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Public Statements

MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript

Interview

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MATTHEWS: How do you move away from a pro-life stance which threatened to tear apart the GOP coalition separating pro-choice moderates from the larger group of more conservative Republicans? Republican congressman James Lankford of Oklahoma is opposed to abortion rights. Joan Walsh is the editor-at-large for Salon, an MSNBC contributor and author of "What`s the Matter With White House People?"

Congressman, I want to ask you about this decision. What do you make -- do you think that it`s essential for the Republicans to keep a very strong pro-life plank in your party platform and may -- keep it as a litmus test for any presidential or vice presidential candidate?

REP. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: You know what? Half of Americans are very pro-life. And so to say to half of Americans, Your -- your opinions don`t count, wouldn`t equate (ph) representation to them. You have pro-life Democrats and pro-life Republicans that are out there that this is a very, very important issue.

So yes, I do think you keep it in. I think you continue the conversation. But you do it in a way that`s appropriate. Chris, if you look at last year or the last two years of our voting in the 112th Congress, there have been 11 votes on abortion in the House of Representatives, 1,557 total votes, 11 of those dealt with abortion. This is not even 1 percent of our votes that have been taken in this session of Congress. So to say this has been a big issue, I think it`s been pretty fair (ph), actually.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take a look at your platform. And I`ll get to Joan in a minute. Quote -- let`s look at the platform language. This is in your platform you agreed to as a party this year. It takes a pretty tough view.

It reads, quote, "We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment`s protections apply to unborn children."

You`re basically saying in that, from the moment of conception, that the fetus or unborn child has the rights of life, liberty and property under the 14th amendment, which cannot be denied -- cannot be denied except through due process of law. You`re basically establishing personhood in your party platform.

Do you believe that is something that pro-choice people could rally behind? Could you ever have a Republican who was the candidate for president who was pro-choice? I mean, what are you really saying?

John McCain said clearly, no longer make it a partisan issue. Drop it from the public debate. Are you saying keep it as a debate between Republicans and Democrats?

LANKFORD: I doubt that Republicans would put someone into the White House that is pro-choice on that because there`s such a strong family value among Republicans. We look into the womb and we see two legs, two arms, two eyes, a nose and a beating heart, unique DNA, and we say that`s a person.

And so that -- this is not anti-choice, this is pro-life. This is we see that as a child, and we see every single child of inherent value and should have the opportunity to be able to live.

MATTHEWS: What are the rights of a pregnant woman?

LANKFORD: What are the rights of a pregnant woman?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

LANKFORD: The pregnant woman has the same rights everyone else does, but so does that child. This is splitting up Americans and saying an American that`s very small doesn`t have the same amount of rights that (ph) Americans taller. That`s not true. No matter what your height is, no matter what your weight is, as an American, you have unique rights and responsibilities under our Constitution. And we want to say we want to honor life and honor people. And we don`t think that`s irrational.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s got to this -- I follow you very rationally, sir. Don`t question me. I follow your reasoning precisely. Joan, I want in here. But following his reasoning that you`re a person the moment after conception, then if you use an IUD, you`re a murderer.

JOAN WALSH, SALON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: So, I mean, this is -- this is the language they use and they choose it.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: I don`t choose it. Your -- your thoughts.

WALSH: It`s not -- exactly, Chris. It`s not just abortion. It`s certain forms of birth control would be murder and it would be criminalized. It would be considered murder. You know, I`m pro-choice. I`m very much pro-family. I`m very much pro-life. And Americans are divided on this issue, although there is a majority of people who think abortion should be legal, at least in some circumstances.

MATTHEWS: What about John McCain`s statement yesterday? Weren`t you
amazed for him to just drop that from the airplane to lighten the load, basically?

WALSH: Yes. Well, they are on a -- they are on a course to demographic extinction, the Republican Party. They`re losing women. They`re losing Latinos and Asians and African-Americans. They`re losing young people. Other than that, they`re doing great.

You know, so there have been a lot of proposals for what they have to do to
get some of those groups back, and I think choice is one issue. I would say though with Senator McCain, he talks about being open to other views. It`s not necessarily that we won`t continue to fight to make abortion illegal.

MATTHEWS: Well, he did sound like he was going to not make it a partisan
issue.

WALSH: He sounded like it, but he left himself wiggle room. So we will
see how it plays out.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about this, Congressman, because you`re the
Republican. We`re talking about your platform. OK?

If somebody is of similar mind to Joan Walsh here, who agrees with your party on fiscal issues, but disagrees with your issues on social issues like abortion rights, how can they vote -- or should they vote for a president who has promised to get rid of Roe v. Wade? And how can you make that case?

LANKFORD: OK. It`s the same thing. A lot of Americans have different
issues that they vote on.

A lot of people vote on fiscal issues, on jobs issues, on economic issues, the basics of it, what we call the table issues, those kitchen table things. That`s pretty common. Some people have their first priority is a life issue, that they say, you know what? It doesn`t matter the economy if you don`t ever have life on it.

MATTHEWS: I agree with that. But what about the choice person? Why should a choice person vote for the continuation of this Republican platform, which says from the moment of conception that unborn child or fetus is in fact a citizen with the rights of property, and life and liberty? Property rights, even. Your thoughts.

LANKFORD: There are plenty of people that are pro-choice Republicans that are out there, just like there are plenty of pro-life Democrats that are out there, because they`re going to pick their own preferences on it. I would disagree that this party is demographically falling apart, when a 49 percent-51 percent election just occurred. You look at the House of Representatives and you have this large percentage of Republicans there. We still are a very divided nation.

(CROSSTALK)

LANKFORD: That is represented in our government right now.

WALSH: It`s going to be about 47 percent. And most Americans voted -- in
the House races, most Americans did vote for Democrats. Because of gerrymandering, your party got a big majority. But that`s because of gerrymandering. And I would also add, Chris...

MATTHEWS: Actually, it`s because the Democrats waste a lot of votes in big
city Democratic districts where they got 99 percent of the vote.

WALSH: Fine.

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH: But I just want to -- I want to say something very important about
abortion.

Most women who have abortions are mothers. It`s sadly a kitchen table issue. A lot of women are making that choice because they cannot afford to bring another child into the world. And for a lot of women, it`s a tough choice, but there`s nobody better positioned to make that decision in the end.

We can be privately pro-life, but publicly, our public policy has to be pro-choice because there`s no one else who can make that decision besides the women with the people she trusts. Otherwise, you are making her a criminal, you`re making the doctors a criminal -- criminals. It`s just untenable. We`re not going back to the world where we used to live, where people...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I think, Joan, here is something you would agree with and I think the congressman won`t agree with. This is the exact words that John McCain used yesterday with Chris Wallace. "I don`t think anybody like me," meaning a male of a certain age, "I can state my position on abortion, but to other than that leave the issue alone."

In other words, he doesn`t want to be heard on the issue really in terms of any debate over the platform. He basically thinks the party ought to stop fighting over it as a party, but you, sir, don`t agree with him. That`s what I just want to get on the record.

LANKFORD: I would say there are 750,271 people in the 5th Congressional
District of Oklahoma, both male and female. And to say because I`m a male,
I can`t represent the female opinion that is in my district would be incorrect.

There are hundreds of thousands of females in my district that are very pro-life and are very passionate about this issue and they deserve a voice in Congress as well. So does that child.

I understand the plight of the woman that`s pregnant on that, but I also understand the plight of that child.

MATTHEWS: Well said for your point of view. Joan, last word.

WALSH: Well, I think this is going to be an issue that splits the party because the Republicans have pandered to people who are very extreme. And that`s what -- we have got that language in the platform that most people didn`t know about until Todd Akin made his ridiculous remarks about legitimate rape.
So, this is not going to be an easy one for them to finesse, Chris. A lot of people feel the way the congressman does.

MATTHEWS: Well, I think the seams in the Republican Party are starting to show. I`m not saying that the bolts are snapping...

WALSH: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: ... but the seams are showing. Congressman, it`s great having you on.

LANKFORD: Good to have you as well.

MATTHEWS: You`re a very articulate spokesman for your point of view. Thank you for coming on.

LANKFORD: I would definitely disagree, but thank you.

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