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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript

Interview

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MR. GREGORY: Joining me live this morning from California , former two-term senator from Pennsylvania , Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum . Senator Santorum , good to have you back on the program.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Thank you, David , it's good to be on.

MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about this birth control fight and the direct question . You just heard the White House chief of staff . Is this a debate that you want to have in the course of the campaign as he would frame it, to deny women access to birth control in this country ?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: No one's denying them access to birth control . This is, this is outrageous. I mean, the, the bottom line is that you have the federal government now saying we're going to give you a right and then saying, by the way, we're going to tell you how to exercise that right. We're going to control you, a religious , a church -affiliated group as to, you know, what you provide to your employee. And if you don't like it, tough, because our rights, our right to tell you what to do trumps your deeply held convictions about what your dollars should be spent for. And the idea that you can have the insurance company , and by the way, many and -- of -- a large number of Catholic social service providers are self-insured, and so the self-insured is the insurance company , they're going to be forced to still provide. So there's no compromise here. They're forcing religious organizations , either directly or indirectly, to pay for something that they find is a deeply, morally, morally, you know, wrong thing. And this is not what the government should be doing. And this is not just Rick Santorum talking. You've got a lot of Democrats , you've got a lot of liberals who are, who are just aghast that this president's going to take on a fight of saying government will force you to do things that are against your conscience.

MR. GREGORY: Do you think this is a public health issue for women ? I've heard you say before you think contraception is dangerous.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, I -- what I've talked about it with respect is my Catholic faith , which, you know, I, I agree with the Catholic Church on the issue of contraception . But as you know, I mean, I -- that's, that's a different position than I have with respect to public policy . You know, public policy , women should have access to contraception . I have no problem with that at all. The question is whether some religious organization should be forced to pay for something that they believe is a moral wrong, and the issue is -- the answer to that is no. And under the Obama administration policy they are continuing to be forced to do so.

MR. GREGORY: You talk about this in broader terms, as I brought up with Mr. Lew , the idea that a lot of conservatives have that this is beyond the religious freedom issue but this is what happens when government makes healthcare decisions . That's your argument and the argument of others. You've talked about this in terms of why you believe the president is dangerous, that re-electing the, the president would unmask some sort of hidden plan that he has for the second term. This is what you said recently on Fox News .

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I suspect that it will be backed down here rather shortly, but it's a lesson learned of what this president would do if he's got another term and he doesn't have to worry about re- election .

MR. GREGORY: What is that secret plan that you're, you're so worried about? And is that not just hyperbole and demagoguery?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: It's not secret at all. I mean, the president went out and, and promoted, at the time he was promoting Obamacare , a program of cap and trade where he wants to control and literally control people's availability to, to use energy in this country and, and charge you for that energy in a, in a way that, again, that the government decides the allocation of these resources. The president's agenda is very, very clear. He believes, as, as someone who's, who's smarter than everybody else , that they should make decisions for you and that whether it's health care , whether it's Dodd-Frank and having this consumer protection board that's going to go out and tell people what kind of loans they're going to get, who's going to qualify, who's not, this is government taking over choices from people. Even if you look at the Medicare system, which we may be talking about. I mean, the idea that, you know, Ron Wyden and, and Paul Ryan come together and say, look, we're going to give Medicare recipients choices as to what is best for them. And President Obama says, oh, you give people choices, that's throwing people off a cliff. We need to make those decisions for them. We're the ones who should decide what kind of health care everybody should have. It is a top down, I -- that government knows best attitude, and it's, and it's reaching more and more places in people's lives.

MR. GREGORY: I want to stay on some of the social issues that have come, I think, to define your campaign , that certainly give a lot of energy to your campaign and to your supporters. Let me ask you about gay marriage, an issue you've talked a lot about. Proposition 8 out in California became an issue this week. If the Supreme Court decided that gays and lesbians had a constitutional right to marry, what would President Santorum do? Would you respect that decision by the judiciary ?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, first off, it's not what's defining my campaign . I, I would say that what's defining my campaign is going out and talking about liberty , talking about economic growth , talking about getting manufacturing jobs back here to this country , trying to grow this economy to make sure that everybody in America can participate in it. I, you know, went after, as you know, Governor Romney very hard for this idea that he's not concerned about the very poor or the very rich. I'm concerned about everybody. And if you look at my track record, it's one that does reach down and make sure that everybody has an opportunity , whether it was the work that I did on welfare reform or the work that I did on creating all sorts of, you know, opportunities for people who are lower income, whether in my state or through economic , you know, enterprise opportunities for lower income people. So my campaign isn't defined by social issues. I understand the media wants to focus that, that -- on those issues, but I've been talking about the issues of economic growth . I've been talking about opportunity for everybody. I've been talking about freedom being at stake. And I have been talking about, to get to your question, I have been talking about the overreach of the judiciary . The judiciary has, has, not, not just in this case, but here, here you have the Ninth Circuit saying that a constitutional amendment is unconstitutional. I mean, that's just on its face almost absurd. The people of the state of California can decide what kind of Constitution they have. There's a constitutional process and they can, they can create in a, in a Constitution rights so they can create responsibilities. That's, that's how the constitutional process works. And what the judges tend to do is say, nope, we're going to bypass the people and we're going to decide what new rights and responsibilities are in, in the Constitution .

MR. GREGORY: So what would President Santorum do?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: That's not the role of the judiciary .

MR. GREGORY: Well, what would President Santorum do?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, I would the same thing with Roe vs...

MR. GREGORY: Would you respect the decision ?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I would so the same thing I'd do with Roe vs. Wade , which I would seek to try to overturn it. I think judicial tyranny is a serious issue in this -- in this race and in this country , and we need judges who respect the people's voice. Let the people decide with respect to what the Constitution , you know, what the Constitution says if, in fact, they're going to go through a constitutional amendment process, which is what they did. The judges should respect that.

MR. GREGORY: There are other issues, social issues, the role of women in society that you've spoken out about and you've written about and, and you've been scrutinized for, but maybe not everybody is aware of some of the things you've said. You've been asked about women in combat , which is an issue that came up this week. You've also talked about, you know, your view of feminism, and it's something that you wrote about. I want to show something that you wrote in your book " It Takes a Family ." "The radical feminists ," you wrote, "succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness." Now, Senator, everything I've learned about feminism from my working mother, my working sister and my working wife is that it's about respecting the choice of working or not working, not somehow the choice of working undermining the, the traditional family.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, I would agree with that if that's what it was about, but I can tell you as talking -- I had a working mother, too, and working mother actually made more money than my dad throughout her career, and that was somewhat unusual back in the 1950s and '60s. And my wife is a working, working woman. We had children and she decided to, to take a career, take off time in her career and raise children. And I can tell you this section was written in large part in cooperation with her as a mother, who as a lawyer and neonatal intensive nurse, someone with a great amount of professional experience, who felt very much like society and those radical feminists that, that I was referring to, were not affirming her choice . We're looking -- we're looking that as a choice that was not, in fact, the right choice . And, and there are a lot working -- a lot of moms out there who did, who did step away from the workforce who feel that their choices are not as respected as those who continue in the workplace. All I'm saying is, and what I said in that book and what I've continued to say is we should affirm both choices. They are both very, very important things and, and, and women should have the, have the right to make those choices and should be affirmed completely as to whether the choice they make. That's what the book says.

MR. GREGORY: Mm -hmm.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: And, and I stand by what I said. And with respect to the, to the issue of women in the military , you know, I understand that women in the military right now do serve in very hazardous positions and are, in fact, subject to -- and we've seen a lot of injury, even serving, serving in front line positions. What I was referring to is women in infantry, in combat in the front lines .

MR. GREGORY: Mm -hmm.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: And that, that to me is a fundamentally different issue than the great work that women are providing in the military today.

MR. GREGORY: Are they physically -- I guess there's...

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: And doing so in harm's way.

MR. GREGORY: Are they physically up to the job of serving on the front lines ?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, there are obviously different physical requirements. I mean, you go to the -- to any of the academies, there are different requirements, physical requirements for men and women . Why? Because there are physiological differences between men and women .

MR. GREGORY: Mm -hmm.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: And that's, that's one of the things that we have to consider in, in deploying them in an infantry position out there on the front line . And I don't -- you know, I don't know of any, you know, any real discussion candidly that's talking about doing that.

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you one more question about women . If you are president of the United States ...

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: ...and women want to work in your administration , do single women without children only need apply? Are you going to respect the decision of women to come work for you if that's the choice they make, or would they be somehow held by, by radical feminists ?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, as -- I think if you go back and look at the people who have worked for me, we've had single women , we've had married women , we've had all sort of folks. We don't -- I don't, you know, those are decisions , again, I affirm...

MR. GREGORY: Right.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: ...that, that if women want to come into the workplace, great. If they don't, that's great. You know, we're going to look at the best qualified people and there will be plenty of working moms who will be in our administration who will be adding greatly to the conservative cause that I believe in.

MR. GREGORY: Got a couple of minutes left. I want to talk about pure politics with you. Let me show the primary calendar right now and have you take me through what you see is your path to the nomination. Later this month is Arizona and Michigan . You've decided to, to really stake your claim in Michigan . Then onto Washington and Super Tuesday . Where's the path, Senator?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, I mean, if you'd have asked me that question two weeks ago, I would've said, well, I'm going to win Minnesota , Missouri and Colorado , there would've been some chuckling, you know, behind the cameras. The fact of the matter is we've done pretty well in, in going out and making our case to the public generally. We've had a great week. We've raised over $3 million this week alone and the money continues to pour in. We feel great that some of these polls have come out in Michigan that show us ahead at this point, show us closing in Arizona , and we're going to work. I mean, I'm going to be in Washington state tomorrow, Idaho the next day, North Dakota the day after that, and then giving a speech at the Detroit Economic Club in Michigan and we're going to go out and again, make the case that we're the best candidate to contrast with Barack Obama. We've got the boldest plan to help everybody get to work in America , particularly in the state of Michigan . We're going to talk about the Made in the USA plan that, you know, creating an opportunity for manufacturing jobs. We're going to talk energy in North Dakota . Obviously, the Bakken up there is a key element for us to, to increase our energy supply here in America as...

MR. GREGORY: Mm -hmm.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: ...very clear that the more energy and the cheaper it is here in this country , the better the standard of living, the quality of life and the economy 's doing. So we're going to talk about energy and manufacturing this week and we think that's a great and positive message for the country .

MR. GREGORY: Is it going to be hard, as Newt Gingrich said, the longer conservatives stay split, the harder it is to beat Romney and then ultimately Obama ? Is that your view as well?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: No. I mean, I won three races this week. That -- I didn't, I didn't -- you know, and I beat Governor Romney by 30 points in Missouri , almost 30 in Minnesota . And in a, in a place in Colorado , which he got 61 percent of the vote and worked hard, campaigned there, spent money there, more than I did, I was able to beat him in Colorado by 5. And so I, I feel very good that, you know, this is a two-person race right now. That's how we're focused on it. If you look at the results from Maine , I mean, we did -- you know, we didn't spend any time there, we did much better than we expected. CPAC , again, we felt very good that it's, you know, a two person race and the other two, the other two candidates were pretty far behind. And I think Michigan and Arizona are going to show the same thing. We're going to stay focused on presenting the best plan, the best ideas to defeat Barack Obama and I think the people of this country are looking for someone who's going to focus on the issues, focus on Obama , and not play the kind of petty politics that we've seen in this campaign to date.

MR. GREGORY: Is there an area, a decision that you would take as president, or position that you might adopt even in the course of the campaign , that would make conservatives uncomfortable that you think you could take and still get the nomination?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, look, I'm a conservative . I mean, I'm someone who believes in the founding principles that, you know, we have -- we're a great country because we were built from the bottom up , one family, one church , one community organization , you know, one civic organization, one small business at a time. That's, that's what made America the greatest country in the world . That's, that's who I am. And I don't believe in government taking control of things and, and ordering things from the top down. So you're not going to see, you know, the, the October surprise, oh, Rick Santorum 's for government doing something. It's just not what I believe in. I believe that government needs to be there as a referee on the sidelines, but they shouldn't be out there playing quarterback and running the offense. They have to, they have to be on the sidelines and let the American people , free people , believing in the opportunities that, that America creates, you know, build a great and just society.

MR. GREGORY: Finally, Senator, you know, I'm sure like me, you get offended when people say that Washington is not cool and doesn't have a fashion sense because at this conservative gathering, look what I found. If you've contributed nothing else to this campaign , you have brought back the sweater vest . And here is a Rick Santorum ...

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: The sweater vest .

MR. GREGORY: ... sweater vest that will certainly endure whatever the results of this campaign . True enough?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, I hope so. I mean, you know, it's -- you know, people have referred to me as the Richie Cunningham candidate. You know, a little bit, a little bit too clean and upstanding. But you know what, you know, contrasting that with what's going on out there in the popular culture , a little bit of Richie Cunningham wouldn't be a bad thing for our society right now.

MR. GREGORY: I think that's a headline. Thank you very much . Senator Santorum , appreciate it.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Thank you.

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