. And there are the directions for how to build a bomb in the kitchen of your mom. And you can figure this out.

He also was in inspired by al-Awlaki's preaching, which are online, even though he was taken out by a drone strike, as was the original writer of Inspire Magazine. So we have to think ahead. And the best way to do this is to build trust with communities so that families and teachers and neighbors alert law enforcement--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

--Mayor Giuliani. Because there have been some calls for more ethnic profiling. Is there cooperation in the Muslim community? Or is it greater tracking and monitoring in mosques and in the Muslim community, to detect what was missed here with Tsarnaev, who apparently was challenging his imam and all the rest?

RUDY GIULIANI:

Well, you have to go where the evidence takes you. I mean this whole idea of profiling, profiling is perfectly legal and perfectly legitimate if you're following leads, if you're following objective evidence. Somebody tells you that the person who committed the crime is 6'4" and he's white, you don't go look for a 5'4", you know, Asian. So the reality is profiling is perfectly appropriate if it relates to objective facts, and not to some attempt to just smear someone.

And reality is, unfortunately, a significant number, not all, but a significant number of these attacks come about from this distorted Islamic extremist ideology. So you can't ignore it. You've got to go after it. We don't have to sacrifice privacy to do it. But we also shouldn't sacrifice common sense. The president could help us here a lot if he would designate the Major Hasan shooting of several years ago as a terrorist act and not workplace violence. I think that sent the wrong signals to the bureaucracy.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, let me--

RUDY GIULIANI:

And I think it makes a lot of people in the bureaucracy afraid to really call it as it is.

DAVID GREGORY:

Quickly, Congressman, then I want to move on to immigration.

REP. TOM COTTON:

Well, and I mean the mayor makes the core point, is that jihadists around the world don't attack us for the actions we take, they attack us for who we are. We are freedom's home, and we are freedom's defender. It didn't take Guantanamo Bay, it didn't take drones, to knock down those towers on 9-11. If we grounded every drone, if we close Guantanamo Bay, they'd find another pretext to attack us.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right. That debate needs to go on.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

But it's going to go on. But before I let all of you go, as I run out of time, Senator Leahy, immigration. You're pushing this, as are others, to get an immigration reform bill passed. You want to amend the bill to include same-sex partners to be able to come into the country. Marco Rubio and others have said that effort would kill this legislation.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:

You know, we've had about ten different things that people say will kill it. If we don't make the fence long enough, that kills it. If we don't have a high enough fine, that kills it. Well, the fact is, a lot of people who want to kill an immigration bill, no matter what.

We will have votes on this. People can vote for or against any one of these amendments. Now, I've had 20-some-odd hearings in all on immigration judiciary. We will start marking up the bill this week. Everybody can bring up whatever they want. And we're going to have a fair and open thing, and then vote it up or vote it down.

DAVID GREGORY:

Is immigration going to pass? Is reform going to pass?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:

I hope it does, because I think it would be a huge--

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, I know you hope it will. But I mean what--

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:

--huge mistake. I think--

DAVID GREGORY:

What's your read into the politics?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:

I think it can. I think it can. I think the so-called "gang of eight," four Democrats, four Republicans, across the political spectrum, deserve an enormous amongst of credit for the work they've done. I met with them many times. And I think we can get--

DAVID GREGORY:

All right.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:

--it passed.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, I'm going to leave it there. Senator, Congressman, Jane Harman, Mayor Giuliani, thank you all very much for engaging in this debate, which is to be continued. Thank you very much.

(LEAD-OUT AND COMMERCIAL OMITTED)

DAVID GREGORY:

More on the them that we were just talking about, and that is approval of President Obama's handling of terror threats. He's still pretty strong at 56%, 35% disapproval as more of these issues mount for him. And we're back now with our political roundtable. Joining me: Former Speaker of the House and presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, former Democratic Congressman from Tennessee Harold Ford Junior, editor of The National Review, Rich Lowry, and managing editor of TheGrio.com and MSNBC contributor, Joy Reid. Welcome to all of you. So a lot to pick up on here. Speaker Gingrich, the terror debate, which can extend from Benghazi now to Syria, to threats to the homeland after Boston, how's the president doing?

