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FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA): Tonight we celebrate, tomorrow we go back to work.
MR. GREGORY: Now the stage is set for the showdown in South Carolina.
FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: Those that are calling themselves true conservatives ended up attacking venture capitalism and capitalism in general. It suggests a bit of a desperate time for some campaigns.
FMR. REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA): I'm shocked at how defensive they are.
MR. GREGORY: So can Romney be stopped? Newt Gingrich says yes. I'll ask him how when he joins me live from Charleston this morning. Will Gingrich's attacks on Romney's record as a venture capitalist at Bain backfire? Republicans have condemned Romney's rivals for leading an assault against free enterprise, even as the president's campaign prepares to seize on the same issue this fall.
Later, perspective on what will drive the GOP voter in the Palmetto State with South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and tea party conservative from the state Congressman Tim Scott.
Also here live this morning, a rare conversation with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada. The president's upcoming State of the Union address, taxes, spending and the debt. Is a new tone possible in the new year? Can anything get accomplished in the midst of the 2012 campaign?
Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
MR. GREGORY: And good morning. All the focus now on South Carolina where GOP voters will go to the polls next Saturday. This weekend, a group of prominent Republican Christian conservatives gathered in Texas and gave a boost to candidate Rick Santorum, throwing their collective support behind him in a last ditch effort to stop Romney's march to the nomination. What will it all mean? Here with us, another Republican trying to stop Romney in South Carolina, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Speaker Gingrich, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: It's good to be with you. I'm delighted.
MR. GREGORY: Let's, let's start there because you laid it out this week. You said there's one way to stop Romney in South Carolina, this is what you said to Fox News.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: If we consolidate conservatives, we could beat Romney by a big margin.
MR. GREGORY: We've heard from social conservatives in Texas, they're saying let's get behind Rick Santorum. Do you feel pressure to consolidate behind Santorum?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well...
MR. GREGORY: Perhaps get out of the race?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, I think that report was very highly exaggerated. We basically split that group. I got a very good number of votes and I think as of noon today that Reverend Jim Garlow and Congressman J.C. Watts and others who were there are going to be talking and I think they'll indicate that I have very strong support from Christian conservatives and social conservatives and that that support continues. There was an agreement, the one consensus was that virtually no one was for Mitt Romney. But in fact, there was a very strong Santorum group and there was a very strong Gingrich group at that particular meeting, and the Gingrich folks are still very much for me and they'll be speaking up starting at about noon today.
MR. GREGORY: But isn't this the issue? I mean, if you just look at the raw numbers here and look at the politics, there's not one alternative to Mitt Romney. There's several of you who are vying for that evangelical vote down in South Carolina. We've seen this movie before, four years ago. Doesn't that help Romney?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Sure. Well, it does--it does help him. And I think the only way that a Massachusetts moderate can get through South Carolina is if the vote is split. But we have six days to make our case to people and I think somebody who generally people agree was the best debater so far, I think I have the best chance to beat Obama. I think I also have the like--the greatest likelihood given the past to actually change Washington. And as The Wall Street Journal pointed out, I have the boldest and most aggressive pro-jobs plan, as well as a record working with Reagan and working as speaker with Bill Clinton of actually having created large numbers of jobs. So we're going to be making our case to national security conservatives, social conservatives and economic conservatives that this--that Newt Gingrich is the best candidate to defeat President Obama. And I think we're doing pretty darn well down here.
MR. GREGORY: So your feeling is that despite what the social conservative group said over the weekend, Rick Santorum doesn't have any more momentum here? He's not the obvious conservative alternative choice to Romney?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: No. I think the fact is if you look at the actual vote yesterday that we were very close in the vote and that, in fact, the folks who'll be speaking out starting at noon today, Congressman J.C. Watts, Reverend Jim Garlow and others, are very committed to my candidacy and I think we will go into the next week, this last week of the campaign with a large amount of momentum here. The polls have all shown consistently that I am the strongest rival to Romney in South Carolina and I think that the debate tomorrow night will be a very important part of that and the debate Thursday night will be a very important part of that. And I think it's going to be a very, very lively week, one of the most important weeks in the history of the GOP because I think nominating somebody who is essentially a Massachusetts moderate makes it much harder to defeat President Obama and nominating somebody who is a Reagan conservative makes it much easier to defeat President Obama.
MR. GREGORY: Well, let me pick up on that point because this has been your charge. You talk about lively, I think about the debate last Sunday, which was fairly lively between all of you. And this is one of the charges you made against Romney. Let me play it.
(Videotape, last Sunday)
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: I think that a bold Reagan conservative with a very strong economic plan is a lot more likely to succeed in that campaign than a relatively timid Massachusetts moderate.
MR. GREGORY: Speaker, this is your flier that you're circulating...
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Right.
MR. GREGORY: ...here in New Hampshire. It says very clearly Romney is not electable.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: I think he will have a very hard time getting re-elected--getting elected.
MR. GREGORY: But then let's look at how conservatives in New Hampshire actually voted having heard that pitch from you. These were some of the exit polling, 42 percent of conservatives voted for Romney, only 14 percent for you. And then how about this from the exit poll, among those whether they'd be satisfied or dissatisfied, 63 percent said they'd be dissatisfied with you. These are conservatives in New Hampshire where they actually are voting. How do you respond to that?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, I respond to it that Governor Romney governed next door for four years. Before that, ran for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, bought a house in New Hampshire and lived in New Hampshire for years. I--that was his third best state in the country after Utah and Massachusetts, so it shouldn't be very surprising that in his stronghold he did, he did adequately. He did--wasn't overwhelming but he was adequate.
MR. GREGORY: Well, but wait a second.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: And the question is, when you think about the whole country--go ahead.
MR. GREGORY: Well, let's just wait a second, though, because if this is the place where they know him best and he was a timid moderate Republican governor, don't you think that Republicans, conservatives in New Hampshire would know that best?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, I think, I think that when you come to South Carolina and you learn, for example, that he favored gun control and raised the tax on guns 400 percent, that has a real impact in South Carolina and I think people in South Carolina are strongly for the Second Amendment, as I am, and that's a real contrast. I think, you know, again, when Paul Tsongas got about exactly the same vote in, in New Hampshire that Governor Romney did, it was considered a defeat and Bill Clinton was called the comeback kid, even though he lost. So I think you have to look at regional characteristics. When you think about a national campaign, you think about debating Barack Obama this fall, and just ask yourself a simple question: Is it better to draw a bold, clear line between a Reagan conservative and the most liberal president in our history, or is it better to have somebody who in many ways, Romneycare vs. Obamacare, tax increases in Massachusetts, 47th worst record of creating jobs in Massachusetts, I think it's much harder for Romney to draw a sharp contrast than it would be for me.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about your own candidacy. You were here eight months ago back in May and after that appearance when you criticized the Medicare reform plan from Paul Ryan, it looked like you were over before you started. And then you came back. And you said six weeks ago that hey, odds are I'm going to be the nominee. And then you went down again. How do you explain the ups and downs in your campaign?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, I think, I think in this--look, in the summer, I was surprised at the intensity of the Washington establishment attacks and the number of different people who, you know, said Gingrich is dead, Gingrich is gone. I calmly, steadily kept having positive ideas, as you know, and having positive ideas by early December, the Gallup poll had me up by something like 12 or 15 points over Governor Romney nationally. Then, you know, the Romney campaign understood reality and they decided they'd throw $3 1/2 million of negative ads in Iowa. I did not respond. I spent three solid weeks saying I thought the negative ads were wrong. I thought it was a very bad tactic. I thought it was bad for the country. And, and as a result, we slid from a very strong first to coming in fourth. We've revamped the campaign, we've accepted the reality that you either unilaterally disarm and get out of the race or you have to have some ability to match the level of negativity that Governor Romney's campaign engages in. And I think if you look at what's happening right now in South Carolina, we're prepared to define this race between a Reagan conservative and a Massachusetts moderate with great clarity and I think the result has been to really dramatically slow down his progress and to have a lot of people raising questions about whether or not Governor Romney really could withstand a campaign this fall and really could stand up to Barack Obama in debates.
MR. GREGORY: Well, let's talk about going negative. Again, the debate on MEET THE PRESS last Sunday, you previewed what is a film against Romney's time as head of Bain Capital, the venture capitalist firm, a film that has been unveiled by your super PAC, which is run by a former top adviser to you. And this is how you previewed it last Sunday.
(Videotape, last Sunday)
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: When the 27-and-a-half-minute movie comes out, I hope it's accurate. I will, I, I, I can say publicly I hope that the super PAC runs an accurate movie about Bain. It will be based on establishment newspapers, like The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Barron's, Bloomberg News, and I hope that it's totally accurate and that people can watch the 27 and a half minutes of his career at Bain and decide for themselves.
MR. GREGORY: All right.
MR. GREGORY: So I'm not going to play all 27 minutes, but if there was a topic sentence from the film, I think it would be this.
(Videotape from Gingrich campaign ad)
Narrator: A group of corporate raiders led by Mitt Romney. The company was Bain Capital, more ruthless than Wall Street.
MR. GREGORY: The film is not accurate, is it?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, there are some flaws in the film and I promptly said, you know, this is the difference between Governor Romney and me. When The Washington Post said Governor Romney's super PAC in a 30-second commercial was wrong on four different counts, he didn't do anything about it. When The Washington Post said something similar about a 27-and-a-half-minute film, I promptly said I hope that they will edit it. I hope they'll make it accurate and I hope they won't show the film without being edited. And I--and let me say that although all this is out in the open because you cannot communicate privately with these under the law, I've, I've said that publicly and as I understand it, according to the newspaper reports, Rick Tyler has said he's very prepared to edit the film and he's, I think, submitted five questions to Governor Romney's campaign to get accuracy and clarity to edit the film. So it's a--I, I think if we're going to have these kind of super PACs, there should be some real effort to make them accurate.
MR. GREGORY: But...
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: And while you may have tough ads, the tough ads ought to be factual.
MR. GREGORY: So you think it should stay up? It shouldn't be pulled down completely?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: No. I think it should be edited so it's accurate. As long as it's accurate, I think that that's a question, that's a question, frankly...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: ...that they should decide once they make it accurate. I would oppose it being run if it's inaccurate, and I think that ought to be a reasonable standard. I wish Governor Romney would apply the same standard and publicly call on his PAC. They have four mistakes in the 30-second commercial. You know how hard it is and how deliberately negative it is to have four mistakes in a 30-second commercial?
MR. GREGORY: But it's, it's kind of easy, isn't it, after the cat's out of the bag, the film has been run, there's been all this publicity, it's sort of easy to say, "Well, no, I think they ought to edit those things out." I mean, how do you, how do you unring the bell? You got all the benefit of that negativity, didn't you?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, I--look, I think first of the questions that are being raised are real. They're being raised by a lot more folks than Newt Gingrich, and I think Governor Romney ought to answer the questions. You'll notice, by the way, that he'd been saying for months that he'd created 100,000 jobs in the private sector. This last week he got three Pinocchios in The Washington Post on that, and he has since, I believe, dropped the claim and is now down to saying thousands of jobs, not 100,000 jobs. So this is part of the sorting out process of a campaign. I'm very--I, I've tried very hard to be very precise in descriptions of things about the governor's record and, and about my own record. You know, I worked with Reagan. We helped create 16 million new jobs. I worked with Bill Clinton as speaker of the House. We helped create 11 million new jobs. Those are pretty substantial things that are factually verifiable by people who want to see what the campaign is doing.
MR. GREGORY: Well, you've talked about that there should be more facts, there should be more records. There have been questions about whether Governor Romney should release his, his tax records in terms of how he profited over the years. Is that part of what you'd like to see now?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, I'm, I'm not going to--he's got to make his own decision. President Obama's releasing his records. This coming Thursday I will release my income tax records. Callista and I have discussed it, we agree this is part of the process of the American people having trust in the candidates. I think Governor Romney, if he plans to, to stay in the race, ought to plan to release his records because he'll never get through the fall without releasing his records, and it's better to do it in the primary season so the country understands what's going on and not wait and be surprised in September. And I, I think it's the right thing to do, and we--we will--we're going to work right now. We have our folks working to be able to release our records on Thursday...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: ...so people in South Carolina will see the record.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think Governor Romney's hiding something?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: I have no idea. You're the reporter, I'll let you decide that. I know that the country deserves accountability and they deserve transparency, and that these are big issues and they're not issues you can hide from. I'm going to try to set the example to provide leadership to do the right thing, and then Governor Romney's got to decide what he's going to do. That, that's his decision, and I'll let you determine why he makes the decision.
MR. GREGORY: Let me pin you down on this point. Going back to the film, it said that Bain Capital, which was run by Governor Romney, was more ruthless than Wall Street. So let's be very clear here. Are you suggesting that what Bain did as venture capitalists on behalf of investors, including pension funds for working people, firefighters and the like, was equivalent to say what AIG did in coming up with complex financial instruments that ultimately led to financial collapse or subprime lenders? Are you suggesting that that's equivalence in how ruthless they were?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: All I'm saying is there's an article, I believe it's in The Washington Post this morning, in which somebody who was an investor and, and a dealmaker, says flatly he got to a point where he would not deal with them, he would not work with them and so forth. I recommend you read his article. I'm, you know, I'm not an expert in this kind of financial stuff, but I do think if you're going to run for president and if you're going to base a large part of your claim on your business experience, then you have to have some expectation of people asking you, you know, to open up the books and prove it. You can't just run for president on claims. You have to have an actual experience. Because my life has been so much in the public sector, you know, if, if I say I worked with, with Ronald Reagan to develop a jobs plan, that's demonstrable. If I say that I worked with, with, with President Clinton and we actually reformed welfare, cut taxes, unemployment came down to 4.2 percent, we balanced the budget for four straight years, that's demonstrable. That's all out in the open.
MR. GREGORY: But you...
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Governor Romney ought to meet the same test of being out in the open.
MR. GREGORY: But besides referring to articles that have been written about this, you believe Governor Romney is a good businessman and has been a good businessman, don't you?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Sure. I think he's a very tough, very smart businessman. But that's not--the question isn't should he be, should he be businessman of the year. The question is, what is his character, what was his judgment, how does that relate to being president, and are there legitimate questions that can be asked that ought to be answered for somebody who wants to be president? That's a much different standard than just, you know, hiring somebody to run a business. It's a question about how you approach people, how you approach circumstances, what values you bring to bear, and those are legitimate questions for all of us if we're going to run for president. And people should know it before they vote because the presidency is such a central position in our society that you want to know what, what does this person think, what are they doing, and what values would they bring to the Oval Office. And I think those are totally legitimate questions.
MR. GREGORY: But The Wall Street Journal, among many other conservative both commentators, conservative politicians and others, they wrote this, they editorialized this, "The Bain Capital Bonfire. Bain's business model is little more than `rich people figuring out clever ways to loot a company,' says Newt Gingrich. Politics isn't subtle," the editorial says. "And these candidates are desperate, but do they have to sound like Michael Moore?" Are you comfortable, Speaker Gingrich, being cast as the Michael Moore of this Republican primary?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Look, I am totally committed to free enterprise. I am particularly committed to small businesses, to entrepreneurs, to start-ups. I'm committed to people who, in fact, work very hard to save companies. I used to be on an advisory board with Teddy Forstmann. When Teddy Forstmann was faced with a crisis at Gulfstream, he went out and raised and extra billion dollars and went down there personally, took over the company, turned it around, saved it, saved the jobs and made the preeminent corporate airplane in the world made in Savannah, Georgia, because he was--those, those were his values. That was his level of commitment to try and to make sure that that company could succeed. So I'm very much for entrepreneurial capitalism and for free enterprise. I'm particularly for it as it relates to small businesses and to Main Street. But I think that to say that raising a question about a particular company and a particular style for somebody who wants to run for president suddenly gets turned into a class action is, is foolishness. This is about one man who ran for office on a commitment about, about his own career. And the minute you start questioning that career, all of a sudden people throw up all the smoke screen. All he's got to do is talk about his career. This is about somebody who wants to be president.
MR. GREGORY: OK.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: And that's a matter of values, character and behavior.
MR. DAVID GREGORY: If you lose in South Carolina, do you have to get out of the race?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, you certainly have to reassess it, but frankly I think we're going to win here, and I think we, we're increasingly consolidating, and I'm very excited by the next seven days. And we have a lot of stuff planned all over the state, and I think it's going to be a very, very exciting campaign.
MR. GREGORY: I don't, I don't mean to dampen your own expectations, but if Romney does win, is it over? Is he the nominee?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, sure. Look, look, if Romney wins here, he has an enormous advantage going forward, which is why I think it's important for every conservative who wants to have a conservative nominee to rally around. And, and I am the one person who has a realistic chance of defeating him here, and I hope every conservative will reach the conclusion that to vote for anybody but Gingrich is, in fact, to help Romney win the nomination and to help him win the primary in South Carolina. That--I think that's the heart of the, of the message for the next six days.
MR. GREGORY: All right, before I let you go, I have to ask you something that is both funny and ridiculous about politics. Here is a portion of a Web ad that you've got up in South Carolina against Mitt Romney. I'll play a portion.
(Videotape from Gingrich campaign ad)
Narrator: And just like John Kerry...
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA): Laissez les bon temps roulez.
Narrator: ...he speaks French, too.
FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: Bonjour. Je m'appelle Mitt Romney.
MR. GREGORY: This obsession with the French, Speaker Gingrich. So if Mitt Romney speaks French, then voters in South Carolina should conclude what?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: No. That whole ad was designed to take Dukakis, Barney Frank, John Kerry and Mitt Romney and say, "Look, this is what Massachusetts is like." Mitt Romney as governor governed like a Massachusetts politician. He, he--he's much closer to Dukakis and Kerry than he is to Ronald Reagan. And the whole purpose of that--and frankly, you just proved the point of putting that in, it was funny, more people have--that, that Web ad has gone viral because people think it's funny and I rest the case--as Herman Cain used to say, "It's nice to have a sense of humor," and that whole ad was about having a sense of humor and getting people to show it as you just did.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Well, just, just to be clear, though, as, as somebody who lived two years in France as you did, you don't have a problem with anybody knowing or speaking French...
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: OK.
MR. GREGORY: ...especially when they were a missionary in, in France, which is what Romney was.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Look, first of all, I lived in France as a child, I, I did my dissertation in Belgium. I am, I am perfectly happy to have people speak many languages. But I do--you have to confess, when you look at the whole ad, it does work and it just kind of comes together perfectly and, and ties Romney back to Dukakis and to Kerry and that's the whole point of the ad.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Speaker Gingrich, good luck on the trail. We'll be watching you.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Thank you. See you soon.
MR. GREGORY: And coming up, just six days before South Carolina. Is it the last stand for Republicans if they want to stop Romney from becoming the nominee? We're going to talk to two prominent Republicans from the Palmetto State, Senator Lindsey Graham and Congressman Tim Scott. But first, a new year, will it be a new Congress? After the bitter political battles of this past year over spending, taxes and the debt ceiling, will 2012 be any different? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid joins me live in studio for a rare conversation. It's coming up next.
MR. GREGORY: Coming up, a year after bitter fights and political paralysis, can Washington get anything done? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will be joining me for a live and exclusive interview on the year ahead in Washington. It's up next after this brief commercial break.
MR. GREGORY: We're back now, joined by the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS. A pleasure to have you.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV): Glad to be here, David.
MR. GREGORY: I do want to talk politics with you about the Republican trail, but I want to talk about what's going on in Washington first. This is not a great time to be a Washington insider, you just look at the polling. What was called the worst Congress ever, look at the disapproval of Congress at 66 percent. As you're going into this new year--Democrats--job approval of Democrats in Congress, let me be more specific, disapproval at 66 percent--what can you as the majority leader or the president do to change that?
SEN. REID: First of all, I understand the frustration of the American people. I feel the same way. But understand that we've had obstructionism on steroids. The Republican leader, my counterpart, Mitch McConnell, said his number one goal at the beginning of this Congress was to defeat President Obama, not have him re-elected, and that's how they've legislated. We've spent months on things that used to happen just matter of factly; raising the debt ceiling, we did it for President Reagan 18 times and we spent two and a half months doing that. So the number one goal, and I hope the Republicans have learned a lesson, as extending the payroll tax. That was a disaster for them. Can you imagine Republicans, as reported in The Wall Street Journal, were opposed to lowering taxes? So I would hope that they understand that everything doesn't have to be a fight. Legislation's the art of working together, building consensus, compromise, and I hope that the tea party doesn't have the influence in this next year they had in the previous year. That--because it has been really bad for this country. And I understand, I repeat, why the American people feel the way they do.
MR. GREGORY: Well, almost a year ago, I talked to you. You thought the tea party would die out as the economy got better. You, you weren't right about that.
SEN. REID: Well, I think the tea party's dying out as the economy's getting better slowly.
MR. GREGORY: You do think that?
SEN. REID: Oh, sure, no question about it. And, and, and you--and, and you...
MR. GREGORY: Well, we just talked about their, their muscular impact on the process.
SEN. REID: Well, but that's during the past year. I would hope that the two Republican leaders have learned what took place in the previous year. And, you know, what we have to focus on this year is rebuilding the economy. We have to, and the only way to do that is to create jobs and that's why the agenda that I'm moving forward on, I hope with some cooperation from the Republicans this time, is to do something about creating jobs. Our surface transportation bill, it'll save a million jobs, create a lot more jobs, Federal Aviation Administration, that's more than 200,000 jobs. We're having a very important piece of legislation, important to this network right here, IP, and that's of course dealing with informational--with, with making sure that we have intellectual property that's protected and we need to do that. And that--that's also job saving. So that's what we need to work on, things that create jobs and protect the American economy.
MR. GREGORY: Just on that point, because it's been a big issue, is, is I'm on Facebook and I'm on Twitter, people saying that in fact that--that's a bill that appears to be helpful but could have an effect of really clamping down on free expression on the Internet.
SEN. REID: We--this bill was reported out of the committee in May unanimously, Democrats and Republicans, and in recent weeks organizations like Google and Facebook and others have said, "Well, there are some problems this could create," and I think they're right, I think it could create some problems. That's why I've spoken to Senator Leahy, chairman of the committee, I've written a letter to the ranking member, Senator Grassley, saying, "Let's--we, we--there are some issues that have come up, but I think we need to have this a winner for everyone, not just for the content people. And I've spoken at length with Senator Feinstein. She's got the eye of the storm in California because that's where a lot of the theft of music and movies is taking place and also where Google and Facebook is headquartered. So we need to work on this and we're going to--I will hope we can have a manager's amendment when we get back here in a week or 10 days and move forward on this. It's important that we try to do this on a fair basis and I'm going to do everything I can to get that done.
MR. GREGORY: I want to--you mentioned Senator McConnell promising to make the president a one-term president and I hope you don't mind, but last week during the debate, I actually invoked your name to raise this question about how Washington works. This was the question that I posed to Newt Gingrich during the debate last week.
(Videotape, last Sunday)
MR. GREGORY: Speaker Gingrich, if you become President Gingrich and the leader of the Democrats, Harry Reid, says he's going to promise to make you a one-term president, how would you propose to work with someone like that in order to achieve results in Washington?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: I think every president who works with the leader of every opposition knows they're working with somebody who wants to make them a one-term president.
MR. GREGORY: Don't you agree with that? I mean, you, you, you led the charge against President Bush. You were pleased when his approval ratings were knocked down. I mean, his--Gingrich is saying this is how it's done in Washington.
SEN. REID: Listen, you can be against having someone re-elected, but not have that as your number one goal. That's what's the problem. We have had obstructionism on, I repeat, steroids. We need to work together. That's the name of the game here. And it hasn't happened. The only way you get things done is by cooperation, building consensus. And if we're going to rebuild America, which I think is our number one program, we have to do that by creating jobs.
MR. GREGORY: Talk about who should have the most influence in this new year and Gallup has a poll that was very interesting. I'll put it up on the screen. Forty-six percent said President Obama, but 42 percent said Republicans in Congress and this is after you and President Obama had been out there campaigning saying it's all the Republicans' fault. They're standing in the way. They won't get anything done, yet it's pretty tight between who should have most influence, whether it should be the president or Republicans.
SEN. REID: We know that we have a unique form of government, a Constitution which I think has been the most defining document in the history of the world for having good government. We have three separate equal branches of government. And the only way you get things done is not having one dictate what happens, not, not the legislative branch, not the executive branch or the judiciary. It's all a balance and that's what I think that we have to look forward this coming year. We haven't had that balance because we've had one arm of our bicameral legislature that has said we're going to do nothing except go after Obama. That's not the way we get things done.
MR. GREGORY: But you know what they're saying. I mean, look, you run the Senate. Democrats haven't put together a budget in a year. The Republicans in the House are doing that. So you can say that they're, you know, holding the process hostage, but they're actually getting things done. That's the argument they've made. Are they wrong?
SEN. REID: David, David, you know, having been Washington a long time, how the Senate works. And the Senate works on consensus and we haven't been able to get that because Republicans, I repeat for the third time, I want to make sure everyone understands this, obstructionism on steroids.
MR. GREGORY: No, I wrote that down.
SEN. REID: OK. So that's been the problem. And I hope with what happened the last week of this last year in Congress that the Republicans have learned they can't be guided by tea party because the tea party is putting them right over the cliff. You want to talk about polling, the--a recent poll shows that the American people favor Democrats in Congress by 40 percent to 22 percent for the Republicans. So polling--there are all kinds of polls. The point is, they don't matter. We're in a new year of this Congress and what I want to do is to work to get things done to rebuild this economy.
MR. GREGORY: We talk about the president and his approach to Congress because ultimately, you can talk about building consensus, it requires leadership on the part of both parties to actually achieve results. This was interesting, it caught my eye from the USA Today talking about the president's approach. "In the wake of failed budget negotiations that nearly led to a government default last summer, Obama has largely given up on compromise. `He's not giving up on moderation,' said John Podesta, a former White House chief of staff under Clinton who ran Obama's transition team after the '08 election. `He's just giving up on the Republican leadership in the House and Senate.'" I'm listening to you this morning and you sound about the same. Have you given up on the prospect of real compromise this year?
SEN. REID: I think I've said clearly today that I think we need to work together. There are things we need to get done this year to continue the momentum the economy has. Does the economy have enough momentum? Of course not. But for 22 months we've built on private sector jobs, we have so much more that needs to be done. So I look at the glass as being half full, not half empty. I hope that the Republicans will understand, as I think they learned in the last week of last year, that they can't be led over the cliff by this extremism that's in the Republican Party.
MR. GREGORY: So the State of the Union address, what does the president say to the Congress and to the country that breaks this log jam? What can he say that gets Republicans, you know, off the sidelines as you, as you would put it, to actually start negotiating with Democrats?
SEN. REID: The president, to his credit, for two and a half years, bent over backwards to develop bipartisanship. He had people down at the White House, he--Republicans down at the White House, he came to Capitol Hill. No one can ever criticize the president for not reaching out to Republicans because he has done that. Since last September, we have been more directed in saying we have to--we're going to have to do things without the Republicans and that's what we've done. That's what we did with his jobs bill. We, we kept bringing votes forward to move the American economy forward. Look at one of the things that we did that was so important. We thought it was wrong that we kept laying off police officers and firefighters and teachers around the country. So we said, well, I think that we have to have the whole American populous work together. And so we said the millionaires, people who make more than a million dollars a year, shouldn't they contribute a little bit to keep the cops and the police on--cops and the firefighters and the teachers on the job? And so what we wanted to do and this is the legislation, we wanted to have millionaires, that is, people who make more than a million dollars a year, the second million, they would pay 1/2 of 1 percent surtax. Every Republican voted against that, every Republican.
MR. GREGORY: But Senator, you are talking about the fact that Democrats are dug in on the idea that the rich should pay more in taxes. We know Republicans feel the opposite is true, that taxes would hurt economic recovery. And I asked you, what can the president do to break this log jam? And your answer is, well, let's just hope that they'll do better and come to their senses and the president's been trying so hard. I mean, there's nothing here for people listening to this to say, oh, I can see something changing in Washington. The tone from you is not changing. You're blaming the tea party, Republicans are blaming this president for not, you know, reaching out in a real way, not really trying to compromise. Is there anything that can be done that can really change the dynamic?
SEN. REID: I don't think, David, anyone can question or they shouldn't question our having reached out to the Republicans. I say Obama, I say me. We've done everything we could to work with them. We're going to continue to do that. In spite of the obstructionism, we've been able to accomplish a lot of good things during the last Congress, even someone as conservative as--Hornstein said it was the most productive Congress in the last 75 years. So we can't talk about not having gotten anything done. In spite of the Republicans, we've gotten a lot of things done. We had the most productive Congress in the history of the country just last Congress. I think we can build upon that. This Congress isn't over. All I ask is for the Republicans to understand what legislation is all about.
MR. GREGORY: Well...
SEN. REID: It's the art of compromise and building a consensus.
MR. GREGORY: You know, unfortunately, the way Washington works is what people are focused on and even this recess appointment of Richard Cordray to head this Consumer Protection Bureau, this has been a big issue on the campaign trail because you're in a pro-forma session, not a real recess session in the parlance of Washington. This is what Governor Romney's been saying about it. He said it just last night.
(Videotape, last night)
FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: Well, I think what you're seeing with the president is extra-constitutional action, where he is taking his friends and putting them into positions of power. He doesn't want to have to work with both parties. He wants to jam through whatever he'd like to do.
MR. GREGORY: This is Washington at work, as far as the Republicans are concerned.
SEN. REID: One of the things that the president has done has been so popular is appointing Cordray. Here's a man, not a single Republican questioned his qualifications, not one in Congress. He's a man that is qualified. They didn't want Cordray because they didn't like our having reformed Wall Street. So we did what a lot of presidents have done in the past, when I say we, with the White House. I mean, what he's doing is criticizing Teddy Roosevelt, who recess appointed 160 people. Ronald Reagan recess appointed people. And I think the president did the right thing.
MR. GREGORY: But is it a trick here? You're not really in recess, are you?
SEN. REID: Keep, keep, keep--there's no--there's--listen, the point is this, the, the president is entitled by our Constitution to appoint people. The Republicans have made it so that the National Labor Relations Board, they didn't want it to even work. So he had to do recess appointments here. Cordray, we have consumers that need protecting, that's what this is all about and that's why it was such a good move by the president. So I am confident that the president's recess appointments will be held--upheld in the courts. So I think without any question, that'll be the case.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Let me go through some issues quickly if I can.
SEN. REID: And if I could say this, David.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
SEN. REID: You know, the recess appointment deal is something I came up with, you know, during the Bush years. But the reason Bush didn't do recess appointments during the time we had the so-called recess is because I worked with him. We, we, we gave President Bush hundreds and hundreds of people. He didn't have to worry about recess appointments because we were working with him so--because I believed then, I believe now, that a president has a right to make appointments.
MR. GREGORY: Let me go through some issues quickly. You talk about the economy, income inequality. We talked to Suze Orman for our Press Pass conversation, which is on our website; I want to play a clip of her and ask how the president will deal with it.
MS. SUZE ORMAN: When the truth of the matter is that the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and years ago I used to say the middle class is going to disappear, the middle class has disappeared. Today as I sit here there is a highway into poverty, there is not even a sidewalk anymore to get out.
MR. GREGORY: Specifically, State of the Union coming up, what is the inequality agenda for Democrats as we get into this new year?
SEN. REID: To create jobs, to have the richest of the rich contribute to the problems we have in the country, that's what our agenda is. And I couldn't have said it better than she did. I think she is absolutely right. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the middle class are being squeezed almost to death.
MR. GREGORY: What is your take on Mitt Romney? Is he the nominee for the Republicans?
SEN. REID: Listen, I listened to the interview of Newt Gingrich, I've watched the battles during this primary, and there's a lot going on in the primary, Republicans beating on--beating up on each other. I'm going to stay, stay out of the presidential Republican primary.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think he has a core?
SEN. REID: I don't know what a core means.
MR. GREGORY: Well, you've said before that, you know, this--he's a man who doesn't know who he is.
SEN. REID: Listen, the Republicans have said a lot of things good and bad about Romney. And I think--I don't need to interject myself into the Republican primary.
MR. GREGORY: What bout the Democrats this fall in the Senate? You have 23 Democratic seats up for re-election in November, only 10 Republican seats are up, and Nelson just announced he's retiring. Do you think losing control of the Senate for the Democrats is a possibility?
SEN. REID: We're doing extremely well. We're doing well because people across the country know what Democrats stand for. We stand for taking care of the middle class, rebuilding America. We, we don't believe that you should be stripping good things from the senior citizens of this country in an effort to do good things for the richest of the rich. We believe that health care should not be rationed, and people know that, and we're going to do just fine come November.
MR. GREGORY: You're not vulnerable to losing the Senate, in your judgment?
SEN. REID: I think we're looking pretty good.
MR. GREGORY: Looking pretty good. What about in Nebraska? Would you like to see former Senator Bob Kerrey run for that seat of Ben Nelson's?
SEN. REID: Who wouldn't? Bob Kerrey's one of the most interesting, dynamic, heroic people I've ever served with in the United States Senate. He is a wonderful human being as proven in the battlefield and proven when he was a legislator and governor. Of course.
MR. GREGORY: Best Democratic prospect?
SEN. REID: Oh, we have a lot of good Democratic prospects. I mean, we've got, we've got Massachusetts, we've got North Dakota, we've got Arizona, we've got Nevada. We're doing just fine with prospects. Kerrey would certainly add to that.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Senator Reid, we'll leave it there. Thank you very much.
SEN. REID: You bet.
MR. GREGORY: And coming up, more on the fight for South Carolina and the Republican primary race. Republicans there have picked the party's eventual nominee every cycle since 1980. And after Romney picked up wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, his rivals, as you've heard this morning, are turning up the heat, trying to revive their own campaigns by attacking his record on jobs. But at what cost? We're going to talk to two prominent Republicans in the state, Senator Lindsey Graham and tea party-backed freshman Congressman Tim Scott. That's coming up next on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. GREGORY: We are back talking about the countdown to South Carolina. Joining me now, Republican congressman from South Carolina, Representative Tim Scott, and the senator from South Carolina as well, Lindsey Graham.
Welcome to both of you. Senator Graham...
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Thanks.
REP. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): You're welcome.
MR. GREGORY: ...this is the cover of The Weekly Standard and it kind of tells the story, if you look at it, "Can the Romney juggernaut be derailed?" You know, a month ago, middle of December, you were here on MEET THE PRESS and you said if the election were held tomorrow it would be the guy you just heard from, Newt Gingrich, who would actually win South Carolina. What do you think now?
SEN. GRAHAM: I think Iowa hurt Newt. I think the super PACs have had a big impact on the race. The debates, I think, will be outcome-determinative. Newt rose because of good debate performances, we're going to have two debates, but if, if, if for some reason he's not derailed here and Mitt Romney wins South Carolina, no one's ever won all three, I think it should be over. That would be quite a testament to his ability as a candidate and a campaigner and I'd hope the party would rally around him if he did in fact win South Carolina.
MR. GREGORY: Tim Scott, Congressman, there's so much talk about social conservatives in your state, that they are going to drive the outcome. And here the social conservative leaders meet in Texas, they say, "Our guy is Rick Santorum." But you heard Speaker Gingrich, I don't think he's going anywhere, which means you still have a splintered field. What is the impact of their vote over the weekend?
REP. SCOTT: I mean, I think the, the evangelical vote is going to be huge, be a very strong turnout, but the most important part of the equation that we have to continue to consider is the fact that you have three people that are going after that evangelical vote very strongly. And without any question, that works to the Romney campaign's benefit. It's hard to find a single candidate that rallies all of the Christian voters in South Carolina, and therefore, that splintered approach will probably have a major impact on Saturday.
MR. GREGORY: So what is driving the vote? I mean, you go to your district, you're talking to people in this state, what is really going to drive this vote in South Carolina?
REP. SCOTT: Well, the--our unemployment rate in South Carolina is almost 10 percent, so the thing that I think voters are heading into, whether you're evangelical, whether you are a liberal, whether you are a libertarian, the fact of the matter is you are thinking about who will help create jobs, where's the traction in this economy.
MR. GREGORY: Senator, how, how do you answer that as well? It's the economy, yes, so we've heard a lot about the attacks, and you heard it again here this morning from Speaker Gingrich, on Governor Romney and his time as a venture capitalist...
SEN. GRAHAM: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...at Bain. Is that going to be an issue that voters are really going to vote on?
SEN. GRAHAM: I think what drives the uncertainty and the undecided vote right now is who can beat Obama? That's what I'm focused on. You know, this idea that you, you make a claim that "I've been a great businessman, I've created 100,000 jobs" I think it's fair to say, "Prove that claim." But if the attack against Governor Romney is that venture capitalism or private equity is bad for the economy, I think that's misplaced. Without venture capitalists and private equity, a lot of these companies would, would not get traditional financial backing, they would fail. But the idea of proving your claim that you've created 100,000 jobs is legit, a legitimate inquiry. Attacking capitalism is not. But the number one thing I'm looking at is who can stand up to Barack Obama and make him a one-term president.
MR. GREGORY: Well, and you talk about whether it helps the other side. Tim Scott, you were on Fox News this week, and this is what you said about the attacks on Romney and Bain. I'll play it for you.
REP. SCOTT: One thing without any question that is true today and that is that the winner of the 28-minute commercial is President Barack Obama. Starting and feeding into the cultural war is absolutely unequivocally wrong for us as a nation and bad for the conservative movement.
MR. GREGORY: And yet that film that you heard Speaker Gingrich say had errors in it but should not be taken down, says that the record at Bain was as ruthless as Wall Street. Do you think that's fair?
REP. SCOTT: Well, look, I think that's probably inconsistent with reality. But there's no question that the story line that will play out in the fall, if Romney is our nominee, there will be numbers of ads, many ads run by the president talking about what Republicans said about our own nominee. I think that's just bad for the country because I think the country absolutely needs a new president.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think that Romney, if he's the nominee, has been hurt by this sufficiently that they are giving the president a very potent issue to use against him as a nominee?
REP. SCOTT: Well, they're certainly buying into a liberal story line without any question, but I hope that what happens is whoever our nominee ends up being, that this process of choosing that nominee will actually help them be a tougher candidate, a tougher--give him a tougher opportunity now so that the ease--the road gets easier later.
MR. GREGORY: All right. When are you going to endorse? Have you made up your mind who you're going to support.
REP. SCOTT: That's a good question, you know. You know, we had a forum yesterday, David, where I had an opportunity to listen to five very strong candidates who all want to be president, and I will tell you, I walked away with a little more clarity. I'm going through the process of elimination. This is a very difficult choice because each candidate really represents something that I really like, I believe the country needs. But the question that Senator Graham was talking about is who equation of who matches my values...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
REP. SCOTT: ...who can win, and that's the guy we'll support.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think, do you think anybody but Romney has a realistic shot at beating the president?
REP. SCOTT: I think we'll know the answer Saturday. If Romney wins South Carolina, I think the game's over. This is the last stand for many candidates. You'll see those candidates coalescing together really around one option. The option is getting Romney out of the way and taking this race to Florida with some momentum.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you both this, and, and Congressman Scott, you were a tea party-backed candidate in your state, and there's been a lot of talk about the role of the tea party. Leader Reid just talked about it, its influence in Washington. This was something that caught my eye from the Financial Times, the Ed Luce column where he says the following, "Most people expected the tea party to shape the 2012 election. It certainly dominated the Republican primary. Yet the one credible contender it has produced embodies everything the tea party despises, an even-keeled, calculating pragmatist who conveys complacency rather than rage. In an age of populist discontent, America is shaping up for a battle between two Ivy League graduates who will battle over the middle ground. It will be interesting to see what happens to all that passion beneath them."
Senator Graham, you, you've never thought that the tea party as a political movement could survive.
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, what I said is that the tea party is associated with changing an out-of-control government. Most Americans associate themselves that we're too far in debt and we spend to much. The tea party movement, Tim Scott is a rising star in, in the Republican Party nationwide, not just South Carolina. He gets as much chamber of commerce support as he does tea party. The tea party people in South Carolina are basically Ronald Reagan conservatives. Yes, other--people other than Mitt Romney could beat Barack Obama. He has been a very unproductive president. And the question for the country is do you expect your life to change if you give Barack Obama a second term to keep doing the same things he's done in his first term? This is our election to lose, and the only way we're going to lose it, if we go too long in time in terms of the primary and our attacks go too far. We haven't done that yet. As long as we keep this in bounds, you know, Bush said that Reagan's politics of--economic politics were voodoo, and they wound up being Reagan-Bush and won. So we haven't done damage to ourselves yet. But Tim's right, be careful what you say. South Carolina's looking at your hard. We're going to pick the most electable conservative, and Mitt Romney is a good man the tea party people should look at closely as a--to vote for, because I think he can beat Barack Obama.
REP. SCOTT: Right.
SEN. GRAHAM: And I think that's all of our goals.
MR. GREGORY: But you're not endorsing him or are you prepared to do that?
SEN. GRAHAM: I don't even know who I'm going to vote for because I know that what happens in South Carolina that we pick presidents here, and this is the best chance I've seen in years for the Republican Party to revive itself, prove to the country that we can lead and we can govern...
MR. GREGORY: Right. All right.
SEN. GRAHAM: ...and to end this Obama administration.
MR. GREGORY: Congressman Scott, I have to ask you to be brief.
SEN. GRAHAM: So I don't know who I'm going to vote for yet.
MR. GREGORY: Be brief, 15 seconds. Is Romney, in your view, a tea party candidate?
REP. SCOTT: I would say that we have five strong candidates running for president in the Republican--in the nomination process right now. Is Romney a tea party candidate? I'd probably say that he's the least of the candidates running for president right now that would be considered a tea party candidate.
MR. GREGORY: OK.
REP. SCOTT: The question really is, can he win? Any Republican nominee is better than the president we currently have.
MR. GREGORY: All right. We're, we're going to leave it there. Gentlemen, thank you both very much. We'll be watching the vote.
SEN. GRAHAM: Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: Before we go, stay with NBC and MSNBC all week for continuing coverage of the campaign in South Carolina. Full coverage of the primary results there Saturday night, plus complete analysis right here Sunday morning. That is all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.