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Transcript (with my notes) from January 31, 2010 (PART 1)

February 14, 2010

David Axelrod, John Boehner, David Brooks, David Faber, Eugene Robinson, Mort Zuckerman
Sunday, January 31, 2010

MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday: The State of the Union and a new start for the president after a rough first year.

(Videotape)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA: I don’t quit.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: With a renewed focus on jobs and the economy, is healthcare reform dead? Plus, the Massachusetts message clearly heard, growing frustration with the way Washington works as the president tries to engage the other side in a face-to-face policy debate open to cameras.

(Videotape)

REP. JEB HENSARLING: Now very soon, Mr. President, you’re due to submit a new budget, and my question is…

PRES. OBAMA: Jim(?)(as spoken), I know there’s a question in there somewhere, because you’re making a whole bunch of assertions, half of which I disagree with.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: But can the two sides work together? Will there be give and take? We’ll speak to two men central to making that happen: the president’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, and the House Republican leader, Congressman John Boehner of Ohio.

Then our roundtable weighs in on the president’s focus on jobs and his political standing: The New York Times’ David Brooks, CNBC’s David Faber, The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson, and U.S. News & World Report’s Mort Zuckerman.

And in our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE, we look back to a time not too long ago when both sides engaged more openly in policy dialogue, the majority and minority leaders of the Senate side-by-side together in one or their frequent MEET THE PRESS appearances.

But first, here with us exclusively this morning, David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president.

Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

MR. DAVID AXELROD: Thanks, David. Good to be here.

MR. GREGORY: I want to begin with some news this morning. First, the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind behind 9/11, has the administration reversed its stance and decided not to transfer him to New York for trial?

MR. AXELROD: We’ve made no decisions on that, David. I’ve seen the reports. We’ve made no decisions on that yet. Look, here’s the situation: The attorney general and the Defense Department worked out protocols about how these cases should be handled. Under those protocols, the attorney general decided to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed back to New York to stand trial for his crime for the murder of 3,000 innocent people, and he wanted to do it near the, the site of, of the crime itself. He wanted to do what the Bush administration did over and over and over again and try these people in—try these murderers in, in Article III court where these—and, and that’s what he decided to do. The local authorities were receptive to that at the time. Since then, as you know, the mayor and the police chief and others have changed their minds and said they thought it would be too logistically difficult and too expensive. We have to take that into consideration, and we’re doing that now.

As in the previous week, a good hard news question to start the show. Gregory opens the door for news to be made right off the bat.

MR. GREGORY: What does the president think? New York in or out?

Wait. Isn’t this the same question as above. I understand the tactic of trying to get the answer in a different way, but this seems doesn’t seem very artful. How about asking, “So when will we know?” Or if you want to be a little more tough, “Are you saying local authorities have a veto over what federal courts do?”

MR. AXELROD: The president believes that we need to take into consideration what the local authorities are saying. But he also believes this: He believes that we ought to, to, to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and all others who are involved in terrorist acts to justice swift and sure in the American justice system. Now, we have a military commission system and that has its place, but we ought to bring people to justice. The Bush administration tried 190 or more terrorists in that system. During that period, Mr. Boehner and others had nothing to say about that, they were all supportive. When we tried Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, in the, in the civilian courts for his crime, when we tried the 20th bomber, 9/11 conspirator, Moussaoui, in Virginia for his crime, nobody said anything. In fact, Rudy Giuliani said he was in awe of the American justice system. Mr. Cheney said this was the way to do it. Now we have a Democratic president and suddenly we hear this—these protests, and it doesn’t make sense. And you ought to clarify what has changed between now and then that would cause people to reverse their positions 180.

So, same question, Axelrod gives same answer.

MR. GREGORY: So, bottom line, what are the chances it stays in New York?

MR. AXELROD: Well, obviously, as I said, we have to take into consideration the concerns of the local authorities in New York, and we will do so.

Again, same question. And Axelrod stays on point. (I mean really, Axelrod is a pro at staying on message. Did Gregory forget that?)

MR. GREGORY: Still on the, the question of terrorism, there’s a lot of criticism leveled at the administration for the fact that the shoe—the, the, the bomber, the Christmas Day bomber, was read his Miranda rights after some only 50 minutes of questioning, and he was read those rights without the approval of senior officials in the administration who would have authority over that. How big of a concern is that for the president?

MR. AXELROD: That is not, that is not—let’s clarify what happened with him. He was interrogated by FBI interrogators. They came back later, he was unwilling to submit to questioning. But over time, they have had additional opportunities to question. And we’ll see. I, I, I would suggest that everybody wait and see the, the disposition of this case, because my sense is that he has given very valuable information to, to the government about activities in Yemen and some of his experiences there. And that—and we have not lost anything as a result of how his case has been handled.

With hindsight, Axelrod probably knew what the rest of us found out later in the week: the shoe bomber, after an intervention by his family, was divulging a lot of useful stuff to investigators.

MR. GREGORY: Let me move on to domestic matters and that pretty extraordinary appearance on Friday in Baltimore at the House Republican retreat. The president came there, a kind of British style question-and-answer period. He even gets the blueprint for the Republican agenda from the House side. I wonder whether the decision to accept that invitation was a recognition on the president’s part that if he wants to be more than a one-term president, he’s got to govern from the middle?

MR. AXELROD: You know, David, I’d say a few things about that. First of all, the decision to attend was not a last-minute decision on our part, it was, it was, it was on the calendar, we were aware of it. The Republican caucus had been good enough to extend that invitation. And this is something that—we had visited the caucus before. But it’s interesting the way you asked the question: Does he, does he—did he do it because he wants to be more than a one-term president? We don’t sit around in the White House making calculations on that basis. The president of the United States has one concern, which is how do we move this country forward, how do we get people back to work, how do we lift incomes, how do we build some security for the middle class who have been facing economic challenges not just through this recession but for a decade or more? And, and that’s what he’s thinking about. And if we can get some cooperation from the other side to do that, we’re going to be a stronger country for it. That’s why he went to the caucus, and that’s why we’re going to continue to have a dialogue with Mr. Boehner and others.

Worth noting that the president’s performance at the House Republican retreat outshines the State of the Union speech in news value this week. The State of the Union was a good “set piece,” but the retreat was something new under the sun. Even ignoring the really masterful performance by the president, the event exposed how hungry we are to see politicians having real, human, meaty conversations about the future of the country rather than the mediated, hyperbolic, back and forth through third parties we usually see.

MR. GREGORY: Does he feel, does he feel like he has to move to the middle to achieve?

MR. AXELROD: Again, I don’t think this is a question of left, right or center, this is a question of what, what—what’s—what works. How do we—now we’ve proposed, for example, tax cuts for small business. We, we, we passed without, frankly, the help of the Republican caucus, we passed 25 tax cuts last year, mostly aimed at the middle class and small businesses. The president’s come back and said, “We need to do more.” We’ve, we’ve gone from a period of rapid descent in our economy to, as we saw on Friday, six percent growth. But the job production has to be accelerated. And so he said, “Let’s give a tax cut to small businesses to begin hiring—to encourage hiring.” That was an idea that Mr. Cantor, Mr. Boehner’s deputy, said was a good idea at one time, and he said that they would follow if we would lead on it. He said, “Let’s eliminate capital gains taxes for small businesses.” He said, “Let’s accelerate the tax break that businesses get for buying equipment so that they can, they can reap the benefit of it next year.” Also, something that will encourage growth in—job growth. These are things we ought to be able to work together on, and we—and I hope we can.

OK, here is a case where Gregory asks the same question twice because the guest didn’t answer it the first time, and this time it kind of worked.

MR. GREGORY: You’ve talked about a price for Republicans if they continue to block the president’s agenda. What should that price be? What will it be?

MR. AXELROD: Well, I think there’s a price for both parties if the impression is what we’re more interested in our own jobs than we are in the jobs of the American people, if we play politics on every single issue. I’ll give you an example. We believe that in the near—in the, in the mid and long term, we have to deal with these deficits, that’s why the president has proposed a, a freeze on domestic discretionary spending, something that the Republican leadership actually suggested when we had a bipartisan meeting some weeks ago. But when a measure came up in the Senate this week, or this past week, for a bipartisan commission, a statutory commission to deal with the fiscal crisis—because we understand we can only deal with that together—it lost by seven votes, and the seven votes were seven Republican co-sponsors of that amendment who then walked away from their own proposal. Well, we have to get serious about this. So I think the American people will punish any party who they believe is playing politics ahead of solving problems, and, and they should.

MR. GREGORY: Do you think the Republicans want the president to fail? Do they want the economy to fail?

MR. AXELROD: Well, that’s a question you should ask Mr. Boehner. I, I don’t believe that—I don’t—I’m not going to make that allegation here. I, I hope that’s not the case. All I know is that in the first year of our administration, they largely sat on the sidelines on a lot of these issues. We have taken—we have had some discussions, we have incorporated some of, some of their ideas. But moving forward, I hope that the spirit is we are all Americans, we have great problems to solve, let’s work together, and let’s make putting Americans back to work more important than scoring political points.

Good back and forth here. I mostly don’t like to much focus on the DC dance. But the question of whether or not the Republicans want the president and/or the economy to fail because it would be good for them is a question which resonates outside of DC… and is part of the larger “DC is broken” concept… which deserves more Sunday morning attention.

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about health care. The president speaking to Congress a year before the State of the Union said this about healthcare reform.

(Videotape, February 24, 2009)

PRES. OBAMA: So let there be no doubt, healthcare reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Is the reality now that it has to wait?

MR. AXELROD: No, I don’t think so. And I think that—and I don’t think that’s what the American people are saying. If—you know, I, I don’t like to make polling the, the gospel, but it’s all very consistent. The American people aren’t saying let’s walk away from health insurance reform. They’ve seen their premiums double in the last 10 years. They understand that if they have pre-existing conditions, they can’t get insurance. They understand that if they become seriously ill, they’re, they’re subject to being thrown off their insurance. They know what their out-of-pocket costs are doing. And they know that this is a long-term threat to their families, businesses and the government. They want us to act. They want us—they’d like us to work together to do it. And in fact, we’ve incorporated a number of the main Republican ideas into our proposal.

MR. GREGORY: I want to get to that in just a minute. Mary Landrieu, conservative Democrat from Louisiana, said it’s on life support, health care. Is it on life support?

MR. AXELROD: Well, I, I hope for the, for the sake of the American people and the tens of millions of people out there who are, who are disadvantaged in their relationship with their insurance companies today or who have no insurance, I hope that’s not the case. Again, this is a situation where we ought to put the economic interests of everyday Americans ahead of the politics of the moment. And that’s what the president’s saying. These are extraordinary times. Middle-class families and people who want to be middle class are struggling all over this country. Let’s, let’s, let’s provide some help.

MR. GREGORY: Is the president clear-eyed, though, that there’s still a chance this is not going to happen?

MR. AXELROD: The president is determined that we deal with the problems in front of us, and health care is one of those problems.

Three questions in a row about the politics… will healthcare reform have to wait? But people really want to hear about the substance. As with the Jarret interview last week, I’d like to see Gregory push the administration to name the top priorities, the must-haves, they would demand in a slimmed down healthcare reform push.

MR. GREGORY: One of the debates about spending has to do with the other side of it, which is tax relief. The president’s very clear that he wants to let the Bush tax cuts expire, doesn’t want to tax anybody—or wants to keep—wants taxes to go up, those making above $250,000. What tax relief would the president consider?

MR. AXELROD: Well, first of all, the president has said that, that he thinks that we ought to continue those portions of the tax cuts that apply to the middle class. The middle class has struggled mightily in this economy and for some time before. He, he’s also—he, he initiated—the, the Republican caucus voted against it, but he initiated a tax cut for 95 percent of the American people, the make work pay cut—tax cut. He wants, he wants to continue that in the, in the next budget. He’s proposed tax cuts for, for child care, to help working families. He’s—and a series of other things that would help give some, some assistance to people in a very difficult time here. And we, we hope to get some cooperation on all of that.

Decent exchange.

MR. GREGORY: During the State of the Union, there, there was a moment that got a lot of attention—I want to show it to you here—where the president was critical of the Supreme Court decision about campaign finance reform. And in the audience, Justice Alito had a, what seemed to be a pretty critical response, as the line was said. He’s shaking his head there. And then as it gets closer, it looks like he’s saying, “That’s not true.” Was it appropriate for the president to criticize the Supreme Court during the State of the Union? And do you consider Justice Alito’s response to be appropriate or inappropriate?

MR. AXELROD: Well, I certainly think it was appropriate for the president to talk about the threat that this decision brings to our democracy. Basically, it’s going to be open season for special interest groups and big corporations to participate in our elections with all their might and all their money. And that includes foreign—domestic branches of foreign-owned businesses, even government—foreign government-owned businesses. In fact, some of the, some of those companies signaled on Friday, according to The Wall Street Journal, that they’re going to lobby vigorously against any effort to rein this in.

One thing we ought to be able to agree on, and, and maybe we can here today, is that we shouldn’t have foreign-owned businesses and foreign—you know, Hugo Chavez should not be playing in American political campaigns. And I, for the life of me, don’t understand why we wouldn’t make that illegal.

I suppose this was worth a question. On the other hand, this is the only question Gregory asks directly about the State of the Union… should this have been it?

MR. GREGORY: That moment, though, was that the appropriate forum?

MR. AXELROD: Well, this is a big—one of the things that we face, David, and one of the things the American people recognize is that we have too much influence of special interests in the decision making here in, in Washington.

MR. GREGORY: But the question I’m asking, David, is whether that was an…

MR. AXELROD: But, but this…

MR. GREGORY: …appropriate criticism.

MR. AXELROD: But this, this, this is central to that. If you’re going to deliver a message on the State of the Union, then one of the things you have to address is how do we get—how do we free our government from the grips of special interests? We, for example, proposed that every lobbyist disclose who they have contact with, whether it’s in the administration or contact—or Congress, on behalf of their clients. We have to take some steps to protect our, our government, our democracy from the overweening influence of special interests.

MR. GREGORY: You still haven’t answered whether you think it was an appropriate thing—criticism of the president.

MR. AXELROD: I, I think it was totally appropriate.

MR. GREGORY: And Alito’s response?

MR. AXELROD: Well, I—look, we—in this weird political season, we’ve become accustomed to unusual outbursts in the chamber during these speeches, so.

Five questions on this topic? What was the goal? To get Axelrod to say something negative about Alito or get him to criticize the president? I don’t think either was likely to happen. We have three independent branches of government, and I don’t think the president’s comments or Alito’s response put that in jeopardy. Moving on…

MR. GREGORY: Final question, is the country better off than it was a year ago?

MR. AXELROD: Look, until—obviously, in some ways, the answer is yes. We—a year ago we were losing 700,000 jobs a month. We are, are—when the president took office, our economy was shrinking at a rate of 6.4 percent. Last Friday, we learned it’s growing now at a rate of 6 percent. The job loss has—is one-tenth of what it was. But until people are working, until incomes are growing, until there’s a sense of stability and economic security on the part of the middle class, we’ve got a lot of work to do.

Again, as with Jarret last week, not a tough question, but a reasonable one given the anniversary.

MR. GREGORY: David Axelrod, thank you, as always, for being here.

MR. AXELROD: Great to be here.

MR. GREGORY: Appreciate it.

I want to turn now right to the leader of the Republicans in the House, Congressman John Boehner.

Leader, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS. You heard…

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): David, good to be with you.

OK, as with last week, I am disturbed by the transition. Was Boehner sitting there the whole time? This just looks creepy. And if you have high-level representatives of each party sitting at the same table… why not let them talk and mix it up? Oh well.

MR. GREGORY: You heard David Axelrod say that any party, including the Republicans, will be punished if they continue to stand in the way of the president’s agenda. What do you say?

REP. BOEHNER: Listen, there are parts of the president agenda that, that we’ve been supportive of. But as a political party and in the minority on the Hill, we have an obligation to the American people to stand on principle. That’s why we’ve all stood and voted against a stimulus bill that was supposed to be about creating jobs immediately, yet three million Americans have lost their job. President said it wouldn’t—unemployment wouldn’t exceed 8 percent, now it’s over 10. Whether it’s his budget with trillion-dollar deficits for as far as the eye can see, their national energy tax that they call cap-and-trade, or this government takeover of health care, Republicans have an obligation to stand on principle and to fight these proposals, but, but, at the same time, to offer better solutions. We’ve offered better solutions all year long on all these major policies. But we’re not going to be bashful about walking away from our principles.

Boehner could have taken the bait on that question, but he didn’t. Maybe the polls showing that Americans are turned off by fighting in DC across the board are working.

MR. GREGORY: Well, let’s bring some of that down. But first, what was your overall impression—we see the, the appearance on Friday, shaking hands with the president, taking questions. A pretty unusual forum, you haven’t seen that a lot. What was your overall impression of the president?

REP. BOEHNER: I thought it was a very good afternoon. We invited the president to come because we wanted to have a dialogue, and we’re glad that the president accepted. I thought our members were honest, and I thought the president was honest. It’s not that we’re going to agree on everything. But the American people sent us all here to Washington to, to do what we can to help solve the problems we have in our country.

Same as above.

MR. GREGORY: Well, let’s talk about solving problems. This is one of the points that the president made, chastising Republicans in terms of coming together to deal constructively with issues. This is what he said.

(Videotape, January 29, 2010)

PRES. OBAMA: We’re not going to be able to do anything about any of these entitlements if what we do is characterized, whatever proposals are put out there, as, “Well, you know, that’s—the other party’s being irresponsible. The other party’s trying to hurt old—our senior citizens.” That the other party is doing X, Y, Z. That’s why I say if we’re going to frame these debates in ways that allow us to solve them, then we can’t start off by figuring out, A, who’s to blame; B, how can we make the American people afraid of the other side?

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: And to that point, I mean, even here you’re talking about deficits and debt as far as the eye can see, when you know full well that the president owns a very small percentage, comparatively, of that overall debt as far as the eye can see.

REP. BOEHNER: No.

I kind of agree with Boehner here. If Boehner was trying to demonize the president… and he knows how to do that… his answer above would have been very different. We have pols here kinda-sorta trying to talk about substance and find common ground… and Gregory look like he is trying to keep the fight going.

MR. GREGORY: Does he have a point?

REP. BOEHNER: No. If, if you think about what I said, I was referring to the—all the president’s policies. Wasn’t demonizing him, wasn’t demonizing the White House. And I’m usually very careful about dealing with the subject at hand. Listen, there aren’t that many places where we can come together. The president is—well, he was the most liberal member of the United States Senate. You don’t get there by accident. And if you look at the policies that we’ve seen over the course of this year from the administration and his Democratic colleagues in Congress, they’re all these leftist proposals. And the people of Massachusetts, the people of Virginia, the people of New Jersey are sending a pretty loud signal, just like the other 47 states, to the—to Washington, saying, “Stop! This is, this is way more than we ever wanted Washington to do.”

Most liberal, leftist. Boehner just can’t help himself, so I guess Gregory smoked him out. But to what end?

MR. GREGORY: Although the president took on this idea of it being leftist policies on health care, indicating that it was, in fact, the move to the center and cost containment that cost him some of the, the support among—within his own party. My question is, if you—you heard the president, in the State of the Union, say that saying no is short-term good politics, but it’s not leadership. You heard the State of the Union, you heard the president’s Friday address. What are you prepared to say yes to, specifically?

REP. BOEHNER: Leadership is about standing on your principle and, and opposing those policies that, that we believe are bad for the country. But leadership is also standing up and offering what we think is a better solution. And when it comes to issues like health care, the president did his best to blur the differences, agreeing with us on five or six points, but didn’t refer to the other 100 commissions, boards, mandates that are in this government takeover of health care.

MR. GREGORY: What are a few things that the president could do—maybe he could convene Republicans and Democrats together on C-SPAN, as he said he would initially, and acknowledge that it was a mistake that he did not fulfill that promise during the Friday retreat, get everybody together. What are a few things that Republicans could say, “Hey, if these could be included, we could vote for this”?

REP. BOEHNER: Well, I’ll give you an example. Last year I told the president, you know, what—when we can be with you and when we agree with you, we will stand tall with you, as we did on Afghanistan, as we did on Iraq, as we did on things like teacher quality and a number of other areas. But when it comes to, when it comes to health care, we could agree on a some commonsense steps to make our healthcare system work better. But we are not going to put the government in charge of people’s health care. And, and it, it’s something that there’s a fundamental difference here. And most of American has already said no to this big government takeover.

This is a good question. I suspect Gregory is hoping Boehner will say something he can pounce on (“But so-and-so from you party is opposed to that…”) But overall, if honest, I think Gregory and MTP could play a positive role in nailing down the areas of potential bipartisan cooperation.

MR. GREGORY: It’s interesting. You say you don’t want government in charge of health care, and yet you’re a supporter of the idea of portable health insurance, the ability to take health insurance across state lines. But I thought the Republicans were states’ rights guys and didn’t want—because you’d have to have some kind of federal regulatory agency to monitor that kind of portability, wouldn’t you?

REP. BOEHNER: No, you wouldn’t have to.

MR. GREGORY: Really? Because that’s…

REP. BOEHNER: What we’re saying is the American people ought to buy health insurance across state lines. They ought to buy health insurance where they get the policy that they need for themselves and their family at the best price.

MR. GREGORY: And there wouldn’t have to be some sort of federal regulatory system to, to receive that?

REP. BOEHNER: Well, no. That’s the whole point. The president said, “Well, I’m for that. But, you know, there’d have to be some bureaucrat here in Washington that needs to make sure that this is done fairly.” The American people are smart enough to do this on their own.

I like choosing one thing which might be potential common ground and following that up with some questions. But Gregory whips out “states’ rights” as the potential Republican sticking point. Really? This isn’t Plessy v. Ferguson.

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about health care. Is it dead?

REP. BOEHNER: No. We’ve seen all week, Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid continuing to scheme and plot, trying to find some way to get their big government takeover of health care enacted. And so I do think they’re having problems, but I think Republicans are going to continue to be vigilant in exposing this. And I think the American people need to stay engaged because I’m watching all of, all of the, the movement on the Hill. They’re still trying to find a way, even after Massachusetts, the election there, they’re still trying to find a way to shove this down the throats of the American people. And the American people are saying, “No, stop!” And what we need to do is scrap the big government takeover bill and let’s start over. Let’s start over on commonsense steps that we can do—we can take to make our system work better.

No one in Washington thinks our current healthcare system is perfect, and certainly not Republicans. We’ve outlined our eight or nine ideas about how we can make it work better. But we want to preserve the best healthcare system in the world, and we don’t want the government to take control of it.

This is the Boehner we know and love. Is healthcare dead? No… so you better watch out!

MR. GREGORY: The, the question of spending and, and commonsense steps that could be taken, you heard David Axelrod say, “Look, the Republicans voted against paying as you go. They voted against a commission to control the debt.” They suggest a spending freeze, the president’s budget will. And Speaker Pelosi has said that should not exempt defense spending, it should include it. What do you say? Should the spending freeze be a good start but be expanded?

REP. BOEHNER: I think the president’s proposal on freezing nonsecurity domestic spending is a good first step, but it’s only $15 billion for each of the next three years. I think we can do much better than that. I don’t think any agency of the federal government should be exempt from rooting out wasteful spending or unnecessary spending. And I, frankly, I would agree with it at the Pentagon. There’s got to be wasteful spending there, unnecessary spending there. It all ought to be eliminated, and we should be going through this budget line by line and, and asking the question, is this spending worth having to borrow money that our kids and grandkids are going to have to pay back? That’s the real question. And if we went through the budget line by line like that, I think there’s a lot more spending that we could cut.

So will the Republicans do that? Will they offer line-by-line cuts? Will they offer an alternative budget? Gregory, instead, goes back to questions about who will return to power in DC?

MR. GREGORY: Let, let me ask you about the prospect of Republican leadership. In The New York Times today, front page, is this story, as the GOP hits its stride, pitfalls await. And this is a portion of that piece. “At a moment of what appears to be great if unexpected opportunity, the Republican Party continues to struggle with disputes over ideology and tactics, as well as what party leaders say is an absence of strong figures to lead it back to power, from the party chairman to prospective presidential candidates.”

Are Republicans too fractured to seize this moment and return to power?

REP. BOEHNER: Listen, we have, we have our share of differences within our party, but I, I don’t see any big fractures that are out there. What we’re trying to do here in Washington is to show the American people that we’ve learned our lessons in terms of too much spending. And what we’ve tried to demonstrate over the course of the, of the last year is a real sense of fiscal responsibility, a real sense that Republicans need to show the American people that we can stand on principle and that we are the party of better solutions.

MR. GREGORY: But with the tea party out there, who is the—what’s the leader in the Republican—who’s the leader in the Republican Party now to lead a charge with a new “Contract With America” say?

REP. BOEHNER: David, we’re not, there’s not going to be a leader in the Republican Party until we have a presidential candidate. In the meantime, there are going to be a lot of people leading. There are going to be a lot of flowers out there blooming. And I think that’s good for our party and, frankly, good for the country.

MR. GREGORY: Do you support Michael Steele as chairman of the party?

REP. BOEHNER: He’s been elected as the chairman of the party. I’ve worked closely with him. It’s not that I agree with everything that he does, but he’s, by and large, he’s doing a pretty good job.

MR. GREGORY: So you support him in his role?

REP. BOEHNER: I do.

Hmmm. Seems to me that the Tea Party stuff and the general mood of the country is about anger with almost everything in DC. And that is a Republican AND and Democratic problem. In that context, asking who will return to power in DC seems odd. Maybe we could have skipped the sequence above, and gotten right to the next question about how the blame is being spread pretty broadly.

MR. GREGORY: Let me show you something from our Wall Street Journal which is interesting in terms of blame. “Who do you blame for not finding solutions” in Washington? Republicans get the lion’s share of this, certainly more than President Obama. Why do you think that is?

REP. BOEHNER: Well, it’s one of the reasons why we put this book together, so you and the president and others can’t continue to call us the “party of no,” the “party of no ideas.” We’ve worked very hard over the last year to make sure that if we had to disagree with our Democratic colleagues in Congress or the administration that, that we, we outlined what we were for. And I think that’s a responsible way to do our job as the minority party. Remember, David, you’ve got President Obama in the White House. You’ve got large majorities of Democrats in the House and Senate. They can’t blame us for their problems. And the, and the, the fact is, it’s their problems. They’ve got a number of members who are saying no to what the liberals in Congress and the White House want to do. It’s, it’s, they’ve got these big majorities. They can’t blame us for their inability to govern.

But the poll is about the American people blaming you, not the Democrats or the media blaming you. Are you saying the American people are wrong? Gregory moves on. (And that is not a criticism of Gregory. The clock forces some things, and the next question is one I am sure he didn’t want to leave out.)

MR. GREGORY: Finally, I want to ask you about “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The president said that he wants this to be reversed, that prohibition against gays in the military. You have said, “I think that `don’t ask, don’t tell’ has worked very well, and we just ought to leave it alone.” Will this be a Republican campaign issue?

REP. BOEHNER: I don’t think it will be a campaign issue. But in the middle of two wars, and, and in the middle of this giant security threat, why would we want to get into this debate? While, at a time when Americans are asking, “Where are the jobs?” why do we want to get in this debate? While we’re fighting over health care and trying to find some way to come to some common ground, why do we want to get into a divisive debate that will do nothing more than distract the, the real debate that should occur here about helping get our economy going again and getting the American people back to work.

No new ground broken, but again something which was surely on the “must ask” list.)

MR. GREGORY: Leader Boehner, we’ll leave it there. Always nice to have you on the program.

REP. BOEHNER: Thank you.

MR. GREGORY: Thanks very much.

And coming up next, we’ll break down the president’s new agenda and his political standing. A final word on the week ahead, a week that was and a look ahead—David Brooks, David Faber, Eugene Robinson and Mort Zuckerman. Plus, our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE, a look back at a time when Democrats and Republicans enjoyed open policy dialogues. Right here on MEET THE PRESS.

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