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Meet the Press Transcript - September 14, 2014

MEET THE PRESS -- SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2014

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, on Meet the Press, President Obama makes it clear this country is in for the long haul.

PRESIDENT OBAMA (ON TAPE):

We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.

CHUCK TODD:

But suggests this isn’t a war the U.S. can win alone.

PRESIDENT OBAMA (ON TAPE):

A broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.

CHUCK TODD:

James Baker, the man who built the alliance that forced Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, will tell me if he thinks President Obama’s plan will work.

And Hillary Clinton visits Iowa today. Many see it as day one of her campaign.

ANDY DUFFLEMEYER (ON TAPE):

I’m looking for someone who’s a little more liberal.

CHUCK TODD:

But is she really as much of a sure thing as some people think? Plus, the NFL in crisis: Growing calls for Roger Goodell to resign over his handling of the Ray Rice case. How big a problem is domestic violence in this country? And what everyone in Washington knows, but is afraid to say.

I’m Chuck Todd, and joining me this morning to provide insight and analysis are Republican strategist Mike Murphy, Helene Cooper of The New York Times, Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post, Jim VandeHei of POLITICO and Bryant Gumbel of HBO’s Real Sports. 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 Sunday Morning. ISIS’ response to president obama was savage and depressingly predictable. Yesterday they released a video showing the killing of a British aid worker, David Haines.

Earlier this week the president used a primetime address to reassure a fearful American public that he is taking the threat posed by ISIS as seriously as they are.

Crucially though, he has promised not to commit American troops to fight in Syria or Iraq. Instead he's calling for airstrikes and providing weaponry and training to forces on the ground who are fighting ISIS.

By the way, it's striking that President Obama sounded like his predecessor, George W Bush despite their differences on Iraq. When it comes to taking on terrorism their rhetoric is strikingly similar.

***Begin Tape***

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

They are sent back to their homes or sent to hide in countries around the world to plot evil and destruction.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

We will take defensive measures against terrorism to protect Americans.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

ISIL is not "Islamic."

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

It will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign ...

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

We continue to pursue the terrorists in cities and camps and caves across the earth.

***End Tape***

CHUCK TODD:

The fact is, they are pursuing similar policies now. Secretary of State John Kerry has been putting the hard sell for help in the Middle East over the last few days. But it's not clear how many countries will help and how much they'll contribute.

And check this out, we have some brand new poll numbers out this morning, that show that the American people support President Obama’s plan to attack ISIS and at the same time are deeply skeptical that the plan will actually work.

For all this I'm joined by NBC's Chief Correspondent, Richard Engel, who was in Erbil, Iraq, this morning. And Bill Neely, our Chief Global Correspondent who is in Damascus. Richard, let me start with you. First, I want to get to this killing of the British aid worker here. The message that ISIS is trying to send. I saw your report last night. You believe they're trying to send a message to another country, not Britain, not the United States. Who is it?

RICHARD ENGEL:

It's a message to the world. It's a propaganda message, primarily. But it is also a very specific message, it seems, to Turkey. ISIS is holding more than 40 Turkish diplomats hostage. Turkey has been very sensitive about this issue. It's actually illegal in Turkey to talk about the subject.

And Turkey has been very reluctant to join this coalition, at least publicly, with the United States. Turkey would be essential. It's right on the border. If the U.S. wants to organize an effective campaign to build the free Syrian army, it probably has to be done through Turkey. And this is one way for ISIS to say, "If Turkey joins its diplomats are at risk."

CHUCK TODD:

And arguably Turkey has the best military in the region. Now let's talk about where you are, on the ground in Iraq. The Iraqi military, President Obama is essentially relying on the Iraqi military to step up on the ground to avoid sending American combat troops. What are you seeing on the ground?

RICHARD ENGEL:

We are seeing the Iraqi military not stepping up. This is an enormous military, trained by the United States to the tune of $25 billion. I remember so many times speaking to American generals who were here saying, "The Iraqi army is ready." Well, the Iraqi army was not ready. The Iraqi army has not been able to push out ISIS.

It hasn't been able to take back one province in this country. And many people are questioning the loyalty of the Iraqi army. They say that it is deeply influenced by Iran. So now the Americans are flying overhead, dropping bombs, doing American air strikes. And you have the Iraqi army, ineffective, and guided by Iran.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Richard Engel, in Erbil, Iraq this morning. Richard, thanks very much. I want to go to Damascus, where Bill Neely is. And Bill, Assad, you've been speaking with some of Assad's aids about the President's plan here. Is Assad happy with the President's plan? Does Assad see this is as an opportunity to end up winning this civil war?

BILL NEELY:

Well, President Assad's men welcome U.S. air strikes. But they say they want those strikes coordinated with them, so that U.S. war planes aren't shot out of the sky by Syrian war planes. Those Syrian war planes have been in action just behind me on the edge of Damascus this morning.

Attacking not ISIS positions, but another rebel group allied to Al Qaeda. So, as you say, we've had the rhetoric from President Obama. Now comes the reality of those difficult choices. The killing of a hostage is designed to put pressure on President Obama. And he does face some hard choices. Now, when does he take action here in Syria? And where does he strike ISIS?

Who are the moderate rebels who might retake the ground after U.S. air strikes? So it's certainly pressure on President Obama now, to deliver on intentions here in Syria.

CHUCK TODD:

Bill Neely, in Damascus for us. Bill, thanks very much. Stay safe as you travel in that country. Well, you heard live reports there in Iraq, and in Syria. A little earlier I spoke to White House Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough.

***Begin Tape***

CHUCK TODD:

Denis McDonough, welcome back to Meet The Press.

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Thanks Chuck, thanks for having me.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with this issue of terminology, for some reason. I asked the President last week about whether he was preparing the country for war. He pushed back. Said, "This is not a war." He's not used the terminology "war" in his speech on Wednesday, nor in the video address. And yet there seem to be this debate about semantics, between The Pentagon, Josh Earnest. Why now are you calling it a war on ISIS, and why has the President been so hesitant to refer to it as a war?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Oh, I don't think the President told you it was not a war, Chuck. You asked him if he was preparing the country for war. And he said he was preparing the country for this effort against ISIL. And that's exactly what we're doing. And there was no debate between The Pentagon and the White House. And you heard Secretary Kerry, The Pentagon, and Josh on Friday underscore that inasmuch as we've been at war with Al Qaeda since we got here, we're at war with ISIL.

CHUCK TODD:

But you've been, I mean, this is something that Democrats in general, you don't like to refer to this attack on Al Qaeda as a war. You didn't like the phrase "War on terror." I mean, is that what this is about?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Well, no Chuck. I think you're confusing our position with maybe a generalization about something else. The fact is, going back to 2007, the President has called the war against Al Qaeda "the war we need to win." And this effort against ISIL is something that we'll undertake with a broad coalition of nations, Muslim and otherwise. And it's something not like the war in Iraq, where we're going to have hundreds of thousands of ground troops in the effort. But rather this is something that's going to be concerted, targeted. And it's a war we have to win.

CHUCK TODD:

We've got some polling that we're just releasing this morning. Sixty-two percent of the country supports what the President wants to do, and 68 percent don't believe it will work. Why do you think that the public is supportive, but skeptical that this will work?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Well, look, this is obviously a complicated effort. And that's why the President is going about this in a very painstaking, and very prudent fashion. That's why the Secretary of State is now just continuing his efforts to travel throughout the region to get others to join us in this effort. And that's what we're going to do. We're going to lead an international effort against ISIL. But this is not going to be easy.

CHUCK TODD:

What does success look like?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Success looks like an ISIL that no longer threatens our friends in the region, no longer threatens the United States. An ISIL that can't accumulate followers, or threaten Muslims in Syria, Iran, Iraq, or otherwise. And that's exactly what success looks like.

CHUCK TODD:

He held up Yemen and Somalia as good examples. It's hard to look at those countries and say that they're pictures of stability.

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

He held up Yemen and Somalia as examples of how we carry this out. This is something that we will do using our precise airborne capabilities. Supporting non-U.S., that is to say Syrian opposition or Iraqi soldiers on the ground, taking the fight to ISIL. So he's holding them up as examples of how we will do this.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there a single country in this coalition so far that has pledged combat troops on the ground in Syria?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Well, you will hear from Secretary Kerry on this over the coming days. And what he has said is that others have suggested that they're willing to do that. But we're not looking for that right now. We're looking for--

CHUCK TODD:

Wait a minute. Why not?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

--the specifics-- well, we're trying to put together the specifics of what we expect from each of the members. And that's what we'll build against. That's what the President will be talking with John Allen about later this week. He's sitting down with him on Tuesday, as we begin to put this coalition together in very concrete fashion.

CHUCK TODD:

But there's not a single military advisor that has come to you guys and said, "You can defeat ISIS without some combat troops. ISIS in Syria, without some combat troops."

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

That's correct.

CHUCK TODD:

Right? I mean, so, that's a fact.

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

That's a fact. And that's the President's view. And that's why what we need Congress to do right now, and frankly we're seeing very good progress on this thanks to the Speaker and to others, is to put together support for what the President calls a "Title Ten" program, to train and equip the Syrian opposition on the ground, fighting ISIL.

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, you bring that up, the President, very skeptical of this moderate opposition just a month ago in an interview with Tom Friedman. Now, suddenly, this is the great hope?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

I think you overstate the-- I don't think anybody called it the "great hope." I think we all recognize that we need a ground force of Syrians, a Sunni force, on the ground, fighting ISIL in Syria. The same way we will have Iraqi forces on the ground in Iraq, fighting ISIL. But this is all going to be something that will be backed up by U.S. air power. And that will make a big difference.

CHUCK TODD:

I guess I'm going to ask this another way. So if you know you need combat troops on the ground, you don't have any countries that have pledged to do it yet. And I understand you're saying some will come in.

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

I didn't say that, Chuck. I said--

CHUCK TODD:

There are countries that have pledged?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

--that you will-- you will-- you will hear from Secretary Kerry that countries are saying that they're ready to do that. And they're ready to fly with us. But we're going to get to that in due time.

CHUCK TODD:

Can you pledge for sure that there will never be American combat troops on the ground in Syria?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

You've heard what the President said, Chuck, including his address to the country on Wednesday. This is an effort that, like in Yemen and Somalia, where we will take the fight to our enemies without putting our ground troops into the effort. We need ground troops, that's why we want this program to train the opposition, that's currently pending in Congress. And that's why we want to make sure that this coalition bring Sunnis to the fight. And that's what we're going to do.

CHUCK TODD:

Let's talk about the vote in Congress very quickly. The President has said about his plan for ISIS he wouldn't mind if Congress weighs in, but that he has the authority.

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

He didn't say he wouldn't mind. He said he'd welcome it.

CHUCK TODD:

He'd welcome it. Fair enough. That's a different way of phrasing, I think, the same way. But a year ago he needed, he said he needed Congress behind him before he took any action in Syria. And this time he just simply welcomes it. But if they don't do it, he's going to do it anyway. Why the change?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

I'd say three things about this, Chuck. One, I came on this show almost exactly a year ago to warn about the threat of Syrian chemical weapons. Earlier this summer we succeeded in destroying the declared Syrian chemical weapons stockpile, which theretofore had been one of the world's biggest. That's point one.

Point two, when I came on the show a year ago we did not have any statutory authorization that would underscore our effort to take the fight to Syria because of the chemical weapons. That's why, and, by the way, what brought us into the middle of a civil war on Syria. We decided that we needed Congress to help us with that. Now we have a situation where, with the 2001 authorization, we have statutory authorization.

