Meet the Press transcript for May 1, 2011

MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, the strange twists and turns of the 2012  presidential race. President Obama tries to quiet critics who claim he  wasn't born in the U.S. by releasing his long-form birth certificate,  setting up the spectacle of a showdown with Donald Trump, who inches  closer to getting in the race.


MR. DONALD TRUMP: I did something that nobody else could do. I got  Obama to give his birth certificate, and it was about time.

(End videotape)


PRES. BARACK OBAMA: We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We  got better stuff to do.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: What about the real issues--Jobs, government red ink, and  the debate over taxes and spending now gripping Washington? With us for  an assessment this morning of the political landscape, independent mayor  of New York City, Michael Bloomberg; Republican governor of Virginia, Bob  McDonnell; plus, former senior White House adviser to the president and now campaign strategist of the Obama re-election campaign, David Axelrod.

Then, the views from freshman senator and up-and-coming GOP star Marco Rubio of Florida, reading the leaves of the tea party and its influence in 2012. Plus, the debt ceiling debate, America's role in Libya, and the prospects for a Republican Party struggling to attract minority voters.

Finally, after a week like this, you just got to laugh.


MR. SETH MEYERS: Donald Trump has been saying that he will run for president as a Republican, which is surprising since I just assumed he was running as a joke.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Insights on political comedy from the star of last night's White House Correspondents' dinner and head writer for "Saturday Night Live," Seth Meyers. Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.

MR. GREGORY: Good morning.

MR. DAVID GREGORY: Big news developing overseas this weekend in Libya. Moammar Khaddafy has survived a NATO airstrike on a Tripoli house that reportedly claimed the lives of his youngest son and three grandchildren. This according to a government spokesperson. U.S. security officials say they believe such attacks may be the only way to force Khaddafy from power.

And in Rome, the late Pope John Paul II moved a step closer to sainthood as he was celebrated during a joyous ceremony that drew more than a million people to St. Peter's Square.

Back in Washington, the fight over spending will continue in full force as Congress returns from a two-week spring recess to face debates on raising the debt ceiling and crafting a 2012 budget. I'm joined now by the independent mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg; former senior White House adviser to President Obama, David Axelrod, who now serves as a campaign strategist for the president's 2012 re-election bid; and Republican governor of Virginia, also the vice chairman of the Republican Governor's Association, Bob McDonnell.

Welcome to all of you.


MR. GREGORY: I want to start with Mayor Bloomberg to talk about some crucial matters that are really determining the re-election fight, but also the debate here in Washington, and that is the economy. Here is the cover of The Economist magazine that caught my eye this week, with the Statue of Liberty on the cover, "What's wrong with America's economy?" And here's what the lead says: "The economy is recovering, yet American confidence remains mired at levels more commonly seen in recessions. For that blame unemployment, petrol prices," or gas prices, "and a deeper, nagging feeling that America is in decline. A Gallup poll in February asked Americans to name the world's leading economic power. By a significant margin, they said China." And unemployment is really the driver. This is the chart of how it looks in the course of the Obama presidency, from February of 2009, the high point in October at 10.1 percent, now we're at 8.8 percent. What kind of economic recovery is this, Mayor? It seems like a tough one.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Well, when you, when you come out of a recession, the first thing that everybody does is tighten their belt and try to do more with less. So it's not surprising that corporate profits are going up and governor--governments are finding ways to provide services with fewer people. It is only a little further into the recovery that you start to add more people. Companies are willing to take risks, governments think their tax base is going to be better and start expanding services and hiring people to provide that. Like anything else, some parts of the country are doing poorly, some are doing well, some are doing better. New York City, for example, is doing better. We're not back to where we were before, but we are doing better. I think what's happening, really, here in this country is petroleum prices, although industry is less dependent on petroleum than they used to be. But if you drive a car, you're very dependent on petroleum, and gasoline at $4-plus is something that a lot of Americans find very difficult to work into their budget, and they don't have a lot of choice. A lot of commodity prices, food, have gone up dramatically. And the statistics don't show quite the impact on individual families because they cover a lot of different costs. Having said all of that, there are some bright spots. I think if you wanted to go buy a house, and if you can afford it and if you're secure in your job, mortgage rates are low, housing prices continue to fall, you can get great bargains, and you shouldn't wait till the end. The most important thing, however, is jobs. And we have a great mismatch in this country between the skill sets of those who are unemployed and the demand in industry and in government for people with a very different set of abilities. And it's a function of years and years, decades, of poor schools and not training people.

MR. GREGORY: Well, the--this, this disconnect where we hear that the economy is getting better, stock market is improving. So much has gone on on Wall Street to get healthy again, with major banks getting healthy again, and yet we're in this state where you have stubbornly high unemployment.

MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Well, there's a couple of different things here. One, there is a crisis of confidence, and the one that really is worrisome is not just when you go out and say, "Do you feel better or worse about the economy?" It is a crisis of confidence among business people. They look at Washington and they say, "You can't run something this way." No company would survive if you ran it the way Washington runs, where they focus on small issues that have nothing to do with the, the real America, on issues they can't come together on. The most obvious one is immigration. This is a country that was built by immigrants, this is a country that became a superpower by--because of its immigrant population. And unless we continue to have immigrants, we cannot maintain as a superpower. And I'll give you a good example of how you can fix some of the problems in America. Take a look at the big old industrial cities--Detroit, for example. Got a great mayor in Mayor Bing. But the population has left. You got to do something about that. And if I were the federal government, assuming you could wave a magic wand and pull everybody together, you pass a law letting immigrants come in as long as they agree to go to Detroit and live there for five or 10 years, start businesses, take jobs, whatever. You would populate Detroit overnight because half the world wants to come here. We forget, we, we whip ourselves a little bit too much. We still are the world's greatest democracy. We still have hope for--if you want to have a better life for yourself and your kids, this is where you want to come. And you could use something like immigration policy, at no cost to the federal government, to fix a lot of the problems that we have.

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about taxes. Big debate, as you know, in Washington over the future of taxes for the wealthy, for the middle class. Do you think it's possible to ring--bring the budget into balance if you don't just raise taxes on wealthy Americans, but also on those so-called middle class making $250,000 or less? Alan Greenspan was here last week and said the Bush era tax cuts should expire for everyone.

MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Well, number one, what the Democrats have to understand is you're never going to balance the budget unless you make meaningful changes in entitlements. We used to have 30-odd people supporting every retiree, today it's three people or something like that supporting every retiree. So the Democrats have to understand, we cannot get through this with the same set of entitlements that we have where we keep giving benefits, and there's fewer people to pay those benefits. On the other hand, the Republicans have to also understand you cannot balance the budget just with cuts. The American people, whether they vote Republican or Democrat, in the end they don't want their programs cut back, particularly the big ones--Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, those kinds of things. And I thought that the--Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles came up with their, with their committee, with exactly the right answer. You can tweak it, you can change some small things. I assume the Gang of Six will come out with something very similar. You have to have some combination of cuts in expenses and some revenue enhancements. You can call those taxes, whatever you want. And if you want to say, I thought--I was talking to Erskine yesterday. His idea is 25 percent in increasing revenue and three-quarters in terms of cutting expenses, and some ratio like that is, is the solution. How much chaos and destruction to our economy we have to do before everybody in Washington starts acting like an adult, coming together and not pandering to small voting blocs, but say, "Look, this is the interest of the country, and I'm not going to sit there, do a poll, find out where my constituents are and follow them." We need leadership from the front. And that is true in Congress, it's true at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, it's true on both sides of the aisle. It's true in the case of the states. The governor is very proactive, and, and he's steered Virginia through some very tough times. But he's done it by making decisions and pulling together. And people know where they stand with this government in Virginia, and that's what we need to have in America.

MR. GREGORY: Let me widen this discussion out to all of us here at the table, and we'll get back to the economy. I want to touch on some other issues, though, that are, are part of the political dialogue for sure. The economy is certainly the backdrop. Governor McDonnell, the tornado damage has just been horrific...


MR. GREGORY: ...throughout the South. We have a map here that shows just how devastating it has been throughout Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Virginia, as well, had significant damage. Three hundred and forty-two deaths, 288 tornadoes. This kind of outbreak has not been seen in this country. As much as $5 billion in insured losses. The president and the first lady were touring the damage in Alabama on Friday, getting down there with folks. Both in terms of what you've gone through in Virginia and assessing the president's response, how would you rate it?

GOV. McDONNELL: Well, it's been heartbreaking. We've had three weeks in a row with catastrophic damage, loss of life in, in Virginia, over 25 or 10--20 tornadoes reported. I've been to three of the locations as recently as Friday to, to view the damage. And we're not used to that in, in Virginia. But I'll tell you what I, what I see is the plans from the first responders, David, worked like it was supposed to. The American people, while we disagree on some things, when we are attacked or we have a catastrophe like this, we bind together and work together and help each other better than any country on earth. The president called me on Thursday to tell me that the federal government would do everything they could to help. Secretary Napolitano followed up, and we've declared a state of emergency, and now we're asking for some federal help for isolated counties that have been particularly affected. So I think the systems are working as, as good as they can, but it is going to be a long road back for some of these communities, particularly Alabama, Mississippi. But we've got some people that are hurting in Virginia now.

MR. GREGORY: David Axelrod, you, of course, inside the White House, you're outside the White House...


MR. GREGORY: ...but certainly a top adviser to the president still as he campaigns for re-election. And I mentioned at the top of the program the strange twists and turns of a presidential race. While we were talking about the economy and jobs, there are huge distractions, and we saw that play out this week. The president released his long form birth certificate to try to quiet people who actually still believe he was born...

MR. AXELROD: Which was a lot like his short form birth certificate, by the way.

MR. GREGORY: Right. And he had to get a special waiver from the state of Hawaii to release the whole thing. This came about in part because Donald Trump, who may be a presidential candidate, was talking about the need to do this. This was the scene that played out on Wednesday, a kind of split screen America between Donald Trump and President Obama. Watch this exchange.


MR. TRUMP: Today I'm very proud of myself because I've accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish. I was just informed while on the helicopter that our president has finally released a birth certificate.

(End videotape)


PRES. OBAMA: We're not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Why did the White House wait this long and do this?

MR. AXELROD: First of all, let me, let me say I'm happy that we could contribute to Mr. Trump's self-image, that he feels good about himself, proud. He needs that little ego boost.


MR. AXELROD: Look, the reality was, it isn't--you say it became a distraction. Donald Trump raised it. Donald Trump didn't make the decision to put himself on a split screen. Donald Trump didn't make the decision to cover this over and over and over again once he raised the issue. And the president's point was, the day after he made a speech on this issue that the mayor was talking about that's so important to our country, which is how do we solve this debt problem in a way that is balanced and fair and serves our future, the president did an interview, answered a lot of questions about it, got one question on the birther issue. And on the evening news that night, that was what led the news. And at the moment the president said, "You know what, we've got to put a stop to this." And he, and he wanted to make the point that we have more important issues in this country, and we ought to move on. And the point was as much frankly, David, to your industry as it was to anybody else.

MAYOR BLOOMBERG: You know, if Republicans ever want to have a chance in gaining the White House, they've got to get off issues like the birther issue. We need to talk about the economy and the deficit and immigration and health care and lots of social problems here, and not waste our time talking about frivolous things.

MR. GREGORY: Well, but then, Governor McDonnell, why is it that Republican leaders have not stood up while this was going on and said, "This is nonsense." I mean, Speaker Boehner was on this program and said, "Look, I can't tell people what to believe." Can't he?

GOV. McDONNELL: Yeah, well, I said that. I thought it was a waste of time. The problem with the president--President Obama is not where he was born, it's some of the policies that he's advocating. The feeble attempt, I think, to be able to get our deficits and debt under control with the proposals that remain in the president's budget...

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

GOV. McDONNELL: ...really are the issue in this, this campaign. And we're $14 trillion and, under the president's proposal, it would be over 20. I mean, that's the crisis in America. Until we have serious dialogue about that and reducing spending, including entitlements, as the mayor said, we're not going to get out of it. So I think that's a, a side issue, never should have raised it.

MR. GREGORY: But the...

GOV. McDONNELL: And I've spoken out about that.

MR. GREGORY: ...the president insisted on doing this himself in the White House standing up and certainly making this a big issue. The president gets out there and does it. Is--was this motivated by a sense that, "Hey, I'm going to raise Donald Trump up to beat him down and to single him out and sort of say, `Look, this is the Republican Party, folks.'"

MR. AXELROD: David, as I said, it wasn't as--it wasn't about Donald Trump, it was about the media fascination with this. And--because we agree, we ought to have the debate the governor's talking about. Both the president and the Republican Party say we have to deal with this issue. We both have proposals. The difference is, the president thinks we have to do this in a, in a balanced way that's fair. If you essentially do away with Medicare, as is true under the Republican proposal, and at the same time give $200,000 tax breaks, new--a trillion one in new tax breaks to millionaires, then--and the wealthy, that is not a prescription for a better America. If you slash education by 25 percent, if you slash research and development and, and clean energy activities by 70 percent, this is a prescription for economic failure and an imbalance in our country. And that's what we, what's what we should be talking about. You know, and so that's why he spoke out on that.

MR. GREGORY: Is it--just one more on this birther issue. Is racism involved? Does the president believe that?

MR. AXELROD: I'm not going to--no, I have not had that discussion with him and, and frankly I'm not going to entertain that question. I don't think that's a worthy question because, in that sense...

MR. GREGORY: You may not think so, but a lot of African-Americans who think it's offensive that the president has to go up there and defend this.

MR. AXELROD: ...I don't think it's, I don't think it's, I don't think--but I don't think, I don't think we--I don't think just African-Americans, David.


MR. AXELROD: I think a lot of Americans were offended by it. Of all stripes. Listen, we're a country, and the mayor can speak to this. He, he has the most diverse city in the country. We're a nation of immigrants. Where--we come from all over the world. There are Americans of every stripe and every background and--who have built this country, and, and, and that whole episode was offensive to a lot of people. So--but the point is, we've got big challenges in this country, we've got big problems. We have a big debate about how we build a better future... and we ought to get to it.

MR. GREGORY: Mayor, on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek is Donald Trump, not on this issue, but with a simple question. "Seriously?" Does he have a real voice in this campaign if he gets to issues that are what he's contributed in business, what he's built, the issue of the economy?

MAYOR BLOOMBERG: You know, anybody can run. He has a right to run. He is a New York icon. Bigger than life in a lot of things. And he can put himself into the mix. There are an awful lot of people whose names surface, looking to potentially be the Republican candidate in 2012. Some will fall by the wayside very quickly when they realize what they have to go through in terms of disclosure and criticism from the press and raising money. Some will stick it out, and there will be a candidate...

MR. GREGORY: You call him an icon. Is he worthy of serious consideration?

MAYOR BLOOMBERG: That's up to voters. I can't sit here and say, "I'm not going to pick any one candidate and say they are or they aren't. The nice thing about America is you get a chance to go out there and make your case. I will say, however, and it talks to David's point and the governor's. When you talk about the problems facing this country, and they both talked about the deficits going forward, I've always thought we do this wrong. We take a look at the deficits and say we've got to cut. We should stop and say "What do we need to keep this country going?" Whether it's education, or research or defense, or a variety of other services. "These are the services we absolutely need if we're going to keep America the great country that it is and the land of opportunity." Then try to find out what it's going to cost, if you do it efficiently, and then go and have a debate about how you raise the money. You can spend less. You can get more coming in. But you don't start with--there's nothing magical about deficit as opposed to making sure the streets are safe. There's nothing magical about a deficit as to making sure we're protected from terrorists. There's nothing magical about the deficit in the context of, if we don't educate our kids they're not going to have a future and we're not going to have a tax base down the road. So we are all looking at this the wrong ways. The debate should be about whether or not government should provide this kind of education of that kind of education; this kind of a defense policy, that kind of defense policy. Not let the money drive it. The money--we're spending money we don't have. We shouldn't be doing it, but the first and most important thing is, what are we going to do to keep this country safe and growing?

MR. AXELROD: Mayor, I don't--I think we're a lot closer to that thinking

than, than, than you suggest.

MAYOR BLOOMBERG: (Unintelligible)

MR. AXELROD: That's exactly what the president is saying. We have certain responsibilities. One is to be fiscally responsible, but we also have a responsibility to our future. We have a social compact that we have to keep with our senior citizens, with our children to educate them and give them the tools to compete. There are certain things we know we have to do. That ought to guide our decision-making here. It's not just an arithmetic exercise.

MR. GREGORY: Governor, what about the pessimism in the country? What do you see in Virginia as people struggle through an economic recovery that still has unemployment so high?

GOV. McDONNELL: Well, I tell them Virginia's open for business. And I'm trying to tell that story around the country and around the world. I mean, we're down to 6.3 percent unemployment. We've been growing at 9 to 16 percent over the last six months. And I'll tell you the reason that I think we're there, is we made those really tough decisions last year, David. We cut--balanced a $6 billion deficit without raising taxes, mostly through spending cuts. And it included education and it included health care. And yeah, there was some short-term pain, but, you know, we ran a surplus within five months. We're going to have a big surplus this year. And so now we're, we're coming back. And here's why: Governors have a balanced budget amendment. We can't make excuses. We can't form committees. We can't kick the can down the road. We can't do CRs. We can't increase the debt limit willy-nilly. We've got to make tough decisions, and I think that's what the Congress and the president need to do. Now, I will say in fairness...



GOV. McDONNELL: ...most of this deficit's been run up by Republican presidents over the last 30 years. It's a bipartisan problem...

MR. AXELROD: There's no question...

GOV. McDONNELL: ...and we need bipartisan cooperation to get it fixed.

MR. AXELROD: question about that. And, and, look, you're a good guy and I commend you for trying to wrestle with this problem, and you made some cuts, your predecessor made billions of dollars of cuts right before.

GOV. McDONNELL: He did, sure did.

MR. AXELROD: You left--but you also balanced your budget with $1.7 billion in, in money from the Recovery Act. You balanced your budget by borrowing $3 billion against future receipts on transportation to fund your transportation program. You borrowed money from your pension plan that you're going to have to return. And you did it because you were managing through difficult times, and you didn't want to burden the taxpayers of your state through these difficult times. But those bills are going to be have to--are going to have to be paid. So you are wrestling with the same problems that the president, governors and mayors are wrestling with. And there are no easy answers.

GOV. McDONNELL: Well, the difference is governors have to balance budgets. And I think the mayor probably does too. The federal government, for the longest time, hasn't--you know, 30 years after the Second World War we cut the deficit every year. The last 30, we, for the most part, ratcheted it up. Seventy-two percent of GDP now tied up in debt heading towards 100 plus under this budget, or frankly, the Ryan budget. And for most people, they don't get it why Congress can't find a way to cut the deficit and balance the budget.

MR. AXELROD: But, Governor, when you, when you borrow billions of dollars from future receipts and you borrow money from your pension system and you say your budget is balanced, the next governor's going to have to wrestle with that.


MR. AXELROD: I know you only have one term there, but the next governor's going to have to wrestle with the same problems.

MR. GREGORY: Mayor Bloomberg, the issue for President Obama handling of the economy, if you look at recent polling on this, that's still an area of considerable weakness for him; 57 percent disapprove of his handling of the economy. You have something of a pulse on independent voters around the country. And particularly as it talks about surging gas prices. A lot of independent voters say in polling, they, they will not support Obama, particularly because of this issue that hits them particularly hard.

MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Well, number one, it's a long time from now to the election, and who knows what gasoline price is going to be or what the issues are really going to be that the, that the debates will be about. I think the president has to show that he understands the pain, that he understands that we need businesses to come here and thrive. He has to give people confidence that he's not going to support policies that will stop job creation, that government can't be the solution to everything. In the end it is the private sector economy that really does give us the hand up rather than the handout that America needs. And he's just got to get out there. I've said this a thousand times, he needs more contact with the business community, and not just by calling in half a dozen well-known business personalities and talking to them around a table and, and leaving. That doesn't get things done. It's small business that's going to create the jobs. It is people's confidence that will get them to buy a car so that General Motors will go hire more people. It is an intelligent tax policy that people not only can understand and that doesn't cost them a fortune just to fill out the forms, but a tax policy that they think is going to be consistent going forward. Unless you know that government is going to have labor policies, tax policies, regulations that are predictable and consistent, businesses can't adapt and plan for the future and make the kind of investments. We have banks with a lot of money. They're scared to make loans. Why? Because every time they turn around, they get attacked. Now, whether they should or shouldn't get attacked is not the issue here. The issue is, it does not leave them when they go back home and sit around their table and say, "What are we going to do?" "Well, you know, everybody's after us. Let's not run any risks." And, in fact, you want banks to run the risk. We vilify the banks for running the risks of giving mortgages when that's what we wanted them to do. We vilified banks for funding a lot of companies that, in the end, couldn't make it. But we want them to go out and take risks. Unless they do that, nobody's going to be able to...

MR. GREGORY: Governor, I--a lot of Republicans I talk to sound increasingly pessimistic that the president can be beaten for re-election. Do you share that pessimism? Or--and if you don't, what is the rationale? What's the case for beating him?

GOV. McDONNELL: The president's a great campaigner, and we expect a spirited campaign. Now, we're going to have great candidates. We've got three or four in already. I think we'll have probably two, three more in before it's all over.

MR. GREGORY: You'd like to see a governor.

GOV. McDONNELL: I'd like to see a governor...

MR. GREGORY: Challenge him.

GOV. McDONNELL: ...because governors have to balance their budget, they've got to be decisive, they can't make excuses. They've got to lead. And I think that's what we need.

MR. AXELROD: Well, we had a governor--we had a governor as president for the previous eight years, and we started with record surpluses and we ended up with record deficits.

MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Yeah, but the governor before that, there was--the president before that was a governor also, and we had record surpluses.

MR. AXELROD: I understand, but all I'm saying is being a governor is no guarantee of anything.


GOV. McDONNELL: But that's what we need right now is decisiveness and getting confidence back in the economy. I think the mayor's exactly right. I think to some degree we've had attacking Wall Street and business in this White House recently. That's not what we need. We need pro-growth, pro-economic policies. We need to keep taxes in check, and we have to have the fortitude to cut spending. And that's what a governor, I think, will bring to the table. So I'm not at all pessimistic. I think we've got some good candidates. They'll get stronger. And through the crucible of these debates, I think you'll see a good candidate emerge.

MR. GREGORY: David Axelrod, I have two quick ones for you in our remaining moments.


MR. GREGORY: The first has to do with campaign financing. A new independent expenditure group, they're called 527, has been started up by Bill Burton, who has worked...


MR. GREGORY: ...the press shop at the White House. And back in 2007, then candidate Obama was critical, decried all of these independent expenditures. It's thought that he might spend a billion dollars on his re-election campaign.

MR. AXELROD: Well, that's a speculative number.

MR. GREGORY: Well, is President Obama ultimately going to represent the death of campaign finance reform in this country after being a champion for it?

MR. AXELROD: David, let's, let's be clear. This independent group that was formed was formed in response to the ones that spent hundreds and millions of dollars in the last campaign to defeat Democratic candidates of undisclosed large contributions. And we tried to pass a law through the Congress that would force them to disclose, all groups to disclose who was giving them the money so the public could see. It got 59 Democratic votes in the United States Senate, 41 Republicans blocked it. And so, of course, now there's a reaction to what happened because Democrats are sitting there saying we can't play under two sets of rules. We need one...

MR. GREGORY: But Democrats have a huge money advantage, do they not?

MR. AXELROD: The governor and I, we should walk down to Capitol Hill and urge them to pass the law and that will govern both Republicans and Democrats, and everybody will be playing under one set of rules.

MR. GREGORY: But this is, this is not even.

MR. AXELROD: And people will see...

MR. GREGORY: Democrats have a huge financial advantage going in 2012, do they not?

MR. AXELROD: Well, I don't know because the campaign's just begun. We won't have a huge financial advantage if, if people like the Koch brothers, who have funded, by tens of billions--millions of dollars, these organizations. Karl Rove and his group and others spend the--up to a billion dollars that they say they're going to spend. So we don't really know who's going to spend what. I don't think this is healthy, I don't think it's good. But it's the system we have, and you can't expect one side to operate under one set of rules and the other side to operate under another.

MR. GREGORY: Final point, Iraq. What if the Iraqi government says U.S. troops should stay beyond that withdrawal date? Is that a promise that the president is willing to be flexible on if the Iraqis request it?

MR. AXELROD: Well, first of all, I'm not here representing the White House, so you're asking me a question that I want to be careful about.


MR. AXELROD: I don't want to misrepresent. But the president feels strongly that our mission needs to be wrapped up in Iraq, and I've seen no change in that, in that position.

MR. GREGORY: He wants to keep that, keep that promise and not have it go beyond?


MR. GREGORY: All right. I'm going to leave it there. Thanks to all of you. And the debate will continue on all fronts. Coming up, how will the tea party influence 2012 and what has been its impact on this Congress. Plus, budget battles, raising the debt limit, and America's role in the Middle East. We'll talk live to rising Republican star, freshman senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, in his first MEET THE PRESS interview. Then a break from the seriousness of the week because sometimes you just got to laugh. Insights on political comedy and its role in politics from the host of last night's Correspondents' dinner, head writer for "Saturday Night Live," Seth Meyers.


MR. GREGORY: Coming up, my exclusive interview with a rising star in the Republican party. Florida Senator Marco Rubio weighs in on 2012, the tea party, and the budget battles here in Washington. Up next after this brief commercial break.


MR. DAVID GREGORY: We are back, joined now by the freshman senator from Florida, Republican Marco Rubio. Welcome to the program.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): Thanks for having me.

MR. GREGORY: Good to have you here. So much talk about the tea party, and the tea party's influence in Washington. You were known as a tea party senator and candidate, embraced by the tea party, but you have your independence from the tea party caucus. What has the tea party, or the tea party sentiment, what kind of impact has it had on the debates we're having in Washington?

SEN. RUBIO: Well, first let's remind ourselves what it was. It was everyday Americans who were tired of the direction of our country, often tired of both parties and the direction both parties had taken our country, and they wanted people to come up here and, and change that direction. And I think for the first time in quite a while you're seeing a debate in Washington about how much to cut. In the past, it was about how much to reduce the increases. Now there's a real debate about how much to cut. And I think that's an important influence and an important impact. On the other hand, we need to remind ourselves that our problems are big, and they're moving very fast. They're moving faster than perhaps any problems our country's ever faced have moved. And I think the real risk is, are our problems moving faster than our solutions or our ability to solve them? And, and that's part of the, that's part of the issues that are overlying all these debates that we're having.

MR. GREGORY: You know, it's interesting. Do you, do you describe yourself as a tea party senator?

SEN. RUBIO: Well, I have--first of all, I don't ever run away from the folks who have supported me that are in the tea party movement.


SEN. RUBIO: I've often--I never ascribed that to myself because I think that the tea party movement is a grassroots movement of everyday people that aren't necessarily Republicans; a lot of independents, some Democrats. And they don't really--they're not of Washington. They want to influence what happens in Washington. But ultimately the principles that I stand on, I think, are principles that people in the tea party identify with.

MR. GREGORY: But there's a purist streak to the tea party, right? Don't compromise. You've even said you don't consider people in Washington serious, I assume Republicans and Democrats, about really taking on the toughest challenges we face. As you think about yourself, are you here to legislate. Are you here to compromise?

SEN. RUBIO: Well, we're here to make a difference in public policy. Now, here's the thing about compromise. Compromise is a dirty word, and it shouldn't be. But it's become one because in Washington compromise always seems to be a deal, and that's what it's meant to people over the last 20 years. A deal that people say is a solution but doesn't really solve anything. So I think if the compromise is between two folks that are both trying to accomplish the same goal, just have different ideas about how to do it, that's not a negative thing.

MR. GREGORY: Well, then you voted against the compromise on, on the budget deal in the, in the lame duck session. You apparently didn't think that was a good deal, that that was a fair compromise. Did the Republican leadership fail you?

SEN. RUBIO: Well, they--let me tell you this. First of all, I respect the work that Speaker Boehner put in it. He was in a tough spot. But let's remind ourselves of the last election cycle and what was it about. It was about the fact that we are dealing with major issues in our country, big issues that deserve big solutions. Now, if people like me who were elected in this wave of 2010 make a difference, if we don't stand up and say that, who is going to stand up and say that? If folks like me that were elected in 2010 don't come here and say, "These big issues, these big problems deserve big solutions," no one's going to say that.

MR. GREGORY: Right. But you still have to compromise. I mean, you say he was in a tough spot. He was in a tough spot because you either have the votes or you don't. So you send a statement or you actually compromise and get things done. Which is what Senator Rubio believes in?

SEN. RUBIO: Well, I--you want to have a compromise, the compromise better do something. My point is these problems have to be solved. To say we just compromised, be, "Oh, we compromised for the sake of a compromise," you know, that alone may get you some short-term lauds in the media, but in the long term it didn't accomplish anything. We have to have solutions.

MR. GREGORY: Well, you have this debate over there, raising the debt ceiling, right? The, the, the limit on America's credit card. And you've said, "No, I'm not going to vote to raise the debt ceiling unless we are serious about making specific cuts and reforms to entitlement spending." Now, the Treasury secretary has said that this would be a catastrophe, and he says it's irresponsible. This is what he said this week.

(Videotape, Tuesday)

SEC'Y TIMOTHY GEITHNER: The idea that the United States would take the risk, people start to believe we won't pay our bills, is a ridiculous proposition, irresponsible, a completely unacceptable basic risk for us to take.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Is it irresponsible for you to carry through to vote...

SEN. RUBIO: It's irresponsible to continue to borrow $1.6 trillion a year with no plan to end it anytime soon. Look, I marvel at how people in this town run around with their hair on fire because of the potential for a technical default because we don't raise the debt limit, but they don't seem that overly concerned about a real default where we're not paying our debt obligations because we don't have money. And my point is, we know that this is a problem. You look at any projection, it shows you that the debt crisis will come if we do nothing. Let's start dealing with it now. Let's use this debt limit debate as an opportunity to begin to put in place a plan and execute a plan that gains the confidence of the world.

MR. GREGORY: Well, that's right. But the Treasury secretary says that, "Let's talk about it. Let's work in parallel tracks." As you just said, the tea party's got everybody talking about government spending. But if you can't reach agreement on some of the things you've talked about--Social Security reform, Medicare reform, other specific cuts--do you then take that next step and say, "No, we're going, we're going..."

SEN. RUBIO: There has to be--no. First of all, there is no magic bullet.

MR. GREGORY: "...not allow the limit to go on."

SEN. RUBIO: In essence, you can't solve this debt problem that American faces with one solution. There's not a magic bullet to do that. It's got a series of reforms that have to happen. What I'm saying, and what I think others are beginning to say, including many in the Democrat Party, is that now's--as part of this debt limit debate, let's not just talk about the debt limit, let's talk about how we're going to put this country on a fiscal path that is sustainable.

MR. GREGORY: All right, one of the ways to do that, as you well know, Chairman Paul Ryan of the Budget Committee has said we have to change Medicare as we know it. It's either premium support or a voucher system, but it's going to change, OK? Are you prepared to vote to support the Ryan plan?

SEN. RUBIO: Well, it would take three things. Number one is, Medicare as we know it goes bankrupt, so it can't not--you know, you can't sustain it the way it is. I mean, anytime--anywhere between five and the next 12 years, Medicare as we know it will go bankrupt. And all the people that are out there attacking the Ryan plan, my question is, "Where is your plan? Introduce your plan. Because if your plan is to keep Medicare the way it is, then your plan is bankruptcy, and that doesn't work for anybody." Number two, as far as the Ryan plan is concerned, I will support any plan that saves Medicare, doesn't impact current seniors, and doesn't hurt economic growth. The Ryan plan does that.


SEN. RUBIO: If people don't like the Ryan plan, including Democrats in the Senate, then introduce your own plan. Where is your plan?

MR. GREGORY: You'd vote on the Ryan plan. Because it's going to be up for a vote in the Senate, you're proposing.

SEN. RUBIO: I'll vote for any plan that saves the...


SEN. RUBIO: ...that saves Medicare, doesn't hurt seniors, and doesn't hurt economic growth.

MR. GREGORY: Right. Well, but...

SEN. RUBIO: And if someone has a better idea on how to do that, they should propose that bill.

MR. GREGORY: Well, you can't assert that it saves Medicare when, when there's so much uncertainty about it. And it certainly dismantles the way that Medicare operates. And you have said recently you don't want to dismantle a program like Medicare or Social Security that your own mother relies upon.

SEN. RUBIO: That's right.

MR. GREGORY: And look at some of the reaction in terms of how people feel about cutting spending for Medicare. We'll put it on the screen. Cutting Medicare spending, 78 percent oppose. Medicaid spending, 69 percent oppose. You're not operating in a political vacuum here, you well know that. You are a senator from Florida with a lot of older voters. Are you prepared to stand up to them and say, "Sorry, folks, we've got to do this"?

SEN. RUBIO: You know...

MR. GREGORY: Because a lot of Republicans think this is, this is handing something to the Democrats that'll be potent against Republicans down the line.

SEN. RUBIO: Well, two things. The Ryan plan doesn't cut Medicare.

Actually, it increases funding in it. And the only people in this town that have voted to cut Medicare are the people that supported Obamacare, that cut half a trillion dollars over the next 10 years out of Medicare and is using it to fund a healthcare experiment somewhere outside of Medicare. The only people in this town that have voted to cut Medicare spending are the people who voted in favor of Obamacare. That's a fact. And so the truth is the people...

MR. GREGORY: But you don't deny that, that if you introduce a voucher system into Medicare, that there's going to be a set amount of dollars that seniors have to go into the private marketplace. That is not Medicare as we now have it.

SEN. RUBIO: Well, Medicare as we now have it goes bankrupt. That's not a--Medicare as we now have it is not an option. Here's my challenge today. Anybody out there that thinks there's a better way to save Medicare should introduce a bill on Monday. Tomorrow when we get back to work here in Washington, run up to Capitol Hill and introduce your bill. Why hasn't the president proposed a Medicare plan? Why hasn't the congressional Democrats proposed a, a Medicare plan? Why haven't the leaders in the Senate that control the Senate, they haven't even proposed a budget, much, much less a Medicare plan. What is their plan to save a program that's going to go bankrupt in five to 12 years? Don't just criticize, propose. Otherwise, you're not serious, you're up here to play political games.

MR. GREGORY: You've been here for a matter of months in Washington, so you have something of a fresher perspective. What is your assessment of the president's leadership?

SEN. RUBIO: Well, I think, unfortunately, the president has failed to lead. And I, and I say this with sadness. Let me tell you something. I'm a Republican, and proud to be a Republican, but I love my country even more. I desperately want America, for the next 100 years, to be what it's been for the last, an exceptional country in multiple ways. Morally, socially, politically, economically, America has been unique and special. I want it to continue to be that way. It cannot continue to be that way unless the president leads. I want the president to lead. I want the president to lead. We can't solve this Medicare issue, we can't keep it from going bankrupt if the president doesn't lead. We, we can't put our country on a sustainable path of spending if the president doesn't lead. We can't play America's proper role in the world if the president doesn't lead. I want him to lead. Americans want him to lead. Ultimately, I'd rather him lead than, than just hope that my party succeeds. But he's not leading, and we're going to pay a tremendous price for that.

MR. GREGORY: Do you think he's beatable in 2012?

SEN. RUBIO: Well, I think he has to lead. If he doesn't lead, I think he should be replaced.

MR. GREGORY: But the question is, is he beatable in 2012?

SEN. RUBIO: Sure. Anyone's beatable in American politics. I learned that myself.

MR. GREGORY: All right. What about your political future? You said no run in 2012, you wouldn't be on a VP ticket, people of Florida are depending on you. If your party comes to you and says, "Look, you can focus on Florida, but in the fall of next year, we really need you on the ticket if we're going to carry Florida." Are you saying that there's no way you'll consider it or do it?

SEN. RUBIO: Yeah, I won't consider it. I don't want to be the vice president of the United States. I want to be a senator, and I want to be a senator from Florida. I think in the United States Senate I can have an impact on these major issues that we're facing. You know, I'm saddened that the--that Americans are so pessimistic about the future. They shouldn't be. There's nothing wrong with the American people. We are the same people that built here the greatest society in all of human history. We just need some government policies that allow the American people to once again do that.

MR. GREGORY: So under no circumstances would you serve on a ticket in 2012?

SEN. RUBIO: No, I'm not going to be on a ticket in 2012.

MR. GREGORY: Under no circumstances?

SEN. RUBIO: Under no circumstances.

MR. GREGORY: What about Donald Trump? Is he a serious Republican candidate?

SEN. RUBIO: You know, you guys give him a lot of attention, so, yeah, he is.

MR. GREGORY: Is he a conservative? Is he a true conservative?

SEN. RUBIO: You know, and he's a well-known--I don't know a lot about Donald Trump's politics. You know, I've been focused on the issues. You know, I knew you were going to ask that, I know you have to ask that, but I'm more concerned about the issues that are happening back here on planet Earth. And back here on this planet, the issues that we're facing are the issues that our country owes $15 trillion. Our debt is larger than, than, than our economy almost, about to be larger than our entire economy, with no plan in sight to reverse course on that. Around the world it's the most dangerous as it's ever been in a long time. There are people, as we speak, sitting in a cave somewhere planning to attack American interests at home and abroad. These issues have to be dealt with. If we deal with them, the next century can be an American century as well. But we have to deal with them and the president has to lead.

MR. GREGORY: Two quick ones on foreign policy where I know you've thought a lot about U.S. policy. There are reports that Khaddafy's son and grandchildren were killed by a NATO attack. Is this what will push him from power in your view?

SEN. RUBIO: Well, I hope the Libyan people will push him from power. I think the United States and NATO and the international community have a role to play in that. And he must be removed from power. For Saddam Hussein--I'm sorry--for Moammar Khaddafy to hold on to power in Libya would be the worst possible scenario I can imagine. He would be emboldened to act against our interests. He would create a blueprint for others in the region to act just like Khaddafy has.

MR. GREGORY: Should the U.S. target him specifically?

SEN. RUBIO: Well, he hides behind civilians. Yeah, he hides in areas and he tries to shield himself. I think if he's involved, unfortunately, if he's involved in military operations in military installations and command centers, you know, he's going to find himself in the line of fire. I think the best thing that Khaddafy can do is leave Libya.

MR. GREGORY: All right. We'll leave it there. Senator Marco Rubio, thank you very much for your time this morning.

SEN. RUBIO: Thank you.

MR. GREGORY: And up next...


MR. MEYERS: Just look at the options Republicans are kicking around--Palin, Huckabee, Gingrich, Trump. That doesn't sound like a field of candidates. That sounds like season 13 of "Dancing With the Stars."

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Inside tough political comedy and its role in politics and our elections. From the host of last night's Correspondents' dinner, head writer for "Saturday Night Live," Seth Meyers.


MR. DAVID GREGORY: And we are back. Last night the White House Correspondents' Association hosted its annual dinner at the Hilton here in Washington where President Obama spoke. And he took the opportunity to take some real jabs at his most vocal critics.


PRES. OBAMA: And then there's a vicious rumor floating around that I think could really hurt Mitt Romney. I heard he passed universal health care when he was governor of Massachusetts. Someone should get to the bottom of that. And I know just the guy to do it. Donald Trump is here tonight. Now, I know that he's taken some flak lately, but no one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than "The Donald." And that's because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter like did we fake the moon landing?

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Stony silence there. On Friday I sat down with the featured entertainer at last night's dinner, the head writer from "Saturday Night Live," Seth Meyers. We talked about how he prepared for his hosting duties last night, and the role of political comedy. Seth Meyers, welcome to MEET THE PRESS.

MR. MEYERS: It's great to be here. I'm so excited to be on MEET THE PRESS without having to run for office.


MR. MEYERS: It's so much easier this way.

MR. GREGORY: But if you do want to declare something, you know, feel free to do that.

MR. MEYERS: I might. I think mostly I'm just going to run from previous statements and hit some talking points.


MR. MEYERS: I've been watching a lot of MEET THE PRESS to prepare for this, so.

MR. GREGORY: Well, it's--actually, it's appropriate, we're at the White



MR. GREGORY: You and your family getting a tour here, which is always nice to see "the people's house."


MR. GREGORY: And, of course, you are the star attraction because I picked up Politico here, and here it is. "SNL Comes to Washington," and you're...

MR. MEYERS: Yeah, it's very exciting.

MR. GREGORY: ...presiding over--this is, this dinner and I'm talking to you before you're doing it here on Friday...

MR. MEYERS: Right.

MR. GREGORY: ...this is a tough thing to prepare for.

MR. MEYERS: It is. It's very hard to prepare for. But it's fun to prepare for as well. You know, it's exciting to be able to tell jokes that, you know, I feel like everybody here will get that maybe the rest of the country won't. I mean, it's obviously a very wonky room.


MR. MEYERS: Not a strong field. And who knows if they can beat you in 2012. But I tell you who could definitely beat you, Mr. President, 2008 Barack Obama. You would have loved him.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: You're sitting around your offices, you all are getting

ready for the show, and a week like this happens...

MR. MEYERS: Right.

MR. GREGORY: ...where you have this split screen effect. The president releasing his birth certificate, Donald Trump announcing that he's proud of himself.

MR. MEYERS: Right.

MR. GREGORY: In a split screen on cable television. Do you just fall off your chair and say, "Could they have made this any better for us?"

MR. MEYERS: Oh it's very exciting. I mean, like when you do stuff like this, you know, it's funny because it's--you know, in a lot of ways it's about the year in politics. But I feel like the closer the news is to the actual day of the show, the better. And obviously it's a real exciting time to be doing the show.

MR. GREGORY: So we both do a weekly news program.


MR. GREGORY: And you, of course, you talk a lot about politics.

MR. MEYERS: Right.

MR. GREGORY: As I mentioned, talking about Donald Trump. So where do you get your material?

MR. MEYERS: Well I mean, I think Donald Trump is sort of brings it with a bow on it and leaves it at the front door. But I mean, you, you know, sort of follow, watch the news and, you know, spend a lot of time on the Internet. You know,for us at "Weekend Update," it's easier if it's a story that our audience is familiar with.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MR. MEYERS: We don't educate very well on our show, but if it's a big story, I feel like we can analyze it pretty well.

MR. GREGORY: But it's interesting. You spend a lot of time sort of insisting that you're topical, right?


MR. GREGORY: You want to be relevant.

MR. MEYERS: I insist it constantly. I say it right before bed and then first thing when I wake up.

MR. GREGORY: "Saturday Night Live" has been doing fake news long before it was cool to do fake news.

MR. MEYERS: How dare you! How dare you call it fake.

MR. GREGORY: Is part of the motivation that you have an agenda, that you feel like you can really influence?

MR. MEYERS: I don't think you ever, as a comedian, I don't think you aim to influence, but it's really nice when people think you're influential. So it's a nice side effect, but I don't think--I mean, I think our first goal is to always just to be funny.

MR. GREGORY: So what is your impression of politicians generally, especially those who participate on the program? You, you had some impressions working when then candidate Obama before you will, you know...


MR. GREGORY: ...skewer him while he's sitting on the stage at the White House Correspondents' dinner.

MR. MEYERS: Obama was great. I mean, you know, he's really charismatic. He was great on our show. It's--they've been very intimidating to watch old Correspondents' dinners and see how hard he kills. He's very good at telling jokes.

MR. GREGORY: And when he was on the show, there was actually the bit where it was a Halloween show where...


MR. GREGORY: ...with the Halloween mask.

MR. MEYERS: Right. And he took off his Halloween mask and revealed that he was then candidate Obama. So I guess we were really influential. Because before he took off that mask, I don't think anybody thought he was going to win, and now he's the president. So yeah.

(Videotape, "Saturday Night Live," November 3, 2007)

MS. AMY POEHLER: So you dressed as yourself?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, you know, Hillary, I have nothing to hide. I enjoy being myself. I'm not going to change who I am just because it's Halloween.

Live from New York, it's SATURDAY NIGHT!

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: He struck you as funny?

MR. MEYERS: He struck me as very funny. I remember going into his room and--his dressing room beforehand to run over some lines with him, and I mentioned that I grew up in New Hampshire, and he jumped right out of his chair to shake my hand, which I--as a primary state like New Hampshire, I appreciate it.

MR. GREGORY: Wanted to make sure...

MR. MEYERS: Yeah, yeah.

MR. GREGORY: understood where he was coming from.

MR. MEYERS: Yes, yes, yes. Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: Tina Fey. You've done something on "Saturday Night Live" that I haven't been able to do is get Sarah Palin to appear on the program. And you had a very positive experience with her.

MR. MEYERS: Well, I mean she was a great sport. That was, that was a crazy time. I--you know, that was the month before the election, and, and she came on and was really funny in the sketch. And then I think one of the probably best things I've ever been next to in my time at "Saturday Night Live" was watching Amy Poehler do the Sarah Palin Rap. And that I got to--I got to jam out and dance with Sarah Palin. So

what's better than that? (Videotape, “Saturday Night Live,” on Oct. 19, 2008)

AMY PHOEHLER: My name is Sarah Palin, you all know me. Vice Presy nominee for the GOP. Gonna need your vote in the next election, can I get a “what, what” from the senior section. All the mavericks in the house put your hands up.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: She got the joke and she was OK with it?

MR. MEYERS: She did, she did. I mean, I would say that I don't think she trusted us 100 percent but, you know, I think she knew that we were good sports and she was in turn.

MR. GREGORY: She didn't think a bunch of comedians in New York City would be...


MR. GREGORY: ...would be even-handed toward her?

MR. MEYERS: She came--she put a toe in first. Every--she entered every room toe first, yeah.

MR. GREGORY: All right. Is there a difference between how Republicans and Democrats come to play on "Saturday Night Live"?

MR. MEYERS: I have to say, like, I think Republicans are just so happy to be like sort of invited to the party. And, I mean, John McCain's been one of the most fun people we've ever had on the show, and he's always been an excellent sport.


MR. MEYERS: And I think probably the Sarah Palin sketch I'll remember the most is when, you know, he came on as himself and Tina Fey played Sarah Palin, and they did--they did a QVC sketch together.

(Videotape, "Saturday Night Live, "November 1, 2008)

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Good evening, my fellow Americans. I'm John McCain.

MS. TINA FEY: And, you know, I'm just Sarah Palin. OK, listen up, everybody. I'm going rogue right now so keep your voices down. Available now, we got a bunch of these Palin in 2012 T-shirts.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: You look at this Republican field, you know, you look at some of the polling, and there's not a lot of excitement...


MR. GREGORY: ...about the Republicans who are going to challenge President Obama. Does that worry you?

MR. MEYERS: No, it's excellent so far. This field is excellent for us.

MR. GREGORY: Why is that?

MR. MEYERS: This is a really good field for impressions and comedies, and I already can't wait for the first Republican debate. I know they have to get enough to actually hold a debate, but I think it'll be really good for us.

MR. GREGORY: Do you, do you lay awake night after praying that you're topical and relevant that Donald Trump is a candidate?

MR. MEYERS: I would love it. If Donald Trump ran for president, it would be the greatest thing for us. It would not be good for anyone else, but it would be excellent for us. And I'd be, I'd be selfishly willing to take that.

MR. GREGORY: Seth Meyers, thank you very much. Great to have you on the program.

MR. MEYERS: Thanks. Appreciate it.

MR. GREGORY: You bet. Thank you.

And we'll be right back.


MR. DAVID GREGORY: That is all for today. Visit Press Pass, our Press

Pass blog, for a wrap-up of today's program and updates from me

throughout the week. It's

We will be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.