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Meet the Press Transcript - March 29, 2015

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

This Sunday, mass murder in the air. The latest on that Germanwings pilot. What medical conditions was he hiding? And are changes needed in the way we screen commercial airline pilots? Plus, as talks on a nuclear deal with Iran reach their final hours.

ANDREA MITCHELL (TAPE):

For the first time, U.S. officials are talking about what will happen if all of this fails.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

How the U.S. has been getting caught up on both sides of a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia that could rip apart the Middle East even more, if that's possible.

TED CRUZ (TAPE):

And I believe in you. I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

Ted Cruz becomes the first to jump into the 2016 race, hoping he can ride an evangelical wave to the White House. Why evangelical may be more important than ever in choosing the next Republican nominee. And speaking of Republican presidential candidates, why is one courting the survivalist crowd by suggesting it's time to stock up and hoard supplies?

CHUCK TODD:

I'm Chuck Todd. And joining me to provide insight and analysis this morning are NBC's Joe Scarborough; Hillary Clinton's former policy director from 2008, Neera Tanden; Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post; and Sam Stein of the Huffington Post. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

(OFF-MIC CONVERSATION)

CHUCK TODD:

And good morning. We're going to start with a topic that has dominated conversation around the world this week. The news that a plane had crashed into the Alps with 150 people on board was horrific enough. But the story took a bizarre and even more disturbing turn when it became clear the copilot had deliberately slammed it into the mountain, turning it into a mass murder.

We're learning more about that pilot, Andreas Lubitz, every day. And a picture is emerging of a mentally disturbed man who should never have been allowed in the cockpit. For the latest on trying to find out about this pilot, I'm joined by NBC's Katy Tur, who is in the pilot's hometown of Montabaur, Germany. What more this morning, Katy, have we learned about Andreas and about what happened in those final moments?

KATY TUR:

Well, even more horrifying details are coming out today. Bild newspaper here in Germany, which is the largest tabloid, is reporting on a timeline of the final moments of that plane. They said the pilot mentions when they take off that he hasn't gone to the bathroom in Spain. Co-pilot Lubitz says, "You should go while we're in the air." The pilot doesn't respond. Then, once they reach altitude, the pilot says that he will go, gets up, goes to the bathroom. The next thing you hear is the door clicking shut, and then the pilot banging on the door saying, "Open the damn door." And then, finally, him taking an axe to the door as the passengers scream.

Now, this is being reported by a newspaper out here. NBC News has not been able to verify it. But if it is, in fact, true it is extremely chilling details of those final moments. They're also reporting a lot on his medical condition. The New York Times reports that he had eye issues that would've prevented him from flying in the future.

There are also reports that there was depression involved here. So far, NBC News hasn't been able to verify that, either. But we can tell you the prosecutor's office did find doctors' notes, torn-up doctors' notes inside of his home, doctors' notes for the day of the crash that were not given to Lufthansa, ones that would have excused him from work. So, they're looking into all of this right now and trying to piece together exactly what was going on inside his mind at the time of the crash. Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Katy Tur, thanks very much. I know you're going to keep reporting and keep building a profile of this pilot. I'm joined now by NBC's aviation correspondent, our own Tom Costello; and Erin Bowen, an aviation psychology expert from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Welcome to you both. Tom, follow up on this report this morning. You hear an axe. There are axes on airplanes?

TOM COSTELLO:

Well, there's an axe, we know for sure, in the cockpit. That's standard procedure. But there is also, according to Lufthansa, which told our producer in France this morning, they have one hidden in the passenger compartment. And only the crew members know where that axe might be.

So, we were a little bit surprised by that as well, to find that there's an axe hidden somewhere in the cabin. But apparently there is. Now, we can't confirm, but Bild is reporting that the pilot was using an axe to try to get through the door. But in theory, there is an axe in the cabin.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Obviously, they're having a larger conversation here about mental health and mental fitness of pilots. And I think we're finding out that there isn't a lot of mental health checks that are done of pilots. Is that right, Erin?

DR. ERIN BOWEN:

Right. Well, you know, the psychological assessments that are available for use typically at the time of new hire for airline pilots are not the types of tools that would detect mental illness. They're primarily things like personality inventories.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, it's interesting here. According to a guide for the aviation medical examiners, "The F.A.A. does not expect an examiner to perform a formal psychiatric examination. However, the examiner should form a general impression of the emotional stability and mental state of the applicant" So, there is not mental health check?

DR. ERIN BOWEN:

Well, no. Because those tools just aren't as sophisticated as, say, the medical exams and the diagnostic tests you can go and get annually for your physical.

TOM COSTELLO:

By the way, you're talking about during the year, your yearly physical.

CHUCK TODD:

There's not a mental physical.

TOM COSTELLO:

Right.

DR. ERIN BOWEN:

No.

TOM COSTELLO:

But there is a psychological workup that's done before and during the hiring process that's rather rigorous, but not during the yearly physical.

CHUCK TODD:

And there's not an annual thing that's done?

DR. ERIN BOWEN:

No.

TOM COSTELLO:

Well, you'd know better than I. But as I understand it, you would ask kind of cursory questions.

DR. ERIN BOWEN:

So, your physician when you go into your aviation medical examiner would ask questions about your sleep, any substance abuse, alcohol use, personal life, stressors. But they are not trained psychiatrists or psychological experts. They're primary care physicians.

CHUCK TODD:

Does that need to change?

DR. ERIN BOWEN:

No, actually. I don't think that it does. Psychological assessments are not these magic diagnostic tools that would tell us that this is an individual with depression who is imminently going to crash a plane full of innocent passengers. They're just not that sophisticated.

CHUCK TODD:

Now, Tom, there was a time where if you had any mental health condition, you were not allowed to be a licensed commercial airline pilot. They have eased those restrictions.

TOM COSTELLO:

That's right. In 2010, the F.A.A. changed the rules, essentially acknowledging that people are living with depression and certain mental health issues every single day, and they do so very well in this country. They take meds, they get therapy.

So, in 2010, the F.A.A. came out and said, "Listen. If you self-disclose, if you come to us and say, 'I'm dealing with some personal issues. I'm dealing with mental health and depression, what have you. I'd like to see help,'" the F.A.A. says, "Okay. Fine. That's all right. We'll take you out of the cockpit for a year. If you get that help, you can then come back and be in the cockpit, and even be on some antidepressants, for example, including Zoloft. But that's all right if you function well, if you're cleared by a doctor."

CHUCK TODD:

This is self-report?

TOM COSTELLO:

This is self-report. Now, there's an incentive to self-reporting. If you don't self-report and those meds show up in your yearly blood work, then you're talking about suspension or fines. So, there's an incentive.

CHUCK TODD:

Now, Erin, there should be a little relief here in this country. Mr. Lubitz never would've qualified to be a commercial airline pilot in this country. Correct?

DR. ERIN BOWEN:

Well, not following the conventional changes to the restrict A.T.P. requirements. So, as of now, you have to have 1,500 hours of flight time or 1,000 from a qualified, approved school in order to be a copilot.

CHUCK TODD:

So, there's no way this guy is a pilot here?

TOM COSTELLO:

I have to say I find this almost egregious, that somebody who has Lufthansa.

CHUCK TODD:

That's right. That's right.

TOM COSTELLO:

Yes. This is clearly the gold standard for airlines around the world. And since 2013, this guy has been a first officer and has only accumulated up to 630 hours in total. In the United States, you cannot be a first officer unless you have 1,000 to 1,500 hours depending on your educational background and your experience.

But this comes after the Colgan Air crash, in which we saw crew members who were really not up to the job, who were in the cockpit, didn't have enough experience, didn't have enough training, were really subpar in some respects, in terms of the captain and his performance in the testing. And, so, for Lufthansa to still be hiring somebody with so few hours is concerning.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly.

DR. ERIN BOWEN:

But I would disagree that this is a failure of training. Because really, this is a mental health issue. And I think at 630 hours, he was a more than capable pilot. And up until four years ago, he was a more than capable pilot in the United States. This is really a mental health failure, and a failure for us to recognize and change the culture and industry.

CHUCK TODD:

Erin Bowen, Tom Costello, thank you both. And I'm going to pick up on this mental health thing. Let's bring in the panel. We have Joe Scarborough, Neera Tanden, Kathleen Parker, Sam Stein. Kathleen, you wrote about this this week, Monster in the Sky. I feel like we're about to have the same conversation we've had when we've talked about the shooting in Aurora, where we're talking about mental health issues. And maybe that's the conversation we should be having.

KATHLEEN PARKER:

Oh, I'm always happy to talk about mental health issues, and frankly don't talk about it enough across the board. However, I'm not convinced that we know that this is absolutely a mental health circumstance. I mean, the fact that he might've had antidepressants in his daily regimen doesn't necessarily mean that he's not capable of doing his job or that he would somehow fail in the air.

But there's no evidence that he's had some psychotic event thus far. I mean, it may turn out that we discover that. I don't know how we would discover it. But the fact that he had a rumpled-up doctor's excuse not to work that day doesn't, to me, confirm that this is strictly a mental health problem.

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough. But I have to say, Joe, you started finding out. We don't do mental health checkups for pilots. You fly a lot. We all fly a lot. That's a little disconcerting to me.

JOE SCARBOROUGH:

So, I get on the plane last night to come up early. You've got the end of the kids' spring break. And I was flying up. And I walked up, turned to the pilot, and said, "You happy? You doing okay?" And the pilot just sits there. And I say, "Any suicidal thoughts? Everything okay?"

And the guy laughed. He got what I was talking about. But you always look at the pilots, especially as you get older, and you realize the pilots are younger and younger. And now, some of those pilots are younger than my 27-year-old son. So, there has to be some mental health screening. It's just like when somebody decided to get on the plane with liquid to blow things up. Now, we do the liquid.

I will say this, though. Let's celebrate something that the federal government does right in this country, aviation. We see all around the world one crash after another, one unexplained crash after another. You know, tip our hats.

CHUCK TODD:

I was just going to say.

JOE SCARBOROUGH:

They do a great job, knock on wood.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, later in the show, I've got this interview with Patrick Kennedy that I did. And one part, you know, he has become this big mental health advocate. Listen to what he says. He really thinks we need to make mental health more of a normalized thing when it comes to medical.

PATRICK KENNEDY (TAPE):

40,000 suicides and counting a year. 16,000 overdoses, more than are killed in car accidents. The epidemic of addiction and mental illness in this country. And we are paralyzed as a nation in the way that we cope with it. We're doing a lot of one-offs. But we have no agenda for mental health and addiction.

CHUCK TODD:

Sam, he continued. It's like, you know, his hope is that the way you get an annual physical, you would do the same thing, an annual mental physical, and that there would be no stigma to that.

SAM STEIN:

Oh, you know, we don't spend relatively that much money on mental health services in this country, somewhere under 6% of our national health care spending. So, clearly, there's room growth there. And, of course, science and research, the brain initiative can give us some insight into this thing.

But with the context of this fight, we need to remember two things. One, aviation safety is pretty good. And it keeps getting better and better year by year. And two, one of the problems here was not the mental health, but the fact that Europe doesn't have the rule of two in the cockpit. And in the United States, this man never would've been alone in the cockpit. There would've been a copilot there at all times. But in Europe, that wasn't the case. And had there been someone else there, we probably would've had different circumstances.

CHUCK TODD:

Neera, it's not often we celebrate American government regulation.

KATHLEEN PARKER:

Yeah Joe and I right here

CHUCK TODD:

We're celebrating American government regulation, I mean Sam just doing it.

NEERA TANDEN:

But I do think if we make mental health screenings more regular, than it takes away the stigma, which is one of the reasons why it's important in the U.S. that we have the kind of safety record we have and if the F.A.A. hadn't made this change in 2013.

CHUCK TODD:

And what Patrick Kennedy talks about, start it with kids. We need to start it early then you normalize

JOE SCARBOROUGH:

And Chuck, you brought this up. It's a very important point. And we talked about it after Newtown. We're talking about it now. What's the line that connects those two? It's mental health. We can talk about airline safety, but it goes back to mental health. We can talk about gun control. At the end of the day, it goes back to mental health.

CHUCK TODD:

Absolutely. All right, we're going to pause here. When we come back, the latest on the critical nuclear talks with Iran. The deadline, we're now hours away. And also, if it seems as if we're fighting both sides in the Middle East, with Iran and against them, well, it's because we are.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

And we are back. Talks on the future of Iran's nuclear program are in the final hours ahead of a self-imposed Tuesday deadline. And Secretary of State John Kerry has cancelled a planned return to the U.S. in a final push to try to get this deal done.

Never shy to speak out on his fears over our potential agreement, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had stated this morning that the deal that seems to be emerging is even worse than he had feared. For the latest on the talks, I'm joined by our Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell. She is in Lausanne, Switzerland. And Andrea, there seems to be a lot more pessimism about a deal getting done.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

There certainly is. This has been 18 months of negotiating, only days to go, as you pointed out. And there are some stumbling blocks. The biggest sticking point, we are told, is that Iran is refusing to give up its research and development on nuclear equipment that can be used for peaceful purposes but also could be used to create nuclear weapons. The second sticking point, we're told, is the length of sanctions, when they would be phased out, how quickly they could be lifted. So, those are complications.

Now, both sides could be doing this for tactical reasons. The U.S. being very negative, Iran being very positive, to try to bring together if this all falls apart. Because for the first time, U.S. officials are talking pretty openly about what would happen if there is no deal.

CHUCK TODD:

And the fallout, Andrea, if there is no deal politically, does that actually put the president in a stronger position domestically, considering how much skepticism there is on Capitol Hill about a deal anyway?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, it could. Because you've got both Democrats and Republicans and some crucial allies, not just Israel, but Iran's opponents, the Sunni Arab leaders in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, not wanting this deal because they think it isn't tough enough.

But I think that, more broadly, with so many other problems on the foreign policy front, the White House really sees this as it’s legacy. That's why they were so angry at Netanyahu's opposition. He wants this. The problem is, do they want it too badly? The other point is technical. Iran has observed its limits, limits on its program. They have not violated them, we are told, during the negotiations. If there is no deal, all bets are off. They can do whatever they want on their nuclear program. And they can stop U.N. inspectors from getting in. Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Andrea Mitchell, I know you're going to be there as this thing gets hammered out, if it does, thank you. For an insight on how these negotiations are being conducted, I'm joined by Christopher Hill. He's a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and South Korea.

And he also served as chief negotiator with North Korea in what were ultimately unsuccessful talks over their nuclear weapons program between 2005 and 2008. Ambassador Hill, welcome to Meet the Press. And let me just start with what you heard as the sticking point. Take us inside this room. You've been at this point before. You hear this pessimism. Is it real? Or are they playing with us a little bit?

AMBASSADOR CHRISTOPHER HILL:

Oh, I think it's a little of both. I mean, certainly from the U.S. vantage point, they need to go back to Washington and kind of oversell the deal. I mean, the deal is so hinged on technical issues that it is going to be hard to sell. I mean, it just doesn't sing when you bring it back to people. At the same time, the Iranians need to come back to Tehran and say, "Well, we just got our sanctions lifted." And it's very clear that this is going to be tough. I mean, for both sides, it's not a very nice and clean deal. So, both sides are going to have a heck of a time selling it back in capitals. And, so, I think some of this pessimism is very real.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Ambassador, when you look here, we're at a point this week. You look at the developments in Yemen, a key U.S. ally in Saudi Arabia militarily getting involved there against what they believe is Iranian aggression. How can the United States potentially be helping to strengthen Iran in the region by cutting a deal on the nuclear front and, at the same time, which could then cause maybe more problems for key allies like Saudi Arabia?

AMBASSADOR CHRISTOPHER HILL:

Well, certainly, Saudi Arabia is facing tough times. They've gone through a difficult succession. They've got Iraq on their northern border, which, you know, sort of anything goes there. And now, they have this Houthi rebellion in Yemen. So, from a Saudi perspective, these are tough times. And then, also from the Saudi perspective, they look at this deal with Iran, and what they see it as something that goes beyond just the nuclear issue. They see some kind of emerging, or I should say re-emerging, partnership with the U.S. and Iran.

Remember, from the Saudi perspective, they look back in the 1970s and they saw a U.S. that considered the shah of Iran, or considered Iran the sort of main factor in the Middle East. And, so, the Saudis don't want to see that kind of issue. So, from their perspective, things have been very tough, especially anybody Iran and other Shia. And then, oh, by the way, we're asking them to go after these radical Sunnis in ISIS. So, it's been quite a tough time.

CHUCK TODD:

Hey, two quick questions. Why isn't one of the points of negotiation in this nuclear deal forcing Iran to recognize Israel's right to exist? Why isn't that included in the talks?

AMBASSADOR CHRISTOPHER HILL:

It's probably a bridge too far. And moreover, I think you have to remember that Iran is very split. You have these technocratic, you know, smart people from Tehran. And they have their own agenda to try to push back the ayatollahs. But the ayatollahs have no interest in normalizing with Israel. They have no interest in pulling back from issues in Syria and support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah. So, they're very split themselves, not unlike the situation we have in Washington.

CHUCK TODD:

And finally, I want to get you to react to something that another former ambassador to Iraq said about President Obama's Middle East policy. He said this. This is James Jeffrey. He said, "We're in gosh-darn free fall here," although he didn't use "gosh-darn," when referring to the president's Middle East policy. Do you agree?

AMBASSADOR CHRISTOPHER HILL:

I think, frankly, there's so much different stuff going on. It's going to be a very nuanced policy. And the real difficulty is explaining it to people. Because it seems to have these counter-cross impulses. But overall, I think there's a successful effort to push back ISIS.

The concern is, of course, that we're empowering these Shia militia groups. The real question is we have no onward policy for Syria. And as long as Syria is going to be this exporter of instability, it's going to be very tough for the region.

CHUCK TODD:

Ambassador Hill, thanks for your viewpoints on this. I really appreciate it.

AMBASSADOR CHRISTOPHER HILL:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Staying on the subject of Iran, Arab leaders have agreed in principle to establish a joint military force as Saudi-led airstrikes on Iranian-backed Shiite rebels continue across Yemen. Despite the airstrikes, the rebels are continuing to advance south as they attempt to take the southern city of Aden, a government stronghold that the country's president fled to earlier this week. And as our Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel explains, the U.S. is now stuck on both sides of what appears to be a proxy war that could consume the region.

(BEGIN TAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL (V/O):

Saudi jets took off for bombing runs in Yemen about 100 hours after American advisors were forced to evacuate under the cover of night. Here, Iranian-backed rebels, Shiite Muslims, have the pro-U.S. government on the run. At the same time that the U.S. finds itself fighting Iran on the one hand, it's working with Iran on the other.

In Iraq, the U.S. is giving Iranian-backed militias air support. In Switzerland, it's negotiating with Iran. In Yemen, the U.S. left the fight against the Iranian-backed rebels. And in Syria, the U.S. is supporting both the fight against Iran and its ally, President Assad; and with Iran, against ISIS.

AMBASSADOR JAMES JEFFREY:

The end result is we do not seem to be to the people in the region and to the American people pursuing and presenting an overall strategy that will defeat the really bad forces in that region.

RICHARD ENGEL (V/O):

The former U.S. ambassador and several analysts say the Sunni states led by Saudi Arabia are going their own way because they believe this administration can't be relied on in its policy with what they see as their real enemy, Shiite Iran.

Leaders at an Arab summit in Egypt today even called for the creation of the United Standing Arab Army. It would be an alternative to dependence on the U.S. and stand against Iran. There's a proxy war underway that's big and expanding between Saudi Arabia and now other Sunni nations against Iran. And critics say the administration is trying and failing to play both sides of it, confusing its friends and emboldening its enemies. Richard Engel, NBC News, Istanbul.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

I'm joined now by the Saudi ambassador to United States, Adel Al-Jubeir. Ambassador, welcome to Meet the Press.

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:

Thank you. It's great to be here.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Let me start with a basic question. What is Saudi Arabia's objective in getting involved militarily in Yemen?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:

Very simple, we came at the invitation of the legitimate government, who are there to protect the people of Yemen from an occupation by a radical group that is bent on turning Yemen towards more radicalism. We came to protect the legitimate government of Yemen. And we want to restore peace and stability in a country that's neighboring to us.

CHUCK TODD:

Before you started the air strikes, our commander at Centcom, General Austin, said he was only told about the attacks one hour before they began. And he did this at a hearing. And John McCain said that that was quite a commentary. And he thought that that said more about the relationship right now between Saudi Arabia and the United States, that really, it is deteriorating. Is he right?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:

I don’t believe the relationship is deteriorating. In fact, it's very, very strong. We have talked about the possible options of using force with the United States for many months. This option became much more serious in the last few weeks.

And in the run-up to making the decision, putting together the coalition, we were in constant touch with the White House and other U.S. government agencies about this. The decision to use military force was made at the last moment because of the developments that there have been happening with regards to the Houthi's potential occupation of Aden. And, so, I can see how somebody would say the decision was made at the last minute.

CHUCK TODD:

You were sharing with the United States?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:

Absolutely.

CHUCK TODD:

And the United States was fully on board?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:

Absolutely. The U.S. wouldn't be working with us if it wasn't on board.

CHUCK TODD:

Why would you send ground troops in if you guys decided to do that?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:

We haven't made the decision to send ground troops in so far. So far, it's been an air campaign. And we have a plan in motion. And we're executing this plan.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay. But what would be the reason that you would send ground troops in? If Aden falls to the Houthis?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:

We have to see. We are not contemplating this issue. We are determined to degrade and destroy the Houthi capabilities. We're determined to protect and preserve the legitimate government of Yemen. And we're determined to protect the people of Yemen. And, so, we will continue this campaign until those objectives are achieved.

CHUCK TODD:

Should we be calling this a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:

This is a war to protect the people of Yemen and protect its legitimate government from a group that is allied and supported by Iran and Hezbollah. But I wouldn't call it a proxy war. Because we are doing this to protect Yemen.

CHUCK TODD:

Can a strong Iran and a strong Saudi Arabia coexist in the Middle East?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:

It's really up to the Iranians. We have encountered many problems, aggression by Iran against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There has not been one incident of Saudi aggression against Iran. We have extended our hand in friendship to the Iranians. And it's been rejected for the past 35 years.

So, it's really up to Iranians. We would like to have friendly relations with the Iranians because it's good for the region. But this decision, the decision not to have friendly relations is really the result of the actions of the Iranians, not as a result of Saudi Arabia.

CHUCK TODD:

Can the United States both help you against Iran and Yemen, and negotiate a deal that would lift sanctions against them on the nuclear front?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:

I believe that the negotiations with regards to a nuclear program in Iran are something that the whole world wants to succeed.

CHUCK TODD:

You want a deal?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:

We want a solid deal that denies Iran the ability to make nuclear weapons, a deal that is verifiable, a deal that cuts all avenues to a nuclear weapon for Iran, a solid deal. And, so, we're waiting to see the results of the negotiations before we assess the deal.

CHUCK TODD:

You decline to rule out the idea in an interview earlier this week that Saudi Arabia would pursue its own nuclear program if you felt as if Iran wasn't going to be stopped from eventually getting a nuclear weapon. Is that a fair assessment?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:

I basically said that we will not discuss these issues in public.

CHUCK TODD:

Well if you were going to say no, you'd say no.

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:

Well, every country has to look out for its own interest. And we have to protect our people and do whatever it takes to do so. And we have to assess the threat and make a decision on how we're going to deal with it.

CHUCK TODD:

What is the, do you believe the United States needs to do more to support the Saudis right now? Have they done enough? Or do you think they're doing everything that we've been doing for years and years?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:

With regards to Yemen, we are very, very pleased with the support we're getting from the United States, whether it's intelligence whether it's logistics, and the political support. We have a very strong counterterrorism cooperation. We have a very strong military cooperation, very strong commercial ties.

We are very pleased with the relationship. We want to work more with the United States in Iraq to ensure that we diminish the role of the Shia militias, to bring in and empower and Sunnis in Iraq, and to keep Iraq united and independent from Iran.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you feel Saudi Arabia owns any of the problems of Sunni extremism that's been exported out of Saudi Arabia? Do you accept responsibility for that and the growth of ISIS? Would this happen, Sunni extremism, without, you know, individuals in Saudi Arabia quietly helping these folks out?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:

I don't know that this would be a fair point to make. I think I know that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a target of ISIS. They have tried. We have captured many members of ISIS in the kingdom who have tried to kill our people. We are fighting them as we speak in Syria. So, if there are individuals in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia who are providing funding to ISIS, we will punish them. In fact, we have arrested a number of them and they are sitting in our jails.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Ambassador, thanks for coming on Meet the Press.

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

You got it. We're going to take a quick break here. And when we come back, the latest on 2016, including Hillary's email problem that won't be wiped away from any servers here. We'll be right back.

***Commercial Break***

HARRY REID (ON TAPE):

We've got to be more concerned about the country, the Senate, the State of Nevada, than us. And as a result of that, I'm not going to run for reelection.

CHUCK TODD:

Two senators, by the way, announced this week that they won't be running for reelection. One you may not have heard about, Republican Dan Coats of Indiana. The man you just heard from, of course, is Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who will leave after five terms in office. That makes now four senators, by the way, three of them Democrats who will not be returning have announced their retirements. There’s no more Barbaras in the Senate. Boxer and Mikulski are retiring.

So, what do these retirements mean for control of the Senate of 2015? Right now, Republicans hold a 54-46 may. But 2016 is rocky ground for Republicans. Twenty-three seats are held by Republicans that are up, compared to just ten Democratic seats. That's because of the 2010 race. But this much we know. Harry Reid's retirement means two new faces, a new senator from Nevada and a new leader for the Democrats this spring. And the panel, Joe, Chuck Schumer for Harry Reid. What changes do you expect?

JOE SCARBOROUGH:

That's a big trade up, not only for the Democratic Party but for America. And I'm dead serious.

CHUCK TODD:

Trade up?

JOE SCARBOROUGH:

Trade up. Harry Reid as majority leader in the Senate at the same time you had the Tea Party in the House was a disastrous combination. Chuck Schumer is one of these interesting people that actually is not only going to be better for his party.

Because he's going to fight tougher, he going to be able to take the message to Americans more. He's going to be better for the country because like Tip O'Neill, the one thing he hates more than Republicans' philosophy is gridlock and getting nothing done. I think we're all better off now.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, I agree with almost everything there. Except Harry Reid was described as this guy, Neera, I mean, he was the behind-the-scenes guy. And it was always Harry Reid was the guy Republicans secretly cut deals with. They couldn't deal with Daschle. Does the job itself polarize you? Because Harry Reid used to be what Joe described.

NEERA TANDEN:

Yes. I do think it polarizes a little bit. But I do think, also, Harry Reid responded to the Tea Party. I think the truth is that Harry Reid felt like he couldn't do deals, he couldn't get anything done. And he became more of a fighter. Now, I do agree completely with Joe that Chuck is important on message, he delivers a strong message.

And also, he's a fighter for the middle classes, et cetera. I think, on being a spokesperson for the party I think he'll do a better job. But I also think that the government has to function going forward. So I hope we see a lot of it on both sides.

CHUCK TODD:

Chuck Schumer's not camera shy. Harry Reid's a little camera shy.

NEERA TANDEN:

Harry Reid is a little camera shy.

CHUCK TODD:

Sam, some of the progressive Left think Chuck Schumer is too close to Wall Street.

SAM STEIN:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

He made sure there is nobody, Harry Reid, I mean, they closed ranks--

SAM STEIN:

I was talking with a couple Democrats about this. Usually, Democrats are disorganize, dysfunctional. But their succession issues--

CHUCK TODD:

Oh, my God. They've been very Republican like.

SAM STEIN:

I know, right.

JOE SCARBOROUGH:

And orderly.

SAM STEIN:

The thing is, like you said, Harry Reid was also viewed skeptical by the Left during his career. And he very much moved towards the progressive side of his party. And he will forever be remembered for legislative accomplishments. One is health care reform, which never would've happened without him.

And the second is the filibuster reform that allowed him to essentially reshape the judiciary in this country for generations to come. Those were his two policy achievements. The one thing I'll say about him as a tactician, he might not have been the most camera-ready person in the a war room with online messages when that was a new thing. And he was vicious going after--

CHUCK TODD:

You know what? He was a party boss. He was an old-fashioned party the way he ran Nevada politics.

KATHLEEN PARKER:

Oh, obviously he didn't want it either. Harry Reid may have been responding to the Tea Party, as were Republicans from the other side. But, you know, he also refused to bring anything to the floor that Republicans put out there. So, I mean, if Schumer is willing to at least bring things to the floor, then that's an improvement.

CHUCK TODD:

Right. He took what Bill Frist created in gridlock and perfected it, essentially.

JOE SCARBOROUGH:

I just wanted to say you talk about Harry Reid as the tactician, the politician, the fundraiser. His legacy in his last election is going to be disastrous. He decided to nationalize the election around a guy named Charles Koch. Nobody knew, nobody cared. He wasted so much money for the Democrats.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I want to get to the Hillary Clinton news. And Neera. I have to ask. I'm sorry. So, you sit here. She wiped the server clean.

NEERA TANDEN:

Okay, wipe the server clean.

CHUCK TODD:

Politically, it makes perfect sense, right. Why have something there that you might have to turn over to Congress. I sort of understand the tactic. But doesn't it feed this idea that they were hiding something?

NEERA TANDEN:

So, can we just go back a little bit and recognize that this whole thing starting with Benghazi? And the reason we're at this phase of this scandal machine is because they didn't find the emails they wanted to find showing that she did something--

KATHLEEN PARKER:

Wait a minute.

JOE SCARBOROUGH:

The emails were under subpoena at the time she destroyed them. Saying that makes perfect sense means Pat Buchanan's still saying it makes perfect sense that Nixon should have burned the tapes. These emails were under subpoena.

NEERA TANDEN:

She turned it over. Exactly.

JOE SCARBOROUGH:

No, she didn’t.

NEERA TANDEN:

She turned over 55,000--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

Gang up on Neera time.

KATHLEEN PARKER:

No. No. No. We're ganging up on Hillary.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, let's talk big picture. Look, I understand Republicans overreach, the Clintons are probably overprotective. But is that the stalemate that America's going to be looking for in 2016?

NEERA TANDEN:

I have to say, I think the fact that we're obsessed with this scandal, et cetera, is the kind of thing that people hate about Washington.

JOE SCARBOROUGH:

We're not obsessed about it. We're just asking a question on when you have emails and records that are under subpoena, you decide unilaterally, first of all, to set up your own system. And then, you decide unilaterally to wipe out that entire system when they're under subpoena.

NEERA TANDEN:

No. No. Okay, let me explain.

CHUCK TODD:

I'll give you the last word on this and then we’re--

NEERA TANDEN:

Okay. Number one, she's turned over all those State Department emails. Everybody in government has personal email. They make a decision what's personal, what's not. That's true for everybody. She's releasing the State Department emails. That's going beyond what everyone else has done.

And finally, I say, look, when she runs for president, assuming she runs, she'll be able to talk about these issues. But more importantly, she'll be able to talk about the issues that people care about. And the fact that Hillary didn’t have two Blackberrys--

JOE SCARBOROUGH:

We don't know if a single thing you said is correct or not. No, we don't. Because you're taking Hillary Clinton's word for it. Nobody would take George W. Bush or Dick Cheney's word for it.

CHUCK TODD:

And that's the important point here.

JOE SCARBOROUGH:

Dick Cheney said, "You know what? I kept all of my emails at home."

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

We will continue this on Periscope or Meerkat. Back in a moment. Why evangelical voters will have a lot more to say this year when choosing the Republican nominee. That's next.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

It's Nerd Screen time. And today, we're talking evangelical voters. The location of Senator Ted Cruz' presidential campaign announcement, the Christian and very conservative Liberty University, was a signal that the senator is aware of the power of the evangelical vote. Voters who call themselves evangelical Christians have given hope to multiple primary candidates in the past.

In fact, they propelled the former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, who would win in Iowa with 34% of the vote in 2008. In 2012, it was former Senator Rick Santorum who ended up winning the Iowa caucuses, barely. And his success was also largely due to one sect: the evangelical vote. Now, neither of those men were able to turn that evangelical support into an actual successful nomination campaign. But the difference this time is the primary schedule. And this could help Ted Cruz.

As always, Iowa is first. And looking back at 2012 exit polls, evangelicals made up over a majority of Republican voters, 67%. Well, two states later, you get to South Carolina, third up overall. In 2012, evangelicals made up 65% of the GOP primary vote. And this year, success in Iowa and South Carolina could mean a lot more momentum and more money heading into this election cycle's game changer, what we're calling the S.E.C. primary.

Here's what's happening. For you non-college football fans out there, S.E.C. stands for the Southeastern Conference. And multiple Southern states are in talks to set their primary on the same day, resulting in a super evangelical Tuesday. Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas. The thing those states all have in common: evangelicals make up the largest religious segment in the state. They're 24% of the population in Texas, 39% in Mississippi, and 41% of the population in Alabama.

So, the proposed S.E.C. primary could give a candidate like Ted Cruz, if he is the sole evangelical candidate, momentum that Huckabee and Santorum never were able to count on. And they could propel Cruz to not just relevancy, but to an actual shot at the nomination. Imagine that. It's six of the first state primaries. Could be a big deal. More on this and the pitfalls of this path can be found at meetthepressnbc.com. We'll be right back.

***Commercial Break***

Ted Kennedy was one of the giants of the Senate, so it's fitting that he's being remembered with the establishment of an institute that aims to demystify the legislative process--- complete with a full sized replica of the Senate chamber.

Tomorrow, the Edward. M. Kennedy institute for the study of the United States senate in Boston will be dedicated in a ceremony attended by President Obama and figures from across the political divide.

Earlier this week I got a sneak peek inside when I joined Senator Kennedy’s widow, Vicki for a tour.

(BEGIN TAPE)

VICKI KENNEDY:

It came up at a family dinner. And Ed Schlossberg, Caroline Kennedy’s husband was the one who had this nugget of an idea. "Wouldn’t it be great to have an institute for the United States Senate?" I think back then it was something for the study of the senate. And it-- of course Teddy just thought-- his eyes lit up and he said, "Yes."

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

The 68-thousand square foot building that bears his name is about more than just the late senator's legacy. Using today's technology, the institute aims to teach visitors about the history of the Senate - and inspire future legislators through an experiental way of learning.

VICKI KENNEDY:

Every single visitor into this institute will have the opportunity to cast a vote as a United States senator.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

And sit in a replica of the Senate chamber.

VICKI KENNEDY:

Welcome to our --United States senate chamber.

CHUCK TODD

A perfect replica, huh? Not--

VICKI KENNEDY:

Well, it's close.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

Here student groups can debate, negotiate and vote on issues, learning how to work together to get legislation passed, something Senator Kennedy was famous for.

VICKI KENNEDY:

This was where Teddy sat.

CHUCK TODD:

And he always sat here?

VICKI KENNEDY:

Always loved sitting in the back.

CHUCK TODD:

And this is, sometimes a lot of older senators, and they've been here a while, they want to move up front, right? They want the front-row seat? He stayed in the back, which always meant he was with the newbies?

VICKI KENNEDY:

Yes. And he became-- and-- he loved reaching out to new senators. He always did. On both sides of the aisle.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

Ted Kennedy’s ability to work across party lines is a constant theme --

CHUCK TODD:

Another theme when you walk through here, bipartisanship, bipartisanship, bipartisanship.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

Especially in the back corner of the institute, where there's a temporary exhibit honoring the senator, and a permanent replica of his Washington office.

We talked about a moment back in 2009, when the Senator returned to Washington for the first time since he was diagnosed with brain cancer to cast the key vote needed to pass a Medicare bill.

VICKI KENNEDY:

I ran up to the family gallery to watch it. And i remember an usher coming up to me and saying, "Now-- we usually don't allow, you know, noise in the gallery. But it will be all right to applaud." And I just--it was the first time it dawned on me that there was going to be this sort of reception. And it was quite amazing.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

The walls of the office are lined with family photos and letters, marking important moments...

VICKI KENNEDY:

Oh, this, what could this be?

CHUCK TODD:

What could this be--

VICKI KENNEDY:

Meet the Press?

CHUCK TODD:

Right here?

VICKI KENNEDY:

Could this be Meet the Press?

CHUCK TODD (V/O)

But Mrs. Kennedy insists the institute is about more than just her husband:

VICKI KENNEDY:

It's about the United States Senate. Obviously we have this wonderful exhibit. But it's about the Senate that he loved. It's about public service; it's about inspiring the next generation to be involved. That is the spirit of Ted Kennedy. That is what he wanted this place to be.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

During my visit, I also sat down with one of Senator Kennedy’s sons, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy. He shared his thoughts on what his father would think about the state of politics today.

(BEGIN TAPE)

PATRICK KENNEDY:

We're in a period of history, like many others, where we get encapsulated and think, "This is gonna be the way it always is." It's not. It's gonna change. The key is, how is it gonna change? Are we gonna move it towards better days ahead?

Or are we gonna, like, think, "Oh, it's all for naught," and not even begin to try? So my dad was always an optimist. I mean, having overcome so many of his own personal challenges and political challenges. I mean, this was a guy that everyone loved. Why? Because he persevered. And what does this Senate need to do, but persevere and become the place that my dad wanted always for it to be. And that's a place where major conflicts were resolved for the national interest. Not for either party's interest, but for the national interest.

CHUCK TODD:

What is it that current senators now should learn from your dad about how it is you can work across the aisle?

PATRICK KENNEDY:

Well, I think the personal etiquette of trying to make an effort to understand what's going on in the other person's life, personally, because you're working with them.

CHUCK TODD:

Because that's how he did it, he forged these personal bonds. Him and Orin Hatch. You know, Orin Hatch I think got elected probably bashing your dad, you know? Yeah--

PATRICK KENNEDY:

He says it. He came to Washington to counteract my dad's vote, Orin Hatch did. Ended up cutting every deal in the world because he knew it was gonna pass if Ted Kennedy signed off for it, and he was sponsor of it, then boom, everyone else would say, "Oh, well, jeez, if Orin and Ted are for it, then bang." What a revolutionary concept.

CHUCK TODD:

Nothing wrong with a few base hits.

PATRICK KENNEDY:

No, nothing wrong. And-- but I think it was the personal courtesies. I go back to that. Because there isn't a person that I talked to today that doesn't tell me all the times that my dad didn't write 'em a nice note, you know, at some important family event that-- in their lives, and they took-- he took an interest in them personally.

CHUCK TODD:

I've heard you, you describe it about how great this is gonna be for kids to learn. Vicki-- describing it that way. And I'm thinking, "I think there are actual U.S. Senators that could learn (LAUGHTER) something from here." I mean, you-- what we're describing how the Senate works, it--

PATRICK KENNEDY:

Well, you know what? Future U.S. Senators will-- may have had their spark of imagination born in a place like this.

CHUCK TODD:

What would your dad be thinking?

PATRICK KENNEDY:

Oh, he'd be so happy. And then--

CHUCK TODD:

I could just picture him just coming behind here and--

PATRICK KENNEDY:

Oh, and you know what? He'd l-- just get so excited if he saw those kids come runnin' through these doors. The two joys in his life--

CHUCK TODD:

And runnin' around, right.

PATRICK KENNEDY:

--kids and the (LAUGH) Senate. He'd be in heaven. And he is in heaven, because this is gonna be carrying on the legacy that he fought so hard for, and that's to make this a better country for the future.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Should be fun having a Senate museum. After a very short break, we’ll be back with our End Game segment, and we’ll tell you about the candidate who seems to be courting the survivalist crowd.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

And the panel is back here for End Game. Sam Stein, another big political topic of the week is Indiana. A new law that Governor Mike Pence signed in, some accuse this law, religious freedom law, that it was going to legalize discrimination against gays and lesbians. Huge corporate pushback. Forget the political pushback. Huge corporate pushback. Now, Governor Pence is backtracking, trying, "Whoa. I believe in the law. But I'll get some clarity. Sure."

SAM STEIN:

Now, listen, there are other states that have RF laws. And, so, defenders of the law say there's nothing new happening here. But you have to put it into context, right? We're about to have a Supreme Court decision that most people predict will legalize same-sex marriage across the country.

And suddenly, this state comes in and says, "Well, you have the right to say no to a gay customer requesting, for instance, a wedding cake, citing religious objections." And I've been shocked by the corporate pushback, too. Angie's List, Apple, N.C.A.A., N.B.A., they all are saying, you know, "We don't want to do business with a state that does this."

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Kathleen, nothing actually seems to scare a politician more than corporate pushback. Political pushback, media criticism, eh. Corporate America, oh my gosh.

KATHLEEN PARKER:

Well, you know, yes, exactly. But I think in this case, you know, you can't really imagine that at this point, we're actually going to think about legitimizing discrimination against a customer. Remember the signs, having grown up in South, in the windows that said, "We don't serve" whomever.

CHUCK TODD:

So, it harkens back?

KATHLEEN PARKER:

Harkens back to that. And it's just so offensive on such a deep level, even though I do believe firmly in protecting religious freedom to the extent we can within the bounds of fairness.

NEERA TANDEN:

There are no bounds here. That's the issue, right? It's pretty much you just don't want to serve someone. And you can just say, "I have a religious view of it." There's no limitation there. And that's why I think corporations are anxious about it. Because it's going to send a signal.

CHUCK TODD:

But, Joe, I have to say, you know, the evangelical community feels as if they're under siege right now, culturally. And you're going to hear a lot of presidential candidates use this phrase, "religious freedom." It's going to be code for, "I'm against same-sex marriage, but I'm not going to say it."

JOE SCARBOROUGH:

Well, I mean, the evangelical groups have felt under siege for the past five, six years. It is hard to imagine how quickly this issue has moved. In 2004, Republicans won states because of anti-gay marriage initiatives across the country. And it was part of Karl Rove's strategy.

Ten years, 11 years later, we're telling people who make cakes in Muncie, Indiana, and I think the Supreme Court is going to come along and eventually say, "You have to serve cakes to people that are getting married whether it goes against your religious beliefs."

(OVERTALK)

NEERA TANDEN:

I think this will be a wedge issue in the Republican primary. Because they're going to face pressure to say you're against, you're for RF and then you'll see mainstream establishments saying, "We can't go this direction."

CHUCK TODD:

All right. This sort of ties in, a little lighter note, but a weird note here. Mike Huckabee, who could be a strong social Conservative candidate in this field has sent out this odd email. And it's his email list. And he sold an advertisement to. And it comes across, the subject header is, "Number-one item you should be hoarding.” Take a look now. “Are Obama and FEMA going to buy up all the food?" And it's a pitch for survivalist food. And, you know, I guess I go--

KATHLEEN PARKER:

You don't have a pantry?

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I do. Look, Joe and I grew up in Florida. You did, actually, you do--

KATHLEEN PARKER:

I grew up in Florida.

CHUCK TODD:

You grew up in Florida. You do prepare for hurricanes. There's nothing wrong with that.

KATHLEEN PARKER:

Well, we were preparing for the Cuban missiles.

CHUCK TODD:

But this is going to the next level of sort of conspiracy theory here.

KATHLEEN PARKER:

Yes. It's a little embarrassing. I mean, I don't think we have to worry about that. But, you know, I think people are concerned about, and maybe this is what Mike Huckabee is referring to, really, is that when things get very, very uneasy, when the masses become uneasy--

(OVERTALK)

JOE SCARBOROUGH:

Listen, this is a follow-up to what we had in 1994, when we called it the black helicopter. I taught my children about the black helicopter--

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

The trilateral commission will-- we will be in recess. That's all for today. We're back next week. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *