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Meet the Press

Meet the Press Transcript - May 18, 2014

DAVID GREGORY:

Next on Meet the Press, Republican attempts to take down Hillary Clinton are in full swing. Their headlines grabbing attack from Karl Rove. So will Republicans stop at nothing to keep her from running in 2016? I'll be joined by Reince Priebus, the chair of The Republican National Committee and Claire McCaskill, Democratic Senator from Missouri who has already endorsed Clinton for president.

Plus the high profile firing that has new kindled the national conversation about women, power and leadership. As the debate rages over the dismissal of New York Times editor Jill Abramson, we'll ask are women in powerful positions held to a different standard than men? NBC's Maria Shriver, New York Times Washington Bureau Chief Carolyn Ryan and Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard are here to share their views.

And the growing scandal at the VA. Is the government failing to give American veterans the care they were promised? VA secretary Eric Shinseki says he's mad as hell about what's been uncovered. But that isn't stopping calls for him to resign. What reforms are needed to insure this never happens again?

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, the world’s longest-running television program, this is Meet the Press with David Gregory.

DAVID GREGORY:

And good Sunday morning. We'll begin with the story that's been dominating much of the political conversation all week long. And that is Karl Rove's attack on Hillary Clinton. Is this just the start of Republican strategy to persuade her not to run? Our own Andrea Mitchell here with more on this. Andrea, good morning.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Good morning to you, David. Well, this week there is no longer any doubt that some powerful Republicans are playing hardball against Hillary Clinton, raising questions about her age her health, even before she decides whether she's a candidate.

(BEGIN TAPE)

ANDREA MITCHELL:

It all started when Karl Rove, once called Bush's brain, said Hillary Clinton suffered traumatic brain injury after a 2012 fall and concussion. In baseball terms, it looks like a brush-back pitch perhaps to scare Clinton from even running.

KARL ROVE:

We don't know what the-- what the doctor said about, you know, what does she have to be concerned about. We don't know about what-- she's hidden a lot--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Team Clinton took it seriously enough to bring out their heavy hitters.

BILL CLINTON:

First they said she faked her concussion. And now they say she's auditioning for a part on The Walking Dead. (LAUGHTER)

ANDREA MITCHELL:

The Republican playbook, first a not-so innocent item in Rupert Murdoch's New York Post. The Page Six gossip column. As expected, it went viral. The Washington Post, the New York Times, and beyond.

BILL O’REILLY:

Hillary Clinton versus Karl Rove.

STEPHEN COLBERT:

And last week, Karl came out swinging

RUTH MARCUS:

It's sometimes a little bit difficult for the mainstream media to, on its own, say, "Gee, is her age a legitimate topic of public debate?"

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Republicans were already attacking Clinton for her handling of Benghazi. And even Boko Haram. As one Republican operative said, Karl is either an evil genius or just evil.

ANITA DUNN:

Karl doesn't make mistakes. He is a master at take whispers and rumors and things that have no substance whatsoever and turning them into news stories.

STEVEN SCHMIDT:

It's a legitimate issue. The health issues of a presidential candidate nearing 70 have always been part of the debate. And it's not going to be disallowed, no matter how hard the Clinton campaign tries.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Clinton will turn 69 two weeks before the 2016 election. Ronald Reagan was eight months older when he ran in 1980.

ANITA DUNN:

I would expect to see a lot of attacks like this, you know, age or health, without any foundation whatsoever. And also, once it goes more subtly to the issue of gender and whether a woman can really do this job.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But this woman, who described herself as cracking the glass ceiling.

HILLARY CLINTON:

I think we should crack it, also. I am (LAUGHTER) 100 percent in favor of that.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Is already getting more than her share of curveballs. And it's only the pre-season for 2016.

(END TAPE)

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And we should note that some Republicans, including Newt Gingrich, think that Rove's attacks are out of line and could even backfire, especially as the GOP is trying to compete for women voters. David?

DAVID GREGORY:

Andrea, thank you so much. I'm now joined by Reince Priebus, the chair of The Republican National Committee. Welcome back to Meet the Press.

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Good morning, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

What about the Republicans saying this was over the line? Should Karl Rove apologize?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

I don't-- yeah, it's up to Karl Rove. I mean Karl Rove's a political operative, I understand--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

But do you think it was over the line?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Look, I think that health and age is fair game. It's fair game for Ronald Reagan. It's fair game for John McCain. When people came at John McCain and said maybe he's psychologically not fit because he was a prisoner of war. And so look--

DAVID GREGORY:

Though wasn't-- wasn't it part of why there was a backlash against that is there was innuendo, there was a suggestion about, "He's just not-- his brain doesn't work right." Or in this case, it's, "Her brain may not work right, and she's hiding something about it." Was that over the line?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Look, I don't think there's a graceful way to bring up age, health and fitness for a candidate that wants to be president of the United States. I think the more important issue for me, as leader of this party, is what's the record of Hillary Clinton. What was her record as a secretary of state? Benghazi, Boko Haram, Syria, Russia. Those are going to be the issues that I believe will cause her to rethink whether she actually--

DAVID GREGORY:

And we should--

REINCE PRIEBUS:

--wants to run for president.

DAVID GREGORY:

But we can get to that. But Karl Rove doesn't do things by accident. What he injected was an attack into the firmament of the Republican grassroots. You're head of the party. Would you like to sidestep away from this, or would you like to double down?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

No. Listen, it's not a matter whether sidestep or double down. It's going to be an issue. It's going to come up, David. We're going to be at this point at some time if Hillary Clinton runs for president. I mean the issue of her health and her age is going to come up. And it's--

DAVID GREGORY:

Do you think she suffered some--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

--sort of brain injury that raises legitimate questions about whether she's healthy to serve as commander-in-chief?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

I'm not a doctor. What I do know is that the issue's going to come up, as it does for any person running for president. What I think is going to make her rethink whether she should actual run for president-- by the way, I don't actually think she will, but she has another month, which she just had. But the issues that I talked about are going to be the issues that make her--

DAVID GREGORY:

So--

REINCE PRIEBUS:

--unacceptable to--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

But that's what I want to follow up on. The month that she just had. Gail Collins writing sympathetically toward her in The New York Times over the weekend. I'm going to put a portion of that up on our screen, get your response for it. "For the right, Clinton's responsible for nearly everything bad that occurs in the world, including the terrible kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls, which happened either because Benghazi made us look weak,” according to Laura Ingraham, “or because the State Department never formally designated Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization. Somewhere right now someone is working on a story that will reveal that Hillary Clinton started the elevator fight between Jay-Z and his sister-in-law." Is the mission to persuade her not to run?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

No, it's not the mission. But, you know, she's coming out with a book called, I think it's Hard Choices, or something like that. She's made a series of bad choices. And this writer that you just quoted, talk about sweeping things under the rug. Benghazi shouldn't be swept under the rug, four diplomats had died. Boko Haram, these people have over 200 girls in Nigeria. The Syria issue, the Russian recent-- listen--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Let's be clear, because there will be a lot of follow-up on that. Are you suggesting that somehow Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, who got started in independent review of what happened at Benghazi was trying to sweep Benghazi under the rug?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Well, she is trying to sweep Benghazi under the rug. She absolutely is. And if you want any evidence of that, ask the families of people who lost their sons in Benghazi. They've talked plenty about what happened in Benghazi. The fact of the matter is--

DAVID GREGORY:

That doesn't--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

It doesn't mean that she swept it under the rug. They may be dissatisfied, right, with--

(OVERTALK)

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Well, when Senator Johnson tried to ask her questions about Benghazi and her response is, "What difference does it make?" I can assure you that that will be an issue if she does decide to run. My view, though, David, is that, given the month she just had, I actually doubt very much whether she actually will run for president in 2016. I know a lot of people around her want her to run. And I think that they're purposely creating this environment around her.

(OVERTALK)

REINCE PRIEBUS:

She's causing us to talk about her today.

DAVID GREGORY:

Is she the candidate that you, as the head of the Republican party, most fear?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

No, I don't-- actually, I don't fear. I think Hillary's a known product. Actually, I think it's sometimes worse running against a blank slate. Hillary has decades of history for us to explore. You know, her role in HillaryCare, when she was First Lady. Her Senate experience, where there's nothing significant to point to. And her secretary of state experience, which is not just not significant, but there's all kinds of problems for.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, Chairman Priebus, always good to have you.

REINCE PRIEBUS:

All right, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

Thanks for being here.

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Thank you, sir.

DAVID GREGORY:

We're going to continue this, turning now to Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri. Good to see you this morning, welcome back.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

I'll ask the same question to you. Do you think Karl Rove should apologize? Was this over the line?

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

You know, I think Karl Rove is struggling to be relevant. I mean this is a guy who took hundreds of millions of other people's money in the last cycle and had abject failure. So I think he's trying to be part of the conversation. I think we all know what this is. It's a cheap political shot. It's the kind of politics that kind of make people not want to participate. And it's too bad.

DAVID GREGORY:

We see a lot of this around. And I have to ask you, it happens on the Democrat side of the ledger, as well. Harry Reid, the majority leader in your body, in the Senate, has said this about the Koch Brothers and their efforts to raise money and influence the political debate. Let me show that.

SEN. HARRY REID (ON TAPE):

Are the Koch Brothers right to degrade or Democratic process with lies? It's too bad that they're trying to buy America. And it's time that the American people spoke out against this terrible dishonesty of these two brothers that are about as un-American as anyone that I can imagine.

DAVID GREGORY:

Calling political opponents un-American. Is that along the same lines as what Karl Rove did?

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

Yeah. You know, I don't think that is something I am totally comfortable with. I get why Harry Reid is very frustrated with the Koch Brothers. I think the problem here, David, is not that the Koch Brothers want to spend their fortune on trying to buy elections. The problem is that so much of it is secret and dirty, dark secret money. The American people have a right to know who is funding campaigns. And that's the problem that we have tried to fix, and the Republicans continually block, that is making all of this money come out into the light of day.

DAVID GREGORY:

As you look at Secretary of State Clinton, how she handled some of the questions that have emerged about Benghazi, or even about her health that, as you know, are a question for any candidate, do you think she could have done better? Should she do more to be completely transparent?

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

Listen, this is a strong, smart leader who is going to be a terrific president. And I don't care what Reince Priebus says. They do not want Hillary Clinton, because they know she is going to ignite a spark of enthusiasm across this country, and she has got the strongest résumé for president of anyone who's run in a very long time.

So I really think she's answered all of the questions about Benghazi. She's the one who called for an independent investigation. And of course her frustration, when she said it doesn't matter, was because she wants to make sure this doesn't happen again. And it was the Republicans that were blocking funding for embassy security. That's why she was frustrated.

DAVID GREGORY:

Senator, you're an interesting figure politically with regards to the Clintons. Back in 2006, you told my colleague, Jeffrey Goldberg, then in The New Yorker, this: "Hillary Clinton is a sensitive subject for McCaskill. She has told people in Missouri and in Washington that a ticket led by Clinton would be fatal for Democrats on the ballot," because you didn't think back then that she could win Missouri.

You came out with two other prominent women at the time to endorse Barack Obama at the same time that Hillary Clinton could have made history back in 2008. And yet now, you were one of the first people to endorse her. What has changed over this arc of time that makes her so formidable in your mind now when she wasn't before?

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

Well, I think she was formidable then. It was just a very tough choice. We had two amazing candidates. And it was a difficult primary for our party because they were both so extraordinary. Now she has the experience of secretary of state. I think she has enhanced her résumé. She's learned so much about how you win these campaigns. She knows how to ignore all the cheap shots and stay focused on the American people and the opportunity that everybody deserves. So I just think it's her time. And I'm excited to try to be a part of it.

DAVID GREGORY:

Reince Priebus said after this past month she may think twice. Do you think Hillary Clinton will think twice and not run, given what's headed her way?

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

Listen, we do not know for certain that Hillary Clinton's going to run. But there's one tithing I know for certain. Karl Rove engaging in cheap shots is not going to back off Hillary Clinton.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right. Senator McCaskill, we'll leave it there. Thanks so much for your time.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

Now we'll turn to another big story of the week. In a surprise move, The New York Times fired one of the most senior women in American journalism, executive editor Jill Abramson. The firing is raising questions about equal pay for men and women and the treatment of female leaders in positions of leadership. Abramson is due to give the commencement address at Wake Forest University in North Carolina tomorrow. That's where NBC's Rehema Ellis is for us this morning.

(BEGIN TAPE)

REHEMA ELLIS:

The stage is set at Wake Forest University for a commencement speech to remember.

FEMALE STUDENT:

Everyone's talking about it. It should be really exciting.

MALE STUDENT:

It’s going to be bigger than all of us. It's going to be a pivotal moment.

REHEMA ELLIS:

Jill Abramson may be in a fighting mood. Her daughter posted this picture of her 60-year-old mother on Instagram, #pushy. As executive editor of The New York Times, Abramson was one of the most powerful women in journalism until last week when she was abruptly fired after less than three years on the job.

While there are reports that Abramson was terminated after she questioned whether she was paid as much as her male predecessors, in a strongly worded statement issued Saturday, the newspaper's publisher denied that allegation, saying, "I decided that Jill could no longer remain as executive editor for reasons that have nothing to do with pay or gender. I concluded that her management of the newsroom was simply not working out."

That ignited a furious debate on social media about whether a sexist double standard was in play. While others were asking, maybe the grievances against her are justified, why treat women as victims? A recent study on gender differences and leadership style found that women are perceived as being less confident, more apologetic, which raises the question: When women break from perception, are they penalized?

KATHERINE PHILLIPS:

There's a double standard.

REHEMA ELLIS:

Katherine Phillips is incoming senior vice dean of the Columbia Business School.

KATHERINE PHILLIPS:

There's a lot of backlash that comes when a woman speaks up and she's assertive and confident that doesn't happen if a man does the same thing.

REHEMA ELLIS:

Abramson's commencement address here at Wake Forest will be her first public appearance since she was abruptly dismissed. The university president says he can't think of a better and more timely message for the graduates of 2014. That class here is made up of 4,800, 50% of them men, 50% of them women, who will probably listen closely to her every word. David?

DAVID GREGORY:

Rehema Ellis at Wake Forest for us this morning. Thanks so much. I'm joined now by NBC News's Maria Shriver, Carolyn Ryan, who's Washington bureau chief of The New York Times, and also here in the studio, Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard, former California Senate candidate, she's now global chair of Opportunity International. Welcome to all of you. Maria, you and I have been talking about this. The facts of Jill Abramson may be murkier now, right? Not completely resolved. The larger question about equal pay, about equal treatment for women in leadership, is a conversation that will go on independent of Jill Abramson's circumstances. What do you think?

MARIA SHRIVER:

Absolutely. I think this is a teachable moment. We don't know the facts of Jill Abramson's situation. But pay discrimination, pay inequity, does exist. It's like global warming, only a fringe few deny its existence. And it particularly affects women in low income jobs, women of color, 57%, 57 cents on the dollar. It's one of the reasons one in three women in this country, working women, are on the brink of poverty.

Things can change that. Passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act can change that. I think this is also a teachable moment for women in leadership. How do women lead? What is their style? Are they judged differently? I think they are. And women have to decide for themselves what kind of leaders do they want to be?

DAVID GREGORY:

And that’s--

MARIA SHRIVER:

Can they withstand being called certain names? How can they survive in the workplace?

DAVID GREGORY:

And that's one of the issues here. And Carolyn Ryan, you're the Washington bureau chief for The New York Times. So I'll put you on the spot. I even ask them the question. Look, you look at her management style, tough, tough editor, obviously. So women are telling each other, "It's time to lean in, time to get over self confidence." Is the culture ready for that?

CAROLYN RYAN:

I mean in terms of the culture, the one thing that I worry a little bit about is it feels like there's all this legitimate pent up frustration among women about broader sexism issues. And I worry a little bit with this story that it's essentially become a caricature. So you have Jill Abramson, who's an extraordinary journalistic thinker and one of the best brains of her generation, formidable intellect. And now she's being caricatured as a victim in The New York Times, which is essentially, in its major news departments, being run by women day to day, is being caricatured as a bastion of sexism, which isn't true, and hasn't been my experience there. So I just worry that there's a way that much of the frustration gets transferred onto the story that isn't accurate.

DAVID GREGORY:

Is this a case, I mean now you're seeing publicly in The New York Times, essentially being very clear about why they fired her, about management problems, how she was treating people, her manner with colleagues, publicly embarrassing them. I mean it's gotten pretty acrimonious. Does anything strike you about this as being a double standard? Would a man be treated the same say upon an exit?

CARLY FIORINA:

Absolutely not. And the most obvious example of that is the announcement about her departure. Here is a woman who, having been told she has an abrasive style, how many times have women heard that? She's been a distinguished reporter for The New York Times, an editor for three years. There is not a single word in her departure announcement about her contribution, about her record, about her time at The New York Times. She is excised from history.

No more lectures, please, from The New York Times about the treatment of women. Arthur Sulzberger, the more he talks, the more clear it becomes to me that, of course, she was treated differently. Whatever the issues in the newsroom were, the dynamics around her departure would not have been the same for a man.

CAROLYN RYAN:

I mean the-- I'm not here to speak for the newspaper. I think Jill is known as a truth teller. And I think she wanted-- people talk a lot about her departure. I think she wanted it to be clear that she was being fired. She didn't want the ceremonial--

CARLY FIORINA:

There wasn't a single positive comment about her in her statement of departure. Not, "Thank you for your time." Not, "Thank you for a wonderful record of service to The New York Times." Not a word. That is disrespectful.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Can I get--

CARLY FIORINA:

--the most public form.

DAVID GREGORY:

I want to ask Maria, because when you and I were talking about this this weekend, I raised this, as well. I have an eight-year-old daughter. Now, fast-forward to the point maybe she's in her early 20s, the advice that I might give her about getting into this business that I know something about that can be pretty rough and tumble. What qualities would I want her to have? I'd want her to be true to herself. But I also would want her to have the toughness to deal with what she'd have to face in an industry still dominated by men, which would create a certain toughness that not all--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

--men are ready for.

MARIA SHRIVER:

--David. Well, I think any advice you give your daughter today about the workplace she's going to walk into will be outdated. The fact is the United States of America needs to modernize its laws to help women stay in the workforce. We don't have paid leave. That's one of the reasons that women drop out and then come back to lower paying jobs.

In The Shriver Report, we reported that if we closed the pay gap, we would cut poverty in half in this country, add half a trillion dollars to the economy. So I think we need to have these discussions about leadership, about how women are treated, about the pay gap. We need to talk about modernizing our laws so that young women can grow up and work and still take care of their families, still be treated with respect, be judged for who they are as leaders and human beings as opposed to women or men.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, but very quickly, Carly, in terms of what women face in leadership and situations, do you think it's going to change? Do you think it's going to--

(OVERTALK)

CARLY FIORINA:

Well, it is changing. Clearly, it is changing. We see more women in positions of leadership. When I became the CEO of Hewlett Packard, I was one out of the Fortune 50. We now have 12. Clearly, things are getting better. And yet, women remain the most subjugated people on the face of the Earth.

Dynamics around women are different. Women remain an underutilized resource. And may I just say that politics is part of the problem here. When liberals use women as a political cudgel, when they basically say, "If you don't support our liberal orthodoxy on all of these issues, you're waging a war on women," that's disrespectful to women. We are half of this great nation. Every issue is a woman's issue. And our opinions are as diverse as men. But the dynamics around women remain different than the dynamics around men.

DAVID GREGORY:

We'll-- we'll--

CARLY FIORINA:

New York Times, exhibit A. (LAUGHTER)

DAVID GREGORY:

We're going to leave it there. Maria Shriver, thank you so much. Carly Fiorina, as well. Carolyn, we'll see you in just a minute on our political roundtable, as well. Coming up, we're going to look ahead at some crucial primaries coming up. Big political week across the country, as well as a discussion of a political debate that we saw this week, like I don't think you're ever going to see for some time.

HARLEY BROWN:

I’m about as politically correct as your proverbial turd in a punchbowl.

WALTER BAYES:

I honestly think half of the Republican Party is Democrats and half of the Democratic Party is communists.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

An important week coming up, we are two days away from the closest thing to a Super Tuesday we'll see before November's elections. In a moment, we're going to go to our roundtable to discuss that. But first, our NBC political director, Chuck Todd, is here with his first read on the week ahead in politics. Chuck T?

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you, David. As you know, it is Super Tuesday, or the closest thing that we have. Six states, coast to coast, will vote in primary. And it showcases all the big national storylines of this election season.

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Storyline number one: the battle for the soul of the GOP. Three states Tuesday will feature the latest round in The Tea Party versus establishment primaries, a battle the establishment's been winning. In Kentucky, Republican Matt Bevin has struggled in his quest to oust Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. But keep an eye on the size of the anti-McConnell GOP vote. It won't be easy for him to get these folks back. They could prove crucial in the fall.

In Georgia Senate, the two Tea Party Congressmen have faded. It's three establishment-backed candidates that are fighting for the top two slots in the July runoff. And in Idaho's Second House district, incumbent Mike Simpson appears poised to survive his Tea Party challenge. The Tea Party could go oh for three Tuesday.

Storyline number two: Democrats and women, both as candidates and voters. The party is counting on them to save their Senate majority. Michelle Nunn in Georgia and Allison Grimes in Kentucky are among a strong group of female candidates for the Democrats this year. So Republicans have a good story to tell here, too. There are some potentially strong female Senate candidates in places like West Virginia, Iowa, Michigan. And after Tuesday, Oregon may be added to that list.

Both Nunn, daughter of Sam, and Grimes, daughter of a powerful long-time Kentucky power broker, are part of another key 2014 theme: Democrats banking on famous or powerful political families to win in red states. Other key dynasty candidates on Tuesday's ballot: Mark Pryor in Arkansas, son of David, and Jason Carter in Georgia, grandson of Jimmy. These four join a half dozen others around the country.

Finally: The good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to the health law. Kentucky's state exchange has been a success story. But out west in Oregon, not so much. The GOP hopes that state's troubled health insurance exchange helps elect Republicans to statewide office, something they haven't done since 2002.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

In fact, the Republican candidate that Oregon could end up nominating is a medical doctor, Monica Wehby. So David, they see a real opportunity there to suddenly bring health care back onto the national stage in Oregon.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, Chuck, thanks very much. So to get a sense of how some of these big themes are playing around the country, our Kevin Tibbles went to Lexington, Kentucky, where one of those big primaries that Chuck just talked about will take place Tuesday. It is today's installment of Meeting America.

(BEGIN TAPE)

KEVIN TIBBLES:

They still call Lexington, with its bluegrass and ponies, "The Horse Capital of the World." The historic downtown now bustles with rejuvenation and people. And with the hotly contested Republican primary between long-serving Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and challenger, the Tea Party candidate, Matt Bevin just a few days away, we came to listen to the thoughts and concerns over issues facing the country.

Oh, the American stories this old building could tell. They've been distilling spirits on this site since 1780, when the nation was in its infancy. But modern-day government red tape rankles Jeff Wiseman, owner of Barrel House Distilling.

JEFF WISEMAN:

There's no better place in America. Unfortunately, we have so many government regulations on us that it's cumbersome.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

So this is aged in--

JEFF WISEMAN:

Used bourbon barrels.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

--bourbon barrels. Wow. That's very nice. (CHUCKLE)

KEVIN TIBBLES:

Wiseman wants his small distillery to thrive and grow and hire more people. A message he says can't be heard over all the bipartisan bickering in Washington.

JEFF WISEMAN:

I think the heated rhetoric's okay if, at the end of the day, you can sit down and have a bourbon together.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

Right, then work something out.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

Putting people to work seems a common theme.

CRYSTAL CONWAY:

I think the American dream got put on hold.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

Outside Lexington, Crystal Conway manages one of the commonwealth's many prosperous horse farms. (WHINNY) This time of year, doting moms keep a close eye on their foals. Crystal's not a fan of The Affordable Care Act. She says, with Obamacare, government has become too invasive.

CRYSTAL CONWAY:

In a lot of ways, I think we are losing our freedom. They're getting involved in too many of my decisions. They shouldn't be able to tell me how I'm going to allot my paycheck each week.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

A recent NBC News/Marist Poll found most in Kentucky, like Crystal, do not like Obamacare, even though many who voiced an opinion, do support their state-run health exchange. Just as many didn't know it existed.

ROBERT SMITH:

There a bourbon taste in that thing?

KEVIN TIBBLES:

North Carolinians Robert and Mary Ruth Smith are retired. They stop by the Barrel House Distillery for a tour and a taste, and now, a talk.

ROBERT SMITH:

The system is cracked, maybe broken. I think we have two houses that don't work as much together in trying to do what is right for the country. That's my opinion.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

Like grandparents everywhere, they look to the future and have concerns.

ROBERT SMITH:

My kids and grandkids.

MARY RUTH SMITH:

It's going to be hard to get out there and find a good job, I think, even with good education.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

In Kentucky, as in the rest of America, elections approach. They have weathered recessions and have not been broken.

JEFF WISEMAN:

But Americans can overcome.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

But they want their representatives to acknowledge how hard they've worked. For Meet the Press, Kevin Tibbles.

(END TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

Kevin, thanks so much. The roundtable's here: Chuck Todd, who you just saw, Carolyn Ryan is back, as well, from The New York Times. Also with us, Dr. Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon now retired from medicine who is making waves in Republican politics to say the least. His new book is One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America's Future. Also here, former Democratic Senator from Arkansas, Blanche Lincoln. Great to have all of you here.

GROUP VOICES:

Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

So here's my question. We've been talking about the midterm. Doctor, I'll start with you. What's going to define what this race actually comes down to? Are we going to battle about health care, immigration? Or is it really just about President Obama?

DR. BEN CARSON:

Well, interestingly enough, it's about more than all of those things. As I've been traveling around the country, what I've discovered is that people recognize that this is a pivotal election. This one and the one in 2016, in terms of what kind of nation--

DAVID GREGORY:

Do we ever cover elections that aren't pivotal moments for our (LAUGHTER) country, though? That's the question.

DR. BEN CARSON:

I think this is--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Why? What is it that's at stake here?

DR. BEN CARSON:

Because what is at stake is what kind of place is America going to be? Are we truly an exceptional nation with a different core of values than the rest of the world? Is that what led us to the pinnacle position in the world? Are we a nation that's for, of and by the people? Or are we for, of and by the government? This is what this election's about.

DAVID GREGORY:

Is there not going to be-- I mean what's interesting about that, Chuck, is that it does get to this larger thing about has Obama weakened America, here at home or abroad.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, look. The stakes are high. Okay? The Obama presidency, arguably, is on the line. He gets a Democratic Senate, and domestically, at least, has a chance of doing something, potentially. If the Republicans get control of the Senate, domestically, you could argue that his presidency is over. And at this point, it's like the last two years of the Bush presidency, where you just-- he is going to be forced to just broker some foreign policy.

But the difference I think I see out there from '06 and '10, the last two midterms that we saw big change, because I think the public has given up on Washington. And I think you were seeing-- we're seeing enthusiasm down, particularly with the middle of the--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

We're seeing the lack of passion out there. And I think that this election's going to be defined by an electorate that has given up, that Washington and politicians--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

What do you think, Senator, having left politics?

FMR SEN. BLANCHE LINCOLN:

Right. Well, I think that what's going to be critical for people is results. And that's what they're really looking for. And yet, I think Chuck is really right that they're kind of seeing it as just the bottom of the barrel, it's the scum, or, you know, Washington can't produce that. So a lot of primaries out there right now that are going to be tough.

I went through one, you're going to see the Republicans in a couple of those primaries beating each other up. And it's going to make it tough in the general election. So I think people are looking for results. And I think they're really, really concerned about whether or not Washington can bring them.

DAVID GREGORY:

And yet, there's so much focus even about Hillary Clinton, which already we're fast forwarding to what her leadership would be about, or even what her campaign would be about.

CAROLYN RYAN:

This is the fascinating dynamic. Because she going to go on this book tour, which is really kind of a trial campaign starting next month. And one thing that's fascinating to me, if you look into her speeches just in the past few weeks, she-- how does she handle Barack Obama? Because she doesn't seem to be running as the third term Barack Obama. She seems to be running as the third term for Bill Clinton. And what does that mean for a White House that is already weakened, that is at risk of losing the Senate, if you sort of have this Democratic figure, this Democratic icon out there who starts to pull all the energy of the party toward her in 2016?

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, she had an odd statement on Friday where she was asked about the midterms, and she just said something very distant. It was something about, "You know, well, you know, people are going to be making some choices on this." It was not a passionate defense of the Democratic Party. I assume that changes. And somebody will say, "Well, you can't say it like that."

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

But it didn't sound like somebody who was ready to go save Barack Obama's Senate.

DAVID GREGORY:

Ben Carson, how do you define yourself in politics? A lot of people talking about you as a rising star in the Republican Party. You're not a party guy, regardless.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

But you have certainly put government on trial, in a way. Here's one of the things you said about the Affordable Care Act that raised a lot of eyebrows. I'll play it.

DR. BEN CARSON (ON TAPE):

You know, Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery. And it is, in a way, it is slavery, in a way. (WHISTLES, APPLAUSE) Because it is making all of us subservient to the government. And it was never about health care, it was about control.

DAVID GREGORY:

People who have health care now who didn't have it before, I suspect would disagree strongly with you. But I wonder, in addition, is that really how you want it to be defined, how you want to put government on trial, in effect, in a political way?

DR. BEN CARSON:

Well, first of all, recognize what I said, "worst thing since slavery," and say that it was slavery. People who are well read and particularly who have--

DAVID GREGORY:

But you said it is slavery, in a way, because it is making us all subservient to the government.

DR. BEN CARSON:

Right. And--

DAVID GREGORY:

That's what you said.

DR. BEN CARSON:

And I said, "In a way." In a way, anything is slavery that robs you of your ability to control your own life. And when you take the most important thing that you have, which is your health care, and you put that in the hands of government bureaucrats, I think you have done the wrong thing.

And as I was about to say, you go back and you look at the neo-Marxist literature, and look at what they say. You don't have to listen to what I say about taking control of health care of a populace and making the people dependent. This is not what America is about. Do I believe in health care for everybody? Absolutely. But I think there are much better ways to get there, which leave the care in the hands of patients and of doctors.

DAVID GREGORY:

Senator Lincoln, winning the fight over health care is going to be important in the midterms. It's also important if Democrats want to get anything else, right? Because part of the view is that health care has taken all the oxygen out of the room for President Obama to get some of the other things he'd like to get done.

FMR SEN. BLANCHE LINCOLN:

Uh-huh (AFFIRM). Well, the Affordable Care Act is, by far, not perfect. And no piece of legislation that comes through is. But I certainly don't regret my vote on that. We had to move forward. We had to make sure that more people in this country got insured. And that's what we're doing.

We're seeing it happen through the Affordable Care Act. It's going to take time. This kind of unbelievable legislation doesn't happen overnight. It's a surgical situation where we really have to spend the time developing how it fits. But look in Arkansas. We've got over 200,000 people, working poor, who did not have health care who now have health care delivered through an exchange by private insurers. You know, that's not government, that's private industry providing them health care that's going to give them some coverage that they have never had.

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me button up some of the Hillary conversation we've had this morning. Dr. Carson, do you think she's the most formidable candidate that Republicans will face? Do you think she's beatable?

DR. BEN CARSON:

Yes, I do think she's beatable. Everybody's beatable. Anybody who's human is beatable.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right, but that's-- but I'm not asking about the world patterns here. I'm asking about a specific person. What do you think about her?

DR. BEN CARSON:

You know, I've met her, I've talked to her on a number of occasions. She seems like an intelligence individual. I suspect that the Democrats can probably come up with a lot of people. I think, you know, we're two and a half years away. You know, there are lots of possibilities here.

DAVID GREGORY:

Are you going to run? Would you consider running for president?

DR. BEN CARSON:

It wasn't on my bucket list at the time that I retired. I didn't-- and I still don't want to. There's a lot of pressure. I'll see how things go. I'm never going to say absolutely or absolutely not until it is an absolute.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right. Well, we can come back here and talk about it some more. Thank you all very much. We're going to take a break here. Coming up, this growing anger as you've heard of all week over the VA scandal, as the head of The Department of Veteran Affairs says he's mad as hell. Will all of the anger trigger the needed reforms? I'll speak with two key military voices on that coming up here next.

***Commercial Break***

FEMALE SPEAKER AT TOWN HALL (ON TAPE):

My husband died at 45 years old. Every time my husband reached out to the VA, they just kept telling him, "Be patient, sir." I'm here to tell you that my dead veteran husband cannot be much more patient than he is today. But me, I'm pissed.

DAVID GREGORY:

An emotional outpouring this week as frustration grows over the scandal of the Veterans Administration. A top VA official stepped down and calls for the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki were heard loud and clear. In just a minute, a discussion of two key voices from the military. But first, our Pentagon correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski, who was front and center with Shinseki, he has the anatomy of this scandal.

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI:

Only a week before he went to battle on Capitol Hill over the growing VA scandal, Secretary Erik Shinseki, in an NBC interview, sounded somewhere oblivious to the gathering storm.

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI (TO SHINSEKI):

Do you completely understand why there's that level of outrage right now?

ERIC SHINSEKI:

Well, I think I do. I'm a veteran myself.

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI:

Whistleblowers claim that up to 40 veterans died while awaiting treatment at the VA hospital in Phoenix, and that administrators there, and at least seven other VA hospitals, tried to cover up the long wait times. This past week, the scandal reached a boiling point. Wednesday, under growing calls for Shinseki to resign, President Obama says he stands by Shinseki.

But then, orders White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors to oversee the VA's response to the controversy. Thursday, Shinseki and his deputy faced withering questions at a Senate hearing.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS.:

Are people, quote unquote, "cooking the books?"

ERIC SHINSEKI:

I'm not aware, other than a number of isolated cases.

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI:

What do you say to those veterans who said you, of all people, have abandoned. Have you failed these veterans?

ERIC SHINSEKI:

I took this job not to fail veterans. I came to make things better for them.

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI:

Well they say, talk is cheap.

ERIC SHINSEKI:

Talk isn't cheap, where I'm concerned.

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI:

Friday, under-secretary Rob Petzel resigns. And VA critics call Petzel a scapegoat, since he was already due to retire soon. Overall, not a good week for a decorated four-star general amid serious questions about whether he will survive.

DAVID GREGORY:

Thanks for that, Jim Miklaszewski, who joins us this morning, also here to discuss this scandal, I'm joined by Wes Moore, former Army captain who served in Afghanistan, wrote the bestselling book and a PBS series about veterans, Coming Back, which is airing now. And Adam Kinzinger, Republican Congressman from Illinois, is an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, still serves, is a pilot in the Air National Guard. Welcome to all of you. So questions about whether Shinseki should resign, is kind of the political context. But Congressmen, let me ask you, how did we get to this moment, so many veterans in the system not being served well enough?

ADAM KINZINGER:

Well, I think that's the big question. I mean when I got elected, I got elected in 2010, the issue of VA backlog was on the front burner. People were talking about it. And, you know, there was talk a year ago of should we ask for Shinseki's resignation. A group of a few of us were talking about it. And I don't jump on the resignation bandwagon. But this has gone from an incompetence and a backlog to something criminal, something where people are hiding veterans' names, people are dying.

DAVID GREGORY:

People who have been told to wait, "We'll get to you, we'll get to you," and--

ADAM KINZINGER:

Yeah.

DAVID GREGORY:

--they're hiding that.

ADAM KINZINGER:

Yeah. And this is--

(OVERTALK)

ADAM KINZINGER:

--absolutely the wrong thing. And I think it's time for Shinseki to resign. Because we need to get somebody there, he's a great guy, a great American, but somebody there that knows how to fix the problem.

DAVID GREGORY:

Jim, you've been covering government for a long time, from the White House to the Pentagon, all over town. I spoke to somebody very high up in the administration who says, "You know what? This is a tech problem. This is a technology problem. Shinseki's a good guy, just like HHS Kathleen Sebelius, very competent, but the departments are too technologically challenged to keep up with the demand that they're trying to place on him."

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI:

That's right. First of all, I agree with the Congressman. You know, Secretary Shinseki was a great general. He served the military well. But quite frankly, instead of Shinseki, what the VA and the veterans need right is a General George Patton, somebody who's going to be aggressive and fight politically.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI:

And Shinseki's--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

And what came through from your reporting this week, this is not somebody who necessarily commands the stage to say, "We're going to get thing-- we're going to change things."

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI:

And that's been his MO--

DAVID GREGORY:

Right.

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI:

--throughout his entire career. But very quickly, back to the problem itself. First of all, you have the most entrenched bureaucracy in Washington. You have a VA that is overwhelmed and under-resourced. And I don't care what people say, Shinseki or not, there's just not enough money right now in the federal government to fix it. Other changes have to be made.

DAVID GREGORY:

But you're doing something remarkable on PBS, which is this series about talking to veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan and asking them what that was like to come home. Tremendous demand from our returning soldiers for men and women who have mental health challenges, who have physical challenges. They're going to need the VA for a long time. It's not just the aging Baby Boomers from the Vietnam War. Do you despair over how that's possibly going to be addressed?

WES MOORE:

Well, it's not-- it's a despair, and also, it's a heartbreak. Because this is something that was promised to our men and women as-- I think it was Tammy Duckworth said before, she was like, "You know, when we asked our men and women to go overseas and serve, they didn't tell us to wait." You know, we didn't tell our country, "No, hold off six months, hold off on a year on these operations, and then they'll go serve."

So why now, when our men and women are coming back home, are we now asking them to wait? And one thing that I really see as this whole thing continues to evolve, these are not new phenomena in our community. These things have been going on for a decade-plus, thinking about Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. And even as we-- what we're not looking for, we're not looking for battlefield promotions. We're not looking for moving seats on a deck. You know, we want genuine accountability, but also, genuine action. Not something that's going to take months, but that's going to take weeks to get to the bottom of--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

One provocative thought from Colonel Jack Jacobs, who's an NBC News contributor, and he wrote an op-ed, Congressman. He said, "It makes no sense to have a parallel universe to take care of our veterans, separate doctors, separate facilities, equipment and even protocols. There's no reason that veterans who would otherwise wait for months to be seen at a VA health clinic can't be seen by private doctors, private-- the same doctors who treat everybody else." Should we get rid of this arm of the VA and put them into regular health care?

ADAM KINZINGER:

I'm not going to so far as to say get rid of the arm of the VA yet. But I have actually a bill out there that says if you live X amount of miles away from the clinic or a hospital, then you just go to your local doctor. And what you see is that's a good way to get rid of a year long backlog. If somebody's waiting, let them go to their doctor and bill the VA for it.

I mean this is, again, a situation where there's, I think, things that can be done. And I think what's surprising is, you know, the president has made every decision he can to avoid making it looking like he's making some kind of a leadership decision. And I think make a leadership decision, put somebody in there. When Secretary Gates heard about the problem at Walter Reed, he fired a whole bunch of people, and the Walter Reed scandal was fixed in a big way. That can be done in the VA, and it needs to now.

DAVID GREGORY:

We'll be watching. We're going to leave it here for this morning. Thank you all very much.

ADAM KINZINGER:

You bet.

DAVID GREGORY:

Appreciate it.

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI:

Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

We'll take a break here. And coming up, our Pete Williams gets answers to the questions that you wanted to ask Glenn Greenwald, who's been out a lot this week, the man who brought N.S.A. Whistleblower Edward Snowden's story to the world.

**Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

We turn now to the global debate over privacy and security ignited by whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelations about the U.S. secret mass surveillance programs. NBC's Justice Correspondent, Pete Williams, interviewed journalist and author Glenn Greenwald, who won The Pulitzer Prize for reporting on Snowden's revelations.

(BEGIN TAPE)

PETE WILLIAMS:

He's the man who first revealed Edward Snowden's leaks about U.S. surveillance to the world. Glenn Greenwald tells the story of how it happened in a new book, No Place to Hide, and has been talking about it all week. Now it's time for your questions, submitted through social media.

PETE WILLIAMS:

Helen asks, "How much are activists, humanitarians, or those outspoken about government policies, targeted, and how?"

GLENN GREENWALD:

We publish a document in the book about six different individuals that the government considers to be, quote, "radicalizers," who are not members of terrorist organizations or plotting terrorist attacks, who just express radical ideas. The government has collected their intimate online sexual chats, visits to pornographic sites, and plots in this document how they release the information to undermine their credibility. There's other information targeting people who visit the Wikileaks website or support the activist group Anonymous.

PETE WILLIAMS:

Mary Barber asks this question. "In a recent interview, you referred to Daniel Ellsberg, who revealed The Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg stayed to face whatever the consequences would be. How are we supposed to see Snowden in the same light? He ran like a coward, and Ellsberg showed courage and stayed in the country, where he lives as a free man today. How do you reconcile the difference?"

GLENN GREENWALD:

I think the best answer is from Daniel Ellsberg himself, who, in July of 2013, in The Washington Post, wrote an op-ed entitled Edward Snowden Was Right to Flee, in which he said that the world inside the American judicial system and American political culture is radically different now as compared to when he stepped forward to go on trial. If Edward Snowden were to go on trial, he would be rendered incommunicado. He would not be released on bail. He couldn't argue his case in the public.

PETE WILLIAMS:

Here are two related questions: Aliz Koletas asks, "What is his response to critics who call him a traitor for helping Snowden?" And Mary Jane Jones says, "How does he feel about making the U.S. a sitting duck to our enemies?"

GLENN GREENWALD:

It is always the case that people who bring unwanted disclosure that makes people in power uncomfortable are called traitors. And I'd look at that, really, as a badge of honor. I think it's a testament to the fact that we're doing our job.

PETE WILLIAMS:

As you know, the heads of several U.S. intelligence agencies, and also in the U.K., have said that these disclosures have caused potential terrorists to change their method of communication, which makes it harder to detect. What about that? Does that concern you?

GLENN GREENWALD:

This claim that these disclosures have helped the terrorists is the same script from which they always read whenever people shine a light on what they're doing. And I hope nobody is willing to accept it on faith, but instead, demands evidence that that has happened, because there actually is none.

PETE WILLIAMS:

And Ricardo Ali Fernandez says, "First thank Mr. Greenwald, then ask him what is the chance we can get legislation to stop decades of the abusive application of the states' secrets privilege and related doctrine policy and act abuses?"

GLENN GREENWALD:

One of the most encouraging aspects of the story, I think, has been that there has been a complete breakdown in the traditional standard division between left and right or conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat. There has been this extremely, I think, inspiring bipartisan coalition that has emerged that has demanded that there be constraints imposed on the N.S.A..

PETE WILLIAMS:

Greenwald says he has plans to reveal some of the most spectacular documents Snowden leaked on The Intercept, the digital magazine. Its parent company has a collaboration agreement with NBC News. Pete Williams, NBC News, New York.

(END TAPE)

DAVID GREGORY:

You can see a longer version of that interview on our website. That's at MeetThePressNBC.com. Our discussions are generating a lot of reaction on Twitter this morning. Our roundtable coming back next.

***Commercial Break***

DAVID GREGORY:

Final moment with our roundtable here. We've been talking about Hillary Clinton a lot this morning, provoked some wide reaction on Twitter. Politico's Glenn Thrush tweeted this: "Hahaha, pause for the coffee, hahaha," in response to Reince Priebus's comment on the program when he said, "I doubt very much whether she will run for president in 2016." This idea that, after this past month, she might say no, probably not.

CHUCK TODD:

But no, this really is a-- there are Republicans who believe their best shot at beating her is to do whatever it takes to make her not want to run. Because the demographic probably, particularly in older white women flocking to her candidacy the first time.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

I've looked at evidence of this with women candidates who, first time, run the U.S. Senate and governor. It's real. And it makes her almost unbeatable. And that's what makes a lot of Republicans nervous.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right. Thank you all very much for being here.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

--very much. That's all for today. We're not going to be here next week because of NBC Sports coverage of auto racing, Formula One. But we'll be back on June first. If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *