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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript


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MR. GREGORY: Good morning. We're going to begin with some news from overseas this morning. Two American military officers were shot dead yesterday inside the Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul. The suspect, an Afghan police intelligence officer. The top U.S. commander there has now recalled NATO personnel working in the Afghan ministries in that area, all of this five days after U.S. military personnel apparently inadvertently burned a pile of Qurans, setting off days of violent protests across the country and creating a sense of urgency and new questions about the terms and timetable for American withdrawal.

Joining me this morning, Republican presidential candidate, two terms former senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum.

Senator Santorum, welcome back to the program.

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

MR. GREGORY: I'd like to ask you about this developing story. As you know, President Obama personally apologized to President Karzai for this apparently inadvertent act of burning the Qurans. What's your reaction to that and to the unfolding situation there?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I don't think the president should apologize for something that was clearly inadvertent. What you should lay out is the president saying this was inadvertent. This was a mistake and there was no deliberate act, there was no meant to disrespect. This was something that, that occurred that, that should not have occurred, but it was an accident and leave it at that. I think you highlight it when you, when you apologize for it. You, you make it sound like it was something that you should apologize for. And there is not--there was no act that needed an apology. It was an inadvertent act and it should be left at that and I think the response has--needs to be apologized for by, by Karzai and the Afghan people of, of attacking and killing our men and women in uniform and, and overreacting to this, to this inadvertent mistake. That, that is, that is the real crime here, not what our soldiers did.

MR. GREGORY: Is there a bigger question about our involvement in Afghanistan that this raises for you?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, clearly there continues to be serious problems in Afghanistan. I, I do commend the president for his commitment of troops to--in the counterinsurgency which there certainly has been a lot of progress made on that front. But we still have serious problems with the government of Afghanistan, we still have obviously serious problems with elements within Afghanistan that are--that continue to be a problem. And of course, elements outside in Pakistan, the Haqqani network, as well as Taliban, that are continuing to cause problems. And I think they're continuing to cause problems. And I think one of the reasons we're seeing this is because the president has not given a full commitment to resolving the situation in unfavorable terms to everybody involved, everyone--the Afghans who are in power right now, as well as the United States. He has put a timetable. He has basically said we're getting out of there and that means everybody has to hedge their bets. Those who are opponents of the United States, the Taliban, Haqqani, etc., are just biding their time and, and, and have operatives who are doing the same in the country. We've created an untenable situation because we haven't given a commitment to success. And I think that's the underlying problem here.

MR. GREGORY: All right. Let me turn to politics now and big Tuesday that's coming up in Arizona and Michigan. What's going to be decisive here? It seems to be down to the wire in Michigan.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, that's pretty amazing if you think about it, David. I mean, this is, this is a state that I'm sure Governor Romney getting into this race thought he would have to spend $20 and, and easily cruise to victory in Michigan. And you know, here we are being badly outspent again by, by his super PAC and his, and his big, big dollar friends and we're hanging in there, holding our own. We've been under assault now for about three weeks. Of course, you know, that's going to drive up, drive up our negatives a little bit. But you know what's holding on is the positive message that we've been out there talking about what we're going to do to create jobs here in the state of Michigan, focus in on the manufacturing sector of the economy, cutting the corporate tax for all other corporations in half. Much more dramatic, much more dynamic ideas to try to get this economy going than Governor Romney's sort of warmed-over pablum that he gave at, at, at Ford Field the other day, with nothing new, ideas that are timid, ideas that are institutional, insider, being designed by a whole bunch of Washington lobbyists who are basically running his campaign. And it's not inspiring anybody. We are, in spite of the attacks, in spite of the negativity, our positive message of hope, particularly for those who have been left behind in this economy, is really resonating here in Michigan and across the country.

MR. GREGORY: Well, what about Arizona? I've got Governor Brewer from Arizona coming up in a couple of minutes.


MR. GREGORY: Would you make a pitch to her for her endorsement?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I, I've actually talked to Governor Brewer. She's a wonderful person. I, I've a lot of respect for her and the work that she's done and her willingness to stand up to, to President Obama and, and fight for the, for the rights of the people of Arizona and for the safety and the security of the people of Arizona. I don't know what Governor Brewer's going to do, what--but look, I-I'm focused on, as I have in every state, going directly to the people. We did events, you know, from in and around the Phoenix area, went down to Tucson and, and did a big tea party rally down there. Got a great, enthusiastic response. You know, that's another tough state for us. You know, there's--demographically it doesn't work quite as well for us as maybe some other states, but we feel like, again, I think in these two races what, what we believe will come out of Tuesday is that this is a two-person race right now. That, you know, we, we have both the resources, the ideas, and the, and the, and the record to go out there and not just compete against Governor Romney, but be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama. And that's what we're excited about, you know, resulting from this Tuesday.

MR. GREGORY: Do you think it's a two-person race? Or do you think it's a two-person race with Romney with a very strong assist from Ron Paul? I've heard you talk about that.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, you know, it is sort of funny. I mean, you, you guys, you guys figure this one out. When, you know, Rick Perry or Newt Gingrich or Herman Cain or Rick Santorum, you know, rise up and, and make it a two-person race, if you will, there's one constant, Ron Paul's attacking whoever's going up against Mitt Romney. And you know, he's here in the state of Michigan running ads against me and he's not even campaigning in the state of Michigan. So I--you, you just sort of--I just sort of throw that out and I sort of scratch my head and, and wonder whether he's running...

MR. GREGORY: Is this a handshake deal? Do you think it's a handshake deal between Romney and Paul?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: You have--well, I'd love someone to ask that question. What, what's going on? Look at the, the debates. To me, it's--I'm out here running because I want to be president. I'm out here running because I want to make sure that, that, that we return power back to the people in this country, not because I'm, I'm, I'm trying to, you know, maneuver for, for one or other candidates. I'm out here because the people of this country need someone who's for them, who's on their side.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Who's going to fight for them and all Americans, not 99 percent, not 95 percent, but 100 percent of Americans.

MR. GREGORY: So you're going after Romney and Paul, but you're certainly keeping your sights set on President Obama, as well. And you spoke this weekend about higher education. I want to play a portion of that.


MR. GREGORY: And ask you a question about it.

(Videotape, yesterday)

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: President Obama once said, said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob. There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to test that aren't taught by some liberal college professor and trying to indoctrinate them. Well, I understand why he wants you to go to college, he wants to remake you in his image.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: What does that mean, Senator?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, I mean, Barack Obama is a, is, is a person of the left. He's someone who believes in big government and believes in the values that, unfortunately, are the dominant values and political values and overly politicized values and politically correct values that, that are on most colleges and university campuses. And what I've said is that, you know, I, I want everyone to have the opportunity to go to college or any other higher, higher level of training skills. In fact, one of the big things I talk about in, in growing the, the energy and manufacturing sector of this economy is we're going to need upgraded skills for people to be able to go and, and, and operate that machinery, be able to do the things that are necessary. But it doesn't mean you have to go to a four-year college degree. And, and, and the president saying that everyone should, I think everyone should have the opportunity. The question is, you know, what, what, what is best for you? That's what this country's got to be about...

MR. GREGORY: Right. But...

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: making sure we have opportunities for everybody and their dreams.

MR. GREGORY: But your, your vision for America is that, that you, you shouldn't have that opportunity, you shouldn't be encouraged to do it? Isn't the reality in this economy that the unemployment rate among college educated folks is only 4 percent. That's the reality. I mean, is that your vision for America...


MR. GREGORY: ...that we don't really push kids to go to college in this economy?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, I, I don't--again, David, you know. I mean, I have seven kids. I can tell you, there's some who, you know, would, would do very well and excel, and others, you know what, they have, they have different skills, they have different things that they want to do with their lives. And, and the idea of sort of saying, "Well, unless you do this, then, you know, well, you're not just sort of, you know"...


FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: ..."you're not sort of living up to our goals." I just disagree with that.

MR. GREGORY: But, but do you encourage your own...

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: There, there are a lot of things that very productive...

MR. GREGORY: you encourage your own children to go to college?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: ...things that people can do without going to college.

MR. GREGORY: Did you--do you encourage your kids to go to college?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: If, if that's what--I encourage my kids to get higher education, absolutely. And, and, in fact, if, if college is the best place for them, absolutely. But you know what, if, if going to a trade school and, and learning to be a carpenter or a plumber or, or, or other types of, other types of skills that are--or an artist or whatever the case may be, or, or musician, all of those things are, are very important and worthwhile professions that we should not look down our nose at and say they're somehow less because you didn't get a four-year college degree.

MR. GREGORY: Back in the fight for Michigan. There's a debate between you and Romney about who's more politically pliable, that was your word from the campaign trail this weekend. This issue came up over voting on principle. In the course of the debate the other night, you talked about your vote for No Child Left Behind, President Bush's education reform, and there was a response from Romney in the days that followed. Let me play the exchange.

(Videotape, Wednesday)

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I have to admit I, I voted for that. It was against the, the, the principles I believed in, but, you know, when you're, when you're part of the team sometimes you take one for the team, for the leader, and I made a mistake. You know, politics is a team sport, folks, and, and sometimes you got to, you got to rally together and, and, and do something.

FRM. GOV. ROMNEY: I don't know that I've ever seen a politician explain in so many ways why it was he voted against his principles.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: We solicited some questions on, on Facebook, as we try to do each week, and here's one that came from Kim Smith. "If he," Santorum, "voted against his conscience on No Child Left Behind and voted with the party, what else has he voted with the party on when it was against his conscience?"

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, that's, that's really the funny thing about this is that so--I get so much criticism because I'm too conservative, I'm too doctrinaire, and, you know, Governor Romney, as you know, I mean has a long and strong reputation of, of voting on both sides of almost every single issue. And so for Governor Romney to be the one attacking me, which is even funnier, that Governor Romney agreed with No Child Left Behind and still supports No Child Left Behind. What I saw was that after No Child Left Behind was passed and we saw a huge expansion of the federal government's role in education, I looked back and said, "You know what, that's not what I believe in. I have a plan that says we're going to repeal No Child Left Behind, we're going to get the federal government out of education." I've even said we need to get the state government more out of education, put it back at the local level, have parents and teachers and administrators and the community build a customized program for every single child in America. That's what I believe. Governor Romney doesn't believe that.

Mine's a conservative vision, mine's a traditional vision of how America works from the bottom up. Governor Romney, whether it's education and he still supports No Child Left Behind, whether it's health care with Romneycare, whether it's the Wall Street bailouts and taking over Wall Street, whether it's cap and trade and taking over the manufacturing sector of the economy and energy uses in this country, Governor Romney has been the--I understand what team he's on, it's not the same team that I'm on, I'm on the team of the American public who believes in limited government and the people in America having the freedom...


FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: make decision for themselves. He has been for big government consistently...

MR. GREGORY: But Senator...

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: ...and yet comes out here in these debates and tries to say he's the conservative in the race. It's a joke.

MR. GREGORY: But the question, the question is about who's politically pliable. I mean, I've interviewed you before, we talk about the fact that you endorsed Romney in 2008, said that he was the one who'd stand up for conservative principles. And then you've admitted basically you were just playing politics. You didn't like John McCain, so, you know, you made the political calculation that you would endorse Romney. Or voting for a steel bailout even though you say you're principally opposed to voting for bailouts.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Whoa, whoa, whoa, I didn't vote for a--whoa, whoa, I didn't vote for a steel bailout.

MR. GREGORY: You didn't support that.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: What, what I voted for was to--what, what, what I voted for was to enforce the law, the, the--enforce the tariffs when, when, when China was illegally dumping steel in this country. That's not a steel bailout. That's--there are laws in place in this country that protect domestic manufacturers from illegal dumping into this country. They went through the process, they did the evaluation. The evaluation was that China was, was, was breaking the law, and I supported imposing tariffs. There was a process here. That wasn't a bailout. In fact, the steel industry has never been bailed out. That's, that's the, that's the example that I talk about all the time. I went through the 1970s and '80s and saw the destruction of the steel industry in southwestern Pennsylvania. And the steel industry didn't get a bailout. You know what, it turned out just fine for western Pennsylvania. We have a much more diversified economy. And I didn't stand for bailouts then, I didn't stand for bailouts of Wall Street nor Detroit. Governor Romney supported his friends on Wall Street and bailed them out. And they're, and they're doing just fine. And then...

MR. GREGORY: But you're, but you're not opposed, Senator, to using...

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: ...violated his--hold on, let me finish, David. He violated his principles, I guess, because he's for bailouts, and, and denied a bailout for, for Detroit. That's the hypocrisy here, not what I've done on the issue of bailouts.

MR. GREGORY: But you're interested in using government for different means, right? In your economic plan you would like to incentivize manufacturers to try to affect the playing field to help manufacturers in this country because of the economy. But you're opposed to extending unemployment benefits because you think that that's creating too much dependency on the part of government. But isn't that hypocritical when in fact you're using government in the way that you see fit to help corporations but not to help people who are out of work for so long.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I'm really glad you asked me that because I get that question from conservatives a lot, "Why are you picking manufacturing? Isn't that picking winners and losers?" No, it's not. What, what, what we have to realize is that manufacturers have to compete not against just other manufacturers in this country, they have to compete internationally, directly, internationally, for the jobs to stay in America. And so the, the problem is the government and our tax and regulatory policy, the government's policy is making manufacturers in this country uncompetitive, and as a result, manufacturing jobs are moving offshore. So if the government is causing the problem, then government has a responsibility to fix the problem.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: In other words, to, to change the regulatory environment, which I do on our plan, and to change the tax climate, which I do on our plan. It's about creating a level playing field. I'm for equality of opportunity, and, and, and to compare that to providing unemployment insurance, I'm for providing unemployment insurance, my concern is the length of that unemployment insurance leads--and there's all sorts of studies that the longer you're on, particularly if you're on, you know, a year or more, leads to long-term chronic problems of getting back in the workforce. You lose skills, you lose all sorts of things. And it's not beneficial for people.


FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: While it may sound beneficial to help people, but it's not beneficial over the long term to be on long-term unemployment.


FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: That's the argument that I've made.

MR. GREGORY: Senator, I want to ask you a final area about your faith...


MR. GREGORY: ...which you talk about week in and week out and is so important to you. And I want to play a very famous clip from JFK, President Kennedy's--where he's--a speech in 1960 where he talked about his views of religion influencing him. And this is a portion of what he said.

(Videotape, September 13, 1960)

SEN. JOHN F. KENNEDY (D-MA): I believe in a president whose views on religion are his own private affair, neither imposed upon him by the nation nor imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office. I do not speak for my church on public matters and the church does not speak for me.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Senator, you called that in the past a, quote, "horrible speech" in part because you felt that he was too rigid about the separation of church and state. There's a concern within the party, and certainly to a lot of other voters, where your faith ends and your presidency would begin.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Yeah. The original line that you didn't play that got--that President Kennedy said is, "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute." That is not the founders' vision, that is not the America that, that made the greatest country in the history of the world. The idea that people of faith should not be permitted in the public square to, to, to influence public policy is antithetical to the First Amendment which says the free exercise of religion--James Madison called people of faith, and by the way, no faith, and different faith, the ability to come in the public square with diverse opinions motivated by a variety of different ideas and passions the perfect remedy. Why? Because everybody's allowed in. And the idea that people of faith have to keep it a private affair, my goodness, what does that mean, that the only place that--the only thing you're allowed to bring to the public square is secular ideas or, or not, or things that are not motivated by faith? Look at all of the great movements in this country that led to great just--you know, to, to righting wrongs that exist in this country, the slavery movement, the, the, the civil rights movement, all led by people of faith bringing their faith into the public square that all men are created equal...

MR. GREGORY: Fair enough. OK, but....

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: ...and they have God-given rights. So this idea that we need to segregate faith is, is, is a dangerous idea. And, and we're seeing the Obama administration not only segregating faith but imposing the states' values now on churches, which is even a bigger affront to the First Amendment.

MR. GREGORY: Here's what Kimberley Strassel wrote, and it seems to reflect views that are conservative as well as moderate, about you and whether you would then act on your faith in a way. She writes this, "Reagan's success was in respecting cultural conservatives' right to live their lives as they saw fit. Mr. Santorum's mistake is in telling people how to live. His finger-wagging on contraception and child-rearing and homosexual acts disrespects the vast majority of couples who use birth control or who refuse to believe that the emancipation of women or society's increasing tolerance of gays signals the end of the republic." So, Senator, are you going to use the bully pulpit if you're president to talk about these issues, to rail against areas of our culture that you disagree with, or will, given your comments about President Kennedy, go beyond that and make it a focal point of your presidency to act on your beliefs?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: It's so funny. I get the question all the time. Why are you talking so much about these social issues, as they, as, as people ask about me about the social issues.

MR. GREGORY: Senator, no, wait a minute.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Look, the...

MR. GREGORY: You talk about this stuff every week. And by the way, it's not just in this campaign.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: No, I talk about, I talk...

MR. GREGORY: Sir, in this campaign you talk about it. And I've gone back years when you've been in public life and you have made this a centerpiece of your public life. So the notion that these are not deeply held views worthy of question and scrutiny, it's not just about the press.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Yeah, they, they are deeply held views, but they're not what I dominantly talk about, David. You're taking things that over a course of a 20-year career and pulling out quotes from difference speeches on, on issues that are fairly tangential, not what people care about mostly in America, and saying, "Oh, he wants to impose those values." Look at my record. I've never wanted to impose any of the things that you've just talked about. These are, these are my personal held religious beliefs, and in many forums that I, that, that are, in fact, religious, because I do speak in front of church groups and I do speak in these areas, I do talk about them. But there's no evidence at all that I, that I want to impose those values on anybody else.

There are, there are important issues that this country is, is confronted with right now and that's what I've been talking about. And, and I will continue to talk about the role, for example, of, of the family with respect to our economy and how stable families and fathers involved in their families and, and out of wedlock birth rates are, in fact, a serious problem in this country that we need to, we need to do. And by the way, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was talking about that in the 1960s. This is not a, this is not something that, that is a, some sort of religious idea. These are practical problems that we're dealing with in America, and that's what I talk about on the campaign trail. And the problems that I'm looking to confront are creating jobs, reducing government role in people's lives, reducing the budget deficit and getting to a balanced budget, making sure our country is safe around the world. And you go listen to my speeches, that's what I talk about. And by the way, I do talk about other issues, you know what, because like every, any other candidate out here, I actually take questions from people and people ask me all sorts of things. And unlike most politicians, I answer them.

MR. GREGORY: Senator, before you go, on a lighter note, this is a big day, of course. You've got the Oscars tonight and you've got the Daytona 500. Right?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: There you go.

MR. GREGORY: Oh, is that the one you'll be watching?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: We've got the Daytona 500.

MR. GREGORY: I can tell you, because you really do have a dog in this fight, and here's a picture of it. You're actually sponsoring a car.


MR. GREGORY: There it is, Rick 2012. So this is what you'll be watching and not whether George Clooney wins the Oscar for "The Descendants."

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: No offense. I mean, you know, I'm--that's a wonderful thing to watch, too. They--you know, I'm, I love the movies, etc. But, no, today we'll be very focused on how the number 26 car, the Ford Fusion. Now I, I just want to tell you, I talked to Tony Raines, the driver, who, who's starting way back of the pack. I said, this is the perfect car for me. And, and we need you way in the back in the pack, just hang back there for as long as you can, let all the folks in front of you crash and burn, and then move up in the end and try to win the race.

MR. GREGORY: There you go. All right. Senator Santorum, thank you, as always.



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