Meet The Press’ Chuck Todd joined me today to discuss the president’s two speeches and the burgeoning crises abroad:
HH: I begin this hour as I do most Fridays when I am lucky in the second hour with Chuck Todd, host of Meet The Press. Chuck, this has got to be one of the most interesting weeks for the President in the history of his presidency. I think it was an awful week. He probably thinks it was a good week. What do you think?
CT: It’s funny you say that. I just think it was a bad week for Washington. And I think it was a bad week for, this is going to sound a little bit hokey, I thought it was a bad week for the country. I thought the debates that we found ourselves in, we’re sitting here debating the semantics of what to call the radical Islamists that we’re fighting overseas? I mean, you know, I just feel like we got sidetracked. I mean, I know, and then the Giuliani thing, it just, here’s what I feel. I feel like this was the culmination of why do Americans hate both the press and politics sometimes together? I think we saw it this week, because of just the, I think, you know, and I don’t want to sound like a news snob here, but I think the stupid ways we got into debates about, and it’s all sort of ISIS-related, but it’s like we’re taking our eye off the ball.
HH: Have you had a chance to read…
CT: We’re not focus on what we’ve been doing, which is getting rid of ISIS.
HH: Have you had a chance to read Graeme Wood’s piece in the Atlantic, yet?
CT: I have a lot. And I’m going to have him on the show, actually.
HH: Oh, good get.
CT: I mean, it’s, look, he makes this argument it’s an important, I think it’s an important point to feature. So it’s, not only did I read the piece, I’m putting him on the show, because…
HH: Yeah, since Lawrence Wright…
CT: I think it’s more than just people should see an excerpt of the piece. I think people should hear him explain his point of view that yes, this is a radical form of Islam, but it’s part of Islam.
HH: Yeah, since Lawrence Wright, there hasn’t been anything as important to read. I had Donald Rumsfeld on in the first hour. I want to play for you one of the key takeaways. The transcript and the audio are posted over at Hughhewitt.com. Here’s what the former SecDef had to say to me, Chuck Todd, when I asked him are we losing the war.
DR: I can’t justify my comment numerically, but there is no question but that we’re losing, and the reason we’re losing is because of the lack of leadership. That’s the only reason.
HH: Chuck Todd, that’s pretty blunt. And is that a widely shared opinion that we are losing the war, whether or not it’s a widely shared diagnosis as to why?
CT: Well, my eyes and ears on the ground are Richard Engel, my man, Rich. In fact, I just talked to him today. I’ve got a piece that I’m asking him to work on having to do with Libya. And we were talking about this, and we were talking about the new announcement about Mosul. He doesn’t think we’re winning. He does not think we’re winning right now. So yeah, I mean, I don’t know if everybody would conclude that we’re losing because of a lack of leadership, but what he sees on the ground is not a winning strategy.
HH: Does Engel believe that American ground troops are going to have to go back in sufficient numbers, because I asked that of Rumsfeld as well, and eventually he got around to saying yeah, we’re going to need American ground troops there, and the sooner the better, because it’s getting worse every day. Does Engel agree with that?
CT: Well, what he says is that’s what he hears from the Kurds, the Peshmerga. Look, we had that on, I’m trying to remember if that was the show you were on, but we had one of the, the number two, the chancellor there of the Kurdish province, say that look, the strategy that’s being implemented may eventually work, but it’s show. If you want it to work now, we need more supplies, and we need more resources, translation, they need some American ground troops.
HH: Now Chuck, when I was on with you, in fact you ran the piece about the guy who escaped from ISIS. And the big story today are these three London teenage girls, 15, 15, and 16, sneaking away from their not-so-bad school, jumping a plane to Turkey, trying to get to ISISland. The other story is that 9,000 Frenchmen have signed up with ISIS. I don’t know how the world stands by and allows it to bulge up and volcano-like explode all over the world.
CT: Well, and look at this week with Libya. And see, this just goes to the point of where I think that this extremism summit, if we want to call it that, that took place this week at the White House, where it felt a little bit misguided in this respect. The problem here, and in recruiting fighters, it’s Western Europe’s problem. I’m not saying, you know, we don’t have this problem the way Western Europe has. This is a huge issue. They need to start tackling this stuff. We have a better track record at assimilating Muslim populations. But the Western Europeans do not. You know, this is, look, Western Europe has actually always struggled on this front when it comes to assimilating different populations. They each, you know, are more homogenous countries and things like that. If we’re going to talk about that issue, you just brought up a reason why this is, this should be Western Europe’s crisis right now on that front.
HH: Now you brought up Rudy Giuliani’s comments, and I asked both Rumsfeld about it and Rick Perry last hour, and they both had a variation on I’m not a psychiatrist, I’m not a psychologist, I don’t know what’s going on in the President’s head, but his actions are hurting the country. That’s an acceptable answer, isn’t it? What Giuliani crossed the line is, is the line about don’t question our patriotism like Hillary said a few years ago. But hasn’t, wasn’t George Bush questioned much the same way?
CT: Well, and that’s what I, you know, this is where, well, I’m frustrated with political debate. I mean, we don’t just disagree with the other side. They’re sometimes this tendency, and I think social media in some ways has empowered elected leaders to think that they should even be more bombastic sometimes, and I think that that’s what I think you end up seeing. I wouldn’t have expected this Rudy Giuliani to say something like this ten years ago. I think that would be one point I would make on this. But by the way, I thought the best Republican response, I felt, was Marco Rubio’s. Did you see his response to Giuliani?
HH: I did not. What did he say?
CT: He said you know, I’m not one who believes, I’m not going to sit here and feel as if I have to respond to every, something that some other Republican says, some stupid thing some other Republican says. The media maybe ought to say, ought to make, you know, just like the media doesn’t ask Democrats to respond to every stupid thing Vice President says. But in case you’re wondering, I think the President loves America. I disagree with his policies.
HH: And drop the mic, as they say, and walk away.
CT: Right. It was, I hope I got it, I think I didn’t quote it perfectly, but it was sort like that’s how you do this. And I do think that like Walker and some of these other, you know, just do it that way.
HH: So what else besides Graeme Wood? And by the way, complements for getting him on, because that’s serious, and this is a serious subject, and it’s metastasizing. What else are you covering on Meet The Press this weekend?
CT: We’ve got Jeh Johnson leading, kicking things off. Obviously, the DHS issue is going to be front and center in the next five days, especially with the decision by the administration to now try to, to put a stay on the judge’s order. I thought they weren’t going to do that, clearing the way for that. So he’ll be the lead guest. And we’re also going to dig into the issue of where things stand on the Voting Rights Act. I feel like it’s a topic we haven’t talked about, but believe it or not, Sensenbrenner reintroduced his bill a couple months ago. I’ve got Charlie Dent and Sherrilyn Ifill from the NAACP. We’re going to talk about where that stands.
HH: You know, I don’t know if it’s appropriate to ask Jeh Johnson, but I was surprised that the director of the FBI was not at the extremism summit. And you know, the key question for Jeh Johnson and Comer, and all of them is are we safer now than we were a year ago? Or are we safer now than we were five years ago. Here’s what Jeh Johnson had to say on this subject a couple of days ago.
JJ: We in the administration and the government should give voice to the plight of Muslims living in this country, and the discrimination that they face. And so I personally committed to speak out about the situation that very often people in the Muslim community in this country face, the fact that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and that the Islamic faith is one about peace and brotherhood.
HH: Now Chuck Todd, I’m glad he thinks that, and I agree with it, but I want the Secretary of Homeland Security to be about homeland security and not interfaith relations.
CT: Well, I think, look, that’s, I think they do this, because obviously when you talk to them, they say if they’re going to infiltrate these communities, and there’s, I’m using a harsh word, because they would never describe it as infiltrate, but that’s what they’re trying to do, right? They want to have good relationships in these communities, in the Twin Cities, in Dearborn, so that they’ve got people who trust law enforcement then who will rat out radicals eventually.
CT: So that is what they would argue why they do that, and why they have to publically do this all the time.
HH: But are you going to push him on whether or not we have lone wolves or cells…
CT: I am, yeah, absolutely. I mean, I want to know where, and you know, is this, does America have as acute of a problem as Western Europe on this front.
HH: And you know, I just don’t know how many of our people have gone to fight in the jihad like these London girls. And do you have a good sense of that, Chuck Todd?
CT: It was my understanding, the last I heard, I thought it was less than a thousand, or even the hundreds, where it’s not, you know, it was a much smaller number than anything that was coming. Most of it was coming from France. I think France is the biggest number, if I’m not mistaken.
CT: Then you also, I think the U.K. was next. I think we were on a much smaller scale.
HH: Chuck Todd, we’ll be watching Jeh Johnson and of course Graeme Wood on the Meet The Press this weekend. Thanks for joining us, Chuck.
End of interview.