updated 1/9/2011 12:46:50 PM ET
MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, a shooting rampage in Arizona grips the nation and stuns Capitol Hill in the first week of the new Congress. Clinging to life this morning, three-term Arizona congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, shot in the head by a gunman during a constituent event at a supermarket in Tucson. The attack left six dead, including a nine-year-old girl, a federal judge and an aide to the congresswoman. Another 12 were wounded. The president addressed the nation from the White House.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: We are going to get to the bottom of this, and we're going to get through this.
.MR. GREGORY: This morning we get the very latest from the scene with a live report from NBC's Lester Holt.
Then, a special panel to discuss Congresswoman Giffords, her work here in Washington, and whether the tone of our current political climate contributes to the security threats against elected officials. Joining us, congressional colleagues of Congresswoman Giffords: from Arizona, Representative Raul Grijalva and Representative Trent Franks; her close friend, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida; another colleague, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Emanuel Cleaver; and newly elected Congressman Raul Labrador, a tea party-backed member from Idaho.
Then, the other news from this busy week in Washington: jobs, the tea party's impact as Republicans take control of the House, Republican efforts to repeal healthcare reform, and the Democratic agenda in this new session of Congress. Joining me, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, in his first television interview of the new Congress.
Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
MR. GREGORY: Good morning. The attempted assassination of Congresswoman Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, has reverberated around the country and here in Washington. This morning, Republican leaders of the House have suspended all legislative business for the coming week, which would include a planned vote on repeal of healthcare reform. A short time ago, House Speaker John Boehner spoke publicly.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serves. No act, no matter how heinous, must be allowed to stop us from our duty.
MR. GREGORY: In a moment our special roundtable on Congresswoman Giffords, her work, and questions about the vitriol in our politics.
But first we go live to Tucson this morning, where my colleague Lester Holt is standing by from the scene with the very latest on this horrific attack.
Lester, good morning. What more can you tell us about what you've found there?
LESTER HOLT reporting:
David, good morning to you. I spoke to the, I spoke to the mayor here a while ago, and he told me he'd been to the hospital, he had spoken to Mark Kelly, astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of the congresswoman. He says her condition remains the same as yesterday. She's in critical condition after suffering what the doctors describe as a, as a bullet through the brain, at least through her head, and that she is in critical condition. They are optimistic, but certainly don't know what kind of recovery she will have. A suspect, Jared Loughner, in custody, apparently not cooperative, not talking about a motive. The FBI, David, as you know, is involved, along with the local sheriff here. They're trying to figure out a motive by exploring Loughner's postings to social network sites, YouTube videos, rants that he had posted. Clearly an anti-government bent, but no particular point of view that was apparent because some of this stuff simply didn't make any sense, David.
MR. GREGORY: I want to come back to Loughner in just a second. Tell me more about what you've learned of the victims there.
HOLT: I'm sorry?
MR. GREGORY: More, more about the victims of this rampage yesterday, who else was killed, and some of the other injured.
HOLT: Well, of course there was a federal judge, John Roll, U.S. District Court, a judge who was killed here. There were there elderly people, constituents. It was a small crowd that had actually gathered for this event. Also, a 30-year-old aide of the congressman--congresswoman among those killed. There were at least--including Congresswoman Giffords--at least 13 people, or perhaps more, who were wounded. Five of those, we're told, are critical condition. Some were treated and released.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you more about the suspect, Jared Lee Loughner. One of the things that is emerging now is that he was kicked out of the community college there in Pima County and that, in fact, there was the purchase of a gun shortly after that. What is the, what is the information about the kind of isolation he felt, how mentally disturbed he was, and how that would later manifest itself into anti-government rants or anti-authority rants that would give us more of a sense of his motive?
HOLT: You know, it was interesting, I talked to a young woman who went to high school and studied with him in college for a short time. She hadn't seen him for three years. But she described him as somewhat outgoing, likable. And I said, I said to her, "Well, that's not how others describe him now. They describe him as a loner." And she acknowledged that there might have been--that, that near the end of her--their relationship he was becoming a little strange, in her words, or to paraphrase her words. But the, the writings suggest a man who had a--clearly issues with the government, but things like "there shouldn't be police officers, that's unconstitutional." So nothing that we--you could ascribe to a particular recognized political viewpoint. He was suspended from college because of something he had--a video he had put together. The college officials weren't specific about it. His parents were called in, he was suspended, and then later in the fall dropped out of college. And, of course, there was a last posting on one of the sites saying, "See you later," that now seems ominous in the, in the--and that was the last posting here before the shooting rampage.
MR. GREGORY: Lester, any questions about anti-Semitism as a motive? Apparently one of his favorite books, "Mein Kampf" by Hitler. We know Congresswoman Giffords is Jewish. Is that a factor at all that investigators are looking at?
HOLT: I think they're looking at everything right now. As we noted, the sheriff and FBI involved here, and they are trying--they're piecing through all these things and trying to find as much as they can from the social network postings, his, his writings, access to weapons, all these things, trying to figure out a motive. Obviously, when someone obviously chooses to, to shoot a member of Congress--she was the one that witnesses tell us was the first one targeted by her--by him, obviously they're looking at everything that might suggest some kind of a political motivation.
MR. GREGORY: Finally, Lester, there is also another person of interest that authorities are talking about, and they've put a picture out for the community there. What more can you tell us about that?
HOLT: Yeah, that came up during a news conference by the sheriff yesterday. He noted--they put up this picture of a man, he's 40 to 50 years old, dark hair, Caucasian, he had blue jeans, dark blue jacket, you see in the picture here. The exact relationship a little unclear. They say he was in the area, that he may have been with Loughner. No more information about that. But they want that picture out, the authorities want that picture out, hoping someone can bring them a little more information. They're not definitely saying there was a second person involved, but they're leaving that possibility open. And they definitely want to talk to this man or find out more about him.
MR. GREGORY: All right, Lester Holt on the scene for us in Tucson, Arizona, this morning. Lester, thank you very much.
MR. GREGORY: Now for more reaction and for discussion of some of the bigger issues from this incident, I'm joined here by five of Representative Giffords colleagues in the House: from the Arizona delegation, representing the state's 2nd district, Trent Franks; and from Arizona's 7th district, which includes parts of Tucson, Representative Paul***(as spoken)***Grijalva; her close friend Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida has flown in to be here, we appreciate that; the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Emanuel Cleaver; and newly elected Congressman Raul Labrador, tea party-backed member from Idaho.
Thank you all for being here, and I'm just so sorry that it's under these circumstances that we need to have this conversation.
Congresswoman, let me begin with you. This is a close friend and a colleague. Tell me about your friend. How is she doing?
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL): You know, by every indication that--I'm sorry. By every indication, the fighter that, that Gabby Giffords is, is, is showing full strength. She's, from what I was told by her staff last night, woke up, responded to Mark's, I think, I think his voice, moved arms and legs and then...
MR. GREGORY: This is her husband we're talking about.
REP. SCHULTZ: Yeah, her husband, Mark. And then they sedated her again. But Gabby Giffords is, for anyone that knows her or has ever met her, is the most open, warm and sweet woman. She's--the best way to describe her is that she's, she's the kind of person that tries to see the good in everyone. You know, even when, even when she's in the midst of the kind of strife that is going on in southern Arizona with the immigration laws and the, the battleground that Arizona has been, she really always looks on the bright side. She's a "glass is half full" kind of person.
MR. GREGORY: Congressman Grijalva, you work with her very closely in Tucson. I had an opportunity to meet her in Tucson just last spring at an event where I spoke, and, and had a real opportunity for a conversation about the issues that she cared about. Talk about some of that as we, as we look at some of the images of her being sworn in just this week in the mock swearing in she did with the, the new speaker.
REP. RAUL GRIJALVA (D-AZ): The, the--for, for Arizona, I think for this nation, it's, as Debbie just said, this, this is a woman who's whole future is in front of her, a rising star not only in politics, but in, in, in leadership in general. And this tragedy has left us in Tucson in shock, and then today numb, and numb about this whole--so Gabby is, is a leader in our community, someone that has, as, as was said, someone that looked at things in a very positive--what we do for our lives in politics, sometimes there's a grating and friction that's part of it. Gabby looked at, at politics as, as a mechanism to get things done and saw the good in things. And I, I, I--we're all praying for her. Our community is devastated by this. And I just--and our community has a million people, but it's small.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
REP. GRIJALVA: And, for instance, Gabe Zimmerman--and this is a shock to all our staffs and--that died, his mother gave me the first job that I ever had in that community. And so we're all connected to this tragedy, and we're all feeling it and wondering what to do next.
MR. GREGORY: Congressman Franks, you know her, as well, from the other, the other side of the aisle, but also as part of the delegation--you know, as part of Congress getting under way this week, the reading of the Constitution that was discussed by so many that the leadership wanted to do, and she read a portion of it that is particularly ironic this morning. I'm going to play a portion of that.
REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (D-AZ): The First Amendment, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances.
MR. GREGORY: To petition for redress of grievances, freedom of speech. I mean, access to her constituents, the kind of event that she was having yesterday, was very important to her.
REP. TRENT FRANKS (R-AZ): You know, every interview I've been on, I have referenced what she just did because it is so ironic that when she had the opportunity to read her part of the Constitution that this was the one that she read. And yet, when she was out exercising that right, when she was out doing her job as a member of Congress, some deranged degenerate shot her down. And I will tell you that I think that's an attack, not only on freedom and the country itself, it's an attack on, on humanity. And a lot of people try to make the distinction between someone as conservative as I am and, and a Gabby Giffords.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
REP. FRANKS: But I will tell you that never one time did even the slightest cross word or unkindness ever pass between us. This is a precious, decent woman that did not deserve what happened to her. And I hope that somehow that we pursue prosecuting this individual, this deranged monster, to the fullest extent of the law with the greatest energy that we possibly can.
MR. GREGORY: Congressman Cleaver, I want to talk more about that access issue, and it mattered to her. She was on Twitter just before this event. And this is what she put on her Twitter feed. We'll put it up on the screen for all to see, indicating that she would be having this event, inviting people. "My 1st Congress on Your Corner starts now. Please stop by to let me know what is on your mind or tweet me later." I mean, this is the reality of having access to your constituents in a shopping mall, outside of a Safeway. She's right there, you can walk up to her, hear her, talk to her, shake her hand, or do something as awful as this.
REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER (D-MO): All of us conduct those town hall meetings. I've done one every month since I've been elected--since I was elected, called--we call it Coffee with the Congressman. And we must, in a democracy, have access to our constituents. And I think what we are seeing, though, is, you know, the, the public is being riled up to the point where those kinds of, of, of events and, and opportunities for people to express their opinions to us are, are becoming a little volatile. We have 435 members of Congress. If you rank them in terms of volatility, Gabby is probably in the last one-half of 1 percent.
MR. GREGORY: Sure.
REP. SCHULTZ: That's right.
REP. CLEAVER: And it just seems so ironic that she would become a victim.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
REP. CLEAVER: And she is clearly not a hothead or somebody who's prone to create controversy.
MR. GREGORY: Congressman Labrador, this is an introduction, a horrible introduction to Congress for you. You're a brand-new member, freshman member from Idaho. Your wife, you were telling me before we started, was particularly shaken by this.
REP. RAUL LABRADOR (R-ID): She was. You know, and--you know, first of all, I, I just--my condolences to the families. It's been a terrible week, and it's a terrible way to end the week. But, you know, all I've heard about, about Gabby--and I don't know her. I'm the only person on this panel who doesn't know her. All I've heard is nothing but positive. I've heard from both Republicans and Democrats what a wonderful woman she is and what great service she was giving to, to her constituents. And I just want to make sure that we understand that she was doing what she was supposed to be doing. And she was doing exactly what all of us should be doing, which is talking to our constituents and trying to get educated on the issues. And I just hope that we can have some civility and we can move forward.
MR. GREGORY: There are real security questions that have to be raised as a result of all this. Congresswoman Maxine Waters telling Politico this morning that she has her own fears about security for members. This is what she said. "We can be shot down in our district, but we can also be shot walking over to the Capitol... We have a lot of people outside who appear to be fragile emotionally. So we don't know when one will walk up and shoot us down. We're vulnerable, and there's no real way to protect us."
Is this a wake-up call in terms of thinking about security for these kinds of events?
REP. SCHULTZ: Well, I think it needs to be a wake-up call for members who have treated security in a cavalier--their own personal security in a cavalier way. I know when I have town hall meetings, which I have regularly, and increasingly even, even very open public meetings, there are always officers present. You know, not a, not a cavalry of officers, but at least a show of, of law enforcement so that we can make sure that, that my staff is protected.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
REP. SCHULTZ: Because, remember, as we saw with, with Mr. Zimmerman's death, it's not just our personal safety...
MR. GREGORY: Sure.
REP. SCHULTZ: ...that need--that matters. And it's also the personal safety of our constituents, because they may come, come in and target the member, but the people in the room are all subject to, to a security risk. And so we need to strike a balance.
MR. GREGORY: You walk about that. The, the federal judge, John Roll, who was also killed--Congressman Grijalva, you know him--just a noted member of the bench, 63 years old. And there was a backstory here. I mean, this is a conservative Republican who was good friends, continues to be good friends with the congresswoman. He had petitioned her for some extra funds for some of the immigration cases that they have to handle. Left Mass, went over to her event just to say hi and to personally thank her and is dead this morning.
REP. GRIJALVA: Yeah. John, the, the chief justice there of the district court, fair man, great reputation, been a litigator and a prosecutor for 30-plus years in our community, was appointed by first George Bush to that bench, has nothing but a good reputation. And for, for him to show up to thank Gabby for her work in terms of getting additional resources for that overburdened court and to find himself, and his family to find him, now dead is, is the same commentary that Debbie just made. I mean, how, how do you explain this? But it's a huge loss for the community. A judicial loss, but also a loss of a leader in the community.
MR. GREGORY: We certainly can't explain the loss of a, of a young girl who, born on 9/11...
REP. GRIJALVA: Oh.
MR. GREGORY: ...was president of her student council.
I want to talk about the political climate, Congressman Franks. The judge in Pima County--excuse me--the sheriff of Pima County has been outspoken in some of his remarks over the past couple of days. Pima County encompassing Tucson and, and some of the environs. And he talked about what's been going on in southern Arizona between immigration, healthcare debates, and a political climate that's highly charged. This is what he had to say in response to this.
Sheriff CLARENCE DUPNIK: We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry. ... But it's not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included. And, and that's a sad thing of what's going on in America. Pretty soon we're not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people who are willing to subject themselves to serve in public office.
MR. GREGORY: How concerned are you about the climate at home?
REP. FRANKS: Well, you know, I'm always concerned about how we treat each other. In the ultimate analysis here, that's what this is all about. This Jared Loughner had no respect for innocent human life and, ultimately, no respect for his fellow human beings. As willing--whatever his statement was, he was willing to kill someone, kill many people to make it. And, ultimately, I, I feel like that we need to realize as, as members of Congress, as, as Americans, that true tolerance is not pretending you have no differences. It's being kind and decent to each other in spite of those differences. And when we allow people like this to go unnoticed, that have no respect for their fellow human beings, I think we make a terrible mistake. Because, ultimately, if we don't have a more loving respect for each other, we, we really have no hope as a society.
MR. GREGORY: Congressman Cleaver, there's--I, I want to put this in, in a broader context, understanding what we don't know. We don't know if this was politically motivated. We know that this was a young man who felt--this is just objective facts here--disturbed, became an outlier in some ways, lashing out, had been kicked out of community college, had been denied by the military. There are lots of things that can contribute to that sense of isolation and of blaming a lot of people. Whether this was particularly anti-government, we can't say for sure. That's the, the compositive facts that we have right now.
But Matt Bai wrote something in The New York Times this morning about some of the larger questions about political vitriol in our system right now and in our country. And I want to have us react to it as the headline, the "Turning Point in the Discourse, but in Which Direction?" And he writes this: "What's different about this movement is the emergence of a political culture - on blogs and Twitter and cable television - that so loudly and readily reinforces the dark visions of political extremists, often for profit or political gain. It wasn't clear Saturday whether the alleged shooter in Tucson was motivated by any real political philosophy or by voices in his head, or perhaps by both. But it's hard not to think he was at least partly influenced by a debate that often seems to conflate philosophical disagreement with some kind of political Armageddon."
REP. CLEAVER: We are in a dark place in this country right now, and the atmospheric condition is toxic. And much of it originates here in Washington, D.C., and we export it around the country to the point that people come to Washington, they come to the gallery, and they feel comfortable in shouting out insults from the gallery. We had someone removed last week shouting out some insult about President Obama's birth. I think members of Congress either need to turn down the volume, begin to try to exercise some high level of civility, or this darkness will never ever be overcome with light. The, the hostility is here. People may want to deny it. It is real, and if we, and if we don't stop it soon, I think this nation is going to be bitterly divided to a point where I fear for the, the future of our children.
MR. GREGORY: Congressman Labrador, the--comment on that. You're a tea party candidate. A lot of sentiment in the tea party is to be very concerned about some of the government policies pursued by this president. How do you see the discourse being in any way a contribution to some of the security threats that members of Congress can experience?
REP. LABRADOR: We have to be careful not to blame one side or the other because both sides are guilty of this. You have extremes on both sides. You have crazy people on both sides. And I think what I have done in Idaho when we have some vitriol or maybe some political rhetoric that is going beyond the pale, your job as a leader is to talk to the people in a reasonable way, to have a rational conversation with, with the people in your district. And I think that brings down the level of rhetoric quite a bit down. So those are some of the things that we have to do. But I just, I just need to--you know, the American people need to understand that during the Bush administration, we had a bunch of people on the left who were using the same kind of vitriol that some people on the right are using now against Obama. So it's, it's not something that either party is guilty by themselves or either party is innocent of. And we have to make sure that we, we take care of it.
MR. GREGORY: Congressman Grijalva, in terms of Congressman Giffords herself, last spring, in the, in the heat of the heathcare debate, her office was vandalized. And she appeared on MSNBC and talked about the climate in which she was operating then. Let's take a look.
(Videotape, March 25, 2010)
REP. GIFFORDS: We have had hundreds and hundreds of protesters over the course of the last several months. Our office corner has really become an area where the tea party movement congregates. And the rhetoric is incredibly heated. ... This is a situation where people don't--I mean, they really do need to realize that the rhetoric and firing people up and, you know, even things--for example, we're on Sarah Palin's targeted list--but the thing is that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gunsight over our district. And when people do that, they've got to realize there's consequences to that action.
REP. GRIJALVA: I couldn't, I couldn't agree more with Gabby's comments. You know, part of what we need to do as leaders is a discourse. You know, Arizona is at the center of a lot of division and a lot of hard politics. And from the top to the bottom of our, not only elected leadership, but community leadership, it's about the civil discourse, it's about the tone of how we do things. And Congressman Nadler said something on television yesterday. He said, you know, "We are opponents, yes, but we're not deadly enemies." And I think unless we pass that on and lead by example with our civil discourse and our good debate on these important issues like health care, people feel that there's impunity to continue to act...
MR. GREGORY: But Congressman...
REP. GRIJALVA: ...and act out.
MR. GREGORY: That's an important point because, let's be honest, there is a demonization. It happens amongst all of you, it happens in the public, it happens in the polarized aspects of the press, a demonization of the other side. Whether it's a congressman saying, "You lie," from the House floor, whether it's a Democrat who literally shoots the cap and trade bill in a campaign advertisement. Or your former colleague, Alan Grayson from Florida, compared Republicans to the Taliban. I mean, this kind of vitriol on both sides does contribute to that, that demonization.
REP. FRANKS: Well, I think, you know, we're a country that tries to solve our problems by ballots and not bullets, so a good debate is fine. But when you try to, to, to go into an area of threatening debate and things of that nature, then it's very dangerous. But I want to be very careful here. We don't want to give this Loughner too much credit here...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
REP. FRANKS: ...to make it somehow politically analyzed that somehow he was some person making a grand political statement. This guy was a deranged lunatic that had no respect for his fellow human beings and completely rejected any kind of constitutional foundation of this nation.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah. Go ahead.
REP. FRANKS: And I would say, you know, when you, when you consider some of his readings being the Communist Manifesto, I don't know where the guy's coming from. More than anything else, it was bizarre, not politically integrity.
MR. GREGORY: Congresswoman:
REP. SCHULTZ: Just based on what Trent just said and what, what everyone has said, I agree, it's our responsibility to, to make sure that we set the right example and set the tone of civility. But the shock jocks and the, the, the political movement leaders that are out there on both sides of the aisle need to get--have some pause as well. I mean, the, the phrase that you just used, "we, we use ballots, not bullets," the actual reverse of that phrase was used in my district by someone who was almost the chief of staff to an incoming member of Congress where she said at a rally, at a tea party rally, "We will use bullets if ballots don't work." So the rhetoric outside needs to be toned down as well. But we have to set the first example.
MR. GREGORY: All right. We're going to take a quick break here. We're going to come back and continue this discussion with our special roundtable, a special edition of MEET THE PRESS. More right after this.
MR. GREGORY: Coming up, more from Representative Giffords' colleagues in the House on what yesterday's shooting might mean for the tone of our politics as we move forward. After this brief commercial break.
MR. GREGORY: We're back on this special edition of MEET THE PRESS, joined again by our roundtable, colleagues and friends of Congresswoman Giffords after the shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona.
Congressman Cleaver, House business has now ground to a halt. We know from Republican leaders that, that work will be suspended this week, including what was going to be the big debate about the repeal of health care. So business is a little bit uncertain moving forward. What do you think should happen?
REP. CLEAVER: Well, first of all, let me thank Speaker Boehner. I think this was the, the right move. This was not the week for us to go into a seven-hour debate on something that is very divisive.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
REP. CLEAVER: But I, I, I think that as soon as we can we need to come back to deal with the business of the, of the people. But we, we ought to come back with a different attitude. Congressman Frank mentioned earlier that, that we don't know why this happened. And I think--and I agree with it. It doesn't matter, however. This ought to be a wake-up call to, not only the members of Congress, but the people in this country, that we're headed in the wrong direction. Congress meets a lot, but it rarely comes together. We are coming from, from two different points of view--which is a democracy and we ought to do that--but we, we come for the purpose of fighting. And, and it's, it's entertainment, I guess, for the nation, for some. But for some it, it gives them an excuse to exercise the bitterness that, that may be deep inside of them. And we've, we've got to watch what we say, and we're not doing it. It starts when--in campaigns. You know, campaigns now are opportunities for people to say anything and do anything about one--to each other and about one another. And I think it's, it's devastating, and it'll probably get worse unless something dramatic happens.
MR. GREGORY: Congressman Labrador, I mentioned the tea party in this context because, not to assign any blame, but because of some of the views about the role of government. Because you mentioned how divisive healthcare reform is, Congressman Cleaver. It becomes so divisive because questions about what government should be doing, what government shouldn't be doing. Whether government is--what--is it doing something to you, or something for you? How do you avoid the debate becoming this fundamental and this divisive when those are the issues at stake?
REP. LABRADOR: Well, I think you have to continue with the debate. I think, I think it's the way that you present that debate. It's some of the words that you use, some of the rhetoric that you use. But we can't use this as a moment to try to stifle one side or the other. We can't use this as a moment to say, "Well, that side doesn't have a right anymore to talk about the issues that, that are--they're passionate about." I think it's just our job as leaders to, to show that we can talk about these, these issues and, and talk about them in a rational way. I mean, I, I saw something as I walked in this morning, I saw two members of Congress from two different sides giving each other a hug, a hug. I think me--maybe people need to, to see that more often, that even though we disagree passionately about the issues, that we can actually get along and we're actually friends.
REP. CLEAVER: But--and I, I agree. And, and, and Trent Frank and I are friends and we work together, you know, and I, I would be stunned if I, if, if I ever heard him shout out an insult. That's just not who he is. But what has happened to the debate is one person or one side--Republicans or, or Democrats, it doesn't matter--they say, "I'm right and you're evil." And that is what's damaging this country.
MR. GREGORY: Right. Well, and to that point--Congressman, you can respond to this--President Clinton, on the 50th--15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, spoke about political discourse. And, and this is what he said that maybe provides some counsel to the conversation we're having now.
(Videotape, April 16, 2010)
FMR. PRES. BILL CLINTON: What we learned from Oklahoma City is, not that we should gag each other or that we should reduce our passion for the positions we hold, but that the words we use really do matter because there are--there's this vast echo chamber, and they go across space and they fall on the serious and the delirious alike. They fall on the connected and the unhinged alike.
MR. GREGORY: And let's remember again, what we don't know about this suspect is whether he was motivated by anti-government rage. He may certainly qualify as the unhinged, the unconnected, the delirious, someone who's looking to lash out at authority in all forms because of what was going on in his life, and it's pretty easy to tap into a debate that's going on about politics.
REP. SCHULTZ: We, we have to think about our word choices carefully. That's true. But we also have to realize that someone who is unhinged, someone who is mentally unstable, we don't know--the, the slightest thing could, could set them off. But what--we do have to make sure that among our responsibility is to be civil to each other. I mean, I, I, I've engaged in heated debates many times with colleagues who I don't agree with on the issues. But you have to be a human being who recognizes and has respect for one another when you leave that room. We, we fight and debate in an arena. But you have to leave that intensity in the arena and respect one another as Americans and as human beings.
MR. GREGORY: Congressman Franks, I want to bring up the issue of guns here because it is specific in some cases to the laws of Arizona, where concealed weapons are allowed as part of a law, as well as a background check. And I should also point out, Congresswoman Giffords is an avid supporter of, of Second Amendment rights, of gun rights. So this is not a clear left/right issue. But this is what Paul Helmke, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, he issued a statement, I want to put a portion of it on the screen. "We also are deeply concerned about the heated political rhetoric that escalates debates and controversies, and sometimes makes it seem as if violence is an acceptable response to honest disagreements... We, as Americans," the statement goes on, "can and should do more to restore civility to our political discourse. And we can and should do more to address the easy access to high-powered guns that make it too easy for dangerous and irresponsible people to disrupt and destroy the lives of innocent Americans, and political leaders who are simply trying to serve their communities and our" countries. Where does this debate move?
REP. FRANKS: Well, I--you know, I've had--heard a lot about the type of gun that was used here. But what a lot of people don't realize is that's the same basic Glock 9mm that most--many police agencies use. So it's not that the gun was evil. It was--and it was in the hands of an evil person. Maybe a police officer with the same gun there could have prevented a lot of people from dying. So I don't, I don't know that we can, we can focus in on that.
But I think that Debbie is correct. I think the, the real issue here is that we, we need to have--be able to have debate here in this country. We need to be able to, to advocate our position strongly. But, ultimately, we need to have some ground rules. We need to realize we're not all here very long, that life is a precious miracle that beggars our imagination, and that when we don't treat each other as fellow children of God, therein lies the great problem. And if somehow that was the, the ultimate focus of our political discourse, we're all trying to get through this life together and make sure that future generations have a better life than we had, then I think sometimes a lot of that debate would, would get, get better.
I will say one important thing.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
REP. FRANKS: And that is we don't want unhinged guys like John Hinckley or, or this, this guy to be the ones that are the sentinels of our debate. We don't want to have to change what we say because we're afraid some lunatic might not like it.
MR. GREGORY: Congressman:
REP. GRIJALVA: I, I think accessibility, particularly in Arizona with the, the highly, highly permissive gun laws that we have in that state, has to be examined. That doesn't mean denial of, it means accessibility and how--and the other thing I think, as part of this civil discourse is all of us as, as elected officials need to, to repudiate those that take this political debate further, whether it is a radio show, whether it is an organization that makes targets of people, that brings the discourse to that hate level, to that anger level.
MR. GREGORY: Congressman Labrador, quickly...
REP. GRIJALVA: I think we need to repudiate that.
MR. GREGORY: ...a, a view about the guns, the debate here.
REP. LABRADOR: We have to be careful of this debate a little bit. Washington, D.C., last week had seven murders, and they have some of the most--strictest gun laws in, in the United States. So I don't know that it's the gun laws that are going to make the differences. It's the responsibility that each individual has to, to carry guns safely. And, and, you know, there's still a question about law enforcement. This man was known to be deranged, and he was also known to have already said some things about certain officials in town. So where was law enforcement? And we need to ask those questions.
MR. GREGORY: Is this, Congresswoman, in the final thought here, is this a, is this a moment?
REP. SCHULTZ: It is a moment, and it should be a moment. It's a moment for both parties in Congress to come together. We, we absolutely have to realize that we're all in this for the same reason, to make America a better place. And I hope that the Democratic and Republican leadership will come to--will make a decision for us to have some kind of, not just token unity event, but a--you have a retreat this week, and we have ours the following week. We should have an event where we spend some time together talking about how we can work better together. And then we can move forward together and try to avoid tragedies like this in the future.
MR. GREGORY: All right, we are going to leave it there. Thank you all for being here through such a difficult time.
Our thoughts and prayers are certainly with Congresswoman Giffords and her family, and we send our condolences and let the families of the victims know that they, too, are in our thoughts and our prayers.
REP. SCHULTZ: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: Coming up, we'll switch gears here. My exclusive interview with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, our conversation from Friday on the economy, politics, and the future of the tea party.
MR. GREGORY: And we are back. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid issued a statement yesterday after the shooting in Arizona, saying what a sad time this was for our country. Before the horrible event in Arizona, the big story here in Washington, of course, was the new Congress and its agenda. On Friday I sat down with Senator Reid in his office for an exclusive interview.
(BEGIN TAPED SEGMENT)
MR. GREGORY: Leader, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV): Glad to be here.
MR. GREGORY: It's a new Congress, but the issues seem to be old that are making news. I want to ask you about healthcare reform. The bill passed, of course, in the last Congress, but now Republicans, who are in charge of the House, promise to vote to repeal that. And the feeling among Republicans is that if they vote resoundingly to repeal health care, it will increase the pressure on the Senate to do the same. Do you agree?
SEN. REID: Even the reporters, people who read the news, report the news--not the pundits, not the editorial writers--even the people who report the news recognize that this is just a gesture in futility. Was the bill that we passed perfect? Of course not. And that's why Chairman Harkin, Chairman Baucus, and others are holding hearings, to determine what we can do to improve the health care for the people of this country.
They can't be serious. To increase the debt by more than $1 trillion? They can't be serious to want to have people now that have pre-existing disabilities no longer be able to get insurance. They can't be serious when people who are on Social Security now can get a free checkup, well--they can have wellness checks anytime they want and not have to pay for it.
MR. GREGORY: What about the--the very name of the repeal bill is the Job-killing Health Care Law. That's what the Republicans call it. If you look at the cost associated with healthcare reform as it was passed, is it going to cost businesses more? Is it going to stop them from hiring? There is an uncertainty about the outcome that has to trouble you as a lawmaker.
SEN. REID: David, the name of the bill is as senseless as these people sleeping in their offices. The, the, the situation is this: Health care is something that the American people need, and they need it for everyone, not just a few people who are rich. We--healthcare reform is something that's extremely important. And we're going to continue to improve it, but we're going to continue to keep what we have. It's important we've made these strides. We have millions of small businesses who now have tax benefits from having insurance for their employees. We have a situation now where 80 to 85 percent of all the premiums that are received by these insurance companies have to go to take care of people, not pay salaries.
MR. GREGORY: Let's turn to the economy. The unemployment rate fell this week down to 9.4 percent. That's positive news. What's the outlook to you for 2011 in terms of joblessness in this country?
SEN. REID: The economists are saying that the year 2011 is going to be better than 2010. I hope so. The economy is far from being good. It's better, but it's far from being good. That's why I think we have to focus like a laser on creating jobs. What do you need to do? We have to make sure that we continue to help the manufacturing base. These job numbers that came out this week, they say that most of the jobs in the private sector created were in the manufacturing sector. That's good. We have to do something about our deteriorating infrastructure--roads, bridges, dams. For every billion dollars we spend, we create almost 50,000 jobs. So we need to do that.
MR. GREGORY: More spending, you're talking about, on infrastructure.
SEN. REID: And we, we also have to understand that with the price of oil going up to almost $100 a barrel that we need to continue our clean energy revolution all over the country, not just in the West where we have a lot of good things going on in Nevada, but all over the country...
MR. GREGORY: But Senator, you...
SEN. REID: ...to be able to--so those are job...
MR. GREGORY: All right, but you're, you're ticking off, you're ticking off some things.
SEN. REID: And, and finally we have to make sure that we continue what we did during the lame duck and give tax incentives for the creation of jobs.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about the debt. Back in 2006, both you and then-Senator Obama opposed raising the debt ceiling. And in a floor statement, then-Senator Obama said this: "Increasing America's debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that `the buck stop here.' Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership."
Well, here we are now and the Treasury secretary says we have to raise that debt ceiling again come spring. The president's economic adviser says you don't play chicken with this, that you have to raise the debt ceiling or else if you don't it's catastrophic. So which is it? Is raising the debt ceiling a failure of leadership as then-Senator Obama said in 2006, which you agreed with, or is it something you have to do now to ward off catastrophe in the economy?
SEN. REID: I agree with the speaker, John Boehner. John Boehner said in November, when he was asked questions similar to the one you've asked me, "What are we going to do about this raising the debt ceiling?" He said, "we have to act as adults." And that's true. We, we can't, we can't back out on the money we owe the rest of the world. We can't, we can't do as the Gingrich crowd did a few years ago, close government. Doing that, we cut off Social Security checks and the whole works.
MR. GREGORY: Senator, 2006 you voted against raising the debt ceiling, and so did Senator Obama. Was that not an adult step?
SEN. REID: I have been in Congress a long time, and 99 percent of the time I have voted for increasing the debt. And we have to do it this time.
MR. GREGORY: But why didn't you do it then?
SEN. REID: I don't really know what vote you're talking about. I've cast about 15,000 votes. When...
MR. GREGORY: But you opposed raising the debt ceiling in 2006, and now you're saying to do so is not an adult step to take.
SEN. REID: I'm saying today that we have to raise the debt ceiling. There's no alternative. In 2006, the debt ceiling was raised. Of course it had to be raised then, it has to be raised now.
MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about the new Congress, talk a little bit more broadly. The new House, Republican-controlled, and on their first day what do they do, they read the Constitution aloud, which is something that hasn't been done before in the chamber. What did you make of that?
SEN. REID: I make of that--I'm glad that they recognized that we have a Constitution. I'm glad that they read it. It's something that I carry with me all the time. I have one in my pocket right now. But I, but I think that other--rather than reading the Constitution, which some of the journalists around the country have made fun of that, I'm not going to make fun of it, I'm glad they did that, it doesn't hurt anything, it doesn't take long to read it. But I would hope that they would understand what the Constitution is all about. The Constitution itself came about as a result of a compromise, called the Great Compromise. The Great Compromise was making sure that we have a legislative branch of government, as we have now a House and the Senate. Legislation is the art of compromise. And all these people, these new members, who are flexing their muscles about all the things that they're going to do to the country should understand that we're going to have to continue down the path that we've had for many years, and that is work together to get things done.
MR. GREGORY: You ran against Sharron Angle in Nevada, tough race, for re-election, and you prevailed. She was tea party-backed, a tea party candidate. Certainly made a lot of headlines around the country. Do she and others as part of this tea party represent a lasting force in American politics?
SEN. REID: The tea party was born because of the economy. The economy is probably the worst it's ever been except for maybe the Great Depression. The tea party will disappear as soon as the economy gets better, and the economy's getting better all the time. And I wouldn't--I don't think the tea party had the vigor and support that people thought it would. You know, a couple of them won, but most of them lost.
MR. GREGORY: That's a pretty newsy prediction that the tea party is not here to stay, it will go away once the economy improves.
SEN. REID: Well, it's true. I--that's nothing original with me, but that's how I feel about it. What the election showed me is that we had a terribly bad economy, and that's where the tea party came from. And number two, that the American people want us to work together. So that's what I took back from this election.
MR. GREGORY: You talked about the American people wanting you to work together. And as a matter of fact, right after the election, you said more than 30 times that that message was work together, work together. And yet, just this past week, your spokesman said of Representative Cantor from Virginia in the House, that he's laying the groundwork for Republicans' "extremist agenda." Does that set the tone for working together?
SEN. REID: Well, I think we set the tone working together in the lame duck session, the most productive in the history of our country. And we did that by working together. And I say to my friend Eric Cantor, let's stop throwing these bombs and doing things like thinking it's--the American people are happy that you're sleeping in your office or reading the Constitution. There are things we need to do to deal with real people problems. People have been out of work for long periods of time. People who are sick and tired of paying governments like Saudi Arabia billions of dollars every year for--to burn in these gas guzzlers that we have. So there are things we can do to work together, but I, I think that throwing these bombs doesn't do the trick.
MR. GREGORY: What about the role of government, however? Under President Obama, federal debt has expanded by 32 percent. Are people rightfully concerned about the role of government under this president, under Democratic leadership?
SEN. REID: People are concerned about the debt, as they should be. But let's just go back a little bit and look at history. It's not as if we Democrats don't know how to run government. Bill Clinton had a program called PAYGO. If you're going to have a new program, pay for it, either by increasing revenue or cutting other programs. We did that, and, as a result of that, we were paying down the debt. And during the eight years of Bush, the first thing they did was get rid of the PAYGO rules. We have them now re-established. And this last Congress, 111th Congress and President Obama, found ourselves in a hole so deep, you couldn't see the top of it. And we're working our way out of that hole.
MR. GREGORY: Social Security, how does it have to change? What they put on the agenda is raising the retirement age, maybe means testing benefits. Is it time for Social Security to fundamentally change if you're going to deal with the debt problem?
SEN. REID: One of the things that always troubles me is, when we start talking about the debt, the first thing people do is run to Social Security. Social Security is a program that works, and it's going to be--it's fully funded for the next 40 years. Stop picking on Social Security. There are a lot places we can go to...
MR. GREGORY: Senator, you're really saying the arithmetic on Social Security works?
SEN. REID: I'm saying the arithmetic on Social Security works. I have no doubt it does. For the next...
MR. GREGORY: It's not in crisis?
SEN. REID: No, it's not in crisis. This is, this is, this is something that's perpetuated by people who don't like government. Social Security is fine. Are there things we can do to improve Social Security? Of course. But don't, don't...
MR. GREGORY: Means testing? Raising the retirement age?
SEN. REID: ...don't--I'm...
MR. GREGORY: Do you agree with either of those?
SEN. REID: I'm not going to go to any of those back-door methods to whack Social Security recipients. I'm not going to do that. We have a lot of things we can do with this debt that's a problem. But one of the places where I'm not going to be part of picking on is Social Security.
MR. GREGORY: Before you go, you're still the leader of the Democrats. Fewer Democrats now. How do you see your role in the Senate in this 112th Congress?
SEN. REID: My role is to set the agenda for what we do in the Senate and do my very best to work with the president and the Republican House of Representatives and, of course, my friend, Mitch McConnell, to move this country around.
MR. GREGORY: We'll leave it there. Senator, thank you very much.
(END TAPED SEGMENT)
MR. GREGORY: And you can watch our entire interview with Majority Leader Reid on our Web site. It's up now, mtp.msnbc.com.
We will be back in just a moment with an update on our top story and some final thoughts right after this.
MR. GREGORY: Flag's now at half-staff at the Capitol to remember the victims of yesterday's shooting, one of them Gabe Zimmerman, an aide to Congresswoman Giffords. Authorities in Tucson now updating the total number of victims shot yesterday to 20. Hospital officials there will have a news conference at noon Eastern today to update us on the condition of the wounded. And the sheriff will brief reporters at 1 PM Eastern time.
Stay with NBC News and MSNBC for continuing coverage, including an hour-long special on DATELINE tonight at 7 Eastern, right here on NBC.
Our thoughts and prayers with the congresswoman and the others who are victims of this tragedy.
That is all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.