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'Meet the Press' transcript for May 23, 2010

Transcript of the May 23, 2010 broadcast of NBC's "Meet the Press," featuring Joe Sestak, John Cornyn, Robert Menendez, Tom Friedman, Paul Gigot, Andrea Mitchell and Bob Woodward.

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  This Sunday:  The politics of anger and the anti-Washington wave.  What do the results of super Tuesday mean for the president and his party come November?  Joining me, the two men charged with getting members of their party elected to the Senate, campaign chairs, Republican John Cornyn and Democrat Robert Menendez.

Also, the view from one candidate who took on an incumbent and the White House and won, Pennsylvania Congressman and Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak.

Then, our political roundtable weighs in.  What's happened to the political center?  Without it, can anything in Washington get done?  With us, Tom Friedman of The New York Times, Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, Paul Gigot of The Wall Street Journal, and NBC's Andrea Mitchell.

Announcer:  From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.

MR. GREGORY:  Good morning.

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  Super Tuesday 2010 unleashed a new power player within the Republican Party.  But by week's end, Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul, son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul, found the spotlight a little too hot, canceling his appearance on this program and raising doubts about his prospects for the fall.


Unidentified Woman:  The next U.S. senator from Kentucky, Dr. Rand Paul.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  A political novice, Kentucky ophthalmologist Rand Paul took on the Republican establishment and won big.  He won nearly 60 percent of the vote and put the tea party on the political map.


DR. RAND PAUL:  I have a message, a message from the tea party, a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words, "We've come to take our government back."

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Paul didn't mince words either.  His belief in limited government prompted questions about his views on civil rights after he told the Louisville Courier-Journal he opposed the portion of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination by private businesses.  He
was pressed further on "The Rachel Maddow Show."


MS. RACHEL MADDOW:  Do you think that a private business has a right to say, "We don't serve black people"?

DR. PAUL:  I'm not in, I'm not in, I'm not in--yeah--I'm not in favor of any discrimination of any form ...  but I think what's important about this debate is not getting into any specific gotcha on this, but asking the question, "What about freedom of speech?" What I was asked by the
Courier-Journal, and I stick by it, is that I do defend and believe that the government should not be involved with institutional racism or discrimination or segregation in schools, busing, all of those things, but had I been there, there would have been some discussion over one of
the titles of the civil rights.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Paul ignited a controversy with his extreme views, and under pressure from both sides of the political spectrum, he backtracked the next day, issuing a statement saying he would not support repeal of the Civil Rights Act.  But he added, "The federal government is out of control, and those who love liberty and value individual and states rights must stand up to it." But by week's end, Paul again drew criticism for his views, this time by accusing the president of too harshly criticizing BP for its role in the Gulf oil spill.


DR. PAUL:  What I don't like from the president's administration is this sort of, you know, "I'll put my boot heel on the throat of BP." I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Dr. Paul wondered publicly Friday where his honeymoon was, and later, citing exhaustion and an unwillingness to answer any further questions about his stand on civil rights and the role of government, canceled his appearance here.  But there are questions about his
principles left unanswered, like whether his belief in limited government means he opposes, say, the minimum wage, the ban on child labor laws, or workplace safety rules. Perhaps the bigger question is whether this fresh new face in politics is now a weaker candidate than he was Tuesday night.

I want to turn now to our guests, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Senator John Cornyn, and his counterpart, chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Senator Robert Menendez.

Welcome, both of you, this morning to MEET THE PRESS.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ):  Good to be with you.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX):  Thank you.

MR. GREGORY:  Senator Cornyn, Rand Paul's spokesman sent a statement to MEET THE PRESS this morning indicating that he didn't want to be on the program because he wanted to avoid the liberal bias of the media, and I wonder what your view is, whether you think this is liberal bias that's ensnared him this week or whether it's the articulation of his own views about the limited scope of government that had senior Republicans in the party telling him to avoid the national spotlight?

SEN. CORNYN:  Well, Dr. Paul's new to running for public office, and I think it's Bob's experience, I'm sure my experience, that you see novice candidates occasionally stumble on questions.  I think he's clarified his position.  But I think he's done the right thing.  As much fun as this is, David, to be here with you, I think he needs to be talking to the voters back in Kentucky, the people who actually will be able to cast a ballot on whether he's elected as the next United States senator or not.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, I--obviously being here is not as important as the larger point, which is don't you think this is fair game, questions about his views about the limit and the scope of government?

SEN. CORNYN:  Well, I do think that's a, a fair topic, and I'm sure you'll be hearing extensively from him and all the candidates over the next six months. But the fact of the matter is Rand Paul's leading his opponent in the, in the general election by 25 points.

MR. GREGORY:  You don't think he's a weaker candidate today than he was Tuesday?

SEN. CORNYN:  He's leading by 25 points; I have to let the numbers speak for themselves.  But I think we will have a, a discussion about the role of government in our lives.  There are too many Americans, or many Americans, I should say, who believe that government has simply gotten too aggressive, it spends too much, it borrows too much, and we've had too many government takeovers.  I think he will speak directly to that, and I think people will respond favorably.

MR. GREGORY:  Do his views concern you?

SEN. CORNYN:  I don't know what all his views are.  I've watched this exchange, but the fact of the matter is I think he's doing the right thing by talking to the people of Kentucky and...

MR. GREGORY:  But, Senator, my--you have heard his views, and, and it's not as if he hadn't thought this out.  He's got very specific views about even the Civil Rights Act.  He took issue with only one of the titles in the Civil Rights Act, so it's not as if this was some sort of ambush.
He's thought a good deal abo ut this; he's articulate about what he believes.  You've heard that.  Do you agree or disagree?

SEN. CORNYN:  Well, he's clarified his views that he's opposed to any kind of discrimination period, and I applaud him for clarifying that view.  I just think that every time you have a citizen who decides to run for public office who's not a professional politician that occasionally
they're going to stumble.  Sometimes their philosophy, when you start to articulate it and carry it to its logical end, they have to come back and say, "Well, you know, what"--we just have temper that with experience.

MR. GREGORY:  But, but his, but his view is that private businesses should not be subject to a government mandate even about discrimination. Is that something you agree with or do you think that's beyond the pale of, of mainstream conservative views?

SEN. CORNYN:  Well, David, what I heard him say is he supports the Civil Rights Act.  He clarified his views, and I think that's--that should be the end of it.

MR. GREGORY:  Senator Menendez, your take on what you've seen in the last few days.

SEN. MENENDEZ:  Well, it seems to me that this is an example of what's happening to the Republican Party across the country, beating the Republican establishment, but it's the mainstream losing to the extreme. Clearly, with Rand Paul, here's someone who, you know, as you have already cited, questions elements of the Civil Rights Act as it relates to the private sector, says that President Obama's comments about making BP responsible in the oil spill is un-American, wants to end farm subsidies across the country, including in Kentucky.  I'll take our matchup with Attorney General Jack Conway, who's a crusading attorney general--rooted out Medicaid fraud--against someone who clearly is in the extreme, even questions the, the Americans with Disabilities Act.  So I think this is an example of what's happening to the Republican establishment across the country, the establishment being beaten by extreme candidates whether it be here or in Florida or, as you see, surging in Colorado and Nevada.

MR. GREGORY:  The--his views, Dr. Paul's views about the limits of government also has to do with the deficit, and that's really the thrust of what he's run on, his concerns and other tea partiers concerns about the debt. This is what he said at a unity event in Kentucky yesterday.


DR. PAUL:  We have an annual deficit of nearly $2 trillion.  Interest alone on the debt is $383 billion.  I think there is a day of reckoning coming.  I don't want that day of reckoning to involve chaos as we're seeing in Greece.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  That is a potent message.  There's a reason why he won so big, and your party is in charge of the White House and Congress.  Isn't this a liability, government spending and the debt, for Democrats this fall?

SEN. MENENDEZ:  Well, we'll have to remind, David, the, the public that Republicans left this president and this Democratic majority with two wars raging abroad unpaid for, a couple of trillion dollars in tax cuts unpaid for, a new entitlement program unpaid for; and what we had to do is inherit the economic mess they gave us and try to stop us from going into a--very well a possibility of a depression and move forward from losing three-quarters of a million jobs, when Barack Obama took office, for the first quarter of each month--for the first quarter of 2009 to
gaining nearly 300,000 jobs  last month, from negative GDP growth to positive GDP growth.  So it seems to me, including, you know, having Republicans run away from their own proposition of a bipartisan commission to deal with the national debt, something I voted for, something the Republican sponsors actually ran away from.

MR. GREGORY:  Senator:

SEN. CORNYN:  There they go again blaming it on George Bush.  I don't know when this administration, when the Democratic leadership that got the majority in November 2008 are going to take responsibility for the 23 percent increase in the national debt since President Obama was sworn into office.  Under the president's own budget, our debt-to-GDP ratio will be up to 90 percent by 2020, 90 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office.  Greece is at a 115 percent.  So it's easy to see that unless we take our foot off the accelerator when it comes to spending and debt, if we don't do the sort of fundamental reform of entitlements, cut back on spending and do the same sort of budget scrub that every family, every small business has had to do during this recession, that we're going to be heading off a financial cliff.  And I don't see the administration taking their foot off the gas at all.  I see them stomping the gas and going even further to grow the size of government and spend and debt.

MR. GREGORY:  The, the debate about the debt will continue.

I want to ask you, Senator Cornyn, one other question, though, about the tea party and its impact.  This is how The Economist reported it this week in the context of Dr. Paul.  We'll put it up on the screen.  "The impact of the tea-partiers is a decidedly mixed blessing for the Republicans.  On the one hand, the party benefits from the passion and dollars this widespread grassroots mutiny against big government is able to inject into local campaigns.  On the other, they are in danger of pushing the Republicans well to the right of the mainstream.  Dr. Paul,
like his father, is a genuine radical who believes in paring government down to the bone." You have the fundamental conflict for the tea party, which is how is a movement predicated on limiting the size of government actually going to govern within the government?  Tea party and the Republicans, is it an asset or a liability?

SEN. CORNYN:  Well, the tea party, tea party movement and libertarians like, like Dr. Paul don't believe in no government.  They believe in limited government, smaller government, government that lives within its means.  The fact is, as a New York Times poll said recently, that 57 percent of independents, the people who actually win elections, or, or tip the balance of elections, sympathize with the tea party movement. Our friends on, on the Democratic, the Democratic Party have tried to marginalize these people and claim like they're somehow less than patriotic Americans, when these are folks who perhaps have not gotten involved in politics before, who've gotten off the couch, who've gone to town halls, who've gone to these rallies to express their view that that spending has got to stop.

MR. GREGORY:  But it's fair--I mean, even in the case of, of Dr. Paul, I mean, you would admit, wouldn't you, it is a--it's a question, and, and I don't know the answer, where they think the line is in terms of the role of government?  In terms of regulation?

SEN. CORNYN:  Well, that...

MR. GREGORY:  In terms of what laws the government should pass?  I mean, you would, you would admit that Dr. Paul is still opaque on this point? There's a lot of questions that he has invited.

SEN. CORNYN:  And that's what the next six months of the campaign's for.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.  Yeah.

SEN. CORNYN:  I think what we've seen in the time that President Obama has been in office, in the time that Democrats have basically run Washington, is an antipathy toward the private sector and the job creation capacity that only they can provide.  They...

MR. GREGORY:  All right, we're going to come back to this with our guests in just a moment.  I want to take a moment now to turn to Pennsylvania's Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, Congressman Joe Sestak.

Congressman, welcome to MEET THE PRESS.

REP. JOE SESTAK (D-PA):  Good to be here.  Thanks, David.

MR. GREGORY:  Nice to have you here.  You had a very important victory in Pennsylvania, taking on Senator Arlen Specter, the incumbent, and you won. And when you spoke on election night, this is what you said.

(Videotape, Tuesday)

REP. SESTAK:  This is what democracy looks like, a win for the people over the establishment, over the status quo, even over Washington, D.C.!

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Congressman, you sound like the ultimate outsider.  The only problem is you are a congressman.  OK?  You were running against the establishment.


MR. GREGORY:  You voted for TARP, for the bailout.  You voted for the president's stimulus plan.  You voted for the president's healthcare plan. Exactly which establishment are you not part of, that you're running against?

REP. SESTAK:  You know, I--31 years in the Navy, as you know, when I came to Washington, I was kind of taken aback that that type of accountability that I'd learned from my actions in the U.S. Navy seemed to be absent down here in Washington, D.C.  Look, somebody had torpedoed our economy. We were sinking. We had to caulk the holes.  We were hemorrhaging jobs. It's not about big government or small government, it's about effective government.  Somebody took the referee off the football field up there on Wall Street, they let them play roulette with the savings of the seniors in my district.  I sit there, and to what is to Wall Street a market correction now means young couples can't afford to send their children to
education.  I ran about accountability for one's actions, and I think that's not...

MR. GREGORY:  But, Congressman...

REP. SESTAK:  ...pretty absent down here.

MR. GREGORY:  Congressman, the question I asked you is you have supported all the major elements of the Obama agenda.


MR. GREGORY:  And yet you, in that sound bite, were running as an outsider. Are you not part of the establishment that you are railing against?

REP. SESTAK:  Oh, I did vote for those because they were needed.  But as John F. Kennedy once said, sometimes the party asks too much.  And when they did something that I didn't agree with because it didn't help Pennsylvania working families, I'll stand up to the party.  That's what I did.  It doesn't mean whether you're part of an establishment or not. It's whether you stand up for what's right.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, which, which element of the Obama agenda that was his priority did you stand up to?

REP. SESTAK:  Oh, I did--I honestly think that this president has done great, good things.  But I don't think we've gone far enough in terms of helping small business.  My party has to recognize business is a good word when you have small in front of it.  And to give a 15 percent tax credit to small businesses for every new payroll job that's created, we could, according to Economic Institute, soak up five million of the eight and a half million unemployed in two, two and a half years.  In short, we need to do even better than what we've done.  And as was mentioned earlier, the market's good. There's really good private markets out there.  We just need fair rules.  And before the rules kind of favored Wall Street, not those in state.

MR. GREGORY:  Are you--would you like to see more tax cuts, is that what you're suggesting?

REP. SESTAK:  For the small businesses, without a question.  Look, for far too long, like the Senate did, they literally voted that large corporations that invest in a foreign factory get a tax credit.  On Wall Street they said, "Forget about any rules out there, go ahead and
gamble." So what I'm for is for effective government.  And there should--if there are going to be tax credits, and I do believe in them, they should be where the majority of Pennsylvanians work.  The majority of them work in small business.

MR. GREGORY:  But...

REP. SESTAK:  That's the real engine of the economy.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  But, Congressman, you're a Democrat, and I fully expect that you will campaign for the Obama agenda come the fall. Is that your plan?

REP. SESTAK:  I'm campaigning for whatever is needed to take care of the working families of Pennsylvania.  I would like President Obama's support, and he said in his phone call to me, yes.  But at the end of the day, I ran because I didn't agree with a deal that was made that I didn't think would help Pennsylvania over the next six years.  I respect the establishment, but when they're wrong I think you have to stand up and say...

MR. GREGORY:  Right.  But what you stood up to was your opponent, which is not terribly courageous given that that's what you do in politics. What I'm asking is whether you are an Obama Democrat who supported stimulus, who supported health care, who's with him on all the major elements of his agenda. Are you or are you not an Obama Democrat?

REP. SESTAK:  I've always described--I've always described myself as an independent-thinking person who believes in Democratic principles.  Those are the same principles this president believes in.  But if I think they're doing something that isn't right in accordance with the
principles that help, help families in Pennsylvania, I'll stand up just like I did then.  I'm a pretty pragmatic guy, you know.  I come from the military, everybody has health care. And the dividends that accrue to our nation are immense.  We don't even, we don't even promote you above a certain rating or rank unless you have an education, an associates college degree.  I'd say pretty much those are kind of principles that give dividends to our nation.  Imagine a work force that's healthy and educated, that can compete with China and India.  That's the kind of
focus and Democrat I am.

MR. GREGORY:  What, what job were you offered to stay out of a primary race by the administration?

REP. SESTAK:  It's interesting.  I was asked a question about something that happened months earlier, and I felt I should answer it honestly. And that's all I had to say about it because anything beyond that gets away from what we just spoke about.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

REP. SESTAK:  What are the policies that are really going to help people
who've been slammed by economy...

MR. GREGORY:  All right, but you've campaigned on transparency.  It's part of the politics.  You talked about standing up to the White House when they'd fielded a candidate--made a deal with Arlen Specter.  So isn't it in the--in the spirit of transparency, were you offered a job by
the administration?  And what was it?

REP. SESTAK:  I learned, as I mentioned, about that personal accountability in the Navy.


REP. SESTAK:  I felt I needed to answer that question honestly because I was personally accountable for my role in the matter.

MR. GREGORY:  What's the answer?  What's the job you were offered?

REP. SESTAK:  And--but anybody else has to decide for themselves what to say upon their role, and that's their responsibility.

MR. GREGORY:  Yes or no, straightforward question.  Were you, were you offered a job, and what was the job?

REP. SESTAK:  I was offered a job, and I answered that.

MR. GREGORY:  You said no, you wouldn't take the job.  Was it the secretary of the Navy?

REP. SESTAK:  Right.  And I also said, "Look, I'm getting into this...

MR. GREGORY:  Was it the secretary of the Navy job?

REP. SESTAK:  Anything that go--goes beyond that is others--for others to talk about.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me just take the last couple minutes to talk about some elements of how you'll campaign.  What specifically would you advise the president to do with regard to tackling the debt?  What painful choice would you advocate as a United States senator, either on the spending side or the tax side?

REP. SESTAK:  There's three major areas.  First, pay as you go, which we know President Clinton used to give us three budget deficits, was throw one out--and you need to look at your weight to see where you got through, where, if you want a new program, you got to cut another program.  We have that, but there's too many caveats to that.  And we need to do that on the mandatory discretionary side.  Right now we're only looking at the mandatory spending side.  Second, health care.  The largest increase over the next 50 years in our budget is Medicare, Medicaid.  Can we do it?  Sure.  And as we have two programs that are in
this new healthcare bill that begins to reward and incentivize for quality of care, not quantity of care--that is that if somebody is, after a heart operation like my father, left after three days and they missed that he had a staph infection, just another fee, they weren't penalized
for it.

MR. GREGORY:  Can I just get a very specific answer to the question...

REP. SESTAK:  Third, revenues.

MR. GREGORY:  ...which is what specific, painful choice would you advocate as United States senator to deal with the debt?

REP. SESTAK:  Close those tax loopholes.  All right?  Carried interest for Wall Street upwards of $80 billion to $100 billion a year, they get taxed at 15 percent.  Eighty billion dollars for tax loopholes for oil companies that literally have record profits, $352 billion a year that's
not collected in taxes from small businesses and individuals, never mind corporations. But also, as Secretary Gates, I stood up and said he was right when he said, "Wait a minute, we don't need the F-22." And I have two plants in my district that provided parts for that plane.  But what he's trying to do to transform the military is also absolutely needed.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  We're going to leave it there.  Congressman Sestak, good luck in the fall campaign.

REP. SESTAK:  Thank you very much.

MR. GREGORY:  Thank you very much for being here.

Let's turn back now to the senators, the campaign chairs.

And, Senator Menendez, I will begin with you.  Talk about Pennsylvania. The White House backed Senator Specter.  That didn't work.  Assess this race now going into the fall.

SEN. MENENDEZ:  Well, you've seen that you have a Navy admiral who really has an independent view, one that fights for Pennsylvanians in terms of their jobs and economic opportunity, vs. someone who spent a decade on Wall Street as a derivatives trader and ultimately spent another six years in Congress, you know, defending the interests of Wall Street. I'll take that matchup on any day.  And I think Pennsylvania 12, the congressional election that took place, the only election which there was a Republican against a Democrat.  And that election showed very clearly, in a district that John McCain won, in a district that is far more conservative, where Republicans went after Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi and our candidate talked about jobs and economic opportunity, he won. And I think you're going to see that same race, type of race, played across the country.

MR. GREGORY:  Is President Obama, who declined to come in for Senator Specter at the very end because the view was he was going to lose, is he an asset or a liability for Democratic candidates this fall?

SEN. MENENDEZ:  I think the single biggest thing that President Obama can do to help Democrats and particularly the country, as we move into midterm elections, is what he has been doing, righting this country from huge job losses to job gains, going from negative domestic growth to positive domestic growth, tackling some of the fundamental things that my
colleagues on the Republican side, you know, let fester for eight years. I mean, the reason we had double-digit increases in health care, Republicans did nothing.  The reason that we had excesses on Wall Street is because...

MR. GREGORY:  All right, let's...

SEN. MENENDEZ:  ...they didn't permit a cop on the beat.

MR. GREGORY:  Let's, let's stay focused to Pennsylvania.  Senator Cornyn, your view.

SEN. CORNYN:  Well, I think Pennsylvania, Colorado, Arkansas, Kentucky are--demonstrate on the Democrat side basically a fight between the party of big government--the Democratic Party--and the people who are running against those establishment Democrat candidates who are in favor of really, really big government--people like Mr. Conway, people like Mr. Romanoff out in Colorado, people like Mr. Sestak, who basically, as you pointed out, David, voted 98 percent with Nancy Pelosi and the president agenda's, which is extraordinarily unpopular.  Sixty percent of the people--I think it's 56 percent nationwide--believe the healthcare bill that my friend Mr. Menendez and my friend Mr. Sestak support, they want to repeal it because they realize we can't afford because it raises  premiums, raises taxes, and cuts Medicare in order to create a new entitlement program.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me, let me ask about another interesting race here of, of a candidate who's gotten in some trouble, and that is Connecticut--the attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, and his Vietnam-era service.  This was the headline in The New York Times.  The "Candidate's Words Differ From His History." This was an article that pointed out several examples where he had claimed that he had actually served in Vietnam when he had not.  This was one example back in March of 2008.

(Videotape, March 2, 2008)

MR. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL:  We have learned something very important since the days that I served in Vietnam.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  And, in fact, he dealt with that a few days later, this week, rather, at a press conference, where he dealt with the story and what he meant by all of that.  Was it a misstatement or something more? This is what he said.

(Videotape, Tuesday)

MR. BLUMENTHAL:  Now on a few occasions, I have misspoken about my service, and I regret that, and I take full responsibility.  But I will not allow, I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Senator Menendez, is it a stretch to believe that this was just a misstatement?  Do you know anybody in the military who's not extremely carefulable--careful about speaking about their service and whether it occurred during wartime or not?

SEN. MENENDEZ:  Look, I think the attorney general, surrounded by veterans who had his back, as he's had their back over 20 years, clearly said, "I misspoke." As a matter of fact, the, the article that originally came out about him, in the same video, if you look at that video later
on, he says, "I did not serve in Vietnam." So the bottom line is here's someone, however, who did ultimately enlist in the Marines, in the Reserves.

MR. GREGORY:  But, Senator, I'm sorry.

SEN. MENENDEZ:  Here's someone who spent...

MR. GREGORY:  My--but my question is very clear.

SEN. MENENDEZ:  Here's someone who spent six months in...

MR. GREGORY:  I'm sorry, sir, my question is very clear.  Do you think people really believe it was a misstatement?  Don't you know anybody in the military who's very careful about distinguishing their military service during wartime or not?

SEN. MENENDEZ:  Well, if you look, if you look, listen to the very veterans...

MR. GREGORY:  I know what he said.

SEN. MENENDEZ:  If you listen to the very veterans in Connecticut, they said, "We knew that he did not serve in Vietnam, and we did not believe that he was deceiving us."

MR. GREGORY:  Did he try to mislead people?

SEN. MENENDEZ:  These are, these are the veterans of Connecticut.  But, listen, I'll, I'll take a crusading attorney general who did serve in the Marines vs. John's candidate who--Linda McMahon--who actually operated the World Wrestling Entertainment which became a dirty business.  She tried to intervene in an investigation on a narcotics issue in, in that industry.  She peddled violence to kids, let wrestlers have their bodies ultimately be damaged, all for the purposes of making money.  I think that that contrast in this election is one that will take.

MR. GREGORY:  Senator?

SEN. CORNYN:  We still have a primary in Connecticut so I don't know who our nominee's going to be, but what the public is looking for are candidates and office holders that they can trust and that have integrity.  And, unfortunate, I think Mr. Blumenthal has damaged his reputation as somebody you can trust by misrepresenting his record.  And the, the only worse thing, David, I think is then coming on and saying "Oh, I misspoke" after you've been caught red-handed.  It's as if he shot himself in one foot, then reloaded and shot himself in the other.

MR. GREGORY:  Before you both go, I want to talk about the politics of...

SEN. MENENDEZ:  I guess that applies to Rand Paul too.

MR. GREGORY:  I want to talk about the politics of, of immigration.  This week the Mexican president met with President Obama, had a state dinner. He also spoke to a joint session of Congress in which he was rather critical of the law in Arizona, a tough anti-immigration law, saying it was an invitation to racial profiling.  Sarah Palin posted something on her Facebook page which seems to speak for a lot of conservatives who are defending the Arizona law. She wrote this:  "Arizonans have the courage to do what the Obama administration has failed to do in its first year and a half in office - namely secure our border and enforce our federal laws.  And as a result, Arizonans have been subjected to a campaign of baseless accusations by the same people who freely admit they haven't a clue about what they're actually campaigning against."

Senator Menendez, you have pushed this administration to pass comprehensive immigration this year.  Is that possible in this political climate?

SEN. MENENDEZ:  Well, I hope if John and some of our colleagues on the Republican side join us in an issue that is critically important to both the national security, the national economy, and about stopping the exploitation of millions of people, yes.  But if Republicans, who have
basically taken an absolute opposition to seeking comprehensive immigration reform continue to do so, you can't have states like Arizona say Washington hasn't acted.  And I've said to--you know, I've mentioned various times that the governor of Arizona should speak to her two U.S.
senators and to her Republican colleagues in the Senate to make sure that they join us in an effort to make sure we control the borders and, at the same, time deal with the 12 million people in this country.

MR. GREGORY:  And, Senator Cornyn, it was Senator McCain, who is now talking about, you know, has an ad about completing the fence on the border.  He and Senator Kennedy championed comprehensive immigration reform, as did President Bush, and it was the  Republican Party's own party who turned away from it.

SEN. CORNYN:  David, I wish that the president of the United States, the president of Mexico, the attorney general, and the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security would have done what anybody can do with Internet access, which is to download a copy of the Arizona bill and read it for themselves. It expressly bans racial profiling.  And, frankly, the people of Arizona have had to step up in the absence of a sensible immigration reform plan, starting with border security.  The president's budget is essentially a flatline in terms of additional boots on the ground and additional resources to, to secure the border, with drug wars raging in Mexico--23,000 people have died in Mexico since 2006.  This is having a spillover effect in the United States, and we've got to secure the border as a predicate to dealing with the larger issue.

MR. GREGORY:  Would you support comprehensive immigration reform this year if it included protections for the border, as it did when the Bush administration tried it, as well as a path to legal status for those workers who are here?

SEN. CORNYN:  Well, the Bush administration made leaps and bounds working with a bipartisan Congress to improve border security, but it still is not secure.  There's a lot we need to do.

MR. GREGORY:  So you don't think it happens this year?

SEN. CORNYN:  I think Rahm Emanuel, as I understand, has advised the president that this is not something they should do, because he's called it the third rail of politics.  The president's got to take the lead...

MR. GREGORY:  Senator, will he?

SEN. CORNYN:  ...and then we'll work with him.

MR. GREGORY:  Will the president do it?

SEN. MENENDEZ:  Well, well, certainly.  If, if, if--the president said he wants to do this, we just need some Republican support here.  Look, they've talked about--Jon Kyl and John McCain, have talked about rounding up all 41 Republican senators in opposition to comprehensive immigration reform.  Well, they can filibuster then.  There's no way to move forward. This is too important an issue for the national economy, for the national security.  I'd rather have people know who was here to pursue the American dream and pay their taxes than to keep them in, in the shadows.

SEN. CORNYN:  David...

MR. GREGORY:  All right, we're going to let--I'm going to make that the last word.  A stalemate for this morning on that.  We'll continue to follow it. Thank you both very much for being here.

SEN. MENENDEZ:  Thank you.

SEN. CORNYN:  Thank you.

MR. GREGORY:  Coming up next, a packed agenda in Washington, as you can hear. But can anything get done if there's no middle ground?  Insights from our roundtable:  Tom Friedman of The New York Times, Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, Paul Gigot of The Wall Street Journal, and NBC's Andrea Mitchell, only here on MEET THE PRESS.


MR. GREGORY:  A packed agenda in Washington, but can anything get done if there's no middle ground?  Our political roundtable weighs in on super Tuesday's election results right after this brief commercial break.


MR. DAVID GREGORY:  Joining us now, our political roundtable, associate editor of The Washington Post, Bob Woodward; chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News and host of MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports," none other than Andrea Mitchell; editorial page editor for The Wall Street Journal, Paul Gigot; and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.

Welcome back to the program all of you.  Welcome back.  Welcome, I should say, to our new surroundings, if you haven't been here before.

MS. ANDREA MITCHELL:  It's beautiful.

MR. GREGORY:  Tom Friedman, the curious case of Dr. Rand Paul; a political force this week, a force for the tea party, and someone who is outspoken in his views, who, by the end of the week, had Republicans quite nervous.  As you heard Senator Cornyn say, this is a--the issue
with these novice candidates, they go out there and they make mistakes. Is he a weakened candidate?

MR. TOM FRIEDMAN:  Well, it sure feels like it to me.  I think when you, you know, come out against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, that's not a growth position.  Now, maybe in his state or maybe in the tea party, but I, I, I don't think that's something that you're going to build a national campaign around, you know.  So, yeah, it really gets to the fact of--I think you tried to press all the senators on this, really, David, is you're--you want to cut back government.  I'd like to cut back government too.  Just tell me which service do you want to take away?  Is it police, fire, Army, you know?  I think we--that's a serious discussion to have, smaller government.  But to say we want smaller government, less government intrusion, tell me what you want to take away.  I think what's really difficult about this moment and why it requires much smarter leadership is we need to cut some taxes right now and raise some taxes,
OK?  We need to cut some services now and invest in new services now. That's what's so difficult and challenging about this moment. And if you're just for one or the other, I don't think you have the answer for this moment.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, Paul Gigot, what interests me about Rand, Rand Paul, kind of the larger issue is this question of the role of government. What role should government be playing?  And I think that this administration is making an argument that government has a big role to play, an important role to play, and that it can't just be about the freedom of the markets and that sort of thing.  Your take?

MR. PAUL GIGOT:  Well, he's wrong about the, he's wrong about the Civil Rights Act, and he shouldn't get into debate about 46-year-old settled law that is a--there's a consensus and support of in this country.  But to Tom's point, Rand Paul is actually somebody who's willing to be more specific about what he'll cut.  He's willing to take on Medicare.  He's willing to say, "I'm, I'm willing to raise the retirement age," or "I'm willing to reform Social Security." He'd be willing to take on some of those questions in a more forthright way.  And the mistake he made was to take the focus, political focus, away from all that and say...

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MR. GIGOT:  ..."Oh, well, we're--you know, let's have a libertarian seminar about a 46-year-old law."

MR. GREGORY:  Well, and, Andrea, to the point, I mean, it was curious to me that his folks are now talking about liberal media bias and all the rest when this was somebody who did what I think journalists like, which is he said what was on his mind.  And he has well-developed views, and he spoke about them. You can agree with him or disagree with him.  He's willing to talk about them in some depth.  And yet, now it's somehow about liberal bias.

MS. MITCHELL:  Look, he announced his candidacy on the Rachel Maddow show, so he wasn't venturing into a hostile area.  He was articulating his views.  He's a libertarian.  He was being philosophical about that and true to his beliefs. If he is true to his beliefs, why is he running
for the United States Senate? If he does not believe in the purer sense that the government should intrude on businesses' rights to discriminate against gay people, against people who have, have, who have disabilities, who need wheelchair access, if he doesn't believe in that, why does he think he can go to the Senate and pass laws? That's what senators do, they legislate.

MR. BOB WOODWARD:  Yeah.  Yes, but forget--I mean, don't forget that the anti-government message is really, really strong.  There was a man named Ronald Reagan who ran on it in a very, very powerful way.  And if you look at some of the things Reagan said in his various campaigns, they echoed this.  It turns out Reagan didn't cut government; he did cut taxes.  And, you know, now people look at that very fondly.  So...

MS. MITCHELL:  But let me just push back on that, because I did an interview with Jim Baker this week who, without knowing exactly what Rand Paul had said, made that same point, the Reagan analogy.  Ronald Reagan was a pragmatist.  He ran on some things in 1980, but as we all covered him in the years, he raised taxes when he had to, the cement broke around his feet.  What Rand Paul is saying, if he's going to be true to his beliefs, is very different.  It is much more rigid.

MR. WOODWARD:  No, but, but he's a pragmatist too.  He declined to come on the show because he knew he would be asked about that instead about the anti-government message.

MR. GREGORY:  Touche, Bob Woodward.  I want to--can I just--I want to put two things on the screen and, and, Paul Gigot, have you break them down a little bit.  There were two kind of--trying to find the meaning of Tuesday.  This was a cartoon that we liked, Mike Smith from the Las Vegas Sun, it was in the USA Today.  And you got a couple of guys sitting at the bar, one says, "Everyone's mad at me, my boss." The other guy says, "Hey, it could be worse.  You could be an incumbent." So there's anti-incumbency, Paul Gigot, but there's also this, this old Jim Hightower quote, who was this populist commentator who said, "There's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead Armadillos." So did we see the breakdown of the political center and, and, and a real problem for incumbents Tuesday?

MR. GIGOT:  Of course, we saw both of them.  I think you're seeing on the--President Obama has governed so far to the left that I think he's driven Republicans to the right.  Republicans, as you saw in Utah where they didn't re-elect--didn't get--put on the ballot Bob Bennett, is that, "We don't want somebody who's going to cooperate with this agenda, we want somebody who's going to stop it."

MR. GREGORY:  Right.  But the irony, Paul, is you say that he governed from the left, what has the tea party most animated is TARP, which was a Republican creation.

MR. GIGOT:  Well, no, no, no, no, there's no question about it.  And, and yet it has evolved...

MR. GREGORY:  Certainly.

MR. GIGOT: now bail out the insurance companies and the auto companies, and it's, it's gone well beyond its original purpose to save the financial system.  But I think the, the way--you cannot look at the, the polarization of this election without looking at the way this country
has been governed the last two years.  There was a reaction to that. It's a reaction on the right, as I described, but there's a reaction on the left where you see a lot of the labor individuals, labor unions and others, candidates, saying, "You know what, we don't want moderate Democrats who aren't going to support the president's agenda 100 percent," and they're taking that on in Arkansas, they're--the Democrats just lost a seat in Hawaii because their party was split on those grounds.

MR. WOODWARD:  But I don't think these elections have any theme, quite frankly, and I think the politics are very unsettled.  It was Secretary of Defense Gates who recently gave a speech saying--about the military budget saying it's a "gusher." There are all kinds of problems out there that I think are going to define the six months that we--before the election.  The, the big one, obviously, is the oil spill...

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MR. WOODWARD:  ...down in the Gulf.

MR. GREGORY:  Which I want to--right.

MR. WOODWARD:  Where is that going?

MR. GREGORY:  And I want to get to that, I want to get to that right after our break.


MR. GREGORY:  I want to follow up on one point, though, Tom Friedman, which is when you have such activism on the left and the right, what does that do to the political center and how do you govern in that respect? Bob Bennett, the senator who was defeated in a nominated convention in Utah, wrote this in The Washington Post this morning, "The tea party movement's ...  two strongest slogans," he writes, "are `Send a message to Washington,' `Take back America.' I know both very well because they were the main tools used to defeat me ... two weeks ago.  ...

"Yet when the new members of Congress whom these slogans elect in November take office ...  will they stand firmly on partisan sidelines continuing to shout slogans?  Or will they reach across the aisle in the interest of the country?  ...  If they want their movement to be more
than a wave that crashes on the beach and then recedes back into the ocean, leaving nothing behind but empty sand, they should stop the `gloom talk.' These are not the worst of times we have ever faced, nor is the Constitution under serious threat." Where is the center that actually does something, that actually achieves things in Washington if this is what we're creating?

MR. FRIEDMAN:  Well, David, it's been decimated.  It's been decimated by everything from the gerrymandering of political districts to cable television to an Internet where I can create a digital lynch mob against you from the left or right if I don't like where you're going, to the
fact that money and politics is so out of control--really our Congress is a forum for legalized bribery.  You know, that's really what, what it's come down to.  So I don't--I, I--I'm worried about this, it's why I have fantasized--don't get me wrong--but that what if we could just be China for a day?  I mean, just, just, just one day.  You know, I mean, where we could actually, you know, authorize the right solutions, and I do think there is a sense of that, on, on everything from the economy to environment.  I don't want to be China for a second, OK, I want my democracy to work with the same authority, focus and stick-to-itiveness. But right now we have a system that can only produce suboptimal solutions.

MS. MITCHELL:  And, in fact, Tom, you're absolutely right.  One case in point, the Financial Regulation Bill, which we can get to...

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MS. MITCHELL:  ...but Chris Dodd realized that Bob Bennett, with whom he wanted to work, the ranking member on the Banking Committee, was so swept away by his fight back home in Utah that he could not work across party lines, and that there is so much punishment for anyone who works across party lines to try to come up the best solutions so they end up with
things that are not optimal.

MR. GIGOT:  We'd all be in jail if we were China for a second.

MR. FRIEDMAN:  No, I--it's--I understand.  I don't want to be China, I want our system to work, though.

MR. WOODWARD:  Congress is not going to enact your fantasies or anybody else's fantasies.  I mean, they, they will--remember now, we were talking about health care being dead 11 or 12 times, they passed it.  So things do happen; there are compromises.

MR. GIGOT:  They...

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  Final thought here on this.

MR. WOODWARD:  Now, you don't like it, but they did it.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MR. GIGOT:  They go--they--I don't--yeah, that's right, and there are people who want to come in and stop it.  But I would argue that if they elect--you get a Republican Congress, you'll see Republicans and Obama have to do business on something, and these things go in cycles and that's what happened after 1996 when you had a Republican Congress and, and, and president, Democrat.

MR. GREGORY:  We'll take a break here.  I want to come back and talk about how Washington is responding to the Gulf oil spill, what should be done next. Our discussion with our political roundtable continues right after this break station break.


MR. GREGORY:  And we're back to continue our discussion with our political roundtable.  Let's talk about this oil spill that goes on a month now unabated, still we have the, the, the oil gushing.  James Carville, "the Ragin’ Cajun," lives in New Orleans now, former adviser, of course, to President Clinton and well-known Democrat, critical of the Obama administration.  This is how Politico reported it on Friday, quoting Carville, "`They are risking everything by this "go along with BP" strategy ...' Carville told CNN ...  on Friday.  `They seem like they're inconvenienced by this, this is some giant thing getting in their way and somehow or another, if you let BP handle it, it'll all go away. It's not going away.  It's growing out there.  It's a disaster of the first magnitude, and they've got to go to plan B.'" Tom Friedman, what, what is that?  What should the government be doing now that it's not doing?

MR. FRIEDMAN:  Well, obviously, there's a short-term solution and a long-term solution.  Short-term obviously you've got to stay on BP and stay on the situation.  We've got an oil spill, it's, it's about a mile below the surface, it's about 60 to 70 miles offshore, so it's hard to see, OK?  And we don't exactly know precisely what environmental damage it's going to cause, but this is enormous, and it has the potential to be the worst environmental disaster this country's ever faced.  My criticism of the Obama administration is their approach has been "Think small and
carry a big stick," OK?  Hammer BP, put it all on them.  But in terms of thinking about a long-term solution to this, it's been rather imaginative--unimaginative.  David, we're really caught right now, I would argue, between petro-determinists and eco-pessimists.  The eco-pessimists tell us, "David, Paul, you're dead, you're dead--climate--you're dead, you're, you're--I'll talk to you but you're dead," OK?  The petro-determinists tell us, "Look, we're always going to have to be dependent on oil, little boy, OK?" Nowhere in the middle is someone who actually believes in America, America's innovative prowess, that over time--there is no short-term solution to this, but our addiction to oil drives down, you know, the value of our dollar, funds people who've drawn a bull's eye on our back, promotes climate change, OK, despoils our environment and having a policy that ends our addiction to oil--it's not win-win, it's win, win, win, win, win. The fact that there isn't a single person, OK, in Congress, really taking this seriously, and the president is playing kind of rope-a-dope with this right now, I find extremely frustrating.

MR. WOODWARD:  It, it, it is a potentially a giant disaster of the--I mean, most disasters come and go.  9/11 came and went, OK.  This continues.  And I, I picked, I picked up your newspaper on Saturday and had half a smile because it said, "BP steps up its effort," and then I read on, "to criticize others and point the finger at others, and blame everyone." Where are, you know, why don't they call in Google?  Why don't they call in some of the people who have these great minds to fix it?

MR. GIGOT:  Because this is a very, very hard engineering problem, a specific engineering problem 5,000 feet underwater.  What does Carville want the, the government to do?  They don't have the expertise to cap this.

MS. MITCHELL:  Well, it's...

MR. WOODWARD:  Well, Google's not part of the government.

MS. MITCHELL:  But they should...

MR. GIGOT:  But they don't the expertise to do this either.

MR. WOODWARD:  I'm saying get smart people.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.  But that, but that is the issue.

MR. WOODWARD:  You got to do something.

MR. GREGORY:  Who's got the expertise here?  But BP has more expertise than the government does.  Right?  I mean, isn't that the problem?

MS. MITCHELL:  The fact is they said they had a plan when they got the permit.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MS. MITCHELL:  We have people in government, in this administration as well as the previous administration, in that same division of the Interior Department.  You have a Cabinet secretary very well regarded. He came in, he didn't say to himself, to his team, "You've had people who
go to jail in this division of the Interior Department who are permitting oil drills offshore. We're about to recommend to the president more offshore drilling," which everyone had agreed is a necessary part of a medium-range solution.  Why didn't they first say, "Let's take this division and shake it out and find out what is going on in there?  What is the relationship between these oil companies and the people giving them the permits?" They said they had a plan. What is so shocking, I think, to people is that the best scientists, the best minds--you've got a, Nobel laureate who is the secretary of Energy.

MR. GREGORY:  Steven Chu, right.

MS. MITCHELL:  Steven Chu.  How can there not be a scientific solution? That's what's so shocking about this.

MR. FRIEDMAN:  Well, you know, what's striking to me, Andrea, is that I think, in again, in the short run, as Paul said, this is a really difficult engineering problem.  And I don't, I don't blame--I blame them for not having better regulated oil companies in the future.  That's something both administrations have done.  Finding--that they haven't found the immediate solution I think is...

MS. MITCHELL:  But they said they had answers for these very risks...


MS. MITCHELL:  ...when they answered the question about the permit.

MR. FRIEDMAN:  Yeah.  to me, though, it's really the longer...

MR. GIGOT:  They did and they failed.  Those answers failed.

MR. FRIEDMAN:  It's, it's, yeah.  Those, yeah.

MR. GIGOT:  They had answers, but they failed.

MR. FRIEDMAN:  Those, yeah.  It's really, do we have a long-term solution? Right now, you mentioned Steve Chu.  Obama's got an amazing all-star energy team...

MS. MITCHELL:  Exactly.

MR. FRIEDMAN:  ...that could sell--they're in a witness protection program. Have you seen any of these people?

MS. MITCHELL:  Well, that's the point.

MR. FRIEDMAN:  I haven't.  You know, you have a sense that Obama is approaching this problem like every day taking a poll hour by hour.  I did not support this guy to read polls.  I supported him to change polls.

MR. GIGOT:  Tom, if you want...

MR. FRIEDMAN:  OK.  And that's not what he's doing.

MR. WOODWARD:  But there's...

MR. GIGOT:  If you want to reduce oil, you can do it pretty--you can start to do it very quickly.  You can put a $3 or $4 tax on gasoline.

MR. FRIEDMAN:  Well...

MR. GIGOT:  I know you're for that.


MR. GIGOT:  I, I, the president is not.

MR. FRIEDMAN:  I know.

MR. GIGOT:  There's no politician I know who is.  But that's the answer.

MR. GREGORY:  But can I ask a searching question, though?

MR. FRIEDMAN:  Well, it's...

MR. GREGORY:  Can I ask a searching question?  I mean, Tom, you laid out this criticism, but what, what would you have the administration do?  I'm not asking that rhetorically.  I mean, what...

MR. WOODWARD:  To think and engage because it is something that's got to be dealt with.  But I think the one thing we've learned about oil is it's kind of answered the question why the oil companies have been making so much money. You don't have to go down there and pump it.  It just comes to you once you pierce the shell of the, of, of the bottom.  And all of this is coming, you know, no pumps.  It's spewing out in a way...

MR. GIGOT:  But if we stop offshore drilling, we're not going to stop oil spills.  The Exxon Valdez was a tanker spill.  We'd still have to import the oil.  So, I mean...

MS. MITCHELL:  Yes, but this is not an inevitable accident.  This was an accident caused by systems that were not there, systems that they had promised would be there, valves, we are now reading today, that were, were disregarded. There are, there are real mistakes here that need to be fixed.

MR. WOODWARD:  Undoubtedly.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MR. WOODWARD:  But it is a for a commission to do.

MR. GREGORY:  It is...

MR. WOODWARD:  The, the question is, what do you do now?  And I, I mean, look, this whole thing may be not just going around Florida...


MR. WOODWARD:  ...but up the East Coast.

MR. GREGORY:  And you just...

MR. WOODWARD:  My God, it's going to come right here and destroy your set before, before the year is up.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.  Well, but just to button this up, you have an issue where you have an oil spill that continues, you have a debt that continues to go up.  You talk about problems that Washington has to deal with.

Thank you, all.  We're going to leave it there.  Thanks all very much.

And we'll be right back.  For our viewers in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, I should point out, we would love to see you on Thursday for a special MEET THE PRESS ACROSS AMERICA forum that we are doing at the University of Minnesota with Governor Tim Pawlenty.  Check out our Web
site for all the details on how to reserve free tickets for this special conversation with the governor.

And a special programming note, tune in this Wednesday for a special series on the immigration debate, "A Nation Divided," across all the platforms of NBC News.  We'll be right back.


MR. DAVID GREGORY:  That is all for today.  We'll be back next week.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.