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'Meet the Press' transcript for August 24, 2008

Transcript of the August  24, 2008 broadcast of NBC's 'Meet the Press,' featuring Caroline Kennedy, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Gwen Ifill, Jon Meacham and Chuck Todd.

MR. TOM BROKAW:  Our issues this Sunday:  Obama chooses his running mate.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL):  With Joe Biden at my side, I am confident we can take this country in a new direction.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW:  An exclusive interview with the co-chair of the committee that vetted the vice presidential candidates for the Obama campaign, the daughter of our nation's 35th president, Caroline Kennedy.

Then, can Hillary Clinton bring her supporters into the Obama camp, and which issues will top the legislative agenda for our next president?  We asked the convention chairwoman and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

And in our political roundtable, can the pick of Joe Biden help Obama with undecided voters?  And McCain and Obama clash over who's more in touch in tough economic times.


Unidentified Reporter:  How many houses do you and Mrs. McCain have?

SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ):  I think--I'll have my staff get to you.

(End audiotape)


SEN. OBAMA:  If you don't know how many houses you have, then it's not surprising that you might think the economy was fundamentally strong.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW:  Insights and analysis from Gwen Ifill, moderator of PBS' "Washington Week" and senior correspondent for PBS' "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer"; Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek magazine; and Chuck Todd, political director for NBC News.

But first, joining us here at the Pepsi Center in Denver, a woman who had a tough assignment as co-chair of the selection process for Obama's running mate search, Caroline Kennedy.

Your work is now done, welcome back.  We've just checked the records, this is the third time you've been on MEET THE PRESS--first in '02, then in '03.  And we're glad to have you back.


MR. BROKAW:  You're famously reserved, shy about public appearances, but you've been very conspicuous in the Obama campaign.  Can we expect to see a lot more of you in the coming months?

MS. KENNEDY:  Well, I can't think of anything more important that I could be doing, so, so I'm happy to be part of this campaign.  I think he'll make a tremendous president, tremendous leader.  I saw that during the vice presidential process.  And my whole family, my children are so excited about this, this election, so it's, it's great for me to be part of it.

MR. BROKAW:  Caroline Kennedy in the media campaign, appearing in television ads for Senator Obama, is that a possibility?

MS. KENNEDY:  All of you know, whatever I can do to help, I'm, I'm right there.

MR. BROKAW:  Let's talk about the vice presidential selection process.  You, with Eric Holder, were co-chairs of the so-called "vetting process," going through prospective candidates, taking a look at--describe how it worked. Were you like CPAs doing a kind of clinical analysis of their balance sheet in terms of personality and politics and financial statement?  Or were you offering broader political judgments about need and fit?

MS. KENNEDY:  Well, I think it's really a process, for me, that was wonderful to be part of, because I really came away thinking, once again, that there are so many great people in public service.  And so that was reassuring, because often people think, `Oh, well, you know, there's not going to be anybody great to pick.' But we had a number of wonderful choices that I think that Joe Biden is--was absolutely the best.  And the great thing, also was to watch Senator Obama work through this process because I had seen him, obviously, campaigning out there in front of the big crowd, but to see him in a small meeting and the kind of questions he asked and the way that he listened and brought people together and really thought about sort of the challenges that we're facing in this country economically and around the world and who could be the person to really help him govern and who could step in and be president, that was really sort of the emphasis of the process.

MR. BROKAW:  And in those meetings with him, did he give you a list of names and say, `These are the eight or nine or 10 or 12 I'd like you to consider,' or did he say, `These are the qualifications I'm interested in'?

MS. KENNEDY:  Well, since, since we didn't really talk about it all the way along, why would I do that right now?  But, I mean, it is a confidential process.  But I can tell you that, that as enthusiastic as I was about Barack Obama as president going into that process, and I was really honored to be part of it, I think that, that really it was about the values that the Democratic Party stands for, and that he stands for.  It's, you know, how to change the direction of this country, who can help do that, who's got the relationships and the experience to, to help him govern, you know, both domestically and, and as well as around the world.  And so I think it was really a process for him to go through and think about, and, and we helped as much as we could.  And then he ultimately decided that Joe Biden was really the, the best person for him to have as a partner.

MR. BROKAW:  He was, he was at the top of your list as well as Senator Obama's?

MS. KENNEDY:  Of course.  Well he would be at the top of any list, right?

MR. BROKAW:  Three weeks ago when I interviewed Senator Obama in London, I asked him about Hillary Clinton as a prospective vice presidential candidate, and he said of course she is.  There's been a fair amount of confusion since then about whether in fact she was ever taken seriously.  Her people are saying she was never vetted, and now there's a report today that she says she didn't want to be vetted unless she was going to be chosen.

MS. KENNEDY:  Well, I'm not--you know, I don't know all about that.  But I can tell you she is obviously serious candidate, tremendous groundbreaking figure.  Everybody admires her greatly.  I'm confident, and she's already been out there campaigning for Senator Obama.  She--he is going to need her in the Senate.  You know, she ran a fantastic campaign.  I'm a huge admirer of hers. So, so I think it will be great all around.

MR. BROKAW:  Did you hear from a lot of people, including your own family members, about recommendations that they had or ideas that they might have had?

MS. KENNEDY:  My family is so shy, you know?

MR. BROKAW:  Yes, I can imagine.

MS. KENNEDY:  Of--yeah, I did, and we really...

MR. BROKAW:  There were no cousins who said, "Put my name out there."

MS. KENNEDY:  Yeah, put my name on, yeah.  No, "I know you're doing this to put your name on," that kind of thing.  Yeah.  No, there was a--you know, we reached out, obviously, I heard from my family, and I trust their judgment a lot.  And then, you know, we went around and talked to a number of colleagues, groups, people who care, women, lots of different kinds of people, and then, you know, I did get a lot of unsolicited suggestions, a lot of people nominated themselves.  Not you, but others, so, you know, your name came up.

MR. BROKAW:  My name came up?  In a dismissive and derisive fashion, of course.

MS. KENNEDY:  Yeah, right.

MR. BROKAW:  But one of the most historic selections was when your father chose LBJ and surprised everyone, including his brother, Bobby Kennedy.  Was that ever a model for you to go completely unconventionally and find somebody like Hillary Clinton or someone who would be outside the conventional thinking?

MS. KENNEDY:  Well, I think, you know, Lyndon Johnson was also the majority leader of the Senate, tremendous experience, really knew how to get things done, and I--so I think in that way people hold up that choice as one of the most successful, and obviously he brought Texas along with him, which was a--hugely important.  So, so I think that's held up as one of the really great choices in the vice presidential selection process.  So I hope that we've done as well as that, and I think we have, in Joe Biden.

MR. BROKAW:  Senator McCain's campaign is already out with an ad about the selection of Joe Biden.  We want to just share that with you and with our viewers for a moment, because this has been their reaction so far, trying to take advantage of it from their point of view.

(Videotape from McCain campaign ad)

Narrator:  What does Barack Obama's running mate say about Barack Obama?

Unidentified Man:  You were as asked, "Is he ready?" You said, "I think he can be ready, but right now I don't believe he is.  The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training."

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE):  I think that I stand by the statement.

Narrator:  And what does he say about John McCain?

SEN. BIDEN:  I would be honored to run with or against John McCain because I think the country's better off.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ):  I'm John McCain, and I approved this message.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW:  Two questions:  Were you aware that Joe Biden had made those remarks about Senator Obama in the course of the debate?  And secondly, do you think it'll have much impact, that kind of an ad?

MS. KENNEDY:  Well, I think, you know, what it really shows is that Barack Obama has the confidence and the judgment to pick somebody who really is experienced and who is someone who is, you know, independent and going to speak their mind and really bring a huge amount of, of judgment and knowledge to all these issues, and also that he has the ability to reach across the aisle and work with the Republicans.  And he knows John McCain, and obviously we need everybody in this time.  Our problems are really serious.  So the more bipartisan kind of leadership we can have, the relationships are there.  But I think Joe Biden also knows the weaknesses, and, and I think he understands exactly what's wrong with the policies that John McCain is putting out.  So I think that in that way, too, he'll be a huge asset.

MR. BROKAW:  Part of the reason you're here in Denver, Ms. Kennedy, is that tomorrow night there'll be a tribute to your family.  Last time I checked with Senator Kennedy, I was told that things were going as well as can be expected, even better in some instances.  But they're taking it one day at a time.  Is that a fair characterization yet of, of his condition?

MS. KENNEDY:  I think so.  I've seen him a number of times over the course of this summer and he's just amazing.  People have seen pictures of him on the boat.  But, you know, he's, he's really doing incredibly well.  And he's got a sense of humor, and he, you know, loves to talk about politics, and I know he really wants to go back to the Senate and work on all the causes that he cares about.

MR. BROKAW:  And will we see him in the film that will appear here?

MS. KENNEDY:  Oh definitely.  He was interviewed for the film.  Vicki was interviewed, his wife.  Out sailing, as well as a number of other people who he works with.  And it was--Ken Burns and Mark Herzog did a great job.  So the film is really moving, and I think the fact that he's the subject of this tribute means a lot, certainly to me.  I'm so happy I get to be part of it, so it'll be great.

MR. BROKAW:  It'll be a pretty emotional moment for you as well, won't it?

MS. KENNEDY:  It will.  It will, but you know...

MR. BROKAW:  And your three children are here.

MS. KENNEDY:  My three children are here, lots of cousins are here, obviously many of the Robert Kennedys are here, it's the 40th anniversary of his campaign, so I think for all our family, this is incredibly emotional.

MR. BROKAW:  There's going to be a lot of speculation about your own political future.  Tim raised this with you when you appeared here in 2002, and we thought we would share that moment as well if we...

MS. KENNEDY:  Oh.  Oh, good.  Oh, good.

MR. BROKAW:  Let's take a look at that.


MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Might you ever run for elective office?

MS. KENNEDY:  I don't know, we'll see.  I, I have no plans.

MR. RUSSERT:  That keeps the door open.

MS. KENNEDY:  That's right.

(End videotape)

MS. KENNEDY:  Oh god.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, you have a...

MS. KENNEDY:  Well, you know what, why don't I come back in six years, and then maybe we'll, we'll see where we are.

MR. BROKAW:  But are you closing the door on running for office yourself?

MS. KENNEDY:  You know, I, I also take things one day at a time.  Nobody believes that.  I'm, I'm jealous of people who have a long range plan.  So I--I'm happy to be part of this campaign.  This is a great amount of politics for me, and to the extent that I--you know, I really admire Senator Obama, Senator Biden, and, and feel that I have the obligation to do whatever I can to, to help put this country back on track and to speak after things that I believe in.  I think that's important.  But I also believe and have been raised to believe that there's so many ways that we can contribute, so I've been working in education in New York and hope to continue doing that.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, those of us who live in New York know about your passion and your commitment to public education.  If Senator Obama were to be elected, would you think about moving to Washington and taking that on as a very active and high-profile role, the repair of American public education?

MS. KENNEDY:  Well, I don't think there's a more important cause.  I have absolutely no--right now I'm concentrating on, on tomorrow night, so you know, I'll come back.

MR. BROKAW:  Caroline Kennedy, thanks very much for being here.  We'll let you go now and get the call from Maria Shriver reviewing your performance on MEET THE PRESS.

MS. KENNEDY:  Yeah, right, exactly.  I know.

MR. BROKAW:  We appreciate it, and we want you to know that we'd be happy to have you back any time.

MS. KENNEDY:  Thank you.  I'll come with Maria.

MR. BROKAW:  Thank you.  OK.


MR. BROKAW:  Thanks a lot.  Thanks, Caroline.

Coming up next, the chairwoman of this convention, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.  Also, insights and analysis from our political roundtable, Gwen Ifill, Jon Meacham, and Chuck Todd, when we return live from Denver.


MR. BROKAW:  We're back from the Pepsi Center, site of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, and pleased to be joined now by the chairwoman of the convention, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco.

Madame Speaker, welcome.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  Good morning.

MR. BROKAW:  The selection of Joe Biden, the senator from Delaware, as the vice presidential candidate, the running mate for Senator Obama, is getting a lot of attention.  Most of the analysis up to this point has been this is what Senator Obama needed, someone who is experienced in foreign affairs, who's been around a long time, who's been to Iraq and Afghanistan a long time.  But it also says to a lot of people that, in the final analysis, Senator Obama blinked, he didn't pick an agent of change.  Because Senator Biden has been in the Senate now 35 years, he's a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party establishment.  Isn't that a fair analysis?

REP. PELOSI:  I don't think so.  First of all, let me say it's an excellent choice.  It's a real sign of the leadership of Senator Obama that he would choose Senator Biden, recognizing the issues of the day are the economic and personal security of the American people.  Senator Biden, as you know, is chair of the--was chair of the Judiciary Committee, wrote the crime bill, personal safety of people in their neighborhoods.  This is our first responsibility as elected officials is to protect the American people.  Then he went on to chair the Foreign Relations Committee, where he's an, an expert on national security.  It isn't a question of what Senator Obama needs.  He's the full package.  He has great judgment and knowledge and can draw upon expertise.  This is what brings balance and brings reinforcement. Senator--anyone who knows Senator Biden knows that he is a, a disrupter.  This is not your standard Washington fare.  This is a person, a senator who goes home every night, lucky for him, to Delaware.  This is a person who has challenged the status quo.  And he's even criticized Senator Obama, so it's a tribute to Senator Obama that he's not just choosing a "yes man," but a person who will speak what he believes.

MR. BROKAW:  Madame Speaker, there are so many issues in play during this election, and one of them is the Democratic Congress that you have presided over for the last two years.  And the latest Gallup poll shows that, in the Y universe of American voters, 14 percent expressed their disapproval of Congress.  There it is on the screen.

REP. PELOSI:  Their approval.

MR. BROKAW:  Fourteen, 14 percent of--expressed their approval...

REP. PELOSI:  Right.

MR. BROKAW:  ...and 75 percent expressed their disapproval.  That's the lowest number that Gallup has ever reported.


MR. BROKAW:  So isn't Senator Obama carrying a very heavy load with the Democratic Congress on his back, and isn't it...

REP. PELOSI:  I don't think...

MR. BROKAW:  ...something for Senator McCain to run against?

REP. PELOSI:  I don't think so.  Here's the thing.  Those numbers are about the Congress, and the Congress, I think the main issue in the last election in November '06 was to end the war.  Congress has been unable to do that because the president won't sign any bills that would allow that to happen.  So from my standpoint, I disapprove of the way Congress functioned in, in that respect.  But we--I'm pleased with the numbers that the Democrats have.  We're double digits in every area that you can name:  creation of jobs, expansion of health care, protecting the environment, energy independence, homeland security, any issue you can name.  So this is what the argument will be:  We can only do so much unless we have a Democratic president to do all the things we want to do more, in addition to raising the minimum wage, the biggest increase in veterans' benefits in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration, cafe standards for emission--for, for automobiles.  We have a record of achievement, all eclipsed by the fact that we did not end the war. And we need a Democratic president to do that and much more.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, we're going to get to the war in just a moment, but let me just also show you where the country is in terms of one of the principal issues of the day, and that is the high price of gasoline.  I was surprised by this.  When asked who they thought was responsible for the high price of gasoline, here are the numbers that we have that we can show you on the screen.  Not surprisingly, big oil companies...

REP. PELOSI:  Mm-hmm.

MR. BROKAW:  ...price gouging by the American public, they thought that that was the big reason for it.  Lack of effective action by Congress almost as high, so Congress is bearing the responsibility in the eyes of the American public...

REP. PELOSI:  We'll, that's...

MR. BROKAW:  ...for not doing something about gasoline prices.

REP. PELOSI:  That's that poll, and--but the fact is, is that the, the, the oil companies, the, the administration, they all ranked higher than Congress in most of those polls.  But the point is this.  People--we have to look after the consumer, we have to increase the supply of energy.  And the president, even as recently as yesterday, said if you drill offshore, you're going to bring down the price at the pump.  It is simply not true, But if the president wants to put that on the table and we can revisit the relationship between our oil--this oil belongs to the American people.  It has been--the big oil is making profits from it, they're not paying royalties to the taxpayer, and they're asking--and the taxpayer is subsidizing it.  So just because they have made a political point doesn't mean that we have to follow that.  We'll put it all on the table, comprehensive, offshore drilling, if that is worth it, but renewable energy resources so that we do not get in this situation again.  And Congress has acted over and over again in this regard.  One in particular that has brought down the price per barrel, and that is to insist that the president not fill the strategic petroleum reserve.  So again, protect the consumer, increase the supply, focus on renewables, revisit the relationship between our oil, their profits, they're owing us the royalties, and our not subsidizing.

MR. BROKAW:  That's a big change for you, you're talking about offshore drilling.  You have been adamantly opposed to it, and just a week ago, I was listening to John Kerry saying this is a canard, offshore drilling...

REP. PELOSI:  What is...

MR. BROKAW: will not do us any good, but there's a political reality that the country thinks it's time to do that.

REP. PELOSI:  Well, the fact of the matter is--and the president knows this--is that if you drill offshore today, you won't have any impact at the price at the pump for 10 years, and then, it's 2 cents.  We can move much quickly by releasing oil from the strategic petroleum reserve and having an impact at the pump in 10 days, in 10 days.  So why is--this is the oil company position, to drill offshore without any comprehensive approach to other aspects of it.  So this is the fight we have to make, popular or not, and we have to give, again, relief to the consumer, increase the supply, but not fold just because they're misrepresenting what would happen with offshore drilling. So, again, I say--I'm--as speaker, I have to put everything on the table.  Put that on the table.  I don't think it's a good alternative, but if they can prove that it is and they want to pay royalties to the taxpayer, let us use those royalties to invest in renewable energy resources, then we have something to talk about.

MR. BROKAW:  But the bottom line is, as speaker, you're prepared to preside over legislation that would reactivate offshore oil drilling.

REP. PELOSI:  I'm prepared to preside over legislation that will take a comprehensive approach to it, include that, let it compete, and see where we come down on it.  And if that, in fact, is a, a, a, a good alternative, then that is something that we should do.  But not to misrepresent to the hard-strapped American people for gas prices and other reasons in our economy that if we do that, it's going to reduce the price at the pump.  It simply will not.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, I think most people understand that, but at the same time, if we work our way off carbon-based fuels, in the meantime, this is not going to happen overnight.

REP. PELOSI:  No, it isn't, but you could--again, you could reduce the price at the pump immediately with...(unintelligible).  You can have a transition with natural gas.  You can have a transition with natural gas.  That, that is cheap, abundant and clean compared to fossil fuels.  So, so there is a way to transition this instead of doing more of the same.  The Bush administration, two oil men in the White House, they want us to believe that the status quo is what we should do and more of it--and more of it, when it will just only keep us in the same place that we are now.

MR. BROKAW:  You just mentioned natural gas, and you emphasized it as well in your last radio address...


MR. BROKAW:  ...talking about the energy plan.  And then we read in The Wall Street Journal that you and your husband have made a substantial investment in the plan that T.  Boone Pickens has put forward, which has a heavy emphasis on natural gas as well.

REP. PELOSI:  But let me see if you call substantial 03 three percent of our investments.

MR. BROKAW:  Oh, it's what, between 100 and $200,000.

REP. PELOSI:  No, no, it was between 50 and $100,000, and it's part of an, you know, entrepreneurial package.  This is the package we sign up for, this is what they invest in.  But that's not the point.  I'm, I'm, I'm investing in something I believe in.  I believe in natural gas as a clean, cheap alternative to fossil fuels.

MR. BROKAW:  But you're also in a position to influence where the emphasis will be in where we're moving.

REP. PELOSI:  Well, that's not--that is, that is the marketplace.  The fact is, the supply of natural gas is so big, and you do need a transition if you're going to go from fossil fuels, as you say, you can't do it overnight, but you must transition.  These investments in wind, in solar and biofuels and focus on natural gas, these are the real alternatives.  You have to ask yourself why, why is the administration not doing this?  This is the challenge of our generation.  It's a national security issue.  President Nixon said we must end our dependence on foreign oil.  President Carter said it's a moral equivalent of war.  It's a national security issue, it's an economic issue, it's an environmental health issue, and it is a moral issue to protect this environment.

MR. BROKAW:  As we wrap up this discussion of energy, I was struck by the fact that you did not mention in any fashion former Vice President Al Gore's plan to take electrical power generation completely off the grid that it's now on...

REP. PELOSI:  Right.

MR. BROKAW:  ...within 10 years, and do it based primarily on solar and keep in place nuclear power where it is right now.  Do you think that that's a practical idea?

REP. PELOSI:  Well, I think that it's a challenge that we should try to meet. We had passed in the House--not in the Senate; part of the problem, the Senate obstruction of the Republicans in the Senate.  But we passed in the House our renewable electricity standard which would have us by 2020 reducing--taking 15 percent of our electricity and making that on renewable and efficiency resources.  Senator--Vice President Gore's proposal is much grander.  Our platform, the Democratic platform, calls for 20 percent by 2025.  We must move in this direction.  And, Tom, when we do, it's just going to take off.

MR. BROKAW:  But do you think his is beyond reach, or do you think it's achievable?

REP. PELOSI:  Well, it's achievable if the decision is made to do it.  And then...

MR. BROKAW:  And are you prepared to be part of that decision making?

REP. PELOSI:  Well, we are--we have already gone down that path in the House with the renewable electricity standard, and our platform goes a step farther than that in the Democratic platform.  A hundred percent, that would be a tall order, but it's a, it's a big goal; and we have to have vision about this and goals.  But it is, it's pretty exciting and it affects everything in our society, and we have to make the fight and cannot be led astray by some political ploy that the Republicans have to keep us where we are.  This is about people.  Do you want to know something?  You know when the Republicans were doing their what I call war dance of the handmaidens of the oil companies on the floor of the House a couple of weeks ago?  Well, on that--one of those Thursdays was primary day in Tennessee, and one of the Republicans on the floor was up for re-election in Tennessee, and he lost in his primary to a Republican who said that Davis, the incumbent, was the candidate of big oil and offshore drilling.  In a Republican primary, he lost.  So again, we have to talk to the American people about this.  What we have to do is what is right for the consumer, for the taxpayer, and for the environment.  And we know how to do that.  If they want to put that in the mix, give us royalties, take away--have standards and no subsidies, give us royalties, revisit the relationship between the oil that belongs to the American people and the profits of big oil.  Let's have that discussion.

MR. BROKAW:  Sounds like we're going to have offshore drilling.

REP. PELOSI:  No, no, no.

MR. BROKAW:  Let's talk politics for just a moment, if we can.  Here's a poll that the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey of last week showed Senator Obama has--his lead over Senator McCain was cut in half to about 3 points in the Y universe.  But here's a surprising number.  When we did Hillary Clinton as a matchup against Senator McCain, she ran much more strongly than Senator Obama did against Senator McCain.  As you can see, she leads by six points there. Do you think it was a mistake for Senator Obama not to select her as the vice presidential candidate?

REP. PELOSI:  I think that Senator Obama chose the vice presidential candidate that brought balance to his ticket.  It's his choice.  We're going into the future.  That isn't even that--I mean, it's a close poll in either way.  But I'm very confident about Senator Obama's success because these polls are about likely voters.  They're people who vote in the last two elections. Senator Obama has a--and Senator Clinton, too, has attracted millions more people to the political process, some who have never voted, some who haven't voted for a long time.  So I don't think that the--I think it's a OK poll, he's ahead and that's good, but I think that his support is much stronger than that.  And as we leave this convention united, stronger than ever, organized, focused and disciplined, to have the grassroots organization, to have the clarity of message, of this great ticket, Obama-Biden, I'm very confident about the success that we'll have in November, and then the success for jobs and health care and education in--come January.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, we learned some other things in the poll.  We're going to share those with you as well.  When it comes to economic issues, the country is very much in favor of Senator Obama in terms of solving the problems or improving the economy, as you can see, by a factor of 42 to 30 percent.  They believe that he's the stronger candidate.  But, when it comes to the man who's best equipped to be commander in chief, Senator Obama comes up well short of Senator McCain, there by a factor of 50 to 39 percent.  That's a lot of making up that Senator Obama has to do.  Despite all the rhetorical cheering on that will go on this week, the hard reality is that a week from now the country still has many question about whether he's equipped to be commander in chief. Don't you agree?

REP. PELOSI:  Well, the fact of the matter is, that on the biggest national security issue of our day, the decision to go into the war in Iraq, Senator McCain supported that and still supports that war in Iraq.  And so if you're...

MR. BROKAW:  And the people that we interviewed in the poll say that he is best equipped to be the commander in chief.

REP. PELOSI:  Well, the point is, is this is what campaigns are about.  What is the difference the policy--the leader will make in terms of policy, and you'll be--I think you will see a very clear message coming forth, and Joe Biden will be a great messenger in that regard, because he will be a--not--as I say, Senator Biden's message is--Senator Obama's message is a clear one. But Senator Biden will amplify that.  He is well-respected throughout the world.  Not only does he know the leaders of other countries, they know him and they respect him.  So I believe that on that issue when it comes to the security of our people, whether it's in their neighborhoods or in the security of our country, we will see a strong message coming from the Democrats.

And one of the most important points of it is how we treat our veterans.  It took a Democratic Congress to get the biggest increase in veterans benefits in the 77-year history of the VA.  Something the Republicans had rejected over and over.  So let's take this issue apart and see what it means in the security of our country.

MR. BROKAW:  Let's talk about Iraq.  Almost no Democrats that I know of at the national level are willing to acknowledge that the surge was successful by most objective standards.  Other analysts are saying that it probably was. When you were interviewed on this broadcast in 2004...


MR. BROKAW: Tim Russert, he asked you about the need for additional American troops.  Let's just share with the audience, and I'll have you review, what you had to say at that time.

(Videotape, May 30, 2004)

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Would you put more American troops on the ground?

REP. PELOSI:  Clear and present danger facing the United States is terrorism. We have to--we have to solidify, we have to stabilize the situation in Iraq. We have a responsibility now in Iraq there, and we have to get more troops on the ground.  We have to...

RUSSERT:  Would you send more American troops in order to stabilize the situation?


(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW:  You said yes in 2004 to the idea of more American troops on the ground.  That was, in effect, what happened with the surge.  The surge appears to be successful.  Democrats who were opposed to it are now having a hard time saying it worked.

REP. PELOSI:  No.  Let's make a distinction.  What was the purpose of the surge?  The purpose of the surge was to create a secure time so that the political solutions could emerge, that the Iraqi government could have room to make those political decisions.  So the--yes, you put more troops on the ground, you're going to get more security.  Our military, our men and women in uniform, have done everything that has been asked of them very well, excellently and well.  But the point is, that it has not succeeded in its purpose because the Iraqi government has not stepped up to the plate to do what it needed to do in reforming the constitution, de-Baathification, the carbon law, you name it.  So our sacrifice of our troops has not been met in any, in any step of the way.

MR. BROKAW:  You don't think the Iraqi government is making progress politically?

REP. PELOSI:  No, I don't.  They--I've just--when I was there a few months ago they told me, "Oh we're going to have elections, we're going to have them by October, they're going to be inclusive, they're going to be transparent, they're going to be fair, and this or that." Now they're next year.  They still haven't completed the carbon law, the, the constitutional reform that was supposed to bring some reconciliation.  They have--what's the other--the constitution, de-Baathification, carbon law and local elections.  They haven't made the commensurate progress in those areas where our troops have sacrificed so much to give them the room to do so.  But the fact is, is that what we must do is have a plan for the redeployment of our troops out of Iraq.  Even the president is saying that has to happen.  Too far out, 2011, but if we're going to bring stability to the region, if we're going to make America more secure, if we're going to be able to fight the real war on terrorism, we must begin that redeployment.  And this, and this surge, for all the success of putting more troops on the ground to make neighborhoods safer, did not produce the political reconciliation that was promised.  And that was its purpose.

MR. BROKAW:  I think there probably will be a continuing dispute about that.

Let me end with something...

REP. PELOSI:  But they haven't, they haven't done it.  I mean, the fact is, they have not done it.  And so the message has to be clear to the Iraqi government, "We're not staying around for ever for you to get around to this. You have to do it now.  Overdue."

MR. BROKAW:  There was a very well publicized and very effective interview by Pastor Rick Warren at the Saddleback Church in California of the two candidates recently.  And on the right especially, response from Senator Obama to the question of when life begins has been getting a lot of attention.  We want to just share with you how that went, and then you can take a look at it and, and respond to it for us.

(Videotape, August 16, 2008)

PASTOR RICK WARREN:  At what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?

SEN. OBAMA:  Well, you know, I think that whether you're looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is, is above my pay grade.

(End videotape)

MR. BROKAW:  Senator Obama saying the question of when life begins is above his pay grade, whether you're looking at it scientifically or theologically. If he were to come to you and say, "Help me out here, Madame Speaker.  When does life begin?" what would you tell him?

REP. PELOSI:  I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time.  And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition.  And Senator--St. Augustine said at three months.  We don't know. The point is, is that it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose.  Roe v. Wade talks about very clear definitions of when the child--first trimester, certain considerations; second trimester; not so third trimester.  There's very clear distinctions.  This isn't about abortion on demand, it's about a careful, careful consideration of all factors and--to--that a woman has to make with her doctor and her god.  And so I don't think anybody can tell you when life begins, human life begins.  As I say, the Catholic Church for centuries has been discussing this, and there are those who've decided...

MR. BROKAW:  The Catholic Church at the moment feels very strongly that it...

REP. PELOSI:  I understand that.

MR. BROKAW:  ...begins at the point of conception.

REP. PELOSI:  I understand.  And this is like maybe 50 years or something like that.  So again, over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy.  But it is, it is also true that God has given us, each of us, a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions.  And we want abortions to be safe, rare, and reduce the number of abortions.  That's why we have this fight in Congress over contraception.  My Republican colleagues do not support contraception.  If you want to reduce the number of abortions, and we all do, we must--it would behoove you to support family planning and, and contraception, you would think.  But that is not the case.  So we have to take--you know, we have to handle this as respectfully--this is sacred ground. We have to handle it very respectfully and not politicize it, as it has been--and I'm not saying Rick Warren did, because I don't think he did, but others will try to.

MR. BROKAW:  Madame Speaker, thanks very much for being with us.

REP. PELOSI:  It's my pleasure.  Thank you.

MR. BROKAW:  We hope you have a great week on the podium.

REP. PELOSI:  It's going to be great.  Democrats are going to come out stronger than ever.

MR. BROKAW:  Do you have a big gavel?

REP. PELOSI:  The big gavel's in the Capitol.

MR. BROKAW:  All right.

I'll be right back with our political roundtable.  That's Gwen Ifill, Jon Meacham and Chuck Todd from here in Denver.


MR. BROKAW:  We're back, live from Denver, site of the Democratic National Convention.  I'm joined by my colleagues and friends, Gwen Ifill, who is host of PBS' "Washington Week" and senior correspondent for ?The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer"; political director Chuck Todd of NBC News; and Jon Meacham, who is the editor of "Newsweek" magazine, has just completed a cover story on Senator Obama.

Let's begin with the Biden selection.  Gwen, help?

MS. GWEN IFILL:  It, it doesn't hurt.  I'm not sure that Joe Biden needed to run across the stage yesterday.  I'm not sure that was the best look for a 65-year-old man, but he was enthusiastic.

MR. BROKAW:  Now, be careful about 65-year-old men.

MS. IFILL:  I got--nothing wrong.  But they both, but they both--nothing against 65-year-old men, but he did what he needed to do.  You heard him, you heard him say, "Your kitchen table is just like mine." He was trying to send that message, and then segued into his attack on John McCain for his several kitchen tables.  And you heard Barack Obama talk about him as a scrappy son of Scranton, Pennsylvania.  I'm not certain that after 29 years in the Senate, you can quite tell most Americans, who do not know who Joe Biden is at all, that he's a scrappy son of Scranton, Pennsylvania, but they're going to try. That's what--Barack Obama conceded what his weaknesses were, and he picked someone who he hoped could help.

MR. BROKAW:  Chuck Todd, a career military person who is not crazy about John McCain, immediately e-mailed me about that crack about seven tables, saying, "Wait a minute, that's pretty gratuitous.  Here's a guy who spent five years in prison not knowing where his next meal was going to come from."

MR. CHUCK TODD:  You know, it's interesting that Democrats are getting a little more upset by that line of defense now coming.  There's a column this morning by Maureen Dowd in The New York Times sort of laying out this case, said, you know, "Is the McCain campaign using the--using that defense too often to try to push back everything." But it does work, I think, with, with voters.

What I think was interesting about the Biden pick is I felt like Obama hired himself a--it's almost he hired himself a defense lawyer, and he said, "I'm going to get him to defend me against some of these attacks.  I'm going to have him go out and make the case against McCain a little bit, and I'm going to have him go out and sell my biography a little bit better because I don't do it very well." And in one speech, Biden showed he can sell the biography of Obama better than Obama himself could.  And "I'm going to get this guy to go talk to these working class white voters, these older white voters who, on all the issues, are with the Democrats, but right now, are more comfortable with John McCain." We see it in our own polls.  Joe Biden seems to become this ambassador/trial lawyer in some ways for Barack Obama.

MR. BROKAW:  But Senator Obama began this campaign as an agent of change, and here is Senator Joe Biden, 35 years in the United States Senate, came out of the zeitgeist of the '60s, he has been a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party establishment all this time.

MR. JON MEACHAM:  One of the things that I think we saw yesterday was the founding of a new Democratic "fight club." If you go and look at the two speeches, the word "fight," the images of combat, the images of striking out against Senator McCain and the Republicans and the linking of McCain and Bush, I think Chuck's right.  I think that Biden is going to be the pugnacious running mate, which is an old archetype.  But I think the more interesting thing is that Obama himself knows how to fight.  He talks about it--you don't get to be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States at age 47 without being tough.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, let's talk about your interview with him.  He talked about that day when he was a young man, and his stepfather--he came home having gotten whopped at a schoolyard fight, and his stepfather showed up the next day with a pair of boxing gloves in Indonesia, and began to teach him how to box.  And then he described for himself--and we're going to share that with our viewers now if we can, the lasting effect that that had on his life, that he said, you know, I--"No one can characterize me as someone who won't punch back at some point."

MR. MEACHAM:  Exactly.  He--the stepfather's bias was always protect yourself, and the way Obama views his life is that having an absent father both gave him something to prove, but also hearing stories about his father being larger than life gave him something to live up to.  And I think that one of the things Obama said to us this week, "I had to learn how to fight for myself," he raised himself to some extent.  He credits his family--we're going to hear a lot about that in Denver for the next four days, we're going to hear a lot about food stamps, we're going to hear a lot about the noble struggle--the real struggle of this family and his extended family to raise him.  But at core, Obama says, "I raised myself." And I think that that means this "Obambi" image is probably misplaced.

MR. BROKAW:  Is that, however, a perilous enterprise for him because he has attracted new voters in part because he has been different, he won't get down in the pit with him, and he'll rise above and say, "Yes, we can"?

MR. MEACHAM:  I think--you, you, you can say, "Yes, we can" all you want, but you can't do it if you don't get there.  And I think that the Democratic Party, over the last eight to--a number of years, has wanted a prize fighter. And they have two right now.

MR. BROKAW:  All right, let's take a look at some polls, because it's been an interesting week for that as well.  The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last week showed that Obama's lead over McCain in the Y universe--and we always have to be careful about characterizing them now, because it's state by state come the fall--has been halved to about 3 percent.

And you have been spending a lot of time looking at the undecided voters, and we want to share with our viewers now just who they are.  A lot of those undecided voters are women between the ages of 35 and 49, they're Catholic, they're moderate, and they're independent.  They all sound like Hillary Clinton voters to me.

MR. TODD:  A lot of them were.  Nearly half of them supported Clinton in the primaries.  In effect, we even slice it even more.  We--we're able to take a look at what our pollsters call "Hillary not Obama," and it's this group of voters that supported Clinton in the primaries, are not there yet with either Obama, supporting McCain, or sitting in undecided.  And all of them look like, in this very respect, they're Democratic voters on the issues, they're picking a Democrat and generic matchups not just for president, but for Congress.  So they are going to walk in that voting booth, and they're going to vote for a Democrat for Congress, they're going to vote for a Democrat for the U.S. Senate, which is why everybody knows that the House and Senate are going to pick up members.  But these women are not there yet on Obama.  Some of them are, are angry.  Some of them--a lot of them live in rural and small-town America.  And when you think about the primary campaign as it wore on, the Clintons campaigned in this area and had a message of "Obama's not ready to be commander in chief, John McCain is." Well, guess what?  They believe, in our poll, John McCain's ready to be commander in chief, Barack Obama isn't.  Obama needs Hillary Clinton at this convention to sell him to these voters.  And, and not just to be convincing that she supports him.  That isn't it.  She's got to say, "Look, this guy's ready to be commander in chief," and mean it. It's a big deal.  Her speech is a big deal, far bigger than President Clinton.

MR. BROKAW:  You think she can do it?

MS. IFILL:  Well, I, I wonder how many of these people, these, these Hillary voters, for lack of a better term, because they're not all women.  There are a lot of people who just aren't concern--her concern.  Democrats are concerned about Barack Obama.  I wonder how deep that goes, whether it's only deep because there is an independent--it's--13 percent of undecided people in a close election determine a lot.  I, I wonder--overall, Barack Obama's still like 20 points ahead among women, in general over John McCain.  So, at this point, it's the last week in August prior to the conventions, I wonder if we overanalyze the possibility that these voters aren't going to focus and come home by November?  I don't, I don't know.  I think this is an election where we don't know a lot of things.  I mean, one of the things we know about Joe Biden, for instance, is that vice presidents don't really make a difference. I mean, people don't really vote on vice president.  But we know that his job is to speak to people like women--you know, he sponsored the Violence Against Women Act, he has a legislative history of--who are not listening to Obama for whatever reason.  Whoever those people are, they're not listening to him yet, and that's the gap--once again, in these--in this little game of inches that we're playing here, that he's supposed to help to fill.

MR. TODD:  Well, that, that is the point.  That is what's left to divide up. What's interesting is that Hillary's so very divisive among the electorate as a whole.  She--49 percent of the--of our poll says she should never be president.

MR. BROKAW:  Right.

MR. TODD:  But it's what's left...

MS. IFILL:  Yeah.

MR. TODD:  ...that she is so popular with.

MR. BROKAW:  We're going to, we're going to run the polls that probably have more meaning at this point now, state by state.  There's been a lot of discussion in this broadcast and other places about the role of the Rocky Mountain West and the Southwest this fall, that if Obama can win the same states that John Kerry did and then pick up three states in particular--New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado--he can be elected the next president.

Here's the latest poll out of Colorado, taken August 13th to 15th by The Denver Post.  As you can see, Senator Obama has a slight lead over John McCain, matches our national numbers.

But let's move now to New Mexico, a state with Bill Richardson as the governor, was very close last time around.  This time John McCain has got a four-point lead in New Mexico at this stage.  Remember, it's early, 14 percent undecided.

In Nevada, which the Democrats are looking at very hard this time, hoping to pull under their column, the McCain lead is even more impressive.  But again, there's a very high undecided number there of 15 percent.

What does Senator Obama have to do in the West to change those numbers, Jon?

MR. MEACHAM:  I think it's, it's a national message.  I think that his task is to become a condensing and authentic president.  I think people, many people, still have a hard time envisioning him in the White House, which is understandable.  I think that this is my view, and Chuck and Gwen probably may disagree, I think this is going to be an incredibly close election nationally. You know, close elections are the rule and not the exception in American politics, and I think that the work that has to happen this week and the next 70 days or so is all of us know a great deal about Barack Obama.  We understand the Hawaii to Indonesia to Hawaii to Columbia.  We--the timeline is something that we've spent a lot of time on.  I think a lot of folks don't, and he still seems somehow foreign.  And I think in each state in the West and also the critical state of Virginia, possibly pulling off one of the confederate states, no Democrats won without doing it in modern times, is going to require him telling his story and fighting back against Senator McCain.

MS. IFILL:  Tom, that's why it was so important, that line of questioning you just had with Speaker Pelosi.  People in the West are concerned about this knee--what feels to them like a knee-jerk opposition to oil drilling on the part of the Democratic Party, and that's why you've heard Barack Obama and then Speaker Pelosi today begin to shade their opposition a little bit to oil drilling.  They're trying to say they're open to it.  I, I call it the "Paris Hilton compromise." All of a sudden they're saying there is room for this. But I don't--but I think that is of great concern.  When you see those numbers in New Mexico, somewhere Bill Richardson is saying, "Doggone it, he should have picked me and this could not be a problem." But this is something which I think they are concerned about in which they are beginning to figure out how to speak to that.  But Jon is right.  which is, in the end, if this becomes about who is Barack Obama all the way to the November election, at some point it's going to be about is--who is John McCain?  But as long as he stays on the defensive explaining himself--it's early yet--but that's the disadvantage.

MR. BROKAW:  The Politico, which is one of the premier political blogs, is reporting today that senator--that Senator McCain now has Colin Powell on his list as a vice presidential pick.  Now I don't know who floated that.  What are the chances of Colin Powell?

MR. TODD:  Well, I'll tell you, I've done a decent amount of reporting trying to figure out who Colin Powell's going to endorse, which is still an open question.  I have no doubt that they're...

MR. BROKAW:  By the way, he told me that he wasn't going to make any decision until after both conventions were done and when the vice presidential candidates were selected.

MR. TODD:  That says something, yeah.

MR. BROKAW:  Now, would that include him or not?

MR. TODD:  Who knows?

MS. IFILL:  And he's not attending either convention...

MR. BROKAW:  Right, right.

MS. IFILL:  ...because--and especially--and more significant that he's not attending the Republican.

MR. BROKAW:  Right.

MR. TODD:  But what's interesting here is, I think, that he--McCain may very well want him on his short list.

MR. BROKAW:  Mm-hmm.

MR. TODD:  But the question is, does Powell want to be on anybody's short list.  And people forget I think Powell is over the age of 70, so would you--would John McCain want to have two--two folks on the ticket over the age of 70?  So this feels like--the McCain campaign's been very good this last 10 days on the VP buzz circuit...

MS. IFILL:  Mm-hmm.

MR. TODD: that they have not allowed the Obama storyline to dominate. They got the Joe Lieberman speculation out there, and it was a split-screen...

MS. IFILL:  Problems.  Every day.

MR. TODD:  ...every day.  Look, the McCain campaign's very good at daily news cycle fighting.  I don't know if winning the daily news cycle ultimately gets you the White House, but if you believe that it does, and there are some people that believe this, then McCain's doing a very good job.  Ultimately, I think that they're just having some fun.  And, look, having Colin Powell's name out there doesn't hurt John McCain.  But Colin Powell, I bet you, is very impressed with the Joe Biden pick.  That's somebody that he worked with very well in the Senate.

MR. BROKAW:  My own guess is that--and this is only pure speculation on my part--that sometime in the next week or so Powell will say, "Turn that off," that he doesn't want to linger as a prospective vice presidential candidate. He's trying to be above that political fray based on my conversations with him.

MR. TODD:  Look, the big fear, if I were McCain, by floating it, what if Powell says, not only "Turn it off, and, by the way, I haven't decided if I'm going to endorse you yet."

MR. BROKAW:  Right.

MR. TODD:  You know, that, that can come back...

MS. IFILL:  A blowback of that could be ugly.

MR. MEACHAM:  That's a nightmare scenario.

MR. BROKAW:  Yeah.

Thank you all very much.  It's going to be a very exciting week here in Denver.  I have a couple of things I want to remind people about.  And that is Chuck, of course, you'll be reporting all week long on MSNBC from midnight to midnight.

MR. TODD:  Apparently they...

MR. BROKAW:  Twenty-four hour cycle.

MR. TODD:  Hey, buddy, you're not getting away, either, easy.

MR. BROKAW:  All the, all the parts of it.

And, Jon, you're, you're moving over in our business a little step at a time.

MR. MEACHAM:  Very little, very little.

MR. BROKAW:  You've got a live webcast on

MR. MEACHAM:  It's a brave new world.

MR. BROKAW:  It's a brave new world.  We're happy to have you there.  And Gwen, of course, we'll see you all this week on PBS on "Jim Lehrer" and other things.  And I'll be back in just a moment.


MR. BROKAW:  That's all for today.  We'll be back next week live from the site of the Republican National Convention in the twin cities in Minnesota, St. Paul, and Minneapolis.  And of course, stay with MSNBC and NBC News over the next two weeks for full coverage of both party national conventions.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.