CHUCK TODD:

It's funny that you want to use this authorization to do this, and you also want to change the authorization. Are you still going to pursue chancing that war authorization, rescinding it, and having a new one? Or are you delaying that push?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

This has been something we are talking to Congress about. We'll continue to talk to them about it. But that's something that--

CHUCK TODD:

But this is now in the backseat? You're sort of punting that?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

This is something we've been working with Congress. We'll continue to work with Congress on.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Before I let you go, have you spoken with the President? Have you guys talked about this Ray Rice situation in the NFL?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

We have talked generally about the situation in the NFL. And the President was shocked by what he saw, let's put it that way.

CHUCK TODD:

And how does he think the NFL's handled this?

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

I don't want to get into a characterization of that right now. But I think we all know that Ray Rice being suspended indefinitely seems to be exactly the right thing.

CHUCK TODD:

Denis McDonough, White House Chief of Staff, thanks for coming on Meet The Press.

DENIS MCDONOUGH:

Thanks for having me, Chuck.

***End Tape***

CHUCK TODD:

All right, let's get some reaction from our panel. Mike Murphy, Helene Cooper, Nia-Malika Henderson, Jim VandeHei. Helene, let me start with you. You said something interesting when I talked to you about the poll numbers. Basically 62 percent in favor of taking action, and 68 percent skeptical that the plan will work. And you said somebody else had that same feeling.

HELENE COOPER:

Well, President Obama, I think is-- this interview with Dennis was just really interesting. Because he seems like he's trying to thread this needle so finely. I think when we saw President Obama come out last week, you know, talking about this core coalition. And talking about this plan to somehow train these moderate Syrian opposition on the ground.

I think he believes in the core coalition, and he believes in what he's doing. I'm not so sure, I think there's a lot of skepticism within the administration about this plan on training up the Syrian opposition, because I mean just months ago we didn't know who these people were. There's still a belief that some of them may have been the ones who turned over these Americans--

CHUCK TODD:

The weapons. Some have traded an American to ISIS--

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON:

Yes, yeah, to ISIS, to begin with. So the idea that suddenly the free Syrian army is going to turn into, you know, the Kurdish Peshmerga, even, seems a little bit far-fetched.

CHUCK TODD:

And Murphy, I get the sense that they wish, you know, if it wasn't for Iraq we'd have a more robust military plan. We wouldn't be ruling out combat troops. I understand, politically, why they have to. Because there would be no support in Congress for it, and no support in the public for it. But they don't know how to do this without it.

MIKE MURPHY:

I want to call Vegas and get the line on the moderate opposition's war-fighting capacity. (LAUGHS) Because that's been a bad--

CHUCK TODD:

The President himself said they're dentists.

MIKE MURPHY:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

I mean, nothing wrong with that. Revolutionaries, you know, they're trying.

MIKE MURPHY:

I think his problem is that the premise of his campaign in 2008, where he took on Hillary Clinton from the left, had a lot of naïve assumptions about foreign policy. You can't opt out of being the only superpower. And caution is a good thing, but too much caution turns into paralysis. There was opportunity to act earlier, here there's not.

Now he's lurching in the right direction. But long-term it's a political problem, it could take a generation to fix. Short-term, defining what victory is in this, with limited American arms, that have been highly de-funded under this administration, is very difficult. And now he's paying that price.

CHUCK TODD:

And, VandeHei, I mean, it is sort of collective. Washington seems to be in the same place as the public. Supportive, they want to do something. But nobody thinks this plan is the best plan.

JIM VANDEHEI:

And no wonder that the President is conflicted, privately. If you look at that poll, that's exactly what the President thinks. And the truth is he can't say what the truth is, which is there's not even a glorious win to the war that you finally got them to ascribe as a war. Even if you play it out, and say they get exactly what they want, and they purge the Islamic state from Syria.

What are you left with? You're left with Assad, who's brutalized and killed 200,000 people. Who videotaped rolling over the heads of their victims. And you've created a state, the Jordanian state, where it's basically an untenable refugee camp. It's a mess. And that's why you see this confliction.

And one of the things that I think people want to see from the President is just more clarity. Call it what it is. My brother-in-law was in the military, was in Baghdad. And one of the frustration he voices is there are boots on the ground. What do you think the military advisors are, sanitation specialists? No. They're often the elite forces, the hardest to find, the hardest to keep alive, the hardest to train. And they're there. And I think that's where you get a lot of the frustration with the whole thing.

MIKE MURPHY:

And I think, you know, that's the issue here is that we just don't know. Even if we win here, there's going to be something else that fills this vacuum. Which I think that's what the public is being so skeptical.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON:

That's right. That's right.

MIKE MURPHY:

We just know after ISIS it'll be something else.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON:

Yeah. And that's what we've seen, right? I mean, the Iraq war, there were all sorts of promises made about what the outcome would be over that. And routing Al Qaeda. But, guess what, there's a new Al Qaeda, and it's bigger, it's badder, it's more well-funded, and it's called ISIS. So you see this public that has watched over these last 13 years, in the wake of 9/11, see people on television making promises that just haven't come to pass. So no wonder they're skeptical.

CHUCK TODD:

Perfectly rational, to me, for the public to react that way. I think all of us have that same feeling, 'cause you just don't know how this ends. You guys are going to be sticking with me. We'll have more to come. We'll hear more from you later. Coming up, though, the President's plan to defeat ISIS. Can it work? I'm going to be joined by the architect of the US-led coalition that liberated Kuwait from Saddam Hussein in the early '90s, none other than Secretary of State, Jim Baker.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Joining me now to discuss President Obama's strategy to combat ISIS is James Baker. And this is James Baker-- Baker was Secretary of State under President George H. W. Bush. During the first Gulf War in the early '90s, and played a key role putting together the coalition to take on Iraq's Saddam Hussein, and liberate Kuwait.

He has one of the deepest government resumes ever. He served as White House Chief of Staff under Ronald Reagan. Going on to serve as Secretary of Treasury in Reagan's second term. And after serving as Secretary of State for Bush 41, he finished up that term becoming his chief of staff. And this is James Baker's 28th appearance on the program. And remarkably I'm apparently the 11th Meet The Press moderator to interview you. Secretary Baker, thanks for coming on this morning.

JAMES BAKER:

A pleasure to be with you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Let me start with this, the President's plan. Is it the right plan?

JAMES BAKER:

Well, that's the President's plan, so it better be the right plan. It's got some problems with it. And your panel was just talking about some of those. The biggest, of course, is who are our, quote, "partners on the ground" that the President referred to in his speech. And I don't know where they come from. When we did this in 1991, that is built a coalition to accomplish something in the Middle East. We--

CHUCK TODD:

200,000 troops you got--

JAMES BAKER:

Five hundred thousand. We had 500,000 U.S. troops.

CHUCK TODD:

Right. And you had an additional--

JAMES BAKER:

In Desert Storm. And then we had addition thousands of troops from other countries. So there wasn't any question about our resolve on the part of those people we were trying to bring into the coalition. But everybody tells me, and I'm was in the marine corps, but I'm not a military man, a military expert.

You've got to have some people on the ground. You can't do this just with air power. And so we've got to have special ops forces, or we've got to have some people who can advise this ground force, if it's the Iraqi army, who can collect intelligence. Who can guide air strikes. And if they're not going to be Americans, who are they going to be? So we're going to have to have some people on the ground. But we're also going to have to have some people to take territory after the airstrike.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, and that's this whole hope. The President himself was skeptical of this moderate Syrian opposition. So the other idea is you hope that it's Sunni countries. Other Sunni countries that provide the boots on the combat troops. Where's Saudi Arabia? Obviously it's not coming. Obviously the Jordanians, the Emirates, the Turks, all of those military forces, all of whom built their militaries with U.S. money, by the way. Where are they?

JAMES BAKER:

Well, they're not here. And they may not be here because we're not on the ground. Now--

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think that's the issue?

JAMES BAKER:

I'm not-- well, I'm not suggesting that we need to get into another ground war in the Middle East. But I'm just saying we cannot do this without having some forces on the ground that can help our air campaign. You have to have that. And I'm afraid to say what I think it's going to be. It's going to be U.S. special ops forces and people like that on the ground. Because we don't have any other forces being offered to us.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, when you built your coalition, it was one of the things I read was talking about the controversy surrounding you wanted to bring Syria into your coalition. There were some that were skeptical of bringing in Syria. Today, that country that there is a debate about, do you bring in the coalition, is Iran.

JAMES BAKER:

That's right.

CHUCK TODD:

If you were Secretary of State right now, would you be, because you were adamant saying you know what, they're with us on this, we need them in the coalition. This was about Syria at the time.

JAMES BAKER:

That's right. Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

Would you be feeling the same way about Iran?

JAMES BAKER:

Well, and, of course, they not only joined the coalition, they sent troops.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

JAMES BAKER:

And some of those troops fought. I would not do that today, with respect to Iran, for one reason. We've got to prove that we're not jumping in on the side of the Shia in this fight between the Shia and the Sunni.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

JAMES BAKER:

And so we need to have Sunni support. If we bring Iran in at this point we'll lose that Sunni support.

CHUCK TODD:

So the coalition focus should be all Sunni?

JAMES BAKER:

For this purpose, for this purpose. In the long-term, in the long-term, the Middle East is mired in turmoil. Everywhere you look. And in the long-term somebody's going to have to organize a negotiation, or a conference, or something, to deal with these conflicts. Because these conflicts foment terrorism.

And everybody in the region, every country in the region, or in the world for that matter, would like to see us take out ISIS. But after that's over there's going to be more coming if we don't do this. We need to pull all the countries of the region together. We need to add the EU, Russia, China, and, of course, ourselves.

And have a discussion, and a conference, and a negotiation over how we empower the moderate forces in the region. How we limit the extremists in the region. And how we do all of this without further enflaming the Shia/Sunni conflict.

CHUCK TODD:

The cloud of the Iraq war seems to color everything. It's the reason why the President isn't committing any combat troops into this right now. I know you've been asked this before, you chose, the Bush 41 administration, chose not to take out Saddam Hussein.

JAMES BAKER:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you believe that if you had basically the '90s would look like what we're seeing today?

JAMES BAKER:

Well, we were afraid of that. That's why we didn't, you know, for two years after we left office, "Why didn't you guys take care of Saddam when you had the chance?" Every time I'd go out and give a speech, or something, I'd get the question. Well, now people see why we didn't. Because we were worried about this very thing happening. That there would be ethnic divisions, and that the country would split apart.

CHUCK TODD:

And this is exactly what I'm-- so, Vice President, so I take it you don't agree with Vice President Cheney who said this week again, if he had to do it over again he'd do the Iraq war again.

JAMES BAKER:

Well, (LAUGHS) I don't agree with this. I don't agree that because they did the Iraq war is why we're where we are. I think you can make the same argument about Obama's failure to arm the Syrian opposition.

CHUCK TODD:

Earlier.

JAMES BAKER:

Or, yeah, or not leaving a residual force in Iraq. You can argue all those things about the past. The problem is we have a huge issue here. What do we do about it going forward? There's no country in the world that could pull together the kind of conference, or negotiation I'm talking about, except the United States of America. And we need to do that.

Whether we can still do that or not, I don't know. When we put our coalition together we had 500,000 U.S. troops on the ground. We had a specific goal, within a limited timeframe. Kick Iraq out of Kuwait. And America was respected by its allies, and feared by its enemies. We're not there anymore.

CHUCK TODD:

And oh by the way, you actually got the war paid for. Most of it paid for.

JAMES BAKER:

Well, we got other people to pay for the war. That's correct.

CHUCK TODD:

James Baker, former Secretary of State, thanks for coming on Meet The Press.

JAMES BAKER:

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Appreciate it. Coming up, we'll do a little politics here. Hillary Clinton is making a big splash today in Iowa. Our own NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell, though, finds she may not be the sure thing, again, that her supporters are imagining.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

And welcome back. Let's turn now to the race for 2016, because Hillary Clinton is making us, right? She's done everything a potential candidate can be expected to do. Book tour, check. Paid speeches to pad the bank account before you start running, check. And she's done nothing to stop the rumor mill.

But you could argue that once she steps foot in Iowa later today, for the annual Tom Harkin Steak Fry, there truly is no turning back. And yet, as NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell is going to be reporting, Hillary is finding that, once again, being the most prepared candidate with the best resume may not be enough for many in a Democratic party that is increasingly tilting to the left.

***Begin Tape***

ANDREA MITCHELL (V/O):

From billboards, to posters, to campaign busses for the candidate-in-waiting, supports are flooding the state. They are ready for Hillary's first appearance in Iowa in 2,446 days. Yes, they keep track of details like that here. A key strategy targeting young people. But at the Smokey Row Coffee House in Des Moines, Clinton has her work cut out for her, with some of the 20-somethings we caught up with.

ANDY DUFFLEMEYER:

I'm looking for someone that's a little bit more liberal. A little bit--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Andy Dufflemyer, a law student.

ANDY DUFFLEMEYER:

More on the edge of pushing some important issues, like climate change, and campaign finance reform, and-- income inequality, and things like that. And I'm not sure that k-- Hillary is that candidate.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Carla Bromwell works for a nonprofit. When you look at Hillary Clinton, what do you see first? A politician? A woman? A president?

CARLA BROMWELL:

I think people see kind of the cronyism on Wall Street. And, I mean, her biggest supporters is Wall Street. And, you know, she's currently on the circuit giving speeches to Goldman Sachs. And I just feel like regular people might see that as something that they're not looking for anymore.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But Caroline Carson, a college sophomore, thinks Clinton would get things done.

CAROLINE CARSON:

She actually wants to work across the aisle, and make sure that something would happen if she were to be President, rather than the gridlock we have currently.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Last time Team Clinton was stunned by the Obama forces. She even finished third in Iowa behind John Edwards.

HILLARY CLINTON:

I am so ready for the rest of this campaign--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

It still hurts.

HILLARY CLINTON:

--and I am so ready--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Here's how she describes it in her new book, Hard Choices.

HILLARY CLINTON:

The night of the Iowa caucuses when I placed third was excruciating.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Obama blitzed her on new media. This time Clinton supporters are trying to catch up on social media, and enlisting celebrities like Katie Perry, who posted on Instagram, "I told that Hillary Clinton that I would write her a theme song if she needs it." Still, there's a vision thing.

ANDY DUFFLEMEYER:

I feel like I don't know who she is. And I do feel like maybe she's a little malleable, in kind of a Mitt Romney sort of way.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But especially with women voters, would gender trump all?

CARLA BROMWELL:

I would love to see the first woman President. But it doesn't matter more to me than my progressive values.

***End Tape***

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And just in a few hours this field behind me, it's going to be filled with more than 5,000 very enthusiastic democrats. But the Hillary Clinton skeptics I talked to, they still want Elizabeth Warren. They want Bernie Sanders. They want someone to push her to the left. And Bernie Sanders is going to be here in Iowa later tonight at a separate event, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

There you go. Andrea, the scene of the crime, if you're a Clinton supporter, back in '08.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

You got it.

CHUCK TODD:

Where Obama was able to trump her. Well, we're going to kick off our Meet The Press "Meet the Candidate" series with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who could cause Hillary Clinton some trouble. Sanders is a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist. He's the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, from 1981 to 1989. He served eight terms in the House of Representatives, beginning in '91.

In '06 he was elected to the U.S. Senate. Sanders says he's prepared to run for president, and has spent time in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Mississippi in recent weeks, talking about what he has called the fight for economic justice. And by the way, unlike Jim Baker, this is Senator Sanders' first ever appearance on Meet The Press.

***Begin Tape***

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is Senator Bernie Sanders, the independent who caucuses with the Democrats. Let me actually just start with that, Senator Sanders. Are you about to switch parties? Are you going to become a member of the Democratic Party if you pursue this presidential campaign?

BERNIE SANDERS:

Well, I am the longest-serving independent in the history of the United States Congress. That’s how I’ve always won in the state of Vermont. I am thinking about running for president and the issue of whether you run as an independent with the necessity of setting up the fifty-state infrastructure… running as a Democrat—that’s something that I’m looking at right now.

CHUCK TODD:

And you’ve – it sounds like you’ve ruled out running as an independent or you have not? You could end up doing it that way?

BERNIE SANDERS:

One of the reasons I’m going to Iowa is to get a sense of how people feel about it. Look—the truth is, profound anger at both political parties, more and more people are becoming independent, the negative is, how do you set up a fifty-state infrastructure as an independent?

CHUCK TODD:

I want to read something that was paraphrased to you, it says, “‘It is essential,’ Sanders said, ‘to have someone in the 2016 presidential campaign who is willing to take on Wall Street, address the collapse of the middle class, tackle the spread of poverty, and fiercely oppose cuts to social security and MediCare.’” Is it safe to say if you thought Hillary Clinton were doing that, you wouldn’t be considering this?

BERNIE SANDERS:

Well, A: I don’t know that Hillary Clinton is running. B: I don’t know what she’s running on. But this is what I do know: I know that the middle class in this country is collapsing. I know that the gap between the very, very rich and everybody else is growing wider.

I know there is profound anger at the greed on Wall Street and corporate America. Anger at the political establishments. Anger, by the way, at the media establishment.

The American people want real change and I’ve been taking on the big money interests and the special interests all of my political life.

CHUCK TODD:

But you say you’re, you’re, separating out—are you separating out Hillary Clinton from this? If she were speaking more robustly on these issues, would you be thinking about running?

BERNIE SANDERS:

Chuck, the issue is not Hillary. I-I’ve known Hillary Clinton for many years. I have a lot of respect for Hillary Clinton.

The question is: At a time when so many people have seen a decline in their standard of living, when the wealthiest people and largest corporations are doing phenomenally well, the American people want change. They want Congress, they want candidates, to stand up to the big money interests.

So, let Hillary speak for herself. I know where I’m coming from.

CHUCK TODD:

Uh, I hear you, it’s uh—rail against this, and I think: Boy, you must be unhappy with President Obama.

BERNIE SANDERS:

I think President Obama has done some very good things. I think the level of obstructionism that he has had to face is unprecedented in American history. And in some areas I very clearly disagree with him. I think he should have understood from Day One that the Republicans were not going to cooperate with him.

I think he should have gone to the people in a more aggressive way and say: “You know what? The American people want to raise the minimum wage.” We need millions of people to come to Washington, demand us do that. Just can’t sit in a room and negotiate with people who choose not to negotiate.

CHUCK TODD

So you believe he—you believe he’s been right on most of his ideas. You just don’t believe he has, uh, pushed them hard enough?

BERNIE SANDERS:

I think he has been right on some of his ideas. I was on the floor of the Senate for eight-and-a-half hours because I disagreed—

CHUCK TODD

–Right.—

BERNIE SANDERS:

–with his continuing tax breaks for the rich. And I have a lot of disagreements with him. But the bottom line is: I think he has not tapped the anger and the frustration that the American people feel on many, many issues.

BERNIE SANDERS:

The only way we bring about change is when the American people become mobilized. And in this coming election, you know what? Sixty percent of the American people are not going to vote.

CHUCK TODD:

–Are not going to vote.

BERNIE SANDERS:

The Koch brothers and the other billionaires are going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars. That is not a way you bring about change. We’ve got to mobilize the American people.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you on that billionaire front: Is there such thing as a – If a billionaire agrees with you on issues are you okay with them participating in the process? Or do you think this entire process, whether it’s Tom Steyer or Michael Bloomberg or the Koch brothers?

BERNIE SANDERS:

Chuck, I think Citizens United will go down in history as one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever. I think it is opening up the road to oligarchy in the United States of America, where the billionaires, like the Koch brothers –

CHUCK TODD:

–Left or right?

BERNIE SANDERS:

Left or right, but it’s mostly right. Let’s be clear about it. It’s not fair to give—

CHUCK TODD:

This year it’s, yeah, they have, they’re—

BERNIE SANDERS:

And it will always be.

CHUCK TODD:

– spending more money.

BERNIE SANDERS:

It will always be. Look: The Koch brothers are going to spend four-hundred million dollars. Do you know what their agenda is? Do you know what they believe in? Let me tell you what they believe in. This is what they told us. They want to end Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. More tax breaks for the rich and large corporations.

Nobody in America wants that except the billionaire class. And yet they are now able to put hundreds of millions of dollars into the political process. This is a real danger to American democracy.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright. You’re headed to Iowa. I guess I’m going to ask it this way about the Democratic Party today. Do you think the Democratic Party is open to a progressive like you? Do you think the Democratic Party is closer to where you are? Or closer to where the Clintons are?

BERNIE SANDERS:

Let me shock you by saying this. I don’t think it’s just the Democratic Party. I think whether people are Democrats, moderates, or conservatives, there is a profound anger at understanding that the middle class is disappearing, that millions of people are working longer hours for low wages, that 95% of all new income has gone to the top 1%. Not just a Democratic issue. In Vermont, I get a lot of Republican votes.

CHUCK TODD:

Right. But I—I guess I’m going to ask you: Where’s the Democratic Party today? Closer to you or closer to Hillary?

BERNIE SANDERS:

I think anybody who speaks to the needs of the working class and the middle class of this country and shows the courage to take on the billionaire class, I think that candidate will do pretty well.

CHUCK TODD:

Bernie Sanders, the Independent from Vermont. We’ll be watching you. Stay safe on the trail in Iowa over the weekend.

BERNIE SANDERS:

Thank you very much.

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you.

***End Tape***

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you. All right. Murphy, Cooper, Henderson, VandeHei all still here. All right, Vandy. Is the Democratic Party closer to where Hillary Clinton is, or Bernie?

JIM VANDEHEI:

Well, I think, let's talk about Hillary for a second. Because there is so much talk about her inevitability. And I think there's three big problems that people are not paying enough attention to. One is what Andrea Mitchell hit on. I don't know that her theology is where the Democratic Party is right now. Two, she's been running for three months.

And that rollout has not been the smooth operating machine that everyone thought. She's looked disconnected on her wealth issue. And her trying to break away from President Obama looked politically craven. And three, elections are about the future. And her whole argument, look at the '90s, look at my record. I think the next election, given what we talked about, the beginning of the program, and what's happening in the world, is going to be way different than everyone's imagining it. It's the future. Look--

CHUCK TODD:

(OVERTALK) to do the best. That's a pretty--

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON

It's a grim case. But the problem is it looks like it's going to be a field-- if Hillary runs, it'll be Hillary, and it'll be not Hillary, right? And so far the not-Hillary may be Bernie Sanders will be one. He said the issue is not Hillary. He's not even willing to take her on right now. Elizabeth Warren--

JIM VANDEHEI

Which, by the way, I'm sorry, the--

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON:

--does seem-- rhetorically, be ready to take Hillary on either. So, you know, you say she's been running for three months, she's really been running for, you know, eight, ten, 12 years, or so. And the rest of the field, Martin O'Malley, does he look like he's ready to run? I think he's got some operatives in Iowa, this go-round. But--

CHUCK TODD:

You've got to take the fight. Bernie didn't have the fight.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

I thought he was going to have a little more fight. He's got the passion for the issues, but he's not ready to take on Hillary. That tells you a lot, actually.

MIKE MURPHY:

I'm not going to bet my house on Bernie-mania breaking out. Though he does have the Vermont disease, like Howard Dean. There's something about it. But I'll say this, I'm kind of with Jim. Hillary Clinton is very impressive. Kind of an inside politician. But she's not that impressive a candidate. I think she's one very impressive chromosome away from Ed Muskie. And it is going to be a very bumpy, bad--

MIKE MURPHY:

I'm pulling out the old Ed Muskie card.

CHUCK TODD:

when you pull out the Ed Muskie card--

MIKE MURPHY:

Think about the parallels.

CHUCK TODD:

You're right.

MIKE MURPHY:

Establishment.

CHUCK TODD:

Hey, and Bernie Sanders is George McGovern. So there you go.

MIKE MURPHY

Democrat. In an anti-establishment year, to the right on foreign policy issues, within the spectrum of the Democratic Party. You're going to hear more of that candidate from the Goldman Sachs wing of the Democratic Party. Bernie's not going anywhere. But Bernie's message, in a Democratic primary, in this kind of turbulence is going to be powerful. She's still gotta be the favorite, if she runs. But--

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

MIKE MURPHY

--I don't think there's a lock.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Helene, I'll get you in after the break on this one.

HELENE COOPER:

Oh goodie. (LAUGHS)

CHUCK TODD:

Her eyebrows said “They’re going Ed Musky on me.” What are you doing. So with that it means I'm going to go to my poll next. Our NBC News Wall Street Journal poll, some numbers here one party has been fearing all summer long. Wait 'til you see these numbers. Plus the growing chorus, calling for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to step down. All that's coming up after this next break.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

While it is true collective Washington is a bit obsessed with 2016, I should remind you we have an election day that's in 51 days. And our newest NBC News Wall Street Journal poll did not have some good news for the Democrats. So what had Republicans smiling this week? Let me show you. It starts at the President's dismal job approval rating.

We focus on this number because the job rating is one of the better indicators of which party will do well in the mid-terms. And President Obama's approval still sits at a mere 40 percent this month. And look at this, it was actually higher in September of 2010. Pretty bad year for Democrats. 45 percent, that's when this party lost 63 seats in the house, and six seats in the Senate.

And check this out. In the same month, in 2006, when a wave of blue washed over Congress, President George W. Bush's rating was 42 percent. And here's one more example. The 1994 Republican Tsunami. Bill Clinton's approval rating had steadily dropped over the course of the year, to 44 percent. And then his party lost 53 seats. So, again, this year that approval rating of President Obama, worse than the last three big midterm elections.

Let's move on. You want something else? A majority of the country thinks Republicans will do a better job when it comes to immigration, handling the economy, foreign policy, and national defense. Here's what our pollsters said about that.

***Begin Tape***

BILL MCINTURFF:

These numbers are so positive Republican that among likely voters, where they say Republicans by five points, that's a big number that has huge meaning across lots of races.

PETER:

In this poll, first-time Republicans moving up on the feeling thermometer, and Democrats moving down.

CHUCK TODD:

-that was a-- there was some-- I saw that too.

***End Tape***

CHUCK TODD:

Peter's use of the phrase "feeling thermometer" is simply about the Republican positive rating going up, while the Democratic Party's positive rating is going down. But is this a full-on Republican wave? Maybe not. Here are three potential yellow flags for the GOP. Number one, there is a female firewall for the Democrats.

Women favor the Democratic Party by four more points than they did in 2010. Primarily because they believe the Democrats handle women's issues, and health care issues better than the GOP. Number two, voters just aren't feeling this election. Only 44 percent of respondents right now say they're very interested in the mid-terms.

That number was at 50 percent at this same point in time in 2010. And finally, there's this. Fifty-three percent, a majority, believe this election is going to change nothing here in Washington. Zip, zilch. Not a surprise, the voters probably are onto something. The bottom line, though, from this poll, Democrats are at a nice edge here.

They only have a few weeks to right their ship against what is building to become, potentially, another Republican wave. We'll be right back with HBO's Bryant Gumbel, on whether NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, should keep his job.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Well, it's the second week of the NFL season. Analysts would usually be talking Manning and Rodgers today. Instead, it's Rice and Goodell.

***Begin Tape***

CHUCK TODD:

It's led the nightly news almost the entire week.

BRIAN WILLIAMS

Damage control--

CHUCK TODD:

In the wake of the Ray Rice domestic violence scandal. Editorials from football towns, calling for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to step down, are rolling in. And the damning TMZ Sports video of Ray Rice isn't the only thing Goodell may have tripped up on.

ROGER GOODELL:

Well, we certainly didn't know what was on the tape.

CHUCK TODD:

It's just the most visual. Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers, was convicted of assaulting a woman back in May. He has appealed the decision, and is scheduled to play today. His ex-girlfriend's protective order is chilling. "Hardy choked me with both hands around my throat. Hardy picked me up over his head and threw me onto a couch covered in assault rifles."

Whether Goodell steps down or not, he and Rice have forced the country to take a closer look at domestic violence. According to a CDC survey, one in four women will experience severe physical violence in their lifetime. When you add rape and stalking into the mix, more than one in three American women will experience these types of violence. That's 42 million women.

***End Tape***

CHUCK TODD:

I'm joined now by HBO Real Sports Bryant Gumbel. And Bryant, look, you've covered politicians, you've covered sports figures, watching the NFL, there's no doubt that they seem to be handling this worse than any politician I've seen in crisis management. Roger Goodell, should he have his job today?

BRYANT GUMBEL:

I don't know if he should, and it's not for me to say, Chuck. I mean, I think there's no evidence to suggest that his job is on the line. His fate is controlled by billionaires who care most about him making them money, not whether he lied or not, not how he bungled this or not. And so until and unless they're prepared to say, "We care more about a social issue," than they do about money, I don't think there's any reason to suspect he'll be fired.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, you say that-- what should they be doing to prove that, you know what, they take domestic violence seriously? I mean, this is-- look, we have this-- you know, they do October, you do breast cancer awareness. If they do that again this coming October it's going to scream out of touch to me.

BRYANT GUMBEL:

Yeah, I agree with you. But they're going to pink-wash once again. They're going to wrap themselves, it's what they do best. They sell their image very, very well. They sell that they're sensitive to women, wrap themselves in pink. And yet they don't punish domestic violence. They suggest they care about players' safety, yet only medical science and a team of lawyers force them to confront it. They care that they're great citizens, and wrap themselves in the flag. And yet they operate, it might surprise many Americans, as a tax-exempt nonprofit. The NFL's very good at masquerading.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, it's funny, you know, so is it us? You know, I look at the problems in Washington, and I always say, you know what, we have to look in the mirror. We elect these folks. If you don't like what's going on, it's up to the fans. We love this sport. And so it allows them carte blanche?

BRYANT GUMBEL:

The parallel is perfect, Chuck. Just as people say they hate Congress, but they love their Congressman, and send them back in record numbers every time. People say they hate the way the NFL operates, but they love their team. And so as a result, this afternoon, in Carolina, people would be cheering Greg Hardy. In San Francisco they'll be cheering Ray McDonald. And Thursday night there were fans showing up in Baltimore wearing Ray Rice jerseys.

CHUCK TODD:

Should the owners take some responsibility here? I mean, he served at the pleasure of the owners. And I assume that the owners start losing money, then suddenly they might act.

BRYANT GUMBEL:

Bingo. Bingo. You saw, as I did, that the female senators sent a letter the other day to Roger Goodell complaining. I would suggest that anybody who really wants to complain should instead complain to Gatorade, Anheuser-Busch, FedEx, Ford Motor Company. Because until and unless you start hitting the NFL in a language it understands, which is money, very little's going to change.

CHUCK TODD:

Bryant Gumbel, HBO Real Sports. Bryant, thanks for doing this. Helene Cooper, how do you feel about the NFL today, versus two weeks ago?

HELENE COOPER:

I've never felt that highly about the HFL to begin with. I'm not a big American football-- I'm more of a soccer person. But, that said, I mean, I think this whole thing has been-- it says a lot more about us, and it says a lot more about the people that watch football. And that's where you're going to see, if there's going to be any kind of impact going forward. I think it's going to come from that. But you're also talking about an issue that is so prevalent throughout society. Domestic violence isn't something that's only in the NFL. So I think if you can get some sort of discussion, wider discussion, going.

CHUCK TODD:

And the NFL, I mean, it better, October better be purple.

HELENE COOPER:

Yeah, yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

Because purple, it is, a domestic violence awareness month. It better be purple. If the NFL blows this, you know what, I think a lot of us might give up on it.

HELENE COOPER:

Yeah, but you wonder if they go purple in October, will people sort of scream hypocrisy. Does that even say hypocrisy more than the pink-washing that we expect to happen? You know--

(OVERTALK)

HELENE COOPER:

Yeah, I think there is this discussion about (COUGH) the future of football. We have these cases where all these ex-players are having brain damage, and disorders. So I think most of the underlying question is does NFL becoming boxing? People turned away from boxing.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, they did.

HELENE COOPER:

Because of the brutality, partly, but also there was a sense that it was corrupt.

CHUCK TODD:

It is. It is. We'd be talking about that. All right. Let me end with a little politics. Murphy and VandeHei, I'll give you guys the first shot at this. What everybody in Washington knows but won't say. And that is secretly VandeHei, I'm convinced. I think we know this. Hillary Clinton would love to see the Senate in Republican hands, going into 2016, wouldn't she?

JIM VANDEHEI:

I think a lot of Democrats would. They never say it in public, because everybody knows virtually nothing is going to happen over the next two years. And Democrats, Hillary Clinton in particular, would love Republicans--

(OVERTALK)

JIM VANDEHEI:

--Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, to actually have to take ownership of some of the dysfunction.

CHUCK TODD:

And just the reverse, secretly, there are a whole bunch of Republicans who are thinking to themselves, "Boy, if we come up a seat short, maybe it'll allow Democrats to share in the dysfunction."

MIKE MURPHY:

Yeah, there's a huge opportunity for us if we win the majority. And I think the odds are better we do than we don't, to grab the microphone, talk about middle class economics, and--

CHUCK TODD:

Oh, yeah, uh-huh (affirm). And they’ll do that when?

MIKE MURPHY:

There's an opportunity.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

MIKE MURPHY:

There's also a fear that it'll just be an American Idol of grievance. And if we do that with the bad calendar we have in '16, the bad states in the Senate, it could be really bad. Harry Reid may throw the Senate. You can argue it's in his interest.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, and I wonder. There are some Republicans, Nia, you think they'd love to win the six seats, and make sure it's not Mitch McConnell that's the face, too.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON:

Yeah, that's right. Because, you know, if you're Marco Rubio, if you're any of these guys. Ted Cruz, who are thinking about running in 2016, you're going to have to run on that dysfunction. You're going to need to run away from it, as well. So, you know, it's a dicey--

CHUCK TODD:

And, Helen, lot easier for Hillary Clinton to run against a Republican Congress than play this weird Kabuki dance with Barack Obama.

HELENE COOPER:

Chuck, I believe that Hillary Clinton (LAUGHS) is not going to put cravenpolitics over her wish for a better life for all of us as Americans.

CHUCK TODD:

You say that with-- okay.

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

You're not supposed to smirk. All right. You guys were great. That's it for today. We'll be back next week, because if it's Sunday, it's Meet The Press.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *