January 19, 2014 -- READ THE FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT WITH PRESIDENT PUTIN HERE.
Below is a rush transcript for "This Week" on January 19, 2014. It may be updated.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning. And welcome to a special edition of This Week from Sochi, Russia.
Olympics on edge -- breaking overnight, new terror threats against the games. We'll get the latest from Brian Ross and the congressional chairman tracking Olympic security.
Plus, soaring costs and corruption, a global uproar over Russia's anti-gay laws.
Big challenges ahead for the world's most powerful president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: If gay and lesbian athletes engage in some sort of protest, would they be free from prosecution?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: This morning, Vladimir Putin only on This Week.
Then, President Obama reveals his NSA reforms.
And is the worst over for Chris Christie, or is the scandal spreading? The powerhouse roundtable takes it all on this Sunday morning.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, This Week with George Stephanopoulos starts now.
Hello again, I'm just back from that interview with President Putin at the sight of the Sochi Olympics. And we begin with breaking news on the biggest challenge of those games, the threat of a terrorist attack. Our chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross is here with the latest. And Brian, what you have seen overnight is this video from those responsible, they say, for the bombings in Russia just last month.
BRIAN ROSS, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, George. This new video, a so-called martyrdom video, purports to show the two men who carried out suicide attacks in the town of Volgograd in late December against a train station there and also against a computer trolley. They say they have more in store. They called a surprise package coming to Sochi and specifically mentioned targeting tourists who will be going to the Olympic games.
STEPHANOPOULOS: President Putin vowed to me and our journalists he's going to do whatever it takes. And they're also putting out the Russian security services overnight a video saying they disrupted an operation.
ROSS: That's right. This new video illustrates sort of the tough iron fist approach that President Putin has taken, a kind of take no prisoners approach. In this video, they say they attacked a stronghold of militants and killed seven of them.
Security is very much on edge there as you know, George, and in Volgograd tomorrow is today the Olympic torch relay goes through that city.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And meanwhile, what is the U.S, what is U.S. intelligence picking up about possible threats to the Olympics?
ROSS: Well, they're obviously very concerned. They're hearing the same things. And their own intelligence sources indicate this group has the means and the intention to attack either in Sochi or outside of Sochi, somewhere else in Russia, all with the goal of embarrassing President Putin.
The U.S. is working on a top secret plan to provide for the evacuation from Sochi of any U.S. athlete or VIP who is there if there is an attack.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And the U.S. ski team actually have their own evacuation teams.
You know, President Putin said on Friday, this is all under control. The U.S., sometimes, is getting a little frustrated because they actually want to give more help.
ROSS: They want to give more help, but the Russians seemingly say this is our show. We run our show the way we want it. They don't seem particularly interested in being advised or advising the Americans who are going to be there. There will be small teams of U.S. armed security personnel guarding the U.S. teams, but perhaps not as many as the U.S. wants. They're afraid if they complain too much publicly, Russia may even further restrict the number of U.S. personnel who can be there providing security.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Brian Ross, thanks very much.
Now to my talk with President Putin. Forbes calls him the world's most powerful man. Some suspect he may also be the wealthiest. And he's putting every possible resource to work in Sochi.
These games are far and away the most expensive ever. As we reported, they threatened to be the most dangerous. And Putin has been on the defensive over Russia's anti-gay propaganda laws.
He's also been out for a little charm offensive, (inaudible) political prisoners, reaching out to sell these games and giving us his first American broadcast interview in years.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Make or break time for Vladimir Putin, a unique chance to showcase his country.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): I would very much like during the Olympics for the athletes, visitors, reporters and those who will follow the Olympics on TV through the media for people to see a new Russia.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It all began with a personal pitch.
PUTIN: It is a great honor for me to address you today and to present the gift of Sochi to host the Olympic winter games in 2014.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Putin even speaking English to sell the International Olympic Committee on Sochi.
PUTIN: It will snow guaranteed.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And just seven years later, the changes here are stunning. Take Sochi's incredible transformation from sleeping resort town to a virtual security state. 80,000 troops, drones in the sky, missile defense systems and a computer network monitoring every email and phone call. It's been called a ring of steel.
Putin told me and my fellow anchors from Russia, China and the UK that it will work.
PUTIN (through translator): The job of the Olympics host is to ensure security of the participants in the Olympics and visitors. We will do whatever it takes.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The United States State Department has issued a travel advisory for all Americans heading to Sochi. And some of the athletes have even set up their own evacuation plans, own private security teams. Is that necessary?
PUTIN (through translator): If someone believes that they should devise their own personal security plans, there is nothing wrong with that. However, it must be done in contact with the Olympics organizers and with our security services.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But after a string of terrorist attacks in other parts of Russia, the whole country is braced for a strike.
RICHARD CLARKE (The New York Times): My guess is that if anything happens, it's not going to happen in Sochi, it's not going to happen inside the zone around Sochi. It'll happen in some city. And whether it's Petersburg or Moscow or some small city in the outside, that's where more likely a terrorist attack could occur.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you concerned that with all the security here there terrorists might choose to strike in other parts of Russia.
PUTIN (through translator): We have adequate needs available to us through the federal security service, the interior ministry, armed forces units that will be involved in providing security on the water and in the air. If necessary, all those tools will be activated.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Will all this security kill the joy, turning Sochi into what one critic called the "Gulag Olympics."
PUTIN (through translator): We would try and make sure that security measures don't jump at you, are not in your face, do not put pressure on the athletes and visitors or reporters.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Putin is also pitching here for better ties to the U.S., relations strained by a series of confrontations, including that granted asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
So what do you say to Americans who see Russia and you not only as a rival, but an unfriendly adversary?
PUTIN (through translator): Between major countries, there are certainly always are some common ground and points of tension. With respect to athletes, I'd recommend and advise them not to think about the political differences. Politics should not interfere with sports. And sports should impact politics.
STEPHANOPOULOS: With the most famous American in Russia right now is Edward Snowden. Is he invited to Sochi?
PUTIN (through translator): The most renowned American is Russia now is Barack Obama. Everybody is invited. Mr. Snowden is subject to the treatment of provisional asylum here in Russia. He has a right to travel freely across the country. He has no special limitation. He can just buy a ticket and come here.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And stay as long as he wants?
PUTIN (through translator): Yes, sure, definitely.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Whoever comes to Sochi will find a city still under construction, and it is costing a fortune.
Lots of questions also here about corruptions and the unbelievable cost. These Olympics are going to cost far and away more than any other ever.
STEVEN MEYERS (The New York Times): Well, one official estimate was that it would be $51 billion. A lot of people say it's in fact gone up since then, so it could even be higher.
I mean, the fact is we don't really know the exact number.
STEPHANOPOULOS: More than $8 billion for just one road, eclipsing the entire cost of the last Winter Olympics.
Organizers are even spending on extra snow, insurance against Sochi's sub-tropical climate.
STEVEN MEYERS (The New York Times): Putin himself said I guarantee here will be snow.
STEVEN MEYERS (The New York Times): So they built a snow guarantee system, which is pretty routine at most ski resorts, but the ones here are about the most expensive anywhere in the world.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Critics say that extravagant spending is triggering excessive corruption.
A Swiss member of the International Olympic Committee has said that the corruption problem has actually been massive. He said it's an every day matter up to $18 billion embezzled. Is he right? And what can be done about it?
PUTIN (through translator): No, not true. First of all, the Swiss man didn't say that. I do appreciate that it's reporter's job to always try and get sexy subjects to be talked about. Our law enforcement agencies have been working in this area. So far, we are not seeing any major large-scale manifestations of corruption as part of the implementation of the Sochi project.
STEPHANOPOULOS: These are Putin's games.
You've put so much into these Olympics going back to 2007, so I wonder now how do you define success in Sochi? And is your personal honor and reputation at stake?
PUTIN (through translator): No, no. You see, I want it to be a success for this nation. What's first and foremost for us, and I've already said that we are hosting these Olympics so that millions of sports fans the world over will feel this celebration even though they are thousands or hundreds of kilometers away from Sochi. It won't be my personal success, that success will belong to this country. And I hope the success will come true.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I was just wondering, do you care to make a friendly bet with President Obama on which country is going to win more medals the U.S. or Russia?
PUTIN (through translator): No, of course not. We never make such bets.
Barack is a huge sports fan. And I can see it. He's in terrific shape and gives it enough of his attention, not just to playing sports, but also to promoting sports. We wish success to our U.S. friends, U.S. athletes.
As far as medals, those two are an important element of any sports even including Olympics. What is even more important to me is to see that our national team is capable, effective and holds promise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: The other big controversy threatening to overshadow these games, Russia's treatment of its gay citizens and visiting gay athletes. President Putin on that later in the show.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But right now, let's get more on these security threats from the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Congressman Michael McCaul.
He's in Moscow this morning.
Congressman, thank you for joining us.
You saw President Putin confident he's got the situation under control.
Do you share that confidence?
MCCAUL: Well, listen, the -- President Putin is taking this very seriously. About 100,000 security officials have gone down to Sochi, including military forces, special forces. So I think he's taking all the precautions.
This ring of steel that you hear him talking about is to secure the perimeter. That is the airport, the railroad to the mountain and to Sochi.
What I'm most concerned about is the proximity to the terrorists. You heard Brian Ross talk about the two suicide bombers that are associated with Umarov, who is sort of like the bin Laden of the Caucuses, if you will. And remember, the Boston bombers came out of this Dagestan Chechen rebel area.
So I think the threats are real. The IMOEF (ph) basically called for attacks on the Olympics. I think you're going to see attempts to do that.
I think it's more likely that the attacks would probably happen outside the perimeter, more soft targets, transportation modes, if you will.
I'm meeting with the command and control of operations down there in Sochi, leaving tomorrow, to assess the situation. We have 15,000 Americans traveling to Sochi for the Olympics. And I want to do everything I can to make sure it's a safe and successful Olympics.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think you can -- you and other U.S. officials can convince the Russians to accept more assistance from the United States?
MCCAUL: Well, you know, the diplomatic security corps says the cooperation is good. We have two dozen FBI agents.
But quite frankly, George, it could be a lot better. And that's one thing I want to press while I'm over here. I know Secretary Hagel has offered military assistance, as well. You mentioned evacuation plans. I'm very concerned that if something does happen, what is the evacuation plan and emergency response plan that would -- would take place?
Again, you're talking about, in this Ansar al-Sunna, the group that these two suicide bombers claimed to be taking credit for, is an al Qaeda faction. And it's happening in the Northern Caucuses in Russia. In fact, outside of there, in Volgograd, which is formerly Stalingrad at a train station, very similar to what we saw in Boston with the backpacks and blowing up things.
And so, all the briefings that I've received, from the intelligence community to the FBI and others, indicate that there are serious concerns and that we need to do a lot to step up security. I do believe Putin is doing a lot of that. These are the largest security operations for any Olympic Games in the history of the Olympics.
STEPHANOPOULOS: If one of your constituents came to you and said, oh, I want to go watch the Olympics in Sochi, would you tell them to go?
MCCAUL: Well, that's a very good question. I -- I -- I have concerns. I know when I get back from this trip, I'll have better opinions on that.
But I would -- I know the State Department has issued a travel warning. That's something to take seriously. I have constituents in my district that are participants in the Olympics.
But I think we have to be optimistic that we can go forward with the Olympics successfully. I would like to wager a bet that the U.S. team is going to get more medals than the Russians, as I sit here in Russia.
But I can tell you that as the Homeland Security chairman and the threats that I see, I am concerned.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You heard President Putin say that Edward Snowden can stay in Russia as long as he wants. I wanted to get you to respond to something from your colleague, Chairman Mike Rogers, of the House Intelligence Committee, said just being released this morning.
He says that there's reason to believe that Snowden had the cooperation of Russian security services. "I believe there's a reason he ended up in the hands and the loving arms of an FSB agent in Moscow." He says, "I don't think that's a coincidence."
Do you agree?
MCCAUL: Hey, listen, I don't think Snowden -- Mr. Snowden woke up one day and had the wherewithal to do this all by himself. I think he was helped by others.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The Russians?
MCCAUL: You know, to say definitively, I can't -- I can't answer that.
But I personally believe that he was cultivated by a foreign power to do what he did. And he -- I would submit, again, that he's not a hero by any stretch. He's a traitor. He -- he lives not very far down the street from where I am right now, enjoying probably less freedoms today here in Russia than he had in the United States of America.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's a pretty serious charge, sir.
Which foreign power do you believe cultivated Edward Snowden?
MCCAUL: Again, I can't give a definitive statement on that. I -- but I've been given all the evidence, I know Mike Rogers has access to, you know, that I've seen that I don't think he was acting alone.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about President Obama's NSA reforms, the National Security Agency reforms he announced on Friday. I know you attended the president's speech on Friday. You support the programs. You think they've done good for the United States.
Any objections to what the president proposed?
MCCAUL: Well, listen, I -- I think what he did was, for the first time explain these programs and defend them. I think meta data, most significantly, will not be dismantled, but rather will be put in the hands of an outside, third party. I think what gave most Americans heartburn was that this data was being stored under the NSA and warehoused under the government and this administration, who, you know, quite frankly, has some trust issues.
So I think -- I think, you know, he's moving in the right direction.
I will say, one of the other problems, George, is oversight. I have a bill that is just introduced with Adam Schiff, who's on the Intelligence Committee, to provide the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of the Congress, oversight and review authority of these programs. They have never been allowed access to these NSA programs.
Why is that important?
Because members of Congress are pretty much in the dark on these programs. This will allow these programs and a review of them to come more to light, if you will, and be more transparent, so that the policy-maker will have the information necessary to review them and make the right judgment call.
I think that right now, the oversight is very marginal, at best. And I think this bill will go a long ways to shining a light on these programs so members can have a better informed, better decision to make.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So are you confident, then, the president will be able to come up with a way to house these -- this data outside of the government?
It's going to be very difficult, and that's why he's had to put it off for 60 days and have the attorney general look at it.
MCCAUL: Well, you know, George, you're exactly right. When I was listening to the speech, I -- I thought to myself, you know, when I was doing these types of warrants, we went to the private phone carriers. We know that the private phone carriers don't want to handle this now. So I think that's going to be a real issue, in terms of who has the capability, other than the NSA, to handle this information?
And particularly given the fact that the phone carriers don't want this?
So I think the attorney general is going to have a very difficult decision to make here and he's going to report to the Congress in 60 days. And we will be reviewing that decision.
But I think it's very difficult to decide who has the capability to store and use this data.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman McCaul, thanks very much for your time today.
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- is coming right up, taking on President Obama's changes to the NSA we just heard about and the newest charges against Chris Christie.
And later, the Olympic uproar over Russia's anti-gay propaganda laws. More from President Putin and Billie Jean King.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMY ROBACH: What would you say to Putin?
BILLIE JEAN KING: To Putin?
AMY ROBACH: Yes.
KING: Please change this law.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And when we come back, a tough Senate report on the Benghazi attacks.
What's the fallout for Hillary Clinton?
Plus new questions for Chris Christie on Hurricane Sandy aid.
The roundtable weighs in on all the week's politics, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And critics are right to point out that without proper safeguards, this type of program could be used to yield more information about our private lives and open the door to more intrusive bulk collection programs.
For all these reasons, I believe we need a new approach.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
STEPHANOPOULOS: That was President Obama on Friday, saying this NSA program, as we know it now, will end. He called for a lot of reforms.
Let's talk about it now on our roundtable, joined by James Carville and Mary Matalin, out with a new book, "Love and War" -- I like this -- "Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and one Louisiana Home."
STEPHANOPOULOS: David Remnick, editor of "The New Yorker" magazine. We're going to be talking about your profile of President Obama. You spent many hours with him. Coming up in THIS WEEK'S "New Yorker."
Peggy Noonan of "The Wall Street Journal."
And Tavis Smiley of "The Tavis Smiley Show."
And, Peggy, let's begin with this -- these NSA reforms.
The president said he wanted some reforms, but, also defended the programs, said they'd been valuable.
Did he strike the right balance?
PEGGY NOONAN, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Oh, I think he -- I think he sounded like a political figure attempting to strike the right balance, to deal with a political problem he has among his base and among some others. For NSA, in the past six months or so, since Snowden, the president has come under criticism. He's had various responses to that, from there's nothing wrong with NSA, to, well, I guess we ought to be thinking about NSA.
I think the speech ultimately was unsatisfying because it did not say -- the president said, essentially, he's handling a problem, but it didn't say we are rethinking...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But (INAUDIBLE)...
NOONAN: -- this national security state we've been...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that's what I want to get...
NOONAN: -- in since 9/11.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's what I want to get to, because he actually cite -- has said this state has been kind of valuable. He said that in the speech.
But, James, one of the things we saw there is that even though he called for the reforms, he didn't really get specific on it. The attorney general is supposed to...
JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Right.
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- come up with a plan to get rid of the bulk collection programs. The courts are supposed to...
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- look at this whole issue of privacy -- privacy advocates. These -- and it just shows how complex...
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- these problems are.
CARVILLE: The truth of the matter is he thinks this program is effective. And it's become a little bit of a political football, so he had a -- a press conference and put some things in it, which, by the way, some privacy advocates say there's some decent stuff that was put in there.
And I kind of agree with his position. I -- I'm -- I mean I think I'm a good Democrat and whatever. But I think some of this stuff -- there's some dangerous people out there in the world and if you can make this stuff a little bit safer, which is apparently what he's trying to do, maybe that's a good thing.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, David, one of the things he addressed in -- even in the speech is that his own evolution on these issues as commander-in-chief.
DAVID REMNICK, EDITOR, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, when -- when he was in the Senate, he was highly against this kind of thing. And he spoke out against it as -- as a Democrat in the Senate. And I think the responsibilities of, and the perspective of -- of the president, he's trying to impress upon us, are radically different, because he's responsible for something completely -- completely other, which is the security of the United States.
Look, he's -- he's in a tough position.
How did this information come out?
It came out through a leaker within the NSA, through Edward Snowden. He is no position and he's not going to defend the quote, unquote, sinner. But the actual sin, if you want to call it that, the actual information has undeniably changed the conversation about national security and the NSA in general.
And I think there's a lot of good in that, a lot of good in that. And Obama begrudgingly has to say the same.
So he's walking a very fine tightrope.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, except, Mary Matalin, he says it doesn't justify what Edward Snowden did.
MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, it doesn't. But I -- he -- I love what you just said, that he was against it before he was for it. Now, Barack Obama is Dick Cheney -- we need these policies, they are necessary for our security.
The reason he's having a political problem and why it's (INAUDIBLE) is because of, one, trust. The -- the nation has a problem trusting this government with personal data on account of the IRS tracking opponents of the president, health care rollout incompetence or just in general, identity theft over Christmas.
We don't think we have control over this technology that's going to protect our privacy. That's why this is a hard political issue.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Travis, I know you don't agree that Barack Obama...
TAVIS SMILEY, HOST, "THE TAVIS SMILEY SHOW: Obama is Dick Cheney.
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- so radically wrong.
SMILEY: I don't agree with that. But here's what I do believe, that tomorrow, it's worth reminding the audience that we will celebrate the life and legacy of the person I regard as the greatest American this country has ever produced. That's my assessment, Martin Luther King, Jr.. He is the quintessential example of what it means to be forced to live under a surveillance state.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The president talked about that in his speech.
SMILEY: Exactly. And so when I knew the president was going to give this speech on Friday, I started to wonder what that bust of Dr. King in the Oval Office might be whispering to the president as he was fine-tuning his speech Thursday night.
When I saw the Friday speech, like Peggy, I was somewhat underwhelmed. I understand, David, what he's up against. But I sometimes wonder that this president, I sometimes think, rather, that he is too cautious when he ought to be a bit more of a contrarian, particularly when a federal judge has said that part of this bulk collection is unconstitutional. And secondly, when you can't convince me how the dots connect to make us safer.
I think, very quickly, that in the long run, Edward Snowden -- we were joking earlier -- Edward Snowden might be on a postage stamp somewhere down the road. Edward Snowden is going to be acknowledged one day. He's going to be appreciated. How history is going to regarding what Mr. Obama has done in this moment is an open question.
REMNICK: The historical analogy between Dick Cheney and, with respect, and Barack Obama, is -- is absurd. I mean this is -- this is a president who's withdrawn from two wars. This is a president who is constantly talking about the balance between, whether you agree with him or not, between a security state, which came after 9/11, and keeping the country secure and civil liberties.
And he's struggled with this flagrantly, maybe even ostentatiously, on the subject of drones and the rest. And things have changed. Maybe too much on the margins for -- for me or for Travis. Maybe not enough for others. But this is -- to call it Dick Cheney, I...
MATALIN: With equal respect...
REMNICK: -- I can't agree at all.
MATALIN: -- he -- he demonized Dick Cheney. He opposed all of these security policies. And he's now making the same point that Dick Cheney made repeatedly, which is the bad guys have to be right only 1 percent of the time, we have to be right 100 percent of the time. This is not the only policy, you know, they're not Dick Cheney policies, but post-9/11 security policies that he opposed and now supports.
SMILEY: -- to see, George, that while -- while I think Mary is wrong, especially that he is no Dick Cheney, I don't believe that. But it is the case that President Obama, for too many of us, has continued the Bush-Cheney policies on a lot of issues, particularly foreign policy. And this is much more about marginal retrenchment than it is about major reform.
CARVILLE: Look, there -- there's a piece coming out in "The New Republic" later today about (INAUDIBLE). And Edward Snowden, I mean, you think he might be on a postage stamp?
CARVILLE: I think he might get in the post office, but it's going to be...
NOONAN: The most wanted man.
CARVILLE: Yes. I mean...
NOONAN: The most wanted.
CARVILLE: -- I don't know who's...
SMILEY: We'll see. We'll see in 25 years.
CARVILLE: Twenty-five years?
In 25 years, we'll see...
REMNICK: It would be nice to have some evidence about him. I mean, to see members of Congress come out and say that Edward Snowden was a tool of Russia from the get-go, that this was all a Russian operation, I worry about congressmen getting on the air and saying this without presenting any evidence whatsoever.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I mean, it happened twice in the last several days.
NOONAN: Can I note the whole NSA thing, when it started to break, a former U.S. senator, a very sober and serious man, called me up and he said if what we are reading is true about what the U.S. government can do to you, how it can, has the ability to invade your privacy, he said people are going to know this, they're going to get used to it and we're going to become a nation of sullen paranoids.
The big unanswered question is have we -- how do you keep America safe after 9/11, not have another 9/11 without not becoming not-America, without becoming un-American and not the thing we want to protect. You know what I mean? This is a big question. I don't think the president seriously addressed it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But I think it clearly showed that I think he's struggling with just that question.
NOONAN: Well, he's struggling, he's struggling...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Even if he doesn't have the answers just yet.
That does bring me to David's big piece. He spent several hours with the president over the last few months with his piece in the New Yorker this week called going the distance. There's a lot that you want there.
But one of the scenes that I was struck with you go back to a time was -- I guess it was 2007, he's a senator. He's meeting with Doris Kearns Goodwin and her husband Richard Goodwin, and he tells them he doesn't want to just be one of those presidents with his picture up on the wall, another Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce. And you said out in the piece that that's really the test, is he going to meet his own standard?
REMNICK: Well, his own standard -- and Tavis and I will argue about this, too, but I think that he's got -- William Daley told my colleague Brian Lisivet (ph) after 2014 no one cares what Obama does because the race for the successor begins to consume all the media air time and all our energies, maybe to a great fault of the media. And that's partly true.
I mean, things can happen a lot after that -- those mid-term elections. But this year is crucial and last year was awful, awful. And the healthcare rollout was a self-inflicted wound.
And I -- you know, I traveled with the president on one of these fundraising tours of the west coast and at each stop, he had to kind of perform his anger about what had happened. He had to show how -- and that's not easy for him, anger is not one of his go-to emotions. And he's got a lot that he wants to get done, whether it's about income inequality or about foreign policy, he has three huge foreign policy initiatives that have a less than 50/50 chance of succeeding even in his terms.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And that's what it seems like in the piece, he seems aware of that, aware of the limits of his power, what's the analogy he uses. He's just -- like all president, he's just a relay runner in the race.
REMNICK: Well, it's an unusual thing to hear a president sitting in office admit to the limits of power. And this is a habit of mine to Barack Obama, whether it has to do with the limits of power of the United States in the Middle East, which we're not used to hearing. We really -- we usually talk in grandiose terms -- or whether it's the limits of power with the president himself.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And James, how much is the talk about the limits of power actually reduce his power?
CARVILLE: Oh, I don't know. But we can't go in the Middle East and do the things we do. We can't -- you know, there was a day when Germany and Japan, our two biggest threats were vanquished, you know what I mean, we had a much more of a say (inaudible).
I don't think the American people are very anxious to go in and start dictating to people around the world on what they should do. I think (inaudible) is, hey, you fellows, you all figure stuff out over there, we're not going to get in the middle of it. And so I -- I think -- and also it's not just in the world, but I think in the United States there's a realization that there's some thing that we can do and some things we can't do and let's be careful here.
But I don't know if we want to return to like running the world.
SMILEY: I read David's piece last night --I thought it was a good piece, David -- but I think that the ultimate question is going to be here, how did he measure up as a leader? Did he get accomplished the things he said he wanted to get done.
My grandfather always said to me, Tavis, it's not about the work you do, it's about the work you get done. And I just don't know that the historical narrative that he wants is that it could have been worse. I don't think that's a winning storyline. And ultimately it's about did he get done what he said he was going to do? And I think that's an open question.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But Peggy Noon, if healthcare works he did.
NOONAN: OK, well -- that's...
NOONAN: Thank you very much, healthcare is not going to work, it's going to haunt him over at least the next two years, certainly in the coming year for the 10 reasons people like us always recite on talk shows.
But can I ask a question of David, I found I was fascinated by your piece. I found the president in the piece to be somewhat passive, somewhat thoughtful, smart, but going through the motions. You were with him I think three days. He's at fundraisers where he's handling rich people and he's playing cards on the plane.
I'll tell you the portrait struck me as, well, we don't have enough problems biggest man to be doing active and serious things while David Remnick is with him?
REMNICK: I think that's an odd reading...
REMNICK: I think all modern presidents raise funds for their party, that happens. I think George Bush did it, Bill Clinton did it. There's a mid-term election in the offing.
NOONAN: It just seemed a lot.
REMNICK: No, no. In the meantime, a government shutdown by the Republicans canceled an essential trip to Asia that had to be rescheduled, an essential trip to half the important nations in Asia was canceled completely by a Republican shutdown.
NOONAN: ..sense of philosophically accepting of non-success?
MATALIN: I think what was revelatory. I take Peggy's point is -- because you spent as much time you felt like that. But he does not ever convey a sense of urgency given the problems that the whole world is facing.
And what I loved about the piece -- and you are a great writer -- is the revelation that we all knew from the outside, the conceit, the naivete of I'm going to come to Washington, me, Barack Obama and make fundamental transformation. And if that's -- is I didn't know the IRS was tagging my opponent, I didn't know why (inaudible) healthcare act wasn't going to work, I don't know anything about Fast and Furious, I don't know anything about anything. Fundamental transformation, that goes to the lack of urgency...
STEPHANOPOULOS: ...Barack Obama. But we have some news attributed to (inaudible) on Chris Christie. You know, trying to turn the corner from his scandals this week, started off this week with a mea culpa in his state of the state address.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR DAWN ZIMMER, HOBOKEN: The fact is that the lieutenant governor came to Hoboken, she pulled him aside in the parking lot and she said I know I know it's not right, I know these things should not be connected, but they are, and if you tell anyone, I'll deny it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: That was the wrong clip right there, but that is what we're going to get to. That's mayor Dawn Zimmer of Hoboken, New Jersey with a pretty serious charge yesterday. She said that two Christie aids told her that if she did not back up a development project supported by Chris Christie, her city Hoboken would not get the kind of Hurricane Sandy aid they were looking for. Pretty serious charge, one she did not make earlier in the week when she said she didn't -- she couldn't back it up, but she backed it up with some diary entries at the time after these conversations.
How serious is this? And how serious overall are these problems for Chris Christie?
MATALIN: Essentially what the accusation here is that Chris Christie is doing New York, is doing Chicago politics. That's how Jersey politics has always been. I'm not saying it's true or it's not true, probably isn't true.
What is fascinating, though, is the obsession by everybody -- the Republican establishment, the media, on Chris Christie and what he should be doing. And James and I have been laughing for a week on our (inaudible) address. I've been in a toll booth outfit and go...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ...genius given to what 98 percent of America could give a hoot about it. It's what so interesting about this story.
CARVILLE: This is (inaudible). The (inaudible) scandal is a huge scandal. Hundreds of millions later -- billions of dollars. It never goes anywhere. Why? Because people can't understand it, OK. This is the most understandable thing in the world. We don't like the mayor, we closed off lanes, we left ordinary people in traffic for four days. I'm sorry, when you think about it, it's really, really...
REMNICK: Wait a minute, this is a politician who is thinking about running for president. We're trying to get a measure of the temperament, behavior and corruption or non-corruption under Chris Christie, somebody who very clearly wants to be president of the United States. I see no reason at all not to be looking at this and doing the journalism and see what he knew, what he didn't know, what he was responsible for and what he wasn't responsible for.
NOONAN: But I think you can say in fairness that the New York based media, which has certain political predilections or sympathies is pounding this guy everyday in a way, deserved or not, in a way that they did not apply to IRS, the Benghazi, this one, that one. It's true. That was not frontpage every day.
That having been said, look, Chris Christie is trying to stabilize his operation. Up until two days ago looked like it was getting kind of stable. Now we have the new Hoboken mayor, a Democrat, a person who gave a long interview on MSNBC. Seems like a sincere person. We'll see where that goes. If that's a serious story and holds water, it's going to be a serious story.
SMILEY: I stay out of handicapping presidential races two years out because eight years ago nobody saw Barack Hussein Obama coming number one.
Having said that, though, I'm no defender of Chris Christie. He doesn't need my help. But it is the case, as we sit here this morning, George, we still don't know what he knew. We don't know what he did. And, David, to your point, it's worth remembering that.
And ultimately, I think that no matter how this bridgegate thing turns out, if he can't build a bridge, Mary, to the conservative base of his party, he's on a road to nowhere anyway.
MATALIN: I don't disagree with that, completely don't disagree with it. And the point is why everybody is obsessed with it is because we already moved to 2016, which goes to your point, we haven't finished 2014, and Barack Obama...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But I mean, and Chris Christie is -- not his defense, but you look at the polls this week, he actually strengthened his position in New Hampshire over the course of this week.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Coming up, the Olympic fight over gay rights. Do gay athletes have anything to fear from Russia's propaganda law? President Putin and Billie Jean King are next.
And right before we go to break, our powerhouse puzzler. We ask you to submit political trivia question for our panelists. This week's question comes from Julie DeDominici (ph) "who was the only president who's first language was not English? For bonus points, which language did he speak?" We're back in two minutes to see who gets it right.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, there's This Week's puzzler. Who was the only president who's first language was not English? OK, everybody -- everyone is puzzled on this one.
REMNICK: I'm holding up a blank slate.
MATALIN: I'm saying Coolidge (ph), but I'm sure he was very proud to speak English.
CARVILLE: Not the foggiest idea, Millard Filmore.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I would not have gotten it either. The answer is Martin van Buren, eighth president of the United States. First language was Dutch.
SMILEY: Who knew?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Who knew.
REMNICK: But now we do.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Send us your questions, ABC This Week powerhouse puzzler. We'll be back with the roundtable's take on President Putin and the Olympics after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PUTIN (through translator): We aren't banning anything. We aren't rounding up anyone. We don't prosecute anyone for such relations, unlike many other countries. So one can feel relaxed and at ease. But please, leave the children in peace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Leave the children in peace. That was President Putin on Friday, defending the law that is threatening to overshadow these winter games. It bans, quote, "nontraditional sexual relationships to minors." It's causing a – propaganda about that – is causing a global uproar, some boycotts and questions over how Russia will treat gay athletes and tourists last month.
STEPHANOPOULOS: When the law passed last summer, protests quickly spread. President Obama weighed in too.
OBAMA: Nobody is more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation that you've been seeing in Russia. And one of the things I'm really looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze.
STEPHANOPOULOS (on camera): And I wonder if you can respond to that. And if gay and lesbian athletes engage in some sort of protest, wear a rainbow pin or some other kind of protest, will they be free from prosecution under the propaganda law?
PUTIN (through translator): Acts of protest and acts of propaganda are somewhat different things. They are close, but if we were to look at them from the legal perspective, then protesting a law does not amount to propaganda of sexuality or sexual abuse of children. That's one. Two is that I'd like to ask our colleagues, my colleagues and friends, that as they try to criticize us, they would do well to set their own house in order first. I did say, after all, and this is public knowledge, that in some of the states in the U.S., homosexuality remains a felony.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The Supreme Court has struck those laws down.
PUTIN (through translator): How are they in a position to criticize us for what is a much softer, liberal approach to these issues than in their own country? I know that this isn't something that can be easily done. This is so because there are a lot of folks in the U.S. who share the view that the legislation in their state or in their nation is appropriate, well grounded, and is in sync with the sentiment of the vast majority of the population.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): Russia's gay activists say that the climate there is getting ugly.
MASHA GESSEN (Journalist and LGBT Activist): The propaganda laws are almost the least of it. It's a huge concerted campaign that's unleashed by the Kremlin. It's a campaign of hate, and violence. So basically, it's a law that enshrines second-class citizenship.
PUTIN (through translator): It has nothing to do with prosecuting people for their nontraditional orientation. In this country, everybody is absolutely equal to anybody else, irrespective of one's religion, sex, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Everybody is equal. So no concerns exist for people who intend to come as athletes or visitors to the Olympics.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): But just yesterday, this Russian protester was detained for unfurling a rainbow flag during the Olympic torch relay.
Putin had no comment about President Obama's decision not to come to Sochi, a pointed protest the president underscored by naming prominent gays and lesbians like Billie Jean King to the U.S. delegation. She spoke to our Amy Robach.
BILLY JEAN KING, TENNIS LEGEND: Hopefully it will be a watershed moment because of the gay rights and for the LGBT community, bringing it to the forefront. It is the civil rights issue of the 21st century, so I'm very proud of the openly gay – for me personally, if I were still young enough to be going to the Olympics to perform, this would give me such high incentive. I'd be crazed. I'd be like, let's go.
AMY ROBACH: What would you say to Putin?
KING: To Putin?
AMY ROBACH: Yes.
KING: Please change this law. Just be inclusive. Champion everyone.
PUTIN (through translator): The Russian people have their own cultural code, their own traditions. We don't interfere. Don't stick our noses in their life. And we ask that our traditions and culture are treated with the same respect.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): His position: keep sports and politics separate. And when pressed, Putin pushes back.
PUTIN (through translator): Russia does not criminally prosecute people for being gay, unlike in over one-third of the world's nations. Seventy of the world's nations consider homosexual behavior a crime. Seven out of the 70 use capital punishment for homosexuality. What does it mean? Does it mean we need to cancel any major international sports events in those countries? Probably not.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): Putin's critics fear the real crackdown will come after Sochi, including proposed legislation threatening to take custody of children away from gay parents. That's why Gessen (ph) and her partner left Russia with their children last month.
MASHA GESSEN (Journalist and LGBT Activist): I would not be surprised if the Olympics went off without a hitch in terms of the anti-gay legislation. Russia doesn't want scandals with (inaudible). So I think we're not going to see any, possibly any incidents during the Olympics. But what happens after the Olympics is I think very scary.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Back now with the roundtable. I am going to go to David Remnick first. David, you reported for many years from the Soviet Union, from Moscow. And Putin is clearly doing these interviews because he wants to reassure people, but in some way, he even said at one point off camera, I have a lot of gay friends as well. But in some ways, he can't help himself. He absolutely believes this law is the right thing. Doesn't want to change it. And he even tied it at some point to the need to increase birth rates in Russia.
REMNICK: Well, it's a completely disingenuous answer that he gave you, because this law has given the signal for hate crimes all over the country. Loads of hate crimes, which are horrible. And there's videos of it on Youtube all over the place.
Second of all, it's given the cue to the state media, which is television is the key, to be completely and utterly homophobic. To turn on the television and see Russian Orthodox priests, members of parliament speak in the most disgusting homophobic way possible is completely dispiriting, highly influential, and completely sanctioned by the Kremlin. So one answer is what he says to broadcasters right on the edge of the Olympics, and there were some clemencies that came out as well. But this has had an enormous effect.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Hard to believe I think, Mary Matalin, that he'll actually go through with punishing people during the Olympics. They can't risk that.
MATALIN: Yes, and can I just say, I'm so sick of sports and politics. (inaudible), I am not gay, and I know I'm going to get in trouble for this, but all of my gay friends think he looks so buff in his shirtless photos.
MATALIN: I'm going to say, why is he even talking about this?
STEPHANOPOULOS: He has to talk about it. It's a huge controversy.
CARVILLE: I was involved unsuccessfully in the latest race, contest, for the chair of the International Olympic Committee. (inaudible). I can assure you of this, no country is ever going to get an Olympic games that has anything close to anything kind of a gay law or anything like that. This is one of these things where history is going to move on. They're not going to deal with this again. And so anybody that wants it, if they have got some of these kind of laws, they're going to have to clean them up, because the Olympic Committee before they award this, is going on notice. It's painful for these guys to go through this.
STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the other things we see from this are the fears of the terrorist threat as well, and that's now something that accompanies just about every major live event. These fears of a terrorist strike.
NOONAN: Oh, yes. That of course is the great issue that will overwhelm what we have been talking about. I think Putin, he is the head of a country, of an empire, in a way, that's going to be seeing more and more of the sort of thing it saw recently in the former Stalingrad, the Northern Caucuses emanated terrorism. I just think it's going to be a problem for a long time and a real strain for him for a long time.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Tavis Smiley, Mary says sports and politics shouldn't mix, do you expect to see protests?
SMILEY: I think there will be protests. And I think it was the former California governor who once said that he woke up in the morning to read the sports pages first. Because they told him man's accomplishment rather than his degradation. And now that seems to have switched.
The ultimate irony here is that the games that are supposed to be about all the things that we love and cherish, about what it means to be a human being, are now tarnished by this talk about gay rights and the threat of terrorism. And I think you're right, and it's a great interview you did with him. He's concerned, as he should be, that people aren't going to show up, because they're afraid of what might happen.
REMNICK: The games take place in the world. When Tommy Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in 1968, it took place in the world and it had an effect. And this argument is a legitimate argument to have, because the focus is on Russia. And I think it's all for the better.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And that's the last word. Thank you all, terrific discussion today. We'll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And now we honor our fellow Americans who serve and sacrifice. This week the Pentagon released the names of four soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
And that is all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "World News with David Muir" tonight. I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA."