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Talking Official GOP Agenda with Rep. Cathy McMorris, Gov. Bob McDonnell

August 27, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Gwen Ifill interviews official RNC host and Washington state Rep. Cathy McMorris about her message of "we can do better," targeting women voters. And Judy Woodruff talks to Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, about the findings of a report by the Republican Platform Committee.

GWEN IFILL:  Next we turn to the highest ranking Republican woman in the U.S. House and the newly named host of the convention, Washington State Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers.  I sat down with her a short time ago.

Congresswoman, thank you for joining us.  You were an early Mitt Romney endorser and you are now the convention host.  Tell us what that means, to be the convention host.

REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R-WASH.):  Well, it’s a new role that Team Romney has come up with for this convention.  And each evening, I will be coming out at the start of the convention and welcoming the delegates and giving them the theme for the evening as well as making the case and introducing some of our speakers.

So it will be the first three to five minutes each evening, and I’m really excited about it.

GWEN IFILL: You were supposed to be one of those speakers until Isaac intruded.

CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS:   That’s true.  So it’s all changed.  But it is — it’s still very exciting to be down here in Tampa.  There’s a lot of enthusiasm and everyone understands why the decision was made and they’re looking forward to the convention starting and getting on with the business.

GWEN IFILL: What is the message you had hoped to bring in your speech as opposed to your daily introductions?  What was the message you hoped to speak — bring to this convention?

CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS:   Mine — it was focused on the “we can do better” theme, talking especially to women in America, focusing on our unemployment numbers, the record high unemployment that we’ve seen in recent years, 42 straight months of high unemployment, the longest streak in the past 70 years, talking to women business owners, our entrepreneurs in America and celebrating them and that they built their businesses from the ground up.

So that was going to be some of where I focused.  And now it’s going to be on some of the larger themes for the convention.  But it’s still — it’s still going to be good.

GWEN IFILL: You are the only woman in leadership in the House — Republican woman in leadership in the House.  That’s correct?


GWEN IFILL: OK.  So when you take a looking at polls, like we saw one in “The Washington Post” today, people were asked whether differences between men and woman on gender issues that we’ve seen reflected are a major factor in their vote:  48 percent said yes.


GWEN IFILL: Is that good or bad news for Republicans?

CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS:   Well, I’m celebrating the fact that Republicans are doing better with women.  We have a record number of Republican women serving in the House of Representatives that were elected in 2010.  Four out of the six women governors right now are Republican.  We have a record number of Republican women at the state legislative level. 

The Republicans won the women’s vote in 2010.  It was the first time since Ronald Reagan that the Republicans had won the women’s vote.  And when you look at the issues that really drove women to the Republican Party, it’s been the issues related to the economy, to jobs, the debt.  

Women oftentimes are the ones making those economic decisions, sitting around the kitchen table and trying to figure out how to pay for rising gas prices or food prices or the health insurance costs.  

And I think that they see where they expect their leaders in Congress to also make those tough decisions.  And they also recognize that, you know, sometimes you have to make those tough decisions that — what are best for your family and also what are best for the country.

GWEN IFILL: Big distraction last week with Congressman Todd Akin, who’s running for Senate from Missouri, raising these questions about legitimate rape, which raised a lot of questions about where Republicans stand on women’s issues or issues of concern to women.

How do you, I guess, clean up that damage?  Everyone’s asked for him to withdraw from the race.  He won’t.

CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS:   Right.  It really was unacceptable what Congressman Todd Akin said.  And I have said that I would prefer for him to step aside.  It is — it really has become too much of a distraction at a time when our focus should be on the economy and jobs.  That’s on the forefront of everyone’s minds.  

The Republicans have long had a platform of being pro-life.  And I’m someone that believes life begins at conception and should be protected.

GWEN IFILL: So does Congressman Akin.

CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS:   Right.  And that’s —

GWEN IFILL: So why shouldn’t he stay in the race?  He believes what you believe.

CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS:   Well, it is his statements were inappropriate and wrong.  But the debate in Congress has really been more on the public funding for abortion and taxpayer funding for abortion, which up until President Obama and the health care bill, taxpayer dollars had never been used to fund abortion.  And that was a big shift, and that’s been —  that’s really where the debate is in Congress.

GWEN IFILL: As we see this convention unfold, whether it’s about women voters or Hispanic voters or all of these disputed voting targeted blocks, what is it that you and others are hoping that people take away from watching this convention?  

Is it — is it going to be a message about the failure of President Obama?  Or is it going to be a message saying, welcome, let me introduce you to Mitt Romney and how he can make your life better off?

CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS:   Oh, it is — it’s going to be a message that we can do better, that, yes, these are tough economic times.  We have a record debt.  We need leadership.  And that Mitt Romney is the one that can lead our country during these difficult times, that he has the leadership, the problem-solving.  It’s one that focuses on keeping the American dream alive.

I’ve lived the American dream.  I was born and raised on the farm, first in my family to graduate from college.  I spent 13 years working in our family business.  And that is what we want for Americans.  We want that opportunity.  And that’s what we want to celebrate and continue.

GWEN IFILL: That is a compelling story.  How is it that so many Americans don’t know Mitt Romney’s compelling story?

CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS:   Well, that’s part of what we need to accomplish during this convention.  I — oh, really pull back that curtain.  I think Ann Romney is really going to help in that effort.  But give us more of an insight into who Mitt Romney is.  He’s a very private person.  And yet he’s running for the President of the United States and we need — we need to — we need to get to know him a little bit better.  

And I believe we will by the end of this convention.

GWEN IFILL: Cathy McMorris Rodgers, congresswoman from Washington State, Republican, convention host, thank you very much.

CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS:   Thank you very much.  Good to be with you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to our newsmaker interview with the man who heads the Republican platform committee that sets the official party agenda.  He also chairs the Republican Governors’ Association, and he is the governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell.

Thank you for being with us.

GOV. BOB MCDONNELL, Virginia:  Thanks, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So tell us, for people who are watching who don’t understand what the platform committee is, this is an active — many of them very conservative members of the Republican Party.

Is this a document meant to reflect their views?  Or a document meant to appeal to the broad American population?

BOB MCDONNELL:  Well, I would hope it’s both.  There are two representatives from each of the 50 states and then two from each of the six territories.  We get together and in a couple of days, try to put one document of 50 pages together on a wide range of issues that reflect sort of the heart and soul of the grassroots people of the Republican Party.

We got 30,000 comments before we got down here.  We talked to countless people.  We had input from Tea Party and Rand Paul and Rick Santorum and everybody that wanted to have a stake in what our party believes in, and crafted a base document and then in a couple of days of committee meetings, refine that and came out with a final document.

And so this would be something I would say would be instructive to the candidates now, to say this is what the grassroots believes in and we hope you’ll take a look at it.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Hope they’ll take a look at it, but not they must take a look.  And we’ve already heard Gov. Romney say — Paul Ryan, his vice presidential pick, say he’s not necessarily or they’re not necessarily in agreement with everything in the platform.

BOB MCDONNELL:  Well, I wouldn’t expect them to.  We had input, obviously, from the Romney campaign.  But it’s a — it’s a bottom-up approach.  And the same with the Democratic Party.  Its representatives from the grassroots that outline what they believe.  

And I think in large measure, though, the things that are in there, the heavy focus being on jobs and the economy, on taxes and spending, on energy and agriculture, on government reform, on protecting the Constitution, on a — and then there’s a variety of issues on life and family and marriage as well.  

But it’s a — it’s a 50-page document, largely on the principle issues, some of the details, obviously, left to the candidates and others because there’s not time to do that on a document.  But I think it reflects generally what Republicans believe.  And but of course there’s going to be differences with the candidates.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Again, I ask about this because I was looking at — there was a draft document that was circulating today.  I gather the whole thing is not available.

BOB MCDONNELL:  It was supposed to be released actually today, formally to the delegates.  But I think with the convention proceedings being delayed, it’s probably going to be tomorrow on their seats.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  But there’s language in there about contraception, about not wanting contraception to be part of a family planning program.  There certainly is language about abortion.  Are these positions that — I mean, are you saying to the American people, this is what we want everyone to abide by?

BOB MCDONNELL:  No.  First of all, I would say, Judy, that that is — those issues are a very small part of an overall document.  The overall document focuses on the same issues that Mitt Romney’s talking about, that most of us that are surrogates for the campaign are talking about, and that is we got to get the greatest country on Earth out of debt and back to work.  

And the current administration has failed in those areas.  And so job creation and economic development and energy and taxes and debt are the overwhelming issues in this campaign that are most important to all voters, Democrat, Republican and undecided.

Now of course, the Republican Party has long been the pro-life party.  We believe in the sanctity and dignity of life and have long had provisions in there to protect human life.  Democrats have been the pro-choice party and have things in there that fit that as well.

But these are issues that the grassroots people come together and say these are things we believe in and we hope that Americans would share these views and that the candidates would adopt some of these positions.  

But candidates run on the things they think are important and I think, by and large, what’s in the platform and the things Mitt Romney’s been saying about his plan to raise up the middle class and do things to help the — protect the hardworking taxpayers are similar.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  We know the American population is changing.  There’s been a lot of conversation this week about the diversity in the Republican Party.


JUDY WOODRUFF:  The platform speaks about public education and it says “Republicans support the English-first approach.”  What does that mean?

BOB MCDONNELL:  I think it just means it’s a recognition that, first, we welcome people to come to America.  We — I’m — my grandfather came 100 years ago, legally, through Ellis Island, and that’s why I’m here.

And so I — we celebrate lawful immigration.  But to be part of the great American story, English is the coin of the realm in America.  And so we think regardless of what your native tongue might be, to learn English and to be able to be conversant in it, to read and write and speak well is very important to have access to the American dream.

So that was the collective thoughts of the people on the platform committee and think we ought to put an emphasis on learning English well.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Is that the same as English only being taught, that the party would like English only to be taught?

BOB MCDONNELL:  No, I mean, I think people celebrate the — and especially across America, we have rich pockets of people that, from many other countries.  I mentioned my grandfather from Ireland 100 years ago.  There are pockets of people from all over the world that come here because they want freedom and they want this American dream.

And so, obviously, it’s an understanding that you have to know English, but we celebrate the diversity among the people that come to America and then that live here and experience the greatness of our country.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  In this draft that was available today — and, again, I understand it’s just a draft — it also refers to the party disagreeing with what — and criticizing the administration for what it calls “the administration’s decision to permit waivers for work requirements for welfare benefits.”  And this is something reflected, we know, in Gov. Romney’s advertising.


JUDY WOODRUFF:  The Obama administration says that’s a distortion; it’s not the case.  Outside independent fact checkers have said that is not what the administration has done.

How do you explain —

BOB MCDONNELL:  Well, I’d say they’d better go read what Secretary Sebelius said in her order.

I carried the welfare reform bill in Virginia back in 1995 and the next year, of course, Bill Clinton and Speaker Gingrich got together and put together something similar to what Virginia and Wisconsin had.  Work was the essence of that, Judy.

And the way I read Secretary Sebelius’ guidance is there were going to be waivers that could be granted to the states that would actually allow other experiences other than work to fulfill that requirement.  And I think that —

JUDY WOODRUFF:  But hasn’t —

BOB MCDONNELL:  — undermines the entire intent of welfare reform for all the reasons that I think are well-known.

Now I know that they’re back checking now and saying, well, that’s not really what we meant.  The Republican governors that asked for the waivers were saying we wanted flexibility, not to undermine the work requirements.  So, I think there’s a fair policy dispute about what they meant.

If they’re saying now that they’re not going to do it, then good.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Yes, they’re saying what they meant was what they — what it is a minimum requirement of work and that it’s not at all what the Republicans are —

BOB MCDONNELL:  Well, I think they meant — in the “Richmond Times” they had a great editorial saying they are getting the work — so look, that’s a fair policy to me on what should be the policy.  

And I think Mitt Romney’s reaffirmed his belief that the very successful programs in welfare reform that have dramatically reduced the rolls, saved a lot of money and opened up a transition from people from welfare to work has been very successful and we shouldn’t go back on it.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Gov. Bob McDonnell, it’s very good to have you with us.

BOB MCDONNELL:  Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Thank you.

BOB MCDONNELL:  Thanks for having me on.  I appreciate it.