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NBC News MEET THE PRESS
Sunday, January 9, 2005
GUESTS: Sen. Bill Frist, (R-Tenn.), Majority Leader, Al Hunt, Bloomberg News, Katty Kay, British Broadcasting Corporation, Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Byron York, National Review
MODERATOR/PANELIST: Tim Russert - NBC News
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: the tsunami. The devastation and death toll mount. What more can be done? Iraq, only 21 days until the election, but the violent insurgency continues. What more can be done? With us, earlier in the week, he visited tsunami-ravaged Sri Lanka. Yesterday, he was in Iraq. The Republican leader of the United States Senate, Dr. Bill Frist of Tennessee.
Then the president pushes for private accounts for Social Security, limits on damages and lawsuits and prepares for his second term. Insights and analysis from Albert Hunt of Bloomberg News, Katty Kay of the BBC, Andrea Mitchell of NBC News and Byron York of the National Review.
And in our MEET THE PRESS Minute, Shirley Chisholm was the first African-American woman to serve in Congress and the first woman to seek the Democratic presidential nomination:
REP. SHIRLEY CHISHOLM, (D-NY): I am the candidate of the people.
MR. RUSSERT: She died last week at the age of 80 and appeared on MEET THE PRESS almost 33 years ago:
REP. CHISHOLM: I was breaking the tradition, a tradition in which only white males only been the gentlemen in this country that have guided the ship of state.
MR. RUSSERT: But, first, an exclusive interview with Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader of the United States Senate, who traveled to Sri Lanka this week, then went to Iraq and Kuwait. We spoke to him late yesterday about his trip and asked him to share his firsthand observations of the terrible damage done by the tsunami.
SEN. BILL FRIST, (R-TN): Tim, the tsunami has had a catastrophic impact, as we've all seen play out over the last now two weeks. I had the opportunity to visit Sri Lanka and travel hundreds of miles along the coast. What was unique about it to me when I compare it to other tragedies that I've seen and tornadoes was the continuity, the continuous uninterrupted mile after mile after mile after mile after mile of devastation.
While we were there, we had the opportunity to visit clinics and to visit hospitals and to look at the human face of this tragedy. It clearly, as we all know at this juncture, is a tragedy of biblical proportions.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that the death toll will rise dramatically because of disease that could now continue to wipe out large amounts of people in that area?
SEN. FRIST: Tim, I visited in part as a United States senator but as well as a public health official, as a medical physician, and the reason I add that is that after disasters of this proportion, you can have almost a multifold impact if several public health initiatives are not taken, and that is because the lack of clean water or what we call potable water can result in water-borne illnesses like typhoid fever or dysentery. Other types of water-borne illnesses that result in diarrhea and can result in catastrophic death.
Now, in Sri Lanka, still about 80 percent of the affected population, even though many are in relief camps today that we visited, do not have access to clean water. In addition, simple things like sanitation facilities were destroyed all along the coastline, and with that, that additional risk of those water-borne diseases can be increased over time.
The good news is that the NGOs, the governments are making very powerful efforts and are successfully to date getting potable clean water to many of those populations. The challenge will be distribution along that coastline where there are no roads, there are no airports.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, Australia has pledged $810 million; Germany, $660 million; Japan, $500 million. The United States is at $350 million. Will the U.S. have to increase the amount of aid it's providing?
SEN. FRIST: The United States has pledged $350 million. And the common question is: Is that enough, or since other countries are pledging different amounts, should we outbid them? I think for right now, $350 million is appropriate, but just as that figure has changed over the last week and a half, there needs to be an ongoing assessment. And indeed the United States Congress, the president of the United States, has shown a willingness to adjust that according to the assessment.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, you left Sri Lanka, went to Iraq, and I want to show you a headline that was on the front page of The New York Times on Friday: "Rumsfeld Seeks Broad Review Of Iraq Policy." He is sending General Gary Luck to Iraq to look into everything, a suggestion that things in Iraq have gone very wrong. Is that your assessment?
SEN. FRIST: No, it is not, Tim, and I can just share with you what I learned today, having spent the day there with a bipartisan group of United States senators. First and foremost, progress is made from six months ago when I was last there, and the fact that in just very few days, on the 30th of this month, we are going to have elections there in Iraq that will move us is another major step along this road to democracy and freedom and the rule of law.
While I was there today, secondly, I had the opportunity to visit General Dave Petraeus, who is overseeing the military training, the training of the police, and huge progress has been made compared to four months ago, five months ago, when those initial plans were initially being made. A hundred and twenty-seven thousand Iraqis have been trained. That's about half military and about half police, fully trained and equipped. Real progress has been made in that regard.
And let me just say, thirdly, because it was very unique, I had the opportunity to participate in an open town meeting with about 150 Sunni sheiks. And it was like a town meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, or Knoxville, Tennessee. There was debate and disagreement and discussion--open, heated, emotional. People were saying--some were saying, "Don't postpone elections"; others were saying, "Postpone," something that would have never, ever occurred in Iraq before the collapse of Saddam Hussein.
MR. RUSSERT: I think many Americans are confused, Senator, because we hear such disparate views about what is really going on in Iraq. For example, Brent Scowcroft, who was the national security adviser for former President Bush, Bush 41, in The Washington Post said this: "`The Iraqi elections, rather than turning out to be a promising turning point, have the great potential for deepening the conflict,' Scowcroft said. He said he expects increased divisions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims after the Jan. 30 elections, when experts believe the government will be dominated by the majority Shiites. Scowcroft predicted `an incipient civil war' would grip Iraq and said the best hope for pulling the country from chaos would be to turn the U.S. operation over to NATO or the United Nations--which, he said, would not be so hostilely viewed by Iraqis."
Do you think that General Scowcroft's right, there is a potential for civil war in Iraq?
SEN. FRIST: Well, I would certainly disagree with what the implication is. The idea of cutting and running and leaving with the hope that either an international organization such as United Nations or NATO could further the road from tyranny to democracy and freedom of rule and law, to me, is really sort of grasping at thin air. We don't know what the outcome of these elections will be on January 30, but we know--at least we were told today by the United Nations representative, the coordinator who was there on the ground--that we are on the road to expecting elections that can be credible, and those are his words, as well as independent, and that is what the mandate by the United Nations has been.
Those elections clearly are not going to be perfect elections, and in many people's eyes, people would say, "You know, those are not fair elections." What they will accomplish is, by international standards, credible elections that are independent, that the majority of people in Iraq, regardless of ethnic group or religion, will participate in. Nobody knows what the outcome will be, but that freedom of being able to vote, of expression, and having an elected representative--275 people chosen by the Iraqi people--is a major step forward, the beginning, not the end, of this process of continuing along the road of democracy.
MR. RUSSERT: The United States' exit strategy is based upon the Iraqis stepping forward and creating a military and a police force that can protect its own people. How far away are the Iraqis from having that force in place?
SEN. FRIST: Early this morning, Tim, we had really a privilege of watching the special forces of the Iraqi police participate in their drilling exercise. We visited a long time with General Dave Petraeus, who has been charged by the coalition in overseeing the training of the Iraqi military as well as the Iraqi police. This six months ago was just a plan on a piece of paper. It was initiated about four months ago. And now four months later, we learned today--we met many of these soldiers and had the opportunity to talk, and the police, to talk to them. There are 127,000 both police--about half of those are police, and the other half being military who have been trained and equipped.
No, it's not up to the standards that we would assume for the United States of America, but according to our military personnel on the ground, these are effective soldiers, they are effective, they are Iraqi soldiers. They can fight alongside side by side the coalition forces, and over time as progress is made, as those numbers increase--and again, it's been a dramatic increase over the last four months in terms of the type of training that has been set up and delivered--if that progress continues to be made, they will be able to supplement the forces that we have on the ground and replace those forces over a period of time.
MR. RUSSERT: As you well know, the national Army Reserve and National Guard make up about 40 percent of our troops in Iraq, more than 5,000 members of the Reserve and Guard from Tennessee in Iraq, and at the end of this year, the Reservists and the Guardsmen will have completed their 24 months of active service. We'll, in effect, run out of Reserves and Guardsmen. The head of the Reserve, General James Helmley, said that the policies are now "dysfunctional," and he went on to say that the "`current demands' in Iraq and Afghanistan put his command in `grave danger' of being unable to meet other potential Pentagon missions or help with domestic emergencies, and that the Army Reserve is, `rapidly degenerating into a broken force.'"
Many are suggesting, Senator, that Reservists and Guardsmen be assigned more than 24 months of active duty, there be a change in the law. Would you support that?
SEN. FRIST: There's no question that we are straining our Guard forces at this juncture, as well as the Reservists. The repeated missions, the return after a brief time back home puts a stress and a strain on them. They are issues that we're going to have to address. And as you know, and as you pointed out earlier, there's a current assessment under way, both in terms of appropriate use, appropriate size of troops in Iraq. I think that that will also include a look at our Reserves and our Guard units. We have to be very careful. There could be a recruitment problem in the future if we wear down these Guard and Reserve units. It's something we're very sensitive to. It's something we'll continue to study over time.
MR. RUSSERT: But if the Pentagon recommends increasing active duty beyond 24 months for Reservists and Guardsmen in order to maintain the force in Iraq at levels they think are necessary, would you support that extension?
SEN. FRIST: Tim, at this juncture, for a proposal as specific as that, I really can't say whether I would support it or not. I think if the assessment is that we have the too few Guard and Reservists to carry out the responsibilities that are important to the safety and security of this country, I would think that the first move would be to increase the number of Reservists and Guards personnel that we have rather than ask them to have repeated duties overseas beyond what is required or what is currently under way today. Again, I'd have to study the issue. We are straining our Guard and our Reservist personnel today. There is no question about that, and it's something that will have to be addressed over time.
MR. RUSSERT: As you know, some of your colleagues have suggested raising the death benefit for soldiers who are killed in Iraq, in active service around the world, from $12,000 to $100,000. Do you think that legislation has a good chance of passing in the Senate?
SEN. FRIST: It is an issue that has been brought forward. It has been discussed. It has not been taken to the floor of the United States Senate. As I talked to Guards personnel tonight, I mentioned that, and they obviously said, "Well, of course that is something we would be interested in." Other issues such as other retirement benefits, educational benefits are issues that will all be on the table, things that we will look at as we fulfill our obligation for our men and women who are sacrificing so admirably for us overseas.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, as you look back at your visit and briefings in Iraq, do you think the American people should be optimistic about the war and the effort in Iraq?
SEN. FRIST: Based on what I saw today, Tim, I think we can all be cautiously optimistic. Our expectations cannot be set too high. I think we can optimistically look forward to elections on the 30th. The fact that on the 30th, the majority of people in Iraq will participate in elections, they will elect an assembly of 275 Iraqis who ultimately will choose the Iraqi government, who ultimately--and that government ultimately several months later will write and finalize a constitution--is huge progress compared to six months ago or a year ago.
If we look at terrorism, we know there's been a huge increase in anti-insurgency and in insurgency activity over the last several weeks. That is likely to continue up until the time of the elections and will continue until after the elections. We heard today that education for young children and children even to the college level has greatly improved. At the same time, we recognize that the infrastructure there in terms of electricity and in terms of other health facilities will have to be repaired, and that's going to take a long time.
We're going to have to be cautiously optimistic. Our military will stay there, I am quite sure--in fact, I am positive--until the job is done. The war on terror is one that faces us directly in the face in that part of the world, and it's one that we will face aggressively in support of our troops and continue until that job is done.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Bill Frist, we thank you for joining us. Travel safe.
SEN. FRIST: Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, the Bush second term agenda is in motion. Social Security and tort reform; insights and analysis from our political roundtable. Then a special MEET THE PRESS Minute as we remember the first African-American woman to serve in Congress. Shirley Chisholm on MEET THE PRESS, July 1972.
MR. RUSSERT: A pundit taking money from the government, Social Security, insights and analysis from our political roundtable after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Welcome all.
Albert Hunt, we just heard Senator Frist say that he was cautiously optimistic about Iraq, that he thought from the elections would flow a major step to democracy and to freedom and to the rule of law. Brent Scowcroft who worked for former President Bush said it may lead to civil war. Who's right?
MR. ALBERT HUNT: Well, Tim, I don't know, but it seems to me the point that Scowcroft is making is as essential as elections are to a stable society, there are other institutions and other infrastructures that are probably essential before you can have successful elections. And I think there is serious questions as to whether those are in place in Iraq, and so, therefore, if they're not, these elections could, as Brent Scowcroft says, be counterproductive. If you end up on February 10 with what really is a Shiite theocracy aligned with Iran, it's not only not going to be better for Iraq, it's not going to be very good for Western interests. And I think that's a distinct possibility.
MR. RUSSERT: Byron York.
MR. BYRON YORK: Well, I think you have to look--I mean, the question on the table right now is whether to delay the elections or not. And there are new calls, you know, today we should have divided Iraq into electoral districts. That would have allowed the Sunnis to have more proportional representation. But I think you have to look--first of all, you have about 60 percent of the country, the Shiites who want to go ahead with this, 15 to 20 percent, the Kurds want to go ahead with this, and then the 15 to 20 percent of the Sunnis, a faction of whom the insurgents plus the outside fighters don't want this to happen. And I think you have to look: Why are they doing this? If you postpone the election, divide Iraq into the electoral district, say we can have a little more representation or fairer representation for the Sunnis, would the insurgents then say, "Well, mission accomplished; we'll stop now"? I don't think that's the case. I think everything is pushing toward having these elections on January 30 and going ahead and doing it.
MR. RUSSERT: Andrea Mitchell, privately, as official Washington, State Department, Pentagon--are they more aligned with the Scowcroft view or the Frist view?
MS. ANDREA MITCHELL: Probably more aligned with the Scowcroft view and believing that there could be a civil war, but that they do have to proceed, as Byron just said. Look, the insurgents would declare victory if this is postponed, and they're not going to be quieted, as Byron just said, by postponing the election. They'll just find another target, literally and figuratively. The tragedy here is that they could have found a better system, some more proportional system, and they're going to try to fix that after the fact by perhaps invalidating some of the election results, by giving some Sunni seats that they didn't win. Now, that's going to create all sorts of other problems. The question, then, as King Abdullah and some others have suggested, is: Can you create a separate commission to write the constitution, which is all that this initial election is, and give some more representation to the Sunnis and try to enfranchise more people?
MR. RUSSERT: Katty Kay?
MS. KATTY KAY: I think there is a real risk, too, as Byron was suggesting, that if you postpone these elections, you start alienating the Shia, who, fairly remarkably, have actually been on America's side until now. You haven't had a particularly radicalized Shia movement. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has supported the American initiative, lukewarmly, but he has supported the Americans up until now. If you postpone those elections, the Shia, who have not held power since 1923 and are desperate to get hold of power because they are the rightful majority in Iraq, will fear that power is being snatched from them. You could then have a more radicalized Shia movement, and America, I think, wants one enemy and not two in Iraq. You already have the Sunnis, who oppose you. If you start taking on the Shia as well, then you really do have a risk that the inevitable transfer of power, which has to happen, from the minority Sunni to the majority Shia, is going to be even more difficult.
MR. RUSSERT: Brent Scowcroft suggested the United States transfer control of the operation in Iraq to NATO or to the United Nations. How practical or feasible is that?
MS. KAY: I think the United Nations, certainly, not NATO, has said that they will start training Iraqi troops, but you don't see much more of an initiative coming out of either Europe or the United Nations at the moment to take real control of a security situation which is still very difficult. I mean, the risk here is that, as the United Nations knows, the UNDP is not even working in Iraq at the moment. The security is not there on the ground for any sort of reconstruction to start going ahead, and they don't want to be the ones saddled with a problem which they see as America's own making.
MR. RUSSERT: Andrea?
MS. MITCHELL: In fact, the U.N. isn't even doing the job that we've asked it to do by going in and overseeing the elections in enough force. The U.N. was so frightened away from Iraq by the destruction of its headquarters and the death of its main leadership there that they won't go back in in sufficient numbers, so they are not about to take charge of this. NATO would be another issue. But NATO has been reluctant.
MR. RUSSERT: Albert, our exit strategy is to have an Iraqi security force and military that is strong enough to protect its people and to have a rule of law that is honored by all so that we can withdraw. If we don't have that in place, by the end of this year, as I said with Senator Frist, Guardsmen and Reservists will have served their 24 months of active duty. We hit the wall. Who are we going to send to Iraq in the United States military if we don't have the Reservists or Guardsmen who now make up 40 percent of our assets there?
MR. HUNT: Or heaven help us if there's a crisis someplace else in the world. We have two options if that happens: one, I think we have to go to something that's tantamount to a draft; or secondly, we have to get out of Dodge. And those are the only two options, I think, if we hit that stage.
I'm going to go to the point that Byron made earlier. I think you're absolutely right that suddenly, if we postpone those elections, the insurgents would not say, "All right, fine, we'll be good guys now." And I think the flip side of that is that, after the elections are held, is it going to have an effect on them? Are they going to say, "All right, fine, we've been defeated"? And I think the worry I have from people who've been to Iraq--and I have not been to Iraq--is they say every time they go, it's worse. You see fewer Iraqis. It's more dangerous. This has been over the course of the last year. And if on February the 28 that's no longer true, that'll be great news. But if it is true, then I wonder if these elections will have served the purpose we hoped for.
Ms. MITCHELL: And that's a...
MR. YORK: And, obviously, getting the security forces going is the thing. And people at the Pentagon, by the way, tell me that General Luck's mission to Iraq is not a general--a wide-ranging reassessment, but very narrowly focused on the Iraqi security forces and making sure this can work. At the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, General Luck is very active. There is actually a group called Lessons Learned, where they're constantly reassessing what they do. This is the kind of thing he does. And I'm told that this is really not any sort of general rethinking of the mission, but a very specific look at making these Iraqi forces work.
MS. MITCHELL: Now...
MR. RUSSERT: Byron, is there a possibility that Guards and Reservists will have active duty extended beyond their 24-month obligation?
MR. YORK: I think that there probably is. You know, there was a memo that came up this week from a general who is involved with the Army Reserve who wanted more flexibility in being able to send more people over there and to make them stay longer, so I think that that, yes, is a possibility.
MR. RUSSERT: What will that do to renewals?
MR. YORK: Well, that's going to make a lot of people very unhappy and it's going to make fewer people sign up and more people be angry, I think reasonably angry, at having come in under one deal and then having the terms change.
MS. KAY: There was one indication of perhaps the length of the mission this week when the Iraqi intelligence minister came out and said there was actually some 400,000 Iraqi insurgents of which 40,000 were full-time call, but then you had a whole run more. If you think that Britain, when we were fighting in Northern Ireland, the English, we were fighting against perhaps 300 or 400 active insurgents. Well, that insurgency went on for 30 years. It's some indication of what insurgents can do for a long time when they are in these particular numbers.
MS. MITCHELL: And, Tim, one of the other things is not just the extension of the tours, but how quickly these men and women are being sent back. I talked to a Marine major the other day who is a pilot over there, and he's going back in July, and he said the Marines, the morale is still pretty good, but it's beginning to really affect the families. Families back home are really being hurt badly by what's happening in both the Marines and the Army. And they don't think that they can keep this up, where they're back, you know, for six months and then they're back on active.
MR. RUSSERT: And that's why I think discussion of raising the death benefit from $12,000 to $100,000 has really taken hold in both houses of Congress.
MS. MITCHELL: And Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, has done something that is not only smart politically but probably is long overdue, which is to take out a $250,000 government-purchase insurance policy for all of the New Mexico National Guardsmen. This is the legislation he's proposing, and I think that this is an attempt by an obviously ambitious Democratic politician to try to make the Democratic Party right with the military. It's a move that's going to spread to other states.
MR. HUNT: You also see, Tim, I think there is the beginnings of a huge battle within the conservative movement on the GOP side. I mean, I there are--I hear more anti-neocon sentiments coming from conservative Republicans these days, and I think that there is a lot of--you know, what did you get us into? You know, who did this to us, even as we're approaching elections three weeks from now.
MR. RUSSERT: Conservative columnist George Will has expressed reservations. The founder of The National Review, William F. Buckley, has indicated some real concerns about the war in Iraq, Byron.
MR. YORK: He has basically said that if we knew then what we know now, that perhaps it wouldn't have been worth doing. I will say the White House answer to this is, "Let's wait until after the elections." It's not going to be a miracle, but they do think there wasn't enough attention paid, for example, to the success of the elections in Afghanistan which some people thought weren't going to happen, that al-Qaeda would disrupt it, and they're saying that this is not an exact analogue, but wait until after this to see what happens.
MS. KAY: They didn't have the major degree of insurgency in Afghanistan that you have now, and you also didn't have a country that is so clearly split between Sunni, Kurd and Shia. And if you have a low turnout amongst the Sunni--I mean, the risk of this election and of holding it now, is that you do have a low turnout among the Sunni group who then feel less represented and less invested in making the Iraqi government work. That's the argument for postponing.
MR. YORK: On the other hand, in Afghanistan, perhaps they were not schooled in the ways of liberal democracy, but clearly a large, unexpectedly large number of people came out to say they want to be part of a change for the future. So I think that was a positive step, and you might see it in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: We'll know a whole lot more in 21 days when they hold the Iraqi elections.
Let me move to the tsunami. Albert Hunt, when it first hit, there was a lot of criticisms of the United States. Remember the United Nations said we were "stingy." Then former President Bush, former President Clinton stepped forward in a bipartisan way. President Clinton said that criticism was unfair. And it seems as if now the United States is leading the way in the world to try to bring much-needed relief to that area. Has that criticism subsided in this country and around the world?
MR. HUNT: Oh, I think it has. I think clearly the president was slow off the mark. But he's done I think a very effective job in the last week or 10 days, sending General Powell and Governor Bush over there, the two presidents. And also it's not just the money. We talk about, you know, a lot about the money, but the American military is playing an absolutely crucial role over there. No one else can do that.
Tim, I think the interesting question of this is what happens two months from now, six months from now when the cameras no longer are there? There is an unfortunate history of big commitments, big pledges being made for disaster relief, and then not much follow-through when the attention is no longer there and when it's no longer front-page news. I hope that doesn't happen here. But I think America's done a very good job in the last week.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Frist pointed out as a physician that the disease that can take hold in those areas months after the initial shock of this tsunami could bring about as many deaths as the initial tsunami did.
Katty Kay, you were affected very personally by this tsunami. Tell us about your brother.
MS. KAY: Well, I was very lucky. My brother was in Thailand in Phuket on his family holiday with his four young children. They were having breakfast on the terrace of their hotel. It was Boxing Day and perhaps they were all together and having breakfast a bit later than they would have been. And the first warning they had that something was wrong was when my brother's six-year-old son came rushing up and said, "Daddy, can I borrow the camera I was given for Christmas because the sea has disappeared?" Because my brother lives in Asia, he's heard about what happens before a tidal wave. The water is literally sucked out to sea. So he had, in a sense, an early warning system. He had a few minutes.
He then shouted at everyone on the terrace of this hotel, "Get out! Get out! A tidal wave is coming." They went up to a second floor bedroom. Within minutes, the water was up to their chests, and they were holding their children up, out of the water. They climbed up onto the roof of the hotel. In the chaos that followed, they were all separated for about six hours, and they didn't know who had lived or died or whether they had all survived. We found out about four days later that they had all survived, so luckily. But of course, they left behind people in much poorer situations who didn't.
And the one thing he kept saying was that the Thai people themselves had been so generous, people who had lost everything gave them bandages, gave them food, really reached out to them. And, of course, they could leave, and they have gone back to their homes in Hong Kong.
But it is, I think, the key as I was saying is really the long-term commitment once the cameras have gone. And already we're starting to go see the stories disappearing from the front pages. It's not on the front pages of the major newsmagazines this week. But it's going to take a long-term commitment to rebuild these lives. And it's going to take as much perhaps as the money that we've raised initially. It's going to take a look at the real development processes. Opening trade markets, this is going to be a key for this region. To rebuild long-term stability, to rebuild long-term economic development, what you need is opening U.S. markets to goods from that area of the world--could do as much if not more than the money we've just raised.
MR. RUSSERT: The sea is disappearing through the eyes of a six-year-old clearly saving lives. Animals have this early warning system, Albert Hunt, where they detect something happening and begin to run to high ground. Secretary Powell was on this program last week, and he said, "Yes, we did have some notice in Hawaii with our National Oceanographic and Atmosphere Agency. But we don't have the ability to communicate that to countries throughout Asia." Will that change?
MS. MITCHELL: Well, in fact, I think it may change. But what's remarkable is that we have a system in place where we detect--we have an early warning system for the possibility of illegal nuclear tests. And the people who work on the non-proliferation issues don't communicate with the people in the weather area. So none of this has been coordinated. Whether or not it is worth it to invest the kind of money in the Indian Ocean area to have this kind of warning system that does exist in the Pacific remains to be seen because there is so much greater need now. The odds of another tsunami happening, you know, within the next decades are so small, and the development needs are so much greater to rebuild whole countries along those coastal areas.
I think that Colin Powell and now Kofi Annan and the World Bank leader are all in the region. But Colin Powell really was the face of America. And it was, along with Jeb Bush, such a strong and such a really disciplined yet emotionally powerful response that I think that that has really overtaken any of the criticism of the early problems. And the soft side of the American military, if you will--those helicopter pilots are doing a world of good.
MR. RUSSERT: And we do learn from a crisis. There is no doubt about it.
MR. YORK: Well, the White House does feel--first of all, they will concede that maybe we were a day late getting off the mark on this, but I think they feel that they are past the criticism because you did have the Powell thing, you had the two ex-presidents, and you have 13,000 troops over there, 19 U.S. Naval vessels, including a carrier and an amphibious carrier. There are 18,000 troops in Afghanistan by comparison. So this is a big operation doing a lot of things. So I think that they feel that they have really, really gone past the early criticism.
MS. KAY: And we should make sure that the money pledged is actually dispersed. As so often in these cases, for Iran, for the earthquake in Iran a year ago, we know that $1 billion was pledged. Only $17 million actually made it to the people on the ground. We do not have a very good track record of actually giving the money that we say we're going to give.
MR. YORK: I think it's likely to be more though. They are talking $350--Congress is actually going to fund this at the end of this month. And Republicans have said $350 is a base line. It could be much bigger.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn back home. This was a jolting issue in USA Today newspaper on Friday, that, "Seeking to build support among black families for its education reform law, the Bush administration paid a prominent black pundit $240,000 to promote the law on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other black journalists to do the same. The campaign...required commentator Armstrong Williams `to regularly comment on NCLB [No Child Left Behind] during the course of his broadcasts,' and to interview Education Secretary Rod Paige for TV and radio spots that aired during the show in 2004."
Senators led by Democratic leader Harry Reid have written the president, Albert Hunt, to say that Mr. Williams should give the money back, that this was a violation against the law of blatant government propaganda.
MR. HUNT: Well, I don't know what the law is. It strikes me that it's not a very good use of taxpayers' money. It's certainly as egregious a journalist violation as one could engage in. Mr. Williams' column was yanked, as it should be. I will say this. Armstrong did deliver his promise, because I occasionally worked out at a gym and Armstrong's there, and he told me several times, you know, "Why don't you write about No Child Left Behind." I don't know if I'm going to be on one of those government expense accounts or not but...
MR. RUSSERT: How many columns did you do?
MR. HUNT: I didn't do any. So I let him down. I'm sorry, Armstrong. Listen, I'll tell you this. I'll bet that there will be a great market for FOIR, Freedom of Information Requests, in the next couple weeks because I suspect Armstrong Williams is not alone. There have been other people who've been doing this.
MS. MITCHELL: In fact, the Census Bureau has done this. The Department of Health and Human Services has done this in the past on Medicare and other issues. So they have gone to not just to journalists, but they have put out fake news releases...
MR. RUSSERT: Video news releases.
MS. MITCHELL: ...video news releases that are misleading to the average person who believes that they are news reports. And I think that the lines are so blurred. We have to also take a step back and ask, you know, "When did the lines become confusing to people, between what a real journalist is and commentary, analysis or political figures being used as commentators?" I mean, that's really the issue because with all due respect to Mr. Williams, he didn't rise through the normal track of journalism and...
MR. RUSSERT: Byron York, how do we do this? How do people know the difference between journalists, commentators, pundit, who's on the take from the government and who is not? This is very confusing.
MR. YORK: Well--but actually the core issue is really very simple, which is disclosure. You've always got to disclose. And, of course, if Armstrong Williams had done that, it would have destroyed his credibility as it did when he came out. But, you know, The New York Times actually quoted the head of Medialink which is the company that does a lot of these video news releases, saying, you know, "The Clinton administration did more of this." This is something that's been going on for quite a while. And you can argue back and forth whether it's an appropriate expenditure of taxpayer funds, but the key question with the video news releases is you've got to know in the actual product, in this story, this was something produced and paid for by the government. If they do that, that's fine. And if Armstrong Williams had said that ahead of time, then we would have viewed him as a PR man, but on the other hand, it wouldn't have been a scandal.
MR. RUSSERT: These are pseudonews releases where you have a fake journalist sitting there interviewing a Cabinet secretary and materials are sent out across the country. What serious or legitimate news organization would ever air something like that?
MR. YORK: Well, obviously, the networks don't do it, but they are aired on smaller stations or on very small cable outlets. So some of the stuff is just kind of yanked off the satellite and put on the air. So given that that happens, that's why a disclosure is so important.
MR. RUSSERT: Katty.
MS. KAY: And one of these apparently aired on about 200 cable channels. So a lot of people are seeing this, and understandably, after Mr. Williams' story, people are going to look at what they see on television and ask themselves, "How do I know that this reporter isn't being paid either by a government organization or by a business organization?" And that confusion is understandable, particularly since there has been an erosion of the lines of what is clear, objective news reporting.
We've seen the encroachment of entertainment into that field and also the encroachment of business and government interests paying for time in that field, and there does have to be a clarity here. The audiences need to know: Am I getting news, which is objective fact, which is being reported, or am I getting advertising or propaganda, which is being paid for by a government interest or a business interest, or am I getting entertainment, somebody's opinion? And it's not always very clear, and it should be clearer.
MR. YORK: You know, No Child Left Behind--a lot of conservatives hated it; a lot of Democrats hated it. The only way you could get somebody to say something nice about it is pay them $240,000.
MR. HUNT: Well, and they did it, of course, in a very sneaky way. It was funneled through a PR firm, Ketchum PR firm, so they knew exactly what they...
MS. MITCHELL: It was laundered.
MR. HUNT: Yeah. They knew exactly what they were doing. I want to go to Katty's point, because I think it's a very good one. I think the danger for people in our business is we better think carefully about exactly what we're doing. I think there ought to be full disclosure of people of any kind of outside income and--otherwise, I think our business is really going to suffer a tremendous erosion of credibility.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, we've already lost a lot of credibility. This has not exactly been a good couple of years...
MR. HUNT: It's not.
MS. MITCHELL: ...for either print or television credibility.
MR. HUNT: It has not.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the big issue confronting our country: Social Security. Pete Wehner, who works for Karl Rove in the White House, sent an e-mail message this week--this is how The New York Times reported it: "In an e-mail message this week that circulated among conservative activists, Peter Wehner, a top aide to Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's senior adviser and political strategist, made clear that the White House was leaning toward a reduction in scheduled benefits, partly because failing to do so would unsettle the financial markets and risk harm to the economy. `You may know that there is a small number of conservatives who prefer to push only for investment accounts and make no effort to adjust benefits, therefore making no effort to address this fundamental structural problem,' Mr. Wehner said in the message. `In my judgment, that's a bad idea. We simply cannot solve the Social Security problem with personal retirement accounts alone.'"
And today, you'll see a full-page ad from The Concord Coalition which has Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey, Republican Senator Warren Rudman, Pete Peterson, who served in the Ford administration, Bob Rubin, secretary of treasury under Bill Clinton, Paul Volcker, the Federal Reserve chairman, and they say this: "Ensuring a more sustainable system will require change, meaning that someone is going to have to give up something--either in the form of higher contributions, lower benefits or a combination of both. No Social Security reform will succeed unless this fact is acknowledged up front."
Byron York, is there a battle in the conservative community over Social Security?
MR. YORK: There is a huge battle in the conservative community. They're basically split between two factions. There is the group led by Newt Gingrich, who may run for president, that is very, very hot for personal accounts, and they do not want to see those personal accounts tied to either benefit cuts or tax increases. And that faction is known as the "free lunchers." And then there's the solvency crowd, and Pete Wehner's memo really suggested that the president is among them, who feel that you're going to have to--first of all, that the personal accounts themselves will not address the solvency crisis that's going to come someday in Social Security, so you've got to have some sort of benefit cut--and they're going to be called benefit cuts; they'll try to say it's a slowdown in the rate of growth of benefits, but it's a cut--or a tax increase.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, you're absolutely correct that, if you look at the numbers, these private accounts or personal accounts, and their polling shows them--that if you call them personal accounts, they're not as unpopular; there's, in fact, some support for it compared to private accounts, so it's a matter of semantics in advertising.
But if these accounts were put in place, it would not nearly solve the problem. You're going to have to deal with the essential question, which is that our population is not growing fast enough, combined with immigration, to create enough workers to support a pay-as-you-go retirement system. And if that's the case, you either have to revert to inflation increases rather than wage increases as your standard for what your pension is going to be based on, or make other kinds of changes that will reduce the benefits.
But politically, as we all know, that is anathema. And I think that George Bush, from this memo and from other things that I've heard, is really willing to take this on, but he's got a split in the House and the Senate. The House wants a specific plan from the White House, and the Senate wants to take a step back and let a bipartisan group of senators work it out.
MR. YORK: Well, the thing that unites them is they're terrified about this. One Republican in the Senate said to me, "Well, you know we could lose both majorities in 2006 because of this if we mess it up." So they're--it's an "After you," "No, after you." They want the president to go first.
MR. RUSSERT: Albert Hunt and Katty, the situation is, when Social Security began, there were 16 workers for every retiree. There are soon to be two workers for every retiree. We have 40 million people on Social Security now. When the baby boomers retire, there'll be 80 million. Roosevelt said eligibility 65, which was genius, because if you made it to 65, you were on Social Security for a month or two and that was it. Life expectancy's now 78, 79, 80 years old, so you have twice as many people on the program for 15 years. The president says that's a crisis. Democrats say it's not a crisis. We'll find a way to grow our way out of this and make some changes that would tweak the system. Who's right?
MR. HUNT: Well, it's certainly not a short-term crisis, but certainly over the long run I think Andrea's right, you can't sustain the system. Something has to be done. Look, I've been in Washington for 35 years. This is going to be the mother of all battles. I mean, you got to go back to Medicare to find anything where the stakes are so big, the politics are so difficult. It could profoundly change American politics, American economics. I think it's going to be far tougher--I don't think the president has any idea how tough this is. I don't think he has any idea. You cannot pass Social Security reform without a virtually united Republican Party and without sizable Democratic support. This is not tax cuts. This is not free-lunch stuff. This is sacrifice, and it's going to be big and it's got to be done bipartisan, and right now it ain't there.
MS. KAY: And all the Republicans know that all of the options on the table, whether it's raising the retirement age, cutting the benefits, they all carry some cost. And they're looking at their re-election prospects in 2006 and they don't want to be the ones seen to be pushing something which is causing a huge amount of pain. And the problem for the Republicans is the discussion at the moment, at least, in Washington is focused on cutting benefits. It's not focused on the personal accounts. Somehow the shift seems to be benefit cuts. Now, if you're looking at re-election, you don't want to be the person that's looking at benefit cuts.
MR. HUNT: I think some Republicans like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina really have thought this through and have proposed something that does involve tax increases. And I think, ultimately, if the president wants to get Social Security reform, which I think he does, he's going to have to accept--he may call it something else, but it's going to be a tax increase.
MS. KAY: Could this be the one where he overreaches, though? Could this be his overreach issue in his second term where he both unites the Democrats and splits the Republicans at the same time?
MR. RUSSERT: Before we go, Byron York mentioned Newt Gingrich, thinking about running for president. Professor Bob Shmulen of Notre Dame sent me a note the other day saying 2008 will be the first time in a long, long time where there will not be an incumbent president or vice president seeking the nomination of either party. How do you see 2008, Albert? Is it going to be a free-for-all?
MR. HUNT: I gave up column writing two weeks ago, but if Newt Gingrich is going to run for president, I think I want to go back. I used to get five or six great columns a year knocking Newt. I think 2008 is going to be the most wonderful contest to cover because it is so open. And I don't think anybody could sit here and tell you with any sense of certainty even the front-runners for either party right now.
MR. YORK: You know, every year, someone writes stories about how one candidate is using the value of incumbency. And this time, nobody's going to be able to do it, which is going to equal it out and make it even better.
MR. RUSSERT: And why are we all smiling?
MS. MITCHELL: Because we love it.
MS. KAY: Because it's going to be a fun race in 2008.
MR. RUSSERT: Katty Kay, Byron York, Andrea Mitchell, Albert Hunt, thank you all.
Coming next, our MEET THE PRESS minute with pioneer Shirley Chisholm. She was on MEET THE PRESS in 1972. She was seeking the Democratic nomination for the presidency.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first African-American woman to serve in Congress, and in 1972, she became the first woman to seek the Democratic presidential nomination:
REP. CHISHOLM: I am the candidate of the people of America.
MR. RUSSERT: She discussed her campaign for the White House right here on MEET THE PRESS during a special broadcast from the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami, Florida:
(Videotape, July 9, 1972):
MR. FRANK McGEE (NBC News): Mrs. Chisholm, how do you account for the fact that no more blacks than half have come to your cause in this primary process and now at the convention?
REP. CHISHOLM: Well, I think you have to recognize, first of all, gentlemen, you have to really recognize I'm doing something in this country that has never really been done before. It's a question of inculcation, reorientation and education. Never before in this country, ever since the inception of the republic, have you had a woman seriously running for the presidency. I'm not talking about someone nominating someone at the convention as a mere gesture of symbolism and tokenism. I'm talking about someone that has been going out on the highways and byways for the past seven and a half months and saying to the American people that indeed this is a multifaceted society, that Mrs. Chisholm also can be considered a person that can run for the presidency of this country.
I was breaking the tradition, a tradition on which only white males have only been the gentlemen in this country that have guided the ship of state. So you don't expect people black, white, men or women to suddenly overcome a tradition that has been steeped ever since the inception of this republic. So I understand that. I've broken the ice.
MR. RUSSERT: Shirley Chisholm died last week at the age of 80. Once discussing what her legacy might be, Chisholm commented that she didn't want to go down in history as "the first black woman congressman." She said, "I'd like them to say that Shirley Chisholm had guts. That's how I'd like to be remembered." And she will be.
And we'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: Start the day tomorrow on "Today" with Katie and Matt, then the "NBC Nightly News" with Brian Williams. That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it MEET THE PRESS.