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Meet the Press Transcript - April 27, 2014

DAVID GREGORY:

On Meet the Press this morning, a developing story, President Obama has reacted strongly to another racial flashpoint in this country.

PRESIDENT OBAMA (ON TAPE):

When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance you don't have to do anything, you just let them talk.

DAVID GREGORY:

The president talking this morning about those racist comments allegedly made by the owner of The Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. It's created a firestorm this weekend. This morning, I'll speak with civil rights activist The Reverend Al Sharpton, Lorraine Miller, the interim president of the NAACP, and sports journalist, host of HBO's Real Sports, Bryant Gumbel. Plus, are we at the breaking point in Ukraine? As the president continues his Asian tour, is the U.S. poised to ratchet up its standoff with Russia? A key Obama foreign policy advisor will be here to discuss that. Also, my wide ranging and exclusive interview with the former prime minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair, on why he thinks Islamic extremism in the Middle East is worse than it's ever been.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News on Washington, the world’s longest-running television program. This is Meet the Press with David Gregory.

DAVID GREGORY:

And good Sunday morning. Developing story this weekend to talk about. It's what we begin with. I'm joined by Civil Rights activist and the host of Politics Nation on MSNBC, the Reverend Al Sharpton, and interim president of the NAACP, Lorraine Miller, and Bryant Gumbel, host of HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, who we're so pleased to have with us, as well. Thank you all for being here. The context is important here. Here are the comments by Donald Sterling, allegedly made by Donald Sterling, first revealed on tape by the site TMZ. Listen.

(BEGIN TAPE)

MALE VOICE:

Yeah, it bothers me a lot that you want to promo-broadcast that you're associating with black people. Do you have to?

You can sleep with them. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that and not to bring them to my games.

(END TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

This is reportedly, reverend, a conversation with Sterling's girlfriend. What should happen now?

REV. AL SHARPTON:

Well, I think that clearly the National Basketball Association must suspend him, or must say that, "We're going to remove any kind of imprimatur we have on this team if he's the owner." You cannot have someone own an NBA team in this country and have these kind of attitudes. You must remember, he settled multi-million dollar discrimination lawsuits in the past, so he has a background. So what we said in National Action Network is the NBA ought to move right away. Let's not play games. They say they're going to investigate.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

REV. AL SHARPTON:

He needs to state unequivocally, "That's not me on the tape." If it is him on the tape, they need to move today, or we're going after advertisers, saying, "How can you advertise with a team owned by a man with this kind of attitude.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Lorraine, all you have to do is ask him, "Is that your voice?" right? I mean what else do you have to investigate?

LORRAINE MILLER:

Well, that's true. But I think there's a much more serious issue here. I think that we have to see if the obligations that we had in the Emancipation Proclamation have been filled. Is there equality of opportunity in this country? Is there really equality in the law? And those are the tenets that really make us, as a country, our institutions, and we're part of our constitution. And if we do that, then I think we're moving in the step of trying to eradicate racism and discrimination. Yes, we're going to do some of the things. We're going to work with Reverend Al on that. But I think we've got a much larger issue that we, as a country, have got to deal with.

DAVID GREGORY:

Bryant Gumbel, step back here. Look at this as a journalist, but also, somebody who's seen these issues play out, particularly in the sports world, over decades. What do you make of it?

BRYANT GUMBEL:

David, you know, I guess I'm surprised that anyone is surprised. I mean Donald Sterling's reputation is such that one could say if you keep a vicious dog for a while and you know he's vicious, you can't be surprised when they bite someone. Donald Sterling's racial history is on the record. It has cost him money. It cost him his reputation long before this.

And so I'm kind of amazed that anyone is surprised at this. And frankly, I'm kind of surprised that the NBA is being let off the hook on this. You know, David Stern and the NBA owners knew what kind of a man Donald Sterling was long before this. And in the same way as, although I'm not equating the crimes, in the same way as after Aaron Hernandez was charged with these felonies, people wondered why the New England Patriots had him on their roster to begin with, one can sit here and look at and say, "Well, why did the NBA allow this man to own a team when they knew what kind of a person he was?

DAVID GREGORY:

Go ahead.

REV. AL SHARPTON:

That's my point. The NBA, you know, people are appealing to the players and all, this is not about the players. This is about the NBA saying that it's acceptable or excusable to behave like this. And we've seen where sports can unite a country. We just hung a plaque to Nelson Mandela at Yankee Stadium. He used rugby to bring South Africa together after Apartheid.

This is the exact opposite of that. And for the NBA to not move immediately and say that this is inexcusable, is it your voice or not? If it is not his voice, say that today. If it is his voice, move--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

And there's all kinds of outside pressure, including coming from the President of United States. He's in Asia. He was asked about this. You saw it at the top of the broadcast, speaking out strongly. He went on to say more on this, this morning. Watch.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (ON TAPE):

The U.S. continues to wrestle with a legacy of race and slavery and segregation THAT'S still there. the vestiges of discrimination. we have made enormous strides but you are going to see this percolate up every so often. And I think we just have to be clear and steady in denouncing it

DAVID GREGORY:

Is that the--

LORRAINE MILLER:

Yes. Absolutely.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah. I mean is that the most impact you can have is to have the president putting that kind of pressure on the NBA and society at large?

