'This Week' Transcript: David Axelrod

Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod is interviewed on "This Week."

ByABC News
October 16, 2011, 12:04 PM


AMANPOUR: This week, Barack Obama on the ropes, his jobs bill dead for now, his poll numbers plummeting. Our headliner today, the president's campaign strategist, David Axelrod, on the uphill road to re-election and the Republican candidates who stand in the way.

And then, another week, another Republican frontrunner. Faster than you can say...

CAIN: 9-9-9...

(UNKNOWN): 9-9-9...

CAIN: 9-9-9 plan...

BACHMANN: When you take the 9-9-9 plan and you turn it upside-down, I think the devil's in the details.

AMANPOUR: Does Herman Cain have staying power? And does his vaunted tax plan add up? George Will and the roundtable take on all the week's politics and the anti-Wall Street protests, now happening on a global scale.

And later, did Iran sought to kill a Saudi diplomat on American soil?

MUELLER: The impact would have been very real, and many lives would have been lost.

AMANPOUR: We'll take you inside the scheme and gauge the fallout with House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers and David Sanger of the New York Times.

And finally, Washington today dedicates a monument to a man and a movement.

LEWIS: He was speaking directly to me, saying, "John Lewis, you, too, can do something," and I was deeply moved and inspired by this man.

AMANPOUR: A walk through history with civil rights icon John Lewis.

ANNOUNCER: Live from the Newseum in Washington, "This Week" with Christiane Amanpour starts right now.


AMANPOUR: Good morning, and welcome to the program. We have lots to get to today, but first, some news since your morning papers.

Hundreds of protesters are camped out in London today, as the Occupy Wall Street protests continue to spread around the world. The most dramatic scenes this weekend come from Rome, where protests erupted in violence and riot police fought to contain the mayhem.

And in the South Pole, efforts are underway to save a sick American woman stranded there. Renee Douceur, who manages a research station, believes that she suffered a stroke in August. The treacherous weather has hampered efforts to rescue her, but today, two planes are on their way from Antarctica to fly her to safety in New Zealand.

And here in Washington, thousands are expected to converge on the mall for the dedication of the Martin Luther King Memorial. President Obama is slated to speak, and we'll have much more on this historic moment later in the program.

In politics this week, the Republican candidates faced off in another much-hyped debate and the spotlight shown on the pizza mogul with the plan. Here's ABC's senior political correspondent Jon Karl with "This Week in Politics."


KARL (voice-over): The week belonged to Herman Cain.

(UNKNOWN): The American people are going to raise some Cain in 2012.

KARL: You don't need the polls to see Cain's rise. Just look at Tuesday's debate in New Hampshire.

BACHMANN: The 9-9-9 plan...

SANTORUM: In his 9-9-9 plan...

PERRY: And I don't need 9-9-9...

KARL: His 9-9-9 economic plan mentioned 24 times.

CAIN: That's right.

KARL: So catchy, it's already been copied by Spirit Airlines in a new ad campaign. But is the Cain campaign for real? We stopped by his headquarters in Iowa. No volunteers, no phones ringing. This, not how you win in Iowa.

Cain's rise in the polls has been Perry's fall. Look at this national poll, Perry tanking 22 points in a matter of weeks, Cain climbing 22 points, and Mitt Romney, he just doesn't budge.

But this week, Romney scored the season's biggest endorsement.

CHRISTIE: Mitt Romney is the man we need to lead America, and we need him now. That's why I'm here.

KARL: A move foretold by "Saturday Night Live."

(UNKNOWN): Romney's so boring.

(UNKNOWN): So what? He's a nice man in a clean suit that wants to be president.

KARL: A couple of days later, a vote of confidence from another big Republican.

J. BUSH: I continue to be impressed with Mitt Romney's performance in these debates. He's cool, calm, collected. He's quick. He's agile.

KARL: Perry tried to hit "reset" with his first big policy speech.

PERRY: We're standing on top of the next American economic boom.

KARL: A call for more oil and gas drilling and a promise of 1.2 million new jobs, but the Texas jobs miracle appears to be wilting. Texas is one of a dozen states where unemployment is actually rising. And look at this: TelePrompTers. Who does he think he is, Obama?

It was Anita Perry, without prompters, who broke through, saying her husband has been beaten up, brutalized, and chewed up because of his Christian faith.

A. PERRY: It's kind of been a brutal month, but we are survivors, and we're warriors, and we're climbing up that hill to try to save America.

KARL: Republican infighting was little comfort this week to the White House, which suffered a defeat when the Senate finally got around to voting on the president's jobs bill. Even a couple of Democrats voted no.

Finally, trending, up, the number nine. It's everywhere. Nine, nine, nine, nine, nine, nine.

Up, this guy. Get a good look at him. He may be the next treasury secretary. Herman Cain's top economic adviser, Rich Lowrie, is an accountant from Cleveland behind the 9-9-9 plan.

Mitt Romney, up, or so we think. Everyone assumes he's going to be the nominee, everyone except Republican primary voters, that is.

Rick Perry, down. Not even sleep helped.

Newt, up. Strong debates and no more Tiffany's bills.

Huntsman, down. Zero points in one national poll, and his campaign a half a million in the red. Lights out?

Up, Domino's. Herman Cain is the Godfather's guy, but his campaign spent nearly $1,000 bucks at Domino's?

With "This Week in Politics," I'm Jonathan Karl.


AMANPOUR: And as for President Obama, well, Jonathan did mention that his signature jobs plan failed its first big test in the Senate. I sat down with the president's campaign strategist, David Axelrod, to discuss Plan B and take stock of his Republican challengers.


AMANPOUR: This past week, the president's jobs bill died in the Senate. You had...

AXELROD: Well, it took a setback. We're going to keep at it. It didn't die.

AMANPOUR: OK. But it's pretty much dead in the format, in terms of being approved...

AXELROD: As one -- as one entity, but now we're going to take it apart and we're going to go piece by piece. The American people support every single plank of that bill, and we're going to vote on every single one of them.

AMANPOUR: All right. But, you know, just last month, you said about this bill, that this is not an a la carte menu, and yet now, as you've just announced yourself, this is going to be an a la carte menu. You find yourself in this position.

AXELROD: Well, we hope to assemble the entire plan, and we're going to take votes on each one of them.

AMANPOUR: So what will be the first that you propose, then? Will it be the payroll? Will it be the infrastructure? What will be the first bits that you try to reassemble and get them passed (ph)?

AXELROD: That is -- I'm not going to -- I'm not going to discuss a legislative calendar here, but they will be done sequentially, and the sequence is being discussed right now.

AMANPOUR: And you think that you can get it all reassembled, then. But the millionaire's tax, do you really think that's going to go through?

AXELROD: Well, we'll see.

AMANPOUR: There's a lot of opposition.

AXELROD: Well, not among the American people. The American people strongly support it. And the American people are going to be heard on this legislation. I think so many Americans are just sitting there saying, "Act," to Congress. "Do something. Stop playing games."

AMANPOUR: So what about Occupy Wall Street then? Is this something that will benefit your party, benefit the president as he goes into re-election?

AXELROD: Well, that remains to be seen. Obviously, I don't think any American is impressed when they see Governor Romney and all the Republican candidates say the first thing they'd do is roll back Wall Street reforms and go back to where we were before the crisis and let Wall Street write its own rules. I think that will be an issue in this campaign...


AMANPOUR: Is it beneficial to the president or is it detrimental to the president? I mean, after all, some of them are saying, you know, the president himself has a lot of Wall Street in his cabinet, for instance?

AXELROD: You know, I don't know, and I don't know how to judge that, and I don't know that anybody does, and we tend in this business to try and treat everything as a kind of seminal event. And you see some of that around these Wall Street protests.

Now, I do know this: The American people want a financial system that works on the level. They want to get a fair shake. And they want to know that the dealings that are made are done transparently so that if there are problems, such as the ones we saw before the crisis, we'll be alerted to them and we can stop the whole economy from being -- from being turned over.

AMANPOUR: If the president can't work with Congress or Congress can't work with the president to get these things done now, how will it be different in a second term, when maybe both houses of Congress will be Republican?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, let's see what happens in the election.

AMANPOUR: But how -- how do you think it will get any better?

AXELROD: I think that -- I think that there -- I do I believe that, when the president wins this election -- and I believe he will win this election -- I think there's going to be an occasion for self-reflection on the part of the Republican Party, and they're going to have to decide, do they want to keep going down this road of obstruction, keep doing down this road of non-action, or are they going to work together to solve problems?

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you this. Mitt Romney, you had a conference call this week, basically highlighting what you want to see in the upcoming campaign. You're saying that he's a flip-flopper. You're talking about all sorts of ways in which you hope to be able to beat him to the post. Do you think that Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee who President Obama faces?

AXELROD: I really don't know. There was a poll out this week that showed him at the same 23 percent he's been throughout the race. Now, Herman Cain is leading the primary. The last poll, Rick Perry was leading it. Earlier, Michele Bachmann was doing very well. But Romney stays the same. Why? Because I think there's this question about what his core principles are.

He's been running for office for almost 20 years, for senator and governor of Massachusetts. Then he was a pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-environmental candidate for office. Then he decided to run for president, did a 180 on all of that. So time and time and time again, he shifts. And you get the feeling that there is no principle too large for him to throw over in pursuit of political office.

AMANPOUR: Where do you think it's going to come down? I know you said I don't know who we're going to face, but you've mentioned Bachmann and Perry and Cain. Do you think Cain is going to stay at the top?

AXELROD: You know, I don't know. I mean, if you were -- if as a political professional you'd look at it and you'd say there are two candidates who are likely to be competing at the end, and one would be Perry, and the other would be Romney, just based on the resources that they have. But this is a funny year, so I don't know.

AMANPOUR: You just mentioned a two-man race between Perry and Romney, and yet Perry seems to be sliding in the polls. You still think that he could be a contender?

AXELROD: Well, I've been around -- Christiane, I've been around this business a long time, and I know that, you know, it's a very dynamic process. So the candidates haven't fully engaged yet. I mean, Governor Perry has been less than impressive in these debates. And I think there's a general consensus about that. He just introduced a -- what he called a jobs plan. It was an energy plan that was basically a Xeroxed copy of the oil lobby's wish list for America.

But -- but nonetheless, he has a lot of resources. And he in his -- in his career has shone a penchant for going hard after his opponents. And -- and, you know, I think if I were Governor Romney, I'd be worried about all these changes in position and how that -- how that -- what kind of message that sends to voters, not just on the Republican side, but throughout the electorate.


AMANPOUR: President Obama's chief campaign strategist, David Axelrod. And you can find more of that interview at abcnews.com/thisweek.

AMANPOUR: Let's bring in our roundtable. With me today, George Will, Republican strategist Mary Matalin, Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, and ABC senior political correspondent Jonathan Karl.

Welcome, all of you. So, George, you saw that Axelrod really came down on Romney like a ton of bricks. Is this the man they think is going to be the nominee?

WILL: Oh, clearly. We're having a kind of Andy Warhol primary, where everyone is leader for 15 minutes, and it's Cain's turn today, but it's not clear that Cain has staying power. He's not running for president; he's sort of strolling for president without an infrastructure. It's pretty and cute and nice, but whether or not it works, we can be doubtful.

They've clearly decided that Romney is the problem. And they have a problem with Romney, because they're not going to run on their record -- because the record isn't particularly appetizing. Therefore, they're going to run on the fitness of the Republican candidate. And I think precisely because -- how do we say this -- Romney has shown a certain versatility of conviction over the years, it's hard to nail him down.

AMANPOUR: Versatility of conviction, Mary. That is quite a nice way of saying what George was trying to say. Do you think the White House is right to be focusing on Romney? Do you think that they've got the right man there?

MATALIN: I think they're doing everything to not focus on their own guy. They don't want this to be what a natural re-election is, which is a referendum on the incumbent. And what Axelrod's doing is political algebra. He thinks if he strikes core convictions from one side, he'll strike it from the other.

Obama has no core convictions that when he governs, he governs as an unreconstructed liberal. The worst you can say about Romney and his conviction is that he's an accommodationist, which means he bends to political will. I think people right now would rather see a president responsive to the political will than this president who operated government and jammed through things that were against the country's will.

AMANPOUR: But whether it's a referendum on the president or not, do you think that the candidate will be Romney? Or do you think it'll be Perry?

MATALIN: George makes a very good point. We are in a very sliver of a phase here on the debates. If you go to the states, go to the board, you go to Perry's other strengths. He's raised over $17 million in under 50 days. You go to Iowa, South Carolina. He has very strong on-the-ground operations. He has state senators, state reps, county chairmen. He has Christie supporters, Romney supporter, former Romney, Pawlenty supporters. He's solid on the ground in all the states. Even in New Hampshire, he's got the former GOP state chairman.

KARL: Yeah, I mean, there's this sense that Perry is done, that this is all inevitable.

MATALIN: No way.

KARL: Certainly the White House believes that. The White House is going at Romney right now. And watch this. They will do this, because it's an unfair fight right now. Romney is defending himself against these attacks from his Republican opponents. The White House sees this as the time to define Romney, but it's crazy to count out Perry. He's got more money in the bank right now than Romney. He's got far more organization than Herman Cain. The national polls don't mean anything. In those early states, with the exception of New Hampshire, he's looking strong. So we'll see.

MARCUS: I'm sorry. Go ahead.

AMANPOUR: No, go ahead.

MARCUS: Perry, I agree. He's like Monty Python's parrot. He's not dead yet, and for all the reasons that you said. Romney's problem, I think, is, first of all, the versatility that George so nicely mentioned. Also, he's the ultimate establishment candidate in a very anti-establishment year. You see it from the Wall Street protests. You see it from the Tea Party. He by all rights should be really, at the very least, inching up in these polls, and because he's a way better candidate than he was four years ago. And he's not. I suspect he eventually will, but it really is telling.

AMANPOUR: You mentioned the Wall Street protests. I tried to ask David Axelrod, is that something that the president, the Democratic Party can harness? Is it, do you think?

MARCUS: But I -- I agree with David that it's not quite gelled yet. I think that what the -- last week, I watched some focus groups of Wal-Mart moms. They were not about to go to Wall Street protests, but the thing that was fascinating was that they expressed a lot of the same anger and frustrations that you hear in these Wall Street protests. They hated the banks. They didn't understand why the banks were getting bailouts and nothing was being done, as they saw it, to help them. They were furious with politicians in Washington. And to the extent and somebody -- that the Wall Street protests reflect that anger and that somebody can harness that energy, it could be a political force.

AMANPOUR: We're just going to go now to Colin Moynihan, who works for the New York Times, and has been and is now down at those protests. Colin, you've been there virtually every day since this began. How is this movement or is it sort of harnessing itself? Is it any clearer or is it still just people there frustrated, as we've been talking about?

MOYNIHAN: Well, I think that many of the protesters would say that their mere presence is their message. And over the last couple of weeks, there have been more and more folks joining in down here. I think their sense of themselves is -- I think they're becoming more confident about the fact that they're here and they're getting attention from others.

AMANPOUR: Do you think they are something that can benefit the Republican -- sorry, the Democratic Party, President Obama? Or do they sort of lump all of that in with Wall Street, as well?

MOYNIHAN: I think that they are resistant to sort of being identified with either party. You know, they've gone out of their way to say that they don't consider themselves to be a political party. They're not forming a platform; they're not doing anything like that.

I think to the degree that they help one party or another, they may be a little more beneficial, at least at this point, to the Democrats, because their message is anti-corporate. But there's no guarantee that that person -- you know, people's perceptions of that are going to stay the same.

AMANPOUR: And what are they saying now? Are they going to stay for a long time? I mean, there was this whole fracas about a possible cleanup and evicting them temporarily. They're still there. What do they say about how long they're prepared to stay there?

MOYNIHAN: Sure. Well, they've been saying all along, their stay is going to be indefinite. I mean, they're trying to make plans to stay through the winter, to prepare for cold weather, and to make it into the spring. I mean, there's no way, of course, to know whether this is going to happen, but this appears to be what they're aiming for at this time. And they show no signs of packing up their tents and their sleeping bags and leaving on their own.

AMANPOUR: Colin, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us from down there. Jon?

KARL: The idea that, you know, the anti-Wall Street is going to be the centerpiece of Barack Obama's campaign, which is something that David Plouffe suggested recently, is a little...

AMANPOUR: But David Axelrod didn't.

KARL: Yeah, and it's problematic. I mean, they know it's problematic. I mean, you know, the president supported the Wall Street bailout in the first place. This is the administration of Tim Geithner. This is the administration that's been hammered by the left, by many of the people at those protests, as being basically a tool of Wall Street.

AMANPOUR: Let's go back and talk about Rick Perry some more. There have been, again, this sort of rather disappointing debate performance this week. There were these comments from his wife. She said that they've been brutalized partly because of his Christian faith. Do they -- do they have the fight to go on? There are questions as to whether he really wants to be president, given his demeanor at the table.

MATALIN: Dave Carney, who's running the Perry campaign, who's the Joe Friday of talkers, had two poignant but critical points in this Dan Balz piece today, Dan Balz...

AMANPOUR: Washington Post.

MATALIN: ... covering this stuff since Jesus was a little boy, so he knows of what he speaks. Message trumps chatter. Message is more important than chatter. And these polls are Polaroids. And that's -- that's what they're acting on, that all of this chatter, all of these suggestions or implications about Perry's debate performance playing them out into a bigger -- bigger finding, doesn't -- it doesn't hold.

Over 70 percent of voters did not make up their minds in Iowa, New Hampshire until the final month. We're not even into that phase where you start putting boots on the ground.

AMANPOUR: So what does Governor Perry have do to get back into the game?

WILL: He has to get a little better at debating. He's had as many important debates in his two months as a presidential candidate than he had in 13 years in Texas politics. Texas is such a red state that you win down there by rallying conservatives. You don't have to persuade. He's now in the persuasion business, and that takes some getting used to.

They do have money. They do have some infrastructure. And nature and the American media abhor a vacuum. And they will not allow there to be a stroll for Romney to the...

AMANPOUR: Well, you mention money and not allowing a stroll. Let's just put up this -- this latest ad that Governor Perry has out about Romney.


OBAMA: I agree with Mitt Romney. He's right.

(UNKNOWN): Jimmy Carter is throwing his weight behind Mitt Romney.

(UNKNOWN): ... follow the path that we pursued or find it's the best path.

ROMNEY: I like mandates.

(UNKNOWN): Why, if it's worked for Massachusetts and it's working in Massachusetts, wouldn't you apply it to the rest of the country?

ROMNEY: I would.

(UNKNOWN): Romney has flip-flopped on some of the issues.

ROMNEY: I didn't change my mind. I'm running for a different office.

We'll end up with a nation that's taken a mandate approach.

There are a lot of reasons not to elect me.


KARL: You know, by the way, that video totally misrepresents what was said in that interview between -- you know, with Tim Russert. I mean, they gave a different -- the Romney answer is from a different question. It is complete misrepresentation of what happened.

But it shows that Perry will go after Romney, he will do everything he can to destroy Romney. He is a very effective negative campaigner. But the problem for Perry so far is that he has done nothing to define himself and what he would stand for.

MARCUS: I would say it's actually a bigger problem, in that he came in exposed on two flanks. He came in exposed on the left flank with his comments about Social Security, monstrous lie, Ponzi scheme, and on the right flank on immigration. He was completely unprepared. this last debate performance at least was a sin of omission, where he sort of sat there and looked surprised and passive, not commission. But it was not a good week for him, and he really needs to step up his game to stay in the game.

AMANPOUR: And Cain, what does he have to do to stay in the game as high as he is?

MARCUS: Well, you know, he told he was not the flavor of the week, but I suspect -- and I'm a little bit stealing a line from Bill McInturff, the Republican pollster, that he's the souffle of the month. He -- 9-9-9, the more you look at it, it's more going to look wrong, wrong, wrong. It's a massive tax increase on poor people and middle-income Americans. And he's got lots of empty spaces and blank knowledge on other things outside 9-9-9. That's a big problem.

AMANPOUR: We're going to talk about it in our next roundtable, which is going to be about the economy. We dig into the candidates' jobs plans, including, of course, as Ruth mentioned, 9-9-9. Which plan has what it takes to put America back to work? Our special economic roundtable is next.


AMANPOUR: This week, Occupy Wall Street went global. From Rome to Paris to New York and across the United States, thousands have been rallying against corporate greed and government dysfunction, but also their fears about the unemployment situation. Their collective voice now too loud to be dismissed and their anger yet another symptom of the crisis which grips this country and the world.

So where does that leave the policy debate? Joining me again, George Will, Bloomberg Television's Margaret Brennan, Laura Tyson, who's a member of the president's jobs council and former Clinton administration economic adviser, and ABC's Jon Karl again.

Thank you very much again for being here. Margaret, you're down at Wall Street every single day. What are people inside the stock exchange making of what's going on outside?

BRENNAN: Well, it's interesting, because I'm inside the New York Stock Exchange every day and I went down to talk to the protesters on Friday. And the frustrations inside and outside are similar: 45 million Americans on food stamps, 14 million Americans unemployed.

But inside of Wall Street, they're more angry at what's not happening in Washington, the lack of clarity, the lack of momentum. And outside, they're sort of attacking the symbol of banks and the symbol of money, and it's not quite clear what they're asking for, but the frustration is something that -- that people are definitely noticing.

AMANPOUR: Well, their frustration, the Wall Street bankers' frustration about Washington, you're on the president's jobs council. What is going to happen? I mean, what is going to make some kind of impact in this jobs crisis right now?

TYSON: Well, you know, the jobs act that just went down to first round defeat that you talked about in the earlier segment has been evaluated by a very large number of economists, and they have said repeatedly, it could actually have an effect. It could create a couple million jobs next year. It could increase the GDP growth rate a couple percentage points. It could reduce the unemployment rate by a percentage point.

This is a serious plan. The parts of the plan that are the major parts -- payroll tax relief, infrastructure, unemployment compensation with reform -- these are things that have been supported on both sides of the aisle historically, a real plan that comes with bipartisan support. It's a tragedy if that plan does not pass, because it's -- it's a serious effort evaluated to have a real effect.

KARL: But even Mark Zandi, who seems to be the White House's favorite economist...

TYSON: He's not -- but he's not the only one.

KARL: ... who worked for John McCain -- has suggested that, yes, it would have an impact in the short run, but not in the long term, that it would be a drag on the economy in the long run.

TYSON: The point is, next year without it -- you have to think about next year, 2012. Next year, because of what's already in the books, the government will be taking out of the economy nearly 2 percentage points. The economy is on -- is on the brink of recession, the -- a double-dip recession. The probability of recession, a wide group of economists think it's about 30 percent. If we don't do something for next year, government policy will actually increase the odds that we go into recession, increase the odds.

AMANPOUR: So let me ask you, George, because, you know, business leaders are getting very worried, including people who are Democratic-leaning, like Mort Zuckerman, who had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this weekend, basically saying that he and his business leader colleagues and friends are beginning to think that this government's policies are failing in this regard. What do you see if -- I mean, what do you see happening, for instance, next year, this time next year in this regard?

WILL: A political convulsion if we start a recession, start a recession at 9.1 percent unemployment, 16.5 either unemployed, partially employed, or too discouraged to seek employment, 22 percent of mortgage-holders underwater at this point. I mean, it's astonishing place to start a recession.

I think there's one potential plank, if you can call it that, of Occupy Wall Street that's about to go mainstream, and that's debt repudiation. You see it now from some of the mainstream economists. These are the same geniuses, by the way, who said if we pass the stimulus, we would have unemployment at 8 percent or less. And that is (inaudible) mainstream economists say we need just a bit of inflation, in a narrow band, 4 percent to 6 percent, just for a little while.

Now, behind this fatal conceit that they can control inflation, have just a little bit of it with a thermostat to turn it up or down, inflation is debt repudiation. It's just a civilized and surreptitious way to get out from under debt. And here you have them -- the big number that -- that Occupy Wall Street is preoccupied with is $1 trillion in student loan debt.

AMANPOUR: You talk about a social convulsion. Well, it's kind of already sort of starting in Wall Street and around the world. What's the single biggest problem, Laura, clouding the jobs picture? I mean, you've been quoted as saying, there are a lot of jobs, but there are not the skills to match the jobs.

TYSON: Well, I think you have to be careful of that. I do agree that there's a skills mismatch, but I also think the predominant problem for unemployment right now is a lack of spending. It's the lack of demand.

Consumers are on their backs. The savings rate is going up. They have a lot of debt. They can't consume. They're worried about their jobs. They don't have jobs. They can't consume. Seventy percent of the economy, it was the engine of growth. It's off. It's either running at a very low -- so it's demand.

I think that the skills issue is very important, because as you're thinking about what to do now to create jobs, you want to deal with the skills problems going forward. So that's why -- so the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, one of the things we're focusing on is essentially programs to build advanced manufacturing skills or health care skills or to build more engineers. That creates jobs now, creates capabilities now, but it also deals with the skills mismatch going forward.

BRENNAN: And you hear that from corporations...

TYSON: Infrastructure spending right now, spending right now in a way which benefits the economy going forward, that's, I think, what we need to do. That's why I'm so -- I think infrastructure is so important.

BRENNAN: You have corporations saying, you know, we could hire, but we don't have people who have the skill set we want. Why aren't you not protesting outside Wall Street, why aren't you protesting at universities? And the issue of confidence is a great one.

But for a corporation to take someone on a payroll and take on that, they need to have the confidence that we're not going to stay on the precipice of recession. And arguably, the conversations in Paris with the G-20 this weekend are a huge part of restoring confidence and saying, "We're not going to allow for another banking crisis to infect all of Europe and the globe."

KARL: And a chunk of the jobs bill is telling companies who to hire. I mean, it's -- you get a better tax credit if you hire somebody who's been unemployed for six months. You get an additional tax credit if you hire a veteran.

TYSON: I think a chunk would be a little exaggeration. Most of it -- let's -- that bill -- and about $270 billion is general payroll tax relief. About $100 billion is infrastructure...


KARL: Which has a good chance of -- of passing. And I think that actually a good chunk of that, I mean, that will pass. There's bipartisan support for the payroll tax. There's bipartisan support for some infrastructure, which makes you wonder why have we spent a month-and-a-half debating a bill that had no chance of passing in its form?

AMANPOUR: So let me ask you this, because one of the economic plans is the 9-9-9 plan of Herman Cain. I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago on this program, and this is what he said about the sales tax portion of it.


AMANPOUR: You talk about 9 percent corporate, 9 percent income tax, and a 9 percent national sales tax.

CAIN: Yes.

AMANPOUR: And economists are saying that that could actually disproportionately affect poorer people, African-Americans, and all sorts of poorer people.

CAIN: Ask them to do the math.


AMANPOUR: Well, look, on the sales tax part of the plan, we did do the math. The plan -- there are currently five states without their own sales tax. This is including New Hampshire. So under Cain's plan, all those people would go from paying nothing to paying 9 percent.

Cain's tax would be an additional burden in states with sales taxes already on the books. And look at this: There are 26 states with current sales taxes at or above 6 percent. So under Cain's plan, that number would soar to at least 15 percent.

So it's catchy, but is it really something that's going to work, George?

WILL: Well, the danger right now is, as Laura says, the United States economy is driven by consumer spending, which is fueled by consumer credit. On the other hand, the American people consume too much and save too little, much too little. We had a savings rate of 9 percent in the 1980s, 5 percent in the '90s. In 2005, the savings rate went negative. The consumption went on because people took out home equity loans in the sure and certain confidence that housing prices never decline. That didn't work out so well.

BRENNAN: The other problem is, the math doesn't add up. Bloomberg crunched in the numbers, and it comes in about $200 billion short in revenue, unless you keep part of the current tax structure, which is the excise tax on beer and cigarettes, and if you exempt, he said, used goods, which I guess means a home and a car.

AMANPOUR: Well, this roundtable will continue in the green room at abcnews.com.

And coming up, a story of high-stakes global intrigue. Did the Iranian government plot to assassinate a top diplomat on American soil? It's a story with far-reaching implications, next.


AMANPOUR: President Obama is urging America's allies to turn up the heat on Iran, after an extraordinary story of international intrigue burst onto the world stage this week.

It began Tuesday, when the administration announced that it had foiled an Iranian plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. The man at the heart of the case is an Iranian-American used car salesman from Texas. The FBI says it has him on tape offering an associate of a Mexican drug cartel $1.5 million to kill the Saudi diplomat by exploding a bomb outside a Washington restaurant.

The criminal complaint alleges that he traveled to Mexico in May to discuss the deal and even wired $100,000 as a down payment. But it turns out the cartel contact was actually a secret informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration. And when the feds foiled the plot, he told authorities he was, quote, "recruited, funded and directed" by men that he understood to be senior officials in Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards.

Now, the FBI director, Robert Mueller, says the case reads like a Hollywood script, but the brazen scheme has many wondering why Iran would take such a provocative and unprecedented action on U.S. soil? And how high up in the Iranian government does the plot go?

Joining me now to assess the fallout is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, and David Sanger of the New York Times, who's written a lot about these issues.

First, let me ask you -- and welcome to the program...

ROGERS: Thanks for having me.

AMANPOUR: How far up now do you believe this goes? Was this directed by the top leadership of Iran?

ROGERS: Well, there's evidence, and there's intelligence. The evidence is very good that senior elements of the Quds Force clearly knew and sanctioned this particular activity. And what we know about the Quds Force and how its command-and-control operates, the closeness of Suleimani, the director -- the commander of the Quds Force, with the supreme leader -- something like this would have to have senior-level approval. This isn't something that happened in the -- in the basement of the Quds Force headquarters.

AMANPOUR: If that's the case, then, doesn't the United States have to respond? And how will it do so beyond sanctions?

ROGERS: Well, we should respond. You should never, ever allow a nation to believe that they can commit an act of political assassination on U.S. soil. So there's a lot of things that we can do.

And I think it's a great opportunity for the administration to push back with even our European allies and say, listen, there's a lot of commercial contracts. Maybe we should -- time now to re-evaluate. Put pressure on the Chinese and the Russians and say, listen, you're either going to stand with the nation that is engaged in nation-state terrorism or you're going to stand with the rest of the international community.

AMANPOUR: Militarily respond?

ROGERS: I don't think you should take it off the table. I think there are a lot of things that we should do to make sure that they understand this is unacceptable. Give you a great example. We know they have Quds Force operatives in Iraq and Afghanistan targeting and helping target, train, supply weapon systems and other things against U.S. soldiers. We need to make sure that we take a very aggressive stance for those operatives.

AMANPOUR: You've written today, David Sanger, in the newspaper about one effort, and that is to get the IAEA, the nuclear watchdog agency, to publicize more of what they believe Iran is doing on the nuclear front. How difficult is it going to be for the United States to get this kind of pressure on Iran right now?

SANGER: Well, I think over the past year, Christiane, given the Arab Spring, some of the focus came off of the nuclear issue for the administration. If you think until January of this year, the primary goal the Obama administration had in the Middle East was stopping the Iranian nuclear program. You haven't heard the president talk about it very much; you haven't heard even people in the Middle East who are concerned about it talk very much.

I think that the administration now sees in this plot an opportunity to refocus not only on Iran, but on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which also runs the nuclear program.

AMANPOUR: Is there a risk that if one pushes too much on this particular issue and gets the IAEA chief to put out other things that he knows that it could backfire and get the -- the watchdog people kicked out of Iran?

SANGER: That is a significant risk, and it's one of the reasons that Yukiya Amano, who is the chairman or the director of the IAEA, has been so reluctant to make public the details.

The second problem, though, is that there's no overall evidence, at least that has been described to me -- maybe Chairman Rogers and others know of some -- that shows the Iranians actually building a complete bomb. Instead, it's the elements that you would only use in a nuclear weapon system. So there's some deniability for the Iranians.

AMANPOUR: Chairman Rogers?

ROGERS: Well, there's three parts to that program. There's the enrichment part, the weaponization part, and the ability to deliver it via missile. So they've hit a very important threshold in enrichment. They hit the 20 percent threshold. From 20 percent to the 90-plus percent that you need for nuclear-weapon-grade material is exponentially easier.

So they've crossed that threshold. They're doing a lot of testing on missiles. Their weaponization program, we know, is alive and well. So some notion that they may have slowed down on one and not all three, it is a three-part program. We know they're engaged in the three parts. I wouldn't wait too much longer. A nation that's willing to politically assassinate an ambassador on U.S. soil with a nuclear weapon is incredibly dangerous.

AMANPOUR: Now, as you know, the Iranian government, right up to the top, the supreme leader, Khamenei, has denied this and basically said there's no way and it's child's play. And they're trying to get a pretext to attack us.

You know that there a lot of skeptics in the Iran-watching community, that this just seems like such an incompetent plan and that was so -- or not. I mean, what do you think, in terms of the pushback from those who are saying, "How could this have happened?"

SANGER: Well, the evidence that I've seen -- and of course, I only see what is -- what is out there in public -- clearly shows that there was a plot and that money was transferred from Iran to the potential assassin. So clearly something was underway here.

There is this disconnect between what we regard as a very disciplined Quds Force and the Revolutionary Guard Corps and what seems to have been a somewhat amateurish attempt to get a guy who's affiliated with a Mexican drug cartel and who also is a DEA informant. And that does not seem to be the A Team at work. But it may simply be that the U.S. got lucky in this case and that the Iranians made a very big mistake.

AMANPOUR: And why do you think Iran, with all its antagonisms between the U.S., would try do something that steps up this situation so dramatically?

ROGERS: Well, and let me just talk about the amateurish part and then address that. We were very fortunate. We got to see this, we the U.S. government, got to see this unfold from the beginning.

It was a former FBI agent. If you would have started at the back end of this -- say they had been successful, a bomb had gone off, let's say it was in a restaurant. You would have had to figure out what the target was, who all was killed, and then to start trying to walk it back. We would still be in the throes of anger and frustration and chaos right now in the United States trying to figure out who did this and why.

Because we got on so early, people say, well, this was really easy to determine. There's good fortune, good police work, but good fortune in this particular case.

So think about it. They had somebody who could travel to Iran to the United States on a U.S. passport, who had connections in Mexico, who was not directly affiliated with the IRGC or the Quds Force. That was somebody that made sense for them. And, by the way, he also had the ability to recruit a criminal to pull off the act. That is not necessarily amateurish; it's pretty sophisticated.

AMANPOUR: All right. And we're obviously going to be looking at this and trying to figure out more and more details as they come up. Thank you both very much, indeed.

SANGER: Thank you.

ROGERS: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And up next, the great unveiling. As thousands gather to mark the dedication of the Martin Luther King Monument, civil rights legend Congressman John Lewis reflects on the man and his movement.


AMANPOUR: This morning, thousands are gathering in Washington for the dedication of the new memorial honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis is the last living speaker from the 1963 March on Washington. And he spoke with ABC's senior White House correspondent Jake Tapper about the monument to a man and his magnificent dream.


TAPPER (voice-over): Visiting the new Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial with congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis must be what it would be like to walk through the World War II memorial with Audie Murphy. The crowds keep embracing him, touching him. They're drawn to the man who was a friend and colleague of King's.

(on-screen): Does it look like him?

LEWIS: Oh, yeah. Very much. It's one of the best likenesses of him that I've ever seen. The first time I came out here, they still had the scaffolds up and they invited me to go up. And I went up. I touched his head, I rubbed his head, his face. And I cried. It's -- it's powerful.

TAPPER (voice-over): Lewis' journey to this site began more than 56 years ago. It was early 1955 when Lewis, then 15, heard a young minister on the radio for the first time.

KING: We must let it be known all over the world that we will not take it any longer.

TAPPER: His name was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his message captivated Lewis.

LEWIS: he was not just concerned about the Pearly Gates and the streets paved with gold and milk and honey, but he was concerned about the streets in Montgomery, Alabama.

TAPPER: Social gospel?

LEWIS: The social gospel. And he was talking about what people can do together. And it seemed like he was speaking directly to me, saying, John Lewis, you, too, can do something. And I was deeply moved and inspired by this man.

TAPPER (voice-over): The son of sharecroppers, Lewis attended segregated public schools in Pike County, Alabama. He did not understand why signs kept whites and coloreds separate.

LEWIS: And I would ask my mother, my father, my grandparents, my great-grandparents, "Why segregation? Why racial discrimination?" And they would say, "That's the way it is. Don't you get in the way. Don't you get in trouble."

TAPPER (on-screen): Really? They were worried about you getting involved?

LEWIS: Oh, they were very -- yeah, they were very troubled about what could happen. And -- but Dr. King inspired me.

TAPPER (voice-over): Lewis first met King when he was thinking about trying to integrate Troy State College.

LEWIS: I just wrote him and said, "Dr. King, I need your help."

TAPPER (on-screen): And then?

LEWIS: He wrote me back, sent me a round-trip greyhound bus ticket, and invited me to come to Montgomery. And that was the beginning of our relationship.

TAPPER (voice-over): Lewis became one of the key student leaders in the early days of the civil rights movement. One of the original Freedom Riders, the movement nearly cost Lewis his life. March 7, 1965, on Bloody Sunday, as it came to be known, Lewis was badly beaten by Alabama state troopers as he crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. But King's teachings, bits of which are now etched in these stones, gave him strength.

LEWIS: We shall overcome, because the arc of the moral universe...

KING: ... of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

TAPPER (on-screen): What are you going to be thinking about on Sunday when -- when the dedication takes place?

LEWIS: Well, on Sunday, when we dedicate this monument, this memorial to Dr. King, I will reflect, 48 years ago, when I stood with him and others, when I spoke.

We must wake up, America. Wake up, for we cannot stop, and we will not and cannot be patient.

LEWIS: I would think about, when the march was all over, President Kennedy invited us down to the White House. He stood in the door of the Oval Office and greeted each one of us. He was so proud. He was like a beaming father, that things had gone so well. And he said, "You did a good job. You did a good job." And when he got to Dr. King, he said, "And you had a dream."

And I'm going to do my best not to lose it, and I'm going to do everything possible to keep from crying. But if I have some tears left, I'm going to cry.


AMANPOUR: ABC's Jake Tapper with John Lewis. And what a great a thing that he threw his parents' caution to the wind and joined the fight.

Stay with us. There's much more to come.


AMANPOUR: And now, the Sunday funnies.


FALLON: Yesterday, President Obama had beer with four unemployed construction workers. Obama asked the guys, like, what was it like to lose their jobs? And they were like, "Oh, you'll see."


O'BRIEN: According to the latest polls, Herman Cain has moved ahead of Mitt Romney. Can you believe that? Yeah. Yeah. Political analysts say this is because Americans don't understand Mormonism, but they do understand pizza.


LETTERMAN: Michele O'Bachmann, she didn't care for this at all.

SCHAFER: Michele "Bachmann"?

LETTERMAN: So she took on Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan. Look at this.

BACHMANN: When you take the 9-9-9 plan and you turn it upside-down, I think the devil's in the details.

ROSE: We've given you several chances to respond. I'll come back...

CAIN: That's right.


AMANPOUR: We'll be right back.


And now "in memoriam."


KAMENY: Every year on Memorial Day, I conduct a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery to commemorate all of our country's dead, including the many tens of thousands of gays who died in our country's wars.


AMANPOUR: We remember all of those who died in war this week. The Pentagon released the names of seven soldiers and Marines killed in Afghanistan.


AMANPOUR: That's our program this week. And, remember, you can always find us on Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, and at abcnews.com. For all of us here, thank you for watching, and we'll see you next week.


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