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'Meet the Press' transcript for January 17, 2010

Transcript of the January 17, 2010 broadcast of NBC's "Meet the Press," featuring Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Rajiv Shah, Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, Karen Hughes, John Podesta, Mark Halperin and Bob Woodward.

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  This Sunday:  Haiti in ruins.  After the earthquake, the death toll is staggering, perhaps tens of thousands.  So many still missing, buried under debris.  Their presidential palace leveled, the government crippled.  Officials estimate nearly three million people are still in need of aid.  With the sale of human suffering only now becoming clear, the president promises the Haitian people they will not be forsaken.


PRES. BARACK OBAMA:  As the international community continues to respond, I do believe that America has a continued responsibility to act.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  What sort of long-term commitment in Haiti does the president envision?  What will it take in money and manpower to rebuild this island nation?  How was Haiti left so vulnerable to a disaster of this magnitude for so long?  We'll get the very latest on the situation from officials on the ground.  Then we sit down with former Presidents Bush and Clinton, who have joined together at the request of President Obama to lead fundraising and other relief efforts.


FMR. PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH:  Our job is to remind people that there's still an ongoing need, and we'll do that.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Then, as President Obama completes his first year in office, we take an in-depth look at what he's accomplished and how the American people view his presidency thus far.  Health care, the economy and politics as the president risks his own political capital to ensure Senator Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts stays in the Democratic column.  Analysis this morning from two political insiders, former counselor to President George W. Bush Karen Hughes, and former White House chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, John Podesta; and two longtime Washington reporters, Time magazine's Mark Halperin, co-author of the new book "Game Change," and The Washington Post's Bob Woodward.

But first, good morning, we want to bring you up to date on all of the developments out of Haiti.  It has been five days since the devastating earthquake hit that island nation.  Latest estimates from the Haitian government, 50,000 bodies have already been recovered and the death toll is likely to be between 100,000 and 200,000.  Our preliminary Red Cross estimate puts the total number of affected people, affected Haitians, at 3.5 million. As the focus now moves from rescue operations to the massive task of trying to get food, water, and shelter to desperate survivors, all of this as there are increasing reports of looting and intensifying violence.  We will hear from former Presidents Bush and Clinton in just a moment on their joint fundraising efforts and how they are committed to a long-term rebuilding effort in this country of so much need.

But first, let's get the very latest this morning on rescue and relief operations.  And for that we are joined in Port-au-Prince by Lieutenant General Ken Keen, a three-star general who is heading up the U.S.  military relief effort on the ground, and here in Washington by Dr. Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development.

Welcome to both of you.

Dr. Shah, let me begin with you.  You were just in Haiti just yesterday with Secretary of State Clinton.  You had a chance to meet with officials of the government.  What is the latest?  What is your assessment on the ground there?

DR. RAJIV SHAH:  Well, I did have a chance to go to Haiti yesterday and it--it's just a reminder of what you articulated, that this has been a tremendous tragedy, that, that three and a half million people have been affected, perhaps even more.  There's been significant loss of life, and there's been significant degrading of the basic infrastructure--roads, the airport was inaccessible, the port has been destroyed.  And so it's a challenging, challenging situation.  But the president, immediately after this happened, pulled the Cabinet together and, and ordered a swift, aggressive and comprehensive and coordinated response, and that's what we've in--been in the process of doing.  Going to Haiti yesterday was a chance to visit with the brave Americans who are part of that response.

MR. GREGORY:  How big is this death toll going to be?  Do you have any sense of that?

DR. SHAH:  Well, we have no reason to contradict the numbers that you were articulating and that we've all heard.  I think we'll get a lot more information as we are more active in collecting bodies and we'll--and as we're doing more of the recovery and rescue and, and, you know, getting through the buildings and through the debris.  There's, there's still a lot...

MR. GREGORY:  You say rescue.  Is it still possible to find more people alive?

DR. SHAH:  Absolutely.  This is still an active rescue operation.  We--as the U.S.  government, we were the first government to send rescue teams on the ground.  In fact, a team from Fairfax County, Virginia, that I had a chance to meet with, were the first ones to reach there.  They established a site of operations at the airport and helped coordinate and discharge the responsibilities of almost 30 other teams that came in from around the world. We have more than--almost 400 Americans actively involved in urban search and rescue.  These are teams with real capabilities, with, with specialized equipment, with lighting.  They work overnight, and they are really heroes.  I had a chance to meet with them yesterday.  They've saved dozens of people, mostly Haitians, and they're very committed, and they're actively involved in rescues.

MR. GREGORY:  General Keen, let me turn to you down in Port-au-Prince.  Your priorities--food, water, safe shelter--how's it going?

LT. GEN. KEN KEEN:  Well, sir, we had a very good day yesterday getting out, delivering supplies.  We delivered over 130,000 rations and 70,000 bottles of water.  But that's just the beginning.  We're going to do better every day.

MR. GREGORY:  The--some of the challenges you face right now, according to officials on the ground, is the potential for real chaos, for anarchy.  What is the role the government is playing right now and that the military's playing in trying to secure Haiti?

LT. GEN. KEEN:  Well, security is an inherent responsibility of providing humanitarian assistance.  We need a safe and secure environment to be successful.  But, fortunately, we have a United Nations mission here which has been doing this for several years.  But this is a, a disaster of epic proportions.  They are transitioned into humanitarian assistance operations as well, and security is a concern.  Yesterday our experience was that there is calm on the streets.  We had very good encounters with the Haitian population as we delivered humanitarian assistance.  But, as you noted, there are increasing incidents of security, and we are going to have to deal with it as we go forward.

