MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, the Republican wave and the new balance of power in Washington.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): Well, the American people spoke, and I think that it's pretty clear that the Obama-Pelosi agenda's being rejected by the American people.
MR. GREGORY: On jobs, taxes, spending, health care, and the debt, what's next? And can the GOP stand united with the tea party's growing influence? My exclusive guests this morning, Washington's leader of the tea party, Republican senator from South Carolina Jim DeMint.
Then, he was a hot commodity among Republican candidates on the campaign trail and is being called the darling of the GOP. I'll go one-on-one with New Jersey's outspoken governor, Chris Christie.
Finally, our political roundtable weighs in on the road ahead for President Obama after what he called a "shellacking" on Election Day.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: Sometimes we lose track of, of, you know, the, the ways that we connected with folks that got us here in the first place.
MR. GREGORY: With us, the president's former communications adviser, Anita Dunn; counselor to President Bush, Karen Hughes; president of the National Urban League, Marc Morial; and Republican strategist and adviser to Republican candidate for governor of California Meg Whitman, Mike Murphy.
Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
MR. GREGORY: Good morning.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: The president is on day two of his 10-day trip to Asia. But back at home, the fallout from Tuesday's big election continues. And the big question now, how will the Republicans use the new power they have? Joining me from his home state of South Carolina this morning, the Washington leader of the tea party, Republican Senator Jim DeMint.
Senator, welcome to MEET THE PRESS.
SEN. JIM DeMINT (R-SC): Thank you, David. And I can't claim to be the leader of the tea party, but I'm sure glad they raised the interest level of the American voter this year. It made a real difference in the election.
MR. GREGORY: Well, well, let me ask you that, plain and simple. Is the tea party now running the Republican Party?
SEN. DeMINT: Hardly. I'm hoping the Republican Party will embrace a lot of the ideas of the tea party, but it's a mistake to think that the tea party is one big organization. It's made of up thousands of leaders all across the country of, of citizens who are just tired of out-of-control
spending. They want to take back the power from the Washington politicians. And I think they made a huge difference in the election. But they're just a part of this awakening of the American people, this citizen activism, I think, that's realigning politics in America today.
MR. GREGORY: What about the election results on Tuesday? In your judgment, was that step one in making President Obama a one-term president?
SEN. DeMINT: Well, I don't know that that's the issue. I think people are rejecting in large numbers this rampage of government spending and takeover that the, the president has been leading. But also even before Obama was president, Pelosi and Reid have been in charge of the Congress now for four years. They've had plenty of time to show what they're going to do. Pelosi said there would not be anymore deficit spending; we've had $5 trillion in deficit since then. So I think this is a rejection of Obama's policy. But this is not about whether or not he's a one- or two-term president. This is about turning our country away from
a fiscal cliff. We're in trouble, and we don't have time to play politics anymore. We have got to look at the federal government, determine what it absolutely has to do, and then see if we can devolve power and spending back to the states.
MR. GREGORY: Well, and I, I want to ask you about some specific areas of--issue areas of the agenda. Before I do that, another question about the tea party. You were active in supporting tea party candidates around the country. You had some, some big winners around the country that you campaigned for. There are some of them. But you also had some notable losses, particularly in the Senate, and I want to single one out. You were behind Christine O'Donnell, who lost, of course, in Delaware. And here was the front page of the Wilmington News Journal on Wednesday after the election. The banner headline, "No taste for tea." And frankly, there's been some backlash about your support for her. Politico reported
it this way this week: "A bloc of prominent senators and operatives said party purists like Palin and Senator DeMint had foolishly pushed nominees too conservative to win in politically competitive states. ...
`If you think what happened in Delaware is "a win" for the Republican Party then we don't have a snowball's chance to win the White House,'" that's Senator Lindsey Graham, also from South Carolina. "`If you think Delaware was a wake-up call for Republicans then we have a shot at doing well for a long time.'" Do you think the tea party actually cost the Republican Party control of the Senate?
SEN. DeMINT: That is a very silly thing to say, David. The tea party are responsible for just about every Republican who was elected around the country. This time last year, if people'll think about it, we were concerned about holding our own. Many thought Republicans would fall
below 38 in, in the Senate. So I supported all the Republican candidates, including Christine O'Donnell. Unfortunately, she was so maligned by Republicans, I don't think she ever had a chance. But we had historic gains in the Senate and in the House, so...
MR. GREGORY: Senator, you're not really saying that it was just lack of Republican support that tanked her candidacy, are you? This is a woman who said on national--in an ad that she was not a witch.
SEN. DeMINT: Well, I think we did see in the, in the wake of her primary win, a number of Republicans suggest she was not a viable candidate. That, that did make it difficult for her to start on the right foot. But all over the country we saw candidates like Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Marco Rubio in Florida, Rand Paul in Kentucky, we saw candidates that
were supported by a tea party in, in a new active wave of, of citizens change the face of the Senate. This is what Republicans have needed for a long time, a new, young Republicans, Cuban-American senator. We've got African-American congressmen. This is a huge change for the Republican Party, and I think it's going to be very positive for our country.
MR. GREGORY: All right. So, Senator, let me go down the list of important issues that I know you care about, and let's try to do this in, in--a little bit more quickly than we might normally get some answers for you. On health care, how do you go about dismantling it?
SEN. DeMINT: Well, first of all we have to stop the funding of Obamacare and over the next two years show the American people what the real options are to improve the system we have now. I don't think Americans want to throw out our current system, they want to improve it. And there are a lot of ways we can make insurance more available, more affordable, available to those with pre-existing conditions. And we need to let the American people know that there are ways to do this without moving to the government-control system. The first step is obviously to, to defund it, and I think we can do that with Republicans controlling the House.
MR. GREGORY: But do you think repeal is realistic?
SEN. DeMINT: Yes, I do. I think the next Republican running for president needs to run on complete repeal of Obamacare because we really can't tweak it, David. It's built on a platform of government control, and that doesn't really work in America. We need a, a patient-physician system that's based more on competition and free markets. We really can't do that under this system that's so heavily prescribed in, in Obamacare.
MR. GREGORY: Well, you're talking about the president in 2012, running for president. You don't really think that you can overcome a presidential veto of repealing health care in the Senate, do you?
SEN. DeMINT: Well, not before 2012. But we can certainly defund it. Most, most aspects of this new Obamacare are not implemented for two more years, so it's very realistic to think we can slow the implementation of it or delay it, and then replace it in 2012 with, with a real plan to improve health care in America.
MR. GREGORY: All right, let me move to a few others. The cultural litmus test for Republicans, I've been told, the earmark issue. This is pork barrel spending as part of the budget process. You want them done away with, as do other tea party lawmakers and other Republicans. But
Mitch McConnell, of ourse, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, was asked about it the other day, and this is what he said.
SEN. MITCH McCONNELL (R-KY): As I think all of you know, you could eliminate every congressional earmark and it would save no money. It's really an argument about discretion.
MR. GREGORY: Doesn't sound like he's with you all the way. Is this a showdown coming for Republicans?
SEN. DeMINT: Well, it, it may be. But I think the message is clear from the American people, and I know there's some senior members in Congress who think it's their job to take home bacon. But the real reason for the dysfunction of Congress right now is you have over 500 congressmen and senators who think they're there to bring home the bacon. It's kind of,
"To heck with America, just give me the money." We can't do that anymore. Parochial politics needs to be out in Washington.
MR. GREGORY: But what about Leader McConnell? He is not with you.
SEN. DeMINT: We need to focus on...
MR. GREGORY: He is suggesting that it's more a question of discretion. This is a leader of the Republicans. Are you prepared to go toe-to-toe with him, and is this going to be a big showdown with your Republican leadership?
SEN. DeMINT: I don't think so. Mitch McConnell has voted twice for an earmark ban that I've proposed in the Senate. Just about every Republican who is running for the Senate this time ran on a no earmark pledge. And we've had a vote where over half of our conference has voted for the ban before. Obviously, I'm hopeful I will have leadership support. But we've got a number of co-sponsors. Tom Coburn and I are leading the effort for this earmark ban, and, and we know John Boehner has committed to it in the House. We're not going to have earmarks. So it's, it's really silly for some senior Republicans in the Senate to try to block it.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Let me ask you about another hot button issue, and that is the debt ceiling. Come spring, Congress is going to have to vote to raise the debt ceiling because our debt is increasing and it's reaching the $4.3 trillion limit that Congress has already set--$14.3
trillion limit that Congress set in February. Will you vote to increase the debt ceiling?
SEN. DeMINT: No, I won't, not, not unless this debt ceiling is combined with some path to balancing our budget, returning to 2008 spending levels, repealing Obamacare. We have got to demonstrate that we have the resolve to cut spending. Now, we've already spent the money, and raising the debt ceiling is just like paying off your credit card bill; but we cannot allow that to go through the Congress without showing the American people that we are going to balance the budget and we're not going to continue to raise the debt in America.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Well, let me ask you specifically about that. Where would--do you think the American people have to be prepared for sacrifice? Which part of the budget, knowing that there's only 15 percent that's nondiscretionery, or that's real--nondefense discretionary part of the budget, what are you going to target for cuts?
SEN. DeMINT: Well, I don't think the American people are going to have to sacrifice as much as the government bureaucrats who get paid about twice what the American worker does. First of all, we just need to return to pre-Obama levels of spending in 2008. We need to cut earmarks so people will quit focusing on taking home the bacon. We need to defund Obamacare, and then we need to look at the entitlement programs, such as the way Paul Ryan has done in the House with his road maps to America's future, to fix our tax code, to fix Social Security and Medicare, and to cut the cost over time. We've got the plans, David, to do this, we just--we need to talk about them, we need to help the American people see
where we're going...
MR. GREGORY: But let me just...
SEN. DeMINT: ...but we can cut spending.
MR. GREGORY: Let me just stop you. I want to be very, very, very specific because going back to 2008 spending levels will not get anywhere close to balancing the budget. So you're saying that everything has to be on the table--cuts in defense, cuts in Medicare, cuts in Social Security. Is that right?
SEN. DeMINT: Well, no, we're not talking about cuts in Social Security. If we can just cut the administrative waste, we can cut hundreds of billions of dollars a year at the federal level. So before we start cutting--I mean, we need to keep our promises to seniors, David, and
cutting benefits to seniors is not on the table. Excuse me, let me grab a sip of water.
MR. GREGORY: But then, but where, but where do you make the cuts? I mean, if you're protecting everything for those, the most potent political groups like seniors who go out and vote, where are you really going to balance the budget?
SEN. DeMINT: Well, look at Paul Ryan's “Roadmap to the Future.” We see a clear path to moving back to a balanced budget over time. Again, the plans are on the table. We don't have to cut benefits for seniors, and we don't need to cut Medicare like, like the Democrats did in this big Obamacare bill. We can restore sanity in Washington without cutting any
benefits to seniors or veterans.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you a final question about 2012. Who's got the inside track for president, and do you think tea party forces--yourself, Sarah Palin--have an inside track moving forward?
SEN. DeMINT: Well, I think the, the, the voters have the inside track here. I think the citizen activism is going to change politics. I think Sarah Palin did an incredible amount of good to raise the interest level of what's going on in politics, so she did a lot for the Republican
Party, Michele Bachmann, others. But we've got a, I think, a great list of folks, including the next person who'll be on your show, Chris Christie, who's demonstrated a lot of courage. And probably more than anything else right now, David, we need politicians with the courage to
make very difficult decisions, to fight special interest groups, and that's what I want to see in the next Republican nominee.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Senator DeMint, thank you very much for joining us this morning.
SEN. DeMINT: Thank you, David.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: We now turn to the aforementioned Republican who has emerged as a leader of his party, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Welcome to the program.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ): Thank you, David.
MR. GREGORY: Good to have you here.
GOV. CHRISTIE: Happy to be here.
MR. GREGORY: When you talk about the response from the voters on Election Day, something's very curious. We know some of the feelings about the Democrats, about President Obama's policies, but look at this from the exit polls in terms of the opinion of political parties.
Republicans didn't fare too well either; 52 percent unfavorable rating. What does that say about the Republican Party today?
GOV. CHRISTIE: You know, I think what it says is what I was saying all over the country, that's it's put up or shut up time for our party. You know, we lost our way last decade, David, we did, and people expect us to do better. And if the Republican Party wants to come back, they're going to have to do what they said they were going to do. I mean, because if
they don't, we're going to be sent to the wilderness for a long time, and we're going to deserve it.
MR. GREGORY: What does that mean? What do they have to put up?
GOV. CHRISTIE: What they have to do is they say they want, and, and we're doing it in New Jersey: smaller government, less spending, less regulation, lower taxes. That's what the public is saying that they want. And if you look at what we've done in New Jersey, David, we're delivering on that. We're not fixed yet, but we're on the track to being fixed, closing an $11 billion budget deficit without any new or increased taxes, cutting the corporate business tax. We're doing things to try to create an environment where private sector jobs can grow.
MR. GREGORY: And, and I want to talk about some of the choices you made in New Jersey. But, you know, you heard Senator DeMint, and there's a lot of Republicans talking about cutting the deficit, cutting the budget, but they're not specific. He wasn't specific. He talks about Paul Ryan, who has some ideas about Medicare and changing the way that's structured,
indeed, making some cuts. Paul Ryan in the House, he's from Wisconsin, doesn't have support among establishment Republicans. There are 15 Republicans who stood up behind him in terms of making these cuts. Are Republicans really making good when Senator DeMint and others aren't specific about the cuts they're going to make to entitlements or to defense, to the big ticket items that really move the budget?
GOV. CHRISTIE: Well, let me tell you what's--where the leadership's going to come from. You have 11 Republican governors and a Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo in New York, who have said we can't raise taxes and we have to cut spending in everything. In New Jersey what we did was we cut spending in every department, a 9 percent cut in real spending,
not projected spending, real spending year over year. Find another state that did that and, and we'll go and talk about it. I mean, we made real hard decisions, and I cut some programs that we would've liked to have kept.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
GOV. CHRISTIE: But we're broke. We don't have the money anymore. And so I hope that what these governors, Republicans and Democrats, will show Washington is you can do this and you have to do it.
MR. GREGORY: I asked Senator DeMint about sacrifice, and he said, `Oh, we don't want to, we don't want to break our promise to our seniors’. In your state, what are you telling people they have to sacrifice and what do Republicans around the country have to tell Americans they have to sacrifice if they want to bring the size of government under control and the deficit under control?
GOV. CHRISTIE: We told everybody there has to be shared sacrifice among everyone, and let me be specific. We cut every department of state government. We cut funding to K to 12 education. We are proposed real pension and benefit reforms on public sector workers, increasing the retirement age, eliminating COLAs, things that are really going to bring the pension problem back under control. We cut all of this spending in the state in every state department, David, every state department. From environmental protection, to military and veterans affairs, all the way through had to sustain a cut. Those are the type of things you have to do to show people you really mean shared sacrifice. Everyone came to the table and everybody had to contribute.
MR. GREGORY: So, as you, as a national Republican with national influence now--and you've met with congressional Republicans and talked about issues--does everything have to be on the table?
GOV. CHRISTIE: What I told them was they'd better come up with a plan that's credible like we did in New Jersey, and the public's going to be able to smell real quickly if you're not credible. And if we are not credible, then we are really going to be in trouble as a party, and I
think the numbers you showed indicate that.
MR. GREGORY: What about the tea party, the tea party's influence on the Republican party? Net positive, net negative? What do you think?
GOV. CHRISTIE: Net positive. Listen, the core that drives the tea party, in my view, are those four principles I talked about before--less spending, smaller government and less intrusive government, lower regulation, and lower taxes. And when Republicans are at their best, those are our core principles. And so I think that, at bottom, it's a positive influence. Listen, you're going to have variances around, around the country. I endorsed Mike Castle in the primary...
MR. GREGORY: Right, in Delaware.
GOV. CHRISTIE: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
GOV. CHRISTIE: Because I felt he was the best person.
MR. GREGORY: Is that a wake--do you agree with Lindsey Graham from South Carolina or Jim DeMint from South Carolina, that Delaware is a wake-up call for Republicans?
GOV. CHRISTIE: I think Delaware was a missed opportunity to have a really good United States senator in Mike Castle, and that's why I endorsed him in the primary.
MR. GREGORY: Let me talk a little bit more about New Jersey and taxes and spending. And I want to talk specifically about the--this ARC tunnel, this rail tunnel that would've connected New York and New Jersey and the controversy surrounding this. To boil all of this down, the
federal government, as I understand it, offered you a deal. You were worried about cost, cost overruns, and they said, "Look, we're going to take care of that. New Jersey's not going to be responsible." So critics have used...
GOV. CHRISTIE: Well, let me stop you right there.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
GOV. CHRISTIE: No chance. That never happened. The federal government said $3 billion is what they were going to give us, and I had to sign a contract saying every nickel over $3 billion was the responsibility of the federal government. All the federal government offered me in the interim two week period, between the time when I first canceled the tunnel, was the ability to get federal loans...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
GOV. CHRISTIE: ...that we'd have to pay back.
MR. GREGORY: They weren't going to shift this to...
GOV. CHRISTIE: No.
MR. GREGORY: ...private companies to be able to take care of it?
GOV. CHRISTIE: No. It was federal loans or, if we wanted a public-private partnership, we had to have increased fees on all the train tickets, for all the commuters, all across New Jersey, including ones that weren't using the tunnel, to be able to repay it. No matter what, David, this was going to fall on the people of the state of New Jersey, and the worst part was, it was a blank check. No one could tell me how much this was going to cost. We had already put $5.7 billion up from the state of New Jersey, and we were talking about $2 billion to $5
billion in overruns now. I mean, we could not sustain that. We're broke.
MR. GREGORY: Is this a matter of ideology for you, or simply a pragmatic issue that you don't have the money? And by that I mean, should the federal government be involved in big infrastructure projects like this?
GOV. CHRISTIE: Sure, they should. And you know what? I gave the federal government two weeks to come back to me and say if this is a project of such national importance, then put more money on the table for it. But, you know, they didn't. In, in Florida, where they're building high speed rail, Florida's being asked to give a 20 percent match to an 80 percent for federal. In this project, New Jersey was picking up 70 percent of the cost, the feds 30 percent and nothing from the state or the city of New York. Listen, this is about fairness and about what we could afford, and I'm not going to sign blank checks on the taxpayers in the state of New Jersey for a project that, as laudable as it might be in some respects, we simply can't afford now. When we talked to the campaign, David, about tough choices, this is an example.
MR. GREGORY: Tax cuts. You've got a millionaires tax in New Jersey, which I know that you're opposed to.
GOV. CHRISTIE: Not anymore, we don't.
MR. GREGORY: Not anymore because...
GOV. CHRISTIE: No.
MR. GREGORY: ...you vetoed it.
GOV. CHRISTIE: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: You've got high taxes across the board.
GOV. CHRISTIE: We do.
MR. GREGORY: How do you deal with that as a Republican governor of New Jersey?
GOV. CHRISTIE: Well, first you say, "No more." And the Democrats sent me an extension of the millionaires tax that would have not only hit individuals but small business in New Jersey, and I vetoed it. And I'm not going to increase taxes on the state that the Tax Foundation has said is the highest burdened tax state in America, especially if you look at our unemployment rate, David, ours is higher than any state in our region. The reason is, over the last eight years under Corzine and McGreevey, we raised taxes and fees 115 times. We put a wet blanket on the economy of New Jersey, and that's why our people are still out of work is proportionately to everybody else in the region. New York is a point lower. Pennsylvania is more than a point lower. I mean, we, you know, we did this to ourselves with all these increased taxes.
MR. GREGORY: What about the Bush tax cuts and extending those? You've said that should happen at all levels for a couple of years, but you've said only a couple of years because there is a day of reckoning here. Can you have tax cuts when you also want to balance the, the budget? Or do you have to consider tax increases at the federal level at some point?
GOV. CHRISTIE: Well, you know, I've been watching you for weeks talk about extending the Bush tax cuts. Drives me crazy when I'm sitting at home. This is about maintaining the current tax structure in a time we have a very weak economy. And so I favor extending these for another two years, extending the current tax system and not having a tax increase.
MR. GREGORY: But those, I mean, wait a minute. It may drive you crazy, and I know other Republicans that feel the same way. But I've also talked to Republicans. I've talked to economists like Alan Greenspan who say there is no free lunch here. You cannot have tax cuts at this level and not have them be paid for. And other Republicans say, yes, they should be paid for. So you do agree they should be paid for.
GOV. CHRISTIE: Well, obviously--well, listen, I've, I'm walking the walk in New Jersey, David.
MR. GREGORY: OK.
GOV. CHRISTIE: I mean, when I said we're vetoing the millionaires tax, I found spending tax to pay for that.
MR. GREGORY: So you can have existing tax policy, but it still has to be offset.
GOV. CHRISTIE: Well, listen, and I'm not disagreeing with you, David.
MR. GREGORY: OK.
GOV. CHRISTIE: But I'm--what I'm disagreeing with you is you characterizing what's happening here as a--as tax cuts. This is maintaining the current tax policy in a weak economy, and what you're, what you're advocating through your question is tax increases.
MR. GREGORY: I'm not--that's not fair. I'm not advocating. I'm, I'm questioning whether or not they have to be paid for.
GOV. CHRISTIE: Well, when you call the, when you call the tax cuts, what I'm saying is the--I take the position as the opposite of that.
MR. GREGORY: Right. Right.
GOV. CHRISTIE: The opposite of that is it is a tax increase in a weakened...
MR. GREGORY: But they are set to expire.
GOV. CHRISTIE: ...weaks in, in a weakened economy. And what I'm saying is you should keep the current tax structure in place until our economy gets stronger.
MR. GREGORY: That's fine. But they're set to expire, so if you're going to re-authorize them, they're, they're, you're voting for tax cuts.
GOV. CHRISTIE: No, you're not voting for tax cuts. You're voting to maintain the current tax structure.
MR. GREGORY: I understand, a continuation.
GOV. CHRISTIE: That's a...
MR. GREGORY: But there's...
GOV. CHRISTIE: And then we agree.
MR. GREGORY: And there's still an offset issue.
GOV. CHRISTIE: Well, then we agree.
MR. GREGORY: OK.
The, the issue of where there's room for negotiation, is there room for negotiation in your mind? Should the president make a deal here on, on these things for a certain period of time? Does everybody, then, in a couple of years have to come to this and say, "Maybe these aren't the best ideas. Maybe we also have to think about tax increases at some point"?
GOV. CHRISTIE: Well, I think the first thing that the president has to focus on is building private sector jobs again in this country. And I don't think, by increasing taxes, that's the way to--that we're going to get it done in the short term. And so, sure, there's areas for
compromise, I'm sure there are, between Republican leaders in the Congress and the president. But the president has to lead on this. And I think that the message is really clear, I got the message from the election, it's about putting people back to work. And you will not put
people back to work in private sector jobs by increasing the cost in the private sector.
MR. GREGORY: A couple more areas. I want to--you've become an YouTube star, as you well know, because you've had some, some interactions with voters, including when you were campaigning for Meg Whitman out in California. Let me show that moment.
(Videotape, September 22, 2010)
GOV. CHRISTIE: You know what, you want to yell, yell at me, but don't give her a hard time. We're here. We're here talking about the future of the state of California and the future of our country. And you know what?
Unidentified Man: And you're just talking about the truth that's she's lying about.
GOV. CHRISTIE: And you know what? And you know what? Let me tell you, and let me tell you this. You know what? It's people who raise their voices and yell and scream like you that are dividing this country. We're here to bring this country together, not to divide it.
MR. GREGORY: So what's the balance? On to a style question. The balance for you being a straight talker, you know, taking on the corrosive conversations we have about politics, and then your image as being a little too brusque, bullying, you know, Governor Wrecking Ball?
How do you, how do you straddle that line?
GOV. CHRISTIE: Well, I am who I am. I don't straddle the line. And I think what people in New Jersey appreciate about, appreciate about me is I don't send smoke signals. They know who I am. They know how I feel about issues. Sometimes they agree with and sometimes they don't, but all I think that that clip indicates is that when I have something on my mind, I'm going to say it. I'm going to say it directly. And I think that we have too little of that in politics, David. And when, when I sit around and watch the way some people in political life talk, it, it fogs me over. And I think it fogs people in America over too. They want to
hear somebody say, "If you feel a certain way, say it and live with the consequences." I'm willing to let the chips fall where they may on that issue.
MR. GREGORY: So the question is whether you're going to say all this stuff at a national level.
You've ruled out running for president in 2012. But you're also acting like a guy who's increasing your national influence. You're campaigning for congressional Republicans. Why do all of that? Why, especially in tight races, if you're not looking down the line at running?
GOV. CHRISTIE: Because I care about my country. And because I felt that those people where the absolute best candidates to help make our country a better place. And so that's why I campaigned for them. I have no other agenda. And to the extent that New Jersey over the last year can serve as an example to people that say, "Listen, you can cut spending.
You can balance a budget without tax increases. You can make hard choices and not only survive politically but thrive politically." Then I want to try to set that example for folks so that these other new governors who are coming in, members of Congress...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
GOV. CHRISTIE: ...that they will act boldly and be strong.
MR. GREGORY: Shermanesque statement, you're not running in 2012?
GOV. CHRISTIE: Absolutely.
MR. GREGORY: You wouldn't be on a ticket at all as VP?
GOV. CHRISTIE: Can you see me as somebody's vice president, David, after, after that question about governor wrecking ball? I would feel bad for that poor man or woman.
MR. GREGORY: What about down the line, beyond 2012? What, what criteria would you use in making a decision about whether to run for president?
GOV. CHRISTIE: Well, first I have to decide whether I run for re-election in 2013 in New Jersey, and that's going to be determined by how good a job I do and whether the people in the state of New Jersey want me back. So before you ever get to anything beyond that, you know, my mother always taught me first things first. Do your job. Do your job that the people of New Jersey gave you. I love being governor and I'm got to be governor until 2013, then we'll see what the verdict of the people is of the job I did on 2013.
MR. GREGORY: So fair at least to say the door is open beyond 2012.
GOV. CHRISTIE: I'm going to need a job, David, after 2013, you know? And so whether it's going to be being governor of New Jersey or doing something else, I have four kids between 7 and 17, I'm working the rest of my life anyway. So it's going to be doing something, David, so maybe it'll be that. Who knows.
MR. GREGORY: Governor Christie, thank you very much.
GOV. CHRISTIE: Thank you, David.
MR. GREGORY: Appreciate it.
Coming next, the road ahead for President Obama after what he deemed a "shellacking" on Election Day, and a look down the road to 2012. Our roundtable weighs in: the president's former communication adviser Anita Dunn; former counselor to President Bush, Karen Hughes; president of the National Urban League, Marc Morial; and Republican strategist Mike
Murphy. Only here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. GREGORY: Coming up, our political roundtable weighs in on the road ahead for President Obama after what he called a "shellacking" on Election Day, after this brief commercial break.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: We are back. We are--and they're already talking, our political roundtable, to break down what happened on Tuesday and where we go from here. Joining me now, president of the National Urban League, Marc Morial; Republican strategist and adviser to Meg Whitman's gubernatorial campaign in California--we'll talk about that--Mike Murphy; counselor to President Bush, Karen Hughes; and President Obama's former communications adviser, Anita Dunn.
Welcome to all of you.
MR. MARC MORIAL: Thanks, David.
MS. ANITA DUNN: Good morning.
MR. GREGORY: Well, I, I want to start. I mean, what a, what a week and what an Election Day. But I want to talk specifically about President Obama's reaction to all of this. And it was striking to me, Anita Dunn, as you worked in the White House, that the president appeared to be struggling in that press conference, sort of working through the fact that he's struggling to connect to the American people two years after such an important victory. He talked about some leadership failures. He's appearing on "60 Minutes" tonight, and this is what--part of what he told Steve Kroft.
PRES. OBAMA: I think it's a fair argument. I--you know, I think that, over the course of two years, we were so busy and so focused on getting a bunch of stuff done that we stopped paying attention to the fact that, you know, leadership isn't just legislation, that it's a matter of persuading people and giving them confidence and bringing them together, making an argument that people can understand. And I think that we haven't always been successful at that, and I take personal responsibility for that.
MR. GREGORY: You know, my colleague Savannah Guthrie, covering the White House, I thought asked the most important question: Does the president get it?
MS. DUNN: Well, listen, I think that what President Obama said is, is absolutely correct, which is he came into office facing great policy challenges, and with those policy challenges came great communications challenges. And I think many people say, you know, in terms of the
policy, in terms of the immediate crisis, in terms of keeping this country from sliding into a depression that, you know, this administration's done a very good job. In terms of kind of outlining to a very, to a very worried, frustrated and increasingly angry American
people what comes next and where's that better place--and I was part of that communications operation--you know, obviously that's a challenge that we didn't quite get to as we did for the policy one.
But here's, here's the reality, David, which is for two years with Democrats controlling everything, it was kind of Democrats against Democrats and a referendum, there's now going to be a very clear choice in this town, and I think that the communications challenge...
MR. GREGORY: But we're not--but, Anita, we're not there yet.
MS. DUNN: No, but it actually gets a little easier here, so--uh-huh.
MR. GREGORY: But I'm still grappling with--yeah. But, but, but, Karen, I mean, there, there was--I detected a certain level of impatience and irritation, even, on the president's part that Americans don't seem to get what's been done for them.
AMB. KAREN HUGHES: He was very uncomfortable. And sometimes, David, you have a communications problem, and sometimes you just have a problem. This was a massive repudiation of the president's policies. And frankly, it's a little insulting for him to suggest he wasn't able to persuade us, as if we're so stupid that we just don't get how brilliant his policies
were. No, we don't like his policies. We don't like the trillion-dollar stimulus and the trillion-dollar massive health care at a time of enormous anxiety. We need to--and, and the proof to me, David, that he really wasn't getting the message was when he talked about tweaking.
This was not a tweak election, this was a "Turn this baby around, we are on the wrong course"...
MR. GREGORY: Marc Morial, what do you say?
MR. MORIAL: It was not a "turn this baby around election" because when you look at the exit polls, the exit poll said something different. They showed a sharply divided nation on issues like health care. They showed a sharply divided nation. The wrong thing to do with this election is to overstate the results. You--and there was a mistake in 2008 to overstate
the results, and I think it's a mistake in 2010 to overstate the results. The fact of the matter is. it was a repudiation of the Democratic and the Republican Parties if you look at favorability ratings coming out of the exit polls.
MR. GREGORY: Right, we showed that.
MR. MORIAL: And you saw a sharply divided country about the issue of health care. I think the president gets it. Every great champion, every great president at some point gets pushed to the ropes, may get knocked down to a knee. President Obama will get up, he will fight back, he will stand on his principles. It was a tough week. Anyone who's been through
a tough political loss knows the feeling in your gut, the re-examination you go through, and I think he's going through that. But I think it's wrong to look at it as some sort of mandate. And we want to do that, claim a great victory when in fact the nation is...
MR. GREGORY: Right. Well, but here, here's my question, Mike Murphy. We know that Americans voted their economic anxiety.
MR. MIKE MURPHY: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: But they also did make a statement about their desire or lack thereof of the role of government in our lives, particularly in an...
MR. MURPHY: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...this, this period of economic upheaval. And it seems to me the president struggled all throughout these first two years making the argument and winning the argument that government was part of the answer, part of the solution, not part of the problem.
MR. MURPHY: Yeah, we just had a referendum on that--excuse me--and the president lost, and he lost by historic proportions. So I think he knows he got shellacked, the problem is publicly what to say about it, because when your ideological point of view is totally repudiated, it's kind of hard to have much to say. So what the president has to do now is reset the clock and get a forward-going message because there's no backward-going message that's going to help him at all. And I think he's got two choices, either hunker down and kind of have a passive plan and hope the Republicans repeat the mistakes of 1994 and act like they've
just won control of the government, which I don't--I think we've learned from that mistake and we won't do it again; or he's got to make a big move where he grabs the agenda again and makes tremendously painful for him but politically effective and I would think economically effective policy compromises. That's the choice.
AMB. HUGHES: But the irony is, but the irony is that a president who really owes much of his presidency to the power of his words--and I was among those who was inspired by his words in 2008 even though I disagree with his policies--those words have lost their power because he's used them so carelessly. For example, calling for civility the day after the election, an election in which he called his opponents enemies and told Republicans we had to sit in the backseat of the car. I think he's, he's carelessly used words. He, he gratuitously took a lot of political shots in this election, and so his calls for civility, his calls for--his,
his--he's lost the power of his words, and that, that makes it very hard for him to set an agenda.
MR. MURPHY: Yeah...
MS. DUNN: David, I, I, I--yeah, but I, I want to talk about words for a second because on Tuesday night we saw the Republican leadership saying that they were humbled, they understood there wasn't a mandate, and since then all they've done is claim a mandate for policies that, frankly, weren't borne out by the people who showed up and by the exit polls
you've cited. For instance, as Marc pointed out, even with this very conservative electorate that showed up to vote on Tuesday night, support for either repealing or keeping the healthcare program is split 47-48. There is not a mandate for rolling it back. Fifty-two percent of those voters felt that some or all of those Bush tax cuts should not be renewed. And, and so I say to myself, you know, the Republicans are now trying to create a mandate where none exists, and the reality is that the vote was very much a rejection of the status quo. I mean, the status quo's been on the ballot for three times now, and it loses every time.
MR. MURPHY: But, but if the Democrats want to litigate exit polls and put Speaker Pelosi back in the front window, it is the biggest gift to the Republican Party since the elephant. What the, the president's either going to do is he--we're all going to sit here in pundit land and
chew him to pieces if he wants to talk about how he lost the election, because he's not particularly good at humility and contrition. That is not his core skill. He's got to decide to finally, what he hasn't done for two years, is get big, be the biggest guy in politics, not be passive to the Democrats in Congress--who, by the way, have gone even farther left with these election results--and grab the whole thing, or he's going to be diminished and do very, very badly.
MR. MORIAL: Well, you know, I think the other thing, too, is I don't know if there's an appetite to relitigate things like health care. Because if you look at the, the exit polling, there's a split. And the question is, as I looked at Jim DeMint, is it seemed to be--he seemed to be suggesting that there is "another plan." I'd like to "see that plan."
MR. GREGORY: There's no plan. He made it very clear, the plan is to run on this in 2012. They don't--the Republicans don't have support to get rid of health care now.
MR. MORIAL: It's--what it is, is it's a political plan.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. MORIAL: It's not a plan to address the problems in our nation.
MR. GREGORY: Well, but, but here's, but here's a political question. Alex Sink, she ran for governor down in Florida and lost, which the White House was not happy about--lost narrowly, by the way, to a flawed Republican candidate who put a lot of his own money in there. She said, "Look, the White House was tone deaf; tone deaf on response to the gulf oil spill, tone deaf on lack of acceptance to health care." I mean, there are people, including Democrats, the way they ran, who felt that health care ultimately was a war of choice and not a war of necessity for Obama.
MR. MORIAL: And, you know, David, there, there's merit into the notion that the White House needs to make some modifications and make some changes to how they communicate and how they undertake it. So here's my prescription. My prescription is that they've got to focus like a laser in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night on jobs, jobs, jobs. What I hear around the country when I travel the nation, from all sorts of groups of people, is they want a plan for jobs and economic growth. If the leaders of both sides can come together around a plan for jobs and economic growth, I think that would be in the best interests of the nation. If this is going to simply be a tactical discussion about what political move helps you in 2012...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. MORIAL: ...both parties are risking, risking that you're going to have another volatile election.
MR. GREGORY: Well, but let--I want to get, I want to get one more thing in before the break.
Karen, as a, as a professional here, not just, you know, with your political leanings, President Bush in '06 takes a thumping, as he says, in the polls, fires Don Rumsfeld, and then proceeds to, to move into the surge, which Democrats didn't like. He was at a different point at his presidency.
MS. DUNN: It was a very different point in the presidency, right.
MR. GREGORY: He could do something different here. What is the road back for President Obama? What's the, the line between consensus building and actually pushing the Republicans away and forcing a show down?
AMB. HUGHES: I think the more instructive model is what Bill Clinton did after the 1994 election. When he was two years in, he went back to the middle. He moderated his positions and policies. He reached out to Republicans. There were some contentious times and--with Newt Gingrich, but he reached out to Republicans, and he came back to the center. And
that is what the American people are fundamentally saying. You--President Obama talked a lot about the car in the ditch during this election. Well, the voters kicked the tires and they said we're going to turn this baby around because what we got home with is not what we were
sold. This is not--the trillion dollar stimulus, the, the massive complex healthcare plan, which, by the way, has an impact on jobs. Employers aren't hiring because they're afraid of the uncertainty of what that healthcare plan will do to their business and...
MR. MORIAL: And health care is the only sector of the economy creating
MS. DUNN: Right.
MR. MURPHY: Mm-hmm.
MR. MORIAL: I mean, that's the point about it is that the healthcare sector is, indeed, creating jobs.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MS. DUNN: But, David, you know, in--let's not forget that they weren't able to move to some kind of consensus until after the Republicans had shut down the government, that 1995 was the year in which Democrats drew a very hard line with Republican priorities. Republicans felt they'd come in with a mandate that they actually didn't have from the voters, to come in. And what you're seeing right now I think is Republicans coming in and there are parts of their party that are--think they actually did get sent here with a real mandate to do some things and that you don't actually get to consensus...
MR. GREGORY: Hm.
MS. DUNN: ...until you've had to make those hard choices.
MR. GREGORY: All right, I'm going to take a break here.
MS. DUNN: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: I want to come back, talk about the agenda ahead. I also want to talk about the tea party's influence in that showdown that's coming up between tea partyers and the establishment Republicans. Back more with our roundtable when we come back right after this break.
MR. GREGORY: We are back with our roundtable. Mike Murphy, I want to ask about the tea party, but I've got to ask you, first...
MR. MURPHY: Sure.
MR. GREGORY: ...you were with Meg Whitman.
MR. MURPHY: I was.
MR. GREGORY: What happened in California? You thought this would be closer. In the end, it wasn't.
MR. MURPHY: It wasn't. We got beat and, you know, I ran the campaign, and I take responsibility for it. It's a very blue state and it's getting bluer. As the red, you know, wave kind of went one way, there was a bit of a blue riptide coming the other way. We had a tough time in Washington state and Oregon and definitely in California. And I think the other thing is that CEO candidates who are doing kind of a tough medicine message, be it, you know, Linda McMahon in Connecticut in a blue state...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. MURPHY: ...Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, Meg and Carly Fiorina in California, they weren't buying it. So we just couldn't get there. We could win the Republicans, win the independents, but in California if you don't win a lot of Democrats...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. MURPHY: ...you don't win and we did not.
MR. GREGORY: $160 million, though.
MR. MURPHY: Right.
MR. GREGORY: It seemed to be a referendum on big money candidates coming in and swaying voters.
MR. MURPHY: Money became part of it, but it's a--it's a Hobson's choice for Republicans in California because the big unions in the last couple of years have spent $300 million on politics. So you either can't raise enough money to compete and they swamp you--because the public employee unions run California politics, they paid for Jerry Brown's campaign. Or,
you spend your own money, but if you're a self-funder, the press wants to make that money the issue.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Well, let's talk...
MR. MURPHY: So, you know, with a time machine, there are a lot of things you can do differently, I'm proud of Meg. We fought hard for jobs, take on that pension system. We had some tough answers that people just didn't want.
MR. GREGORY: Let me stay with you on the tea party...
MR. MURPHY: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: ...because if you look at this on the coast, Democrats remain strong, in the heartland of the county, it was a real route.
MR. MURPHY: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: That's part of the tea party's strength...
MR. MURPHY: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...white, working class voters...
MR. MURPHY: Right.
MR. GREGORY: ...the ones who voted for Hillary Clinton, for instance.
MR. MURPHY: Sure.
MR. GREGORY: But what is--what kind of fight are we going to see among Republicans with the tea party influence in Congress?
MR. MURPHY: Well, you know, a lot of the tea party is just fiscal conservatism, which is a totally positive force, and that was a lot of the message. I think the media tends to kind of grab a part of the tea party, the "funnier the hat the better," and vilify them. So I think we've got to be careful as we look at this not to, not to have an analysis that doesn't look at all the voters, the 15 percent of the country or more who say they identify. That said, we've got some problems. I've got a bone to pick with Jim DeMint. I, I take the position of many Republican senators, in some ways, he was Harry Reid's secret weapon. You don't go into Delaware as a party leader, gin up a primary. You know, primaries can do whatever they want and--but then in a Northeastern state, we threw away a perfectly good Senate seat.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. MURPHY: Similar situation in Nevada. We could be at 49 or 50 seats right now. So I think there has to be some level of pragmatism inside the party leadership to provide some guidance here because I don't want to throw away Senate seats. And I think it was a mistake.
MR. GREGORY: What, Karen Hughes, what about the accountability, for a moment, of the Republicans on where they are going to cut the budget. They're making some big promises. Are they going to cut the prescription drug benefit that Bush passed? You know, are they going to deal with, with some of this spending? You know, President Bush tried private
accounts in Social Security. It did not work, and it was his own party that part of the big problem there.
AMB. HUGHES: Well, I think we have to earn trust, and I think now that we control the House, we have an opportunity to take votes and to pass legislation every week. We need to, we need to cut spending, we need to say that there's not going to be a $6 trillion tax cut that would kill jobs and hurt the, the fledgling economic recovery on--and that needs to be our priority one. We need to, to offer solutions. We can start with, perhaps, not authorizing the stimulus spending that hasn't been spent.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
AMB. HUGHES: It's clearly not worked. Unemployment's stuck at 9.6 percent, although the president promised it wouldn't go over 8, and so it's not working.
MR. GREGORY: But...
AMB. HUGHES: And so we need to, we need to begin to earn trust. And let me make one more point, David.
MR. GREGORY: Yes.
AMB. HUGHES: Much has been made of the fact that we control the House and not the Senate. However, we have 47 Republicans now in the Senate and there are 23 Democrats who have to run for election in 2012 and who are going to listen to the message of this election...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
AMB. HUGHES: ...and perhaps be a little worried about voting...
MR. GREGORY: Republicans and Democrats, by the way.
AMB. HUGHES: ...about voting against spending cuts...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
AMB. HUGHES: ...and limiting government in the next two years.
MR. GREGORY: Well, but let's talk about tax policy.
AMB. HUGHES: So I don't buy that we can't get things passed.
MR. GREGORY: Marc Morial, let's talk about tax policy.
MR. MORIAL: Hm.
MR. GREGORY: Because you know, you could be for all the tax cuts across the board, Republicans and Democrats have to come to grips with the fact that you may have to raise taxes if you really want to bring the budget under control at some point.
MR. MORIAL: A lot of this is what I call "Star Wars" economics. "Let's quote cut spending, let's cut taxes, and let's also balance the budget." And the reality check is that you can't cut, tax your way out of the debt problems that face--I'm part of an effort that's going to release a
report soon on debt reduction and there's some very difficult choices to be made. But let me say this about the Bush tax cuts and my thinking. My thinking is to--that the plan needs to be recast. It's a 2001 tax cut plan that was designed as a stimulus to the recession that was taking place. Why can't we develop a new tax plan that might place greater tax relief for those at the middle and working levels? This tax plan gave those at the middle and working levels scant relief and gave greater relief to those up at the top. So I'm saying why can't--it's a false choice to say keep them or scrap them. It's a better choice to say let's design a tax plan for 2010 that confronts the problems of 2010.
MR. GREGORY: Anita, your point here?
MS. DUNN: I think that's a good point. I mean, the reality is the reason that, that they expire this year is because the Republican Congress didn't want to say how they were going to pay for them in the out years, which is the problem that they will have today. The, you know, if you look at what the, if you look at what the Republicans have been saying between their proposal to extend an additional tax cut to the wealthiest people in the country, which is $700 billion, and getting rid of the $500 billion of savings in Medicare Advantage, the first two
things they could do is increase the deficit by $1.2 trillion, $1.3 trillion, again. David, you know, the Republicans have said they want to--spending cuts. They won't tell you what they're going to cut. They've said that we, and Senator DeMint this morning said, we have to
fix Social Security and Medicare. But apparently that doesn't involve making any tough choices. Now that they control the House of Representatives, they can't just say, "We're going to cut spending. They actually have to propose cuts in spending."
MR. GREGORY: All right, I'm going to take...
AMB. HUGHES: Yeah, I think we're reading to do that.
MR. GREGORY: Hold on.
AMB. HUGHES: You just heard from a governor...
MS. DUNN: Well, I...
AMB. HUGHES: ...a great Republican governor who is doing exactly that in his state.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MS. DUNN: Well, we haven't heard from anybody in the U.S. Senate or the House yet, you haven't heard what they'll cut, Karen.
MR. MURPHY: Stay tuned, though.
MR. GREGORY: All right, I'm going to...
MR. MURPHY: Stay tuned.
MR. GREGORY: I'm going to, I'm going to...
AMB. HUGHES: We'll be, we'll be seeing a lot of votes on that.
MR. GREGORY: Right, we will stay tuned. I'm going to take a quick break here, and we're going to come back with just a couple of moments left, talk about the legacy of George W. Bush. He's speaking to Matt Lauer, his new book coming out. We'll talk about that and get some final thoughts from our roundtable, right after this.
MR. GREGORY: Final moments with our roundtable. George W. Books--Bush's new book, "Decision Points," is about to be released, his memoir. He sat down with NBC's Matt Lauer, an interview that will air tomorrow night. And Matt asks him in part why he writes this book. Does he want to try to cement perceptions about his presidency or change perceptions? This
is the president's answer.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I, kind of. But the main purpose of the book is to have a starting point, or not a starting point, just a data point for future historians. Because I, you got--this may seem strange to you, I really don't care about perceptions at this point in time. I, I served. I gave it my all, and I'm a content man. And the book has been a part of the transition process to private life, and it's a way for me to put the reader in the environment in which I had to make decisions.
MR. GREGORY: Karen Hughes, you were there the whole time. Is this an attempt to rehabilitate the Bush presidency?
AMB. HUGHES: I think it's a very candid and fascinating and good read account of the decisions, the major decisions that, that President Bush made in office--the way he saw them, the kind of information he got, the kind of debate that took place, and the things he got right as well as the things he got wrong. And it's a very candid accounting of that. He says in a number of places, "I got this wrong. I should have done this differently." He talks about the things that he got right. He talks about the principles that he used to make decisions. And so I think people are really going to enjoy it. On every page, I see the person that I know and that, that you covered in the campaign, David.
MR. GREGORY: Anita Dunn...
MS. DUNN: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: ...20 seconds left. Have views about the president changed?
MS. DUNN: About President Bush?
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MS. DUNN: I think views always change about presidents the further you get away from the presidency, and that the good things that happen tend to come into greater prominence, and that some of the emotions around presidencies fade.
MR. GREGORY: Final thoughts, 10 seconds.
MR. MURPHY: I think presidents should be able to litigate from inside what happened. It's the most important point of view. People ought to read it and learn, and I think history will be very good to President Bush...
MR. GREGORY: Interesting. We're...
MR. MURPHY: ...compared to current thoughts.
MR. GREGORY: We're going to leave it there. Thanks to all of you.
MR. MORIAL: Thank you, David.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: Before we go, a special programming note. Tune in to NBC tomorrow night, 8 PM, Matt Lauer's exclusive interview with President Bush, his first since leaving office. Matt will also be joined live by President Bush on the "Today" show Wednesday morning.
One other special note, this week MEET THE PRESS celebrates 63 years on the air, the longest running television program in the world. Read about our history and watch a video...
MS. DUNN: Congratulations.
MR. GREGORY: Thank you. Watch a video of all the big highlights of this program throughout the past six decades. It's up on our Web site now, mtp.msnbc.com.
That is all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's
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