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Meet the Press Transcript - February 22, 2015

MEET THE PRESS - FEBRUARY 22, 2015

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, war of words. Controversy over how President Obama talks about ISIS.

RUDY GIULIANI (ON TAPE):

It doesn't evoke in me the sense that he loves this country.

CHUCK TODD:

But ask yourself. Does this--

BARACK OBAMA (ON TAPE):

We are not war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.

CHUCK TODD:

--really sound much different from this?

DICK CHENEY (ON TAPE):

So this is, by no means, a war against Islam.

CHUCK TODD:

Plus, after another week of unspeakable atrocities committed by ISIS, the threat abroad and the threat at home. I'll be joined by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. And as Kevin Spacey from House of Cards moves into the White House--

KEVIN SPACEY (ON TAPE):

There is but one rule: hunt or be hunted.

CHUCK TODD:

--we'll have a look at some of our favorite fictional presidents. I'm Chuck Todd. And joining me to provide insight and analysis this morning are former White House press secretary to President Obama, Robert Gibbs; The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter; Nia-Malika Henderson of the Washington Post; and former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush and a Washington Post columnist, Michael Gerson. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

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

CHUCK TODD:

And good morning. It's been a battle that has raged ever since ISIS shocked the world with its cult of violence and death. What should President Obama call this enemy? He has refused to use the terms "Islamist" or "radical Islam," insisting that we are not at war with Islam, but with some perversion of a great religion.

Conservatives argue that in doing so, Mr. Obama is failing to recognize the true face of the enemy. So, we wondered. In this debate about semantics and security, is there precedent for the president's position? Well, we went back to the video tape. And here's what we found.

(BEGIN TAPE)

BARACK OBAMA:

The parents do not speak for over a billion Muslims who reject their hateful ideology.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

All Americans must recognize that the face of terror is not the true face of Islam.

BARACK OBAMA:

We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.

DICK CHENEY:

This is, by no means, a war against Islam.

BARACK OBAMA:

I think all of us recognize that this great religion in the hands of a few extremists has been distorted to justify violence towards innocent people that is never justified.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

The face of terror is not the true face of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

So, in fact, President Obama doesn't sound very different from President Bush or Vice President Cheney. And now into this controversy jumps former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who insisted again and again this week that he believes Mr. Obama doesn't love his country.

Should Giuliani's opinion even matter, though? Is it relevant or constructive? Those questions, of course, weren't dealt with. Instead, we got the inevitable media feeding frenzy that was wholly unsatisfactory and likely met with more than a few eye rolls.

(BEGIN TAPE)

MEGYN KELLY:

Breaking tonight, new outrage and backlash.

WOLF BLITZER:

Is Rudy Giuliani adding insult to injury?

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS:

I just can't believe it came out of his mouth.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

It's cable catnip, and eventually network and front-page catnip, too. Exhibit A of what happens when a former official desperate to stay relevant is given a megaphone. Television turns up the volume and politicians, afraid of their own base, refuse to take it away.

SEAN HANNITY:

Rudy Giuliani.

LAWRENCE O’DONNELL:

Rudy Giuliani.

ANDERSON COOPER:

Rudy Giuliani.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

This week's race to the bottom, led by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is proving why Americans are learning to hate politics and the media. On Wednesday, Giuliani told a group of donors at a fundraiser for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, "I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America.”

"He wasn't brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country." Over the next 48 hours, Giuliani attempted to explain himself, and either doubled down or dug deeper, depending upon your point of view.

MEGYN KELLY:

Mr. Mayor, do you want to apologize for your comment?

RUDY GIULIANI:

Not at all. I want to repeat it. The reality is I, from all that I can see of this president, all that I've read of him. He apologizes for America. He criticizes America.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

Giuliani defended his comments to the New York Times, saying, quote, "Some people thought it was racist. I thought that was a joke, since he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people. This isn't racism. This is socialism or possibly anticolonialism." Giuliani even used an old racial dog whistle of the Civil Rights Era: communism.

RUDY GIULIANI:

His grandfather introduced him to Frank Marshall Davis, who was a communist.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

Democrats seem to enjoy watching spectacle unfold. The White House introduced the hashtag #obamalovesamerica on Thursday.

JOSH EARNEST:

It's sad to see when somebody who has attained a certain level of public stature, and even admiration, tarnishes that legacy so thoroughly.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

Florida Senator Marco Rubio demonstrated that it is possible to criticize the president, but stay rational.

MARCO RUBIO:

Democrats aren’t asked to answer every time Joe Biden says something embarrassing. So I don’t know why I should answer every time a Republican does. I will suffice it to say that I believe the president loves America. I just think his ideas are bad.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

But given the opportunity to take the high road, other Republicans whiffed.

SCOTT WALKER:

Well, I think the president and the mayor can speak for themselves. I know I America. And I know there's people all across the political spectrum, from Republican to Democrat, who certainly do. But that's something that the mayor and the president have to talk about.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

And Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal put out a statement saying, quote, "If you are looking for someone to condemn the Mayor, look elsewhere."

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

I'm joined now by Haley Barbour. He's, of course, the former governor of Mississippi, but also the former chairman of the Republican National Committee. And, so, he's had to give advice to every now and then to Republicans running. Governor Barbour, welcome back to Meet the Press.

