NBC's Lauer 'Surprised' By Lack of Public 'Outrage' Over Sequester; Urges GOP to Accept Tax Hikes

In an interview with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush on Monday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer couldn't understand why the American people didn't buy into the White House and media hype about how devastating the budget sequester would be: "The cuts went into effect Friday night, although they roll out over a long period of time. And yet, I'm surprised there hasn't been more outrage on the part of the general public." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Lauer offered possible explanations: "Do you think that's because people are simply numb to this by now, the dysfunction of Washington, or do you think there's a little case of crying wolf here and they don't believe how severe the impact's going to be?" Bush replied: "Well, there was a lot of crying wolf." Lauer quickly tried to spread the blame to Republicans: "On both sides?" Bush promptly dismissed that notion: "No. I think the President kind of led the charge to say that widows and orphans were going to be out on the street."

President Obama had plenty of help spreading that message. As the Media Research Center's Geoffrey Dickens detailed in a newly-released Media Reality Check, two thirds of all network news stories about the sequester focused on promoting hysteria over the budget plan.

After Lauer confessed his shock over the lack of mass panic, he pressured the GOP to agree to more tax hikes in order to avoid the modest spending reductions: "Should your party right now come to the table on the issue of increased revenues?" Bush pointed out: "I think it's a little hard to imagine after January, where the highest – the biggest tax increase in American history took place, to then go back to say that we have a revenue problem." A disappointed Lauer followed up: "So no wiggle room there at all?"

At the end of segment, Lauer fretted over the Conservative Political Action Conference not inviting New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to speak: "Are you surprised that CPAC did not offer an invitation to Chris Christie? The guy who was the keynote speaker at the Republican convention, a guy who's got something like a 74% approval rating in a blue state. Why did they snub him? Are you surprised by that?"

Bush explained: "I think there was some disappointment in how Governor Christie dealt with the budget issues related to Sandy." Lauer interjected: "Budget issues, not the optics of him appearing with President Obama? You don't think that has anything to do with this?"

Bush continued: "I don't think so. But I think the issue of castigating the House, particularly, for not going along with a $60 billion spending deal that had very little to do with Sandy recovery. And when it got down to funding Sandy, House Republicans went along with that. That's what I think was the critique."


Here is a full transcript of the March 4 exchange:

7:13AM ET

MATT LAUER: Jeb Bush is the former Republican governor of Florida and the author of a brand new book called Immigration Wars. Governor Bush, always good to have you here. Good morning, nice to see you.

JEB BUSH: Thanks, Matt.

LAUER: Chuck [Todd] said this is the new norm in Washington, in dealing with sequester, the cuts went into effect, the finger pointing continues. Is this the new norm? Every few months are we to see a manufactured crisis that doesn't get resolved?

JEB BUSH: Well, we have the continuing resolution coming up at the end of the month, and then in early May, the debt ceiling again. So I view this kind of as a temporary problem in our history, but it is – it appears to be the last two years that we're going from crisis to crisis to try to deal with these fiscal problems that we face.

LAUER: The cuts went into effect Friday night, although they roll out over a long period of time. And yet, I'm surprised there hasn't been more outrage on the part of the general public. Do you think that's because people are simply numb to this by now, the dysfunction of Washington, or do you think there's a little case of crying wolf here and they don't believe how severe the impact's going to be?

BUSH: Well, there was a lot of crying wolf. And I do think-

LAUER: On both sides?

BUSH: No. I think the President kind of led the charge to say that widows and orphans were going to be out on the street. And so when it didn't happen, he actually, himself, kind of stepped back on Friday to say it wasn't going to happen that way. We're going to have significant cuts in defense spending and in discretionary spending for sure. But I think it was oversold. And you're right, I think people are just numb by this dysfunction and they watch it with their peripheral vision.

LAUER: Some people, Senator Lindsey Graham, for example, is saying, "We still can get a grand bargain here." He wants the President and the Speaker to go back to where they were back in 2011 and pick that up and deal with entitlements and perhaps more revenues because of closing loopholes. Should your party right now come to the table on the issue of increased revenues?

BUSH: You know, I think it's a little hard to imagine after January, where the highest
– the biggest tax increase in American history took place, to then go back to say that we have a revenue problem. I think the focus ought to be-

LAUER: So no wiggle room there at all?

BUSH: There may be. There may be if the President is sincere about dealing with our structural problems. The thing that we can all agree on is how do we create high-sustained economic growth, for starters, and how can we get back to a degree of normalcy, where like budgets are passed? Not talking about ten-year estimations, but going to the new normal being the House and the Senate pass a budget and there's a compromise and the President signs it into law.

LAUER: This all gets to the dynamic in Washington right now. You are passionate about immigration reform. You write in your book, "Among the many steps we need to take to restore American economic growth and prosperity, none offers a more immediate return than improving our immigration system." But if we're still pointing fingers over the sequester, is there any chance that meaningful action is taken on immigration in this kind of dynamic?

BUSH: Well, this is the one place where cats and dogs seem to be getting along a little more. And so I'm optimistic that there could be a consensus about going forward on immigration. It would be better to get the budget issues behind us so that there could be a focus on this, and on energy policy, on regulatory reform, the things that would allow us to grow at a more sustained rate.

LAUER: You're going to speak later this month before CPAC, you've been invited. Obviously you've got this new book out that you're talking about. It sounds like you are gearing up for a run. Those are the kinds of things people do when they're increasing their public profile. Are you going to run in 2016?

BUSH: That's way off into the future. I have a voice. I want to share my beliefs about how the conservative movement and the Republican Party can regain its footing, because we've lost our way.

LAUER: But you clearly have not ruled out – you will not definitively rule out a run for president in the year 2016?

BUSH: I won't, but I'm not going to declare today either, Matt.

LAUER: Are you surprised that CPAC did not offer an invitation to Chris Christie? The guy who was the keynote speaker at the Republican convention, a guy who's got something like a 74% approval rating in a blue state. Why did they snub him? Are you surprised by that?

BUSH: A little surprised. But you know, on the one hand, he did get invited the year before and he'll get invited next year, when he gets re-elected, for sure. I think there was some disappointment in how Governor Christie dealt with the budget issues related to Sandy, trying to advocate his – his position. I can understand that view-

LAUER: Budget issues, not the optics of him appearing with President Obama? You don't think that has anything to do with this?

BUSH: I don't think so. But I think the issue of castigating the House, particularly, for not going along with a $60 billion spending deal that had very little to do with Sandy recovery. And when it got down to funding Sandy, House Republicans went along with that. That's what I think was the critique.

Look, I love Christie. I think Governor Christie is a part of the future of the Republican Party for sure. And whether he's going to CPAC or not is not really changing that.

LAUER: I can see that in a Christie campaign ad in 2016, "Jeb Bush: I love Christie."

BUSH: I do. I love the man.

[LAUGHTER]

LAUER: Governor, you're going to come back in our 8:30 half hour. We're going to talk a lot about immigration.

BUSH: Great.

LAUER: We appreciate you being here.

BUSH: Thanks.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC