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Meet the Press transcript for September 18, 2011

Transcript of the September 18 broadcast featuring Bill Clinton, Mitch McConnell, Jennifer Granholm, Alex Castellanos, Mark  Halperin and Helene Cooper.

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  This Sunday, the hard sell.  The president wants a jobs bill.


PRES. BARACK OBAMA:  My question to Congress is, what on earth are we waiting for?

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  But Republicans are not on board.


SEN. MITCH McCONNELL (R-KY):  The truth is, the president has a problem that no amount of political strategizing can solve.  His economic policies simply haven't worked.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  And so another fight is coming over taxes and spending as poverty is on the rise and voters feel worse off.  How can Washington help? My lead newsmaker guest this morning, the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Then, from bad to worse.  Democrats openly gripe about the president and now question his re-election prospects.  Plus, an assessment of the Republican field challenging Mr. Obama.  And the seventh annual Clinton Global Initiative is set to kick off in New York.  This morning, a special interview with former President Bill Clinton.

Finally, our political roundtable.  The GOP debate, Romney vs. Perry fighting about Social Security.


GOV. RICK PERRY:  Kids know that paying into something that's not going to be there into the future is called a Ponzi scheme.  And I don't have a, you know, I don't make any apologies for calling that program what it is.

(End videotape)


FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:  Social Security is not a Ponzi scheme.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  The race for the White House and the politics of the economy. Joining us, former Democratic Governor of Michigan Jennifer Granholm, Republican strategist Alex Castellanos, White House correspondent for The New York Times Helene Cooper, and senior political analyst for Time magazine Mark Halperin.

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

MR. GREGORY:  Good morning.

After a week spent taking his case on the road and urging Congress to pass his jobs bill, tomorrow the president will lay out his plan to reduce the deficit. The New York Times reporting this morning that President Obama will call for a new minimum tax rate for millionaires and will dub the proposal the "Buffett Rule" in reference to billionaire Warren Buffett, who has advocated that the super rich should pay their fair share of taxes.  But what are the prospects now among Republicans?  What sort of plan is realistic in the midst of this election cycle?  Here with us for two live interviews this morning, the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, and former President of the United States Bill Clinton.

Leader McConnell, let me start with you and ask you whether this presidential plan on a millionaires' tax rate is something that you could support.

SEN. McCONNELL:  Well, you know, we had that vote, David, a couple of years ago when the Democrats basically owned the Congress.  They had overwhelming control of the Senate and the House, and it was defeated then.  So I think I would simply go back to what the president said last December in signing a two-year extension of the current tax rates.  It's a bad thing to do in the middle of an economic downturn.  And, of course, the economy, some would argue, is even worse now than it was when the president signed the extension of the current tax rates back in December.  I think what he said then still applies now.

MR. GREGORY:  What's unfair, though, about making richer Americans pay the same tax rates as middle income Americans?

SEN. McCONNELL:  Well, look, you know, if Warren Buffett would like to give up some of his benefits, we'd be happy to talk about it.  I mean, I, I think that means adjusting benefits is one of the ways that we're going to have to solve at least the Social Security and Medicare problems long term for the next generations.  With regard to his tax rate, if he's feeling guilty about it, I think he should send in a check.  But we don't want to stagnate this economy by raising taxes.  It won't just hit individuals, David.  You know, there are over 700,000 of our most successful small businesses pay taxes as individuals, not as corporations.  That represents 50 percent of small business income and 25 percent of the American workforce.  We've got a 9.1 percent unemployment rate.  Does anybody think that's a good idea other than the president?  There's bipartisan opposition to what the president is recommending already.

MR. GREGORY:  We're talking about a jobs bills the president wants, and then tomorrow he's going to talk about his larger plan for reducing the deficit because we know there's a super committee now in Washington that still has to make some of the hard choices that Congress couldn't make the last go around. So the real question, Leader, is whether the president has a partner in Republicans.  Now, House Speaker Boehner talked about the economy and both of these issues this week.  I want to play what he said on this idea of whether there's a partner.

(Videotape, Thursday)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH):  If we want to create a better environment for job creation, politicians can--of all stripes, can leave the, you know, my way or the highway philosophy behind.  ...  Now, tax increases, I think, are off the table.  And I don't think they're a viable option for the Joint Committee.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Isn't this classic?  Politicians talking out of both sides of their mouths?  We can't have an ultimatum, "my way or the highway," but we will not talk about tax increases as we go forward to try to bring this budget into balance over time.

SEN. McCONNELL:  Well, regretfully, it never gets talked about, but there actually are things we agree on.  We passed the Budget Control Act last August, this past August.  It will get us a trillion dollars in savings over 10 years.  We're going to get another minimum of a million--a trillion, $200 billion savings out of the Joint Committee.  We passed a patent bill that we think will help the economy.  This week we extended the Federal Aviation Administration, and the--we passed a highway bill.  If the president would send up these trade bills that have been sitting on his desk for two and a half years, ever since the day he was sworn in, we'll pass those.  There are things we can do together, David, and we're ready to do it.

