Morning Joe | March 07, 2013
>>> does the constitution allow a u.s. citizen on u.s. soil who doesn't pose an imminent threat to be killed by the u.s. government ?
>> i do not believe -- again, you have to look at all of the fact. but on the facts that you have given me -- and this is a hypothetical -- i would not think that in that situation the use of a drone or lethal force would be appropriate because --
>> general holder, i have to tell you, i find it remarkable that in that hypothetical, which is deliberately very simple, you are unable to give a simple one-word, one-syllable answer, no.
>> it's a good question. i think he sort of answered it, didn't he?
>> i think he gave the best answer he can, given the circumstances.
>> i think the answer is no. welcome back to " morning joe ." steve rattner's still with us. joining the table, msnbc political analyst and vice president and executive editor of msnbc.com, richard wolffe . also senior political editor and white house correspondent for the huffington post , proving just how few years the huffington post has been around, senior anything.
>> it's going to be that type of morning.
>> former white house press secretary under president clinton and contributing editor to " vanity fair ," dee dee myers . people always express wonderment that you could impeach bill clinton in the morning, and in the afternoon, he'd be playing golf with you. because he always knew the next legislative battle was coming. and he wanted you on his side. i really -- i salute president obama for starting to get these republicans over last night. not expecting anything immediately, but at least taking that first step.
>> no, it was good to see. and i think it was met universally with positive feedback from people who were watching. you know, relationships don't get built in one meeting or one dinner or one lunch with paul ryan today. it takes that over and over and over again over a longer period of time. so i hope that the president will, you know, invest the time now to build the relationships and build the trust that will allow us to stop having these self-manufactured crises every couple of months.
>> do you think the outcome of the sequester may have been one of the drivers for the president to start doing this?
>> yeah, i think he realized that there were limits to his effectiveness campaigning against the republican house . when the republican house starts at 8% approval, how much further are you going to be able to drive it down?
>> you know, how much can you really change the dynamic that's sort of locked in that way? so that approach wasn't particularly successful. so it's time to try something else. and this is something he's been getting a lot of advice about recently, that he's been a little aloof. he hasn't invested time building relationships on either side of the aisle, quite frankly , and ma maybe it's time to try a different approach. and this was a great first step. you know, the dinner last night, lunch today. he's been calling senators from both sides of the aisle. you know, i hope he keeps it up.
>> that's great news. i hope so, too. the politics of it, richard wolffe , is the fact that the president campaigned, whatever he wants to campaign, but there are some of these republicans in gerrymandered districts that know that if they vote for two tax increases in three months without getting entitlement reform, they will get beaten.
>> that clearly -- so it seems to me the president is tipping his hat to the political reality that's in front of me.
>> well, that's true. by the way, so is everyone. you have a dinner outside of the white house , it's not the right thing, not good politics to not show up, right? so everyone has to look like they're behaving nicely. but what you said was interesting. tax raises without entitlement reform, entitlement reform is on the table. now, we can debate about whether it's big enough and whether it's quick enough.
>> but everyone says it's on the table in which case there is a deal to be done if people are willing to put aside scoring political points over each other. you know, if the president says chained cpi and he does it on "meet the press," then he shouldn't really take a dinner to deliver that message again, but that's what it takes in washington.
>> i think it does take him to sit down and have people know, i'm not going to send out a press release. i'm not going to hold a press conference. let's sit down and talk over the table.
>> sure. i think there's two factors here. i talked to some white house officials about this. the first is i think they did get a message from the cable media echo chamber . i know they're pained to say it, but there have been complaints about the inability or the unwillingness by the president to do these types of things. i think they took those complaints to heart and they are going to do it. now they hope that that type of complaining won't happen down the road. that they'll point to this moment and say he did his best. the second thing is now that sequestration is behind us, everyone assumes that there's going to be some kind of agreement on the cr, the continuing resolution. we're kind of beyond those days of the crisis politics, of the countdown clock . there is no fiscal cliff. there is no sequestration clock. we are going to probably have a fund of government until september. so you can have the space to do these types of relationship-building exercises, whereas in the past, it was too frantic to actually build the type of relationships needed to get legislation done.
>> but the flip side of that, unfortunately, is we also don't have a triggering mechanism to force a deal. a lot of us thought the fiscal cliff was so draconian, the tax increases, the spending cuts, that people would have to do something. and obviously --
>> and that didn't happen. and i think this is -- the counterargument is that now you have to build relationships to do a deal.
>> right. we also had the last four years to build relationships. we'll put that aside for the moment.
>> can i just say, steve, you always have to build relationships. to make a deal. i've just never -- i've never, in all my life, until the past four years, have i heard any political side make the suggestion that oh, relationships are just maybe nice, but they're not necessary to make deals. in every aspect of my life, you've always -- you always go -- and i never try to make the deal at the first meeting or the second meeting or the third meeting. at the fourth meeting, something may slip in there. and then you start moving.
>> they are necessary. and i certainly get that. and again, i don't want to be the house pessimist, but you do also have beneath that problem, once you get past that problem, some very strong, heartfelt ideological differences between the two sides.
>> but those differences aren't going away.
>> which is all the more reason, dee dee , that you have these meetings because you do have -- i mean, if you -- i mean, i've been in mediation, legal mediation before, as a lawyer. you know, yes, the ones where the people were the furthest apart on money, those were the mediations that took the longest to bring them together. but as long as you had two people looking for a deal, there was always a deal to be made. unless you're dealing with certain insurance companies .
>> you have to spend the time to invest in the relationship baz because you can't do it, when you're in crisis mode, to build the relationship. that's the time to build into that bank of relationship investment and, you know, be able to create a small space of trust and mutual self-interest, and then you build a deal from there. and without that relationship, you can't even get to the first step. and so i think it's -- you know, i wish the president had done it a few years ago. i wish the republicans had been more willing to do it a few years ago. look, everybody's there now. let's see if we can move it forward and see what happens.
>> so bill clinton and newt gingrich were like two old southern country lawyers. because, you know, we'd be in trial. and it would be for a week. and it would be ugly for one day. the second day would be ugly. finally, there would be like a break after the third or fourth day. and what would happen? everybody would wander out. they would be in recess. and then the two lawyers would run into each other and say hey, how you doing? then they'd go off to a side room and just talk. they'd go, boy. and then they'd start talking, complaining about their clients, you know? man, we've got the best case , but my client, wow! a little crazy. which, of course, that's what newt would always say about us. and then they'd commiserate. the other side would complain about their client being unreasonab unreasonable. again, in this casual setting away from the court, away from the judge, away from everything else, and finally after spending all this time, one would say to the other, hey, how do we get this done? how do we get this done? and if people at home are saying, wait a second, that's the courtroom and not congress. they ignore the fact that most of the people in congress come in with this mindset because a lot of them are lawyers.
>> look, what you raise is an interesting dynamic. where you can find a common enemy, there's also room for negotiation. and remember, this president when he was in the senate, his best friends were not democrats. actually, democrats didn't really much like him. his best friends were republicans. people like dick lugar , chuck hagel . this is a president who is now going to this republican group and saying, i can bring along democrats. and you're not going to get another president for some time, a democrat at least, who can bring democrats along on things like entitlement reform. now, again, you may disagree, but there's a real dynamic where the republican party is now saying okay, we used to think our mission was to make him a one-term president. he's clearly not. can we deal with him? that's what's also changed. not just the dinner. the dinner is just the means to an end . the question is whether the dynamic is washington has changed because republican senators are not saying anymore, we need to make him a failure. and he can go to them and say, i can bring this party on.
>> one thing that stood out for the administration was this ezra kline post where he was talking to this unnamed republican congressman about deficit reduction. and the congressman didn't know that the administration had offered chained cpi. he just didn't know it. and the administration sort of looked and said how could they not possibly know that's on the table? that was a problem. they couldn't communicate. they couldn't figure out what it was. they felt they had to reach out, get them more involved, let them know where they stood in order to start the deal-making process.
>> dee dee , what's so interesting is that if you had talked to the president before the election and said, okay, mr. president, if you get re-elected, how are things going to change? and the president's response was to everybody that asked him that question, well, if i get re-elected, then republicans are going to understand, i'm here to stay. and they're going to have to deal with me. what's so fascinating is you've heard people on the left over the past week or two start to say, if you look at the numbers, if you look at the house races, we hate to admit it, but the republican house is here to stay. they're probably not going to lose in 2014 . and now -- and this really is, when these realities settle in and sink in in cement, i saw it when i was up there. i know you saw it when you were up there. when the reality sinks in, that's when everybody says, okay. i guess i'm going to have to deal with these people. ugh. pick up the fun. ugh. hey, bill.
>> they're out of other options.
>> there are no other options. you can't strike deals with the martian congress. you've got to talk to the democrats.
>> and it's in everybody's self-interest to move forward on some of these questions like the budget. there's only one way to do that now, which is to find a way to talk. and joe, back to your analogy about two southern lawyers. you know, they're not just talking. they're listening. they're listening for that signal that says, you know, my client's crazy, and i'm ready to make a deal, right? and so, you know, i hope that the president -- i hope that the republicans last night and i hope paul ryan today would be listening for that opening, that place you can start to build a deal. it's not going to be easy. nobody thinks this is a major turning point in democratic/republican relations, but it's at least a different approach.
>> you know, we had some bipartisanship yesterday on the senate floor. when you had rand paul going out complaining about something, a lot of us around this table have been complaining about for some time, and those were the drone strikes and the drone policy this administration has been moving forward over the past several years. specifically the targeting of americans , rand paul took to the floor to filibuster john brennan 's confirmation. b brennan's going to be confirmed despite a 13-hour filibuster by the kentucky senator that ended after midnight last night.
>> i'm not asking any questions about the president's motives. i frankly don't think he will be killing people in restaurants tonight or in their house tonight. but this is about the rule of law. it isn't so much about him. it isn't so much about john brennan . it's about having rules so that someday if we do have the misfortune of electing someone you do not trust, electing someone who might kill innocent people, who might kill people that they disagree with politically or they might kill people who they disagree with religiously or might kehl people of another ethnic group , we're protected. that's what these protections are about.
>> boy, i'll tell you, that was an important statement for me. and i loved what rand paul said last night. i know "the wall street journal " editorial page disagrees. a lot of other people disagree. a lot of the president's supporters disagree. but man. the slope got so much more slippery when we started killing americans .
>> without really legal justification.
>> that was a great moment.
>> to be clear, we killed one.
>> and the son. we killed two at least.
>> well, a couple were accidental. there was one target.
>> no, no, no, no. we killed the american that we said was a terrorist. and then we killed his son. and the justification was that his son should have had a better father. it is a drone policy that's out of control.
>> regardless if he killed -- regardless if we killed one or two, i mean, what they were doing was important.
>> if i could just say really quickly, the problem was the justification.
>> the justice department and barack obama 's administration put forward for not only killing those americans but killing americans in the future.
>> yes. the question, of course, comes down to imneminence, whether there's an imminent threat . the important part is we have very little in terms of legal rationale from the administration about where the lines are drawn. what senator paul is saying, it's a hypothetical scenario. it's almost surely not going to happen where someone is not in imminent threat . a u.s. citizen in a town somewhere, can we attack them with drones? it's a very easy question to say yes or no to. i agree with that. he's trying to shed light on the administration hasn't given a concrete answer.
>> i'm interested how you draw the line around justification. if you think it's wrong to kill people without justification, why do you say it's about american citizens?
>> it's the constitutional aspect.
>> you should apply that to everyone in which case the problem --
>> no, no, no.
>> the problem with this is -- the problem in this is actually saying we have suspected militants who have not yet moved to an actual execution of a plot. and we're killing them.
>> right. yeah, but nobody actually -- nobody around this table is really saying we shouldn't go after a kuwaiti or a saudi if they're in the early stages of a plot, but you are saying if it's an american citizen , that's a wholly different situation.
>> i didn't say -- i just want to clear up something. i never said one or the other is good or not. i'm saying there's a serious lack of concrete rationales here.
>> we have a constitution to the united states that guarantees every american certain constitutional rights . so yes. there is a difference between the united states government , our government, deciding to kill a united states citizen .
>> if they're on the battlefield in a uniform fighting against american forces , you would say those constitutional rights actually are not the same.
>> that teenage boy that was sitting at a restaurant and was killed because his father was supposedly an al qaeda member is disturbing. we could go to the specifics of that. but what's even more disturbing is, again, not more disturbing than killing of a teenage american boy just because his father was an alleged terrorist. what's more disturbing is, eric holder 's justification for killing those americans and any other americans where they don't have due process . there doesn't have to even be an imminent threat . they don't have to be in the process of launching an attack against the united states .
>> but the problem here is what is the battlefield? what is the battlefield, and what is the enemy uniform? how do --
>> that is the moral question. that is the philosophical question. it is not about citizenship.
>> because i'm going agree with you, i think. we declared war on terror --
>> this is liberal on liberal on liberal violence. i love watching this.
>> liberal on rib lliberals in a role reversal, i think.
>> i've been this way for a while.
>> in any event, we declared war on terror on september 11th , 2001 . there are not lines of people massed somewhere in the world that we can identify and go and attack. if there were, i would have in and out -- you would have no doubt that in world war ii on d-day, we would have used drones. we would have not spent a lot of time worrying about whether there was an american citizen behind enemy lines in uniform or not. that's a fact, i think. i believe that we are at war with these terrorists. and i don't believe they have to have their grenade launchers to their shoulders before we can target them. i believe the military should do what it has to do. i do agree that the legal justification they put out was gibberish. i'm not a lawyer, but i couldn't make any sense of it. and so i think they have to give a better explanation and justification. but i think the concept that drones are a part of how we're fighting the war on terror to me is very acceptable.
>> well, i think it has to continue to be debated because i think there's going to be a tremendous amount of blowback, dee dee , if we don't start targeting those that we're trying to kill more narrowly. also, i've just got to say, again, this is not -- this is not a distinction without a difference . i remember back -- i think it was 2004 or 2005 , i was supportive of george w. bush and many of the things he did in the first couple of years after 9/11. but i remember reading a "new york times" article on a sunday about padilla, an american citizen accused of trying to launch a dirty bomb attack in new york city , i think it was. and i saw that this american citizen had been locked in jail for several years, had not been given the right to counsel, had not been given basic rights that every american is guaranteed to have under the constitution. and i remember saying at the time, that was outrageous, and it was wrong. and i think here where you're talking about killing americans without a right to counsel, without any probable cause , without any imminent threat , imminent danger. i don't know that's a distinction without a difference . that is and that does require our justice department to hold a higher standard to that killing than targeting a kuwaiti or an egyptian or anybody across this globe that is not born with constitutional protections that they are given from the moment they are born.
>> look, and i think it raises -- there are two tracks here, right? there's the sort of more narrow legal constitutional set of issues which you're pointing out which i think are important and the administration has not adequately answered. then there are the broader questions which raise the specter of what do we need to do to protect ourselves in a declared war against terrorists versus who do we have the right to kill without due cause? and those are somewhat intentioned. i think the administration would do itself great favors by answering the narrow constitutional questions more thoroughly and in a way that's more understandable. so far the public is completely on the administration 's side. they get that the drones are protecting american lives, both by, you know, not requiring people on the battlefield to do that. and by eliminating downstream threats. and so there's a deep reservoir of support for these policies. the administration needs to protect that support by providing better justification. and i hope that they do.
>> and by the way, if you look at the polls, i am so out of touch. i really am. when it comes to drones. like 99.8% of americans think we should use drones to blow up, like, their opponent's football team . i mean, the military budget , i saw something last night where there was a poll that said oh, cut all the domestic programs, but don't touch defense, please.
>> drones are the greatest thing ever.
>> the military industrial complex . we can't ask any sacrifices from them. no, when it comes to military issues, this country is all george c. patton. i will be the first to admit, dee dee , on the poll numbers, i am in the distinct minority. dee dee , stay with us.
>>> still ahead on " morning joe ," facebook's sheryl sandberg has been called irreplaceable by ceo mark zuckerberg . she's the cover story of this week's "time." up next, financial planner jean chatzky helps us prepare for retirement in a bullish economy. you're watching " morning joe " brewed by starbucks. [ male announcer ]