STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, everyone. It has been a packed week in politics, and we have new results this weekend in the Republican primary fight. Five more contests yesterday. Rick Santorum won the big prize in Kansas, but Mitt Romney claimed more delegates in the territories and Wyoming, and that means he still holds a commanding lead in the delegate hunt, more than double Rick Santorum's total, four times as many as Newt Gingrich.
Our powerhouse roundtable is standing by live to analyze what's next in the GOP race and what it means for the big battle with President Obama. But first, our headliners, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer and Republican Lindsey Graham.
Senators, welcome to both of you. And, Senator Graham, let me begin with the economy. We saw those strong jobs numbers come out on Friday, three months in a row of 200,000-plus job creation, and that sparked a pretty remarkable concession from Rick Santorum last night coming off his victory in Kansas. He said, "The economy may be getting better and the Republicans may lose their edge on that issue." Is he right? And what does that mean for the general election?
GRAHAM: Well, no, I don't think he's right at all. This is an anemic recovery as a pretty long recession, 37 months in a row over 8 percent unemployment for the people in the United States, the longest streak since the Great Depression. Last month in February, $229 billion monthly deficit, the highest deficit in the history of the nation. When you look at the stimulus package two years ago, they projected unemployment at 6.5 percent. Obamacare said that everybody's premiums would be lowered by $2,500; they've gone up by $2,200. And we're producing less oil on publicly held lands than any time in the nation.
So the economy is not -- is anemic at best, and the policies of the president are going to make it impossible for this country to recover. Big things haven't happened very well on his watch.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, Senator Schumer, not even half -- a glass half-full from Senator Graham.
SCHUMER: Well, I think the Republican Party is on the defensive. The president was handed an awful situation, everyone knows that, greatest recession since the depression, 700,000 jobs lost the year he took office, and now it's turning around because of his steadfastness. Two hundred thousand jobs a month gained in the last three months. If that continues, there will be more jobs during this administration when it concludes at the end of this first term than when it started, and that's a real accomplishment.
In addition, George, Democrats are focused like a laser on jobs, the economy, and the middle class. Republicans, realizing that that's not their strong suit, are going off on these other things, women's issues and women's health and contraception. And as a result, we're in a stronger and stronger position.
The women's vote, latest polls show we're up by 15 percent, because they want us to focus on the economy and the middle class, and we are doing it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Senator Schumer, let me -- let me follow up on that. Let me follow up on that, because you have -- this has clearly become a Democratic theme this year, and you -- and several Democrats made a lot of hay with the comments of Rush Limbaugh last week.
But some Republicans are seeing hypocrisy there. I want to show a bit of an ad that's being run by a group called ShePAC. It's aligned with Sarah Palin. They're saying the Democrats should be asking Bill Maher, the comedian, to turn back that $1 million he gave to Obama's super PAC because of his history of attacks on women. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAHER: Hi, Bill Maher here. Sarah Palin agreed to do commentary at Fox News, which is actually very similar to her day job, talking to a baby with Down's syndrome. Speaking of dumb (bleep) it's not because they have breasts. It's because they are boobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Should Democrats give the money back?
SCHUMER: Well, no. I mean, look, the bottom line is that Rush Limbaugh's comments were just nasty and directed at a particular young woman who had a particular point of view and was expressing herself. Bill Maher is a comedian. It's much different. Rush Limbaugh has tremendous weight in the Republican Party. No one will rebut him. Bill Maher's a comedian who's on at 11 o'clock at night but has very little influence on what's happening here.
So, you know, again, they're sort of -- they're sort of in a hole, and they're always trying to look for excuses. But to focus...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you in that hole, Senator Graham?
SCHUMER: ... against women...
GRAHAM: No, America's in a hole. We -- two years since the stimulus was passed, George, they promised 8 percent unemployment by the summer of 2009. Two years later, we're at 8.3 percent. Obama health care was passed on a party-line vote. People in the country don't like it. Eighty percent of small businesses by the administration's own numbers are projected to have to give up their coverage by 2014, and it was supposed to add surpluses to our problems over 10 years, and now it's adding to the deficits.
And the president says, I'm for all-of-the-above when it comes to energy. Well, those are words coming out of his mouth. They don't come from his heart. No Keystone pipeline, no drilling in the gulf. At the end of the day, the economy is not doing well because of his politics.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me follow with Senator Schumer on that, because, Senator, you've been taking some heat for urging President Obama to petition Saudi Arabia to increase production. From Newt Gingrich, Congressman McCarthy and others, they say instead the focus should be, just as Senator Graham just suggested, on increasing production here at home.
SCHUMER: Well, we have to do both. And that's again -- once again, they don't have any real answers. In the short term, we know why prices are up. It's because of Iran, and Iran's threatening to cut off oil production. The Saudis have 2.8 million barrels of extra production. Total Iranian production is 2.2 million. If the Saudis were to promise that they'd replace every barrel Iran took off the market with a new barrel on the market, the price of oil would plummet, and I believe the administration's working quietly towards that.
In the long run, we have to do many different things. And, you know, our colleagues forget, oil production is up. It's higher than it's been in eight years. We are producing more natural gas and oil here in America. But at the same time, we have to do alternatives. Our Republican colleagues, for instance, are blocking tax breaks for wind and solar power, which is not the whole answer, but part of the answer. We are looking to produce energy here in America in every way.
And one other thing that's happening, conservation is having a huge effect. The CAFE standards, the mileage standards on cars, are going to reduce the amount of imports we have to bring in by 1.1 million additional barrels. Right now, we only import 45 percent of our oil needs. It was 60 percent. So we're making progress...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me bring that...
SCHUMER: ... in the long run, but we've got to do something about the short run, too, and Saudi Arabia's one answer. An investigation into why the refineries are not at full production is a second short-term answer.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me bring that issue of Iran to Senator Graham, because, Senator Graham, you've written a congressional resolution saying that the U.S. must prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapons capability, opposing any policy of so-called containment. Last Sunday, President Obama in his speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee seemed to agree. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Iran's leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment. I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you and the president now in sync? The Republican candidates have been quite critical of his policy on Iran.
GRAHAM: Well, I -- I am very glad to hear that from the president. Senator Schumer and I and others have a resolution from the Senate that says containment of a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable. So, yes, I was very glad to hear the president say that we would not have containment.
The problem is that during the three years in question, we've talked to Iran, they keep enriching. We've imposed sanctions, they keep enriching. They have enough low-grade uranium now to make one-and-a-half bombs, and our engagement with Iran is simply not working, and the Iranians have to believe that he will use force to stop them. Certainly, Israel is in a bad spot here.
But back to energy production, what this -- started this debate, President Obama has reduced energy production on publicly held lands, 14 percent oil, 17 percent for -- for natural gas. We're not producing oil on the lands that the -- and gas on lands that the United States owns. And all above is just a phrase.
So I'll try to help the president where I can when it comes to Iran. I'm glad to hear him say that containment is not a good strategy, because it'd be a disaster.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Schumer, let me turn that to you. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, later this week said that it's -- possible strike against Iran is not a matter of days or weeks away, but it's not years, either. Are you worried that Israel might strike during an election year? And what must Iran do to prevent it?
SCHUMER: Well, you know, George, the U.S. and Israel are really tight on this issue. This was a very good week. Not only did the president say that he wouldn't be for containment, which, of course, is a bad idea, second, he said -- excuse me -- second, he said he would use military force, no ands, ifs or buts, that Iran can't have a nuclear weapon, and if the sanctions fail, that military force would have to be used.
The sanctions are working. The president's done an amazingly good job here at trying to corral all the nations of the world who have different interests into squeezing Iran. As we speak, there are four Iranian tankers traveling around the globe looking for a place to drop off their oil, and countries don't want to deal with them because of the sanctions and the currency restrictions.
So we're making real progress. And everyone agrees, Israel and the United States, best way, sanctions. If they can work -- and the Iranian people, you know, are a secular people, they want economic advancement, they're in a real economic hole, that could put huge pressure on this administration to stop. But as the president said in the Atlantic magazine article, if sanctions don't work, we will have to use military force.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Graham, let me ask you about Afghanistan, some news breaking this morning. An American soldier reports that he went -- went rogue and essentially killed at least 15 Afghan civilians. Everyone is bracing now for another backlash, similar to what we saw after the burning of the Korans.
You've raised some serious questions about the mission, even though you do support it. Are you getting worried that it's not sustainable?
GRAHAM: No, I believe, one, this is tragic and will be investigated, and that soldier will be held accountable for his actions under the military justice system. Unfortunately, these things happen in war. You had an Israeli soldier kill worshippers by the Dome of the Rock mosque. You just have to push through these things.
My recommendation to the public is, listen to General Allen, who comes back in two weeks. The surge of forces has really put the Taliban on the defensive. The Afghan army is better trained and better equipped than ever. The goal is to withdraw our forces by 2014, put Afghans in the lead, and I hope a strategic partnership agreement, George, between the United States and Afghanistan will stop the narrative we're leaving, that there will be a follow-on force post-2014 with air bases and special forces units to make sure the Taliban never come back, and at NATO we'll stay past 2014.
We can win this thing. We can get it right. I will support the president when he does the right thing. Pulling the surge forces out that General Allen needed in 2012 by September, I think, was the big mistake. Leaving Iraq unattended was a big mistake. And it puts doubts in Iran's mind that this president really is committed to seeing things through. That's the problem.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you agree, Senator Schumer?
SCHUMER: Yeah, look, I think the president has a good plan. Obviously, it's a very difficult situation because we have real terrorism that emanated from Afghanistan. The president doesn't get enough credit. He's done an amazing job with the drones and Al Qaida, not just in getting rid of bin Laden, but unlike President Bush, he said the drones could go across the border in Pakistan and Al Qaida's weakened.
The great weakness in Afghanistan is Karzai. Nobody seems to trust him or like him. And the idea of turning it over to the Afghan forces is the right way to go, but that's a major question mark, Karzai.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, Senator Graham, one more political question. The Romney campaign says it's going to take an act of God for the others in the race to beat him. Are they right? And is this race getting to the point where Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum should drop out for the sake of party unity?
GRAHAM: Well, good question. I wouldn't trade places with Mitt if I were in the race. He has almost a third of the delegates he needs. Mathematically, Rick would have to win 75 percent of what remains. He's done an outstanding job, Rick has, of starting with almost nothing and being a real contender, and Newt's come back from the dead two or three times. But mathematically, this thing is about over, but emotionally it's not. I think everybody believes, if I could just get a one-on-one with Romney, I could win this thing, but if Romney does well, wins either Mississippi or Alabama and wins Illinois, then I think it's virtually impossible for this thing to continue much beyond early May.
But there's a ways to go yet. It's Romney's to lose. And, quite frankly, every time he had his back against the wall, he's performed. And I like his chances, but the other two candidates have got to make that decision themselves.
We will win in November because of the three-and-a-half years of opportunity this president's had to turn things around, and, quite frankly, he's made it worse. Just go to the gas pumps and you'll realize how worse it is on his watch.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, you -- you got that last plug in. Senators, thank you both...
STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm sorry. I've got to go, Senator, we're out of time, but thank you both very much.
GRAHAM: Thank you.
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