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‘Meet the Press’ transcript for Sept. 20, 2009

Transcript of the September 20, 2009 broadcast of NBC's "Meet the Press," featuring President Barack Obama. Plus, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Rep. John Boehner, Eugene Robinson and Roger Simon.
/ Source: NBC News

MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, a country divided and the president
facing tough issues that invoke passionate debate on both sides. Is there
a way to get past the arguments and find consensus on healthcare reform,
the role of government, and the way forward in Afghanistan? Our guest, the
president of the United States, Barack Obama.

Then the view from the other side of the aisle on the big challenges and
hard choices. With us, the Republican leader in the House, Congressman
John Boehner of Ohio; and the senior senator from South Carolina, Lindsey

Plus, our political roundtable.


FMR. PRES. JIMMY CARTER: I think an overwhelming portion of the
intentionally demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is
based on the fact that he is a black man, that he's African-American.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: President Obama responds to the former president and blames
the media for fueling the fire.


PRES. BARACK OBAMA: This is, is catnip to the media. This debate that's
taking place is not about race, it's about people being worried about how
our government should operate.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Insights from Washington Post columnist Gene Robinson and
Politico columnist Roger Simon.

MR. DAVID GREGORY: But first, the president of the United States. Friday
afternoon I sat down with President Obama in the Roosevelt Room at the
White House.

Mr. President, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

PRES. OBAMA: Great to see you.

MR. GREGORY: This is a critical moment in the healthcare debate. And
you've been able to assess the landscape, you've got a bill now that's
working its way through the Senate, you've spoken to Congress. As you
assess the situation, I wonder whether you approach this with a minimum
threshold of what you'll accept for reform, or at this point have you
said, "I've laid out my plan, take it all or nothing"?

PRES. OBAMA: You know, I, I think that my focus is on some core
principles. I have to have a plan that is good for middle-class families,
who we know last year ended up seeing a 5.5 percent increase in their
premiums even though inflation was actually negative on everything else,
that have seen a doubling of their premiums over the last decade, that
are less secure than ever in terms of the insurance they can actually
count on, and more and more of them can't get insurance because of
pre-existing conditions or they change jobs or they lost jobs. So it's
got to be good for them. Now, the principles that we've talked
about--making sure that there's an insurance exchange that'll allow
people to buy in and get health insurance and negotiate as a big pool to
drive down costs, making sure that we have insurance reforms that make
sure you can still get health insurance even if you've got a pre-existing
condition, cap out of pocket expenses and so forth--those core things
that make insurance a better deal for American consumers; making sure
that it's deficit-neutral both now and in the future, making sure that it
is driving down healthcare inflation so that we can actually deal with
our long-term budget deficits, those are the core principles that are
critical to me. And I actually think that we've agreed to about 80
percent of that, if you look at all the bills that are coming through all
these committees. The key is now just to narrow those differences. And if
I don't feel like it is a good deal for the American people, then I won't
sign a bill.

MR. GREGORY: Those narrow differences can also, in some cases, be very
big differences. And as you were president-elect last year, you said to
the nation--in light of the huge challenges that the country faces, you
said, "We're going to have to make hard choices. ... And not all of these
choices are going to be popular." What are the hard choices that you are
now asking the American people to make? And who are you going to say no
to in order to get health care done?

PRES. OBAMA: Well, I, I've already made some pretty substantial changes
in terms of how I was approaching health care. When I was...

MR. GREGORY: Like the public option. You effectively said to the left
it's not going to happen.

PRES. OBAMA: Well, what--no. No, that's not true. What I, what I've said
is the public option I think should be a part of this, but we shouldn't
think that somehow that's the silver bullet that solves health care. What
I've said, for example, on what's called an individual mandate--during
the campaign I said, "Look, if health care is affordable, then I think
people will buy it. So we don't have to say to folks, you know what, you
have to buy health care." And when I talk to healthcare experts on both
the left and the right, what they tell me is that even after you make
health care affordable, there's still going to be some folks out there
who, whether out of inertia or they just don't want to spend the money,
would rather take their chances. Unfortunately, what that means is then
you and I and every American out there who has health insurance and
they're paying their premiums responsibly every month, they've got to
pick up the costs for emergency room care when one of those people gets
sick. So what we've said is as long as we're making this genuinely
affordable to families, then you've got an obligation to get health care
just like you have an obligation to get auto insurance in every state.

MR. GREGORY: Are these the hard choices, though? Who are you saying no

PRES. OBAMA: Well, that--I mean, that's an example of a, of a hard
choice, because that's not necessarily wildly popular, but it's the right
thing to do. You know, I, I have said that it is very important that we
take into account the concerns of doctors and nurses who, by the way,
support our efforts. And I--and that's something that doesn't get noticed
much. The people who are most involved in the healthcare system know that
it's got to be reformed. But I've said that we've got to take into
account their concerns about medical malpractice. Now, that's not popular
in my party, never has been. But I've talked to enough doctors to know
that even though it's not the end-all, be-all of driving down healthcare
costs, it's very important to providers to make sure that their costs are
going down. So I think there are going to be a whole series of Republican
ideas, ideas from my opponents during the campaign that we have
incorporated and adopted. And this is hard. And, and, you know, one of
the things I've always said is if this had been easy, it would've been
taken care of by Teddy Roosevelt.

MR. GREGORY: But you're not really taking on--I mean, you're not saying
to the left they've got to accept malpractice reform or, or caps on, on
jury awards. You don't even think that that contributes to the escalating
costs of health care. What do you--what are you really doing to say to
the left, "Look, you may not like this, but you've got to get on board
and we've got to do this"?

PRES. OBAMA: Well, listen, I, I think I was awfully clear--and I'm
surprised, David. Maybe you haven't been paying attention to what both
the left and the right have been saying about my speech to Congress. I
laid down some pretty clear parameters. And what I said was we're going
to take ideas from both sides. The bottom line is that the American
people can't afford to stay on the current path, we know that, and that
both sides are going to have to give some. Everybody's going to have to
give some in order to get something done. We wouldn't have gotten this
far if, you know, we hadn't been pretty insistent, including to folks in
my own party, that we've got to get past some of these ideological
arguments to actually make something happen.

MR. GREGORY: This healthcare debate, as you well know, can sometimes be
about bigger things. And, and among your harshest critics...

PRES. OBAMA: Mm-hmm.

GREGORY: the view somehow that government is out of control.

PRES. OBAMA: Mm-hmm.

GREGORY: And in some cases, it's gotten very personal.


GREGORY: Your election, to a lot of people, was supposed to mark America
as somehow moving beyond race.


GREGORY: And yet this week you had former president Jimmy Carter saying
most--not just a little, but most of this Republican opposition against
you is motivated by racism. Do you agree with that?

PRES. OBAMA: No. Look, I said during the campaign, are there some
people who still think through the prism of race when it comes to
evaluating me and my candidacy? Absolutely. Sometimes they vote for me
for that reason, sometimes they vote against me for that reason. I'm sure
that was true during the campaign, I'm sure that's true now. But I think
you actually put your finger on what this argument's really about, and
it's an argument that's gone on for the history of this republic. And
that is what's the right role of government? How do we balance freedom
with our need to look after one another? I talked about this in the joint
session speech. This is not a new argument, and it always invokes
passions. And I--there--it was a passionate argument between Jefferson
and Hamilton about this. You know, Andrew Jackson built a whole political
party around this notion that somehow, you know, there, there is populist
outrage against a federal government that was overintrusive. And so what,
what I think is going on is, is that we've got a healthy debate taking
place. The vast majority of people are conducting it in a very sensible
way. I think that every president who's tried to make significant changes
along these lines, whether it was FDR or Ronald Reagan, illicit very
strong, passionate responses. But I do think that we all have an
obligation to try to conduct this conversation in a civil way and to
recognize that each of us are patriots, that each of us are Americans and
that, by the way, the--my proposals, as much as you may not like them if
you're a Republican or on the right, recognize that this is well within
the mainstream of what Americans have been talking about for years in
terms of making sure that everybody in this country gets decent health
care and that people who have health care are protected.

MR. GREGORY: Just to be clear, though...


MR. GREGORY: wasn't just President Carter. There are others in the
Congressional Black Caucus, other thinkers who have said that they agree,
that there is racism out there in that opposition to you. I just want to
be clear. Are you, are you saying to the former president and others to
speak this way is counterproductive?

PRES. OBAMA: Well, look, David, here's what I'm saying. I, I think that
the media loves to have a conversation about race. I mean, this is, is
catnip to, to the media because it is a running thread in American
history that's very powerful and it invokes some very strong emotions.
I'm not saying that race never matters in, in any of these public debates
that we have. What I'm saying is this debate that's taking place is not
about race, it's about people being worried about how our government
should operate. Now, I think a lot of those folks on the other side are
wrong. I think that they have entirely mischaracterized the nature of our
efforts. And I think it's important that we stay focused on solving
problems as opposed to plucking out a sentence here or a comment there
and then the entire debate, which should be about how do we make sure
that middle-class families have secure health care, doesn't get consumed
by other things.

MR. GREGORY: In that vein...


MR. GREGORY: ...House Speaker Pelosi worried about the opposition, the
tone of it perhaps leading to violence as it did in the '70s. There's
more recent examples of anti-government violence occurring even in the
mid-'90s. Do you worry about that?

PRES. OBAMA: Well, look, I think that we have an obligation in Washington
as leaders to make sure that we are sending a strong message that we can
disagree without being disagreeable, without, you know, questioning each
other's motives. When we start caricaturing the other side, I think
that's a problem. And unfortunately, we've got, as I said before, a
24-hour news cycle where what gets you on the news is controversy. What
gets you on the news is the extreme statement. The easiest way to get 15
minutes on the news or your 15 minutes of fame is to be rude. And that's
a, that's something that I think has to change. And it starts with me,
and I've tried to make sure that I've sent a clear signal and I've tried
to maintain an approach that says, "Look, we can have some serious
disagreements, but at the end of the day I'm assuming that you want the
best for America just like I do."

MR. GREGORY: You get a lot of airtime too, though, and you--yours are not
rude. I don't think you'd...

PRES. OBAMA: Well, you know, the--I, I do occupy a pretty special seat at
the moment. But, but I do think that--look, I mean, let's face it. If, if
you look at the news cycle over the last, over the last week, you know,
it, it hasn't been the sensible people who, you know, very deliberately
talk about the important issues that we face as a country. That's not the
folks who've getting a lot of coverage.

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about another important issue facing you and
your administration, and that is Afghanistan.


MR. GREGORY: We've now been in Afghanistan for eight years. The Soviets
pulled out of Afghanistan after 10 years.


MR. GREGORY: Are we committed to this war for an indefinite period of
time, or do you think in your mind is there a deadline for withdrawal?

PRES. OBAMA: I don't have a deadline for withdrawal, but I'm certainly
not somebody who believes in indefinite occupations of other countries.
Keep in mind what happened when I came in. We had been adrift, I think,
when it came to our Afghanistan strategy. And what I said was that we are
going to do a top to bottom review of what's taking place there. Not just
a one-time review, but we're going to do a review before the election in
Afghanistan and then we're going to do another review after the election.
And we are going to see how this is fitting what I think is our core
goal, which is to go after the folks who killed 3,000 Americans during
9/11 and who are still plotting to kill us: al-Qaeda. How do we dismantle
them, disrupt them, destroy them? Now, getting our strategy right in
Afghanistan and in Pakistan are both important elements of that. But
that's our goal, and I want to stay focused on that. And, and so right
now what's happened is, is that we've had an election in Afghanistan. It
did not go as smoothly as I think we would have hoped, and that there are
some serious issues in terms of how that--how the election was conducted
in some parts of the country. But we've had that election. We now finally
have the 21,000 troops in place that I had already ordered to go.

MR. GREGORY: Are you skeptical about more troops, about sending more

PRES. OBAMA: Well, can I just say this? I am--I have to exercise
skepticism any time I send a single young man or woman in uniform into
harm's way, because I'm the one who's answerable to their parents if they
don't come home. So I have to ask some very hard questions any time I
send our troops in.

The question that I'm asking right now is to our military, to General
McChrystal, to General Petraeus, to all our national security apparatus
is, whether it's troops who are already there or any troop request in the
future, how does this advance America's national security interests? How
does it make sure that al-Qaeda and its extremist allies cannot attack
the United States' homeland, our allies, our troops who are based in
Europe? That's the question that I'm constantly asking, because that's
the primary threat that we went there to deal with. And if, if supporting
the Afghan national government and building capacity for their army and
securing certain provinces advances that strategy, then we'll move
forward. But if it doesn't, then I'm not interested in just being in
Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or in
some way, you know, sending a message that America is here for, for the
duration. I think it's important that we match strategy to resources.
What I'm not also going to do, though, is put the resource question
before the strategy question. Until I'm satisfied that we've got the
right strategy, I'm not going to be sending some young man or woman over
there beyond what we already have.

MR. GREGORY: On a lighter note; before I let you go, Mr. President, you
were brazen this summer at the All-Star game, wearing your Chicago White
Sox jacket out there to throw out the first pitch. Hate to break it to
you, but doesn't look so good for your White Sox here. So I want to know,
who is your pick to win the World Series?

PRES. OBAMA: You know, I am--I think mathematically the White Sox can
still get in the playoffs.

MR. GREGORY: They can, mathematically.


MR. GREGORY: You're an optimist.

PRES. OBAMA: ...until they are eliminated, I will make no predictions.

MR. GREGORY: Oh, come on.

PRES. OBAMA: I've got to say, though, that the, the Cardinals have been,
been coming on strong. And Pujols is unbelievable.


PRES. OBAMA: But--this is tough to say. The Yankees are also doing pretty
well. And a shout-out to Derek Jeter for breaking Lou Gehrig's record.
He's a, he's a class act.

MR. DAVID GREGORY: And now the view from the other side of the aisle.
We're joined here in Washington by Congressman John Boehner and Senator
Lindsey Graham.

Welcome, both of you, back to MEET THE PRESS. Maybe we'll get to baseball
if there's time, but there's a lot of substantive issues I think in that
interview that I want to go through with both of you. And let me start
with this, Leader Boehner. It sounds like the president was trying to
cool of this debate over government, over health care. He pointedly
disagreed with former President Jimmy Carter, saying the opposition
against him is not about race. But he also issued a challenge to
Republicans, who he said "are totally mischaracterizing the nature of our
efforts." Your response.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): Well, he said basically the same thing when he
came to Capitol Hill and gave a speech. Took out on--took on the right
for our descriptions of what they're trying to do. But if you step back
and look at the bill that we have in the House--I'll let Lindsey talk
about the Senate--it represents a giant takeover of our healthcare
system. Now, there's no debate in Washington or around the country about
the need for us to fix our healthcare system. It doesn't work well for
everyone and it does--and it costs too much. But we can fix our current
system, we can make it work better. We don't have to throw it away and
have this big government plan that we see moving through the House. And
if you look at what the president has been supporting, it's this big
government plan that has some 51 new agencies, boards, commissions,
mandates that is going to get in the way of delivering quality care to
the American people.

MR. GREGORY: I want, I want to come back to some of the specifics about
health care. But I want to, I want to stay with this tone of the debate
right now and whether or not you agree that by some of the things the
president said in the course of that interview, he is trying to cool off
the debate, the tone of the debate. Do you see it that way?

REP. BOEHNER: Well, I don't know that the tone of the debate has gotten
out of control.

MR. GREGORY: You don't think so?

REP. BOEHNER: It's been spirited, because we're talking about an issue
that affects every single American. And because it affects every American
in a very personal way, more Americans have been engaged in this debate
than any issue in decades. And so there's room to work together. But I
first believe that we've got to just take this big government option,
this big government plan and move it to the side. Now, let's talk about
what we can do to make our current system work better. Then we'll have
some grounds on which to build.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Graham, this was a--the cover of The Week magazine.
it's got a statue of your colleague from South Carolina, Joe Wilson. It
says "Mad as hell: What's driving the passionate backlash against Obama?"
Do you disagree with your colleague here? Has this gotten out of hand?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Well, I, I--let me talk about the tone. I
wish the president had been the way he was in your interview in the joint
session. What Joe, Joe did was unacceptable and it was not proper, and we
all said that, including Joe. But what the president did today is changed
his tone. When he came to the House he was very combative, I thought.
We're not bickering. He accused people of demagoguery who objected to his
plan. He basically accused people of lying about certain aspects of his
plan. And he says if you want to bicker, forget it; if you want to sit
down and talk. Well, I've always wanted to sit down and talk. The
president is selling something that people, quite frankly, are not
buying. He's been on everything but the food channel. Just a few
weeks--you know, last week he was addressing the nation.

His problem is when he says the public auction--option won't affect your
healthcare choice, people don't believe that. They think if the
government gets involved in private health care, that the health care
they've got is going to be compromised. When he says it won't add a penny
to the deficit, then the next sentence out of his mouth, "And if it does
we'll pull a trigger to stop the spending." We've never pulled any
triggers in any other bills. And when he talks about how you pay for it,
that we're going to get $300 billion savings from Medicare and Medicaid,
we've never done that before. So the problem with the president, he's
saying things that people want to hear: won't add to the deficit, you'll
never have to lose--you'll never be asked to give up your own health
care. But when you look at the details, it just doesn't add up. And he's
trying too hard. And today I thought his tone was better. But this is not
about tone, this is about policy. It's not about race, it's about the
president selling something that people inherently believe sounds too
good and doesn't add up.

MR. GREGORY: And he speaks about the role of government. But first,
Leader Boehner, do you think what Congressman Wilson did was
inappropriate? And should he have been, you know, had the resolution
passed against him essentially punishing him, admonishing him?

REP. BOEHNER: It was inappropriate. That's why Congressman Wilson called
the White House, apologized to the president. And the president was
gracious enough to accept his apology. It should have been the end of the
story. Why House Democrats decided to press ahead with this resolution
to, to slap his wrist is beyond me. But it looked to me like nothing more
than a partisan political stunt. It didn't need to happen. It was over
with. I was--as the president said, it’s time to talk about health care, not
talk about Joe Wilson.

MR. GREGORY: This question about the role of the government, and, and
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying this week what she worries about in
terms of the tone of debate is that it could lead to violence, as it did
in the '70s; you know, there was anti-government violence in the '90s in
Oklahoma City, as well. How much of a concern is that? Do you share it,
or do you think that that was an overstatement on her part?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, quite frankly, I mean, the whole idea of the role of
government needs to be debated. The public option; she says there will be
no bill coming out of the House without a public option. America is
saying, listen, the government programs we've got like Medicare is $34
trillion underfunded. The Baucus bill will let--adds 11 million to a
Medicaid system that can't--the states can't afford. So a lot of us are
concerned that Nancy Pelosi and others are pushing government to control
prices when it will not work in health care. Competition and choice. If
you've got only one plan in Alabama, let the people in Alabama shop
around the country for plans. But I'm not so worried about--you know, her
criticism about the opponents of the plan don't bother me. The fact that
we're broke...

MR. GREGORY: She's talking about violence, though.

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah. I don't...

MR. GREGORY: I mean, we'll get to the health care. You don't buy that.

SEN. GRAHAM: I don't think any responsible person is asking for a violent

MR. GREGORY: Do you--is that hyperbole?

REP. BOEHNER: David, I'm, I'm not concerned about violence.


REP. BOEHNER: I mean, I'm sure Speaker Pelosi was sincere in her concern.
But let's remember something. The debate that we're in here is not just
about health care, it's about the, the trillion-dollar stimulus that was
suppose to be about jobs and turned into nothing more spending--than
spending and more spending. It was about a budget with a, with a nearly
$2 trillion deficit this year and trillion-dollar deficits for as far as
the eye can see. It's a cap and trade system, this big giant tax on the
American people that this week, we just find out, the Treasury Department
said will cost the average family $1,700 per year. You add to that this
whole question of health care and the government option, the government
involvement, and Americans today are getting more news about what's
happening in their government than they have ever gotten before, and
Americans are genuinely scared to death. Scared to death...

MR. GREGORY: But, Leader, don't they get even more scared when you got
the head of the Republican Party sending out an e-mail that, you know, to
challenge the president and Democratic leaders for a socialist power
grab? I mean, is that appropriate conversation? Is this, did you really
think the president's a socialist?

REP. BOEHNER: Listen, when you begin to look at how much they want to
grow government, you can call it whatever you want, but the fact is, is

MR. GREGORY: Well, what do you call it, though? This is important.

REP. BOEHNER: This is unsustainable. We're, we're broke.

MR. GREGORY: That's fine. Do you think the president's a socialist?
Because that's what...


MR. GREGORY: OK. But the head of the Republican Party is, is calling him

REP. BOEHNER: Well, listen, I didn't call him that and I'm not going to
call him that. What's going on here is unsustainable. Our nation is
broke. And, and at a time when we've got this serious economic problem, a
near 10 percent unemployment, we ought to be looking to create jobs in
America, not kill jobs in America. Their cap and trade proposal, all this
spending, all of this debt and now their healthcare plan will make it
more difficult for employers to hire people, more difficult and more
expensive to have employees, which means we're going to have less jobs in
America. But Americans are scared. That's why they're speaking up and
that's why they're engaging in their government.

MR. GREGORY: Let, let me, let me follow up on this point specifically
about health care. You were on this program back in January, and just to
paraphrase what you said, you said, "We don't want to be the party of
no." Now, the question is, what are the costs of inaction? The Business
Roundtable has issued a report. Not, not a left wing organization, I
think you probably agree. And the report is titled "Perils of Inaction:
What are the Costs of Doing Nothing?" Two key findings I want to
highlight. "Without significant marketplace reforms, if current trends
continue, annual healthcare costs for employers will rise 166 percent
over the next decade, from $10,743 per employee today to over $28,000 by
2019." Also, "If nothing changes by 2019, total healthcare spending will
reach $4.4 trillion, consuming more than 20 percent of the U.S. Gross
Domestic Product." If I--the question I asked the president, Leader; if
you don't want to be the party of no, what are you prepared to do? What
hard choice are you prepared to make as a party to put some ideas forward
and get something done on health care?

REP. BOEHNER: Listen, we've outlined a number of ideas to make the
current system work better. Why not allow small employers to group
together through national associations so they can buy health insurance
for their employees like big companies and unions can today? Why not
allow the American people to buy healthcare plans across state lines? Why
not get serious about medical malpractice reform and, more importantly,
the defensive medicine that doctors practice because we haven't reformed
our tort system? There are ideas. I outlined some of these ideas in a
letter to the president back in May, asked to sit down with he--with him
and his administration. And we got a nice, polite letter back that says,
"Thank you for your ideas, we'll see it at the end." I've not been to the
White House since late April, early May. There's been no bipartisan
conversation on Capitol Hill about health care. At some point when these
big government plans fail--and they will, the Congress will not pass
this--it's really time for the president to hit the reset button, just
stop all of this and let's sit down and start over in a bipartisan way to
build a plan that Americans will support.

MR. GREGORY: So you think the plan is dead?

REP. BOEHNER: I think it is.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Graham, the, the, the plan that's moving through the

SEN. GRAHAM: Mm-hmm. Right.

MR. GREGORY: ...the Baucus bill in the Senate Finance Committee, includes
a provision about controlling costs, right? And that's been the big


MR. GREGORY: Republicans and Democrats, the president as well. Ron
Brownstein, in his column, writes this about the Baucus
bill: "The [Congressional Budget Office] concluded that the Baucus bill
could move close to universal coverage (reaching 94 percent of eligible
Americans, with a funding stream that not met the cost of expanding
coverage, but also reduced the deficit in that second decade."


MR. GREGORY: Isn't that something you could support?

SEN. GRAHAM: I want to--yes. And I'm on the Wyden-Bennett bill that is
deficit neutral. But the Baucus bill is getting bipartisan criticism.
Democrats are saying they don't want a 35 percent tax on so-called
Cadillac plans that union members are involved in, where if you have
$21,000 per family, $8,000 individual, the Baucus bill taxes those plans.
They're taxing medical services that companies want to provide to their
employees. The employees are willing to pay for it to cover the
uninsured. It puts 11 million people on a Medicaid system. It reduces
Medicare by $400 billion to get to deficit neutrality. I don't believe
it. We tried to reduce Medicare by $33.8 billion and couldn't get one
Democrat to vote for it, so I don't believe one minute that you're going
to get the Congress to reduce Medicare by $400 billion to make this thing
deficit neutral. It taxes medical device companies. It puts $6 billion of
tax on insurance companies that are going to be passed onto to
individuals. So the taxing plan and the, and the spending cuts don't
exist. They'll never going to happen. So let's put a plan on the table
based on the history of the Congress that has a snowball, snowball's
chance in hell of getting passed. Wyden-Bennett is a Republican saying,
"I will cover everybody in this country," David, as a mandate, and Wyden
is saying, "Let's do it through the private sector."

MR. GREGORY: So is there anything the president could do at this point to
bring you along, to make you cross the aisle on--for this?

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah. Meet with the Wyden-Bennett senators, seven
Republicans and seven Democrats who have come up with a compromise that
requires everyone to be covered but allows you to be covered through the
private sector, and it's deficit neutral, and do something serious about
tort reform and we're off to the races. He's changed his rhetoric because
the speech was a disaster. What he's trying to sell to the American
people, they don't buy. They don't believe we're going to cut Medicare
the way we say we are. They don't believe we'll stop spending and pull a
trigger to make it more responsible when it gets to a certain level. So
the president's saying things that people want to hear, but the details
don't add up. He can be on every news show until the end of time. If he
doesn't get the Republicans and Democrats in a room and get off the TV,
we're never going to solve this problem.

MR. GREGORY: Leader Boehner, final point on this, and it's a political
point. The president has accused Republicans of dusting off the old
playbook from '93, '94. But there are some political professionals who
say the Democrats could lose a lot of seats next year. Do you think a
repeat of 1994 is possible if they get health care?

REP. BOEHNER: I don't know whether it's possible with or without health
care, but I can tell you right now is that the American people are more
engaged in their government than at any time in our history. The American
people are holding their members of Congress accountable for what they do
and what they don't do. Now, and when people get this engaged, votes to
raise taxes, votes for cap and trade, votes for a stimulus bill and
bailouts are not very popular at home, and I'm looking forward to a good
year next year.

MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about a couple of other foreign policy issues in
our remaining time. Senator Graham, Afghanistan.

SEN. GRAHAM: Yes, sir.

MR. GREGORY: President broke ground here. He talked about a couple of

SEN. GRAHAM: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY: One, that he does not believe in indefinite occupations.


MR. GREGORY: Second, that he doesn't have a deadline for withdrawal. But
on the question of troops he said, "Look, I'm always going to be
skeptical about sending more troops into harm's way." You said he needs
more troops. What struck you about what he said?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, the, the tone from--the commitment during the campaign
was you're--Iraq is the wrong war. Afghanistan is the war. I've got
statements in 2008 where he says the central front in the battle against
terror is in Afghanistan. It's the place where we were attacked, it's the
place we can never let go bad again. We can never let the Taliban and the
al-Qaeda come back, because it would destabilize Pakistan. During the
campaign, when he was trying to say we need to get out of Iraq, he was
saying we need to get deeper involved in Afghanistan. He is right now.
Afghanistan has deteriorated. His rhetoric in the campaign is just as
true then as it is now. I am convinced that the number of coalition
forces with the current state of the Afghan army can never regain lost
momentum. Admiral Mullen said we're losing momentum in Afghanistan. We
need more resources. We have a strategy that started in March. It's the
counterinsurgency strategy. It's not properly resourced. I don't believe
it's possible to turn around Afghanistan without more American combat
power somewhere near 40,000 troops.

But having said that, the key to us leaving with security and honor is to
put pressure on the Karzai government. I want to help this president do
the things we need to do, stand up to a skeptical public. And I
understand why people are skeptical, but I'll be one Republican standing
by this president and we will not do to him what they did to Bush. This
is not Obama's war in Afghanistan, this is America's war, and there's a
way to win it according to our commanders. We're going to need more
resources to do it. And I want to help this president, because our
national security interests are as ever much at stake today as they were
in the election.

REP. BOEHNER: And David, I, I said early in the year that if the president
listened to our commanders on the ground and, and to our diplomats, that
I'd be there by his side. And I supported his strategy in Iraq. I've
supported his strategy in Afghanistan. But it's pretty clear, based on
what I heard this morning, that the president's changing the goals here.
All he talked about was going after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
What happened to the statement earlier this year when the president said
we cannot allow the Taliban and al-Qaeda to have a safe haven from which
to train, operate and organize to go after Americans? That is a very big
change. And so I'm really concerned. We've been asking for General
McChrystal to come to Capitol Hill and testify. The request--we haven't
heard anything.

SEN. GRAHAM: Well...

REP. BOEHNER: There's reports out all last week that the White House has
asked General McChrystal to wait four to six weeks...


REP. BOEHNER: ...before sending his request in. And so there's something,
there's something amiss here, and I am highly skeptical of, of the debate
that we're going to have here over the next couple of months.

SEN. GRAHAM: If I may add, Admiral Mullen said urgency is the key here, a
sense of urgency. We've lost momentum and we need to decide quickly. And
I've been told General McChrystal's ready to hit the send button in terms
of how many more troops he needs, and the longer we wait the harder it
is. And you've got 68,000 people, 30,000 of them engaged in combat, that
are not being properly protected. The ones that are there fighting need help,
and the longer we wait to give them help the harder it is on them.

MR. GREGORY: I want you on the record on the missile defense...

SEN. GRAHAM: Yes, sir.

MR. GREGORY: ...change from the White House. The Defense secretary wrote
in The New York Times this morning, "Those who say we're scrapping
missile defense in Europe are either misinformed or misrepresenting what
we are doing." They say they've got a better way to do this and to
protect against missiles from the likes of Iran.

SEN. GRAHAM: I would say to my good friend Secretary Gates that if you
are trying to tell me this has nothing to do with administration trying
to get a better relationship with Russia, I don't believe you. What they
did, in my view, undercut two good allies, the Poles and the Czech
Republic. The technological changes they're talking about, to me, are not
the center of this debate. The Russians tried to link this missile
defense program with the START treaty. You should've never allowed them
to do it. This is going to be seen as a capitulation to the Russians, who
had no real basis to object to what we were doing. And at the end of the
day you empowered the Russians, you made Iran happy and you made the
people in Eastern Europe wonder who we are as Americans.

MR. GREGORY: Back home, can Governor Sanford still survive politically,
do you think?

SEN. GRAHAM: I think the Ethics Committee will report about his conduct.
The answer is yes if he's cleared by the Ethics Committee, he did nothing
wrong. I think he can make it.

MR. GREGORY: Should he still be governor?

SEN. GRAHAM: In my view, changing the governor or impeachment has its own
problems. I'd like to see Mark be able to finish out his term, but he's
got to prove to me and others that he can be effective. That's a story
still ongoing.

MR. GREGORY: Still open in your mind. You haven't been satisfied yet.

SEN. GRAHAM: I think Mark can make it. But the Ethics Committee will be
outcome determinative, I think.

MR. GREGORY: Finally, Leader Boehner, before you go, if you work hard, if
you legislate, work with your colleagues, this can all be yours. Put it
up on the screen. There he is, one of your predecessors, Tom DeLay,
"Dancing with the Stars." What a second act, huh?

REP. BOEHNER: I'll pass.

MR. GREGORY: You'll leave, you'll leave the dancing to him?

REP. BOEHNER: All--it's all his.

MR. GREGORY: Congress Boehner, Senator Graham, thank you both very much.

SEN. GRAHAM: Thank you.

MR. GREGORY: Up next, partisan politics continue. What are the risks to
both sides? And is race a factor in some of the heated debate? Eugene
Robinson and Roger Simon weigh in after this brief commercial break, only


MR. GREGORY: Insights and analysis from our political roundtable after
this brief commercial break.

MR. DAVID GREGORY: We are back, joined now by Eugene Robinson of The
Washington Post and Roger Selman--Simon.

Welcome to both of you. A lot to talk about, certainly.

Gene, the president made news in this interview in a few different areas.
One is he pointedly disagreed with Jimmy Carter on the question of race.
It's clear the, the White House does not want to have that conversation
about race. But you'd like to, and you wrote about it this week. And the
title of the column is "Jimmy Carter Did Us All A Favor." You wrote in
part, "It seems clear to me that some--but not an `overwhelming portion,'
as [Jimmy] Carter claimed--of the `intensely demonstrated animosity'
toward Obama is indeed `based on the fact that he is a black man.' ... Of
course it's possible to reject Obama's policies and philosophy without
being racist. But there's a particular nasty edge to the most vitriolic
attacks--a rejection not of Obama's programs but of his legitimacy as
president. ... I'm talking about the crazy `birthers.' I'm talking about
the nitwits who arrive at protest rallies bearing racially offensive
caricatures ... idiots who toss around words like `socialism' to make
Obama seem alien and even more dangerous. ... I look forward to the day
when we can look past race. But before we can do so, we need to look at
race and see it clearly. Jimmy Carter did us a favor." And yet the
president says that this topic of race is like catnip for those of us in
the media.

MR. EUGENE ROBINSON: Yeah. What--well, what newspaper or Web site does
Jimmy Carter report for? I mean, he's a former president, he's not the
media. He brought this up. And I'm glad that he did, because I do think
there is an edge to the criticism that is related to race. And I don't
think it's the totality of the, of the attacks on Obama. The country is
concerned about the economy, about--over government spending,
the--legitimately concerned about a lot of things. But this question of
legitimacy, the question that, that somehow he doesn't deserve to be
there and it's, it's--you know, we had this wonderful kind of warm
national feeling in January during the inauguration, and I think there
is, there is a core, a nut, a, a group on the far right, but wherever you
want to put them on the spectrum, that has difficulty accepting him as

MR. GREGORY: But Bush faced questions of legitimacy, Clinton faced
questions of legitimacy as well.

MR. ROBINSON: They did. But, you know, it was, it was a little different.
For, for those on the left, once we got past the question of, of Bush v.
Gore and the Supreme Court decision...

MR. GREGORY: There are a lot of people who never got past it.

MR. ROBINSON: Well, well some people never got past it, but relatively
few. I think, I think for the, for the majority on the left it, it, it
became more of, "I can't believe people voted for this guy."


MR. ROBINSON: And "I can't believe they voted for him again," rather than
"This guy does not have the right to occupy the Oval Office because
there's something illegitimate about, about him as president."

MR. GREGORY: Roger, you wrote in a column on Friday, you know, "Extreme
feelings can be based on other things than race. People can act rudely
and not be racists."

MR. ROGER SIMON: Yeah. And, and, and one of the few times I think I
disagree with Gene. I, I think it is important to talk about race, and
there's certainly racism out there. I think Jimmy Carter did it in the
wrong way. I think it was not a teachable moment, it was an in-your-face
moment. Jimmy Carter apparently believes if something is worth stating,
it's worth overstating. When Barack Obama campaigned for president, he
talked about his days of campaigning for the Senate in Illinois and would
go down to southern Illinois, white, conservative, sometimes hostile; he
didn't begin his speeches by saying, "The overwhelming majority of you
are racists, but here's my plans for education, health care and the
environment." He would say, "Look, here's who I am. Here's my plans for
health care and education and the environment. Together, you and I can
build a better future for ourselves and our children." And some people
went away from those speeches thinking, "Well, this guy isn't a bad guy.
Maybe, maybe I should go for this guy." That's a teachable moment. You
can win people over. Some people you can't win over. Maybe the birthers
you can never win over. Some of the crazies with disgusting signs you
can't win over. But to simply despise people and to dismiss them as all a
bunch of racists does not create a helpful atmosphere in this country or
one where you genuinely can heal the wounds, which I think is what we're
talking about.

MR. GREGORY: Final thought on this?

MR. ROBINSON: Yeah, my thought is we're not that far apart in that I
don't believe that all the critics are racist. I do believe, however,
that it is in the interest of the legitimate and honorable critics of the
president to, to distance themselves from those who are not. And it may
be a small group, I hope it's, I hope it's a tiny, a vanishingly small
group, but it's there. And, and, and I, I, I think we do ourselves a
disservice and do the country a disservice if we ignore it.

MR. GREGORY: There's another portion of this interview having to do with
the role of government as the fuel for this opposition, and I want to
play that portion from the president again, because I think it's
important. Watch this.


PRES. OBAMA: I think you actually put your finger on what this argument's
really about, and it's an argument that's gone on for the history of this
republic. And that is what's the right role of government? How do we
balance freedom with our need to look after one another?

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: And, Roger, it seems to me that the president is in a
position where he's got to sort of own the argument on government being
the solution. Is he doing a good enough job of selling government as the
solution at a time--you think back to the Bush administration,
competence, effectiveness in government was huge.

MR. SIMON: Now, I, I think what the president is addressing is a, is a,
is a theme, is a movement that started or was encapsulated by Ronald
Reagan, who taught us all that big government is bad. It is necessarily
bad. The most dangerous words in the English language is "I'm from the
government and I'm here to help you." That's the opposite of what Barack
Obama believes. He believes big problems require big government
solutions, that government can be a positive force, a force for good.
That is who he is. And if he can't sell that, then he cannot sell his

MR. ROBINSON: I, I agree. And, and I think--what I think the White House
has not done a good enough job at is, is pointing out that the government
already is a solution to a lot of big problems. And so when people show
up at town halls with Medicare cards in their pocket and say, "I don't
want any sort of government healthcare plan," there's a contradiction
there. And I think there, there, there, there should have been way, or
there should be a way for the White House to point out the ways in which
government is involved in people's lives and to, to their benefit.

MR. GREGORY: The question of the media blitz and overexposure. Full
disclosure here, I don't sign up to the overexposure thing since I've got
my requests in to interview the president. But, Roger, what do you think
he has achieved, can achieve?

MR. SIMON: I think the most difficult thing--when he complains about the
media attention to race and to bad things and, you know, catnip to the
media, I think the worst thing the media--we're very bad at averting our
eyes. We're very bad at not gawking at the car wreck, because
fundamentally revealing things and not concealing things is what we do.
And when--we largely get in trouble for keeping stories from the public,
not presenting them to the public. And I think the White House is OK with
catnip, as long as they're feeding the cat. You know, as long as the cat
is purring and rubbing up against them, I'm speaking metaphorically here,
the White House is only too happy to have it. And in terms of the media
blitz, you know, this--if this guy can't handle five 15-minute
interviews, he ought not to be president. I think he does fine on media

MR. ROBINSON: He's out there every day.


MR. ROBINSON: I mean, he's out there very day. He's on, on five shows
this morning. He's everywhere. And to then turn around and say, well, you
know, the media is somehow paying too much attention to anything, I think
is, is--there's a disconnect there, so.

MR. GREGORY: OK, a couple of political notes I want to get to. The front
page of The New York Times today, Roger, saying that the White House is
trying to get involved in the New York governors race, that the president
himself approved the decision to try to get Governor Paterson not to run

MR. SIMON: This is a bit shocking on two fronts.


MR. SIMON: One, that it's so nakedly political that the president is
involving himself in a, you know, in the politics of another state, as is
perfectly right to do so. He is the leader of the Democratic Party. But
he hasn't done that a lot. He hasn't acted as party leader, he's acted as
president. Secondly, he--there are only two black governors in the
country. Paterson is one of them. I think there have only been three in
the history of the United States. And Barack Obama is asking him to stand
down, apparently in the favor of a white candidate, Andrew Cuomo. There
may be some backlash on that.

MR. GREGORY: About 30 seconds left, Gene. Republicans, Mike Huckabee; he
wins the straw poll for 2012 at the Values Voter Summit. Is he poised for
a comeback here?

MR. ROBINSON: Well, among the, you know, the social conservatives, the
values voters, pro-life, Huckabee is their guy. I think he, he gave a
great presentation to them and they like him. I think these are early
days and we haven't heard the last from Mitt, Mitt Romney.

MR. GREGORY: Were you struck by Paterson?

MR. ROBINSON: The Paterson thing does strike me, yes. And it, it's quite
interesting. This is a political president. He campaigned for Arlen
Specter, if you recall, last week against his primary opponent in
Pennsylvania. So he wants to be the leader of the party.

MR. GREGORY: All right, we're going to leave it there. Thank you both
very much.

And before we take a break here, I wanted to let you know about our newly
redesigned interactive Web site. You can find more show video,
transcripts, information on upcoming guests, plus my reporting and a link
to my blog. Check it out at and let us know your thoughts.

We'll be right back after this brief station break.

MR. DAVID GREGORY: A programming note before we leave this morning. Tune
in this evening for "About Our Children," an MSNBC live event featuring
panelist Bill Cosby and hosted by Michelle Bernard. That's tonight on
MSNBC at 7 PM Eastern time.

That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET