Morning Joe | December 14, 2012
>>> i've done sunday shows many times in the past. secretary clinton had originally been asked by most of the networks to go on. she had had an incredibly grueling week dealing with the protests around the middle east and north africa that had enveloped our embassy. she had to deal with the loss of our four colleagues in benghazi and console the whole state department , greet the families and the bodies. and she declined to do it. it wasn't what i had planned for that weekend originally, but i don't regret doing that, brian. i think when you're a diplomat and a public official and a tragedy happens and it is related to the work that you do, it's our obligation to try to explain it as best we can to the american people . and that's what i did.
>> welcome back to " morning joe ." here with us now from washington, the moderator of "meet the press," david gregory along with pulitzer prize -winning columnist eugene robinson . and here in new york, from bloomberg, marpg rhegaret carlson along with donny deutsch and richard wolffe . we were talking with andrea mitchell about the interview on "meet the press" that really, i guess you could argue, led to this moment, although there are other counterarguments that maybe she wasn't as much in the running. having said that, i felt watching that -- i didn't understand why susan rice was chosen to do that interview. and andrea mitchell seemed to back that up saying it wasn't even in her per viurrvie purview.
>> i have a slightly different view. i've had ambassador rice on the program prior to that on national security matters. i mean, she's a key member of the national security team. this is all borne out by what we know about how close she is to president obama and that what an early adviser on foreign policy he was to her. so she's always been in the room. she's always been a key player. i think in this particular instance, it was a very tricky time. don't forget, there were a lot of questions about whether the administration was soft pedaling what the attack in benghazi actually was. why weren't they calling it a terror attack ? was the criticism that was coming from a lot of different quarters. so you're right, secretary clinton declined to come on that morning. it's often difficult to get secretary clinton on the program on "meet the press" or any sunday program. and ambassador rice was available. so i don't think it was unusual that she was there, but it doesn't detract from the fact that she was in a difficult position. her defenders said it again last night. she was very clear to caveat what she was saying about what was not known. if there was a sense that she was putting her thumb on the scale describing this as a spontaneous protest rather than a terror attack , i've talked to people inside the white house who say, look, that's on us. that's on how we decide it as an administration to communicate this, this isn't on her. but in the end, the criticism that stuck to her that would have made this such a tough process is that she, according to critics, played this as more of a political operative and not just purelydiplomat. she vigorously pushes back against this, as do others, but that's what really sort of prevailed at the end of the day . and i think what would have made this nomination very long and potentially costly to the white house .
>> eugene robinson , just your take, if you could, on the events of the past 24 hours and pain your instinct on what you think really happened.
>> well, susan rice went on david 's show and on other shows just to recite the talking points that had been given her by the intelligence committee . that's a completely bogus reason, i think, for her to have had all this grief and ultimately to have to withdraw. so i don't blame her in this, really. i wonder why the white house , if president obama really did want susan rice as secretary of state. i'm not convinced that he had made that decision. you know, why didn't he make the nomination? then she would have had a posse around her. she would have had the weight of the administration around her and i think would have been in a much better position to survive these sort of attacks. and if the president hadn't made up his mind, why didn't he, given the fact that his close adviser for a long time now was in this situation? i think he could have -- he could have or should have done something to avoid this sort of end.
>> margaret carlson , i just want your take, first of all, on what's happened but also just touching on the conversation we had before we took to the airwaves in the break about women and being aggressive and how we need to -- and there's a lot of successful women are extremely aggressive, but it was interesting in the days after the "meet the press" interview when her name was coming up as a potential for secretary of state, everybody described her as so in your face, aggressive as if it was so surprising.
>> yeah, sharp elbowed.
>> could be that way, it has nothing to do with what happened here. what is your take, and do you think, as i feel, that she was put in a bad position when she went on "meet the press" that day.
>> you know, in other fields, as a woman, you can be sharp and aggressive and blunt, as she was described. but you really can't so much in politics. the model is to be more conciliatory. in fact, there's --
>> is that hillary clinton ? would we describe hillary clinton that way?
>> more than susan rice . i think, yes.
>> she's pretty blunt and in your face.
>> i think at the very beginning hillary's problem was that she was blunt and in your face. and that all went away. i don't think she's that way now. at all. but just back to your point, you know, we're not equal until we can be blunt and aggressive and sharp -elbowed and still get the job.
>> it's not pointed out as unusual.
>> right. the white house decides in many cases who goes on the talk shows . and hillary clinton is not a talk show person.
>> it just seemed -- you know, the reaction was so disproportionate. she's on a talk show . she hasn't been nominated. and mccain and senator lindsey graham decided to make her this cause.
>> david ?
>> yeah, i think -- well, i think that's true, that there's no question that all of the arrows about benghazi got directed toward her when there were questions -- i mean, what are the real questions about benghazi , and i've talked to some of the fiercest republican critics -- it's about the security questions . it's about the u.s. footprint on the ground. it's about how state and the cia coordinated with one another. at the broader level, it's about what kind of projection of american power do we want to have in this new era of foreign policy and national security . these are the big philosophical questions. not about what the talking points were. and everybody involved in this will concede that. i think where she got caught up in this particular area is as somebody who became prominent in describing this in a way that a lot of people felt was totally soft pedaling what actually happened. the president never answered completely what was going on. he said there's an investigation. we'll wait for that. so there was not, as gene points out, a vigorous defense of susan rice in her particular role while these questions kept mounting. and there's one other element of this. you know, in this town, there's also the role of some personal diplomacy and falling on the sword and whatnot. susan rice went to capitol hill to meet with key senators. and apparently those meetings -- not just apparently, i can tell you, they did not go well. who's to blame for that? i can't say or make a judgment about. but that gambit did not work. when susan collins came out and was another voice even separate from mccain and graham said, look, she appeared to play more of a political role than a diplomatic role, and i've got a problem with that. that only fueled this further.
>> margaret, you've known john mccain for a long time, written about him for many years. you know, there's a lot of speculation that maybe he was getting worried about losing his chairmanship on the armed services committee and the many requests he gets for himself to be on the sunday talk shows . why did he do this?
>> you know, he has some leftover anger, perhaps, from his own campaign. and did you see him blanch -- i mean, this is a small washington moment, but when john kerry made -- you know, he made the little joke about john kerry , calling him mr. secretary, revealing what he wanted. and kerry says, "thank you, mr. president." and he's ashen. that's still, i think, roils senator mccain . and so this anger kind of spills over. not to diminish talk shows . i mean, this is the most important place in the universe, right? and "meet the press" as well. but she said these things on a talk show . and they became as big as colin powell before the u.n. or condoleezza rice and the mushroom clouds . i mean, when these figures are testifying. it was such a -- you know, they were looking -- senator mccain was looking for something.
>> he didn't run against susan rice in a presidential election. so why take it out on susan rice ?
>> she's obama's surrogate in this case.
>> david ?
>> richard, i know the point that you're making -- and again, this is not about the merits -- but mccain and graham and then senator ayotte, i mean, they were looking and are still looking to blame this administration about what happened in benghazi , they do not feel they've been forthcoming. there's huge policy issues with how we went into libya. so i'm not surprised that they went after a surrogate of the president to not only go after those particular points but the broader benghazi approach. i mean, the idea that there's a proxy for the president who, you know, is getting a lot of the blame, i don't know that it's particularly surprising. again, that's not a judgment about the merits of this particular case. but, i mean, i think that part's not surprising.
>> gene, really quickly, a lot of people around the table said she did this completely on her own. there was no nudge from the president, no potential deal going forward. i'm a cynic. i believe there had to be a little nudge here.
>> maybe there was a nudge, maybe there was a wink, maybe a shrug of a shoulder, i don't know. but clearly i think she was reading what she perceived to be writing on the wall . and, look, there was the fact that she hadn't yet been nominated. so she keeps looking over her shoulder, and the reinforcements don't come. and so she's just hanging out there. you know, one other interesting thing about this is how the senate tends to protecti its own and to lovitz own. and the obvious question, i think, that benghazi poses is about security at state department insulations in dangerous parts of the world. and that's a question for hillary clinton . secretary clinton to answer. and it's not being posed in the same sort of sharp way towards its former member of the senate. for that matter, the senate seems to be terribly eager to confirm one of its own, john kerry , as the next secretary of state. so it really is an exclusive club.
>> mika, i also think if the president really wanted to take her out of this state of limbo and double down on her as his pick, even his potential pick, he probably could have come out in the last couple of weeks and really answered a lot of these questions, tried to take some of the heat off of her. i think it had to be clear to her that he was keeping some options open, did not want to be penned in.
>> by them sort of daring him to nominate her. and i think that had to factor into her thinking.
>> and hillary clinton was quiet and slow to --
>> right, until last week when she did come out rather notably to defend her. some people think that was too late, but she was there doing that.
>> she did say she's my indispensable partner, but it was a little late and she was hanging out in kind of a limbo.
>> it was rough.
>> i learned today hillary clinton doesn't have sharp elbows. amazing.
>> there are sharp elbows and there are sharp elbows.
>> razor elbows.
>> she's very sensitive, mika, to elbows.
>> you don't even know it's happening to you when hillary clinton 's doing it. david , thank you. who do you have on this sunday?
>> also, as you know, secretary clinton testifies on benghazi next week, so i'll talk to lindsey graham who led the charge against rice and senator dianne feinstein has been not too happy with the way graham has described some of this with rice. also, who's going to blink in the fiscal cliff. we'll get into that.
>> very cool. thanks. eugene robinson , thank you as well. margaret carlson , great to see you here in new york.
>>> still ahead, we'll bring in louisiana -- we'll bring some louisiana flavor to new york city this weekend. new orleans mayor mitch landrieu joins us to explain his city's pay-it-forward initiative. helping those still recovering from hurricane sandy. that's straight ahead on " morning joe ." [ male announcer ] you are a business pro. monarch of marketing analysis. with the ability