MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, national security versus freedom of the press. The tension and the political fallout as the attorney general appears to backtrack. Republicans have their sights set on Attorney General Eric Holder. Did he level with Congress about whether he sought to criminalize the work of journalists?
MR. ERIC HOLDER (U.S. Attorney General): With regard to the potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material, that is not something that I have ever been involved and heard of or would think would be a wise policy.
GREGORY: Holder reportedly regrets the treatment of the press in recent leak investigations and tries to reach out. Has it worked? How should the administration balance the protection of secrets and their free flow of information? We’ll ask the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers about that; and the expected nomination of former Bush administration official Jim Comey as director of the FBI.
Also, the president back to business and trying to shake off scandals. Will the IRS investigations undermine work on job creation and immigration reform? With us, Democratic Senator from New York, Chuck Schumer.
And later, our political roundtable. What Michele Bachmann’s exit means for the Tea Party? Does the president have an economic plan for the second term? And a discussion of the new study this week that shows more and more women are the primary breadwinners in American families?
ANNOUNCER: From NBC News in Washington, the world’s longest running television program, this is MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
GREGORY: And good Sunday morning. News this weekend foreshadowing another bad week ahead for the IRS as an inspector general report is expected to reveal lavish and wasteful spending at IRS conferences around the country. But we want to start with another political distraction for the Obama administration. The Attorney General Eric Holder under fire for investigating leaks to the news media. He met with some members of the media this week and pledged to reassess some of the Justice Department guidelines. But he has now also become a political target for Republicans. Joining me now, former senior adviser to the Obama re-election campaign, now an NBC News senior analyst, David Axelrod; Republican Congressman from Tennessee, Marsha Blackburn; author of the new book The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies, Jonathan Alter; Republican strategist Ana Navarro; and columnist for The New York Times, Tom Friedman. Welcome to all of you. I wanted to start with our roundtable to kind of get everybody’s initial impressions here of the attorney general under fire. David Axelrod, my question is, is this a Holder problem or is it a President Obama problem at this juncture?
MR. DAVID AXELROD (Senior Adviser, Obama 2012 Re-Election Campaign/NBC News Senior Political Analyst/Director, Institute of Politics, The University of Chicago): Well, I think, you know, look, the-- the sport-- the civic sport of Washington, DC, is human sacrifice. So, when-- whenever there’s a controversy like this, the discussion starts about personalities, but there is a serious public policy issue underneath all of this that I think we have to resolve as a country which is there are things that you have to keep secret for the security of the people who are risking their lives out there. And for national security, how do you balance that against the public’s right to know, which is a very sacred principle as well. And that’s the discussion we should be having.
GREGORY: Well, and I think part of the discussion we have to be having is also a question of leadership if that’s what it is. There’s obviously going to be a political target for Holder, for Republicans and the media are going to target him, but I am focused, too, on the president and the idea of making no apologies and then appearing to make apologies about all of this. Here was the president middle of last month when he came out-- when the seizure of the AP phone records first surfaced. This is what he said.
(Videotape; May 16, 2013)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Leaks related to national security can put people at risk. They can put men and women in uniform that I’ve sent into the battlefield at risk.
GREGORY: And yet then within a week, he’s changing his tune. This is what he said then.
(Videotape; National Defense University, May 23, 2013)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable. Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs.
GREGORY: Tom Friedman, it was this-- a president and attorney general and do they think they overreached and maybe alienated people they thought are normally with them and that’s the news media?
MR. THOMAS FRIEDMAN (Columnist, New York Times): I think what makes this case so interesting, David, especially because there was, I think, overreach, maybe a little bit on both sides to some degree. Red lines were crossed. Clearly, red lines were crossed on the Department of Justice in effect criminalizing reporting. At the same time, you know, you look at that FOX report about North Korea and other people I respect a lot, Walter Pincus and Jack Shafer have made this point. And you do have to scratch your head about what was the news in there that justified leaks, in fact that we had a source in the Korean leadership? So, to me-- clearly the DOJ went too far. And you saw the president, I think, reflecting that. But I do think, I-- I-- I share David’s view. We got to talk about this because not everything that’s secret is news. What should be news is malfeasance, misbehavior, lying, but not the fact that we have a source in the North Korean leadership.
GREGORY: Congresswoman, do you think the attorney general needs to resign at this point?
REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN, Founding Member, Republican Women’s Policy Committee/Budget Committee): I think that the attorney general has definitely lost the trust of the American people. When you are out in my district, people feel betrayed by the conduct of this administration and this attorney general. And, you know, it is an issue of leadership. And just as David sets the standards and decorum for his department, in his classroom, the president sets that for the administration. And people are wanting answers. They don’t want excuses. They want accountability. They don’t want evasion and they have lost the trust. I think it will take a generation to rebuild trust in the federal government at this point.
GREGORY: Let me bring in Tom Brokaw who’s with us from New York, special correspondent for NBC News of course. And Tom, you’ve talked about this this week. You’ve covered and lived through a lot of these in Washington and you were struck and Tom Friedman just mentioned it by something that Walter Pincus wrote in The Washington Post. And I want to put a portion of-- up for some context here. He wrote, “When will journalists take responsibility for what they do without circling the wagons and shouting that the First Amendment is under attack? When First Amendment advocates say Rosen, meaning James Rosen of FOX News, was falsely characterized as a coconspirator, they do not understand the law. When others claim this investigation is intimidating a growing number of government sources, they don’t understand history.” Is this is a leadership issue, Tom, for the administration? Is this purely a-- a press versus government issue?
