Meet the Press   |  April 28, 2013

2: Panel talks on Syria, Capitol Hill negotiations

A roundtable of journalists and pundits discusses the conflicts in Syria and ongoing efforts being made on Capitol Hill.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> my charm offensive has helped me learn some interesting things about what's going on in congress. it turns out absolutely nothing. some folks still don't think i spend enough time with congress. why don't you get a drink with mitch mcconnell , they ask? really? why don't you get a drink with mitch mcconnell ?

>> mitch mcconnell jokes, only f funny in washington . we are back with our roundtable, joining me former undersecretary of state, republican diplomacy and public affairs karen hughes .

>> i'd love to have a drink with mitch mcconnell .

>> democratic congressman from texas, joaquin castro , our political director and white house correspondent, chuck todd , republican strategist mike murphy and democratic senator from minnesota, huge minnesota day on the program, could klobuchar be could. welcome to all of you. how did the president do last night?

>> i think he was incredible. you know he likes to do these things. it's fun. i really look at this dinner as a chance for him to make fun for himself in a town there's dagers on every corner for people to come together and have some fun. he was tremendous. my famous line was actually when he talked about now he wanted to have his presidential library and he wanted to have it in the first place.

>> these are actual opportunities for presidents and presidents, i think back to president bush , usually do very well at these things, plus they can take on stuff they're actually legitimately mad about with humor.

>> a sense of humor. humor and humility are in short supply in washington . i thought the president's remarks were funny last night.

>> chuck, what were his favorite targets? we played it at the top, the bit about if you want minority outreach, why don't you start with this minority.

>> contractually are we okay to praise conan? he was really funny, too.

>> i think so.

>> what i wonder is how many people realized at the end when he did his -- there's always this part at the end where they get serious for the minute, the part where presidents say i think the press has a good job to do and i understand. he didn't say that. he wasn't very complimentary of the press. we all can do better. it did seem -- i thought his pot shots joke wise and then the serious stuff about the internet, the rise of the internet media and social media , he hates it. okay? he hates this part of the media. he really thinks the buzzification, not just about buzz feeds and politico, he thinks that coverage of political media has hurt political discourse . he hates it. i think he was trying to make that clear last night.

>> senator, we're also at a point, though, some of the other big matters are usually right under the surface like syria . you heard senator mccain talking about his own call for action to do more after he thinks the administration has been late here getting into syria after a couple of years. how did you react to that? what do you think the president's next moves have to be?

>> i'm much more focused on the future as senator gillibrand and i just came back from jordan and turkey and met with the refugees. we met with the rebels. and i'm convinced that, first of all, the president knows that we can't do this alone. he's been good at reaching out to leaders. just met with king abdullah . we don't want to put bats on the ground. senator mccain made that very clear. we need to up our game. we need to up our game where the aid goes. too much of it is going to assad -controlled regions. that we have to make sure we're starting to do more with night goggles, armor, all kinds of things, and we have to keep these possibilities of senator mccain raised clearly on the front burner with the no-fly zone, with arming the rebels, but we cannot do this alone. it is an incredible scene what's happening in jordan. 2,500 refugees a day coming in.

>> the interesting thing, mike murphy , as a political matter, this is something that will divide democrats. but republicans, too. and that's one of the things senator mccain has been speaking to.

>> no, it's a complicated situation with a lot of difficult politics around it. i've been enjoying at least as an observe esh of washington the red line because the red line has turned into about a mile wide. it's a problem for a president when you draw a red line , the world is watching, including the iranians. the political problem is the country has total fatigue for this kind of thing and there's a military problem. this is a lot easier to get into than get out of. what are the minimal things if they don't work? does it lead to escalation? the turks will be the key. you would need a big partner to really do it. there's no way to do it alone.

>> let me get you on the record. what are you thinking about?

>> first, the revolution of the rebellion has to be accepted by the people of syria . it becomes a lot less effective in the long term the more it's driven by the united states of america . however much we may or may not want to get into it. it's also clear that we have to be careful in accepting the intelligence that we're getting. we know from the past that we were a bit eager in other wars to get into, specifically iraq . so we have to make sure that once we're going to get involved in that kind of serious way that our intelligence is right and that we have evidence to back it up.

>> but i'm concerned the window of opportunity is closing. the people of syria feel we have let them down. we are the world 's champion of freedom. they are fighting for their freedom. tens of thousands of them are being killed and they're waiting for our help. i think we have an obligation. no one is for boots on the ground . we have an obligation to lead the world and intervene in a smart way through arming the opposition that is not affiliated with al qaeda . al qaeda is only strengthening and the situation is getting worse by the day. the window is closing.

>> well, either way and that is the concern but i can tell you there is regret about that red line comment because --

>> in the white house .

>> in the white house in this respect. you don't draw it. they meant it. they do mean it on the chemical weapons but saying it creates this political conversation. they didn't want to go public last week that they had this early evidence yet. they weren't ready. and yet they knew congress was going to get this briefing and it was all going to get out, so they decide d to go public with it last week because they felt they had no choice, that it was all going to start leaking out. but they're not ready. there is no good answer. the gulf states and the big difference between here and libya , by the way, in libya you had the arab community, the arab league saying, we have to stop th this. the arab league has been quiet on this and i think the united states would like to see that first.

>> go ahead, senator.

>> the other difference with libya is the no-fly zone. libya didn't have the capacity to hit back. assad does. so when we do this, if we do this, we have to deal with other countries and we have to get the support are from the region.

>> we always work the political stuff here and so we find a solution we can believe in. is that a solution linked to reality on the ground? we know the dictator is a jerk. good guy rebels can be hard to find.

>> congressman, i've been thinking what is the relationship between the syria problem and how much time and energy that could occupy in this white house ? the president is focused on his legacy he's building in his second term and immigration and then, of course, there is the economy and whether there will ever be a budget deal. i look at those three areas and how they all come together. what is going to define this president's second term? it.

>> well, there's no question, david, that it's a full schedule, both foreign issues and domestic issues the president is dealing with. he just got into his second term, though. he's not quite leaving yet. and i think he's up for the task and congress is up for the task of dealing with these issues. i think you're going to see the president take some time to make sure the facts are right on syria when he makes a decision he'll act swiftly. i think the congress is going to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2013 . i think they'll bring the gun vote back. if not in 2013 then after the republican primary before the general election in 2014 to put pressure on those folks to vote a different way. i think on all of these fronts, president obama will leave his mark on some very big issues in our nation.

>> but, you know, karen, you saw this firsthand. president bush coming in in the second term and not succeeding on social security , the iraq war , you know, using so much of the capital and there goes immigration and all the rest. he's got -- the president has to coalesce around something that will define the second is term rather soon.

>> the clock is ticking. president obama 's presidency is defined by a health care law proving more difficult to implement and more costly than projected and massive build ups of debt and federal spending. that is his legacy at this point point. i do agree immigration reform has a good chance of passing. i thought he was shrewd to pick it up in the context of president bush 's library opening and to say president bush had it right on the immigration issue. no day in the presidency is an easy day with only one set of decisions. you have a will the of big things happening across the world and big, troubling issues to deal with.

>> chuck, you wrote this legacy issue in first read this week.

>> it is. karen, i'm curious if you were to sit down with president obama , how long would you tell him that he has for a legislative agenda in a second term?

>> probably a year. probably a year.

>> you have one year and i think that's what they're operating on. and i think that the gun thing, you know, they always knew they were going to lose. they just didn't know they were going to lose so quickly. it does put more pressure on immigration to get it done. there would be this concern. everybody -- there was this basically it was "the new york times," right, "the new york times," maureen dowd and others who just said, oh, wow. he's losing his ability to get things done. the gun vote was such a way to show how he doesn't know how to manage washington , this town. the gun vote was the wrong issue to pick on him on that. there is other evidence that he struggles managing washington , the gun vote was a different story. immigration is going to be the real test.

>> senator, what is your counsel at this point? i know you were among the women from the senate who met with him. one of the complaints on capitol hill the president is not working even his people enough to get some of the things he wants in an agenda.

>> well, now that he's put a minnesotan as chief of staff, mcdonough --

>> is there any other state today?

>> i think that his outreach has been really good this year. people have genuinely liked meeting with him and believe that he wants to move forward on a debt deal to bring the debt down in a balanced way. i think that's got to be part of his legacy as well to try to bring people together on that. the immigration bill , it was an incredible week for the immigration bill . we started the week with people saying we have to delay this because of boston and people like speaker boehner and ryan come out and say this means we have to speed this up because there's better security provisions in here. i think it's exciting. we had 23 witnesses on the judiciary committee and everyone from the migrant workers to grover norquist supporting it.

>> i want to come back to the issue of president bush 's legacy but the security threats facing president obama as well. i was in dallas covering the dedication of the bush presidential library and i had a chance to catch up with former bri british prime minister tony blair to talk about his thoughts on the middle east , the bush legacy , and some of the big foreign policy tests now facing president obama . you are in this pivot point politically of being so closely associated with president clinton politically, the new labor party , at a time he was refashioning the democratic party . and yet your legacy will forever also be intwined with president bush and his response to the war on terror . it's a very interesting place in political history .

>> there was a british prime minister when he was once asked what is the toughest thing about being prime minister he said events, dear boy , events. what happens is something comes of a game-changing nature or world -changing anywnature like 9/11 and everything changes. i was very closely associated with president clinton and still have a good and strong relationship with him because we were both progressive politicians of a centrist persuasion. when president bush first came in, frankly, in basic political terms, i really didn't have a lot in common. after 9/11, though, i thought it was really important our two countries stood together and i thought it was important that we took on this new menace with strength.

>> it was churchill who said during world war ii always stay close to the americans. and there was a moment in the bush presidency before the invasion, just weeks before at that now infamous meeting, and i'm told president bush said to you at a very delicate time for you politically back home, called you tony, presumably, said, back out if you need to. don't do this. don't stand by me when you have to go back and address parliament if it's going to cost you your leadership. tell me about that moment.

>> he did say that. he made it clear that he understood the huge political difficulties i had, and that i shouldn't, as it were, put my own premiership on the line. more important in a way, to him, i think, that i stayed. my attitude was, you know, there are lots of things in politics where you'll compromise and maybe back off exactly what you think you should do. these are often the run of the mill every day types of issues. when it comes to issues of war and peace and life and death , i think -- i came to the conclusion your proper obligation to your observe can country is to do what you think is right. i thought it was right to be with the u.s. at that moment in time and, you know, if i ended up losing my premier shship, that was that. but i didn't want to stay on a basis i wasn't on this issue of this importance and at the sighsiveness to the world , i didn't want to stay. i wanted to do what i thought was right. i thought the world had changed after 9/11 and that we had to take these decisions together.

>> in this library the president has decided not to separate out iraq . iraq is presented as part and parcel of the war on terrorism , which is how he saw it. but won't history judge that as a false impression that this was a war of choice that became a misa misadventure in the eyes of so many?

>> i think in the controversy around that, around how you categorize it, will remain. what i thought was removing sad saddam happened within a matter of weeks. you then spent the next eight, nine years in a different type of battle. and that was a battle against precisely the forces that are trying to destabilize the middle east today. al qaeda on the one side, iran on the other side, and this toxic cocktail, if you like, of religion, politics, ethnicity, tribalism. so i never said the two things would lead in that direct sense, 9/11 and iraq , i think the difficulties we end up encountering in iraq were difficulties that arose from precisely this force of terror unleashed by religious extremism. and i think that's, frankly, what we still face today if you see what's happening in syria today. that entirely encapsulates it as it does across north africa , yemen, further afield, countries like pakistan and iran.

>> it's striking as the president was opening his library today, there emerged reports out of syria that the assad regime may have used chemical weapons , a red line for this administration. what lessons did did you learn, did president bush learn, that you hope president obama takes into can account?

>> i think the lessons are really tough, you see, and very difficult. and i think the trouble is the lessons themselves are subject to great and heated debate. my view is that in the end the whole of the middle east and beyond is undergoing this period of huge transition where you have these dictatorial regimes whose time is up you. on the other hand, the battle for the future is between what i would call the modern minded types of people, the people who took to the streets first in egypt, who want what we want. but against them are various groups, islamist groups, that i'm afraid don't have the same concept, democracy or freedom that we do. and if any of them get hold of the potential to engage in mass destruction , we've got a huge problem on our hands.

>> and look what we're dealing with in the united states , the boston bombings, the prospect of home grown terror.

>> as we found in the uk.

>> britain has a lot of lessons to share about that.

>> no, are of course. and the fact is this ideology is being pumped around websites, is being encourage d by people in many different parts of the world . and it's there and it's very hard for us to deal with. the first obligation of a government that's trying to protect its people, but then you've got to cast out this ideology. i think this is very similar to the fight we faced in the 20th century against fascism and commu communi communism. it's an ideology. it's not one command and control center. you're not talking about a country, but you are talking about an ideology based on a possession of religion which has an enormous force. if you don't deal with this issue, this long-term question, ideology based on the religion of islam, you are going to end up fighting this for a long time.

>> you saw president bush up close as a man during very difficult times for any leader. talk about your relationship, what it was like to sit there today and this moment of finality even for a former president at the dedication of his library.

>> well, i thought it was a great advertisement for america today. you had five presidents including president obama , and all behaving with a sort of graciousness and civility towards each other i thought was fantastic. and president obama put his finger on it when he said it's impossible to know george bush and not like him. often people say to me back home, come on, you didn't like him really, did did you? i say, you can totally disagree with him but as a human being he is someone of immense character and genuine integrity. so, you know, you can say -- people have different views about decisions but there's very few people who don't like him and respect him as a person.

>> prime minister, thank you very much.

>> thank you.

>> prime minister tony blair . when we come back, more on the bush legacy with our round table. how will history judge the 43rd president. is the country done with the bushes? somebody brought [ agent