— WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama appeared Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” The full transcript of the broadcast is below:
MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, a country divided and the president facing tough issues that invoke passionate debate on both sides. Is there a way to get past the arguments and find consensus on healthcare reform, the role of government and the way forward in Afghanistan? Our guest, the president of the United States, Barack Obama.
Then the view from the other side of the aisle on the big challenges and hard choices. With us, the Republican leader in the House, Congressman John Boehner of Ohio; and the senior senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham.
Plus, our political roundtable.
FMR. PRES. JIMMY CARTER: I think an overwhelming portion of the intentionally demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African-American.
MR. GREGORY: President Obama responds to the former president and blames the media for fueling the fire.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: This is, is catnip to the media. This debate that’s taking place is not about race, it’s about people being worried about how our government should operate.
MR. GREGORY: Insights from Washington Post columnist Gene Robinson and Politico columnist Roger Simon.
But first, the president of the United States. Friday afternoon I sat down with President Obama in the Roosevelt Room at the White House.
DAVID GREGORY: Mr. President, welcome back to Meet the Press.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Great to see you.
DAVID GREGORY: This is a critical moment in the health care debate. And you've been able to assess the landscape. You've got a bill now that's working its way through the Senate. You've spoken to congress. As you assess the situation I wonder whether— you approach this with a minimum threshold of what you'll accept for reform? Or at this point have you said, "I've laid out my plan. Take it all or nothing"?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know — I— I think that— my focus is on some core principles. I have to have a plan that is good for middle class families who we know last year ended up seeing a 5 1/2 percent increase in their premiums, even though inflation was actually negative on everything else. That have seen a doubling of their premiums over the last decade. That are less secure than ever in terms of the insurance they can actually count on. And more and more of ‘em can't get insurance because of preexisting conditions, or they changed jobs, or they lost jobs.
So it's gotta be good for them. Now, the principles that we've talked about, making sure that there's an insurance exchange that allow people to buy in and get health insurance and negotiate as a big pool to drive down costs. Making sure that— we have insurance reforms that make sure you can still get health insurance even if you've got a preexisting condition and cap out of pocket expenses and so forth. Those core things that make insurance a better deal for American consumers.
Making sure that it's deficit neutral both now and in the future. Making sure that its driving down— health care inflation so that we can actually deal with our long-term budget deficits. Those are the core principles that are critical to me.
And I actually think that we've agreed to about 80 percent of that if you look at all the bills that are coming through all these committees. The key is now just to narrow those differences. And if I don't feel like it is a good deal for the American people, then I won't sign a bill.
DAVID GREGORY: Those narrow differences can also, in some cases, be very big differences. And as you were president elect, last year, you said to the nation, "In light of the huge challenges that the country faces," you said— "we're going to have to make hard choices. And not all of these choices are going to be popular." What are the hard choices that you are now asking the American people to make? And who are you gonna say no to — in order to get health care done?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well— I— I've already made some— pretty substantial changes in terms of how I was approaching health care. When I was —
DAVID GREGORY: Like the public option. You effectively said to the left, "It's not gonna happen."
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well what I — no, no, that's not true. What I — what I've said is the public option, I think, should be a part of this but we shouldn't think that, somehow, that's the silver bullet that solves health care. What I've said, for example, on — what's called an individual mandate. During the campaign I said, "Look, if — health care is affordable, then I think people will buy it." So we don't have to say to — to folks, "You know what? You have to buy health care."
And — what — when I talked to health care experts on both the left and the right what they tell me is that, even after you make health care affordable, there's still gonna be some folks out there who — whether out of inertia, or they just don't want to but — spend the money — would rather take their chances.
Unfortunately, what that means, is then you and I and every American out there who has health insurance, and are paying their premiums responsibly every month, they've gotta pick up the cost for— emergency room care when one of those people gets sick. So what we've said as long as we're making this genuinely affordable to families then you've got an obligation to get health care just like you have an obligation to get auto insurance in every state.
DAVID GREGORY: Are these the hard choices though? Who are you saying no to?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, that — that — that — I mean, that's an example of — of a hard choice because— that's not necessarily wildly popular. But it's the right thing to do. You know, I — I have said — that it is very important that we take into account the concerns of doctors and nurses who, by the way, support our efforts. And I— and that's something that doesn't get noticed much.
The people who are most involved in the health care system know that it's gotta be reformed. But I've said that we've gotta take into account their concerns about— medical malpractice. Now, that's not popular in my party. Never has been. But I've talked to enough doctors to know that— even though it's not— the end all be all of driving down health care costs, it's very important— to providers to make sure that— their— costs are going down.
So— I think there are gonna be a whole series of Republican ideas, ideas from my opponents during the campaign that we have incorporated and adopted. And this is hard. And— and— the— you know, one of the things I've always said is if this had— this had been easy, it would have been taken care of by Teddy Roosevelt.
