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MR. WALLACE: I'm Chris Wallace, and this is "FOX News Sunday." (Intro music begins.)
Notre Dame and the president: should the nation's largest Catholic university honor an abortion rights advocate? We'll get the latest from South Bend and have a fair and balanced debate between Father Richard McBrien, a professor of theology there, and Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life.
Then, from closing Guantanamo to the battle over a Supreme Court nominee, how will the GOP respond to President Obama and congressional Democrats? We'll ask Washington's most powerful Republican, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell -- only on "FOX News Sunday."
Plus, Nancy Pelosi accuses the CIA of lying in briefings about enhanced interrogations.
HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): (From videotape.) I am saying that they are misleading, that the CIA was misleading the Congress.
MR. WALLACE: We'll ask our Sunday panel to sort out who is telling the truth.
And our Power Player of the Week, in charge of our national treasures.
All right now on "FOX News Sunday."
(Intro music ends.)
And hello again from FOX News in Washington.
Today President Obama becomes the sixth president to speak at a Notre Dame commencement and the ninth to be awarded an honorary degree. But there has never before been such a controversy over a presidential visit to South Bend.
For the latest, let's bring in FOX News correspondent Molly Henneberg, who's on the Notre Dame campus.
MS. HENNEBERG: Hi, Chris. For the most part, students here have been enjoying this graduation weekend with their families. The groups of protestors, while they've been vocal, have not been that big.
Today, though, that may change.
Police are preparing for the possibility of busloads of pro-life activists arriving to voice their opposition to pro-choice President Obama speaking and receiving an honorary degree at this Catholic university.
Here you see some of the protestors being arrested yesterday as they came on the campus without a permit. Today, a group of alumni, students and faculty is holding a rally on campus in opposition to the president speaking here. They do have a permit, so there shouldn't be any arrests.
One participant says Mr. Obama would be welcome to speak here in more of an academic forum, but not a graduation.
JOHN DALY (Notre Dame Response spokesman): (From videotape.) It's simply a monologue by him, and he will have the podium and no one will be able to respond to any of the issues that he brings up.
MS. HENNEBERG: Leading part of the protest yesterday was Norma McCorvey. She was "Jane Roe" in the 1973 Roe versus Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
She was pro-choice, but is now pro-life, and she says she prays that President Obama will change his stance on abortion.
NORMA MCCORVEY ("Jane Roe"): (From videotape.) There are other options that we've all been fighting for for a long time, such as adoption. And so yeah, I have to pray for him.
MS. HENNEBERG: The president is expected to make some remarks about the controversy surrounding his visit, but the White House says it won't be the focus of his speech, and many students say they're looking forward to hearing from him.
ANDREW NESI (Notre Dame senior): (From videotape.) I think that it's important to honor those who have done something great for society, and President Obama is one such person.
MS. HENNEBERG: Pro-life activities tell FOX one of their goals today is to disrupt the president's speech. It's not clear how they would do that. It's not clear if they were able to get tickets to the actual event.
As for the students, some students plan to boycott the graduation ceremony. They'll go to a prayer service on campus instead.
Other students who oppose the president speaking here and receiving an honorary degree will make their statement on their mortarboards, the caps they wear. They'll use yellow stickers in the form of a cross and baby's feet on their cap. That's how they'll make their point.
Most students, though, will be attending the graduation and they say they hope they will be able to enjoy it without too many interruptions.
MR. WALLACE: Molly Henneberg, reporting from the campus at South Bend.
Molly, thank you.
Joining us now, two members of the Church with sharply different views. Father Richard McBrien, a professor of theology at Notre Dame, supports the decision to honor the president. Father Frank Pavone, director of Priests for Life, has been leading protests against Mr. Obama.
Gentlemen, as we said, Notre Dame has a long history of inviting presidents to speak there. Back in 2001, George W. Bush, the new president, spoke. And of course, as governor of Texas, that state had conducted 152 executions, which the Church condemns.
Father Pavone, can't Notre Dame invite a president of the United States to speak without necessarily signing on to all of his policies?
FR. PAVONE: We're not here disagreeing with the president because he contradicts Catholic teaching or what it means to be Catholic. The problem is he contradicts what it means to be president.
This is about abortion. And in 2008 there were 37 executions. Just today there will be 37 babies at 21 weeks of gestation or more, the size of a large banana, dismembered, crushed, thrown in the garbage. And the president is not raising his voice, recognizing their right to be protected. That's the problem.
MR. WALLACE: Father McBrien, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says that abortion is a, quote, "intrinsic" evil. Doesn't that put it in a different category and make it even more unacceptable than other policies that go against Church teachings?
FR. MCBRIEN: Sure. And intrinsic evil is worse that other, what I call run of the mill evils. But all of them are evils, and we can't let people off the hook just because they differ with the Catholic Church's official teaching on something which we regard as an intrinsic evil.
There are many things that the Catholic Church opposes as evils. And evil is evil, whether it's intrinsic or not.
MR. WALLACE: But Father McBrien, one of the issues here -- Father Pavone says it isn't just about Notre Dame, it's about President Obama as president -- but one of the issues here is what does it mean to be a Catholic university.
In 2004, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said this: The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.
And yet President Obama's honorary degree to be awarded to him today says he is inspiring this nation to heal its divisions of religion, culture, race, and politics in the audacious hope for a brighter tomorrow.
Father McBrien, Notre Dame's president says that this isn't an endorsement of Obama. It sure sounds like one.
FR. MCBRIEN: Well, there's another sentence in that statement of the American bishops that should be quoted, and it said that those individuals should not be given awards, honors, or platforms which suggest support for their actions.
And Father Jenkins, our president, has made it very clear that the honorary degree and inviting the president of the United States to address our graduates in no way suggests support for all of his positions, including his position on abortion and on embryonic stem cell research.
However, there are other positions he has taken, whether it's on immigration or poverty or whatever, which are entirely consistent with Catholic social teaching.
In fact, Mike -- I mean, Chris. I'm talking about your dad -- in fact, Chris, if we required 100 percent agreement with the Catholic Church's official teaching from everyone who speaks at or gets an honorary degree from a Catholic university, we would then not have any politicians of either party.
MR. WALLACE: Father Pavone, do you think that Notre Dame inviting the president to speak at the commencement and to receive this honorary degree -- and we just quoted from it -- do you think in some sense that endorses his position on a variety of issues, including abortion and stem cell research?
FR. PAVONE: Well, it certainly says that we're honoring this man. Now, I don't think there's anybody in human history that you can say they don't have some positions right.
But all of us can think of positions that someone could take that would make us say they shouldn't be invited to speak at a Catholic university. For example, suppose they were an avowed racist, or an advocate of terrorism.
The problem here is that we're trivializing abortion. But the people are speaking out. people are getting angry that 1.2 million children are being aborted every year.
Now, this honorary doctorate today is a law degree. Law is for the protection of human rights. The president admitted on the campaign trail he doesn't know when a child gets human rights.
How can you defend human rights if you don't know who has them?
MR. WALLACE: Let's talk about the president's policy, since he has come into office, though, Father Pavone. He said in his last news conference that he's trying to, quote, "tamp down the anger" over abortion.
Now, while he supports choice, is has brought pro-life advocates into the White House to talk about trying to decrease unwanted pregnancies and to increase adoptions, while he has lifted the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. He has also limited that just to embryos that would have been discarded anyway from fertility clinics.
Do you see him in any way tamping down, trying to reach some kind of accommodation here?
FR. PAVONE: Chris, could you imagine somebody saying about the clergy's sexual abuse in the Catholic Church that we should reduce the numbers of those instances, but that it shouldn't be illegal?
We have to protect children. He's refusing to recognize that these children have rights.
Now, I've held aborted children. I've buried them. I've picked up the broken fragments of their skulls. I don't know if Father McBrien has done that, but the people around this country are tired of trivializing abortion; they're tired of mixed messages coming from Catholic institutions that are supposed to have a pro-life mission.
We're tired of looking at abortion as just on an equal level with other issues; it's not. And we're calling on the president to recognize that he doesn't have the authority to do anything except to strive to protect these children's rights. And he's denying that they even have them.
MR. WALLACE: Father McBrien, do you feel that in sense -- do you give President Obama any credit for, in a sense, trying to tamp down the anger or --
And how do you respond to the argument that the Church says that the killing of children can never be justified? Doesn't that mean what it says?
FR. MCBRIEN: Well, yes, and I agree with Father Pavone that we should never trivialize the outcome of abortions. The outcome is always very, very ultimate. It's serious.
But there are other life issues that we also have to take into account, and beyond that, we have to also acknowledge that the approach that has been taken by a number in the so-called pro-life movement, which is really a pro-birth movement, has not worked.
We're looking to reduce, significantly reduce the number of abortions. They were reduced under President Bill Clinton. They were increased under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
So it's not a question of a Democratic policy or a Republican policy. It's a question of identifying the causes that lead women to feel they have no alternative but to have an abortion, and to deal with those issues -- to deal with poverty, to deal with child care, to deal with all the issues that make abortion more attractive, if you will, or more compelling for many women who otherwise would not have an abortion.
MR. WALLACE: Gentlemen, we've got less than two minutes left. With anything a president does, there's always a political component.
I want to put up the latest Gallup Poll, which is interesting, because for the first time in the history of Gallup surveys, it finds more Americans calling themselves pro-life than pro-choice.
Father McBrien -- and I'm going to ask you both quickly to speak to this -- Father McBrien, how do you explain that?
FR. MCBRIEN: I can't explain it; I'm not a pollster. But I'm pro-life, too. But my pro-life position, like the U.S. Catholic bishops in their official statements every four years prior to a presidential election, includes a whole spectrum of life issues.
So when one says one is pro-life, we have to be careful that it is not confined to pro-birth, that it is pro-life across the whole spectrum, from conception to death.
MR. WALLACE: And Father Pavone, you get the last word. How do you explain that for the first time in its history, Gallup now finds more Americans describing themselves as pro-life than pro-choice?
FR. PAVONE: Chris, it's easy to explain. I travel to four states a week as director of Priests for Life, which is the Church's largest pro-life ministry, and I see the women and men who've had abortions speaking out in the Silent No More awareness campaign, saying hey, I regret my abortion. I regret killing my child.
The pain is making people more pro-life. And also, these young students, including those that invited me here today to lead them in an alternative commencement ceremony, they're aware, Chris, that they're survivors of abortion.
It's very personal to them. There were not protected when they were unborn, and today they're saying now, that's got to change for our unborn brothers and sisters. We've lost spouses, we've lost friends, we've lost classmates. And they're speaking up all across the country.
The nation is becoming more and more pro-life because they're realizing a policy like we have, abortion on demand throughout all nine months of pregnancy, is just not where the American people are today. It's not where they've ever been.
The president's position on this is in the minority.
MR. WALLACE: And Father Pavone, very quickly, because you are going to be leading this alternative ceremony during the graduation, in the grotto, a prayer vigil.
Very briefly, there are 2,600 students receiving graduate or undergraduate degrees. How many do you expect to boycott the ceremony and come to your service?
FR. PAVONE: That's a good question. I haven't heard any numbers, Chris. But I know that the ones who will be there represent a change that is coming across this country. We're going to see more of this in the months and years to come.
MR. WALLACE: Father Pavone, Father McBrien, we want to thank you both so much. Thanks for helping us understand what the debate at Notre Dame today is all about.
Up next, Washington's most powerful Republican and how the GOP stays in the game with Democrats controlling the White House and Congress. We'll be right back.
Joining us now is the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell.
And Senator, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."
SEN. MCCONNELL: Glad to be here, Chris.
MR. WALLACE: We now have a direct confrontation between the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and the Central Intelligence Agency over whether the CIA lied to Congress.
How should we get to the bottom of this?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, we know there's a dispute about -- between the speaker and the CIA over what she knew and when she knew it.
What we know also, what we know for sure, is that the CIA and our armed forces have kept us safe since 9/11. They've done a great job, and I think we should be applauding not only their efforts, but the efforts of the armed forces.
With regard to your direct question about how to get at it, we have intelligence committees in the House and the Senate. They are good at having these kinds of inquiries.
My own view is, what is the point in going back and trying to figure out who knew what when? I think we know a good deal about this already.
MR. WALLACE: But don't you think, when you've got the number three constitutional officer, behind the president and the vice president, accusing the CIA of lying to Congress, which is a crime, don't you think we need to find out whether -- who's telling the truth?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, I think the intelligence committees can do that. And there's no question that you've got a dispute here between the speaker and the CIA.
You know -- I've got it here in my pocket. I know you want short answers, but --
The response of the CIA director was pretty specific: Our contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that CIA employees briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, describing the enhanced techniques that had been employed.
I mean, we know what the CIA believes, and the speaker apparently disagrees with them. And I think the best way to resolve the dispute, if it's to be resolved, is through the intelligence committees.
MR. WALLACE: If it turns out that Speaker Pelosi is wrong and has misled the country about what the CIA did, in alleging that CIA lied to the Congress, should she step down?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Look, I'm not going to start answering a hypothetical like that. I think the speaker clearly has a problem here with the CIA, and at some point we'll find out what the truth is.
MR. WALLACE: The Senate is taking up a spending bill this week, and one of the big issues for you, I know, is a Democratic proposal to provide $80 million to shut down the prison at Guantanamo, conditioned on the administration coming up with a plan on what to do with the detainees.
Will you support that provision?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, I think we ought to leave Guantanamo open. It's a $200 million state-of-the-art facility. No one has ever escaped from there. It has courtrooms for the military commissions trials, which the president has now -- correctly, in my view -- decided, you know, maybe that's a good way to try some of these terrorists after all.
My view is it's the perfect place for them. We know how Americans feel about them coming here. Two years ago I offered an amendment on the floor of the Senate, giving the Senate an opportunity to express itself on the question of whether or not terrorists should come to the United States. It was 94 to three against.
MR. WALLACE: There are two specific issues here, assuming that you were going to close Guantanamo, as the president says that he wants to:
First, whether detainees can be tried and imprisoned in the U.S. We have done that in the case of a number of terrorists.
Secondly, whether any detainees should be released, set free in the U.S.
And I want to have you listen to what Attorney General Holder said about that this week.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: (From videotape.) In making determinations about the release, transfer, of the people at Guantanamo, the thing that's going to guide this administration more than anything is the safety of the American people.
MR. WALLACE: Senator McConnell, don't you trust the attorney general?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Look, this whole thing has been about making us popular in Europe. We know how the American people feel about it, correctly. They don't want them in their neighborhoods.
And there's been a position stated by some in the administration that there's no problem incarcerating terrorists here. It is a problem.
Ask the mayor of Alexandria. They had the Moussaoui trial there a few years ago. It created significant disruptions. In addition to that, it makes whatever town that has a terrorist a potential target for a terrorist.
There's no reason in the world to bring these people to the United States. I don't think there's a community in America that's going to be interested in taking them.
The president made a mistake by picking a date certain to close Guantanamo. He's changed his mind about a number of things. This is one, I think, that requires an adjustment in his position, because I think, Chris, he's going to have a very difficult time figuring out what to do with these terrorists.
MR. WALLACE: We expect President Obama to announce a Supreme Court nominee in the next week or two. Are you prepared to commit right now that you will oppose a filibuster of his choice?
SEN. MCCONNELL: What I'm prepared to say to the president, as I said to him in a meeting the other day with Senator Sessions, is that what we are looking for -- "we" meaning Republicans in the Senate -- are looking for is a nominee who will apply the law without partiality.
Each federal judge takes an oath to apply the law to both the rich and poor. Their personal views ought to be irrelevant.
I think Chief Justice Roberts had it right during his confirmation hearing. He said a judge ought to be like an umpire -- call the balls and strikes, but don't make the rules.
That's the kind of individual we're looking for. We know it will be someone of the political left, but a number of leftish judges have been able to put aside their personal views and call it like they see it.
MR. WALLACE: But are you ruling out a filibuster, or are you leaving that possibility open?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Under the rules of the Senate, all things are possible.
MR. WALLACE: Well, let me ask you about that, though, because back in 2005 when Democrats were blocking President Bush's nominees, you were prepared to impose the nuclear option which would block filibusters. And I want to put up what you said so eloquently at the time:
Regardless of party, any president's judicial nominees, after full debate, deserve a simple up-or-down vote.
So if filibusters were wrong under President Bush, shouldn't they be wrong under President Obama?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, the Senate rejected my advice. And the Senate is a place that frequently operates on precedent. So I think the Senate deliberately decided not to take a position one way or the other.
And as you know, we did have to have a cloture vote on Justice Alito, which the president, by the way, opposed. In other words, he opposed --
MR. WALLACE: Shutting off debate.
SEN. MCCONNELL: --shutting off debate on Justice Alito. So the president himself has indicated that all options are open.
But I think it is way premature, Chris -- (chuckles) -- to be predicting what kind of procedural moves will be taken when we haven't even seen the nomination yet.
MR. WALLACE: Yesterday President Obama's former campaign manager, David Plouffe, sent an e-mail to supporters that I want to put up, called "Swiftboating health care" that says opponents are pumping millions into deceptive TV ads to, quote, "torpedo health care reforms before it sees the light of day by scaring the public and distorting the president's approach."
Senator, are we headed for another battle like the one over Hillary-care in 1994?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, health care is about 16 percent of our economy. It is a big issue. It's extremely important to everyone. All of us care about our own health.
We know that health care needs to be made better in this country. There are changes that are needed.
As to whether or not we have a huge fight over this or come together, I think it'll depend entirely on what the administration tries to do.
If they want to have a government plan that puts the government between you and your doctor, if they want to establish some kind of a national rationing board that basically denies care and delays care, then I think we'll have a huge debate.
On the other hand, there're a whole -- a big, serious debate of differences. On the other hand, there are a whole lot of other things that both sides want to get at -- the problem of the uninsured, for example. I think everybody knows that we need to make progress on that.
So I think pre-judging exactly how big a fight this is will depend on what they try to do.
MR. WALLACE: Well, let me ask you about what seems to be part of their plan, although I think we both agree that it's not very specific at this point.
The president says that he wants a public health insurance option --
SEN. MCCONNELL: Yeah.
MR. WALLACE: -- to compete against private insurance options. Is there any public plan, as just one of a series of -- on the menu, that you could support?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, that would mean a government plan that would inevitably put the government between you and your doctor. And there would be no more private insurance.
MR. WALLACE: Why? I mean --
SEN. MCCONNELL: Because the private insurance people will not be able to compete with a government option.
I think the vast majority of Republicans and a number of Democrats will not support a government plan. I think that is exactly what we ought to avoid doing, and I think the president would be wise to put that aside and see if we can't come together on a whole lot of other issues that still avoid having a European-type single-payer system.
MR. WALLACE: Well, just to press the point, Senator Schumer, a Democrat, says look, you can put regulations in that would not allow the public plan to have an unfair advantage. It would have to meet the -- regulations; it would have to pay the same rates. Or maybe you don't have a single government federal plan, but you have state plans which wouldn't have this huge economy of scale.
Is there any provision there that you see where you say, yeah, as a series of options, I could accept a government plan?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Now, that's a bait-and-switch. What he really wants to do is create a government plan. And we all know where that leads.
None of the private plans will be able to compete and you'll soon have a single-payer, European-type system.
They may call it something else, but that's the game plan.
MR. WALLACE: Now, there has been talk -- and again, this is not something they're necessarily going to do, but they have passed a provision that would allow the health care plan to be passed under what's called reconciliation.
I don't want to get too far into the weeds, but very briefly, that's a budget plan that allows it to be passed by a simple majority, not by the super majority of 60 votes.
Is that a nuclear option, if they do that?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, I mean, they have that option. That's the good news for them. They could pass it with a simple majority, as you suggest.
The bad news, they're going to have to pay for it. And they're beginning to look at all of the taxes they'd have to raise to raise the $600 billion or so to pay for this --
MR. WALLACE: You're saying if they pass under reconciliation, they can't just pass the plan. They also, because it's a budget plan --
SEN. MCCONNELL: They have to pay for it. Which means they're going to have massive tax increases across the board on a whole lot of people and a lot of different entities are going to be affected by this.
And so Americans are going to be looking at seeing how their taxes are going up to supply the revenue for a government-operated plan. I don't think that's a good path to take.
MR. WALLACE: Finally -- and we have a couple of minutes left -- I want to talk a little politics with you. I guess we sort of have been talking politics all along here.
Do you have a problem with Dick Cheney stepping up so visibly in opposing President Obama's national security policies and, in a sense, becoming one of the leading voices, faces, of the Republican Party?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, these are serious issues. And I think it's noteworthy that in the last week the president himself has been adjusting his positions.
He's no longer decided to release additional photos from Abu Ghraib. He has revisited the issue of whether or not the military commissions that we passed a couple of years ago are an appropriate way to try terrorists.
We know he changed his mind in Iraq and decided to follow the advice of the military generals. And we also know that he's now ordered a surge in Afghanistan just like the one that was successful in Iraq.
So I think the administration has responded to the critique of the vice president and others that it might have had the -- might be drifting off in the wrong direction on national security issues.
MR. WALLACE: Do you see that as a vindication for the Bush policies, the fact that the president is adopting some of them?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Absolutely. I mean, it's no accident that we've been safe since 9/11. The policies of the Bush administration in the war on terror kept us safe since 9/11. It's not in dispute.
MR. WALLACE: And you see what the president is doing as what?
SEN. MCCONNELL: I think he's adjusting his sails on all of these issues, now that he is president and knows that one of his principal responsibilities is to keep the American people safe.
MR. WALLACE: Finally, your fellow Republican senator from the state of Kentucky, Jim Bunning, is mad at you, I think it's fair to say. He says you don't want him to seek reelection, and that while you've given money to other GOP incumbents, you've stiffed him.
You can put this all to rest right now, Senator. I'm going to give you the opportunity. Do you endorse Jim Bunning for reelection?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, what's happening in Kentucky obviously is that the race is not yet formed. Senator Bunning has encouraged someone to (file ?) an exploratory committee.
There are now two exploratory committees, and there's a Democratic primary on the other side. I think it's safe to say the Kentucky Senate race is unfolding.
MR. WALLACE: I didn't hear an endorsement there. You usually endorse, as the Senate --
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, it's -- it is just not clear exactly who the players are going to be in Kentucky.
MR. WALLACE: So you're not endorsing him?
SEN. MCCONNELL: It's not clear who the players are going to be yet.
MR. WALLACE: I tried.
SEN. MCCONNELL: You did. (Laughter.)
MR. WALLACE: Senator McConnell, thank you. Thanks for joining us. Please come back, sir.
SEN. MCCONNELL: Be glad to.