HALEY BARBOUR:

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm going to start with something you wrote in your book, in your afterword. You said this, "I have always advocated that we manage our party, our coalition, in a way that 60% of voters would feel welcome in the party, or at least be open to consider vetting for the GOP nominee." You also write, "Be polite to the 40%, but make sure that the 60% super majority is welcome and feels welcome." Does Giuliani prove that he wasn't being polite to the 40%?

HALEY BARBOUR:

Well, you know, we got 60% of the vote twice in my lifetime. And we ought to run our party--we can still 60% of the vote. I wouldn’t characterize my views of President Obama the way Mayor Giuliani did. I think the problem with Barack Obama is his policy, bad policy that produced bad results. And that's what we all want to talk about. The Democrats are loving not having to talk about that. They prefer to talk about Rudy Giuliani until the cows come home.

CHUCK TODD:

Should we care what Rudy Giuliani thinks right now? You know, he's not in office. He's not running for anything. Should it even matter?

HALEY BARBOUR:

Well, if he's like me, his political future is behind him. Look, to make this such a big deal is partially being fed by people that want to change the subject. I thought a couple of Republican candidates for president. You had Marco Rubio on your screen a minute ago.

He said this is all about policy. Jeb Bush said we ought to be talking about policy. If I'm going to criticize the president, it's going to be on his policies and the bad results that produce those policies. I agree with that. That's how you run your party so the 60% of the people will be willing to consider voting for a Republican.

CHUCK TODD:

I know a lot of Republicans ask you advice, sort of how to handle this day and age. And from what we've seen, it seems like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is wondering what it's like to be considered a front runner. He's been in town for the National Governors' Conference.

And he was asked about the president's religion. And we can debate whether that was an appropriate question or not. But here's how he responded about whether the president's a Christian. He said, "I've actually never talked about it. I haven't read about that. I've never asked him that.”

"You've asked me to make statements about people that I haven't had a conversation with about. How can I say if I know either of you are a Christian?" referring to the two reporters from the Washington Post. I guess what's your advice to him, though? It seems that he left it open. You can call it a gotcha question, but he chose to answer it and he left it open. Was that a mistake?

HALEY BARBOUR:

Well, look, Scott Walker has been a good record as governor of Wisconsin. He's run three times in four years in a tough state. He shares with Chris Christie the fact that he's won in a state it's hard for Republicans to win in. But he shouldn't take the bait on this kinda stuff. I don't think it's any kind of glaring problem. I think the Post is trying to make a lot more out of it. There's a lot less here that meets the eye.

CHUCK TODD:

They did respond, full disclosure here, that after this story appeared and there was a little dust-up last night, his office put out a response that said this, "Of course the governor thinks the president is a Christian. He thinks these kinds of gotcha questions distract from what he's doing as governor of Wisconsin and make sure the state is better, make life better for the people in the state." But I guess you've got to be nimble if you're running for president. Do you not?

HALEY BARBOUR:

Well, it's about how you can match up the opportunities. And I remember Jeremiah Wright, who is very unpopular among the people who would be voting in the Republican primary. Now, if someone were asking me about that question, that's the way, if wanted to be political, I wanted to take the question.

I think Scott Walker's probably just being truthful, you know. He is a son of a preacher. He is a Christian. And he may have taken that question the way I did the first time I heard about it, do you believe he's really a Christian, or do you believe he just professes to be a Christian? But I don't know the answer to that, either.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, what does that mean?

HALEY BARBOUR:

A lot of people say, "I'm a Christian," but deep down inside they're not. That's what I thought the question was. You think he really is--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

I understand that. But this is how it comes across to some folks when suddenly there's a debate about this, which is why is it Barack Obama, the first African-American president, has had questions about his religion pop up in the political conversation? It didn't happen to Bill Clinton. It didn't happen to George W. Bush. A lot of his supporters hear that and think this has some racial overtone. What do you say to that?

HALEY BARBOUR:

I don't know that race has anything to do with it. I would bet a higher percentage of African Americans in the United States are Christians than of whites. I mean, of course, I've come from a place where I'm very familiar with that. Religious leaders are very powerful leaders in the black community in my state. And they're good Christians. So, I don't get the race question about Christianity.

CHUCK TODD:

But I understand how other people hear it. And that's, I guess, what I'm going through, is how does the Republican Party deal with that larger issue here, how the vast middle, this 20% extra of this 60% that you wanna get, what do they hear when they hear Republican candidates questioning things like this, the president's patriotism or his religion?

HALEY BARBOUR:

Well, it's not where we want to be talking. We want to be talking about policy. We want to be talking about results. That's our strength. That's Obama's weakness. His bad policies. Have produced bad results. At the Governors' Conference yesterday, Democratic governors were talking about the weakest recovery since World War II, were talking about a lack of confidence in the future of the country.

That wasn't the case two years ago. But it's the case now. Those are Democratic governors talking about that. That's where we ought to be focused, not on personal characteristics. You mentioned I was chairman of the Republican National Committee when Bill Clinton was president. And our rule was we never talked about Clinton personally. We never talked about anything except Clinton's policies.

CHUCK TODD:

You think that should be the rule?

HALEY BARBOUR:

That's exactly what the rule should be that’s our strength.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you wish Rudy Giuliani would apologize?

HALEY BARBOUR:

Look, Rudy Giuliani has been a great mayor. And a hero at a terrifically hard time on September 11th. I admire what he did. So, that's up to him.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Governor Barbour, thanks for coming on Meet the Press. Appreciate it. Let me go to the panel. Robert Gibbs, Amy Walter, Nia-Malika Henderson, Michael Gerson. So, Amy, what have we learned from this mess? When I say it's a mess, because I tell you I've hated this story in so many ways. I think it brings out the worst in the press. I think it's bringing out the worst in some politicians. And it's a race to the bottom. And now we know why everybody's cynical about the press and politics.

AMY WALKER:

Yes. But also, welcome to the N.F.L.

CHUCK TODD:

No that’s right Scott Walker

AMY WALKER:

this is now the big leagues. And when you get asked these questions, which you will get from the press. And, by the way, wait until voters start asking the questions. Because they're going to be even more in politic than these. You have to have a better answer than answering the question the way that Scott Walker did. Marco Rubio did a good job. Rand Paul did a good job. Jeb Bush did a good job of knowing how to answer these questions. Hillary Clinton is going to get some of these same questions, too. So, we'll be back around.

CHUCK TODD:

Michael, what did you learn from this? And what should Scott Walker learn from this?

MICHAEL GERSON:

Well, I think Republicans have a specific problem, the dangerous feedback loop between partisan media and populist candidates. And feud is the worst discourse. And all of a sudden, talk radio is the voice inside your head.

And you can't address the country that way. It's too inward looking. An effective communicator would view the stereotype of the party that they're involved in some holy war as an opportunity to distinguish yourself, to say, "I'm different here." And I think Rubio took the opportunity. I think that Walker's proved that he isn't there yet.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Ron Fournier wrote something yesterday that I thought was interesting. He said this, "Ask any parent. Our culture is coarsening. Civility is eroding." This goes to your point, Michael: "The internet easily reinforces and amplifies hateful language. Nobody wants to live in a country where the singular measure of patriotism is that you agree with me. Giuliani isn't a deplorable man. His words were." Nia?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON:

You know, I don't think really this has anything to do with social media or the coarsening of culture. I think our culture was pretty coarse and uncivil in the 1950s and the 1960s. I think we should focus on what Rudy Giuliani is saying, right.

And in so many ways, it's really a flashback to 2007. We all covered that campaign. And here, when even Haley Barbour talked just now, him bringing up Jeremiah Wright but at the same time saying, "Let's focus on policy," and Rudy Giuliani, of course, essentially saying that the president was raised as a communist, that he's somehow different and other.

I can't figure out why he’s different or other. But that's his argument. And it's despicable. It has, really, not place in politics. And it's unfortunate the president's press people came out and said, you know, "This is a sad fall for Rudy Giuliani." But in some ways, it's indicative of the Rudy Giuliani that people knew in New York and a lot of ways pre-9/11.

CHUCK TODD:

That has come through. But, you know, Robert, I guess I'm going to disagree with Nia a little bit. I do think the internet is encouraging mainstream people to get into the base where a progressive is more likely to call a Republican a fascist, a conservative is more likely to call a democrat a communist. Like, we get into the name calling and mainstream people are engaging in it.

ROBERT GIBBS:

There's no doubt that this is coarsening our discourse. It makes the needed political debate that our country was founded on impossible to have. It increases polarization and makes it eminently more difficult for somebody, then, to sit down at the table and come to some series of compromise. But let's be clear, Chuck. Had Dan Balz asked Scott Walker if he thought the president was a Christian and he said yes, there wouldn't be a story in the Washington Post.

CHUCK TODD:

And that’s the part of it I don’t get. That seemed like an easy answer.

ROBERT GIBBS:

There are trap doors every day running for president. And if you want to run and talk about policy, then you have to answer to very easy questions easily. If not, Chuck, I will say this. If we had a pack of dogs on this set, they'd be going crazy from all the dog whistles in this. And they were made even worse this morning, that if you answer the easy questions, "Do you think Barack Obama loves his country--"

(OVERTALK)

ROBERT GIBBS:

"--Yes, but I think his policies are bad," there isn't a story. "Do I think he's a Christian? Yes." And it's a terrible task for Scott Walker but "I haven't asked him." Chuck, I've known you for 20 years. I haven't asked you if your loved your country. But I figure, you know, you host a political show with a lot of flags

CHUCK TODD:

I do. I do. By the way and I love both major parties. I love all political parties. So, come on along. Anyway, when we come back, we'll have another debate that's taking. It's another war of words, terror threat against the U.S. is also out there I’m gonna ask the Homeland Security Chief Jeh Johnson how serious this new threat to the Mall of America is. We'll be right back.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

And welcome back. This morning, there's a new terror threat that's targeting malls in the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain. In a moment, I'm going to ask Homeland Security Chief Jeh Johnson how serious U.S. officials are taking this threat from an al-Qaeda offshoot from Somalia.

But first, this week's brutal mass beheadings of Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya shows that the threat has expanded well beyond Syria in Iraq. Our Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel has been looking at how what started as a small offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq has expanded to become such a menace to the world.

(BEGIN TAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL:

The hostages weren't famous, just Egyptian Christians who'd been looking for migrant work in Libya. They're famous now, butchered as part of the ISIS plan to enslave, convert, or exterminate a frozen face.

ISIS EXECUTIONER:

And today, we are the south of Rome on the land of Islam, Libya, sending another message.

RICHARD ENGEL:

And something else was murdered 21 times on that terrible day on the beach: the hopes and dreams of the Arab Spring, and with them, the U.S. administration's Mideast policy. Some experts are now calling Libya the Somalia of the Mediterranean, a lawless land across from Europe's shores. Libya was the Obama administration's first world choice.

DR. ALAN J. KUPERMAN:

What George W. Bush did to Iraq is the same thing that President Barack Obama did to Libya. That is, he took a state that was stable, that was an ally in the war on terror, and went in with a military intervention, and destroyed the state.

RICHARD ENGEL:

Although there was no identifiable threat or benefit to the United States, the administration sent in the jets to defend Libyan rebels on moral grounds. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi had repeatedly said he was about to flatten with no mercy the City of Benghazi. The rebel uprising, live tweeted and full of hope, was brewing.

BARACK OBAMA:

We have intervened to stop a massacre.

RICHARD ENGEL:

An administration that couldn't wait to get out of Iraq sent American troops into Libya and kept them overhead until Gaddafi was well and truly gone.

HILLARY CLINTON:

We came. We saw. He died.

RICHARD ENGEL:

Then the U.S. left Libya to the Mad Max militiamen who had taken it over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER:

The best rebels turned out to be radical Islamists.

RICHARD ENGEL:

And the war in Libya would have far broader implications than that. It raised expectations in the wider Arab world. In Syria, people took to the streets, confident that they, too, would get American help. The administration at first encouraged the Syrian rebels, but never sent them any meaningful assistance or heavy weapons.

And like a wound in the body, the growing chaos in Syria spread, ISIS advanced, and brought down Iraq next door, which was barely on its feet after ten years of war. It was there in the Iraqi City of Mosul that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself the caliph of the Islamic State, founding a terrorist state across Syria and Iraq armed with American weapons his men took from the Iraqi army, which all but collapsed in fear.

Now, the U.S. is being dragged back into war in the Middle East. It hopes to stand the Iraqi army back up and send it into battle to take back Mosul with the help of Kurdish fighters from northern Iraq. The U.S. military says some American ground troops may be needed to lead the charge.

Taking Mosul will not be easy, especially since ISIS has had months to prepare for the battle. The real question is what's the wider strategy for stability in Iraq and Syria, and now Libya, stability that would truly deny ISIS a home? This remains the hard question. And this administration has yet to offer a convincing answer.

(END TAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL:

And Chuck, several U.S. military officials who I've been speaking with have privately expressed a great amount of frustration at what they see as a lack of clarity about the U.S. strategy against ISIS. When I asked our NBC Military Analyst Colonel Jack Jacobs about the strategy, he paraphrased Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, saying, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there." Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Richard, thank you. Now to discuss a terror threat at home as well as this political fight over immigration, I'm joined by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. Secretary Johnson, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SECRETARY JEH JOHNSON:

Thanks for having me, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with this terror threat by Al Shabaab, an al-Qaeda offshoot from Somalia. We talked about it earlier, targeting malls potentially in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. In particular, though, Mall of America and Minneapolis, the Twin Cities, large Somali population there. So, obviously I assume a concern that you could have lone wolves.

In an earlier interview this morning, you said the following: "If anyone is planning to go to the Mall of America today, they've got to be particularly careful." It sounds like you believe this threat is that serious. You're almost telling them, "I hear that. I would not go to the mall."

SECRETARY JEH JOHNSON:

I'm not saying that. I'm saying that the public needs to be particularly vigilant. Chuck, we're in a new phase in global terrorist threat right now which involves core al-Qaeda, but now other groups, the ISIL group being the most prominent example of that. With very effective use of video, publication, social media and the internet that have the ability to reach into communities, reach into homelands, and inspire independent actors to commit acts of violence.

Which is why we need a military approach. And we've got one. We're, through an international coalition, embarking on air strikes and other things militarily. But also, a whole of government approach, a Homeland Security law enforcement approach, which includes countering violent extremism engagements and initiatives here on the homeland. That was one of the things that the summit this week at the White House was all about.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm going to get to the summit. But I guess I go back to, so, give me an assessment of this threat. I mean, is this something that is one of those things that you've got a whole bunch of extra security at the mall today? Is this something we've got to worry about all week? Can you give us a little more detail?

SECRETARY JEH JOHNSON:

Well, we've seen this a number of times now where a group will call for an attack on a country, on a specific location. And, so, we've got to be vigilant. So, we ramp up security. There was a call for an attack on locations in Canada and Europe.

And, so, in response to that, I ramped up the presence of the federal protective service at federal buildings a couple of months ago. I'm sure that security at this particular mall will be enhanced in ways visible and not visible. But it also involves public vigilance and public awareness. "If you see something, say something," has to be more than a slogan.

CHUCK TODD:

But at this point, you're not telling people not to go to the mall?

SECRETARY JEH JOHNSON:

I'm not telling people to not go to the mall. I think that there needs to be an awareness. There needs to be vigilance. And, you know, be careful, obviously. It's a new phase. We're in a new phase right now. And that involves public participation in our efforts.

CHUCK TODD:

There is concern. You have these communities, the Twin Cities, the Somali community with a large Muslim population, you have other communities in the U.S. Is it harder for you to get cooperation in these communities? Do you believe it's harder for you to get this cooperation if the president were out there calling it radical Islam, referring to ISIS and you having Islamists extremists, using that phraseology? Does that actually make it harder for you to do your job or not?

SECRETARY JEH JOHNSON:

Good question. I've done a number of these engagements myself in Minneapolis; Boston; L.A.; Columbus, Ohio; Chicago. When I meet with Muslim community leaders, they all pretty much tell me the same thing, which is that, "ISIL is attempting to hijack my religion. Islam is about peace. And ISIL is attempting to hijack our religion, what we're about."

And, so, to me, to call it Islamic extremism dignifies ISIL and gives them space in Islamic religion that they don't deserve, and I don't believe Muslim leaders think they deserve. And, so, ISIL is a very dangerous terrorist organization that represents a serious potential threat to our homeland. We've got to respond militarily. We've got to respond through law enforcement. Frankly, I'm more concerned about how we respond in our counterterrorism efforts than which two words we call it.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me move to immigration. Your department runs out of funding at the end of the week, on the 27th of February. Obviously, you don't just want a continuing resolution, apologies for Washington speak. You want your full budget. If you don't get it on Thursday, what happens? What departments shut down and what doesn't shut down at Department of Homeland Security?

SECRETARY JEH JOHNSON:

Well, first of all, it's bizarre and absurd that we're even having this discussion in these challenging times, given the global terrorist threat we've just been talking about, given the harsh winter we're in the midst of, and all the other things that we do.

We're talking about the possibility of shutting down Homeland Security because Congress can't agree. If we go into government shutdown, some 30,000 employees at my department will be furloughed, including a lot of headquarters personnel who I count on daily to stay one step ahead of groups like ISIL.

A large part of the workforce will be required to come to work. But they'll come to work without pay. So, the working men and women of my department will be required to work on the front lines without a paycheck, which has serious consequences for working men and women and their families.

Our grant making to state and local law enforcement grinds to a halt. We cannot pay for the added border security that we put on the southern border last summer to deal with the spike in migration there. Thankfully, the numbers are down month to month. They're the lowest they've been in years. But we need to protect that.

And we need to keep border security in place. I could go on and on. So, we need Congress to fund the Department of Homeland Security. And we've got four working days in Congress. And I'm talking to every of Congress who will listen to me about the importance of doing this.

CHUCK TODD:

We'll be covering this. We know about the immigration lawsuit. There's a lot of moving parts to this debate, but I'll keep moving on. Secretary Johnson, I know it's a busy morning for you. Thanks for coming on Meet the Press.

SECRETARY JEH JOHNSON:

Thanks for having me, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to now turn to the Republican Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker of Tennessee. He just got back from the Middle East. Senator Corker, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SENATOR BOB CORKER:

Good to be with you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you about this debate about words. Do you think it matters whether we call ISIS radical Islam or just radical extremists?

SENATOR BOB CORKER:

Well, you know, what matters is what I call them. And they're Islamic extremists. I just spent a week there, as you know. And they are Islamic. There's no question. They are extreme in what they're doing. And they're a threat to our country.

And we need to deal with that appropriately. It looks as if we have some pieces that are coming together appropriately in Iraq. I think there are still a lot of questions, Chuck, as to how we deal with ISIS in Syria. And as you talked about earlier in your program, they're a threat now in Libya and other places.

So, this is something that we as a nation are going to be dealing with for a long time. I think you know we're going to be debating an authorization for the use of military force here soon. This is an important issue. It's important to our homeland security. It's important to the world. And I hope as a nation we'll take it on in a sober and important way over the next several weeks.

CHUCK TODD:

For many Americans, ISIS has been brought home by these brutal killings of American citizens that were held hostage. My colleague Savannah Guthrie just finished an interview with Kayla Mueller's parents, who are taking specific issue with U.S. policy on hostages. I want other play a clip of it for you and get your response on the other side.

KAYLA MUELLER'S FATHER (ON TAPE):

We understand the policy about not paying ransom. But, on the other hand, any parent out there would understand that you would want anything and everything done to bring your child home. And we tried. And we asked. But they put policy in front of American citizens' lives.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Corker, "Put policy in front of American citizens' lives." Look, that is a grieving father. What do you say to him or what do you say to other Americans?

SENATOR BOB CORKER:

Look, Chuck, I can't imagine a greater thing for a parent than knowing that your child is abducted and you're trying to do everything you can to cause them to be free and to be back home and to be with your family. At the same time, what you do when you begin to pay ransom, which is how these groups support themselves, you encourage them to take other American citizens and other people.

And, so, you encourage them to continue to do what they're doing even more. So, this has been a longstanding U.S. policy. It's a policy that I'll support. At the same time, I understand the extreme pain that a family would go through knowing that this is our U.S. policy and knowing that their daughter, their loved daughter, lost their life.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, one of the other things this ISIS does is they're enslaving people. They're enslaving women in Iraq. We've been hearing about this. You've got a bill you want to introduce called End Modern Slavery Initiative. And it's something you were dealing with in the Middle East as well. How bad of a problem is this?

SENATOR BOB CORKER:

Well, first of all, Chuck, yes, they are enslaving people. And in Mosul, that's exactly what has happened. And that's why as we go into Mosul, we've got to understand there are a number of people there. This is going to be urban warfare.

And we've got to get it right. And whether we do it in April or later, it's got to be done right. Yes, we are taking on modern slavery. It wasn't intended to deal with it in this fashion. But there are 27 million people today, Chuck, around the world that are enslaved, either in rug-making facilities, brick kilns, as you know there's all kinds of sex trafficking.

We've seen this on the rise around the world. And these are crimes of opportunity. They're just average business people are making money by enslaving people. And, so, yes, this week, I hope we're going to launch a bill. Matter of fact, I'm certain we're going to launch a bill to end slavery by building off public-private partnerships around the world using best practices.

This is something that takes U.S. leadership. Again, it's not applicable to the situation you just described. But it's been going on for years. And my guess is that we will begin taking this on in a real way to really end this plague around the world that so many people aren't even aware of.

But in many countries, this is the culture. People who are poor and impoverished don't have access to the criminal justice system. We're going to build on those best practices. We're going to do something substantial about it. And I look forward to this coming out of committee this week.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator, very quickly, this week, can you imagine a scenario where you shut down the Department of Homeland Security?

SENATOR BOB CORKER:

You know, Chuck, I don't. I was gratified by the judge's ruling. The president 22 times had said he couldn't do this, he didn't have the authority. So, I was very gratified by what the judge ruled. At the same time, I do believe in this time where we have the kind of threats that we have from all over the world, we certainly need to make sure that Homeland Security is fully funded. And my guess is we'll figure out a way to make sure that happens this week.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Senator Corker, Republican from Tennessee, thanks for coming on Meet the Press. Coming up, all those new voter ID laws: Are they about preventing fraud or more about preventing some people from voting? Our deep dive this week. The Voting Rights Act is 50 years old. Are they going to get it done in Congress? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL NOT TRANSCRIBED)

CHUCK TODD:

Our deep dive this week. It was 1965 and people across the country watched as men and women were beaten in the streets of Alabama as they tried to march for voting rights. Well, later that year, something called the Voting Rights Act was passed.

But two years ago, the Supreme Court found part of the act unconstitutional. And since then, there's been almost no action in Congress to amend the law, even though Chief Justice John Roberts essentially ordered Congress to rewrite the law. Joining me now, Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, Republican from Pennsylvania; and Sherrilyn Ifill, who is the seventh president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. She fills a seat originally occupied by Thurgood Marshall. Welcome to you both.

Sherrilyn, let me start with you. The biggest part of the Voting Rights Act that was thrown out and proved unconstitutional was this idea of sort of the preclearance portion. There were certain states, mostly in the South, that couldn't change their laws on voting without approval by the Justice Department. They said, "You can't single out states." So, how do you want Congress to rewrite this law?

SHERRILYN IFILL:

Well, currently there is a bill, a bill that is, of course, supported by Representative John Lewis, the civil rights icon and hero and voting rights legend, that would respond to what the Supreme Court said Congress had to do. It essentially creates a formula that would require jurisdictions who've had violations of the Voting Rights Act over the last 15 years to be subjected to a similar preclearance position of the kind that existed before.

For states, it would be five violations. For local jurisdictions, it would be three violations. It's kind of a rolling formula, so it resolves the problem that the Supreme Court said was the problem with the former provision. But it went back too far. And, yet, we've had no movement on it, no hearing, and no real effort to really try and move this bill as the court asked Congress to do two years ago.

CHUCK TODD:

Now, Congressman Dent, you're on here because you're one of the few Republicans, you, Congressman Sensenbrenner as well from Wisconsin, a Republican. You guys do want to rewrite this bill. But as Sherrilyn Ifill says, you're kind of alone here, it seems like, in Congress. There are only three or four of you that seem on the Republican side of the aisle intent on rewriting this.

CHARLES DENT:

Well, no. Actually, I think many Republicans recognize that the Voting Rights Act is the single most important civil rights legislation ever passed in American history. And we also take seriously the fact that we do need to amend the Voting Rights Act, given the court's rulings. So, I believe there is a lot more Republican support for a bill than there are cosponsors. So, I do think that there is going to be considerable support for this bill if it does get considered.

CHUCK TODD:

This formula that she outlined, I know there's a similar formula in this bill. And is this a workable formula, do you think, that would apply to all 50 states?

CHARLES DENT:

Absolutely. I believe this formula strikes the right balance between states' rights and voters' rights. And it's difficult. And by the way, under this formula under the Sensenbrenner bill, I believe four states would be in preclearance, as opposed to what was the case before with about nine states.

So, I think it does strike the right balance. A lot of the groups out there on the outside NAACP, and others, are generally supportive of the bill. I think certainly John Lewis, an icon, is supportive, and then the Republican members. So, I think you've got the right balance here. It's a good start.

CHUCK TODD:

If there is a sticking point, I understand, Sherrilyn, it has to do with the idea of voter IDs, voter ID laws. And I know it was a sticking point for you to support this bill. You wanted the ability, Congressman Dent, that states could have voter ID laws. This is the part of the bill you don't like. Could you accept some form of allowing states to have voter ID laws if you get this preclearance? Is this a compromise?

SHERRILYN IFILL:

Voter ID is a problem, right. We just had this case in Texas last year in which a federal judge found that Texas's voter ID law, the most restrictive voter ID law in the country, was passed for the purpose of discriminating against minority voters.

This is the voter ID law that doesn't allow students to use the ID, but allows you to use your concealed gun carry permit. 600,000 registered voters don't have the ID. It's a problem. I think we focus too much on the actual provisions.

At the end of the day, we need a hearing on this bill. We need to figure out what's missing from our side. We need to figure out what's problematic from the other side. We need to work on that bill. We haven't been able to get a hearing on it. In two weeks, thousands of people are going to converge on Selma, Alabama, to celebrate the anniversary.

CHUCK TODD:

Including the president.

SHERRILYN IFILL:

The president of the United States is going to be there, and lots of congresspeople, including many Republicans, who go every year. But it can't be just about laying a wreath and marching across the bridge. It has to be about honoring what those people sacrificed for. And that's why we need movement on the bill. Whatever the problems are, bring them to the table. Let's have a hearing. Let's talk about it.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there any way this bill passes without a voter ID provision?

CHARLES DENT:

Well, I do support voter ID. I think Republicans will insist on voter ID being protected. I'm from Pennsylvania. I have witnessed voter fraud. We had a state senator thrown out because of absentee ballot fraud in the 1990s. I lived through that.

It was awful. It was a stolen election. And we've seen it. We had a candidate for Congress in Maryland not so long ago in 2012 who voted in both 2006 and 2008 in Florida and Maryland. She had to drop out. So, there is real fraud out there. And I think you can be against discrimination and against fraud. Those two ideas are compatible.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there a way that you guys could ever support voter ID and say, okay, senior citizens would get an exemption for 20 years?

SHERRILYN IFILL:

Well, it's interesting. There's voter ID and there's voter ID. The question is, what voter ID, right. So, it's not that, you know, our groups are against voter ID. It's we're against specific kinds of voter IDs that unfairly restrict the ability of minorities to participate in the political process. But what you're talking about, absentee voting and voter fraud in absentee voting, you solve that by expanding early voting so people have more opportunities to vote and they don't need to vote absentee.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I think that's why you guys need a hearing. You guys are getting close, anyway. Congressman Dent, Sherrilyn Ifill, thank you for showing that there is still that you guys attempt to get passed.

SHERRILYN IFILL:

Absolutely

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you both. Coming up, we've got a fun little Nerd Screen for you. You don't want to miss it. It has to do with Oscars and politics. We'll be right back.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

Since it is Oscar night, we wanted to take a look at how the world of politics and the Academy Awards intersect. Believe it or not, they do. Using Facebook data, the Wall Street Journal found that the films up for the big awards being discussed across the U.S. actually are following a red-blue political divide this year in the country.

In fact, look at this. Of the 100 counties that talk most about American Sniper according to Facebook, 94 of those 100 voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. Conversely, 78 of the 100 countries that talked the most about the film Birdman voted for Obama in 2012; just 22 voted for Romney. So, there you go. Head to our website, by the way, for more about this and our nerd screen and how the key influential bubbles in America, New York, Washington, and yes, Oscars L.A. are very different from the rest of America. Enjoy Oscar night.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Even Rudy Giuliani wouldn't call President Obama a "calculating, murdering psychopath." That's the description that would fit another American president, but thankfully he's fictional. Kevin Spacey, Frank Underwood, begins the new season of House of Cards on Netflix, having moved into the White House, believe it or not. NBC's Cynthia McFadden was granted some exclusive behind-the-scenes access. Take a look.

(BEGIN TAPE)

FRANK UNDERWOOD:

Anyone can commit suicide or spout their mouth in front of a camera. But you want to know what takes real courage? Keeping your mouth shut, no matter what you might be feeling.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN:

That's always been his philosophy. Frank Underwood, now president, is still the politician we love to hate.

FRANK UNDERWOOD:

Because I lack scruples and some might even say compassion.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN:

Yes, Frank Underwood has made it to the White House. Star and producer Kevin Spacey gave me a tour of the new set.

KEVIN SPACEY:

This is the White House press room.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN (NATURAL SOUND):

This is great.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN:

A lifelong Democrat, Spacey said he, like many Americans, is frustrated with Washington.

KEVIN SPACEY:

I think that what is truly unfortunate is when an entire party makes a decision that they're going to block every single thing that a president wants to accomplish. It's very hard to get anything done under those circumstances.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN (NATURAL SOUND):

Even Frank Underwood would have trouble with that?

KEVIN SPACEY:

Oh, I'd just kill everybody, you know, kill them all.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN:

The show captures the weird alchemy of the outlandish and realistic.

BEAU WILLIMON:

I think we're getting to the essence of what it means to contend with that much power in your hands.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN:

One reason the scripts are able to skate on such a fine edge, the show's creator and executive producer, Beau Willimon.

BEAU WILLIMON:

We're always pushing the boundary of plausibility. But everything that happens in the show is possible.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN (NATURAL SOUND):

You actually worked in politics yourself.

BEAU WILLIMON:

I did, very low on the totem pole.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN:

So, did you come out of it a cynic about politics, or?

BEAU WILLIMON:

Absolutely not, no. Francis Underwood is an optimist.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN (NATURAL SOUND):

Hold that. I mean he's an opportunist. He's a lot of things. But an optimist?

BEAU WILLIMON:

An optimist, but the ways he goes about it may be distasteful to you. But what do people relish in in a Frank Underwood? A guy who gets things done. And I think there's a certain deliciousness to that which they see in his journey that they don't see in the real Washington right now

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN:

A guy who gets things done by any means possible.

CLAIRE UNDERWOOD:

We’re murderers, Francis.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN:

Let's hope fiction doesn't inspire the real politicians. For Meet the Press, I'm Cynthia McFadden, Joppa, Maryland.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, Kevin Kline, Harrison Ford, Martin Sheen: Who's your favorite fictional president? We know it's really not Frank Underwood. That, plus the latest in the race to become the next nonfiction president.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Let's go to the nonfiction race for the presidency. Welcome back here to the panel. But Michael, before, I want to start with you. Because we had this whole language debate about extremism. And the fact of the matter is the president seems to be get attacked from conservative Republicans on an issue that he seems to be, am I right to characterize, the same sort of stance that President Bush took as well?

MICHAEL GERSON:

You are right. There is a remarkable consistency between the previous administration and this one, and for a certain reason. Because the rhetorical saying we want is free people against violent extremists, not a war of civilizations or a war of religion.

CHUCK TODD:

They want a war of civilizations.

MICHAEL GERSON:

That's exactly the framing that they want and what you need to resist. And any future president will do this. I promise. You have Muslim allies in the war on terror. You can't alienate them, you know, the Jordanians or the Turks or others. These are important allies. And your language matters.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. I want to go to the race for the presidency a little bit. Bill Kristol wrote something interesting, Amy, upset about the way the campaign has started on the Republican side of the aisle. He said, "Are we the only ones," referring to the Weekly Standard, "who are struck that many of the leading Republican candidates, whether moderate or conservative, seem to be planning stale and tired campaigns?"

He goes on to say, "Hillary's going to run a stale campaign," he believes, "with tired themes. But polls suggest she would prevail in a conventional matchup of boring campaigns." Is he onto something? Or do you think he's over panicking?

AMY WALTER:

I kind of thought there was a little bit of over panicking here. There are 600 plus days before this election.

CHUCK TODD:

We do have 300 days to a lot of that. 350 days to Iowa.

AMY WALTER:

There are 350 days.

(OVERTALK)

AMY WALTER:

This is a long time for these candidates to actually grow as candidates and start talking about issues. And you know, we've spent a whole lot of time, and we've done it today, talking about lots of things that really don't matter in a conventional sense of politics and policy.

But I think you have people that are running this year on the Republican side who have a lot to bring to the table. The question is whether they do it or not. But I think you have in Marco Rubio and in a lot of these governors people who have actually put stuff forward. They're implemented things as executives. They have stuff to say. Jeb Bush has a lot to say. They just haven't been saying it yet.

CHUCK TODD:

This, by the way, has been a busy week. And there was a topic I think we would've gotten more to, and that is the Clinton campaign. The Wall Street Journal did a big thing on the Clinton Foundation and all of its foreign donors, basically. They're back raising money in foreign governments.

And let me put up a list of governments that have given to the Clinton Foundation. And you see who's who in the Middle East, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Kuwait. Now, of course, the Clinton Foundation, Robert Gibbs, will say, "Hey, these folks, this is all do-gooder stuff that they're doing in places like Africa, having to do with health and food and things like this." But boy, the perception of this, I mean, Saudi Arabia, they're lobbyists. In some ways, they lobby America for assistance. Appearances are bad.

ROBERT GIBBS:

I think there's no doubt that the appearances are awkward at best. And I think they're going to have to do something in the very short term to deal with this in a way that puts it off the table. Look, Chuck, I think there are a lot of people that have watched the sort of slow roll of the Hillary Clinton campaign, really dating back to last year with a book tour that some wondered what she was doing.

Speeches that some wondered what she was doing. And, you know, I think from a Democratic perspective, things will get better when there is a formal campaign. But, you know, there has been a slow roll of concerning headlines for a long time.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, Nia, your newspaper gave her a good one here. The making of Hillary of 5.0. Do you need to read the piece? It's not a good one.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON:

Yes, not a good piece, Hillary 5.0. Which version will she be this go-round?

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Let's have some fun here last minute. Oscar time. I asked you guys to give me your favorite fictional presidents. All right, Michael, I'll start with you. Your favorite fictional president was?

MICHAEL GERSON:

Mine was President Arnold Schwarzenegger.

CHUCK TODD:

It wasn't Arnold. They called him a different name in there.

MICHAEL GERSON:

Oh, I'm not sure. It's in The Simpsons Movie. He wanted a strong EPA.

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

Nia, your pick was?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON:

Selina Meyer, who's been president now for I think one episode of Veep. She is the happiest person to be the fictional president and also the most terrified.

CHUCK TODD:

Now, Amy, you went the animated route.

AMY WALTER:

I did, too. I go Simpsons with Michael Gerson. But I said when Lisa Simpson was president and she did push for legalizing pot, thanks to Bart Simpson.

CHUCK TODD:

There you go. And Robert, you went with the Democratic Party's dream president.

ROBERT GIBBS:

I went with President Bartlett.

CHUCK TODD:

You did. Martin Sheen.

ROBERT GIBBS:

I will say I am struck. It speaks to our current politics that two of you picked presidents from The Simpsons.

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

Mine is Harrison Ford in Air Force One.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON:

Get off my plane.

CHUCK TODD:

"Get off my plane.” And at this point, we're going to get off the show. That's all for this Sunday. You can see a lot more we'll have next week. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *