Meet The Press host Chuck Todd joined me on Friday’s show to discuss Sunday’s program and the president’s National Prayer Breakfast remarks Thursday:
HH: I’m joined now as I am on most Fridays when I’m lucky by Chuck Todd, host of Meet The Press. Hello, Chuck.
CT: How are you doing, Hugh?
HH: I’m terrific. Chuck, I have been in a broadcast organization for 26 years, and sometimes, some of my friends and colleagues get in the middle of media meltdowns. And it’s always been my policy never to comment on that when it’s going on. So I’m not going to ask you to comment on Brian Williams. I have just one question, though, about Meet the Press tomorrow. Do you cover the story or don’t you on Sunday?
CT: No, I don’t think so, and I’ll tell you why. I mean, I think that when it comes to this story, there’s a lot of strong opinions out there, and I think right now, considering the, you know, you want to, I think no matter what, people will be skeptical how we would cover it. So I think in this case, better not to.
HH: Okay, good call.
CT: And yeah, and I think, and look, I mean, I think it’s up to Brian right now.
CT: I think it’s up to him to, I think he should be the next person to talk.
HH: Yeah, I never cover stories about my colleagues when they are in the middle of a media firestorm.
HH: I never do it. Now I do want to ask you about a story that’s on Meet The Press Twitter feed right now, because I’m astonished by this. I talked about it last hour. You have asked the 434 living members of Congress, there’s one who’s cooled to room temperature recently, whether or not their children are vaccinated. Seven haven’t responded, sever have said not going to answer, 273 haven’t responded, 121 have said yes, and 33 have said no? I’m actually kind of stunned by that.
CT: No, I know. Well no, I thought it was, yeah, no, no, no. They didn’t have children. You’re reading the graphic wrong. 33 didn’t have children.
HH: Oh, thank goodness.
CT: No, no, no. No, the news out of this is not a single member of Congress that responded with children did not vaccinate. Everybody who responded to us said they vaccinated.
HH: Oh, thank goodness. In the last hour, I…
CT: No, no, no. No, what you read, no, what you read is 33 is no, they don’t have, they’ve never had kids.
HH: Oh, good. My confidence has gone way up in Congress. I was very worried there for a minute, Chuck.
CT: No, no, no. Congress isn’t Beverly Hills, buddy.
HH: That’s it. You know, the highest level of non-participation in child and pre-schools in California, it happens to occur in the people’s republic of Santa Monica and Frisco.
CT: Yeah, no, it’s unbelievable. And then how about the, you know, look, everybody was trying to play the red state/blue state game on this. Well guess, you know, how about the highest rates of vaccination? West Virginia and Mississippi. So you know, this is a case where people need to be careful with their political stereotypes.
HH: Absolutely. All right, now I want to go to the President’s Prayer Breakfast comments. For those who have been living in a cave, here’s what he said yesterday.
BO: Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.
HH: Chuck Todd, I could have done six hours. I’ve only done about three hours on these comments, and done phone calls continually. What do you make…George Will, Charles Krauthammer, everybody’s been on this show saying this is, it’s vacuous and incoherent. What do you think?
CT: I don’t understand why he did it. Look, you want to have a scholarly debate in an academic situation, and you want to have religious scholars have this debate on history? That’s fine. It seemed to be politically tone deaf for a president to do this. And look, I’m scratching my head on it. I know the guy loves to have these academic…he would like to sometimes have academic arguments. But in this case, you know, to go back to the Middle Ages on anything, I mean, you know, we, it just, I didn’t get it. I don’t understand why he did it. I understand the historical fact, but is that historical fact relevant? It almost sounded like he was giving ISIS, it could come across, and it certainly did to many people, as if he was sort of explaining away ISIS brutality, when there’s no explanation for it.
HH: So how will you…
CT: So anyway, look, I’m dealing with it. I’m trying to do it this way. I want to have a religious historian, and I’m trying to find one. And I’ll be honest with you. We’re working on one that is as apolitical as I can find, and then after it, then you know, go through and talk about the political fallout of it. But it’s, wow, I mean, it was something else, and it was, you know, I guess he decided to make a headline out of the Prayer Breakfast, which was not necessary.
HH: So you’re going to cover it. Are you going to cover it before or after the incineration of the Jordanian fighter pilot and Jordan’s response, which is making headlines at this hour?
CT: Well, no, I have, in fact, my first two guests are John Kerry, that’s an exclusive, and the Jordanian foreign minister. So obviously, you can figure out my topics and where I’m going from there. But it will be after that. And I mean, it feels like more of a conversation I want to have after that, after the news of the day.
HH: Yeah, very much so. Now the Secretary of State is not, nor is the President in Russia today where Merkel and Hollande have been meeting with Putin. Do you draw any conclusions from the fact that we’ve been pushed out of the big three? We don’t even count in Europe anymore?
CT: Well, I would put it this way. I think it’s because in this case, Europe does not like the U.S.’ position on this, which is the U.S. is ready to arm, to send small arms to Ukraine. And Germany and France doesn’t want that. So I think I would read it more as U.S. has very little credibility. You know, Putin’s not going to listen to Kerry, so no credibility. The person he has the best relationship with of our allies is Merkel. So this is an attempt, I think, to try to talk him off the ledge, Putin, that is. But I think this is a case where it’s because the U.S. position, which is not always the case in this administration, is more hawkish than where the allies are.
HH: Now you’ve got both the Secretary, that’s a big get, by the way, the Secretary of State and the Jordanian foreign minister. And at the same time, we’ve got the Houthis declaring today screw the other nine parties, we’re running Yemen. That means Hezbollah is now ascendant in Lebanon, and Damascus is an Iranian satellite, and they’ve got Yemen now, and they’ve got Quds Forces generals in the Golan Heights. Is Kerry, are you going to push Kerry on this deal with Iran? It does not seem like Iran is acting like a responsible partner in peace?
CT: Look, are you like looking at my notes? I’m not kidding. We just made a graphic about, asking the question of Iran on the march. And you’re sitting here, and you’ve got to ask yourself. You know, their support, what you just brought up with Yemen, I mean, this is exactly, it’s sort of bullet point, bullet point, bullet point, and it offers a basic question. Why are we even trying to do a deal with them on anything, considering what they’re, you know, this is a country that is trying to expand their sphere of influence in ways that go against, you know, America’s national interest over there? So I guess the short answer is yes, this is a topic.
HH: Now the technical question…
CT: But it was so funny the way you did it. I’m not kidding. It was like you were saying, this was the graphic we were putting together just a few minutes ago before I started to talk to you.
HH: Well, that’s good. Since I mangled your last graphic, you’re going to have to go slower for the Steelers’ fans and the Browns’ fans. Make sure that it’s really spelled out, because I was just, I was off on the 33 members of Congress who hadn’t gotten vaccinated, so I was really worried.
CT: That’s okay. That’s okay.
HH: So in terms of Kerry, John Kasich, he comes on this show, I love John Kasich. He’s a great guest. He answers at length, and he often misses the break. Secretary of State Kerry is not known for his short answers. How do you interrupt a secretary of State?
CT: Well, the best thing is that you want to pretape some of the interviews so you can give yourself a little more time and not feel the pressure of him filibustering you through the segment lengths and not messing up a break. So that’s plan number one. And when we’re doing some of these overseas interviews due to schedule, due to travel issues of what time he’s in the air versus when we’re on the air, so dirty, little secret on this one, we’re taping this one a few hours in advance.
HH: All right, here’s a little tape from Tom Cotton yesterday.
TC: Now let’s look at the propaganda value. How many detainees were at Guantanamo Bay on September 11th, 2001?
TC: How many were there in October, 2000, when al Qaeda bombed the USS Cole?
TC: What about 1998 when they bombed our embassies?
BM: The facility was not open before 2002, Senator.
TC: 1993 in the first World Trade Center bombing?
BM: Same answer.
TC: 1979 when Iran took over our embassy?
TC: 1983 when Hezbollah bombed our embassy and our Marine barracks in Lebanon?
HH: Chuck Todd, you get the sense here. Tom Cotton just took to the woodshed Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Brian McKeon on Gitmo’s propaganda value. What do you make of his argument there?
CT: Well, no, he’s basically saying, he’s trying to take the number one talking point that the Obama administration use, and it wasn’t just him. I mean, don’t forget, plenty of, plenty of folks both in the Bush administration in the last few years, John McCain at one time, all of them have talked up the talking point of how it is a propaganda tool. And there’s still plenty of people that believe that. I mean, you know, and you know, I think there are plenty of intelligent people who will agree to disagree on the propaganda value of Gitmo. But look, this is one of those, this is one of those pieces of legislation that I assume will get bipartisan support.
HH: I agree. I think John Kerry can’t talk his way into closing Gitmo on Sunday’s Meet The Press. Chuck Todd, always a pleasure, we’ll be watching Sunday on Meet The Press.
End of interview.