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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript

Interview

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MR. GREGORY: Should be interesting. Chuck Todd, thank you very much.

Let's turn now to the Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Mr. Speaker, welcome back to the program.

FMR. REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA): David, it's good to be with you.

MR. GREGORY: I want to talk about the campaign and the numbers that I just went through with Chuck Todd, but I have to ask you about access to contraception. I realize it's not at the, the core of your stump speech, but it is a debate that is certainly highly charged here in Washington and Congress...

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: No.

MR. GREGORY: ...and on the airwaves.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: No, it's...

MR. GREGORY: But it is, Mr. Speaker. Let me just take you through Rush Limbaugh's commentary about this this week, about a young law student here who testified about access to contraception for health reasons, something that he's now apologized for. Let me play it.

(Videotape, Wednesday)

MR. RUSH LIMBAUGH: What does it say about the college coed Susan Fluke who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex. What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Limbaugh issued an apology yesterday, which many people may not know about, a portion of which reads as following, "In this instance I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke. My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices." How much damage has this done?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: You know, David, I am astonished at the desperation of the elite media to avoid rising gas prices, to avoid the president's apology to religious fanatics in Afghanistan, to avoid a trillion dollar deficit, to avoid the longest period of unemployment since the Great Depression and to suddenly decide that Rush Limbaugh is the great national crisis of this week.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: There's no debate about access to contraception. There is a debate, which Cardinal George of Chicago has pointed out, is a war against the Catholic Church. You do have this weird situation where President Obama apologizes to Islamic extremists while waging war against the Catholic Church. That's the language, by the way, of the Catholic bishops. You have an issue here of whether the government can coerce the Catholic Church, not just into a contraception, but into sterilization and abortion, something I don't find any reporter wants to talk about. You have a president who voted for infanticide as a, as a state senator, who represents the most extreme pro-abortion position in America. So if you want to have a dialogue about this, David...

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: ...let's set the record straight. Barack Obama, as a state senator, voted to allow doctors to kill babies if they survived the abortion. Barack Obama, as president, in the most radical anti-religious move made by a--by any president, is trying to coerce the Catholic Church at a time when he's been told by the bishops...

MR. GREGORY: Well, Mr. Speak...

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: ...that would have to give up every single hospital--wait a--let me finish. They would have--this is what they say.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: They would have to give up every single hospital, they would have to give up every single religious--every single university and college associated with the church because he is asking them to violate their religious beliefs. Now you want--if you want a debate...

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: ...over whether or not the president of the United States should be able to impose his views on a religious institution...

MR. GREGORY: All right. And what he...

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: ...and whether America's now a secular country, let's have that debate.

MR. GREGORY: Can I just get to my question? Do you think it was harmful...

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Sure.

MR. GREGORY: ...that Limbaugh--certainly an influential voice in the conservative grass roots and you well know that--was it appropriate for him to apologize? Do you think he's done damage to the debate that you're now getting into?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: OK. Look, I think--I think it was appropriate for Rush to apologize, I'm glad he apologized. Do you think the president owes an apology to all the men and women in uniform who he, frankly, abandoned when he apologized to religious fanatics in Afghanistan? What's your opinion, David?

MR. GREGORY: Well...

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Should the president apologize to men and women in uniform that he abandoned?

MR. GREGORY: Well, I'm going to continue with my question, so...

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: If you want to get into a discussion about apologies, I'm happy to discuss it.

MR. GREGORY: I'm happy--well, so my question, though, is you, you want the other side to appreciate your view, which is that this is a religious liberty question at the heart of this access to contraception.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Right.

MR. GREGORY: Can you appreciate the view of those who disagree with you, that this is an attack on women's rights? That's their view, reproductive rights, access to contraception?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well...

MR. GREGORY: And in the extreme that it's some sort of war on women?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: It's not...

MR. GREGORY: Do you appreciate that view at all?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Wait, wait. Nobody's blocking anyone from having access to contraception. No one. The young lady who testified can get access to contraception. Nobody said she couldn't. The question is, should a Catholic institution, or for that matter, the Ohio Christian University, which is a Protestant institution, which is a very pro-life institution, which is now being told it will have to pay for abortion pills. Now should, should, should a Protestant fundamentalist institution be dictated to by Washington politicians over whether or not it can have its own religious beliefs or have we become a country where it's OK to go to church on Sunday morning for one hour, but let's not actually express those beliefs the other--the rest of the week. Now I think this is, this is the most fundamental assault on religious liberty in American history despite every effort by the elite media to distort what it's about. It's not about access to contraception. People have--people who want to can get access to contraception every day. That young lady can get access to contraception. It is a question about whether or not a religiously affiliated institution should be coerced by the federal government.

MR. GREGORY: So it seems to me this, in your view, is actually a pretty fundamental issue, you just don't like the framing of it. But the fact that it gets raised is something that you think will certainly get you animated, you think it's certainly going to energize a lot of voters on both sides of the aisle.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Right. And I, I, I don't like the framing because I think the framing was false. That young lady has access to contraception every day. I mean, there's no place in America where it's illegal to go get contraception. What, what the question is, is should a religiously affiliated institution be required to provide abortion pills, should they be required to provide sterilization? Remember, the Obama rule was a lot more than just contraception. It--and by the way, Mitt Romney was on the wrong side of this issue in Massachusetts where he instructed the Catholic hospitals would be required to issue abortion pills against their religious beliefs.

MR. GREGORY: All right. Let, let...

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: So this is a very serious fundamental fight about religious liberty.

MR. GREGORY: OK. Fair enough. Let's move on to some of the, the other issues and also the state of your campaign.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: OK.

MR. GREGORY: Bottom line: How important is Georgia? If you don't win there, can you keep going?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Look, I thought it was, I thought it was vital to the campaign and we focused on it and as a result, despite a lot of money spent against me, we're doing very well and I think we're going to win decisively. And it is the biggest state in terms of delegates, it's the biggest state on Super Tuesday and I though, frankly, as I said this earlier about Romney in Michigan and...

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: ...about Santorum in Pennsylvania, it's very hard for one of the major candidates to not carry their home state and continue to move forward. So we felt it was very important, we feel very good about it, and I'll be back again tomorrow night and on, on Tuesday morning I'll be at the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce. So we have really worked very hard to make sure we could carry Georgia. And all the polls now indicate we will carry Georgia.

MR. GREGORY: You've expressed concern about conservatives being split. As long as you're in the race and Santorum's in the race, the anti-Romney candidate is splitting up those votes. What is your case about why Santorum should give up the fight, why he's, in your view, not an electable candidate?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, look, I, I accept the fact that he can run as long as he wants to. We had this dialogue about a month and a half ago. You know, I, I've had seven people or seven different surges, two of them by Herman Cain, in which various people came and went, and I keep coming back. I've twice been the, the front-runner in the national polls and I think with $2.50-a-gallon gasoline and with an American energy plan designed to give us independence from the Middle East so that no American president will ever again bow to a Saudi king, I think that we're coming back again for the third time. But Rick has every right to run, but I do think outside of industrial states, having been a very big union senator, having voted against Right to Work, having voted for Davis-Bacon, which cost billions of dollars in order to prop up the unions and having voted for every minimum wage increase the unions wanted, Santorum has a harder time when he gets outside the industrial states. But in a sense, he and I represent two parts of conservatism. I'm much more solution oriented, much more willing to do things like have personal Social Security savings accounts for young people, more willing to talk about the kind of solutions we need with being able to produce enough oil and gas to be literally independent of the Middle East. And I think, in that sense, we have different approaches to how we'd represent conservatism.

MR. GREGORY: I want to ask you about Iran, something that President Obama spoke out about in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic magazine. And this is a portion of that interview in the context of keeping all options on the table. He said, "I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff. I also don't, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say." Mr. Speaker, is there really daylight between your view of how to deal with Iran and President Obama's?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, I can't tell because I, I can, I can never tell from this particular president what, you know, what, what's the next step. The, the, the sanctions process hasn't worked, we've now had three years of talking about how tough we're going to be, and the Iranians keep developing a nuclear capability. Just--you know--and I think that we have to recognize that. This is a dictatorship that we had a chance to really affect a couple of years ago and did nothing. And so I, I don't know what the president is going to do or what he's going to say.

My view is that an Israeli prime minister could not possibly allow the Iranians to acquire nuclear weapons. Israel is such a small country, it's so compact in population that two or three, or at the most four nuclear weapons would be a second Holocaust. No Israeli prime minister could morally accept that risk. And I think it's useful for us to say to the Iranians, "The fact is you're not going to get nuclear weapons and the only question is whether you want to be hit militarily to prove that or whether you accept it diplomatically, but it's not going to happen." I don't believe--I think the Iranians do not believe him and I think that's why they are digging their, their--all of the, all of the Iranian facilities now are being dug underground and they're being designed to withstand a bombing campaign and I think that's a very bad sign.

MR. GREGORY: A final political point, Mr. Speaker, with just a, a few seconds left. Given how hard-fought this primary campaign has been so far, if Mitt Romney is the eventual nominee, do you think it's possible for him to effectively unite the Republican Party?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Oh, sure. Look, whoever the nominee is, and we actually discussed this a little bit when we were all three together in Ohio yesterday, whoever the nominee is, we are going to work together to defeat Barack Obama, period. People shouldn't be at all confused about that. The re-election of Barack Obama is such a disaster to the future of this country that I think you'll find the Republican candidates come firmly together behind the nominee.

MR. GREGORY: All right, we will leave it there. Mr. Speaker, as always, thank you very much.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Thank you.

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