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Video: RNC, DNC debate, Santorum, roundtable

  1. Transcript of: RNC, DNC debate, Santorum, roundtable

    MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, the politics of a sluggish economic recovery. How vulnerable is the president?

    PRES. BARACK OBAMA: I'm not concerned about a double-dip recession. I am concerned about the fact that the recovery that we're on is not producing jobs as quickly as I want it to happen.

    MR. GREGORY: Are his economic policies adrift, giving the GOP its best opening?

    FMR. GOV. TIM PAWLENTY (R-MN): We've tried it President Obama 's way, and it's only made the economy worse.

    MR. GREGORY: Plus, the Anthony Weiner scandal, a public spectacle distracting Democrats from important business. How long can he resist calls to step down after top party officials demand his resignation ? This morning, an exclusive debate between the leaders of the two

    major political parties: Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus. Then, our Meet the Candidates series continues with a man hoping to make a political comeback after serving four years in the House and 12 in the Senate , former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum .

    FMR. SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R-PA): And I 'm running for president of the United States . Join the fight! Join the fight!

    MR. GREGORY: What role will he play in a crowded GOP field ? Finally, our political roundtable on where the GOP field now stands, just days before candidates meet for their second debate. Has Gingrich 's campaign imploded after key advisers jumped ship? Could Texas Governor Rick Perry be positioning himself for a run? And will the race turn on the economy , or the country 's changing demographics ? With us: Democratic mayor of Atlanta , Kasim Reed ; Republican strategist and Time magazine columnist Mike Murphy ; author of the book "Revival 2.0: How the Obama White House is Making its Political Comeback ," Richard Wolffe ; and columnist for The Wall Street Journal Kim Strassel .

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

    MR. GREGORY: Good morning. New developments this weekend concerning Congressman Anthony Weiner after new online communications were revealed between him and a 17-year- old girl in Delaware ; his staff claiming, however, the contents were not explicit or indecent. But that news appeared to accelerate pressure from top Democrats for him to resign . Ignoring that pressure this weekend, the congressman instead issued a statement yesterday afternoon via

    his congressional office saying in part the following: "Congressman Weiner departed this morning to seek professional treatment to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person . In light of that, he will request a short leave of absence from the House of Representatives so that he can get evaluated and map out a course of treatment to make himself well. Congressman Weiner takes the views of his colleagues very seriously and has determined that he needs this time to get healthy and make the best decision possible for himself, his family and his constituents." Among those calling for his resignation , the chair of the Democratic National Committee , Debbie Wasserman Schultz . She, along with her counterpart, the chairman of the RNC , Reince Priebus , joins us here exclusively this morning for their first joint television appearance. Welcome to both of you.

    REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL): Thank you.

    MR. REINCE PRIEBUS: Good morning, David .

    REP. SCHULTZ: Good morning.

    MR. GREGORY: Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz , let me start with you.

    REP. SCHULTZ: Sure.

    MR. GREGORY: What, what led to the change? Why now call for him to resign ?

    REP. SCHULTZ: Well, I think that since this story broke we were giving Congressman Weiner some breathing room to be able to be, be circumspect, do the right thing , make a -- you know, reach the conclusion that, that he needed to step back and step down on his own. And as of yesterday, when that didn't happen, it was important to, to weigh in.

    MR. GREGORY: But before his actual admission, you spoke about this during an interview, and this is what you said.

    REP. SCHULTZ: Anthony Weiner is dealing with a personal matter, and it should be left as a personal matter.

    MR. GREGORY: When did it become less a personal matter and more an issue of public trust ?

    REP. SCHULTZ: Well, I made that statement before it had been revealed that Anthony had not been truthful, and that, that, that he was engaged in the conduct that he had been denying at the time. And once he crossed that threshold, acknowledged that, that he'd been lying, had engaged in conduct that is, you know, completely unacceptable and indefensible...

    MR. PRIEBUS: Well, here's the problem , David .

    REP. SCHULTZ: ...that's where I thought that the -- that's where I thought the line was crossed.

    MR. GREGORY: Well, I'll come to you in just a second. But is this enough that he seeks treatment, or would you still like him to straight out resign ?

    REP. SCHULTZ: The statement I made speaks for itself yesterday. I think Anthony Weiner needs to resign so he can focus on his family, focus on his own well-being, and make sure that...

    MR. GREGORY: So there's going to be more pressure from top Democrats to say this is not quite enough, leave of absence is not enough, he should step down completely.

    REP. SCHULTZ: I think Leader Pelosi , Steve Israel , myself, we all came together yesterday...

    MR. GREGORY: Well, what, what is it you can do? I mean, he's obviously not listening to the admonitions of his colleagues.

    REP. SCHULTZ: Well, at, at the end of the day , you know, a member of Congress makes their own decision, and that, that's certainly going to be up to Anthony Weiner . But we have made clear that he needs to resign , he needs to focus on, on getting his, his own personal issues in order...

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    REP. SCHULTZ: ... focus on his family and, and do the right thing ...

    MR. GREGORY: From your, from your...

    REP. SCHULTZ: ...by his constituents.

    MR. GREGORY: From your -- you talk about constituents. Reince Priebus , look at the, the polling that was done this week, the Marist poll indicating a majority of his constituents in Representative Weiner 's district say that he should remain in office, 56 percent. What do you say?

    MR. PRIEBUS: David , here's the problem . This is a question of leadership . It always was a question of leadership . We didn't -- I mean, Anthony Weiner was lying from the very beginning. He turned this town and this country into a three-ring circus. What we called for is for Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leaders in this country to do what every American knew had to be done immediately and call for his resignation . Now, it seemed to me that for the first 10 days in this circus that the only job that Nancy Pelosi was interested in saving was Anthony Weiner 's. We've got crushing unemployment in this country , we've got a president that's, that's whistling past the graveyard, we've got families that are struggling, and instead we've got leadership in a Democratic Party that are defending a guy that deserves no defense.

    MR. GREGORY: Is it a difficult...

    REP. SCHULTZ: But it's...

    MR. GREGORY: Is it a difficult place for the party leadership to be that you call for resignation , he doesn't listen? I mean, does it say something about, the, the leadership ?

    REP. SCHULTZ: What, what Reince is saying doesn't pass the straight face test, from a chair of a party who -- none of whose leaders called for Senator Vitter , who actually broke the law, to resign , who is still serving in office. Chairman...

    MR. GREGORY: Hired prostitutes.

    REP. SCHULTZ: Hired prostitutes and evaded the truth. Chairman Priebus was chairman when Senator Ensign was also embroiled in unethical, unacceptable and probably illegal conduct, and he did not call for Senator Ensign's resignation .

    MR. PRIEBUS: Yeah. Yeah...

    MR. GREGORY: Well, let me ask the bigger question, because this...

    REP. SCHULTZ: So it's not -- it can't be...

    MR. PRIEBUS: And Senator Ensign resigned.

    MR. GREGORY: Well, wait a second. But this is a -- look.

    REP. SCHULTZ: But you never called for his resignation , so it's a double standard and it's unacceptable.

    MR. GREGORY: But here's the question. This is unseemly to a lot of people...

    MR. PRIEBUS: It's not a double standard .

    REP. SCHULTZ: Ah!

    MR. GREGORY: ...but there is a question of where there's a line.

    REP. SCHULTZ: So you only call for Democrats' resignation , but not for Republicans ' resignation .

    MR. GREGORY: Wait, wait a minute.

    MR. PRIEBUS: Just hang on a second.

    REP. SCHULTZ: OK.

    MR. GREGORY: Senator, Senator Vitter , nobody called on him to resign . Senator Ensign was brought up. Where is the line then?

    MR. PRIEBUS: Well, listen. I mean, Senator Vitter , that's a, that's a five-year-old story. Chris Lee , how long did he last? About 30 seconds. How long -- Senator Ensign resigned within six weeks of me becoming chairman. Look, I'm not defending these guys, but the fact of the matter is, we have big issues here to tackle in this country . We have unemployment that rivals the Great Depression . We have gas prices that are out of this world . We have crushing debt. We know what's happening to this economy . And here's the problem . It's not so much as much as "the economy , stupid," as people say, it's "the policy's stupid" too. And the president's policies in regard to saving this country , getting our economy back on track are not working.

    MR. GREGORY: All right -- OK, we'll -- we're going to get to those. Final question on, on Weiner . Have you spoken to him personally?

    REP. SCHULTZ: I did speak to him personally the other day.

    MR. GREGORY: What's his state of mind ? I mean, what's he thinking?

    REP. SCHULTZ: He's -- you know, he's incredibly apologetic, devastated that, that, that this is conduct that, that he has been engaged in, and I think...

    MR. GREGORY: But it sounds like he's stubborn, too.

    REP. SCHULTZ: Well, I didn't speak to him very long. I, I just know that he was, he was -- he's remorseful. I just hope that Anthony goes and gets the help that he needs , and that he does the right thing and, like the -- Leader Pelosi said yesterday, removes himself from, from office so he can focus on, on the important things that he needs to do for his family. Let, let me just add, though, David , that it is so disingenuous for Reince to be saying that jobs are their priority. I mean, we've got a party who've, who've been in charge of the House of Representatives for the last six months, haven 't brought a single jobs bill to the floor. So, I mean...

    MR. GREGORY: All right. Well, let's talk more, let's talk more about the economy in some more detail. This is the president's standing in terms of handling the economy in the public's eye, and it's pretty negative right now. Sixty percent almost, 59 percent, disapprove of the president's handling of the economy . And there are facts that back that up that are difficult for

    this administration and for the Democrats: unemployment's up 25 percent since Inauguration Day for President Obama ; the debt's up 35 percent, over $14 trillion; a gallon of gas up over 100 percent, with gas $3.75, higher than that in certain parts of the country . Why should Americans trust Democratic governance right now on the economy , and particularly the president's?

    REP. SCHULTZ: Because we were able to, under President Obama 's leadership , turn this economy around. When President Obama took office...

    MR. GREGORY: Whoa, whoa, let me just stop you there. Clearly, the economy has not been turned around. I mean, you just saw those numbers.

    REP. SCHULTZ: It, it certainly -- it has...

    MR. GREGORY: Americans don't believe that's the case.

    REP. SCHULTZ: Well, we, we were -- when President Obama took office, the month before he was inaugurated, the economy was bleeding 750,000 jobs a month, David , and we were not headed in the right direction. Now, I know we -- and President Obama has said we have a long way to go . We'd like the pace of recovery to, to, to be picked up. But we have definitely begun to turn the economy around. You, you fast-forward two and a half years later now, and the economy has created 2.1 million private sector jobs, a million of those jobs just in the last six months. We've had 15 straight months of job growth .

    MR. GREGORY: Nobody believes that you can throw -- nobody believes that the pace of job creation is anything close to robust enough to lead to, to economic growth ...

    REP. SCHULTZ: Including...

    MR. GREGORY: ...even to match the economic growth projections that this administration's made. I want to get Chairman Priebus on this.

    MR. PRIEBUS: David , the chairwoman's living in fantasyland. We know that the facts are the facts, and we can't get away from that. And Barack Obama is defenseless to the truth on what's going on in the American economy . We have lost as -- two and a half million jobs since Barack Obama 's been president. And of that two and half million jobs, almost 45 percent of those people have been out of work for six months. That number, that number rivals the Great Depression .

    REP. SCHULTZ: And yet...

    MR. PRIEBUS: This, this president has been a disaster to this economy , and that's why, when you ask Americans whether or not they're better off today than they were three or four years ago, they say no. When you ask Americans , has this president followed through on his promises to cut the deficit in half by the end of the first term as he's promised...

    MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

    MR. PRIEBUS: ...the answer is no. The debt is out of control . He's on pace to accumulate more debt on his watch than every single president before him combined.

    MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you this as, as the top Republican in the party , is there something that Republicans who control the House can do to accelerate job creation now, through tax policy , through other kinds of policies , aside just looking at the question of whether or not you're better off now than you were four years ago?

    MR. PRIEBUS: Well, I mean, certainly. I mean, I think that for one thing we've all -- we're all in agreement that we have a debt crisis in this country . We're all in agreement that we can't keep sending...

    MR. GREGORY: I'm asking for a specific policy, not just talking points .

    MR. PRIEBUS: Well, I think that we need to -- I think we need to cut taxes on small businesses . I think we need to spur growth there.

    REP. SCHULTZ: Well, that's great because we've done that.

    MR. PRIEBUS: I think that we need, I think that we need...

    REP. SCHULTZ: Seventeen times.

    MR. PRIEBUS: ...to get, I think we need to get the president from stopping from whistling past the graveyard and introduce a budget...

    MR. GREGORY: OK, hang on one second.

    MR. PRIEBUS: ...which they haven 't done in 700 days.

    MR. GREGORY: Let me -- on the question, Congresswoman, the issue of taxes. Is there a specific tax policy , tax cuts for example, that the Democrats would be open to, to specifically target job creation in the shorter term?

    REP. SCHULTZ: Absolutely. Beyond the 17 tax cuts , if the chairman had been actually paying attention in the last two years, the 17 different tax cuts that President Obama proposed and the Democratic Congress passed to support small businesses , including a cut in the capital gains tax . The compromise that we reached during a lame duck Congress that made sure that we could give a payroll tax deduction to, to, to Americans making about $50,000 year. Excuse me. We focused on striking a balance between making the investments that we needed to make to be able to jump-start the economy again and get it moving back in the right direction and also insuring that we could reduce spending and -- in the tax code so that we could give incentives to businesses to be able to create jobs and be able to make investments in their businesses again.

    MR. PRIEBUS: So much so -- so much so that we've lost two and half million jobs.

    REP. SCHULTZ: That's been done and more needs to be done. And we need to come together. Excuse me. We need to do that.

    MR. GREGORY: Well, I...

    REP. SCHULTZ: And added a million in the last six months. We need to do that by coming together, David . What, what the Republicans have refused to do is sit down around the table with Democrats to forge a regional -- or a reasonable approach and a compromise to get our economy ...

    MR. GREGORY: All right, let's...

    REP. SCHULTZ: ...in even more high gear .

    MR. GREGORY: Let me move on to some of the political landscape questions. The Republicans will meet tomorrow in New Hampshire , an important debate. Mitt Romney will be part of it. As you look at the landscape right now, are the Republicans , who will be on that stage, is one of those ultimately the nominee?

    MR. PRIEBUS: Well, I'm not sure if one of them is ultimately the nominee. But certainly some of them can be the nominee, depending on who gets in. I think that obviously this president is going to have a tough road to hoe. I mean, he's got these deficits that we've talked about. The, the chairwoman's spoken about the fact that she's somehow espousing these great tax policies that they've put forward, but yet we've lost two and a half million jobs...

    MR. GREGORY: OK.

    MR. PRIEBUS: ...since he's been president.

    MR. GREGORY: I'm...

    MR. PRIEBUS: So I think that clearly...

    MR. GREGORY: Let's stick to what I'm asking right now about the Republican field .

    MR. PRIEBUS: Go on.

    MR. GREGORY: Here is the perceived front-runner right now, Mitt Romney , and he's running in a dead heat , according to the Washington Post / ABC News poll. Chairwoman, dead heat with Mitt Romney . That has got to be about the economy and the president's vulnerability on the economy , no?

    REP. SCHULTZ: Well, Mitt Romney is pretty darned vulnerable on the economy himself. When he was governor he literally was 47th in job creation for someone who touts his own ability to create jobs. We're talking about somebody that never created and recovered the amount of jobs lost in Massachusetts from the 2001 recession when he was governor.

    MR. GREGORY: Do you see him as a front-runner for the Republicans ?

    REP. SCHULTZ: I see that there is a collection of very flawed candidates on the other side of the aisle. We are concentrating on making sure that we can continue to boost this recovery. We want the Republicans to join us.

    MR. GREGORY: All right, let's talk about...

    REP. SCHULTZ: They, they have literally been absent from that process.

    MR. GREGORY: ...the electoral map. It's very interesting. If you look at the states that president Obama won as a candidate in 2008 , these are also states that President Bush won in 2004 , so it's very interesting. From the Rocky Mountain West to the Midwest where the president can be most vulnerable on the economy . And then Virginia , North Carolina , Southern states and all-important Florida . Chairman Priebus...

    MR. PRIEBUS: Yeah.

    MR. GREGORY: ...how do Republicans get those states back, and then the question for you congresswoman, is how does the president defend those states ?

    MR. PRIEBUS: Well, I mean, I think the folks in those states have the same concerns that people across the country have in regard to this economy . I really think that it's speaking to the issues of the economy , it's talking about how this president's performed, whether the rhetoric matches the actual performance. I think that the, the victories that we've had in 2010 are going to be a big help in winning a lot of these states . I come from Wisconsin .

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    MR. PRIEBUS: Obviously we've had Republican governors across the country . We've got party activists that have built up around the country . But at the end of the day , this is going to come down to whether people believe that they're better off today than they were three or four years ago. And they're going to say no. And they're going to say no.

    REP. SCHULTZ: ...and...

    MR. GREGORY: There's a demographic -- there's -- the economy is what gives him a glass jaw, the president, but the demographics , increasing Hispanic participation in elections and populations around the country may help.

    REP. SCHULTZ: That's going to be incredibly important. But we've already gotten a glimpse. The 2010 elections , that's a nice thing to hang your hat on. Look at the most recent election . We just won -- the Democratic candidate for mayor in Jacksonville , Florida , just won a special election a couple of weeks ago. First time we've had a Democratic mayor in Jacksonville , Florida , in 20 years. We won a state house race in New Hampshire . A tiny ruby red state house race where the right, right-wing policies of the New Hampshire governor and -- of, of, of the New Hampshire legislature were on display. And the voters reacted and rejected that. We just elected a New York 26, a red, red congressional district in a special election because the Republicans want to end Medicare as we know it. The voters rejected that. So the most recent opportunity for voters to weigh in on the Republican policies have resulted in Democratic candidates.

    MR. GREGORY: All right.

    MR. PRIEBUS: The only...

    REP. SCHULTZ: And that's how we're going to win those states .

    MR. GREGORY: Quickly before -- we're just about out of time, but I want to ask Congressman Wasserman Schultz about Gabby Giffords . New pictures on her Facebook page up today and they're remarkable.

    REP. SCHULTZ: Yeah.

    MR. GREGORY: She looks terrific.

    REP. SCHULTZ: Doesn't she?

    MR. GREGORY: Of course , having been shot in the head earlier this year. One of your closest friends. What's going on?

    REP. SCHULTZ: She is. I just got to talk to her on Wednesday on the phone for the first time . We really had a wonderful conversation . She spoke to me in, in full sentences. Initiated those sentences instead of just responding, which is what she'd really only been able to do recently. And she's making remarkable progress. We're so proud of her. She's working so hard. She's got a long way to go , but you can just see how beautiful she is. And we, we are longing and looking forward to her coming back.

    MR. GREGORY: All right, we'll leave it there. The debate of course on the issues...

    REP. SCHULTZ: Thank you.

    MR. GREGORY: ...will continue to heat up.

    REP. SCHULTZ: Reince , great to meet you. Thank you.

    MR. PRIEBUS: You bet.

    MR. GREGORY: Thank you both for making your first appearance here. Coming up, Rick Santorum made it official this week by throwing his hat into the ring for 2012 . He says he's ready to lead, but does he have what it takes to break through a still unsettled and crowded Republican field ? He's been putting a lot of time in on the ground in Iowa . This morning the Pennsylvania senator is here and in studio as we continue our Meet the Candidates series. One on one with Rick Santorum , coming up next. And later, will Congressman Weiner continue to be a distraction for Democrats . Our roundtable weighs in on the latest developments there and more, particularly about the economy and its impact on the race for 2012 when we come back.

    MR. GREGORY: Coming up, the latest Republican to officially enter the presidential race , former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum . He's here, he joins me. Is his candidacy the beginning of a political comeback? It's up next, right after this brief commercial break .

    MR. GREGORY: We are back, continuing our Meet the Candidates series with Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum . Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS .

    FMR. SEN. SANTORUM (R-PA): Thank you, David .

    MR. GREGORY: Good to have you here. You announced just this week, in your home state of Pennsylvania , that you're running, and this was a portion of what you said in your announcement.

    SEN. SANTORUM: Americans are not looking for someone that they can believe in. They're looking for a president who believes in them.

    MR. GREGORY: As we know, elections are about choices. And I wonder exactly what you mean, talking about President Obama there. Do you believe that he does not believe in America ? Does not believe in the American way ?

    SEN. SANTORUM: I think if you look at his policies , his policies are all oriented towards centralizing more power in Washington , D.C. , taking freedom away from the American public, not believing that Americans -- for example, let's just look at Obamacare . He doesn't believe Americans can actually make decisions for themselves, that he has to tell you how much money you're going to, you're going to spend on health care ; you're going to -- what plans that you're going to be qualified for. And I 'm not talking about people who are poor, people who are seniors. I'm talking about working Americans . He's going to tell working Americans who are out there providing for themselves, paying for their health insurance , their employers are doing it. He's saying...

    MR. GREGORY: And they're better off with the freedom that they've got in the vagaries of the private insurance market?

    SEN. SANTORUM: Do we need to make some changes in the health insurance markets? Absolutely. But we need...

    MR. GREGORY: But you'd repeal the president's healthcare plan totally.

    SEN. SANTORUM: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. Absolutely.

    MR. GREGORY: Even covering pre-existing conditions, which most Republicans agree with?

    SEN. SANTORUM: My feeling is that we need a bottom-up system, not a top-down system. We need to believe in free people , we need to believe in markets. What's happening under, under President Obama , you're seeing, you're seeing it in his Obamacare , what he's done with Medicare . He put in this independent payment advisory board , 15-member board, that's going to go into place on -- right before the implementation of Obamacare in 2014 , that's going to put, put price controls and controls on -- top-down controls on Medicare . We've never had that before. We've never had a independent board created by the government to put price controls on Medicare . You hear the Democrats saying we're going to push grandma off a cliff because of what Paul Ryan suggested on Medicare . Grandma 's already headed down because Barack Obama 's put a, put a price control plan in place and it's top-down. What Ryan and I support is giving seniors the choice to participate in economic decisions...

    MR. GREGORY: All right.

    SEN. SANTORUM: ...and make those decisions about the access to care...

    MR. GREGORY: I want to...

    SEN. SANTORUM: ...and quality of care by themselves.

    MR. GREGORY: I want to talk a little bit more about Medicare in just a minute, but I want to ask a little bit more about your announcement and your, and your place in the field . The last time you were up for re- election , you were handily defeated by 17 points in your run for the Senate . I wonder how you think you've changed professionally and personally since that defeat, now that you're standing for president.

    SEN. SANTORUM: Well, a couple of things. First off, one of the things I learned from that race is that losing isn't the worst thing that can happen to you. That standing up -- not standing up for what you believe in and fighting for those things is the worst thing, and I think if I go back and look at my race, did I make mistakes? Sure. But one of the things I think I was -- where I ended up on the short end of the stick is I was out there talking about Social Security reform in 2005 and 2006 . When George Bush said, "Charge," after the 2004 election , "we've got to take on Social Security ." Jim DeMint and I ran to the floor of the United States Senate , and I did town meetings all over Pennsylvania . I turned around and there wasn't anybody behind me. I mean...

    MR. GREGORY: Is that a problem now, by the way? I mean, look at what Paul Ryan 's trying to do on Medicare .

    SEN. SANTORUM: Yeah.

    MR. GREGORY: Do you worry about that?

    SEN. SANTORUM: I do worry, I do worry that...

    MR. GREGORY: You support his plan.

    SEN. SANTORUM: I...

    MR. GREGORY: You want to go further.

    SEN. SANTORUM: I do worry...

    MR. GREGORY: You say that even if you're over 55, it should change now.

    SEN. SANTORUM: Well, I do because we've had -- we have a plan in place right now called Medicare Prescription Drugs , which is identical to the Ryan plan, the seniors like and by the way came in 41 percent under budget. So we know...

    MR. GREGORY: Premiums have gone up under that program.

    SEN. SANTORUM: But -- of course , premiums are going to go up. Premiums go up on -- in the private sector , too, if you don't control costs. We need a more comprehensive plan where seniors and individuals are involved in controlling costs. And you have government now controlling well over 50 percent of medical care , and they're not doing a very good job controlling costs.

    MR. GREGORY: On Social Security , would you raise the retirement age ?

    SEN. SANTORUM: I proposed that back in 1994 . I think that's an option that has to be on the table. I think the one thing that we should do is to deal with the cost of living increase. The cost -- I asked a senior everywhere I go, Iowa , New Hampshire , I say, "Should we -- what should the cost of living increase be tied to?" And the answer is always, "Well, it should be tied to the prices that we pay for goods and services." Well, it's not. The cost of living increase in Social Security is tied to wage inflation. Why is this, why, why, what does that have to do with cost of living for seniors?

    MR. GREGORY: Hm.

    SEN. SANTORUM: It doesn't. And so what we need to do is change it from a wage inflation index to a price inflation index. If we do that, you solve anywhere from half to three-quarters of the short in Social Security over time. So that's one thing we can do. We can do it now. We'll have minimal, minimal effect on anybody at or near retirement, but long-term it creates sustainability for young people who are sitting out there who don't believe Social Security is going to be there for them.

    MR. GREGORY: What space do you occupy in this race? Who are you? Are you the true conservative? Are you the truth teller? What are you?

    SEN. SANTORUM: Yeah, I'm someone who's been out there for 16 years, having the courage to lead on a variety of conservative issues when they weren't popular. I was leading on entitlement reform . I was the guy that wrote the contract with America Welfare reform bill when Welfare reform was seen as throwing, you know, throwing grandma out on the street. And I was out there leading that charge and was able to be successful in the United States Senate in getting 70 votes to end a federal entitlement. Something that we have to do in this city right here is to do something about entitlements. You have someone in the race who's actually taking it on and been successful. I've lead on national security issues, particularly in the Middle East . I have two major pieces of legislation where I actually fought President Bush . He eventually signed both, but he opposed both when I first proposed them, one on Iran and one on Syria . And I 've also been a leader on moral cultural issues. So you, you take any issue area, I've had the courage to go out on controversial issues and take leadership roles, and I've been successful.

    MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about being a Christian conservative in the race. Do you think that Mitt Romney , Jon Huntsman , will have a problem in this race in the primary as Mormons ?

    SEN. SANTORUM: I hope not. I hope that people look at the, at the qualities of candidates and look at what they believe in and look at what they're for, look at their records and make a decision.

    MR. GREGORY: Are they true conservatives in your eyes?

    SEN. SANTORUM: I think they've held positions in the past that have not been conservative and I think they have to account for those.

    MR. GREGORY: And do you think that ultimately that impacts their ability to beat President Obama ?

    SEN. SANTORUM: Look, I think what people are concerned about and what they saw in Congresses in the past and presidents in the past who are Republicans , is that they say one thing when they -- they're really conservative when they run in Republican primaries , and then when they govern, they don't govern as conservatively as they've talked. I think one of the things you can look at with me is I represented Pennsylvania , a state with a million more Democrats than Republicans . Yes, I lost my last race, but my first three races I ran against -- I was faced up against Democratic incumbents in two House districts and a Senate race, and then in my fourth- -and I won all three -- in my fourth race, President Bush lost the state of Pennsylvania by four points, I won it by five. I was the only conservative running in 2000 who won a state that Bush lost. So I think if you look at the record of when there were competitive years to run in, 2006 was probably the worst year for Republicans in Pennsylvania in recent history. If you look at those competitive years, I've been successful because I've been principled. People don't always agree with me, but they know where I stand and they know I'm going to stand up for my convictions.

    MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about the debt and taxes. You have said, you just said it recently, you've got to tell the American people the truth about what government can and cannot afford.

    SEN. SANTORUM: Yeah.

    MR. GREGORY: But back in 2002 in a, in a parallel situation to what we face now, you were on this program, and this is what you said about deficits.

    SEN. SANTORUM: I think we're going to be in for deficits for the, for the, for the next few years to come. We're in a recession or just coming out of a recession, and secondly, we're going to be fighting a war, a major war on terrorism , and potentially a war in Iraq . The last thing we need to do when we are concerned about the national security of this country is to be concerned about deficits.

    MR. GREGORY: We're coming out of a recession, we're fighting two wars, it's 2011 . Deficits didn't matter then, but now they're everything to Republicans now.

    SEN. SANTORUM: Well, let's, let's look at -- I think scale matters, David . I mean, we were -- we -- prior to 2001 , we were in a surplus. We were talking about deficit I think at that point of $100 billion to $200 billion, not $1.5 trillion. Not something that is, that is grinding our economy down. Also, as you know, you mentioned 2002 . That was right after the attacks of 2011and we were pretty much, you know, worried about the security of our country immediately as to whether we were going to be attacked again and, and trying to defeat the, the forces that had just attacked us. So, of course , when you're responding to an attack like that, you worry about stopping the enemy so they don't hit you again. And that's, that's -- the context is important in that, in that statement.

    MR. GREGORY: So deficits mattered even to you then?

    SEN. SANTORUM: Well, of course they did. I mean, I'm, I'm someone who's, again, you know, fought to end entitlements, fought to, to cut spending. For years I was someone who introduced more original spending bills to cut the deficit than anybody else. I believe that we need to, we need to get our fiscal house in order. I have been a strong fiscal conservative throughout, and I'll continue to be.

    MR. GREGORY: Why is it -- if everything worked the way you and other conservatives would like it to, you could cut taxes, you could do some of the things that you'd like to do for the economy . Why then even during boom times for the economy have you not seem much improvement, particularly for the middle class wage earners?

    SEN. SANTORUM: Yeah, I think one of the things that I -- that, that's been a missing ingredient -- and I come from Pennsylvania , and I always say, you know -- I come from Pennsylvania , we still make things there. And it's -- manufacturing economy is, is really important. And I think what we've had is, we've not had a policy that's focused on trying to create those kinds of jobs. Because I grew up in a, in a steel town, Butler, Pennsylvania , and, you know, I used to go in -- take the bus in to school and we'd go by the, go by the mills. And if you could smell the smoke you thought, ah, people were working. That was a good thing. Well, we don't want to smell the smoke anymore, but we want those people working. And we don't have policies , whether they're policies from tax -- from a tax perspective to encourage manufacturing here, from a innovation, from research and development and patents and things like that, improvements that we need to make there. We have to also do, do some things on the regulatory side. What, what this president has done to regulate and drive manufacturing out -- the NLRB and what they've done in South Carolina to basically say to any company that, that is in a state that's not a right to work state , if you want to expand anywhere in the U.S. outside that state , you might as well go overseas. Those are the kinds of policies that hurt our manufacturing base. I'm going to be putting forth a plan in the next few weeks that's going to focus on manufacturing. Why? Because that is where the great middle of America works and can -- has this huge multiplier effect that takes the money from those who innovate and brings it down to those who work in those factories.

    MR. GREGORY: Well, quickly, on taxes. You've got so many American corporations sitting on a ton of cash right now.

    SEN. SANTORUM: Yeah.

    MR. GREGORY: Do they really need additional tax breaks ?

    SEN. SANTORUM: Well, the -- well, one tax break they need is they have about a trillion dollars sitting overseas right now that they don't bring back because they have to pay the, the top corporate rate on it. We need to, we need to slash that, that rate down so that that trillion dollars come back. We did it in 2004 .

    MR. GREGORY: But the question is, again, you're sitting on so much capital , why do you need additional relief from the government ? Can you understand why a lot of people asking that?

    SEN. SANTORUM: Well, what -- yeah. Well, what you have to do is you have to look at your return on investment. I mean, and, and the government is -- makes it very, very expensive because of the, the regulations and because of the taxation to have a reasonable rate of return. You're going to risk capital , you want to make sure that you have a, a, a reasonable chance to make a profit on it. And, and so they're sitting on it. You're right, they are sitting on it because they don't believe, under this climate, that they can be successful and profitable.

    MR. GREGORY: I've just got a minute left. I want to pin you down on a couple of quick issues, if I can. One is education. This is something that you wrote in your book, "It Takes the Family " back...

    SEN. SANTORUM: Right.

    MR. GREGORY: ...in 2005 about public education vs. homeschooling. I want to put it up on the screen, it caught my eye. "It's amazing that so many kids turn out to be fairly normal, considering the weird socialization they get in public schools . In a home school , by contrast, children interact in a rich and complex way with adults and children of other ages all the time." You want to be president of the United States , public education 's one of the foundational parts of our country , and yet you say the weird socialization is kids being in school with kids their same age?

    SEN. SANTORUM: Yeah.

    MR. GREGORY: How is that weird socialization?

    SEN. SANTORUM: Where else is that -- where, where else in, in America , outside of school, do kids go to a place where they sit with people basically the same age, same socioeconomic group, and interact for, for a defined period of time? That's not what life is like. Life is very different than that. You're dealing with a whole bunch of different people. And I think, you know, the one-room schoolhouse was the example of how you had interaction, you have sensitivity. I can see it in my, in my own family, I see it in other children who deal with children of different ages, respect for elders. This -- what I'm saying is that the -- that we need to transform public education to reflect more of what the dynamism is in the private sector . And, and that includes a whole, a whole way of infusing parents into the system, a dynamism of having not people stuck in classrooms. They -- the sort of the old factory model of how we educate people...

    MR. GREGORY: So you'd fundamentally overhaul public education and how, how it's done, how they congregate in schools?

    SEN. SANTORUM: Well, first off, first, first off, I would say that it's not the federal government 's job to overhaul public education .

    MR. GREGORY: Right.

    SEN. SANTORUM: What I would do is talk about how we need to make some transformation, but it should be left to the states and localities to do that.

    MR. GREGORY: One more question on abortion , an issue you care deeply about. I, I want to be clear on this. Do you believe that there should be any legal exceptions for rape or incest when it comes to abortion ?

    SEN. SANTORUM: I believe that life begins at conception, and that that life should be cut -- should be guaranteed under the Constitution . That is a person , in my opinion.

    MR. GREGORY: So even in a case of rape or incest, that would be taking a life?

    SEN. SANTORUM: That would be taking a life, and, and I believe that, that any doctor who performs an abortion -- that -- I would advocate that any doctor that performs an abortion should be criminally charged for doing so. I don't -- I've never supported criminalization of abortion for mothers, but I do for people who perform them. I believe that life is sacred. It's one of those things in the Declaration of Independence . We are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, and the first is life. And I believe that that life should be protected at the moment it is a human life . And at conception it is biologically human, and it's alive. It's a human life , it should be a person under the Constitution .

    MR. GREGORY: All right, we are going to leave it there. Senator Santorum , thank you very much for sharing your views.

    SEN. SANTORUM: Thank you, David .

    MR. GREGORY: And coming up, reaction from our roundtable on what you just heard here from White House hopeful Rick Santorum . Plus, we will break down the rest of the Republican field . A lot of movement this week as Newt Gingrich 's campaign suffered a big blow . Is it the end of the road for him? Also, reaction to top Democrats in the House calling on Congressman

    Weiner to resign. Our roundtable coming up: Democratic mayor of Atlanta Kasim Reed , Republican strategist Mike Murphy ; also joining us, MSNBC 's Richard Wolffe , and The Wall Street Journal 's Kim Strassel .

    MR. GREGORY: We're back with our roundtable: Columnist for The Wall Street Journal Kim Strassel ; author of the book, "2.0, How The Obama White House is Making its Political Comeback ," Richard Wolffe ; Democratic Mayor of Atlanta , Kasim Reed ; and Republican strategist and Time magazine columnist Mike Murphy . Welcome to all of you. And Mayor Reed , I was reminded on Twitter this morning it was your birthday, was it not? On Friday? Happy birthday.

    MAYOR KASIM REED (D-GA): Yes. Thank you.

    MR. GREGORY: Glad to have you come up here and spend the birthday weekend on MEET THE PRESS .

    MAYOR REED: Oh it's been beautiful.

    MR. GREGORY: Thanks so much. Mike Murphy , let me start with you. Rick Santorum , he's in it to win it . I think you could say he positions himself as the one true conservative here with some experience.

    MR. MIKE MURPHY: Yep.

    MR. GREGORY: Is he for real?

    MR. MURPHY: Well, you know, he was, as he pointed out, governor of a big blue hard-to-win state for the -- governor -- senator, of that state .

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    MR. MURPHY: On the other hand , not as famous. A lot of his story is wases, you know, did this, did that. He is a peer social conservative , and there's room for that in the Iowa caucus , though I wouldn't -- it's hard for me to see the path to the nomination for him. I think he may surprise a little bit in Iowa .

    MR. GREGORY: Mayor Reed , the other big story , of course , Anthony Weiner . And you heard from Debbie Wasserman Schultz , "Look, there's only so much we can do here to try to push him out of office. He's, you know, he's hanging in." How much is this distracting Democrats from doing real business, the real business of fixing the economy , which is what's going to weigh so heavily.

    MAYOR REED: It's very bad for Democrats . I believe that the congressman should resign so we can move on. I mean, the fact of the matter is, is Democrats have been doing very well on the Medicare conversation .

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    MAYOR REED: Paul Ryan has really given the Democrats a great deal of momentum. They had a good win in, in New York . And now who's talking about that at all? So I think that we need to move on. I think he's been a great public servant, but we have -- the stakes are just too high. We need to be talking about jobs, jobs, jobs. That's not happening right now. We're having a conversation about the congressman.

    MR. GREGORY: Kim Strassel , it is unusual, a leave of absence . I mean, if there's a way to sort of keep the conversation going it is to, it is to keep the conversation going.

    MS. KIM STRASSEL: Well, and this is a remarkable thing that you're seeing across the board, this trend of politicians who do not resign when they have scandals. And it's on both sides of the board. I mean, it was interesting one of the people who came out and has given the most sort of aid and comfort to Mr. Weiner was Charlie Rangel , who last year, of course ...

    MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

    MS. STRASSEL: ...refused to resign , too. And, and Nancy Pelosi had asked him to do that, and so this has been a problem for both parties. But it is a distraction, and the longer it goes on the harder it is for Democrats .

    MR. GREGORY: Richard Wolffe , our banner here, "Congressman Weiner Scandal." I mean, coming up with something that benign has not been easy in the course of this conversation with Congressman Weiner .

    MR. RICHARD WOLFFE: Congratulations.

    MR. GREGORY: Yeah. But I mean, but the point is, here is somebody who's such a strong liberal voice in the caucus...

    MR. WOLFFE: Yep.

    MR. GREGORY: ...so that would be a big loss. But is there any sense in the White House , outside the White House that he can be saved?

    MR. WOLFFE: Well, not beloved in the caucus.

    MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

    MR. WOLFFE: Strong voice, but no allies. And outside the caucus, though, progressives love him. He was an effective advocate for their causes, not least on cable TV .

    MR. GREGORY: Right.

    MR. WOLFFE: The question is, can he be that kind of advocate moving forward? What happens to his mayoral ambitions, obviously? All of that has gone. And, and the question is, is survival enough? Be -- he's not a chairman of a committee , he hasn't got any great legislative record that he can be proud of. How effective can you be when you have such a great level of embarrassment out there?

    MR. MURPHY: I...

    GREGORY: Yeah.

    MR. MURPHY: ...you just -- you know, he's one of these guys that looks like he's going to hang on to the dear end even though the leadership 's trying to push him out. But there's a big redistricting erasure. They've got to pick somebody to throw overboard.

    MR. GREGORY: Right.

    MR. MURPHY: And I think they're going to have a nice meeting -- he'll be in therapy -- and have a meeting, and he'll volunteer where he wants to or not.

    MR. GREGORY: Mike , let me stick with you on the issue of Newt Gingrich , who had an exodus, his top staff, 16 members of his team resigning.

    MR. MURPHY: Yeah.

    MR. GREGORY: He came out on Friday, he said, "Now we're going to start this thing anew in Los Angeles ." And this is something he said that really caught my eye.

    FMR. REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA): Let me just say there is a fundamental strategic difference between the traditional consulting community and the kind of campaign I want to run. Now, we'll find out over the next year who's right.

    MR. GREGORY: As a consultant...

    MR. MURPHY: Yeah!

    MR. GREGORY: ...what say you?

    MR. MURPHY: Oh, he's taking on the overpriced mafia right now. You know, there's a little bit of truth in that. It always should have been a Newtish campaign from the beginning. I mean, these advisers who left are all shocked, shocked..

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    MR. MURPHY: ...that Newt 's a very kind of nontraditional candidate. On the other hand , when I talked about this last time on the show I said watching Newt 's campaign was like watching maneuvers of the Belgian navy . Very, very interesting, not very relevant. That hasn't changed. What they did is they managed to capsize the frigate. Now, I think he'll have a little comeback now because he'll run the campaign he always wanted to run, which is show up at debates, be a little provocative, not get nominated. I don't think he'll win any states , but for Newt nothing much will change. He'll just get the campaign he wants.

    MR. GREGORY: Kim Strassel , look at our cork board here, which we like to show now week in and week out, who's in and who's still on the fence. So here's who you have who are in, at least for now. We, we talked about Senator Santorum . But it's the on-the-fence crowd as well that's pretty interesting. That's where the action is : Huntsman , Palin , Giuliani was up in New Hampshire taking on Mitt Romney , Michele Bachmann , and now Rick Perry , who may fill some of that space that Gingrich occupied because some of those advisers from Gingrich could go to him. How do you see it?

    MS. STRASSEL: Look, I think what everyone has missed here, there's so much conversation about who can beat President Obama next year that what has been missed a little bit is that conservatives and grassroots activists out there, you got to look at the history of the Republican Party over the past 10 years, which has been very bad indeed. You know, they lost their way over spending, were kicked out. They won last year, but mostly because they were a choice, not necessarily because of what they offered. Conservatives are looking for a leader, and that's why you have such an unsettled field . They want someone who's going to lead the party for the next decade or beyond with ideas. And you're seeing some of the candidates now step up for that. A big week for Tim Pawlenty , for instance, came out with a big pro -growth strategy, saying, you know, "We're not just going to talk about what we're -- we're cutting and spending, we're not just going to talk about bad news. We're going to talk about what we're going to do for the future." That's going to resonate with people.

    MR. GREGORY: How do they see it inside the White House , Richard ?

    MR. WOLFFE: Well, obviously the economy 's key here, but they think this is a weak Republican field . It doesn't have a great platform to talk about the economy . Mitt Romney has this record of cutting jobs. At Bain , he -- outsourcing and that kind of management mentality. And his record as governor you heard from Debbie Wasserman Schultz . They think the records Pawlenty coming out with a deficit at the end of his term, these guys do not have a great economic opening. I mean, they have a opening on the economy . They're not delusional about that, but they just think the field is so flawed on the other side that when it comes down to a choice, not the referendum on the president, as these things come into play, it's going to be more like the end of 2004 where people were unhappy with Bush , but they still didn't want to hire John Kerry .

    MR. GREGORY: Interesting. Mayor Reed , you're out there on the front lines as mayor of a big Southern city in Atlanta . And The Economist magazine and this headline has got to resonate with you as you look at it. Here's Barack Obama , the president, looming large over what a lot of people think is a small Republican field , and yet the headline is, "And Yet I Could Still Lose." I don't have to tell you these numbers, but I'm going to tell the audience. Unemployment in Atlanta 9.7 percent, well above the national average. For the state of Georgia , it's 9.9 percent. African-American unemployment nationally over 16 percent. The president is vulnerable.

    MAYOR REED: Yeah. I agree that he's vulnerable. But I think that the argument that he's going to make is direction. People need to remember that right now we have -- we're not spending $750 million -- or the president isn't spending money communicating his message. He needs to stay out there, stay in the fight. He'll be in North Carolina next week, and he needs to constantly communicate. The area that I believe that the president really needs to grow, and I think he is growing, is the level of empathy. The fact of the matter is, this is tough, it's going to be a tough campaign , but he's got to get out there and he's got to constantly let folks know that he genuinely cares about how much they're hurting. And he's got to lay out in a concrete fashion every single thing that he's done. He's got to constantly talk about what he did to save the automobile industry. I mean, I can't believe this story is going by like it is. GM and Chrysler are coming out of it having strong performance. There were a million jobs on the line before the president took extraordinary action. He's got to talk about that more. He's got to talk about it everywhere he goes. The good thing about this president is he doesn't get too high, he doesn't get too low. If you look at this program a few weeks ago after bin Laden was killed everyone was talking about who's running against him.

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    MAYOR REED: Then the job report came out and then all of a sudden Mitt Romney 's ahead of the guy.

    MR. GREGORY: And he gets bumped by that. But, Mike Murphy , this is -- you framed this in your Time magazine column in a very interesting way, which is the economy , of course , is the vulnerability. The ace up his sleeve, as you wrote, is demographics . This is part of what you wrote in the magazine. "While the weak economy is one huge force driving [tight Obama vs. Romney poll] numbers," they're locked 47/47, "there's a second force in play that could be equally unsettling. The 2012 election is shaping up as a battle between economics and demographics . The economy is threatening to end the president's political career. The demographics of a changing American might just re-elect him." Forty- three percent growth in the Hispanic population in America .

    MR. MURPHY: Right. It -- what's happening here is two huge forces are at war. On one hand, if the economy doesn't get better, he was a guy who was elected to fix the economy , the economy 's gotten worse, Americans fire that kind of president. He's got the biggest problem ... you can traditionally have in politics. But on the other side the playing field is changing. When Ronald Reagan was elected, you know, our favorite election we all like to talk about -- I got a little shrine in my house with candles and everything -- 1980 , 88 percent of the people who cast the vote in the presidential election were white . And they voted more Republican than Democrat. In the last election , last presidential election that was down to 74 percent. And so what's happening is the voter groups that Republicans do a bad job of getting are growing quickly, particularly Latino voters. We also have trouble with young voters. Even in 2010 we lost them by double digits .

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    MR. MURPHY: They become all voters. So the demographics are pushing in a more democratic, right now, situation vs. the bad economy , and that's the struggle. If Republicans don't get into these new demographics , eventually we're going to run out of oxygen.

    MR. GREGORY: And, Richard , you write about this in the book. But the flip side of that is a state like Florida . I mean, a state like Ohio , the economy may still overwhelm whatever demographic gains have been made for Democrats .

    MR. WOLFFE: Yeah, I mean, it's an interesting question about whether the auto industry, manufacturing revival is going to be the thing that rescues them in the Midwest , upper Midwest . But, you know, there's a reason why Mike 's analysis is liked in the White House . They agree with him on the demographics . Even as journalists go up to him and say, are you serious about North Carolina and Georgia ? Are you really going to play there? They say you've got to get your head out of 2000 . There's a demographic growth. Young voters, African-Americans , Latinos , tech jobs, that's where they did well. They've got to restart. If they win, it's because they use this year to get that machinery out.

    MR. MURPHY: That -- just very quickly, you know, the fascinating thing is the industrial Midwest , which has been hard, we haven 't carried those states since the '80s, all Republican governors now, from Pennsylvania through Wisconsin , which is the economic pain pushing back. So they can't get too cocky, either. They're on very thin ice.

    MR. WOLFFE: Though the Wisconsin governor may have lifted this for us a little bit by overreach.

    MR. MURPHY: Yeah. He's still there.

    MR. GREGORY: I've got to take a quick break here. We'll do a few more minutes when we come back with our roundtable. We'll also include our Trends Takeaways , a look at what was said here over the course of this hour, what to look for in the coming week, including what impact will those Palin e-mails have on this race, even though she's not in the race. We will come back right after this break.

    MR. GREGORY: We're back with our Trends Takeaways segment. The news of this hour on this program, the chairwoman of the DNC , Debbie Wasserman Schultz , and other top officials in the Democratic Party calling for Congressman Anthony Weiner to resign , but acknowledging it may not happen. He said he's only going out on leave. This is what she said.

    MR. GREGORY: What is it you can do? I mean, he's obviously not listening to the admonitions of his colleagues.

    REP. SCHULTZ: At the end of the day , you know, a member of Congress makes their own decision and that's certainly going to be up to Anthony Weiner .

    MR. GREGORY: Up to Anthony Weiner . He's only going into treatment right now. This is a story that should go on. We have something that's special just to us here at MEET THE PRESS , our political tracker, which is an aggregate of the top sites of -- for politics on the Internet to see what are the trending stories right now, and you can see Anthony Weiner is number one and continues to gain traction. The Palin e-mails, as well, and the capture of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed having been killed. The Weiner story, one, Richard Wolffe , is, is still an open-ended question.

    MR. WOLFFE: Yeah. It's an embarrassment, it's got to go away. He obviously wants to hang on. You know, there was that ethical, moral argument the Democrats made very successfully in 2006 . I don't know that it's going to be determinative when it comes down to next year's election , but they need to take it off the table. And that's why you're seeing Wasserman Schultz say resign , but she's really uncomfortable dealing with it. She wasn't faking that.

    MR. GREGORY: True . Kim Strassel , let's talk about the other big news from our political tracker and that is the Palin e-mails.

    MS. STRASSEL: Yes.

    MR. GREGORY: It took over 1,000 days to get the boxes of e-mails finally released. Reporters are still going through them. What have we actually learned?

    MS. STRASSEL: Nothing.

    MR. GREGORY: Right.

    MS. STRASSEL: A thousand days of waiting breathless anticipation.

    MR. GREGORY: That we didn't already know, that we didn't already know.

    MS. STRASSEL: Right. You know, and it was a great big nothing burger. I mean, I think this is very interesting because it does say if, if, if Mrs. Palin decides to make a run for the presidential race , it just goes to show the obsessive focus the press on her and how big a difficulty that will be for her running in an election ...

    MR. GREGORY: And something that she's been sensitive about almost from the beginning.

    MS. STRASSEL: Exactly.

    MR. GREGORY: Mayor Reed , on our Facebook page as well, some feedback from our debate with the chairs of the parties. "I think they both need to remove the shroud of their party 's doctrine and look through the eyes of common American citizens. We're struggling out here while they continue to play ' king of the hill ' games." It is interesting, how much of a lack of confidence is there outside Washington in what Washington is doing?

    MAYOR REED: It's extremely high because we can 't get a deal done on critical issues such as the debt ceiling and such as job creation . And folks at home, they completely get it, and they're very frustrated about it. And I think just as the Democrats paid a high price , Republicans are going to pay a very high price for not focusing on job creation .

    MR. GREGORY: All right. We're going to leave it there. Also, the big thing coming up this week is our Republican debate. Their second, it'll be up in New Hampshire . We'll be watching that to see if there's an important takeaway. Part of the upcoming events that we'll look for this week. That is all for today. Thanks to a terrific roundtable. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET

updated 6/12/2011 12:27:02 PM ET 2011-06-12T16:27:02

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  This Sunday, the politics of a sluggish economic recovery.  How vulnerable is the president?

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(Videotape)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA:  I'm not concerned about a double-dip recession.  I am concerned about the fact that the recovery that we're on is not producing jobs as quickly as I want it to happen.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Are his economic policies adrift, giving the GOP its best opening?

(Videotape)

FMR. GOV. TIM PAWLENTY (R-MN):  We've tried it President Obama's way, and it's only made the economy worse.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Plus, the Anthony Weiner scandal, a public spectacle distracting Democrats from important business.  How long can he resist calls to step down after top party officials demand his resignation?  This morning, an exclusive debate between the leaders of the two major political parties: Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus.

Then, our Meet the Candidates series continues with a man hoping to make a political comeback after serving four years in the House and 12 in the Senate, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.

(Videotape)

FMR. SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R-PA):  And I'm running for president of the United States.  Join the fight!  Join the fight!

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  What role will he play in a crowded GOP field?

Finally, our political roundtable on where the GOP field now stands, just days before candidates meet for their second debate.  Has Gingrich's campaign imploded after key advisers jumped ship?  Could Texas Governor Rick Perry be positioning himself for a run?  And will the race turn on the economy, or the country's changing demographics?  With us:  Democratic mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed; Republican strategist and Time magazine columnist Mike Murphy; author of the book "Revival 2.0:  How the Obama White House is Making its Political Comeback," Richard Wolffe; and columnist for The Wall Street Journal Kim Strassel.

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

MR. GREGORY:  Good morning.  New developments this weekend concerning Congressman Anthony Weiner after new online communications were revealed between him and a 17-year-old girl in Delaware; his staff claiming, however, the contents were not explicit or indecent.  But that news appeared to accelerate pressure from top Democrats for him to resign.  Ignoring that pressure this weekend, the congressman instead issued a statement yesterday afternoon via his congressional office saying in part the following: "Congressman Weiner departed this morning to seek professional treatment to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person.  In light of that, he will request a short leave of absence from the House of Representatives so that he can get evaluated and map out a course of treatment to make himself well.  Congressman Weiner takes the views of his colleagues very seriously and has determined that he needs this time to get healthy and make the best decision possible for himself, his family and his constituents."

Among those calling for his resignation, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  She, along with her counterpart, the chairman of the RNC, Reince Priebus, joins us here exclusively this morning for their first joint television appearance.

Welcome to both of you.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL):  Thank you.

MR. REINCE PRIEBUS:  Good morning, David.

REP. SCHULTZ:  Good morning.

MR. GREGORY:  Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, let me start with you.

REP. SCHULTZ:  Sure.

MR. GREGORY:  What, what led to the change?  Why now call for him to resign?

REP. SCHULTZ:  Well, I think that since this story broke we were giving Congressman Weiner some breathing room to be able to be, be circumspect, do the right thing, make a--you know, reach the conclusion that, that he needed to step back and step down on his own.  And as of yesterday, when that didn't happen, it was important to, to weigh in.

MR. GREGORY:  But before his actual admission, you spoke about this during an interview, and this is what you said.

(Videotape, June 2, 2011)

REP. SCHULTZ:  Anthony Weiner is dealing with a personal matter, and it should be left as a personal matter.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  When did it become less a personal matter and more an issue of public trust?

REP. SCHULTZ:  Well, I made that statement before it had been revealed that Anthony had not been truthful, and that, that, that he was engaged in the conduct that he had been denying at the time.  And once he crossed that threshold, acknowledged that, that he'd been lying, had engaged in conduct that is, you know, completely unacceptable and indefensible...

MR. PRIEBUS:  Well, here's the problem, David.

REP. SCHULTZ:  ...that's where I thought that the--that's where I thought the line was crossed.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, I'll come to you in just a second.

But is this enough that he seeks treatment, or would you still like him to straight out resign?

REP. SCHULTZ:  The statement I made speaks for itself yesterday.  I think Anthony Weiner needs to resign so he can focus on his family, focus on his own well-being, and make sure that...

MR. GREGORY:  So there's going to be more pressure from top Democrats to say this is not quite enough, leave of absence is not enough, he should step down completely.

REP. SCHULTZ:  I think Leader Pelosi, Steve Israel, myself, we all came together yesterday...

MR. GREGORY:  Well, what, what is it you can do?  I mean, he's obviously not listening to the admonitions of his colleagues.

REP. SCHULTZ:  Well, at, at the end of the day, you know, a member of Congress makes their own decision, and that, that's certainly going to be up to Anthony Weiner.  But we have made clear that he needs to resign, he needs to focus on, on getting his, his own personal issues in order...

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

REP. SCHULTZ:  ...focus on his family and, and do the right thing...

MR. GREGORY:  From your, from your...

REP. SCHULTZ:  ...by his constituents.

MR. GREGORY:  From your--you talk about constituents.  Reince Priebus, look at the, the polling that was done this week, the Marist poll indicating a majority of his constituents in Representative Weiner's district say that he should remain in office, 56 percent.  What do you say?

MR. PRIEBUS:  David, here's the problem.  This is a question of leadership. It always was a question of leadership.  We didn't--I mean, Anthony Weiner was lying from the very beginning.  He turned this town and this country into a three-ring circus.  What we called for is for Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leaders in this country to do what every American knew had to be done immediately and call for his resignation.  Now, it seemed to me that for the first 10 days in this circus that the only job that Nancy Pelosi was interested in saving was Anthony Weiner's.  We've got crushing unemployment in this country, we've got a president that's, that's whistling past the graveyard, we've got families that are struggling, and instead we've got leadership in a Democratic Party that are defending a guy that deserves no defense.

MR. GREGORY:  Is it a difficult...

REP. SCHULTZ:  But it's...

MR. GREGORY:  Is it a difficult place for the party leadership to be that you call for resignation, he doesn't listen?  I mean, does it say something about, the, the leadership?

REP. SCHULTZ:  What, what Reince is saying doesn't pass the straight face test, from a chair of a party who--none of whose leaders called for Senator Vitter, who actually broke the law, to resign, who is still serving in office. Chairman...

MR. GREGORY:  Hired prostitutes.

REP. SCHULTZ:  Hired prostitutes and evaded the truth.  Chairman Priebus was chairman when Senator Ensign was also embroiled in unethical, unacceptable and probably illegal conduct, and he did not call for Senator Ensign's resignation.

MR. PRIEBUS:  Yeah.  Yeah...(unintelligible)

MR. GREGORY:  Well, let me ask the bigger question, because this...

REP. SCHULTZ:  So it's not--it can't be...

MR. PRIEBUS:  And Senator Ensign resigned.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, wait a second.  But this is a--look.

REP. SCHULTZ:  But you never called for his resignation, so it's a double standard and it's unacceptable.

MR. GREGORY:  But here's the question.  This is unseemly to a lot of people...

MR. PRIEBUS:  It's not a double standard.

REP. SCHULTZ:  Ah!

MR. GREGORY:  ...but there is a question of where there's a line.

REP. SCHULTZ:  So you only call for Democrats' resignation, but not for Republicans' resignation.

MR. GREGORY:  Wait, wait a minute.

MR. PRIEBUS:  Just hang on a second.

REP. SCHULTZ:  OK.

MR. GREGORY:  Senator, Senator Vitter, nobody called on him to resign. Senator Ensign was brought up.  Where is the line then?

MR. PRIEBUS:  Well, listen.  I mean, Senator Vitter, that's a, that's a five-year-old story.  Chris Lee, how long did he last?  About 30 seconds.  How long--Senator Ensign resigned within six weeks of me becoming chairman.  Look, I'm not defending these guys, but the fact of the matter is, we have big issues here to tackle in this country.  We have unemployment that rivals the Great Depression.  We have gas prices that are out of this world.  We have crushing debt.  We know what's happening to this economy.  And here's the problem.  It's not so much as much as "the economy, stupid," as people say, it's "the policy's stupid" too.  And the president's policies in regard to saving this country, getting our economy back on track are not working.

MR. GREGORY:  All right--OK, we'll--we're going to get to those.

Final question on, on Weiner.  Have you spoken to him personally?

REP. SCHULTZ:  I did speak to him personally the other day.

MR. GREGORY:  What's his state of mind?  I mean, what's he thinking?

REP. SCHULTZ:  He's--you know, he's incredibly apologetic, devastated that, that, that this is conduct that, that he has been engaged in, and I think...

MR. GREGORY:  But it sounds like he's stubborn, too.

REP. SCHULTZ:  Well, I didn't speak to him very long.  I, I just know that he was, he was--he's remorseful.  I just hope that Anthony goes and gets the help that he needs, and that he does the right thing and, like the--Leader Pelosi said yesterday, removes himself from, from office so he can focus on, on the important things that he needs to do for his family.

Let, let me just add, though, David, that it is so disingenuous for Reince to be saying that jobs are their priority.  I mean, we've got a party who've, who've been in charge of the House of Representatives for the last six months, haven't brought a single jobs bill to the floor.  So, I mean...

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  Well, let's talk more, let's talk more about the economy in some more detail.  This is the president's standing in terms of handling the economy in the public's eye, and it's pretty negative right now. Sixty percent almost, 59 percent, disapprove of the president's handling of the economy.  And there are facts that back that up that are difficult for this administration and for the Democrats:  unemployment's up 25 percent since Inauguration Day for President Obama; the debt's up 35 percent, over $14 trillion; a gallon of gas up over 100 percent, with gas $3.75, higher than that in certain parts of the country.  Why should Americans trust Democratic governance right now on the economy, and particularly the president's?

REP. SCHULTZ:  Because we were able to, under President Obama's leadership, turn this economy around.  When President Obama took office...

MR. GREGORY:  Whoa, whoa, let me just stop you there.  Clearly, the economy has not been turned around.  I mean, you just saw those numbers.

REP. SCHULTZ:  It, it certainly--it has...

MR. GREGORY:  Americans don't believe that's the case.

REP. SCHULTZ:  Well, we, we were--when President Obama took office, the month before he was inaugurated, the economy was bleeding 750,000 jobs a month, David, and we were not headed in the right direction.  Now, I know we--and President Obama has said we have a long way to go.  We'd like the pace of recovery to, to, to be picked up.  But we have definitely begun to turn the economy around.  You, you fast-forward two and a half years later now, and the economy has created 2.1 million private sector jobs, a million of those jobs just in the last six months.  We've had 15 straight months of job growth.

MR. GREGORY:  Nobody believes that you can throw--nobody believes that the pace of job creation is anything close to robust enough to lead to, to economic growth...

REP. SCHULTZ:  Including...

MR. GREGORY:  ...even to match the economic growth projections that this administration's made.  I want to get Chairman Priebus on this.

MR. PRIEBUS:  David, the chairwoman's living in fantasyland.  We know that the facts are the facts, and we can't get away from that.  And Barack Obama is defenseless to the truth on what's going on in the American economy.  We have lost as--two and a half million jobs since Barack Obama's been president.  And of that two and half million jobs, almost 45 percent of those people have been out of work for six months.  That number, that number rivals the Great Depression.

REP. SCHULTZ:  And yet...

MR. PRIEBUS:  This, this president has been a disaster to this economy, and that's why, when you ask Americans whether or not they're better off today than they were three or four years ago, they say no.  When you ask Americans, has this president followed through on his promises to cut the deficit in half by the end of the first term as he's promised...

MR. GREGORY:  Yeah.

MR. PRIEBUS:  ...the answer is no.  The debt is out of control.  He's on pace to accumulate more debt on his watch than every single president before him combined.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me ask you this as, as the top Republican in the party, is there something that Republicans who control the House can do to accelerate job creation now, through tax policy, through other kinds of policies, aside just looking at the question of whether or not you're better off now than you were four years ago?

MR. PRIEBUS:  Well, I mean, certainly.  I mean, I think that for one thing we've all--we're all in agreement that we have a debt crisis in this country. We're all in agreement that we can't keep sending...

MR. GREGORY:  I'm asking for a specific policy, not just talking points.

MR. PRIEBUS:  Well, I think that we need to--I think we need to cut taxes on small businesses.  I think we need to spur growth there.

REP. SCHULTZ:  Well, that's great because we've done that.

MR. PRIEBUS:  I think that we need, I think that we need...

REP. SCHULTZ:  Seventeen times.

MR. PRIEBUS:  ...to get, I think we need to get the president from stopping from whistling past the graveyard and introduce a budget...

MR. GREGORY:  OK, hang on one second.

MR. PRIEBUS:  ...which they haven't done in 700 days.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me--on the question, Congresswoman, the issue of taxes.  Is there a specific tax policy, tax cuts for example, that the Democrats would be open to, to specifically target job creation in the shorter term?

REP. SCHULTZ:  Absolutely.  Beyond the 17 tax cuts, if the chairman had been actually paying attention in the last two years, the 17 different tax cuts that President Obama proposed and the Democratic Congress passed to support small businesses, including a cut in the capital gains tax.  The compromise that we reached during a lame duck Congress that made sure that we could give a payroll tax deduction to, to, to Americans making about $50,000 year. Excuse me.  We focused on striking a balance between making the investments that we needed to make to be able to jump-start the economy again and get it moving back in the right direction and also insuring that we could reduce spending and--in the tax code so that we could give incentives to businesses to be able to create jobs and be able to make investments in their businesses again.

MR. PRIEBUS:  So much so--so much so that we've lost two and half million jobs.

REP. SCHULTZ:  That's been done and more needs to be done.  And we need to come together.  Excuse me.  We need to do that.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, I...

REP. SCHULTZ:  And added a million in the last six months.  We need to do that by coming together, David.  What, what the Republicans have refused to do is sit down around the table with Democrats to forge a regional--or a reasonable approach and a compromise to get our economy...

MR. GREGORY:  All right, let's...

REP. SCHULTZ:  ...in even more high gear.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me move on to some of the political landscape questions. The Republicans will meet tomorrow in New Hampshire, an important debate. Mitt Romney will be part of it.  As you look at the landscape right now, are the Republicans, who will be on that stage, is one of those ultimately the nominee?

MR. PRIEBUS:  Well, I'm not sure if one of them is ultimately the nominee. But certainly some of them can be the nominee, depending on who gets in.  I think that obviously this president is going to have a tough road to hoe.  I mean, he's got these deficits that we've talked about.  The, the chairwoman's spoken about the fact that she's somehow espousing these great tax policies that they've put forward, but yet we've lost two and a half million jobs...

MR. GREGORY:  OK.

MR. PRIEBUS:  ...since he's been president.

MR. GREGORY:  I'm...

MR. PRIEBUS:  So I think that clearly...

MR. GREGORY:  Let's stick to what I'm asking right now about the Republican field.

MR. PRIEBUS:  Go on.

MR. GREGORY:  Here is the perceived front-runner right now, Mitt Romney, and he's running in a dead heat, according to the Washington Post/ABC News poll.

Chairwoman, dead heat with Mitt Romney.  That has got to be about the economy and the president's vulnerability on the economy, no?

REP. SCHULTZ:  Well, Mitt Romney is pretty darned vulnerable on the economy himself.  When he was governor he literally was 47th in job creation for someone who touts his own ability to create jobs.  We're talking about somebody that never created and recovered the amount of jobs lost in Massachusetts from the 2001 recession when he was governor.

MR. GREGORY:  Do you see him as a front-runner for the Republicans?

REP. SCHULTZ:  I see that there is a collection of very flawed candidates on the other side of the aisle.  We are concentrating on making sure that we can continue to boost this recovery.  We want the Republicans to join us.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, let's talk about...

REP. SCHULTZ:  They, they have literally been absent from that process.

MR. GREGORY:  ...the electoral map.  It's very interesting.  If you look at the states that president Obama won as a candidate in 2008, these are also states that President Bush won in 2004, so it's very interesting.  From the Rocky Mountain West to the Midwest where the president can be most vulnerable on the economy.  And then Virginia, North Carolina, Southern states and all-important Florida.

Chairman Priebus...

MR. PRIEBUS:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  ...how do Republicans get those states back, and then the question for you congresswoman, is how does the president defend those states?

MR. PRIEBUS:  Well, I mean, I think the folks in those states have the same concerns that people across the country have in regard to this economy.  I really think that it's speaking to the issues of the economy, it's talking about how this president's performed, whether the rhetoric matches the actual performance.  I think that the, the victories that we've had in 2010 are going to be a big help in winning a lot of these states.  I come from Wisconsin.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. PRIEBUS:  Obviously we've had Republican governors across the country. We've got party activists that have built up around the country.  But at the end of the day, this is going to come down to whether people believe that they're better off today than they were three or four years ago.  And they're going to say no.  And they're going to say no.

REP. SCHULTZ:  (Unintelligible)...and...

MR. GREGORY:  There's a demographic--there's--the economy is what gives him a glass jaw, the president, but the demographics, increasing Hispanic participation in elections and populations around the country may help.

REP. SCHULTZ:  That's going to be incredibly important.  But we've already gotten a glimpse.  The 2010 elections, that's a nice thing to hang your hat on.  Look at the most recent election.  We just won--the Democratic candidate for mayor in Jacksonville, Florida, just won a special election a couple of weeks ago.  First time we've had a Democratic mayor in Jacksonville, Florida, in 20 years.  We won a state house race in New Hampshire.  A tiny ruby red state house race where the right, right-wing policies of the New Hampshire governor and--of, of, of the New Hampshire legislature were on display.  And the voters reacted and rejected that.  We just elected a New York 26, a red, red congressional district in a special election because the Republicans want to end Medicare as we know it.  The voters rejected that.  So the most recent opportunity for voters to weigh in on the Republican policies have resulted in Democratic candidates.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.

MR. PRIEBUS:  The only...

REP. SCHULTZ:  And that's how we're going to win those states.

MR. GREGORY:  Quickly before--we're just about out of time, but I want to ask Congressman Wasserman Schultz about Gabby Giffords.  New pictures on her Facebook page up today and they're remarkable.

REP. SCHULTZ:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  She looks terrific.

REP. SCHULTZ:  Doesn't she?

MR. GREGORY:  Of course, having been shot in the head earlier this year.  One of your closest friends.  What's going on?

REP. SCHULTZ:  She is.  I just got to talk to her on Wednesday on the phone for the first time.  We really had a wonderful conversation.  She spoke to me in, in full sentences.  Initiated those sentences instead of just responding, which is what she'd really only been able to do recently.  And she's making remarkable progress.  We're so proud of her.  She's working so hard.  She's got a long way to go, but you can just see how beautiful she is.  And we, we are longing and looking forward to her coming back.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, we'll leave it there.  The debate of course on the issues...

REP. SCHULTZ:  Thank you.

MR. GREGORY:  ...will continue to heat up.

REP. SCHULTZ:  Reince, great to meet you.  Thank you.

MR. PRIEBUS:  You bet.

MR. GREGORY:  Thank you both for making your first appearance here.

Coming up, Rick Santorum made it official this week by throwing his hat into the ring for 2012.  He says he's ready to lead, but does he have what it takes to break through a still unsettled and crowded Republican field?  He's been putting a lot of time in on the ground in Iowa.  This morning the Pennsylvania senator is here and in studio as we continue our Meet the Candidates series. One on one with Rick Santorum, coming up next.

And later, will Congressman Weiner continue to be a distraction for Democrats. Our roundtable weighs in on the latest developments there and more, particularly about the economy and its impact on the race for 2012 when we come back.

                               (Announcements)

MR. GREGORY:  Coming up, the latest Republican to officially enter the presidential race, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.  He's here, he joins me.  Is his candidacy the beginning of a political comeback?  It's up next, right after this brief commercial break.

                               (Announcements)

MR. GREGORY:  We are back, continuing our Meet the Candidates series with Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum.

Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM (R-PA):  Thank you, David.

MR. GREGORY:  Good to have you here.  You announced just this week, in your home state of Pennsylvania, that you're running, and this was a portion of what you said in your announcement.

(Videotape, Monday)

SEN. SANTORUM:  Americans are not looking for someone that they can believe in.  They're looking for a president who believes in them.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  As we know, elections are about choices.  And I wonder exactly what you mean, talking about President Obama there.  Do you believe that he does not believe in America?  Does not believe in the American way?

SEN. SANTORUM:  I think if you look at his policies, his policies are all oriented towards centralizing more power in Washington, D.C., taking freedom away from the American public, not believing that Americans--for example, let's just look at Obamacare.  He doesn't believe Americans can actually make decisions for themselves, that he has to tell you how much money you're going to, you're going to spend on health care; you're going to--what plans that you're going to be qualified for.  And I'm not talking about people who are poor, people who are seniors.  I'm talking about working Americans.  He's going to tell working Americans who are out there providing for themselves, paying for their health insurance, their employers are doing it.  He's saying...

MR. GREGORY:  And they're better off with the freedom that they've got in the vagaries of the private insurance market?

SEN. SANTORUM:  Do we need to make some changes in the health insurance markets?  Absolutely.  But we need...

MR. GREGORY:  But you'd repeal the president's healthcare plan totally.

SEN. SANTORUM:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  Yeah.  Absolutely.

MR. GREGORY:  Even covering pre-existing conditions, which most Republicans agree with?

SEN. SANTORUM:  My feeling is that we need a bottom-up system, not a top-down system.  We need to believe in free people, we need to believe in markets. What's happening under, under President Obama, you're seeing, you're seeing it in his Obamacare, what he's done with Medicare.  He put in this independent payment advisory board, 15-member board, that's going to go into place on--right before the implementation of Obamacare in 2014, that's going to put, put price controls and controls on--top-down controls on Medicare.  We've never had that before.  We've never had a independent board created by the government to put price controls on Medicare.  You hear the Democrats saying we're going to push grandma off a cliff because of what Paul Ryan suggested on Medicare.  Grandma's already headed down because Barack Obama's put a, put a price control plan in place and it's top-down.  What Ryan and I support is giving seniors the choice to participate in economic decisions...

MR. GREGORY:  All right.

SEN. SANTORUM:  ...and make those decisions about the access to care...

MR. GREGORY:  I want to...

SEN. SANTORUM:  ...and quality of care by themselves.

MR. GREGORY:  I want to talk a little bit more about Medicare in just a minute, but I want to ask a little bit more about your announcement and your, and your place in the field.  The last time you were up for re-election, you were handily defeated by 17 points in your run for the Senate.  I wonder how you think you've changed professionally and personally since that defeat, now that you're standing for president.

SEN. SANTORUM:  Well, a couple of things.  First off, one of the things I learned from that race is that losing isn't the worst thing that can happen to you.  That standing up--not standing up for what you believe in and fighting for those things is the worst thing, and I think if I go back and look at my race, did I make mistakes?  Sure.  But one of the things I think I was--where I ended up on the short end of the stick is I was out there talking about Social Security reform in 2005 and 2006.  When George Bush said, "Charge," after the 2004 election, "we've got to take on Social Security." Jim DeMint and I ran to the floor of the United States Senate, and I did town meetings all over Pennsylvania.  I turned around and there wasn't anybody behind me.  I mean...

MR. GREGORY:  Is that a problem now, by the way?  I mean, look at what Paul Ryan's trying to do on Medicare.

SEN. SANTORUM:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  Do you worry about that?

SEN. SANTORUM:  I do worry, I do worry that...

MR. GREGORY:  You support his plan.

SEN. SANTORUM:  I...

MR. GREGORY:  You want to go further.

SEN. SANTORUM:  I do worry...

MR. GREGORY:  You say that even if you're over 55, it should change now.

SEN. SANTORUM:  Well, I do because we've had--we have a plan in place right now called Medicare Prescription Drugs, which is identical to the Ryan plan, the seniors like and by the way came in 41 percent under budget.  So we know...

MR. GREGORY:  Premiums have gone up under that program.

SEN. SANTORUM:  But--of course, premiums are going to go up.  Premiums go up on--in the private sector, too, if you don't control costs.  We need a more comprehensive plan where seniors and individuals are involved in controlling costs.  And you have government now controlling well over 50 percent of medical care, and they're not doing a very good job controlling costs.

MR. GREGORY:  On Social Security, would you raise the retirement age?

SEN. SANTORUM:  I proposed that back in 1994.  I think that's an option that has to be on the table.  I think the one thing that we should do is to deal with the cost of living increase.  The cost--I asked a senior everywhere I go, Iowa, New Hampshire, I say, "Should we--what should the cost of living increase be tied to?" And the answer is always, "Well, it should be tied to the prices that we pay for goods and services." Well, it's not.  The cost of living increase in Social Security is tied to wage inflation.  Why is this, why, why, what does that have to do with cost of living for seniors?

MR. GREGORY:  Hm.

SEN. SANTORUM:  It doesn't.  And so what we need to do is change it from a wage inflation index to a price inflation index.  If we do that, you solve anywhere from half to three-quarters of the short in Social Security over time.  So that's one thing we can do.  We can do it now.  We'll have minimal, minimal effect on anybody at or near retirement, but long-term it creates sustainability for young people who are sitting out there who don't believe Social Security is going to be there for them.

MR. GREGORY:  What space do you occupy in this race?  Who are you?  Are you the true conservative?  Are you the truth teller?  What are you?

SEN. SANTORUM:  Yeah, I'm someone who's been out there for 16 years, having the courage to lead on a variety of conservative issues when they weren't popular.  I was leading on entitlement reform.  I was the guy that wrote the contract with America Welfare reform bill when Welfare reform was seen as throwing, you know, throwing grandma out on the street.  And I was out there leading that charge and was able to be successful in the United States Senate in getting 70 votes to end a federal entitlement.  Something that we have to do in this city right here is to do something about entitlements.  You have someone in the race who's actually taking it on and been successful.  I've lead on national security issues, particularly in the Middle East.  I have two major pieces of legislation where I actually fought President Bush.  He eventually signed both, but he opposed both when I first proposed them, one on Iran and one on Syria.  And I've also been a leader on moral cultural issues. So you, you take any issue area, I've had the courage to go out on controversial issues and take leadership roles, and I've been successful.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me ask you about being a Christian conservative in the race.  Do you think that Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, will have a problem in this race in the primary as Mormons?

SEN. SANTORUM:  I hope not.  I hope that people look at the, at the qualities of candidates and look at what they believe in and look at what they're for, look at their records and make a decision.

MR. GREGORY:  Are they true conservatives in your eyes?

SEN. SANTORUM:  I think they've held positions in the past that have not been conservative and I think they have to account for those.

MR. GREGORY:  And do you think that ultimately that impacts their ability to beat President Obama?

SEN. SANTORUM:  Look, I think what people are concerned about and what they saw in Congresses in the past and presidents in the past who are Republicans, is that they say one thing when they--they're really conservative when they run in Republican primaries, and then when they govern, they don't govern as conservatively as they've talked.  I think one of the things you can look at with me is I represented Pennsylvania, a state with a million more Democrats than Republicans.  Yes, I lost my last race, but my first three races I ran against--I was faced up against Democratic incumbents in two House districts and a Senate race, and then in my fourth--and I won all three--in my fourth race, President Bush lost the state of Pennsylvania by four points, I won it by five.  I was the only conservative running in 2000 who won a state that Bush lost.  So I think if you look at the record of when there were competitive years to run in, 2006 was probably the worst year for Republicans in Pennsylvania in recent history.  If you look at those competitive years, I've been successful because I've been principled.  People don't always agree with me, but they know where I stand and they know I'm going to stand up for my convictions.

MR. GREGORY:  Let me ask you about the debt and taxes.  You have said, you just said it recently, you've got to tell the American people the truth about what government can and cannot afford.

SEN. SANTORUM:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  But back in 2002 in a, in a parallel situation to what we face now, you were on this program, and this is what you said about deficits.

(Videotape, December 15, 2002)

SEN. SANTORUM:  I think we're going to be in for deficits for the, for the, for the next few years to come.  We're in a recession or just coming out of a recession, and secondly, we're going to be fighting a war, a major war on terrorism, and potentially a war in Iraq.  The last thing we need to do when we are concerned about the national security of this country is to be concerned about deficits.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  We're coming out of a recession, we're fighting two wars, it's 2011.  Deficits didn't matter then, but now they're everything to Republicans now.

SEN. SANTORUM:  Well, let's, let's look at--I think scale matters, David.  I mean, we were--we--prior to 2001, we were in a surplus.  We were talking about deficit I think at that point of $100 billion to $200 billion, not $1.5 trillion.  Not something that is, that is grinding our economy down.

Also, as you know, you mentioned 2002.  That was right after the attacks of 2011***(as spoken)***and we were pretty much, you know, worried about the security of our country immediately as to whether we were going to be attacked again and, and trying to defeat the, the forces that had just attacked us. So, of course, when you're responding to an attack like that, you worry about stopping the enemy so they don't hit you again.  And that's, that's--the context is important in that, in that statement.

MR. GREGORY:  So deficits mattered even to you then?

SEN. SANTORUM:  Well, of course they did.  I mean, I'm, I'm someone who's, again, you know, fought to end entitlements, fought to, to cut spending.  For years I was someone who introduced more original spending bills to cut the deficit than anybody else.  I believe that we need to, we need to get our fiscal house in order.  I have been a strong fiscal conservative throughout, and I'll continue to be.

MR. GREGORY:  Why is it--if everything worked the way you and other conservatives would like it to, you could cut taxes, you could do some of the things that you'd like to do for the economy.  Why then even during boom times for the economy have you not seem much improvement, particularly for the middle class wage earners?

SEN. SANTORUM:  Yeah, I think one of the things that I--that, that's been a missing ingredient--and I come from Pennsylvania, and I always say, you know--I come from Pennsylvania, we still make things there.  And it's--manufacturing economy is, is really important.  And I think what we've had is, we've not had a policy that's focused on trying to create those kinds of jobs.  Because I grew up in a, in a steel town, Butler, Pennsylvania, and, you know, I used to go in--take the bus in to school and we'd go by the, go by the mills.  And if you could smell the smoke you thought, ah, people were working.  That was a good thing.  Well, we don't want to smell the smoke anymore, but we want those people working.  And we don't have policies, whether they're policies from tax--from a tax perspective to encourage manufacturing here, from a innovation, from research and development and patents and things like that, improvements that we need to make there.

We have to also do, do some things on the regulatory side.  What, what this president has done to regulate and drive manufacturing out--the NLRB and what they've done in South Carolina to basically say to any company that, that is in a state that's not a right to work state, if you want to expand anywhere in the U.S. outside that state, you might as well go overseas.  Those are the kinds of policies that hurt our manufacturing base.  I'm going to be putting forth a plan in the next few weeks that's going to focus on manufacturing. Why?  Because that is where the great middle of America works and can--has this huge multiplier effect that takes the money from those who innovate and brings it down to those who work in those factories.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, quickly, on taxes.  You've got so many American corporations sitting on a ton of cash right now.

SEN. SANTORUM:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  Do they really need additional tax breaks?

SEN. SANTORUM:  Well, the--well, one tax break they need is they have about a trillion dollars sitting overseas right now that they don't bring back because they have to pay the, the top corporate rate on it.  We need to, we need to slash that, that rate down so that that trillion dollars come back.  We did it in 2004.

MR. GREGORY:  But the question is, again, you're sitting on so much capital, why do you need additional relief from the government?  Can you understand why a lot of people asking that?

SEN. SANTORUM:  Well, what--yeah.  Well, what you have to do is you have to look at your return on investment.  I mean, and, and the government is--makes it very, very expensive because of the, the regulations and because of the taxation to have a reasonable rate of return.  You're going to risk capital, you want to make sure that you have a, a, a reasonable chance to make a profit on it.  And, and so they're sitting on it.  You're right, they are sitting on it because they don't believe, under this climate, that they can be successful and profitable.

MR. GREGORY:  I've just got a minute left.  I want to pin you down on a couple of quick issues, if I can.  One is education.  This is something that you wrote in your book, "It Takes the Family" back...

SEN. SANTORUM:  Right.

MR. GREGORY:  ...in 2005 about public education vs. homeschooling.  I want to put it up on the screen, it caught my eye.  "It's amazing that so many kids turn out to be fairly normal, considering the weird socialization they get in public schools.  In a home school, by contrast, children interact in a rich and complex way with adults and children of other ages all the time." You want to be president of the United States, public education's one of the foundational parts of our country, and yet you say the weird socialization is kids being in school with kids their same age?

SEN. SANTORUM:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  How is that weird socialization?

SEN. SANTORUM:  Where else is that--where, where else in, in America, outside of school, do kids go to a place where they sit with people basically the same age, same socioeconomic group, and interact for, for a defined period of time? That's not what life is like.  Life is very different than that.  You're dealing with a whole bunch of different people.  And I think, you know, the one-room schoolhouse was the example of how you had interaction, you have sensitivity.  I can see it in my, in my own family, I see it in other children who deal with children of different ages, respect for elders.  This--what I'm saying is that the--that we need to transform public education to reflect more of what the dynamism is in the private sector.  And, and that includes a whole, a whole way of infusing parents into the system, a dynamism of having not people stuck in classrooms.  They--the sort of the old factory model of how we educate people...

MR. GREGORY:  So you'd fundamentally overhaul public education and how, how it's done, how they congregate in schools?

SEN. SANTORUM:  Well, first off, first, first off, I would say that it's not the federal government's job to overhaul public education.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

SEN. SANTORUM:  What I would do is talk about how we need to make some transformation, but it should be left to the states and localities to do that.

MR. GREGORY:  One more question on abortion, an issue you care deeply about. I, I want to be clear on this.  Do you believe that there should be any legal exceptions for rape or incest when it comes to abortion?

SEN. SANTORUM:  I believe that life begins at conception, and that that life should be cut--should be guaranteed under the Constitution.  That is a person, in my opinion.

MR. GREGORY:  So even in a case of rape or incest, that would be taking a life?

SEN. SANTORUM:  That would be taking a life, and, and I believe that, that any doctor who performs an abortion--that--I would advocate that any doctor that performs an abortion should be criminally charged for doing so.  I don't--I've never supported criminalization of abortion for mothers, but I do for people who perform them.  I believe that life is sacred.  It's one of those things in the Declaration of Independence.  We are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, and the first is life.  And I believe that that life should be protected at the moment it is a human life.  And at conception it is biologically human, and it's alive.  It's a human life, it should be a person under the Constitution.

MR. GREGORY:  All right, we are going to leave it there.  Senator Santorum, thank you very much for sharing your views.

SEN. SANTORUM:  Thank you, David.

MR. GREGORY:  And coming up, reaction from our roundtable on what you just heard here from White House hopeful Rick Santorum.  Plus, we will break down the rest of the Republican field.  A lot of movement this week as Newt Gingrich's campaign suffered a big blow.  Is it the end of the road for him? Also, reaction to top Democrats in the House calling on Congressman Weiner to resign.  Our roundtable coming up:  Democratic mayor of Atlanta Kasim Reed, Republican strategist Mike Murphy; also joining us, MSNBC's Richard Wolffe, and The Wall Street Journal's Kim Strassel.

                               (Announcements)

MR. GREGORY:  We're back with our roundtable:  Columnist for The Wall Street Journal Kim Strassel; author of the book, "2.0, How The Obama White House is Making its Political Comeback," Richard Wolffe; Democratic Mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed; and Republican strategist and Time magazine columnist Mike Murphy.

Welcome to all of you.

And Mayor Reed, I was reminded on Twitter this morning it was your birthday, was it not?  On Friday?  Happy birthday.

MAYOR KASIM REED (D-GA):  Yes.  Thank you.

MR. GREGORY:  Glad to have you come up here and spend the birthday weekend on MEET THE PRESS.

MAYOR REED:  Oh it's been beautiful.

MR. GREGORY:  Thanks so much.

Mike Murphy, let me start with you.  Rick Santorum, he's in it to win it.  I think you could say he positions himself as the one true conservative here with some experience.

MR. MIKE MURPHY:  Yep.

MR. GREGORY:  Is he for real?

MR. MURPHY:  Well, you know, he was, as he pointed out, governor of a big blue hard-to-win state for the--governor--senator, of that state.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. MURPHY:  On the other hand, not as famous.  A lot of his story is wases, you know, did this, did that.  He is a peer social conservative, and there's room for that in the Iowa caucus, though I wouldn't--it's hard for me to see the path to the nomination for him.  I think he may surprise a little bit in Iowa.

MR. GREGORY:  Mayor Reed, the other big story, of course, Anthony Weiner. And you heard from Debbie Wasserman Schultz, "Look, there's only so much we can do here to try to push him out of office.  He's, you know, he's hanging in." How much is this distracting Democrats from doing real business, the real business of fixing the economy, which is what's going to weigh so heavily.

MAYOR REED:  It's very bad for Democrats.  I believe that the congressman should resign so we can move on.  I mean, the fact of the matter is, is Democrats have been doing very well on the Medicare conversation.  .

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MAYOR REED:  Paul Ryan has really given the Democrats a great deal of momentum.  They had a good win in, in New York.  And now who's talking about that at all?  So I think that we need to move on.  I think he's been a great public servant, but we have--the stakes are just too high.  We need to be talking about jobs, jobs, jobs.  That's not happening right now.  We're having a conversation about the congressman.

MR. GREGORY:  Kim Strassel, it is unusual, a leave of absence.  I mean, if there's a way to sort of keep the conversation going it is to, it is to keep the conversation going.

MS. KIM STRASSEL:  Well, and this is a remarkable thing that you're seeing across the board, this trend of politicians who do not resign when they have scandals.  And it's on both sides of the board.  I mean, it was interesting one of the people who came out and has given the most sort of aid and comfort to Mr. Weiner was Charlie Rangel, who last year, of course...

MR. GREGORY:  Yeah.

MS. STRASSEL:  ...refused to resign, too.  And, and Nancy Pelosi had asked him to do that, and so this has been a problem for both parties.  But it is a distraction, and the longer it goes on the harder it is for Democrats.

MR. GREGORY:  Richard Wolffe, our banner here, "Congressman Weiner Scandal." I mean, coming up with something that benign has not been easy in the course of this conversation with Congressman Weiner.

MR. RICHARD WOLFFE:  Congratulations.

MR. GREGORY:  Yeah.  But I mean, but the point is, here is somebody who's such a strong liberal voice in the caucus...

MR. WOLFFE:  Yep.

MR. GREGORY:  ...so that would be a big loss.  But is there any sense in the White House, outside the White House that he can be saved?

MR. WOLFFE:  Well, not beloved in the caucus.

MR. GREGORY:  Yeah.

MR. WOLFFE:  Strong voice, but no allies.  And outside the caucus, though, progressives love him.  He was an effective advocate for their causes, not least on cable TV.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MR. WOLFFE:  The question is, can he be that kind of advocate moving forward? What happens to his mayoral ambitions, obviously?  All of that has gone.  And, and the question is, is survival enough?  Be--he's not a chairman of a committee, he hasn't got any great legislative record that he can be proud of. How effective can you be when you have such a great level of embarrassment out there?

MR. MURPHY:  I...

GREGORY:  Yeah.

MR. MURPHY:  ...you just--you know, he's one of these guys that looks like he's going to hang on to the dear end even though the leadership's trying to push him out.  But there's a big redistricting erasure.  They've got to pick somebody to throw overboard.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MR. MURPHY:  And I think they're going to have a nice meeting--he'll be in therapy--and have a meeting, and he'll volunteer where he wants to or not.

MR. GREGORY:  Mike, let me stick with you on the issue of Newt Gingrich, who had an exodus, his top staff, 16 members of his team resigning.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah.

MR. GREGORY:  He came out on Friday, he said, "Now we're going to start this thing anew in Los Angeles." And this is something he said that really caught my eye.

(Videotape, Friday)

FMR. REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA):  Let me just say there is a fundamental strategic difference between the traditional consulting community and the kind of campaign I want to run.  Now, we'll find out over the next year who's right.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  As a consultant...

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah!

MR. GREGORY:  ...what say you?

MR. MURPHY:  Oh, he's taking on the overpriced mafia right now.  You know, there's a little bit of truth in that.  It always should have been a Newtish campaign from the beginning.  I mean, these advisers who left are all shocked, shocked..

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. MURPHY:  ...that Newt's a very kind of nontraditional candidate.  On the other hand, when I talked about this last time on the show I said watching Newt's campaign was like watching maneuvers of the Belgian navy.  Very, very interesting, not very relevant.  That hasn't changed.  What they did is they managed to capsize the frigate.  Now, I think he'll have a little comeback now because he'll run the campaign he always wanted to run, which is show up at debates, be a little provocative, not get nominated.  I don't think he'll win any states, but for Newt nothing much will change.  He'll just get the campaign he wants.

MR. GREGORY:  Kim Strassel, look at our cork board here, which we like to show now week in and week out, who's in and who's still on the fence.  So here's who you have who are in, at least for now.  We, we talked about Senator Santorum.  But it's the on-the-fence crowd as well that's pretty interesting. That's where the action is:  Huntsman, Palin, Giuliani was up in New Hampshire taking on Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, and now Rick Perry, who may fill some of that space that Gingrich occupied because some of those advisers from Gingrich could go to him.  How do you see it?

MS. STRASSEL:  Look, I think what everyone has missed here, there's so much conversation about who can beat President Obama next year that what has been missed a little bit is that conservatives and grassroots activists out there, you got to look at the history of the Republican Party over the past 10 years, which has been very bad indeed.  You know, they lost their way over spending, were kicked out.  They won last year, but mostly because they were a choice, not necessarily because of what they offered.  Conservatives are looking for a leader, and that's why you have such an unsettled field.  They want someone who's going to lead the party for the next decade or beyond with ideas.  And you're seeing some of the candidates now step up for that.  A big week for Tim Pawlenty, for instance, came out with a big pro-growth strategy, saying, you know, "We're not just going to talk about what we're--we're cutting and spending, we're not just going to talk about bad news.  We're going to talk about what we're going to do for the future." That's going to resonate with people.

MR. GREGORY:  How do they see it inside the White House, Richard?

MR. WOLFFE:  Well, obviously the economy's key here, but they think this is a weak Republican field.  It doesn't have a great platform to talk about the economy.  Mitt Romney has this record of cutting jobs.  At Bain, he--outsourcing and that kind of management mentality.  And his record as governor you heard from Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  They think the records Pawlenty coming out with a deficit at the end of his term, these guys do not have a great economic opening.  I mean, they have a opening on the economy. They're not delusional about that, but they just think the field is so flawed on the other side that when it comes down to a choice, not the referendum on the president, as these things come into play, it's going to be more like the end of 2004 where people were unhappy with Bush, but they still didn't want to hire John Kerry.

MR. GREGORY:  Interesting.

Mayor Reed, you're out there on the front lines as mayor of a big Southern city in Atlanta.  And The Economist magazine and this headline has got to resonate with you as you look at it.  Here's Barack Obama, the president, looming large over what a lot of people think is a small Republican field, and yet the headline is, "And Yet I Could Still Lose." I don't have to tell you these numbers, but I'm going to tell the audience.  Unemployment in Atlanta 9.7 percent, well above the national average.  For the state of Georgia, it's 9.9 percent.  African-American unemployment nationally over 16 percent.  The president is vulnerable.

MAYOR REED:  Yeah.  I agree that he's vulnerable.  But I think that the argument that he's going to make is direction.  People need to remember that right now we have--we're not spending $750 million--or the president isn't spending money communicating his message.  He needs to stay out there, stay in the fight.  He'll be in North Carolina next week, and he needs to constantly communicate.  The area that I believe that the president really needs to grow, and I think he is growing, is the level of empathy.  The fact of the matter is, this is tough, it's going to be a tough campaign, but he's got to get out there and he's got to constantly let folks know that he genuinely cares about how much they're hurting.  And he's got to lay out in a concrete fashion every single thing that he's done.  He's got to constantly talk about what he did to save the automobile industry.  I mean, I can't believe this story is going by like it is.  GM and Chrysler are coming out of it having strong performance. There were a million jobs on the line before the president took extraordinary action.  He's got to talk about that more.  He's got to talk about it everywhere he goes.  The good thing about this president is he doesn't get too high, he doesn't get too low.  If you look at this program a few weeks ago after bin Laden was killed everyone was talking about who's running against him.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MAYOR REED:  Then the job report came out and then all of a sudden Mitt Romney's ahead of the guy.

MR. GREGORY:  And he gets bumped by that.

But, Mike Murphy, this is--you framed this in your Time magazine column in a very interesting way, which is the economy, of course, is the vulnerability. The ace up his sleeve, as you wrote, is demographics.  This is part of what you wrote in the magazine.  "While the weak economy is one huge force driving [tight Obama vs. Romney poll] numbers," they're locked 47/47, "there's a second force in play that could be equally unsettling.  The 2012 election is shaping up as a battle between economics and demographics.  The economy is threatening to end the president's political career.  The demographics of a changing American might just re-elect him." Forty-three percent growth in the Hispanic population in America.

MR. MURPHY:  Right.  It--what's happening here is two huge forces are at war. On one hand, if the economy doesn't get better, he was a guy who was elected to fix the economy, the economy's gotten worse, Americans fire that kind of president.  He's got the biggest problem...  you can traditionally have in politics.

But on the other side the playing field is changing.  When Ronald Reagan was elected, you know, our favorite election we all like to talk about--I got a little shrine in my house with candles and everything--1980, 88 percent of the people who cast the vote in the presidential election were white.  And they voted more Republican than Democrat.  In the last election, last presidential election that was down to 74 percent.  And so what's happening is the voter groups that Republicans do a bad job of getting are growing quickly, particularly Latino voters.  We also have trouble with young voters.  Even in 2010 we lost them by double digits.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. MURPHY:  They become all voters.  So the demographics are pushing in a more democratic, right now, situation vs. the bad economy, and that's the struggle.  If Republicans don't get into these new demographics, eventually we're going to run out of oxygen.

MR. GREGORY:  And, Richard, you write about this in the book.  But the flip side of that is a state like Florida.  I mean, a state like Ohio, the economy may still overwhelm whatever demographic gains have been made for Democrats.

MR. WOLFFE:  Yeah, I mean, it's an interesting question about whether the auto industry, manufacturing revival is going to be the thing that rescues them in the Midwest, upper Midwest.  But, you know, there's a reason why Mike's analysis is liked in the White House.  They agree with him on the demographics.  Even as journalists go up to him and say, are you serious about North Carolina and Georgia?  Are you really going to play there?  They say you've got to get your head out of 2000.  There's a demographic growth.  Young voters, African-Americans, Latinos, tech jobs, that's where they did well. They've got to restart.  If they win, it's because they use this year to get that machinery out.

MR. MURPHY:  That--just very quickly, you know, the fascinating thing is the industrial Midwest, which has been hard, we haven't carried those states since the '80s, all Republican governors now, from Pennsylvania through Wisconsin, which is the economic pain pushing back.  So they can't get too cocky, either. They're on very thin ice.

MR. WOLFFE:  Though the Wisconsin governor may have lifted this for us a little bit by overreach.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah.  He's still there.

MR. GREGORY:  I've got to take a quick break here.  We'll do a few more minutes when we come back with our roundtable.  We'll also include our Trends & Takeaways, a look at what was said here over the course of this hour, what to look for in the coming week, including what impact will those Palin e-mails have on this race, even though she's not in the race.  We will come back right after this break.

                               (Announcements)

MR. GREGORY:  We're back with our Trends & Takeaways segment.  The news of this hour on this program, the chairwoman of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and other top officials in the Democratic Party calling for Congressman Anthony Weiner to resign, but acknowledging it may not happen.  He said he's only going out on leave.  This is what she said.

(Videotape, earlier this morning)

MR. GREGORY:  What is it you can do?  I mean, he's obviously not listening to the admonitions of his colleagues.

REP. SCHULTZ:  At the end of the day, you know, a member of Congress makes their own decision and that's certainly going to be up to Anthony Weiner.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  Up to Anthony Weiner.  He's only going into treatment right now.  This is a story that should go on.

We have something that's special just to us here at MEET THE PRESS, our political tracker, which is an aggregate of the top sites of--for politics on the Internet to see what are the trending stories right now, and you can see Anthony Weiner is number one and continues to gain traction.  The Palin e-mails, as well, and the capture of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed having been killed.  The Weiner story, one, Richard Wolffe, is, is still an open-ended question.

MR. WOLFFE:  Yeah.  It's an embarrassment, it's got to go away.  He obviously wants to hang on.  You know, there was that ethical, moral argument the Democrats made very successfully in 2006.  I don't know that it's going to be determinative when it comes down to next year's election, but they need to take it off the table.  And that's why you're seeing Wasserman Schultz say resign, but she's really uncomfortable dealing with it.  She wasn't faking that.

MR. GREGORY:  True.  Kim Strassel, let's talk about the other big news from our political tracker and that is the Palin e-mails.

MS. STRASSEL:  Yes.

MR. GREGORY:  It took over 1,000 days to get the boxes of e-mails finally released.  Reporters are still going through them.  What have we actually learned?

MS. STRASSEL:  Nothing.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

MS. STRASSEL:  A thousand days of waiting breathless anticipation.

MR. GREGORY:  That we didn't already know, that we didn't already know.

MS. STRASSEL:  Right.  You know, and it was a great big nothing burger.  I mean, I think this is very interesting because it does say if, if, if Mrs. Palin decides to make a run for the presidential race, it just goes to show the obsessive focus the press on her and how big a difficulty that will be for her running in an election...

MR. GREGORY:  And something that she's been sensitive about almost from the beginning.

MS. STRASSEL:  Exactly.

MR. GREGORY:  Mayor Reed, on our Facebook page as well, some feedback from our debate with the chairs of the parties.  "I think they both need to remove the shroud of their party's doctrine and look through the eyes of common American citizens.  We're struggling out here while they continue to play `king of the hill' games." It is interesting, how much of a lack of confidence is there outside Washington in what Washington is doing?

MAYOR REED:  It's extremely high because we can't get a deal done on critical issues such as the debt ceiling and such as job creation.  And folks at home, they completely get it, and they're very frustrated about it.  And I think just as the Democrats paid a high price, Republicans are going to pay a very high price for not focusing on job creation.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.  We're going to leave it there.  Also, the big thing coming up this week is our Republican debate.  Their second, it'll be up in New Hampshire.  We'll be watching that to see if there's an important takeaway.  Part of the upcoming events that we'll look for this week.

That is all for today.  Thanks to a terrific roundtable.  We'll be back next week.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

Photos: 64 years of ‘Meet the Press’

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  1. First ‘Meet the Press’ photo

    December 4, 1947: The earliest photograph in existence of the longest running television program in history. Sen. Robert Taft was the guest on "Meet the Press" that day, less than a month after the program debuted on NBC television at 8 p.m., November 6, 1947. James A. Farley, the former postmaster general and former Democratic National Committee chairman, was the guest on the first broadcast. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. All women

    December 10, 1949: With Washington's leading male reporters otherwise occupied at the men-only Gridiron Dinner, "Meet the Press" presented its first all-female program. Moderator (and program co-founder) Martha Rountree, panelists Doris Fleeson, May Craig, Judy Spivak and Ruth Montgomery question the guest, Democratic politician India Edwards. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Billy Graham

    March 6, 1955: Rev. Billy Graham’s first "Meet the Press" appearance. He tells panelist (and program co-founder) Lawrence Spivak "anything that makes any race feel inferior ... is not only un-American but un-Christian." (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Jackie Robinson

    April 14, 1957: Jackie Robinson, the first man to break the racial barrier in Major League Baseball, also becomes the first athlete to appear on "Meet the Press." Robinson joins moderator Lawrence Spivak in a discussion about civil rights and Robinson’s work with the NAACP. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Eleanor Roosevelt

    October 20, 1957: Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in one of her six "Meet the Press" appearances. Here she talks about her trip to the Soviet Union. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Robert Frost

    December 28, 1958: Poet Robert Frost was introduced by moderator Ned Brooks as "the poet of all America. Indeed, it can be said that he is the poet of all mankind." Two years later, Congress awarded Robert Frost a gold medal in recognition of his poetry, saying it enriched the culture of the United States and the philosophy of the world. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Fidel Castro

    April 19, 1959: Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro appears on "Meet the Press" during his first visit to the United States since the revolution. Castro was annoyed that permanent panelist and producer Lawrence Spivak would not allow him to smoke cigars in the studio. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Martin Luthur King Jr.

    April 17, 1960: Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., pictured here in one of his five "Meet the Press" appearances. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. John F. Kennedy

    October 16, 1960: After this interview, then-Senator John F. Kennedy calls Meet the Press the nation's "fifty-first state." (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Jimmy Hoffa

    July 9, 1961:This first "Meet the Press" appearance by Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa had to be rescheduled several times due to Hoffa’s string of indictments. After the interview, Hoffa was furious about being asked whether his insistence on dealing only in cash and keeping few records gave the appearance of impropriety. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Edward Kennedy

    March 11, 1962: Edward Kennedy’s first appearance on the program. The potential Senate candidate was coached by his older brother, President John F. Kennedy. President Kennedy and his aide Theodore Sorensen prepared "Teddy" for his “Meet the Press” debut by staging a run through of questions and answers in the Oval Office. On the day of the program, President Kennedy delayed his departure from Palm Beach in order to watch the show, but later told his brother that he was almost too nervous to watch. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Bob Dole

    July 16, 1972: Bob Dole and "Meet the Press" moderator Lawrence Spivak prepare to discuss the break-in and bugging of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate. Former Senator Dole holds the record for the most appearances on “Meet the Press” in a career that included service as a Congressman, Senator, RNC Chairman, vice presidential candidate, Senate Majority Leader and finally, Republican presidential nominee. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Prime Minister Wilson

    September 19, 1965: "Meet the Press" conducts television’s very first live satellite interview. The guest is British Prime Minister Harold Wilson. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Ronald Reagan

    September 11, 1966: Ronald Reagan, making his first bid for public office, appears on "Meet the Press" with his Democratic opponent for the governorship of California, the incumbent Gov. Edmund G. Brown. Reagan appeared on "Meet the Press" seven times -- all before he was elected president. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Robert Kennedy

    March 17, 1968: Senator Robert F. Kennedy makes his ninth -- and final -- appearance on "Meet the Press" with Lawrence E. Spivak. Kennedy was assassinated in California less than 3 months later -- shortly after claiming victory in that state's Democratic presidential primary. He was 42 years old. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. John Kerry

    April 18, 1971: John Kerry, then a former Navy Lieutenant, makes his first "Meet the Press" appearance as a spokesman for Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He has since appeared on the program as a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts 21 times. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Golda Meir

    December 5, 1971: Golda Meir, prime minister of Israel, appears on “Meet the Press” with moderator Bill Monroe to discuss the continuing instability in the Middle East and the prospect of meeting and negotiating with Egypt’s leaders. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Prime Minister Gandhi

    August 24, 1975: Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in one of her seven appearances on "Meet the Press" before her assassination in October 1984. After she was elected Prime Minister in 1966, Gandhi grew more concerned about her television image and contacted "Meet the Press" to request makeup samples used during her appearance on the program. The program’s makeup artist consulted her notes and sent Mrs. Gandhi a complete makeup set -- including sponges and instructions for application. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Gerald Ford

    November 9, 1975: President Gerald Ford becomes the first sitting American president to appear on the program. President Ford accepted the invitation as a tribute to "Meet the Press" co-founder Lawrence Spivak, who was making his farewell appearance as moderator of the program. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Jimmy Carter

    January 20, 1980: In one of the most dramatic newsbreaks in the history of "Meet the Press" President Jimmy Carter announces that the U.S. would boycott the Moscow Summer Olympics because of the presence of Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Despite initial outrage over Carter’s proposal, 60 nations eventually joined the boycott. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Richard Nixon

    April 10, 1988: In his first Sunday interview in 20 years, Former President Richard Nixon reacts to a comment on "Meet the Press. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Tim Russert's first show

    December 8, 1991: Tim Russert makes his debut as moderator of "Meet the Press." He has since become the longest-serving moderator in "Meet the Press" history. In the center of this photo is then-intern Betsy Fischer, who is now Executive Producer of the program. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Dan Quayle

    September 20, 1992: "Meet the Press" permanently expands from a half-hour to a one hour program. Vice President Dan Quayle is the guest. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Shaheen and Whitman

    February 2, 1997: The broadcast breaks television history as "Meet the Press" becomes the first network television program ever to broadcast live in digital high definition. Governors Jeanne Shaheen and Christie Todd Whitman share a light moment on the set that day. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Bill Clinton

    November 9, 1997: President Bill Clinton appears in studio on "Meet the Press" to mark the program’s 50th anniversary. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Al Gore

    December 19, 1999: In a live Democratic presidential debate, Vice President Al Gore challenges former Sen. Bill Bradley to a "Meet the Press agreement" to have weekly debates in place of running political advertisements. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Dick Cheney

    September 16, 2001: Five days after the September 11th attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney joins moderator Tim Russert in the first live television interview ever broadcast from Camp David. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Senate Debate Series

    September 22, 2002: "Meet the Press" kicks off its "Senate Debate Series" with the Colorado Senate race: Republican Incumbent Sen. Wayne Allard vs. Democratic Challenger Tom Strickland. At the end of the election cycle, the series of three senate debates was awarded the prestigious "USC Walter Cronkite Journalism Award" for "Excellence in Broadcast TV Political Journalism." The debate series continued in 2004 and 2006. (Alex Wong / Getty Images for Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. George W. Bush

    February 8, 2004: President George W. Bush kicks off his re-election campaign in an Oval Office interview with Tim Russert on "Meet the Press." Robert Novak went on to write about the interview, "no president ever before had been subjected to such tough questioning in the Oval Office." (Getty Images for Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. James Carville

    November 14, 2004: In another "Meet the Press" first, Democratic strategist James Carville cracks an egg on his forehead to demonstrate he's got "egg on his face" after his projected outcome of the U.S. presidential election was wrong. Carville predicted 52 percent of the vote for U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), 47 percent for President George W. Bush and 1 percent for Ralph Nader. (Getty Images for Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Jim Webb

    November 19, 2006: The first edition of "Meet the Press" to be available via video netcast on the show’s Web site. U.S. Senator-elect Jim Webb (D-Va.) joins moderator Tim Russert on that program. (Alex Wong / Getty Images for Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Barack Obama

    November 11, 2007: "Meet the Press"celebrates its 60th anniversary live from Des Moines, Iowa with Democratic Presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) for the full hour. (Eric Thayer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. June 15, 2008: The chair of late moderator Tim Russert sits empty on the set during the first MTP taping following Russert's death. He died June 13, 2008 of a heart attack while at the NBC News bureau in Washington. He was 58 years old. (Alex Wong / Getty Images for Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Colin Powell

    October 19, 2008: A record-breaking 9 million viewers tune in to see Gen. Colin Powell, a Republican, announce his endorsement of Democratic Presidential Nominee Barack Obama. (Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. President-elect Obama

    December 7, 2008: President-elect Barack Obama makes his first Sunday morning television appearance since winning the election to discuss the challenges facing this country and the upcoming transition of power. (Scott Olson / Getty Images for Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. David Gregory

    December 7, 2008: Interim moderator Tom Brokaw announces that David Gregory has been chosen as the new moderator of the show. (Alex Wong / Getty Images for Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Rendell, Schwarzenegger & Bloomberg

    March 22, 2009: Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Penn.), Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.) and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg appeared exclusively on Meet the Press one day after meeting with President Obama to discuss the economy. (Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images for Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Hillary Clinton

    July 26, 2009: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears for a full-hour on Meet the Press. It's her first appearance on the program since joining the Obama administration. (William B. Plowman / NBC Universal) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. President Obama

    September 20, 2009: President Barack Obama sits down with David Gregory at the White House for Obama's first MTP appearance since taking office. (Pete Souza / The White House) Back to slideshow navigation
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