NEWT GINGRICH:

Well, I think in the long run, not particularly well. I think Mayor Giuliani cited a good example. 42 months after Fort Hood, we are pretending that this is a workplace incident when somebody jumps up, yells, "Allahu Akbar," and kills a bunch of American soldiers, clearly related to radical Islam.

On the F.B.I. Most Wanted list for terrorism, 30 of the 31 are Islamists. Yet, the coverage the first few days after Boston was, "Gee, I wonder what motivated these two Chechens." Now, we still refuse to come to grips with how serious and how long-term this problem is going to be. I think it could be a 50 to 70 year problem.

DAVID GREGORY:

Joy, it's a political question, it's a security question two years after Osama bin Laden has been killed. Are we safer as a country or not?

JOY-ANN REID:

Well, I mean I think this country obviously has a lot of basic freedoms that make it impossible to police every potential threat. We still have red-blooded Americans going into schools and massacring 26 people, including children. We still have situations where domestic terrorist operations that have nothing to do with Islam have hit this country. Oklahoma City had nothing to do with Islamism.

So there are bad people who want to do awful things. You can't stop them all. What we can do is try to do the best we can in terms of sensible security policy. And I don't think anybody in the country wants to go back to the Bush era when what we were doing was domestic wiretapping, when what we were doing was demonizing and attempting to target entire groups of people based on religion, because, again, people who are not Muslim also commit horrible random acts, not all with bombs, some with guns.

DAVID GREGORY:

Rich Lowry, if the events on 9-11 in Benghazi and that attack were a striking blow and reminder, Boston was an exclamation point about the ongoing terror threat, and this new age of terror, where it can be developed and grown at home. The President's saying this week, "Look, we have to come to grips that there are certain things that you simply cannot account for and detect in our society."

RICH LOWRY:

Yeah, well I think clearly the rumors of al-Qaeda's complete demise were completely exaggerated. We saw it both in Benghazi and in Boston, where these guys were inspired by al-Qaeda. And I just have to stand up for President Bush. He went out there after 9-11 and said, "Look, Islam is a religion of peace. We're not going to target Muslims. This is a generous country." And that proved to be true.

And also, I mean President Obama's picked up most of Bush's terror policies, anti-terror policies. Happy to slam them and slander them, I would argue, as a candidate. But he's picked up most of them as president because they are responsible. And when you're actually in that chair and aware of how many threats we have coming at us, the world looks a lot different than when you're on--

(OVERTALK)

JOY-ANN REID:

--like water boarding, not things like water boarding, not things that exacerbated the tensions between us and the Muslim community. I mean some of the things that were done during the Bush era that President Obama specifically outlawed were part of what re-radicalized, I believe, the--

(OVERTALK)

RICH LOWRY:

--will say, "Oh, we did it because of drone attacks." As Tom clearly says--

JOY-ANN REID:

No, actually--

RICH LOWRY:

--there's always an excuse--

DAVID GREGORY:

It's al--

RICH LOWRY:

--to attack the United States.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

The backdrop of all of this--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

--Harold Ford Jr., is what the president is facing in terms of his own leadership in his second term as he builds a legacy. He had a press conference this week in which one of our colleagues asked, "Do you still have the juice to get it done?" And this is part of what he said.

(Videotape)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think it comes as no surprise not even to the American people, but even members of Congress themselves that right now things are pretty dysfunctional up on Capitol Hill.

You seem to suggest that somehow these folks over there have no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow get them to behave. That's their job.

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

Is he a lame duck, Harold?

FMR. REP. HAROLD FORD JR.:

No. He, I think-- no, I sense his frustration. But that frustration has to be channeled, I think, in a more positive way. There's a leadership void in this city on domestic issues. There's a leadership void in this city as it relates to how we address the economy and how we deal with entitlements and taxes, and so forth.

And if the president believes the Congress is behaving in an immature way, which I think Congress resembles that statement, then he's probably going to have to show more leadership. I think, in fairness to Joy's point, in that the back and forth, there's no doubt that we have to be right 100% of the time when it comes to security.

Jane Harman articulated it better than anybody this morning. I think they've done a phenomenal job. I understand where the speaker is-- I think I understand what you're saying, I think, when you say that more needs to be done. Going forward, you're right, this president and this White House have now got to come up with a set of policies: Clear, transparent consistent, along not only the lines of Syria, but our position as it relates to self-radicalization in this country, in efforts around the world, to create unrest for our policies and our allies around the globe.

DAVID GREGORY:

But--

FMR. REP. HAROLD FORD JR.:

The President's comments about the red line, they have to be careful. I think the comments this morning in some of the national papers, from former defense advisors saying, "The President's going to make a statement, "You've got to be willing to stand by that statement. They have to think more clearly. They have to be more careful about it and understand that the ramifications are not only political here at home, but they reverberate across the Middle East and around the globe.

DAVID GREGORY:

Speaker Gingrich, just talking about even the domestic agenda and what the president talked about with does he still have the juice, you remember this well, being Speaker of the House, and a former president, Bill Clinton, making the case for his relevance. We're pretty early in the President's second term.

NEWT GINGRICH:

Look, all--

DAVID GREGORY:

What could he get done?

NEWT GINGRICH:

All presidents are functionally relevant because they can veto bills.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

NEWT GINGRICH:

Because they're the bully pulpit. Because they make appointments. Because they issue regulations. So the idea of an irrelevant president hasn't existed since Buchanan in the 1850s. The fact is that the President's greatest problem domestically in the next year and a half is that he has a lot of Democratic senators up for reelection in states that Mitt Romney carried. So the cross pressure in the U.S. Senate is going to be much greater than at any time up to now. And most of those senators are going to be inclined to say, "You know, it actually helps me to not be an Obama Democrat."

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, or but does it, Rich? I mean what are Republicans going to say about what is the signature issue for this second term? It is still economic restoration. It's somehow chipping away at our debt. And the President's talked about this. Well, the unemployment rate is down. Private sector job creation better than expected. You've got the stock market creating real wealth for investors around the country. There are real problems in the economy. But what do Republicans say now in the face of that good news?

RICH LOWRY:

Well, look, those are encouraging signs. But clearly, the employment market is not fully healed, by any stretch of the imagination. What you have, almost 12 million people still looking for work. You have about eight million people who are under-employed, meaning they'd like to have more hours than they do now.

And there are worrisome signs that the perverse incentives created for employers by Obama Care are beginning to have an effect where it's to avoid fines or paying for health care, employers are looking more to part-time workers. And that's not a good thing for the economy. It's not a good thing for workers.

If I can just stand up for the president a little bit, though, because he's been getting hammered this week for not having the interpersonal skills on The Hill and not being another LBJ. It's a lot easier to be another LBJ when you have 60-plus senators in a large House majority. And he just didn't have those. And everyone should have been aware there are limits to how much he'd accomplish in the second term because of that.

DAVID GREGORY:

Joy, the economy, good news for the president on this. How does it help him in his arsenal against Republicans and his agenda?

JOY-ANN REID:

Well, I don't think that there's any objective fact that could really help the president with this particular Congress. I mean I think some people have described the current Republican Party as sort of post-policy. Because really, they're so fixated on opposing Barack Obama that I'm not sure that there's any objective set of facts that could change the calculus of how he's able to deal with them.

I think what we have is a Republican Party that needs to decide that it has to actually govern, that just opposing Barack Obama's not enough. And when you look at the economy and the fact that it isn't growing more strongly, we've been trying to force ourselves to do austerity, which has not worked in Europe, which has actually harmed the European economy.

And so, without being able to do a robust agenda from Washington that does smart spending and smart tax increases, the way we did in 1993 when Democrats alone, without a single Republican, passed that omnibus budget bill in '93 that actually got 90% of the way toward the fiscal balance we achieved in the '90s, without being able to do sane policy in Washington, you can't expect the interpersonal relationship improvement to change the economy.

