Hardball | November 14, 2012
>>> start with this. think a second, think if this election had gone the other way. john boldin, not susan rice , would be the hot talk for secretary of state. war clouds would be overhead and the would be marching. just think self-deportation would be the name of the game for immigration. voter suppression would be the toast of the town , or certain parts of town. the extinction of health care would be hr-1, up there on the front burner for congressional action. just think, if the election had gone the other way the rich would be basking in the best tax protection known to man, a real-life, genuine mandate to leave them and their money alone. but a funny thing happened on the way to the white house . people voted for tax fairness. they voted to make the rich pay their share, specifically voted that way for one thing because the republicans kept warning them not to. and so it came to pass today that president obama said just that at his press conference. give the middle class their tax cuts , speaker boehner . cut it loose so they can go christmas shopping , senator mcconnell. the it's what the people voted. that's why they voted for me. that's the president talking. joined by chuck todd . thanks for joining us tonight. this was a hot pressure cooker press conference and you were in the middle. let's talk about the president's tactic. it looks like he's got one. here he is sticking out his message of defending the middle class today, sticking to it. he practically dared the republicans to hold tax cuts for the middle class hostage. he went back to that word hostage. let's take a look.
>> the other option is to pass a law right now that would prevent any tax hike whatsoever on the first $250,000 of everybody's income. i hope republicans in the house come on board, too. we should not hold the middle class hostage while we debate tax cuts for the wealthy. the most important step we can take right now, i think the foundation for a deal that helps the economy, creates jobs, gives consumersty, which means gives consumers confidence they'll have consumers during the holiday season if we right away say 98% of mrnz aren't going to see their taxes go up.
>> i thought that was pretty well crafted as a tactic. i don't know if it's a strategy. basically saying, republicans , we're going to put a lot of pressure on you because middle class , 97% of the country want those tax cuts kept, they to want keep them, go holiday shopping. don't use the rich people and their purposes as an excuse to screw the middle class .
>> reporter: that's right. look, the one thing the president did do is he did leave himself a tiny bit of wiggle room for republicans to say, hey, i'm willing to listen to a compromise if you don't want to just move all of the bush tax rates up to the clinton tax rates , essentially, from 35% to 39%. obviously, the president was making his case, hey, that bill, it passed the senate. it's sitting there. if the house passes it, then we've passed the tax rates for the 98%. then have you this other debate. he left himself -- what was interesting there, when i pressed him about, is this a red line , are you not going to support any deal that doesn't raise tax rates on the wealthy and he stopped short of that.
>> let's watch that, chuck. let's watch it because it was your question. you asked him, as you just said, if there was room for a deal that didn't include -- did not include a return of the clinton era tax cuts of 39.6% for the wealthy people. here's what the president said in response to you. let's watch.
>> with respect to the tax rates , i just want to emphasize, i am open to new ideas. if the republican counterparts or some democrats have a great idea for us to raise revenue, maintain progressivety, make sure the middle class isn't getting hit, reduces our deficit, encourages growth, i'm not going to just slam the door in their face.
>> chuck, you're sharp as hell on this but let me suggest another interpretation. he went in there with one goal, like ronald reagan used to do, i want one headline, don't let the middle class be held hostage. he repeated it over and over again.
>> reporter: he said it 19 times.
>> he didn't want the headline to be switched by adversarial press or neutral press that didn't to want go with his line to say him, adamantings president adamant on rich paying 39.6%. maybe that's why you softened up to you. just an interpretation.
>> reporter: i can tell you congressional republicans were happy with his response. they like to know there is some give. here's where the give could be, chris . nobody's talked about this. i mean, there's been some behind the scenes chatter on this, which is you could see tax rates temporarily go up just not all the way to 39%. it could be somewhere in the middle. ends up being the compromise for the one year. don't forget, this is all about setting the tax rates simply for 2013 , while they negotiate larger tax reform . so, that could be what the wiggle room is. obviously, republicans have said they don't want to raise tax rates at all. they're fine with revenue. and the president's sitting there saying, i'm open to that. i'm open to listening to your ideas. i don't believe the math works without raising rates. well, what's the middle ground ? raising tax rates halfway in between 35% and 39%. i'm just saying, that's where you can find the middle ground , the wiggle room, the potential as a way of giving -- the republicans are looking for an out on this. they need some sort of out. they know they're not going to win the fight simply on no raising of tax rates at all. but i think they want to feel as if there is some give there. and the president at least for now reer to to reer toicly --
>> john boehner is listening to the future, he's listening to his party --
>> reporter: they want a deal.
>> they want a deal. do you think the republicans are listening to the brains out like this like kristol and other thinkers, do you think they're willing to say we've been to prejudice to the rich. is that foreseeable?
>> reporter: here's what i can tell you. when you talk to leadership and do reporting on that, they want a deal. they're ready for a deal. and they're not that far off. the problem is, can you find a minimum -- let's just say a minimum of 35 house republicans who can commit themselves to voting for a raise of tax rates . it would be and could be primary suicide for those 35 republicans . because we know these gerry man der districts. that's the problem boehner had. if boehner had 35 safe republicans , safe from a primary challenge , safe from somebody from the right on taxes, i think this deal would have happened even a lot sooner. they might have gone ahead and passed parts of -- most of that bill that came through the senate.
>> they have to schedule -- the thing about leadership is they have to schedule a bill. that's the tricky part. let's take a look at this. a very interesting moment in the press conference today, extremely interesting when president obama was asked about comments from his former opponent, john mccain , who made some nasty comments about susan rice , the united states ambassador to the u.n. and she may well be the head of the state department soon. here's the president responding in a very personal way. i thought this was really a moment here.
>> let me say specifically about susan rice . she has done exemlary work. she has represented the united states and united nations with skill and professionalism and toughness and great. if senator mccain and senator graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. when they go after the u.n. ambassador, apparently because they think she's an easy target, then they've got a problem with me. and should i choose -- if i think that she would be the best person to serve america in the capacity -- the state department , then i will nominate her. that's not a determination i've made yet.
>> why don't you be our u.n. interpreter right now and explain all the elements of that amazing response. it was personal, poignant, emotional, also careful because he said i may not make her the united states secretary of state but i don't want her to get the idea or anybody in the world to get the idea f i don't give her the job it's because of benghazi in that statement.
>> reporter: absolutely right. here's the thing. this has bothered the white house for weeks. the idea that susan rice is taking the fall, taking these attacks, particularly from john mccain and lindsey graham , because all she was doing, she had gotten the same intelligence briefing that members of congress did, republicans and democrats, that david petraeus signed off on, the director of cia wrote the assessment, that's what she was doing. there are people in the white house , particularly the president, but a lot of support staff feel as if susan rice has gotten a raw deal on this. that she has been a political punching bag, if you will, over the last month and a half because of the presidential campaign , because of other things. so, this point when mccain and graham did their thing, that's why the president felt he needed to stand up for his u.n. ambassador. there's -- obviously he was giving off an indication he's willing to have a confirmation fight if they want to have one. but there's more to this chris . there's more to this. this goes back to mccain and obama, they never -- they never had a warm relationship after the 2008 election. mccain , i think, has been tougher on the president than in the reverse. the president has sort of not taken the bait when mccain has hit him and hit him pretty hard. and i think this was an indication the president is ready to sort of fight back when it comes to mccain . this is not a good relationship. let's not pretend it ever has a chance of being one.
>> you know what it reminds me of? the way nixon could never deal with the fact kennedy was beloved and he tried to smear his reputation from bay of pigs . he was digging for jewels over the cia .
>> reporter: it's always been personal. i tell you, it feels like it's personal with mccain . i don't know if it was ever personal before with the president. now it actually feels like it might be. personal with the president, too. it's just -- it's just one of those, just like kennedy --
>> i understand. we can figure these things out. thanks, chuck. chuck todd at the white house .
>>> now joining us is u.s. congressman james clyburn from south carolina , member of the house leadership. let's talk about the real politics of equity, fairness, real democratic values, congressman. you're in the leadership. you're going to make the call. does the president have to win -- i think he has to -- does he have to win on making sure the wealthy of this country get back to paying what they paid under clinton ?
>> absolutely. he's just absolutely got to win that. and i think he will win that. but let me say, chris , thank you so much for having me. may i say something about susan rice ?
>> i have a real, real problem with my senior senator trying to make her a scapegoat in this. susan rice 's roots are in florence, south carolina , that i got the opportunity to serve for almost 20 years in the congress. her father, who -- emitt, born in florence, didn't leave there until he was 16 years old, i've been a close friend of his over the years. i'm a close friend of susan rice . i think it's absolutely a shame for this young lady 's whose roots are deep in south carolina soil to get treated like this by my senior senator .
>> let's talk about motive here. even if you think a person made a mistake, they were given the wrong brief, they don't think -- they haven't said she made it up. why is this hostility to this young public servant who isn't much -- who isn't a politician even. she serves in foreign affairs capacity. she isn't in the arena with you guys. why are they treating her like someone to punch?
>> this young african- american woman , i'm going to say. this is the kind of stuff that happened to colin powell . he was given information. he went to the united nations with information we found out later was flawed. it was not his fault then --
>> well, i think he's still mad about that. i think colin powell is still angry about the crap they gave him, so to speak. that's my feeling. of course i like him.
>> i do, too. and i think susan rice is getting a raw deal here. now, back to --
>> let's talk taxes and the middle class and how the president. it seems this president was crystal clear on looking out for the middle class . if you're rich, have you to pay a little more. those are the stakes. on election night . he's claiming them now.
>> that's exactly right. that's exactly right. he campaigned on the issues that he's laid before the american people . he's talked about $1.6 trillion in revenues. i think mr. boehner 's now talking about $800 billion, somewhere in between that we ought to get to -- and i do believe that the president is in a very good place on this issue. i think the american people have demonstrated with their votes and they continue to demonstrate with all the comment i've heard that the president is where the american people like for him to be on this issue. middle income americans have given a lot. and they have given and given and given. just look at this war -- or these wars we have fought. basically the people fighting in these wars, they have come from middle income america. we are talking about people who seem not to have a vested interest in all of the sacrifices that are being made to get our economy back on track. so, the president is right where the american people like for him to be. and i hope and i feel that he will hold the line on these issues.
>> it's great to have you on, sir. such a great man. i mean that. every time i hear you talk, i say, yes, yes, yes. congressman james clyburn , one of the leaders in the house of representatives . thank you for coming on.
>> thank you for having me.
>>> coming up, notes on a scandal , the e-mails, the letters, if you really have to hold your ear -- i don't think you will, by the way. this is getting fascinating. the phone call now, the photo, new developments all around this crazy david petraeus story involving our top general in afghanistan, most recent head in the cia , all involved in this strange quartet of relationships.
>>> liberals being liberals. how about no don't ask don't tell about being a liberal. five true blue liberals have been re-elected to the united states senate and they don't hide their colors. that's changed.
>>> the dog whistle . it's still whistling out there. listen to the co-chairs of mitt romney 's wisconsin campaign saying he would have won that state if voter i.d. laws were intact. by the way, president obama won wisconsin by 205,000 votes. are they saying 205,000 votes were stolen? what are they talking about out there? are they admitting what we all know republican voter i.d. laws were an effort to suppression the minority vote and failed? tough luck.
>>> here's the spokesman for the american family association on why latinos vote for democrats.
>> it has to do with the fact that they are socialists by nature. they come from mexico, which is a socialist country .
>> yeah, people are basically intrinsically idea logical. i've never heard that. that will win a lot of hispanic votes, telling people there's something wrong with their political dna. some people