MEET THE PRESS CLIPS & TRANSCRIPT — SUNDAY, APRIL 28

NBC News

APRIL 28, 2013 — Today’s “Meet the Press with David Gregory” featured an interview with Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a discussion with Reps. Peter King (R-NY) and Keith Ellison (D-MN), a roundtable conversation with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), GOP strategist Mike Murphy, NBC’s Chuck Todd, and former counselor to President BushKaren Hughes; as well as a one-on-one interview with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Below are highlights, video, and a rush transcript of today’s program. All content will be available online at www.MeetThePressNBC.com.

# # #

McCain criticizes “red line” on chemical weapons in Syria
VIDEO: http://nbcnews.to/ZtzWOT 

DAVID GREGORY: The White House said this week, after this intelligence estimate came out about the use of chemical weapons, that the case that Syria actually did that is not airtight. What do you say?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: While it may not be airtight, the Israelis and British are far more affirmative in their assessment of it. … But what has happened here is the president drew red lines about chemical weapons, thereby giving a green light to Bashar Assad to do anything short of that, including scud missiles and helicopter gun ships and air strikes and mass executions and atrocities that are on a scale that we have not seen in a long, long time.


McCain on lessons from Iraq: in Syria, “there is significant evidence of the use of chemical weapons”
VIDEO: http://nbcnews.to/14ApPLM 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Well, one of the lessons obviously, and we hear this a lot from the administration, is that we had false information about weapons of mass destruction with Iraq. In this case, there is significant evidence, physical evidence, of the use of chemical weapons.


McCain on Syria: arm the rebels, but no US troops on the ground

DAVID GREGORY: So what is the limit of what the United States, in your judgment, should do to put a limit on [Assad]?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Well, as I said, a safe zone of arming the rebels, making sure that we help with the refugees. And be prepared with an international force to go in and secure these stocks of chemical and perhaps biological weapons. … But the worst thing the United States could do right now is put boots on the ground on Syria. That would turn the people against us.


McCain on the sequester: “I think we have our priorities a little bit skewed here.”
VIDEO: http://nbcnews.to/17qVLAe

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: With all due respect to my friends, it’s a little bit hypocritical. … I think we have our priorities a little bit skewed here. Look, I’m for giving the F.A.A. flexibility, but I also want to give the military flexibility and I don’t want the sequestration cuts to be as deep as they are on national defense. We’ve got a lot of savings we can make in national security, but right now, in the words of the security of defense and our uniformed service chiefs, we’re putting the security of this nation at risk.

McCain responds to Biden’s comments: “I doubt if the outcome would have been a lot different” even if the economy had not suffered
VIDEO: http://nbcnews.to/14ApPLM 

DAVID GREGORY: If not for the economy, you would have been president? Is that how you see it?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: No. Look, Joe Biden and I are very close friends, and I think it would have been a much closer race. But I’ll tell you, President Obama ran a great race and campaigns matter. I appreciate the fact that my dear friend would say something like that, but I doubt if the outcome would have been a lot different. But I can always hope it might have been.


Ellison on Syria: U.S. could “play a greater role in dealing with the humanitarian crisis”
VIDEO http://nbcnews.to/17qV0Y0 

REP. KEITH ELLISON: I believe the United States could play a greater role in dealing with the humanitarian crisis. … We have spillage and refugees in Jordan, in Lebanon, and internally displaced people in Syria. The suffering is intense, and I don’t think the world’s greatest superpower, the United States, can stand by and not do anything.


King cites concern that “Al Qaeda has more influence than it should among the rebels” in Syria

REP. PETER KING: Listen, the situation in Syria is complex. My concern is that Al Qaeda has more influence than it should among the rebels, and that if we assist the rebels Al Qaeda could take advantage of it. Having said that, the president did said the red line. And once the United States lays out a red line, some action has to be taken.


King calls for surveillance within the Muslim community following Boston bombings
VIDEO: http://nbcnews.to/11NHGus 

REP. PETER KING: Most Muslims are outstanding people, but the threat is coming from the Muslim community. … And in previous times, when certain elements in a community are the ones responsible for crime, the police focus on it. For instance, in Boston, the F.B.I. never spoke to the Boston police about the older brother. And afterwards, there were no intelligence files in Boston on these type of people, these people inclined to terrorism. The F.B.I. never even got to examining him.


Ellison warns against profiling: “it’s ineffective law enforcement to go after a particular community”

REP. KEITH ELLISON: I think it’s ineffective law enforcement to go after a particular community. … Once you start saying, “We’re going to dragnet or surveil a community,” what you do is you ignore dangerous threats that are not in that community and you go after people who don’t have anything to do with it. … And remember, we went after a community in World War II, and the Japanese internment is a national stain on our country, and we are still apologizing for it.


King: Boston marathon bombing was an “absolute failure” of intelligence

REP. PETER KING: I think it’s important to know are there other people involved in this threat? … Also, what did cause him to be radicalized? Was it done here, was it done overseas, was it done over the internet? What caused that to happen? How can we stop it in the future? Also, ask why the F.B.I. is not cooperating more with law enforcement, why they did not give vital evidence to the N.Y.P.D. about another possible attack

DAVID GREGORY: This is, you think, a failure that needs to be learned from?

REP. PETER KING: Absolutely. Absolute failure.

# # #

Video clips from today’s program:

Full interviews with Sen. McCain and Reps. King and Ellison

http://nbcnews.to/ZX248x

Roundtable on Syria, Capitol Hill negotiations

http://nbcnews.to/11uzaij

Roundtable on presidential legacies

http://nbcnews.to/15RQfJ4

Full interview with Tony Blair

http://nbcnews.to/10Lxu93

# # #

Below is a RUSH transcript of this morning’s broadcast — mandatory attribution to NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” A final transcript of the program will be available at www.MeetThePressNBC.com.

“MEET THE PRESS WITH DAVID GREGORY”
April 28, 2013

DAVID GREGORY:
This Sunday, is Syria a game-changer for President Obama as the security threats mount on his watch?

