"Face the Nation" transcript for May 20: McConnell, Warner, Graham

The shadow of Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, is seen on a representation of the National Debt Clock as he speaks at a town hall meeting in Kalamazoo, Mich., Friday, Feb. 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Gerald Herbert

(CBS News) Below is a rush transcript of "Face the Nation" on May 20, 2012, hosted by CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer. Guests include Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Mark Warner (D-VA). A roundtable on foreign policy includes Thomas Friedman and CBS News' Clarissa Ward. A political discussion with CBS News' John Dickerson and Norah O'Donnell round out the show.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Today on FACE THE NATION, it was a week when you couldn't believe your ears. First, it was House Speaker John Boehner.

JOHN BOEHNER: I'll again insist on my simple principle of cuts and reforms greater than the debt limit increase.

BOB SCHIEFFER: When he said that last year, Congress tied itself in such a knot that America's credit rating was downgraded, not to mention Congress's approval rating which hit a new low and now he wants to fight the same battle? Was he kidding?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is no joke right here.

BOB SCHIEFFER: The President and congressional leaders huddled over hoagies, but had no answers. So we'll ask three key senators--Republican leader Mitch McConnell, Virginia's Mark Warner, and South Carolina's Lindsey Graham. Does this mean we're headed toward another of those nasty stop-everything political standoffs in an election year?

And did you hear what Mitt Romney said about the comeback of the auto industry? Vice president Biden sure did.

JOE BIDEN: I'm-- I'm going to quote him, he said, quote, "I'll take a lot of credit for the fact that the industry's come back." Whoa.

(Crowd applauding)

JOE BIDEN: I'll-- and by the way, I'll take a lot of credit for a man having landed on the moon-

(Crowd laughter)

JOE BIDEN: --because all the while I was-- all the while I was in school, I-- I rooted for it.

BOB SCHIEFFER: On another subject, Romney admitted he doesn't always remember his exact words, but he said, you can still take them to the bank.

MITT ROMNEY: I'm not familiar precisely with exactly what I said but I stand by what I said whatever it was.

BOB SCHIEFFER: All that, plus the latest from the NATO Summit; analysis from Tom Friedman of the New York Times; CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward, just back from Afghanistan; White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell; and police director John Dickerson.

You don't get just the straight stuff here. You get it all--

MITT ROMNEY: Warm and gooey. Get the rest.


ANNOUNCER: From CBS News in Washington, FACE THE NATION with Bob Schieffer.

BOB SCHIEFFER: And good morning again, and welcome to FACE THE NATION.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, is with us this morning from Louisville. Welcome, Senator. I want to start out with this statement by Speaker Boehner because last summer, when Congress got itself all tangled up over extending the debt ceiling and the country was headed toward default, financial securities were-- got their ratings downgraded, you were one of the key players, as it were, who helped structure a compromise that kept all that from happening. Were you surprised when Speaker Boehner said now he's ready to repeat that same fight and-- and go through this whole thing again?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican Leader/R-Kentucky): Well, let-- let's make sure we got it exactly right what happened. What the speaker and I both said last year was that if the President's going to ask us to raise the debt ceiling, we shouldn't treat it like a motherhood resolution that passes on a voice vote. We ought to try to engage and try to see if we can do something about deficit and debt and so we did. And even no though the agreement ultimately reached was a lot less than I had hoped for and I know a lot less than the Speaker had hoped for, we did agree to reduce two point trillion-- 2.1 trillion dollars in discretionary spending over ten years. Why do we need to use the request of any President to discuss the deficit and debt? Look, we have a debt now bigger than our economy. That alone makes us look a lot like Greece. We've had the-- the-- the lowest labor participation rate in thirty years. We've had thirty-nine straight months of unemployment above eight percent. The country's in a lot of trouble. We have a President who just this weekend at Camp David was advocating a position to the left of the European Central Bank which has been resisting doing an American-type stimulus to solve their problems, and yet the President is arguing that the Europeans should replicate policies that clearly haven't worked here. What the speaker was saying I entirely agree with. If the President is going to ask us to raise the debt ceiling and he-- he will early next year-- we do need to have another serious discussion about trying to do something significant--


SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: --about the deficit and the debt. Yeah.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, Speaker Boehner seemed to suggest that he wanted to do it before the election, and I don't think anybody thinks that that's necessary to-- to raise the debt limit before-- before early next year. But he seemed to suggest that he wanted to do it now. And I take your point of what you just said, but let me just--


BOB SCHIEFFER: --read you, here's what the Wall Street Journal said last year-- in fact, I read this quote to you on FACE THE NATION, the morning before you finally worked out the compromise. The Wall Street Journal said then, "The debt-limit hobbits should also realize that at this point, the Washington fracas they are prolonging isn't helping their cause. Republicans are not looking like adults to whom voters can entrust the government." Aren't you just setting yourself up for the same kind of situation again?