CHUCK TODD: Good morning. I'm Chuck Todd. David is on vacation.
Obama-Putin showdown. Thousands of Russian troops are massed on the border of Ukraine. Can President Obama and the West stop Putin with new diplomatic efforts? We'll have the latest from eastern Ukraine.
Truth or Whitewash? New Jersey Governor Chris Christie goes on the offensive after an investigation that he commissioned concludes he didn't know about the bridge scandal. Can he get his White House ambitions back on track? We'll be joined by his most prominent defender former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and also by one of his fiercest Democratic critics from New Jersey.
And less than 48 hours before the health care deadline, the Obama White House heralded the big six million enrollment number. But will health care still be a losing issue for Democrats this election year? We'll have the debate.
Plus, Meeting America: Our new series. NBC's Kevin Tibbles travels to the small town in Iowa that hosted Cold War leader Nikita Khrushchev. Why are there strong fears of a new Cold War in that same place today?
ANNOUNCER: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory, substituting today, Chuck Todd.
TODD: As you can see, it's been a busy week. It's going to be a busy week. But we're going to start with Ukraine. In the last 24 hours, a new flurry of diplomatic activity to find a solution to the showdown over Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry abruptly turned his plane around to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Paris today. And President Obama just returned last night from a trip overseas where he was trying to get Europeans to take a stronger tact against Vladimir Putin.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our people and our homeland face no direct threat from the invasion of Crimea. Our own borders are not threatened by Russia's annexation. But that kind of casual indifference would ignore the lessons that are written in the cemeteries of this continent.
TODD: Well, on Saturday, Lavrov stated again that Russia has quote, "no intention of invading Ukraine," and yet, there are thousands of Russian troops still stationed on the country's border. To talk about this, I'm joined by former U.S. ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul and The New York Times Peter Baker. He's a former Moscow bureau chief and co-author of the book Kremlin Rising: Vladimir Putin's Russia and the End of Revolution. But before we get to them, I want to go to my colleague Ayman Mohyeldin. He's in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. Ayman, any sign there of increased troop movements on the border? What are you seeing, what are you hearing?
MR. AYMAN MOHYELDIN (Foreign Correspondent, NBC News): Well, Chuck, we've been on the Ukrainian side for the past several days. We’ve actually made it out to the Ukrainian-Russian border. We were able to see firsthand a makeshift Ukrainian army post that had been set up there by the border guards. About 200 or so men that we saw and they've been positioned there for the past several weeks, in fact, since March 5th when situation sharply rose in tensions between the two countries. They are not very well equipped but nonetheless they say their morale is high and they would fight if they were forced to after the developments that they saw in Crimea. But the biggest concern for Ukrainian officials is what happens in places like Donetsk where we are today. Thousands of pro-Russian supporters showed up at Lenin Square behind me calling for a referendum, calling on the Russian government to intervene and protect their interests. Now, why that's so important for the Ukrainian government and others is because they are concerned that that could be the pretext that Russia uses to have more interference in Ukraine's affairs and possibly even push forward. As you mentioned, Sergey Lavrov said Russia has no intentions to move troops across the border. But they are watching the situation closely and they say they would protect their interests if that happens. And that is certainly why the situation in Donetsk and others-- other cities remains tense. Chuck.
TODD: All right. Ayman, thanks for that view from the ground. Now, what does this all mean? Ambassador McFaul, I want to start with you. We know this phone call between President Obama and President Putin over the last twenty-four hours seemed to at least be the setup to get this Lavrov/Kerry meeting to happen in Paris. What do you make of the two different readouts of the call? President Obama made it seem as if, hey there, a diplomatic solution is possible. Putin's readout was-- starts bringing up Moldova and starts talking about possibly new interventions.
MR. MICHAEL MCFAUL (FMR. U.S. Ambassador to Russia): Well, that's exactly the point. I mean, it depends on what solution you're talking about and what negotiation you want. I think if you look at it from the-- the Russian perspective, the readout and other things that have been said, they-- they're pivoting, they're changing the subject. They're saying, okay, Crimea is done. We've taken that. Now let's start negotiating about the Ukrainian constitution. Let's start negotiating about the autonomy of places like Donetsk. And as President Kennedy said very famously during the Berlin crisis, he was not going to negotiate about the freedom of Berlin under the guise of what's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable. This feels a little bit like that. They're changing the subject to talk about what they want, not what we want to talk about.
TODD: So Peter, essentially here what-- what I find fascinating is that Putin wants to lock in Crimea.
MR. PETER BAKER (White House Correspondent, New York Times): Mm-Hm.
TODD: And it seems as if the president is tacitly-- he never says it.
MR. BAKER: Right.
TODD: He says we shouldn't, but the Europeans are basically saying look, if the status quo is Crimea and nothing else, we can accept that.
MR. BAKER: Yeah.
TODD: How does the president justify that?
MR. BAKER: Well, they never-- they'll never admit that out loud. It's-- it's-- it would be tacit to surrender, but it will be like the Baltics after World War II when we officially never recognized the fact that the Soviet Union had-- had absorbed them. But went on with relations…
TODD: But they did.
MR. BAKER: …for 40 or 50 years. Right.
MR. BAKER: We couldn't do anything about it. And I think that what you're seeing here is a possible, you know, sort of de facto and acceptance of-- of-- of Crimea as long as you don't go any further. And-- and, you know, the West wouldn't be happy with that, but that would probably be the best outcome that they can expect at the moment.
TODD: Do you get the sense, Ambassador McFaul, that Putin-- that these first round of-- first and second rounds of individual sanctions is having enough of an impact that suddenly Putin is at least talking about a diplomatic solution, talking about letting this Ukrainian election process go through with international observers and-- and so forth?
MR. MCFAUL: No. I think the first round of sanctions were designed to punish him and his circle of friends and some of them have suffered. I think there's been real punishment. It's the specter of the new sanctions that they have to think about, that the president talked about sanctioning different economic sectors. That's one cost now that they have to think about. The biggest cost of course though is violence.
MR. MCFAUL: I mean, there's no doubt in my mind that if Russia goes into Eastern Ukraine, some Ukrainians will fight in a guerrilla struggle. That's what's first and foremost on his mind. And I don't see it happening anytime soon.
TODD: And very quickly Ambassador McFaul, Moldova, is-- is he headed there with the same rationale, protecting Russian interests? Is he going and is that next?
MR. MCFAUL: Ex-- exactly. He's a revisionist power now. Things that we thought were settled twenty years ago or at least, you know, in ice in these conflicts he's now trying to say we have to open up the Pandora's Box.
TODD: So he's going?
MR. MCFAUL: I find it very dangerous.
TODD: So he's going, you were thinking…
MR. MCFAUL: He's going to make-- he's going to make it an issue. He's going to make it an issue that we're going to have to now negotiate and we're going to negotiate in I think a weak position given where he is right now.
TODD: And Peter Baker, when President Obama called Russia a regional power, he was clearly irritated by the entire premise of the question.
MR. BAKER: Right.
TODD: …Romney, geopolitical thing. But he went ahead and said no, Russia is not a superpower. They're a regional power.
MR. BAKER: Right-- right.
TODD: How do you think Putin take it?
MR. BAKER: Directly aimed at Putin's self-- self-identity. The whole crux of Putinism is Russia is a great power. Russia is in fact one of the primary powers on the-- on the international stage and everything he does is-- is geared toward proving them.
TODD: All right. Ambassador McFaul out there in northern California, thank you, Sir. Peter Baker, you're going to be back in the roundtable.
MR. MCFAUL: Thank you.
MR. BAKER: Thanks.
TODD: And now to the bridge scandal and the presidential hopes of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. After the release of findings from an investigation that he ordered on himself, Christie is going on the offense to try to rescue his political future.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: The dysfunction in Washington, DC is no longer being emulated around the world. It is being mocked around the world.
TODD: The speech of a politician in political purgatory, Chris Christie in Las Vegas this weekend with other White House hopefuls looking for the support of some key major Republican donors including Sheldon Adelson, the GOP's super donor who gave more than 90 million dollars in his attempt to stop Barack Obama's re-election in 2012. But after the Bridgegate scandal, can the New Jersey Governor revive the broad support that led him to be tabbed as an early front-runner for the 2016 Republican nominations? Our most recent polling suggests he might have a tough time. Our last NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found Christie's personal rating at just 17 percent positive, 32 percent negative. And that was a drop from his already bad poll numbers in January just days after the bridge scandal became national news. And it's a far cry from those halcyon days of 2013 when days before his landslide re-election, he had a 2-1 positive rate. Now even Republicans have a more negative view of Christie, 29 percent negative, 23 percent positive. Still, Christie is battling and this week decided he wanted out of his purgatory. He sat for a network TV interview on Thursday after the release of his own investigation that concluded he didn't know anything about the bridge plot. Then at a press conference on Friday, his bravado was back, even attacking reporters.
GOV. CHRISTIE (Friday): I don't know whether you can't take notes or you're not listening…
Christine, stop. You have to get the facts right if you're going to ask me a question.
TODD: I'm joined by Rudy Giuliani. He's, of course, the former Republican mayor of New York City. He’s appearing on behalf of Governor Christie. He's in Palm Beach, Florida, this morning. And with me in the studio is Loretta Weinberg. She’s the Democratic Senate majority leader of New Jersey and co-chair of that Senate Committee that’s investigating the governor. But Mister Mayor, I want to start with you. You're a former U.S. attorney. If somebody came to you with an investigation that came to a conclusion like the one that Christie's investigation did but it did not interview the five most important players in the investigation including Bridget Kelly, Bill Stepien, David Wildstein, David Samson, Bill Baroni, all these people all involved in it, would you accept that as a complete investigation as a former U.S. attorney?
MR. RUDY GIULIANI (R-Mayor of New York, 1994-2001): No, no, I wouldn't. I would not accept it as a complete investigation but I would accept it for what it's worth. In other words, I would go through it in great detail because it can give you a tremendous amount of information. So far, no one has gotten to interview those people including the Joint Committee.
MR. GIULIANI: So this report has gone as far par as anybody can go. And it can give you some very valuable information. For example, what Kelly, Stepien, and these people were saying at the time to other witnesses, all of which is in the report--I happen to have read the report--…
MR. GIULIANI: …can be extremely important evidence. Actually, I found sometimes the things they say back then, that witnesses say back at the time the event is going on…
MR. GIULIANI: …are far more credible than what they might say to investigators later when they're looking for immunity or they’re looking for indemnification. So no, it's not a final or complete report. But nor should it be tossed aside as not having extremely valuable information. This is valuable stuff even to a prosecutor.
TODD: Well, I understand that. The-- the governor's lawyer, though, called it vindication. I-- I take it you-- you don't think you should use those words?
MR. GIULIANI: Well, I would say it's a vindication of the position that the governor didn't know beforehand and didn't order it about as clear as you can get it barring these two or three witnesses who might have something different to say now than they said then. But based on what they were saying back then with witnesses who were interviewed, it is a vindication of the fact that the governor didn't know beforehand…
MR. GIULIANI: …and the governor didn't order it.
TODD: In order to give this investigation a little more credibility, should Gibson Dunn, the law firm that conducted it, release the full transcript of the interview they did with Governor Christie?
MR. GIULIANI: That's up to them. I mean, I-- I don't know how-- how much more it contains. The fact is…
TODD: But I’m-- I'm asking you. Do you think-- would it-- would-- do you think it'd be better for Governor Christie if that were public?
MR. GIULIANI: I think the more that's made public, the better it is. And the more they share with the Joint Committee and, obviously, they're going to give everything to the U.S. attorney. I would consider that to be the most important part. Are they giving everything to the U.S. attorney?
TODD: Let me ask you about Chris Christie's political future. Here's a guy in 2013. He had sort of three big trademarks. He was seen as a competent guy, a straight shooter, and had some bipartisan credentials. You saw those poll numbers. He's lost the bipartisan credentials. And now there's a question on either competency or credibility. Because either he was out of the loop when this happened, which is his contention, or he's not been straight with us. How does he get this back to make him viable again?
MR. GIULIANI: Well, he's going to have to answer both of those questions. I think this report is a good step in that direction. It doesn't get you there. You didn't point out the fact that this report was done by a registered Democrat, Randy Mastro, someone who took on the teamsters union, someone who cleaned up private carting in New York from-- from the mafia under threat of death several times.
MR. GIULIANI: He happened to work for me at the time. So I know it. So he's-- he's got a guy doing this report, who's not about to do a whitewash. That isn't in his character, not somebody…
MR. GIULIANI: …who took on the mafia under threat of death. So I think this is a pretty strong report. It is not conclusive. No one claims it is…
MR. GIULIANI: …but it's a good step in the right direction.
TODD: But I got to ask you about one part of the report. There seemed to be gratuitous mentions of Bridget Kelly and her personal life in there. Was that necessary and do you think it ended up undermining the credibility of the report?
MR. GIULIANI: Well, I know-- you know, I think the-- the mention of it as I could tell seemed relevant to the fact that the two people might not be communicating. I'm not sure that would have been mentioned, but for the fact there's an issue as to whether Stepien…
TODD: It got awfully personal, though.
MR. GIULIANI: …and Kelly were communicating with each other.
TODD: It got awfully personal, don’t you think?
MR. GIULIANI: Well, they had to explain-- well, yeah, but they had to explain why they weren't communicating. I mean if they didn't explain why they weren't communicating, then people who want to gratuitously criticize the report would say, well, why wouldn't they be communicating? They were very well known to each other. They knew each other. They…
MR. GIULIANI: …these two people. I don't want to mention what the facts are but they-- they apparently were having some kind of fight and they weren't talking to each other. So if I were-- if I were doing that investigation, I'd have to give an explanation to that. Otherwise, you'd all start attacking me.
TODD: All right.
MR. GIULIANI: And also one-- one final point, Chuck.
TODD: Yeah. And I’m going to leave it.
MR. GIULIANI: Had he not done this investigation-- had he not done this investigation, he'd have been accused of closing his eyes to this. Every single situation in which a chief executive…
MR. GIULIANI: …is put under this kind of scrutiny, they order a report like this so they can get the facts. That's a responsible thing to do. Now we'll have to see if it stands the test of time.
TODD: All right. Rudy Giuliani, thank you very much. Now joining me is…
MR. GIULIANI: Thank you.
TODD: …for the other side. This is Loretta Weinberg. Senator Weinberg, you're obviously part of this investigation. At what point are you going to accept-- what's it going for you to take to accept Governor Christie's side of the sorry?
STATE SEN. LORETTA WEINBERG (D-NJ, Majority Leader/Co-Chair, Legislative Select Committee on Investigation): I'm willing to accept Governor Christie's side of the story all the way along, as soon as we get all of the information, as soon as we get a chance to question all the people we would like to question, and as soon as we get all the documents. You know, I'm glad...
TODD: So what are you missing? Let's go through. Tell me what you're missing.
SEN. WEINBERG: Well, first of all, we're missing the list of 70 people that were interviewed in this so-called report.
SEN. WEINBERG: We're missing all the transcripts; not only of this interview with the governor, but his interview with all 70 of the so-called witnesses. And I'd like to know for a report-- first of all, I'm glad to hear that Mr. Giuliani said it wasn't conclusive. It's the governor who's saying it's conclusive. And for a report that was supposed to be so conclusive…
SEN. WEINBERG: …footnoted, et cetera-- how did they know who broke up a personal relationship? That gratuitous, sexist language…
SEN. WEINBERG: …in that report is infuriating, and anybody who put their name on that report should be ashamed of themselves.
TODD: I guess I'm going to ask you, though, have you-- you've been spending a lot of time on this. We know what Governor Christie's denial is. There has been no evidence to suggest that his denial is false. Have you found any evidence to suggest this?
SEN. WEINBERG: We have not yet gotten all the evidence. We're awaiting a court decision concerning certain witnesses that are pleading the fifth. And one of the things I do know is that this incident was known on September 13th when the executive director of the Port Authority…
SEN. WEINBERG: …reversed it. Let me just point out, just to show you the level of Mr. Mastro's report. I wrote a letter...
TODD: Mastro, the attorney that wrote the report on behalf of Governor Christie?
SEN. WEINBERG: Exactly. Thank you. I wrote a letter to the-- to a commissioner in the Port Authority on September 19th asking questions, and I copied the governor on that letter. And I copied Mr. Samson, who resigned…
SEN. WEINBERG: …as soon as the report came out, the former chair of the Port Authority…
TODD: Of the-- of the New Jersey side of the Port Authority.
SEN. WEINBERG: …of New York and New Jersey. Mr. Mastro depicts that in the report as Senator Weinberg wrote a letter to the Port Authority. Completely omits the fact that very plainly on the letter says, a copy to the-- to Governor Christie.
TODD: Do you think he ever read that letter? Do you think Bridget Kelley read it?
SEN. WEINBERG: Well, he mentions it in the report. So apparently, it's part of the file. But these are the kinds of omissions, even just calling what really happened as a lane realignment. That's how he refers to it. It's a choice of words that were meant to give a-- an impression that I think is inappropriate. And I would hope that we get a list of all 70 witnesses and all the transcripts, and present that to our committee.
TODD: Let me ask you this. If you-- if Governor Christie said tomorrow he'd come before your committee, go under oath, and this is the-- and this is the evidence and there's no other evidence to prove that he knew anything, would that satisfy you?
SEN. WEINBERG: Yes.
TODD: And would you say, you know what, this investigation is over after that?
SEN. WEINBERG: If Governor Christie comes before our committee under oath and brings all these documents with him, I'd be more than satisfied.
TODD: And then you would feel as if okay, I've gotten everything I can get out of him. This investigation is over? Or this investigation, as far as Chris Christie is concerned, is over?
SEN. WEINBERG: Well, it would depend upon what we hear from the governor, and if that leads us any place else. But personally, speaking for myself as-- as the co-chair of the committee…
SEN. WEINBERG: --as one member, if the governor came before us under oath with all of the documents and all of these transcripts, I think everybody on the committee would be happy.
TODD: All right. Loretta Weinberg, State Senator there, part of the joint committee that is looking into this entire bridge mess. Thanks for being on MEET THE PRESS.
SEN. WEINBERG: Thank you.
TODD: We, of course, want to know what you think. This week's Facebook question is this: Can Chris Christie's presidential prospects recover from this bridge scandal? It's posted at facebook.com/meetthepress. So go crazy and let us know.
Coming up, the future of the NSA with Senator Ron Wyden. He's been one of the agency's toughest critics. He's making his first Sunday show appearance in several years.
And of course, all the week's politics with our roundtable. Just how much are the Democrats in danger of losing the Senate come November? Plus, a debate over the future of the single biggest issue in-- that is driving American politics: healthcare.
TODD: And we are back. It's a big deadline week. The president's health care law led to last year's government shutdown. The House has voted to repeal all or part of the president's plan more than 50 times. And yet, another new poll-- this one from The Associated Press-- shows support for the law at its lowest level since passage four years ago. So health care-- we know this, it’s the most device political issue in politics today. So what does success look like for the Obama administration? Well, here's what they said in September.
(Videotape; NBC Nightly News/September 30, 2013)
MS. KATHLEEN SEBELIUS (Secretary of Health and Human Services): I think success looks like at least seven million people having signed up by the end of March, 2014.
TODD: Like I said, that was September of last year, days before the infamous health care website crash. This week, the administration decided to hail the fact that six million signed up, a little lower expectation there thanks to the Congressional Budget Office. I'm joined now by two experts on opposite sides of the health care law to discuss its future: Jonathan Cohn, a senior editor at The New Republic and a supporter; and Avik Roy is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and opinion editor at Forbes, and he's been an ardent critic. But you guys do it on the policy front. So let me-- let me just ask this basic thing. Six million. Jonathan you've been a supporter of this but, you know, criticized certain things. Should they be spiking the football the way the administration was this week that they got six million enrollees?
MR. JONATHAN COHN (Senior Editor, The New Republic): Look, I don't know if they should be spiking the football, but I-- I take it as a promising sign. You know there were stories this week about people lining up around the block to sign up in time for the end of the month. We still have a few days to go. I don't know where the final number will end up. But we're also hearing more stories of people who are very grateful to get health insurance; and people who had insurance, are they saving money? There's a lot we don't know. Then you have to weigh the good and the bad. But I think-- particularly looking at where they started, how bad this was-- I think this is some good news.
TODD: Well, they're succeeding with a lower bar of expectations. But Avik, is this mean now the law is un-repealable? It is to the point there's too many people that have health care, throw six million in, four million more in Medicaid, you’re throwing maybe three million that have gotten insurance based on being 26 or under, so we’re up to 15 million people that this law has given health care to. Does that mean the law itself is now un-repealable?
MR. AVIK ROY (Opinion Editor, Forbes/Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute): I don't think un-repealable is the word I'd use. But I do think that those measures or those numbers you just brought up do indicate that it will be difficult to repeal. Now the thing you have to bring up on the other side is, it's called the Affordable Care Act. And is it actually making health care less expensive? For the people who benefit from the subsidies, who benefit from those programs, they're going to benefit-- benefit. But there are going to be a lot of other people who pay higher premiums under Obamacare. In Michigan, it's 66 percent, in the Manhattan study we did, that shows how much the costs are going up. In Iowa, it’s 72 percent. In Louisiana, it's 53 percent. So a lot of people who aren't benefiting from those subsidies are seeing increased premiums.
TODD: And the fact is, healthier people are paying more than they did before. That they seem to be paying-- I mean that's been fair. There's always going to be a winner and a loser. But Jonathan, I guess the question now is, do you look at this, and if the makeup is not what they need it to be, where there's not enough young, healthy people in here? Does that mean in September-- in September of this year and going into 2015, we're going to see premiums get raised?
MR. COHN: So, I mean, it is early still. I mean we don't know-- the insurance companies don't know. This last minute rush, historically, young healthy people are the final ones to sign up. So we don’t know.
TODD: That's was the hit-- that what’s they thought in Massachusetts, and that was their history.
MR. COHN: That’s where they singed. And we know-- and everything anecdotally we're seeing now suggests that's happening now. There’s still a few more days to go. It's hard to know, we'll wait and see. The system is designed to have some shock absorbers they’ve built in, so if the mix isn't quite right, it should put restraint on where the prices go next year. And look: it’s going to be 51 different stories. Every state…
MR. COHN: …in the District of Columbia is different.
TODD: Avik, what should be the Republican-- you have said that the Republicans have dropped the ball here a little bit, that they don’t have a realistic alternative. So what-- what should be their next move now?
MR. ROY: I think the first thing is-- and I told this to members that I've spoken to-- is that you have to hold the authors of the bill responsible for how it drives up the cost of health care. Again, it's called the Affordable Care Act. And again, a lot of people are seeing increased premiums. And not just this year, next year is going to be interesting. What we're hearing from insurers thus far is that they're expecting double digit increases for the cost of these health plans on the exchange in 2015. We still haven't heard about how much the-- the plans are going to cost for employer-sponsored insurance under Obamacare as it was before. And those things are going to affect the election in November for sure.
TODD: Jonathan, is any single person in 2014 going to pay the-- going to pay penalty?
MR. COHN: Oh, yeah. I think there are people who will pay the penalty. I also think…
TODD: Do you?
MR. COHN: …I-- I do. I do.
TODD: Because there's so many caveats out of this thing.
MR. COHN: There are a lot of exceptions…
TODD: But you do think people will…
MR. COHN: That's why I do think people-- and I also think, you know, we'll wait and see where those premiums come in. They are getting a lot of people in now. There's-- you know, there's been this pattern where they always predict the worst. You know, the website wasn't working. No one will ever sign up. And then it was, no one will get to the doctor. And you know what? Things were okay. There were problems, but things worked out well. I'm pretty optimistic.
TODD: 15 million people have health care. There were 50 million that didn’t when this was signed. We still have 35 more million people without health care. When do they get health care?
MR. ROY: It's going to be tough. Because again-- if you-- the reason why so many people are uninsured in America, is because health insurance and health care is so expensive. And so if you don't bring the costs down, you aren’t going to really address the broader uninsured problem in this country. And I think that's where they ACA may have some struggles later on.
TODD: I'm guessing you agree with about half of that statement.
MR. COHN: I agree with half, but there's more to go. But I do think the Affordable Care Act, we're already seeing health care costs slow down. We don’t know how much if that is the ACA at all. But anecdotally, there's evidence of progress.
TODD: You guys are two of the most thoughtful guys that have been debating this on opposite sides. We wish more political debates were this way. Jonathan Cohn, Avik Roy, thank you very much.
MR. ROY: (Unintelligible).
TODD: Before we get to our roundtable, take a look at this. We wanted to put together a montage of what has been an incredible White House health care sales pitch. Take a look.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (Ellen): Moms out there, e-mail your kids if they don't have health insurance and tell them to at least check it out.
MAN: Be a winner and get covered today.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (Funny or Die): The truth is that they can get coverage all for what it costs you to pay your cell phone bill.
MRS. MICHELLE OBAMA: We nag you because we love you. So go to HealthCare.gov and enroll today.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Nobody actually wants to spend money on health insurance until they get sick.
MR. LEBRON JAMES (HealthCare.gov): You never know when you might take a hit. Spread the word and get covered today.
MR. EARVIN "MAGIC" JOHNSON, JR. (HealthCare.gov): Find out how you can get lower monthly payments as part of the health care law.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (WebMD Exclusive): The website itself actually at this point is-- is working quite well. And people have until the end of March 31st to sign up.
TODD: Looking here. Do we have two ferns? We're going to have a roundtable between two ferns. I'm joined now by our roundtable, New York Times’ Peter Baker is back. Amy Walter, hello there.
MS. AMY WALTER (National Editor, The Cook Political Report): Hello, Chuck.
TODD: National editor, of course, The Cook Political Report, top place for all of us to go looking for analysis of campaigns and elections. Rick Santorum, former Pennsylvania Republican senator, 2012 presidential candidate. And I'm pleased to welcome a new face to the show, Svante Myrick. He's mayor of Ithaca, New York. They like snow up there. I'm going to say that. But to give folks a taste of who you are, you were profiled-- profiled by my colleague, Kate Snow, a few years ago. Here's a little clip.
(Videotape; February 29, 2012, NBC's ROCK CENTER)
MS. KATE SNOW: At just 24 years old, Myrick is the youngest mayor ever elected in the City of Ithaca, New York-- a Democrat in a liberal college town. This is his first day on the job.
MR. SVANTE MYRICK (D-Mayor of Ithaca, NY): This is weird. This is my-- my office now.
TODD: Well, there you go. That was two years ago. You're now halfway through your term. Before I get into this-- this whole health care discussion, biggest problem you're facing right now as mayor?
MR. SVANTE MYRICK (D-Mayor of Ithaca, NY): Right now?
MR. MYRICK: Potholes. Potholes.
TODD: There you go.
MS. WALTER: Yeah.
TODD: Spoken like a true mayor. Good for you. You know what? I got a little problem with potholes coming here to DC.
MR. MYRICK: I'm sure you do.
MR. MYRICK: I'm sure-- and-- well, that's the thing. It's a national epidemic. And-- and the problem is broader than that. I mean there's a reason why we can't afford to fix those potholes and-- and that's something that every mayor across the country is struggling with.
TODD: I love it. The first thing you bring up is potholes.
MR. MYRICK: Yeah.
TODD: Lot of potholes. Good for you.
MS. WALTER: Your constituents love that.
TODD: Amy, I want to-- I want to pick up quickly on the health care discussion.
MS. WALTER: Yeah.
TODD: That was sort of the policy debate.
MS. WALTER: Yep.
TODD: We're not going to know for-- I think both of them are conceding-- we're going to know for a year whether this was a success or failure. But guess what? There's an election before we find that out.
MS. WALTER: That's right. That's right.
TODD: This-- it is the defining issue. Is there any way Democrats can stop it from being the defining issue of 2014?
MS. WALTER: Well, they can hope that the economy improves greatly between now and then. That's about the only thing that's going to take the focus off of that. Obviously, the president and Democrats are spending a whole lot of time trying to change the terms of the debate. They're talking about the Koch Brothers and their policies. They're talking about minimum wage. They're trying to get back onto the territory that the 2012 campaign was fought on, which is economic inequality. I don't know if that's going to be so easy to do. This isn’t a national election.
MS. WALTER: These are regional elections in regions that are very tough for Democrats.
TODD: They are. You know, Senator Santorum, you had made-- I remember your case against Mitt Romney. You believed that health care was the way to defeat President Obama. You thought that was the deal, and you said you can't nominate Mitt Romney, because he can't do it. Do you feel vindicated?
FMR. SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R-PA/2012 Presidential Candidate): Well, it was the issue in 2010 that caused us to have the Tea Party revolution. It was all around the issue of health care. And this election is going to be all around the issue of health care. And they are two great elections for Republicans.
TODD: So you're saying 2012 should have been all about…
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: 2012 was not about health care.
TODD: Missed opportunity now getting back politically?
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: You know, that's the area that really was my strength. I was the first person that introduced health savings accounts, and the Congress was-- worked on Medicare-- Medicare and Medicaid reform when I was there. I mean that's just an area when I ran my '94 election was on health care, against the sponsor of Hillary Care. So, I mean I felt like we had the opportunity to really focus on that, and-- and that-- and you look at what Obamacare has really-- really doing. It is-- it is going to drive up-- it's driving up costs right now. Yes, you're talking about 15 million people. A lot of those folks already had insurance, so a lot of these people are just changing from one insurance policy to the other, to a more expensive one, I might add. And you look at these numbers of-- you know, six million people. I talked to insurance companies. You're looking at anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of those folks who haven't made a premium payment yet. And many of them are uninsured and probably won't make a premium payment. So I think you're going to see these numbers not be as encouraging as-- as the administration has pointed out.
TODD: Peter, speaking of the administration: not a single person in the administration is out today…
MR. BAKER: Mm-Hm.
TODD: …prominent day on Sunday, to talk about health care.
MR. BAKER: Yeah.
TODD: What does that tell you?
MR. BAKER: No, it’s interesting. Because they wanted to kind of pivot away from having spent the time overseas. The president just got back from Europe, Saudi Arabia, talking about Ukraine, the health care thing. This week he's going to be talking about the minimum wage, he’s going to Ann Arbor, Chicago to try to reposition his message again. But you're right, they're not out there selling it yet because I'm not sure they really know exactly where it's going to go, and they're a little worried about-- about getting too far in front.
TODD: Mr. Mayor, you've been very vocal about how you were helped by a lot of government programs. Your mom was helped by a lot of government programs. In Ithaca, are people talking about health care? Are they signing up? Or is there too much confusion?
MR. MYRICK: They're signing up. And particularly young people are signing up, which is good for us. I mean one of the things we have is a huge pool of talent at Cornell University. Young people with great ideas who want to start their own companies. They want to create their own jobs. But they’re not able to do it because they need health insurance. They take jobs in fields that they don't want to work, or at companies they don't want to work. And we lose out on a lot of innovation, because they're not able to take those chances. So people are talking about it, but they're actually excited to get covered. But honestly, frankly-- and this is what I think will play out in the future elections-- is that people are talking more about potholes…
MR. MYRICK: …and people are talking more about…
TODD: Democrats I think hope they're talking about other issues, other than health care. Hey, I'm-- I'm going to go to the board here in a minute and do some Senate 2014 a bit. Senator Santorum, as a Catholic, I'm curious what you made of the president's meeting with the pope. And in particular, there seems to be a disconnect. It seems that people want to read what they want to read into what the pope says; versus, say, what U.S. bishops say. Are you concerned that the pope is coming across as too lenient on some social issues that matter to you as a Catholic?
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I don't think he's coming across lenient at all. He's actually given speeches very much staying with the line. What he's doing is the right thing, which is-- he's looking at a world and he's looking at his faithful that are-- that are really struggling right now, struggling with their faith. And he wants to focus on the central thing, which is the good news. And-- and he's not out there saying, well, you can't do this and you can’t do that and we're-- we're against this and we're against that. It's a hopeful, positive good news, God loves you--
TODD: Were you as excited about him as many Catholics in America are?
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I am. I-- because-- look, he's a humble man. He lives the faith out…
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: …in his own personal life. He talks-- you know, he's-- he's here to be a shepherd. He isn't here to be a scold-- and I think that's-- that's a good thing for the-- for the church and for the world, frankly.
TODD: All right. I'm doing something that, you know, they normally advise you not to do. Which is I'm moving as we go. I got a little map here, I want to do a little 2014, let's set the stage for you. Here's of course the current makeup of the Senate. Been a lot of talk about how suddenly Republicans seem to have a better than 50/50 chance. So the question is, why do we think that? Here it is, 55/45, Republicans need six because Joe Biden would be the tiebreaker out of 50/50. Quickly, these states in yellow, there are 36 Senate seats up in 35 states. Little bit of confusion there, South Carolina this year has two. But really, it comes down to this: why does everybody think Republicans have such a good chance? If they simply win, democratic health Senate seats in the seven states that Mitt Romney carried-- we call this the Romney road. If they just win those, they got the majority, six of seven, they have the majority. Now throw in the in the fact in the last three months, they've added another six states into the competitive category from New Hampshire to Virginia, which nobody was talking about. Iowa, we're going to talk about that in a second. Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan. There's even some people talking about Oregon. So you throw that landscape, that's 13 seats. Meanwhile, the Democrats-- look at this-- they've put two realistically in play, Kentucky and Georgia-- and one, they're relying on a little Tea Party help there in Mississippi. But look at this: they could lose all three and still find the path. So Amy Walter…
MS. WALTER: Yes.
TODD: Are you with everybody else? It is now Republicans to lose, when it comes to control of the Senate?
MS. WALTER: I feel like we've had this conversation for the last three cycles. It is-- were Republicans going to lose in 2010, it was Republicans--
TODD: Well, they needed nine then.
MS. WALTER: …2012. And it's Republicans to lose this time. And the-- the best opportunity they have to lose it is the same as it was back in those three cycles. Which is, they do the harm to themselves; either by nominating really, really weak candidates; or by doing things that put them in difficult positions-- shutting down the government, running up their negatives by running campaigns that are not focused on the issues that people really care about. But you look at those states, you look at the president's numbers. Nationally, if he's at 42 percent.
TODD: Imagine where he is in Arkansas.
MS. WALTER: Yeah.
TODD: Or even-- you know-- it's interesting the-- the Republicans have an insurance policy. Mitch McConnell could lose, Rick Santorum. And by the way, he didn't have a great week. And oh, by the way, he didn't have a great weekend in the NCAA tournament because of his bad week. I want to show you, he got in trouble for an ad that he put up. We want to show you a clip of this ad. Let's play it really quickly here.
(Videotape; McConnell Campaign Video)
MAN: This is the moment. Let's go out there and do it.
TODD: Well, look at those two guys. Those aren't Kentucky Wildcats. Those aren't Louisville Cardinals. Rick Santorum, those are Duke Blue Devils. You're a guy that knows you can't mess that stuff up.
MS. WALTER: It's blue and white, come on.
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: It fooled me.
TODD: Oh, it did fool you there?
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I thought it was Kentucky.
TODD: It was a whole mess there. You know, Peter Baker, it was a whole mess that day. Because first, he had the wrong thing. Then he changed it. Then the NCAA said, oh you can't use our players. And then the-- pretty much insult to injury, Mitch McConnell-- who is a Louisville Cardinal grad-- sees them lose to Kentucky. So now U.K.-- who he's no fan of-- who he's made clear he's no fan of-- is playing today for the right to go to the final four.
MR. BAKER: Yeah-- I know, a bad-- you know, sports are a metaphor for politics, right? And we make much of this. But it's because in fact there are a lot of these similarities, right? It's about competitiveness, it's about-- it's about energy, it's about momentum. And the question is, do the Republicans use the momentum they have right now…
MR. BAKER: Heading into their final four, and as Amy pointed out, they've-- they've managed to find ways of not using it in the past. This is a different year.
TODD: Hey, Svante, very quickly. What gets Democrats motivated to vote in November? Because that seems to be an elusive issue.
MR. MYRICK: Absolutely. To me, it's the future. It's-- it's always-- elections are always about the future. And Obamacare and the debate over it is increasingly going to become the path. I mean, six months from now, when folks are insured and we've got folks getting insured all over the country, they're going to be thinking about-- yes, those potholes. But who is going to create jobs? Who is going to help my kid go to college? Who is going to help us build a better country? And if the Republicans continue to talk about the past, I don't think they're going to be successful.
TODD: We shall see. Midterm elections have a way about being more about the past. Presidential elections usually are about the future. I’m going to pause here. Coming up next, the future of the NSA. Oh, by the way, another big story that happened this week: Senator Ron Wyden is going to be here. He’s the man who fought the government surveillance program before we had ever heard of a guy named Edward Snowden. Take a look.
SEN. RON WYDEN (D-OR/Intelligence Committee/Chair, Finance Committee): Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?
GEN. JAMES R. CLAPPER, JR.: No, sir.
SEN. WYDEN: It does not?
GEN. CLAPPER, JR.: Not wittingly.
TODD: Oh, not wittingly. Plus, we're going to have a new feature: Meeting America. We’re going to visit the site of a remarkable piece of Cold War history where a soviet leader went to learn about our way of life from a small town in Iowa.
TODD: Now for our MEET THE PRESS Moment. This week, James Schlesinger passed away at the age of 85. He was a former defense secretary and director of the CIA, serving under Presidents Nixon and Ford. And he was a regular guest on this program. Here he is in 1985 talking about America's position in the world.
(Videotape; April 28, 1985)
MR. JAMES SCHLESINGER: The United States was the paramount power in the world after 1945. Today, it is a power that is first amongst equals, but it is not paramount. It’s word doesn’t-- it does not necessarily constrain others.
TODD: Welcome back. It was almost an ‘oh, by the way’, part of the president's trip overseas. The future of the government spying program is at stake. President Obama announced his plan to end the NSA's bulk collection of U.S. phone records in a move that was welcomed by many Democrats and even some Republicans. I'm joined now by, of course, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. He’s been one of the NSA's toughest critics. Senator, welcome to MEET THE PRESS.
SEN. WYDEN: Thank you.
TODD: Very quickly, I’m going to go through the president's basic reforms, the bullet points here, no more. Bulk phone records will remain at the phone companies. NSA will no longer collect and hold these records. And unless an emergency, officials must obtain a court order. Is this enough to win the credibility back of the American people?
SEN. WYDEN: This starts towards what Ben Franklin had in mind, which is making sure that we can have security without sacrificing our liberties. Now, there's certainly more to do. For example, I believe the president ought to make the transition right away to ending bulk phone records…
TODD: So he shouldn’t-- on Thursday, he signed another court order approving the bulk collection for another 90 days while Congress-- while you guys decide. I know Patrick Leahy said stop doing this. You would say, stop signing these orders right now.
SEN. WYDEN: Right now. Second, we've got to the fix this back door search loophole in the Foreign Interrogation Surveillance Act. What that is…
TODD: Unless an emergency?
SEN. WYDEN: Well, what this is, is this allows the government to look at the e-mails of law-abiding Americans. That needs to be fixed. And then, I believe strongly we ought to ban all dragnet surveillance on law-abiding Americans; not just phone records, but also medical records, purchases and others.
TODD: Why should I feel comfortable of corporations like Verizon and AT&T holding these records? Why should I feel somehow more comfortable that they're doing it over the government?
SEN. WYDEN: Well, first of all, what the government has been doing is running a federal human relations database. When the government has the information about who you called, when you called, they know a lot about your private life.
TODD: Yeah. So does Verizon, and so does Google.
SEN. WYDEN: And there ought to be tough privacy standards there, as well. Now, the phone companies, of course, have a long history of dealing with court orders…
SEN. WYDEN: …and as you mentioned, that's a key part of the president's program. And we're certainly going to be watchdogging the way the phone companies handle this.
TODD: Edward Snowden has praised this as well, saying it's a good first step. Where are you on Snowden? Is he a-- a whistleblower? Is he a criminal? And if he's brought back to the United States, should-- should charges be brought up against him?
SEN. WYDEN: Chuck, I decided a long time ago, if somebody was charged criminally, I wasn't going to be just doing running commentary. But the bottom line is this is a debate that shouldn't have started that way. It should have been started with the intelligence leadership--
TODD: But did he commit a crime? Did he commit a crime?
SEN. WYDEN: I think that's something for lawyers.
TODD: You're in the United States Senate. You have this.
SEN. WYDEN: And I’m not…
TODD: You cannot tell me whether he committed a crime?
SEN. WYDEN: …I'm not-- I’m not a prosecutor. I'm not a prosecutor. And I-- I can tell you years ago when I was in the House, I asked the tobacco executives…
SEN. WYDEN: …whether nicotine was addictive. They were under oath, they said no. And the prosecutor said they couldn't prove intent. Here's what the bottom line is for me. The American people deserve a straight information from the intelligence leadership. If the American people don't get it, you can bet there will be other situations like this.
TODD: You were the first one, you sort of-- you made public what you did there with James Clapper. There are some people that thought Clapper should have been brought up on some charges because-- that he technically lied under oath to Congress. He used some weasel words. It took him awhile to apologize for those comments. You had to bring this up. Is there anything else that we don't know that you know that would somehow make the American public feel insecure about their privacy?
SEN. WYDEN: First-- first of all, I believe that we can make sure that liberty and security are not mutually exclusive. We can have both. That's what Ben Franklin talked about.
TODD: Is there anything else out there that we don't know about that would actually be violating our privacy?
SEN. WYDEN: We certainly need to make those reforms that I just outlined. What was particularly troubling about what James Clapper did is he wouldn't even correct it after the fact. In other words, this issue has been put in the public square, not by the Congress but by ineffective intelligence leadership. They stated something in a public hearing that was flagrantly inaccurate. They wouldn't correct it after the fact.
TODD: Do you still have confidence in Clapper?
SEN. WYDEN: I think that we need an upgrade in the intelligence leadership. I will tell you that the new man who's been nominated for the NSA, Admiral Rogers, he…
SEN. WYDEN: ...understands he has a big rebuilding job to do.
TODD: Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat from Oregon, thanks for being out here.
SEN. WYDEN: Thank you.
TODD: Coming up, our Kevin Tibbles visits the Iowa town where Cold War history was made and now there are fears of a new Cold War from those citizens.
TODD: My colleague Kelly O'Donnell hosted the latest edition of MEET THE PRESS Express. It's, of course, our new series that's part of MEET THE PRESS 24/7 that continues our conversation all week long. This week, they covered everything from that new GOP hipster ad to the Washington Redskins name controversy. You can watch the clips on our website at meethepressnbc.com.
We'll be back in a moment with our new feature Meeting America. It's a look at an unusual moment in Russian-American relations.
TODD: And we are back. Now to Meeting America. It's a new MEET THE PRESS feature that’s going to take you around the country to get opinions on important issues. Scholars of international relations don't often cite a September 1959 trip to Coon Rapids, Iowa, as a key turning point in the thawing of the U.S.-Soviet relationship. But the visit by then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to learn more about the American way of life turned out to be a unique moment in Cold War history. NBC’s Kevin Tibbles went back to Coon Rapids and found that half a century later, fears of a new Cold War have returned.
MR. KEVIN TIBBLES: They say more than 22,000 square miles of corn are planted each year in the wide open windy plains of Iowa. So it was here 55 years ago at the height of the Cold War as the threat of nuclear attack menaced East and West that a strange if not feared visitor blew into the tiny town of Coon Rapids seeking to feed his people.
MRS. ELIZABETH GARST: It was a beautiful fall day. It was during our harvest.
MR. TIBBLES: Elizabeth Garst, Lisby as she was called back in 1959 was just eight years old. The visitor was Nikita Khrushchev and his family. And Lisby’s granddad, the agricultural innovator Roswell Garst was going to help the Soviets develop modern farms of their own at his, one of the largest farms in Iowa, a gesture that may have helped to being to melt tensions.
KHRUSHCHEV TRANSLATOR: I'm sure that Mister Stevenson is constantly thinking as I am of how our nations can live-- best live in peace without war.
MR. TIBBLES: Fore so, Mrs. Khrushchev practiced some detente of her own.
MRS. GARST: I got into a scuffle with another young kid who was here that day and Mrs. Khrushchev strolled by, caught us fighting, ripped us apart by our collars and got her fingers right in our face. See, little brothers and sisters mustn’t fight, mustn’t fight.
MR. TIBBLES: All these years later, both Nikita and Roswell are gone but that cold wind of suspicion between the United States and what is now simply Russia is back. Here in Coon Rapids they wonder if we're rewinding to that scarier time.
MAN: Sixty years later, we certainly ought to have learned something. In 1959, we were all fearful that, you know, a nuclear war would end the world as we knew it. Sixty years later, we haven't really improved that much.
MR. TIBBLES: At the Coon Rapids Enterprise, more than 130 years of history is bound and stored and today dusted off. That day on the Garst farm is documented. It’s how people communicated back then.
MAN: There's nobody that's really engaged with Mister Putin on a personal basis, and that's what Garst and Khrushchev were able to forge and that's what seems to be missing at this point.
MR. TIBBLES: At the afternoon coffee ritual, talk and laughter is all about local sports and March Madness. But Putin's push into Crimea has raised some eyebrows.
MR. DON POMEROY (PH): It's an international law no, no.
MR. TIBBLES: But for pharmacist Don Pomeroy it's not enough of one to divert attentions away from local issues like school closings and poverty.
MR. POMEROY: I'm not just huge on us constantly worrying about whether our neighbors have raked the leaves in their yard. You know? I'd-- I'd rather solve our own problems at home.
MR. TIBBLES: Just a few miles down the road and across the tracks, parched farmers wind down their day.
Nikita Khrushchev actually came here in the middle of nowhere Iowa and it actually kind of-- was a very positive visit.
MAN: I think what we wanted to happen with Russia went out the window about six or seven years ago with Putin. They're not going to be our friends.
MR. TIBBLES: At the Russian or the Rush Inn, diplomacy is conducted the Midwestern way over a beer and a marriage. In owners Troy (ph) in Tanya Mount (ph), East meets West.
MS. TANYA MOUNT: It's all about money. It's all about politics. They don't care about people. Are you serious? I have a family there, you know. They have to deal with these situations, you know? And I--I wish I can help them, but I can't.
MR. TIBBLES: And what would those two men all those years ago in black and white have said about that?
MRS. GARST: Our relationship is in tatters. We are really rabidly anti-Russian right now, and I think they're really rabidly anti-U.S. right now.
MR. TIBBLES: For MEET THE PRESS, Kevin Tibbles.
TODD: A great trip down memory lane there. Little history lesson from Mister Tibs. Very quickly, Senator Santorum, what would you be doing differently if you were sitting in the Oval Office right now in Russia?
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, I think the last comment that the relationship is in tatters because we tried to reset it through weakness. And I think right now we have to show-- we have to show that we're going to stand by our…
TODD: Would there be a different policy?
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: There would have been a different policy at the beginning. I wouldn’t-- I would have deployed missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic. I would have stood by our-- our allies in Ukraine. I mean you-- you can't show the continual weakness and then not expect Russia to take advantage of it.
TODD: All right. Mister Mayor, our tweet of the show is this. From @munsonjmj, 26-year-old Mayor of Ithaca makes me think I may of underachieved a bit. So what do you say to that? You're too much of a role model, buddy.
MR. MYRICK: That's not true. That's not true.
MR. MYRICK: I-- I had a misspent youth and I was lucky enough. I mean my…
TODD: You're still in your youth. You're still in your youth. When you're young and irresponsible is the way politics works, twenties (Unintelligible) going to responsible.
MS. WALTER: Yes.
TODD: Senator brought up Bruce Braley.
MS. WALTER: Yes.
TODD: Who had a worse gaffe? Mitch McConnell, Bruce Braley in Iowa?
MS. WALTER: Well, if you're Bruce Braley in Iowa and you're mocking people who are farmers that's probably a worse gaffe. Even though Kentucky loves the basketball.
TODD: All right. I will end there. That's it for today. David will be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.