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Video: Sunday’s MTP: The politics of Pope Francis; previewing the budget battle

updated 3/17/2013 1:38:01 PM ET 2013-03-17T17:38:01

DAVID GREGORY:

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This Sunday - a new pope, a new day for the Catholic church, and new questions about the church's influence on American politics. We have perspective this morning on the journey ahead for Pope Francis from Cardinal Francis George, - the archbishop of Chicago. What message did the cardinals mean to send with the selection of the first ever pope from Latin America? A special discussion, as well, with our roundtable on how Francis reforms the church.

Plus the debt duel in Washington. Is there any room for compromise and is the president right when he argues a balanced budget isn't a priority at the moment? The debate this morning. With us, Republican whip of the House, California Congressman Kevin McCarthy, and the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

Then, the future of the GOP and a senator's change of heart on gay marriage. Is it the beginning of a changing tide in the party? Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker, weighs in.

Good Sunday morning. A busy first weekend for the new pope, meeting the press yesterday for the first time. And this morning, an impromptu appearance near the Vatican, greeting surprised well-wishers, delivering a Greek homily at the Vatican small parish church. And then moments ago, before a large crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis gave his first weekly blessing.

And another first this morning: His first papal tweet: "Dear friends," he writes, "I thank you from my heart and I ask you to continue to pray for me." Joining us this morning from Rome, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago. Your Eminence, welcome to Meet the Press.

CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE:

Thank you, David. Good morning.

DAVID GREGORY:

I want to begin by asking you what you think Pope Francis can do right away that will define his papacy.

CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE:

I think what he's doing now, that is the style is the substance. And, while they're small gestures, they indicate an attitude towards reality and towards the governance of the church that is very important in the long run. Secondly, what he really has to do is to make some important decisions about who are going to be his closest collaborators as he moves forward in his papacy.

DAVID GREGORY:

There is the administration of the church. There is the sexual abuse scandal. What is probably foremost on the minds of Catholics in this country is what does he mean to America? What does a pope from the Americas mean to the United States, particularly with a growing Latino population here?

CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE:

Well, I think you said that very well, David: He means very much to the Latino population because, even though many priests in the United States have learning Spanish to take care of a growing number of Spanish-speaking parishioners in the first generation, at least, it's never quite the same to know the language as it is to know the culture. So he comes from the culture, with the language, and that will be a source of great encouragement, I'm sure, for all of us, but especially for them. Beyond that, for the universal church, it means that we are global, truly, in fact as well as in intentionality. And so the crossing of the water to the Americas is a very historic moment, isn't it?

DAVID GREGORY:

How he speaks about America is interesting as well. I can remember being a young reporter in the early '90s, covering Pope John Paul II's visit to Denver with a youth group from New Mexico at the time, when I was covering him. What a beloved figure he was, (there with President Clinton of course) and more beloved even than his successor, Pope Benedict. What, in your judgment, as you know this pope, can he/should he do to cultivate that relationship with this country?

CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE:

Well, I was a very young bishop at the time, Bishop of Yakima, in Washington State. And that was the first time I went to a world. You stay with a whole lot of young people who have sold tacos endlessly in order to afford a chartered bus. And I was very deeply moved by it because they were. And I saw the way in which he transformed their lives. It had a huge impact on that small diocese in central Washington State, a rural diocese, when they returned home.

But Pope Benedict was not as extroverted, obviously. He was a very shy man, a good man, a kind man, but he had difficulty showing that in public, so used was he to talking to books as much as to people. And this man is a pastor, first and foremost. He spent all his life being close to people, especially the poor. First of all, close to his own brothers in his own religious society, and then also to the people that he served in a very large diocese, Buenos Aires, in very difficult times.

So he's a man of integrity, and that shines through. Even when he has to say, "This isn't what Christ wants," he says it apparently in a way that people can at least hear it, even if they don't agree with him. And that's an important pastoral note that I hope we'll all learn from in the years to come.

DAVID GREGORY:

As a management matter, as a crisis management matter, what does Pope Francis do to come to terms with sexual abuse in the church, that begins to close the chapter for the church?

CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE:

Well, "close that chapter," none of us can as long as there are victims because you have to accompany them, if they're willing to be accompanied. Some of them have such deep hurt that they can't trust the church to accompany them, but we have to keep doing that.

As far as the scandal itself, everyone that we know of who has done this, whether bishop or priest, is out of public ministry and will remain out. That was because we had to change the law to do that, and it took some time. He supports that. And then we have to be sure that it won't happen again, as much as we possibly can, and then stay with the victims. But the structures are in place now. The code of canon law has been changed. The thing is that every time there's a new report, then everything happens "yesterday" instead of 20 or 30 years ago, which is often the case now.

DAVID GREGORY:

The issue I think for a lot of American Catholics of the impact that Pope Francis can have on cultural and political debates in America. Gary Bower, the evangelical leader in the United States, wrote something for USA Today this week that caught my attention, and I'll share with our audience.

He writes, "As an evangelical, I was delighted that the last two popes were moral and theological giants. John Paul II and Benedict XVI introduced a new evangelical period for the Catholic Church, an era in which the Catholic Church offered a confident rebuttal to the false promises of the secular world." How would you like to see Pope Francis influence American political debates? And we have so many of them now, whether it's abortion or gay marriage. How would you like to see that impact?

CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE:

I think he simply has to preach the Gospel, and then do it in a way that is accessible. And the Holy Spirit makes the impact, we believe. Conversion of hearts and minds is not something any pope or any preacher can do. It depends upon God's grace. But you have to keep preaching the Gospel and do it with integrity, and he'll certainly do that.

Your preaching is now in a context where, in a sense, you could say, "There is no God, and Freud is his prophet." Well, for the sake of sexual liberation, we're willing to let a lot of other liberties go, and I'm not sure we realize what's going on. I think he'll help us to realize it better and we'll see what happens. We can only trust that the Lord is still with his people and loves the world that his son died to save.

DAVID GREGORY:

But, Your Eminence, isn't that part of the struggle? What you're speaking about is preaching from the Gospels. So many Catholics in this country see that tension between church doctrine and their own life experience, their own consciences that are leading them in a different direction. Whether there's a majority of Catholics in America who support gay marriage, those who call for a greater role for women in the church, who are less opposed to abortion or even contraception; how does he resolve that tension?

CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE:

Well, I'm not sure you can resolve it as a matter of principle. All those issues weren't around 50 years ago. What has happened to our culture that suddenly these become cultural imperatives? And in history, when you take a look at the societies that come and go, and countries come and go, when the chips are down people will always go with their society, usually, not always. And those that don't are the minority, very often.

What we want to do is to create a society, through dialogue, that isn't quite as much at odds with the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it seems ours has become, at times at least. So the phenomenon you're talking about is not new; again, however, the church is universal. And so, you know, we have to stay with the entire church, and we have to stay with categories that aren't cultural. "Conservative" and "liberal" are the categories you use; you'll be using them today. Our categories are "what is true" and "what is false." And then what's the evidence for that.

DAVID GREGORY:

I have to ask you, in closing, if you could describe the sense of spiritual renewal that you feel with Pope Francis. I'm not Catholic, but I was certainly caught up in that sense of renewal that I think Catholics and non-Catholics feel alike when you have such an important transition like this.

CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE:

Well, all I can say is that, during the conclave, I felt personally a deep sense of the presence of the Lord. Even as you vote and you write that name, you have to be sure that you're free. That you're not doing it for self-interests. And you have to be sure that the man you're electing is free to do the ministry. So in that freedom, there will be renewal, I believe.

DAVID GREGORY:

Your Eminence, we appreciate your time very much this morning.

CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE:

Thank you, David. Good being with you.

DAVID GREGORY:

Thank you.

CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE:

God bless you.

DAVID GREGORY:

Thank you. I'm joined now by our roundtable: Republican strategist Ana Navarro; MSNBC's Chris Matthews; former Democratic lieutenant governor of Maryland, and author of Failing America's Faithful, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend; and former Republican governor of Oklahoma, and former chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' National Review Board, Frank Keating. Welcome to all of you, it's great to have you here.

It's kind of the setup to a joke where it's, you know, nice Jewish boy is moderating a discussion on Catholics. You said something this week though, Chris, that really caught my attention. When a church needs reform, as this one does, you go back to Jesus Christ. You felt that very strongly this week?

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

I think one thing that unites all Catholics, and certainly everybody at this table, is concern for the poor, and this basic way that Jesus led his life. He was a Jewish guy, 2,000 years-- I would say if you can agree on that, the rest is easy. 2,000 years ago, a Jewish guy is dead or died. Well, the rest is sort of details.

And I think he had to go back. I mean, not that there should be a reformation, but go back to the idea of looking after the poor, and being humble, and loving each other. I mean, it's very basic, it's very positive, and it's very generous. It's not about the old order that Jesus went into, which is all morals and scribes and Pharisees and sticking by the rule. But there's some things that can change; we could have women priests in five, ten years; we could have married priests in five or ten. We're not gonna have a different attitude as a church about abortion, probably, and certain other issues. I think they're immutable.

But I think humanae vitae can be revisited, certainly. That's about birth control. Things can be refined and changed. And I think a deacon, a woman deacon; women have more of a role in the church. The nuns having more of a governing authority, that could all be done by any pope.

DAVID GREGORY:

You look at the fact of the church, the center of gravity changing. Look at the mere fact of a pope from the Americas and how many Catholics are from Latin America: Some 40% of over a billion Catholics in the world, Ana Navarro, are Latinos. And this is such a significant moment, the church changes its--

(OVERTALK)

ANA NAVARRO:

Huge, David. Really, I can't over-talk about what it means for Hispanics. You know, there's a lot of rivalry between Latin American countries. I can tell you, we are all so thrilled at having a Latin pope, we don't even mind he's Argentinean. It's so wonderful to have a pope that's going to be able to relate to the Americans, that lived in political strife, that lived under the repression, that has seen what's going on in Argentina, the poverty, the economic crisis. That can not only speak our language but can get our language, is one of us.

I think you're going to see him active on issues like immigration. You're going to see that the Catholic archbishops here will be more active in that, even though they've been very active already. And, like Chris, I do hope to see more participation by women in the church. I'd like to see more respect, more equality for the nuns. You know, Chris' wife, I, Kathleen, we're all Sacred Heart girls. And I can tell you, this church could use a much more present and vocal nun-hood in the running of the church.

And the other thing that's very important is, you know, here in the United States sometimes we get real happy when somebody comes in that's from outside of Washington. For me, it gives me real hope to have somebody come in from outside the Vatican because there are real problems in the Vatican. And it may take an outsider, a no-nonsense, humble outsider focused on the people to be able to renew that hope and enthusiasm of Catholics all over the world.

DAVID GREGORY:

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, you wrote in your book, I'll skip ahead to that, Failing America's Faithful, something about the role that you'd like to see the church play more generally, and he seems to speak to that, Pope Francis. You wrote, "My own Catholic Church has allowed its social agenda to be trumped by an all-consuming focus on contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage, embryonic stem cell research, none of which are mentioned in the Gospels.

"The Catholic Church of my youth dealt with issues at the core of the Gospels: suffering, injustice, sickness, and poverty." Cardinal George, I asked him about that. How do you respond to how he talks about it?

FMR. LT. GOV. KATHLEEN KENNEDY:

Now, you know, my heart is full at the moment. I'm very excited about this pope because he seems to represent simplicity and humility and a willingness to listen. He understands the importance of symbols. Riding on the bus, saying to all the other cardinals, "Come in. We're all in this together." He took the name St. Francis because he said he is the saint of the poor.

DAVID GREGORY:

He paid his own bill, by the way, at his room this week after getting the job.

(OVERTALK)

FMR. LT. GOV. KATHLEEN KENNEDY:

And you know what? We should share, and what Chris said is so true. What all Catholics have shared is a caring and attention to the poor, and that's what we need. We need something that brings us all together, that we are all human together.

And I'm very excited about him. And I love that he chose St. Francis because one of my favorite words from St. Francis is, "Preach the Gospels. And use words only if necessary." And I like the idea that, as a Jesuit as well, you look to yourself. You have to improve yourself and then you go out. So that it's not this hierarchal church in their gowns, and princes of the church, but the humility and the simplicity--

DAVID GREGORY:

Frank Keating, the--

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

Robert Francis, of course.

FMR. LT. GOV. KATHLEEN KENNEDY:

Yes. Chris of course is pointing out my father was Robert Francis. Chris, you know, makes the connections that nobody else even--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

So, Keating, we could also in a way, without being disrespectful at all, sort of look at the pope as politician, in a way. And the National Journal this week had some advice focused on messaging and administration: Take advantage of larger-than-life personality. Use social media as he has, but use it wisely; know its limitations. Revamp the PR strategy. There are aspects of all of that that he has got to bring to bear to lead this church.

FMR. GOV. FRANK KEATING:

Happy St. Pat's.

DAVID GREGORY:

Thank you so much. I wore my green--

(OVERTALK)

ANA NAVARRO:

You seem awfully non-Irish.

(OVERTALK)

FMR. GOV. FRANK KEATING:

I agree with everybody here how exciting it is to have, after 1,200 years, somebody outside of Europe. How exciting to have a Jesuit, this as a Georgetown product, I've gotta say, to have a Jesuit embracing Francis of Assisi, take his name. And as a Francis, I'm thrilled about that.

But the reality is, and I think everyone has made this point, you have an individual who lives a life of humility and will insist that the church live a life of humility, which means what? In the United States, 50% of social services are provided by the Catholic church. But what this pope is saying to the cardinals and bishops in the United States, I think, is "We need to care about the defenseless, the left out, the left behind, the poor. We'll lift them up, love them as Christ loves them. But realize we are an institution to serve, not an institution to be served." And I think that's what's remarkable about this papacy.

DAVID GREGORY:

What about the political element, though? And by that, I mean the fact that the church wants to influence American debates. And look at this in terms of how Catholics view whether the church is out of touch with their own thinking, their own development of conscience and their life experience.

53% in a poll recently said the church is out of touch; only 39% said that it's in touch. Chris Matthews, the cardinal's talking about, you know, continuing to preach from the Gospels on this. But there is a real split on some of the issues that we are debating in America right now that are about social policy where the church, you know, Benedict was very doctrinaire on this and quite conservative on the issue of gay marriage, for example.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

Yeah. I mean, I can't say all this on television because a lot of us go that go to church talk about it. It really doesn't sound right on television. But there's always been a real suspicion, generally speaking, about the way the church handled sexual abuse of altar boys. And Governor Keating was involved in trying to deal with that horrible thing.

But it was never dealt with quick enough. I think speed is everything. It's like Watergate: You have to be there all those years when nothing was getting done. And every time you drive by the vice president's house in Washington, here, across the street, which is the papal nunciature, is this guy standing on the corner who said, and I believe it, looking at him, he was abused by priests back when he was a kid.

That guy was on the corner every day I drove home on 34th and Mass, every single day he's out there with a sandwich board. And he was there before 2000. And all those years, the church was slow to act. And I think that slowness made a lot of us suspicious they were covering up more than just this. That there are a lot of people with their own embarrassments, perhaps sexual, they didn't want to get out.

And every Catholic that goes to church thinks like this. They don't like talking about it; maybe I shouldn't have just now. But the church wasn't on top of this thing. And people say, "Wait a minute, what side are they on, the priests' or the altar boys'?" They should be on the side of the altar boys, but that--

ANA NAVARRO:

I don't think you should be feeling any Catholic guilt about talking about this. We must air it out. And I think this pope needs to understand, and does, that it's part of what he has to do as his duty. I can tell you, I'm a Catholic who's grown very distant from the church, and it has been over this sexual scandal. I just can't get over the cover-up, I can't get over putting the institution above the people. This is something that I hope he brings me back. And I think there's a lot of American Catholics who feel the same way that I do. We want that hope. We want the hope from the new pope, and hope that he brings it back.

FMR. GOV. FRANK KEATING:

Well, I chaired the Catholic Review Board and I think that we Catholics have a tendency to wait to be told as opposed to participate in the debate. And when I was asked to chair the board, I didn't choose my board. We had a wonderful group of very active Catholics, and we were horrified at the extent of this.

And the three elements of the Catholic Review Board: Transparency. If you're going to settle a case, we want to know about it. Criminal referral: Anybody who does this is a criminal and should go to jail. And zero tolerance. I insisted on due process and zero tolerance, and a very small number of priests and religious were involved. But it was an agonizing, embarrassing, humiliating moment for the church.

The bishops were up front and aggressive, but then some started sliding backwards and saying, "Well, let's don't get too carried away." But it was a very, very difficult moment for the faith. And we haven't, Ana, to your point, gotten out of it and over it yet. And hopefully this pope, the new pope, will be very aggressive to see that righteousness and virtue is paramount and common--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

So does it overwhelm, Kathleen, this is issue, when I showed the poll about the views of the church being out of touch, the ability of the church to then impact these other political debates? Whether it's women in the church or abortion or contraception, which we've seen play out, or gay marriage which is now front and center for us now.

FMR. LT. GOV. KATHLEEN KENNEDY:

Well, I mean, just to go back what Frank said earlier, I think what happened during the pederasty scandal is that we all learned that our priests, our bishops weren't protecting us. And that we who loved our church had to take control of our church ourselves.

And you've seen that with the nuns, who have done a terrific job of saying, "We're Catholics. We're part of the church. And if the bishops aren't doing the right thing, we'll be able to stand up and say that." And that's been I think, in a way, a great liberation for what it means to be Catholic. And I think that this pope, by actually saying to the other bishops, you know, "I'm the Bishop of Rome; I'm not the head of, the pope of the whole church," is saying that we are going to have to take much more control of our lives.

Now, what role they play on these issues is a question. The church always has a range of issues, and what are they focused on? Unfortunately, in the last 20 years, I would say they focused mostly on sex. And I hope that, with this pope, they'll focus more on something that brings us together rather than individually saying, "You're bad on sex." It's just the church of sex.

(OVERTALK)

ANA NAVARRO:

--you know, as Catholics that, you know, a pope is human. And we don't have to agree with him on everything, but we just have to know that he's coming from the right place.

DAVID GREGORY:

Chris, quickly, before I get to a break. Beyond this conversation that's going on among Catholics, as you look at this Catholic moment in American politics, what does he mean?

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

I think that-- you know, our backgrounds are different. You're Jewish and I'm Catholic, and everybody in America-- one thing Catholics are from the time we got here, we're not the majority. We are a minority religion. And we've got to get used to the fact we're Americans too.

And yet, there is a very different attitude towards the church you see in other Catholic churches. We are not Spain. We were not Ireland, even. We recognize that all the other religions have an equal right to their beliefs. And that's why Catholics are hesitant on the choice, pro choice issue, and the pro life. They're very hesitant to tell other people, even convey their own deepest moral beliefs. They don't ask other people to accept them.

But I do think that-- I want to get back to the-- let me just stick with that because the first thing the pope did the other day, Saturday, was call the chief rabbi in Rome, and opened up a relationship. I think these things we talk about, being good to the poor, being good to each other, respecting women, respecting people with different sexual orientations, is universal. We Americans can agree completely on these good things, and I think that would be nice, because I think we have an American religion.

I think we do believe in a lot of these things together. And I'd like to see us unite behind them. And I know what you're feeling when you said you were inspired by this, because I think there is a common hope that we can find a good common morality.

DAVID GREGORY:

Right. Let me get a break in here.

(TEASER/ADS NOT TRANSCRIBED)

DAVID GREGORY:

On Tuesday, the day a new pope was installed in Rome, President Obama makes a sensitive to the Holy Land for his first presidential visit to Israel. The agenda's not really that ambitious; Israelis and Palestinians are not about to make peace anytime soon. Mostly the president seems to be responding to critics who questioned why he's not been to Israel as president.

Truth is, Reagan never went, and President George W. Bush only visited during his final months in office. The president, however, is dogged by the perception that he's cool toward the government of America's strongest ally in the Middle East, and by the criticism that his outreach to improve relations with the Muslim world has been at Israel's expense. During an interview on Friday with me for Press Pass, Israel's ambassador to the U.S. sought to downplay any rift.

(Videotape)

AMBASSADOR MICHAEL OREN: There is a U.S.-Israel relationship which is deep, which is unbreakable -- and that’s a message of assurance to the people of Israel at a very turbulent time in our region, and a message to the people of the Middle East

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

Mr. Obama will visit the gravesite of Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, a visit meant to send a strong signal to the region that this president stands strongly behind Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. Also on the agenda, a visit to the holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, and the church of the nativity in Bethlehem, a revered site for Christians, of course. Stay with NBC News for comprehensive coverage of the president's trip starting Wednesday.

(TEASER/ADS NOT TRANSCRIBED)

DAVID GREGORY:

And we're back. Switching gears a little bit to talk about the budget battle here in Washington, I'm joining by ranking member of the budget committee, Democratic congressman from Maryland, Chris Van Hollen; and the majority whip, Republican congressman from California, Kevin McCarthy. Welcome to both of you.

Big week in this debt dual, competing budgets in the Senate and the House. How these get reconciled, I don't know. But I want to start with a different part of the debate. The president I thought was pretty provocative this week in talking about the need to take on the debt all together. It was just days before the election last fall when he spoke to Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough of Morning Joe, and this is what he said back then.

(Videotape)

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: How would you define your mandate for the next four years? And what is – I’d like to know the sacrifice that will not be asked of just the 1% but of the 99% as well?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, there’s no doubt that our first order of business is going to be to get our deficits and debt under control.

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

And then, just this week, a different tone. He said, "We don't have an immediate crisis in terms of debt; in fact, the next ten years, it's going to be a sustainable place." Congressman Van Hollen, why the change?

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN:

Well, there's not a change. They're totally consistent. Right now, our big problem is to sustain the economic recovery. We've seen momentum in the job market, and the last thing we want to do right now is to put the brakes on that. In fact, one half of this year's deficit is due to the unemployment, the fact that more people aren't at work.

So what the president is saying is our focus right now should be to get people back to work, sustain the recovery, and then reduce the deficit in a measured, balanced way. There's no doubt that we have to do it, and the budgets the president will present and the ones we will present will do that. It will put us on a sustained downward trajectory on deficits. But our priority is job growth.

DAVID GREGORY:

And this is the point, right? His argument is, "Don't get us in the middle of austerity over the next ten years. You're going to hurt economic recovery rather than solve the problem you really want to solve."

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

No. The president said deficits don't matter? Well, all these deficits add up. We're at $16.6 trillion, more than 100% of our GDP. The problem is-- I disagree with what the Democrats are doing. It's the old Washington fiscal game of Jenga. You try to build as much debt as you can take, as much tax as you can take, until you topple the entire economy. This is the challenge that this week we'll have. This week, Republicans will have a budget that balances in ten years; the Democrats' budget never balances. No household can run that way.

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me challenge you on this point, though, because here is Paul Ryan this week, and he laid out very clearly what he thought the job was. Let me play that.

(Videotape)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI): We think we owe the country a balanced budget. We think we owe the country solutions to the big problems that are plaguing our nation, a debt crisis on the horizon, a slow-growing economy, people trapped in poverty. We're showing our answers.

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

But the answers rely on $700 billion in savings from interest; most of the deficit reduction comes from repealing the president's health care reform, which nobody thinks is going to happen. So how seriously should this be viewed as a road map for a balanced budget?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

Should be very serious because budgets are--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

You're not going to repeal Obamacare.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

Budgets are blueprints and priorities. We lay out we think Obamacare should be repealed. The majority of Americans agree with us. But we also think tax reform should happen so you can grow the economy. If you allow these debts to continue to grow, they'd crowd out the private sector. They'd crowd out the opportunity for small businesses to grow. That's why the economy to continues to linger. If we are able to balance the budget, which ours does in ten years, you will unshackle this growth in America.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN:

David, it's worse than that. Their budget is built on a hoax. On the one hand, they say it balances in ten years; on the other hand, they say they'd repeal Obamacare. The fact is, they repeal all the benefits of Obamacare, the things that help provide affordable healthcare to millions more Americans. But you know what? They keep the savings of Obamacare. And if you were to repeal Obamacare today, their budget would not be in balance.

Now, Kevin has said that our budget will never balance. We believe that, our projections show that the budget we will submit will actually balance. It will balance in the same time the Republicans' budget balanced last year, which is out in the future around 2040, because we put ourselves on a path downward. But our priority is to have job growth. And their budget will slow job growth at exactly the wrong time.

DAVID GREGORY:

But aren't you also building something that's false in the political climate that Republicans face? I mean, here the Senate budget requires more tax increases, roughly $1 trillion. You know how difficult it is for your colleague here to go back to Bakersfield or other conservatives to go back to their districts and play, "We need more tax increases," when there simply isn't support for that.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN:

Well, David, two things. 1) the Senate Democratic plan has less tax revenue embedded in it than the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles plan. Number one. Number two, Republicans, in their budget, say there are about $5.7 trillion in tax breaks that you can eliminate.

Their plan would drop the top rate from 39% to 25%. They claim that they're going to make that up by just taking away deductions from the wealthy, but the reality is they're going to be raising taxes on middle income taxpayers. Family will pay $2,000 more in order to finance tax breaks to the very wealthy. It's like the Romney plan on steroids.

DAVID GREGORY:

You would dispute that. The Wall Street Journal though, Congressman, wrote something on Friday that caught my attention. Here was the headline: "Conservatives Warn Lawmakers Against Tax Deals. Conservative activists and organizations have begun warning Republican legislators that, if they agree to raise taxes in any broad budget deal with the president, they should expect to face challengers from the party's right wing in their next primary election." I've tried to ask this week after week: Is there any ratio of spending cuts to tax increases that any Republican is actually prepared to support?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

Every viewer that's watching today that's working already got a tax increase. The president took $600 billion of this economy. He talks about a balanced plan, but he never talked about cutting. The public wants--

DAVID GREGORY:

You extended 99% of the Bush tax cuts. Your own leader--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

--said that that was a pretty good deal.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

He raised $600 billion worth of taxes. He took from the economy and he never made any cuts. Look, the president has a different belief than we do. He believes deficits don't matter; we do. This president has never missed on a deadline turning in a March Madness bracket, but four out of five times he's missed turning in a budget.

DAVID GREGORY:

But I asked a question--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

--about spending cuts to tax increases.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

There are no tax increases--

DAVID GREGORY:

Is there any ratio that you could accept?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

There are no new tax increases because you don't need it. If you look at this report--

DAVID GREGORY:

But you're never going to get entitlement reform--

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

You're going to get nothing.

DAVID GREGORY:

--without tax increases. Is that political reality?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

Why do you have to wait? Why do you have to wait? Why does the public have to have a bigger crisis? The longer we wait, the more we add to it. But there's only one person at this table who voted to raise Medicare; the Republicans did not. We're planning to save Medicare, not only for this generation but for the future. And for someone to say that you can't do that--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Raise Medicare what? You said to raise Medicare.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

To save Medicare.

DAVID GREGORY:

To save Medicare.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN:

Actually, their plan deals with Medicare by shifting rising costs and burdens on the beneficiaries rather than reduce some costs. But Kevin repeatedly says the president never talks about cuts. We did $1.5 trillion of cuts over the last couple years.

The president's plan that he's put on the table for Republicans has another $900 billion in cuts. But, yes, we also want to cut the special tax breaks, the tax expenditures for very wealthy people which, by the way, Speaker Boehner said he had a plan that could raise $800 billion by doing exactly that. Let's see your plan.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Before I let you go, I want to just cover a couple of other issues while the budget fight continues. On gun control, is it possible that what passes for meaningful reform is a background check? That looks like it's still complicated in the Senate, but could pass. Can it pass the House?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

Well, what came out of the Senate, it was just a Senate committee. I don't think that bill passes the full floor. The House is taking up the bills right now. They're analyzing it. I would say that's pre-judging, to see where they go.

DAVID GREGORY:

But do you think that--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

--universal background checks is a reasonable way to deal with gun violence?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

I think that's one of the things that they will look at; that doesn't mean it's going to pass.

DAVID GREGORY:

What do you think?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

But I think they're also going to look at from a stand-- in California, we have a background check. The challenge that I have: They're not enforced. If you looked at the president's administration, even though somebody came in, put in their form, but they said they lied on it? They won't prosecute it. I think the first thing you ought to do is look at what we're doing with the current laws we have, and see if we can go there.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN:

Well, if they have background checks in California, we should have universal background checks. They should be enforced. This is a commonsense idea, supported by the overwhelming number of Americans, gun owners and non-gun owners alike. And the House of Representatives owes the American people a simple vote on whatever universal background check or other gun safety measures come out of the United States Senate. The people who were shot down in New Town, people who are shot down every day, they deserve a vote on these very important issues.

DAVID GREGORY:

The issue of energy is one that looks to be something that the president perhaps can get some bipartisan agreement. That XL pipeline coming down from Canada, the State Department, Congressman, has cleared the way for the president to say, "Yes, let's open it up." Why shouldn't he?

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN:

Well, I'm in the process actually of looking at the State Department's analysis. I mean, they did a very complicated analysis. We have resolved that you can actually build the pipeline safely in terms of the communities it goes through because they've rerouted the pipeline because the president and others raised concerns. Now the question is whether or not the overall climate effects, the overall energy impacts, are something we support. So I'm in the process of looking at the State Department's report right now.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

That's the easiest thing to do. He could create 20,000 new jobs. It's been out there for three years. I mean, this is the challenge: Energy isn't even in our budget. The budget to balance this? It puts a new energy perspective in there that we become energy independent. Think how many jobs that creates.

Why do we have to wait? This is common sense. This is an easy route. This isn't talking about, "You have to give more taxes," "Do you have to do something on Social Security"? Just make the decision and build the Keystone pipeline.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN:

Well, we've got all of the above energy strategy. As you know, we've got more oil and gas being produced now--

(OVERTALK)

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN:

--than we did before, and natural gas, throughout the country.

(OVERTALK)

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN:

Well, it's a good thing. I mean--

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

It is a good thing.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN:

--natural gas actually is a good alternative--

(OVERTALK)

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN:

--we're seeing. As you know, there are lots of people who have these leases right now who aren't using them. Let's see them used more.

DAVID GREGORY:

So let's see if this progresses in a maybe more complete--

(OVERTALK)

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN:

--you were talking about the pope. Maybe a little prayer. Little prayer for this--

DAVID GREGORY:

Might help.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN:

--one could help resolve--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, good luck to both of you as these debates continue. Thanks very much.

(TEASER/ADS NOT TRANSCRIBED)

(Videotape)

GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R-WI): We understand in this country that the true way to live the American dream is not to grow up someday and dream big about being dependent on the government, it's about empowering people through the dignity of work to control their own destiny through the benefits of a job in the private sector that brings true freedom and prosperity!

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

We are back now with more from our roundtable, and joining the conversation is Republican Governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker. Governor, good to have you back. That was you at the gathering of conservatives, and I want to talk about the future of the party.

First, let me get some reaction to this debate about the budget from where you sit, as a governor. Here you have this tension right now between the parties and the president I thought really sort of clarifying his position this week saying, "We don't have a debt crisis. We are not in a hurry to balance this budget. Let's focus on the economy first."

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

Well, I think we need to do both. I mean, in our states, when I ran, I talked about both the economic and fiscal crisis we faced, and then we acted on it. And I think most governors, Democrat and Republican alike, not only because we have balanced budget amendments in all but one state but more importantly because we understand a balanced budget. Balancing is spending within your means, actually connects you to the economy. I think we need to do both: Create jobs, create a better environment for jobs, but also do it in a way that lives within our means.

DAVID GREGORY:

But let's just talk about reality as well. I mean, you just heard it. There is no ratio of spending cuts to revenue increases that Republicans will accept. Democrats are not going to cut entitlements or reform entitlements on their own. So there is no grand bargain to be had.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

Well, that's the problem overall. It's one of the frustrations when we look from the outside in, here in Washington, is the fact that you've got, you know, one hand, you've got the entitlement issue and you've said Democrats aren't going to move that direction without more tax revenue. On the other hand, you've got Republicans saying, "Hey, if we're going to have tax reform, we should reform it. Get rid of those loopholes but put it into lowering the rate so we stimulate the economy."

DAVID GREGORY:

Chris Matthews, you made a point this week when we were on a panel discussion saying that you think Republicans are not telling the whole story of what they believe, that they don't want to really be cutting Medicare and Social Security.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

I think the problem is that both are really in positions they're happy to be in. That's why I think they'd all prefer a sequestration to the next situation which is, if you're a Republican, the Democrats are basically saying-- and I'm speaking to you here. They're basically saying that, "Okay, why don't you raise taxes on people that have big tax loopholes like home mortgages and charitable contributions?" which is never going to happen. Carried interest would only raise a few bucks anyway.

So they're really talking about raising revenues, raising taxes. And in exchange for that, we're going to let you take responsibility for cutting Medicare. I mean, why would any Republican ever seek reelection saying, "Yes, I did raise taxes on people that are (UNINTEL), and I'm also screwing you on Medicare." I mean, why would anybody want to do that?

DAVID GREGORY:

Ana Navarro, this is part and parcel of where the Republican Party is going. You, as near as I can tell, have been hanging out in Maryland at the CPAC conference. You've got trinkets, you're standing with Rand posters. I know it's not necessarily an endorsement but--

ANA NAVARRO:

I'm still twitching, just so you know, some three days after--

(OVERTALK)

ANA NAVARRO:

--I just want you to know that Rand Paul had an entire campaign going on. This did not happen by accident.

DAVID GREGORY:

So here's what I want to do. Here are two sound bites from this week, two different visions of the road ahead. Let's play that and get some reaction.

(Videotape)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): We don't need a new idea. There is an idea. The idea is called America. And it still works.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered. I don't think we need to name many names, do we?

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

One of the things he means, I think, is Senator McCain. He's picked a fight with hawks in the Republican Party. What does it say about who's the face right now? What does it mean to be a conversation in the party right now?

ANA NAVARRO:

I don't think we know. I think that if we learned something in these last three days is that you can see it one of two ways. Either there's a very healthy debate going on, or the conservatives are suffering from multiple personality disorder. Because I heard both some panels and some speeches that were very pro immigration reform, and then I heard some that were very against.

I heard panels that were very strong on national defense and having a strong role for the U.S. in international security, and I heard some were utter isolationists and saying, "We need to back off." So I think there was a lot of debate going on. You could either see it as healthy or you could see it as not healthy.

DAVID GREGORY:

Frank Keating, where are you with all this?

FMR. GOV. FRANK KEATING:

Well, I mean, CPAC, I was the emcee once for one of their--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Former governor, of course.

FMR. GOV. FRANK KEATING:

Yep, for one of their dinners several years ago. I mean, it really is a spring stew. You have conservatives; you have social conservatives, you have economic conservatives, you have libertarians. And Rand Paul won the CPAC poll; what is his viewpoint? His dad's, I guess, would be legalize heroin, get rid of NATO. I mean, it's a very, very--

ANA NAVARRO:

Well, he wants to cut the Department of Education and he wants--

(OVERTALK)

FMR. GOV. FRANK KEATING:

It's all over the place. That, to me, as a conservative is not the common denominator of the party. What is the common denominator of the party, I think, is growth, opportunity, incomes. Making us finally address this very serious debt deficit. I think--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, you're to Iowa. Would you like to be a nominee of the Republican Party?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

I've been to Michigan, I've been to Illinois, I've been other places. I'm perfectly satisfied being governor of Wisconsin. I had to do it twice in the last two years to run for that office. But, you know, per both the senators you mentioned, there's somewhere in between. There's the principles that are timeless, combined with the fact that we need to be more relevant as conservatives, as Republicans.

What I mean by that, and it actually goes to your point, you know, who in America grows up wanting to be dependent on the government? Who moves in from another country, who comes as an immigrant, and doesn't want to live the American dream? We need to be the movement, we need to be the party that says we're not the ones that not have you become dependent on the government but rather empower you to live your dreams for more freedom and--

ANA NAVARRO:

But, you know--

DAVID GREGORY:

--prosperity.

ANA NAVARRO:

--we used to talk about conservatism as a three-legged stool. And I can tell you at least one or two of those legs are awfully wobbly, if you judge it by the CPAC conference. Because the national security, the strong defense, is getting wobbly, and also social views, the social issues. You've got Rand Paul saying, "Let's back off from talking about that." So we're either down to being a bicycle or a unicycle, depending on who's speaking.

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, Kathleen, speaking about social issues. Rob Portman, senator from Ohio where there was a gay marriage, an effort on gay marriage back in 2004 that was a big part of turning out the base for George W. Bush. A change of heart on gay marriage this week; this is what he said about it to CNN.

(Videotape)

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R-OH): I'm announcing today a change of heart on an issue that a lot of people feel strongly about that has to do with gay couples' opportunity to marry. //

I've come to the conclusion that for me, personally, I think this is something that we should allow people to do, to get married, and to have the joy and stability of marriage that I've had for over 26 years. That I want all of my children to have, including our son, who is gay.

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:

Something that he's known about for a couple of years, says it was not a factor, by the way, in Mitt Romney not selecting him to be his running mate. How do you react to that?

FMR. LT. GOV. KATHLEEN KENNEDY:

Well, I think there's just a sea change obviously in gay rights, and I'm very excited about that. And I think, as more and more people are comfortable saying, "My child is gay," "My best friend is gay," you know, "My niece, my nephew are gay," it's going to change. And it is changing.

And I think it's a wonderful opportunity. You know, America is saying, "We're going to allow everybody to come in, everybody to be able to participate." And I think that's very, very exciting. I would say about the question about the Republican Party talking about growth, I mean, just to go back to the other issue; growth really could occur, as Cain's (?) pointed out, by actually spending government money.

I mean, you can see what has happened in England when everybody's practiced austerity. The currency is going down, and the unemployment is worse. So I don't know if the Republicans are really interested in growth if they're not actually saying, "Let's spend money now." This is our biggest challenge.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

So, Governor, I want to stay on the gay marriage issue though, if I can, because I want your reaction to both.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Governor Walker, is it a civil rights issue? Do you sense a sea change in the Republican Party on this issue?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

Well, I think the senator's announcement made the topic timely. But in our state, I mean, it was in the constitution years ago. They made a similar change that you talked about in Ohio. It rarely is an issue. It didn't come up in my 2010 election; didn't come up 2012.

DAVID GREGORY:

But you've said it's generational.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

I think it is. I think it is.

DAVID GREGORY:

Are younger conservatives more apt to see marriage equality as something that is, you know, what they believe, that is basic, rather than as a disqualifying issue?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

Well, I think there's no doubt about that. But I think that's all the more reason, when I talk about things, I talk about the economic and fiscal crisis in our state and in our country. That's what people want to resonate about. They don't want to get focused on those issues.

DAVID GREGORY:

Frank?

FMR. GOV. FRANK KEATING:

Well, I think the issue is sensitive, real, a challenge in families and in society. You know, there is a sea change going on I think federally, and certainly at the state level, over the course of the last 20 years. Thirty states still have a prohibition against same-sex marriages. And you can see generationally where that has changed.

I would hope we wouldn't have one bludgeoned federal solution one way or the other. But let the states-- which did not happen on the abortion debate after Roe v. Wade. Let the states resolve this state by state. My state, Oklahoma, would probably-- I don't think "probably;" would, in fact, have a traditional marriage view. Other states, Maryland, for example, just voted for same-sex marriage.

FMR. LT. GOV. KATHLEEN KENNEDY:

The first state in the country.

FMR. GOV. FRANK KEATING:

Right. Just--

FMR. LT. GOV. KATHLEEN KENNEDY:

By a few hours.

FMR. GOV. FRANK KEATING:

--very different. And I think that's federalism working as it should.

DAVID GREGORY:

Then I want to--

(OVERTALK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

--gets down to it as to whether it's a right or not. And I think you're going to see that with the court disposition. And we're all watching Anthony Kennedy, and we want to know whether we're going to get a decision like we saw with the Lawrence case where the liberty clause is really paramount.

And, you know, we do have a declaration in our founding document which gives us the right to pursue happiness. And we do have a liberty clause which is you can't take away a person's right to liberty or property without due process of law. Do we have a due process excuse for denying a person a right to marry someone of their own gender? Do we have that right?

This is a profound question. We can't just talk about it in practical terms like this. Do you have the right to follow your love? And this is a serious question. And I don't think we'll get away with it with just day-to-day politics. And I think the whole thing--

DAVID GREGORY:

Do you believe that, Governor, there's that right?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

Well, the interesting thing on the generational standpoint is I've had young people ask me-- I think an appropriate question is not expanding it to include folks who are not one man and one woman, but rather questioning why the government's sanctioning it in the first place? And that would be the alternative, say not have the government sanction--

ANA NAVARRO:

A very valid question I think that the Republican--

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:

--marriage period. And leave that up to the churches and the synagogues and others to define that--

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

Well, you can't get away because here are issues of Social Security payments and all kinds of things involved in that. And--

ANA NAVARRO:

Well, so--

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

--rights of prisoners and rights of people in the military. You have to recognize spousal rights.

ANA NAVARRO:

As the youngest person--

DAVID GREGORY:

Quickly--

ANA NAVARRO:

--on this panel, I think it is generational. People like Will Portman are a lot more comfortable living their truth today than people were 20, 30, 40 years ago. But I also think it's a personal choice. And as Republicans, we are the party of personal freedom, of family values. I think it's a personal choice for everybody, and an issue of tolerance.

I want people who are pro traditional marriage to tolerate my views and don't think that that makes me less moral or less of a Republican. And I need to tolerate the views of those who think marriage is just a man and a woman, and know that that does not make them a bigot. It's a personal choice.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

I've got to get a break in here. We'll be back with more in just a moment.

(ADS NOT TRANSCRIBED)

DAVID GREGORY:

Thank you all very much for a terrific conversation this morning.

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