George Stephanopoulos: And now let's bring in our headliner, top Republican Congressman, former candidate for Vice President, Paul Ryan. Thank you for joining us this morning Congressman. Lots to talk about: the follow up from the State of the Union, the legislative battles ahead, but let's begin with these new charges against Chris Christie. You see the Democrats are already out with an online ad this morning and with all these investigations swirling around him, are you confident he can continue to run the Republican Governors Association and be an effective spokesman for your party?
Paul Ryan: I am confident. I consider Chris Christie a friend. I think he's been a fantastic Governor. Right now, all we know is one person's word against another. You can't base any conclusion on such a thing and so unless something else is known or made clear, I don't see why you would change what's going on right now. I don't think he should step down because nothing has been proven and you always give a person the benefit of the doubt in those kinds of situations in my judgment.
George Stephanopoulos: Ok. Let's turn to the President's State of the Union this week. He called for Congress to act, but also made it very clear that he would use Executive Orders to advance his agenda. Let's take a look.
President Obama: Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do.
George Stephanopoulos: Now you had a pretty tough reaction to this suggesting that the President is "circumventing the Constitution." Do you really think his proposals are unconstitutional? His rate of using Executive Orders is far behind President Reagan, President Bush, and President Clinton.
Paul Ryan: It's not the number of Executive Orders; it's the scope of the Executive Orders. It's the fact that he's actually contradicting law, like in the health care case, or proposing new laws without going through Congress, George. That is the issue.
George Stephanopoulos: So you think he's violating the Constitution?
Paul Ryan: We have an increasingly lawless presidency where he is actually doing the job of Congress, writing new policies and new laws without going through Congress. Presidents don't write laws, Congress does. And when he does things like he did in health care, delaying mandates that the law said was supposed to occur and when they were supposed to occur, that's not his job. The job of Congress is to change laws if he doesn't like them, not the presidency. Executive Orders are one thing, but Executive Orders that actually change the statute, that's totally different.
George Stephanopoulos: But if you think he's lawless and circumventing the Constitution, are you going to move to impeach?
Paul Ryan: No, we have a difference of opinion clearly and some of these are going to get fought out in court. You have some court challenges with respect to religious freedom going to the court this spring. But I'm concerned about the trend, such as what he said at the State of the Union that if Congress doesn't give me the law, I'm going to go do it myself. That's effectively what he said. That's not the way our Constitution works. And by the way, when we get sworn in, whether it's President or a Congressman, you swear to uphold the Constitution and I think these Executive Orders are creating a dangerous trend which is contrary to the Constitution.
George Stephanopoulos: Listening to you and President Obama on the other hand this week, it does sound like you could have a meeting of the minds on immigration and reach a compromise on immigration reform. One that opens a path to citizenship for the undocumented, but doesn't necessarily have a special path for the undocumented. But this talk of compromise has unleashed a furious debate inside your own party. I want to show you what Bill Kristol wrote in the Weekly Standard this week, he said: "Bringing immigration to the floor insures a circular GOP firing squad, instead of a nicely lined-up one shooting together and in unison at Obamacare and other horrors of big government liberalism. Since there is really no need to act this year on immigration, don't. Don't even try." Your response?
Paul Ryan: Well look, we don't know who's coming and going in this country, George. We don't have control of our border. We don't have control of interior enforcement - you just talked about the Boston bombers -- and so doing nothing on the security side of this, we think is not a responsible thing to do. It's appropriate you brought this subject up after talking about these Executive Orders. Here's the issue that all Republicans agree on: We don't trust the President to enforce the law. So if you actually look at the standards that the Republican Leadership put out, it's security first. First, we have to secure the border, have interior enforcement, which is a worker verification system, a visa tracking program. Those things have to be in law, in practice, and independently verified before the rest of the law can occur so it's a security-force first, non-amnesty approach.
The other concern that people have in our party is they don't want to see us get into conference with the Senate and then compromise to a bad law. We won't let that happen because we have already said we won't go to conference with the Senate. And so this is not one of those issues where it has some kind of a deadline behind it, like say a government shutdown which forces us into a compromise we might not like to take. This is a "here are our standards, this is our approach' and if you want to do it this way, this is what we're willing to do. And we are still having a debate in our caucus about even that, but we don't think that we can allow this border to continue to be overrun, and if we can get security first, no amnesty before anything happens we think that's a good approach. This is not a trust then verify, this is a verify then trust approach.
George Stephanopoulos: Bottom line, can you put something on the President's desk this year that he can sign?
Paul Ryan: I really don't know the answer to that question. That is clearly in doubt. It depends on whether they are willing to actually secure the border, actually have interior enforcement and agree to not having an amnesty. If we can do that where it's security-first, no amnesty, we might be able to get somewhere but I just don't know if that will be the case or not.
George Stephanopoulos: Let me also ask you about the debt limit. The President made it clear again this week that there's no way he's going to agree to anything but a clean debt limit. That's the only thing he is going to sign. You and members of your caucus talking about attaching policy changes to the debt limit, is there any reason to think that could succeed? It hasn't before.
Paul Ryan: Well, I think that we have had policies attached to the debt limit before, it's actually more often the case than not. Usually whoever the President is, whoever is running Congress, there is policy attached to the debt limit so that's not a new idea. What we don't like is this idea of continually rubber-stamping debt limit increases without acknowledging the problem that got us into debt in the first place. The challenge we have is this President has never proposed to ever balance the budget, let alone pay off the debt. He's been fiscally reckless in our opinion and we think we should take some steps in the right direction and the thing is, we know that there are Democrats who agree with us in the Senate. And so, we would like to take a look at what are those things we can do to take a step in the right direction with jobs, the economy, getting this deficit under control, while we deal with the fact our deficit is out of control.
George Stephanopoulos: But as you know the President is not going to sign that. I want to ask you a final question about some recent comments you made about Pope Francis. You praised him for taking on the debate about poverty, but also seemed to dismiss his pretty piercing critique of capitalism suggesting that he doesn't really understand it. This is what you said to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "The guy is from Argentina, they haven't had real capitalism in Argentina." Was that a little too flip?
Paul Ryan: No, not at all. I think they have crony capitalism in Argentina where you have real exploitation. That is not the free market; that is crony capitalism. We're starting to see some crony capitalism here in America. What I'm excited about the Pope's comments is he is inviting a debate. He's not settling the debate, he's inviting the debate. And he is asking lay Catholics to say how we would actually tackle the problems and bring the poor in, stop isolating the poor. These are good things. I think he's starting a fantastic debate. And if you look at his comments very closely, he always talks about the welfare mentality. He always talks about the welfare state and how we have to avoid creating a welfare state. Bring the poor in, create upward mobility and free enterprise that gives opportunity to everybody no matter who they are or where they are in life and in America. That's what we're for. He's invited the debate and I think it's a fantastic conversation to have.
George Stephanopoulos: You don't think he'd endorse your budget, do you?
Paul Ryan: Of course not. He's a Pope. Popes don't endorse budgets. Popes say let's have a conversation about how to fix the broken status quo, how to bring the poor in, how to not have a welfare state and introduce upward mobility. Popes don't endorse actual legislative changes or budgets like that.
George Stephanopoulos: Congressman, thanks for your time this morning. It's going to be an interesting debate.