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Meet the Press Transcript - April 5, 2015

MEET THE PRESS -- SUNDAY, APRIL 5, 2015

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

This Sunday, the Iran deal. Appeasement of an enemy or a historic agreement that makes the world safer?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

It is a good deal. A deal that meets our core objectives.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

Now can the president sell the Iran nuclear deal to a skeptical Congress and allies in the Middle East? Israel's prime minister will join me live. Plus, the fight over those so-called religious liberty laws that are splitting the Republican party.

TED CRUZ:

It's a whole lot of Republican politicians are terrified in this issue.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

2016, GOP hopeful, Louisiana's Bobby Jindal will weigh in. And opening day is here. New baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, and how our national pastime is trying to rename part of our national future. And of course, whether Pete Rose should be allowed into the Hall of Fame.

I'm Chuck Todd and joining me to provide insight and analysis this morning are Matt Bai of Yahoo News, Helene Cooper of The New York Times, Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report, and Perry Bacon, from NBCNews.com. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, this is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good morning. Now comes the hard part, when the U.S. and its negotiating partners reached an agreement with Iran on a framework of a deal to contain Iran's nuclear program, not surprisingly, the reaction is decidedly mixed. Iran's foreign minister got a hero's welcome when he arrived home from Iranians, happy that that devastating economic sanctions could be lifted.

But more hawkish elements in each country criticized the deal. Hardliners in Iran charged that their side gave up too much to placate the United States. And here at home, President Obama faces a very tough task of convincing not just Republicans, but many Democrats that this deal is better than no agreement at all, which could allow Iran to continue its nuclear program without limitations or inspections. One key ally the president has certainly been unable to convince is Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu who joins me now live from Jerusalem. Prime Minister, Happy Passover. Welcome back to Meet the Press.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU:

Thank you. Happy holidays to all.

CHUCK TODD:

I will have more than four questions for you. I promise you that. Let me start with this. Which is, if this deal, you were going to be perhaps any deal that didn't bring Iran down to centrifuges. Why not let this deal get implemented even for just six months, to see how the Iranians react to inspections, to see how this thing is implemented before trying to kill the deal?

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU:

I'm not trying to kill any deal. I'm trying to kill a bad deal. And you say it's a historic decision, a historic deal, it could be historically bad deal. Because it leaves the preeminent terrorist state of our time with a vast nuclear infrastructure. Remember, not one centrifuge is destroyed, thousands of centrifuges will be left spinning uranium.

Not a single facility, including underground facilities, nuclear facilities, is being shut down. This is a deal that leaves Iran with the capacity to produce the material for many, many nuclear bombs, and it does so by lifting the sanctions pretty much up front.

So Iran will have billions of dollars flown to its coffers not for schools or hospitals or roads, but to pump up its worldwide terror machine and its military machine, which is busy conquering the Middle East as we speak. The preeminent terrorist state of our time should not have access to a vast nuclear capability that will ultimately give them nuclear weapons. That's a concern for Israel, for the region, for the peace of the world.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you this, though. You have a deal that was negotiated by the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, all of them on one side of this deal. You're on the other. Are you concerned that Israel's being isolated from the world community on this issue?

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU:

No, I don't. Look, the entire world celebrated the deal with North Korea. It was deemed to be a great breakthrough, it would bring an end to North Korea's nuclear program. You would have inspectors that would do the job. And of course, everybody applauded it. But it turned out to be a very, very bad deal. And you know where we are with North Korea.

I think the same thing would be true in the case of Iran, except that Iran is a great deal more dangerous than North Korea. It's a militant, Islamic power, built on regional corporate domination. In fact, bent on world domination, as it openly says so. They just chanted, "Death to America," a few days ago on the streets of Tehran, the same streets where there is rejoicing right now. Don’t give the preeminent terrorist state of our time the access to a nuclear program that could help them make nuclear weapons. It's very bad for all of us.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, you, in 2012, contemplated, there were reports that you contemplated asking your cabinet for permission to potentially strike Iran's nuclear facilities. Do you still plan on keeping that option open even if a deal is implemented by the United Nations and by the United States?

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU:

Chuck, I'm the only Israeli left standing who never talks about our military options. But I will say this, I prefer a diplomatic solution. You know why? Because for any military option, the country that will pay the biggest price is always Israel. So we want a diplomatic solution, but a good one. One that rolls back Iran's nuclear infrastructure and one that ties the final lifting of restrictions on Iran's nuclear program with a change of Iran's behavior.

Namely that they stop their aggression in the region, that they stop their worldwide terrorism, and that they stop calling for and working for the annihilation of Israel. These are the requirements that there's still time to put in place. And I'll use what means I have, including this program, to try to persuade people to go for this deal, which is the only one that will give us peace and security.

CHUCK TODD:

Would you advise Saudi Arabia and Egypt right now to pursue their own nuclear program, given the way this deal looks in your eyes?

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU:

No, I wouldn't advise them to do that, Chuck. But I think that despite the spoken words, there's enormous concerns throughout the Sunni states in the region. And I think one of the unfortunate, even tragic results of this deal, if it goes through, is that it would spark an arms race among the Sunni race, a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. And the Middle East crisscrossed with nuclear tripwires is a nightmare for the world. I think this deal is a dream deal for Iran and it's a nightmare deal for the world.

CHUCK TODD:

There have been plenty reports about Israel's nuclear deterrent strategy. Do you believe that in an ideal situation, no Middle Eastern country would have nuclear weapons?

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU:

In an ideal situation, you wouldn't have countries seeking to annihilate the state of Israel and openly saying that. By the way, an Iranian general said that four days ago, on the eve of the announcement of this framework in Lausanne, the commander of the besieged forces in Tehran says, "The destruction of Israel is non-negotiable."

So I think the real problem in the Middle East is not the democracy of Israel that has shown restraint and responsibility, but it's countries like Iran that pursue nuclear weapons with the explicit goal first of annihilating us, but also ultimately of conquering the Middle East and threatening you.

That's why they're developing ICBMs, intercontinental ballistic missiles that are meant for one purpose only, to carry nuclear payloads to a theater near you. They're not intended for us. They already have missiles that reach us. They're developing ICBMs to reach the United States. Don't give them these weapons. Don't give them nuclear ICBMs with which they can threaten you.

CHUCK TODD:

It sounds like you want the U.S. Congress to do everything in its power to kill this deal. Is that what you'd like them to do?

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU:

I'd like the United States and the other members of the P5+1 to get a better deal. There's still time. It's time you can ratchet up the sanctions. Look, biting sanctions were imposed for the first time only in 2012. That got Iran within 18 months to the table.

Once you got to the table, instead of ratcheting up the sanctions and the pressures, in fact, you reduce the pressure. And Iran's told, "No need to make any concessions at all. You have time to insist on a better deal and to ratchet up the pressure." That's the preferable route for all of us.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to ask you a quick question on two-state solution issues. I want to read you some sound from Denis McDonough, the White House Chief of Staff. Here's what he said in a speech right after your re-election: "The borders of Israel and an independent Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps. Each state needs secure and recognized borders, and there must be robust provisions that safeguard Israel's security.

"An occupation that has lasted for almost fifty years must end, and the Palestinian people must have the right to live in and govern themselves in their own sovereign state." Are you comfortable with the president's chief of staff referring to Israel as an occupier?

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU:

Well, you know, successive Israeli governments, including my own, have offered to end this dispute, and I have offered to have a demilitarized Palestinian state recognize the one and only Jewish state. That was, and remains, my position. What I said was that under the present circumstances, when President Abbas not only refuses to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, he embraces, he embraces Hamas that outright calls for our destruction.

And when you have every territory that is vacated in the Middle East taken over by the forces of militant Islam, either those led by Iran or those led by ISIS, well, I said, you know, that we better make sure that if you want a two-state solution, we don't get the opposite, that is a no-state solution, a no-state of Israel solution. And that, I think, requires that we work closely with our American allies because we both want the same thing.

Perhaps not the two exact same borders, but the same principles. I don't want a binational state. But I want to make sure that if a Palestinian state is created, it is not used merely as a platform by Iran and its allies, or by ISIS to annihilate the one and only Jewish state that is left with indefensible boundaries.

CHUCK TODD:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, thank you for spending part of your Passover holiday with us here on Meet the Press. We'll see you soon.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU:

Well, thank you, and I can tell you that those who work for Israel's defense don't have a holiday.

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough. Thank you, sir. I'm joined now by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who's been supportive of efforts to reach a deal with Iran. Senator, welcome back to Meet the Press. And let me ask you this. You heard Prime Minister Netanyahu, obviously he wants to see a better deal. Do you believe the United States should be negotiating for a better deal?

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

Well, I think we have a pretty remarkable deal on the table today. If you'll look at what our parameters were at the outset for a negotiated agreement, you can see the outlines of them right now. We've increased breakout time to a year, we've significantly rolled back their enrichment capability, we're dismantling the potential plutonium path at Arak, and we have an inspections regime that is absolutely unprecedented, that is going to allow us to find a covert program if it exists outside of the known research facilities.

The idea that we should just go back to the negotiating table and put back sanctions into place, I think doesn't understand the reality, which is that with this deal on the table, it would've been hard to get our partners, especially Russia and China, to go back to sanctions when most of our objectives had been met at the negotiating table.

It's easy to say that we should just continue to negotiate and effectively sanction Iran into submission. I don't think that that's the deal that the rest of our negotiating partners signed up for. And that's the reality that we have to deal with.

CHUCK TODD:

But Senator, what about the prime minister's point, and frankly the point of others, we're not asking Iran to stop supporting terrorism, we're not asking Iran to change its behavior, we're about to hand them more resources and they've been doing nothing arguably but expanding their sphere of influence in the Middle East. Now you're giving them more money to do that by lifting the sanctions. And we didn't ask for a behavior change on anything other than nuclear inspections. Did we just ask for too little?

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

Well, it's true, this deal doesn't turn Iran from a bad guy into a good guy. But it's a little bit of rewriting of history to suggest that these negotiations were about all of the other nefarious activities of Iran in the region. These negotiations were about ending their nuclear program such that we can start to lift up the moderate elements within Iran, the internationalists who want them to be sitting as a member of the world community so that we can talk about all of these other issues.

And it's also important to point out that we have a host of other sanctions that are in place, trying to change their behavior on their ballistic missile program, on their human rights violations, and on their support for terrorism. Those sanctions don't go away, they stay in place. And Congress and the president reserves the right to increase those sanctions if they continue to undermine stability in the Middle East, notwithstanding the progress we're making on their nuclear program.

CHUCK TODD:

So you support, let me get this straight, you support potentially increasing sanctions if you connect it to their support, say, of the Houthis in Yemen, but pulling back some sanctions that are connected in the nuclear program?

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

So we have sanctions in place that don't go away, that are connected to these other activities. And I think Congress always reserves the right other change our policy vis-à-vis Iran if they continue to act in the way that they are in the rest of the region. So absolutely, we reserve our right to continue to try to use whatever leverage that we have at our disposal to try to make them a less of an evil within that region.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay, but do you want as a compromise to get Congress to potentially accept this nuclear deal, would you be willing to increase sanctions in other spots in Iran, to pull back in other places, as part of the agreement, not to undermine the president's ability to negotiate this agreement?

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

Well, I don't know that we need to talk about that right now. I think we should get through these nuclear negotiations. And I think this will give us an opportunity potentially to talk to the Iranians, either directly, or through intermediaries, about solutions to other problems in the region.

You take this issue off of the table, you empower people like Rouhani and Zarif, who may want a different path for Iran, less as an irritant, more as a member of the global community, and you may see a pathway to solving some of these other problems. And you can do it potentially without new rounds of additional sanctions.

CHUCK TODD:

Quickly on another topic, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez, was indicted on corruption charges. He has stepped down as ranking member. But The New York Times, somewhat of a home newspaper for yourself in Connecticut there, has called for Senator Menendez to resign from the Senate completely. Do you think Senator Menendez ought to consider a full resignation?

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

I don't. I think our judicial system works in a pretty simple way. You're innocent until proven guilty. He's a respected member of our caucus. He's not going to be the leader of the foreign relations committee any longer, but I think he deserves a chance to be able to have his day in court before he's forced out of the United States Senate.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat from Connecticut, thanks for spending part of your Easter Sunday this morning with us here on Meet the Press.

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

Thanks a lot, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

You got it. When we come back, those religious liberty laws. Are they really about protecting freedom of conscience, or more about giving people a license to discriminate? President hopeful, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana joins me next.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

Those were pictures from Pope Francis, Easter mass, attended by thousands of the faithful in Vatican City. And in honor of Easter and Passover, this week's nerd screen has a bit of a religious theme to it. But you'll have to go to our website to see the whole thing. We took a look at the connection between how often people attend religious services and their political leanings. It's much different than just simply doing it by religious denomination. That and more can be found at MeetThePressNBC.com. After the break, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and the religious freedom fight playing out in multiple states.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

And we are back. This week, the debate over so-called religious liberty, or freedom legislation in Indiana and Arkansas, marked a new round of the culture wars with liberals, LGBT activists, and the big business wing of the Republican Party pitted against evangelical conservatives. And this leaves Republican 2016 presidential hopefuls in a tricky situation. Having to work out how to satisfy the evangelical base of the party without alienating more socially liberal, general-election swing voters.

(BEGIN TAPE)

GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON:

This bill is bipartisan, it has received overwhelming support in both houses. It protects religious freedom.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

After a backlash from LGBT activists and business leaders and sports leaders and the public, Republican governors in Indiana and governor signed revised religious freedom legislation into law on Thursday. The new language in Indiana spells out that the law “does not authorize a provider to refuse to offer or provide services on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Arkansas's new legislation mirrors a 1993 federal law signed by Bill Clinton and will make it harder for private individuals or businesses to cite religious freedom as a way to avoid providing services for same-sex weddings. Social conservatives call the compromises a cave.

STEVE DEACE:

It's the worst act of political malfeasance I've seen in my lifetime.

TONY PERKINS:

The hypocrisy from the corporate America is quite amazing to me.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

It's only the latest skirmish in a battle between big business and social conservatives that's exposing fault lines within the Republican party. It's also forcing potential 2016 presidential candidates to do a tricky two-step, avoid alienating evangelicals while also not appearing intolerant and scaring off general election voters. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush tried that two-step this week and tripped. On Monday, he praised Indiana Governor Mike Pence on conservative radio.

JEB BUSH:

I think once the facts are established, people aren't going to see this as discriminatory at all.

CHUCK TODD:

But by Wednesday, Bush appeared to back pedal, telling donors in Silicon Valley, "Religious freedom is a core value of our country, but we shouldn't discriminate based on sexual orientation. So what the state of Indiana is going to end up doing is probably get to that place." Meanwhile, 2016 hopefuls eager to catch fire among social conservatives are seizing the opportunity to criticize their own party.

TED CRUZ:

The Fortune 500 is running shamelessly to endorse the radical gay marriage agenda over religious liberty. And sadly, a whole lot of Republican politician are terrified.

RICK SANTORUM:

As we've seen a lot of Republicans run for the hills when the left comes out and starts to hammer.

MIKE HUCKABEE: :

It won't stop until there are no more churches.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

All this is happening as Americans grow increasingly comfortable with same-sex marriage. The next fight may be in Louisiana, the 17th state to introduce religious freedom legislation this year.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm joined now by the Republican governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal. Governor, welcome back to Meet the Press.

BOBBY JINDAL:

Chuck, thank you for having me back.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let me ask you this. Do you agree with some other social conservatives that you think Governors Pence and Governor Hutchinson of Arkansas and Indiana have essentially caved to too much pressure?

BOBBY JINDAL:

Well, Chuck, I was very worried about the law in Indiana. I'm disappointed. Let's remember what this debate was originally all about. This is about business owners that don't wanna have to choose between their Christian faith, their sincerely held religious beliefs, and being able to operate their businesses.

Now, what they don't want is the government to force them to participate in wedding ceremonies that contradict their beliefs. They simply want the right to say, "We don't wanna be forced to participate in those ceremonies." So I was disappointed that you could see Christians and their businesses face discrimination in Indiana.

I hope the legislators will fix that, rectify that. Chuck, there used to be a bipartisan consensus in this country around religious liberty saying that as Americans we don't all have to agree with each other, but we should respect each other's rights and freedoms. And that's what this debate is about. Are we gonna use government to force people to contradict their own sincerely held beliefs.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, the debate, I guess, is about the line on freedom and a personal conviction versus how you conduct yourself in a business. So you think it's okay based on religious conviction for a business to deny services to a same-sex couple?

BOBBY JINDAL:

Well, Chuck, we're not talking' about restaurants denying service to people who wanna come and have dinner. We're not talking about day-to-day routine commercial transactions. We're talking about a very specific example here of business owners, of florists, of musicians, of caterers who are being forced to either pay thousands of dollars or close their businesses if they don't wanna participate in a wedding ceremony that contradicts their religious beliefs.

So in that instance, yeah, I think part of the First Amendment means that we allow individuals to obey their conscience, to obey their religious beliefs.

CHUCK TODD:

As you know, this could end up on your desk there. State Representative Mike Johnson in your state has filed a bill that would allow private businesses to refuse to recognize same-sex marriage, according to the Times Picayune, should it become legal in Louisiana. And of course we may find that out in June in the Supreme Court.

The legislation would allow a private company to not offer the same benefits to legally recognized same-sex married couples as other married couples. So this is the beyond just denying services as a business. This would be also denying benefits to an employee who happens to be in a same-sex marriage. Are you gonna be able to support a bill that does that?

BOBBY JINDAL:

Look, let me see the bill actually. Our session starts in a couple weeks. I wanna look at the bill. I'm always in favor of defending religious liberty. Look, you're now raising issues regarding federal employee laws and benefit laws. Let me look at the details of the bill.

I am in general though very supportive other defending religious liberty. And I think we can do that without condoning discrimination. I don't think those two values are mutually exclusive. And I think that's what this debate has been really about. I think we can have religious liberty without having discrimination.

I think it's possible to have both. And it's desirable to have both in our society. We need to remember this is not a new debate. The founding fathers recognized the importance of religious liberty. They put in the First Amendment in the Constitution. They anticipated some of these conflicts. They came down on the side of religious liberty. Indeed religious liberty is why we have the United States. We as a country didn't create religious liberty. Religious liberty created our country.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you against the local ordinance New Orleans that has a protection for LGBT citizens in it from discrimination from housing and employment?

BOBBY JINDAL:

Well, a couple of things, Chuck. I don't think certainly that there should be discrimination against anybody in housing and employment. That's not what my faith teaches me. I don't think that's appropriate. And I think the good news is our society is moving in a direction of more tolerance.

My concern about creating special legal protections is historically in our country we've only done that in extraordinary circumstances. And it doesn't appear to me where at one of those moments today. I will say this. I think there are many that turn to the heavy hand of government to solve society's problems too easily.

I think that instead, we need to be working with people on their hearts and minds. And I have faith and confidence in the people of America and that people of New Orleans and that people of Louisiana to not tolerate discrimination, to not support businesses that wanna support discrimination. So absolutely we need to have a society where we're not discriminating against people. I do think we need to be very careful about creating special rights.

CHUCK TODD:

All right so if the Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage, so it'll be legal in all 50 states come June perhaps, but you believe these exceptions, that businesses should be able to decide whether or not to serve these folks based on their religious conviction?

BOBBY JINDAL:

Well, again, it's not serving. I'm not saying a restaurant should be able to turn away a couple that wants to come in and eat there in their restaurant.

CHUCK TODD:

But that restaurant should not have to cater their wedding. They have to serve them in their restaurant, but they should not have to cater their wedding.

BOBBY JINDAL:

If it's a sincerely held religious belief, that it offends the owner's beliefs to participate in that wedding. So absolutely. I don't think the government should be able to force somebody to contradict their own sincerely held religious beliefs to participate in a wedding ceremony. And that used to be a bipartisan consensus. That didn't use to be a partisan issue in our state, in our country.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Government Jindal, I wanna leave that subject there. Very quickly are you going to wait until after your legislative session to make a final decision on the presidential?

BOBBY JINDAL:

I am Chuck. And unlike many that are thinking about running, it's not for me just about fund raisers or consultants or pollsters. I've actually started thinking, and I've been thinking for the last several months about what the next president needs to be doing.

I created a policy think tank a year and a half ago called America Next where they had detailed policy papers on educational choice, on defense policy, on health care reforms, on energy policies. And anybody thinking about running for president needs to think about what they would actually do.

We need big changes in this country. I think I'm the only one that's thinking about running that's actually come out with a detailed plan on how do you replace and repeal Obamacare. I think voters are looking for potential candidates to answer the question not just how do you get there, what would you do if you actually got there.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Governor Jindal, when you make that decision, we hope to see you right here on Meet The Press. Thank you, sir. Happy Easter.

BOBBY JINDAL:

Thanks, Chuck. Happy Easter, Happy Passover. Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you, sir.

CHUCK TODD:

Let's bring in the panel, Matt Bai, Helene Cooper, Amy Walter, and Perry Bacon. All right, Perry, what did we learn about the Republican party this week on this issue?

PERRY BACON:

Lots of nervousness. Because you saw Mike Pence, Jeb Bush, Asa Hutchinson, good politicians, people who have won a lot of elections, all this week had to change and move their position on the issue because, and fast, like Jeb Bush in 48 hours, you learn also that the Republican party has always had the evangelical wing, which focuses on abortion, gay marriages, like Bush said, the "business wing," and those groups are usually not in conflict. But there was a real conflict this week. And you saw the business part of it really won. And evangelicals are very angry about that and feel like this is a weakening of their movement more broadly.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Amy, I'll tell you, I've been hearing this from evangelicals for some time. They just feel as if a lot of Republicans pay them lip service. And this is more proof that when the going gets tough, the first part of the Republican constituency that gets abandoned, evangelicals.

AMY WALTER:

Well, and we saw Ted Cruz making that case exactly.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, I know. I mean, it is--

AMY WALTER:

This is his whole strategy.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, look at abortion, the same thing they feel that way.

AMY WALTER:

But here's the point. The tipping point has been reached and that tipping point is done. Which is this is not an issue on which Republicans can win. They could a few years ago, they can't now. And even when you look at evangelical younger folks, they have moved on on this issue too. So, you know, if we took everybody over the age of 50 and just moved them out of this country, this wouldn't be an issue at all, even for younger evangelicals.

MATT BAI:

Now, there's an idea.

AMY WALTER:

I know.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Matt, I was just going to--

AMY WALTER:

We just lost everybody.

CHUCK TODD:

The Republican party though, better that they're having this debate now than in 2016, obviously?

MATT BAI:

Oh, that is the definition of the bright side, yes. I agree with Amy. I think it was a bad week for the Republican party, I really do, and on a larger scale. I mean, I can see why for Governor Jindal it makes some sense to go the route he's going. He wants to create favor with the evangelical base, and it's consistent with his political beliefs. But, you know, as Amy says, this corner's been turned.

The Republican Party, where it found itself this week, is behind the curve of this society, behind the curve of history. I mean, you saw that in the reaction of businesses who came out immediately because they understand where their markets have gone. And I think for any political party to find itself in that position is really problematic at this stage.

CHUCK TODD:

Pragmatism versus conviction, Helene. The problem is, in a primary, those voters want conviction. They don't want pragmatism.

HELENE COOPER:

And you've raised a perfect point with the primary. I think so much of this was about the primary versus the general election. And what you saw here are each lot of politicians who really are much more worried about the primary than I had expected. And particularly, the Jeb Bush flip flop in particular, I thought--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

Now they argue, by the way, let me put a caveat in here, because I accused him of flip-flopping, their folks pushed back and said, "Wait a minute, you know, had he been allowed to explain himself further on Hugh Hewitt, he would've provided more context." I'm just giving their point of view. They don't believe this is as much of a flip flop as we in the media portrayed it.

HELENE COOPER:

Well, you know, we in the media, how we tend to portray things.

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough. But I think the Jeb response is telling. You have Silicon Valley, and we know where Silicon Valley is on this. We know the entire California Republican establishment--

AMY WALTER:

Even where Wal-Mart is on this.

HELENE COOPER:

The Wal-Mart thing is fantastic.

AMY WALTER:

That's right. I mean, there was a time at which, and we used to say this at the Cook Report, when you were trying to divide the country into blue and red. It was a Starbucks America versus Wal-Mart America. And now Wal-Mart America and Starbucks America have aligned. And again, you know, in the '80s, it was Democrats who were behind the curve on cultural and social issues. Now it's Republicans. And they've got to balance that. They can, but they've got to figure out the right way to do it.

CHUCK TODD:

And if you're looking at a poll, the easiest thing to do is to look at where independents are, because the two sides are so polarized now, the blue and the red, and it really is, where are these independents in on same-sex marriage, they look more like Democrats than they do, and Republicans look like they're isolated. All right. When we come back, this Easter Sunday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York on balancing religious conviction and civil rights.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Earlier this week, I sat down with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, to talk about the intersection of religion and politics on this Easter/Passover weekend. And I began by pointing out a disturbing trend, that it seems more people are killing or dying in the name of God than at any time in recent memory.

(BEGIN TAPE)

CARDINAL DOLAN:

Well, I say you're right. And I do think it's worse than it has been in centuries. And I think to me, that only says we need Easter more than ever. Passover and Easter are all about the good’s triumph over bad, life's triumph over death. And do we ever need that. It is an amazingly tragic and poignant scandal that some would claim to use religion in the name of these atrocities.

My boss, Pope Francis, has been extraordinarily articulate in reminding us that anyone who claims to use religion as a cause of hatred and division and bloodshed is perverting the role of religion. Religion, by definition, is about bringing people together, affirming. It's about life. It's about friendship. It's about reconciliation. To use religion for anything different than that is, simply put, a perversion. And, so, religious people are suffering in numbers that we're not used to. And often, who are the perpetrators? People who claim to be acting on behalf of another--

CHUCK TODD:

And they have deep faith.

CARDINAL DOLAN:

They have a passion.

CHUCK TODD:

In some ways scarily so. I don't know. Is it fate? Is it passion?

CARDINAL DOLAN:

Well, they have strong conviction. Whether it's consonant with the faith they profess, that we know is not true. I mean, even especially with the Islamic fanatics, temperate voices of Islam, and thanks be to God there are many, would remind them that they are not acting loyal to the teachings of the Koran. What do we say, though, Chuck when we know from the human experience, not just religion, that most battles, most bloodshed, is caused by things that we feel passionate about?

CHUCK TODD:

What did you think of President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast when he said this? "Unless we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ."

CARDINAL DOLAN:

I know there were some people that might've thought that his remarks were off the mark. I would simply say as an historian and as a believer, sometimes it's not all that bad to remind ourselves that we are not free from sin, either.

CHUCK TODD:

You saw it as appropriate?

CARDINAL DOLAN:

I mean, as a leader to say that at that time, whether that was appropriate or not. But I wouldn't say he was wrong.

CHUCK TODD:

This religious freedom, the debate we're having about religious freedom laws, and you have religious liberty. What does that mean? What should that mean? And do you think people are perverting the definition?

CARDINAL DOLAN:

No. I welcome the fact that the question about religious liberty is in the forefront. We need that. We didn't put it there. We believers didn't put it there. The founders of our nation did. "We have to make sure that the rights and the ability to publicly exercise one's religion is also balanced with another good, namely, the rights of people not to be discriminated against." Boy, that's a delicate balance. I'm grateful that it's in the public eye. Whenever you talk, Chuck, about a balance, which our constitution is a matter of balance, we have to make sure that we keep that balance together.

CHUCK TODD:

It's tough to balance religious conviction, though.

CARDINAL DOLAN:

It's tough to balance religious conviction. But it's easier to ignore religious freedom than it is today the more popular issues, all right. So, in a way, I appreciate the fact that we have political leaders like Governor Pence who are saying, "Whoa. Wait a minute. Without questioning of the rights of the gay community, we also have to make sure that the rights of the religious community are protected." I just wish we could do that in a temperate, civil way instead of screaming at each other.

CHUCK TODD:

With Passover and Easter so close together, is there something extra significant about it?

CARDINAL DOLAN:

It is. It kind of gives it an added wallop. And it gives us some more credibility and more reason to celebrate. And it reminds us that it's all about the same thing. It's all about winter ending and spring beginning, the death of winter behind us and the new life of spring ahead of us, and that God is a god of spring, not winter, and that life has always conquered death. Hope is going to conquer despair.

Good is going to conquer bad. That's what Passover is all about. That’s what Easter is all about. That's what Jesus was all about. That's what Moses was all about. I don't know about you. You spend your life, Chuck, covering the world. I think we need that message more than ever.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I don't know any better way to end this interview than with that, sir.

CARDINAL DOLAN:

Happy Easter. Happy Passover.

CHUCK TODD:

Cardinal Dolan, it's an honor, sir.

CARDINAL DOLAN:

Good to be with you, Chuck. The honor is mine. Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

You got it.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, easily one of the most optimistic people I've ever met. Okay, put me in, Coach. I'm ready to play today. Opening Day is tomorrow. Of course, opening night's tonight. And the new baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, is on deck on Meet the Press.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. That was me with my children, Harrison and Margaret before the Washington Nationals playoff game last October, that 18-inning bummer for Nats fans. Well, baseball is back. And this week, I sat down with the new commissioner of baseball, Rob Manfred, in just about the coolest place possible, even if you're not a Yankee fan. Behind home plate at Yankee Stadium. And I started by asking him about a sport that's thriving on the local level, go Nats, but is increasingly struggling as a national sport.

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Let's talk about the challenges you face. We were just looking a TV ratings for a tremendous World Series. As a baseball fan, Giants/Royals was an amazing World Series. It had a rating that was-- that no-- that the worst NFL game during the week would have had a higher rating than an average rating-- in a World Series game. What do you about this?

ROB MANFRED:

Well, it's what you're talking about is a fragmentation of audiences that is an issue for all entertainment products. The good news is that, I think in 11 of our markets last year over the course of the summer, baseball was the number one rated program. And there's tons of baseball available in those local markets. The challenge is to make sure that as we move into our postseason, we don't lose that huge, local fan base just because a particular team--

CHUCK TODD:

Because that seems what happens. There's no doubt the local fans are all into their team. And then when they're out, they tune out--

ROB MANFRED:

We lose some of that. And one of the things we're working on-- I think Kansas City last year is a great exactly of it. We're gonna try to work with our national broadcast partners this year to develop story lines over the course of the year that generate fan interest.

CHUCK TODD:

Let's talk about-- you've said yourself, youth getting-- youth more involved in baseball is a priority for you. 'Cause if they play, they're gonna follow you. My son is a great example. He plays. He's obsessed.

ROB MANFRED:

See, now you're making me happy--

CHUCK TODD:

No. It is so. I was reading this and it was so true. If they play, then suddenly, they wanna-- you know, they wanna imitate. They wanna do everything. "Oh look. I wanna..." But it does seem to be sporadic. You go to different-- you know, in the South, baseball's still a big sport.

ROB MANFRED:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

But you go out west, you go even-- in the Midwest, and it's declining a little bit.

ROB MANFRED:

Well, it's interesting. The youth space-- and we've really studied it and looked hard at it. It's a very competitive environment. You know, I'm-- I'm 56 years old. When I was kid, you know, you played baseball in the spring. You played football in the fall. You played basketball in the winter.

Now, kids have all sorts of choices. It's just a plethora of choices available to them. It's competitive and our focus is try to form good partnerships in the youth space to try to get more kids playing. I mean, we have a great in Little League. And we're working with a number of other groups to try to make sure that baseball's competitive in that space. (1:06)

CHUCK TODD:

Let's talk about African-Americans. Baseball, culturally-- I think about the iconic moments I've had just covering President Obama and how many historical baseball memories that he's brought in. To talk about the first African-American president. Willie Mays flying on Air Force One. He's talking about what that meant to him. There's no doubt what baseball has meant culturally to this to America and diversification and yet, African-American participation in baseball is now below the national average. What do you do?

ROB MANFRED:

It-- we have a number of programs-- in place that we're going to be expanding on as we go forward. We have a program called, "Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities." It's a mass-market program-- in areas where kids, otherwise, do not have an opportunity to play. We have a joint program with the MLBPA called the "Baseball Tomorrow Fund."

Huge problem in inner cities is facilities. Baseball Tomorrow has been $10 million worth of youth fields in the last decade. And maybe most important, our clubs and partnerships with baseball have opened a number of-- urban youth academies. I had a chance to visit the one in Washington earlier this spring. It's a fantastic program, an after-school program that includes baseball, educational support, nutrition support-- and-- through those sorts of programs, we hope to attract more people-- more African-Americans back to the game.

CHUCK TODD:

Pete Rose is gonna have-- you-- you have-- you're coming into this with a more open mind than the last commissioner. Is that fair to say?

ROB MANFRED:

Well, let me say this. I was trained as a lawyer. I pay attention to documents and rules and constitutions. I think under the Major League Constitution, Mr. Rose has a right to apply for reinstatement. He's done that. I think he deserves a fair, full hearing. And I'm not predisposed on the issue any-- in any direction.

CHUCK TODD:

It sounds like you wish there were three choices, not two.

ROB MANFRED:

Well, I think it's hard to look at the issue-- and not separate-- the question of whether someone who bet on baseball should ever be involved with the play of the game on the field again. From the question of whether somebody ought to be in the Hall of Fame.

CHUCK TODD:

You'd like to be able to split that?

ROB MANFRED:

Well-- the second issue's not mine, right? I mean, it's a Hall of Fame rule. So-- it's not a question of what I'd like. I have to focus on the institution that I'm responsible for, which is Major League Baseball and protecting the integrity of that institution.

CHUCK TODD:

You wanna deal with it in order to improve, I think, the connection with the youthful generation. You're trying to deal with pace-and-play issues. Is pitch clock coming? Is an at bat clock coming? Is that a reality?

ROB MANFRED:

Well. Look, we engaged in a very aggressive set of experiments in the Arizona Fall League including the pitch clock. The committee, that was composed of people with, literally, decades of on-field experience, were split on the issue. You know, some people said, "Put a clock in baseball? Why would you want to do that?" Interestingly, the entire committee, once they saw how the games in the Arizona Fall League went, they were favorably inclined towards the pitch clock. So what did we do? We went forward. We're now testing it at Double A and Triple A this year. I think whether it comes to the big leagues is gonna be a product of how well the changes we did this year worked.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

That was the new baseball commissioner, part of a new generation of commissioners, like Adam Silver of the NBA. I think they want to be problem solvers and change agents. Anyway, don't go anywhere. We'll be back in less than a minute with the Meet the Press endgame and what's next for a now indicted New Jersey senator, Robert Menendez.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

It is End Game time. Panel is back. We had some news this regarding a U.S. senator, Robert Menendez is now the 11th U.S. Senator to be indicted for actions while a senator. Kay Bailey Hutchison was indicted as a senator, but not for actions as a senator. But to go back as actions in the Senate, you have to go back to John Smith in 1807. He was the first of these 11, three have resigned, four were convicted, though two of those convictions were eventually overturned.

Only one, Dave Durenberger, actually pled guilty to these charges. Amy Walter, you watch the U.S. Senate very closely, Bob Menendez, you've watched Bob Menendez very closely. Any chance he takes the advice of The New York Times and resigns?

AMY WALTER:

None.

CHUCK TODD:

Zero? I'm with you.

AMY WALTER:

He's just not a man who looks like he is ready to go.

CHUCK TODD:

No.

AMY WALTER:

But he got his start being basically a fighter in New Jersey, inside of corruption in New Jersey. There is anybody no way I see that he steps down.

CHUCK TODD:

Matt Bai, I was surprised at how New Jersey Democrats have rallied around him. Not many others, although Chris Murphy gave him a pretty robust defense earlier. How long do you think Democrats are going to be comfortable standing behind Menendez in this?

MATT BAI:

Well, in New Jersey, maybe for a while. I wonder, do you get, like, a jersey when you're number 11 indicted? Is it something that you frame?

CHUCK TODD:

You put it up? It's not a banner, I don't think so.

MATT BAI:

But I don't think this says a lot, despite what the public says. And I don't think this says a lot of culture in the U.S. Senate. And I think it's a lot about the culture in New Jersey historically. I've spent a lot of time in that state over the years, I know you have. It is the way that money and friendships and politics have intermingled historically.

It's so many fiefdoms, there are more school districts than there are municipalities. I think in New Jersey, he probably retains his support for longer because I think this is the way politics has historically been played, it's standard.

CHUCK TODD:

It's sort of built in. There's an expectation. Helene, one of the conspiracy theories out there by some critics of the president is that Menendez, who was probably the loudest critic of the president's two big foreign policy mandates over the last six months, Cuba, opening up relations with Cuba, and the Iran deal, that somehow this was all connected. You buy this theory? You buy the conspiracy?

HELENE COOPER:

I don't. But I think it's really interesting. He's certainly the biggest Democratic critic, particularly--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

It certainly mutes a big critic.

HELENE COOPER:

But it hasn't exactly muted him. Because on Thursday--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

Nothing mutes Senator Menendez.

HELENE COOPER:

One of the first emails that I got, you know, as the Iran deal was announced, was from Senator Menendez, you know, and he wasn't coming out completely against it at the time, but he was saying, "Let's wait and see. You know, now Congress needs to really look at it." So I don't know that he's necessarily going to be muted on this.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, it's interesting. He actually had a longer response, Perry Bacon, to stick with Iran here. Chuck Schumer put out a statement and unlike what we were used to from Senator Schumer, it was not a verbose statement. It was two sentences, praising Kerry for working hard, and saying, "I'll take a looking."

PERRY BACON:

That was sort of what Hillary Clinton's thing was too, if you saw it. You saw a lot this week, Republicans adamantly against the--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

All unified.

PERRY BACON:

Democratic, you know, Murphy was pretty enthusiastic just now. But Hillary Clinton, Schumer, a lot of Democrats are sort of, "I'll look at the details." You saw that. One thing about Menendez we should note is that he's not going to be a ranking member anymore of that committee. And that actually does matter.

When the hearings start, and you have Ben Cardin being much less hawkish and been much less anti-Obama than Menendez does. So if Cardin and Corker are working together, that is different than Menendez and Corker, who are basically at the same place of being very opposed to the president's views.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, if I'm Bob Corker now, I'm probably desperately trying to recruit a Tim Kaine to become the new cosponsor so that it's not the Corker-Menendez bill, it become Corker-Kaine, or something like that.

AMY WALTER:

Of course, going to the conspiracy theory for a minute, remember there's a Republican governor of New Jersey. So if he were to leave, wouldn't a Republican be fixed to replace him?

CHUCK TODD:

But it's temporary.

AMY WALTERS:

Temporary, but still, important.

CHUCK TODD:

Are we going to have a New Jersey senator be able to serve a full, successive term--

(OVERTALK)

AMY WALTER:

It doesn't seem that way.

CHUCK TODD:

Very often, it just seems like everything sort of gets in the way.

MATT BAI:

They just believe in giving everyone a chance.

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough. All right, before we go, I tell you, your colleague over at The New York Times, Adam Nagourney, there is something about him, when he gets an interview with somebody, particularly Harry Reid, Harry Reid has some fascinating quotes in his sort of goodbye interview with Adam Nagourney in a diner in Nevada.

He said this about women in power, Helene, "Women are much more patient. They can be, if they are pushed the wrong way, combative. But they are not combative. A lot of we men are combative just by nature." Does Harry Reid have it right? Does Harry Reid have pop psychology right there?

HELENE COOPER:

First of all, let me just say, this is the first time I actually sort of think I might miss Harry Reid. He's really coming out, like, quite feisty all of a sudden.

CHUCK TODD:

He really is. He made no apologies, by the way, in this things. No apologies about the false story about Romney, basically making something up, you know? He said, "Well, we won." I mean, that is sort of the LBJ school of, "Well, make them deny it."

AMY WALTER:

Right. And he still has the support of all of his colleagues in doing that, I mean, Democratic colleagues, of course, in doing that. So no, but of course, he's going out as we should expect, from a guy with a box.

CHUCK TODD:

Which, by the way, Matt Bai, he also said this about why Jeb Bush is the easiest to beat. And he goes, starts going through it, and it's all about George W. Bush to him, and he said, "How could his brother Jeb get away from that? I'll take Clinton baggage over that any day." Only Harry Reid, like, could've said, "Well, I'll take that negative." He refers to it as "Clinton baggage." Gee, I'm sure Hillary's going, "Great, thanks Harry."

MATT BAI:

Yeah, a big help. Harry Reid is a rare thing now, he's a real Western Democrat. Not a coastal Democrat, a Western Democrat.

CHUCK TODD:

And that means what? He'll shoot from the hip?

MATT BAI:

Yeah, there's a little bit more of, you know, plain-spokenness and a little bit more bluntness. I think they're going to miss it. I do. I think, you know, he hasn't always been a great messenger for the party, but he's often said things nobody else wanted to say.

CHUCK TODD:

No, he does.

PERRY BACON:

It's good for us, if not for the Democratic party. He always says, you know, the Bush--he's always very honest and very candid in a way that reporters can enjoy--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

Honest though, I mean, again, I go back to that Romney thing.

PERRY BACON:

Right, he was very, yes--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

I mean, that was a bad, I'm sorry, that was, he made up, passed on a rumor.

PERRY BACON:

The comment he made about Clinton though, the comment he made about Obama's Negro dialect, also not, he says what you shouldn't say often.

CHUCK TODD:

Often.

PERRY BACON:

In an entertaining way.

CHUCK TODD:

He is Harry Reid. Anyway guys, happy Easter, happy Passover, thanks for being here. That's all for today. We'll be back next week, because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.