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Sen. Dianne Feinstein talks national security; Sen. John Thune on Romney veepstakes
Written by Shannon Bream / Published May 13, 2012 / Fox News Sunday
Special Guests: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Sen. John Thune
This is a rush transcript from "Fox News Sunday," May 13, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
SHANNON BREAM, GUEST HOST: I'm Shannon Bream, in for Chris Wallace.
More questions than answers remained after a terrorist attack against the U.S. was foiled.
Are leaks about the covert operation hurting national security? Are airport screeners doing enough to protect passengers? We'll ask Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman on the Select Committee on Intelligence.
Then, the 2012 campaign is in full swing. We'll talk politics with Republican Senator John Thune who some believe is a top contender in the veep stakes.
Senators Feinstein and Thune only on "Fox News Sunday."
Also, the president changes his mind on gay marriage and now, it's a campaign issue. We'll ask our Sunday panel how it will play out in November with voters.
All right now on "Fox News Sunday."
BREAM: Hello again. And happy Mother's Day from Fox News in Washington.
This week, the U.S., in a joint covert operation with Saudi Arabia, managed to block potential terrorist attack.
Here now to go over what we learn and to discuss a couple of important domestic issues as well is the chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Dianne Feinstein.
Senator, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D-CALIF.: Hi, Shannon.
BREAM: Let's start with some of the latest information out of Yemen, where al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is basically headquartered. Word of two drone attacks that took out militants.
What is your sense after the bomb plot information, these drone strikes, of what the situation is with al Qaeda in that region?
FEINSTEIN: I think the sense is, I know the sense is, that AQAP, as it's called, is the number one threat to your country. And therefore, there are prodigious efforts to get at the bomb maker of this nonmetallic bomb which may well be able to go through magnetometers and the fact that the bomb was recovered and recovered intact I think is a substantial victory. I think it's an impressive win for the CIA.
But it means that we have to devote all our resources right now to try to end this, because it can become very, very complicated.
BREAM: And information that leaked out this week when the story broke on Monday, there are have been concerns on both sides of the aisle about this. Your counterpart in the House, Mike Rogers, has said -- he was upset that it could have disrupted the opportunities and other ongoing operation. He said it could have been be a crime this information that leaked.
Here's what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEON PANETTA, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: You have to protect these people and you have to protect the confidence and the classification and the covert nature of this kind of work. When these leaks take place, I can't tell you how much they damage our ability to be able to pursue out intelligence efforts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BREAM: What kind of investigation, if any, do you think should be launched in to how the information was released?
FEINSTEIN: A big one. This leak was serious. This leak essentially -- well, first of all, the operation was closely held. It was CIA, FBI, Homeland Security and TSA. So a limited number of people knew about it. General procedure would have the chairman and the vice chairman of each of the intelligence committees briefed during the attack or prior to it.
This was not the case. There was no briefing. Apparently, the leak came to an "A.P." reporter, the government called and asked that the story be held and the story was held until Monday and then was released. What this does, it certainly jeopardizes the asset. It certainly jeopardizes our ability to relate to other countries and for other countries to help us, and it gives a tip off to AQAP to be more careful about who they use as their couriers, as their bombers.
So, the leak did endanger sources and methods, and the leak I think has to be prosecuted.
So, the investigation is being done, hopefully concluded and criminal charges will go to the Department of Justice.
BREAM: Right. You touched on something about whether or not this bomb would have been detected. You mentioned that TSA was involved, part of this investigation.
Let's talk about -- there's been a lot of debate this week about whether our current screening technology would have picked this up.
Here's what Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said, "All things considered, yes, in high likelihood it would have been detected."
But you were brief, you said this. "This would have been an undetectable bomb coming in on an American airliner in the U.S."
So, based on what you know, are you confident in our screening technology? FEINSTEIN: For this particular material, candidly no. I can't say that I am. I think the pat-down probably is better than the magnetometer. I think Americans have to understand that this particular kind of explosive, nonmetallic, is not easily detectable and that's one of the reasons why Abdulmutallab wore it in his underway, so that he couldn't patted down sufficiently to detect it.
That's a problem and that's something the TSA has to grapple with. And the American public has not been terribly sympathetic. Although most people are, most travelers say, "I'm going to go with the flow, I recognize the need, therefore, I really don't mind being patted down." I'm in that category, but not everybody is.
So I came from Afghanistan last week along with my colleagues on the intelligence committee through Dubai and there screening was very heavy. Three -- you pass through magnetometers three times, very heavy pat-downs, they opened hand luggage at the gate, they look for gun powder or other things on your hands.
So there was a big pat down with additional security people present. It was very evident.
Having said that, you can't maintain that all of the time. So, I think it's very important that TSA keeps up its efforts and that we Americans who travel a lot understand what's at stake.
And, you know, when you see the number of people on these large planes, you are aware of the fact that this is really necessary to do and particularly right now. I am hopeful that we will be able to candidly kill this bomb maker and kill some of his other associates, because there is a dangerous process in play at the present time.
BREAM: You mentioned that you just returned from Afghanistan and I want to talk about news out of there as well, that a key former Taliban minister who's been sort of ongoing peace process and negotiations there was gunned down. The Taliban said it's not responsible.
But having been there, when you returned, you did express concerns of the Taliban and the fact that we are transitioning out. What's your take on the state of affairs in Afghanistan?
FEINSTEIN: Well, here's my take. Militarily, I think General Allen is doing a great job. And we spent some time with him. Militarily, I think that the Taliban are not going to beat us. But the Taliban has done is insinuate itself in a shadowy presence, with shadow governors. They controlled over a third of the land which people live. They expanded into the north, into the northeast.
And while we were there in one province, they closed 14 schools in 17 districts and then they killed five education officials and wounded others. And now, there's this latest assassination of someone who's been a leader in the Peace Council.
What this does is demonstrate to many of us that the Taliban are just waiting to come back, I don't think that can be dispensed with. We spent time with President Karzai. He said very definitely, Afghanis will not let the Taliban come back.
I met for two hours with woman parliamentarians of whom I really extraordinarily proud. They were very strong against it.
But the question comes, can they come back? They are taxing the poppy in the south to the tune of $125 million, which in 2011 -- this is the United Nations figure -- went to support their operations. They have a safe harbor in Pakistan and the Pakistanis are doing nothing to abate that safe harbor.
So, it's a big problem and I think that the key to Afghanistan is really action by Pakistan with respect to the Haqqani, with respect to the Taliban, and a new solidarity hopefully between our two countries to eliminate safe havens for terrorist.
BREAM: And General Allen has talked about the fact that the focus now for U.S. forces is on preparing the Afghan forces, to make sure that they are ready, knowing that we are leaving, and with everything you just laid, are you concerned about our time line and our plans for withdrawal?
FEINSTEIN: I'll tell you, there were two things that came through as very positive from our visit. The first was, according to General Allen, 362,000 mark of trained Afghan military will be met. He said they are doing very well. They are in the lead in many missions and they are carrying it out with alacrity and with talent. So, that's good.
The second thing that I saw were school girls in their white scarves coming out of school, even one holding a small sister by the hand, laughing, holding hands, walking down the street.
And I remember the day when acid was thrown in the face of young girls going to school and to see that change is really quite wonderful. Forty percent of the students in school in Afghanistan today are girls. And I think that is just great.
BREAM: All right. Let's turn to domestic issues.
Let's talk about -- first of all, I'm going to read you a quote that comes from 2008. It says this: "I believe a marriage between a man and woman. I'm not in favor of gay marriage."
That was then-Senator Barack Obama. Here's now the president. Here's what he said this week in an interview with "Good Morning America's" Robin Roberts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BREAM: Some would say a significant change between those two statements. Has he flip-flopped on this issue under pressure during a tough reelection campaign?
FEINSTEIN: I don't think it's a flip flop. And there's no political calculus in this, because it's not smart. You know, if he's going to do it from a political point of view, it doesn't make sense.
From a personal point of view, I can tell you what happened because it has also happened to me. You get to know more and more gay couples. You see the happiness. You see the economic security that marriage brings. And even more fundamentally you can see children who otherwise would not have an adopted home, being able to have that home.
And so, same-sex couples raise children. They do a fine job. I think when you see this and it's happened in California, more and more people say, what's wrong with people being happy?
BREAM: OK. Let's turn to JPMorgan -- a loss of $2 billion, described by some as a hedge that went wrong. There's been swift reaction from both sides of the aisle, talk of more hearings. This wasn't government money. It wasn't customer money.
Should Washington or should it not get involved in this particular transaction that got wrong?
FEINSTEIN: Well, this is a big surprise because this particular bank is well respected. It is well-led. And so, to have this kind of a loss from hedging activities is a big surprise. I think what it points out that there are no rules of the road for hedging and for derivatives. And this needs to happen.
The bill provides for it, but it hasn't taken place. And now you have what I would consider an enormous loss in a very high profile, very good investment bank.
So, it's a real danger signal that these rules need to get set by the respective bodies, the SEC, and the consumer finance commission.
BREAM: Another hot topic in the Senate. It's been 1,130 days since the budget has passed the Senate. Where does the blame lie for that?
FEINSTEIN: Well, we in essence have a budget. The numbers are solid. I'm an appropriator and my appropriation subcommittee which is energy and water gets an allocation based on that law that we passed, the budget law. So, it's passed and it's functioning.
So, there is no annual budget and that is true in that sense. But the allocations have gone out. My bill has just passed out of committee. I think there are four Senate appropriation bills that are now out of the committee awaiting for action.
So, nothing has stopped. The government is moving.
BREAM: Senator Feinstein, great to see you here again here on "Fox News Sunday".
FEINSTEIN: Thank you.
BREAM: Thanks for sharing part of your Mother's Day. Happy Mother's Day.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Shannon, much. You're the best.
BREAM: Up next, policy and politics with Senator John Thune, one of the most mentioned names in the Republican veep stakes.
BREAM: Coming to us now from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is one of Mitt Romney's earliest supporters and a name that many suggest would fit nicely on the Republican 2012 ticket, Senator John Thune.
Welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."
SEN. JOHN THUNE, R-S.D.: Good morning, Shannon.
BREAM: All right. We'll get back to the ticket in just a minute. But before the break, you may have heard us talking with Senator Feinstein about the situation, JPMorgan losing $2 billion this week on credit derivatives.
Now, you voted against the Dodd-Frank bill and, in fact, had signed on to the repeal of that bill. Senator Feinstein is among those who think if it was fully enacted and if the regulations have been enacted, it would have prevented a situation like this.
So, why shouldn't Washington empower the regulators to get involved?
THUNE: Well, first off, I don't think we know all of the facts about this. This was something that was detected by the company. But JPMorgan Chase is a company that has been well-respected in the industry. The whole issue of Dodd-Frank impacts not just systemically risky institution but also a lot of community banks across South Dakota, which is why I voted against it. It piles a lot of compliance, burdens on smaller banks across this country.
But I think with respect to federally insured, systemically risky institutions, like the big banks, it is important that we make sure that we got some good safeguards in place, but that we do it in a way that doesn't impair or limit their ability to mitigate risk and to protect themselves and their balance sheets as well. So, I think this issue is something that will be talked about probably for some days ahead here. But at least for right now, I think we need to make sure we've got all of the facts before we jump to any conclusions about the need for greater and further regulation.
Dodd-Frank was a sweeping far-reaching regulation, much f which are still trying to be interpreted by the regulators, and I think we need to give them an opportunity to do the job before we reach any conclusions about moving forward with additional regulations which could make it more difficult for financial institutions to do their jobs.
BREAM: All right. Let's turn to another big headline this week, gay marriage. The president now saying he does support the right of gay couple to get married.
I want to give you a poll from "USA Today" and Gallup. It was taken after the president's announcement. It shows 51 percent of the Americans approve of his position compared to 45 percent who say they disapprove. Thirteen percent of those surveyed said that his announcement will make them more likely vote for him.
He also had this to say to fundraisers this week, quote, "It was a logical extension of what America is supposed to be. Are we a country that includes everybody and gives everybody a shot and treats fairly? Are we welcoming to people who are not like us?"
I want to ask about Mitt Romney. You endorsed him early. He's clearly in favor of marriage between one woman and one man. How does he address these concerns so that he isn't portrayed as being unfair or unwelcoming to fellow Americans?
THUNE: I just think that for -- this is an issue, Shannon, in which there is great difference in the definition, like so many other issues on the campaign. I think Governor Romney's position has been very clear from the time he was governor in Massachusetts. It's not -- it's something that hasn't changed. The president obviously has changed his possession more than once from the time he was a state senator, at the time he was running for federal office, to what we heard this last week.
And I think the view that Governor Romney holds on traditional marriage is a view that's held by a lot of people across this country. There are more than 30 states, who either by statute or constitutional amendment, have defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.
THUNE: But that's one of many issues that's going to be discussed during the course of this campaign, and one of many differences. But the biggest difference I think is the view that the president has and that Governor Romney has with respect to how to fix the economy, how do we get the economy going again, how do we get people back to work. And to me, that's the issue that's one the minds of most Americans.
And if you look at the economy -- the economic record that this president has, you've got 39 straight months of more than 8 percent unemployment. You've got massive amounts of debt. You have fuel prices that have doubled. Health insurance costs have gone up 25 percent. College tuition has gone up 25 percent.
That's the economic record that I think most people are going to judge this president by after three and half years.
Governor Romney obviously has a different view about how to lead this country, one that's based on the power of freedom, as opposed to the power of government. And I think that's going to be a bright line that delineates and defines these candidacies as we head into the November elections, and the issue I think that's going to compel most Americans to come out and support Governor Romney.
BREAM: Well, the president firing (ph) zinger at Congress. He says you guys aren't getting anything done on the economy, specifically he says Republican policies are behind the sputtering economy. So, he's giving you a to-do list.
Here's part of his weekly address this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We tried their ideas for nearly a decade, and it didn't work out so well. We can't go back to the same policies that got us into this mess. We've got to move forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BREAM: All right. The first item on the president's to-do list for Congress involved tax credits for companies to help encourage them back to the U.S., offsetting that by cutting the tax breaks and incentives that companies get to cover the cost of moving overseas.
Now, your Republican colleague, Senator Chuck Grassley has said Republicans wouldn't go along with the second part of that, cutting the tax breaks that helps those who are moving businesses out of the U.S. Why not?
THUNE: Well, I mean, I just -- the question I think you have to ask Shannon in response to the president's speech last week is, you know, where was he three and half years ago. He's had three and a half year to put prescriptions in place that would get the economy back on track. All of the sudden now, with the 11th hour, he comes out with a to-do list for Congress.
Now, frankly, it's many of his policies that have gotten us into this ditch and we need to get out of the ditch. And the way to get out of the ditch isn't to double down on the things he's already done. This has been the most massive expansion of government that we've seen literally in the last half century. And we need a very different vision for the future of this country and it starts with ending some of the policies that this president has put in place, which is why we came out with a stop list.
He had a to-do list for Congress, and we came out and said, look, you need to stop these job-killing regulations that are strangling small businesses. You need to quit proposing tax increases that are going to make it more difficult and more expensive for small businesses to create jobs, stop blocking the Keystone pipeline, which would help end our dependence upon foreign sources of energy and put people to work in this country, and stop this divisive class warfare rhetoric which is so counter productive when we are talking about trying to grow the economy and create jobs.
I think the president's ideas, they're all fine and good, most of them are sort of a rehash of things we heard before. But more importantly, where has he been for the last three and half years and we have 39 months, consecutive months, now of unemployment above 8 percent, record amounts of debt, record amount of spending, record amounts of expansion of government at a time when we ought to be trying to create jobs in the private economy.
That is the Obama economy and the Obama record, and why I think Governor Romney has such a great opportunity to make a different case to the American people about a different direction for this country.
BREAM: The White House, though, will say Republicans are obstructionist. That's part of then reason that nothing is getting done on Capitol Hill.
So to that point, I want to talk to you about a primary election this week involving Republican Senator Richard Lugar. He was defeated in his primary by a Tea Party-backed challenger Richard Mourdock. Following his defeat, Senator Lugar released a very lengthy statement criticizing Mourdock's, quote, "unrelenting partisan mindset," and predicted that if he's elected, he won't get anything done.
Having a hard right candidate in that November election, do you worry about losing that Indiana seat in the fall?
THUNE: I don't. I think he's going to win. He's somebody who's run statewide. We are very confident about our prospects in the state of the Indiana and our prospects around the country for many of the reasons I just mentioned.
I think people in this country are voting on the economy and jobs, and what they see in the U.S. Senate and today led by Democrats is something that you mentioned earlier, and that is the fact that we haven't passed a budget in three years. It's become very dysfunctional and more recently a place where the presidential campaign has sort of been litigated, they sort of move the presidential campaign to the floor of the United States Senate. We continue to have votes that are about nothing but political messaging, talking about the Buffet tax rule, this last week about the interest rate on student loans which we all agree needs to be addressed and they want to do it in a way that the Republicans can't support.
And so, at the floor of the United States Senate, the reason it's not functioning today is because it's been converted into something that's about political gimmicks rather than about solving problems. And I think that people who are running across the country, including Mr. Mourdock are talking about spending, they're talking about debt, they're talking about jobs and talking about the economy -- which are all things that are on the hearts and minds of the American people.
And we need people who come to Washington that are serious about addressing those challenges. Many of us in the United States would welcome the opportunity to be able to vote on a budget that actually does something about entitlement reform, does something about tax reform, deals with these big and fundamental challenges. But frankly, that's not happening today.
I hope we get an infusion of new people in November who will help us to retake a majority of the United States and help us set an agenda that will take us in a different direction for the future of this country, and work with a Republican president who is intent on solving and fixing problems rather than just running for reelection and using campaign gimmicks to distract people from his economic record.
BREAM: Well, here's what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said about the proposition of Mourdock coming to Capitol Hill. He criticizes the far right, Tea Party wing of the Senate, and said, "Now, that's we need in the Senate, more people who are willing to do nothing but fight."
Is there room for compromise in the U.S. Senate today?
THUNE: Of course there is. And that's what we are going to have to bring the two sides together. But we have to recognize and define what the problem is.
The Democrats in the Senate seem to believe that the problem is that we don't have enough revenues. Republicans believe that the problem is that we spent too much, and that the way that you get people back to work and grow the economy is to empower the small business and the private economy, make it less expensive, less difficult for people in the private economy to create jobs.
And what we have seen out of the president and his allies in Congress is, you know, their desire seems to be to continue to grow and expand the size of the government.
And I think that we have to recognize we have fundamentally first is a spending problem. We are spending more as a percentage of our entire economy, almost 25 percent, than we have spent at any time since the end of World War II.
This is a spending problem. We have to acknowledge that. We have to recognize that's what's driving spending -- Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, food stamps and the mandatory part of the budget is really what has to be addressed. And if we are going to save Social Security and Medicare, we have to reform them and get them on a trajectory that will put us on a more sustainable fiscal path. That really is the way that we're going to get this economy and this country back on track and our fiscal house in order.
I think that's what a lot of these candidates across the country are talking about. There is room for compromise, for negotiation in the United States Senate. But we have to recognize that fundamentally, we a spending problem, not a revenue problem in this country, and that's what got to be addressed.
And we are hoping to get some leadership out of the White House and that's why we are working hard to get Governor Romney elected.
BREAM: Well, you did endorse him very early on, back in November, before there was a single primary vote cast.
And here's what one political expert says about you, "He's got solid unquestionable conservative credentials. Where Romney is perceived by many conservatives as not conservative enough. That's a good for Romney to have Thune on his side, so they balance each other out pretty well."
Will they also make a good ticket, Senator?
THUNE: Well, look, you know, now that Governor Romney is the nominee, going to be the nominee of our party, he and his team have put in place a process whereby they will look at various people. I have high level of confidence. I've seen him and his organization. He puts good people around him. They'll have a number of good people to choose from.
What I have said and I mean this sincerely is I respect that process, but I want to work a president, Shannon, who is serious about solving this country's problems and getting us back on the right track. We can't stay on the track that we're on right now, or we are headed toward Europe. And that's why we need a new president and hope we can get the majority of the Senate with him, to really focus on solving this problems.
I hope to be a partner with a President Romney and his administration in the United States Senate to get serious about putting this country back on track, both toward a growing economy and creating jobs, but getting spending and debt under control.
BREAM: If he called you and said you were the one who could make that happen by being the number two, would you say yes or no?
THUNE: Well, look, I don't you ever -- you never rule out opportunities or options when you're involved in public life and you say you want to make a difference. If you're serious about, obviously, you don't close those options.
But in my view, I have a job to do in the United States Senate. I like what I'm doing. I think I can make a difference there. And I think working with a Republican president, that we can do some really good things for this country.
And so, that's my job. That's the job I have. I don't aspire to anything else. Obviously, the Romney team, his campaign team are going to carefully vet some folks that they're looking at. We've got a lot of good options out there, and I just hope to contribute in some way to the success of this ticket this fall. And not only for the presidency, but as I said in the United States Senate where I think a lot of the battles are going to be fought in the years ahead.
THUNE: If we can get some new leadership in this country that will lean into these problems and not run away from them and try to distract by talking about all kinds of issues that really have nothing to do with what's -- what's really ailing this country and what needs to be fixed if we're going to create a brighter future for our children and grandchildren.
BREAM: All right. Let's talk about another potential match-up that could put you head-to-head with President Obama.
No secret around town you're quite an athlete. We actually have some footage of you playing in a tournament, a basketball charity tournament at Georgetown. We're going to watch as you drain one.
All right. So if you and President Obama went one on one, who'd win?
THUNE: Well, I think the president's got a pretty good game, Shannon, but, frankly, I'm still waiting for my invitation to play with him. I haven't received it yet. I don't think that's coming anytime soon, but I would welcome the opportunity, as always, to lace 'em up, and obviously it would be a great privilege to play with the president of the United States.
BREAM: All right. Keep us posted. Senator Thune, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today.
THUNE: Thanks, Shannon, great to be with you.
BREAM: Coming up, the president's position on gay marriage completes its evolution. So what's it mean for his political prospects come November? We'll put the question to our panel and much more. Back in a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: You'll have the chance to make your voice heard on the issue of making sure that everybody, regardless of sex orientation, is treated fairly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BREAM: You heard President Obama, post-evolution, and Mitt Romney, with remarks about this week's big political news, the commander in chief endorsing gay marriage.
It's time now for our Sunday group, Brit Hume, Fox News senior political analyst; Liz Marlantes of the Christian Science Monitor; Paul Gigot of The Wall Street Journal and also the host of the "Journal Editorial Report" on Fox News Channel; and Fox News political analyst Juan Williams.
All right. Juan, what do you make of this? Is it a plus or minus for the president?
WILLIAMS: Well, if you look at the poll numbers, you know, it's, sort of, a wash. Most people say it's not going to impact the way they vote. But if you break it down, suddenly you see that there are more people who say they are less likely to vote for the president than those who say they are more likely to vote for the president.
I look at it in terms of the Democratic base. I think it excites a lot of the young people who are -- young Americans just don't have a problem with gay marriage. Where it could cause the president a problem is with a lot of older socially conservative people, overwhelmingly Republicans who weren't going to vote for him anyway.
But then you start thinking about some of those states, socially conservative states like Virginia, Wisconsin, potentially some place like Michigan, and that could be a problem, when you have a large -- you know, it's not large, but a substantial number of independent voters who say they have some doubts.
One other thought I have here, Shannon, is that, with African- American voters, it's still the case most African-Americans do not support gay marriage. Are they willing to vote against or not show up at the polls in support of President Obama? I don't see that right now.
BREAM: And you'll see that, in the polling that came out after the president's announcement, you mentioned that 55 percent of African-Americans -- actually, this is a rolling poll over the last year -- 55 percent say that they do still oppose the idea gay marriage.
Let's look at some other polling as well. Because you mentioned independents and others that could be impacted by this. This polls is after the president's announcement, from Gallup. It shows that 23 percent of independents and 10 percent of Democrats say this is going to make them less likely to vote for the president.
Paul, do you think it will matter in the fall?
GIGOT: I don't think it's going to be decisive. I do think it could end up mattering in some states, particularly the swing states, some of the conservative states that the president is targeting, wants to win one last time, like North Carolina, maybe Virginia.
I think -- I agree with Juan -- I'm going to break type and agree with Juan on something...
BREAM: You like it?
GIGOT: ... with the president's base. The only question was whether this was going to happen after the election or before. So I give him credit for doing it before. It's truth in advertising.
BREAM: But it wasn't forced by the vice president? Did he force the president's hand?
GIGOT: I think what we've learned since that -- in the last week -- is that they were going to do this; they just did it a little earlier than they planned to do it. They were going to do it a little bit closer to the convention.
But I think the other thing it does is it helps Mitt Romney. And it helps Mitt Romney because it means that a lot of his conservatives, especially cultural conservative base now I think would be more motivated, and he doesn't have to do all that much to motivate them. This is going to motivate them.
BREAM: Yeah, he made that plain statement yesterday in his commencement address at Liberty University.
But, Liz, Rick Santorum is saying that Romney should just run with this, that he really should spend time and invest in this particular, you know, social issue.
MARLANTES: Yeah, and I think Romney is not going to do that. He's not done it so far.
I mean, it was really striking, I thought, on Friday, he was in North Carolina, which of course just voted overwhelmingly to ban gay marriage, and he didn't mention it at all.
I think this is an issue that makes both sides a little bit nervous. And it's because it has changed so fast and is still in flux.
I mean, up until 2009, support for gay marriage was increasing at roughly 1 percent a year. Since 2010 it's changed by 5 percent a year. That's a huge shift. And I think it makes both sides feel a little bit unsure as to how this is going to play out. Yes, a lot of the swing states that are going to be really crucial in this election have passed, you know, amendments banning gay marriage, but some of those states did it back in 2004, and it's a completely different landscape. And so I think there is a lot of uncertainty. And neither side is going to want to hit this issue too hard because they don't really know how it's going to shake out.
BREAM: Brit's shaking his head down there.
HUME: Well, I just think that there's a reason to distrust the sort of national polling that's being done on this because, you know, you look at it and it looks like a majority of the public now supports gay marriage, but you look at what's happening state by state and you're getting an entirely different picture.
And I think that what people say to pollsters may differ. You know, this is an issue that has emerged as a kind of civil rights issue. This is a country in which you do not want to be seen as standing to thwart the advance of civil rights. So you may tell a pollster one thing but that doesn't mean that's how you're going to vote.
And I don't think that means -- this apparent support for this means that's how people are going to vote. I think it's a net minus for the president and not just for that reason, also because this looks so nakedly political. The president's position on this hasn't evolved; it's revolved. In 1996 he came out and said he was in favor of gay marriage. Then in 2004, running for office, he said, no, he was against it.
HUME: And he stayed that way until just now. We also know, as Paul was describing, that they planned to roll this out at a particular time, obviously for maximum political advantage.
So this is a position that we're now to believe he's held for some time but withheld at the same time. What did he say actually? Did he say I am for this and want to make it possible everywhere, get behind legislation to do that or an effort to advance a constitutional amendment or something to do that? No, he says he's going to leave this up to the states.
So he is really not going to do anything apparently to advance a position for which he hopes to get some political gain, very obviously political, all of it.
And I think that as people look at that, it may further the impression -- which I think the president suffers from -- that far from being someone who is a different kind of post-partisan leader with all -- and all the rest of it, that he turns out to be just another politician doing what politicians do. And I think that's harmful to him.
BREAM: Who else thinks that, as Brit just said, folks are more conservative once they go in the voting booth versus (inaudible) --
HUME: Not on all issues, but I think on this one, that would be the case --
GIGOT: -- record is that I think this was done on the ballot, what, 34 times since the mid-1990s, 33 times gay marriage has lost? So it does not win now. But you're -- Liz is right. It was a lot of those were a decade ago or five, 10 years ago.
And things are changing but as recently as last week in North Carolina, 61 to 39 percent to put -- not just to pass a law, but put it in the Constitution that marriage is between a man and a woman. So I think that there is something to what Brit says, where I disagree with Brit, and I think that actually now that the president is saying this is what he really believes.
Everybody knew this is what he really believed, at least those are the people who paid some attention to politics. So there's almost a kind of, OK, at least that is out there now. We know, you know, now you are finally being honest. I think he gets some credit for that. (CROSSTALK)
HUME: -- that he -- that he took a position that we now know he -- that you would say he didn't believe in and held it for all of that time.
GIGOT: I think that is a typical of politicians.
HUME: There you go.
HUME: Typical of politicians is not good for him.
GIGOT: But ultimately he's come around to what he truly thinks. And that, I think --
HUME: Well, then why wouldn't he want to do something about it, in furtherance of it?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think that the reason is, that he was out -- you know, his position, going way back to when he was running in Illinois and filled out a questionnaire from a gay organization, he said he favored gay marriage at that time. He changes, I think, because he can't afford politically to get out in front of the evolving American position on gay marriage.
HUME: What a profile in courage.
WILLIAMS: Oh, I think it's political, and I, you know, was -- pick up on something Brit said. If this was an absolute right issue, well, then, why aren't you for saying this is a right for Americans? He didn't say that. He said it is up to the states. And I think that is a key point of discernment from Mitt Romney's position.
Mitt Romney says he is for a federal ban on gay marriage. President Obama's Justice Department doesn't enforce it. President Obama has ended "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" in the military. President Obama is saying here and I just am leaving it up to the states, that they vote one way or another.
That is quite different than saying let's say back in the '50s, African-Americans and civil rights is going to be left up to the states. If it had been left up to the states, I don't think it would have passed in most states, especially the Southern states. So the president's position is political. But is it the right issue? Is it the right stand?
I think that, you know, given the bigotry, the history of maltreatment of gay people in our society, the lack of employment opportunities, the stigmatization. You know, all of us have had to evolve and I think the president, in saying he has evolved, really reflects America's shifting positions on this very difficult issue.
BREAM: All right. Pause for a moment. We're going to leave it there with the panel on that to take a quick break. But when we come back, we're going to talk to the panel about "The Washington Post's" decision to run a front-page investigative piece about Mitt Romney's high school years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: There's no question but that I did some stupid things when I was in high school and obviously if I hurt anyone by virtue of that, I would be very sorry for it and apologize for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BREAM: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney talking about playing pranks on fellow classmates in high school. It was the subject of a long "Washington Post" article this week. We're back now to talk about it with our panel.
Liz, I want to start with you. Does the campaign bear some responsibility in this in that Ann Romney has been out talking about what a prankster he is, sort of highlighting his human hilarious side.
MARLANTES: Yes, we've been hearing for weeks now about Romney's pranks and hijinks -- these are the words that the Romney campaign kept putting out there. And frankly, as a reporter, I was wondering what exactly are they talking about? What do they mean, "pranks"? And this "Washington Post" story comes out.
And look, I don't think anybody really wants to hold presidential candidates accountable for what they did in high school. I don't think the Democrats want to do that. But how he responded to this story did matter. And I think he missed an opportunity here, because, really, it was a disturbing story to read.
I mean, there were four people on the record who said that they were deeply troubled by this incident. It showed a kind of mean side. And even if nobody thinks Romney has that mean side any more, I think there was an opportunity for him to come forward and really show some largeness of spirit and character in how he dealt with this.
And by saying he didn't remember and then offering this sort of apology anyway for something that he says he doesn't remember. I just think Romney's biggest problem is not that people think he is mean. His biggest problem is that people think he's insincere. And the handling of this issue, I think, only fed that perception.
BREAM: Did it a warrant a front page article in "The Washington Post," Brit?
HUME: My thought about that was if this had been connected -- I mean, this -- look, this was not a prank, this was hazing. And it was mean. There's no doubt about it.
And I don't have any real doubt about the basic truth of the story. The problem with the story, dating from high school was that it was the utter failure of the "Post" to connect it to anything else in Romney's life or career.
It this were a story that said now this is where you get the first example of the mean streak that Romney has shown or the tendency to take advantage of people who are in a weaker position -- there was nothing.
This thing, at almost book length with an enormous splash on the front page, was all about this one incident, unconnected -- indeed, I would say even disconnected from anything else we know, as Liz was just suggesting, about Romney. So the point is I don't -- I think it -- I think it was much ado about not very much.
And you have to wonder what does editor at the newspaper thinking? You know, editors who do edit news pages do, in a certain way, express editorial opinions by the way they play the story, where they play it and at what length.
This obviously struck the editors at "The Washington Post" and the reporters that worked on this story as a big deal. And you have to wonder what kind of news judgment these people have if they really think that.
And I'll -- look, Liz cites Romney's failure to respond, in her view, effectively to that as giving some strength to the story. But of course, that couldn't have entered into what the "Post" reported. They didn't have that reaction. So my view is that I think the story was, if it were put on an inside page, much less linked, it might have been appropriate. The way it was handled, ridiculous.
BREAM: Well, I want to get to the fact too that there's been backlash from this story. There were different versions of the story that ran in the Washington Post related to one of the individuals who was quoted in the story. Here are two different versions, because we want you to take a look. We report, you decide.
This is he original online paragraph from the article that said, "I always enjoyed his pranks," said Stu White, a popular friend of Romney's, who has long been bothered by the Lauber incident. Here we're talking about a young man who was held down and his hair was cut off.
This is the corrected version. "I always enjoyed his pranks," said Stu White, a popular friend of Romney's who said he had been disturbed by the Lauber incident since hearing about it several weeks ago.
HUME: And from whom did he hear about it? The Washington Post, right?
MARLANTES: I think it's from classmates. It's in there, the updated version.
BREAM: But there was never a correction that ran in the Washington Post. Paul, did they have an obligation to explain the difference in these versions?
GIGOT: I think it would have helped them if they had done that. But I mean, we have all made those mistakes, believe me. My newspaper has. I have as an editor and as a reporter, so I sympathize with them on that point.
And I think -- the reason they went with this anecdote, Brit, is because the rest of the 5,000 words were so boring. This was 5,000 words of nothing. It was about his high school years. He went to an elite prep school, oh, he was a happy-go-lucky guy. He was a leader of the prankster group, so what. And this is the only anecdote I think they found that was actually kind of edgy, and therefore they put it upfront and they made a big deal of it, and I think they made more of it than it actually is. And I think in terms of politics, if this is the worst thing the American people find out about Mitt Romney in the next five months, he is going to be a very happy man.
BREAM: Well, it was upsetting to the young man's family as well. I mean, he had passed away, but we got a statement from the family that said--
HUME: The story was upsetting.
BREAM: The story was upsetting. They said, "the portrayal of John is factually incorrect, and we are aggrieved that he would be used to further a political agenda. There will be no more comments from the family." That is their take on the story, Juan.
WILLIAMS: Well, obviously I think it is difficult for the family. The man is deceased, and they don't like him being disparaged or his life now cast through this singular prism. Apparently he came out to his family before he died, but that's not the entirety of his life, and they don't want his used for political purposes as they rightly said.
But you know, in this whole thing, I think what strikes me is that people want to know the character of the candidates, and Brit said, you know, this was bullying, it was hazing. The question is whether or not the newspaper acted in such a way as to advance the Democrats' agenda in this, and it looks like they just took advantage of the larger national discussion of gay rights and the president saying he was in favor of gay marriage to come out at this moment, but--
BREAM: My impression is this story had been in the works ahead of the president's announcement.
WILLIAMS: Yes, but I think they expedited the publication, again, to try to take advantage of the moment. But the way they did it, I think launched lots of concern that in fact it looked like they were simply working for the Obama White House, and I think that is why people were like, especially right-wing people, were saying what is going on here, why is the Post making this decision.
I think that people rightly want to know about the character of candidates. People want to know about biography. There is so much spin in America today coming from political camps. People look for reality. That's why all these candidates write books. And this one feeds the idea of Mitt Romney as the prep school, the rich guy, the out-of-touch guy, the guy with the dog on the car. It's just -- it's not -- it is one of the reasons why one of the big differences in the campaign between Obama and Romney is personal favorability. Obama is way ahead of that. This doesn't help Mitt Romney with that problem.
BREAM: Long-term the impact for Romney?
MARLANTES: I was just going to say two things. If you are the reporter tasked with interviewing Mitt Romney's high school classmates and trying to find a portrayal of him, and five of them tell you that there was this one incident that still is --
BREAM: Four. Four on the record and one off the record.
HUME: Wasn't one of the four the one who was misquoted as saying that he'd long held?
MARLANTES: I don't believe he was. But anyway, they got a lot of people on the record who brought this incident up, and they're going to use this. I mean, it's--
HUME: That goes to truth.
MARLANTES: No, but--
HUME: But front page and that length?
MARLANTES: Well, I just think, you know, as a reporter, if your job is to interview a bunch of high school classmates, and they all bring this incident up, of course you are going to report on it. I mean, it is not like something that is just insignificant.
But I will say also, the larger problem for Romney -- and we have talked about this a lot -- is the entire issue of character and likability, and right now Gallup this week, likability, Obama 60, Romney 31. He has got to improve that number. And stories like this and his handling of it I think did not really help.
GIGOT: It's a warning to him, a mild warning, not to run only on biography. He does need to run on an agenda and ideas and a theme. Theme, that is larger than Romney. Because the administration and the president are trying to take him down in terms of his reputation as a businessman and as a person. And if he doesn't stand for something larger, that will hurt him.
BREAM: Just a few seconds left here. Does anyone think we will see similar pieces on the president, or do you think it's fair to say we have seen it?
HUME: You're kidding? From the Washington Post?
BREAM: Maybe not the Washington Post, but any outlet.
HUME: My view is, I don't think we need it. He's been president. That's what he's running on. That's what we should judge him on.
BREAM: All right. Thank you very much, panel. See you next week. Don't forget to check out panel plus, where our group will pick up right off with this discussion on our website on FoxNewsSunday.com. We will post that video before noon Eastern Time. Make sure to follow us on Twitter @FoxnewsSunday.
Also, check this out at FoxNewsSunday.com. Alec Trebek giving Chris a behind the scenes tour on "Jeopardy" ahead of Chris's appearance on the show this next Wednesday night. Don't miss that.
We'll be right back.
BREAM: And finally, we heard that after Vice President Joe Biden blurted out his support for same-sex marriage ahead of the president, the two had a friendly talk in the White House, and now thanks to "Saturday Night Live," we can see what really happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's wrong? Are you serious? Do you really not get it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that something to do with the whole gay marriage thing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not fair, OK? I was the first one who said it should be legal, but now you are the one getting all the credit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not true.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yeah? Oh, really? Then why are you all dressed up?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to a gala with Lady Gaga and Elton John.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BREAM: You think that's how it really happened?
MARLANTES: We'll never know.
GIGOT: The Biden side of it, maybe.
MARLANTES: We'll never know.
BREAM: That's it for today. Chris Wallace returns to the big chair next week. To all the moms out there, mine especially, have a happy Mother's Day. We'll see you next "Fox News Sunday."
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Chris will sit down with Green Party Presidential Nominee Dr Jill Stein, to discuss her controversial push for a presidential election recount in several states.