MR. GREGORY:  How many U.S.  troops will be required to keep Haiti secure?

LT. GEN. KEEN:  Well, I don't know how many it's going to take, but we're going to do it in conjunction with the United Nations.  Today I have over 1,000 troops on the ground in Haiti.  We're increasing that with a focus of getting our humanitarian supplies out to the people and doing so with security in mind and looking at this, as we go forward, to do just what you said, get a better understanding of what we need to get and address the entire population that's been affected by this disaster.

MR. GREGORY:  There's been a lot of concern, as we hear a helicopter in the background there, about flights getting into Haiti and whether they were able to get in immediately to provide needed supplies.  There was frustration on that account between countries like the U.S.  and, and some of our partners in all of this.  The New York Times reported this about some concerns that the World Food Agency, the World Food Programme had.  "`There are 200 flights,'" The Times reported, "`going in and out every day, which is an incredible amount for a country like Haiti,' said Jarry Emmanuel, the air logistics officer for the [World Food Program's] Haiti effort.  `But most of those flights are for the U.S.  military.  ...  Their priorities are to secure the country.  Ours are to feed.  We have got to get those priorities in sync.'" Are those priorities in sync now?

LT. GEN. KEEN:  Well, I think the priorities are in sync, but it's a, a balance, it's a balance between getting the quantities of relief supplies that are so desperately needed, getting the logistical and people here that we need to get those supplies out to the area, as well as getting the forces here that you need for security.  And we've got to balance all of those, and we're working very closely with the United Nations and the government of Haiti to balance those priorities and get the things on the ground.  As you noted, the airport is our main logistical hub.  We're working aggressively to open up other ways to get in here.  The ports are part of that, but other surrounding airports such as in the Dominican Republic, hopefully we can see progress made to other avenues to get supplies in.

MR. GREGORY:  Dr. Shah, the, the--one of the things you'll hear in my interview coming up with Presidents Bush and Clinton, President Bush saying, after Katrina, one of the things he learned is it takes time to get supplies in.  There's frustration about how long it's taken to get supplies into Haiti already.  What should we expect timewise?  And what are the repercussions of taking additional time when you've got a country that's so physically unstable?

DR. SHAH:  Well, look, we're aware that we're racing against the clock, and that is why, when the president asked us to have a swift and coordinated response, we didn't hesitate.  We immediately began at the U.S.  Agency for International Development and with partners from across the government--FEMA, DHS, and a number of others.  We immediately mobilized resources, food items, commodities like health and medical kits, and started sending those down to Haiti as soon as we possibly could.  As the general mentioned, the airport was, was inoperable originally because the control tower had been out.  and it, it was harder to get things in.  It was an important first step for the military to secure the airport, and we've entered into an arrangement with the Haitian government so that we're facilitating the operations of that airport, which has allowed for a significant expansion of capacity there and allowed for commodities and other personnel and other goods to come in.

I also wanted to mention, as you mentioned the point about the World Food Programme, I've spoken with the executive director of the World Food Programme about this.  We are working in coordination with the U.S.  military and with international partners like WFP.  A lot of those planes that are, that are military C-130 aircraft are delivering supplies that are then going to NGO partners and other critical civilian partners for the people of Haiti.  One example is we recently sent, you know, three major water production and purification units because that's an immediate priority, making sure that people have access to water.  And those--each of those produces 100,000 liters of water a day.  We're, we're sending a fourth in, and we have six on the way from a warehouse in Dubai.  So, so even though they might enter in on military aircraft, those are often civilian commodities and commodities for the people of Haiti, and we're just using whatever is the best means and the most effective means to get it there quickly.  And that was a direct guidance from the president, that do whatever it takes to get supplies and services in as fast as you possibly can.

MR. GREGORY:  General Keen, just under a minute left here.  I want to ask you, what role does the U.S.  government and military have to play here going forward, given the, the disorganized state of the government because of the state of Haiti?  Will the U.S.  have a role in running that country for some period of time?

LT. GEN. KEEN:  Well, we're not going to be running the country, we're going to be in support of the government of Haiti.  We're going to--alongside the United Nations, our first priority is getting water and food and other supplies out to the Haitian people, and doing that in a safe and secure environment.  It is a disaster of epic proportions and with a tremendous logistical challenge, as you noted.

MR. GREGORY:  Final point, Dr. Shah, your priorities.  I know this is measured in hours, not just days.  What are your priorities now?

DR. SHAH:  Well, our priority up to now has been urban search and rescue. That will continue, because this is--continues to be an active rescue operation.  Our immediate priorities, especially for the next week, are significantly scaling up the flow of health and medicines--medical supplies, improving water access and distribution for the people of Haiti that have been affected, and making sure we get food into as many different neighborhoods and points of distribution as possible.  Every day we're doing more than the day before.  We need that continued exponential growth.  The good news is we're very focused on it.  We have tremendous support from the president, whom we're in contact with regularly, and, and all parts of the U.S.  government, including the military, which is a critical, needed asset to make sure we can reach affected populations, are working aggressively together to make this happen.

MR. GREGORY:  General Keen, Dr. Shah, thank you both very much and continued good luck.

DR. SHAH:  Thank you.

LT. GEN. KEEN:  Thank you, David.

MR. GREGORY:  I want to turn to NBC's Kerry Sanders, who is also in Port-au-Prince this morning.

