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MEET THE PRESS - JULY 19, 2015

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, terror in Tennessee. The F.B.I. now reviewing a text message the Chattanooga gunman sent to a friend just before the rampage. The nightmare question now, are lone-wolf attacks America's new normal? Also, the Iran nuclear deal.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU:

I believe it poses a great danger to America and the world.

CHUCK TODD:

We've got all sides of the debate covered, with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Secretary of State John Kerry, and a key Republican critic, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton. And the Trump factor, Republicans pile on after Trump says this about John McCain:

DONALD TRUMP:

He's not a war hero.

FRANK LUNTZ:

He's a war hero.

DONALD TRUMP:

He is a war hero.

FRANK LUNTZ:

Five and a half years--

DONALD TRUMP:

He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured.

CHUCK TODD:

Has this become the moment the Republicans have decided enough is enough with Trump? I'm Chuck Todd, and joining me to provide insight and analysis this Sunday morning are Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, NBC's Andrea Mitchell finally back from Vienna, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, and former Democratic governor and UN ambassador, and Bill Richardson. 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. Some new developments today in the investigation into the mass shooting in Chattanooga that killed five U.S. service men and Thursday. Those victims, Lance Corporal "Skip" Wells, Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Sullivan, Staff Sergeant David A. Wyatt, Sergeant Carson Holmquist, and Navy Petty Officer Randall Smith. We're learning of a new piece of evidence that may give us some insight into the motives of the gunman, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez.

Investigators are now focusing on a text message that he sent to a friend just hours before the shootings. The text included a link to an Islamic verse saying this: "Whosoever shows enmity to a friend of mine, then I have declared war against them."

Overnight, Abdulazeez's family released a statement offering their condolences to the victims and stating their son suffered from depression for many years. For the latest on the investigation, I'm joined from Nashville by the Governor of Tennessee, Republican Bill Haslam. Governor Haslam, good morning to you, sir.

GOV. BILL HASLAM:

Good morning.

CHUCK TODD:

What more can you tell us about the investigation that we don't know? Any new developments on your end sir?

GOV. BILL HASLAM:

You know, the F.B.I. has been incredible I think in terms of being willing to chase down every lead, working with state law enforcement and local folks to try to ascertain is this somebody that was just totally operating on their own, was there someone else pulling their strings, just what caused this person to get to the point where he did what he did. So I have a lot of faith that they're going to drill down exactly on what happened. Like I said, so far, I've been really impressed with their ability to go literally to every end to see where that will take them.

CHUCK TODD:

Here we are, 72 hours in, and we don't have bread crumbs that lead us to a conclusion that many people have already come to, which is that this was a terrorist attack. What's been the struggle here?

GOV. BILL HASLAM:

Well, I think one of the maybe scary things for all of us as Americans is the chance that, maybe the very good chance, this is just a lone wolf out there operating on his own, where we had no predictors of what he would do. And it makes it really hard, obviously, to think, how do we protect ourselves against that in the future?

I think that's one of the fears that all of us have is that he might be motivated by someone, someone might be pulling his strings, but when he's out there operating by himself, it's a little harder to ascertain exactly what we do about that.

CHUCK TODD:

Many of your fellow governors have decided to figure out ways to increase security at some of these recruitment centers, particularly for the National Guard, where governors have authority on that. What are you thinking about doing as far as Tennessee is concerned?

GOV. BILL HASLAM:

So we'll have a directive that comes out today that basically asks the adjudicant general to review the safety at all of our facilities, not just our armories, but the storefront recruiting units. We have those like the one that was attacked on Thursday. And then number two, reviewing where it's appropriate for our officers to be armed to a better degree than they were in the past, both where that's appropriate and where it's legal.

One of the challenges we have is that many of our armories, many of our facilities are federal facilities. So we don't want to put our adjudicant generals in a difficult position of giving them an order that they can't carry out because it's on a federal facility. So we're doing a complete review to see what we can. We're concerned, obviously. We don't want to leave our folks out there as targets when we've had such a horrible event happen just three days ago.

CHUCK TODD:

So you may need an act of Congress?

GOV. BILL HASLAM:

Well, ultimately that would help clear things up. Because on federal grounds, we have limited authority of what we can do. We're going to do everything we can. End of the day, it will be a lot better if we have clarity from the federal side.

CHUCK TODD:

Governor Haslam, I know it's been tough on you, tough on your state, my condolences to there and thank you for coming on this morning.

GOV. BILL HASLAM:

Well, thank you. Chattanooga's a great city with a broken heart. We have some people that have reacted well. I think all of us mourn for four marines and a sailor who are lost and their families that are suffering today.

CHUCK TODD:

Absolutely. Governor, thanks very much. I'm joined by Michael Leiter. He's a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, and of course now, works for the National Security Company Leidos. Michael, welcome back to Meet the Press.

MICHAEL LEITER:

It's good to be here.

CHUCK TODD:

I feel like we meet here monthly. And that's the part of this that says, "Is this the new normal?" What do you say?

MICHAEL LEITER:

Well, I think it is, Chuck, unfortunately. You know, we saw this in 2009 starting in Fort Hood, then another shooting in Arkansas very similar to this, in a recruiting center. And of course, the attack in Texas, the machete attack against the NYPD, what we see is lone wolves who are motivated by this, not driven, not directed, but it's very difficult to control and stop. Especially when you have soft targets like these in Chattanooga.

CHUCK TODD:

It seems as if we're looking for evidence to back up a conclusion that's already been reached. That this is Islamic terrorism. And yet we haven't found evidence yet, correct?

MICHAEL LEITER:

That's true. And I think the F.B.I. is being appropriately cautious in this. It's 72 hours in, I think every indicator is that's what it is. But what is actually most frightening I think to officials is how little of a trail there was before. Seventy-two hours later, and we still don't see anything. And that suggests a speed in rapidity of radicalization for this individual, which is very, very concerning. It makes finding the next one that much more difficult.

CHUCK TODD:

But if his name weren't Mohammed, would we say this is a mental health situation?

MICHAEL LEITER:

Well, we very well might. And listen, the line between politically-motivated terrorism and mental illness is a thin one. But in this case, I think the targeting of the individuals who are in the military, at least some of the early indicators really do suggest to put it in that lane. But again, we shouldn't divide these. Often those who have mental illness are the ones who are most attracted to a violent ideology.

CHUCK TODD:

And we sit here and if you were still in the administration, you have to say that every attack is preventable. Now that you're not, I mean, we are at the point where we can't protect ourselves from this, right?

MICHAEL LEITER:

No. And in fact, if I were in the administration, what I would be telling the president is, every event, isn’t predictable, and every event, isn’t preventable. When you have weapons in an open society, and you have individuals who can, in a very isolated way, become radicalized, you can't find them all. You have to try to minimize the damage, and obviously respond effectively to the victims.

CHUCK TODD:

Anyway, the fact that this happened in Chattanooga, in a strip mall, this is Anywhere, America. It's scary.

MICHAEL LEITER:

It really is.

CHUCK TODD:

Michael Leiter, thanks very much, sir.

MICHAEL LEITER:

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Now to turn to the other big story that's been dominating Washington and the world this week, it's the nuclear deal with Iran. If you believe the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, then the deal will go down in history as a huge mistake that triggered an arms race in the Middle East, conventional or nuclear. And on Capitol Hill, the deal doesn't appear to have a lot of support in Congress.

In Iran, the deal has been welcomed. Though the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, did warn this weekend that his country will continue to oppose what he termed, quote, "arrogant American foreign policy." But it wasn't just the United States negotiating with Iran, it was the so-called P5+1.

What does that mean? It's the world powers of Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom, plus Germany, and the United States. On Friday, I was joined by the head of one of those powers, a key advocate of the agreement, British Prime Minister David Cameron. And I started by asking him why he decided to sign off on this deal.

DAVID CAMERON:

Because I think it is so much better than the alternative. I think that if there wasn't a deal, I think we would face Iran with a nuclear weapon. And that would've given a terrible choice to the West of either enabling that, allowing that to happen, or a very difficult decision to take military action. So, this the better outcome. It keeps Iran away from a nuclear weapon. It's a successful negotiation for the allies. And I think we should be proud of a good deal done.

Now, of course, there'll be those that complain about details of the deal. But fundamentally, this is the toughest set of proposals put in place and verification put in place and inspection put in place that I think we've seen in any of these sorts of negotiations. So, I think it is a good deal. It was right to get on with it. And the sanctions pressure worked. And I think that's all to the credit of the U.S. administration, to Barack Obama, but also the action taken in Europe, too.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, a lot of the criticism that's coming here in the United States and from some key Middle East allies of both Great Britain and the United States, I'm talking Israel and Saudi Arabia in particular, is that this deal did not demand any other behavior changes in Iran outside of their nuclear weapons program. It didn't demand changes in what they're doing in Syria, what they're doing in Yemen, essentially their undue influence that they're trying to exert in the Middle East. Why not include all that?

DAVID CAMERON:

Well, this deal was about the nuclear issue. And I think the right way to conclude the deal was to make it about the nuclear issue. But, you know, we shouldn't be naïve or starry eyed in any way about the regime that we're dealing with. And I'm certainly not.

I spoke to President Rouhani yesterday and said that we want to see a change in the approach that Iran takes to issues like Syria and Yemen, and to terrorism in the region. And we want the change in behavior that should follow from that change. So, we're not starry eyed at all. And I'd reassure our Gulf allies about that. But actually taking the nuclear weapon issue off the table, that is a success for America and Britain and our allies. And we should be clear about that.

CHUCK TODD:

There was one expert out here named Richard Haass. His biggest concern is if Iran complies with the deal, for this reason. He believes if Iran complies with the deal, then in 15 years they can have a nuclear weapon. What do you say to that?

DAVID CAMERON:

Well, I don't believe that's right. Actually, this deal says that it's never acceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. Obviously, the timeframe for which the safeguards are in place and the inspection is in place is for a particular period of time. But the deal actually says it's not acceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

But again, what we've done is make sure that the timeline for them possibly getting a nuclear weapon has got longer, not shorter.

CHUCK TODD:

Prime Minister Netanyahu and many people in Israel do not believe this makes them safer. Everybody in the United States on the Obama administration has argued that it does. I heard you argue that it does, too. Why is he wrong and you guys are right?

DAVID CAMERON:

Well, I quite understand the concerns of people living in Israel. You would if you had to deal with the terrorism of Hamas and Hezbollah, if you had the threats to your country, and you know what a threat Iran has been to your country. So, I fully understand their concerns. But I would say to my friends in Israel, including the Israeli prime minister, look, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, that is now off the table. And I think that's a success. So, having achieved that, now let's put the pressure on Iran on the other behavior changes that we want to see, but recognize this was a deal worth doing.

CHUCK TODD:

David Cameron, prime minister of Great Britain, thanks for coming on Meet the Press, sir.

