Meet the Press   |  February 16, 2014

Obama Must Tackle Climate Change, Syria

A Meet the Press roundtable talks about how the Obama administration must navigate the underlying politics of climate change action and foreign policy with Syria.

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

>>> pick up on the politics of weather, david, because there is agreement about where we are, about climate change being real, that it's caused by humans. pockets of skepticism there again. but the politics is gummed up on this and nothing's really getting done.

>> i'm not sure there's complete agreement. i don't know that we heard complete agreement there. the fact is, i think we all have to concede when you have a flood of a century, the storm of the century , the fire of the century on an annual basis, droughts of the century, something's happening and it's serious. the problem with this is it requires long-term solutions. we don't have a political system that copes with short-term sacrifice for long-term solutions.

>> julie, i know within the white house , their feeling and john podesta has worked on this issue, extreme weather event is the way in to getting something done because states and local government do have to deal with the cost of that. that's the way to tackle climate change .

>> absolutely. it's something real people feel also impacts their daily lives and they look at the money that their state or city is having to spend on this, but in terms of actual action, i had i we're still at eight point where you and you heard this in the debate it's going to be very difficult to imagine congress doing something significant over the next three years. that's why they focused so much on executive actions, are but there is always going to be a limit to what he can do or any president can do on this matter.

>> urgent versus important is the question.

>> $41 billion, i think you get it, $41 billion weather events in 2013 around the world. 41, that was an all-time record. it's not just podesta that believes that. a lot of people say okay, let's not debate who's right, manmade or just nature that's happening. the fact of the matter it's happening. and i wonder if there's too much -- i know some environmentalists are frustrated with that portion of the debate. but maybe you steer away from it and say it doesn't matter. we have to tackle this infrastructure problem and build higher seawalls in some places, figure out a different way to distribute water in california. the fact of the matter -- the federal government is going to have to pay for all these things. i wonder if everybody should say let's table this debate. we know what's happening. table that be part of the debate because when you do that, then it becomes like clubbing each other with political argument that takes away from what we have to do.

>> the politics of weather gets very local as a former president you worked for. when you thank the mayor to fill the pot holes. whether it's filling the potholes or responding well --

>> responding well to disasters, look at the tabloids in new york after the decision to keep the schools open. let them eat snow. the head of the schools saying it's a beautiful day . there's a price to be paid and big debate about safety and the right call 0 make when it comes to these storms.

>> julie said this does affect everyone. i think the debate we're having even around this table is about our domestic politics. most republicans feel that we could cut off both our arms, both our legs, do everything we can do in this country, hamstring our economy and we still might not make a dent in the problem which i think we all agree on. i think most republicans do acknowledge global warming is real and happening. in some ways you cartoon the party by suggesting we don't acknowledge it's real and happening. during the bush years, there were global compacts that the united states did not participate in because to not have all of the developing nations on board, we don't actually make a dent.

>> they want to get them on board by the end of next year. long-term problems that could become legacy issues beyond climate change , chuck, you've written about it this week and talked about it and that is syria . the president appearing with france's as president hollande talking about the horrendous situation in syria , john mccain saying a future president will apologize for inactioning

>> it's interesting mccain put it that way. this is consuming president obama in a way we in the press haven't been fully able to report. sometimes it's hard to get inside somebody's head. advisors admit he knows this policy isn't working. but the country has this sort of iraq syndrome and a similar syndrome with vietnam. so there are certain aspects off the table. he's frustrated. putin -- the pressure on putin isn't working. hundreds and thousands of people are dying. he is frustrated. let's look at his week this week. it was interesting on one hand they want to talk about minimum wage and their special events on climate and drought but with hollande, during that state visit , he was admitting his policy isn't working. he never said it but he called it a horrendous situation and talked about the only good news out of geneva 2 is that they both showed up. what was he doing this weekend? meeting with king abdullah of jordan . this is it the biggest economic crisis. this is consuming. they don't have a good answer.

>> you do get the sense at the white house they're at a point where they have to find something new on syria . so much of the process has been the diplomatic process to get them to the table. the russians were joining in. there is no way 0 look at what happened at geneva 2 and say there was anything successful that happened there. there is no military solution. what is the middle ground ? that's the debate right now.

>> the politics are very bad. there is a hangover from iraq and afghanistan. the country is looking inward. there's not a great interest in this. the president's looking at 100,000 people killed, these horrific images, the refugees and so on and looking for answers but the country wants him to be focused on the economy and that's a thing that presidents have to wrestle with.

>> but your president was the one that said he's going to walk and chew gum. i think the republican moment of i think grave concern about the situation came when he stood in the rose garden after saying that he had drawn a red line and refused to enforce his own red line on chemical weapons . that was the moment where republican senators like june mccain and lindsey graham who were were willinging to hold hands with the white house and try to garner that support, the country is weary but i think anyone that has looked at the white house that presidents are always.

>> first of all, i think they would argue that they made more progress on chemical weapons than they would have had they gone in to intervene.

>> we'll never know.

>> the question isn't walking and chewing gum at the same time. the question is, what is a policy that that will work here. that is a complicated issue.

>> but you were saying that people wanted to focus on the economy. people expect him to focus on the economy.

>> i'm saying it's a matter of public -- it's a matter of how he spends his time in public in front of the camera, people are interested in him focusing on the economy. i have no doubt he's spending a lot of time on issue of syria . i don't think it's front of mind for the american people .

>> the thing with all these foreign policy issues as we all know, they can quickly become front of mind. one of the big concerns you're hearing from both the u.s. and allies overseas is issues of foreign fighters in syria and the immakt on the region.

>> there's a lot of things that are hard that require leadership. clinton looked back at rwanda and said it was a huge mistake. on the other side of that, we have demonstrated underened president bush the limits of what the united states can accomplish in terms of reengineering corrupts in the u.s. image or even a more western image. it becomes very difficult. so does it work? you know, this intervention, does it work even if you fulfill a moral imperative.

>> you're getting at the something central. this will be a topic of debate in the 20916 presidential campaign. has america's standing in the world been harmed by that moment when president obama refused to --

>> a lot of republicans do not.

>> you draw a red line and you're the leader of the free world and you refuse to enforce it --

>> where was the u.s. congress ?

>> this isn't about the u.s. congress .

>> look, he didn't -- you could tell he didn't want to enforce his red line with a military strike . okay? but he knew he had to do this because he drew the line. he knew he had to do it, but he had no political apparatus support both internationally and domestically.

>> the problem is he didn't make an effort to garner that support.

>> i've heard that argument. i hear.