MR. DAVID GREGORY: Our issues and people this Sunday, the breaking news this morning.
Days of Rage: The deadly clashes in Egypt and President Obama’s response.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets.
GREGORY: The key question for the U.S. Should we cut off aid to Egypt? I’ll ask two key senators on the Armed Services Committee.
Race and Justice: A controversial crime-fighting tool, stop-and-frisk, is rejected by a federal judge. New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly joins me to defend it, while Trayvon Martin’s mother gives me her views in an exclusive live interview.
Ready to Run?: Hillary Clinton returns to the stage. What’s her strategy and what’s the GOP plan of attack for 2016? I’ll get insights and analysis from our special roundtable.
I’m David Gregory. All that ahead on MEET THE PRESS this Sunday morning, August 18th.
ANNOUNCER: From NBC News in Washington, the world’s longest running television program, this is MEET THE PRESS.
GREGORY: Straight to the breaking news. A heavy security presence in Cairo, Egypt, this morning as military rulers are trying to strengthen their control over a country descending into chaos. So how much worse will it get in Egypt? Hundreds are dead, nearly forty Christian churches have been torched and looted and supporters of the ousted President Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood are vowing to fight back. We will have a live report coming up from Cairo in just a moment. But back here in Washington, the critical question is, are U.S. taxpayers, in effect, footing the bill for the continuing violence? Joining me now two members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Republican Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Senators, welcome to you both. Senator Ayotte, straight to you. Several weeks ago this question came up, should we keep the U.S. aid flowing to Egypt? You said, yes, then. Have you had a change of heart now?
SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R-NH/Armed Services Committee): Well, I think David, in light of recent actions-- we tried to give some time to the administration. They obviously tried to get the military government to not crack down in a violent way, to restore democracy, to move to elections, to release political prisoners. They have ignored all of those requests. And now with the recent violent crackdown, I do not see how we can continue aid. I believe it must be suspended because, unfortunately, I think the military has gotten the impression, and particularly with what the president not asking for aid to be suspended when he spoke this week, that whatever they do, we will continue our aid. So, I do support suspending aid at this time.
GREGORY: So, you talk about the change of heart because you have given them a little bit of room and they haven’t responded. The Egyptian military closely allied with the U.S. government, but they are not listening. They are not sort of honoring that alliance.
SEN. AYOTTE: Right.
GREGORY: What leverage does it give the U.S. to take the step you are advocating this morning?
SEN. AYOTTE: Well, I think at this point, they are obviously getting the impression that no matter what they do, our aid will continue, so we do need to exercise our influence by saying we’re going to follow the law, particularly in light of your recent violent crackdowns, suspend aid until you restore democracy, until you move to an inclusive process for elections, and obviously, a new constitution that allows all people to have a say in it, to respect people’s rights. I think that’s what we have to do at this point. We’ve tried to go down a road to get them to do the right thing. They’re not doing that. And also, I would say this, David, the best way to marginalize the Muslim Brotherhood is in the ballot box, not through arrests and killing people. In fact, you’re just going to encourage them to martyrdom, rather than just defeating them at the ballot box. They blew it when they were governing. And if we go to a-- a democratic process, if the military does that, rather than taking this over in the power grab they’re involved in right now…
SEN. AYOTTE: …then the Muslim Brotherhood can be defeated through the democratic process.
GREGORY: So, Senator Jack Reed, you know, this is summertime, you’re in Rhode Island, you’ve got to be hearing from your constituents who are saying, “Hey, Senator, why are we sending a billion and a half dollars to Egypt every year, most of that to the military, when they’re crushing protestors in the street. It’s just another strong man after Mubarak that seems to be quelling dissent.” Senator Rand Paul tweeted this week, “President Obama says he ‘deplores violence in Egypt,’ but U.S. foreign aid continues to help pay for it.” Senator Ted Cruz says, “We’re encouraging the violence by our aid.” Have you had a change of heart with regard to keeping the aid flowing to Egypt?
SEN. JACK REED (D-RI/Armed Services Committee): Well, the acts of the last few days by the Egyptian military are completely unconscionable and I do believe we have to change our aid. I think also we have to have included in the legislation a national security waiver because we have to give the president not only the responsibility to deal with the government of Egypt, but also the flexibility. And we have to recognize, this is-- this is not just for the moment, this is a long-term process. One of the obvious facts of a transition from authoritarian government to democracy, it takes a long time and it’s not a straight line. And so, we have to have a policy that expresses our outrage really at the military, but also gives the president the tools to, we hope, engage them. And then moreover, we have to engage the regional powers, the Saudis, the Qataris, because they provide significant aid and they also provide economic aid. And finally we have to recognize longer term that there are other strategic issues here including the safety and stability of Israel and transit of the canal. So I do believe that we can send a strong signal by suspending aid. The president has already suspended the F-16 transfers. I believe he’ll-- he suspended Bright Star, our military exercise. But if we do, and I think we should, pass legislation; it has to have a waiver so that the president can be able to engage or attempt to engage the Egyptian government.
GREGORY: Well, here’s how the president is engaging. He came out during his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, spoke on Thursday. This is part of what he said.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We’ve sustained our commitment to Egypt and its people but while we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back.
GREGORY: So ratchets up the pressure, Senator Ayotte, but is the president more or less on the sidelines or do you think he’s been doing the right thing?
SEN. AYOTTE: Well, I agreed with his suspension of the military exercise, obviously his condemnation of the violence but I think he fell short when he really didn’t come out and call out the real question on the suspension of aid because that is the real influence that we have with Egypt. So I thought that he could have been stronger on that coming very clearly against the violence and saying we’re going to suspend aid until you restore democracy.
