'This Week' Transcript: Rep. Darrell Issa

Rep. Darrell Issa is interviewed on 'This Week.'

ByABC News
June 20, 2012, 11:43 AM


TAPPER (voice-over): Good morning. Welcome to "This Week."

Summer showdown over the Fast and Furious scandal.

ISSA: The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will come to order.

PELOSI: Contempt of Congress? Contempt of Congress?

TAPPER: The president claims executive privilege...

HOLDER: It is our hope that we can somehow find a way through this.

TAPPER: ... while a House panel holds the attorney general in contempt.

(UNKNOWN): Who knew about Fast and Furious? When did they know about it? And how high up did it go?

TAPPER: Can the attorney general survive? Will this hurt the president as he fights for re-election? We'll ask the man leading the charge against the attorney general, Republican Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight Committee, and Democratic Congressman Xavier Becerra, who joins our powerhouse roundtable, along with George Will, Hilary Rosen, Peggy Noonan, and Major Garrett. Hear their take on the imminent Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, Mitt Romney's veepstakes, and that provocative new essay about why women still cannot have it all. We've got the most debate and the best analysis.

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos. It's your voice, your vote. Reporting from the Newseum in Washington, Jake Tapper.


TAPPER: Good morning. George Stephanopoulos has a well-deserved morning off. Here to discuss this standoff between the president and the Congress, we're joined by the chair of the House Oversight Committee, Darrell Issa.

Good morning, Congressman.

ISSA: Good morning, Jake. Thanks for having me on.

TAPPER: I have a lot of questions for you, Mr. Chairman, but, first, let's take a quick look at how we got to this point.


TAPPER (voice-over): Just like the movie it was named after, it was fast, furious and deadly. The operation? U.S. government agents allowed guns to pour across the border into Mexico, an attempt to track weapons traffickers and drug cartels. The problem? The agents lost track of 2,000 of those guns, including deadly assault rifles, and two of those weapons were found at the murder scene of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

TERRY: My son was a person that believed in justice, and he believed in telling the truth.

TAPPER: Congress, outraged, launched an investigation, but the Justice Department first denied the program existed. Quote, "ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico." Then later they conceded that statement was not true, and they admitted the program was a colossal mistake.

HOLDER: In fact, it was flawed, fundamentally flawed.

(UNKNOWN): Very flawed.

TAPPER: But the questions Republicans still want answered, who authorized the program? And why was Congress initially misled?

Which takes us to the stand-off. The president says some of his administration's discussions about the program are confidential, so he invoked executive privilege.

ISSA: The ayes have it.

TAPPER: Meanwhile, Congress is threatening to hold the attorney general in contempt.


TAPPER: And that brings us to today. Congressman Issa, this is a mess. And Democrats say you are not negotiating in good faith. On Tuesday, when you met with the attorney general, he offered you documents, including some that are not covered by the subpoena, and a briefing, and he said this would satisfy the questions you have. You rejected the deal. Why?

ISSA: Well, Jake, it's regrettable that we're here. This is not a place I want to be. It's not a place that Brian Terry's mother, Josie, or anyone else wants us to be. This started off about getting answers on behalf of Senator Grassley to how did -- how did Brian Terry come to be killed with weapons that we knew about and we helped transport, if you will, to the -- to the bad guys?

But we got here mostly because, after denials, we started getting these things. These are examples of the kind of discovery we got for quite a while. So those 7,600 pages they talk about, you can't rely on them answering questions.

One of the problems is, last Tuesday, 11th hour, after an exchange of e-mails, they said, let's have the meeting. I had the meeting. They came with nothing, not even an offer in -- in the form of a piece of paper. What they said orally was, we will brief you, we will then give you the information we believe supports that briefing, but you have to first agree to dismiss your subpoenas and your contempt.

We can't do that. You can't play liar's poker when you're looking for who killed somebody, when you're looking into this kind of a crime, and when you're looking into the cover-up. Remember, it was deny, delay, and recuse. That's what we've been dealing with since February 4th of last year.

TAPPER: You said that you believe there's a cover-up. Are you going to keep looking until you find one? What if there wasn't one? What if, as the Justice Department claims, they got bad information, they passed it on to Congress, and once they learned it, they tried to figure out what went wrong, and then they provided you with the right information?

ISSA: Ten months went by, but I'll just give you one example. Jason Weinstein, one of the top officials, was directed by the number-three, Lanny Breuer, at Justice to investigate after February 4th. He produced a memo. In testimony before our committee, bipartisan, Republicans and Democrats in the room, he started talking about that. His handlers, his lawyers at Justice said don't answer. Don't answer why, after February 4th, you produced a memo in which you interviewed people and may have discovered less than a month after -- about a month after the false statement was given to us that, in fact, we'd been lied to.

Not giving us a memo that directly relates to an investigation as to the February 4th and the people involved is a good example. He was told not to answer, and we've been denied the paperwork. So how can you presume that it is or isn't a cover-up of something wrong, when in fact there's clearly a cover-up of a piece of information that should be shown to us?

This was not a memo to the president. This was a memo to Lanny Breuer, his boss, about an investigation with the key people, one of whom has taken the Fifth, one of whom has resigned in disgrace.

TAPPER: And you think this document, this Weinstein document, would show potentially a cover-up?

ISSA: Jake, it's one of the memos -- one of the e-mails we specifically know exist and we've asked for. Remember, the Democrats have said this is a fishing expedition from day one. And what we've said is, no, we're not fishing, but you get testimony or whistleblowers and you ask for documents. You read the documents. Sometimes that leads you to more.

In this case, the thing the American people should understand is, lots of people knew that guns walked. On February 4th, Congress gets told -- specifically Senator Grassley in a letter -- we never let guns walk. And then that was -- live testimony supported that afterwards, when, in fact, 10 months later is when they finally said, no, that was false and retracted it. Ten months of lying to the American people and to Brian Terry's family.

TAPPER: One of the knocks on you is that you're partisan and that you're blinded by partisanship. Gun-walking, as you know, was not invented by the Obama administration. It took place in the Justice Department under President Bush. There was Operation Wide Receiver, the Medrano case, the Hernandez case...

ISSA: And a Fernandez case, too. There are these other cases. And each one is slightly different. And...

TAPPER: But why not -- why not call before your committee Republicans? Michael Mukasey, the Justice Department -- the attorney general during President Bush's time, why not call them to find -- to get to the heart of matter how this all started?

ISSA: Well, you know, Jake, this 7,600 pages, we've had no problem at all with them voluntarily giving us lots of things to -- you know, in the way of recrimination of the previous administration. We're not -- we -- our subpoenas covered that information. We've said we want it.

The -- the whole point of this thing is a little bit like when you do something wrong and then lie about it as a young person, you can't say, oh, after you get caught, my brother did it, too. There were things that we don't approve of, that we think were not well thought out, by the way, that the Bush administration thought were not well thought out. Wide Receiver was an example of a program in which it was so bad that the then-Republican U.S. attorney declined to prosecute.

But let's understand, Lanny Breuer personally ordered the reopening of Wide Receiver prosecutions and began those exactly as he or others authorized Fast and Furious. So this isn't a program that was shut down by Eric Holder. This is a program that was shut down under the Bush administration by local officials. A U.S. attorney decided it was a bad way to gather evidence. It was reopened for prosecution by Lanny Breuer, and then ultimately Fast and Furious was started.

So this is an example where Eric Holder would have you believe it started under Bush and closed up under him. No, it started under Bush, was closed up under Bush, reopened under President Obama, and, in fact, got to be on steroids.

But the point is, we're past that part of the discovery, relative to contempt. We know there's a lot of wrong things, and we want to get to fixing it. What we're talking about now is, when we get lied to, when the American people get lied to, there can't be oversight if there's lying, and there cannot -- the Supreme Court has held pretty clearly, there cannot be executive privilege over criminal cover-up or cover-up of a crime. Lying to Congress is a crime. We have every right to see documents that say, did you know, when did you know, what did you know, including even the president.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the president. I understand you're sending a letter to the president tomorrow about his invocation of executive privilege. What are you going to say in that letter?

ISSA: Better -- Jake, better scholars than myself are, in fact -- have prepared a letter -- we'll send it out probably today or tomorrow -- that breaks down the points of why the president's executive privilege claim is either overbroad or simply wrong. And our hope is that, as to at least a lot of these documents, including the documents often referred to as 1300, that were offered to us in this deal, that at least since those were offered to us, that the president would see -- we -- we would see them.

If those documents say what Eric Holder says they say, we might, in fact, dismiss contempt in -- in either case. But I can tell you one thing here. If we get documents that do show -- cast some doubt or allow us to understand this, we'll at least delay contempt and continue the process. We only broke off negotiations when we got a flat refusal to give us information needed for our investigation.

TAPPER: During the Bush administration, President Bush invoked executive privilege at least four times. You had no problem with it. In fact, here is you walking out of the chamber of the House during the invocation of the vote to hold some of Bush's aides in contempt. Explain to me why executive privilege was OK for President Bush, but not OK for President Obama?

ISSA: Jake, I also serve on Judiciary, so we saw those -- you know, the Conyers executive privilege argument going on, and we saw the whole question of what Congress was trying to get to. And I had some problems with the Bush administration. Attorney General Gonzales and I did not have a good relationship. I thought he was -- he ill-served his president. And I said so at the time. There were mistakes made.

Ultimately, I respect executive privilege if it's -- if it's top executives speaking or preparing and -- to the president. But in this case, the president has already said -- and the attorney general under oath has said -- they weren't communicating...

TAPPER: But that wasn't what Bush said. As you know, I'm sure, the Bush administration argued that executive privilege covered documents within a cabinet agency, not just conversations with the president. He said -- this is from Mukasey in June 2008 -- the doctrine of executive privilege also encompasses executive branch deliberative communications that do not implicate presidential decision-making. As the Supreme Court has explained, the privilege recognizes the valid need for protection of communications between high government officials and those who advise and assist them in the performance of their manifold duties.

So it wasn't just for presidential communications.

ISSA: Well, if we want to look at the Supreme Court, in Nixon, they made it very clear. Even the president -- and certainly all the agencies -- cannot hold back information related to covering up criminal activities or talking about them. That's what we're looking for here.

We're looking for how the American people were lied on February 4, 2011, and 10 months passed before the truth came out from the administration, if the (ph) communication during that 10-month period between an outright lie and lots of other activities that went on, going after whistleblowers, all kinds of things that went on during that 10 months, and when they finally owned up to the fact that, yes, they did let guns walk, it's very narrow what we're looking for under contempt.

And Speaker Boehner was very good in this process of saying, let's make sure we only focus contempt on that which we absolutely need and have no chance of getting any other way. The documents we seek are by definition narrow, and there's nowhere else to get them.

TAPPER: Last question for you, Congressman. You seem to suggest Fast and Furious may be part of a deliberate attempt by the administration to make the case for stronger gun laws. Here you are speaking in April at an NRA convention.


ISSA: They've never answered the question, what were they thinking of? Could it be that what they really were thinking of was, in fact, to use this -- this walking of guns in order to promote an assault weapons ban? Many think so, and they haven't come up with an explanation that would cause any of us not to agree.


TAPPER: You really think that there's a possibility that they were sending guns across the border not because they were trying to get people in the Mexican drug cartels, not because they were trying to figure out drug -- I mean, gun trafficking, but because they were trying to push gun control?

ISSA: Two things quickly. First of all, this was so flawed that you can't believe they expected to actually get criminal prosecutions as a result of it. So the level of flaw -- flaw -- flaw, if that's a word, here is huge.

But here's the real answer as to gun control. We have e-mails from people involved in this that are talking about using what they're finding here to support the -- basically assault weapons ban or greater reporting.

So chicken or egg? We don't know which came first; we probably never will. We do know that during this -- this Fast and Furious operation, there were e-mails in which they're saying we can use this as part of additional reporting or things like assault weapons ban. So the people involved saw the benefit of what -- what they were gathering. Whether or not that was their original purpose, we probably will never know.

And I -- and I take people at their word that this started off in some way as an idea where they could get good information, they could, in fact, roll up bad guys. But after it was out of control and people are saying, we're letting too many guns walk, those kinds of e-mails occurred, we -- we have people who also were being opportunists.

And, remember, Eric Holder issued a four-state (ph) reporting for long rifles and used what he had had here. Right in the middle of the scandal, he issues that for four states. They never needed this information. They never needed the reporting to get this information. These federally licensed gun dealers came to ATF and told them they had straw-buyers, told them they had suspicious buyers, and turned them on to the very people. And one of these people bought over 700 weapons, just one straw-buyer.

So it's very clear the system was working, where ATF was getting information voluntarily from licensed gun dealers. They don't need the additional reporting, but they got it anyway, and they used gun violence to the border and this operation as part of it. So I think when you look at the chicken or egg, there's proof that they certainly were opportunist.

TAPPER: All right, Congressman Issa, thank you so much for coming in today and sharing your views.

ISSA: Thank you, Jake.



CARNEY: President Obama has gone longer without asserting the privilege than any president in the last three decades.

STEWART: Excellent excuse. Come on, everybody. Obama held out so long. Executive privilege, it's like virginity. You hold onto it for as long as possible, then one day you're like, "Ah, I just got to have it, man. Just let me have a little executive privilege."

COLBERT: Yes, Fast and Furious was an unconscionable waste of money to promote senseless acts of violence, just like the movies it was named for.

FALLON: I don't know what's scarier, that we can't see those documents or that the government is naming operations after Vin Diesel movies. I don't know.


TAPPER: And we're joined now, as always, by George Will, Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen, Congressman Xavier Becerra of California, the vice chair of the Democratic Caucus in the House, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, and National Journal White House correspondent Major Garrett.

Thanks, one and all, for being here. George, does the president have a leg to stand on when it comes to his claim, his invocation of executive privilege? Doesn't he have the right to have people in his administration be able to have candid conversations?

WILL: Yes. And Darrell Issa has an argument, also, that his committee, which is called Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has a right to oversight. And there's a tension here. And there's no clear doctrine about executive privilege, which does not appear anywhere in the Constitution.

The first president to exercise this, the ink wasn't dry on the parchment yet. In 1791, after the Battle of the Wabash, in what is now Ohio, and didn't go well for the Army, Congress wanted documents. President Washington said you can't have them. He relented. And he was not a relenting man.

Next, we go all the way to another general, Eisenhower, who to try and stymie the investigations of Joe McCarthy, asserted executive privilege. The fact is, there is no clear doctrine. The courts are not going to step in and write one. I think they're going to call this a political argument, let the branches sort it out, and this will played out until well past November, at which point everyone will have forgotten about it.

TAPPER: Hilary, isn't that true? I mean, this is probably going to be kicked down the road until after the election?

ROSEN: It will, although if the courts thought there was legitimacy, they could step in. You know, this will likely be appealed to a court. You know, Eric Holder, the attorney general, saw this mistake. Border control is a dangerous occupation. This dumb program made it more dangerous. The attorney general stepped in. They closed this program down. He has taken responsibility for it. He has apologized. He has made documents available. They have -- he has testified on the Hill like something like nine times. This is just nothing more than a political witch hunt that is taking up ridiculous amounts of Republican House time, when they should be doing other things.

TAPPER: Congressman?

BECERRA: Jake, I would just add that I think George's right. Oversight is the Congress's responsibility. But what we have here is overreach. This committee has had ample opportunity to get all of the information, document or testimony, that it needs to figure out what this operation was about, what went wrong, who's at fault.

Now we're going into other things. Now we're this committee is trawling for all sorts of stuff during an election year. And I think George is right. After November, it's going to disappear. It's unfortunate, because while we should be talking about jobs, about student loan interest rates going up, about getting a transportation bill done that creates 2 million jobs, here we are, witch hunt, fishing expedition. That's not how you spend the taxpayers' money.

TAPPER: And, Peggy, there's evidence that Republican leaders in the House were not particularly enthused about this investigation or this issue. This doesn't help as much as, for instance, a conversation on the roundtable about the unemployment rate?

NOONAN: Yeah, I think that is exactly what they wanted to be talking about, economic issues, the presidential campaign right now. I think the administration made a bad mistake. I think, throughout the 15, 16 months of this investigation, they tried to stonewall Congress. They angered Congress.

I think the Republican leaders were not in a hurry to get onboard this thing. They didn't really want to push it as an issue. Eventually, they decided we're going to have to. This actually is Congress being dissed, if you will, by the executive.

I think it looks bad. I think we always -- all of us in politics and journalism learn every year, stonewalling isn't a good idea, but we keep that in our heads in the abstract. And in the particular, we stonewall. And I think that's the mistake they made.

TAPPER: Major, you could hear Congressman Issa basically playing the best card he had, which is this letter from 2011 from the Department of Justice contained false information and they didn't correct it for 10 months.

GARRETT: For 10 months.

TAPPER: And isn't that always just the classic lesson of Washington? When you find out that there's been a mess up, you admit it, you admit it as soon as you can, and you're contrite, and you give all the information out on your own terms, instead of holding onto it.

GARRETT: You'd be responsive in a way that is respectful of oversight, which is a legitimate congressional function, and conveys both internally to your department that it's willing to accept responsibility for mistakes made and when to disclose them to the general public. The Justice Department did not do that.

There is no fact record that indicates the Justice Department was contrite or transparent until forced to be either contrite or largely transparent by this oversight committee. That's a fact, OK?

The politics are as -- as been indicated the panel. The House Republicans believe there is a family victimized. Brian Terry's family wants more answers than and it has received from the government that hired its son. House Republicans are willing to stand with the Brian Terry family and the projection of that request for more information.

The White House, Democrats are more than willing to say, in economic doldrums, this appears to be a useless, fruitless exercise, a congressional inquisition that is partisan-based.

WILL: But this...

GARRETT: The country will sort this out. But one thing I'm curious about, if the president is going to assert executive privilege, he ought to do it in the way that it's historically been done. Where is the log of executive privilege? You can't blatantly say everything we've ever discussed is covered. You have to provide a log. And then with a log, a court can administer a ruling on the validity of that assertion. We haven't even gotten there yet.

TAPPER: That's true. The Justice Department has said that they're willing to provide some general categories for documents that they're withholding, as opposed to logging each one. But, George, you wanted to...

WILL: Well, this is being played out in a context of executive aggrandizement, as Republicans see it. First of all, the president rewrites immigration law by executive fiat. Then, while it's saying we must shield the secrets here regarding Fast and Furious deliberations, there's a torrent of leaks on the most sensitive national security matters appearing on the front page of the New York Times. Finally, Mr. Holder himself has made himself obnoxious to Republicans by saying, unlike the Supreme Court, that photo I.D. laws constitute voter suppression, that is, if you have to present when you vote a photo I.D., the way you have to present a photo I.D. to get into Justice -- Attorney General Holder's Justice Department.

ROSEN: Now we're getting to the real issue. This is why Republicans don't like Eric Holder, because he has challenged voter I.D. laws under the civil rights statutes as voter suppression rules that they are, because he has challenged the Arizona, you know, discriminatory immigration law, because he has refused to implement the discriminatory anti-marriage law.

So, you know, Eric Holder has shown a lot of backbone in the Justice Department, and the Republicans hate it. So what do they do? They call for his resignation; they throw him with document requests that are impossible to respond to; they just throw more and more stuff at him to distract him from doing the things that actually the president and the people hired him to do.

WILL: Let the record show that the Supreme Court, with Justice John Paul Stevens, liberal justice writing it, said that there's no constitutional flaw in photo I.D. voter laws.

ROSEN: You know, they're going to have to review that in the courts. Thirteen states, George, have instituted new statutes since the Republicans took over those state legislatures in 2010, purely for the purpose of limiting voting.

TAPPER: Let's -- let's take a turn now...

WILL: To legal voters.

TAPPER: As long as we're invoking the Supreme Court, let's take a turn to the big news that is coming down the pike, Supreme Court decisions. Here's some congressional sound on the pending decision.


BOEHNER: Court throws out the entire law, and the House will vote to repeal whatever is left of Obamacare.

PELOSI: Let's hope and pray that we will have a decision that is based on the merits and the Constitution of the United States.


TAPPER: Congressman Becerra, you are still optimistic that the Stevens -- I'm sorry, the Roberts court will rule in favor...

BECERRA: In Stevens' memory.

TAPPER: ... will rule in favor of upholding health care, as well as striking down the immigration law in Arizona. Let's talk about health care. Why do you -- why are you optimistic?

BECERRA: Principally because we took a bold step, something that some seven presidents before President Obama tried to do, something that this country has been fighting to get for quite some time, and all of a sudden now that we have the elements in place to start this moving forward, the court may step in. I think a lot of folks are wondering what the Supreme Court is really trying to do.

We saw the decision that allows secret money to come into campaigns. Now the Supreme Court goes further and says, ah, we're going to overturn a law that has a personal responsibility requirement to it that we've seen in other aspects of our nation and society. They're going to probably wonder, is this Supreme Court really nine justices trying to do -- dispense justice for all of us? Or has it become a political body just the way that Congress or the White House is?

And I think at this stage what we find is that millions of Americans have already benefited from the elements of this historic reform. And I believe most Americans will say, we're never going to go back to those days where my child could be denied access to my health insurance because he or she has a pre-existing condition.

TAPPER: And, Peggy, the health care law is not popular. The individual mandate is not popular, but other parts of the health care law are popular, pre-existing conditions, letting children 25 and under stay on their parents' plan. Is there not a risk for Republicans with this? Obviously, if the court strikes it down, it's a horrible story for the administration. But is there not another story?

NOONAN: Two parts. One is if the court strikes down the mandate or, indeed, the whole bill, I think it will be a political disaster for the administration. It will say, essentially, we have been in a four-year crisis. Our new president spent the first year-and-a-half of that crisis giving all of his time and effort to something that wasn't even constitutional, that didn't even pass that. So that will be quite dreadful for him.

What is interesting, however, is part two. I don't see that the Republicans on the Hill know what they do afterwards. What is their plan going to be? And I don't think the Democrats know what their Plan B is. So it seems to me there's going to be a lot of movement and action at some point, at least after the election, to figure out something, and I suspect it may be bipartisan, unlike this Obamacare deal.

GARRETT: Couple of things. The court cares about benefits, but as an abstraction. The court does not care about benefits delivered by the federal government. They care about the Constitution. At least that is their original intent. And they care in this case about the reach of the Commerce Clause.

This case, however it's decided, will define for the next 100 years the reach of the Commerce Clause. This court knows this. That, I believe, is the central driving force of the internal debate of the court. What does the Commerce Clause mean? What does it mean in a modern 21st century economy? What does it mean partially in a globalized economy?

Secondarily, on the politics of this, I've always regarded health care, with all due respect to Mayor Bloomberg, as a 32-ounce Red Bull. It has been an energy drink for both parties. Whatever the court decides, it's two more sips out of the 32-ounce Red Bull. It's an energy drink that energizes all political actors on health care.

WILL: On October 22, 2009, Nancy Pelosi was famously asked, is the mandate constitutional? And she famously exclaimed, are you serious? Are you serious? I think she was completely ingenuous.

I think such is the political culture of the Congress, since the Great Society in the 1960s, that it is unintelligible to most congressional members that we actually have a limited government, that there are things the federal government is not allowed to do. What the court has now been trying to do for six, seven, eight weeks is draft a limiting principle on the reach of what Congress can do under the pretense -- often mere pretense of regulating commerce.

TAPPER: Hilary, I'll let you have the last word on this.

ROSEN: It's worth pointing out in all of this faux outrage that actually the individual mandate was originally a Republican idea. Democrats actually wanted an employer mandate.

WILL: Doesn't make it constitutional.

ROSEN: An employer mandate would have clearly been constitutional. And so all we're talking about is, how do you pay for the 34 million people, spread the risk out to pay for the 34 million people who are without insurance and for those extra benefits that Peggy articulated? The issue is, if this bill falls apart because the Supreme Court knocks it down, it is on the Republicans' head what happens to those people. It behooves them and Mitt Romney as their leader to come up with a solution, because leaving them back where they started is not an answer.

TAPPER: OK, I have to take a break. Lots more to come from our roundtable.

The candidates cozy up to Latino voters. Quien es mas macho?


OBAMA: Que placer estar aqui con tantos, amigos.


TAPPER: Will immigration be a key issue in November? Can Mitt Romney make any inroads with these voters so crucial in key battleground states?

Plus, the Atlantic magazine courts controversy, asserting that women cannot have it all. We'll dig into that debate.

And an ABC News report that Romney was not vetting Marco Rubio to be his number-two, all the latest in the veepstakes up next.


LENO: Mitt Romney's campaign is now thoroughly vetting potential running mates for Romney. This is a long and complicated process. It's a lot different than the way John McCain -- remember how he picked Sarah Palin? He pointed and said, uh, the one in the boots. Yeah, take her. No, it was just very quick...



O'BRIEN: Please give a warm welcome to Ben, Matt, Craig, Tagg, and Josh Romney.

Does it bother you that the press always calls you the Romney boys? It's like you're 98 Degrees or something.

(UNKNOWN): We prefer brothers, but, you know, some people call us boys.

O'BRIEN: We have a photo here of a family gathering of the Romneys. Absolutely incredible. You can tell, when you guys get together, there's a global khaki shortage.


All of you guys, all boys. All boys. So my question is, is one of you a girl being raised as a boy?

(UNKNOWN): Ben, you want to take this one?



TAPPER: Mitt Romney's five sons there, Ben, Matt, Craig, Tagg, Josh, together for their first group interview ever with Conan O'Brien on Wednesday. And we're back now with our roundtable.

George, I want to talk about the Latino vote. This has been a big week for both President Obama and Mitt Romney, going after Latino voters. You are skeptical that Mr. Romney can make inroads with this key demographic.

WILL: I am. It's an old axiom in politics. If you don't like the news, go out and make some of your own. And one of the asymmetries in presidential politics, when you're challenging an incumbent president, he can do that. And he made news with his rewriting of immigration law, essentially. That's his advantage.

Romney's disadvantage is he has to un-ring a bell that he rang vigorously during the primaries, when he tried to flank Governor Perry on the right and did. It's interesting that Governor Romney, from New England, is much more severe about immigration than Romney -- sorry, than Reagan, McCain, or either Bush presidents were, all four of those coming from border states with more familiarity with it. So the president has a double advantage here.

TAPPER: I think he is. I mean, I think it's just empirically, Peggy, he's the most conservative Republican nominee on the issue of illegal immigration and -- and the Mexican border than any Republican nominee we've seen in the last 20 or 30 years.

NOONAN: Yeah, and I don't suppose he has any illusion that he can make real numeric progress with -- with the Latino vote. I suspect he's just thinking maybe he could hold Obama's majority down somewhat...


TAPPER: Congressman Becerra, you are actually an Latino voter, though I don't think your vote is up for grabs. I don't imagine that your vote is up for grabs.

BECERRA: I'm open. I'm open.

TAPPER: But one of the arguments from the Romney campaign is, look, illegal immigration is not the only issue. Latino unemployment is 11 percent. There are many other issues. Obviously, Latinos are on a lot of social issues more conservative than the average Democratic voter. Does he not have a case to make?

BECERRA: He should have a case to make, because the economy, education always come out above immigration when you poll Latinos. But the difficulty for Mitt Romney is he was so vicious in going at the issue of immigration that he locked himself in. He's now trying to play hide-and-seek on the issue of whether he supports what the president did for all those young Americans, the dreamers.

And at the same time, I think it was very telling. In Miami, the heart of Republican Latinos, where you find more of them than anywhere else, Mitt Romney goes and speaks to a crowd, he gets polite applause. Barack Obama goes into Miami, and he gets standing ovations from a crowd of mostly Latino elected and appointed officials, Republican and Democratic.

And so it's become clear that for Mitt Romney it's trying to sketch his way out of what he said in the primaries, but he went so far to the right. He still associates with so many of these guys that are so conservative. There's a saying in Spanish, "Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres," "Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are." Well, Mitt Romney walks with the likes of Kris Kobach, Russell Pearce, Pete Wilson, all folks identified in the Latino community as being very anti-Latino, very anti-immigrant.

TAPPER: And yet, Major, you and I were talking before the show. It was very interesting to see the Republican response when President Obama unveiled his -- you know, his baby DREAM Act, his -- by his...

GARRETT: Temporary DREAM Act-lite.

TAPPER: Yeah, and there wasn't -- well, tell us what...

GARRETT: Well, what I found most interesting about the Republican reaction was that it was -- especially in the context of immigration -- quiet, calm and reserved. And there was, well, what took the president so long?

TAPPER: Comparatively.

GARRETT: Comparatively.


GARRETT: That tells me two things, one, that Mitt Romney very quickly sent out an alert, look, we have to hold our own on this. We can't have an intra-party fight, number one. We can't gnaw on each other's necks about who's more aggressive or not on immigration.

Secondly, if we can't endorse this, let us not denounce it instantly. Maybe you can raise some questions about the process, but let's not denounce it. What I -- the metaphor I have for that is he's trying to keep a lid on a pressure cooker, which for him and his political future is the first priority: Do no harm so you can have a secondary conversation with Latino voters.

But I think for Romney, the question of this election is demographics destiny. Do the demographic advantages, which the president possesses, are they affirmative to him being reelected, no matter what? Or does the economy trump these other demographic issues? Right now, Mitt Romney is running in the low 20s with Latinos. If he doesn't get to 40, he doesn't have a chance. He's got to push up to 40. The only way to get there is economic despair or a sense that economics are so important that these other issues have to take a back seat.

TAPPER: And, Hilary, one of the reasons why the Latino vote is so important is because it is so big in key battleground states, not just Florida, but also Nevada, Colorado. They made the difference with Senator Bennet's re-election. But one of the problems with Latino voters is they don't go to the polls as much as Democrats want them to.

ROSEN: Well, obviously, the in particular Obama campaign has done a really good job of identifying and figuring out how to get them there. But here's the issue. It may end up being the economy that drives them to vote. But as -- as the congressman said, the sense of who's with you on the economy is also going to matter.

And so when you have Mitt Romney talking about, you know, tax cuts for the wealthy and trickle-down economy, you know, that doesn't give people who are most focused on aspirational goals, rising from the middle class, looking at, you know, at their kids' education costs, you're still not talking their language. And that's, I think, a key issue. And that's why I think, beyond just the immigration issues, President Obama has a leg up here.

BECERRA: Jake, can I just mention who I think -- what I think or who I think is the biggest casualty in Mitt Romney's rope-a-dope here in trying to deal with immigration? Senator Marco Rubio. I think essentially Mitt Romney threw Marco Rubio under the bus.

TAPPER: How so?

BECERRA: By not being willing to even come close to what Marco Rubio said he might be willing to on the DREAM Act. He essentially has said, it's radioactive. I can't even touch what Marco Rubio was going to do. And if what the president did is a baby DREAM Act, then what Marco Rubio was going to do was still, you know, in utero. And so if he couldn't -- if Mitt Romney couldn't even come close to where Marco Rubio was, how can Marco Rubio now become his vice presidential candidate?

TAPPER: And speaking of Marco Rubio, our own Jonathan Karl reported this week that Romney and his campaign, they were not vetting Marco Rubio to be vice president. And here was Mr. Romney's response.


ROMNEY: There was a story that originated today apparently at ABC based upon reports of supposedly outside, unnamed advisers of mine. I can't imagine who such people are, but I can tell you this: They know nothing about the vice presidential selection or evaluation process. The story was entirely false. Marco Rubio is being thoroughly vetted as part of our process.


TAPPER: Well, if given a choice between standing with a politician or Jon Karl, I'll stand with Jon Karl. Is it -- is it really beyond the realm of possibility that Jon -- that Jon Karl's report was correct, that Marco Rubio was not being vetted?

WILL: I assume it was correct, and I assume that, because it was correct, the Romney campaign immediately changed course and tried to make it incorrect.


TAPPER: ... absolutely.

WILL: Look, I don't know whether Marco Rubio is the answer to the problem. He has a 3.5 percent of Americans -- Hispanic Americans are of Cuban background, 63 percent are of Mexican background. I don't know the extent to which this is one homogeneous group that would respond to Marco Rubio.

But I think -- go back to what Major was saying about the economy. If the Hispanic vote is so elusive for Mr. Romney that he can't compete in Colorado or even in Virginia, which has a huge Hispanic vote, then he has to stress the Middle West. And then he comes up against the problem that you got all these Republican governors in the Midwest, in Ohio, in Pennsylvania, which I count as part of the Midwest, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, and all these Republican governors are saying, we're -- it's working, the economy's improving. So that's embarrassing the Romney campaign from the other side.

TAPPER: Hilary, you're a Democratic strategist. So in a moment of candor, who is the last person you want Mitt Romney to pick to be his VP?

ROSEN: If I'm Mitt Romney or if I'm me?

TAPPER: As a Republican. If you want Mitt Romney to win.

ROSEN: Yeah, I think probably somebody like Tim Pawlenty is a good choice for him. I think you want -- you want someone who is going to be experienced and not make noise. You know, when I was watching Mitt Romney on the campaign trail up in New Hampshire, I saw this nice little bromance between the two of them. They seemed to have chemistry.

You know, you look at the choices. And none of them really add something to Romney. I think he does a do no harm thing, because, look, as Democrats we have enough to run against with Mitt Romney. So if he adds something more for us in his vice presidential ticket, that's just gravy, as far as we're concerned.

TAPPER: Peggy, who would you pick, if you were advising Mitt Romney?

NOONAN: What's interesting to me is that there's every sign that the Romney folks have so absorbed the lesson of Sarah Palin from four years ago, don't go broad and don't get impetuous. Pick a small group of people and drill really deep in their lives. I still think Rob Portman is one of those who might be able to...

TAPPER: The senator from Ohio.

NOONAN: ... to -- the senator from Ohio, with -- with a great deal of experience and accomplishment. Everybody says that would be doubling down on almost Romney picking a Romney sort of person. I think it would be just doubling down on a certain kind of serious (ph).

But there's another thing that comes with Portman. Portman has a great ability to debate. As you know, in previous presidential cycles, he has, as a Republican, played the part of the Democrat the Republican candidate would be debating in debate rehearsals. And everybody always has been talking for years, this guy's so brilliant, he's so funny, he's so bright. Well, imagine someone taking those particular talents, bringing them into 2012 as a Republican vice presidential candidate, and facing Joe Biden.

TAPPER: What do you think that would do?

NOONAN: I think Joe Biden is a -- a very charming, but sometimes surprising and gaffe-prone person. And I think no one has pushed at him in 3 1/2 years. And I think Rob Portman just might eviscerate him. I think that might lead to a certain sense, this growing meme out there of the administration as a house of cards. There's something not fully stable, not fully operating, not fully right about this thing.

TAPPER: Major?

GARRETT: Well, I'm as far out on this limb as anyone can be. The night of the Pennsylvania primary, I wrote for my Wednesday column in National Journal that Mitt Romney would pick Rob Portman. I didn't say it would be a good idea; I just flatly said this was what's going to happen.

Now, Romney didn't call me. Stuart Stevens didn't call me. That's just my sense of everything I know about Governor Romney and what Rob Portman would bring from a governing perspective to the job. And I think that is the first and foremost qualification for Mitt Romney, someone who in Washington knows the three most important dimensions of economics in Washington, both politically and as a matter of policy, budget, taxes and trade.

Rob Portman knows them all. He's very well connected among Republicans and Democrats, and he brings something that a governor like Pawlenty or Bob McDonnell or anyone else doesn't bring, that sense, that instantaneous sense of what's possible, how it's possible, and how to work the system. And I believe Mitt Romney, if he's serious about this, will look at someone like Rob Portman, because he will help him govern.

TAPPER: And we have only a minute left. Congressman, as a Democrat, who's the person you fear the most, in terms of a vice presidential pick?

BECERRA: I'm not sure there's someone out there right now that I would fear the most. I certainly think that, without Ohio, Mitt Romney can't win the president.

TAPPER: And you worked with -- with Portman when he was a congressman.

BECERRA: Yeah, bright guy, solid guy. He certainly would help the -- Mr. Romney in Ohio. But Mitt Romney has to win Florida, he has to win Ohio, probably has to win Virginia. And so he's got a choice to make. To some degree, I think he's going to be driven by what he has to win more so than what he should do to get a solid VP to run with him.

TAPPER: And we still have more of the roundtable. We'll be back in just 60 seconds. Can women have it all? The Atlantic cover story that has everyone talking. Plus, HBO's "The Newsroom" debuts tonight. Will you be watching?


DANIELS: I'm never going on vacation again. You hired a new EP without my meeting him?


DANIELS: Without my meeting her?

WATERSTON: No, you've met her.





DANIELS: It sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed. We cared about our neighbors. We put our money where our mouths were. And we never beat our chest. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.


TAPPER: "The Newsroom" premiering tonight on HBO, the latest from Aaron Sorkin. And we're back now with our roundtable. George, we have a lot to talk about, but I did not let you pick your vice presidential nominee for Mitt Romney. Who would you pick?

WILL: Well, my choice decided he'd rather be president of Purdue University. That's Mitch Daniels. Portman and Pawlenty, they're just fine. I'd prefer someone who brings a little more excitement. Ryan would be good. The trouble is you take Ryan out of the House, where he could in two years, I guess, be chairman of Ways and Means Committee. So, by default -- and that's not to disparage him -- I'd probably go with Bobby Jindal.

TAPPER: Bobby Jindal from Louisiana, the governor. OK, let us talk -- now turn to this Atlantic cover story, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" by Anne-Marie Slaughter, former State Department official. Hilary, we've all read this. It's a provocative essay. What did you think of it?

ROSEN: You know, two things kind of for context first. The first is, two-thirds of mothers in America today actually are primary or co-breadwinners for their family, so women don't have the luxury of whether or not to work. We have to work.

The second is, I think men are increasingly feeling this pressure, so I don't -- I don't, you know, want you to feel left out. But that kind of brings us...

TAPPER: Thank you.

ROSEN: ... to a central problem, which is this issue really has to move beyond kind of party talk and angst and philosophy to some place that gets our country moving forward. We're the only -- we're one of two countries in the developing world that do not actually have paid family leave, that does not have flexible mandated work hours, that does not have federally supported child care. Those issues, you know, have historically been women's issues, but they're really economic issues. They support everything, and we really ought to move this issue into some policy debate.

TAPPER: Peggy?

NOONAN: Oh, I think you can't legislate away some of life's limits and joys. It's a very rich and varied thing. Look, I think that -- interesting article in the Atlantic tends -- it seems to me it is focusing on how women are doing in the world, in business, in the professions. What percentage of people we have -- of women we have in the State Department and are we slipping and such?

And I think, therefore, it takes a slightly limited view of what women are, what choices they have, and what they might want to be. And so it's seemed to me a little bit limited and crabbed in its canvas, I suppose.

I forget where I'm going with that, beyond it is good to remember that it is good to work with children, it is good to be in the house, it's good to be in the office. All of these things are good. You've got to be open about them, but you can't try to legislate it too closely.

TAPPER: One of the points of the article is that the economy and society are not structured to value family life the way they should be, that people in an office might admire somebody who takes long breaks to go marathon running or somebody who leaves early on Friday because they're an observant Jew than they would be respectful of people taking that same time for childcare. George?

WILL: Well, two points. First of all, I've got news for her: Men can't have it all, either. That's the nature of life, tragic choices, et cetera. But she gives us a perfect expression of the progressive mind. I still strongly believe that women can have it all, but not today, not with the way American economy -- America's economy and society are currently structured. So if you'll just restructure everything, everything is possible.

TAPPER: Very quickly, Congressman?

BECERRA: I don't think that's what she's saying.


BECERRA: What she's essentially saying -- she said that, but not what you said, George. She -- I believe what she's saying is that the playing field is not level. I still care more about family than most men do. A lot of men are beginning to care a lot more about family. But the reality is...

WILL: She says...

BECERRA: But the reality -- George, the reality is that you and I could probably take advantage of our careers far more than women do, because they're more willing to sacrifice their career for family. And I believe it's not only poignant for her to stress all these things, but wait until you go back to working-class Americans, see what a woman who's making less than the average middle-class family's making, raising a family. Those are the heroes of America.

TAPPER: We have about 10 seconds left. Major, you want to weigh in?

GARRETT: Very quickly, my mother was an executive with AT&T back in the '60s and '70s. She was a path-breaking woman and respected by many women who she brought up within AT&T and the men around her. The biggest difference between then and now is my mother worked from 8:30 to 4:30. The ravages (ph) of the 12- to 15-hour workday for men and women did not exist as it does today. That's a huge difference.

TAPPER: "Your Voice This Week" is coming right up. But first...


TAPPER (voice-over): A trip into our video vault, three moments from "This Week" history. What year was it?

STEPHANOPOULOS: The time has run out for Saddam Hussein?

POWELL: I think time is clearly running out. I think a moment of truth is arriving.

TAPPER: The Bush administration prepared the public for the invasion of Iraq.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What should the public know right now about what a war with Iraq would look like and what the costs would be?

RUMSFELD: Office of Management and Budget estimated it would be something under $50 billion.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Outside estimates say up to $300 billion.

RUMSFELD: Baloney.

TAPPER: Then, weeks after the invasion, that sadly false banner, "Mission Accomplished."

There was tragedy in the skies over Texas.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Twenty-four hours ago, the Space Shuttle Columbia lost contact with mission control.

TAPPER: And the year concluded...

(UNKNOWN): During the search, a spider hole was detected.

TAPPER: ... with the discovery and capture of Saddam Hussein. Was it 2002, 2003, or 2004? We'll be right back with the answer.


TAPPER: So what year was it? After months of anticipation, the Iraq war began, the Space Shuttle Columbia mission ended in tragedy on a February morning, and Saddam Hussein was found cowering in a spider hole near Tikrit. It was nine years ago, 2003.

And now we honor our fellow Americans who serve and sacrifice. This week, the Pentagon released the names of nine soldiers and Marines killed in Afghanistan.

And in "Your Voice This Week," today's question comes from Mike McGuire, who asks, what would be a priority for the White House if the president were re-elected?

Well, first priority, like it or not, re-elected or not, will be fixing this fiscal cliff. If the president and Congress do not act at the end of this year, the Bush tax cuts all expire, all $4 trillion of them, and there will be mandated budget cuts across the board because Congress failed to reduce the deficit on that not-so-super super-committee.

So after that mess, many here in Washington think, if re-elected, President Obama may then turn to tax reform, since he could potentially find common ground there with Republicans. But much depends on Congress. Even if Obama wins a second term, there's no telling whether he'll have a Congress filled with more allies than he does now.

The truth is, most second-term presidents make their mark in foreign policy, since it becomes much harder as a lame-duck to push through a domestic agenda.

And that's all for us today. Check out "World News" with David Muir tonight. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. George Stephanopoulos will see you back here next week.


ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events