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updated 3/31/2013 12:02:53 PM ET 2013-03-31T16:02:53

CHUCK TODD:

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This Easter Sunday, the culture war over guns, gay marriage, abortion, and immigration. They're dominating the political debate. After chilling new details emerge from the Newtown shooting that left 20 children dead in December, the president responds to some who claim the push for tighter gun control has stalled.

(Videotape)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

And the entire country pledged we would do something about it, and-- this time we can do it. Shame on us if we've forgotten.

(End videotape)

CHUCK TODD:

Has the moment for action already passed? Plus, Congress is out. But a bipartisan group of key senators is preparing to put forward a highly anticipated plan for comprehensive immigration reform in the days ahead. We'll talk to two members of the so-called "Gang of Eight," Democratic Senator from New York Chuck Schumer, and Republican Senator from Arizona, Jeff Flake.

And it was an historic week of intense oral arguments at the Supreme Court as it considered the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. We'll hear from both sides and get insights and analysis on the implications moving forward in a special discussion that includes actor and gay rights supporter, Rob Reiner.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, the world's longest-running television program, this is Meet the Press with David Gregory. Substituting today, Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Easter morning, Pope Francis celebrated his first Easter mass as leader of the Roman Catholic church this morning at the Vatican, encouraging those who have strayed from the faith to return. Here at home, it's divisive cultural issues that have returned to the forefront as Washington grapples with battles over guns, gay marriage, and immigration.

We have two key members of the so-called bipartisan "Gang of Eight,” senators working on a compromise, immigration proposal, word coming this weekend that an agreement is near. We'll ask Senators Schumer and Flake about that in just a moment. But first, I want to go around quickly with our first of two political roundtables to frame what's at stake in these debates. Joining us, the former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, now an NBC contributor, David Axelrod, Former Congressman and Chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee, Former Virginia Congressman Tom Davis, Gene Robinson of The Washington Post, Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal. Welcome all. We're going to try to--

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:

Good morning (UNINTEL).

CHUCK TODD:

--pack about two hours of show into one hour. David Axelrod, on immigration, a lot of Republicans don't believe the president wants to sign an immigration bill this year. They believe that he wants the politics, he wants the political issue-- because it's been so successful for Democrats, true or false?

DAVID AXELROD:

Well, I understand their paranoia, because it was a terribly different issue for them and continues to be. He wants this accomplishment. This is a legacy item for him. There's no doubt in my mind that he wants to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

CHUCK TODD:

Tom Davis, can Republicans even start talking to Hispanics on other issues if this issue isn't put behind them, no matter how it turns out?

TOM DAVIS:

Well, first of all, they'll get a vote. Either you may get-- like we did in 2006, a House version, a Senate version that are very, very different and not reconciled. But each-- at that point, everybody will have their talking points. And the answer is, sure I think the conversation will continue. And I think you'll have a good Republican midterm.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Peggy, what-- what's been interesting about this week is-- all of the big polarizing issues of the last two generations culturally-- all popped up in one week, and one of it had to do with the Supreme Court with gay marriage, with abortion. This culture wars, normally when it comes back, it's something that's helpful to Republicans. Is it good this time for the conservative movement to have these issues out there?

PEGGY NOONAN:

I don't know, yeah-- I think-- all of these cultural issues, as I guess-- we call them, have been major issues in America for almost half a century, really. The abortion argument was going on 50 years ago, Roe came 40 years ago. It is hard to resolve these issues because they're not just cultural issues. They are-- they are moral issues and Americans feel differently about them. So I think one way or another, they'll probably be bubbling out there for a long time and it's not the worst thing.

CHUCK TODD:

So maybe a resolution in the law, but not in the way people feel. But is it also a sign the economy is coming back, Gene--

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Well, it usually is, isn't it, when-- when people can think about other things-- other than jobs. But, you know, I think some of these cultural issues are being resolved. I mean, we-- you know, gay marriage before the Supreme Court, obviously a hot-button issue. But you look at the polls, and you see 58% in our poll, Washington Post Poll in favor of it, 80% of adults under 30. That sounds like a decision rather than-- than a question on that issue.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, so we've framed the discussion, I want to pause it here. I want to talk a little bit about immigration. So joining me now from New York, one of the leaders of the so-called "Gang of Eight," Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer. Senator, welcome back to Meet the Press, let me get to the news of the morning. Are we-- is a deal at hand for immigration reform? We know about this issue having to do with visas and wages-- between the business-- lobby and the labor lobby. Is a deal done?

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:

Well, with the agreement between business and labor, every major policy issue has been resolved on the "Gang of Eight." Now, everyone, we've all agreed that we're not going to come to a final agreement until we see draft legislative language and we agree on that. We drafted some of it already, the rest of it will be drafted this week.

And so I am very, very optimistic that we will have an agreement among the eight of us next week. Senator Leahy-- has agreed to have extensive-- markup and debate on the bill in April. And then we go to the floor in-- God willing, in may. So I--

CHUCK TODD:

You were--

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:

--think we're on track.

CHUCK TODD:

You were quoted as basically saying, "The deal is near, the deal is at hand." And all of that coverage got Senator Rubio, Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, who's part of this "Gang of Eight," to say, "He-- whoa, whoa, whoa, no deal-- yet." That we're closer, so w-- is there a disagreement between the two of you--

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:

No, no, no, I think it was--

CHUCK TODD:

--on how close we are to a deal?

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:

It's semantics. Business and labor have an agreement and on the future flow, which has been the issue that has undone immigration reform in the past. So this is a major, major obstacle that's overcome. Each of us has to look at the language and approve it. But I don't think on the business labor side, there's any disagreement.

There's lots of u-- but as Senator Rubio correctly says, we have said we will not come to final agreement till we look at all of the legislative language. And he's correctly pointing out that that language hasn't been fully drafted. There'll be little kerfuffles. But I don't think-- any of us expect there to be problems.

CHUCK TODD:

If you lost Senator Rubio in this "Gang of Eight," if he walked away from the convers-- from the negotiations, would that-- put-- in the entire immigration bill in jeopardy?

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:

Well, first of all, I don't think he'll walk away. He's been an active and strong participant, he's had a lot of input into the bill. Obviously, his views are not the same as the other-- seven of us. Every one of us has different views. But I expect that we're going to have agreement-- among the eight--

CHUCK TODD:

But you need it. If you don't have them, this bill-- is suddenly in jeopardy.

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:

You know, I'm not even going to speculate about that. I talked to Marco yesterday-- we had great conversations. And-- he is protecting some of the things that he thinks are very important in the bill. But I don't think that'll stand in the way in any way of any final agreement.

CHUCK TODD:

All right--

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:

I think we're all on track.

CHUCK TODD:

You say this issue between business and labor was the last major hurdle. But is border security solved? This issue of metrics and border-- solved? I want to play a little bit of what President Obama said in-- in an interview with Telemundo earlier this week on that issue.

(Videotape)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

Regardless of-- how much additional effort we put in on the borders-- we don't want to make this earned pathway to citizenship-- a situation in which it's put off-- further and further-- into the future. There needs to be a certain path for how people can get legal in this country, even as we also work on-- these strong border security issues.

(End videotape)

CHUCK TODD:

You spent last week on the border with some of your fellow-- members of the "Gang of Eight," including Jeff Flake, who will be on the show here in just a minute. This issue of border security and the metrics involved before launching the pathway to citizenship, that's been resolved?

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:

Well, I was very glad to go to the border. And you see the expansive, and it's huge, and the terrain is different in many different places. And it gave me, someone from New York City, a real appreciation of the different problems in Arizona. So look, we've come to a basic agreement, which is that first, people will be legalized. In other words, not citizens, but they'll be allowed to work, come out of the shadows, travel.

Then, we will make sure the border is secure. And we have specific metrics that are in the bill. I'm not going to get into what they are, to make sure that that happens. And after that happens, there's a path to citizenship. And I think there's agreement among the eight on all of us, and I think most of the American people agree with that, that we should certainly do-- we made a great deal of progress in securing the border, I'm sure Jeff would say that. But I would join him in saying we have to make more progress.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to ask you about some-- controversial comments that were made by a former colleague of yours when you served in the House, re-- Alaska Republican Don Young, about something he said this week-- about Mexican immigrants. Here's what he said.

(Videotape)

CONGRESSMAN DON YOUNG:

My-- my father had a ranch, we used to hire 50 to 60 wetbacks. And-- to pick tomatoes.

(End videotape)

CHUCK TODD:

And that derogatory term was something that-- Don Young had to issue two apologies. The first one on Thursday night, he said this, "I used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in central California. I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays. And I meant no disrespect."

Well, that didn't seem to suit some people, so he issued a new apology on Friday night, quote, "I apologize for the insensitive term I used. There was no malice in my heart or intent to offend. It was a poor choice of words. That word, and the negative attitudes that come with it should be left in the 20th century. And I'm sorry that this--it shifted our focus away from comprehensive immigration reform." Senator Schumer, the fact that that was in his vocabulary, does that make Congressman Young fit to serve?

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:

Well, I think he issued an apology. I was disappointed in his first apology. It didn't seem full. I hadn't seen the second apology until you read it. He d-- he-- there should be a full and complete apology. Look, bigotry has always been the poison of America and we oughta do everything to eradicate it with no excuses or explanations.

CHUCK TODD:

So that second apology satisfies you?

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:

Just-- you just read it to me, it seems much fuller than the first one, yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I want to move to guns-- very quickly. We've seen the polling. We know the president came out-- and-- and urged and noted, it was less than a hundred days. We've seen the polling that support for stricter gun laws is slipping. It was over 50% right after Newtown, it's now below 50%. What's possible anymore?

In January, you said on Meet the Press that the background check bill and expanded background check bill was probably, you called it the "sweet spot," which a lotta people interpreted as the only piece of legislation that had a chance of passing. Is that still your assessment?

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:

Well, I wouldn't say the only piece of legislation. But I called it the "sweet spot" because it would do a whole lot of good and had a good chance of passing. I'm working very hard with both Democrats and Republicans, pro-N.R.A. and anti-N.R.A. people to come up with a background check bill that will be acceptable to 60 senators and be very strong and get the job done. It's very hard. We're working hard and I'm very hopeful that we can get this passed.

CHUCK TODD:

It's a fragile coalition-- New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is running ads not just against some Republicans on this issue, but against your fellow Democrats in the U.S. Senate, including Heidi Heitkamp-- in North Dakota and some other red-state Democratic senators. Is Michael Bloomberg being helpful to your cause as you try to put this coalition together?

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:

Well, look-- I greatly respect-- Mayor Bloomberg's passion on this. And let's not forget, the argument-- or the ads and the sort of field organization has always been on the other side, on the pro-gun side. And so to have a counter there is very helpful. Obviously, each senator is going to have to make up his own or her own mind, and I respect that.

CHUCK TODD:

But does this hurt your cause as you try to recruit--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

--a Heidi Heitkamp on your side?

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:

As I said, each senator is going to make up his or her-- her own mind and I have a great deal of respect for that.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Senator Schumer, I have to leave it there. We have a big morning--

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:

Just--

CHUCK TODD:

--and a packed show. So I thank you.

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:

Thank you--

CHUCK TODD:

Happy Passover.

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:

--Chuck, nice to talk to you.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, now for the Republican perspective, another member of the so-called "Gang of Eight," Senator Jeff Flake from Arizona, Senator, welcome. Senator, let me start with--

(OVERTALK)

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

--have me on.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator, let me start with the same question-- that I started some Senator Schumer at the beginning, is-- how close are we to a deal? Are you guys there? Is it just dotting an I and crossing a T?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

Well, we're much closer with-- labor and-- business, agreeing on this guest worker plan. That doesn't mean we've crossed every I or dotted every T, or-- or vice versa. We're-- we've still got a ways to go-- in terms of looking at the language and making sure that-- it's everything we thought it would be. But we're closer, certainly.

CHUCK TODD:

If there is a deal that you s-- agree to with this-- with-- with this "Group of Eight," but you can't recruit more Republicans on your side, would you walk away?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

You know-- , we're-- we're committed to this if we can-- get the language right. And-- and I-- I think that-- we'll stick together-- as a gang, and I hope that we can-- pull some Republicans our way. I think a number of them are with us already. So I-- I don't-- I don't want to talk about walking away. I don't intend to do that.

CHUCK TODD:

How important is Senator Rubio to this cause? He sort of is seen as the bridge to some of the more conservative members of the Senator conference. If he wasn't in this coalition--

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

He--

CHUCK TODD:

--would it hurt your-- would it hurt your cause to get a large vote?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

You bet. He's extremely important. As Senator Schumer said, he's had great input, a lot of input-- into the language already. He's making the point now that we need to go through regular order-- which I certainly support. So he's extremely important to this effort.

CHUCK TODD:

When you say, "regular order," and I heard Senator Schumer say that Senator Leahy, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee was going to have expansive hearings. This has been a criticisms of some other Republicans that are not involved in these negotiations. The fact is, we just had-- two special interest groups negotiate part of this deal. No elected officials were involved in it. Is that healthy for this process?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

Well, all I can say, our elected officials were involved in this, we're involved every step of the way. But-- the-- the point is that-- every senator has its own-- his own or her own franchise here and we want to see this bill move through regular order. It will be amended in the Judiciary Committee-- it will be amended certainly on the floor. So there will be input, there should be input, it'll make it a better product. And-- certainly, if people are going to buy into it-- there has to be further input from the Senate and obviously the House will move its own bill.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Schumer would not tell us what this metrics and border security. This is your home state of Arizona. You've talked about-- you've said that there are two sort of border sectors-- in Arizona. One is the Yuma sector, one is the Tucson sector. And you say that Yuma has got it right. Well, what does that mean? That there is operational control. Can you explain what that means in layman's terms to the viewers out there?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

Yes, I was in both the Yuma sector last week and the Tucson sector and there is a difference. In the Yuma sector-- people still get through. But-- our border patrol and other agents have a reasonable expectation of catching them. That's probably-- the best explanation of what operational control means. You'll never stop everyone from coming through.

And you have a lot of commerce, legal commerce that happens at the border as well. So when people talk about having a sealed border, we don't need a sealed border, we need a secure border. That's what we have in Yuma. We're just-- quite a ways from that in the Tucson sector.

CHUCK TODD:

And when that is done, that's when-- would trigger the pathway to citizenship?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

Yes. First, we've got to get to-- as you mentioned, some kind of metrics-- from the Department of Homeland Security. In a recent report that they had-- increased apprehensions was used in one part of the report-- to indicate that we had a better situation, in another part of the report, increased apprehensions-- are-- decreased apprehensions was used to demonstrate the same. So we've had trouble getting-- good metrics out of the-- Department of Homeland Security. We're going to have to have that before we move further.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you about-- guns, background check bill. Is there any part of extended background checks that you would support?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

Sure. I-- I've actually introduced legislation with Senator Graham, Senator Begich, and-- Senator Pryor-- with regard to-- mental health issues. There-- we do need to strengthen the background check system. But universal background checks-- I think is a bridge too far for most of us.

CHUCK TODD:

Why-- why is that? Why shouldn't-- you know, why shouldn't law, you know, we have to go through T.S.A. checkpoints, law-abiding citizens have to do that. What's wrong with law-abiding gun owners-- what do they have to hide? What's wrong with going through an extended background check?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

Oh, the paperwork requirements alone-- would be significant. And-- even if there are exemptions for a father passing on a gun to his son or daughter-- you'd still have issues with-- with people-- in-- in a private setting-- transferring or loaning a gun for somebody-- loaning a shotgun to go-- to go on a duck hunt, for example, I think in this-- universal background check system, there would be issues with. So I-- I think-- universal background checks, we can scale back and still make significant progress-- by-- by strengthening our background check system without going too far.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you on gay marriage. Could you support a Republican presidential candidate someday who supported same-sex marriage.

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

Oh, I-- I think that's inevitable. There will be one, and that I think he'll receive Republican support, or she will. So-- I-- I-- I-- I think that-- that yes, that the answer is yes.

CHUCK TODD:

And where are you in this issue? You say it's inevitable, are you-- Lisa Murkowski, a col-- Republican colleague of yours called it evolving on the issue. Are you evolving, to use her words, on this issue?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

I believe-- I-- I believe-- that-- marriage should be between a man and a woman. I-- I still hold to the traditional-- definition of marriage.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there-- is this something that you've thought-- are you think-- thinking about? You-- could you imagine changing your position-- b--

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

I--

CHUCK TODD:

--before you left the U.S. Senate?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

I can't. I-- I-- I-- I'll tell you, in the past-- I-- I supported repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, I supported the-- non im-- Nondiscrimination Act as well. So-- I-- but I-- I-- I-- I hold to the traditional-- definition of marriage.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Senator Jeff Flake, I will leave it there. Thank you Senator, for coming on. Coming up, we will have reaction to what you just heard from the two senators on immigration and guns in particular, plus sorting out the politics of all of these social issues on guns. Is time running out for the president? Could he see his Democratic majority, by the way, in the Senate slip away in 2014, meaning he can't get anything done after that. And later, a special discussion on the historic week at the Supreme Court and what it all means. All of it right after this.

(COMMERCIAL)

CHUCK TODD:

Coming up,actor and producer Rob Reiner will join us as part of our special discussion on the historic week at the Supreme Court on marriage, speaking of celebrities and seeing as it's opening day tomorrow, what might Hollywood and baseball have in common? We'll dig deep into the Meet the Press archive for this one. You won't want to miss it. It's all coming up later on the show.

(COMMERCIAL)

(Videotape)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

And the entire country was shocked. And the entire country pledged we would do something about it and that this time would be different. Shame on us if we've forgotten.

(End videotape)

CHUCK TODD:

We are back with our first roundtable. Welcome back everybody. All right, guns, David Axelrod, the president-- one thing he's used the bully pulpit for is to try to re-energize this is-- issue of the gun debate. But the polls are sort of speaking pretty loud here. Public doesn't seem to have the same desire as him.

DAVID AXELROD:

Well, yes and no. If you look at that same CBS poll you cited 90% still support background checks. And I heard Senator Flake say it's a bridge too far. Well, 90% of Americans have crossed that bridge, 86% of Republicans. And many of them, by the way, are in these suburban swing districts that are currently held by Republican members of Congress.

So I think the politics isn't all that clear on this. And if I were on the-- you know, on the Republican side-- I would be looking hard at a way to find something that I can vote for that would satisfy-- that-- that-- that-- desire to deal with this problem.

CHUCK TODD:

Tom Davis, you did this for a living. What part of-- of gun control is good politics for any Republican?

TOM DAVIS:

It's tough. I mean, it's an intensity issue. The polls measure one thing, but the people who vote on it tend to be the people who don't want the changes at this point. And-- and the Republican base, which is largely rural-- there's no percentage in voting for this in many of these districts.

CHUCK TODD:

You know-- Peggy, yeah?

PEGGY NOONAN:

I think a big part of this story is that people don't trust Congress. After Newtown, there was a great bubbling feeling of, "My goodness, there must be at least some things we can do legislatively to make this whole gun situation better." If the Congress, if the Senate had moved quickly on discrete, small bills, having to do with background checks, I mean quickly, in the weeks after Newtown--

CHUCK TODD:

But they were discrete. These are small, incremental bills.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Move it quickly. Do it. Don't put it together into this big thing and then start to be talking about all these different kind of guns you're banning and having all these hearings. They failed to move quick and small.

CHUCK TODD:

Is she right?

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Well-- the Senate moving quickly, those two things--

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah. I know. That doesn't--

EUGENE ROBINSON:

--don't go together.

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

--together, but--

EUGENE ROBINSON:

And never have.

PEGGY NOONAN:

But that's what--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

But you--

PEGGY NOONAN:

--you gotta.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

But here's-- my question is, whether Michael Bloomberg-- with his-- money and his enthusiasm can manage to turn this into a voting issue on the pro-gun control side. That's-- that's the question for me--

CHUCK TODD:

A v-- a voting issue in November. I get that he-- you know, did you see, David Axelrod, we had Mark Pryor, "I'm not going to let somebody from New York City tell me--" Mary Landrieu, Heidi Heitkamp, they've all used this same wording, these are Democrats who don't seem to be happy with the role Michael Bloomberg is playing--

DAVID AXELROD:

No, in the short term, I think he's a good foil for them to certify their-- their authenticity. But their independence--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID AXELROD:

But as I mentioned, in states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, New York, there are members for whom I think this could be an issue, especially if Bloomberg turns up the heat-- in the upcoming campaign.

CHUCK TODD:

You used to do a suburban district. You-- you know--

TOM DAVIS:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

--that's the one you represented. There is a different type of voter there than there is in a majority of these Republican--

TOM DAVIS:

The problem is, there aren't that many districts like that that are still Republican. There are some, and they're getting-- and they will have a vulnerability and these are the Republicans that are most likely a cross, particularly, on background checks. And I think to that extent, the mayor and others add pressure on these members-- to vote this way.

CHUCK TODD:

Peggy, what'd you hear on immigration between those two? Chuck Schumer, "Deal is at hand, we're close," Jeff Flake, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on a minute." What'd you hear?

PEGGY NOONAN:

I heard a lot of interest in Marco Rubio-- was there. Look, I think there's a broad sense that we've been talking about immigration reform in a very big way for almost 10 years. And in Congress, they do want to move forward, but they're-- are anxieties, certainly on the Republican side. I think Rubio said something in the past 24 hours, or at least I read it, that-- that seemed to me kind of smart. He said, "Make this transparent. Let everybody know. Let the voters know what we're doing. Maybe hold hearings. But don't just have these quiet, little deals. Again, nobody's--"

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

But-- but wait a minute, you just contra-- you're contradicting yourself. On guns, you said "Move fast, move quickly, get it done."

PEGGY NOONAN:

Oh, move--

(OVERTALK)

PEGGY NOONAN:

--fast and move quickly on immigration is now impossible. I mean-- please, this has been going on for ten years--

(OVERTALK)

PEGGY NOONAN:

--but I'll tell you something that-- I read something in a book the other day that I think has a little bit to do with what's-- what the general mood pushing immigration forward. It is a quote from Calvin Coolidge, it's an-- Amity Shlaes's book about him, it's about 1922, and he said of immigration, "Whether you came over-- whether your people came over on the Mayflower, or they came over last week in steerage, we're all in the same boat."

That's an old American point of view, he explained afterwards, the boat you're in-- is made magical by a feeling of Americanism, which we're all out to communicate to each other, which we don't communicate so well these days. But I think there's just a general sense, normalize and regularize this thing. Don't make it punitive and nasty.

CHUCK TODD:

She does bring up a point where we have this same debate every two-- two generations.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Oh my goodness--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

--immigrant group.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Yeah, and-- and-- and eventually--

CHUCK TODD:

It was Chinese in the 19th century.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Exactly. And eventually we get through it, and guess what, we do communicate Americanism very well because we-- you know, because we've ended up with America still after these waves of immigration. Look, I think a deal gets done because of the-- the impetus for the Republican party to-- to do something, to move. Marco Rubio has been preaching this since he got to the Senate that, "We gotta do something, people," or else, they're not going to-- Latinos are not going to listen to the Republican party on other issues. So I can't imagine him walking away and I can't imagine this not getting--

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, bra-- brass tacks though, I-- the-- the Senate vote has to be large, right, Tom Davis, for--

TOM DAVIS:

I believe that.

CHUCK TODD:

--for to force the House and the Senate to come to an agreement that has a path to citizenship. The House bill does not have that--

TOM DAVIS:

Most of these House members got reelected even while the Democrats were getting the majority of the votes for the House. They're from pretty safe districts, they were about their primary elections. And this does not help those particular members--

DAVID AXELROD:

This goes to the central point, though.

TOM DAVIS:

It helps the party, but it doesn't help the--

DAVID AXELROD:

This goes to the central point. Does the Republican party want to be a regional congressional party, or do they want to be a national party? If they want to be a national party, the trends are unmistakable. The vote in November was very clear. They have to do this if they want to be a national party, if they're satisfied being a regional, congressional party, then they will block it.

TOM DAVIS:

I don't disagree with you, but you gotta put yourself in the minds of the members.

DAVID AXELROD:

No, I do. And I think survival's the first instinct of every politician. I understand that--

CHUCK TODD:

The question is which survival do they care about?

DAVID AXELROD:

Exactly--

CHUCK TODD:

If you have the national party--

DAVID AXELROD:

That's exactly--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

--leaders saying one thing and you do have the congressional leaders saying another. If it wasn't for gay marriage this week, what happened in North Dakota on abortion, and I want to get all-- all of your takes on this, would've been, I think, the big social issue. North Dakota's Republican Governor Jack Dalrymple-- signed-- one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

Six weeks would ban abortions. Now when he signed it, he admitted that legally it probably is not going to stand up to a legal challenge. But I want to show you, there's been a lot of movement, and they're all in red states, David Axelrod, by the way, on this issue of-- of-- of banning abortion at-- certain times, at 20 weeks or less, that's the map we have on the board t-- of all the states that have done 20 weeks or less-- in abortion bans.

Every single one of them, by the way, were states that were carried by Mitt Romney. Peggy Noonan, this issue of abortion, as gay marriage falls-- as an issue that maybe is now splitting Republicans a little bit, you-- you could see Jeff Flake was uncomfortable just talking about the issue. Abortion and the life movement could be what motivates evangelicals again. Could it not?

PEGGY NOONAN:

I don't know. Actually, that's not my question. Here's the thing. This issue will not go away, abortion. It is-- a constant agitating of the American soul. You mention the-- the legal move that was in-- made in one of the states to cut off abortion after six weeks. The real story this week is the haunting and disturbing story of this doctor in Philadelphia-- Gosnell, who is being tried this week.

And if you wanted to watch the testimony, it was hard to find. But if you want to have the sense of what was happening, you could find it on the internet or in the local paper. This was a man who had an abortion mill, that was in fact a death mill for babies essentially born. Being tried now, we'll see how it goes. But this is a story that is haunting, about the implications of decisions made by courts. This decision-- the abortion issue will not go away, if you think it is the taking of a human life. And so it's going to stay there and get itself worked through the courts again--

CHUCK TODD:

I was just going to say, it--

PEGGY NOONAN:

--and again.

CHUCK TODD:

--does seem that there is a strategy now that Republican governors and re-- these Republican-controlled legislators are basically trying to push the Supreme Court to retake up abortion.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Well yeah, I think they do--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

Some form.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

--court to retake up abortion. And-- look, I-- I think Peggy is right-- that abortion won't go away the way gay marriage, I think, will go away in a few years. And I-- and I think-- and we'll get past immigration. The best we ever get to on abortion is a truce. The country is--

CHUCK TODD:

Right. What's the new truce though?

EUGENE ROBINSON:

--is divided.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Right--

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Well, the-- the mood we're in, one of those periods where maybe the-- the-- the sort of truce line-- people are trying to move it one way or the other. But ultimately-- people who are opposed to abortion because they believe it's murder, it-- it-- it's very hard to compromise on that. It's very hard to say, "Well, you-- you know, you go ahead and murder," if that's what you believe. That's not what I happen to believe, but it is-- it is what people believe--

CHUCK TODD:

And yet, David Axelrod, the issue of reproductive rights was something you exploited in your campaign--

DAVID AXELROD:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

--in Colorado and Virginia in particular.

DAVID AXELROD:

Yes, that-- that's probably--

CHUCK TODD:

Well-- you carried those two states in your opinion, right?

DAVID AXELROD:

Yes. I-- well, and you look at the gender gap-- in-- in the election, so on. These were motivational issues for people on our side as well. Let me make-- a final point on your first point though about all these social issues. What's interesting to me is these were once wedge issues for Republicans.

Now some of them are working as wedge issues against Republicans. And-- it shows a shift of attitudes. Now abortion's a separate-- discussion for the reasons that-- Gene just mentioned. But generally-- there's been a drift on-- on some of these other issues.

CHUCK TODD:

That-- Tom, I have to say-- that does seem as if-- every other time the culture war has percolated over the last two generation, it was something that would favor Republicans. Does it? It's not necessarily something that favors Republicans--

TOM DAVIS:

No, you know, politics is race, ethnicity, culture, and before you get to economics at this point. And even many group-- groups who agree with Republicans and some of these social issues, the branding on ethnicity-- as we talked about immigration is so bad they won't even look at Republican candidates. So it works in the Democrat's favor in many of these cases. Abortion is a different matter. You look at abortion, and actually the country's moved slightly right. And Americans are very conflicted--

CHUCK TODD:

Technology would moved the-- it had moved the country right.

TOM DAVIS:

Course.

CHUCK TODD:

The question is--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

--are-- are-- are re-- are Republicans pushing the envelope too much and-- is there going to be-- you-- you saw it as a snap back.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Look, Ruth--

TOM DAVIS:

Well--

PEGGY NOONAN:

--Bader Ginsburg herself last week was quoted as saying she thought Roe v. Wade-- I'll miss the word-- was a bit of an overreach in terms of-- of the way the court did it, leaving this issue not settled Democratically, not settled in legislatures and by the people and referenda, but being imposed on them. We-- you have a great terrible moral issue and you impose a certain thing on people, you will cause a half century's riling.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, yeah. I mean--

DAVID AXELROD:

You--

CHUCK TODD:

Go ahead, David.

DAVID AXELROD:

No, I mean, I think it-- it's a polarizing issue, it's a difficult and troubling issue, but I think the politics are more complicated. And there will be a backlash to those kinds of-- initiatives.

CHUCK TODD:

And it's-- it's polarizing within the parties sometimes as well. Thank you all for part one of this roundtable. Coming up, we've got the legal fights surrounding another polarizing issue, same-sex marriage. It reached a historic marker this week as the Supreme Court heard arguments for the first time on two cases involving the constitutional rights of gay couples.

And while the high court has yet to rule, has the argument already been one in the court of public opinion? We'll talk about that next in a special discussion, Peggy gets to stay with us, also joining me MSNBC's Al Sharpton, Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, NBC's Justice Correspondent Pete Williams who was at the court reporting on all the latest developments this week. And we'll also have actor and gay rights activate, Rob Reiner, who was inside the court for those arguments. First in line. He'll join the conversation as well. That's all coming up next after this brief commercial break.

(COMMERCIAL)

(Videotape)

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

For the second straight day, the subject of same-sex marriage has been before the highest court in the land. Two landmark cases in two days as a topic that is moving quickly in terms of public opinion comes before a court that tends to move slowly.

(End videotape)

CHUCK TODD:

Those forces are colliding. Ju-- joining us now to discuss the politics of same-sex marriage, the host of MSNBC's Politics Nation and President and Founder of National Action Network, Reverend Al Sharpton. President of the National Organization for Marriage, Brian Brown, NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams, and of course, sticking around once again, who survived the vote-- of the panelist Survivor, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan. And joining us from New York, actor and gay marriage advocate Rob r-- Reiner. Welcome to you all, Mr. Reiner, thank you. Pete--

ROB REINER:

Yeah, thank you for having me.

CHUCK TODD:

--I want to-- make-- make you do your correspondent job.

PETE WILLIAMS:

Okay.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay? What happened this week? Where's the court?

PETE WILLIAMS:

Well, what I think we're not going to get is some sort of sweeping ruling on same-sex marriage. We're probably not going to get some sort of sweeping ruling upholding Prop 8. On the Prop 8 cast, this is the case from California, this is the proposition passed by 52% of voters that stopped same-sex marriage in the state.

It seemed like the Supreme Court is just not ready to rule one way or the other on it. And they're going to find some way to send this case back to California stamped "Incomplete." Either by saying that the Prop 8 proponents did not have the correct legal standing to enter the court in the first place, or that they're just not ready to decide it. Now, you know, people may think that's weird. But the Supreme Court doesn't have to take any case. And there sometimes are some situations where they say, "We're just not ready." On DOMA, I think they will--

CHUCK TODD:

Defense of Marriage Act.

PETE WILLIAMS:

That's the Defense of Marriage Act. It passed by Congress, signed by President Clinton in 1996. It says the federal government cannot recognize same-sex marriages even in the states, now numbering nine, plus D.C., that recognize same-sex marriage. I think the court will find some way to strike DOMA down. But that will not affect any state in terms of whether it has to allow same-sex marriage.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, you talked about the first issue of whether they should've taken the case. We heard them, the justices almost debating that issue amongst themselves. I want to play some audio between Justice Kennedy and Justice Scalia on that fact.

(Videotape)

JUSTICE KENNEDY:

I-- I just wonder if the c-- if the case was properly granted.

JUSTICE SCALIA:

It's too late for that now, isn't it? I mean, we granted cert. I mean, that's-- that's essential asking-- you know, why did we grant cert? We should let it percolate for another, you know, we've-- we've crossed that-- that river, I think.

(End videotape)

CHUCK TODD:

Rob Reiner, you worked really hard to get this Prop 8 case in front of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed to take your case. If they say, "Hmm, never mind," and send it back, when-- is that a victory, is that still a victory to you-- because it-- it-- it does overturn Prop 8 on a state level?

ROB REINER:

Yes, it-- it is a victory because the reason we set out to do this to begin with was twofold. One was to strike down Prop 8, which if they send it back as-- as Pete Williams described-- that-- we will have accomplished that. The-- other-- reason we did it, and the big reason was to educate the country. Was to put this on a national-- platform, to have this national discussion, which we've had and we've seen the-- the polls move dramatically.

So the-- we-- we were at s-- somewhere in the '40s when we started four years ago and now as you cited, we're at 58% with-- 80% of people under 30-- accepting the idea of same-sex marriage. So this conversation that we've had, this education process, has been very, very effective. And I believe the-- there's an inevitability now. The snowball is rolling down the hill. And it's inevitable.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Brian, I want to get you to react to something, it was an exchange between Justice Kagan and Charles Cooper, the attorney that was defending Prop 8 on exactly what's the point of federal recognition of marriage. Take a listen.

(Videotape)

JUSTICE KAGAN:

If you're over the age of 55, you don't help us serve the government's interest in regulating procreation through marriage. So why is that different?

CHARLES COOPER:

Your honor-- even with respect to couples over the age of 55, it is very rare that both couple-- both parties-- to the couple are infertile. And the traditional--

(OVERTALK)

JUSTICE KAGAN:

Well merely because-- I can just assure you, if both the woman and the man are over the age of 55, there are not a lotta children coming out of that marriage.

(End videotape)

CHUCK TODD:

Brian, that became a laugh line. That is be-- that is among-- Brian, among the-- issues that-- traditional marriage advocates have been making. If it's a laugh line in a courtroom, does that mean that argument is no longer valid?

BRIAN BROWN:

Well, the truth is the truth. And the truth is that marriage is based upon the distinction between men and wom-- women, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. Marriage is the one institution that brings together the two great halves of humanity, male and female, in one institution, to connect husbands and wives together. And to any children they may bear.

The question before the court is-- is not-- only on this issue of what is marriage. Marriage is, by definition the union of a man and a woman. And apart from all of this inevitability talk-- 31 states have voted to say that that is the truth. They've embedded it in their state constitutions. Only four have-- have voted against it. There's a myth that somehow this is inevitable. Look-- North Carolina passed its constitutional amendment--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

Very low turnout election.

BRIAN BROWN:

--eight-- eight months ago by 61%. The polls in California had us at 36% support for traditional marriage. But when people came out, they voted by 53%-- to support traditional marriage. So the-- the real issue is is the court going to launch another culture war by trumping the votes of these states and of the duly enacted-- duly-elected members of Congress who passed DOMA?

CHUCK TODD:

Let-- let me ask you this. If they punt, if they punt Prop 8, is that-- a victory or a loss or a fight another day?

BRIAN BROWN:

Well-- again, I-- I-- I disagree with Pete. I-- I don't think that the court is going to punt them. The court is going to answer the question. The question is simple. Do the people of the state of California, do the people of the states of this country have the right to have their votes-- voices heard, or is the court going to trash over 50 million votes?

The lower court ruling wasn't just about Proposition 8. And what is being brought forward is this myth that somehow embedded within our constitution, something the founders didn't see and-- and we haven't seen up until now, there is a right to redefine the very nature of marriage.

CHUCK TODD:

But-- you know, Reverend Sharpton-- I want to put up a poll number. This is from 1968. This was public opinion and interracial marriage. "Do you approve of marriage between whites and nonwhites," was the way the question was worded, just 20% approved. But the Supreme Court ruled anyway, and they got rid of those laws--

AL SHARPTON:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

--that they said discriminated. There-- there were still a few remaining state laws. Public opinion played no role. Should public opinion matter in this case?

AL SHARPTON:

Public opinion and votes have nothing to do with this. The challenge of the Court is not what they're going to do with votes. The challenge-- of the Court is are they going to protect people's rights. When you look at the-- the DOMA case and you look at Ms. Windsor who-- was not able-- who was forced to pay over $350,000 in the state tax because she did not have the right of her partner who had passed on, who they had built this wealth together, her rights are violated.

So there are many people that may agree in-- with traditional marriage as s-- people define it, who feel they don't have the right to have an unequal situation with others. And therefore, defined for them their li-- my battle with Brian is not over marriage. My battle is, he doesn't have the right to impose his definition of marriage and therefore make inequality on other people.

CHUCK TODD:

Can-- can you-- Peggy, can you do-- can society handle the court basically agreeing with both of them? That okay, you have traditional-- you have a traditional view of marriage, but somebody who's in a same-sex-- civil union or marriage shouldn't be denied the rights that-- married couples between men and women get when it comes to financial situations and things like that.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Well-- people were thinking in the past few years that civil partnerships, not marriage, but legal civil partnerships that-- that conferred the protections sought by the woman where brought the suit-- might be-- a preferable way to go. But-- but that's a legal question. I'm not really qualified to speak of it. But two things struck me about the past-- few days in the Court.

One is that this is an epic, big, cultural debate that's supposed to be happening. And yet, it was a short, banal, sometimes weirdly comic sort of shallow debate. Did you find it that way? I mean, I was really struck that they were not talking about big issues but sometimes dumb stuff that you talk about in college dorms.

CHUCK TODD:

He was--

(OVERTALK)

PEGGY NOONAN:

Forgive me.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, no, no--

PEGGY NOONAN:

That's how it seemed--

CHUCK TODD:

Did you-- w-- way-- or is this the norm of this Court--

PETE WILLIAMS:

Well, I would say that this was not, despite the-- efforts by the lawyers on both sides, not a f-- in terms of the justices, a fundamental discussion about shall we have same-sex marriage or shall we not, is it a good thing for the country or isn't it.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Yeah.

PETE WILLIAMS:

The Court just-- for whatever reason, doesn't want to go there at this point. Now-- be-- to be clear, there are certainly some conservatives who are prepared to uphold Prop 8 and some of the court's liberals who are prepared to strike it down. The problem is, the middle, Justice Kennedy, who is the key vote here. He's the author of the two most important gay rights ruling sin the Court's history, for whatever reason, isn't ready to go there.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, Rob Reiner-- how important has Hollywood been-- has Hollywood played the same role on same-sex marriage that baseball basically played on-- integration when they were essentially a decade ahead of the country's politicians on civil rights? Hollywood, you know--

ROB REINER:

You-- you know--

CHUCK TODD:

You-- you-- All in the Family did the first ever show-- featuring a homosexual character.

ROB REINER:

Yeah, I-- I don't know about--

(OVERTALK)

ROB REINER:

--you know, whether or not Hollywood has played a role or not. But-- you know, here's the thing. We're talking about a civil right. I mean, to talk about-- you know, polls and public opinion when it comes to civil rights-- you know, where was the public, like you said in-- in Loving v. Virginia? Where was the public-- in our founding fathers when they said slavery was okay, or women weren't allowed to vote?

These are civil rights issue and there is one group of people in this country that is not regarded equal under the law. And until we have everyone, all of our cit-- citizens regarded equal under the law, we're not realizing the-- the-- the-- the-- the precepts of our country. So-- you know, this-- this debate, I agree with Pete Williams. I think the Supreme Court was-- scared to take this on.

But the fact of the matter is, it has been taken on and there will be gay marriage in this country, without question. Because we cannot look at our fellow citizens and say that they deserve less than-- than we in the heterosexual community. It just-- it just doesn't square.

CHUCK TODD:

And-- and I-- and I pro-- something we found in the Meet the Press archives, having to do with the civil rights movement and this issue of patience or not. Jackie Robinson was-- was a guest on Meet the Press in 1957, and I want to play an audio excerpt of it-- and you will hear Jackie Robinson asked about this issue of whether African Americans should be patient when it comes to certain rights issues. Take a listen.

(Videotape)

LAWRENCE SPIVAK:

Well, how do you answer those people who insist that the N.A.A.C.P. is moving very, very fast to get the rights for the Negro, but seems to be doing not enough to impress upon the Negro his own responsibility as he gets these rights?

JACKIE ROBINSON:

Well, and they say that the N.A.A.C.P. is moving too fast-- you know, I heard that Mr. Spivak, I was out in Pasadena, California, trying to get into the Y.M.C.A. "Take your time, be patient." Patience is fine. I think that-- if we go back and check our record, the Negro has proven beyond a doubt that we have been more than patient in seeking our rights as-- as American citizens. "Be patient," I was told as a kid. I keep hearing that today, "Let's be patient, let's take our time, things will come." Seems to me that the civil war has been over about 93 years. If that isn't patience, I don't know what is.

(End videotape)

CHUCK TODD:

Brian, you've been critical s-- of the-- whether the civil-- whether same-sex marriage is part of the civil rights argument.

BRIAN BROWN:

Well, I-- I-- I think it's a slur on the American-- the majority of Americans who've stood up to vote for what President Obama a year agreed to what-- Secretary Clinton agreed to two weeks ago, that it takes a man and woman to make a marriage, it's a slur on them to somehow say that opponents of redefining marriage-- are in the same boat as those who opposed interracial marriage.

That is just a slur. It's an assertion. What we are fighting about is is there a civil right to redefine marriage. We say no. There is no such civil rights. The laws against interracial marriage were about keeping the races apart. Marriage is the union of a man and a woman is about bringing the sexes together. That is a good and a beautiful thing. And I think it's a slur to say that it's bigotry to stand up for this truth.

CHUCK TODD:

Reverend Sharpton?

AL SHARPTON:

It was a battle on interracial marriage of people saying that traditional marriage in this country was between people of the same race and that others that were supreme had the right to decide what the tradition was. They had the right to tell others that were inferior they couldn't marry who were superior.

What we are fighting here is the rights of people to be protected. It is not the same thing as racial, but it's the same thing when you have others decide the prerogatives of people's lives. And you cannot fight for one's rights without-- out fighting for everyone's right. And I think it is absurd for people to say that we're going to stand for people to have the right to determine their lives irregard-- regardless, rather of race, but they can't do it regardless of sex. And it's a cop out to say, "Have a civil union. Just shack up, don't get married."

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly--

(OVERTALK).

AL SHARPTON:

Either people have rights or they don't have rights--

BRIAN BROWN:

Gays-- gays-- gays and lesbians have the right to live as they choose. They don't have the right to redefine marriage--

AL SHARPTON:

They have the right to live as they choose as long as it reaches your moral standards--

BRIAN BROWN:

No, it's not-- it's not about--

(OVERTALK)

BRIAN BROWN:

--moral standards.

AL SHARPTON:

That's not right.

(OVERTALK)

BRIAN BROWN:

--the fact that marriage comes before the state. The state does not create it.

CHUCK TODD:

And-- and now we know why this is before the Supreme Court, who will see if they have the-- have the guts to make a stand one way or the other. I want to thank you-- all for your patience on this. We're going to take a quick break, we'll be back with more in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL)

CHUCK TODD:

Thanks to all of my guests, and a very packed show. We are unfortunately out of time, but now you see why the Supreme Court has some work to do. We'll see if they actually make a decision or do they punt-- and let the rest of us talk about it forever. Before we go, though a quick programming note, you can watch David Gregory's press pass conversation with spiritual advisor Dr. Erica Brown, author of the new book, Happier Ending: A Meditation on Life and Death.

That's at MeetThePress.NBC.com. Also, check back this afternoon for my Take Two Web Extra. In honor of March Madness, I geeked it out a little bit here, we're calling it Senate Madness. We at the NBC News Political Unit put a bracket together with some of the most influential and consequential senators throughout history and matched them up head to head. David Axelrod and Tom Davis will talk about their picks on that. That's all for today. Happy Easter, Happy Passover. David will be back next week. It's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

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