DAVID CAMERON:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

I have a little bit more on David Cameron that you're able to see on the website. Also on Friday, I sat down with secretary of State John Kerry, who has been making the rounds all over the place this past week in an effort to sell the Iran deal to a skeptical Congress and a divided American public. I asked him why the four Americans believed held by Iran weren't part of the deal. And why the U.S. focused only on Iran's nuclear capabilities and not their overall behavior. Here are his responses:

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

We have a plan in order to deal with pushback against Iran's behavior with respect to military interdiction-- stopping the flow of weapons, dealing with counterterrorism, dealing with special forces training and capacity for some of those other countries.

So there will be plenty of pushback, Chuck. But the simple reality is, that if you're going to push back against Iran, it is better to push back against an Iran that doesn't have a nuclear weapon rather than one that does. So this focus on getting rid of the principle problem in the region, which is Iran's threat to Israel and their threat to the region to have a nuclear capacity.

We believe with this, for years in the future, we have this incredible capacity to have access, to have inspections, to hold them accountable. And by the way, even though the arms and the missiles were thrown in as an add-on to this nuclear agreement, it was always contemplated that if Iran did come and deal on the nuclear program, that was going to be lifted.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you wish you would have held firmer to get these detainees out off there?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

On the detainees, Chuck, we raised them at every single meeting. We are still engaged in discussions with them, and I hope they will come back to the United States soon. That's my hope. And we are working continually to get them back.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you willing to do what both Senators Corker and Cardin have asked the administration to do, which is postpone the UN vote on this deal until Congress acts--

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

Chuck, we can't do that. And in fact, I talked to Senator Corker and already told him that the agreement we made with our partners, who by the way, don't feel that they should be bound by the United States Congress, they feel that they've negotiated under the UN.

CHUCK TODD:

But this jams Congress.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

And but here's what we--

CHUCK TODD:

Doesn't this jam Congress?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

No, absolutely not. And I'll tell you why: Because we specifically, to protect the Congress, put in a 90 day period before it takes effect. So nothing will change. The UN will do what it needs to do to meet the needs of our negotiating partners, all of whom wanted to go to the UN, because that's what they were negotiating under.

CHUCK TODD:

To see extended versions of both the interviews with Prime Minister Cameron and Secretary of State John Kerry visit our website, MeetThePressNBC.com. When we come back, one of the strongest opponents of the Iran deal joins us, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Then later on, Donald Trump says John McCain is no war hero. And Republican candidates finally say publicly what they've been saying privately about Trump.

**Commercial Break**

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to Capitol Hill this week, hoping to sell the Iran deal to a skeptical Congress. One critic who is not likely to be swayed by Kerry is Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Senator Cotton now joins me. Welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.

SEN. TOM COTTON:

Morning, Chuck. Great to be on with you.

CHUCK TODD:

You heard both, I know, the David Cameron interview and the John Kerry interview. Let me just start with a specific, when it comes to John Kerry and Congress. He says, "There is no need to delay the UN vote, but there's enough time built in to respect Congress's role in here." Do you agree?

SEN. TOM COTTON:

No Chuck, I disagree. I think it's regrettable that the administration is going to the United Nations first, as senior and influential Democrats, like Ben Cardin and Steny Hoyer have said. But at bottom, the United States's sanctions are what's always been most important here. And I'm confident that the American people, as they learn more about this agreement, are repudiating it, and that Congress will ultimately reject it.

CHUCK TODD:

Explain the fundamental divide here. It seems to me you have on one end, the administration and many of the world powers who believe Iran is a regional power in the Middle East and you have to just live with it and manage it. And there are opponents like yourself, Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and Saudi Arabia who say, "No, Iran should not be a regional power. And all this deal does is give them more power." Is that the divide we're looking at here?

SEN. TOM COTTON:

That's one of the fundamental divides, Chuck. Iran is a terror-sponsoring, anti-American, outlaw regime. They've got the blood of hundreds of American soldiers and Marines on their hands. We should not be empowering such a regime to be a successful, regional power. We should be confronting them in every way. This deal though gives them $150 billion of sanctions relief.

It even lifts the conventional arms embargo and the ballistic missile ban. And ultimately, even if they obey every single detail of the bill, puts them on the path to be a nuclear weapon state in eight to ten years. And if you think Iran is going to change their behavior in a decade, I can tell you how unlikely that is. Because just nine years ago, they were trying to kill me and my soldiers. We were lucky. But hundreds of other American troops were not.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, the argument, you heard it, you've heard the arguments from John Kerry, from David Cameron, which is the alternative was war, the alternative was a nuclear Iran. This at least at a minimum postpones the timeline for a decade. Isn't that better than nothing?

SEN. TOM COTTON:

Well, unfortunately Chuck, as I said, even if Iran obeys the deal, Iran is going to be a nuclear-weapon state in just ten years. I think we have to assume that they will cheat on the deal though, and the inspection and verification and enforcement mechanisms I believe are too weak to do so. But in the end, I don't think it's a good thing to give such an outlaw regime nuclear weapons capability.

But we are where we are. So the question is not really what was the alternative and what is the alternative. I think the alternative is for Congress to reject this deal and demand a better deal. To send our negotiators back to the table with the threat of both tougher sanctions and military force and get a better deal for the American people.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, and before I let you go, you're a veteran, what did you make of Donald Trump's comments on John McCain?

SEN. TOM COTTON:

Well, I disagree with Mr. Trump's comments. John McCain is a great American. Everyone knows that he was a P.O.W. for over five years. But here's one thing that most people don't know about him. His dad was a senior admiral at the time he was a P.O.W.

And because of that, the Vietnamese offered him an opportunity for earlier release, in direct violation of the code of conduct for prisoners of war. John McCain declined that early release and obeyed the code of conduct. So I think we all should respect and honor John McCain's service.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think this makes Donald Trump unfit?

SEN. TOM COTTON:

Like I say, I disagree with his comments, Chuck. I would recommend that he apologize and retract them, and then get back to the campaign that he's been running on, important issues like this Iran deal and the threat that it poses to the United States and the world.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Tom Cotton, Republican from Arkansas, I appreciate you coming on and sharing your views, sir.

SEN. TOM COTTON:

Thanks Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me bring in the panel, Tom Friedman of The New York Times, he interviewed President Obama the day after the deal was signed this week; our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, who is now a resident of Austria; Danielle Pletka, vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, influential conservative think tank here in Washington; and Bill Richardson, former Democratic Governor of New Mexico, and a former ambassador to the UN on behalf of the United States. Welcome to all of you. Tom, let me start with you. You heard David Cameron there, you interviewed the president. Who did a better job of selling the deal? David Cameron or Barack Obama?

THOMAS FRIEDMAN:

Well, I'm not going to get into that score keeping. I think that obviously both of them are quite emphatic about it as well I found the president. Chuck, I would go back to the very beginning of why we're in this situation. It seems to me that this dates back to we launched a war in Iraq. We failed to succeed in that war.

The minute that failure was sort of locked in, we lost the military option against Iran. Iran understood that. Now the Bush administration's approach was, "We're not going to allow you to become a nuclear state, but we are neither going to go to war against you nor structure a diplomatic alternative for you." When Bush came into office, Iran had about 200 centrifuges, when he left, they had 9,000.

Then Obama came in, basically said, "No, here's what we're going to do. We're not going to let you become a nuclear state. We don't have a military option, but we're going to structure a diplomatic alternative here built around greater sanctions in return for the kind of deal we forged here."

Perfect was not on the menu. It's still not on the menu. In this region, when you take military force off the table, the balance of power between the two sides becomes roughly equal. And as a result, I think, my own position right now is let's make the best of this deal. I think give it a chance, try to make it work.

CHUCK TODD:

You don't think it's a good deal?

THOMAS FRIEDMAN:

I don't think good was ever on the table, okay? Any deal that obviously allows Iran to continue to have these capabilities is problematic. But I think it's a deal that can serve American interests, provided we do two things: one is, make sure the implementation is there.

We can't let this be the ObamaCare of arms control, okay, where we do a deal, and then don't follow up with the proper oversight. And secondly, I think the U.S. Congress should pass a resolution right now authorizing the president to use force, this president or any future one, should Iran seek to obtain a nuclear weapon.

CHUCK TODD:

Andrea, why is the military forced rhetoric gone from the administration in selling this deal? I have found it surprising. Cameron was at least rhetorically stronger than the president was.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, if you listen to what the president and John Kerry and all of the other leaders have been saying, they think that diplomacy is the alternative to force, and they don't want to use military force. They really don't believe in it. What the highest level of fear, of senior Israeli officials are saying, is that their greatest fear is that Iran won't cheat, that for ten years, they will obey the rules, they'll get all the billions of dollars, they won't have the sanctions, then they will break out.

They do not believe in the verification down the road, because they say that their intelligence and ours are not as good as we think it is. They had a full reactor in Syria that was bombed until we knew it. They had underground activities in Iran that they didn't know about. And they are really concerned that they did not get any conditionality against terrorism by proxies throughout the region by Iran.

CHUCK TODD:

Danielle, you're an outspoken critic of the deal.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Yes. I think I'm the only one at the table, actually. Look, this is terrible in so many different ways. First of all, it front-loads all the benefits to Iran. And we've already said it lets them continue supporting Hezbollah, Hamas, supporting Assad's murder of up to 300,000 people who have been killed in Syria with Iran's help, with Hezbollah's help, with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

It's got very ineffective inspections mechanisms, it's got very inefficient oversight mechanisms. And the worst part about it is, if Iran is unhappy with anything that any of us do, they can back away from the deal. It provides all the incentives for us to accept Iranian malfeasance. It's the worst-constructed deal I could imagine.

CHUCK TODD:

Governor, why didn't we demand changes? I mean, it does seem as if we took too many things off the table early in the negotiations.

BILL RICHARDSON:

No, I am troubled by the deal. And I'm a supporter of the president, his foreign policy, but I wish the conventional arms embargo, we stuck with it. I think it is bad that ballistic missiles, conventional arms can go to Syria, to Yemen. I worry about Israel. I want these hostages back. I think, you know, The Washington Post reporter, Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, who by the way, was insulted by Trump. He's a marine that's there in Iran and the F.B.I. agent. Now, there are some, I read the 109 pages.

CHUCK TODD:

We have it right there.

BILL RICHARDSON:

There are some good obtrusive inspection regime. It is good. The snapback provision at the UN that allows Russia and China not to veto. That's good. But it is a 15-year agreement. At the same time, you know, if I were voting and I was a Congressman, I'd want to just work on the hearing, see what's going to come out. I think a condition for improvement in the relationship. There should be the release of this reporter, the marine, the F.B.I. agent, as a gesture that Iran is entering as a community of nations.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I'm going to pause it there. We're going to talk more on this coming up after the break. Up next though, been a busy weekend. Donald Trump has done it. He claimed that John McCain is not a war hero. You heard one person come to his defense earlier in Tom Cotton. And the man who says, "The comments make him unfit to be commander in chief." That's former Texas Governor Rick Perry. He'll be next.

**Commercial Break**

DONALD TRUMP:

You know, he lost. So I never liked him as much after that because I don't like losers. What? Frank, Frank, let me get to it. He hit me. He's not a war hero.

FRANK LUNTZ:

He's a war hero.

DONALD TRUMP:

He is a war hero--

FRANK LUNTZ:

Five and a half years--

DONALD TRUMP:

He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, okay? I hate to tell you.

CHUCK TODD:

That was Donald Trump at Saturday's Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, talking about Senator John McCain. Senator McCain, by the way, was held prisoner for five and a half years and tortured in North Vietnam. By attacking McCain's military service, Donald Trump managed to give his Republican rivals the freedom to do what they've been itching to do, but afraid to do, denounce him.

Within 90 minutes, a half dozen presidential candidates had called Trump's comments "stupid, slanderous, disgraceful, and disqualifying." By the three-hour mark, a dozen had weighed in adding "offensive, an insult, outrageous, and idiotic."

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE:

John McCain is a hero.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

I think what he's done is insulted everyone who's served in the military today.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

We should never, ever, ever question the patriotism and the heroism of someone like John McCain.

CHUCK TODD:

Much more on Donald Trump's comment with a man who says they make him unfit to be commander in chief, former Texas Governor and a veteran, Rick Perry.

**Commercial Break**

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Yesterday might now be remembered as the day the Republican Party turned against Donald Trump in full, after his attack on John McCain. My next guest, former Texas Governor Rick Perry is one of Trump's rivals for the 2016 nomination, and has been ahead of the crowd, as one of the real estate tycoon's staunchest critics, calling him out over his outspoken comments on undocumented immigrants, and of course, most recently hitting him over his comments about John McCain. Governor Perry, welcome back to Meet the Press.

GOV. RICK PERRY:

Good to be with you.

CHUCK TODD:

Governor, I know you say he's unfit to be commander-in-chief, Donald Trump has already this morning put out a statement that says, not only does he not owe John McCain an apology, but that John McCain owes an apology for his comment calling supporters of Donald Trump 'crazies.' How do you respond to that?

GOV. RICK PERRY:

Well, more over-the-top, bombastic rhetoric from Donald Trump. This time, he's been able to offend one of the most beloved groups in America, and that's our veterans. I really don't understand his strategy here, of taking on a bullet that went through John McCain and hit a lot of us that wore the uniform of this country.

I mean, this is really offensive. And we need someone to be bringing this country together. Chuck, there's a reason that when I announced for the presidency, that Marcus Luttrell, Morgan Luttrell, Mike Thornton, a Medal of Honor recipient, Pete Scobell, I mean, all of those veterans were standing on the stage with me, supporting me, because they know what I've done to support veterans both in my professional life as a governor, but also in my personal life that a lot of people may not have known about.

And it matters that we have a commander in chief that respects what those individuals have done. And I still stand by my statement. Until Mr. Trump apologizes directly to John McCain, and also to the veterans of this country, I don't think he has the character or the temperament to hold the highest position in this country.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, are you comfortable appearing on stage with him to debate? Or do you think he should be kicked out of the debates?

GOV. RICK PERRY:

Well, I'm going to let the folks who are putting the debates together. But let me tell you, I'm real comfortable being on the stage with him and confronting him on a host of issues that he's just wrong on. I mean, there's one thing to just spew invectives and spew rhetoric out there. But America's looking for somebody that's got some solutions. And I'll be real honest with you, I haven't heard any solutions coming from Donald Trump. Just rhetoric.

CHUCK TODD:

Look, is this a "reap what you sow" though, issue here for the Republican party? The party embraced Donald Trump four years ago. Mitt Romney sought his endorsement, a lot of you did one on one meetings courting Donald Trump back in 2011 after he dropped out during his whole birther craze at the time. And you actively reached out to him. In hindsight, was that a mistake for the party in general to embrace Trump four years ago?

GOV. RICK PERRY:

Well, his Twitter handle is "The Real Donald Trump." And I'll suggest to you, we're seeing the real Donald Trump now.

CHUCK TODD:

And that is what?

GOV. RICK PERRY:

Well, we're seeing an individual who's more interested in throwing invectives and this hyperbolic rhetoric out there rather than laying out solutions. Listen, we need somebody, as I laid out ten days ago, two weeks ago, about how the Republican party needs to be reaching out to people of different cultures and races and ethnicities.

What we've done in the state of Texas, for instance, to let African Americans keep more of what they work for, graduate from high school at some of the highest rates, as a matter of fact, the highest rate in America. That's what the Republican party needs to be about. That's what with end to hear. And frankly, that's what Americans are begging for, a leader that has solutions to give them hope that the best days are in front of us as a country.

CHUCK TODD:

Rick Perry, thanks for coming on this morning, former governor, thank you.

GOV. RICK PERRY:

Good to be with you. Thank you sir.

CHUCK TODD:

Appreciate it. And I want to remind viewers, I actually talked to Governor Perry yesterday as well, and we had a more extensive conversation on a variety of issues, including border security, his own campaign, the state of his own campaign, and much more. You can see that interview on our website MeetThePressNBC.com. Let me get some reaction here from the panel. Danielle, let me start with you. Donald Trump, has he hijacked the Republican party? Is he hijacking? And at what point do you say, "Enough is enough?"

DANIELLE PLETKA:

He's an idiot. He's in this for himself. And that's always been the Donald Trump story. He's a rich guy who's spending his money to promote himself and to mouth off. He wants a TV show, he wants popularity, he'd light his hair on fire if someone would pay attention to him. And believe me, it wouldn't be a bad thing

CHUCK TODD:

At some point, he might.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

It could happen.

CHUCK TODD:

I mean, you know, if it runs out.

BILL RICHARDSON:

You know, he's a sideshow. He's not a legitimate presidential contender. I mean, here is, although I'm, you know, trying not to be political here, I'll tell you, he's offended every veteran, he's offended every Hispanic with his comment on immigration. The guy is not a legitimate political con-- he's got no organization.

He's a celebrity run amok. He's insulted. I think what he said about McCain, you know, I disagree with McCain on a lot of issues. But here's a guy that was tortured. Here's a guy that has defended this country. War service that is exemplary. And for him to say what he did, it's not just disgusting and wrong, but it should, you know, if I were a Republican candidate, I would not get on the stage with him.

CHUCK TODD:

That's what I'm wondering.

BILL RICHARDSON:

They should demand--

CHUCK TODD:

I think there might be--

BILL RICHARDSON:

They should demand that Republican candidate, the 15 or 18 or 30 that are there, that they will not participate in a debate with Trump, period.

CHUCK TODD:

Look, I talked to campaigns who were desperately hoping this is the moment.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, in fact, the way he really hurt himself with the group, at least evangelicals in Iowa last night was not about John McCain. What people were talking about afterwards is what he said about communion, what he said about confession and God and what he said about his marriages. So that's the rhetoric and the language that he has to worry about in Iowa. That's what may have really hurt him with that group. I think the Republicans, it's interesting to note that, as Democrats are saying, they did not stand up against him when he talked so abusively about President Obama.

CHUCK TODD:

As, collectively. There were plenty

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Collectively. And the Republican candidates this year did not collectively there were some, Jeb Bush, you know, Marco Rubio, obviously.

CHUCK TODD:

Rick Perry, by the way.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And Rick Perry.But all of them collectively did not stand up when he talked about Mexico and immigrants with such racial rhetoric. It was only when he attacked John McCain that the group--

CHUCK TODD:

Let's bring Tom in here, because Tom, you write about this larger, sometimes, narrative about the state of American politics. And I put the question to Rick Perry, did the Republican party reap what they sow? But are we reaping what we sow? The reality-show atmosphere, how politics gets covered, where we have made it easier for Donald Trump to blow up our campaign process.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN:

Well, we've turned politics into sports, Chuck. It's PSPN, Politics Sports Network, not just ESPN. And when you do that, someone takes it to its logical conclusion.

CHUCK TODD:

That's what he just did.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN:

And that's really what Trump is doing. The tragedy is it's happening at a time when we are in an incredible high-speed turn, in terms of change in the pace of change.

CHUCK TODD:

Globally, millennials.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

Generationally, this is all over the place.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN:

Governance matters, Chuck, all the time. But right now, good governance matters more than anything.

CHUCK TODD:

Danielle, I interrupted you. What did you, you wanted to pop in on--

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Oh, I think you were being a little unfair to the Republicans. You know, I think everybody is at the beginning stages with this process. It started too early, it's starting earlier and earlier. Every year there's more and more time for clowns, for ridiculous behavior. And I think the Republicans haven't found their ground yet. And that's one of the reasons why when he came out, no, no, no. I don't think there is anybody in the Republican party that thinks calling Mexicans--

BILL RICHARDSON:

Trump called Hispanics rapists. He said that. That is wrong--

DANIELLE PLETKA:

I don't think anybody--

BILL RICHARDSON:

That should've been denounced by everybody in the Republican party--

DANIELLE PLETKA:

I don't think there's anybody in the main--

BILL RICHARDSON:

Everybody.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Anybody in the mainstream of the Republican party that thinks that it is okay to denounce one group as rapists.

BILL RICHARDSON:

Ted Cruz defended him.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I'm speaking of--

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Mainstream.

CHUCK TODD:

--what's happened here in the immigration--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

So much for Ted Cruz.

CHUCK TODD:

One of the things we've got to remind people, people that do support Donald Trump are angry about politics in general in Washington. They know Trump's kind of a clown.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

They're voicing something that's really important.

CHUCK TODD:

That's right. We can't ignore that aspect of it. When we come back though, I want to take a closer look at Donald Trump's claims about illegal immigrants. And we do this in a much more thoughtful way I promise. This idea, are immigrants pouring over the border bringing drugs and crime with them? How much of what he says is true? And a fascinating debate, true debate about immigration reform right after this.

**Commercial Break**

CHUCK TODD:

Nerd screen time. 2016 race, of course, is in full swing. And thanks to Donald Trump, it does seem like a lot of people want to talk about one topic right now, and that's immigration. In fact, it's one thing that Donald Trump is right about. Without him, we wouldn't be talking about it as much. But before we get to our substantive immigration debate, we want to separate some of the facts from fiction that you've been hearing from him.

It turns out, there is no evidence to back up Trump's now famous claim that immigrants are rapists and bringing crime into the United States. In fact, we couldn't find a single study that links violent crime and immigration. Moreover, we actually did find one study that says the crime rate among first-generation immigrants those born elsewhere, is actually lower than the overall crime rate among all residents in the United States.

Trump has also said that we have no protection at our borders. Well, of course he's right that there is a border problem. But the number of illegal immigrants is down. In 2007, there were 12.2 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States. That figure dropped to 11.2 million in 2012, the last year for which we have figures.

And there is his other claim here, are Mexicans flooding into the country, as Trump suggests? Well, net migration between the United States and Mexico is, ready for this, zero. Meaning there are just as many people immigrating to Mexico as there are Mexicans coming from Mexico. And ready for this? According to the Government Accountability Office, border security in the Southwest is about 84% effective.

That's not perfect, but that is a B average. Now the cost to seal the Southwest border, it's an estimated $28 billion a year. Roughly the annual budget of the entire Justice Department. The last time the amount of money we've been spending is $18 billion a year. So we've got to find another way if we want to do even more money on that front.

There's a lot to say on the immigration story. And in fact, earlier I spoke with two strong voices on either side of the immigration debate. Congressman Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from Texas, and Republican Congressman Raul Labrador from Idaho.

CHUCK TODD:

Define the scope of what you think is the problem. Do we have an illegal immigration problem in this country right now?

CONGRESSMAN LABRADOR:

We do have an illegal immigration problem in the country. But we also have a legal immigration problem, because we're dealing with a legal immigration system from the 1950s. We've got to update and modernize the immigration system. We have a problem at the border, where we don't know who's coming in, who's leaving. We have a visa entry system problem, where we know who's coming in legally, but they're not leaving. And we don't know if they're leaving and why they're not leaving.

CHUCK TODD:

Same question to you. Do you believe we have an illegal immigration problem in this country?

CONGRESSMAN CASTRO:

Yes, we're always going to be concerned about securing our border. We were concerned about it five years ago, ten years ago. And we're concerned about it today. But, you know, and I respect Raul a lot. Because a few years ago, he was part of a gang of eight in the House of Representatives that was trying to come to some kind of solution on immigration reform.

But I do disagree with the facts. The border has never been more secure than it is now. I know there are a lot of folks who don't believe that, people who don't like to hear it. But the fact is the net migration with Mexico is at zero. If you look back 20 or 30 years ago, that was not the case. So a lot of the hysteria that you see now about illegal immigration is really politicians on the right wing like Donald Trump who are playing to a very angry base of people who are engaging in stereotyping immigrants and really blaming them for a lot of the country's ills. But we've never committed more resources at the border than we do today.

CHUCK TODD:

Congressman Labrador, respond to sort of the idea perception versus reality problem?

CONGRESSMAN LABRADOR:

There's always overhype. Especially when you're talking about Trump. He overhypes everything. He'll overhype his ties. He'll overhype his suit. Everything that he's going to talk about, he's going to overhype. But he's hitting on an issue. You had a gentleman who crossed the United States border five times illegally. The only reason that he was caught is because he was committing crimes. And finally he was caught hopefully for the last time, because he just killed a young woman in San Francisco. That's not overhyping. That's a reality.

Under this president's administration, and he's claiming that he's prioritizing criminals, this person was able to be released to a sanctuary city--

CHUCK TODD:

That’s why I want to pause here, sanctuary cities. And in fact, Congressman Castro, should we have them? I understand the motivation of some cities and why they did it. It was sort of prosecutorial discretion. It was sort of what do you prioritize. But has it gotten out of hand? Has it made it where there is sort of this weird gap between federal authority and state and local authority?

CONGRESSMAN CASTRO:

Well, the first thing is in Texas, we don't have sanctuary cities. In fact, there is no legal definition of a sanctuary city. As you know, Chuck and Raul, that term has often been used pejoratively.

CHUCK TODD:

But there are cities that have passed laws--

CONGRESSMAN CASTRO:

Absolutely.

CHUCK TODD:

That talk about what can be turned over to ICE, the immigration enforcement agency of the federal government, and when should people that are picked up not be turned over to ICE, correct?

CONGRESSMAN CASTRO:

No, you're right about that. But I do think that the focus on the relationship between the local and the federal government is the wrong one.

CHUCK TODD:

Is it broken though?

CONGRESSMAN CASTRO:

Absolutely. The whole system is broken. But the focus should be on the question of who are you going to allow to stay here and obtain legal status? And who are you going to deport

CHUCK TODD:

I want to get to this undocumented issue and the 12 million. But I also want to get to border security. So I want to understand--

CONGRESSMAN CASTRO:

Sure.

CHUCK TODD:

Do me a favor, define amnesty?

CONGRESSMAN CASTRO:

I think amnesty is no questions asked. Anybody who's here gets allowed to stay. That you don't vet people. That you don't prioritize criminals versus others.

CHUCK TODD:

What do you think of that definition?

CONGRESSMAN LABRADOR:

I disagree. Amnesty's giving somebody the benefit of their illegal action, the benefit of what they were seeking. That's amnesty.

CHUCK TODD:

So understand that, then on the 12 million, any path to even legalization is going to be defined as amnesty by the Republicans? Am I right?

CONGRESSMAN LABRADOR:

It could be. That's why we need to deal with the issue that actually Trump is talking about. That's why people are so excited about what he's saying, even though I don't agree with the way he's saying it. People are concerned that we have a broken immigration system. We have a border that is broken. We have a visa system that is broken.

They want those issues to be solved first. The American people are rational people. They're good people. They're going to decide what to do with the 11 million once they feel safe and secure in their homeland. Right now they don't.

CHUCK TODD:

What do you think about doing it in that order? You've been more open minded about that than others. Other democrats haven’t been.

CONGRESSMAN CASTRO:

I would say we're open to seeing any sequence, at this point, on immigration reform, whether it starts with border security or something else. We just haven't seen it. They have literally passed nothing since they've taken the majority.

CONGRESSMAN LABRADOR:

That's not true. Joaquin keeps saying that. We passed an immigration bill three years ago. That I was one of the chief drivers of it. That was going to deal with the high-tech immigration issues. It passed the House overwhelmingly with most Republicans voting for it. It went to the Senate. And the president said he would veto it. And he said he would veto it, because there was no comprehensive immigration reform.

CHUCK TODD:

Why do you think there is so much, maybe it's fear, maybe it's concern? Why do you think it's out there? Is it economic driven? Is it rural versus urban? What is it?

CONGRESSMAN CASTRO:

Well, I think the period we're in is no different than when the Germans came and experienced a lot of the same biases, when the Irish came and there were NINA signs that were up. Italians the same thing. The Chinese Exclusion Act. So we're in a period for Latinos and other immigrants that is similar to that. And I think that we will get past it. But it is a fear of the unknown. And it's also exacerbated by people unfortunately like Donald Trump that are stoking that for political gain and political purposes.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm going to leave it there. I hope we proved that you guys disagree, but you did it with smiles. And you did it the way Congress should work. Anyway, gentlemen, thank you for doing this.

CHUCK TODD:

And you can see much more of this debate on our website, including a discussion on whether there's too much legal immigration here in the United States. All of that is on MeetThePressNBC.com. I hope this is a good model going forward on how to do substantive policy debates on the show. Coming up, our endgame segment. Hillary Clinton's enthusiasm gap, how serious is it?

**Commercial Break**

MALE VOICE:

Probably Bernie Sanders.

FEMALE VOICE:

She just really turned me away, and he fired me up.

MALE VOICE:

She's having a hard time bringing out her authentic self and her true self.

FEMALE VOICE:

If she becomes the nominee--

FEMALE VOICE:

Oh yeah.

FEMALE VOICE:

--will you still turn out and vote for her?

FEMALE VOICE:

Oh, absolutely.

MALE VOICE:

Absolutely.

MALE VOICE:

I would definitely vote for her.

CHUCK TODD:

You just heard there, those were activists at what's called NetRoots Nation, it's a progressive gathering, which Hillary Clinton skipped this year because of, quote, "scheduling conflicts." Clinton may ultimately win their votes, but their lack of enthusiasm on a certain part of the Democratic party may be hurting her with small donors.

Just 17% of Clinton's campaign money actually came from individual contributions of $200 or less. By comparison, Bernie Sanders has raised more than three-quarters of his money from small donors. In fact, he had more small donors than Barack Obama did in his first fundraising report eight years ago.

Clinton leads her nearest primary rival though by nearly 40 points, although much tighter in the early states. So why is she being forced to prove again and again that she's likeable enough to the juggernaut, she appears to be on paper. Let's bring it back to the panel. Bill Richardson, let me start with you. Watching Hillary Clinton here trying to appease the progressive movement, while also not to try to go too far to the left to make her unelectable in the middle, well this is a different Democratic party though, isn't it?

BILL RICHARDSON:

Well, I--

CHUCK TODD:

Than the one even you ran from, yeah.

BILL RICHARDSON:

--expertise. But I didn't do too well, so don't take my comments too seriously. But I do think that this talk about the demise of Hillary Clinton and a lack of enthusiasm is so premature. I mean, look, we're six months away. I can tell you that Iowa and New Hampshire are the most progressive primaries.

You know, I suspect she'll get some setbacks there from Sanders. But beyond that, you go into Nevada, you go into South Carolina, super Tuesday, and New Mexico, where there are a lot of women and minority voters. She's going to be strong. So, you know, this talk about the demise, let's remember that presidents are elected if they're centrists, if they're moderates. And I think she's headed in that way and I think it's the right strategy.

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, I should put up that her communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, anticipating this sort of noise that's out there about her campaign, she wrote a little memo on Medium and said, "It's true, Hillary is left in the terrible position of having the most resources of any candidate, and being the voters' top choice to be the next president of the United States." But there is something missing that Obama had.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Yeah, there's a passion missing certainly. And she has to thread this needle, she doesn't want to offend all the people of New York and Wall Street that have always supported her. But she has to deal with the progressive and anti-Wall Street, Elizabeth Warren, certainly Bernie Sanders, passionately, and getting huge crowds.

Look, she is trying to, as I say, court this middle ground, not offend so that she can't win a general election. And I think, you know, so far, the lack of passion is going to be made up by what she hopes will be the women and minorities, then after-- I agree though that Iowa and New Hampshire are going to be troubling to her.

CHUCK TODD:

Tom, what have you seen from her? Is she a different candidate than she was eight years ago? Or do you feel like it's the same Hillary Clinton?

THOMAS FRIEDMAN:

It feels a lot the same, Chuck. It feels like a campaign made in a test tube, in a laboratory, you know, where every chemical is carefully balanced for each voter, each district. I think she would greatly benefit from surprising us. Sometimes, like, on the trade issue. Coming on and saying, "Look, I know this offends the base, but this is the right thing, I supported it as Secretary of State, I supported the country. I think it's good for the country. Really sorry to offend you, but it's the right thing to do."

ANDREA MITCHELL:

You mean a Sister Souljah moment.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN:

Right. She would get a lot more traction I think on that.

CHUCK TODD:

Well I'm going to have to leave it there. We tried to jam a lot in. I think viewers are hopefully the ones that benefited from all of this today. That's all for today. We'll be back next week, because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.