MSNBC’s Alex Witt loves to ask questions that try to steer her guests toward a certain response, and she was at it again on Saturday’s edition of Weekends with Alex Witt. The host attempted to get three separate guests to agree with her that President Obama was last week’s “big winner” for stumbling onto a potential diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis. When the third guest was critical of Obama, an incredulous Witt challenged his answer.
During the first hour of her two-hour program, Witt was discussing the recent U.S.-Russia deal to try and get Syrian President Bashar al Assad to give up his chemical weapons. She asked Reuters columnist David Rohde: “You know, doesn't President Obama actually come out the big winner here ultimately? Because without firing a shot, you said you believe that Syria will get rid of its chemical weapons.” [Video below. MP3 audio here.]
It’s hard to believe that Witt sees President Obama as the “big winner” in this situation, considering that Obama let Russian President Vladimir Putin call the shots on the deal. It was Russia that proposed this deal initially, and the U.S. capitulated to Putin’s demand that the deal not include the threat of a UN resolution authorizing a military strike. What’s more, The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the Syrian regime has scattered their chemical weapons to as many as 50 sites, which will surely make it harder for the U.S. and the international community to find all of them.
Rohde, for his part, was hesitant to call Obama the winner. He told Witt that Obama won in the context of American politics, but that Putin and Assad won in a larger geopolitical sense. That answer was apparently good enough for Witt.
Later, during the second hour of her show, Witt asked Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) the same question: “Do you think ultimately that President Obama is the big winner here? Because look what is going to be accomplished if this deal is followed through without the launch of one missile.” Meeks gave the effusive answer that Witt was fishing for, calling the president “a big, big winner.”
Near the end of the show, Witt posed a similar question to The Washington Post’s Reid Wilson: “Scale of one to ten here, with ten being the best, how would you assess President Obama’s week?” Wilson started to answer, but Witt continued talking over him, trying to sway his response: “--the speech to the nation, the turn to diplomacy on Syria, the big announcement of the deal on chemical weapons, not a missile being fired?”
Despite that loaded question, Wilson only gave Obama’s week a five, explaining that his grade would be lower had the president not stumbled into a potentially good deal with Russia. But Witt wasn’t satisfied with Wilson’s response, so she attempted to load the question again: “Can I just challenge you, though, on that last part that I was saying? The president having achieved his stated goal of getting Bashar al Assad to stop using chemical weapons, and now it may play out that way without one single missile being fired.”
It almost sounds like Witt is auditioning for the job of White House press secretary. Given the low ratings on her weekend gig, she may want to have recorded Saturday's program so she can mail in the audition tape to the White House.
Below are transcripts of the three questions:
ALEX WITT: You know, doesn't President Obama actually come out the big winner here ultimately? Because without firing a shot, you said you believe that Syria will get rid of its chemical weapons.
DAVID ROHDE, Reuters columnist: He's in a sort of political American sense. And it’s – all politics is local. It is a win. He's escaped from a box that he kind of clumsily put himself in. But what's happened here, and David just mentioned this, the American policy was Assad must go. We just shifted to Assad's chemical weapons must go. We have stepped back, Putin has won, his proxy is going to remain in power in Syria. And maybe Americans want that. We don't want to get involved. But let's not miss what's happened here – Putin and Assad have won.
WITT: Do you think ultimately that President Obama is the big winner here? Because look what is going to be accomplished if this deal is followed through without the launch of one missile.
REP. GREGORY MEEKS: He is a big, big winner in my estimation. Number one, think of where we could have been and would have been if the president had not taken it to Congress. He had – no one knew that he was going to go to Congress. In fact, we all thought that there was an imminent strike on its way. He sat his advisors down at the last second on his own and says no, I think the right thing to do is to go to Congress because we have time. There's no imminent threat here and move forward and let's have this debate. But for that, we wouldn't be where we are today. The president had always been back channeling, trying to have some diplomacy and this time, it appears to have worked.
WITT: Reid, I'll reach out to you first. Scale of one to ten here, with ten being the best, how would you assess President Obama’s week – the speech to the nation, the turn to diplomacy on Syria, the big announcement of the deal on chemical weapons, not a missile being fired? Okay, now you can answer. [laughs]
REID WILSON, The Washington Post: Ok yeah. I’d give him a five, but he only gets the five because things are looking like they worked out. Without this deal between the U.S. and Russia, it would be a lot lower. Presidents of the United States don't give a lot of speeches to the nation and when they do, they don't make the urgent case to pause on something. I think this was the beginning of a really bad week for the White House. They didn’t communicate a lot with Congress. The already strained relationship between President Obama and not only the Republicans in the House, but also the Democrats in the Senate, got a little worse this week. There were – it just wasn't a good week for him and it didn't feel like the White House had a clear idea of how the week would end.
WITT: Can I just challenge you, though, on that last part that I was saying? The president having achieved his stated goal of getting Bashar al Assad to stop using chemical weapons, and now it may play out that way without one single missile being fired.
WILSON: Yeah. He won but he won ugly. This is, you know –
WITT: He still won.
WILSON: There was no -- yeah, you're absolutely right.
SUSAN DEL PERCIO: But we don't know if he won yet, actually.
WILSON: That's why he gets a five instead of a two. I mean, this is a White House that had a plan. They didn't really inform all of their allies about the plan. It looked like, you know, the plan to go to Congress. The plan to go to Congress started falling apart and now he got an out. He got an out somewhere else. It’s sort of, I'd rather be lucky than good any day, and it looks like this White House got lucky.
WITT: So I guess you're one of those guys that, it's really not if you win or lose, it's how you play the game.
WILSON: There you go.