Meet the Press Netcast   |  September 06, 2009

Axelrod, roundtable

As President Obama tries to regain control of the health care debate and prepares to address a joint session of Congress, we'll get a preview of the new offensive from his Senior Adviser, David Axelrod. Then, what are the president's chances of passing health care reform and will any Republicans be on board? And, 8 years after terrorists struck on 9/11, we take stock of where we now stand in the war against terrorism. We're joined for analysis by our political roundtable: NBC's Tom Brokaw; the mayor of New York City on 9/11, Rudy Giuliani (R); The New York Times columnist Tom Friedman; and Fmr. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-TN).

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MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, going for broke on healthcare reform . After the divisive debate of the summer, the president will detail his plan before a joint session of Congress this week and try to regain control of the debate . While liberals in his party demand a public option , centrists and Republicans oppose it. Is there room for compromise? We'll ask the man behind the president's message and new strategy , senior adviser David Axelrod .

Then the hard choices and political realities as the president pursues his agenda this fall. Health care and the economy , Afghanistan and terrorism eight years after the 9/11 attacks. With us, former mayor of New York City and 2008 Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani ; the chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council , former Congressman Harold Ford ; New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman ; and special correspondent for NBC News Tom Brokaw .

But first, the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod , joins us now live.

Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS .

MR. DAVID AXELROD: Thanks, David , good to be here.

MR. GREGORY: So here is the state, the landscape that the president now faces on health care . A poll this week shows a majority of Americans oppose, 51 percent, Republican leaders in the past few days have been saying if the president's going to speak before Congress , it's time to hit the reset button and start over. Will he?

MR. AXELROD: Well, look, first of all, understand that when people hear the details of where the president wants to go, bringing stability to people who have insurance today and security for them and helping those who don't have insurance get insurance , they support this plan. So the president has an opportunity on Wednesday to speak to the nation and the Congress on this. I think that he'll engender great support for where he wants to go. We've been through a long debate now. All the ideas are on the table . It's time to bring the strands together and get the job done for the American people here.

MR. GREGORY: Is this his plan that he'll present on Wednesday?

MR. AXELROD: Well, I think there are elements -- look, all the ideas are on the table , David . The president set forth principles at the beginning of this discussion at the beginning of the year and now all the ideas are on the table and the president will say we agree on 80 percent of this, let's, let's do the final 20 percent, let's get the job done, and here's how I think we should do it.

MR. GREGORY: But if Americans are confused, if they think this healthcare plan is negative, if they're scared by it, some even think it's socialism, what's the one thing that Americans will come away with on Wednesday? What will they know about this plan?

MR. AXELROD: Well, I think they'll come away with a clear sense of what it is and what it's not. What it is is a plan that, again, will give more security and stability to people who have insurance today and it'll make it easier for those who don't to get it. You said in your open the president's going for broke . The idea here is to keep the American people from going broke as a result of soaring healthcare costs that have doubled in the last 10 years, risen three times the rate of wages. We want to bring security to the people who have insurance so that they're not thrown

off their insurance if they get sick, so that if they lose their job or change their job, they'll still have coverage, so that people with pre-existing conditions can get insurance . That's what the American people need to know.

MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about ideas on the table . The big one is the so-called public option , a government plan that would be alongside private insurance plans to try to create competition and drive down costs . This is what the president said back in July about the public option .

(Videotape, July 18, 2009 )

PRES. BARACK 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: Does the president stand by that statement?

MR. AXELROD: You know, he certainly believes that a public option within this exchange would be important. Let's, let's, let's focus on what the issue is. There are 10...

MR. GREGORY: He said it must be included, David . He said it must be included.

MR. AXELROD: He said there must -- he said there must be a, an exchange where people can get insurance at a competitive price . He believes in competition and choice . The public option is a, is an important tool to help promote that where there is no competition. He still believes that. But here's the problem , David . If you don't have insurance today, if don't have insurance through your employer and you need to get a policy, it costs you three times as much, on the average, as it would if you had employer coverage. People simply can't afford it. One of the ways -- so we want to create a pool in which people who don't have insurance , and small businesses , can go and get insurance at a competitive price . And a public option would be a valuable tool within that group, that package of plans that would be offered, private and public.

MR. GREGORY: I just want to be clear here because in his statement, he was unequivocal. He said it must be included. A public plan must be included. Is he now signaling that he would compromise on that if you could still have some measure of competition?

MR. AXELROD: Well, first of all, you'd have to take the whole statement. He believes that a health insurance exchange where people can go, small businesses , people who don't have insurance can get insurance at an affordable price is still essential to any health reform and he believes a public option would be an important part of that package. He hasn't changed his view.

MR. GREGORY: This is what the House speaker says, Nancy Pelosi . She draws a line in the sand. She says the following, "Any real change requires the inclusion of a strong public option to promote competition and bring down costs . If a vigorous public option is not included, it would be a major victory for the health insurance industry. A bill without a strong public option will not pass the House . Eliminating the public option would be a major victory for the insurance

companies. We have rationed care, increased premiums and denied coverage." Does the president agree with the House speaker ?

MR. AXELROD: Well, he certainly agrees that we have to have competition and choice to hold the insurance companies honest. We have to have insurance protections for folks who have insurance , so they can't do the kinds of things that they've done in the past, arbitrarily throwing people off their insurance if they have a pre-existing condition or if they get seriously ill. He agrees with all of that. The idea here is to bring more security and stability to people who have insurance and to help those who don't have insurance get it at a price they can afford. The public option within that exchange is certainly a valuable tool.

MR. GREGORY: The reality is as a political matter, you cannot get Republicans to sign on nor can you get moderate Democrats , maybe 10 or 12 of them to sign on if the president fights for the public option . True or false?

MR. AXELROD: Look, why don't we let the president speak and make his case and then we can have this discussion. I believe that there's enormous consensus around a broad number of issues that would make a great difference for people who have insurance and people who need insurance and we have to build on that. And I think the president will be able to do that on Wednesday night and we'll go from there.

MR. GREGORY: What about the idea of a trigger, which is to say that you can introduce a government plan into states if the private insurance market doesn't succeed at driving down prices? Does the president think that's an idea worth considering?

MR. AXELROD: Well, I'll let the president address the specifics on Wednesday, David . But again, the goal here is to create competition and choice . There are markets where there are insurance companies that, that have 90 percent of the business, states in this countries. So it's very difficult to discipline the insurance companies on price and on the quality of care. Competition would do that and give the consumers a better break. He's for promoting competition and choice .

MR. GREGORY: So a trigger is still possible?

MR. AXELROD: Well, again, I'll let him address this. He believes the public option is a, is a good tool. Now, it shouldn't define the whole healthcare debate , however. There are, you know, the insurance guarantees that are in there for the 160 million people who have employer-based coverage are absolutely essential so that they have, you know, the ability to hang on to their insurance if they get seriously ill and not get thrown off. If they have someone in their family with a pre-existing condition, they can get them covered and so on. We have to -- that there's a cap on out of pocket expenses so if you get sick, you don't go broke. These are the that health reform would bring to people who have insurance today as they hold on to the policies that they have.

MR. GREGORY: Let's look at the president's political standing over the course of this summer as this debate has raged on. Among independent voters, these are the voters you know well, who actually delivered the presidency to Mr. Obama , and the numbers have flipped now. Since July,

his approval rating overall among independent voters down to 43 percent. Did the administration lose control of the healthcare debate ?

MR. AXELROD: Now look, this is a difficult issue, David . We knew that. We've been trying to solve this for four decades and the problem 's only gotten worse as Washington dithered. But the reason it's difficult is because it inspires great passions and we, we knew that. But let me tell you something. The president of the United States is not sitting there reading his poll numbers. The president -- the numbers he's reading are the 12 million people who've been excluded from insurance in the last few years because they have a pre-existing condition. He's reading letters from people who have lost their insurance simply because they became seriously ill. He's worried about the continued doubling every 10 years of healthcare costs and what that means for families and businesses and the government itself. Those are the numbers that he cares about. That's what he's focused on and he believes that if you do the right thing, you solve problems, that the rest will take care of itself. So you know, we're going to forge forward, get this done. It's going to be an advance for the American people and I think ultimately that will, will, will pay great dividends politically. But that's not the motivation. Solving the problem is what we have to focus on.

MR. GREGORY: Bottom line : what's achievable on health care this year?

MR. AXELROD: I think we're going to have major reform this year, reform , again, that brings stability to people who have insurance so they're not abused within the insurance system and gives the option to -- gives the ability to people who don't have insurance to get insurance at a price they can afford. And brings the overall rate of healthcare spending down so we're not on this inexorable, unsustainable climb. I believe those things are going to happen this year. I think there's a will to do it, the American people want us to do it, and I think we're going to get it done.

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about this education speech the president plans to give on Tuesday. It's created this firestorm of controversy around the country . He wanted to address students coming back to school , welcome them back, talk about studying, staying in school , personal responsibility. But now you've got school districts around the country saying, "Hold on, we want to look at this thing first. We may not show it in our classrooms, we don't like the lesson plans that necessarily go along with it." It may not go off anywhere near how it was intended. How did you lose control of this?

MR. AXELROD: Well, first of all, we'll be releasing the president's remarks in advance so everybody can have a chance to evaluate it. He's been -- he'll say the same thing he's been saying to young people throughout his public life , which is that they have control over their own destiny, they have to work hard, they have to study, they have to make -- they're the ones who can make something of their own lives. If -- all we can do is give them an opportunity. It's an important message . It is a message about personal responsibility, and I would think it would be welcomed across the country . But that's up to -- people will make their own decision about it.

MR. GREGORY: But what happened here? Are you surprised at this reaction?

MR. AXELROD: Well, you know what? I mean, I was. I was a little bewildered by it because it -- I think it's an important and wholesome message . There's nothing political about it, and it's a shame that some people have tried to politicize it. But you know, when the president speaks, I

think people will make their judgment. I think it's important for a president to stand up for that principle of individual responsibility, and I think if our young people -- if he can, if he can help one young -- we've got 30 -- nearly a 30 percent dropout rate in this country , if he can persuade one child in this country to stay in school , to keep at it, to make something of their life, then the whole exercise would have been worth it.

MR. GREGORY: Another domestic matter. Van Jones , who's been an adviser to the White House on environmental policy , resigned overnight because of some inflammatory comments he's made over time, including a petition he signed that blamed the government for the 9/11 attacks. Was this an issue that got to the president? Did he personally order that he be fired?

MR. AXELROD: Absolutely not. This was an, an -- this was Van Jones ' own decision . You know, he is internationally known as an advocate for green jobs. And that's the basis on which he was hired. He said in his statement that he didn't want his comments to become a distraction from the issue, which is so important to the future of our economy and communities around the country . And I commend him for making that decision .

MR. GREGORY: Was he the victim of a smear campaign as he alleges?

MR. AXELROD: Well, look, this is a -- you know, the politician environment is, is, is, is rough and so, you know, these things get magnified. But the bottom line is that he's showed his commitment to the cause of creating green jobs in this country by removing himself as a, as an issue and I think that took, that took a great deal of commitment on his part.

MR. GREGORY: But was the president offended by what he said?

MR. AXELROD: I haven't spoken to the president about this. As you know, this, this thing has bubbled up in the last few days, and frankly, my conversation with the president have mostly been about health care , which is where our focus should be right now.

MR. GREGORY: Do you find it -- what he said objectionable?

MR. AXELROD: Well, I haven't read all of, of his comments, either, David . Again, I'm focused on how we get health security for all Americans , how we get this economy moving in the right direction. We've pulled back from the abyss of a potential collapse and now we have to build for the future and get people back to work. I think those are the things that we should be focused on and that's what I am focused on.

MR. GREGORY: David , I want to end on a question about the other huge challenge for this administration and this president and that is Afghanistan . This was The Washington Post headline on Tuesday." General ," speaking of General McChrystal , "Afghan situation is serious and McChrystal expected to seek more resources, but the White House is wary." Will the president be reluctant to commit more U.S. forces to the war in Afghanistan ?

MR. AXELROD: Well, look, we have -- we've been in Afghanistan since 2001 when we were attacked by al-Qaeda who were posted there. That's why we went. We drifted for a period of years where we had no strategy . The president ordered a strategic review in the winter and we're executing that, but it called for a review -- another review after the election and that's where we

are. He's going to get General McChrystal 's reports and recommendations as well as those of others and make a decision . But the main thing is, we have to keep focused on what our mission was there, which was to disable and destroy al-Qaeda so they don't threaten us any longer, and that's the prism through which he'll make his judgments.

MR. GREGORY: Should there be a deadline for troop withdrawal just as then Senator Obama called on the Bush administration to get troops out of Iraq ? Is it reasonable to set that kind of deadline with regard to troops in Afghanistan ?

MR. AXELROD: Well, look, we have a different situation in Afghanistan . Afghanistan is actually the place that -- Afghanistan and Pakistan -- where the folks who attacked us on 9/11 are holed up and plotting against us still. That's a problem that still exists. It's a threat that still exists. We have to deal with it and so it's a wholly different situation. But the president will evaluate...

MR. GREGORY: So no deadline. No deadline is appropriate?

MR. AXELROD: The president, the, the president will evaluate all that, that -- all the information that's coming to, to him now. We have a series of benchmarks and review points set up and, you know, he's going to make the hard judgments that need to be made.

MR. GREGORY: We will leave it there. David Axelrod , thank you very much.

MR. AXELROD: OK, David , thanks for having me.

MR. GREGORY: Now let's go straight to our roundtable. Here in Washington , joining us, Harold Ford Jr. of the Democratic Leadership Council ; former mayor of New York City , Rudy Giuliani ; Tom Brokaw of NBC News ; and Tom Friedman of The New York Times .

Tom Brokaw , first to you. There's a lot to get to. Let's start with health care . David Axelrod used the word security over and over again. Is that a big theme for Wednesday night?

MR. TOM BROKAW: Well, I would think it is. I think what the president needs to do as much as anything is clarify what he really does want out of health care in the next year. I'm pretty dialed into this issue, and I'm with a lot of American people who've been watching all of this. Fifty percent of them saying they don't understand what this debate is all about. My guess is that number is probably closer to 80 percent. A lot of moderate Democrats on the president's side of all this have some real reservations about where they can get to realistically. One of them, Kent Conrad of North Dakota , who is a principal player in that gang of six, is terribly worried about the cost of the public option . That's more than a trillion dollars -- David Axelrod didn't raise that. At a time when the country 's trying to kick start the economy and other people across America are being told to save more money and to cut back on their expectations, they look at that price tag, which goes with TARP and stimulus and the bailout of the automobiles, and it gives them some real pause about what is achievable. There's no question that the American healthcare system does need to be reformed at several different levels, and I think the White House overstepped at the beginning in not having a clear , simple plan about what we want to achieve and when we want to achieve it.

MR. GREGORY: Harold Ford , the question of cost that Tom raises, a huge issue. Democrats I 've talked to said, "Look, you're not -- forget about Republicans , you're not going to get moderate Democrats unless that price tag comes down. One of the ways to do that, cover fewer people. Get off this idea of universal health care . Do you think that's what's going to happen?

FMR. REP. HAROLD FORD JR. (D-TN): He may have to. Brokaw has it about right. He's got to also say to the majority of Americans who have health insurance , "How will this new health reform package affect your own health choices? Will you be able to see the doctor that you've seen in the past?" Many Americans with health insurance are worried about just that. Two, I don't think the president can win over a majority of conservative and moderate Democrats with trillion dollar price tag. I hate to say it. We've got to make some tough choices here. Some of my liberal friends in the Congress , my former colleagues, probably are going to be disappointed with what the president says in the next night or so. And some of my Republican friends, who want to be disappointed and want to reject the president may end up supporting the president, because he brings the price tag down, he encourages insurance reform , he ensures that children will be covered, and he says to the country , we can -- once the economy gets back on track, we'll have a longer conversation about this.

I was pleased to hear Axelrod say one big thing. Choice and competition. The American people understand those issues, they understand those terms and they resonate. If he's able to convey security with your choices today, your doctor choices today, choice and competition, and bring that price tag down, he might not only win an overwhelming majority of Democrats , he might bring some Republicans along as well.

MR. GREGORY: Mayor Giuliani , you heard David Axelrod say notably, I thought, major reform is still achievable this year. Can he do it with Republicans ?

MR. RUDY GIULIANI: Not if he has the public option . I think he gave up the public option . I was trying to listen carefully to what he was saying, but sounds to me like the public option is gone.

MR. GREGORY: A willingness to compromise there is what I heard.

MR. GIULIANI: I think that, I think, but I think the biggest mistake the president has made is he hasn't done cost savings. He, he hasn't put a single realistic cost saving proposal on the table . A trillion dollars, healthcare history is everything costs three times as much when you look at the predictions for Medicare , Medicaid , everything else. So a trillion dollars is the low-ball estimate of what this is going to cost. He took off the table medical malpractice reform . Big mistake . Big, big mistake if you want a bipartisan solution to this. You take off the table one of the biggest ways in which you can save money and create some equity in the system. He took off the table interstate purchase of insurance . That's real competition. Now you can -- you have 50 states that are competing with each other, you can really bring the cost down.

MR. GREGORY: Does he have to cover fewer people?

MR. GIULIANI: If he had done what I was talking about, if he had done medical malpractice , interstate, real significant tax reform , maybe he could have achieved universal coverage. But I

think he achieves it through subsidies or tax breaks, not through a big government agency trying to run health care for Americans .

MR. GREGORY: Tom Friedman , let me bring you in here. Back in 1993 , when you were a mere beat reporter covering the White House ...

MR. FRIEDMAN: Oh, my gosh.

MR. GREGORY: And 16 years ago...

FMR. REP. FORD: What year was that?

MR. GREGORY: It was President Clinton .

MR. FRIEDMAN:

MR. GREGORY: Right. It was President Clinton giving a major speech on health care . And this is what you wrote. It's very interesting."The Clinton administration 's toughest problem in selling a health care overhaul to the American people will be boiling down into a single evocative slogan. White House officials said today that if they had to distill their message to a bumper sticker, it would be one word in capital letters , SECURITY . `First and foremost will be the theme of security ,' said a presidential adviser George Stephanopoulos ," who's doing something else now."That is the emotional core of this plan. It speaks to people's deepest fears, the idea that no matter what happens to you, if you lose your job, if your wife loses her job, if you switch jobs or if your company goes under, your health care will be nationally guaranteed."

It sounds like we're in the same place .

MR. FRIEDMAN: Yeah. That's -- David , that's quite interesting , David . You know, I, I, I'm a big believer that to name something is to own it. You can name an issue, you can own the issue. And one of the things that's happened, to pick up on Tom's point, is that Republicans named this issue. They named it pulling the plug on grandma. And what you saw with Axelrod , I think, was trying to retake the naming of this issue. Security , stability, affordability, that's clearly where they're going to go. But I also want to say, you know, one other thing because the president's gotten a lot of criticism for -- and fair enough, I think rightly so, for not being clear about what he wants. But what about the opposition? You know, there's only one thing worse, David , than one party autocracy, and that's one party democracy, OK, where you don't actually have two parties that are really truly, honestly trying to solve a problem . When you have one-party democracy, and in this case, the Democrats , you're -- if you have to solve this whole problem among Democrats , you're going to get the kind of mess, in my view, that you got in the energy climate bill, OK?

Give President Obama 25 centrist Republicans in the House really ready to work this problem , give him 10 centrist Republicans in the Senate really ready to work this problem , I think you'll see an outcome that assures the American people very, very quickly. So I think he's not the only one.

MR. GREGORY: So why aren't they, why aren't they there?

MR. GIULIANI: The president didn't really invite that. He said, "yes, let's have bipartisan solution."

FMR. REP. FORD: Oh, yes, he did.

MR. GIULIANI: But if you take medical malpractice reform off the table , which is a major Republican objective, so that's gone immediately, you take interstate purchase of insurance off the table , that's gone immediately, it becomes impossible for most Republicans to figure out how you're going to save the money other than pulling the plug on grandma. The president -- remember what the president said was this is going to be deficit neutral. Some raise in taxes, but basically deficit neutral. So how do you reduce a trillion dollars or $750 million in -- billion in costs , without taking services away from people who get services? And the people who basically get the services are senior citizens . So the president has created this dilemma. He wasn't just not specific about it, the assumptions that he made lead, lead to the conclusion that he had, you have to cut massive numbers of people off.

MR. BROKAW: But what...

FMR. REP. FORD: That's not what...

MR. BROKAW: What has been interesting to me is that the Republicans have raised the public option as some kind of an Orwellian monster. Half the health care in America is already delivered by the government .

MR. GIULIANI: Right.

MR. BROKAW: Medicare , Medicaid , the Veterans Administration , the Federal Employees Health Program ...

MR. GIULIANI: Right.

MR. BROKAW: ...is government run.

MR. GIULIANI: That's part of the problem . Part of the problem , half of it already is in the hands of one massive monopoly. You make that monopoly greater and you destroy private, private insurance .

FMR. REP. FORD: But, but, Mr. Mayor...

MR. GIULIANI: Same, same, same idea as the anti- trust law . If one company becomes so large it wipes out all of its competitors. If that company is the government , which right now threatens to wipe out all of its competitors...

FMR. REP. FORD: But...

MR. GIULIANI: ...you add 40 million people to that, forget private insurance companies.

FMR. REP. FORD: But people are...

MR. GREGORY: Harold .

FMR. REP. FORD: People under the government plans are generally pleased, number one. Number two, the cost of private...

MR. GIULIANI: Depends upon the people.

FMR. REP. FORD: The cost of private insurance , you, I'd, I'd go with you, MR. Mayor, we could poll on Medicare . I think an overwhelming majority of Americans like their Medicare , and those in the veterans program want some improvement.

MR. GIULIANI: Three times more expensive.

FMR. REP. FORD: What's not...

MR. GIULIANI: Three times more expensive than ever predicted.

FMR. REP. FORD: That's not true, sir.

MR. GIULIANI: Yes, it is.

FMR. REP. FORD: Private health insurance inflation has gone up at double the rate...

MR. GIULIANI: I use to pay for it .

FMR. REP. FORD: ...that public health insurance has gone up, number one. Number two, the president from the outset, we can be critical of the way he went about doing health care , but you cannot condemn him for reaching out to Republicans . Max Baucus said he would not do a bill without the Republican leader on the committee. What did Grassley do? He went home and labeled the death panel bill. You had the senator from South Carolina , DeMint , say if we stop Obama here, we can stop everything that he stands for.

MR. GIULIANI: But...

FMR. REP. FORD: And three, Mr. Mayor, it's unfair. I appreciate your...

MR. GIULIANI: It's not unfair at all.

FMR. REP. FORD: I appreciate your...

MR. GIULIANI: You can't, you can't...

FMR. REP. FORD: I appreciate your talk about fiscal responsibility now.

MR. GIULIANI: But you can't...

FMR. REP. FORD: But you didn't say a word about the tax cuts , the trillion dollar tax cuts , how we would pay for it . You didn't say a word about the trillion dollar Medicare prescription drug bill, how we would pay for it . You didn't say a word about the trillion dollars for the war. Things we needed to do.

MR. GIULIANI: Right. But...

FMR. REP. FORD: But at least this president is saying, I'm going to pay for it .

MR. GIULIANI: But the problem ...

FMR. REP. FORD: So for you to be critical...

MR. GIULIANI: The problem ...

FMR. REP. FORD: ...be consistent is the only thing I say.

MR. GIULIANI: Well, well, the reality is you can't tell me they're going to do a bipartisan proposal and then take off the table two of the major things that I want to see compromise or worked out.

FMR. REP. FORD: I would agree with you on malpractice reform .

MR. GIULIANI: That is, that is...

FMR. REP. FORD: It should be a part of it.

MR. GIULIANI: But that is, but that was, that is, that's saying to Republicans , forget the code words , that's saying to Republicans forget the way you look at it. We're going to do it my way. Now let's compromise.

MR. GREGORY: Let me get a break in here. We'll have much more on the political fallout of this, as well as other topics, when we come back with our roundtable. We'll also talk about Afghanistan and the war on terror , right after this break.

MR. GREGORY: Our roundtable weighs in on Afghanistan and the war on terror eight years after the 9/11 attacks after this brief commercial break .

MR. GREGORY: And we're back with our roundtable. And I have to say, if I were ever planning a Sunday brunch, it doesn't get any better than this, then these folks around the table . Let's get back to these serious topics.

Tom Brokaw , still on health care for just a couple of minutes. One of the things that I'm told from top Democrats is that the idea of reconciliation is still more likely than not. In other words,

the president tries to get this through with a simple majority of 51 rather than going for the 60 votes.

MR. BROKAW: Reconciliation is a process that was designed to deal with budget issues, as you know. And they think if they go to reconciliation and try to keep it focused on the cost of health care , that they can get there. What do they get out of all of that? They hope that they get a mandate where everyone has to have health insurance of some kind. And one of the senior advisers to the administration on all of this is also saying we think we can get the exchange process in place where states will organize an exchange , a shopping mall , if you will, for people who are looking for health insurance to go and have a competitive environment. They're not saying anything about the public option in all of that. Let me just say one other thing. At full disclosure , I'm a public trustee of the Mayo Clinic , but I'm not involved in their debate on healthcare reform . The Mayo Clinic , the Cleveland Clinic and other major healthcare delivery systems in America that are doing well believe that the administration is missing a big opportunity to restructure the cost of Medicare and Medicaid so that you pay for performance and not just for tests. And no one is addressing that as well. So there are so many elements in all of this that are in play now and the administration took a big bite and now the question is whether they can digest all of this.

MR. GREGORY: Tom Friedman , let me end on this political question about health care . Let's put up that graphic about the independent voters again.

MR. TOM FRIEDMAN: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY: Because I think it's telling. It shows that Obama 's approval ratings slipping down to 43 percent, since July, down 10 points. The issue he's got here in the Democratic Party , he's got a left that really wants that fundamental change that he campaigned on, but he's got a reality among independent voters and centrist Democrats who say, wow, we're spending a lot of money here. We've got bailouts, as Tom , you know, went, went through.

MR. FRIEDMAN: Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: It's just a difficult time to take on all this. What's his message to his party right now?

MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, this is a framing challenge. There's no question about that, David . You know, just a couple of things I would say. You know, one, in terms of health care itself, to me, one way to frame it, it's a huge competition issue. Who needs health care more than American business today , taking the burden off business so they can compete globally? And that is, to me, an independent/Republican issue, you know, tends to be more than a Democratic/left issue. The second is, I keep coming back to this point. If he doesn't have Republicans who already take yes for an answer, let's look where the administration 's going, you could hear it from Axelrod . Public option 's not going to be there. He's drifting toward what -- this idea of insurance exchanges. Where did we see that? Hey, that was Mitt Romney 's idea in Massachusetts . He's going to drift, I think, to the idea of paying for this by taxing at least some healthcare benefits of some people. Where did I hear that? That was John McCain . Now, can Republicans say yes to McCain , Romney ideas? And it's not clear to me that they aren't out to pull the plug on Obama much more than anything else.

MR. GREGORY: Mayor:

MR. GIULIANI: I think if he, if he had a set of proposals that I don't hear that talked about real cost containment, real reduction in cost, and then, and then a realistic way to cover more people through tax breaks, tax exemptions, subsidies, things like that, I think Republicans could support it. Republicans have -- I supported, along with John McCain , a major reform of health care . If he incorporated a lot of those things in it, I would support it.

MR. GREGORY: Let me get onto a couple of other things here that are also interesting issues. The other speech the president planned to give on Tuesday was an education speech to students coming back from their summer break , and he wanted to talk about studying hard. We brought it up with David Axelrod . Well, this has created such a firestorm. Here's the New Canaan Public Schools , writing a parent letter, and in it they say this."In developing their plans our principals have considered issues such as developmental appropriateness, curricular relevance, the time at which the speech is being broadcast and the importance of teachers assuming responsibility for the selection of instructional materials. In elementary schools the administration and faculty will view the speech , download it and after discussing it, make decisions regarding how it might be used in the future -- including deciding its appropriateness for various grade levels . Parents will be notified, if and when, the decision to show the speech is made." Tom Brokaw , talk about tortured language. What's going on here?

MR. FRIEDMAN: Signs of the apocalypse. I mean, really.

MR. BROKAW: It's stunning to me. I come from a time and a place in America where it would be thrilling to have a president of the United States address your school about the importance of studying and staying in school . And this president, whatever else you think about his political philosophy , is a symbol of working hard, coming from difficult circumstances and getting to where he is in part because of education. I think it's so ripe for satire, it's unbelievable. The superintendent of the Gettysburg Public School System said today that they have devised a plan for students to be shielded from a President Abraham Lincoln who will be coming to make an address . Look, that is the most tortured thing I can possibly imagine, what we just read there. It sounds like East Germany trying to form some restrictions on people leaving the eastern sector to go into the western sector. I think it's perfectly appropriate for parents to say, "I don't want my child to hear that. I would rather keep them out or put them in a different school that day." But this is completely out of control, in my judgment. And it's not -- it's not partisan. I mean, if -- when I was a student or when my children were in school ...

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MR. BROKAW: ...if it had been Dwight Eisenhower or John Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson or Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan or George Bush , the idea of hearing a president of the United States saying we should study hard and that's how we advance and we all need to get in on, on this, I think is an appropriate message .

MR. GREGORY: Mayor Giuliani , you ran for president and one of the things that I've noticed in my experience covering a Republican president, George W. Bush , is the lack of respect for the

institution of the presidency. Whether it's people saying during Bush 's time, "Hey, he's not my president." Well, no, yes, he is. Does that trouble you?

MR. GIULIANI: Yes, it does, and Tom is right. But the difference is we looked at President Eisenhower or President Reagan , even up to about that point, even President Bush 41 differently. There's a lack of respect for the president, there's a lack of respect for politicians. And David Axelrod said, "Well, this isn't politics." Everything the president does nowadays is politics, for better or worse. And I think that's what you're seeing. You're seeing people distrust the president's motives or the administration 's motives. It's not just about the speech , it's about the lesson plan . I think it's unfortunate and I think, you know, what's the -- it almost seems a shame to say what's the harm in a president speaking to a group of children.

FMR. REP. FORD: I wish when I was in fourth...

MR. GIULIANI: I think, I think the president should be given the opportunity to do it.

MR. GREGORY: Governor Pawlenty of Minnesota , Harold , said, "Look, the only issue with this was it was uninvited." There's a sense that it's been kind of foisted on the schools. Is there any legitimate criticism? There were lesson plans that encouraged the students to write letters saying how they could help the president.

FMR. REP. FORD: I traveled to Afghanistan in February of '02. We took with us letters from students in our own congressional districts . I was along with seven other members of Congress to deliver the students in Afghanistan . We asked them to do it. The -- we thought a clever and smart, an interesting way for kids to connect. I wish when I was in fourth grade the president of the United States -- when I was in fourth grade, it would've been 1978 or '79, Jimmy Carter was president. I wish in '82, when I was in seventh grade, Reagan would've come and said study hard, work hard, obey your teachers. If that's bad in America today...

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

FMR. REP. FORD: ...we have worse problems than the president going into a, going into a school and speaking.

MR. GREGORY: What...

MR. FRIEDMAN: But David , you know, you said, it's a firestorm. And we live in the age of firestorms. You know, today, or this week, it's the president speaking in school . What it needs is for people to stand up and say that's flat out stupid, OK? That's flat out stupid what you're talking about. The president of the United States , addressing schoolchildren in this country to study hard, work hard because that's the way you advance in today's global economy . And instead of that, we kind of dance around it, you know. It's flat out stupid.

MR. GREGORY: You talk about Van Jones as well, you know, the fact that in this, in this media age, what he said, by anybody's estimation, was objectionable, to sign a petition saying the government was behind 9/11. But it goes to something that's going on in this information age ...

MR. FRIEDMAN: David , yeah...

MR. GREGORY: ...which is you can be a target real fast.

MR. FRIEDMAN: David , when everyone has a cell phone , everyone's a photographer. When everyone has access to YouTube , everyone's a filmmaker. And when everyone's a blogger, everyone's in newspaper. When everyone's a photographer, a newspaper and a filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure . Tell your kids, OK, tell your kids, OK, be careful. Every move they make is now a digital footprint. You are on " Candid Camera ." And unfortunately, the real message to young people , from all of these incidents, OK, and I'm not here defending anything anyone said, but from all of these incidents, is you know, really keep yourself tight, don't say anything controversial, don't think anything -- don't put anything in print. You know, whatever you do, just kind of smooth out all the edges, and maybe you too -- you know, when you get nominated to be ambassador to Burkina Faso , you'll be able to get through the hearing.

MR. GREGORY: OK.

MR. BROKAW: Well, I've -- one of the things I've been saying to audiences is this question comes up a lot, and a lot of people will repeat back to me and take it as face value something that they read on the Internet . And my line to them is you have to vet information. You have to test it the same way you do when you buy an automobile or when you go and buy a new flat-screen television. You read the Consumer Reports , you have an idea of what it's worth and what the lasting value of it is. You have to do the same thing with information because there is so much disinformation out there that it's frightening, frankly, in a free society that depends on information to make informed decisions. And this is across the board, by the way. It's not just one side of the political spectrum or the other. It is across the board, David , and it's something that we all have to address and it requires society and political and cultural leaders to stand up and say, "this is crazy." We just can't function that way.

MR. FRIEDMAN: You know, David , I just want to say one thing to pick up on Tom's point, which is the Internet is an open sewer of untreated, unfiltered information, left, right, center, up, down, and requires that kind of filtering by anyone. And I always felt, you know, when modems first came out, when that was how we got connected to the Internet , that every modem sold in America should actually come with a warning from the surgeon general that would have said, "judgment not included," OK? That you have to upload the old-fashioned way. Church, synagogue, temple, mosque, teachers, schools, you know. And too often now people say, and we've all heard it, "But I read it on the Internet ," as if that solves the bar bet , you know? And I'm afraid not.

MR. GREGORY: We're talk -- we're talking about our society. I want to talk about a society halfway around the world that America 's engaged in trying to changing and that is Afghanistan and the war in Afghanistan . It is a critical time. Tom Friedman , you write about this in your column today on this question of more troops. The headline, "From Babysitting to Adoption ." "We're not just adding more troops in Afghanistan . We are transforming our mission -- from babysitting to adoption. We are going from a limited mission focused on babysitting Afghanistan ... in order to prevent an al-Qaeda return to adopting Afghanistan as our state- building project ....

"This is a much bigger undertaking than we originally signed up for. Before we adopt a new baby -- Afghanistan -- we need to have a new national discussion about this project: what it will cost, how much time it would take, what U.S. interests make it compelling and, most of all, who is going to oversee this policy.

"I fell a vast and rising ambivalence about this in the American public today and adopting a baby you are ambivalent about is a prescription for disaster."

Two Sundays ago, Admiral Mullen was on this program and I asked him about exactly what the U.S. enterprise was in Afghanistan was. Watch.

(Videotape, August 23, 2009 )

MR. GREGORY: We're rebuilding this nation.

ADM. DAVID 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.

MR. GREGORY: Tom , are we fulfilling our central mission there?

MR. FRIEDMAN: David , I want to pick up with Admiral Mullen . You had him on and he gave, I thought, a really smart speech on this week to a veterans group in which he said, you know, "I'd rather debate this issue than ignore it." And I -- and, and what I think he was implying there and implying here, he knows -- I actually -- the last time I went to Afghanistan was following him. And I saw a lot of the things that, that, that he saw, and it was very clear to me that the strategy has changed. Basically what the military has concluded is that the only way we can possibly succeed there is by building the kind of local governance, regional governance and national governance there that will protect and serve the Afghan people so they won't want to sign up with the Taliban for any number of other reasons. And that's what they have concluded. But the only way to do that is with state building 101. And I think the thing we all have to debate , OK, and we really knew -- I do believe, I do believe we have to redebate this issue on a national level is do we want to undertake that project in this country . Does it serve our interests? I believe it is a fantasy to think we can go to this sort of small, mobile, you know, units that everyone wants. That -- if that had worked, do you think George Bush would have figured that out during eight years? The reason that doesn't work, you can't collect the intel you need. OK, if you're in small, you know, little units traveling around the country , how are you going to know who's who what? That's not going to happen.

MR. GREGORY: Mayor Giuliani , This is the cover of The Week magazine . It's got Uncle Sam wading through the mud of Afghanistan and the question: Can the U.S. ever tame Afghanistan ? Is this approach the right one?

MR. GIULIANI: I'm not sure the strategy has changed. I just heard David Axelrod say the main strategy there is to disrupt the Taliban , disrupt al-Qaeda , that's the place from which the attack of September 11 emerged. I hope they, I hope they remain focused on that goal, because that is a worthy goal, a necessary one, and it probably needs more troops. I think the president in this instance is living up to his campaign promise . I support him completely. I think he's got the right focus. I think we have no choice . And we can't become Afghanistan centric.

MR. GREGORY: But you say the primary thrust is eliminating al-Qaeda . Harold , General McChrystal has made it clear : The mission is protecting the population .

MR. GIULIANI: Well, it's the same thing.

MR. GREGORY: This is a counterinsurgency strategy , right, but I mean there's a lot of work that goes into protecting a population with this...

MR. GIULIANI: Yes.

MR. GREGORY: ...kind of culture of poverty, with this sort of distrust of anything that's not the Taliban , of a central government , of which there's not much.

MR. GIULIANI: And we should get, and we should get it done. I mean, we should, we should...

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MR. GIULIANI: ...accomplish it. I think that we ignored Afghanistan for too long, ignored the troop requirements that were necessary there.

MR. GREGORY: Under President Bush.

MR. GIULIANI: Yeah, we did. When we, we did it because we were focused on Iraq . But I hate to see it now reverse itself and focus so much on Afghanistan that we don't complete the job in Iraq .

MR. GREGORY: Harold , is this, is this war winnable?

FMR. REP. FORD: It depends on how you define it. I think disrupting, trying your hardest to disband al-Qaeda and prevent terrorism there and prevent it on our soil remains in the forefront. Some of the criticism this week from noted conservatives have focused on whether or not we are focused as much on Pakistan as we should be. It's important to note, as Tom has, Afghanistan , our bases there are critical to us being able to effectively address challenges that might disrupt al- Qaeda in Pakistan , too. The Afghans as -- I read Tom Friedman 's column and I agree with him about 99 percent of the time. I take issue a little bit with some in the column only because I happen to think that there's a difference here. Although the Taliban and for that matter Afghans, were not as -- we didn't have a ready partner as we did in Iraq in Afghanistan today, it's important to know that 90 percent of the country , if not more, is not in favor of what the -- what the Taliban wants to do. Two, the elections were bad but there was some positives that came out of it. It's also clear that these people are more pro-American. I think we have an obligation here and a responsibility, because if you offshore this responsibility -- we tried it in the '90s and it didn't

work -- as painful as it may be to maintain and for that matter conduct a new strategy that may require new troops, I think the president's going to be forced to do it. I hope we can find an easy and quick way out of it. But at the same time, I would much rather do this than five to 10 years from now have this president be asked and....

MR. FRIEDMAN: I think we should have discussion...

MR. GREGORY: Tom, Tom -- let me get Tom Brokaw to weigh in here.

MR. BROKAW: Well, I -- there's a lot of concern in the administration . And people were advising the administration about the level of corruption in this election. They see that as a great opening for the Taliban that they can take advantage of that. It's like the subcontinent have the Olympics of election corruption. Iran was in first place , now Afghanistan has moved into first place . And this has been going on for some time. I was in Islamabad four years ago and had a meeting, brief meeting, with Karzai in a hotel, and three of the parliamentarians who'd accompanied him took me off to the side and said, "You have no idea what's going on here. It's his family using this as a cash register of this entire country ." The best line I've ever heard about Afghanistan , and most people who look at Afghanistan from this distance think of Kandahar and Kabul , but it's this very remote, disconnected country of tribes. And an expert on Afghanistan said to me one day, "The problem with Afghanistan is the Afghans have reversible turbans. It depends on who's in town that day. And they've learned that over the years through a lot of occupation. You know, they're not just going to stand up and salute the American flag because we happen to be around. It depends on who's in town that day.

MR. GREGORY: Right. Rudy Giuliani , the bigger question about Afghanistan , the war initiated after 9/11 as we approach the eighth anniversary now, is the country , is the United States safer since 9/11?

MR. GIULIANI: I do think it is. But I thought Tom's column answered itself. If the premises are correct. If, in fact, that is the place -- well, it is the place from which the attack of September 11 emerged.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MR. GIULIANI: If it continues to be, if our intelligence tells us that continues to be the place we have to be the most concerned about, then we have to do whatever is necessary to eliminate it. And if that requires some form of village building, town building, nation building , then for our own safety we're going to have to do it. But the main thing is, is your intelligence correct, are the premises correct? I think they are. I think we're safer than we were. We're not as safe as we would like to be. I think -- it's indisputable that we're safer than we were before. We've got much better intelligence. We've got a much more active pursuit of terrorism. We've got them much more on the run. Thank God we haven't been attacked. The day that it happened, I was told that we were going to get attacked multiple times , both that day and in the next week, and for three months I was waiting for the next attack and getting intelligence from every source imaginable, every one of the agencies we talk about, that New York should be ready for multiple attacks over the next two to three years, and the United States should be.

MR. GREGORY: But we still don't have bin Laden .

MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, David , to pick up on the mayor's point, I think there is sort of -- the threat we faced after 9/11 has sort of three components, and I've tried to distinguish between terrorists and terrorism. I think we are safer for a lot of the reasons the mayor referred to. Our intelligence is better, our global cooperation is better. There's no question. We're going to spend this Labor Day weekend , you know, out biking. Bin Laden 's the one in the cave. That's the, that's the first thing to remember. So I think -- and that's why we -- one big reason we haven't been attacked. But there are two other components to this threat. One is the misgovernance in that whole part of the world that has produced the pathologies, the angry young people , unemployment, that produces not only the terrorists but the people behind them. And the third thing is the, the sort of the religious, the war of ideas. And there we've lost. You know when I'll feel safer? I'll feel safer, David , when more people in the Muslim world turn out to protest a bombing in the heart of Baghdad that kills hundreds of innocent people than Danish cartoons .

MR. GREGORY: I've only got a minute left, but I've got to get to politics before we go. Mayor Giuliani , you have said you're thinking about running for governor of New York . What troubles you about the state of New York now that will inform that decision ?

MR. GIULIANI: Well, I'm still, I'm still thinking about it. I think the same things that trouble most people about what's going on throughout the country . I think the, well, the budget of New York is way out of control. It's $120, $130 billion, just a 9 percent increase in spending at a time in which we're, we're dealing with less for most, for most people. Taxes have been raised and are going to be raises astronomically. A big problem in New York . We're already losing population as a result of that. People are making plans to live somewhere else . And we have a whole upstate region that hasn't had economic development for, for way too long. Those are the things that would trouble you the most.

MR. GREGORY: You sound like you're inclined to run.

MR. GIULIANI: Then you've guessed something I haven't guessed.

MR. GREGORY: If you're still thinking about it, when will you make up your mind?

MR. GIULIANI: Once we get through this political season and we get finished with whatever is going on right now. There are, there's an important race for mayor in New York City going on. Important race for governor in New, New Jersey and Virginia . I have my favorites in each one of those races. I'm working hard...

MR. GREGORY: So a November, a November decision ?

MR. GIULIANI: Something like that.

MR. GREGORY: All right. We'll leave it there.

We got to a lot. Thank you very much. If we had more time, we could take on physics as well. But we're going to leave it there. We'll be back right after this brief station break.

MR. GREGORY: That is all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS .