'This Week' Transcript: Jack Lew, Paul Ryan and Rick Santorum

PHOTO: Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum on "This Week"

STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, everyone. Many of you have been following that breaking news overnight that the singer, Whitney Houston, died yesterday in Los Angeles. Just 48, she sold more than 100 million albums, and we're going to remember her later in the show.

But we do begin in Washington with the president's new chief of staff, Jack Lew. Welcome back to "This Week."

LEW: Good to be with you, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, this is your first time as White House chief of staff on "This Week." And, boy, you're starting out with a little bit of a controversy over this contraception coverage. The president announced his compromise on Friday, saying that Catholic institutions will not have to directly provide this contraception coverage, but that the insurance companies will.

That wasn't good enough for the Catholic bishops. I want to read you what they said yesterday. "No government has the right to intrude into the affairs of the church, much less coerce the church faithful individuals to engage in or cooperate in any way with immoral practices."

They are going to fight this. They are going to continue to fight this.

LEW: You know, George, from the very beginning, the president had two important goals here. One is to guarantee that every woman has a right to all forms of preventive health care, including contraception, secondly, that we do it in a way that respects the legitimate religious differences and the religious liberties that are so important in our country.

I think what the president announced on Friday struck the kind of balance to reconcile those two very important values. I think the fact that on Friday groups ranging from Catholic charities and the Catholic Health Association to Planned Parenthood all embraced what the president proposed speak to the fact that it is where that reconciliation is.

We didn't expect that there would be universal support, but we do think this is the right way to go, and it's a plan that we're going to pursue.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But there are a lot of questions yet to answer. I know you believe that over time this coverage will be revenue-neutral, will save money, perhaps, in the long run, but there are some upfront costs for contraceptive coverage. Who's going to pay for that?

LEW: See, now, it's interesting, George. As somebody who's done budgets for a lot of years, when people tell me things don't cost money, I ask a lot of questions. This is actually one of those exceptions to the rule. If you look at the overall cost of providing health care to a woman, the cost goes up, not down, if you take contraceptives out. This is not going to cost the insurance companies money, because on the overall health care cost basis, it won't cost more.

But most importantly, this will guarantee that every woman has a right to preventive care, including contraceptives, and no church will be required to provide the benefit, and no Catholic university or Catholic hospital will either have to pay or facilitate the provision of the benefit. It will come from the insurance companies.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you're just saying -- but the insurance companies then will just have to eat those upfront costs and get the savings over time?

LEW: Well, you know, insurance plans are like that. All preventive care costs money upfront to prevent other costs over time. So this is not any different than any other form of preventive health care. You don't look at a health care plan based on each incremental cost. You look at it what they call actuarial cost. And on that basis, we think that this is something that's totally consistent. If anything, it could save money over time.

STEPHANOPOULOS: On the broader economy, the president's new budget is coming out tomorrow, and I want to begin by sharing what the president said about tackling the deficit when he took office back in 2009. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Today, I'm pledging to cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term in office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, tomorrow's budget's going to make it clear that that promise will not be kept, not even close, really. The deficit will be well over $1 trillion for the fourth year in a row. Why?

LEW: You know, George, as I think you know, when we took office, the economy was falling so fast that the first thing we had to do was put a bottom in. That cost money in the Recovery Act. It cost money in terms of lost revenue and slower economic growth. We're on track now. We've seen several months of sustained economic growth and job creation, but we're not out of the woods yet. That's one of the reasons that we still need even this month for Congress to take action and pass the extension of the payroll tax cut.

The president's budget is a plan for 10 years, and over the 10 years, what it would do is bring the deficit down to below 3 percent of the economy, which means that we won't be adding to the deficit based on current spending. Secondly, it'll bring the debt as a percentage of the economy down to a point that all international financial organizations look at and say is what you need to do to have stability.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But not even as quickly as you were projecting several months ago.

LEW: Well, look, the economic projections in a time of -- of recovery from the deepest recession in a generation are going to fluctuate. Frankly, in the last three months, we've had better news than we expected in terms of job growth. That's a good thing.

I think that what we have to do is focus on the long term and the short term at the same time. In the short term, we need to keep the economy growing. In the long term, we need to get the deficit under control in a way that builds the economy that can last for the future, where we build a manufacturing base, we have Americans with the skills to do the work for the future, we have energy so that we can provide for more of our energy needs, and we do it in a way that's consistent with American values so that everyone pays a fair share.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Our next guest is Congressman Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee. Here's what he had to say the other day about the budget.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: His proposals have three things in common. They load massive tax increases on small businesses and hard-working families. They require bureaucratic rationing in government health care programs. And they hollow out our national security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your response?

LEW: You know, George, I think that if you look at our budget, for every dollar of revenue, there's $2.50 of spending reductions. So I think it's clearly not the case that this is a budget that's based on just raising taxes.

But we have tax cuts that go to people who don't need them. We have tax cuts going to the wealthiest people in America who are going to have to pay their fair share. We need to have an economy where everyone has a fair shot, where everybody does their fair share, and where everybody plays by the same rules. I think that's something that is what the president spoke to in Kansas a few months ago. It's what he spoke to in the State of the Union. And it's what this budget implements.

STEPHANOPOULOS: In the short term, though, as you mentioned, you want this extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits. Those talks seem to be stalled on Capitol Hill. And I'm hearing from Speaker Boehner's office that the White House isn't even contacting them directly. Why not? And will you accept a short-term extension, if the full year can't go through?

LEW: Congress should get the job done. We saw last year that Congress's inability to bring things to closure just adds to uncertainty and drags the economy. I don't think Congress wants to repeat even what they did in December, where it wasn't clear they were going to be able to act, and it took away from the benefit of passing it in the end.

Congress knows what the choices are. There's a conference committee that Speaker Boehner asked to form. It's been meeting. They've actually been working even over the weekend. They have time. They need to get their work done.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But why not call Speaker Boehner directly?

LEW: You know, Speaker Boehner said this should be resolved in a conference committee with the House and the Senate. They've been meeting. The list of options that's in front of them is known to everyone. They need to make some decisions.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you're confident it will get done?

LEW: It should get done. They need to finish their work. It's important for the American economy that we -- you know, this could contribute as much as another 1 percent of growth to the economy over the year. We need to have this done, and there's time to do it, and I think Congress should get it done, you know, on time.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Lew, thanks very much for your time this morning.

LEW: Good to be with you, George.

END

STEPHANOPOULOS: And let's get more on this now with Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee. He comes to us from Wisconsin this morning.

You just heard Jack Lew right there, Congressman, say that Congress should just get this payroll tax extension done. Will they?

RYAN: Well, I think we will, but what we're trying to do is simply cut spending to pay for it. You've got to remember, George, that this payroll tax holiday loses money to the Social Security Trust Fund. And if you just extend this without paying for it by cutting spending, then you're accelerating the bankruptcy of Social Security. That's all we want to do, is make sure that Social Security is left unharmed while we extend this payroll tax holiday.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But -- and the White House agrees with that, but the point is, it seems like you're stuck on how to pay for this extension.

RYAN: Yeah, it seems as if the parties -- the president's party leaders are more or less not engaging in these conversations. We have offered literally scores of different offsets. We've taken provisions from the president's own budget as ways of paying for this payroll tax holiday, yet they continue to insist on not agreeing to those kinds of things.

So I don't know where this is going to come down to it. I do believe this will get extended. But when we make offer after offer based on policies that we know Democrats and the president have supported in the past, yet they still insist on not coming to agreement, it's difficult to see exactly how this is going to pan out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's get to the broader budget. You heard Jack Lew there say that they have $2.50 of spending reductions for every tax increase. And the White House and Democrats have really targeted your plan to reform Medicare, this -- what you call premium support, they say it's a voucher system. I want to show right here the -- the ad put out, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, saying just when you thought Medicare was safe, they are back. They're saying that your plan is going to end Medicare as we know it.

Are you concerned that this -- this attack -- and we've heard Republicans pick it up, as well -- could end up costing your House majority?

RYAN: No, I'm really not concerned about that, actually, George, because we're taking responsibility for dealing with the drivers of our debt. You have to remember, George, that Medicare is going bankrupt, that the president's health care law puts a board of 15 unaccountable bureaucrats in charge of cutting Medicare, which will lead to denied care for seniors. The president's health care law takes the $500 billion from Medicare to spend on Obamacare.

And so I think when you actually look at what we're proposing, we're showing that there's a bipartisan consensus in Congress on how to preserve the Medicare guarantee, how to save and strengthen the program. We don't change any benefit for anybody 55 and above, and we save this guarantee for younger generations so they can actually count on it.

So when the dust settles and people see actually what we're doing, how we're promoting bipartisan solutions, I think we're going to be fine.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But in response to some...

RYAN: I think it's irresponsible not to. Go ahead.

STEPHANOPOULOS: In response to some of the criticism, you have also come up with a new plan with Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, to allow people to have the choice of either taking the premium support program or sticking with traditional Medicare.

RYAN: That's right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Will that be part of your new budget?

RYAN: Well, we haven't written the budget yet. That comes out in spring. But what we're showing is that there are bipartisan leaders in Congress who have worked together, just like they did in the 1990s when it was called Breaux-Frist at that time. Alice Rivlin's been a champion of this idea. And Ron Wyden and I are working on a plan to save and strengthen the program to keep the Medicare guarantee for current and future seniors. And what we're showing is that there's a consensus on how best to save Medicare. Unfortunately, the president and his party leaders, they're not a part of this conversation. And that to me is very disappointing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I know you're opposed to the compromise the president announced this week on this contraception coverage, but do you have the votes in the House to block it?

RYAN: Absolutely, we do. Look, to paraphrase the bishops' letter, this thing is a distinction without a difference. It's an accounting gimmick or a fig leaf. It's not a compromise. The president's double -down.

What I see here in this whole episode, George, is it's a real teachable moment for America in two ways. Number one, they're treating our constitutional First Amendment rights as revocable privileges from our government, not as an inalienable rights from our creator. And number two, if this is what the president's willing to do in a tough election year, imagine what he will do in implementing the rest of his health care law after an election.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you heard Jack Lew right there, this is not going to force the institutions to pay for the coverage, the Catholic institutions to pay for the coverage.

RYAN: It's a distinction without a difference. It's really an accounting trick. It forces the insurance company that they have to pay to do the coverage. So instead of making the institution itself, it reinforces the insurer. And a lot of these Catholic institutions are self-insured, and all insurers under this rule must provide these mandated benefits. So it really is a distinction without a difference. This should be rescinded, not compromised like this, because I would, again, say it's not a compromise. The president's doubling down.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Coming into this week, Congress has hit a new low, 10 percent in the Gallup poll. That's lower than Richard Nixon's popularity during Watergate. You're part of the House leadership. Do you accept responsibility for that? And how can you fix it?

RYAN: What we can -- there's nowhere to go but up, I guess. But what I really want -- what I really would say is, people will realize that there's a difference between the House and the Senate. The House is controlled by Republicans. Last year, we passed a budget to save and strengthen Medicare and Social Security, to pay off our debt, to grow our economy. We passed 30 bills aimed at growing the economy that are sitting in the Senate. We passed four budget process reform bills to strengthen the way we account for taxpayer money. The Senate has done nothing.

The Senate -- against current law -- has not passed a budget in 2010, in 2011, and now Senator Reid says he's not even going to budget again in 2012. We will, because the law says we will need to, but we also think we have a moral obligation to try and fix this country's big problems before they get out of our control. And so there's a very big difference between all the action to deal with our country's big problems in the House and just the total inaction by the Senate. And I think that generally speaking, people are looking at what's coming out of all of Congress, which is nothing, but when they look at what we're actually doing, the House is acting and the Senate is sitting on their hands playing partisan politics.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Ryan, thanks very much for your time this morning.

RYAN: Thank you, George.

END

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now to Rick Santorum, who shook up the presidential race again with his clean sweep across Missouri, Colorado, and Minnesota Tuesday night. That earned him front-page headlines, millions in new campaign funds, and a shoutout on "Saturday Night Live."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): I'll tell you this. I sure wouldn't want to be Rick Santorum right now, with all that pressure and the expectations and the attention and so on, being more popular with the party's base than the other candidates, et cetera. No thank you. Ha-ha.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And Rick Santorum joins us now. Senator, good morning, and congratulations on those wins Tuesday.

SANTORUM: Thank you very much, George. I'd thank the folks in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. That was quite a shot in the arm.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I guess it's three steps forward, a couple back. Yesterday, Mitt Romney took the straw poll at the CPAC conservative conference in Washington. He beat out Ron Paul in the main caucuses. You were back in third. Disappointed?

SANTORUM: Oh, no. I mean, we didn't really participate in Maine at all. I think Governor Romney went up there, Ron Paul. Obviously, this was the state he thought he could win, and at least when you talk to the Paul people, they still think they can win. There's a big caucus yet to vote next week, and they actually think they can still win it. But that was not a place we were going to compete. We've been -- well, you know, I'm out here in California, and we'll be in Washington, and Idaho, North Dakota, Michigan. We're going to spend a lot of time in Michigan and Arizona, and those are up next. And that's where we're really been focusing on.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is Michigan the next one? Is that your must win?

SANTORUM: Oh, you know, I think we can do well there. I mean, the early polls have us in pretty good shape. I think we can do reasonably well in Arizona and, you know, really make this, you know, a two-person race. And we saw that in Maine. You know, we ended up with 18 percent, really having not appeared up there or done anything in Maine, which was three times, you know, where the speaker was, and we feel like we can do exceptionally well again in Michigan and Arizona and, again, compete with Governor Romney in both those states.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned the possibility of a two-person race. Mitt Romney is still tying you together with Newt Gingrich coming out of those caucuses on Tuesday night. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Senator Santorum and Speaker Gingrich, they are the very Republicans who acted like Democrats, and when Republicans act like Democrats, they lose. And -- and in Newt Gingrich's case, he had to resign. In Rick Santorum's case, he lost by the biggest margin of any Senate incumbent since 1980.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're smiling right there, but every time the Romney campaign has turned its guns on a candidate, they go down.

SANTORUM: Well, that's pretty funny for Mitt Romney saying I'm acting like a Democrat. You know, the question I get most often from the national media, are you too conservative...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why is it funny?

SANTORUM: ... to be elected president? Well, because, I mean, you know, Mitt Romney is the author of Romneycare, which is the biggest government expansion in the history of the state of Massachusetts and was the template for Obamacare. He's supported cap-and-trade and the -- in Massachusetts. He was for the Wall Street bailouts. He ran as to the left of Ted Kennedy in 1994.

I mean, for him to suggest that I'm not the conservative in this race -- you know, there's -- you reach a point where desperate people do desperate things. And I think Governor Romney now, as, you know, another candidate has come up to challenge him, and this time he's having trouble finding out how to -- how to go after someone who is a solid conservative, who's got a great track record of attracting independents and Democrats and winning states as a conservative. You know, Governor Romney, when he ran his race, ran as a moderate in Massachusetts. And that's fine. And it's a tough state. And, you know, the people have to do what they have to do to win.

Well, I stood up and was for what I was for, and I won four races, I lost one. That's pretty good.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But back in 2006, you in some ways rejected the label of conservative in your own campaign ads. And we want to show part of it right here in 2006.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: I just love reading the newspapers. This paper, they say the real problem with Rick Santorum is he's too liberal. They didn't like my legislation calling for a raise in the minimum wage, and the White House probably called me a lot of things when I fought their efforts to cut Amtrak funding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you look at the spending on Amtrak funding, the raising of the minimum wage, and some are also starting to point out your vote to raise Judge Sotomayor, Sonia Sotomayor, President Clinton's pick to the circuit court. Of course, she ended up on the Supreme Court.

SANTORUM: Yeah, well, of course, you know, that was an ad we ran in Philadelphia. Amtrak funding is important to Philadelphia. And, you know, you -- look, you do things for your state that are important. And that corridor, Amtrak was very important, the same thing, minimum wage. As you know, I voted against minimum wage increases repeatedly, but there was -- there was a minimum wage increase when the minimum wage got way below what the normal is. I'm not against the minimum wage, although I haven't done what Governor Romney's done, which is to go out and index the minimum wage...

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're against that?

SANTORUM: That is a very bad idea. Oh, absolutely. You can't do that. You want to talk about driving wage inflation? That's a very bad idea. When -- when the minimum wage drops below a certain level -- and it's usually a floor of about 7 percent of wages at minimum wage, I've supported, you know, increasing it back up to make sure that it stays above that level, so there is, in fact, a minimum wage. But when you index it, you're not talking about a minimum wage. You're talking about an index that's going to drive wage inflation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why did you vote to bring Judge Sotomayor to the circuit court? That was a big fight back in 1998, and a majority of Republicans were against that.

SANTORUM: Yeah, what -- my feeling was, when it comes to anything, really, but Supreme Court justices, unless this candidate is a -- is really out of the mainstream, completely out of the mainstream on district courts and circuit courts, I give great deference to the president. The Supreme Court, why? Because, you know, the Supreme Court can overturn what happens at a circuit court, what happens at a district court, and so I take advise and consent looser when it comes to those nominations.

Obviously, the Supreme Court -- there's nobody that really did a better job in highlighting the importance of these nominees, worked harder for it, and even in circuit courts, I think you go back and look at -- you know, I fought for President Bush's nominees under the same grounds as I voted for President Clinton's nominees for the circuit court, which is that the president should have broad discretion when it comes to these lower courts. You know, the president won the election. He gets the chance to nominate people. If you want -- if you want different people on the court, elect a different president.

The Supreme Court's a different matter. That's -- that's the final arbiter, and that's where you draw the line.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You've raised a lot of eyebrows with some of your comments about women, those comments the other day about women in combat, where you suggested that shouldn't happen because of the types of emotions involved. I know you were talking about the emotions of men who are -- who are alongside the women, but also in your book, "It Takes a Family," where you seem to suggest that a lot of women feel pressure to work outside the home because of radical feminism.

And what do you say to those who worry -- believe that those kind of comments are going to alienate women, make you an easier candidate to beat in a general election?

SANTORUM: Well, that section of the book was co-written, if you want to be honest about it, by my wife, who is a nurse and a lawyer. And when she gave up that practice and she gave up, you know, nursing to raise a family, I mean, she felt very much that society was sort of -- in many cases, looked down their nose at that decision. And all I've said is -- and in talking with my wife and others like her -- who've given up their careers that they should be affirmed in their decision like everybody else and that these are choices, and they're tough choices.

You know, I grew up in a home where my mom and dad both worked. This was back in the '50s and '60s, and -- which was very unusual. My mom actually made more money than my dad. So I grew up in a home where that was something that -- that was a given, women in the workplace, and something that I obviously accepted.

But I think it's important that women both outside the home and inside the home are affirmed for their choices they make, that they are, in fact, choices, and society, you know, treats them in a sense equally for whatever decision they make that's best for them.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You say that now, but you also wrote in the book that radical feminists have been making the pitch that justice demands that men and women be given an equal opportunity to make it to the top in the workplace. Isn't that something that everyone should value?

SANTORUM: Yeah, I have no problem -- I don't know -- that's a new quote for me. I don't know what context that was given. But the bottom line is that people should have equal opportunity to rise in the workforce. And, again, if you read the entire section, I don't think anyone will have a problem with the fact that what I was calling for -- very clearly calling for is the treatment of an affirmation of whatever decision women decide to make.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you in the end convince skeptics -- the one place where you've been falling behind Mitt Romney pretty consistently in this campaign is that measure of how to beat President Obama. What is your case right there?

SANTORUM: Well, you know, Mitt Romney's case is, "I've got the most money." Well, of course, in the fall, he's not going to have the most money. And he's been able to win in these early primary states by, you know, beating the tar out of his opponents by four- and five-to-one on television. Well, that's not going to be the case.

The person who's going to be the best opportunity to beat Barack Obama is someone who's got the best record, someone who has the best plan, and someone who can make Barack Obama the issue in this election and his policies, everything from foreign policy to what he's done to this economy.

And that's really why I think we're in the best position. If you look at the national polls now, they actually have me running ahead of Governor Romney, with respect to how -- who can do better against Barack Obama. And I think the more people see us and see our record, you know, take the distortions that are out there and give us the opportunity to sort of say, OK, now look at what the truth really is, we're going to do just fine.

And I feel very confident that we're going to win this race and that we're going to go on to defeat Barack Obama and have someone in place who's going to be able to do the things that are necessary to bring this country together, get this country working again, and make sure that we're safe and our allies are folks that can depend on us, and stand -- and we will stand with them to make the world a safer place.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Final quick question. You said a few weeks back that you were going to release your tax returns after you got a chance to go home and review them. Are they coming out this week?

SANTORUM: Yeah, they are coming out this week. You know, I apologize for that. We had a little bobble with my daughter going in the hospital, and we didn't quite get the things done that I wanted to because she was sick that weekend that I was supposed to go home and take care of my taxes, but we've subsequently done that, and we're just running them through the traps to make sure I've got all the right papers at the right time, and they'll come out maybe even tomorrow, but certainly in the next couple of days.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Santorum, thanks very much for your time this morning.

SANTORUM: Thank you, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Up next, our powerhouse roundtable weighs in on all the week's politics. What's next in the presidential race? The one thing all the conservatives at CPAC could agree on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN: He says that he has a jobs plan out, a jobs plan to win the future. "WTF." I know. And I'm the idiot.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And with more killing in Syria, saber rattling in Iran, will America get drawn into another war?

END

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EASTWOOD: It's halftime in America, too. People are out of work, and they're hurting, and are all wondering what they're going to do to make a comeback. And we're all scared, because this isn't a game. This country can't be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again, and when we do, the world's going to hear the roar of our engines. Yeah. It's halftime, America, and our second half's about to begin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: That was halftime at the Super Bowl, Clint Eastwood for Chrysler. He did not like being accused of making that a commercial for the Obama campaign. That was this week's controversy. We're going to talk about all the week's politics now with our roundtable, George Will, as always, Donna Brazile, Liz Cheney, former State Department official, Fox News contributor, and Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.

And, boy, so much to get to this week, George, starting out with the Rick Santorum sweep on Tuesday night, a bit of a surprise, especially the results in Colorado. And, boy, every week, when it seems like Mitt Romney is on a roll, ready to wrap up this nomination, voters say, "Not so fast."

WILL: Another week and the narrative is unchanged. The narrative is that the strongest Republican candidate has a last name Romney and a first name Not. This week, the Not Romney is Santorum. Romney carried no counties in Minnesota, lost 48 out of 64 counties in Colorado. In Missouri, where five times more people voted than in Colorado and in Minnesota combined, Romney loses 2 to 1 to Santorum.

So it looks as though something like a binary choice has emerged. Always beware the candidate in a nomination contest who has two words attached to him, inevitable and electable. They're deflating words. And just as these words are being used about Romney, a Rasmussen poll comes out from Ohio. No Republican's ever won the presidency without carrying Ohio. And he shows Romney losing to Obama by 4 points, Santorum tied with Obama.

STEPHANOPOULOS: At the same time, Liz Cheney, he's been a weak frontrunner all year long, it's still hard to see how one of the other candidates puts together enough delegates to stop him.

CHENEY: It'll be very interesting to watch Rick Santorum for the rest of this month. I mean, he clearly now has a moment, and he's captured something. I think a lot of people were surprised that Mitt Romney won the straw poll at CPAC yesterday, but the question...

STEPHANOPOULOS: And barely won in Maine.

CHENEY: Yeah, yeah. But the question now for Santorum is going to be, can you build on this momentum? I think there are -- as George said -- a lot of conservatives who aren't yet sold on Romney who are looking very carefully now at Santorum. You've seen Newt, I think, fade here a bit, although you can never count Newt totally out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Although this week, did the results Tuesday night finally put him away?

CHENEY: Boy, George, you know, I mean, you'd think in a normal year, but I think, you know, this year has shown that people continue to rise from the dead, including Newt. So...

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Donna, one of the things we've also seen, whenever another candidate -- I talked to Rick Santorum about this -- whenever another candidate does pop up, the Not Romney, you see the Romney campaign, the super PACs train their fire on that candidate, and that candidate goes down.

BRAZILE: Absolutely. And you will also find that the Romney surrogates will begin to attack Rick Santorum as a Washington insider. And, of course, the Romney organization, they're already running ads in Michigan and Arizona. They're anticipating that Rick Santorum is now the candidate to beat.

The one that struck me in Maine, George, was the turnout, again, another factor. While 100 more people participated in the caucuses this time, Mitt Romney's number actually went down from 2008, less -- more than 650 people less voted for him this time than four years ago. On the other hand, Ron Paul, who put a lot of effort into winning the caucuses, he increased his vote total by 900 people.

So, you know, this year, the Republicans have this proportional representation, so I wouldn't give Mitt Romney this election until he can accumulate more delegates.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's right, although we saw, David Ignatius, Sarah Palin out yesterday -- actually, in the New York Times this morning, I want to read the quote right here -- talking about a brokered convention. "People who start screaming that a brokered convention is the worst thing that could happened to the GOP, they have an agenda. They have their own personal or political reasons, their own candidate who they would like to see protected away from a brokered convention. That's part of the competition, part of the process, and it may happen. I'm still dubious."

IGNATIUS: Well, I'd be surprised. The return of Sarah Palin in the scenario of a brokered convention is just one more wonderful wrinkle in this campaign.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It would be great for everybody covering the campaign.

IGNATIUS: The spotlight becomes Rick Santorum. I was struck watching him on your show. I mean, he's relaxed. He's articulate. His game is up, as he becomes more popular. And, you know, Romney, you still have to guess will grind it out. You know, he'll pound him back, but he loses something in these onslaughts, as we saw in Florida. There's something about the way he's beating these people back that hurts him.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to ask you about that, George Will. I mean, does the Romney team risk a backlash by seeming to be too negative against their conservative opponents?

WILL: Yes, I think it's occurring. He's less popular in Florida, a key swing state, the largest swing state. He's less popular in Iowa, and he's less popular in New Hampshire, according to some measures, all places he campaigned and had to go negative. It has a cost.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What does Romney do to fix this?

CHENEY: You know, I think he's begun. He's started. I do think winning the straw poll at CPAC was key. I think he's got to continue to explain to people that he actually is conservative. He's got to make clear that, you know, even though it may be that the negative campaign has hurt his numbers now, when we're in a general election, everybody's going to be negative campaigning...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: But he's trying to convince people that -- we heard this new phrase, "severely conservative," at CPAC.

CHENEY: Yeah, well, I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

CHENEY: It's struggling. It was a surprise. And it frankly was the kind of thing I heard somebody say this week normally is used to describe a head wound, not a political affiliation, so...

WILL: It wasn't in his speech. He adlibbed that word. It wasn't in the text they handed out. And it's just, again, a sign that he seems around conservatives to be like a well-meaning, earnest tourist in a country where he doesn't speak the language, and he's trying hard to connect with them. And he says, "My father grew up poor." Please.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The chairman of American Motors.

(CROSSTALK)

CHENEY: In his defense, I would say that I think you will see, as you see in, you know, every campaign cycle, you know, in 2008, Donna was pointing out the liberals were very concerned about John Kerry.

BRAZILE: That was 2004.

CHENEY: 2004. You know, the Republicans will come together. They are most concerned about Barack Obama.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that is pretty clear. But one of the things we've seen, Donna Brazile -- and we have a new poll out this week showing the same thing -- that at least so far, unlike 2008, where Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama maintained their popularity with Democrats all through this long process, that is not what's happening now with these Republican candidates. Their unfavorables are going up.

BRAZILE: Absolutely. Romney's favorability now is under 35 percent. In fact, Rick Santorum is the hottest ticket in terms of favorability. Over 60 percent of Republican primary voters like Rick Santorum. We'll see if that holds through March -- through the March primaries.

But, you know, something about Mitt Romney keeps striking me as -- he's not authentic. He's not inspiring. Yes, they will come together later at the convention to try to defeat Barack Obama, but right now, he has -- he has an authenticity gap that he has to close with those base conservative voters to convince them that he's one of them and not just another impersonator.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, but the more he tries to do that, David Ignatius, the more he risks alienating independent and moderate voters he's going to need later.

IGNATIUS: Yes. And adding to this inauthenticity problem, I've always thought Romney's best chance if there's a real crisis, if the economy turns down sharply, if we have a big foreign policy crisis. He does look like a manager with a kind of toughness that, you know, people might turn to in that sort of situation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's what he's been banking on. No economic crisis this week, Donna, but the White House did kind of create its own crisis on this whole issue over contraception and whether or not the Catholic institutions should be forced to offer coverage of contraception.

Finally, the president announced this compromise on Friday, where the institutions won't have to provide it, the insurance companies will. You saw me talk about it with Paul Ryan and Jack Lew. I think the big question a lot of people had, supporters of the president, why not come out with a compromise in the first place? What was this all about?

BRAZILE: Well, you know, George, it's not a compromise, because you cannot compromise with the Catholic bishops on this issue. For those of us who know Catholicism -- and I'm a practicing Catholic -- there's no -- there's zero tolerance with regards to birth control. There is no such thing as a compromise.

So the White House was trying to see an accommodation with the Catholic hospitals, with Catholic charities, and of course, with women's groups, the Jesuit colleges and universities. And they got off the mark. And they...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you know it happened?

BRAZILE: Well, you know, my theory is that there's an inner circle and there's an outer loop, and the outer loop couldn't get into the inner circle, and maybe that's one reason why they didn't understand that, according to Catholic doctrine -- it goes back to Genesis 30:10 -- you know, I had the books thrown at me when I was a little girl -- there is zero tolerance. There's only thing, abstinence. You know, sex is for procreation, not recreation.

I mean, I hear my mother -- she's deceased -- still telling me that. I'm 52, and I'm living by that, but (inaudible) zero tolerance.

(LAUGHTER)

CHENEY: Thanks for sharing, by the way.

(LAUGHTER)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet you had Vice President Joe Biden, Bill Daley, Catholics, all saying you've got to find a way to fix this. Don't buy yourself this fight, Mr. President.

WILL: Well, three points. As Paul Ryan said to you, this is an accounting gimmick that they've done that in no way ends the complicity of Catholic institutions and individuals in delivering services they consider morally abhorrent.

Second, you asked the question, how did this come about? George, this is what liberalism looks like. This is what the progressive state does. It tries to break all the institutions of civil society, all the institutions that mediate between the individual and the state. They have to break them to the saddle of the state.

Third, the Catholic bishops, it serves them right. They're the ones who are really hot for Obamacare, with a few exceptions, but they were all in favor of this. And this is what it looks like when the government decides it's going to make your health care choices for you.

BRAZILE: I think the bishops are making a mistake in doubling down and basically saying not only Catholic institutions, but they want to ensure that no one provides contraceptives. It's going to hurt -- this is reviving a cultural war that the Republicans want, the war on women's health, which, of course, the Democrats would like to talk about, because I think Democrats are quite frustrated that we have not talked about he assault on women's health...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And I want to bring that to Liz Cheney. Is there a risk of overreach now? You heard Paul Ryan, Congressman Paul Ryan, said there are -- they have the votes to block this with legislation that could effectively block contraception coverage overall, the provision of that. Will that put the Republican Party on the wrong side of what is probably a 90 percent issue?

CHENEY: I don't see that, George. I don't think we're going -- nobody's talking about preventing women from getting contraception. It's the opposite here. And I think there are two things here that people are going to remember. One is that, for political expedience, the president was willing to look away from the First Amendment, that the whole issue of freedom of religion was less important to this White House than placating their base on this issue.

Secondly is a point that you brought up with Jack Lew, which is the economics of this. For the president to stand at the podium in the White House and essentially announce free birth control for all, that somehow, you know, nobody's going to have to pay for this, the insurance companies are going to pay for it, you know, does he think that the companies that produced the pill are somehow going to donate their services now? I mean, this is a problem that gets to the heart of Obamacare.

STEPHANOPOULOS: David, there still doesn't seem to be an answer on that. You saw the insurance companies come out quite tepid in response. They're wondering if they're going to have to eat this.

IGNATIUS: The White House argues that this is a net cost reducer, that the...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Over time.

IGNATIUS: ... avoiding pregnancy, when women choose to do that, is less costly to insurance companies and society than -- than all of the services associated with the pregnancy.

I was struck looking at this, yes, the White House probably made a mistake with the initial policy, but the ability to do a do-over quickly, to -- I mean, you can make a mistake, but you really get in trouble in politics when your tone-deaf, you don't listen to the criticism and make changes. And they did make changes, and this is now a policy that you can defend. You say, we understand the objections of Catholics, that they shouldn't be forced to pay for...

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: ... 28 states allow for an exemption, so I think -- I don't think the White House was tone-deaf. And, you know, and this is more than just about, you know, pregnancy. Birth control is used to prevent many other -- endometriosis, ovarian cancer. So I think the White House are looking at this overall as a health issue, not as a political issue.

WILL: By making the accommodation they did, which is not a compromise -- they guaranteed that this has legs, and I think it will be overturned by votes in both houses of Congress.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to turn to foreign policy. We saw -- all saw that violence in Syria this week. Hundreds now have died in the fighting between Assad's forces and those anti-government forces right there. We've seen some of that.

David Ignatius, in the face of all this, you see the White House edging towards a new policy, although they're -- a resolution they were supporting in the U.N. was vetoed by Russia and China. Now some calls in the Senate -- Senator John McCain leading the charge -- that the White House should be open to actually arming the militias, providing the support to overturn Assad.

IGNATIUS: The White House feels -- and my own feeling as somebody who's traveled to this part of the world a lot over the last 30 years -- is that it's right to be wary of further militarizing this. We have almost 6,000 Syrians who've died in this horrific violence. But Syria is a place where the scale of slaughter, of bloodletting, the degree of ethnic violence that could take place really would be stunning. It would be on the level of the Lebanese civil war, which I remember. It would be on the level of what we saw in Iraq in 2006 and 2006.

So I think the White House has been telling the opposition, you're going to be outgunned if you go this route. You're facing a 300,000-person army with the most advanced weapons. That's not the way you're going to win this one. And I think that they're still working for a way to shame Russia back into a process that would -- that would organize a peaceful transition.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It sure didn't seem to work this week in the United Nations, Liz.

CHENEY: No. I mean, look, the White House has really tried very hard to act as though they've reset the policy with Russia. The fact that the Russians were willing to stand by and let Bashar Assad conduct this slaughter and the U.N. resolution, you know, didn't call for him to step down -- basically, it just said please stop, let's come to some agreement on this -- I think that you have a situation where you can't say, when this kind of slaughter is going on, that the problem will be if you arm the opposition.

People, innocent people are dying by the hour in Syria, and I think that John McCain had it right this week when he said that we ought to look into arming the opposition. I think, frankly, we ought to recognize the opposition government...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think there's a prospect to succeed, though, to pick up on David's point?

CHENEY: Yes. And I think, frankly, Iran is what makes this so important, Syria's connection to Iran, and the fact that Syria is Iran's foothold in the Arab world. It is the place that Iran funnels weapons and supplies to Hamas and Hezbollah. It's clearly in our national interest for Bashar Assad to be gone. It's clearly in our national interest that a new government that is not so closely affiliated with Iran come to the fore. And I think it's shameful that we're standing by watching the slaughter.

WILL: From Spain in 1936 to Libya in 2011, there is an itch to get involved in other people's civil wars. First, the slaughter today is as nothing -- awful as it is -- compared to killing 20,000 people in 1982...

STEPHANOPOULOS: His father, Assad's father.

WILL: ... in Hama. Yes, I mean, this is something of a Syrian tradition. It's not something that's a sudden surprise to us. If you enjoyed the engagement in Iraq, just get engaged in Syria. You got Sunnis. You got Shias. You got Kurds. You can do the whole thing over again. And beware of mission creep. We started in Libya a no-fly zone to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Benghazi. Instantly, it became regime change.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Donna, one of the things the White House points out is the difference from Libya is there you had all of Libya's neighbors saying, yes, go in there. You had a U.N. resolution, as well.

BRAZILE: Right. Arming the opposition is not going to be cheap. It could prolong the stalemate, lead to more violence. I think the administration is trying to use everything in their diplomatic toolbox, but, you know, David mentioned Russia, which is arming -- which provides arms to Syria, and, of course, Russia's also concerned about those ports. So this is a huge, huge agenda item for the president...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Meanwhile, Liz pointed out the connection to Iran. I want to bring that to David Ignatius, because you made some news last week in your column, where you talked about Defense Secretary Panetta's worries that Israel is prepared to attack Iran this year. It caused a lot of uproar across the Arab world, across Washington, as well. At this point, there does seem to be a behind-the-scenes -- constant behind-the-scenes debate between the administration and the Israeli government over how effective the sanctions are, how much time we really have.

IGNATIUS: I think there is -- the issue of time is -- is the crucial one. The reason that Secretary Panetta and others in the administration believe that Israel may go soon is that they...

STEPHANOPOULOS: As soon as April.

IGNATIUS: ... they see what the Israelis call a zone of vulnerability ending, a zone of immunity for Iran, beginning as Iran can continue enriching and put a bomb together. And they think that Israel, rather than rely on U.S. assurances that we'll take care of this when it gets to the actual bomb-making stage, may decide to go before this zone of immunity begins. And that's why there's anxiety.

The big issue -- I was hearing this last week -- was about the revival of some kind of diplomatic negotiations. The Turkish foreign minister was in town on Friday. I met with him and some other journalists. And he's talking about a resumption of a process that badly misfired in 2009, in which the Iranians seemed to promise a deal and then reneged, but that's back in the works. The White House's view is, you know, we're interested in a negotiated settlement here. We don't think an Israeli attack is wise, but we want to make sure the negotiations are not simply stalling.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Liz, it's so hard to see how -- what exactly is happening inside Iran, but we saw yesterday President Ahmadinejad announcing that he's going to have some major announcement on the nuclear program this week. Some observers saw that as a prelude to negotiations.

CHENEY: Well, I think that we've seen a very clear history from the Iranians. They love to get the West involved in negotiations as a stalling tactic. We've now had at least four rounds of sanctions. I think we have very clearly exhausted many of our options with respect to Iran.

The bottom line here is that nuclear proliferation -- a nuclear weapon in the hands of the world's worst sponsor of terror, one of them, is something we can't stand for. And the truth is that the best way to ensure we don't have to take military action is if the Iranians believe we will, if the Iranians understand they have no alternative.

And right now, what we're seeing is that the president is withdrawing, he's disengaging. We've pulled all of our troops out of Iraq. We're going to pull additional troops out of Afghanistan, I would predict...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we do have carriers around the Straits of Hormuz.

CHENEY: That's right. But all of the messages that we're sending to the region is that we're pulling out -- and, in fact, the new defense strategy has us turning towards Asia, which is exactly the wrong approach at a time when you want the Iranians to understand we will take military action if we have to.

WILL: With regard to Iran, the president's policy, as with regard to so many other things, was to blame his predecessor, saying it was the inadequate diplomacy on the part of George W. Bush. They've now tried three years of diplomacy and they got nothing from it. So that tool is out of their toolbox.

BRAZILE: No, the president is not abandoning Israel. The president has not signaled that in any way he is not -- he's unconcerned about Iran. The Europeans are going to stop importing Iranian oil, which will hurt their economy. I think the administration is hoping that they could get more support from China on this one here. I still believe that the biggest threat right now is to try to ensure that our Arab allies hang with us and hang with Israel on this one.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that will have to be the last word today. Thank you all very much.

When we come back, remembering Whitney Houston.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: So many of us woke up this morning to the news that Whitney Houston had died after a brief life marked by so much success and so much heartbreak.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): Rising from her gospel church choir, she became a superstar, winning multiple Emmy, Grammy, and Billboard Awards.

(UNKNOWN): I'm sad. We've lost a great, great, great voice, a great individual, and a history-maker.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But while she struggled with her demons...

SAWYER: If you had to name the devil, for you, the biggest devil among them?

HOUSTON: That would be me.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Houston's voice inspired generations of young singers, from Alicia Keys to Adele. She'll be remembered as one of the all-time greats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And now we honor our fellow Americans who serve and sacrifice.

This week, the Pentagon announced the name of one soldier who died in Afghanistan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally today, your voice this week, where you get to ask the questions. I take a shot at answering them. And you see that Twitter stream down at the bottom of your screen. You can send in your tweets and questions using the #thisweek.

Our first one comes today from Debbie B. "Do you think any of the candidates that have left the GOP presidential field regret that now due to current results?"

You know, I think about that a lot. To a person, they say no. Donald Trump says no. Sarah Palin says no. Chris Christie says no. The one I wonder about, though, is Tim Pawlenty, who was actually in the race, got out this summer after the Iowa straw poll. Watching other candidates like Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich come back from the dead at least once, you got to wonder if Tim Pawlenty thinks that he should have stuck it out. Again, he says no, but I think he would have had a good chance to be a strong candidate right now had he stayed in. On the other hand, if someone doesn't have that fire in the belly to get in and stay in, it's a sign they might not have the fortitude to make it all the way.

Also, Jeff Emmer would like to know, "Is that Charlie Gibson's voice introducing you on 'This Week'?"

It sure is. You've noticed, of course, that voice is unmistakable, and it was a terrific surprise to me on my first show to hear the announcer come in and hear Charlie's voice. It gave me a real jolt. I am so grateful to Charlie for doing that.

If you've got a question for me, send it on Facebook, Twitter at #askgeorge, or any time on abcnews.com and Yahoo.

That's all for us today. "World News with David Muir" has the latest headlines tonight. And check out otusnews.com all week long for the latest from our political team. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. I'll see you tomorrow on GMA.

END

Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...