Meet The Press’ Chuck Todd was my guest Friday afternoon, and we covered the waterfront on a day of breaking foreign, domestic and political news:
HH: In three hours and about ten minutes, Mitt Romney is going to be on the deck of the Midway Museum, birthed in the San Diego Harbor. He’s going to make a speech. I don’t know what’s in it. I can’t tell you what he’s going to say, but I know on Sundays’ Meet The Press, Chuck Todd will be talking about it. Chuck joins me now. Chuck, what do you think Mitt Romney’s going to say tonight?
CT: Well, I think if he is really running, then my guess is he’s going to make it crystal clear tonight and start talking about a rationale in some form or another. I guess if I were him, and I were, and I want to make sure people know that I’m dead serious about running, I would A) say it, and B) start articulating sort of the why. Start trying to answer the question, well why. Why is third time a charm? And I think what I would do in this field, and I think you and I have talked about this before, the missing thing in this field is somebody that sort of owns the foreign policy space. I’m convinced this is going to be a foreign policy election, a national security election in 2016, more so than any other issue, that it’s going to be a more dominant topic than it had been, than maybe some people thought it would be even a year ago. And you know, this is, if I were Mitt Romney, that would be the rationale I would start making.
HH: That’s exactly, if I were writing the speech tonight, it would begin I meet tonight at a time of crisis. The Euro is wobbling, Russia’s invaded Crimea, that China is challenging our allies. There’s ISIS in France and Belgium, and I am here to talk about that, and that’s all I’m going to talk about, and I run that way. Speaking of which, and who’s covering this with you on Sunday? Who’s going to be dissecting the Romney and the Republican free-for-all with you on Meet The Press?
CT: Well, we’ve got a few folks obviously out there. We’ve got on the roundtable, going to have on the Republican side of things, Michael Steele, but also Matt Kibbe from Freedom Works.
HH: Oh, good.
CT: …as well, to try to you know, get both establishment and non-establishment views on all things having to do with Romney, Bush, you name it. I mean, I think this is, look, this is the other challenge for Romney on here, is going to be the conservative grassroots who, they’re on fire for anybody not named Romney or Bush right now.
HH: And Rick Perry was with Reince Priebus today, and Reince was elected to an unprecedented third term. And Rick Perry, Eliana Johnson was on with me last hour, is very well-positioned. What did you make of the debate schedule that was announced by the RNC today?
CT: Look, it’s, I think, very logical. I’ve been one of these people, you know, a lot of people asked me how do I feel about having the RNC dictating and decide whether we get a debate, and how it works. And I’m like you know what? The Democrats did this in ’04. And frankly, I don’t like sitting there having to compete with other networks, and beg candidates to show up and all these things. I think in a primary, this is fine. It’s sort of this, it just, it’s less of a headache, and the order makes a lot of sense to me. I’m happy with the NBC debate that we got. We basically got the, I think the last one after it was going, before you hit Super Tuesday in Florida. So I’m happy with the NBC position as well. So I got no complaints about what they did, and I think it’s a logical schedule. One a month feels right in ’11, excuse me, ’11? Listen to me, in ’15, starting in August, and then you speed it up as the primaries get closer.
HH: Now Chuck Todd, on Monday, they’re going to announce conservative partners. And if it turns out that they have negotiated with NBC that your co-moderator for the NBC debate is Rich Lowry of National Review, whose been a panelist on your show, is an extraordinarily well-respected conservative’s conservative, I don’t think that, I think that’s a balanced and effective presentation, and neither you would censor Rich, nor Rich would have any impact on you. I don’t know why people are worried about that.
HH: I don’t know why. Look, these are one of these things that this is, you know, something the RNC brought up to us and all the partners. And with, look, I think you want to make sure the two news organizations are comfortable with each other, and you know, I, in a Republican primary, I see no reason why you wouldn’t want to have conservative journalists there articulating, you know, some of the conservative issues that some voters believe maybe I wouldn’t bring up, or maybe Brian wouldn’t bring up. I’d like to think we would, too, but I get it. And that’s perfectly reasonable to me.
HH: Now I’ve got to turn to foreign policy. First of all, the cringe-inducing John Kerry/James Taylor non-duet /duet today, do they not have an advance office at the State Department, Chuck Todd?
CT: Well, if you’re going to bring an American artist over to France to sort of make nice, don’t you bring Jerry Lewis, right?
CT: I mean, (laughing) I have to, you know, look, I’m sure, you know, James Taylor is harmless and all that stuff. Yet I have to say James Taylor was a head-scratcher to me. And you know, I don’t mind listening to a little James Taylor. I don’t know, I hope that they did some study. I’ve got to look to see if he’s unusually popular in France, say, as compared to Belgium.
HH: He was named the Chevalier d’Orders of Arts and Letters by the Ministry of Culture and Communication of France three years ago. But nevertheless, it was so poorly staged. Let’s get to the serious stuff, though.
HH: President Obama appeared with David Cameron today to threaten to veto an Iran sanctions deal. And here are a couple of cuts of what he said. Cut number three:
BO: But Congress should be aware that if this diplomatic solution fails, then the risks and likelihood that this ends up being at some point a military confrontation is heightened. And Congress will have to own that as well. And that will have to be debated by the American people. And we may not be able to rebuild the kind of coalition we need in that context if the world believes we were not serious about negotiations.
HH: He also said this, Chuck Todd, cut number six:
BO: I think there is sometimes the view that this regime cannot be trusted, that effectively negotiations with Iran are pointless. And since these claims are being made by individuals who see Iran as a mortal threat, and want as badly as we do to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon, the question then becomes well, what other alternatives exactly are available?
HH: Chuck Todd, this is very important and very serious stuff. What did you make of this today?
BO: Well, how about the fact, and you didn’t play the David Cameron clip where you know, David Cameron got outed as essentially making phone calls on Capitol Hill trying to get senators not to support the sanctions, these new sanctions. It was, and we should point out the President walked back the war comment. Major Garrett, to his credit, when he got a chance, he basically wanted a clarification from the President of the idea that if talks break down, does that immediately mean we’re on war footing. And then the President walked that back a little bit. But it certainly seems in the clips that you played that it was the implication. Obviously, he’s begging for three months, for these two or three months. I have to say, I’m curious to know what’s happening behind the scenes on these acts, on the two or three months. I’m going to have Lindsey Graham on, by the way, on the show as well. He’s been touring the Middle East, and he’ll be coming from Israel. I know he’s chomping at the bit on this issue. But if the President really wants two or three months, then you would think Congress would be okay with it. There must be something here we don’t know, because the way, he seemed very irritated about this. And now part of it has to do with, he apparently got into it a little bit with Bob Menendez, the Democrat ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the retreat yesterday. So this clearly has been fresh on his mind, and he’s feisty about it.
HH: Well, part of the problem is, even on the Democratic side, having sprung Cuba on them, people, and having moved forward to release prisoners from Gitmo, and having not kept them in the loop, and not gone to France, a lot of people are afraid about the level of competence, Chuck Todd.
CT: Well, you bring up, actually, I think it’s smart you just brought up Cuba and Gitmo on this front. I wouldn’t call it competence. I’d call it trust, and I think that that’s what feels very, I think there are some, plenty of foreign policy folks in the Senate, both D and R, who have felt blindsided by some of these things. Now the administration defends the idea of blindsiding because they’re always afraid of leaks. It’s always their reasoning. Like why didn’t you keep Congress in the loop? Well, we were afraid of this, we were afraid of that. You know, it, over time, look, it wears on them. And guess what? Now they’ve got a trust issue with Congress. And you know, the question isn’t whether a sanctions bill is going to make it to the President’s desk. The question is, is it going to make it to the President’s desk with a veto-proof majority on it?
HH: Exactly. And the last question is…
CT: And that could happen.
HH: On Sunday, you’ve got the Romney and the Republicans and the debates, you’ve got the Iran thing, but at the same time, the sweeps are continuing. There are 10, 12 people arrested in France today, a shootout in Belgium last night. How are you going to cover, I mean, how are you going to plan for Sunday morning when anything could be happening, but you’ve got this other stuff going down?
CT: Well of course, the first thing I always do is have Richard Engel on standby. And that’s always number one.
HH: Very good.
CT: But look, on that front, and this is an interview I’m very much looking forward to, I’m interviewing the new editor of Charlie Hebdo.
CT: So I’ve gotten that reaction all day today. Oh, that’s intriguing, that’ll be fascinating. And I’m looking forward to it to see look, I mean, it’s not every day you run a publication that the Pope’s criticizing. So…
HH: Did you think the Pope criticized…I got into it with Bill Donohue big time, and Bill Donohue’s been kind of coming unglued over the last three days saying the Pope supports him. I, that the Vatican kind of walked those statements back last night. I don’t know if you saw that, that they should not be interpreted as ever justifying it.
CT: Yeah, I think that’s just them wanting to be able to say oh, we weren’t directly attacking anybody. But I think that was the Pope saying you need to use caution when you go after any religious figures.
HH: It was quite the remarkable statement, not Bill Donohue-esque, but nevertheless surprising to a lot of us steeped in the 1st Amendment. Chuck Todd, we’ll be watching Sunday morning on Meet The Press.
End of interview.