tv Meet the Press MSNBC December 31, 2012 3:00am-4:00am PST
from nbc news in washington, the world's longest-running television program, this is "meet the press" with david gregory. >> good sunday morning. time is nearly up before we go over the so-called fiscal cliff. senate leaders spent the weekend working on a last-ditch deal and the house comes back today for a rare sunday night session. yesterday afternoon in an exclusive interview, president obama sat down with me in the blue room of the white house to discuss the way forward and his priorities for a second term. mr. president, welcome back to "meet the press." >> it's great to be here. thank you. >> so the obvious question, are we going over the fiscal cliff? >> well, i think we're going to find out in the next 48 hours what congress decides to do. but i think it's important for the american people to understand exactly what this fiscal cliff is. because it's actually not that complicated. the tax cuts that were introduced in 2001, 2003, 2010, those were extended, and they're all about to expire at the end of the year. so on midnight, december 31st,
if congress doesn't act, then everybody's taxes go up. and for the average family, that could mean a loss of $2,000 in income. for the entire economy, that means consumers have a lot less money to make purchases, which means businesses are going to have a lot less customers, which means that they're less likely to hire, and the whole economy could slow down at a time when the economy's starting to pick up and we're seeing signs of recovery in housing and employment numbers improving. and so what congress needs to do, first and foremost, is to prevent taxes from going up for the vast majority of americans. and this was a major topic of discussion throughout the campaign. what i said was is that we should keep taxes where they are for 98% of americans, 97% of small businesses, but if we're serious about deficit reduction, we should make sure that the wealthier are paying a little bit more and combine that with spending cuts to reduce our deficit and put our economy on a
long-term trajectory of growth. we have been talking to the republicans ever since the election was over. they have had trouble saying yes to a number of repeated offers. yesterday i had another meeting with the leadership, and i suggested to them if they can't do a comprehensive package of smart deficit reduction, let's, at minimum, make sure that people's taxes don't go up and that 2 million people don't lose their unemployment insurance. and i was modestly optimistic yesterday, but we don't yet see an agreement. and now the pressure's on congress to produce. if they don't, what i've said is that in the senate, we should go ahead and introduce legislation that would make sure middle-class taxes stay where they are, and there should be an up-or-down vote. everybody should have a right to vote on that. if republicans don't like it, they can vote no. but i actually think that there's a majority of support for making sure that middle-class families are held harmless. >> if you go over the cliff,
what's the impact on the markets which have been pretty confident up until now that a deal would get done? >> you know, it's hard to speculate on the markets, but obviously, i think business and investors are going to feel more negative about the economy next year. if you look at projections of 2013, people generally felt that the economy would continue to grow, unemployment would continue to tick down, housing would continue to improve, but what's been holding us back is the dysfunction here in washington. and if people start seeing that on january 1st this problem still hasn't been solved, that we haven't seen the kind of deficit reduction that we could have had, had the republicans been willing to take the deal that i gave them, if they say that people's taxes have gone up, which means consumer spending is going to be depressed, then obviously that's going to have an adverse reaction on the markets. >> what about automatic spending cuts? those take effect january 1st as well. do they have to be part of this deal? you've got half of those cuts in
defense alone. >> well, the other part of the fiscal cliff is congress agreed that they would cut an additional $1.2 trillion in spending. they put a committee together to try to come up with those numbers. they didn't figure out how to do it. and so what we now have is a situation where these automatic spending cuts go into place. now, if we have raised some revenue by the wealthy paying a little bit more, that would be sufficient to turn off what's called the sequester, these automatic spending cuts, and that also would have a better outcome for our economy in the long term. but, you know, so far, at least, congress has not been able to get this stuff done. not because democrats in congress don't want to go ahead and cooperate, but because i think it's been very hard for speaker boehner and republican leader mcconnell to accept the fact that taxes on the wealthiest americans should go up a little bit as part of an overall deficit reduction
package. >> you talk about a dysfunction in washington. you signed this legislation setting up the fiscal cliff 17 months ago. how accountable are you for the fact that washington can't get anything done and that we are at this deadline again? >> i have to tell you, david, if you look at my track record over the last two years, i cut spending by over $1 trillion in 2011. i campaigned on the promise of being willing to reduce the deficit in a serious way in a balanced approach of spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthy while keeping middle-class taxes low. i put forward a very specific proposal to do that. i negotiated with speaker boehner in good faith and moved more than halfway in order to achieve a grand bargain. i offered over $1 trillion in additional spending cuts so that we would have $2 of spending cuts for every $1 of increased revenue. i think anybody objectively who's looked at this would say
that, you know, we have put forward not only a sensible deal but one that has the support of the majority of the american people, including close to half of republicans. >> but when they say leadership falls on you, mr. president, you don't have a role here in breaking this impasse? you've had a tough go with congress. >> well, david, at a certain point if folks can't say yes to good offers, then i also have an obligation to the american people to make sure that the entire burden of deficit reduction doesn't fall on seniors who are relying on medicare. i also have an obligation to make sure that families who rely on medicaid to take care of a disabled child aren't carrying this burden entirely. i also have an obligation to middle-class families to make sure that they're not paying higher taxes when millionaires and billionaires are not having to pay higher taxes. there is a basic fairness that is at stake in this whole thing that the american people
understand and they listen to an entire year's debate about it. they made a clear decision about the approach they prefer, which is a balanced, responsible package. they rejected the notion that the economy grows best from the top down. they believe that the economy grows best from the middle class out. and at a certain point, you know, it is very important for republicans in congress to be willing to say, we understand we're not going to get 100%. we are willing to compromise in a serious way in order to solve problems as opposed to be worrying about the next election. >> you said that republicans have a hard time saying yes, particularly to you. >> yeah. >> what is it about you, mr. president, that you think is so hard to say yes to? >> you know, that's something you're probably going to have to ask them because, david, you follow this stuff pretty carefully. the offers that i've made to them have been so fair that a lot of democrats get mad at me. i mean, i offered to make some
significant changes to our entitlement programs in order to reduce the deficit. i offered not only $1 trillion in -- over $1 trillion in spending cuts over the next ten years, but these changes would result in even more savings in the next ten years. and would solve our deficit problem for a decade. they say that their biggest priority is making sure that we deal with the deficit in a serious way. the way they're behaving is that their only priority is making sure that tax breaks for the wealthiest americans are protected. that seems to be their only overriding unifying theme. and at some point i think what's going to be important is that they listen to the american people. now, you know, i think that over the next 48 hours, my hope is is that people recognize that regardless of partisan differences, our top priority
has to be to make sure that taxes on middle-class families do not go up that would hurt our economy badly. we can get that done. democrats and republicans both say they don't want taxes to go up on middle-class families. that's something we all agree on. if we can get that done, that takes a big bite out of the fiscal cliff. it avoids the worst outcomes, and we're then going to have some tough negotiations in terms of how we continue to reduce the deficit, grow the economy. >> if this fight comes back, and i want to ask you about entitlements, medicare and social security, are you prepared, in the first year of your second term, to significantly reform those two programs, to go beyond the cuts you've suggested to benefits in medicare, which your own debt commission suggested you'd have to do if you were really going to shore up medicare, at least, are you prepared to do that in your first year of the second term? >> what i've said is i am prepared to do everything i can to make sure that medicare and social security are there not
just for this generation but for future generations. >> you've got to talk tough to seniors, don't you? >> i already have. david, as you know, one of the proposals we made was something called chain cpi which sounds technical but basically makes an adjustment in terms of how inflation is calculated on social security. highly unpopular among democrats, not supported by aarp. but for the long term, i'm willing to make those decisions. what i'm not willing to do is to have the entire burden of deficit reduction rest on the shoulders of seniors, making students pay higher student loan rates, ruining our capacity to invest in things like basic research that help our economy grow. those are the things that i'm not willing to do. and so -- >> would you commit to that first year of your second term, getting significant reform done, telling congress we've got to get it done in the first year? >> david, i want to be very clear. you are not only going to cut your way to prosperity.
one of the fallacies, i think, that has been promoted is this notion that deficit reduction is only a matter of cutting programs that are really important to seniors, students and so forth. that has to be part of the mix. but what i ran on and what the american people elected me to do was to put forward a balanced approach. to make sure that there's shared sacrifice, that everybody is doing a little bit more. and it is very difficult for me to say to a senior citizen or a student or a mom with a disabled kid, you are going to have to do with less, but we're not going to ask millionaires and billionaires to do more. that's not something that -- that's not an approach that the american people think is right. and by the way, historically, that's not how we grow an economy. we grow an economy when folks in the middle, folks who are striving to get in the middle class, when they do well. >> but i'm asking you about time
frame. as you well know, about to begin your second term, your political capital, even having just won re-election, is limited. so what is your single priority of your second term? what is the equivalent to health care? >> well, there are a couple of things that we need to get done. i've said that fixing our broken immigration system is a top priority. i will introduce legislation in the first year to get that done. i think we have talked about it long enough. we know how we can fix it. we can do it in a comprehensive way that the american people support. that's something we should get done. the second thing that we've got to do is to stabilize the economy and make sure it's growing. part of that is deficit reduction. part of it is also making sure that we're investing, for example, in rebuilding our infrastructure, which is broken. if we are putting people back to work, rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our schools, in part paying for it by some of these broader, long-term deficit reduction measures that need to take place. that will grow the economy at
the same time as we're also setting our path for long-term fiscal stability. number three, you know, we've got a huge opportunity around energy. we are producing more energy, and america can become an energy exporter. how do we do that in a way that also deals with some of the environmental challenges that we have at the same time? so that's going to be a third thing. but the most immediate thing i've got to do, starting on january 1st, if congress doesn't act before the end of the year, is make sure that taxes are not going up on middle-class families. and because it is going to be very hard for the economy to sustain its current growth trends if suddenly we have a huge bite taken out of the average american's paycheck. >> those are four huge things, and you didn't mention after newtown, although i know you're thinking about it, new gun regulations. mayor bloomberg told me a couple weeks ago on this program, that ought to be your number one agenda. you know how hard this is. do you have the stomach for the political fight for new
gun-control laws? >> you know, david, i think anybody who was up in newtown who talked to the parents, who talked to the families, understands that something fundamental in america has to change. and all of us have to do some soul searching, including me as president, that we allow a situation in which 20 precious small children are getting gunned down in a classroom. i've been very clear that an assault rifle ban, banning these high-capacity clips, background checks, that there ray set of issues that i have historically supported and will continue to support. >> but can you get it done? i mean, the politics is the question. >> and so the question is, are we going to be able to have a national conversation and move something through congress? i'd like to get it done in the first year.
i will put forward a very specific proposal based on the recommendations that joe biden's task force is putting together as we speak. and so this is not something that i will be putting off. >> the nra says it's just not going to work. it didn't work before. it's not going to work now. >> you know, my response is, something has to work. you know, it is not enough for us to say, this is too hard, so we're not going to try. so what i intend to do is i will call all the stakeholders together. i will meet with the republicans. i will meet with democrats. i will talk to anybody. i think there are a vast majority of responsible gun owners out there who recognize that we can't have a situation in which somebody with severe psychological problems is able to get the kind of high-capacity weapons that this individual in newtown obtained. and gunned down our kids. and yes, it's going to be hard. >> should we have an armed guard
at every school in the country? that's what the nra believes, they told me last week, that could work. >> i'm not going to prejudge the recommendations that are given to me. i am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools. and i think the vast majority of the american people are skeptical that that somehow is going to solve our problem. look, here's the bottom line. we're not going to get this done unless the american people decide it's important. and so this is not going to be simply a matter of me spending political capital. one of the things that you learn, having now been in this office for four years, is, you know, the old adage of abraham lincoln's, that with public opinion there's nothing you can't do. and without public opinion, there's very little you can get done in this town. so i'm going to be putting forward a package. and i'm going to be putting my full weight behind it. and i'm going to be making an argument to the american people about why this is important and
why we have to do everything we can to make sure that something like what happened at sandy hook elementary does not happen again. but ultimately, the way this is going to happen is because the american people say that's right. we are willing to make different choices for the country. and we support those in congress who are willing to take those actions. and will there be resistance? absolutely, there will be resistance. the question then becomes whether we are actually shook up enough by what happened here, that it does not just become another one of these routine episodes where it gets a lot of attention for a couple of weeks and then it drifts away. it certainly won't feel like that to me. this is something that -- you know, that was the worst day of my presidency. it's not something that i want to see repeated. >> it hit close to home. >> absolutely. >> let me ask you about a couple of foreign policy notes. after the attack in benghazi, is
there a need for more accountability so that this doesn't happen again, and do you know who is behind the attack at this point? >> two points. number one, i think that tom pickering and mike mullen who headed up the review board did a very thorough job in identifying what were some severe problems in diplomatic security. and they provided us with a series of recommendations, many of them were already starting to be implemented. secretary clinton has indicated that she is going to implement all of them. what my message to the state department's been very simple. and that is, we're going to solve this. we're not going to be defensive about it. we're not going to pretend that this was not a problem. this was a huge problem. and we're going to implement every single recommendation that's been put forward. some individuals have been held accountable inside of the state department. and what i've said is that we are going to fix this to make sure that this does not happen
again. because these are folks that i send into the field. we understand that there are dangers involved, but, you know, when you read the report, and it confirms what we had already seen based on some of our internal reviews, there was just some sloppiness, not intentional, in terms of how we secure embassies in areas where you essentially don't have governments that have a lot of capacity to protect those embassies. so we're doing a thorough review. not only will we implement all the recommendations made, but we'll try to do more than that. with respect to who carried it out, that's an ongoing investigation. the fbi has sent individuals to libya repeatedly. we have some very good leads, but this is not something that, you know, i'm going to be at liberty to talk about right now. >> in politics and the back-and-forth in this, do you feel like you let your friend susan rice hang out there to dry a little bit in. >> no. first of all, i think i was very
clear throughout that susan has been an outstanding u.n. ambassador for the united states. she appeared on a number of television shows reporting what she and we understood to be the best information at the time. this was a politically motivated attack on her. i mean, of all the people on my national security team, she probably had the least to do with anything that happened in benghazi. why she was targeted individually for the kind of attacks that she was subjected to was puzzling to me, and i was very clear in the days after those attacks that they weren't acceptable. so, you know, the good thing is is that i think she will continue to serve at the u.n. and do an outstanding job, and i think that most americans recognize that these were
largely politically motivated attacks as opposed to being justify. >> you have another series of cabinet choices to make. former senator chuck hagel has come under criticism for some comments he's made including about a former ambassador nominee during the clinton years that being gay was an inhibiting factor to being gay to do an effective job. is there anything about chuck hagel's record or statements that's disqualifying to you? should you nominate him to run in the defense department? >> first of all, i haven't made a decision about who to nominate. my number one criteria will be who's going to do the best job in helping to secure america. >> anything disqualify him? >> not that i see. i've served with chuck hagel. i know him. he is a patriot. he is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the united states senate, somebody who served this country with valor in street mavietnam, and
currently serving on my advisory board and doing an excellent job. i haven't made a decision on this. with respect to the particular comment that you quoted, he apologized for it. and i think it's a testimony to what has been a positive change over the last decade in terms of people's attitudes about gays and lesbians serving our country. that's something that i'm very proud to have led. and i think that anybody who serves in my administration understands my attitude and position on those issues. >> mr. president, as you look forward to a second term, you think about your legacy, you think about your goals, how frustrated are you at how hard it appears to be to get some of these things done? a very difficult relationship with congress. people come up to me all the time and say, don't they realize, all of them, the president, republicans and democrats, how frustrated we all are? >> i think we're all frustrated. you know, the only thing i would caution against, david, i think this motion of, well, both sides are just kind of unwilling to
cooperate. and that's just not true. i mean, if you look at the facts, what you have is a situation here where the democratic party, warts and all, and certainly me, warts and all, have consistently done our best to try to put country first. and to try to work with everybody involved to make sure that we've got an economy that grows, make sure that it works for everybody, make sure that we're keeping the country safe. and does the democratic party still have some knee-jerk ideological positions? are there some folks in the democratic party who sometimes aren't reasonable? of course. that's true of every political party. but generally if you look at how i've tried to govern over the last four years and how i'll continue to try to govern, i'm not driven by some ideological agenda. i'm a pretty practical guy. and i just want to make sure that things work. and one of the nice things about
never having another election again, i will never campaign again is, you know, i think you can, rest assured, that all i care about is making sure that i leave behind an america that is stronger, more prosperous, more stable, more secure than it was when i came into office. and that's going to continue to drive me. and i think that the issue that we're dealing with right now on the fiscal cliff is a prime example of it. what i'm arguing for are maintaining tax cuts for 98% of americans. i don't think anybody would consider that some liberal left-wing agenda. that used to be considered a pretty mainstream republican agenda. and it's something that we can accomplish today if we simply allow for a vote in the senate and in the house to get it done.
the fact that it's not happening is an indication of how far certain factions inside the republican party have gone where they can't even accept what used to be considered centrist, mainstream positions on these issues. now, i remain optimistic. i'm just a congenital optimist. that eventually people kind of see the light. winston churchill used to say that we americans, you know, we try every other option before we finally do the right thing. after everything else is exhausted, we eventually do the right thing. and i think that that's true for congress as well. and i think it's also important for americans to remember that politics has always been messy. people have been asking me a lot about the film "lincoln." >> is this your lincoln moment? >> well, no. look, "a," i never compare myself to lincoln, and "b,"
obviously the magnitude of the issues are quite different from the civil war and slavery. the point, though, is democracy's always been messy. and you know, we're a big, diverse country that is constantly sort of arguing about all kinds of stuff. but eventually we do the right thing. and in this situation, i'm confident that one of two things are going to happen when it comes to the fiscal cliff. number one, we're going to see an agreement in the next 48 hours in which case middle-class taxes will not go up. if that doesn't happen, then democrats in the senate will put a bill on the floor of the senate, and republicans will have to decide if they're going to block it, which will mean that middle-class taxes do go up. i don't think they would want to do that mitticalpolitically, bu may end up doing it. if republicans do decide to block it and middle-class families' taxes do go up january 1st, we'll come back with a new
congress january 4th. the first bill that will be introduced on the floor will be to cut taxes on middle-class families. i don't think the average person is going to say, gosh, you know, that's a really partisan agenda on the part of either the president or democrats in congress. i think people will say, that makes sense because that's what the economy needs right now. so one a or another, we'll get through this. do i wish that things were more orderly in washington and rational and people listen to the best arguments and compromised and operate in a more thoughtful and organized fashion? absolutely. and when you look at history, that's been the exception rather than the norm. >> my interview with president obama. coming up, reaction to the interview and what it tells us about what his second term will look like. joining me, nbc's tom brokaw,
presidential historian doris kerns goodwin, executive at random house, jon meacham, david brooks of "the new york times" and our political director and chief white house correspondent, chuck todd, all coming up next. . and we get back up. strength and determination are human too. so are dinner dates and birthday cake. introducing the new weight watchers 360 program. built for human nature so you can expect amazing. ♪ on top of the world right now ♪ join for free and expect amazing. because it works.
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democrats in the senate will put a bill on the floor of the senate, and republicans will have to decide if they're going to block it, which will mean that middle-class taxes do go up. i don't think they would want to do that politically, but they may end up doing that. >> that from our interview moments ago with the president. i sat down with him yesterday at the white house, putting the onus squarely on congressional leaders to either do a comprehensive package now or a short-term solution to prevent taxes from going up. joining me now, chuck todd. tom brokaw. author of the best-selling "new york times" best-selling book, "thomas jefferson, the art of power," jon meacham, david brooks and author of the clinicen biography, doris kerns goodwin. my big takeaway, the president is setting a tone with republicans, putting them on notice that yes, taxes are going to go up and that he's going to drive a hard bargain on a lot of different issues rather than
trying to bring them into the fold, he doesn't feel like compromise is going to work. >> first let's say what's happening is pathetic. when you think about the revolutionary generation, the civil war generation, world war ii generation, we've got a dysfunctional process. i think most of the blame still has to go to the republicans. they've had a brain freeze since the election. they have no strategy. you don't know what they want. they haven't decided what they want. if i default president obama, i would say sometimes he governs like a visitor from a superior civilization. he comes in here and he'll talk with boehner. he won't talk with the other republicans. he hasn't built the trust. boehner actually made a pretty serious concession, $800 billion in tax revenues. probably willing to go up on rates. but the trust wasn't there to get that done. and if the president wants to get stuff done over the next four years, it's got to be a lot more than making the intellectual concessions. it's got to get to the place where republicans say okay, we'll take a risk. this guy won't screw us. they do not feel that right now.
>> chuck, just your reading of the immediate news that's going to be made over the course of today and tomorrow, again, what i think is significant, the president saying we either get this deal now or we'll go over the cliff, we'll come back right after the 1st of the year and try to get the tax cut through again. but the republicans are going to be forced to be in a position, they'll have to say no. >> there doesn't seem to be a sense of urgency of oh, my god, we can't go over the cliff. the president was laying it out, we might go over it. this is how we'll deal with it. we're not going to end up in the long term raising taxes on everybody, but he seemed to be not making today do or die. not making the next 48 hours the big thing here. which will -- it will be interesting to see if that's how senate -- the republican leader, mitch mcconnell, who is the key her, does he sign off on a deal? if he does, something will happen. does he read that and say boy, we need to take this tax issue off the table. he's been a big believer of this. take the tax issue off. give the president his tax hikes on the rich now. fight him on everything else
when taxes aren't part of the conversation. fight him on everything else in six weeks when the debt ceiling is hit or perhaps it ends up 8 weeks, 12 weeks, whenever that fight happens and do that. i do think that mcconnell, that's where he wants to be. can he get there in the next 24 hours? that's what we don't know. >> tom brokaw? >> it seems to me that the middle class will have a date to the prom. everybody's talking about protecting the middle class here. so i think this deal will probably get done around the middle-class tax cuts. it's at what level. is it $400,000 or $250,000 or some other number? which is going to be critically important. a lot of people don't realize in the large urban and suburban areas in america, $250,000 doesn't make you rich. two kids in college at $60,000. if you're a boomer, you may have a dependent parent, you're spending another $20,000, $25,000 on. we have to have the definition of what is the middle class. to david's point, i do really believe that the president doesn't work hard enough at bringing everybody into the white house and rolling up his
sleeves, having him in the living quarters, getting them around the table and saying how do we get this deal done? he didn't talk downstream about tax reform, for example. and i think it would have been helpful to him this morning to have said, look, we get this tax deal done, i'm here to help on medicare and social security reforms. we've got to address those instead of just saying, i'm going to protect the seniors who are there and the medicare and medicaid recipients. give a little something. show good faith about what needs to be done on deficit reduction and the entitlement program. >> doris, republicans i've talked to in the last couple of days on capitol hill have said, look, the president meeting with all the congressional leaders, that's the first time that's happened since november 16th. this is not somebody who's been actively engaged in negotiating. he's basically saying, yet again, i've won. we're going to get this through. but the president says no. it's republicans who just won't say yes to reasonable proposals. >> well, that may be the conclusion that he's drawn. i mean, we don't really know what's gone on, invitations put out, not necessarily accepted.
what interested me about the tone of his talk with you was that i think he's learned from that first term where he was argui arguing, explaining things. he talked simply in this thing, conversationally, he repeated over and over again his own points, fairness, balance, middle class out rather than from the bottom up. that seems to be a new phrase. and i think he's learned what theodore roosevelt learned. when you're speaking to the american people and you want to make an argument, it has to be simple. maybe as roosevelt said, my harvard buddies might think it's commonplace, but i thought he spoke in a different tone today. more conversational. and that's something you learn there your first term where he thought he had spoken too much over people's heads or too explanato explanatory. >> jon meacham, there's something else i wanted to pick up on. the president's obvious irritation, chuck was just mentioning it before we started, at the notion that it's a pox on both houses. >> right. >> and one of the president's top advisers was rather defensive on twitter saying it should bug every american because it's lazy journalism and punditry and has a real effect on our political system.
well, here's the reality that even his advisers have to understand. the american people, republicans and democrats, do look at results, or the lack thereof. so it's not lazy punditry when people are out there very frustrated with both ends of this. >> right. and they see the system as broken because, as you say, it doesn't produce a result -- a desirable result. >> right, being right is not enough, even if you're the president. >> exactly. >> even if you believe you're right, it doesn't necessarily get a result. >> presidential politics is about wholesale and retail, as we say in the trade. and so today, this morning, he was doing a wholesale sell. he was using the bully pulpit. he was talking to you. he was making an intellectual case. and trying to say, i won. this is what you voted for. this is what we adjudicated in the election. but on the retail side, as tom says, all evidence suggests he has not been the warmest and fuzziest of cajolers. and you have to do both. and you can't just be right on the idea. you do have to sell this. and even the greatest president,
let's be clear, ronald reagan of the modern era, rain and bill clinton, they sold their initial deals in the first year. it was close. it was one, two, three votes. it was very tight. but they did it and they pushed and they pushed on both the wholesale and retail. >> i don't think you can have the congressmen over too often. i think they should be there sleeping with you if you want them to be. >> that would get some people in trouble. >> you know, the civil war era people, doris, you know. >> but i think he finally has made a decision perhaps that the inside game didn't work. he said that which means he mobilized the outside game. >> his inability to try the inside game. let's make sure, we are go to come up on the least productive congress. 208 bills congress has passed, the lowest number since this has been tracked. the lowest before that was 333. let's go through the highlights. milk price is going up. we talked about the milk cliff. that debacle we saw in the
senate on the u.n. disability treaty right in front of bob dole. that was a bizarre moment, if you will. this fiscal cliff, three budget standoffs. i mean, this congress has been uniquely atrocious. >> tom. >> the fact is that the system is rigged. 75% of the congressmen come from gerrymandered districts in which they're bulletproof. they only play to one constituencies. there are no swing states. they don't go home to have to prove their case because they've got a choir back home. that's a huge part of the problem. there's another reality in this town today. we need a lighter moment. a lot of folks as i was coming in today say they've got to get this done by kickoff time tonight. >> it's a good thing nbc moved kickoff time. >> david, i also think it's important to go back to the president's argument that, you know, you have to be able to say yes to something that's reasonable. charles krauthammer and other conservatives have argued that he's effectively exposed big
internal divisions in the republican party that they have yet to work out which prevents them from getting to a reasonable place of compromise, to then move on to fight other battles. >> right. well, boehner was close to a deal, but he couldn't sell -- not the rank-and-file we would men of the caucus. he couldn't sell the senior leadership on the deal because they thought they were giving away what they needed to do later on. you've got to know beyond boehner what the party wants. but in some sense, the republicans are being shambolic and making fools out of themselves. in other sense, they are reacting favorably or rationally to the incentive structure there within. the big lie in this whole thing is that we've got this sensible country with a dysfunctional washington. the reality is we have a country of people who want to bankrupt their children to spend money on themselves, and they will punish any politician who prevents them from doing that. therefore they will punish republicans if they cut entitlements. they will punish democrats if they cut entitlements. so what you saw today was the president shifting the attention
from debt reduction to tax cuts, which is the easy thing. i think the problem is centrally in the country, and the politicians look like idiots because they're responding to horrible incentives. >> that's a great word. >> what does shambolic mean? >> it's british. >> you know, i thought let it go the first time. the second time, i didn't really know what you meant. tom, you interviewed then-candidate obama in 2008. you asked them then, would you get medicare and social security reform done in your first two years? he said well, tom, i don't know if i can do that, but certainly in the first term. i asked him to make a commitment for the first year of his second term. he's not prepared to do that. this is the driver. david, you recently link to a "weekly standard" piece, you're going to run out of discretionary money to do the things the president wants to do if he doesn't take on entitlements. >> they've got to address it. and the president, i think, could help himself a lot if he were tougher on the aarp, for example, and said, look, it's not about the people at the bottom for whom medicare really is the life line. it's about all the people,
including those of us around the table who get the same benefits, members of our family who are very working class. my brother has a really great working-class career working for the telephone company, but there's a big disparity between what we're worth, but we get the same benefits at the end of the day. there's something wrong with that. the fact of the matter is that we're all living longer as well. social security can go up if you give it some lead time to retire at 67 and probably 20 years from now, retire maybe at 70 because people are staying in the workplace longer. he althouought to be able to ra those issues in a way that he can begin to sell to the american people the idea that we've got fundamental reforms that we have to do, as david says, downstream because we are going to bankrupt not just our children but our grandchildren. >> this goes on republicans a little bit. if they want this, and mcconnell, i think, does. i'm not sure -- going to your incentive structure, they demagogued medicare to their own success. a lot of them got into congress demagoguing medicare. but if they want this, they're going to a, need a democratic
president to sign the legislation. it could never -- the republican party can't have it where it's all one party that does this with social security and medicare. and they have got to be willing to say all right, if they want to do this, they'll have to give on something that they don't like. maybe even higher -- and that's where the moment was there. they almost got this president to move on social security. they almost got him to move on medicare reform, and they didn't take the -- >> go ahead. >> at the end of the day, they're going to walk away with this without any spending restraint. we're going to get a deal which will do nothing on deficit. >> they're own fault. >> i dotelly agr totally agree. >> the president said he'll put behind his weight gun control. does he have the stomach for how difficult this is going to be politically? i'm not sure. >> i'm not either. there's a great line in "tom sawyer" where tom sawyer says that an evangelist came through town that was so good that even huck finn stayed safe till tuesday. i worry that our attention span on these things is so limited,
you had to bring up the question of guns as the president was laying out his second-term agenda. it is one of these cultural political issues where you have a ferociously well organized opposition and a more diffuse common-sense broader population. and i think that that's where the attention is. that also, by the way, is not the well organized interest plus the common-sense diffusion is not just limited to guns. >> but tom, talk a little bit more about guns. as you remember the assault weapons ban in '94, passes the house by four votes, and that was a democratic house. >> and by the way, it had a lot of loopholes. i brought a copy of a magazine called "shotgun news." >> smarty over here. is that shambolic? >> this is for people who own guns and are gun collectors, some are gun nuts, not all of them, obviously.
the fact is, it's all about what we call assault weapons. and there are lots of variations on them. this entire publication is dedicated to the idea that there are lots of new, what they call, platforms for ar-15s. and there are ways that you can change the barrels. you can change the stock. you can change the trigger mechanism. >> this was the gun used in newtown? >> yeah. and the fact of the matter is that everybody talks about it as if it's one weapon. it's not. it's a lot of variations on the same weapon. so they always find a way to do around it. and there is no more, in my judgment, unified constituency in america than the passionate gun owners. they're out there. and they believe -- so many of them believe the government is going to knock down their door and take their guns away. if we get do that, we've got a lot bigger problem than guns. we're an anarchy. >> there isn't a 92-page newsletter against assault weapons. >> let me -- we'll come back to this. i want to get a break in.
i was in kentucky over christmas, a bumper sticker that said "i am the nra and i will vote." we'll get a quick break, talk about the president's priorities for a second term and what's really possible. more with our roundtable after this. [ roasting firewood ] ♪ many hot dogs are within you. try pepto-bismol to-go,
we're back with more from our roundtable. we'll get to some of the headlines that the president made on the wires here before we're through. but doris kearns goodwin, how does the president set priorities in a second term? he's got a pretty long list there and a pretty difficult environment in which to operate. >> the most important thing a president has to do knowing he has limited capital is to decide
where do i put my ambitions and where do i hold back. fdr once said i'm like a cat. i know when it pounce and when to pull back. i think the fact that he did not mention gun control makes him understand that unless he can argue public sentiment to overcome the enormous special interest, that's going to be a much harder one. immigration right at the top. and that's the one where he can mobilize that base. it's the base that elected him. it's going to make it harder for republicans. if he were to get immigration, he starts on a successful platform, and then maybe move to the other ones. on entitlements. >> there is incentive for republicans to cooperate on immigration. >> the sad thing for fiscal cliff is we'll be stuck in trench warfare for another couple of years. >> that's why you've got to go for immigration. >> make sure you do it with a bush type comprehensive package. then you break the trench warfare. you get some from column a and column b, and then maybe you can do the things you want to do. the second big issue that does the same thing, a broad coalition, is tax reform.
>> but the question tom raises when we're talking about guns, there's a larger approach. does he have more of an opportunity on gun control if there's a big mental health aspect to it, if there's more to it, tom? >> well, that's what i think. i think it has to be holistic. the fact of the matter is, i'm not an assault weapon fan of any kind, but i know people who go out to the target ranges and feel strongly that they have a second amendment right to fire them off as many times as they want to with 30-round magazines in them. so sportsmen, people who have weapons for hunting deer or big game or birds as i do and other people, have to become part of this debate as well, and say, look, there have got to be limits of some kind. i have even talked to people who are gun owners saying, why couldn't you have a club where they actually own the assault weapons, and if you want to shoot it for target practice, you have to go to the licensed club, get the gun, shoot it and check it back in. >> that's all the more reason why he has to use the bully pulpit, to educate the country on a holistic approach.
he has to get out of the white house more. he should take a train and go around the country and talk to people about all of these issues so you can mobilize public sentiment. as lincoln said, without it nothing can happen. and that's the goal of the second term. >> i think the gun question, though, is almost less a question of presidential leadership and cultural leadership from people like tom and like me. we are the only two gun owners here. david, i know -- >> the pen. >> -- the pen. but if you're a moderate, if you're a quail hunter or dove hunter, you have to get into this and say, look, assault weapons are not what this is about. as president clinton said, he had never known anyone that needed an assault weapon to kill a deer. and this is a case where if people, if this is not an organic movement from the country, it's not going to work. it can't come from top down. >> i want to inject the larger political point. we have midterm elections coming up in two years. he's talking about immigration. there's the trench warfare on the budget and entitlements which could take a long time, and gun control if he wants to do that this year as well.
>> well, and that's the thing. doris is right, you've got to pick and choose. you've got to be careful. if you pick -- on one hand, it could be tempting to go guns, because it needs the most political capital. it's going to be the hardest slog. it's the most work. but if you do it and fail, you're not going to get anything else fail. ask george bush when he did social security first. immigration is going to be relatively easy now. there will be some painful moments, but you have a republican party of which there is incentive to get it done. they had a big victory early. maybe that is what it does. i tell you, the fact that they're going to be stuck in these budget impasses, and it's going to keep the economy dragging down, i think that's the biggest -- we have already gone over the political cliff here, if you will, with what -- because the deal that happens, if it happens, is temporary. we're going to have the debt ceiling thing in six weeks which is just abominable. >> let me just underscore some of the headlines being made. the president saying that the u.s. has good leads on who
carried out the benghazi attacks. he also touts chuck hagel. as defense secretary. saying there's nothing disqualifying but saying he hasn't made a defense choice yet. he says failure to reach a fiscal deal would hurt the markets. and as we've been talking about, the president wants gun violence measures passed in 2013, something he said in the course of our interview. we'll take another break here. be back in just a moment. ] we'. we fall down. we gain weight. and we get back up. strength and determination are human too. so are dinner dates and birthday cake. introducing the new weight watchers 360 program. built for human nature so you can expect amazing. ♪ on top of the world right now ♪ join for free and expect amazing. because it works. every signature is unique, and every fingerprint unrepeatable.
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