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MEET THE PRESS TRANSCRIPT: March 2, 2014

“MEET THE PRESS WITH DAVID GREGORY”

March 2, 2014

DAVID GREGORY:

And good Sunday morning to you. So just one week later, the good will from the Olympic games has been replaced by an international crisis as Russia flexes its military might. How should President Obama respond to a crucial test of his leadership after Russia sent troops into the Crimean peninsula, which is part of the Ukraine.

Secretary of State John Kerry called it an invasion, and Ukraine has now mobilized its army. It is our top issue this morning. President Obama spoke with President Putin of Russia on Saturday after warning there would be costs, should Russia intervene. I'm joined this morning by the Secretary of State John Kerry and exclusively, but Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a key voice on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Also a big moment in politics, the culture wars in America as Arizona's governor vetoes the controversial bill that opponents labeled as anti-gay. How do we as a country reconcile concerns over religious freedom and civil liberties? We will analyze how this could play out in this midterm election year. Plus now end in sight to California's devastating drought, despite this week's storms.

I will ask California Governor Jerry Brown about the effects. We want to begin with Ukraine. We'll get the latest on the dramatic events in this crisis from NBC's Bill Neely. He is in Simferopol, which is the capital of the Crimea. Bill, we understand from U.S. Officials there's a real fear now that Russia may try to annex the Crimea. What's the very latest on the ground there?

1:03

BILL NEELY:

Well, David, I would have to say there has been a quiet, but complete Russian takeover of Crimea. Their troops are guarding key buildings here in the capital and the latest is that several hundred Russian troops have arrived at a Ukrainian military base not far from here. Whether it was now a confrontation, the Russians are demanding that the Ukrainians lay down their weapons and they're threatening force.

And a group of Ukrainian guards are behind the gate, looking frightened. There's not much they can do about it. It's not a confrontation at the minute, but it's certainly a standoff. And that's pretty typical. The Russians, as you say, have certainly taken over this region of Ukraine.

DAVID GREGORY:

Bill Neely on the ground force in the Crimea. Bill, thank you very much.

DAVID GREGORY:

I'm now joined by the Secretary of State John Kerry. Mr. Secretary, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

Glad to be with you. Thank you, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

So for the past ten days, administration officials and the president himself has basically said to Russia, "Don't do this, or else." Here just Friday, the president laying it out when he spoke to Vladimir Putin.

PRESIDENT OBAMA (ON TAPE):

The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.

DAVID GREGORY:

Now you've called this an invasion. So what are the costs?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

Well, we're now discussing all of the options. This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext. It's really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century, and there's no way to start with that if Russia persists in this, that the G8 countries are going to reassemble in Sochi. That's a starter. But there's much more than that.

Russia has major investment in trade needs and desires. I think there's a unified view by all of the foreign ministers I talked with yesterday, all of the G8 and more, that they're simply going to isolate Russia. That they're not going to engage with Russia in a normal, business-as-usual manner.

Because Russia is inviting opprobrium on the international stage. There could even be ultimately asset freezes, visa bans. There could be certainly a disruption of any of the normal trade routine, and there could be business drawback on investment in the country. The ruble is already going down and feeling the impact of this.

And the reason for this, David, is because you just don't invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests. There are ways to deal with this. And President Putin knows that. President Obama yesterday offered mediation. There are plenty of ways to protect Russian-speaking people in Crimea or other parts of Ukraine. But they are really sort of a hidden pretext here, possibly trying to annex Crimea.

DAVID GREGORY:

Is there a military option? There is, as you know, a security arrangement with Ukraine that goes back to the '90s between the U.S. and Ukraine and other Western powers. Does NATO draw a line here to try to check any further aggression beyond Crimea into the eastern part of Ukraine?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

Well, NATO Is meeting today. The North Atlantic Council is meeting probably even as we speak now. I know that the secretary general of NATO Rasmussen, issued a statement, a very strong statement against what has happened. But I don't know what is actually on the table with respect to the steps they may or may not take.

But they're deeply concerned. Today or tomorrow, the European Foreign Affairs Council will meet. They are very concerned about what has happened. We talked yesterday with Japan, with others. This is a global concern. Because in the 21st century, countries have been working to establish a different kind of behavior as the norm.

DAVID GREGORY:

That I understand. I'm just trying to understand, I think a lot of people watching this are trying to understand how important is Ukraine to the United States? What's our interest there? Is this worth fighting for, literally?

11:25

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

David, let me make it clear. The people of Ukraine are fighting for democracy, they're fighting for freedom, they're fighting to have their voices heard and not be governed by a kleptocracy, by a tyrant, by someone who puts their political opposition in jail, somebody who robs the country of its livelihood and future.

And they spoke out against snipers from roofs who were killing thing, they kept on marching and fought for their freedom. Now they have the opportunity for that democracy. And by the way, President Yanukovych's only supporters abandoned him. They voted against him. They impeached him.

So Russia and President Putin are aligning themselves firmly with this kleptocracy. They're aligning themselves with the person who was legitimately stripped of his power by the parliament, even by his own supporters. I think this is an enormous mistake for Russia.

And we hope, President Obama hopes that President Putin will turn in the direction that is available to him to work with all of us in a way that creates stability in Ukraine. This does not have to be, and should not be, an East/West struggle. This is not about Russia and the U.S. This is about the people of Ukraine. And that's who needs to be front and center.

DAVID GREGORY:

I just want to clarify this. I mean, I gather by what you're saying you don't want to be too precise. Is there a military option that has to be contemplated here?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

David, the last thing anybody wants is a military option in this kind of a situation. We want a peaceful resolution through the normal processes of international relations. But in the absence of President Putin making the right decision to work with the government of Ukraine, to work with the West, to work with all of us, as I said a moment ago, this is not about Russia and the United States.

It's about the people of Ukraine. And we ask President Putin to step back from being in violation of the U.N. Charter, in violation of the Helsinki Final Act, in violation of the 1997 Russia/Ukraine basing agreement. I mean, they are in direct, overt violation of international law. And we've asked them to step back.

DAVID GREGORY:

But can I just challenge you on one point?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

Yeah.

DAVID GREGORY:

You say it's not about the U.S. and Russia. But the reality is that just Wednesday, you told my colleague Andrea Mitchell that Vladimir Putin said he would respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Now you're talking about Russia annexing the Crimea. Something happened.

And I wonder as you hear some criticism from conservatives who say, "The issue here is that Vladimir Putin is not afraid. That he saw a red line by this administration in Syria and then no follow-up, no action. That he thinks that he can provoke the U.S. and the West and that President Obama won't do anything in response."

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

Well, he's finding out the opposite. Let me make it clear. President Putin is not operating from a place of strength here. Yanukovych was his supported president. Yanukovych was thrown out despite Putin's support. Yanukovych turned on his own people. President Putin is using force in a completely inappropriate manner that will invite the opprobrium of the world.

And it already is. He is not going to gain by this. He may be able to have his troops for some period of time in Crimea unless he resolves this. But the fact is, he's going to lose on the international stage, Russia is going to lose, the Russian people are going to lose, and he's going to lose all of the glow that came out of the Olympics, his $60 billion extravaganza.

He's not going to have a Sochi G8. He may not even remain in the G8 if this continues. He may find himself with asset freezes on Russian business, American business may pull back, there may be a further tumble of the ruble. There is a huge price to pay. The United States is united, Russia is isolated. That is not a position of strength.

DAVID GREGORY:

Two quick ones here as we extend. These difficulties with Russia, your blunt talk this morning also extends to Syria, where you've been very clear that Russia's support for Bashar al-Assad, in your words, has allowed Assad to double down in his killing efforts of his opponents in this civil war. Isn't it true, Mr. Secretary, that you support a more robust intervention into Syria? That you'd like to see some kind of military action to at least train those rebel fighters in Syria? Is it time for that, and has Russia complicated the Syrian effort?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

I support the president's policy. And I support what the president is doing now, reviewing all of the options as he has been continually with respect to Syria, David. The fact is, we are doing more than almost any other country. We're doing an enormous amount. And once again, Russia is playing a very duplicitous game and a very dangerous game.

They proclaim that they are worried about the terrorists, worried about Syria, worried about the impact on Jordan and on Lebanon and surrounding countries. And yet they continue to support Assad in a way that prevents him or helps him to make the decision not to come to the table to negotiate.

It's a completely contradictory and cynical policy. And I believe Russia in the Crimea and in Syria is really engaging in activity that is completely contradictory to the standards that most of us are trying to operate by in the 21 century. It's certainly not behaving like a G8 country.

DAVID GREGORY:

Before I get to my final question on Israel, with a big meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister coming to meet with President Obama. Marco Rubio is on this program in just a few minutes in saying it's time for the administration to publicly acknowledge that the reset with Russia is dead. Do you acknowledge that?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

Well, I don't know what you mean by the reset.

DAVID GREGORY:

The reset in relations that this administration called for.

(OVERTALK)

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

No, I know. But long ago, we've entered into a different phase with Russia. I don't think this is a moment to be proclaiming one thing or the other. We've had difficulties with Russia with respect to certain issues. And even as we've had, we've managed to do the START treaty, they've cooperated on Afghanistan, they've cooperated on Iran. So this is not a zero-sum, dead, alive. It's a question of differences, very profound differences and certain issues and certain approaches. And we've made those very clear over the course of the last months.

DAVID GREGORY:

With regard to Israel, you've worked so hard on Middle East peace. As Netanyahu comes to Washington, is this a moment of truth for him? Does he have to act for the peace process to be successful?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

Well, everybody has to act, David. This isn't just a question or a series of questions for Prime Minister Netanyahu. He's been very courageous. And he's made tough decisions with respect to entering into these negotiations and some of the things that he's indicated he's willing to do in the negotiations.

It's also up to President Abbas, the Palestinians need to decide whether or not they're prepared to compromise. Whether or not they're willing to do some of the things necessary. This is not a burden exclusive to one party or the other. So we expect to have a good conversation. I don't think it's some showdown or anything. This has been a very cooperative, very engaged process on a daily basis with both parties.

And even while Prime Minister Netanyahu will be here this week, there will be representatives of the Palestinians here too, and we'll have some conversations with them. And hopefully over the next weeks, we can reach some kind of understanding about how to negotiate a final status agreement.

DAVID GREGORY:

Mr. Secretary, we always appreciate your time. Thanks so much.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

Thank you, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

Now I want to turn to Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, welcome back to the program.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO:

Think, good morning.

DAVID GREGORY:

How did we get here? Do you agree with some of your colleagues who say it's the weakness of President Obama and the United States right now that has emboldened President Putin of Russia?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO:

Well, I think our policy towards Russia under this administration deserves a heavy amount of criticism. I usually shy away from that in moments of crisis, when it's important for the nation to speak with one voice. And I'm encouraged by much of what I heard Secretary Kerry just say a moment ago, although there are things I'd like to see a few in addition to the steps he's outlined.

But I do think in hindsight as we look forward to our future relationship with Russia, it's important to learn from the errors of the last few years where I think we have not accurately, or through this administration, assessed clearly what it is Russia's goals are under Vladimir Putin. They're not interested in building an international norm that nations conduct themselves under, like what Secretary Kerry was just describing a moment ago. They're interested in reconstituting Russian power and Russian prestige, and often at the expense of U.S. national interests.

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, what do you do about that? Because that was true under President Bush as well.

9:44

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO:

Yes.

DAVID GREGORY:

He famously said that he thought he could trust Vladimir Putin, only to find out that he couldn't. And then Putin invaded separatist region of Georgia. And the U.S. really didn't do much about it. Isn't the same predicament here, which is we may know what Putin wants to do, but what are you prepared to do in terms of the use of American power to stop it?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO:

Well, first of all, I think that, as I said, I think previous administrations deserve criticism as well with regards to clearly viewing what Vladimir Putin's goals are here. I think moving forward, as you look at, for example, Secretary Kerry a moment ago mentioned success with the START treaty. Yet, we know that the Russians have basically violated every major treated they've ever entered into.

We see how they basically lied. I mean, let's call it what it is. They are lying and this government is a government of liars, the Russian government. And you see it, what's happening now in Crimea. I mean, they're claiming they're not there, you've got these individuals showing up in unmarked uniforms, wearing masks.

But clearly, they're Russian troops, even though they refused to acknowledge it. So you're dealing with a government that lies as a matter of course, and it's very difficult to enter an understanding with them on anything when they are willing to lie and cover things up in this way.

DAVID GREGORY:

You're saying as you did in a piece that you wrote for Politico about how to confront Russia that we've got to use blunt talk. So I ask you for some blunt talk. Is Russia an enemy of the United States now?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO:

I think they're increasingly behaving like an enemy of international peace and international norms. If you look after the end of World War II and certainly through the cold war era, the spread of democracy and freedom and established norms for nations to interact with one another so that we would never have another world war.

Russia doesn't, under this president, Putin, does not seem interested in any of that. So they are an enemy of that. And they are, certainly as it regards to that, an enemy of the United States. And with regards to those things I just outlined. And if you look at the positions they've taken on issue after issue, Russia has been an obstacle to U.S. national interests.

DAVID GREGORY:

Is it a concern of yours that ten days ago, the president said, "We're watching and we want to make sure that nobody crosses the line, or there'll be consequences." Last Sunday at this table, Susan Rice, the National Security Advisor, said, "It'd be a grave mistake for Russia to invade the Crimea." On Friday, the president said, "There'll be a cost to intervention." What does it say to you that Vladimir Putin has ignored the United States for ten days?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO:

Well, part of it is he's made a cost/benefit analysis. He has weight the costs of doing what he's done and he has viewed the benefits of it. And clearly, he has concluded that the benefits far outweigh the costs. We need to endeavor to change that calculus. And I think Secretary Kerry outlined accurately enough that one of our goals here needs to be to isolate Russia.

To exact an extraordinary price to pay on the international front for them, for their ambitions, ultimately for individuals in that government and for their economy. The other part of this that's not receiving enough attention is the U.S. must convene our allies both in Europe and through NATO to strengthen the interim government in Kiev to allow them to transition to a more stable government, a democratic government, be able to hold their elections. That's critical too because I think the next phase in this, and perhaps you're seeing the outlines of it already, are Russians trying to undermine the government in Kiev.

DAVID GREGORY:

Do you think there is a military option here for the United States or for NATO? In other words, do you advocate now going beyond what you just heard from Secretary Kerry was economic isolation, perhaps expelling Russia from the G8, particular sanctions to key Russian officials and the like?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO:

Well, I think if you're asking whether the U.S. should be taking military strikes against Russian troops in Ukraine or in Crimea, I would argue to you that I don't think anyone is advocating for that. I am saying however that our NATO alliance needs to be reinvigorated. It's an important alliance.

If you look at countries that neighbor Ukraine now, for example Poland and others who are part of that alliance, I think we need to be providing them assurances of the importance of this alliance, including perhaps revisiting, or in fact, I think we should revisit the missile defense shield that we talked about so often.

Beyond that, I would say that it's part of strengthening and stabilizing the government in Kiev now so that they can transition to stability down the road as well, I think part of that should be strengthening their defense capabilities. Because I think this threat is a long-term one that they're facing.

DAVID GREGORY:

You've also been focused on foreign-policy challenging in our hemisphere and Venezuela as there are protests there against the Maduro government and a crackdown against protesters in the streets. What would you like to see this administration do?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO:

Well, two things. First, I think we need to clearly pronounce ourselves with more than just concerned about what's happening in Venezuela. We need to say very clearly, "The United States and its people and its government are firmly on the side of the ambitions and the desires, the rightful desires of the people in the street, the students and the young people protesting against these violations."

Beyond that, I would like to see specific U.S. Sanctions against individuals in the Maduro government that are systematically participating in the violation of human rights and anti-democratic actions. I think those two steps will go a long way in that regard.

DAVID GREGORY:

I want to ask you a couple of questions about politics here back home. One has to do with the big controversy out of Arizona, a bill that was vetoed by the governor. And the general concern that some conservatives in the party have that as gay rights advanced specifically, that sometimes religious freedom in this country is being trampled on. Is this a key issue for Republicans you think in this election year?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO:

Well, here's what the key issue is. On the one hand, I think Americans, myself included, the vast majority of conservatives as well, are against discrimination. A notion that someone, because they are gay, would be denied service at a restaurant or so forth is something a lot of Americans don't support, conservatives don't support.

The other side of the equation is, imagine how if you are a Southern Baptist or a Catholic or Evangelical photographer, who does not believe because of your faith in gay marriage, and because of that, you don't want to provide photographic services for a gay marriage. Should you be sanctioned by the state for refusing to do so?

I think that's what they endeavor to deal with in Arizona. I never read the law. That said, we've been pretty busy this week on a number of fronts. The governor maybe felt that that law extended beyond that. But that is also a legitimate concern. And it's one we're going to have to balance here as this issue continues to unfold across the states here in America.

DAVID GREGORY:

So you don't think this was an open and shut case? This was tough for you? You think the law had some merit, without saying that you support it?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO:

Well, I don't believe that gay Americans should be denied services at a restaurant or a hotel or anything of that nature. I also don't believe however that a caterer or a photographer should be punished by the state for refusing to provide services for a gay wedding because of their religious-held beliefs. We've got to figure out a way to protect that as well.

DAVID GREGORY:

I know you and others who are often talked about as presidential candidates in 2016 are trying other deal with the business at hand. Nevertheless, there's a lot of speculation about your standing. And I want to read Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post who recently wrote this, "No matter what Rubio does now to placate conservatives, his opponents in 2016 will make sure to remind those same voters that he's involved in a legislation that provided a path to citizenship for undocumented workers.

"And while that may well be a terrific resume point in a general election where Republicans badly need to court Hispanics, it's not likely to be popular at all among many conservatives in places like Iowa and South Carolina, two states that cast some of the earliest votes for president in 2016." Are you damaged goods among conservatives because of your support for that immigration bill?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO:

I don't know, I never made that political calculus. That's certainly knew going into immigration reform, that it's not exactly the kind of issue you take on with regards to becoming politically popular among some segments. But I would say the concerns that conservatives have about immigration reform are legitimate ones.

And what I endeavor to do is to try to find a solution to a real problem the country is confronting. And I understand it's a difficult one. I knew that going in. I'll continue to do what's right for the country, what I believe to be right on issue after issue. And where that leaves me politically, you know that’s what elections for and campaigns for. But I’m not going to let the future or political considerations stop me from doing what I believe is right for the country or doing my job during my time in the Senate.

DAVID GREGORY:

Are you undeterred at this point? Will you pursue the presidency in 2016?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO:

Well, I haven't made that decision. And I certainly didn't come on here this morning to make that announcement. But I will say that that's something that I'll consider later in this year, early next year. As you know, in 2016 my term in the Senate expires. So I'll have a decision to make either way. I certainly think our country's at an important crossroads on an international front and also on a domestic front. And I'll have to think of that whether from that role in the presidency I will be able to influence that in a more positive way.

DAVID GREGORY:

Senator Rubio, a lot going on here international and in our politics. Thank you very much for your time this morning.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO:

Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

Appreciate it.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO:

Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

So you just heard this talk now from both Secretary Kerry and Marco Rubio. Next our roundtable's here. More on this crucial test for President Obama's leadership overseas and specifically in the Ukraine. And the culture wars I mentioned in politics. How will the debates over freedom and religion and gay rights play into the 2014 campaign. And why Rand Paul is urging caution in the G.O.P. fights with President Obama.

SEN. RAND PAUL (ON TAPE):

There are times when people are using language that shouldn't be used. I recently criticized someone for using some of that language, and I'm not going to bring it up. But I will say that we can disagree with the president without calling him names.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

We are back, got to react to events in Ukraine and discuss the big week in politics. I'm joined by our roundtable, and they are already talking, because there's so much to get to. Our political director Chuck Todd, Jeffrey Goldberg from the Atlantic Magazine and Bloomberg View, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore, of course, Tina Brown, founder of the Women in World Foundation, and nationally-syndicated columnist from The Washington Post, Kathleen Parker.

Welcome to all of you. This is a conversation about Obama's leadership, pure and simple. This is a major test for whether the rest of the world, particularly bad actors, take him seriously when he says to not do something, Chuck Todd.

In The Washington Post editorial that I've been looking at this morning, their lead editorial says this, "It took Vladimir Putin less than a day to trample on President Obama's warning against a Russian military intervention in Ukraine. The U.S. now faces a naked act of armed aggression in the center of Europe by a Russian regime that is signaling its intent to steamroller this U.S. president and his allies. Mr. Obama must demonstrate that can't be done." And you said, "Don't do it for ten days."

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

And this is not the first time with Putin. Putin acts, Obama warns. Putin acts, Obama warns. This is a pattern that he can't afford to stay in here and just continue to warn. You heard John Kerry, more warnings. I've talked to some folks, there are some moves they could make and could make right now. They're not active war moves. They are immediate economic sanctions.

Russia's largest banks are state-owned banks. You could choke them economically in a hurry. You've got the largest energy company in Russia. There's a clothes pile of Putin (?). There are things they could do. The idea of kicking him out of the G8, just do it. Just suspend it and move, start the meeting.

That was the sense that you wonder why isn't the president out there saying, "Okay, we have made these moves, he's done this." You know, before it was trying to play some diplomacy. But they've got this 24-hour, and you hear John Kerry with more warnings. I think that they know that he's got to act, no more just issuing very harshly-worded statement.

DAVID GREGORY:

But Tina Brown look, part of the Bush era that a lot of people recoiled against was the idea of talking tough and rejecting American power as if somewhere feeling better about that makes the world better.

TINA BROWN:

Absolutely. I mean, there's no need to just go off on this bellicose. And then it's like, "Well, now what?" I mean, Marco Rubio actually said, "Now Secretary Hagel and Secretary Kerry should go immediately to Kiev." And you think, "Well, what then?" You have to have this follow-up. What I do think does need to keep outfoxing Obama, is a real reading of who Putin really is.

It's almost as if Putin is brilliant, really. I mean, he's sort of outfoxing Obama all the time. He's very clear. And the reason that he wins in a way is that he's the only one who knows what he thinks. He's utterly clear. He's clear, he wants to increase Russian power.

DAVID GREGORY:

He doesn't care what other people think.

TINA BROWN:

He doesn't care.

DAVID GREGORY:

That's the--

(OVERTALK)

TINA BROWN:

And he doesn't care what other people think. I mean, we say, "Well, we can't do that. I mean, that's not the way people in the real, sophisticated, foreign-policy world behave." Well guess what, he's not that guy.

DAVID GREGORY:

Unfortunately, it's not Match.com.

(OVERTALK)

TINA BROWN:

He's a brutal, crude, cunning, power-enhancing, ruthless guy.

DAVID GREGORY:

And these, Kathleen, have, these are issues that tend to overwhelm the presidency when he's fighting somebody like this on numerous fronts.

KATHLEEN PARKER:

Yeah, I agree completely with Tina. I think Putin looked into President Obama's eyes and he saw his soul. And President Obama doesn't like conflict at all. And Putin is, as I think John Kerry said, he's clearly-- well no, I'm sorry, I disagree with John Kerry on this. He said that you can't separate this, you can't make this a U.S./Russian chess game.

But I don't think you can unequivocally say that at all. I think our allies are clearly watching us. Other non-friendly people are looking at how we handle these things. And Obama has drawn the red line, he's moved back from that. Putin knows that and everybody else sees that. So he's really weakening our position I think where he says there are going to be costs. It's sort of like putting arms akimbo and threatening a timeout. So this really is a test for John. And as Chuck said, there are things he can do immediately rather than just these little sort of--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

And Mayor, you want to be looking at this as a lot of people are, saying, "We understand Russia is a threat. You never like to see an invasion, but what's our real interest here?" And no doubt, the president's making that calculation as well, that Americans are not going to be supportive of a tough line with Russia of Ukraine.

STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE:

Look, I know you didn't ask me here for my foreign-policy expertise. Because I look at this as an American who I think is in tune with the president. You said that the president wants to avoid conflict. So do Americans. That is why he was elected. He promised to get us out of our foreign wars. We are exhausted--

KATHLEEN PARKER:

Or a military conflict, necessarily. I don't think that's even an option. But you have to be strong in what you say up front. And then you can follow through--

(OVERTALK)

STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE:

Well, you take one step, you take another step, and then you're going to find yourself in a place you have to put up or shut up. And we want a president that's going to look at diplomacy and look at other options and not get us into, to write a check that our you know what doesn't want to cash.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah. So Jeff Goldberg, you've interviewed President Obama, an exclusive interview that will appear later today. You asked him a question more broadly about how he's perceived. Tell me about what that question was. And then I've got a portion of the answer.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

Right. Well, what I asked him was, I was talking about the Iranian nuclear program, one of his biggest foreign-policy challenges. And I said, "Do you believe that the Iranians still take your threat that all options are on the table?" Which is a euphemism for military force. "Do you believe that the Iranians still take that threat seriously after you showed obvious reluctance last summer to strike at Syria after it crossed his red line on chemical weapons." And he gave an answer.

DAVID GREGORY:

And we'll put part of it on this screen, because he says about Syria, “... the process has moved more slowly than we would like,” the president tells you. “But it has actually moved. And we've now seen 15% to 20% of those chemical weapons on their way out of Syria with a very concrete schedule to get rid of the rest.

“That would not have happened, had the Iranians said, ‘Obama's bluffing. He's not actually really willing to take a strike.’ If the Russians had said, ‘Don't worry about it, all those submarines that are floating around your coastline, that's all just for show.’ Of course they took it seriously!” He doesn't like the idea that people think he's weak.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

Right, no. And he argues very strenuously against. But he argues that the Iranians are at the table because they fear him and they fear the consequences of violating an American will. He believes that, and he told me this, he believes that Iran is on the back foot in Syria. That Iran is fighting kind of a rearguard action to keep its only Arab ally.

This relates directly to the way the White House feels about Ukraine. They don't see this as an advancing Russia necessarily. They see this as Russia trying to pick up the pieces of a few Russian enclaves on its borders at all costs. They don't see a Russia advancing in the world. They see Russia trying to just sort of piece together what it had left.

DAVID GREGORY:

So we're conflating a big political season that's beginning, Chuck, with this international backdrop. But I do want to talk about the politics of the moment in this midterm year. When you have this Arizona controversy sparking, as I asked Senator Rubio about, this balance between religious freedom and civil liberties, specifically gay rights that are advancing around the country. Are the culture wars back in the midterms?

CHUCK TODD:

Well, Democrats want the culture wars to be back, okay? Let's remember what these campaigns are about. Democrats believe Terry McAuliffe won because he was able to split women off, particularly on issues of contraception and abortion in the state of Virginia. That if you look at some of the Democrats that survived in 2010, Michael Bennett, who's now running the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, he will continue he won on the culture wars.

Yes, we're having a conversation. And so the Democrats want, if the culture wars are back, Democrats want them to be. This is how they're going to fight. Yes, they have the economic message that they want to have nationally. But on the ground, what they're spending their money on, how they're targeting voters, they want to create this divide because they know that the Republican party essentially is split on a lot of these social issues.

You have the Evangelical wing of the party that is just not moving the way the rest of the country is. I think this is going to be a long-term problem for the Republicans until they settle on it, and you could picture how this could be an issue on the presidential. As for the midterms, I don't know if it's a huge problem for the Republicans because of the nature of the electorate. I can tell you this. Democrats are trying very hard to make this an issue.

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, because in some of the red states where Democratic senators are in trouble, there's a lot of the Republican establishment that says, "We'll put the culture war aside, let's talk about ObamaCare."

KATHLEEN PARKER:

Yeah, exactly. They've been listening to the pope I think who says, "Just calm down. These things matter, but we don't have to talk about them all the time."

TINA BROWN:

They love it when they call Wendy Davis abortion Barbie.

KATHLEEN PARKER:

Yeah, well, and a war on women is an equally offensive and not quite correct term. But it's one that works for the Democrats and it's one that works to draw women away from the Republican party.

DAVID GREGORY:

But I remember when it was the reverse.

KATHLEEN PARKER:

Yes.

DAVID GREGORY:

There was a time the culture wars was Republicans that wanted to have the culture wars, with that one swing voters.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

--by the way, Mayor, I mean, your section of the D.M.C.

(OVERTALK)

STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE:

We all want to talk.

TINA BROWN:

Right, but I really do think this is actually quite significant was Jan Brewer's language when she vetoed the bill. Because her language was almost direct disdain almost for the other side. She simply said, I mean, for the Republican side even. She certainly didn't -- not on the Republican side. But the bill itself, she said, "I don't know of a single case where religious liberty was violated by this idea." And I thought that that was very significant. Because you might have expected her to kind of give a little bit more on that.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Right, why did, Marco Rubio I thought gave a little bit more. He wouldn't support it, but he said, "Well, we have to balance these things out very carefully."

(OVERTALK)

KATHLEEN PARKER:

Well, you have to balance religious liberty in certain extreme cases and human life, with abortion. The abortion issue is one thing. But I don't see how you come to terms with the idea that you can discriminate people because of who they are.

STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE:

On balance, I think the L.G.B.T. community would be better off, save the weather, we can't promise you the weather, but better off in Baltimore. I'm more than happy to deal with the welcome. I think it's a much friendlier place. It burns me up to know that a community that has given so much, particularly for the Democratic party, is under siege. It's 2014.

I feel like people should just get on with it and get over it. And we have a great L.G.B.T. community in Baltimore, I've been a big supporter to the first L.G.B.T., the same-sex marriage in the state right after New Year's. And there's no war going on in Baltimore.

DAVID GREGORY:

Jeff Goldberg, before you spent a lot of time covering foreign affairs, you were covering politics as well. Five years since the Tea Party started, and here's Rand Paul, we think of him as a 2016 contender, with a message for his party, basically, you know, "Be careful how you're conducting yourself." He spoke this week.

SEN. RAND PAUL (ON TAPE):

In order for us to be a bigger party though, we have to reach out to more people. Not just those of us here. It has to be a bigger party. It has to be a bigger movement. There are times, and I don't think it is our movement, but there are times when people are using language that shouldn't be used. And I recently criticized someone for using some of that language, and I'm not going to bring it up. But I will say that we can disagree with the president without calling him names.

DAVID GREGORY:

Okay. Chuck, as you said, he did Bill Clinton a sexual predator. But aside from that.

CHUCK TODD:

But he wasn't calling names that day. That's different.

DAVID GREGORY:

No, it's interesting positioning.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

It is interesting positioning, but he's fighting, again, you talk about rearguard action, he's fighting a party. You asked Marco Rubio himself. The reason he may not be a serious contender is because he's alienated a right-wing base on a matter of immense political concern for the future of the Republican party, bringing in Hispanic voters.

Obviously, if you're a gay or a lesbian person in America and you're looking at what happened in Arizona, you're thinking, "Maybe that party is not the one for me." They're serially alienated different groups, different constituencies and certainly alienated younger people who have a much different attitude towards it. I mean, one small--

(OVERTALK)

TINA BROWN:

--suicide mission.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

Well, I wasn't going to call it a suicide mission, but it seems like a suicide mission if you're trying to be a national party. The one small intervention is, in the '50s and '60s, a lot of people used theological arguments to argue against integration. Now, let's not forget that. So history is not working on their side here.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, let me take a break here. We'll come back. More with our roundtable a little bit later. Coming up, I'm going to ask Governor Jerry Brown of California about a hotbed political issue. Whether it's time to fully legalize marijuana in America's biggest state. Interesting answer when we'll come back.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

Now to California, where you’d have thought rain would be welcome after a record drought left the state bone dry. But right, the strongest storms to hit the state in several years caused mudslides, evacuations and power outages. I want to turn now to California Governor Jerry Brown, who has also just announced his bid for an unprecedented fourth term.

DAVID GREGORY:

Governor Brown, welcome back to Meet the Press.

GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN:

Well, thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

It's a big night for Hollywood, of course. But you're dealing with something far bigger and that is a storm that's hitting the state, taking the state by storm. But is it enough to really deal a blow to the drought, which has been such a huge issue for California?

GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN:

No, not at all. This is the driest period since records have been kept, going way back to around 1850. And the terrible thing is, not only is it dry, but because of the dryness last year and the forest fires, there's flooding now and there's mudslides. So you get hit a number of ways. But it just is a portent of very difficult and extreme weather that we're facing into the future.

DAVID GREGORY:

I wanted to get your views for a minute on the big politics of the day. First of all, you're running for your fourth term as governor. You're very popular. You took a state that a lot of people felt was ungovernable, chiefly because of the budget deficit, and now there is a surplus. Is there a national leadership lesson that California provides?

GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN:

Well, you've got to be tough on spending. No matter how liberal you want to be, at the end of the day, fiscal discipline is the fundamental predicate of a free society. And you just have to maintain that. Secondly, you do have to find a way to create a governing consensus, a coalition.

In California, we do have a majority Democratic party. And we don't have any constitutional blocking points like the 60-vote requirement in the Senate or the division of parties between the House and the Senate. So if you want--

DAVID GREGORY:

But it is interesting, isn't it, that is there a lesson for President Obama? No matter how liberal you are, you said, "Here the president's about to present a budget where he's saying, 'Look, the deficits are coming down, at least for now, we've got to spend more. And we're only going to get the economy going in a meaningful way if we spend more on infrastructure and the like.'"

GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN:

Well, yeah. Spend more. But in the framework of adjusting your long-term liabilities so we're in balance. So that's not inconsistent. You can't invest and create jobs. But over the long term, your revenue has to meet your liabilities. And that's not the case today.

DAVID GREGORY:

It's interesting as you look back on the grand sweep of your career, it was an interesting piece on Friday in The Washington Post, and this was the headline. "In California, Governor Moonbeam goes mainstream." Over a 40-year political career, how have you changed?

GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN:

Well, I was just reviewing my transcript from Meet the Press in 1975, and I find a lot of similarities. There I was talking about limits, I'm still talking about limits. But I'm also talking about full employment and equality. So I've changed, A) I'm 40 years older. Two, I've done a lot of things. And I've learned a lot of things. So I'm older and wiser, but I'm just as energetic and I have to say just as ambitious.

DAVID GREGORY:

You've seen in Arizona, big debate this week of freedom of religion, but also the specter of discrimination against gays and lesbians because of the bill that was ultimately vetoed by the governor there. Are the culture wars rearing their head again, whether it's about religion or gay rights or abortion, contraception and this election year?

GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN:

They might. I can tell you, if you ask me how things have changed, 40 years ago, one couldn't even talk about gay rights. The wording didn't even exist then. And that has changed. The same thing as immigration. We had a governor that was elected basically to keep undocumented people in their place and get them out of the state.

Today, we have drivers' licenses for the undocumented, we have the Dream Act. So there is evolution.

DAVID GREGORY:

Forty years ago, we weren't talking about legalizing marijuana in states either. Is that a good idea or a bad idea for California?

GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN:

Well, we have medical marijuana, which gets very close to what they have in Colorado and Washington. I'd really like those two states to show us how it's going to work. The problem with anything, a certain amount is okay. But there is a tendency to go to extremes. And all of a sudden, if there's advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation? The world's pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.

DAVID GREGORY:

As a TV guy, I know a good sound bite when I've heard, and I think I've just heard one. I want to ask you about the national political picture for the Democratic party. You've got against the Clinton machine back in 1992. Does anything stop Hillary Clinton for president in 2016?

GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN:

I can't see it. Clinton machine was strong obviously, it won. Hillary's a heck of a lot stronger. She's got more experience, both domestic and international. I mean, it's her nomination if she wants it, as far as I'm concerned.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, Governor Jerry Brown, thanks so much for your time, I appreciate it.

GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN:

Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

Real quick Chuck, quite an answer there on marijuana.

CHUCK TODD:

It is. And it's actually a similar answer you've heard from some other Democrats that have been saying it. Everybody just assumes this is just a straight Democrat-versus-Republican issue. But also obviously other states--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

--but California's fairly--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

No, but California is--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

He's right, he is right.

CHUCK TODD:

But by the way--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

This town, the three-martini lunches invented during the cold war, so--

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

And you don't want everybody stoned when the Russians invade Crimea.

(OVERTALK)

KATHLEEN PARKER:

That would be the problem.

DAVID GREGORY:

We're going to take another break here. We're coming up next, on the day of the Academy Awards, our Harry Smith meets the screenwriter of Twelve Years a Slave, who explains the importance of confronting the pain of America's past. That's coming up.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

Up next here, Harry Smith on the political lessons that can be learned from one of the Academy Award's Best Picture favorites, Twelve Years a Slave after this.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

On Friday I spoke with Democratic Congressman Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania about President Obama's new initiative, My Brother's Keeper. It is part of our ten-question series and it's on our website at MeetThePressNBC.com. We're back in a moment here with a special look at Twelve Years a Slave on this day of the Academy Awards.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

The movie world is gathering in Hollywood for tonight's Oscars ceremony. One of the favorites to win Best Picture is Twelve Years a Slave, the story of an African American man who was sold into slavery in the mid-19th century. Our Harry Smith now explores how America's ugly history around race still resonates in our modern-day politics.

(BEGIN TAPE)

HARRY SMITH:

Slavery is an American sin for which there is probably no forgiveness. It's sheer cruelty made manifest in Steve McQueen's film, which has one nine Oscar nominations.

(CLIP FROM “12 YEARS A SLAVE)

HARRY SMITH:

It's the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was tricked, then sold into slavery. Northup wrote a book about it, a best-seller in 1853. Turning that book into a screenplay was the job of now Oscar-nominated writer, John Ridley.

JOHN RIDLEY:

I read it, I thought it was singular. The way that he wrote, the elevated the nature, the clarity of detail, the lack of bitterness, the lack of hatred that he spoke with about the circumstance was absolutely phenomenal.

(CLIP FROM “12 YEARS A SLAVE)

HARRY SMITH:

Northup's story filled gaps in Ridley's own understanding of history.

JOHN RIDLEY:

When you start to realize how little we as Americans really know about this aspect of history and how it affected all of us, and certainly the people the color of slaves, no pun intended, got the bad end of the stick.

(CLIP FROM “12 YEARS A SLAVE)

HARRY SMITH:

Collective consent on what's evil becomes ordinary. The film shows that in a way rarely seen on screen.

JOHN RIDLEY:

I got really emotional. You go to these screenings, and people walk out and they want to hug you. They want to shake your hand.

HARRY SMITH:

Yet as powerful as the film may be, some like commentator and talk show host Tavis Smiley were left with a feeling of frustration.

TAVIS SMILEY:

Tears I think are important. It's important that we, like our Jewish brothers and sisters, never forget. But what does that have to do what we're doing in the real time to value the lives of black men, of black boys, and black people writ large?

HARRY SMITH:

Smiley believes the present and the past are inextricably linked.

(CLIP FROM “12 YEARS A SLAVE)

TAVIS SMILEY:

All these years after Twelve Years a Slave, the fact that we still have in this country an intractable issue like racism, even in the era of the nation's first black president, it's a shame and a disgrace for all of us.

HARRY SMITH:

But if Twelve Years a Slave moves people, even a single step, says John Ridley, that's important.

(CLIP FROM “12 YEARS A SLAVE)

JOHN RIDLEY:

My hope is that people will come out of this theater moved and not desensitized, but sensitized and saying, "If I feel that way about a film, if I feel that way about a story that happened back then, how should I feel about what's going on in the world right now?"

HARRY SMITH :

For Meet the Press, Harry Smith, NBC News.

(END TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

Going to be a big night tonight. Is this the winner tonight for best picture?

KATHLEEN PARKER:

Sounds like it. I'm behind in my movie viewing. But from what I've just seen, I would be surprised if--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Powerful.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

I didn't predict the invasion of Crimea, so I'm not about to take guesses about Oscars. But, I think this one is going to win.

TINA BROWN:

It looks like it is. But then there was such a lot of expectation that Lincoln was going to win last year. And sometimes it is a very grueling movie and a very painful and a harsh movie. And the only thing that could happen is that Gravity gets it because people just enjoyed it.

DAVID GREGORY:

Enjoy the--

STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE:

It's a powerful movie, but I would vote for House of Cards. They need to find a way to slide that in.

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

--this year, American Hustle based on Abscam. And it's been--

(OVERTALK)

TINA BROWN:

It was a great year for movies.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG:

It really was. And you could see that Hollywood is more interested in writing about history again and something. It's kind of nice.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Also your interview with President Obama on Bloomberg View as of 2:00 P.M. A lot on the Middle East and Syria. We'll be looking for that. Thank you all very much. That's all for us today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.