DAVID GREGORY:

Newt, do Republicans want to govern or not?

NEWT GINGRICH:

What we want is that first of all, I have a slightly different memory of the '90s.

DAVID GREGORY:

You can't go and change it.

(OVERTALK) (LAUGHTER)

NEWT GINGRICH:

But that's neither here nor there. Let me start with your point about the economy. I ran into a woman named Jean who works at a McDonald's just outside Baltimore on Friday. And she said to me, "We've got to get-- "

FMR. REP. HAROLD FORD JR.:

And you got the McWrap. (LAUGHTER)

NEWT GINGRICH:

And I got the McWrap.

(OVERTALK)

NEWT GINGRICH:

And she said to me, "We've got to do something about the economy. I used to be an assistant in an accounting firm. And this is the job I now have. And I can't find another job." So I think it's very dangerous to suggest that this economy's healthy. On the other hand, the big problem for Obama in the next year is not going to be the economy, it's going to be Obama Care.

And the degree to which Obama Care, as it gets implemented, begins to disintegrate, and the pain level it's going to cause, is going to be enormous, the number of people who are going to have their jobs reduced to 29 hours because that way their employer doesn't have to pay for their insurance, is going to be staggering. And if you looked at the U6 number, which was unemployed, under-employed, and dropped out, it's actually went up last month to 13.5%.

So I think this economy's going to remain a muddle. I think Republicans want to govern. And if you look at the 30 Republican governors, they're doing a pretty darn good job. I mean the governors are these bright spot in this country right now on the Republican side. And they're actually balancing budgets, modernizing things, reforming educating, and doing a lot of innovation. I think in the Congress, it's going to remain a muddle because you have a liberal Democratic president, a conservative House and a mixed Senate.

DAVID GREGORY:

And some issues that I want to throw on the table, Harold Ford Jr., like guns, which there were some developments this weekend at that NRA convention, and guns are going to be a big issue here in 2014 and potentially 2016. Here is the executive vice president of the NRA talking about the Boston bombings, the gun control fight. Here's what he said this weekend.

(Videotape)

WAYNE LAPIERRE:

Imagine waking up to a phone call from the police at 3am in the morning warning that a terrorist event is occurring outside and ordering you to stay inside your home.

Frightened citizens sheltered in place with no means to defend themselves or their families from whatever might come crashing through their door.

How many Bostonians wished they had a gun two weeks ago?

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

Harold Ford?

FMR. REP. HAROLD FORD JR.:

The guys I would remind President Lapierre that men who were responsible for the Boston bombings were caught largely because we have law enforcement in this country. I understand-- I think I understand what he's saying. And I just disagree with it fully. And I'd hope we don't go to a society along those lines.

I think people should be able to protect themselves, ought to be able. I subscribe to that second amendment allows that. I would hope that this debate, as it heads into 2014, does not disintegrate or devolve into something nasty, ugly, more polarizing, and perhaps violent. We have challenges in this country Joy touched on. This is not just an Islamist issue. There are white Americans who have participated and have been active and imposed these kind of horrific crimes and atrocities on people. We have a challenge that needs to be addressed. I'm not sure the narrow of just providing--

(OVERTALK)

FMR. REP. HAROLD FORD JR.:

--with guns is the answer.

DAVID GREGORY:

And Rich, quickly, is somebody going to lose their job for opposing background checks? I mean David Axelrod telling The New York Times' John Horowitz saying until somebody loses their job, Congress is not going to move on these things.

RICH LOWRY:

Yeah, exactly. And this is the key of the NRA's influence, it isn't spending money, is they have an extremely active and engaged membership that cares about this issue. More than 90% of the supposed 90% of people that support background checks. And until someone else demonstrates otherwise, that's why they have--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me get a break in here. Joy, I'm sorry. Let me get a break in. We'll continue on the other side. I also want to pick up some other stories going on, the early jockeying for 2016 already underway, as you know. We haven't even gotten to the midterm elections yet, but we're already talking about it. Plus a big announcement this week by NBA player Jason Collins, and why it matters. He came out as a gay athlete. I'm going to be joined by fellow professional athlete NFL all-pro linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo. We're back with more from our roundtable right after this.

(COMMERCIAL OMITTED)

DAVID GREGORY:

We're back with our roundtable. We're going to get to sports news now. As the big announcement this week from Jason Collins coming out as gay, the first time that's happened, the four major sports, for that to happen. And I'm joined now by Brendon Ayanbadejo from the world champion Baltimore Ravens, who joins us, who's been really outspoken about this. And Brendon, it's great to have you here. Why, in your judgment, was this a big deal? And is this just the start in sports, basketball, football, baseball, hockey?

BRENDON AYANBADEJO:

Well, it's a big deal because, really, America's calling for it. You can still be fired in 30 states for being a part of the LGTB community. So for someone to step up and show that society is changing and society is calling for equality and people are going to go out there and express themselves, especially in one of the four major sports, which has never been done before, it's really a show of the changing of the tides and what's to come in the future.

DAVID GREGORY:

You, I know, follow the Supreme Court arguments. You know about the political fight of this. And the other side of this, the other side of all the celebrations and the president calling him, to Mrs. Obama tweeting to others saying, "This is such an important step," is very real and sustained opposition to gay marriage in many parts of the country, in many states. So this may be a big moment. And yet, the political fight still goes on.

BRENDON AYANBADEJO:

Yeah. Well, you know, politically, we're still fighting to change a lot of things, to be accepted federally, and to gain marriage equality in the other 40 states. But socially, it's just a change of the times. And people have to realize that, even though it's your right to have religion and to-- really, you can't use that right of religion to take other people's rights away. Equality trumps all of them. And we protect and we believe in religion, but we just don't feel that religion should be calling out the LGTB community. So we just need to open up people's eyes and educate people a little bit more.

DAVID GREGORY:

Brendon, you wrote this week very powerfully about the fact that lesbians have come out in pro sports, have not gotten this kind of attention. Why, do you think? Why is this so much different?

BRENDON AYANBADEJO:

I think it's just a little bit harder to break the lines in men's sport. People have this idea of what gayness is. And my good friend Esera Tuaolo is a 300-pound physical defensive lineman in football. And people think that gayness has something to do with femininity, when, really, we just need to erase that stereotype from our minds. Because LGTB people come in all different types and shapes and forms. So I think that's really what we're fighting.

But the beautiful thing about what Brittney Griner did is that it barely made a splash. And that's what we're trying to do in men's sports when people announce that they're gay. We don't even want it to change the climate or anything in sports. We just want everybody to be accepted, and people can go out there and they can love who they want to love and be who they are, so they can not only be better people, but they can also be better athletes.

DAVID GREGORY:

Finally, you think some players in the NFL will come out as soon as this next year?

BRENDON AYANBADEJO:

I don't know when it's going to happen. But as an ally, and I work closely with Athlete Ally, and myself and Donte Stallworth, Chris Kluwe, Scott Fujita, we work so hard and diligently so when an athlete does come out they'll have a nice, supporting group around them, and it will be a safe, inclusive environment.

DAVID GREGORY:

Brendon Ayanbadejo, thank you so much for being here this morning. We really appreciate your perspective. Thanks for joining us. Let me get back to the roundtable. Rich Lowry, as I say, the other side to this very big moment in sports and society is the political fight that is still moving on. And there is still a great deal of opposition as the Supreme Court sits with this issue of marriage equality.

RICH LOWRY:

Yeah. Now look, this is a sign that social attitudes are changing. This wouldn't have been celebrated the way it has been 30 or 40 years ago. I mean he got a call immediately from Oprah and the president of the United States, right? You can't get more social affirmation than that.

But it also feels as though it shouldn't be a big deal, really. But one of the reasons it is, is I don't know whether you fall into the back and forth between the Knicks and the Celtics players during their series, but the culture of major league sports and the NBA is at about a seventh or eighth grade level. And I think that's one of the reasons this is such a big deal.

DAVID GREGORY:

You know, Joy-Ann Reid, one of the issues politically, you think about Prop Eight in California, was the Mormon community, African-American community, that were most strongly against this. African-American clergy speaking out in the debate over same-sex marriage and gay adoption in Illinois. Again, it goes to the point that societal views are changing, but our politics are changing very slowly around this.

JOY-ANN REID:

Well, I say I think they're changing really quickly. I mean I think that the LGTB community has shown the power of the grassroots to be that additional component to political organizing. You know, you wouldn't have had such a rapid sea change on things like Don't Ask, Don't Tell, had it just been left up to the Congress and the president. You've seen the grassroots actually move the debate forward and move society forward.

And look, there's also the reverse effect. President Obama coming out in favor of the rights of gay people to marry actually moved public opinion within the African-American community. There is not blanket opposition to gay rights within the black community. There are prominent pastors, our colleague, Reverend Al Sharpton, has been one of the most outspoken. There are plenty of black clergy who actually are in support of LGBT rights.

And I think that the president moving has helped that. But I also think that the gay community itself, the gay rights community, has been very aggressive, has been very tactile and been very smart in moving forward their civil rights.

DAVID GREGORY:

Newt Gingrich, do you think, I haven't heard you say whether you think a Republican nominee for president can support gay marriage?

NEWT GINGRICH:

I think that's up-- I doubt it. But I think--

DAVID GREGORY:

Still doubt it.

NEWT GINGRICH:

I think that's up in the air. Because I do think things are changing. But what I'm struck with is the one-sidedness of the desire for rights. There are no rights for Catholics to have adoption services in Massachusetts. They're outlawed. There are no rights in DC for Catholics to have adoption service. They're outlawed.

This passing reference to religion, we sort of respect religion, sure, as long as you don't practice it. I mean I think it would be good to have a debate over, you know, beyond this question of, "Are you able to be gay in America?" what does it mean? Does it mean that you have to actually affirmatively eliminate any institution which does not automatically accept that, and therefore, you're now going to have a secular state say to a wide range of religious groups, Catholics, Protestants, orthodox Jews, Mormons, frankly, Muslims, "You cannot practice your religion the way you believe it, and we will outlaw your institutions." And this, by the way--

DAVID GREGORY:

Wait. Which prohibitions are you speaking of?

NEWT GINGRICH:

Well, let's just start with adoption services.

(OVERTALK)

NEWT GINGRICH:

--it's impossible for the Catholic Church to have an adoption service in Massachusetts that follows Catholic doctrine.

JOY-ANN REID:

But didn't the Catholic Church, particularly Catholic Charities in Boston, they affirmatively decided to withdraw adoption services. No one said they are not allowed to provide adoption services.

(OVERTALK)

NEWT GINGRICH:

No, they withdrew them because they were told, "You could not follow Catholic doctrine," which is for marriage between a man and a woman.

JOY-ANN REID:

I think the point is, is that you don't have the state attempting to tell religions what to believe. People, if they oppose the idea of gay marriage within their religion, have the absolute right to do so. The question is whether or not religious institutions can make public policy, whether they can enter the public policy--

(OVERTALK)

RICH LOWRY:

Does that apply to religious institutions that don't want to provide-- have moral objections to contraception and don't want to pay for it?

JOY-ANN REID:

If you're running a pharmacy that the public is allowed to us, it's the same issue if you had a religious objection to interracial-- to people eating in your restaurant, let's say. Let's say it's my religious objection to have black people--

(OVERTALK)

RICH LOWRY:

So the Catholic Church's--

JOY-ANN REID:

Do I then have the right--

(OVERTALK)

RICH LOWRY:

--to contraception is on the same--

JOY-ANN REID:

No, no.

RICH LOWRY:

--moral level as racial discrimination?

JOY-ANN REID:

I'm not putting this on a moral level. I'm saying that would you have the right to discriminate based on your religious beliefs? A lot of people used to say that was their reason. What I'm saying is that people have a right to their religious beliefs, but there is a question of public policy.

RICH LOWRY:

Except for when you think--

JOY-ANN REID:

And who makes the public policy?

RICH LOWRY:

--public policy should trump it.

JOY-ANN REID:

But who--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me get--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

No, go ahead.

JOY-ANN REID:

The state or the church. If the church is going to make our public policy, then are we any longer a secular state?

DAVID GREGORY:

Harold, your general comments on the general impact of Jason Collins this week?

FMR. REP. HAROLD FORD JR.:

Look, people should be able to marry whom they want to marry. I'm a believer that everything that-- I'm a Christian, everything that God touches is perfect. So if someone has a different sexual orientation to me or preference for marriage, bless their heart. The fact that we're sitting here debating this still, I do think this is a different topic around religious freedoms. And perhaps that conversation needs to take place outside of this context. But bless the boy's heart. And he's able to pursue what he wants to pursue. And hopefully more people in sports, in these masculine enclaves, will make this even more acceptable.

DAVID GREGORY:

I've just got about a minute and a half left. But I want to inject something that, Rich, you wrote about on this social issue topic about abortion this week. The Gosnell trial getting a lot of attention. I'm going to put it up on the screen. We're not going to have a lot of time to react to it. But I want to put it on the record here.

You write this: "The unwritten rule is that, when the left discusses abortion, it's never called abortion but always referred to as "health," and more specifically, "reproductive health," although abortion is the opposite of reproduction. And for one party involved, the opposite of health. The trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell has been an exercise in stripping away euphemism. He's accused of murdering babies because he allegedly didn't manage to kill them in the womb and had to finish the job outside the womb. His case is so discomforting for liberals, not only because it is a stark picture of the seeming money-grubbing side of abortion, but because it illustrates how slight the difference is between late-term abortion or late-term health, and what nearly everyone recognizes a crime." The Left, Planned Parenthood, says he's a complete outlier, but yours is a broader point.

RICH LOWRY:

Yeah. Well, first of all, I'm there is just a matter of logic. If doing it outside the womb, if collapsing the skull, snipping the spine, and all the rest of it is wrong, why is it okay inside the womb? And I think that's a very difficult question for pro-choice people to grapple with. And I just was struck by President Obama goes to Planned Parenthood, the first sitting president to address Planned Parenthood, and doesn't mention the word "abortion." Why doesn't he hail them for their clinics and their affiliates performing more than 300,000 abortions a year if it's such a wonderful thing?

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

RICH LOWRY:

They're ashamed to say frankly what they do.

DAVID GREGORY:

Joy, 30 seconds.

JOY-ANN REID:

Planned Parenthood does a lot more than abortion. I mean before I had a job that paid me health insurance, Planned Parenthood is where I got my health care, everything from just general health care. And I wasn't going there to get abortions, I was going there to get health care. So Planned Parenthood is not simply an abortion--

(OVERTALK)

RICH LOWRY:

Right, but it does do abortions.

(OVERTALK)

JOY-ANN REID:

Right.

RICH LOWRY:

And the president never acknowledged--

(OVERTALK)

JOY-ANN REID:

There are doctors in clinics that do it, too. So that is not the only thing they do. And the second thing is, look, Gosnell is not something that should outrage liberals. This is something that should outrage anyone. You know, general abortion services are not performed. He is performing this in late, late term.

And I don't think that any rational or thinking human being of feeling human being thinks that that's okay, whether it's in the womb or out. This was also a case of impoverished women who were going to a place for supposed health care that shouldn't have even been open, that wasn't being inspected, where the laws in that state were not being followed. Where were the inspections to make sure that these services were even being provided in a sanitary facility? Just because these women had no money doesn't mean they didn't deserve to be protected.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, I'm out of time for this segment. We've got to take a break, come right back into this.

JOY-ANN REID:

Thank you.

(COMMERCIAL OMITTED)

DAVID GREGORY:

I said we'd talk about 2016 politics. We will, just not on television, (LAUGHTER) because we're out of time. Thank you all for an invigorating conversation. Before you we go, I want to tell you, you can watch this week’s Press Pass Conversation with Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt on his new book, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business. That's on our blog MeetThePressNBC.com. Don't miss it. That is all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

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