'Up with Steve Kornacki' for Sunday, September 1st, 2013
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UP with STEVE KORNACKI
September 1, 2013
Guests: Jay Newton-Small; Steven Dennis; Lynn Sweet; Angus King, Heather Hurlburt, Hillary Mann Leverett, Josh Rogin, Rob Simmelkjaer, Mike Pesca, Evan Weiner, Selena Roberts
STEVE KORNACKI, HOST: Be careful what you wish for is the old saying.
But when it comes to the United States Congress, a different version may
apply. Be careful what you posture for.
For the past week, it has looked for all the world like President
Obama was on an irreversible path to launching a unilateral, congressional-
authorization-free military strike against Syria. And it sure sounded that
way when Obama began speaking in the Rose Garden yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In a world with many
dangers, this menace must be confronted. And after careful deliberation, I
have decided that the United States should take military action against
Syrian regime targets.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: This is the announcement the political world and actually
the entire world was preparing for, but then the twist.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I will seek authorization for the use of force from the
American people`s representatives in Congress. For the last several days,
we`ve heard from members of Congress who want their voices to be heard. I
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: This is not what anyone saw coming. Congress will now
decide whether to authorize the missile attack that the president wants to
launch against Bashar Assad`s regime. And it is, to be sure, exactly what
well over 100 members of Congress publicly demanded over the past week.
With every step the administration took toward a strike, the House and
Senate chorus grew bigger and louder. "Not without our consent," they
cried. The question, though, is how many of them really meant it.
Because, let`s face it, there are two truths about how members of Congress
typically approach thorny questions of international diplomacy and military
intervention. They love to dramatically raise questions, demand answers
and insist on being the deciders. But then they`re just as happy when the
White House ignores them and works its will. It puts the president on the
hook for any decision, and if that decision goes wrong, it lets Congress
say, "But we tried to stop him."
I know. There are plenty of House members and senators who genuinely
and sincerely want to be on the record when it comes to using military
force. But as a whole, when it comes to Congress and foreign policy,
abdication has been the rule of late.
But abdication is not an option now. When Congress returns from its
vacation, there is going to be a debate on Capitol Hill about the attack
that President Obama wants to launch, and then there`s going to be a vote.
And that vote will have teeth. For Congress, it means being on the hook
for any action that`s taken and for any consequences of action not taken.
And for the president, it means the battle for public opinion, the battle
to force Congress to see Syria the way he does, is now on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Here`s my question for every member of Congress and every
member of the global community. What message will we send if a dictator
can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?
What`s the purpose of the international system that we built if a
prohibition on the use of chemical weapons that has been agreed to by the
governments of 98 percent of the world`s people and approved overwhelmingly
by the Congress of the United States is not enforced?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: This will be a debate like no other we`ve seen this
Congress. The stakes are high, and the partisan lines will probably blur.
They may even vanish altogether.
To talk about it, I want to bring in Richard Wolffe. He`s the
executive editor at MSNBC.com; Jay Newton-Small, Washington correspondent
for "TIME" magazine; Steven Dennis, who covers the House leadership for
"Roll Call"; and Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for "The Chicago Sun-
So I guess let`s just start on -- I think usually when you have, you
know, a statement from the president, press conferences, public
announcements, it`s all telegraphed and choreographed well in advance. We
know exactly what`s going to be said. And I sat there watching this
yesterday, and I found myself -- riveted, I guess, is the word but also
surprised. I didn`t see this coming, and I don`t think anybody did until
the moment the president said it, Richard.
RICHARD WOLFFE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, MSNBC.COM: You weren`t the only
one, right? This has all been about diplomacy of message sending. We want
to send a message to Assad. They want to send a message about chemical
weapons. And they have actually been sending a message all week, and maybe
more than that, about these strikes, about how they were going to be
limited, and narrow, as the president said, just to the end of the week,
and how it was all done. They were rolling towards it with -- with really
unprecedented speed for this president and this administration.
So the conflicting messages at a time when they`re trying to send a
message is surprising; it`s troubling; it`s confusing, and it`s not what
this diplomacy is supposed to be.
Having said that, what`s -- what`s out of character for this president
was the rush to the strikes. What`s much more characteristic --
characteristic is a deliberative approach, trying to build a coalition,
taking his time, making a decision, and unmaking it. That`s what he does
all the time on big things. The rush, the signaling before that, that was
very strange indeed.
KORNACKI: So do we -- do we know what changed? Because part of the
reason everybody assumed this was -- this was a done deal and the attacks
were going to be launched was the statement that John Kerry made on Friday
afternoon, which was really this sort of powerful, compelling, just laying
on the evidence as thick as possible. And somewhere it seems like between
then and Saturday afternoon, there was a shift in thinking. Do we know
what happened, what triggered it?
LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Well,
here`s what we suspect, and that is that the bigger picture came into view
for President Obama, particularly on his congressional relations when they
come back from their very long summer vacation. And that is he`s
jeopardizing his domestic agenda.
See, it`s easy for members of Congress, as you said in the beginning,
to make the fight over the vote. And then you don`t deal with the
underlying question. So by avoiding that fight over the vote, you have
Obama buying some take to make an international coalition, which he doesn`t
have now -- big set-back with the British parliament vote -- and he
realizes that he not only has trouble from his usual Republican
obstructionists but a lot of work to do on the left with the very vocal and
mobilized progressive community who is not happy with this development.
KORNACKI: And Richard mentioned this a minute ago. We actually have
sort of what we`re now looking at, going to Congress for authorization, is
in keeping with what Obama has said before.
This is President Obama as a candidate back in December 2007, talking
about maybe a situation like this. This is what he said at the time. He
said, "The president does not have Power under the Constitution to
unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not
involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."
So Jay, that is the case that a lot of members of Congress were making
this week as this seeming march to attacks sort of played out.
JAY NEWTON-SMALL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT FOR "TIME" MAGAZINE:
Absolutely. And he was -- look, he`s getting attacked on all sides on
this. He`s getting attacked by the left, by the right. And it kind of
just felt like, "OK, if I`m going to do this, I`m going to spread the pain.
Like, everybody has to sort of all go in. We can all decide together, and
we can all take the pain together."
And so rather than it being this unilateral decision where he was kind
of hanging out there, not just at home but also internationally, it became
something where it was like, "OK, we`re all going it jump in the boat.
We`re all going to do this, and we`ll see what happens." And if we -- if
we actually decide to do it, which it`s still a question whether or not
it`s actually going to get through the House.
KORNACKI: Right, right. Well, I`m told we have Kristen Welker
actually live at the White House for us. I`m going to go to her right now.
Kristen, we`re just sort of trying to figure out here what changed in
the last day or two to convince the president to go to Congress for this --
for the authorization? Do we have a sense of that, and do we have a sense
of what the White House is now doing to try to win that vote?
KRISTEN WELKER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are getting a sense of
that, Steve. I`m told that, to some extent, the president was divided this
past week in his own mind, in part because as you point out, in 2007, he
was a candidate who thought that you needed congressional approval for this
type of military action. That is what he stated. So I think he was torn
Then you have sort of this mounting pressure from Congress, these
mounting calls for a vote. But what swayed the president was that moment
in the British parliament, that "no" vote. America`s closest ally saying
they were not going to join in with the United States, with this limited
military action that was being floated. That is really the moment,
administration officials say, that pushed President Obama over to the side
of saying, "You know what? I have to put this to a vote in Congress."
We`re told that Friday night, after he had essentially walked the
military to the edge of action, he went for a walk with his chief of staff,
Dennis McDonough. The two of them talked. And it was during that
conversation that President Obama said, "I`m going to put this to a vote."
He then called his top officials here at the White House together, sat
down with them, told them about his decision. They were apparently stunned
and tried to convince him otherwise. They said, "This is not the right
course to take. This is limited military action. You don`t need
But he was determined. He was steadfast and said that, no, this was
the course he was going to take. By Saturday, I am told, most senior
administration officials here were on board with the decision. But
certainly, it made for some tense meetings here at the White House. But
that`s the evolution that we are learning about this morning -- Steve.
KORNACKI: And Kristen, just one quick follow-up to that.
KORNACKI: So you mentioned the advisers, in a way, are being stunned
by the decision, pushing back against it. Is that because -- you have a
sense, is that because they`re afraid they will lose the vote or they`re
afraid there`s a precedent being set here they think is not good for
WELKER: I think both. Concern about the president but deep concerns
particularly about the vote, in the House. As Jay was just talking about,
that is a big question mark.
One thing that was interesting yesterday, we had lawmakers coming out,
many of them praising the president`s decision. But of course, when you
actually put this to a vote, some of those lawmakers who said, "Yes, this
is a good idea. Yes, we want to vote on it. We`re going to vote no." So
this is very tricky. It`s tough sledding.
I should say that the White House is saying, look, even if Congress
votes no, there is still an avenue for President Obama to pursue -- launch
a military strike against Syria. But would that actually happen? The
politics of that gets even more complicated.
But certainly, there`s a big question mark surrounding what Congress
is going to do. And it is very uncertain that this will pass through a
sharply divided body.
KORNACKI: All right. Kristen Welker at the White House. Thanks.
Really good information there. Appreciate it.
KORNACKI: Steven, to pick up on what Kristen was just reporting
there, it`s interesting. She says at the end, so the White House is
saying, "Well, even if we lose the vote, you know, maybe there`s a chance
we can still take action."
She`s also saying what sort of triggered this decision by Obama was
looking at what happened in Britain. And of course, what happened in
Britain was they took the vote. Cameron lost the vote. And Cameron
immediately said, "All right. Look, I don`t have the support of the
people. I can`t do this."
It seems like an interesting -- that`s -- the idea that that is what
sort of inspired Obama to do this, a humiliating rebuke of a leader of a
country, kind of interesting to me.
