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Meet the Press transcript for December 18, 2011

Transcript of the December 18 broadcast featuring John Boehner, Michele Bachmann, Nikki Haley, E.J. Dionne and Mike Murphy.

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  This Sunday, an exclusive live interview with Speaker of the House John Boehner.  The Senate passes a bill to extend the payroll tax cut, but it's only for two months.  Now all eyes are on the House.


PRES. BARACK OBAMA:  It's my expectation, in fact, it would be inexcusable for Congress not to further extend this middle class tax cut for the rest of the year.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  We'll hear from the speaker about this battle and a year of dysfunction in Washington over taxes and the debt that has Americans madder than ever at Congress.

Then, the race for the White House.  I'll speak with Michele Bachmann as she makes a final push to win Iowa and take on front-runner Newt Gingrich.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN):  I'm a serious candidate for president of the United States and my facts are accurate.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Plus, Mitt Romney picks up a big endorsement in the key early state of South Carolina.


GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R-SC):  Michael and I absolutely, in every way, support Governor Mitt Romney for president of the United States.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  And so, this morning, we'll talk to Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina about why she's behind Romney.

Finally, the major moments on the campaign trail this weekend, what they mean as voting is just around the corner.  Analysis from Republican strategist Mike Murphy and Washington Post columnist E.J.  Dionne.

Announcer:  From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.

MR. GREGORY:  Good morning.

The AP News alert last night at 11:31 Eastern Time, U.S. military says last American troops have left Iraq as war ends.  And with that, a conclusion to the nine-year war in Iraq, a mission costing nearly 4,500 American lives and $800 billion.

Back home, another congressional showdown.  The Senate has passed a short-term extension of the payroll tax cut, but the measure is now facing strong opposition from some rank and file Republicans in the House, leaving final passage in doubt.  That is where we begin this morning with our exclusive guest, the speaker of the House, John Boehner.

Mr. Speaker, welcome back.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH):  David, good to be here.

MR. GREGORY:  So what's going to happen?

REP. BOEHNER:  Well, it's pretty clear that I and our members oppose the Senate bill.  It's only for two months.  You know, the president said we shouldn't go on vacation until we get our work done; and, frankly, House Republicans agree.  We passed a one-year extension of the payroll tax credit, unemployment insurance with reforms, making sure that those doctors who treat Medicare patients are not going to see their reimbursements cut.  We had a reasonable, responsible bill that we sent over to the Senate.  And, you know, if you talk to employers, they talk about the uncertainty.  How can you do tax policy for two months?  So I've--we really do believe it's time for the Senate to, to, to work with the House to complete our business for the year.  We've got two weeks to get this done.  Let's do it the right way.

MR. GREGORY:  So you're suggesting start over, make this a one-year extension.  Should the Senate start from scratch?

REP. BOEHNER:  No.  What I'm suggesting is this, the House has passed its bill, now the Senate has passed its bill.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

REP. BOEHNER:  And you know, under the Constitution, when we have these disagreements, there's a--could be a formal conference between the House and Senate to resolve our differences.  But our members really do believe we ought to do our work.  The president said we shouldn't be going on vacation without getting our work done.  Let's get our work done, let's do this for a year. You know, earlier this week both the House and Senate, in a bipartisan, bicameral way, funded our government through September 30th.  We did it in a regular process, regular order.  And what would be a regular order here is a, is a formal conference between the House and Senate.

MR. GREGORY:  But it's important to reiterate, as the speaker of the House, you are opposed to this Senate bill, to this compromise.

REP. BOEHNER:  I believe that two months is, two months is just kicking the can down the road.  The American people are tired of that.  I think--frankly, I'm tired of it.  On the House side, we've seen this kind of action before coming out of the Senate.  It's time to just stop, do our work, resolve the differences, and extend this for one year.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, but...

REP. BOEHNER:  And remove the uncertainty.

MR. GREGORY:  Resolving differences is about the hardest thing to do, it seems, in Washington, and it's been that way all year long.  What do you give? Where do you compromise in order to get the votes to extend this for a year?

REP. BOEHNER:  Oh, I think, if you look at the House-passed bill, we did everything the president asked for.  We added a couple of policies that we believe would help create jobs in America, things like the Keystone Pipeline, pulling back some regulations on, on boilers.  But we paid for this, offset it, with reasonable reductions in spending.  Ninety percent of those reductions, frankly, the president agrees with.  And so, we can, we can find common ground.  It's just the usual, "Let's just punt.  Kick the can down the road, we'll come back and do it later."

MR. GREGORY:  So you won't accept kicking this off to February.  You want to get it done now.

REP. BOEHNER:  I think we should do it all right now.

MR. GREGORY:  I want to ask you about this pipeline.  I want to remind our viewers what we're talking about here.  This is a proposed extension of an oil pipeline that starts up in Canada, goes down to the Gulf of Mexico.  You want to say, look, we'll extend it for a year if the president makes a quicker decision on this pipeline.  White House officials I've talked to say you are guaranteeing that he'll say no to this because the State Department has already said they can't get the review done for the extension in that amount of time.

REP. BOEHNER:  That's nonsense.  David, it's been going on for three years. All the studies are done.  It's gone through every part of the regulatory process.  The only issue here is that the president doesn't want to have to make this decision until after his election.  Twenty thousand direct jobs, 100,000 indirect jobs, to build a pipeline from Canada down to the Gulf that would help our energy security, help produce more energy here in North America.  This is the right thing to do, the American people support it, and the president shouldn't continue just to put this off for his own election convenience.

MR. GREGORY:  But you think the State Department was misrepresenting the fact that they can't do a review when there's not even a proposed extension that's finalized yet by the company involved?

REP. BOEHNER:  This was about to be approved last summer.  So waiting and waiting and waiting is not the answer here.  It is time to proceed with the pipeline.

MR. GREGORY:  If you really wanted this and not just the political issue, wouldn't you make it possible for the president to have as much time as he needs to make the decision?

REP. BOEHNER:  No.  He's already had ample time.  He's just kicking this can down the road, same Washington nonsense because it may anger some people in his base.

MR. GREGORY:  Let's talk about the economy overall and unemployment around the country and in your own state of Ohio.  Friday job numbers were out showing that the unemployment rate in Ohio down to 8.5 percent, down from 9 percent in October.  It's the largest one-month drop since 1983.  Unemployment nationally is down from where it was two years ago.  Do you think the president's policies deserve credit here?

REP. BOEHNER:  I don't think the president's policies have anything to do with this.  And the fact is, the reason these numbers are coming down is that more people are leaving the workforce, leaving the search for a job; and, as a result, you've got less people in the labor pool.  And so you ask Americans how they feel about the economy, and they're going to look at you and say, "Where are the jobs?" The fact is...

MR. GREGORY:  You don't see a positive trend here, not even in your own state?

REP. BOEHNER:  I think that the economy's bubbling along; and while some job growth certainly is welcome, the fact of the matter is is the president's policies continue to hold back our economy.

MR. GREGORY:  But if you see a positive trend...

REP. BOEHNER:  All the regulations--no action on the, on the debt.  The stimulus didn't work.  Washington could do more.  Mostly, it's "get out of the way."

MR. GREGORY:  But if you see unemployment continue in a trend downward, that jobless rate, if it continues to go down, you don't think it'll be more difficult for Republicans to make the case on the economy against this president?

REP. BOEHNER:  Well, listen, I think the next election's going to be a referendum on the economy and the president's policies regarding the economy. And if, in fact, that's the case, I think the president has a tough road ahead of him.

MR. GREGORY:  We talk about dysfunction in Washington, and here are the numbers to bear this out.  Job approval for Congress at an all-time low of 9 percent, 83 percent disapproval.  Honesty and ethical standards of people in different fields is something that Gallup measured.  Look at that, nurses fare pretty well.  There's journalists at 26 percent, members of Congress at 7 percent.  When you fall below journalists, I think you're in a lot of trouble. But, all serious--all kidding aside, are you not disappointed and embarrassed by those numbers?

REP. BOEHNER:  Well, David, welcome to divided government.  You know, Republicans have the majority in the House, but Democrats have the majority in the Senate, and we've got a Democrat in the White House.  We have honest philosophical differences about the way forward.  And so it's not a great surprise to me that, that when we get into these philosophical discussions and these debates and we don't agree, people don't like watching that.  But my job is to find enough common ground between the parties to do the right thing for the American people.

MR. GREGORY:  You say common ground, that's not what the president says.  He told "60 Minutes" something else, a fundamental choice, he said, was made by Republicans.  This is what he told Steve Kroft.

(Videotape, last Sunday)

PRES. OBAMA:  Can't get Republicans to move partly because they've made a political, strategic decision that says, "Anything Obama's for, we're against because that's our best chance of winning an election." But keep in mind, I'm talking about Republican members of Congress.  I'm not talking about Republicans around the country.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  What do you say to that?

REP. BOEHNER:  I absolutely disagree with that.  We have honest differences with the president, and he knows it.  And, and the fact is that I've worked all year to try to take those differences and set them aside and to find enough common ground to help our economy and to try to help Americans get back to work.  This is not about the next election.  I told the president that earlier this year.  The election will take care of itself.  Our job, his job and my job, is to find common ground to do the right thing for the country every day.

MR. GREGORY:  But have you given up on this president?  Do you effectively say, "Look, I can't get anything done with him.  Let's just wait and see if there's a Republican elected?"

REP. BOEHNER:  I'm not that smart.  Listen, I, I never give up, and I'll never give up on this president or give up on this process to try to help do what the American people sent us here to do:  try to resolve our differences, find common ground, and move.

MR. GREGORY:  Do you trust him as a partner?

REP. BOEHNER:  We've had very good discussions.  I do trust him.  It's not that--we have a tough time coming to an agreement, but the president and I have a very cordial relationship.  I hope it'll continue.

MR. GREGORY:  Does it disappoint you, I mean, you talk to the vice president, the president.  There's a number of people who've said publicly, "Look, the president and Boehner, they had a deal...

REP. BOEHNER:  No.  That...

MR. GREGORY:  ...and Boehner couldn't sell it..

REP. BOEHNER:  No, no!

MR. GREGORY: Republicans."

REP. BOEHNER:  That is absolutely not true.  That's not true, David.

MR. GREGORY:  On the debt.

REP. BOEHNER:  The president never said yes.  He never said yes to making the kind of fundamental reforms to our entitlement programs that's necessary.  I told the president, when he asked for revenue, I said, "I'll put revenue on the table, but only if we get fundamental reform of the entitlement programs." He never said yes, and then came along and decided he even wanted more revenue than what I was willing to do.  That's why it never came to agreement.

MR. GREGORY:  But you've been here a long time, Speaker.  You're known as practical legislator, which means you're willing to compromise.  Have you ever seen anything like what we've seen this year?  Can't you understand Americans who have said, "We have a huge leadership vacuum on both sides in Washington"?

REP. BOEHNER:  Well, nobody likes to watch people disagree.  And we all know, when it comes to legislating, there are two things that people should never watch, sausage being made and laws being made.  It's just not a pretty picture because you've got people with strongly-held views.  And I don't--while I believe strongly in what I believe in, other people have a right to believe in what they believe in.  Again, we got to put those differences aside and where's the common ground?  Where is it that we can agree?  And, frankly, when it comes to extending the payroll tax credit, when it comes to extending unemployment benefits with reforms, when it comes to taking care of the doctors who treat our Medicare patients, we should not hold them hostage to some two-month agreement.  We should do this for the full year like the president asked for.

MR. GREGORY:  What about next year?  Do you think you get a debt reduction agreement or does that have to be put off until after the election?

REP. BOEHNER:  I believe it's critically important.  Our debt and our deficit are serving as a wet blanket hanging over our economy and, frankly, hanging over the future for our kids and grandkids.  We as, as leaders in our country have a responsibility to sit down and find a way to solve our debt crisis.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me ask you a foreign policy question.  We talked about Iraq.  Senator McCain was quite critical of the president on the Senate floor this week as troops are coming out.  Here's what he said.

(Videotape, Thursday)

SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ):  This decision of a complete pullout of United States troops from Iraq was dictated by politics and not our national security interests.  I believe that history will judge this presisdent's leadership with the scorn and disdain that it deserves.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Is that fair?

REP. BOEHNER:  I'm concerned about our very quick and rapid withdrawal from Iraq.  We've--we sacrificed a lot of lives, a lot of soldiers injured, a lot of our treasure to go in and free the Iraqi people and to help them build a democracy built on freedom for all in their country.  And with so much that we've accomplished, I would have to see us risk that for the future.  And so I've got concerns, as we move ahead, about the Iraqi's ability to, to safeguard their country and to protect their borders from those who would want to upend all of this.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me ask you about politics.  The Week magazine has Newt Gingrich on the cover with this question:  "Is Newt fit to serve?" You know him well, you've served in leadership with him.  Does he have the temperament, does he have the leadership to be president?

REP. BOEHNER:  David, Newt and I have been friends for a long time.  I was his chief lieutenant back in the early and mid-'90s.  But this presidential race will take care of itself.  My job is to be the speaker of the House, is to--I've got a big enough job there.  I don't--I'm not involved in this presidential race at all.

MR. GREGORY:  But you do know him well, and you've seen those who have worked with him.  Really, no one has come forward and endorsed him among the highest profile Republican politicians with whom he, he's worked.  Why not?

REP. BOEHNER:  I've got a big job, I'm going to do my job.

MR. GREGORY:  But the, but the issue still is, is this question of temperament and discipline.

REP. BOEHNER:  David, I'm not...

MR. GREGORY:  Prominent Republicans I've talked to have said, "Look, he was known as a butterfly in leadership," that he didn't really know how to run anything.  Don't you think a lot of conservatives out there would like to hear from you about whether he can do it?

REP. BOEHNER:  David, a lot of people have tried to draw me into picking the candidates or saying things about this candidate or that candidate.  I'm just not going to do it.  I've got a big job to do.  I'm trying to run an institution that was designed not to work.  My job's to make it work, and to make it work on behalf of the American people.

MR. GREGORY:  You did say about Newt Gingrich this week that you're not sure he's as conservative as some people think.  You said he's conservative but not as conservative as some people think.  What'd you mean by that?

REP. BOEHNER:  Oh, you know, Newt, if you look through his, his track record, he's conservative.  But he's not a right-wing bomb-thrower like some people would like to portray him.

MR. GREGORY:  But he--is he the most, you know, reliably conservative person in the race?

REP. BOEHNER:  There are a lot of good conservatives in the race.

MR. GREGORY:  Can you support anybody for president who emerges out of this process?

REP. BOEHNER:  I believe that our process will produce a good candidate.  And I'll support that candidate.

MR. GREGORY:  What do you think is going on in the party?  I spoke to a Republican this week who said, "You know, the rank and file of the Republican Party wants to stomp all over the establishment; and Newt, in effect, is, is the weapon of choice." You've dealt with a changing Republican Party as speaker, dealing with your own rank and file in the House after the midterm elections.  What's going on inside the party?

REP. BOEHNER:  What the party wants is they want a smaller, less costly, and more accountable government in Washington, D.C., and they're tired of waiting. That's the real issue.  Government's too big.  It's too involved in our lives. It's getting in the way of our economic recovery; and, frankly, in my view, it could be getting in the way of the ability of my kids and grandkids, if we ever have any grandkids, to have the chance at the American dream that I've had and that you've had.  That's my goal is to make sure that every American has opportunities.  But this government, in my view, is just snuffing those opportunities out.

MR. GREGORY:  A payroll tax deal before Christmas?

REP. BOEHNER:  How about tomorrow?

MR. GREGORY:  You think it'll happen?

REP. BOEHNER:  I don't know.  All I know is that it's time to do this the right way.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.

REP. BOEHNER:  It's time to do the right thing for the American people.  No kicking the can down the road.

MR. GREGORY:  We'll be watching.  Speaker Boehner, merry Christmas.

REP. BOEHNER:  Merry Christmas.

MR. GREGORY:  Thank you very much.

REP. BOEHNER:  Thank you.

MR. GREGORY:  Coming up, time is of the essence of Michele Bachmann as the Iowa caucuses are just about two weeks away.  She's turning up the heat on former--on front-runner Newt Gingrich, and she'll join me next live from Iowa.

Plus, Nikki Haley, governor of early primary state South Carolina, throws her support behind Mitt Romney, who's currently trailing front-runner Gingrich by double digits in that state.  We'll ask her why next.


MR. GREGORY:  Coming up, can Michele Bachmann pull off an upset in Iowa? I'll ask her next.  And can Mitt Romney attract tea party support after South Carolina's governor endorses him?  We'll talk to Governor Nikki Haley. Bachmann and Haley, both up next after this brief commercial break.


MR. GREGORY:  We're back.  And joining me live from her bus tour in Iowa, 16 days to go until the caucuses, Republican presidential candidate Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.

Congresswoman, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

REP. BACHMANN:  Good morning, David.  A pleasure to be with you this morning.

MR. GREGORY:  So you heard Speaker Boehner.  My question to you is, under what circumstances would you support an extension of the payroll tax cut through 2012?

REP. BACHMANN:  Well, I didn't support it a year ago when it was first proposed, and the reason why I didn't is because it, it denied $111 billion to the Social Security trust fund.  I didn't think that that was a good thing to do last year.  I don't think it's a good thing to do this year.  And remember, the reason why President Obama proposed it in the first place was to create jobs.  There isn't one shred of evidence that that created jobs.  So it defeated its purpose, plus it's put senior citizens at risk by denying the $111 billion to the Social Security trust fund.

MR. GREGORY:  But the...

REP. BACHMANN:  All it's doing is adding to the debt.

MR. GREGORY:  The actuary for Social Security takes issue with that in terms of accelerating insolvency for Social Security.  And, you know, last, last summer during the debt fight, you made the point on this program that the debt ceiling should not be extended, in your view, because the American people were against extending it.  So, by that logic, Congresswoman, look at the polling. Fifty-eight percent of those polled favor extending the payroll tax cut.

REP. BACHMANN:  Well, if you go back to last summer, what we should have done is had all 535 members of Congress sit down together and deal with this problem of overspending because the question at that time was, should we raise the credit card limit so that the country can go an additional $2.4 trillion in debt?  That's all we're, we're doing right now.  We're putting our American people more and more in debt.  And I will tell you, all across Iowa, all across South Carolina, all across New Hampshire, people are so tired of seeing the government put them more in debt.  When I came into Congress in January of 2007, the country was $8.67 trillion in debt; today it's $15 trillion.  Next year it'll be $17 trillion.  We're acting like Greece and like Italy, and that's what people are frustrated with.  They want us to act like a first world nation, not like what President Barack Obama's doing.  He's acting like we're a banana republic.  We've got to get our act together and stop spending money that we don't have.

MR. GREGORY:  You're not--I mean, you're seriously calling the United States acting like a banana republic compared to the sort of debt issues that, that the eurozone countries have had?

REP. BACHMANN:  What, what I'm doing is I'm--what I'm doing is saying that what--the decisions that Barack Obama is making is acting like a banana republic.  It's absolutely irresponsible what President Obama is doing to get behind measures to, to increase spending to such a level that we're going into debt $1.5 trillion every year.  This compares to President George Bush.  Back in 2007, our debt for the entire year was $160 billion.

MR. GREGORY:  Congresswoman, that just misstates the record.

REP. BACHMANN:  Well, we topped that just in the month of November alone.

MR. GREGORY:  I mean, the Bush presidency, the...

REP. BACHMANN:  There's no comparison.  We're talking...

MR. GREGORY:  ...the, the debt--wait a minute, Congresswoman.

REP. BACHMANN:  David, let me just finish.

MR. GREGORY:  No, wait a minute.  I just want to stop you for accuracy.

REP. BACHMANN:  Let me just finish.  We're talking...

MR. GREGORY:  For accuracy, Congresswoman.

REP. BACHMANN:  ...we're talking 10 times.

MR. GREGORY:  For accuracy, the debt exploded under the Bush administration.

REP. BACHMANN:  For accuracy.  For accuracy.  David, David, then, then let me finish.  Do a comparison.  I agree with you that there was too much money that was spent under George Bush.  But for the year 2007, the debt for the year was $160 billion.  The debt for this last year was about $1 1/2 trillion.  That's almost 10 times more in debt than George Bush.  And just for the month of--for the month of, I think it's November of this year, it was more than the entire year for 2007.  So there's no question that the debt has just skyrocketed under, under President Obama in comparison to George Bush.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me just point out, I don't want to appear to be cutting you off.  Sometimes the satellite delay can exacerbate that, so I wanted to make sure you could finish your point.  Let me ask you about...

REP. BACHMANN:  Thank you.

MR. GREGORY:  ...Iowa.  What do you have to accomplish?  Do you have to win Iowa in order to keep going in this race?

REP. BACHMANN:  Well, I'm intending to win Iowa.  We're working very hard here, and we're seeing the momentum shift in my favor.  And we have endorsements coming out from people all across the state.  Just in the last few days--in the last five days, we've identified 1,500 new supporters.  So we're adding more and more people all the time, and we think we're going to do very well on January 3.

MR. GREGORY:  You've got to take on Newt Gingrich.  He's the front-runner there.  In the debate, you seemed to have a particularly tough exchange with him about some of the issues in this race, and I'm going to play a portion of that.

(Videotape, Thursday)

FMR. REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA):  Sometimes Congresswoman Bachmann doesn't get her facts very accurate.

REP. BACHMANN:  I think it's outrageous to, to continue to say over and over through the debates that I don't have my facts right when, as a matter of fact, I do.  I'm a serious candidate for president of the United States, and my facts are accurate.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Besides the normal debating of the issues, you, you took particular exception to the way he was speaking to you that night.  Do you think he was singling you out?  And why?

REP. BACHMANN:  Well, I do.  It was obvious that he was.  In the previous debate, Newt Gingrich had made a similar charge, and yet PolitiFact came out afterwards and said that I was right in what I said.  Newt Gingrich wasn't able to give any contrary argument to the fact that he did take $1.6 million from Freddie Mac.  And he took that money and then influenced senior Republicans to continue the practice of funding Freddie Mac.  I had also pointed out that Newt Gingrich himself had gone to the Republican National Committee and had urged them to not pull any financial support from any Republican candidates who were for the barbaric practice of partial birth abortion.  He wasn't able to deny either charge.  All he was able to do is say that I had my facts wrong.  My facts aren't wrong, it's just that he's memory challenged.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, you, you, you, you said that he was singling you out. You've also said this week that, you know, he sometimes talked to you as if you were a student of his.  Do you think sexism motivates him?  Again, your words were, "I am a serious contender for the presidency."

REP. BACHMANN:  Well, the--what he said sounded very condescending, and it sounded like he was talking down to me as though I was one of his students. I' not one of his students.  As I said, I am a serious candidate for the presidency.  If he disagrees with my assertion, then he needs to make that claim and put it on the table.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.

REP. BACHMANN:  But, the fact is, I'm right about take--about him taking $1.6 million for his work on behalf of continuing Freddie Mac.

MR. GREGORY:  The, the, the--in fairness to Speaker Gingrich, on the merits, there has been a lot of discussion about some of your assertions in the course of the debates.  PolitiFact put out a statement saying, in fact, they did not back up your particular assertions that you made with regard to Freddie Mac. And here in the Des Moines Register this morning and the endorsement for Mitt Romney, there's an observation...

REP. BACHMANN:  But, David, David, David...

MR. GREGORY:  ...about you--if I can just finish.

REP. BACHMANN:  ...what I said...

MR. GREGORY:  If I can just finish.

REP. BACHMANN:  David...

MR. GREGORY:  This is what the Des Moines Register writes this morning.  An observation about Michele Bachmann, "Overall impression:  An impressive fireball who can absorb and regurgitate tons of information, even if some of it turns out to be inaccurate."

REP. BACHMANN:  Well, and the Des Moines Register doesn't say what that inaccuracy would be.  They, they don't point that out.  And also, regarding what you just said prior, PolitiFact was regarding my statement regarding health care.  I had made a statement regarding health care.  They said that that was accurate.  I wasn't saying that it was regarding Freddie Mac.  But my comments regarding Freddie Mac are accurate.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me ask you about a discussion of the future of the judiciary.  This has come up as a big debating point in Iowa and on the stage the other night.  Here is what you said as that discussion went forward in the debate the other night.

(Videotape, Thursday)

REP. BACHMANN:  What we need to do we need to do about it is have the--both the president and the United States Congress take their authority back.  And I would agree with Newt Gingrich that I think that the Congress and the president of the United States have failed to take their authority because now we've gotten to the point where we think the final arbiter of law is the court system.  It isn't.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  I want to be clear here.  Would a President Bachmann ignore decisions that you disagreed with that were issued by the Supreme Court?

REP. BACHMANN:  No, we don't ignore those decisions.  But, again, we need to remember that the United States Congress and the president of the United States have the power and authority to pass law.  We have the idea that laws are ultimately made by courts today, but that isn't true.  It--the, the, the--Congress, together with the president can pass law and change what the, what the Supreme Court says.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.  But that...

REP. BACHMANN:  And also they have authority over the court system to limit them...

MR. GREGORY:  But that's a point of fact.  But nobody--but that's not in dispute, Congresswoman.  That's never been in dispute.  Of course Congress can pass laws.  The issue here is sort of an attack on the judiciary that do you believe that Supreme Court justices should be elected?  Would that solve the problem?

REP. BACHMANN:  No.  I--no.  The, the Constitution is set up the way that it should be.  The problem is the Supreme Court or other members of the court have passed decisions that aren't in conformity with our Constitution.  That's what we take issue with.  That's why it's important that the people have their representatives be able to pass laws as the president would sign in conformity with their will.  What's wrong is when judges make laws in conformity with their own opinion.  They can't make laws.  It's the Congress and the president that make laws.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, then what's the remedy?  How would you inject more accountability into the judiciary?

REP. BACHMANN:  Well, the best accountability is--would--if judges step across the line, there are--there are measures already contained within the Constitution, and the Congress needs to utilize those measures in the Constitution.

MR. GREGORY:  So it would be open season on judges who issue rulings that politicians don't agree with.

REP. BACHMANN:  Well, what do you mean by that?

MR. GREGORY:  I'm asking you what you mean.  In other words, if you--if there are decisions that you--if--it's up to President Bachmann or Congresswoman Bachmann as to whether the independent judge has made a decision that you think is wrong?

REP. BACHMANN:  Well, again, judges make their decisions, and then it's up to the legislatures if they want to overturn what that judge states, that's up to them to overturn that decision.

MR. GREGORY:  But that, that's the case now.  So why are we talking about it?

REP. BACHMANN:  That's what I am talking about, taking advantage of the power that they have and utilizing it.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me ask you quickly about foreign policy.  You had a back and forth with Congressman Paul about the threat that is posed by Iran.  What do you think is the best way to deal with that emerging threat?  And you don't believe that the United States can be in the lead in attacking Iran to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon, do you?

REP. BACHMANN:  We have a very serious problem on our hands.  I sit on the Intelligence Committee in the House of Representatives.  We have a very serious problem.  We have the IAEA report, which I have with me.  It was released in early November, and this tells the world from the International Atomic Energy Agency that there is a very real threat and a likelihood that Iran could very soon gain a nuclear weapon.

MR. GREGORY:  But my question...

REP. BACHMANN:  That's something that the world needs to grapple with.

MR. GREGORY:  ...what would you do, what would President Bachmann do to deter that threat?  You don't believe that the United States should lead an attack, do you?

REP. BACHMANN:  I would have every alternative and option on the table because Iran must never have a nuclear weapon because they have stated unequivocally once they gain a nuclear weapon, they will use that weapon to wipe Israel off of the map and they will use it against the United States.  As recently as August and September of this year, the president of Iran again declared that sentiment.  And if there's anything that history has taught us in the last 100 years, it is this, when a mad man speaks, we should listen. And I take this threat very seriously because, more than anything, I believe in the safety and the security of the American people.

MR. GREGORY:  But just to be clear, in 2008 you told your hometown paper, when this threat was still very present, that the United States cannot lead this effort because we have too much work to do in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Has your view changed?

REP. BACHMANN:  Why, I don't know what you're referring to, but this is my opinion is that we need to stand for our own safety and our own security.  And if you--if we have a nation that is intending to use a nuclear weapon against us or against our ally Israel, this will change the course of history forever. This must never happen.  We need to look this threat in the eye.  And the problem with Ron Paul is that his statements were very dangerous.  He was denying that--the International Atomic Energy report, first, that it existed; second, that it meant anything.  And this is something that's very real, very serious, and we need to take that on.  The next president of the United States needs to appreciate this threat and needs to know exactly what to do to address this threat.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  Congresswoman, we'll leave it there.  Thank you very much, as always.

REP. BACHMANN:  Thank you, David.

MR. GREGORY:  And coming up, Mitt Romney scores an endorsement from South Carolina's Governor Nikki Haley.  She joins us up next live to explain her decision.

Plus, will Haley's endorsement help Romney boost his prospects in a state where he's trailing Gingrich by double digits?  Or is it just raising expectations?  Mike Murphy thinks it is.  He joins me along with Washington Post columnist E.J.  Dionne.  We'll also talk about major moments in the campaign this week.  That's all after a break.


MR. GREGORY:  Joining me now, the Republican governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley.

Welcome to MEET THE PRESS, Governor.

GOV. HALEY:  Good morning, David.  It's great to be with you.

MR. GREGORY:  Thank you so much.  We have talked about your endorsement this week of Mitt Romney.  You've endorsed him for the presidency, which he was certainly--he welcomed warmly.  And when you spoke about it on Fox News, you said the following...

(Videotape, Friday)

GOV. HALEY:  You put all those candidates together, and you've got one perfect candidate, but you're never going to have a perfect candidate.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  None of us are perfect, why go out of your way to point that out when it comes to Mitt Romney?

GOV. HALEY:  No, it's not that I was pointing that out in terms of Mitt Romney.  I think it's pointing it out to all the candidates.  As you know, as you go through this process and we hear from day to day what one says and what one does, you know, it's reminding the public that, look, there is no perfect candidate.  But what we do need to do is say, what are the issues of the day? And what I know the issues of the day in South Carolina and as we hear across the country is jobs, the economy and spending.  And so that's where we need to keep our focus.

MR. GREGORY:  The question about whether he's a perfect candidate comes down to who's the most conservative candidate and, as you know, that's a real area of concern in your state and among conservatives generally when it comes to Mitt Romney.  This is how it looks in South Carolina right now.  It's the former speaker, Gingrich, at 41 percent to Romney's 21 percent.  You said Romney is a different candidate than he was in 2008 when conservatives were particularly unhappy with him.  How so?

GOV. HALEY:  Well, you know what I noticed was, in 2008, he was very much a candidate that was focused on winning.  He knew his issues.  In 2011, I'm looking at a leader.  This is a man who knows how he's going to lead in the first 30 days.  He knows what he wants to accomplish in the first six months. It's no longer about talking points with him.  He's had four years to really think about what has gone wrong and what needs to go right.  And let's be clear, this is not just about picking a conservative candidate.  This is about looking at Washington, seeing that it is getting in complete chaos, saying we can't have anybody associated with Washington because we need someone to go in there and fix the problems.  What I know about Mitt Romney is he's taken broken businesses, and he's fixed them.  He took a failing Olympics and he made it a successful source of pride for our country.  And he went in as a governor of a state, balanced his budget, cut taxes 19 times, and he did it with an 85 percent Democrat legislature.  That says a lot, and that's a lot what Washington needs right now.

MR. GREGORY:  You have--governor, you were critical of former Speaker Gingrich after his appearance this May on MEET THE PRESS when he criticized Paul Ryan's Medicare reform plan.  What to you is disqualifying about Speaker Gingrich as the nominee of the party?

GOV. HALEY:  You know, it's not about--I'm not going to put someone down to make Mitt Romney look better.  What I will tell you is all the candidates have good positive attributes.  What was a big factor for me was I didn't want anybody associated with Washington.  And I wanted someone that knew what it was like to make real decisions, not just to vote, but actually make decisions.  Because, as a former legislator, I now see as governor it's very different when you make a vote vs. actually making decisions.

MR. GREGORY:  You look at the polling there, and I've talked to Republicans around the country who say, you know, winning the primary in South Carolina, one advantage a candidate can have is if you're from the South.  Do you think Rick Perry will be a formidable obstacle to Mitt Romney winning South Carolina?

GOV. HALEY:  You know, I think South Carolina, what we saw over this past weekend was people were on fire, they were excited about Mitt Romney, they loved what he had to say.  We had packed rooms, overflowing crowds; and so, you know, every candidate's out there trying to connect with the people of South Carolina.  And what I can tell you is the people of South Carolina are very smart, very educated on their issues.  They vet their candidates very well, and I know, at the end of the day, they're going to go with who they feel is right.  I strongly believe that when they hear what Mitt Romney has done, not what he's going to do, but what has--but what he's done and then his vision for the country, I think you're going to see Mitt Romney do very well in South Carolina.

MR. GREGORY:  You have tea party backing, which is one of the reasons that Romney was so pleased to get your endorsement, hoping to get some of that backing as well in South Carolina.  But, as you look at your own approval rate in the state, it is rather low, almost 35 percent, lower ratings in fact than President Obama in South Carolina.  And there's been something of a revolt against you among tea partiers who feel that this is a betrayal of that support from the tea party by endorsing Romney.

GOV. HALEY:  Well, first of all, I'll tell you you're referring to a local poll that also said that President Obama was going to win South Carolina, and I think everybody knows this is one of the reddest of the red states.  And in a time where he's showing he's falling in swing states, I just don't believe that to be accurate.  Having said that, polls are polls and, you know, we never govern on polls, we never put a lot of weight on polls.

If you look at the tea party, what I can tell you is, there's no such thing as a tea party candidate.  You can get support from the tea party.  I have great respect for the tea party.  And what they care about is they care about their freedoms, they care about their liberties, they care about the 10th Amendment, and they care about government understanding and elected officials understanding you work for the people, not the other way around.  And they want someone that understands the value of a dollar.  So you will see they won't vote in a block.  They will very much make their own decisions up because tea party members are Republicans, Democrats and independents who want elected officials to remember exactly who it is that they work for.

MR. GREGORY:  You're, you're endorsing Mitt Romney.  Is he the odds-on favorite to be the nominee in your view?

GOV. HALEY:  Absolutely.  You know, and the reason is, you have to look at the times of the day.  The number one issue is jobs, spending, and the economy.  We are looking at a broken Washington.  We need someone to go in there and fix it.  This man has continued to fix everything he's ever touched, whether it was the private sector, whether it was volunteering in the Olympics, whether it was going and, and taking a liberal state like Massachusetts.  He was successful every time.  And now is a time where we have to say, what do we care about?  We care about jobs.  We need someone that understands if you give a person a job you take care of a family.  We've got a lot of families in this country we've got to take care of.

MR. GREGORY:  And quickly, governor, he's--Mitt Romney has been supportive of your election efforts.  Would you serve as a, a running mate if you were asked?

GOV. HALEY:  Absolutely not.  I am very thrilled to be the governor of the state of South Carolina.  I made a promise to the people of this state, and I intend on keeping it.

MR. GREGORY:  So, if you, if, if you were asked, you would not serve on the ticket?

GOV. HALEY:  No, I would not.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  Governor, we'll leave it there.  Thank you very much.

GOV. HALEY:  Thank you very much.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, let's turn now to columnist for the Washington Post, E.J.  Dionne, as well as Republican strategist and columnist for Time magazine Mike Murphy.

Welcome to you both.  Whew!  Big exhale.  That was a lot to discuss and a lot to chew on.

Mike Murphy...


MR. GREGORY:  ...the major moment of the week still is about Gingrich vs. Romney and that...

MR. MURPHY:  Right.

MR. GREGORY:  ...tete-a-tete, still a two-person race?

MR. MURPHY:  Oh, very much so, with some Ron Paul support in Iowa.  You know, we're finally, thank goodness, getting away from all the polls.  There's the, you know, Varney poll, the--this poll to that poll.  People are going to actually vote pretty soon, or at least or in Iowa they're going to caucus. And I think all we really know now, because it's very turbulent and these votes can swing, in a Republican primary in the last two weeks a lot can happen, and the caucus works a lot like a primary.  We know the people showing up with real strength are Gingrich--which is a surprise, I didn't see that one coming, you got to give Newt a little credit--Romney, who's always been kind of the establishment, you know, there either first or second guy almost in every poll, and this Ron Paul surge, which I think has a ceiling on it, but it is there in Iowa.

MR. GREGORY:  Romney vs. Gingrich, E.J., this week on the debate stage it was hands off.  Romney did not go after Gingrich because the feeling was in the Romney camp he's a pretty good counter puncher.  But, if you're watching television in Iowa, you see Romney's super PAC, those outside groups putting up an ad like this.

(Videotape from Romney campaign ad)

Narrator:  Newt has a ton of baggage.  He was fined $300,000 for ethics violations and took $1.6 million from Freddie Mac before it helped cause the economic meltdown.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Going for the jugular.

MR. E.J.  DIONNE:  Well, Newt is coming under and avalanche of negative advertising in Iowa.  Ron Paul also has a very--has had very, very tough advertising on the air.  I think what you're seeing here is, if you will, the revenge of the base in the Republican Party that they have--their votes have been used--Republicans have used incendiary, Gingrich-style rhetoric to win elections, but now that the real guy is there, the establishment is saying no. And there are two weeks to Iowa.  They have a lot of time to blackball Newt Gingrich and knock him out.  And so the question is did this peak in a way that helps or hurts Romney?  You can argue that if Gingrich falls, Paul gets a big vote, Bachmann gets some vote, Romney actually has a chance of winning in Iowa.  But there is this--I still think in the base there is this pushback against the establishment, and if they go after Newt really hard, there'll be a swing-back to him among some of the most conservative Republicans.

MR. GREGORY:  You saw, in terms of defining moments of the week, this debate about the Freddie Mac money that Gingrich received.  Romney said, "Well, you know, you ought to give that back." Newt Gingrich had a rejoinder, and this was it.


FMR. REP. GINGRICH:  I would just say that if Governor Romney would like to give back all the money he's earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain that I would be glad to then listen to him.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Wow.  I mean, a lot of people thought President Obama couldn't have made the point any better, a real assault on capitalism.  Not a normal Republican's thought.

MR. MURPHY:  I agree.  That's the problem.  You generally don't go with the Marxist line in Republican primaries.  I think, I think Newt's already started to backtrack off that.  And one caution I'd put is, you know, the, the horse race stuff that we all enjoy is so immediate.  This is a delegate contest.  It could go a long, long time.  The real question's going to be the whole month of January.  What happens when Florida, which is critical, Iowa critical, New Hampshire critical, and South Carolina's a factor.  So we're going to start the actual voting, and that's a longer process than the daily ups and downs.

MR. GREGORY:  And when we talk about Iowa, E.J., a Republican I spoke to this week said, look, if Michele Bachmann, if Ron Paul, even Rick Perry, can make some mark in Iowa, it could make that Gingrich victory seems smaller.  And, after all, you're talking about a small percentage of delegates that are apportioned after the first four contests.

MR. DIONNE:  You know, it's so bizarre the way presidential politics and punditry works.  If someone had said a month ago, "Well, Newt Gingrich won't win a big enough victory at Iowa," people would have said, "You're crazy." And then if Newt Gingrich emerges winning Iowa at all, he has already proven something.  And he comes into New Hampshire I think, I think pretty strong. And then, then the question is, does this same logic go back and hurt Romney? Romney was ahead of Gingrich by 30 points in New Hampshire.

MR. MURPHY:  But I think, you know, what's really changed in the last 20 days, and this change counts because we're close to an actual election, is Romney's sky-high expectations are now down.  New Hampshire can break Romney if he doesn't win, I believe.  But now a smaller Romney win means a lot more than it did three or four weeks ago.  So this expectations calculator has been reset by the Gingrich surge.

MR. GREGORY:  But do we have a real sense--and this is the question I asked Speaker Boehner, and, and, you know, he sort of answered it, I guess--what's going on in the Republican Party?  Can we really say--in our poll, this was so interesting.  We'll put it up on the screen.  Seventy percent of Republicans call themselves conservatives.  Fifty-seven percent of Republicans believe Gingrich is one of them, but only 29 percent of Republicans believe Romney is one of them.  The conservative wing of the Republican Party is a lot more volatile this year.

MR. MURPHY:  Right.  It is.  It's energized.  They see Romney, to some extent, as a Northeastern Republican, which is a bad thing in conservative politics.  And Newt is doing what, what I call the old Nixon '68 trick, which is he's really not--he's been both places in his career.  He's been a moderate, he's been more conservative.  But his tone is, is appealing to conservatives.  Newt is selling a ticket to a debate in October where he's implying he'll stand up and do what the hearts of a lot of angry Republican primary voters want, which is turn to President Obama, "You Keynesian socialist," and chew him out, outdebate him, and that's incredibly emotionally attractive to the party.  Whether or not that will stick, though, over this longer process for Newt is a big, open question.

MR. GREGORY:  And, E.J., isn't it amazing?  You've been covering Newt Gingrich for a long time.  The speaker of the House, John Boehner, who was in leadership with him, as well as all the rest, frankly, nobody's stepped up and said, "I know him the best; he could be president." The feeling, in fact, what they say privately is he doesn't have the leadership skills nor does he have the temperament to be president.  That's what they say privately.

MR. DIONNE:  And it's even--it's, it's quite astonishing the things you hear off the record from Republicans about Newt Gingrich.  But, again, what strikes me is that a lot of these same traits that they are now deriding when it looks like Gingrich might tank them against Barack Obama...

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. DIONNE:  ...were traits when liberals pointed them out in 1994 and 1995, they said, "No, no, no, you're missing the whole story.  He is visionary."


MR. DIONNE:  "He has self-confidence." Now, self-confidence is hubris.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  Let me take a quick break here because I want to talk about the president, and how he stacks up in all of this as we keep our eyes as well on...(audio difficulties).  We'll be back as well with our Trends and Takeaways, a look at what was said here today and the politically hot stories trending this very morning.  Right after this.


MR. GREGORY:  I want to get back to our stop story, the drama in Washington over the payroll tax cut extension.  This is still a pitched battle between congressional Republicans and the White House.  The speaker of the House, John Boehner, on the program this morning said the following:


REP. BOEHNER:  It's pretty clear that I and our members oppose the Senate bill.  It's only for two months.  You know, the president said we shouldn't go on vacation until we get our work done; and, frankly, House Republicans agree. I believe that two month is, two months is just kicking the can down the road.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  So, E.J., what's going to happen here?  I mean, that was significant that he, he said this morning that he disagrees with what the Senate did.  It looked like that was moving toward conclusion.

MR. DIONNE:  I think it was a very shrewd way for John Boehner to try to deflect the, the fact that House Republicans might allow the payroll tax to increase on January 1st, and he doesn't want that impression out there.  And I still think, in the end, it's going to be very hard for Republicans to sit there and say, "Yes, we'll let this tax increase go through because it's not over a long enough period and we don't like the provision on the Keystone Oil Pipeline."

MR. GREGORY:  Right.  And how is this resonating, do you think?

MR. MURPHY:  Well, I--you know, all I'd do is keep looking at this polls showing an 8 percent approval rating.  I saw one at 6 where the margin of error was 7.

MR. GREGORY:  To be fair, it's 9, it's 9 percent.

MR. MURPHY:  I saw--I saw a 6...

MR. GREGORY:  You saw lower than that yesterday.

MR. MURPHY:  ...which is lot lower than...

MR. DIONNE:  Which, as you pointed out, was below journalists.

MR. GREGORY:  Yeah, then you're in trouble.  I get it, yeah.

MR. MURPHY:  ...lower than the margin of error, which means it's statistically impossible to find anybody in the United States who approves of Congress.  So how bad can it get?

MR. GREGORY:  More broadly, this is also a question about the president.  And he's defending his work on the economy.  He did keep a campaign promise on Iraq with the final troops coming out today.  What does he face and how does he stack up as his campaign rolls out, Mike?

MR. MURPHY:  Well, it's like a balance sheet.  On one hand, the country wants to fire him as president.  His polls are lousy, mostly because of the economy. He's the top guy, buck stops somewhere.  He's been ineffective on the economy, joblessness, they want to fire him.  On the other side of the equation, what are the Republicans going to do because, ultimately, it's a race against somebody.  I think a lot of Republican professionals are worried about Newt as nominee for that reason.  I've heard people talk about even losing the House, so that's an issue.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. MURPHY:  And second, the Obama campaign has a lot of money and a Chicago attitude, so I think it's going to be a very aggressive campaign from him and very negative.  So I think it's a fair fight.  It could go either way, depending on who we nominate.

MR. GREGORY:  See, now I thought it was interesting as well, with Speaker Boehner, if you look at the jobless numbers in Ohio, and they are, they're coming down--sorry, the jobless rate is coming down.  The question in this campaign is going to be about who gets credit for any improvements in the economy.  Is it going to be tougher for Republicans to make the case against his president if there's a trend line moving in his favor?

MR. DIONNE:  Well, I think for the very reasons Mike said, if there is improvement in the economy, it's going to help Barack Obama, just as if there's a downturn again, it's going to hurt Barack Obama.  But I think two things have happened to help him.  One is he looks a whole lot stronger today than he did in August when the whole fight over the debt ceiling made him look weak.  He started making an argument and he's made it quite consistently with a kind of discipline that he hadn't had before, because he doesn't like to repeat the same speech.  He stayed, he stayed on it.  And then you have this Republican primary.  And whatever comes out of this, I think the image of the Republican Party is--has been weakened by the nature of this fight and the problems of Herman Cain and the problems of Rick Perry.  I think that it's not a permanent thing but it undercuts their foundation.

MR. GREGORY:  Let, let me look quickly at our Trend Tracker, the top political stories that are trending this morning.  The Romney endorsement certainly big, the Iraq War ending, as we've covered throughout the hour, and this payroll tax cut, which is a story that's going to play out, of course, today, and I think into the early part of the week.

Thank you, both, as always.

MR. DIONNE:  Good to be with you.

MR. MURPHY:  Thank you.

MR. GREGORY:  And happy holidays.

MR. DIONNE:  You, too.

MR. MURPHY:  You, too.

MR. GREGORY:  Before you go, I should point out here, be sure to watch our Press Pass conversation on our blog.  This week it's about the intersection between politics and the arts.  I spoke with Holland Taylor, an actress familiar to many as she starred in major roles on the big and small screen, "Two and a Half Men," one of my personal favorites, I have to point out, "Bosom Buddies." Remember "Bosom Buddies"?  But she's now starring in a new one-woman play as the late legendary governor of Texas, Ann Richards.  You can see that on our blog,

That is all for today.  We'll be back next week on Christmas morning with a special discussion about the state of the country and a look ahead to politics in the new year:  Tom Brokaw, Tom Friedman, Marc Morial, and Kathleen Parker. That's next Sunday.  Until then, have a happy holiday week.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.