In this Fox News Sunday Show With Chris Wallace: Dan Pfeiffer talks North Korea, gun control and immigration reform; Asa Hutchinson on protecting America’s schools
WALLACE: And hello, again, from Fox News in Washington.
After more than 100 days of intense lobbying on both sides, the Senate is about to take up legislation to impose tougher gun controls. But, in the months since the Newtown massacre, support for those measures has faded on Capitol Hill.
In a few minutes, we’ll talk with Asa Hutchinson, head of a task force on school safety funded by the NRA.
But, first, the president’s senior adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, joins us from New York.
And, Dan, welcome to “Fox News Sunday.”
DAN PFEIFFER, PRESIDENT OBAMA’S SENIOR ADVISER: Thanks for having me, Chris.
WALLACE: Before we get to guns, I want to ask you about some breaking news. The Pentagon has delayed a test-firing of a Minuteman ICBM, intercontinental ballistic missile, this week, fearing that it would ratchet up tensions with North Korea and its young dictator, Kim Jong Un.
Does the Obama administration risk looking like it is caving to threats from Kim?
PFEIFFER: Absolutely not, Chris. Let’s take a step back and look at the whole picture here. We have a situation where North Korea is engaging in the kind of behavior we have seen for many, many years, provocative actions and bellicose rhetoric and the onus is on North Korea to take the step back and meet their international obligations so they can undertake what they say is their number one goal, which is economic development.
That can only happen if they rejoin the international community, which can only happen if they meet their international obligations.
WALLACE: Well, having said that, North Korea moved a medium range missile to its east coast. Jay Carney said he would not be surprised if they fired the missiles. The South Koreans seemed to expect it. It is within range of Guam.
How would the president regard it, given the fact that you have delayed the U.S. missile test by the U.S., if North Korea goes ahead and fires its missile?
PFEIFFER: Well, you know, we have seen the reports you cite there. As Jay Carney said, we wouldn’t be surprised. Missile launches have been, you know, part of this repeated pattern of behavior for the North Koreans and like I said, the onus is on the North Koreans to do the right thing here. This only — they are the source of the problem, and, the only way to solve it is for them to take a step back.
WALLACE: When you say —
PFEIFFER: And that’s the case we’re continuing to make.
WALLACE: When you say the onus is on them, what if they don’t?
PFEIFFER: Well, they’re going to be able to continue to further isolate themselves in the world. They will continue to further hurt themselves. You know, the North Korean people are starving because of the actions like the ones North Koreans are taking right now.
WALLACE: All right. Let’s turn to guns.
Just after Newtown, the president said that he would use — told the families of Newtown, the victims, that he would use all the powers of his presidency to push for new gun control to try to prevent more massacres like this. Now, as the Senate takes up the bill, and, maybe this week, the ban on assault weapons is dead. A plan to limit the size of the high capacity — excuse me — magazines is in great trouble, and, even the idea — although it has broad public support — of expanding background checks is in trouble.
Question: why has the president been so ineffective, apparently, in pushing his plan?
PFEIFFER: Well, this isn’t a — well, let’s be very clear. The president has pushed very hard, he was in Denver last week. He’s headed to Connecticut on Monday, too, to make the case. He’s marshaled the American people to his side. Like say, 90 percent of Americans support background checks. That is — you know, you can’t get 90 percent of Americans agree on the weather. So, he has made tremendous progress.
And the question here — is Congress and the Republican Congress in particular, listen to the American people and do the right thing?
WALLACE: Well, you blame Republicans, but, I want to put up what Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, said, talking about Dianne Feinstein’s plan to ban assault weapons, what he said about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATE MAJORITY LEADER HARRY REID, D-NEV.: Right now, her amendment — using the most optimistic numbers — has less than 40 votes. I — that’s not 60.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: If they don’t have 40 votes in the Senate for the assault weapons ban. That means at least 15 Democrats have joined the Republicans in opposing that. Why has the president, Dan, been unable to marshal more support from Democrats as well as Republicans?
PFEIFFER: Well, I think there’s — two things here. First is, on all of these issues, the majority of Democrats are supporting it and a tiny, minority of Republicans, if any Republicans are supporting some of these common sense measures completely consistent with supporting the Second Amendment.
Where we are right now and the focus is on passing a — what the president wants to sign — is a strong bipartisan bill with enforceable background checks. That has 90 percent support, it can get done. But what it’s going to require is the Republicans to not filibuster the bill, to not require 60 votes.
When the president gave the State of the Union, with the Newtown families in the audience, all of the Republicans stood up and applauded when the president called for an up-and-down vote. And now the cameras are off and the families aren’t there, they are engaging in legislative tactics to make this harder. There’s no reason we have to do that, and as the president said, politics is the only reason this stuff won’t get done.
WALLACE: But again on the assault weapons ban part of the president’s program, Harry Reid says it doesn’t have 40 votes. So, even if you didn’t have a filibuster, it still wouldn’t pass the Senate because you don’t have Democrats, which raises the question: why didn’t the president go harder at Democrats from red states, states with a lot of people who support gun rights and try to persuade them to get on board?
PFEIFFER: Well, it’s important to understand. When we put forward our package, we knew this is the ideal package is what, you know, conferring with law enforcement, community leaders, gun right advocates, gun owners and sports men, that was the best response to Newtown and gun violence in this country. We knew not all of it was going to pass right now.
But so, where we are right now, there is a bill in the Senate, which is the most progress we have made legislatively in many years to try to address gun violence and that and the crux of that bill is what many advocates said is the most effective thing we can do, which is universal enforceable background checks. And so, the question is, are we going to — are we going to pass that bill? Or are Republicans going to block it?
That’s the fundamental question facing folks, right now.
WALLACE: We’re talking with Asa Hutchinson, the head of the NRA- funded task force on school safety in the next segment. They say — the task force that Hutchinson led — put armed guards in every school.
What’s wrong with that?
PFEIFFER: Well, I mean, first, there is no one who thinks that — who’s worked with the issues, not law enforcement or anyone else thinks that is the best response to this. Now, the president has been very clear in a significant piece of the recommendations he’s put forward in trying to get passed involves school safety, involves giving communities the opportunities and resources to make decisions about what they — whether they want to put a trained police officer in schools.
So, we should do more to make our school safe. Absolutely, there’s no question about that. But doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take other common-sense measures that are supported by the majority of Americans, by overwhelming majority of Americans, majority of Republicans, and majority of gun owners. That’s the right thing to do and there is no reason not to do it.
WALLACE: The president submits his budget Wednesday, and we already know a good deal of what is in it. He offers to cut Social Security and Medicare by more than $430 billion over 10 years. If — if — Republicans agree to $600 million in more taxes. Couple of questions, first of all, is it a final offer on entitlements or is the president willing to negotiate and, for instance, consider putting his earlier offer to raise the eligibility age for Medicare back on the table?
PFEIFFER: Well, what the budget is, is we have taken the final — the last offer we gave to Speaker Boehner before he walked away from the fiscal negotiations on these efforts and put in the budget, one, to show that the president is serious about addressing our deficits and our economy in a comprehensive way, but also to show that it is — there’s a false choice between deficits as far as the eye can see and job creation and economic growth now. You can do both. That’s what the president’s budget does, that’s what you’ll see on Wednesday.
And, look, the president is having dinner with Senate Republicans on Wednesday night. We’re continuing to talk with folks. So, we are open to conversations.
But, right now, the approach of many Republicans, particularly the leadership in the House, is my way or the highway. Their view is the only acceptable plan is to try to cut away prosperity, turn Medicare into a voucher program and essentially enact the Romney economic plan.
The American people rejected that and Republicans shouldn’t be doubling down on it.
WALLACE: I want to ask you, you are exactly right. House Speaker Boehner, as soon as he heard the reports of the Obama budget, flatly rejected it because he said it calls for new taxes and he’s not going to go along with that.
As you point out, your — the president is going to be having dinner Wednesday at the White House with some Senate Republicans.
Question — do you think — does the president really think that he can go around the leadership of House Republicans and Senate Republicans, go around the leadership, deal with the rank-and-file members, and get some of them to support him on the budget?
PFEIFFER: Well, what we’re looking for is what the president called a caucus of common sense. Folks who are willing to compromise and who understand that in divided government, both sides aren’t going to get everything they want. There have been some willing partners in the Senate Republican caucus, and we have had good conversations with them.
But there’s a lot of work to do before we get there, and I would say to Speaker Boehner’s statement, if you are looking for the answer to the question as to why the approval ratings, for Republicans is at a historic low, to look no farther than that statement. Their view is, my way or the highway, do exactly what I want and massive tax breaks for the wealthy and, asks the middle class to pay the freight. That’s not what the American people want.
And, if the Republican Party wants to reach out to Americans, as they say, they should start by listening to Americans.
WALLACE: The March jobs numbers came out Friday. And I think you would agree they were grim. Just 88,000 jobs created, 496,000 Americans left the job force. Labor force participation is now 63.3 percent. That’s the lowest since Jimmy Carter was president.
The White House on Friday was blaming the sequester and Republicans for supporting the sequester. But a lot of independent analysts, Dan, say, much bigger problems are the fact the payroll taxes have increased, and also, the fact that the cost of hiring new workers under Obamacare is keeping some employers from getting new people.
Aren’t those more serious problems than the requester?
PFEIFFER: The end of the payroll tax cut is hurting Americans because it means there’s less money in their pockets, less money to spend on small businesses, less money to spend while they are shopping. So, that does have an impact on the economy. There’s no question about that.
I think it’s important to look at the overall picture on the economy. We have made a lot of progress, 6.5 million private sector jobs created over the last three years. The housing market is coming back, manufacturing is coming back. The American auto industry is back, but there is more to do.
And so, we shouldn’t focus on any individual month because if we created 290,000 jobs this month, I would have given you the same answer, which we are making progress, but we’ll have to do more.
WALLACE: But then, just briefly and I want to get immigration, before I let you go, the total number of jobs created the first three months of this year — and there were two pretty good months before March — is still less than the total number of jobs created the first three months of last year. It is not a roaring recovery.
PFEIFFER: No, it is — we have to do more. That’s the president’s point. That’s why when you get see his budget on Wednesday, you’re going to see a comprehensive plan that focuses on creating jobs and growing the middle class. We have to do more.
What we can’t do is try to cut our way to prosperity, as some Republicans are suggesting.
WALLACE: Finally, the bipartisan “gang of eight” in the Senate is expected to come up with its release, its immigration reform plan this week, which will include a trigger on border security before illegal immigrants can move towards becoming citizens. But, Secretary of Homeland Security Napolitano says, “Relying on one thing as a so- called trigger is not the way to go.” And a draft of the president’s — the president’s plan on immigration reform does not make a link between border enforcement and the path to citizenship.
Question — would the president sign an immigration reform plan that does make that kind of link, citizenship but first border security?
PFEIFFER: Well, we have been working very closely with the “gang of eight.” This is one of the — this is a bright spot in Washington where Republicans and Democrats are coming together, trying to find common cause. You have the AFL/CIO and the Chamber of Commerce working together to agree to some portions of this bill. That’s tremendous progress.
And we feel very good the product they are working on is a product that is completely consistent with what the president has put forward, what he ran on, and will actually address immigration reform in a common sense way. So, we feel very good about where this is going.
WALLACE: But just to answer my question would the president sign a bill that mandates that kind of trigger on border enforcement?
PFEIFFER: What they are looking at and what has been talked about in the “gang of eight” proposal is 100 percent consistent with what the president is doing. So, we feel very good about it and they are looking at it the right way.
WALLACE: Dan, thank you. Thanks for coming in today, and we’ll stay on top of all of these stories in the week ahead.
PFEIFFER: Thank you, Chris.
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