MR. GREGORY:  But let's talk about the hard stuff because my question's about taxes.

SEN. McCONNELL:  Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY:  If the president is willing to deal on Medicare cuts, cuts to that program, are you willing to consider tax increase as part of a larger effort to reduce the deficit?

SEN. McCONNELL:  Well, we're certainly interested in tax reform.  I don't have a single member of my conference who doesn't think it's time to take a whole look at the tax code all over again.  It's been 25 years since President Reagan led us through this effort on a bipartisan basis back in the mid-'80s. It got the top rate from 70 percent down to 28 percent, was a big step in the right direction, and helped produce an economic boom for a fairly lengthy period of time.  So tax reform, we're certainly open to.  We're not opposed to more revenue.

The way you get more revenue is getting the economy going.  Government is a big winner when the economy is moving.  Right now, we've got--we've thrown a big wet blanket over the private sector economy.  We've borrowed too much, we've spent too much, we're dramatically overregulating every aspect of the private sector in our country.  And now we're threatening to raise taxes on top of it.  That's not going to get the economy moving.

MR. GREGORY:  Isn't the reality, Leader, that you laid out the political playbook for Republicans, and that's to make this president a one-term president.  You've laid that out before.  Is it your view that it's political malpractice to do business with the president on this point, and by taking any tax increases off the table, to either jump-start the economy or to deal with the deficit problem down the road, you say, "We're not going to give him anything now, the window is closed.  Let's have it out in the election."

SEN. McCONNELL:  No, the window's not closed.  I mean, the election is next year, in case anybody forgot.  It's not this year.  We're in the middle now of a process that I think is going to lead to a major bipartisan accomplishment, and that's the Joint Committee and its recommendations with regard to entitlement reform and possibly tax reform as well.  Only divided government can do those kinds of things, David.  Let me give you four good examples. President Reagan and Tip O'Neill fixed the Social Security system for a generation in the mid-'80s.  They did tax reform in the mid-'80s.  President Clinton and Republicans did welfare reform and President Clinton and the Republicans actually balanced the budget in the late '90s.  You know, divided government, that is when neither party controls the entire government, is the perfect time to do big stuff.  And we intend to tackle deficit and debt, once again, through the Joint Committee.  I'm hopeful the president will sign whatever we send him later this year.  That'll be an accomplishment that both sides can brag about.

MR. GREGORY:  I want to ask you about 2012.  Who do you think is the front-runner on the Republican side?

SEN. McCONNELL:  I have no idea.  I have my hands full with my job in the Senate.  It's interesting to watch; and, obviously, I'm going to be supporting the Republican nominee.  And I think if the election were very soon, we'd have an excellent chance of changing the occupant of the White House.  But, of course, the election is not this year, as I just indicated, it's next year.

MR. GREGORY:  I want to play a couple of moments from recent debates that had to do with, really, a challenge to the notion that the Republican Party is the party of life and supports a culture of life.  The first question from my colleague Brian Williams in the debate that had to do with the death penalty, to Rick Perry.  I'll show you that.

(Videotape, September 7, 2011)

MR. BRIAN WILLIAMS:  Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times.  Have you...

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  An awkward moment of applause.  And then during the CNN debate, Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul whether a healthy man who had opted not to get insurance should be allowed to live, frankly, if it required intensive care for a period of six months.  Here was the question.

(Videotape, Monday)

MR. WOLF BLITZER:  Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?


(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Does the audience response in both cases trouble you as a Republican?

SEN. McCONNELL:  Look, we have a lot of people running for president. There's going to be a lot of debates, a lot of things said, a lot of audience reactions.  I, I don't have any particular reaction to what's going on in the Republican campaign for president right now.  I've got a big job to do trying to help turn this country around and working with a president who I believe has been doing all of the wrong things.  I mean, if you look at the stimulus bill, David, what did we get out that?  Turtle tunnels and Solyndra. Solyndra.  Look, more money was lost on Solyndra than came to my state to, to fix roads and bridges out of the entire stimulus package last year, and now he's asking us to do it again.  One of my favorite sayings here in Kentucky, out in the rural areas, is there's no education the second kick of a mule.  I mean, we've been there, we've done that, and now he's asking us to do it again.  I'm trying to, to get him to go in a different direction.  I've got my hands full without commenting on all that's going on in the Republican campaigns for president.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, we're going to leave it there.  Leader McConnell, as always, thank you very much.

SEN. McCONNELL:  Thank you, David.

MR. GREGORY:  Joining me now live from New York, the 42nd president of the United States, Bill Clinton.

Mr. President, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.  Always nice to have you.

FMR. PRES. BILL CLINTON:  Thank you, David.

MR. GREGORY:  I want to talk about the Clinton Global Initiative, the seventh year, as it gets ready to kick off in New York, and there's really an interrelationship between the big focus you have at the conference and this debate we're having in Washington.

First, let me get your response, however, to Leader McConnell.  You warn now in this economic climate against cutting too much or raising taxes too much, either dealing with the long-term deficit or jump-starting the economy.  What do you think is possible now when you hear what you just heard?

FMR. PRES. CLINTON:  Well, I don't know.  You know, I'm not in Washington, and I don't have a feel for it.  I will say this, if you look at the independent economic analysis of the program the president outlined, a broad range of economists say that if it's adopted then, in 2012, GDP growth will be somewhere between 1.3 and 2 percent higher than it otherwise would be. Unemployment will drop a percent, maybe more than a percent lower than it otherwise would.  Looks to me like that's a good thing for America.

But I, I doubt that the, that the Republicans want it to happen in 2012, but it's the right thing to do.  This--the, the average family would get a $1500 tax cut.  That would stimulate consumption.  And the employers would get significant tax benefits to hire new people.  So I think--and there'd be $50 billion more put out through the existing government channels for infrastructure projects, mostly to fix roads of all kinds, and they would seed an infrastructure bank at $10 billion and then get private investors, which the Republicans normally like, and even foreign investors could invest in this so we could grow the economy.  So I thought it was a good plan that he outlined, and I still hope that quite a lot of it will pass because I think it would put Americans back to work.

MR. GREGORY:  But you've heard Democrats who are concerned about the impact on taxes, raising taxes in this economy.  That's the kind of sustenance that Republicans will feed on and say, "We just can't do it, and you've warned against it as well." Do you think there's too much emphasis on taxing the rich?

FMR. PRES. CLINTON:  Well, first of all, I believe that the--that as you look at how we're going to balance this budget and get ahold of the debt over the long run, clearly everyone who's looked at it, all the bipartisan commissions--the one that Senator Domenici and Alice Rivlin held, the extremely good work done by Alan Simpson and Erksine Bowles and their commission--they all say you've got to have spending cuts and revenue increases and economic growth if you ever want to bring the budget back into balance.  You have to have all three.  And the least harmful tax increases are the ones that Senator McConnell and people who agree with him hate the most, and that is restoring the tax levels that existed when I was president for those of us in high income groups--levels.  That's, that's the one that does the least harm.  I agree we ought to have corporate tax reform.  I agree that in this world, where there's a lot more competition for new manufacturing jobs, we've got to lower the rates and broaden the base.  I think that I would support Senator McConnell's call for a, a reform of the individual income tax system.  Right now we don't need to do what the Republicans want to do either, which is to cut a lot of government spending that is keeping the economy going.  Right now, what we need to do is put Americans back to work, get growth growing, and then bring this debt down.  And that's what I think.  I think they ought to be cooperating, but conflict seems to be better politics. Cooperation's better economics.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me ask you about your focus at, at the Clinton Global Initiative this year, because it is unemployment.  It's not just about the United States, but the world over.  Two hundred and five million people unemployed, 1.5 billion who are vulnerable, either underemployed or, or informally employed.  As you think about what has to be done, is there not a reality in this country and in the rest of the world that there are people who have benefitted from all the upsides of globalization, but there are more people becoming poor in this country and around the world because they're just getting the downside of it?

FMR. PRES. CLINTON:  Absolutely.  And if you look at that, clearly, what every country needs and what we need in thinking about the world is a strategy for shared benefits.  Look, if you go back to the--when America moved from farm to factory at the end of the 19th century, every time you change the economic paradigm, vast new fortunes are made and you create more jobs but it's hard on the middle class, and it's hard on people who are doing fine in the old economy.  That's basically happening worldwide.  There are too many people left out and left behind.  And what creates a structure of opportunity is when you have cooperation between government and the private sector to essentially make the market work for everybody.  That's what we need to do in America.  That's what we need to do in the world.  That's what America did to create the biggest middle class in history from the time Theodore Roosevelt through Franklin Roosevelt.  That's what works, and that's what has to be done today.  And it has to be done in America to make sure that we have an economy of shared prosperity and shared responsibility, and it's what we're trying to create in the world.  It's what I'm trying to do in the work I do in Haiti. And it's what the Clinton Global Initiative tries to do.

MR. GREGORY:  To talk about what tangible, out of this meeting, because this is a tangible meeting.  This is about direct results and not just conversation.  What do you get tangibly...


MR. GREGORY:  ...out of this that's about public/private partnership at time when the role of government is under fire, as you know?

FMR. PRES. CLINTON:  Well, there'll be--I, I think there'll be somewhere on the order of $5 billion or $6 billion worth of commitments over a multiyear period to do more to, for example, establish women businesses in developing countries where women have not been a full partner in the economy, as well as to send more young girls to school and give them access to the economy.

I think that there will be an enormous number of very good commitments to try to use the energy transformation the world is going through to create more jobs.  I heard what Senator McConnell said about that one project, but the hard truth is that in America, in spite of his hostility to it, green technology jobs have grown twice as fast as the overall job-generating capacity of the economy in the last eight years where all job growth has been anemic.  You're going to have a lot of that.

And in America, I think you'll see some interesting partnerships.  The AFL-CIO and some of the public employees? pension funds are looking at this and saying, "Hey, we're not earning all that much money in the stock market.  Maybe we should invest in an infrastructure bank.  Maybe we should invest in putting people back to work modernizing all these buildings and making them more efficient.  Because, if we do that, we know we're going to get our money back plus a return." I think you'll see some innovative things that will be a real beacon of what America could do and do in a hurry to put itself back to work if we move the money to where the jobs are.

MR. GREGORY:  It would be malpractice on my part, Mr. President, if I didn't ask you about politics.  You know a thing of two about political leadership and about how to get re-elected.  So I have to show you what your good pal and old political hand, James Carville, is saying about this president and his troubles.  I'll put it up on the screen.

"What should the White House do now?" he writes.  "One word comes to mind: Panic.

"This is what I would say to President Barack Obama:  The time has come to demand a plan of action that requires a complete change from the direction you are headed.  Number one, fire somebody--No, fire a lot of people.  This may be news to you but this is not going well."

What's going wrong for this president?

FMR. PRES. CLINTON:  Well, first of all, he became president just a few months after the financial crash.  Now, keep in mind, even before the financial crash, in the eight years before the financial crash, we had almost no new jobs.  Only 10 percent as many as we had when I was president.  Real family income was lower than it was the day I left office.  The economy was weak as could be.  Then you had this financial crash.  Historically these things take five years to get over.  And a year after the president took office, the final figures came in, and it turned out that the crash was even worse than anybody thought.  So we don't feel fixed yet.  And that's never good for an incumbent president.  And Americans, there's no American live, except to people who are old enough to remember the Great Depression, there are not many of them, who remember what it's like to go through a financial crisis, which normally takes four to five years to get over.  So he's got a very difficult hand to play.

But if you look at this proposal he's put forward to the American people and to the Congress, all the economic studies say that it will add basically 1.3 to 2 percent to GDP growth next year, it'll lower unemployment by 1 percent or more, it'll create a million to two million jobs.  I think he's got a plan now.  I think he's on the right track.  And I, I think the poll numbers don't mean much now.  Right now, he's out there running against himself and running up against the American people's disappointments and frustrations.  Look, you--this is an agonizing time for millions of Americans, not just the unemployed, but the people who aren't in the figures because they've gotten so discouraged they quit looking for work, or the people in part-time jobs that need full-time jobs to support their families.  So I, I, I think that this is all perfectly predictable and finally he's got a plan that he can push.  And if he pushes it, the American people can make their own judgments about how the Congress responds and who's responsible from here on in.

MR. GREGORY:  But should...

FMR. PRES. CLINTON:  But I think he's got a--he's finally got a plan that people can gravitate to.

MR. GREGORY:  Should he follow Mr. Carville's advice?

FMR. PRES. CLINTON:  No, because he's got a good economic plan.  I, I don't--you know, the president never does the country much good by panicking. I know what James meant.  James meant that we need a political turn.  But the truth is, what we need is to create a climate where the American people can think instead of just vote their frustrations.  And as long as he's got a specific plan out there and the American people can evaluate it compared to what the Republicans want and see what they do, I think that politically that's the best you can do.  He's been dealt a tough hand.  And the, the American people are not used to waiting five years for anything good to happen, but that's what we're facing.  And if you want to speed it up, we got to do things in the government.  So now we've got--we're going to have a real debate with real specifics.  I think that's encouraging.  He's going to come out with his long-term deficit reduction plan.  I think that's a good idea. But he's going to make clear that you can't balance the budget on the back of no growth.

MR. GREGORY:  Here...

FMR. PRES. CLINTON:  So we don't want big tax increases or spending cuts now.  We got to focus on the jobs first, then we can bring the debt down.

MR. GREGORY:  Here's a story from Bloomberg News on Friday.  I'll put it up on the screen, the headline.  "Clinton popularity prompts `Buyer's Remorse.' The most popular national political figure in America today is one who was rejected by her own party three years ago:  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"Nearly two-thirds of Americans hold a favorable view of her and one-third are suffering a form of buyer's remorse, saying the U.S. would be better off now if she had become president in 2008 instead of Barack Obama." As my son would say, "This is awkward."

FMR. PRES. CLINTON:  Well, first, I'm proud of her, and I think that the American people are right, that she's done a really fine job.  But she'd be the first to tell you that, you know, the further you get out of the line of fire, the more popular you're likely to be.  I don't think you can, you can take that seriously.  She, she's secretary of State, she's not president, he is.  We have an economic plan.  The best thing to do is to focus on putting the American people back to work and passing this plan.

MR. GREGORY:  To that point, if unemployment does not come down significantly from 9.1 percent, you know the history, can this president be re-elected?

FMR. PRES. CLINTON:  Yes, if people believe that he had a credible plan and the Republicans thwarted it, either because they were wrong or they just wanted to beat him.  That's the problem they're facing.  And I noticed a story in the press today saying that, that the House was going to offer to pass about 2 1/2 percent of what the president asked for, about 2 1/2 percent if the story in the paper's right.  And if that's true, they put themselves in a perilous position.  They are now opposing the payroll tax cuts that they have always been for.  They had to figure out why they were against that.  They're, they're against then for wanting to offset the cost of this with raising taxes on upper income people.  If they don't want to do that now, they should say, "This is an emergency, and we'll just pass the tax cuts right now." It is an emergency.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

FMR. PRES. CLINTON:  They didn't have any problem at all for seven and a half years funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan off budget and doubling the debt of the country.  And all of a sudden now they can't bear to spend a little money to give the average American a payroll tax cut and the average small business person a payroll tax incentive to hire new people.  I think that, you know, we need to clarify the choices here and settle down.  The fundamental problem, David, and that's why I like what I'm doing now in the Global Initiative, we have Republicans and Democrats and conservatives and liberals and people from all over the world.  We just try to do what works. And the fundamental problem that we've got in America today, I think, apart from the economics, is that conflict makes good politics.  Sharp ideology and all this stuff, that's been very successful politically, but it's lousy for economic policy making.  If you look at the places that are really successful in America today--look at Silicon Valley, look at the, the computer simulation boom in Orlando and lots of other examples--they--in those places, without exception, you have cooperation between a vibrant private sector and a smart government.  And cooperation is great for the economy, but it doesn't work as well politically.  So we've got this big connect--disconnect between politics and economics; and, until we close it, we're going to have a hard time coming back.

MR. GREGORY:  Mr. President, two quick ones before you go, if I can.  So who do you think is the Republican nominee?

FMR. PRES. CLINTON:  I don't know.  It's early.  Right now, it looks like Governor Perry and Governor Romney are doing very well, but, you know, you--I don't--I wouldn't count anything out.  This is going, likely, to be an unpredictable year because it's an unpredictable time.

MR. GREGORY:  Finally, the U.N. vote coming up, Palestinians and Israelis. As the Palestinians seek a vote in the U.N. for statehood, how counterproductive do you think this will be for their ultimate effort to get a Palestinian state, given, of course, that the United States will block their efforts in the Security Council?

FMR. PRES. CLINTON:  Well, everybody knows what's going to happen, and the United States has been very forthright.  And I think the Palestinians understand that they have to negotiate borders and securities with the Israelis.  They're just frustrated because they feel that they have provided a secure environment, they have reinforced cooperation with the Israelis, they have produced a growing economy on the West Bank, they have renounced violence.  And all the Arab countries except Syria have offered Israel a political, military, and security partnership for the future, including opposition to Iran's nuclear designs, if they create a Palestinian state; and there's been no progress.  So this is an act of frustration by the Palestinians.  And I think what we've all got to do is contain the negative fallout so when they get the vote, which will be extremely positive, since most of rest of the world believes the Israelis have made an error not being more forthcoming with the government, and the U.S. vetoes it, which we will do because we're committed to Israel's security and the idea that the two parties have to negotiate a solution.  We got to contain the fallout because, when this is over, the underlying reality won't change.  And we still believe there should be a Palestinian state, and we still believe there should be cooperation between Israel and her Arab neighbors.  So I don't know what's going to happen.  I just know that this is one of those deals where we're either going to go forward or fall back, and I favor going forward.  I don't think the fundamental realities have changed in 20 years.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  Mr. President, thank you, as always, and good luck with the CGI this week.

FMR. PRES. CLINTON:  Thanks, David.

MR. GREGORY:  And coming up, Republican White House hopefuls Rick Perry and Mitt Romney spar over Social Security.  The rest of the field struggles to break through.  Meanwhile, reports that Democrats are dissatisfied with President Obama as they suffer two stinging defeats in special elections this week.  How will it all affect his re-election chances?  Our roundtable weighs in:  former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, and Republican strategist Alex Castellanos; also here, Helene Cooper of The New York Times, and Time magazine's Mark Halperin.  After this brief commercial break.


MR. GREGORY:  And coming up, our roundtable weighs in.  And there's a lot to talk about in terms of the race for the White House.  Joining me, Alex Castellanos, former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, Helene Cooper of The New York Times, Mark Halperin of Time magazine.  They're here and ready to talk right after this brief commercial break.


MR. GREGORY:  We're back with our political roundtable.  Joining me now, Republican strategist Alex Castellanos; former Democratic Governor of Michigan and the author of "A Governor's Story:  The Fight for Jobs and America's Economic Future," Jennifer Granholm and her book, right there, side by side; White House correspondent for The New York Times Helene Cooper; and senior political analyst for Time magazine Mark Halperin.

Welcome to all of you.

So here we have an economic debate about jobs and the deficit in the middle of a presidential campaign.  Mark Halperin, a president in trouble because of the economy, and here come the Republicans with big, internal battles going on, but they're making their charge towards the nomination.  So the question that I asked former President Clinton, I think, is most germane, which is can this president be re-elected?  He said yes, after a pause, if, and there's a lot of ifs there.

MR. MARK HALPERIN:  There are.  I think he's still the front-runner to be re-elected until a Republican emerges clearly capable of taking him on.  The environment is horrible.  The current fight he's in over getting the economy back on track, reducing the deficit, I think he, he does not have a very strong hand.  Republicans don't like him or trust him, so getting a deal with them will be very difficult.  And they're not afraid of him.  They're not even afraid to take him on, as Mitch McConnell did earlier on the program, on issues where the public is on the president's side.  Even there, they're willing to stand and fight against him.

MR. GREGORY:  Look, Alex, the public is--more than half, in a New York Times poll, said job creation is the priority.  Forty-five percent in a Bloomberg poll blamed Republicans for what's not working in Washington.  The president's going to get ready and really campaign against them, just like you heard President Clinton say, if the Republicans are the ones standing in the way.

MR. ALEX CASTELLANOS:  Yes, he is, and I would advise him to do that. Because the president is running, I think, a very strange campaign for re-election.  He is running around the country, in fact declaring his own impotence, saying that, "I'm weak.  I can't get anything done in Washington. Mommy, mommy, please make these Republicans play fair."

And I think one of the reasons you're seeing him sink in the polls, the president's supposed to be the head of the political household.  He's supposed to be the parent.  He's supposed to be the one who settles everything down, gets things down.  And, in a perverse way, you know, the guy who was hope and change and larger than life is diminishing himself, and weakness is the one thing you can't tolerate when the world seems to be coming apart at the seams, when the economy's falling apart.

MR. GREGORY:  Look, Helene Cooper, you cover the White House.  You're reporting on this every day.  I talked to some Republicans and Democrats on the Hill this week who said, "This seems like more of a political exercise, this jobs bill, than anything else." They haven't dropped the bill, by the way.  They haven't introduced the legislation yet; and yet, former President Clinton is saying, "Well, no.  This is really the key.  He's got a good plan." The chances of it passing are not very high.

MS. HELENE COOPER:  And I think they know that the chances of it passing are not very high.  Although, one of the reasons they haven't dropped the jobs bill yet in Congress is because President Obama decided that he needed to go out and try to sell it first to the American public.

But his whole calculation is to hang this failed jobs bill around the Republicans, the Congressional Republicans, if they refuse to do something. They are calculating within the White House that voters are not going to tolerate Congress not doing anything.  So, in a lot of ways, he's saying, "Come on, give me your best shot.  But if you guys aren't going to do anything, I'm going to hang this around you during the presidential campaign." And that's part of the entire political calculus, which is why President Clinton, during your interview responded, yes, he can win again if the, you know, the public ends up, you know, blaming the Republicans for not doing anything on this.  And that's the whole White House calculation.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

Governor Granholm, look, I mean, people are getting poorer in America.  They feel worse off than they, than they did several years ago.  And Washington's not working.


MR. GREGORY:  Pretty tough to run a re-election campaign in those conditions.

FMR. GOV. GRANHOLM:  Well, I just happened to write a book about this where I ran in the state that had the highest unemployment rate in the country, very difficult, because the economy was changing in Michigan.  And, yet it's all about a choice, and I won by the largest margin--the largest number of votes ever cast for governor.  So he can do this.  It's got to be a clear contrast.

But here's what I think is really critical, David, and what Bill Clinton said, is that he's got to put stuff out there that work--that works.  And the nation's economy has changed because of the loss of the traditional middle class jobs.  It's not the same old solutions that'll work anymore.  We need to make sure what he's doing in this jobs act is tying all of his solutions to creation of jobs in America.  What the Republicans have done is say we should just have tax cuts.  But what, what are businesses doing with that extra money?  Global businesses are investing where they think they can increase their margins, and that's overseas.  So he's doing--he's adopting a plan that will create American jobs, both in the public and the private sector.  And that's exactly what he needs to trumpet.  And I just say, if the Republicans continue to say no to this reasonable plan, game on.

MR. CASTELLANOS:  There's a little bit of a problem.  The American people have televisions and the Internet, and they can see what's going on.  And they know what we know, that this plan was really never designed, A, to pass, or, B, to work.  This is not the American Jobs Act, this is the Obama Job Act. And so they see this.  And you look at surveys now and over 50 percent of the American people think this thing is not going to help the economy.  This is a--this is campaign 2012 not fixing the economy.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, and the question is whether he'll be ultimately vindicated if, you know, laying out--and also tapping into the frustration of Americans that they feel because they want to get something done.  Before we go to the Republicans, Mark Halperin, this Ron Suskind book making a lot of waves in Washington this weekend.  It's about to come out.  And it talks about a lot of rancor within the White House, that it's not a good place for women, that there's a lot of disputes.  And a lot of those disputes centering on, "What would Bill Clinton have done?" And we know what the undercurrents are like already with former Clinton advisers working in this administration. Here's one piece of the book that I'll put up on the screen as it applies to the economy.  "Over the past few months, [National Economic Council Chair Larry] Summers had said this, in a stage whisper, to [OMB Director Peter] Orszag and others as they left the morning economic briefings ...  `I mean it,' Summers stressed.  `We're home alone.  There's no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes.'"

MR. HALPERIN:  Well, what Governor Granholm said, I think, is the key to our current substantive problem, not political problem, which is the economy has changed, and we need a president who can direct the country, lead the country to some place and say, "Here's how we're going to have jobs in the new economy." There's no one better at that than Bill Clinton.  He was a master of it.  If president Obama has shown one weakness throughout his time in national life, it's that he has not been a great explainer-in-chief about the new economy and how his policies will actually make that come about.  It's the same on this jobs bill.  If you break it down, the individual elements are popular in, in most cases.  It doesn't have, though, the public support it would need and the congressional support it would need if the president could explain, "This is why this will work." He does not have the poll-show credibility on that point.

MR. GREGORY:  But, but, but, Helene, is there a broader vision for the economy that the president goes out and, and runs on?

MS. COOPER:  I think there is, and he's, he's, he's, he's put that out there with his, his jobs proposal.  And he said, "These are the things I think we need to do." But he's, he's very much hampered by the political reality of where we are right now.  That said, I wouldn't--I, I was out on the--not the campaign trail, that's a very--but I was out with him this week as he went to try to pass his jobs bill in Columbus, Ohio, and in Raleigh, North Carolina. And I was struck for the first time--I've been doing so many of these events with President Obama--for the first time you really saw the energy of the 2008 campaign.  You saw President--you saw Obama the candidate.  And I started because when--you know, when James Carville talks about panic, you're in the White House, and there is definitely a feeling of people, you know, that this--a lot is coming apart at the seams.  But, throughout all of this, President Obama himself seems supremely confident that, you know, he's got this.  And there's this level, I think, you know, some people can call it arrogance, some people can call it self-confidence, there's this--but there's this very much a level of like a feeling that he thinks that when it comes time to bring it home in 2012 he can do it.  And you saw a lot of that on the, on the trail this week.

MR. GREGORY:  What you're also seeing on the Republican side, Alex, is a special election.


MR. GREGORY:  Anthony Weiner's district that went to a Republican, and the back and forth, whether you can nationalize these results.  What do you take away from that?

MR. CASTELLANOS:  Interesting, two special elections.  The one in Nevada tells you something.  This was an election that a district that McCain won by 88 votes, a Republicans just won it by 20 percent.  Those are numbers like Virginia where--elected Republican governor, like in New Jersey where Chris Christie won, where Scott Brown won.  Again, that's kind of a seismic shift. And in New York, President Obama was a huge factor and so was the economy. About 40 percent of the voters there said that their vote was a vote to send Obama a message.  Some of them were Republicans, but some were Democrats trying to help their president and save their president and tell him he needs to get going on the economy.  But the big news here is that there's trouble now for Obama within his base.  His base, he has economic concerns, but now he also has foreign policy concerns.  Jewish voters are concerned that he is, I think, 15 to 45 more pro-Palestinian than he is pro-Israeli.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.  But Republicans have been talking...

MR. CASTELLANOS:  In that district.

MR. GREGORY:  ...about this Jewish vote going to Republicans for a long time. It never happened.  So that may be...(unintelligible).  I want to talk about Rick Perry, however.

MR. CASTELLANOS:  Until last--until this week.

MR. GREGORY:  Yeah, well, we'll see.

Rick Perry, you talked to him again for Time magazine, and I want to put an exchange up because this is interesting.  The dynamic between him and Romney plays out in, in part on this answer.  You asked, "Do you feel pressure to temper some of your rhetoric, like calling the Obama administration socialist?" He says, "No, I still believe they are socialist.  Their policies prove that almost daily.  Look, when all the answers emanate from Washington, D.C., one size fits all, whether it's education policy or whether it's healthcare policy, that is on its face, socialism." This is where the fight between him and Romney's going to play out.

MR. HALPERIN:  In the end, a lot of people think that Mitt Romney will be the nominee because there's just too much roughness, too many questions about Rick Perry.  When Rick Stengel and I interviewed him, our assumption was that he would use the opportunity to try to speak to that audience, mostly an establishment audience, and say, you know, "I have strong views, but, but I can be a little more reserved." He didn't back off at all.  He said "socialist administration," "Social Security is a Ponzi scheme." He is not going to back off.  And in Romney world, they look at that and say, "This is going to be even easier than we thought." The guy is doubling, tripling down on everything, stylistically as well.  That's the fight.  And if Rick Perry is right about the nature of the Republican electorate, that it is a tea party electorate, different than the establishment that's nominated in the past, he will win, even with rhetoric like that.

MR. GREGORY:  Quickly, democratic governor formerly of Michigan, how do you size up this race?

FMR. GOV. GRANHOLM:  I, I think this race is all going to be about Obama out there fighting for jobs and putting this in a global context.  Our economic competitors globally are out there poaching jobs.  We have got to get an active, smart government.  But an active government.  Not a big government. What he's proposing is to create jobs in America, and the fight is a really a war on jobs.  Charles Blow from New York Times had a column on this yesterday which was very on point.  It's not a global war on terror we should worry about; we need to worry about the war, globally, on jobs.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, we're going to take a break here, and we're going to come back with our Trends and Takeaways, a look at what was said here today, what to look for in the coming week.  Plus, what are the hot political stories trending this morning?  That's right after this break.


MR. GREGORY:  Our remaining moments with our roundtable now, and a key takeaway from our interview with President Bill Clinton.  My question about politics.


MR. GREGORY:  If unemployment does not come down significantly from 9.1 percent, you know the history, can this president be re-elected?

FMR. PRES. CLINTON:  Yes, if people believe that he had a credible plan and the Republicans thwarted it, either because they were wrong or they just wanted to beat him.  That's the problem they're facing.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  The problem that Republicans are facing, Alex, is that if they don't deal with the demand that the public has to do something, they could look like they stood in the way.

MR. CASTELLANOS:  They could.  And let me take a huge pause here, like President Clinton did, thinking about if there's a way Obama can get re-elected.  Yes, Republicans have that challenge.  And they have other challenges.  Rick Perry, for example, has bolted into the lead on the Republican side because he's demonstrated strength and certainty, and, and he's close to the Republican base.  In doing so, however, he has demonstrated, I think, a certain thoughtlessness and recklessness.  He's kind of like the guy who, who flattens his foot on the accelerator trying to park his car.  He is just a little too aggressive, and that is scaring some Republicans.  He's dropped from a 3 percent lead over President Obama to 7 points behind in some surveys now.  So the Republican field has its own challenges.

MR. GREGORY:  Want to go to our Trend Tracker, some of the big stories that we're following this morning.  And if you look at it, President Obama's tax plan out this morning that we got a reaction to.

Also, this United Nations showdown, Helene.  This is about the Palestinians bringing up a vote for statehood in the General Assembly.  We know the United States will block this.  But the fallout, is there concern in the administration that the region could blow up literally?

MS. COOPER:  There really is, and the concern is not only that the region could, could blow up; that--it's less so that.  It's more the position that this U.N. vote could--puts the United States in because the last thing that the Obama administration wants to do right now in the middle of the Arab Spring, when they've been talking about the aspirations of all of these--you know, the democratic aspirations throughout the Arab world, is to be seen as if they're standing in the way and vetoing a vote that's directly to the democratic aspirations of the Palestinian people.  That's one of the reasons why they're trying so hard, even still, to stop this.  At the risk--I'm going to try not to get too far into the weeds with this.  But they still think that there's some wiggle room this week where they could maybe stop a vote from going to the Security Council, which is where the U.S. would have to veto it.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  Thank you.

Before we take another quick break, you can read an excerpt of Governor Granholm's new book, "A Governor's Story:  The Fight for Jobs and America's Economic Future," on our website.  Also online, be sure to check out our weekly Press Pass as well.  Our conversation with Ambassador Nancy Brinker, founder and CEO of Susan G.  Komen for the Cure, it's on our blog,

We'll be right back after this commercial break.


MR. GREGORY:  Welcome back.  A quick programming note.  You can watch Ann Curry's exclusive interview with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; that will be later today on MSNBC at 12 Noon Eastern.

Another programming note, next week we are live from New York for a special edition of MEET THE PRESS, as NBC News kicks off its Education Nation Week. Our guests will include the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg.

And before we go, I wanted to mention a special anniversary this morning.  Our executive producer, Betsy Fischer, recently marked her 20th year with MEET THE PRESS, 20 years.  After she graduated from American University, Betsy came here and made this program her professional home.  The rest is history, and what history it has been.  She came of age, professionally, working with Tim Russert, of course, becoming his executive producer nine years ago, and then skillfully and sensitively managed a very delicate transition around here after Tim's death, working with Tom Brokaw and now me.  Betsy's love of politics, her judgment, and her journalistic excellence define her success. We couldn't ask for a better leader.  I speak for all of my colleagues at NBC, NBC News when I say congratulations, Bets.  And we've been keeping that from her all morning long.

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