Meet the Press   |  July 14, 2013

1: Reid, McConnell discuss stalemate on Hill, Zimmerman verdict

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell visit Meet the Press to discuss the latest congressional developments and the verdict issued in the George Zimmerman trial.

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>>> this sunday, the verdict is in. george zimmerman found not guilty in the shooting death of trayvon martin .

>> we, the jury, find george zimmerman not guilty.

>> a politically and racially charged trial put the spotlight on gun laws and civil rights and race in our society. where does the debate go now? the reverend al sharpton joins us.

>> live protest!

>> plus, the scene from the ground after the sheriff urges calm. and we'll hear from the mayor of the central florida town where the shooting and the trial took place.

>>> then, back in washington , a showdown on the senate floor puts washington dysfunction on full display.

>> if we don't pull back from the brink here, our friend, the majority leader , is going to be remembered as the worst leader of the senate ever.

>> no matter how often my friend rudely talks about me not breaking my word, i'm not going to respond talking about how many times he's broken his word.

>> this morning the majority and minority leaders of the u.s. senate will be here live. is there any room for compromise on the big issues facing the country -- health care , jobs, and the economy? or are the two parties entrenched, awaiting the next election? majority leader harry reid and minority leader mitch mcconnell square off.

>>> plus, our roundtable weighs in on the politics of immigration, abortion, and the busy and lucrative life of a former cabinet second toir, potential 2016 powerhouse.retary, potential 2016 powerhouse.

>> good sunday morning. a lot of news this sunday morni morning. after deliberating 16 hours and 20 minutes , not guilty says the jury in the george zimmerman trial, the trial filled with 12 days of emotional testimony and conflicting versions of what happened the night 16 months ago when trayvon martin was shot and killed. for reaction to the verdict, remaining questions, and what it all means, first we want to go live to sanford , florida . nbc's kerry sanders who has been covering this case from the beginning. there was concern about negative reaction to this verdict perhaps spilling into the streets. the good news this morning, people just waking up, it has not been a violent night. is that right?

>> reporter: that is correct. peaceful here, peaceful in south florida where trayvon martin was from. i was in the courtroom when the six female jurors entered the courtroom. as they walked in, not one of them looked over towards george zimmerman sitting at the defense table. he stood up. they sat down. then as the verdict was actually read in the court by the clerk of the courts, again, not one of those jurors looked over at george zimmerman . they were then polled by the attorneys, as is custom, whether they had a unanimous decision, and then they left, again, not looking at george zimmerman . this was a jury of six, six women, five of them mothers, five of them white, one of them described by the prosecutor as either black or hispanic, two of them gun owners . after they left, outside there was a fair amount of noise outside the courthouse that could not be heard up on the fifth floor. the jurors did not hear that. the rally was primarily those -- at least those who were most vocal were those who were disappointed with the outcome, complaining that they felt that the system had not delivered a verdict that they wanted. this is a community here of about -- well, we do the breakdown here, it's 78% white, it's 17% hispanic, and it's 11% black. and the complaints have been since the very beginning here primarily from the african-american community that the system did not seem to represent them from the very beginning with the police department . there have been changes over time . the police chief has been removed. the lead detective who was strongly criticized at the beginning, he remains on the police department . he is the one who had put together an arrest affidavit. well, they never actually executed that arrest affidavit. he was eventually put back in uniform, working occasionally on the night shift , but he's still here with the police department .

>> all right.

>> reporter: looking forward for this community , they now, david , have to continue to see if they can make the community more inclusive. and part of that is waiting for a report from the department of justice , the fbi civil rights division launching an investigation here to see whether this community can move forward together.

>> all right. kerry sanders in sanford for us this morning, thanks as always. let me widen the the discussion a little bit. joining me the president and the founder of the national action network and host of "politics nation," the reverend al sharpton . the mayor of sanford , florida , jeff triplett is with us, and savannah guthrie , who of course is co-host of the "today" show, also nbc's chief legal correspondent. welcome to all of you. reverend sharpton , this is how "the huffington post " described it, a banner headline, not guilty" with an asterisk but not innocent. that's how you view it. where does it go next?

>> it goes to the justice department . clearly there are grounds for civil rights charges here. the mother and father of trayvon martin and i with their lawyers met with the u.s. attorney in florida the day i went down to organize the first national rally there. and we always said there would be a plan b , but there needed to be a plan a. there would never have been protests if there had been an arrest and if the police department did there did what it was supposed to do.

>> you wanted zimmerman to have a fair trial . that's what you were pushing for before charges were ultimately filed. was this not a fair trial ?

>> the trial happened. the verdict came in. it does not exhaust the legal options of this family and the bigger community issues of civil rights . we now have a position on the books in the state of florida where an unarmed teenager who committed no crime can be killed and the killer can say self- defense . that is dangerous. that is an atrocity. and i think that must be addressed. i think every american ought to be afraid that my child can do nothing wrong and can be killed and you can use self- defense and tell four or five different stories that end up being inconsistent and still walk away .

>> you disagree with the verdict, but you don't question that it was a fair trial . if you wanted him to have a day in court, that happened, that part of the process worked.

>> i question the state law . i question -- yeah, there could have been some things done differently at trial, but the real object now is to move forward on dealing with the state law and the civil rights . and as we mobilize, as you know martin luther king iii and i are having the march on washington on his father's "i have a dream" speech, how do we have this country with dr. king's dream 50 years later and you can't walk an innocent child through a neighborhood without the child being harmed, lest known killed, and nobody can say i watched the whole trial, no one can say what trayvon martin did wrong? they always get away with it, zimmerman said. who is "they" getting away with what? that's the basis of the civil rights inquiry.

>> mayor triplett in sanford , one of the reasons i want to talk about this morning is the political element to this going back to the shooting and trayvon martin 's death initially. president obama weighed in at the time and his comments were striking. this is what he said then.

>> my main message is to the parents of trayvon martin . you know, if i had a son, he'd look like trayvon, and, you know, i think they are right to expect that all of us as americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and this we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.

>> has that been achieved, may wror? did we get to the bottom of what happened?

>> we said from day one that we were seeking justice when the demonstrations came to the city of sanford , that they wanted mr. zimmerman to sit in front of a jury of his peers. that's what's taken place. and they have spoken. they've listened to both sides of it. you know, we've done a lot within the city of sanford to make it a better place . through tragedy comes an opportunity is kind of the way we're looking at it. we've set up blue-ribbon panels, community panels, set up community panels, set up conversations on walk-and-talks with our police department and our community , and we're moving towards a trustful relationship between -- you know, between city hall , the police department , and our community . so we're getting -- we're a better people .

>> to reverend sharpton 's point, did trayvon martin do anything wrong? can you address that point and the tension that comes with that in this situation?

>> that was for the prosecution and for the defense to fight out in court. we saw it. we really didn't have a dog in that fight, so to speak. you know, we were -- our biggest concern was for the safety of the people, the citizens of sanford .

>> and savannah guthrie , the legal part of this is important because ultimately it's the question of whether there was too much pressure brought to bear by reverend sharpton and others to bring charges that some have said amounted to overcharging george zimmerman .

>> some people think it's an overcharge, that the prosecutors didn't have sufficient evidence for second-degree murder conviction, but the fact of the matter is the jurors were able to consider the full range of options. they could look at second-degree murder. they could look at the lesser charge of manslaughter. and ultimately, this came down to not any particular particularity of florida law but basic self- defense principles that are enshrined in every state in this country which is, look, if somebody fears reasonably they are in danger of great bodily harm or injury, it's the prosecutor's burden basically to disprove self- defense . this comes down to that concept of reasonable doubt . it's not necessarily that jurors by their verdict are saying we believe george zimmerman acted in self- defense . what they're saying is we don't believe that the prosecutors proved he didn't act in self- defense . that's basically what this verdict comes down to.

>> and quickly, the news from reverend harpton this morning, he and the family met with a u.s. attorney . there will be pressure brought to pursue civil rights charges. we've seen that before in the case of rodney king and the officers there. do you think there's much grounds to move forward there?

>> well, look, the reason why some people thought second-degree murder was an overcharge was because they didn't think there was sufficient evidence to establish that mental state , depraved mind, hate in the heart, spite, ill will . that would be the key element of a hate crimes charge. so the federal government will look at it. that investigation has been on hold. whether the department of justice pursues charges we'll have to wait and see. there's still an option of a civil suit by the parents. the burden of proof or the standard of proof is a lot less. george zimmerman could be forced to testify and be cross-examined so, you may see a different result there. but that's not an issue of whether he would go to jail. that would ultimately be an issue of whether he had to pay money damages .

>> thank you all very much. we'll continue the discussion. reverend al, you'll stick around for our roundtable.

>>> we want to switch gears and talk about politics and the war of words in washington . on the senate floor, a pretty tension-filled day on friday over republicans using senate filibuster rules to block a confirmation of several obama administration nominees. some nominees particularly important to organized labor in this country and particularly important to the administration. the minority leader speaking on friday.

>> what the majority leader has been saying all along is he wants the confirmation process to be speedy, and for the minority to sit down and shut up. he believes that advise and consent means sit down and shut up. confirm these nominees when i tell you to.

>> we'll hear from the minority leader , mitch mcconnell , shortly, but we want to start with the majority leader of the senate , harry reid . both are here exclusively this morning. leader reid, always good to have you here. welcome.

>> thank you, david .

>> before we get to the senate business and the debate there, the zimmerman trial, the verdict. was justice done here? you spoke out about it after the shooting.

>> david , i am a trial lawyer , have been over 100 cases to jury, i don't always agree with what the jury does, but that's the system. and i support this system. now, i may have -- feel differently, but i wasn't sitting as a juror or a prosecutor or defense attorney . so i'll accept the verdict and take a look at the law that they have in florida that is so unusual.

>> the stand-your-ground law, the self- defense law.

>>> i think that's up to the state. i think they should revisit that.

>> is there a new racial wound that you think needs to be addressed and healed as a result of this in this country?

>> i heard the mayor. i think that he should continue on a path that he outlined.

>> and the president, does he have a role in speaking about it as he did after the shooting?

>> yeah, of course. and i think the justice department 's going to take a look at this. you know, this isn't over with, and i think that's good, that's our system. it's gotten better, not worse.

>> let me switch gears to what's happening in the senate and this war of words between you and the minority leader . there's a lot of minutia about the rules that people may not follow. it basically boils down to whether the minority party can and should be able to stop the majority party from getting something done. and as we talk about -- what's striking to me, leader mcconnell was on this program nearly two years ago. this is what he said about the concept of divided government then.

>> you know, divided government , that is when neither party controls the entire government, is the perfect time to do big stuff.

>> the perfect time to do big stuff. so what's happened? why hasn't it worked the way you thought it would?

>> mitch is going to be on a little later, and i'm -- he's going to defend the status quo . is there anyone out there in the world, real world , that believes that what's going on in the congress of the united states is good? our approval rating is lower than north korea 's. it is really, really difficult. and, david , let's talk about what is happening. we're not doing anything that affects lifetime appointments. we're doing nothing that affects legislation. here's what we're doing. a president, whether it's president obama , the new president clinton , or the new bush, whoever is president should be able to have the people on their team that they want. now, the sky is falling. i have been leader for about the same time lyndon johnson was. during the time he was leader , one filibuster. me, 420. during the time that president obama has been president, he's had 16 filibusters against his nominations. during the entire history of this country, the country, there's only been 20. and changing the rules is like the sky is falling. we've done -- during the last 36, we've done 18 times, just a year ago.

>> but here's --

>> no, listen. i want everyone to hear this. the changes we're making are very, very minimal. what we're doing is saying, look american people , shouldn't president obama have somebody working for him that he wants? the 15 people that we found cloture on that are pending, they've been waiting an average of nine months, nine months. is that good? do we want to continue that? so we're going to make a simple change. what we're going to do is say in the future, just like the constitution outlines, the constitution's pretty specific, if you want a super majority vote, look at what a veto is or a treaty, but if you want to look at the nomination, you know what the founding fathers said, simple majority . that's what we need.

>> you wrote in your own book in 2008 with regard to the potential rule change over judicial nominees, which is not at play here, in fwooif, you wloet, "in a fit of partisan fury they were trying to blow up the senate . senate rules can only be changed by a two-thirds vote in the senate or 67 senators. the republicans were going to do it illegally with a simple majority of 51." you're saying is sky is not falling when republicans did it, you said it was illegal to do what you want to do.

>> but you've answered my question. we're not touching judges. that's what that was talking about. this is not judges. this is not legislation. this is allowing the people of america to have a president who can have his team, to have his team in place. this is nothing like went on before. remember, remember what's going on. this president has had 16 executive nominations filibustered. we have now 15 pending waiting an average of -- waiting an average of -- i lost my number there for a second -- but they've been waiting an average of nine months. nine months. the three that you talk about all the time, this is wild-eyed liberal they don't like, you know who he worked for? bourque. he was a clerk for judge bourque. a clerk for justice kennedy . they have nothing against the qualifications. they don't like the jobs these people have. qualifications, consumer protected against wall street , that's what he is. we have secretary of labor. they don't like that -- created during the depression.they don't like that because this man, perez, who's worked so hard, he was a garbage man during the time he was going through school. perez, you see, wantings to be secretary of labor. we'd been waiting for months and months. finally, two members of the national labor relations board , what does this do? it protects american workers from the abuse of employers. they've been waiting two years. how do you like that one? and we're making big changes? all we're doing is doing what the constitution says. let these -- appoint these people by the president, let us approve them with simple majority .

>> another issue that is dividing congress is whether we're going to get immigration reform . the senate has acted. it now moves to the house . do you see this being acted upon by the house or dieing a slow death?

>> david , the legislation's been hard to come by because of the obstruction of the republicans . i'm very happy, and we are so fortunate as a country, that one big issue we've had eight very wise senators, four republicans and four democrats, work together to come up with a bill. you know, my friend the republican leader will get on here and say we haven't been able to do the farm bill . we did immigration. as if p we should be celebrating. it used to be we did big legislation all the time.

>> but i'm asking you in this case, will the house act?

>> yes, they will act. they have to. this is something that -- the vast, vast majority of republican, democrat, and independents support, and john boehner should let the house vote. that's all he has to do. if the house voted it would pass overwhelm lig.

>> but the specific complaint by house conservatives distill bidwill yam krystal and rich lowry , and they write this -- "the bill's fatal deficiency is it doesn't solve the illegal immigration problem. the enforcement provisions are riddled with exceptions, loopholes, waivers. every indication is they are for show and will be disregarded just as prior national requirements to build a fence have been and just as president obama has recently announced he's ignoring aspects of obama care that are inconvenient to enforce on schedule. why won't we waive a requirement for the use of e-verify in the workplace just as he's unilaterally delayed the employer mandate?"

>> if we were in the courtroom, i would object to your question because there are so many different questions, but i'll try to answer. first of all, obama care, whatever comes up, republicans throw that in. you realized they've voted to repeal it 40 times? what's happened 40 times, of course it's failed. obama care has been wonderful for america . 6 million seniors get wellness checks now. 3.1 million young people now have insurance that insurers can't rip off people anymore. that's why people got millions of dollars of refunds last year. if you have a pre-existing disability, you're covered. they should just get real and understand this is a law that's important. and they need to work with us to improve it.

>> the narrow question, the specific charge on immigration.

>> immigration. we have the chamber of commerce , conservative groups all over america running ads telling republicans , vote for this. this is a good bill. it gives us security on our border, and it gives people who are here a pathway to citizenship. and, david , finally, it saves the country a trillion dollars. it's good for the economy. not a billion. not a million. a trillion.

>> all of these issues could play out in the midterm race, including abortion. you now have states voting to ban abortion after 20 weeks. will this come up? is it reasonable for it to come up in the united states senate ? you've described yourself as pro-life in the past. is it not reasonable to put some restrictions on late-term abortion as we're seeing in the states?

>> david , we had a transportation, infrastructure, construction development bill. so important. it was agreed upon. chairman boxer, ranking member hough. you know what happened? it was filibustered because they wanted to prevent women from having contraceptives. it took us a month to get that off the floor before we could vote and defeat that. they can offer an amendment, the senate .

>> on the substance, is that reasonable or unreasonable?

>> i think we should deal with the problems that affect this country. we need to do something to help the american working class and stop worrying about fringe issues.

>> is it unreasonable to put restrictions on abortion after 20 weeks?

>> i'm happy to take a look at this. i repeat, let's do things that the vast majority of the american people think we should deal with.

>> leader harry reid , thank you very much. more to come on all of these things. appreciate you being here.

>>> now to respond. the leading republican in the senate , mitch mcconnell , of kentucky. senator, welcome back to you. having a difficult time hearing you. we'll try to establish that. let me get my first question in. your reaction to hearing your colleague say, look, this is different. changes the rules here is not like it's been in the past with regard to judicial nominations. it is appropriate for the majority to be able to get the work done at once.

>> yeah. the reason we call it the the nuclear option , david , is because it's breaking the rules of the senate in order to change the rules of the senate , which the majority leader , as you pointed out, in his book, indicated was something we should never do. look, rather than getting down in the weeds on the rules, what is the problem here? the president has had 1,540 of his nominations confirmed, only 4 defeated. he's not lost a single member of the cabinet. he's getting them faster than president bush was at the same time in his second term. the majority leader needs to bring these nominees up. most of them are going to be confirmed. it really kind of comes down to three appointments that the federal courts have told us were unconstitutionally recess appointed. two members of the nlrb and the cfpb. we need to talk about that. and we're going to talk about it at a rather unusual joint session in the old senate chamber on monday of all senators. we need to start talking to each other instead of at each other, and see if we can't resolve this in the same way that we did ten years ago when republicans had genuine provocation. we charles hadlock five of president bush 's circuit court nominees defeated by filibuster. here, nobody's been defeated. they've all been confirmed. and that's why we're wondering why the majority leader is thinking about the nuclear trigger when all the president's nominees are being confirmed.

>> but just as there are past statements that senator reid made that speak to sort of the folly of washington in a lot of people's minds, here you are back in march of 2005 on cnbc advocating for the thing that he's talking about now. this is what you said.

>> what they did last congress was change 200 years of history during which we had never killed executive branch nominations by use of the filibuster. they introduced that. it's a terrible precedent. the senate can, with 51 votes, not 60, reverse that precedent. and i believe that it's time to do that, and i believe that we will go forward with that at a time of the majority leader 's calling.

>> so you were for it then, you think it's outrageous now.

>> look, i'm glad we didn't do it. the provocation was that five circuit court nominations had been defeated with a filibuster for the first time in american history . the democrats invented that. we went to the brink, and we pulled back, because cooler heads prevailed, and we knew it would be a mistake for the long-term future of the senate and the country. that's what i hope is going to happen here, david . we have an opportunity to pull back from the brink in this joint meeting that we're going to have of all senators in the old senate chamber monday night. i hope we'll come to our senses and not change the core of the senate . we have never changed the rules of the senate by breaking the rules of the senate in order to diminish the voices of individual senators. we've never done that. we sure shouldn't start it now, particularly since every one of the president's nominees that would be subject to this rule change have been confirmed.

>> do you really believe that your old friend and colleague harry reid is the worst senate leader ever if he goes forward with this?

>> no. he won't be if he pulls back from the brink as we did ten years ago. we had much more serious case then than he has now. he's a reasonable man. he's a good majority leader . and we're going to have a chance to air all of this out in a joint conference with all of our members monday, and i'm hoping we won't make this big mistake .

>> one more on this. secretary napolitano of homeland security is now stepping down. do you now see a nomination fight over key security post depending on who the president puts forward, particularly with the immigration debate , a key component of what the secretary of homeland security does?

>> well, guys in your line of work tend to use the word "fight" when we're having a debate. some of the president's nominees have been quite controversial. i mean, that's what we do in the senate . we have big debates over big issues. but they've all been confirmed. we'll take a look at whoever the new secretary of homeland security is. i can't guarantee you there won't be a spirited debate. look, we have over 300 million people in this country. we don't always agree on everything. and they elect us to come to washington , and we have some big disagreements and big debates. but sooner or later , when it comes to to nominations, as i've indicated, the president hasn't lost anybody. he hasn't lost anybody. are they saying they don't want us to even debate these nomination? and crs says they're getting them more rapidly than president bush got his. that's why we're wondering why this threat to blow the senate up when the president's getting his nominees.

>> on the issue of immigration, which i just referred to a moment ago, how important is it to you to act this year, to get some kind of reform?

>> well, i hope we can. as you know, david , i'm the proud husband of an immigrant. a young girl came here at age 8 not speaking a word of english. in fact, her parents didn't have enough money for a plane ticket. they came over on a freighter with a freight. my wife, elaine chao , became secretary of labor and was in president bush 's cabinet. i'm a big fan of what illegal immigration has done for our country. i hope, even though the senate bill in my view is deficient on the issue of border security , i hope we can get an outcome for the country that improves the current situation. i don't think anybody is satisfied with the status quo on immigration, and i hope the house will be able to move forward on something and we can get this into conference and get an outcome that will be satisfactory for the american people .

>> how do you deal with 11 million or 12 million illegal immigrants in the country now without a pathway to citizenship? is that dead on arrival if that remains?

>> well, you know, i think the stickiest issue actually the border security . question is can we actually get the border secure and not have this happen again. that's the skikiestitickiest issue. i hope the house will concentrate on that. we need to seriously beef up the border security part. i think that's the key to getting a final outcome.

>> i want to talk about obama care and the implementation, which is controversial, a lot of senators on your side talking about repealing obama care. as they've tried to publicize this law and get people familiar with what is possible as they're setting up exchanges around the country, this is a letter that you wrote to the nfl commissioner, one of the leagues who were going to help in publicizing this. you wrote, "given the divisiveness and per sis sent unpopularity of this bill, it is difficult to understand why an organization like yours would risk damaging its inclusive and apolitical brand by lending its name to its promotion." i read the letter, leader mcconnell , and it was striking how political it was, that letter you wrote to them. you referred to it as a bill. it's actually the law of the land , which has even been affirmed by the supreme court . how can you write such a letter at a time when don't you feel the need for people to understand what the new law is?

>> well, the president himself seems to not think parts of the law ought to be implemented. i mean, he is selectively delaying parts of it as if it's all just kind of a smorgasbord of options for him to figure out which ones to execute and which part of the law not to execute.

>> a delay is not a failure to execute.

>> for example, they decided to say never mind on the employer mandate. what about the individual mandate? does the president get to decide which parts of the law to comply with and which parts not? it's a massive, complicated, unpopular bill. obviously, if we had the votes we would repeal it. but the president himself --

>> but leader , it's not a bill. you support the democratic to process. this is not a bill.

>> now it's law.

>> you refer to it as a bill. doesn't that undermine the view -- if the shoe were on the other foot and there were a law that was passed by republicans in congress, would you not refer to it as the law of the land and want to see it implemented as best it could be despite the fact that you disagree with it?

>> well, of course it's the law of the land , and i wonder why the president himself is delaying various parts of it. he, you could argue, is not executing or implementing the law that he thinks is such a wonderful thing for the country. look, this is a big controversial issue. it's not going away. it's in all likelihood going to be the premier issue in the 2014 election. the american people dislike it even more now than they did when it was passed, and they hope that the congress will respond to their desire to stop this train wreck before it happens.

>> final point here. another divisive issue. that is a potential part of the republican agenda this year. and that is tax reform . are you for tax reform , or might you even support some in the republican caucus and others who are calling to -- for abolishment, to get rid of the internal revenue service ?

>> what i would like to see is the same kind of premise that ronald reagan and tip o'neill, a republican and a democrat, had back in the '80s. and the premise was this -- we're going to do tax reform , but it will be revenue neutral to the government. in other words, the government doesn't gain revenue for itself. it's for flattening out the tax rate , making our country more competitive. if we can agree in advance that the exercise will be conducted within those parameters, that it's not a tax increase for the federal government , then i think it would be a very good thing for our country to do comprehensive tax reform , lower the rates, and make america more competitive in the global economy .

>> all right. leader mcconnell , a lot of debates on a lot of issues that we'll continue. appreciate your time this morning.

>> thank you.

>>> and coming up here, all eyes now on the house , as we've been talking about, as it grapples with immigration reform . some are asking if the momentum has stalled. we'll talk about wit our political roundtable coming up after this