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Meet the Press Transcript - July 20, 2014

MEET THE PRESS -- SUNDAY, JULY 20, 2014

DAVID GREGORY:

Next on Meet the Press, the crisis with Russia over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17. Strong reaction this morning from the Obama administration as Russian-backed rebels take the outrageous step of removing bodies from the crash site. How will the U.S. force President Putin to cooperate?

And war in the Middle East after a failed peace push by the Obama White House. I'll ask Secretary of State John Kerry if the President's foreign policy vision is up to all of these global tests. And later, the blow to A.I.D.S. research. Some of the world's top experts killed in the Malaysia Airlines disaster. I'll get exclusive reaction from Dr. Anthony Fauci of The National Institutes of Health. And an active week on the campaign trail overshadowed by the Malaysia Airlines news with some interesting 2016 trends to follow this morning with our roundtable.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, this is Meet the Press with David Gregory.

DAVID GREGORY:

And good Sunday morning. The very latest in the standoff are the details emerging of how Russian-backed separatists are interfering with the investigation and removing bodies from the crash site. The latest U.S. intelligence suggests the missile that downed Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was fired by Russian rebels in Ukraine after Russia gave more than one missile system two separatists in recent weeks. Russian President Putin denying involvement and says The West shouldn't leap to conclusions.

In a moment, I'll speak to Secretary of State John Kerry. But first, our chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell with the high stakes in what might be the lowest moment, Andrea, in U.S.-Russian relations since the Cold War.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Indeed, David. In fact, that intelligence you refer to is now very persuasive. American intelligence officials are convinced that Russia supplied the missile, trained the separatists who shot down the plane, and now this new outrage: The removal of the victims from the crash site. All this evidence pointing to Vladimir Putin's policies for this horrible sequence of events. Now the question is what are President Obama and other world leaders going to do about it?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

The Launch button on a Russian-made missile that blew the Malaysian airliner out of the sky could signal a diplomatic dead-end to the reset button the Obama administration pushed in 2009.

HILLARY CLINTON:

So we will do it together, okay? (LAUGHTER)

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But now times have changed.

HILLARY CLINTON:

There's a lot more that needs to be done, and to put Putin on notice that he has gone too far and we are not going to stand idly by.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

The latest flashpoint: Ukraine.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

We want Russia to take the path that would result in peace in Ukraine. But, so far at least, Russia has failed to take that path. Instead, it has continued to violate Ukrainian sovereignty and to support violent separatists.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

The challenges are: What leverage does Obama have? While he is suffering his lowest approval ratings, President Putin's popularity is surging on his revival of Russian nationalism, as he flaunts Russian power abroad. From The World Cup to Cuba, Russia is arming U.S. adversaries, supplying heavy arms in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq, frustrating U.S. diplomacy.

HEATHER CONLEY:

What we're seeing is Vladimir Putin implementing a policy of regional instability, arming with very sophisticated weapons, these pro-Russian separatists.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Another challenge: Does Europe have the political will to impose stiffer sanctions that will really hurt Russia? Until the Malaysian Airlines shoot-down, Europe put its economic self interests above punishing Putin.

GRAHAM ALLISON:

I'm still not counting on the Europeans be prepared to sacrifice. But I would say it's much more likely, and especially if the evidence becomes overwhelming, that Russia is implicated in this event.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Assuming a new round of sanctions can be agreed on, would they force Putin to finally change course or push Russia and the West closer toward a new Cold War?

HEATHER CONLEY:

The United States and Western allies have a vision of a vibrant democracy, market economies. Russia and Vladimir Putin have a very different vision.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

This isn't a new cold war, but it is a new low in modern day relations between the U.S. and Russia. And so far, no amount of pressure, including a call from Secretary Kerry to the Russian foreign minister only yesterday, seems to change Putin's behavior, even as body parts were being removed and valuable evidence hauled away from that crash site. David?

DAVID GREGORY:

Difficult moment at this particular moment. Andrea, thank you very much. This morning, I spoke with Secretary of State John Kerry.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

Secretary Kerry, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

I'm glad to be with you, David. Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

The president demanded absolute cooperation from Russia, from the separatists in Eastern Ukraine. And now the whole was is watching. And the startling developments that the rebels are removing bodies from the crash site, putting them on refrigerated trains, even talk of removing the black box. What do you say about that this morning?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

Well, what's happening is really grotesque. And it is contrary to everything that President Putin and Russia said that they would do. There are-- there are reports of drunken separatist soldiers unceremoniously piling bodies into trucks, removing both bodies, as well as evidence, from the site.

They promised unfettered access, David. And the fact is that, right now, they had 75 minutes on Friday, yesterday, three hours. There were shots fired in the area. The separatists are in control. And it is clear that Russia supports the separatists, supplies the separatists, encourages the separatists, trains the separatists. And Russia needs to step up and make a difference here.

DAVID GREGORY:

How might the investigation be compromised? The government's ability to determine with certainty who fired this missile, based on what's happening now? And specific I speak here about these reports of the black box being removed.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

Well, let me tell you what we know at this point, David, because it tells you a lot about what it going on. In the last month, we have observed major supplies moving in. Several weeks ago, about a 150-vehicle convoy, including armored personnel carriers, tanks, rocket launchers, artillery, all going in and being transferred to the separatists.

We know that they had an SA-11 system in the vicinity, literally hours before the shoot-down took place. There are social media records of that. They were talking, and we have the intercepts of their conversations, talking about the transfer and movement and repositioning of the SA-11 system. The social media showed them with this system moving through the very area where we believe the shoot-down took place, hours before it took place.

Social media, which is an extraordinary tool, obviously, in all of this, has posted recordings of separatists bragging about the shoot-down of a plane at the time right after it took place. The defense minister, so-called, self-appointed, of the People's Republic of Donetsk, Mr. Igor Strelkov, actually posted a bragging statement on the social media about having shot down a transport. And then, when it became apparent it was civilian, they quickly removed that particular posting.

DAVID GREGORY:

Are you bottom lining here that Russia provided the weapon?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

There's a story today confirming that. But we have not, within the administration, made a determination. But it's pretty clear, when, you know, there's a build-up of extraordinary circumstantial evidence. You know, I'm a former prosecutor. I've tried cases on circumstantial evidence. It's powerful here. But even more importantly, we picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar. We also know, from voice identification, that the separatists were bragging about shooting it down afterwards.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

So there's a stacking up of evidence here, which Russia needs to help account for. We are not drawing the final conclusion here. But there is a lot that points at the need for Russia to be responsible. And what President Obama believes and we, the international community, join in believing, everybody is convinced we must have unfettered access.

DAVID GREGORY:

And you--

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

And the lack of access, the lack of access, David, makes its own statement about culpability and responsibility.

DAVID GREGORY:

Given that, given that, and what comes next, The Washington Post has editorialized this weekend what was missing from the President's comments when he spoke out on Friday was a clear moral conclusion about the regime of Vladimir Putin, or an articulation of how the United States will respond. What about it?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

Well, we're in discussions about that right now. I had a conversation yesterday with my counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov, made it very, very clear that we need this cooperation. We're going to try to find a way immediately to determine whether or not that's going to be forthcoming.

As you know, President Obama, only the day before this incident took place, unilaterally moved in order to imposed tougher sanctions. And he imposed sanctions on Gazprom, sanctions on energy companies, sanctions on military companies. We've taken tough sanctions. We hope this is a profound wakeup call for those countries in Europe that have wanted to kind of, you know, go slow and soft pedal this.

DAVID GREGORY:

But call Vladimir Putin what he is. What is the threat that he and Russia present to the United States and to The West?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

It's not a question of the threat that they present to The West, David. It's a question of whether or not you're going to get the cooperation necessary in a way that they have said that they would. And we're trying, for the last time, to see if that will be forthcoming at this moment or not.

But obviously, the additional sanctions are reflections of the President's, you know, exhaustion of patience, with words that are not accompanied by actions. Going back to the meetings that I had with Mr. Lavrov in Geneva several, what, a couple months ago now, the fact is, they agreed to do certain things, and the Ukrainians agreed to do certain things.

Ukraine declared a ceasefire. 26 soldiers of Ukraine were killed during the course of the ceasefire. We need Russia to publicly, publicly, start to call for responsible action and itself take actions that they can take with the separatists that they have encouraged, they have inflamed, they have supplied, they have trained, and that are still engaged in a contest for the sovereignty of Ukraine itself. Russia said they would respect the sovereignty of Ukraine.

DAVID GREGORY:

But that hasn't--

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

It is not respectful to be transferring those weapons across--

(OVERTALK)

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

That's why the toughest--

DAVID GREGORY:

But I detect in your words, Mr. Secretary, some reluctance to make this a one-on-one battle. You want to give Russia a little bit more room here. But the question is still about consequences. How can anyone view this as anything other than the lowest moment between the United States and Russia in the post-cold war environment?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

David, you know, you can get into these grand sort of proclamations about where things are and where they aren't. The fact is we live in an extremely complicated world right now where everybody is working on ten different things simultaneously. Russia is working with us in a cooperative way on the P5 Plus One. We just had important meetings in Vienna in order to try to--

DAVID GREGORY:

This is about Iran's nuclear program.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

--in order to try to deal with Iran's nuclear program. Russia was constructive and helpful and worked at that effort. Russia has been constructive in helping to remove 100% of the declared chemical weapons from Syria. In fact, that was an agreement we made months ago. And it never faltered, even during these moments of conflict.

So this is more complicated than just throwing names at each other and making declarations. There has to be a continued effort to find a way forward. And that's what we're trying to do. But we've made it clear, even as we do that, there's no naiveté in what President Obama has done with respect to these very tough sanctions. And the United States has been working diligently with Europe, trying to bring Europe along. They've included additional sanctions. We think, frankly, that they may need to be tougher.

And it may well be that the Dutch and others will help lead that effort, because this has to be a wakeup call to Europe that this has to change. We cannot continue with a dual-track policy where diplomacy is winding up with nice words and, you know, well-constructed communiqués and agreements, but then there's a separate track where the same policy continues.

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me ask you--

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

This is a moment of truth for Mr. Putin and for Russia. Russia needs to step up and prove its bona fides, if there are any left, with respect to its willingness to put actions behind the words.

DAVID GREGORY:

The war in Gaza also is occupying your time. What is it that you think Israel stands to gain from its invasion into Gaza and the bombardment of Gaza?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

Well, this is a very, very difficult moment, also, and a very difficult situation. Israel has been under attack by rockets. I don't think any nation in the world would sit there while rockets are bombarding it, and you know that there are tunnels from which theaters have come, you know, jumping up in the dead of night, some with handcuffs and with tranquilizer drugs on them, in an obvious effort to try to kidnap people then hold them for ransom.

The fact is, that is unacceptable by any standard, anywhere in the world. And Israel has every right in the world to defend itself. But we're hopeful, very hopeful, that we could quickly to try to find a way forward to put a ceasefire in place so that the underlying issues, so that we can get to the questions. But you cannot reward terrorism. There can't be a set of preconditioned demands that are going to be met.

So we support the Egyptian initiative, joined in by Israel and others, to have an immediate ceasefire. And we're working that ceasefire very, very hard. I have been in touch all yesterday, day before, many days now, with my counterparts. The president has been in touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu I think day before yesterday. They will talk again today. I talked to Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday. And I believe the president wants me to go very, very shortly to the region in order to try to see if we can get a ceasefire in place.

DAVID GREGORY:

Mr. Secretary, before I let you go, I want you to answer critics who accuse this president of an uncertain course in his foreign policy. And it harkens back to something the president wrote in his own book Audacity of Hope. He wrote this, critical of the Bush years, "Without a well articulated strategy that the public supports and the world understands, America will lack the legitimacy and, ultimately, the power it needs to make the world safer than it is today." Is that the problem--

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

David, let me--

DAVID GREGORY:

--President Obama faces?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

No. Let me tell you. What he faces maybe is a problem with a bunch of critics who want to jump to conclusions without looking at the facts. But the facts could not be more clear. The United States of America has never been more engaged in helping to lead in more places than we are now.

I just came back from China, where we are engaged with the Chinese in dealing with North Korea. And you will notice, since the visit last year, North Korea has been quieter. We haven't done what we want to do yet with respect to the de-nuclearization. But we are working on that and moving forward.

With respect to Syria, we struck a deal where we got 100% of the chemical weapons out. With respect the Iraq, we are deeply involved now in the process of government formation, helping the Iraqis to be able to choose a government of unity that can reunite it. They've elected a speaker. They're about to elect a president. We believe that's moving forward.

On Afghanistan, we helped strike a deal recently to help warring parties in the contest of the election to be able to come together and hold Afghanistan together. With respect to Iran, this president has taken the risk of putting together a negotiation. For the first time in ten years, the Iranian nuclear program is actually being rolled backwards. And Israel and the region are safer than they were.

We negotiated a ceasefire in an effort to try to bring troops into south Sudan. We've negotiated a disarming of the M-23 rebel group in Democratic Republic of the Congo. We're negotiating a major economic treaty, a package trade agreement with Europe, 40% of the world's GDP. Same thing in Asia.

I would tell you something, David. One thing I've seen for certain, people aren't worried around the United States and sitting there saying, "We want the United States to leave." People are worried that the United States might leave. And the fact is that every fundamental issue of conflict today, the United States is in the center leading and trying to find an effort to make peace where peace is very difficult.

And I think the American people ought to be proud of what this president has done in terms of peaceful, diplomatic engagement, rather than quick trigger deploying troops, starting or engaging in a war of choice. I think the President's on the right track. And I think we have the facts to prove it.

DAVID GREGORY:

Secretary Kerry, as always, thank you for your time.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

Thank you.

(END TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

I'm joined now by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Senator, welcome back to the program.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

Lot to get to. Let me start on the Middle East and the war in Gaza. There are reports this morning of a serious escalation in fighting with heavier casualties as Israel has expanded its ground offensive. What are you hearing?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

I'm hearing there may be some Israelis casualties coming from the tunnels where they come out into Israel. But my view of the Israeli operation: Stay as long as you need to stay, go wherever you need to go, do deal with a viper's nest called Hamas. If not the number of casualties that determines the moral outcome here, there are more German soldiers got killed than American soldiers. If I were Israel, I would stay in Gaza as long as I needed to, to stop the rockets for good.

DAVID GREGORY:

When you see a ground operation moving in this direction, and you see, again, an operation that may be resulting in heavier Israeli casualties, what do you think that means? Do you have any words of caution for Israel at this point? Do you think the government, do you think the administration will seek to caution Israel?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

I hope not. My only words to the Israeli government and people is, "Clear it out. Close the tunnels. Shut down the rocket sites. Stay as long as you need to stay." Over 1,500 rockets have been fired. The only reason they have as few Israeli casualties is because of iron dome. If it's left up to Hamas, thousands of Israelis would be dead.

I hope the international community will not find a moral equivalence here. To the Israeli government: Do whatever is necessary to protect your people. Stay as long as you need to say. And as to Secretary Kerry, he gave the most ridiculous and delusional summary of American foreign policy I could imagine.

It scares me that he believes the world is in such good shape. America is the glue that holds the free world together. Leading from behind is not working. The world is adrift. And President Obama has become the king of indecision. His policies are failing across the globe, and they will come here soon.

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, Senator, there's a lot to unpack there, specifically with regards to Russia. This crisis over the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight. What did Secretary Kerry not say? What is the administration not yet prepared to do that you think must be done?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

One, he didn't call Putin the thug that he is. He didn't call for arming the Ukraine so they can defend themselves against rebel separatists supported by Russia. All of the enemies of our nation are being well supplied. Russia and Iran are helping Syria. 160,000 Syrians have been slaughtered, John Kerry, by Russian-supplied weapons to Assad.

Syria has become a safe-haven for terrorists to attack our nation. How about sanctions that would hit Putin as an individual? Their energy sector, their banking sector. The Europeans are never going to lead on this issue. It is indispensable that America lead. And there's a battle of wills between the KGB colonel and the community organizer. And the colonel is winning.

DAVID GREGORY:

There is, you heard from Secretary Kerry, this kind of knee-jerk response that he would lay at your feet and others, who call for a more robust military reaction. Is that really what you see here? Or is it working with Europeans for the kind of sanctions that you think can actually work to cripple the economy in Russia?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Good point. Nothing knee-jerk is going on here. Indecision reigns. President Obama is trying to be deliberative. It comes off as indecisive. He's trying to be thoughtful. It comes off as weakness. I'm suggesting European, American-organized sanctions that go after Putin individually, the energy sector in Russia, the banking sector in Russia, I'm suggesting that we arm the Ukrainians so they can defend themselves. I'm suggesting we put more N.A.T.O. troops surround Ukraine, that we rebuild the missile defense systems that Obama took down to let Putin know the path of least resistance is not to continue to dismember the Ukraine.

DAVID GREGORY:

You've got, and I've got about 20 seconds, Senator, the crisis on the border, immigration reform. This is an international problem. But it's also--

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Yes.

DAVID GREGORY:

--a big political issue, as well. Is your party prepared to move with the president on this?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

There will be no money for supplemental without changes in the 2008 law. We have to streamline and quicken deportations. There'll be no immigration reform because of the crisis on the border. I blame Obama for this moment. But in 2015, if we start over, and the Republican Party doesn't get immigration reform right in 2015 and the House should lead, not the Senate, our chances in 2016 of winning the White House are very low.

DAVID GREGORY:

Senator Lindsey Graham with a lot of reaction to what we've heard this morning. Senator, as always, thank you.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

Reaction now from our political roundtable. Andrea Mitchell is still with us. Ron Fournier of The National Journal, we covered the White House together during the Bush presidency. For the first time on the program, Jason Riley. He's author of the new book Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make it Harder For Blacks to Succeed. He's also an editorial board member at The Wall Street Journal. And also here, Amy Walter, national editor of The Cook Political Report. Welcome to all of you. Ron, the President's response. Two visions here of how he's dealing with Russia in this moment, another crisis. How do you see it?

RON FOURNIER:

Look, first of all, let's make it clear, of course Putin is a thug here. And of course it's very complicated, what's happening between Israel and Palestinians. But what we have here is a president, for better and for worse, partly reflecting the American sentiment, really has not tried to impose his will and his vision on the global community. And what we have happening here are kind of the consequences, in part, of an aloof foreign policy.

DAVID GREGORY:

You have, Amy, the secretary of state saying, "Look, it's not as simple as calling people out." It appears to me that they're giving Putin some room. Now maybe that is silly. But they're giving him some room to try to step up and diffuse this crisis.

AMY WALTER:

Well, it makes it a lot easier than actually having to do what Senator Graham is asking for, which is, "Let's actually arm the rebels." And to Ron's point, the public is not there at all, right? So where the public is on this is they just want to see somebody who looks bold, who's going out and calling people out as thugs or whatever we want to call them. But they don't want to have a consequence to that. They don't want to see a foreign policy that looks like President Bush's foreign policy, either. So he's in sort of a bind. But the public has also lost trust in what the President's doing. They lost it back when the website crashed, and he's not getting it back

DAVID GREGORY:

Jason Riley, as I mentioned to Secretary Kerry, The Washington Post editorializing, is the president calling out the Russian government for what it is and really spelling out what America is prepared to do about it?

JASON RILEY:

No, he's not. And that's called leadership. And he's not leading. Vladimir Putin is rebuilding the Russian empire. And Obama is worried about maintaining a light footprint internationally. And what happens is a void. A power vacuum is created, and people like Vladimir Putin are more than happy to make mischief here.

And Senator Graham mentioned Syria. I think there was something of a turning point there. We set a red line. Assad ignored it. There were no consequences. Putin was taking note. He not only took note, he took Crimea. There has been no consequences.

DAVID GREGORY:

For taking Crimea. Now Andrea, how do you read where the administration's headed?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, I agree that Syria was the turning point last Labor Day weekend, because it was interpreted in the Persian Gulf, and elsewhere around the world, as ineffective American leadership. The problem is drawing a red line. I understand why critics think that the President's rhetoric on Friday was not even up to the moral outrage expressed by Samantha Power. They had the same intelligence, the same evidence. Samantha Power was a more forceful presentation at The United Nations than the president.

I think what you spotted today is that they are trying to leave some running room with Vladimir Putin. They know they have to deal with him. And look, Angela Merkel is not where the president is. And even the Dutch, up until the last 24 hours, have not been. They've sided with Putin in a lot of different ways.

DAVID GREGORY:

So briefly, on Gaza, another area of leadership, Secretary Kerry saying he's prepared to go there very quickly. Go to do what?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, that is the other problem. Because they had-- they've been prepared. Their bags have been packed. But Israel and Egypt had this ceasefire that Mahmoud Abbas was buying into but not Hamas. And Israel will not go with negotiations that Turkey and Qatar have been trying to launch.

So who to negotiate with? There is some talk that Secretary Kerry wasn't even desired in the region, not even by Israel, because it wasn't clear what he could do. And Israel wanted to get something more accomplished on the ground. Now Israel apparently has suffered some real casualties among its military. And that is going to potentially escalate it.

DAVID GREGORY:

We'll take a break here. We'll come back with all of you in just a moment. We're later going to go to a Midwestern town that's embroiled in a dispute over a mayor's plan to bring unaccompanied child immigrants there. Plus our Chuck Todd is going to be up with the inside story of who's ready for Hillary and who isn't. And just what did Chris Christie mean by this:

CHRIS CHRISTIE (ON TAPE):

Let's not let up. Let's work as hard as we can the next 110 days. And I'll see you back here in Iowa really soon. Thank you all very much.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

We're back. The news of the week has overshadowed some interesting political maneuvers ahead of the 2016 race for the White House. Potential candidates were out in early-voting states this week signaling their intentions. And some new polling provides interesting insights into the race. Our political director, Chuck Todd, with his takeaways.

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

For most of us, summer travel takes us to theme parks or beaches. For presidential wannabes, it's anywhere they can find potential supporters. And this week was particularly buys. Chris Christie in Iowa, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren wooing progressives in Detroit. And of course Hillary Clinton finishing her book tour.

New NBC News Marist poll numbers from Iowa and New Hampshire bring good and bad news for hopefuls on both sides. Here are three key takeaways: Number one, Democrats are ready for Hillary. In head-to-head match-ups, Clinton handily leads Joe Biden in both states by 50 or more points.

And take a look at these favorable ratings just among Democrats. 89% in Iowa and a whopping 94% in New Hampshire. But as excited as Democrats are, it's not going to be a cakewalk for her in these two swing states in a general. In head-to-head match-ups with six potential Republicans, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker and Chris Christie, the race tightened substantially. While she's tied or leads all of them, she didn't do any better than 51% against anybody.

The Republican that runs best against her: Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. And that's our second key takeaway. The first term Kentucky Senator right now is the closest thing Republicans have to a 2016 frontrunner. What gives Paul that label? He has the highest favorable ratings of any potential candidate in the two states. He leads the polls in the early horserace, not including the undecided vote, and he runs best against Hillary Clinton.

But it's not just good poll numbers, he's been very strategy in the past six months. Paul hired Rick Santorum's former campaign manager. He's teamed with Democrat Cory Booker on some legislation. And he backs a less active foreign policy that happens to be more popular with the public. This also could mean that Paul will be an early target of uneasy establishment Republicans all of next year.

And that brings us to our third takeaway. Chris Christie has a lot of work to do. The New Jersey governor has the highest negative ratings of any of his Republican rivals. And that's among Republicans in both states. It's why he's pledging to come back to the state a lot.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

And I'll see you back here in Iowa really soon.

CHUCK TODD:

All this activity, and we're just a mere 560 days away until the Iowa caucuses. For Meet the Press, Chuck Todd, NBC News, Washington.

(END TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

We're back with our roundtable to talk about the politics of the moment, which is still a long way away from 2016. But they're still so engaged. Jason Riley, I want to pick up on Chuck's point about Rand Paul. Does he look like a Republican frontrunner this far out? And if he does, he represents a Libertarian wing of the Republican Party on foreign policy, on such a big foreign policy week. You were just saying how striking that is to you.

JASON RILEY:

It is striking. Particularly his views on foreign policy, I think, don't sit well with a lot of Republicans. So I'm a little surprised to see--

DAVID GREGORY:

Where's the Dick Cheney--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Where's the Lindsey Graham wing?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Exactly. In fact, Rand Paul's views on foreign policy are not all that different from President Obama, in terms of disengagement. He doesn't like it put that way, but that's the reality there. What struck me about this poll, though, my takeaway, is that the GOP bench is much deeper than the Democratic bench here. It's basically Hillary or bust among Democrats.

I was also surprised at how well Jeb bush and Chris Christie are doing. In Republican circles, there are deal-breaker issues there, supposedly on immigration with Jeb Bush and on, you know, moderation on climate change and gun control with Chris Christie. Voters seem to be telling pollsters otherwise, which is interesting.

RON FOURNIER:

Here's what's going to happen. President Obama right now, as we're talking about earlier, is channeling the American public and looking weak. Rand Paul is channeling the American public. Even a big part of the Republican sentiment. But now we're going to see the Cheney wing of the party make him look weak. That is going to happen.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah. Interesting. The other piece of this is where Hillary Clinton stands on foreign policy. She might have been a big guide to President Obama in his views. If he looks too uncertain in his foreign policy, does that hurt her?

AMY WALTER:

Well, I don't know that the American public right now is looking at foreign policy. They usually, even especially in midterm elections, but even right now, thinking about the presidential elections, their number one concern still is the economy. And I think that's the bigger problem for Hillary Clinton right now is that she's going to have to come in the wake of the Obama presidency, his approval ratings obviously quite weak right now. His handling of the economy, quite weak. And there's no sign right now that the economy's going to suddenly catch fire by the time we hit 2015. That is going to be a biggest weight on her than what's happening over--

(OVERTALK)

RON FOURNIER:

Could you imagine the 2016 ad real quick, with her pushing a Russian reset button?

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But I do think that Elizabeth Warren is a real issue here. She was greeted as such a celebrity at this conference this past--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

That resignation getting a huge, huge response.

(OVERTALK)

ANDREA MITCHELL:

She was all but a candidate. She can say what she wants about not running. But if there were a slip, or if there were any reason where Hillary Clinton has to take a step back, and if the foreign policy becomes an issue, which she has to own part of--

(OVERTALK)

JASON RILEY:

I think there have been slips on the book tour, talking about her personal wealth. Those were unforced errors. And I think the Elizabeth Warren folks see an opening there. Now the question is--

(OVERTALK)

JASON RILEY:

--on the left, I mean how big is the universe of people who think the probably with Obama is that he's too conservative? That's who Elizabeth Warren would be going after. I don't know how many people there are. But she could--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, there may be disillusioned, disappointed liberals--

(OVERTALK)

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But there's one another thing about the economy being everything here. Leadership is the issue. And it's leadership, whether it's on foreign policy or the economy--

GROUP VOICES:

Right. Yes. True.

(OVERTALK)

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--that he's not--

AMY WALTER:

--looking for--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--projecting--

(OVERTALK)

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--and that people are looking at.

AMY WALTER:

But liberals like Hillary Clinton right now. In fact, they like her a lot more than they did in 2007-2008. They are coalesced behind her. They believe it's her turn. But what they also like is the idea of somebody that's changed, that's different. You're seeing it on both sides. This is why the Rand Paul thing is so excited.

RON FOURNIER:

Well, and we can talk all we want about the divisions in the Republican Party. If Hillary Clinton doesn't run, we're going to see--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

But let me ask you about the Republican Party. So Chris Christie is having a tough go in our poll, as Chuck Todd described.

JASON RILEY:

Right.

DAVID GREGORY:

He had a pretty good trip to Iowa, where people aren't as concerned about the traffic over the GW Bridge as (CHUCKLE) the media might be.

RON FOURNIER:

Yeah. Well obviously, actually, I think it's probably helped him with conservatives. Any time the media takes you on, it's a good thing. But long term, the fact that the federal prosecutors are still looking at him, until he gets out from under that, and until he squares that with his authenticity brand, I-- he's got a problem still.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But the party leaders--

(OVERTALK)

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--are going to be concerned.

AMY WALTER:

Right. He's a blue state governor, that, in and of itself, says to conservatives, "I don't know if we can trust him." And that was a bigger concern, long before the GW Bridge.

DAVID GREGORY:

I hear over and over again from Republicans that Jeb Bush will not run.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

I hear that, too.

DAVID GREGORY:

That a lot of his activity is about helping his son, George P, who we know, land commissioner in Texas is-- (CHUCKLE)

(OVERTALK)

JASON RILEY:

Big job.

AMY WALTER:

Yeah.

DAVID GREGORY:

--from our time covering Texas politics, that get-- you know, a run for governor, and maybe beyond that. Is that the feeling?

JASON RILEY:

It could be true. It could be true. What Christie has going from him now is a lot of money. A lot of the financial people have backed him. If the bridge scandal stuff, if these prosecutions, pick up and that money goes away, then the question becomes, "Where will it go?" And I think that is when the real pressure would be on Jeb Bush to do something.

AMY WALTER:

The thing about Jeb Bush, though, is, considering that-- his name, the fact that, in these polls, he is somewhere in the teens, is really telling. He is the most known candidate out there, and yet, he's very far back in the field. He should be, by his name alone, the frontrunner, and he's not. And that's--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

But for all the angst in the Republican Party about who represents kind of pure conservative values in the age of Tea Party, Mitt Romney was still the nominee last time. Republicans still want to nominate someone who they think can win. Is that going to fall to Rand Paul? Do you think that that mission that he's got can carry?

RON FOURNIER:

My first and second instinct is no. (LAUGHTER) Conventional wisdom is no. But, we're living in a time of politics when you just can't predict anything.

(OVERTALK)

RON FOURNIER:

We're living in a time in society when you can't change anything. Look how much everything has changed in a quarter of a-- just a, you know, few, short years.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

RON FOURNIER:

So who knows?

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, let me get in. I want to talk about immigration. We heard it from Senator Graham, who had a very interesting and newsy point. We know this is another big challenge for President Obama. He's got this immigration crisis at the border. The number of unaccompanied children from Central America crossing into the U.S. is starting to slow, but it still leaves tens of thousands who are in the country and are still in limbo.

And the debate over which it happened is ranging a long way from the border. Kevin Tibbles went to Davenport, Iowa, a town that is trying to decide whether to accept some of these child immigrants. It's this week's Meeting America.

(BEGIN TAPE)

KEVIN TIBBLES:

On a clear July afternoon in Davenport, Iowa-- (CROWD VOICES) the sights and sounds and smells of summer waft up from the banks of the Mississippi River. And even though it sits some 1,500 miles from the southern border, America's immigration crisis is the subject of much agitation and debate.

ALDERMAN BILL EDMOND:

I don't want them here.

BYRON BROWN:

We have to take care of them.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

Davenport's mayor says he wants to shelter many of the young, undocumented arrivals here in his town. For more than 65 years, The Gentry Shop and its rainbow of color and selection, has been the place to go for those seeking an exact fit.

GREG COUTS: Custom shirts? We do.

DAVID GREGORY:

Owner Greg Kautz tailors with a keen eye.

GREG KAUTZ:

Compassionately, as a father of four, I understand, you know, the needs of children. We have laws in place that are here to help us deal with what we have.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

He does not support the housing of those who have come here illegally.

GREG KAUTZ:

Washington needs to get this immigration under control. And random placement of individuals in random places doesn't seem, to me, to be the way to find a long-term answer for these people.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

Alderman Bill Edmund is a vocal opponent of the mayor's plan.

ALDERMAN BILL EDMUND:

I said I'll stand in front of the buses, if I have to, to stop them. And I'm not the only one. If you don't have borders, you don't really have a country.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

Nearby, at The Coffee Hound, baristas grind and blend for customers who drop by to sip and chat. Byron Brown supports the mayor.

BYRON BROWN:

I think the mayor should try to bring 5,000 of them here. I don't see how anyone could turn their back on an unaccompanied child.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

Brown, who spent 20 years in the Army, says it's time America stepped up.

BYRON BROWN:

The one thing that people look to United States for, that's just sense of hope. And once we stop giving that beacon of hope to the world, in my opinion, we cease to exist. That's not what our country was founded on. If someone doesn't come in and help the children, they're going to be exploited.

ALDERMAN BILL EDMUND:

If they see that there are cities, such as Davenport, that are accepting these people in, the word gets back really fast. And they'll send more of them.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

And then the sobering question of who pays and why?

GREG KAUTZ:

Reality is sort of a rough issue at times. (CHUCKLE) We don't live in that society where we get to pick and choose. The law is the law.

KEVIN TIBBLES (natural sound):

44 reg.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

In Davenport, as elsewhere in America, it's a dilemma not easily sewn up.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

For Meet the Press, Kevin Tibbles.

(END TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

Our roundtable's back with this. You know, I've talked to administration officials who just say, "Gosh, it's so hard to think about sending children back."

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Right.

DAVID GREGORY:

I mean it's what makes this issue so complicated.

AMY WALTER:

But what also makes it complicated, and there was a big story in The Washington Post today about this, is that the administration actually has known about this for quite some time. And I think that's where the frustration continues to bubble over with the President's handling of this, which is, if you knew about this, but we're in the middle of a campaign and we're in the middle of trying to pass comprehensive immigration reform, can we trust that you're going to be able to handle this now?

DAVID GREGORY:

But the front lines of this, Andrea, with towns like Davenport, you know, struggling, and other cities, too, about, "Look, we're going to be a compassionate people, we can't just turn them away."

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And there's a lot of feeling, there's a division in the administration between those who say compassion should come first--

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--and others say you have to deal with the border enforcement and the political context of this. And the bottom line is the president has to show more engagement--

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--people are saying. I mean I think that that--

DAVID GREGORY:

But liberal-- as Rand was saying--

(OVERTALK)

RON FOURNIER:

Wouldn't that be nice?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

I think that that pool shooting photo op is still--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Still. But Lindsey Graham is saying immigration reform is dead. They're not going to get any more money this year. But he also wants his own party, Jason, that this could be real trouble if they don't turn this around. Who owns this as a political liability?

JASON RILEY:

Well right now, the president has to. I mean the compassionate thing to do is to prevent these countries from sending the kids. And that means putting the right incentives in place. Under the Bush--

DAVID GREGORY:

And the right pressure.

JASON RILEY:

Under the Bush administration, we had a similar problem with Brazilians coming.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

JASON RILEY:

And the Bush administration made a big show of sending a bunch back. Word spread very quickly.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

JASON RILEY:

And illegal crossers from Brazil--

(OVERTALK)

RON FOURNIER:

Look, if this was happening anywhere else in the country, we'd be passing the plate in church, raising money. We'd be pushing the other countries to take in the refugees. Instead, here our political system is broken. We have both parties from the far right and from the far left pushing for extreme options. And we have a president of United States who was asleep at a switch.

(OVERTALK)

RON FOURNIER:

Everyone owns this one.

JASON RILEY:

I think he wants the issue.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right. We're going to leave it there. Thank you all very much. Coming up here, a huge loss to science after some of the world's leading A.I.D.S. experts lost their lives on Malaysia Airlines flight 17. I'm going to speak to world renowned A.I.D.S. researcher, Dr. Anthony Fauci about the friends and the colleagues he lost. That's coming up.

***Commercial Break***

JOHN GLENN (ON TAPE):

If you're referring to something like, if we had a crash landing on the moon in the lunar excursion module, would we have something ready to go up immediately and retrieve those people? No, we would not. But we hope that we can have enough redundant systems so that we don't have a crash landing on the moon to begin with.

DAVID GREGORY:

That was Colonel John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, on Meet the Press, talking about what was, then, just a dream: going to the moon. Friday was Glenn's 93rd birthday. And today is the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11's lunar landing. Head to our website to see more of that interview with Glenn. It's at MeetThePressNBC.com. We'll be back here after this.

***Commercial Break***

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (ON TAPE):

These were men and women who had dedicated their own lives to saving the lives of others. And they were taken from us in a senseless act of violence.

DAVID GREGORY:

That was President Obama Friday remembering the world's top A.I.D.S. experts who lost their lives on Malaysia Airlines flight 17, heading to The International A.I.D.S. Conference in Melbourne, Australia. Among those killed was renowned A.I.D.S. researcher Joep Lange, a former president of The International A.I.D.S. Society. His loss, and the loss of five others will leave a lasting impact on the future of A.I.D.S. work and global health.

Here with me now to remember his friends and his colleagues is Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease at The National Institutes of Health. He is also at that conference in Melbourne. Dr. Fauci, welcome. And Tony, we have been talking about geopolitics with regards to this disaster. But you give us some insight into the aching personal loss that so many people are feeling.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

Well, it's really permeating the meeting, David. I just came out of the opening ceremony. And there's a feeling of really great sadness and loss, despite the fact that there are many people I H.I.V. A.I.D.S. research and advocacy. It's a really rather close-knit community because we focus on one particular disease, one particular virus.

And Joep was very well known, an extraordinary personality. I've known him and been working with him for now close to 30 years. He's really had a major impact, you know, among the Europeans, and even worldwide. He has been a very strong advocate for getting treatment, particularly for those people who are in most need. In fact, he's well known for saying years and years ago, "If we can get Coca-Cola to the remote parts of Africa and elsewhere, why can't we get H.I.V. drugs there?" And he was constantly pushing. So he really was an inspirational thought leader. And his loss is really felt very, very severely by all of us here.

DAVID GREGORY:

Tony, anybody who knows you, knows you've been working for most of your career on trying to combat H.I.V. and A.I.D.S.. Can you put into words as you think about your colleagues, you think about the work at this conference, what has been lost?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

Well, what has been lost are really extraordinary colleagues, activists who've been in it from the very beginning, pushing the envelope. Joep himself, who has been an extraordinary colleague, he's made contributions clinically and basic research.

But really, one of the most important things that he's done for the field, he's been an inspirational thought leader, someone who's very, very passionate about it, always pushing you to do more. And it's that kind of positive tension that he led to the field that I'm going to miss personally dealing with him. Because he was constantly pushing me and my colleagues to do more and do better. And it's that kind of inspiration that all of us are going to miss. It's really a terribly sad day here in Australia.

DAVID GREGORY:

What is the one area in your work that you focus on with renewed zeal, given the loss of these colleagues?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

Well, it's just to get better treatments and to get treatment for the people who need. Because globally, we have the drugs. Joep himself was one of the people that was involved in the clinical trials to prove that the drug works. The real goal right now is to just get people involved in care, get them on treatment, not only to save their own lives, but to bring their level of virus to the point where it would make it less likely for them to infect other people. That's what we're all striving for. And that was the thing that drove Dr. Lange.

DAVID GREGORY:

Anthony Fauci joining us from Melbourne. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

You're welcome.

DAVID GREGORY:

And we'll be back here with the big question that's going to be driving the political debate this week.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

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

(“IMAGES TO REMEMBER” SEGMENT)

DAVID GREGORY:

Some powerful images this week, some big milestones, our Images to Remember. We've got our big question that is going to be a big debate all week long: Is Vladimir Putin a threat to the world. Jason, is that how he must be understood?

JASON RILEY:

Absolutely. Why is he going to stop at Ukraine? If Russian speakers are the justification for this, protecting ethnic Russians, why aren't the Baltic states next?

DAVID GREGORY:

What does real Western opposition look like, Andrea?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Weak. (CHUCKLE) It looks really weak. I mean they are more interested in their economic interests.

DAVID GREGORY:

So what should it look like, then?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

It should look like strong sanctions, energy, banking, all the rest of it, the arms deals. And you don't see it. In fact, France and Italy have been pulling back against Merkel and the U.K..

DAVID GREGORY:

You know, it's interesting, Ron, that the people don't like to make comparisons to Hitler. It was David Cameron who wrote in a piece this morning, "Europeans should remember our history." That was not so veiled.

RON FOURNIER:

Right. Yeah, I won't compare anybody to Hitler.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

RON FOURNIER:

But there's no doubt he's a threat to the world. A bully is a threat on any playground. And the way you handle a bully is you draw a line, you say what you're going to do, and when they cross a line, you do it. And the West has not done that. President Obama has not done that.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right. The question is what to do. And that's what is elusive. And you heard from Secretary Kerry today, "We don't want to get into the name calling business here." It sounds like they're giving him some room to step up.

AMY WALTER:

To see if he can step up and do what? I mean this is-- and to the point about is he a threat to the world, when people flying on airplanes 33,000 feet in the air feel that they're not safe, that's a threat to the world.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

JASON RILEY:

Yeah.

DAVID GREGORY:

So ultimately, Western opposition looks like what? (LAUGHTER) Not how does it look now, but what does it have to be to be a--

(OVERTALK)

JASON RILEY:

Well, there are many things we can do. I mean we can arm the Ukrainians to fight back. Another thing that we can do is start exploiting our own energy supply here, so that Russia's current customers know, going forward, there will be alternatives. Whether you're Europeans or so forth. We could do that.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, we're going to leave it there. You can find our big question and weigh in on the debate on our Facebook page. That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *