MR. GREGORY: Good morning. Breaking news this morning as police find and diffuse a car bomb inside of an SUV in New York's Times Square last night.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: We avoided what could have been a very deadly event. ... Certainly could have exploded and had a pretty big fire and a decent amount of explosive impact.
MR. GREGORY: Plus, the president flies to the Gulf Coast region this morning to assess the response to that massive oil spill threatening the Louisiana and Mississippi coastlines. Here with us to discuss these developing stories, the secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano; the secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar; and with us from New Orleans, the man spearheading the governmentwide operation, U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen.
Welcome to all of you.
Secretary Napolitano, let me start with you and this developing story out of New York. Mayor Bloomberg described this as an "amateurish device." What does it say at this point about who's behind it, in your judgment?
SEC'Y JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, we're taking it very seriously. It was obviously parked in an area, a lot of pedestrian traffic, other traffic. It's too soon to tell who was responsible, who or what groups were responsible, so every possible examination is being done of the device, but also of the forensics.
MR. GREGORY: An act of terrorism?
SEC'Y NAPOLITANO: You know, it certainly looks that way. It certainly looks as if it was intended to be that way.
MR. GREGORY: Was it an indication at all of something wider, some kind of wider plot? Can you determine that at this point?
SEC'Y NAPOLITANO: You know, at this point I have no information that it's anything other than a one-off. But again, the situation is, is it happened. The forensics are being done. The FBI and, and the Department of Homeland Security, along with the New York City Police, working together to identify whether there are any other acts going on. We don't have any information that there are right now.
MR. GREGORY: This was a big device, though.
SEC'Y NAPOLITANO: It was, it was a big device. I can't give you the--what would have been the actually explosion had it actually detonated. That's all being worked up right now.
MR. GREGORY: What about leads? Where is the investigation going at the moment?
SEC'Y NAPOLITANO: Well, every possible lead--you know, you look at the license plate on the vehicle, you look at the vehicle itself, you look at any sources on the, the propane tanks or anything else, you look for fingerprints. You look for all of kind of the traditional things...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
SEC'Y NAPOLITANO: ...people read, hear about, see on television. And then we also begin looking at, for example, videotape. There are a lot of cameras in that area of New York City.
MR. GREGORY: Can you see anybody on the tape, or eyewitness accounts?
SEC'Y NAPOLITANO: Again, it's too soon to say. If there were already identification of a subject or subjects, obviously that would be getting out. But right now the investigation is just beginning.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Let me turn to the other developing story, and that is, of course, the oil spill. Let me go down to New Orleans and Admiral Allen.
You're on the ground there, you're assessing the situation. I think the most obvious first question is how are they doing actually shutting off the leak itself?
ADM. THAD ALLEN: Well, David, that's the most challenging part of this operation. We're dealing with a wellhead that's 5,000 feet down on the sea floor, and a well that extends 18,000 feet below it. We've got a 5,000-foot riser pipe that came from the wellhead up to the drilling vessel that's crumpled on the ocean, and we have three different areas where there is product leaking from that pipe. All the work has to be done with remotely operated vehicles. There are a number of, of different scenarios that are being planned out by BP right now. All of it has to be done with remotely operated vehicles. But everything is, is being done because it looks like we had a failure of the blowout preventer, which is a device, sits above the well, that is supposed to close it down in, in times of emergency that appeared not to work this time.
MR. GREGORY: And that is a big question, right? How, how does that not happen? How does a fail-safe procedure fail?
ADM. ALLEN: Well, I would defer to Secretary Salazar for follow on comment, but basically it's a multistage device that sits above the wellhead that can either cut the pipe, crimp the pipe, or put a rubber seal around it. So there are fair--various levels that can be actuated, but it appeared that it only partially actuated or did not actuate.
MR. GREGORY: Secretary...
ADM. ALLEN: But I would defer to Secretary Salazar.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Well, Secretary Salazar, before you address that, I think another important issue here is how bad is it going to be? When is this going to reach shore and how bad will it be when it gets here, this oil spill?
SEC'Y KEN SALAZAR: You know, from day one we've been preparing for the worst-case scenario. There's a spill plan that essentially would cover hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil, and that spill--response plan is what is being activated. You know, I have flown over this area many times, and we have some of the most wonderful wildlife refuges and national parks. The Gulf Coast is a place that needs to be protected. The president has directed from day one that we spare nothing at all in terms of the effort to prevent damage onshore as well as taking whatever other actions taking place.
MR. GREGORY: But paint the scenario. I mean, you've got commercial fishery down there, you've got small towns whose livelihood depend on commercial fishing. If that's interrupted or lost for a period of time, those are jobs that could never come back, those are industries that could never come back. What's a scenario of what you think you could actually be looking at in terms of environmental impact?
SEC'Y SALAZAR: The, the scenario is a very grave scenario. You're looking at potentially 90 days before you ultimately get to what is the ultimate solution here, and that's a relief well that's going to have to be drilled down three and a half miles below the ocean floor. And by the time you drill that well down, a lot of oil could spread. Now, as that oil spreads, what the president has directed us to do is to make sure that we're taking care of protecting all of the assets down there, and that includes the communities, the people who are going to be affected by it. And so, at the end of the day, this is the beginning of a campaign for, for what's going to be a massive restoration of the Gulf Coast.
MR. GREGORY: In terms of environmental impact, bigger in scale than the results of the Exxon Valdez spill?
SEC'Y SALAZAR: It is unknown at this point. We're in a dynamic situation. Everything is being tried to stop the source. And that's where the global resources are, are, are focused, on that particular challenge, but they're also focused on all the other aspects that the, the commandant was talking about.
MR. GREGORY: Secretary Napolitano, there are questions about when the government acted, whether it did everything it could at the right moment. Is the government playing catch-up here? You yourself didn't even request, until late in the week, for additional DOD resources to be brought to bear. Is this a, a situation of playing catch-up?
SEC'Y NAPOLITANO: No, not at all. We had DOD resources there from day one. This was a situation that was treated as a possible catastrophic failure from, from day one. So we had prepositioned in place hundreds of thousands of feet of boom. There were 73 vessels, now over a hundred ships there to work on preventing the oil from actually reaching the shore, to, to stage that fight offshore, as it were. Every possible resource was being lined up onshore. There were set up joint command centers that included not only the Department of Interior, but other federal agencies and the states who are important participants in this. And so the physical response on the ground has been, from, from day one, as if this could be a catastrophic failure. As the situation has evolved...
MR. GREGORY: But did the government...
SEC'Y NAPOLITANO: ...different administrative actions then get taken.
MR. GREGORY: Was the, was the government misled by BP? Could the government have done more to make an assessment that things were spiraling out of control more quickly?
SEC'Y NAPOLITANO: No. We had independent projections being done at the beginning. And realize, this incident evolved over time. First it was an explosion; and, of course, the Coast Guard was first on scene with the search and rescue. Then two days later the, the, the rig actually sank. And then you had some oil coming to the surface, but it was being burned off. And then you had some oil starting to spread. All the while, BP is down there trying to deploy its remote operating vessels, its robots, basically, down as deep as Ken just said, to try to shut off this oil to fix the riser. So all, all the time we are saying--getting independent verification of what was actually bubbling to the surface. And now, of course, we see a large slick and, of course, that evolved over the end of the week.
MR. GREGORY: You're disappointed in BP's actions so far this week?
SEC'Y NAPOLITANO: Well, I think we're all disappointed that BP hasn't been able to shut off this well. And I would add to what Secretary Salazar said, all of these actions are being taken, but BP is going to pay for them.
MR. GREGORY: Before I let you all go, question about Arizona. You're a former U.S. attorney from the northern part of the state, former governor, of course. Will this very tough law against illegal immigrants stand as a legal matter?
SEC'Y NAPOLITANO: Well, I'll, I'll tell you what. The Justice Department is looking at the constitutionality of the provision. But I will tell you as the former U.S. attorney, attorney general, and, and governor, I vetoed similar laws in part because they were bad for law enforcement. I think what Arizonans are saying is that "we need comprehensive immigration reform, and our, our state simply can't afford to keep waiting."
MR. GREGORY: As a law enforcement officer, do you think this invites racial profiling that will hurt the state?
SEC'Y NAPOLITANO: I think it certainly could invite profiling. And, and, again, you know, as an Arizonan I think this law is the wrong way to go.
MR. GREGORY: All right. We will leave it there. Thanks to all of you for being here this busy morning.
Earlier this weekend, we discussed some of the broader implications of this Gulf Coast oil spill, plus the immigration debate, and other global hotspots in an exclusive conversation with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
MR. GREGORY: Welcome back. Thanks for being here.
SEC'Y HILLARY CLINTON: Well, David, I'm thrilled to be here on the new set. Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: Thank you very much. There's a lot of important issues to talk about.
SEC'Y CLINTON: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: What's certainly in the headlines this weekend is this oil spill off the coast of Louisiana and Mississippi, and it becomes a bigger issue and even a national security issue in--as it applies to climate change, which is an issue that you've dealt with. How will the administration approach this, particularly given the president's interests in offshore drilling? Does that have to stop now?
SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, David, I think that the president has ordered the departments that deal with this, Homeland Security, Interior, Environmental Protection, Defense to all immediately, not only do everything possible to mitigate the effects of this spill, but to try to come up with recommendations going forward. First order of business, however, is to try to get this spill under control--which has been, as you know, very difficult--and to prevent further damage to the coastline along Louisiana to the fishing waters, to the wildlife. I think it does raise questions, which the president has said have to be answered. He put forth a very comprehensive approach that included the potential of drilling off of our own shore. That is a national security concern because we have to do better to lessen our dependence on foreign oil. But it has to be done safely. It can't be done at the risk of having to spend billions of dollars cleaning up these spills. So, as with so much in these difficult areas, it's going to require a balancing act.
MR. GREGORY: Another area that has become a domestic political debate over immigration has also taken on some international ramifications. Mexico, because of the law, the stringent law against--anti-immigration law passed in Arizona has issued a pretty unusual alert...
SEC'Y CLINTON: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...to its own citizens traveling to Arizona. I'll put it up on the screen. This is the alert, a travel alert over Arizona immigration law. This is how the USA Today reported it on Wednesday. "The country warned that the state's adoption of a strict immigration enforcement law has created `a negative political environment for migrant communities and for all Mexican visitors.'
"`It must be assumed that every Mexican citizen may be harassed and questioned without further cause at any time,' according to the foreign ministry." The president, President Calderon, with whom you'll meet soon has talked about criminalizing--"this law criminalizes a largely social and economic phenomenon of migration." This is a pretty big shot across the bow to America here.
SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, it is, and, and I think if you look at it, again, you have a lot of unanswered questions. This law, which is clearly a result of the frustration that people in Arizona and their elected officials feel about the difficulty of enforcing the law along our border and preventing the continued immigration, people who are not documented. But on the other hand, it is written so broadly that if you were visiting in Arizona and you had an accent and you were a citizen from, you know, my state, of New York, you could be subjected to the kind of inquiry that is call--that this law permits.
MR. GREGORY: You think it invites profiling, racial profiling?
SEC'Y CLINTON: I don't think there's any doubt about that because, clearly, as I understand the way the law is being explained, if you're a legal resident, you still have to carry papers. Well, how are--how is a law enforcement official supposed to know? So, again, we have to try to balance the very legitimate concerns that Americans--not just people in Arizona, but across the country--have about safe and secure borders, about trying to have comprehensive immigration reform, with a law that I think does what a state doesn't have the authority to do, try to impose their own immigration law that is really the province of the federal government.
MR. GREGORY: That's important. Do you think this law will not stand up legally?
SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, I don't want to offer a legal opinion. I, I think I'll leave that to the Justice Department, but I know the attorney general of Arizona has raised questions about the legality. And you're right, we have a visit from President Calderon coming up, a state visit. He's a very important partner to us on trying to stop illegal activity along our border--the importation of drugs, of arms, of human beings, all of the crime that that's associated with--and we believe that he has really done the best he can under very difficult circumstances to get this under control. We don't want to make his life any harder either. We want to try to support him in what has been a courageous campaign against the drug traffickers.
MR. GREGORY: Let me move on to some other issues that are obviously on your plate, which is a, a big plate of issues.
SEC'Y CLINTON: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about Afghanistan. A big offensive is being planned for Kandahar, a very important visit by President Karzai's coming up after a period of turbulence between the U.S. and Karzai, which I know the administration has tried to tamp down. And yet, it's the nature of the insurgency that our fighting men and women are dealing with, and the Pentagon issued a report that was reported on by the Los Angeles Times on Thursday. Let me put it up on the screen. It says, "The report presented a sobering new assessment Wednesday of the Taliban-led insurgency in the country, saying that its abilities are expanding and its operations are increasing in sophistication, despite major offensives by U.S. forces in the militants' heartland," like Marja.
"The new report offers a grim take on the likely difficulty of establishing lasting security, especially in southern Afghanistan, where the insurgency enjoys broad support. The conclusions raise the prospect that the insurgency in the south may never be completely vanquished, but instead must be contained to prevent it from threatening the government of the President Harmid Karzai."
A narrow question here. Are you resigned to the fact that the Taliban, the insurgency, will have to be a part of this government in the future?
SEC'Y CLINTON: No. And let me start by putting the, the recent report from the Pentagon into context. It was a look back. It goes from last October through March. When we were devising the strategy that the president announced at West Point in early December, it was during the August, September, October, November period. And there was no doubt that the Taliban had the initiative, that there was a very serious threat to not only our forces, obviously, on the ground, but to the stability and security of Afghanistan.
MR. GREGORY: But you hear all this talk, and Karzai wants some kind of reconciliation with the Taliban as well.
SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, but, David, I think that we have to sort of sort out what we mean by that. We talk about reconciliation and reintegration. They may sound the same, but they're somewhat different concepts. Reintegration refers to the foot soldiers on the field who are coming in increasing numbers and saying, "Look, you know, we're fighting because we get paid. We're fighting because we were volunteered to fight because the Taliban came to our village and intimidated our, our, our elders. So there, there seems to be an ongoing movement of people sort of out of the battlefield. And General McChrystal and his commanders on the ground are seeing that and kind of organizing and running that.
The larger question about reconciliation--I don't know any conflict in recent times that didn't have some political resolution associated with it. People either got tired of fighting and decided they would engage in a peace process, they were defeated enough so that they were willing to lay down their arms. What President Karzai is saying, and we agree with this direction, is that you've got to look to see who is reconcilable. Not everybody will be. We don't expect Mullah Omar to show up and say, "Oh yeah, I'm giving up on my association with al-Qaeda, etc." But we do think that there are leaders within the Taliban--in fact, there are some already who have come over to the other side. Now, if they do so, they have to renounce al-Qaeda, they have to renounce violence, they have to give up their arms, and they have to be willing to abide by the Afghan constitution.
MR. GREGORY: Another adversary, of course, gets us to Iran and the fact that President Ahmadinejad from Iran will be coming to New York to the U.N. for a nonproliferation meeting.
SEC'Y CLINTON: Right.
MR. GREGORY: You're moving down a path of sanctions, we understand what that is. Do you feel like he's going to try to show up here the early part of next week and steal the show?
SEC'Y CLINTON: I don't know what he's showing up for because the purpose of the non-proliferation treaty review conference is to reiterate the commitment of the international community to the three goals--disarmament, non-proliferation, the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. So the vast majority of countries are coming to see what progress we can make. And this is a very high priority for President Obama. It's why he pressed so hard for the START treaty, which he signed with President Medvedev in Prague. It's why he convened the nuclear security summit to highlight the threat posed by nuclear terrorism. It's why we have begun to work out deals with India and others for the peaceful use of nuclear energy, which countries are entitled to under the non-proliferation regime. If Iran is coming to say, "We're willing to abide by the non-proliferation treaty," that would be very welcome news. I have a feeling that's not what they're coming to do. I think they're coming to try to divert attention and confuse the issue. And there is no confusion. They have violated the terms of the NPT, they have been held under all kinds of restrictions and obligations that they have not complied with by the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, by the U.N. Security Council. So we're not going to permit Iran to try to change the, the story from their failure to comply and in any way upset the efforts we are in the midst of, which is to get the international community to adopt a strong Security Council resolution that further isolates them and imposes consequences for their behavior.
MR. GREGORY: Madam Secretary, I'd like to spend a couple minutes on some other global hot spots that you're dealing with. The first one is actually with America's strong ally in the U.K., in Great Britain. Very interesting election going on. You've got three candidates, a resurgent third party in the Social Democrats, televised debates. You know something about those.
SEC'Y CLINTON: I do.
MR. GREGORY: And as you watch what's going on there, do you think there's a movement that could spread? Do you see a third party becoming viable in the United States?
SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, let's see whether it's viable in the U.K. I, I don't know the answer to that. We had, in my lifetime, and certainly long before, viable third party candidates. We've, you know, had Ross Perot, John Anderson, you know, just within my voting history. I think there's always room in a democracy for people to bring their views to the forefront. But I think one of the real strengths of our system has been our two-party approach, where each party may frustrate some of its own members because they, they do have a broad cross-section of voters and opinions. But, look, I'm going to be as interested in anybody in seeing what happens in the election in Great Britain.
MR. GREGORY: Final one has to do with the election in Sudan, where you have Bashir as the victor. And yet, this is--Sudan is a sponsor of state terror, according to the State Department. And this is someone who's boasting about the results and keeping the United States at bay. Nicholas Kristof wrote this in The New York Times: "Until he reached the White House," President "Obama repeatedly insisted" the U.S. "apply more pressure on Sudan so as to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur and elsewhere. Yet, as president, Mr. Obama and his aides have caved, leaving Sudan gloating at American weakness. ...
"President" Bashir, "al-Bashir of Sudan - the man wanted" ... "for crimes against humanity in Darfur - has been celebrating. His regime calls itself the National Congress Party, or N.C.P., and he was quoted in Sudan as telling a rally in the Blue Nile region:" Every America--"`Even America is becoming an N.C.P. member. No one is against our will.'
"Memo to Mr. Obama: When a man who has been charged with crimes against humanity tells the world that America is in his pocket, it's time to review your policy." What do you say?
SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, I would say that, number one, I, I can't take anything seriously that Bashir says. He is an indicted war criminal. The United States is very committed to seeing him brought to justice. But let's look at what's happening in Sudan, because I have the greatest respect, of course, for Nic Kristof and others who share my deep dismay at events in Sudan. But here's what we're trying to do. When we came into office, Bashir threw out the, the groups, the non-governmental organizations who were providing most of the aid in the camps in Darfur, which could have been a disastrous humanitarian crisis. We were able to get a lot of the help back in, and we're beginning to see some slight progress in Darfur. I don't want to overstate it because it is still a deplorable situation. But we're working to try to get the people back to their homes, out of the camps. At the same time, you had this election going on. It was, by any measure, a flawed election. There were many, many things wrong with it, but there hadn't been an election in many years. And so part of our goal was to try to empower opposition parties, empower people to go out and vote. Thousands and thousands did. The result, I think, was pretty much foreordained that Bashir would come out the winner, and that's unfortunate. We are turning all of our attention to trying to help the south and to mitigate against the attitudes of the north. I, I can't sit here and say that we are satisfied because I'm certainly not satisfied with where we are and what we're doing, but it is an immensely complicated arena.
Now, the United States could back off and say, "We won't deal with these people, we're not going to have anything to do with them, Bashir is a war criminal." I don't think that will improve the situation. So along with our partners--the U.K., Norway, neighboring countries--we are trying to manage what is a very explosive problem.
MR. GREGORY: Just a couple minutes left. I want to ask you about another big thrust of your time as secretary of State, and that is forging--well, I should say, a realization that there are limits to what government can accomplish around the world.
SEC'Y CLINTON: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: You have spent a lot of time working with the private sector...
SEC'Y CLINTON: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...to achieve certain commercial goals, also to achieve goals like the empowerment of women. You've got an announcement this, this weekend having to do with the China Expo...
SEC'Y CLINTON: Right.
MR. GREGORY: ...and the U.S. role in the China Expo, as well as efforts to empower women around the world in developing countries through the help of the private sector. Why is this really the, the route of the future for the government?
SEC'Y CLINTON: Thank you for asking me that because that is exactly what I believe, that diplomacy today is not just government to government. Part of what I had to do when I became secretary of State was to rebuild America's image, standing, and leadership in the world; and certainly President Obama is, you know, our greatest advocate of that. But you can't just do that by the government saying things or even by our president making incredibly important speeches. You have to begin to engage the people in other countries; and, in order to do that effectively, I want more people to people contacts, I want more private sector partnerships with our public sector and with people around the world.
Let me give you two quick examples. You mentioned the Shanghai Expo. You know, there are probably 70 million plus people who go through that Expo. When I became secretary of State, there was no money raised because we don't put public money into a project like that. So with the help of a lot of very dedicated corporate sponsors, we now will be a player in that Expo. Now, what does that mean? Well, when those 70 million Chinese, mostly Chinese, but people from elsewhere in the world, go through, they're going to learn something about America. They're going to learn something about, you know, our values, about our products, about, you know, how we live. I think that helps to build the kind of understanding and connection that is at the root of good relations.
And on women's issues, we just had a great announcement through the combined efforts of a number of corporate sponsors, foundations like the Rockefeller Foundation. We're going to be working to help empower women doing what they do best and to try to up their education levels, their health levels. Why does this matter? Because it's the United States doing it. And it's not just the United States government, it's the people of the United States.
MR. GREGORY: Before you go, a question about whether you think it's realistic that you will stay on as secretary of State for the balance of the first term.
SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, I intend to, yeah.
MR. GREGORY: You do intend to?
SEC'Y CLINTON: I intend to, yeah. But, I mean, you know, people have been asking me this and in, in the interest of full disclosure, it is an exhausting job. But I enjoy it, I have a great time doing it. I feel like we're making a difference around the world, that--you know, I'm a big believer in setting goals, having a vision of where we're trying to get, but then trying to translate that into what we do today and what we do tomorrow. And we've made a lot of progress. We face incredibly difficult problems.
MR. GREGORY: But so, you, you think you'll stay for the whole first term?
SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, I think so. I think so. I mean, look, you know, ask me next month and the month after that. But that certainly is my intention.
MR. GREGORY: And yet you don't care to be on the Supreme Court?
SEC'Y CLINTON: Oh, never. I mean, I'm glad, I'm glad you asked me that.
MR. GREGORY: You're a lawyer with all that background.
SEC'Y CLINTON: I am--I do not and have never wanted to be a judge, ever. I mean, that has never been anything that I even let cross my mind because it's just not my personality.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think the president should pick another women--woman this time?
SEC'Y CLINTON: I think he should pick a very well-qualified, people-savvy, young person to be on the Court to really help to shape the jurisprudence going forward. I think that, you know, it's not a surprise that there's a real division on the Court, and a lot of decisions that have great ramifications for the people of our country, that I would like to see someone put on the Court who can really try to shift the direction of the current Court.
MR. GREGORY: Secretary Clinton, thank you, as always.
SEC'Y CLINTON: You're welcome.
MR. GREGORY: And up next, an exclusive interview with Florida's Republican governor, Charlie Crist. Why he's now running as an independent for Senate and what it means about the future of the GOP. Plus, a look at how the president's agenda is playing out across the country. Our political roundtable of leaders from Congress and the states weighs in, only here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. GREGORY: Florida Governor Charlie Crist on his decision to leave the Republican Party and run for the Senate as an independent. Plus, our political roundtable with state and congressional leaders. They tackle the politics of immigration and much more right after this brief commercial break.
MR. GREGORY: And we are back. Joining us now, Governor Charlie Crist of Florida, who announced this week he is leaving the Republican Party and is now running for the U.S. Senate as an independent.
Governor, good morning.
GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (FL): Good morning, David. How are you?
MR. GREGORY: Just 35 days ago, during an interview on Fox News, you were categorical about this. The question was, "Are you willing to pledge right here, right now that you will run in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate and not run as an independent?" Your response: "I'm running as a Republican." Did you determine in those 35 days that the Republican Party had rejected you?
GOV. CRIST: I think the primary part of the Republican Party. The, the primary Republicans, if you will. And what ensued in those 35 days was a lot of listening on my part, David. The next weekend was Easter weekend. My wife, Carol, and I went down to Useppa Island and had the opportunity to start listening to people around the state, whether in southwest Florida or in Miami or Jacksonville or my home of St. Petersburg, or in the Panhandle where I am today. And the consistent message that I got over and over and over again was that people were frustrated, they were tired of the gridlock, tired of the bickering in Washington, D.C., and that we needed a new way, a better path, if you will, and encouraged me to run independent and get to that November ballot so that the people of Florida, all the people of Florida, would have a much truer choice when it came to this race for the U.S. Senate.
MR. GREGORY: But, Governor, you were elected as a Republican. The Republicans of Florida know you best. And here is your standing in the polls, you're now some 20 points behind Marco Rubio. What a change from back in October, when you had a pretty commanding lead over him. You say listen to the people. Have the people not spoken?
GOV. CRIST: Well, in a sense they have. But again, I would, I would emphasize that those are primary Republican voters. It's very different from the November Republican or Democrats or independents. And I think what's happening in our country is unfortunately there's a lot of primary fear. And what I mean by that is, you know, I see people in Washington in the House or the Senate and they're so concerned about being faced or challenged in a primary that they can't speak their, their true sense, their, their free will. They feel, feel kind of shackled, if you will, by what the primary voters might do. And I think what we need to have is a true, honest discussion about what democracy is supposed to be about. Let all the people have their say...
MR. GREGORY: All right.
GOV. CRIST: ...give them a true choice, and that's why I'm going to November.
MR. GREGORY: I was struck in an interview on Friday, you, you made a point by saying you're not deserting the Republican Party. And if we can, rather quickly, I just want to go a few issues to really sort of explore where you are. If you are elected as a senator, will you caucus in the Senate with Republicans?
GOV. CRIST: I'll caucus with the people of Florida. And, and, and as I said earlier this week, I'll caucus with anybody who will help my fellow Floridians.
MR. GREGORY: But hold on, Governor. You have to make a choice when you're in the Senate, Republicans or Democrats. Who do you caucus with? As a matter of business, you'd have to decide.
GOV. CRIST: Well, when I'm an independent, I'm going to do what I think is in the best interest of my people, and that's my decision. And that's what I'm going to do for Floridians. And that's what people want. They don't want you to say, look, you have to either go with Democrats or Republicans. You have to go with your gut and with your heart. That's what this country needs now more than ever, and that's why I'm running independent.
MR. GREGORY: Would you, would you vote for a Republican or a Democratic majority leader?
GOV. CRIST: I might not vote for either one. You know, I'm going to vote for who I think would be best for the people of Florida. And if that happens to be a Democrat, so be it. If it happens to be a Republican, so be it. But I got to look out for the people of my state. I mean, we've got candidates now in this race, one that's on the hard right in Speaker Rubio, one that's on the hard left in Congressman Meek; you know, sort of the big government guy and the big corporate guy. And then you've got a commonsense guy right down the middle that wants to represent the people of the state and do what's right. It's not right vs. left, this is about right vs. wrong.
MR. GREGORY: All right, couple more issues. Would you support legislation that repealed the president's healthcare legislation?
GOV. CRIST: Yeah, I think we need to start over. I really do. We've got a great plan here in Florida, David. There's no government mandate, no tax increases. It offers coverage to those who can't afford it, who have lost a job. It's a compassionate way to do it, and I think that's a good model for the country.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Do you think you we need a limit on emissions of carbon dioxide?
GOV. CRIST: I think we do have to have limits. I mean, you know, look what's happening here in the Panhandle of Florida. On Tuesday I went out, I flew over this oil spill. It is horrific. And it, and it terrifies me what the possible implications could be, both environmentally and economically. If this doesn't make the case that we've got to go to clean energy--solar energy, wind energy, nuclear--I don't know what does. And, and I think that we have to be focused on that and realistic about it and move forward.
MR. GREGORY: Final question, Governor. Especially with the oil spill that has unfolded on the Gulf Coast, is it your view that offshore drilling should be tabled as an idea going forward?
GOV. CRIST: Absolutely. It's got to be tabled for sure. I mean, you know, when I flew over it on Tuesday and I saw the magnitude of this thing, it was, it was unbelievable. And then I've been here in Pensacola yesterday and again today, and it, it frightens me. I mean, you know, I think what we have to do is be prepared to handle this thing, do the very best we can, but we've got to be prepared for the worst. And that means going to clean energy as quickly as we can, and natural gas.
MR. GREGORY: Final point, Governor, before I let you go. Would you concede that you are running an uphill battle as an independent for the Senate?
GOV. CRIST: I don't think there's any question about it. But I, but I do get great encouragement. At the announcement in St. Petersburg, for example, on Thursday, after I said I'm going to run as an independent, I said, "I don't have either party anymore. I need the people." And some teachers were there behind me and said, "Governor, we've got your back." That really inspired me. And while it's an uphill battle, I'm encouraged.
MR. GREGORY: Governor Crist, thank you very much for joining us this morning.
GOV. CRIST: Great. Thank you, David. Good to be with you.
MR. GREGORY: Thank you.
I want to bring in our political roundtable. Joining us, the Democrat governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm; chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, Senator Lamar Alexander; chairman of the House Republican Conference, Representative Mike Pence; and the Democratic governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson.
First of all, welcome to our new digs. Very nice...
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MR. GREGORY: ...to have all of you here. Thank you very much. We've had a lot of breaking news here, so--and still a lot of issues to get to. We'll get to as much as we can on a busy Sunday morning. I do want to start with politics.
Senator Alexander, you didn't get a commitment from the governor of Florida, who's now a Republican, to caucus with Republicans. And the leadership, of which you're a part, has said, "Thanks but no thanks." You don't want much association with Governor Crist at the moment.
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-TN): Well, when he changed his mind, I changed my mind about him. I'm very disappointed by that. I mean, it really undermines the ability of people to participate in our, our, our politics. We've got a lot of alienated people in America right now. They want a place to have their say. So we say, "Come on in to our primary if you want to put a check and a balance on runaway government." So he did, and now he says, "I'm not doing so well by the rules, so I'm going to go another direction." That's what primaries are for.
MR. GREGORY: But why--you know, when Senator Lieberman ran as an independent, the Democratic Party did not push him away. They said, "No, we're still, still--stay with us here." And yet the Republican leadership has said, "No thanks, Governor." You know, "We've changed our mind about you," as you just said. Is that a right strategy?
SEN. ALEXANDER: Senator Lieberman was different. First, he ran as an independent at the same time he was running as a Democrat. Second, he had a very strong principled opposition to the Iraq war. And third, the Democratic leadership in that case said that they didn't, they didn't support him. So Marco Rubio has shown to the people of Florida that he's a better candidate than Governor Crist, apparently, and Governor Crist has said, "I'm not doing too well by these rules. I think I'll try some other rules."
MR. GREGORY: On the other side of the aisle, Governor Richardson, from the Rocky Mountain West and New Mexico, a place where independents have certainly flexed their muscles, what's going on here from your vantage point? This was somebody, Governor Crist, who was on the short list to be a vice presidential candidate for John McCain, and now he may not survive within his own party?
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM): Well, I think the case is, with the exception of our two Republican guests who I know are moderate, this is a Republican Party that is basically driving moderates like Charlie Crist out of the party. I mean, these--this was like an ideological litmus test, and there is a dramatic increase in independent voters throughout the country. I think as an outsider, the true outsider in this race, Governor Crist, has a chance. But I want to say that we have some very strong Democratic candidates, and I believe that the entrance of Governor Crist has helped candidates like Congressman Meech--Meek, who has been very active, criss-crossing the state. But he certainly, Governor Crist, has, has turned the tables around in Florida. It's a wide open race.
MR. GREGORY: But Congressman Pence, the bigger question is, is it safe to be a moderate in the Republican Party? Or no longer?
REP. MIKE PENCE (R-IN): Well, David, I'm still trying to recover being called a moderate by Governor Richardson.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
REP. PENCE: You know, I'm a, I'm a conservative.
MR. GREGORY: Something tells me he didn't really mean that.
REP. PENCE: Yeah, I...
GOV. RICHARDSON: I was trying to be nice to you.
REP. PENCE: Yeah, yeah, it was nice. I endorsed Marco Rubio in February. I think the real story here is that Marco Rubio won the primary early. I mean, he, he, he launched a campaign, a come-from-behind campaign that was really built on what is a broad American rejection of the borrowing, the spending, the bailouts, and the takeovers of this administration. It was really born of the famous hug, that...(unintelligible)...Republicans were fighting against or to call...
MR. GREGORY: His--the, the stimulus plan.
REP. PENCE: Yeah. The so-called stimulus bill that has taken us from 7.5 percent employment to nearly 10 percent unemployment nationwide; worse in Michigan. I mean, I mean, Governor Crist, different from Republicans in Washington, D.C., decided to embrace the president's policies, literally embrace the president. Marco Rubio courageously stepped forward. He gave Republican voters in Florida a choice for a principled conservative committed to fiscal responsibility and the principles of growth and conservative values, and he won that primary without anybody having to cast a vote.
MR. GREGORY: All right. I want to move on.
Governor Granholm, I want to talk about some of the other issues that we've been talking about this morning. This oil spill in the Gulf and questions of presidential leadership, the administration's role, you now have an oil spill the dimensions of which are not exactly clear. What kind of job has the administration done here dealing with the private company in BP, assessing the magnitude of damage here, and then responding?
GOV. JENNIFER GRANHOLM (D-MI): Well, clearly, you had Janet Napolitano and Ken Salazar on this morning. They outlined the steps that the administration is taking. This is something I think that nobody could have anticipated or knew exactly what the scope was going to be. So they acted very swiftly to contain it. But I do think, to the bigger issue, it--and I'd be curious to know what this does in terms of the support for offshore drilling from the Republicans who are on the panel here. I mean, I think that according to Governor Crist, we should pause on that. But it does speak to the need to have an energy plan and policy that gets us to being independent of foreign oil, but also we should be careful about what sources of fossil fuels we're going after.
MR. GREGORY: Well, senator and the former secretary of energy is here as well. But, Senator, this was the Tampa Tribune editorial on Monday on this point: "The tragic explosion of a drilling rig off the coast of Louisiana exposes the big lie espoused by the oil industry and its minions in the Florida Legislature: Modern drilling is harmless. ...
"Americans have to accept some tradeoffs if we want an abundant and affordable energy. But we must balance the risks intelligently.
"To permit drilling in Florida's coastal waters where there is no margin for error is unnecessary and irresponsible." This has to be seen as a setback for offshore drilling.
SEN. ALEXANDER: It is a setback, and we ought to stop for a moment and see if there's anything we can do to make it safer. All 40 Republican senators, now 41, support electrifying half our cars and trucks, the best way to reduce the use of oil. If we were to do that, it'd probably take 20 years and we'd still need 12 million barrels of oil a day in this country. And one-fourth of all the air--oil that we produce for ourselves comes from the Gulf of Mexico. So, unless we want $14 a gallon gasoline and tankers bringing oil from Saudi Arabia, which has been 99 percent of the oil spills in history, we're going to have to find a way to continue to drill safely in the Gulf of Mexico.
MR. GREGORY: Governor?
GOV. RICHARDSON: Well, my view is that we need an overall oceans policy in this country protecting the ocean just as we protect the land. I think the president was right in putting a moratorium on new offshore leases. I think the Clean Water Act has to be expanded to provide aid to the Gulf. I believe BP is to blame. They have to pay for this. This is something that, obviously, they saw coming. They predicted wrongly. And the administration, I believe, moved in rapidly. But, but I think across the board, David, we have to look at protecting our fisheries, our coastal seabed, our seashores, and this means a national, a national policy on oceans that we don't have.
MR. GREGORY: Let me spend our last few minutes talking about the domestic debate over immigration reform. This is a debate that is very, very serious, the Arizona law. It is also something that the president used for some pretty sharp-edged satire, as well, at our annual correspondents dinner here in Washington, the White House Correspondents? Dinner, where he talked about Senator McCain, who is actually supporting this measure after, you know, spearheading comprehensive immigration reform with the late Senator Kennedy. Here was the president last night.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: Unfortunately, John McCain couldn't make it. Recently he claimed that he had never identified himself as a maverick. And we all know what happens in Arizona when you don't have ID. Adios, amigos.
MR. GREGORY: Some laughter, Governor Granholm, over, obviously, a very serious issue that is talked about in terms of boycotts of Arizona, and it's certainly raising more calls for comprehensive immigration reform.
GOV. GRANHOLM: Yeah, it sure is, and there should be comprehensive immigration reform. And it's got to be tough on the violators, tough on those who hire illegal immigrants. It's got to be practical. How do you do it? How do you do it with those who are here? How do you ensure that it's fair to the taxpayers? And those three things, I think, have to all be a part of it. But I, I do say from my perspective as a governor in the north, for, for our citizens, really, we are so focused on jobs that that for us is--has got to be the number one issue, which is why I'm a very big proponent of the energy bill as a way to create jobs. So immigration is really important. Obviously, it's much more important in states like New Mexico.
MR. GREGORY: But this is an interesting point because, Congressman Pence, the president came out and said, you know, there was some debate about whether immigration would be an agenda item that he would push before energy legislation. He said this week there simply aren't the votes for it, particularly from Republicans.
REP. PENCE: Well, well, let, let's be clear for a second. This is no laughing matter for the people of Arizona who are--have been profoundly affected by the fact that there's nearly a half a million illegal immigrants and, and a rampant drug trade and, and, and human trafficking trade that's been besetting. Phoenix, Arizona, is, is the kidnapping capital of the United State of America. I don't know if this law is perfect, but I knew--do know that it is wrong for officials in this government to throw stones at the people of Arizona as they're trying to, to reassert the rule of law in the wake of the fact that this administration and this Congress have been systematically cutting funding to border security since the Democrats took control.
MR. GREGORY: Of course, it was Republicans who blocked comprehensive immigration reform. Let's be clear about that.
REP. PENCE: Well, let--well, let, let's focus on border security first, David.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
REP. PENCE: In, in fiscal...
MR. GREGORY: The bill called for that. The Bush bill called for more border security, Republicans were with him...
REP. PENCE: Right.
MR. GREGORY: ...until they were against him on that.
REP. PENCE: David, here's the numbers. Fiscal 2007, the last year Republicans wrote a budget, $1.2 billion for border security and fencing. By 2010 that was cut by--to $800 billion. If you'd kept funding level...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
REP. PENCE: I mean, the Democrats have cut three-quarters of a trillion out of this...
MR. GREGORY: All right.
REP. PENCE: ...and the president wants to go to 50 percent of the level that Republicans...
MR. GREGORY: Governor...
REP. PENCE: ...spent on border security. We have got to take border security seriously.
MR. GREGORY: All right, Governor Richardson...
REP. PENCE: We can't blame Arizonans for trying to reaffirm the rule of law.
MR. GREGORY: ...final, final, final thought on this.
GOV. RICHARDSON: This law in Arizona is terrible. What the administration needs to do is challenge it because it's unconstitutional. Immigration is a federal matter. One hundred thousand demonstrators were out on the streets yesterday against this law around this country, dwarfing the tea party demonstrations. There's going to be an anti-immigration hysteria creeping up, and the Congress needs to act. But President Bush deserves credit for trying to move an immigration bill; Senator Obama's--President Obama's on the right path asking for a bill that says an earned legalization, those that have to pay back taxes, learn English, get to the back of the line, pay a fine. More border security, I agree with the congressman. But I think the congressman and many Republicans all they want to do is more border security. Yeah, we need it. I'm on the border, too. We need more technology, we need more border patrol, we need the National Guard. But you have to do it simultaneously as an earned legalization pack.
MR. GREGORY: Senator, can you get comprehensive immigration reform passed this year? You're part of the leadership on the Republican side.
SEN. ALEXANDER: Well, the difference is right, right here. We need the secure--instead of joking about the Arizona situation and suing Arizona, the president ought to work with the governor and secure the border.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
SEN. ALEXANDER: That's his job, he's the commander-in-chief. It's a federal responsibility. When the border's secure, then we can deal with the people illegally here and how they become citizens or not.
MR. GREGORY: We're going to make that the last word. Thank you all very much.