A new chapter in Syria’s brutal civil war: The administration says the Assad regime appears to have used chemical weapons.

(Videotape)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: To use potential weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations crosses another line with respect to international norms and international law. And that is going to be a game changer.

(End videotape)

If confirmed, what is the president prepared to do? Are there any good options? And how should the lessons of Iraq weigh on the Obama team’s thinking?

With us this morning, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Arizona Republican John McCain.

Then the terror debate after Boston: Should more have been done to track the suspects when red flags were raised?

A debate between Republican Congressman Peter King, of the Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees, and Democratic Congressman of Minnesota, Keith Ellison.

Also this morning : Perspective on the threats testing the president from former British prime Minister Tony Blair.

And our roundtable this morning includes Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar.
As the group reflects on the bush library dedication this week and reacts to the president’s big Saturday night with Washington journalists.

ANNOUNCER: From NBC News in Washington, the world’s longest running television program, this is MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.

DAVID GREGORY:
And good Sunday morning. Washington’s a little bleary-eyed this morning after what’s come to be known as “nerd prom” in our nation’s capital, where politicians, celebrities, and journalists all mingle for a night of some bipartisan fun. The president found a way to poke fun at Washington’s disarray:

(Videotape)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I know Republicans are still sorting out what happened in 2012. One thing they all agree on, they need to do a better job reaching out to minorities. Call me self-centered– I can think of one minority they can start with. Hello!

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:
We’re going to have some highlights and reaction to last night but we want to start with the very serious topic of Syria this morning, the looming threat after this week’s revelation about the possible use of chemical weapons. And for that, we turn to Senator John McCain of Arizona who is in Arizona this morning. Senator, welcome.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:
Thank you, David.

DAVID GREGORY:
As you know, the White House said this week, after this intelligence estimate came out about the use of chemical weapons, that the case that Syria actually did that is not airtight. What do you say?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:
While it may not be airtight, the Israelis and British are far more affirmative in their assessment of it. But, David, our actions should not be dictated by whether Bashar Assad used these chemical weapons or not, first of all. Sooner or later, he most likely would in order to maintain his hold on power.

But what has happened here is the president drew red lines about chemical weapons, thereby giving a green light to Bashar Assad to do anything short of that, including scud missiles and helicopter gun ships and air strikes and mass executions and atrocities that are on a scale that we have not seen in a long, long time.

DAVID GREGORY:
So the president says that this is a red line, if confirmed. And he said back in August, “It would change my calculus. It would change my equation.” What would you have him do at this point?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:
Well, for about two years, as this situation has deteriorated in a very alarming fashion, affected the surrounding countries, destabilized Lebanon, destabilized Jordan, and has had implications and repercussions throughout the region, we have said that they need a no-fly zone, which could be obtained without using U.S. manned aircraft. We could use patriot batteries and cruise missiles to take out their air and to supply the– the resistance with weapons.

And, as you know, flood of weapons is coming in from Russia and Iran. Iranians are on the ground in Syria and it’s an unfair fight. And unless we change this balance of power, by not using incrementalism, then there’s every risk of a stalemate that could go on for months and months, while the jihadists flood in, while the sorting out the situation after he leaves becomes more and more complicated. And there’s also the possibility that he could enact a plan B, which is to withdraw to the coast or a Alawite areas with an enclave that stretches from the Golan Heights all throughout–

DAVID GREGORY:
But–

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:
–along the coast, and could be another long period of conflict.

DAVID GREGORY:
But Senator, the Bush Library was dedicated this week. Again, the specter of Iraq and the legacy of Iraq was debated in this country. Are we not more skeptical about talk of more limited military action, no-fly zones, incrementalism, as you say, as well as the strength of the opposition? Aren’t there lessons from Iraq that need to be taken into mind here?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:
Well, one of the lessons obviously, and we hear this a lot from the administration, is that we had false information about weapons of mass destruction with Iraq. In this case, there is significant evidence, physical evidence, of the use of chemical weapons. And by the way, the administration has said, well, they want the U.N. to investigate. The only problem with that is Bashar won’t let the U.N. in. So it’s a bit ludicrous.

So the fact is that, whether he has used those chemical weapons or not, he’s done virtually everything else, atrocity that you can commit. And that should not be the gauge. But would anyone be surprised if Bashar Assad did use chemical weapons in his desperation to hold onto power?

DAVID GREGORY:
So what is the limit of what the United States, in your judgment, should do to put a limit on him?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:
Well, as I said, a safe zone of arming the rebels, making sure that we help with the refugees. And be prepared with an international force to go in and secure these stocks of chemical and perhaps biological weapons. There are a number of caches of these chemical weapons. They cannot fall into the hands of the jihadists, otherwise we will end up seeing those weapons used in other places in the Middle East. It’s–

DAVID GREGORY:
And U.S. troops should be part of that force?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:
–a very dangerous situation. I don’t know. I think that, first of all, American people are weary, as you pointed out. They don’t want boots on the ground; I don’t want boots on the ground. I do want to give them the assistance which would give them a dramatic shift in the balance of power in Syria.

But we have to, as an international group, plan and be ready operationally. Not just plan but be ready operationally to go in and secure those areas. Now, whatever the composition of that force is, it’s something I think we have to look at very carefully. But the worst thing the United States could do right now is put boots on the ground on Syria. That would turn the people against us.

And just let me say, the Syrian people are angry and bitter at the United States. I was in refugee camp in Jordan and there are thousands of people and kids. And this woman who’s a school teacher said, “Senator McCain, you see these children here? They’re going to take revenge on those people who refused to help them. They’re angry and bitter.” And that legacy could last for a long time too unless we assist them.

