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Video: Examining the economy, the general election and religion in America

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    MR. DAVID GREGORY: On this Easter Sunday , I know you're not supposed to, but we will mix talk of religion and politics . First, the general election campaign has begun. President Obama is singling out Governor Romney and trying to tie him to congressional Republicans and their new budget .

    PRES. BARACK OBAMA: It is a Trojan horse . Disguised as deficit reduction plans, it is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country .

    MR. GREGORY: And Romney , having all but sealed the GOP nomination with big wins this week, is returning fire.

    FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA): Today, instead of standing up and saying, as the president and his policies have not worked, he, of course, will look for someone else to blame.

    MR. GREGORY: This morning, a debate about the big campaign issues, including the economy and health care , and insight into the strategies for the fall with Democratic Senator from Illinois Dick Durbin and Republican Governor of battleground state Ohio John Kasich . Then faith in politics. Getting the balance right in this election year amidst controversy over religious liberty . With us this morning, His Excellency Bishop William Lori , archbishop-designate of Baltimore ; founder of AnGeL Ministries and daughter of the Reverend Billy Graham , Anne Graham Lotz ; chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and United Methodist pastor Democratic congressman from Missouri , Emanuel Cleaver ; Republican congressman from Idaho , Raul Labrador , a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ; and author and executive editor at Random House , Jon Meacham .

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

    MR. GREGORY: Good morning. Happy Easter and happy Passover . A quite holiday weekend on the campaign trail as Republicans ready for the next big showdown, the Pennsylvania primary in two weeks. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum has canceled campaign events tomorrow in order to spend time with his hospitalized three-year-old daughter Bella , who suffers from a rare genetic disorder. And this morning on the issues, a disappointing snapshot of the economy . On Friday it showed employers adding only 120,000 jobs in March, half the number of February and the unemployment rate fell, but only slightly, from 8.3 percent to 8.2 percent, with analysts attributing the decline to people actually abandoning their search for a job. Here to debate the way forward , give us a preview of how the economy and other issues will factor into the fall campaign , assistant majority leader and Democrat of Illinois , Senator Dick Durbin ; and Republican governor, as I mentioned, of swing state Ohio , John Kasich . Welcome to both of you. Once again, happy Easter .

    SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Happy Easter .

    GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH): Happy Easter .

    MR. GREGORY: I want to start, Senator Durbin , with talk of the economy . And some of the press accounts I read over the weekend of the job number on Friday asked this question, whether this dip, slower hiring, represented a momentary stumble or another bad turn for the economy . What do you think it is?

    SEN. DURBIN: Well, I think we're moving in the right direction. We've had, I think, seven straight months where the unemployment rate has either gone done or not gone up. We've had 26 months of economic growth . We're on the right track. Like the president, we want this to move more quickly, and of course we want to see more jobs created. The good news for Ohio and for Illinois is that more manufacturing jobs are coming online. As Senator Sherrod Brown , my colleague from Ohio has been one of the most outspoken champions for manufacturing jobs being created, particularly in the automobile industry . And it really gets back to this presidential campaign because President Obama said we're going to stand by the automobiles companies and in doing so, we're going to put people back to work. We know it's happened in Ohio , where one out of eight jobs are in the automobile industry . You'll remember that Governor Romney , at the same time, said if we did that, if we helped the auto industry , then the whole auto industry was going to virtually disappear. He was wrong and the president was right.

    MR. GREGORY: Governor, the president took on the reality of our job situation when he talked about the jobs report on Friday. I want to play a portion of that for you.

    PRES. OBAMA: Our economy 's now created more than four million private sector jobs over the past two years, more than 600,000 in the past three months alone. But it's clear to every American that there will still be ups and downs along the way and that we've got a lot more work to do .

    MR. GREGORY: The ups and the downs the president talks about, certainly Ohio is part of the ups here, unemployment at 7.6 percent, it was 9.4 percent when you took office. Do you view this as sort of shared credit between the work that you've done and the work that President Obama has done on the national level?

    GOV. KASICH: Well, look, first of all, the credit goes to the people that invest. All we've done in Ohio is to create a better environment. And, David , when I took office, we were 48th in the country in job creation . And in February, working with my partners in the legislature, we were the number one job creator in America and we're number four today. But let me tell you, our success here is not based on industry . In fact, in the auto industry , and we're thrilled to see auto jobs coming back, that has not been the greatest growth. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics , we've created 1600 jobs in the auto industry , but 23,000 in health care . And what we're doing in Ohio is we're moving from a basic manufacturing economy to one that's diversified, including energy and health care and agriculture and IT. I mean, the fact of the matter is, Ohio 's coming back because we set a clear path, we cut taxes , we balanced our budget , we got credit upgrades when the whole rest of the world , including America , was being downgraded.

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    GOV. KASICH: And at the same time, we've, we've deregulated or made regulation have more common sense . And we've created an environment and an atmosphere for job growth in Ohio . What's happened in the country is there's so much uncertainty, David . Are they going to raise taxes ? How many more regulations are going to be piled on? And uncertainty really affects small business . It affects all job creators in America . And so this recovery, while we -- I feel good about the fact that we're moving in the right direction, at the federal level , is too anemic. And frankly, what I get concerned about is I've got wind in my face. Ohio 's doing what it can do, but I wish they'd get their act together in Washington .

    MR. GREGORY: Well, let's talk a little bit about that, Senator Durbin , because as we focus on the economy and on the budget , on the question of taxes in Washington , we really do have a general election campaign that is shaping up with two distinct visions of the country . The debate this week, as the president talked about, about the congressional Republican budget , about efforts to take on Medicare , as the Paul Ryan plan does, taxes , cutting and spending. This is how the president talked about the Ryan plan.

    PRES. OBAMA: For much of the last century, we have been having the same argument with folks who keep peddling some version of trickle down economics. Now the problem for advocates of this theory is that we've tried their approach on a massive scale. The results of their experiment are there for all to see. Prosperity sure didn't trickle down.

    MR. GREGORY: Let me actually start with you, Governor, first on this. This was a shot across the bow , philosophically, ideologically, and it has to do with the broader economy from the president.

    GOV. KASICH: Well, look, David , let me tell you what we've done in Ohio . We cut taxes , we had an $8 billion hole, we balanced our budget and we didn't play politics. We have been praised by the AARP for our work in Medicaid . We've been praised for the people who have been advocates for the mentally ill. There are ways in which you can modernize your, your entitlement programs and come out with better results at lower prices. The problem is in Washington , they just play this politics. And what we've done out here is provide a clear path for business to create jobs without overregulating them. We have reduced taxes on small business and at the same time, we've balanced our budget . I mean, what we've done here, we're exploding in Ohio with these, you know, with the, the largest amount of growth in jobs in February and number four in the country . We were 48th over the last four years. So if they would just follow the formula, it's common sense . It's not trickle down economics. The problem that the president has is that he's rudderless on the economy . I mean, he doesn't quite know what to do. It's a wake-up on Monday and try to figure it out. It takes time to turn a supertanker, so you need to know where you need to go. And that's what we've done out here.

    MR. GREGORY: All right.

    GOV. KASICH: My partners and I in the legislature, we've moved it in the right direction. They should learn from this in Washington .

    MR. GREGORY: Senator, are -- is that -- do you agree with that? Should you learn?

    SEN. DURBIN: Listen, there's a lot we need to learn across America , but let me tell you, I was a member of President Obama 's bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission. That commission, of course, ended up with 11 or 18 of us voting in favor of it. That included Senator Tom Coburn , a very conservative Oklahoma Republican, and myself. It was a bipartisan statement that we need to combine -- put everything on the table and combine revenue with spending cuts. Now look at the Paul Ryan budget and let me start by saying Congressman Ryan voted no on the Simpson-Bowles bipartisan deficit commission. The Ryan budget , which Mitt Romney called marvelous, ends up giving a tax break to the wealthiest people in America of $150,000 a year. Governor Kasich , we can't do that. We have got to use that money to reduce the deficit, we've got to cut spending, and put everything on the table. I think Governor George -- Governor Mitt Romney 's approach to this thing, sadly, is a return to the same economic policy we had under President Bush that brought on the worst recession since the Great Depression . We don't want to go back to those economic policies .

    GOV. KASICH: David , David , I will say this, I, I think we can have some tax reform , but that doesn't mean tax increases. We ought to make the, the rates flatter. We ought to get rid of a bunch of those loopholes. I want to commend Senator Durbin because I know he did hard work with a number of people on both sides of the aisle in the Senate . But the fact of the matter is is that we got to stop this whole class warfare business. We can in fact close loopholes, lower rates, provide more incentives. We -- you know, our, our corporate tax rates are the highest in the world. Look, all I'm interested in in Ohio , and I think Dick is interested in America , is you got to create jobs. It's a moral issue, it helps families, it keeps marriages stronger, it lifts kids out of poverty. That's what we're all about, and they got to get their act together. And in states where people have got their act together, they -- we've seen significant progress, and that's what has to be learned from it. When I was in D.C. , by the way, you know, I was there 18 years, we balanced the budget in 1997 without a tax increase. The fact is they just want to keep spending in that city. And it's not going to get us where we need to get to, and that's not political rhetoric , it just gets down to cold hard facts.

    MR. GREGORY: Senator Durbin , I want to ask you one more on these competing visions for the country because to me as I look at this, it really does come down to competing views about the role of government , what role should government play to try to, as you might describe it, level the playing field in terms of taxes , that's how the president might describe it, Republicans would describe that differently, or creating new entitlements like health care . Or as Republicans might say, "Hey, deal with the fact that our entitlement state is too big, it's affecting our ability to help people get into the middle class or go on from there." This is how Mitt Romney described it, Governor Romney , when he won his primaries on Tuesday night. Let's watch a portion of that.

    FRM. GOV. ROMNEY: There is a basic choice that we're going to face. The president has pledged to transform America and he spent the last four years laying the foundation for a new government -centered society. I will spend the next four years rebuilding the foundation of an opportunity society led by free people and free enterprises.

    MR. GREGORY: As you know, Senator, Governor Romney 's on to something in that a lot of Americans distrust big institutions, including government , to deal with some of the more -- most pressing problems, what Governor Romney calls the government -centered society.

    SEN. DURBIN: I can tell you this, David , Governor Kasich makes mention of making the moral decision. The moral decision for working families in Illinois and Ohio is to make sure that as they work hard they have an opportunity to succeed. We have seen working families falling further and further behind and Mitt Romney promises more of the same. In terms of the role of government , let me mention this, 10,000 people reached the age of 65 today and yesterday and tomorrow and for the next 18 years, these men and women who have paid into Medicare and Social Security are now reaching retirement. The obvious question of Mitt Romney is what would you do with those people? I know what the Paul Ryan budget would do, it would basically say Medicare 's going to be a different program, it's going to be a support program, we'll hand you a check and good luck finding health insurance in the open market. That to me does not give people security in their retirement, it is not a, a boost of confidence for their children. Government has an appropriate role to do those things we can't do by ourselves, whether it's...

    MR. GREGORY: But don't we also have an obligation in government , Governor, to say to the citizens, "You have to understand reality. Even though we've made a promise, there is a fiscal reality to this program that can't be sustained"?

    GOV. KASICH: Well, let me, let me tell you, in our state with Medicaid , for example, we provided a provision to let moms and dads stay at home if they, if they could rather than be in a nursing home at a fifth of the cost where they're healthier and happier. You see, I believe that you can reform these programs, modernize them into the 21st century , save money and provide more customer or taxpayer satisfaction. What's happened here is with the name-calling and all the politics, they're unwilling to look at 21st century approaches because government clearly has a role in, in the area of health care , you know, in Medicare and in Medicaid and Social Security , but we need to modernize the program and we need to do it together. And if we do that, we can get ourselves on a better fiscal track. Look, we don't want to be Greece , we don't want to be places where people are rioting because we waited so long to get things fixed, we're pulling the rug from under them. We need to start on it now. And unfortunately, David , the parties are so much at war in Washington that they're -- they seem unable to agree on anything, and that's tragic. You know, my girls are 12 years old. I want them to have a strong America and I think we can have it all. I think we can modernize these programs, I think we can make things simpler, I think we can reduce taxes ...

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    GOV. KASICH: ...have tax reform and we can do it . Look, I was part of it in '97, the first time we balanced a budget since man walked on the moon. We have done it in Ohio , the results have been good, we got a long way to go but the results have been positive for families. The -- you got to learn the lessons of where it works...

    MR. GREGORY: OK.

    GOV. KASICH: ...and it's working here.

    MR. GREGORY: I've got just a couple minutes left. I'd like to hopscotch around a couple of different issues. And, Senator Durbin , I'll start with you. This controversy about the General Services Administration , the head of which stepped down after a big boondoggle with a lot of money spent out at a conference in Vegas , and then this week a video that pops up as part of this. One of the employees of GSA doing a rap about how they could excessively spend and the office of inspector general would not even notice. Well, in fact it was the inspector general that investigated all of this. The question that's come up is how could this go on when there was an interim report submitted to the administration ? Did the administration react too slowly to it?

    SEN. DURBIN: I can tell you, I'm glad that the GSA administrator left, it's one of the agencies I have responsibility for under the Appropriations Committee . We are going to have a hearing as to what actually happened here. It's an absolutely outrageous expenditure of taxpayers' money. The White House made it clear that the group in charge was going to be dismissed and resigned, and they did. So we've got to say, whether it's Democrats , Republicans , whether it's the state of Illinois , Ohio or Washington , that kind of misuse of taxpayers' funds is totally unacceptable.

    MR. GREGORY: Governor Kasich , I want to ask you about the Republican race. And at this point- -you're on record as saying that there were a number of candidates that you hoped would get in the race that ultimately did not get in the race, and you have not endorsed anyone. Do you think the fight for the nomination is over?

    GOV. KASICH: You know, I, I, I want to say this to you, David , you don't want to judge that. These people, they work their tails off trying to get to be president, and trying to judge it and handicap the horse race is not what I'm comfortable with. Let it take care of itself. I, I haven't endorsed -- I said everybody I either endorsed or was for either dropped out or didn't run, so I'll wait till we have a nominee. And, and listen, the party will get its act together, it will be very competitive in the fall. And, and let me also say it's good to be on with my friend Dick Durbin . And I will tell you this, those folks at the GSA , they're going to get an awakening from Dick Durbin . He's been a friend of mine for a long time and, Dick , it's good to be with you this morning and good to be with you , David . And what a, what a day of hope in our lives with Easter and the opportunity for us to think about what we can do to spread the, the word of the Lord and be kind to people and be part of a new creation.

    MR. GREGORY: Amen to that. But still one follow-up, which is do you have any concerns about Governor Romney as the standard bearer , as the nominee of the party in carrying your state of Ohio , which as we know, will be so important in the fall?

    GOV. KASICH: Oh, it's going to be close. It'll be, you know, tight as a, as a tick out here, David , it always is. Ohio is a battleground state and it's those independent voters and whoever can tell them...

    MR. GREGORY: All right.

    GOV. KASICH: ...whoever can tell them that they're going to improve this economy , create jobs for families, will be the winner.

    MR. GREGORY: I'm going to leave it there. Governor Kasich, Senator Durbin ...

    GOV. KASICH: Thank you.

    MR. GREGORY: ...thank you both this morning.

    SEN. DURBIN: Thank you.

    MR. GREGORY: And coming up, a special Easter Sunday discussion focusing on faith and politics. What role should individual faith play in the policy decisions of our national leaders? And how will the recent controversy over religious freedom play out in the fall campaign ? That's next after this short break.

    MR. GREGORY: Coming up here, a special Easter Sunday discussion on faith and politics. Joining me, Anne Graham Lotz , Jon Meacham , Bishop William Lori , Congressman Raul Labrador and Emanuel Cleaver . It's coming up next right after this brief commercial break .

    MR. GREGORY: And we are back with a special Easter Sunday discussion . I'm joined by Democratic Congressman of Missouri and United Methodist pastor Emanuel Cleaver ; daughter of the Reverend Billy Graham , Anne Graham Lotz ; His Excellency Bishop William Lori , archbishop- designate of Baltimore ; the executive editor of Random House and author of "American Gospel: God , the Founding Fathers and the Making of a Nation ," Jon Meacham , and Republican Congressman of Idaho Raul Labrador , a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints , commonly known as the Mormon Church . Welcome to all of you. I know, I want to get it out right out front. I'm doing something you're not supposed to do and that's mixing politics and religion . And on Easter Sunday to boot. But I, I, I've wanted to have this conversation because it seems to me the role of faith in our national life , as a national discussion , but certainly the role that it plays for our national leaders seems overly ripe in this campaign season particularly. And that's where I want to start because the criticism from Republican candidates for the presidency against this administration has really boiled down to this issue of whether faith is under fire. Listen.

    FRM. GOV. ROMNEY: I think there is in this country a war on religion . I think there is a desire to establish a, a religion in America known as secularism.

    FRM. REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA): This administration is waging war on religion . And if he wins re- election he will wage war on the Catholic Church the morning after he's re-elected.

    FRM. SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R-PA): The president has reached a new low in this country 's history of oppressing religious freedom that we have never seen before.

    MR. GREGORY: Jon Meacham , play referee here. Is this accurate?

    MR. JON MEACHAM: I don't think so. I don't think so. I think religion has been part of the American experience from the very beginning. We came over for God and for mammon. We were in search of gold, but also of religious liberty . You cannot run for president without a plausible faith story and I think in a nation that is overwhelmingly religious perhaps more in terms of polls than observance sometimes, I don't think there's a war on religion . I think that there is a robust disagreement about a lot of important issues, and because religious faith , like economics, like partisanship, like geography, is an intrinsic part of human experience, there's always going to be a religious component to debates over issues.

    MR. GREGORY: And, Archbishop, when you have an issue of the role of government in a healthcare decision like insurance actually funding contraception, you have this tension and that's where a lot of that criticism came from. But what is the nature of this war? Do you agree with those men?

    BISHOP WILLIAM LORI: What we've seen, the bishops of the United States have seen, is an erosion of religious liberty . Perhaps we wouldn't use the word war. I wouldn't underestimate however how engaged we are in the struggle and how determined we are. But there has been -- the HHS mandate is certainly the most urgent of these underminings of religious liberty . But there's many other things that are going on.

    MR. GREGORY: But explain why you think it undermines it. I mean, what the, what the actual mandate actually does and why you think that's an erosion of freedom .

    BISHOP LORI: Well, first of all, we have the government imposing its definition on what religion and religious organizations are to be. And it's an inward-looking definition. If you're only serving your own, hiring your own, inculcating your own doctrine, you're exempt. But the minute you serve the common good, which is what all of our organizations do, then you're not exempt. Then you're subject to having to provide, fund and/or facilitate services which are contrary to the church 's teaching, and I don't think we should have to do that.

    MR. GREGORY: Well, Congressman Cleaver , as a Democrat but also a minister, how do you come down on this question?

    REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER (D-MO): Well, I think we need to take God off the ballot. This issue surfaces every two years, but for sure every four years, and I think people exaggerate certain positions in order to help themselves politically. There is no war on, on religion in this country . This country would, would not even tolerate war. But, but people realize clearly that religion causes us to right, to fight, to even die, and so it has a, a grip on us that nothing else holds us tightly. And so people realize that and so they exploit it during the political season. I think that's something that we've got to get away from.

    MR. GREGORY: But Anne Lotz , in this particular case was this the government going too far or was this the government saying, "Look, if you want to be an insurer and you want federal funds there's a path that you must follow"?

    MS. ANNE GRAHAM LOTZ: You know, I would have to confess I'm not an expert on that. And I would come very close to siding with Archbishop Lori because I believe that it is a beginning. It's just a very small step in a direction that I think could become something more serious. I'd like to go back to your opening statement about the importance of religion in politics, or because we look at our president or look at our leaders as having a religious example for us. And the think that I think is so important, the Bible says that the beginning of wisdom is fear of God . And I believe one of the greatest lacks in our nation today is that genuine fear or reverence for an almighty God . And that's where wisdom begins. So we have a lot of knowledge. And you can go on Google and you can pull up all sorts of stuff, but to know how to use the knowledge in a way that benefits the majority of people in this country , that's what I look for in a president. I want my leader to have a fear and a respect and a reverence for God .

    MR. GREGORY: And I want to come back to this expectation of faith in, in -- among our leaders in a moment. But Congressman Labrador , let me get you into this. We, we are on the precipice of a -- of an historic moment for Mormons in this country , and that is that Mitt Romney is a Mormon and somebody who has a very significant role in the church looks like he's going to become the Republican nominee. And Congressman Cleaver talked about the need to take religion off the ballot, but here you had Orrin Hatch from Utah , a senator of Utah , saying that the Obama administration , the campaign is going to throw the Mormon Church at Mitt Romney and make this an issue. Do you agree with that? And how would he do that?

    REP. RAUL LABRADOR (R-ID): I think the media's going to do that for, for the Obama campaign . But let's talk about your original question real quick. There is an attack on religious freedom at this point and if you look at what the Obama administration did with the contraception issue, they first set up a rule that, that was contrary to some religions. Then they decided that they were going to reform -- they were going to change that rule and then when they changed that rule, they really didn't change the rule, they actually just said that they were going to change the rule and they wanted to have this conversation about contraceptives, which nobody was talking about at the time. If you remember, the first time they talked about contraceptives was George Stephanopoulos in one of the debates, he's the one who brought it up. There wasn't a single Republican candidate who was talking about that issue. And all of a sudden we start talking about an issue that wasn't even a campaign issue and then we started on an attack on, on religious freedom . I think there clearly is. But going back to your question about Mormonism , everyone in, in politics is going to have some sort of role -- is going to be influenced by their faith . Whether it's Emanuel by his faith , whether it's me by my faith , and I think we can't talk about having politics void or any religious faith because then what you're saying is you have -- you're asking people to not be who they are.

    MR. GREGORY: But I'm asking you about this very specific charge. You have the senior senator from Utah saying that the Mormon Church is going to be thrown at the Republican nominee, who is a Mormon . In what way, and you just said you think the media will do it. I mean, let's talk about what you mean.

    REP. LABRADOR: Well, they've already started doing it. You look at your own network. MSNBC , you have Lawrence O'Donnell just saying some really nasty things about the Mormon religion , about the founding of our religion , that it was based on some guy just waking up some morning and deciding that he, that he wanted, that he had an extramarital affair and that's how the religion was founded. There's some really nasty things already being said by, by your own network, by NBC . There's, there's many other people that are going to be talking about these things. And I think what we need to realize is that everybody's faith origins are, are peculiar, if you look at any one of us, and we need to realize that what you need to look at is the man. The man, Mitt Romney . I have not endorsed Mitt Romney , but it clearly looks like he's going to be the nominee for, for the Republican Party . We need to look at his life and the things that he has done. And he's had a very, very good life.

    MR. GREGORY: Jon Meacham , this question of whether his Mormon faith will become an issue, whether the president, who has had to face down questions about whether he is a Muslim, which he's not, over time , does this become a big issue as we move through the campaign ?

    MR. MEACHAM: I'm going to offer a counterintuitive argument. I wonder if because of those two premises you just -- premises you just set out, I wonder if perhaps explicitly religion will be less important in the fall, in the general election , than at any time since 1972 , before Roe vs. Wade really transformed the landscape. Because it's not in, frankly, in either candidate's interest to get into theological debates at this point. It's never in a candidate's interest, I would say.

    MR. GREGORY: Right.

    MR. MEACHAM: I think the great thing about the country has always been that we have created a public sphere in which religion shapes us without strangling us. And that was the great achievement of the founders. And it's something that from generation to generation has been, has been respected. Ms. Lotz 's father is one of the great figures in this. Billy Graham plays this enormous role in our culture, but in a nonsectarian, nondivisive way. And so that's why when we talk about wars on religion , we talk about these -- this internal conflict. Let's think about it . Where do we go in moments of national crisis or mourning? We go to the National Cathedral . Where do people pray at inaugurations? There's a, there's a, there's a tolerance, there's an acceptance, there's a hunger for a kind of religious conversation. And I think that the more generic it is, and I understand the theological problems with this, but the more generic it is, the more effective and the more accepted it is. And I just wonder if you get to October, if whether it's in either candidate's interest to be bringing up specific religious issues.

    MR. GREGORY: Archbishop:

    BISHOP LORI: This is not a theological debate. We are not trying to get the government to stop something or to start something. What we are talking about is the government forcing religious organizations to do something that is against their teaching. This is a religious liberty fight. We recognize there's a lot of opinions about abortifacients and sterilization and contraception. What we're saying is that we're not just houses of worship, we are places that try to live our teachings as we serve the common good. We have this freedom now, we've had it for generations. Our teachings have been accommodated, but now they're not being accommodated. This represents a

    definite diminishment of our freedom to provide our services according to our....

    MR. GREGORY: All right, but you're arguing -- Archbishop, you're arguing still this issue of contraception and the Obama administration 's rule, which they, of course, would argue there's an exception provided for and an accommodation provided for that the insurance would pay for it directly. But rather than go down that road, which I, I don't think will convince you, I want to stay on this sort of broader question, Congressman Cleaver , which is in the case of Mitt Romney , but more generally about someone's faith . As a person of faith that Romney is, and as a Mormon , it's the core of who he is. As a missionary for two years, as somebody who was a bishop in the church , which is the, correct me, Congressman, if I'm wrong, the equivalent of being a priest because it's lay-led, a very close association with the church , he doesn't really talk about what guides him so powerfully. Isn't it fair for both scrutiny, questions, because there's so much ignorance about the Mormon faith , but also to understand the man, to understand his religious journey.

    REP. CLEAVER: Well, look, I think all of us who claims some kind of connection to religion and if we are in government , we are informed by that religion and we are, in many instances, regulated by it. We don't have to make an announcement every day and, and, and go out and wave a flag.

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    REP. CLEAVER: It comes out of our somebodyness. And, you know, but I have to talk about it . When I was mayor of Kansas City , we had a -- our church opposed -- the Methodist Church -- opposed gaming. I said from the very beginning, if, if I'm going to do what my church says, then I should've campaigned on a -- as a Methodist running for mayor. I did not. And so therefore I eventually signed that into law. I'm, I'm not going to vote for Governor Romney , but I am more concerned about Washington 's religion of confusionism than I am Governor Romney 's religion about Mormonism . So I think we've got to stop this. It's not healthy for the nation . We've completely forgotten Article VI , paragraph 3, which says there shall be no religious test . And I think we've got to try to prevent our country from doing that. E pluribus unum, out of many, one.

    MR. GREGORY: I understand that, but we live in the real world here and evangelicals, which you are one, are deeply suspicious of Mormons and the Mormon faith and do not consider them to be Christians. To -- and you have a -- the, the likelihood now of a Mormon Republican nominee. Is there not an opportunity for more national understanding and more of a discussion about the Mormon faith when to have the standard-bearer of one of our two major political parties of that faith ?

    MS. LOTZ: I'm sure there will be. But when you just addressed him and said that out of your deep conviction...

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    MS. LOTZ: ...you know, that -- what drives him, what's the powerful force that drives him, then I think you can learn by seeing what he has done. So his policies , his decisions and, and how he has conducted his life. So that's some -- you can learn from that, something of how his religion drives him. And I think rather than discussing all the religion and I'm not into religion , and I know that will be another discussion .

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    MS. LOTZ: And I would like to talk about Easter morning at some point this morning because this is our day, and -- but, but your, your religion , what's on the table is the policies . You know, the -- what -- the decisions, what's the social politics that's driving this nation right now. So I think it's not- -the discussion of religion is almost a smoke screen and a diversion from the real issue, and that's the policies . And there's a clear choice, I think, this fall, between the way the nation 's going to be led. And that's what I think we ought to be looking at, not so much as, as at the religious preference of a particular person .

    MR. MEACHAM: President, President Kennedy , even though this is a speech that causes Senator Santorum stomach problems, in 1960 , gave a marvelous statement of this on exactly this point, that he was not the Catholic candidate for president, he was the Democratic candidate for president. And voters can make a judgment on the whole person , the whole policy. But I don't think, to go to the congressman's point, I don't think we want presidents sitting around discussing substitutionary atonement. You know, we don't want people, I think, discussing -- there's enough for presidents to do without having them worrying about the theologies of different religions.

    REP. LABRADOR: And, and the reality said religion informs your thinking. But look, look in the United States right now. Orrin Hatch and Harry Reid are both members of the LDS faith . You can't find any two more opposite individuals. So even though it's going to inform who you are -- and they're both faithful members of the church . So you can -- can't find any two more opposite people, two people who have different philosophies and, and political doctrines. So I think we -- it's important to know a little bit about Mitt Romney and his religion , but I think it's more important -- I, like I said before, I have not endorsed Mitt Romney . I have not decided -- I'm not going to go out and endorse him, but I think he's going to be the candidate. And I do believe it's time for Republicans to get around -- to get behind him because we know he's going to be the candidate. It's time to beat Obama . But...

    MR. GREGORY: But Congressman, let me ask you one more about your specific faith .

    REP. LABRADOR: Yeah.

    MR. GREGORY: And I want to show you a poll done by Quinnipiac over the summer. Would you feel uncomfortable with a Mormon president? The number of Republicans , 29 percent say yes, Democrats , 46 percent. I come back to this question...

    REP. LABRADOR: That shows you the most biased people are the Democrats , so.

    MR. GREGORY: Well, I mean, that poll is, is -- but, but, but let me ask you that. I mean, unlike Christianity , a lot of people say the difficulty that, that Mormons have is that the, the, the religion is relatively new, and therefore, critics can be debunked more easily or attempted to be debunked. Is there room for Governor Romney to take some of these issues on, not to get engaged in a doctrinaire discussion of the Mormon faith , but to take some of these issues on because there are questions and there are -- there is discomfort?

    REP. LABRADOR: Well, he should talk about who he is and, and, and what formed him. And I think you discussed his missionary work . I was a missionary for two years in South America . My son, my oldest son, is now a missionary in South America . It's one of the most formative things that you can do in your life. It, it informs who you are for the rest of your life . I think he could talk about that. He could relate to the people that he has taught as, as a bishop. He was a bishop and a stake president in the church which means that he actually dealt with a lot of different issues dealing with poverty and other issues.

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    REP. LABRADOR: He should talk about that a little bit more . But if you want -- I mean, you shouldn't be getting into the theology because there's -- they -- every church has a different dogma, different teachings, and we're not -- we shouldn't be judging, as Emanuel just said, we shouldn't be judging. Our Constitution tells us that we shouldn't be having religious tests on who's going to be president.

    MR. GREGORY: Right. Let, let me take a quick break here. We'll continue this discussion on the other side of it. More from our roundtable on this Easter morning discussion after this.

    MR. GREGORY: We are back with our roundtable. Back in 1957 , your father, the Reverend Billy Graham , was on this program and the question came up in the context of how to spread the word to the public, how to talk about religion . We've been talking about sort of de-emphasizing the talk of theology in our, in our national political life , and yet here was the Reverend Billy Graham saying, "Hey, no, we got to broadcast this." Watch.

    MR. RICHARD CLURMAN: You have been quoted as saying, "I'm selling the greatest product in the world. Why shouldn't it be promoted as well as soap?" Is that an accurate quote, Dr. Graham ?

    REV. BILLY GRAHAM: I think it possibly is.

    MR. CLURMAN: Would you care to explain it to us?

    REV. GRAHAM: Yes. I do believe that we can use modern means of communication. The problem of the church today is indifference in its evangelistic thrust and in its mission. It's facing apathy and indifference. And we have the problem of communication. We have the message, but how to communicate it to the masses. And we have used television and radio and the press and every way we possibly can to communicate the fact that Christ can transform human lives.

    MR. GREGORY: He was for and is for using every platform available.

    MS. LOTZ: Right. But for the, for the church , for my daddy...

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    MS. LOTZ: ...who is an evangelist, and televised his meetings, I don't think he was necessarily talking about the political arena when you're running for president.

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    MS. LOTZ: And we were just having a discussion over the break that it's interesting that Jimmy Carter and George Bush were both considered evangelicals...

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    MS. LOTZ: ...but very different. So to me, I still think we need to look at the policies . And I do want a president -- I would not want -- I would not vote for a man who was an atheist because I believe you, you need to have an acknowledgement, a reverence, a fear, for almighty God , and I believe that's where wisdom comes from. But...

    MR. GREGORY: It's -- and it's so interesting that you, you say that, the point about the, the public's desire...

    MS. LOTZ: Yeah.

    MR. GREGORY: ...for men and women of faith in national life . And we, we have some polling that indicates really that point of just how strongly that belief is held. Sixty-five percent, Archbishop, believe that it's important that a presidential candidate believes in God .

    BISHOP LORI: You know, I think people have an intuition that religious faith is connected with the moral values that make for just laws and that if we cut our laws away from their moral moorings we're not going to have a society which we would like to think of as a civilization of justice and love.

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    BISHOP LORI: So there really -- I think that what we want to say is that religion is not an irrational force, it's not a divisive force. In all of our diversity, our faiths contribute to a moral consensus that underlie, that underlies our laws. And the more we build that moral consensus about the dignity of human life , solidarity, the common good, the more we're going to be able to find ways of talking across the partisan divide. And so I think that religion has a huge role to play. And we have to watch out getting instrumentalized one way or the other.

    MR. MEACHAM: And that was the Madisonian position is that religion would be a force, not the force. We -- we've seen how well theocracies work around the world. If you have a pluralistic democratic society in which religion is respected but not exalted above other forces, that's a pretty good system, and that's what we've come up with and I think we tamper with it at our peril.

    REP. CLEAVER: Well...

    MR. GREGORY: Go ahead, Congressman.

    REP. CLEAVER: ...we need to, to, to be, I think, very honest. Religion at its very essence requires theological arrogance...

    Offscreen Voice: That's true.

    REP. CLEAVER: ...because, I mean, we have to declare "This is what I believe in. I believe that this is the way ," you know. And so what we, what we have to understand is that this nation is united in its diversity, and therefore, even with the arrogance we have to have respect, and that's the part that I'm concerned about right now. I don't think President Obama is any -- it was -- that's ludicrous that President Obama wants to have a war on religion . It makes no sense. Respect. We've got to respect our differences and that's, I think, the one thing that should separate us as a nation from the rest of the world .

    MR. GREGORY: Congressman Labrador , there was a moment all of these questions about the president's faith and whether he's a Muslim. And it came up on Fox News on, on the "Hannity" program. They actually had a focus group that they were doing. And I want to show a piece of that because it was very striking to watch.

    Unidentified Woman #1: I believe that Barack Obama religious beliefs do govern his foreign policy .

    Unidentified Man #1: And what are his religious beliefs ?

    Woman #1: I believe that he is a Muslim.

    Man #1: You do?

    Woman #1: Yes.

    Unidentified Woman #2: Yes.

    Unidentified Man #2: Yes.

    Man #1: How many of you believe that here? Wow. You believe he's a Muslim?

    Unidentified Man #3: Yes.

    MR. GREGORY: What's striking to me about that clip is that on its face to say he is a Muslim is thought to be a bad thing. Colin Powell was on this program saying, "So what if he was? Why wouldn't that be acceptable"? Is that unacceptable? And is that -- is this being used as a way -- has it been used to try to delegitimize the president?

    REP. LABRADOR: You know, I personally don't believe he's a Muslim. He has told us that he's a Christian and I believe him. And I don't agree with, with that clip. But it wouldn't matter if he is. I, I agree with, with Anne that what we need to look at is the policies . What are the policies that the individual has? The policies that Obama has put on this nation have actually weakened our nation . That's what I'm worried about. It's not what his religion is. I think it's important for us to understand that and that will be important for, for Romney as well, or whoever the nominee is. And like I said it looks like it's going to be Romney .

    MR. GREGORY: The question of political reconciliation is one that, that interests me as well. As a Jew on Passover , you know, we read from Leviticus , which to me the essence of being a Jew is to remember that we were once slaves in the land of Egypt . And if you remember that you think about the duties of liberation, but you also think about the other and how as human beings we're all enslaved in one form or another. Is there a path? Does anybody see a path from their own religious faith convictions to, to take it into the political arena as a way to reach some kind of reconciliation that we don't see?

    BISHOP LORI: It seems to me that as we approach and celebrate these high holy days that, that we share in common, Christians and Jews , share a lot in common this time of year, among them the exodus story and the story of a liberation, not just from one place to another, but from sin to grace and a restoration of human dignity . I think that what, what we need to uphold in our country is a renewed sense of the dignity of the human person . And the dignity of the human person always includes the person 's transcendent dimension, the fact that the person has an openness to God and also the values, the truths that underlie human dignity . And various religions might approach that in various ways. But I think the true test for religious liberty is when the minority unpopular views find respect. And I would just also add -- and I represent some of those, I represent those teachings that are a bit countercultural. Those have to be respected and accommodated, as well as others.

    REP. CLEAVER: Amen.

    MR. MEACHAM: Our finest hours have been driven in part by religious motivation and conviction. Arguably the greatest moment of religious nondenominational cooperation was the civil rights movement . You know, the Reverend Martin Luther King performed an, an essential mosaic role in an exodus story.

    REP. CLEAVER: Mm-hmm.

    MR. MEACHAM: And he did it on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial . Lincoln had run against an evangelist for Congress and in fact went to one of his meetings once and the evangelist did the altar call and said, "Anyone who wants to go to heaven get up," and Lincoln didn't stand up. And his opponent said, "Well, Mr. Lincoln , where are you going "? And he said, "Well, I'm going to Congress ." Now whether you can go to both I don't know if that, if that's possible. But you have -- it's this, it's this wonderful thread, it's this wonderful history. And experience has taught us, to go to your question, experience has taught us that we can have fine hours, hours of reform and reclamation, without being hopelessly divided.

    MR. GREGORY: Do you have a lesson from this -- on this Easter morning from your faith , tradition, that has instructive, do you think, to our national leaders, to our presidential candidates ?

    MS. LOTZ: You know, I do, David . Thank you for asking. I was thinking when you were talking about your heritage and this big Passover , they were saved by the blood of a lamb. And on this Easter Day , you know, I just have to say that for me I'm, I'm a sinner and Easter means to me that I can be forgiven of my sin. When I put my faith in Jesus as God 's lamb, who died in my place on that cross, then I can be forgiven of my sin, I can be reconciled to God . I can have peace with God . I can have eternal life . I know that I'm going to heaven, but also have a personal relationship with God .

    MR. GREGORY: I'm going to leave it there. Thank you all very much. Very interesting conversation. A quick programming note here. House Budget Chair Paul Ryan will appear exclusively this Tuesday on "Today." Also, you can watch our PRESS Pass conversation on our blog. This week I spoke with South Carolina Governor and Mitt Romney supporter Nikki Haley about politics and her new memoir titled "Can't is Not an Option " which was released this week. That's on our blog presspass.msnbc.gov. That is all for today. Happy Easter , happy Passover . We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, It's MEET THE PRESS .

updated 4/8/2012 1:45:28 PM ET 2012-04-08T17:45:28

NBC News - Meet The Press

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Interview With Governor John Kasich, Senator Dick Durbin, Archbishop William Lori, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Rep. Raul Labrador, Rev. Anne Graham Lotz, Jon Meacham

Correspondent: David Gregory

Producer: Betsy Fischer

no Media ID

DAVID GREGORY:

On this Easter Sunday, I know you are not supposed to but we will mix talk of religion and politics.

First, the general election campaign has begun. President Obama is singling out Governor Romney and trying to tie him to Congressional Republicans and their new budget.

(videotape)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

It is a Trojan Horse. Disguised as deficit reduction plans, it is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country.

(end videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

And Romney, having all but sealed the GOP nomination with big wins this week is returning fire.

(videotape)

MITT ROMNEY:

Today instead of standing up and saying, as the president, his policies have not worked, he of course will look for someone else to blame.

(end videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

This morning a debate about the big campaign issues including the economy and health care and insight into the strategies for the fall with Democratic Senator from Illinois Dick Durbin and Republican Governor of battleground state Ohio, John Kasich.

Then, faith in politics. Getting the balance right in this election year in the midst of controversy over religious liberty.

With us this morning, his Excellency, Bishop William Lori, Archbishop-designate of Baltimore, founder of Angel Ministries and daughter of the Reverend Billy Graham - Anne Graham Lotz, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and United Methodist Pastor, Democratic Congressman from Missouri Emanuel Cleaver, Republican Congressman from Idaho, Raul Labrador - a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and author and executive editor at Random House - Jon Meacham.

DAVID GREGORY:

Good morning, happy Easter and happy Passover. A quiet holiday weekend on the campaign trail an Republicans ready for the next big showdown, the Pennsylvania primary in two weeks. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum has canceled campaign events tomorrow in order to spend time with his hospitalized three-year-old daughter Bella who suffers from a rare genetic disorder.

And this morning on the issues, a disappointing snapshot of the economy. On Friday, it showed employers adding only 120,000 jobs in March, half the number of February, and the unemployment rate fell but only slightly, from 8.3% to 8.2%, with analysts attributing the decline to people actually abandoning their search for a job. Here to debate-- the way forward, give us a preview of how the economy and other issues will factor into the fall campaign, assistant majority leader and Democrat of Illinois, Senator Dick Durbin. And Republican government, as I mentioned, of swing state Ohio, John Kasich. Welcome to both, of you, once again, happy Easter.

BOTH:

Happy Easter.

DAVID GREGORY:

I wanna start, Senator Durbin, with talk of the economy. And some of the press accounts I read over the weekend of the job number on Friday asked this question, whether this dip, slower hiring, represented a momentary stumble or another bad turn for the economy. What do you think it is?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN:

Well, I think we're moving in the right direction. We've had I think seven straight months where the unemployment rate has either gone down or not gone up. We've had 26 months of economic growth. We're on the right track. Like the president, we want this to move more quickly and of course we want to see more jobs created.

The good news for Ohio and for Illinois-- is that more manufacturing jobs are coming online. Senator Sherrod Brown, my colleague from Ohio, has been one of the most outspoken champions-- for manufacturing jobs being created, particularly in the automobile industry, and it really gets back to this presidential campaign because President Obama said, "We're gonna stand by the automobile companies. And in doing so, we're gonna put people back to work. And we know what's happened in Ohio where one out of eight jobs are in the automobile industry.

You'll remember that Governor Romney at the same time said if we did that, if we helped the auto industry, then the whole auto industry was going to virtually disappear. He was wrong; the president was right.

DAVID GREGORY:

Governor, the president took on the reality of our jobs situation when he talked about the jobs report on Friday. I want to play a portion of that for you.

(videotape)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

Our economy has now created more than 4 million private sector jobs over the past two years, and more than 600,000 in the past three months alone. But it's clear to every American that there will still be ups and downs along the way, and that we've got a lot more work to do.

(end videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

The ups and downs the president talks about, certainly Ohio is part of the ups here: unemployment at 7.6%; it was 9.4% when you took office. Do you view this as sort of shared credit between the work you've done and the work that President Obama has done on the national level?

GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH:

Well, look, first of all, the credit goes to the people that invest. All we've done in Ohio is to create a better environment. And David, when I took office, we were 48th in the country in job creation. And in February, working with my partners in the legislature, we were the number on job creator in America, and we're number four today.

Now, let me tell you, our success here is not based on one industry. In fact, in the auto industry, and we're thrilled to see auto jobs coming back, that has not been the greatest growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we've created 1,600 jobs in the auto industry, but 23,000 in health care.

And what we're doing in Ohio is we're moving from a basic manufacturing economy to one that's diversified, including energy and health care and agriculture and IT. I mean, the fact of the matter is Ohio's coming back 'cause we set a clear path. We cut taxes, we balanced our budget. We got credit upgrades when the whole rest of the world, including America, was being downgraded. And at the same time, we've-- we've deregulated or made regulation-- have more common sense. And we've created an environment and an atmosphere for job growth in ohio.

What's happened in the country is there's so much uncertainty, David. Are they gonna raise taxes? How many more regulations are gonna be piled on? And uncertainty really affects small business. It affects all job creators in America. And so this recovery, while I feel good about the fact that we're moving in the right direction, at the federal level is too anemic. And frankly, what I get concerned about is I've got wind in my face. Ohio's doing what it can do, but I wish they'd get their act together in Washington.

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, let's talk a little bit about that, Senator Durbin, because as we focus on the economy and on the budget, on the question of taxes in Washington, we really do have a general election campaign that is shaping up with two distinct visions of the country. The debate this week, as the president talked about, about the congressional Republican budget, about efforts to take on Medicare, as the Paul Ryan plan does, taxes, cutting and spending; this is how the president talked about the Ryan plan.

(videotape)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

For much of the last century, we have been having the same argument with folks who keep peddling some version of trickle-down economics.

Now, the problem for advocates of this theory is that we've tried their approach -- on a massive scale. The results of their experiment are there for all to see.

Prosperity sure didn't trickle down.

(end videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me actually start with you, Governor, first on this. This was a shot across the bow philosophically, ideologically, and it has to do with the broader economy, from the president.

GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH:

Well, look, David, let me tell you what we've done in Ohio. We cut taxes. We had an $8 billion hole. We balanced our budget and we didn't play politics. We have been praised by the A.A.R.P. by our work in Medicaid. We've been praised for the people who have been advocates for the mentally ill.

There are ways in which you can modernize your entitlement programs and come out with better results at lower prices. The problem is, in Washington, they just play this politics. And what we've done out here is provide a clear path for business to create jobs without over-regulating them. We have reduced taxes on small business. And at the same time, we've balanced our budget.

I mean, what we've done here, we're exploding in Ohio with the largest amount of growth in jobs in February and number four in the country; we were 48th over the last four years. So if they would just follow the formula, it's common sense. It's not trickle-down economics.

The problem that the president has is he's rudderless on the economy. I mean, he doesn't quite know what to do. It's a "wake up and Monday and try to figure it out." It takes time to turn a super tanker, so you need to know where you need to go. And that's what we've done out here. My partners and I in the legislature, we've moved it in the right direction. They should learn from this in Washington.

DAVID GREGORY:

Senator, do you agree with that, should you learn?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN:

Listen, there's a lot we need to learn across America. But let me tell ya: I was a member of President Obama's bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission. That commission of course ended up with 11 of 18 of us voting in favor of it. That included Senator Tom Coburn, a very conservative Oklahoma Republican, and myself. It was a bipartisan statement that we need to combine, put everything on the table, and combine revenue with spending cuts.

Now look at the Paul Ryan budget, and let me start by saying Congressman Ryan voted no on the Simpson-Bowles bipartisan deficit commission. The Ryan budget, which Mitt Romney called marvelous, ends up giving a tax break to the wealthiest people in America of $150,000 a year. Governor Kasich, we can't do that.

We have got to use that money to reduce the deficit. We've got to cut spending and put everything on the table. I think Governor Mitt Romney's approach to this thing sadly is a return to the same economic policy we had under President Bush that brought on the worst recession since the Great Depression. We don't want to go back to those economic policies.

GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH:

David, I will say this. I think we can have some tax reform, but that doesn't mean tax increases. We ought to make the rates flatter. We ought to get rid of a bunch of those loopholes. I want to commend Senator Durbin because I know he did hard work with a number of people on both sides of the aisle in the Senate, but the fact of the matter is that we've got to stop this whole class warfare business.

We can, in fact, close loopholes, lower rates, provide more incentives. You know, our corporate tax rates are the highest in the world. Look, all I'm interested in in Ohio, and I think Dick is interested in America, is you've got to create jobs. It's a moral issue. It helps families, it keeps marriages stronger, it lifts kids out of poverty. That's what we're all about, and they got to get their act together.

And in states where people have got their act together, we've seen significant progress. And that's what has to be learned from it. When I was in D.C., by the way, (you know, I was there 18 years) we balanced the budget in 1997 without a tax increase. The fact is they just want to keep spending in that city. And it's not going to get us where we need to get.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN:

Well, see--

GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH:

And that's not political rhetoric, it just gets down to cold, hard facts.

DAVID GREGORY:

Senator Durbin, I want to ask you, 1) is competing visions for the country. Because to me, as I look at this, it really does come down to competing view about the role of government. What role should government play to try to, as you might describe it, level the playing field in terms of taxes (that's how the president might describe it; Republicans would describe that differently) or creating new entitlements like health care. Or as Republicans might say, "Hey, deal with the fact that our entitlement state is too big. It's affecting our ability to help people get into the middle class or go on from there." This is how Mitt Romney described it, Governor Romney, when he won his primaries on Tuesday night. Let's watch a portion of that.

(videotape)

MITT ROMNEY:

There is a basic choice that we're going to face. The president has pledged to transform America. And he's spent the last four years laying the foundation for a new government-centered society. I will spend the next four years rebuilding the foundation of a opportunity society led by free people and free enterprises.

(end videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

As you know, Senator, Governor Romney's on to something in that a lot of Americans distrust big institutions, including government, to deal with some of the most pressing problems, what Governor Romney calls the government-centered society.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN:

I can tell you this, David. Governor Kasich makes mention of making the moral decision; the moral decision for working families in Illinois and Ohio is to make sure that as they work hard, they have an opportunity to succeed. We have seen working families falling further and further behind, and Mitt Romney promises more of the same.

In terms of the role of government, let me mention this: 10,000 people reached the age of 65 today, and yesterday, and tomorrow. And for the next 18 years, these men and women who have paid into Medicare and Social Security are now reaching retirement.

The obvious question of Mitt Romney is what would you do with those people? I know what the Paul Ryan budget would do; it would basically say Medicare's going to be a different program. It's going to be a support program. We'll hand you a check and good luck finding health insurance in the open market. That, to me, does not give people security in their retirement. It is not a boost of confidence for their children. Government has an appropriate role to do those things we can't do by ourselves. Other--

DAVID GREGORY:

But don't we also have an obligation in government, Governor, to say to the citizens, "You have to understand reality. Even though we've made a promise, there is a fiscal reality to this program that can't be sustained.

GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH:

Well, let me tell you. In our state with Medicaid, for example, we provided a provision to let moms and dads stay at home if they could, rather than be in a nursing home, at a fifth of the cost, where they're healthier and happier. You see, I believe that you can reform these programs, modernize them into the 21st century, save money, and provide more customer or taxpayer satisfaction.

What's happened here is, with the name calling and all the politics, there's unwilling to look at 21st center approaches. Because government clearly has a role in the area of health care, you know, in Medicare and in Medicaid and Social Security, but we need to modernize the program and we need to do it together. And if we do that, we can get ourselves on a better fiscal track.

Look, we don't want to be Greece. We don't want to be places where people are rioting because we waited so long to get things fixed we're pulling the rug from under them. We need to start on it now. And unfortunately, David, the parties are so much at war in Washington that they seem unable to agree on anything, and that's tragic. You know, my girls are 12 years old; I want them to have a strong America, and I think we can have it all.

I think we can modernize these programs. I think we can make things simpler. I think we can reduce taxes, have tax reform, and we can do it. Look, I was part of it in '97, the first time we balanced a budget since man walked on the moon. We have done it in Ohio, the results have been good. We've got a long way to go, but the results have been positive for families. You've got to learn the lessons of where it works, and it's working here.

DAVID GREGORY:

I've got just a couple minutes left. I'd like to hopscotch around a couple of different issues and, Senator Durbin, I'll start with you. This controversy about the General Services Administration, the head of which stepped down after a big boondoggle with a lot of money spent out at a conference in Vegas. And then this week, a video that pops up as part of this: One of the employees at G.S.A. doing a rap about how they could excessively spend and the office of inspector general would not even notice. Well, in fact, it was the inspector general that investigated all of this. The question that's come up is how could this go on when there was an interim support submitted to the administration? Did the administration react too slowly to it?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN:

I can tell you I'm glad that the G.S.A. administrator left. It's one of the agencies I have responsibility for under the appropriations committee. We are going to have a hearing as to what actually happened here. It's an absolutely outrageous expenditure of taxpayers' money. The White House made it clear that the group in charge was going to be dismissed and resigned, and they did. So we've got to see, whether it's Democrats, Republicans; whether the State of Illinois, Ohio, or Washington, that kind of misuse of taxpayers' funds is totally unacceptable.

DAVID GREGORY:

Governor Kasich, I want to ask you about the Republican race. And at this point, you're on record as saying that there were a number of candidates that you hoped would get in the race but ultimately did not get in the race, and you have not endorsed anyone. Do you think the fight for the nomination is over?

GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH:

You know, I want to say this to you, David: You don't want to judge that. These people, they work their tails off trying to get to be president. And trying to judge it and handicap the horse race is not what I'm comfortable with. Let that take care of itself. I haven't endorsed; I said everybody I either endorsed or was for either dropped out or didn't run. So I'll wait till we have a nominee.

And listen, the party will get its act together. It will be very competitive in the fall. And let me also say, it's good to be on with my friend, Dick Durbin. And I will tell you this: Those folks at the G.S.A., they're going to get an awakening from Dick Durbin. He's been a friend of mine for a long time, and Dick, it's good to be with you this morning. And good to be with you, David. And what a day of hope in our lives, with Easter, and the opportunity for us to think about what we can do to spread the word of the Lord and be kind to be and be part of a new creation.

DAVID GREGORY:

Amen to that, but still one follow-up, which is do you have any concerns about Governor Romney as the standard-bearer, as the nominee of the party, in carrying your state of Ohio, which as we know will be so important in the fall?

GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH:

Oh, it's going to be close. It'll be, you know, tight as a tick out here, David, it always is. Ohio is a battleground state. And it's those independent voters. And whoever can tell them that they're going to improve this economy, create jobs for families, will be the winner.

DAVID GREGORY:

I'm going to leave it there. Governor Kasich--

GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH:

Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

--Senator Durbin, thank you both this morning.

(COMMERCIALS OMITTED)

DAVID GREGORY:

And we are back with a special Easter Sunday discussion. I'm joined by Democratic Congressman of Missouri and United Methodist Pastor Emanuel Cleaver, daughter of the Reverend Billy Graham, Anne Graham Lotz, his Excellency, Bishop William Lori, archbishop designate of Baltimore, the executive editor of Random House and author of American Gospel, God, the Founding Fathers and the Making of a Nation, Jon Meacham and Republican Congressman of Idaho, P-- Raul Labrador, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church. Welcome to all of you.

I know I wanna get it out-- right out front. I'm doing something you're not supposed to do and that's mixing politics and religion. And-- and on Easter Sunday to boot. But I-- I-- I wanted to have-- this conversation because it seems to me the role of faith in our national life as a national discussion. But certainly the role that it plays for our national leaders seems overly ripe in this campaign season-- particularly.

And that's where I wanna start because the criticism from republican candidates for the presidency against this administration has really boiled down to this issue of whether faith is under fire. Listen.

(videotape)

MITT ROMNEY:

I think there is in this country a-- a war on-- on religion. I-- I think there is a desire to establish a-- a religion in America known as secularism.

NEWT GINGRICH:

This administration is waging war on religion.

And if he wins reelection he will wage war on the Catholic Church the morning after he's re-elected.

RICK SANTORUM:

The president has reached a new low in this country's history of oppressing religious freedom that we have never seen before.

(end videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

Jon Meacham, play referee here. Is this accurate?

JON MEACHAM:

I don't think so. I don't think so. I think religion has been part of the American experience from the very beginning. We came over for God and for mammon. We were in search of gold-- but also religious liberty. You cannot run for president-- without a (UNINTEL) faith story.

And I think in a nation that is overwhelmingly religious-- perhaps more-- in terms of polls than observants-- sometimes-- I don't think there's a war on religion. I think that there is a robust disagreement about a lot of important issues. And because religious faith, like economics, like partisanship, like geography is an intrinsic part of human experience there's always gonna be a religious component to debates over issues.

DAVID GREGORY:

And Archbishop, when you have an issue of the role of government in a healthcare decision-- like insurance actually funding contraception, you have this tension. And that's where a lot of that criticism came from. But what is the nature of this war? Do you agree with those men?

ARCHBISHOP WILLIAM LORI:

What we've seen, the bishops of the United States have seen is an erosion of religious liberty. Perhaps we wouldn't use the word war. I wouldn't underestimate, however, how engaged we are in the struggle and how determined we are. But there has been-- the HHS mandate is certainly the most urgent of these-- underminings of religious liberty. But there's many other--

DAVID GREGORY:

But explain why--

ARCHBISHOP WILLIAM LORI:

--things that are going on.

DAVID GREGORY:

--you think it undermines it. I mean, what the-- what the actual mandate actually does and why you think that's-- an erosion of freedom.

ARCHBISHOP WILLIAM LORI:

Well, first of all, we have the government imposing its definition on what religion and religious organizations are to be. And it's an inward looking definition. If you're only serving your own, hiring your own, inculcating your own doctrine, you're exempt. But the minute you serve the common good which is what all of our organizations do, then you're not exempt. Then you are subject to having to provide fund and or facilitate-- services which are contrary to the church's teaching.

DAVID GREGORY:

Well--

ARCHBISHOP WILLIAM LORI:

And I don't think we should have to do that.

DAVID GREGORY:

--Congressman Cleaver, as a democrat but also a minister, how do you come down on this question?

REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER:

Well, I-- I think we need to take God of the ballot. This issue-- surfaces-- every two years. But for sure every four years. And I-- I think-- people exaggerate-- certain positions in order to help themselves politically. There is no war on-- on religion-- in this country.

This country w-- would not even tolerate war. But-- but people realize, clearly, that religion-- causes us to write, to fight, to-- to even-- die. And so it-- it has-- a-- a-- a grip on us that nothing else holds as tightly. And so-- people realize that. And so they exploit it during the political season. I think that's something that we've gotta get away from.

DAVID GREGORY:

But Anne Lotz, in this particular case-- was this the government going too far or was this the government saying, "Look, if you wanna be an insurer and you want federal funds, there's a path that you must follow."

ANNE GRAHAM LOTZ:

N-- I would have to confess I'm not an expert on that. And I would come very close to siding with Archbishop Lori. Because I believe it is a beginning. It's just-- a very small step in a direction that I think could become something more serious.

I'd like to go back to your-- opening statement about the importance of religion and politics or-- or-- because we look at our president or look at our leaders as having religious-- example for us. And the thing that I think is so important-- the bible says that the beginning of wisdom is fear of God. And I believe one of the greatest-- lacks in our nation is that genuine or reverence for an all-mighty God.

And that's where wisdom begins. So we have a lot of knowledge. And you can go on Google, and you can pull up all sorts of stuff. But to know how to use the knowledge in a way that benefits the majority of people in this country, that's what I look for in a president. I want my leader to have-- a fear and a respect and a reverence for God.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right. I'm gonna come back to this expectation of faith and-- and-- among our leaders in a moment. But Congressman Labrador, let me get you into this. We-- we are on the precipice of-- of an historic moment-- for Mormons in this country. And that is that Mitt Romney is a Mormon. And somebody was-- you know, very significant role in the church looks like he's going to become the republican nominee.

And-- Congress Cleaver talked about the need to take religion off the ballot. But here you had Orrin Hatch from Utah-- Senator Utah-- saying that the Obama administration-- the campaign is gonna throw the Mormon Church at Mitt Romney and make this an issue. Do you agree with that and how would he do that?

REP. RAUL LABRADOR:

I think the media is gonna do that-- for-- for the Obama campaign. But-- let's talk about your eternal question real quick. There is an attack on religious freedom at this point. And-- and if you look at what the Obama administration did with the contraception issue, they first set up a rule that-- that was contrary to some religions.

Then they decided that they were gonna reform-- they were gonna change that rule. And then when they changed that rule they really didn't change the rule. They actually just said that they were gonna change the rule and they wanted to have this conversation about contraceptives which nobody was talking about at the time. If you remember, the first time they talked about contraceptives which was George Stephanopoulos in one of the debates. He's the one who brought it up.

There wasn't a single republican candidate who was talking about that issue. And all the sudden we start talking about an issue that wasn't even a campaign issue. And then we-- we started on-- attack on-- on religious freedom. I think there clearly is.

But going back to your question about Mormonism th-- everyone in-- in politics is gonna have some sort of role-- i-- is gonna be influenced by their faith whether it's Emanuel by his faith, whether it's me by my faith. And I think we can't talk about having-- s-- politics void of any religious faith because then what you're saying is you have-- you're asking people to not be who they are.

DAVID GREGORY:

But I'm asking you about this very specific charge. You have the-- senior Senator from Utah saying that the Mormon Church is gonna be thrown at the republican nominee who is a Mormon. In what way? And you just said you think the media'll do it. I mean, let's talk--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

--about what-- what you mean.

REP. RAUL LABRADOR:

--you-- you look at your own network. MSNBC, you have Lawrence O'Donnell, it's-- just saying some really nasty things about the Mormon religion, about the founding-- of-- of our religion. That it was based on-- on some guy just waking up some morning and deciding that he-- that he wanted-- that he had-- an extramarital affair and that-- that-- that's how the r-- religion was founded.

There-- there's some really nasty things already being said by-- by your own network, by NBC. There's-- there's many other people that are gonna be talking about these things. And tie what we need to realize is that everybody's faith origins are-- are peculiar i-- if you look at any one of-- of-- of us.

And we need to realize that what you need to look at is the man-- the man, Mitt Romney. I have endorsed Mitt Romney. But it clearly looks like he's gonna be the nominee-- for-- for the republican party. We need to look at his life and the things that he has done. And he's had-- a very, very good life.

DAVID GREGORY:

Jon Meacham, this question of whether-- his Mormon faith will become an issue, whether the president who has had to face down questions about-- whether he is a Muslim, which he is not-- overtime-- does this become a big issue as we move to the campaign?

JON MEACHAM:

I'm gonna offer a counterintuitive argument. I wonder if the cause of those two premises you just-- premises you just set out-- I wonder if perhaps explicitly religion will be less important-- i-- in the fall-- in the general election than at any time since 1972 before Roe versus Wade really transformed the landscape.

Because it's not in-- frankly in either candidate's interest to get into theological debates at this point. It is never a candidate's interest I would say. I think the great thing about the country has always been that we have created a public sphere in which reli-- religion shapes us without strangling us.

And that was the great achievement of the founders. And-- it's something that from generation to generation has been-- has been respected. Miss Lotz' father is one of the great figures in this. Billy Graham plays this enormous role in our culture. But i-- in a non-sectarian, non-divisive way. And so that's why when we talk about wars on religion we talk about th-- this-- this-- e-- eternal conflict, let's think about it.

Where do we go in moments of national crisis or mourning? We go to the National Cathedral. Where do you-- you-- people pray at inaugurations? There's-- there's-- there's a tolerance, there's an acceptance, there's a hunger for a kind of religious conversation.

And I think that the-- the more generic it is-- and I understand the theological problems with this. But the more generic it is, the more effective and the more accepted it is. And I just wonder if you get to October w-- whether it's in either candidate's interest to be bringing up specific religious issues.

ARCHBISHOP WILLIAM LORI:

It's not a theological debate. We are not trying to get the government to stop something or to start something. What we are talking about is the government-- forcing religious organizations to do something that is against their teaching? This is a religious liberty fight.

We recognize there's a lot of opinions about-- about abortizations (?) and sterilization and contraception. What we're saying is that we're not just houses of worship. We are places that try to live our teachings as we serve the common good. We have this freedom now. We've had it for generations. Our teachings have been accommodated. But now they're not being accommodated. This represents a definite diminishment of our freedom to provide our services--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, but you-- you're arguing-- Archbishop, you're arguing still this issue of contraception and the Obama administration's rule which they, of course, would argue w-- there's an exception provided for and an accommodation-- provided for that the insurance would pay for it directly.

But rather than go down that road which I-- I don't think will convince you, I wanna stay on this sort of broader question-- Congressman Cleaver, which is in the case of Mitt Romney-- but more generally, about someone's faith-- as a person of faith that Romney is and as a Mormon, it's the core of who he is.

As a missionary for two years, as somebody who was a bishop in the church which is the-- correct me Congressman, I'm wrong-- the equivalent of being-- a priest because it's layled. Very close association with the church. He doesn't really talk about what guides him so powerfully. Isn't it fair for both scrutiny, questions-- because there's so much ignorance about the Mormon faith-- but also to understand the man, to understand his religious journey.

REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER:

Well-- look, I-- I think all of us-- who claims some kinda connection to religion-- and-- and if we are in government, we are informed by that region. And we are in many instances regulated by it. We don't have to make an announcement-- every day and-- and-- and go out and wave a flag.

It comes out of our (UNINTEL). And, you know-- but I have to talk about it. When I was Mayor of Kansas City we had-- a-- our church opposed-- the Methodist Church opposed gaming. I said from the very beginning if-- if I'm going to do what my church says, then I shoulda campaigned on the Me-- as-- as a Methodist running for-- for mayor. I did not.

And so therefore-- I-- eventually signed-- that into law. I-- I'm-- I'm not gonna vote for-- Governor Romney. But I am more concerned about-- Washington's religion of confusionism than I am Governor Romney's religion about the-- Mormonism. So I-- I-- I think w-- we gotta stop this. It's not healthy for the nation. We've com-- completely forgotten article six, paragraph three-- which says there shall be no religious test. And I think we got to try to prevent our country from doing that (FOREIGN LANGUAGE NOT TRANSCRIBED)--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

I understand that. But we live in the real world here. And evangelicals-- which you are one-- are deeply suspicious of Mormons and the Mormon faith and do not consider them to be Christian. To-- you-- you-- and you have-- p-- the-- the likelihood now of a Mormon republican nominee-- is there not an opportunity for more national understanding and more of a discussion about the Mormon faith when you have the standard bearer of one of our two major political parties of that shape?

ANNE GRAHAM LOTZ:

I-- I-- there will be. But-- but when you just-- addressed him and said that out of your deep conviction, you know, that-- that what drives him-- what's the powerful force that drives him, then I think you can learn by seeing what he has done, through his policies, his decision and-- and how he has conducted his life.

So that's some-- you can learn from that something of how his religion drives him. And I think rather than discussing all the religion-- and I'm not into religion. And I-- I know that will be a discussion. And I would look to talk about Easter morning at some point this morning because this is our day. And-- but-- but your-- your religion i-- puts on the-- the table is the policies.

You know, the-- the f-- the decisions, what's-- the-- the social pol-- the-- driving this nation right now. So I think it's not the discussion of religion is almost a smoke screen and a diversion from the real issue. And that's the policies. And there's a clearer choice I think this fall between the way the nation's going to be led. And that's what I think we ought to be looking at. Not so much as-- as-- as at the religions preference of a particular person.

DAVID GREGORY:

President-- President Kennedy-- even though is a speech that causes Senator Santorum-- stomach problems-- in 1960 gave a marvelous statement of this-- on exactly this point, that he was not the Catholic candidate for president, he was the democratic candidate for president.

And voters can make a judgment on the whole person, the whole policy. But I don't think to the Congressman's point-- I don't think we want presidents sitting around discussing subs-- substitutionary atonement. You know, we don't want people-- I think-- discussing-- there's enough for presidents to do without having them worrying about the theologies of different religions.

REP. RAUL LABRADOR:

And-- and the reality is that religion informs your thinking. But l-- look at-- in the United States right now, Orrin Hatch and Harry Reid are both member of the LDS faith. You can't find any two more opposite individuals. So even though it's gonna inform who you are-- and they're both faithful members of the church.

So you can-- can't find any two more opposite people, two people who have different-- philosophies and-- and political doctrines. So I think w-- we-- it's important to know a little bit about Mitt Romney and his religion. But I think it's more important-- I-- like I said before, I have not endorsed Mitt Romney. I have not decided-- I-- I'm not gonna go out and endorse him. But I think he's gonna be the candidate. And I do believe it's time for republicans to get around-- to get behind him because we know he's gonna be a candidate. It's time to beat Obama.

DAVID GREGORY:

But Congressman, let me--

REP. RAUL LABRADOR:

But--

DAVID GREGORY:

--ask you one more about your specific faith. And I wanna show you a poll done by Quinnipiac-- over the summer. Would you feel uncomfortable with a Mormon president-- the number of republicans 29% say yes. Democrats 46%. I-- I come back to this question--

(OVERTALK)

REP. RAUL LABRADOR:

--the most biased people are the democrats.

DAVID GREGORY:

--well, I mean, that poll is-- is-- but-- but it-- but let me ask you that. I mean, I-- unlike Christianity-- a lot of people say the difficulty that-- that Mormons have is that the-- the-- the religion is relatively new and therefore-- for critics can be debunked more easily or attempted to be debunked-- is there room for Governor Romney to take some of these issues on? Not to-- get engaged in a doctrinaire discussion of the Mormon faith-- but to take some of these issues on because there are questions and there are-- there is discomfort?

REP. RAUL LABRADOR:

Well, he should talk about who he is and-- and-- and what formed him. And I think he discusses missionary work. I was a missionary for two years in South America. My son-- my oldest son is now a missionary in South America. It's one of the most formative things that you can do in your life.

It-- it-- it-- it informs who you are for the rest of your life. I think he could talk about that. He could relate to the people that he has t-- taught as-- a-- as a bishop. He was a bishop and a stake (?) president in the church which means that he actually dealt with a lot of different issues dealing with poverty and other issues. He should talk about that a little bit more. But if you want-- I mean, you shouldn't be getting into the theology because there's-- th-- every church has a different dogma, a different-- teaching. And we're not-- you-- we shouldn't be judging a-- as Emanuel just said-- we shouldn't be judging. Our constitution tells us that we shouldn't be having religious tests.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Right. Let me take a quick break here. We'll continue this discussion on the other side of it. More from our round table on this Easter morning discussion after this.

(COMMERCIALS OMITTED)

DAVID GREGORY:

We are back with our round table. Back in 1957, your father, the Reverend Billy Graham was on this program. And the question came up in the context of how to spread the word-- to the public. How to talk about religion. We've been talking about sort of deemphasizing the talk of theology in our-- in our national, political life. And yet, here was Reverend Billy Graham saying, "Hey no, we gotta broadcast this." Watch.

(videotape)

MR. CLURMAN:

You have been quoted as saying, "I'm selling the greatest product in the world. Why shouldn't it be promoted as well as soap?" Is that an accurate quote, Dr. Graham?

REVEREND BILLY GRAHAM:

I think it possibly is.

MR. CLURMAN:

Do care to explain it to us?

REVEREND BILLY GRAHAM:

Yes. I do believe that-- we can use modern means of communication. The problem of the church today-- is indifference in its evangelical thrust, in its mission. It's facing apathy and indifference. And we-- have the problem of communication. We have the message but how to communicate it to the masses? And we have used television and radio and the press and every way we possibly can to communicate the fact that Christ can transform human lives.

(end videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

He was for and is for using every platform available.

ANNE GRAHAM LOTZ:

Right. But for the-- for the church, for my daddy, who is an evangelist and televised his meetings. I don't think he was necessarily talking about the political arena when you're running for president. And-- we were just having a discussion over the break that-- it's interesting that Jimmy Carter and George Bush were both considered evangelicals but very different.

So to me I still think we need to look at the policies. And I do want a president-- I would not want-- I would not vote for a man who was atheist because I believe you-- you need to have acknowledgment, a reverence, a fear for almighty God. And I believe that's where wisdom comes from.

DAVID GREGORY:

It--

ANNE GRAHAM LOTZ:

But--

DAVID GREGORY:

--and it's so interesting that you-- you say that. The point about the-- the public's desire for men and women of faith in national life. And we-- we have some polling that indicates really that point of just how strongly that belief is held. 65%, Archbishop, believe that it's important-- that a presidential candidate believes in God.

ARCHBISHOP WILLIAM LORI:

You know, I think people-- have an intuition that religious faith is connected the moral values that make for just laws. And that if we cut our laws away from their moral moorings-- we're not going to have a society which we would like to think of as a civilization of justice and love.

So there really-- I think that what we want to say is that religion-- is not an irrational force, it's not a divisive force, it-- it-- in all of our diversity our faiths contribute to a moral consensus that underlie-- underlies our laws.

And the more we build that moral consensus about the dignity of human life, solidarity, the common good, the more we're going to be able to find ways of talking across the partisan divide. And so I think that religion has a huge role to play. And we have to watch out getting instrumentalized-- one way or the other.

JON MEACHAM:

And j-- I mean, that was the Madisonian position is that religion would be a force, not the force. We-- we've seen how well theocracies work around the world. I-- if you have a pluralistic, democratic society in which religion is respected but not exalted above other forces-- that's a pretty good system. And that's what we've come up with. And I think we tamper with it at our peril.

REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER:

Well--

DAVID GREGORY:

Go ahead, (UNINTEL).

REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER:

--we need to-- to-- to be I think very honest, r-- religion at its very essence requires theological arrogance. Because, I mean-- we have to declare this is what I believe in. I believe that this is the way. You know, and so w-- w-- what we-- what we have to understand is that this nation-- is united in its diversity.

And therefore even with the arrogance we have to have respect. And that's the part that I'm-- concerned about right now. I don't think President Obama is-- I mean, it w-- it was-- it's ludicrous that President Obama wants to have a war on religion. It-- it makes no sense. Respect. We gotta respect-- our differences. And that's I think the-- the one thing that should separate us as a nation from the rest of the world.

DAVID GREGORY:

C-- Congressman Labrador, there was a moment-- i-- all of these questions about the president's faith and whether he's a Muslim. And it came up on-- on Fox news on the-- on the Hannity program, they actually had a focus group that they were doing. And I wanna show-- a piece of that because it was very striking to watch.

(videotape)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN:

I believe the Barack Obama's religious beliefs do govern his foreign policy.

FRANK LUNTZ:

And what are his religious beliefs?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN:

I believe he is a Muslim.

FRANK LUNTZ:

You do?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN:

Yes.

FRANK LUNTZ:

How many of you believe that here? Wow! You believe he's a Muslim?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN:

Yes.

(end videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

What's striking to me about that clip is that on its face to say that he is a Muslim i-- is thought to be a bad thing. Now Colin Powell was on this program saying, "So what if he was? Why wouldn't that be acceptable?" Is that unacceptable? And i-- is that-- is this being used as a way-- has it been used to try to delegitimize the president?

REP. RAUL LABRADOR:

You know, I-- personally I don't believe he's a Muslim. He has told us that he's a Christian and I believe him. And I-- and I don't agree with-- with that clip. But it-- it would matter if he is. I-- I agree with-- with-- Anne that-- that what we need to look at is the policies. What are the policies that the individual has?

The policies that Obama has put on this nation have actually weakened our nation. That's what I'm worried about. It's not what his religion is. I think it's important for us to understand that and-- and that will be under-- important for-- for Romney as well or-- or whoever the nominee is. And it-- like-- like I said, it looks like it's gonna be Romney.

DAVID GREGORY:

The-- the question of political reconciliation is one that-- that interests me as well. As a Jew, on Passover-- you know, we read from Leviticus which, to me, the essence of being a Jew is to reminder that we were once slaves in the land of Egypt. And if you remember that-- you think about the duties of liberation but you also think about the other.

And how-- as human beings we're all enslaved in one form or another. Is there a path? Does anybody see a path from their own-- religious-- faith, convictions to-- to take it into the political arena as a way to reach some kind of reconciliation that we don't see?

ARCHBISHOP WILLIAM LORI:

Well, it seems to me that-- as we approach and celebrate these high holy days that w-- that-- we share in common-- Christians and Jews share a lot in common this time of year. Among them the Exodus story and the story of a liberation not just from one place to another but from sin to grace and r-- restoration of human dignity.

I think that w-- what we need to uphold in our country is a renewed sense of the dignity of the human person. And the dignity of the human person always includes the person's transcendent dimension, the fact that the person has an openness to God and also the values-- the truths that underlie human dignity.

And various religions might approach that in various ways. But I think the true test for religious liberty is when the minority-- unpopular views-- find respect. And I would just also add-- and-- and I represent some of those. I represent those teachings-- that are a bit countercultural. Those have to be respected and accommodated as well as others.

(OVERTALK)

JON MEACHAM:

Our finest hours have been driven in part by religious motivation and conviction. Arguably the greatest moment of religious nondenominational cooperation was the Civil Rights Movement. You know, the Reverend Martin Luther King performed-- an essential mosaic role in an exodus story.

And he did it on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln had ran against-- evangelist-- for Congress. And in fact went to one of his meetings once and the evangelist did the altar call and said, "Anyone who wants to go to heaven, get up."

And Lincoln didn't stand up. And h-- his opponents say, "Well, Mr. Lincoln where are you going?" He said, "Well, I'm going to Congress." Now whether you can go to both I don't know if that-- if that's possible. But-- but you have-- but you-- it's this-- it's this wonderful thread, it's this wonderful history. And experience has taught us-- to go to your question-- experience has taught us that we can have fine hours-- hours of reform and reclamation without being hopelessly divided.

DAVID GREGORY:

Do you have-- a lesson from-- on this Easter morning from your faith, tradition that has instructive you think to-- to our national leaders, to our presidential candidates?

ANNE GRAHAM LOTZ:

Yeah, you know, I do, David. Thank you for asking. I was thinking when you were talking about your heritage and (UNINTEL) Passover, they were saved by the blood of a lamb. And-- on this Easter day, you know, I just have to say that for me I'm-- I'm a sinner and-- and Easter means to me that I can be forgiven of my sin.

When I put my faith in Jesus as God's lamb who died in my place on that cross then I can be forgiven of my sin. I can be reconciled to God. I can have peace with God. I can have eternal life. I know that I'm going to heaven but also have a personal relationship with God.

DAVID GREGORY:

I'm gonna leave it there. Thank you all very much. Very interesting conversation. A quick programming note here, house budget chair, Paul Ryan, will appear exclusively this Tuesday on Today. Also you can watch our press pass conversation on our blog. This week I spoke with South Carolina Governor and Mitt Romney's supporter, Nikki Haley about politics and her new memoir entitled Can't is Not an Option which was released this week. That's on our blog PressPass.MSNBC.com. That is all for today. Happy Easter, Happy Passover. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *

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