DAVID GREGORY: But you're not really taking on, I mean, you're not saying to the left they've got to accept malpractice reform, or — or caps on — on — jury — awards. You don't even think that that contributes to the escalating cost of health care. What are you — what — what are you really doing to say to the left, "Look, you may not like this, but you gotta get on board and we gotta do this"?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, listen, I — I think I was awfully clear — and — and I'm surprised — David, maybe you haven't been paying attention to what both the left and the right have been saying about my speech to Congress. I laid down some pretty clear parameters. And what I said was we're gonna take ideas from both sides.
The bottom line is that the American people can't afford to stay on the current path. We know that. And that both sides are gonna have to give some. Everybody's gonna have to give some in order to get something done. We wouldn't have gotten this far if, you know, we hadn't been pretty insistent, including to folks in my own party, that we've gotta get past some of these ideological arguments to actually make something happen.'
DAVID GREGORY: This health care debate, as you well know, can sometimes be about bigger things. And — and among your harshest critics is the view, somehow, that government is out of control. And, in some cases, it's gotten very personal. Your election, to a lot of people, was supposed to mark America somehow moving beyond race. And yet, this week you had former President Jimmy Carter saying most, not just a little, but most of this Republican opposition against you is motivated by racism. Do you agree with that?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: No. Look, I said, during the campaign, are there some people who still think through the prism of race when it comes to evaluating me and my candidacy? Absolutely. Sometimes they vote for me for that reason, sometimes they vote against me for that reason. I'm sure that was true during the campaign, I'm sure that's true now.
But I think you actually put your finger on what this argument's really about. And it's an argument that's gone on for the history of this republic. And that is what's the right role of government? How do we balance freedom with our need to look after one another?
I talked about this in the joint sessions speech. This is not a new argument. And it always invokes passions. And I— it— it was a passionate argument between Jefferson and Hamilton about this. You know, Andrew Jackson built a whole political party around this notion that somehow— you know— there— there is populous outrage against— a federal government that was over inclu— intrusive.
And— and so what— what I think is going on is that we've got a healthy debate taking place. The vast majority of people are conducting it in a very sensible way. I— I think that every president who's tried to make significant changes along these lines, whether it was FDR or Ronald Reagan, elicit very strong passionate responses.
But I do think that we all have an obligation to try to— conduct this conversation in a civil way. And to— recognize that each of us are patriots. That each of us are Americans. And that, by the way, the— my proposals— as much as you may not like them— if you're— a Republican, or on the right, recognize that this is well within the mainstream of what Americans have been talking about for years, in terms of making sure that everybody in this country gets decent health care. And that— people who have health care are protected.
DAVID GREGORY: Just to be clear though. It wasn't just President Carter. There are others in the Congressional Black Caucus. Other thinkers who have said that they agree. That there is racism out there in that opposition to you. I just want to be clear, are you— are you saying to the former president and others, to speak this way is counterproductive?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, look— David, here's what I'm saying. I— I— I think that— the media loves to have a conversation about race. I mean, the— this is— is catnip to— to— the media because it is a running thread in American history that's very powerful. And it invokes some very strong emotions.
I'm not saying that race — never matters in— in any of these— public debates that we have. What I'm saying is this debate that's taking place is not about race, it's about people being worried about— how our government should operate.
Now, I think a lot of those folks on the other side are wrong. I think that they have entirely mischaracterized the nature of our efforts. And I think it's important that we stay focused on solving problems as opposed to plucking out a sentence here or a comment there. And then the entire debate, which should be about how do we make sure middle class families have secure health care, doesn't get consumed by— other things.
DAVID GREGORY: In that vein, House Speaker Pelosi worried about the opposition, the tone of it, perhaps, leading to violence as it did in the 70s. There's more recent examples of antigovernment violence— occurring even in the mid 90s. Do you worry about that?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, look— I think that we have an obligation in Washington, as leaders, to make sure that we are sending a strong message. That we can disagree without being disagreeable. Without— you know, questioning each other's motives. When we start caricaturing the other side— I think that's a problem.
And— unfortunately, we've got, as I've said before, a 24-hour news cycle where what gets you on the news is controversy. What gets you on the news is the extreme statement. The easiest way to get 15 minutes on the news, or your 15 minutes of fame, is to be rude.
And that's— that's— something that I think has to change. And it starts with me. And I've tried to make sure that I've sent a clear signal. And I've tried to maintain an approach that says, look, we can have some serious disagreements but, at the end of the day, I'm assuming that you want the best for America just like I do.
DAVID GREGORY: You get a lot of airtime too though, and your views are not rude, (LAUGHTER) I don't think you'd say –
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, you know, the— I— I— I do occupy— a pretty special seat at the moment. But— but I do think that— look I mean, let's face it, the— if you look at the news cycle over the last— over the last week— you know, it— it— it hasn't been the— the sensible people who, you know, very deliberately talk about the important issues that we face as a country. That's not the folks who've gotten a lot of coverage.
DAVID GREGORY: Let me ask you about another important issue facing you and your administration, and that is Afghanistan. We've now been in Afghanistan for eight years. The Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan after ten years. Are we committed to this war for an indefinite period of time? Or do you think, in your mind, is there a deadline for withdrawal?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I don't have a deadline for withdrawal. But I'm certainly not somebody who believes in indefinite occupations of other countries. Keep in mind what happened when I came in. We had been adrift, I think, when it came to our Afghanistan strategy. And what I said was that we are going to do a top to bottom review of what's taking place there.
Not just a one time review, but we're gonna do a review before the election in Afghanistan, and then we're gonna do another review after the election. And we are gonna see how this is fitting what, I think, is our core goal. Which is to go after the folks who killed the 3,000 Americans during 9/11, and who are still plotting to kill us, al Qaeda. How do we dismantle them, disrupt them, destroy them?
Now, getting our strategy right in Afghanistan and in Pakistan are both important elements of that. But that's our goal. And I want to stay focused on that. And— and so, right now, what's happened is that we've had an election in Afghanistan. It did not go as smoothly as I think we would have hoped. And there are some serious issues in terms of how that— how the election was conducted in some parts of the country. But we've had that election. We now finally have the 21,000 troops in place that I had already ordered to go.
DAVID GREGORY: Are you skeptical about more troops? About sending more troops?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, can I just say this? I am— I have to exercise skepticism anytime I send a single young man or woman in uniform into harm's way. Because I'm the one who's answerable to their parents if they don't come home. So I have to ask some very hard questions anytime I send our troops in.
The question that I'm asking right now is to our military, to General McChrystal, to General Petraeus, to all our national security apparatus, is— whether it's troops who are already there, or any troop request in the future, how does this advance America's national security interests? How does it make sure that al Qaeda and its extremist allies cannot attack the United States homeland, our allies, our troops who are based in Europe?
That's the question that I'm constantly asking because that's the primary threat that we went there to deal with. And if— if supporting the Afghan national government, and building capacity for their army, and securing certain provinces advances that strategy, then we'll move forward.
But, if it doesn't, then I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or, in some way— you know, sending a message that America— is here for— for the duration. I think it's important that we match strategy to resources.
What I'm not also gonna do, though, is put the resource question before the strategy question. Until I'm satisfied that we've got the right strategy I'm not gonna be sending some young man or woman over there- beyond what we already have.
DAVID GREGORY: On a lighter note, before I let you go, Mr. President, you were brazen this summer at the All Star game wearing your Chicago White Sox (LAUGHTER) jacket out there to throw out the first pitch. Hate to break it to you, but doesn't look so good for your White Sox here. So I want to know who is your pick to win the World Series?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know — I am — I think mathematically, the White Sox can still get in the playoffs.
DAVID GREGORY: They can, mathematically. You're an optimist.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: So— until they are eliminated, I will make no predictions.
DAVID GREGORY: Oh, come on.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I've got say, though, that the — the Cardinals have been— been coming on strong. And Pujols is unbelievable.
DAVID GREGORY: He is.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: But — this is tough to say. The Yankees are also doing pretty well. (LAUGHTER) And a shout out to Derek Jeter for breaking Lou Gehrig's record. He's — he's a classic.
MR. GREGORY: And now the view from the other side of the aisle. We’re joined here in Washington by Congressman John Boehner and Senator Lindsey Graham.
Welcome, both of you, back to MEET THE PRESS. Maybe we’ll get to baseball if there’s time, but there’s a lot of substantive issues I think in that interview that I want to go through with both of you. And let me start with this, Leader Boehner. It sounds like the president was trying to cool of this debate over government, over health care. He pointedly disagreed with former President Jimmy Carter, saying the opposition against him is not about race. But he also issued a challenge to Republicans, who he said “are totally mischaracterizing the nature of our efforts.” Your response.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): Well, he said basically the same thing when he came to Capitol Hill and gave a speech. Took out on—took on the right for our descriptions of what they’re trying to do. But if you step back and look at the bill that we have in the House—I’ll let Lindsey talk about the Senate—it represents a giant takeover of our healthcare system. Now, there’s no debate in Washington or around the country about the need for us to fix our healthcare system. It doesn’t work well for everyone and it does—and it costs too much. But we can fix our current system, we can make it work better. We don’t have to throw it away and have this big government plan that we see moving through the House. And if you look at what the president has been supporting, it’s this big government plan that has some 51 new agencies, boards, commissions, mandates that is going to get in the way of delivering quality care to the American people.
MR. GREGORY: I want, I want to come back to some of the specifics about health care. But I want to, I want to stay with this tone of the debate right now and whether or not you agree that by some of the things the president said in the course of that interview, he is trying to cool off the debate, the tone of the debate. Do you see it that way?
REP. BOEHNER: Well, I don’t know that the tone of the debate has gotten out of control.
MR. GREGORY: You don’t think so?
REP. BOEHNER: It’s been spirited, because we’re talking about an issue that affects every single American. And because it affects every American in a very personal way, more Americans have been engaged in this debate than any issue in decades. And so there’s room to work together. But I first believe that we’ve got to just take this big government option, this big government plan and move it to the side. Now, let’s talk about what we can do to make our current system work better. Then we’ll have some grounds on which to build.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Graham, this was a—the cover of The Week magazine. it’s got a statue of your colleague from South Carolina, Joe Wilson. It says “Mad as hell: What’s driving the passionate backlash against Obama?” Do you disagree with your colleague here? Has this gotten out of hand?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Well, I, I—let me talk about the tone. I wish the president had been the way he was in your interview in the joint session. What Joe, Joe did was unacceptable and it was not proper, and we all said that, including Joe. But what the president did today is changed his tone. When he came to the House he was very combative, I thought. We’re not bickering. He accused people of demagoguery who objected to his plan. He basically accused people of lying about certain aspects of his plan. And he says if you want to bicker, forget it; if you want to sit down and talk. Well, I’ve always wanted to sit down and talk. The president is selling something that people, quite frankly, are not buying. He’s been on everything but the food channel. Just a few weeks—you know, last week he was addressing the nation.
His problem is when he says the public auction—option won’t affect your healthcare choice, people don’t believe that. They think if the government gets involved in private health care, that the health care they’ve got is going to be compromised. When he says it won’t add a penny to the deficit, then the next sentence out of his mouth, “And if it does we’ll pull a trigger to stop the spending.” We’ve never pulled any triggers in any other bills. And when he talks about how you pay for it, that we’re going to get $300 billion savings from Medicare and Medicaid, we’ve never done that before. So the problem with the president, he’s saying things that people want to hear: won’t add to the deficit, you’ll never have to lose—you’ll never be asked to give up your own health care. But when you look at the details, it just doesn’t add up. And he’s trying too hard. And today I thought his tone was better. But this is not about tone, this is about policy. It’s not about race, it’s about the president selling something that people inherently believe sounds too good and doesn’t add up.
MR. GREGORY: And he speaks about the role of government. But first, Leader Boehner, do you think what Congressman Wilson did was inappropriate? And should he have been, you know, had the resolution passed against him essentially punishing him, admonishing him?
REP. BOEHNER: It was inappropriate. That’s why Congressman Wilson called the White House, apologized to the president. And the president was gracious enough to accept his apology. It should have been the end of the story. Why House Democrats decided to press ahead with this resolution to, to slap his wrist is beyond me. But it looked to me like nothing more than a partisan political stunt. It didn’t need to happen. It was over with. I was—as the president said, time to talk about health care, not talk about Joe Wilson.
MR. GREGORY: This question about the role of the government, and, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying this week what she worries about in terms of the tone of debate is that it could lead to violence, as it did in the ‘70s; you know, there was anti-government violence in the ‘90s in Oklahoma City, as well. How much of a concern is that? Do you share it, or do you think that that was an overstatement on her part?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, quite frankly, I mean, the whole idea of the role of government needs to be debated. The public option; she says there will be no bill coming out of the House without a public option. America is saying, listen, the government programs we’ve got like Medicare is $34 trillion underfunded. The Baucus bill will let—adds 11 million to a Medicaid system that can’t—the states can’t afford. So a lot of us are concerned that Nancy Pelosi and others are pushing government to control prices when it will not work in health care. Competition and choice. If you’ve got only one plan in Alabama, let the people in Alabama shop around the country for plans. But I’m not so worried about—you know, her criticism about the opponents of the plan don’t bother me. The fact that we’re broke...
MR. GREGORY: She’s talking about violence, though.
SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah. I don’t...
MR. GREGORY: I mean, we’ll get to the health care. You don’t buy that.
SEN. GRAHAM: I don’t think any responsible person is asking for a violent response.
MR. GREGORY: Do you—is that hyperbole?
REP. BOEHNER: David, I’m, I’m not concerned about violence.
SEN. GRAHAM: No.
REP. BOEHNER: I mean, I’m sure Speaker Pelosi was sincere in her concern. But let’s remember something. The debate that we’re in here is not just about health care, it’s about the, the trillion-dollar stimulus that was suppose to be about jobs and turned into nothing more spending—than spending and more spending. It was about a budget with a, with a nearly $2 trillion deficit this year and trillion-dollar deficits for as far as the eye can see. It’s a cap and trade system, this big giant tax on the American people that this week, we just find out, the Treasury Department said will cost the average family $1700 per year. You add to that this whole question of health care and the government option, the government involvement, and Americans today are getting more news about what’s happening in their government than they have ever gotten before, and Americans are genuinely scared to death. Scared to death...
MR. GREGORY: But, Leader, don’t they get even more scared when you got the head of the Republican Party sending out an e-mail that, you know, to challenge the president and Democratic leaders for a socialist power grab? I mean, is that appropriate conversation? Is this, did you really think the president’s a socialist?
REP. BOEHNER: Listen, when you begin to look at how much they want to grow government, you can call it whatever you want, but the fact is, is that...
MR. GREGORY: Well, what do you call it, though? This is important.
REP. BOEHNER: This is unsustainable. We’re, we’re broke.
MR. GREGORY: That’s fine. Do you think the president’s a socialist? Because that’s what...
REP. BOEHNER: No.
MR. GREGORY: OK. But the head of the Republican Party is, is calling him that.
REP. BOEHNER: Well, listen, I didn’t call him that and I’m not going to call him that. What’s going on here is unsustainable. Our nation is broke. And, and at a time when we’ve got this serious economic problem, a near 10 percent unemployment, we ought to be looking to create jobs in America, not kill jobs in America. Their cap and trade proposal, all this spending, all of this debt and now their healthcare plan will make it more difficult for employers to hire people, more difficult and more expensive to have employees, which means we’re going to have less jobs in America. But Americans are scared. That’s why they’re speaking up and that’s why they’re engaging in their government.
MR. GREGORY: Let, let me, let me follow up on this point specifically about health care. You were on this program back in January, and just to paraphrase what you said, you said, “We don’t want to be the party of no.” Now, the question is, what are the costs of inaction? The Business Roundtable has issued a report. Not, not a left wing organization, I think you probably agree. And the report is titled “Perils of Inaction: What are the Costs of Doing Nothing?” Two key findings I want to highlight. “Without significant marketplace reforms, if current trends continue, annual healthcare costs for employers will rise 166 percent over the next decade, from $10,743 per employee today to over $28,000 by 2019.” Also, “If nothing changes by 2019, total healthcare spending will reach $4.4 trillion, consuming more than 20 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product.” If I—the question I asked the president, Leader; if you don’t want to be the party of no, what are you prepared to do? What hard choice are you prepared to make as a party to put some ideas forward and get something done on health care?
REP. BOEHNER: Listen, we’ve outlined a number of ideas to make the current system work better. Why not allow small employers to group together through national associations so they can buy health insurance for their employees like big companies and unions can today? Why not allow the American people to buy healthcare plans across state lines? Why not get serious about medical malpractice reform and, more importantly, the defensive medicine that doctors practice because we haven’t reformed our tort system? There are ideas. I outlined some of these ideas in a letter to the president back in May, asked to sit down with he—with him and his administration. And we got a nice, polite letter back that says, “Thank you for your ideas, we’ll see it at the end.” I’ve not been to the White House since late April, early May. There’s been no bipartisan conversation on Capitol Hill about health care. At some point when these big government plans fail—and they will, the Congress will not pass this—it’s really time for the president to hit the reset button, just stop all of this and let’s sit down and start over in a bipartisan way to build a plan that Americans will support.
MR. GREGORY: So you think the plan is dead?
REP. BOEHNER: I think it is.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Graham, the, the, the plan that’s moving through the Senate...
SEN. GRAHAM: Mm-hmm. Right.
MR. GREGORY: ...the Baucus bill in the Senate Finance Committee, includes a provision about controlling costs, right? And that’s been the big thrust.
SEN. GRAHAM: I...
MR. GREGORY: Republicans and Democrats, the president as well. Ron Brownstein, in his column atlantic.com, writes this about the Baucus bill: “The [Congressional Budget Office] concluded that the Baucus bill could move close to universal coverage (reaching 94 percent of eligible Americans— with a funding stream that not met the cost of expanding coverage, but also reduced the deficit in that second decade.”
SEN. GRAHAM: Right.
MR. GREGORY: Isn’t that something you could support?
SEN. GRAHAM: I want to—yes. And I’m on the Wyden-Bennett bill that is deficit neutral. But the Baucus bill is getting bipartisan criticism. Democrats are saying they don’t want a 35 percent tax on so-called Cadillac plans that union members are involved in, where if you have $21,000 per family, $8,000 individual, the Baucus bill taxes those plans. They’re taxing medical services that companies want to provide to their employees. The employees are willing to pay for it to cover the uninsured. It puts 11 million people on a Medicaid system. It reduces Medicare by $400 billion to get to deficit neutrality. I don’t believe it. We tried to reduce Medicare by $33.8 billion and couldn’t get one Democrat to vote for it, so I don’t believe one minute that you’re going to get the Congress to reduce Medicare by $400 billion to make this thing deficit neutral. It taxes medical device companies. It puts $6 billion of tax on insurance companies that are going to be passed onto to individuals. So the taxing plan and the, and the spending cuts don’t exist. They’ll never going to happen. So let’s put a plan on the table based on the history of the Congress that has a snowball, snowball’s chance in hell of getting passed. Wyden-Bennett is a Republican saying, “I will cover everybody in this country,” David, as a mandate, and Wyden is saying, “Let’s do it through the private sector.”
MR. GREGORY: So is there anything the president could do at this point to bring you along, to make you cross the aisle on—for this?
SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah. Meet with the Wyden-Bennett senators, seven Republicans and seven Democrats who have come up with a compromise that requires everyone to be covered but allows you to be covered through the private sector, and it’s deficit neutral, and do something serious about tort reform and we’re off to the races. He’s changed his rhetoric because the speech was a disaster. What he’s trying to sell to the American people, they don’t buy. They don’t believe we’re going to cut Medicare the way we say we are. They don’t believe we’ll stop spending and pull a trigger to make it more responsible when it gets to a certain level. So the president’s saying things that people want to hear, but the details don’t add up. He can be on every news show until the end of time. If he doesn’t get the Republicans and Democrats in a room and get off the TV, we’re never going to solve this problem.
MR. GREGORY: Leader Boehner, final point on this, and it’s a political point. The president has accused Republicans of dusting off the old playbook from ‘93, ‘94. But there are some political professionals who say the Democrats could lose a lot of seats next year. Do you think a repeat of 1994 is possible if they get health care?
REP. BOEHNER: I don’t know whether it’s possible with or without health care, but I can tell you right now is that the American people are more engaged in their government than at any time in our history. The American people are holding their members of Congress accountable for what they do and what they don’t do. Now, and when people get this engaged, votes to raise taxes, votes for cap and trade, votes for a stimulus bill and bailouts are not very popular at home, and I’m looking forward to a good year next year.
MR. GREGORY: Let’s talk about a couple of other foreign policy issues in our remaining time. Senator Graham, Afghanistan.
SEN. GRAHAM: Yes, sir.
MR. GREGORY: President broke ground here. He talked about a couple of things.
SEN. GRAHAM: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: One, that he does not believe in indefinite occupations.
SEN. GRAHAM: Right.
MR. GREGORY: Second, that he doesn’t have a deadline for withdrawal. But on the question of troops he said, “Look, I’m always going to be skeptical about sending more troops into harm’s way.” You said he needs more troops. What struck you about what he said?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, the, the tone from—the commitment during the campaign was you’re—Iraq is the wrong war. Afghanistan is the war. I’ve got statements in 2008 where he says the central front in the battle against terror is in Afghanistan. It’s the place where we were attacked, it’s the place we can never let go bad again. We can never let the Taliban and the al-Qaeda come back, because it would destabilize Pakistan. During the campaign, when he was trying to say we need to get out of Iraq, he was saying we need to get deeper involved in Afghanistan. He is right now. Afghanistan has deteriorated. His rhetoric in the campaign is just as true then as it is now. I am convinced that the number of coalition forces with the current state of the Afghan army can never regain lost momentum. Admiral Mullen said we’re losing momentum in Afghanistan. We need more resources. We have a strategy that started in March. It’s the counterinsurgency strategy. It’s not properly resourced. I don’t believe it’s possible to turn around Afghanistan without more American combat power somewhere near 40,000 troops.
But having said that, the key to us leaving with security and honor is to put pressure on the Karzai government. I want to help this president do the things we need to do, stand up to a skeptical public. And I understand why people are skeptical, but I’ll be one Republican standing by this president and we will not do to him what they did to Bush. This is not Obama’s war in Afghanistan, this is America’s war, and there’s a way to win it according to our commanders. We’re going to need more resources to do it. And I want to help this president, because our national security interests are as ever much at stake today as they were in the election.
REP. BOEHNER: David, I, I said early in the year that if the president listened to our commanders on the ground and, and to our diplomats, that I’d be there by his side. And I supported his strategy in Iraq. I’ve supported his strategy in Afghanistan. But it’s pretty clear, based on what I heard this morning, that the president’s changing the goals here. All he talked about was going after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. What happened to the statement earlier this year when the president said we cannot allow the Taliban and al-Qaeda to have a safe haven from which to train, operate and organize to go after Americans? That is a very big change. And so I’m really concerned. We’ve been asking for General McChrystal to come to Capitol Hill and testify. The request—we haven’t heard anything.
SEN. GRAHAM: Well...
REP. BOEHNER: There’s reports out all last week that the White House has asked General McChrystal to wait four to six weeks...
SEN. GRAHAM: Right.
REP. BOEHNER: ...before sending his request in. And so there’s something, there’s something amiss here, and I am highly skeptical of, of the debate that we’re going to have here in the next couple of months.
SEN. GRAHAM: If I may add, Admiral Mullen said urgency is the key here, a sense of urgency. We’ve lost momentum and we need to decide quickly. And I’ve been told General McChrystal’s ready to hit the send button in terms of how many more troops he needs, and the longer we wait the harder it is. And you’ve got 68,000 people, 30,000 of them engaged in combat, that are not being properly protected. The ones that there fighting need help, and the longer we wait to give them help the harder it is on them.
MR. GREGORY: I want you on the record on the missile defense...
SEN. GRAHAM: Yes, sir.
MR. GREGORY: ...change from the White House. The Defense secretary wrote in The New York Times this morning, “Those who say we’re scrapping missile defense in Europe are either misinformed or misrepresenting what we are doing.” They say they’ve got a better way to do this and to protect against missiles from the likes of Iran.
SEN. GRAHAM: I would say to my good friend Secretary Gates that if you are trying to tell me this has nothing to do with administration trying to get a better relationship with Russia, I don’t believe you. What they did, in my view, undercut two good allies, the Poles and the Czech Republic. The technological changes they’re talking about, to me, are not the center of this debate. The Russians tried to link this missile defense program with the START treaty. You should’ve never allowed them to do it. This is going to be seen as a capitulation to the Russians, who had no real basis to object to what we were doing. And at the end of the day you empowered the Russians, you made Iran happy and you made the people in Eastern Europe wonder who we are as Americans.
MR. GREGORY: Back home, can Governor Sanford still survive politically, do you think?
SEN. GRAHAM: I think the Ethics Committee will report about his conduct. The answer is yes if he’s cleared by the Ethics Committee, he did nothing wrong. I think he can make it.
MR. GREGORY: Should he still be governor?
SEN. GRAHAM: In my view, changing the governor or impeachment has its own problems. I’d like to see Mark be able to finish out his term, but he’s got to prove to me and others that he can be effective. That’s a story still ongoing.
MR. GREGORY: Still open in your mind. You haven’t been satisfied yet.
SEN. GRAHAM: I think Mark can make it. But the Ethics Committee will be outcome determinative, I think.
MR. GREGORY: Finally, Leader Boehner, before you go, if you work hard, if you legislate, work with your colleagues, this can all be yours. Put it up on the screen. There he is, one of your predecessors, Tom DeLay, “Dancing with the Stars.” What a second act, huh?
REP. BOEHNER: I’ll pass.
MR. GREGORY: You’ll leave, you’ll leave the dancing to him?
REP. BOEHNER: All—it’s all his.
MR. GREGORY: Congress Boehner, Senator Graham, thank you both very much.
SEN. GRAHAM: Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: Up next, partisan politics continue. What are the risks to both sides? And is race a factor in some of the heated debate? Eugene Robinson and Roger Simon weigh in after this brief commercial break, only on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. GREGORY: Insights and analysis from our political roundtable after this brief commercial break.
MR. GREGORY: We are back, joined now by Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post and Roger Selman—Simon.
Welcome to both of you. A lot to talk about, certainly.
Gene, the president made news in this interview in a few different areas. One is he pointedly disagreed with Jimmy Carter on the question of race. It’s clear the, the White House does not want to have that conversation about race. But you’d like to, and you wrote about it this week. And the title of the column is “Jimmy Carter Did Us All A Favor.” You wrote in part, “It seems clear to me that some—but not an ‘overwhelming portion,’ as [Jimmy] Carter claimed—of the ‘intensely demonstrated animosity’ toward Obama is indeed ‘based on the fact that he is a black man.’ ... Of course it’s possible to reject Obama’s policies and philosophy without being racist. But there’s a particular nasty edge to the most vitriolic attacks—a rejection not of Obama’s programs but of his legitimacy as president. ... I’m talking about the crazy ‘birthers.’ I’m talking about the nitwits who arrive at protest rallies bearing racially offensive caricatures ... idiots who toss around words like ‘socialism’ to make Obama seem alien and even more dangerous. ... I look forward to the day when we can look past race. But before we can do so, we need to look at race and see it clearly. Jimmy Carter did us a favor.” And yet the president says that this topic of race is like catnip for those of us in the media.
MR. EUGENE ROBINSON: Yeah. What—well, what newspaper or Web site does Jimmy Carter report for? I mean, he’s a former president, he’s not the media. He brought this up. And I’m glad that he did, because I do think there is an edge to the criticism that is related to race. And I don’t think it’s the totality of the, of the attacks on Obama. The country is concerned about the economy, about—over government spending, the—legitimately concerned about a lot of things. But this question of legitimacy, the question that, that somehow he doesn’t deserve to be there and it’s, it’s—you know, we had this wonderful kind of warm national feeling in January during the inauguration, and I think there is, there is a core, a nut, a, a group on the far right, but wherever you want to put them on the spectrum, that has difficulty accepting him as president.
MR. GREGORY: But Bush faced questions of legitimacy, Clinton faced questions of legitimacy as well.
MR. ROBINSON: They did. But, you know, it was, it was a little different. For, for those on the left, once we got past the question of, of Bush v. Gore and the Supreme Court decision...
MR. GREGORY: There are a lot of people who never got past it.
MR. ROBINSON: Well, well some people never got past it, but relatively few. I think, I think for the, for the majority on the left it, it, it became more of, “I can’t believe people voted for this guy.”
MR. GREGORY: Hm.
MR. ROBINSON: And “I can’t believe they voted for him again,” rather than “This guy does not have the right to occupy the Oval Office because there’s something illegitimate about, about him as president.”
MR. GREGORY: Roger, you wrote in a column on Friday, you know, “Extreme feelings can be based on other things than race. People can act rudely and not be racists.”
MR. ROGER SIMON: Yeah. And, and, and one of the few times I think I disagree with Gene. I, I think it is important to talk about race, and there’s certainly racism out there. I think Jimmy Carter did it in the wrong way. I think it was not a teachable moment, it was an in-your-face moment. Jimmy Carter apparently believes if something is worth stating, it’s worth overstating. When Barack Obama campaigned for president, he talked about his days of campaigning for the Senate in Illinois and would go down to southern Illinois, white, conservative, sometimes hostile; he didn’t begin his speeches by saying, “The overwhelming majority of you are racists, but here’s my plans for education, health care and the environment.” He would say, “Look, here’s who I am. Here’s my plans for health care and education and the environment. Together, you and I can build a better future for ourselves and our children.” And some people went away from those speeches thinking, “Well, this guy isn’t a bad guy. Maybe, maybe I should go for this guy.” That’s a teachable moment. You can win people over. Some people you can’t win over. Maybe the birthers you can never win over. Some of the crazies with disgusting signs you can’t win over. But to simply despise people and to dismiss them as all a bunch of racists does not crate a helpful atmosphere in this country or one where you genuinely can heal the wounds, which I think is what we’re talking about.
MR. GREGORY: Final thought on this?
MR. ROBINSON: Yeah, my thought is we’re not that far apart in that I don’t believe that all the critics are racist. I do believe, however, that it is in the interest of the legitimate and honorable critics of the president to, to distance themselves from those who are not. And it may be a small group, I hope it’s, I hope it’s a tiny, a vanishingly small group, but it’s there. And, and, and I, I, I think we do ourselves a disservice and do the country a disservice if we ignore it.
MR. GREGORY: There’s another portion of this interview having to do with the role of government as the fuel for this opposition, and I want to play that portion from the president again, because I think it’s important. Watch this.
PRES. OBAMA: I think you actually put your finger on what this argument’s really about, and it’s an argument that’s gone on for the history of this republic. And that is what’s the right role of government? How do we balance freedom with our need to look after one another?
MR. GREGORY: And, Roger, it seems to me that the president is in a position where he’s got to sort of own the argument on government being the solution. Is he doing a good enough job of selling government as the solution at a time—you think back to the Bush administration, competence, effectiveness in government was huge.
MR. SIMON: Now, I, I think what the president is addressing is a, is a, is a theme, is a movement that started or was encapsulated by Ronald Reagan, who taught us all that big government is bad. It is necessarily bad. The most dangerous words in the English language is “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” That’s the opposite of what Barack Obama believes. He believes big problems require big government solutions, that government can be a positive force, a force for good. That is who he is. And if he can’t sell that, then he cannot sell his presidency.
MR. ROBINSON: I, I agree. And, and I think—what I think the White House has not done a good enough job at is, is pointing out that the government already is a solution to a lot of big problems. And so when people show up at town halls with Medicare cards in their pocket and say, “I don’t want any sort of government healthcare plan,” there’s a contradiction there. And I think there, there, there, there should have been way, or there should be a way for the White House to point out the ways in which government is involved in people’s lives and to, to their benefit.
MR. GREGORY: The question of the media blitz and overexposure. Full disclosure here, I don’t sign up to the overexposure thing since I’ve got my requests in to interview the president. But, Roger, what do you think he has achieved, can achieve?
MR. SIMON: I think the most difficult thing—when he complains about the media attention to race and to bad things and, you know, catnip to the media, I think the worst thing the media—we’re very bad at averting our eyes. We’re very bad at not gawking at the car wreck, because fundamentally revealing things and not concealing things is what we do. And when—we largely get in trouble for keeping stories from the public, not presenting them to the public. And I think the White House is OK with catnip, as long as they’re feeding the cat. You know, as long as the cat is purring and rubbing up against them, I’m speaking metaphorically here, the White House is only too happy to have it. And in terms of the media blitz, you know, this—if this guy can’t handle five 15-minute interviews, he ought not to be president. I think he does fine on media blitzes.
MR. ROBINSON: He’s out there every day.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. ROBINSON: I mean, he’s out there very day. He’s on, on five shows this morning. He’s everywhere. And to then turn around and say, well, you know, the media is somehow paying too much attention to anything, I think is, is—there’s a disconnect there, so.
MR. GREGORY: OK, a couple of political notes I want to get to. The front page of The New York Times today, Roger, saying that the White House is trying to get involved in the New York governors race, that the president himself approved the decision to try to get Governor Paterson not to run again.
MR. SIMON: This is a bit shocking on two fronts.
MR. ROBINSON: Mm-hmm.
MR. SIMON: One, that it’s so nakedly political that the president is involving himself in a, you know, in the politics of another state, as is perfectly right to do so. He is the leader of the Democratic Party. But he hasn’t done that a lot. He hasn’t acted as party leader, he’s acted as president. Secondly, he—there are only two black governors in the country. Paterson is one of them. I think there have only been three in the history of the United States. And Barack Obama is asking him to stand down, apparently in the favor of a white candidate, Andrew Cuomo. There may be some backlash on that.
MR. GREGORY: About 30 seconds left, Gene. Republicans, Mike Huckabee; he wins the straw poll for 2012 at the Values Voter Summit. Is he poised for a comeback here?
MR. ROBINSON: Well, among the, you know, the social conservatives, the values voters, pro-life, Huckabee is their guy. I think he, he gave a great presentation to them and they like him. I think these are early days and we haven’t heard the last from Mitt, Mitt Romney.
MR. GREGORY: Were you struck by Paterson?
MR. ROBINSON: The Paterson thing does strike me, yes. And it, it’s quite interesting. This is a political president. He campaigned for Arlen Specter, if you recall, last week against his primary opponent in Pennsylvania. So he wants to be the leader of the party.
MR. GREGORY: All right, we’re going to leave it there. Thank you both very much.
And before we take a break here, I wanted to let you know about our newly redesigned interactive Web site. You can find more show video, transcripts, information on upcoming guests, plus my reporting and a link to my blog. Check it out at mtp.msnbc.com and let us know your thoughts.
We’ll be right back after this brief station break.
MR. GREGORY: A programming note before we leave this morning. Tune in this evening for “About Our Children,” an MSNBC live event featuring panelist Bill Cosby and hosted by Michelle Bernard. That’s tonight on MSNBC at 7 PM Eastern time.
That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.