STEVEN DENNIS, "ROLL CALL": Well, I mean, I think there were some
other things. I think the NBC News poll Friday morning went off like a
rifle shot in Washington. Something like 80 percent of the American public
says Congress needs to approve this before you go.
You know, politicians get where they are because they don`t go against
80 percent of the public on something like this very often, especially
when, you know, there`s no -- there wasn`t going to be a victory parade on
Tuesday after these cruise missiles had landed. This was going to be a
potentially ugly, messy scenario where, on Tuesday, he wouldn`t have a
cavalry coming to -- you know, coming back and saying, "Hey, you did the
right thing." There was no cavalry in Congress calling for these strikes.
The Republican leadership had not blessed them. They had said, "Hey,
we need more information. You need to do a better job of selling this."
The Democratic leadership had not been beating the war drums. They had
been silent. But David Cameron doesn`t -- there`s no international cavalry
So it makes perfect political sense now to say, "Look, Congress, you
know, you asked for this vote. You know, step up, do the right thing."
KORNACKI: Right. Here`s the hot potato. And it`s kind of
interesting. Here`s actually -- to give you a sense of how funky the kind
of coalitions on this could end up being, here`s Ted Cruz, who`s never had,
as far as I can tell, anything good to say about President Obama, this was
him yesterday. This was reacting to the announcement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I am very glad that President Obama has
listened to the bipartisan calls for him to go to Congress and seek
congressional authorization before any possible use of force in Syria.
That was the right thing to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: So obviously, he`s calling for, "Hey, we want this hot
potato." And a lot of members of Congress have been.
It`s interesting what Steve just said, though. That 80 percent of the
public wants Congress to approve this. This is the same public that gives
Congress, like, a 6 percent approval rating. And now they`re saying that
Congress has to be involved. But I wonder how much -- maybe Ted Cruz
really wants to vote on this. But I wonder how much does Congress really
want to vote on this?
SWEET: And I think what`s telling is he didn`t give a position. That
is what you`re going to hear for the next few days. People are going to
just relish the idea, we made him come to us for a vote. Fine. Great.
Where do you stand?
Especially for this crop of senators who are thinking of running in
2016, that`s a big question. The Iraq war helped define President Obama as
a presidential candidate. These are big votes. They`re usually -- you
know, this is a yes or no vote on a simple draft -- I saw the draft that
came out last night in the declaration. You can`t say, well, there are
clauses and autographs and paragraphs that somebody slipped in at the last
minute. This is a fairly straight forward.
KORNACKI: I mean, this is kind of the legend of the 2008 campaign,
the story of Hillary Clinton voting in 2002 and paying the political price
six years later, which is sort of why...
SWEET: Remember that John Kerry quote?
KORNACKI: Right. I mean, this is how members -- this is why they
like to duck this stuff.
SWEET: These are defining votes. So I -- you know, the rhetoric of
somebody just saying, "Oh, isn`t it great? We made him come to us." Big -
- at this point, OK, fine. Let`s get to the heart of it. Want to give a
hint of where your thinking is on this?
KORNACKI: Right. So sort of he`s come to them, and that`s the
question now. And we`re going to look at that. We`ll pick up when we come
back, about what it looks like on the Democratic side, what it looks like
on the Republican side when it comes to actually taking this vote. After
KORNACKI: All right. Congress is going to decide whether we launch a
military strike against Syria. So let`s take a look how it shapes up in
each party, how this vote kind of shapes up right now.
Let`s start by looking at the Democrat, but we`re going to -- this is
a quote, actually, from Tom Cole, who`s a Republican, you know from
Oklahoma. This is what he said yesterday. He said, "Obama hasn`t got a
chance to win this vote if he can`t win the majority of his own party, and
I doubt he can. He is a war president without a war party."
Richard Wolffe, looking at the Democratic Party, Democrats on Capitol
Hill, what do you make of that assessment?
WOLFFE: So let`s just come back to the British situation for a start.
The reason they lost was actually because they were -- two things. First
of all, incredibly bad at whipping votes. About two or three dozen of
their own -- of the Conservatives` own majority were on vacation, including
several of the government ministers. So you`ve got to be able to count
votes; you`ve got to be able to win votes.
When you look at the Democratic Party, clearly, there`s going to be a
substantial, I think, minority that will vote against this resolution.
So the only way this gets through is, in for both sides of Congress,
the majority and the minority to come together. So you`re not going to
have a majority -- a clean majority of either side. You`re going to have a
coalition. And that`s what failed in Britain, because you had a coalition
splintering; people in the majority not showing up to vote; the opposition
voting against it, in large number to embarrass the leadership; and that
could yet happen, right?
So if the Tea Party guys all get together and say, "Well, no matter
what Ted Cruz say, we are going to embarrass the president, and that`s the
priority here," he is in substantial -- the president is in substantial
So I think you`re going to see a big minority of Democrats voting
against this, but on balance, loyalty to the president among Democrats,
national security Democrats voting yes to them, and they may just squeak a
majority of Democrats.
KORNACKI: Jay, let me address that point. How much deference to, you
know, "I`m a Democrat. This is my party`s president. I want to support my
party`s president if he wants to take military action"? How much of that
exists on the Democratic side on Capitol Hill?
NEWTON-SMALL: Well, I think it`s so interesting, because you see sort
of see reformed a lot of the coalition you had under the Clinton -- the
last Clinton era, where it was -- you know, both parties were split by
foreign policy. And this is like, you know, under Bush those definitions
went away, because it came so reflexively partisan going into Iraq, going
into Afghanistan and really voting on party lines.
But now we`re going back to the old coalitions, where you have the
libertarians and the doves getting together from the two sides, and then
you have the hawks and the bleeding hearts getting together, and you have
these two sort of, you know, split parties.
And a lot of it will be, I think, in terms of driving majorities on
the Hill, a lot of it will have to be loyalty to the president. But some
of it will be, you know, like these very strange bedfellow coalitions which
brought us into war with Kosovo and brought us into Somalia and other
places but have reformed again as sort of natural foreign policy.
KORNACKI: Well, what`s -- what is, like -- what is Nancy Pelosi going
to do in this? Because I imagine Nancy Pelosi could really deliver votes.
But one, is Nancy Pelosi going to be on board with this? So we see...
SWEET: She is on board. Pelosi is on board. And here`s what`s
remarkable about this, is that Boehner apparently has told Obama he`s going
to give a vote. Now everyone out there you might think, what`s the big
deal? Doesn`t everything get a vote? In the House that`s just not true.
So if Boehner is allowing a vote without first insisting on the
support of the majority -- of the majority, then it`s an up or down vote,
this actually is quite rare in the House.
And as Jay said, this gives the chance for these coalitions to build
that might lead to a majority. But we`re seeing what`s rare in the House,
the true wheeling and dealing. The -- this isn`t deal making because we --
we don`t have elements of legislation that can come in and out on it.
I also want to put on the table here, I think the details will matter.
The members are going to be getting classified briefings. They will have
access to information for a deeper dive. In the series of questions that
people want to know: What are the implications of giving -- of helping the
rebels who may not be the friends of our friends or even our friends? What
exactly do you mean by limited military action? When they get more
information on this, I think these coalitions that are being talked about
here will take more shape in the days to come.
DENNIS: Nancy Pelosi is critical. She came out 100 percent behind
the president yesterday.
DENNIS: She had been milquetoast earlier in the week. Harry Reid had
been silent all week. he came out 100 percent behind the president
yesterday. Nobody in Congress is better at whipping votes than Nancy
Pelosi. That matters.
The thing that this reminds me the most of is the first TARP vote, the
Wall Street bailout. And that didn`t go so well the first time around.
That had the entire congressional leadership behind it. And yet, it was,
you know, when it went to the floor, John Boehner called it a mud sandwich
and worse behind closed doors. And they voted it down, but they eventually
KORNACKI: There`s only going to be one shot on this one, right?
DENNIS: I think -- right, but I think you`re going to see a similar
kind of coalition where the leadership, by and large, in both parties, I
think, is going to support the president here.
The question is will there be followership? Can John Boehner -- you
know, he has got very dicey support right now among his -- his conference.
Eric Cantor, who`s No. 2, has been very hawkish on Syria in the past.
Presumably, he`s going to be trying to get Republican votes here.
But I think the president really needs to do is get his own people on
board. The Congressional Black Caucus, a number of them, are very...
SWEET: Very tough. Very tough to do.
DENNIS: ... very opposed to any new military action in the Middle
Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, still not on board. He`s the
Whip. He`s got to get them on board. He probably will. But Dick Durbin
voted against the Iraq war. He is not a fan of overseas military
engagements when there`s no clear...
SWEET: But he is very supportive -- he`s very supportive of Obama,
and that`s why he`s keeping his options open. Now, won`t show his hand for
KORNACKI: OK. And there`s a lot more on the Republican side, too, I
want to get to, as well. But first we have somebody who actually will get
a vote on this, Senator Angus King. We`re going to talk to him after the
KORNACKI: In a statement released yesterday, Senator Angus King of
Maine said he believes the president is right to seek congressional
approval before moving forward with any action in Syria. He called the
conflict there incredibly complex.
The lawmaker will have his chance to weigh in on whether or not the
U.S. does intervene when Congress returns from vacation next week. Before
that, he joins us here, independent Senator Angus King, a member of the
intelligence and armed services committee, live from Brunswick, Maine.
Senator, thank you for joining us this morning. So we -- Lynn Sweet
earlier in the program, basically said we can sort of stipulate that
everyone in Congress is going to say, "Great, wonderful, the president
decided to come to us. He did the right thing."
The real question here right now is how are you, as a member of
Congress, going to vote on this issue of military force in Syria? Do you -
- have you decided yet? Will you support military action in Syria?
SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: I have not decided that, Steve. There
are a number of questions. The first is intelligence.
I think the ghost of Iraq is haunting this debate. It certainly
haunted the debate in the British Parliament. And the first we have to
determine, and there are going to be hearings this week in Washington,
classified hearings on the intelligence, on the military option. But No. 1
question is, how solid is the intelligence that this, in fact, was a
significant use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime? So that`s --
that`s question one.
Then the next question is, OK, what`s the response, what`s the -- and
what are the consequences and results of the response?
So I think I`d be surprised if too many members told you right now
that they knew how they were going to vote. I -- I like to, you know, have
the information before I make those kinds of decisions. This is an
important -- important decision. And there`s going to be a lot of work
between now and then.
There`s going to be a debate. I think you`re going to see an old-
fashioned debate on the floor of the United States Senate, with the
senators in their chairs and a lot of people making some passionate
One thing I think it`s very important to clarify, and that is that the
president is not asking for authority to generally inject ourselves into
the Syrian civil war. This is all about chemical weapons. And the
question, really, before the House, I think, will be what, if any, response
does the civilized world make if it`s determined that there was, in fact, a
use of chemical weapons?
For 90 years, there`s been a general world consensus that this was
unacceptable. The question is, are we going to let it go? Or is there
going to be some kind of response?
Beyond that is the question about to what extent do we get entangled
in Syria? I can tell you the people of Maine -- and I spent all day on the
road yesterday -- absolutely have no appetite for getting involved in
another war in the Middle East. But the narrower question is what`s the
response to the use of chemical weapons?
KORNACKI: And you were -- now you were in the region recently. And I
think when you came back from that trip you talked about being open to the
idea of some kind of limited military engage -- you know, military strikes,
arming, you know, some of the rebel groups.
But I guess I look at that and the question -- and you started to get
into it there -- is, if there has to be, if you decide that, morally
speaking, there has to be some sort of answer to the use of chemical
weapons, but the answer is a surgical limited strike that leaves Assad in
Power, doesn`t that just raise the possibility that Assad can turn around
and say, "Hey, the United States came after me and I`m still standing," and
it only makes him stronger?
KING: Oh, listen. Absolutely. And that`s the second part of the
discussion, is what are the consequences?
I mean, you can`t assume a static situation, that we`re going to lob a
missile in there and nothing happens. I mean, there are all kinds of
I -- as of late yesterday we had a meeting scheduled for this
Wednesday of the armed services committee on, you know, what are the
military options and what are the possible responses? Assad could fire a
missile into Israel. Iran could -- could get into the game. This is
If you`ve read "The Guns of August," you know how wars can start
almost by accident. And we can make these nice distinctions about, well,
it`s a response to chemical weapons. But all of a sudden, there can be
And that`s why this -- I tell you, I have spent time over there. And
it is the most complex policy question I think I`ve ever encountered.
There are so many factors, and it`s so difficult.
On the other hand, there is this principle that the world community
has adhered to for almost 100 years, that chemical weapons, because of
their horrendous nature, their effect on civilians, is just not an
acceptable way of going.
One of the big deals, I think, in the next week, and I think it was --
it was good to have this little bit of time here, is whether or not the
international community and how they line up. We already know Britain has
opted out. The real question to me are the Arab states and the Arab League
and what position they take. If they stand aside and say, "Well, this
really isn`t something we`re too worried about," I think that makes it very
difficult to persuade the Congress and the American people that somehow
we`ve become the de facto enforcer of a world norm that nobody else is
willing to step up and enforce.
KORNACKI: And Richard Wolffe has a question for you.
WOLFFE: Senator King, I just want to actually follow up on that
point. Because you`ve described this consensus that the use of chemical
weapons is unacceptable.
Are you saying, then, that consensus is dependent on other countries
saying it`s also unacceptable to them? And where do you draw the line?
France is saying it`s unacceptable, and they would join military action.
And if America, if the United States says it`s unacceptable and the United
States can take action, is that not enough for you?
KING: Well, I think there`s -- no, I think we`ve got to hear more.
And as I mentioned, I`m -- I think the gulf states and the Arab League have
an important role to play here.
What I hear on the street, and it`s a fair question, is who appointed
us policeman of the world? OK, we`ve got -- you`ve got an international
norm. But if we`re the only ones that are willing -- or have the
willingness to step up and enforce it, it raises a question of, you know,
what is really the belief in that norm in other countries?
I`m not saying that`s a litmus test for me, but it`s certainly one of
I think -- I think there`s got to be a lot of discussion both in the
Congress but also among the American people. I mean, you talked about the
poll that 80 percent of the people thought it should go to Congress. I`ll
tell you, I think it`s 99 percent of the people that I`m hearing from do
not want us to get involved in Syria.
So the president and those who think this is the right step have a lot
of educating to do over the next -- over the next 10 days.
By the way, I think the president`s kicking this over to Congress was
brilliant. Not necessarily politically but I think constitutionally, but
also because Congress has a tendency to stand on the sidelines, wring its
hands and criticize whatever the president does.
Now the Congress is going to have to step up and say, "OK, we wanted
this vote. We`re going to face it. We`re going to take the vote, and
we`re going to understand that these votes are going to be on our record.
We`re going to have to live with it."
You know, it`s not going to be easy. I`d just as soon not have to go
on the record on it, but I`m ready to do it. And I think that`s our
responsibility. That`s what the people sent us down here to do.
KORNACKI: All right. Maine Senator Angus King, joining us from
Brunswick, Maine. I think my parents are actually right down the road from
you today. Thanks for -- thanks for joining us this morning.
We will pick it up with the panel next and talk more about all these
senators and members of Congress going on the record. We`re going to look
more at that when we come back.
KORNACKI: That`s the question. And so we -- interestingly here, I
think -- I`m always going to look for the example from 10, 12, or 30 years
ago that kind of fits into this. And I think there is a parallel here.
There`s a precedent for what we`re seeing, and it played out right before
the first Gulf War, in 1991, when George Bush Sr., the president at the
time, after Iraq invaded Kuwait, he set a January 15 deadline. He started
massing troops in the desert.
And Congress started saying, "No, we want to authorize this. We want
input. We want a vote."
And very reluctantly, a week before the that January 15 deadline, the
president said, "OK, we`re going to put this to Congress for a vote. I`m
not saying I`m going to abide by the vote, but we`re going to put it to
Congress for the vote." And his message at the time sounded very similar
to the message I heard from President Obama yesterday. Let`s play it.
This is what George Bush Sr. said in 1991 about that vote.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Iraq
has demonstrated no flexibility whatsoever, and I think the meeting we`re
having here today now takes on even greater importance, because I would
like to see that Congress send a strong signal that they want these United
Nations resolutions fully supported.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That idea of sending a strong unified signal that this is
not just what the president wants; this is what the United States
government wants; this is what the United States wants.
Jay, maybe you could just -- that vote in 1991 ended up being very
close in the House...
DENNIS: Very close.
KORNACKI: ... it was 250-183; in the Senate it was 52-47. So it was
-- it was close. What is this going to -- how is this going to play out?
White House sent a draft of a resolution over to Congress last night. Is
that the draft that they`re going to be voting on? Is that going to be
changed a lot? How is this going to play out?
NEWTON-SMALL: I mean, we still have to wait and see. Obviously,
there`s still a draft. You have to do a final, you know, this is the bill
that we want to see happen. But then they can always amend it, right? So
there`s all these questions of do you amend it? What amendments get --
what amendments pass? What amendments have enough support?
And then it`s really unprecedented the idea of, you know, basically
Congress with amendments, if they do add amendments to it, really
hamstringing the president in foreign policy, which is very unusual. I
mean, usually, the president has his own purview to be commander in chief
and can do whatever he wants in terms of military intervention.
And if they do hamstring him, does he choose to listen to that?
KORNACKI: When you say hamstring, like, an example of an amendment
would be one that I heard last night, like putting something in there that
explicitly says no ground troops will be used at any point. Because right
now, that wouldn`t be in this draft.
NEWTON-SMALL: Or you have, like, sort of hawks like John McCain and
Lindsey Graham, who yesterday came out and said, "We absolutely want regime
change in this." So if you have an amendment that says we insist on regime
change, how do you even handle that? I mean, does that mean you are going
to put troops on the ground? Does that mean you`re not? It`s so -- it`s
very unusual, really, to have legislating foreign policy this way. And
it`s going to be fascinating to watch.
SWEET: I just want to put something on the table for everybody that I
think might be interesting in the context of what the Obama administration
team is at. And that is under President Obama he has created an Atrocities
Prevention Council. So this is a climate where you have our new United
Nations ambassador Samantha Power, who is a Pulitzer Prize winner for
writing a defining book on genocide. Now who talked about how the United
Nations, a few blocks from here, the fight just to define genocide.
Obama`s administration is involved in a way other presidents have not
been with systematically dealing with atrocity prevention. And I think
that does influence and color what you see the administration doing in
putting a potentially lot on the line in trying to respond to the horror in
KORNACKI: And that`s -- Susan Power -- Samantha Power -- Susan Rice.
Excuse me, Susan Power was an exercise guru. Anyway, we talked about how
they are a lot more hawkish, I think, when it comes to intervention and the
role they are going to have in shaping foreign policy.
SWEET: That`s why it`s interesting to see. You know, the United
Nations right now -- anyone think otherwise? -- is not going to do anything
too much, even with Samantha Power there.
But I think she -- you know, she goes way back with Obama to his days
as a senator, was influential then. And this is a topic that`s one of the
centerpieces of what she`s about. So I think this is -- this is clearly,
with this creation of this council that hasn`t got a lot of attention yet.
And Samantha Power was on that council until -- she still may be, but I
think when she became U.N. ambassador she had to step down.
So this is a topic that is very specifically on the Obama agenda. So
now you have atrocity.
KORNACKI: Let me just...
SWEET: He feels the need more -- more so I think, because he has very
clearly defined that this is something he wants to take action.
KORNACKI: and so speaking of that, I just want to put this out there.
This is part of the justification, part of what was in the resolution that
the White House submitted last night. They say, "The objective of the
United States` use of military force in connection with this authorization
should be to deter, disrupt, prevent and degrade the potential for future
uses of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction." There`s
that term again.
We will pick it up, Steven, once again. We`re going to pick it up
with him right when we come back from this break.
KORNACKI: OK. I rudely interrupted him, but Steve, you were about to
DENNIS: Look, I want to get back to that draft resolution. It gives
the president authority to do basically whatever he wants in Syria. It is
an incredibly broad resolution. It doesn`t say a limited; it doesn`t say
short-term duration. It says he gets to decide how long a duration, how
big we go into Syria. It doesn`t have any real limitations on it. And
that is just not going to be what`s voted on.
I mean, members of Congress have to go back to their constituents and
say, "Oh, yes, I voted for limited strikes." Even if you look at Nancy
Pelosi and Harry Reid`s statements, they talk about limited strikes. You
look at the president`s statement, he talks about limited duration. That`s
going to be in that draft.
KORNACKI: How is this going to...
DENNIS: Some type of limitation is going to be in that draft.
KORNACKI: So how is it going to -- how is it going to work, then, in
terms of who introduces this in the House? It`s not, you know, it`s got to
be this way.
DENNIS: It`s going to look -- I think it`s going to be a similar
process to what happened on TARP. If you remember, Hank Paulson, the
treasury secretary, sends over a couple of pages saying, "I get to spend
$100 billion any way I please."
And members of Congress laughed him out of the room. And there were
negotiations, late-night negotiations on a week -- on a weekend. The
bipartisan leadership got together; what is the language going to be?
You`re not going to have three or four votes on this. You have one shot in
KORNACKI: Is -- it will be a bipartisan-crafted resolution, you
DENNIS: No -- no question. They need both parties involved; they
need to have the leadership involved. What -- what do we need to put in
this resolution to get the votes?
KORNACKI: And I want to get this in before we have to go. And
Richard, I wonder what you make of this. You know, John McCain and Lindsey
Graham, who you think maybe would be all on board with, hey, we got the
idea of intervention here, yesterday they put out a statement saying, "We
cannot in good conscience support isolated military strikes in Syria that
are not part of an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the
battlefield, achieve the president`s stated goal of Assad`s removal from
power, and bring an end to the conflict." So they`re basically saying, "We
might vote no because we want more." Do you think that`s an empty threat,
or do you think that`s one more thing we don`t know?
WOLFFE: No. I think they`re follow through with it.
And by the way, the administration can say, "Yes, we support regime
change, too. We just don`t think these strikes are the way to do it. You
know, ultimately, the Syrian people will bring about regime change."
I think this resolution is going to go both ways. I think there will
be attempts to limit it. And the administration will say, "Great, we want
this limited." And there will be attempts to expand it, and they`ll say,
"Well, of course, at some point we wanted to expand it, as well." You`ve
got to give something to everyone to give them the votes and to cover what
they want, to say, "Yes, I voted for something limited," "I voted for
something expansive." That`s how you get a coalition.
DENNIS: Don`t forget, also, there`s an issue of money. September is
money month. The money runs out for the government at the end of the
month. The House has to pass something to keep the government running.
And one of the big issues is how much are we going to have for defense
spending? A lot of people are going -- you already have some senators
saying, "Look, before we do this, we need to make sure that we get that
defense spending back up."
And so there might be some demands for taking care of some of those
defense spending needs from the president. And will he cave on that? You
know, this is going to spill over into all these other issues.
KORNACKI: We`ve got 30 seconds here, Jay.
NEWTON-SMALL: I think it`s going to be a fascinating six weeks.
Because it`s not just war powers before Congress. You`ve got the budget.
You`ve got the debt ceiling. You`ve got immigration. I mean, all of these
sort of huge trains that are stacked up for the next six weeks.
And part of this is Obama throwing the gauntlet down for Congress and
being, like, "Can you be functional, guys?" Like, "Can you do this?" And
not just for this but for all of these bills. Because we`ve got all this
legislation hanging out there. Let`s see what we can do.
KORNACKI: Right. So we go through all of this and then back to the
debt ceiling. Got to push up all that again. We`ll be back having this
conversation again about the familiar partisan lines reasserting themselves
Anyway, I want to thank Jay Newton-Small with "TIME" magazine; Steven
Dennis from "Roll Call," my old employer; and Lynn Sweet with "The Chicago
There is one word that haunts the debate over Syria. You probably
know what it is, but I`ll explain it next.
KORNACKI: We mentioned this earlier, but if you want to understand
the risk that President Obama is taking by letting Congress decide whether
to intervene in Syria, all you have to do is look at the unscripted drama
that played out three days ago in Britain`s House of Commons.
And that`s where -- Excuse me, I thought we had the video there. OK.
Sorry, so much for the dramatic video. But of course, if we had the video
playing, it would show that Prime Minister David Cameron, who is intent on
using the country`s military to join an attack, was then undercut by the
elected representatives of the people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is clear to me that the British Parliament,
reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British
military action. I get that, and the government will act accordingly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: There`s that magical video. Anyway, so what we do know,
though, is that no matter what happens, if anything does happen in Syria or
in the skies over Syria in the days ahead, Britain is not going to be a
part of it. And there is one overriding reason for that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`ve got to learn the lessons of Iraq, because
people remember the mistakes that were made in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Iraq, that is the four-letter word that thwarted David
Cameron, and as we just talked about, it is the four-letter word that
hovers over the president`s determination to take action in Syria.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: There`s a certain weariness, given Afghanistan. There`s a
certain suspicion of any military action post-Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: So make no mistake: in a different time the road to
intervention would probably be an easy one, or at least a much easier one,
and we probably wouldn`t even be talking about a congressional vote here.
The scale and brutality of Bashar Assad`s reign of terror was obvious
even before chemical weapons entered the picture. The chemical weapons
revelations came after the president of the United States drew his red
And it`s not like President Obama says he wants to put boots on the
ground. What`s on the table here, he says, is a targeted, limited
airstrike, to stop some of the killing, to back up the red line and to make
some kind of a stand on behalf of the innocent civilians who have been
Iraq has changed the way we think about these things. It gives us
pause that wasn`t there before. It makes us hesitate. It creates doubt.
It feeds doubt. We think about consequences now, the bigger picture. The
"what happens next" question that seemed so abstract a decade ago, that`s
become the unanswered question that haunts this debate.
We remember how we were supposed to be greeted as liberators in Iraq
and how many thousands of our own died in those bloody years after Saddam
A targeted, limited, no-troop strike sounds benign, but we wonder what
happens when it doesn`t change anything, when Assad acts up again?
This is the reality of how public opinion is shaped, of how the
opinions of our elected representatives are formed when it comes to
military action. How we remember the last great conflict forms the basis
for how we think about the next one.
Let`s go back to January 1991, to the days just before the first Gulf
War. We talked about it a few minutes ago. The president, George H.W.
Bush, was seeking congressional authorization to evict Kuwait -- to evict
Iraq from Kuwait. And across the country there was doubt; there was fear;
and there was trepidation, and it`s because there were memories, raw,
painful memories. Memories that weren`t even two decades old of Vietnam.
And those memories loomed over the congressional debate, and in that
debate there were generational contours, contours that were forged by very
different memories of two very different conflicts and that were impossible
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess younger members are tired of hearing of
World War II types always using the prelude to that war as a model for
foreign policy. For so many of you, your war was the Vietnam War. That
war shaped your thinking. One way or the other, different war, different
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: As we said, the margins were thin, but Bush did get his war
in 1991. And almost as soon as it started, the Iraqis folded and fled with
very few American casualties. The troops came home, and a great national
celebration ensued. At last, America had kicked its Vietnam syndrome.
But that `91 Gulf War, that shockingly easy Gulf War, became the new
standard for intervention. We could throw our weight around without
getting sucked into another Vietnam. That is the lesson that America took.
And it cleared the way for President Clinton to launch airstrikes
throughout the 1990s, airstrikes that ended bloody conflicts in Bosnia and
Kosovo, airstrikes that made intervention that much more palatable for all
of us. And it made the case for -- the next case for war a lot easier to
When George W. Bush wanted his own war with Iraq, the public was with
him. It was time to finish the job we`d started in the `90s, right?
Remember how easy that had been? This time the votes in the House and the
Senate weren`t that close. And Bush got his war, and well, that brings us
to where we are today.
There is a compelling case for intervening in Syria. There are also
compelling reasons for restraint. But the elephant in the room is Iraq.
We`re going to talk about what role Iraq should and shouldn`t play as we
ponder what to do in Syria, and we are going to tackle that "what comes
next" question, "what comes next if we do go in" after this.
KORNACKI: We`re talking about how the shadow of Iraq is hovering over
the situation in Syria. Still with us is Richard Wolffe, the executive
editor at MSNBC.com.
And joining us, we have Heather Hurlburt. She`s the executive
director of the progressive group the National Security Network and a
former State Department speechwriter under President Bill Clinton.
We also have Josh Rogin, senior correspondent for national security
and politics at "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast;" and Hillary Mann
Leverett, a former diplomat and official on Middle East issues under
President George W. Bush, now at American University.
So Heather, I`ll start with you; I sort of set it up there before the
segment. But everybody has Iraq on their minds in some way, the
experience, the example of Iraq. I know we can say there are a lot of
distinctions between what is being proposed here, what`s on the table here.
But how much should Iraq be part of people`s thinking on this?
HEATHER HURLBURT, NATIONAL SECURITY NETWORK: The main difference I
would say people should have in mind is that the vote that Congress took on
Iraq after the 9/11 attacks was the culmination of almost a decade of
efforts to push us into war with Iraq exactly, by the way, because the `91
war was limited.
So in Iraq, by the time we get to the place that the American people
and the British people are quite rightly thinking about, there had been a
lot of groundwork laid and a lot of back-and-forth in American politics and
a lot of really land mines laid in American politics; whereas with Syria,
what`s happening right now is, I`m afraid, just the beginning of what`s
going to be a much longer story as the U.S. struggles with the chemical
weapons, the humanitarian, the regional implications, implications for
Israel and implications for Iran`s nuclear program.
We`re going to be having this conversation for a decade. You know,
arguably the question is what can we get right now, what land mines can we
avoid laying for ourselves in the future?
KORNACKI: And it`s -- you know, I go back and forth, Josh, with how
to think about this. We have some examples at least from the 1990s of
these humanitarian interventions that were limited in scope and that, you
know, bore successful outcomes.
I wondered, at a basic level, do you think we would not be having this
debate, this would not be going to Congress right now, this wouldn`t be as
contentious as it`s become politically if it hadn`t been for Iraq?
Would we be looking at this much more as like, well, this is an
extension of Kosovo, this is an extension of Bosnia; this is just another
airstrike for humanitarian purposes?
JOSH ROGIN, "THE DAILY BEAST": Right. I think in one way, we`re
seeing a return to what we saw in the Clinton administration as cruise
missile diplomacy. This is where we use limited military action to achieve
short-term, limited diplomatic gains without a real sense of what`s really
going to be happening afterwards.
The biggest difference between the Iraq War and the Syria War is that
the Iraq War, we were proposing an invasion, an occupation and a rebuilding
of a country, which is a gargantuan proposal.
Here President Obama is proposing two days of strikes. So there`s a
scale issue, but there`s also an intention issue. There`s nobody who
thinks that President Obama is eager to intervene in Syria. He spent the
last 21/2 years avoiding military intervention in Syria. He feels like
he`s being dragged into it.
Now he`s going around the world making a case for a limited
intervention he`s really not a fan of and really doesn`t really want to do
and (inaudible) at least we`re led to believe he`s conflicted on it. So
it`s not a model for anything because what we`ve seen with President Obama
is that he was against the Iraq war.
Then when it came to Libya, he decided in that one case we should have
a responsibility to protect civilians in need. And so then it was worthy
of an intervention. In this case, he`s not even making the argument that
we`re going in to protect civilians; he`s making the argument that we
should go in to protect this international norm of prohibition on the use
of chemical weapons.
So there`s no pattern in the mind of Barack Obama. He does these
things ad hoc. He (inaudible) them case by case. And in the sense we
can`t really connect this decision to the other decisions because he`s not
HILLARY MANN LEVERETT, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: It is strikingly similar
to the lead up to the war in Iraq. I was in the Bush administration, in
the Bush White House, dealing also with congressional Democrats and with
members of the media, with "The New York Times," with NBC.
The herd mentality that took over to buy into the Bush
administration`s narrative that Saddam Hussein had to have chemical weapons
and weapons of mass destruction, he was determined to use them against us,
was something unquestioned.
I remember going with a key member of the Bush national security team
to see President Clinton and he putting his arm around her, telling her not
only was the intel right, but she was doing the right thing morally.
It was not only a mistake; it was based on manufactured evidence.
Here, nobody is asking this basic question, except for our friends in
Moscow, what if Assad didn`t order this?
What if this wasn`t a Syrian troop chemical attack?
What if this was perpetrated by Al Qaeda-affiliated oppositionists?
The consequences here for going into Syria are even more grave than
Iraq, because if we go into Syria and we degrade and we weaken Assad to the
extent that Jabhat Al-Nusra and the other Al Qaeda- affiliated
oppositionists get away with mass chemical warfare, if that`s what happened
and we think they`re going to stop there, that`s the definition of
KORNACKI: I`ve heard people advance that scenario, I guess, that this
was not actually Assad who ordered this attack; maybe it was other elements
of the military that he didn`t directly control. You`re saying maybe it
LEVERETT: Or the Al Qaeda --
KORNACKI: What would be the -- John Kerry put a lot of evidence on
the table the other day.
LEVERETT: No, he didn`t. Compared to Colin Powell, it`s a joke.
KORNACKI: OK. So what would be the evidence for what you`re
What is the available -- ?
LEVERETT: The Russians and the Chinese have people on the ground.
They didn`t pull their diplomats out. They haven`t pulled their people out
of Syria. They went to the last chemical weapons attack site in March.
And they did forensics on the ground themselves.
And they found two striking things that have not been covered in the
press here at all. One was that the rockets used to deliver those
chemicals were homemade rockets, not military, not industrial produced.
The other thing they found was the sarin there was also not military
industrial produced. They didn`t use stabilizers.
Now maybe this is totally different. Maybe this time Assad said,
well, you know, I`m winning on the battlefield, so I`m just going to send
chemical weapons in for the heck of it, for the fun of it.
Maybe. But maybe the Russians have a point. Here Obama is going to
go to Russia, and we think he`s not going to hear an earful? The rest of
the world does not believe what we`re saying for good reason. We made it
up last time.
KORNACKI: All right, Josh, what do you.?
ROGIN: I`m not one of these people who thinks that all the rebels are
good or all the rebels are bad or all the regime people are (inaudible)
regime people are bad, but there is a bunch of evidence here that I think
we should just put into the discussion, especially those March attacks that
There were signals to intelligence. We caught Syrian military
commanders talking about these --
LEVERETT: As we did with Iraq. And we interrogated those Iraqis
after the fact, after we invaded Iraq. We interrogated the Iraqis
(inaudible) that Colin Powell displayed to the world.
You know what those Iraqis said? They couldn`t believe how much we
had contorted, distorted and taken out of context what they were saying on
the phone. That`s not how Syrians -- I spent over a decade in the U.S.
government. That is not how Syrians do their battle plans, is on the
ROGIN: We should also take a look at this pack (ph) hearing and
(inaudible). This was a rebel-controlled area that was a key venue for how
the rebels got arms into Syria through Jordan. It was a long desire of the
Assad regime to take over these neighborhoods. They saw it as a necessary
strategic objective. They set up military on the outside of Guda (ph).
After the chemical attack, they went in and bombarded and attempted to
retake the city. So it doesn`t really make a lot of logical sense that
this was a rebel attack on the rebels to make it easier for the Assad
LEVERETT: But they`re the only ones who have the motive for U.S.
Do you think Assad wants U.S. intervention? They`re the (inaudible)
I don`t know. You don`t know either. And that`s why this needs to be
debated in Congress. The American people need to really debate whether
we`re going to invade yet another Muslim country and potentially kill
millions of people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody is talking about invading.
KORNACKI: Just for a second, nobody is talking about --
LEVERETT: Yes, just strikes like we did in Sudan.
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC.COM EXEC. DIRECTOR: You just had a lot of time
to talk. Just hold on one second. You say that nobody questioned the
evidence when it came to Iraq. So while we`re having the whole Iraq
discussion, there were plenty of questions being asked.
The reason the administration, which you were part of, said that you
couldn`t wait for the smoking gun to be (inaudible) was because people were
To say that this is exactly a repeat isn`t actually the case. You
know very well there are real warning signs. There are real lessons people
should draw from Iraq.
But in this case, nobody`s disputing that chemical weapons were
In Iraq`s case, there was a question whether there were chemical
weapons collections, whether they had degraded, whether they were actually
usable, whether there was an imminent threat.
In this case, there`s no imminent threat. No threat to the United
States directly, and chemical weapons have been used.
You say it`s ad hoc, Josh. All of these situations are ad hoc. Just
because (inaudible) country and weapons of mass destruction, that`s about
where the similarity ends. This is closer to Bosnia and Kosovo.
LEVERETT: I wasn`t a political appointee in the Bush administration.
You neglected to mention in your intro that I was also a professional
member of the Clinton National Security Council staff when they bombed a
pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, again without evidence.
This is not something that is unique to Bush, unique to Clinton, or
even to Obama. This is coming back to your point in the setup.
The 1991 intervention in Iraq to get Iraqi troops out of Kuwait that
we thought was so clean, that we took such -- we patted ourselves on the
back and had (inaudible) parades, Osama bin Laden goes back -- went back to
that. Al Qaeda`s writings go back to that.
The U.S. decision, taken under Clinton with very little thought to
keep tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia and to continuously
bomb Iraq, then to bomb Sudan, to bomb other places, these are not clean
interventions. We definitely to think about --
KORNACKI: But it does -- again, it does get back to the more basic
question here of -- we talk about evidence specifically of the chemical
weapons. We also have evidence of 100,000 people being killed over the
last two years, of unspeakable brutality being perpetrated by this regime
LEVERETT: (Inaudible) serious diplomacy. President Clinton has had
over two years to engage in serious diplomacy. You have a serious foreign
minister in Russia with Lavrov. You have a serious foreign minister in
Iraq (ph), serious foreign minister in China. All of these people have put
proposal after proposal -- you have Lakhdar Brahimi, who I worked with on
Afghanistan, who did this in Somalia, who did this in Haiti, who did this
in Iraq. You have serious people there.
But the Obama administration has said time and time again, no, Assad
just has to go.
KORNACKI: Heather, let me get to that issue. Let`s take the -- have
we not tried a diplomatic approach to Syria?
HURLBURT: So there`s no question the administration has tried hard,
has had multiple conferences, worked very hard to pull the Syrian
opposition together to have a credible Syrian opposition that excluded --
LEVERETT: That`s not diplomacy.
HURLBURT: -- that Hillary rightly is concerned about -- has worked
with the Russians, has worked with our allies. Now there is also no
question that this administration said, because of Iraq, we don`t want to
put so much effort into Syria to the exclusion of other things.
I think looking at where we are now, we all maybe wish -- I certainly
do -- that they had tried harder. But the biggest lessons of Iraq and of
exactly your setup is, first of all, we don`t want to even get pulled into
anything that looks like a quagmire, which led us to maybe to be more
standoffish than we should have.
And second, to this little fight we were having before, there is no
longer any standard of evidence that you can present that people will
believe. We could go on arguing, you know, until everybody watching us was
through with brunch and on to lunch and there is no longer any place that
civilized Americans and members of the international community can agree
about what --
KORNACKI: Wait, wait. We are going to take a break here and Josh is
going to get in when we come back.
KORNACKI: We have a bit of breaking news here, I guess you could call
Just moments ago on "MEET THE PRESS," Secretary of State John Kerry
revealed that the United States now has evidence of sarin gas use in Syria,
adding, quote, "The case is building for an attack." I think we have sound
of that. Let`s play it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Let me just add this morning a very
important recent development that, in the last 24 hours, we have learned
through samples that were provided to the United States, that have now been
tested from first responders in East Damascus, and hair samples and blood
samples have tested positive for signatures of sarin.
So this case is building, and this case will build.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Josh, we just started to pick this up in the last, you
know, segment. I think everything that John Kerry says in terms of
evidence, in terms of building a case, is being measured by a lot of people
against Colin Powell, United Nations, you know, 2003, 10 years ago.
How do you factor that?
ROGIN: Just to pick up when we left off, I think one big difference
here is that the Bush administration clearly was making the case for a war.
The Obama administration is making the case for a mild punishment, followed
by a return to the diplomatic track.
Let`s remember that the policy here is to go through a Geneva process
with the Russians and the Assad regime and the opposition for a political
solution. They haven`t abandoned that. In fact, they keep saying that,
after this two-day strike or whatever it is, they`re going to go back to
the negotiating table.
Now you can say that`s not genuine or that their diplomacy isn`t
successful or that`s not realistic, and those are all arguments that people
can make, but that is the policy and that`s a huge difference. They`re not
trying to -- the Obama administration is strenuously trying to avoid
KORNACKI: That is one of the -- Hillary, one of the things that sort
of bothers me a little bit about this, I guess, is that, in a sense that we
are rightfully so concerned about not having another Iraq, not repeating
another Iraq, that if we believe what`s been put out there in terms of this
will be a surgical, precise, very limited attack, then it could almost do
so little, the effect could be so limited and so benign, that it leaves
Assad in power and it let`s Assad say he`s stronger because of this.
LEVERETT: People also patted themselves on the back over Libya. We
got rid of Gadhafi. We actually were decisive. We changed the balance of
power in Libya, and we got a dead ambassador.
People don`t ask the important questions. They don`t think about the
consequences. It comes back to some basic concepts --
LEVERETT: -- President Obama said he would uphold when he came in. I
want my money back that I gave to that man. I want my money back. He does
not have a responsibility to punish. The United States has no
responsibility to punish. Who can argue -- ?
KORNACKI: Hillary, hang on.
LEVERETT: You can argue, as a progressive, responsibility to protect,
but the U.S. has no basis in American law or international law a
responsibility to punish.
KORNACKI: There is no responsibility to punish when somebody uses
chemical weapons against civilians?
LEVERETT: No, there`s not.
LEVERETT: There`s not even precedence. There`s responsibility to
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course there is.
LEVERETT: What you do is you do a fact-finding mission. And what
Kerry has done today should be called for what it is. It`s another kind of
curve ball, putting it out there on the table. Why doesn`t he wait for the
U.N. to do a thorough investigation?
KORNACKI: But Hillary, if the United Nations inspectors, which the
inspectors left I think 24 hours ago, they have a report that`s going to be
due. If that report comes out and confirms what the United States has
said, that there is evidence that the Syrian government, the government of
Bashar al-Assad, has used chemical weapons on its own civilians, do you
then accept the evidence?
LEVERETT: (Inaudible) international law --
KORNACKI: But would you then -- because you have expressed clear
LEVERETT: I have no reason to doubt it. I didn`t think that my
president under President Bush would lie to me, either. I have no basis to
doubt my government, except that it`s now happened before.
KORNACKI: But you -- Hillary, hang on. Hillary, I`m trying to
clarify this point here because you said that you, let`s let the United
Nations go in and have an investigation.
The United Nations was there, conducted an investigation, and a report
And I`m asking you will you accept that report if that report says
chemical weapons were used by the government of Assad against his own
Will you accept the legitimacy of that report and say that is evidence
and I accept that?
LEVERETT: Of course. And I also accept that Carla del Ponte (ph),
one of the investigators, has already said about the prior attacks, that it
was the opposition. I have no reason to doubt it.
LEVERETT: I have no reason to doubt these people. The point is that,
even if it`s used -- and I certainly will accept evidence that is presented
even partially that`s been vetted -- of course I would. There`s no reason
to doubt it.
The key is then, what do you do after the fact? The United States
always thinks and has thought that, since the end of the Cold War, that we
can just go in and kill somebody. Well, that`s getting less and less
viable to do. And it`s not international law.
What happens -- and even if the Assad government used chemical weapons
here, what international law (inaudible) for a reason, because this would
actually protect civilians and human life, is that you present the evidence
to the government. You give them an opportunity to respond. Then you work
with them so they don`t do it again.
KORNACKI: OK, Richard?
WOLFFE: Let`s just leave the evidence question aside. It`s an
important one, but it`s all very hard to assess, for members of Congress
and everybody else.
One of the common threads between Iraq and Libya and this situation --
and even one of the debates about Bosnia or Kosovo -- is this measure: can
we do this? Is it easy or not?
And the reason we engaged in Libya, the reason actually the Bush
administration thought it was so eager to go into Iraq, was because they
thought it was easy.
The reason they have been reluctant about Syria is because they think
it`s extremely difficult. The people advocating to, whether they`re on the
hawkish side or the humanitarians, inside the White House, inside the
administration, have been reluctant because they think it`s very, very
difficult to execute.
Syrian air defenses are robust and extremely difficult to overcome
without loss of life, American loss of life.
So that is an important measure here. This president isn`t just
talking about proliferation. He wants it to be limited because it`s so
difficult to execute.
KORNACKI: Hillary, hang on. I want to get Heather in here. I want
to get this question to Heather, because I raised it a minute ago.
But what Richard just says, given how difficult and complex this
situation is and given how limited the operation would be if the operation
takes place, what happens if it really doesn`t change the equation at all,
if it doesn`t change Assad`s thinking, if it doesn`t stop him from
launching chemical attacks?
What happens then?
HURLBURT: We`ve been pretty explicit actually that it`s not going to
change the situation in the near term.
In another way, it already has changed the equation.
For example, Assad isn`t using the phone to talk to his generals
anymore. The whole way they were conducting themselves, they now know we
can hear. So the day-to-day operations have changed.
The last week they`ve been spending time moving prisoners around,
moving equipment around, moving weapons around. Assad`s comfort level with
how he can behave in his own country will never be the same.
So at one level, we have already changed things on the ground.
Second, and I think the American people need to know this and it needs
to be an important part of the conversation, because Syria is so difficult,
because the situation there is so terrible and because it affects us
because of the weapons of mass destruction, because of our allies Israel
and Turkey, because of the threat of spillover in Jordan and Lebanon, this
is going to go on, and the U.S. is going to keep being involved.
So we shouldn`t delude ourselves that whether we vote up or down,
whether there are two days of cruise missile strikes, this is going to go
on for years.
The best outcome is that we have a political process that contains the
violence, that diminishes the threat to civilians, that contains the role
extremists can play. But Americans need to understand this isn`t something
we can isolate ourselves from and pretend isn`t happening.
And this is going to go on, because I`m sure there will be a lot more
to talk about in the days and weeks ahead on this show and others.
But for now, I want to thank MSNBC`s Richard Wolffe, Heather Hurlburt
of the National Security Network, Josh Rogin of "Newsweek" and "The Daily
Beast" and Hillary Mann Leverett of American University.
Here`s an awkward segue, the reason I got very little sleep on Friday
night -- that`s next.
KORNACKI: So I don`t know if it showed, but I have a confession I
have to make. I did yesterday morning`s show with very little sleep. I
think I might have gotten 90 minutes or so on Friday night.
Let me explain. I usually try to physically get in bed by 9 o`clock
on the night before a show. And if everything goes right, I`ll actually
doze off by 9:30 or 10 o`clock at the latest. That way I`ll get pretty
close to a full night`s sleep and be rested and ready for the show.
But I had a conflict on Friday night, a conflict that`s probably going
to cost me a lot of sleep this fall. It`s because my favorite team, the
Kansas State Wildcats, K-State, played their first football game of the
season on Friday night. And kickoff at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in
Manhattan, Kansas, that`s the Little Apple, was at 8:30 pm Eastern time.
And it ended up being a close game, so I couldn`t turn it off early.
It wasn`t until just before midnight that the game actually ended.
Also, it was a disaster. K-State, the defending champions of the
mighty Big 12 conference, suffered a devastating, inexplicable last-second
loss to the North Dakota State Bison or I used to call it the Bison, I`ve
been told since then.
Anyway, North Dakota State beat them. It`s a small-time program that
doesn`t even play in the same collegiate division as Kansas State. So I
think you can understand why I was so distraught and why I then tossed and
turned in bed for a few hours more, playing back the game in my mind,
pinpointing the drive, the series, the baffling play call where it had all
gone wrong for my team.
Why did they stop throwing the ball when they got ahead?
I was trying to grapple with how severely this one loss, this one
horrible loss could derail the season that I had just spent eight long
months waiting for.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it`s Labor Day weekend. And that means
that football is back.
It`s not all the way back yet. In the past three day, there have been
72 college games and there are three more on the schedule for today. But
the NFL isn`t actually going to kick off until this coming weekend. Well,
actually, Thursday night on NBC, a little plug there for the company, when
Baltimore visits Denver.
Soon enough, thousands of high school teams all across the country are
going to be duking it out for local bragging rights under those famous
Friday night lights.
Supposedly baseball is our national pastime, but that is not what
people say these days. A poll from earlier this year shows that more than
twice as many Americans prefer pro football to Major League Baseball. When
you then add in college football, it`s a complete landslide.
When it comes to sports in America, football is king. The question,
though, is whether its reign is in jeopardy.
There are a lot of reasons that baseball isn`t as popular today as it
used to be. I have my own explanation. People finally realized how boring
it is. There was also the player strike in the mid-`90s. That probably
had something to do with it. It took MLB years to recover from that.
There was also the whole steroid saga all the revelations, all the
tainted records, the congressional hearings, the disgraced idols. Baseball
is still feeling the fallout from that.
More recently, it`s football that`s been under the microscope.
Medical advances and tragic individual stories have made it clear how
easily concussions can destroy lives. Just this past Thursday, the NFL
settled a $765 million lawsuit. That will hardly be the end of the matter.
Even the president of the United States now says he wouldn`t want his kid
When it comes to college and high school football, amateur football,
well, it feels less and less amateur every year. College conferences
expanding and realigning into mini pro leagues, making mind-bogglingly
enormous deals with TV networks, coaches of even mediocre programs signing
seven-figure contracts, elite high school teams traveling around the
country playing games on ESPN.
But still, for all of that, we watch it. We yearn for it in the
offseason. We build our autumn weekends around it. We stay up way past
our bedtimes when our teams are playing. We cry when they lose to North
The 2013 season is here, so we are going to talk all about America`s
addiction to football, what`s good about it, what`s not, and whether
anything can change it. That`s next.
KORNACKI: All right. Football is back. I`m going to keep the
sweatshirt on because I`m too lazy to get changed again. We are here to
talk about it with Selena Roberts; she`s a former sports writer for "The
New York Times" and "Sports Illustrated;" she`s now the founder and CEO of
-- I hope I`m saying this right -- roopstigo.com.
SELENA ROBERTS, SPORTS WRITER: Close enough.
KORNACKI: What is it?
KORNACKI: OK, there we go. It`s a digital sports network.
We got Mike Pesca, national desk correspondent and sports reporter for
NPR; Rob Simmelkjaer: he`s the senior vice president of NBC Sports and a
former anchor and correspondent for ESPN and ABC News.
We have Evan Weiner; he is a sports writer and author of "The Business
and Politics of Sports."
So I talked about some of the issues that football is grappling with,
that football fans are grappling with. But I thought I would just start at
a more basic level and just try to understand why this weekend and next
weekend for the NFL, why these two weekends of the year, tens of millions
of Americans spend months of their lives just waiting for these weekends.
Baseball used to be the national pastime. I think football has
supplanted it. I guess I wonder, why? What is it about football that has
ROBERTS: I think that everybody wants to identify with a winner. You
have this hope that every year this time you`ve got the winner in the game.
And I think with college, there`s an identity. People who didn`t go to
Alabama, you know, in Tuscaloosa will drive down five days before the game
and hang out in Tuscaloosa to be part of the atmosphere, to be part of that
I think that really does drive the passion. It`s certainly a sport
you can wrap your head around once a week, too. It`s not something you
have to follow on a single daily basis. So I think that that really does
sort of gin up the stakes a little bit, about that one day a week, where
you can just wrap yourself in your team. And even if you didn`t go to the
school, you can wrap yourself in that identity and feel good about it.
KORNACKI: Because, yes, I grew up in Massachusetts, which is not
exactly a college sports bastion; University of Massachusetts football,
because they play it in Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots play, 65,000
seats. You got like 6,000 people in the stands for (inaudible).
But I look at Alabama. I look at Kansas State. I look at the big-
time programs in these states that are not pro sports states. It is like
this is the event for anybody in the state. It binds them together
culturally. It gives them something to look forward to every year. And I
sort of get jealous when I look at those states.
EVAN WEINER, AUTHOR: But, Steve, I did a talk at Ithaca University in
2004. And I said, why do you go to football games? And this is 18-22.
And they said, well, we can drink beer; we can be in the parking lot,
drink beer, have a good time, bond with our buddies. We could bet on the
game and watch the cheerleaders and have a good time for four, five, six
hours and get away from everything. And I think a lot of people look at it
that way, saying, hey, we could have a good time, maybe make a couple bucks
on the game, gamble on the game.
KORNACKI: That`s an interesting -- I wonder how much, you know, it`s
a once-a-week game. So everybody is paying attention to the same game.
How much gambling is a part -- the NFL would never want to admit this. We
have an affiliate with NBC. I`m not supposed to go (inaudible) but how
much does gambling have to do with it?
ROB SIMMELKJAER, NBC SPORTS: Listen, I don`t think gambling is
irrelevant at all, but I think when you look at the NFL in particular, even
more so it`s been fantasy football. Every single fan out there, whether
they`re a casual fan or a hardcore football fan, has their fantasy team.
All over America right now people are drafting. They`re drafting
their NFL fantasy teams. Some people play college. Fantasy is a big part
of it. Let`s face it. Football is a great product. It is a great
television product. The NFL did so many things right over the years that
Major League Baseball did wrong in terms of competitive balance --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The salary cap.
SIMMELKJAER: -- there were salary caps and revenue sharing.
Every city out there thinks they have a chance to make the playoffs
and compete when the season starts. That`s not the case in baseball. It
hasn`t been for a long time. So those are some of the reasons that, over
the course of time, football has just surpassed baseball.
Football is well managed. Football also got lucky by circumstances.
I`ll give you the reasons. What you said, tribalism. That`s huge in the
Northeast, in Massachusetts, where we don`t really care about college
MIKE PESCA, NPR: We love the Red Sox. We love the Yankees. That`s
our identity. (Inaudible) scarcity.
Because of the violence of the game, they can`t play it more than once
a week. And what the other leagues have found out is if you inundate us
with product, we get bored. That`s exactly what you`ve been saying.
Three, it`s the violence itself; we love to look at things that are
violent that don`t affect us. Edmund Burke had been saying this 300 years
ago. So that`s part of the human nature.
Four, I`ve interviewed people who make slot machines. It struck me
that the way the brain works when dealing with a slot machine is exactly
the way the brain works when you`re watching football, small actions
punctuated by huge payoffs. You either win, you either lose, but you`re
into it the whole time and then something huge explodes. The pace of the
game is perfectly suited for television.
Some of these things are well-managed, that the NFL tried to do. Some
of them are just luck. But here we are. And like you said, the NFL is the
number one sport. They say college football is number two. But I think
college football is really the number two sport in America. And everything
else has faded away.
KORNACKI: You know, I took a shot at baseball. I don`t mean to
disrespect all the baseball fans, but the pace of the game is just glacial.
WEINER: The thing is, I did a TV show many years ago with Frank
Deford, who`s brilliant. And Frank said 1950 was baseball, boxing and
horse racing as the three major sports in the United States. And then TV
took over, and the 1958 game between the Colts and Giants, that overtime
game changed the whole paradigm of sports.
People said, hey, this is exciting. Of course, you did have a good
game with Unitas going down field and winning in overtime. But at that
point, that`s when football exploded.
Then in 1960 was that "The Violent World of Sam Huff" on CBS with
Walter Cronkite. That solidified it. People said, hey, we`re going to
watch. And by `65, it was the number one sport in the country.
KORNACKI: Something that always strikes me here in New York --
because New York -- I wouldn`t think of New York City as a great college
sports town. But this is true of the NFL, too. You walk different
neighborhoods in Manhattan on a Saturday or Sunday in the fall, and there
are bars just designated, you know, this is the Cleveland Browns bar, this
is the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers bar. People just, you know,
from around the country who live here show up at that bar on Saturday, on
Sunday just to watch their team. I don`t see it in any other sport.
ROBERTS: I went to Auburn University deep in the South. It`s
everything. You grow up in that kind of culture. You realize when you
leave that culture, you`re also looking for, where can I get it back?
Where can I get that feeling back?
That`s why you go that local bar in New York City and watch your team
perform again. You feel good because you`re around everybody who are your
people, so to speak.
What we`re looking at is socially accepted barbarism in many ways,
where we can feel good about that big hit. We can feel good about, you
know, screaming for somebody to take someone`s head off. And there`s a lot
of sort of cathartic nature, I think, to the football game, too.
And so I think that, overall you`re looking at the socially accepted
world that we love and that we take a part of and then when something goes
wrong or something goes bad, we rail against it, but we still watch.
KORNACKI: And that`s those big hits. I know in the last couple years
when I see those big hits now, I have a different reaction than I did three
or four years ago. I want to pick that up in the next segment, about what
we`ve learned about concussions, how that`s changing the game; about
amateurism and what that means anymore. We`ll pick that up right after
KORNACKI: Ray Easterling was a player for the Atlanta Falcons back in
the 1970s and he committed suicide in April of 2012, just over a year ago.
He has become in many ways sort of the face of what concussions can do to
professional football players, to football players in general.
This was his widow talking about how it changed him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARY ANN EASTERLING, RAY EASTERLING`S WIDOW: When I first met Ray, he
was gregarious. He loved Jesus. He shared his faith with youth.
Once he retired from football, he gradually became less and less able
to deal with his injuries, but, particularly, starting in 1989 he then
starts to experience insomnia and depression. His personality changed to
the point where I had to pinch myself sometimes. I didn`t recognize the
person whom I`d married.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: I mean, Evan, this is how the physical nature of football,
the hard hits, the concussions can affect a player, not just while he`s
playing but for years, for decades to come, for the rest of his life. And
we were saying in the last segment, when I see a hard hit now, I find
myself thinking of stories like that.
WEINER: When you talk to people like Bret Boyd or George Visk (ph) or
some of the other people that I know, I`ll call them up say, hello, how are
They say, hey, Evan, how are you doing? Hold on one second. Let me
get the notes from the last time I spoke to you to see what I said to you.
There`s memory loss. There`s physical pain. Also, a lot of these
guys with the settlement -- probably people don`t realize they`re on SSI
very young or Medicare very young. You`re not 62. You`re not 65. They
have fallen into the safety net.
How many players are out there who have fallen into the safety net? I
can`t tell you, but I can tell you of people who have told me who`s on SSI
or Medicare. So it is costing the taxpayers money to take care of these
players because, when they collectively bargained in 1982, in 1987, the
mantra was money now, money now, money now. Let`s take the money now
because we`re going to die anyway at 54. So let`s get the money now.
It`s come back to haunt them. And I tell the players, you screwed up
in `82 and `87. They don`t like hearing that, but it`s true. They did
screw up and maybe this settlement --
KORNACKI: Well, yes, so let`s talk about the settlements. We had
some of these formers players who sued the NFL. There was a $765 million
settlement that was announced on Thursday.
What is that going to mean in terms of the future of the issue of
concussions in sports?
We have (inaudible) made rule changes and made procedural changes.
Now they have the settlement. Where do concussions in the NFL stand right
SIMMELKJAER: Well, the vast majority of that money will go to benefit
the plaintiffs, the former players who were involved in bringing this
lawsuit, over 4,000 formers players who are suffering from various degrees
of post-concussion syndrome or long-term effects of these injuries. So
short-term, they`ll be helped; short-term, clearly the NFL is helped by
this because the PR of it, which has been so damaging to the league now for
the last several years, has now changed. The NFL has stepped up. They did
not acknowledge or admit any wrongdoing, which is very important in this
whole thing. This was essentially like a case against a tobacco company
for saying you are withholding and hiding the harm all this time. The NFL
has not acknowledged that at all. So that`s good.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So $765 million is small.
SIMMELKJAER: This is a $9-billion-a-year industry. So it`s less than
10 percent of their revenue just for 2013. This is spread out over 17
years. It is not really financially significant to the league over the
I think the question is -- and this settlement does not address this
and nothing yet has addressed this -- can this sport be fundamentally safe
At the high school level, at the college level, at the NFL level, can
the changes that have been made or future changes make the sport safe?
That is still to be determined.
KORNACKI: When you have the President of the United States who looks
at all this and says, I wouldn`t want my kid playing football, it makes me
wonder how many other parents out there -- hey, you can play soccer.
You`re a 12-year-old kid. You can play soccer, you can play football, you
can play lacrosse. Do one of those two, don`t play football. I wonder how
many are thinking that.
ROBERTS: I think that`s the NFL`s fear, that conversation is starting
to happen in suburban households. That conversation is starting to happen
in households where it never happened before. What sport do you want to
play? Soccer? You have concussion issues, but the severity of the
injuries are not anything close to the NFL.
That conversation scares the NFL because they rely on this being a
heartland sport. They rely on people wanting to watch this sport because
they know a kid who also played this sport.
What you`re going to have in the future if the NFL doesn`t address its
culture is a bunch of kids who play because they have to play, a bunch of
kids who say I know it`s dangerous because I`ve got to because this is my
only way out. It`s my only chance to do something better for my family.
The NFL doesn`t want that narrative to start to really foment and
start spreading across the country because then they`re going to lose their
precious base. People are going to stop watching eventually if they can`t
identify with the players who are playing.
And if it`s players who are desperate, you`re going to have boxing at
some point. You`re going to have this arena now that`s much more
gladiatorial, that`s is less palpable for the rest of the country to
embrace. That`s what the NFL fears the most.
PESCA: Although this conversation that`s happening in the salons of
Manhattan is light years away from what`s happening in the fields of Texas,
OK, 1.1 million boys play high school football. It`s the number one sport
for boys. It`s going to be a long way off before that statistic
diminishes. People play it not because they have to but because they love
KORNACKI: But could it be a regional thing? I cannot remember where
I read this, but somebody had mapped out what the death of football would
look like in America. They say it`s not going to start in Texas; it`s not
going to start in the South, but it will start in sort of the blue states,
in Massachusetts and in New Jersey and it will spread from there.
WEINER: Well, when you look at NFL rosters now, the vast majority of
the talent is coming from Florida, California, from the South. There are
not a lot of players up here.
SIMMELKJAER: It`s already becoming more and more regional. But, you
know, one thing I disagree with is I think this conversation has started
nationally. I think there`s always been a conversation between moms and
dad, whether it`s been Texas or the Midwest.
The mom typically is the one who`s like, you know what, I don`t know
if I want you playing this sport. These headlines that we`re talking about
right now, the moms are winning that conversation more than maybe she did
10 years ago.
PESCA: I think we`re going to see fewer and fewer 11- and 12-year-
olds, but I still think it will be really popular in high school. It`s
just so unbelievably popular as a spectator sport that you`re still going
to have want to people -- have people who aspire to do it.
I`ve also heard a lot of criticism. You weren`t criticizing, but you
were characterizing the settlement as essentially chump change. We have to
take into account that this was not a slam-dunk case by any means.
And if you`re Kevin Turner and you`re suffering from ALS and you don`t
know how many years you have left and you want your family to be
comfortable, you`ll take a few hundred thousand dollars. They were asking
for $2 billion. They got a little over $1 billion, when you factor in
lawyers` fees. A lot of lawyers who looked at the case said it`s a pretty
good deal for the players as well as for the owners.
WEINER: I want to bring up something. You talked about high school
and the mothers. To get high school and the mothers right now, how about
the school boards? School boards are being pinched throughout the country,
laying off teachers, cutting programs.
And you have the insurance going up and up and up. At some point, a
school board member is going to have to say, hey, look, we have to set some
Do we want to cut back on math programs, social studies programs,
English programs, electives, or do we want to pay these insurance premiums?
It`s not only football. It`s hockey as well. And cheerleading,
believe it or not, there`s a lot of injuries in cheerleading, in girls`
soccer; there`s a lot of concussions in girls soccer, too. So at some
point, these school boards are going to have to start making decisions on
KORNACKI: But until then, (inaudible), we will keep watching. And we
will move to the next segment, what we should know for the week ahead.
We`ll have your answers right after this.
KORNACKI: All right. I want to find out what my guests think we
should know. We`ll start with you, Selena.
ROBERTS: I think next week I would look for to see if Peter King at
"Sports Illustrated" follows through on some of the thinking there and
refuses to use the word Redskins when the NFL season kicks off and calls
them the Washington football team. I will look to see if they follow
through on that kind of discourse they`ve had internally.
KORNACKI: All right.
PESCA: So we`ve been talking about a sport that encompasses strength
and courage and valor. The original sport like that is wrestling. And
wrestling is on the Olympic chopping block. One week from today, the vote
will be announced if wrestling continues in the Olympics in 2020 and
beyond. It is between wrestling or squash.
Squash is a fine sport, a good vegetable. But it`s not wrestling.
KORNACKI: I`m with you. Keep wrestling. Screw squash.
SIMMELKJAER: Steve, I know you guys talk a lot on this show about
America`s place in the world. Well, America`s place in the tennis world is
now somewhere short of Poland`s place in the tennis world.
Through three rounds at the U.S. Open, only one American man survives,
a guy named Tim Smyczek. Ever heard of him? And Serena Williams is
playing the only other up-and-coming American on the women`s side, Sloan
Stevens, today. So America, a long way to go. It will be 10 years this
year since an American man won a grand slam tennis tournament.
WEINER: I`m going to bring up Chris Christie. He`s not able to bet
on the NFL in Atlantic City this week, even though his voters said we want
betting in Atlantic City. He could do it in Bermuda, he could do it in
Montenegro, but he can`t do it in New Jersey. And that court case is
KORNACKI: All right. You can`t do it in New Jersey. But if you
happen to be in a place where you can legally -- I want to stress that --
legally bet on sports, Kansas State over Louisiana Lafayette next week,
it`s a bounceback game, it`s my pick of the week, releasing it right now.
I want to thank Selena Roberts of Roopstigo -- did I.?
KORNACKI: I`m sorry. I`ve got to learn (inaudible); Mike Pesca of
NPR; Rob Simmelkjaer of NBC Sports and author Evan Weiner, thank you for
getting up this morning.
And thank you for joining us. We are going to be right back here next
weekend. Our guests will include Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Linda
Greenhouse, who covered the Supreme Court for "The New York Times;" former
Democratic Senator Mo Cowan and "National Review`s" Kevin Williams and I
will pick up where we left off during our friendly disagreement on "MORNING
JOE" about when and why the South turned red. That is next weekend.
But first Melissa Harris-Perry on today`s "MHP," the latest on the
U.S. showdown with Syria, plus President Obama`s speech at the Lincoln
Memorial and why he may be more like LBJ than MLK. That is on "MELISSA
HARRIS-PERRY." She`s coming up next. And we will see you right here next
week on UP.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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