Meet the Press   |  February 02, 2014

Christie Faces Big Battle; A Look Inside the Obama Agenda

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough visits Meet the Press to discuss the administration's priorities, a roundtable examines the challenges facing Chris Christie and Sen. Tim Scott discusses racism and the GOP.

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

>>> from nbc news in washington , the world's longest running television program , this is "meet the press" with david gregory .

>> and good sunday morning. all eyes on new jersey, of course, but it's not just today's super bowl at metlife stadium that has people focused on the state . new jersey governor chris christie , it could be a big moment for him, obviously, with the super bowl there. instead he's also in the fight of his political life . he's got new charges he's facing now that he knew about the lane closures at the time they were happening. but there's been no evidence provided to backup those claims. is this truly a bottom shell or is it nothing? how much fight does president obama have left in his second term? dpard to last year, his state of the union speech had less agenda. how much of his presidential power does he have to go it alone? and on this be super bowl sunday, the biggest threat to the future of football. why 40% of parents say they won't let their kids play. and why some nfl players from brett favre to joe name act say they're having long-term problems. doris kearns-goodwin is here is, robert gibbs , rich lowry , gwen ifill from pbs, chuck todd . chuck, the tabloid treatment of christie over this weekend has been tough. look at it on the screen, christie new. your lying gov. is this more hype than real?

>> christie obviously believes it's more hype than real. you do have david wildstein with his own motivations, legal bills. this is the advice that is chris christie is in, he's got three people that essentially were thrown under the bus in some form or another is, wildstein, bridget kelly and his long-time campaign guy. all of them, if forced to pick between their own survival, this becomes a game of survival, that's where christie is in trouble. that's what wildstein has been hinting on this. this story is no longer whether chris christie kk survive to become a viable presidential candidate . it's about whether he can save his own governorship. stop thinking about the presidential race .

>> before getting through this. gwenn, one of the things they're doing in the governor's office is hitting wildstein hard. putting out five things you should know including as a 16-year-old kid he sued over a local school board election.

>> that didn't strengthen my faith in their argument, the idea you're going back to high school to make the case. his big mistake in his press conference was attacking wildstein saying he was a loser in high school . we've all been through high school and remember what those feelings were like. it seems like a distraction when the more serious question at hand is what he knew and what he was going to do about it and whether he was creating a culture among the people who worked for him who would do this even if he didn't know about it. this is supposed to be his big weekend . he was supposed to be in new jersey presiding over the super bowl everybody thinks is in new york .

>> that could be a whole discussion itself.

>> and instead, he's back in the corner again.

>> i want to get more comment on this. kelly o'donnell is up in new jersey today closely following the bridge scandal. i want to have you bring us up to date what we're dealing with, who david wildstein is. what have you got, kelly .

>> good morning, david . for governor christie , this really is a multifront media plan. governor christie has been trying to be visible with the super bowl -related events but his team had two responses to these latest claims. on friday, a pretty standard low key defense, but by sat this more personal attack on the former port authority appointee who has been making waves . despite being the host governor --

>> good afternoon, arf.

>> knowledges's chris christie did not appear to get the home field advantage saturday as noticeable boos came from a super bowl crowd in new york city 's times square .

>> and we look forward to hosting everybody.

>> late saturday nbc news obtained a christie office memo being sent to his supporters that aggressively pushes back against both "the new york times" which first reported the allegations made by former port authority david wildstein and then takes on wildstein's personal character concluding that?

>> david wildstein will do and save anything to save david wildstein." a former christie ali, wildstein and then took the fifth in january.

>> i respectfully assert my right to remain silent.

>> dangled hints that christie may know more about the bridge traffic scandal.

>> i had no knowledge or involvement in this issue in its planning or its execution.

>> reporter: wildstein's attorney wrote "evidence exists can tying mr. christie to having knowledge of the lane closures during the period when the lanes were closed contrary to what the governor stated publicly."

>> would you reconsider?

>> wildstein's central role in the scandal makes his claims intrig intriguing, but he offers no specific evidence.

>> well, david wildstein claims that evidence exists but what's left unanswered is what kind of evidence, who has that evidence and does it say anything about whether christie knew the motivation behind the lane closures .

>> reporter: and the context of thisler is important, too. . wildstein's lawyer was sending the letter to the wildstein's former employer, the port authority and making the argument that that agency should reverse its decision and actually pay wildstein's legal bills and indemny phi him against lawsuits. of course, like so many things in jersey politics, this has become oh, so personal.

>> thank you so much. rich lowry , look, wildstein provided 900 pages of information and communications to the legislature. none of it mentioned that he didn't seek the whole truth will about this. what's the big thing that could come out of this?

>> the facts really matter, and if christie wasn't telling the truth, he's left so many hostages to fortune here, the truth will come out. just the turn about in his fortune is incredible because the whole strategy was to win a huge re-election and then bragging about that all around the country and use that as a launching pad for his presidential campaign . now he's having to accepted out press reeses basically accusing one of his former associates of sticking gum under his desk to discredit him.

>> he's saying there's evidence to suggesting that christie wasn't being truthful when he said i only found out about this after the fact, after the lanes where is reopened. so he may have known about the closures while they were happening.

>> right. so that's the -- that still doesn't get us to whether he planned the thing.

>> the big danger has always been from the moment chris christie uttered the words that he had absolutely no knowledge of this and when he walked out from behind the podium after the two-hour press conference, he had entered into the record basically his testimony. if anyone could call into question the veracity of that testimony in the months ahead with lawyers and an investigation, this would crumble completely for chris christie . i agree with chuck. the notion that we're talking about this as what is this going to do to his presidential campaign , the largest newspaper in the state says if this is true, he should resign or be impeached. i think the clock is ticking on whether he's the chair of the rga. why wouldn't they get rid of this now and whether or not in a year we'll still call him governor christie .

>> big leadership moment, that's what you think about his leadership over time .

>> it certainly was a bravura performance when he made the two-hour press conference. he made it so convincing, that he left himself little alone. it seems the shadow of the presidency only falls on a few people and it fell on olympian christie after he did so well with sandy and the big election. that was the time when he had to evolve into i an different kind of leader. if he had done petty payback things, you have to say i'm on a bigger change, i've got to change my way being. what the whole thing calls into question even none of this gets further than it is is the culture he created that allowed aides to think i can do this thing, i can play without telling the guy. either he didn't know which says something bad or if he did know, it says something far worse.

>> i'm going to speak to the man leading the bridge scandal investigation. i'll talk to him later from the new jersey legislature. now i want to talk about president obama and what he's calling his year of action. he went on the road this week to make his case for the initiatives he laid out in the state of the union case.

>> the question i posed to kong dress yesterday is whether folks in washington are going to help or they're going to hinder the progress we've been making. whether they're going to waste time creating new crises that slows down our economy or they're going to spend time creating new jobs and new opportunities and i don't know what their plans are but i choose a year of action.

>> joining me now denis mcdonough , are welcome back to "meet the press." here's my question. he's got more than 1,000 days left. to a lot of people, it seems like a smaller state of the union , that his agenda is smaller. a shrinking presidency. last year he talked about gun control, talked about climate change . remaking the health care system . has he gone small?

>> if you think about the things he laid out on the table this week, $10.10 an hour minimum wage is not going to be small for the hundreds of thousands of people who lift from that. long-term employment, the president bringing in 300 of the country's biggest employers to say to them, hey, let's resolve this issue that's dogging our economy and when those guys get a fair shot at a job and in fact, a new job at some point, that's not going to be small to them. later this week, you'll hear the president talk about connect ed, an opportunity where several private american companies will commit over a half billion dollars to insure our schools across the country have the kind of technology so that your 0 kids can compete in this economy. fcc says it's going to wire 50,000 schools, get 20 million kids online in the kind of learning not the way you and i grew up which is you had a computer science lab where you went to once a day. they sit at their tables all day, the laptops with tablets. that's the kind of education he wants kids to have.

>> i'm not saying these issues are unimportant, but this is a president ho had big apple big after a very tough year, do you conceive that he looks at washington and says, maybe i have to be a little less ambitious about what we can actually achieve here?

>> no, i don't. i concede that the president doesn't spend a lot of time looking at washington . he spends a lot of time looking at what families across the country want. they want clear discernible concrete actions that he can take so that he can move this thing forward, not wait for congress which you've said many times on this show and during the course of this week as you commented about the speech, congress has not lived up to its past experience and in fact, one that's been quite slow.

>> yeah. the issue of the economy is a big one. do you ever wonder why the president doesn't get more credit for an economy that is rebounding? ing

>> i don't spend a lot of time wondering about credit for the president. he doesn't. i don't wonder about anything other than how do we make sure that people want a fair shake. the fundamental it will premise of the country which is you play by the rules, work hard and you get a chance to get ahead.

>> here's a few newsy items. one has to do with the keystone pipeline , the ability to move all of that oil down through the middle of the country. republicans have been calling for this. they say it's big for jobs. a report from the state department says there's no real impact on the climate. is this thing ready to be green lighted by the president? what would hold him back from saying the pipeline should go forward?

>> he laid out his view on this last summer. if this is to go forward, it should not exacerbate the climate crisis in this country.

>> didn't the state department say it won't?

>> the friday report is the an important input into the process. we'll hear from other cabinet secretaries . think about this for a second. this year for the last three months of last year, october, november, december, we produced more oil than we imported for the first time.

>> you didn't answer myquette.

>> another thing. this morning in the "new york times," terrible drought in the west including california as a result of climate change . we're going to resolve the keystone question, but that's one in a much bigger issue.

>> but i'm focused on it so indulge me. what would stop him from saying yes at this point given his own state department saying there's not a big impact on the climate from doing this?

>> he's been very clear he's going to insulate this process from politics. washington loves politics.

>> you got a state department study.

>> we have one department with a study. now we have other expert agencies. the epa and many others, the energy department , who had an opportunity to look at this and make their determination. the president wants make this decision based on the most sound science .

>> where is the sweet spot on immigration? do you think you have a deal that can provide a pathway to legal status , and if it falls short of citizenship, could the president live with that.

>> the president's principles on immigration have been out there for some time. the bottom line , he does not want to see an in irk where we have two permanent classes, citizens and noncitizens as we proceed. that's his principle. nevertheless, the principles that were laid out by the republican leadership towards the end of last week, we think that's a pretty good step, pretty good progress in this debate coming from are with they were to where they are now. our job is to step back, let the debate happen in the house. we'll continue to press for our principles. the house democrats will, as well. we feel pea pretty good we'll get a bill done this year.

>> you assume obamacare is here to stay. what's one thing the president could live with if the republicans said here's a change we want to make?

>> i wish they were talking about it, but their position is fundamentally let's epeel this. a bill introduced earlier this week by several republicans in the senate all great people including doc coburn. you know what the first provision was? repeal obamacare, the affordable care act . if that's what they want to do -- ings.

>> harry reid said there's substantive changes you can make.

>> we're happy to look at all sorts of changes to make this better and trying to meet with democrats and republicans to do just that.

>> is the health care law as strong as it could be.

>> no law is as strong as it could be out of the block. when you've seen big changes in social positions, congress tinkers with it, identifies problems. a very interesting situation earlier this week where a person called her congressman asking for help on the law. . the congressman didn't decide to try to help use the marketplaces, use technology to fiend a cheaper more affordable quality health care plan. they just let that person toil under the plan they had developed. and that's not the way we should work. we should take the law, improve it where we can, help constituents where we can to get quality affordable health care .

>> are you persuaded, is the president persuaded the olympic games will be safe?

>> we're following this very, very closely, we're in close touch with the russians. as we get new information, we're sharing it.

>> is there any information you've got that disturbs it the president.

>> we're always looking for more information. you're going to see different threats at different times. when we will have new information, we'll share it. we ask american people to go to the state department website, check in with the state department when the they travel. we'll make sure we share information when we get it.

>> is the president an asset or liability to democrats in this campaign year?

>> the president is an asset to democrats , the president is an asset using the great power in this office as you'll see later this week when he talks about this opportunity to wire schools. you know, 15,000 of them, 20 million students getting access.

>> so it would be a mistake if democrats don't want the president to campaign with them?

>> i'll leave it to democrats to make their decision how they want to run their campaigns. they're very good at that. we're good at focusing on the economy, getting the kind of clear attainable goals laid out that the president put in the speech the other night. that's what we're focused on, an methat works for us.

>> speaker boehner said he wants to see the republican party as a party of alternative ideas. is that what the party is now?

>> is the republican party ? i'll let them characterize themselves. they introduced the s.t.o.p. act this week. if there was ever a fitting bill for them to introduce after the last several years, surely the s.t.o.p. act is one.

>> you're a football player.

>> i am, i was.

>> would you let your sons play?

>> this is a subject my wife and i talk about quite a bit. so they're young guys now. weigh see what happens pap they're great soccer players, great swimmers.

>> do you have doubts whether it's safe enough for them to play.

>> you look at science and all the things we see. these are tough questions. families are struggling with them across the country. a lot of the science we know about came from the department of the army . we spent billions of dollars over the course of the last ten years looking at the impact of concussive events on troopers, soldiers and fair families. that's important and a good addition to the national interest . we're thankful to the army for doing that.

>> broncos or seahawks.

>> i like is the broncos.

>> thank you so much for your time. joining me now is tim scott , republican of south carolina . this is his first sunday interview since being sworn in as senators in 2013 . he's one of two african-american senators is. the other cory booker . senator, welcome.

>> good morning.

>> i want to begin with controversy about you as an african-american senator from south carolina . you had to deal with comments from the head of the naacp in north carolina . he said the following, a ventriloquist can always find a good dummy. the extreme right wing finds a black guy to be senator and claims he's the first are black senator since reconstruction, then he goes to washington august and articue lates the agenda for the tea party . what do you think of that?

>> you can't respond to someone who's never taken the time to know me. he wasn't there when i was growing up in a single parent household . he wasn't there when i started my business working 85 hours a week. he wasn't there when i was running for congress against long odds. for him to have comments about me, i don't get it. number two, when you look at my opportunity agenda, you this i about what i'm focused on. i'm focused on something called the choice act where creating hope and opportunities for individuals and communities through education. i'm not sure what part of that agenda he doesn't like. perhaps he doesn't like the fact that we're focusing on kids with special needs and giving them more flexibility so they can find the education best for them. maybe he doesn't like my skills act that says that there are 4 million jobs today that go unfilled. here's an opportunity for us to bring more skills to the average person so that they can have not a debate about making it, but having a debate about real opportunity and real prosperity or maybe he doesn't like the fact that i believe that we can create hope and opportunities in our inner cities by making them centers of excellence and an engine of nick activity and 30sing for those kids who grew up in ways that i did.

>> colin powell on this program said there was a dark vein of intolerance within the republican party . do you believe that's the case?

>> i don't. the gop has become the great opportunity party . i look at how i became a republican and the messages that i heard and received very early on as a kid running for county council in my 20s. one of the things that changed my life was meeting amen tore, a conservative republican at the time. i didn't know, didn't care whether he was republican or democrat. but he took the time over four years to start talking to me about there's a way out of poverty that doesn't include athletics or entertainment. that you have an opportunity through thinking, through business ownership, having a job is a good thing. if you create jobs, you be better and your community gets better. and so the first blush i had with politics as a kid at 16 years old, 15 years old was a conservative guy who thought that the future could be very bright for a kid in a single parent household if he had the right tools, the right equipment. he didn't convince me on one side of the aisle or the other side of the aisle. he convinced me to look in the mirror and see the best and brightest future that i could create for myself.

>> one of the issues is that the republican party does appear divided. you're a conservative. affiliated with the tea party . speaker boehner has said this week he thinks the party should stop being the party of opposition and should be a party of ideas. here you have the president's state of the union and four different responses from the republicans about the state of the union . is that division or is that unity on the republican side ?

>> well, david , so often people look at the republican party and say we don't have multiple voices with different perspectives on the issue. the fact of the matter is when you saw after the state of the union is that there are many people in our party able to voice their concerns. the reason the party continues to grow is because we like the diversity of ideas. when we have that diversity of ideas, it helps us to build the best party for the future. certainly i'm a part of the conservative aspect of the party , and we have found very great success by partnering with folks who make our party better. so at the end of the day , what america needs is a party that is as diverse as the republican party . that is why account great opportunities for our future comes out of the gop.

>> so agenda items after the state of the union , is obamacare here to stay?

>> well, that's a great question. certainly i have voted at least three or four dozen times to eliminate obamacare. i've had no success. one of the things i hope we would have on the conversation about obamacare is we could look at a couple facets of the bill and find a way to restore hope and opportunity. if we think about the decimation of the 40-hour workweek as a part of obamacare, i took a bus ride throughout the city by cities in south carolina to figure out what real people were saying in their environments. and what i learned was that too many people are stuck now working 30 hours a week because obamacare eliminates a 40-hour workweek. if we had an opportunity to eliminate that aspect of obamacare, i think we could find more money in the take home paychecks of many americans. another aspect of obamacare that we should address very quickly is the medical device tax. here's another $29 billion leaving the pockets of small business owners which makes it more difficult to create jobs. as a small business owner myself, here's what you cannot keep asking us to do, pay higher taxes as we did january of last year, $630 billion of higher taxes, more regulations, obamacare takes another $800 billion out of the pocket oz of small business owners through higher taxes and more rev to yous and hire more people. we can't do all three. we can do two of the three.i'd like to see more jobs created in the private sector .

>> we're out of time. senator scott, thanks so much for being here. i appreciate your time.

>> thank you, david . coming up here, can the president keep his own party in line? i'm going to ask our roundtable that question. but jay leno had a solution if they can't stay in line after the president's state of the union speech .

>> this was a very important speech for the president. he gave it in a time when he's losing support from his own party . in fact, congressional democrats warned tonight if they didn't an proud the president's speech, he would go out and campaign for them.

>> plus big developments in another upcoming crucial decision for president obama . why the solution to the keystone pipeline is going to be a battle to the bitter end.

>>> and more on the christie bridge scandal as new charges fly, i'll speak to the man leading the investigation. and on this super bowl sunday, we'll talk about the future of the game. is safety an issue that makes the future less certain? it's all coming up this morning on