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Meet the Press Transcript - January 25, 2015

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MEET THE PRESS -- SUNDAY, JANUARY 25, 2015

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday -- can America contain the chaos? A political crisis in Yemen, a new king in Saudi Arabia and ISIS on the move in Iraq and Syria. This morning- a former captive's exclusive story about held by ISIS.

AHMED RASHIDI (ON TAPE):

They want to be more better than Al-Qaeda, Islamic State. This is why they need to do something more brutal than the World Trade Center.

CHUCK TODD:

Is violence in the name of Islam really about Islam? Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar speaks out. Plus, Republicans in Iowa: fired up and ready to go:

RICK PERRY:

I tell you, it’s great to be back in the great state of Iowa.

CHUCK TODD:

Who can capture the conservative wing of the party? Mike Huckabee joins us. And under pressure, our national obsession:

TOM BRADY:

This isn't ISIS. No one is dying.

CHUCK TODD:

Tom Brady is right about that, but not many are buying the Patriots version of deflate- gate. I’m Chuck Todd and joining me to provide insights and analysis are NBC News special correspondent Tom Brokaw, Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Helene Cooper of the New York Times and radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt. 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, the President arrived in India overnight and has already had a press conference where he vowed to continue America’s counterterror strategy just as the Middle East continues to descend into chaos. There’s more grim news from Syria, with the President calling Japan's prime minister to offer condolences for the apparent murder of a Japanese hostage by ISIS, Haruna Yukawa shown here on the left. A second hostage, Kenji Goto is still being held.

And Yemen, a country key to the U.S's anti-terror strategy is in crisis, with thousands taking to the streets protesting Shia rebels who have seized the capital Sanaa, triggering the resignation of the president and cabinet.

And President Obama will cut his India trip short to visit the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh to pay his respects following the death of King Abdullah. And meet the new ruler. King Salman.

In a few minutes I'll speak to White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough but first we have something genuinely unique: our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel has gained a rare insight into how ISIS operates from someone who was on the inside, and he joins me now from Istanbul.

Richard, tell me this story.

RICHARD ENGEL:

It's not very often that we get the opportunity to speak to someone who's lived with ISIS up close. Earlier this year, Achmed Rashidi traveled into Syria with the intention of convincing two young girls to leave ISIS and return to their families in Europe. His trip did not go as planned, and he ended up spending a month with ISIS. And we've been able to verify the key elements of his story.

(BEGIN TAPE)

ACHMED RASHIDI:

They was full of hate.

RICHARD ENGEL:

Full of hate?

ACHMED RASHIDI:

You can see fire in their eyes. They are full of hate. If you smell like European, they're going to kill you.

RICHARD ENGEL (V/O):

Achmed went to Syria looking for these twin girls, Selma and Zafra Halanay, who left their home in England and snuck off to Syria to marry ISIS fighters. The family asked Achmed, a friend, if he would go to Syria and find their daughters.

Achmed was no stranger to civil war. He grew up in Afghanistan, where he lost his father, his brother, and one of his legs. He now walks on a prosthetic. Achmed agreed to go to Turkey, hop the fence into Syria's ISIS-controlled north and start looking for the girls.

ACHMED RASHIDI:

Every time we saw Islamic states office, like Kandefeh, we knock on the door.

RICHARD ENGEL:

Incredibly, Achmed located the girls almost right away in a small town called Munjabi.

ACHMED RASHIDI:

Munjabi is, I would call it, it not a Syrian city, actually. It's like a European city.

RICHARD ENGEL:

Because there are so many foreigners there?

ACHMED RASHIDI:

Yeah.

RICHARD ENGEL:

So many-- everyone speaks English there.

ACHMED RASHIDI:

English, German, French.

RICHARD ENGEL (V/O):

Achmed found the house where one of the twin sisters was living. But instead of a warm welcome, he had a run-in with her new husband, a Western ISIS fighter.

RICHARD ENGEL:

So the husband came to the door.

ACHMED RASHIDI:

And he said, "I will not allow you to see my wife."

RICHARD ENGEL:

Then what happened?

ACHMED RASHIDI:

Then we get arrested.

RICHARD ENGEL:

ISIS accused Achmed of being a spy and, even worse, a journalist.

RICHARD ENGEL:

Did they torture you?

ACHMED RASHIDI:

Some of them did, yes.

RICHARD ENGEL:

What happened?

ACHMED RASHIDI:

I won't talk about it.

RICHARD ENGEL:

Because it's a personal--

ACHMED RASHIDI:

Exactly.

RICHARD ENGEL:

--moment. But it was a-- it was a terrible moment.

ACHMED RASHIDI:

Yes, in the beginning. In the first one week, two weeks, it was brutal.

RICHARD ENGEL (V/O):

But gradually, Achmed began to charm his captors. He told them that he wanted to join their cause, that his father was a jihadist just like them. And most outrageously, that he was a doctor.

RICHARD ENGEL:

You're a first-year medical student.

ACHMED RASHIDI:

Yes.

RICHARD ENGEL:

And you start practicing medicine.

ACHMED RASHIDI:

Yeah.

RICHARD ENGEL:

Eventually, you do gain the trust of the guards.

ACHMED RASHIDI:

Yes.

RICHARD ENGEL:

And they start letting you roam free?

ACHMED RASHIDI:

Yes. And I become a part of the guards.

RICHARD ENGEL:

Achmed had to convince ISIS that he was one of them.

RICHARD ENGEL:

Did you have to beat the other prisoners?

ACHMED RASHIDI:

In Islamic state, to hit people is a part of this.

RICHARD ENGEL:

So you had to do that.

ACHMED RASHIDI:

I didn't say that.

RICHARD ENGEL:

So what did you have to do?

ACHMED RASHIDI:

I made-- may have beat one or two. But I was forced doing it.

RICHARD ENGEL (V/O):

Now, mixing freely among the ISIS fighters, Achmed even managed to log on to one of their computers.

RICHARD ENGEL:

What did you learn?

ACHMED RASHIDI:

The connection between Europe and Syria was like-- they connect everything, They speak phone every day.

RICHARD ENGEL:

Did the ISIS fighters seem worried by the U.S. bombing campaign?

ACHMED RASHIDI:

No. It was happy about it.

RICHARD ENGEL (V/O):

Because, he says, being attacked by the U.S. meant that they were now just as important as that old American enemy, al-Qaeda.

ACHMED RASHIDI:

They want to be more better than al-Qaeda, ISIS. And this is why they need to do something more brutal than the World Trade Center.

RICHARD ENGEL:

When you saw the attacks in Paris, what did you think?

ACHMED RASHIDI:

I was angry. But it didn't surprise me at all.

RICHARD ENGEL:

You think there'll be more?

ACHMED RASHIDI:

Yes. Because when Islamic state attack, they will be, it'll be very, very big.

RICHARD ENGEL:

Much bigger than Paris?

ACHMED RASHIDI:

Yes.

(END TAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL:

Eventually Achmed was brought before an ISIS court and released on condition that he stay behind in Syria and fight. He didn't do that, he snuck across the border back into Turkey. He's now wanted by ISIS. He's writing a book about his experiences. And those two girls he went in to try and convince to leave ISIS, they decided to stay behind. In fact, they were testifying against Achmed the entire time. Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Richard, a chilling story. Thanks very much.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. Denis, welcome back to Meet the Press.

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Thanks a lot, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

You saw Richard's story there with this former, I guess, ISIS both captive and fighter, and the way he escaped. Wanted to pick on something he said about how the Islamic State embraces the U.S. attacks. Because what they want is supremacy over al-Qaeda. When you hear something like that, and I know this isn't news, I mean, to you, this has been this competition, how does that impact strategy?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Well, this is one of the things that we thought about us going back to the early days of this campaign. We know that there is an unbelievably important fight going on inside of Sunni Islam. We think that the resolution of this fight is going to be resolved by Arabic Muslim fighters on the ground. That's why it's been so important to us, and that's why the President's directed that our strategy be in support of fighters on the ground, Iraqis and Syrians, so that they win this fight for themselves for their own future. That's how it's going to be won. You saw exactly the mindset we're dealing with, Chuck, with this organization. That's why we're conducting the strategy the way we're conducting it.

CHUCK TODD:

What's the difference between Afghanistan 2001 and Syria 2015?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Well, there's a whole range of differences. But I want to make sure that we don't over-learn the earlier lessons or under-learn them. That's why we treat each individual situation as it needs to be treated. And we know that, ultimately, Chuck, the resolution of these conflicts, as I've said a minute ago, is going to require Muslims and Arabs on the ground resolving it for themselves.

What can we do in the meantime? We can train them. We can equip them. We can make sure that we are making them more precise and more deadly. And at the end of the day, we're going to have to make sure that we are making unattractive the ideology that they are peddling. And you heard the hatefulness of it just now.

CHUCK TODD:

Right. Yemen has fallen apart right now. It's not clear who the leader of the country is. President earlier this morning, in India, was asked about this, and he said-- here's what he said. The reports that somehow counter-terrorism operations had stopped is not true. Right? That's correct? So what is the status of the U.S. relationship with Yemen right now and counter-terrorism strategies going after al-Qaeda in Yemen?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Well, we continue, obviously, to conduct very important operations. There's a big difference, by the way, between Afghanistan 2001 and Syria today. We continue to make sure that we are very deeply up on the intelligence and very-- taking action there.

And in Yemen, when we see threats against us or our interests. So we'll continue to do that on the ground. That's what the president was referring to today. And that's what were going to continue to do throughout.

CHUCK TODD:

Now, he admitted things aren't perfect and that it needs to be refined. What part of the strategy do you feel isn't working?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Well obviously, we're worried about the political situation on the ground. And as the president said in his comments just this morning, we know that al-Qaeda and the Arabian Peninsula, ISIS, al-Qaeda Central, is going to blossom in areas where the political situation is not as robust as it needs to be, where the security forces are not as trained, as well armed, or as effective as they need to be.

So that's why, when they grow in these dark places, we've got to make sure that we're developing the institutions, working with the Yemenis, so that we have security forces that can take the fight to AQAP and to others associated with them. So that's exactly what the strategy is designed to do. Without, as the president said, very important, Chuck, without relying on occupying armies or huge numbers of U.S. troops.

CHUCK TODD:

Why does this feel more chaotic now than it did 15 years ago?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

I'm not sure what you were feeling 15 years ago, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, fair enough. But it is sort of-- I think people who are watching this are going, "Geez, everything's on fire."

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

That's what it feels like.

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

It does feel like that. And that's why it's very important that we react not to the emotion but to the facts and the developments as we see them. That's why we lay out a comprehensive strategy that says, "The challenge for us is not to resolve every problem for these countries and their politicians."

The challenge for us to ensure that there are not threats like the threat from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in 2001, that materialize here on our shores. That's why we're very diligent about the intelligence, we're very diligent about the cooperation with our partners, and we're very diligent about the fact-- . You know, Chuck, sometimes when I come on these shows, I get criticized from the other side that we're too aggressive.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

So the point is, when we see threats to the United States' interest, and United States people and to the United States, we're going to take them out.

CHUCK TODD:

Want you to respond to Tom Friedman earlier this week. Here's what he wrote about the issue of calling it "radical Islam" that you're facing here. We don't call--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

--calling this war that's going on that we're dealing with, with these terrorists. Here's what he writes, "When you don't call things by their real name, you always get in trouble. And this administration's so fearful of being accused of Islamophobia, he's refusing to make any leak to radical Islam from the recent explosions of violence against civilians, most of them Muslims, by Boko Haram in Nigeria, by the Taliban in Pakistan, by al-Qaeda in Paris, by jihadists in Yemen and Iraq. We've entered the theater of the absurd." This criticism that the White House refuses to say the phrase "radical Islam." Why?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Let's be clear that nobody denies that these are Muslims, and these are Muslims who claim that their warped view of their ideology is what informed their actions, their hateful ideology in this instance. What we simply do not believe, Chuck, is that they should somehow be seen as representatives of Islam. They are not.

It's one of the world's great religions. The overwhelming majority of Muslims do not abide by this hateful ideology. And so we decided not to give them any kind of belief that somehow they deserve that type.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to switch quickly to the issue of Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking to Congress. You guys weren't informed. Here's a senior American official, unnamed, in Haaretz on Friday as quoted as saying this: "There are things you simply don't do," speaking of Netanyahu. "He spat in our face publicly, and that's no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price." What's the price?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

I don't know who you're talking about there. And I don't know--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

This is nobody in the White House that said this?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

I can guarantee that it's not me, not the president, and not what we believe. Here's what we believe.

CHUCK TODD:

You don't believe he spat in the President's face.

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Here's what we believe, Chuck. We think that, as a general matter, we, United States, has stayed out of internal politics in the countries of our closest allies. That's true whether it's Great Britain, where we just recently had a visit from Prime Minister Cameron a full four months before their election, or in Israel. So that's why we're going to approach it the way we approach it.

CHUCK TODD:

But you don't feel this is going to damage the relationship?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

You know, Chuck, I'm not going to get hyperbolic or emotional about this. Our relationship with Israel is many faceted, deep and abiding. It's focused on a shared series of threats, but also, on a shared series of values that one particular instance is not going to inform overwhelming.

CHUCK TODD:

Michael Oren, former Israeli Ambassador to United States says, "Mr. Netanyahu, cancel the trip." Do you agree with him?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

You know, I'll leave that between Michael and Ambassador-- or Prime Minister Netanyahu.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Denis McDonough, thanks for coming up.

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Thanks so much, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, as we've seen, policymakers in Washington are seriously alarmed by the developments in Yemen. And here's why a power vacuum in the country is a nightmare for the United States. Yemen is home to perhaps the most dangerous branch of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. It's a group that claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, and has attempted to launch other attacks against the U.S., including the failed underwear bomb plot in 2009.

The fall of the government jeopardizes the U.S. strategy to take on AQAP. President Hadi was a staunch U.S. ally and even a supporter of U.S. drone attacks. And now there are fears the situation could degenerate into a full-blown Sunni-Shia civil war, which could draw in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

So let me bring in the panel here. Hugh Hewitt, Helene Cooper, Tom Brokaw, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, mayor of Baltimore. Helene, let me start with you. This is your beat. You spend a lot of time in Yemen. The president today said, "Oh no, we're still doing counter-terrorism." Who's our partner there?

HELENE COOPER:

We don't know yet. And that was the prevailing view at the Pentagon, at the State Department, is, you know, we don't know what's going on at this point, but we can't pull out of Yemen. The drone policy is still going on. The United States has to continue to conduct these counter-terrorism strikes across the border in Yemen. And you're seeing now administration officials quietly talking about whether or not it may be possible for the United States to deal with the Houthis, who seem, at this point, to happen to be--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

They're not aspirational. They're anti-al-Qaeda. I mean this is sort of--

HELENE COOPER:

They're very anti-al-Qaeda.

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

--enemy as your friend?

HELENE COOPER:

Absolutely. The only problem, though, is with the Houthis. Their entire-- their motto is "Death to America, death to Israel, death to the Jews." So it's not exactly as if we can immediately embrace them. But there are some shared goals there that people within the administration, in the military, at the State Department, at the White House, are hoping we might be able to capitalize on.

CHUCK TODD:

Hugh, big picture. You saw the Richard Engel piece. When you heard the idea that the Islamic state was embracing the U.S. attacks, what were you thinking?

HUGH HEWITT:

Well, I also heard Achmed say Syria and Europe are talking every day. And we look, and we see chaos. But I think in Tehran, they see a plan coming together. I think Yemen is just the latest extension of Iranian power in the Middle East, whether it's Bahrain, where they attempted a coup, they're winning in Baghdad, they're winning in Beirut. They have ties into even South America, Bolivia and Venezuela.

So what I didn't hear the chief of staff tell you, Chuck, is that we are aware that Iran is the real player here in Yemen, and that we have got to focus-- and this what Republicans in Congress are worried about, is not what ISIS is thinking so much right now, but what Iran is doing. Because it looks to me like they have a plan coming together. And we don't have any plan at all.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Tom, that does sort of-- I mean look, Saudi Arabia, we know, when the president is with the new king, he's going to bring up this Shia issue. I mean Yemen is a border state with Saudi Arabia. They're not going to tolerate Shias taking power there.

TOM BROKAW:

No. We really don't know what to expect from the new king yet. I mean what I do think is we've seen this in the succession in the past, each new king does have his own idea about where they want to take the country and take that part of the world. You know, Yemen was used by the president not so long ago as an example of where the United States was really doing well.

You know, we've got good operations going on there, beyond the Special Forces. So it's once again an example of the kind of warfare that we're engaged in here. It's utterly asymmetrical. ISIL, or any of the other jihadist groups, can reconstitute themselves on a moment's notice, move in, and destabilize a government and behead a Japanese journalist and cause great chaos in the world and then disappear again into the hills. And we don't seem to have a plan for dealing with that kind of warfare. And it's been going on for a long time.

CHUCK TODD:

And, you know, one big difference, I asked that difference between Afghanistan 2001 and Syria today, and I had one official say to me, "Everything that happens in Syria today we immediately see. We didn't see it in 2001. That's another aspect of the propaganda fight." All right. Up next, ready on the right, Republican presidential hopefuls take the stage at the Iowa Freedom Summit. And former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee, who was the last speaker there, will be my next guest.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

And welcome back, this time next year, we'll be on the verge of the Iowa Caucus and of course the entire primary season. But the jostling for position on the Republican side, of course, has already begun. 2016 hopefuls have been gathering this weekend for what's called The Iowa Freedom Summit. And they've been making some strong pitches.

(BEGIN TAPE)

TED CRUZ:

Every candidate's going to come in front of you and say: I'm the most conservative guy to ever live. Well you know what, talk is cheap.

RICK: PERRY

Secure the border now. Override the president's lawless executive order.

CHRIS CHRISTIE:

If you want a candidate who agrees with you 100% of the time, I'll give you a suggestion, go home and look in the mirror. If that's the standard we hold each other to as a party, we will never win another national election ever.

RICK SANTORUM:

We need to be the party of the worker. Why? Well, it's good politics.

MIKE HUCKABEE:

We don't need to spend the next 2 years beating each other up in the conservative tent - we need to tell america what's right with this country.

SCOTT WALKER:

If you're not afraid to go big and go bold you can actually get results.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Capitol Hill Correspondent Kelly O'Donnell joins me now from a favorite standup location for all of us in Des Moines there, in front of the state capitol dome. So Kelly, talk about the crowd's responses to the attacks on either President Obama or Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. What would get the crowd more animated?

KELLY O'DONNELL:

Well you know, Chuck, I think it was the most consistent and predictable target to hear comments about President Obama. So that didn't stand out as much. It was a head-snapping moment when a figure like Donald Trump took on Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney so directly. And the audience really responded to that.

It was also common to hear comments about Hillary Clinton, most directly from former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who took her on quite directly. And what I really noticed is that, at this early stage, Republicans weren't calling each other out by name so much, more focused on trying to find out what should the conservative message be, what kind of a theme should they try to put forward? Still plenty of time to take each other on later on. This was really about trying to make the best pitch. Chuck?

CHUCK TODD:

That's for sure. And it was mostly positive, I think, other than a few lines that we noted there. Kelly, thanks very much.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm joined now by Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, and an almost certain Republican 2016 presidential candidate, who is also author of a new book called God, Guns, Grits and Gravy. Governor Huckabee, welcome back to Meet the Press.

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE:

Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

So I called you an "almost certain candidate." You yourself said, "I'll put it this way: I left the show I had for six years on the Fox News Network. And if I don't end up running for president, I've got to be the dumbest man alive." So I'm going to ask you just straightforward, you're a candidate for president until you're not? How should we be calling you? Are you an active candidate for president?

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE:

Well, you become an active candidate, then you file the FEC papers. But I think it's pretty evident that I'm moving in that direction, Chuck. And I've never hidden that. But I've always said that my timetable is some time later in the spring, and that still is the timetable today.

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough. I want to talk about some of the issues that you talked about a little bit in 2008 in your campaign, talked about in '10, '12, on your show. And let's start with Common Core. This has been a longstanding-- you talked about it yesterday in your speech to Iowa activists.

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

So I guess I'm confused here a little bit on Common Core. You have said-- you wrote a letter to the State of Oklahoma in 2013 essentially in favor of Common Core standards. You said that you thought it was near and dear to your heart. Now you say you're not a Common Core supporter. What does that mean? Are you just not a supporter of the brand name "Common Core," but you're a supporter of everything Common Core stands for?

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE:

No, I'm absolutely against what Common Core has come to stand for. But it's totally different than what it was intended to be. The original intent, which was conceived out of the Achieve Movement from the mid-'90s that a number of governors, many of them, most of them, in fact, Republicans, put forth to keep state standards, not letting the federal government get in control. And the whole idea was let the states decide the standards, but have high standards. Lift education up. I don't know of anybody in America who thinks we'd be better off dumbing down the schools.

So that was the genesis of it. Common Core originally only dealt with two things: language arts and math. That was it. And nothing, nothing in curriculum.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start, let me move to immigration. In the past, you've had some breaks with conservative orthodoxy when it comes to immigration. As a governor, you supported a bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition benefits. And you've defended that position a number of times. In 2010 you said the question is, "Is an undocumented immigrant better off going to college and becoming a neurosurgeon or a banker or whatever he might be come and becoming a taxpayer, and in the process, to apply for and achieve citizenship? Or should we make him pick tomatoes?" Do you still feel the same way?

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE:

Absolutely. Look, we force, by law, people to go to school in our states. So as a governor, if we had a nine year old kid, didn't matter why he came or what his parents did, the kid had to go to school, by law. So he goes all the way through the public schools of our state. He graduates. He's valedictorian.

We actually had a kid in one of the largest high schools in the state who was the valedictorian. He came here when he was five years old. He had gone through the entire public school system. And then the big question was should he qualify, having been an Arkansas student, having been a part of the public schools of that state, valedictorian, should he be able to qualify for the same scholarships that anyone else did?

And I said yes, he should. Because you don't punish a child for something his parents did. I want to get control of the borders. I want to make sure that we have a better handle on immigration. It's totally out of control. But I don't know that we've ever been a nation that said, "If you're in the back seat of your car when your dad is speeding, we're going to charge you in the back seat for what your dad did up in the front seat." That just doesn't ring true to me.

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

So you wouldn't roll back the President's 2012 executive order if you become elected president, which essentially gave undocumented children legal status here in the United States?

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE:

Oh, yes I would, because he didn't have the authority to do it, and he said he didn't have the authority to do it when he was interviewed just a year before.

CHUCK TODD:

So you would roll it back?

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE:

When he was on-- well, here's the problem, Chuck. There's a process. We have a thing called a constitution. And the constitution doesn't allow the chief executive just to make up law.

CHUCK TODD:

And finally, I want to ask about same sex marriage. I have Hugh Hewitt on my panel today. You did an interview with him earlier this week. I'm going to play an exchange with him that you had on same sex marriage. Here it is.

(BEGIN TAPE)

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE:

This idea that a judge makes a ruling on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning same sex marriage licenses are being given out, that's utter nonsense.

HUGH HEWITT:

Would you counsel civil disobedience to county clerks?

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE:

Well, the point is, states would be in a position that their legislatures would have to go into session. They would have to create legislation that the governor would sign. If they don't, then there is not same sex marriage in that state.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

I just want to clarify, are you advocating, essentially, nullification here by the states if the Supreme Court--

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE:

No.

CHUCK TODD:

--legalizes same sex marriage?

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE:

I'm advocating an adherence to the constitution. I'm really saying that there is a process to change the law. And it doesn't just involve one unilateral branch of government. Gosh Chuck, when I was governor, I wish unilaterally I could have done some things as governor.

With 90% Democrats in the legislature, it would have been much easier sledding for me if I could have just acted. And I'm sure the courts would like to act all by themselves. And I guarantee the legislature would like to act by themselves. But that's why the founders created this very cumbersome, tedious, sometimes disgustingly slow process of changing the law.

The courts can't make a law. They can interpret one. They can invalidate one. But even those, as in the case of the Dred Scott decision in 1957 that said black people weren't human beings, Abraham Lincoln refused to adhere to that because he said it wasn't a just law.

CHUCK TODD:

But if the Supreme Court--

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE:

I'm just simply saying--

CHUCK TODD:

But if the Supreme Court, on a Friday--

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE:

Well, let me finish here.

CHUCK TODD:

If the Supreme Court, on a Friday, rules that-- basically overturns Roe V. Wade, makes abortion illegal in this country, would you support that? Or do you think it has to go through the same process you just described?

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE:

Well, what I was describing to Hugh Hewitt, by the way, on the Friday afternoon, Saturday morning issue, was a circuit court judge in Arkansas who, late on the Friday afternoon, too late for anyone to file a stay or an appeal, issued a rule, and the next morning, county courthouses that were normally closed opened up to issue same sex marriage licenses.

And that's what I was saying you can't just do that. It'd be like when the Supreme Court in my state issued an education funding ruling, we didn't start sending out checks the next day, until the legislature met, changed the funding formula, made it constitutional, and I enforced it through the state's Department of Education.

We have a process. We swear to uphold the constitution. By gosh, I'm convinced a lot of people don't even know what the constitution says when it comes to making law. But judges can't make law. That's judicial supremacy, and that is not constitutional.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Governor Huckabee, I'm going to have to leave it there. I appreciate you coming on Meet the Press this morning. Stay safe on the almost campaign trail that you're on.

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE:

Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

You got it.

CHUCK TODD:

Time now for the panel to weigh in. So let me start. Hugh, let me start with you, since I used your interview there a little bit. His answer on immigration. Steve King's not going to like that answer, is he?

HUGH HEWITT:

No. In fact, immigration didn't play the role in Iowa yesterday I thought it would. Common Core, James Hohmann of Politico told me came up two dozen times.

(OVERTALK)

HUGH HEWITT:

It's unbelievable. And you hit him on that, you asked Governor Huckabee about that. So I don't think the immigration issue, Steve King might not like it, but the people who were in the room, the folks who won yesterday, Scott Walker won the Twitter primary, Carly Fiorina won the Twitter primary yesterday, everyone who was talking about were those people, not the immigration issue. They were talking about Common Core and about these new voices, and especially Scott Walker going out there and talking from the heart about his wife being threatened with being gutted like a deer. It was an interesting day. But immigration did not play the role that many people expected it to.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, it's interesting on Common Core. Mayor Blake, what's your understanding of it? Do you feel as if it's got federal control?

STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE:

I think that is what the Republicans are fearing. And that's why many people, like Huckabee, are flip-flopping on the issue. And he stood up for it when he knew it was a states-directed issue. This was about high standards for all of our kids.

And the problem is he gets so close to common sense, and then he feels like he has to pull back when it doesn't fit with the conservative agenda. And I think for Huckabee and many other Republicans who were, you know, on the front page yesterday, they're going to have a challenge. Because you have to be able to take a stand. And even if it gets complicated, to interpret for the public, you have to keep that stand. You know, people aren't going to respect you if you keep flip-flopping back and forth.

CHUCK TODD:

Tom, that's what I noticed on the immigration issue. It's like he sort of was trying to have it both ways on the children issue.

TOM BROKAW:

Well, I think Republicans got a real problem when it comes to the Hispanic vote. And the president, the other night, with a very candid political speech, in my judgment, about, "You're going to come against me, you're going to come against the middle class, you're going to come against Hispanics," the two big voting blocks that will be so important to them in two years. So they're trying to find a way through all of this.

What I was really struck by with Huckabee was when he talked about same sex marriage. It was all procedural. It wasn't about whether or not it's appropriate. It's that it's got to go to a legislature. He didn't come out and say, "Look, I will leave the fight to make sure that we don't have same sex marriage," because this is a train that seems to be moving toward legality across--

CHUCK TODD:

No, there were some other interviews. I want to quickly get to Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush a minute. First, I should play that. Kelly O'Donnell was referring to Donald Trump and his little laugh line or whatever you want to call it. Let me play it really fast.

DONALD TRUMP (ON TAPE):

It can't be Mitt because Mitt ran and failed. He failed. The last thing we need is another Bush. He's totally in favor of Common Core. He is very, very weak on immigration.

CHUCK TODD:

Helene, nobody's going to mistake Donald Trump for a presidential candidate. I don't think. Other than Donald Trump these days. But the fact that Mitt Romney and Bush were essentially a punch line.

HELENE COOPER:

And they also were not there.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

HELENE COOPER:

Which I think was very interesting.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

HELENE COOPER:

I mean I think-- well, didn't Jeb Bush say something at some point ago about, "You've got to sort of lose the Republican primary in order to win the general election?"

CHUCK TODD:

And he was almost specifically referring to Iowa.

HELENE COOPER:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

Yes.

HELENE COOPER:

No, he absolutely was. And I think that's where the Republicans keep, in many, many ways, are their own worst enemy. They go so far to the right in order to out-conservative everybody else. You heard Ted Cruz talking about that in Iowa yesterday, said they come out of these-- they arrive at the general election completely battered.

That's where you saw the Mitt Romney, you know, talking about, you know, immigrants should self deport-- illegal aliens should self deport. And by the time they come up and they're trying to woo these Hispanic voters again, they're completely viewed by these people as out of touch.

CHUCK TODD:

Hugh, a little reporting here. You and I both were sort of racing each other to see what did we learn. Mitt Romney had this meeting with basically his inner circle on Friday night. I hear the meeting was not a decision meeting but a logistics meeting. "How do we do this?" What do you hear?

HUGH HEWITT:

18 to 20 people, both in person and on the phone, for up to six hours. One of them described this meeting as 80% certain Governor Romney is running. Here's the interesting thing about Romney. In 2008, after John McCain lost, nobody urged him to come back in 2012. If you go back and you look at people, with the exception of Al Gore, as you pointed out to me, no one ever asks a defeated nominee to come back.

Governor Romney's got people out there clamoring for him to come back. Now, Mike Huckabee won 40,000 votes in Iowa in 2008. Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney won 30,000 votes in Iowa in 2012. Those don't matter. The rules are different. And what matters now is a period of time when early voting will happen in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and then, on the Super Tuesday. And Mitt Romney's got 30-40% of that vote locked up. And I think even if he goes to the convention, he may not be the nominee, but he could have picked the nominee.

CHUCK TODD:

Tom, I feel like we have, like, four divisions here. Feels like a baseball pennant race, and then they all have to meet in the finals here, a little bit, almost like a final four. We'll mix basketball and baseball here.

TOM BROKAW:

Well--

CHUCK TODD:

Conservative, the social conservative candidate, the governor, the establishment. And they're all going to then meet in Cleveland.

TOM BROKAW:

And get used to it. This is the process that we're going to be going through every day for the next couple of years. And whether or not it serves the nation well, you know, it's very hard to say.

CHUCK TODD:

It doesn't matter at this point.

TOM BROKAW:

No, it doesn't matter at this point. That's going to be the game. And Bush and Romney off to one side, and then the others trying to get the conservative vote. And the fact is that we never take a hard look at Iowa. You know, remember the Iowa State Fair vote, for example. And now we've got the Twitter vote going on there. And this is how we pick a presidential candidate. And I think people on the outside, looking in, saying, "I don't quite get it. I wouldn't make a decision in my family that way, much less about picking--

CHUCK TODD:

No.

TOM BROKAW:

--the most powerful person in the world."

CHUCK TODD:

Well, that's for sure. All right, we'll hit the pause button here. Coming up, back to the issue of Islam. Is violence in the name of Islam really about Islam? NBA great Kareem Abdul Jabbar will join me next.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

Coming up, are we misunderstanding Islam when we talk about these terrorist attacks? Kareem Abdul Jabbar will join me next on the issue.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

And welcome back. Over his 20-year NBA career, Kareem Abdul Jabbar won six MVP awards and six NBA Championships. But along with his sky hooks and trophies on the court, he made headlines off the court. He was, of course, born Lew Alcindor. But in 1971, three years after converting to Islam, he publicly changed his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

Many sportswriters and fans misunderstood his motives, confusing them, actually, with Mohammed Ali's conversion to a more radical and confrontational group that called themselves The Nation of Islam. Over the past 40-plus years, Kareem Abdul Jabbar has established himself as a thoughtful and perceptive observer of the issues of race and religion in America. And he joins me now.

A recent column, this is what Mr. Jabbar wrote for Time. "I look forward to the day when an act of terrorism by self-proclaimed Muslims will be universally dismissed as nothing more than a criminal attack of a thuggish political organization wearing an ill-fitting Muslim mask." Kareem, thanks for coming on Meet the Press.

KAREEM ABDUL JABBAR:

A pleasure. Nice to be with you.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let me start with that. How do we get there?

KAREEM ABDUL JABBAR:

How do we get there? I think information is the key here. Knowledge will enable everybody to understand what exactly we're dealing with. These people that claim to be Muslims and go about their murdering people in horrific ways do not represent the teachings of Islam, and have made it impossible for real Muslims to be understood, because everybody thinks that this political power grab that these people are involved in is what Islam is about. And it's not about that.

CHUCK TODD:

President Bush has said this, President Obama has said this, plenty of political leaders have said this. You have spoken out on this issue a lot. And yet, Islamophobia is on the rise in America, is it not?

KAREEM ABDUL JABBAR:

Yes, unfortunately, it is. But if we give in to just-- it feels good to just blame the religion and say that that's the cause of it. But the causes go a lot deeper. And most of them are beyond our means to change. There's going to have to be change in countries where these people originate, where they have hope, where they have something to look forward to in their lives.

Most of these people come from countries where there's no possible way for them to get ahead. People here in America can look forward to getting an education and a job. If you're raised in, say, Egypt or a poor country in the Middle East, you have no hope there.

So the whole idea of progress, it's going to have to happen in those countries. And maybe some enlightenment will accompany that. But, you know, you have countries over there where people are being executed for witchcraft. Now this is the 21st century. Who believes in witchcraft?

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

KAREEM ABDUL JABBAR:

But they're executing people for this. It shows you the mindset over there. It's nothing that we understand.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, you wrote this, and you also wrote this: "When the Klu Klux Klan burns a cross in a black family's yard, prominent Christians aren't required to explain how it isn't really a Christian act. Most people realize that the KKK doesn't represent Christian teachings. That's what I and other Muslims long for." Bill O'Reilly, over at Fox News thoroughly, obviously, read your op-ed and had some responses to it. I want to play it and then get you to respond to him.

KAREEM ABDUL JABBAR:

Okay.

BILL O’REILLY (ON TAPE):

But here's what Mr. Abdul-Jabbar is missing. Much of the Muslim world does not understand the Islamic religion. Take Pakistan, for example. It allows the Taliban, major human rights violators, sanctuary. Is that permissible under Islam? Apparently the government of Pakistan believes it is.

Mr. Abdul Jabbar's wish would come true a lot faster if all the Muslim nations would confront the jihad the way the U.S.A. confronted the KKK. The FBI, largely comprised of Christians, wiped the Klan out, destroying its leadership by vigorously prosecuting the crimes they were committing.

CHUCK TODD:

What do you make of that?

KAREEM ABDUL JABBAR:

Well, there is no one body that controls all Muslims. A Muslim in Indonesia is under the control or influence of people there. It's not like you have a Pope who supposedly is in charge of all Catholics. Even given that, the Pope was not able to curtail the Irish Republican Army, who was doing terrorist acts in the name of Roman Catholics. You can't lump the two together and say that that works. It just does not fit.

CHUCK TODD:

I guess his basic argument, though, is that Muslims need to step up. It's not just non-Muslims, right? That Muslims need to step up and get rid of this radical strain. Do they not?

KAREEM ABDUL JABBAR:

Anybody who respects the rule of law and justice operates by these deeds, it doesn't matter what their religious affiliation is. Anybody with any common sense and any sense of decency understands that these are horrific acts and they have no place in any religious beliefs.

CHUCK TODD:

Why do you think, here in America, we talk about Islamophobia is rising and yet, at the same time, it's not-- what's happening in Europe is much different than what's happening in the United States. There is more assimilation here in the United States.

KAREEM ABDUL JABBAR:

There's more assimilation. And here, we have an understanding that there is a separation between church and state. So you can have your religious beliefs, but you can be a good American citizen and not be espousing murder and mayhem the way these jihadists are. They have a totally insane idea about what religious life is about, and they're getting the world to buy it as what Islam is about. And it's not what Islam is about.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you see similarities in the discussion of Islam here in America to the way we talked about race in the '60s and '70s?

KAREEM ABDUL JABBAR:

I think it is quite similar. Because one of the things that the conservative pundits say is that Muslims should criticize these people. But we have no influence over them. So even if we criticize them, they--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

You call them thugs. You've used various names to describe these folks.

KAREEM ABDUL JABBAR:

Yes. They're not people who believe in any rule of law. It's about what they're saying, and about their political agenda. And we have to learn to separate the two and understand that these people have a political agenda, and they're using religion as a mask to act on their political motives and try to control people and cause all this mayhem.

CHUCK TODD:

If there's one message you would like Americans to understand about Islam, what would it be?

KAREEM ABDUL JABBAR:

That Islam is a religion of peace, Islam does not tolerate wanton murder. And Muslims are absolutely part of contesting this. I was so happy to see, in France, where they rewarded the young man who helped the people in the Jewish grocery store. He saved some lives and enabled the police to apprehend and kill the assailant.

And they gave him citizenship within a week because he was doing what he was supposed to be doing. There was a Muslim police officer who was killed confronting these people. People have to understand that there are good Muslims that are on the side of what we understand to be the rule of law and just common sense and decency.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Kareem Abdul Jabbar, we're going to have an extended conversation that will air elsewhere after the show. Appreciate it. Thanks for coming on.

KAREEM ABDUL JABBAR:

My pleasure.

CHUCK TODD:

Coming up, yes, we're going to talk about it, “deflate-gate.” I'll go to the NerdScreen to explain how it's hardly the first or the worst case of bending the rules to get an edge.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

Time now for the NerdScreen and something a little different.

As Tom Brady said, it's not ISIS… and it's not, but "Deflategate" has everyone talking. And Patriots fans, if you need ammunition to prove that this would hardly be the first time a team bent the rules to gain an advantage, well here you go: sports fans, we take you back to 19-51 and one of the most famous moments in baseball history.

Bobby Thomson's home run that gave the New York Giants the pennant over the Brooklyn Dodgers:

(BEGIN TAPE)

RUSS HODGES:

The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! Left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant

(END TAPE)

Guess what: the Giants stole the signs, the Giants stole the signs. Fifty years later, surviving Giants players admitted they stole the catcher's signs and knew what pitches were coming. Even Ralph Branca, the unfortunate Dodgers pitcher, knew it was happening.

Then there's the inelegant art of flopping: trying to draw a foul by falling to the ground as though you've just been hit by a semi… even though you haven't been touched at all.

It's common practice in the NBA, and if you watch soccer you know that there's a rich tradition of flopping in that sport, too. And then there was the sticky fingers caper: Oakland Raiders receiver Fred Biletnikoff and defensive back Lester Hayes both used Stickum on their hands to help them catch and intercept passes.

And that's not to mention the countless things teams and athletes have done over the years: including pine tar and corked baseball bats; high-tech swimsuits; plaster of paris in boxing gloves; and, of course, steroids and blood doping.

The University of Iowa even painted the visiting team's locker room, showers and urinals pink, on the theory that pink would make opponents less aggressive. Why does Deflategate matter so much? It shouldn't; and I certainly have been critical about the media coverage of this as the situation in Yemen deteriorates.

But this has the perfect storm of being America’s most popular sport, and a team preparing to play in that sport's biggest game, with a coach that doesn't get the benefit of the doubt -- and ultimately, for all fans, and probably especially Patriots fans -- this takes the fun out of the game.

We'll be back in less than a minute.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

And welcome back, the panel is here and I want to continue actually the conversation I was just having with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Tom, you pretty intrigued by it. Give me your reaction.

TOM BROKAW:

He actually was more critical of the jihadists than any leader of the states over there that we’ve heard. A couple of years ago, I was in a very private dinner with very high level members of the royal family of Saudi Arabia. And, I could just sit back and listen to them as they were conflicted about whether they should speak out about this or whether they should give women the right to drive, in part because of the religious right in their country, and that they could bring down the kingdom, and that was what paralyzed them in a way.

I’ve talked to a number of leaders in the Middle East about, I don’t understand how a jihadist can go into a mosque and kill 500 followers of Islam, and you don’t say anything. But a cartoon appears in a Danish newspaper and it sets off a worldwide outrage. And how do we resolve all of that? So I think that Kareem is very brave for what he’s doing. And this will be the first time on record in which Bill O’Reilly and I have come fairly close to agreeing on something.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Mayor, you were telling me a story about a meeting you had with some Turkish Muslims--

STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE:

I did.

CHUCK TODD:

Tell me about it.

STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE:

I thought they were about to tell me about some big event that was happening, something that was going on. But I realized halfway through the meeting, they just wanted me to know that they are patriotic Americans. And, it struck me.

CHUCK TODD:

They were concerned, somehow, that you or others would be fearful.

STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE:

Right, because there is so much fear of the unknown. So many people in this country don’t understand what a Muslim is, don’t know the difference between a sikh and a Muslim. They are caught up in this fear every time that there is an incident. So there is a concern in the community, while the leaders don’t speak out, there are many individuals who are speaking out on a day-to-day basis that do not accept the terrorists’ practices, and are appalled, as we are as Americans.

CHUCK TODD:

Right. Hugh?

HUGH HEWITT:

Well, I have been teaching Muslim law students for 15 years at Chapman Law School. Islam in America is so different than it is in the rest of the world, and I was telling Helene during the break, Lawrence Wright’s book, The Looming Tower, is to me the most important book that anyone can read to understand that what is going on inside of Islam is very complicated. The one thing that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar doesn’t talk about is numbers. And so, the numbers of radical jihadists, which are-- our ambassador in Iraq this week said we've killed 6,000 ISIS fighters. That suggests a number of radicals that is far bigger than anything we've ever confronted in any other religious denomination.

That's why there's a gap between-- well, that's why President Sisi went to the largest university in Cairo last week, on January One, and said, "We have a problem in Islam." Thank goodness for President Sisi. I wish President Obama would go to Egypt and stand beside him.

CHUCK TODD:

Helene, the imams on the ground, that's what I hear all the time, that ultimately they're the ones that are going to change the hearts and minds of these jihadists.

HELENE COOPER:

It's absolutely true. They are crucial to this. But it's just sort of-- we do tend to have this conversation. And, you know, as a black American, I know exactly what Muslims feel like, because there's so many times when you see something-- black on black crime or any kind of black crime, and you immediately think, "Oh, they're going to think that every-- " it becomes a race issue. And with Muslims, you know, what they're talking about, it becomes the same. And I sort of-- I really feel for the point that Kareem Abdul Jabbar was trying to express.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright, very quickly, a little lighter note. Football, integrity of the game, Mayor Blake, I know you want the Patriots totally disbarred from the Super Bowl.

STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE:

I think that there is a very simple way to resolve this whole issue: #RavensSeahawksSuperBowl.

CHUCK TODD:

There you, forget it. It’s interesting Tom, this issue of integrity. It does feel as if, that that’s the, we’re prosecuting a traffic stop here, okay, at the end of the day, but there’s more to it.

TOM BROKAW:

Well, there is more to it. And I hope we get to the bottom of it. But I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and the only thing that was more deflated than the Patriots football was the Colts game plan. So, I think you have to keep that in mind as well. I mean, a softer football doesn’t make that much difference in terms of the spread at the end of the game.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, I guess Hugh, part of this that’s so sad that we’re not talking about the game, and when you start talking about bending the rules, then sports isn’t fun to follow.

HUGH HEWITT:

Well, the culture of corruption in New England, as a Browns fan, I have no love lost. But I grew up rooting for Gaylord Perry when Herb Score was trying to describe how Perry was pitching, so I can’t say much about it.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, we’re gonna have a lot more about the Super Bowl next week. We’re going to be back next week, because if it’s Super Bowl Sunday, it’s Meet the Press.

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