Roundtable II: This Week in Politics

Rep. Tom Cole, Rep. Keith Ellison, Dan Senor, Steven Rattner, Cokie Roberts.
3:00 | 12/02/12

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Transcript for Roundtable II: This Week in Politics
here this historic week receiving something from the president. But I thought it would be the front door key. Appreciate it very much. Thank you, sir. Good luck. Thank you. Thanks very much. We just decided that there will be no questions here. He'll be available before he leaves washington. How are you? Going to have a private discussion. How about a message for the country? I gave that wednesday night. Always a little awkward when the winners and losers get together after the election. But let me bring the roundtable back in. Cokie roberts is here again. Dan senor, steve rattner, tom cole and keith ellison each party will confront giving up a sacrifice. Something that's worked for them in the past. Democrats on medicare. Republicans on taxes. Keith, you were talking about where a lot of democrats are going to draw the line on medicare. Steve, you wanted to answer him. All I wanted to say is that, democrats have to face up to two fundamental realities. This government is divided. If we want to get something done there has to be a compromise. Second the math has to work. We have to solve this problem. 16 trillion a debt. 1 trillion deficit every year. We can't let medicare completely untouched. It be there for us and our children. So, we can take it out of the providers. That's what we have been doing. There's a limit to how much of that we can do. You have to say yourself, do you want to pay more in taxes for medicare? Something on that side, otherwise the numbers won't work. Well, I don't want to see medicare turn into a welfare program, if wealthier people didn't benefit from it or had a significantly reduced benefits. It needs to be something shared. All americans are in. We all participate in. We all contribute to. I think it's a strong program. As a matter of fact, steve, when we did the affordable care act, we can do more things like that. Let's continue down that road. We talked a lot about demographics this year because of the election, and when we look at medicare, that's where the problem comes up. There's not enough young people to support all of the old people and they're getting to be fewer young people, I mean, what we're seeing right now is that our immigrant populations are producing fewer children and so it is really not possible to keep this level of support. Well, unless you control -- there are other ways to control costs. As well. But, the problem with controlling costs you can only do that to some degree. Every single year we go back and do the "doc" fix and we'll do it between now and JANUARY 1st. That is all always a phoney that congress is going to cut payments to doctors and doctors pull out of the medicare program. And the money is restored. It's hard to do this without structural reforms. Let me, if you don't mind, we have seen people's retirement package reduced. We have seen people's individual savings, go down. YOU CAN'T KEEP ON SEEING 401(k)s Go down and then say, we're going to cut the other stuff that people count on. The numbers have to work. I want to turn to the tax debate as well. You guys are sitting back. Let's get to the tax debate. You have seen speaker boehner, and other republicans say, more revenues, but drawing the line on tax rate increases and grover norquist has come out hard again saying that republicans have to stand by the pledge. If the republicans lose in fingerprints on the murder weapon then you have a problem. Bush couldn't run again in 1992 successfully because he had his fingerprints on a very bad deal. Bad on spending and bad on savings. Is he right about those politics? You know, I think not actually, but I think -- you have to remember our fingerprints aren't on this if we cooperate with the president and make 80% of the bush tax cuts permanent for the 98% of the american people. That's a victory not a loss. We're still free to fit the fight over higher rates. Offering revenue, which the speaker has put on the table. I think we have the opportunity to take the initiative and actually, again, move the the discussion on discussion on entitlements. And dan, something else that republicans are worried about, not 92 but 1994 when the government shut down, newt gingrich was blamed. Trust me, you talk to republicans, no matter how this shakes off, if we go over the fiscal cliff, we are to blame. I hear that over and over. Something to what tom said, it's an amazing notion that a just-elected democrat president is necessary to make permanent the bush tax cuts. They were tax rate cuts across the board. The idea that most of them could be made permanent -- bush couldn't have gotten that done in 2004 after being re-elected. I do think that republicans should take a victory lap in that regard. It is really politically smart to do this. You know, but it's also particularly smart to cut the knees out from under grover norquist. Who is he? He's an unelected -- it's not him. He represents something that's real. He represents something that's real. I think everybody recognizes to get these numbers to work you have to have revenue increases. The question is, do you need tax rate increases or not? I think it's very tough to make the math work. Honestly, I think -- and i like grover, but there is a big -- but there's a big, big difference between not being able to extend our temporary tax cuts. That to me isn't a violation of the pledge. I didn't sign a pledge I have to extend every temporary tax cut. And I think -- you're not for that? Well, look, if you can find a way, great, but I don't like cutting payroll taxes because the cut is always temporary. You have to fund social security and medicare. No. What about the pledge to the american people to act fiscally responsibly for everybody, i mean, I actually think that it's great that you made that proposal. But the reality is, most of the congressional districts that are republicans are today they are -- a lot of them are more concerned about a primary challenge to the re-election than to a general challenge to the general election. You're talking about real politics on the ground in these congressional districts. A number of these members ran on strong, you know, fiscal responsible pro-growth agendas. It's not about grover norquist. You can make a case that it's not fiscally responsible. I think it's going to be very hard for the republicans at the end to resist some rate increase. It's very hard to argue why the top 2% shouldn't see some increase. Basically, what congressman cole was saying. Compromise involves compromise in both directions. You're talking about a very small change in marginal rates. I have been in the working world in the 30 years. I don't see their attitude changing. People are paying off of dividends and income and not just payroll. It's not about the rich people. Lot of businesses and small businesses -- let me say -- I agree with you, I do think that the republican leadership at some point here needs to put forward publicly its plan. I mean that's something -- it's sort of an awkward negotiation. I think the president has gone too far out on the left. I think you're seeing the beginnings of it. Small pieces. To be fair to leader McCONNELL HE'S ALWAYS BEEN VERY Forthright. Entitlement reforms take both sides. I think he very much. I want to move on. Let me go quickly around the table, does this get done before january 1st or not? Yes. Probably. If shay so, I believe it. Yes. Probably. Wow, I'm going to be the only no. Let's see what happens. Really? Let's move on to susan rice. Right now, you saw last week on suggested that they would be more open to the idea at least that she might be secretary of state. Then she went up to capitol hill this weekend and listen to the senators after the meeting with the u.N. Ambassador rice. I continue to be troubled by the fact that the u.N. Ambassador decided to play what was essentially a political role. We're significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got and some that we didn't get. The concerns I have are greater today than they were before. I got to say, cokie, I was surprised by all that. Usually you don't go to a meeting like that unless you have an idea of how it's goin out. It is surprising. What we're dealing with, to some degree, something that dan was just talking about, that republicans, particularly senator graham, are more worried about their primaries than their general elections and there is some amount of trying to prove your conservative credentials here. And I think that senator graham has been out there on issues like immigration and other issues where conservatives aren't with him. To go the attack on ambassador rice -- it's not just senator graham. It's susan collins, a moderate from maine, who introduced susan rice at her combination hearing. It's bob corker. Very much a moderate, very much works across party lines. I know that steve has worked with him. These are people not worried about primary challenges. I spoke to one senator this week, this consequences, this individual conveyed was that these meetings did not go well. Benghazi was a serious issue. We can debate whether or not susan rice should be blamed for it. But she was front and center. And I think the administration has handled this terribly. They have put her out there as though she's going to be a nominee but they haven't nominated her. John carney is being asked questions about her. Now she's under the media onslaught for her investments. Companies in iran. Investments in canada. She gets all of the downside of being a nominee without any of the infrastructure and support for her. We can talk about that and debate that. But what I believe, I think what she did was entirely appropriate. She was given a set of talking points, to the best of our knowledge the white house used one world. She went out there and did it. Now she's being torn apart for it. It's as if, when george was interviewing tim geithner was supposed to have gone and add up the numbers for their budget and make sure it was right. If she was a nominee there would be a whole infrastructure to support her. Right. None of that is the case. I think that she's being treated horribly. By the administration too? Well, I think she's done good work. She helped get the consequences for the no-fly zone in libya. That was hard work to do. She came through for the people attacking her right now, like senator McCain. I think it's an urn fortunate circumstance. The woman is great. How much of this is about the merits and some of the senate politics? I would like to believe that not much has to deal with politics. There's a legitimate concern, that, five days after the fact, propagated a story that we should have known at the time wasn't the case. Some serious questions about our own intelligence people. Maybe we should ask those guys some questions. But, you want a secretary of state in the end, that can unite you not divide you. Secretary clinton has managed to do that. Cokie, what if the president -- what should the president do right now? He hadn't made up his mind to choose susan rice. It was between susan rice and john kerry. You can look at the politics on either way. Boy you can't back down on this opposition, on the other hand, is this a fight he wants to have? To have a nomination fight over secretary of state is really an unusual and shocking thing. And so, I think that, probably in the end, he doesn't do it. But I do think that it is -- but he, again, he put her in this position and then -- then she gets the opposition and then he says, well, I can't name you. It's unfair. Maybe in the end, he realizes that. Well, I don't think we should link whether or not she -- what happened in benghazi and whether she gets the nomination. I would hate to conclude that the reason she doesn't get that nomination is because of this stuff that just happened. They're not necessarily connected. I just want to -- talk radio is just full of benghazi. It is a big issue. Which is amazing to me. In 1982, we lost 241 marines in lebanon and the country came around president reagan, you didn't see all of this partisan bickering -- wait. Wait a minute. -- We came together and said that this is a national tragedy and blame was not parcelled out the way it is now. I think it's unfortunate. You look at 1982, there actually an airing. There was accountability. Part of the problem here, in the lead-up to the election when benghazi got a lot of attention, the president said don't talk about benghazi, if you were you're politicizing the issue. Here we are after the election, and there's no full airing. We still don't know exactly what happened. Hold on. Wait a second. really what happened on a sunday show? What was the security situation at the mission in benghazi? But that's not her job. True. What happened in benghazi. There's an investigation going on from two high-level people. We'll get the report and then we can debate. I don't believe what's being done to susan rice right now is fair, it's politics and it's ugly. It may force the president not to nominate her. This political part about it is not only just the upset over benghazi, there's the internal senate politics, and john kerry, now he's not always been a favorite of his colleagues, but they seem to be supporting him now, but there's also the question, if he leaves the senate, who gets elected in massachusetts? Look, I think everyone understands that john kerry is going to be nominated for something. If not for secretary of state, it could be for secretary of defense. This idea they're holding up susan rice because of this plan to get scott brown maybe elected -- that's too much much. Look, there is this investigation going on in this benghazi. There was a complete security vacuum in libya before september 11th, 2012. There was. I mean, there were transactional terror groups were able to fill that vacuum. Our security was dependent on those locals. These are things that we know. WHAT HAPPENED ON SEPTEMBER 11th? These are things that he knows. What happened after september 11th? In terms of how the administration communicated to the american people. These are basic questions that can be answered and they haven't been, which is why you see one opening which is this possible nomination of susan rice -- and that nomination would become an entire investigation of benghazi. That's what that nomination would become. Susan rice wasn't responsible for benghazi. I understand that. They have all of those good questions, they should ask those questions. The president has to make a decision here, do I really want this fight? Is this really going to be helpful? Is this in the best interest of the country? Do I void the fight? Find somebody else that's perfectly acceptable? My money is that he probably comes down there. He'll have plenty of fights. This isn't one I would pick. Couple of minutes left. That picture of mitt romney and president obama in the oval office and ask dan senor, the statement that came out of the white house is, maybe if something comes up in the future they can work together, any insight into what really happened? Not much that I can get into, other than to say -- no, no, they both -- actually, both president obama and governor romney agreed that they would keep it close. I think it was an nteresting discussion, probably more interesting than some of the images that you showed earlier of gore and bush. I take president obama for his word. What he said publicly at that press conference after his elections. They may have talked about some of those issues. I think they'll have an open channel of communication. What are republicans going to be looking for mitt romney to do in the future? Probably raise more money. He had a great campaign team and staff around him. You know, who he supports in 2016 will matter. If he chooses to do that. Okay, we have to take one more quick break.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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