DAVID GREGORY:
Let me turn you quickly to just a couple of domestic items. This funding they came up at the end of the week, over the F.A.A. and flight delays, and new legislation to basically provide the administration with more flexibility to get the planes running on time again. What would you be prepared to do to replace the sequester, or the most harmful effects of the sequester? Is that a model for what Washington ought to be doing about it?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:
Well, I say, with all due respect to my friends, it’s a little bit hypocritical. On the same day when all of the focus was on the delays that we have in getting through airports, the chief of staff of the United States Army was saying that if we don’t reverse this, we’re going to have a hollow army. We’ll be unable to defend the nation. And it would take us ten or 15 years to recover.

I think we have our priorities a little bit skewed here. Look, I’m for giving the F.A.A. flexibility, but I also want to give the military flexibility and I don’t want the sequestration cuts to be as deep as they are on national defense. We’ve got a lot of savings we can make in national security, but right now, in the words of the security of defense and our uniformed service chiefs, we’re putting the security of this nation at risk.

DAVID GREGORY:
I want to end on politics. You had your old friend and former colleague in the Senate, the vice president, Joe Biden, offering some political analysis about the 2008 race. Here’s part of what he said.

(Videotape)

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The truth of the matter is, Barack knows it, I know, had the economy not collapsed around your ears, John, in the middle of literally — as things were moving — I think you probably would have won. But it would have been incredibly, incredibly, incredibly close. You inherited a really difficult time.

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:
If not for the economy, you would have been president? Is that how you see it?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:
No. Look, Joe Biden and I are very close friends, and I think it would have been a much closer race. But I’ll tell you, President Obama ran a great race and campaigns matter. I appreciate the fact that my dear friend would say something like that, but I doubt if the outcome would have been a lot different. But I can always hope it might have been. (LAUGHTER)

DAVID GREGORY:
All right, Senator, we’ll leave it there. More to come on the Syria debate. We appreciate you coming on this morning.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:
Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right. Turning now to Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesotan and Republican Congressman Peter King of New York. Gentlemen, welcome to you. I want to talk–

REP. PETER KING:
Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:
–about the aftermath of the Boston bombings and the surveillance work, the role of the F.B.I. But first, let me get your comments, congressmen, on this prospect of a huge national security test now for President Obama. How do you see it?

REP. KEITH ELLISON:
Well, you know, first of all, this action is the most despicable thing. You know, Americans have to rally together to stamp out terrorist acts like this. I’m proud of the law enforcement, proud of the first responders. But what I think we need to do is to really, really back law enforcement to make sure that we fully investigate this case. And we don’t need to start identifying communities to surveil or to go after. We need to come together as a nation.

DAVID GREGORY:
Let me get your comment, before we get to that, on Syria, what I was just discussing with Senator McCain. This is a huge test, as well as the Boston bombings’ aftermath, but also Syria being a huge test for President Obama. What concerns you about what we’ve seen out of potential use of chemical weapons?

REP. KEITH ELLISON:
Well, I’m absolutely concerned about that, but I believe the United States could play a greater role in dealing with the humanitarian crisis. There’s a very, very difficult humanitarian crisis, as Senator McCain pointed out. I mean, we have spillage and refugees in Jordan, in Lebanon, and internally displaced people in Syria. The suffering is intense, and I don’t think the world’s greatest superpower, the United States, can stand by and not do anything. Now, we have done some things, and the president deserves a lot of credit for that. But I think there’s perhaps a little bit more we could do in the humanitarian front.

DAVID GREGORY:
But we’re talking about a red line being crossed, Congressman, and whether the United States has any military options to back up with the president said, which is that, “You don’t cross it or there will be severe consequences.”

REP. PETER KING:
Yeah. Listen, the situation in Syria is complex. My concern is that Al Qaeda has more influence than it should among the rebels, and that if we assist the rebels Al Qaeda could take advantage of it. Having said that, the president did said the red line. And once the United States lays out a red line, some action has to be taken.

Now, what’s that’s going to be? I was at the briefing with Senator Kerry the other day. He really didn’t lay that out, and I think the administration is right now trying to figure out what to do. I’m not trying to minimize it, but once he laid out that red line, something’s going to have to be done.

DAVID GREGORY:
Something militarily?

REP. PETER KING:
Well, either that or concerted action with allies. Again–

DAVID GREGORY:
But does somebody else besides the U.S. have to take the lead here? Is that where we are politically?

REP. PETER KING:
I think it makes it a lot better if somebody else– but again, I’m still concerned about who is going to take over the rebels. And we allowed this to go too long where we didn’t have enough influence on the ground in dealing with the rebel forces.

REP. KEITH ELLISON:
Well, “red line” does not mean boots on the ground. But there’s a lot of things we can do other than that. We have been providing non-lethal military aid. But I think more coordination, and dealing with this humanitarian crisis I think is essential.

DAVID GREGORY:
Let me turn to the aftermath of the Boston bombings. Where the focus has been this week is on the now dead older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who had trips back to the Chechnya region in the northern Caucuses, was interviewed by the F.B.I., as people will remember, but then seemed to fall off the radar a little bit. Congressmen, where are you critical of intelligence and the F.B.I.’s role in this?

REP. PETER KING:
I think the F.B.I. did an outstanding job in solving this in a four-day period. Having said that, I don’t think they did a full investigation beforehand. The fact is, there were other items in his folder, in his file, that they found. And I think they continued to give the benefit of the doubt in each instance, and therefore just closed out that investigation. For instance, they never went to his mosque, never spoke to the imam, never spoke to a number of his relatives. And also, there were certain matters in his file that they chose to look the other way on, or said there was nothing there.

DAVID GREGORY:
What did they look the other way on?

REP. PETER KING:
His name came up in several other instances, and they said there was nothing there. I’m saying if you have three independent references to someone possibly have terrorist connections, when do you stop saying it’s just a coincidence?

DAVID GREGORY:
Reports now about his mother talking to him on the telephone, that she was on a monitor list as well, and that they may have been discussing potential jihad. Was a ball dropped her?

REP. KEITH ELLISON:
Well, I mean, I don’t want to start assigning blame. I mean, every single day, the F.B.I., law enforcement, protects this country. These terrorists, they’ve just got to get through once. And so, I mean, the fact is, on an everyday basis, I feel really good about our nation’s law enforcement. But the fact is there will come a time when we can look back and see what lessons should be learned, what should we have done differently. And that’s a good, healthy process–

DAVID GREGORY:
Well, let’s talk about the surveillance within the Muslim community. I mean, that’s partly what you were talking about this week, Congressman King. You said this to The National Review, and this is how they reported it, quoting you: “Police have to be in the community. They have to build up as many sources as they can. And they have to realize that the threat is coming from the Muslim community, and increase surveillance there. We can’t be bound by political correctness.”

REP. PETER KING:
Absolutely. What the N.Y.P.D. is doing in New York with a thousand police officers focusing on this issue, knowing where the threat is coming from. Now, most Muslims are outstanding people, but the threat is coming from the Muslim community.

Just yesterday, Tom Friedman, who is certainly no conservative, said, “We must ask a question only Muslims can answer: What is going on in your community that a critical number of your youth believe that every American military action in the Middle East justifies a violent response?” It’s coming from the community.

And in previous times, when certain elements in a community are the ones responsible for crime, the police focus on it. For instance, in Boston, the F.B.I. never spoke to the Boston police about the older brother. And afterwards, there were no intelligence files in Boston on these type of people, these people inclined to terrorism. The F.B.I. never even got to examining him.

DAVID GREGORY:
Congressman, you’re a Muslim. This concerns you on civil libertarian grounds and other areas.

REP. KEITH ELLISON:
Well, I’m an American, and I’m concerned about national safety, public safety, just like everyone is. But I think it’s ineffective law enforcement to go after a particular community. I think what we need to do is look at behavior and follow those leads where they would lead.

So, like, if Tamerlan Tsarnaev is evidencing dangerous behavior, by all means, go after him. But once you start saying, “We’re going to dragnet or surveil a community,” what you do is you ignore dangerous threats that are not in that community and you go after people who don’t have anything to do with it.

And so let me just finish up with this one point. And so this ricin attack, for example, that’s an act of terrorism that doesn’t come out of the Muslim community. We don’t have enough law enforcement resources to just go after one community. And remember, we went after a community in World War II, and the Japanese internment is a national stain on our country, and we are still apologizing for it.

REP. PETER KING:
No one’s talking about internment. We’re talking about following the Constitution. What the N.Y.P.D. is doing, yes, they have a thousand cops working on counterterrorism; 16 plots against New York have been stopped. If any of those had gone through, we could have hundreds or thousands of people dead.

DAVID GREGORY:
And where does political–

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
–correctness get in the way, with regard to surveilling potential terrorists in the community?

REP. PETER KING:
Why didn’t the F.B.I. talk to the mosque? Why didn’t they talk to the imam of his mosque to say, “He’s become more–”

DAVID GREGORY:
He was–

REP. PETER KING:
–”radical.”

DAVID GREGORY:
–a legal permanent resident. Does that have something to do with it, in terms of what the F.B.I. is capable of doing, with Americans?

DAVID GREGORY:
No, to be an American citizen, the F.B.I. still has the right to ask questions about you. Just because you’re a citizen doesn’t mean they can’t ask questions.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
The question is, based on what? Based on the exercise of free speech, or actual evidence of–

REP. PETER KING:
I think they’re–

DAVID GREGORY:
–plotting?

REP. PETER KING:
–afraid to somehow be called anti-Muslim or anti-Islam if they accept the reality that the element is coming from within the Muslim community, as in previous times you had elements come from certain communities. Eric Holder said this keeps him awake a night, radical Islam among young people in the Muslim community. Dennis McDonough said the same thing in 2011 when he went to a mosque in Virginia to say that the threat comes from the Muslim community. It’s there.

DAVID GREGORY:
Congressman, let me ask you. Jeff Goldberg, who is The Atlantic journalist who has extensive reporting experience in the Middle East, said this on the program last week as something that the Muslim community and other countries have to deal with. This is a portion of what he said.

(Videotape)

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: when you talk about what’s going on in the Muslim world and we have to remember of course that the primary victims of Jihadism are– are other Muslims, Muslims who don’t agree with the more Jihadist elements, and so we have to ask ourselves and Muslim world has to ask ourselves– ask themselves, you know, what are we doing to provide counter programming even on the internet? And– and this is not something that the U.S. can fix or the– the West can fix. It has to come from within Islam.

(End videotape)

REP. KEITH ELLISON:
Let me assure, Muslim leaders all across this country have roundly condemned this most recent act of terrorism, and have condemned terrorism broadly, and are, in a number of ways, in doing interfaith dialogue, talking about, emphasizing peace and connectedness with people, good works, within the community. I mean, the reality is that this is going on, and has been, and it needs to continue to go on.

But, I mean, that’s kind of the thing that I’m saying, is that, you know, the community is facing this threat, but this is an American problem. There have been threats throughout this country from various sources. But Muslims and people across this nation need to think about public safety and threats and radicalism, not just one community.

DAVID GREGORY:
Just a few seconds left, Congressman King. Remaining questions now: What are you really focused on that you’d like the intelligence community and the F.B.I. to answer?

REP. PETER KING:
I think it’s important to know are there other people involved in this threat? Are there others still out there?

REP. KEITH ELLISON:
Yes.

REP. PETER KING:
Whether it’s family members or people in the community, that’s very important to find out. Also, what did cause him to be radicalized? Was it done here, was it done overseas, was it done over the internet? What caused that to happen? How can we stop it in the future? Also, ask why the F.B.I. is not cooperating more with law enforcement, why they did not give vital evidence to the N.Y.P.D. about another possible attack

DAVID GREGORY:
This is, you think, a failure that needs to be learned from?

REP. PETER KING:
Absolutely. Absolute failure.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right, Congressmen, thank you both very much for being here–

REP. KEITH ELLISON:
Thank you very much, David.

DAVID GREGORY:
–this morning. This debate will continue.

REP. PETER KING:
Thank you.

(COMMERCIAL)

DAVID GREGORY:
It was a big night in Washington last night as journalists, celebrities, and politicians alike gathered for the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. The night was full of laughs, and here were a couple of our favorites.

(Videotape)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: My charm offensive has helped me learn some interesting things about what’s going on in Congress — it turns out, absolutely nothing. (Laughter.)

Some folks still don’t think I spend enough time with Congress. “Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?” they ask. Really? (Laughter.) Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:
And coming up, more from the dinner last, as well as my conversation with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

DAVID GREGORY:
Mitch McConnell jokes, only really funny in Washington. We are back with our roundtable. Joining me, former counselor to President George W. Bush and former Undersecretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs, Karen Hughes.

KAREN HUGHES:
I’d love to have a drink with Mitch McConnell.

DAVID GREGORY:
Yes, I know, right. Democratic Congressman from Texas, Joaquin Castro; our political director and chief White House correspondent, Chuck Todd; Republican strategist Mike Murphy; and Democratic Senator from Minnesota– huge Minnesota day on the program– Amy Klobuchar, Senator. Welcome to all of you. How did the president do last night?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:
Well, I think he was incredible. You know he likes to do these things, it’s fun. And I really look at this dinner as a chance for him to make fun of himself in a town where there’s daggers on every corner, for people to come together and have some fun. And he was tremendous. My favorite line was actually when he talked about now he wanted to have a presidential library and he wanted to have it in his birthplace, but he decided he better move it into this country.

DAVID GREGORY:
Right. Karen, these are actual opportunities for presidents. And presidents, I think back to President Bush, usually do very well at these things. Plus, they can take on stuff that they’re actually legitimately mad about with some humor.

KAREN HUGHES:
With a sense of humor. And humor and humility are in short supply in Washington.

DAVID GREGORY:
Right, exactly.

KAREN HUGHES:
So it’s always nice to see an abundance of those, and I thought the president’s remarks were funny last night.

DAVID GREGORY:
Chuck, what were his favorite targets? I must say, and we played it at the top, the bit about “If you want minority outreach, why don’t you start with this minority?”

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
That was very good.

CHUCK TODD:
–by the way, contractually, are we okay to praise Conan? He was really funny too.

DAVID GREGORY:
I thought so.

CHUCK TODD:
But, no, you know, what I wonder is how many people realized at the end, when he did his– you know, there’s always this part at the end where they get serious for a minute. And it’s usually the part where presidents say, “You know, I think the press has a good job to do and I understand what they have to do.” He didn’t say that. He wasn’t very complimentary of the press, “You know we all could do better.” I thought his potshots joke-wise, and then the serious stuff about the internet, the rise of the internet media and social media and all that stuff, he hates it, okay?

He hates this part of the media. He really thinks that the sort of buzzification, this isn’t just about BuzzFeed or Politico and all this stuff, but he thinks that sort of coverage of political media has hurt political discourse and he hates it. And I think he was just trying to make that clear last night.

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator, you know, we’re also at a point where some of these other big matters are usually right under the surface, like Syria. You heard Senator McCain talking about his own call for action to do more, after he thinks the administration has been late here getting into Syria after a couple of years. How did you react to that? What do you think the president’s next moves have to be?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:
Well, I’m much more focused on the future. Senator Gillibrand and Senator Graham and I just came back from Jordan and Turkey, and we met with the refugees, we met with the rebels. And I’m convinced that, first of all, the president knows that we can’t do this alone. He’s been good at reaching out to leaders; just met with King Abdullah. We don’t want to put boots on the ground. Senator McCain made that very clear.

But we need to up our game. We need to up our game with where the aid goes. We’ve learned that too much of it is going to Assad-controlled regions. We have to make sure that we’re starting to do more with night goggles, armor, all kinds of things. And that we have to keep these possibilities that Senator McCain raised clearly on the front–

(OVERTALK)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:
–burner with the no-fly zone, with arming the rebels. But we cannot do this alone. And it is an incredible scene there, what’s happening in Jordan. 2,500 refugees a day coming in.

DAVID GREGORY:
Well, the interesting thing, Mike Murphy, is as a political matter this is something that’s going to divide Democrats, but Republicans too. And that’s one of the things that Senator McCain has been speaking to.

MIKE MURPHY:
Yeah. No, it’s a complicated situation with a lot of difficult politics around it. I’ve been kind of enjoying, at least as an observer of Washington, the red line. Because the “red line” has turned into about a mile wide. We now may be in the middle of the red line; are we across the red line? But it’s a problem for a president. When you draw a red line, the world is watching, including the Iranians.

The political problem is the country has total fatigue for this kind of thing, and there’s a military problem. This is a lot easier to get into than get out of because, you know, what are the minimal things you try? And if they don’t work, does it lead to natural escalation? So I think the Turks are going to be the key. You’d need a big partner to really do it, and there’s no way we can do it alone.

DAVID GREGORY:
Congressmen, let me get you on the record on this. What are you thinking about?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO:
Well, I think, first, you know, the revolution or the rebellion has to be accepted by the people of Syria. It becomes a lot less effective in the long term the more it’s driven by the United States of America, however much we may or may not want to get into it. It’s also clear that we’ve got to be careful in accepting the intelligence that we’re getting.

We know from the past that we were a bit eager in other wars to get into specifically Iraq. So we’ve got to make sure that, once we’re going to get involved in that kind of serious way, that our intelligence is right and that we have evidence to back it up.

KAREN HUGHES:
But I’m concerned the window of opportunity is closing. The people of Syria feel we have let them down. We are the world’s champion of freedom; they are fighting for their freedom. Tens of thousands of them are being killed, and they’re waiting for our help. And I think we have an obligation.

No one is for boots on the ground, but we have an obligation to lead the world and try to intervene in a smart way through arming, you know, the opposition that is not affiliated with Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is only strengthening, and the situation is getting worse by the day. And–

DAVID GREGORY:
And Chuck, we’re going to own the problem one way–

KAREN HUGHES:
–I’m concerned the window’s closing.

DAVID GREGORY:
–or the other–

CHUCK TODD:
Well, either way.

DAVID GREGORY:
–is one argument.

CHUCK TODD:
And that is the concern. But I can tell you that there is regret about that red line comment because if you–

DAVID GREGORY:
In the White House?

CHUCK TODD:
Yes, in the White House, in this respect: you don’t draw– I mean, they meant it. They do mean it, on the chemical weapons, but saying it creates this political conversation. They didn’t want to go public last week, that they had this early evidence yet. They weren’t ready. And yet, they knew Congress was going to get this briefing and that it was all going to get out.

So they decided to go public with it last week because they felt they had no choice, that it was all going to start leaking out. You had the Israelis and the British intelligence. But they’re not ready. There is no good answer. The Gulf states– and the big difference between here and Libya, by the way, is in Libya you had the Arab community, you had the Arab League on the record saying, “We’ve got to stop this.” The Arab League has been quiet on this, and I think the United States would like to see that first before we jump.

(OVERTALK)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:
The other difference with Libya is the no-fly zone. Libya didn’t have the capacity to hit back; Assad does. So when we do this, if we do this, we have to do it with other countries and we have to get the support from the region.

MIKE MURPHY:
But the problem is we always work the political stuff here so we find a solution we can believe in. The question is, is that a solution linked to reality on the ground? We always look for the good-guy rebels, ’cause we know the dictator’s a jerk.

DAVID GREGORY:
So–

MIKE MURPHY:
But good-guy rebels could be hard to find here. It’s the Al Qaeda, Sharia law crowd that’s leading this fight.

DAVID GREGORY:
Congressman, I’ve been thinking about what is the relationship between the Syria and how much time and energy that could occupy in this White House; the president’s focus on his legacy as he’s building in his second term; and immigration. And then of course, there is the economy, and whether there’s ever going to be a budget deal, this debate about sequestration. So I look at those three areas and how they all come together. What is going to define this president’s second term?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO:
Well, I mean, I think there’s no question, David, that it’s a full schedule, both of foreign issues and domestic issues that the president’s dealing with. He just got into his second term though so he’s not quite leaving yet. And I think he’s up to the task and the Congress is up to the task of dealing with these issues.

I think that, you know, you’re going to see the president take some time to make sure the facts are right on Syria. When he makes a decision, he’ll act swiftly. I think that Congress is going to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2013. I think they’ll bring the gun vote back, if not in 2013 then after the Republican primary, before the general election in 2014 to put some pressure on those folks to vote a different way. So I think, on all of these fronts, President Obama will leave his mark on some very big issues in our nation.

DAVID GREGORY:
But, you know, Karen, you saw this firsthand, I mean, with President Bush coming in, in a second term, and not succeeding on Social Security, the Iraq war. You know, using so much of his capital, and there goes immigration and all the rest. I mean, the president has to coalesce around something that will define the second term rather soon.

KAREN HUGHES:
Well, the clock is ticking. And right now, President Obama’s presidency is defined by two things: A health care law that’s proving more difficult to implement and more costly than projected, and massive buildup of debt and federal spending. And that is his legacy at this point.

I do agree that immigration reform has a good chance of passing. I thought he was very shrewd to bring it up in the context of President George W. Bush’s Library opening, and to say that President Bush had it right on the immigration issue. But, you know, no day in the presidency is an easy day, with only one set of decisions. You have a lot of big things happening across the world, and a lot of big, troubling issues to deal with.

DAVID GREGORY:
Chuck, you wrote about this legacy issue for the president in First Read this week.

CHUCK TODD:
Yeah, no, it is. And Karen, I’m curious. If you were to sit down with President Obama, how long would you tell him that he had for a legislative agenda in a second term? How long did–

KAREN HUGHES:
Probably a year. Probably a year.

CHUCK TODD:
You have one year. And I think that that’s what they’re operating on. And I think that the gun thing, you know, they always knew they were going to lose, they just didn’t know they were going lose so quickly. It does put more pressure on immigration, to make sure it gets done. And so there would be this concern.

You know, there was this– well, it was basically The New York Times, right? You had The New York Times, both Maureen Dowd and others, who just said, “Oh wow, he’s losing his ability to get things done. The gun vote was just such a way to show how he doesn’t know how to manage Washington, this town.” And I think the gun vote was the wrong issue to pick on him on that. There is other evidence that he struggles managing Washington; the gun vote was a different story. Immigration is going to be the real test.

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator, what is your counsel at this point? I know you were among the women from the Senate who met with him. There is a lot of outreach because one of the complaints on Capitol Hill is that the president is not working, even his people, enough to get some of the things he wants in an agenda.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:
Well, now that he’s put a Minnesotan in as chief of staff, Dennis McDonough–

(OVERTALK)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:
And I really think–

CHUCK TODD:
Is there any other state?

(OVERTALK)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:
I think that his outreach has been really good this year. People have genuinely liked meeting with him and believe that he wants to move forward on a debt deal to bring the debt down in a balanced way. I think that’s got to be part of his legacy as well, to try to bring people together on that.

The immigration bill, it was an incredible week for the immigration bill. We started the week with people saying, “Oh, we have to delay this because of Boston.” And then you had people like Speaker Boehner and Ryan come out and say, “You know what? This means we have to speed this up because there’s better security provisions in here.” So I think it’s exciting. We had 23 witnesses on the judiciary committee, and everyone from the head of the migrant workers to Grover Norquist supporting it.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right, I want to come back to this issue of, well, it’s President Bush’s legacy, but these security threats facing President Obama as well. Earlier in the week, I was in Dallas covering the dedication of the Bush presidential library, and I had a chance to catch up exclusively with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to talk about his thoughts on the Middle East, the Bush legacy, and some of the big foreign policy tests now facing President Obama.

(Videotape)

GREGORY: You are in this pivot point politically of being so closely associated with President Clinton politically the new labor party at a time when he was refashioning the Democratic party and yet your legacy will forever also be entwined with President Bush and his response to the war on terror. It’s a very interesting place in political history.

BLAIR: You know there was a British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan when he was once asked what is the toughest thing about being prime minister he said “Events dear boy. Events.” And what happens is that something comes of a … game changing nature, world changing nature like 9/11 and everything changes. So I was very closely associated with President Clinton and still have a good and strong relationship with him because we were both progressive politicians of a centrist persuasion. When President Bush first came in I mean frankly in basic political terms I really didn’t have a lot in common. After 9/11 though I thought it was really important our two countries stood together and I thought it was important that we took on this new menace with strength so ..

GREGORY: It was Churchill who said during WWII, “always stay close to the Americans.” And there was a moment in the Bush presidency before the invasion just weeks before at that now infamous meeting in the Azores.

And I’m told President Bush said to you at a very delicate time for you politically back home, calling you Tony presumably said, “Back out if you need to, don’t do this, don’t stand by me,” you had to go back and address Parliament, “If it’s going to cost you your leadership.” Tell me about that moment.

BLAIR: He did say that, I mean he made it clear that he said he understood the huge difficulties that I had and I shouldn’t as it were put my own premiership on the line, it was more important in a way to him that I stayed but my attitude was that there are lots of things in politics where you’ll compromise and you’ll maybe back off exactly what you think you should do. And you know these are often the run of the mill every day types of issues. When it comes to issues of war or peace and life and death I think your, I’ve come to the conclusion that your proper obligation to your own country is to do what you think is right.

And I thought it was right to be with the US at that moment in time and if I ended up losing my premiership that was that but I didn’t want to stay on a basis on I wasn’t on this issue of this importance, of this decisiveness for the world, I didn’t want to stay in this unless I was going to be able to do what I thought was right and I thought that the world had changed after 911 and that we glad to take these decisions together.

GREGORY: In this library, the President has decided not to separate out Iraq. Iraq is presented as part and parcel of the War on Terror, which is how he saw it. But won’t history judge that as a false impression; that this was a war of choice that became a misadventure, in the eyes of so many?

BLAIR: I think, you know, the controversy around that, I mean around how you categorize it, will remain. But what I found was that – you see, removing Saddam happened within a matter of weeks. You then spent the next, you know, 8, 9 years in a different type of battle. And that was a battle against precisely the forces that are trying to destabilize the Middle East today: Al-Qaeda on the one side, Iran on the other side, and this toxic cocktail – if you like – of religion, politics, ethnicity, tribalism.

So, although – I mean I never said that two things were linked in that direct sense, 9/11 and Iraq – I think the difficulties we ended up encountering in Iraq, were difficulties that arose from precisely this, this force of, of terror, unleashed by religious extremism. And I think that’s the, frankly it’s what we still face today. And if you see what’s happening in Syria today, that entirely encapsulates it, as it does across North Africa, Yemen, further afield, countries like Pakistan, and of course Iran.

GREGORY: It’s striking as the President was opening his library today there emerged reports out of Syria that the Assad regime may have used chemical weapons, a red line for this administration. What lessons did you learn, did President Bush learn that you hope President Obama takes into account?

BLAIR: Well, I think the lessons are really tough you see and very difficult. And I think the trouble is the lessons themselves are a subject of great and heated debate I mean, my view is that in the end the whole of the Middle East and beyond is undergoing this period of huge transition. Where you have these dictatorial regimes whose time’s up. Right. On the other hand, the battle for the future is between what I would call the modern minded types of people – the people who took to the street first in Egypt who want what we want. But against them are various groups, Islamist groups that I’m afraid don’t have the same concept of democracy or freedom that we do and if any of them get a hold of the potential to engage in mass destruction we’ve got a huge problem on our hands.

GREGORY: And look what we’re dealing with in the United States; the Boston bombings, the prospect of homegrown terror.

BLAIR: Yeah, as we found in the UK.

GREGORY: Yeah, Britain has a lot of lessons to share about that.

BLAIR: Yeah no of course and the fact is I’m afraid that this ideology is being pumped around websites, is being encouraged by people in many different parts of the world, and it’s there and it’s very hard for us to deal with.

BLAIR: The first obligation of a government is to try to protect its people. But then you’ve got to- you’ve got to cast out this ideology. I think this is very similar to the fight we faced in the 20th-century against first of all fascism and then revolutionary communism. You know, it’s an ideology. It’s not got one command and control center, it’s not- you’re not talking about a country, but you are talking about an ideology based on a perversion of religion which has enormous force. If you don’t deal with this issue, this long term question, this ideology based on a perversion of the religion of Islam, you’re gonna end up fighting this for a long time.

GREGORY: You saw President Bush up close as a man during very difficult times for any leader. Talk about your relationship and what it was like to sit there today and this moment of finality even for a former president – the dedication of his library.

BLAIR: Well I thought, it was great advertisement for America today by the way, you had five presidents including, President Obama, and all behaving with a sort of graciousness and a civility towards each other that I thought was fantastic and President Obama actually put his finger on it when he said, “It’s impossible to know George Bush and not like him.” So you know, often people say to me back home, they say, “Come on, you didn’t like him really, did you?” And I say, “You can totally disagree with him but as a human being he is someone of immense character and genuine integrity,” so, you can say- people have different views about decisions, but there’s very few people who know him and don’t like him and respect him as a person.

GREGORY: Prime minister thank you very much.

BLAIR: Thank you.

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:
Back to this picture, which is a rare sight, in Dallas on Wednesday and is a wonderful celebration of the American presidency. And Bill Clinton had this great line, Mike, where he said, “This is part of the eternal effort to rewrite presidential history.” Which is, you know, the great truth at all of these library openings.

MIKE MURPHY:
History’s somewhat written in pencil and it takes a long time. I remember, they once asked, some decades ago, Zhou Enlai, the great Communist leader in China, what he thought of the French Revolution. He said, “Too early to tell.” I kind of take that view in this stuff.

But I tell you, there is a lot of smug kind of second-guessing, you know, revisionism, and we don’t yet know. What I’ll say about President Bush is everything in the world changed in a way. The country was at threat in a way it never had been before. And you can find a million little mistakes, but I think the big decisions were right.

DAVID GREGORY:
Karen, if you ever can get over Iraq in the public’s mind, how does he do it?

KAREN HUGHES:
Well, I think history has a way of right-sizing things, right? The short-term politics tends to magnify controversy and minimize accomplishment. And what you heard was the beginning of that this week, with Democratic presidents praising President Bush’s big accomplishments: Higher standards in our schools, millions of lives saved in Africa. I would have added prescription drug coverage for senior citizens that both parties had tried to get done, and George Bush got it done. Tax relief for every American that they’re still feeling today.

And I think the huge accomplishment, which was recognizing, as President Obama praised, his strength and resolve in the aftermath of 9/11. Recognizing the gravity of the threat and making the tough decisions to help our nation confront it.

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator, how do you see it?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:
Well, I didn’t agree with his decision to go into Iraq. I think some of the fiscal decisions are clearly still haunting us today with the debt. But I will say, working on this immigration bill back then– I overlapped with President Bush for two years– he put together that coalition that’s going to succeed now. And it was very, very important. He was ahead of his time.

Secondly, when that 35W bridge collapsed in Minneapolis six blocks from my house, in the middle of a river on the middle of a summer day, he was there a few days later. He made sure it got funded. We worked with him, and that bridge got built within a year. And you don’t forget that.

DAVID GREGORY:
Chuck, Josh Bolten, former chief of staff told me in an interview this week he sort of took on Republicans, saying what the senator just said. Those people who believe that there was fiscal insanity during the Bush years are wrong about that, and Republicans ought to start supporting it because, you know, fiscal austerity and fiscal balance was not the priority after 9/11.

CHUCK TODD:
You know, it’s funny, in talking with some Bush officials during the run-up to the library, they were briefing us. That seems to be the issue that sort of got under the skin of some of you guys, Karen.

(OVERTALK)

KAREN HUGHES:
–because it’s not right.

CHUCK TODD:
This issue of the fiscal–

KAREN HUGHES:
It’s not accurate.

CHUCK TODD:
–of Republican-on-Republican attack here on this front, and these presidential libraries– by the way, the first draft of obituaries, it must be a weird thing to be a president because you’re sitting there and everybody’s wondering, “Well, what are you going to say?” Because it’s the same type of feeling. It’s almost like weird living eulogies.

But you bring up the prescription drugs. You know, the Obama administration is looking at the prescription drug rollout which, by the way, all the run-up was, “Oh my god, you guys can’t handle this. This is going to be chaotic,” to model the health care rollout–

KAREN HUGHES:
Enormously popular and–

CHUCK TODD:
–after the prescription drug–

KAREN HUGHES:
–coming in 35% under the projected cost.

CHUCK TODD:
And before it was done, before you guys started doing it, there was all this concern. “Do they know what they’re doing?” “Is this going to work?” And, “Seniors are going to be up in arms about it.” And so they’re actually using the prescription drug–

KAREN HUGHES:
The difference is we injected private sector competition and–

DAVID GREGORY:
Right. Oh my gosh, no more prescription–

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
I’ve got two minutes left and I’ve got to get 2016 politics.
(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
Barbara Bush, the shot heard round the world about her son in The Today Show. Watch.

(Videotape)

MATT LAUER: Mrs. Bush would you like to see your son run?

BARBARA BUSH: He’s by far the best qualified man but no, I really don’t. I think it’s a great country there are a lot of great families. It’s not just four families. There are other people out there who are very qualified and we’ve had enough bushes.

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:
My Lord, sounding like Jesse Jackson. “Stay out, the Bushes.” I mean, Karen, what did that mean?

KAREN HUGHES:
Well, I think–

DAVID GREGORY:
Come on. You don’t have to protect Jeb. You know, you–

KAREN HUGHES:
I think most moms can understand the instinct of a mom to protect yet another son from the spears of the political process. And, you know, I think that’s exactly what it was. But Jeb Bush has big shoulders, and if he decides to run I think he’d be a great candidate–

DAVID GREGORY:
Well, that was interesting.

CHUCK TODD:
That’s what we call New England encouragement.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO:
I’ll tell you this: I don’t know what Jeb’s going to do. I’ve worked for him, by disclosure. But I think if he does decide to run, he will one day be president of the United States.

(OVERTALK)

KAREN HUGHES:
And I will add that Barbara Bush used to say, when Governor Bush was running, she once predicted that he couldn’t beat Ann Richards. And we all know how that turned out. So.

CHUCK TODD:
Well, I think part of the challenge for Jeb Bush, I think he would still be very formidable in the Republican primary, but there is a risk that the Republican primary has moved beyond him, has moved so far to the right that he wouldn’t be able to win that thing anymore.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO:
He himself said this.

KAREN HUGHES:
I think that’s–

(OVERTALK)

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO:
He himself– but Jeb Bush said this in 2012. He thought– “I thought I was a conservative, and look at what’s going on here.”

DAVID GREGORY:
Also a warning for Hillary Clinton.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO:
But I thought– that’s right. She was channeling the whole– and there is going to be a part of the country that says, “Wait a minute. What? Don’t we have new people?”

MIKE MURPHY:
It’s going to be Hillary versus new, I think. And Jeb could move that primary, which is the best reason for him to run.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right, let me get a break in here. We’ll come back, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL)

DAVID GREGORY:
Our friend Mike Murphy said “Hillary Clinton versus new.” He was not predicting that Newt Gingrich was going to be the nominee. All right, thank you all very much for the discussion.

* * * END OF TRANSCRIPT * * *

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MEET THE PRESS CLIPS & TRANSCRIPT — SUNDAY, APRIL 28