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Meet the Press's ratings had been tanking for several years. . “I have been here so much,” President Obama joked during one of two fundraisers at Cohen's At the dinner, for instance, Cohen sat with Chuck Todd, Today hosts Al Roker and . Gerald Ford is a guest—a first for a sitting President. Transcript of the April 10, broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, featuring David With us, President Obama's senior adviser, David Plouffe. was merely a preview of the campaign: spending cuts, the tea party influence, President Ford accepted the invitation as a tribute to "Meet the Press". POLITICAL BUZZ OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE TH CONGRESS: Obama Meet the Press Interview: Full Transcript, Quotes, Video Source.
Everybody thought this little Assad minority, very narrow regime, was just going to crumble as soon as people rose up. But Assad did not crumble. The Syrian regime had clearly decided that it could crush the protests, really using brutal force with impunity. Assad countered with helicopter gunships, long-range artillery, and eventually, bombers. And the opposition leadership sent a message to the capitals of the West that this is only going to get worse.
The Assad regime is not going to stop.
Back at the White House, they discussed their options. There seems to be a process by which Iran is airlifting aid into Damascus. You see the growing involvement of Lebanese Hezbollah, and you see the Revolutionary Guards Corps, Quds Force leaders, making a very, very important contribution to shoring up the regime forces. As the fighting intensified, political pressure was building. Senator John McCain was calling for U. We are watching genocide take place, and it is going to eventually destabilize the entire region.
Why should we be getting involved in this? But I do not believe that we needed to end up in the situation that we are in today.
If Bashar al Assad was to be toppled, who would replace him? I think that would be a very difficult thing to sort out. And it would have been a sizable undertaking. The president was also briefed on legal issues involved in attacking a sovereign government. What was put forward was that it would violate international law, helping an opposition group to a government which was recognized as sovereign by the United Nations.
The president was forced to think hard about the limits of American power and the limited appetite of the American people for more war. Lookit, American people do not support action in Syria.
And the president had other priorities.TPMtv: President-Elect Obama Meets the Press
But there was still pressure on the president to do something. Ambassador Ford flew in from Damascus and warned that there were other ominous developments. We were beginning to hear by the end of about groups coming in, especially from Iraq, of extremists connected to al Qaeda.
What concerned the more moderate opposition people with whom we were in contact were that these groups were very well financed and were gaining an advantage over the moderate elements. And among these groups was what would eventually become ISIS. My team at the State Department — and I think in the end, Secretary Clinton agreed with us — we needed to make sure that the opposition, and especially the armed opposition, was not dominated by extremists but rather by more moderate elements.
But the moderates were very disorganized and outmatched. They were grossly outnumbered. President Assad hadforces when this war started and the rebels were in the hundreds. The problem was to identify at that time the so-called moderates who had the potential militarily to mount an effective resistance against the Syrian regime.
The ad hoc nature of the rebel militias was obvious. Very few had any real military experience. We have no discipline. President Obama had to figure out which, if any, of these fighters could be trusted. Why are you arguing? There are only ammunition magazines for the unit. He wanted to make clear that we had to be very deliberate and careful when it comes to something like providing military assistance to an opposition group. They were very legitimate concerns. And what one tries to do in a situation like that is, again, gather as much information as possible, but recognize that at the end of the day, there are always going to be risks.
There are no guarantees. There are no certainties. And they push this idea. My view was if we really want the rebels to succeed, the only way we could do that, the only way we were going to get credibility with those that were fighting on the streets and dying, was to be able to provide the weapons they needed in order to confront Assad.
The administration was deeply divided. Recent history provided contradictory lessons. We were driven in part by our impulse learned in the Balkans, about the necessity of U.
Meet the Press transcript for April 10, 2011
America and the Age of Genocide. And she ran into a brick wall, primarily with Denis McDonough, one of the strongest voices in the administration for not, you know, getting directly involved in— militarily in Syria.
Throughout the summer and fall ofofficials in the White House met as often as twice a week trying to decide who, if anyone, to back. I think sometimes we think that our ability to impose order and solutions on very complicated situations in the Middle East causes us to act without necessarily thinking through the second, third and fourth order consequences of action.
They want to help the good Syrians who are getting massacred. You have to make them win. And a slippery slope was defined as kind of dragging us down into where we might end up having to use U.
But rebel forces were taking heavy losses. The president made up his mind.
The message came back that the president was not convinced that the State Department and the CIA proposal was a good one and he would not support it. You were angry, I imagine. Frustrated would be a better word. Our requests were denied. In earlyAssad appeared in public for the first time in six months to address his supporters.
A revolution needs thinkers. A revolution is built on thought. Where are their thinkers? They are a bunch of criminals. As he said this, his air force was hitting schools, hospitals and bread lines. After two years of war, more than 60, Syrians had been killed and hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes.
Refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey were overflowing. Russia and Iran were continuing to send arms to the regime, but very few governments in the West wanted to get involved in arming the rebels.
Nobody cares about Syria. With no one to stop him, Assad initiated a new phase in the war, the deployment of chemical weapons. The Assad regime calculated that their use of chemical weapons would strike terror in the hearts of the civilians and would ultimately rob the rebel forces of the civilian populace in which it needed to operate.
So it was very calculated and it was very shrewd and was very, very cynical. A few months earlier, the president was holding a routine press conference about campaign finance, Medicare and Afghanistan.
Then came the last question of the day. President, could you update us on your latest thinking on where you think things are in Syria, and in particularly, whether you envision using the U.
We have been very clear to the Assad regime that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation. That was not, apparently, a planned thing.
He said it in response to a question from a reporter who was asking about the use of chemical weapons. Some of the aides, in fact, who heard him say this were surprised. The fact that you had the president stand up and make it very clear that any use of chemical weapons would be a red line for the first time indicated that there is a potential opportunity here for the United States to intervene.
Initially, they were isolated incidents, and then it became a pattern of larger use— MAN: And so through the spring, there are these provocations that go basically unanswered.
And in hindsight, it looks like anyway, Bashar al Assad was testing and pushing and seeing how far he could go, where this red line really was drawn. The administration understood as the regime escalated its use of chemical weapons that we would have to do more ourselves in response to that.
And you saw John Kerry, the new secretary of state inbecomes a very active voice in this debate. On June 12th,Obama huddled with Kerry and others in the White House to discuss their response. So Secretary of State Kerry goes to that meeting in June of with talking points laying out the worsening situation. The intelligence community was assessing that, you know, the rebels were really on the ropes.
You have the clear proof within the intelligence community that there had been chemical weapons attacks. It was still a pretty cautious plan, but it was a plan to begin arming the rebels. But the weapons that were sent in were very limited. Then a sarin gas attack on a rebel-held suburb of Damascus. Sarin is a nerve agent that causes lung muscle paralysis and results in death from suffocation. Fourteen hundred men, women and children are killed, according to what the American intelligence agencies tell the president.
He has to have some sort of response. He has drawn this red line. He may be trapped by it, but he understands that his credibility and the credibility of the United States are on the line. The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity.
The president ordered the military to get ready. So down at Central Command in Tampa, they were drawing up possible targets. They had lists of what could be hit on the first day, what could be hit on the second day. The consensus was that the Pentagon would launch strikes on Saturday, August 31st. Our finger was on the trigger.
We had gone through the targeting plans and the targeting solutions. The crews were alerted. And so we had everything in place, and we were just waiting for instructions to proceed. And the threat of U. It was noted all over the Arab world that, suddenly, people in the regime were panicking. I get that, and the government will act accordingly.
It was a Friday night, and I got a call from the president of the United States. The next morning, Obama summoned his long-time foreign policy adviser, now chief of staff, Denis McDonough. And he goes for a walk on the South Lawn with McDonough. And they circle this pathway again and again and again for 45 minutes, talking about what to do.
The president was looking for a way to not have to make good on the threat that he had made. I think because the president, having drawn that red line, realized that he had no appetite for direct military engagement in Syria.
A few hours later, the president called a press conference in the Rose Garden. After careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets. At the time, you know, he was describing it as seeking strong political support for this decisive move. He had all the rhetoric of action. But in truth, it was stepping back from the imminent attack that was ahead. You know, it was all in motion, and at the last minute, the president blinked.
I was there in southern Turkey at that time, and I can tell you that the Syrian people were looking at the skies, hoping that the United States Air Force would come to the rescue. And then all of a sudden, on September 1st, the Syrian people woke up and realized that the United States was not going to come to the rescue. Not only the Syrians believed this, the French armed forces were mobilizing. They were ready to go ahead, and they stopped at the last minute when they heard that the president is going to ask for congressional authorization.
But what's to think that we're not going to be right back to where we were this week when the next bigger fight over bigger numbers comes to pass? I'm not saying we're not going to be. I think there will be some kind of negotiations.
And, yes, it probably will go up to some sort of a deadline. The debt ceiling deadline is a moving deadline. It's not a date certain deadline like the government shutdown. Our strategy is not to default. Our strategy is to get spending under control. Let's talk about--I mean, this is the political environment that you're operating in as you produce the Path to Prosperity And it was very interesting. I've heard this before. Look, it really doesn't matter to me.
What matters is we try to fix the country's problems. Look, let me just show you. This is the debt that the CBO says we're going to have. We're giving our children a lower standard of living. Our plan pays the debt off. So we really believe we need to own up to the fact that the country is on an unsustainable path and we've got to do something to fix this. But you're the budget chairman, you have your charts, I understand.
I've got many more if you want me to I know you do. But I know you also have a reality. You just heard David Plouffe say This might pass the House, it's not going to pass the Senate. It's certainly not going to become law. Is this more of a campaign document for ? No, not at all. We need a clean break from the politics of the past. Both parties do this to each other. Both parties use hyper rhetoric, both parties use all of this demagoguery.
We have political paralysis and we don't fix the country's problems, but we have a debt crisis staring us in the face. And that's what's got to get fixed. Well, let's--and let's talk about some of the details and then, and then go through some of the items that are in your plan, just to give our viewers some context.
We'll put it up on the screen. With regard to Medicare, starting inwould no longer be an open-ended entitlement, which we'll talk about. Medicaid would also be changed.
It would become a block grant to states, billion cut over 10 years. The Bush tax cuts would be made permanent. Something you should know the president opposes. And for individuals and businesses, the top rate would be cut to 25 percent from 35 percent. Now you can expect that Democrats would come out and oppose this. And to your mind, even demagogue it.
Let me put it on the screen. As a result, [it] relies on much larger reductions in domestic discretionary spending than does the Commission proposal, while also calling for savings in some safety net programs - cuts which would place a disproportionately adverse effect on certain disadvantaged populations. This is not a shared sacrifice document. Actually, if you read that earlier part of their statement, they said it's an honest, serious, incredible proposal.
A couple of things: We basically take the thrust of the--I was on the fiscal commission, we agree You voted against it, its recommendations. I did vote against it because it didn't do anything about healthcare costs, which is the big driver of our debt.
But we also--our tax reform plan goes in the same direction, which is get rid of all those special interest loopholes so you can lower tax rates. It's the higher income earners who use those special interest loopholes. Get rid of the loopholes, lower the rates, make our economy more competitive. Flatter, fairer, simpler tax system. With respect to the safety net, our goal is to repair the safety net, make it more sustainable.
Safety net spending grows every year under this budget. Medicare, Medicaid spending grows every year under this budget. What we're trying to do here is save Medicare and Medicaid so that they're sustainable. But also, the safety net is tearing apart at the seams.
We want to fix the safety net. I--and I want to break that down. I want to break that down a little bit more. But let me just stop you on the tax issue.
Do taxes, at some point, have to be raised if you're really getting--going to get into the realm of asking something of the American people, shared sacrifice, not just helping upper earners? Shared sacrifice, meaning sort of indiscriminate cuts across the board, is what you do when you're in a debt crisis. What we're trying to do is pre-empt a debt crisis.
So there's two things we're trying to keep our eye on the ball on: We want job creation, economic growth, and that's why if you go down the tax increase path you're sacrificing the economy; and especially when the fact that the problem we have is spending, not taxes. Spending's the root cause of our deficit and debts. Every time we run a big deficit means more tax increases. But in an economic downturn you can't cut your way to a balanced budget. How do you do that? The president is proposing to keep government as large as it's ever been forever.
We don't think the answer to prosperity is borrowing and spending more money, we got to get our spending under control because that's the root cause of our problem.
And yes, if you get deficit reduction and deficit--and the debt under control, that's going to help the economy today. But still no tax cuts in the future even? We're talking about tax reform. Tax--I'm sorry, tax, tax hikes in the future? We're--no, we're talking about tax reform. Look, we have to recognize the fact that we're in global competition.
We're competing against China and India. And when we tax our job creators more than they tax theirs, we lose, they win, and we don't want that to happen. All right, let me talk more specifically about Medicare and try to provide a little bit more clarity on this. I'm going to put something up that the Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday. That would force seniors to pay more for health care and would likely make states cut back their Medicaid programs.
Is that not a reality? I'd just say a few things. Number one, Medicaid's broken, and throwing more money in a broken system doesn't work. We've gotten dozens of letters from governors saying, "Give us the freedom to fix Medicaid our own way in our own states. Yes, we do repeal the president's healthcare law because we have just profound disagreements with it.
Four facts on Medicare: Fact number one, when Medicare was created, you know, men were living in their 60s, women were living in their 70s, now men are living in their 80s and--or in their 70s and women are living in their 90s. We had--baby boomers were in their teens and there were babies when this thing started.
Now they're doubling the size of retirement we have. The price controls in Medicare today are causing doctors to stop seeing patients and Medicare is the biggest contributor to skyrocketing healthcare costs. Price controls, which is the current plan in Medicare, doesn't work. What we think works to bring down price costs is competition.
And we want to give seniors the power, the tools, through competition, to bring down costs. But there's a lot of talk about giving them the power and the tools. A couple of points on that.
First of all, didn't liberals win this argument when you tried--when Republicans tried to overhaul Social Security through private accounts, that look at the vagaries of the markets and what would have happened to seniors then.
I think that's kind of a non sequitor. Well, let, let, let--let's accept it for the moment and then you can take it on. Because I'm not sure it is a non sequitor because it's talking about the private marketplace. And, in this case, the healthcare industry is somehow You're changing Medicare as we know it.
Why, why don't you agree Listen to what government auditors are also saying, the biggest threat to Medicare is the status quo. Medicare is going bankrupt in nine years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. So what are we doing? We're preserving and protecting it.
No change occurs to Medicare for anybody who's on Medicare or 10 years away from retiring. And, for future generations, what we are proposing is a personalized Medicare, a Medicare system that works exactly like the health care I have as a member of Congress and federal employees have. It would look like the prescription drug benefit or Medicare Advantage. So we already have these kinds of ideas in practice. I mean, prescription drug benefit came in 40 percent below cost projections because it harnessed the power of choice and competition.
We want to have comprehensive Medicare plans available to future seniors that they can pick from and have these plans compete against each other for their benefit. It works with federal employees, it works with the prescription drug benefit, and more to the point, it saves Medicare.
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But let me ask you this, is tax reform more doable, say, next year than entitlement reform in a--in an election year? You know, it's a good question. I don't really know because the president punted on these issues. He gave us a budget that didn't deal with any of the drivers of our debt.
It doubles the debt in the--in his first term, triples it at the end of his budget. Corporate tax reform, I think, from just--I'm a member of the Ways and Means Committee as well--that is an area where I think everybody agrees it's hurting job creation.
And I think there's a decent chance--the tax reforms we have here are along the lines of the fiscal commission reforms, so that is one area where I'd still hold out some hope. I also think Social Security reform