And, Kerry, your, your reporting over the past several days has been so emotional and so first person.  You've been covering Haiti for so many years. Give me a sense of what you're seeing and what it's like there.

MR. KERRY SANDERS:  Well, chaos is the one word.  But the good news is it appears that that chaos is beginning to perhaps have order, maybe, by the end of today.  That's because the U.S.  military has 600,000 humanitarian meals that they are actually getting to the people now, and the food and the water that they needed so desperately is there.  Once that's in place, some of the other things can start shaping up here.

MR. GREGORY:  In my interview with Dr. Shah this morning, he, he said, a little bit unexpectedly, I think, that that window is still open to find survivors, which is something in the search and rescue operations that you've seen firsthand.

SANDERS:  And an amazing story this morning.  We followed yesterday with a team from Turkey and from south Florida.  They are looking for folks inside a supermarket that collapsed.  And this morning Muriel Ditma, the 45-year-old woman who was here, her children in south Florida anxiously--not sleeping--got that most wonderful phone call that their mother had won the lottery.  She was found inside an air pocket in there.  After about 108 hours, they were able to pull her out alive along with two others, a 13-year-old girl, a little boy. So they're still looking for more folks there, as well as a team from the New York Fire Department.  Good news can still be had, they say.

MR. GREGORY:  Kerry, finally, what--that level of frustration and desperation on the streets, give me a sense of what that, what that's like now.  There are some supplies that are reaching people, but it's taken some time.

SANDERS:  It's taken some time and, you know, people are so anxious that when they see things they grab at them and, you know, the strongest win.  And so it's been a little difficult on that front.  And, of course, this is a, a huge, concentrated city and trying to get it to three million people is a real challenge.  And so, if you can get it into one street, you may help some people.  But this is a vast area that needs help and, quite frankly, difficult to get to in many cases.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, Kerry Sanders, who's in Port-au-Prince at the airport.  You can hear all the activity behind him, which is actually the best sign, of flights coming in and supplies beginning to reach that island nation.

Coming next, in an interview yesterday at the White House, Presidents Bush and Clinton talk about their commitment to the rebuilding effort in Haiti and what they are calling on Americans to do to help ease the human suffering there.


MR. GREGORY:  A special conversation with former Presidents Bush and Clinton after this brief commercial break.


MR. GREGORY:  And we're back.  Yesterday in the Rose Garden, President Obama announced that former presidents Bush and Clinton had agreed to lead a major fundraising effort for relief and rebuilding in Haiti.

(Videotape, January 16, 2010)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA:  By coming together in this way, these two leaders send an unmistakable message to the people of Haiti and to the people of the world. In these difficult hours, America stands united.  We stand united with the people of Haiti, who have shown such incredible resilience, and we will help them to recover and to rebuild.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  After their meeting with President Obama, the two former presidents agreed to meet the press in a joint interview about Haiti and only Haiti.

Let me start by asking you both, President Bush, what's your biggest concern right now?

FMR. PRES. BUSH:  My biggest concern is the, the Haitian people have security, water and food.

MR. GREGORY:  And those are big ifs right now.

FMR. PRES. BUSH:  Well, they are.  But the president briefed us about military efforts to get food and water to the people and surging a lot of material.  And it's going to take a little bit of time to get it there, but I, I came away from the briefing confident it's going to happen.

MR. GREGORY:  President Clinton, the basics are so important.

FMR. PRES. BILL CLINTON:  Right.  This is about water, food, medical supplies and care, and, and shelter, secure shelter.  We--I have some protection concerns, but we were just told in the briefing that 40 percent of the Haitian police force has signed back in, volunteered for duty.  A lot of them don't have uniforms or weapons or anything anymore, but the American military is working closely with the U.N.  troops that are there, and they'll get this organized.  They're doing a good job.  We just need more help.  We literally don't have enough food to feed them now.  We don't have--and, and there are two issues.  One is buying it, and the second is getting it in and distributing it.  But that's what everybody's working on.

MR. GREGORY:  Beyond the initial rush, does there have to be some kind of U.N.-U.S.  temporary government?  Do we have to have a role in running the government for a time?

FMR. PRES. CLINTON:  Well, I don't think we have to have a role in running the government.  But we have, have to have a role in helping them to do things that require an organization that no longer exists.  For example, Hillary yesterday morning negotiated an agreement with the Haitian government for our military to operate the airport at Port-au-Prince for three days, subject to renegotiation.  They didn't have the people to do it anymore.  And so now they can keep it open 24 hours a day.  They can make good judgments about who should land when, according to priorities.  They'll have things to do for some time.  I understand that President Preval has asked former Prime Minister Pierre-Louis to coordinate the reconstruction.  If so, that's good news.  She and the current prime minister are both very able people, and they'll tell us what they need.  And I think the rest of us will just do it.

MR. GREGORY:  President Bush, the--President Obama promised a long-term American commitment.  What does that mean?

FMR. PRES. BUSH:  Well, that means that after the, the devastating scenes get off television, there are people around to remind the American people it's important to help this country rebuild, really what it means.  I mean, both of us have been through crises.  There's this initial stage of, you know, trauma and major media focus.  But you'll end up focusing somewhere else here, after a while, and, and that's normal.  And our job is to remind people that there's still an ongoing need.  And we'll, we'll do that.  That's part of the purpose of our, our fund is to say to the American people, "Rebuilding is a long-term project."


MR. GREGORY:  As special envoy, you've talked about having a big role in that long-term development to restore Haiti to what it was.  What's it going to take, and how long is it going to take to restore it back to what it was?  And what kind of Haiti is that?

FMR. PRES. CLINTON:  Well, first of all, we're not--before this earthquake we weren't talking about restoring it.  We were talking about building a whole new country, and there was a government plan that they developed in cooperation with the U.N., but it was their plan.  And what I believe will happen is they will take all this devastation into account, all the work that has to be done, and they'll rewrite their plan, and they'll put it as part of building a new country.  So I think that what we want to do is to see people be part of building something, to use President Bush's terms, building something stronger; that, that it's not just enough to rebuild.  And, and they're committed to that.  And I think that the, based on my meetings with donors, with private sector, with investors, everybody that was helping them before feels even more strongly they ought to continue to do it now.

MR. GREGORY:  President Bush, what about skeptics?  This is a country that has such a history of political dysfunction, societal dysfunction.


MR. GREGORY:  Look at its neighbor, the Dominican Republican, so much better off.  Should that be a factor in part of the conversation about how much is given, that resistance to change, the fact that aid on a massive scale has not proven to lift countries like Haiti out of poverty?

FMR. PRES. BUSH:  Well, I, I, I think this.  First of all, the initial thrust of aid is going to save lives, and that's really important.  Secondly, as President Clinton mentioned, there is a strategy in place to help Haiti build in a different direction, and, in other words, learn lessons from the past and focus on what'll work in the future.  And I, I, I think it's going to be very important for our country never to give up on Haiti.  Obviously it's OK to ask whether or not the plan is going to make sense, but we shouldn't abandon our neighbor down there.  It's--there's just too much human suffering that can take--has taken place and can continue to take place if we neglect Haiti.

MR. GREGORY:  President Clinton, look at our experience, almost a trillion dollars in trying to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, the money that's been poured into Haiti.  Why does Haiti matter strategically?

FMR. PRES. CLINTON:  Because, number one, it has the highest AIDS rate in the Caribbean, and our neighbors, we don't want them spending money on crushing health burdens that they can avoid.  Number two, it's the poorest country in the Caribbean, and it's holding the whole region back.  And the Caribbean and Central America and Latin America, they all want to help now. For the first time in my lifetime, they are committed to being good partners with Haiti.  And number three, they actually have shown a willingness to change, to, to, to improve their own circumstances.  And, therefore, if they could succeed where they have failed for 200 years, that would change our idea of what is possible, not just here, but in Africa and East Asia and everywhere else.  They're not in--this government has not made excuses.  They've said, "We know we've made mistakes in the past.  We want to changes." I have seen them make several changes just since I've been working.  That's worth it all over the world.

MR. GREGORY:  President Bush, what did you learn in your government's response to the tsunami, to the disaster response to Katrina?  What lessons did you learn that this administration should bear in mind?

FMR. PRES. BUSH:  First of all, it takes time to get the supplies in place, but that, that shouldn't deter them.  In other words, there, there's an expectation amongst people that things are going to happen quickly, and, and sometimes it's hard to make things happen quickly.  Secondly, there is a great reservoir of good will that wants to help.  And that's why he asked us to help, and we're glad to do it.  I need to put a pitch in for the  One of my concerns around any crisis is that shysters show up and take advantage of people's good will and generosity.  And so, therefore, if people want to help, one, one avenue besides the established NGOs would be to, would be to tap onto that Web site, and, and we'll, we'll help make sure your money is spent in a transparent, accountable way.

MR. GREGORY:  In some circles, the president's been criticized for politicizing this disaster.  Do you think that's fair?

FMR. PRES. BUSH:  I, I, I don't know what, what they're talking about.  I, I, I've been briefed by the president about the response.  And as I said in my opening comment, I, I appreciate the president's quick response to this disaster.

MR. GREGORY:  President Clinton, why does it take a disaster of this scale and magnitude away from the United States to create this kind of bipartisanship?

FMR. PRES. CLINTON:  Well, I think that when something like this happens inside the United States we act in the same way.  I, I think that it reminds us of our common humanity.  It reminds us of needs that go beyond fleeting disagreements.  Whatever our policy disputes are don't seem to matter much when people are dying and hungry and sick.  And I think it's just a natural human response.  Just as people's disagreements are natural human response and, in normal times, can be healthy.  It, it wouldn't be healthy for America if, if, in normal times, we had no political debates.  And it would be perverse if, in a time like this, we let lesser matters keep us from joining hands.

MR. GREGORY:  President Bush, you're back.

FMR. PRES. BUSH:  Indeed.  It's a little nostalgic, and I'm glad I've come back for this purpose.  I must confess I, I really--I miss you as a person, but I don't miss the spotlight.

MR. GREGORY:  I think I'll take that as a compliment.


MR. GREGORY:  Good luck to you both.  Thank you.

FMR. PRES. BUSH:  Thank you.

FMR. PRES. CLINTON:  Thank you so much.

MR. GREGORY:  And up next, we'll talk politics and assess the first full year of the Obama presidency.  Our political roundtable joins us:  insiders Karen Hughes and John Podesta, and reporters mark Halperin and Bob Woodward, after this brief station break.


MR. GREGORY:  We are back and joined by former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, John Podesta; and former counselor, senior adviser to President George W. Bush, Ambassador Karen Hughes; Bob Woodward, of course, of The Washington Post; and Mark Halperin of Time magazine, he's also the author of "Game Change."

Welcome to all of you.  So much to get to this morning.  Let's talk about the horrible circumstances in Haiti.  On the cover of Newsweek this morning, the president himself writing the cover story "Why Haiti Matters."

Karen Hughes, you've, you've seen disaster response up close as part of the Bush administration.  Is it too early to make any evaluation of how well it's going so far, how well the government is mobilizing?

MS. KAREN HUGHES:  Well, I think the--all the American people want our government to do exactly what our government is doing, and that is try to get help to those people as quickly as we possibly can.  I have been through disasters.  We had the tsunami in Indonesia.  We had the earthquake in Pakistan.  I traveled there shortly thereafter.  And all the American people--I think it's a wonderful picture for the world to see two former presidents from different political parties coming together to deliver the compassion of the American people to people in, in desperate need.

MR. GREGORY:  And President Bush has wanted to stay away from Washington and kind of out of the spotlight, but he felt the need to get involved here.

MS. HUGHES:  Well, I think this is a great way for him to come back into the spotlight, as, as you say.  I--he was joking with you about not, not missing it too much, and I don't think he's missing the, the, you know, the, being in the news every day.  But this is a, a big calling for him and a humanitarian cause that I think everyone's heart has been touched by this, and he's glad to do what he can to, to help raise funds for, for this desperate situation.

MR. GREGORY:  John Podesta, again, you've also seen this kind of disaster release--relief up close, having worked in the White House.  How much of our response, our government's response, is still heavily influenced by mistakes made in the response to Hurricane Katrina?

MR. JOHN PODESTA:  Well, I think the, the White House got right on this, and, and you saw not just people like Raj Shah, who you had on, Secretary Clinton, but the president himself, the, the very night of the earthquake in the Situation Room directing USAID and the rest of the resources, including our military assets, down towards that.  And I think, certainly, they realize that they had to respond with alacrity, and I think they've done that.  But I, I agree with Karen that I think that this effort, the president asking former President Clinton, former President Bush to come together and do this shows the best of America.  The president, in his Newsweek comment, said, "This is who we are, this is what we do," and I agree with that.  And so I think we all need to support that.

MR. GREGORY:  America, of course, has a close relationship with Haiti, has been so involved over time.  We put together a little bit of that context and background which you can look at.

1934, that's when the U.S.  ends a nearly two-decade occupation of Haiti. More recently, September 1994, 20,000 U.S.  troops are sent by President Bill Clinton to help reinstall President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had been ousted in a violent 1991 coup.  February 2004, a controversial end to Aristide's presidency during another violent rebellion.  U.S.  Marines land in Haiti to help restore order.  Then late summer 2008, four catastrophic tropical storms and hurricanes hit Haiti; hundreds killed, nearly a million homeless or in need of aid.  And the U.S.  government commits over $30 million in additional humanitarian assistance.

So, Bob Woodward, the cruel irony of this is that you heard President Clinton say Haiti was just about to turn that corner.  The question now, given how far back it's been set, what's the political will in this country to maintain the kind of commitment to Haiti that Presidents Bush and Clinton are talking about?

MR. BOB WOODWARD:  Well, I actually think it's genuine.  And what's interesting politically and morally is you have two former presidents sitting there and saying, "We agree.  We're going to do this." You have the kind of slasher mentality, the partisan mentality that people who are their backers on both the left and the right tend to engage in this kind of, "Let's kill the other guy, let's get out the chainsaw and rip him up." And then you see the leaders there saying, "Now wait a minute, there is a consensus." And I, I think when there's a consensus, a political consensus in this country, people act on it.  But this is a monumental disaster.  And if you talk to people on the ground--and, I mean, the logistics of getting--I mean, the general was saying 70,000 bottles of water.  You know, how much is that compared to what is needed?  I think it's millions of bottles of water, if not tens of millions of bottles of water.

MR. GREGORY:  Mark Halperin, we, we see this when we cover presidents.  There is an interruption to the presidency of events like this that somehow become a priority that, that an administration never can anticipate.

MR. MARK HALPERIN:  Well, David, just don't forget, just a few weeks ago there was another such interruption when there was the attempted--attempt to blow up a plane flying into the United States.  That was seen as just this, a chance to take the, the temperature of the United States to say, "Can we come together at a time of crisis in a bipartisan way to try to deal with a big problem?" We're now getting a second one of those.  And from you--as you said, we're seeing a president who had plans for this month that didn't involve dealing with this crisis.  I think they're dealing with it extraordinarily well from a mechanical point of view, from a public relations point of view. But it's going to involve two things going forward, I think.  One is continued execution for what Bob suggested, which is getting more stuff there.  And I think it's also an opportunity for the president to try to keep the country together.  The two former presidents, Clinton and Bush, come together, but we see Rush Limbaugh say something outrageous and not a lot of repudiation from Republicans in Congress or others to say, "This is unacceptable.  It's a time when the American people are showing our best to help, not a time for that kind of--to try to take partisan...(unintelligible)."

MR. GREGORY:  But you heard President Bush dismiss that out of hand as doesn't know what critics would be talking about and, and really focused on going out of his way to compliment the president on, on the response so far.

MR. HALPERIN:  The former presidents, no question...


MR. HALPERIN:  ...showing extraordinary bipartisan leadership.  I'm talking about other Republicans in this country who shouldn't be silent at, at such an outrageous remark at a time when we should be coming together.

MR. GREGORY:  Let's talk about where this president stands one year in, where there's now so much on the, on the table.  Look at some of these poll numbers that a moment in time capture where he is.  From CNN/Opinion Research, "Do you consider the first year of the Obama administration to be a success or failure?" Forty-eight percent say a failure.  And then this question from the Allstate/National Journal/Heartland Monitor poll which asked, "If the 2012 election were held today, who would you vote for?" Fifty percent say somebody else.

John Podesta, there's a reason why they're four-year terms.  The election is not today, as the White House likes to point out.

MR. PODESTA:  Right.

MR. GREGORY:  How did the president get to this point?

MR. PODESTA:  Well, look, he inherited the worst financial crisis since FDR, he--two wars.  We were shedding 700,000 jobs a--in the month that he came into office.  He's had to move in, step in and build, I think, the platform for long-term success with the recovery bill that's even, even Republicans admit either saved or created one and a half million jobs.  He's got to go further on that, I think.  He's ended up restoring America's standing in the world.  I think that he's also a hair's breadth away from actually making health care affordable and--for every American.  And I think once that happens, and I think that, that the American people are educated, again, about what's in that bill and what's in it for them, I think that he's, he's laid the foundation for long-term political success.  And, and I think that, that, he'll, he'll achieve that, so those numbers will change.

MS. HUGHES:  Well...

MR. GREGORY:  Karen, you see it differently?

MS. HUGHES:  ...with all, with all due respect, you'll notice he went immediately to the blame game.  And I hope with the end of this, with this first year in office that we can stop blaming everything.  It's a human tendency to blame your predecessor, but it's not very presidential.  And...

MR. PODESTA:  I did, I didn't even blame the, the--his predecessor.  I just...

MS. HUGHES:  You started with "he inherited."

MR. PODESTA:  No, I said what the...

MS. HUGHES:  Every president...

MR. PODESTA:  ...what the facts on the ground were when he came into office.

MS. HUGHES:  Yeah.  Every president inherits challenges.  President Bush inherited a recession when, when he took office.  I think the, the, the first year has been very disappointing, and the reason is that, that President Obama has not governed as he campaigned.  The lofty rhetoric of the campaign has run into the hard realities of governing and, as a result, that euphoria, that Obama bubble has burst.  And I believe the punctures were self-inflicted.  He tried to do too much.  I saw this morning in the newspaper--and don't take it from a Republican--there was a Democratic senator who said that the American people, when they voted for change, did not think they were voting for higher taxes, higher deficits, and much more government intrusion in their lives. And that was Democratic Senator Evan Bayh.


MR. WOODWARD:  I did some research.  Remember Ronald Reagan?  If you look at Reagan now, liberals, Democrats, academics say he had a very successful presidency.  Pretty universally agreed.  Whether that's right or not, we'll, we'll see what the next bounce of history is.  But Lou Cannon, who is the White House correspondent for The Washington Post, wrote the--he's the premiere biographer of Reagan, and after Reagan left two terms, he wrote his monumental work on this.  But after a year in the Reagan presidency, Lou also wrote a book which I'm sure he doesn't want remembered, and it was just called "Reagan." And I got it out, and this is what Lou Cannon said right at this time in the Reagan presidency in 1982, "Reagan was, for all his optimism, running out of time.  His reach had exceeded his grasp.  Age and events had dimmed a sense of leadership." Now get this, "By 1982 it was an axiom in the White House that Reagan, like so many of his modern predecessors, would be a one-term president.  I believe that Reagan will not run again."

MS. HUGHES:  But they did lose seats in 1982 in Congress.

MR. WOODWARD:  Now, now, now what's important about this, we don't know with Obama, but it's also possible for--you know, Lou Cannon was the best.  Always kept his, kept his head about Reagan's positive traits, negative traits.  He had it wrong.  So, you know, all of these pronouncements about disappointment and so forth I think are crap.

MR. GREGORY:  There have, there have--not to put too fine a point on it.

But, Mark Halperin, you know, the president himself said recently the American people are right to be deflated about where we are at this point, which is not an admission that he doesn't, you know, that he thinks he's doing a bad job, but the governing is difficult and that the problems are difficult.

MR. HALPERIN:  Well, look, go back to the campaign.  The country took a risk on Barack Obama, he was untested.  And if you look at what Hillary Clinton and John McCain both said about him, they said, "He's just words.  He doesn't know how to run the government." I think, ironically, it's just the opposite.  He's done, I think, an extraordinary job running the government, as John said, under difficult circumstances.  He managed the economic crisis and kept the world from going into a depression.  He staffed the government with very quality, quality people.  He showed he could be commander-in-chief and manage these two difficult wars.  What I think, ironically, the problem has been is he's not inspired the country to feel a sense of optimism and renewal and to be unified in a bipartisan way.  Those are the things I think people thought he would excel at.  Those are, I think, are the problems.  He's making progress in governance, not necessarily in that bully pulpit leadership.

MS. HUGHES:  I think he really misread the country.  I mean, 2009 was a year of the greatest anxiety I've ever seen among the American people.  People were worried.  They felt they were at the whim of these big forces beyond their control--you know, Wall Street and banks failing and businesses that were too big to fail.  And rather than calm that anxiety, I worry that President Obama in being overly ambitious and pushing this massive health care that people worry we can't pay for and, and will have unintended consequences, he actually exacerbated that anxiety.  And so I think he fundamentally misread the country.  And I, I have to disagree with you, Mark, about rescuing the economy, I think that happened before President Bush left office when they took the action that they did on TARP, and the banks have now repaid much of that money, but that's what stabilized the economy and prevented the collapse of the financial system.

MR. GREGORY:  But he ran on health care, and President Bush went for Social Security in that year one of that second term, because presidents know you've got a window to work with.

MS. HUGHES:  I just think he did too--he tried to do too much at a time when the American people were fundamentally most concerned about the, the economy and the jobs.

MR. PODESTA:  Yeah, look, I think President Obama had a theory of the case, and that was that in order to create long-term sustainable growth that was going to get wages growing again so that the growth was fairly shared for--with the American people.  He had to reform health care, he had to change the way we use and produce energy and, and move to a clean energy future, he had to reform public education.  And I think that was his theory of the case. He, he injected himself into all those things.  The House has actually passed, including financial regulatory reform, all those matters.  The question is was that theory right?  I believe it was.  And when will it take effect?

MR. GREGORY:  Well, it's interesting you, you...

MR. PODESTA:  And that, that is going to be measured by when do we get jobs grown again?

MR. GREGORY:  Jobs.  But also, if there's a theory of the case, it's also a populous pitch that we're hearing from this president.  Here's the cover of The Economist magazine as it talks about what the president has to do in a new year, "Time to get tough." And this was the weekly radio address when the president talked about the banks in this country and a tax that he wants to levy against the banks to--as part of the TARP process and reclaiming some of that money.  This is what he said yesterday:

(Videotape, January 16, 2010)

PRES. OBAMA:  Of course, I would like the banks to embrace the sense of mutual responsibility.  So far, though, they have ferociously fought financial reform.  The industry's even joined forces with the opposition party to launch a massive lobbying campaign against commonsense rules to protect consumers and prevent another crisis.  Now, like clockwork, the banks and the politicians who curry their favor are already trying to stop this fee from going into effect.  The very same firms reaping billions of dollars in profits and reportedly handing out more money in bonuses and compensation than ever before in history are now pleading poverty.  It's a sight to see.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Bob Woodward, I mean, this is clear, he wants a fight with the banks, they want a fight on financial reform as part of this election year.

MR. WOODWARD:  Well, not only that, but you, you talk of the theory of the case.  I think one of the things, either rightly or wrongly, President Obama has done is said, "Look, we've got these massive problems.  We're not going to solve them in a year or two years." And it--in, in, in the world of politics and management it's called strategic thinking.  Go down the line, two or three or even five years, what do you want to do?  And there are no fixes here.  He realizes that and has set up a program.  Now I, you know, I think Karen's right in part that President Bush actually laid the groundwork for saving the economy, but Obama certainly has followed on that.  And lots of the things that seem to be success, namely saving the banks, which Bush and Obama did. And, and, and if you really talk to the economists, it saved the American economy.  Now the success looks like a failure because they're paying all those bonuses.

MR. GREGORY:  You, you raised President Bush.  Karen, I've been meaning to ask you this, in terms of taking the longer view, one thing that hasn't happened is that former Vice President Cheney has taken a shorter time horizon, has been very critical of this president on national security.  How does President Bush, who has remained quiet, feel about his former vice president being so critical of this president?

MS. HUGHES:  Well, I think, you know, you have to look at the fact that, that Vice President Cheney has served this country as a congressman, as a secretary of defense, as a chief of staff to the president, as the vice president.  Far be it from me to suggest that he doesn't have the full right to exercise his free speech and, and speak out as he can.  President Bush has taken a different approach, has said he thought that he owes his, his--the--President Obama his silence, and so I, I think that he will continue to maintain that. I do think that President...

MR. GREGORY:  But is he critical of his former vice president?  Does he disagree with that speaking out?

MS. HUGHES:  Well, again, I, I, I don't think it's appropriate for me to put words in, in President Bush's mouth.  His interview with you was about Haiti, and I think that's what he chose to talk about.  I do feel that, that...

MR. WOODWARD:  This is a way of saying read President Bush's book when it comes out.

MS. HUGHES:  Well, I just don't think it's appropriate for me, for me to share that.  But I, I do think that, that President Obama has, has made some decisions that have been very ill-advised in the area of national security. For example, the, the decision to try the, the, the Christmas Day--the al-Qaeda operative who came here to engage in an act of war against our country on, on Christmas Day in civilian courts is a mistake.  He's someone who was training in the training camps in Yemen.  He might have knowledge of other pending attacks against our country.  He should have been interrogated, legally, and, and designated as an enemy combatant and interrogated.

MR. GREGORY:  He did provide a good deal of information just being interrogated by existing methods.

MS. HUGHES:  Well, he could have used that.  And...

MR. GREGORY:  No, he, he, he was, he provided a lot of information so far.

MS. HUGHES:  I hope so.  But I--again, I think it's a mistake to take someone--we have to be very honest about what, what is at stake in...

MR. PODESTA:  That is exactly...

MS. HUGHES: this war against al-Qaeda.

MR. PODESTA:  That's exactly what the Bush administration did with Mr. Reid, the shoe bomber, who was in very similar circumstances, was traveling to the United States.

MS. HUGHES:  Circumstances weren't similar.  He was not sent here by al-Qaeda to engage in an act of war against our country.  It was not a similar situation.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me, let me get--bring--turn the, the, the subject to the politics of health care and, and fighting with the banks and the politics of Massachusetts, Mark Halperin.  Today President Obama is on his way to campaign for Martha Coakley.  She's running hard, trying to fill that seat that was held by Senator Kennedy, and she faces a very tough fight in Scott Brown, who is the state senator who, in some ways, seemed to come out of nowhere, as a--been an effective campaigner and debater.  And now this, this is a tough race.  The White House, in fact, is bracing for a loss here by Coakley.  They are talking about different routes to get health care passed even if she loses.  What's going to happen?

MR. HALPERIN:  The press is famous for over interpreting the results of special elections historically.  This one can not be overstated.  The political and substantive implications of this race are enormous, not in the short--only in the short term, but in the long term.  You are right, David, the White House believes this race is probably slipping away from them.  They hold out some hope, that's why the president's going.  There is a silver lining for them if they lose this race, which is, at that point, the only way I see they can pass health care is to go to the House of Representatives and say, "You must pass the Senate bill.  We'll work with you in order to try to find a way to make it better with other legislation." But the benefits of that are twofold.  One, they prefer the Senate bill.  To extent the bill was going to move to the left in negotiations between the House and Senate, the White House didn't like it.  And they only have to have one vote then.  They don't have to re-vote in the Senate.  Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson don't hold vetoes over a final bill.

MR. GREGORY:  What about the impact of the president?  Does he have--what, what does he do coming in at the last minute?

MR. WOODWARD:  Well, I mean, it may help.  It may hurt.  But, you know, what's interesting from, who is Barack Obama as president?  And, and, and there are people who tried--there was a column The Washington Post Friday in which Charles Krauthammer tried to essentially say he is a European-style socialist because of health care and he's trying to do these other things. Now, I'm trying to do a book on President Obama, and calling him a European socialist is just not even in the ballpark.  It's like taking and calling President Bush, because he arranged and worked with Teddy Kennedy on No Child Left Behind, or a prescription drug plan for the elderly, calling George Bush a European socialist, which would be absurd.

MS. HUGHES:  Well, I'm not in the name-calling game...

MR. WOODWARD:  Barack Obama is not that.

MS. HUGHES:  ...but, Bob, would you, would you admit that he has governed far to the left of the way he campaigned?  He campaigned as a centrist and has not governed that way.

MR. WOODWARD:  Listen, I tell you, look at so many of these things that he's done with the economy, so many of these things in national security.  He sent--ordered 51,000 troops to Afghanistan.  I mean, I mean that's something...

MS. HUGHES:  And I, and I think that was right, and I applaud him for that. I, I applaud him for that decision.

MR. WOODWARD:  OK, but that is a defining decision.  Anyway, but we'll see whether it works out and how it turns out.

MR. GREGORY:  John, John Podesta, what are the reverberations of Massachusetts?

MR. PODESTA:  I think they'd be big if, if she loses.  I think actually that, that Martha Coakley will probably scratch it out at the end of the day.  I, I take what Mark has, has to say, but I think she'll probably scratch it out because they've--they're are throwing everything at it.  But it'll, it'll be big.  I, I agree with Mark about one thing.  I think that there are paths forward and that the, the Congress will find a way to pass healthcare reform because they know they absolutely have to do that having gotten this far.  And there, there are a variety of different paths.

I think that the one thing I disagreed with about--that he said was I don't think the, the White House would be happy with just the Senate bill passing. I think they want to see some changes and they have to find a way through reconciliation or...

MR. GREGORY:  If, but...

MR. PODESTA:  ...other processes to get that through Congress.

MR. GREGORY:  If it passes, Karen, how do Republicans campaign on health care?  Do they campaign against it, and will they be successful doing so?

MS. HUGHES:  Well, I think, I think if it passes, that's almost the worst case scenario for the Democrats because it's going to cost a lot more than we've been told and it's going to have a lot of unintended consequences.  So it's--it would be bad for the Democrats if a bill didn't pass.  It would be worse for the Democrats if this bill passes.

MR. PODESTA:  Yes.  Yeah, it's, you know...

MS. HUGHES:  And I think it's a victory for Republicans that we're sitting here talking about the Massachusetts Senate race.

MR. GREGORY:  They do have....

MR. PODESTA:  We're talking about Massachusetts.  Massachusetts passed universal health care under a Republican governor and Democratic legislature. At the time, a majority of the people, having watched the sausage making, were against the, the bill by the time it finally passed.  Today 80 percent don't want to see it repealed.  So things change.

MS. HUGHES:  And it's been more expensive and less effective than promised.

MR. PODESTA:  Things, things, things change once they're in effect.  And I--if the, if the Republicans campaign on repealing a bill that extends coverage to 31 million people, creates an affordable platform for going forward...

MR. GREGORY:  All right.

MR. PODESTA:  ...I think it would be a big mistake.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  The debate's going to continue.  We're going to leave it there.  Thank you all very much.

We're going to continue our discussion, by the way, with author Mark Halperin about his new book on the 2008 campaign.  It's called "Game Change." It's our MEET THE PRESS Take Two web extra.  It will be up on our Web site this afternoon.

Also on our Web site, you can find links to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, as well as many other charitable organizations that are mobilizing to help the people of Haiti.  That's all at

And we'll be right back.


MR. GREGORY:  A programming note here, tomorrow MN--MSNBC will present "Obama's America:  2010 and Beyond" at 10 PM.  It's a special discussion moderated by "Hardball"'s Chris Matthews and featuring radio host Tom Joyner. That's tomorrow night on MSNBC.

If you missed any of today's program, you can watch our usual rebroadcast on MSNBC.  It'll be at 6 tonight.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.