Meet the Press Transcript - March 1, 2015

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NBC’S MEET THE PRESS WITH CHUCK TODD

SUNDAY, MARCH 1, 2015

GUESTS:

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER

GARRY KASPAROV

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

This Sunday, the politics of security. Is dysfunction in Washington jeopardizing our safety?

REP. PETER KING (ON TAPE):

This is like the “Charge of the Light Brigade.” We're just going right into the “valley of Death.”

CHUCK TODD:

The Department of Homeland Security narrowly avoids a shutdown, temporarily. Republicans are now in control; are they ready to lead? I'll ask a key G.O.P. House leader. Plus, 2016: The fight to become the conservative alternative to Jeb Bush. Ben Carson joins me exclusively. And murder in Moscow. After a critic of Vladimir Putin is shot dead, Putin says he'll personally lead the investigation. Can he be trusted? And then there was Senator James Inhofe.

SEN. JAMES INHOFE (ON TAPE):

It's very, very cold out. Very unseasonable. Mr. President, catch this.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

Proof that global warming is a hoax? Or just another example of show-and-tell Capitol Hill style.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm Chuck Todd, and joining me to provide insight and analysis this morning are radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, Helene Cooper of The New York Times, Maria Hinojosa, host of NPR's Latino U.S.A., and Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post. Welcome to Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER

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

CHUCK TODD:

Good morning. When Republicans seized control of the Senate and expanded their majority in the house in November, after four years of divided government on Capitol Hill, the party's leadership made a few promises. No longer would they strictly be the party of no, and no longer would we see governing crisis to crisis.

But if this week is any indication, they've failed. Speaker John Boehner was embarrassed when an effort to fund the Department of Homeland Security for simply three more weeks went down to defeat after 50 conservative Republicans, angry over President Obama's immigration policies, voted against the speaker. In the end, Boehner had to be bailed out by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and House Democrats in order to keep the department open for just seven more doors.

In a moment, I'll ask a top Republican is this already the beginning of the end of legislating for this Congress, just two months into its term? But first, this politicizing of national security is happening at a perilous time around the world, beginning with the latest news about the ISIS killer known as Jihadi John.

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

He's been a potent symbol in the ISIS propaganda war. A masked killed whose cult of fear thrives on anonymity.

JIHADI JOHN:

We are an Islamic army and a state.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

Jihadi John was unveiled this week as Mohammed Emwazi, a British citizen who was born in Kuwait, is in his mid-20s, and college educated.

BETHANY HAINES:

I think all the families will feel closure and relief once there's a bullet between his eyes.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

But is the U.S. losing the propaganda war? On Thursday, ISIS released a video showing militants with sledgehammers smashing ancient artifacts in Iraq's northern city of Mosul. ISIS now has social media feeds in 23 languages, and this week the nation's top spy offered a bleak assessment of the threat.

JAMES CLAPPER:

The problem there is their ubiquitous use of the media. And so the challenge is how do you take down the internet?

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

Meanwhile, a dispute over how best to prevent Iran from getting the bomb is increasingly being defined by the toxic relationship between two men.

SUSAN RICE:

There has now been injected a degree of partisanship which is not only unfortunate, I think it's destructive of the fabric of the relationship.

JOHN BOEHNER:

What is destructive, in my view, is making a bad deal that paves the way for a nuclear Iran.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

All of this is the backdrop to this week's political fight over funding the agency created in the wake of 9/11.

REP. PETER KING:

I've had it with this self-righteous, delusional wing of the party that said basically this is like the “Charge of the Light Brigade.” We're just going right into the “valley of Death.”

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

I'm joined by House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy. Valley of Death. Some Republicans in your conference not happy with other Republicans. Congressman, let me ask you this. This is what you said in October: "If you have a cliff, it takes attention away. Why put cliffs up that hold us back from doing bigger policy?" That was you October 2014.This immigration dispute and the funding of Homeland Security was a cliff that the Republicans chose to create in this case, as far as making the protest over the immigration policy a part of homeland security, was it not?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

It was not because let's go back and let's remember how this was created. The president, right after the election, had a lunch, bicameral, Senate leaders and House leaders, was advised that create a problem. You wouldn't solve the immigration problem if you took executive action, which 22 separate times he said he did not have the authority to do.

Right after that lunch, he went and took his executive action to bring chaos. So we didn't get our business all done in an omnibus, so we funded 11 of the 12. And then what did the House do? Five weeks ago, because we do not believe in cliffs, we took this issue up. It was the Senate Democrats who not only voted against the bill; denied the Senate Republicans from even bringing it up when seven Senate Democrats would be opposed to it.

So they created the cliff, moved a bill at the last moment. And what was the House action? Let's go to conference. Because even Harry Reid said last year that's the way, for the last 200 years, we settle our differences.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, that--

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

So we avoided a cliff; they created one.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, but you guys chose to use D.H.S. funding as your way to protest the president's action. There is a lawsuit. The lawsuit is moving forward. It's very likely the courts are going to say this has to go to the Supreme Court before the president can even decide to do this. So, again, you know, you chose to use D.H.S. funding as a way to protest.

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

Was that the wrong decision?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

No, no. We chose an action. The president-- remember who did this. The president chose to use an authority that he said 22 separate times he didn't have the authority to do.

CHUCK TODD:

Which is being challenged in the courts.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

Yes. But in the last two years, the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, had overruled the president and specifically said he overused his authority in two different cases. This president has created this frustration. And remember, you see a frustration in the House; that is reflective and representative of the frustration in our districts. This president doesn't want to work with the American public. He's creating these problems when we're trying to work it out. The best thing that can happen is that we go to conference and we settle our differences.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, you brought up the Senate and you said Senate Democrats. One way that this could change, since Republicans do have the majority, is if Mitch McConnell invoked the so-called nuclear option. Right now, there are no filibusters for any executive appointments, judicial or into the executive branch. But on legislation, the filibuster is still there. Do you want Senate Republicans to go nuclear?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

I don’t think going nuclear when you have 57% of the Senate voted for the Collins amendment that would take away the president's action. That's not nuclear, when 57% of the American representation says it's wrong. That's not in the Constitution. I think they should change the rules.

CHUCK TODD:

Couldn't you guys have been more clever about this and written legislation that--

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

You're giving us high expectations.

CHUCK TODD:

I know. Well, but written legislation that essentially you had the lawsuit to-- you had the one decision in the federal court. We have a circuit court that's going to decide whether the president can start implementing, or does he have to wait until it's fully resolved? Why not make the funding contingent on the lawsuit?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

Well, there's a different argument that you go with the fees of what's going forward. But don't you think something's wrong with this administration and this president when the highest court in the land twice in the last year said, "You overstepped your authority"? And 22 times, he said he didn't have the authority, and did it. I think that's creating the problem.

CHUCK TODD:

What are you going to do--

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

More so than anything else.

CHUCK TODD:

What's going to happen in five days?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

Well, I hope we settle our differences. That's what the American public expects; that's what Harry Reid said that he thinks is the best way to do it.

CHUCK TODD:

Can you bring the Senate bill on the floor? The Senate has passed full funding of D.H.S.--

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

We--

CHUCK TODD:

--without the extraneous amendment on the immigration policy. Can that pass the House of Representatives?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

We have sent that bill back to the Senate. The Democrats had a motion to instruct, and it failed on the floor. So that answers the question right now. As of now, no, it cannot.

CHUCK TODD:

What's going to happen in five days? Will it shut down?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

You know, the best thing for the American public is that we do our job. That Washington changes. That the Senate and the House get together and fix their differences, and find common ground.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay, but this is not the reality we live in.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

Yeah. No, but--

CHUCK TODD:

The reality we live in, how are you going to fund this thing in five days?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

I will tell you, from the majority leader of the House, I will be in that room and I will help solve that problem. All we need is Harry Reid to say the same thing, and this can all go away and be solved. 57% of the Senate agrees with this. We can get this done very quickly, and never-- let me make one point very clear though. The first priority of the Republican majority is the security of Americans. And we'll make sure we have the security for this country.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you have an issue inside your conference, though, of conservatives? Here's what Devin Nunes, California Republican, said this morning in The L.A. Times: "I prefer to be in the arena voting than trying to placate a small group of phony conservative members who have no credible policy proposals and no political strategy to stop Obama's lawlessness." What do you say to that?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

We have difference of opinion in strategy and tactics. But in principle, we are united. We're united in the principle there's a right way and wrong way to legislate. Unfortunately, the president chose the wrong way. And when the highest court in the land tells you you've overstepped your bounds, that means there's a problem.

CHUCK TODD:

Is it fair to say that legislating for the rest of this year, this is sort of the climate? If Senate Republicans and House Republicans can agree on a way forward on D.H.S. funding, and you guys have control of both houses, how are you going to get tax reform done? How are you going to get trade proposals done? Shouldn't we be looking at this and throwing up our hands and saying, "Well, wait till November 2016"?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

No, no. Look, Winston Churchill, yeah, he was from England but also his mother was an American. He always said you could count on Americans to do what's right after they exhausted every other option. That was Friday; so I have high hope for America.

CHUCK TODD:

You're setting a very low bar of expectations at this point, is that what you're saying?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

No. Look, we are committed to doing trade, tax reform, infrastructure. All we need is someone that wants to work with us. We will work with anybody that wants to work with us; we just find an administration-- he's offered four times as many veto threats as bills that he signed. He has a veto threat where he just stopped 40,000 jobs in America.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, here's the thing--

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

Here he talks about charitable giving--

CHUCK TODD:

--you're upset at the president, but let me--

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

--to food banks.

CHUCK TODD:

It seems like nobody wants to be the adult in the room then. I understand you're criticizing the president, but it's not as if you guys are acting like the adult in the room right now either.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

Well, look. Could we have done better Friday? Yes. And will we? Yes, we will. But we took up legislation five weeks ago so we did not have a cliff. If there's somebody that's not being an adult it's the Democrats that are trying to use an advantage to a rule to not let the majority govern in the Senate. I can work with anybody. Homeland Security did not shut down. We say let's go to conference. We're ready to get the job done.

CHUCK TODD:

Five more days, we'll see if we're here again. Kevin McCarthy, House majority leader, thanks for coming on Meet the Press.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

Thanks for having me.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. The panel is here, Hugh Hewitt, Helene Cooper, Maria Hinojosa, and Chris Cillizza. Hugh, let me start with you. Did Republicans create this cliff or not? I understand what Kevin McCarthy is saying by putting the blame on the president. But this was a tactic House Republicans chose to do. Did they set their own trap?

HUGH HEWITT:

No. I've been a critic of the leadership a lot. This is a constitutional issue, not an immigration issue. It's about the scope of the president's aggressiveness on the use of his authority. They didn't create the cliff, the president created the cliff. I think the leader made that point.