GREGORY: So the question for me, Senator Reed, is what is it that the United States really wants to stand up for right now? I go back to the Mubarak-- at the end of the Mubarak era in 2011. At the time, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on this program talking about what it is the administration wanted then. Watch her.
(Videotape; January 30, 2011)
MS. HILLARY CLINTON (Secretary of State): I want the Egyptian people to have the chance to chart a new future. It needs to be an orderly, peaceful transition to real democracy, not faux democracy like the elections we saw in Iran two years ago, where you have one election 30 years ago and then the people just keep staying in power and become less and less responsive to their people.
GREGORY: Do we want real democracy as Secretary Clinton said, Senator Reed, or above all, do we want to preserve our national security interests, which even the military doing what we don’t want right now is still preserving, peace in the Sinai desert, access to the Suez Canal, keeping peace in the region, helping us with counter terror?
SEN. REED: I think in the long term, both those objectives are not only necessary but are closely related. We have to have a true democracy in Egypt over the long term. We recall, as you do, that the-- the latest entry into the government by the Egyptian military was sponsored by people who were rejecting Morsi, a huge number of people coming out, a popular movement. Unfortunately, I think what the military has done has taken this as a license to try to install the old national security regime that-- that was featured under Mubarak. We need both in the long run. We can’t ignore the security considerations of the Sinai, of the Suez Canal transit, but in the long term, the success of the region is going to be based upon a fully functioning democracy. We’ve seen that take place but we also understand it takes an awfully long time. It’s not a straight-line process. It’s zigging and zagging. It’s-- we have to be engaged but we have to recognize, too, that in the long term, our values but also our self-interests and the-- the interests of the Egyptian people is in a true democracy.
GREGORY: All right. Senator Jack Reed, Senator Kelly Ayotte, more on the Washington debate. Thank you both very much for your time this morning.
SEN. REED: Thank you.
GREGORY: Let me bring in Richard Engel, our chief foreign correspondent. He’s on the ground in Cairo, as well as senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Robin Wright, an expert, of course, on the Middle East for some broader context here. Richard, your reporting has been compelling from the-- the chaotic streets of Cairo. Given your sense of things, where is this headed?
MR. RICHARD ENGEL (Chief Foreign Correspondent, NBC News): Well, I think a lot of it depends on what happens in Washington. And just to continue on the debate you were just having, people in this country and around the region think it would be an absolutely disastrous idea for the United States to cut off aid, that Washington has real interest with the Egyptian military, preferential access to the Suez Canal, military over flights, and not to mention the Camp David Accords. The Camp David Accords brokered by the United States, the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt says in principle that U.S. aid should be commensurate between Israel and-- from Washington to Israel and from Washington to Egypt. And does the United States really want to be the first country that breaks the spirit of the Camp David Accords? Whether it is breaking the law or not, it would certainly be seen here as breaking the spirit. Also, does Washington really want to back the Muslim Brotherhood? At the end of the day, we can talk about process and our love for the democratic process, but now that is broken and the choice is binary. Do we want to be with the military or do we want to be with the Brotherhood? Israel doesn’t think we should drop the military and side with the Brotherhood. Neither does Saudi Arabia, neither does Jordan, neither does the UAE. I don’t know why Washington would want to go against so many of its key allies.
GREGORY: So Robin Wright, one of the things that’s striking as I talk to people is this question why can’t the U.S. do more, why can’t we have greater influence here? It’s a tough balancing act, the president seems to not be able to do a whole lot more but stay on the sidelines at the moment.
MS. ROBIN WRIGHT (Senior Fellow, The Woodrow Wilson Center): Well, the administration has very limited choices right now in part because the Egyptian military has really thumbed its nose at the United States. The U.S. made a good faith effort to sending out a senior State Department official to try to negotiate both with the Muslim Brotherhood officials as well as with the military to see if there was some kind of common ground, and they laid out a gradual process that would allow the roadmap, the political roadmap to continue. And the military decided against cooperating, and-- and we’ve seen the violence ever since. The challenge now is, as you look forward, what happens and what role does the United States play? And the U.S. hopes that the roadmap will continue apace with the new constitution announced next week, then referral to a broad cross section of political players and then elections for president and parliament in the next six months. But the problem is, is that political process even credible? So, the issue is not just for the United States what-- what it does with the military and its interaction at this point, it’s also what role does it play if the political transition doesn’t prove to be credible because it is exclusive rather than inclusive.
GREGORY: Richard Engel, again to the streets and to what could be next in Cairo and-- and outside the city. Looting of Christian churches getting a lot of attention here, the fact that Ayman al Zawahiri’s brother was arrested, a fear that if the military wants disband the Muslim Brotherhood as Mubarak did back in the ‘80s, you could see jihadis flowing into Egypt. You could have an insurgency. This is the kind of stuff that could disintegrate Egypt and that the West would have to pay a great deal of attention to.
MR. ENGEL: I think we’re already seeing the signs of an insurgency. We have several million disgruntled, disaffected people. They have weapons and they have legitimate cause, and they are at times using those weapons. This is not a one-sided crackdown by the way. The protesters, the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood have been doing the overwhelming part of the dying, and most of them have been the victims, probably 800, 900 so far. But around a hundred members of the Egyptian security forces have also been killed. Churches have been attacked, government buildings have been attacked. So, I think we are already seeing a low-grade insurgency that is probably going to last some time. If the United States weighs in, Egyptians feel and cuts off aid, Egyptians feel it would only be making the insurgency worse by telling the people, telling the Muslim Brotherhood that it has an ally in Washington and to keep up the fight. That is certainly the Egyptian government’s line.
GREGORY: Robin Wright, final word on what’s next, and how you see it.
MS. WRIGHT: Well, the problem is that it’s not just a division inside Egypt. It’s a division across the Arab world, across the Middle East. You find Saudi Arabia, which has taken a very strong stand on the side of the military, whereas Qatar has been supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is something that’s going to change the face of the region. It’s gutted democracy in the most important Arab country. It affects the democratic experiment in the last block of countries to hold out against the democratic tide. You can’t underestimate the profound nature of what’s happened in Egypt and its consequences for the whole region, our interests, but the world’s interests as well.
GREGORY: I was struck by talking to a White House official this week who said, you know, there has to be humility on the part of the U.S. to try to influence democratic change in a region with centuries of religious and sectarian scores to settle. That’s where we find ourselves. Robin Wright, Richard Engel, who will continue his reporting there in Egypt, thank you both very much.
Coming up here, we’re going to talk about race and justice. A federal judge rejects New York City’s controversial program called stop-and-frisk. Next, my interview with New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly and his answer to the question of whether people will lose their lives if the program is abandoned. Plus, the mother of Trayvon Martin is here live. She’ll share her thoughts on the larger debate about racial profiling. Then, Newt Gingrich says we’re a long way away from Hillary Clinton’s quote; "Coronation." Is he right? Our political roundtable on 2016 politics. Later, our MEET THE PRESS archives. The beginning of a dream, what Martin Luther King, Jr. said on this very program just three days before he made history? We’re back in one minute.
GREGORY: And we are back. Now to race, justice and how police departments around the country protect us from crime. The stop-and-frisk tactics used by the New York City Police Department are in jeopardy after a federal judge found them in violation of the constitutional rights of minorities. The city is appealing the ruling. While the judge didn’t exquisitely referenced Trayvon Martin in her opinion, she referred to the Florida case and the racial disparities in our criminal justice system and policing systems. I’m going to talk to Trayvon mother-- Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and family lawyer Benjamin Crump in just a moment. But first, I spoke to New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly on Friday.
(Videotape; MEET THE PRESS)
GREGORY: Commissioner, welcome to MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RAY KELLY (Police Commissioner, New York City): Good to be with you, David.
GREGORY: I wanted to have you on to have this conversation not just about stop-and-frisk in New York but about a broader conversation about policing in America, and indeed, this debate about racial profiling that has grown more intense because of the Trayvon Martin case as well. So, case in point, you’ve got Judge Scheindlin in New York ruling that the practice of stop-and-frisk in New York has violated the constitutional rights of minorities and here’s part of her opinion. “The City’s highest officials,” she writes, “Have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner. In their zeal to defend a policy they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of targeting the right people is racially discriminatory and therefore violates the United States constitution.” You strongly disagree. Why?
MR. KELLY: I do strongly disagree. This case cries out for appeal. The judge has indicted the entire New York City Police Department, 35,000 officers, of racial profiling on the flimsiest of evidence. You look at the expert for the plaintiff and what he found. He looked at 4.4 million stops over a 10-year period. He found six percent of them were, in his opinion, unjustified. In the trial itself, there were four plaintiffs, there were 12 witnesses, there were 19 stops. The judge herself found that 10 of the stops met constitutional muster. There were some problems with the-- with the frisks, the judge pointed out. But this is very small evidence, a small amount of information to have such a sweeping finding. We believe that…
MR. KELLY: …that we believe that they used a faulty formula to do that.
GREGORY: Let me go back to those numbers that you referenced and put it up on the screen for our audience and go through some of those numbers and where some of the criticism is; 4.4 million stops, six percent arrests, six percent summons; 88 percent no further law enforcement action. And then look at who is getting targeted--52 percent black, 31 Hispanic-- percent Hispanic, 10 percent white. I first want to focus on that 88 percent number of people not doing anything wrong. Does that not say to you as the commissioner of the police, we’re doing too much of this?
MR. KELLY: No. It-- it doesn’t mean that people are not doing anything wrong. If you look at the statute, it says reasonable suspicion that individuals may be about to commit, or committing or have committed a crime. One of the classic examples that we use is somebody going down the street trying door handles, or a group of young men that the bodega owner fears going to strong arm rob them when they-- when they leave their store. So, there’s a preventive aspect to this. And people say innocent. That-- that’s not the appropriate word. What we use here…
GREGORY: Well, there’s no further law enforcement action.
MR. KELLY: What we use here-- well, what we use here is a standard of reasonable suspicion.
MR. KELLY: If you have probable cause, then you have enough to affect an arrest or issue a summons. This, by the way, is the standard law enforcement practice throughout America. It’s certainly not just going forward in-- in New York. And as far as your second set of numbers are concerned, we think the reasonable criteria is a criteria that was developed or presented to us by the Rand Corporation, an institution that’s been in existence for 100 years, that says that to take a look at racial profiling and determine if it happens, you should first look at the universe of people who are identified by a perpet-- by the victims of a crime. The perpetrators identified by the-- by the victims of violent crime. What does that universe look like? And in New York, that universe certainly comports to the racial makeup of the people who are being stopped.
GREGORY: What’s-- well, let me just understand what you’re saying. Basically there are more African-Americans and Hispanics who are committing crimes in New York City. Therefore, it justifies a higher percentage of those being stopped on the suspicion that they might do something wrong, that they might commit a criminal act, because the judge says that’s faulty reasoning. She’s saying you can’t take an innocent population and say that that’s the same as a-- a criminal population.
MR. KELLY: Well, obviously, we-- we don’t agree with the judge and that’s why we think and appeal it should go forward here. I mean these are fundamental questions that we’re looking at. Again, we think the Rand Corporation is reasonable criteria. We have, by the way-- I think it’s interesting to point out, we have the most diverse police department probably in the world.
GREGORY: Can you understand the point of view of those African-Americans like Charles Blow, who writes a column in The New York Times that says in part this, equating it to the Trayvon Martin case, as I mentioned at outset. He writes, "The idea of universal suspicion without individual evidence is what Americans find abhorrent and what black men in America must constantly fight. It is pervasive in policing policies like stop-and-frisk, and in this case, neighborhood watch,” talking about the Trayvon Martin case, "Regardless of the collateral damage done to the majority of innocents. It’s like burning down a house to rid it of mice."
MR. KELLY: No, absolutely, we are sensitive to this. Nobody wants to be stopped. At the very least, you’re-- you’re giving up your-- your time. But we need some-- some balance here. The-- the stark reality is that violence is happening disproportionately in minority communities, and that, unfortunately, is in big cities throughout America. We have record low numbers of murders in New York City, record low numbers of shootings. We’re doing something right to save lives. Last year, as I said, we had a record low in murders. This year we’re running 30 percent below that. Let me give you another figure. In the last 11 years, 11 full years of the Bloomberg administration, there were 7363 fewer murders in New York City than there were in the preceding 11 years. Now, if history is any guide, those lives saved are largely the lives of young men of color. So, we’re doing something…
GREGORY: So, if we lose stop-and-frisk…
MR. KELLY: But I understand-- I understand the sensitivity of it. And people-- and I’ve dealt with this in many community meetings. It’s something that is very important in the African-American community. I would also submit, though, that the Trayvon Martin case is a little bit different. These are two civilians. It clearly was a tragedy but it didn’t involve sworn police officers.
GREGORY: The mayor has been outspoken on this issue, and I wonder if you agree as a police commissioner. You have a debate for who’s going to be the next mayor of New York City. If a program like stop-and-frisk is abandoned, will people die?
MR. KELLY: Well, I think no question about it, violent crime will go up. And again, this is not a program. This is something that’s integral to policing. This happens throughout America in any police jurisdiction. You have to do it. Officers have to have the right of inquiry if they see some suspicious behavior. So, I can assure you, this is not just a New York City issue; it’s an issue throughout America. And this case has to be appealed, in my judgment, because it will be taken as a template and have significant impact in policing throughout America.
GREGORY: Commissioner Kelly, we appreciate your time very much.
MR. KELLY: Thank you, David.
GREGORY: I want to welcome to the program now the mother of Trayvon Martin, Sybrina Fulton, and her attorney, Benjamin Crump. Also joining me here in the studio is President and CEO of the NAACP, Ben Jealous. Thank you for all of you joining me this morning. Ben, let me start with you. I underlined Commissioner Kelly saying the stark reality is that violence is happening disproportionately in minority communities with stop-and-frisk, lives are saved in those communities.
MR. BEN JEALOUS (President and CEO, NAACP): So, this is the problem. You know we just heard a man who aspires to be the head of the Department of Homeland Security say that his officers have to violate the U.S. Constitution to make us safer. That should send chills down the spine of everyone in this country.
GREGORY: He would take issue that there’s any violation going on, that’s why they’re appealing the decision, right?
MR. JEALOUS: Well, that’s what a federal judge just found. All right that’s-- and that, in our country, it’s the federal judge, not the chief, who gets to-- to decide what the U.S. Constitution says. Now, the problem is that the fall in-- in homicides happened prior to 2002, and the increase in stop-and-frisk happened after 2002. So, there’s no relationship between these two. We are now at a point where you have more stop-and-frisks of young black men in New York City than there are young black men in New York City. And that’s why Charles Blow said, and while the judge quoted him in saying, “It’s like burning down the house to rid it of mice.” Just because there are more murders in our community doesn’t mean that you can treat all of us like we are guilty. And furthermore, you should pay our communities the respect of actually listening to people when they say this is driving a wedge. This is making us less safe. It’s making our kids not just fear the robbers but fear the cops. And so, they’re afraid to go and talk to you when they need to go and talk to you. He’s just way off base. This is the largest racial-- and let me take to this last point. He said, this is not a program. It is a program. Stop, question and frisk was introduced by Mayor Giuliani right after the Terry versus Ohio decision as a specific program in the city. Under Giuliani, we saw about 80,000 per year, under-- stop-and-frisks, this racial profiling program. Under Bloomberg, in 2011, we had about 680,000--90 percent innocent, 90 percent people of color, and get this--99.9 percent don’t have a gun. About 700,000 stop-and-frisks, about 700 guns seized.
GREGORY: The-- the wider point, Sybrina Fulton, I welcome you to the program. Just your reaction as a mother who’s lost her son so tragically and as now someone who’s trying to create something positive out of that searing loss by talking about stand-your-ground laws. You’ve heard the commissioner of New York say, look, what happened to Trayvon Martin, even though it was referenced in the judge’s ruling, is quite different. That was civilian on civilian. This is about civilians interacting with the police department. Do you see that distinction or not?
MS. SYBRINA FULTON (Trayvon Martin’s Mother/Founder, Trayvon Martin Foundation): I think it’s all about laws, and I think you have to give not only civilians, but you have to give the police officers the right direction. You can’t give people the authority, whether a civilian or police officers, the right to just stop somebody because of the color of their skin.
GREGORY: Mister Crump-- let me get-- let me get Benjamin Crump in here, as well. How do you react to the commissioner saying there’s not a distinction when particularly Judge Scheindlin is-- is raising the specter of Trayvon Martin, that idea of universal suspicion that Charles Blow wrote about in saying this is what’s wrong with the policy?
MR. BENJAMIN CRUMP (Trayvon Martin Family Attorney): Yes. We’re here in Phoenix, Arizona, and there the-- the Latino community deals with SB 1070 and New York is stop-and-frisk. No matter what you want to call it, essentially it’s racial profiling, and we know Trayvon Martin was profiled for something that night on February 26, 2012, and he had broken no law. He was just walking home. And that’s the problem. When you start this racial profiling, it’s a slippery slope, and it’s so bad for so many in the community. Where does it stop? How do we protect our children once you give police or neighborhood watch authority to just profile us?
GREGORY: Sybrina Fulton, I want to come back to you. As you are going around the country, you’re in Arizona; you talked about the stand-your-ground laws, trying to get them amendment-- amended, rather. The idea that there is a Trayvon Martin voter, can you describe what this period of time has been like for you, how you’re trying to turn this pain into some real activism to get some change?
MS. FULTON: Well, you know, the-- the death of my son was so negative that we felt that we needed to do something positive to not only help us heal but to help other families of senseless gun violence. And that’s why we started the Trayvon Martin Foundation. That’s why we’re going all over the country to the 21 states that have the stand-your-ground law to try to make some type of change. We understand it is not going to be done overnight, that it’s going to take time to do this, but we’re in it-- for the long haul we’re in it. This is a part of my life now.
GREGORY: Ben Jealous, final point to you. We’re in a debate in this country about, in their quest for public safety, whether it’s surveillance laws and the NSA, whether it’s our policing tactics, how far is too far in the name of public safety? What changes the focus of this debate? What wins this debate to your-- your side of the argument, do you think?
MR. JEALOUS: We’ve got to go back to the founding principles of this country. When our founders were courageous enough to say we deserve to be both free and safe, and those who would give up freedom in the name of safety, don’t deserve either. And that’s why it’s so important that Trayvon’s family has stood up, that’s why it’s so important that so many will be standing up at the march in Washington next Saturday. That’s why it’s critical that we all come together and realize at the end of the day, this is not about race, this is about freedom. This is about people in this country being able to walk out the door and not fear the cops when they’re not doing anything wrong.
GREGORY: All right. And Benjamin Crump has an article about the-- the effect of Trayvon Martin, an op-ed piece in The Washington Post today. Benjamin Crump, thank you very much. Sybrina Fulton, we really appreciate your time this morning. And Ben Jealous, thank you, as always as well.
And coming up here, more than three years to go before our next presidential election, if you can believe it, Hillary Clinton runs, if she does, did we already get a preview of her strategy? Our political roundtable is coming up to answer that question. Robert Gibbs, Rich Lowry, Congresswoman Donna Edwards and our own Chuck Todd.
And still to come in our MEET THE PRESS Archives, the dream of Martin Luther King Jr., 50 years later. We’re back in a moment.
GREGORY: Here now, some of our Images to Remember.
(Graphics on Screen)
Pres. Obama Misses a Putt during Martha’s Vineyard Vacation.
Chris Christie Addresses GOP in Boston.
Booker Wins Senate Democratic Primary in NJ.
Days of Rage in Egypt.
Perseids Meteor Shower above Wyoming.
Sarah Thomas Poised to Become First Female NFL Ref.
GREGORY: That last photo taken during Friday’s Saints-Raiders NFL preseason game, Sarah Thomas trying to break the glass ceiling and become the league’s first full-time female official. She is currently in the NFL’s developmental program. And just like the players on the field, she is competing for a job. When we come back, Hillary Clinton returns to the stage this week. Is she laying the groundwork for a presidential run? We are back in a minute with our political roundtable.
ANNOUNCER: MEET THE PRESS continues with our political roundtable. Joining us this morning, Robert Gibbs, Rich Lowry, Donna Edwards and Chuck Todd.
GREGORY: Welcome to all of you. This is the middle of August, but there’s a lot of politics going on, and we want to get to a lot of it. From Hillary Clinton to the RNC, the Republican Party, Chris Christie, a lot to chew on. Let’s start with Hillary Clinton, Chuck Todd. She is talking about voting rights on Monday, a series of speeches. She is laying the groundwork for how she comes up with a message. Listen to a part of her speech.
(Videotape; American Bar Association, Monday)
MS. HILLARY CLINTON: Anyone who says that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections must not be paying attention.
MR. CHUCK TODD (Political Director, NBC News/Chief White House Correspondent, NBC News): I am surprised in this first year that she is getting political this quickly…
MR. TODD: …and laying the groundwork this quickly. I really thought she was going to take-- you have sky-high bipartisan approval ratings. You come off foreign policy. It’s the least political of the offices are hold. Why not hold on to that as long as you can? The thing that has surprised me by this is that she has done nothing to tamp down this sort of enthusiasm for her, understandably, and now she is embracing it by giving these series of speeches. It-- it means she’s going to become political sooner. And with that comes some negatives. It means you’re going to get scrutiny, like we have seen this week of the Clinton Foundation. You are going to get dings for things that Terry McAuliffe is doing in the Virginia governor’s race, where in-- in the minute you stop being above the fray, and that’s the decision she’s made. You are then starting the presidential campaign, I think a lot sooner, and at some point, they’re going to look back and go, ooh, did we-- should we really have started this soon, that-- that is the one thing about this entire sort of run-up here that surprises me.
GREGORY: Rich Lowry, you were watching, you didn’t like what you saw. You wrote about it in Politico. And this was the headline of your column, Hillary’s race card, “Madam Secretary hasn’t missed a beat," you write, "She knows that the calling card of Democrats in the Barack Obama era is a polarizing politics that seeks to fire up minority voters by stirring fears of fire hoses and police dogs. Its basic vocabulary is imputations of racism; its evidently (sic) standard is low and dishonest; and its ethic is whatever works -- so long as it stirs fear, anger and resentment. Get ready for Hope and Change 2.0.”
MR. RICH LOWRY (Editor, National Review): Well, look, she’s going to a formidable front-runner if she runs but, as Robert can tell us, she’s been a formidable front-runner before. And I think one of the big downsides of her is that as a politician she’s not really a natural so she’ll be vulnerable again to someone potentially creating a-- a prairie fry-- fire on the left so she’s fighting the last war here. She wants to shore up the left, I think, as soon as possible so she, you know, didn’t, as you might expect a former secretary of state, to give a speech about Egypt when it’s descending into the abyss. It was about voter laws. And these voter ID laws, depending on how-- how you count, about 30 states have them. They’re popular across the board. The Washington Post poll not too long ago said more than 60 percent of blacks and Latinos support these laws. They’ve been upheld by the Supreme Court six to three by a very liberal justice so I think the case against them is extremely weak and inherently demagogic.
GREGORY: Congresswoman, what do you think?
REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D-MD): Well, I mean, I think that this comes on-- her speech comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s action striking down part of the Voting Rights Act. And so it’s not a surprise that she would give an important policy speech on something like that. And also I think she’s going to really dig her heels in at the foundation, continuing the work that she did at the-- did part-- at the State Department on women and girls and lifting up the voices of women and girls in the United States and around the world.
GREGORY: There is a question, Robert Gibbs, that I have, which is how does Hillary Clinton position herself, vis-à-vis Barack Obama? She wants a coalition that he has built her in 2012. She wants that certainly to be her coalition in 2016, but the legacy of Obama could both help and hurt her. How does she distinguish herself and have room to run?
MR. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary (2009-2011)/NBC News Political Contributor): Well, she also has to distinguish herself from her husband, too, right?
GREGORY: You’re right.
MR. GIBBS: We-- we-- if her campaign becomes an extension really of either her husband’s term or the current president’s term, it’s not necessarily a good deal for her. I completely agree with Chuck. I, as a strategist, am fairly floored that she has decided to enter the public fray so quickly. She could do the foundation work, she could do issue work, she could build the campaign, she could develop a message without having to be so far out front there. And-- and, you know, Chuck talks about strong bipartisan approval ratings, those will whittle quite quickly as she steps further and further…
MR. TODD: And by the way, then we’re going to get cheap political stories that will show up in certain political news sites that say, oh, look, Hillary Clinton’s ratings are falling, and it’s simply because Republicans and independents who are Republican leaning will go away as she becomes more partisan.
MR. GIBBS: I’m just-- well, I’m just surprised that she doesn’t look at the primary process as one that has shortened for her as being a very good thing. Remember, Bill Clinton got into, because we ran primaries very late in-- in the earlier ‘90s, you know, he gets in in the fall of 1991 for a 1992 election, and I would have thought that would have-- would be the path she would more appropriately should.
MR. LOWRY: And-- and she-- and she basically has the power, right…
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely.
MR. LOWRY: …to freeze…
MR. TODD: She actually can do this.
MR. LOWRY: …that race for a long time…
MR. TODD: Not many front-runners have that power.
MR. LOWRY: Exactly.
GREGORY: So it’s interesting. Newt Gingrich sat in your chair, Robert, here on this program not long ago and said jeez, I don’t know if Republicans have anybody who can really take on Hillary Clinton. This week, changing his tune a little bit on Wednesday. He said, you know, the coronation’s not starting now. Here’s what he said.
NEWT GINGRICH (Former Speaker of the House (R-GA)): She’s proven an ability to lose so I want to just start and say it’s a long way from here to her coronation. And if she moves to the left in these speeches in order to try to block a primary opponent, she will be increasingly isolating herself from the American people. So I’m-- I’m not at all convinced what the choice will be by 2016.
GREGORY: What do you say, Rich?
MR. LOWRY: Well, Republicans aren’t going to have anyone with this kind of resume, but I think although Hillary has quite the resume, I’m not sure she has much substantive accomplishment to back it up, certainly as secretary of state. So, what Republicans have will be a lot of fresh faces, a lot of fresh voices about the direction of the party, and it really shaping up to be the inverse of what we may see on the democratic side, where you have a huge front-runner, whereas Republicans for the first time in recent memory won’t have that next-in-line front-runner looming over the rest of the field.
REP. EDWARDS: But when you…
GREGORY: Donna Edwards, I want to come back to this point of do Americans-- specifically democratic voters, do they want to see a third Obama term or would they like to see the restoration of the Bill Clinton era?
REP. EDWARDS: Well, I think among, you know, the electorate, President Obama’s really popular among Democrats. And so, you know, there’s no harm in that, but we didn’t mind President Clinton either. And so, I think Democrats really don’t really have a problem here. It’s Republicans who have the problem. And really, for Hillary Clinton, you know, the fact is, she doesn’t need to shore up her base from a fight from the left. She will win the nomination if she chooses to run. I really do believe that, and I think Democrats want to coalesce around a candidate early to kind of put this aside.
MR. LOWRY: By the way…
MR. GIBBS: Also, that-- that makes why she’s getting involved so much, quite frankly, more and more curious, because she’s-- she is the default candidate and she’s probably more the default candidate than she was in 2008 because there’s not an issue like Iraq that separates her. And if she-- if she has that ability, I do think-- like I said, I think it is very surprising that she’s decided to step back into the ring so early.
MR. TODD: David, there is one other unintended consequence here and I don’t think she is intending. The more-- there is sort of the split inside the Democratic Party, who’s the leader of the Democratic Party right now? Who’s the future of the Democratic Party and the more she talks out there, the more you start seeing a gravitational pull back towards Hillary. This hurts the current president of the United States as trying to be leader of the Democratic Party, as trying to move the party as he gets ready for a bunch of fall fights. You know, lame duck status happens in two phases, right? The first phase is lame duck status in Washington between the presidency and the White House. And then there’s a second phase of lame duck status inside your own party. Her coming out early I think speeds up that lame duck process of Barack Obama inside the Democratic Party, and that’s something if I’m sitting in the White House…
GREGORY: You don’t like so much.
MR. TODD: …I-- I don’t like so much. You don’t have to start that so quickly.
GREGORY: Let me go to a break here and let’s come back and talk about the Republicans. They were meeting up in Boston this week, the RNC. Interesting reporting from Jonathan Martin in The New York Times this morning about how Chris Christie is positioning himself to run and have broader repeal. We’ll talk about that with the roundtable, right after this.
GREGORY: We’re back this morning with Sunday Inspiration, a reminder that not all news is bad news, a symbolic step on Boston’s road to recovery. The last business to reopen on Boston’s famous Boylston Street, the site of the April 15th marathon bombings. The second bomb in the attack that killed three and injured hundreds more exploded outside the front door of the Forum Restaurant. In the chaos that followed, the employees sprung to action and were widely praised for their response.
MAN #1: Are you heroes?
MAN #2: No.
MAN #3: You know, like, some people have asked-- said what we did was heroic. And the way I look at it was, we were in the wrong place at the wrong time, but we did the right thing.
GREGORY: Four months later, after being boarded up and remodeled, the Forum reopened Friday for dinner, a true sign of Boston strong.
We’re back in sixty seconds with our political roundtable.
GREGORY: We’re back with the roundtable talking 2016 politics in the heat of August here. The Republicans now, very interesting this week, Chris Christie making a lot of noise, the RNC meeting in Boston talking about debates. Here was Chris Christie addressing the RNC meeting on Thursday, sounding very much like a candidate when he said, “I think we have some folks who believe that our job is to be college professors…” Rand Paul I think is who he meant. “For our ideas to matter, we have to win, because if we don’t win, we don’t govern. If we don’t govern, all we do is shout into the wind. And so I am going to do anything I need to do to win.” Rich Lowry, also Jonathan Martin of The New York Times here saying this morning that you see from Christie something close to what George W. Bush did in 1998, shoring up support among Hispanics, African-Americans, even as he was seeking re-election in Texas in ‘98, trying to get the broader appeal for the party. It worked for him in 2000.
MR. LOWRY: Yeah. Well, this-- this debate with Rand Paul I think is a little sterile because you have the Rand Paul camp saying the party needs principles.
MR. LOWRY: Well, of course it does, because any party without principles is rudderless and passive. And you have Chris Christie saying you need power and a compelling governing agenda. Well, of course you do because that’s the only way to affect your principles. So it’s not either/or. It’s both. And I think what Christie is after here is exactly the George W. Bush model saying my huge reelection is a model for what I can do in a general election and the presidential race and what he would hope to do is cement that establishment slot in the primary and hope he’s facing a divided field on the right. And if history is any guide, that’s a pretty good way to win a Republican nomination.
GREGORY: Robert Gibbs.
MR. GIBBS: And-- and the pathway may have gotten a little clearer because the RNC did a very savvy thing this week, right? First of all, they’re working the refs on these Hillary documentaries and Hillary specials, right? Reince Priebus is just working the refs so that when this…
GREGORY: The RNC…
MR. GIBBS: ...when the script goes into production, somebody will say make this scene tougher. The second thing he’s doing is he’s cutting down markedly on the number of debates, which became the Roman coliseum of Republican politics last time, which are, you know, populated in huge auditoriums where activists want more and more and more. And it becomes you run for president in order to get a radio talk show when you don’t win the nomination. If those things fall a bit by the wayside, you’ve moderated the process a bit, the establishment candidates have more control over this. Probably a better week for Chris Christie than it was for Ted Cruz or Rand Paul.
GREGORY: So here-- we were looking at history this week, going back to Ronald Reagan and so many Republicans do, and looking at his speech at the convention, July of 1980-- and this is part of what Reagan said then.
(Videotape; July 17, 1980)
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: This convention has shown to all America a party united with positive programs for solving the nation’s problems, a party ready to build a new consensus with all those across the land who share a community of values embodied in these words--family, work, neighborhood, peace and freedom.
GREGORY: Chuck Todd, who is the Republican at this point who embodies that or embodies a newer version of it?
MR. TODD: Don’t forget that version of Ronald Reagan was a modified version because the guy who sort of was wanting to burn down the party a little bit lost in ‘76, close, but in a very divisive-- when you basically had the establishment versus the conservatives, and he ran a more uniting campaign, moderated himself a little bit. Look, Christie on paper, as a general election candidate, you sit there and you say, okay, that’s probably the best person they could do to go win a couple of purple states. Like, who can go in there and win Florida? Who can go in there and win Iowa or Michigan, right? Who can connect with the working-class Democrats? Well maybe, you know, the overweight guy from New Jersey, and I mean that as-- you know no, it makes him, you know, it makes seem less sterile. Mitt Romney was this scripted type businessman who had this regimen and he jogged every morning. Chris Christie seems like an everyman and particularly against a political dynasty if you’re going up there. The problem is, how does he get through this primary process? Because conservatives are going to argue, you know what, Bush was a compromise, McCain was a compromise, Romney was a compromise. We’ve gone with the establishment or Bob-- we can keep going back, Bob Dole four straight times. What’s it really done for the Republican Party? Is it in a better place today than it was back during the Reagan era? And I think that that’s going to be the real fight inside the party. And Chris Christie has to figure out, how does he prove that he’s conservative enough and it’s going to be tough.
GREGORY: Congresswoman, as you look as a Democrat on the outside, you don’t have the rooting interests, but how formidable do you look at the Republican Party as being right now?
REP. EDWARDS: Well, I don’t see the pathway for Chris Christie, given especially what Chuck has really outlined. And the problem for Republicans is not kind of where they say what they say and how many venues they have to say it, it’s what they’re saying. And when what they’re saying is against immigrants and women and African-American teenagers, it’s something that just isn’t going to go for the broader swath of those independent voters and-- and-- and the country. So, I don’t really see the pathway for Chris Christie.
MR. GIBBS: I will say, I think one of the most important speeches at the RNC this week was when Newt Gingrich challenged the party not to simply be against Obamacare but have positive policy ideas. And you see that in the clip from Reagan. And when you-- and Rich talked a little bit about this sort of, you know, the-- the debates between sort of Rand Paul and Chris Christie. You will see this race form when somebody begins to outline a hopeful, optimistic, positive governing vision for where they want to take both the party and the country. That, I think, is the Reagan optimism that a Republican candidate needs. Everyone knows what they’re against.
MR. LOWRY: And Newt was absolutely right about that. It’s not enough to oppose Obamacare. Now, Republicans should oppose Obamacare. It’s falling apart in front of our eyes. We’re seeing rate increases, even though the president is out there every day saying health insurance is going to be cheaper for everyone. But the party needs an agenda where they can say this is how we want to help people get health insurance that’s affordable, that’s renewable, that’s going to be for them-- there for them when they’re sick.
REP. EDWARDS: And they’re not going to get any help in the Congress because it’s a Congress that has intentionally not put forward any kind of positive policy agenda.
MR. GIBBS: Well, they-- they need-- they quite frankly need a nominee that’s not based on Republicans in Congress. They don’t need an obstructionist agenda. They need some sort of positive agenda, and I think that’s why there was some power in what Newt Gingrich said.
GREGORY: So, we’re talking about the Republican Party. We’re coming up on an anniversary that is going to give the president an opportunity to highlight some presidential leadership moments. We’re talking about the anniversary of the march on Washington coming up on August 28th. That’s where Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., of course, made his, I Have a Dream speech. Fifty years ago next Sunday, King appeared on this very program. Here is some of what he had to say.
(Videotape; August 25, 1963)
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: I think that we must face the fact that in reality, you cannot have economic and political equality without having some form of social equality. I think this is inevitable, and I don’t think our society will rise to its full maturity until we come to see that men are made to live together as brothers and that we can have genuine inter-group, inter-personal living and still be in the kind of society which we all long to achieve.
GREGORY: Congresswoman, next Saturday, the 50th anniversary, President Obama going to recreate that moment, in effect, on the-- on the Washington Mall. How significant is it?
REP. EDWARDS: I think it’s really significant when you think 50 years ago, and I think that, you know, Doctor King did have some vision that, you know, some day there might be an African-American in the White House, living that dream. And I think the president is going to speak to that. And most importantly, I think he’s going to speak to economic inequality. He’s done that a number of times over the last several weeks and months. And I think that the speech in-- in Washington is actually going to give him an-- him an opportunity to follow up on the Doctor King dream, saying it’s social equality. We’ve had, you know, problems around race relations, but it’s about economic inequality.
GREGORY: Rich Lowry, does he use any part of this as a way to challenge Republicans to try to jumpstart something in his second term on in-- inequality, on the economy?
MR. LOWRY: I doubt it. And it would sort of be an inappropriate forum for that I-- I would think. And what I take away from the march on the Washington, you know, Abraham Lincoln referred to the declaration of independence as this electric cord going throughout all American history and you had those marchers grabbing on to that chord and using the truth to the declaration to change the country and make it a more just place.
GREGORY: Interesting. Robert Gibbs.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously, it will be a special moment, and I think, you know, we look back 50 years and see how much the country has changed, how much it still has to come, but understanding the role that Martin Luther King played, as TIME magazine pointed out this week, is probably one of the founding fathers of modern America.
MR. TODD: John Lewis-- John Lewis’ speech, right, the sole living speaker from--
GREGORY: John Lewis is going to be on this program next week, a special problem, a special edition of MEET THE PRESS as we mark that 50th anniversary. Thank you all very much for the discussion this morning. That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.