tv Meet the Press NBC January 10, 2011 3:00am-4:00am PST
captions paid for by nbc-universal television good morning. the attempted assassination of congresswoman giffords has reverberated all around the country, include iing here in washington. repeal of health care reform a short time ago. house speaker john boehner spoke publicly. >> an attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serves. no act, no matter how heinous, must be allowed to stop us from our duty. >> in a moment, our special round table on congresswoman giffords, her work and questions about the vitreal in our politics. lester holt, good morning. what more can you tell us? >> david, good morning to you. i spoke to the mayor here a while ago, and he told me he had
been to the hospital. he had spoken to mark kelly, the husband of the congresswoman. he says her condition remains the same as yesterday, in critical condition after suffering what the doctors describe as a bullet through her brain, at least through the head. she is in critical condition. they are optimistic, but certainly don't know what kind of recovery she will have. the suspect, jared loughner in custody. not cooperative, not talking about a motive. the fbi, david, as you know, is involved along with the local sheriff here. they're trying to figure out a motive by exploring loughner's posting to social network sites, youtube videos, rants he posted. clearly an anti-government vent, but no particular point of view that was apparent. some of this stuff simply didn't make any sense, david. >> i want to come back to loughner in a second. tell me what you've learned about the victims there.
>> i'm sorry? >> more about the victims there. who else was injured? >> federal judge john roll, u.s. district court judge who was kill killed here. there were three elderly people, constituents. a small crowd had actually gathered for this event. also a 30-year-old aide of the congresswoman, among those killed. there were at least -- including congresswoman giffords, at least 13 people or perhaps more who were wounded. five of those, we're told, are in critical condition. some were treated and released. >> let me ask you more about the suspect, jared lee loughner. one thing that is emerging now is that he was kicked out of the community college in pima county, and in fact, there was the purchase of a gun shortly after that. what is the information about the kind of isolation he felt, how mentally disturbed he was and how that would later
manifest itself into anti-government rants or anti-authority rants that would give us more of a sense of motive? >> you know, it was interesting. i talked to a young woman who went to high school and studied with him in college for a short time. she hadn't seen him in three years, but she described him as somewhat outgoing, likeable. i said to her that's not how others describe him now, they describe him as a loaner. she said near the end of their relationship, she was becoming strange, to paraphrase her words. the writing suggests a man who cloerly had issues with the government, but things like -- there shouldn't be police officer s. that's unconstitutional. nothing you could ascribe to a particular viewpoint. he was suspended from college because of a video he put together. college officials weren't specific about it. parents were called in. he was suspended and later in
the fall dropped out of college. of course, there was a last post ing on one of the sites saying see ya later. it seems ominous. that was the last posting before the shooting rampage. >> anti-semitism, "mind comps by hitler" we know congresswoman giffords is jewish. is that a factor at all that investigators are looking at? >> i think they're looking at everything right now. as we noted, the sheriff and fbi involved here. they're piecing through all these things and trying to find as much as they can from the social network postings, his writings, access to weapons, all these things, trying to figure out a motive. obviously, when someone, obviously, chooses to shoot a member of congress -- she was the one that, witnesses tell us, was the first one targeted by her -- by him. obviously, they're looking at everything that might suggest some kind of political motivation. >> finally, lester, there is also another person of interest that authorities are talking
about. and they've put a picture out for the community there. what more can you tell us about that? >> that came up during a news conference by the sheriff yesterday. they put up a picture of a man, 30 to 50 years old, dark hair, caucasian, dark blue jacket, blue jeans. he may have been with loughner. no more information about that. the authorities want that picture out, hoping someone could bring them a little more information. they're not definitely saying there was a second person involved but they're leaving that possibility open and they definitely want to talk to this man or find out more about him. >> lester holt on the scene in tucs tucson, arizona. lester, thank you very much. >> thank you, david. now from this incident, i'm joined by five of representative giffords colleagues in the house from the arizona delegation, the second district, franks and
parts of tucson, representative paul rejalva. emanuel cleaver and newly elected raul labrador, tea party backed from idaho. i'm so sorry the circumstances that we need to have this conversation. congresswoman, let me begin with you. this was a close friend and colleague. tell me about your friend. how is she doing? >> by every indication -- sorry. by every indication, the fighter that gabby giffords is, is showing full strength. she's, from what i was told by her staff last night, woke up, responded to mark's -- i think his voice. >> this is her husband we're talking about? >> yeah, her husband, mark. then they sedated her again.
g gabby giffords, anyone that knows her, has ever met her, is the most open, warm and sweet woman. the best way to describe her is that she's the kind of person that tries to see the good in everyone, even when -- even when she's in the midst of the kind of strife that is going on in southern arizona with the immigration laws and the battleground that arizona has been. she really always looks on the bright side. she's a glass is half full kind of person. >> you worked with her very closely in tucson. i had an opportunity to meet her in tucson just last spring at an event where i spoke and had a real opportunity for a conversation about the issues she cared b talk about some of that, as we look at some of the images of her being sworn in just this week. >> for arizona, i think for this nation, as debbie just said, this is a woman whose whole future is in front of her.
a rising star, not only in politics, but in leadership in general. and this tragedy has left us in tucson in shock and then today numb about the whole -- gabby is a leader in our community, someone that -- as was said, someone that looked at things in a very positive -- what we do for our lives in politics, sometimes there's grading and friction that's part of it. gabby looked at politics as a mechanism to get things done and saw the good in things. and we're all praying for her. the community is devastated by this. and i just -- our community has a million people, but is small. for instance, this is a shock to all our staff.
so we're all connected to this tragedy and all feeling it and wondering what to do next. >> congressman franks, you know as well from the other side of the aisle that is also part of the delegation, part of congress getting under way this week, the reading of the constitution discussed by so many, that the leadership wanted to do. she read a portion of it that is particularly ironic this morning. i'm going to play a porng porti portion of that. >> the first amendment, congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances. >> and the acces to her constitue constituents, the kind of event she was having yesterday was very important to her.
>> every interview i've been on, i have referenced what she just did, because it is so ironic that when she had the opportunity to read her part of the constitution, that this was the one that she read. yet when she was out, exercising that right, when she was out, doing her job as a member of congress, some deranged degenerate shot her down. i will tell you, i think that's an attack not only on freedom of the country itself but an attack on humanity. a lot of people try to make the distinction between someone as conservative as i am and a gaby giffords. i will tell you that never one time did even the slightest cross word or unkindness ever pass between us. this is a precious, decent woman that did not deserve what happened to her. and i hope that somehow we pursue prosecuting this individual, this deranged monster to the fullest extent of the law with the greatest energy we possibly can.
>> i want to talk with you about that issue. it mattered to her. she was on twitter just before this event. this is what she put on her twitter feed, indicating she would be having this event, inviting people, my first congress, on your corner starts now. please stop by to let me know what's on your mind or tweet me later. this is the reality of having access to your constituents in a shopping mall outside of a safeway. she's right there, walk up to her, hear her, talk to her, shake her hand, or do something as awful as this. >> all of us conduct those town hall meetings. i've done one every month since i was elected. we call it coffee with the congressman. and we must, in a democracy, have access to our constituents. and i think what we are seeing, though, is the public is being wild to the point where those
kinds of events and opportunities for people to express their opinions to us are becoming a little voluatile. we have 435 members of congress. if you rank them in terms of volatility, gabby is probably in the last one-half of 1%. and it just seems so ironic that she would become a victim. and she is clearly not a hot head or somebody who is prone to create controversy. >> congressman labrador, this is an introduction, horrible introduction to congress for you. you're a brand new member, freshman member from idaho. your wife, you were telling me before we started, was particularly shaken by this. >> she was. and, you know, first of all, my condolences to the families. it's been a terrible week. and it's a terrible end to the week. all i've heard about gabby -- and i don't know her. i'm the only person on this
panel that doesn't know her. i've heard both from republicans and democrats what a wonderful woman she is and what great service she was giving to her constituents. i just want to make sure that we understand that she was doing what she was supposed to be doing and she was doing exactly what all of us should be doing, talking to our constituents and try to get educated on the issues. and i just hope we can have some civility and we can move forward. >> there are real security questions that have to be raised as a result of all of this, congresswoman. maxine waters telling politico this morning that she has her own fears about security for members. this is what she said. we can be shot down in our district but we can also be shot walking over to the capitol. we have a lot of people outside who appear to be fragile emotionally. we don't know when one will walk up and shoot us down. we are vulnerable and there's no real way to protect us. is this a wake-up call in terms of thinking about security for these kinds of events? >> i think it needs to be a wake-up call for members who
treat security in -- their own personal security in a cavalier way. i know when i had town hall meetings, which i had regularly, and very open public meetings, there are always officers present. not a cavalier of officers, but at least a show of law enforcement so that we can make sure that my staff is protected. because, remember, as we saw with mr. zimmerman's death, it's not just our personal safety that matters. it's also the personal safety of our constituents. then they come in and target the member, but the people in the room are all subject to a security risk. we need to strike a balance. >> you talk about that. the federal judge, john roll, who was also killed, congressman grijalva, you know him, a noted member of the bench, just 63 years old. a conservative republican, who was good friends, continues to be good friends with the
congresswoman. he petitioned her for extra funds of the immigration cases they had to handle, went over to her event just to say hi and personally thank her and is dead this morning. >> john, the chief justice there in the district court, fair man. great reputation. been a litigator and prosecutor for 30-plus years in our community. was appointed by first george bush to that bench. has nothing but a good reputation. and for him to show up to thank gabby for her work in terms of getting additional resources for that overburdened court and to find himself and now his family to find him dead is the same comment debbie just made. how do you explain this? but it's a huge loss for the community, a judicial loss but also a loss of a leader in the community. >> certainly can't explain the loss of a young girl, born on 9/11, president of her student
council. i want to talk about the political climate, congressman franks. the sheriff of pima county has been outspoken in some of his remarks, pima county encompassing tucson. he talked about what's been going on in southern arizona between immigration, health care debates and a political climate that's highly charged. this is what he had to say in response to this. >> we have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry. it is not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included. that's a sad thing of what's going on in america. pretty soon we're not going to be able to find willing, decent people who are willing to subject themselves to public office. >> how concerned are you about
the climate at home? >> i'm always concerned about how we treat each other in the ultimate analysis here, that's what this is all about. jared loughner had no respect for innocent human life and no respect for his fellow human beings. whatever his statement was, he was willing to kill someone, kill many people to make it. and, ultimately, i feel like we need to realize as members of congress, as americans that true tolerance is not pretending you have no differences. it's being kind and decent to each other in spite of those differences. when we allow people like this to go unnoticed, that have no respect for their fellow human beings, i think we make a terrible mistake. ultimately, if we don't have a more loving respect for each other, we really have no hope as a society. >> congressman cleaver, in a broader context, we don't know if this was politically motivated. we know this is a young man who
felt -- this is just subjective facts here -- disturbed, became an outlier in some ways, lashed out, had been kicked out of community college, denied by the military. there are lots of things that can contribute to that sense of isolation and blaming of a lot of people. whether it was particularly anti-government, we can't say for sure. those are the compositive facts we have right now. political vitreal in our system, in our country, i want to have you react to it. the headline "turning point in discourse, but in which direction." he writes this, what's different about this moment is the emergence of a political culture on blogs and cable television that so loudly reinforces the dark visions of political extremists, often for profit or political gain. it wasn't clear saturday whether the alleged shooter in tucson was motivated by any real political issue or voices in his
head or perhaps both, but it's hard not to think that he was at least partly influenced by a debate that often seems to conflate philosophical disagreement with some kind of political armageddon. >> much of it begins in washington, d.c., and we export it across the country it to the point that people come to washington, they come to the gallery and they feel comfortable in shouting out insults from the gallery. we had someone removed last week, shouting out some insult about president obama's birth. i think members of congress either need to turn down the volume -- again, to try to exercise some high level of civility -- or this darkness will never, ever be overcome with light. the hostility is here. people may want to deny it.
it is real. and if we don't stop it soon, i think this nation is going to be bitter bitterly denied for, i fear, the future of our children. >> comment on that. a lot of sentiment in the tea party is to be very concerned about some of the government policies perceived by this president. how do you see the discourse being, in any way, a contribution to some of the security threats that members of congress can experience? >> we have to be careful not to blame one side or the other. both sides are guilty of this. you have extremes on both sides. you have crazy people on both sides. what i have done in idaho when we have some political rhetoric that is going beyond the pail, your job as the leader is to talk to people in a reasonable way, have a rational conversation with people in your district. and i think that brings down the level of rhetoric, quite a bit down. there are several things we have to do. the american people need to understand during the bush administration, we had a bunch
of people on the left who were using the same kind of vitreal that people on the right are now using against president obama. it's not something that either party is guilty by themselves or either party is innocent of. we have to make sure that we take care of it. >> congressman grijalva in terms of congresswoman giffords herself, her office was vandalized in the heat of the health care debate. she joined us on "meet the press" and talked about the climate she was experiencing. >> our office corner has really become an area where the tea party movement congregates and the rhetoric is incredibly heated. this is a situation where people don't -- they really need to realize that rhetoric and firing people up and even things, for example, on sarah palin's targeted list. we have the crosshairs of a gunfight over our district. will people do that? we've got to realize there are
consequences to that action. >> i couldn't agree more with gabby's comments. part of what we need to do as leaders is a discourse. arizona's the epicenter of a lot of division and a lot of hard politics. from the top to the bottom of not only our elected leadership, but community. it's about the civil discourse, the tone of how we do things and congressman nagle said something on television yesterday, we are opponents, yes, but we are not deadly enemies. i think unless we pass that on and lead by example with our civil discourse and our good debate on these important issues like health care, people feel there is impunity to continue to act. >> that's a good point. there is a demonization. it happens amongst all of you, in the press, in the polls. whether it's a congressman saying "you lie" from the house
floor or a ademocrat who literally shoots the cap and trade bill in a campaign advertisement or your former colleague, who compared republic republicans to the taliban. it does contribute to that demonization. >> we're a country that tries to solve our problems by ballots and not bullets. good debate is fine, but when you try to go into an area of threatening debate and things of that nature, it's very dangerous. i want to be very careful here. we don't want to give loughner too much credit here, to make it somehow politically analyze this, making a grand political statement. this guy was a deranged lunatic that completely rejkted any kind of constitutional foundation of this nation. when you consider some of his readings in the manifesto, more than anything else, it was bizarre, not politically -- >> congresswoman?
>> based on what trent just said and everyone else has said, i agree, it's our responsibility to make sure we set the right example and set the tone of civility. but the shock drop and political movement leaders on both sides need to have some pause as well. the phrase that you just used, we use ballots not bullets, the reverse of that phrase was used in my district by someone who was almost the chief of staff to an incoming member of congress that she said at a tea party rally, we will use bullets if ballots don't work. the rhetoric outside needs to be toned down as well. but we have to set the first example. >> we're going to take a quick break. we'll come back and continue this discussion with our special roundtable, special edition of "meet the press." ♪ ♪ i was young and i was stupid
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we're back on this special edition of "meet the press" joined by roundtable colleagues and friends of congresswoman giffords after the shooting rampage in tucson, arizona. congressman cleaver, house business has ground to a halt. we know from republican leaders that work will be suspended this week, including what was going to be the big debate about the repeal of health care. so, the business is a little bit uncertain, moving forward. what do you think should happen? >> first of all, let me thank speaker boehner. i think this was the right move. this was not the week for us to go into a seven-hour debate on something that is very divisive, but i think that as soon as we can, we need to come back to deal with the business of the people. but we ought to come back with a different attitude. congressman frank mentioned earlier that we don't know why this happened. and i think -- i agree with him. it doesn't matter, however.
this ought to be a wake-up call to not only the members of congress, but the people in this country that we're headed in the wrong direction. congress meets a lot but rarely comes together. we are coming from two different points of view, a democracy. we ought to do that, but we come for the purpose of fighting. and it's entertainment, i guess, for the motion for some. but for some it gives them an excuse to exercise the bitterness that is deep inside of them. we've got to watch what we say. we're not doing it. it starts in campaigns, you know. campaigns now are opportunities for people to say anything and do anything about one -- to each other and about one another. it's devastating and will probably get worse unless something dramatic happens. >> congressman labrador, i mention the tea party in this
context, because -- not to assign any blame, but because of the some of views about the role of government. divisive health care reform has become so divisive because of what government is doing or shouldn't be doing. is it doing something to you or something for you? how do you avoid the debate becoming this fundamental and this divisive when those are the issues at stake? >> you have to continue with the debate. it's the way you present the debate. it's the words you use, some of the rhetoric you use. we can't use this as a moment to stifle one side or the other. we can't use this as a moment to say that side doesn't have a right anymore to talk about the issues that they're passionate about. i think it's just our job as leaders to show that we can talk about these issues and talk about them in a rational way. i saw something, as i walked in this morning. i saw two members of congress from two different sides giving each other a hug. i think maybe people need to see that more often, even though we
disagree passionate ly about th issue, that we can actually get along and we're actually friends. >> and i agree. and trent frank and i are friends and we work together, you know. and i would be stunned if i ever heard him shout out an insult, that that's not who he is. but what has happened in the debate is one person or one side, republicans or democrats, doesn't matter, they say i'm right and you're evil. and that is what's damaging this country. >> to that point, congresswoman, can you respond to this. president clinton on the 15g9 anniversary of the oklahoma city bombing, spoke about political discourse. this is what he said to maybe provide some counsel to the conversation we're having now. >> what we learned from oklahoma city is not that we should gag each other or that we should reduce our passion for the positions we hold, but that the
words we use, there's a vast chamber and they go across states and they fall on the serious and the delirious alike. they fall on the connected and the unhinged alike. >> let's remember, again, what we don't know about this suspect is whether he was motivated by anti-government rage. he may certainly qualify as the unhinged, the unconnected, the delirious, someone who is looking to lash out at authority in all forms because of what's going on in his life. and it's pretty easy to tap into a debate that's going on about politics. >> we have to think about our word choices carefully, that's true. but we also have to realize that someone who is unhinged, someone who is mentally unstable, we don't know the slightest thing could set them off. but we do have to make sure that among our responsibility is to be civil to each other.
i've been engaged in heated debates many time with his colleagues who i don't agree with on the issues. you have to be a human being to has respect for one another when we leave that room. we fight and debate in an arena. but you have to leave that intensity in the arena and respect one another as americans and as human beings. >> congressman frank, i want to bring up the issue of guns here. it is specific in the laws of arizona where concealed weapons are allowed as part of the law, as well as a background check. congresswoman giffords is an avid supporter of second amendment rights, gun lights. this is not a clear left/right issue. but this is what paul helmke -- he issued a statement. we also are depp deeply concerned about the heated political rhetoric that escalates debates and makes it seem that violence is acceptable to disagreements. we as americans can and should
do more to restore civility to our political discourse and we can and should do more to address the easy action toes high-powered guns that allow people to disrupt the lives of americans and political leaders who are simply trying to serve our communities and our country. where does this debate move? >> i've had heard a lot about the type of gun that was used here. what a lot of people don't realize is that that's the same glock millimeter that many police departments use. it wasn't that the gun was evil but in the hands of an evil person. maybe a police officer with the same gun could have prevented a lot of people from dying. i don't know that we can focus in on that. i think debbie is correct. the real issue here, we need to have -- be able to have debate here in this country. we need to be able to advocate our position strongly. ultimately, we need to have some ground rules. we need to realize we're not all here very long, that life is a precious miracle that beg ars
our imagination. when we don't treat each other as fellow children of god, therein lies the great problem. somehow that was the ultimate focus of our political discourse, we are all trying to get through this life together and make sure that future generations have a better life than we had, then i think sometimes a lot of that debate would get better. and the important thing, we don't want unhinged guys like john hinkley or this guy to be the ones who are the centinnels of our debate. we don't want to change what we say because we're afraid some lunatic may not like it. >> with the highly, highly perfect missive gun laws that we have in arizona has to be examined. that doesn't mean denial of. it means accessibility and how -- the other thing that's part of the civil discourse, all of us as elected officials we need to repudiate those that take this political debate further, whether it is a radio
show, whether it is an organization that make s target of people, that brings the discourse to that hate level, to that anger level. >> a view about the guns, the debate here? >> we have to be careful about this debate. washington, d.c. last week had seven murders and they have the strictest gun laws in the united states. so, i don't know that it's the gun laws that are going to make the difference. it's the responsibility that each individual has to carry guns safely and, you know, there's a question about law enforcement. this man was known to be deranged and he was also known to have already said some things about certain officials in town. with r was law enforcement? we need to ask those questions. >> this congresswoman, in the final thought, is this a moment? >> it is a momt and should be a moment. it's a moment for both parties in congress to come together. we absolutely have to realize that we're all in this for the same reason, to make america a
better place. and i hope that the democratic and republican leadership will make a decision for us to have some kind of -- not just token unity event, but you have a retreat this week and we have ours the following week. we should have an event where we spend some time together, talking about how we can work better together and then we can move forward together and try to avoid tragedies like this. >> we'll leave it all there. thank you for being here. our thoughts and prayers are certainly with congresswoman giffords and her family. we send our condolences and let the families of the victims know that they, too, are in our thoughts and our prayers. we will switch gears here. my exclusive interview with senator majority leader harry back in the 80's, it was really tough for me and my family. i was living on welfare and supporting a family of four. after i got the job at walmart, things started changing immediately. then i wrote a letter to the food stamp office. "thank you very much, i don't need your help any more." you know now, i can actually say i bought my home. i knew that the more i dedicated...
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>> i want to ask you about health care reform. the bill passed, of course, in the last congress. now republicans, who are in charge of the house, have promised to repeal that. the feeling among republicans is that if they vote resoundly to repeal health care, it will increase pressure on sent at to do the same. do you agree? >> even the reporters, people who read the news, report the n news, not the pundits, not the political writers, even the people who report the news recognize that this is just a gesture of futility. was the bill we passed perfect? of course not. chairman harkin, chairman baucus are holding hearings to find out what we can do to improve it. they can't be serious to increase the debt by more than a trillion dollars. they can't be serious that pem that now have pre-existing disabilities no longer be able to get insurance. they can't be serious when
people who are on social security now can get a free checkup, a wellness check any time you want and not have to pay for it. >> what about the very name of the name of the bill? if you look at the costs associated with health care reform as it was passed, will it cost businesses more? is it going to stop them from hiring? there is an uncertainty about the outcome that has to trouble you as a lawmaker. >> david, repealing the bill is as senseless as people sleeping in their offices. the situation sthchlt health care is something that the american people need. and they need it for everyone, not just a few people who are rich. we -- health care reform is something extremely important. we will continue to improve it. we will continue to keep what we have. it's important we lead this
strife. millions now have tax benefits, having insurance from their employers. now 80% to 85% of all the premiums that are received by these insurance companies have to go to take care of people, not pay salaries. >> let's turn to the economy. unemployment rate fell this week down to 9.4%. that's positive news. what's the outlook to you for 2011 in terms of jobs for this country? >> economists are saying the year 2011 will be better than 2010. i hope so. it's far from being good. it's better but far from being good. i think we have to focus like a laser on creating jobs. we have to make sure that we continue to help the manufacturing base, these job numbers that came out this week, they say that most of the jobs in the private sector clearly were in the manufacturing sector. that's good. we have to do something about our deteriorating infrastructure, roads, bridges,
dams. for evewe also have to understa that with the price of oil going up to almost $100 a barrel, we need to continue our clean energy revolution all over the country, not justify in the west where we have a lot of good things going on in nevada and all over the country. >> those are -- >> and, finally, we have to make sure that we continue what we did, giving tax incentives for the creation of jobs. >> let me ask you about the deb. back in 2006, both you and then senator obama opposed raising the debt ceiling. in a floor statement then senator obama said this. increasing america's debt weakens us domestically and international lichlt leadership means the buck stops here. instead, washington is shifting the burdens of today on the backs of our children and grandchildren. america has a debt problem and
failure of leadership. here we are now and the treasury secretary says we have to raise that debt ceiling. the president's economic adviser says you don't play chicken with this. you have to raise the debt ceiling or it's catastrophic. which is it? is it a failure of leadership, as then senator obama said in 2006, which you agreed with, or is it something you have to do now to ward off catastrophe in the economy? >> i agree with the speaker, john boehner. john boehner said in november when he was asked a question similar to the one you've asked me, what are we going to do about raising the debt ceiling? he said we have to act as adults. that's true. we can't -- we can't back out on the money we owe the rest of the world. we can't -- as gingrich did a few years ago, close government. we cut off social security checks. >> you already have trades in the debt ceiling. was that not an adult step? >> i have been in congress a long time. 99% of the time, i have voted
for increasing the debt. and we have to do it this time. >> why didn't you do it then? >> i don't really know what vote you're talking about. i've cast about 15,000 votes. >> you were opposed to raising the debt ceiling in 2006. now you're saying to do so is not an adult step to take. >> i'm saying we have to raise the debt ceiling. there's no alternative. in 2006, the debt ceiling was raised. it had to be raised then. it has to be raise d now. >> let's talk about the new congress and talk more broadly. the new house, republican controlled and on their first day, what do they do? they read the constitution aloud, something that hasn't been done before in the chamber. what did you make of that? >> i'm glad that they recognized that we have a constitution. i'm glad that they read it. it's something i carry with me all the time. i have one in my pocket right now. but i think rather than reading the constitution, which some of the journalists around the
country have made fun of that. i'm not making fun of it. i'm glad they did that. it didn't hurt anything and didn't take long to read it, but i would hope that they would understand what the constitution is all about. the constitution itself came about as a result of the compromise called the great compromise. the great compromise was making sure that we have legislative branch of government as we have now, house and the senate. legislations are compromise. all these people as new members are flexing their muscles about all the things they are going to do to the country should understand we'll have to continue down the path we've had for many years, which is work together to get things done. >> you ran against sharron angle in nevada. she was a tea party backed candidate, certainly made a lot of headlines around the country. does she and others as part of this tea party represent a lasting force in american politics? >> the tea party was born because of the economy. the economy is probably the worst it's ever been except for
maybe the great depression. the tea party will disappear as soon as the economy gets better and the economy is getting better all the time. and i don't think the tea party had the vigor and support people thought it would. a couple of them won. most of them lost. >> that's a pretty newsy prick, that the tea party is not here to stay. it will go way once the economy improves? >> that's true. nothing original with me, but that's how i feel about it. what the election showed me is that we had a terrible economy and that's where the tea party came from. and, number two, the american people want us to work together. that's what i took back from this election. >> you talked about the american people wanting you to work together. matter of fact, right after the election, you said more than 30 times that that message was work together, work together. and yet just this past week, your spokesman said -- representative cantor from virginia in the house, that he's laying the groundwork for republicans' extremist agenda. does that set the tone for working together? >> i think we set the tone
working together in the lame duck session, the most productive in the history of our country. we did that by working together. and i say to my friend, eric n cantor, let's stop throwing these bombs and thinking the american people are happy you're sleeping in your office or reading the constitution. there are things we need to do to deal with real people problems. people have been out of work for long periods of time. people who are sick and tired of paying governments like saudi arabia billions of dollars of year to burn in these gas guzzlers we have. there are things we can do to work together. throwing these bombs doesn't do the trick. >> what about the role of government, however? under president obama, it has expanded by 32%. are people rightfully concerned about the role of government under this president, under democratic leadership? >> people are concerned about the debt as they should be. let's just go back a little bit and look at history.
it's not as if we democrats don't know how to run government. bill clinton had a program called pay go. if you're going to have a new program, pay for it, by increasing revenue or cutting other programs. we did that and as a result of that, we were paying down the debt. during those years, the first thing they did was get rid of pay rules. we have them now re-established. this last congress and president obama found ourselves in a hole so deep, you couldn't see the top of it. we're working our way out of that hole. >> social security, how does it have to change? what they put on the agenda, raising the retirement age, means testing. is it time for social security to fundamentally change? >> the thing that always troubles me, when we start talking about the debt, the first thing peop do is run to social security. social security is a program that works and it's going to be -- it's fully funded for the next 40 years. stop picking on social security. there are a lot of places --
>> arithmetic on social security works? >> i'm saying that the a arithmetic on social security works. it certainly does. >> it's not in crisis? >> no. this is something perpetuate bid people who don't like government. social security is fine. are there things we can do to improve social security? of course. i'm not going to go to backdoor methods to whack social security. i'm not going to do that. we have a lot of things we can do with this debt. but one places i'm not going to be part of picking on is social security. >> before you go, civil leader of the democrats, fewer democrats now. how do you is he your role in the senate in this 112th congress? >> my role is to set the agenda for what we do in the senate and do my very best to work with the president and republican house of representatives and, of course, my friend, mitch mcconnell, to move this country around. >> we'll leave it there. senator, thank you very much. you can watch our entire
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flag now at half-staff at the capitol to remember the victims of the shooting, one of them gabriel zimmerman, an aide to congresswoman giffords. shooting victims are up to 20. they will have a news conference, and sheriff will meet with reporters at 1:00 pm eastern time. stay with continuing coverage, including an hour-long special on "dateline" at 7:00 eastern here on nbc. our thoughts and prayers are with the congresswoman and others, who are victims of this tragedy. that is all for today. we'll be back next week. if it's sunday, it's "meet the press."
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