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Meet the Press transcript for August 21, 2011

Transcript of the August 21 broadcast featuring Robert Gibbs, Mitch Daniels, Harold Ford, Jr., Peggy Noonan, E.J. Dionne and Maria Bartiromo.

MS. SAVANNAH GUTHRIE:  This Sunday, President Obama looking like candidate Obama on a bus tour through the heartland previewing the coming fight.


PRES. BARACK OBAMA:  We've got a lot of work to do, and the only way it'll get done is if Democrats and Republicans put the country ahead of party and put the next generation ahead of the next election.

(End videotape)

MS. GUTHRIE:  The president promises another jobs plan, but is it too little too late for Americans and the president's re-election hopes.  With us, one of the president's closest confidantes, former White House press secretary, now an adviser for the Obama re-election campaign, Robert Gibbs.



GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX):  I think the greatest threat to our country right now is this president who is trying to spend our way out of this disaster.

(End videotape)

MS. GUTHRIE:  ...Texas Governor Rick Perry's first week on the campaign trail, but is the field of candidates set?  Why are so many Republicans still searching, and what's the GOP plan for jobs?  We'll talk to a man who considered getting into the race, Indiana's governor and former budget director to President George W. Bush, Mitch Daniels.

Then, Wall Street's wild swings.  The world economy once again on the brink. What's on the horizon?  Can the president win re-election in this economy? Our roundtable weighs in:  former Democratic congressman from Tennessee, Harold Ford Jr.; columnist for the Wall Street Journal Peggy Noonan; columnist for The Washington Post E.J. Dionne; and host of CNBC's "Closing Bell" Maria Bartiromo.

Announcer:  From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory. Substituting today, Savannah Guthrie.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Good morning.  The president is on day three of his 10-day vacation in Martha's Vineyard, spending time with family and friends, hitting the links and doing some book shopping.  Aides say the president is being kept up to date, though, on developments in Libya over the weekend, fighting there intensifying as rebels battle for control of the capital city of Tripoli.  New reports today of gunfire and explosions this morning.

Also on the president's mind during this vacation, his plans to unveil a new jobs package and a major speech after Labor Day.  And here with us to talk about the president's jobs agenda and his re-election efforts, a familiar face to many from his days as White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, now a key adviser to the president's campaign.

Robert, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

MR. ROBERT GIBBS:  Thanks for having me.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Let's start with a number I'm sure you're familiar with.  This is the president's job approval rating on the economy, Gallup has it at 26 percent approval.  This is the lowest number of the president's entire term. My question to you is simple, how can he win re-election with a number like that?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, we've got to do a few things, Savannah.  First and foremost, the president's not worried about his job, he's worried about creating jobs for millions of Americans who've been out of work for six months or two years or longer.  That's what his focus is.  That's what it has been for each day of the last two and a half years.  And I think the president hopes that when Congress gets back into town, that they'll act on some initiatives that we all know make sense and can hopefully help businesses hire more people again.  In terms of politics, look, I think we're going to have a very robust campaign.  And we're going to have a choice, and it's going to be based on some very simple values.  The question is whether or not we're going to go back to Wall Street and big corporations writing the rules or whether we're going to move forward and make smart investments and put people back to work.

MS. GUTHRIE:  In fairness, you say the president is going to present this jobs plan, but he has been president for two and a half years.  There's been a jobs crisis every day of his presidency.  There has been some progress.  The unemployment rate has come down a bit.  There's been a return to growth.  And yet, one number continues to go down that, and that is the president's approval rating on the economy.

MR. GIBBS:  Right.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Don't you think the American people are saying, "Look, we don't think he has handled this crisis effectively."

MR. GIBBS:  Savannah, I think what the American people are struggling with is the most challenging economy of their lifetimes, the most challenging economy that we've ever lived through.  When the president came into office, the first quarter of 2009, when the president was in office, the last quarter of 2008, were the worst recorded periods of economic growth on our history books.  So we've...

MS. GUTHRIE:  But the American people know that...

MR. GIBBS:  No, no.

MS. GUTHRIE:  ...and they still say the president is not handling the economy the way they would like him to.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think, Savannah, people are struggling in this economy. I don't--I don't think that--I don't think that that's any surprise.  I think what the American people want to see are two political parties that can work together.  The president is going to outline some ideas, the president has outlined ideas every day he's been in the White House.  The question, Savannah, is, is there going to be a partner that can work with the president on those ideas.  And the question the Republican Party is going to have to ask themselves, quite simply, is are they willing to set aside some party allegiance, are they willing to tell the tea party that they're going to do what's best for the country, not just necessarily what's best for their political party.  That's what September, October, November, December are going to be.  The question that Republicans are going to have to ask themselves is, are they ready work with this president and put aside party leadership so our country can be strong.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Well, we'll talk about the Republicans in a moment, but let's stay on the president for a moment.  Here he was in February 2009 at the beginning of his presidency with NBC's Matt Lauer.

(Videotape, February 1, 2009)

PRES. OBAMA:  One nice thing about the situation I find myself in is that I will be held accountable.  ...  If I don't have this done in three years, then there's going to be a one-term proposition.

(End videotape)

MS. GUTHRIE:  Robert, how about it?  I mean, does the president have it done or should we take him at his word, hold him accountable, it's three years past now, and make this a one-term presidency?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Savannah, the president is the president of the United States.  He understands that he has responsibility for what he can do.  The question, Savannah, is whether or not we can take the ideas that the president has or anybody else has and get them enacted by Congress.  I mean, the president can't do all of this alone.  Republicans in Congress have to work...

MS. GUTHRIE:  Well, wait a minute, Robert.  For the first part of this term, he had huge majorities in the Senate, in the House, and the presidency.

MR. GIBBS:  Right.  And what, what happened in the first year of the presidency, Savannah?  We went from almost 9 percent--negative 9 percent economic growth to, in the last quarter of 2009, we had a positive 4 percent economic growth.  We saw a huge change in the growth in our economy, we began to add jobs.  We have--we continue to have a challenging economy.  We've seen an earthquake in Japan that messed up the supply chain.  We've seen Europe face a severe debt crisis.  And we've got to give--continue to give businesses a reason to keep adding people to the employment rolls.  So let's do a couple of things, Savannah.  Let's cut the payroll tax.  Let's continue that.  You're going to have a guest on, in Mitch Daniels, who in September of 2010 wrote in The Wall Street Journal, "Let's cut the Social Security tax on workers." The president did that, and the president's going to ask Congress to renew that. Now, Republicans in Congress have said, "That's just a sugar high." Well, it's $1,000 in 150 million--for 150 million families.  And if we're not going to extend that tax cut, something that Governor Mitch Daniels, one of the leading Republican economic voices in this country, if we're not going to extend that tax cut, is there a reason other than politics that that would happen?  That's I think the question the American people are asking themselves.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Well, we don't know what it is in the president's jobs plan, but you mentioned he wants to extend the payroll tax cut.  We know that.  He's talked about patent reform, getting some trade deals passed.  All of that, in some sense, will help with the jobless situation, but it's not enough to really make a huge dent in it.  I guess the question is, if the president thinks more should be done, if he thinks there should be more stimulus, why doesn't he just go for broke?  Why doesn't he go out there and ask for it, make a case for it?  I mean, in some sense, is he pre-settling?  He's making a political calculus about what he thinks might be able to pass and not getting out there and fighting for what he thinks is best of the economy.

MR. GIBBS:  No.  Savannah, I think the president's going to fight for exactly what he believes is best for the economy because he's done that every single day he's been president.  But you just mentioned it, Savannah.  What can get through Congress?  Let's take another example, transportation spending.  The last time the United States made a, made a major investment in transportation spending was in 2005.  George Bush was the president, Barack Obama was a senator from Illinois.

MS. GUTHRIE:  You wouldn't put the stimulus in that category?

MR. GIBBS:  Wasn't as big as--the investment spending on transportation wasn't as big as the surface transportation bill that passed in 2005. Republicans voted collectively 265 to 12 for that transportation spending. Again, if the president proposes transportation spending, investments in infrastructure to repair our roads and bridges, and Republicans say no, is there a reason other than politics?  I think that's what the American people are asking themselves.  They watched this debate over the debt, and they saw that a few Republicans and a few people in the tea party basically held the larger Republican Party hostage.  And it looked as if they'd be fine taking the entire economy over the cliff in order to either prove their point or to do some political damage to the president.  That's not the way this country has ever worked, and it's not going to be the way that we start adding jobs and making our economies work.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Let's talk about the issue of jobs and, and, and the perception here because you were at the White House for two and a half years.

MR. GIBBS:  Yeah.

MS. GUTHRIE:  You remember this well, there were many times when the president would say I'm going to focus on jobs.  Again, let's take a look.

(Videotape, January 27, 2010)

PRES. OBAMA:  Jobs must be our number one focus in 2010.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, September 13, 2010)

PRES. OBAMA:  Right now our number one focus has to be jobs, jobs, jobs.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, December 22, 2010)


We now have to pivot and focus on jobs and growth.

(End videotape)

MS. GUTHRIE:  If the president is focused like a laser, as you say, on jobs, why is he continually reminding himself, "Oh we've got to turn, and, and focus on jobs"?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think he's...

MS. GUTHRIE:  It seems like an acknowledgement that he's thinking about something else.

MR. GIBBS:  ...I think he's hoping--I think he's hoping that Congress will, will hear that.  I think--first of all, again, for some history, you and I covered this when I was at the White House.  We lost eight million jobs in the course of this economic downturn.  So we've got a huge hole to fill.  And let's be honest, this--even if people weren't losing their jobs in 2004 and 2005 and 2006 if you take and add inflation in, most middle-class workers in this country have watched their paychecks actually go down over the course of 10 years, not go up.  And, look, I think they're looking at the broader economy and seeing that, "Maybe there's a different set of rules for Wall Street than there is for me on Main Street." And I think that we can't allow--we can't go back to a time in which Wall Street was writing the rules, big companies were writing the rules and middle class in this country were watching their paychecks get smaller and smaller.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Let's talk about the president's vacation.  He's in Martha's Vineyard for a period of 10 days with his family.  You know, his advisers, and you among them, usually say the American people do not begrudge this president some time off, or any president some time off with his family.  And generally speaking that may be true, but is there something about this moment in time? I mean, the Dow is off 15 percent in the last month.  Unemployment persists. The world economy is on the brink.  Many economists think we're in a real danger of a double-dip recession.  Don't the American people expect him to maybe skip the trip and, and be working?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Savannah, you've covered this president in the White House, and you've covered him on the road, and when he takes some time off to be with his family and recharge a little bit.  And you know quite well that the presidency travels with you.  John Brennan, the president's chief counterterrorism officer, is with the president today.  Brian Deese, one of the best economic advisers that's been in the White House the past three years, is up in Martha's Vineyard.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Fair enough, but images of him vacationing at a time when the American people are really hurting...

MR. GIBBS:  Savannah...

MS. GUTHRIE:  ...I mean, does that convey the sense of urgency you hope to convey?

MR. GIBBS:  The sense of urgency has been with the president each and every day.  We need a willing partner in order to make these good ideas part of what we're doing in this economy, and law.  But, Savannah, let--this is a big political game.  This happens every time, Republican or Democrat, somebody goes on vacation, and there's this big hullabaloo.  The truth is, again, as you well know and as I well know, there--the presidency goes with you wherever you go.  That's why there's Secret Service, that's why there's communications folks.  And I don't mean communications folks like me, I mean, people...

MS. GUTHRIE:  Got it.

MR. GIBBS:  ...that can get, you know, secret messages to the president.  I have no doubt right now that the president is likely sitting in Martha's Vineyard getting an update on the situation on Syria and Libya, as well as talking to advisers about the economy.

MS. GUTHRIE:  All right, let's move on.  Let's talk about the Republicans. As you know, Texas Governor Rick Perry had his first full week of campaigning, and he took some shots at the president.  Let's take a look.

(Videotape, Monday)

GOV. PERRY:  I think you want a president that is passionate about America, that's in, that's in love with America.  I know what this country needs.

REPORTER:  Governor, you said you would be a president who loves America.  Are you suggesting that the current president does not love America?

GOV. PERRY:  No, you need to ask him.  The president had the opportunity to serve his country, I'm sure at some time, and he made a decision that that wasn't what he wanted to do.

(End videotape)

MS. GUTHRIE:  The president said this week he'd cut Rick Perry some slack. Will you?  Was it appropriate for this candidate to suggest the president doesn't love his country.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, two things come to mind.  Rick Perry is the governor who, two years ago, openly talked about whether or not Texas should leave the union.  So I think for Rick Perry to, at one point, talk about secession from the union as early as--or as far back as only 2009, I think it's good that he's professed his love for this country.  But I'll be honest with you, Savannah, I think the American people are tired of the politics where, if you and I don't agree on something, I question your love of country and your patriotism.  That's not going to put anybody back to work.  That's not going to make this country stronger, and it's quite frankly not what our country was founded on.  We ought to be able to have honest, political debates in this country about very different visions and about very different ways in which we see this country moving without questioning people's patriotism and love for country.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Here's Michele Bachmann, another candidate, talking about how she thinks the White House views her.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN):  I am one of the only candidates that this administration has been coming after.  They fear my candidacy more than any other.

(End videotape)

MS. GUTHRIE:  OK, Robert, is this the candidate the White House most fears?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I think that Republicans are, are going to do battle in this.  We saw it last week in Iowa where, where Michele Bachmann scored an important win in the Iowa Straw Poll.  But I think the American people are going to get a chance, quite frankly, to kick the tires a little bit and look under the hood.  I think when it comes to somebody like Governor Rick Perry, they're going to wonder why a place like Texas has one of the worst education systems.  They're going to wonder why a guy who doesn't like the government, the largest employer in Texas is Fort Hood, an army base.  Twenty-five billion dollars from the Economic Recovery Act went to Texas and helped Rick Perry balance his budget.  They're going to wonder why, quite frankly, they're 47th in wages, just like they're going to wonder why Mitt Romney, when he was of Massachusetts was 47th in job creation.

MS. GUTHRIE:  I'm glad you brought up Mitt Romney.  Last I checked, actually, Romney was the candidate White House advisers most feared.  And there was an article in Politico recently that cited many Obama advisers saying the strategy against Romney was to portray him as, "weird." Is that your strategy?

MR. GIBBS:  No.  I, I, I'm happy to say that I'm not quoted either off the record on background or on the record in that article.

MS. GUTHRIE:  You may not be, but several advisers were said to have said the word "weird" to describe Romney repeatedly.

MR. GIBBS:  And I don't--I quite honestly don't know why--if I was making the case to somebody about why you should vote for somebody and why you shouldn't vote for somebody else, I don't think weird would be in the top 50 words I'd use to describe that person.  I don't think that's how the people of America process their political choices.  I think there's plenty to talk about with Mitt Romney.  Like I said, four years as governor of Massachusetts, and they finished 47th in job creation.  And, quite frankly, had Hurricane Katrina not hit Louisiana, they'd have finished 48th.  There's plenty of things to talk about with Mitt Romney.  Just this week, Mitt Romney talked about overregulation in our economy.  The overregulation he was talking about was the Wall Street reform that we passed in 2010.  He thinks Wall Street reform, not letting Wall Street write the rules for how we do business, that's the kind of regulation we have too much of in this country.  I think people that watch their housing values basically decimated overnight don't think that we have too many people watching--or had too many people watching what Wall Street was doing in 2006 and 2007 and 2008.  And that's, quite frankly, not what they want to go back to.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Before I let you go, Robert, as you well know in 2008, the president campaigned on a slogan of "change we can believe in." Here was the president a few weeks ago in Chicago.

(Videotape, August 3, 2011)

PRES. OBAMA:  When I said change we can believe in, I didn't say we could believe in tomorrow, not change we can believe in next week.

(End videotape)

MS. GUTHRIE:  Robert, is the president suggesting Americans should have read the fine print on his promise?  What's the 2012 slogan going to be?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think what he understands and I think, quite frankly, Savannah, what the American people understand is we did not get into this economic crisis overnight, and we're not going to get out of it in just one day.  If--I think if you look at where the president wants to take this country, making important investments in things like technology, research, and education; bring our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan; those are the types of changes that they wanted in 2008, and that's what the president is going to deliver on.  And I think again in 2012 we're going to have a very robust debate about which direction we're going to take this country.  Are we going to take it forward the way President Obama wants to, or are we going to go back to some of the things that got us into this mess leading up to 2008?

MS. GUTHRIE:  All right, Robert Gibbs, it's good to have you here on MEET THE PRESS.  Thank you.

MR. GIBBS:  Thank you.

MS. GUTHRIE:  And joining me now, Governor Mitch Daniels, Republican of Indiana.

Governor, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

GOV. MITCH DANIELS (R-IN):  Thanks, Savannah.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Sir, before we turn to politics and the state of the economy, just want to offer our condolences.  We know it's been a really difficult week for the people of Indiana, the accident at the state fair.  We really appreciate your time all the more so this week, sir.

GOV. DANIELS:  Thanks for mentioning it.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Let's talk about politics, and I'm going to put on the screen the Republican candidates for president as it stands right now.  You've got Romney, Perry, Gingrich, Paul, Cain, Santorum, Bachmann and Huntsman.  My question to you, sir, is there a president on that screen?

GOV. DANIELS:  I think there could be several of them.  These are good people with a lot of character, and a lot of them, I think, have the right skill set to be president.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Would you campaign for all of them?

GOV. DANIELS:  I'd campaign for whichever one emerges from our, from our process.

MS. GUTHRIE:  You know, there's a sense, though, governor that some Republicans aren't quite satisfied with the field we just showed.  There continues to be speculation about someone else in the race.  Maybe New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Congressman Paul Ryan.  Rudy Giuliani has talked about it.  Sarah Palin is hanging out there.  Does all of this translate to a sense among some in the Republican Party that they look at the Republican field and they ask themselves, "Really, is this the best we can do?"

GOV. DANIELS:  Well, there's nothing wrong with searching for the best we can do.  I, I think that's what all Americans are hoping for.  And my own view has been that, although I like all those folks, there's something to like about each one of them, that this is a more the merrier situation.  That's why we have an extended nomination process.  And, you know, I look forward to how these candidates develop their messages.  And...

MS. GUTHRIE:  But, Governor, wait a minute.  If you really felt strongly that, in the current slate of candidates there was somebody who could take on President Obama and win, why would you be saying the more the merrier, come, come one, come all, let's get more candidates in?

GOV. DANIELS:  Because I, back to your previous question, I would like to see the very, very best.  You know, I think we know that these folks have great personal qualities.  I'm waiting to hear their message.  I personally hope that our party will speak the language of unity.  We are all in this mess together.  You know, the American people, as your previous interview showed, don't need a lot of instruction from anyone about how failed these policies have been, how bad, how deep the problems we're facing are.  And I think that the best candidate, the one people are searching for, will be one who speaks specifically and candidly about what we ought to do about it.  They--we don't need to bash the president, the failure of what he's done, the misdirection of this country is pretty obvious to us all.  So let's talk about the important question.  What do we do now?  And I think maybe one of the existing field is going to emerge as the, as the person who speaks most affirmatively and appealingly in that way.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Well, I know you're close to Congressman Paul Ryan who is said to be, once again, weighing a bid for president.  Are, are you encouraging him to run?  Have you spoken to him lately?  Do you think he may run?

GOV. DANIELS:  I've not spoken to him lately, and I've not encouraged him. When asked about him as a candidate, I said if Paul Ryan ran I thought he would really enrich this debate in many of the ways I just talked about.  He understands that an, an affirmative pro-growth, pro-jobs message that says everything else must take second place to that, is the one hope for low-income people in this country.  It's the one way we restore a stable and hopeful middle class.  And he would be a very effective and clear spokesman with a heart for people that I think our party must display.  But others have...

MS. GUTHRIE:  Are you sending him a message this morning?  I mean, do you think he makes up for, for lack of a better word, a deficit in the current field?

GOV. DANIELS:  It is not for me to say.  He's got a young family, and he's fairly young in his career.  And that's a highly personal decision, and I wouldn't attempt to intrude on.  But I'm just telling you that I think that now or in the future, this is an American who has a lot to offer and, and to whom I hope people will listen, whether he's a candidate or not.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Well, let's talk about the rhetoric among the candidates who are in the field.  And here you are talking to conservative activists back in February about your concerns about rhetoric in our politics in general.

(Videotape, Conservative Political Action Conference)

GOV. DANIELS:  I urge a similar thoughtfulness about the rhetoric we deploy in the great debate ahead.  I suspect everyone here regrets and laments the sad, crude, coarsening of our popular culture.  It has a counterpart in the venomous, petty, often ad hominem political discourse of the day.

(End videotape)

MS. GUTHRIE:  And yet it would appear, sir, that many of your Republican colleagues in the presidential race aren't necessarily heeding that warning. Here is Texas Governor Rick Perry this week accusing the Federal Reserve chairman of near treason.


GOV. PERRY:  If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don't know what you all would do to him in Iowa, but we'd--we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas.  I mean, printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous, or treasonous, in my opinion.

(End videotape)

MS. GUTHRIE:  Governor, did Rick Perry cross the line?

GOV. DANIELS:  He made a serious point in an unfortunate way.  I think everybody, including, I guess, the president has given him a mulligan on the, on the adjective.  You know, the point he's making about flooding the world with printed money, borrowing unlimited quantities, using it for trickle down government, which is the policy of this administration, is a bad one.  But sure...

MS. GUTHRIE:  But is this a...

GOV. DANIELS:  Sure, he shouldn't have said it.  And I still, I still believe very much--you know, I went on in that, in that talk that you just played a sliver of to say we can't beat the other side.  There's nobody more effective than the president and his allies at vilifying people, challenging their character.  And they've a...

MS. GUTHRIE:  Are you sure about that?  I mean, Rick Perry just accused the Fed chairman of near treason.

GOV. DANIELS:  And I join the, the--those who agree that that was the wrong thing to say.  But I'm just, I just told our folks as a matter of effectiveness, you can't.  You can't outdo them.  Besides, here's the more serious point, Savannah, we sure have found in Indiana if you want to make big change, you need big majorities, you need a big consensus, and you need to try and unify and reach out to people.  And, you know, that's what I hope that our party would do.  If the, if the goal is results and not just scoring points, and not just the emotional satisfaction of zinging somebody, or not even just the very, you know, partial victory of winning an election, if we're going to save this country, if we're going to redeem the American dream, then we're going to have to gather together people.  Once again, we are in this together. The, the, the dangers we face are, are of equal, I think, threat to every one of us.  And, and I just hope that we will find a vocabulary, first as a party, then as a nation, for saying so.

MS. GUTHRIE:  You know, recently at the Republican debate the candidates were asked whether they would accept a deal in which there were $10 of spending cuts for every $1 of tax hikes.  And every single candidate raised their hand saying they would not take such a deal.  My question to you is, is this tenable?  I mean, you're a former budget director, you know the deficit problems better than anyone else.  I mean, does that convey a sense that Republicans are so intransigent on this issue that this problem they profess to care about, i.e.  the deficit, can't be solved?

GOV. DANIELS:  Well, first, there's tons of intransigents on the other side. The Democrats have been utterly I'd say, not only stubborn, but cynical in their protestations that they won't touch, they won't, they won't modernize or rebuild the safety net programs, and everyone knows that has to happen.  No. I would say this.  I've, I've answered this question before.  Seems to me that someone who would be our next president should take one pledge and one only, and that's the one that involves the Bible and the west front of the Capitol building.  And, at this point, my view is that we should address our economic issues and, for that matter, our debt issues without at least raising tax rates.  We're going to have to raise a lot more revenue, and I think that means a new tax system:  fewer loopholes, lower rates.  But the--I think that, at this stage, if you could get such a deal, you know, the problem with these bargains in the past is the taxes are real and immediate and somehow the spending cuts never happen.  So there's a reason to be very skeptical about them.  But, no, I think that we ought to be open.  We've got to solve this problem in the interest of us all, and we ought not rule anything out in pursuit of doing that.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Well, Republicans have certainly successfully made deficit cutting a primary subject of debate here in Washington.  But how is deficit cutting a jobs creation strategy?  Which is the thing Americans are most concerned about.

GOV. DANIELS:  Because we're going to have a crushing debt load, therefore higher interest rates in a--it's now very well demonstrated that past a certain level of debt, which we are rapidly approaching faster than anyone ever expected under this administration, growth is permanently stagnated, and therefore the American dream of upward mobility permanently stunted.  And so I do not agree with those who say, you know, it's like, wasn't it St. Augustine, "Lord, make me chaste, but not today." You know, who say that, "Yeah, yeah, we'll cut some spending but not for a good while." I don't buy that.  Who thought the federal government was too small, for instance, in 2008?  You know, I believe the first step in a growth strategy is to say to the world, "America's not going broke.  Our credit is going to be good.  You can loan us money at rates we can afford." And I believe it's part and parcel. It ought to go, if you, if you'll permit me, it, it ought to go hand in hand with a full throated nothing else comes first commitment to jobs and growth. That means energy.  That means stopping the overregulation we're facing, and I already mentioned tax reform.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Well, we, we're almost out of time here.  I've got to ask you, I know you carefully considered a run for president.  Do you have any regrets saying you won't?  Would you reconsider and enter the race?

GOV. DANIELS:  I've been asked that question an awful lot lately, publicly and privately, and, and I think our family is at peace that we made the decision that, that is right for us.  And it was made as a, as a family.  And so I, I think this race can do fine without me.  I do hope to be constructive in some way or another, and I'll, I'll look for some supporting role.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Would you consider a vice president as a supporting role?

GOV. DANIELS:  I think it's such a far-fetched question, I never answer it.

MS. GUTHRIE:  All right.  Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana, it's good to have you here, sir.  Thank you.

GOV. DANIELS:  Thank you.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Coming up, rule one of politics, it's the economy.  And the economy is in trouble.  Can an incumbent president win with long unemployment lines, Wall Street in turmoil, and Americans feeling increasingly hopeless. Plus, Rick Perry, roars into the Republican race.  Is the Texas governor the GOP's best hope for beating President Obama?  Or is he a primary star who will fade out in a general election?  Our roundtable weighs in:  former Congressman Harold Ford Jr., The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan, The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne, and CNBC's Maria Bartiromo.


MS. GUTHRIE:  Coming up, can an incumbent president win with long unemployment lines?  Our political roundtable weighs in.  Joining me, Harold Ford Jr., Peggy Noonan, E.J. Dionne, and CNBC's Maria Bartiromo.  Up next after this brief commercial break.


MS. GUTHRIE:  And we're back with our roundtable.  Joining me now, former Democratic congressman from Tennessee, Harold Ford Jr.; columnist for The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan; columnist for The Washington Post, E.J. Dionne; and host of CNBC's "Closing Bell," Maria Bartiromo.

Welcome all of you back to MEET THE PRESS.


MS. GUTHRIE:  Well, we're off.  The Republicans after Ames had a week of campaigning.  The president was out on a trip that they say was not a campaign, but sometimes looked a lot like one.  And let's start with Rick Perry's comment, calling the Federal Reserve chairman near treasonous.  Here's how Larry Summers, the former Obama economic adviser put it, "This may be the least responsible statement in the modern history of presidential politics."

Peggy Noonan, how does it strike you?  Did you cross the line?

MS. PEGGY NOONAN:  Oh, to call it the least responsible statement in modern politics opens up too big an area for a contest, OK, to begin with.  What did it strike me as?  When I heard it, it made me wince.  I thought, "Oh, man, that ain't the leagues.  That ain't the language of the leagues." Do you know what I mean?  I think it sort of highlighted a certain problem that Mr. Perry has and that might be true of some in the Republican field, which is that they have their political life, their policies, their philosophy of what they believe in, but it's also very important in politics to have a kind of persona of moderation, to seem like a benign person, a kindly person, a smart person. Ronald Reagan was the last really, really conservative president to be--Republican nominee to be win in 1980.  Part of the reason he ran was that he was called radical, he was called mean, he was called all these things, and then you'd look at him and you'd see benign, even-keeled, even-tempered, normal.  I think the Republicans, some of them have to work on that right now.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Yeah, and it seems that perhaps the Republican primary voters, that's not what they're shopping for right now.

Maria, I have to ask you, what does Wall Street hear when they hear something like that from a candidate?

MS. BARTIROMO:  Well, I think Wall Street, Main Street, I think people are sick and tired of the "Us vs. them.  It's your fault.  No, it's your fault." And this whole debt ceiling debate having turned as toxic as it has, has put people over the edge.  So I think, at this point, I agree.  People would prefer to hear leadership.  One thing I hear constantly, Savannah, from investors and CEOs that there is a lack of leadership.  This country has never been more divided than it is right now.  We need leadership to bring us together.  So I agree, it's too toxic language.

MS. GUTHRIE:  And E.J., we heard some kind of what I consider to be throw-back arguments about patriotism, about military service, about "Does this president really love the country?" I mean, do you think that's where this debate is headed or should be headed?

MR. E.J. DIONNE:  Well, it--I mean, Robert Gibbs made the point Democrats are going to make over and over again about Rick Perry, which is it's odd for him to talk about the president not loving the country or implying it and--as a guy who'd talk loosely about secession a couple of years ago.  And I think to reach for treason is the first thing you say when you want to criticize somebody, that's kind of scary.  He wants to make sort of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush look like Hubert Humphrey.  But I think for the Republicans, it seems that if you want to be disliked in the Republican Party these days, just announce your candidacy for president.  Then Republicans are going to say, "Well, we don't like you.  There's a guy behind you that's better." And it's a really strange moment.  It's...

FMR. REP. HAROLD FORD JR. (D-TN):  (Unintelligible)

MS. GUTHRIE:  And we're going to talk about that in a moment.  But at the moment, we do have three at the top of the field.  You've got Romney, Bachmann and Perry.  And I want to ask you guys about what you think what effect that might have on these candidates.  Here's how Ron Brownstein put it in the National Journal.  "The GOP's emerging three-way [race] dynamic virtually assures that the party's nominee in 2012 will run on an agenda to the right of any nominee at least since Ronald Reagan in 1980--a prospect that excited conservatives and heartened nervous Democrats, in equal measure." Harold Ford Jr., what say you?

REP. FORD:  On the Perry thing, what is fascinating to me is he has the number one job creating record in the country, at least by, by the numbers. Why he would not be out talking about that as opposed to making irresponsible, just silly and arguably dangerous comments about a federal official is beyond me.  Now, I read, I read what Ron said.  I happen to think whoever the Republicans nominate is going to be a very serious candidate.  They will be taken seriously by the country for many of the reasons your tone and the substance of your questions this morning today to Robert:  The economy and jobs are foremost on average American, ordinary hard-working Americans' minds. Now, they will advantage themselves, the Republicans, if they nominate someone who is serious.  Without a doubt, Huntsman, Romney probably rise to that level.  I happen to think this field is not done yet.  I was on the show two months ago and Republicans said, "No, our field is complete.  No one else is going to get in." I happen to think that, that the way Perry got in this race has made it--has created a path for Chris Christie to get in this race. Romney is not as loved by the party as he'd like to be.  Perry certainly has suggested to people he's not as serious.  Does that open for Giuliani or for Christie?  I think it does.  So I think the president's got to be focused on one thing, that's just jobs and the economy.  Let the Republican primary take care of itself.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Well, there is this sense that...

Offscreen Voice:  I agree with that.

MS. GUTHRIE:  ...Republicans are still casting about, that they're wondering, is there anyone...

MR. DIONNE:  (Unintelligible)

MS. GUTHRIE:  Yes.  Is there anyone else out there and here's one potential answer.  This is Sarah Palin.  She has a new Web, ad and she's going back to Iowa September 3rd.  Let's take a look.

(Videotape, Sarah Palin political ad)

Unidentified Woman #1:  She seems pretty down to earth.

Unidentified Man #1:  She's pretty...(unintelligible).  She's awesome.

Unidentified Man #2:  Ladies and gentlemen, Governor Sarah Palin!

FMR. GOV. SARAH PALIN:  I think the good folks here in Iowa, you could ask anybody here, and I think that they would tell you it's time for the country to be put back on the right track, get the economy strengthened ...  Let's do what we know.  America needs us.  Empower the people of America.

(End videotape)

MS. GUTHRIE:  I guess that's a mama grizzly.  All right, raise your hand, who thinks that's a campaign commercial?  OK.

REP. FORD:  Clearly.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Peggy, what do you think?  Do you think she'll run?

MS. NOONAN:  Oh, it could be, you know, it could be brand reidentification. It could be any number of things.  That could be business at work, and it also has the look, superficially, of a, of a campaign thing.  Look, I think with Republicans in general, we're paying so much attention to what's going on in Iowa, that kind of skews things.  My sense of Republicans on the ground in America, they don't think the field is full and they don't want the field to be full.  They want more people to choose from.  That's why there's this constant chatter, not only with, with Mitch Daniels, who you just had on and, and who many people feel in the party a kind of almost nostalgia for the candidacy that could have been there.  Paul Ryan, there's talk.  Chris Christie.  The talk about Chris Christie has not gone away no matter how much he, he says he won't do it.  He actually threatened a while back to kill himself if they wouldn't stop it.  And they're not stopping it.

MS. GUTHRIE:  They're not stopping it.

But, E.J., I mean, if the Republican primary does pull candidates to the right, I mean, is that the president's best hope?  Because, as we talked about with Robert Gibbs, the bumper sticker slogan isn't there right now.

MR. DIONNE:  No.  I think this race is shaping up to be a fundamental choice. We have really had a long consensus in this country about the government having certain responsibilities to the economy, and that includes, by the way, right now to stimulate it.  And I am hoping the president comes out very strong with a stimulus program.  These Republicans really want to bring us back to the gilded age.  My favorite Ronald Reagan line is when he joked once that, "In my administration the right hand doesn't know what the far right hand is doing." And what you got in the Republican Party now is a conservative, Mitt Romney, against the far right.  It's a very strange array, and it opens up room for Obama, although it's not hope this time, it's fear.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Well, there are big promises happening on the Republican side, too, Maria, and I wanted to ask you to give us a reality check on one of them. Michele Bachmann is, is, is saying that she can bring back, in a Bachmann administration, $2 a gallon gasoline.  She also said within one quarter her policies would effect a turnaround in the economy.  What would you say?

MS. BARTIROMO:  Well, I mean, I think it is extraordinary that the country does not have an energy policy.  I mean, how long have we been talking about the fact that we are so reliant on international oil?  I don't know.  Probably the silver lining in this whole economic slowdown, recession, whatever you want to call it, is the fact that oil prices have come down.

MS. GUTHRIE:  But can one president effectuate that much change in these commodities markets?


MS. GUTHRIE:  I mean, is that an over-promise?

MS. BARTIROMO:  One president can exhibit leadership, set the tone to where we're going, and that's really what we need.  Whether or not she can do that, bring gasoline down to $2, but at a minimum we need a plan.  People need to know where they're going.  They want a vision.  And, at this point, we're continually reliant on international oil, which is a major issue.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Well, let's talk about leadership and the president.  As you may have heard, he is on vacation right now.  Peggy, I know you know about it because you wrote about it.  Let's put up a chart because I think it's fair to make the point that presidents do take vacations, and comparing to recent predecessors, he is not at the top of the list in the amount of time taken. However, Peggy, you've said this was a bad choice to take it right now because of where the economy is.

MS. NOONAN:  Well, I kind of think not only the economy, there's a, there's a sense out there, there's a few things going on.  One is this longing for leadership that Maria mentions where people want to look at, at a leader or a potential leader and think, "I'd follow that guy, I'd follow that woman, I get the logic of the case.  I want to go in that direction." There's--nobody has that sense right now.  There's a sense also going on that we are in crisis of so many sorts that something is impending.  If the president wanted to sort of show a leadership presence, I think maybe he would have thought twice about going up there.  And I think he went to an odd place.

MS. GUTHRIE:  And what about this jobs plan.  A cartoonist, Bill Bramhall, in the Daily News, put a fine point on it.  "What's the plan?" someone asks. Obama says, "Tell you when I get back from vacation."

I mean, Harold, was that somewhat ham-handed for the White House to announce "Oh, we've got a jobs plan, and we'll tell you in a few weeks" when people are suffering now?

REP. FORD:  I would have to think if you are--we're fortunate around this table to be dutifully employed, some people with more than one job.  The reality is, if you have a jobs plan, put it out.  The same as I would say for Michele Bachmann.  If she has a plan to get gas prices down to $2, she ought to give it to President Obama and let him implement it now so Americans can be spared the agony.  Two, I hope the president does what E.J. said.  I hope he's bold.  E.J. and I may define bold differently, but he's got to come out, I think, with a plan to create certainty around regulations.  I would all--I'd ask and encourage a moratorium on new regulations even with some parts of the healthcare bill because, if you listen to big business people in the country, they're concerned about their costs going forward.  You look at industries that are growing, the oil and gas industry, how do you get people back to work in industries where they're ready to hire?  There are things that you can do right away.  And there's no doubt, I think a repatriation tax, lowering this tax so many can come back in the country, can go to the federal government, the tax dollars, and a lot of that money people worry it will be spent on dividends or it'll be spent on stock buyback.  Who cares?  If the money comes back to the U.S., and--U.S. investments benefit, the economy benefits because the stock market goes up.

MS. GUTHRIE:  Real quick, Maria.

MS. BARTIROMO:  That's the issue.  I mean, the president needs a short-term and a long-term plan.  On the short-term, a plan that the markets can believe. The markets are built on confidence.  People need to have confidence that we actually see a plan that will encourage businesses to create jobs.  Right now all we're ever hearing about is, "Oh, taxes will go higher, the millionaires, the billionaires.  Corporations should carry the brunt." That's why they're sitting on--the corporate sector is the strongest that we've seen in a long time.  They've got $2 1/2 trillion in cash.  But they're not putting the money to work because they're anticipating costs going higher later.  And on the point on regulation, Dodd-Frank is the law of the land.  So why are the rules being written now?  Businesses do not know what they're business is going to look like in six months, so they're not going to add heads to the payroll.

REP. FORD:  They need to be stopping so critical of Wall Street as well.  I mean, Wall Street and Main Street are the same.

MS. BARTIROMO:  Exactly.

REP. FORD:  When Wall Street does well...

MR. DIONNE:  Can I speak for Main Street, please?


REP. FORD:  Sure.  But, E.J., I'm not, I'm not...

MS. GUTHRIE:  E.J., go.

MR. DIONNE:  You know, I mean, the problem in this economy is there isn't demand and I do--Harold's right--I do want the president to be bold.  And I think--I've been watching CNBC more than I ever have before, and enjoying it. And I've seen one CEO after another come on there and say, "Austerity is not the thing you do when we may be heading into a second recession." We need government to step in.  The governments around the world in March of 2009 got together and organized an international stimulus plan which kept us from falling into a depression.  The president's got to go out there with support from the business folks I see all the time on CNBC.  It's not just--it's not about regulation, it's about demand.

MS. BARTIROMO:  It's about both.  There's a demand story, but there's also a regulatory environment which people still do not know and understand how it is going to look in six months.

REP. FORD:  Health care's a part of that too, Maria.

MS. BARTIROMO:  Absolutely, health care's a part of it.

MS. GUTHRIE:  But, E.J., you said basically you're hoping the president goes big or goes home with this jobs plan.  So far there's no indication that he plans to go big.  I mean, do you think that he pre-settles, in other words, makes a political calculation about what can get passed as opposed to going out there strongly and saying, "You know, this is what I think is right for the economy..."

MR. DIONNE:  That's...

MS. GUTHRIE:  "...and by golly I'm going to argue for it whether it rises or falls.  Judge me on that."

MR. DIONNE:  Yes, that is what he should do because I think pre-emptive concession, you don't go in to buy a car and say, "Oh, I'll give you something above the asking price." But more than that, this is not about politics.  He's got to rise a step above politics and say, "I don't know whether this can pass or not, but this is what we need to do.  I'm going to fight for it.  I'm going to get allies to talk to Republicans and say, "You may disagree with me on this or that, this is an emergency.  We've got to get this economy moving."

MS. GUTHRIE:  I've got to ask Peggy Noonan about her column a few weeks ago. You said, I quote, "Nobody loves Obama," and you said, "He is a loser," which means you must have been really mean in fifth grade on the playground, Peggy. But, I mean, what, what, what is your point there?  I mean, what is your point that nobody loves this president?

MS. NOONAN:  Well, presidents always have a little rock-hard 20 percent that loves them--do you know what I mean?--that is just, no matter how much trouble Clinton got into or Bush got into there was always people who'd say, "I know, I'm a little mad, but I love the guy." With Obama, for months now it has been true.  At least six months, you don't hear that anymore.  You don't hear it from people who were passionate about him.

Can I mention something about Obama what is...

MS. GUTHRIE:  We got about 10 seconds or so.

MS. NOONAN:  He should not do bips and bops and boops of little pieces of legislation and policy.  He should be clear, define the situation, give us the answer.

MS. GUTHRIE:  All right, we got to leave it there.  We're going to take a quick break, but we will be back with our TRENDS AND TAKEAWAYS, a look at what was said here today and what to look for in the coming week.  Plus, what are the hot political stories trending this morning?  That's right after this.


MS. GUTHRIE:  And we're back with more from our roundtable.

And the president has released his reading list for his vacation on Martha's Vineyard, and it's pretty heavy duty stuff.  Let me tell you.  It's "The Bayou Trilogy," a collection by Daniel Woodrell, "Rodin's Debutante" by Ward Just, "Cutting for Stone" by Abraham Verghese, "To the End of the Land" by David Grossman, and "The Warmth of Other Suns" by Isabel Wilkerson.  So here it is, 2579 pages.  Everybody's got a book report to do.

E.J., my question to you is, what can we tell about a president by what he reads on vacation?

MR. DIONNE:  Do you know what strikes me about this list is he's reading a lot of fairly serious but, in some cases, entertaining novels.  I actually Ward Just, the one you gave me.  I am just so happy it came out that "Brave New World," which he also bought, was bought for his daughter's reading list, because otherwise the right wing blogs would be all over it, saying, "This is what Obama wants to do to America."

MS. GUTHRIE:  All right.  Let's do our trend tracker now, some top stories people are talking about.  And Bachmann seeks wider appeal is on our list.

Maria, let me ask you about that.  Bachmann is the one candidate who doesn't have to, in the primary, establish her conservative bona fide.  She's trying to say, "I can appeal in a general election setting."

MS. BARTIROMO:  Well, I mean, I think she's got to appeal in it if she's going to have any success here.  I think, at the end of the day, it's about the economy.  And if people believe and have confidence that she, in fact, has a plan, she will be able to get broader appeal.  It's all about the economy. And people need to have confidence in order to believe that we're going to grow and not necessarily being the worst house on an OK block in the global economy.

MS. GUTHRIE:  All right.  Let's do our MEET THE PRESS takeaway, what we think's going to make some news on the day ahead from our interview with Mitch Daniels.  Take a look.


GOV. DANIELS:  When asked about him as a candidate, I said, if Paul Ryan ran, I thought he would really enrich this debate in many of the ways I just talked about.  ...  I'm just telling you that I think that now or in the future this is an, an American who has a lot to offer and, and to whom I hope people will listen whether he's a candidate or not.

(End videotape)

MS. GUTHRIE:  Peggy, you speak Washington.  Is Mitch Daniels telling Paul Ryan, "Get in the race"?

MS. NOONAN:  I, I think he is being encouraging towards someone who deserves encouragement and who may get in the race.

MS. GUTHRIE:  And that's...

REP. FORD:  The real loser from that?

MS. GUTHRIE:  Yes?  Yes?

REP. FORD:  Is Mitt Romney.  Because he's not satisfied with Mitt Romney.  He would not have praised and gone on and on about "my friend Paul Ryan"--whom I like, I don't want to see him be president, but I like him--if he were satisfied with Romney.

MS. GUTHRIE:  All right.

And finally from Twitter, someone writes into MEET THE PRESS, "What's our alternative?  A Republican?  We're angry at Obama, but we're not so angry that we would vote Republican." And this is the point, Harold, where we saw Maxine Waters, the congresswoman at that town hall with a lot of angry constituents. These are supporters of the president.  She's saying, "We don't know what the strategy is." Why is it that so many supporters of President Obama consistently say, you know, "We don't know what he stands for"?

REP. FORD:  He's got to be clear, as Peggy said.  He's got to be bold, as E.J. said.  And as, I agree with my friend Maria, he's got to give some certainty to the markets.  And markets, again, don't be critical of Wall Street and big business in this country because, at the end of the day, those two forces are Main Street.  They create jobs.  You do those three things, things will turn around.  We get the 4 to 5 percent growth again, Americans feel a lot better, this debt issue becomes secondary, and America feels like America again.

MR. DIONNE:  What a good politician...


REP. FORD:  And Maxine Waters will come around.

MR. DIONNE:  ...because he agrees with all of us.


MS. BARTIROMO:  He also has a long-term...

REP. FORD:  Mitch Daniels didn't mention my name.

MS. BARTIROMO:  He also has a long-term issue.  We need to get our arms around spending more than we take in.

MS. GUTHRIE:  All right, we got to leave it there.  Roundtable, thank you.

And before we go, a programming note.  Next Sunday our Meet the Candidates series continues with the former governor of Utah, Republican presidential contender Jon Huntsman.  He'll join David Gregory live in studio for an exclusive interview.

But that's all for today.  We'll be back next week.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.