Rep. Paul Ryan told David Gregory on this Sunday's Meet the Press that he wasn't concerned about Republicans over playing their hand on the issue of contraception and women's health while discussing some of Rick Santorum's latest remarks on the
February 19, 2012

Rep. Paul Ryan told David Gregory on this Sunday's Meet the Press that he wasn't concerned about Republicans over playing their hand on the issue of contraception and women's health while discussing some of Rick Santorum's latest remarks on the campaign trail.

Ryan told Gregory that he was instead worried that matter "might get misconstrued" and that voters were going to look at this as a matter of freedom of religion and the government over reaching and demanding that employers are mandated to pay for "everyone else's free birth control."

Rep. Chris Van Hollen did a fair job of pointing out that the Republicans were turning to wedge issues to get their base riled up because they have nothing else to run on right now and the weren't screaming about the many states that already had similar requirements for religious institutions and what services they were required to cover for their employees.

I really wish the Democrats would ask Republicans one question when they start screaming about how religious institutions ought to be allowed to discriminate against their female employees and that is just how far do they think that religious "freedom" goes with what laws they should have a right to disobey. Should they be allowed to ignore child labor laws? OSHA rules? Laws and regulations on the safety of the medications provided in their hospitals? Just where is the line drawn with these so-called "conscience clauses"?

If Paul Ryan thinks the Republicans are going to be able to frame this is an attack on religious "freedom" and defending their "freedom" to discriminate against women is some women is some winner for them, again, I say, good luck with that. You're going to need it.

And if anyone else is as tired of seeing Ryan's smug mug on the television set, you can support his opponent Rob Zerban at our Blue America page here -- Stop Paul Ryan.

Transcript below the fold.

GREGORY: So, Chairman Ryan, let me start with you. Is that what we can expect from Republicans in this campaign, is a faith-based broadside and an attack against the president's leadership?

RYAN: Well, I couldn't hear all of that clip from Rick Santorum, but what I would say is what we're getting from the White House with this conscience issue, it's not an issue about contraception, it's an issue that reveals a political philosophy that the president is showing that basically treats our constitutional rights as if they're revocable privileges from our government, not inalienable rights by our creator. And so what I would simply say is we're seeing this new government activism, sort of a paternalistic, arrogant political philosophy that puts new government-granted rights in the way of our constitutional rights. And so what I think it really is is that it's an argument for freedom, for our founding principles and for protecting those constitutional rights which right with his new mandate from HHS, like I said, it's really not about contraception, it's about violating our First Amendment rights to religious freedom and of conscience. That's what I think he's trying to get at.

GREGORY: You think it's an appropriate part of the debate for a Republican contender for the White House to say the president has a phony theology as part of his agenda and say things like, "Well, if he says he's a Christian then he's a Christian." Haven't we been through all of this before trying to demonize the president?

RYAN: Yeah, I wouldn't, I wouldn't characterize it that way. I would simply say that he has a political philosophy that believes that he can mandate certain benefits and activities of the American people which conflicts with their constitutional rights. He believes that these new government-granted rights trump our constitutional rights such as our First Amendment rights to conscience, to freedom of religion. So I would, I would go after him on his political philosophy, which violates our founding principles.

GREGORY: Congressman Van Hollen, how do you see it?

VAN HOLLEN: David, what you're seeing here is that as the economy is improving and more and more people are going back to work and it's clear that the president's policies on the economy are working you find Republicans going back to the old red meat social issues that helps rile up their base. That's what's going on. The president put on the table a very principled compromise on this issue, making sure that women would have the health care they need, including contraception, and also making sure that people could pursue their own religious liberty. And that's why groups like Catholic Charities, the Catholic hospitals associations have said this is a fair compromise, that it accomplishes the goal of both women's health as well as religious freedom.

GREGORY: How do you respond, though, more generally to what you heard Senator Santorum say out there on the campaign trail energizing the base by talking about a phony theology that he believes the president adheres to?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, if what he's saying, and again, I didn't hear all the tape, but what, if what he's saying is he's actually questioning the president's faith, that is a new low in American politics, certainly something that has no place in our political dialogue. Again, if that's what he meant, he should retract and apologize for the statement.

GREGORY: Well, part of this, of course, is not just happening on the campaign trail, Chairman Ryan, as you well know. Republicans in the House are taking on this issue of contraception and what they see as a religious freedom test. And this was the image at the first of two hearings...

RYAN: Right.

GREGORY: the House Government and Oversight Committee, all men, all religious leaders, all men, no women. You heard Nancy Pelosi, she had a few things to say about that. Listen.

(Videotape, Thursday)

PELOSI: Where are the women? And that's a good question for the whole debate. Where are the women? Where are the women on that panel? Imagine they're having a panel on women's health and they don't have any women on the panel. Duh.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: I mean, this was the "duh" moment. There was a second panel where there were women, but there's still a larger question here. There are Democratic leaders who are women who are using this for fundraising to say to a lot of women around the country who understand that contraception is not just about birth control but about women's health, that this should really be an issue. Are you concerned as a Republican that Republicans are overdoing this issue and could actually hurt the party's chances in November?

RYAN: No. I'm concerned that the issue might get misconstrued. Look, every person in America, men or women, are free to use contraceptions as they want to. That's not the issue here. The question is, is should the government have the kind of power to mandate these things of us. This compromise is really a distinction without a difference, it's mandating that everybody pay for everyone else's free, you know, birth control and contraception. The question is, is can the government mandate that people violate their religious teaching, their conscience, their freedom of religion. Look, I can tell you as a Catholic the charities and the hospitals, they don't enforce doctrine, they don't interpret it. It's the bishops and they're very clear in saying this is a violation of our constitutional rights. So it's an issue of constitutional rights and of the government having the kind of power to trump them. Look, the way I look at this is if the president is willing to trample on our constitutional rights in a difficult election year, imagine what he will do if in implementing the rest of this law after he doesn't have to face the voters again if he gets re-elected.

GREGORY: Well, so you have two different visions here, Congressman Van Hollen, which is what you heard Congressman Ryan say or whether this is fundamentally a women's health issue and protection of accessibility to key elements of women's health. Is that what you're going to see play out here?

VAN HOLLEN: Yes, that's the debate and it was quite a spectacle the other day when the Republican chairman of the committee, Darrell Issa, refused to allow the Democratic witness, a woman, to testify on that full first panel. And I do think it strikes the American people as strange to have a panel that's talking about this issue, trying to protect women's health and also protect religious liberty, without having a woman on the, on the main panel and denying her the right to testify.

Look, I think that Republicans are making a big mistake. After the president made the principal compromise that he did to make sure that we protect women's health and we also protect her religious liberty. A lot of states have insurance requirements that also meet that balance and that test and that's all the president has done in this case.

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