Copyright ©2009 by Federal News Service, Inc., Ste. 500, 1000 Vermont Ave, Washington, DC 20005 USA. Federal News Service is a private firm not affiliated with the federal government. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold or retransmitted without the written authority of Federal News Service, Inc. Copyright is not claimed as to any part of the original work prepared by a United States government officer or employee as a part of that person's official duties. For information on subscribing to the FNS Internet Service at www.fednews.com, please email Carina Nyberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-202-216-2706.
MR. GREGORY: This Sunday -- the Obama agenda, health care, energy, the economy -- where does it go from here? Where will the president push and where will he compromise? And, on Iran, the president talks tough:
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) I would suggest that Mr. Ahmadinejad think carefully about the obligations he owes to his own people.
MR. GREGORY: But is the administration still prepared to talk to Iran about nuclear weapons? This morning an assessment at a key moment of the Obama presidency -- our guest, the president's senior advisor, David Axelrod.
Then -- the future of the GOP after the downfall of another Republican leader.
GOV. MARK SANFORD (R-SC): (From videotape.) It's going to hurt, and we'll let the chips fall where they may.
MR. GREGORY: Rising political start, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford admits cheating on his wife, misleading his staff and the state and is now fighting for his job.
Plus -- this morning on the present and the future for Republicans. With us, former governor of Massachusetts and GOP presidential candidate in 2008, Mitt Romney, and Republican senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham.
Then the take from our roundtable -- New York Times columnist David Brooks; Washington Post columnist, E.J. Dionne; Republican strategist, Mike Murphy; and former White House press secretary for President Clinton now a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, Dee Dee Myers.
But, first, here with us live now, the president's senior advisor, David Axelrod. Welcome back to "Meet the Press."
MR. AXELROD: It's great to be here.
MR. GREGORY: An important victory for the president Friday night on the climate change bill, he gets it through the House, but there were signs of division among Democrats -- 44 Democrats voted against this. Is this a red flag about whether this massive energy bill is going to fail in the Senate?
MR. AXELROD: No, I don't think so. David, understand that a few weeks ago, people wouldn't have given you a dime that this was going to pass the House. And I think there are two things. One is there is a growing awareness that we need to move on energy. We've been waiting for decades, and this bill will create millions of clean energy jobs, it will deal with this energy -- our dependence on foreign oil, and we have to deal with that; and it deals with this deadly pollution and global warming that we have to move on.
So the House -- and I think the Senate will come to the same conclusion, but the bill that was crafted helped ameliorate some of the hard edge that people were worried about, and I think that will carry the day in the Senate as well.
MR. GREGORY: The Republicans say it's not going to create jobs. It's going to kill jobs, and they say it's dead in the Senate.
MR. AXELROD: Well, the Republicans, then, have to come up with an answer to all these questions. What are we going to do about our dependence on foreign oil? What are the new industries of the future? Are we going to let these energy jobs go to China and India, or are we going to command the future? What are we going to do about pollution and global warming that threaten our health and our planet?
You know, what we've heard from the Republican Party is a lot of what we can't do. The question is, are we going to step up and deal with the big problems facing this country?
MR. GREGORY: Do you have unity among Democrats in the Senate?
MR. AXELROD: Well, I think that, as always, the legislative process is filled with twists and turns, but I believe that there is a strong desire to deal with these issues.
MR. GREGORY: But you're facing the prospect -- the very real prospect of a filibuster by Republicans in the Senate. Do you have the votes to overcome that?
MR. AXELROD: Well, the vote is not tomorrow.
The vote will come sometime in the fall, and I think that we will fashion an energy package that will move this country forward and carry the day.
MR. GREGORY: There is a lot on the agenda, and health care is the centerpiece of all of this. But, again, that fact, the 44 Democrats opposing you on climate change in the House -- is this a shot across the bow that applies to health care? Do you think the president will get a health care reform bill that includes a public plan this year?
MR. AXELROD: I think we're going to get a health care reform bill this year, and I wouldn't assume that the 44 who weren't with us on energy will not be with us on health care. Indeed, many of them told us that they will.
So I think people understand that families, businesses, and the government itself is getting slammed by this inexorable climb in health care prices, and we have to deal with it.
MR. GREGORY: But you're confident about getting that bill with a public plan this year?
MR. AXELROD: I am confident that we are going to get a health care reform bill. I think a public choice will be part of it. I think the public wants to have that option and wants to see that kind of competition, and I think we will have that.
MR. GREGORY: Well, let's be clear what we're talking about as well. You're talking about a public-sponsored, a government-sponsored health care plan that can exist side-by-side with private insurance plans and that allows Americans without insurance to make a choice between a private and a public plan.
It's interesting, in the press conference this week, the president said any opposition to that is illogical but, at the same time, he won't draw a line in the sand nor will you in your previous answer. And yet supporters of that public plan, including Howard Dean -- doctor, former governor, former head of the Democratic Party -- said it's got to be in there.
This is what he said as reported by The Hill newspaper on Friday: "'We are here,' he said at a rally. 'We are not going away. We voted for change a few months ago. We expect change, and if we don't get it there is going to be more change.'" That's what Howard Dean said. "'Success on health care reform is a must for Democrats,' Dean told The Hill. 'I think it's going to be a catastrophic problem for the Democratic Party if they can't get this bill out.'" And what he means is with a public plan.
MR. AXELROD: Well, first of all, I think that if we don't pass health care reform, it's going to be a catastrophic problem for the country -- not just the Democratic Party for families, businesses and the country itself.
Look, we believe strongly in a public choice -- not one that's subsidized by the government but one that will embrace the best practices that will reduce health care costs and give people the best quality care. What the president said was illogical were the same people who say that the government is incompetent, the government can't run anything, the government shouldn't be involved in anything, say, but we can't let that be one of the choices because it will be an unfair advantage against the insurance companies.
MR. GREGORY: When it comes to a public plan, though, no ultimatums from the president?
MR. AXELROD: Well, the president believes strongly in a public choice, and he's made that very, very clear. He's made that clear privately, he's made that clear publicly, and we're going to continue to do so.
MR. GREGORY: Well, but, why not say, "This is what it has to have or I won't sign it?"
MR. AXELROD: Look, we have gotten a long way down the road by not drawing bright lines in the sand, other than on the major points, which is that we can't add to the deficit with this health care reform. So it has to be paid for. It has to reduce costs, and we want to make sure that all Americans have quality, affordable health care. Those are the things that have to be accomplished. People have different ideas. We are willing to listen to those ideas, but those are the imperatives that we have.
MR. GREGORY: But the president is not going to ram this through? He is not going to ram his priorities through?
MR. AXELROD: Well, I just told you what the president's priorities were, and he won't sign a bill that does not meet those priorities.
MR. GREGORY: Well, all right, let's be clear, then -- can there by a successful outcome, in the president's mind, without a health care reform plan that includes a public plan?
MR. AXELROD: I think the president wants a robust public option to compete -- (inaudible) --.
MR. GREGORY: He's not planning it?
MR. AXELROD: Well, look, as I said, we've not gotten as far as we've gotten by drawing bright lines in the sand. He is going to fight hard for that.
MR. GREGORY: All right, let me move to the economy. You were on this program back in February, and this is what you said:
MR. DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": (From videotape.) Will this stimulus plan prevent unemployment from reaching 10 percent do you think?
MR. DAVID AXELROD, PRESIDENTIAL SENIOR ADVISOR: (From videotape.) Well, that's out hope, that's our hope. There is no doubt that without that's where we were looking -- double-digit unemployment, and that's what we're trying to forestall.
MR. GREGORY: Well, with the stimulus plan, we're at 9.4 percent unemployment, the president said this week it will go above 10 percent. And these Republicans who say the stimulus is a failure and to say, "Where are the jobs?"
MR. AXELROD: Well, look, everyone -- at the time that I spoke, every single economic prediction was that the recession would be less severe, then it turn out to be this recession that began last year is the worst that we've had in generations. And so unemployment is higher than any of us would like. But to suggest that it wouldn't have gone higher had we not done the things we did, I think, is totally misleading. No serious -- no -- no --
MR. GREGORY: -- (inaudible) --
MR. AXELROD: Well, there is no doubt that we have not broken the back of the recession, but there is no serious economist, David, who would argue that what we did has not contributed to a lessening of the impact.
No one is happy with that number. The president said when the stimulus -- when the Recovery Act passed that it was going to take a long time; that employment was the last thing that was going to turn because that's the way economics works, and so, you know, we're going to have to sail through some very difficult times here.
But the question is -- are we moving in the right direction? Are we building a foundation for economic growth for the future? And does this economic recovery package help, and the answer is yes.
MR. GREGORY: Warren Buffett said this week more stimulus might be needed. Does the president believe that?
MR. AXELROD: Well, let's see how this stimulus works. As everyone has noted, much of the spending is yet to come, and let's see how this works before we start talking about next steps.
MR. GREGORY: How much time before you make a decision about whether more stimulus is needed?
MR. AXELROD: Well, let's see in the fall where we are, but right now we believe that what we've done is adequate to the task. If more is needed, we'll have that discussion.
MR. GREGORY: All right, let's turn to the topic of foreign policy, specifically Iran. This weekend Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saying that the "United States keeps saying that they want a different relationship; that they want to hold talks, but they've made a mistake." He said that Iran will now have a harsher and more decisive reply -- will make the West regret its "meddlesome stance."
Something is changing on this policy of whether to engage Iran. The president said so during press remarks on Friday. Watch:
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) There is no doubt that any direct dialog or diplomacy with Iran is going to be affected by the events of the last several weeks.
MR. GREGORY: Is the policy of engaging the Iranians on the ropes?
MR. AXELROD: Well, look, that's up to the Iranians. The fact is that the permanent nations in the Security Council, plus Germany, have extended an offer to sit down and talk about this nuclear issue and lay out what the options are. One leads to participation of the Community of Nations; the other leads to further isolation and consequences. The Iranians have to make that decision.
But as for Mr. Ahmadinejad, understand that he is not the decision-maker when it comes to foreign policy and defense policy in Iran. His comments are meant for domestic political content, and it's a long-used technique in Iran to try and make the United States the foil for their own problems. His problems are with the Iranian people not with us when it comes to this -- the events of the last few weeks.
MR. GREGORY: Should there be consequences? The president has been, now, very clear about what he thinks about what's going on in Iran -- calling it "outrageous." Should there be consequences for what the Iranian regime has done to demonstrators?
MR. AXELROD: Well, I think the consequences -- look, everybody is dismayed and appalled by what happened in Iran, and the consequences, I think, will unfold, over time. In Iran, I think that there are events in motion there that they're going to have to deal with.
MR. GREGORY: But should there be the United States and the international community.
MR. AXELROD: David, we don't have diplomatic relations with Iran, and the international community has made its views known. This is going to further -- again, this sets them down the wrong path in terms of what is in the interests of their country.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you some political questions -- should Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina resign?
MR. AXELROD: Well, I'm not going to get into that. That's between him and the people of South Carolina.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think he has abused his power -- disappearing, not telling the staff where he was -- not telling the voters where he was?
MR. AXELROD: Again, I mean, obviously, there has been a lot of focus on this, particularly in the state of South Carolina. That's where it should be dealt with.
MR. GREGORY: What about the midterm elections as you face next year -- chief political advisor to the president. How has the president impacted what you think will happen in the midterm race?
MR. AXELROD: Look, I think that the American people voted for change, they voted for action, they voted to get things done. And to deal with the big problems facing this country, I think the president has done that. I think he's done that at home, I think he's changed the tenor abroad in a way that is positive for the United States.
So I think that that is going to rebound for the benefit of the Democratic Party. The other fact is that those who oppose what he is doing has really -- they are looking backwards not forward, and the question what are you going to do to build a better future? Don't recycle old ideas that haven't worked. Where are your new ideas?
MR. GREGORY: Do you think Republicans have a legislative strategy, or do you think they just have a strategy for the midterm elections in opposing this president?
MR. AXELROD: I think that that's a good question to ask your next guests. All I would say is that what we've heard primarily is a recycling of the very same ideas that got us into the mess we're in right now. And unless the Republican Party develops fresh ideas, they're going to continue to --
MR. GREGORY: Are they constructive in their opposition?
MR. AXELROD: Well, sometimes yes and sometimes no. Just this week in the Health Committee in the Senate, where Senator Dodd has done such a great job in moving health care reform along -- 82 amendments were accepted from Republican members -- that I think will strengthen the health care bill, and that is a positive thing.
We had a meeting at the White House on the issue of immigration where Senators McCain and Graham and others participated. I thought it was a constructive meeting.
So we're going to look for every opportunity we can to work with the Republican Party and where we can come together around issues, we're going to do that.
MR. GREGORY: A couple of points before you go -- here was a moment from the press conference on Tuesday when there was a question that the president took from The Huffington Post. Let's watch:
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) Since we're on Iran, I know that Nico Pitney is here from Huffington Post.
MR. NICO PITNEY, THE HUFFINGTON POST: (From videotape.) Thank you, Mr. President.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Nico, I know that you and all across the Internet, we've been seeing a lot of reports coming directly out of Iran. I know that there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet. Do you have a question?
MR. GREGORY: I just want to be clear -- did the White House coordinate with a reporter about a question to be asked at a press conference?
MR. AXELROD: The White House didn't coordinate with a reporter about a question. We were looking for a way to get questions from within Iran. We did not have access to Iranian journalists.
MR. GREGORY: You talked to a reporter beforehand and said, "Could you ask a question about -- from -- (inaudible) -- at a press conference?"
MR. AXELROD: We knew that he had been -- and he was very publicly involved in getting -- in trafficking in communications in and out of Iran and thought it was important.
MR. GREGORY: But why is it appropriate to coordinate with a reporter about what's asked at a time when we're championing democracy -- (inaudible) --.
MR. AXELROD: But you're not listening to what I said -- we didn't coordinate with him about what was asked. In fact, he asked, probably, one of the most -- the toughest and most probing questions at that press conference. We had no idea what he was going to ask.
MR. GREGORY: You coordinated with him about -- he -- (inaudible) -- the question beforehand.
MR. AXELROD: He was a vehicle to get questions from Iran asked at this press conference, and that, we thought, was not only appropriate but necessary.
MR. GREGORY: If President Bush had done that, don't you think Democrats would have said that's outrageous?
MR. AXELROD: Well, I do not because if it -- what would have been outrageous is if we knew what question was going to be asked, just as if you told us what question you were going to ask.
MR. GREGORY: So you would do it again?
MR. AXELROD: I have no problem with what was done. We want to foment dialog around the world, and if we can get questions from within Iran asked, whatever those questions may be. And, as I said, that one was a tough one. I think we're doing something positive.
MR. GREGORY: Finally, before you go, the president has not spoken directly about the death of Michael Jackson, and yet, obviously, people around the world are talking about it. And it's interesting to hear some African-American leaders say the significance of this popular culture icon was significant. I mean, before there was Barack Obama, before Tiger Woods and Oprah Winfrey, there was Michael Jackson crossing over, breaking barriers. Does the president see it that way?
MR. AXELROD: Well, I think Robert Gibbs spoke to this a little bit on Friday when he was asked this question. Nobody asked the question of the president when he took questions on Friday.
The president obviously believes that he was an important and magnificent performer, and, obviously, he led a sad life in many ways, as well. But his impact is undeniable, as you can see on your own airwaves and everywhere. I mean, the reaction has been very, very strong.
But, you know, the president has written the family and has shared his feelings with the family, and he felt that was the appropriate way to go.
MR. GREGORY: All right, David Axelrod, thank you very much. Good luck with your important work.
MR. AXELROD: Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: Coming next -- another rising star in the GOP stumbles. In South Carolina, Governor Mark Sanford recover, and what's next for the party? Two key Republicans weigh in -- 2008 presidential candidate, Mitt Romney; Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are next.
Plus -- insights and analysis from our political roundtable, only on "Meet the Press."
MR. GREGORY: We are back, joined now by Mitt Romney and Senator Lindsey Graham. Welcome back to both of you.
David Axelrod making some news -- first on the stimulus, Senator Graham, talking about revisiting -- the potential of revisiting a second stimulus come the fall. Do you think that's appropriate?
SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, I think we should revisit it and make sure that it's focused on jobs, not adding to the debt. If you had another vote in the Senator or the House, I think it would be redone, it would be more focused on job creation, because it clearly has not felt jobs has added to the debt, and I think it just missed its mark. So I'd love to revisit it.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think this thing was oversold?
SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, I think -- one -- he comes in in a tough time. He does something bold, he does it quick. He picked up three Republicans, lost 11 Democrats in the House. They had a chance to meet between $440 billion and $800 billion and get probably 15 Republicans, but they jammed it through. They went back to the old way of politics, the Karl Rove style of picking off a few Republicans. He missed a chance to have a bipartisan stimulus package that would have created more jobs and helped people who had lost their jobs. I hope they will rethink it and come back again.
MR. GREGORY: Governor, can you possibly pay, for even what Warren Buffett says, should be a second stimulus? That there needs to be more medicine, not less, for this economy?
GOV. ROMNEY: Well, actually, I think that you're going to see the economy begin to turn around probably next year. Maybe you'll see the signs the last half of this year, but next year you'll see a turnaround.
This economy does turn around. I don't think the stimulus that was passed is going to be much help. The stimulus that was passed was, unfortunately, focused more on government and creating employment inside government than it was creating jobs in the private sector.
MR. GREGORY: Can you say it's failed?
GOV. ROMNEY: Well, it hasn't been as effective as it should have been. For the millions of extra people who are going to be unemployed, it has not been successful. This is a bill -- if it had been created properly and focused on creating jobs, we would have come out of the recession faster, and we would have had a lower level of unemployment. It has failed in delivering the stimulus that was needed at the time it was needed.
MR. GREGORY: I want to come back to the president's agenda -- health care, energy, in just a moment, but first I want to talk about what's going on inside the Republican Party and specifically, Senator, down in your home state of South Carolina.
Governor Mark Sanford disappeared for five days, then announced that, in fact, he'd had a mistress, he was visiting a mistress in Argentina. He misled his staff, he misled the voters. Should he resign?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, the first thing -- I'm the godfather of Mark and Jenny's youngest child, so I'm just going to put that on the table. My main focus right now is can this marriage be saved? Can these kids have a mom and dad to guide them through life? That is my main focus.
I think if Mark can reconcile with Jenny, and that's not going to be easy -- that he can finish his last 18 months; he has had a good reform agenda, and I do believe that if he can reconcile with his family, and if he's willing to try that the people of South Carolina would be willing to give him a second chance. But he has also got to reconcile with the legislature. If he can get his family back together, I think he can continue out his term and maybe do some good things next year.
MR. GREGORY: You've talked to him. What's his state of mind?
SEN. GRAHAM: What do you think -- he's devastated. I mean, you know -- it's just -- this is hard for me. I mean, I'm the godfather of his youngest child. This is not just some political observation -- devastated. I talked with Jenny, and the one thing I can tell you, Mark Sanford is lucky to have Jenny Sanford, and I hope he realizes that, and I think he does. And these four boys are -- Mitt knows -- let's just pray they get back together. But second chances are not deserved or required, but if they are forgiven, they can be a blessing. I hope Mark gets one with his family and the voters.
MR. GREGORY: There's the personal, but there's the political, Governor Romney. I spoke to a Republican this week who said this wasn't just a personal problem -- this was political malfeasance. Should he hang onto his job?
GOV. ROMNEY: You know, his holding onto that job is really between him and his family and the people of South Carolina. It's not for people outside the state that make pronouncements on -- this is a matter, which is really a heartbreaking matter, and that's what I think you have to focus on. You've got a family in great distress. I'm --
MR. GREGORY: But you're a former governor. It's more than that. I mean, this is somebody who disappeared. What if there had been a crisis in South Carolina? This is somebody who lies to the voters and his staff about where he is. Doesn't it go beyond a personal failing?
GOV. ROMNEY: Well, overwhelmingly, the heartbreak is what the public is focused on and what we should be focused on. And seeing this family become healed is our highest priority.
At the same time, and not commenting particularly on Governor Sanford, but if you look at this setting, and we've seen it time and again on both sides of the aisle -- I think you have to recognize that people that are in public life ought to be held to a higher standard. That -- I heard one -- a governor -- a former governor say, "Well, everybody makes mistakes." Well, that's true, but not all mistakes are the same and not everybody is a governor or a senator or a president. And we expect people to live by a higher standard because what they do is going to be magnified, their families are going to be hurt more by what they do. The things they care about will be hurt, and the culture of the nation and the people who follow them will be hurt.
MR. GREGORY: This is what Ron Kaufman, who is a Republican lobbyist, who is close to you, Governor, said on Thursday in the New York Times: "When we, in the Republican Party, do these things, these kinds of things like what happened with Senator Ensign who had an affair and resigned his leadership position in the Senate, and now with Sanford, it hurts our credibility as a party of good governing and of values." Senator Graham, is the Republican Party still a party of values?
SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, I think we're a party of sinners just like every other group in America. But we are also a party that openly talks about good things. It is good for Mark and Jenny to get back together, if that's possible, because it's good for families to have a mom and dad. And it's okay to talk about those things, and part of life is failing. So from Mark's point of view, if he can get his family back together, people are pretty fair in this country. Bill Clinton had his problems. People looked at his job performance, they looked at his personal failing, and they said, "You know what? We're going to put one over here and the other over there."
That's no justification for what Mark did, but I think the people of South Carolina appreciate what Mark tried to do as governor to change their state, and they are very disappointed in what he did as Mark, the individual, and his malfeasance, at times. But they can reconcile the two only if Jenny and Mark can get back together, I think the people of South Carolina will give him a second chance.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think you had that kind of compassion during the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I can tell you this -- I am the only Republican that voted against the article that dealt with lying about Monica Lewinsky, because I think lying about a consensual affair when you're blindsided is not a high crime or misdemeanor. The reason I voted for impeachment is because it was a lawsuit about non-consensual behavior where President Clinton was accused of doing some very crude things. He manipulated witnesses, he undermined the integrity of the legal system like Richard Nixon undermined the integrity of the political system. That's what I focused on -- not the fact that he lied about a consensual event.
MR. GREGORY: Governor, do you think that family values -- values, generally -- is still a central pillar of what the Republican Party stands for?
GOV. ROMNEY: Absolutely. There's no question in my mind.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think the people believe this after a string of personal failings that have happened to Democrats and, certainly, plenty of Republicans?
GOV. ROMNEY: I don't think there is any question but that we aspire to the highest standards of ethical conduct, and that we aspire to values that will make America stronger. There is no question that the best thing you can do for raising a child is to have a mom and dad love each other in a home. And to say that, and to say we want to see marriage between men and women; that we want to see families raised with the benefit of people who are married -- that's a very important part of our culture. It's part of what our party believes, we believe in life -- these features are important. And do we have people who don't live up to those standards? Absolutely. That's going to be true -- but not speaking about things that are important would be an enormous mistake.
MR. GREGORY: Are you sensitive at all to critics on the left who say, you know, "Republicans are hypocrites when they go out there and talk about family values?"
GOV. ROMNEY: You know, I'm always going to be sensitive to people who are attacking on one side or the other but, I'll tell you, I'd rather be talking about the truth and indicating sometimes people fall short than not saying what's true. And what is true is that America is a stronger nation if we have a culture which includes the creation of families with moms and dads and marriage and sacrifice for the next generation.
SEN. GRAHAM: You know, and I don't believe Democrats are for dysfunctional families. We don't have any ownership. I think President Obama, quite frankly, has been one of the better role models in the entire country for the idea of being a good parent and a good father. So -- this idea that we are for good families and Democrats are -- (inaudible) -- not true. I think we fail on both sides but, quite frankly, President Obama has done a lot of good in his -- the way he carries himself, he conducts himself in the area of family.
MR. GREGORY: Let me just spend a moment talking more generally about the future of the Republican Party. I spoke to a prominent Republican this week who said the problem for Republicans is that they have failed to take stock of what happened last year in the election. They have failed to take stock of the demographic changes in the country. Who are the leaders of this party and what are the issues that bring it back to power, Senator?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, he is one of the leaders, but the people -- .
GOV. ROMNEY: Who is the other one?
SEN. GRAHAM: I can be a leader on an issue, quite frankly. I mean, the Republican Party has an opportunity now to get back in the game, and we appreciate the Democrats for making that possible. Without them, we would be out of the game.
If President Obama had went to the middle and did all the things he said he would do in the campaign, we would probably be toast -- but he has not. You know, I know bipartisanship when I see it. You pay a price for it. There has been no bipartisanship. The stimulus package was Karl Rove politics, pick a few Republicans off, call it bipartisan.
The climate change bill was Tom DeLay banging heads and twisting arms to get one vote more than you needed. So there really has been no change in Washington, and he missed the boat, and he's spending money that the next generation can never come up with, and he's drawn the government beyond most people's imagination, and we're back in the game because of their mistakes. But we need to do more than that.
MR. GREGORY: And this is the blueprint, it sounds like, for the Republican opposition. Governor, are you a leader of the Republican Party? You have certainly taken pains to separate yourself from President Obama. Are you planning a run for the presidency again in 2012?
GOV. ROMNEY: Well, that's way beyond my horizon at this point -- to think about what's going to happen in 2012. What I'm thinking about --
MR. GREGORY: But you're laying the foundation for it -- is that fair to say?
GOV. ROMNEY: What I'm laying the foundation for is picking up seats in 2010. We've got some governor's races in '09 in Virginia and in New Jersey. We've got a whole series, of course, of Senate and House races and governors' races in '10. It's important for us to have a stronger message as we go forward, and I think the party does have to stand up and be able to say, "Listen, Mr. Axelrod, you're wrong when you say we don't have ideas. We have a health care plan." You look at Wyden-Bennett. That's a health care plan that a number of Republicans think is a very good health care plan -- one that we support. Take a look at that one." We believe in allowing people to have choice in their health care. We believe in allowing people to have choice in schools, it's another one of our elements. We believe that with regards to energy that putting a massive tax on the American public and on industry is not going to create jobs, it's going to hurt jobs. But here is an idea we have -- something like a tax swap that Charles Krauthammer and Greg Mankiw have talked about. These are ways that are more effective than this cap and trade proposition.
We've got ideas, we've got a mission that will allow America to be stronger and families to have a more prosperous future.
MR. GREGORY: Is Sarah Palin also a leader of this party?
SEN. GRAHAM: Absolutely. I think Huckabee, Palin, Mitt Romney, John McCain, because he's the most recognized public figure as a Republican because he ran for president with a good approval rating, congressional leaders. A guy like me, who will try to find common ground on the issue -- on immigration.
You know, one thing long term about this party, the demographic changes in this country are real. We lost ground with Hispanic voters because of the way we behaved and the things we said on immigration. Obama won younger voters because of the image he projected and his positive agenda. But the biggest loser for 18- to 34-year-olds, in my opinion, is the Obama agenda. They are the ones that are going to have to pay for this massive government; they are the ones who are going to lose choice in health care.
So, demographically, and with young people, we've got our work cut out for us. We'll do well in 2010, but I'm worried about 20 years from now -- for us to do better, to be a party not a club -- we're going to have to adjust.
MR. GREGORY: Let me go through a few of these issues here in our remaining time on the agenda. I'll start with you, Senator Graham -- health care. Will the president achieve health care reform this year that includes a public plan?
SEN. GRAHAM: No.
MR. GREGORY: What will be achieved?
SEN. GRAHAM: I think the Wyden bill, where you've got six Republicans and six Democrats; where you'll have purchasing power -- given help by the government to purchase private sector policies and reform, in general -- will succeed -- not a government option that would destroy competition. We're not going to nationalize health care.
MR. GREGORY: Governor?
GOV. ROMNEY: Absolutely right. We have a model that worked. One state in America, my state, was able to put in place a plan that got everybody health insurance, and it did not require a public/government insurance company. That's the last thing America needs. You know exactly what it is. President Obama, when he was campaigning, said he wanted a single-payor system. That's what it would lead to. He would subsidize this, over time. It would become larger and larger, drive the private options out of the health care industry. It would be just disastrous for health care in this country. And, therefore, the right way to proceed is to reform health care. That we can do as we did it in Massachusetts, as Wyden-Bennett is proposing doing it at the national level. We can do it for the nation, we can get everybody insured, we can get the cost of health care down, but we don't have to have government insurance and government running health care to get that done.
MR. GREGORY: The other big news Friday -- the victory for the president on the climate change bill in the House. What's going to happen in the Senate?
SEN. GRAHAM: If that's a victory, then I don't know what losing would be. You lost 40-something Democrats. The process was not changed. The process was beating people up to make them vote for something they really didn't want to vote for.
This idea of climate change is real, in my opinion, and the way you solve the problem is not you have some major tax on industry and private sector. You join forces with energy independence groups and climate change groups to get a bipartisan bill. This bill coming out of the House is going nowhere in the Senate.
But climate change is real, and we need to do something. The gang of 10 that I was in is something to look at.
MR. GREGORY: Is there a filibuster in the Senate?
SEN. GRAHAM: I think you're going to have a -- the news is that red state Democrats are bailing out on the president's agenda faster than Republicans.
MR. GREGORY: On foreign policy, before we go -- on Iraq -- the deadline now to remove combat troops coming up on June the 30th. The Bush administration several times before had a deadline to turn matters over to Iraqi authorities only to fail on numerous occasions. What's different, if anything, this time?
GOV. ROMNEY: Well, what's interesting is this is not different. This is the plan that President Bush put in place, and Barack Obama, having campaigned against President Bush saying, "Look, he has an entirely different view. Iraq is actually following President Bush's plan." And that's a good thing. I think it's appropriate for our troops to begin the withdrawal process from the major population centers, as was indicated during President Bush's term.
The place, I think, that we really ought to be focusing on today is what's happening in Iran.
MR. GREGORY: Well, and with that, you said last week that he was timid and weak, the president was, when it came to Iran.
SEN. GRAHAM: Timid and passive.
MR. GREGORY: Timid and passive, excuse me. Has he gotten better? Has he gotten it right now?
SEN. GRAHAM: Yes, and I think the video of the young girl dying in the street made it real to the president more than anything I could say. And since then he has done a very good job. And the question for this country and the world is that the supreme leader certifies the election and says Ahmadinejad is the president of Iran. Do we recognize that? I don't see how we can now. I don't see how we can embrace this regime given what they've done and the way they've behaved.
MR. GREGORY: And if the president signs and executive order to indefinitely detain prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, would you support that?
SEN. GRAHAM: I support the idea of an indefinite detention program with a legal review. I think he should come through Congress and do it. That way, it will be stronger in court, and we'll all be on board. Bush tried this by executive order. Come to the Congress, work with us, we can find middle ground on this.
MR. GREGORY: We're going to leave it there. Lindsey Graham, Governor Mitt Romney, thank you both very much.
Coming next -- who is left to lead the GOP, and how will President Obama's agenda fare in Congress and across the nation? A political roundtable -- David Brooks, E.J. Dionne, Mike Murphy, and Dee Myers after this brief station break.