He also made the point too, I just tried to make some news, saying, "It's not in the Constitution." That was sort of, "Let's go to the nuclear option." And I thought, wow. My eyebrows went up because I'd not heard a member of the House leadership suggest that the Senate go that way.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Maria, obviously we're talking about homeland security; the backdrop is immigration. And I guess we're not going to see a bill that's about immigration reform. That's not going to happen. But should it be Congress that decides this? Or should we allow judicial review at this point? And are we getting our branches confused here a little bit?

MARIA HINOJOSA:

So the interesting thing is it's actually not the Republicans or the Democrats that have created a problem, it's a reality that immigrants are in the United States of America, right? There are millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States of America.

So when I spoke to Latino Republicans, what they were saying is actually something in Spanish. They said, "Oh my God, we have pena ajena" which means you're like feeling the shame for someone else. This was a time when the Republicans could actually stand up and do something, and now they're not doing, they're not leading.

Now, what I'm getting from my reporting from on the ground is that Latino voters, right, are saying Republicans were prepared-- and they would disagree with you. But Republicans are prepared to put into question the security of our country because of the fact that they want to continue to deport brown, you know, women, children, fathers? How does this help us?

And they're saying, in fact, what I've heard is, "We're blaming the Republicans here." Not the president, who took a long time to act. But they are saying it's the Republicans that have egg on their face.

CHUCK TODD:

And this is sort of the 2016 implications. What Maria's indicating here is that, on one hand, I totally get where the conservative base is coming from on this. I think, look, it's very possible the president can't do anything until the Supreme Court itself, but you won't see a stay. But that means yet another two years where there's no resolution on immigration, and that eventually demographically does what?

CHRIS CILLIZZA:

Look, the math is pretty simply. George W. Bush gets 40% of the Hispanic vote in 2004; John McCain gets 31% of the Hispanic vote in 2008; Mitt Romney gets 27% of the Hispanic vote in 2012. That trend line, it is not complicated. If that trend line continues, maybe in 2016 you can elect a Republican. It gets dicey in 2020. In 2024, given the country Hispanic vote is young, right, and it's less registered to vote than it should be in terms of its population, you move that line up and you can't win.

The problem here is-- I don't disagree with Hugh about the constitutional fight, Chuck. The issue is a constitutional fight, not everyone understands it as that, that this is really about the president's power. They understand it to what Maria's talking about, which is, well, this is about Republicans again, just like they did the last two years, they don't want to push comprehensive immigration reform. So what it looks like and what it is may not be the same thing, but it may not matter.

CHUCK TODD:

And that's the perception problem, Helene. That's--

HELENE COOPER:

It--

CHUCK TODD:

--sort of the box that I think that the Republicans might be in on this.

HELENE COOPER:

You look at how this issue is playing out in the press and on TV and where Americans go to get their news, and it looks, again, as the Republicans are threatening to shut down government over a stance. And it also shows, I think it just makes Congress look so dreadful. What I think at the end of the day is what this shows is that Congress seems to have lost its ability to perform its job, no matter which party is in charge.

CHUCK TODD:

Hey, Hugh, Loretta Lynch's nomination may come up, her confirmation vote may come up this week. I don't think it's fully been scheduled yet. And a lot of Republicans like her, but don't want to vote for her over the immigration issue. Should Senate Republicans basically stop her confirmation over immigration?

HUGH HEWITT:

No. She's a very qualified nominee. I served two attorney generals. She's very qualified, they should vote to confirm her. But I like the Todd option that you discussed: Fund D.H.S. so long as the injunction remains in place. Then get to the budget.

The urgency here is to get to the budget. The Republicans control that. It doesn't require the president's signature, it doesn't require 60 votes in the Senate. If the Republicans change the subject-- because I'm afraid it may up where Maria and Helene and Chris were saying. I don't think it's there yet. I think people still understand it's a constitutional problem that the president has triggered. But they've got to move this ball.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, we'll be watching that. They've got five days to move that ball. In a moment, though, we're going to change subjects here. The latest on that murder in Moscow. I'll have a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin, former world chess champion and a friend of the victim. Garry Kasparov joins me next.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Moscow this morning in a march that has become a memorial now to slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Nemtsov, who was one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's fiercest critics, had been due to leave this March before he was shot dead on Friday with the Kremlin in the background.

Putin's condemnation of the murder and his promise to personally oversee the investigation to find Nemtsov's killers has been met with a lot of eye rolling and, frankly, distrust. I'm joined now from New York by Russian opposition politician, a former world chess champion, and chairman of the Human Rights Foundation, Garry Kasparov. Mr. Kasparov, welcome to Meet the Press.

GARRY KASPAROV:

Thanks for inviting me.

CHUCK TODD:

I just want to get your initial reaction to the loss of your friend.

GARRY KASPAROV:

Oh, I was shattered when I heard the news. It was hard to believe that Boris, a man I knew for more than 20 years, and we have been working together closely since 2004 in opposition to Vladimir Putin's regime, the man was so full of life, energy-- he was dead. Shot dead. But it's a fact, and it's another crime committed in Putin's Russia.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you believe--when you call it Putin's Russia--look, do you trust Putin to do this investigation? And do you somehow believe he's responsible for this death?

GARRY KASPAROV:

Whether he gave a direct order, I don't know. We probably will never know. But definitely the atmosphere in the country, with 24/7 propaganda of hatred, where people who disagreed with Putin have been portrayed as national traitors, the fifth columnist, enemies of the state. And Boris was one of the most formidable critics of Putin's regime. And his pictures on the big billboards, among few others, have been spread around Moscow. So it's definitely the atmosphere.

But this morning I looked again at the video of the shooting. Actually, that's what we could find from one of the many cameras that are located at the bridge. And there are so many questions about inconsistency of the official theory, and the big question is about this snow removal track that suddenly appeared exactly at the spot where a camera could catch the face of the killer.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you, what is this going to do to the opposition movement? Does this become a moment where suddenly democracy activists feel more freedom to come out and protest, feel as if he shouldn't die in vain? Or do you fear that it's actually going to make folks go underground?

GARRY KASPAROV:

Look, many of our colleagues and friends, they are either behind bars or out of the country, like myself. And now, with Boris, probably the bravest of us, and the man who was standing tall criticizing Putin-- and, by the way, he was preparing his new report on Russian troops in Ukraine just to prove another of Kremlin's lies.

Him being killed, and not just killed in a dark corner of the city, but in front of Kremlin, it sends a chilling signal to everybody. It spreads fear and terror. So that's why I expect the regime will benefit from this murder.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you fear for your life?

GARRY KASPAROV:

Sorry?

CHUCK TODD:

Do you fear for your life?

GARRY KASPAROV:

Look, not here in New York. And I left Moscow, Russia, two years ago, and many, many of our colleagues did the same. After Boris' death, I mean, no one feels safe in Moscow if you have anything to say against Vladimir Putin.

CHUCK TODD:

What do you the Obama administration to do? How do you confront something like this? You've been critical of his policies in dealing with Putin in the past, but how should the administration react to this?

GARRY KASPAROV:

Stop pretending that you're dealing with another democratically-elected leader. Stop making deals and stop trying to bring Putin to the negotiating table because his agenda is totally opposite to the agenda of the United States or Europe. Putin wants to destroy Ukrainian statehood. Putin wants crisis because crisis, wars, the lack of international security, those are elements that are absolutely vital for his survival in Russia. And one of the first things to be done is to make sure that Ukraine can resist Putin's aggression. So Ukraine needs weapons, and that's really the best thing to be done to remember Boris Nemtsov.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Garry Kasparov, a political activist, opposition leader himself when it comes to Vladimir Putin. Thanks for coming on Meet the Press.

GARRY KASPAROV:

Thanks.

CHUCK TODD:

There's another foreign leader who will be the focus of attention this week here in Washington, it's Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He arrives here today for what's become now a controversial speech to Congress on Tuesday, controversial because House Speaker John Boehner invited him without consulting the White House.

Our latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, by the way, out this morning found that just 30% thought that, yes, it was right for House Republicans to invite the Israeli prime minister to speak before Congress right now while 48% said it was wrong. I'm joined by former senator and vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, an advocate for Democrats to attend this speech, and Illinois Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky who has said she is going to boycott and not attend the speech. So Congresswoman Schakowsky, let me start with you. Explain why you're boycotting.

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY:

Well, first of all, I'm not going to use the word "boycott." I respect the people that are going and those that are not. It's a personal decision. The floor of the House of Representatives is the most prestigious venue in the world. And for John Boehner to try to turn it into political advantage, 1) by showing, as he's tried for years, that the Republicans are really the supporters of the State of Israel, creating a divide.

And, 2) to stick it to the president that the president, who is trying to negotiate an agreement that will in fact prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon, is on the wrong page. And inviting a very prestigious speaker, the prime minister of Israel, to make that case right in front of the Congress. I don't want to be part of that. By the way, I'll be listening to every word. We do have things like television that, you know--

CHUCK TODD:

Right. I’ve heard.

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY:

Yes. And I will certainly be watching and listening.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Lieberman, you wrote an op-ed this week trying to calm the waters, it seemed.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

Trying to tell Democrats, "You may not be happy with how this was done, but go to the speech."

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN:

Right. Whether you like it or not, the fact is that Speaker Boehner made the invitation. He didn't rescind it. Prime Minister--

CHUCK TODD:

Would you have done it?

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN:

I'm not the speaker. Honestly, the danger for me here is that, once again something really important, namely whether Iran gets nuclear weapons, is going to be swept up in Washington partisanship and politics. I think the best thing for people like Jan, who I respect, and I know supports a strong U.S./Israel relationship, the best thing would have been to go. Sit there. It would have been a non-issue.

And, to some extent, the Democrats who are not going are actually making it partisan by their absence. In other words, if Jan is right and John Boehner is trying to prove that Republicans are better friends of Israel, then the way to disprove that is for all the Democrats to go.

In the end, most Democrats are going to be there Tuesday. I predict Prime Minister Netanyahu will make a speech that is extremely respectful of President Obama, will talk about why he's fearful of the negotiations in Iran, allowing Iran to have a nuclear weapon. And by the end of Tuesday, it'll be over.

The most important thing going on in Congress about this is bipartisan. Two pieces of legislation, one to apply sanctions if there's not an agreement, and another to require congressional oversight if there is. Those are totally bipartisan; I believe they'll both pass with strong majorities. President might veto--

CHUCK TODD:

Probably be vetoed, yeah.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN:

--one of them. But I think the one that gets congressional oversight might well be overridden, the veto might well be overridden because it's not just about Iran. It's about the authority of Congress to play a role in American foreign policy.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you, on that front, do you think Congress should have that kind of role? I mean, the president's argument against this is that, no, on foreign policy, this has never happened before. This is not a treaty, this is not something like that where the Senate has a say. Where are you on this? Would you like congressional oversight over the deal?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY:

Well, let me just say I think anything at this point that interferes with very delicate negotiations, the delicate creation of the P5 plus one, that is the international community in support of these negotiations, is very, very harmful. And those who will argue, as the prime minister will, and as John Boehner has, that this is a bad deal, what is the alternative?

If we don't have a deal then we run blind. That is, we don't have inspections, we don't have any reduction in the amount of the uranium that gets enriched. And I think that is the really important question. In this hyper-partisan environment, I think the idea of putting up legislation that the Republicans, who have the majorities, can undermine the president, they're going to pass.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, I'm wondering if Prime Minister Netanyahu has actually defeated himself here a little bit. Because the more he attacks the administration on the deal, the more administration wants to dig in. Here’s what Jeffrey Goldberg wrote on Friday, Senator Lieberman. "Netanyahu is engaging in behavior that is without precedent. He's apparently so desperate to stay in office that he has let the Republicans weaponize his country in their struggle against a Democratic president they despise."

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN:

You know, I don't have the ability to judge what effect this will have on Netanyahu in the elections going on in Israel. In fact, there's a whole line of thought among Israeli political analysts that coming here will hurt him. I think he's coming here-- I'm going to take him at his word. He's coming here because, as he said, no responsible, duly elected prime minister of Israel, at a moment like this, when he thinks not only the security of the state but the very existence of the state may be on the line in the negotiations with Iran about nuclear weapons, he couldn't say no.

So I think we've all got to listen to him, and then go forward with what we're going to do. But this is the role of Congress. Since the founding of our country, Congress and the president have struggled for the privilege of determining American foreign policy. And that's why I think if the president vetoes the congressional oversight of any deal that comes out of the negotiations, I think there's a good chance Congress will override it.

CHUCK TODD:

There are a lot of Jewish Americans that feel angst on this completely. They don't like that it's become polarized.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN:

Yeah, I couldn't agree more. And I think it's time for everybody to quiet down. In my opinion, this is a fight within a family, a disagreement within a family. If you've ever had one of those, they're no fun. But when they end, the relationships in the family remain the same--

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY:

But--

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN:

--and strong. And that is the way it is between--

CHUCK TODD:

I'm going to--

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN:

--Israel and America.

CHUCK TODD:

I'll give you the last word here, and then I got--

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY:

Okay. The concern is not just Jewish Americans but even loud voices and powerful voices in Israel who worry about the relationship. But what I worry about too, I worry about war with Iran. I think what the president is doing is an alternative to that, and that is the most important thing.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. I'm going to pause it there. Thank you both for coming on. Let's see--

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

--if the waters get calmer. When we come back, conservatives gathered in Washington this weekend. Rand Paul is cheered, Jeb Bush is booed. Ben Carson is with me next to discuss his potential candidacy. We’ll be right back.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Republican presidential hopefuls took the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference, C.P.A.C., this week. And last night's straw poll result does give a sense of who the base of the party prefers as an alternative to Jeb Bush.

For the third year in a row, Rand Paul won with 26% of the vote, but it's the top four finishers that tell you everything about where the movement is. Scott Walker, 21%, he finished second. Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, third and fourth. Jeb Bush only got 8% of the vote. In a moment, I'll be joined by one of the top four finishers, Ben Carson. But first, let's look at some of the highlights from C.P.A.C. where one person not in attendance got quite a bit of attention.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DR. BEN CARSON:

I'm not ready for Hillary.

CARLY FIORINA:

Mrs. Clinton.

TED CRUZ:

Hillary.

SEAN HANNITY:

Hillary Clinton.

SCOTT WALKER:

Who's former secretary of state--

CHRIS CHRISTIE:

Hillary Clinton.

RAND PAUL:

It's time for Hillary Clinton to permanently retire.

SARAH PALIN:

The naïve Obama State Department. Oh, they say, "We can't kill our way out of war." Really? Tell that to the Nazis. Oh, wait, you can't because they're dead. We killed 'em.

RICK PERRY:

Here's the simple truth about our foreign policy: Our allies doubt us, and our adversaries are all too willing to test us.

JEB BUSH:

We've managed to mess up almost every relationship in the world if you think about it, including Canada, which is hard to do.

CHRIS CHRISTIE:

I do not have political consultants whispering in my ear saying, "Here's the way you say it," so everybody sounds like Charlie Brown's teacher, you know? (MAKES NOISE)

RAND PAUL:

Finally, if they won't listen, we should limit all their terms and send the career politicians packing.

SCOTT WALKER:

If I could take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.

SEAN HANNITY:

That weren’t citizens--

VOICES:

Boo!

SEAN HANNITY:

Wait a minute. Hang on.

JEB BUSH:

For those that made a "ooh" sound, is that what it was?

SEAN HANNITY:

Well--

(OVERTALK)

JEB BUSH:

I'm marking them down as neutral, and I want to be your second choice if I decide to go beyond this.

DR. BEN CARSON:

If you're black and you oppose the progressive agenda, and you're pro-life, and you're pro family, they don't even know what to call you.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm joined from Dallas by a likely Republican presidential hopeful that you just saw there, Ben Carson. Dr. Carson, welcome back to Meet the Press.

DR. BEN CARSON:

Thank you. Good to be with you.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let me ask you the when-or-if-you're-going-to-run question this way: Why wouldn't you, at this point, run for president? What would make you decide not to run?

DR. BEN CARSON:

If I found that there really was no support for it--

(OVERTALK)

DR. BEN CARSON:

--that would cause me not to run.

CHUCK TODD:

And right now, you feel as if you're seeing plenty of support?

DR. BEN CARSON:

I'm seeing a very substantial amount of support across the country in red states, blue states, north, south, east, west.

CHUCK TODD:

Your lack of electoral experience, obviously on one hand you would say that it would be an asset, career politicians-- and I know that talk. But a lot of the criticism from the right of President Obama was his inexperience at managing politics, executive experience at managing a legislature. That would be a big hurdle for you, would it not?

DR. BEN CARSON:

Well, I'm not sure that the criticism of President Obama is accurate. You have to decide what it is that he wanted to accomplish. He wanted to accomplish fundamental change in America; I think he's done quite a bit of that. And he seems to know how to execute those missions.

CHUCK TODD:

When it comes to-- so what you're saying is you feel like, in his vision, he's been successful at what he wanted to do?

DR. BEN CARSON:

Yes. If I were to run and were to win, I would have very different vision. It would be a vision of putting the Constitution back on the top shelf. It would be a vision of making our government understand that it works for the people. And that the government responds to the will of the people, and not picking and choosing who should win and lose, what laws we want to enforce. And our laws that we enforce have nothing to do with our own personal beliefs. It has to do with the laws and the constitutions of this country.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me focus on foreign policy because I think it's been a surprisingly dominant topic, even at C.P.A.C., as we pointed out. And this is what you said at C.P.A.C. You said, when it comes to ISIS, "The mission I would give our military is to destroy them first. And I wouldn't tie their hands." Explain what does that mean? "Wouldn't tie their hands," what does that mean?

DR. BEN CARSON:

Well, first of all, recognize that ISIS and some of the other radical Islamic terrorist groups-- and let's not forget about the Shia which are based in Iran. You know, they are responsible for a lot of terrorism. They would like to destroy us and our way of life. We have a couple of options. We can sit back and say, "Nah, they're not that big a deal."

Or we can recognize that the longer we allow them to grow, to spread, to root, get their roots well established, the more difficult it will be to eradicate them lately. So what I mean is we have to eradicate them now. We have to use every means possible to do that. And we certainly don't want to have people who know very little about military strategy micromanaging a very competent military that we have.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you something. You said something, you just referred to the Shia. I assume you're not saying all Shia Muslims are terrorist threats?

DR. BEN CARSON:

No, but I'm saying, you know, we've focused so much on the terrorist groups that emanate from the Sunnis. And I don't want us to forget about the other terrorist groups too.

CHUCK TODD:

Scott Walker was asked about foreign policy at Club for Growth over the weekend. You guys have a lot of different cattle calls that you have to attend with different donors, and I know you're flying all over the country. You're at one in Dallas.

But here is one of the write-ups. And it said that basically Scott Walker, after confronted about foreign policy, he said that experience in the realm of foreign policy is inconsequential. That it's leadership that matters. And he said that the most consequential foreign policy decision of his lifetime was Reagan's 1981 firing of 11,000 air traffic controllers. He said it sent a message not only across America, it sent a message around the world that it wouldn't be messed with. Do you agree with his assessment that Reagan's firing of air traffic controllers was a foreign policy message?

DR. BEN CARSON:

I don't really want to talk about what anybody else said and what they meant by it because I like for them to clarify what that means itself. But there is no question that our standing in the world has changed very dramatically. You know, even before, you know, Reagan got involved in firing those air traffic controllers, he was a respected individual.

And you remember during the Iranian hostage crisis where they simply mocked us, the day he was inaugurated, they let those hostages go. And there's no question that the leadership sets a very good measure of what kind of country we're going to be, and whether our allies should trust us, and whether our enemies should test us.

CHUCK TODD:

Dr. Carson, last question. You're a famed neurosurgeon, some say the best pediatric neurosurgeon living in the world today. You're a man of deep faith. Explain how science and religion, in your mind, coexist?

DR. BEN CARSON:

I personally believe that a person's religious beliefs are the things that make them who they are, gives them a direction in their life. But I do not believe that religious beliefs should dictate one's public policies and stances. I find a very good measure of correlation between my religious beliefs and my scientific beliefs.

People say, "How can you be a scientist, how can you be a surgeon if you don't believe in certain things?" Maybe those things aren't scientific. Maybe it's just propaganda. You know, I'm always willing to sit down and discuss things. And people who say, "Well, you have to believe this and you have to believe that," I'm willing to discuss with them why they believe what they believe, and why I believe what I believe. But that can't be done in a sound bite type of interview, it needs to be done in a forum where you can sit down and deeply explain why you believe what you believe.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I hope we just provided a taste of that forum. I look forward to having you back when you're an announced candidate and we will have a much longer interview. Dr. Carson, stay safe--

DR. BEN CARSON:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

--on the campaign trail. All right, let me bring in the panel. Chris Cillizza, C.P.A.C. What did you learn?

CHRIS CILLIZZA:

I thought that Jeb Bush-- granted, he was coming in with extremely low expectations, which was essentially, like, will he be booed off the stage or not? There were boos, there were some catcalls. I thought he was quite good, not just 'cause the audience didn't boo him off the stage.

But also because, to his credit, he stood strong. The sort of political hill he is willing to die on is going to be immigration. He didn't back down from his position. He said, "Look, yes, we need to enforce the borders, yes, we need to do other things. But we also need to do something about the people who are here illegally."

Jeb Bush is smart enough to understand that is not a policy that is going to go over well there. He sort of took the boos, understanding that the C.P.A.C. audience is not the whole Republican Party. We'll see how big a part of the Republican Party agrees with him. But I give him credit for that. I thought he was much better than he's been in his speeches where I thought he looked sort of listless and off. I thought he was on and sort of revved up to address the audience.

CHUCK TODD:

Maria and Hugh, before you jump in here, I want to play President Obama and Jeb Bush talking about immigration this week.

(BEGIN TAPE)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

Well, when they start asking for votes, the first question should be do you really intend to deport 11 million people? And if not, what is your plan to make sure that they have the ability to have a legal status, stay with their families, and ultimately contribute to the United States of America?

JEB BUSH:

The simple fact is there is no plan to deport 11 million people. We should give them a path to legal status where they work, where they don't receive government benefits, where they don't break the law, where they learn English, and where they make a contribution to our society.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Maria, does Jeb Bush take immigration off the table, if he is the general election nominee?

MARIA HINOJOSA:

No. What I'm hearing from certain Latino Republicans is that they want that, but I also heard interestingly, just in the last 24 hours, not a whole lot of love for Jeb Bush. Now, when I spoke to Latino Republicans about C.P.A.C., these are people who have donated thousands, not a couple of hundred, thousands, Latino Republicans.

And they were like, "C.P.A.C.? We don't even care about what's going on. The question that needs to be asked is who is the candidate that can get the general election, and win it. And how are they gonna get Latinos and women?" But let me tell you about just very quickly--

CHUCK TODD:

Very, very fast.

MARIA HINOJOSA:

--Olga at the hotel. When I asked her, "So what about Republicans? You're hearing about this?" She said, "I'm a voter. I'm going to vote for the first time." And she said, "Republicans? No, ‘Son más difíciles de latinos.’ They're tougher on Latinos."

CHUCK TODD:

Hugh, what'd you learn?

HUGH HEWITT:

I learned-- it's like the decathlon. You have to do very well in a few events and not screw up any events. Jeb Bush did much better in this event than people expected. But the guys who won, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, they're the least Frank Underwood-ish people in the party. And that's why they did very well.

CHUCK TODD:

Very interesting way of putting it, Frank Underwood-ish. All right. Up next, political suicide mystery in Missouri. Was it about religion or something else? What led a Republican gubernatorial candidate, perhaps the leading candidate in 2016, to kill himself just moments after he called reporters to talk?

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

President Obama's veto of a bill that would have allowed the Keystone XL pipeline to be built is by no means the end of that political controversy. But for people who live on the proposed route, Keystone is more than just a political buzzword. Meet the Press headed to Nebraska and South Dakota to meet the voters whose lives are actually impacted by the pipeline project. Take a look at what they had to say, both sides of this debate. All of it at MeetThePressNBC.com. We'll be right back.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. The shocking political story out of the State of Missouri this week. It involved a leading candidate for governor in 2016, his apparent suicide, and questions over whether the politics of personal destruction have gone too far. We sent Kevin Tibbles to Missouri to find out what happened.

(BEGIN TAPE)

KEVIN TIBBLES (V/O):

Missouri state politics turned very personal and tragic on a day that began with what seemed a harmless voice message to the editorial director of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

TOM SCHWEICH:

Tony this is Tom Schweich calling, if u can have a reporter here at my house at 2:30.

KEVIN TIBBLES (V/O):

At issue was state auditor and gubernatorial candidate Tom Schweich's plan to accuse the chairman of the Missouri Republican Party John Hancock of waging a whisper campaign by telling donors that Schweich was Jewish. Seven minutes after leaving that message for Tony Messenger, Schweich apparently killed himself.

TONY MESSENGER:

I wasn't so close to Tom that I am beating myself up over not knowing, but I talked to the guy three times that week.

KEVIN TIBBLES (V/O):

In a campaign that was already sounding nasty.

RADIO AD:

Tom Schweich, like him? No. Is he a weak candidate for governor? Absolutely, just look at him.

KEVIN TIBBLES (V/O):

In a statement, Republican Party chairman Hancock said: “While I do not recall doing so, it is possible that I mentioned Tom's faith in passing during one of the many conversations I have each day.” In fact, Schweich’s grandfather was Jewish, something he was very proud of. But Schweich was Episcopalian. Outside the capitol in Jefferson City, press secretary Spence Jackson says Schweich was devastated his family's heritage was apparently being used for politics.

KEVIN TIBBLES:

Still in this day and age someone’s religious heritage still plays a role?

SPENCE JACKSON:

It shouldn’t. It’s shocking that it does. But it absolutely should not.

KEVIN TIBBLES (V/O)

And some say that fighting it, was what set Tom Schweich apart.

TONY MESSENGER:

He listened to his heart more than he listened to political advice.

KEVIN TIBBLES (V/O):

And while we may never know the ultimate reason as to why he did what he did, Schweich's death has many asking whether politics have gotten too personal. For Meet the Press, Kevin Tibbles.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Yesterday, I spoke more extensively with Tony Messenger, the editorial page editor for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch whom you just saw in Kevin's piece. And I asked him about this issue of the politics of personal destruction, and whether he thinks whisper campaigns fueled by anti-Semitism might actually still work in his state.

(BEGIN TAPE)

TONY MESSENGER:

I know Tom, who's clearly closer to his party and the leadership in his party and the voters in his party than I am, believed that it was happening. And he believed that it was happening because there were people who thought it would have some effect, particularly on primary voters.

I'd like to think that we're beyond that. But I can tell you, I was just having a conversation before I walked in here today with another statewide official, just talking about the various whisper campaigns that we have known about at a statewide level in the last few years on various topics. And it's sadly not uncommon in the State of Missouri.

CHUCK TODD:

You think there's a big lesson to be learned out of this? Or is this a personal tragedy?

TONY MESSENGER:

In talking to the people in Missouri politics who I think really have a soul, there's a lesson to be learned in this. There are a lot of people that are soul searching in both parties, who are wondering to themselves how do we get out of this? How do we get out of this politics of personal destruction? How do we serve Tom Schweich's memory and honor by doing something in the Missouri political system to just bring more honor to the process, to the profession?

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

My thanks again to Tony Messenger, of course, the editorial page editor of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. We'll try to lighten it up a little bit in a moment with our final segment, what we're now calling End Game. So stay with us.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

And welcome back. We are calling our final segment End Game now, and the panelists here. And I want to finish up on foreign policy in 2016. Hugh, I want to go back to you in this because it felt like we heard a lot of sound bites that's getting some of these candidates in trouble. Scott Walker, you know, he's got to be careful here comparing ISIS to Wisconsin protesters, and then talking about firing air traffic controllers and Reagan. It doesn't come across as fluency in foreign policy--

HUGH HEWITT:

Well, I will defend Governor Walker on the PATCO thing. I think historians do go back and look at the Reagan presidency and say he established a very firm position that, when Gorbachev went to Reykjavik, and when anyone dealt with him, they knew that when he said yes, his yes meant yes. It was perhaps inartfully phrased, et cetera.

But as to foreign policy, the big underreported story, there are actually two out of CPAC. John Bolton killed it. They loved John Bolton at CPAC. Number two, Ted Cruz on social media deeply penetrated on foreign policy issues. So it resonates.

CHUCK TODD:

Helene, this is your beat. This has been your beat for years. What do you think is the nuanced argument that you want to see inside the Republican Party when it comes to this debate?

HELENE COOPER:

That's a great question. Of course John Bolton killed it at CPAC.; he's John Bolton at CPAC. That's his--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

If he doesn't kill it there, where is he gonna kill it? Right, yeah.

HELENE COOPER:

--a kid in a candy store. I think that the Republicans are definitely going with this strength. "We're going to show that we can stand up, we can be strong. We can stand up to ISIS," and all of that. But they have to be careful with that.

I think Scott Walker, his comparison of Wisconsin union workers to ISIS was crazy, and that's not something that you want to see as an American looking at your Republican candidates. So I think that they all have to be very, very careful.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, it's interesting here, Chris, the biggest vulnerability I think for Hillary Clinton is foreign policy.

CHRIS CILLIZZA:

Absolutely.

CHUCK TODD:

I really do. I think that particularly the Libya decision, and particularly the whole managing of the Arab spring didn't go well.

CHRIS CILLIZZA:

And it's her most recent resume--

CHUCK TODD:

That's right.

CHRIS CILLIZZA:

--as well.

CHUCK TODD:

That's right. And so the question is will the Republicans be able to have a credible attacker, I guess, is the way to say it?

CHRIS CILLIZZA:

And you look at this field, foreign policy-- obviously, it's early. But foreign policy is more present as a major issue now in a Republican primary than we've seen in quite some time. And yet, the contrast is the field lacks anyone who you say-- I mean, John Bolton I guess aside. The top tier of the field lacks. Jeb Bush is not a foreign policy expert; he was a governor, right? He knows--

CHUCK TODD:

He is good on Latin American policy--

CHRIS CILLIZZA:

Yeah, but--

CHUCK TODD:

--which nobody ever talks about, and that's a whole pet peeve of mine.

CHRIS CILLIZZA:

--we've seen the problems with Scott Walker, which is, like, "Well, Wisconsin is just like fill-in-the-blank other country," which is harder. Even Marco Rubio, who is in the Senate, he's going to struggle with that. Ted Cruz, it's not an obvious fit. Chris Christie, it's not an obvious fit. You have a bunch of governors and newly-elected senators trying to talk about this at a time when it does really matter. So you're right, who is the one who can say, "I can make this case against her," and be credible?

CHUCK TODD:

Well, that's why we're going to have debates. Before we go, a little lighter note. Senator Jim Inhofe used a fun little prop to make his point, apparently, on global warming, claiming it was a hoax this week. Here he is.

(BEGIN TAPE)

SEN. JIM INHOFE:

I asked the chair, "You know what this is? It's a snowball." And that's just from outside here. Very unseasonable. So, here, Mr. President, catch this.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Now, I'm not going to use that to get into a climate change debate. I am actually going to use it because I think the House and Senate floor sometimes gets some fun moments. And considering what happened, we lost Leonard Nimoy this week, I figured let me play somebody who used to own the House floor with some fun sound. Here he is.

(BEGIN TAPE)

REP. JIM TRAFICANT:

News reports say after a game-winning goal at a soccer match in Spain, a player celebrated by biting his teammate who scored on the genitals. Beam me up. // Beam me up, ladies and gentlemen. // Beam me up. // Beam me up. // Beam me up.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Well, that would be Washington's odd way of at least honoring Leonard Nimoy. Anyway, rest in peace, Leonard Nimoy, and thank you. That's it for today; we'll be back next week. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *

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