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Meet the Press Transcript - April 26, 2015

APRIL 26, 2015

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, a devastating earthquake in Nepal leaves at least 2,000 dead. We'll have the latest. Also, the drone war.

BARACK OBAMA:

We all bleed when we lose an American life.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

An American accidentally killed. Is a drone war immoral? Or the only effective way to take out terrorists that are endangering American lives? Plus, same-sex marriage reaches the Supreme Court again, and perhaps for the final time. I'll be joined by former Bush v. Gore foes who joined forces to fight for marriage equality. And Hillary Clinton's cash controversy. How damaging will these new money stories be to her candidacy? Finally, Washington's obsession with itself.

CECILY STRONG:

Feels right to have a woman follow President Obama, doesn't it?

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

My interview with the Correspondents' Dinner headline act, SNL's Cecily Strong. I'm Chuck Todd and joining me to provide insight and analysis this Sunday morning are the Republican governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson. Pulitzer-prize winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Helene Cooper of The New York Times, who now has her own Pulitzer, Matt Bai of Yahoo News. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, this is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good morning. Before we get to all the week's politics and a discussion of America's drone war, one story is dominating headlines across the globe this Sunday. Desperate rescue efforts are underway after the worst earthquake to hit Nepal in more than 80 years. It struck near the capital, Katmandu. The death toll is now over 2,000. It includes 17 climbers who were killed by avalanches on Mount Everest.

In fact, one Nepali journalist said this: "The sadness is sinking in. We have lost our temples, our history, the places we grew up." For the latest, let's go to our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, who was in Kathmandu this morning. Richard?

RICHARD ENGEL:

Chuck, Kathmandu is now a city where people aren't living inside their homes. Every green space has been taken over. People are afraid to go into their homes, to sleep inside their homes. Behind me is one of the biggest parks in the city, but it is not just this park, people are sleeping and cooking with their families on the sidewalks, in the middle of the street.

They're afraid that there could be another major earthquake or just more of these aftershocks. We felt today one of the aftershocks when we arrived. It happened just as we had landed at the airport. We were going through immigration, and suddenly the building started shaking, the immigration officers ran away, ran outside for cover.

Then they came back. And I think people have been amazingly calm in the several hours we've been here. We've seen people quite resilient, taking it with a "take it as a comes" attitude. There are still foreigners in this city. And their situation isn't much better than the people who are living in the parks behind me. The hotels are operating in a status of kind of semi-evacuation. The hotels aren't kicking out their guests, they have nowhere to go, and there aren't many flights out of here.

So the guests are stuck there. But they don't want the guests to go up to the rooms, especially the upper floors. So the guests are sleeping in the lobby, they're sleeping in some of the lower hallways. And mostly, they're just sleeping in the gardens and in the parking lot in front of the hotel. We don't know how long this is going to last like this.

People I've been speaking to in the parks think they might be here for several more days, maybe a week. But it is not just here. There is the even more mysterious situation on Mount Everest. Some climbers have been evacuated from Mount Everest. Several, at least 17, including two Americans, have been killed. But I think we're going to be learning more about what exactly happened on Mount Everest as those survivors come off the mountain. They can be debriefed and teams can go in to see what happened. Chuck?

CHUCK TODD:

Richard, thank you very much. Now to the other big news of the week. One of the most striking changes in American foreign policy under President Obama has been a major escalation of drone strikes on Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. And controversy about Americans who have joined Al Qaeda have been targeted and killed.

In fact, we learned of the latest instant this week when the White House revealed that two American Al Qaeda leaders and two hostages, one Italian and one American, have been killed in drone strikes in January. Yet, no one in government used the word "drone strike," and politicians from both parties have been strangely reluctant to even talk about the issue.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

We all bleed when we lose an American life. We all grieve when any innocent life is taken.

CHUCK TODD:

The who, what, when, where, why, and how are all still lurking. On January 14th, American aid worker, Warren Weinstein, kidnapped in 2011, and Italian, Giovanni Lo Porto, held since 2012, were killed when an Al Qaeda compound in Pakistan's remote Shawal Valley was hit by a C.I.A. drone strike. Another American, Ahmad Farouq, a deputy Al Qaeda commander, was also killed. On January 19th, a second strike killed American Adam Gadahn, Al Qaeda's top spokesman, with a million-dollar bounty on his head.

JOSH EARNEST:

Mr. Gadahn was not specifically targeted.

CHUCK TODD:

The problem for the U.S. in these and other instances is that the C.I.A. often does not know who it is killing, targeting only high-level Al Qaeda leadership. Two years ago, President Obama pledged to scale back the drone campaign.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

And before any strike is taken, there must be near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.

CHUCK TODD:

But so-called signature strikes have continued. That's when the C.I.A. files a missile based on a pattern of behavior of people on the ground, even if it does not know who it's killing. By independent estimates of the more than 3,800 people killed by drones since 9/11, as many as 12% have been civilians. C.I.A. director John Brennan said this month that the deaths have been overstated.

JOHN BRENNAN:

A lot of these stories that you hear about in terms of, "Oh my goodness, there are hundreds of civilians that are killed," whatever. A lot of that is propaganda that is put out by those elements that are very much opposed to the U.S. coming in and helping.

