tv Face the Nation CBS May 23, 2010 10:30am-11:00am EDT
>> schieffer: today on face the nation it's worse than ever in the gulf and in politics the establishment takes a whipping. there's even more oil in the gulf than anyone thought. now it's reached the louisiana beaches. white house press secretary robert gibbs took a pounding from reporters friday about why the administration isn't doing more to fix it. he's with us this morning to talk about that and tell us what the administration plans to do next. then we'll turn to politics and campaign 2010. is the tea party movement helping or hurting the republican party? we'll bring in tennessee senator lamar alexander to get the g.o.p. establishment take on the tea party and tea party candidate rand paul's blow-out
win in the kentucky republican senate primary. then we'll talk to joe sestak who took on the white house and the democratic establishment in pennsylvania and toppled arlen specter in the democratic senate primary there. finally, i'll have some thoughts on historical repeats. but first white house press secretary robert gibbs on "face the nation." captioning sponsored by cbs "face the nation" with cbs news chief washington correspondent bob schieffer. and now from cbs news in washington, bob schieffer. >> schieffer: we begin with the white house press secretary robert gibbs. we normally call people by their last names or their title on this broadcast but it is traditional. reporters call the white house press secretary by his first name. so, robert if it's all right with you i'll call you robert.
>> bob, it's nice to be here. >> schieffer: breaking news. let's kiehl with this first. the cleric in yemen has issued a rather ominous warning to the united states in a 45-minute video. he justifies civilian deaths and encourages them. he says talking about terrorist acts which he's encouraging, those who might be killed in a are merely a drop of water in a sea. suggesting that there will be more of them and actually encouraging them. is this to be taken seriously? >> well, look, i think mr. alaki is, despite telling the world he's a cleric, you see on a videotape that he supports al qaeda's agenda of murder and violence. in fact, in recent videotapes, he's said he's a member of al qaeda in the arabian peninsula. he has an agenda just like al qaeda to strike targets in
yemen, throughout the world including here in the united states. bob, the president yesterday to graduates at the u.s. military academy at west point said that members of al qaeda are small men who will be on the wrong side of history. those cadets, many of them will go to afghanistan to pursue our battles there, to keep our country safe. and the president will continue to take action directly at terrorists like this one and keep our country safe from their murderous thugs. >> schieffer: are we actively trying to find this guy? >> we are actively trying to find him and many others throughout the world that seek to do our country and to do our interests great harm. >> schieffer: let's shift to the situation down in the gulf. the oil spill apparently is worse than ever, robert. the administration is getting a lot of criticism now. a lot of it from officials along the gulf coast and some of it even from democrats here in washington that say the government simply needs to do
more. how do you respond to that? >> well, bob, the coast guard was on the scene moments after the rig exploded in april. it certainly has been four weeks and the government is doing everything humanly and technologically possible to plug the hole 5,000 feith above or 5,000 feet below the floor or below the ocean. and to do everything we can to contain its spread and to deal with its environmental and its economic impacts. we are, as i said, doing everything in our power, more than, noon and night to make sure that we contain what is happening and do everything that we human can to plug this hole. the president has told the team to spare nothing in trying to cap this well. >> schieffer: some of the criticism is-- and you're hearing this from democrats as well as republicans-- that the oil company is lying, that it is covering up, that it shouldn't be trusted. do you trust bp and what
they're telling you? >> bob, bp is the responsible party. they own the well. they're responsible for capping it. that effort is overseen by and directed by admiraled that allen and our commanders on the ground in louisiana. as the admiral has said if he has a problem or concern with what's bp is doing he calls their ceo on his cell phone. so we are watching everything that they're doing. there's no doubt that we've had some problems with bp's lack of transparency. we asked that a video feed be made public. that tooblg... took ten days. we have sent letters recently in order to get them to post their water quality data and to ensure that the dispersants that they're spraying on top of the water and using it at sub sea level are the least toxic available. we are working, as i said, every minute of every day to ensure that the response is everything that it should be. >> schieffer: do you foresee
that there might be a criminal investigation opened into what happened here because the justice department shertly would have that option. >> i think the justice department has been in the gulf to look at and gather information on this. first and foremost our focus with scientists throughout the government, even those not involved with departments that directly respond to this, they're down in houston trying to figure out ways to plug this hole. i can assure that the department of justice has been there. every bit of government has been activated to try to plug this hole. >> schieffer: robert, you had one of the most contentious briefing sessions with the white house press corps on friday. i'm told you even continued it after the briefing. calling reporters and questioning them about why they were so pointed in their response. >> my frustration, bob, was one. questioners said in the premise of his question was why is the government standing around doing nothing and hoping for the best?
there's a lot of criticisms that one can have certainly for bp and even for the government in how we got to this. but i don't think anybody could credibley say, even as frustrated as they are and as frustrated as we are, that the government has stood around, done nothing and hoped for the best. we were activated the moment that this oil rig exploded. this has been on the president's agenda ever since that happened. we have mobilized every aspect that we possibly can in our government. there have been calls to every sector of our government to ask for help. that's what we've done. my frustration was with the notion and the premise that we had sat by and done nothing but i think is certainly not true. >> schieffer: do you think this could be your administration's katrina. >> i think if you look back at what happened in katrina, the government wasn't there to respond to what was happening. that quite frankly was the problem. even tracking the hurricane for days and knowing fairly precisely where it was going to hit, i think the difference
in this case is we were there immediately. we have been there ever since. thad allen is directing our response as the national incident commander. there are people on the ground. there are thousands of people working even as we speak, bob, to figure out a way to plug this hole and to deal with the spread of this oil. >> schieffer: let me shift this a bit because, well, you're getting hammered from one side for not doing enough. there are those out there including rand paul who won that blow-out republican primary victory in kentucky who say you're not doing enough. liss tone what he said in response to this. >> what i don't like from the president's administration is this sort of, you know, i'll put my boot heel on the throat of bp. i think that sounds really unamerican and his criticism of business. i've heard nothing from bp about not paying for the spill. i think it's part of this sort of blame-game society in the sense that it's always got to be someone's fault.
instead of the fact that maybe sometimes accidents happen. >> schieffer: sometimes accidents happen. what's your response to that? >> well, we have to make sure that bp is the responsible party is doing everything humanly possible to cap this leak. i will tell this to rand paul and anybody else that's listening. laws that were passed after the exxon valdez ensured that a tax payer doesn't get a bill for this. bp will pay for every bit of this. we have to figure out and make sure that the relationship that is had with government in oil companies is not a cozy relationship as the president said. we have to regulate this industry. we have to make sure that there are safety standards are up to the very latest and highest standards whenever they do something like this, drilling in such a precious eco-system tass gulf of mexico. >> schieffer: sarah palin, speaking of close and cozy relationships, said this morning on fox that one reason the administration was slow off the mark here was because of president obama's cozy relationship with the oil
companies and the support that they gave him in they hex. >> well, sarah palin was involved in that election but i don't think it apparently was paying a whole lot of attention. i'm almost sure that the oil companies don't consider the obama administration a huge ally. we proposed a windfall profits tax when they jacked their oil prices up to charge more for gasoline. my suggestion to sarah palin would be to get slightly more informed as to what's going on in and around oil drilling in this country. >> schieffer: one final question. joe sestak who beat arlen specter and the white house, of course, was backing arlen specter in the pennsylvania primary up there. all these reports that the white house offered him some sort of job, some sort of post in the administration, if he wouldn't run. would you tell us what post he was offered. >> well, bob, i'm not a lawyer. but lawyers in the white house and others have looked into
conversations that were had with congressman sestak. nothing inappropriate happened. i think republicans are continuing to dredge this up because if you look just a couple of days after this primary, the polling shows that republicans are already behind in a very important senate race. >> schieffer: improper or not, did you offer him a job in the administration? >> i'm not going to get further into what the conversations were. people that have looked into them assure me that they weren't inappropriate in any way. >> schieffer: robert gibbs, thank you very much for being with us. and we turn now to get the other side of the story to a member of the republican leadership in the senate. senator lamar alexander. he joins us from maryville tennessee. let me just start where robert gibbs was talking about that the administration has done everything possible, more than, noon and daylight. nighttime too to get this thing fixed down in the gulf. senator, do you think they've done everything they could do? >> i'm not going to start
pointing fingers at the administration. there's wunl thing they could do under the law. they can fire bp and take it over. but the truth is the federal government probably doesn't have the capacity to do that. i think we ought to allow the administration working with the government and others to do its best to clean it up and make our verdict about the blame later. >> schieffer: but would you favor taking over bp if that became necessary? >> sure. that's up to the president to decide. under the law, we know who pays. that's bp. they're the responsible party. we know who is managing the federal effort. that's the coast guard. under the law the federal government can take it over if they choose. i understand why they might not choose but that option exists. >> schieffer: all right. let's talk a little bit about what happened last week. these elections. especially down kentucky where you had the hand-picked candidate of mitch mcconnell, your leader, in the senate.
the whole republican establishment down there was for one guy and along comes rand paul, this tea party favorite. he doesn't just beat him. he wins it in a blow-out. since then, he has had some rather controversial things to say like the '64 civil rights bill may have been too broad. he's questioned the disabilities act. he's talking about abolishing the federal reserve and the department of education. can you see yourself supporting a candidate who takes those kinds of positions, senator? >> yes, i can. >> schieffer: you can? >> i'm glad he cleared up at least one of them. but here's what happened. even a very good baseball player sometimes has a hard time going from triple-a to the major leagues. that's what happened to him last week. if he'll stick to the jobs, debt and terror and providing a check-and-balance on a run- away government in washington he'll be the next republican senator. we'll be glad to have him.
>> schieffer: that's not what he campaigned on. he campaigned on all these other things. doing away with the department of education. getting rid of the federal reserve. then talking about that the civil rights act went too far. >> well, he clarified that. he made a mistake there. at least i thought he did. at least it's different than my opinion. we already have senators who want to get rid of the fed. we've got a democratic caucus with nearly 60 votes that includes a very nice senator from vermont who proudly describes himself as a socialist. so a little check and balance in the senate wouldn't be a bad thing. >> schieffer: well, i think the republican party, as i understand it, is trying to broaden its appeal to african- americans. to minorities. why would any member of any minority group want to vote or want to be for someone who says, well, maybe that civil rights act went a little too far? i know you say he's clarified it. now he says he wouldn't vote to repeal it.
but just saying you wouldn't repeal it after saying mainly it went too far, i mean, can you to be... can you be for that? >> i cannot be for that. i was for the civil rights act of '64, '68, '75. i hell-ed put the martin luther king holiday in tennessee when i ran for re-election in... i got 25% of the african-american vote with president obama on the ticket. we have plenty of candidates who get plenty of african- american votes. i think rand paul had a tough week last week. if you'll focus on providing a check-and-balance on a run-away government he'll be elected. >> schieffer: what about this whole business for the tea party? will it prove to be a good thing for republicans or is this something that you need to be worried about here? >> any time americans want to get out of their chairs and focus on jobs, debt and terror and checking a run-away government in washington we want them in our primaries, as our nominees and we want them in the united states senate.
i think it provides diversity in our party. it makes us a bigger tent. gives us a lot more energy. i think the american people are really upset right now. this election is going to have a lot of fresh faces, a lot of surprises. but the mood is let's throw the rascals out in washington. and the democrats are the rascals by a big majority. i think we're going to have a lot more republicans in november for that reason. >> schieffer: but there are no democrats running in some of those republican primaries out there. there are tea party candidates taking on mainstream members of your party. i guess that's what i'm getting at. >> when you have a lot of nferg, bob, out there in the country, one party or the other is going to attract it. we have people who have looked at washington and looked at a bailout every other day, too much taxes, too much debt. i mean this new financial regulation bill is just a big wet blanket on our entrepreneurial system in the country. our system for creating jobs.
they want to slow that down or stop it. we want that energy in our party. i think we're getting it. it will produce some surprises. and several new faces. >> schieffer: all right. lamar alexander, thank you very much for being with us, senator. we'll be back in a minute with joe sestak, the man they're calling the giant killer now from pennsylvania.
>> schieffer: back now with one of tuesday's big primary winners, pennsylvania congressman joe sestak who took on the establishment, the democratic establishment in pennsylvania, and took on the white house and beat arlen specter who had switched from the republican party of... let me just ask you first about what i was asking robert gibbs about this. did the white house offer you a position in the administration if you would not run? >> i was asked that question months after it happened.
i felt an obligation to answer it honestly. i said yes. >> schieffer: what job? >> i said at the time anything beyond that just gets into politics. actually that's what i think is failing washington d.c. principle doesn't seem to triumph over politics. when people come here, be willing to lose their job. or are they doing what they said they would do. i just stay focused on what i had issued out there which was a plan for pennsylvania working families from retirement security to opportunities for their children and small business opportunities. that's what i just keep on talking about. >> schieffer: let's talk about the race that you had with arlen specter. the white house obvious lie wanted you not in the race. you took them on now will you ask for barack obama's help. >> the president was the very first one who called me. i welcome my support. i have to also tell you arlen specter when he called me set a standard for graciousness.
telling me, joe, congratulations i'm going to support you. i watched a wonderful primary between mrs. clinton and mr. obama. much like this primary. we're going to come together because we believe in democratic principles but i'm going to come to washington and serve. i really do want to fight for working families. yes i'll stand up to the party if they're wrong. and they aren't going the right way for people in pen penl. but i do believe in democratic principles. >> schieffer: do you think the president would help you or hurt you if you came to pennsylvania and will you ask him to come. >> i would be honored to stand with the president of the united states. >> schieffer: you would be honored. have you asked him yet? >> yeah, we had a nice discussion and id say look forward to supporting you. i said i hope so. >> schieffer: what do you think did it? was this part of the anti-incumbent mood that's going on in the country right now? obviously there's a great deal of anger with washington itself. what do you think your victory meant and how do you think you did it? >> when i had to go through the 67 counties last july and
decide whether to get in or not after the establishment said sit down, i'll never for get a farmer who said to me when i asked him how the recession was and he said not too bad. i was hurting so much already. what i listened to was people had literally lost trust. they lost faith in washington d.c. and they saw people actually more will to go try to take positions that might help them in the electoral prospects rather than standing up with the courage and the conviction of fighting for what was needed for them. they knew that washington had lost focus. i tell everyone it was a matter of trust. i hope to earn that trust from them. i didn't run simultaneously for my congressional job. i felt hi to begin to demonstrate, it wasn't about joe sestak and his job. i was about yours. that more than anything when i said about the establishment trying to regain their trust like in the navy. i captain of a ship would always walk around have captain calls and sit down and listen. they'll follow you if they
trust you to do anything. that's what washington has to regain. >> schieffer: it's a very interesting point. i absolutely take your point. but some people say that the reason that washington doesn't work now is because in order to get to washington, you have to have to raise so much money. you have to sign off with so many interest groups, back home before you get there. once you get to washington, you can't kploms. your positions are set in stone. how do you get around that. >> it wasn't an issue for me in this primary and it isn't going to be. look, if you took money out of politics, you'd solve 80% of all the problems. i want to co-sponsor a bill that will move us toward the public financing of campaigns. at the end of the day i can look someone in the eye and say i appreciate your support but i'm still going to do what's right. i did everything i wanted to do by 1986. i commanded a ship at sea. this is payback to this nation. as far as i'm concerned because they took care of me and my family with wonderful
health care. they took care of my daughter when she had a health issue. i wanted everyone to be like in the military because the dividends from our nation are immense. >> schieffer: we're hoping to see you again as we go through this political year. we'll be back in a moment with some final thoughts. [ man ] i've seen beautiful things.
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means during my lifetime political upheavals have generally been followed by the out party going too far. republicans too far to the right. democrats too far to the left. here's what i mean. in 1960 after john kennedy's election and subsequent death, lyndon johnson came to power and caused a sea change in american politics. he launched the great society program and passed the '64 civil rights bill. republicans responded by throwing out the leaders of their own party who had controlled that party for years and nominated barry goldwater, a good man but who was far to the right of the republican establishment. he lost in a landslide. after nixon's sea change election democrats purged their party of their long-time leaders. even barred them from the '72 convention and nominated george mcgovern, another georgia man but one who was far to left of his party. another disaster. once nixon resigned and caused
another sea change, democrats pushed aside mainstream leaders and chose outsider jimmy carter. he lasted one term. which brings us to barack obama. the sea change he brought to american politics and in its wake the rise of the tea party and its demand to purge the republican party of its old-line leaders. it's not my business to advise political parties and i'm sure they know more about politics than i do but if i were a republican strategist, i might think about recent history and what lessons it might offer. back in a minute.