Meet the Press Netcast   |  January 01, 1910

Axelrod, Romney, Graham, roundtable

Senior White House Adviser David Axelrod weighs in on the Obama agenda and some key leadership tests: health care, energy, the troubled economy, and the administration's response on Iran. Two key Republican voices, 2008 GOP Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney & Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), weigh in on the leadership challenges facing their party, the future of the GOP, and the Obama agenda. Insights and analysis from: New York Times' David Brooks, Washington Post's E.J. Dionne, Vanity Fair's Dee Dee Myers & Republican Strategist Mike Murphy.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, the Obama agenda : health care , energy , the economy. Where does it go from here? Where will the president push and where will he compromise? And on Iran , the president talks tough...

PRES. BARACK OBAMA: I would suggest that Mr. Ahmadinejad think carefully about the obligations he owes to his own people.

MR. GREGORY: ...but is the administration still prepared to talk to Iran about nuclear weapons ? This morning, an assessment at a key moment of the Obama presidency. Our guest, the president's senior adviser David Axelrod . Then, the future of the GOP after the downfall of another Republican leader.

GOV. MARK SANFORD (R-SC): It's going to hurt, and we'll let the chips fall where they may.

MR. GREGORY: Rising political star South Carolina governor Mark Sanford admits cheating on his wife, misleading his staff and the state , and is now fighting for his job. Thoughts this morning on the present and the future for Republicans . With us, former Governor of Massachusetts and GOP presidential candidate in 2008 Mitt Romney and Republican senator from South Carolina Lindsey Graham .

Then the take from our roundtable: New York Times columnist David Brooks , Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne , Republican strategist Mike Murphy and former White House press secretary for President Clinton , now a contributing editor at Vanity Fair , Dee Dee Myers . But first, here with us live now, the president's senior adviser David Axelrod . Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS .

MR. DAVID AXELROD: Great to be here.

MR. GREGORY: An important victory for the president Friday night on the climate change bill , he gets it through the House . But there were signs of division among Democrats . Forty-four Democrats voted against this. Is this a red flag about whether this massive energy bill is going to fail in the Senate ?

MR. AXELROD: No, I don't think so. David , understand that a few weeks ago people wouldn't have given you a dime that this was going to pass the House . And I think there's two things. One is there's a growing awareness that we need to move on energy . We've been waiting for decades. And this bill will create millions of clean energy jobs, it will deal with this energy -- our dependence on foreign oil , and we have to deal with that, and, and it deals with this deadly pollution and global warming that we have to, that we have to move on. So the House acted. I think the Senate will come to the same conclusion. But the bill that was crafted helped ameliorate some of the hard edge of -- that people were worried about, and I think that will carry the day in the Senate as well.

MR. GREGORY: But Republicans say it's not going to create jobs, it's going to kill jobs, and they say it's dead in the Senate .

MR. AXELROD: Well, Republicans then have to come up with an answer to all these questions: What are we going to do about our dependence on foreign oil ? What are the new industries of the future ? Are we going to let these energy jobs go to China and India , or are we going to command the future ? What are we going to do about pollution and global warming that threaten our health and our planet? You know, what we've heard from the Republican Party is a lot of what we can't do. The question is, are we going to step up and deal with the big problems facing this country ?

MR. GREGORY: Do you have unity among Democrats in the Senate ?

MR. AXELROD: Well, I think that, as always, the legislative process is, is filled with twists and turns. But I believe that there is a strong desire to deal with these issues.

MR. GREGORY: But you're facing the prospect -- the very real prospect of a filibuster by Republicans in the Senate . Do you have the votes to overcome that?

MR. AXELROD: Well, the vote is not tomorrow. The vote will come sometime in the fall, and I think that we will fashion an energy package that will move this country forward and carry the day.

MR. GREGORY: There's a lot on the agenda , and health care is the centerpiece of all of this. But again, that fact of 44 Democrats opposing you on climate change in the House , is this a shot across the bow that applies to health care ? Do you think the president will get a healthcare reform bill that includes a public plan this year?

MR. AXELROD: I think we're going to get a healthcare reform bill this year, and I wouldn't assume that the 44 who, who weren't with us on energy will not be with us on health care . Indeed, many of them told us that they will. So I think people understand that, that families, businesses and the government itself is getting slammed by this inexorable climb in healthcare prices, and we have to deal with it .

MR. GREGORY: But you're confident about getting that bill with a public plan this year.

MR. AXELROD: I'm confident that we're going to get a healthcare reform bill . I think a public choice will be part of it. I think the public wants to have that option and wants to see that kind of competition, and I think we will, we will have that.

MR. GREGORY: Well, let's be clear what we're talking about as well. You're talking about a public sponsored, a government sponsored healthcare plan that can exist side by side with private insurance plans, and that allows Americans without insurance to make a choice between a private and a public plan. It's interesting. In the press conference this week, the president said any opposition to that is illogical. But at the same time, he won't draw a line in the sand , nor will you in your previous answer. And yet supporters of that public plan, including Howard Dean , doctor, former governor, former head of the Democratic Party , said it's got to be in there. This is what he said as

reported by The Hill newspaper on Friday: "We are here;" he said at a rally, "we're not going away. We voted for change a few months ago. We expect change. And if we don't get it, there's going to be more change." That's what Howard Dean said. "`Success on healthcare reform is a must for Democrats ,' Dean told The Hill . `I think it's going to be a catastrophic problem for the Democratic Party if they can't get this bill out.'" And what he means is with a public plan.

MR. AXELROD: Well, first of all, I think that if we don't pass healthcare reform it's going to be a catastrophic problem for the country , not just the Democratic Party ; for families, businesses and the country itself. Look, we believe strongly in, in a public choice ; not one that's subsidized by the government , but one that will embrace the best practices , that will reduce healthcare costs and give people the best quality care. What the president said was illogical were the same people who say that the government is incompetent, the government can't run anything, the government shouldn't be involved in, in anything say, but we can't let that be one of the choices because it'll be an unfair advantage against the, against the insurance companies .

MR. GREGORY: When it comes to a public plan, though, no ultimatums from the president?

MR. AXELROD: Well, the president believes strongly in a, in, in a public choice , and he's made that very, very clear . He's made that clear privately, he's made that clear publicly, and we're going to continue to do so.

MR. GREGORY: Well, but why not say, "This is what it has to have or I won't sign it"?

MR. AXELROD: Look, we have gotten a long way down the road by not drawing bright lines in the sand , other than on the major points, which is that we can't add to the deficit with this healthcare reform , so it has to be paid fore, it has to reduce costs, and we want to make sure that all Americans have a quality, affordable health care . Those are the, those are the things that have to be accomplished. People have different ideas . We're willing to listen to those ideas . But that's where we're -- that -- those are the imperatives that we have to sell.

MR. GREGORY: But the president's not going to ram this through, he's not going to ram his priorities through.

MR. AXELROD: Well, I just told you what the president's priorities were, and he won't sign a bill that doesn't, that does not meet those priorities.

MR. GREGORY: Well, all right, but let's be clear then. Can there be a successful outcome, in the president's mind, without a healthcare reform plan that includes a public plan?

MR. AXELROD: I think the president wants a robust public option to compete against these private plans.

MR. GREGORY: He wants it, but he's not demanding it.

MR. AXELROD: Well, look, as I said, we're -- we've not gotten as far as we've gotten by drawing bright lines in the sand . He's going to fight hard for that.

MR. GREGORY: All right, let me move to the economy. You were on this program back in February and this is what you said.

MR. GREGORY: Will this stimulus plan prevent unemployment from reaching 10 percent, do you think?

MR. AXELROD: Well, that's our hope. That's our hope. There's no doubt that without it that's what, that's where we were looking, double-digit unemployment. And that's what we're trying to forestall.

MR. GREGORY: Well, with the stimulus plan we're at 9.4 percent unemployment. The president said this week it will go above 10 percent.

MR. AXELROD: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY: It leads Republicans to say the stimulus is a failure and to say, where are the jobs?

MR. AXELROD: Well, look, everyone -- at the time that I spoke, every single economic prediction was that the recession would be less severe than it turned out to be. This recession that began last year is the worst that we've had in generations, and so unemployment is higher than any of us would like. But to suggest that it wouldn't have gone higher had we not done the things we did I think is totally misleading.

MR. GREGORY: But the facts...

MR. AXELROD: And no, no, no serious...

MR. GREGORY: The facts are even with the stimulus ...

MR. AXELROD: No, no...

MR. GREGORY: went higher.

MR. AXELROD: Well, there's no doubt that we didn't, that we, we have not broken the back of the recession and -- but there's no serious economist, David , who would argue that what we did has not contributed to a lessening of the impact. No one's happy with that number. The president said when the stimulus -- when the Recovery Act passed that it was going to take a long time, that, that employment was the last thing that was going to turn, because that's the way economics works. And so, you know, we're going to have to sail through some very difficult times here. But the question is, are we moving in the right direction? Are we building a foundation for economic growth for the future ? And does this, does this economic recovery package help? And the answer is yes.

MR. GREGORY: Warren Buffett said this week more stimulus might be needed. Does the president believe that?

MR. AXELROD: Well, let's see how this, this stimulus works.

MR. GREGORY: All right.

MR. AXELROD: As everyone has noted, much of the spending is yet to come. And let's see how this works before we start talking about the next steps .

MR. GREGORY: How much time before you make a decision about whether more stimulus is needed?

MR. AXELROD: Well, let's see in the fall where we are. But right now we believe that what we've done is adequate to the task. If more is needed, we'll have that discussion.

MR. GREGORY: All right, let's turn to the topic of foreign policy , specifically Iran . This weekend, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saying that the United States keeps saying that they want a different relationship, that they want to hold talks, but they've made a mistake. He said that Iran will now have a harsher and more decisive reply, will make the West regret its "meddlesome stance." Something is changing on this policy of whether to engage Iran . The president said so during press remarks on Friday. Watch.

PRES. OBAMA: There is no doubt that any direct dialogue or diplomacy with Iran is going to be effected by the events of the last several weeks.

MR. GREGORY: Is the policy of engaging the Iranians on the ropes?

MR. AXELROD: Well, look, that's up to the Iranians . The fact is that the permanent nations in the Security Council plus Germany have extended an offer to sit down and talk about this nuclear issue and lay out what the options are. One leads to participation in the community of nations, the other leads to further isolation and, and consequences. The Iranians have to make that decision. But as for Mr. Ahmadinejad , understand that he's not the decision maker when it comes to foreign policy and defense policy in Iran . His comments are meant for domestic political content.


MR. AXELROD: And it's a, it's a, it's a, it's a long-used technique in Iran to try and make the United States the foil for their own problems . His problems are with the Iranian people , not with us, when it comes to this -- the events of the last few weeks.

MR. GREGORY: Should there be consequences? The president has been now very clear about what he thinks about what's gone on in Iran , calling it outrageous. Should there be consequences for what the Iranian regime has done to demonstrators?

MR. AXELROD: Well, I think the -- look, everybody is dismayed and appalled by what's happened in Iran , and the consequences, I think, will unfold over time in Iran . I think that there are events in motion there that they're going to have to deal with...

MR. GREGORY: But should there be consequences from the United States and the international community ?

MR. AXELROD: David , we don't have, we don't have diplomatic relations with Iran . And the international community has made its, made its views known. This is going to further -- again, this sets them down a -- the wrong path in terms of what is in the interests of their country .

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you some political questions . Should Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina resign?

MR. AXELROD: Boy, I'm not going to get into that. That's between him and the people of South Carolina .

MR. GREGORY: Do you think he's abused his power , disappearing, not telling his staff where he was, not telling the voters where he was?

MR. AXELROD: Again, I mean, obviously there's been a lot of focus on this, particularly in the state of South Carolina . That's where it should be dealt with.

MR. GREGORY: What about the midterm elections , as you face next year? Chief political adviser to the president; how has the president impacted what you think will happen in the midterm race?

MR. AXELROD: Look, I think that the American people voted for change, they voted for action, they voted to get things done and to deal with the big problems facing this country . I think the president has done that. I think he's done that at home. I think he's changed the tenor abroad in a way that is positive for the United States . So, you know, I, I think that that has, that that is going to root down to the benefit of the Democratic Party . The other fact is that those who oppose what he's doing have really...


MR. AXELROD: They're looking backwards , not forward. And the question is, what are you going to do to build a better future ? Don't recycle old ideas that haven't worked. Where are your new ideas ?

MR. GREGORY: Do you think Republicans have a legislative strategy, or do you think they just have a strategy for the midterm elections in opposing this president?

MR. AXELROD: I think that that's a good question to ask your next guests. All I would say is that what we've heard primarily is a recycling of the very same ideas that got us into the mess we're in right now. And unless the Republican Party develops fresh ideas , they're going to continue to have problems .

MR. GREGORY: Are they constructive in their opposition?

MR. AXELROD: Well, sometimes yes and sometimes no. Just this week in the, in the health committee on -- in the Senate , where Senator Dodd has done such a great job in moving healthcare reform along, 82 amendments were accepted from Republican members that I think will strengthen the healthcare bill. And that is a positive thing. We had a meeting on -- at the White House on the, on the issue of immigration , where Senators McCain and Graham and others participated. I thought it was a constructive meeting. So we're going to look for every opportunity we can to work with the Republican Party and, and, and, and where, where we can come together around the issues we're going to do that.

MR. GREGORY: A couple of points before you go. Here was a moment from the press conference on Tuesday when there was a question that the president took from The Huffington Post . Let's watch.

PRES. OBAMA: Since we're on Iran , I know Nico Pitney is here from Huffington Post .

MR. NICO PITNEY: Thank you, Mr. President.

PRES. OBAMA: Nico , I know that you and all across the Internet we've been seeing a lot of reports coming directly out of Iran . I know that there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet . What -- do you have a question?

MR. GREGORY: I just want to be clear . Did the White House coordinate with a reporter about a question to be asked at a press conference ?

MR. AXELROD: The White House didn't coordinate with the reporter about a question, we were looking for a way to get questions from within Iran . We could -- we did not have access to Iranian journalists.

MR. GREGORY: So you talked to a reporter beforehand and said, "Could you ask a question about -- from -- directly from Iran at a press conference ?"

MR. AXELROD: We said if you -- we, we, we, we, we knew that he had been and he was very publicly involved in getting -- in trafficking and communications in and out of Iran , and we felt it was important...

MR. GREGORY: Well, why is it appropriate to coordinate with a reporter about what's asked at a time when we're championing democracy around the world?

MR. AXELROD: No, no, David , you miss...

MR. GREGORY: Is that, is that what you should do at a press conference ?

MR. AXELROD: You're not, you're not listening to what I said. We didn't coordinate with, with him about what was asked.


MR. AXELROD: In fact, he asked probably one of the most -- the toughest and most probing questions at that press conference . We had no idea what he was going to ask.

MR. GREGORY: But you coordinated with him about, about that subject of a question beforehand.

MR. AXELROD: He was a, he was a, he was a, he was a vehicle to get questions from Iran asked at this press conference , and that we thought was not only appropriate but, but necessary.

MR. GREGORY: If President Bush had done that, don't you think Democrats would have said that's outrageous?

MR. AXELROD: I do -- well, I do not, because if -- what would have been outrageous is if we knew what question was going to be asked, just as if you told us what question you were going to ask.

MR. GREGORY: Right. So you would, so you'd do it again?

MR. AXELROD: Yeah, I have no problem with what was done. We want to foment dialogue around the world. And if we can get quotations from within Iran asked, whatever those questions may be -- and as I said, that one was a tough one -- I think we're, we're doing something positive.

MR. GREGORY: Finally, before you go, the president has not spoken directly about the death of Michael Jackson , and yet obviously people around the world are talking about it. And it's interesting to hear some African-American leaders say the significance of this popular cultural icon was significant. I mean, before there was Barack Obama. ..

MR. AXELROD: There's no doubt.

MR. GREGORY: ...before Tiger Woods and Oprah Winfrey there was Michael Jackson crossing over , breaking barriers. Does the president see it that way?

MR. AXELROD: Well, I, I think Robert Gibbs spoke to this a little bit on Friday when he was asked this question. Nobody asked the question of the president when he took questions on Friday. The president obviously believes that he was an important and magnificent performer, and, and, and obviously he, he led a sad life in many ways as well. But his impact is undeniable, as you can see on your own airwaves and everywhere.


MR. AXELROD: I mean, the reaction has been very, very strong. But we, you know, the president has written the family and has shared his feelings with the family , and he felt that was the appropriate way to go .

MR. GREGORY: All right, David Axelrod , thank you very much . Good luck with your important work.

MR. AXELROD: OK. Good to be with you .

MR. GREGORY: Coming next, another rising star in the GOP stumbles. Can South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford recover? And what's next for the party ? Two key Republicans weigh in; 2008 presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are next. Plus, insights and analysis from our political roundtable only on MEET THE PRESS .

MR. GREGORY: Mitt Romney and Senator Lindsey Graham weigh in on the future of the Republican Party after this brief commercial break .

MR. GREGORY: We are back, joined now by Mitt Romney and Senator Lindsey Graham . Welcome back to both of you.


MR. GREGORY: David Axelrod making some news; first on the stimulus , Senator Graham , talking about revisiting -- the potential of revisiting a second stimulus come the fall. Do you think that's appropriate?

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, I think we should revisit it and make sure that it's focused on jobs, not adding to the debt. If you had another vote in the Senate or the House I think it would be redone, it would be more focused on job creation , because it clearly has not helped jobs, has added to the debt and I think it just missed its mark. So I'd love to revisit it.

MR. GREGORY: Do you think this thing was oversold?

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah. I think, one, he comes in at a tough time. He does something bold, he does it quick. He picked up three Republicans , lost 11 Democrats in the House . They had a chance to meet between $440 and $800 billion and get probably 15 Republicans , but they jammed it through. They went back to the old way of politics, the Karl Rove style of picking off a few Republicans . He missed a chance to have a bipartisan stimulus package that would have created more jobs and helped people who'd lost their jobs. I hope they'll rethink it can come back again.

MR. GREGORY: Governor, can you possibly pay for even what Warren Buffett says should be a second stimulus , that there needs to be more medicine not less for this economy?

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA): Well, I actually think that you're going to see the economy begin to turn around probably next year. Maybe you'll see the signs at the last half of this year, but next year you'll see a turnaround. This economy does turn around. I don't think the stimulus that was passed is going to be much help. The stimulus that was passed was, unfortunately, focused more on government and creating employment inside government than it was creating jobs in the private sector .

MR. GREGORY: Can we say it's failed?

GOV. ROMNEY: Well, it hasn't been as effective as it should have been. For, for the, for the millions of extra people who are going to be unemployed, it has not been successful. This is a bill, if it had been crafted properly and focused on creating jobs, we would have come out of the recession faster and we would have had a lower level of unemployment. It has failed in delivering the stimulus that was needed at the time it was needed.

MR. GREGORY: All right, I want to come back to the president's agenda -- health care , energy -- in just a moment. But first, I want to talk about what's going on inside the Republican Party and specifically, Senator, down in your home state ...


MR. GREGORY: ...of South Carolina. Governor Mark Sanford disappeared for five days then announced that, in fact, he'd had a mistress, he was visiting a mistress in Argentina . He misled his staff, he misled the voters. Should he resign?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, the first thing, I'm the godfather of Mark and Jenny 's youngest child, so I'm just going to put that on the table. My main focus right now is can this marriage be saved? Can these kids have a mom and dad to guide them through life? That is my main focus. I think if Mark can reconcile with Jenny , and that's not going to be easy, that he can finish his last 18 months. He's had a good reform agenda . And I do believe that if, if he can reconcile with his family and if he's willing to try, that the people of South Carolina would be willing to give him a second chance. But he's also got to reconcile the legislature. If he can get his family back together, I think he can continue out his term and maybe do some good things next year.

MR. GREGORY: But you've talked to him. What's, what's his state of mind?

SEN. GRAHAM: What do you think? Devastated. I mean, you know, it's just -- this is hard for me. I mean, I'm the godfather of his youngest child. This is not just some political observation. Devastated. I talked to Jenny . And the one thing I can tell you, Mark Sanford is lucky to have Jenny Sanford . And I , I hope he realizes that, and I think he does. And these four boys are, Mitt knows -- let's just pray they get back together. But second chances are not deserved or required, but if they're ever given, they can be a blessing. I hope Mark gets one with his family and the voters.

MR. GREGORY: There's the personal, but there's the political , Governor Romney . I spoke to a Republican this week who said this wasn't just a personal problem , this was political malfeasance. Should he hang on to his job?

GOV. ROMNEY: You know, his, his holding onto that job is really between him and his family and the, and the people of South Carolina . It's not for people outside the state to make pronouncements on. This is a matter which is really a heartbreaking matter, and that's what I think you have to focus on. You've got a family in great distress. And I 'm, I'm really...

MR. GREGORY: But you're a former governor. It's more than that. I mean, this is somebody who disappeared. What if there had been a crisis in South Carolina ? This is somebody who lies to the voters and his staff about where he is. And doesn't it go beyond a personal failing?

GOV. ROMNEY: Well, overwhelmingly the heartbreak is what the public is focused on, and what we should be focused on. And seeing this family become healed is our highest priority. At the same time -- and, and, and not commenting on, particularly on, on, on Governor Sanford , but if you look at this, this setting, and we've seen it time and again on both sides of the aisle, I think you have to recognize that people that are in, in public life ought to be held to a higher standard. That, that when -- I heard one governor, former governor say, "Well, everybody makes mistakes ." Well, that's true. But not all mistakes are the same. And not everybody is a governor or a senator or a president. And we expect people to live by a higher standard, because what they do is going to be magnified. Their families are going to be hurt more by what they do. Their, their -- the things they care about will be hurt. And the culture of the nation and the people who follow them will be hurt.

MR. GREGORY: This is what Ron Kaufman , who's a Republican lobbyist who's close to you ,

Governor, said on Thursday in The New York Times: When we in the Republican Party do these things, "these kinds of things like what happened with Senator Ensign," who had an affair and resigned his leadership position in the Senate , "and now with Sanford it hurts our credibility as a party of good governing and of values." Senator Graham , is the Republican Party still a party of values?

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah. I think we're a party of sinners, just like every other group in America , but we're also a party that openly talks about good things. It is good for Mark and Jenny to get back together, if that's possible, because it's good for families to have a mom and dad . And it's OK to talk about those things. And part of life is failing. So from Mark 's point of view, if he can get his family back together, people are pretty fair in this country . Bill Clinton had his problems . People looked at his job performance, they looked at his personal failings and they said, "You know what, we're going to put one over here and the other over there." That's no justification for what Mark did, but I think the people of South Carolina appreciate what Mark tried to do as governor to change their state .


SEN. GRAHAM: And they're very disappointed in what he did as Mark the individual and his malfeasance at, at times , but they can reconcile the two only if, if Jenny and Mark can get back together. I think the people of South Carolina will give him a second chance.

MR. GREGORY: Do you think you had that kind of compassion during the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton ?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I can tell you this. I'm the only Republican that voted against the article that dealt with lying about Monica Lewinsky , because I think lying about a consensual affair when you're blindsided is not a high crime or misdemeanor. The reason I vote for impeachment is because it was a lawsuit about nonconsensual behavior where President Clinton was accused of doing some very crude things; he manipulated witnesses, he undermined the integrity of the legal system like Richard Nixon undermined the integrity of the political system . That's what I focused on, not the fact that he lied about a consensual event.

MR. GREGORY: Governor, do you think that family values , values generally is still a central pillar of what the Republican Party stands for?

GOV. ROMNEY: Absolutely. There's no question in my mind but that our...

MR. GREGORY: And do you think the public believes this after a string of personal failings that have happened to Democrats and certainly plenty of Republicans ?

GOV. ROMNEY: I, I, I don't think there's any question but that we aspire to the highest standards of ethical conduct and that we aspire to values that'll make America stronger. There's no question. But the best think you can do for raising a child is to have a mom and dad love each other in a home. And, and to say that and to say we want to see marriage between men and women , that we want to see families raised with the benefit of people who are married , that's a, that's a very important part of our culture. It's part of what our, our parties believes. We believe in life. These features are important. And do we have people who don't live up to those standards? Absolutely. That's, that's going to be true. But not speaking about things that are important...


GOV. ROMNEY: ...would be an enormous mistake.

MR. GREGORY: But are you sensitive at all to critics on the left who say, you know, Republicans are hypocrites when they go out there and talk about family values ?

GOV. ROMNEY: You know, I'm always going to be sensitive to people who are attacking on one side or the other. But I'll tell you, I'd rather be talking about the truth and indicating that sometimes people fall short than not saying what's true. And what is true is that America is a stronger nation if we have a culture which includes the creation of families with moms and dads and marriage and sacrifice for the next generation.

SEN. GRAHAM: You know, and I don't believe Democrats are for dysfunctional families . We don't have any ownership. I think President Obama , quite frankly , has been one of the better role models in the entire country for the idea of being a good parent, a good father. So this idea that, that, that we're for good families and Democrats are silent's not true. I think we fail on both sides. But quite frankly , President Obama has done a lot of good in his -- the way he carries himself and conducts himself in the area of family .

MR. GREGORY: Let me just spend a moment talking more generally about the future of the Republican Party . I spoke to a prominent Republican this week who said the problem for Republicans is that they have failed to take stock of what happened last year in the election. They have failed to take stock of the demographic changes in the country . Who are the leaders of this party and what are the issues that bring it back to power , Senator?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, he's one of the leaders. The people...

GOV. ROMNEY: He's the other one.

SEN. GRAHAM: I can be a leader on an issue, quite frankly . I mean, the Republican Party has an opportunity now to get back in the game, and we appreciate the Democrats for making that possible. Without them we would be out of the game. If President Obama had went to the middle and did all the things he said he would do in the campaign, we'd probably be toast. But he has not. You know, I know bipartisanship when I see it. You pay a price for it. There has been no bipartisanship. The stimulus package was Karl Rove politics; pick a few Republicans off, call it bipartisan. The climate change bill was Tom DeLay banging heads and twisting arms to get one vote more than you needed. So there's really been no change in Washington and he missed the boat , and he's spending money that the next generation can never come up with and he's growing the government beyond most people's imagination. And we're back in the game because of their mistakes, but we need to do more than that.

MR. GREGORY: And this is the blueprint, it sounds like, for the Republican opposition. Governor, are you a leader of the Republican Party ? You have certainly taken pains to separate yourself from President Obama . Are you planning a run for the presidency again in 2012 ?

GOV. ROMNEY: Well, that's way beyond my horizon at this point, to think about what's going to happen in 2012 . What I'm thinking about...

MR. GREGORY: But you're laying the foundation for it, is that fair to say?

GOV. ROMNEY: What, what I'm, what I'm laying the foundation for is picking up seats in 2010 . We've got some governors races in '09 in Virginia and in, and New Jersey . We've got a whole series, of course, of Senate and House races and governors races in '10. It's important for us to, to have a stronger message as we go forward. And I think the party does have to stand up and be able to say, "Listen, Mr. Axelrod , you're wrong when you say we don't have ideas ." We have a healthcare plan. You, you look at Wyden-Bennett , that's a healthcare plan that a number of Republicans think is a very good healthcare plan, one that we support. Take a look at that one. We, we believe in allowing people to have choice in their health care . We believe in allowing people to have choice in schools. That's another one of our elements. We believe that, with regards to energy , that putting a massive tax on the American public and on industry is not going to create jobs, it's going to hurt jobs. But here's an idea we have, something like a tax swap that Charles Krauthammer and Greg Mankiw have talked about. These are ways that, that are more effective than this cap and trade proposition. We, we've got ideas , we've got a, a mission that will allow America to be stronger and families to have a more prosperous future .

MR. GREGORY: Is Sarah Palin also a leader of this party ?

SEN. GRAHAM: Absolutely. I think Huckabee , Palin , Mitt Romney , John McCain -- because he's the most recognizable public, public figure as a Republican, because he ran for president with a good approval rating -- congressional leaders. A guy like me who'll try to find common ground on the issue on immigration . You know, one thing long-term about this party , the demographic changes in this country are real. We lost ground with Hispanic voters because of the way we behaved and the things we said on immigration . Obama won younger voters because of the image he projected and his positive agenda . But the biggest loser for 18 to 34-year-olds, in my opinion, is the Obama agenda . They're the ones going to have to pay for this massive government .


SEN. GRAHAM: They're the ones going to lose choice in health care . So demographically and with young people , we've got our work cut out for us. We'll do well in 2010 , but I'm worried about 20 years from now. For us to do better, to be a party , not a club, we're going to have to adjust.

MR. GREGORY: Let me go through a few of these issues here, in our remaining time, on the agenda . And I 'll start with you, Senator Graham . Health care ; will the president achieve healthcare reform this year that includes a public plan?


MR. GREGORY: What will be achieved?

SEN. GRAHAM: I think the Wyden bill, where you got six Republicans , six Democrats , where you'll have purchasing power , given help by the government to purchase private sector policies and reform in general will succeed, not a government option that would destroy competition. We're not going to nationalize health care .

MR. GREGORY: Governor:

GOV. ROMNEY: Absolutely right. We have a model that worked. One state in America , my state , was able to put in place a plan that got everybody health insurance , and it did not require a public government insurance company . That's the last thing America needs. You know exactly what it is. President Obama , when he was campaigning, said he wanted a single payer system . That's would it would lead to. He would subsidize this over time , it would become larger and larger, drive the private options out of the healthcare industry . It would be just disastrous for health care in this country . And therefore the right way to proceed is to reform health care . That we can do, as we did it in Massachusetts , as Wyden-Bennett is proposing doing it at the national level. We can do it for the nation, we can get everybody insured, we can get the cost of health care down, but we don't have to have government insurance and government running health care to get that done.

MR. GREGORY: The other big news; Friday, the victory for the president on the climate change bill in the House . What's going to happen in the Senate ?

SEN. GRAHAM: If that's a victory, then I don't know what losing would be. He lost 40- something Democrats . The process was not changed. The process was beating people up to make them vote for something they really didn't want to vote for. This idea of climate change is real, in my opinion, and the way you solve the problem is not you have some major tax on industry and private sector . You join forces with energy independence groups and climate change groups to get a bipartisan bill. But this bill coming out of the House is going nowhere in the Senate . But climate change is real and we need to do something. The gang of 10 that I was in...


SEN. GRAHAM: something to look at.

MR. GREGORY: But is -- does -- is there a filibuster in the Senate by Republicans ?

SEN. GRAHAM: I think you're going to have a -- the news is that red state Democrats are bailing out on the president's agenda faster than Republicans .

MR. GREGORY: On foreign policy , before we go, on Iraq , the deadline now to remove combat troops coming up on June the 30th. The Bush administration several times before had a deadline to turn matters over to Iraqi authorities, only to fail on numerous occasions. What's different, if anything, this time?

GOV. ROMNEY: Well, what's interesting is this is not different. This is the plan that President Bush put in place. And Barack Obama , having campaigned against President Bush saying, look, he has an entirely different view for Iraq , is actually following President Bush 's plan. And that's a good thing. I think it's appropriate for our troops to begin to -- the withdrawal process on the major population centers, as was indicated during President Bush 's term. The place I think that, that we really ought to be focusing on today is what's happening in Iran .

MR. GREGORY: Well, and with that, you said last week...

SEN. GRAHAM: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY: ...that he was timid and weak, the president was, when it came to Iran .

SEN. GRAHAM: I said he was timid and passive.

MR. GREGORY: Timid and passive, excuse me. Has he, has he gotten better? Has he gotten it right now?

SEN. GRAHAM: Yes. And I think the video of the young girl dying in the street made it real to the president more than anything I could say, and since then he's done a very good job. And the question for this country and the world is if the supreme leader certifies the election and says Ahmadinejad is the president of Iran , do we recognize that? I don't see how we can now. I don't see how we can embrace this regime, given what they've done and the way they've behaved.

MR. GREGORY: And if the president signs an executive order to, to indefinitely detain prisoners from Guantanamo Bay , would you support that?

SEN. GRAHAM: I support the idea of an indefinite detention program with a legal review. I think he should come through Congress and do it, that way it will be stronger and in court and we'll all be on board. Bush tried this by executive order . Come to the Congress , work with us, we can find middle ground on this.

MR. GREGORY: We're going to leave it there. Lindsey Graham , Governor Mitt Romney , thank you both very much. Coming next, who's left to lead the GOP , and how will President Obama 's agenda fare in Congress and across the nation? Our political roundtable: David Brooks , E.J. Dionne , Mike Murphy and Dee Dee Myers after this brief station break .

MR. GREGORY: And we're back with our roundtable this morning: Dee Dee Myers of Vanity Fair , Republican strategist Mike Murphy , E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times. Welcome, everybody. There is so much to go through here. Let's begin with Republican turmoil down in South Carolina , and Governor Mark Sanford ; the end of an affair or the beginning of a new one in terms of whether he's going to hang on to power . This was that bizarre press conference earlier this week, a few clips.

GOV. SANFORD: I'm a bottom line kind of, kind of guy. I'll lay it out. It's going to hurt, and we'll let the chips fall where they may. There are moral absolutes, and, and that, that God's law indeed is there to protect you from yourself, and there are consequences if you breach that. This press conference is a consequence.

Offscreen Voice: Did you break off the relationship?

Gov. SANFORD: Obviously not, if I spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina .

MR. GREGORY: David Brooks , how much crying is going on in the Republican Party ?

MR. DAVID BROOKS: Well, over, over a long term there's a lot of Republican crying going on. This was a story of loneliness, and we've had so many cases; John Edwards and just a whole series of cases. My observation about these guys, and it's bipartisan, is they work phenomenally hard. They spend all their times climbing. They travel a lot. They get to middle age and they realize there's some emotional vacuum in their lives, and they go off and do totally crazy things, including betraying their family . So to me this is a personal story about highly successful people in private and public life .

MR. GREGORY: But is there, is there a political dimension to this? Is this malfeasance? Does he have to resign?

MR. MIKE MURPHY: No, I don't think he has to. I mean, I feel very sorry for him. He and Jenny are friends of mine. It's a horrible situation. Nationally I don't think it means anything for the Republican Party . In South Carolina it's a huge deal. He's a lame duck, so his term's ending. The interesting thing in the politics here, big Republican ax fight, typical South Carolina primary to follow him. If he resigns early, the lieutenant governor takes power , giving the lieutenant governor a jump on the others who want to be the Republican governor there. So even some of Sanford 's critics may wind up propping him up politically to keep him in office not to give their rival, the lieutenant governor, the jump in the primary. It's South Carolina. It's going to be, by day, Bible politics; by night, knife fighting in the Republican primary . I think, I think, if I have to predict, he'll hang on, though it could go either way .

MR. GREGORY: E.J., it's interesting. I asked Senator Graham , he said -- I said are values still core to the Republican Party ? He said, "We are a party of sinners." Make them no different than, than the Democrats . But is that pillar of social values, in terms of what defines the Republican Party , is that no longer the case?

MR. E.J. DIONNE: Well, I was struck at your interview that Senator Graham tried to make this bipartisan all of the sudden at the end, and it was a way of kind of pulling the Republican Party out of this mess. I mean, the Republicans have a problem with the Ensign scandal and now the Mark Sanford scandal. I mean, is open marriage their latest new idea? Obviously they don't want to convey that sense. But I just hate sex scandals as a general proposition. And you need some kind of compact in the country where people won't parade out their perfect families, where people will not move, including the press, quickly to a sex scandal . But Governor Sanford , unfortunately for him in this case, really raised the stakes here when he disappeared, and I think for a lot of people it gives them a hook to say, "Well, this isn't really about the sex scandal , this is about his disappearing for days when people in his own government didn't know what was going on."


MS. DEE DEE MYERS: I think it's interesting how the fact that his disappearance became a national story. That was probably something put out there by Governor Sanford 's enemies in South Carolina ...


MS. MYERS: ...who wanted to focus attention on that. And then he walked right into the trap by going to that press conference totally unprepared, without having thought it through, maybe in the middle of a midlife crisis . But it does reflect on, you know, a Republican Party that's built on,

in recent years, on two pillars: fiscal responsibility and family values . George Bush destroyed and the Republican Congress destroyed the pillar of fiscal responsibility , and now characters like Governor Sanford who, you know, sort of didn't practice what he preached, have taken down the other. And so the Republican Party finds itself in the position of having to redefine what its base mission is.

MR. MURPHY: But we don't define presidential elections -- excuse me -- backwards. And while this is an entertaining sideshow, and this one was particularly entertaining as these go, for kind of cynical watchers of politics the presidential race is going to be about issues in the future . And on those grounds I think the Republicans could be very, very competitive regardless.

MR. GREGORY: Let's look at the slate of, of, of national leaders in the Republican Party . We'll

put it up on the screen, some of the faces: Haley Barbour ; Newt , Newt Gingrich ; Jon Huntsman has, has hurt his chances with an affair that came out; Sarah Palin ; Mitt Romney ; Ensign; Huckabee . Excuse me, I said Huntsman ; he's -- I meant, I meant Ensign. There was no affair with Jon Huntsman . He is taken out, he's gone over to China to be ambassador. Excuse me, excuse me. And some of the others down the road. What is -- David Brooks , how does this Republican Party of the future chart a new course? If you look back historically, from Nixon to Reagan and George W. Bush , in each case it was not only a kind of a, an indictment of the past, but also a charting of a new course for the future of the Republican Party .

MR. BROOKS: Right. I take a maximalist view. I fall to the British Conservative Party ; they had to lose three national elections before they changed. I think this Republican Party 's going to have to lose two or three national elections. So I take the long-term, most pessimistic view possible. But how -- what is the route back? It's two things. The first thing: boring, sensible practicality. And that's why I think of the potentials Mitch Daniels , the governor of Indiana , is the most sensible short-term answer to the Republican problems , a guy who's just a good manager. You got a guy, Barack Obama , in the White House , fantastic guy, happens to spend a lot of money. And so that would be my short term. The long term is they have to learn to talk to people in densely populated parts of the country and to young people . And so the answer to those problems are the same. They have to learn to talk the language of community and common endeavor. It's been too much individual, profit, tax cuts . It has to be community, what we can do together, including in some cases governing.

MR. GREGORY: I just want to make sure that everybody heard that, that I misspoke when it came to Jon Huntsman . My apologies. No family turmoil there. But...

MR. MURPHY: Mrs. Huntsman 's on the other line.

MR. GREGORY: Yeah, yeah, yeah, my apologies. But speak to that, Mike .

MR. MURPHY: Mm-hmm. No, I kind of agree with David . I hate to be pessimistic about it. I think we're in a paradox of opposition, which is what works in the short-term, which is complete opposition to certain policies. And I think President Obama , by going to the left not the center, has given us an opportunity in the short term with health care and other things he's doing. We're going, we're going to win some seats, which is a good thing. But it may teach us exactly the wrong lessons for the long term, where we have these big demographic problems and we have to modernize conservatism. It may take a, may take a bit of a meltdown before we come back. And I think it needs to have more social libertarianism and, and maybe not a complete, unerring defense of perfect capitalism at all times and out of control free market .

MR. GREGORY: E.J., how do you size up the Republicans ?

MR. DIONNE: Well, you know, I am struck that, that there are two kinds of Republicans out there right now. Younger Republicans tend to say, " Wait a minute , we can't just go back to Ronald Reagan and re-create that. That was a long time ago. These are different circumstances, and we've got to think of a new kind of conservatism." David just blew up the old conservative philosophy; in fact, both, both our...

MR. GREGORY: He does that.

MR. DIONNE: ...Republican friends here, because what they're saying is, well, they can't be as socially conservative as they used to be , that was the one pillar, and they really have to say capitalism isn't perfect. So I think what you're talking about is a need for a wholly new conservatism. And to go back to Sanford for a second, what really disturbs me most is what he did in his public life , the notion that you could turn down the stimulus money that was basically designed to help the poorest people in South Carolina . No one paid as much attention to that as they should have, and now we're doing all this stuff on his personal life .

MR. GREGORY: Another historical reference here. Let's look at the approval ratings for George W. Bush at a similar point, June of 2001 , and President Obama now. And there you see it on the screen; Obama more popular, 56 to 50 percent. Dee Dee , how's the president doing overall in terms of his agenda ? Climate change legislation, a big deal , a big priority for this president, got through the House , but you heard Senator Graham say this is going nowhere in the Senate .

MS. MYERS: Well, you know, we've heard that before about different Obama proposals, and we'll see what happens. They have not lost a lot so far. The president's been very successful in moving his big items through the Congress . And one of the things that he's done really well, and this sort of goes back to the point you were making about the future of the Republican Party , is stitching together a broader view and, and, and trusting the American public to understand that all of these proposals fit together in some way -- climate change legislation, healthcare legislation, stimulus package -- all toward remaking the economy. And I think those are powerful arguments. And I don't think we've heard the last from a president who's been able to rally the public to his side making not simplistic arguments, but complicated arguments. And I think the same will be true on climate change and health care . I think the public understands that unless we solve some of the big underlying problems , including -- it's not just a climate change bill , it's a end our dependence on foreign oil bill as well, which is a national security argument. Those arguments are still compelling, the president still makes them in incredibly effective ways, and we haven't heard the last from this administration . They're, they're going to fight and they're going to win.

MR. GREGORY: You talk about health care . Mike, David Axelrod on this program today making it very clear they are not going to ram through a public plan, even though it's clearly what the president wants and it's what liberals expect out of healthcare reform .

MR. MURPHY: Well, the public plan is really the camel's nose under the tent for single payer . The single payer crowd knows they can't get that, so they create kind of this shark device, this public plan to go eat all the insurance companies . So, yeah, I thought that was a huge concession and an important one. The tragedy, I think, of health care is this bill has a lot of health care , a trillion-plus dollars of health care . It doesn't have any reform . There's a great reform idea, which is Wyden-Bennett , which has the individual mandate that is, I believe, part of the solution, out of...

MR. GREGORY: Where you have to buy insurance if you're uninsured.

MR. MURPHY: Everybody has to have insurance . But it also uses the private insurance market in a more regulated way, with real cost controls. It's the real solution. And hopefully we're back into those principles, because this public option thing is a killer both for the Republicans and I think politically for Obama .

MR. GREGORY: David Brooks , you wrote this in a column this week about healthcare reform : " Healthcare reform is important," you wrote, "but it is not worth bankrupting the country over. If this process goes as it has been going -- with grand rhetoric and superficial cost containment -- then we will be far better off killing this effort and starting over in a few years. Maybe then there will be leaders willing to look at the options staring them in the face." And yet, the president says if it's not done this year it won't get done.

MR. BROOKS: Well, it won't get done maybe in the next two years. But my -- here's the -- there are two issues here. One is, are we going to pay the trillion dollars for the bill? That, I think, they'll probably do. The second and to me most important issue is, will they, as they call it, bend the curve, the total cost of health care to American society ? That they're doing -- Obama does a great job of talking about, but he hasn't done any of the hard choices to actually do that.

MR. GREGORY: Because that does mean managed care in some way. That means if you're consumer, you cannot get everything you want from your doctor...

MR. BROOKS: Right. It means saying no.

MR. GREGORY: ...and have it paid for.

MR. BROOKS: And, and here's my fear. I think they're great at passing legislation. They will do whatever it takes to pass legislation, and I never count them out. But I'm afraid their policies are designed to pass legislation, not always to solve the problem . And I think that's, that was the stimulus ...

MR. GREGORY: You know, that's interesting, though. Before you get to the, the substance of health care , E.J. , it is interesting. Is this pragmatism and the art of compromise on the part of this president, or is it weakness? I mean, what should be championed, what should be criticized?

MR. DIONNE: I think it's his strategy, and at some points he's right not to intervene too hard in the congressional process. I mean, imagine if that global warming bill had been down, had gone down this week. This whole panel would be about the death of the Obama presidency. The Democrats can't pass legislation. That was a huge deal. There were other times when he needs to intervene. And I think you're getting to the point in health care where he will. I love hearing the Republicans talk about Wyden-Bennett now. They could have passed that when they controlled the Congress . Now you've got a series of proposals where people are really trying to find some common ground , and now they're going back to Wyden-Bennett . I think it's a blocking action. In terms of the public plan, the public plan is a good idea and the president actually gave a good defense of it when he said, look, if the insurance companies , the private insurance companies are so great and so efficient, why are they so afraid of this public plan? I think the issue now is, do you have a real public plan in a bill, or if you give it away do you get significant insurance reform that will have a decent -- one of -- that that insurance exchange that they're talking about, will it have good rules around it so people can get health coverage?

MS. MYERS: But I always find it curios that, you know, there's criticism of the White House for not taking the healthcare bill and writing it. We tried that...

MR. GREGORY: Right. Right.

MS. MYERS: 1993 , it was a catastrophe. You know, ended up with a 1,300-page bill.

MR. MURPHY: It was a bad bill.

MS. MYERS: Well, but it...

MR. MURPHY: It was single payer . Nobody wanted it.

MS. MYERS: But it's -- you're, you're destined to write a bad bill when you do it, I think, removed from the legislative process .

MR. GREGORY: Well, the...

MS. MYERS: You -- how do you get 60 -- a bill that will be acceptable to 60 senators without working with the Congress and letting them take the lead on it? I don't think that's possible.

MR. MURPHY: No, that's reality. But the tragedy of Obama is no president's been elected with as much political power as he has in a long, long time, and he's wasting it on more special interest legislation when he could ram through the tough real reform stuff. We couldn't get Wyden-Bennett done. I've always been for Wyden-Bennett . But we could get it done now in a big bipartisan way, because this guy has the power to do it and he does believe in healthcare reform . Obama could really go right up the middle and force some tough reforms through. Instead we're getting the same stuff. A cap and trade bill that the Democratic super environmental left doesn't like; there's no nuclear power in it, which is an obvious CO2 solution. I think he's failing to reach the potential he has with his great amount of power , and that's the tragedy.

MR. BROOKS: It -- I was thinking about what, what I've been doing wrong as a, as a journalist. I think I've spent way too much time thinking about Obama , because he does the, he sells the policies. The decisions are actually being made on Capitol Hill by the chairmen.

MR. MURPHY: Exactly.

MR. BROOKS: They give a lot of power away to Capitol Hill for reasons that mystify me. Because, as Mike says...

MR. MURPHY: He's the....

MR. BROOKS: ...he has -- potentially has a lot more power than he uses.

MR. DIONNE: But all, all of this depends -- you know, this is a nice conversation about, oh, gee, Obama could find the middle. But where are the Republicans on this? Most Republicans have decided, and it may be a smart political strategy, that they just want to block Obama 's proposals.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm. Right, right.

MR. DIONNE: The number of Republicans actually willing to work with him is very, very small.

MR. GREGORY: But we should also point out that this was an area on the stimulus , too, where the White House acknowledged and conceded it was a problem , turning over too much power to Congress to allow them to write the stimulus bill.

MR. DIONNE: Well, except that the stimulus bill the House produced was closer to Obama than the compromise that came out. And again, on global warming and bipartisanship, there were two Republicans in the House who voted for the president's bill.


MR. DIONNE: One was Mark Kirk , the other was Mike Castle . Both want to run for the U.S. Senate next time. Maybe they're potential candidates.

MR. GREGORY: OK. All right, we're going to have to leave it there. A lot more to talk about, but we're out of time. Thanks very much to all of you. And we'll be right back.

MR. GREGORY: That's all for today. We will be off the air next Sunday due to NBC 's coverage of the Wimbledon tennis finals, so we will be back here in two weeks. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS .