Nightly News   |  December 10, 2010

Tax cut deal: Will two presidents do the trick?

Briefly sharing the podium with President Obama on Friday, former President Clinton stepped into the spotlight to help sell a tax cut deal that many Democrats aren't buying. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

Put it this way: You're President Barack Obama , you're fighting with Congress over a tax deal, and some of your own people are defecting. So who do you call when you call out the reinforcements? The answer is you call the last Democratic president. The two men burst through the door and into the White House briefing room before cameras today. And once Bill Clinton started talking, as one former Clinton White House aide put it, it was like 1995 all over again. Another said it was as if Clinton was president for about a half-hour today. We begin here tonight with our chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd , who witnessed all this in the briefing room. Chuck , good evening.

CHUCK TODD reporting: Well, good evening, Brian . Look , for most of the day today the tax debate had been dominated by Vermont 's independent, self-described socialist Senator Bernie Sanders , who's been speaking on the floor of the United States Senate by himself continuously since about 2 -- 10:30 this morning. Well, about 4:00 today, clearly the White House had had enough. So instead of briefing reporters about President Obama 's private meeting with President Clinton , President Obama decided to trot out President Clinton himself to brief reporters. Well, it turned into a de facto ex-presidential press conference.

Former President BILL CLINTON: The agreement taken as a whole is, I believe, the best bipartisan agreement we can reach to help the largest number of Americans and to maximize the chances that the economic recovery will accelerate and create more jobs, and to minimize the chances that it will slip back. There's never a perfect bipartisan bill in the eyes of a partisan. I also think that in general, a lot of people are heaving a sigh of relief that there's finally been some agreement on something.

TODD: Naturally, President Clinton was asked about -- to compare his situation in 1994 to what President Obama faces today.

Pres. CLINTON: The story line is how well we worked with the Republicans and all that. But, you know, we played political Kabuki for a year, had two government shutdowns. We can't afford that now. Oh, I had quite a good time governing. I am happy to be here, I suppose, when the bullets that are fired are unlikely to hit me, unless it -- they're just ricocheting. No, I'm glad to be here because I think the president made a good decision and because I want my country to do well. And in -- after the '94 election I said the American people , in their infinite wisdom, had put us both in the same boat, so we're going to either row or sink. And I want us to row.

TODD: Look, President Clinton held court for just over 30 minutes, talked about Japan , talked about Haiti . And it was vintage Clinton . There was some lip biting, there was some hand gestures, even some poetic license about his own biography where he referred to himself as a Depression-era kid. Of course, he was America 's first baby boomer president.

Brian, the basic message was this: This is a good deal on substance, he said, and he also said it will just make the American public feel better that members of both parties can somehow vote for the same bill. Brian :

WILLIAMS: What a Friday in Washington . At one end of town, two presidents...

TODD: It was.

WILLIAMS: the same room. In the other end, a genuine " Mr. Smith Goes to Washington " moment on Capitol Hill . Chuck Todd witnessing all of it for us and starting us off tonight. Chuck , thanks.