Meet the Press Netcast | August 23, 2009
MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday: the fight over healthcare reform . The president's approval ratings fall as opposition to his plan grows, and Democrats question whether the White House is now backing away from a public plan.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: What we've said is we think that's a good idea. But we haven't said that that's the only aspect of health insurance .
MR. GREGORY: Can there be a compromise , or will Democrats try to go it alone? This morning, the debate . We'll hear from both sides of the aisle with two key members of the Senate Finance Committee : Senator Orrin Hatch , Republican of Utah , and Senator Charles Schumer , Democrat of New York .
Then, selling the plan. Has the president lost the PR war and political support from his base?
And what about the biggest question of all: How will reform impact you? PBS ' Tavis Smiley and MSNBC 's Joe Scarborough weigh in.
Finally, our MEET THE PRESS minute: Remembering noted political columnist Robert Novak . A look back at some highlights from his more than 200 appearances on this program over the past 45 years.
But first, in addition to waging political battles at home, the president is faced with two ongoing wars abroad. This week Afghans went to the polls as Americans expressed fresh skepticism about the U.S. war there now entering its ninth year. And in Iraq , new threats of sectarian violence after bombers strike inside Baghdad 's green zone . Two men charged with coordinating the U.S. military and diplomatic mission in that region join us now: Admiral Mike Mullen , chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff , and from Afghanistan this morning, our U.S. ambassador , retired Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry .
Welcome to both of you.
Let me start with you, Admiral Mullen on the question of U.S. resolve. This was a poll taken by The Washington Post and ABC News this week, and these were the results. Is the war in Afghanistan worth the fight? No, 51 percent. Has American -- have the American people lost that will to fight this war?
ADM. MIKE MULLEN: Well, I'm, I'm a Vietnam veteran myself. I'm certainly aware of the criticality of support of the American people for, for this war and in, in fact, any war. And so certainly the numbers are of concern. That said, the president's given me and the American military a mission , and, and that focuses on a new strategy , new leadership, and we're moving very much in that direction. I am very mindful and concerned about the threat that's there. The strategy really focuses on defeating al-Qaeda and their extremist allies. That's where the original 911 attacks came from, that region. They've now moved to Pakistan . Afghanistan is very vulnerable in terms of Taliban and extremists taking over again, and I don't think that threat 's
going to go away. They still plot against us, see us as somebody they want to, to, to kill in terms of as many American lives as possible. And in that regard, we're very focused on executing that mission .
MR. GREGORY: Well, let's talk about that focus . General McChrystal , our commander on the ground, is expected to release his report, his assessment of what's happening on the ground. Will he request of this president more troops to fight in Afghanistan ?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, McChrystal 's assessment will come in here in I think the next two weeks. And his guidance was go out as a new commander, put a new team together and come back and tell us exactly how you assess conditions on the ground, take into consideration the president's strategy . He's going to do that. The -- his assessment will come in and won't speak specifically to resources. There's an expectation we'll deal with resources after that assessment .
MR. GREGORY: Right. Well, but Senator McCain is saying in an interview this morning it will deal with resources, that he'll come back with high, medium and, and low threat assessments in terms of how many more troops you need, whether you need 15,000, 25,000 or 45,000 additional troops . Will he come in with a specific troop request, and will that increase in troop request meet skepticism from the White House ?
ADM. MULLEN: The assessment that he will submit here in the next couple of weeks won't specifically deal with requirements for additional resources. We'll deal with the -- with whatever additional resources might be required subsequent to that in the normal process .
MR. GREGORY: But this question that Senator McCain raises, which is he's afraid that there's going to be skepticism in the White House about any request for more troops and that more troops are vital if you're going to carry out this mission , where do you fall down on that?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think when we look at the strategy the president's laid out, look what General McChrystal says he needs to -- in order to carry out that strategy , my recommendation to the president will be based on getting the resource strategy matched absolutely correct. And so we'll see where that goes once the assessment is in here. And I've had this conversation with the president, who understands that whatever the mission is, it needs to be resourced correctly. That said, it'll be the initial assessment that will be important, and then the risks that are associated with that assessment , and then we'll figure out where we go from there.
MR. GREGORY: But can you carry out this mission with the troops you've got?
ADM. MULLEN: That's really something that we will evaluate over the next few weeks after we get the assessment from General McChrystal .
MR. GREGORY: Ambassador Eikenberry , let me bring you in here and talk about the elections this week. Already there are claims of irregularities and fraud, voter turnout much lower than expected in the south, particularly low among women. And we don't have a clear result yet of the election . To what extent does this election , this presidential election in Afghanistan highlight the challenges that the U.S. faces there?
MR. KARL EIKENBERRY: Well, David , let's talk about what we do know about the election . First of all, it's a very historic election . It's the first presidential provincial council election led by the Afghan people that's taken place in this country in over 30 years. And the second point, it's a very important election . This is an election in which, as in all democracies at this point in time now with the, with the presidential election , with the provincial council election , which the people are going to the polls and it's an opportunity them -- for them to renew their ties with their government . And that's important to this process to remember. If we look back over the history of Afghanistan over the last 30 years, we have civil war , we have occupation, we've got a complete collapse of governance and rule of law which sets the conditions then for Afghanistan to be a state controlled by international terrorism . Those were the conditions that led to 11 September of 2001 . So this election that's just been completed, yes, it's, it was a very difficult election , but it's an opportunity then for renewal of the trust in the bonds...
MR. GREGORY: All right. Well, let me...
MR. EIKENBERRY: ...between the people of Afghanistan and their government .
MR. GREGORY: Let me jump in here. There's the question of the Taliban . The Taliban is really enemy one for U.S. forces there. It's stronger, it's resurgent from the period after 9/11. What does this election show, the level of intimidation by the Taliban about the Taliban 's strength and the challenge to U.S. forces ?
MR. EIKENBERRY: Well, I think it shows, David , that there's great excitement within this country for the Afghans to regain control of their country , for sovereignty. We had a two-month extraordinary election campaign that we just got through, a very exciting time in which there was unprecedented political activity that occurred, TV debates, rallies throughout the country . It was a very civil kind of debate that occurred. And it was all national candidates, for the first time in Afghanistan 's history crossing ethnic lines and campaigning around the country .
MR. GREGORY: I want to bring Admiral Mullen back in here. We're talking about the threat of the Taliban . And, you know, ultimately a lot of Americans are wondering -- you see it in that poll -- what it is we're fighting to do there. The president this week told Veterans of Foreign Wars Afghanistan is a war of necessity. But other people have said no, it's not, it's actually a war of choice. Richard Haass , who was around in the Bush administration when this war was started in Afghanistan , wrote this in The New York Times this week:"In the wake of 9/11, invading Afghanistan was a war of necessity. The U.S. needed to act in self-defense to oust the Taliban . There was no viable alternative. Now, however, with a friendly government in Kabul , is our military presence still a necessity?" My question: If the central mission was fighting al-Qaeda , are we fulfilling that central mission still?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, David , this is the war we're in. And in fact, the mission the president has given us is to defeat and disrupt al-Qaeda and its extremist allies. And that's very specific and that includes the Taliban , which has grown to be much more sophisticated in the last two to three years and is a much tougher enemy in that regard. And they really are linked. Across that border in Pakistan , they provide the safe haven for al-Qaeda . They also feed fighters into Afghanistan . Al-Qaeda would very much like to see Kabul become the capital that is was before, essentially run by extremists. So in that regard, the -- it's very much linked. And again, it's the mission that the military has right now to focus -- and General McChrystal is doing this -- focus on
the security for the people, focus on the Afghan people . And that's a significant change from where we were just a few months ago. And it is in that focus that both understands what they feel about their security , which is pretty bad right now and getting worse, and moving to a direction -- moving in a direction that provides security so then we can develop governance, so then we can develop an economy and they can take over their own destiny.
MR. GREGORY: We're rebuilding this nation?
ADM. MULLEN: To a certain degree there is, there is some of that going on.
MR. GREGORY: Is that what the American people signed up for?
ADM. MULLEN: No, I'm -- right now the American people signed up, I think, for support of getting at those who threaten us. And, and to the degree that, that the Afghan people 's security and the ability to ensure that a safe haven doesn't recur in Afghanistan , there's focus on some degree of making sure security 's OK, making sure governance moves in the right direction and developing an, an economy which will underpin their future.
MR. GREGORY: But there seems to be a fundamental problem here. You know, in the Vietnam era it was talk about mission creep; the idea of, you know, gradually surging up forces, having nation-building goals and, and running into challenges all along the way. You're not going to commit to this this morning, it doesn't seem, but the reality is that it appears to fulfill this mission -- to beat the Taliban , which is stronger than it ever was, to also fight al-Qaeda -- there needs to be more troops in addition to this goal of trying to secure the population.
ADM. MULLEN: The, the focus on the, the people certainly is going to come by, by way of having -- create, creating security for them, so their future can be brighter than it is right now. But it isn't just that. I mean, part of the president's strategy is to bring in a, a significant civilian capacity. Ambassador Holbrook was just there on his fifth or sixth trip, and he was both -- in both Pakistan and Afghanistan . So this is a civilian military approach. It's a new strategy . It's the first one. And I recognize that, that we've been there over eight years, but I, I, I also want to say that this is the first time we've really resourced a strategy on both the civilian and military side. So in certain ways we're starting anew.
MR. GREGORY: The question for both of you is about exit strategy . This is what the president said back in March, so the American people know when this is going to come to an end. He said, "There's got to be an exit strategy . There's got to be a sense that it is not perpetual drift." And yet just a couple of weeks ago -- you mentioned Richard Holbrook , envoy to the region. He was a forum here in Washington . He was asked how he would define success in Afghanistan . This is what he would say:"I would say this about defining success in Afghanistan and Pakistan . In the simplest sense, the Supreme Court test for another issue -- we'll know it when we see it." We'll know it when we see it? Is that supposed to provide solace to the American people that we're not getting into drift when it comes to an exit strategy ?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I've said from a military perspective I believe we've got to start to turn this thing around from a security standpoint in the next 12 to 18 months. And I think after that we'd have a better view of how long it's going to take and what we need to do. Again, we're just getting the pieces in place from the president's new strategy in March on the ground now both on
the military side -- we've put forces there and we will have -- we will add more this year -- and on the civilian side. So it's going to take us a while to understand that. I don't see this as a, a mission of endless drift. I think we know what to do, we've learned a lot of lessons from Iraq , focusing on the Afghan people . It's a counterinsurgency effort right now, it's not just a -- what was a counterterrorism effort several years ago. And that's why we've got to focus on the Afghan people , their security and creating forces, Afghan forces to provide for their own security .
MR. GREGORY: Ambassador Eikenberry , you're a former military man as well. What's your gut tell you? How long is it going to take to succeed in Afghanistan ?
MR. EIKENBERRY: David , let's talk about progress . What -- and what we would see as progress is over the next several years that the Afghan national army and the Afghan national police are much more in front, much more capable and that they're able to provide for the security of their own population. That's a several year process and beyond. What else does progress look like? Progress looks like a government of Afghanistan that's able to attend much more to the needs of their people, to provide reasonable services to them, to provide security for them. And progress look like a region in which there's more cooperation. Can we see outlines of what progress might look like over the next several years consistent with our strategy , ready to partner with the next Afghan administration that emerges after the winner of this election has occurred? Yeah, sure we can.
MR. GREGORY: It's just interesting, Admiral Mullen , that he talks about progress and not victory. Is victory possible in Afghanistan ?
ADM. MULLEN: I try to focus this on what it's going to take to succeed there given the mission that we've got, and I go and would just re-emphasize now just on top of the progress , it's the focus on the people and giving them a future that allows them to take care of their own country and doesn't create an environment in which al-Qaeda and its extremist allies can threaten us as they have and execute a threat as they did in the past.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you quickly about Iraq , the violence playing out this week in the green zone ; 95 people killed, an attack on the foreign and finance ministry . This is Baghdad , where the Iraqis are now in control . You have warned about the threat of sectarian violence that could ultimately doom Iraq . What troubles you about what you saw this week?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I, I, I still think that is probably the most significant threat is if sectarian violence breaks out in, in large measure. And so these attacks last week certainly are of great concern not just to me but General Odierno , Ambassador Hill and many others. And we're watching that very carefully. That has been addressed very quickly with Prime Minister Maliki and his leadership. In addition to that, I've been concerned about the politics of it all; in fact, resolving the issues particularly up north around Kirkuk . Those are probably the two biggest threats to the future security and progress . But I've also said we're leaving. I mean, we're, we're -- in, in the next several months -- they're going to have an election beginning next year. After that we're going to start a fairly rapid draw down of our forces. And so it's really important that the political and military leadership of Iraq take control and generate positive solutions for them as a country .
MR. GREGORY: Finally here, we are just days away from the eighth anniversary of 9/11. What is your assessment of al-Qaeda 's capability of striking the U.S. again?
ADM. MULLEN: Still very capable, very focused on it, the leadership is. They also are able to both train and support and finance, and so that capability is still significant and, and one which we're very focused on making sure that doesn't happen again.
MR. GREGORY: All right, we're going to leave it there.
Ambassador Eikenberry in Afghanistan , thank you very much for being with us this morning.
And, Admiral Mullen , always nice to have a couple of San Fernando Valley guys together on a Sunday morning. Thank you very much.
ADM. MULLEN: Thank you, David . Thank you, David .
MR. GREGORY: Appreciate it.
Up next, our healthcare debate . Will either side be willing to compromise in order to get reform passed? Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer are here, only on MEET THE PRESS .
MR. GREGORY: The debate over health care from both sides of the aisle with Republican Senator Orrin Hatch , Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer after this brief commercial break .
MR. GREGORY: We are back with more on the healthcare fight, now joined via remote by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah . Welcome to both of you.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY): Good morning.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT): Nice to be with you.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Schumer , I would like to start with you. The big debate this week is about the public option , the idea of a government health plan that would get some competition going with private insurers. This is what you said about the so-called public option back in June:"The bottom line is that we need to rework our healthcare system to lower out-of- control costs and to insure more Americans . Our current system , dominated by private insurance companies, simply has not done the job. That is why providing a robust public plan option as a choice for healthcare consumers is an essential part of the solution." Do you stand by that? Is it still essential ?
SEN. SCHUMER: Yes, it is, and the reason is very clear. The costs of health care are going through the roof. And most people don't see that yet, they're paid for by businesses or the governments. But we're going to hit a wall very soon. In seven or eight years Medicare will go
broke, and that will leave millions of senior citizens in trouble. On the private insurance sector, it's the same thing. Costs have gone up, they've doubled in the last seven years. And if that continues, and it's likely to if we do nothing, in the next seven years there will be millions of Americans whose employers will tell them, "You no longer have insurance , we can't afford it," or your coverage is much less. You're going to get less and have to pay more through deductibles. So we have to do something. And the private insurance industry is highly concentrated. Ninety- four percent of all markets are highly concentrated, according to the Justice Department . In most states only two insurance companies -- 40 of the 50 states, two insurance companies dominate. What is the way to bring costs down? The good old-fashioned way is to bring competition.
And the public option we've proposed is not one of these big government control things. The government sets it up. It has a different model. It doesn't have to make a profit or merchandise as much, so its costs are probably 20 percent lower. But then, on a level playing field , it competes with private insurance . And one thing I want to underscore, David , is it not a mandate, it's an option . If you like your, your present insurance , whether you're an employer or an individual, you keep it and it doesn't change.
MR. GREGORY: OK. Senator Schumer ...
SEN. SCHUMER: If you don't like, you have an option of the public option , which will help bring costs down. And so it is indeed essential to getting the costs down, which is our number one problem .
MR. GREGORY: You're not backing away from it, but there is concern within the Democratic Party that President Obama is backing away. Here was the headline in the New York Post this week that spoke for a lot of liberals, actually, both publicly and privately:"Sellout! Liberals howl as Bam `caves' on the health plan." This is what the reference was to, the president's weekly radio address back in July during which he said this.
(Videotape, July 18, 2009 )
PRES. OBAMA: That's why any plan I sign must include an insurance exchange, a one-stop shopping marketplace where you can compare the benefits, costs and track records of a variety of plans -- including a public option to increase competition and keep insurance companies honest -- and choose what's best for your family.
MR. GREGORY: That was July. But just a week ago the president said this.
(Videotape, August 15, 2009 )
PRES. OBAMA: All I'm saying is, though, that the public option , whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of healthcare reform . This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it.
MR. GREGORY: You say it's essential , Senator Schumer ; the president saying now it's just a sliver. He's backed away, hasn't he?
SEN. SCHUMER: I don't think he's backed away at all. I've talked to the president personally about this in the last few weeks. He believes strongly in the public option . Obviously he is working hard to get a bipartisan bill, because that would be a better bill. But I believe that at the end of the day we will have a public option . And frankly, I believe we could get a public option that could be passed with the 60 Democratic votes we had. A level playing field public option , where the public option competes on a level playing field with the insurance companies, was backed in the House by both Blue Dog Democrats and more liberal Democrats . And I think that's the direction we're going to end up in.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Hatch , let me bring you in here. Has the president backed away? Does it create an opening for Republicans to maybe work out a compromise ?
SEN. HATCH: Well, I think the president realizes that a public option isn't the last answer to everything. As a matter of fact, both independent groups and others in government indicate that if we go to a public option millions and millions -- tens of millions of people will go into the government plan. And the problem with the government plan is, is that Medicare , for instance, is a government plan, it's $39 trillion in unfunded liability. It's going to go bankrupt within the next 10 years. The costs of the government plan will be astronomical. Keep in mind, in Medicare they pay doctors 20 percent less, they pay hospitals 30 percent less. Guess where those costs are transferred? They're transferred to the people who have private health insurance , and the average private health insurance policy goes up about $ 1800 a year just to pay for what the government fails to pay for in their current government plan. So we're going to throw out -- we have 300 million people in this country , 85 percent of whom have insurance . Both sides believe that -- both Democrats and Republicans believe that we should reform the insurance industry. There's no problem there. The real problem is are we going to go to -- in a government plan that can't even take care of what we have in Medicaid and Medicare ? And, and the point is if you go to a government plan, both independent analysts and government analysts, the CBO , have indicated that tens of millions of people who go with the government plan...
MR. GREGORY: Well, wait a minute, Senator Hatch , that's not right.
SEN. HATCH: ...will destroy the private health industry.
MR. GREGORY: The Congressional Budget Office did not say that. In fact, what they have concluded...
SEN. HATCH: Yes, it did say that.
MR. GREGORY: ...is that, well...
SEN. HATCH: Yes, it did.
MR. GREGORY: The CBO said that, in fact, those enrolled in private insurance plans would go up by three million , and they estimate that about 10 million people, only 10 million people go into a public plan.
SEN. HATCH: Well, didn't I say tens of millions of people? Others have said as many as...
MR. GREGORY: Tens of millions, that's different than 10 million .
SEN. HATCH: Well, that's plenty. Others are saying up to 119 million people. It, it ranges in between. The point is, it's always more than what the government says it is. Look, I don't think people in this country believe that the federal government controlling everything is, is the best system of last resort. I think we should have more flexibility in the states to solve their own problems. For instance, New York is not Utah , Utah is not New York . We have a tremendous healthcare system that works out here, they don't in New York . Massachusetts , Massachusetts has that so-called connector system . They now haven't added people over the last two years because they're, they're almost bankrupt because of the costs of their government plan. You know, if you go down through it, anybody that believes that the federal government is going to take this over and do a better job than the private sector , even with all the faults of the private sector , I, I think just hasn't looked at the last, at the last 30 years.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Schumer ;
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I just say this -- yes. The problems -- Orrin is right, Medicare costs are out of control . So are private sector costs . That relates to the fundamental problems in the healthcare system , and it's why President Obama feels we have to take this on. Because if we don't, both the public sector -- Medicare -- and the private sector -- private insurance companies -- insurance is going to become so expensive that people won't be able to get it. And it's not 20 years away, it's five to 10 years away.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
SEN. SCHUMER: So it takes a lot of courage to take this on. What I would say is this. We need to get at these fundamental cost problems and we ought to try different models. There is no mandate with the public option .
MR. GREGORY: All right. But, but...
SEN. SCHUMER: That's one of the myths that's been put out here. It's like a college system . In New York State , in Utah there are public colleges, private colleges. You choose the one that's best for you, and competition makes both of them better.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Yeah, that's fine. You're arguing the merits of the public option . But I want to go back to where the president is. Senator Hatch said that the president realizes that it's a nonstarter certainly among Republicans , but Democrats as well. The gang of six, so- called, working right now on your Senate Finance Committee , they're not talking about a public option . And the president is saying publicly, "Look, it's just a sliver of reform ." Is he not walking away in order to get some kind of compromise ?
SEN. SCHUMER: No. If you read what Mr. Gibbs said and others have said after Secretary Sebelius ' comment, it's clear that they much prefer a public option . Obviously, we are going to
try to get a bipartisan bill. But a public option , to many, many objective observers, is essential to bringing those costs down because it provides competition.
MR. GREGORY: Right. I understand your preferences.
SEN. SCHUMER: And at the end of the day, we will have one. We will have one. Because I believe, even if every Republican says that they will not be for a public option , we can find a level playing field , modify -- level playing field type public option where both insurance companies and this option compete, and we will get 60 Democratic votes for it.
MR. GREGORY: Is that the idea of a co-op?
SEN. SCHUMER: And I think the president...
MR. GREGORY: Is that the idea of a co-op that operates in the states?
SEN. SCHUMER: No. Well, a co-op is, is a little different, because it's not set up by the government , it's set up by cooperators. But I think you need, in whatever comes about -- and I much prefer the public option -- you need three things. First, it has to be available on day one. This can't be triggered down the road four years from now, as the private insurance industry just again, in its very, very noncompetitive way, continues to raise costs . Second, it has to be available to everybody. I know that Senator Grassley , my good friend, has this idea of 100 farmers getting together in Iowa and forming a co-op. That's great. But that's not going to help the rest of the citizens of Iowa or of New York or anywhere else. And third, it has to have the strength and clout to go up against the big boys , the big private insurance companies that actually run the show here. And they've been as responsible, if not more responsible for runaway costs than Medicare has.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Hatch , you're a good friend of Senator Kennedy 's. You have walked away, in fact, from these negotiations with the Democrats . What impact is the, the loss of Senator Kennedy day-to-day on this compromise , this search for a compromise having?
SEN. HATCH: Well, Senator Kennedy would -- first thing he would have done would, would have been call me and say, "Let's work this out." And we would have worked it out so that the best of both worlds would, would work. Now, just thing about it. These people want to take and create a government plan when Medicare is $39 trillion in debt right now. And, and the way they're going to do it, in both the House and Senate bills, is they're going to, they're going to take $400 billion to $500 billion to pay for this new plan out of Medicare . And not only that, they're going to set up an IMAC , it's called an Independent Medicare Advisory Council , that's going to set just all the terms and conditions of health care . And that means rationing, in anybody's language, and I think you've got to be concerned about that. Last but not least, we have 300 million people in this country ...
SEN. SCHUMER: Let me, let me ask you this, Orrin . Just...
SEN. HATCH: Well, let me finish, Chuck . Let me finish.
SEN. SCHUMER: OK, go ahead. Go ahead.
SEN. HATCH: We have 300 million people in this country , 85 percent of whom have health insurance . The other, the other 15 percent, you've got six million who actually qualify from their employer but don't get it. You got 11 million people who qualify for CHIP and Medicaid . You've got another nine million people who earn over $75,000 a year, can afford their own health insurance but don't -- won't do it. You've got six million people who, who are illegal aliens getting health, health insurance . When you bring it down, that 47 million people comes down to about 15 million people. So we're going to -- and we all know we need insurance reform , both Democrats and Republicans , but we're going to throw out a system that works for, for 300 -- 85 percent of 300 million people to take care of 15 million people that we could take care of with subsidies and other approaches that would be simple.
MR. GREGORY: Senator...
SEN. HATCH: And it would be simple.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Schumer ...
SEN. HATCH: I would never go to a federal government program. If we do that, we'll bankrupt the country .
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I guess then, I...
MR. GREGORY: Senator Schumer , before you respond to the substance of that, I want to ask you a, a tactical question.
SEN. SCHUMER: Yeah. OK, sure.
MR. GREGORY: Will the Democrats consider reconciliation, or breaking up the bill in some way to the point where you'd only need 51 votes to get it passed? Is that under discussion?
SEN. SCHUMER: The bottom line is we prefer a bipartisan approach, and that's why both Senator Reid , our majority leader, and President Obama bent over backwards. You know, it was supposed to be done, the bipartisan bill, by June 15th , June 30th , July 15th , August 1st . They've bending over backwards. But at some point soon after we get back, if, if we don't have a bipartisan bill, we'll never be able to meet the goal of having a bill signed into law by the end of the year. So yes, we are considering alternatives. They include just getting 60 Democratic votes and maybe an occasional Republican here or there on a bill if we can't get a bipartisan bill, try as we might. They include looking at reconciliation, which only needs 51, and they include a combination. We are now looking at the alternatives because it's looking less and less likely that our -- that certainly the Republican leadership in the House and Senate will want to go for a bipartisan bill. Jon Kyl has said he doesn't want a single Republican vote for any healthcare bill.
MR. GREGORY: On that point of bipartisanship, or the lack thereof, Senator Hatch ...
SEN. HATCH: What?
MR. GREGORY: ...this is what the president said during an interview this week with Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia about what Republicans have made a decision about. Let's listen to the president.
PRES. OBAMA: I'm confident we're going to get it done. And as far as negotiations with Republicans , my attitude has always been let's see if we can get this done with some consensus. I would love to have more Republicans engaged and involved in this process . I think early on a decision was made by the Republican leadership that said, "Look, let's not give him a victory, and maybe we can have a replay of 1993 -94 when Clinton came in. He failed on health care and then we won in the midterm elections and we got the majority." And I think there's some, some folks who are taking a page out of that playbook.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Hatch , is he right? For Republicans , is health care his Waterloo ? Is that what they want to make it?
SEN. HATCH: Well, I wouldn't call it that, but it's extremely important. Because what they're trying to do -- you know, almost anything you look at in the -- you look at the two Senate and House bills; number one, they demand a public plan. Whether you call it co-op plan or not, it's going to be a public plan, a government plan. Number two, they want employer mandates, which basically kills people in the lower end of the wage spectrum. They're either going to lose their jobs, cut -- be cut back in pay or the companies are going overseas. And number three, they want to push people from, from private health insurance into Medicaid .
MR. GREGORY: Right.
SEN. SCHUMER: Hm.
SEN. HATCH: Which could destroy Medicaid .
MR. GREGORY: But I'm asking about -- Senator Hatch , I'm asking about tactics here.
SEN. HATCH: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: Have Republicans made the decision that if you beat him on health care , you can beat him in the midterm next year, and that's been the guiding principle?
SEN. HATCH: No, that hasn't been an approach in the Republican side. But I do admit that I, I think virtually every Republican realizes that they want this government plan almost at all costs . And the reason they want to move the, the way they are is to move to a single payer system like Canada 's, Germany and France , a whole -- England .
SEN. SCHUMER: No.
SEN. HATCH: Now, choose any one of those over ours and I'll, I'll tell you, you don't know what you're doing.
SEN. SCHUMER: No.
SEN. HATCH: Our plan, as bad as ours is in some ways, and it does need reform , I've got to tell you, it's head and shoulders over any other plan, every -- any other government in the world. But we need to work on it together. But I've got to tell you, they're insisting on these I think legislation-killing approaches that literally Republicans cannot go along with. There are six Republican bills. Whether they have a chance or not, I don't know.
But let me say this. I said from the beginning that they're going to go reconciliation, which has never been used for a substantive approach of, of 1/6 of the American economy or even a small substantive approach, and that would be an abuse of the process . That was set up, reconciliation, to solve increasing taxes or lowering taxes or, or cutting back on public spending or spending more.
MR. GREGORY: Quick...
SEN. HATCH: The fact of the matter is if they use that...
SEN. SCHUMER: Can I just say one thing here?
SEN. HATCH: ...that will be an abuse of the process .
MR. GREGORY: Quick response, Senator Schumer .
SEN. SCHUMER: OK. Let me just say this. I'm want to focus on the public option . You know, there are some Democrats on the left side who say it should be government only, like Medicare . There are some on the Republican side -- too many, in my opinion -- who say only private insurance companies. Why shouldn't we have an option where both compete and see where the public decides, provided it's on a level playing field ? That's fair, that's down the middle and that's where I think we're going to end up at the end of the day. Not with rationing, not with government control , but just with a little competition which the private insurance companies don't afford us right now.
MR. GREGORY: All right, Senator Schumer , let me just get in here on a, a final point here...
SEN. HATCH: But I...
MR. GREGORY: ...in other news, with the response that we saw in Libya this week...
SEN. SCHUMER: Hm.
MR. GREGORY: ...to the return of al- Megrahi , the convicted bomber of Pan Am 103 . This was the response that he got in Tripoli on Thursday. A lot of folks back in New York who were family members of the victims of Pan Am 103 were horrified at those images.
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I was horrified as well. This is a disgrace. And I think there are two things that should happen. First, I think that our secretary of state should immediately introduce a resolution condemning those celebrations and calling on Gadhafi to apologize for them. And second, frankly, I'd like to know if there was some kind of illicit deal here. There was a story in many of the newspapers that this was done, particularly by the British government , in return for getting an oil contract. That would be despicable. These families didn't get over their wounds for eight years, they never will. And to let this person out, who was one of the greatest terrorists in the last 100 years, was despicable and will be a blot on those who did it for a long time.
MR. GREGORY: All right, gentlemen, we're out of time. Senator Hatch and Senator Schumer , thank you both very much.
SEN. SCHUMER: Thanks, David .
MR. GREGORY: Up next, the politics of health care and the task of selling the plan to the American public. What are the implications for the Obama presidency? PBS ' Tavis Smiley and MSNBC 's Joe Scarborough are here, only on MEET THE PRESS .
MR. GREGORY: Joined now by PBS 's Tavis Smiley and MSNBC 's Joe Scarborough .
Welcome both back to MEET THE PRESS .
MR. GREGORY: Guys, you just heard the two senators. Is there any room for a compromise here, Joe ?
MR. JOE SCARBOROUGH: Well, with who? I, I kept hearing Chuck Schumer talking about a bipartisan bill. This is the crazy thing about this debate . They don't need a bipartisan bill. Barack Obama and Democrats own Washington . They've got 60 senators, a filibuster-proof majority. They control the House of Representatives by what, 79 votes? That's what's so funny. Barack Obama 's picking fights with Fox News , he's picking fights with talk radio types. He needs to focus on his Democratic Party . That's the real debate here, not between Orrin Hatch and...
MR. GREGORY: All right.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: I mean, they own the city.
MR. TAVIS SMILEY:
MR. GREGORY: The issue, though, Tavis , with his own party is whether he's going to stick by that public option . You heard Senator Schumer say it is essential . But that's not what the president is saying now. He's saying, "Well, it's a sliver of reform . Let's not get crazy here. It's a sliver of reform ." Is that a backtrack?
MR. SMILEY: I think it is a backtrack, number one. A couple things, to Joe 's point about bipartisanship. I think bipartisanship is a good thing. I don't think it ought to be done at the
expense of one's principles. I don't think that the rhetoric of reform trumps good public policy . I don't think -- let, let me put it another way. If President Obama had not tried to reach across the aisle and fashion a bipartisan bill, you guys would be up in arms flailing about the fact that he has not tried, that he's not tried to work with us.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Well, first, first of all, I, I don't flail. But secondly, this president has not exactly been reaching across to conservatives for the past nine months.
MR. SMILEY: No, no, no. But the, the -- wrong. The reason why he's in trouble right now on this bill is precisely because he's tried to be bipartisan rather than...
MR. SCARBOROUGH: No, no.
MR. SMILEY: ...try and -- hold on -- rather than trying to lead by putting his plan out front. And to David 's question, yes, he has backtracked on the public option . When you look at what he said last summer running for office, David , taxing the windfall profits of the insurers, out the window; single payer, out the window; buying medicine in bulk to keep cost down, especially where generic drugs are concerned, out the window. And now here we sit at the end of summer and we're debating whether or not the public option is still on the table? We have moved a long way from where we started.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: But, but, David , I've got to say, this, this is the narrative right now in Washington . But -- I love you, but that's ridiculous. He doesn't, he doesn't need to reach out to Republicans . The president is failing right now not because of what some talk show host is saying and, and not because Orrin Hatch is against the bill. He's failing because he can't get Claire McCaskill , Democrat from Missouri , on board. He can't get Evan Bayh , he can't get the Blue Dogs on board. This president is like a basketball coach who not only owns all the players on the court, he owns the arena.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: If they're fighting each other, he needs to stop crawling up into the cheap seats .
MR. SMILEY: But to, to, to that point...
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Are -- is -- am I not right? And he needs to walk out and get them to stop fighting.
MR. GREGORY: But to that point, Tavis , Speaker Pelosi has said, "We're not going to have healthcare reform without a public option . I've already gotten the House to get in line behind this thing." Maxine Waters issued a statement saying the following:" Waters said she would refuse to vote for a healthcare reform package that did not include a provision for [a public option ]." She says this: "`President Obama has been trying to reach across the aisle to win a compromise with Republicans ,' Waters said. `It's not going to happen. ... The people of this country elected you and gave you a Democratic majority in the House and the Senate . Yes, we know that you are a nice man, that you want to work with the opposite side of the aisle. But there comes a time when you need to drop that and move forward,' Waters said. `We're saying to you, Mr. President, Be
tough. Use everything you've got. Do what you have to do. And we have your back.'" Supporters of the president are saying, to Joe 's point, "You own Washington . You campaigned hard on this thing. Knock some heads, get people in line to get behind you."
MR. SMILEY: I think they're right about that. The only point I'm making here is had he not started by trying to be bipartisan , he'd be getting whipped up side the head for not trying to reach across the aisle, number one. Having said that, Congresswoman Waters and others are right about the fact that a public option , I think, ought to be essential here. The American people can't buy it if you can't sell it. He's the commander in chief, but he's tried to be the collaborator in chief. That doesn't work.
MR. GREGORY: Based on what? Joe , is there -- what was the bipartisan approach to, to the right?
MR. SCARBOROUGH: I'm, I'm -- seriously, I'm try -- I, I'm trying to figure it out.
MR. GREGORY: Because he was, he was, he was for a public plan in the beginning.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: No, no, no, I, I, I'm trying to figure it out. The president...
MR. SMILEY: I can answer that for you.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: The president was to the left on healthcare reform . He only started to move to the center when his Blue Dog Democrats said they weren't going to follow, when you had moderate and conservative Democrats in the Senate saying they weren't going to follow. Again, I love Maxine and -- but this is not a problem between Barack Obama Republicans , or that Barack Obama 's been too bipartisan . It's the fact his own Democrats won't follow him. If his own Democrats follow him...
MR. GREGORY: All right.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: ...they can pass whatever they want. If they want to get out of both wars tomorrow, if they want to shut down the Pentagon , if they want to ban people from wearing blue ties on TV , they can pass whatever they want to pass. It is in their power. There's not a thing any Republican can do.
MR. SMILEY: Joe , I think, I think you're absolutely right about that, and I don't think that they can sell this come midterm elections . If you control the House and you control the Senate and you control the White House , and you told us a year ago that there was nothing in the world more important than reforming health care , that was the centerpiece of the Democratic plan, and that's why many Americans voted for President Obama . If they can't get this done they can't, in midterm elections , blame the Republicans for being obstructionists. I agree on that.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Right.
MR. SMILEY: Having said that, the answer to your earlier question, the bipartisan effort was the president's willingness to let the House , to let the Senate have their say on this legislation rather than demanding, "This is the plan I want passed." That was his effort.
MR. GREGORY: All right, let...
MR. SCARBOROUGH: But Democrats own the House and Senate . These bills that we're talking about, it's a difference between a Henry Waxman bill and a Ted Kennedy bill. It ain't like Orrin Hatch was let in the room.
MR. GREGORY: All right, I want, I want to take a step back here and talk about the, the huge philosophical and ideological split on this, because it really does get to the role of government .
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: And part of the intensity that we're seeing around the country at these rallies, where people are showing up with guns in some cases or, as, as I referred to last week, I referred to a man outside a, a, a rally in New Hampshire who was carrying a gun and had a sign that was a quote of Jefferson that to a lot of people has become a motto for violence against the government . I asked Senator Coburn of Oklahoma about that, and this is what he said.
SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OK): Well, I'm, I'm troubled any time when we stop having confidence in, in our government . But we've earned it. You know, this debate isn't about health care . Health care 's the symptom. The debate is an uncontrolled federal government that's going to run -- 50 percent of everything we're spending this year we're borrowing from the next generation.
MR. GREGORY: That's what -- wait, hold on, I want to stop you there. I'm talking about the tone. I am talking about violence against the government . That's what this is synonymous with.
SEN. COBURN: But the, but the, but the tone is based on fear of loss of control of their own government .
MR. GREGORY: Fear of loss of control over their own government .
MR. SMILEY: This is...
MR. GREGORY: Is that what's out there?
MR. SMILEY: No. This is not about angst, this is not about anger, this is about hate. There is a, there is, there's a set of folk in this country -- thankfully not, not, not everybody -- but there is a group in this country that does not, will not accept a legitimate Democratic presidency, Joe , under any condition.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Or, or Republican.
MR. SMILEY: They -- exactly. They will not accept a legitimate Democratic president. And as a result, the pushback on Obama is even worse than the pushback on Clinton . When you show up with these guns strapped to your waist and these comparisons to Hitler , that isn't anger about government taking control of your life.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Right.
MR. SMILEY: That is, that is unadulterated hate, and it's got to be called for what it is.
MR. GREGORY: But, but outside there are fringe elements, there's no question, in this debate .
MR. SMILEY: Absolutely.
MR. GREGORY: But, Joe , the question of the government in your life and what, what, you know, conservatives believe about the government desire to control a major sector of the economy , that's real. And it goes to faith in government , role of government .
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Yeah. I mean, I mean that fear is real. But there are millions and millions of Americans that don't carry guns to rallies, that don't engage in the type of hate speech that we've seen both sides engage in. You know, the troubling part of this healthcare debate for me is people are screaming and yelling over a public option . Ninety-nine percent of Americans don't even know what they mean, they're just screaming about it. It's like Robert Wright had a great op-ed today in The New York Times talking about evolution. Most people don't even understand the complexities of that debate . It's just we've chosen sides and it's happened. You talk about Bill Clinton . It happened with Bill Clinton , it happened with George W. Bush , it's happening with President Obama and it's really disgusting, the hate speech on both sides. You know, I still believe -- like I know you do, too, Tavis -- that most Americans , they love their country , they salute their flag and they respect their president. I can respect President Obama just like I respected President Bush and you respected -- whether we vote for them or not.
MR. SMILEY: Mm-hmm.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: And, and it seems to me that leaders on both parties, Democrats and Republicans alike, have a -- have an affirmative responsibility to step forward and speak out against this hate speech and speak out against people carrying guns to rallies.
MR. SMILEY: But...
MR. SCARBOROUGH: As a guy with a 100 percent lifetime rating with the NRA , I can tell you that not only hurts those of us who believe in Second Amendment rights, it makes the job of the Secret Service so much harder and our law enforcement personnel so much harder. We, we've got to tone this debate down.
MR. GREGORY: Quick point here, yeah.
MR. SMILEY: Back -- yeah. Back to the healthcare debate though, where this hate is spilling out in these rallies, I don't understand how we can even have a debate about the fact that health care 's got to be reformed. That's the one thing I'm heartened by, that at least the leaders here in Washington seem to agree that the problem has got to get fixed. When you got 46 million people left out of a process , when the -- those persons who think they are insured find out how underinsured they really are when a catastrophic illness hits. In the most multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic America ever, we still have health disparities that we could have balanced those disparities out by the year 2000 . Eighty-five thousands folk in the year 2000 alone would still be living. When 80 percent of the folk who are not insured, David ...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. SMILEY: ...come from families that have part-time and full-time workers...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. SMILEY: ...the system is broken. It's got to be fixed.
MR. GREGORY: Well, let me hear from both of you in that. This boils down, I think, the discussion I had with the senators and here, what's the way forward ? The president is facing an intensity gap that could carry over into the midterm elections . He's losing support among independent voters.
Joe Scarborough , what does he do in the amount of time he has left to forge a compromise and to succeed here?
MR. SCARBOROUGH: He stop shouting at people in the cheap seats and he brings the players into the White House . He talks to Claire -- "What do you need?" He goes LBJ , "What do you need?" He brings in Evan Bayh . " Evan , I know Indiana , a lot different this year than it was last year. What do you need? What can you agree with?" And then he brings in, on the other side, Nancy Pelosi , Henry Waxman , and he does what leaders do.
MR. GREGORY: He's got to get more personally involved.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: He brings them together.
MR. SMILEY: Yes. It -- the bottom line is that Dr. King warned years ago against taking the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. We're not going to reform health care doing it gradually. He's got to be bold about this. My grandad, David , said all the time, if you're going to stand, stand. If you're going to sit, sit. But don't wobble. The president is wobbling on this issue, and he can't do that if we're going to reform health care .
MR. GREGORY: I think I'm going to make that the last word. Tavis Smiley , Joe Scarborough , thank you both very much.
Up next, our MEET THE PRESS Minute remembering longtime reporter, columnist and MEET THE PRESS panelist Robert Novak .
MR. GREGORY: Finally here, in our MEET THE PRESS Minute we remember Robert Novak , who died this week at the age of 78. He had a long and illustrious career in journalism. He was known as a reporter's reporter; tough, dogged and well sourced. His columns were a must read, and his appearances on this program over the past 45 years were always enlightening. Two years ago he spoke to Tim Russert about his long association with MEET THE PRESS .
(Videotape, July 15, 2007 )
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Bob Novak , you have been appearing on MEET THE PRESS since August 9th , 1964 . Remember the first guest?
MR. ROBERT NOVAK: Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield . Mike Mansfield was a -- had a different problem than most guests. His questions were -- his answers were too short instead of too long. In fact, he really liked the yes or no answer. And so you -- I was, I was warned that I would run out of questions with Senator Mansfield , and I did.
MR. RUSSERT: Were you nervous?
MR. NOVAK: I was so scared, I can't tell you. This was really the, the big time . Actually, the column had started in May 15th , 1963 , but I, I, I suddenly was -- realized I was in the big time when I was invited to MEET THE PRESS . I've been watching MEET THE PRESS since it started, and it -- I just had to pinch myself to believe that I was on it.
MR. GREGORY: And on it he was, more than 248 times. Here's a look back at some highlights, starting with that first nervous appearance in 1964 .
(Videotape, August 9, 1964 )
MR. NOVAK: Senator, do you think there's any chance that the Senate will, after all, enact some legislation requiring disclosure of senatorial income in the wake of the Bobby Baker case?
(Videotape, July 16, 1972 )
MR. NOVAK: Senator, you, you repeatedly differentiate between the Republican Party and the committee to re-elect President Nixon . On July 1st , you said the Republican Party certainly had nothing to do with the Watergate caper.
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: Right.
MR. NOVAK: Are you suggesting maybe the committee to re-elect President Nixon did have something to do with it?
SEN. DOLE: No, no, I'm not suggesting it at all.
(Videotape, January 20, 1974 )
MR. NOVAK: Do you think that the president should have been more forthcoming in trying to get to the bottom of this?
GOV. RONALD REAGAN: Well, once again, you're talking about something that is before the courts, and the determination will be made there. It's now before the grand jury , with regard to that.
MR. NOVAK: No. No, that wasn't my question, sir.
(Videotape, August 27, 1995 )
MR. NOVAK: Mr. Secretary, you've spent the last week calling Dr. Karadzic , the leader of the Bosnian Serbs, a war criminal . You really think as a diplomat it's helpful to call the person that you are -- need the agreement from a war criminal ?
Unidentified Man #1: Bob, that's a very fair point.
(Videotape, July 15, 2007 )
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to "The Prince of Darkness : 50 Years Reporting in Washington ."
Unidentified Man #2: Here he is.
MR. RUSSERT: Why are you the prince of darkness ?
MR. NOVAK: A reporter, old reporter for Washington Post at that time, John J. Lindsay said -- we use to cover the Senate together and talk about things, and he thought I was so gloomy about the future of Western civilization , I was all of about 28 years old then, that he thought I was the prince of darkness . And the name stuck. A lot of people call me the prince of darkness , though, because I'm for small government , low taxes, individual economic freedom . And of course, a lot of people, even a couple of them at this table, think that makes you the prince of darkness .
MR. GREGORY: Robert Novak . He and his family are in our thoughts and prayers. And we'll be right back.