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updated 12/30/2007 12:09:06 PM ET 2007-12-30T17:09:06

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday, this is it, the Iowa caucuses just four days away.  Democrats Clinton, Edwards and Obama locked in a tight battle; Republicans Huckabee and Romney fighting for victory.  With us, the former governor of Arkansas, Republican Mike Huckabee and the senator from Illinois, Democrat Barack Obama.  Huckabee and Obama, only on MEET THE PRESS.

But first, here are the very latest MSNBC/McClatchy polling numbers for the Republicans in Iowa:  Romney has 27 percent, up seven points from earlier this month.  Huckabee, 23 percent, down nine points.  Thompson, 14 percent, up three points.  McCain, 13 percent, up six points.  Giuliani, he stays even at 5 percent.

Governor Mike Huckabee, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

FMR. GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R-AR):  Thank you very much, Tim.  Pleasure to be back.

MR. RUSSERT:  You've dropped nine points in less than a month.  What happened?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Well, I think the polls are all over the place.  We have some that show us up eight points.  This one that came out today shows us down nine.  I don't think anybody has a clue.  We'll find out Thursday night how they're doing.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you think some of the commercials that have been on the air talking about your record have hurt?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Well, they may have.  I mean, people in Iowa have been bombarded.  I mean, bombarded.  Not only on commercials, but in the mail, at a time when most people were kind of looking forward to going out to the mailbox and picking up some nice Christmas cards, instead they were finding out what a bum Mike Huckabee is.  And I don't know what kind of effect it has.  People of Iowa, I think, like a positive campaign.  But the relentless attacks--and they have been relentless.  And when you're outspent 20-to-1, as I have been here in Iowa, you know, I think it's pretty amazing that I'm where I am.

MR. RUSSERT:  But has Mitt Romney said anything that's untrue about you?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  How long do we have on the program today?  He's said many things that are untrue.  He said that I reduced methamphetamine sentences in Arkansas.  Truth is I signed a bill in 1999 that doubled those sentences.  We did not reduce them.  Our sentences were four times harsher than they were in Massachusetts.  He said that I supported special breaks for illegal aliens. That's not true, Tim.  We supported simply giving children who had earned a scholarship the same--it never happened, it didn't make the legislature.  He made allegations that our increased spending by ridiculous amounts, and The New York Times came back and defended that, and said that's just simply not true.  And they took him apart and showed that the increases in spending were, frankly, the same if not a little better than his if you took into consideration the accounting methods we changed in Arkansas, very modest gains in spending.

He made claims about things like tax increases, but he failed to mention that some of those were either court ordered or they were voted on by the people and approved by the people for things as roads.  And I left my roads in great shape, took them from the worst in the country to what Truckers magazine said were the most improved.  He left his roads in a mess in Massachusetts, with huge problems in the infrastructure.  He claimed that he didn't raise taxes, but, in fact, he did raise taxes by half a billion dollars.

MR. RUSSERT:  Fees.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Fees.  It's a tax.  If you're a small business person and you pay more money than you paid last year to the government, you can call it a fee, call it a tax, it's a three letter word that means the same.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you raised taxes, and the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank, gave you a D and an F for your tenureship as governor.  So there have been some legitimate criticisms of you as a Republican for raising taxes and for spending money.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Well, I don't think they're legitimate criticisms when you improve education for the children of your state or when you build highways that give you economic incentives and capacities that, frankly, created the lowest unemployment numbers that our state had over had over a sustained period of time.  We saw more new jobs created.  That's what being a governor is about.  It's about creating opportunities for the people of your state.

MR. RUSSERT:  Even if it means raising taxes?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Well, in some cases, you know, I cut 94 taxes.  People forget what we did do on a positive nature:  eliminated the marriage penalty, indexed the income tax for inflation so low-income people weren't paying high tax rates.  So what we tried to do in tax policy by doubling the child care tax credit and by raising the threshold at which people paid, we untaxed a lot of the poor people and gave them a shot at actually making it up the economic ladder.

Now, when we raised taxes, it was one of two things, either to meet an educational demand--our schools were deemed by the courts to be unconstitutional.  In Arkansas, we've been down the road of a governor defying the courts and saying, `I'm not going to follow the court order.' Didn't turn out real well.  I wasn't going to be the second Arkansas governor to do that. In fact, I'm proud of the fact that we raised teacher pay, proud of the fact that, in every year we tested kids, we saw vast improvements in their test scores, things were--got better, not worse.  And education was my ticket out of the, out of the bottom of the economic spectrum.  Education is a key for every child.  And I want to make sure that if we're going to spend more money--and the court said we have to--then the next thing is, let's make sure we spend it well and we spend it wisely.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to foreign policy, specifically Pakistan.  Do you believe that the government of Pakistan should postpone the elections in light of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  I think that's their decision to make.  Clearly, January 8th coming so soon and--after the assassination, it may be problematic for President Musharraf to, to carry out the elections.  Sharif has said that he's going to boycott the elections, so there is some question how much meaning and significance they will have.  But I don't think it would be appropriate for me to try to weigh in on whether or not they ought to have the elections in their own country.

MR. RUSSERT:  Now, the Council on Foreign Relations published an article that you had written.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Mm.

MR. RUSSERT:  And this is what you advocated for Pakistan:  "Rather than wait for the next strike, I prefer to cut to the chase by going after al-Qaeda's safe havens in Pakistan.  The threat of an attack on us is far graver than the risk" than "a quick and limited strike against al-Qaeda would bring extremists to power in Pakistan." How soon in your presidency would you launch such a strike?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Well, it would depend on how soon we had fixed a target. Back in 2005, Tim, we had soldiers in a C-130, parachutes strapped on their backs, ready to go in and take out Osama bin Laden.  They believed that they had found him.  And the strike was called back at the last minute, apparently fearing that if they didn't have the permission of the Pakistani government it would create huge problems.  I think leaving key al-Qaeda leaders is the most important problem we face today.  Taking those targets out is critical.

One of the things I want to point out about that article, I spoke about Pakistan extensively back in September, and a lot of people criticized the article, saying `You talk so much about Pakistan, and you didn't speak as much about Iran.' You know, a lot of people have criticized my foreign policy views, but the fact is, in light of what's happened in the last week, some of my comments on Pakistan seem almost prophetic.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if, in fact, you went into Pakistan in order to take out al-Qaeda, couldn't you very well destabilize the Musharraf regime and help the Taliban take over Pakistan?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Oh, I, I don't think it would be an effort to destabilize the Musharraf government.  I think what we do have to recognize is we've spent over $10 billion in aid, and the purpose of that aid in Pakistan was to fight terrorism.  Now, as we kind of look at where that money's spent, we realize that not that much of it has likely gone to fight terrorism in Pakistan.  A lot of it has gone to their military for reasons that didn't have to do with, with terrorism.  One of the things that will happen, I believe, as a result of the week's activities is a greater accountability for the money.  It is in our best interest for there to be some stability.  Right now Musharraf, despite some of the concerns we have about him, represents at least some level of security, more so than if he were ousted immediately.  And I don't think it's in the United States' best interest to try to get rid of him.  I think Kayani now being in charge of the military is a good thing because, clearly, he's stable, he has a sterling reputation both as a military commander and as a person who is not so political, but I think will give an even hand to the military, which is something Pakistan has needed.

MR. RUSSERT:  But, Governor, you know how the man and woman on the street in Pakistan would react to a U.S. intervention into their country.  Is it worth destabilizing General Musharraf in order to capture Osama bin Laden?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Well, I think the question is, would it destabilize him if we simply went in...

MR. RUSSERT:  Is it worth the risk?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  If it saves American lives, if it potentially takes out al-Qaeda's number one operative, that's a decision that a president would have to make.  And if I were sitting there as president, I would weigh all that information.  But let me make sure that everybody understands the number one job for the American president is to protect this country, to do every and anything that it can do to make sure that we don't see skyscrapers tumble to the ground in major cities like we did on September 11th.  Whatever we must do to protect our sovereignty against those whose ideologies are so extreme that they would do something so cowardly and so dastardly as to take thousands of innocent lives in that kind of terrorist action, yes sir, you better believe that I'll do anything necessary.  I don't want to do it with disregard to what it might do in stabilization of a nation.  But sometimes you have to look at all the risk and weigh heavily, but remember that your most single critical job is that of protecting and preserving the American people.

RUSSERT:  After the assassination, you made several comments about Pakistan, used some inartful words, you got your geography wrong.  The Washington Post wrote this editorial.  "The assassination of Benzair Bhutto presented U.S. presidential candidates with a test:  Could they respond cogently and clearly to a sudden foreign policy crisis?  Republican Mike Huckabee, flunked abysmally.

"His first statement seemed really uninformed:  He appeared not to know that Mr.  Musharraf had ended `martial law' two weeks ago.  That was better than his next effort, when he said an appropriate U.S. response would include `very clear monitoring of our borders to make sure if there's any unusual activity of Pakistanis coming into our country.' The cynicism of this attempt to connect Pakistan's crisis with anti-immigrant sentiment was compounded by its astonishing senselessness."

Clearly, some of your words were in...

GOV. HUCKABEE:  What do they really think, Tim?  What did they really think in the editorial?

MR. RUSSERT:  Pretty specific.  But let me ask you about it...

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...because people your...

GOV. HUCKABEE:  I do want to respond to the specifics of that.

MR. RUSSERT:  In this context.  You were governor of Arkansas, you have no real foreign policy experience.  Give us a sense of, of Pakistan.  How would you describe that country to me?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  It's 164 million people, 97 percent of them are Muslim.  It's a country that does not have a long history of democracy.  It's been a relatively unstable country, alternating between military coup.  But, but let me go back to some of these issues.

MR. RUSSERT:  Primarily Shiite or Sunni?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  It, it--it's primarily Sunni, and I think we need to recognize that what we have in, in the events that have been described in that editorial, first of all, when they say that about the border, that was taken completely out of, out of context.  What I was speaking was how does this event in Pakistan affect people in Iowa?  And my point was that a lot of people say, "Well, this is a terrible tragedy to have this terrible act against an outstanding and, and very charismatic leader." But it does affect us.  Everything in the world affects us here in the United States.  And what I was trying to point out was that our lack of control of our borders--and I quoted the Denver Post article that had 660 Pakistanis arrested, we don't know how many came, that's how many we were, we were catching.  I said it was in a one-year period, it was in a four-year period.

MR. RUSSERT:  And there were several more other countries that had much larger numbers, according to our State Department.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  But my point wasn't lost.  My point is that if you don't control your borders, then it's not about people coming across from Mexico to pluck chickens and pick lettuce.  We're talking about the potential of a person who can come across this border with a dirty bomb in his suitcase, somebody who can come across our borders who might be bringing a shoulder-fired missile.  And if we don't have better control of our borders, it does affect the people in Iowa and the rest of America.

MR. RUSSERT:  I want to get to immigration in a second.  But I want to go back to--stay on foreign policy for a second.  And, again, your article in Foreign Affairs journal, you wrote this:  "American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out.  The Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad." Give me an example of President Bush's arrogant bunker mentality.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  When Donald Rumsfeld, despite all the military advice that said we needed 400,000 boots on the ground to be effective in bringing stability and order, arbitrarily said we're going to have 180,000 people there.  I think Secretary Gates has done a much better job in, in listening to members of Congress and listening to...

MR. RUSSERT:  But that was the president.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  ...the chief of staff.

MR. RUSSERT:  That's not the secretary of defense, that's the president.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  But it's--but I'm--well, you asked me for a specific, and I'm giving you one.  Our administration, led by Secretary Rumsfeld, was very specific in prescribing that we were going to have a light footprint, we were going to put a limited number of troops on the ground.  And despite what the military experts were giving as advice, and all the Department of Defense models that spoke about what it would take to bring stability, we ignored those pieces of military advice.  We didn't take the advice from the people, I like to say, with blood on their boots and medals on their chest.  We made decisions that turned out to be the wrong ones.

MR. RUSSERT:  That's it?  Arrogant bunker mentality?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  I think in times we have also given the world the impression that you're either with us 100 percent or you're against us 100 percent.  And, and you can't quite deal with foreign governments any more than you can deal with anybody, in that sense, in politics.  Politics is about getting as much as you can as often as you can, but recognizing that while you may be against me on an issue today, you may be with me on an issue tomorrow.  Try to keep the bridges going.  Try to keep roads open as much as possible.  And I do think that there have been times in which we have drawn a proverbial line in the sand and made it very clear that it's all or it's nothing.  And I think that's what I'm speaking of.

And it's interesting to me that while a few weeks ago on this program Mitt Romney was very critical of me for making that statement, a few months earlier on MEET THE--rather, on "60 Minutes," he himself had talked about the major mistakes that had been made by the administration.  He demanded of me an apology, but he did not demand of himself an apology for also being critical, as have most Republicans.  Now, I think Republicans are big enough and maybe wise enough that we can be in disagreement with certain policies and still be behind our president and behind this administration in many of the things which they have done right.  And I've been very complimentary of the president on the issues where I think he's been right.  I stood by him in the war, I stood by him in the surge.  I wasn't a latecomer like Mitt Romney was to believing that the surge was effective.  And we've seen 76 percent decline in civilian deaths, 62 percent decline in military casualties since the surge began.  It is working.  We are finally beginning to see those signs of victory in Iraq.

MR. RUSSERT:  You're suggesting that Mitt Romney's not running an honorable campaign.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  I've been very clear about it.  Mitt Romney is running a very desperate and, frankly, a dishonest campaign.  He's attacked me, and, and yesterday--or Friday, I guess it was, he launched then just a broadside attack against Senator McCain.  Now, Senator McCain and I are rivals for the presidency, but I've said on many occasions, I'll say it again here today, Senator McCain is an honorable man, and I believe he's an honest man.  I believe he's a man of conviction.  And I felt like that, when Mitt Romney went after the integrity of John McCain, he stepped across a line.  John McCain's a hero in this country.  He's a hero to me.

And I just felt like that when Mitt Romney gets on your show and says that he had the NRA endorsement when he didn't; when he comes on and says he's pro-life and yet he signed a bill that gives a $50 co-pay for an elective abortion in his state's health care plan; when he claims that he's really for the Second Amendment, but he--on this show he talked about how he supported limitations and restrictions on lawful, law-abiding citizens having gun ownership rights, those are not the marks of a person who's pro-life and pro-Second Amendment.  And then the things where he's made up these visions that he's had of marching with Martin Luther King and his dad marching with him.  You know, Tim, what I've said, and I've been pretty blunt about it, if you aren't being honest in obtaining a job, can we trust you to be honest if you get the job?

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me ask you about immigration because it is your consistency on that issue, I think, that is going to be talked about.  The debate in November, you were active--talked about shipping, sending illegal immigrants home, and you made this impassioned plea.  Let's watch.

(Videotape)

GOV. HUCKABEE:  In all due respect, we're a better country than to punish children for what their parents did.  We're a better country than that.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  "We're a better country than punishing children for what their"...

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  ..."parents did."

GOV. HUCKABEE:  I still believe that, yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  But a week later, after that comment, you came out with this: "The Secure America Plan."

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  "Propose to provide all illegal immigrants a 120-day window to register with the Bureau of Citizenship" "Immigration Services and leave the country.  Those who register" "return to their home country will face no penalty if they later apply," "those who do not return home will be, when caught, barred from future re-entry for a period of 10 years." Children born here are American citizens.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  And you were saying that.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  "Don't punish those kids." A week later, you said, "No, no, no, send the parents home," and what happens to the kids?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  They go with their parents.  I mean, I can't imagine a parent not taking their children...

MR. RUSSERT:  But they're American citizens.  Why do they have to leave the country?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Because they're--first, before they're American citizens, they're the children of their parents.

MR. RUSSERT:  But aren't we a "better country," to quote someone, than that?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Let me be very clear.  I stand beside my statement, but here's what we have to do to fix the immigration problem.  We've got to seal our border, something our government has been dysfunctional and failed to do. It's also very clear the American people are not going to tolerate people who have gotten here illegally to get in the front of the line.  The only way they can get into the back of the line is to go back to the point of origin, to get behind that line, and then modernize that line so it shouldn't take eight years to process a piece of paper to get people the necessary paperwork to be able to do that.

MR. RUSSERT:  But, Governor, this is, this is important, because this is what you said back in 2005.  "Responding to a question about illegal aliens, Huckabee said `our economy would collapse' without them."

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you believe that?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  I think it would be very, very difficult to do construction and agriculture without them.  That's why we need a policy that puts everyone in this country in a legal position.  And, Tim, let me, let me go further.

MR. RUSSERT:  But, this, this is...

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Let me explain why.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...important, because your plan says send them all home.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  No, I did not send them home.  They will go home within 120-day window, and then they have the process of starting to return.

MR. RUSSERT:  But that's 15 million people.  You're saying to do that would collapse the American economy, and now that's exactly what you're proposing.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  No, I don't think it would collapse the American economy if people went back and did their process of becoming legal.  And all of them aren't going to go back on the same day.  There's going to be a window of time.  How long it's going to take for them to come back, I don't know.  But part of the process, the first process, if you read my entire plan, is seal the border.  Seal the border.  If you don't do that, then you don't have any control of who's here, why they're here and what they're doing.  This process has to be modernized.  It's our government that's been dysfunctional.

Tim, I stand by many of the state--all of the statements I've made, and one of them has been, let's thank God we live in a country people are trying to break into, not one they're trying to break out of.  But let's have a rule of law. Let's make everyone live by it.  And let me tell you why I believe my plan is not only a plan that respects the rule of law, but I think it's the most humane plan.  Because nobody living in this country ought to live with his head down, ought to live in the shadows, ought to live in fear, ought to live every day looking if there's a police car or a border patrol, running and hiding.  I want people to live in this country with their heads up.  I want them to be able to, if they're going to work here, to work legally.  I want them to be able to pay the same taxes, live under the same laws, and also to be able to have the kind of sense of liberty that this country is bound by. That's what we're trying to achieve.  Let's not forget that our federal government has made a mess of this.  As a governor, I had to deal with their mess, and I believe, as president, one of the highest priorities is to fix the problem.

MR. RUSSERT:  I want to talk about your past as a Baptist minister and your faith.  You've talked about your faith being your life.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  You went to the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, and were asked about your political success, and you said, "There's only one explanation for it.  It's not a human one," suggesting divine intervention. Then, here in Iowa, you have two ads are on the air.  Let's just watch excerpts of both of those.

(Videotape)

GOV. HUCKABEE:  (From ad) Faith doesn't just influence me, it really defines me.  I don't have to wake up every day wondering, "What do I need to believe?"

(From ad) At this time of year, sometimes it's nice to pull aside from all of that and just remember that what really matters is the celebration and the birth of Christ.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  And you, you cut--you take that speech, Governor, suggesting divine intervention on your half in a political campaign, an ad where you describe yourself as a Christian leader, an ad where many thought a cross was imposed, superimposed behind your...

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Which it is was not, it was a bookshelf.  I wish we were so smart.  I really do.

MR. RUSSERT:  And then, and then this comment.  "I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ." Where does...

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Which was, by the way, that phrase was one I think was 1998, is that when it was?  The 1998 speech?

MR. RUSSERT:  Yeah.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  To the Southern Baptist Convention.  So it was a speech made to a Christian gathering, and, and certainly that would be appropriate to be said to a gathering of Southern Baptists.

MR. RUSSERT:  But where does this leave non-Christians?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Oh, it leaves them right in the middle of America.  I think the Judeo-Christian background of this country is one that respects people not only of faith, but it respects people who don't have faith.  The, the key issue of real faith is that it never can be forced on someone.  And never would I want to use the government institutions to impose mine or anybody else's faith or to restrict.  I think the First Amendment, Tim, is explicitly clear.  Government should be restricted, not faith, government.  And government's restriction is on two fronts:  one, it's not to prefer one faith over another; and the second, it's not to prohibit the practice of somebody's religion, period.

MR. RUSSERT:  So you'd have no problem appointing atheists to your Cabinet?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  No, I wouldn't have any problem at all appointing atheists. I probably had some working for me as governor.  You know, I think you got to realize if people want--say, "Well, you were a pastor," but I was a governor 10 1/2 years.  I have more executive experience running a government.  I was actually in a government position longer than I was a pastor.  And if people want to know how I would blend these issues, the best way to look at it is how I served as a governor.  I didn't ever propose a bill that we would remove the capitol dome of Arkansas and replace it with a steeple.  You know, we didn't do tent revivals on the grounds of the capitol.  But my faith is important to me.  I try to be more descriptive of it.  I just don't want to run from it and act like it's not important.  It drives my views on everything from the environment to poverty to disease to hunger.  Issues, frankly, I think the Republicans need to take a greater leadership role in.  And as a Republican, but as a Christian, I would want to make sure that we're speaking out on some of these issues that I think we've been lacking in as a party and as, as a nation.

MR. RUSSERT:  Peggy Noonan, a woman of faith who writes for The Wall Street Journal, said that sometimes it appears your philosophy is "This is what God wants," and that doesn't encourage discussion, it squelches it.  And, and this is what you wrote in your book, "Kids Who Kill," in 1998:  "It is now difficult to keep track of the vast array of publicly endorsed and institutionally supported aberrations--from homosexuality and pedophilia to sadomasochism and necrophilia." Why would you link homosexuality with sadomasochism, pedophilia and necrophilia?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Well, what I was pointing out is all of these are deviations from what has been the traditional concept of sexual behavior and men and women having children, raising those children in the context of a, of a traditional marriage and family.  And, again, taken out of the larger context of that book, speaking about how so many of our social institutions have been broken down.

MR. RUSSERT:  But do you think homosexuality is equivalent to pedophilia...

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Oh, of course not.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...or sadomasochism?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  No, of course not.  I didn't say...

MR. RUSSERT:  But this is what concerns people.  This, this is what you did say about homosexuality:  "I feel homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural and sinful lifestyle." That's millions of Americans.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Tim, understand, when a Christian speaks of sin, a Christian says all of us are sinners.  I'm a sinner, everybody's a sinner.  What one's sin is, means it's missing the mark.  It's missing the bull's eye, the perfect point.  I miss it every day; we all do.  The perfection of God is seen in a marriage in which one man, one woman live together as a couple committed to each other as life partners.  Now, even married couples don't do that perfectly, so sin is not some act of equating people with being murderers or rapists...

MR. RUSSERT:  But when you say aberrant or unnatural, do you believe you're born gay or you choose to be gay?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  I don't know whether people are born that way.  People who are gay say that they're born that way.  But one thing I know, that the behavior one practices is a choice.  We may have certain tendencies, but how we behave and how we carry out our behavior--but the important issue that I want to address, because I think when you bring up the faith question, Tim, I've been asked more about my faith than any person running for president. I'm OK with that.  I hope I've answered these questions very candidly and very honestly.  I think it's important for us to talk about it.  But the most important thing is to find out, does our faith influence our public policy and how?  I've never tried to rewrite science textbooks.  I've never tried to come out with some way of imposing a doctrinaire Christian perspective in a way that is really against the Constitution.  I've never done that.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you said you would ban all abortions.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Well, that's not just because I'm a Christian, that's because I'm an American.  Our founding fathers said that we're all created equal.  I think every person has intrinsic worth and value...

MR. RUSSERT:  But many Americans believe that that would be, that would be you imposing your faith belief...

GOV. HUCKABEE:  But, no.  It's not a faith belief.  It's deeper than that. It's a human belief.  It goes to the heart of who we are as a civilization. If I believe that your intrinsic worth is not changed by your ancestry, your last name, by your IQ, by your abilities or disabilities, if I value your life and respect it with dignity and worth because it is human, then that's what draws me to the inescapable conclusion that I should be for the sanctity of every and each human life.  That's why we go after that 12-year-old boy in the woods of North Carolina when he's lost, not because he has greater worth than someone else, but because we believe he has equal worth as everyone else.  I like it that in this country we treat each other--at least we should--with that sense of equality.  Our founding fathers penned that in the Declaration of Independence when they declared...

MR. RUSSERT:  Some Americans believe that life does not begin at conception, and that it's...

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Well, scientifically I think that's almost...

MR. RUSSERT:  But...

GOV. HUCKABEE:  ...a point that you couldn't argue.  How, how could you say that life doesn't begin at conception...

MR. RUSSERT:  Right.  Do you respect that view?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  ...biologically?

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you respect that view?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  I respect it as a view, but I don't think it has biological credibility.

MR. RUSSERT:  And what would happen to doctors or women who participated in abortion?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  It's always the, the point of trying to say, "Are you going to criminalize it?" That's not the issue.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, if it, if it's illegal, it would be.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  It would be.  And I think you don't punish the woman, first of all, because it's not about--I consider her a victim, not a, not a criminal.  You would...

MR. RUSSERT:  But you would punish the doctor.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  I think if a doctor knowingly took the life of an unborn child for money, and that's why he was doing it, yeah, I think you would, you would find some way to sanction that doctor.  I don't know that you'd put him in prison, but there's something to me untoward about a person who has committed himself to healing people and to making people alive who would take money to take an innocent life and to make that life dead.  There's something that just doesn't ring true about the purpose of medical practice when the first rule of the Hippocratic Oath is "First, do no harm." Well, if you take the life and suction out the pieces of an unborn child for no reason than its inconvenience to the mother, I don't think you've lived up to your Hippocratic Oath of doing no harm.

MR. RUSSERT:  October you told me you're going to win Iowa caucuses.  Are you?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Oh I hope so, Tim, I really do.

MR. RUSSERT:  No, you said you were.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Well, Thursday night I'll let you know.  But let me tell you this, we're being outspent 20-to-1 here.  If we do, you're going to have a political story like you've never had coming out of Iowa on Friday morning.

MR. RUSSERT:  Would it be a miracle?

GOV. HUCKABEE:  By my definition?

MR. RUSSERT:  No, I'm just teasing.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Yes, it would.

MR. RUSSERT:  Governor Huckabee, thank...

GOV. HUCKABEE:  I'm on record.  Yes, it would.

MR. RUSSERT:  Thanks for joining us.

GOV. HUCKABEE:  Thank you, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Coming next, can Barack Obama stop Hillary Clinton in Iowa? We'll ask him, coming up next right here on MEET THE PRESS.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Democratic Senator Barack Obama, after this station break, live from Iowa.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we're back.  Here are the very latest MSNBC/McClatchy polling numbers for the Democrats in Iowa.  Edwards, 24; Clinton, 23; Obama, 22; Richardson, 12; Biden, 8.

Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS, Senator Obama.  Close race.  There you are. You slipped a few points into third place.  What--can you react to that?  How do you react to that?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL):  Well, you know, I've been just coming off, you know, a tour of eastern Iowa.  We are seeing unbelievable crowds.  Every single place we go, crowds that are two, three times what we're seeing in, in some of the other campaigns, so we know the enthusiasm is there, the energy is there.  We have as good of an organization, I think, as people have ever seen in Iowa.  And this is going to be a tight race, and I think the polls are going to be bouncing up and down over the next five days.  But what we're confident about is that, if our folks come to the caucus and participate, that we're going to do very well.

MR. RUSSERT:  But without a big turnout, you could be in trouble?

SEN. OBAMA:  Well, I, I think everybody's predicting a big turnout at this point.  I mean, we have seen the kinds of enthusiasm and energy that is remarkable, and, and it's an indication of how badly I think people are looking for change right now.  They understand that we can't keep on doing what we've been doing.  They are responding to a message that we can bring the country together, that we can push the special interests and lobbyists out of setting the agenda in Washington, and they're particularly responding, I think, to the idea that we need some straight talk with the American people about how we're going to meet the challenges ahead.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to Pakistan.  Do you believe the elections scheduled for January 8th should be postponed?

SEN. OBAMA:  Well, I think it--the key is to make sure that there's legitimacy to those elections.  And given the enormous tragedy that has happened, I think that it is understandable if those elections are delayed slightly.  But, but it's important that they are not used--that this is not used as an excuse to put off, indefinitely, elections.  And so my main concern is making sure that the opposition parties feel comfortable that they have the opportunity to participate in fair and free elections.  That also means, by the way, that we reinstate an independent judiciary in Pakistan, that they are making sure that there is a free press, that the campaigning can proceed. Because our primary interest is making sure that whatever government emerges in Pakistan is viewed as legitimate.  And one of the things that we haven't focused on is that the vast majority of the Pakistani people are moderate and believe in rule of law.  That's who we want as allies in the fight against Islamic extremism.

MR. RUSSERT:  Benazir Bhutto was on MEET THE PRESS October of 2001, shortly after September 11th, and we're going to post that entire interview on our msnbc.com Web site, but she offered these words about General Musharraf. Let's listen.

(Videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  If, in fact, there are elections a year from now, will you return back to Pakistan and run for prime minister?

MS. BENAZIR BHUTTO (Former Prime Minister, Pakistan):  Well, I would very much like to return to Pakistan and run for prime minister again, and my party has been urging the military regime to have negotiations that can facilitate such a transfer.  We would like General Musharraf to show me that I could return in safety and contest those elections.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  "That I could return in safety." Do you believe that General Musharraf took the necessary precautions in protecting Mrs.  Bhutto?

SEN. OBAMA:  Well, look, I think an investigation has to be completed to determine how the suicide bomber got as close to the former prime minister as he did, what exactly happened.  And that's why it's so important for us to ensure that we are providing all the assistance we can to the Pakistani government and that the Pakistani government is pressured to include opposition figures and, and people who are credible in the investigation process.  Until we know exactly what happened, I think it would be premature to judge that.  What I do know, though, is that, moving forward, we have to have credible elections and we have to continue to pressure the Musharraf government, as I said back in August, to focus on the problem of Islamic extremism in Pakistan.  And the fact that al-Qaeda and the Taliban have taken root in the northwest provinces, it is now starting to spill over into the rest of Pakistan.  This poses a grave danger.  Benzair Bhutto herself recognized increasingly that this was one of the greatest threats to Pakistan and also to stability in the region and to the United States of America.  And we have to ensure that whoever is in power is taking that process seriously.

MR. RUSSERT:  The Washington Post has said in an editorial that Mr.  Obama committed a foul in some of your comments and some of your staff comments to the situation in Pakistan, specifically--let me ask you a question--do you believe that Senator Clinton's vote for, for the war in Iraq in any way, shape or form led to the events that transpired in Pakistan on Thursday?

SEN. OBAMA:  Of course not, and that's never what any of my aides said.  They responded to a question as to would this tragedy in Pakistan in some way advantage Senator Clinton as a consequence of her having been in Washington longer than I have.  And my staff said that I think candidates will be judged based on the judgments they have made, and they made then an indisputable, I believe, comment, although The Washington Post, I think, may disagree with this.  And that is that, by going into Iraq, we got distracted from Afghanistan, we got distracted from hunting down bin Laden, we got distracted from dealing with the al-Qaeda havens that have been created in northwestern Pakistan.  This is not an assertion simply from our campaign.  This is what military commanders on the ground have indicated.  This is what our National Intelligence Estimates have shown, that al-Qaeda is stronger than at any time since 2001.  And so if we are measuring who has the judgment to lead the country forward in dangerous times, I'm happy to put my record against those who have said, for example, that we will go along with President Bush on the war in Iraq.

MR. RUSSERT:  But a vote for the war in Iraq, in your mind, distracted us from Pakistan and that could have led to the situation?

SEN. OBAMA:  I, I am not drawing a causal relationship between any single vote in the tragedy there.  The, the tragedy resulted from a suicide bomber. But what I do believe is that, if we are going to take seriously the problem of Islamic terrorism and the stability of Pakistan, then we have to look at it in a lighter context.  What we do in Iraq matters, what we do with respect to Iran matters, what we do with respect to Musharraf matters and not giving him a blank check and conditioning military aid that's not related to terrorism on him opening up the election so that there's greater legitimacy and less anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.  Those are all parts of a broader foreign policy, and I believe that I'm best equipped to chart that new direction in foreign policy that will ultimately make American safer.

MR. RUSSERT:  You are a freshman senator, people have raised the issue of your experience, whether or not you're ready to be president.  A former president by the name of William Jefferson Clinton addressed that very point.

SEN. OBAMA:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let's watch "The Charlie Rose Show."

(Videotape)

FMR. PRES. BILL CLINTON:  And we're prepared to roll the dice.

It's less predictable, isn't it?  I mean, when's the last time we elected a president based on one year of service in the Senate before he started running, and he will have been a senator longer by the time he's been inaugurated.  But, essentially, once you start running for president full time you don't have time to do much else.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Are we prepared to roll the dice?  Is American rolling the dice on Barack Obama?  You've been a senator just for a couple of years.

SEN. OBAMA:  You, you know, people, I think here in Iowa have been lifting the hood, kicking the tires, asking all the candidates questions.  And the reason that we are doing well is that they recognize that the real gamble is for us to keep on doing the same thing over and over again, accept the conventional Washington wisdom, expect that somehow we're going to get different results from that.  They understand that if we want to solve healthcare, if we want to do something to make college more affordable, if we want a new foreign policy, then we have to have somebody who has a new vision for how we're going to move the country forward; somebody who has a track record of reducing special interests' and lobbyists' power in Washington; somebody who, on foreign policy issues, has shown the judgment that, in fact, bears out over time.  And that's the kind of leadership that I've shown, that's the reason we're doing well, and I suspect that that's where the people of Iowa are going to want to see the country, in a new direction.

MR. RUSSERT:  But when someone says, Senator, you've never had an executive position, you've never had to make executive decisions, you've only been in the Senate just two years, why don't you wait?  Why'd you have to run now?

SEN. OBAMA:  You know, Dr.  King talked about the fierce urgency of now.  I think that there's such a thing as being too late.  I don't want to wake up four years from now and find out we've been having the same arguments with the same lack of results.  I don't want to find out that more people don't have health insurance or that once again we've sent our troops in to fight a war that didn't need to be fought because nobody had the judgment or courage to ask the tough questions.  Now, I have great respect for former President Clinton, and I would expect that he would defend his wife; you know, he is on the campaign trail at this point.  I would simply point out that the same arguments that are being made with respect to me were made with respect to him back in '91, '92.  And I have more formal foreign policy experience than he did...

MR. RUSSERT:  But he had been governor for 10 years.

SEN. OBAMA:  ...at the time.  Well, but that's my point.  My point is, what happens is that when Washington gets challenged with respect to change, then their immediate response is "You haven't been in Washington long enough." And the people of Iowa and the people of America, I think, recognize that there are other measures of leadership and there are other measures of experience than simply having been in Washington.  And so my experience is rooted in the real lives of real people, and I think I'll be a--will bring real results if Americans have courage to change.  And by the way, that's a quote from Bill Clinton back in 1991.  He was right then; I'm right this time.  I'm ready to lead this country in a new direction.

MR. RUSSERT:  You called Hillary Clinton the master of a broken system.  What does that mean?

SEN. OBAMA:  Well...

MR. RUSSERT:  She's the master?

SEN. OBAMA:  Well, the--you can't argue that you have mastered Washington and that's why you are the best agent to bring about change.  I mean, the, the fact is that I have consistently talked about taking America in a new direction, and I've also lived it on issues like campaign finance and lobbying reform.  I passed the toughest ethics reform legislation since Watergate, preventing lobbyists from buying gifts and providing meals.  And...

MR. RUSSERT:  But you also said the last time I was out here, at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner...

SEN. OBAMA:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  ..."I will not allow a lobbyist to work in my White House"...

SEN. OBAMA:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...and now you've changed on that.

SEN. OBAMA:  No, I...

MR. RUSSERT:  You said they can work.

SEN. OBAMA:  I haven't changed.  Look, the terminology may have changed, the, the basic concept remains the same.  I am going to break the revolving door that has become so commonplace in this administration and in some previous administrations.  If you want to work in my White House, you will not be able to regulate former employers.  And if you leave my White House, you will not be able to lobby agencies that you used to work for on behalf of folks that were regulated.  That is the revolving door that has to be broken to give the American people confidence in, in their government.

MR. RUSSERT:  So if a lobbyist agreed to those terms, they could work in the White House?

SEN. OBAMA:  Look, there are people who may have lobbied 10 years ago, 15 years ago.  They may be able to render excellent service to the American people as long as they're clear that we want people of integrity and we want this link between you cashing in and you serving in government broken.

MR. RUSSERT:  Hillary Clinton gave an interview to the Iowa press where she talked about her own experience and what she had gone through, and her words were interesting.  I want to play those and come back and talk about them. Here she is.

(Videotape)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY):  (December 14, 2007) I've been tested, I've been vetted, I have been in the, you know, political arena in our country very intensely for 16 years.  There are no, there are no surprises.  There are not going to be, you know, anybody saying, "Well, why didn't we think about" or what--"My goodness, what does that mean?"

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  "I've been tested, I've been vetted.  There's no surprises."

SEN. OBAMA:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  We've had a Clinton official in New Hampshire resign because he began to talk about your drug use as a, a young man.  A Clinton official resigned here who talked about--on the Internet about your Muslim background.

SEN. OBAMA:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  Have you been sufficiently tested and vetted?  (Obama nods head) Are there any surprises?  (Obama shakes head) Is there anything the American people should know?

SEN. OBAMA:  There are no surprises, in part because the Clinton, the Clinton campaign has done a, I think, a thorough research job on us.  If there was anything out there, I promise you, they would have found it by now, which is why they ended up resorting to some of the stuff that you're talking about. The only reason people know it is because I disclosed it.  And some of it was completely false.

Now, look, I have been written about, I have been scrubbed, I have been vetted over the last year.  I'm sure if you talk to my wife she could point out a few more flaws in my character, but the fact of the matter is that the people of Iowa and I think the people of America at this point know what I stand for. I'm in public service because I believe in the American people.  I think that I--that if government is working well, we can knock down barriers to their American dream.  The proposals and policies that I've put forward are ones that I've been putting forward for the last 20 years, and there's a consistency there, whether it's in terms of how we deal with the war in Iraq, how we deal with healthcare, how we deal with making sure that every child in America has the kind of education they deserve.  When people look back on the track record--and, in fact, I think David Brooks in The New York Times wrote about it--they, they find that I have been consistent in my values and my ideals and the choices I've made in my life to be an organizer or a civil rights lawyer or to be a public servant.  People, I think, can have confidence that I am who I say I am.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you think these stories have successfully created an unease, an uncertainty, a doubt about you?

SEN. OBAMA:  Well, I think there's no doubt that in the closing days of the campaign, you know, we've seen independent expenditures, groups that are providing outside assistance, running some negative ads against us, that may have some effect.  But ultimately, I'm putting my faith in the people of Iowa and the people of America that they want something better.

And, Tim, I think the fact that I'm here in a position to win against people who've been campaigning in--for longer times and have much more sturdy organizations is a testimony to how badly people want something new, they want something different, and if they've got the courage to bring about those changes, in five days I think we can trigger a whole new kind of politics in this country and we'll chart a new course that will be better for the American people.

MR. RUSSERT:  In terms of candor, you're running a political ad in Iowa and elsewhere about healthcare.  And this is what the ad says.  Here's the Obama ad.  Let's watch.

(Videotape)

SEN. OBAMA:  I've got a plan to cut costs and cover everyone.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  "Cover everyone." Every analysis of your healthcare plan says there are 15 million Americans who would not be automatically covered because you don't call for a mandate.

SEN. OBAMA:  But, but, Tim...

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me just give you a chance to respond.  Ron Brownstein, who's objective on this, wrote this for the National Journal, and then we'll come back and talk about it.  He says this:  "Obama faces his own contortions. He commendably calls for building a broad healthcare consensus that includes the insurance industry.  But in the states, the individual mandate has been critical in persuading insurers to accept reform, including the requirement" "they no longer reject applicants with pre-existing health problems.  If such a requirement isn't tied to a mandate, insurers correctly note, the uninsured can wait until they are sick to buy coverage, which" would "inflate costs for everyone else.  By seeking guaranteed access without an individual mandate, Obama is virtually ensuring war with the insurance companies that he's pledged to engage."

SEN. OBAMA:  Well, Tim, here's the philosophical debate that's going on. First of all, every objective observer says Edwards, Clinton, myself, we basically have the same plan.  We do have a philosophical difference.  They both believe the problem is the government is not forcing adults to get healthcare.  My belief is that the real problem is people can't afford healthcare, and that if we could make it affordable, they will purchase it. Now, they assert that there're going to be all these people left out who are avoiding buying healthcare.  My attitude is, we are going to make sure that we reduce costs for families who don't have health care, but also people who do have healthcare and are desperately needing some price relief.  And we are going to reduce costs by about $2500 per family.

If it turns out that there are still people left over who are not purchasing healthcare, one way of avoiding them waiting till they get sick is to charge a penalty if they try to sign up later so that they have an incentive to sign up immediately.

MR. RUSSERT:  Which is a quasi-mandate.

SEN. OBAMA:  But--well, no, it's not a quasi-mandate because what happens then is we are not going around trying to fine people who can't afford healthcare, and that's what's happening in Massachusetts right now.  They've already had to exempt 20 percent of the uninsured, and you're reading stories about people who didn't have healthcare, still can't afford the premiums on the subsidized healthcare, but now are also paying a fine.  That I don't think is providing a relief to the American people.  We need to make health care affordable.  That's what my plan does.  And The Washington Post itself said, for the Clinton campaign to try to find an individual who wanted healthcare and could not get it under the Obama administration would be very difficult because that person probably does not exist.  If you want healthcare under my plan, you will be able to get it, it will be affordable, and it will be of the high quality.

MR. RUSSERT:  Before you go, you related a conversation that you had with your wife, Michelle, that if you didn't run--win this time for president, you wouldn't run again.

SEN. OBAMA:  Well, no, what my wife said is, "We're not doing this again." And...

MR. RUSSERT:  Is she right?

SEN. OBAMA:  Well, the point she was making, I think, was an interesting one, which is, she said, one of the things that we bring to this race is we're not that far away from normal.  You know, it wasn't that long ago that we were living in a small condo and it was getting too small for our kids, that we were trying to figure out how to save money for our children's college education and paying off student loans.  That, I think, gives us some insight into what ordinary Americans are going through right now.  Eight years from now, she isn't so sure that we won't be in a different orbit, and we won't have that same feeling for what people are going through.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if you don't win this time, would you run again?

SEN. OBAMA:  Oh, Tim, we haven't even cast the--we haven't even had the first caucus in Iowa.

MR. RUSSERT:  Keeping that door open, huh?

SEN. OBAMA:  I, I intend to win this time, that's why I'm running.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Obama, thanks very much for joining us and sharing your views.

SEN. OBAMA:  Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT:  And we'll be right back.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Continuing coverage from Iowa all week on MSNBC, the "Today" show and "NBC Nightly News." We'll be back live next week from New Hampshire, two days before the New Hampshire primary.  New Year's Day, watch those Buffalo Sabres, world's largest outdoor hockey game, on here on NBC.

If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.  Happy new year, everyone, and thanks to our friends here at WHO in Iowa.

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