CHUCK TODD:

But few dispute the drone wars hurting U.S. prestige abroad. Just 14% of Pakistanis view the U.S. favorably. Meanwhile in Washington this week and on the campaign trail, a deafening silence. Rand Paul staged a 13-hour filibuster two years ago to protest U.S. drone policy. This time, his campaign issued just a sentence: "It is a tragedy that these hostages lost their lives. My prayers and thoughts are with their families." A reminder of the collective reluctance of Washington to question President Obama's covert war.

I'm joined now by Tom Donilon. He's the former national security advisor to President Obama. He was in the room when the president made key decisions about the drone program in the early part of his presidency. Mr. Donilon, welcome back to Meet the Press.

TOM DONILON:

Good morning, Chuck. Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

These two strikes killed two hostages that the C.I.A. was unaware of and two Americans turned Al Qaeda operatives that the C.I.A. was unaware of. How does that happen?

TOM DONILON:

Yeah, well, with respect to these operations that the president declassified on Thursday, which are the two operations that you talked about. In the first case, there was a determination made that these are military facilities against actions should be taken. And that was the result of hundreds of hours of surveillance, all kinds of analysis, and red teaming.

And that assessment was true. These were enemy facilities, these were Al Qaeda compounds, as the president disclosed on Thursday. They were frequented by Al Qaeda leadership. And therefore, a legitimate military target. So that assessment was correct. Now the president also has publicly stated the framework under which we make determinations about collateral damage or the killing of innocents. And in this case, that turned out to be wrong. The standard there the president put in place is very high. Near certainty that there won't be deaths by this, or injury to a civilian.

CHUCK TODD:

So this didn't meet those standards?

TOM DONILON:

Well, all the procedures and protocol, as I understand it that the president said on Thursday were followed. The standard with respect as to whether or not this was a military facility where Al Qaeda operated out of and it was a threat to our forces was accurate. But it was a tragic, unintended consequence here, because the hostages were held at one of the facilities, against which we took an action.

Now, near certainty is a standard. If you are looking for absolute certainty in a war zone, Chuck, you are not going to find it. And what the president has said here is, "We should take another look at this because it was a tragic accident," obviously, with respect to Dr. Weinstein.

CHUCK TODD:

But you say that they're bringing protocols. And he announced all of these in May of 2013. So almost two years. But it doesn't seem like many of the new protocols have been implemented. You know, he wanted to refine and repeal the war resolution itself to have to deal with this, a new protocol for the drone program, reduction, reduced drone strikes by the end of 2014.

This was done in 2015, and obviously, I think the goal was when the Afghanistan war was done and the withdrawal was complete, the drone program would maybe completely end or nearly end and move from the C.I.A. to the Pentagon. Well, obviously we didn't withdraw from Afghanistan. But why haven't we moved the program to the Pentagon, where you'd have real, congressional oversight?

TOM DONILON:

Well, you have real congressional oversight over these operations.

CHUCK TODD:

Is that right?

TOM DONILON:

Yes, that is.

CHUCK TODD:

And there's a lot of people who don't believe that.

TOM DONILON:

Well, that is correct. There is oversight over these programs, number one. Number two, the framework is in place. And indeed, the standard by which the government makes a judgment as to whether or not to take a strike, right, is near certainty. Near certainty as to whether or not there'll be injury to a civilian.

And in this case, that protocol was followed, and it turned out to be inaccurate. And the president's asked for a review in this circumstance of why that turned out to be inaccurate. But, there's no doubt, Chuck, about the effectiveness of these programs or the necessity of these operations.

CHUCK TODD:

You don't think that these drones, of killing terrorists with drones, unmanned, isn't making more terrorists?

TOM DONILON:

Well.

CHUCK TODD:

That has been a concern for some time.

TOM DONILON:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

You don't believe that that's happen?

TOM DONILON:

No, I don't think that's the case. This is what I think is the case, that a comprehensive effort by the United States against Al Qaeda and its leadership has resulted in a safer America. That in fact, we've been able to decimate Al Qaeda's leadership, we've been able to reduce the threat to our forces and Afghanistan and our interest around the world and the United States.

My own judgment is that absent these operations like the president described on Thursday, absent these kinds of operations, a comprehensive effort against Al Qaeda, there would have been further action against U.S. interests and perhaps at the homeland and in the homeland. I don't have any doubt about that.

CHUCK TODD:

Let’s talk about the constitutional rights of the two Americans turned Al Qaeda operatives, you know, the legal issue here is a bit murky. And according to the president, they didn't know they were targeting, that these two individuals would be there. Had they known that these two Americans turned Al Qaeda operatives were there, would this drone strike have happened?

TOM DONILON:

Well, let's go through the analysis, right? These two Al Qaeda senior operatives were not targeted, number one in this. What was targeted--

CHUCK TODD:

But had they known to be there, would this drone strike have happened?

TOM DONILON:

Well, let me go through it, right? They were not targeted. What was targeted was an enemy facility in the Afghanistan war theater. That's the first point. They were not targeted. Secondly, an American citizen who goes abroad and joins the enemy and wages war on the United States, as the president said in his May 2013 speech, does not get a shield against action by the United States.

CHUCK TODD:

No due process?

TOM DONILON:

Well, we don't know it's an American, right?

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

TOM DONILON:

It's an action against an enemy facility. No more, for example, in this example the president gave, no more than someone who's a sniper and firing on a crowd does not get immunity or a shield against being taken out by a SWAT team in the United States. So the bottom line is that they were not targeted, this was an action against a military facility.

If in fact the United States decides to engage in an action against an American, and know they’re American, there are additional protections that the president laid out, including a review by the Justice Department and the attorney general. But that's not the case here.

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

So had we known there were Americans there, that drone strike would've at least been delayed until they got the proper legal protocol?

TOM DONILON:

There would've been a review in my judge, there should've been a review, right, with respect to an independent reviewer, reviewed by additional review by the attorney general and the Justice Department, with respect to ensuring that the constitutional, statutory rights of individuals who are protected.

CHUCK TODD:

Tom, final question. Do you believe this was an intelligence failure?

TOM DONILON:

My view is this, is that this was an operation against a military facility, it was based on hundreds of hours of surveillance and intelligence, and the assessment that it was an Al Qaeda compound and a military facility in a war zone was correct. Secondly, with respect to the near certainty standard, with respect to not having civilian casualties, in that case here, it turned out not to be correct. And that's why the president asked for a review. So--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

--a failure? An intelligence failure?

TOM DONILON:

Well, I didn't say an intelligence failure, Chuck. I said that the protocols were followed, right, and it was accurate with respect to whether or not this was the Al Qaeda facility. But in fact, there were hostages being held here. Now, it is difficult to know that, obviously.

You know, I spent a lot of time, for example, working on the hunt for Osama bin Laden. It took us years over the course of several, of two administrations, to find him. This is a very tough business. And if you're looking for, again, as tragic as this was, two things. It's very important to protect the United States and secondly, if you look for absolute certainty, you're not going to find it in a war setting.

CHUCK TODD:

Tom Donilon, home National Security Advisor, thanks for coming on Meet the Press. I appreciate your views. I'm now joined by Micah Zenko. He's a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and an expert on drone warfare. Mr. Zenko, welcome to Meet the Press. Let me ask you this, the drone program as it stands now, is it as necessary and successful as you heard it outlined by Mr. Donilon just now?

MICAH ZENKO:

Well, that outline presumes the assumption that the United States must be continuously using military force against a wide array of militant and terrorist organizations. So once you start with that assumption, I would say the binary policy choices the White House presents is you can either have a massive military occupation like Iraq, or you can conduct drone strikes, in which case they become particularly wise and ethical.

But I would say that the real question is why is it you think that the United States has been conducting these strikes since November 3rd, 2002, 50 under President Bush, 475 under President Obama, and the groups that the United States has been trying to defeat and eliminate either stay the same size, grow, or they move to other countries. So the real question is, how effective has this been as part of the comprehensive strategy that Mr. Donilon claims the United States has employed.

CHUCK TODD:

What is the unintended consequence, do you believe, of being able to engage militarily basically with a robot, with a drone, without any potentially risking blood and treasure when it comes to a military hit?

MICAH ZENKO:

Well, compared to all of the weapons platforms, drones have these inherent advantages to them, which is they can persist over targets for extensively long times, they're very responsive in terms of putting ammunition on top of a facility or a car or individual. And obviously, they don't place U.S. service members at any degree of risk.

And subsequently, since the U.S. first had this capability, it significantly lowers the threshold for when civilian policy makers will authorize the use of force. There have been something 425 drone strikes in Pakistan. No president would've ever authorized 425 manned aircraft raids into Pakistan or special operators raids. So it's the capability itself that changes the calculus for when president, C.I.A. directors, Pentagon officials will authorize the use of force.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there an alternative to drones that would be easier to sell to policy makers perhaps that are skeptical of what we're doing and frankly somewhat, I don't know if you call Pakistan as a full-fledged ally, but to keep an ally like Pakistan from being too upset about it?

MICAH ZENKO:

Again, you're assuming that the United States must be using military force. And so once you've made that assumption, drones become again, wise and ethical. They're the preferred method to use military force. The bigger question is, how are these actually being used and coordinated with the other sort of elements of national power?

President Obama had a fascinating observation the other day when he said, "We need to stop thinking about counterterrorism in isolation and think about development diplomacy and education opportunities." That's a great recognition six years into his administration to realize, but we seem to fall back on this default tactic as the method as the primary method to which we use these strikes. And fortunately, drones have become the face of U.S. foreign policy, not just from the countries where the strikes occur, but around the world.

CHUCK TODD:

Right now, the U.S. is basically the lone country using drones as much as it is. What happens when other countries start using drones for their own military use?

MICAH ZENKO:

Well, these are proliferating slowly, but other countries have developed them and employed them in some instances. The British using U.S.-leased drones, the Israelis use them as well. But President Obama, I think correctly, has stated that the United States is setting precedents and principles that they hope other countries will adhere to.

The problem is that the absence of clarity or transparency in these precedents or principles, and the clear fact that the outlying guidance that President Obama put forth in May 2013 is not directly guiding U.S. policy. There's a gap between how the U.S. justifies the use of drones and how they actually employ them. If every state followed that sort of perceived hypocrisy gap, I think that would be devastating for a lot of U.S. foreign policy interest and global security more generally.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Micah Zenko from the Council on Foreign Relations. Micah, I appreciate you coming on Meet the Press and for sharing your views.

