Meet the Press   |  December 15, 2013

3: Roundtable discusses NSA, Obama’s second term

A roundtable discusses Pope Francis’ selection as Person of the Year, the debate surrounding Edward Snowden and the president’s tough start to his second term.

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

>>> we're back here with our roundtable, nancy gibbs from time magazine . he's not the person of the year, but edward snowden was a significant figure. could we be having this debate without him?

>> no, and we interviewed him for our piece, and he pushed the point that the public has to have an informed debate about the surveillance capabilities, and when the public doesn't even know what the government is capable of doing, that debate isn't possible. he felt like his purpose was to make it clear this is what's going on, this is what government is capable of and these are the implications of possible free citizenship.

>> do you feel there would be too much political heat to pick edward snowden over pope francis?

>> i think both make center stage . in the case of the pope, it is the one the president was talking about again this week about inequality and the implications of growth of poverty around the world and responsibilities people have about that. i think it's hard to argue that is not also a crucial conversation. there are a lot of other reasons, too, i think the pope is a very significant figure, but there's no doubt edward snowden was significant.

>> why didn't we have a debate on the steps the government was taking in the name of our security?

>> we should have that debate, but i don't think snowden is a hero by far. i think he's caused a lot of damage to national security . who is he, 30 years old, a contractor, to decide that he discloses the strongest secrets in the u.s. government ? so my view, yeah, there should be a debate. it should be a debate in the congress. i think it's legitimate, for instance, to have this foreign intelligence court that decides who gets kind of spied upon. but let me also put another word in. i'm not going to be very popular. i was a policymaker for a while. what our intelligence community and the nsa gives policymakers is very useful for the national security of the united states . sure, you have to stop excesses, but to even think -- and i thought time's selection of the pope was great. but to even have snowden as somebody that is even being considered, i just don't see that. i think that's wrong. i don't think he's a traitor, but i think he should be prosecuted. nobody should have the right to disclose secrets, negotiations between our government on behalf of the people.

>> we have a cloak and dagger judicious system with regard to congress here, and you have people who aren't informed enough to make a decision.

>> i agree, i don't consider snowden a hero, but time wanted to consider him --

>> it's about impact.

>> it's about impact. his impact is significant not only in terms of our diplomatic relationships around the world, but putting it on the table, he has shifted the conversation politically as well. we do need to have this conversation, but he's had perhaps an unexpected effect, which is to alienate the millenials from the president, and they're less enchanted with him now primarily because of this surveillance issue. i think the key, what's missing from the conversation up to this point, has been transparency. you might be able to convince americans that some of this is necessary, but you ought to tell them you're doing it and why you're doing it.

>> here is one key form the president may or may not adapt, which is this metadata, the digital thumbprint, basically, the calls and things you visit could be warehoused by a third party, the phone company , but not by the government, which may be something the president will adopt.

>> that's a fascinating idea, but think about it. we're now going to trust the phone company with this data.

>> the phone company has always had it.

>> they've always had a certain amount of data and you always have this push and pull . it's almost like offense and defense in football. someone develops a new play and the defense comes back. we're at a point now where general hayden in that very good interview you had acknowledged this might be a moment to pull back. i'm wondering if it's possible to say two things are true simultaneously, governor richardson . it may be that snowden is wrong and ought to be prosecuted, but this is the only way we find out. even though members of congress do have information, they respond to public pressure . public pressure only comes from public debates and you only have a debate when you have someone who did something wrong like edward snowden .

>> i think the big cover-up i see is this levinson case in iran where the family of levinson was not, i don't think, told the truth about the status of the husband. i know we're not discussing it. so there are cover-ups, there are reforms that are needed in the intelligence community . but i just think unilaterally for somebody like snowden , a contractor, to be a liberator, i just don't see it.

>> katherine, you brought up the disa affectife disaffection that the president's supporters have of him. our poll showed job approval at a disappointing state. 54% disapproved about the obama presidency. he is at his moment here in the second term. how does he get out of it?

>> he's got to show leadership. that's the one thing he seems most reluctant to do. i always come back -- when these conversations come up, i always go back to this conversation i had with president george w. bush toward the end of his administration. and he said, you know, i have done the unpopular things, the hard things, talking about the patriots act and other things that were so unpopular at the time. the nex president is going to be glad i did it because he's going to need it. some of the policies we dislike so much, and certainly this falls in this category, may ultimately be necessary, but he's got to be the one that makes the case, and it's got to be made not only forcefully but with a true understanding of how americans respond to these intrusions upon their privacy. and obamacare, i don't think, is going to get more popular, frankly.

>> i'm not a believer in such a thing as a second term curse, but i believe it's a problem when your second term implements problems in the first. there are going to be new obamacare deadlines that we're coming up against regularly. if the story doesn't get better, not just the technology, but the story of whether people are losing their doctors, whether their out-of-pocket costs are going up, it's very interesting to see how he turns these numbers around. it isn't that other second term presidents haven't turned around in the past, bush did and president clinton did, but his are now the worst ever.

>> if you're out there and you don't think anything of congress, you don't think washington works, you got obamacare, you don't know what the future is of that, and then if the economy is bad, it's hard for obama to assert a legacy that's very positive.

>> it seems very hard right now, but there has been a lot of presidents that have low approval ratings , but the reality is he's still the president. we're in a situation where the president is not running for reelection and he's dealing with a lot of actors inside and outside of congress who will act on their own interests. so when they see cooperating with the president as something that might be in their interest, they're going to act and he's going to have opportunity to get things done. it's not impossible there could be, for example, immigration legislation to sign. his approval may not make much difference in this one way or another. it also may not happen.

>> i've been told the speaker of the house will push on immigration, governor, next year, even though there are some who think it may be better for the party to wait until 2015 when you need it for the 2016 cycle politically, but there's never going to be a better time to do it, you may as well try next year.

>> right, and i think republicans will be in deep trouble with hispanic voters unless they get away from this piecemeal approach in the house. i'm going to be an optimist here. i think this budget deal is a turning point. d disaffection shown by these party leaders. i think with obamacare, some of the glitches getting fixed, the potential immigration deal, possibly something on the debt limit, the president scores on a deal with iran, although i'm skeptical about it, i think he could turn things around. with podesta in the white house , i keep coming back to him, because i served when he was chief of staff. he makes things happen. talking to the president as a grown-up, i think, is what is needed, expanding his base of advisers.

>> let me get to another break here. i also want to talk about your book "how to sweet talk a shark." sweet title. we'll come back and talk a little bit more. when we come back here, he's called on his party to stop being the party of no. wisconsin's republican governor scott walker on the split within the gop we saw this weekend. his own alternative to obamacare out in the