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GREGORY: All right. Chuck Todd, we're going to be talking about these numbers over the next couple of days as we get more from our-- our poll. Chuck, thank you very much.
Joining me now is Republican Senator of Florida Marco Rubio. Senator, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): I'm glad to be back. Thank you.
GREGORY: Let's talk where Chuck left off about Florida. Looking at the resident's schedule, he looks to be focusing a little bit more on Ohio. In your judgment, you've seen the numbers. Is Florida Romney red at this point?
SEN. RUBIO: Well, we-- we like the way Florida is going. We always predicted it would go this way because two things have happened over the last couple of weeks. Number one is the American people have gotten to see Mitt Romney up close as he offers his vision of the future and what he would do as president. But even more startling is the president's complete failure to put forth an agenda for the next four years. I mean, if you look at the statements he has been making on the campaign stump over the last 72 hours or even the last two weeks, he doesn't talk about the future. He doesn't talk about his governing plan for the next four years. It's all attacks against Mitt Romney down the stretch here. And I think-- you saw those numbers just a moment ago, I think they're only going to get better for the Republican side both in Florida and nationally as we move forward.
GREGORY: Let me ask you about something that's developing this morning. In The New York Times, exclusive reporting about Iran. This is The New York Times lead this morning. It is U.S. officials say Iran has agreed to nuclear talks. "The United States and Iran have agreed in principle for the first time to one-on-one negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, according to Obama administration officials, setting the stage for what could be a last-ditch diplomatic effort to avert a military strike on Iran. Iranian officials have insisted that the talks wait until after the presidential election, a senior administration official said, telling their American counterparts that they want to know with whom they would be negotiating." What is your reaction to this?
SEN. RUBIO: Well, my reaction is the White House has denied it, and so I don't think there's much more to talk about. They've denied that. Let-- let me say this. Obviously, war is always the last option. No one wants a war. We would hope this could get solved in another way. I think the military option has to be on the table, and both candidates have said that. And I also think there is concern. No, I'm not talking about this story now, but just in general that Iran has often used negotiations in the past to buy themselves time. But the White House is denying that story this morning, and therefore there's not much to talk about.
GREGORY: Well, what they're denying is that there hasn't been a final decision. And we know what that means in Washington. That doesn't mean that it's a case closed here. Generally speaking, if it's President Romney, do you think he has a duty to give diplomacy one-on-one talks if they are open to it a chance?
SEN. RUBIO: Well, I think he's talked about that. He has said that war and any kind of armed conflict is the last option, everything else should fail. But at the same time, I think he's very cognizant of the fact that Iran has used negotiations in the past to buy themselves time. I think under a President Romney you would not have to haggle with the White House about sanctions. I think they would lead on sanctions, including continuing to increase sanction from our partners, increase pressure on Russia and other countries to participate in those sanctions. At the same time, I think that a-- a president with a clear vision of what it is he wants to ultimately accomplish, and that's preventing a nuclear capacity, a nuclear weapons capacity by Iran, may actually help further that-- that process along.
GREGORY: Governor Romney has said that crippling sanctions like those now in place by the administration are things that he'd like to see continued. So not a tremendous
SEN. RUBIO: Yeah.
GREGORY: amount of difference there. Let me move on. The President on the campaign trail says there's a new condition out there called "Romnesia," which is that Governor Romney is walking away from previous positions. The issue of contraception and abortion seems to be one in the fight for women voters here. And I want to talk that through with you a little bit. I was in Ohio this week, and, of course, you can't miss the campaign ads there. And this is one-- a part of one that the Romney campaign is running. I want to-- I want to play a portion of it and then discuss it with you. Here it is.
(Videotape; Campaign Ad)
SARAH: Romney doesn't oppose contraception at all. In fact, he thinks abortion should be an option in cases of rape, incest, or to save a mother's life.
GREGORY: So two issues there, contraception, access to contraception, and abortion. So let's separate those two for just a moment. First of all, on the issue of contraception, we know that Governor Romney supported that, measure in congress that would have said to employers, look, you don't have to provide access to contraception if it violates your own moral code or religious code, to any employer. Now that was not passed. That was the Blunt amendment. But he supported that. And yet, listen to what he talked about in the course of the campaign in this last debate on this very issue. Watch.
(Videotape; second presidential debate, Tuesday)
MITT ROMNEY: I don't believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not, and I don't believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives.
GREGORY: So I don't see how both things can be true.
SEN. RUBIO: Sure.
GREGORY: If he supports a measure that would say to employers you don't have to provide access and then he's saying everybody should have access, how do both things become true?
SEN. RUBIO: Well, because-- I think that's a general statement about most employers. But there are a handful of employers that have conscientious objections to it, for example, the Catholic Church. This is not an issue about contraception. No one is talking about banning contraception. No one is talking about preventing people from gaining access to contraception. This just happens to conflict with a constitutional principle of religious liberty. And for example, the Catholic Church teaches against contraception. And-- and to force the Catholic Church or its institutions to have to pay for something that's against their religious teachings violates their religious rights. And I think that's the governor
GREGORY: But the Blunt amendment said that any employer, Senator, any employer with a reli--
SEN. RUBIO: Well.
GREGORY: with-- with a moral objection, religious or otherwise, could-- didn't have to provide access to contraception. So how is that consistent with him saying that every woman should have access?
SEN. RUBIO: Because obviously, they have to have a well-found-- and it has to be a real objection. And certainly if they-- if they were faking the objection, it would be-- I think they would be pilloried in public-- in public coverage of it. The truth is the Catholic Church, for example, which is the impetus of this, which-- the folks that are leading the charge against this has a well-founded, longtime and historical opposition to contraception. They teach that in the church. And the-- and the Obama ruling-- the Obama administration's ruling and mandates on this issue run counter to those religious rights, those religious protections that are constitutional principles.
GREGORY: On the question of abortion, true or untrue, Governor Romney has said that he would sign a bill that banned abortion should that come to his desk?
SEN. RUBIO: But, and I think what he's saying-- he's laying out very clearly what his record is on. And the ex-- exceptions that he supports. And there's diversity on those in the Republican Party. But he has also clearly said he is pro-life. He has never run away from his record as a pro-life candidate or a pro-life governor before that. But he is setting clear what he believes the exceptions are that he stands for.
GREGORY: But that he would sign a-- a bill if it came to that to ban abortion.
SEN. RUBIO: He's pro-life. And he has talked about how he's pro-life. He also believes in certain exception. And that ad you have just played, what it does is it identifies those exceptions that he believes in.
GREGORY: Let me talk more generally about how he relates to women, again, because this has become such an issue on the campaign trail as our piece to the very top setup. You know, when he talked about flexibility in schedules, he talked about the binders full of women that he received from some women's groups when he was looking to fill his cabinet with posts when he was governor of Massachusetts. He talked about the-- the importance of flexibility so that, you know, women could get home early to be with their kids and make dinner. And he's gotten some criticism for that because it seems that there's a narrow view of what women's view-- roles are both at home and in the workplace.
Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post wrote this in her column on Friday, and I'd like your reaction to it. She writes, "Listen closely to Romney not just in the debate but in his comments about women throughout the campaign, and you hear not only modern manager but fifties dad. He speaks of the dignity of work when talking about welfare moms. But at heart, he seems convinced that children are better off when mothers stay at home." Look, Senator, you're-- you're forty-two, you're of a different generation, as a-- as father and as a husband, can you understand why some women have that reaction, they seem sort of out of touch with what modern women are going through?
SEN. RUBIO: Well, first of all, let me correct to you, I'm forty-one. I only feel forty-two.
GREGORY: You know, I thought we were the same age.
SEN. RUBIO: Let-- let me-- just couple things I want to say about that. Number one-- number issue in America, especially for women but for all Americans, is an economy that's growing and creating opportunities. And that's why you just read a poll that the-- the gender gap is narrowing. The reason why is because Barack Obama is not offering anything. What's he going to do over the next four years economically so that women that are graduating from the universities can find jobs in the professions that they're studying for? That's the number one issue in America, it's the number two issue in America, it's the overriding issue in America, and the president is failing to put forward what is his plan for the next four years. What's his plan?
GREGORY: But, my-- my question has to do with again the-- the perception, real or not, about whether Mitt Romney gets it when it comes to what women are dealing with in the workplace today and in their own choices that they face today.
SEN. RUBIO: The-- there are going to be columnists and folks on the left that don't like Mitt Romney, do not support Mitt Romney. They're going to come up with all sorts of interesting arguments between now and Election Day. I think that's absurd. He has a record of placing highly-qualified women both in his administration and his campaign and throughout his life. And the debate, this is silly outrage. It's not-- it's not even real outrage. He was discussing a process that they went through to identify qualified women for important positions in his administration. I mean I think his record speaks for himself on that in terms of the way he's behaved himself in both private life and in his campaign.
GREGORY: Let me ask you about another big issue in your state, you know it well, and that's the issue of Medicare. What we do about the fact that Medicare is going broke and that something has to be done with-- with health care costs that affect the Medicare program. There's a Romney ad that features you and this is a portion of it.
(Videotape; Campaign Ad)
SEN. RUBIO: My mother's eighty-one and depends on Medicare. We can save Medicare without changing hers, but only if younger Americans accept that our Medicare will be different than our parents when we retire in thirty years. But after all they did for us, isn't that the least we can do?
GREGORY: So what the Romney-Ryan ticket wants to do is change Medicare by offering premium support or a voucher to seniors to be able to purchase health care in the private market, choices of health care plans under Medicare including traditional Medicare. But you said, as a forty-one-year-old, thirty years from now, when we retire. But that's not accurate, Senator, their plan would actually make these changes in ten years. So if you're a senior, if you're fifty-five years old, you have to think about the impact of these policies. If they have the right idea, why not do it now? Why not put these changes in place and affect your mother's Medicare right now?
SEN. RUBIO: Well, first of all, because I think it's doable without disrupting my mother's Medicare and people in her generation. In the ad I was describing the impact it would have on people like me on my generation, and the truth is our Medicare is going to look different. We're going to have more choices. Ours is probably going to be adjusted for how wealthy we are when we retire. Wealthy people will get less of a premium support. We're going to have more options. It's still going to be the best plan in the world. This is just going to a little different than what our parents have.
GREGORY: But if it was such a good idea, why not say to your mom, hey, look, you've to realize that we're-- this system is going broke. You have to make the adjustment now, and it's going to be great for you. You're not going to have to pay anymore or is there fear that doing that would actually make your mom pay more?
SEN. RUBIO: Because two things, number one, if you're eighty-one years old like my mom, you really-- you can't afford and you can't sustain the disruptiveness of an immediate change to her plan. Number one, they've paid into that plan all of these years. They retired with that promise. And at eighty-one years of age, you're not in a position now all of a sudden accept wholesale changes to the way the health care is delivered for you. And that's exactly-- that kind of disruptive change is what we're trying to avoid. And the sooner we change, the sooner we go ahead and-- and put some of these measures in plus-- place, the less likely it will be that anyone that's a current beneficiary will have to be disrupted. And that's why it's so troubling that the president has failed to put forward any agenda for the next four years including one that shows how you save Medicare. Where is the president's plan to save Medicare? Is it now a pretty good time to offer it? I mean, what is he waiting for?
GREGORY: All right. We're going to leave it there as the debate continues. Senator Rubio, thank you as always.
SEN. RUBIO: Thank you.
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