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Chuck Todd On Cuba, Sony, And The Rumored Knife Fight For Donors Between Jeb Bush And Chris Christie

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The moderator of Meet The Press always has insight, and does here in an interview with guest host, Ed Morrissey.

The Audio:


The Transcript:

EM: Joining me on the line now, NBC News correspondent and Meet The Press host, Chuck Todd. Welcome to the show, sir.

CT: Mr. Morrissey, always a pleasure.

EM: Mr. Todd, always a pleasure to speak with you as well. And today was a pretty busy day in Washington, Barack Obama giving his final 2014 press conference mostly focusing on the Sony hack in North Korea and his change of diplomatic policy with Cuba. Now we’ve talked a little bit about the Sony hack in the first hour. Let’s talk a little bit about the Cuba policy. This is a big change. This was obviously Obama being proactive, getting an opportunity to do something on his own, and changing the narrative a little bit. Looking at this from the perspective of today’s press conference, do you think that he’s, that he was successful in changing the idea of the lame duck trailing into two years of irrelevance?

CT: When you look at these last six weeks, I mean, you think about he could have responded, post-election, and where the types of stories that could be written, and all these things, I mean, he’s dictating the terms of the debate, right? That’s ultimately, a president doesn’t want to lose that ability ever. It eventually does happen. New presidential elections happen, and there’s going to be a point that that’s going to happen as a natural occurrence. But I certainly think he has successfully prolonged it. The question is how long. You can successfully do this in a lame duck. He did it in 2010. But then he lost control of things in 2011. You know, so he did it at the end of 2012, but he lost control of things in 2013. So look, I think the question is can he continue it when the new Congress comes in? Can he continue it after his state of the union? That’s going to be a tougher test.

EM: The state of the Union, of course, now scheduled for January 20th. John Boehner sent the invitation, and the date is schedules. He’s going to be facing an all-Republican Congress for the first time in his presidential career, really the first time in his political career, because excuse me, he came in, in 2005, and so it was still a fully-Republican Congress when he was first two years of his term. So going back now a fully-Republican Congress, the first time in his presidency, he’s going to have to now deal directly with Republicans rather than using Harry Reid as a shield or running interference, however you want to frame this.

CT: Pocket veto is how I used it. He was the pocket veto.

EM: He was the pocket veto. Harry Reid was his pocket veto. From what you’ve seen of Barack Obama, and of course, you’re the author of The Stranger, you did a full book on this that just is out, by the way, and you can to go to find this, folks, from what you’ve seen of Barack Obama, is he capable of coming to terms with John Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell, who are going to be in charge now, of the Congressional agenda in a way that’s going to allow him to have some relevance over the next two years in terms of a legislative agenda?

CT: Well, I think it’s possible. I mean, I think look, if there was one lesson, if I were the Republicans and I took one lesson away from the lame duck and the spending bill is he did something that Mitch McConnell’s been begging him to do for a long time as a trust-building exercise between the two of them, and that is go against your own party in Congress if you have to. Well, he did. You know, he went up against Nancy Pelosi and won. And that’s a, if that President Obama, if, there is a, he feels comfortable not feeling as if he has to kowtow to Congressional Democrats and their own parochial politics, at least he did in this circumstance. Does he continue that? Is he unafraid of taking hits from Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi? And I think that’s going to be, he did it once. Now it was for something big that he wanted, and of course, he had other Democrats that had his back on this. But you know, is he willing to go it alone, say, on tax reform, where you might have a bunch of Democrats feel as if for political reasons they have to go against the President, is he willing to do that? I think that’s going to be a test. But you know, you have to say there have been criticism that he was never willing to go up against Pelosi. Well, he did.

EM: And Elizabeth Warren, as you said. And I also pointed this out at the time, was that this was, I think, a signal that he is actually considering working with the Republicans in order to get some things passed, especially…

CT: That’s what I think. I mean, and that’s the point, is like okay, if he wants, you know, because trade, look, to get a trade deal, that’s going to be really unpopular with Democrats worried about Democratic primaries.

EM: Yes.

CT: So he’s got no choice there. You know, what I wonder is how’s he going to handle more attempts at weakening Dodd-Frank? You know, that’s going to be…

EM: That was a big deal, though. The thing on derivatives, going against his, that was a big deal on Dodd-Frank, and he weakened it. And I was very surprised that he actually went along with that, Chuck, because that was a big deal in terms of the Dodd-Frank legislation.

CT: Well, I think that tells you that he is of the mindset you’re not going to get everything you want, so you’ve got to pick and choose your battles. If that’s his mindset, and Congressional Republicans come with the same mindset, you know, they might not come with that mindset. We don’t know. But if they come with that same mindset, well, then that’s how big deals get done. That’s how you get a tax reform.

EM: I talked to Senator McConnell earlier today, and we’re going to be airing the interview in the next half an hour or so. But he felt that tax reform and trade, you mentioned trade, he felt that tax reform and trade were the two areas where things could get done in the next two years, big deals, and maybe on budgets as well, to go back to regular order on budgets. So I think you’re right. I think those are the two areas that you have to look to, to see what’s going to be coming up.

CT: Ed, here’s my question about how Boehner and McConnell are going to handle this. Are they comfortable with conference committees? You know, now they weren’t, remember, that was a lot of House Republicans didn’t like the idea of bills going to conference and then coming back weaker, right, from the Senate, which is inevitable as far as the conservatives in the House are concerned, okay? No matter, you know, whatever bill they passed, and if it ends up in conference committee, it’s going to be weaker than what they passed as far as the conservative, coming from the conservative point of view. That’s going to tell me whether Republicans are ready to have the same deal cutting. We’re still learning to see if the President’s going to be there. But we’ve got to, that, to me, is the measure of how serious Republicans are in getting deals done. Are they willing to have conference committees?

EM: That’s a good question. We’re going to keep an eye on that. Chuck, I want to change gears here just a little bit. Look towards 2016. Now we’re hearing a little bit that there seems to be a big knife fight developing between the Jeb Bush team and the Chris Christie team on donors. Are you hearing anything about this?

CT: Look, I wouldn’t call it a knife fight. I mean, I think it’s if, you know, I think, you know, I think Christie’s going to be on the losing end of this. I mean, look, what Jeb Bush did, and is, I think Jeb knew that a lot of people were skeptical of if he was serious, okay? I certainly was a skeptic. I certainly talked to people close to him that made me feel comfortable being sort of a 55% skeptic, meaning I just was more convinced he wouldn’t than would. And donors were in that same place. And in order to make them believe, he had to go early. They wanted to believe. Well, he did. And so this was about sending a message to Christie and Romney, okay, stop talking down, talking me down to these donors, because they’re all fishing in the same donor pond, the three of them. So, and all this stuff through the circular telephone and all, I mean, it is gossip central in that world. Jeb really made life miserable for both Christie and Romney right now.

EM: So it’s getting cutthroat, then, in that small pool of the large donors, then?

CT: Well, yes, but it’s a large pool. I mean, look, Jeb Bush basically is the number one fundraiser, right now, will end up being the number one big fundraiser in Texas, the number one big fundraiser in Florida, the number one big fundraiser in California, and he might end up being the number one guy even in Wall Street in New York, because remember, a sitting governor has to be careful who he raises money from on Wall Street. It’s a big, it’s a little bit of an arcane issue, but there’s a lot of issues there with sitting governors when it comes to raising Wall Street money.

EM: Right.

CT: So…on what’s legal and what’s not, even when they’re running for president. So you know, Jeb is in the pole position financially in ways that I think both Christie and Romney hoped they could have been that guy.

EM: I am very surprised to hear that, actually. It’s been 14 years since Jeb’s run for any office. Nobody’s worried about that?

CT: Well, his donor network has always been strong. Look, I think, look, we’re just talking about money. I’m with you. I think he could be out of shape politically. He certainly has issues with base conservatives. I’m going to have a little chart, actually, on Sunday that I’m going to show folks that shows that among Republican primary voters that we surveyed, you know, he’s fifth among Tea Partiers, okay, when it comes to could find themselves supporting. Fifth, okay? He’s first or second among every other demographic group of said Republicans, but fifth among Tea Party, or you know, folks that call themselves or supportive of Tea Party. Well, that’s your sort of populist, grassroots conservative. And that’s where he’s got problems. But Ed, if you’re advising him, if you want to be the nominee, what do you do? Get in early and start dealing with your problems. Well, what’s Jeb doing? Getting in early and seeing how deep his problem is.

EM: Chuck, really quickly, who’s coming up on Sunday?

CT: David Boies, attorney for Sony. He’s their lead attorney. We’ll have another voice from Hollywood, Kal Penn, Marco Rubio’s going to be on the show, and I’ve got a great cyber security team of Chertoff, Lighter, Chris Hill from, the former Ambassador to South Korea, so a pretty powerful show, Ed.

EM: Chuck Todd, Meet The Press host, thanks for being with us.

End of interview.


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