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NBC Meet the Press - Transcript


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MR. GREGORY: We'll leave it there. Chuck Todd, Matt Strawn, thank you both very much. We're going to turn now to a man who has been making a late surge here in Iowa, former twoterm senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum. Santorum has spent more time in Iowa this cycle than any other candidate, and was the first to visit all 99 counties in the state. With limited resources and money and staff he's been traveling from event to event in a pickup truck. Earlier this week, a CNN/Time poll showed him for the first time in the top three. And now he's suddenly turning out larger crowds and drawing more
media attention. He's hoping to make a strong showing in Iowa by courting conservative voters just as previous caucus winner Mike Huckabee did four years ago. Senator Santorum, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Thank you, David, good to be with you.

MR. GREGORY: So this is the candidate that I'm sitting with who's got the hot hand in Iowa. Here's The Des Moines Sunday Register here. "Romney, Paul lead. Santorum closes in." We just talked about in that last segment how you have had this surge, particularly in the last couple
of days. What does it mean, what does it say to you about what's going on here in the state?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, the people of Iowa--I've been saying this from the very beginning--you know, people have asked me, when are you going to get your surge? You're not going anywhere. Your message must not be resonating. And I said, you know, my surge is going to come on January 3rd after the people of Iowa do what they do, which is actually analyze the candidates, figure out where their positions are, find out who's the good--who's the right leader, who's got the--what it takes to defeat Barack Obama and to lead this country. And I've always relied that when that crunch time comes in these last two weeks, that's what we're going to start to pick up. And that's exactly what's happened.

MR. GREGORY: You talked about needing a miracle here in Iowa. But expectations have changed now. Is anything less than a win here...


MR. GREGORY: ...not measuring up to expectations?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: That's pretty--that's really pretty funny, actually, because 10 days ago I was at 5 percent and every question I got was, you know, when are you--why don't you pack it up, why don't you endorse another candidate. And now 10 days later you're saying, oh, you got to win in order to meet--exceed expectations. Look, we feel very good about the way things are going on the ground. We've got a great grassroots organization. We've got a great team of people who are out helping us and they're committed to making sure that this isn't a Pyrrhic victory in November, that we actually elect someone who's exactly what America needs to turn this country around, not someone who well just might be able to win and then not really do the change that's necessary in Washington.

MR. GREGORY: But one more on just flat expectations. You feel at this point particularly you've got to do better than a Michele Bachmann or a Rick Perry in order to continue in this race.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Yeah, I've always said there's really three primaries. I mean, you have, you have the conservative primary, and you mentioned the other two people who I think are in the conservative primary. You have the libertarian primary...

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: ...and then you have Gingrich and, and Romney sort of fighting for the establishment vote. And our feeling was from the very beginning if we can pace ahead of Perry and/or Bachmann that we'd be in good shape and, you know, we're, we're moving in that
direction, certainly, right now.

MR. GREGORY: You talk about electability, you talk about conservative credentials, but we've been checking on this. You know, it'll be 20 years ago this week actually that you had began your service in Washington.


MR. GREGORY: And had you not lost for re-election you'd still be in Washington as a senator.


MR. GREGORY: But you spent 16 years as a member of Congress, four in the House, 12 in the Senate. And yet there's nobody who served with you who's endorsed you, have they?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, it's funny. I haven't asked anybody. I--and the reason I haven't asked anybody, I'm sitting at 3 percent in the national polls. And I really haven't gone out and asked any--asked any United States senator. I haven't asked a single one to endorse me because I felt like I had to earn it first, that I had to go out and prove to the--you know, I lost my last race. And the general consensus was, you know, we like Rick and--but you know, you can't--who goes from losing their last Senate race to winning the presidential nomination? My answer to that was, "Well, Abraham Lincoln." But other than Abraham Lincoln, this is not a common occurrence. And so I...

MR. GREGORY: But nobody was going out on a limb to offer, given--having served with you, knowing your credentials, knowing your principles.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Yeah, again, you--no one's going to call you and say, you know, gee, can I, you know, can I, can I help your campaign at 3 percent. And I would have said to them, you know what, wait, because it doesn't matter. I don't really need or want Washington endorsements. That's not what I'm here to do. I'm, I'm here to change Washington, and so I didn't really seek out endorsements, I didn't really want their endorsements, I didn't think they
would help very much.

MR. GREGORY: Will you seek them out now?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: If people want to endorse me, I'd love their endorsement. But that's, that's, that's not what I'm coming here to do. I'm not coming to, to be buddies with my--with, you know, with my friends in, in the Senate and the House. I'm coming to change the entire nature of Washington, D.C. It's one, one--been one of the benefits, frankly, of being out and looking in and seeing what, what--you know, sometimes you said, you know, I was--I, you know, I'm running as a consistent conservative. There are votes that I took, not that I advocated these things, but I voted for some things and I look back and say why the heck did I do that? You get involved in sort of the, the idea that, well, you got to make things happen. And you forget sometimes--you know, sometimes making some things happen is not--is better--you're better off making nothing happen.

MR. GREGORY: Well, I wonder if one of those examples might be pork barrel spending because you're getting hit by Rick Perry about that, by supporting the notorious bridge to nowhere, and other pork barrel projects where you deliver cash for folks back in your home state. Do you regret voting for some of those projects? You've defended pork barrel spending in the past.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: What I've said is that your role as a member of Congress, if you look at the Constitution, is to appropriate money. And of course if you appropriate money you're going to say where that money's going to go. You're not going to say, well, here's the money, Mr. President, spend it any way you want. And historically Congress has taken the role of, you know, allocating those resources. And, you know, Jim DeMint, who led the charge on pork barrel spending, earmarked things for years and years. And so what happened after I left Congress was budgets began to explode. When I was in, in the Senate I voted for tough budgets, I voted for restrictions on spending, and made sure that that didn't happen, and as president I propose cutting
$5 trillion over five years. I propose we're going to balance the budget in at least five years, hopefully sooner. So if you're looking for someone who's voted for tough budgets, voted for spending restraints, and...

MR. GREGORY: But that, that wasn't my question. I mean, do you regret supporting earmarks when you did?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I don't regret going out at the time and making sure that the people of Pennsylvania, who I was elected to represent, got resources back into the state after spending money.

MR. GREGORY: So if there's a surplus, that's OK, but if the budget's tighter, it's not?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: No. What happened was abuse. There was abuse of this process and, and I agree with that, that there was an abuse, and it was leading to more spending. It was leading to bigger spending bills and it had to end and I supported it and I support it ending now.

MR. GREGORY: But Rick Perry calls it a fleecing of America. Do you agree that's what it is?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, that's pretty funny because Rick Perry was hiring lobbyists to fleece America then because he was hiring lobbyists to represent the state of Texas to get more money back. And I suspect if you ask Kay Hutchison or if you ask John Cornyn or any of the Texas delegation whether Rick Perry wanted money coming back to the state of Texas that Texans sent there, he'd--they'd say yes, he did. So look, there's a legitimate roll for Congress to allocate resources. That's what the Constitution requires them to do. When there's abuse then you curb the abuse and I supported that.

MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about final arguments here in Iowa. Your latest ad talks about conservative credentials and electability. Let me play a portion of it.

(Videotape from Rick Santorum campaign ad)
Narrator: Who has the best chance to beat Obama? Rick Santorum. A full-spectrum
conservative, Rick Santorum is rock solid on values issues.
(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: So you've been, you've been making that contrast, consistently questioning Governor Romney, calling him a liberal Massachusetts governor, arguing in fact that he is a moderate. Yet back in 2008 when he was running for the presidency you were singing a different tune. This was your press release back then. You said, "Governor Romney is the candidate who will stand up for the conservative principles that we hold dear. He has a deep understanding of the important issues confronting our country today, and he is the clear conservative candidate that can go into the general election with a united Republican Party." "Will stand up for the conservative principles that we hold dear." You had praised his work on fighting same-sex marriage. What changed?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, what changed was who he's running against. At the time that was five days or four days before Super Tuesday. It was after Florida. And it became clear to me that there were two candidates in the race at that point. I thought Mike Huckabee--I would have loved to have Mike Huckabee out there, but I made the political judgment, right or wrong, that the best chance to stop John McCain, which was what my concern was--I had served 12 years with John McCain. I like and respect John McCain immensely personally and he's done a lot of great things, obviously for this country. But I did not think he was the right person, based on my experience and deep knowledge of his record, that he was the right person to be, to be the nominee. And so I...

MR. GREGORY: But when you said that "Romney will stand up for the conservative principles that we hold dear."

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Compared to.

MR. GREGORY: But you didn't say compare to. You...

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, of course I'm not going to say compared to.


FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I mean, I'm, I'm trying to advocate for his candidacy at, at a time when I thought...

MR. GREGORY: So you didn't mean that then?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, I was saying it relative to John McCain and, and that's what I meant then. And remember, it's not like I was early supporter of Romney. I endorsed him actually seven days before he dropped out of the race, so maybe I was a little bit of a...

MR. GREGORY: Does he, does he have conservative values, conservative principles?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Look, of course. Everybody on that stage that, that is in these debates has conservative values, vis-a-vis President, President Obama, and generally reflects the Republican Party. The question is, are those values the ones that you can trust when, when they become president of the United States? Is it someone who you know is going to fight not just for certain things, but for the entire Republican platform and plank? Why? Because those things integrate together, and, and you've heard me talk about this many times. You can't have a strong economy and just a strong economic plan unless you have strong families and you have moral values in this country. Why? Because that's the underpinning of our society.

MR. GREGORY: But trust--you're talking about trust as a conservative...

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: It allows for a limited government.

MR. GREGORY: You're talking about trust as, as a conservative, and you have accused Romney of tacking back and forth as he saw at election, calling him a liberal governor from Massachusetts. But we look at your own record as well, running for re-election to the Senate in 2006 in a Democratic state of Pennsylvania. Now here in Iowa you've taken the pledge opposing abortion. Back on this program, this summer, you said, you oppose abortion without exception.


MR. GREGORY: And yet when you were running for re-election in 2006, you had a different view and this is what you told you the Associated Press. The question was, "Do you support legalized abortion if a woman has been raped or if she is the victim of incest? What about if a woman's health or life is in danger? Please explain your answer." Back then you said, "I would support laws that include exceptions in cases of rape and incest and when the life of the mother is at risk." So didn't you, when you were running for re-election, do the same thing you've accused Romney of, which is moderating your stance to try to win a Democratic state?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: No, not at all. I--today, today I would support laws that would provide for those exceptions, but I'm not for them. In other words, I support the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment provides exception for rape and incest and the life of the mother. And so, yes, I support laws that provide those exceptions because if we can get those passed, then, then we need to do that. But my...

MR. GREGORY: That's not a violation of your pledge that you took here in Iowa?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: No. But--well, you try to--I supported the partial birth abortion ban act. Now does that ban all abortions? No. But it moves the country in the right direction. And so what I've said in the past consistently is I'll support laws that move the ball forward. That doesn't mean that's my position and that's where I'd like to go but that's exactly the direction we--that we need to go in.

MR. GREGORY: The issue of moderation is, goes beyond abortion. Back in 2006, you were fighting the idea that you were seen as too conservative. You had television ads heralding the fact that you opposed reductions in the minimum wage, that you were fighting cuts against Amtrak. Isn't your history to try to moderate both when fighting for re-election, but also as a member of Congress?


MR. GREGORY: To try to find common ground and to compromise?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Of course I--my background is to find compromise. That's what you have to do in order to get things done. But you don't compromise on your principles. I use welfare reform as an example. I, I went out and helped author the welfare reform bill that became the Contract with America Bill, and then when I was in the United States Senate, I managed that bill as a first term, first year member of the United States Senate. I went up against
Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Ted Kennedy and battled over two, two vetoes of President Clinton, was able to get it done. Did I make compromises? You bet. But the compromises I made were not fundamental to the transformation that was important to--in welfare, which was to end the federal entitlement. The only bill that I'm aware of, the only law that's actually ever ended a broad-based federal entitlement, I was the author and manager of the bill on. And we, we put time limits on welfare and we put a work requirement in place. Those were the things that I believe were transformational. Was I willing to compromise on day care funding? Yes, I was. Was I willing to compromise on transportation to get folks from welfare to work? Yes, I was. But what we did was something that was moving in the direction of a more limited government, and in, in order to get the, the necessary votes to get that done, you have to make compromises. But we did a direction of limited government, maybe less than what we wanted to. But we weren't going in the direction of more government, and getting less of more. That's where Republicans have been in error for so many years, and that is compromising on just a little less big government, instead of saying no. No more compromises on less big government. We'll compromise on less, less government, but not going the other way.

MR. GREGORY: One of the things you look at as an insurgent party trying to, to beat an incumbent president, you've said that a second term for President Obama would be dangerous for the country, is that you look at the party that's making the challenge. And here's the reality. Disapproval for the Republican Party right now in Congress, I should say, approval of Republicans in Congress stands at 26 percent. That's far less than the president's approval rating. And Dan Balz writes this in The Washington Post in his column on Tuesday, "For GOP candidates, worries about the party's brand. A year ago, after their big victory in the midterm elections, Republicans were full of confidence and anticipation. As Americans look toward next
November, the question that many will be asking is: Are the Republicans really ready to lead? In three political arenas--Congress, the states and the presidential campaign trail--Republicans have left a checkered record in the past year." In Congress it was the debt debacle forcing a near
shutdown of the government, the payroll tax debate that looked to go in the president's favor. You had the fight with the unions in the states like Wisconsin. Do you fault Republican leaders in Congress for not doing more to make government work better through more compromise with the president?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, you, you have to have someone you can work with, and this president has done more to divide than any other president that I've ever witnessed in my lifetime. This president goes out and gives speech after speech after speech trying to divide America between class, between income group, between racial and ethnic groups. This is, this is the great divider in chief. And it's very difficult when you're being lampooned by the president
on a regular basis, not just as a party but individually, to then--and the president, who I don't believe has met with Boehner or any of the Republican leadership in now six months, hard to compromise and work with someone who won't meet with you, who won't sit down and try to, try to negotiate things and try to talk. And so I'm not, I'm not surprised at all the Republicans are having a difficult time with someone who has no interest...

MR. GREGORY: Clearly, he's met with him. I mean, even the debt fight over the summer was a constant set of meetings, so that can't be accurate.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, well, if you, if you look at it, the last time he's had meetings, I know it's been several months.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: And I know that President Bush, when I was there, and President Reagan, routinely met on a regular basis with, with the other side and developed relationships. You know, it's--this is about trust. You don't build trust by going up and running around the country beating up on your opponent. He's the president of everybody in this country. As president of the United States, I would be someone who would meet regularly, who would talk and try to build relationships of trust.

MR. GREGORY: So you don't fault...

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: And this president has not done that.

MR. GREGORY: You don't fault Republicans for intransigence on taxes or spending or other areas of potential compromise with the president?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Again, we go back to the, to the basic fact. The federal government now is spending about 25 percent of GDP. That's--historically the average is about 18 percent. We have an explosion of spending. And the problem in this country is government oppression, spending and, that's leading to huge debts and deficits. What the Republicans have said is no more. We're going to move in the direction of smaller government. And President Obama has no
interest in doing that. I think Republicans are right to stand and fight on this. And the president seems to be absolutely disinterested in listening to what the American public said in the last election, which is we want more limited government. He did not get the message. I guess he's
going to have to get this message, hopefully, in November.

MR. GREGORY: Before you go, I want to ask you about foreign policy. You've been very critical of the president, particularly on the issue of Iran, which has been a big issue of debate here in Iowa. Let me play a portion of that.

(Videotape, December 7, 2011)
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: And this president, for every thug and hooligan, for every radical Islamist, he has had nothing but appeasement. We saw that during the lead up to World War II. Appeasement.
(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: How can that possibly be accurate, if you've taken an objective look at the foreign policy of this administration? What on Iran specifically separates the approach that President Obama has taken and that of President Bush?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Number one, he didn't support the pro-democracy movement in Iran in 2009 during the Green Revolution. Almost immediately after the election, I mean, excuse me, like with hours after the, the polls closed, Ahmadinejad announced that he won with 62 percent of the vote. Within a few days, President Obama basically said that that was--election was a legitimate one.

MR. GREGORY: But what would that have done specifically to disarm Iran?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, well, I understand why the president would, would understand that, you know, someone announcing the minute after the polls closed that he won, I mean, he comes from Chicago, so I get it. But the problem is that this was an illegitimate election. The people in the streets were rioting saying, please support us, President Obama. We are the prodemocracy movement. We want to turn this theocracy that has been at war with the United
States, that's developing a nuclear weapon, that's, that's killing our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq with IEDS. And the president of the United States turned his back on them. At the same time, a few years--a year later, we have the same situation where Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists are in the streets of, of Egypt opposing an ally of ours, not a sworn enemy like Iran, but an ally of ours in Mubarak...

MR. GREGORY: I'm sorry. The question I asked you...

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: ...and he joins the radicals instead of...

MR. GREGORY: Wait a second.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: ...standing with our friends.

MR. GREGORY: The--first of all, that's patently contradictory. If you say you support democracy, there was a democratic movement in Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood got elected. So how could you be for democracy in some countries and not others?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I don't, because, because...

MR. GREGORY: Which is inconsistent.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: No. The Muslim Brotherhood is not--is not about democracy. The Muslim Brotherhood are Islamists. The Muslim Brotherhood are going to impose Sharia law.

MR. GREGORY: They were popularly elected, I think. Isn't that what democracy is about?


MR. GREGORY: But I asked you about disarming Iran. There is no material difference in terms of how the Bush administration sought to disarm Iran and what the Obama administration has done.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: There's a material difference in, in this respect. Number one, the Bush administration worked with me in passing the Iran Freedom Support Act, which I authored,
which imposed tough sanctions on the Iranian nuclear program and provided funding for the prodemocracy

movement. When President Obama came into office, he cut that funding. President Obama did not provide funding into Iran to help those folks who wanted to overthrow this democracy. And when the time came to support them, he chose not to. That is a substantive difference between my policy, which I was a leader on in the Senate, and what President Bush tried to do when he was president.

MR. GREGORY: The reality is, there is no good option to disarm Iran.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Yes, there is.

MR. GREGORY: The Bush administration knew that, this administration knows that. Tell me what you would do differently, then.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I put forth a five-point plan that said fund the pro-democracy movement, use covert activities to disrupt...

MR. GREGORY: Which is already being done, Senator. You know that. There's covert activity to, to set back their program by the Israelis, by the United States.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, we know by the Israelis. We, we don't have any evidence--if you look at what's being done, most of the evidence actually trails back to the Israelis and the methodologies that they use. There's no evidence the United States is at all complicit in working at that. That's what--I would be very direct that we would, in fact, and openly, talk about this. Why? Because I want to make sure that Iran knows that when I say that Iran is not getting a nuclear weapon, that we will actually effectuate policies that make that happen. This president has not done that. He has opposed tough sanctions on Iran, on their oil program. Why? Because he's concerned about this--the economy and his re-election instead of the long-term national security interests of this country. I would say to every foreign scientist that's going into Iran to help them there's--with their program, you'll be treated as an enemy combatant like an al-Qaeda member. And then finally, I would be working openly with the state of Israel and I would be saying to the Iranians, you either open up those facilities, you begin to dismantle them and, and make them available to inspectors, or we will degrade those facilities through airstrikes and make it very public that we are doing that. The president has done none of those.

MR. GREGORY: So you would lay out a red line and if they passed it, airstrikes by President Santorum.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Iran will not get a nuclear weapon under my watch.

MR. GREGORY: Well, two previous presidents have said that. You would order airstrikes if it became clear that they were going to...

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Yes. That's, that's the plan. I mean, you can't go out and say--this is, this is the problem with this administration, you can't go out and say this is what I'm for and then do nothing. You become a paper tiger and people don't respect our country and our allies can't trust us. That's the problem with this administration.

MR. GREGORY: All right. Before I let you go, back to the politics. Are you going to win this thing?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I feel good. I mean, that's up to the people of Iowa. I've always said that the people of Iowa are going to--are the ones I put my trust in and not just Iowa, New Hampshire. We've got a great team up in New Hampshire, we've got about two dozen state legislators who have signed on to our campaign. County attorneys, sheriffs, we've got a great team up there and we're going to--we're going to have a big jump here in Iowa. I don't know
what it's going to be, but we're--unlike Rick Perry, unlike Michele Bachmann, unlike others, we're going to New Hampshire because we're going to compete in every region of this country. That--I come from the Northeast, I've been able to get the blue collar voters, the Reagan Democrats to vote for me in the past and we're going to do the same thing and that's why we're going to win this election.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Santorum, thank you. We'll see you in New Hampshire for our debate next week.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Thanks, David.


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