MICAH ZENKO:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, the legal odd couple, Ted Olson and David Boies. They're fighting for same-sex marriage. The case hits the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

And if you want more on the 2016 presidential race, and let's face it, you're watching Meet the Press so you must, right? Well, now you can have your daily dose of 2016 delivered right to your inbox with our newest offering, The Lid. Get all the analysis and insight from the NBC News political unit, and it's even kind of funny. So sign up, head over to our website, I promise you won't be disappointed. Later in the broadcast, Washington's big self-centered night. I got to catch up with SNL's Cecily Strong just moments after her performance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

CECILY STRONG (ON TAPE):

I feel like I can hardly remember what happened when I was up there. So I don't even know. I'll probably watch back and be like, "Oh-I thought that did really well."

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. On Tuesday, the debate over gay marriage heads to the Supreme Court again, where the justices will hear arguments on whether individual states can constitutionally ban same-sex marriage. Eleven states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation to make same-sex marriage legal. And another 25 have been forced to legalize it by court decisions.

At the same time, there's been a dramatic change on public opinion on the issue. In our latest, NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 59% are in favor of same-sex marriage. That's up from 41% just five years ago. My next two guests, David Boies and Ted Olson, played a crucial role in the fight for marriage equality, acting as co-lead counsel in a landmark case in 2008 that overturned California's same-sex ban, Proposition Eight.

What was surprising at the time was that Olson's a conservative and Boies a liberal, were all old foes, having faced off in Bush versus Gore back in the famous Supreme Court case, of course, the 2000 elections. They're the authors of a book on the Proposition Eight case, Redeeming the Dream: The Case for Marriage Equality. Mr. Boies, Mr. Olson, welcome back to Meet the Press.

TED OLSON:

Good to be here.

CHUCK TODD:

David, let me start with the Prop Eight case.

DAVID BOIES:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

Why do you believe the Supreme Court stopped short of basically making it law of the land and only targeted California?

DAVID BOIES:

I think there's a legal reason and part's a policy reason. The legal reason was because under Supreme Court precedent, the people who were appealing that decision really didn't have standing. They weren't injured, they weren't adversely affected by it. They simply had a political point of view that they thought these marriages ought to be banned.

And so from a legal standing, constitutional standing, under the Supreme Court precedent, they really shouldn't have been there. Now there may have been a policy reason that we enforce that, which was to let the Congress develop a little bit further. At that point, we still had less than half the country on marriage equality. Now overwhelmingly it's taken over the country. And so just in the last couple of years, we've seen a tremendous movement that I think makes it easier now for the Supreme Court to make that total decision.

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Olson, is it possible that the Supreme Court could basically, and I hate to use this phrase, but split the baby and say that states have to recognize, all 50 states have to recognize same-sex marriages, but individual states cannot issue licenses?

TED OLSON:

I don't believe that's going to happen. As David pointed out, when our case, the Proposition Eight case came to the Supreme Court, the next day, the court heard the federal Defense of Marriage case. They were both decided the same day. What the Supreme Court said in the Defense of Marriage case, which was called the Windsor Case, was that the law is like the federal statute that restricted rights of individuals who wished to get married to the same person.

It was demeaning, it disrespected their relationship, it took a little bit of constitutional rights. If you read what the Supreme Court said in that case, there's really no other way for the Supreme Court to come out in the case that's up for argument on Tuesday. The first part of that case is whether states have to recognize the rights of individuals who wish to get married in that state. I think that will end the debate right there.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, it does seem, obviously it's going to the state's rights argument, that you can see the federal government saying, "No, no, no, no, you've got to recognize this is the way it works." But you don't think they'll draw a states'-rights line here?

TED OLSON:

No, I don't. And because of what the Supreme Court said in the federal case, that we're talking not so much, they mentioned states' rights, but they were talking about the impact on the individuals in a relationship and the children of those relationship, how it took away their rights. It made their relationships less equal, second-class. And those sorts of things that we don't do this in this country. We don't take away the rights of individuals and put them in a box and say that they are less equal than other people.

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Boies, what about the, and you hear this argument from the right that says, "Okay, same-sex marriage, it's going to become constitutionally legal once the Supreme Court does this. Then can you constitutionally ban polygamy?"

DAVID BOIES:

No.

CHUCK TODD:

I mean, you know this is where this is going to go.

DAVID BOIES:

Well.

CHUCK TODD:

How do you constitutionally ban polygamy?

DAVID BOIES:

Well, first of all, that's a silly argument. It really is. This has to do with equal rights. What we're saying is that you can't deprive a loving couple of marriage simply based on their sexual orientation. Just like you can't deprive a loving biracial couple of the right to get married. The Supreme Court held that many, many years ago.

What you have in the polygamy case is a situation where you're going to have multiple partners. And there's all sorts of evidence that that has harmful effects on some of the people participating and on the children. So there's a policy reason. But more importantly, there's a legal reason. And that is, you're not discriminating against anybody.

Everybody gets to have one spouse. As long as you don't restrict it based on race, gender, sexual orientation, everybody's treated equal under the constitution. What you can't do is you can't say, "Some people are second-class." And so some people can marry the person they love, one man, one woman. But two men and two women, they can't get married simply because of their sexual orientation or their gender, that's what's unconstitutional about it. The polygamy thing has nothing to do with it.

TED OLSON:

The overwhelming evidence in the case that we tried is that sexual orientation is something that's an immutable characteristic of an individual. Choosing to have multiple spouses is a choice. It's not a part of an innate characteristic. So we're discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation. Polygamy has nothing to do with it.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright, I’m going to make you guys play Supreme Court pundits here. Swing vote, swing vote or votes on this issue.

TED OLSON:

If you look at the decisions that the Supreme Court made in the Defense of Marriage case and the earlier cases that we cited in our briefs, there's five votes, including Justice Kennedy, Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, Justice Sotomayor, Justice Kagan.

We think that, as David and I talked about this case, we were hoping that all nine justices would fall in line once the case finally was decided because of the inherent rights of individuals. So I'm still optimistic it'll be more than five votes. But we can count the justices that already decided the Defense of Marriage case and their explanation for why they decided that.

CHUCK TODD:

David, does it matter if it's 5-4 or 6-3? You know what I mean? Does that have a better, does it have a different impact?

DAVID BOIES:

I think civil rights cases ought to be decided 9-0, 8-1, the way the racial and civil rights decisions were largely made. I think it--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

The public thinks that?

DAVID BOIES:

Exactly. And it sends a message that this country doesn't tolerate discrimination. So I think the more justices that sign on, the better. But I think if you just look at, if you're reading tea leaves here, you've got to look at Windsor.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID BOIES:

And I think it's very hard to see how any one of the five majority justices in Windsor would decide this case differently. But on the other hand, I think it's a little hard to figure out for sure that you can get any one of the four that dissented in Windsor.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, David Boies, Ted Olson, it's always a pleasure.

TED OLSON:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you for coming on. Let me bring in the panel now. Of course, we've got the Republican governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Helene Cooper, and Mr. Matt Bai. Governor Hutchinson, let me start with you. I went through the states' rights argument on this front. Do you believe, you're also an attorney, I believe, do you believe there is a line you can draw between saying, the federal question is states have to recognize, versus the question of whether states have to authorize?

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON:

Todd , I thought your arguments were very persuasive in the previous discussion. I think there is a way the court can do that. If you look at the Windsor case that was spoken of, it was not just how gays were treated that was part of the decision.

There was also a deference to states' definition of marriage. And that's been historically a recognition by the Supreme Court. What has changed? The constitution hasn't changed. But a lot of things have happened in the state courts. A majority of the states that have moved toward recognizing gay marriage has done it through judicial fiat, versus the legislative process.

And so the courts really are forcing this issue as to what the Supreme Court will do. I think it's a little bit unpredictable. I think they could continue to give some deference to the states. But I do think that we'll probably have to clearly recognize what happens in another state. And so we'll wait and see. But as governor--

CHUCK TODD:

This became interesting for you, though. You put it on personal terms. Your son, this is when the Religious Freedom bill that you we're going to sign, your son petitioned you to veto the bill. And you yourself said, "You know what, on same-sex marriage, this is a generational divide."

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON:

Well, it is. It's a divide politically, it's a divide geographically. I'm from Arkansas. Arkansas has a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. That's my conviction, that's my belief. But I also recognize if we talk about this issue, we need to talk about it in terms of tolerance. We need to talk about it in terms of non-discriminatory policy, the diversity of the workplace. That's the point I was making with my son that it is a generational divide.

CHUCK TODD:

Doris, you're of course an historian

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN

Of course.

CHUCK TODD:

Of course, of course, of course. Any movement in history moved so fast as the acceptance of same-sex marriage?

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

It is astonishing. When you think about only a decade ago, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act. And then you get civil unions in Vermont, and then you get Massachusetts saying, "Same sex." Then you get these other states following one after another. I think what it suggests is something really important about our civic life.

Where does prejudice and discrimination come from, when one group, one class, one race, one people with sexual orientation, has little to do with the others. And they-- they characterize them and they prejudice them and they stereotype them.

Gay people are now working with all sorts of people, their children are going to school with the children of straight people. They're part of their neighborhood. It's harder then to say they're "other." And you begin to feel a sense of their desires, their passions. That's what makes a healthy civic life. I think it's a wonderful remarkable not just about gay marriage and gay rights, but about what can happen in a society when we stop being behind tribal barriers it's a good thing.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Helene, as tribal as we have been lately in our politics, on this issue, it really has been, you could argue, been driven by young folks.

HELENE COOPER:

Very much so. But what's also really interesting is that I think so many more so much of this is experiential, particularly when you look at politicians, you see people coming out and say, "Well, actually, I was opposed to this until my son told me he was gay."

CHUCK TODD:

Rob Portman story

HELENE COOPER:

And I think that has been one of the driving forces. As soon as you can put a face on an issue that before had been so so esoteric to a lot of people, I think this movement, I mean, I think we're there.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Matt, our quick presidential politics question on this. So we're going to get this decision in June. I think the assumption is that it's likely going to end up legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

MATT BAI:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

A year from then, the Republican party is going to meet and have its decision, are they going to have a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in their platform or not? What do you think is going to happen over that one-year period? Do you think it'll end up that the nominee says, "You know what, just take it out"?

MATT BAI:

Yeah, I think not. I mean, obviously it depends on who your nominee is to some extent. But like, as I've said before, here and elsewhere Republicans are on the wrong side of this, obviously, and it has moved much too quickly for them. Really, they've put themselves in a very bad position. Because honestly, if we're honest about this, no one in the political establishment should be patting themselves on the back in either party on this issue. One of the reasons it moved so quickly Doris, is because the public was really--

CHUCK TODD:

The public dragged them

MATT BAI:

Absolutely. You know, and there was no, Hubert Humphrey walked out of the 1948 Democratic Convention over civil rights. There's no Hubert Humphrey in the political system on this issue. And so you know, Republicans were not necessarily so far behind where Democrats were, but they are making this an issue that's going to set them back for years to come, I think.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. I'm going to put a pause button on here, speaking of a little politics, we're going to get into it in the next segment. Coming up, the Clinton Foundation money. Is this latest story a major problem for Hillary's campaign? Or is it much ado about very little?

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. We're two weeks into the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. And Republicans and some journalists have been working themselves into a frenzy over a new book on the Clintons that's about to be released. It's called Clinton Cash. It's by Peter Schweizer. Alleges a too-cozy relationship between donations to the Clinton Foundation, and Clinton family speaking fees, and decisions that were made by Hillary Clinton's State Department.

Let me bring in the panel here to discuss hospital damaging they all think this is. Helene, let me start with you, because the allegations, there's definitely A and there's C, right, and then there's been an argument, okay, the trouble is, how do you prove the connection, New York Times, your paper, did a big story on this Russian issue having to do with uranium purchase. There's not a connection, but there is the appearance of impropriety.

HELENE COOPER:

That's the biggest problem. And it all takes us back to the '90s. It feeds this aura that a lot of people have about the Clintons. I mean, remember, we've gone through, what, six years with Barack Obama. And you haven't had that atmosphere, you know, that aura of there's something going on. People are now talking about the Lincoln bedroom again.

People are talking about, it just brings, I think, this is not, I don't think that this is necessarily that huge a deal. But I think that this feeds a problem that she's going to continue to have. And it brings up again the sort of the why didn't they see this earlier, why didn't they take steps to disassociate themselves?

But as soon as she left the State Department she went back to, you know, accepting the Clinton Foundation that had sort of distanced itself a little bit from this, and went back to taking some of these donations. And why didn't they foresee this? I mean, everybody knew that Hillary Clinton was going to run, I mean, so.

CHUCK TODD:

That's mindboggling. But, you know, Matt Bai, Jonathan Chait, who's no conservative pundit, he's, well, I think pretty left of center--

CHUCK TODD:

--in New York Magazine, this is what he wrote: "All sorts of unproven worst-case-scenario questions float around discussing this book. But the best-case scenario," he writes, "is bad enough: The Clintons have been disorganized and greedy." He called the news this week, today, at the time, "about the Clintons all fleshes out, in one way or another, their lack of interest in policing serious conflict-of-interest problems that arise in their overlapping roles."

MATT BAI:

Right. I mean, what a happy coincidence of publishing schedule and news cycle, huh? That worked out. Lookw, let's be clear. I don't think anyone was voting for Hillary Clinton, or who's going to, because of the threat she poses to the governing status quo and the political establishment. Right?

I mean, it doesn't hurt her with her voters, that perception, you know, she's not the reformist presence that Barack Obama was and is. I do think, as Helene says, it's the arrogance of it. And I think it's something, you know, it's this issue, it's the emails, it's the idea that, you know, you'd never admit guilty, never say you're sorry, you kill the messenger, you tear everything down

CHUCK TODD:

they have this whole thing to say, "It's a hatchet job, masquerading as a book." They sort of, like, and as Ron Fournier points out, it's sort of like a standard playbook.

MATT BAI:

Yeah--

MATT BAI:

It is a standard playbook. It's the idea that, you know, you have to fight ten times harder, you know, the whole line about them bringing a knife to a gun fight, right? And I think that doesn't wear well in presidential politics. And it particularly doesn't wear well when it's something people are already concerned about, where your candidacy is concerned.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Doris, eight years ago, Democrats were hand wringing publicly about this. This time, they're doing it privately. I heard an earful last night from various Democrats, some of whom who worked in the Clinton campaign, who said, "Why is she still taking foreign donations?" Why is the foundation, you know, they narrowed it down, okay, now they're only going to take it from some European countries and Canada. They've gotten rid of some of the despot states that they were, that's the stuff that boggles the mind. But they're afraid of speaking out.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

I think what still boggles the mind is why doesn't Hillary deal with this herself right now? You know, to a certain extent, when you have Mitt Romney saying, "This is bribery." Bribery means theft, robbery, it means taking favors to do something corrupt. You can't let that charge stand and simply say, "It's the wrong people telling it."

When Teddy Roosevelt was accused similarly in 1904 of giving favors to big corporations and promising that he wouldn't do anti-trust against them, he gave up. Everybody said, "Don't say anything. Don't make it legitimate." He gets up and stands up, he said, "If this charge were true, I'd be infamous. This would be a terrible thing. But it's false. It's wickedly false. It's atrociously false." That ended and he said, "You give me evidence." No evidence, he comes off it flying colors. I think she has to answer this herself.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, Governor Hutchinson, you're from the Clintons' home state. They have had accusations thrown at them time and again and they politically always survive. Do you think this time it's different?

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON:

Does it impact her base, Republican base? It impacts the middle. What this does, it reminds everyone that everything about the Clintons is complicated. And this story has three ramifications that bear looking at. An awful, ungodly amount of money involved in these transactions. It involves a foreign source.

And then it involves high positions in government, important decisions. No evidence of a quid pro quo. Republicans need to be careful not to overstate the case. But it reminds us that Clintons are complicated and they tend to make mistakes.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, it'll be interesting to see how much more of this happens before Democrats start going as public as they did when I was talking to a bunch of them last night. All right, when we come back, on this weekend of political satire, one of the greatest political satirists of all time, Doonesbury's Garry Trudeau. That's coming up.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. If you don't know Garry Trudeau, you definitely know his work. He's the Pulitzer-Prize-winning cartoonist, and the creator of the politically famous comic strip, Doonesbury. He's also executive producer of the Amazon show Alpha House. But earlier this month, you may have heard about him for a different reason.

While accepting the George Polk Award, he criticized some of the work that appeared in the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. They were, of course, the victims of a terror attack in January of this year. Trudeau said the magazine's cartoons satirizing Muhammad, quote, "wandered into the realm of hate speech." So I started in my sit-down with him by asking him about those comments, and whether, as some critics have alleged about him, that he felt the victims were to blame for the tragedy.

(BEGIN TAPE)

GARRY TRUDEAU:

Oh, not at all. And, you know, I think perhaps I should've made it a little clear that I was as outraged as the rest of the world at the time. I mourn them deeply, we're a very small fraternity of political cartoonists around the globe. I created a tribute page to them on a Sunday section in which I included the work of all five cartoonists, including their signatures and their main characters. What I didn't do is necessarily agree with the decisions that he made that brought really a world of pain to France.

CHUCK TODD:

Is religion the red line for you? Is that the issue?

GARRY TRUDEAU:

Not entirely. I certainly wouldn't draw pictures of the prophet. However, I have done many cartoons satirizing in the specific terrorists, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, the PLO, through the years. And have never received any blowback from the Muslim community. They understand that I'm separating out the two.

CHUCK TODD:

Let's talk about Doonesbury.

GARRY TRUDEAU:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

What was the impetus? Was it Watergate? Was it Vietnam? Was it just that era? What was the impetus?

GARRY TRUDEAU:

I don't know what it was. You know, my career was not my idea. It was the idea of an editor who picked me out of my student newspaper my junior year and gave me the job I still hold. I don't know what he was thinking. I didn't have, you know, the skill set that most people would associate with creating a comic strip.

I think he just liked my perspective. And thereafter, because I'd been doing it in college, I had no editor, I had no clear sense of what I could do on the comics page and what I couldn't. And so I was, you know, constantly being kicked out of newspapers.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, where does it belong? I mean, look, I remember growing up and there would be some newspapers, it was in the--

(OVERTALK)

GARRY TRUDEAU:

Yeah, selfishly I--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

And in some places, like, you know, The Washington Post famously put it in the style section.

GARRY TRUDEAU:

Or in the editorial page.

CHUCK TODD:

And some put it in--where does it belong?

GARRY TRUDEAU:

You know, I feel it belongs on the comics page. And for a very selfish reason, which is that's where the readers are. Jack Anderson, a legendary columnist, he's to insist that his column appear on the comics page of The Washington Post because that's where the readers were.

But in the early days, the red lines were a little less clear to me. And I did something incredibly inane. I put together this questionnaire with a check list, and I sent it out to a dozen high-level editors around the country, and I said, "Which of these subjects do you think are appropriate for the comics page?" You know, abortion, marijuana, politics, rock-n-roll, sex.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm curious, what year did you do this? Do you remember?

GARRY TRUDEAU:

I was probably 22.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

GARRY TRUDEAU:

Twenty-three.

CHUCK TODD:

So this was--

GARRY TRUDEAU:

So I mean, it was inane thing to do. And most of them bit, most of them went for it and they checked the boxes and said, "Well, I guess you could write about marijuana, but no on abortion." And they sent back these questionnaires. But finally I got a letter back with no questionnaire from an editor who said, "It makes no difference what you write about if you approach it seriously and with purpose. And P.S., be funny."

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

GARRY TRUDEAU:

There's no limit to what you can do in this medium. Now that's something I should've figured out on my own. But as I said, I was young.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

A reminder, you can watch my entire interview with Garry Trudeau on our website and hear more of what he has to say about Doonesbury and how Hunter S. Thompson, the late Hunter S. Thompson, was a huge inspiration for him, and why he tells young cartoonists that they might want to consider a different path. Up next here, we're back with End Game and the star of last night's White House Correspondents' Dinner, SNL's Cecily Strong.

CECILY STRONG (ON TAPE):

I took Amtrak here. It was way more luxurious than I thought. Did you know that they have massage seats available on this train? All you need to do is sit in front of Joe Biden.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

End Game time. Some of our panel are a bit bleary-eyed this morning, I'm talking to you, Governor. Last night of course was the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Helene, of course, she didn't have to party because The New York Times, they had no part of that dinner. But there were some fun highlights from President Obama and SNL's Cecily Strong.

(BEGIN TAPE)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

After the midterm elections, my advisors asked me, "Mr. President, do you have a bucket list?" And I said, "Well, I have something that rhymes with bucket list." Take executive action on immigration? Bucket! I've got to stay focused on my job, because for many Americans, this is still a time of deep uncertainty. For example, I have one friend, just a few weeks ago, she was making millions of dollars a year, and she's now living out of a van in Iowa.

CECILY STRONG:

"It is great to be here at the Washington Hilton," is something a prostitute might say to a Congressman. Hillary's campaign slogan is, "It's your time," which I would assume is what she says into a mirror while she's dead lifting 200 pounds. After six years in office, your approval rating is at 48%. Not only that, your gray hair is at 85%. Your hair is so white now, it can talk back to the police.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Well, right after her standup routine, I caught up with Cecily Strong to see how she felt about this performance.

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Grade the president, how'd he do last night?

CECILY STRONG:

I mean, I think he always does very well. Especially in that world. When he's making a speech and being funny, that's what he does really, really well.

CHUCK TODD:

I've heard this from other comedians that they say, "The single hardest person to follow is the President of the United States."

CECILY STRONG:

Yeah, I've heard that from a lot of people too.

CHUCK TODD:

And did you feel it?

CECILY STRONG:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

Did you feel that?

CECILY STRONG:

I did. I was kind of like, "Oh, that was really good, wasn't it? Oh, they are really liking him."

CHUCK TODD:

So he tells a joke, you said, "Oh jeez," crossing that one off the list, crossing that one--

(OVERTALK)

CECILY STRONG:

I kept checking in with my writers, I know where they were sitting, and I would go, "Should we keep it, cut it?" And so there were two I chose to cut.

CHUCK TODD:

You seemed cool as a cucumber. You showed no nervousness at all.

CECILY STRONG:

I think I'm a good faker.

CHUCK TODD:

Is that what it is?

CECILY STRONG:

Yeah. I think I always have been somewhere. I don't know how that's worked out for me. But it's, like, maybe the best thing I have going for me. I honestly, I feel like I can hardly remember what happened when I was up there. So I don't even know. I'll probably watch back and be like, "Oh, I thought that did really well."

CHUCK TODD:

Will you watch your performance or no?

CECILY STRONG:

I think I'd watch this one. I'd be curious.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah?

CECILY STRONG:

Because I honestly, I couldn't gauge it.

CHUCK TODD:

Would you do it now or are you going to wait?

CECILY STRONG:

No, I won't do it now. I'll go start drinking now. And then I'll start thinking later.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

All right, let me bring in the panel. A few of you were there. Governor, what do the folks in Arkansas, you think, think of this Washington festivities, whatever you want to call it, Oscar night in Washington?

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON:

Peculiar. It's probably not the best politics to be here.

CHUCK TODD:

Right? You think it's going to, like, knock you down an approval rating or two?

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON:

You never know. But at the same time, one, you salute the media, journalists, they're doing an extraordinary job in a dangerous world. But secondly, it's the time to really salute the president. And it's a lot of irreverence, but at the same time, you have Washington coming together. If Washington comes together, it's not a bad thing.

CHUCK TODD:

No, it is. And you know, Doris, look, there's always been some hand-wringing. My own colleague, Tom Brokaw, feels as if the thing's gotten too big. And I feel that way sometimes. I miss it when it was a Washington dinner. It, I would argue, when our friends in New York and L.A. got involved, they're the ones that made this dinner too big.

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

What do you think of that?

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

I think there was something when it was more just the correspondents and the profession, the media. But now there this, who's the star that's running in? It takes something away. But nonetheless, there's something about the self-deprecating humor that everybody wants to hear.

Politicians build themselves up so much, when they can laugh at themselves. My favorite moment, when somebody said to Lincoln, "You're two-faced." And he said, "If I had two faces, do you think I'd be wearing this face?" Think of how that just, you know, and the other--

CHUCK TODD:

That would've killed last night. That would've killed. Right.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

But think also that here was a woman emcee, 50 years ago, women couldn't even go to the White House Correspondents Dinner, until JFK, of course, said he wouldn't go unless a woman came. So we've made progress there too.

CHUCK TODD:

Forever, but two in the last five years when it comes to women comics.

HELENE COOPER:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

So it's real progress. What'd you think?

HELENE COOPER:

Why are you asking me this? You know I’m not allowed to go, it's killing me.

CHUCK TODD:

--you got to watch it.

HELENE COOPER:

You're talking about your really fun prom--

MATT BAI:

Well, I paid for it.

HELENE COOPER:

I thought Obama was really funny. I loved the praying five times a day line. I thought it was hilarious.

CHUCK TODD:

It is funny. He always does a Muslim joke.

HELENE COOPER:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

He always does a Muslim joke and it always kills.

HELENE COOPER:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

It always does. Matt, your favorite part of the night?

MATT BAI:

Oh, I hate the whole thing. It's--

CHUCK TODD:

Oh, "I hate the whole thing?" Come on, did you go?

MATT BAI:

The jobs program for the low-rent tux industry in Washington. You know, but I think this president is probably the funniest president of our lifetime. Just whatever else anyone thinks of him, he's got great comic timing it's fun to see him talk.

HELENE COOPER:

I thought he was funny.

MATT BAI:

He was. But I think--

CHUCK TODD:

George W. Bush was funny.

HELENE COOPER:

Yeah, he was.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, the problem is, he did something funny and then everybody got mad at the funny and the whole WMD thing. But--

MATT BAI:

That wasn't so funny.

CHUCK TODD:

It wasn't funny then, and then he got afraid of trying to be funny again.

MATT BAI:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

It was one of those things. Anyway, you guys were great. I appreciate it. That's all that we have for today. We'll be back next week, because as you know, if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.