ANNOUNCER: From NBC News in Washington, the world’s longest running television program, this is MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
DAVID GREGORY: And good Sunday morning. A live picture from Sochi, Russia, and the Winter Olympics where the temperature hit 64 degrees on Friday. These games could end up being the warmest Winter Olympics ever. I call them the Spring Olympics just to be clearer. But quite a different story here, of course. Even more snow in the Northeast overnight if you can believe it as much of the country struggles to cope with one of the worst winters in recent memory--power outages, flights canceled, deadly road conditions to go along with it all of it. And today we're talking about the politics of weather. Are the paralyzing storms in the East, the drought in the West creating new urgency to take on climate change? I'm going to speak to two people on opposite sides of the issue. Bill Nye, The Science Guy, and Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of te-- Tennessee.
Plus, the terror threats in Sochi. How is Russian President Vladimir Putin cracking down? Our Richard Engel has a look at some exclusive ways they've cracked down on security. And we're going to look at the cost of the games both financially and politically as we watch the competitions and the pageantry. How much is it worth? I’m going to have an exclusive conversation, an interview with the man who ran the games is Salt Lake City, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
I'm joined now by our roundtable. Chuck Todd is here and new to the roundtable is chief White House correspondent for The Associated Press, Julie Pace. David Axelrod, and also new to the roundtable as long as I've known her, former communications director for President Bush, Nicolle Wallace. Welcome to all of you. And I want to start with the Olympics, Chuck Todd. There is a genuine patriotic moment that happened on the ice, the shot heard around the world--Oshie. And it was the sixth round of the shoot-out.
MR. CHUCK TODD (Political Director, NBC News/Chief White House Correspondent, NBC News): Eighth round.
GREGORY: Eighth round.
MR. TODD: Eight.
GREGORY: USA-Russia hockey and the shot which we can show here of that-- that final shoot-out which is always great in a hockey game. He shoots, he scores. And-- and what a moment, but…
MR. TODD: By the way, poor Jonathan Quick. Come on. Pretty good goaltending too. I mean, Oshie, yes.
GREGORY: But it’s not just the sports moment we just see, but this moment of patriotism comes at a time when this sensitivity between Russia and the United States is real.
MR. TODD: That's what struck me about it, right, this suddenly collective almost Cold War-esque…
MR. TODD: …rallying, and-- and that's why there was so-- it seemed as if somebody-- there was such relief, you know, to beat Putin on-- and Putin was in the audience. And my God, it was like…
MR. TODD: …Rocky IV met the Miracle On Ice, right?
MR. TODD: He-- he almost waited like where was Drago? And I guess that, you know, the only thing-- and I'm sure you must have felt a little bit of this, the only weird thing about that entire match is, as a Washington Capitals fan you see once again Ovechkin on the losing side of the game.
GREGORY: Yeah. Right.
MR. TODD: I’m just saying…
GREGORY: It’s hard.
MR. TODD: …that’s-- that’s a tough thing.
GREGORY: But-- but, David Axelrod, you do remember this moment, a Cold War moment in-- in the Miracle On Ice as a new generation that’s watching these Olympics and yet that sensitivity is real at a time of reset in our relationship with Russia. What played out there was a genuine moment of we triumphed over the Russians here.
MR. DAVID AXELROD (Senior Adviser, Obama 2012 Re-Election Campaign/NBC News Senior Political Analyst): Well, part of it that Putin is trying to reset the reset. And he seems nostalgic for the old days. So yes, the fact that he was there, I think every American said great.
MR. AXELROD: We want to-- we want him to see it.
MR. AXELROD: We want him to see it. And a shout-out to Patrick Kane from the Blackhawks who was very instrumental in the-- in the victory as well. I don't care about the Capitals.
GREGORY: Nicolle, did you-- did you watch? Were you caught up in it?
MS. NICOLLE WALLACE (George W. Bush White House Communications Director/Senior Adviser, 2008 McCain-Palin Campaign): I saw the highlights. And I-- I think this-- this dynamic with Putin is so interesting to have him in the stands. We think of our athletes as being somehow walled off from…
MS. WALLACE: …domestic politics and international politics, but they are very aware. And it-- it's, you know, sort of that sixth sense of what they're fighting for, what they’re playing for.
GREGORY: Well, we talk about the Bush years. I mean you go back to that time when after 9/11, there was this feeling that somehow Russia was in the U.S. orbit in a way that it hadn't been before. And to a watch over the course of the Bush presidency that fall away and then get to a point where things are as strained as they are now, it really is a-- it’s a pretty compelling backdrop to all of that. We walk about the Olympics, not just the competition but the security backdrop and these terror threats that we’ve been talking about in Sochi. I want to go now to NBC’s Richard Engel. He’s live with some exclusive details about Russia's security crackdown. Richard, good to see you.
MR. RICHARD ENGEL (Chief Foreign Correspondent, NBC News): Good to see you, David. I was actually in the stadium yesterday during that USA-Russia hockey game and I can tell you, it was a very exciting moment. In terms of security, so far so good. And the arrangements in place reveal a great deal about Vladimir Putin and how he runs this vast country, especially the North Caucasus.
MR. ENGEL: The most threatened Olympics in modern history has so far been safe, and that’s not just because of the ring of steel around Sochi. We traveled 500 miles from Sochi to the North Caucasus, the heart of Russia's Islamic insurgency, and saw how Vladimir Putin is using a combination of crackdowns and payoffs to secure the games. This is Grozny today, the capital of Chechnya--clean, modern, a downtown that lights up like the Vegas strip. Russia flattened this place twice in the 1990s when Chechnya tried to breakaway after the collapse of the Soviet Union. At Grozny's new central mosque, we met the man who runs Chechnya. He's one of Putin's close friends, Ramzan Kadyrov. It was a special day--a lock of hair believed to come from the Muslim Prophet Muhammad was on display. The relic brought Kadyrov to tears. He's deeply religious and he has aligned himself with Russia. Two days later, we visited Kadyrov's palace for a rare interview.
Very nice to meet you, President Kadyrov.
The city of Grozny was famous for being completely destroyed. It has now been rebuilt. How did you rebuild this city?
MR. RAMZAN KADYROV (through translator): We were tired of the war of looking at the destroyed towns and villages. We asked for God's help and we constructed the entire republic.
MR. ENGEL: Kadyrov also gets billions from Putin and he lives like a king with toys, a private zoo, model helicopters.
This is your private gym.
And as we discovered an interview with Kadyrov is exhausting. This is his boxing ring.
You're not expecting me to get in there with you, are you?
Yes, he was. And Kadyrov wasn't finished yet. Kadyrov likes to show off, but he’s also feared in Chechnya and is accused of ordering the deaths of his adversaries.
People call you a dictator in Chechnya. How do you respond to those critics?
MR. KADYROV (through translator): Everything the newspapers say is nonsense.
MR. ENGEL: Opponents say he is brutal, but Islamic militants, including the groups that threatened Sochi, have mostly fled Chechnya, some for the neighboring republic of Dagestan. When we visited there, we found a poor and drab place where Putin's forces are hunting down suspected extremists. No carrots here, just the stick--a war that athletes and fans will never see just over the mountains from the Olympic Park.
MR. ENGEL: It's too early, David, to celebrate a complete security success. There's still a week to go until closing ceremony.
GREGORY: Richard Engel, thanks so much this morning.
I’m joined now by the man who headed up the Olympic Games the last time they were here in the U.S., former governor of Massachusetts and, of course, Republican presidential nominee in 2012, Mitt Romney. Governor, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA/2012 Republican Presidential Nominee/CEO, 2002 Winter Olympics): Thanks, David. Good to see you.
GREGORY: I want to ask you about these security threats. Last weekend on one of the Sunday programs, the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee said about the games in Russia, he fears that something will detonate, something will blow up. Do you think the security concerns have been overblown?
FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: No, I think they're very real when you have the kind of specific threats that were leveled at the games. You have to take them seriously. At the same time, I think Russia has shown not only through the application of their security forces, but also through their intelligence work that they have the capacity to keep the games reasonably safe. There's no such thing as a 100 percent guarantee, but I think at this stage people feel pretty comfortable that the games will be safe.
GREGORY: Well you've been critical of the Russian government as 50 billion dollars that it spent to host these games in Sochi, and you wrote a really pointed op-ed about this, this week. I’ll put a portion of it up on the screen for our viewers to see you write, “If a country wants to show off, what's the harm? Waste is harm, particularly when need is as great as it is. Harm occurs when a country spends more than it can afford to keep up appearances with big spenders. Harm occurs when a country is excluded from hosting an Olympics because it can't afford the fabulous frills. And harm occurs when the world's poor look in anguish at the excess." Time to limit that excess and why?
FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: Well, I really think so because you don't need to spend 50 billion dollars as Russia has or as China did to put an Olympic sport. Olympic sport can be demonstrated at two or three billion dollars. And all that extra money could be used to do some very important things in terms of fighting poverty and fighting disease around the world. That's what we really ought to be using those resources for as opposed to wasting them in many cases to show off a country or I think more cynically to show off the politicians in the country.
FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: And to take money from some people so that politicians can be puffed up and be shown around the world I think is something which is very distasteful at a time when there's so much poverty and so much need.
GREGORY: Do you think Putin views it as worth it? I assume he's among the politicians you're talking about being puffed up on the world stage.
FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: Oh, I think there's no question, but that the politicians who take this money and spend 50 billion dollars to host the world for TV appearances, I think they think it's worth it or they wouldn't spend it.
GREGORY: Is it still…
FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: A lot of that money certainly could be going into-- to corruption as well and-- and paying off various folks. It's a-- it’s a very unsavory thing. And I think the International Olympic Committee is going to have to take action to limit how much is spent on Olympic Games.
GREGORY: In terms of cities like Boston here in America, vying for future games, definitely worth it, you would say go for it; don't pass up the opportunity?
FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: Oh, it's a great experience to host an Olympic Games. Everybody that touches the Olympics that I’ve ever seen has said it was one of the greatest experiences of their life, not-- not because of all the fun they had but because of all the service they were able to give to others. It-- it's a great unifying thing. Boston would love it if the games came back-- came home.
GREGORY: Let me talk to you about politics and, of course, the issue of gay rights around the world, particularly in Russia, has been part of the backdrop of these games. And you think about the issue of same-sex marriage in America. Ten years ago almost to the month, it was Massachusetts when you were governor that really set same-sex marriage rights into motion. And you wrote about it at the time rather pointedly where you said after that decision by the court, the definition of marriage is not a matter of semantics, it will have a lasting impact on society. Ten years later as you've seen same-sex marriage now in seventeen states and the District of Columbia, has it had a negative impact on society in your judgment?
FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: Well, I think marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman. And I think the ideal setting for raising a child is in the setting where there's a father and a mother. Now there’re many other different settings that children are raised in and people have the right to live their life as they want to. But I think marriage should be defined in the way that it’s been defined for several thousand years and if gay couples want to live together, well, that's fine as well. That's their right.
GREGORY: But let me just follow up. Do you think it's actually had a negative impact on society that you have so many states now recognizing it?
FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: Oh, I think it's going to take a long, long time to determine whether having gay marriage will make it less likely for kids to be raised in settings where there is a mom and a dad. That's not going to happen overnight. It's something which happens over generations in fact and again I think the ideal setting is where there's a mom and a dad that can invest their time and their resources in supporting the development of a child.
GREGORY: As you look at the progression of this issue as a Republican, do you think Republicans have lost the fight politically over this?
FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: You know, I don't know that you have to worry about who wins and who loses a particular fight. I think you stand for various principles. You communicate those to the American people, and they either support those or not. Sometimes if something is lost, well, you move on to the next issue. You wish you'd have won that one but you move on. I think in this case, it continues to be a-- an issue that people find relevant and important and it’s something which is being considered in various states across the country. I do believe by the way that it's best decided by the people rather than by the courts. I think when the courts step in and make a decision of this nature they're removing from the people something which they have the right to decide themselves.
GREGORY: 2016 politics is a topic that keeps coming up for you. I’ll ask about you in a minute. But I want to ask about the Democrats and the prospect of Hillary Clinton running. It’s interesting. Senator Rand Paul who may be a candidate himself started on MEET THE PRESS and has said it elsewhere that basically the Clintons should be judged on Bill Clinton impeachment, his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. He called him a sexual predator. Is the prospect of a Hillary Clinton candidacy, should that be judged on the record, personal and otherwise, of Bill Clinton, do you think?
FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: Well, I don't think Bill Clinton is as relevant as Hillary Clinton if Hillary Clinton decides to run for president. And in her case, I think people will look at her record as the secretary of state and say during that period of time did our relations with nations around the world elevate America and elevate our interests or were they receding? And I think her record is what will be judged upon, not the record of her husband.
GREGORY: It's interesting that the Republican Party now on its website is really resurrecting the '90s, and part of that message is keep the Clintons out of the White House again. Do you see this as a pair and not just Hillary Clinton?
FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: I think Hillary Clinton, if she becomes a nominee, will-- will have plenty to-- to discuss about her own record. I-- I don't imagine that Bill Clinton is going to be a big part of it. That being said the-- the times when he was president were by and large positive economic times for the country. On the other hand, he embarrassed the nation. He breached his responsibility, I think, as-- as an adult and as a-- a leader in his relationship. And I think that's very unfortunate. But I don’t think that’s-- that’s Hillary Clinton’s to explain. She has her own record, her own vision for where she would take the country. And I think that’s something which-- which we debated extensively during-- during the 2016 campaign.
GREGORY: And what about Mitt Romney? When the question was posed as The New York Times reported it, January 19th: Romney asked if he would consider a third presidential run and the answer, “oh, no, no, no, no,” I can’t count all the nos. Maybe you should be more definitive. Is-- is there something, Governor, that might make you change your mind? I mean, Reagan, after all, he ran three times, didn’t he?
FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: You know, I’m not Ronald Reagan. I think that’s been pointed out to me before. And I’m not running for president. We’ve got some very good people who are considering the race. And I’m looking forward to supporting someone who I think will have the best shot of defeating whoever it is the Democrats put up.
GREGORY: I know you’ve said there’s-- there’s quite a stable of folks. But I want to go back to this-- this documentary that was made about you and your candidacy allowing rare access in. And you addressed this issue of what would happen if you lost. And I wonder-- we’ll take a look at it and I’ll ask you about your impact on the debate going forward. Watch this clip.
(Videotape; Netflix’s MITT Fundraiser, Los Angeles, CA)
FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA/2012 Republican Presidential Nominee/CEO, 2002 Winter Olympics): Well if I get beaten up, that goes with the territory. And I have looked, by the way, at what happens to anybody in this country who loses as the nominee of their party, who loses the general election. They become a loser for life, all right? That’s-- it’s over. And, you know, Mike-- Mike Dukakis, you know, he can’t get a job mowing lawns. I mean, it’s-- I mean, we-- we just brutalize whoever loses, all right? And I know that. I know that. And-- and so I’m going in with my eyes open.
GREGORY: Do you see yourself as a loser for life or-- or rather do you think that you-- you have a real impact on the future of the Republican Party?
FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: Well, maybe I was exaggerating somewhat in that-- in that clip. But I think by and large, people who lose a presidential race are-- are step-- well, they step aside. And in my case, I had the blessing of having a big family and I’m actually spending time with my kids and I enjoy that a great deal. But I do also hope to continue to have a-- an impact on the country and our way forward. I’m very concerned about America for a lot of reasons. I-- I-- in-- in-- well, I think on Monday, it’s the-- the five-year anniversary of the president signing a-- a stimulus bill that was supposed to get unemployment below five percent. And here we are with millions of people who’ve dropped out of the employment system. We’re finding ourselves less competitive globally. Our deficits continue to be a-- a real burden for the American people. I mean, these are things that I care about. And-- and just because I lost the presidential race doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep fighting for the American people and for a future that’s more prosperous than what we’ve seen over these last five years.
GREGORY: Final question, Governor, you saw USA hockey beat the Russians yesterday. That’s not the end of the story. You think that they’ll win gold?
FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: Boy, I sure hope so and I think so. There’s such heart and passion with our athletes there in Sochi. I mean, I-- I know we’re not getting as many medals as I would have liked to have seen. But I have been very, very proud of watching our athletes. When-- when Shaun White, for instance, didn’t get that medal, he showed a-- a level of maturity and-- and thoughtfulness and sportsmanship that I think was a model for people around the world. So, yeah, go USA. I’m very excited to watch these-- these hockey games.
GREGORY: All right, well said. Governor Romney, thanks so much for your views. Always a pleasure to have you.
FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: Thanks, David. Good to be with you.
GREGORY: Now, I want to turn to the politics of weather. What a big story this week. And this morning in Jakarta, Indonesia, Secretary of State John Kerry gave the first in a series of speeches on climate change, saying it is threatening the world’s way of life. I’m going to discuss the debate over climate change policies in just a moment with science educator Bill Nye and the science-- The Science Guy; and Republican Congresswoman from Tennessee, Marsha Blackburn. But first, is the growing cost of our recent weather disasters creating a new focus on the need for action on climate change?
GREGORY: This week’s storm left half a million Georgians without power at its peak, buried cities in snow and ice, stranded flyers and practically shuttered the nation’s capital. Extreme cold has frozen Lake Superior to levels not seen in decades and led to a boom in tourism in ice caves off the water. And in California, prolonged drought gripping 90 percent of the state has parched crops and dried up food supplies for livestock.
MR. AL ROKER (NBC News, TODAY): Is it a natural cycle? Is it-- is it due to human interference or human conditions that we have created? That remains open to debate. But there is no doubt the climate is changing.
GREGORY: President Obama toured a Fresno farm Friday to tout federal support to address California’s water crisis. In his state of the union speech, he was adamant.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (January 28): The debate is settled. Climate change is a fact.
GREGORY: The extreme weather is not limited to the United States. Massive flooding has left large parts of England under water over the past two months. The chief scientist of UK’s National Weather Service said all the evidence suggests climate change is to blame. Skeptics say the forecasts of doom and gloom are overblown.
MR. PATRICK MICHAELS (Director, Center for the Study of Science, CATO Institute): After you adjust for the fact that there are so many more people living in so many more places, there’s no change in weather-related damages.
GREGORY: Bill Nye and Marsha Blackburn, welcome both of you to MEET THE PRESS.
REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN/Vice Chair, Energy and Commerce Committee): Good to be with you. Thanks, David.
MR. BILL NYE (The Science Guy/Science Educator/CEO, The Planetary Society): Thank you.
GREGORY: So here was The Guardian newspaper after all of the flooding in the UK, and here’s the headline: “Climate change is here now. It could lead to global conflict. Yet the politicians squabble.” In the scientific community, this is not really a debate about whether climate change is real. The consensus is that it is. The majority of those who believe in fact that it is caused by humans. There are certainly some in the scientific community who don’t believe that’s the case and who are skeptical about some of those conclusions. But nevertheless, there is still this level of consensus. My question to begin with both of you is in this moment of-- this kind of extreme weather moment-- is it creating new urgency to act? Bill Nye, I’ll start with you.
MR. NYE: Well, I would say yeah. And what I’ve always said we need to do everything all at once. And this is an opportunity for the United States to innovate, to be the world leader in new technologies, that if you could invent a better battery, a better way to store electricity, you would change the world. And if you were to do that in a way that you could manufacture and export it, you would also do very well financially.
GREGORY: Congresswoman, is there new urgency to act? You’ve heard the president in drought-stricken California saying that these weather emergencies in effect are creating the conditions. The government has to act.
REP. BLACKBURN: David, I think that what it brings to mind is how we utilize the information that we have. And we all know-- and I think that Bill would probably agree with this, neither he nor I are a climate scientist. He is an engineer and actor. I am a member of Congress. And what we have to do is look at the information that we get from climate scientists. As you said, there is not agreement around the fact of exactly what is causing this. Even the president’s own Science and Technology Office head Mister Holdren says no one single weather event is due specifically to climate change. So it drives the policy to look at cost/benefit analysis, what we do about it, and the impact that U.S. policy would have in a global environment.
GREGORY: Well, and that-- that’s another question that I want to get to. But there is consensus. As you say, congresswoman, there is some skepticism about the degree to which humans may cause climate change or can you specifically say an emergency-- rather a weather event can be blamed on client change? Some disagreement about that within the UK. Nevertheless, within the scientific community, there is consensus, Bill Nye, and you know, among the scientists themselves on both of those questions?
MR. NYE: Well, I’ve got to say once again, what people are doing is introducing the idea that scientific uncertainty, in this case about cold weather events in what we call back east, are-- is the same as uncertainty about the whole idea of climate change. And this is unscientific. It’s not logical. It is a way apparently that the fossil fuel industry has dealt with our politics. And this is not good. Everybody-- you don’t-- this is not-- you don’t need a Ph.D. in climate science to understand what’s going on. That things-- that we have overwhelming evidence that the climate is changing. That you cannot tie any one event to that is not the same as doubt about the whole thing.
GREGORY: But is the issue, congresswoman, the cure or the disease and what’s worse? Here’s The Atlantic magazine on some of the views within your party within the Republican Party. “On global warming, conservative policy positions often seem to be conflated or confused with rejection of the consensus that the planet has been warming due to human carbon emissions. …Of the many Republican members if the Congress I know personally, the vast majority do not reject the underlying science of global warming… The catch: Conservatives believe many of the policies put forward to address the problem will lead to unacceptable levels of economic hardship.” The fix can be very expensive in the short term for long-term gain.
REP. BLACKBURN: Well, I think that what you have to do is look at what that warming is. And when you look at the fact that we have gone from 320 parts per million 0.032, to 0.040 four hundred parts per million, what you do is realize it’s very slight. Now, there is not consensus and you can look at the latest IPCC Report and look at Doctor Lindzen from MIT. His rejection of that or Judith Curry who recently…
REP. BLACKBURN: …from Georgia Tech. There is not consensus there. I think what we have to do is--
GREGORY: Well, hold on. I just have to interrupt you. I’m sorry, congresswoman. Let me just interrupt you because it’s not…
REP. BLACKBURN: Sure.
GREGORY: …you can pick out particular skeptics, but you can’t really say, can you, that the hundreds of scientists around the world who have looked at this have gotten together and conspired to manipulate data, and that industry folks like PG&E-- here’s PG&E’s website, it’s current website, this is a natural gas producer in Northern California, saying, “As a provider of gas and electricity to millions of Californians and an emitter of greenhouse gases, PG&E is keenly aware of its responsibility to both manage its emissions and work constructively to advance policies that put our state and the country on a cost-effective path toward a low-carbon economy.” So the issue is what actions are taken and will they really work? First to you, congresswoman…
REP. BLACKBURN: That’s exactly right.
GREGORY: …and then let me have Bill Nye respond.
REP. BLACKBURN: You’re exactly right. And what you have to do. Let’s say everything that Bill says is wrong is wrong. Let’s just say that. Then you say what are you going to do about it? What would the policy be? And will that policy have an impact? Now, even Director McCarthy from the EPA in answering questions from Congressman Pompeo before our committee, said reaching all of the 26 U.S. goals is not going to have an impact globally. And, David, what we have to look at is the fact that you don’t make good laws, sustainable laws when you’re making them on hypotheses or theories or unproven sciences.
GREGORY: Bill Nye?
MR. NYE: Once again, the congresswoman is trying to introduce doubt, and doubt in the whole idea of climate change. So what I would encourage everybody to do is back up and let’s agree on the facts. Would you say that the Antarctic has less ice than it used to? When you said you asserted, congresswoman, that a change from 320 to 400 parts per million is insignificant? My goodness, that’s-- that’s 30 percent. I mean that’s an enormous change, and it’s changing the world. And that’s just over the last few decades. You go back to 1750 with the invention of the steam engine-- I mean, everybody’s been over this a lot-- but it’s gone from 250 to 400. There is no-- there is no debate in the scientific community. And I can encourage the congresswoman to really look at the facts. You are a leader. We need you to change things, not deny what’s happening.
GREGORY: Let me get-- let me…
MR. NYE: So this-- this weather event.
GREGORY: …inject this point. I want to inject this point.
MR. NYE: I just want to say this weather event is important.
GREGORY: I want to stick to the point about what’s going to happen in the future with policy.
REP. BLACKBURN: Yeah.
GREGORY: The reality is that something is happening. And in-- whether you’re along the East Coast, whether if you look at the-- the all the money that was spent on infrastructure after Hurricane Sandy or you look at flooding, you have state and local governments, congresswoman, who have to deal with the realities of climate change, and it’s expensive.
REP. BLACKBURN: You’re right.
GREGORY: You’re very concerned about the future of our debt. There’s a lot of cost involved here. How do-- how does government responsibly-- even where there may be differences on the policy and the cure-- respond to the very real-time impacts of weather and a changing climate?
REP. BLACKBURN: That’s exactly right. And it is expensive when you look at the clean-up. And David, one of the things that we have to remember is cost/benefit analysis has to take place. And that is something-- that goes back to a Clinton executive order. And it is required and it is unfortunate that some of the federal agencies are not conducting that cost/benefit analysis. They’re focused on the outcome. And they need-- whether it’s the EPA, whether it is the science and technology agencies, they need to be doing that cost/benefit analysis. Now, you know, when you look at the social cost of carbon, and there is a lot of ambiguity around that, what you also need to be doing is looking at the benefits of carbon and what that has on increased agriculture production. Lot of good study out there about that, lot of good scientists and biologists who have done that study.
GREGORY: One of the things, Bill Nye, if you look at the polling on this, this is this issue of what do you do about something that to many people is very important, but for a lot of voters may not feel urgent? Just look at the Pew Research Center Poll from last month, global warming ranking 19th on that list. And yet, environmentalists seem buoyed by the fact that the president-- as I’ve talked to experts in Syria say-- with executive orders to curb carbon emissions from power plants, will take care of, via executive action, two-thirds of the carbon that’s emitted into the atmosphere in the United States. Is that an acceptable solution without political consensus?
MR. NYE: Well, that’s up to politicians. But certainly the longest journey starts with but a single step. We all have to acknowledge that we have a problem and I think it would be in everybody’s best interests. I was born in the U.S., you know, I’m a patriot and so on. It would be in everybody’s best interest to get going, to just do as I like to say, everything all at once. So the fewer very dirty coal-fired power plants we have, the better. The less energy we waste, the better. The less inefficient our transportation systems are, the better. The more reliable our electricity transmission systems are, the better. And so we all get into this thing that big governments are bad. I know that’s a-- that’s a very strong claim that for me, as a voter and taxpayer, is somehow tied to climate change. But what we want to do is not just less. We want to do more with less, and for me, as a guy who grew up in the U.S., I want the U.S. to lead the world in this rather than wait-- while you made reference to the United Kingdom, what China is doing with energy production…
MR. NYE: …solar energy production…
REP. BLACKBURN: Yeah…
MR. NYE: …and so on, this is a huge opportunity…
GREGORY: Congresswoman, just…
MR. NYE: …and the more we mess around with this denial, the less we’re going to get done.
GREGORY: I want to be specific though, Congresswoman, thirty seconds on this point. As you know, as I just outlined, the president is proposing regulations. This is executive action. How do you respond to that as a member of Congress who doesn’t agree with the policy?
REP. BLACKBURN: Well, I think the president should realize Congress has taken action whether it was cap and trade or Boiler MACT or any of these regulations. We have said no to that. And one of the reasons is the cost/benefit analysis and another is the impact. Look at what would-- is happening around the world. Bill doesn’t like coal-fired electricity plants. You’ve got 1,200 that are coming up in other nations right now. And what we need to be looking at is the way to achieve efficiencies. Carbon emissions are at the lowest they’ve been since 1994. The reason for that is efficiencies.
GREGORY: All right.
REP. BLACKBURN: We need to look at the cost benefit analysis and make certain these technologies are affordable for the American people.
GREGORY: All right. We are going to leave it there. This debate goes on. I thank you for your time this morning, both of you.
REP. BLACKBURN: Absolutely. Thank you so much.
Coming up next here, back to the never-ending squabbles in Washington, not just over climate change, the fight over the debt ceiling, as well. GOP cave in or compromise? The roundtable weighs in on that. Plus, fighting words from Joe Biden about the Republicans.
MR. JOE BIDEN: I wish there was a Republican Party. I wish there was one person you could sit across the table from, make a deal, make a compromise, and know when you got up from the table, it was done.
GREGORY: President Obama says that Syria is crumbling, but does he have a strategy to fix it? It’s just another big issue that we’ll take up with the roundtable coming up next here.
GREGORY: Back now with the roundtable, Chuck, Julie Pace, David Axelrod, and Nicolle Wallace. I want to pick up on this-- on the politics of weather, David Axelrod; because there is agreement about where we are, about climate change being real, that it’s caused by humans. There are again pockets of skepticism. But the politics is completely gummed up on this. And nothing’s really getting done.
MR. AXELROD: Well, first of all, I’m not sure there’s complete agreement. I don’t know that we heard complete agreement there. But…
MR. AXELROD: …the fact is, once you-- I think we all have to concede that when you have a flood of a century, the storm of the century, the fire of the century on an annual basis…
MR. TODD: The drought.
MR. AXELROD: …droughts of the century, something’s happening out there and it’s serious. The problem with this is, it requires long-term solutions. And we don’t have a political system that is-- is-- copes with short-term sacrifice for long-term solutions.
GREGORY: And Julie, I know within the White House, their feeling is-- and John Podesta’s worked a lot on this issue-- weather events, extreme weather event is really the way in to getting something done. Because states and local government do have to deal with the cost of that. That’s the way to tackle climate change.
MS. JULIE PACE (Chief White House Correspondent/The Associated Press): Absolutely. And it’s something that real people feel also, it impacts their daily lives, and they look at the amount of money that their state or their city is having to spend on this. But in terms of actual action, I think we’re still at a point where-- and you heard this in the debate-- it’s going to be very difficult to imagine Congress doing something significant over the next three years of Obama’s presidency. That’s why they focus so much on executive actions-- some of which are significant, the Power Plant Regulations. But there is always going to be a limit to what he can do or any president can do through executive action on this matter.
GREGORY: Urgent versus important is the question.
MR. TODD: Well, it is-- 41 billion, I think that you get at this 41 billion-dollar weather events in 2013 around the world. 41 of them, that was an all-time record. And that is-- I think it’s not just Podesta that believes that. There are a lot of people that say okay, let’s not debate who’s right, manmade or is it just nature that’s happening. The fact of the matter, it’s happening. And I wonder if there’s too much-- you know, I know some environmentalists are frustrated with that portion of the debate. But maybe you steer away from it and say, it doesn’t matter. We have to tackle this infrastructure problem. You got to build different higher seawalls in some places. We’re going to have to figure out a different way to distribute water in California. The fact of the matter-- and the Federal government is going to have to pay for this.
MR. TODD: And pay for all these things. And so I wonder if everybody should say, you know what? Let’s table this debate. We know what’s happening. Table that part of the debate because when you do that, then it becomes this like clubbing each other with-- with-- with political argument that takes away from what we have to do.
GREGORY: You know, the politics of weather gets very local, as a former president you worked for would say when it go-- you think the mayor would fill the potholes, you know? And-- so whether it’s filling the potholes or responding well, I got my impression. We’re responding well to-- to disasters; look at the tabloids in New York this week after the decision to keep the schools open. “Let them eat snow.” “Let them eat flakes” there. The head of the schools saying it’s a beautiful day out here. There’s a price to be paid and a big debate now about safety, about the right call to make when it comes to these storms.
MS. WALLACE: Right. Well, as Julie said, this does affect everyone. And I think though the debate we’re having even around this table is about our domestic politics. And I think the most Republicans feel that we could-- you know, cut off both our arms, both our legs, do everything we can do in this country, we could hamstring our economy, we could everything, and we still might not make a dent in-- in the problem, which I think we do all agree on. I think most Republicans do acknowledge that global warming is real and it’s happening. And I think in some ways you cartoon the party by suggesting that we don’t acknowledge the global warming is real and happening. But I think even during the Bush years, you covered President Bush, there were-- there were global compacts that-- that the United States did not participate in, because to not have all of the developing nations on board, we don’t actually make a dent.
GREGORY: And they of course want to get them on board by the end of next year. Long-term problems that could become legacy issues beyond climate change. Chuck, you’ve written about it this week and talked about it, and that is Syria. The president appearing with-- with France’s President Hollande talking about the horrendous situation-- situation in Syria, John McCain’s saying a future president will apologize for inaction on President Obama’s watch.
MR. TODD: Well, it’s interesting that McCain put it that way. This is consuming President Obama in a way that I think that we in the press haven’t been able to fully report out. Sometimes it’s hard to like get inside somebody’s head. But, you know, advisors admit that this is a-- this is-- he knows this policy isn’t working. But the country has this sort of Iraq syndrome and the similar syndrome that we had with Vietnam. So there are certain aspects off the table. He’s frustrated. Putin’s not worked-- you know, the pressure on Putin isn’t working. People-- hundreds and thousands of people are dying. He is frustrated. Let’s look at his week this week. It was interesting and on one hand they want to talk about minimum wage and they had their special events on-- on climate and drought. But with Hollande, you know, during that state visit, he was admitting that his policy isn’t working. He never said it, but he talked about. He called it a horrendous situation. He talked about the fact that the only good news out of Geneva II is that they both showed up. Other than that, nothing else happened. And what was he doing this weekend? Meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan. Who, by the way, this is his biggest economic crisis in his…
GREGORY: Right, because of the refugees…
MR. TODD: This is consuming him. They don’t have a good answer.
MS. PACE: You do get the sense at the White House that they’re at a point where they have to find something new on Syria. So much of the focus has been on Geneva II, this diplomatic process to get the Syrian government and the opposition to the table. The Russians were joining in. There is no way to look at what happened at Geneva II and say that there was anything that was successful there.
MS. PACE: That being said there’s no military solution. So what is-- what is the middle ground there? That’s the debate happening right now.
MR. AXELROD: And I think (Unintelligible) put his finger on it. The politics are very bad. There is a hangover from Iraq and Afghanistan. The country is looking inward. There’s not a great interest in this. And so the president’s looking at a hundred thousand people killed, these horrific images, the refugees and so on; and looking for answers. But the country wants him to be focused on the economy. And that’s a thing that a-- presidents have to wrestle with.
MS. WALLACE: But-- but your president was the one that said that he’s going to walk and chew gum. And I think that the-- the Republican moment of I think grave concern about the situation came when he stood in the Rose Garden after saying that he had drawn a red line and refused to enforce his own red line on chemical weapons. I think that was the moment where-- where Republican senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who were willing to-- to hold hands with the White House and try to help garner that support-- the country is weary, but-- but I think anyone that has worked in the White House knows that presidents are always concerned by foreign policies.
MR. AXELROD: Of course. But Nicolle, first of all, I think they would argue that they made more progress on chemical weapons than they would have, had they gone in to intervene.
MS. WALLACE: I mean we’ll never know.
MR. AXELROD: The question is-- the question is…
MS. WALLACE: We’ll never know, David.
MR. AXELROD: …the question isn’t walking and chewing gum at the right-- at the same time. The question is, what is a policy that that will work here. And that is a complicated issue. Are we going to go in with-- with the United States military and intervene?
MS. WALLACE: Well, but you were saying that-- that-- that people wanted to focus on the economy. People expect him to focus on the economy and-- and have a…
MR. AXELROD: I’m saying as a matter of public-- as a-- as a matter of how he spends his time in public in front of the camera, people are interested in him focusing on the economy.
MS. WALLACE: But it’s not an excuse.
MR. AXELROD: I have no doubt he’s spending a lot of time on the issue of Syria. I don’t think it’s front of mind for the American people.
MS. PACE: But I think the thing with all these foreign policy issues is that, as we all know, they can very quickly become front of mind. And one of the big concerns that you’re hearing from both the U.S., a lot of allies overseas, is issues of foreign fighters in Syria and the impact on the region. So again the-- the spillover and the managing kind of behind the…
GREGORY: It’s also the question of there’s a lot of things that are hard that require leadership. Clinton looked back at Rwanda and said it was such a huge mistake. On the other side of that, you know, we have demonstrated over the past decade under President Bush, the limits of what the United States can accomplish in terms of reengineering countries in-- in the U.S. image or even a more western image. It becomes very difficult. So does it work? You know, this intervention, does it work, even if you fulfill a moral imperative?
MS. WALLACE: But I think you’re getting at the something that is central here. And I think this will be a-- a topic of-- of great philosophical debate in the 2016 presidential campaign. Has America’s standing in the world been harmed by that moment when President Obama refused to enforce his own red line?
GREGORY: Yeah. I don’t think Republicans want to fight this fight. John McCain wants to fight him. A lot of Republicans do not want to fight this fight.
MS. WALLACE: But when you draw a red line and you’re the leader of the free world and you refuse to enforce it…
GREGORY: That’s a different point, yeah.
MS. WALLACE: …there are repercussions. And that is part of what we’re seeing.
MR. TODD: Okay. But where was the U.S. Congress? You know, he-- he didn’t have any…
MS. WALLACE: This isn’t about the U.S. Congress, we’ve had…
MR. TODD: No, no, no no. But he-- he want-- he-- look, he-- he didn’t-- you could tell, he didn’t want to enforce his red line with a military strike, okay? But he knew he had to do this because he drew the line. He knew he had to do it. But he had no political apparatus support…
GREGORY: All right. Let…
MR. TODD: …both internationally and domestically, and so he felt he couldn’t.
GREGORY: All right. Let me…
MS. PACE: And the problem is he didn’t make an effort to garner that support.
MR. TODD: Well that is the McCain-- I-- I’ve heard that argument. Yeah, I hear you.
GREGORY: All right. Let me get a break in here. We’re going to take a break here. Coming up, some big developments in the debate over same-sex marriage as I referred to earlier here in the U.S. but also at the Olympics, the issue of gay rights front and center there. Where does that debate go from here. That’s coming up next.
MR. BRIAN BOITANO: I truly believe that the IOC will never again choose a country to have the Olympics in that doesn’t have a good human rights record.
GREGORY: Here now some of this week’s images to remember.
Medals and Puppies: U.S. Skier Saves Strays in Sochi.
Diplomacy and Caviar: State Dinner Honors French President.
Winter Weather Pileup: 100-Car Crash on Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Child Star & Diplomat: Remembering Shirley Temple Black
NBA Celebrity All-Star Game: Education Secy. Schools Players
GREGORY: My son was so excited about Arne Duncan. He was watching because he’s a big basketball player. This week’s images to remember. Coming up here, will Russian President Putin maintain his hard line on gay rights once the Olympic Games are over? Our Harry Smith has that story coming up.
GREGORY: Now we want to head back to the Olympics and the issue of gay rights in the U.S. and around the world. A big week of developments from Virginia, the latest state to have its same-sex marriage ban overturned by the courts to Missouri where all-American college player Michael Sam announced he is gay. And in Russia, the question remains is this a temporary period of détente, will the Cold War on gay rights return once the Olympic Games are over? NBC’s Harry Smith has more.
MAN #1: Take Kevin to be…
MR. HARRY SMITH: Same-sex marriage and equal rights for gays and lesbians took a few more steps to becoming a national reality last Saturday.
MR. ERIC HOLDER: I will formally instruct all Justice Department employees to give lawful same-sex marriages full and equal recognition to the greatest extent possible under the law.
MAN #2: Thank you.
MR. SMITH: While proponents applauded, opponents were dismayed. America is changing and changing quickly. Michael Sam, a star football player from the University of Missouri, came out this week--a heretofore unthinkable act for a player with pro potential.
MR. MICHAEL SAM: I’m Michael Sam. I’m a-- I'm a football player, and I’m gay.
MR. ANDY COHEN: The fact that his teammates all knew and this was an open secret for so long is what really blew me away.
MR. SMITH: Andy Cohen is the host of Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live.
MR. COHEN: It seems like in Missouri he was judged for how he played on the field which is exactly how it should be.
MR. SMITH: Which is more than a measure of tolerance, it's acceptance.
MR. COHEN: I’m 45. I grew up not thinking that I could be openly gay in the world so the idea that I’m hosting a talk show every night as an openly gay man saying whatever I want to say is incredible to me. And the rights that are being afforded to me and what’s happening every year, I can’t believe what’s happening.
MR. SMITH: A stark contrast to Russia, where the Olympic Games are being played. Cohen refused to go to Russia in November to host the Miss Universe pageant.
MR. COHEN: It seemed very disingenuous of me to go to Russia and do a travelogue about what a great time the pageant queens had in Moscow, what a wonderful city when I could be stoned in a square for throwing out a gay flag.
MR. SMITH: The Russians, though, seemed to be on their best behavior for the Olympics.
When you watch the Olympics now and you see Putin in the box, what do you think?
MR. COHEN: When I see Putin, my blood boils, you know. I think he is living in a fantasyland where gay people-- the mayor of Sochi said there are no gay people in Sochi. There are now by the way, a lot.
MR. SMITH: Among them, gold medal winner Brian Boitano who is part of the American delegation to the games.
MR. BRIAN BOITANO: By bringing a lot of attention and realizing that other countries like America are moving forward with this, it brings attention to how they’re not moving forward if they don’t agree with this. We are America. We are moving forward. You can either come with us or we will leave you behind.
MR. SMITH: Boitano is convinced that the games will never again be held in a country that is proud of its prejudices.
MR. BOITANO: I truly believe that the IOC will never again choose a country to have the Olympics in that doesn’t have a good human rights record or a country that is not tolerant.
MR. SMITH: Earlier this week, Vladimir Putin inadvertently hugged a gay gold medal speed skater from Holland.
MR. COHEN: We all get carried away in the magic and pageantry of the Olympics. I mean, wouldn’t it be great if that bastard did too? I mean, it would be. He put on a huge show. Learn something from it.
GREGORY: We’re back now. Thank you, Harry Smith. We’ll have some final thoughts from the roundtable. Nicolle, beyond Russia we look at how quickly things have moved in America for the GOP, for Republicans, what drives the agenda on social issues? How do they play it?
MS. WALLACE: Listen, I think on issues like gay marriage, we are a party divided by generations. I was-- I signed on to a Republican friend-of-the-court, brief that laid out a conservative case for gay marriage and I think that the policy argument and the intellectual debate has to be careful not to become personal. I think we have to be the party that has room for the position Mitt Romney articulated and one where conservatives believe that gay marriage is good for society.
MR. AXELROD: We’re actually a country divided by generation. Everybody over-- over 65, people are opposed. Everybody under 65, majority opp-- supports. Sixty-seven percent of Americans under the age of 35 support same-sex marriage. This is...
MS. WALLACE: Including evangelicals.
MR. AXELROD: And Republicans, this is-- overwhelmingly, this is an inexorable movement.
GREGORY: What-- what did we learn from Mitt Romney about how Republicans will deal with social issues more generally from his, quick response?
MR. TODD: Well, I just thought, you know, he was sort of a reminder, the evangelicals a huge wing in the party and they’re just not ready to do this. But I have a feeling the Supreme Court, they wanted to not take up this issue. They’re going to have to take it up.
GREGORY: They’re going to have to do it.
MR. TODD: There’re just too many lawsuits.
GREGORY: All right. Thank you all very much. Great to have you here. That is all for today. Tonight, NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics continues including U.S. figure skating pair Meryl Davis and Charlie White. And we’ll be back next week on the final day of Olympic competition and the closing ceremonies. We’ll actually be on after the Olympic gold medal hockey game in most cities so that’s going to be very exciting. Check your local listings. As always, if it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.
First published February 16 2014, 11:48 AM