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Meet the Press Transcript - September 13, 2015

MEET THE PRESS -- SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2015

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday as we head into the second Republican debate, it may be now or never for some candidates, at they're acting that way. Are we starting to hear the sounds of desperation on the stump?

BOBBY JINDAL:

He says, "Kanye West is great." Why is Kanye West great? Well, because Kanye West likes Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

Chris Christie barely qualified for this week's debate. Can he make a comeback? The governor joins me live. Plus the real elephant in the room after the summer of Trump.

DONALD TRUMP:

We are led by very, very stupid people.

CHUCK TODD:

Is the GOP about to split in two with Congressional Republicans, the Tea Party's fall guys?

MALE VOICE:

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker John Boehner. (CHEERING)

CHUCK TODD:

Also, it took months for Hillary Clinton to get to this about her e-mail.

HILLARY CLINTON:

That was a mistake. I'm sorry about that. I take responsibility.

CHUCK TODD:

But she continues to lose ground to Bernie Sanders. Could Sanders actually win the nomination? Senator Sanders joins me live. Finally, the refugee crisis in Europe. How much is America's policy in Syria to blame for the scenes were witnessing today?

Joining me this morning for insight and analysis are David Brooks of The New York Times, Maria Hinojosa of NPR, former Bush White House political director Sara Fagen, and The National Journal's Ron Fournier. Welcome to Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER: From NBC News in Washington, this is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. Today is the first full day of the NFL season, and you can be sure that somebody somewhere is nervously saying their team already faces a must-win situation. Yes, even on week one. Well, with Wednesday's Republican debate looming, a number of candidates, perhaps like Scott Walker, suddenly are facing their own must-win situations. Score big on Wednesday? Or do you end up seeing your candidacy go belly-up, as Rick Perry did on Friday when he realized he wasn't going to qualify for a second debate.

And you could also sense the desperation this week as trialing candidates upped their rhetoric, starting with Mike Huckabee, joined anti-same-sex marriage county clerk Kim Davis in Kentucky after she was released from jail.

MIKE HUCKABEE:

That if somebody needs to go to jail, I'm willing to go in her place. And I mean that. Because I'm tired of watching people being just harassed because they believe something of their faith.

BOBBY JINDAL:

Donald Trump is not a serious candidate. He's a narcissist. He's an egomaniac.

JEB BUSH:

The loud voices that don't have a plan, I mean let's talk about Donald Trump. As--as Stephen Colbert said, "Let's talk about the big, orange elephant in the room."

TED CRUZ:

If instead of David Souter and John Roberts, the Presidents Bushes had nominated Edith Jones and Mike Luttig, Obamacare would have been struck down three years ago, and the marriage laws of every state would still be on the books.

CHUCK TODD:

Little fact check there for the record. Justice Souter's seat was actually filled by a Democratic president. And John Roberts, in fact, did not vote to legalize the same sex marriage. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey was once considered to be a frontrunner. He is supposedly what the GOP was looking for in the wake of their 2012 defeat, a blue state Republican governor who could win minority votes and keep the GOP on the right side of America's changing demographics.

But then he had a fallout with Bridgegate, some financial troubles in New Jersey, poll numbers low enough that he almost didn't make it into the first two debates. So we're going to find out what happened. Governor Christie, welcome to Meet the Press.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

Happy to be back, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let me just start with, in your announcement speech, you said something like this. You said, "We have no choice but to work together." And it seems to be a message that isn't resonating right now with Republican primary voters who aren't interested in compromise and coming together. They're interested in, in the case of Congress, maybe, burning the place down.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

Well, I think that's why they're not working together. Because they want to burn Congress down because it doesn't do anything. I mean let's face it, I was out on the trails, you know, a lot in 2014, helping governors candidates and Senate candidates to get elected. What have these guys done, these Senate candidates, new senators, that they promised to do? We don't have tax reform on the President's desk. We don't have a repeal and a replacement of Obamacare on the desk. We don't have any of the things that they ran on, on the desk. Make the president veto them. This is why people can't stand Congress.

CHUCK TODD:

Did they over-promise and under-- obviously, they've under-delivered. Was it an over-promise? Was it unrealistic?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

No, I think they've under-delivered. And the fact is, you would never, as an executive, you would never be allowed to have this. Remember, Chuck, I have a Democratic legislature in New Jersey. I've had it the whole time. I've had 400 vetoes that have done in five and a half years. And Americans For Tax Reform just said I've vetoed more tax increases than any governor in American history.

But, at the same time, we passed a property tax cap. We reformed teacher tenure. We reformed the pension and benefits system with a Democratic legislature. You can stand up and be strong, as I've done in New Jersey, and still find a way to work together and compromise. But these folks on Capitol Hill have no interest in doing that. They care more about being on shows like this inside the Beltway, and, you know, spouting of things.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let's talk about your record in New Jersey. Because you've got to run on it. And voters are--

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

Happy to run on it.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let's look at it. Because here, I want to put up your-- right now, New Jersey is ranked 50th for business tax climate, 47th for doing business, 46th for growth in 2014. The unemployment rate is below the U.S. average. How is this a record that Americans should say, "You know what? We want what you did in New Jersey. We want you to do that for America."

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

You should have seen what it looked like when I got there. I mean the fact is that they had 115 tax increases in the seven years before I became governor. We vetoed every tax increase. There was no net private sector job creation, Chuck, in the eight years before I became governor, zero. We've created 198,000 new jobs in the last five and a half years.

And the fact is that we spend $2.5 billion less than we used to. But here's the bigger thing. What they wanted was something in New Jersey who was going to finally stand up and say no to higher taxes, no to more spending, and more yes to parental involvement, parental choices. We've done all those things in New Jersey. And so anybody could pick out any kind of statistics they want. But in New Jersey, it's much better today than it was six years ago.

CHUCK TODD:

But this issue on spending and taxes, though, actually has led, I think, to this. Richard Quaring on Facebook, when we told Facebook, we do this with all the candidates, you're going to be on, here's the question he had for you. He said, "Why does he deserve to be president when he has set a record with nine downgrades for the state of New Jersey while governor?" He's referring to the nine credit downgrades. And some of it is because you have cut taxes too much and, therefore, you've left the state--

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

No. That's simply--

CHUCK TODD:

--perhaps you've left the state without enough money--

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

That's simply not true.

CHUCK TODD:

--to be fiscally responsible.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

You know what it is? You know what it is, Chuck? It is the public sector unions who refuse to do even more compromising on pensions. And that's creating-- if you look at the credit downgrades, they're all about long-term pension problems. Now we've saved $120 billion in the pension system over the next 30 years on what we've done already.

But the unions continue to want more and more and more. And in a Democratic state like New Jersey, it's tough to get them to even push even further. But think about this. What the last credit report said was if the pension problem were fixed, New Jersey would be in good fiscal condition. And that's because we cut spending $2.5 billion from 16, lower than where it was in fiscal year '08.

So this is not about not having enough revenue. The government was too big. We've made it smaller. And if the pension system continues to get better, we'll be fine.

CHUCK TODD:

Except, all right. But if you haven't really been able to fully solve the crisis and make Democrats do what you want them to do in New Jersey, how are you going to do it in Washington?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

Wait a second. We took a pension system that was absolutely ready to go under, and we've now put it as a pension system that's paying its bills and, in fact, has done better over the course of the six years that I've been governor than it's done in the two decades before.

So the fact is you're doing and making progress. But here's the bottom line. We got a Senate Democratic president to be able to sit down and sponsor a pension reform bill that cut colus, that raised retirement age. Does it sound familiar on things that we need to do in Washington D.C.? And I got the Democrats to do that in the space of 10,000 union protestors on the front steps of the state house. So I have absolutely no doubt that I can come down to Congress, not cave like other people have done, and get the job done.

CHUCK TODD:

Last 18 months, you've been dogged at home by the whole Bridgegate mess. This week, the butterfly effect of Bridgegate ended up leading to the resignation of the CEO of United Airlines. And it all has to do with perhaps some quid pro quo with somebody that was once described as your mentor, David Samson, who ran the Port Authority.

Let me ask you this question. You've got our people that were very close to you that were either indicted, have plead guilty, or are under investigation. What should we take away from this as Americans when we think about you, either that you had bad judgment in the people you picked, or you created a climate where people thought they could operate this way.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

Neither. Here's what happens. For 13 years, I've been in public life, both as a U.S. attorney and as governor. And I'll tell you, I've set an incredibly high standard for all of our people to have to reach every day. And I hold them to that standard. And here's what a real leader does: You can't, when you have 60,000 people working for you, Chuck, determine--

CHUCK TODD:

David Samson's not 60,000.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

No.

CHUCK TODD:

This is--

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

But he's one--

CHUCK TODD:

This is--

CHUCK TODD:

--Port Authority.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

Well, first of all--

CHUCK TODD:

--big of an appointment as you make in New Jersey.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

First of-- first of--

CHUCK TODD:

Is it not?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

First of all, you have absolutely no idea. You have no idea, as you sit here today, that he did anything wrong. Nor does anybody else. And so let's stop just reading the newspapers--

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

Okay? And let's go to the--

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

Let's stop reading the newspapers and just blathering back what that is, okay?

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

Here's the bottom line. When you have all these folks working for you, and David included, the fact is that you hold them to high standards. And if they don't meet those high standards, what a decisive leader does is you take action and you terminate them. And that's what you do if you don't think they've been held to the standard. That's the standard I hold myself to and everyone else to.

What really matters, as Hillary Clinton's finding out, is how you react to a crisis. Not that there ever-- never will be any crises, but how you react to it. And what did I do? When we had a crisis, the next day I went out and took questions for an hour and 50 minutes.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

No holds barred. Let's wait to see if Mrs. Clinton ever does one fifth of that on her crises. What people want from their leaders is honesty and candor, not perfection. And I can't insure perfection from everybody, but I will hold everyone to those high standards today and when I'm president of the United States.

CHUCK TODD:

When you're, if you're president of the United States, what will you do as far as transparency is concerned, political appointments, that will make folks feel better that what happened at the Port Authority and in your governor's office, won't happen in your presidency?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

The same thing that I've been doing every day, both as U.S. attorney and as governor for the last 13 years, hold myself to the highest standards, and if mistakes are made, to hold the people responsible who make those mistakes, and to discuss it with the public openly and transparently, which is exactly what I did. And remember this, Chuck. Everything I said 18 months ago in an hour and 50 minute long press conference, after three investigations, not one thing has been contradicted that I said.

And so the fact is that, you know, people love to make a big deal about this stuff. But in the end, it's how you react. That's exactly the way I'll react. And wish Barack Obama might have reacted that way to the I.R.S. scandal. Maybe Barack Obama would have reacted a lot differently to some of the other things that happened, been transparent. And maybe he should stand up today and say to Hillary Clinton, "Madame Secretary, this is a stain on my administration, stand up and fully cooperate, reveal all information, and answer every question, and ask all the people that are around you to cooperate, as well." He hasn't done that. And that's a failure of leadership.

CHUCK TODD:

Is the Port Authority a stain on your administration?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

No. It is not. Nothing has been proven yet. So let's see what happens, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Let me ask you one final question here. When it comes to what's going on, earlier this week you had sort of a tiff, I think, with the leaders in New York City about whether it's safe in New York City or not. And Bill Bratton simply said, "You know what? Governor Christie shouldn't throw stones from glass houses with broken windows." And basically implying that New Jersey's more unsafe than New York City.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

No.

CHUCK TODD:

How do you respond to that?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

Completely ridiculous. And listen, I have a lot of respect for Bill Bratton. When Bill Bratton worked for Rudy Giuliani, crime went significantly down in New York City. Now Bill Bratton works for Bill de Blasio, and murders were up 9% this year and shootings are up 20%.

What's the one variable in that? The Democrat liberal policies of Bill de Blasio in New York City, which is making the city unsafe. I will tell you, when I sat and watched Bill de Blasio the other day talk about how it's safer in New York City, it's ironic that the only person who thinks is safer in New York City are guys who are walking around with armed guards all the time.

CHUCK TODD:

--same thing.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

He's walking around with an armed guard, too. I said the only guys, plural--

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

--who think it are people who walked around with armed guards. And I saw the mayor say the other day, "Well, it's only ten more murders." Well, let me tell you this, Chuck. As a former prosecutor and as a governor, tell that to the ten families of people who lost their lives, more this year in New York City so far. Every life matters.

And the fact is that this mayor shows a disregard for that. And why is it that-- well, wait a second. Why is it that, in cities across the country, like in Aris and Camden, where we fired the entire police force along with an African-American Democrat mayor, okay, we fired the entire police force, got rid of their bloated union contract, have 150 more cops on the street than we did three years ago, you know what's happening in Camden, New Jersey? The murder rate in the last three years is down 61%. I'll enforce law and order in this country as president of the United States. This President's allowed lawlessness. And Bill de Blasio is just another symptom of that lawlessness.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Governor Christie, I've got to leave it there. How important is this debate for you Wednesday?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

It's important for everybody. Every time you get a chance to be in front of 20-25 million people in this race, it's important. I'm ready, and I will have a great time. And, you know, I'll make you laugh a couple of times this week, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

You've got to see it.

CHUCK TODD:

Governor, appreciate you coming on. Be safe on the trail.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE:

Happy to be back.

CHUCK TODD:

You got it. When we come back, the fate of the Republican Party. Are the outsiders about to take the GOP away from the establishment? And is John Boehner in big trouble? And speaking of taking away, later, could this man take the Democratic nomination away from Hillary Clinton? Bernie Sanders will join me later.

**Commercial Break**

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. When you look at the Republican race for the White House, one thing becomes clear. We're seeing a clean split right now between the establishment and the outsiders. The discuss with the Republican establishment that has been a staple of conservative talk radio has now gone mainstream. The result, an election in which, in one poll, just two outsiders, Donald Trump and Ben Carson together, have higher poll numbers than all of the so-called establishment candidates combined, about eight of 'em. At stake in the short term is whether this GOP split results in a government shutdown in a few weeks. In the long term, it could hold the fate of the entire GOP in its hands.

(TAPE BEGINS)

CHUCK TODD:

The summer of Trump.

GROUP VOICES:

Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump!

CHUCK TODD:

Is about to become a very combative fall. In a year where outsiders are ascendant--

BEN CARSON:

I'm not going to be a traditional politician.

CHUCK TODD:

--the same disgust with Washington that's launching presidential candidates who've never held political office--

DONALD TRUMP:

We are led by very, very stupid people.

CHUCK TODD:

--is setting up a fight inside the capital for the soul and direction of the Republican Party.

TED CRUZ:

There are two men in Washington D.C. who can defeat this deal. Their names are Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker John Boehner. (CHEERING)

CHUCK TODD:

This week, a preview, as Tea Party conservatives gathered in Washington to protest the Iran nuclear deal after it became clear nothing could stop it.

MARK LEVIN:

The Republicans control that building behind us right now. You see that scaffolding up there? They should take some of that and use it on their damn spines. (CHEERING)

CHUCK TODD:

The next fight will decide whether the federal government stays open past September. Anger that Republican leaders are already conceding defeat on some of their key priorities, including Iran and de-funding Planned Parenthood, conservatives would like to see both McConnell and Boehner out. But there is no mechanism to remove McConnell. Instead, it's John Boehner whose job as Speaker of the House that's in jeopardy.

FEMALE PROTESTOR:

He is worse than Obama. Obama, we know, is not on our side. He's making these deals with Iran. But Boehner is working against his own party, against his own people.

CHUCK TODD:

Earlier this summer, Congressman Mark Meadows filed a formal resolution to un-seat Boehner as Speaker.

CONGRESSAMN MARK MEADOWS:

The American people have grown weary of campaign promises that have not been fulfilled.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:

Yesterday afternoon there was a large standing ovation amongst our members for the fact that I have this job and what I have to put up with to keep it.

CHUCK TODD:

For now, the Meadows resolution remains just a threat. But if things go south for conservatives in October, that threat could become a reality.

DONALD TRUMP:

We're very disappointed in him, that I can tell you.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now are two people who, arguably, represent opposite sides of the Republican divide, Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma, an ally of John Boehner, and a member of the House GOP Leadership, and former Senator Jim Demint, now, of course, the head of The Heritage Foundation, who once said this:

(BEGIN TAPE)

FMR SEN. JIM DEMINT:

I'd rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who believe in the principles of freedom than 60 who don't anything. (CHEERING) (APPLAUSE)

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

So now setting up where you guys are, Jim DeMint, Tom Cole, welcome back to Meet the Press. Senator DeMint, let me start with you. Explain the beef that conservatives have with McConnell and Boehner. Explain it for the audience.

FMR SEN. JIM DEMINT:

It's not just conservatives, Chuck. I mean it's all over the country, what I hear. The party is really united outside of Washington. They don't follow their own party platform. The things that were mainstay ten years ago of balancing the budget and limited government and getting rid of crony-ism is now called radical or far right by Republican leadership in Washington.

Now at Heritage, we're not Republican or Democrat. But we do want leadership in Washington to carry those basic common sense conservative ideas forward. And I know we, along with millions and millions of Americans, are just frustrated that this Republican party has not stood up to President Obama for his whole term in office.

CHUCK TODD:

Tom Cole, I hear this time and time again, that they don't understand why John Boehner doesn't fight harder. What do you say?

REP. TOM COLE:

Well, that's just nonsense. And when he became speaker, the budget deficit was $1.4 trillion a year. This year it will be under 430. we've got the first real entitlement reform, which lowered the un-funded liability in the Medicare fund by $2.9 trillion. You know, he's passed more legislation, frankly, than any other speaker.

He's not had a Republican Senate until the last few months. He still doesn't have a Republican president. What he's done, operating, frankly, as the one place where we had Republican control for multiple years, has been really exceptional.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, Senator, respond to that. There's only so much John Boehner and Mitch McConnell can do without a Republican president.

FMR SEN. JIM DEMINT:

Well, the--

CHUCK TODD:

You say that that's just not true.

FMR SEN. JIM DEMINT:

Well, any cut in spending was a result of a conservative fight. We called it "cut cap and balance." Neither the leadership in the House or the Senate was with us on that. But the conservatives from around the country basically forced them into considering some cuts, which have taken effect and made some difference.

But every issue becomes a fight. Every year we're fighting about just some reasonable reductions in the growth of spending, and standing up to Obama, whether it's on controlling the internet or changing the national franchise--

CHUCK TODD:

Well, what does a change in speaker, what will it do?

FMR SEN. JIM DEMINT:

Well, we're not advocating--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

I understand you're not advocating, but what would that do, a change in leadership either in style or in personality. What do you think that would do?

FMR SEN. JIM DEMINT:

Well, I think what conservatives need, and I would assume what a lot of Republicans around the country want are leaders in Washington who are advocating for those principles that we know made this country great and will make life better for every American. We just don't hear that out of them. We don't even hear a plan.

What, we're two weeks from the end of the year? Have you heard anything from any of the leadership in Washington about what we're going to do here at the end of the year? How can you build support for something if you won't lay out a plan and let people know that this is what we stand for and this is what we're going to fight for?

CHUCK TODD:

Tom Cole, explain why you probably can't get a budget passed that's going to, quote, "De-fund Planned Parenthood?"

REP. TOM COLE:

Well, with all the due respect to my friend, I mean taking credit for what you didn't do is the wrong thing (CHUCKLE) to do. Look, John Boehner negotiated the Budget Control Act. That's what lowered the deficit. And that's just the fact. In terms of not being--

CHUCK TODD:

Mitch McConnell said it's not going to happen until there's a Republican president.

REP. TOM COLE:

Well, first of all, we've already passed legislation through the Appropriations Committee that de-funds all title ten funding, included Planned Parenthood.

CHUCK TODD:

So you just blame the Senate on this?

REP. TOM COLE:

No, I don't blame anybody on this.

CHUCK TODD:

It’s Mitch McConnell fault?

REP. TOM COLE:

No. I don't blame anybody. I blame the president of the United States. You know, we have a Republican president, you'd have-- we don't appropriate to Planned Parenthood, we appropriate to the Department of Health and Human Services. It then awards grants.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

REP. TOM COLE:

So frankly, you've got to have a president that will give you a department secretary that will actually follow those principles.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, This is going to be something that is going to be to be continued, and it could be a crazy six weeks. Tom Cole, Jim DeMint--

FMR SEN. JIM DEMINT:

Chuck, thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

--thanks for coming on and being civil. All right.

REP. TOM COLE:

Good to be with you.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me bring in the panel now: David Brooks of The New York Times, Maria Hinojosa of NPR, Sara Fagen, former Bush political director, and my friend, Ron Fournier, of National Journal. David Brooks, this fight inside the party, the frustration and somehow, for some viewers, they may it's deja vu all over again. But this time it does seem like as if the frustration may boil over.

DAVID BROOKS:

It's kind of amazing. The Christie answer, his first answer to you, was not an attack on the Democrats, was not an attack on Hillary Clinton, it was an attack on the Republicans. It's like a mutiny, not a campaign. And the problem is that there's an illusion in this country and in the Republican base that you can govern by screaming, that Donald Blow-- Donald Trump-- Donald Blowhard. (LAUGHTER)

RON FOURNIER:

You just melted the internet, David.

DAVID BROOKS:

Donald Trump can just scream and somehow govern the country. But this is democracy. You need a coalition. We have a very tough legislative system. And you've got to actually have craftsmen. And there's insufficient respect for that right now among the Carson and Trump supporters.

CHUCK TODD:

Sara Fagen, was it over-promising? I'll be honest, look, I heard it all through 2014. "Give us a Republican Senate--

SARA FAGEN:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

--and we're going to do all these things." The fact of the matter is the president didn't have to veto--

SARA FAGEN:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

--anything on getting rid of Obamacare. The president hasn't had to veto--

SARA FAGEN:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

--a de-funding of Planned Parenthood. He hasn't had to do these things. I mean the Jim DeMint argument, and others that are making this argument, they're right on that, aren't they?

SARA FAGEN:

I think they are right on that. And the reality is governing is really hard if you don't have 60 senators, and you don't have, you know, control of the whole apparatus. And Republicans don't. And so--

CHUCK TODD:

Some people think that was the whole point of creating the Senate and the House.

SARA FAGEN:

It was the whole point.

CHUCK TODD:

Was to make it hard.

SARA FAGEN:

Yes. Yes. The founders were wise in that regard.

CHUCK TODD:

Yes.

SARA FAGEN:

But there's frustration that nothing is getting done. Although, on this matter of Planned Parenthood and funding, I do think that sometimes our leadership sounds defeatist. I don't know why you assume, in a giant game of chicken, that the Republicans always have to lose. This becomes a PR battle.

And I'm not so sure that putting Planned parenthood videos on a loop on the news for three or four days isn't going to end well for Republicans. It's going to be bad for Democrats, and it's going to be really bad for Hillary Clinton.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Ron, just watching all this, though, it does feel as if-- I get the idea that, oh, the right feels as if Obama will do whatever it takes to win, and they won't do whatever it takes to win. But that feels like we're devolving.

RON FOURNIER:

Yeah. I mean to your point, Tom Hanks in the movie League of Their Own, he had a great line where he said, "Being hard is what makes it good." Politics is supposed to be hard. Let's step back for a second, Chuck. And I know you and David write a lot about this.

The story of the cycle, the story of our times, is a dysfunction in our social institutions, especially government and politics, and the public's loss of faith in those institutions. And the public right now is very angry, anxious and asking, "What side of the barricade are you on?"

And right now, whether it's right or wrong, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Carson, appear to be on the other side of that barricade. And so I spent almost the whole summer up in Michigan. I kept running into people who I start calling 'crazy but's.' Crazy But's. They would say, "Yeah, that Donald Trump is crazy. But he's punishing the establishment, isn't he? That Donald Trump is crazy, but he's taken on the media, isn't he? That Donald Trump is crazy, but he's saying what I can't say, isn't he?" The country is really angry. And until somebody brings positive change, or very negative, change, it's going to keep growing.

CHUCK TODD:

Maria, how should the candidates be responding to this? Because it is out there. I mean there is frustration. And it's not just on the right.

MARIA HINOJOSA:

No, it's not. But, you know, when you think about what Governor Christie said just last week, which is what I was hearing, because I live in New York, and I live in Harlem, which is very safe, you know, when Governor Christie said, "I want to bring back stop-and-frisk. If I was mayor of New York I'd bring it back in the first five minutes." And people are saying, "Hold on. What are you talking about?"

So there's a lot of questioning around this kind of, you know, "I'm going to do this, and I'm going to do it now," when we know that it was questioned. And so with that, when you're talking about demographics, that doesn't necessarily play well with a certain demographic.

And also, you know what? Way back when, Governor Christie liked to kind of be the bully, you know? Well, people have not forgotten that. And I think Bridgegate is going to be there. Even though he says nothing has been proven, people are not letting go of that. And if he talks the way “I’m gonna tell it the way it is,” people think, well, he could have been a bully in that--

RON FOURNIER:

When you boxed him in really good when you got him to say that the I.R.S. is a stain on the President's administration, you said, "Well, isn't Bridgegate a stain on yours?" And he said, "Well, nothing's been proven." Well, that's what the Democrats say about IRS

CHUCK TODD:

I mean that's the-- right, that's the problem. That's what he said. And that's where you get your credibility issues.

RON FOURNIER:

Exactly.

CHUCK TODD:

Right? And your trust--

SARA FAGEN:

In fairness to Governor Christie, when you look at how feisty he is and you think globally about this race, and you think that people are flocking to Donald Trump--

CHUCK TODD:

And not him, yeah.

SARA FAGEN:

Well, but ultimately, I believe a governor, a Jeb Bush or a Chris Christie or someone who's going to emerge, he has a lot of Donald Trump in him in terms of his style. And you could see someone like Governor Christie in a tumultuous race doing better than we think he's doing today.

MARIA HINOJOSA:

But they might think he's a bully.

CHUCK TODD:

And that's always--

MARIA HINOJOSA:

They might think he's a bully.

CHUCK TODD:

--there's a fine-- all right.

SARA FAGEN:

They like the bully Donald Trump right now.

CHUCK TODD:

I've got to pause it there, because I've got a lot more show to go. Anyway, coming up, Hillary Clinton has a lot of hurdles to clear before she can become the next president. And perhaps the tallest hurdle now is this man, Senator Bernie Sanders. He joins me next.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

Is it time to start taking the idea of Nominee Bernie Sanders seriously? We'll be back in a moment.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Hillary Clinton finally got some good news on the e-mail front this week. On Friday, the Justice Department said that she did have the authority to delete e-mails from her personal e-mail account that she did not believe were government record. Still, as I've been saying for a while, if it weren't for Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders would be the biggest political story of the year.

Consider this: last Sunday, our NBC Marist Poll had Sanders up by double digits in New Hampshire. And on Thursday, a Quinnipiac Poll gave Sanders a one-point lead in Iowa. So he can now say something that Hillary Clinton can't, there are the most recent polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire have Bernie Sanders ahead, not Hillary Clinton. Well, Senator Sanders joins me this morning now from South Carolina. Senator, good morning.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Good morning.

CHUCK TODD:

You've based much of your campaign on economic issues, economic inequality. And recently, you apologized for the lack of foreign policy substance on your own website. And I noted there's nothing on Syria, nothing on ISIS, Iraq, and on terrorism. You do have something on the Iran deal.

So I want to focus a little bit on that this morning. Let's start with the refugee crisis. How many refugees do you think the United States should take in? The United Nations wants up to 65,000 Syrians placed here in the United States. Is that a proper number?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

I think it's impossible to give a proper number until we understand the dimensions of the problem. What I do believe is that Europe, the United States and, by the way, countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, must address this humanitarian crisis. People are leaving Iraq, they're leaving Syria with just the clothes on their backs. The world has got to respond. The United States should be part of that response.

CHUCK TODD:

When it comes to Syria, how much of the problem of this micro-crisis is the United States' fault, of policy, whether Bush in Iraq or Obama in Syria?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Look, I voted against the war in Iraq. And if you want to go to YouTube, find what I said when I voted against that war. And sadly, I'm not happy about this, Chuck, but what you will find is much of what I feared would happen, in fact, did happen: Massive destabilization in that region.

So I think, clearly, the issue now is not who is at fault. The issue is now what we do. And what we do is bring the region together, countries like Saudi Arabia, which has the third largest military budget in the world, Turkey, other countries are going to have to get their hands dirty, going to have to get on the ground in taking on ISIS. I believe strongly the United States, the U.K., France, other countries, should be supportive. But I disagree that the United States should have combat troops in that area. I fear very much that we will be in perpetual warfare in that region. I do not want to see that occur.

CHUCK TODD:

You have said that you're not opposed to military action under certain circumstances. And in fact, you voted-- the one time you voted for military action, I believe, in your career, had to do with Kosovo, which was a humanitarian crisis. Are we at that point, that Syria is such a humanitarian crisis that actually it does justify some military action to stabilize that country?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

No. I voted also for the war in Afghanistan.

CHUCK TODD:

Yes, sir, I apologize for that, yes, you did. Yeah.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Because I believe that Osama bin Laden needed to be captured, needed to be brought to trial. But let me be very clear. I am very concerned about a lot of the war talk that I'm hearing from my Republican colleagues, who apparently have forgotten the cost of war and the errors made in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And what I believe, Chuck, very much, is that the most powerful military on Earth, the United States of America, that our government should do everything that we can to resolve international conflict in a way that does not require war. Sometimes using military force is necessary. But I think it should be the last resort, not the first resort.

So I would suggest that we do everything that we can to try to resolve these conflicts, which are not easy. We're living in a very crazy, difficult world, without American troops getting into combat.

CHUCK TODD:

As you take a lead in the polls, people are now saying, "Okay, can Bernie Sanders be the nominee? Can he be the most electable candidate?" I know your campaign is arguing, in some ways you might be more electable than Hillary Clinton. So let me ask you, why are you more electable than Hillary Clinton?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

I think the issues, Chuck, that we are talking about, the collapse of the American middle class, the massive income and wealth inequality, why we are the only major country on Earth that doesn't guarantee health care to all people, or family or medical leave, why millions of families are finding it so hard to send their kids to college or have decent child care, these are the issues that are resonating with the American people.

And the American people, in my strong view, are sick and tired of establishment politics, of establishment economics. And they want a candidate who is prepared to stand up to the big money interests, Wall Street, corporate America, that exert so much power over our legislative life in Washington.

And I think we are generating a lot of excitement, not just in Iowa and New Hampshire, but all across this country. And that means larger voter turnout. Let me tell you this. In my strong view, the Republicans did not win last November, the Democrats lost because a lot of their supporters are demoralized, not coming out to vote. Working people, young people. I think we can strike an excitement in those groups of people, increase voter turnout, not only win the White House, but regain control over the Senate and do well in the House.

CHUCK TODD:

But let me ask you this. You have launched 58 bills this year. 35 of them don't have a single co-sponsor. And I guess my question is this: If you're president, if you can't convince colleagues in the Senate now to support some of your legislation, how are you going to work with Congress as president?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Well, I think if you check my record, you will find that, in the last session of Congress, as the Chairman of U.S. Senate Veterans Committee, I worked extremely well with Republican leadership in the House, Congressman Jeff Miller with John McCain and others, and passed, in terms of that veterans bill, one of the more comprehensive pieces of legislation passed in that session.

I work with Republicans. If you check my record in the House, in a given year, we had more amendments passed, bipartisan, than any other member of the Congress. But let me tell you this. When you talk about the most important difficult issues, how we make public colleges and universities tuition free, how we expand Social Security, Republicans are not supportive of that.

The only way that real change takes place, and what we're doing in this campaign, is bringing millions of people together to stand up and say, "Enough is enough. Our government has got to represent all of our people, not just wealthy campaign donors."

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Senator Sanders, I have to leave it there. Senator, stay safe on the trail. We'll see you soon. When we come back, a firsthand look at the refugee crisis in Europe. And this question: How much is the U.S. to blame for the masses of homeless people that are pouring into Europe?

**Commercial Break**

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back as more and more Middle Eastern refugees pour into Europe the crises they are fleeing seem only to get worse. ISIS is on the march in Iraq, there’s chaos in Libya and of course Syria. A new development just this weekend, Russia is engaging in what U.S. Defense Department officials are calling a military build-up there. Similar to what the Russians did in Crimea last year. Their support of Bashar al-Assad will likely just prolong the already brutal civil war there and create more refugees. I asked NBC’s Richard Engel to give us a firsthand look at the refugee crisis and how U.S. policies over the recent decades have helped fuel it.

(BEGIN TAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL:

The refugees are pouring into Europe and each one has a reason. Salima Shahin is taking her grandson to Sweden because his father was kidnapped by ISIS in Syria.

"Everyday, killing, looting, houses destroyed,” she said.

Abdel Rahaman Kadour is escaping the Syrian regime.

"Syria’s only future is destruction, and that’s no future at all. I was a stonemason, and now there’s no work, only death," he said.

Searching for a smuggler to take them from Hungary to Germany, this group fled from Baghdad.

"The U.S. turned us over to Iran," Mazin said.

Another group, also searching for a smuggler, but which ended up getting busted by Hungarian police, is escaping the Taliban in Afghanistan. All running from wars and crises that the U.S. waded into over the past decade.

President Bush went big in Iraq. He shocked, awed, and occupied, unleashing a civil and religious war which Washington and the Middle East weren’t prepared for. War weary, President Obama went small. Critics would say too small, supporting rebels in Libya, but ignoring Syria, even while accusing President Assad of gassing more than a thousand to death, including children. The administration drew red lines--but they were crossed time and again.

The U.S. isn't responsible for the Sunni-Shiite bloodletting, the madness of ISIS, or the merciless bombings of the Assad regime, all of which are driving these people to seek new lives in Europe. But, by unravelling the old system, the U.S. helped unleash those forces.

This exodus is the direct result of the violent convulsions in the Middle East. The Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis streaming into Europe have lost all hope in the future of their own countries. They are here to seek new hope for their children.

For Meet the Press, I’m Richard Engel, Roszke, Hungary.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Joining me now is Robert Ford. He served as U.S. ambassador to Syria under President Obama from 2010 to 2014. Ambassador Ford, welcome to Meet The Press.

ROBERT FORD:

Hi, it’s nice to be with you.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let me ask you this basic question. Is it, the Syria policy of this administration, is it a failure?

ROBERT FORD:

Well, I think the administration's policy hasn’t helped achieve a solution to the Syrian conflict. But let’s be clear. I disagree with Richard Engel. It’s not the United States that caused the unraveling of the old order in the Middle East, or the unraveling of Syria. It’s the brutality of the regimes like the regime in Syria, and the demand by people on the ground in those countries to have their dignity respected by their governments. That’s the root cause of the problem.

CHUCK TODD:

Well we understand the root cause, but it seems as if every response that the United States has tried, whether it’s been aggressive in the Bush administration or much more, much smaller, in the Obama administration, nothing seems to work. Do we throw up our hands and say ‘forget it’? Let them sort it out and walk away?

FMR. AMB. ROBERT FORD:

Well, I don't think we can throw up our hands and walk away. I mean we've got United States pilots, U.S. Air Force pilots, doing combat missions now in places and Syria and Iraq. So we're in it. The question is what do you do going forward? And I have two points on that. Number one, let's remember we just saw a spot on the refugees.

The basic problem with the refugees is coming not from the Islamic State, it’s coming from President Assad's brutality, dropping gas, dropping barrel explosives on civilian areas has de-populated entire Syrian cities. Half of Syria is now displaced. Half of the Syrian population is no longer living in their homes. So you have to deal with the Assad problems. The administration's focus in Syria, however, is not on the Assad brutality, it is on the Islamic State.

CHUCK TODD:

So let me pause you there.

MR. AMB. ROBERT FORD:

And while that is also a big problem, it is not going to fix the refugee problem.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, let me pause you there. So do you think our focus is wrong? Our focus should be on regime change with Assad first, then focus on ISIS?

FMR. AMB. ROBERT FORD:

I absolutely do. Because the Assad regime's brutality is driving recruitment into the Islamic State. We just had a report out of the U.S. intelligence community, reported by Associated Press two months ago, that said that the Islamic State is replacing all of the fighters that we kill in our bombing runs. And why is that? It's because they're able to recruit from angry young Syrian men who are furious at the bombing that the Assad regime is inflicting on civilian neighborhoods in Syrian cities.

CHUCK TODD:

How should the United States, how should President Obama, respond to Russia deciding to essentially do a military buildup on behalf of Assad?

FMR. AMB. ROBERT FORD:

Well first, what the Russians are doing is not particularly new. They've been giving military aid to the Syrian government throughout this conflict. I talked about those planes dropping bombs on neighborhoods in Syrian cities, those are Russian airplanes. They use Russian spare parts.

What's new and different now is that the Russians are increasing the aid. They're increasing it in terms of the scale and the speed at which they're sending it. And that is because the Assad regime is losing the civil war. And I think the president and the administration needs to do two things going forward.

Number one, they need to tell the Russians we want a political negotiation, but a serious political negotiation, not a sham negotiation, and not a negotiation for cosmetic changes to the brutal Assad government. And second, in order to get Assad to negotiate seriously, and he has refused to negotiate seriously, you've got to keep the military pressure on him. That's what the local opposition fighters in Syria, not the Islamic State, but the others, who accept a political negotiation, they need help. This is a war. They need military assistance. Turkey is giving some, Saudi Arabia is giving some. But there needs to be more help for them to keep--

CHUCK TODD:

But ambassador--

FMR. AMB. ROBERT FORD:

--pressure on Assad to get him to the table.

CHUCK TODD:

You yourself, though, argued that if the United States trained some of these folks that are somehow not with ISIS but not with Assad, they're creating more tribal problems, and then they're all gonna keep fighting with each other, that it actually adds to the problem. That's an argument you made recently.

FMR. AMB. ROBERT FORD:

No, I don't think I've ever argued that. What I have said is that there are lots of people in the Syrian Armed Opposition, there are many groups that accept a political negotiation. Those groups need help. Those are the groups that we should be helping, not the Islamic State, obviously. Those are barbarians.

But there are lots of other people in the reg--Syria who are fighting both the Islamic State on one side, and fighting the Assad regime in its brutality on the other side. They are between a rock and a hard place. And those are the people who ultimately are going to have to come to a negotiation with Assad and come up with a new national unity government. And we can't get there until Assad and his friends feel enough pressure that they will negotiate seriously.

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

FMR. AMB. ROBERT FORD:

That's what we did in the Balkans. That's how we got the Serbs to the negotiating table.

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

FMR. AMB. ROBERT FORD:

They felt enough military pressure that finally they went to Dayton, and under American leadership, came up with a deal.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Ambassador Ford, I have to leave it there. I appreciate your coming on Meet the Press. If we can solve the Syria problem, maybe we solve this micro problem. Thanks very much. By the way, my colleague, NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt is traveling to Hungary. And he will anchor from there tomorrow night to report firsthand on this refugee problem. Back in a moment with our Endgame segment. What is Joe Biden thinking now?

**COMMERCIAL BREAK**

CHUCK TODD:

End Game time, let’s take a look at Vice President Joe Biden’s appearance this week on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, he talked about for the first time publicly, about the death of his son Beau, take a look.

(BEGIN TAPE)

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN:

A guy in the back yells “Major Beau Biden, Bronze Star Sir, Served with him in Iraq”. And all of a sudden I lost it - how could you - I mean - that’s not - I shouldn’t be saying this - but that -you can’t do that.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

David Brooks that didn’t sound like a guy who’s ready to run for President did it?

DAVID BROOKS:

I don’t know. No, I really don’t know. I thought it was one of the most beautiful moments in American politics that I’ve seen in a couple of years.

CHUCK TODD:

So did I.

DAVID BROOKS:

We’ve had so much discussion, there was fear, that was love, that was an expression of love and it was an expression of something bigger than politics that is more likely I think to make him want to regard this, think about this race.

CHUCK TODD:

I mean he didn't focus group that?

DAVID BROOKS:

I don't think so.

CHUCK TODD:

You know what I mean?

DAVID BROOKS:

You know, Hillary's planning to be spontaneous. But that was spontaneous.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

DAVID BROOKS:

And that was real. And that's going to make him-- I think it was a real connection with the American people. And I thought there's no chance he could win this year because it's such an anti-establishment year.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

DAVID BROOKS:

But that was a connection. And that is something that he might be able to bring to this race. I begin to think it's plausible that he could actually run--

(OVERTALK)

SARA FAGEN:

There's certainly an opening.

CHUCK TODD:

Yea? Do Democrats need him in?

MARIA HINOJOSA:

Uh, well I think it’s good for democracy. I think--

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

MARIA HINOJOSA:

No--

CHUCK TODD:

But does the party need him? Does the party need him?

MARIA HINOJOSA:

Yes. I think the party needs him. And I have to say, in my family, you know, there's not a lot of politics. But one of my family members sent that out and said, "You must watch this." And within my family, there was all of this conversation.

CHUCK TODD:

That the first family--

MARIA HINOJOSA:

This family might--

CHUCK TODD:

--Joe Biden had really connected that way?

MARIA HINOJOSA:

First time that an e-mail is sent like, "You have to watch it." I watched it. And I actually found it beautiful. But it wasn't, to me, the emotion of it. I was just like, "Wow, it's really nice to hear someone talking and just talking without the sound bite. And just the fact that they didn't cut him off, I think, is something that is really working.

Now, what would happen, I've thought, so what would happen if Hillary Clinton was there and he started asking her about being a grandmother. And let's just say she kind of teared up, what the reaction would have been, I have no idea. But there is a notion of, "Let us just talk. Let us be." And clearly for Biden, he can do that.

CHUCK TODD:

Does Biden help Hillary Clinton, Ron?

RON FOURNIER:

No.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there that theory?

RON FOURNIER:

No, no. If he got in, he would cut right towards her base and really exaggerate her perceived lack of authenticity. Look, I take him at his word. And when he says that he's not ready to run because his heart's not in it, I take him at his word.

But the one thing that might get him in is a calling from Beau. His son did say, "Run." And as a father, as a guy who just finished a parenting book, a book about parental expectations, I can tell you nothing messes with a man's head more than a bond with his son.

CHUCK TODD:

Does that make it hard, I mean does it then become harder to attack Joe Biden? I mean the Republicans just simply use him as a punching bag a year ago.

SARA FAGEN:

Sure.

CHUCK TODD:

They try that now, look, Ted Cruz tried it, and he got shot down. Does that suddenly make him a much more powerful candidate?

SARA FAGEN:

I think for a period of time, he does. But the facts around Beau, or excuse me, the facts around Vice President Biden as a candidate, you know, remain the same. Which is he has been gaffe prone most of his career. And we shouldn't expect that, just because he's gone through this incredibly emotional personal experience, which he deserves credit for how he's handled it, he's not likely to change as a candidate overall five months from now.

CHUCK TODD:

David, I'm just curious, where are you on Hillary Clinton as a candidate right now?

DAVID BROOKS:

She's leaking air. You know? She's an establishment candidate in an antiestablishment year. She's not creative. I think creativity and imagination is a very underappreciated trait in politics.

CHUCK TODD:

Who is right now, though?

DAVID BROOKS:

Well, Trump is pretty creative. Got to give him credit for that.

CHUCK TODD:

For better or worse?

DAVID BROOKS:

And she's in a party that has moved away from her. British and American politics rhymes. The Labour Party just elected a guy named Jeremy Corbin, who is Bernie Sanders times ten.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

DAVID BROOKS:

That's got to wake up alarm bells across the Democratic Party.

CHUCK TODD:

And by the way, this is happening a lot of Western democracies. We're actually behind.

SARA FAGEN:

Yeah. That's right.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

SARA FAGEN:

I mean I've said this before. The Democratic-- base has moved far to the left.

CHUCK TODD:

Just the same way the Republican base has moved to the right.

SARA FAGEN:

Farther.

RON FOURNIER:

We're talking about this populism uprising.

SARA FAGEN:

But here’s the--

RON FOURNIER:

Bill Clinton was able to position himself as an agent of change. Hillary Clinton doesn't seem to be able to change. And she's positioning herself as an agent of the status quo.

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

SARA FAGEN:

And worse than that, she is mired in five investigations right now.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

SARA FAGEN:

These are not going away any time soon.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quick, because I've got something fun here.

MARIA HINOJOSA:

She just needs to have more fun. She needs to have more joy.

CHUCK TODD:

Well--

MARIA HINOJOSA:

She needs to be dancing more, like she did on Ellen.

CHUCK TODD:

There you go.

MARIA HINOJOSA:

Just like fun, joy, real.

CHUCK TODD:

Well you set me up with fun because this is the most fun thing I’ve seen all week. Look at what Azteca, the Mexican TV network is doing to promote the Mexico USA soccer match in October. Watch it.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP:

We don’t have victories anymore. The American dream is dead. Is dead.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Wow! I can’t wait--I think we oughta, I hope Trump goes to the Mexico US match. What do you think? Very fast.

MARIA HINOJOSA:

So I’ve said it before, le sale el tiro por la culata, which is things backfire. It’s a very Mexican saying and that ad just shows Trump, le salio el tiro por la culata.

CHUCK TODD:

Muerto! Muerto! All right, speaking of muerto our show is muerto. That’s it for today. We’ll be back next week because if it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press. Enjoy the NFL today.