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Notes on the February 12, 2012 broadcast of Meet the Press

February 12, 2012

This morning’s Meet The Press opened with new White House Chief of Staff Jake Lew and the controversy about contraceptives in health care plans offered to employees of religious-affiliated institutions including hospitals and universities. Host David Gregory was aggressive in his questions.

“We can now say with certainty that women have the right to healthcare,” said Lew, and, he added, religious institutions won’t have to pay for benefits they find objectionable. Lew said that this is a good solution which brings together these values.

“There are others who don’t want to see these values reconciled,” Lew said. Gregory asked, “Will the president veto any efforts by Congress to amend the Affordable Care Act?” Lew did not give a direct answer.

This was the kind of meaty discussion of issues we need more of on Meet The Press. Beyond contraception, religious liberty, and health care, they discussed unemployment, budgets, deficits, austerity, and more.

David Gregory holds up a Rick Santorum sweater vest

Meet The Press Host David Gregory displays a Rick Santorum sweater vest. (All rights NBC News)

Next up, Republican presidential candidate and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) said, “No one is denying them access to birth control.” But he also said, “There is no compromise here,” and he added that a lot of Democrats and liberals agree with him.

Gregory asked Senator Santorum if he, like some, believe President Barack Obama has a “secret plan” which would be revealed in the second term. Santorum said there is nothing secret about the plan, the president has been clear that he wants more and more government control through things like “cap and trade” and other instruments.

On the California court ruling in favor of marriage rights for homosexuals, Santorum said “Judicial tyranny is a serious issue in this race and in this country.”

This segment, like the previous one, was also a welcome return to a focus on the issues. In previous appearances by Senator Santorum on Meet The Press, the questions seemed to center around,” Tell me why Mitt Romney should not be the GOP nominee?,” and “How can you beat Mitt Romney?” Interesting questions for those viewers who aspire to be campaign managers, but not all that helpful to those of us trying to pick a president.

Today, the “path to the nomination” question didn’t come up until the 29th minute of the broadcast. Here, Senator Santorum referred to himself as the “Richie Cunningham” candidate in what will likely be the headline of the interview.

In the roundtable, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough had all the one-liners and cogent insights. He said the contraception compromise is good enough to take the issue off the table for the time being. But he said the bigger point here is that three things lined up in the last several days (the Komen/Planned Parenthood controversy, the California marriage decision, and contraception coverage) to push the culture wars back onto the front page. And, according to Scarborough, this is bad news for both President Obama and Governor Romney and good news for Senator Santorum.

Scarborough also poked fun at conservatives for trying to simultaneously say President Obama is both a Josef Stalin-type totalitarian socialist and a Jimmy Carter-style incompetent moderate. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne labeled President Obama a “progressive moderate” with the emphasis on moderate. He said most socialists he knows are insulted when they hear Barack Obama referred to as a socialist.

Today’s Meet The Press transcript will be here.

Also follow the show on the MTP Facebook page, track Twitter feeds from host David Gregory, Meet The Press, and Executive Producer Betsy Fischer, watch the midweek PressPass interview, and don’t forget Gregory’s blog.

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