Russert lobs softballs at Schwarzenegger

››› ››› ROB DIETZ

On the November 26 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert lobbed a series of softball questions to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) on Schwarzenegger's November 7 re-election and his role in the Republican Party, and did not challenge Schwarzenegger on a false statement he made about the economy. Russert ended his 19-minute interview with one question about Iraq, and responded to Schwarzenegger's answer by saying: "Congratulations, and we hope you come back and talk about the issues confronting your state and our country soon."

Russert's questions to Schwarzenegger including the following:

  • After reading from an article by Joel Kotkin in The Wall Street Journal that reported that "[t]he key to Mr. Schwarzenegger's victory lay not in seducing the left, but through his mastery of the state's rising independent center," Russert asked: "Do you agree with that?"
  • Similarly, Russert read from an analysis by NBC correspondent George Lewis, which reported that "Schwarzenegger did something that is unheard of in politics these days, he said, 'I messed up. I was wrong.' And he made a hard turn to the center politically. ... So the new Schwarzenegger is a moderate." Russert then asked: "Is that fair?"
  • Russert allowed Schwarzenegger to define his positions by asking: "What is an Arnold Republican?"
  • After reading criticism of Schwarzenegger from the conservative magazine National Review, Russert asked: "How do you deal with those kinds of words?"
  • Russert: "You're a Republican winning in California, a Blue State, in a Democratic year. People would have you on the short list for the Republican nomination in 2008. But they can't for one reason: You were not born in the United States. Is that fair?"
  • After noting that Schwarzenegger is constitutionally ineligible to run for president because he was not born in the United States, Russert asked: "You've been a citizen for 23 years, shouldn't you have an opportunity to run for president?"

Russert also failed to challenge Schwarzenegger's false claim that "we have the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years or so." In fact, as Media Matters noted, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, the average unemployment rate in the United States was lower in 1999 and 2000 -- the last two years of the Clinton presidency -- than it was in any month in 2006.

From the November 26 edition of NBC's Meet the Press with Tim Russert:

TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: One year ago, the Republican governor of California had an approval rating of just 32 percent. His disapproval: sky-high at 58 percent. And yet, two weeks ago, in the midst of a national Democratic landslide, he was overwhelmingly re-elected.

SCHWARZENEGGER [video clip]: I love doing sequels, I tell you. But this, without any doubt, is my favorite sequel.

RUSSERT: How did he do it? What can politicians and the Republican Party learn from his victory? This morning, an exclusive interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California.


RUSSERT: Governor, congratulations and welcome.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Thank you very much. Thank you, Tim.

RUSSERT: Let me again show you and our viewers these numbers, because they are amazing. A year ago, here you were, 32 percent approval, 58 disapproval. And here are the election results from just about two weeks ago:

Schwarzenegger, 56 percent; your Democratic opponent, 39 percent.

Joel Kotkin in The Wall Street Journal did a little analysis of your race, and this is what he concluded: "Amidst the Republican rout, some important political lessons can be drawn from the results in California. Oft dismissed by conservatives as 'the left coast' and written off as hopelessly blue, the state election revealed some critical trends that may prove decisive -- for both parties -- in 2008 and beyond.

"Arnold Schwarzenegger's 17-point victory alone commands some attention, since it is easily the most impressive score by any Republican in a Democratic-leaning state this year -- and it suggests a future for pro-environment, pro-business, fiscally conservative and socially moderate politics. ...

"The key to Mr. Schwarzenegger's victory lay not in seducing the left, but through his mastery of the state's rising independent center." Do you agree with that?


RUSSERT: George Lewis, who works for NBC News, did an analysis, and he talked about the specific issues that you focused on. And let's look at that. "Schwarzenegger did something that is unheard of in politics these days, he said, 'I messed up. I was wrong.' And he made a hard turn to the center politically and started working with the Democrats, who control the state legislature. The new Schwarzenegger backs stem cell research, favors a measure that was written by Democrats to increase the minimum wage in California, and combat global warming. So the new Schwarzenegger is a moderate." Is that fair?


RUSSERT: But it is unusual, governor. Most politicians come on Meet The Press, and they'll say, "I am consistent, I've never changed my mind. I still do the same things."


RUSSERT: And when you went to the people on four different voter initiatives and lost them all, and you took on the unions, you took on the Democrats, you said, "I made a mistake."


RUSSERT: The last time you were on, I said, "Are you going to run as a Bush Republican?" You said, "No, I'm going to run as an Arnold Republican."


RUSSERT: What's an Arnold Republican?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, it's basically being fiscally conservative, being socially moderate, and, you know, being environmentally progressive. I think that's what it basically means. And you know, Tim, one of the most important things, I think, that this nation is facing, is that we -- while we must see economic progress -- and I think we have had great progress economically and I think the Bush administration hasn't gotten enough credit for that, the jobs are coming back, we have the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years or so, the economy's booming. But we also have to protect the environment at the same time, and that's what we are doing in California. And I think this is something that this country has to do. We have to show leadership in protecting our environment so that we have a future for our children and grandchildren.

RUSSERT: It's interesting how you have stepped out on the green movement, on global warming. I -- I'll show you something about a fellow Republican, [Sen.] Jim Inhofe [OK], he's chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and he says this back in August of '03: "With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it." What will those kinds of statements do to the Republican Party in the future, in your mind?


RUSSERT: As you chart this independent course, a lot of conservative Republicans get upset with you. The National Review wrote this about Arnold Schwarzenegger: "Behind [sic: Behold] the new Arnold, a man bearing little resemblance to the revolutionary who toppled Governor Gray Davis just three years ago. He's politically compliant, eager to please, anxious to avoid a fight. One might say, a girlie man." That's the National Review. How do you deal with those kinds of words?

SCHWARZENEGGER: They're absolutely correct that I'm eager to please the people. I'm eager to please the voters because I'm a public servant. I don't see myself as a politician. I see myself as a public servant. I serve the people of California. I serve Democrats and Republicans, and if someone says that, that I'm eager to please, yes, I am. I'm there to please the people. That's what this is all about. People send us to our capital to represent them and to work for them. That's what we are going to do.


RUSSERT: One of the issues that are confronting you is the continuing deficit in California and also the 6 million uninsured, without health insurance. The San Jose Mercury [News] wrote an editorial on Friday and said this, "While other states have been racking up surpluses and squirreling away money, California has run up deficits, piled on debt. That can't continue. In the latest five-year forecast, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office projects a $5 billion deficit in the coming year, 4 billion the year after that. Something's got to give -- either Governor Schwarzenegger's vow not to raise taxes or his campaign pledge to fix health care and reform education. The latter should be the priority. He shouldn't abandon promises on behalf of students and the 6 million uninsured. Schwarzenegger should swallow hard, consider taxes: a dedicated tax, raising the tobacco tax, a temporary tax. Another option worth exploring: expanding the sales tax to include some professional services in exchange for reducing the sales tax rate." How do you juggle that?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, Tim, when I came into office, they said exactly the same thing: I got to raise taxes, I got to raise taxes, please raise taxes by at least 5 billion or 8 billion dollars a year. And I said, "No. We're going to stimulate the economy," and that's exactly what we've done, we've stimulated the economy. Now our revenues went up by $20 billion, first from 76 billion to 96 billion dollars without raising taxes. That is the way to go. I think what we have to do in the future is, is we've got to go and pay down our debt, which we have been doing. And we have done a tremendous job of bringing down the structural deficit from $16 1/2 billion when I took office to now $4 1/2 billion. And we're going to come down further this year and we're going to eliminate it by next year or the year after that. I think that's what we need to do. Never raise taxes, it wouldn't happen. The people of California have voted "no" on all the tax increases this year, if it is the tobacco tax, if it is any kind of additional tax, everything was voted no on, including the nurses, as you remember, the nurses' association, they have had a proposition on there to raise taxes, everything was voted no, including, including the oil tax.

RUSSERT: And you'll still take -- you'll still take care of the uninsured and education?


RUSSERT: You're a Republican winning in California, a Blue State, in a Democratic year. People would have you on the short list for the Republican nomination in 2008. But they can't for one reason: You were not born in the United States. Is that fair?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, I concentrate on the things that I as an immigrant was able to do in, in California and America. I mean, the things that I was able to do, I mean, look at me, I'm governor of California, I have been the highest-paid actor, action star, bodybuilding champion, made millions of dollars, I have the most unbelievable family, the most fantastic wife, the greatest children -- look at all the things that I was able to do.

RUSSERT: But you've been a, you've been a citizen --

SCHWARZENEGGER: I concentrate on those things, what I was able to do as an immigrant --

RUSSERT: But you've been a citizen --

SCHWARZENEGGER: -- not what I was not able to do.

RUSSERT: You've been a citizen for 23 years, shouldn't you have an opportunity to run for president?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, you're talking now about complete and total immigration reform, right?

RUSSERT: The Arnold Amendment.

SCHWARZENEGGER: The Arnold -- exactly. No. No, no. But I think that, you know, I think that it will never happen in my lifetime. I think that it's something that the people of America can debate over in the, in the future. And this is a debate worth happening. You know, let the debate go on, but I mean, it's not for me. I'm happy where I am; I'm happy to be a public servant and to serve the people of California. And I will go around, and -- around the country, and I will be talking in the future about the issues that are important for the country because I love America. And I think that if we all work together, Democrats and Republicans, we can solve all of those problems, because after all, let's face it, we are the greatest nation in the world, and we are the most powerful nation in the history of mankind. And, you know, I think that we can do it all, including fix our problem with Iraq.

RUSSERT: Will you stay a Republican?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Oh, absolutely. Yes.

RUSSERT: Who you going to support in '08?

SCHWARZENEGGER: I don't know yet, but I'm going to look at the candidates, and I'm going to look at, "Are those candidates, you know, are they really able to look at and create a great vision for the future?" I think this is the most important thing. We got to look at where would America be in 2020? What would this country be like, you know? Because the key thing is, did we get off our reliance on fossil fuel. The key thing is that we are cleaning our environment, that we contribute to really slow down the global warming, and that we continue with our economic stimulation and creating jobs, and really helping our most vulnerable citizens. We, we got to concentrate on those things, and also rebuild our infrastructure. Candidates that talk about those issues are the candidates that I will be looking seriously at.

RUSSERT: Is anybody doing that now?

SCHWARZENEGGER: I think that all of our candidates that are out there are talking about this, but I will see as time goes on when they really zero in on those subjects.

RUSSERT: How about in 2010 when your term is over? Would you consider running for the U.S. Senate against Barbara Boxer?


RUSSERT: Before we go, you mentioned Iraq. When you were last on, you said you thought the war was the right thing to do. Right before the election, you said we should start consider to get out. What advice would you give the president about Iraq today?

SCHWARZENEGGER: I would not give him any advice, because I would not, not -- never be that presumptuous. I think that he has a lot of, you know, smart people around that study the subject, and especially now, since they have the Baker-Hamilton commission [the Iraq Study Group], a bipartisan commission. I think that's a very good idea to have that commission where you have five Democrats, five Republicans, study this subject very thoroughly. Those are all very, very smart people, and they have a great reputation. There'll be great substance to the -- that part of the commission. So I think we should look at that.

But I think that we all know that we've got to get out of there, but we've got to get out of there the right way, not just to turn our back on the Iraqis and leave and just think about ourselves. Because we've got to always remember, what was the reason why we went there: We thought this was the springboard of terrorism, international terrorism. So we, we cannot just turn back and let the place be that springboard of terrorism. We also have to make sure that we create the democracy that we wanted to create, and also we wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein, which we did.

So I think we got to get out of there. We have to have a time, a timeline. I totally believe that there has to be a timeline there. But we got to get out of there with a victory rather than with a defeat.

RUSSERT: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, we thank you for joining us. Congratulations, and we hope you come back and talk about the issues confronting your state and our country soon.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Thank you very much, Tim. Thank you.

Tim Russert
Meet the Press
Propaganda/Noise Machine
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