LORRAINE MILLER:

Of course. I mean that's an impact. But you know what? I think for the American public, as Reverend Al was saying, if you're silent about this, then you're accepting this. And people have got to say that this is not good, and do something about it. And I think what he's proposing, what we're doing, I can assure you--

DAVID GREGORY:

No, I'm sorry. Yeah, because you were going to give him a lifetime achievement award at the NAACP.

LORRAINE MILLER:

He is not receiving a lifetime achievement award from the NAACP that's coming up in the next few weeks.

DAVID GREGORY:

Bryant, you chronicled this--

BRYANT GUMBEL:

But--

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah, go ahead, Bryant.

BRYANT GUMBEL:

I was going to say, I don't want us to sit here, singling out the NBA. Because they are not necessarily the exception to the rule. I mean baseball, for example, has an owner down in Houston who has kind of the same tortured history as Donald Sterling, in that his company was sued for discrimination and wound up paying a settlement, and has said sometimes attributed to him that are inopportune.

I mean I don't want us to get sidetracked. We historically, whether it's Donald Sterling or Cliven Bundy or Trayvon Martin, we look at a tip of the iceberg and we ignore the mass underneath it. And really, that's what--

(OVERTALK)

BRYANT GUMBEL:

--that's where the problem lies.

REV. AL SHARPTON:

But the danger is that, if we get past this Sterling moment, we'll never deal with the guy in Houston or anywhere else. The nation, the president of the United States, overseas, has had to address this. That is why I agree with Bryant, the NBA cannot be the endpoint. But it's got to be the beginning to say, "We've got to deal with this. If we don't deal with this, then what are we sending the message for saying--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Bryant, you made a larger point. Look, there are concussions in the NFL. So many African-American players in the NFL. We talk about the NBA, as Magic Johnson said, you know, he shouldn't be the owner, he'll never go to a game. I mean my larger question is, if you're a player in the middle of this, in a league that's predominantly African-American, what do you do now in the middle of the playoffs?

BRYANT GUMBEL:

I'm glad you asked it, David. I mean look, I think the players of the Clippers have an obligation to play. They have a contract. It says nothing about, "Oh, you only have to play if your owner turns out to be a great guy." I would like to see athletes and fans start taking a very good look at the owners who own their teams, and particularly in light of the Supreme Court's recent decisions on how much money people can give to causes and candidates, taking a look at where their owners are putting their money.

Those owners certainly have a right to embrace the causes and candidates they wish. But I think African-American fans and players then have a right to say, "What you're embracing is not consistent with what I believe in, and so I would rather play elsewhere, or I'd rather spend my money elsewhere." That's where I think people need to start looking.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, we're going to leave it there. This is a fast-moving story. And it looks like the NBA is going to potentially move quickly on this. And we'll look to that tomorrow morning. Thank you all very much--

BRYANT GUMBEL:

Thank you for having us.

DAVID GREGORY:

--- for being here. Thanks very much.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Okay. We are going to turn now to the latest on the crisis in Ukraine.

PRESIDENT OBAMA (ON TAPE):

So long as Russia continues down the path of provocation rather than trying to resolve this problem peacefully and deescalating, there are going to be consequences and those consequences will continue to grow.

DAVID GREGORY:

With no end in sight to the crisis in Ukraine and the Middle East peace process in a state of collapse after Israel pulled out of the talks, I'm joined now by one of the President's top foreign policy advisors, Tony Blinken. He's deputy National Security Advisor. Mr. Blinken, welcome back to Meet the Press.

TONY BLINKEN:

Thanks, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me start on Ukraine. You were here in early March. And you made it very clear what the United States is doing, it's having an impact on Russia. This is what you said then.

TONY BLINKEN (ON TAPE):

What we're doing is bringing the world together-- to exert significant pressure-- on Russia, and to exert-- significant isolation on Russia. And his actions and the actions we've taken in response, are undermining that influence, undermining its economic influence, undermining its geopolitical influence.

DAVID GREGORY:

So you say. But here we are, more than a month later, Crimea is gone. Russia is not listening to the United States. Its troops are still on the border. Economic sanctions have started. Maybe they've had some bite. But Putin's standing tall. So what isolation and influence over Putin have you really achieved?

TONY BLINKEN:

David, a week ago, the Russians signed on to a road map to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine. Unfortunately, they haven't lived up to that road map in the least. On Friday, the president, despite being in Asia, convened all of the major European leaders on a conference call and got an agreement to move forward on additional sanctions, which I think will start to--

DAVID GREGORY:

Right, but Putin's not blinking. That's the point. You said over a month ago, "Hey, we're being tough on this guy. He's isolated. He's undermined." Where's the evidence of that?

TONY BLINKEN:

Let's look at what's happening over the last month as a result of the pressure that we've exerted. Russian financial markets are down 22% since the beginning of the year. The ruble is at an all-time low. They're having to bail out their own economy by spending a lot of their reserves. We have foreign investment that is drawing up. And we have capital flight, $70 billion over the last couple of months.

Putin himself acknowledged this is having an impact on the Russian economy. They're going to have to make a choice. Are they going to persist in the actions they're taking to de-stabilize Ukraine, or are they going to save the economy?

DAVID GREGORY:

But they are persisting. All those things you say may be true, Putin is persisting. So are you saying now he's close to backing down?

TONY BLINKEN:

I'm saying that we're having a significant impact on the economy. We're keeping the world together in exerting the kind of pressure necessary to get him to think hard about what he's doing. It's true, Crimea was taken. Crimea is going to be a dead weight on Russia. They are pouring billions and billions of dollars into Crimea to try to shore it up. That's going to have an impact.

The bloom is going to come off this rose, David. What's happened is this. Putin made a compact with his people. He said, "I'm going to deliver economic growth for you. But in return, you be politically complacent." Well, the growth is going to dry up. We're already seeing projections for growth going into under 1% this year. So that compact is eroding. And he has very hard choices to make.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right, but he's also very popular for having grabbed Crimea. And the question I have for you, I know speaking to people at the highest levels of the government, the prediction at this point is that he doesn't invade Ukraine. Is that your view? Does he stop short of that and just keep trying to destabilize Ukraine?

TONY BLINKEN:

His goal, I think, is to destabilize Ukraine. It's to delay the election, it's to disrupt the election--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

So you don't think he'll invade?

TONY BLINKEN:

Look, he has troops poised at the borders. We've seen him engage in very dangerous maneuvers twice this week. He has that card. But I don't think it's in his interest to do that. Here's why. If he were to invade Ukraine, not only would the entire international community, united, come down on him with extraordinary pressure, but he would inherit, in Ukraine, a lot of people who have no desire to have the Russians on their backs.

DAVID GREGORY:

And here's a question, then, ultimately, for whether you move next with big economic sanctions. The Europeans want to do business with Russia. They do a lot more than the United States does. Often, U.S. companies can get hurt more than anybody else here. Do you specifically target Putin with sanctions next if he goes into Eastern Ukraine?

TONY BLINKEN:

President's been very deliberate about building the pressure, working very closely with the Europeans. One of the reasons that he got the Europeans together on this call on Friday and got a very strong G7 statement is they try and move in coordination with him. We're much stronger--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Would you target Putin specifically?

TONY BLINKEN:

So, what we've done to date is we've looked at individuals around Putin. We've looked at companies and entities that they control. We've looked at senior Russian officials. It's a rare thing to actually go after the leader of a country. Right now what we'll be doing as early as tomorrow, but certainly some time this week, is to go after people very close to him, go after the entities that they control.

DAVID GREGORY:

Are you ruling out targeting Putin in--

TONY BLINKEN:

I'm not ruling anything in, ruling anything out.

DAVID GREGORY:

And his vast wealth, which has been reported on as lately as this morning.

TONY BLINKEN:

What we're seeing is the people who are around him are being directly affected by the measures we're taking and by the steps that the Europeans are taking.

DAVID GREGORY:

Pull back here. What's the larger, strategic interest for the United States? I mean honestly, Putin cares a great deal more about Crimea and Ukraine than the United States does in terms of managing the world and American interests in the world.

TONY BLINKEN:

Sure. Look, (CHUCKLE) Russia went in to a country and tried to redraw the map of the country by force. If we stand by and allow that to happen, that sets a terrible precedent virtually everywhere else in the world. And indeed, we're hearing that in Asia from some of our Asian partners. We're evening hearing it from the Chinese. There's something else going on here, too.

When the Soviet Union fell apart and a number of successor countries were left, including Ukraine, many of them had thousands of nuclear weapons on their territory. One of the great achievements of the Clinton administration was to get Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, to give up their nuclear weapons. Part of the deal with Ukraine was that countries like Russia, the United States, the U.K., would sign on to a compact guaranteeing their sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia signed that. It's now grossly violated that. What message does that send to countries around the world where we're trying to get them to give up or foreswear nuclear weapons?

DAVID GREGORY:

Is there a military cost if Putin moves forward? Is there any military cost exacted by the United States or by N.A.T.O.?

TONY BLINKEN:

Look, what we're trying to do is de-escalate this crisis, not escalate it. We don't see a military confrontation coming of this. But what we do see is increasing support for Ukraine. We have a program now with the international community that will get $37-38 billion to Ukraine over two years. We have worked to isolate Russia. And we're reassuring our partners in N.A.T.O..

DAVID GREGORY:

Quickly, on the Middle East, and the peace process unraveling. Does the president decide to pull Secretary Kerry and get him out of the peacemaking business in the Middle East? Or is it possible that the United States, in the absence of negotiating partners, advances its own pace plan, puts it on the table, and says, "Get to work?"

TONY BLINKEN:

Look, thanks to Secretary Kerry's incredible leadership and determination, the party's made progress in breaking through some of the roadblocks, but not all of them. And the fundamental problem now is they're at a point where they're confronted with having to make very, very difficult decisions.

DAVID GREGORY:

Understood.

TONY BLINKEN:

Neither side has been willing to do that to date. We can't want this more than they do. It may be that there needs to be a little pause, people need to step back and reflect on where they are, and look at the alternatives. But because of the engagement the secretary's had, because of the strong support for the president for this process, we've gotten them closer.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

--but they have to be done.

TONY BLINKEN:

--tough choices.

DAVID GREGORY:

Does Kerry come out for now?

TONY BLINKEN:

Look, we're going to take this day by day. We've got to see. They need a chance to reflect on where they are, look at the alternatives. He will be deeply engaged with them. But right now, the bottom line is this: We can't want this more than they do. They have to decide--

DAVID GREGORY:

So you're saying that-

TONY BLINKEN:

--that they're going to make the tough choices.

DAVID GREGORY:

--the United States would not advance its own peace plan?

TONY BLINKEN:

I'm saying that, right now, we need for the parties to reflect on where they are and think about the next steps that they want to make.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, we'll leave it there. Tony Blinken, thanks so much.

TONY BLINKEN:

Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

Appreciate it very much. For more on the foreign policy challenges facing President Obama, I sat down exclusively with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He issued an urgent warning about why the U.S. needs to extinguish Islamic extremism. But first, I asked him about the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

So again, you've looked into Putin's eyes, as did President Bush. He's already taken Crimea. He must sense enough weakness that he's not backing down. He's not following through on this truce of a kind. What do you think his end game in all this is?

TONY BLAIR:

I think that's hard to judge. I mean, I think what you can say is that the idea that he has is of a resurgent Russia that's obviously linking up with Russian-speaking people in the vicinity of Russia. I think it's hard to know what the end game is. But I'm absolutely sure that we're right to take a strong approach and to lay down some very clear messages and be prepared to back that up with action, if necessary. Now, as I say, I hope this can be resolved in a way that is peaceful, because that's massively in the interest of everybody. Otherwise you'll be back into a situation where the relationships between Russia and Europe and Russia and the West becomes very difficult.

DAVID GREGORY:

You're talking this week and you've made some provocative comments about the state of the Middle East and radical Islam. And I'm going to show a portion of your speech that you gave this week in which you said the threat of this radical Islam is not abating. "It is growing. It's spreading across the world. It is destabilizing communities and even nations. And in the face of this threat, we seem curiously reluctant to acknowledge it and powerless to counter it effectively." Why is this happening? And who specifically do you blame for it happening?

TONY BLAIR:

I don't think it's a question of blaming anyone. But I think we've got to understand the nature of what is happening with this Islamist ideology. I say this with a certain amount of humility. I went through the post-9/11 world, Afghanistan, Iraq, trying to deal with these issues. I think what is absolutely clear in the Middle East and beyond is that the single most important thing to understand about the different countries with their different conflicts and challenges is that the common theme is the disruptive effects of an ideology based on an extreme, in my view, perverted view of the proper faith of Islam. This Islamist ideology, which has been exported from the Middle East, I'm afraid is growing. It's not abating.

DAVID GREGORY:

But is that in part because this administration has taken its foot off the gas pedal? I mean, look, there was a presidential campaign and an effort by this president to leave these wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and to get out of the business of trying to change the Middle East. Was that part of the problem? Is it why it's not abating?

TONY BLAIR:

What have we learned from this experience then? Both the experience of intervention, through Afghanistan, Iraq? And then the experience of the last few years? What we've learned is that both are very difficult, right? We know to our own cost how difficult it's been in the engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But we also know when we look at Syria today, which is a country in disintegration, you know? Probably well over 150,000 people dying now. And no end in sight. Or if we look at Libya, where we did intervene through air power alone, changed the government, but it's now a mess that is exporting its problems across the Middle East. So what we've got to understand, rather than saying, you know, "Who's to blame for this?" is to say, "What is the nature of this threat and how do we counter it?"

DAVID GREGORY:

No, but what you're saying is that you have to call it what it is. And you can't be reluctant to act. And on this program last week, David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times said the following about President Obama. He said, "Let's face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have, I'll say it crudely," this is him speaking, "but a manhood problem in the Middle East. Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad, somebody like Putin?

"I think a lot of the rap is unfair, but certainly in the Middle East, there is an assumption that he is not tough." You mentioned Syria. President drew a read line, chemical weapons were used, he did not follow through. You have sectarian violence. You have what could be the verge of a failed state in Syria.

TONY BLAIR:

Right, but the question is what do you now do about this? I mean, we can debate how we got here. And as you rightly pointed out earlier, there's a huge reaction, not just in America, by the way, but in the U.K. and over our side of the water, as well, against the concept of intervention.

What I'm really saying is, look, if we analyze correctly what the nature of the problem is, in each of these individual countries, there are things that we're going to have to do that require commitment and engagement. It doesn't mean doing what we did in Iraq or Afghanistan. But it does mean being prepared to engage. And engage specifically, knowing and identifying, that the problem is around this Islamist ideology. And so whether it's, for example, in Egypt or whether it would be in Yemen or Syria.

DAVID GREGORY:

Isn't the legacy of your leadership and that of President Bush, in part, responsible for the reality today? To whit, I mean this. I have spoken to writers, other journalists, leaders, former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates writes in his memoir. Afghanistan was the proving ground for Islamic fundamentalism in the Muslim world.

And by invading Iraq, there was necessarily a transfer of tremendous resources to fight the war in Iraq. And today, the Taliban is resurgent and still very powerful in Pakistan and could be once again in Afghanistan. So part one to that, did you, did President Bush, did the West fail to deal with the extremism you talk about today appropriately in Afghanistan, in a sustainable way?

TONY BLAIR:

I think we did. But I think we've got to recognize one thing very, very clearly. This is a long battle, right? The best way to look at this is to take an analogy probably with something like revolutionary Communism or even Fascism. In other words, this ideology, it's not going to be defeated by an engagement in Afghanistan, in Iraq, or even in these individual arenas. It's going to be defeated over a long period of time.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right, but it's very difficult. I mean, you're a former politician. In order to keep free societies engaged in the kind of engagement that you say is necessary for a long, sustained period of time. And then you have to ultimately look at results, right? So the question about Iraq. Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, of course, former head of MI-5 in Great Britain, the domestic service there, she said this back in 2011 about the invasion of Iraq and the impact.

"In my view," she says, "whatever the merits of putting an end to Saddam Hussein, the war was also a distraction from the pursuit of Al Qaeda. It increased the terrorist threat by convincing more people that Osama bin Laden's claim that Islam was under attack was correct. It provided an arena for the jihad for which he had called, so that many of his supporters, including British citizens, traveled to Iraq to attack Western forces. It also showed very clearly that foreign and domestic policy are intertwined, actions overseas have an impact at home, which is to say that radicalization there will also come home to roost and affect Great Britain and could, indeed, affect America."

TONY BLAIR:

So we've got to liberate ourselves from this, because we're making a huge error, when we end up thinking somehow it's our actions that have caused this. Let's be very clear in Afghanistan and Iraq. You can agree or disagree with either decision. We removed brutal dictatorships. Allowed the people a chance to elect their government. They came out in both cases and voted, showing that they wanted such election.

We gave them a massive amount of financial support. What was the disruptive effect? The disruptive effect was that very Islamist ideology I'm talking about, on the one side being pushed out of Iran from the Iranian theocracy, on the other side Al Qaeda and other groups. And they combined to try and destabilize the wishes of the majority of the country.

Now when we weren't involved, as in Syria, they're still going and fighting jihad there. So you can carry on explaining all this by saying, "It's us. We provoked them. You know, they're just trying to react against Western Imperialism." It's nonsense. If it were the case, for example, that the reason why they were engaged in this terrorism in Iraq was because of the presence of American troops or British troops, you would expect when we'd get out the terrorism would stop. It doesn't. And it doesn't because it's not coming from us. It's coming from this ideology. And we aren't going to defeat it, until we liberate ourselves from the attitude that somehow we're the cause of it.

DAVID GREGORY:

The obvious conclusion to me from what you're saying is this administration, this president is making a mistake by disengaging from Iraq, by disengaging militarily from Afghanistan. And by having a view, as he has said publicly, that the United States should only intervene where it truly believes it can make a difference. I hear you saying, "No, if you want to tackle radical Islam, if you want to prevent the occurrence of failed states, America specifically must project its power in these places, because the struggle is so long."

TONY BLAIR:

No, I'm not criticizing President Obama at all over this, because as I say, I went through these types of decisions. I know how difficult it is. And what he would quite rightly point to, which you indicated David earlier is, you know, public opinion has got fatigue with engagement. What I'm saying is this, the engagement that we enter into doesn't have to be like Iraq or Afghanistan.

DAVID GREGORY:

Could the world more effectively deal with radical Islam had the invasion of Iraq not occurred?

TONY BLAIR:

No, because the fact is, you know, radical Islam is responsible for 9/11, before Afghanistan, before Iraq. This has been a long time--

DAVID GREGORY:

That wasn't Saddam Hussein.

TONY BLAIR:

No, it wasn't Saddam Hussein. But the fact is that the existence of this ideology, it didn't start post-9/11. It didn't start post Afghanistan or Iraq. You know, again, this is where we've got to be realistic about this. This has grown up over a long period of time. It's come out of the Middle East. It's been taught in informal and formal education systems.

And the thing that I'm saying is, look, climate change is a big issue. The running of the global economy is a big issue. But so is educating our young people to an open-minded attitude and mindset for the world.

DAVID GREGORY:

The Middle East peace process, is it about to crumble? And what's your angle on this? What would you do to somehow revive it?

TONY BLAIR:

Keep going. You can never give up with these things. So I remember in--

DAVID GREGORY:

Even if it looks like it's going nowhere?

TONY BLAIR:

Look, if I'd given up when the Northern Ireland peace process looked as if it was going nowhere, we would never have got there. And the fact is, in the end in the Middle East, what do people know? They know there is only one solution, which is two states living side by side. And actually a majority of people support it.

Now the politics of both sides make it tough right now. But I think John Kerry's shown, you know, really great leadership and commitment in pushing this and driving it. And I think he's got to keep going with it. And however difficult it is (and, you know, the last few days have been difficult) my strong advice would be, you know, we know what the right thing to do is here. Let's just keep doing it.

DAVID GREGORY:

As people are watching this on Sunday, it's an important day for the Catholic Church with the canonization of two former popes. Do you believe the Catholic Church has the same influence it has had as not just an organizing force for the world, but a true force for good, an influential force in the world? Is it reaching its potential in that regard?

TONY BLAIR:

I think like all great institutions, it has to evolve and change over time. I think the new pope is doing a great job in that respect. But yes, I think the Catholic Church still has great authority. So I'm optimistic about the church's future.

DAVID GREGORY:

Through the difficult and dark days of your own time as prime minister, how did your own faith stay strong? And how did you work to strengthen it during those periods?

TONY BLAIR:

When you do a really big job with enormous responsibilities and you are someone of faith, (and I always explain this to people, by the way, they misunderstand) it's not that you can go and say a prayer to God and he tells you what the answer is on a particular policy question. But it gives you, if you like, a kind of backbone, not just mentally, but spiritually.

And it also gives you a sense, which I think is very important, of your own humility as a decision maker. And, you know, even though you are called upon to take these decisions, you should always, I think, humble before God in taking them. So for me, I found my faith, if anything, strengthened rather than diminished when I was in office.

DAVID GREGORY:

I've asked you about politics and religion. The only hard thing left is art. And a certain rendering of you by President Bush that you have seen and I wonder what your reaction is?

TONY BLAIR:

I think he's flattering me. I wish I looked that good.

(END TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

We're back with our political roundtable: Jeffrey Goldberg, a correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, and columnist for Bloomberg View. Neera Tanden is president of The Center for American Progress, and former policy director for Hillary Clinton. Rich Lowry is editor of The National Review. And new to the roundtable, happy to have Mallory Factor, professor of international politics and American government at The Citadel military college in South Carolina. He is also the editor of the best-selling book Big Tent: The Story of the Conservative Revolution. A lot to get to there.

But a lot to get to just in our Sunday morning conversation here, Neera. Bryant Gumbel on earlier in the program. I want to play something he said about the persistence of race and racism in America and the larger conversation. Here's what he said a minute ago.

(BEGIN TAPE)

BRYANT GUMBEL:

We historically, whether it’s Donald Sterling, Clive Bundy, or Trayvon Martin, we look at a tip of the iceberg and we ignore the mass underneath it.

(END TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

What is the mass underneath this latest flashpoint of race here with Donald Sterling?

NEERA TANDEN:

Look, I think what Bryant's talking about is the fact that, you know, even when you're talking about affirmative action, other issues, there's still a lot of racism in America. And we look at these instances and get repelled. But there are voices out there.

And it's a harder issue than it was in the past because people are expressing private thoughts. But a Donald Sterling actually has the power to affect people's lives. Look at his housing discrimination case, in which he was actually accused, and had to pay money, because he was discriminating against African-Americans.

So I think the issue here is racism is harder, in some ways, because it's where people are communicating thoughts that are hard to-- you know, people, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos, feel sometimes that they're not getting the jobs that they would have gotten otherwise. But people aren't saying it out loud, so it's a harder touch --

DAVID GREGORY:

It's important to remember that his voice has not been verified. I think the investigation has to--

NEERA TANDEN:

Yes. Alleged--

DAVID GREGORY:

--actually establish that key thing.

NEERA TANDEN:

Well--

DAVID GREGORY:

"Is this your voice?" And we'll wait, Rich Lowry, for the NBA to do that. I have a feeling this will move forward one direction or another pretty fast here. Do you see it that way? Some of my reaction to this is it's such outlier behavior. I'm not saying that I'm surprised that there's racism in America. But it immediately strikes people as, "My gosh, that's just so beyond the pale."

RICH LOWRY:

Yeah. Well, I think it's important to point he should get whatever due process is due an NBA owner. But when you're an owner of an NBA team and you're denounced by the president of the United States and Lebron James? You know, I don't know which of those is more important.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

RICH LOWRY:

But it's a sign you're in big trouble.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

RICH LOWRY:

I don't think racism is harder than it was when we had laws in the south that would forbid people from staying in certain motels--

NEERA TANDEN:

No, no, it's harder--

RICH LOWRY:

--or going to--

(OVERTALK)

RICH LOWRY:

--certain schools.

NEERA TANDEN:

--it's harder to litigate this stuff. It's not worse today.

RICH LOWRY:

Right. We've made enormous progress.

NEERA TANDEN:

Uh-huh

RICH LOWRY:

And you're never going to have a society where people don't believe or say stupid, hateful, and noxious things. But there is a generational element to this. And I think the younger you get, the less likely you are to hear this kind of sentiments.

DAVID GREGORY:

There's also affirmative action now. I mean look, the Supreme Court weighed in here, saying that states have the option to forbid, to prohibit, affirmative action, if they want to go to the ballot box and do that. And in her dissent, Justice Sotomayor wrote the following, a portion of it, and I'll put it on the screen, have you react: "Race matters," she writes, "for reasons that really are only skin deep. That cannot be discussed any other way. That cannot be wished away. Race matters to a young man's view of society when he spends his teenager years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. "Race matters to a young woman's sense of self when she states her hometown and then is pressed, 'No, where are you really from, regardless of how many generations you're family's been in the country.'"

MALLORY FACTOR:

David, this was a six-two decision. So let's look at the six, as opposed to the two. And what you're really looking at is the core finally saying, "We're going to not make law from on high. We're going to leave law to the states and let the states make some decisions." I mean affirmative action, we can argue about good or bad.

But what we've done is we've let the states bring it to their people and make the decisions. I mean affirmative action, some people would say, is tying one hand behind somebody's back to give somebody else an opportunity to work with both hands. The states can now speak and do what they think is right. I think that this was a good decision. I think it's a good decision for America. And I think, for once, the court, or in this particular instance, the court isn't making law from on high.

DAVID GREGORY:

Jeffrey?

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

Well, you know, I was just thinking about the whole context of this.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

I think one of the shocks that we have when Cliven Bundy or Sterling, these things, come out is that we all thought in 2008 that we had achieved something unique and new for the United States, a black president. You have to remember back, there was joyous disbelief on the part of a lot of people, and some horrified disbelief on the part of some others.

And it was a real watershed moment. But the election of one man to one office twice doesn't actually change some underlying structural problems, attitudinal problems, cultural problems and real economic structural problems. And I think each time one of these incidents arises, we sort of say, "But, wait. We're a country with a black president. And yet, this still happens." So it becomes a kind of a cognitive dissonance issue.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right. But so my question, Rich, I mean when you see a situation like Bundy, I mean Bundy presents a problem for those Republican politicians who embraced him because they liked to throw their arms around somebody, you know, fighting against the federal government. Then, all of a sudden, he makes racist comments and they run for the exists, as anybody does, as opposed to comments like this in an industry in sports. Reverend Sharpton said they can bring people together. But you have a lot of white owners and a lot of African-American players. That has real high stakes.

RICH LOWRY:

Yeah. But he is a real outlier, you know? And he has, apparently, a history of this kind of thing, not just in his behavior, but in his statements. But he's, in no way, characteristic of NBA owners, which is why we're talking about this this morning.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

But how do we know that for sure? I mean how do you know that these incidents where you see one guy, two guys, gets caught on private tape saying this, how do we know that they are so marginal--

(OVERTALK)

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

--they are so marginal? These are guys who were caught. I mean I'm not saying that it's widespread in the NBA, certainly. But I'm saying, you know, how do we know that these feelings aren't widespread in the corporate setting?

RICH LOWRY:

Well, I think all you can look for as a society, where everyone has equality of opportunity and is treated equally under the law, and this goes to the affirmative action decision this week. I mean Justice Sotomayor's opinion, to me, seemed other-worldly. That the 14th amendment of the constitution might forbid a state from adopting race-neutral policies in its college admissions. And she had this long, 58-page opinion about minorities and affirmative action. And not once, not once, did she mention Asian-Americans, who are very often the victims of these policies.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

You know, just on this affirmative action really quickly. I mean in this week, and you and I were just talking about this, this week is a big college admissions week. And, you know, we're talking about-- and obviously, the country is moving away from race-based affirmative action. And the reason conservatives are so happy about this decision is that they know that, in the states, this is going to be an unpopular decision, and laws are going to be rolled back.

But there is this phenomenon of white affirmative action. And it's called legacy admissions in universities. And we never really talk about that as an equivalently pernicious if your view is that race based is pernicious. You know, I mean there are so many structural problems here for the advancement of minorities. And one of them is that you do have African-American for white people in so many different areas, so many different ways.

RICH LOWRY:

In our jurisprudence, we've always considered, rightly, race to be a uniquely pernicious, invidious distinction. If you want to help people lower down the income scale, get into college, who have shown unique effort or unique personal attributes, by all means, let's do that. But let's not do it by checking boxes on the basis of race and actually discriminating against some minorities.

DAVID GREGORY:

Go ahead, yeah.

NEERA TANDEN:

So this is why things are so tough, right? Because, you know, we say, "Let's have race neutral requirements." But the truth is, you know, what we hear from a Cliven Bundy or this recent case of the NBA, the allegation, is that there are all kinds of-- you know, people have very pernicious views. And it's actually hard to bring discrimination suits. Right? You can feel discriminated against, and it's a very hard task.

So what affirmative action say is, "You know what? We haven't perfected a race-neutral country." And I think we know that from these incidents. We don't live in a race-neutral country. There's still a burden for that. So how do we solve those issues? Right? How do we get to a point--

DAVID GREGORY:

Right, I--

NEERA TANDEN:

--where everyone-- and I think colleges like University of Michigan say diversity is something that benefits us in our country.

DAVID GREGORY:

Mallory, go ahead, yeah.

MALLORY FACTOR:

Neera, there are outliers. There always will be. And these outliers are bad. They're doing bad things. They're saying bad things. The fact of the matter is do we take that kid, that kid who's worked very hard, who may come from a low income family, who happens to be white, and we push him aside for somebody who's had more opportunities because he's black or Hispanic. That's wrong.

NEERA TANDEN:

Fewer opportunities? Why do you think that?

MALLORY FACTOR:

That's wrong.

NEERA TANDEN:

There's a world in which-- I mean African-Americans--

(OVERTALK)

MALLORY FACTOR:

Who do I say it? Because it's true.

NEERA TANDEN:

African-Americans, Latinos, face so many disparities in education, in health care, et cetera. And Asian-Americans, education is an area where they're excelling, there's still disparities in almost every other field with Asian-Americans.

MALE VOICE:

And there's disparities because of income, too

NEERA TANDEN:

So it's talking about it, just saying that we-- I mean I think it would be great if we lived in a color blind society. But I think--

DAVID GREGORY:

Can I--

NEERA TANDEN:

--we know, from this week, it's not true.

DAVID GREGORY:

Just about a minute left here in this part of the discussion. I want to-- we talked about inequality and affirmative action. And Rich, I want to segue to, again, two big moments, right? An animating force on the left is Elizabeth Warren, right? Out with a new book this week, Senator, of course, on the issue of income inequality.

And then, on the right, an animating force is this ongoing animist toward the federal government, this idea that the federal government has gotten out of control. And we see this playing out in this rancher dispute. But on the income inequality part, where does Elizabeth Warren reside, do you think, in the Democrat Party today? Is it a growing influence?

RICH LOWRY:

Oh, yeah. I mean she's a hero, which you-- of the left, and a rock star, really. And it's not something you'd expect from a former Harvard professor and someone whose expertise is in financial regulation. And it's because she's hitting on this issue area of income inequality and the supposed rigged nature of our capitalist system. That's really where the passion of the base is. And it's fascinating, because it's really a post-Clinton kind of politics. And in some ways, a post-Obama kind of politics.

(OVERTALK)

MALLORY FACTOR:

--and crony capitalism are resonating with the Republican conservative base, as well. I think that that's an issue that you're going to see on the conservative side. It does resonate there, too.

NEERA TANDEN:

And I think--

MALLORY FACTOR:

I think Elizabeth Warren is actually resonating with a lot of people based on this income inequality, particularly when she talks about crony capitalism, which she has, as well.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right. Quick, quick comment, then I've got to get a break.

NEERA TANDEN:

95% of the income gains in the last few years have gone to the top 1%. That's a fact in the country. So I agree with you. I think this is going to be an issue at both the right and the left. And I actually think that President Clinton, who had a campaign Putting People First also talked about fairness in the economy. So I think this is a live issue in American politics.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right. We're going to take a break here. We'll come back with more from our roundtable in a couple of minutes. Also, a striking admission from President Obama on one of his life's biggest regrets. It happened this morning. We'll bring it to you.

(COMMERCIAL)

DAVID GREGORY:

Welcome back, and happening this morning, Pope Francis declared two of his predecessors, Pope John Paul The Second and John the 23rd, saints before a crowd of hundreds of thousands in St. Peter's Square. The ceremony also unique for being attended by Pope Benedict, who sat alongside Francis. That's just an amazing picture to see.

We're going to talk about it with our roundtable: Jeffrey Goldberg, Neera Tanden, Rich Lowry, and Mallory Factor. There is, of course, just the sight of the two of them together. But also, some of the controversy surrounding canonization of both of these figures, John Paul the Second, with the question of pedophilia in the Catholic Church, one thing that's been talked about a lot this week.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

They've been talking about it. They have been talking about it in Rome, obviously. They're very excited about this. And the real observation I have about this is that it's brilliant politics, among other things. You take canonizing two popes at once, a conservative, more conservative leading pope, John Paul Second, and the great liberalizer of the Catholic Church. And it's just-- I mean not to make this two quotidian. But it's an interesting lesson for our political parties.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

I mean he is building a big tent Catholic Church right before our eyes. And our political parties don't seem to have internally that kind of skill sometimes in sort of bringing everybody together.

DAVID GREGORY:

Mallory, you think a lot about this, the secularization in our society versus the role of the church and the impact on our politics.

MALLORY FACTOR:

Well, the church's impact is huge. One of the things that we found out in Big Tent is that 28% of Americans are deeply religious, evangelical, another 10-12% are religious, very strongly religious. This is going to have a major, major impact on our society and voting. Interestingly enough, that entire group are not Republican. They split. Somebody's going to capture them. And when they do, they're going to have a huge whopping majority.

DAVID GREGORY:

Another moment this morning happening that I wanted to share is a moment from-- you know, whenever the president goes overseas, there's a lot of press conferences. We love that. And there's another opportunity to take questions. This was actually a town hall that the president had. And he took a question. And he was asked about his regrets. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN TAPE)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

I regret not having spent more time with my mother. Because she died early. She got cancer and right around when she was my age - she was just a year older than I am now. She died. It happened very fast in about six months.

(END TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

What a tender moment, and a great life lesson in that, right?

NEERA TANDEN:

And I have to say, as a mom, I can't think of a better myself, (LAUGHTER) myself. I have, you know, you're always hoping your kids grow up, they'll think things like that. But I think the President's mother did die at an early age. And he actually talked a lot about her when he was talking about health care, because she didn't have--

(OVERTALK)

MALLORY FACTOR:

David, that's classic Obama. And that's classically why he won the last time. All the polls on the issues had him down. But people really respond to him. And he does a magnificent job. And I believe he's sincere about that, too. This is the reason he's president of the United States and that Romney lost.

RICH LOWRY:

Just for the record, what I'm doing when I get off the set is going and calling my mom.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah. Exactly. (LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

Just for the record, I'm going to go call his mom. (LAUGHTER)

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah. The issue of regret in politics, expressing regret, I'll never forget talking to Bush advisors at the height of the Iraq War. And they're feeling like, "Look, if we admit a mistake on something, you and the press will kill us." Which says something about the state of journalism, then and now.

But these are important moments for leaders to reflect and say, "You know what? This is something that I did that was wrong. And I'm trying to work through this." It is a great teaching moment.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

Yeah. I mean people are wary of doing it, obviously. That's because they come off as weakness.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

But the American people are tremendously forgiving. And oftentimes, you're going to benefit from actually being frank about something you regret or know you got wrong.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah. I remember in synagogue, growing up, hearing a sermon about the importance of, to your loved ones, to your friends, making a point in saying, "I love you." You never know. We're so grateful to be in this moment, we should rejoice in it and tell somebody how much we love them. So I love all of you. (LAUGHTER) Thank you being here and making this a wonderful conversation. (LAUGHTER)

(OVERTALK)

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

You're bringing us to tears here.

DAVID GREGORY:

I know.

(OVERTALK) (LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

Highly emotional--

DAVID GREGORY:

That is, on that note, that is all for today. We're going to be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *