Only looking. So far, potential republican presidential candidates visiting Iowa are saying they are just visiting. Among them, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. We're questioning him on this edition of Iowa Press.
Borg: Political seasons don't always align with a calendar. For example, Iowa's 2012 presidential caucuses are on the calendar, for less than a year from now, but the republican would-be candidates are seemingly a bit tardy in getting campaigns underway. But candidates set their own calendars. Pennsylvania's former U.S. Congressman and Senator Rick Santorum is among those considered to be potential republican candidates. He was 32 years old when first elected to Congress in 1991. After two terms in the House he served 12 years in the Senate and he is making his 10th Iowa visit since the 2008 general election. We've asked him to spend some time with us here at the Iowa Press table today. Welcome to Iowa Press.
Santorum: Thank you, Dean. Good to be with you.
Borg: And across the Iowa Press table, two of Iowa's top political reporters, the AP's Mike Glover and Radio Iowa's Kay Henderson.
Glover: Senator, President Obama shifted his position a bit yesterday on the Defense of Marriage Act on same-sex marriage. What is your take on that?
Santorum: Well, first, hi Mike, good to be with you again. I'm obviously very disappointed. The President, when he was campaigning, was very clear about his support for a bill that passed with over 90 votes in the United States Senate, was signed by President Clinton, which did something very basic which was that states would not be bullied into changing their marriage law by other states and mostly other state courts like what happened here in Iowa, that state courts wouldn't impose marriage on one state and then litigators from that state then go to other states to force them to recognize Iowa's marriage law or Massachusetts' marriage law. So, this was a way for the federal government to preserve the sovereignty of the states. And it was a way of being sort of neutral on the issue of marriage instead of favoring one side over the other, let the people decide. And what President Obama has done is in a two year period of time he went from finding this law to be perfectly fine and constitutional to finding it to be somehow unconstitutional even though, to my knowledge, the language of the Constitution hasn't changed any in the last two years, yet his interpretation of it has. And I think it is driven by politics, not by any real change in the Constitution and its meaning.
Glover: And you issued a statement harshly critical of the President at the time that he acted. But there has been sort of a strange silence from a lot of potential republican presidential candidates. I haven't heard much from a lot of them. Why not? Why haven't I heard more?
Santorum: Look, I mean, all I can say is that if we do not, as a party and as a people, stand behind the institution of marriage and understand its essential role as the glue that holds the family together, the family, the building block of society, the first economy, the first school, the first place where children's character is formed we are going to destine our children and destine the future of this country for a lower standard of living and less free and prosperous country.
Glover: Should we hear more from the other potential candidates? Would you ask them to address the issue?
Santorum: All I can say is I have spoken loudly and will continue to speak loudly and if others choose not to I think they have to take the pluses and minuses in not doing so. But I am going to be and have been a vocal supporter of traditional marriage. I believe it is essential. I'm not surprised. In the Iowa elections, as you know, there were three justices up for, um, retention, I'm sorry, couldn't find the word, thank you, Dean, up for retention in the last election and of the potential republican candidates I was the only one that came into the state, jumped on the judge bus, talked about the issue of having people decide what marriage laws should be, not courts and no other republican potential nominee or candidate came in to do the same. So, I think it shows that there are some people who are willing to stand up and fight for the family and others who would rather, to use the comment of one potential candidate, call a truce on these things. Well, a truce, in this case, means ceding ground to the other side.
Henderson: How do you think this issue will play out in the Iowa caucus campaign in the contest among you and other candidates?
Santorum: Obviously the issue of marriage is an important one. Never before in the history of Iowa, I've been told, were judges up for retention thrown out, in this case all three of them thrown out. It is clear why they were thrown out is because they abused their position and imposed a novel meaning of marriage on the Constitution.
Henderson: But do you think in 2012, whenever the Iowa caucuses may be, that Iowa republicans will go into those meetings and vote for a candidate based on this issue?
Santorum: I think it will be a factor just like the jobs bill, I mean, the jobs issue will be a factor, just like national security will be a factor but I think it will be an important factor. It is a relevant issue, obviously, in this state and I think it is an important issue for our country in understanding how essential it is to have strong families and marriage being the glue that holds that family together.
Henderson: For republicans in the general election in 2012 is it a relevant issue of contrast with President Obama? Do you think it will be a motivating factor for voters in 2012, November?
Santorum: Obviously here in Iowa it was a motivating factor. In other states where there have been fights on marriage, 31 states have had referendums on the issue of marriage and those who supported traditional marriage have won 31 out of 31. So, it is a motivating factor, it is a debate that is worth having. I think one of the reasons that it has won in all 31 states including states like California and Maine is because once the debate happens people begin to see the ramifications to society at large of what a change in the marriage laws will mean, what is means to education, what it means to people's religious freedom, what it means to churches and what they can preach. All of these things then come into focus and we realize this isn't just a harmful thing that affects people that we want to be kind to. I certainly want to be kind and if people want to love somebody else they are perfectly free to love whoever they want to love. It's different, though, if you're asking us to change the law about marriage and the impact of changing that law is on our schools and our children's education and on our religious institutions.
Glover: Is there a political risk to you in taking this position on same-sex marriage and maybe a reason some of the other candidates have been less vocal? I have seen some polling suggesting that for people under 40 this is a loser of an issue and it doesn't motivate people in the overall universe.
Santorum: Mike and Kay, Dean, I'm sure you've looked at my political resume and I think you have looked at the issues that I have taken on in the sixteen years I was in public life and I don't think anyone would accuse me of looking at the polls and determining what positions I fight for. I look at what I think is in the best interest of the future of our country and it is clear to me that the best interest of the future of our country is that we have strong marriages and strong families and we raise children in the best possible atmosphere for those children to be raised and that is highlighting and supporting a child being raised by a mother and a father. That is the ideal place. Can children be raised in a different environment? Yes. But we want to do what is best for children and what is best for children, by any measure, and even the left now admits this, scientifically, social science work, children raised in two-parent homes with moms and dads do better. And so as a society it is in our interest to encourage that and I think be re-defining marriage we don't encourage it, we discourage it.
Borg: Men and women and their supporters of public employee unions are on the streets around the state capitol in our neighboring state of Wisconsin. What is your assessment of what's going on there?
Santorum: My assessment is that if you look at where the problem is in the state and even more so in local governments -- one of the reasons you see Governor Walker drawing a line on this whole collective bargaining issue -- is that the big problem facing these communities is the fact that they have exorbitant pay packages for state and local governments. And if you look at the average state employee, average local employee what they get all in benefits, pensions, etc. their wages and benefit packages far exceed the people who actually pay for those wages and benefits which is the average taxpayer.
Borg: So, you support what the governor and the republican dominated legislature want to do?
Santorum: Well, they have to, yes, the answer short and sweet, yes, I support what they're doing because what they're doing is trying to bring a budget deficit down without destroying the economy of the state by raising taxes. They have to keep the state competitive. They have, if you look at it a very substantial area of the budget is pay and benefits for state employees and those benefits are out of line with the rest of the people in the state. And so what we're saying is not we're going to cut you below, we're going to actually just make you make some little sacrifice and pay some for your healthcare, pay some contributions to your pensions and we want to give state, the state wants to give the municipalities, through these reforms of the collective bargaining process, the ability to do the same when it comes to municipal employees.
Borg: This could become contagious, however, to other states and to the federal government.
Santorum: I hope so.
Borg: There are a few republicans who are expressing some concerns, though, that it might be overreaching. Are you concerned that the Governor of Wisconsin and other governors who are contemplating these sorts of actions may be overreaching?
Santorum: No, I think what was overreaching was Governor Culver, before he left office, ingrain a huge pay increase and benefit package to the state employees here in Iowa, that is overreaching. What is not overreaching is saying that to the average person in Wisconsin, you get paid X amount for being a carpenter but if you work for the state and you do carpentry work at the state you're going to be paid 25% or 30% more plus a benefit package which is 40% or 50% more generous than the one that you get. And even including private sector union comparisons that is out of whack. Why? Because we had elected officials who didn't have any skin in the game, it wasn't their money that they were negotiating to give to these public sector unions. Remember, public sector unions didn't exist until John F. Kennedy in 1962 through an executive order created the ability for these public sector unions to exist on the federal level. This is a relatively new thing. And folks as to the left as Franklin Roosevelt said that these public sector unions can not exist, that it is improper for them to exist.
Henderson: There were folks who were protesting at the Iowa Capitol this week who said they are unconstitutional. Do you think public sector unions are unconstitutional?
Santorum: I'm not too sure, I haven't studied that issue so I'm not going to comment on whether it is unconstitutional. I think it is unwise to put a situation in place where you already have worker protections -- look, my grandfather was an immigrant to this country, he came here in 1930, went into the coal mines of western Pennsylvania, he stayed in those coal mines, in the deep mines until he was 72 years old. My grandfather was a union organizer, was the treasurer of his local mine worker and he was absolutely right in doing so because what was going on there was horrendous, the working conditions were horrendous, the pay was horrendous, the benefits were horrendous and unions were needed and in the private sector there still should be private sector unions. That is not the case with public employees. They have protections built into law. There are civil service protections in every single state in the union. Well, maybe not every single -- there certainly are on the federal level and there are worker protections in every state. Now, the bottom line is there is an inequity in bargaining power because the unions have a stake in the game, it is their money that they are going to receive, it is their benefits where the person negotiating for the taxpayer it isn't their money and as a result of that inequality of bargaining position the unions have done better and the people who pay are the taxpayers and the deficits that are accrued are the problems of that process.
Glover: In politics and in government we're often governed by the law of unintended consequences. There are those who suggest that part of what this has done has given the labor movement, which was kind of moribund in recent years, a new jolt of energy and something to rally about. There was talk of a rally up at the Statehouse and there was, it was a large, noisy rally. Have you given organized labor a shot of energy?
Santorum: I think most people who look at what is going on in the state capitols right now and seeing the behavior of the people who are paid far beyond what the person who does a similar job in the private sector gets paid is not giving them a jolt of support across the country. It may give a jolt of support among the rank and file but the bottom line is, particularly with respect to teachers in Wisconsin, what you see are poor results and higher pay and I don't think that gives a big jolt in support of labor unions when it looks like teachers care about one thing, they care about their money and their benefits, they don't care about quality education and serving students and are having doctors give fake excuses for them to miss work. I don't think that is to the benefit of the labor unions.
Borg: Some have been a bit surprised at President Obama's reaction to what is going on in Wisconsin and Ohio now by not commenting too much publicly, saying more about what is going on in Egypt and Libya than the demonstrations in Wisconsin.
Santorum: Well, the only comment I saw was one favorable to the unions and the protestors and I was not surprised by that. I mean, look, this is a president who is a big beneficiary of public sector union largesse. I mean, not only do public sector unions get good pay and benefits packages but they also get dues from the people that they, that are employed by the state and they take these dues to go back and lobby the state for even more money. So, I mean, you have taxpayers paying money to the state governments and the federal government, that money goes back to labor unions to go back and lobby for the taxpayers to pay even more money to the very people. This is classic how the democrats have gained and accessed power and I think it is exposing this deep underbelly of, the soft underbelly of the democrats and how they have maintained and grown power in America.
Henderson: I'd like to shift gears to another issue but before I do this is your tenth visit to the state of recent years.
Santorum: Nice round number.
Henderson: Yeah, exactly. And Dean at the beginning of the program said you are a potential presidential candidate. Would you like to use this statewide forum as an opportunity to declare your candidacy?
Santorum: Yeah, I can't thank you enough for the opportunity that you've just given me but I'm still in that process. I mean, I feel like -- I don't feel like I'm being rushed or pushed other than by reporter questions into making this decision and I'm going to continue walking through that process for a while longer.
Borg: How long is it going to take?
Santorum: You know, until I make a decision as to whether there is sufficient support for me as a candidate as opposed to someone who is out there articulating the issues and trying to add clarity to the choices that we have between the existing administration and some different republican administration.
Borg: I interrupted you, Kay.
Henderson: You have talked about your knowledge of Iowa issues in regards to the retention election and some other things along the way here over the past few minutes. There is an abortion debate brewing among republicans at the Iowa House of Representatives. You were involved in passage of a partial birth abortion ban at the national level. There are republicans at the Statehouse who don't want to vote for a half measure, they only want to vote for a full measure. What is your advice to them?
Santorum: My advice to them is I have always appreciated the passion of folks who don't want to compromise and are really focused on the idea that unless we hold out for something that is what we want to do every sort of intermediate step undermines the ability to get where we ultimately want to go. I think that is a legitimate debate. But I would say that I have taken the position that any incremental change gives us the opportunity to focus on this issue and talk about the horror that is abortion and talk about the humanity of the child in the womb and so if we have an opportunity, like with partial birth abortion, to demonstrate that the child is a child because in the partial birth abortion, which we debated for eight years in Washington, D.C., a child post-20 weeks was delivered all but the head, here is a baby with arms, legs, etc. and is in the hands of the doctor alive and then is killed as the doctor puts forceps through the base of the skull. Some would say, well, that didn't do anything to really reduce the number of abortions. But what it did was focus the American public's attention on the reality of what abortion is. And so I would say to those who would say, well, but it didn't get us to the end -- I'm not too sure you can get to the end without walking America through, for example, that children in the womb feel pain at 20 weeks and that is an important element of understanding fetal development and that this really is a child in the womb.
Henderson: But they also argue that is tacit approval then of abortions before 20 weeks.
Santorum: Well, it isn't if you make it clear that it isn't and obviously I think one of the things that I think most of the sponsors of the bill have said and certainly they have in Nebraska where this came from and other states that have passed this, that this is not an admission that children before 20 weeks, you know, are not human beings and are not entitled to Constitutional rights but that here is a demonstrated thing that we can push the court. And, again, this is an opportunity to go to the court who got it wrong in Roe vs. Wade and push them to reconsider and maybe through the process of this bill they may reconsider a bigger piece. Of course, they don't have to just decide on this, they can actually consider Roe vs. Wade overall. So, there could be an opportunity here to do more than actually the bill suggests.
Glover: This issue has dogged you in the past. When you first started coming to Iowa commercials were run against you accusing you of being a pro-life fraud because you had supported Arlen Specter and Christie Todd Whitman. How do you defend that?
Santorum: Well, I supported Christie Todd Whitman over a guy by the name of Jim McGreevey who some now know who got thrown out of office, he actually became Governor of New Jersey later on and was one of the most radical pro-abortion folks that we've seen not only in Jersey but in the country. In the case of Arlen Specter, look, I made a prudential judgment. We were at a 51-49 majority in the United States Senate at the time that Specter was up for re-election, President Bush was up for re-election in 2004 and we knew that there would be two to three Supreme Court nominees that would be coming forward in the next four to six years, four years, under President Bush. I made a decision that if Senator Specter would be willing, if he got re-elected, would be chairman of the judiciary committee, would be willing to support the president's nominees and fight for those nominees no matter who they were, if they were qualified obviously but as far as their positions on the issues then I would feel comfortable because Senator Specter was, as you know, he was the person who borked Bork, he was the guy who was on the republican side the linchpin as to whether a conservative actually passes the Senate or not. So, with Specter's support I knew that any Bush nominee would be able to pass the United States Senate and to me a Supreme Court justice for 20, 30, 40 years was more important than a United States Senator who may or may not win, as you know, just because Pat Toomey would have won the primary didn't mean he'd win the general. I believed that the Supreme Court was the more important objective there.
Borg: Senator, U.S. markets, the economy is beginning now to react to what is going on in the Middle East. Are you satisfied with President Obama's handling of what is the turmoil in the Middle East?
Santorum: I am very disappointed not only with his handling of the conflict in the Middle East but what led to that situation in the Middle East. I mean, you have a president who came into office, who campaigned here in Iowa that President Bush's idea of promoting a freedom and promoting more economic and political freedom in authoritarian regimes around the world, not just in the Middle East but around the world, was a wrong headed idea, said he would not follow the Bush Doctrine and, in fact, one of his first, well his first trip was to go to Cairo and talk about how we were going to take hands off, use international organization, invited the Muslim brotherhood to his speech in Cairo, we were not against anybody, we're for anybody doing anything they want and so what happened was he set a place for a vacuum that America was not going to be involved and is not going to take Mubarak and say you need more political openness, you need more economic opportunities. He said, we're going to leave it alone, we're going to take the position of stability as opposed to moving a more pro-democratic or more importantly pro-freedom agenda.
Santorum: The result of that is when a revolution occurred in Iran the President decided to do nothing. In fact, he decided to support the ruling regime, the theocracy in Iran that has been at war and has been killing American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, he supported that regime against a pro-democracy revolution in the country of Iran. Eighteen months later in Egypt the same situation occurred with riots in the street. In this case, though, we had a friend of the United States, not a sworn enemy as in Iran, but a friend of the United States and so what did the President do? Did he side with our friend just like he sided with the enemy leadership in Iran? No. He took the side of the demonstrators and said Mubarak has to go. Now move to Libya. Here is another sworn enemy of the United States, someone who has attacked the United States. Has he sided with the protestors in the streets? No. In fact, he has been pretty ambivalent about this issue. So, here you have a situation where the President has said to our, sent a message to our friends, dictator and democracy alike, that if you get in trouble don't count on us. And, by the way, said to our enemies, like in Iraq and Libya, if you get in trouble we'll be okay with you, we'll side with you. This earns the enmity of our enemies because they have contempt for us, that we are a toothless tiger and it says to our friends, you can't trust us.
Henderson: Speaking of earning things, do you need to earn victory in the Iowa caucuses in order to avoid being accused of being a toothless candidate for president?
Santorum: Oh, I don't know, I think it's way too early to determine that. I'm not a candidate yet and we have no idea what the field looks like. Look, I think expectations are rather low for someone like me entering into the race. I'm seeing one percent in most of the state, national, everything. So, my feeling is go out, deliver the message, talk about what our country needs going forward and then we'll sort of see what happens.
Glover: South Dakota Senator John Thune announced recently that he's not going to be running for the republican nomination, many thought he would be an ideal candidate. In making that announcement he said that a campaign against President Obama will be a difficult campaign, a tough campaign. What is your assessment of Obama? Will he be a tough nut for republicans to crack?
Santorum: Oh, I think any incumbent president is always tough, particularly with the resources and the mainstream media support that he's going to have. I don't think there's any question he'll be tough but we need to make this campaign about the future of our country and the direction. Do you want a country that government is going to continue to increase in size and do more for you and move toward this big nanny state or do you want a country that believes in you and is going to give more freedom and opportunity and restore the constitutional form of government that we have had and created the greatest country in the history of the world.
Borg: I'm sorry, I have to interrupt, we're out of time. Thanks so much for being with us today.
Santorum: Thank you very much, Dean.
Borg: On our next edition of Iowa Press we'll be talking with the man credited with founding the Iowa Tea Party, Ryan Rhodes. He is currently co-chairing Iowa's Tea Party. That is next weekend. And then, get this, because of Festival programming only Friday night at 7:30. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.