Huckabee on "Meet the Press"

(CBS/John Filo)
From CBS News' Correspondent Nancy Cordes, who's covering the Huckabee campaign:

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was introduced on NBC's "Meet the Press" with a bit of bad news. A new MSNBC poll finds him back in second place in Iowa behind Mitt Romney. "Has Mitt Romney said anything that's been untrue about you?" Tim Russert asked. Huckabee replied half-jokingly, "How long do we have on this program today?"

Huckabee listed the areas where he felt Romney's ads had distorted his record, and argued that Romney "left his roads a mess in Massachusetts" and raised taxes by half a million. "Fees," Russert interjected. Huckabee asserted that raising fees had the same effect on the wallet as raising a tax.

Russert point out that some conservative groups had given Huckabee a D or F when it came to raising taxes. Huckabee said he only raised taxes for things that were crucial, like roads and schools. "That's what being a governor is about in some cases," Huckabee replied, and pointed out that he also lowered some taxes. "We untaxed poor people and gave them a shot of making it up the economic ladder…I'm proud of the fact that we raised teacher pay."

Russert asked if elections in Pakistan should be postponed. Huckabee declined to take a position, saying "that's their decision to make….I don't think it would be appropriate for me to weigh in on whether they should have elections in their own country." On whether it was worth destabilizing Musharraf's government to, as Huckabee has proposed in the past, go after al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan: "The number one job of the US president is to protect this country. Whatever we must do to protect our sovereignty from those whose ideologies are so extreme…yes sir, you better believe I would do whatever is necessary."

He passed Russert's pop quiz on Pakistan, correctly answering "Sunni" when asked whether the country was predominantly Shia or Sunni. When Russert read aloud an excerpt from a Washington Post editorial accusing Huckabee of "astonishing senselessness" for tying the events in Pakistan to immigration fears here at home, Huckabee made a joke to the effect of, "but Tim, how do they really feel?" and reiterated his argument that the destabilizing events in Pakistan should highlight the fact that terrorists from that region of the world could come across our porous southern border with a dirty bomb in a suitcase.

Huckabee was asked to back up his now infamous description of the Bush Administration's "arrogant bunker mentality." He trotted out his typical example, of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld ignoring the advice of his military commanders that the Iraq invasion would require 400,000 troops. "That's it?" Russert asked. "I think at times we have given foreign countries the impression you're either for us 100 percent, or for us 100 percent," Huckabee offered. He said a president should try to keep the bridges of communication open because a country that's against you today might be with you tomorrow on another issue – no two countries agree on everything.

On immigration: Huckabee was asked how his argument that the children of illegal immigrants shouldn't be punished for their parents' mistakes squares with his new immigration plan calling for illegals to be sent home. What about their kids, who are American citizens -- what happens to them, Russert wanted to know. They go with their parents, Huckabee replied. After the show, when asked by reporters how that doesn't punish a child, Huckabee asserted, "Why is it punishing a child? To let them be with their parents?" He argued that being with their parents is more important than what country they live in.

Russert asked Huckabee about his past statement that the economy would collapse if all illegal immigrants went home. "I think it would be very, very difficult to do construction and agriculture without them," Huckabee conceded. So what happens if, as your plan suggests, all 15 million go home? "All of them aren't going to go back on the same day," Huckabee replied, and argued that the borders should be sealed so a situation like this does not arise in the first place. "Let's not forget that our federal government has made a mess of this," he said. "As a governor, I had to deal with their mess."

The discussion turned to religion: specifically, the religious overtones of his ads in Iowa and his comment to a Baptist convention in 1998 that we should "answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ." "Where does this leave the non-Christians?" Russert wanted to know. Huckabee said he was interested in being president, not a religious leader. "I have more executive experience running a government than being a pastor," he pointed out. "I didn't ever have a bill replacing the dome of the capitol with a steeple. We didn't have tent revivals" on the grounds of the capitol. "But I don't want to pretend" that faith isn't important, he went on. He said his faith has shaped his beliefs on important issues, but "I've never tried to rewrite science textbooks, I've never tried to impose Christian doctrinaire," he later added.

Huckabee was asked about this line from his book Kids Who Kill from 1998: "It is now difficult to keep track of the vast array of publicly endorsed and institutionally supported aberrations—from homosexuality and pedophilia to sadomasochism and necrophilia." Does he really consider homosexuality to be equivalent to these other practices? "Oh, of course not," he replied, though "all of these are deviations from what has been the traditional concept of marriage." Millions of Americans are homosexuals, Russert noted, wondering whether Huckabee considered them aberrant and unnatural and if he thought people were born gay or became gay. "People who are gay say they're born that way," Huckabee mused, but added that people have a choice about how they act.

The last topic tackled was abortion. "You said you would ban abortion," Russert noted, as an example of how Huckabee's faith might influence his politics. "But that's not because I'm a Christian. That's because I'm an American," Huckabee countered. "If I value your life and respect it because it has dignity and is human…that's why we go after the 12 year old who is lost in the woods," he argued. "I like it that in this country we treat each other with that sense of equality." What about people who don't believe life starts at conception? "I respect it as a view but I don't think it has biological credibility." He said he considered women who had abortions to be victims, not criminals, and argued it was a violation of the Hippocratic oath "if you suction out the pieces of an unborn child." If abortion were a crime, how should a doctor who performs them be punished? "I don't know if you'd put him in prison," but he should be sanctioned in some way, Huckabee asserted.

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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.