MR. TOM BROKAW (NBC News): Well, Walter Pincus is one of the most serious and senior investigative reporters in Washington, D.C. And just that statement touched off a moot court debate on the internet. I think it’s a combination of all those things. The problem with how you determine whether something is in the public’s right to know when it is classified in some fashion doesn’t have the law of physics attached to it. It’s very subjective. Everyone has a slightly different opinion. But in most cases when a-- a news organization like the Associated Press or Steve Rosen gets something like that then it begins a dialogue with the government. And the government-- the burden finally is on the case of all of them. Obviously, the administration is scrambling to clean all this up. But it seems to me that on this Sunday morning after last week that Eric Holder still is in the crosshairs here. What did he know, when did he know it and what did he do about it? And that will play out this week.
GREGORY: Do you think this is a real olive branch to news organizations, an off the record meeting to discuss changing the guidelines for how leak investigations are-- are pursued?
MR. BROKAW: Well, I think the burden is on both the government and the press to work out a more clearer set of guidelines, both for their exchanges with each other and then-- so that the public can be involved in this as well. As I said earlier, the-- the problem always is that the First Amendment, A, is not unconditional but at the same time, the burden is on the government. It can be very murky in terms of what the impact is. I’ve talked over the weekend to a very, very senior ex-intelligence official from United States government and he laughed. He said, look, this administration and all prior administrations have used classified material when it’s been to their political advantage. And he was astonished by the way that Eric Holder, the chief legal officer of the United States, has recused himself in the Associated Press case. So we still have a way to go here, David.
GREGORY: Do you think-- you’ve seen these kinds of investigations before meaning the Judiciary Investigation Committee, investigation of the attorney general, this could be elongated. You have this morning on The New York Times government officials talking off the record or on background about his effectiveness. Does he stay in the job?
MR. BROKAW: Boy, I think it’s tough to see how he does at this case but it’s up to the president. That-- what we’re seeing in The New York Times today is that familiar Washington two-step. Officially, getting the endorsement of people like David Axelrod and-- and the spokesman for the president but at the same time, there’s another part of that two-step that is going on which people are saying it would be better if he left. It would be better for the president to get this cleaned up. He has become obviously the lightning rod for a lot of the criticism just on this panel and certainly in Republican circle. From a political point of view, one of the ways that you can measure the impact of all of this and the fairness of it is think if this had happened in the Bush administration with John Ashcroft as the attorney general. You know full well that the Democrats and the left would be going very hard after them with these issues that are in play.
GREGORY: Tom Brokaw, thank you very much. We’re going to be seeing you coming up on Thursday nights this summer on the Military Channel, your special series of iconic moments in history appropriately called The Brokaw Files. Tom, thanks very much for spending a couple of minutes with us this morning. I appreciate it.
MR. BROKAW: Thanks, David. Always a pleasure.
GREGORY: Thank you. David, reaction to that from what you heard from Tom on-- on Holder’s future here.
MR. AXELROD: Well, let me react to what you said first and the two clips of the president. I think that those two issues live together. I think you can at once say we have to protect these classified matters as Tom said that are-- have grave consequences and-- and cannot be in the public domain. But on the other hand, we have to find a set of rules and laws…
GREGORY: It's varied on one hand and on the other hand. Jonathan Alter, can you imagine a Republican president doing what this president did? I mean, they came out there and they said, no apologies. These are serious crimes. We’re going to investigate them. And then a few days later they said, you know what, maybe we overreached here.
MR. JONATHAN ALTER (NBC Political Analyst/Author, The Center Holds: Obama And His Enemies): I can’t imagine Mitt Romney doing that because he wrote a whole book called No Apologies. So some people in that party have a policy of not apologizing. But what’s missing here, David, is a distinction between investigating leaks, finding out who was betraying secrets and prosecuting journalists. These are two different matters.
MR. ALTER: And in the past, presidents have been very frustrated by leaks. Ronald Reagan said, “I’ve had it up to my keister with leaks. And this-- this debate goes all the way back to the Adams administration when they put in the Alien and Sedition Acts, right. So this is not a new debate. What’s new and what’s different is this idea of criminalizing the reporting part of it.
MR. AXELROD: Jon…
MR. ALTER: Look, in World War II, before the battle of midway, the Chicago Tribune released the U.S. battle plan and the Roosevelt administration decided we’re not going to prosecute the Tribune for that in the middle of the war.
MR. AXELROD: Who’s been prosecuted-- what journalists-- I-- I was very uncomfortable and I think it was wrong to use the term co-conspirator…
MR. ALTER: Well, that’s what I'm talking about.
MR. AXELROD: …that’s a legal term of our…
MR. ALTER: That’s what I'm talking about.
MR. AXELROD: But who was-- what journalist was prosecuted? I totally agree with you.
MR. ALTER: Yeah.
MR. AXELROD: You shouldn’t criminalize reporting. But the fact is no journalist was prosecuted.
MR. ALTER: No, but if you have the FBI saying that the journalist is a, quote, “co-conspirator,” and using that kind of language, that is starting to move down that road.
GREGORY: Let me get a quick comment here and then move on.
MR. FRIEDMAN: The administration went too far…
REP. BLACKBURN: Clearly.
MR. FRIEDMAN: …and I think that’s very clear.
MR. FRIEDMAN: And I think the president recognized that a week later. But I think it’ll be a shame if all this comes down to just Eric Holder and we don’t use this as a real teaching moment.
GREGORY: Right, well we are going to…
MS. ANA NAVARRO (Republican Strategist): But when somebody goes too far, there also needs to be consequences. And you know what, we saw this week was this CYAG meeting. Cover your AG. Because-- and at the same time, you see that there’s news media that chooses not to go. I’ve never been to an off the record meeting that’s announced previously. And it seems like an oxymoron to go discuss the freedom of the press and the First Amendment in a closed door off the record meeting.
GREGORY: Right. We’ll kind of-- come back to this. Let me move on now to the Democratic Senator from New York, Chuck Schumer. Senator, welcome back.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (Chairman, Democratic Policy Committee/Judiciary Committee/Finance Committee): Hi.
GREGORY: Let me start…
SEN. SCHUMER: Glad to be with you.
GREGORY: Let me star on this issue of the future of the attorney general. We have seen whether it’s The Huffington Post or Jonathan Turley, the law professor, writing in USA Today that he should resign. Senator Roberts saying he should resign. Tom Brokaw saying this morning, “Hard to see how he could hold on to his job under some of this pressure.” Do you think the attorney general keeps his job and should he?
SEN. SCHUMER: Look, I haven't-- there’ve been all kinds of accusations, but I haven’t seen anything that would prevent him from continuing to do his job. Let’s not forget, for about two years many of our hard right colleagues spent a lot of their time on Fast and Furious and I’m sure there were calls for Holder to step down. He continued to do his job well. And then the IG exonerated him on Fast and Furious. So, obviously, if there’s wrongdoing, we should find out who did it. But the president has confidence in Holder and I believe he’s going to stay.
GREGORY: And you have confidence.
SEN. SCHUMER: Listen, yes. The-- as I said, I haven’t seen a single accusation that prevents him from doing his job.
GREGORY: But what about whether he committed perjury in front of the House Committee when he said that he’s never been involved in the potential prosecution of a journalist and yet his own affidavit names James Rosen of FOX News as a co-conspirator for getting classified information.
SEN. SCHUMER: Yeah. No, I don’t think there’s perjury. There’s been no prosecution or attempted prosecution of any journalist so there can’t be perjury. The warrant is a per-- is a goal-- is a tool to get information. And I don’t think the two were contradictory. I don’t think any good criminal lawyer would say there’s a scintilla of evidence of perjury.
GREGORY: If there is a long investigation by the judiciary committee into the attorney general, is that a good thing for the country?
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, look, we should investigate and find out what went wrong particularly with the IRS situation. I think the other two on the media shield, we need some new laws. That’s for sure. And we need an independent arbiter as your panel pointed out. It’s one big mess. And you cannot have the Justice Department be both the player and the umpire. And so the bill that Lindsey Graham and I have proposed, where there’d be an independent arbiter, a judge to balance the two very real needs of freedom of the press and preventing leaks as the way to go.
GREGORY: But this doesn’t really cover…
SEN. SCHUMER: In terms of the IRS…
GREGORY: …national security issues?
SEN. SCHUMER: Yeah, sorry.
GREGORY: This doesn’t cover national security issues, does it, the shield law?
SEN. SCHUMER: Yes, it-- yes, it does.
GREGORY: How so?
SEN. SCHUMER: Obviously it provides more leeway on national security as it should than other kinds of leaks. But in three ways. First, if the administration is saying it’s national security, you have an independent arbiter determine if it is. Second they can determine the ambit. So for instance, in the AP, the judge could say, well, maybe getting the phone records of four of these AP reporters has to do with national security. But the other 16 don’t. And finally and maybe most importantly, it requires there be notice to the news organization. So AP or FOX News would get notice and could go to court and try and suppress it.
GREGORY: Let me ask you about the IRS. New information coming out about lavish spending at some of these conferences. There’s even a new video that’s been produced that IRS employees getting together preparing line dances for conferences. They’re spending a lot of money on producing these kinds of videos. A lot of companies do this. But we’re talking about government employees. And in the context of everything that’s happening, this has got to be the last thing the IRS needs.
SEN. SCHUMER: Absolutely. And the new director, the acting director of the IRS said he would put an end to it. It’s outrageous. Any kind of wasteful spending like this must be put down, particularly at these times.
GREGORY: You know, when-- you’re talking about the IRS investigations and the targeted con-- conservative groups. You lobbied the IRS to look into these groups. You didn’t specify conservative groups. But there are those on the right who say that you and others effectively did, that you were really targeting conservative groups not to be given that tax-exempt status.
SEN. SCHUMER: No, that’s absolutely not true. First, our letter came a year and a half after they’d started targeting the Tea Party. So it couldn’t have caused it, that’s for sure. But second, look what our letter says. It says form a bright line and determine how much political activity a so-called social welfare organization can do before they lose their tax-exempt status. Our letter is actually the solution. I would propose that we say-- we pass legislation that more than 10 percent-- if more than 10 percent of your activity is political activity, you lose your tax exemption. And if you had a bright line it wouldn’t be up to some bureaucrat to make their own determination, perhaps wrongly based on political needs. It would be the same standard for all groups, liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican. That’s what we need and our letter is actually the solution to the problem.
GREGORY: You’re obviously focused on immigration reform. You’re part of the Gang of Eight. This is a question about the president’s agenda in light of all of these scandals and controversies that the administration faces. I talked to one of Bager-- Boehner’s top guys this week who said, “Look, if senators think they can get a lot of Republican votes in the Senate and that’s automatically going to transfer to getting it passed in the House, they’re wrong. It’s going to be a long slog in the House as well.”
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, first, we’re going to put immigration on the floor starting on June 10. I predict it will pass the Senate by July 4th. We’re hoping to get 70 votes, up to 70 votes, which means a lot of Republicans and we’re willing to entertain amendments that don’t damage the core principles of the bill but improve the bill just as we did in committee. We came out of the committee very strong. Our Gang of Eight stuck together and we picked up Orrin Hatch’s vote as well. But let me say this about in general. These-- these so-called scandals have not diverted us one iota. You have on the Gang of Eight, three of the people who’ve been most critical of the president on some of these other issues. But I think the eight of us realize how important this is. More important probably than any of these scandals, to the future of America, for job growth, for the middle class, for straightening out this system. And it hasn’t interfered one iota. We are moving forward because we believe in a bipartisan way. This is so vital for America and we’ll have a good bill. Senator-- Congressman Boehner is in a box. There are about 60 or 70 of his people who are against any immigration reform. But at the same time, he knows that the Republican Party will be consigned to a minority party for a generation if they’re anti-immigration. So my advice to him is, let’s see what happens in the Senate bill. If we can come out of the Senate with close to a majority of the Republican senators and almost every Democrat, that may change the equation in the House and the thinking in the House among mainstream Republicans. And they may want to go for our bill.
GREGORY: Do you have a warning for Republicans who want to make the IRS and personal issues affecting the President the main theme of 2014?
SEN. SCHUMER: My warning to the Republicans is look at 1998. All they did is spend their time on the impeachment of Bill Clinton. And for the first time the incumbent president didn’t lose seats in the House. Certainly there should be investigations and of the IRS, which I think is the really serious one of these three. The others are serious, but we haven’t seen wrong doing. The press shield area is a mess and you need independent legislation as I mentioned. But if they go too far, they will lose. And the-- the looking into these investigations is no substitute for focusing on the economy, jobs and the middle class. And Republicans are right to want to look into these things. But if they emphasize it too much they’re going to pay a price at the polls in 2014.
GREGORY: All right. Senator Schumer, thank you very much as always.
SEN. SCHUMER: Nice to talk to you.
GREGORY: All right. Coming up here more with our roundtable, in just a moment we’re going to talk about a new study out this week that more and more women are becoming the primary breadwinners in American families. Some equal pay issues with that as well but also the impact. First though, we’re going to talk to the House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers of Michigan and get his reaction to the leak story.
Plus, the alarming report this week that Chinese hackers gained access to the nation’s highly classified defense systems. That’s coming up after this short break.
GREGORY: Coming up here, more from our roundtable. They’re still here, we’ll get to that in just a moment. But first, staying on the topic of national security news this week that the president plans to nominate former Bush administration official Jim Comey as the new director of the FBI. After the break, reaction from a man at one time considered to be a candidate for that job himself, former FBI agent, now Chair of the House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers. Coming up, right after this.
GREGORY: We’re back. Joining me now Republican Congressman from Michigan, Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers. Congressman, welcome back.
REP. ROGERS: Thanks for having me, David.
GREGORY: Let me ask you about these intelligence leaks, the news leaks and the investigations. You have been among the most outspoken saying some of the national security leaks have been very damaging to the country. In light of the-- the AP story and the seizure of those telephone records, at the time the attorney general defended what he did. This is what he said last month.
(Videotape; May 14, 2013)
MR. HOLDER: I have to say that this is among if not the most serious, it is within-- in the top two or three most serious leaks that I’ve ever seen. It put the American people at risk.
GREGORY: That was his defense for what he was doing. Now they’re talking about changing the guidelines and trying to offer an olive branch to the press. Are you concerned that the attorney general has folded on this?
REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI/Chair, House Intelligence Committee): Well, listen, as a former FBI agent and certainly as the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, keeping classified information secret is incredibly important for our national security. However, I think that dragnet that they threw out over those AP reporters was more than an overreach. And it really is not very good investigative work. As a matter of fact, you normally want to target-- you narrow that list down and then you might be able to go for someone’s phone records or-- or e-mails. But that dragnet approach I argue is a little bit dangerous when you-- when you talk about First Amendment protections for a free press. And same with the co-conspirator issue that-- that just defied logic to me. And it almost seemed like someone wanted to get around the notion that they had the shield protection law. If you look at the law and you look at what they did, it would have been exempted from that. So, there’s, I think, a lot of questions that need to be answered there. But at the same time, we do need to remember that these leaks are serious. And for those folks who are leaking information that may lead to the death of sources or people who are cooperating with United States, or men and women who are serving in combat, there should be consequences for that.
GREGORY: Do you think the pre-- that the attorney general leveled with Congress, with the Judiciary Committee, with your colleagues, when he said that he was never involved in the potential prosecution of a journalist given that he named as a co-conspirator, a journalist in the affidavit?
REP. ROGERS: Certainly the timing is I-- I-- I think problematic for the attorney general and I think that has to be thoroughly investigated. I think you need to lay out exactly what the testimony was, exactly the timeline when he signed and checked off that they should move forward with going after, naming him as a co-conspirator, and then find out what-- what reconciled that with his testimony. I think all of that needs to be done. But this pattern of deception administration wide is starting to become concerning. You know, when you look at the IRS and you look at the-- the Benghazi issue and you look at the AP issue, I think the trouble here isn’t even the individual specific scandals, it’s this broader notion that there’s a pattern of this activity. I think that’s what cons-- concerns people because what you don’t want to have happened is Americans lose faith and trust in their institutions. That, I think, is what’s at risk here and we better get this back in the box so Americans can rest…
GREGORY: Do you…
REP. ROGERS: …easy at night knowing we’re working for them and not against them.
GREGORY: Bottom line, do you think the attorney general should keep his job? Should he resign?
REP. ROGERS: Yeah. I think that’s going to be up to him. I think how he handles this moving forward is critically important. I-- I’ve argued from the beginning they just need to lay it out on the table. Americans are more forgiving if you tell the truth upfront. This notion that you’re going to leak some things out and hold some things back, and this has been administration wide on these issues, I think has been damaging to them. It’s certainly damaging to the public trust. So, again, I think it’s going to be up to him. There should be a thorough investigation. Those facts should go where they go and including if that takes it back beyond the attorney general to make that determination. One of the things we’ve got to do here is restore that faith and that trust. That only happens when the truth comes out and people who-- who have gone beyond the pale of the law are held accountable.
GREGORY: Let me ask you more broadly about national security. We’re talking about it in the context of leaking that kind of information. The president talking recently about the state of the war on terror and how that should be rethought as we move forward both in his administration and for future presidents. He, in his speech, recently declared an end to the war. Susan Rice, who appeared on this program in September, said al Qaeda was decimated. We know there is a trove of information that was recovered when Osama bin Laden was killed from that compound. Not all of those-- that information has been released. You’ve had a chance to review some of it. Do you agree with the assessment that the administration has made about the strength or lack of-- of al Qaeda?
REP. ROGERS: I think it is-- we are in a wrong direction here if we think we can pull back and let this thing go. You have over 500 schools have been closed in Afghanistan, majority of girl schools. Last week, the Taliban poisoned 74 girls trying to go to school. The Boko Haram in-- in-- in Northern Africa area have killed some 3000 people. These were Islamic extremists. That’s revamping up. We have the problem in Mali. You have the problem in Algiers. You have the problem in Libya. All of these with al Qaeda extremists. In May of this year, thousand people were killed in extremist violence in Iraq. You have 90,000-plus people killed in Syria over what is a growing sectarian problem, which is now becoming a regional problem. Saying that this thing is over and that we can all just rest easy and start to change the policy to try to address this, I think, is dangerous to our national security. And I don’t think it fits the facts on the ground. Whatever-- whatever our politics are, Republican or Democrat, conservative, liberal, doesn’t matter when you’re talking about national security. You find that the way you find it.
GREGORY: Do you want to see more of those documents released?
REP. ROGERS: We’re going over the documents again, I think the week-- the first week of June. My committee is going over and having folks up again for a review of the documents. And we-- we should take a look at what can be released and what should be released. I think there is some value in some of that information retaining its classifications for national security reasons. I don’t think it’s the majority of it. And I think we ought to seriously give-- give consideration to allowing more than the 17 documents that were selectively picked by the administration to be made public. I think that doesn’t probably tell the whole story.
GREGORY: A couple of quick ones. Jim Comey now is going to be announced, the former Bush administration official, for Director of the FBI. You were once up for that job. People pushing for you. What do you think of it?
REP. ROGERS: Listen, I think it was a very safe, logical choice for them. He has a good reputation for his prosecutorial work in-- in New York. And I-- I think that’s good. You know, I was fortunate enough to have the-- the working men and women of the FBI, who were advocating for-- for that selection and that I am humbled by that experience. The bureau is going to be a very key player moving forward. What we have already seen that extremism and violent jihad has approached the shores of the United States in ways we haven’t seen before. That means that the FBI is front and center of that fight. And we have got some problems to work through this notion of an intelligence-based investigation versus a criminal-based investigation and what that means in the confines of the law. Getting this right will really mean the difference between life and death for Americans.
REP. ROGERS: And that challenge, I think, has to be met here in the-- in the months ahead.
GREGORY: Case in point, this Florida shooting of the-- the apparent friend of Tsarnaev, the Boston bomber who was killed by authorities, shot by the FBI. Should there be an investigation into the circumstances here as it turned out that he was unarmed after he was shot and there was a-- a talk of a scuffle there? Are you concerned about this?
REP. ROGERS: Oh, absolutely. Every shooting is investigated and should be investigated. We should get to the bottom of it. You know, I-- I always-- there used to be a saying when I was in the FBI, it used to be, better to be judged by 12 than carried by six. You ask these individuals to go into these meetings and some of these folks are violent. And it’s their job to come home at night as well as to enforce the law. And if they’re going to make an error, I hope they do it for their families. Now, that does not give them the excuse to go beyond the bounds of the law. So that’s what that investigation should determine. We need to-- to make sure that-- that it was all done in accordance to the law. But again, Monday morning quarterbacking, if someone appears to be violent, knowing that this individual has violent extremist ties, I think that-- that agent has to make a decision in an absolutely fraction of a second. And we all should-- should consider that also in the course of that investigation.
GREGORY: All right. Chairman Rogers, we are going to leave it there. More to discuss. But we are out of time this morning. Thank you, as always.
REP. ROGERS: Hey, thanks for having me, David.
GREGORY: All right. Back to our roundtable now. I want to widen some of this out. Talk more about politics in the president’s second term. And David Axelrod, you wanted to make an additional point about these IRS investigations. To what extent they are undermining what the president wants to do? What his big ideas are here are for a second term?
MR. AXELROD: First of all, the point I want to make on the IRS, you heard Senator Schumer say these 501(c)(4)s, these are the groups that the IRS was looking at, should have a standard that no more than 10 percent of their activities be involved in politics. But someone has to make that judgment. I think there’s something peculiar about all that. I think the whole 501(c)(4) concept has to be looked at groups applying for tax exemption and also to keep their donors secret. That’s the benefit they get from that.How do you decide what is political and what is not political? You are inviting this kind of-- of problem. So I think that ought to be looked at in terms of the issue itself…
GREGORY: But hold on, Congresswoman, respond to that point…
REP. BLACKBURN: Yeah, well, let’s say the problem with this is, they were going after the conservative groups and not after liberal groups. So there was a targeting mechanism that was built into that and then individuals, conservative individuals that seem to be going after. It is the IRS using their position for political intimidation. And, David, I can’t imagine…
MR. AXELROD: That’s a-- but-- well, that-- Congresswoman, I think it was an idiotic thing to do. But I will point you to the inspector general’s report that said it wasn’t done for a political reason. They were flooded with applications. Eighty percent of it came from…
MS. NAVARRO: You know what, David, that’s-- that’s very hard to swallow. When you’re a Republican, it’s very hard to swallow that it wasn’t done for political reasons when the words that were chosen as target words were conservative, Tea Party...
MR. AXELROD: Let me say this-- let me-- I’ve said this many times. If…
MS. NAVARRO: When you have-- when you have a group that was supporting president, you know, the 2007 group freedom watch that we saw yesterday come out where donors were getting audited and targeted as well, not just the groups. This is…
MR. AXELROD: There were-- there were groups…
MS. NAVARRO: It’s very hard. You know, it’s very easy for your side to say it isn’t political.
REP. BLACKBURN: Plus…
MR. AXELROD: It’s not me.
MS. NAVARRO: It’s very hard for our side to accept it when we’re the ones being targeted.
MR. AXELROD: I-- it’s not me. It was-- it was inspector general…
REP. BLACKBURN: Well, and this was part of a two-year…
MR. AXELROD: It was the inspector general. He said-- I’ve said this many times. If there was somebody political involved in this, it never would have happened because it was the stupidest thing you could imagine. I-- I-- I-- I don’t think that it was necessary and I don’t think it was smart.
REP. BLACKBURN: Well, Chairman Camp has worked on this for two years. I mean, we’ve been getting this anecdotal evidence for two years. And they would say no, no, no. You look at what Lois Lerner did. And you know that there had to be an-- an agenda, a 157 visits by Commissioner Shulman to the White House?
GREGORY: Let me ask this question. Hold on. Let me-- let me get in here for a second.
MR. AXELROD: How many did Commissioner Shulman (unintelligible) when Bush visit the White House-- when Bush was president…
GREGORY: All right.
MR. AXELROD: …how many times did he visit them?
REP. BLACKBURN: I don’t think it was 157 times.
GREGORY: All right. Let me get in here for a second. David-- David and Congresswoman, let me get in here for a second. This is-- Tom Friedman, this is part of a bigger issue that the president faces which is where is his agenda left in all this. I want to show something. You wrote about how to get a job this week which had an incredible response. Here’s a poll from Quinnipiac this past week that shows the following. What should be a higher priority, investigating Benghazi and AP at 22 percent? People said, relatively low. The economy and unemployment was at 73 percent. Clearly a much higher priority as you look at that poll. The president is coming under fire for losing his scope effectively in a second term to rebuild America, to-- to usher an economic restoration.
MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, that’s the tragedy for him. It’s a tragedy for all of us because we are in the middle, I would argue, David, of a huge inflection where two-- two points I would make about this moment. One is that the-- the thing that sustained the American middle class for 50 years was something called a high wage middle skill job. There is no such thing anymore as a high wage middle skill job. There’s only going to be a high wage high skill job. So every decent middle class job today is actually being pulled in three directions at once. It’s being pulled higher. It takes more skill to have. It’s being pulled out. More software, robots, automation and people around the world can compete for it. And it’s being pulled down. It’s being outsourced to history, to the past, being made obsolete faster. You know, I-- I had experience just a couple weeks ago. I-- I had to deal with Hertz for actually a pretty complicated change in reservation. And for the first time, I did the entire transaction with Hertz without any human interaction. And this was a complicated interaction I had. And it really made a point of that. So what’s been happening to blue collar jobs, that kind of pacman of automation outsourcing and digitization is now coming after white collar jobs as well. This requires a huge strategic response for the country.
GREGORY: Jonathan Alter, you write about this in-- in The Center Holds in your new book. And you write this about the president’s economic legacy and-- and how it impacts him politically. “It was impossible,” you write, “to predict how Obama’s agenda would fare, fights over the debt ceiling and a hundred other issues laid down the road. He would almost certainly be judged during and after leaving office on whether the American economy finally shook off its torpor and began to thrive again. If the economy revived more quickly, Democrats would likely do better than expected in the 2014 mid-terms which would allow the president to make more progress on his agenda. If economic growth stalled, he would be seen as more of a lame duck.” How does he seem now?
MR. ALTER: Well, this-- this is how presidents are judged. Right now, the economy seems to be moving forward. There’s been some good economic news. You can imagine that if Mitt Romney had been elected, and this is one of the reasons the stakes were so big, David, that right now everybody would be saying, well, the economy is doing better again because we slashed taxes on the wealthy, we slashed regulations, we slashed programs for the poor. So this last election, I argue in the book, was hugely, pivotally important. It would-- if-- if Romney had won, it would have validated the entire conservative argument for what to do about the economy. And it would have discredited things like infrastructure, which is critical for getting these folks that Tom was talking about employed and education. Because the-- the Ryan plan and other things slashed funding for education, medical and scientific research that creates a lot of jobs. So what the president I think needs to do is to get back on the beam with the big themes that got him re-elected. The first person-- first president re-elected-- re-elected twice with more than 51 percent of the vote since Dwight Eisenhower in half a century. So the-- the point is that he has to focus on college completion. Because if they don’t get a college degree, they are road kill in the global economy. And he has to focus on rebuilding America and bringing the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, who was a big infrastructure man, built the railroads; Teddy Roosevelt, big infrastructure man; bring the Republican Party back to its roots, come together on a big infrastructure plan.
GREGORY: But Ana you’re sitting in, you know, looking at-- looking at the Democrats from where you sit, you’re seeing Democrats who are critical of the president. Saying, look, the second term is getting away from you. Things you’ve tried, you’ve made a big stand on, like guns and such have not panned out. You got to get back to jobs.
MS. NAVARRO: Look, I think absolutely he’s got to focus on jobs. And we all have to focus on jobs. The entire government has to. But we’ve got to walk and chew gum at the same time. We cannot look the other way when you’ve got things like government overreach. When you’ve got the politicization of important government agencies like the IRS, you just cannot look the other way. That’s what makes our country great and what makes our democracy so strong that there are checks and balances. And that we do have mechanisms to be able to detect when there are these abuses of power. If there are abuses of power going on, they need to be addressed.
GREGORY: But, David, can-- can the president, will he be seen as-- as somebody who-- who fixed the economy?
MR. AXELROD: First of all, I agree with everything everybody just said. I think Tom’s right. The challenge of our time, the president would say that if he was sitting here is how do you push back on these economic forces that technology and globalization have created, that have marginalized so many people in…
GREGORY: And government.
MR. AXELROD: …in their jobs.
GREGORY: What the role government hasin it?
MR. AXELROD: And so-- and so that’s why he has a budget and he’s pushing for early childhood education, more college entry, research and development, infrastructure, all of these things are important to do exactly what Tom’s talking about. And that’s what-- I do think that he-- he needs to focus on those things as the fall comes and we have this big budget…
MR. AXELROD: …debate. Because that is really like what’s at stake.
GREGORY: But, Congresswoman, here you have this question with Michele Bachmann retiring this week of the-- the staying power of the Tea Party, which is going to argue, that sentiment is that government cannot be the driver of all these things. That that’s…
REP. BLACKBURN: Well, and government can’t be the driver, but the biggest impediment to jobs growth in this country right now is the implementation of Obamacare. The 29-1/2 hours, getting under 50 employees, health care becoming too expensive to afford. This program is too expensive to afford. It was to be 800 billion, now it’s 2.6 trillion dollars, come on. You know, people are not hiring. When you look at the labor force participation rate, being where it was in Jimmy Carter’s day, and you look at people coming out of college in your 18- to 24-year-old group, where you’re at 50 percent unemp-- I mean, 13 percent unemployment? You’ve got problems.
GREGORY: Let me take a break here. I want to come back. I want to check in with Tom Friedman about what’s roiling in the Middle East right now and what the president can do about it. But then I want to widen our discussion too to talk about a new issue that came up this week. More and more women, obviously it’s been happening for more than just this week, becoming primary breadwinners in their families. How is that impacting families around the country and this discussion about the work-life balance that a lot of men are talking about as well. We’ll come back with our roundtable right after this.
GREGORY: News this Sunday morning in The New York Times, the sectarian violence that is spreading from Syria throughout the Middle East yet a thousand people killed in Iraq in May alone. And we’re back with our roundtable. Tom Friedman, you’ve been traveling to the region including Turkey. It makes it very difficult to see how the United States could have a positive impact on this region at the moment.
MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, David, we’re seeing the breakdown basically of almost a century old political order going back to the end of World War I when the Middle East was divided up into these states. It was done so under something called the Sykes-Picot Agreement, a British-French, somewhat Russian…
GREGORY: I’ve got a copy of that.
MR. FRIEDMAN: You got that. They are back there. We could bring that up. Well, I’d like to say what we’re seeing now is the new Sykes-Picot II, the do-it-yourself version.
MR. FRIEDMAN: So this will not be done by imperial powers from the top down. It will be done by the people from the bottom up. I think the issue the president is struggling with-- we’re struggling with as a country is so what to do about Syria. And I’ve just come from Syria and-- and Yemen and-- and Turkey. And I would say, you know, what I seem to see in the debate here is no one saying what is the outcome we want. And people say, well, the rebels are being hurt, you know, and Lord knows that resonates with me. But we’ve got to say what is the outcome we want. Do we want to preserve a multiethnic-- produce a multiethnic unified democratic Syria? If that is the case, then you don’t just have to arm the opposition. Because once the opposition topples Assad, there’s two more civil wars coming. There’ll be one between Sunnis and Alawites, Assad’s community. And then there’ll be one between Sunnis and Sunnis between secular and Islamists. So if you want to arm the rebels to topple this regime to produce a unified Syria, you’re going to have to have international peacekeepers on the ground. If your goal is just to bloody Iran and Syria, our opponents, just feed the rebels arms. Let them defeat Hezbollah, all these bad guys. Then the issue is going to have to be you’re going to be-- be ready for the breakup of Syria. And, lastly, if you’re arming the rebels just in order to create a stalemate so they’ll negotiate, ultimately there’s no deal Assad and the rebels are going to reach that, again, won’t require international peacekeeping force to somehow maintain. So, please do not will the ends without willing the means. We tried that in Iraq. It didn’t end well.
GREGORY: It’s-- it’s daunting. And this is a head-snapping segue. But I want to-- I want to segue from that to something that is back home here and a big issue for a lot of families, something that caught our attention this week from the Pew Research Center. Look at the percentage of the mothers as the sole or primary breadwinner in the families. Back in 1960, if you look at this chart, 10.8 percent. And now here we are in 2011. It’s at 40.4 percent. Ana, there’s a lot of discussion in-- within marriages now that’s a bottom line discussion about who should be working based on who’s earning.
MS. NAVARRO: And I think that’s where the discussion should be, amongst marriages. There has been an evolution in the American family. You know-- and I think what we have to be as a society is accepting of what couples decide to do for themselves. There are some people who want to lean in, there are some people who want to lean back and be on a rocking chair drinking a mint julep. Whatever works for every couple is what we should respect…
GREGORY: Enough about your Sunday afternoon.
MS. NAVARRO: When I say in my house that I want to be a kept woman, the answer I get back is well, I want to be a kept man. So, you know, that’s not working-- it’s not working in my house. But I think it’s-- and what Chairman Rogers was just saying I think makes a very important point. He talked about what girls go through in so many other parts of the world to be able to go to school. Here we encourage girls and women to reach their potential. And when they do, when we do, then we want to do something about it. But I think, you know-- I think, we-- women that work need to be not judgmental of women who don’t. I think men who are mister moms need to be accepted by those who are the alpha male breadwinners. So, I think it’s got to be whatever works-- different folks…
GREGORY: Marsha, we’ve talked about this before around this table. First though, what is the impact of this as a data point that now you have, you know, research backing up what so many of us know, which is that this is a new reality?
REP. BLACKBURN: Yeah. And it was so interesting. The day this came out, I was doing a roundtable discussion at the Middle Tennessee Girl Scout Center with 20 affinity group leaders from corporations in Tennessee. And one of the things that everybody seemed to agree on was that as we go to an economy where your-- your intellectual property, your thoughts, all of that is geared-- we’re an information economy. Women excel in that area. And you’re going to see more women move forward as breadwinners. But it is up to companies to make certain that there is a level playing field and that women are not shortchanged as they try to get on that ladder to success.
GREGORY: It’s interesting too…
MS. NAVARRO: (Unintelligible) up to companies. I would love to see our party have many more of you and of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
REP. BLACKBURN: Yeah.
MS. NAVARRO: We as Republicans have got to do a much better job to attract women.
REP. BLACKBURN: In the political arena, you’re exactly right.
MS. NAVARRO: It will make us a much better party.
REP. BLACKBURN: I’d say we need to be the great opportunity party. That’s what GOP needs.
MR. AXELROD: How about pay equity laws to ensure that women are treated fairly in the workplace?
REP. BLACKBURN: I think that more important than that it is making certain that women are recognized by those companies. You know, I’ve always said I wasn’t-- I didn’t want to be given a job because I was a female. I wanted it because I was the most well-qualified person for the job. And making certain that companies are going to move forward in that vein, that is what women want.
GREGORY: What about…
REP. BLACKBURN: They don’t want the decisions made in Washington. They want to be able to have the power and the control and the ability to make those decisions themselves.
GREGORY: Jonathan, isn’t it interesting too, it's also the question of what men want? And I was struck as Bloomberg Businessweek has this-- this cover story out Working Dads Want Family Time, Too talking about Lean Out. And that is something that-- it talks about younger men, certainly true in my life, in my generation, who are coming out of college if they are or starting on their work life and understanding that they want things in their careers. They understand that their partner is going to want those things, too. So they look at responsibility at the home including child rearingly-- child rearing as a total partnership.
MR. ALTER: Absolutely. And, you know, there is a line in that story that I think all of us have reflected on. It’s an old line. But that nobody-- no man, in particular, on his deathbed says, I wish I’d spent more time at the office.
MR. ALTER: You know, people from both sexes want that family time. They should get that family time. Marissa Mayer, the head of Yahoo!, set off a huge debate recently when she said that there should be less flex time, more people coming into the office. And then when it turned out she had childcare for herself there, you had a huge national debate. But both men and women should get that flex time that technology now allows. But what I'm worried about with men is that they’re not graduating from college. Women now make up more than 25 percent of college graduates-- greater than men are women. I’m confusing the statistics there a little bit.
MS. NAVARRO: But I’m worried what…
MR. ALTER: Women are-- women are dominating.
MR. ALTER: Women are dominating…
MR. AXELROD: You’re-- you’re right…
MR. AXELROD: …speak to what Tom was talking about because men have borne disproportionately the impact of the changing economy in terms of job opportunities. But as a-- as a parent, I must say, I spent an awful lot of time when I was young on my career, traveling. My-- I have-- my wife was home. My kid-- I have one sick child, three kids. And the greatest regret of my life is that I-- I didn’t apportion more time to my family in those early years. And you can’t get that time back. So to the extent…
MS. NAVARRO: Yeah.
MR. AXELROD: …people are making those decisions differently now, I think it’s a really positive thing.
GREGORY: Got to get a break in here. We’ll come back in just a moment.
GREGORY: We’re out of time for today. I want to thank all my guests. Before we go, you can see this week’s PRESS Pass conversation with Kite Runner author Khaled Hosseini. He’s out with a new book And the Mountains Echoed. Fascinating conversation. I-- I love his books. That’s at MeetThePressNBC.com. Also, on our website, you could see an excerpt of Jonathan Alter’s new book, The Center Holds. We’ve been talking about it this morning--Obama and His Enemies. Jonathan will be sticking around for a take-two conversation. That will be up on our website this afternoon. But that’s all for today. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.