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MEET THE PRESS TRANSCRIPT: April 6, 2014

DAVID GREGORY:

This morning coming to terms with the tragedy at Ford Hood. How could there be a second shooting spree in five years at the very same base? I'll discuss the big security questions at the base, as well as the mental health questions for our returning veterans with Admiral Mike Mullen, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Also this week, there's an important Supreme Court ruling, opening the floodgates to the rich having even more influence over our elections. The Alabama businessman who won the case debates that American democracy is for sale. And unique insights into an environmental fight over Keystone Pipeline. Our Meeting America feature takes us to a tiny Nebraska town with a big stake in President Obama's decision. Plus, he's fought the huge Wall Street firestorm this week, author Michael Lewis joins our roundtable to talk about why he thinks the markets are rigged for the benefit of insiders.

ANNOUNCER:

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

DAVID GREGORY:

We're going to get the very latest on the Fort Hood tragedy in just a minute. But first, a little news. As time is running out, there are some big developments this morning in the search for the black box in that Malaysia Airlines flight 370. For the latest on the search, here's my colleague, Ian Williams, who is in Perth, Australia this morning. Ian, what have you learned?

IAN WILLIAMS:

Good morning, David. The search reached new level of intensity with ships and aircraft racing to a remote part of the Indian Ocean, where a Chinese vessel claims to have detected faint noises, which it says, along the same frequency as those emitted by the black box flight recorder of Flight 370.

Now, it says it heard those noises on Friday and then again over a 90-second period on Saturday. The Australian agency which is overseeing this search said this is an important lead, but it also urged caution. They said there may be other leads, but it does need to be verified. So it's sending fresh kit, including more sonar gear, over into that area.

Separately, though, the Australians said today that the U.S. pinger locator, that's the device that's being dragged behind an Australian ship, also detected faint sounds this morning. But that was in an area that's 300 miles away from where the Chinese are. So clearly, they can't be the same thing. This is a new stage of the search. There is great urgency because the batteries on the black box are fast running out of power. But certainly they are now chasing every lead they can, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right. Ian Williams in Australia, thank you so much. Again, the battery's the big issue, time running out there. Thanks. And now to the latest from Fort Hood. Witnesses say a dispute over a request for a pass to leave the base lead Specialist Ivan Lopez to shoot and kill three people and himself, wounding 16 others. And he's being evaluated at the same time for post-traumatic stress disorder. All of that happening at the same time.

His family says his mental health was affected by the recent deaths of his mother and grandfather. All of that happening this week. I'm joined now, from Sarasota, Florida, by Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to 2011. In that role, he served Presidents Bush and Obama as their top military advisor, overseeing the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

DAVID GREGORY:

Admiral, welcome. Always good to have you perspective.

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN:

Good morning, David. Good to be with you.

DAVID GREGORY:

I want to talk about the mental health aspects here that are troubling in this case and beyond, frankly, for our returning veterans. But let me ask this specific security question. Just within the past couple of weeks, in the independent review after that Navy yard shooting here in Washington, Secretary of Defense Hagel said there are still troubling gaps when it comes to security on our military bases. And at Fort Hood, a second shooting spree in five years, different circumstances, but two in five years. Something's not working when it comes to securing our bases.

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN:

Well, I certainly agree with you, David, in the sense that we've got challenges that we have to address as a result of this incident. First and foremost, I just-- my thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those that we've lost, and the wounded, as well as the family of the shooter. Many, many are suffering. And I think, as General Milley said the other day, first and foremost, we need to reach out to those families and make sure that they are supported.

Secondly, with respect to your question, I think we need to certainly take a look at securing our bases for our people. Right now, in our 13th year of war, it's a time of great stress for our military. We've been through a lot. And as we come out of these wars and come back home, I think just what I've seen in this particular example indicates the mix of characteristics and issues that are associated with that stress, to include anxiety and depression, possible post-traumatic-stress, mild T.B.I., dealing with financial and personal problems.

I think our force, because it's been away so much, has not had to deal with those as directly as they may have in the past. And now that we're going to be home more, I think we're going to see, actually, an increase number of challenges associated with that. And we all need to wrap our arms around the force to help them deal with those.

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, and I'll follow up on that. But I want to stick to the security issue itself. Because when something like this happens, there is, in part, a debate over guns, over security, over tightening up the internal potential threats within a military installation. Mike McCaul, who's chairman, of course, of the House Homeland Security Committee, was on Fox News this week saying this is an issue of greater arms, while allowing our returning soldiers to be armed on these military installations, not just security. Here's what he said. I'll get your reaction.

CHAIRMAN MIKE MCCAUL (ON TAPE):

If they are trained in warfare, they can carry weapons in warfare, it seems to me that there is some logic to allowing them to carry weapons on a military base where they can defend themselves. And the problem here, and with Fort Hood, the prior Nidal Hasan case, was that they couldn't defend themselves because they were not allowed to carry weapons.

DAVID GREGORY:

Does this trouble you, that perspective? Or do you think that's part of the answer?

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN:

Well, I think we need to review the security procedures. I'm not one, as someone who's been on many, many bases and posts, that would argue for arming anybody that's on base. I think that actually invites much more difficult challenges. I think we've got to get at the issues that are singled out in this particular incident, with respect to the individuals.

Certainly we have to do everything we can to protect everybody that's on base. And I'm sure this incident will cause Secretary Hagel to review those procedures. But I would be much more in the camp of fixing it that way, and focusing on the individuals, than routinely allowing arms on any base, military base, in the country.

DAVID GREGORY:

Admiral, you talked about the country putting our arms around our returning veterans. I go to a lot of sports games, a lot of hockey games, where you see several breaks during the game to pay tribute to those returning heroes. Everybody's on their feet, standing ovation. But at the same time, I've seen surveys indicating people don't really, the returning veterans, don't feel like most Americans understand what they've been through. So what specifically do you think is not being done enough with regards to dealing with the kind of stress, anxiety, and more severe mental strain that these returning veterans are facing?

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN:

Well, I don't think this is just a military problem, David. I think this is a national problem. We have been short of military help, professionals in the military, just as we are dramatically short throughout the country. We have to provide the resources and the research to get at these issues, like post-traumatic stress, mild T.B.I.. We need to develop objective measures so that we can unequivocally state what the problem is. That's one thing.

As we deal with our vets, particularly those, so many that are transitioning back into communities throughout the country, we need to focus local leadership on their future, which includes their health, their education, as well as employment. We also need to focus and include family members from beginning to end, whether it's mental health challenges, or whether it's employment.

Our spouses and families, our kids, have been through a lot. And they've been unbelievably supportive. This is a great military. And I wouldn't want one incident like this to tarnish the reputations of the hundreds of thousands of vets in our country who run businesses, who teach at schools, who coach little league teams, and who make a big difference in our now and will for the future. That said, we do need to deal with the challenges that I specifically suggested we focus on.

DAVID GREGORY:

When you talk about T.B.I., you talk about traumatic brain injury, which, of course, is a huge issue for a lot of those surviving warfare when, in previous generations, our soldiers may not have. But with these injuries, is this a resource issue? Is this ultimately going to be a federal government Veterans Administration, elsewhere in the government, the Pentagon, spending more dollars to be able to put their arms around our returning veterans?

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN:

Well, I'm taken aback, David, in the 21st century, that we actually know so little about the brain. So I think the President's initiative with respect to brain mapping is critical. I'm involved in a research effort at NYU to look at the ability to determine biomarkers, voice patterns, blood measurements, that would indicate both post-traumatic stress and T.B.I. as a problem.

So this really is a national resource issue, one that, again, I'm surprised we know so little about in the 21st century. And I think we need to do a lot more to try to understand the brain and how these injuries affect our young people, who've done so much for our country, and that we really have to take care of in the future.

DAVID GREGORY:

Admiral, when you've been on this program numerous times in uniform when you were serving as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, of course, we would talk about Afghanistan. And I don't want to let you go without covering this. It's an important weekend, with elections in Afghanistan, the post-Hamid Karzai era.

There's a striking new book out by Carlotta Gall of The New York Times entitled The Wrong Enemy. And I want to read you a portion of it that has really struck me. And it's a foreboding sense of what's to come. She writes, "Militant Islamism is a juggernaut that cannot be turned off or turned away from. Pakistan is still exporting militant Islamism and terrorist, and will not stop once foreign forces leave its borders.

"The repercussions of the U.S. pull-out are already inspiring Islamists who are comparing it to the withdrawal of the Soviet Union after its ten-year debilitating war in Afghanistan. They are the real enemy in this war. They have not finished fighting. They fully intend to reclaim Afghanistan and have set their sights on horizons beyond." A pretty troubling picture. Is that the future, once U.S. forces leave Afghanistan and that region and Pakistan, as well?

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN:

I think it's very difficult to predict the future, David. None of us have been very good at it. Certainly I would agree it's an area of great concern, and will continue to be, because of the Islamists, the militants, that are there. I think it's going to be the charge for the international community, at large, as well as the leadership in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, to address these issues.

But it's a very worrisome future with respect to that particular area. I'm actually encouraged by the elections in terms of the turnout. That said, I continue to be concerned about the overall effects of the government of Afghanistan on its people, because of the lack of addressing supporting them and corruption and those kinds of things. Pakistan certainly also has its challenges.

In the end, I actually, long term, I have hope for the people in that part of the world. I don't think it's an area that we're going to be able to neglect. We're not going to be able to walk away from it. And there are lots of things, in addition to military support, which are required in order to address the challenges per those people.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right. To be continued. Admiral Mullen, always good to have your perspective. Thanks so much.

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN:

Thank you, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

We'll switch gears now and talk about the issue of money in politics and the debate over whether American democracy is for sale. In a five to four decision, the Supreme Court eliminated limits on how much money individuals can donate in any two-year election cycle, a separate limit on how much can be donated to a single candidate remains in place.

To debate the ramifications of the ruling, I'm joined by the man who won that case, Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon and Robert Weissman, president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, which argues for additional campaign finance limits. Welcome to both of you. Certainly a fascinating issue.

So here's my thing, Mr. McCutcheon. As you look at this, here's a new reality, right? American democracy for sale. How do you have candidates in the future now going to the wealthiest donors in the country and saying, "I want an unlimited amount of money." How does that not, at some point, lead to corruption?

SHAUN MCCUTCHEON:

Well again, I think this is an issue about independent, private people exercising free speech. And regardless of economic status, all Americans are entitled to free speech. So this is a First Amendment guaranteed right under the constitution. All Americans are entitled--

DAVID GREGORY:

And the Supreme Court agreed with you in a five to four decision, and has upheld that. But if you sit back as a citizen and say, "I want to be politically involved. And if I'm a person of great means, and I've got all these candidates come and saying, 'Hey, I want an unlimited amount of money,'" do you not worry that that leads to corruption at some point?

SHAUN MCCUTCHEON:

Oh, I am a citizen. And I'm interested in being involved in the process. So I'm interested in change for the better. That's what motivated me to support candidates. And again, it's about your right to support as many candidates, committees and Packs as you choose. It's a political activity. It's a-- like Robert said, it's the most fundamental right in this country is our right as the people to select our leaders.

DAVID GREGORY:

So here's what Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in a dissenting opinion. In part, he writes this: "What has this to do with corruption? It has everything to do with corruption, where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard," Robert Weissman. So Shaun McCutcheon, as an individual, may have his free speech being honored here. But is he really going to count as much as the wealthy, the super wealthy, in trying to influence elections?

ROBERT WEISSMAN:

Well, what the court decided was that individuals have the right, a First Amendment right, to give up to $5.9 million to candidates or to even political committees. There are only a few hundred people in this country who have the wherewithal to do that and have shown the inclination to do it. They're going to do it, and they're going to expect something back in return. And exactly just as Justice Breyer said, what that means is that those people have the stranglehold over how the process works. And everybody else is left out of the game.

SHAUN MCCUTCHEON:

All the money in politics is still out there. There's lots of money in politics. Again, individual people exercising freedom of speech is a good thing. Bringing competition to the process. I mean how are these candidates, these good, managerial type candidates, that can't self-fund, you know, the candidate that, him or herself, can donate infinite money to their own campaign, what about candidates that can't afford that? They need donors, individual private donors, like me and others, that can donate directly to their campaigns. And we shouldn't be limited to nine candidates or ten candidates.

DAVID GREGORY:

But the issue that I'm getting to is you, as an individual with free speech, to be able to give to as many candidates as you want, do you really have the kind of say as, "The political parties will be strengthened here, outside groups will be strengthened, those who would come together in a committee fashion," won't they overwhelm the individual's ability, Robert let me start with you, to have the kind of impact that Mr. McCutcheon says is so important?

ROBERT WEISSMAN:

Well, I think first of all, when Mr. McCutcheon says he wants to support a lot of candidates, he is free to do that. And he was free to do that before the decision. He's not really talking about support. He's not talking about handing out leaflets or putting up a sign in his yard. He's talking about the ability to give money to candidates. And that's not the same thing. And it doesn't deserve the same kinds of First Amendment protection.

Now, the people who do have the wherewithal and inclination to give multi-million checks to party leaders, they are going to have a lot of influence. That's for sure. But it's going to be at the expense of the rest of us.

DAVID GREGORY:

Do you worry that ultimately there's a quid pro quo? I mean the Watergate era is what really brought on the idea of more of these regulations. Is that what you see here?

ROBERT WEISSMAN:

Well, I think that's for sure going to happen. Now, the chief justice said that's the only thing we should think about is whether this quid pro quo, meaning bribery, as he described it. So that actually is going to be a problem with this much money sloshing around.

But the bigger problem is bought access, bought influence, and a tilted playing field. The chief justice said, "Well actually, we don't care about those things." But the American people do care about these things, and they should.

DAVID GREGORY:

But to Mr. McCutcheon's point, it's kind of like when you try to keep water out of the basement and try to seal the basement. Water finds its own level and always finds a way into the basement. Money is in politics in a huge way. Wouldn't you rather have it be more transparent, not Citizens Unite, or the knock against that, of course, is that it created outside groups that didn't have to disclose? Here you have money coming in, but at least the political parties are strengthened, perhaps you have more transparency.

ROBERT WEISSMAN:

Well, you're right. I mean there's a problem with the existing system. It wasn't a good system. It was a massively broken system before the decision in McCutcheon v. FEC. What we really need is a constitutional administration to sweep away what the Supreme Court has done and make it possible for we, the people, to exercise some sensible control over how our elections are run.

DAVID GREGORY:

You got to see this go through. As I said at the top, as an individual, you still have an individual cap on what you can give to a candidate. Justice Thomas said that should have been done away with, as well. Would you like to see that happen?

SHAUN MCCUTCHEON:

Well, I've been saying the whole time that I thought some base limits made some sense. But I think they're a low number, because you can't buy many ads with $5200. But again, this is about freedom of speech in the individual. And it's funny how he believes it's about we, the people. That's what I believe. I believe it's about individuals, the same kind of individuals that came here in search of freedom and opportunity. And I--

DAVID GREGORY:

But you're still not answering why you think, as an individual, you'll have as much power as the mega-rich, who not only can fund a super PAC, but can also empower committees to get together to influence an issue much more than an individual campaign or an individual can.

SHAUN MCCUTCHEON:

Well again, it's a fundamental right of selecting our leaders by the people. We don't need the government to select our leaders, we need the people to select the leaders. It's about political assembly. It's a fundamental, most important, right.

ROBERT WEISSMAN:

Yeah, we do need we, the people to select the leaders. The problem is when a few hundred people are able to spend multi-million dollars over the electoral process, they are the ones who have an outsize influence over electing our leaders and deciding what those leaders are going to do once they're in office.

DAVID GREGORY:

Are you for total transparency? If you give a check, should that campaign immediately put that up on their website so everybody can see it was from you?

SHAUN MCCUTCHEON:

I'm for transparency, yes, sir.

DAVID GREGORY:

That total transparency, it doesn't seem to be working through Congress yet. There doesn't seem enough support for it.

SHAUN MCCUTCHEON:

Well, these donations we're talking about are transparent donations. I mean they're all reporting.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right. We'll see where Congress wants to get involved now. Thanks to both of you very much. Appreciate it.

SHAUN MCCUTCHEON:

Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

We'll be back here in 90 seconds with our political roundtable to talk about all the week's politics, including this decision. President Obama celebrated his hitting the health care enrollment target that he was after this week. But is the issue still a liability to Democrats? We'll get into that.

Plus, should members of Congress who represent the least liked institutions of America, actually make more money? One Congressman thinks perhaps they should, and might even get a little sympathy. And the politics of the selfie. What was wrong with this picture, according to the White House?

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

We are back. Welcome back. That's Harold Ford with a cough that he's working through after Kentucky's big win last night. The roundtable is here. The Washington Post's Kathleen Parker, former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, plus two new faces here, former New Hampshire Senator and Boston Globe contributor, John Sununu, who just this week wrote a piece entitled Obamacare Misses the Target.

Also, former AOL CEO Steve Case, now chairman of Revolution, a venture capital firm. He's an entrepreneur with a unique perspective on both the business and tech worlds. We're glad to have you with some views on the political week that it was. And here's the cover of The Week magazine that got my attention. "Alive and Kicking." President Obama may be a little messed up after this health care fight. But he seems like he had a fairly good week on this. Senator, do you not think so, hitting seven million, the enrollment figures? You still think it hasn't made the mark?

JOHN SUNUNU:

Well, no. It's not about enrollment figures. It's about reducing the number of uninsured in this country. We have 50 million uninsured. And if you only look at the enrollment figure, you miss the question of how many of them were previously uninsured. So you have to multiply by about 80%, (UNINTEL) 80% probably be the number that actually pay, gets you down to 5.6. And how many were previously uninsured. McKinsey Consulting did some surveys, 25% previously uninsured. Now you're down to 1.4 million. That's about 3%. Reducing the number of uninsured in America by 3% for how much money? $2 trillion.

DAVID GREGORY:

But Steve Case--

JOHN SUNUNU:

That's not a good cost--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

It did sound like a Republican argument to try to deal with the reality that people who didn't have insurance are getting insurance, or their kids are now being allowed to stay on their policies, or if you had pre-existing conditions, those are covered now. Republicans are trying, it seems, their best to say this thing isn't going to work. This is a pretty good sign that it's here to stay this week, don't you think?

STEVE CASE:

I think it's here to stay. I'm sure it'll need to be modified. Any big legislation's going to have to be tweaked over time. But there's two aspects, I think, that are not getting enough attention that, in the long run, I think will be helpful, particularly in terms of fueling startups and entrepreneurship, which ultimately is job creation.

One is the mobility. People can now leave big companies to go to small companies. Before, they were concerned about losing their health care. And the second we've seen in the last couple of years, hundreds of new startups funded by venture capitalists in the health sector, really trying to innovate and create better outcomes at lower costs with more convenience. So in the long run, there'll be debate about the actuarial tables, exactly who's finding what, how the economics work, will take a few years to work through. But I think there are some positives imbedded in this that ultimately will drive more innovation in health care.

DAVID GREGORY:

And Harold, this is just pure politics, right? I mean do the politics improve, or is this still a bad pool here for Democrats to try to go out and argue--

(OVERTALK)

HAROLD FORD JR.:

The politics is marginally improved. I think you have to look at these specific Senate races to get a sense of how it will play out. It's unclear to me if the Pryors and the Hadens of the world will begin to embrace this. But I do think Case's point is probably the best one in terms of where we're headed and how innovation in tech, new innovation, new technology will not only lower costs but make it easier to capture those who are uninsured.

To John's point, the president promised he'd do three things with this. One, he'd get everybody insurance. Number two, he'd pay for it. And number three, make it affordable. The question, I think, the main question, is affordability. We're going to cover more people. We're going to find ways to pay for it. But will we curb costs or curtail costs going forward? The jury is still out there. And that's the argument going forward--

(OVERTALK)

JOHN SUNUNU:

--early indication-- WellPoint just announced double digit increases. I think the biggest provider in California, one of the biggest states, double digit increases.

DAVID GREGORY:

But the federal government could help defray that. I mean you're getting-- do premiums go up? Perhaps they will. Perhaps the government pays some of that bill.

JOHN SUNUNU:

But what Harold was talking about wasn't subsidy, it was cost, the overall cost of the system. And when insurance premiums are going up double digit, you're not achieving that goal.

HAROLD FORD JR.:

Which is why Steve's point is so important, that you begin to discuss going forward.

KATHLEEN PARKER:

I love the idea that entrepreneurs will come in and rescue this whole situation, (LAUGHTER) the way it should be.

(OVERTALK)

KATHLEEN PARKER:

We could have solved the mobility problem with one act of legislation without an entire comprehensive program. However, I think the biggest problem, the biggest challenge for the Democrats is not whether it's 7.1 million or 30 million, whatever the real numbers are. It is that, in the process of this rollout, as well as the sign-ups to this point, is that since we don't know what those numbers mean, and since the rollout has been rather disastrous, the American people, at a time when they have such distrust of government in general, see quite clearly that the people that passed the bill really never did have any idea what they were doing. And that is going to be the biggest obstacle.

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, and let's stay with that, because I think that's important, which is, ultimately, what is the impact? Not whether (UNINTEL) they doing, but what is the ultimate impact of this? So here, Harold mentioned Mark Pryor running in Arkansas. And there's an ad from Americans for Prosperity, the Koch Brothers, which is a whole separate discussion perhaps we can touch on. But here's a portion of that ad and how they're trying to target Mark Pryor.

POLITICAL AD:

It's like living in a haze. You don't know whether you're going to have insurance or whether you're going to be able to afford your insurance. It was taken away from us, or it was given back to us. Or it was take-- we don't know what it's doing now. And I think the American people are tired of this constant angst, this constant crisis. They want certainty in their lives.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right. So it's the idea of what's the impact, the confusion already, that that's the attack against it.

KATHLEEN PARKER:

Exactly. And by the way, I think you could find someone who doesn't have a southern accent who is confused by this act. (CHUCKLE) Because we always seem to find a character who seems a little country-fied, who can't just fathom. You know, there are plenty of smart, sophisticated people, who are equally hazy about what is really going on.

HAROLD FORD JR.:

The most bothersome part of the portrait and picture this week, I think the White House was right to talk about the numbers. But they shouldn't be doing a victory lap right now. There's still problems with this. There is confusion around this. Those kind of ads will continue to run across the country.

And the question becomes: when the people have the courage to say what's working and what's not working, to just make the case that, as the president I think tried to make eloquent and more people are getting health care, how can you be opposed to that, I don't think anyone's opposed to that. The questions are legitimate ones, I think, raised by John and frankly, legitimately raised by Kathleen--

(OVERTALK)

JOHN SUNUNU:

The confusion and the cost, I think, are the biggest political risks. And those are things that really aren't going to improve dramatically between now and election.

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me take a minute and talk about this debate we just had about whether democracy is for sale. Steve Case, when you follow all of this, I want to go back to my question, which is, if campaigns come to you, Steve Case, and say, "You're a man of means. And we'd like you to give an unlimited amount of money to the campaign," how do you not raise a specter of corruption at some point down--

(OVERTALK)

STEVE CASE:

I'd say, I focus less on politics, frankly, and more on policy. But I actually think we're fighting last year's battle. I think all this effort is around raising money to fund television ads. And I hate to break this to you, but actually, people are watching less television. And those campaigns of the future are not going to be fought based on 30 second ads on television.

That's why the internet is emerging as a force to spread information, engage the people. And I think the next wave of campaigns, it may take five or ten years, but people are not going to be running the campaigns the same way that the political industrial--

(OVERTALK)

JOHN SUNUNU:

--in the last election proved Steve right. That Karl Rove and his organization spent $100 million, and every one of those candidates lost.

HAROLD FORD JR.:

But they also had a--

(OVERTALK)

JOHN SUNUNU:

Exactly.

(OVERTALK)

KATHLEEN PARKER:

--candidate.

JOHN SUNUNU:

It's about substance, and it's about the voters ultimately choosing. They're all equal, they all cast one vote. So the suggestion, I think that you were getting at in the last segment, that money is somehow decisive, is not only wrong, as Steve points out, it's probably going to be more wrong over time. It's how you reach them.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right.

JOHN SUNUNU:

You can reach them more economically--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, my suggestion actually was more about-- Shaun McCutcheon believes that the individual is king. My question, Kathleen, is whether that's really the case. Is the individual or the individual campaign as strong as a consortium of committees, outside groups and so forth, who can have a bigger impact, even if, as Steve says, over time maybe the television impact is reduced?

KATHLEEN PARKER:

Well, I agree completely with that. And I had that thought as they were talking, which is that social media certainly neutralizes the whole idea that this greater sum of money that people can allocate is going to be influential in the long run. I think that I agree so much with what Michael Kinsley wrote that money is speech and lots of money is louder speech that reaches more people. But people do have the option of not paying attention to that speech.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right. Well, and I went away to Sheldon Adelson, right, who has this kind of cattle call where he invites all these potential nominees who are sure to come. Whether he, at some point, says, "You know what? It's not worth spending a billion dollars if I'm not going to get my guy in. Maybe I shouldn't be spending so much," Harold.

HAROLD FORD JR.:

He has every right to do what he chooses to do. And far be it from me to try to tell him. I think your discussion you had with McCutcheon and the president of-- Weissman there about these-- money is there. All this decision did was to try to redirect some of the flow of it. And anyway, I think any chance you have to re-empower the political parties, which are accountable, the money is transparent, they foster kind of a coalition kind of thinking around issues, I think is a positive thing.

Now, if you take Weissman at his word, and this is a disaster, and you take Breyer at his word, Justice Breyer, then perhaps this will invite a kind of confusion and chaos and collapse of the system that will force us to change altogether. But this decision doesn't alarm me like it has alarmed some of my Democratic friends. In fact, I think it will empower candidates, empower political individual campaigns, which, in the long run, having run a campaign, along with John, I'd much rather have the transparency and be accountable that way, as opposed to having outside groups come in that I have to answer to.

(OVERTALK)

JOHN SUNUNU:

That accountability is what's so important. And candidates' campaign organization, I mean every -- hangs on bad ads, to be sure. But they're much more accountable and responsive if they mislead, if they misstate facts. They've got to respond and take down an ad.

(OVERTALK)

JOHN SUNUNU:

--the third parties, it's the super PACs, that have the least amount of accountability in the civility and the--

(OVERTALK)

STEVE CASE:

I agree. I'm not fan of super packs. I'm also not a fan of disarming the political party. I think 40% of our country doesn't align with Republicans or Democrats. They really feel like there's something missing in the center. And that's why I think there's an ability for social media. People engage in their communities and kind of try to rebuild that--

(OVERTALK)

STEVE CASE:

Part of this is money. But part of it is getting people to engage in policy, engage in politics, in a way that allows us to rebuild a sensible--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Final point here, and take a break. I mean I think, from what I'm hearing, I think what stands out is right. The power of the individual to be discerning and to make up their own mind is really powerful. I don't know that that excuses the idea that we have a political system so awash in money that you've got to work that hard to ignore it and focus on what you want. So something seems out of balance. The question is to what extent Congress wants to get back into the attempt to try to regulate it when it's had a hard time.

We're going to see that in a few minutes. We'll come back. We're going to take a break here. And still to come, our new Meeting America feature. As President Obama weighs whether to build that Keystone XL pipeline. Our Kevin Tibbles visits a tiny Midwestern town where his decision's going to have a pretty big impact, and he hears both sides of the argument.

MARGO D’ANGELO:

It does boost the economy for everyone around here.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

You're suggesting a little bit of bullying has gone on.

DAVE DOMINA:

It has.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

You heard earlier from Shaun McCutcheon, whose court case made waves this week. To find out more about its impact on election, I tweeted with President Obama's 2012 campaign manager, Jim Messina, as part of this week's Tweet the Press interview series. He called the decision ridiculous. You can see the full interview on our website. It's part of Meet the Press 24/7. To bring the conversation to you all week long, it's at MeetThePressNBC.com. And be sure to follow me on Twitter for Tweet the Press and more. I'm @DavidGregory. We're back here with Meeting America right after this.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

Welcome back. This week, the U.N. issued an unprecedented warning about climate change, arguing extreme weather events will become even more common. The President's inability to get significant legislation combating climate change through Congress, makes his decision about the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline all the more politically difficult. So we wanted to get out of Washington to meet some people directly affected by all this. And in today's Meeting America, Kevin Tibbles will visit a small Midwestern town whose future will be shaped by the President's decisions.

(BEGIN TAPE)

KEVIN TIBBLES:

A tiny speck of a Nebraska town, Steele City has some stories to tell. Covered wagons made tracks, headed west. Wild Bill Hickok gunned down his first man not far from here. Shot him in the back, they say. These days, more often than not, things roll on by without a second thought. And in the weather-worn facades and storefronts, Steele City shows its age.

BILL SCHEELE:

We used to have two grocery stores, a hardware store, a livery barn, a lumber yard, a creamery, stockyards. Basically dwindled away.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

Bill Scheele runs the Post Office, is the town's maintenance man, and also the mayor. He won with 21 votes. Not bad, really. Folks are few here.

MALE VOICE:

50, give or take one or two.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

Sign out front says 84 people live here.

BILL SCHEELE:

But that's an old sign. (CHUCKLE)

KEVIN TIBBLES:

No one's ever struck oil in Steele City. But an awful lot of it sure passes through. Four pipelines already converge on the outskirts. And a fifth, the proposed Keystone XL, would bring Canadian crude south en route to U.S. refineries.

MARGO D’ANGELO:

The ones that have come through and built have been good business. Like as far as calling in ahead of time, saying, "I have 40 lunches. Can you have them ready at, you know, 12:10?" Been a good business having them come through.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

The Salty Dog's the only place in town to get a bite. It's really the only place in town. Margot DeAngelo lovingly serves up the chow.

(OVERTALK)

MARGO D’ANGELO:

Yay! I won.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

And she's all for the pipeline.

MARGO D’ANGELO:

It does boost the economy for everyone around here. Me, me employees. That might mean difference in an employee getting a new car. Might mean a new air conditioning system for the tavern, or I might be able to have a vacation. (LAUGHTER)

KEVIN TIBBLES:

But there is considerable opposition on the other side. Some maintain any pipeline spill would devastate Nebraska's environment. Others say Americans need to wean themselves from fossil fuels.

DAVE DOMINA:

Like most Nebraskans, the environment is this very secondary issue.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

And there's the question of money.

DAVE DOMINA:

There are 1.8 million people in Nebraska. We have 50 people in Steel City. So you do the math.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

David Domina is a lawyer fighting Keystone on behalf of farmers who want a better compensation package.

DAVE DOMINA:

A good neighbor would not say to you, "You take this deal, or you're out."

KEVIN TIBBLES:

You're suggested a little bit of bullying has gone on.

BILL SCHEELE:

It has. The ones that are fighting this, I think, it's more political than anything.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

Do you ever worry, like, in a couple of years, Steel City may be no more?

MALE VOICE:

Oh yeah, I am.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

It is the future that fuels the uncertainty in this part of the country. There's plenty of past to go around.

BRUCE JUNKER:

Blacksmithing was a way of life.

MALE VOICE:

This stuff's white hot.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

So as local men breathe new life into this old stone building, keeping their craft alive, they look ahead.

BRUCE JUNKER:

I welcome the future. I have to. If you don't, the country's going to go backwards. But don't forget your past.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

For Meet the Press, Kevin Tibbles.

(END TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

Interesting. We're back with our roundtable now. Kathleen Parker, as you look at that, what are we learning as we listen on the ground there and get out of the Washington part of the debate? What are we learned when we hear from the communities involved?

KATHLEEN PARKER:

Well, clearly people want the economy to grow. They want jobs to come through. I think if I were President Obama I would adopt Steel City as the new American city. I would say, "Let's get that pipeline going. Let's make sure we have everything in place to protect the environment as much as we possibly can." And watch that little city blossom like a desert flower. Wouldn't that be fun?

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, very interesting, Steve, that, you know, there's different sides to this argument. You know, there in Steel City, where there's not a lot of people, but they certainly depend on this, there's an economic upside. But a lot of farmers in that area see an economic downside if they don't get a good enough deal to have a pipeline come through.

And there's the environmental piece, as well, that, through the area where the pipeline would cross. And the National Resources Defense Council sent us this statement to make sure it was part of the debate. I'll put it on the screen: "Keystone XL would significantly add to carbon pollution that's driving climate change, undermine the nation's climate leadership, and imperil the health and drinking water of millions of Americans." And the climate change aspect of it has got to be tough for the president, as I mentioned. He's not getting a significant climate change legislation through Congress, which is why this decision's so tricky.

STEVE CASE:

It's a tough, sensitive issue. And obviously balancing some of the environmental concerns with some of the economics, the jobs concerns, my sense is the president probably will approve it. But again, we shouldn't just focus on the energy we have today. We should focus on the energy we need tomorrow and invest in technology.

Some very innovative things happening in things like micro-grids. Some of the things around the natural gas boom have been driven by new technologies there. So we need a portfolio of renewable solutions. And we've got to bet on our nation's entrepreneurs to innovate and create the new technologies that do create the jobs, do drive the economy, but do it in a way that's safe to our environment.

DAVID GREGORY:

I just think, Harold, you go outside of this fight in Washington, you do learn something from people who are saying, you know, "You may be concerned about the environment, but we've got a real potential upside here with the economy."

HAROLD FORD JR.:

Let's put the environment in perspective. As you know, the State Department's conducted study after study after study, including one after the president claimed that if approving the Keystone Pipeline would exacerbate carbon pollution, then he would be against it. The most recent report from the President's own State Department suggests that this would not exacerbate the carbon footprint, number one.

Two, the economics of this are clear. In that piece there, the only tension you really had was between farmers who thought they should be paid more. And they probably should be. I think one of the things the president ought to think about as he thinks about approving this is asking those to get upfront to set aside money for potential cleanup.

I think the concerns about a disaster are real. They've happened before. But I'm going to remind most people watching your show, there are thousands of miles of pipelines across this country already transporting crude. So let's understand that as we have this debate.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right. More from our roundtable coming out in just a minute. We're going to hear from more of you as we progress here. Don't forget tonight on NBC Ann Curry has a special documentary about climate change called A Year of Extremes: Did Climate Change Just Hit Home?. So on topic there. Coming up here, Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball, on his new book, and whether Wall Street is stacked against the little guy, has created quite a buzz. He'll be here to talk about it after.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

Here now, some of this week's images to remember.

(“IMAGES TO REMEMBER” SEGMENT)

DAVID GREGORY:

We are back in a moment here with Michael Lewis. He's here to talk about two of America's great obsessions: money, and we'll get a little bit of baseball, as well. We'll be talking about his new book coming up after this.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

We are back. Are the stock market's rigged for the benefits of insiders? My next guest, Michael Lewis, has certainly stirred some things up this week, a lot of controversy over revelations he's made about what's called high frequency trading, in his latest book Flash Boys, a Wall Street Revolt. Michael Lewis, welcome back. It's great to have you here.

MICHAEL LEWIS:

Thanks for having me.

DAVID GREGORY:

You are so cool, without a tie, with a tie. You always come to play.

MICHAEL LEWIS:

I can barely get out of bed on Sunday mornings.

(OVERTALK) (LAUGHTER)

DAVID GREGORY:

Your game face alone wins the war, right? Isn't that the commercial? This book has certainly made a lot of headlines. And I want to cut right to an aspect of the controversy of it, which is who does it affect? Jim Cramer on CNBC said, "Look, if you're the average investor, maybe you're building for the future--

MICHAEL LEWIS:

Right.

DAVID GREGORY:

--you're not as concerned about the ups and downs of stock prices. You're holding something for a long time." So who's most affected by this?

MICHAEL LEWIS:

So, there are two answers to that question. So everybody who is not a high frequency trader is competing on an un-level playing field in the exchanges with the high frequency traders. They had advance, they had advance information about what you want to do before you do it.

Now, who pays-- the price every time is pennies. I mean you're talking about trivial sums of money for an individual investor, if you just look at it that way. If you add up the skim or the scalp, or whatever you want to call it, it's billions a year. So that's a tax on investment capital.

That's not, I don't think, the big problem. The big problem is, in order to sort of maximize the collision between high frequency traders and regular investors to the detriment of regular investors, the exchanges have been compromised. They've been made way too complicated. They're unstable. We have flash crashes, we have outages, we have IPOs that don't work.

So I think the problem, the bigger problem, is really the integrity of the stock market and the relationship of Wall Street to the rest of the society. So I think it's not a-- if you are an individual investor sitting in your underpants (CHUCKLE) trading on eTrade, you're paying trivial sums of money. It's costing you probably trivial sums of money. That's not the problem. The problem is what it's done to the heart of capitalism.

DAVID GREGORY:

And I still have a question about where are the regulators. We get into a financial system that gets more and more sophisticated that even the practitioners, in the case of the last crash, didn't understand what they were creating and how to manage it. And maybe here it's just pure manipulation.

You write something in part of the book where you say, "Wall Street firms, not just the big banks, but all of them, had grown greatly more concerned than they were in the late '80s with what some journalists might say about them. To judge only from their behavior, they have a lot more to fear."

MICHAEL LEWIS:

You know, the reporting environment has changed. (CHUCKLE)

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

MICHAEL LEWIS:

And it's changed in this way. The firms are much more corporate. They're much more resistant to any kind of inquiry. But having said that, the people who work in these firms are much less loyal to the firms. Everybody's a free agent at Wall Street. So it's much easier, in some ways, to get stories with people who go out for a beer with you and talk to you and spill the beans about their firm, because you don't care about the firm.

But the firms themselves are opaque. I mean they're hard to understand. And the fact is that, I mean what-- since the 1980s, the financial sector has gotten so much more complicated. And this complexity is a form of opacity. At some point, the complexity, like with the sub-prime mortgage crisis, at the bottom of this is that there's a problem that nobody understood what was in the subprime CDO. And at the bottom of this story that I just described is nobody understands the stock market. It's crazy. And the stock market's become like a secret, how it all works.

DAVID GREGORY:

And that's the question. I mean--

JOHN SUNUNU:

They may worry less about their firm, but they're worried as much or more about their own reputation. And that's because the regulatory scrutiny and, therefore, the political risk to them, is that much higher. Jamie Dimon or Lloyd Blankfein, they are quasi political figures. Yeah, they're corporate figures. But they're feeling a political responsibility or accountability or exposure that they've never seen before.

STEVE CASE:

But there's a bigger problem here, which is, when I was growing up, and I guess I'm getting old, but you invest in a company with the idea that, some day, that company would be more valuable, you'd invest with a long term, hold it for five or ten years. And ten, 20 years ago, things kind of shortened. People are focused on-- the institutional investors are focused on the quarter. Now we're focused on seconds, milliseconds.

I think we need to get back to more of a built-to-last, invest-in-the-future, not just this hot money, momentum money. And maybe there's some policy changes that are necessary to incent more long term, buy-and-hold kind of investment, which ultimately is what's critical to build our jobs, build our economy, is to back these companies, particularly back the startups, with long term money, not this short term hot money.

DAVID GREGORY:

It's a question, too, of to what extent Wall Street has changed, as well as Washington's ability to prevent the next big thing from happening.

HAROLD FORD JR.:

I guess one of the questions I would have for Michael, as you talk about the confidence in the market and exchanges, what's the answer? Is it more regulation or different kind of regulation or new exchanges? What would you recommend?

MICHAEL LEWIS:

Well, for the main characters of the story, it's interesting. They actually start as Wall Street insiders and kind of piece together how the stock market is working from the inside. And they come to the conclusion, once they discover what they discover, they go to the SEC. The SEC is paralyzed. It's not that they're not smart, it's that they're just-- they can't see the SEC ever taking any action in advance of a crisis. But they see it like the problem is well-meaning regulations be gamed by really smart people in the market. You create the new regulation, someone comes along and games it.

I think that what they've done, the market-based solutions. I think the solution to Wall Street is disruptive entrepreneurship in the financial sector. And the way you enable that is transparency. So the problem here is the investors. They don't care about you and me, they care about the biggest hedge funds, the biggest mutual funds, all investors.

They have no way of knowing how their stock market orders are handled. The reason they're getting fleeced is that they don't know what happened. And so if you can introduce transparency in that environment, then you would reduce an incentive in the market for people to go to create a fair exchange and go to a fair exchange.

JOHN SUNUNU:

And driving that transparency's important because the alternative is to somehow ratchet everyone back and take away some of this important technology. But the fact is that technology has driven spreads down, and it's made trading faster, has given assurances and some transparency to the individual investor. And that's been enormously beneficial--

(OVERTALK)

MICHAEL LEWIS:

You don't take that away.

JOHN SUNUNU:

Exactly.

STEVE CASE:

You have to sort of distinguish between the computer and computer scalping. Technology's been fabulous to the individual investor.

KATHLEEN PARKER:

Well Michael, I can't wait to read your book. I feel a little bit like that fellow who was in the haze over the Affordable Care Act. (LAUGHTER)

(OVERTALK)

KATHLEEN PARKER:

--thank you so much. What I'm feeling, though--

(OVERTALK)

KATHLEEN PARKER:

--is that this feels like the second general, the next generation, of Masters of the Universe. And it's all hubris and this hot dog attitude that some people have on Wall Street--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

And I'm going to let that comment stand, because I'm out of time. We're going to continue it here, just not on television. Michael, thanks so much. The book is Flash Boys. Best of luck with it. That is all for our conversation today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *