Bill Daley on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Transcript

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Sunday, March 6, 2011


White House Chief of Staff

Representative MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN)


Columnist, Washington Post


Columnist, New York Times

Author, ?The Social Animal?


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MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, what do the events sweeping the Mideast mean for America’s fragile economic recovery, as gas prices spike around the country? And the budget battle brewing here in Washington.


SEN. MITCH McCONNELL (R-KY): The latest proposal is unacceptable and it’s indefensible.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: The White House and Republicans are far apart on how deeply to cut government spending. But is there an opening to fix budget-busting programs like Social Security and Medicare? I’ll ask my exclusive guest this morning, White House chief of staff William Daley.

Then, is the tea party agenda creating a division amongst Republicans, or laying the foundation for a successful challenge to the president in 2012? With us, the head of the tea party caucus in the House, Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, Michele Bachmann.

Finally, political analysis on the president’s handling of the crisis in Libya, the spending fight in Washington, and new moves among potential GOP contenders for 2012. With us, columnist for The Washington Post, Eugene Robinson; and columnist for The New York Times as well as author of the new book “The Social Animal,” David Brooks.

Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.

MR. GREGORY: Good morning. A positive sign for the economy this week as unemployment fell to 8.9 percent, the third consecutive month that the jobless rate has actually declined. But the pain at the pump is now being felt as gas prices are on the rise across the country. And here with us live this morning for an exclusive interview, the White House chief of staff Bill Daley. President Obama chose him for the top job in January, you’ll recall, after his predecessor, Rahm Emanuel, left the post to run for mayor of Chicago, successfully. Daley no stranger, of course, to Washington and politics. He was chairman of Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign and, before that, Commerce secretary under Bill Clinton. Most recently he was an executive at JPMorgan Chase, and now brings his business savvy to a White House trying to repair relations with the country’s business community. In the two months since taking the post, Daley has been busy behind the scenes courting corporate leaders, but also proving to be a key voice at the negotiating table during the budget battle.

Mr. Daley, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

MR. BILL DALEY: Thank you very much, David. Good to be here.

MR. GREGORY: Good to have you here.

Let’s talk about the economy. And what’s front and center in people’s minds, unemployment numbers down, yes, but look what’s happening as you go into the pump around the country and getting that sticker shock. Here are some of the numbers as we look at it across the country. The national average for regular gas, it stands at $3.5 now, up from last Sunday, from last month, and up significantly from last year at this point. And the cover of The Economist magazine sort of sums up the global component of all of this, “Just as the world economy was recovering.” What does $100 barrel of oil mean to the economic recovery?

MR. DALEY: Well, there’s no question that the increase in oil and the uncertainty in the Middle East has caused great uncertainty in the markets and–affecting the price of energy. The president is extremely concerned about this. We’ve–our economic team has been working with international organizations to make sure that we’re coordinated. There is also not only uncertainty in the Middle East, you have an increasing demand worldwide as the economic difficulties of the last three years begin to improve. And as you mentioned, we’ve seen an increase in the economy. But we’ll…

MR. GREGORY: But you have a glut of oil around the world. Is there a concern–or is there a belief, I should say, that the recovery can weather a spike in prices?

MR. DALEY: Well, I, I think there’s a sense that this recovery is real and is strong and is growing. But there are factors like the, the price of energy that can have a serious impact on it. In addition to this sort of macro discussion, there’s real pain at the–as this recovery’s going on. People are getting back to work, as you mentioned, but the normal, average American out there is really feeling it. And so we’re very–the president is very concerned. We’re trying to look at all the possible options going forward. We’re very proud of–to be honest with you, the president oversaw a very successful agreement between the auto industry on fuel economy standards that will increase savings of about a billion–800 million barrels over the term of the agreement between the auto industry and, and our government…

MR. GREGORY: Is the…

MR. DALEY: …which is an enormous increase.

MR. GREGORY: Is the…

MR. DALEY: Also, if I can…


MR. DALEY: …we’re on a very strong program between now and 2015 to make America the center of, of building capacity for batteries that will be used in the new cars of the future, from 4 percent to over 40 percent.

MR. GREGORY: But what about the shorter term? Does the president–there’s calls to tap the strategic petroleum reserve, which comes up during these spikes. Is the president considering doing something that can arrest that spike?

MR. DALEY: Well, we’re looking at the options. There’s–there–the spike–the, the issue of, of, of the reserves is one we’re considering. It is something that only is done–has been done in very rare occasions. There’s a bunch of factors that have to be looked at, and it is just not the price. Again, the uncertainty–I think there’s no one who doubts that the uncertainty in the Middle East right now has caused this tremendous increase in the last number of weeks.

MR. GREGORY: But it’s on the table, which I think is the significant development.

MR. DALEY: Well, I think all consider–all matters have to be on the table when you go through–when you see the difficulty coming out of this economic crisis we’re in and the fragility of it.

MR. GREGORY: I, I want to ask more about the recovery, but I want to stay with oil and the crisis in the Middle East. Over the weekend, fighting in Libya has expanded. We have pictures from an area, Bin Jawad, the northern part of Libya, also fighting among rebels as we get closer in to Tripoli. The president this week said Moammar Gadhafi has got to go. My question is this: Is getting rid of Gadhafi of vital U.S. interest?

MR. DALEY: I think stopping the violence, first of all, that’s occurring in Libya is most important. The president has been very aggressive. We froze–we, we initiated sanctions quicker than we’ve ever done in the past, froze $30 billion of, of Gadhafi’s money in the U.S. We’ve been very aggressive in our coordination with the international community in looking at all options. And we’ve also been very aggressive in, in bringing humanitarian aid to the region to help people. There’s a tremendous humanitarian crisis…

MR. GREGORY: But it hasn’t stopped, it hasn’t stopped Gadhafi.

MR. DALEY: It has not stopped him, there’s no doubt about it.

MR. GREGORY: So is it, is it in America’s vital national interest that Gadhafi is gone?

MR. DALEY: It is, it is in–Gadhafi should go for the people of Libya. He should stop this–as the president said, he should stop the slaughtering of the people in this–in the–in these battles. And I think the international community…

MR. GREGORY: But if we, if we can’t define if it’s in our vital national interest, doesn’t this say something about how far we’re willing to go to get him out?

MR. DALEY: I think the international community’s going to come together. There’s tremendous–there’s, there’s discussions going on right now–they’ve been going on for the last number of weeks–to try to have a coordinated effort to bring pressure on Gadhafi from the entire world to say, “Stop this.” It is in the world’s interest that this sort of action be stopped, and we’re part of that community. And we are…

MR. GREGORY: But it sounds like the administration is more divided. I mean, even Secretary of Defense Gates said, “Look, let’s not mess around here.” If you’re going to do a no-fly zone, that means that we have to bomb their air defenses. That’s a big step.

MR. DALEY: Right. Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: Military intervention is something that the president does not sound like he’s eager to do.

MR. DALEY: Well, you know, lots of people throw around phrases of “no-fly zone,” and they talk about it as though it’s just a game on a video game or something, and some people who throw, throw that line out have no idea what they’re talking about. Bob Gates understands the difficulty of going to war. This is a man who spent his–almost his entire life working for the government. He, he knows the difficulty of war and the challenges, as does Admiral Mullen. So when, when people comment on military action, most of them have no idea what they’re talking about.

MR. GREGORY: All right, so–but how does the president think about it?

MR. DALEY: And most of them know–the president knows that the, the ultimate decision he has to make at times is to put men and women in harm’s way. And you do that only with great consultation with your allies. You do that in a, in a, in a way that, that can protect those young men and women. And so, at this point, as the president has said, all options are on the table. But this has to be an international effort. It cannot be done by one country.

MR. GREGORY: But it still seems opaque to me. I mean, is it or is it not in our vital interest that Gadhafi goes? Why does it matter to America?

MR. DALEY: It is in our interest, it is in our interest that this–as human beings–as the president has said, his policy is first of all there should be no violence in these changes that are going on in the Middle East. You have to protect the basic human rights. And at the end, there has to be a process, both political and economic, for the people in these countries to have some opportunity of real change in their government.

MR. GREGORY: But nobody can force him out unless we lead the way.

MR. DALEY: Well, that is a, a statement that may or may not be true right now. I don’t think you know that, I don’t think I know it, and the world does–hasn’t come to that conclusion yet.

MR. GREGORY: Well, let me ask you more–if we look at the map of the broader Middle East here, we’ve talked about Tripoli and Libya. But as you look across the map, and particularly the Persian Gulf states, there’s a lot of anger at this administration. The Saudis, in Bahrain, in the UAE, where you’ve got Sunni governments with Shiite majorities, and they’re saying, “Hey, look, we’ll pursue democratic reform, but we are not going to allow a Shiite government to take over.” This is a sectarian split in the Middle East. Does the president understand that there are limits to encouraging democratic reform, and those limits are the realities of our oil interests and stability in that part of the world?

MR. DALEY: The president–what’s been amazing about the changes that have gone on in the Middle East is that they truly are bottom up. They’re not top down. The president went to Cairo almost two years ago and laid out his principles on reform in the Middle East; a rather courageous statement–thing to do was to go to the Middle East and do this. And I think what you’re seeing is a fulfillment of a lot of the aspirations of the young people that the president talked to two years ago. So the change is coming. It is not something that we can oversee and dictate. It has to be done by the people in these governments. Each one is different. What’s been obvious since these changes began in Tunisia two months ago is that each country is very different. They’ve got to do it in a way that protects–stops violence, do it in a way that protects the basic human rights of people, and the third principle of the president is end up with a governance that allows the political process and the political desires and economic desires of the people to be fulfilled. But it’s up to the people in these countries to do that, and hopefully do that in nonviolent ways.

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about Afghanistan. There’s been a meeting with President Karzai and our commander, General Petraeus, in the light of a bombing that killed nine kids, a NATO bombing. Petraeus apologized. And you have, this morning, President Karzai saying that the civilian casualties are no longer acceptable and that General Petraeus’s apology is simply not enough. What needs to be done now to keep this partnership viable?

MR. DALEY: Well, well, President Obama spoke with President Karzai recently. No question we’ve–we feel terrible about–and, and not only the general, the president has stated his sorrow over this tragedy that occurred. Obviously, these are difficult actions when you’re in the middle of a war.

We went to Afghanistan in order to get rid of al-Qaeda. And our goal is to leave, and the president’s goal, is to leave–begin to leave in 2011, and we will do that.

MR. GREGORY: Has this done irreparable harm though? Another civilian incident like this?

MR. DALEY: It–look it, this is a tragedy, no question about it. No one feels worse than the people who were involved in this tragedy and the military leadership in Afghanistan and our government.

MR. GREGORY: Let me turn to domestic affairs, and that’s the budget battle at home. First, a piece of our Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll on what’s the top priority from the voter’s perspective for the federal government. And it’s interesting. Job creation is still 15 point–by a 15-margin margin, the top concern, followed by the deficit and dealing with the debt. Does the president take away from numbers like this that the deficit can wait?

MR. DALEY: No, of course it can’t wait. Our–and that’s why he’s taken all the steps he has. I mean, this is a president who put a budget out–forward that has frozen spending, is going to cut the deficit over $1 trillion over the next 20 years. So, so he’s been very cognizant of the fact that we’ve got our–got to get our fiscal house in order. No one’s taken more steps, nobody’s put an actual plan out, a budget plan just for ’11 and for ’12, that begins to bring the deficit down. There’s a lot of talk in this town…


MR. DALEY: …a lot of talk around the country about it, but nobody but the president has taken steps to do that.

MR. GREGORY: There’s–a government shutdown has been averted for now, but it’s not a long now.

MR. DALEY: Right.

MR. GREGORY: It’s only a couple of weeks. And, you know, the White House says a lot about how it’s meeting Republicans halfway. The reality is, you’re very far apart. There’s a lot of fuzzy math on both sides. The reality is you are far apart on cutting spending for this particular year. How do you bridge this and avoid a shutdown in two weeks?

MR. DALEY: To, to be honest, I would take exception. We aren’t that far apart. We’re at over $50 billion in cuts. The House passed the HR1, which was $100 billion.


MR. DALEY: So we’re over halfway there. Now–no…

MR. GREGORY: No, no, but you know both of that relies on numbers on a budget that was never passed. It’s easy to, to pass that past the American people. The reality is, you’re about one-sixth of the way there. However you slice it, there’s a big divide and you know it.

MR. DALEY: However you slice it, there is a challenge to our government. First of all, no business out there would be at the end of their first quarter and not have a budget for the year that they’re in, much less putting a–putting a budget forward that’s for 12. We are only seven months away from the end of this fiscal year and we don’t have a budget, which is kind of ridiculous. No, no company could get away with that. We’ve–we have had–Vice President Biden had a discussion with the four leaders. I think there’s, there’s total agreement that no one wants a shutdown of this government. That doesn’t help our economic recovery. It will do only harm to the economic recovery. And as you’re having the energy prices increase…


MR. DALEY: …it makes it even more ridiculous over the thought of it.

MR. GREGORY: But do you worry about–you’re meeting with Speaker Boehner…

MR. DALEY: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY: …you’re in these discussions. Are you worried that he’s not really driving the train here? I’m going to be speaking to Congresswoman Bachmann in just a moment, head of this tea party caucus. I mean, there’s a real view that they are driving the leadership so far he may not be able to control what they do.

MR. DALEY: Well, I–the last thing I’d ever do is speculate about the speaker’s ability to control his caucus. My sense is, and I have great admiration for him, I think there’s no question that understands that as speaker he not only speaks for his party, he leads the House of Representatives.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MR. DALEY: And that–they and the Senate have to get together and agree on a budget or this government doesn’t fund itself and we look ridiculous.

MR. GREGORY: What are the, what are the, what are the chances that you don’t reach consensus and that there’s a shutdown?

MR. DALEY: I, I think my–I’m very optimistic that there will not be a shutdown. I don’t think–my one hope though, to be very frank with you, and one fear is, along with us coming to resolution on the numbers and the economics around this, there are, there are also, in the House, a number of political statements being made about amendments–or add-ons to the bill…


MR. DALEY: …that address political statements that people want–political funding…

MR. GREGORY: Funding for EPA or healthcare law. Yeah.

MR. DALEY: …for–in cutting funding–no, it’s, it’s beyond that. And I–my sense is that, that we’ve got to ask each of the members of Congress, “Are you going to do a shutdown if we don’t come to economic compromise?”

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MR. DALEY: “Or are you going to do a shutdown based on some of these political items?” Whether it’s women’s health care, whether it’s environmental laws that they don’t want to see enforced, and a whole host of other things, which would be unfortunate.

MR. GREGORY: The big driver of the, of the deficit, as you know, Social Security, Medicare, those are the real budget busters. And it was interesting, Speaker Boehner gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal. I’ll put a portion of it on the screen. This is what he said. Speaker Boehner said Thursday, “…he’s determined to offer a budget this spring that curbs Social Security and Medicare, despite the political risks, and that Republicans will try to persuade voters that sacrifices are needed. In an interview with The Journal, Boehner said House Republicans would offer a budget for the next fiscal year that gets goals for bringing the programs’ costs under control.”

Is this an opening here? Did the president and Boehner talk about this and say, “Look, let’s do something here together?”

MR. DALEY: Well, the president’s been saying for quite a long time that we, we’ve got to, not only address our current budget problems, we’ve got to get to these large–I would take some exception with your statement. Social Security is not the big driver of the deficit right now. We’ve got to strengthen Social Security for the recipients of that, but the–but you correctly said it’s Medicare and Medicaid that’s the major driver, as we have an aging population, increased healthcare costs. Let me also say, you know, there’s been much debate, much conversation around the healthcare plan, the Affordable Care Act. That, according to the Congressional Budget Office, will reduce our deficit by over $1 trillion over the next 20 years.

MR. GREGORY: But it makes a lot of assumptions about how that’ll be funded down the road.

But there’s a “You first. No, you first” attitude here in Washington. I know from my own reporting that the feeling in the administration is, “Look, let’s let the Republicans go forward and produce all of these savings for the entitlements. Let them do it first. And then we get into a political season and then they can be demagogued on that” on the way you guys feel you were on health care.

MR. DALEY: Well I–but the president doesn’t feel that way. The president’s had conversations with Speaker Boehner, Leader Cantor, Congresswoman Pelosi, McConnell and Reid, Senators McConnell and Reid, and his–he is not going to play the Washington games. We’ve had enough in the last two years. I think the American people are sick and tired of it. They’re tired of the partisanship. And if anyone thinks that, out of this last election, the American people were voting for more partisanship, more saying no, I think they’re, they’re going to have a rude awakening in the next election.

MR. GREGORY: As you know, financial reform was much debated here in Washington and when you were at JPMorgan Chase was a significant concern and Wall Street and the financial community. And so this, this caught our attention during the Oscars. The director, Charles Ferguson of Inside Job, which is the documentary about the financial collapse, in accepting his Oscar said the following:


MR. CHARLES FERGUSON: Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after a horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s wrong.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Does the president agree that that’s wrong?

MR. DALEY: I, I, I think the president–no one has been more out front on the need for financial reform. Obviously, the justice system will take its place, and the politicians should not engage in trying to say who should be prosecuted, who–or who should not. That’s not a responsible thing to do. So you have a number of justice–attorney generals moving forward on cases that are legitimate. But the president felt very strongly, and that’s why he fought so hard for financial regulatory reform, that the system has got to change. Most of the laws that the financial sector worked under were, were enacted closer to the civil war than to this century. And he fought and was tough. To be honest with you, I was in an industry that, at the time, as you mentioned, that fought many of it. Not all of it. Probably 80–85 percent of it the industry wanted. They wanted to stop “too big to fail” and a number of other things. But it was controversial, difficult. But he hung in there and he got what he wanted, and that’s a great statement of leadership.

MR. GREGORY: Do you think it’s illegitimate–is it illegitimate for people to say that some of those CEOs on Wall Street should have gone to jail?

MR. DALEY: Well, I–look at–I don’t know if it’s illegitimate or not. People have a right to say what they want. But I think if you’re an elected official, you should allow the justice system to take over and move forward. And, and when there prosecutions that’s up to that system. Politicians should not get involved. Producers, directors can do that, but politicians shouldn’t get involved in that.

MR. GREGORY: A couple of minutes left. I do want to ask you about politics and the re-election campaign for 2012. You’ll be chief of staff presiding over that campaign. Is the president moving to the center to win re-election?

MR. DALEY: No, the president doesn’t look at–this is a guy who does not look at politics in left, center, whatever. He really doesn’t. I–he looks at things, deals with the problem right in front of him. And I’ve never participated in, even back when I was co-chair of his campaign in Illinois, discussions that were around that. There’s no question the difficulties of the first two years, he had to take actions that he didn’t want to do. He didn’t–as he said, he didn’t want to run an auto company. It was the last thing in the world he thought he was being elected for president to do. But he had to do it to save a million jobs. And that was criticized by many people in the business community. Many people saw it, “Oh my God, this is socialism, whatever.” He saved those jobs. General Motors last month had one of its strongest months in decades of, of profitability. And that showed the wisdom of that decision.

MR. GREGORY: Do you, do you still believe–you said last year that there was a–this administration got it a little bit wrong, that the country was center left, not left. You still believe it’s a center left country?

MR. DALEY: I think–I–what I was commenting on was the election of 2008. And I think it showed that there was a center left. But this president doesn’t think that way. Some of us who, who pontificate on politics at times may talk that way, but he really doesn’t. And, and I think when you look at the actions he took over the last two years, they’ve been center, they’ve been–at times. People can interpret them however they want. But the fact is they’ve been focused on trying to create an economy that’s stronger, trying to win the future as we get in this–as recovery comes back. And our competition, as the president has said, is not amongst ourselves, it’s amongst the rest of the world.

MR. GREGORY: Are you concerned with Ambassador Huntsman making moves toward running for president? Have you given him a talking to as a member of the administration in courting the presidency?

MR. DALEY: Well, I think there’s been a lot of speculation of–about him. He’s of—he’s said he’s going to resign the end of April. But we’re–he’s, he’s done an excellent job on behalf of the Obama administration and we think that he is–his…

MR. GREGORY: Are you upset that he’s still there talking about the presidency?

MR. DALEY: I have not heard or seen any direct quotes from Ambassador Huntsman, which obviously would be inappropriate. But his support of the Obama administration, his support of the president, the things he did on behalf of this administration and the closeness in which he worked with the president is most appreciated. And I’m sure he’ll talk about that in the primaries.

MR. GREGORY: If he runs. Finally, is Mitt Romney the most formidable Republican you see?

MR. DALEY: I don’t know. You know, this is–the president also, what I admire about him is he doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about this stuff.


MR. DALEY: You know, everyone else does…

MR. GREGORY: He did talk about Mitt Romney this week, though, rather pointedly.

MR. DALEY: Well, he did talk about Mitt Romney. But the fact is, you know, we’ve got enough issues to deal with to not worry about who’s going to be the Republican nominee. There will be a nominee at some point, and we’ll deal with it next year. The concern right now is our economy, creating jobs, giving confidence to the American people that this recovery is real, and, and doing the things that fortify their belief, which is the truth, that this is the greatest country in the world…

MR. GREGORY: Where do you think…

MR. DALEY: …and the opportunities in this country going forward are there for them.

MR. GREGORY: Where do you think unemployment has to be for him to be re-elected?

MR. DALEY: I don’t–you know, that’s–there’s so many factors involved. Obviously, we’re happy that, very pleased that the, the trend seems to be moving forward, not because of a re-election, because you’re giving opportunities for families to, to have jobs, and people to have a future and a hope. That’s what it’s about. I know that it’s–we can be pretty cynical in this town, but normal people out there in America, the last thing in the world they’re thinking about right now is 2012.

MR. GREGORY: All right. We will leave it there. Mr. Daley…

MR. DALEY: Good. Thanks, David.

MR. GREGORY: …thank you very much.

And coming up, one of the most outspoken critics of this president. She’s traveled the country speaking to the tea party faithful. Now she’s fired up and front and center in this debate over spending. I will talk to the head of the tea party caucus in the House, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. Then, political analysis from Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times.

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