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General Casey, Govs. Rendell & Barbour on "Meet the Press"

General Casey, Govs. Rendell & Barbour on "Meet the Press"

By Meet the Press - November 8, 2009

DAVID GREGORY: But first, 13 dead and more than 30 injured after Army psychiatrist Major Nadal Malik Hasan opens fire at Fort Hood Army post. The New York Times reports this morning that investigators have tentatively concluded that the shooting rampage was not part of a terrorist plot. Here this morning to talk about how this tragedy is affecting our troops, we're joined by the highest-ranking officer in the U.S. Army, the Chief of Staff General George Casey.

General, welcome to MEET THE PRESS.

GEN. GEORGE CASEY: Thank you, David.

GREGORY: I want to express my condolences for our fallen troops and their families this morning.

GEN. CASEY: Thank you very much.

GREGORY: I want to ask you about the investigation, though I know that you can't say very much. The key piece, as The New York Times is reporting this morning, was Major Hasan acting alone or was this part of a larger plot?

GEN. CASEY: I, I can't discuss, as you, as you said, I can't discuss the ongoing investigation or the suspect's possible motivations. The--there was a briefing by the investigators yesterday, and I think you'll see--you'll continue to see updates on the investigation as we, as we go forward. And I--although they have concluded to this point that he was the only one involved, when investigations like this start, they can go anywhere.

GREGORY: There were warning signs about Major Hasan along the way, and some of the reporting is bearing this out. Also from The New York Times reporting this morning, I want to put something up on the screen for our viewers and you to see. "Investigators, working with behavioral experts, suggested that he might have long suffered from emotional problems that were exacerbated by the tensions of his work with veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who returned home with serious psychiatric problems. They said his counseling activities with the veterans appear to have further fueled his anger and hardened his increasingly militant views as he was seeming to move toward more extreme religious beliefs, all of which boiled over as he faced being shipped overseas, an assignment he bitterly opposed." How did the Army miss this?

GEN. CASEY: I, I, I, I don't want to say that we missed it. I, I think we, we're starting to see anecdotes like this come out, and we're encouraging all of our soldiers and leaders that have information about the suspect to give that information to the Criminal Investigation Division and to the, the FBI. I'll tell you, I, I worry a little bit about speculation like this based on anecdotes. There's professional investigators looking at this. They've got over 170 interviews now and, and they'll look at all this and they'll help us form a judgment. But right now it's way too soon to be drawing any conclusions about what happened or what his motivations were.

GREGORY: All right. So in other words, the idea that he had hardened political or religious views against the United States, against our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, those are not true? Those are not conclusions that should be drawn?

GEN. CASEY: As, as I said, you--that's anecdotal evidence. I think those things will be confirmed or denied over the course of the investigation.

GREGORY: Did he express concerns, though--you say that there--you don't think signs were missed. He wanted to be discharged from the Army, he had a poor evaluation from Walter Reed. There were signs that this was somebody who was disaffected. And as a psychiatrist, there are too few of those, he was not let out.

GEN. CASEY: The--all those things could add up to a conclusion by the investigators that, that we should have seen something. Now, I will tell you that, that we will take a hard look at ourselves as an Army, because we want to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again. And, and it's our ethos here to, to look hard at things, ask ourselves the hard questions and then adapt and adjust based on that.

GREGORY: Let me ask you...

GEN. CASEY: But it's just too early right now, David.

GREGORY: ...let me ask you the larger question about how the military is handling this mounting toll on our troops of multiple deployments, combat deployments and, and what the psychological toll is. Bob Herbert, in his column in The New York Times, put it this way: "We can't continue sending service members into combat for three tours, four tours, five tours and more without paying a horrendous price in terms of the psychological well-being of the troops and their families, and the overall readiness of the armed forces to protection the nation." He also points out that the secretary of defense talked about that stigma associated with psychological problems that our troops have.

GEN. CASEY: Mm-hmm. This is something we, we are keenly aware of, and then--and you have heard me talk about the Army being out of balance for two and a half years. And, and we have been working very hard to bring ourselves back in balance. And balance being a point where the soldiers are deploying at sustainable rates. We've made progress toward that, but we have, we have--still have a way to go. We've also worked very, very hard to enhance what we're doing to--for the mental fitness of the force. We started in 2007 with a major stigma reduction program that, frankly, has resulted in about a 40 percent increase in soldiers willing to come forward saying they have some symptoms of post-traumatic stress. We are going very hard after our suicide rate. As you know, last year we exceeded the civilian rate for the first time. We, we've, we've contracted a $5 million, a $5 million study with the National Institute of Health to look hard at our suicides, and this is something that is not only going to help the Army, it's, it's going to help the country. And most recently we've instituted a program called Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, where we intend to give our soldiers the skills to build the resilience to deal with some of the challenges that they're facing.

GREGORY: What about your concerns about backlash against our Muslim soldiers who are in the Army, as a result of this incident?

GEN. CASEY: Yeah. I think those concerns are real and I, and I will tell you, David, that they're, they're fueled partially, at least, by the speculation about--based on anecdotal evidence that people are presenting. I think we have to be very careful with that. Our diversity not only in our Army, but in our country, is a strength. And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that's worse.

GREGORY: Do you have any reason to believe that having Muslims in the Army puts them in a very difficult position and makes the more conflicted fighting a war against Muslims in Afghanistan or Iraq?

GEN. CASEY: I think that's something that they have to look at on an individual basis. But I think we as an Army have to be broad enough to bring in people from all walks of life.

GREGORY: Before you go this morning, there are reports about the president narrowing down a choice, about 34,000 additional troops for Afghanistan. Can you say if he's moving in that direction?

GEN. CASEY: I, I can't. Those--we'll have some discussions with him I think over the course of the next weeks, and he'll make his decision, and then I'll give him my best professional advice.

GREGORY: Are you a proponent of additional forces?

GEN. CASEY: I, I believe that we need to put additional forces into Afghanistan to give General McChrystal the ability to both dampen the successes of the Taliban while we train the Afghan security forces.

GREGORY: And the 40,000 you think is appropriate, that level?

GEN. CASEY: I'm not going to comment on any specific number.

GREGORY: All right. General, again, our thoughts and prayers with the fallen and their families...

GEN. CASEY: Thank you very much, David. I appreciate it.

GREGORY: ...at Fort Hood. Thank you very much for being here.

Want to turn now to another big story, and that is the sweeping healthcare bill that has passed the House of Representatives. It passed late last night by a vote of 220-215, with 39 Democrats voting against the measure and one Republican voting for it.

(Videotape)

REP. PELOSI: The bill is passed.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: That victory represents a hard-fought victory for the president, who made a personal appeal to House Democrats at the Capitol yesterday afternoon.

We are joined here now by two governors on the front lines of this political debate, Republican governor of Mississippi and the chair of the Republican Governors' Association, Haley Barbour; and Democratic Governor of Pennsylvania, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Ed Rendell.

Welcome, both of you, back to MEET THE PRESS.

GOV. ED RENDELL (D-PA): David.

GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R-MS): (Unintelligible)

GREGORY: Good to have you here. Let's talk about this news. Governor Barbour, I'll start with you. The House has passed healthcare reform. Is the president over the hump on this now? Will he get overall, sweeping reform?

GOV. BARBOUR: Oh, I doubt it. I think that the closeness of the vote in the House, the fact that the leadership had to break arms and still lost almost 40 Democrats argues what real trouble they're going to have in the Senate.

GREGORY: Governor Rendell, to that point, one Republican. It can't make the White House very happy this morning that they don't have much of a centrist coalition on which to build healthcare reform.

GOV. RENDELL: Sure, it can't, but I think that's something we've just got to look beyond. This country needs healthcare reform. Everybody agrees on that. The things that are agreed upon by Republicans and Democrats, 80 percent of the bill, we're going to get those in a healthcare bill that's going to pass the Senate, it's going to--it's passed the House already. The conference committee will iron out some of the problems and it'll be a huge step forward for Americans.

GREGORY: What...

GOV. RENDELL: Not just Americans who don't have health care, David, but Americans who do have it and are worried that if they change jobs and they have a pre-existing illness they won't be able to get health care.

GREGORY: But look at the Senate. You had said this week, talking about it after the election this Tuesday, it's going to be harder to be a conservative, moderate Democrats, the so-called Blue Dogs, to support something that's broad and visionary. We see--we've seen what's happened in the House. On the Senate side, there's more conservative Democrats. Are they going to feel like this is a safe vote cast in favor of healthcare reform?

GOV. RENDELL: Yeah. I think if you look at the polls--I saw an interesting poll in Arkansas. The public option is supported 57 to 23 by the citizens of Arkansas. Now, I know Senator Lincoln has a tough vote to weigh. I think there'll be a compromise on public option, maybe a phase-in or a trigger, or maybe the opt-in or opt-out. But I think we're going to get basic health care, because we need it. There are people all over this country who have health care, who are afraid they're going to lose it.

GREGORY: Governor Barbour, is it a problem politically for Republicans to be the party of no on this legislation, given what's happened now in the House? Is there a danger that Republicans aren't getting on board with something that could be more popular down the road?

GOV. BARBOUR: Well, I think first of all, most people in America don't want this, so to be the people that defeat it will be popular. But Ed said something very important. Sixty, 80 percent of the things that we talk about in health care could've passed the House last night 400 to 20. But instead the Democrat leadership chose not to stop there, but to try to cram down the country's throat a government-run healthcare system that GAO--I mean, CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, says is going to drive up health insurance premiums. The American people thought the idea here was we were trying to get control of the costs. Five hundred billion dollar cuts in Medicare. States like Mississippi and Pennsylvania are going to be forced to raise our taxes, because part of the cost of this is being dumped on us. There are lots of things in here that most Americans don't want, I don't believe the Senate will pass. But yeah, we could have a very good healthcare reform bill that would pass overwhelmingly, but about 10 things in here wouldn't be included.

GREGORY: Governor Rendell, if you talk in terms of what health care means--if premiums do go up, if the middle class does feel a tax hike with a, an individual mandate, you've got to buy insurance if that's held up--is this going to be healthcare reform that delivers to--for the middle class?

GOV. RENDELL: Sure it is. David, look, most people in the middle class do have health care and the mandate's not going to affect them. Small businesses are exempted from any of the mandates on business itself. Look, there's no perfect bill out there, but this bill is what we need. The problem with what Haley says is, yes, we could pass a healthcare bill that 80 percent--we agree on 80 percent of the things, but it wouldn't increase access for Americans, it wouldn't solve some of the basic problems of health security. That has to be done in this country and it has to be done now, and people understand that. Is--are there ways to do it that limit the things that Haley talks about? Absolutely. I'd like to see more cost controls in the bill. We've cut costs in Pennsylvania, Mississippi's cut costs, states have cut costs. We can do this, but we've got to pass a bill.

GREGORY: All right, let me talk about the political landscape here that is affected by health care, is affected by the jobs numbers, which we'll get to in just a moment. First of all, what happened this week, different views among Democrats, and we'll play some of them. This is the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

(Videotape, Wednesday)

REP. PELOSI: From my perspective, we won last night.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: Senator Mark Warner had a different view. "We got walloped," he said. How about former Senator Bob Kerrey? He said, "Every Democrat who is up in either 2010 or 2012 knows that last night was big. ... The electorate appears restless and angry." And Tennessee Democrat Congressman Jim Cooper said it's "a wake-up call for Congress. A tidal wave could be coming." Governor Barbour, is this a revival for the GOP?

GOV. BARBOUR: Well, it was a great night for Republicans. I think we should've go on and say what David Broder said in The Washington Post, that the research showed the polling--the more people were concerned about losing their job or trying to find a job, the more heavily they voted Republican; even more than independents, who voted 2-to-1 for the Republicans, people who had jobs and the economy on their mind. And that's what the American people want. You see Democratic congressmen like the--Jim Cooper from Tennessee, Michael Michaud from up in, up in Maine. The American people want Congress focused on jobs; instead, they see Congress focused on a healthcare reform bill that's going to drive up taxes for small businesses, the biggest employers in the country. NFIB, the spokesman for small business, say it'll cost $1.6 million jobs. No wonder people are mad that they're out here passing a healthcare reform bill like this when what the public want is job creation. Bob McDonnell won in Virginia because he talked about jobs, economic growth, taxes and spending.

GREGORY: If this wasn't, as the White House claimed--they said it was not a referendum on President Obama, it does say something about the mood in the country, Governor.

GOV. RENDELL: Well, there's no question, there's an anti-incumbent mood in the country. I'm happy I wasn't running this year, I don't know about Haley. But it's an anti-incumbent, and that's natural. When things are bad, incumbents are held responsible for them. But it wasn't about President Obama. Look at the Virginia exit poll, David; 24 percent said they came out to vote against President Obama, 20 percent said they came out to vote for him, but 60 percent, almost 60 percent said they voted on state issues. Governors? elections are about leadership. That's how people make their decisions. Congressional elections reflect more what's going on in Washington. And the one big one, the one mega one, Democrats won a seat that they haven't held in 100 years. So I'm not sure you can draw any conclusions, but I am sure of one thing: a year in politics is light years, is light years.

GREGORY: And, and, and when we talk about coalitions or the, the mood of voters, that can change. But for the moment those independent voters, which were so important for President Obama, to the Democrats, are saying something pretty loudly. This was The Washington Times reporting on the results on Wednesday: "Independents fuel GOP victories." Look at our own polling and look at how the independent sentiment has changed for President Obama. Back in March he had approval of 58 percent, now it's 41; disapproval up to 52 percent. And Politico reported something that was interesting on Thursday about, again, the sentiment of independents: "Many Democratic politicians and operatives publicly and privately say Obama's `big bang' strategy--trying to move several major policy initiatives in his first year--has also caused independent voters to question whether he is sufficiently focused on their primary concern, reviving the stagnant economy." Is he going too fast when you've got 10.2 percent unemployment?

GOV. RENDELL: Well, it's interesting; even in Virginia, where we lost the election big, his favorable rating was 57 percent. At the same time...

GREGORY: But it's a different question of whether he's taking on too much.

GOV. RENDELL: Is he taking on too much? He's taken on too much, David, because there are crises. He inherited these crises. He didn't go looking to take on these problems.

GREGORY: But you think he should slow down.

GOV. RENDELL: No. I...

GREGORY: You said that.

GOV. RENDELL: I think we should focus on the economy.

GREGORY: Right.

GOV. RENDELL: And we can focus on the economy. I think the stimulus is working. It's working in Pennsylvania, it's working in many states around the country. I think we ought to up front transportation spending, because infrastructure has the biggest return and that's a Republican and Democrat issue that we agree on.

GREGORY: Right.

GOV. RENDELL: Infrastructure produces construction jobs.

GREGORY: You've got 7,000 new jobs in Pennsylvania because of the stimulus. Is that enough?

GOV. RENDELL: And, and, and plenty of retained jobs that we would've lost. We have $2.6 billion of federal money in our budget. Without that money, teachers, policemen, municipal workers, county workers all would've lost their jobs.

GREGORY: But if you say focus on the economy, does that mean you think he should avoid taking on some other issues?

GOV. RENDELL: I think we should emphasize infrastructure through a speeded up transportation bill. Infrastructure produces construction jobs, manufacturing jobs. That's exactly what this country needs. I think the president's thinking about that.

GREGORY: Governor Barbour:

GOV. BARBOUR: David, we shouldn't confuse the president being personally unpopular. Americans want our presidents to succeed; and particularly the first time we ever elect an African-American president, I think there's great sentiment in favor of him. It's his policies that are unpopular. His policies about energy policy is very unpopular. His policy about healthcare policy is very unpopular. People think Washington's spending money could give drunken sailors a bad name. I mean, what they're seeing here is you can't spend yourself rich. Americans know that. But the government keeps spending and spending and spending. And instead of focusing on jobs, like Congressman Gerry Connolly from--new Democrat from Virginia said, they see focus on health care, focus on energy.

GREGORY: Let me ask you about New York 23, the upstate race where a Democrat won after there was this internecine warfare among Republicans. Is the view of the Republican Party that moderates need not apply? That's a position taken by David Axelrod in the White House and others.

GOV. BARBOUR: Well, look at the New Jersey governor's race, where we had a conservative Republican mayor run against a moderate Republican, Chris Christie. Chris Christie is a moderate, was attacked as being a moderate, quote/unquote. He got 94 percent of the Republican vote on Tuesday. In New York, instead of having a primary and letting the voters decide, a handful of county chairmen picked, picked a candidate by a vote of 7-to-4. Now, how do you expect a district with 45,000 more Republicans than Democrats to stand for that? They should have had a primary, and it'd have been just like Chris Christie in New Jersey; if the moderate won the primary, Republicans would have saluted and voted for him 95 percent.

GREGORY: Sarah Palin got involved in that race, she endorsed the independent conservative. What role does she play right now in the Republican Party?

GOV. BARBOUR: Well, she doesn't play any official role in the Republican Party, but a lot of people care about her, a lot of people are fond of her and she's like a lot of other politicians who are very well-regarded in our party.

GREGORY: What, what do you think of her?

GOV. BARBOUR: I like her.

GREGORY: Is she...

GOV. BARBOUR: Don't always agree with her. But, you know, my wife doesn't always agree with me, either.

GREGORY: But is she, does she an important Republican leader, in your book?

GOV. BARBOUR: Oh, I think she is. I think she's got something to offer. One of the great things...

GREGORY: Right. Do you think she could be president?

GOV. BARBOUR: One of the great things about when your party's out of power, you don't have a spokesman.

GREGORY: Right.

GOV. BARBOUR: You have a lot of--I don't want to say let a thousand flowers bloom, but you have a lot of different people, and that's healthy for your party.

GREGORY: Do you, do you...

GOV. BARBOUR: The Democrats do that when they're out.

GREGORY: But does she--do you think she speaks for the party?

GOV. BARBOUR: I think she speaks for herself, just like I speak for myself.

GREGORY: Do you think she could be president?

GOV. BARBOUR: Look, it's a long way away from there. Every time, every time people ask me about president, I remember them, David, any Republican who cares about the future of our country needs to be focused on the elections of 2010. Those are the elections that matter. We'll worry about president after 2010.

GREGORY: What about, what about you?

GOV. RENDELL: David...

GREGORY: Would you like to run for--in 2012?

GOV. BARBOUR: I would like for us to win in 2010.

GREGORY: And then you'll consider it.

GOV. BARBOUR: Well, I don't have any plans to, but I wouldn't consider it until the elections of 2010 are over.

GOV. RENDELL: David, I want to say one thing. Haley said that his wife doesn't agree with him all the time. But I, I know his wife, and he agrees with her all the time.

GREGORY: Yeah. I want, I want to get to a couple of other issues before we run out of time. Jobs, the unemployment rate at 10.2 percent. Governor Rendell, can there be economic recovery while there is dudget--double-digit unemployment?

GOV. RENDELL: Full economic recovery, no. But it's interesting to note that the GDP increased by 3.5 percent after four quarters of going down. In Pennsylvania we're started to see a little bit of an uptick in jobs being created now, more jobs being created than jobs lost, and that hasn't happened for over a year. So I think there is going to be an economic recovery, I think we're in the midst of it. Jobs, as you know, David, is the last thing to recovery. But interestingly, before you make any conclusions about 2010, tell me what the job picture is going to be. If the job picture turns over the last spring or summer, I think 2010's going to be a wholly different result.

GREGORY: If it's double-digit unemployment?

GOV. RENDELL: It would be difficult...

GREGORY: Difficult. Yeah.

GOV. RENDELL: ...difficult for incumbents. Difficult for Republican incumbent governors, difficult for Republican incumbent senators as well as Democrats.

GREGORY: Is there a message? If you look back at 1983, as I looked, and the peak of unemployment at 10, 10.4 percent in January, by July of that year it comes down to single digits; within a year it's down, I think, almost 2, 3 full points. What are the differences between Reagan's leadership on the economy and what you're seeing out of President Obama so far?

GOV. BARBOUR: What you see today is that Wall Street is doing great and there's never been a bigger disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street. All this money that the government gave the big financial institutions, they're not lending down to middle sized and small businesses. They're trading. They're buying assets and selling assets and making huge profits. We're not seeing any positive effect. I don't know about Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where we haven't been hit nearly as hard by this recession, it started for us later, we don't see how our economy can grow when you have--employment's going down, people can't borrow money against their, their house equity anymore, credit card debt is shrinking because the rates are going up and the, and the standards are tightening. Now, how do we have a, a, a recovery when 71 percent of the economy is lead by consumers who have fewer jobs, lower income, less credit? That's what bothers me. Yet some people think as long as Wall Street's doing well, well, small business is where the jobs in America are created, not Wall Street.

GREGORY: The question, Governor Rendell, should there be a second stimulus pursued by this administration?

GOV. RENDELL: Well, first, I agree with Haley. I think one of the mistakes made first by the Bush administration and, and went along with by us, is that we should have required those banks to lend out a certain percent of the TARP money that went into them, that was given to them. And that's the reason we don't have enough credit. It's starting to come back. Should there be a second stimulus? I don't think we need a second stimulus. I would like to see our transportation infrastructure spending...

GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

GOV. RENDELL: ...which is the best job producer, I would like to see that front-loaded and start in January or February of this year.

GREGORY: What grade would you give the president on the economy, on his handling of the economy?

GOV. RENDELL: On the economy? I'd give him a solid B because of the stimulus. The stimulus is starting to work state by state, and you can see it, David, with the projects, the people on the jobs and the orders coming into factories. Factory after factory in Pennsylvania tells me they're bringing workers back to work because the orders that are coming in from stimulus.

GREGORY: Let me get you both to comment on some news that was made here this morning. You heard General Casey saying that he thinks there ought to be more troops committed to the war in Afghanistan. This is a major leadership test for the president, a question of policy. Governor Barbour, react to, to that news. Here you have the chief of staff of the Army, former commander of our forces in Iraq saying more troops are needed here. Some additional pressure, I think, on the president to move.

GOV. BARBOUR: David, I don't think that's news. I think everybody in the country knows we need additional troops. And I will tell you now, for myself and I think a lot of Republicans, if the president will stand up, make the tough decision to send more troops, Republicans like me will stand up and say the president's doing the right thing. He doesn't have to worry about Republicans trying to politic this. If he stands up and does the right thing that the military's asked for, we will say good for you, Mr. President.

GREGORY: And if he doesn't? Are you saying the opposite is true, that it'll become a political issue?

GOV. BARBOUR: It shouldn't become a political issue.

GREGORY: At all? Even if he doesn't?

GOV. BARBOUR: I don't think it should become a political issue.

GREGORY: Because implicit in that is if he doesn't do the right thing it will be.

GOV. BARBOUR: I'm one of those who believes in foreign policy, the politics ought to stop at the border's edge. And I've always believed that. I believed it when I was in Ronald Reagan's White House and I believe it no matter who the president is. Now, when the presidential comes--presidential campaign comes; but right now, if the president does the right thing here, I'm going to applaud him. If he doesn't, I'm not going to criticize him.

GOV. RENDELL: Well, one of the biggest problems, and I think you touched on it in your discussion with General Casey, is our troops are tired and worn out. Pennsylvania National Guard, most of our guardsmen have been to either Iraq and Afghanistan, over 85 percent, and many of them have gone three or four times and they're wasted. And where are we going to find these troops? That's what I want somebody to tell me. Where are we going to be able to keep our troops in Iraq, keep our troops in Afghanistan? Who's going to do it? Where are the troops going to come from?

GREGORY: We are going to leave it there. Governors, thank you very much. Much more debate on this ahead.

 

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