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Meet the Press Transcript - August 30, 2015

MEET THE PRESS -- SUNDAY, AUGUST 30, 2015

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, the Trump effect. When Donald Trump talks--

DONALD TRUMP:

Make America great again.

CHUCK TODD:

The rest of the Republican field listens.

SCOTT WALKER:

With your help, we can make this country great again.

CHUCK TODD:

How Donald Trump is setting the agenda for the GOP campaign. Also, Hillary fights back.

HILLARY CLINTON:

I'm not running for my husband’s third term, and I'm not running for President Obama’s third term. I'm running for my first term.

CHUCK TODD:

Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden know just how tough it'll be for the vice president to jump in. Plus the latest polls out of Iowa, where things stand this morning will surprise you. And where have you gone, Scott Walker? Expected to be a frontrunner at this point, he's been lagging in the polls. Could he make a comeback? Scott Walker joins me.

Finally, ten years after Katrina, are we learning that some parts of New Orleans needed to be destroyed in order to be saved? Joining me for insight and analysis this Sunday are Matt Bai of Yahoo News, Helene Cooper of The New York Times, MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry, and Republican strategist Steve Schmidt. Welcome to Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. I've got a couple of shock poll results out of Iowa to start us off, from The Des Moines Register and Bloomberg. Check this out. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has polled to within seven points of Hillary Clinton in Iowa. It is now 37-30, Clinton over Sanders, throw in Joe Biden, he sits at 14. Back in May, the same poll had Clinton leading Sanders by 41 points.

On the Republican side, another shock. Look at this. Donald Trump leads. That's not surprising at 23%. But almost out of nowhere, here comes Ben Carson with 18%. And ready for this, nobody else is in double digits. Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, all in single digits. And by the way, anybody I haven't named? Less than 5%.

And one more note on this poll. If you add up the first and second choices on the Republican side, Ben Carson and Donald Trump are actually tied. Ben Carson, the highest favorable rating among Republicans. But of course it is Donald Trump that is dictating things. And him being on top is not the surprise this morning.

He's been dominating all the polls in every state, the media. And it turns out he's getting into the heads of his opponents, as well. We put together some examples of how, just in the past few weeks, when Trump talks, the other Republicans feel forced to respond.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP:

Make America great again. (CHEERING) Make America great again.

SCOTT WALKER:

It's not too late for America. With your help, we can make this country great again.

MARCO RUBIO:

The issue's not that America isn't great. The issue's that America can be even greater.

DONALD TRUMP:

We'll call it the great wall of Trump.

SCOTT WALKER:

Secure the border, which means build the wall, have the technology, have the personnel to make sure it's safe and secure.

JEB BUSH:

It is not feasible to build a wall as the sole solution.

DONALD TRUMP:

I'll use the word "anchor baby."

REPORTER:

Do you regret using the term "anchor babies," yesterday on the radio?

JEB BUSH:

No, I didn't.

(OVERTALK)

JEB BUSH:

I don't, I don't regret it.

REPORTER:

You don't regret it?

JEB BUSH:

No. Do you have a better term?

MARCO RUBIO:

Those are human beings. And it's ultimately-- they're people. They're not just statistics.

DONALD TRUMP:

You know, Rand Paul, you have to understand, is a disaster in the pools. He's a disaster on military and defense. He's getting decimated by everybody.

RAND PAUL:

I think people are going to have to decide whether they want someone who can say, "Oh she’s fat. Yeah, and I'm so good looking. Or she's stupid, or I'm rich, and I'm smart because I'm rich."

DONALD TRUMP:

And has anyone ever heard of Lindsey Graham? (LAUGHTER)

LINDSEY GRAHAM:

If he becomes the nominee, we'll get killed. Come to South Carolina and I'll beat his brains out.

DONALD TRUMP:

I think Jeb is a nice person. He's very low energy. I'm not used to that kind of a person.

(LAUGHTER)

JEB BUSH:

We need leadership in Washington D.C.. (CHEERING) High energy leadership.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Well, there you have it. It seems as if they all want to respond and feel like they have to respond to Trump. The panelists here, Matt Bai, national correspondent for Yahoo News, Helene Cooper, Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times, Melissa Harris-Perry, host of The Melissa Harris-Perry Show on MSNBC. You're not seeing double vision when you’re flipping back and forth there. (CHUCKLE) and Steve Schmidt, the Republican strategist and former senior advisor to John McCain when he ran for president in 2008.

Steve, it's your party. I'm going to start with you. I think the most important poll number in this Des Moines Register poll is not Trump, not Carson, not Sanders, not Clinton. It's this number I'm going to put up. Satisfaction with the Republicans in Congress. Among Republican caucus goers in Iowa, 75% say they're not satisfied. Should we be surprised that it's Trump and Carson on top?

STEVE SCHMIDT:

Well, the Trump strength inside the Republican primary is an expression of the complete and absolute and utter contempt of Republican voters towards the political establishment of the Republican Party and the political leadership of the country. And increasingly what you see also is now a severability between issues and conservatism.

And conservatism is now defined increasingly with huge sections of the Republican electorate as rhetoric, emotion. And the more incendiary the rhetoric, the more conservative you are. And the test of true conservatism is fidelity to the person that has the most incendiary rhetoric.

And so, at a time of great cultural transition, change in the country, economic dislocation with globalization, with a blue collar, non-college-educated, working class base that hasn't seen real wage growth in 30 years, here's the backlash, here's the Trump candidacy. And every day, this message of American nationalism, "We were once great, we no longer are--

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

STEVE SCHMIDT:

--but we can be again," is gaining strength.

CHUCK TODD:

Melissa, I'm watching you nodding and nodding and nodding.

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

I hope that you disagree with the point he made there.

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY:

No, no. I absolutely agree with this. And in fact, in many ways, it is kind of the culmination of this question that I think many of us have been asking as we've watched the Republican Party over recent years. On the one hand, having these important successes in state and local races, particularly in the midterm elections, but then asking whether or not the Republican Party is where the Democratic Party was when it finally had to split.

When the Democratic Party that had been sort of this coalition of southern Democrats who were really there because they hated the Emancipation Proclamation, but weren't really Democrats, in this kind of uneasy alliance with northern liberals ultimately split. And those southern Democrats became Republicans. And so that's part of the question here is, "Do we finally see a culmination of the Tea Party saying, 'You know what? We're actually not conservatives in the way that the Republican Party has long defined conservatism. We actually are thinking about a different kind of nativism, nationalism, strong rhetoric. And more than anything, that government is, itself, the problem.'"

CHUCK TODD:

Right. You know, now obviously, this is having an effect on candidates themselves. Matt Bai, you wrote about Jeb Bush this week. I want to put up these numbers from this Des Moines Register poll. Favorable ratings among Republicans: Donald Trump 61% favorable rating, 35% unfavorable. Puts him in the top five. He's not the most favorable. Ben Carson is the most favorable.

Look at Jeb Bush's numbers, though. Donald Trump has better numbers among Republicans in Iowa than Jeb Bush, who has a 50% unfavorable rating. He just wreaks establishment to these people, I think.

MATT BAI:

He does, because he's an establishment candidate. I've said many times, I think it's not so much that Trump is actually winning this race, everybody else is losing. He's actually had about a quarter of the Republican vote. I agree that it' real and it signifies something real.

But he's about where Herman Cain was four years ago. And I don't know how much higher a ceiling he has, because it's a natural constituency. What's really going on is that, unlike four years ago, where Mitt Romney was a couple points behind and locked down the establishment vote, you've got this vast field of candidates, divided. The electorate can’t, the rest of the electorate, just can't find a candidate, they feel, at this early stage, they can rally around.

That was supposed to be Jeb Bush. Right now, it's clearly not. He's actually falling. And the question is who emerges to fill that void? And I think that actually, to me, is the most significant question of the primary.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, the other part of this poll, again, we're sitting here. We all just talk Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump. The news is really Ben Carson.

He's sitting at 18. And more importantly here, highest favorable rating. And it's eclipsing everybody. And right now, he leads among Christian conservatives, which, to me, if I were looking at this pool and this were January, I'd tell you Carson will win the caucuses. If this were January, this would mean Carson would win the caucuses--

MATT BAI:

Rick Santorum won last time.

HELENE COOPER:

Yeah, but this is not January. That's just it. This is August. There are so many-- I mean we've been really focused on this. But I don't think the rest of the country has to the point that we--

CHUCK TODD:

I think Iowans are. And that's why I think--

HELENE COOPER:

But you're still looking at, I think both in the case of Trump and with Ben Carson, I think you're looking at candidates with a ceiling. And particularly the case of Trump, I don't know how much higher or how much lower that ceiling is going to be.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, the one candidate we didn't mention, because he wasn't in the top tier of the polls, is my next guest here. We're going to now turn to Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. He was supposed to be the conservative alternative favorite in this race, the conservative from a Republican, a Republican from a blue state, who beat the unions, got things done. But like many Republican candidates, Walker has been swept away these days by the Trump storm. I sat down with the governor yesterday for a Meet the Candidates interview.

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Your good friend, the Milwaukee County Sheriff, David Clarke, said just this week, he said your campaign's stuck in neutral, and that you need to find a spark to counter the, quote, "Donald Trump juggernaut." What do you say to him? And do you agree with him?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

It's hard work. It's going out. I was just in Iowa the other day, South Carolina, New Hampshire. It's doing town hall meetings. It's doing the sorts of things that--you know, remember eight years ago about this time, there was I think a poll out in October of 2007, last time we had an open seat for president.

And Hillary Clinton was way ahead of some guy by the name of Barack Obama. And Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson were ahead of John McCain and Mitt Romney. So there's a lot of work that goes into these races. For us, I think the biggest spark for us is getting the message out that now's not the time to put in place someone who hasn't been tested before.

CHUCK TODD:

New poll that was out this week in your home state. You're at 39% job approval. Barack Obama's at 48%. Why does he have a higher job rating in Wisconsin than you do?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

Well, you know, four years ago, I was so low in the polls they called me "Dead Man Walker," because back then, we were pushing big, bold reforms, kind of like the big, bold reforms, again, we push in this latest budget. A year later, I won the recall with a higher percentage of votes, a higher number of votes.

Why? Because our reforms worked. For all the hype and hysteria of the 100,000 protestors, our schools are better. In fact, ACT scores, again, are second best in the country. Our graduation rates are up. Our third grade reading scores are up.

The same thing will hold true here when people see that, for students like my son, who's a junior at The University of Wisconsin, the reforms are going to work there, as well. Property taxes continue to go down. When people see the benefits of our reforms, just like they did four years ago, I think our numbers will go up again.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Let me go to a Facebook question here. This was probably the topic brought up by more posters than anybody, which was the Milwaukee Bucks deal.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

"How can you talk," this is from Sam Barron, "How can you talk about being a fiscally responsible conservative and then approve a $250 million in public funding deal for billionaires, so billionaires can get a shiny new arena?" What do you say to this?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

Not one new penny, not one penny of new taxpayers' dollars. You're talking about being a fiscally responsible person, I am. That's precisely why I did this. Six and a half million dollars every year. Right now, $6 and a half million per year comes into the state of Wisconsin in income taxes, not in all these other things that people talk about, in income taxes from NBA players that play in the state of Wisconsin. I would lose that money if we did nothing.

CHUCK TODD:

The birthright citizenship issue. Can I get a final-- there was some confusion last week--

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

Yeah. It's pretty--

CHUCK TODD:

--on your issue.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

No, it's pretty clear. I--

CHUCK TODD:

You're for getting rid of it? You weren't? Where are you on this?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

No, what I had pointed out repeatedly, since the beginning of this year, this is not new, people have heard me, some of the folks from NBC have covered me heard me say this 1,000 times.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

Secure the border, enforce the laws, no amnesty, go forward in a way that provides for a legal immigration system that puts a priority on American working families and their wages, in a way that will improve the American economy.

I said, whether it's talking about the 14th amendment or anything else, until we secure the border and enforce the laws, we shouldn't be talking about any other issue out there. And politicians that do are trying to distract from the fact that, for years, in this town, Washington D.C., politicians have made promises about securing the border and enforcing the laws they haven't been able to fulfill.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

I'm talking about-- not talking about--

CHUCK TODD:

You want to keep it in place.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

I'm not talked about--

CHUCK TODD:

Birthright citizenship stays.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

I'm not talking about changing the constitution.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Let's go to foreign policy. You have said, famously, and I've heard you a number of times, you're going to basically try to tear up this agreement with Iran on day one. Why not give it a chance and see it if works?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER

I have no problem doing a deal if it's on our terms. This is just a horrible deal. This is a horrible deal. And it's not just Republicans like me saying it. I mean Chuck Schumer isn't exactly Mr. Conservative out there, he knows this is a bad deal. Other Democrats know this is a bad deal. The American people know this is a bad deal.

If you know it's a bad deal and you know it today, why do you need a week or a month to put a cabinet in or a panel in there? You need to tear it up and say, "You want to do a deal with us? Here's the deal. You need to go out and completely get rid of your illicit nuclear infrastructure. You need to completely get rid of it.

Secondly, you need to have full disclosure. None of these side deals, like we heard about the other day, where somehow the Iranians are able to get part of their own inspection out there. Full disclosure, absolute timely disclosure. And then, on top of that, you need to start dealing with the destructive behaviors that Iran is directly involved in when it comes to state-sponsored terrorism.

CHUCK TODD:

But on day one, if you renege on the deal, they can say, well the Americans have reneged on their part of the deal, we’re reneged on our part.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

Well, from our standpoint, we're sending a clear message today so it doesn't sneak up anybody else out there, that in the future, we're going to pull back on it. If you want to do business, you got to decide are you going to do it with Iran or are you going to do it with America? We are going to pull back and terminate this deal on day one.

CHUCK TODD:

We've tried toppling leaders in Iraq and Libya. We've tried drone strike. That seems to create more terrorists. We've pulled back. We've gone in. Nothing seems to stop this issue of Islamic terrorism. What is it, what are you going to do differently that is somehow going to solve this problem?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

Well, different from this president and from the policy that Hillary Clinton was involved with is lifting the political restrictions in the person already there. I'll give you a good example. We have people in Iraq right now, in the military, over 3,000 troops. It's not a question of sending more in. It's about empowering them to unleash the power of the United States military.

We have people right there as air controllers who could literally draw in airstrikes with absolute precision. They can't do that. That's particularly difficult because I talked to a general early this year who said airstrikes can be effective, but right now, they're like a drizzle. He said, "We need to have a thunderstorm there." But with all the different parties, with all the different--

CHUCK TODD:

The comment you made at the end of the 2014 on same sex marriage. You said, "For us," meaning Wisconsin, "the debate is over." Now you've said that's not the case.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

Again, it's not right.

CHUCK TODD:

That was then. You said, "For us, it's over." At the time, it was a judge who had overturned and said--

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

It was over in terms of our legal options. We had no other option other than waiting to see what the Supreme Court did. If I'd said anything differently, I'd be misguiding the people of Wisconsin. There was no other option for the state of Wisconsin.

the most immediate thing the next president should be-- I'll certainly be involved in, is protecting people's religious liberties. That's something that's inherent in the constitution. It's part of the Bill of Rights. It's why so many of our founders came to America was to be free of a religious--

CHUCK TODD:

All right, what does that mean? Does that mean a business could fire somebody that's gay?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

That means--

CHUCK TODD:

Just because they're gay?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

Well, that means you have to have that balance up. That means making sure that we uphold the constitution, which says you have the freedom of religion. Not freedom from religion, the freedom of religion. And that means, I'll just speak about it, our Justice Department, our I.R.S. and others out there, will uphold that.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Caucuses are February 1st. First Sunday in February is the Super Bowl. Who's got a better shot, you and Iowa or Aaron Rodgers and the Super Bowl?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

Well, that's a tough call. I'm probably, as a Packers fan, more likely the Packers. But I'm hoping I can do both.

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

Actually, after I was first elected on my birthday, November 2nd, of 2010, the Packers went on to win the Super Bowl on my wedding anniversary.

CHUCK TODD:

So what you're saying is you're good luck for the Packers?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

So I like the good luck. If I win, Packers won the Super Bowl. Not a bad deal. I like it both ways.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

There's a lot more of my interview with Governor Walker, including his reaction to the idea that Minnesota and their liberal policies have been more successful than Wisconsin and their conservative policies, all of it on our website, MeetThePressNBC.com.

When we come back, Hillary Clinton's e-mail troubles are growing. Meanwhile, Joe Biden made a surprise appearance on the campaign trail yesterday. Sort of. And it was in Delaware. We'll show you. Is he about to jump in the race? Hmmm. You'll have to wait to find out.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

And we are back. So for weeks, we've been hearing rumblings of a Draft Biden movement. So we thought we'd take a look at just what it would take for the vice president to pose a serious challenge to Hillary Clinton. In the history of modern democratic primaries, there's always been an establishment favorite and a progressive alternative.

In 2008, Barack Obama succeeded where previous challengers like Gary Hart and Bill Bradley failed. Why? Because he won two groups that historically split their support. He actually combined progressive liberal whites and African-Americans. So how does Joe Biden avoid being Bill Bradley or Gary Hart in 2016?

If he runs, Biden's hope would be that these groups would then become the base of his support. And that's not going to be easy. Because right now, the Barack Obama 2008 coalition is already splintered. Let me take a look. African-Americans right now are for Hillary Clinton in a big way. The progressive liberal democrats, which have been a way to slow down establishment candidates in the past, well, they're starting to brake for Bernie Sanders.

So Biden right now can't count on progressive whites because they're split between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. And they can't count on African-Americans right now, because they're for Hillary Clinton. So the question, and Melissa Harris-Perry, I want to start with you, Joe Biden gets in. Is there a way for him to excite the African-American vote, that somehow they would abandon Hillary Clinton?

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY:

Oh, absolutely. I mean--

CHUCK TODD:

You believe that?

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY:

Oh, sure. So I think Biden is great for the Democratic Party if he runs, even if he has no shot of winning, because what Democrats need to win in the general election is a broad group of people across the country who have become not only excited, but also, registered. That's what we saw in 2008. So you need a long and hard fought campaign in order to get Democrats registered so they show up to vote.

Now, the important thing to know about African-American voters is that they of course were also in Hillary Clinton's camp prior to the Iowa caucuses in 2008. If Joe Biden can present in a way that is more clearly responsive to "black lives matter and if he can present in a way that he is truly the White House's guy, that he is really the person who is kind of--

CHUCK TODD:

Is Obama's guy.

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY:

--he is the third Obama term, I do think that there are-- and he has really almo-- certainly not as good as President Clinton, but almost as good in terms of his capacity to do the kind of fluidity of cultural discourse of black communities.

CHUCK TODD:

It's interesting you say that. But Matt Bai, as you know, you and I have been covering Joe Biden a long time. Joe Biden is the author of the infamous Crime Bill.

MATT BAI:

Yep.

CHUCK TODD:

From the mid-'90s, that increased incarceration rates among African-Americans. And I'm told that he's not ready to totally renounce that deal. That's going to be a deal breaker with the Black Lives Matter movement.

MATT BAI:

Well, I don't know how representative that movement is of the overall African-American vote or the Democratic base. Look, I think on the crime issue O’Malley has this problem, too, obviously. I think there's a very defensible record. I don't think he should disown it. Because I think the reforms-- I think you have to put yourself in the context of that time.

I was covering urban affairs at that time. The reforms that they made in crime control at that time were-- the predominant beneficiaries were African-Americans, who were poor, urban residents. You couldn't go out on the street. You couldn't send your kid out to play. So I think with a more contextual explanation of that issue and where you are and looking at admitting what hasn't turned out the way they hoped, I think it's a politically defensible record.

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY:

I also think that that record really sits on the doorstep of Hillary Clinton. That we saw when the Black Lives Matter activists went to Hillary Clinton--

CHUCK TODD:

So she has to own it too?

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY:

Right. They went to Hillary Clinton and said, "What about your role in this vote as First Lady in the Clinton White House, as well as your later role?" So if there is a problem with this, it exists for both of them. And I do think Biden has, because he would be getting in so late, he has a moment where he can think about what is the strategy, what is the discourse for talking about it.

CHUCK TODD:

He actually got to watch and see how Sanders and Clinton sort of flubbed it at the beginning. Let me transition to e-mails. Steve Schmidt, we got a different Hillary Clinton this week on e-mails than the one we had last week. Last week, very defensive. This week? A little contrition. Let me play a clip for you.

(BEGIN TAPE)

HILLARY CLINTON:

Clearly wasn't the best choice. I should have used two emails, one personal, one for work. And I take responsibility for that decision.

You can make different decisions because things have changed, circumstances have changed. But it doesn't change the fact that I did not send or receive material marked "classified."

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

A different tone? Better? Enough to put this issue to bed?

STEVE SCHMIDT:

Well, look, as a political matter, the effect of all of this has been that a substantial percentage of the country, when they hear the name Hillary Clinton, they respond with, "Liar, dishonest, not trustworthy," at such a level to render her un-electable. It's driving demand inside the Democratic primary electorate for an alternate choice.

You have a 73-year-old socialist from Vermont who's now beating her in New Hampshire, competitive with her in Iowa, and driving demand for the incumbent vice president, who's a great politician, to get in the race. Then you have the secondary issue which is the handling of classified material. So a very serious issue.

Most Americans don't have clearances. If you've had a security clearance, the rules are not very nuanced and not very subtle. They're very, very clear. This is a very serious matter that's being investigated. And as the investigation goes on, there is great peril for Hillary Clinton. And this is now being investigated at a level that is apart and aside from the ability to spin out of partisan politics.

CHUCK TODD:

It's not uncommon. It's not uncommon.

STEVE SCHMIDT:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

But Helene, let me ask you this. Do you think Joe Biden has the fire in the belly to take this issue and use it as a way-- Barack Obama had no problem raising trust issues with Hillary Clinton eight years ago. And it's part of the reason why he won. Do you think Joe Biden has it?

HELENE COOPER:

Absolutely. He's a politician. I think, you know, once he gets it--

CHUCK TODD:

So he has the killer instinct?

HELENE COOPER:

If he gets in the race, I think he's gonna wanna win. But I think Melissa brought up a really good point earlier, and that is the Barack Obama factor, when you were talking about Biden and getting people who voted for Obama on board. Obama, as of now, still, you know, he's still playing-- you know, he hasn't come out and said, and he's not going to. This is his former secretary of state, and this is his vice president. How hard do you think Barack Obama is going to be out there campaigning for Joe Biden? No. That's like--

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY:

But there's no history of Joe Biden attacking Barack Obama in the way the way that--

HELENE COOPER:

No, but there--

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY:

--there is of Hillary Clinton--

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

HELENE COOPER:

As there is video of Joe Biden calling Barack Obama--

MELISSA HARRIS PERRY:

Clean and articulate!

HELENE COOPER:

--clean and articulate and that's not going to go over really well.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. I'm will pause here. But I think this is why there's so much skepticism about Biden being able to pull this off. Can he win the African-American vote? Anyway, coming up, ten years after Katrina, there are some people that make an argument that it might have been necessary to destroy parts of New Orleans in order to save it. That debate is next.

* * COMMERCIAL BREAK * *

CHUCK TODD:

It's hard to believe now, but when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, everyone initially thought the city had actually dodged a bullet. There was no direct hit. And wind damage was minimal. And then the levees broke. Exactly ten years ago today, on the day after landfall, we became aware that water was pouring into the city, and that an epic disaster was unfolding in slow motion.

(BEGIN TAPE)

CARL QUINTANILLA:

There are entire neighborhoods packed with thousands of people who would kill to get to the Convention Center. They're stuck in their homes. The water's ten feet high. So what we're seeing at the Convention Center, all of those pictures, that could well be just the tip of the iceberg.

MALE VOICE:

We're suffering. We're suffering here.

MALE VOICE:

Everybody lives here from paycheck to paycheck. We don't have the money to get out of town, like they want us to do.

MALE VOICE:

It's just a devastating sight to see.

FEMALE VOICE:

It's about people. Nobody wants to hurt anybody in this city.

MALE VOICE:

Here comes the rescue. (CHANTING)

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Those images are still hard to watch. In a minute, we're going to go back to the Lower Ninth Ward, the area, of course, that was hit hardest by Katrina. I'm going to have a provocative conversation with Malcolm Gladwell about some of the tough decisions that had to be taken.

* * COMMERCIAL BREAK * *

FEMALE VOICE (ON TAPE):

Help, help, we need help.

CHUCK TODD:

Ten years after Katrina, and those pictures, very hard to watch. But the question people are asking, has the city of New Orleans recovered? That answer is very hard to pin down. According to the data center in New Orleans, new industries are investing in the city and the surrounding areas. And incarceration rate have dropped.

But the poverty rate is back up to pre-Katrina levels, 27% compared to the national rate of just 14.5%. And the population, well, in 2005, 455,000 people lived in New Orleans. Last year it was 384,000. One person who did come back after the fleeing the city's Lower Ninth Ward was a woman named Lucrece Phillips. MSNBC's Trymaine Lee spoke with her then as a reporter for The New Orleans Times Picayune. And he went back to New Orleans to speak with her again for Meet the Press.

LUCRECE PHILLIPS:

What else can you do? What else can you say?

TRYMAINE LEE:

In 2005, as water poured into New Orleans, I was a reporter for the paper here, The Times Picayune. On September 1st, one of my first stories about Katrina's devastation was published. It was about a woman named Lucrece Phillips.

Lucrece Phillips' sleepless nights are filled with the images of dead babies and women, and young and old men with tattered t-shirts or graying temples, all of whom she saw floating along the streets of the Lower Ninth Ward. You can see Lucretia here when the water was up to the balcony of her home. That house isn't here anymore, but she is.

LUCRECE PHILLIPS:

This is it.

TRYMAINE LEE:

It's hard to imagine. This was your house.

LUCRECE PHILLIPS:

This is-- it's hard to imagine that this was a house on here. But if you can imagine it floating off its foundation, you know, and us bracing each other in the house, saying, "Wait, stop, don't move," because the house was teetering.

TRYMAINE LEE:

After she was rescued, she tried to go inside the Superdome. But back then, it was--

LUCRECE PHILLIPS:

It looks pristine now as opposed to the way it was then, back then, it just looked like a tomb. I'm like, "I was-- I don't want to go in here I don't want to go in here."

TRYMAINE LEE:

She didn't. And I met her at the Hyatt, where it looked like a bomb had gone off. I wrote then, "In a darkened lobby of the downtown Hyatt Hotel turned refuge, she hugged an emergency worker closely, a handful of his sweaty blue t-shirt rippled from each of her fists. She had barely gotten out a fifth thank you when the emergency worker whispered into her ear that it was going to be okay, and that it was our job to save lives." Now, the Hyatt gleams. But Lucretia, who spent eight years in Texas before answering the pull of New Orleans, is skeptical of the shine.

LUCRECE PHILLIPS:

There's not many that came back, though. I can't say that, you know, the city is not as full and as vibrant as it used to be, you know? Those people--

TRYMAINE LEE:

And you can feel the difference?

LUCRECE PHILLIPS:

Yes. I can feel the difference. You know? There's more of an eerie feel-- it's more of a touristy feeling, you know? Not a family feeling, you know?

TRYMAINE LEE:

The city is different. But some of the good parts of that different, more entrepreneurship and public school improvement, are hard to see in the Lower Ninth Ward. That being said--I can see that the spirit of resilience that was always here was never swept away. Trymaine Lee, NBC, New Orleans.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

So the massive destruction of a city, that was dysfunctional in many ways, has raised a provocative question. Did New Orleans need to be destroyed in order to be saved? The bestselling author of Outliers and The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell, wrote an article for The New Yorker recently looking into the city's school system, its neighborhoods, and whether some people were simply better off never coming back to New Orleans.

I met with Gladwell earlier this week, and I started by asking him about a study that he writes about a study that he writes about which compares recidivism rates among ex-cons who return to their own New Orleans neighborhoods, versus those who could not return.

(BEGIN TAPE)

MALCOLM GLADWELL:

Yeah, so this is a study by a guy named David Kirk, who's a sociologist at Oxford. And when he did it, he got all the prison records post-Katrina. And he was able to look at those people who were released from prison after Katrina, who were--whose neighborhoods had been destroyed, who couldn't go back to New Orleans, had to go somewhere else, usually Houston.

And he compared their re-incarceration rate to the re-incarceration rates of prisoners who could return to their old neighborhood. And what he found was there was a striking difference, 25% difference, in the re-incarceration rates of those two groups. If you couldn’t go back to your old neighborhood, you were far less likely to return to jail within one year, two years, and now he did an eight-year study follow-up. And that found the same pattern.

Someone in this category, a guy, a former crack user from New Orleans, who'd moved, gotten out of prison and moved to Houston, called him up and says, "you know, I hate to say it, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I got a fresh start. I got separated from all of the influences that were such a negative force in my life."

CHUCK TODD:

The next part of your article was dealing with the school system.

MALCOLM GLADWELL:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

And this has also been-- I think you had a perfect phrase, instead of a school system, it became a system of schools in New Orleans.

MALCOLM GLADWELL:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

And the question is-- here we are ten years later-- essentially we're getting the first high school graduates--

MALCOLM GLADWELL:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

--in this new system, from beginning to end. Success or failure?

MALCOLM GLADWELL:

I would say-- I mean my suspicion is that, in the long term, we will look at this as a success. But at the same time, when you look right now, ten years out, at achievement tests and all of the kind of statistical indicators of how much better the school system, the reconstituted school system in New Orleans is than the previous one, the gains seem very modest. But I think that's because it's too soon.

CHUCK TODD:

I read your piece, and you come to this, "When do you rebuild and when do you move?"

MALCOLM GLADWELL:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

And I think that ultimately is the story of the Ninth Ward.

MALCOLM GLADWELL:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

What's been the-- there's been some rebuilding. Are people better off?

MALCOLM GLADWELL:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

Can we say that?

MALCOLM GLADWELL:

It all is a complex issue. This is the issue closest to heart of immigration. So my family, half of my family, are Jamaicans. Virtually all of them in the last 30 years have left Jamaica for Canada and the United States. Right? Is Jamaica worse off for them having left? Probably. Jamaica has suffered because the middle class moved en masse.

Are my cousins and my mother better off for having left Jamaica? Absolutely. My mother would say in a heartbeat she's better in Canada than she-- far more prospects. Got more education. Had a career. Things that would have been unimaginable when she was growing up in Jamaica.

So it's almost an impossible question to say it's better or worse. It really depends on what are you asking about? Are you asking about the community, or are you asking about the individuals?

CHUCK TODD:

So is this a case-- let's go back to New Orleans today. Did we destroy the village in order to save it? Is that what Katrina did? Have we saved New Orleans?

MALCOLM GLADWELL:

We have changed New Orleans. And I am still optimistic that, in the long run, we will have changed it for the better. But I still think that ten years is hopelessly premature to pass any kind of judgment. And I'm also aware that the process of changing a city in the wake of a disaster, as opposed to simply going back to the way things were before, is unbelievably painful. Right? And you cannot gloss over just how much disruption was piled upon disruption in the years after Katrina. And I would not wish that on anyone.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

I want to bring in Melissa Harris-Perry here, long time New Orleans resident. When I told you about Malcolm Gladwell's interview, you had a visceral reaction, because you digested that New Yorker article. But let me ask you some of the basic questions here. New Orleans today, is it a better city today than it was pre-Katrina? What do you say to that?

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY:

So maybe the only thing I agree with Malcolm Gladwell on in this assessment is that's a tough question to answer, and depends a great deal on where one is standing. So the answer is, if you are a Ninth Ward resident, whose home was destroyed, whose community was not rebuilt, and whose home was destroyed, importantly, as you point out, not by Katrina, but rather, by the federal levees that failed in the context of Katrina, then no, it simply is not better off.

I would also suggest that, for many who are African-American, it's not a better city, in part, because this so-called "success story" in the schools also included charterizing the entire system, which also meant de-unionizing all teachers. Whatever people feel about teachers unions one of the important things to remember is that it is the heart of the black middle class there, particularly in New Orleans. And so that loss of income and of economic stability for the black middle class there, has been meaningful. So it's not just the schools, but also, the people who work in schools.

And I think the final thing I would say is, yes, there are some ways in which the city has had a huge amount of federal investment that it deserved before the storm, but also, remember that that then stands on whether or not you are living in a community and a neighborhood that can take advantage of it.

CHUCK TODD:

What do you say to the African-Americans that fled, that went to Houston and their lives are better? Is this a message to any poor community that says, "You know what? Leave. Get out."

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY:

No. Of course not.

CHUCK TODD:

"You will make your life better."

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY:

Well, but this is the problem, I think, in part, with the Gladwell piece, is he seems unaware. And he's a smart enough guy to know this. Correlation is not causation. He uses the language of "natural experiment," to talk about what happens in the context of Katrina. And there is nothing less like an experiment or like social scientific evidence in what we see post-Katrina.

So people who leave, and people who stay, are quite different draws from the box. The reasons that people can go and stay. So people may, in fact, move and make great lives for themselves. That actually tells us nothing, right, as matter of sort of a social scientific piece of evidence that we could then extend.

He also, I think makes a really important false equivalency there between immigration and what happened after the storm. Immigrants are people who make a choice. And they make a choice to leave.

CHUCK TODD:

So it’s not a choice?

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY:

And this was not a choice. And that matters critically for the thing that we think we are as Americans, which is to say that we want to maximize human freedom.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, Melissa Harris-Perry, thanks very much on that. I'm going to bring the rest of the panel in here in a few minutes. But one year ago this week, President Obama famously said the U.S. didn't have a real strategy to deal with ISIS. He did present one about a week later. Do we have a strategy that is working now? A reality check when we come back.

* *COMMERCIAL BREAK* *

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. While the debate over the Iran nuclear deal is the one that's dominating foreign policy discussion this summer, we are going to be reminded in about a week of the one-year anniversary of trying to take on ISIS. And we're reminded all the time of the brutality of ISIS. In fact, this week the group released footage purporting to show the destruction of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis is now reaching Europe, as thousand of refugees flee the conflicts in the Middle East, with over 70 that suffocated in a truck in Austria, and at least 150 drowning off the coast of Libya. Here in Washington, there's a growing realization that the current strategy to defeat ISIS is simply not working. Here's our chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, with more.

(BEGIN TAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL:

The only part of the U.S. strategy against ISIS that's on target so far is the U.S. air strikes. Last September, the administration announced the start of a war on ISIS.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

To degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.

RICHARD ENGEL:

Then, about two weeks ago, Washington got what sounded like some long-awaited good news. The U.S. has been bombing ISIS for nearly a year, and finally got access to bases here in southern Turkey, bringing jets and drones far closer to their targets, a huge tactical gain. But ISIS doesn't seem to be shrinking.

In fact, to quote one U.S. Official, "ISIS's international branches are growing like crazy.' ISIS has spread rapidly across north and west Africa, Arabia, Afghanistan, even into the far East. ISIS has expanded far more quickly and extensively than al-Qaeda ever did.

JON ALTERMAN:

What's happening mostly is the brand of ISIS is as powerful as the brand of Osama bin Laden. The ISIS battle is not going to be a quick battle. It takes years.

RICHARD ENGEL:

And even at home in ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria, the group continues to operate openly, ruling by fear. Abu Muthena (PH) was a mid-level ISIS commander who ran a village near Raqqa in Syria like a mayor.

RICHARD ENGEL:

"I was responsible for everything," he says, "the security of the town, its food, water, electricity, the fighters. I was the chairman of the police station." But Abu Muthenna eventually became disillusioned. ISIS he says is corrupt and kills too many Muslims.

RICHARD ENGEL:

"I started doubting the Islamic state when they began to fight with other Islamic groups," he says. So why isn't the U.S. strategy working? It's based on three pillars, and they're all shaky: retraining the Iraqi Army. It's been slow, and Iran often called the shots.

Training Syrian rebels. But so far, only a handful are ready to fight, and many of them have already been kidnapped. And finally, the airstrikes, which are killing ISIS fighters and leaders, but who are then replaced.

JON ALTERMAN:

The problem with air strikes is it gives you a sense that you've done more than you've done. It's very hard to have desired political effects from the air, as we saw in U.S. operations in Libya.

RICHARD ENGEL:

And so NBC News has learned the U.S. Military, led by Special Operations, is now in the midst of the major policy review to come up with a new global strategy to deal with what is now global ISIS. For Meet the Press, Richard Engel, NBC News, Southern Turkey.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

To discuss the administration's ISIS strategy, I'm joined by Ambassador Brett McGurk. He's deputy presidential envoy for The Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, a personal advisor to President Obama, and of course, a former advisor to President Bush. Welcome back to Meet the Press.

BRETT MCGURK:

It’s an honor to be here.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you, based on Richard’s reporting right now, this new policy review, what more can you tell us about it? And how soon will we see a new strategy?

BRETT MCGURK:

Well, we're not in the midst of the policy review. We're implementing a policy that we put together about a year ago. But I think it's very important, Chuck, to step back. It was about a year ago at this point we didn't even have an Iraqi government in place. We didn't have a coalition in place.

And when President Obama spoke to the American people on September 10th, he said this is going to be a multi-year campaign. And that was based on our assessment of ISIL for what it is. It's better in every respect than al-Qaeda in Iraq, which we fought best military in the world, and took years to defeat and to degrade that enemy.

We said this is going to be a multi-year campaign. We're about a year into it. The objective in this first year is to degrade its capabilities, to remove its leaders, to degrade its ability to amass and maneuver force around the battlefield. And that's what we're doing right now.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay. But a year later, is it-- can you say that ISIS is weaker today than it was a year ago? It doesn't sound like it is?

BRETT MCGURK:

Again, degrading its overall capabilities, that's the objective over the first year. And if you look at-- if you take this from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's, the leader of ISIL's, perspective, a year ago, he was out in the open. He was speaking to his cohorts in the open. He was expanding the caliphate. Right now, his caliphate in Iraq and Syria is shrinking. He just lost, last week, his number one deputy, a gentleman, a terrorist, who goes by the name of Haji Mutazz. He's the number one leader of ISIL in Iraq. He was killed just last week. We also killed, just in the heart of Raqqa, of ISIL's capital, a computer technician who was trying to inspire techs here in the U.S. But don't get me wrong, Chuck, this is going to be a very long term, multi-year campaign. I was here about two months ago.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

BRETT MCGURK:

And at that time, ISIL was controlling almost the entire border with Syria. Since that time, the entire border from The Euphrates, east, we have taken away from ISIL. And now we're working with Turkey and some other groups to take away the last 60 mile stretch of the border that it's now controlling.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. You're saying all these things. But earlier this week, there was a pretty disturbing report that intelligence assessments about ISIS, or ISIL, as the administration calls it, may have been exaggerated. I know there's an investigation. Do you believe you're getting proper information?

BRETT MCGURK:

Well, we get all of us involved in this. Every morning, we get a book of intelligence reports from the 17 departments and agencies across the intelligence community. And they're doing a tremendous job. The President's Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, demands rigor and analytical rigor, in terms of the assessments of ISIL. And that is why, again, a year ago, when we put this in place, we said--

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think they're getting good intelligence?

BRETT MCGURK:

Well--

CHUCK TODD:

Because the reports are maybe you're not.

BRETT MCGURK:

Well, we have a debate internally about how things are going every day, as we should. I mean we've had debates internally from time to time. An example was when ISIL was surrounding the town of Kobani. We had a debate about whether it was worth trying to save the town of Kobani, because you had about 200 fighters surrounded by thousands of ISIL fighters. We made the decision to give those fighters a chance. And those fighters of Syrian Kurds, along with the Arabs and the Free Syrian army, have now expanded and taken territory away from ISIL.

But I want to make the bottom line point, Chuck. We've been clear about this. This is something that we have never seen before, the extent of ISIL. 25,000 foreign fighters coming in from 100 countries all around the world. It's going to take years. We have to be very honest and sober about how difficult this is going to be.

CHUCK TODD:

And a quick reminder: If you can't be in front of your T.V. on Sundays, no problem, just watch us on demand. Set your DVR, hit the season pass, please. Because even if it's not Sunday, it's still Meet the Press. We'll be back in 45 seconds with our Endgame segment.

**COMMERCIAL BREAK**

CHUCK TODD:

I'd be remiss, Helene, if I didn't make you tell me what's going on, on all things ISIS. And the strategy review was interesting here, Ambassador McGurk sort of denied that they're reviewing anything. But it's clearly they know they have to do something different. And when are we going to see something different?

HELENE COOPER:

I think they've been-- the Pentagon will say that they are always doing a strategy review. And they've been, for some time, well aware of the fact that they have to attack the psychology of ISIS. It's not just about killing people on the ground, it's about this message, this theology.

Two weeks ago, I was on the aircraft carrier, The Theodore Roosevelt, in the Persian Gulf. And I was there reporting on the air strikes. And these guys were taking off from that carrier, you know, 20 to 25 strikes a day. And a lot of them were coming back at night, after these six and a half to seven hour flights, with their weapons still intact because they don't have enough Iraqi security forces--

CHUCK TODD:

Don't get the coordinates, huh?

HELENE COOPER:

--on the ground to get the coordinates. They were talking about how so-- I mean it was amazing, because you see this incredible array of American superpower weaponry. I'd never been on an aircraft carrier before. So my mind was completely blown.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

HELENE COOPER:

But at the same time, they can only go as far as, as fast, as the Iraqi forces on the ground. And that training has been going slowly and painstakingly. But then again, you look at the first side of that, and it's do we want American ground troops there? We don't.

HELENE COOPER:

So it's sort of like-- yeah. A year ago, when the administration first announced the airstrike campaign, they said then that this was going to take four to five years. So I think the fact, what's surprised is how quickly this ideology has spread globally. And that, I think, is what was really interesting about your report.

CHUCK TODD:

And that's what's scaring people. Let me turn to the tragedy in Roanoke this week, the two journalists, Alison Parker and Adam Ward, who were gunned down on live television, never mind that aspect of sort of cultural change and this idea of some madman using social media. But what I found depressing, Steve, is that the political reaction was predictable. Those that want gun control said it, "Oh, we've got to have gun control." But then you just said the rhetoric. Those on the right who say, "No, it's not about guns, it's about mental health," they say it. But I didn't see any action, I didn't see anybody saying, "Okay, enough is enough. You know, we know have this political stalemate. Let's get down to brass tacks." Where are we? Is this just-- are we intractable because of the NRA aspect of this?

STEVE SCHMIDT:

It's completely intractable. One of the seminal events of this generation was the massacre in Newtown, most horrific event in the history of the country. You had a moment in time where 90% of the country, including NRA members, said, "We ought to have common sense gun restriction measures. We ought to have a more rigorous background check system," and nothing happened. And nothing happened because of the intensity of the, and power of the gun control lobby on the members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

STEVE SCHMIDT:

So nothing will happen as a result of this. And I think that's demonstrated, out of the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Matt Bai, though, we hear all the talks on the mental health. We don't see any political will on that, either.

MATT BAI:

Well, and that was--

CHUCK TODD:

You know?

MATT BAI:

-- supposed to get fixed back when they created the, back with the Brady Bill, and they created the waiting list that was supposed to link it to mental health. Look, the history, Steve is exactly right, and the reason it plays out this way despite the numbers is, if you go out and poll, you know, 80% of the country always tells you they believe in high restrictions. It's not an intensity issue for them. There's ten things they care about more. It doesn't affect their lives on a daily basis.

For NRA members, for a certain segment of the conservative base, it is the only thing they care about. It's going to take a Republican to get that done. It's going to take a conservative to break that stronghold. Democrats can't do that.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you buy that, Melissa, progressive activists, they care about the gun issue, or do they care about the gun issue? It feels like they--

CHUCK TODD:

Do they care enough that it becomes, you know, that they force Democrats to own it even more?

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY:

I mean I think part of the problem is what is the gun issue? And so I think this goes back, in part, to Steve's point that post-Newtown we think, "Oh, this is the moment when it will all happen." But actually, Newtown, and even this horrible tragedy in Virginia, that's the uncommon version of gun violence. Right? Gun violence is actually quite different than that.

The majority of gunshot wound deaths, self-inflicted, suicides, right? And then the next you have the kind of ordinary violence that we think of as occurring in communities that are wracked with it. And none of what we talk about when we talk about mental health tends to get to that.

CHUCK TODD:

Right. All right, I will pause it there. That's all we have for today. Lots of stuff on this show, that's for sure. We'll be back next week, because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *