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Meet the Press transcript for April 1, 2012

MS. SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: This Sunday, a high-stakes Tuesday primary. Rick Santorum's ground game, storming for votes in Wisconsin and making the common man contrast with Mitt Romney.


FMR. SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R-PA): Now it's time for Wisconsin to do what I did the other day in Sheboygan, not just bowl one strike, not just bowl two strikes, but to bowl three strikes in a row and knock Obama out of the game.

(End videotape)

MS. GUTHRIE: But Romney strikes back, winning endorsements from some of the marquee names in Republican politics as his supporters warn of the dire consequences of a continuing fight.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): There is no way that anyone can convince me that having a floor fight at the convention in Tampa in August is a recipe for victory in November. On the contrary, I think it's a recipe for disaster.

(End videotape)

MS. GUTHRIE: Can Rick Santorum broaden his support and make the case that a bruising convention fight won't hand a victory to President Obama? We'll ask him.

Plus, President Obama's historic healthcare legislation in critical condition. A skeptical Supreme Court questions whether it's constitutional. What effect will the fate of health care have on the fall campaign? The senior Democratic Senator from New York and member of the Judiciary Committee Chuck Schumer joins us live.

And finally, a special MEET THE PRESS roundtable led by MSNBC's Joe Scarborough. Insights and analysis on the politics of 2012 with Tom Friedman and David Brooks from The New York Times, contributing editor for Time magazine Jon Meacham, former Democratic Congressman Harold Ford, and MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski.

Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory. Substituting today, Savannah Guthrie and Joe Scarborough.

MS. GUTHRIE: Good morning. The final 48 hours before the key Wisconsin primary.

(Videotape, yesterday)

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA): This was an uphill battle for me if you looked back three or four weeks ago and now we're looking like we're going to win this thing.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, yesterday)

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I ask you to walk out of here and not just vote for us, but over the next three days, shake this place up.

(End videotape)

MS. GUTHRIE: Well, Tuesday could be Rick Santorum's last chance to shake up the race and joins us now from Wisconsin.

Senator Santorum, good morning and welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

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

MS. GUTHRIE: Well, you have spent the week bowling and shuffleboarding your way through Wisconsin. Yet our poll has Romney ahead by 7 points. My question to you is, you call yourself the candidate of the Rust Belt of the Midwest. Can you afford to lose another Midwestern state and still make the argument that you're the candidate who can win these battlegrounds in the general election?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, you look at the voters that we're attracting, there's the voters that are--were the key to the Reagan coalition of winning Ohio and Indiana and Wisconsin and places like that. They're lower income, they're folks who, who are blue collar workers that, that were the Reagan Democrats and the Reagan moderates, if you will, that joined us. And that's the kind of votes we're getting here. We're, you know, if you look at the crowds, you look at even the polls, we feel very, very comfortable that, you know, we're going to do very, very well here in Wisconsin. And we've done exceptional. We're being outspent here again, 4 or 5 to 1, not as bad as we were in Ohio and, and, and Illinois, but still, the fact that we're hanging in there, in spite of the barrage of money, the barrage of the insiders and Washington folks saying, you know, this race is over, this race is over. I think it's amazing, frankly. And I'm so excited and so thrilled the people of Wisconsin are standing by us.

MS. GUTHRIE: Well, Reince Priebus, the RNC chair who's a Wisconsinite and officially neutral, had this to say, "Whoever wins Wisconsin is going to have some really serious bragging rights. I think the election on Tuesday is going to be pivotal in making the determination on ending the nomination fight." Would you agree? Is Wisconsin do or die for you?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I don't think Wisconsin is do or die, but I, I think he is right. I think it's, it's going to be a strong signal. And look, when--I keep coming back to the fact that when, you know, you look at the odds, they're against us. I mean, you know, I, I think David would like to have these, these odds vs. Goliath, I think. I mean, this is--this is a Herculean task that we're involved in and it's going well. We're--we have--we've made record numbers of phone calls out of our victory--out of our campaign offices. We have volunteers flowing in like we've never seen before, really since Iowa. I mean, the, the grassroots effort here has really been spectacular and the response that a lot of folks don't want this race to be over. There's one thing worse than a convention and that is a, you know, a convention fight and that's picking the wrong, the wrong candidate, not picking the best candidate to give us the best chance to win.

MS. GUTHRIE: Let's talk about that in a moment, but first, let's look ahead into April 24th, the Pennsylvania primary. The latest poll we have out of there has you in a statistical dead heat with Mitt Romney. Would you be willing to acknowledge as Newt Gingrich did with regard to Georgia, that if you can't win in your home state, you have no business in this race?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I think we're going to win our home state. There were two polls out since then that have us up 20 and 17, so the one that has it up two when Governor Corbett, who's the governor right now, was running in a primary, that poll had him dead heat with his challenger and he won by like 30 points. So you know, that poll is always, frankly, an outlier and when I saw--I just laughed because it's never right. So I actually felt good when I saw that poll.

MS. GUTHRIE: But to--but to the larger point--OK, but you, you agree Pennsylvania's a must win for you.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Pennsylvania's got--we have to win Pennsylvania.


FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: And we're going to win Pennsylvania. I have no doubt about that.

MS. GUTHRIE: Senator Rubio said this week that the moment that you acknowledge that you can't get to 1144 delegates, that magic number, quote "the primary is over." You have said it is likely you won't get to 1144. My question to you is, if Romney has more delegates by your math and everyone else's math, if he's won more states, he's won the popular vote, and even by your own admission, it's the longest of long shots for you to get to 1144, why isn't it time to step aside?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, first off, it's not the longest of long shots. So many of the delegates who are coming to the convention are unbound delegates. So this idea that Governor Romney has all of these delegates and this huge lead, we just--you know, the numbers just don't bear that out.

MS. GUTHRIE: Would you acknowledge he's the most...

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: We actually are doing much better than what the...

MS. GUTHRIE: Would you acknowledge he's the most likely nominee, as Newt Gingrich did this week?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, he's ahead right now, but less than half the votes have--half the delegates have been selected. You know, just go back four years ago. Governor Romney was still in the race at this point. In other words, when this percentage of delegates had been selected, Governor Romney was still in the race and he wasn't doing nearly as well as we were.


FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: And so I, I just think, you know, we have, we have a lot of panic out there among the establishment because the establishment has tried to convince the Republicans across this country and conservatives across this country that they, they need Mitt Romney shoved down their throat and they're trying everything they can. They're not--they're not making the sale on the money, on the endorsements, they're not making the sale on the policies and what he's standing for because he's all over the map. So they have to make the case of inevitability and I can tell you, as you saw a poll came out this week that 60-plus percent of the people in the Republican Party don't want me to get out of this race because they want a conservative. And right now this is--the chance is Rick Santorum and hopefully we'll show that here in Wisconsin.

MS. GUTHRIE: You mentioned party leaders panicking. I guess the question is at what cost your continued presence in the race and Marco Rubio said quote to NBC News, "I think it would be very exciting for junkies to watch a contested convention. I think it will be very exciting for the Obama campaign to witness and I think it will be very catastrophic for Republicans." This is the judgment of your colleagues in the Republican Party. Are you blind to the potential damage of a contested convention? Do you really think it will not cause harm to your party come November?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: All I'm saying is I--this, that four years ago we had a nominee in March. How did that work out for us when we didn't have the right nominee. The Democrats went into the middle of the summer, fighting it out, slugging it out. The Democrat establishment was saying the same thing. Oh, we've got to end this, it's going to hurt us, it's going to hurt us. No, it doesn't. What, what hurts us is not getting the right candidate. And right now we've got to get the right candidate. And I would make the argument the shorter this campaign, the shorter this campaign in the general election, the better advantage for, for the, for the Republican nominee because you neutralize President Obama's huge money advantage going into the fall and no matter who the candidate is...


FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: ...President Obama's going to have a huge money advantage going into the fall.

MS. GUTHRIE: Fair enough. But, you know, you would acknowledge that there will come a time or place where you might be able to recognize that it's time to step aside. I mean, is there any point before Tampa where you think you'll be able to see that? Are you capable of knowing that, that you're potentially in there doing more damage than good?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, you know, all I would say is that, you know, last time around, Mike Huckabee stayed in the race until John McCain got the required number of votes and then he got out because it was important to go out and make--give, give conservatives the best chance to have a conservative nominee. And we're going to go out and, and fight to make sure that we have the best chance to win this general election and the best chance is to do--remember, Savannah, only one time in the last, almost 120 years has a Republican defeated a Democratic incumbent for president. One time. Almost every single time the establishment said let's run a moderate, we have to win by appealing to moderates because we have to, we have to get this horrible president out, no matter who the president was. And guess what? The only one time that we won was Ronald Reagan. And the moderates there were saying the same thing, we gotta win, we gotta win. We can't win with this conservative. And it's the only time we've won.

MS. GUTHRIE: Let's button this...

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: That's the lesson we need to learn in 2012.

MS. GUTHRIE: Let's button this up quickly. Is there any scenario you can see in which you leave the race before Tampa?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I would say it's--you know, I, I go back to what Governor Huckabee's motto was, if Governor Romney gets that, that required number then, you know, we--without a doubt, if he's, if he's at that number, we'll step, you know, we'll step aside. But right now, you know, he's not there, he's not even close to it. Like I said, less than half the delegates have been selected, we've got a long way to go and we're going to fight the fight to make sure we can win. This is about winning, this isn't about a cause, this is about making sure we have the best candidate to take on Barack Obama, not the author of, of the first government takeover of health care that led to the second one at the federal level. That's the problem with governor--major problem with Governor Romney's campaign is that he has--he takes the biggest issue in this race and takes it off the table, and we can't as Republicans afford to let that happen.

MS. GUTHRIE: Let's talk about some of the endorsements Mitt Romney has gotten. He had Paul Ryan this week, Senator Marco Rubio, he's got all the leading members of the Republican Party past and present. You've been dismissive of these endorsements, but at what point does this not reflect on you somewhat? These are members of your party who have made a judgment that it's Romney, not Senator Santorum, who has what it takes to win.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: If you listen to the endorsements, you know, they, they all say that, you know, the race has to end, the same argument we've just been discussing here. It's not a great endorsement of Governor Romney, it's, it's saying, well, you know, we need to end this. And I would just say this, everybody's entitled to a mistake in their life, you know, Rubio and Ryan are pretty young, I mean, they'll, they'll recover from it and...

MS. GUTHRIE: Their endorsement's a rare mistake?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: know, our, our feeling is that--oh, absolutely, of course. Anybody endorses my opponent is a mistake, they should be endorsing me. But we're getting the endorsements of people across the state of Wisconsin. We picked up some key state senators and House members and former speaker of the House here. I mean, the grassroots folks, that's, that's the folks that matter. And people are actually going to go out and work, they're going to actually put their organizations in place and, and help us out as opposed to, you know, the folks who aren't even here in the state of Wisconsin. Many of them he's gotten the endorsement aren't even going to have a vote on Tuesday.

MS. GUTHRIE: Senator, you talk so much and derisively about the establishment. Are you not a member of the establishment? You have spent almost your entire career in elected politics in Washington, D.C. But let's put your reputation as a straight talker to the, to the test here. Are you not a career politician and member of the establishment?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, if you go back and look at my record, I was sort of the guy that was mixing it up in--when I was in the House and in the Senate and I don't think anyone would call me a member of the establishment when we were the person who put in term limits, for example, for committee chairmen and for leaders, something that had never been done before, someone who exposed scandal after scandal when I was in Congress, someone who took away the, the subsidized haircuts and the, and the subsidized meals of members of Congress. We were someone who went out there and fought for the, for the little guy. I was always a big manufacturing guy, energy guy, and we, we, we were the conservative firebrand, not someone who was a go-along, get-along politician. And look, I understand a lot of these folks who are, you know, inside the bubble in Washington, D.C. You know, look, I can understand it because I was there at one point in time and, you know, you lose perspective. And it's a group think there. And it was a great blessing for me to be out for the last six years, to, to get a chance of what--see what's--and feel what's really going on across America, and we're reflecting that in this campaign.

MS. GUTHRIE: Well, we got to leave it there. Senator Rick Santorum, thank you for your time, sir. We appreciate it.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Thanks, Savannah.

MS. GUTHRIE: And coming up, the president's signature healthcare legislation faced tough constitutional questions this week at the Supreme Court. Will the lobby upheld, and if not, what's plan B for the president and Democrats? New York Senator Chuck Schumer will join me live. Plus, the Wisconsin GOP primary just two days away. We'll have a key endorsement in the Republican race right here when we come back.


MS. GUTHRIE: Coming up, we'll go back to Wisconsin for a live presidential endorsement. Then, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer on the fight over health care and the president's re-election effort. Up next after this brief commercial break.


MS. GUTHRIE: And we're back. Before we go to Senator Chuck Schumer in New York, we wanted to spend a few more minutes on the Republican race for the White House with the high-stakes Wisconsin primary just two days away now. And joining me live from Milwaukee is Wisconsin's freshman Republican Senator Ron Johnson. He was elected with strong tea party support in 2010 and until this morning has remained uncommitted in the Republican presidential race. So, Senator, I know you're here to break some news this morning, throw your support behind a candidate. So without further ado, who will you be supporting?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): Well, Mitt, Mitt Romney. And, and good morning, Savannah. I'm, I'm, I'm a business guy from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I had 33 years experience in the private sector, I've been in Washington now for 15 months and I certainly understand a big part of our problem is the fact that this president and members of his administration have no private sector experience whatsoever, and Governor Romney has 25 years of experience in the private sector, plus he has executive experience in, in government. And I, I never did intend to endorse anybody, but I've had the opportunity to meet with Governor Romney over the last couple weeks, have long phone conversations with him, and I've come away from those conversations fully convinced that Governor Romney is the person to lead our party, to lead our nation. He fully understands the gravity of our financial situation, he is dedicated toward solving those problems. He is ready, willing and able to lead this nation, unlike President Obama. So no, today I'm happy to announce my full support and my endorsement of Governor Romney to be the next president of the United States.

And I'm looking forward to working with Governor Romney and his team in my new role. I've been asked by Leader McConnell to lead an effort to coordinate our agenda and our message in the House, the Senate, with our presidential candidate so that we can communicate to the voters of America the very clear choice in our approach. You know, we actually want to realign the private sector, we know that it's freedom and the free market system vs. President Obama's approach of growing government, growing government intrusion in our lives. So, you know, I'm, I'm looking forward to making sure that President Obama is a one-term president.

MS. GUTHRIE: Well, let me ask you, do you think Senator Santorum and Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul should get out at this point?

SEN. JOHNSON: Well, listen, this is nothing negative about the other candidates. I've got a great deal of respect for, for those individuals that love this country, that have actually exposed themselves to this, this process that's not particularly fun. You know, you're putting your life on hold, you're putting your life under a microscope. So this is nothing negative against--about the other candidates. It's just a recognition of the fact that Governor Romney has won more delegates. He's the only person that really has a chance to take those--the winning number of delegates into the convention. We have seven months before the election. Our top priority as fiscal conservatives is to make sure that President Obama retires because he has utterly failed to lead.

MS. GUTHRIE: Very...

SEN. JOHNSON: Savannah, he's peak--go ahead.

MS. GUTHRIE: Very, very quickly. Do you think it's dangerous for the Republican Party's prospects in November to have this primary process continue on and perhaps into a contested convention?

SEN. JOHNSON: Well, listen, we've had a spirited debate. I think, I think it is time to end this so that we can spend the next seven months pointing out the fact that President Obama has failed to lead. He's had four budgets now. He has not proposed a solution to save Social Security and Medicare. His budget last year lost in the United States Senate zero-to-97. Last week his budget lost zero-to-414. That is a stunning repudiation of his leadership. We need a leader. America hungers for leadership. President Obama is not providing that. It is time to change the direction of this country, and that's why, that's why I'm coming out urging the voters of Wisconsin, let's lead. Let's, let's show that this is the time to bring this process to the--to an end so we can focus our attention on retiring President Obama.

MS. GUTHRIE: All right. Senator Johnson, thank you for your time this morning, sir. We appreciate it.

SEN. JOHNSON: Thanks for having me on.

MS. GUTHRIE: And we will turn now to the chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the senior senator from New York, Chuck Schumer.

Senator, good morning to you, and welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Good morning, Savannah. Glad to be back.

MS. GUTHRIE: Well, let's talk about the president's healthcare law. And if a picture tells a story better than a thousand words, we can take a look at The Week and the cover. It says of the healthcare plan, "A grim prognosis: the Supreme Court's skeptical scrutiny of Obamacare."

Would you acknowledge, sir, that the president's healthcare law is in peril this morning of being overturned?

SEN. SCHUMER: No, I would not acknowledge that. You know, I've been on the Judiciary Committee for 30 years in the House and the Senate, and one thing I've learned, you can't tell by the questioning as to how the court is going to rule. There was a case a few years ago, the Voting Rights Act case, very important. The questioning was really hostile. It was supported 8-to-1. When the Courts of Appeals looked at the healthcare case, very conservative justices, judges, Judge Silberman in the D.C. circuit, Judge Sutton in the Sixth Circuit asked the same kind of hostile questions and then ruled for the law.

And let me say this, Savannah, should the Supreme Court overturn this law, it would be so far out of the mainstream that the court would be the most activist in a century. Let's look at it. For the last century, the Commerce Clause has been regarded as a ability of the federal government to do many things. The height was the Wickard back in 1942, 70 years ago, never been repudiated, where they told a farmer that he couldn't grow as much wheat as he wanted. As recently as 2005, in the Raich case about medical marijuana, Justice Scalia himself...


SEN. SCHUMER: ...confirmed this case.

MS. GUTHRIE: Well, that brings me to my question, actually.

SEN. SCHUMER: And so the bottom line...

MS. GUTHRIE: Because, because of those writings, I think a lot of administration lawyers were quite confident that they would get perhaps not an easy ride but not so rough a ride in the Supreme Court as they did this week.


MS. GUTHRIE: But here you have Justice Kennedy...


MS. GUTHRIE: ...a swing vote on these issues, doesn't seem the administration can win without him, he's openly skeptical and said there is something unprecedented about what the administration did here.

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I would say this, anyone who judges how the Court is going to rule based on the questions hasn't looked at the history of the questions before and then the results.

MS. GUTHRIE: Would you consider a 5-to-4 decision along ideological lines in either direction the result of an activist court, as you say?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I would say this, to overturn this law would be a very activist Court. You know, starting to Bush v. Gore and then with Citizens United where they took 100 years of precedent and allowed corporations and others to put so much money into campaigns when they hadn't been allowed before...

MS. GUTHRIE: And to uphold it on those same ideological lines...


MS. GUTHRIE: that just as activist in your mind?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, the bottom line is that there is a broad tradition of support for extension of the Commerce Clause, as I mentioned, as recently as 2005 a very broad case. So, yes, it would truly...

MS. GUTHRIE: Yeah, but there are two cases in the '90s that reined in the Commerce Clause, correct?

SEN. SCHUMER: You know, well...

MS. GUTHRIE: The Lopez and the Morrison case.

SEN. SCHUMER: Yeah, but those are--the Lopez case, that was in 2000s, but it's totally different, and that's because it had no effect on interstate commerce. If you want to make a law about a gun near a school, that doesn't affect interstate commerce. Health care, of course, does. It's 16 percent and half, 16 1/2 percent of the economy. If they were to throw out the healthcare law, things like Medicare, Social Security, food safety laws could be in jeopardy on the very same grounds. It would be a dramatic, 180 degree turn of the tradition of the Commerce Clause.

MS. GUTHRIE: Well, I know you and I are enjoying this constitutional law seminar we're running this morning, but let's look at this as a lay person. If you're sitting back and you're watching and you ask yourself at home, how is it that the Congress and the president, a constitutional scholar no less, was able to pass a law that at a very minimum has serious constitutional questions about it, how would you answer that?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I'd say, first, that of course, you take constitutional questions seriously. But at the time and still today, most constitutional scholars say it'll be upheld. Harvie Wilkerson***(as spoken)***he's the dean of the very conservative judges on the Courts of Appeals. He said it would be a heavy lift to overturn this law. And let's look at the context. The idea of a mandate came from Republicans. It was--it was proposed by the Heritage Foundation in 1993, people like Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole and that, you know, supported it in those days. In 2009, Mitt Romney, the Republican nom, you know, in the middle of the healthcare debate, the likely Republican nominee, said that the mandate was what should be used as opposed to Democrats who were then arguing for expanding Medicare. So it was true at the time of the legislation, it's true today that it's, it's really outlier to say that this case would be thrown out on constitutional grounds.

MS. GUTHRIE: Let's talk briefly again about the oral argument, and the solicitor general, Don Verrilli, had what most people consider to be a rough go at the Supreme Court...


MS. GUTHRIE: ...and a rough start. Take a listen.

(Audiotape, Tuesday)

MR. DONALD VERRILLI: Insurance has become the predominant means of paying for health care in this country. Insurance has become the predominant means of paying for health care in this country. For most Americans, for more than 80 percent of Americans, the insurance system does provide effective access. Excuse me.

(End audiotape)

MS. GUTHRIE: Senator, are, are you satisfied with the quality of the advocacy on the government's side? And, and, and stumbles aside, do you feel he really...


MS. GUTHRIE: ...had a good answer for the justices about the, where are the outer limits of what the government can do if it can force you to buy insurance?

SEN. SCHUMER: Yes. Look, on the substance he had very good answers. And, you know, drinking water, coughing, that's not going to affect these justices. They've been studying this case and the precedents and everything else for the last several months. They'll be studying it for the next several months. And it's the substance of the argument that matters. And I think that the solicitor general on the substance of the arguments did a very good job. He distinguished between broccoli, for instance, and, and health care. If you don't eat broccoli, it doesn't raise the cost for your neighbor. It doesn't mess up the whole market. If you don't take health care, it costs every one of us $1,000 on average...


SEN. SCHUMER: our insurance policies. It makes all the providers, the hospitals and doctors twist themselves in knots. It's a totally different argument.


SEN. SCHUMER: And I think Verrilli made those pretty well.

MS. GUTHRIE: Speaking of the argument for health care, I want to play you on this program two years ago this week...


MS. GUTHRIE: ...on the issue of health care.

(Videotape, March 28, 2010)

SEN. SCHUMER: I think as people learn about the bill and now that the bill is enacted, it's going to become more and more popular.

I predict, David, by November, those who voted for health care will find it an asset. Those who voted against it will find it a liability.

MR. DAVID GREGORY: All right. Well, we'll go through...

(End videotape)

MS. GUTHRIE: Sir, I don't have to remind you the latest polling shows that more than two-thirds of Americans think the healthcare law should be overturned altogether or at least in part. We're good enough to remind you of your past statements on this program.

SEN. SCHUMER: Thank you.

MS. GUTHRIE: How did you and other Democrats get it so wrong?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I don't think we did. Here's what happening. There are lots of good things in the healthcare law, Savannah, and people have them right now, and they're learning the good parts of it. There are two and a half million kids 21 to 26, many out of work, who are now on their parent's plan.

MS. GUTHRIE: But, sir, it's been two years...

SEN. SCHUMER: Five, five...

MS. GUTHRIE: ...and two-thirds of the country wants to see the law overturned in some way.

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I think, I think, Savannah, as people learn the good things about this law, and remember the campaign waged against it. It was a parade of horribles. And those are gradually fading. There are no death panels. I had a firefighter on Long Island come to me a few months ago and said, "By Labor Day I'm going to lose my health insurance because of this law." Well, he won't. So as the parade of horribles fade, as the good things in the law, reining in insurance companies, helping seniors with prescription drugs, helping young people get health insurance, become more and more known, the law becomes more and more popular.

MS. GUTHRIE: Senator, let's talk 2012 politics very quickly.


MS. GUTHRIE: As you can see, Romney is really getting the endorsements of key members of the Republican Party, Senator Rubio this week, Congressman Ryan. Is there any doubt in your mind he's the person that President Obama will face?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I'm not going to prognosticate on the race, but I'll tell you this, these endorsements actually show the weakness of Mitt Romney should he become the candidate. He'll be saddled with the Paul Ryan budget which ends Medicare as we know it. But even the more interesting one is Marco Rubio, where they're trying to make amends for the horrible shape they're in with Hispanic voters. Hispanic voters are very hostile to Mitt Romney and the Republicans because of their anti-immigration stands, Romney said the Arizona law was a great law, he's against the Dream Act, he's said very harsh things on immigration. And if the poll numbers continue...


SEN. SCHUMER: ...that Hispanics are for the Democrats 70 to 14, there is no way Mitt Romney or any other Republican can win the presidency and no way they can take back the Senate.

MS. GUTHRIE: All right. Senator Chuck Schumer, we've got to leave it there, we're out of time.

SEN. SCHUMER: Thank you.

MS. GUTHRIE: Thank you for your time, sir.

SEN. SCHUMER: Thank you. Nice to talk to you.

MS. GUTHRIE: Coming up, is it the beginning of the end for the Republican race? And what are the political implications of the healthcare fight at the Supreme Court? The host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Joe Scarborough, will lead a special MEET THE PRESS roundtable. Joe will be joined by Tom Friedman and David Brooks of The New York Times, Time magazine's Jon Meacham, Harold Ford Jr. and MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski.


MR. JOE SCARBOROUGH: Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS. I'm Joe Scarborough along with Mika Brzezinski, here with a special roundtable discussion. I'm joined by Tom Friedman, New York Times columnist; contributor to Time magazine and author of the forthcoming biography on Thomas Jefferson, Jon Meacham; former Democratic congressman from Tennessee, Harold Ford Jr.; and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome to all. Tom Friedman, let's begin with you. You've just returned from New Zealand; my first question should be why did you just return from New Zealand? I would still be there. But you got a good column out of it. Let's read it. You talk about elephants down under. "The days when there were liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, who nudged the two parties together, appear to be over. We don't have compulsory voting. Special interest money's out of control and we lack any credible third party that could capture enough of the center to force Democrats and Republicans to compete for votes there. So we've lost our ability to do big, hard things together. Yet everything we have to do, tax reform, fiscal reform, healthcare reform, energy policy, is big and hard and can only be done together."

Tom, you described how our allies see us as dysfunctional. Doesn't this past week where the president's key legislation appears to be on the verge to being overturned, doesn't this make us look even more dysfunctional to our allies?

MR. TOM FRIEDMAN: Well, well, well, no doubt, and this really is the problem, Joe, that on, on all these big issues, energy, health care, education, we seem only capable of suboptimal solutions. That--suboptimal solutions that lack any kind of, you know, planning, due diligence or what--they're--they feel--everything feels like some Rube Goldberg contraption that we cobbled together at the last minute. How long do we...

MR. SCARBOROUGH: And we cobbled--in this, in this case, Tom, we cobbled together a piece of legislation that Chuck Schumer is saying a year and a half later the American people don't understand, but when they understand it, two-thirds of them won't be against it. Doesn't that just...

MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, there's--yeah...

MR. SCARBOROUGH: ...speak more to the problem?

MR. FRIEDMAN: Yeah, there's two issues there. But then I say, how long do we remain a great country when all we can do on the biggest challenges we face are produce suboptimal outcomes? On health care, I mean, that's a--that's partly a failure of communication, I mean, it, it seems to me. How do you go a year and a half where so many Americans don't even understand the benefits of this legislation when they apply to them? And that gets to the--this administration which I think has been abysmal at communicating some of its most important agenda items.

MS. MIKA BRZEZINSKI: So let's talk about the failure to communicate, David Brooks, because that did continue this week during oral arguments before the Supreme Court. The reaction sums it up in three tweets for you. We've got Jeffrey Toobin who says, "Train wreck for Barack Obama in the Supreme Court today." Ezra Klein of The Washington Post says, "You can mark the point, page 14, when the liberal justices decide Verrilli is screwing up and step in to make his argument for him." And then Daniel Foster of the National Review said, "Wow. Did the solicitor general know the orals were today?" Not good. How bad was this, though, for the White House?

MR. DAVID BROOKS: It was pretty bad. I'm not sure it was totally communication, though. You know, we're having a big debate over the role of government and what this bill does, what the mandate does, is it compels people to enter into a contract that's against their self-interest with an insurance company in order to subsidize other people who are going to benefit. And so you're compelling people to enter into something new. That is a step toward centralization. That is an advance of federal power. Whether it's constitutional or not, I don't know. But I do know that it's an advance and it's a legitimate constitutional issue and it plays into the--what Tom was talking about. There's this big debate about role of government and conservatives are on one side for small government, liberals are on the other for bigger government, but there's no other alternative to find another way.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: And yet...

FMR. REP. HAROLD FORD JR. (D-TN): Look, it's horrible when you get talking like this guy did and I feel bad for him in ways, I thought his substance was on. But the interesting thing which Joe and Mika have said on the show many times, to your point, David, is that it was conservatives who advanced the argument...


FMR. REP. FORD JR.: ...of the individual mandate 15 years ago because they viewed it as a pure market-driven, pure capitalist...

MR. BROOKS: Right. Right.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: A conservative came up with it...

MR. BROOKS: Right.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: ...and then Republicans championed it.

MR. BROOKS: Right. So--yeah.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: So this is partly a Republican problem for them.

FMR. REP. FORD JR.: Not to defend the mandate argument...

MR. BROOKS: Yeah, no, no. Right. But--so...

FMR. REP. FORD JR.: ...but it's their, their argument, so we've come full circle.

MR. BROOKS: here's, here's where I would come out. First, I think the general philosophy is we have to centralize the goals, we're going to set goals from Washington where we're going to decentralize the means, let people come up with their own way, states and localities and individuals come up with their own way to meet them. So I would be for the mandate.


MR. BROOKS: My problem is it's tied to this thing called iPad which is this 15 people trying to regulate the healthcare system. And I think it would be much more politically acceptable if we said, "We're all in this together. We're all part of the same insurance system. But we're going to find many different ways to control costs and give good health care." That would not scare the American people.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Jon Meacham, we brought you here to bring up arcane historical facts.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: And to bore us.

MR. JON MEACHAM: You will be...

MR. SCARBOROUGH: That'll make us feel better.

MR. MEACHAM: You make, you make...

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Well, while boring us at the same time.

MR. MEACHAM: You made the right call.


MR. MEACHAM: You made the right call.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: I'm going to show you a cartoon from 1937, the type of cartoons that you look at.

MR. MEACHAM: Absolutely. That's when we were young.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: This is actually a cartoon that, that illustrates that President Obama's not the first president to scuffle with the Supreme Court. FDR did it famously, Jackson as well. But also, this goes all the way back to Thomas Jefferson.

MR. MEACHAM: Yeah, to John Adams. The--whenever we have great wars over the judiciary, the role of Supreme Court, it's at a time when we're settling huge issues in the national--in national life. John Adams wanted to create a federalist enclave because he felt that Thomas Jefferson was bringing this French revolutionary wave into office. That was the midnight appointments. That's how we got judicial review was by John Marshall, a very politically astute, much like a lot of these justices, a very politically astute justice. Jackson had it, Lincoln had it, FDR tried to pack the court and overreached and was, and was pulled back.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: What's the historical impact for Barack Obama, though, if the signature piece of legislation that he spent his first two years, after a huge election, a change election, is overturned 5-to-4? What's the historical impact, not just for the president, but for the Court?

MR. MEACHAM: I think it's--I think it will be a permanent black eye. This is, this is the great achievement.

FMR. REP. FORD JR.: For the president or for the court?

MR. MEACHAM: For the president.

FMR. REP. FORD JR.: For the president.

MR. MEACHAM: For the president. I mean, as Joe Biden told us inadvertently...

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Yes, exactly.

MR. MEACHAM: ...this was a big...

MR. SCARBOROUGH: This is a big doggone darn...

MR. MEACHAM: A big deal.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: A big deal. Yeah, exactly.

MR. MEACHAM: So the vice president was right there and it is--it was--it is. But if it's overturned by the court, then you have the system as we've come to use it and it works so well for so long, saying no.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Harold Ford, and let's turn from the Court to politics, specifically to Wisconsin, the front page of The New York Times this morning talks about how Mitt Romney could in effect lock the nomination down. But I want you to look at some numbers that suggest problems ahead as he goes back to Wisconsin in the general election, if in fact that happens. There's a new NBC News/Marist poll out show--that shows in this swing state, Barack Obama beating Mitt Romney 52 to 35 percent, but the bad news for Romney and the Republicans doesn't end there in the general election. Quinnipiac put out some match-ups as well in swing states. In Florida, Barack Obama, a state where he's been in the low 40s for the past two years, ahead by 7 points over Romney. Now you move forward to other states. In Ohio, he's 6 points ahead of Romney. And then in Pennsylvania, 3 points ahead of Romney. That, of course, closer because a lot of people in Pennsylvania have actually seen Barack Obama bowl. What does Mitt Romney do to turn things around?

FMR. REP. FORD JR.: Once the primary ends, the race becomes one-on-one. You and I know, having been in races, primaries can be grueling and ugly and distasteful, but once you move past it, people begin to embrace a different kind of ethic and appetite for politics. That will happen in this presidential race. I think Mitt Romney can be encouraged by these numbers in some way because three or four weeks ago, President, President Obama was running even with him or behind in some of these battleground states. So once you turn the argument to what David posited earlier, the role of government in our everyday lives and our commercial lives, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will have a big and intelligent conversation and a debate.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: But doesn't the Supreme Court decision overturning President Obama's legislation 5-to-4, doesn't that end up helping the president and helping Democrats? They can run against the Citizens United court, they can run against a Court that's out of control, again, 5-to-4?

FMR. REP. FORD JR.: I don't know. Who knows if they're going to overturn it, but I'll take your, take your assumption. If that happens, remember, we put up some other polling, you'll see that a majority of Americans either, as Tom Friedman said, don't know what's in the bill or what the law states or protects them, or two, they're not in support of it. You're not going to find Democrats, no Democrat I know up for re-election for Congress or the Senate is out touting his or her vote for this healthcare bill. So if it is overturned, I think you will still have a very large debate around the role of government, energy and trade and education and for that matter, entitlement to taxes.

And remember, as, as David said, I was privy to an AARP call during the week, Mika, where 60--you had 60,000 people participate in this call. Do you know what the number one question was on the call from those participating? Did the bill pass? So there are a number who don't know--not only do not know what's in it...

MS. BRZEZINSKI: It's 700 pages long.

FMR. REP. FORD JR.: But there is a communication problem.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Tom, Tom Friedman, as we talk about Mitt Romney, I want to show you what I think is the most telling number of the week that's come out in polls and it was from The Washington Post/ABC poll that talked about his favorability ratings. Right now Mitt Romney's favorable ratings, 34 percent; unfavorable, 50 percent. That is unheard of for a leading contender at this stage of the process. Look back historically at what Republicans have enjoyed and if you look at the approval ratings that John McCain had at this point in the campaign, 53 percent; George W. Bush and Bob Dole, 49 percent. Again, Mitt Romney down at 34 percent. Tom, does this speak more to Mitt Romney or a bigger problem with the Republican Party or the political system as we know it in 2012?

MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, I think it's, it's two things. I think it is the fact that in my view the Republican Party is no longer a conservative party, it's becoming a radical party on a lot of these key issues. That's number one. And number two, I just came back from New Zealand. OK, I mean, you have people living in the outback of Australia who look at Mitt Romney and say, "not authentic." I mean, it's just so--it is just so obvious.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: That's just not good.

MR. FRIEDMAN: OK. All right? I mean, you know this is the guy who is running against everything he's believed his whole life. I mean, and it is just so staggeringly obvious.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Yeah. Well, Jon Meacham.

MR. MEACHAM: One thing quickly, if you look at the Gallup presidential approval numbers, only three presidents have been below 50 percent at this point in their re-election year: Truman, Carter and George H.W. Bush. Only one of them won.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Right. And that may be a bigger problem right now. The president's numbers float between the low 40s to 49...

MR. MEACHAM: He's at 46 percent according to Gallup.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: ...50 percent.

MR. MEACHAM: But again, everybody who's won re-election since Truman has been above 50 at this point.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: And right now it looks like it may be a vote for none of the above. We will be right back. We have to take a quick break. Coming up, the politics of rising gas prices. More from our roundtable after this.


MR. SCARBOROUGH: And we are back on MEET THE PRESS. More with our roundtable. Mika:

MS. BRZEZINSKI: Mitt Romney can't seem to get out of his own way.


MS. BRZEZINSKI: Especially when it comes to looking like a rich guy who's out of touch. Take a look at these clips.

(Videotape, August 11, 2011)

FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: One is we could raise taxes on people. That's not the way...

Unidentified Man #1: Corporations!

Unidentified Woman: Corporations!

Unidentified Man #2: Corporations!

FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: Corporations are people, my friend.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, December 10, 2011)

FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: Rick, I'll tell you what, 10,000 bucks?

(End videotape)

(Videotape, January 9, 2012)

FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: I like being able to fire people that provide services to me.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, February 1, 2012)

FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs a repair, I'll fix it.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, February 24, 2012)

FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, February 26, 2012)

FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans, but I have some great friends that are NASCAR team owners.

(End videotape)

MS. BRZEZINSKI: And then, yeah...


MS. BRZEZINSKI: ...David Brooks, word comes out this week, possibly from another campaign, that he's building a massive beach house with an elevator for his cars.

MR. BROOKS: For his cars. Yes.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Who doesn't need that?

MS. BRZEZINSKI: The entire project has a lobbyist.


MS. BRZEZINSKI: OK. And it gets worse. Just this week he's...

MR. BROOKS: You know, several of his beach houses don't have elevators.


MR. SCARBOROUGH: Well, that...

MS. BRZEZINSKI: That is right. But the other part at a tele-town hall this week, he was talking about a humorous story. He found it very humorous to tell the story about his father closing a plant. How bad is this for Mitt Romney? Does it represent something deeper and for the Republican Party?

MR. BROOKS: Yeah, well, it's hard to get good help these days.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: That's true.

MR. BROOKS: So he has trouble with that.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: So you can't even help yourself.

MR. BROOKS: No. So he, he needs to take charm lessons from Donald Trump. I mean, the guy has money, Trump has money.


MR. BROOKS: Trump is fine with it. He's got to be fine with it, but he's got to compensate. There's a poll today, what one word do you think about when you think about Mitt Romney? Wealthy was number one.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: One percent.

MR. BROOKS: So that's a problem. So how do you deal with that? Well, the Kennedy family figured out how to deal with that. You don't deny that you're rich but you go to places to show that you relate to people who aren't, and so Kennedy went to Appalachia. And so what Romney has to go is he has to discover the phrase that Tim Pawlenty first came up with, the governor of Minnesota, former governor, "Sam's Club Republicans." That's where the Republican Party is, white working class voters. Spend the three months with them. You don't have to pretend to be like them. Don't drop your G's, just hang around with them and show you care about social mobility above everything else.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: And, Jon Meacham, the Kennedys did know how to do this. We just showed an FDR cartoon.


MR. SCARBOROUGH: The famous quote from the person who as weeping when he saw FDR's coffin go past. Did you know him? No, but he knew me.

MR. BROOKS: Knew me.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Nobody would say that about Mitt Romney right now. But, but this, we've had wealthy people run for office quite successfully.

MR. MEACHAM: Quite successfully. And I think part of it that they were all comfortable in their own skin and they all were very practical, pragmatic politicians. Nobody would accuse Franklin Roosevelt or John Kennedy of being strictly ideological by any means. But they were able to make peace with themselves and then make a political pitch to the country about their vision and where they wanted it to go. And if you try to pretend what you're not going to be, you know, Ronald Reagan said the camera never lies. You know, ultimately the camera will out. And this is--politics, politics these days is about usually very wealthy people running. And as, I think, people don't mind that because people want to be wealthy. But they want someone who, to go to Tom's point, that even in New Zealand they will think you're authentic.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: And, Mika, there's no doubt the White House is going to exploit this...

MS. BRZEZINSKI: They're running on this.

MR. SCARBOROUGH:, in the fall campaign.

MS. BRZEZINSKI: Even now the president has four or five events scheduled in the next two weeks, they told me yesterday, that's going to be focused around the Buffett Rule and about people paying their fair share. They think it's a great counter to Mitt Romney and a great counter to Paul Ryan's budget, which they, which they contend does not match in the world of 99 percent vs. the 1 percent. They believe their message matches the moment.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: And, Tom Friedman, also, of course, a counter to this past week where the president tried to strip oil companies of certain tax breaks and incentives. The Republican Senate and a few Democrats blocked that. But how big of an issue are gas prices going to be moving forward through the fall?

MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, they're clearly a big issue. Any time in the past we've seen them, they can be very debilitating for whoever's in power. You know, Joe, I'm a big believer that the world really is getting hot, flat and crowded. OK, hot, global warming. Flat, more people can see how we live, aspire to how we live. And there are just going to be more people. Now there a lot of people out there who don't believe in hot. Fine, take that off. OK, that's between you and your beach house. But you better believe that the world is getting flat and crowded. More people and more who want to live like us, drive American cars, live American homes, eat American Big Macs. In a flat and crowded world, energy prices are only going to go one way, and what we need now as a country is a grand bargain between the oil and gas industry and the environmental community that says we are going to exploit this bounty we have of natural gas, but we are going to do it at the highest environmental standards and with a strategy. Not just "all of the above." That's not a strategy. OK? An energy strategy that puts on a course for using less energy, much great efficiency, and to more renewables.


MR. FRIEDMAN: So we aren't in this position in another four years.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Right. And you, so you support the president's policies that were struck down in the Senate this week. You also said a higher gas tax is not a bad thing.

MR. FRIEDMAN: Oh, absolutely. I mean, we've got to find a way to diminish use and encourage the development of renewables. Joe, we've been doing this for, as you know, for 30 years. We're always in the same place because we never actually put ourselves on a trajectory to get out of this place.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Harold, the president probably is not going to support raising gas taxes right now. We want to show you a graph that I believe David showed last week. Gas prices have been going up. And you said in a recent Wall Street Journal column that while the president can't control a lot when it comes to gas prices, he can make things a bit easier for consumers. Your Wall Street Journal editorial says a tax an energy plan to re-elect Obama, "My Obama should work with our leading energy companies instead of fighting them. Domestic energy companies contribute to our economy, support millions of American jobs and retirement accounts in some, like ExxonMobil, are investing in the energy solutions of tomorrow, like fuel from algae. Yet the president continues to use them as his rhetorical foil. Calling for higher taxes may bring applause at partisan political events, but it won't lower energy prices."

Are you saying that the president is working against consumers at the pump?

FMR. REP. FORD JR.: No. No. I think the--all of the energy, all of the above energy strategy that Tom laid out and that the president articulates at times is not altogether pursued. Take for example the vote in the Senate last week. The deductions enjoyed by the oil companies are enjoyed by all U.S. manufacturers. So to single out oil companies at a time in which gas prices are high, in which our U.S. domestic industry, or to say domestic oil industry...

MS. BRZEZINSKI: Eighty million in profits.

FMR. REP. FORD JR.: Right. But understand, Mika, doesn't, that doesn't go to a guy named ExxonMobil. There are people who work there, there are shareholders of the company.


FMR. REP. FORD JR.: We don't complain when other large U.S. companies do well. As a matter of fact, we applaud them, as we should. Apple, one of the great...

MR. BROOKS: Corporations are people, right?

MS. BRZEZINSKI: Oh, that's right. Thank you for reminding me.

MR. SCARBOROUGH: That's right. Harold was sounding like corporations are people.

FMR. REP. FORD JR.: That is not what I'm saying. I'm, I'm, if you believe, I believe in the free market system. I'm a Democrat that believes in lowering taxes and creating opportunities for innovation to flourish and growth to flourish, as Tom, as Tom writes about and David writes about. The difference I have with the president on this issue is we may bring an applause line at, at an event, but it's not going to advance the cause of lowering gas prices. And ultimately I think what I want to see the president do is to get re-elected.

And finally, if give a choice between pursuing a broader and smarter, I believe, domestic exploration, energy exploration vs. importing oil from our enemies, I'd much rather take the former because...


FMR. REP. FORD JR.: saves our foreign policy and saves...(unintelligible).

MR. SCARBOROUGH: Harold Ford, we're going to have to leave it there. Tom Friedman, next time you're down under you can tell the Aborigines we have conservative Democrats in America. One, but he's here.

All right, before we go, a quick programming note. You can watch David Gregory's Press Pass conversation with Melanie Bloom, the widow of the late NBC News' David Bloom. She's now the national spokesperson for the Coalition to Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis, the condition that killed her husband nine years ago this week. It's on the MEET THE PRESS blog. That's at

That's all for we have today. David Gregory's going to be back next week, Easter Sunday, with a special discussion on faith and politics. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.