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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript

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MR. GREGORY: Joining me now, House Majority Leader, Republican Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia.

Mr. Leader, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA): David, it's good to be here.

MR. GREGORY: So a big primary on Tuesday. You have not chosen sides here in this Republican nomination fight. Are you prepared to say who you're with this morning?

REP. CANTOR: David, yes. Because what I have seen, as you said, a very hard-fought primary throughout the last couple of months. And we have seen now that the central issue of this campaign is about the economy, and the country's got to make a choice, who's going to best be able to lead this economy back to a growth mode, create jobs so people can feel better about the future. And I just think there's one candidate in the race who can do that and that's Mitt Romney. You know, Mitt Romney is, is the only candidate in the race who's put forward a bold, pro-growth, pro-jobs plan for the future. You know, a lot of the things that he's talking about in his plan we're working on in the House of Representatives, and that's why I look to Super Tuesday, I look to Mitt Romney winning all of Virginia's delegates. In fact, I cast my vote already in Virginia for Mitt Romney and I'm here today to tell you that I'm endorsing Mitt Romney in his candidacy for the presidency of the United States.

MR. GREGORY: Why do you think he uniquely can beat President Obama?

REP. CANTOR: Well, you know, Mitt, Mitt is the only one in the race who knows how to create jobs. He's the only one who's put forward a bold plan to do that. If you look at, at Mitt Romney's economic plan, what it does is it lowers taxes for everyone who pays income taxes, it will result in reduced red tape for small businesses, it'll help us get back on track. That's why I think that Mitt Romney is the man for this year. I believe this is a historic election, there's no question about it, the kinds of challenges we face. He's the only one in the race who has put forward these kinds of solutions. And I think he can beat Barack Obama in November.

MR. GREGORY: Why is it so tough for him? What's the problem that he's having with conservatives in the party that has gotten him to a point where not even Super Tuesday represents an opportunity for him to slam the door shut?

REP. CANTOR: Well, again, this hard-fought primary has been full of all kinds of issues, but one thing that can bring people together in this country is, is the economy and jobs. It's the same situation we're dealing with in Congress, and that is we're looking for ways to bring people together. This plan, this pro-growth plan that Mitt Romney has put forward is something that I think the more people look into the details and see that plan, the more they will rally behind Mitt Romney. And you can see, I mean, he just had a double-digit win last night in Washington, I suspect he's going to do very well on Tuesday in Super Tuesday.

MR. GREGORY: In your own state, Santorum and Gingrich failed to get on the ballot. Was that a sign to you that these are weak candidates who are not ready for the nomination?

REP. CANTOR: Well, clearly I think their campaigns were not in the preparation mode early enough to do what they needed to do to get on the ballot. And at this point, the voters of Virginia have two choices and that is to vote for Mitt Romney or to vote for Ron Paul...

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

REP. CANTOR: ...who did qualify to get on the ballot. Obviously there's a potential, people would like to write in. But again, I do think that Mitt Romney's going to win all of Virginia's delegate votes on Tuesday.

MR. GREGORY: Well, he is--he's the only one on the ballot, so it puts him in a strong position to do that.

REP. CANTOR: Well, he's, he's got Ron Paul on the ballot as well.

MR. GREGORY: Right. You have been vetted to be a vice presidential candidate back in 2008, you're endorsing Romney now. Would you be open to being considered for that role this time around?

REP. CANTOR: No. This is about, this is about Mitt Romney and making sure that he is put into office. And no, this is not about that. I am--I'm not open to that, I am privileged to feel that I can represent the people of Virginia in Congress and obviously voted by, by my colleagues to be majority leader and look forward to serving in that capacity under an--a Romney presidency.

MR. GREGORY: Not, not open to being vice president?

REP. CANTOR: No. No.

MR. GREGORY: Let me talk about this issue that I talked about with Speaker Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh's comments in this fight over contraception on the airwaves and in Congress, in the House and the Senate. What do you think of what Rush Limbaugh said and how he got into this controversy?

REP. CANTOR: You know, David, Rush Limbaugh has apologized. I don't condone that type of language in any arena, including the political arena. It was...

MR. GREGORY: You think he was dead wrong?

REP. CANTOR: It was--it--yes, it was insulting, and Rush has said as much.

MR. GREGORY: He has a powerful influence. Mitt Romney, the guy you just endorsed, has not come out to repudiate Rush Limbaugh. Do you think he missed an opportunity to stand up to that wing of the party and say, to say stop it. We should be focused on the economy and not contraception?

REP. CANTOR: I, I, I think, there's no question that Mitt Romney's candidacy is about the economy, and you mentioned...

MR. GREGORY: But my question is, did he miss an opportunity to spell this out? He did not repudiate. He didn't use language as strong as you just did against Rush Limbaugh.

REP. CANTOR: Well, again, I think Mitt Romney has been very clear. He is somebody who's focused on the economy, this issue, and Rush has apologized.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

REP. CANTOR: So I'm sure, you know, if you ask Mitt Romney, David, I'm sure he would also agree those were insulting words, just as Rush characterized his own language.

MR. GREGORY: Did the House make a mistake by not having Sandra Fluke testify in the first place at, at a, at a hearing that the first panel dominated by men on this issue of the HHS ruling and contraception being covered by insurance? Do you think House make a mistake initially giving some power to this issue?

REP. CANTOR: David, this issue is about religious freedom. I mean, think about it. It is the Obama administration and the president telling the Catholic Church what the Catholic faith means and holds. You know, to me and to you, we are members of a minority faith. This country stands for religious freedom. So many people in the world actually come here for that reason alone, so you can practice your faith. It is central to who we are as a country. And, and that...

MR. GREGORY: But the rule says that, that you can exercise conscience, but the insurance company would have to directly provide access to contraception and insurance coverage for those women who are employed.

REP. CANTOR: What, what the rule does is it basically allows for an exception to the rule if a faith-only ministers or deals with people of that faith. Now you know our religion as well as the Catholic Church and many other religions are about philanthropy and charity to all, and for the government to sit here and tell a faith what they can and can't do is just inappropriate. And that's what this issue's about. And again, there is a stark difference as to who believes what in this. And that's why I believe if Mitt Romney is president, we're not going to have this issue of confusion around religious freedom.

MR. GREGORY: Are you concerned, or I, should I say, do you appreciate the view of women like the, the chairman of the, the Democratic Party, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who will come here in just a moment, and say that this is about reproductive rights. This is about rights for women.

REP. CANTOR: It is...

MR. GREGORY: Can you appreciate that concern on the part of women?

REP. CANTOR: Well, this is not. Nobody's denying access. No, it's not about that. It is about the administration and the president saying to the Catholic Church that we know what your faith holds and you have to abide by that. It would be like saying to the--those of us in the Jewish faith that, you know, we know what the laws of Kashrut, being kosher means, and we're going to tell you what that means. That's not who we are in this country. That's what the rule is about, and that's why it has no place in, in American politics. And, and again, I think it's very important that we uphold the tenets of religious freedom. It is at the core of who we are as a country.

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about the economy. The Dow Jones industrial average across that threshold of 13,000 this past week before falling back, getting back to where it was before the financial crisis. That's an important psychological boost for a lot of Americans. Is it more difficult as a political matter for Mitt Romney or you as majority leader in the House, to make the case that this president has failed to lead economic recovery?

REP. CANTOR: Listen, what is good for our party is good for the country and vice a versa. All of us want to see a better economy. I think it is fair to say that too many people are still out of work. If you look at how jobs are created in this country, most of them come from small businesses, and over the last three years we've seen a reduction in the amount and number of start-up businesses by 23 percent. And that's what Mitt Romney's economic plan gets at. It tries to say, we're going to create an environment for investors and entrepreneurs to start creating jobs, start businesses again. You know, we got a lot of competition out there in the world. And, you know, it is important for America to succeed. Not only for all of us here at home but, frankly, all the issues that you've talked about on this show that we face abroad, America has a critical leadership role there and we have got to fix our ailing economy. And that's what Mitt Romney's plan does.

MR. GREGORY: And part of that, of course, I wonder as a, as a leader in the Congress, if you would counsel Republicans running for president not to use gas prices as a political club against the president when it really is a failure of leadership, is it not, on the part of Republicans and Democrats going back decades here, to fail to achieve energy independence and then be subject to the winds of--whims, rather, of instability in the Middle East that makes gas prices go up and down.

REP. CANTOR: There's no question Middle East instability has an impact on gas prices, but let's call it how it is. This president and his administration are hostile to fossil fuels. And the reality is, we are going to be a nation dependant upon fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. Yes, we ought to be looking for technology that can actually operate on its own to provide us with alternative sources. But at this point, we've got to and should rely on all of our sources of energy here at home. And this...

MR. GREGORY: The president says it's an all of the above approach. He's expanded drilling leases and access to public land.

REP. CANTOR: No, he's not. The, the, the reality is, and he'll claim that the production of energy right now is at an all-time high. But what we'll see is the issuance of, of permits, the actual policy of allowing for the proceeding of deep ocean drilling is not matching his rhetoric. And so it's very clear he's hostile to fossil fuels. He's hostile to coal. He's hostile to oil. He's hostile, frankly, to gas. And we need a definitive statement by this president that we will have a national energy policy because as you indicate, it is critical to a growing economy that we do that.

MR. GREGORY: Final political point. Do you believe that Mitt Romney has this nomination locked up after Tuesday?

REP. CANTOR: Listen, it'll be a hard fought race until the end. I believe he's going to...

MR. GREGORY: It goes to the convention, in other words?

REP. CANTOR: He's going to be--he's--well, listen. That's for the pundits to answer because I don't look at the polls like they do.

MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

REP. CANTOR: But what I can tell you is he's going to do very well in my home state of Virginia. He's going to do very well on Super Tuesday, and he is the guy, I believe, that will be our nominee and we will, we will have a clear choice as a country as far as the vision forward and growing this economy with Mitt's plan vs. that of the president's record.

MR. GREGORY: You think it's time for Santorum and Gingrich to step out of the race?

REP. CANTOR: I, I think that our race and our system allows anyone to participate in this process, but I do believe Mitt Romney will win our nomination and will win the presidency in November.

MR. GREGORY: Here I might--thought I might catch you in a weak moment. Leader, thank you very much.

REP. CANTOR: Thank you, David.

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