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Meet the Press Transcript - June 15, 2014

MEET THE PRESS -- SUNDAY, JUNE 15, 2014

DAVID GREGORY:

Next on Meet the Press, Iraq on the brink of collapse. We're back at fault. And how will the U.S. prevent a terrorist state from emerging? With the politic of Iraq raging again, we'll hear exclusively from 2012 Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney and other key voices from the House and Senate. Plus political earthquake.

Romney will also weigh in on the biggest political upset of the year, which saw the Tea Party claim its biggest prize yet, House Leader Eric Cantor. And a very special moment this Father's Day. Luke Russert here to remember his father on the tenth anniversary of Tim's book, Big Russ and Me, why this holiday was Tim Russert’s favorite.

ANNOUNCER:

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

DAVID GREGORY:

And good Sunday morning. We're going to start with the breaking news, the deteriorating situation in Iraq. This morning, there are reports of a suicide attack in Baghdad. And Islamist terrorists are threatening the Iraqi capital, although their advance has slowed. Right now, the U.S. aircraft carrier George H. W. Bush is in the Persian Gulf.

Our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel has covered the region for almost two decades. He is in Erbil in Northern Iraq. And Richard, despite this morning's attack on Baghdad, the slowing of the terrorist advance has lessened some of that tension there, correct?

RICHARD ENGEL:

It certainly has, David. Just yesterday there were fears across this country that Baghdad could fall, that these Sunni extremists could enter the city and perhaps even take it, collapse the government. Now we're seeing the Iraqi army starting to mobilize. Also critically, we're starting to see these Shiite militias take to the streets.

Just as ISIS, the militant group initially surprised the government with its rapid advance, I think now the militants are equally surprised that the governments of the Shiites have found their footing. It doesn't seem at this stage that Baghdad is going to fall imminently. Instead, it looks like we're heading into a long, sectarian fight.

(BEGIN TAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL:

The advance of Sunni fanatics from ISIS, an Al Qaeda offshoot, has stalled outside of Baghdad. And Shiite militias are preparing to confront them, called to arms by their clerics, an all-out sectarian war could be approaching. And Iraqi troops are beginning a counteroffensive with air strikes. The U.S. sacrificed so much for this not to happen.

4,477 American troops laid down their lives. $1.7 trillion was spent, around $25 billion of it on the roughly 900,000 Iraqi soldiers, police, and guards, supposedly ready to take over when U.S. forces left. They weren't ready. And neither was the political system. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia, neglected the Sunni minority.

Now the radical Islamists have become the vanguard of Sunni revenge. They've been joined by remnants of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party and his army. They're Sunnis too. And want to use the extremists to get back into power. And while Sunnis and Shi'ites settled old scores, Iraq's third community, the Kurds is taking more ground. Najm al-Din Karim is the governor of Kirkuk, which Kurdish forces took over last week while Iraqi troops ran away before the extremists even arrived.

RICHARD ENGEL (TO KARIM):

Do you think if there had been a residual American force here, Iraq wouldn't be where it is today?

NAJM AL-DIN KARIM:

I think it would be different.

RICHARD ENGEL (TO KARIM):

It would be better?

NAJM AL-DIN KARIM:

Yes.

RICHARD ENGEL:

But for the Kurds, the crisis is also an opportunity. They have dreamt of controlling Kurkuk for generations. Now they do. These oil fields are why Kurkuk is so strategically important. It's home to about 15% of Iraq's known oil reserve. It's so rich, you can smell the gas in the air. And now that the fields are controlled by the Kurdish people, they are one step closer to financial and maybe even full independence.

The best laid plans of U.S. military commanders in ruins. Sunni radicals are carving out their own state across Syria and Iraq. Kurds are taking their piece. And Shi'ites are hunkering down in the south. A new map is being drawn. But it's a lot like the one from a hundred years ago.

(END TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

Richard is back with us live. Richard, I talked about your own experience covering the Iraq War and withdrawal of U.S. troops. It was back in 2011, three years ago, that President Obama said this about the state of Iraq.

BARACK OBAMA (ON TAPE):

We're leaving behind a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq.

DAVID GREGORY:

Stable and self-reliant. Richard, I think a lot of people who were paying attention to Iraq are saying, "What happened since then that has caused this march toward complete chaos?"

RICHARD ENGEL:

Well, I think if you listen to those statements with in light of what has happened here, they were clearly wrong. But you have to remember, it was the Iraqi government. It was Maliki that didn't want U.S. troops to stay. Maliki said that the Iraqi forces will take it from here. And for a couple of years, it seemed that Iraq was more or less stable.

Then the Arab Spring happened. Then, critically, Syria happened. And the borders across this region started to melt away. The Syrian militants don't see themselves as just fighting in Syria. They see themselves as fighting in Iraq. They injected, once again, chaos into this system, and all of the old problems, all of those sectarian tensions rose to the surface. And clearly, this country wasn't as stable as the president was just saying he thought it was.

DAVID GREGORY:

Richard Engel, our chief foreign correspondent in Northern Iraq for us this morning, Richard, thank you very much. I'm joined now exclusively from Park City, Utah, by Mitt Romney, 2012 Republican presidential nominee, of course, former governor of Massachusetts. He's just hosted a high-profile summit attended by many of the key G.O.P. presidential hopefuls for 2016. Governor Romney, welcome back to Meet the Press.

MITT ROMNEY:

Thanks, David, and a happy Father's Day to you.

DAVID GREGORY:

And to you as well. Thank you so much. I want to get to the stunning defeat of Eric Cantor and the politics within the Republican party in just a moment. But I want to start with this crisis in Iraq. You've been critical of President Obama and his administration. I'll ask you directly now. I think a lot of Americans are asking this question. What is worth fighting for in Iraq today?

MITT ROMNEY:

Well, what we're fighting for and what we have fought for is to preserve freedom in the region and to preserve the region from becoming a hotbed from which there could be attacks launched against us and against Western interests. But what has happened in Iraq and what we're seeing right now with ISIS is a good deal predictable by virtue of the president's failure to act appropriately and at the extraordinary time that was presented a couple of years ago in Syria. And also his failure to achieve a Status of Forces Agreement so that we could have an ongoing presence in Iraq. Bad things happen as a result of inaction. Consequences have obviously been very severe.

DAVID GREGORY:

So what would you do specifically? This would be your challenge had you been elected in 2012. If the acid test is that Iraq cannot become a terrorist state from which America could be attacked, what would you do to prevent that from happening?

MITT ROMNEY:

Well, first of all, I'm just going to repeat what I said before, which is that there's a time for action. There's a propitious time to do things to prevent bad things from happening, to be able to shape events. And that time in Syria was when Assad was on his heels and when there was a moderate coalition of those coming together.

We should've supported them with arms. And the time was also signing a Status of Forces Agreement and having forces in Iraq. Now today we have to have the input of our intelligence services and the options provided by the military to know what action we could take to stop this ISIS movement from creating a terrorist state. But to tell you precisely what's going to happen right now and what things we ought to do militarily would require me to get the kind of intelligence briefings I no longer get.

DAVID GREGORY:

The question about a Status of Forces Agreement, in other words, should a certain number of U.S. troops have stayed behind in Iraq, you just heard Richard Engel, the Maliki government wanted U.S. forces to leave. Iran was pushing the Maliki government not to allow U.S. soldiers to have immunity in the country, which is a basis for any kind of agreement like that.

And it's also striking your own views about this as a presidential candidate going back to 2007, when this was a big issue. And here's something you said back then. I'll quote from the Associated Press, "Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney on Thursday rejected the Bush administration's vision of a decade-long U.S. troop presence in Iraq, akin to South Korea, and suggested a need for public benchmarks to gauge progress."

Quoting you, "I think we would hope to turn Iraq security over to their own military, to their own security forces. And if presence in the region is important for us, then we have other options that are nearby," Romney said. Back then, you said it was up to the Iraqis to take care of this. Now you're saying it's President Obama's fault for not committing U.S. forces.

MITT ROMNEY:

David, I actually ran for president in 2012 and made it very, very clear that I thought we should've signed a Status of Forces Agreement, consistent with what President Bush said a long time ago, that we should have an ongoing presence. Not a massive military presence, but 10,000 or 20,000 troops to provide the training and the intelligence resources that Iraq would need to keep things like this from happening.

There's no question that that's what's essential, that should've been done. I was very critical of the president for not using American strength and the fact that we have lost almost 4,500 lives there and $1.7 trillion. We have the committed, we have the strength to be able to get Maliki to sign a Status of Forces Agreement. The president said he wanted to get that done, and he didn't. And his failure to achieve that is one of the things that has led to the crisis we're seeing today.

DAVID GREGORY:

Isn't the factor though, going back if you look at administrations from the Bush administration setting Maliki up to lead the country, that we would train, that we would put political pressure on the government to have an inclusive, multi-ethnic government, and to have democracy in Iraq, that we had forces there to create that reality, we would stand them up so that America could stand down. Isn't it ultimately up to the Iraqis politically to take care of themselves, and not as you're doing, just sort of lay blame at the current administration?

MITT ROMNEY:

Oh, of course the Iraqis have to take primary responsibility for the failures of the Maliki government, for instance, to involve the Sunnis more extensively in their administration. Of course much of the blame, the great majority of the blame has to be laid at the feet of the Iraqi leadership.

But at the same time, the United States of America has long had the capacity to shape events and to influence events. But what you've seen from this administration, whether from Hillary Clinton with the reset button to Russia, which by the way, I think should've been called the repeat button. I mean, this administration from Secretary Clinton to President Obama, has repeatedly underestimated the threats that are faced by America.

Has repeatedly underestimated our adversaries. And whether that's Russia or Assad or ISIS or Al Qaeda itself, it has not taken the action necessary to prevent things from happening. We have not used our influence to do what's necessary to protect our interests.

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me talk a couple of minutes about politics and the big story this week about Eric Cantor losing, majority leader of the House and his primary fight in Virginia. What does that tell you about what is convulsing within the Republican party right now? How do you explain it?

MITT ROMNEY:

Well, there are different voices and different candidates and different effectiveness and different campaigns that of course affect the outcome of various races. I know it's our inclination to look at races and suggest that somehow a national movement is causing what occurs. But, you know, if that were the case, you'd have to look at Lindsey Graham's race.

Lindsey Graham beat, what, I think five or six Tea Party candidates. And he got more votes than all of them combined. He won by 100,000 votes. In Virginia, Eric Cantor lost by what, 5,000, 10,000 votes? I look at this and say this has a lot to do with the effectiveness of relative campaigns. But also major issues, people are upset about what's happening with the failure of the president to carry out our immigration laws. They're seeing what's happening at the border. And I think that probably figured into the party race itself.

DAVID GREGORY:

But this was within the party, Governor. Is the Tea Party populism driving the Republican party? What it believes, what it stands for, and will that continue through 2016?

