WASHINGTON, DC -- July 22, 2012 -- Today’s special edition of “Meet the Press with David Gregory” featured interviews with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D), former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, former chief of police for the Los Angeles Police Department William Bratton, and gun-control advocate Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY); and a roundtable discussion with New York Times columnist David Brooks, former DC public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, former senior adviser to the 2004 Kerry presidential campaign Bob Shrum, and former senior strategist to the 2008 McCain presidential campaign Steve Schmidt.
Below are highlights, web clips, and a rush transcript of today’s program. All content is available online at www.MeetThePressNBC.com.
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CO Gov: Holmes is “lawyered up...not cooperating” -- “we still can't get into the mind of this twisted, really delusional individual”
GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER: He is actually lawyered up. He is at this point not cooperating. … One of the real bright lights of this is that before 9/11 I don't think we could have ever responded to this level of tragedy, seventy people that have been injured or killed, and get such efficiency. Get everyone working together, almost seamlessly. So even that safety and then also how they work with this bomb thing, we're getting through this but we still can't get into the mind of this twisted, really delusional individual.
Hickenlooper on the gun debate: “if he couldn't have gotten access to the guns, what kind of bomb would he have manufactured?” Holmes was “diabolical...think of him almost as a terrorist”
DAVID GREGORY: You as a leader, as you get past the grief of what's happened, would you like to see a reevaluation of state laws or even a debate about how you can have a circumstance like this?
GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER: I think that debate's going to happen. It already has started. But you look at this person, again, almost a creature. I mean if he couldn't have gotten access to the guns, what kind of bomb would he have manufactured? And we're in an information age where there's access to all kinds of information. And he was diabolical. Demonic in this twisted sense. I mean I think of him almost as a terrorist. He wanted to take away, not just the people in that theatre but from the country, our ability to enjoy life. To go to a movie theatre, which for most of us is a refuge where we can get away from the rest of some of the pressures of life. And it's a human issue in some way. How are we not able to identify someone like this who's so deeply, deeply disturbed.
Bratton: the “single individual who operates below the radar” is the “most difficult to detect”
CHIEF BILL BRATTON: For the longest time now we have been concerned with the incident that just
happened. That single individual who operates below the radar. Most difficult to detect. Whether inspired by terrorism or whatever inspiration caused this young man to take so many lives. It remains the most difficult one to try and deal with.
Bratton encourages family and friends to “see something, say something” in instances of deterioration
CHIEF BILL BRATTON: So frequently here in these incidents we find the lone gunmen are not only bad but they're mad. Mad and bad. And the ability to detect that-- in some respects, if you think of the current campaign coming out of the events of 9/11, see something, say something. The idea that family, friends -- that there's an ability on the part of law enforcement if given information about somebody whose condition seems to be deteriorating to actually take a look at that individual.
Chertoff: “the problem here is with the people and not with the tools”
SECRETARY MICHAEL CHERTOFF: Well, that's what's striking -- is you look at what we've heard about the apartment and the sophistication of the devices that were disarmed or disabled there, and you realize that even the kinds of ingredients you can find in your own kitchen can be used to make bombs. So the problem here is with the people and not with the tools.
Chertoff compares Holmes to Ft. Hood shooter who was not detected
SECRETARY MICHAEL CHERTOFF: By coincidence this week there was a report on the Fort Hood shooting. And the question there again was how come Major Nidal Hasan was not detected earlier before he committed the horrible shooting in Fort Hood. And there again it was, in a sense, a failure of imagination. Here's somebody who was getting radicalized. Who was communicating with terrorists over the internet. And yet the people looking at that somehow couldn't get their heads around the assumption that somehow because he was an Army officer he couldn't be turning in a bad direction. So we need to rethink our approach to this.
McCarthy on gun laws: “a lot of politicians know it's the right thing to try to fight for something to save lives; they don't have a spine anymore”
REP. CAROLYN MCCARTHY: I always look at it this way. No one from the NRA is ever going to vote for me. They're just not. They might even come after me on other issues. But the thing of it is as a politician a lot of politicians know it's the right thing to try to fight for something to save lives. They don't have a spine anymore. They pander to who's giving them money.
Bratton: the “tragic irony” is that “the American population is following the political leadership who are missing in action...by increasingly being in favor of...relaxing of gun laws”
CHIEF BILL BRATTON: The tragic irony of this and the continuation of these types of incidents, and they will continue, is that the outrage that's expressed against the perpetrator and the act is not then reflected in the part of the general public about wanting to do something about the instruments that are used to kill so many, the guns. All the polls I've seen recently indicate that the American population is following the political leadership who are missing in action, most of them on this issue, by increasingly being in favor of, if you will, relaxing of gun laws. Isn't that the tragic irony out of this? The more of these we have, seemingly we have less interest in trying to focus on trying to control some of it in terms of some type of effort to control guns.
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Web clips from today’s program:
Full interview with Gov. Hickenlooper
Full conversation with Chertoff, Bratton, McCarthy
David Gregory’s post-show analysis
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Below is a RUSH transcript of this morning’s broadcast -- mandatory attribution to NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” A final transcript of the program will be available at www.MeetThePressNBC.com.
“MEET THE PRESS WITH DAVID GREGORY”
July 22, 2012
And good morning. A very difficult Sunday morning here and around the country, particularly in
Colorado. Just 48 hours after we first learned of the massacre at the Aurora movie theatre
President Obama heads to Colorado to honor victims and meet with victims' families later today.
It's striking. The political world shut down after the massacre in Aurora. The campaigns pulled
advertising from the airwaves in Colorado. Campaign events were cancelled. It will resume
and we'll talk about that later.
But the focus now in Colorado is about the suspect James Holmes. What motivated him.
Perhaps investigators can learn more after the big event yesterday. A controlled detonation in
his apartment. It was completely booby trapped and now investigators could get inside.
Joining me now live, the governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper. Governor, welcome. I
speak for so many when I offer my condolences and our thoughts and prayers are certainly
with the victims' families and all Coloradans going through such a difficult time. Tell me your thoughts this morning?
GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER:
Well, I think we're all a little fractured and certainly we appreciate the support. I mean the
state is heart-broken, which I think it was Hemmingway that said, "The world breaks us all, but
afterward we're stronger in the broken places." And I think that's what we heard in the
hospitals yesterday. We went to as many of the hospitals and visited families and the victims.
And there was a buoyancy that's already there. A resiliency where people are not going to let
this define their life. They are going to fight back.
There is, in your experience as mayor and now governor, nothing that can prepare you to lead
a state through something like this. And I know this has been an emotional 48 hours. You
spoke on Friday night in such a moving way.
GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER:
Well, you just--
Governor, I just want to share with you what you said on Friday night.
HICKENLOOPER: It’s an act that defies description. You can’t connect emotions that we commonly think of – I mean everyone I’ve talked to all day is filled with a – a – an anger that can’t find focus
(END OF VIDEO)
I apologize for the interruption, but it's obviously been a difficult couple of days.
GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER:
Yes, it's been tough. And the key there is that anger, where you want to strangle this guy, at a
certain point that's got to translate into helping our community rise back up, which they were
already-- as I visited in the hospitals we had immigrants from all over the world who have come
to Colorado that were in this movie theatre. A lot of them fleeing violence. And to a person
everyone said, "We still love America. We're so glad we're here." And I think that spirit has got
to triumph in the end.
There is this picture emerging of the victims from this massacre. And some of the stories as
well of some of the incredible acts of heroism and just some of the raw pain that people are
experiencing as well as they learn more about who's perished.
GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER:
It's hard to describe the pain that folks are going through, especially the families of those who
didn't make it through. But the acts of heroism. A guy who his son's girlfriend, who is I think
22, gets shot in the hip and he falls on her. And they're in the front row. So the shooter's right
And instead of running away he stays there and saves her life in the end. Kept her from
building to death. I mean story after story. Two girls, both injured but one actually helping the
other out of the theatre while the shooting was still going on. Making sure she got to safety.
Outside, a woman taking her belt off. We still don't know who she was. And taking a soldier's
leg that had been shot with a high powered bullet through the thigh and creating a tourniquet.
I mean one after another, acts of heroism. Even heroism is not strong enough a word.
Governor, I know you were at the apartment, James Holmes' apartment, in Aurora yesterday
during that controlled detonation. What can you say this morning about what you're learning
about him? Is he cooperating in custody?
GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER:
Well, he is actually lawyered up. That he is at this point not cooperating. The robot, watching
it be able to deactivate the system of these trip wires and potential threats, A, it gives you
tremendous confidence. I mean the F.B.I.'s working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and
Firearms with the local police. The state patrol. Everybody was working together.
As they did on Thursday night. One of the real bright lights of this is that before 9/11 I don't
think we could have ever responded to this level of tragedy, seventy people that have been
injured or killed, and get such efficiency. Get everyone working together, almost seamlessly.
So even that safety and then also how they work with this bomb thing,
we're getting through this but we still can't get into the mind of this twisted, really delusional
And there's no sense of what caused him to go off of the path he was as a doctoral student in
neuroscience? Somebody who may have been kind of isolated and private but had a lot going
for him on the outside. Nothing that gives you some insight into motive?
GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER:
Yeah, so far nothing that I've heard. Not an iota.
The picture of what he was carrying is of course striking. I mean he was armed to the teeth.
Here's a picture of the weapons that have been recovered from the scene. He had two Glocks,
a 12 gauge, a shotgun, a Smith and Wesson shotgun. And it was Mayor Bloomberg, a former
colleague as mayor in New York, who spoke out about taking this moment and refocusing some
debate about guns in our country and any reasonable controls over their use and their
purchase. This is what he said on Friday.
BLOOMBERG: Instead of the two people - President Obama and Governor Romney - talking in broad
things about they want to make the world a better place, okay, tell us how. And this is a real problem. No
matter where you stand on the Second Amendment, no matter where you stand on guns, we have a right
to hear from both of them concretely, not just in generalities - specifically what are they going to do about
You as a leader, as you get past the grief of what's happened, would you like to see a
reevaluation of state laws or even a debate about how you can have a circumstance like this?
GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER:
I think that debate's going to happen. It already has started. But you look at this person,
again, almost a creature. I mean if he couldn't have gotten access to the guns, what kind of
bomb would he have manufactured? And we're in an information age where there's access to
all kinds of information.
And he was diabolical. Demonic in this twisted sense. I mean I think of him almost as a
terrorist. He wanted to take away, not just the people in that theatre but from the country, our
ability to enjoy life. To go to a movie theatre, which for most of us is a refuge where we can
get away from the rest of some of the pressures of life. And it's a human issue in some way.
How are we not able to identify someone like this who's so deeply, deeply disturbed.
I'm sure you have a message and the president will as well to folks in your own state who feel
that sense of vulnerability. Who are perhaps even afraid to go out and see a movie after
something like this. And of course the memories, so hauntingly familiar, of Columbine. What
do you want to say to people to reassure them after an event like this?
GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER:
Well, I think part of it you've got to recognize and mourn all the losses. You can't do anything
without recognizing how deep that is. But we've been in tough spots before. I mean the West
is legendary for the resilience of the people out here who really have come from not just all
over the country but all over the world.
And that we will rise above this. That we will not let-- the response to terrorism is not to shrink
away. It's to rise up and face it. And my chief of staff, her daughter's in her early 20s and she
took a group of about 20 kids to go see Batman last night, just as a political statement. And I
think the sense I'm beginning to get in the hospital rooms, with the families, among the
community is we're not going to let this son of a gun win. We're just not going to let it.
Governor, thank you very much for taking the time in middle of everything you're doing. Again,
our thoughts are with you and with all the folks in Colorado and Aurora. I appreciate it very
GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER:
Joining me now, Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, Democrat of New York whose husband
was tragically killed in a 1993 massacre by a deranged gunman on a Long Island train, former
New York City police commissioner and Los Angeles chief of police Bill Bratton, who during his
time pioneered the theory of community policing that became a model around the country.
Also with us, former secretary of Homeland Security during the Bush administration, Michael
Chertoff, who now consults with how to deal with some of these security threats.
Thank you all for being here. If there are some bigger lessons to take away it's what I want to
try to focus on. And Chief Bratton, I was reading this morning as I was preparing, law
enforcement officials fear, more than anything else, the lone gunman like you had right here.
CHIEF BILL BRATTON:
That's correct. For the longest time now we have been concerned with the incident that just
happened. That single individual who operates below the radar. Most difficult to detect.
Whether inspired by terrorism or whatever inspiration caused this young man to take so many
lives. It remains the most difficult one to try and deal with.
And Congresswoman, you have experienced something like this. The grief that comes with it.
The shock that comes with it. And the search to do something productive afterwards.
REP. CAROLYN MCCARTHY:
Well, and it is. I get up really early in the morning. First thing, I put on the TV and I saw all
the news. And it just brings just back to a place most victims don't want to go to. But
incidents like this and knowing what the families are going to be going through, not only today
and tomorrow but the weeks down the road.
But when Bill talks about the lone gunman, he's absolutely right. But there's one thing that
they all have in common. And they had a gun with large magazines so they could take down
many people. And the police responded in 90 seconds. And yet he was able to take down 70
And Secretary Chertoff, one of the striking details that we've come across this morning is that in
fact one of the guns jammed in the act of shooting. So you can imagine a carnage like this
actually being even worse. We've talked about sort of being able to detect a threat like this
come to try to understand mitigating these kind of threats.
SECRETARY MICHAEL CHERTOFF:
I think that's exactly right, David. And I think Governor Hickenlooper really was correct in
talking about the heroism of the people in the theatre and the effectiveness and swiftness of
the response. The truth is, as horrible as this tragedy is and as much as our hearts go out to
the families that have been affected, it could have been worse.
And as we've looked at these events over time those which are the worst are those in which the
response is delayed or ineffective. So I give a lot of credit to law
enforcement, which was very quick in responding, and to the people. It's kind of like what we
saw on 9/11. They took matters into their own hands and did the best they could to protect
And Chief, Congresswoman Giffords was shot and there were a lot of questions about both
mental illness, potentially, with the shooter, and who in his life was noticing some kind of
behavior. We don't know in this particular case, but is there anything law enforcement can do
better to catch the James Holmes' of the world who are isolated, disturbed in a way we don't
yet understand and who are operating and then building an armament, an arsenal to go after
CHIEF BILL BRATTON:
So frequently here in these incidents we find the lone gunmen are not only bad but they're
mad. Mad and bad. And the ability to detect that-- in some respects, if you think of the
current campaign coming out of the events of 9/11, see something, say something. The idea
that family, friends.
That there's an ability on the part of law enforcement if given information about somebody
whose condition seems to be deteriorating to actually take a look at that individual. So in some
of these instances, this individual, for example, as we're learning more about him, there was a
phenomenal deterioration over the last several months in isolation. And, unfortunately, he was
a significant loner. But could he have been detected and reported upon? I think that's the
direction we're going to have to go. The idea of people understanding that if you see
something, say something. As simple as it sounds.
And Congresswoman, one piece of information to put this in context, if you look at some of the
high profile massacres that have occurred over the past several years, of course Columbine in
Colorado in 1999, 13 killed. Thirty-two killed at Virginia Tech after a gunman opened fire there.
At Fort Hood, 13 killed. And then the most recent, in Tucson in January of last year, striking
Congresswoman Giffords and others.
And the debate about guns and a circumstance where you have somebody armed to this level,
committing this kind of act leads to the response you had. It also leads to a different response
among gun rights advocates. One of your colleagues, Congressman Gohmert from Texas,
saying on Friday the following. "It makes me wonder, you know, with all these people in the
theatre was there nobody that was carrying," meaning carrying a gun. "That could have
stopped this guy more quickly." So he's on the opposite spectrum of where you're coming
from, which is to control access, limit access to firearms.
REP. CAROLYN MCCARTHY:
But, David, that argument goes back even to 1993 when the N.R.A. basically said that if
someone else had been on the train, so many people wouldn't have been killed. Believe me,
I've talked to an awful lot of police officers, commissioners of police. They said it's the worst
scenario you could possibly think of. Can you imagine in that theatre, smoke, it's dark and
everybody starts shooting? I think the massacre would have been a lot worse.
But yet, Secretary Chertoff, the governor made an interesting point. This is a Democrat.
Former Democratic mayor of Denver. He, like colleagues like Mayor Bloomberg, may believe in
greater gun control laws, but he also references the fact that everything was purchased legally
here and we live in an age where if he couldn't have gotten to guns he was building bombs in
his apartment as well. So the notion that somehow you eliminate that kind of danger in a gun
control debate is going to be bitterly fought.
SECRETARY MICHAEL CHERTOFF:
Well, that's what's striking. Is you look at what we've heard about the apartment and the
sophistication of the devices that we're disarmed or disabled there, and you realize that even
the kinds of ingredients you can find in your own kitchen can be used to make bombs. So the
problem here is with the people and not with the tools.
But I want to go to back to something Bill Bratton said, which I think is really important. We
need to understand more about the signs that show somebody is either becoming deranged or
becoming a terrorist, because there's a commonality we see again and again, which is a sudden
change in behavior, usually some element of becoming more isolated and changing the way
you relate to people. We've seen that with terrorists who became radicalized in Europe and
we've now seen it of course in this terrible tragedy. So we need to understand better how we
detect the early warning signs.
Lastly, David, is by coincidence this week there was a report on the Fort Hood shooting. And
the question there again was how come Major Nidal Hasan was not detected earlier before he
committed the horrible shooting in Fort Hood. And there again it was, in a sense, a failure of
Here's somebody who was getting radicalized. Who was communicating with terrorists over the
internet. And yet the people looking at that somehow couldn't get their heads around the
assumption that somehow because he was an Army officer he couldn't be turning in a bad
direction. So we need to rethink our approach to this.
A lot of points there, but can you comment on the gun issue and the coming gun debate?
SECRETARY MICHAEL CHERTOFF:
Two comments, if I may. The Congressman who made the comment about that if people in the
theatre had been armed they may have been able to stop this individual. He was armed to the
teeth with all types of bullet protection materials. The ability of a citizen to try and take that
individual down, equipped the way he was, would have been de minimis.
Fortunately for the responding officers, it seems that his automatic weapon, semiautomatic
rifle, jammed. Otherwise, they would have been outgunned. The initial responding officers
who probably would have had nine millimeter, 40 millimeter and a shotgun. He would have
been able to basically, the way he was equipped, take them on. First responding officers
weren't SWAT officers, so this issue of arm everybody, I'm sorry, in this circumstance I don't
know that that would have made a difference.
REP. CAROLYN MCCARTHY:
And can I say something? As horrible as this tragedy was, and is, you have to remember how
many people are killed every single day by getting illegal guns. And so when people say, and the NRA will say that to me also, "Oh, she's going to try and talk about gun control. Gun safety issues." I do it because this happens every single day.
Right. But you're a politician now. And the political debate seems to be frozen on the issue of
guns. Mayor Bloomberg was trying to get people to focus again. Here was the headline after
Congresswoman Giffords, one of your own colleagues, was shot.
And the headline in The Arizona Daily Star, President Obama saying, "We must seek agreement
on gun reforms." His own advisors here saying, "Yes, we're going to get that conversation
started again." There's been nothing. Even after your own colleague was shot. I mean for
Democrats, it seems, they really don't want to take on this issue.
REP. CAROLYN MCCARTHY:
I personally think that it was a fallacy when President Clinton was able to pass the assault
weapons bill. Everybody kind of forgets about that time in history. We also raised taxes. So
there was a lot of things going on. I personally don't think that members that lost that
following year actually lost because of the gun issue. Myself and several other people were
elected the following year on the gun issue.
So I think that there's a lot of myths out there as far as that goes. And I always look at it this
way. No one from the NRA is ever going to vote for me. They're just not. They might even
come after me on other issues. But the thing of it is as a politician a lot of politicians know it's
the right thing to try to fight for something to save lives. They don't have a spine anymore.
They pander to who's giving them money.
Secretary Chertoff, you've worked in a political administration. You deal with counterterror
threats. But you've also paid attention, as someone who thinks about threats around the
country, to political dialogue, the coarsening of dialogue across the media spectrum, from
entertainment to news and commentary.
And I was thinking, harkening back to President Obama's words after Gabby Giffords was shot,
and then to Bill Clinton back in 1995 after Oklahoma City. And I'll put something he said up on
the screen. He said back then, President Clinton, "We hear so many loud and angry voices in
America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible
and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. They spread hate. They leave the
impression that by their very words that violence is acceptable."
Let me emphasize, as we sit here today, we know nothing about motivation in this particular
case, political or otherwise, but President Clinton's words back in 1995 could be true today,
couldn't they, about how some of the public discourse can fall on more vulnerable ears.
SECRETARY MICHAEL CHERTOFF:
I think that's right. And, if anything, I think the temperature has gotten even more heated in
the years since President Clinton made that statement. And it's been amplified by the internet.
Look, no one can say that any particular comments leads a madman to decide to do this, but I
do believe that the general coarsening and aggravation of the dialogue, the fact that
disagreement is often characterized as a matter of people having enemies or wanting to commit
acts of violence, does affect some minority of individuals. And that raises the danger to
REP. CAROLYN MCCARTHY:
I absolutely agree. Since I've been in Congress I've seen over the last several years the
deterioration of working with each other. And it's really a shame, because many of us,
Republican and Democrat, do work together. We actually get legislation passed working
together. We still go by the old way of compromise.
But when you listen to the words of some of my colleagues, they are inflammatory. I mean it's
something that goes out there and people say, "Well, look at these politicians?" I mean just in
the last past week a few of my colleagues came out with statements on other people which are
absolutely not true.
And unfortunately it's kind of a bipartisan deterioration. Chief, this will come down to
something that Michael Chertoff mentioned a couple minutes ago. Better detection of people
like this. There's also just a heartfelt reaction that people have which is, "Wow, are we safe
even in movie theatres for a movie premiere?" To the extent that there is an overreaction here
about a security clap down, does that make any difference?
CHIEF BILL BRATTON:
We are safe. That's the reality. Safe from terrorism. Safe from these events. There are 300
million of us. And while we all feel for this event, the reality is 300 million people did not
experience it. The tragic irony of this and the continuation of these types of incidents, and they
will continue, is that the outrage that's expressed against the perpetrator and the act is not
then reflected in the part of the general public about wanting to do something about the
instruments that are used to kill so many, the guns.
All the polls I've seen recently indicate that the American population is following the political
leadership who are missing in action, most of them on this issue, by increasingly being in favor
of, if you will, relaxing of gun laws. Isn't that the tragic irony out of this? The more of these
we have, seemingly we have less interest in trying to focus on trying to control some of it in
terms of some type of effort to control guns.
Right. And of course the opposite view would be to emphasize that these guns were purchased
legally and that we have to focus on the individual. There'll be more of this discussion to come.
Thank you all for being here--
REP. CAROLYN MCCARTHY:
--and commenting on it this morning.
CHIEF BILL BRATTON:
Michael Chertoff thank you as well.
We're back now with our political roundtable. Joining me now, founder and CEO of Students First, Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of D.C. public schools, David Brooks, columnist, of course, with The New York Times, Republican strategist Steve Schmidt and Democratic strategist Bob Shrum. Welcome to all of you.
This was the scene on Friday at the White House. Flags there lowered to half staff in the wake of the massacre at Aurora at the movie theatre there. And the campaigns that I mentioned came to a complete halt. It's as if the political world really shut down. We heard from both President Obama and Mitt Romney on Friday.
PRESIDENT OBAMA:There are going to be other days for politics. This, I think, is a day for prayer and reflection.
MITT ROMNEY:Each one of us will hold our kids a bit closer, linger a bit longer with a colleague or neighbor, reach out to a family member or friend.
David Brooks, we come, after events like this, and hope that there's some kind of constructive national moment that can occur. What is that?
Right. Well, the theme of the show so far has been do we focus on guns or do we focus on the person. And I think the candidates are going to have to figure that one out. I personally think the focus should be on the person. There're 250 million guns in this country. If somebody wants to get their hands on a gun, they're going to be able to do it. It's just not that practical.
But we also have this situation were we have a lot of 20-year-olds who are living in this under-institutionalized world. Lonely. Not a lot of people dealing with them. At the same time, a tremendous hunger for fame and you see the rise of these spectacle killings. And I'd like to see a debate about that. There's not an obvious political solution, but as some of the people, like Mr. Bratton said, there's a civil society solution where we all look out for people who are just drifting between the cracks.
And if anybody's got experience, like you do, Michelle, at trying to identify vulnerabilities in especially younger people, that can manifest themselves at such an early age, particular in schools.
Yes. I think one of the challenges that comes about in a tragedy like this is people want answers. Why did this happen? Or what is the solution? And so too often people want to identify one thing that can be changed that will ensure that this never happens again. We do the same in education. What is the silver bullet?
And the fact of the matter is I think when you hear these conversations go on is that there is no one thing. It's actually going to be a complicated solution. It's not just the availability of guns. It's not just how violent video games are. In order to solve this problem in the long-term it's going to take a very comprehensive approach looking at lots of different angles.
Yeah, I mean the person versus the gun. Bob Shrum, you heard Congresswoman McCarthy who said, "Look, it's a myth that the '94 assault weapons ban hurt Democrats politically." The reality is we may believe that it's just lunacy for somebody to be able to arm up like that, but there's not really a gun control debate in politics anymore.
No, there isn't. I think the issue is settled. I admire the congresswoman, but I was on a phone call with House Speaker Foley, Dick Gephardt and the president, President Clinton, in 1994 when he decided to push ahead with the assault weapons ban and the Brady Bill, which have now both expired. And Foley and Gephardt said to him, "Look, this is going to cost us a lot of Democratic seats in the midterms." And it did.
The numbers have gotten worse since then. The situation has gotten worse. You can't even get the Congress to prohibit people who are on the terrorist watch list from buying weapons. They won't accept that. So David, you're right. They're going to have to focus on the person because we're not going to be able to do anything about the guns. We've reached a state of stasis on this issue and we're not going to move on it.
But a lot of gun rights advocates would say, "Well, that's where we ought to be on this." Even as the Democratic governor of the state said on the fact that forget the guns. The guy was building bombs. He could have done either if he wanted to carry out this act.
Well, that's right. It's absolute orthodoxy in the Democratic party that the majority was lost in 1994 because of the passage of the assault weapons ban. So there is a consensus, as Bob said, in this country today that there's not going to be any further gun control measures passed by the United States Congress. It's an absolutely settled issue. People absolutely will not take on the N.R.A. It's the most powerful interest group in Washington, D.C.
Let's talk about politics more generally. The president's got a moment here as he'll go out to Colorado, as he did after Tucson, and speak and help people grieve and there's very much his role. Mitt Romney's headed out on a foreign trip. Here is the latest breakdown of where this race stands and the head to head just couldn't be any closer.
As we put it up on the screen it is Romney 45% and President Obama at 43% according to the New York Times/CBS poll. Let me stick with you guys. Bob Shrum, does somebody have an advantage here beyond the numbers that shows this is a razor tight race?
Well, I think there are a couple of things underneath these numbers that actually are pretty good for the president. First of all, as Nate Silver from The Times just pointed out, the president's led in 80% of the polls in the swing states. And that begins to tell you the electoral landscape works for him.
Secondly, Romney's losing Hispanics by 48 points. And as Steve will tell you, you can't lose Hispanics by 48 points, be a Republican candidate and get elected president. Thirdly, I think Romney insisted so strongly that this was purely a referendum. "If you feel kind of bad about the economy, vote for me. I'm not going to tell you much else about myself." But he opened the way for the president to define him during what I regard as a critical post-primary summer season which is now ending as the Olympics begin.
Steve, how do you feel?
Well, I think when you look at the numbers there's some news in there that's very bad for President Obama. The fact is that the approval level for his handling of the economy is now in the 30s. The pessimism in the country is rising. The wrong track number is increasing.
And Mitt Romney has been on the defensive for the better part of a month. He has been pummeled. He has been defined. The media narrative in Washington has been terrible for him. And the only thing that's happened is the race has gotten even tighter. So I think fundamentally the economic argument that the president is making is not working. And we wouldn't be talking about Mitt Romney's taxes if the president was able to talk about an economic recovery, which clearly he can't.
And, Michelle, you're focused, of course, on education reform. What, of course, a lot politicians say is such an incredibly important issue but then they don't talk about it in the course of the campaign very much. The one thing that people want fixed, the economy, is not fixed. How much trouble is that for the incumbent president?
Well, look, we talked earlier about whether we should focus more on policy or the individuals and I think in the presidential debate we should focus a little less on the individual bickering and more on the actual policies. As it pertains to the economy, I think that one thing that people are missing in this is that we are never going to be able to fix this country's economy in the long run until we fix our public education system. If we were just to be able to cut the number of high school dropouts in one year in half, we could add $45 billion to this country's economy. And why aren't we having the conversations around that?
And you are having the conversation. The Olympics are about to start. Your group has a new ad out. I want to play a portion of it to give people a sense of what the message is.
TV AD: I'd say they are completely unprepared. Wow this is an embarrassment. Oh the US can't be satisfied with this performance. BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! The sad thing is this is our education system and it can't compete with the rest of the world. We need reform now. To see what you can do go to students first dot org slash olympics.
Laugh there, but it's a pretty tough message.
Right. The Olympics are going to start in five days. It is a time of incredible pride for this country. Our young people are out there, number one, beating everyone else. And yet educationally our kids are 25th out of 30 developed nations in math and nobody's paying attention to that fact.
David Brooks, you're writing in part about just the gamesmanship of the campaign, but it goes to something I think Michelle is saying about a real focus on alternatives. What the vision is. Why Mitt Romney wants to be president, after all. And you wrote this in a column on Tuesday that I'll put up on the screen.
You talk about his capitalist narrative. "It's been the business of his life to take companies that were mediocre and sclerotic and try to make them efficient and dynamic. It's been his job to be the corporate version of a personal trainer. Take people who are puffy and self indulgent and whip them into shape."
You write about Romney, "That's his selling point. Rigor and productivity. If he can build a capitalist vision around that, he'll thrive. If not, he's a punching bag." Is he more of a punching bag right now over releasing his taxes over the years and his experience at Bain?
Well, releasing the taxes won't help. I don't care about the issue particularly. Can anybody think about a president who was either qualified or disqualified by something in a tax form? That is irrelevant. What's relevant is who the guy is.
He has an amazing personal story. His family was really an exodus story, going across the West. Poverty. Building an empire. Poverty. Building an empire. He can't talk about it 'cause it involves Mormonism. He is personally a decent guy. For some reason he's not willing to talk about it. He's a hidden man. And so one of the turning points in this campaign is when he comes out. And if he can come out. And I don't know why they're waiting so long.
The second thing is, as Michelle said, people are-- I personally find this an incredibly consequential election and an incredibly boring election, because the two campaign staffs, they're on their iPhones, they're responding to whatever the other campaign did five minutes ago and the rest of us just don't care.
Well, look, I think Romney, for the reasons David was talking about, does remain a kind of hidden figure. It does make him a punching bag. My disagreement with Steve is that if you set a definition of somebody in the summer, they have to live with that definition all through the campaign unless they use the convention to change it.
And I'll tell you, on this tax issue, Steve and I have both been there. You sit down with a candidate and you say, "Look, we should release these tax returns. I mean we're going to get beat up if we don't release these tax returns." And either Romney or people in his campaign who have seen it said, "We'll take worse damage if we release these returns than if we hold on to them."
So I think he's going to live with this issue all the way through. I think the narrative here is going to go from Bain, outsourcing, taxes, off shoring, to his policies. So it's going to be the guy who took over companies and made them lean by cutting people's healthcare benefits now wants to cut Medicaid, privatize it, has endorsed the Ryan budget. It's going to cost seniors $640 more a year. You can debate whether or not you agree with that, but there's a narrative here that the Obama campaign is building. And so far I cannot find a narrative from Romney beyond, "Gee, if you feel kind of lousy about the economy, give me a try."
Right. Well, not a bad strategy, by the way, when you're in a bad economy.
But I think he's going to get a lot of pressure from a lot of Republicans to go out there and say something more. I think he has to say something more about who he is and what he wants to do.
Steve, just answer that but also start with the taxes. I mean your campaign, when you ran the McCain campaign in 2008, he was vetted as a V.P. He released how many years of tax returns to you guys?
Well, the reports are that he released 20 years of tax returns to the campaign. Senator McCain released two years publicly. So that's exactly what Mitt Romney's pledged to do. But what I would say is there's a lot of--
Romney gave your campaign--
--twenty years. But no one has ever released 20 years of tax returns. And, look, again, I think if the president had a record of economic recovery that he could run on we wouldn't be talking about Mitt Romney's taxes. And I don't think there's an appetite in the middle of the electorate amongst the people who will decide the election to talk about this for the next 107 days.
The reality is 107 days left to go. Not all of these days are of equal importance. Mitt Romney has some big events ahead. The vice presidential selection. The convention speech where he has an opportunity to lay out a governing vision for the country. And of course we're going to have three presidential debates. They're going to have audiences bigger than 50 million people. Ninety minutes long. A vice presidential debate.
And those are the important moments that lie ahead where Mitt Romney's going to have to make a case that he should be president of the United States, laying out a vision. At the end of the day I think people will say what is the plan to turn this country around?
Steve Schmidt, looking at my notes again, because that's exactly what I want to talk about when we come back from the break. Talk about some of the turning points ahead in this campaign. How both sides try to win those moments and what it will mean from the campaign. More from our roundtable right after this.
09:48:14:00 We're back with our roundtable. I want to talk about the turning points in this campaign but I want to go back to you, Steve, quickly. It came up in the break. The obvious question: all those tax returns for Mitt Romney, is there anything in there that would be a real problem?
Well, he's an extremely wealthy man and his tax returns do not look anything like the average America's--
But did you actually--
--see them? Did your campaign--
No. People in the campaign saw them. I never saw them. But, look, I think your common sense would tell you they're extremely complicated. And at the end of the day no one is standing there to hand you a gold medal saying, "Hey, congratulations. You've been really transparent here."
But anything in there that made Senator McCain and his team say, "No, I don't think we should--"
I think that Mitt Romney as went through this process, what I can tell you is that he's a person of decency with the highest ethical character and background. And there was nothing that was disqualifying. That the pick in 2008 wasn't about any deficiency with Mitt Romney. It was a political decision that we made in a very bad political circumstance.
Let's go to our turning points. And the first one we have up there Steve has already referenced. And that is that the governor will choose a running mate as early as probably after the Olympics, maybe that week of August 5th. Michelle Rhee, as you look at all of this and the potential veepstakes, what do you think is important here? This is one of those campaign moments where it's a presidential level decision.
Well, as a Democrat I don't think it really makes a whole lot of sense for me to weigh in on this, but I think from a very layman, normal person's standpoint, it seems to me that what the Republicans need right now is some energy, some momentum. A real person who can help to bring some life to the campaign and some excitement. And so I think that's what people are going to be looking for.
You talk excitement. We go to some of the top candidates being discussed. You've got Governor Bobby Jindal from Louisiana who's on that list, Tim Pawlenty former governor of Minnesota, and Rob Portman, the senator from Ohio. Not to--
Since Justin Bieber (UNINTEL PHRASE) has there ever been such excitement here. But I go for gravitas. I personally think Portman's the right pick. Look, something's going to happen in the world. The big political event that happened last week was the Spanish bonds went crazy. That means a European crisis is more likely.
The Iranian crisis has gotten more likely as Israel's patience has begun to wear thin. So two big things are possible over the next 107 days. So you want a vice presidential candidate who seems up to that. So I'd go for the boring, grave guy.
Interesting on that list. You all can weigh in on whatever, but the other thing that we're talking about too as a turning point is going to be the conventions. Bob, a lot of people watching. It is an opportunity not just for the candidate to make a big speech but to also have some high profile speakers there that can try to reinforce a message.
Yeah, it's also an opportunity to get in deep trouble by having some high profile speakers who do real damage. I mean the first George Bush had real damage done to him by Pat Buchanan at the 1992 Republican convention. Al Gore, in his acceptance speech in 2000, actually gained about 13 to 15 points. So it doesn't happen very often, but those speeches can be defining.
As can, by the way, these vice presidential picks. And I agree with David. I'd go with Portman for one simple reason. He's serious. He's not a gimmick. He might help in Ohio. Everybody says it doesn't matter. The vice president doesn't matter unless it does damage. Some year that not's going to be true and he might help in Ohio. And, by the way, Joe Biden I think helped a lot in Pennsylvania and Florida in 2008.
Well, I think there's a very small list of Republicans out there who pass the threshold issue. The gravitas that they're ready to be president of the United States on day one, god forbid something should happen to a President Romney. And Pawlenty and Portman and Jindal are all people on that small list.
It's also about risk threshold as you say.
It depends on what your standing is in the campaign.
Well, that's right. I think that in 2008, for example, we were willing to take high risk because the political situation was very bad. Four years later, very different political situation and I think this will be a very low risk decision.
When we talk about turning points, Michele Rhee, we also talk a little bit looking a bit ahead here to the presidential debates. They really do matter because you get to a point, especially in a deadlocked race, where Americans are really tuned in and they're watching these two interact with each other.
It's not all the outside money in the ads. They are going to be forced to engage on policies. On direction. On vision. The things that you're trying to be focused on and what you'd like to see the campaign focused on. That could be a big moment.
Yeah. And we're, quite frankly, hoping that there is more of a focus this time on education and education issues. Second to jobs it is really top of mind for Americans. And the vast majority of Americans know the public education system is broken and want to know what these two candidates think about how we're going to fix this. What the solutions are.
Is it too forward looking a problem to be focused on? Is that the issue--
I disagree. Michelle's a big hero of mine, but I would say please keep education out of the campaign. The campaigns kill subtlety. And Barack Obama has a very brave education policy right now. If he had to campaign on that and (UNINTEL) the campaign with the NEA, he would not have run on that campaign. So campaigns--
--polarize and simplify.
--that's sort of saying as a Democrat, because he's going to take bold stands on education, we sort of have to hide that or else the teachers' unions are going to go nuts. To me that's not the best argument. I mean we have to be focused on what the American people want to know and hear about. And what their everyday reality is is they need to send their kids to school every day knowing that they're going to get a great education so that they can compete in the global marketplace.
I've got about a minute left. Can I end on something that I just read about this morning and that is the statue of Joe Paterno at Penn State is going to be taken down. How do you react to that?
My firm is involved in Penn State and I should disclose that, but I think it's an appropriate decision for the school to have made. And obviously it's a very sad chapter. And it's a profound moral failing.
Do you --
Which was (UNINTEL).
They shouldn't put up statues of living people because you're going to make yourself a hostage to fortune. And that's what's happened here. He became a symbol of Penn State. On the basis of what we now know I think they have to take the statue down.
Right. We put up statues to people we admire and it's hard to admire him right now .
Interesting. Interesting. How does a community, an educational community, rebound from something like that, Michelle?
Well, I think that, again, what we have to do is focus just on the kids and what is in the best interest of the kids. And that has to be the driving force of every institution, every administration, is not about the institution itself.
That was the big failing. I don't think anybody disagrees with that. Michelle, all of you, thank you very much--
--for an interesting discussion.
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