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Transcript (with my notes) from April 4, 2010 (PART 1)

April 4, 2010

Christina Romer, Michael Chertoff, Jane Harman, Joe Lieberman, David Remnick, Rick Stengel

Sunday, April 4, 2010

MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, back to work. The nation posts its largest job gain in three years, but unemployment remains unchanged at 9.7 percent. Are the millions of jobs lost during this recession ever coming back? And what stimulus options does the administration have left? Our exclusive guest this morning, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Dr. Christina Romer.

Then, the terror threat inside the U.S. A new warning to the nation’s governors surfaces as a violent anti-government plot is uncovered. Plus, new airport screening rules in response to the Christmas Day bombing scare. With us, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Senator Joe Lieberman, Independent of Connecticut; a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Congresswoman Jane Harman, Democrat of California; and former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff.

Finally, the president’s leadership. Where does he stand after the healthcare debate? And how will he lead his party in this election year? Insights from the editors: New Yorker magazine editor and author of the new book “The Bridge,” David Remnick; and editor of Time magazine, author of the new book “Mandela’s Way,” Rick Stengel.

But first, the economy. The president welcomed the positive job growth numbers on Friday, saying the U.S. is “beginning to turn the corner.” And with us live this morning, the chair of his Council of Economic Advisers, Dr. Christina Romer.

Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

DR. CHRISTINE ROMER: Great to be with you.

MR. GREGORY: So this was the very positive news, I’ll put it up on the screen, 162,000 jobs that were created in the month of March. Some of those temporary workers working on the census, and those who are sort of underemployed, as it’s measured, takes that unemployment rate still higher. Yet, with those caveats, what did this mean?

DR. ROMER: It meant we certainly had positive job growth. I mean, even when you take out what you mentioned, which is the effect of the census workers—we had some 48,000 people hired by the census in March. We also probably had a snow rebound effect. We think the big storms pushed down the numbers in February and sort of artificially pushed them up in March. But even taking those into account, we think we had good, solid, you know, employment growth. And that is, as the president said, it’s the beginning.

Romer comes across as very reasonable and realistic. No hyperbole. This is what good governance should look like.

MR. GREGORY: The worst is over?

DR. ROMER: I think certainly we—I mean, we have been seeing gradually job losses moderate. We’ve now crossed the zero line and are positive. Yes, I anticipate that we’re going to continue to see positive job growth as we go forward, and what I’m going to be focusing on is how big does it get; because, as you mentioned in your opening, we’ve got a big hole when it comes to jobs.

MR. GREGORY: Well, speaking of that, your colleague, the Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, spoke to Matt Lauer on the “Today” program this week, and he said something that was striking. Let’s show it.

(Videotape, Thursday)

SEC’Y TIMOTHY GEITHNER: The unemployment rate is still terribly high, and it’s going to stay unacceptably high for a long period of time.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: People will ask why and wonder whether we’re dealing with a 21st century economy where significant job creation is not possible.

DR. ROMER: Oh, I think that’s, that’s certainly not true. I—obviously, I absolutely think that we will be creating a lot of jobs. You know, the fact that the unemployment rate stayed constant this month at some level is pretty amazing, because we have seen…

Again, very reasonable. I get the sense that David Gregory is a little lost. How can he grill guests is they aren’t making outlandish claims?

MR. GREGORY: Nine point seven percent.

DR. ROMER: Nine point seven percent, which is, as Secretary Geithner said, absolutely unacceptable. But, you know, behind that there’s just been a tremendous increase in the labor force. For the last three months, or over the last three months, we’ve added more than a million people to the labor force. And that’s actually—that’s a great sign. That’s a sign that people that might have been discouraged, dropped out because of the terrible recession have started to have some hope again and are looking for work again.

MR. GREGORY: But why will it be so high for so long?

DR. ROMER: Well, I think part of it is we still face a lot of headwinds. I mean, this recession has been, as I’ve said, you know, an absolutely terrible one. It’s also an unusual one, having been caused by a financial crisis, has created a lot of fear. That’s a lot of—you know, we still have some trouble with debt and credit availability. All of that makes it harder for us to grow, so most of the forecasts are we’ll grow about 3 percent real GDP in, in 2010. That’s not enough to get a lot of job growth. We’ll get positive job growth, it’ll be enough to probably bring the unemployment rate down a little bit, but you need faster than that to really make a dent.

MR. GREGORY: Members of the president’s own party, congressmen and women at hearings recently, have raised some, some real concerns about this, the priority that jobs has and job creation has within the administration. This was one such complaint aired at a hearing where you were present. We’ll show it now.

So Gregory outsources the grilling to Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH).

(Videotape, March 16, 2010)

REP. MARCY KAPTUR (D-OH): I find your testimony dismaying and out of touch. And I ask myself, how can we be so far apart in our views? … Your testimony doesn’t even mention the total number of unemployed and underemployed and marginally attacked in our country. That number, for your information, is 25 million people. … People aren’t working. On page three, astoundingly, you concede unemployment won’t go down. You have no urgency.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: So the question becomes what options does the president have left to try to spur job creation?

Funny that Gregory did not follow that up with the question, “So where is the urgency?” But then Romer answers that question anyway!

DR. ROMER: Well, first thing I want to say is we have tremendous urgency. I mean, if you think about what we’ve done over the last year, the president has always made it clear jobs was number one. And that’s why within a month of when he came into office he passed the biggest fiscal stimulus in American history. We’ve done repeated things—the cash for clunkers, extending the first-time home buyers credit. And starting last fall, the president was talking about additional things that we can do. We just did one of them. The HIRE Act that was signed a couple of weeks ago had one of the things I think can be very effective, which is a tax incentive for hiring. I’m very optimistic that that’s sort of the right policy for this stage in the recovery. We see firms starting to hire temporary workers, we see demand coming back. We think this might be something that will help to push them over. But the president has emphasized small business lending. There are programs pending in Congress that we’ve proposed, a $30 billion small business lending program that we think we—could be very important. We’ve supported zero capital gains tax for people that invest in small businesses. We think that’s a good policy that could help to start new firms, get job creation that way.

MR. GREGORY: What about an energy jobs bill? Will that be a priority for Democrats in Congress?

Interesting question from Gregory about the energy jobs bill. He usually couches his questions in some context of what others have said, called for, or written. But this was just a straightforward question. Almost like it sprung directly from Gregory’s intellectual curiosity. Let’s have more of this.

DR. ROMER: Absolutely. I mean, the president, you know, starting with the Recovery Act, has wanted to—thinks that investing in clean energy is a smart way to create jobs now, make us a healthier economy in the future. We have a program for encouraging energy retrofits, sort of an energy version of cash for clunkers, we think could be very effective.

I also want to mention, you know, before Congress left, they failed to extend the unemployment insurance provisions of the Recovery Act. That absolutely has to get done. The numbers we see, the 9.7 percent unemployment, we’ve got to be supporting those workers. And by supporting them, we support the whole economy.

MR. GREGORY: You mentioned the stimulus as a huge effort by this administration to deal with people who are out of work and to deal with a recession. And yet, again, I go back to members of the president’s own party raising concerns about just how effective it’s been. We see in polling that people are still not feeling it, that they—that it’s still not very popular. And The New Yorker reported something recently quoting a Democrat from Virginia about the stimulus, saying this: “We should have gone in and done the kind of stimulus that would actually turn the economy around. We ended up with something that was strong enough to prevent a depression. But it just wasn’t strong enough to stimulate the recovery.” Would you concede that it didn’t do as much as you thought it would have done to spark recovery?

DR. ROMER: Absolutely not. I think it has done exactly what we said it would do. And I think the…

MR. GREGORY: Well, clearly, it didn’t do what you said it would do, which is to keep unemployment at 8 percent.

Nice interjection from Gregory (even though it didn’t throw Romer off her line).

DR. ROMER: What we had said it would do would to, to save or create some three and a half million jobs. It’s absolutely on track to do that. I also think it’s a big part—be—the reason we’ve seen, as the president said, we’ve—beginning to turn the corner. I think experts across the ideological spectrum give the Recovery Act a lot of credit for the dramatic change in the trajectory that, that we have seen. It has, you know, it has absolutely supported unemployed workers, it has absolutely helped state and local governments. And we are investing in this country in a way that is helping to create jobs and making us more productive in the future.

MR. GREGORY: On the issue of job creation, I’ve spoken to some business leaders who say, you know, “Look at the healthcare debate. Look how rancorous it was. Look how much uncertainty there is even about the outcome of, of health care’s impact down the road.” Look at all the talk about regulation and what some people see as an anti-business climate in Washington generally and the administration specifically. If you’re a small or a large business, why would you build a factory today? Why would you start hiring workers?

DR. ROMER: I think you’d build a factory because we see the economy starting to grow again, and I think there are going to be profit opportunities.

But I’ve got to come back to health care. First, we’ve gotten a lot of certainty because the bill has finally passed, and I think that’s a fabulous development. But also, it is such a pro-business bill, especially pro-small business. It has been designed precisely to do what small business owners tell us they want to do, which is provide health insurance for their workers. They think it gives them a competitive advantage to be able to offer that. And this bill has designed—it has some $40 billion of tax credits for small businesses. It exempts them from any employer responsibility fees. It gives them an insurance exchange where they can get insurance for their workers at a cheaper price. So it is a big win for business.

MR. GREGORY: Right. But, Dr. Romer, there are also people who say it doesn’t do the number one thing that many people feel it should have done, which is really attack costs that are out of control. And here’s one anecdote I heard, that if you are cutting back on reimbursements to providers or, say, hospitals through Medicare, that those costs don’t just go away, they get shifted so that employees of companies will pay higher prices for other tests in hospitals, and ultimately that price inflation that companies, small and large, have to deal with is still very much there despite the fact that this bill is law.

DR. ROMER: I think that’s completely wrong, and I’d ask you to read the Congressional Budget Office’s own report where they say for both small and large businesses it will lower their health insurance premiums.

Romer is a really effective, sunny spokesperson. I think she must really connect with some significant audiences.

MR. GREGORY: You don’t think costs are going to be shifted by hospitals that get fewer reimbursements through Medicare? You don’t think they’re going to pass that cost on?

DR. ROMER: I think, overall, this bill is genuinely going to slow the growth rate of cost. You know, we did a study, we think it will genuinely slow the growth rate of cost by about 1 percentage point per year. And, again, that is what experts across the ideological spectrum are saying. You know, we did a comparison of what was in the CBO report for more than a year ago of game-changers, the things that would slow the growth rate of cost. Almost every one of those ended up in this bill.

MR. GREGORY: I want to ask you about a phenomenon that people are talking about this weekend that has to do with consumers, and that’s Apple’s new product, the iPad. There’s lines around the country of people, you know, commerce in action, right? People are buying these products. But it leads to a question as to whether you think, as an economist, that consumers can actually drive a recovery that is sustained.

DR. ROMER: You know, I think this is going to be a different kind of recovery. I think it’s not going to be one where consumers come roaring back as the engine of growth. They have been through a very rough two years, they’ve seen their house prices come down. So we—you know, we see solid consumer growth, it’s definitely coming back. Their confidence is back up. But this is not going to be a recovery that’s fueled by people going out, maxing out their credit cards again. I think we’ve been, you know, I think we’re in a different world. It’s going to need to come from our exports, that’s why the president’s been pushing his export initiative. It’s going to need to come from business investment, and that’s why measures like a zero capital gains for small businesses or tax incentives for investment, I think those are the right policy to make sure we get a healthy kind of growth going forward.

MR. GREGORY: Before I let you go, a couple of other important topics. One, financial regulation, the new rules of the road for Wall Street. Do you think a bill will be successful this year since you’ve suffered some setbacks with Republicans starting to, to back away from support of it?

DR. ROMER: I think—yes, I think it will. I think, think it has to. I think people from both parties realize that we do need some sensible rules for the road because we don’t ever want to go through this again. I think we’re very confident that we’ll be able to pick up some Republican support.

MR. GREGORY: Also, China. Will this administration take China on and accuse it outright of manipulating its currency in a way that hurts the U.S. exports but also costs us jobs?

This China question may really be one of the biggest foreign policy issues over the next couple of weeks leading up to President Hu’s visit to the US for the nuclear summit.

DR. ROMER: I mean, it—certainly the exchange rate is an issue, not just for the United States, but for Chinese consumers and for actually other countries. A lot of other emerging market economies say that what’s happening with China’s exchange rate is, is harmful to them. You know, we have a series of meetings over the next three months with both the president, the secretary of the Treasury, and this is absolutely going to be an issue that’s high on the agenda.

MR. GREGORY: Is China manipulating its currency?

DR. ROMER: You know, I think that’s going to be something that, that the secretary of the Treasury would, would speak on, but we’re going to absolutely…

MR. GREGORY: But, but as a matter of substance, can’t you just say yes or no? Why can’t you say whether—I mean, it either is or it’s not.

DR. ROMER: Yeah, we think it needs to be more influenced by market forces. I think there’s no question of that. The secretary of the Treasury and the president have both said that. We’re going to be working to, to get the kind of result that we want, which is something more in alignment.

MR. GREGORY: Finally, a political question, and I know you’re not involved in the politics, and yet, you know, politicians will campaign on promises and facts, and a lot of times they might have to turn to the economists and say, “Is this a fair thing to be campaigning on?” Should Democrats be campaigning this fall, taking some credit for turning the economy around?

DR. ROMER: Unquestionably. I think the policies that have been put in place, they were tough decisions on everything from the Recovery Act to the stress test, to the financial rescue. Every one of those was absolutely essential, and it’s the reason we are in a much more hopeful place today than we were a year ago. So I think they should be out there very strongly saying that they made the tough choices and we’re starting to see the benefits.

MR. GREGORY: Dr. Romer, happy Easter, thank you very much for being here.

DR. ROMER: Same to you.

MR. GREGORY: And up next, the terror threat. New airport screening rules and the growing threats lurking inside this country. Our guests: former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff; the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee chair, Senator Joe Lieberman; and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Congressman—Congresswoman Jane Harman.

Then the question of presidential leadership in the political landscape for 2010. Insights from two magazine editors and authors of the newly published books, The New Yorker’s David Remnick and Time magazine’s Rick Stengel, only here on MEET THE PRESS.

(Announcements)

MR. GREGORY: The terror threat, a look at our security both at home and abroad, after this brief commercial break.

(Announcements)

MR. GREGORY: We are back here on MEET THE PRESS where we will have a discussion coming up on President Obama and the politics of 2010 with our roundtable; that’s in a few minutes. But first, a closer look at security both here and abroad with the former secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, and two key members of Congress, Representative Jane Harman and Senator Joe Lieberman. Congresswoman Harman also on the Intelligence Subcommittee of the Homeland Security Committee.

So a few things we want to address, including some developing news from earlier today. In Baghdad, suicide bombers have struck. Some 30 dead after attacks on several embassies—the Egyptian, Iranian, and German embassies in central Baghdad.

And, Senator Lieberman, a reminder as the U.S. prepares to disengage its combat troops from Iraq. And after an election where there’s still a very shaky coalition about the way forward, what concerns you seeing this?

Uhg. Lieberman.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I-CT): Well, I think you, you’ve got to look at the good news first. There, there was an election there, the, the secular parties, the, the parties that Iran didn’t want to succeed did better than the other parties. So there’s a lot of good news happening in Iraq. I, I think what you’ve got to see these bombings as is a desperate attempt by the people who don’t want a unified Iraq that’s independent of Iran and self-governing and self-protecting to take hold.

But it is a warning to us. We’re on a path now, which is an extraordinary positive path, to, to bring down our troop levels to 50,000 by September 1st. There were up way into 150,000, 160,000 not so long ago. But we’ve got to do it methodically and make sure that the Iraqis can protect themselves and all that they’ve gained as a result of all that we’ve helped them do in the last few years. So, you know, this is not over, but tremendous progress militarily, politically, economically is being made in Iraq today.

MR. GREGORY: And, and, Congresswoman, this question of capacity for the new government in terms of securing the country is one that still is going to be asked again and again, not only when there’s political instability, but when you see events like this.

REP. JANE HARMAN (D-CA): That’s true. But I agree with Joe Lieberman that this is basically a success story, and I applaud the Obama government for withdrawing our troops on a reasonable schedule, which I think tells the Iraqis that they have to manage their future. That’s a message we need to send, by the way, to the, the folks in Afghanistan as well, where I’m very troubled by the comments of Hamid Karzai in the last several days.

I am not sure where this line of questioning is going. Gregory moves on.

MR. GREGORY: And we’ll get—we’re going to get to that in a few minutes. I want to talk about the terror threat from abroad, though, and bring in Secretary Chertoff here about these new screening rules that just came about on Friday where individuals coming from other countries are going to be evaluated a little bit differently. And The New York Times kind of summarized how the intelligence will be used in order to identify people who need additional screenings. This is how the Times reported it. “The intelligence-based security system is devised to raise flags about travelers whose names do not appear on a no-fly watch list,” which was the issue on the Christmas Day plot, “but whose travel patterns or personal traits create suspicions. The system is intended to pick up fragments of information – family name, nationality, age or even partial passport number – and match them against intelligence reports to sound alarm bells before a passenger boards a plane.”

Secretary Chertoff, I should just point out in full disclosure, you now work for companies in homeland security area that are producing some of the homeland security technology that may be brought to bear. That said, what’s the impact of these new rules?

MR. MICHAEL CHERTOFF: What this basically does, David, is it takes a technique that we have used at the border for the last two or three years, and it pushes it out so that it will be applied not when people arrive in the U.S. but when people board planes overseas. So it’s a good thing. We have a lot of experience using this kind of information. It has worked exceptionally well when people arrive at the airport. And so the idea of pushing it out before people board makes a lot of sense. The critical issue here is will our allies and other countries overseas be willing to implement the plan the way we have laid it out? If they are willing to do that, it will be a win-win for everybody.

MR. GREGORY: So you’ve got to be able to share intelligence with foreign governments to sort of factor in to a kind of matrix so that you’re not just profiling somebody based on where they’re from, but based on certain red flags in the system that say, “Hey, I better, I better correlate this”?

REP. HARMAN: If I could add to that, after the Christmas bomb plot, we, I think, in linear fashion, targeted 14 countries and said everyone coming here from those 14 countries will get secondary screening. I think that that was a message to those countries that was the wrong message. Janet Napolitano, our Homeland Security secretary, who has very ably succeeded the able Michael Chertoff, has traveled extensively to foreign governments, and I think this plan was worked out with them; and it is an intelligence-based screening system rather than a name based screening system. We are adding to our no-fly list and our secondary list. But this is the way we will capture folks who don’t fit that—the, the stereotype of a Muslim male between 20 and 40.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

REP. HARMAN: Let’s understand that terrorists come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re not even all Muslim. I resent the fact, by the way, that Jihad Jane took my name. It wasn’t her given name. But that’s my point. They come in the U.S., and they’re all over the world.

Jihad Jane? Did Harman just make a quip about terrorism?

MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

REP. HARMAN: And it seems to me that, going forward, we’re going to be doing something much more effective.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Lieberman, let me ask you about another big headline this week, and that was the horror in Russia with those railroad—railway attacks carried out by extremist terrorist groups. And it was something that obviously would reverberate here back in the U.S. The cover of the New York Post showing an increased police presence on New York subways as a response to that. And the president talked a little bit about what the government is doing to head off a kind of railway attack when he appeared on the “Today” program this week.

(Videotape, Tuesday)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA: We have been on top of the issue of rail security and subway security for quite some time. We constantly monitor it and try to figure out how can we improve what we’re doing. It is obviously a significant concern. It’s not restricted to subways. It’s—you know, same thing could happen at a bus terminal. And if you’ve got somebody who is determined to kill themselves and kill other people with them, that is always a challenge for any government.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: What’s the nature of the threat, Senator, here in America?

SEN. LIEBERMAN: The, the threat is real to, to non-aviation transportation. Look, all you got to do is look around the world, not only to the terrible tragedy in Russia last week, but remember the train bombings in London and, and Madrid and earlier in Mumbai. So these are targets. And, and we know that, and we’re doing a lot, our government is, working with state and local officials to—both in ways that are visible and ways that are not visible—to raise our defenses on trains and subways and buses. But, David, to me, and I’ve—we, we, in our committee, we’ve done hearings on this, and I continue to believe that this, that, that non-aviation is the vulnerable part of our transportation system, and we, frankly, need to give it more than we’re giving it now to protect the American people. I worry about this.

Is is just me or is this conversation really unfocused? Iraq bombing, new airline rules, dangers of railways… and no real disagreement because it is all so vague.

MR. GREGORY: Secretary Chertoff, I want to get to some domestic terror concerns. Before I do that, I want to talk about another element of terrorism. Before you were secretary of Homeland Security, you were head of the criminal division in the Justice Department.

MR. CHERTOFF: Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: And so this issue of civilian trials for terror suspects is one that you’re quite familiar with. Now, clearly, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of 9/11, is not going to be tried in New York. It likes he’s going to be tried in a military tribunal. The question is where, whether it’s Guantanamo Bay or not. Now, you actually fought, correct me if I’m wrong, to have Zacarias Moussaoui tried in civilian court.

MR. CHERTOFF: Right.

MR. GREGORY: He was thought to be the 20th hijacker.

MR. CHERTOFF: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY: Where do you come down on what the administration ought to be doing next?

MR. CHERTOFF: You know, generally, of course, our—my overall approach is use all the tools. Everything should be on the table for every circumstance. That being said, the general approach we took when I was head of criminal was if someone was caught in the U.S., at the end of the day, they wound up being tried in a U.S. court for a whole lot of practical and legal reasons, including the fact that it’s easy to get the evidence if someone’s acting in the United States itself. It doesn’t mean you have to give them Miranda warnings, but it does mean you could put them ultimately through the system. Generally, the view was if someone was caught overseas and they weren’t an American, we didn’t bring them into a U.S. court because there are huge obstacles to gathering evidence and some of the process issues when you apprehend someone in a battlefield. So, without laying down an ironclad rule, my general approach is catch them here, try them here, catch them overseas, put them in a military commission.

MR. GREGORY: So you think its OK to have them in a civilian court?

MR. CHERTOFF: To, to put who in a civilian court?

MR. GREGORY: Like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

MR. CHERTOFF: I, I would, I would advise against it, frankly. I think that the evidence collection issues and some of the legal issues you’ll find…

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MR. CHERTOFF: …even picking a jury, if you’re going to set this up in a military base, will be very problematic. So I, I, I think it’s a very, very difficult way to go to take him into a civilian court.

MR. GREGORY: Congresswoman?

REP. HARMAN: I think our federal court system has been the linchpin of our ability to convict people charged with terrorism-related crimes since 9/11. Over 500 people have been charged, over 300 have pleaded guilty, and they’re all safely behind bars for life. And I think that if KSM were tried in a federal court, I would predict he would be convicted and possibly executed.

MR. GREGORY: What—if, if you stand behind our, our system of law in this country, then why did the attorney general go out there and say he would never be released even if he were acquitted. Is that standing up for United States juris prudence?

One of Gregory’s favorite topics! But Harman doesn’t engage.

REP. HARMAN: Well, my view is that everyone still at Gitmo, there are 183 people, should be tried either in U.S. courts, including military commissions, if that, for some reason, is if we revise the procedures there and they can withstand legal challenge, or tried abroad and incarcerated. I don’t think that we should waive the rule of law for anybody. And I don’t think that preventive detention is necessary in the United States of America.

MR. GREGORY: OK. I want, I want to move on because I want to get to some domestic security threats. Senator Lieberman…

SEN. LIEBERMAN: David, I want…

MR. GREGORY: Senator, yes, Senator Lieberman? You just want to get…

SEN. LIEBERMAN: I just want to get in here real quickly.

MR. GREGORY: You want to get on this? Go ahead.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Yeah, real, real quickly. Look, we’re at war. We were attacked on 9/11. And I think when you’re at war, even though this is a different kind of war, people you capture, enemies who are aiming to attack you or have, in fact, attacked you, ought to be tried according to the rules of war. It’s not that we’re not going to have the rule of law, it’s which rule of law. And so I think that the Christmas Day bomber, Hasan at Fort Hood, they’re as much enemies of ours and soldiers in the war of Islamist extremism against us as the people we capture and, and put into prisoner of war camps in Afghanistan or Iraq.

MR. GREGORY: All right. I want to…

SEN. LIEBERMAN: And we make a mistake when we don’t do that.

MR. GREGORY: I want to—this, this debate will continue and—certainly until the president makes a decision…

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Right.

MR. GREGORY: …on what’s going to happen with KSM.

I want to turn to the domestic threat. And there’s been a lot of developments about this more recently, including this Christian militia, the Hutatree***(as spoken)***militia in Michigan facing charges of a violent plot to overthrow the government. This is from their Web site, where they showed some training. Mike Isikoff writes in Newsweek’s blog about the conditions under which this is happening. “In some respects, the increase in such violent hate groups as the Hutaree appears reminiscent of the surge in militia activity that preceded the ‘95 Oklahoma City bombing. Just this month, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that it had tracked an explosion in extremist, anti-government `Patriot’ groups, fueled in large part by anger over the economy and Barack Obama’s presidency. The number identifiable Patriot groups increased 244 percent, from 149 in 2008 to 512 in 2009.”

Senator Lieberman, back to you. In this highly charged political atmosphere, where you’ve got so much passion, so much disagreement, this takes it, of course, to a different level. But we’re also operating in a recession and at a time where there’s a lot of anger at Washington. How has the nature of that threat escalated, in your view?

Finally some new ground to cover. Gregory could have just asked, “So clearly the threat is real, what do we do about it?”

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Well, the threat has definitely escalated. And all the conditions that you mentioned, David, are there to encourage people. Look, I would say a word of caution to my colleagues in both political parties and, frankly, in the media. The level of discourse about our politics and about our country are so extreme and so incendiary that if you’re dealing with people who may, may not be clicking on all cylinders and, and may have vulnerabilities personally, there’s a danger that they’re going to do what this group of militia planned to do this week. I would not overstate this threat. It is not as significant as the global threat of Islamist extremism, but it is real. And I want to assure the American people, from where I sit as the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, that your government is taking this militia threat very seriously. The FBI is on top of this. That’s why, through good work and informants, they stopped this Hutaree group before they had a chance to do what they wanted to do, which is to attack law enforcement officers, to try to…

MR. GREGORY: Right.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: …break down authority in our country.

MR. GREGORY: Right. And you had a—Congresswoman, you also had a threat to, to governors as well, you know, a letter telling them that they needed to step down.

REP. HARMAN: That’s right. But the other troubling thing about this is that group was going to import the terror tactics used by al-Qaeda and other groups. They were going to use IEDs to blow up the funeral procession for these law enforcement officers that they were going to execute. Let’s understand that law enforcement does a wonderful job of keeping this country safe, and without the women and men of law enforcement, who kept our Capitol safe during the protests on, on health care, I think we’d be in much worse trouble. But the point is that not all terror groups are Muslim groups, and not all of them are al-Qaeda-related. This is a global problem; and, domestically, we have a growing problem of homegrown terrorism, not just from Muslims.

MR. GREGORY: Secretary Chertoff, you’ve seen this from, from your position before. I mean, look, there are certainly quarters of, you know, of racism around the country with an African-American president, extreme economic anxiety, and a lot of revolution talk out there in this opposition to policies like health care. And, you know, people may forget, if you go back to the Oklahoma City bombings, Tim McVeigh first went to Waco not to protest the government’s role there, but to protest the Brady gun law. So this notion of the government doing things to you is a very powerful motivator to some.

MR. CHERTOFF: Well, you know, you always get fringe groups on both sides of the spectrum, going back, as you say, to Waco and Ruby Ridge in the early ’90s, and that culminated, of course, in the Oklahoma City bombing. And then that depressed this a little bit. But it always lurks in the background. And we see it also with some of the extreme anti-globalization and animal rights people on the left. So I think we’ve learned how to manage this. I agree with Senator Lieberman, this is not of the order of magnitude of what we see with global terrorism. But, look, the fact that people can get on the Internet, and they can see the tactics that are being used in Iraq and Afghanistan creates a risk that those will be copycatted here. And, frankly, we’ve seen that in Mexico. In northern Mexico, the criminal groups, which are not politically motivated, actually have adopted beheadings and other tactics of terrorism as part of pushing their agenda against President Calderon.

Again, this segment is all over the place.

MR. GREGORY: All right, before I let everybody go, a couple of quick, you know, foreign policy notes that are most pressing.

Senator Lieberman, you’ve heard the president say this week that he would like to see sanctions against Iran within weeks. But that’s still been very—a very difficult road. Do you worry that the U.S. and the West, more generally, is drifting toward war with Iran in some fashion?

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Well, I appreciated the president’s statement. And I’ll tell you the truth, I worry more that we’re not going to do enough to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon quickly enough. I, I believe we’re at a turning point in history. Iran with nuclear weapons is going to mean this world will be a lot less safe than it is today, and there are already threats to our safety every day. We’ve never—this is an extremist, expansionist power. There’s never been another country like this with nuclear weapons, and we’ve got to impose tough sanctions quickly. I believe Congress will adopt a tough sanctions bill soon, I hope this month of April.

Secondly, they’ve got to be tough because, frankly, it’s the last chance that we’re giving Iran and ourselves not to be left with a choice of either accepting them having nuclear weapons or taking military action. In my opinion, we have to be prepared to take military action to stop the Iranian nuclear program if they refuse to stop themselves.

MR. GREGORY: Congresswoman…

Lieberman sure can drone… Gregory is trying to cut him off, but it is impossible.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: And so far, if you look at the last three or four years, we’ve had threats, we’ve had engagement, we’ve had negotiations; and all the while Iran keeps going forward to build a nuclear weapon and the missiles to deliver them, and that will destabilize…

MR. GREGORY: OK.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: …the entire Middle East, threaten Europe and America.

REP. HARMAN: This past week I was in Yemen, Qatar and Vienna, where we have a new very strong head of the IAEA, a Japanese man named Amano, who has what he calls a more balanced view and has major concerns about Iran. Why am I saying this? I think the real test will be what the U.N. will do. And I think it’s good news that Chinese Premier Hu is coming here in two weeks to a terrorism summit with 45 countries, and hopefully that will be a chance for him and President Obama to talk about the U.N., where China and Russia support for multilateral sanctions is key. Congress is on board with strong, debilitating sanctions on a bipartisan basis. The U.S. will be there. But it has to be multilateral in order to really be truly debilitating. And that’s what we need to do.

But, by the way, Yemen is now ground zero, in my view, for terror attacks against us. Al-Awlaki, who is an American-Yemeni who had a role in counseling the Fort Hood shooter and also was involved in training Abdulmutallab, the Christmas bomber, is at large in Yemen. He’s targeted by the Yemenis, they’re in lead, but we’re helping. And it will be very good news if we’re able to take him out and the al-Qaeda presence in Yemen.

I am glad Harman mentioned Hu and the nuclear summit. The summit “should” be the topic for next week’s Meet The Press.

MR. GREGORY: All right, I’m going to, I’m going to leave it there. I’ll make that the last word. Thank you all very much.

Coming up next, presidential leadership. Where does Obama stand after the healthcare debate, and how will he lead his party in this election year? Insights from The New Yorker magazine’s David Remnick, author of “The Bridge,” and Time magazine’s Rick Stengel, author of “Mandela’s Way,” after this brief station break.

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