MITT ROMNEY:

Well, it certainly didn't drive what happened in South Carolina. Where in a very conservative state, Lindsey Graham won in a landslide. So you're seeing different voices in different parts of the country. And I actually think it's healthy for us to have a debate on important issues. You're seeing that right now. I think our party is becoming stronger. We've got a lot of great candidates running for Senate. My own view is we're going to take back the Senate in the fall of this year.

DAVID GREGORY:

About Hillary Clinton, whom you've mentioned twice in the context of your belief that she's part of a failed foreign policy of this administration, her rollout this week with a new book, some comments that have generated controversy. If you were running for president again, and if she were the Democratic nominee, what's the playbook to beat her?

MITT ROMNEY:

Well, the playbook I believe is to look at her record. I think you have to consider what's happened around the world during the years that she was secretary of State. And you have to say it's been a monumental bust. And then her most recent comments as she was rolling out the book, she was asked whether the Bowe Bergdahl trade was one that presented a threat to the United States.

And she came back with a clueless answer. She was clueless. She said, "Look, these commandos don't represent a threat to the United States." Well, of course they do. And then she went on to say, "They only represent a threat to Afghanistan and Pakistan." Are you kidding? I mean, we're in Afghanistan.

And we're in Afghanistan in part to protect America's security. I think her clueless comments about the Bergdahl exchange as well as her record as the secretary of State are really going to be the foundation of how a Republican candidate is able to take back the White House.

DAVID GREGORY:

Will you be a candidate in 2016? If you were drafted, if the conditions were right, would you consider another run?

MITT ROMNEY:

David, I'm not running for president. I said that so many times. As you know, we just had this conference here in Park City, Utah. I brought a number of the 2016 contenders here to meet with my fundraisers. Had I been running, I wouldn't be doing. Look, I want to find the best candidate for us to take our message to the American people.

That we can bring better jobs, higher incomes, and more security globally. We can do that. And I'm convinced that the field of Republican candidates that I'm seeing is a lot better position to do that than I am. So I'm not running.

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, 100% Mitt Romney will not, even if drafted, will not be a candidate in 2016?

MITT ROMNEY:

I'm not running and talk of the draft is kind of silly.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, Governor Romney, thank you as always for your time. I appreciate it.

MITT ROMNEY:

Thanks, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me turn now to Democratic Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. And Senator Manchin, on the topic of Iraq, which is most pressing this morning, you've heard the president say there are huge interests that the United States has now with ISIS threatening Iraq. The potential rise of a terrorist state. What are you calling on the president to do to defeat that threat in Iraq?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN:

First of all, David, I think our intelligence has failed us miserably, from not being aware and the threat that we've faced and how this could unfold as quickly as it has, this has been planned for quite some time. My first thing to recommend to the president is get your intelligence group back on track, making sure that we have the intel that we need for whatever options we have, that are going to be accurate.

There is no caveat for us whatsoever and there's no will, from the Senate, that I detect from Democrats or Republicans, to put boots on the ground. The president has confirmed that. And I appreciate that.

DAVID GREGORY:

But would actually--

(OVERTALK)

SEN. JOE MANCHIN:

--going to be airstrikes and using our technical support.

DAVID GREGORY:

What's the--

(OVERTALK)

SEN. JOE MANCHIN:

I'm open to the airstrikes and technical support. Yeah, the airstrikes, technical support, drones, whatever it takes. But I want to make sure our intel is accurate before we start doing this. And hopefully they're getting the accurate intel on this. If not, it's all for not.

You know, for us to be in this situation that we're in now, the Maliki administration is looking to Iran, more than they might be looking to the United States. And the horrific price that we paid there in human suffering and lives that we sacrificed and the amount of researches we put in there to let this thing become completely unstable and falling apart.

And then they're the ones in 2011 that didn't sign, that wouldn't sign, and now they're asking for our help again. You know, until they have the will the enter this fight, David, until they have the will to fight and die for their country, we're not going to be able to give them the backbone. They're going to have to stiffen up themselves.

DAVID GREGORY:

So Senator--

SEN. JOE MANCHIN:

We've got to make sure that we have the proper intel and the support.

DAVID GREGORY:

When it comes to the threat of terrorism, in your mind, what is worth fighting for for the United States at this point in Iraq?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN:

I think that basically we have to send a very clear signal. You intend to do America or any Americans harm, we will bring a ring of fire that you never ever could've imagined upon you. But for us to go in and try to occupy and change the culture of these countries, we have not done a good job. We are good at that.

If it is military might or money that would change that part of the world, we'd have done it by now, David. And that's not going to happen. But make no mistake, you intend to do harm to America or Americans, we're going to come after you. We're going to bring a ring of fire on you you hoped that never happened.

DAVID GREGORY:

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, thanks so much for your time this morning. I appreciate it. This crisis in Iraq leaves an obvious question, which is how did we possibly get here after the incredible sacrifice of our forces and commitment by this country in Iraq. I'm joined for perspective by David Ignatius of The Washington Post. He's covered Iraq extensively throughout his career. Dexter Filkins of The New Yorker, author of The Forever War, about his experiences covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Paul Wolfowitz, who served as deputy security of Defense during the Second Iraq War under President Bush. And from New York, Republican Congressman Peter King of New York, former chair of the House Homeland Security Committee. Welcome to all of you. David Ignatius, I think again Americans are looking at this saying, "A decade of conflict in Iraq. How has it come to this point where any gains won seem to be evaporating. And the threat of a terrorist state actually arising in Iraq seems all too real."

DAVID IGNATIUS:

Well, as we sensed in your interview with Governor Romney, there's more than enough blame to go around. And this is a crisis that's so severe that the blame game in our domestic politics I think is unfortunate. I'm always reminded of something that Prince Turki, who was the head of Saudi intelligence said to me about five years ago.

And he said, "I hope you Americans will be as careful in how you get out of Iraq as you were uncareful in how you got in." And unfortunately, as I look at this, we were wrong on both ends. We came in and knocked the pegs out from under the way that society had been governed, and we left before new stability mechanisms were in place. And we're seeing the consequences of that today. Iraqi government basically is collapsing.

DAVID GREGORY:

Paul Wolfowitz, as part of the Bush administration, were you and others culpable of underestimating the level of sectarian violence, warfare in the country that creates the potential for this kind of terrorist state to develop today?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ:

Look, you used the word sectarian, so did Richard Engel. This is more than just those obscure, Shia/Sunni conflict. This is Al Qaeda. And Al Qaeda is not on the road to defeat, Al Qaeda is on the march. Not just in Iraq, in Syria, and Libya. And we have real enemies of the United States. And what we should be looking for are friends.

I think when we stick with our friends, and those friends are not always perfect, believe me. But we stuck with the Kurds through 20 years. Northern Iraq, Kurdistan's a success story. We stuck with South Korea for 60 years. South Korea is a miracle story. But if we had walked away from South Korea in 1953, that country was a basket--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

But Dexter Filkins, Nouri al-Maliki is more than just not our friend at this point. He is not fulfilling the fundamental promise of our intervention in Iraq, is he? Which is to forge a democratic, multiethnic country that he would preside over.

DEXTER FILKINS:

Look, I mean, the dynamics in Iraq, the dynamics that they're driving this threat of basically, at the front of that is Nouri al-Maliki. He has since the day that we left there in December 2011, he has done virtually everything he could to alienate the other people in Iraqi society, the Sunnis and the Kurds. And so what we're seeing essentially is a consequence of his extreme sectarian policy.

DAVID GREGORY:

Peter King, if you look at this from the vantage point of a terrorist threat to the United States, let's look at the map. First the map of what we're talking about, Iraq in Syria. And then you look at this section in red, which is the approximate area of control of ISIS that extends beyond Iraq into Syria.

This is a breeding ground for terrorists, Al Qaeda and offshoot of Al Qaeda, arguably more extreme, if that's possible, than Al Qaeda. With the kind of fighters, 10,000 foreign fighters with designs on attacking the United States. How do you view it then in terms of what we ought to do?

REP. PETER KING:

That is a very real concern. There's no doubt that ISIS looks upon itself as an Iraq/Syria power and it definitely has talked with the United States going back to 2011 when it was just Al Qaeda and Iraq before the Syrian component had even kicked in. We captured a number of their officers in the United States, attempting to carry out an attack in Fort Knox.

So clearly, if they can get good sanctuary in their Northeastern Syria, in Iraq, this makes it, in effect, a privileged sanctuary to attack the United States apart from the destabilization they can do throughout the Middle East, especially the countries such as Jordan and to Israel. And that also of course increases the power of Iran as far as being an influence in that region.

DAVID GREGORY:

So the obvious question is, if this is a huge step, David, how do we deal with it? I mean, intervention seems unlikely. But what responsibility does the president face and feel to prevent extremists from taking loot in an area that is even worse perhaps than Afghanistan before the 9/11 attacks.

DAVID IGNATIUS:

In the short run, it's crucial to stop ISIS before it takes Baghdad or any more territory in Iraq. That seems to be happening, although it's not happening thanks to the government of Maliki. It seems to be happening thanks to Shiite militias, perhaps intervention from Iranian forces, and the call of the Ayatollah Sistani for a religious fight.

We need to move soon to having platforms in Iraq to go after the worst of the worst. These ISIS terrorists who will begin to move to external operations. And one of the things that U.S. counterterrorism officials are worried most about is that as Al Qaeda morphs and creates these offshoots like ISIS, these groups will begin to compete for street cred, if you will, to show who's toughest. And the way you'll show you're the toughest on the block is by hitting America. And so we really have to worry about and be prepared for that.

DAVID GREGORY:

So Peter King, to you in a moment, Paul Wolfowitz, what do you do then, as a policy matter now to stop this?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ:

Look, it's a complicated situation in which you don’t just come up with, "We're going to bomb this, we're going to do that." I think a fundamental point which was brought onto us in 1990 when the Saudis agreed to everyone's surprise to allow American troops into Saudi Arabia after Iraq invaded Kuwait.

They said to us, "If this were the United States of Jimmy Carter or of Ronald Reagan, that walked away after a few American casualties, we would not have said yes. We believe President Bush is serious." We have to convince people in that region, Kurds, Iraqis that Maliki is a big part of the problem.

He's not a leader of Iraq. We need to find people there. And most importantly, I would say, in Syria, where U.S. policy and absence over the last two years has sent a signal of lack of seriousness throughout the region. I would do something in Syria. It's a bad situation. It's now dominated by Assad and by ISIS. We should be trying to keep--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

We keep turning back to the idea that somehow military intervention, Dexter, is somehow going to make the situation better. We have a lot of experience of U.S. Forces in Iraq failing to produce the kind of outcome that you thought was going to materialize.

DEXTER FILKINS:

Right, well, there's plenty of options short of military intervention. I don't think you're going to see boots on the ground in Syria or Iraq. But there's a lot that the White House is considering right now. In Iraq, it's probably something like airstrikes against ISIS. And in Syria, it's probably time, very late in the game, to arm the more moderate elements of the Syrian opposition, who can basically take on not only Assad, but also the extremist groups like ISIS and Al-Nusra.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right. I'm going to leave it there. Thank you all very much for your time this morning. We talk about the war in Iraq and across of course, thousands of American servicemen lost their lives. No American base suffered more losses than Fort Hood in Texas. Our Kevin Tibbles visited the town of Killeen, next to Fort Hood. And today's Meeting America, he found mixed opinions about further U.S. involvement in Iraq.

(BEGIN TAPE)

KEVIN TIBBLES:

Killeen, Texas paid an awful price on the far-off battlefields of Iraq. And more than 500 soldiers posted here made the ultimate sacrifice, more combat deaths that any other base in the nation.

DWAYNE DEGRATE:

I love them. I didn't die. I love them all. My heart goes out to their families.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

It’s to 'Blades' where those still serving, and those who served come for a trim and camaraderie.

VOICE:

Make it nice and crisp.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

Like every barber, Tyrone Murphy cuts and listens.

TYRONE MURPHY:

As a barber we counsel them, soothe them as we cut their hair. There are a lot of broken people coming home.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

Before cutting hair, Dwayne Degrate spent a year fighting in Iraq. He still has trouble talking about it.

DWAYNE DEGRATE

I was just a soldier, I was just a number, a pawn, disposable. Luckily, I wasn't disposed.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

And as Iraqi cities fall, and armed militants gain momentum, he is dead set against any further U.S. involvement.

DWAYNE DEGRATE:

I don't think we should go back. We found out we were there for nothing. So what's the reason now?

MIKE AUSTIN:

Are we not their chance to still achieve that?

KEVIN TIBBLES:

A better life

MIKE AUSTIN:

A better life with prosperity.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

A 20-year veteran, Mike Austin now runs a local florist and wine shop with his wife. He’s the son, grandson and great-grandson of soldiers. He, too, went to Iraq.

MIKE AUSTIN:

I feel, as an American, I was taught, once you start a project you finish the job. Learning our lesson from Vietnam, what have we gotten out of it? Really, a bad reputation because we didn’t finish the job.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

Here in the brown Texas flat country, Christell’s Florist is alive with color. Flowers for everything, from dates to marriages, to funerals. While in Iraq, Dwayne Crable’s humvee was hit by rocket fire.

DWAYNE CRABLE:

When I was there, I knew a civil war was inevitable. We shouldn't force democracy on people who don't want it.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

As a budget analyst in the Army, he says the price Killeen and America paid was far too high.

DWAYNE CRABLE:

Billions of dollars wasted on projects and infrastructures, and I would bet there's a 50-50 chance that these million-dollar properties are even operational today. To me, it was a waste of ten years, of money, thousands of soldiers who lost their lives. For what? For them to be on the cusp of a civil war?

KEVIN TIBBLES:

But for others, the sense of duty remains.

MIKE AUSTIN:

I don't want any more lives lost, especially since my son is now in the military as an enlisted soldier, but yes, I do believe if we have to go back then lets go back.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

For Meet the Press, Kevin Tibbles.

(END TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

Kevin, thanks. Coming up next, a dramatic election upset. The fallout from the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Our political roundtable is here and discusses the impact on the G.O.P. as well as our Chuck Todd, who will lay out the lessons to be learned for both parties, coming up.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

We are back. To politics now, our roundtable will be with us in just a couple of minutes. But first, away from the turmoil in Iraq. It has been a remarkable week of politics here at home. Washington still reeling after a crushing defeat for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor that reflects the convulsions within the Republican party, our political director Chuck Todd is here with his take on the lessons for both political parties from this loss. Chuck?

CHUCK TODD:

David, 35,000 people out of a country of 330 million didn't just shake up the Republican party, didn't just shake up Washington, may have shaken up 2016 politics for all of us.

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

It was a stunning fall from power. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor losing his primary to Dave Brat, a conservative college professor with no political experience.

DAVE BRAT:

Power belongs to the people.

CHUCK TODD:

So what can we learn from Cantor's defeat? First, immigration reform is probably dead. Not just this year, but perhaps for the rest of the Obama presidency.

MALE VOICE IN AD:

And illegal immigrants are pouring across the border on the promise of Eric Cantor's amnesty.

CHUCK TODD:

Brat used the a-bomb, "Amnesty" against Cantor very effectively. But the issue put national Republicans in a box. Without reform, their chances of winning over Latino voters is difficult. Even Rand Paul, a Tea Party favorite, said this week, "Too many Republicans have perverted the definition of amnesty." Quote, "Amnesty is a word that's kind of trapped us."

A second lesson, the public is fed up with Congress. Congress's job approval rating is at an historic low, 13%. And more than eight in ten disapprove of the job they're doing. Eric Cantor is one of the highest-profile faces of Congress. And that may have contributed to his defeat.

MALE VOICE IN AD:

5,110 days. That's how long Eric Cantor has been representing us in Washington D.C.

CHUCK TODD:

Cantor's loss should also be a warning to all national politicians. A populist revolution might be brewing.

RON FOURNIER:

It's across the spectrum, the American people feeling that their leaders aren't leading, aren't getting stuff done, and aren't paying attention.

CHUCK TODD:

And that leads to lesson number three. Don't lose touch with voters. There's anger in both parties that their leaders don't care about them, and don't understand the everyday problems people face. On election day, Eric Cantor was in Washington D.C., not in his district 90 miles away where people were voting. It's a mistake Democrats can make too. As Hillary Clinton did this week, trying to defend the millions that Clintons had made in recent years.

HILLARY CLINTON:

We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt.

CHUCK TODD:

When politicians look and sound out of touch, it only fuels the public frustration. And it means upsets like Eric Cantor may just be the beginning.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

You know, David, everybody's trying to figure out is this going to be a wave election for the Republicans, is it 1994, is it 2010 again? We ought to be thinking that this might be like 1992, 1978. They were attacking incumbent elections, where people from both parties went down in surprising fashion.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, Chuck, thanks so much, to the roundtable now. Ruth Marcus is here, columnist for The Washington Post, Ken Cuccinelli, former Virginia attorney general, Republican gubernatorial candidate as well. Just named president of the Senate Conservatives Fund, a group working to get Tea Party candidates elected to the Senate. Steve Schmidt, Republican strategist, senior advisor to McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, and Harold Ford Jr., former Democratic congressman from Tennessee. We're going to discuss Iraq in just a moment. Happy first

Father's Day to you, my friend.

HAROLD FORD:

Thank you sir.

DAVID GREGORY:

Particularly special. And I want to talk about Eric Cantor. And Steve Schmidt, what Chuck just mentioned, this populist political revolution that is brewing, is an issue for the right and the left. But talk about it in terms of what's happening in the G.O.P.

STEVE SCHMIDT:

Well, one of the most interesting aspects of this race is the degree to which the Chamber of Commerce became an epithet in the race. The Cantor campaign was defined as much by the attacks on Wall Street, the big banks. Republicans have gone after big government, big media, big labor.

But you saw the additional elements coming into play over the course of that campaign, I think that opens a lane for somebody in 2016 on the populist front. And I think it's worth mentioning that this was a global phenomenon. We're seeing this happen in all of the Western democracies.

The rise of UKIP in England, National Front in France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia. This is a global phenomenon where people in these countries are so deeply dissatisfied with what they perceive to be an elite and out-of-touch leader--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

And you ask this week in a column, "How does Hillary Clinton navigate the populist streak on the left as well." Mike Needham, who's a Tea Party, grassroots activist, writing The Weekly Standard, along with Jim DeMint. You know, Elizabeth Warren on the left, and a lot of Tea Party activists share their disdain for the establish.

RUTH MARCUS:

There is a certain similarity to that, which is why, and we'll get to that in a second, but Chuck is right, why Hillary Clinton's comments about being dead broke, as she has $5 million in speaking fees at $200,000 a pop, did not sit well. And she cleaned it up right away.

DAVID GREGORY:

We heard from Mitt Romney, who had issues with that.

RUTH MARCUS:

Yeah, exactly. Don't talk about houses in the plural. Bad idea.

DAVID GREGORY:

As you wrote this week. How do you guys see it, Harold Ford? What's your view on what's happening in the party?

HAROLD FORD:

Look, I think both parties, I tend to agree with both Ruth and Steve. And no doubt there's an out-of-touchedness that people, regular folks still believe with politicians. I think politicians have got to get back to talking about things that people care about. People care about their own security at home, a financial security, economic security.

I can hear Hillary Clinton next week really fashioning the message around, "Look, healthcare was passed, but we've got to figure out ways to fix it." We've had job growth over the last few years, we have not had income growth. How do we begin to do that more and more? She's perfectly positioned to do that. And if she gets trapped in responding to Mitt Romney, gets trapped in responding to a Tea Party, even to an Elizabeth Warren, she'll find herself in a bigger mess.

And I contend that mainstream Republicans who care about immigration reform, who care about budget reform, have to be able to talk about those things in ways, no disrespect to the thing that Ken may be doing, but have people talk about those things in a way that are bigger than the moment. I think Eric Cantor, he lost touch with his district. It was diminished connectivity with voters. And if you lose touch with your district, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, you're going to lose.

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, so Ken Cuccinelli, Tea Party activist, which is a broad way of saying against a lot of things that go on in the capital of Washington D.C. and some of the choices that the Republican party makes. I'm looking at The Washington Post this morning, "Political terrain shifting for the G.O.P." What is the unifying idea you think for the party?

(OVERTALK)

KEN CUCCINELLI:

--certainly, you know, there are some common themes here. One is not merely out of touch. That doesn't explain it enough. It is a near-violent reaction to the ignoring of people of principle in large numbers who care about the direction of this country. And I'm talking about conservatives. Eric Cantor was not merely not listening to them, he was--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

About what? Is it just about immigration?

(OVERTALK)

KEN CUCCINELLI:

No, immigration was a crystallizing issue. And there's been a lot of talk about it because it was used very effectively by the Brat folks. But the reason immigration was so powerful is because, and I latch onto Harold said "talking about." No, no, no. And he didn't mean it this way. But talking isn't enough. Eric Cantor talked plenty. People didn't believe what he was saying--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

I want to talk about immigration because--

KEN CUCCINELLI:

--abandoned principles.

DAVID GREGORY:

But Mitt Romney said, "Look, Lindsey Graham won." Lindsey Graham is--

(OVERTALK)

KEN CUCCINELLI:

--candidate again.

DAVID GREGORY:

Okay, but Lindsey Graham is among those saying, Steve Schmidt, that the Republican party is in a death spiral over an issue to appeal to minority voters, specifically on the issue of immigration. So if Ken is right, and talking about amnesty, if we have a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants here, how do you keep widening this to become a national party?

STEVE SCHMIDT:

Well, look. We have a fundamentally broken immigration system in the country. Republican party nationally has a choice to make. Do we want to go down the road that the California Republican party went down, which is the road to annihilation. Ronald Reagan's home state is now a state where the Republicans are about to be the third party behind decline to state.

It is impossible for us to put together a coalition to win the presidency with less than about 40% of the Hispanic vote. Mitt Romney's at 27%. The electorate's going to be 2% less white. We don't have an opportunity to make our case, deliver our message, make the case that our policies are good for 100% of the people until we can effectively deal with this issue.

RUTH MARCUS:

But, you know, there's a road ahead, there's an easy road ahead for the Republican party. Pew had a fascinating poll out this week about polarization.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

RUTH MARCUS:

Embedded in that poll was some numbers, astonishing, about how since 1994 House Republicans and Democrats have become more liberal on immigration by an astonishing amount. Two-thirds in '94 said of both parties, said they thought of immigrants as a burden. Now that number is half for Republicans, about a quarter for Democrats.

The problem is not necessarily the national party. It's specific to House races and internal races. Mitt Romney is right. All politics is local. That's how Eric Cantor, having run a bad campaign, sort of absentee campaign lost and Lindsey Graham, who was--

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me ask--

(OVERTALK)

RUTH MARCUS:

--won.

DAVID GREGORY:

Hillary Clinton had a week of rollout on her book, the "dead broke" comments. Is she in a better position or a worse position now that she's getting a little bit more of the rough and tumble.

HAROLD FORD:

Look, they’ve got to go back and regroup a bit. She's got to have some tighter, easier to connect and understandable answers around her wealth. Which I don't think is really an issue. Most people running for office, who have been out, have found ways to make a living. I don't think voters punish. Voters won't vote for someone they have issue with, and may not like, but they're not going to vote for someone who they don't believe likes them or respects them.

But she can easily get back there, she fought her whole life for those things. But she had a tough week. And now you've got to figure out how you get back to answering questions. Her husband was the best at stepping back, looking at the moment, understanding that people want answers for their own problems, in their homes, in their communities, how you create jobs, how you increase wages, and how you make the country safer.

If there was ever a time where the country was confronted with these questions, your first segment, which I thought was excellent, with the roundtable talking about Iraq and what you would face there going forward, we're looking for candidates at the public officer, particularly at the federal level, who can answer those questions. And if she does that well, she'll find herself right back where she wants to be.

KEN CUCCINELLI:

You know, juggernauts are only juggernauts as long as they stay looking like juggernauts. And she doesn't look like a juggernaut anymore. She's going to have some things to deal with. And there are some common themes here. Eric Cantor looked like a juggernaut. Frankly, Thad Cochran looked like a juggernaut. Last month, the same media was talking about how dead the conservative grassroots was, okay? And now we're talking about how the entire 2016 campaign is going to change because of the conservative--

HAROLD FORD:

But Ken, who--

RUTH MARCUS:

I think that's--

(OVERTALK)

HAROLD FORD:

The demographics nationally for Republicans are clear. You've got to figure out ways to grow the tent. So the message that, some of what you're talking about, and some of what Dave Brat is talking about, how does that grow the tent, to help Republicans out?

KEN CUCCINELLI:

Part of how Dave won, I think, is that he connected when he talked about issues. He's an economics professor. And he talked about it--

(OVERTALK)

RUTH MARCUS:

They're great at connecting.

KEN CUCCINELLI:

Yeah, he's a conservative professor, so he's covered by the endangered species. He connected with how these policies affect people in their real lives. You know, I hear the characterization of employment, you know, growing employment, but not growing wages. There isn't growing employment. There are less people in the employment market than there were six years ago.

(OVERTALK)

HAROLD FORD:

There's a little bit more, but we have grown employment but wages have not grown.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, quick comment, Ruth, and then I go to break from here.

(OVERTALK)

KEN CUCCINELLI:

The middle class is scared to death.

DAVID GREGORY:

I believe you.

KEN CUCCINELLI:

They see opportunity shrinking government and turning that opportunity to--.

RUTH MARCUS:

To get back to Hillary, Harold's right. She didn't have a great week. I think it's a little premature to declare the juggernaut over. But in a sense, Eric Cantor did her a favor in two ways, not just sort of by taking this place--

(OVERTALK)

RUTH MARCUS:

--but he changed the conversation.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, we're going to come back with our roundtable in a few moments. We'll touch on the Iraq crisis as well. Coming up here, a Father's Day special, a special guest, Luke Russert, Tim's son, here on this Father's Day, and the tenth anniversary of the release of his dad's book, Big Russ and Me. We'll talk about it right after this.

***Commercial Break***

TIM RUSSERT (ON TAPE):

Dad up there in Buffalo, thanks for making this day possible. I'll call you in a little bit. Luke, thanks for the great Father's Day tie, full of books. I hope you always love books, and I really hope you know how much I always love you, buddy. Happy Father's Day, everybody.

DAVID GREGORY:

Welcome back. That of course, our friend Tim Russert, on the day he calls his favorite holiday. That was back in 1995. This Father's Day, I'm so pleased to be join by Luke Russert, Tim's son. His dad hosted Meet the Press of course for nearly 17 years until his untimely death in 2008. Luke, of course, now an NBC News correspondent covering Congress, and he's written a new preface to his father's book, Big Russ and Me, to coincide with the tenth anniversary of its publication. Luke, great to have you here.

LUKE RUSSERT:

David, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

DAVID GREGORY:

Your dad's favorite holiday, Father's Day, and yet for you, it's got to be a tough one.

LUKE RUSSERT:

It's not easy. It's not easy when you see so many folks out there just hugging their fathers. And I miss him. And on the other hand, it makes me happy that people still have that close relationship with their fathers, which is something that was so very important to my dad. So for me on Father's Day, I do a lot of self-reflection.

I remember a lot of the good times. And interestingly enough, because it comes so close to the day he actually passed, it's sort of a double-whammy for me. But I find comfort in things like a baseball game. Comforts in things like grilling out and having some burgers and a few beers. And also I just find comfort in playing a little bit of Bruce Springsteen and remembering those great times.

And a lot of folks who have lost their fathers, who don't have fathers in their lives, they tell me they share similar experiences. Where they wake up in the middle of the day and they don’t necessarily like it, but towards the end, they remember the good times, or the best they can, and it turns out okay.

DAVID GREGORY:

You know, there was something from the preface that you wrote that really resonated with me.

(OVERTALK)

LUKE RUSSERT:

I'm able and I try to spend so much time with my--

(OVERTALK)

LUKE RUSSERT:

You're a great dad. You're a great parent.

DAVID GREGORY:

Thank you so much. And you write this about your dad, "It's true, the greatest gift my father ever gave me was his time. He was a man who worked seven days a week, rarely slept more than six hours a night. And I could never remember a time when he wasn't there for me or didn't make a Herculean effort to be present. I understand that not all fathers can afford to do that. Jobs, commitments, et cetera, don't always lend themselves to kids being number one all the time. However, I do know that if a father makes an effort to be there, a kid will always notice and always appreciate it."

LUKE RUSSERT:

Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

DAVID GREGORY:

That would be the biggest lesson that you think about?

LUKE RUSSERT:

Absolutely. And you think about our society these days, where everyone's always connected on smartphones. It's so sort of hard to get away. My father, no matter what the burden of his job was, always made sure that his time for me was there at least part of his day. And it wasn't fake.

It wasn't in his Google calendar and pop up, "I should call Luke now." He wanted to. And I felt that as a young kid. And it made me such a better person because it allowed me to have this relationship with my father where I spoke to him. He knew what I was thinking. He knew what was happening at school. And he became a better father because of it. So not everybody can have that type of relationship with their child.

However, if you just try, I completely believe kids get that. They know that. They feel that. And every dad can be that no matter what their status is in this life. You don't have to be rich to try. You don't have to be rich to care. And that's something that my father really truly believed in.

DAVID GREGORY:

The thing I remember most, before you were here as a correspondent and I had my first son, I mean, Tim would stop, your dad would stop whatever he was doing to talk about kids.

LUKE RUSSERT:

It's true.

(OVERTALK)

LUKE RUSSERT:

He loved it.

DAVID GREGORY:

--"You've got to be the real deal." That's what your kids will ultimately remember.

LUKE RUSSERT:

Absolutely, absolutely.

DAVID GREGORY:

Luke, thanks so much.

(OVERTALK)

LUKE RUSSERT:

It's a real honor.

DAVID GREGORY:

Happy Father's Day, I got you a gift.

LUKE RUSSERT:

Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

Thanks so much. I'll add it to the one I already have on my shelf. Thank you very much.

LUKE RUSSERT:

Okay.

DAVID GREGORY:

We're going to take a break here. And after when we come back, the latest on Iraq and the takeaway from today's program. The big question that you'll be able to weigh in all this coming week.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

Back with our roundtable and the big question of the week here as we've been talking about. Does the U.S. have an interest worth fighting for in Iraq? Ken Cuccinelli, that's going to be the debate as we move forward.

KEN CUCCINELLI:

Only inside the beltway the answer is no. The big debate outside the beltway is going to be the continuing growth of the grassroots movement. And the next place it's going is Mississippi.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right. What do you say about Iraq, Steve?

STEVE SCHMIDT:

Well, it's the blood-letting in Iraq is just beginning. It's the sectarian civil war. The country's partitioning. The way that Joe Biden suggested earlier in the decade. And American forces should not be on the ground. There's nothing we can do to stop it now.

RUTH MARCUS:

Yes, it does have an interest because unfortunately what happens in Iraq and Syria isn't going to stay in Iraq and Syria. There are scores of foreign fighters. And we don't have great options for dealing with it right now with Maliki in power and unwilling to share power. But we do have an interest. And that's the hard question.

DAVID GREGORY:

It's so hard. How does the president go to the American people and say, "Look, I don't want this war. You don't want this war. But we have an ongoing interest here." President did say he would prevent a terrorist state from ever developing after 9/11.

HAROLD FORD:

$2 trillion investment, almost 5,000 casualties, as you've showed earlier, there's an interest here. The question is, can the president marshal resources, perhaps a special representative or envoy who can go and sit with Maliki and try to create what he should've created before, which is bring Sunnis and bring the Kurds to the table. Joe Biden was right. He was just a little ahead of his time. He was prescient about the kind of federalism that needs to exist there. And hopefully we can implement a plan long term to do that.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, we're going to leave it there. Thank you all very much.

HAROLD FORD:

Happy Father's Day, brother.

DAVID GREGORY:

Thank you. To you as well. And to my father, Don, Happy Father's Day to you, to my children Max, Eva, and Jed, I love you so much. You can also respond to the big question on our Facebook page, I should point out. And as I wish everybody a Happy Father's Day on this Sunday. That'll do it for us. We're back next week. If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *