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E.J. Dionne and Senator Pat Toomey on President Obama’s Attack on the Roman Catholic Church

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Here’s the latest fact sheet from the bishops on the president’s attack on the Roman Catholic Church.

One of the liberals cited as a critic of the policy –E.J. Dionne– is my guest today, as is Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey. The trancsripts of both conversations will be posted here later. I will also ask Toomey about his non-endorsement of Rick Santorum, which strikes many as odd given their shared Keystone State heritage and may be a reflection of Toomey’s lingering resentment of Santorum’s backing of Arlen Specter in a long-ago primary battle between Specter and Toomey, or the current senator’s pronounced dislike of earmarks, not shared by the former senator.

Santorum and Toomey do agree, however, on the absolute nature of the constitutional violation inherent in the president’s attack on the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, I haven’t found one Republican yet who agrees this is other than an astonishing, offensive and unacceptable assault on religious freedom.

The Dionne and Toomey transcripts:


HH: Pleased to welcome now to the Hugh Hewitt Show Senator Pat Toomey of the great state of Pennsylvania. Senator, welcome back, good to have you.

PT: Thanks for having me, Hugh.

HH: I want to talk about the HHS regs, but first, for the benefit of the audience, are you Roman Catholic?

PT: I am Roman Catholic, yes.

HH: And are you a practicing Catholic, as they say?

PT: I am a practicing Catholic, and my wife would probably suggest I could use more practice.

HH: Okay, so what is your reaction to the HHS regs that the President personally reviewed, approved and called Cardinal-designate Dolan about?

PT: These are, this is outrageous. But it’s not because I’m a Catholic. I really think that any American should be outraged when the federal government decides that it has the power to force a religious institution to violate a deeply held religious conviction. That’s what’s going on here. It’s very unambiguous. It is, I can only imagine that it is driven by the really extreme ideology, this left wing view that government is so wise that it’s going to force out something it wants, and it doesn’t matter whether it infringes on the 1st Amendment rights or the free exercise of religion. But that’s what it’s doing here. It’s really outrageous. [# More #]

HH: Now Senator Toomey, yesterday, the New York Times reported, and this afternoon, CNN picked up on the White House desire for a “compromise”. I do not know how you compromise your free exercise rights in the 1st Amendment. But do you have any idea what they’re talking about?

PT: I have no idea what they’re talking about. The only thing that would make sense would be for them to completely abandon the mandate. By the way, I really think we should, I really feel obligated to make the point that if the government weren’t trying to dictate what ought to be a private relationship between an employer and employee with respect to the nature of their health care coverage. If they weren’t doing this in the first place, this problem would never arise. This is just a particularly egregious and offensive version of this, because they’re willing to go so far as to violate an obvious 1st Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.

HH: Now the political consequences of this are enormous. Yesterday, I had Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix on. I want to play you the last bit of my exchange with him, Senator Toomey, and get your comment.

HH: Last question, Bishop, could you personally, as Thomas Olmsted, Bishop Olmsted, could you vote for someone who stood behind this policy?

TO: I could not vote for someone who’s in favor of any intrinsically evil thing.

HH: And this policy is intrinsically evil?

TO: Well, this policy means that we are forced to subsidize things that are intrinsically evil.

HH: Now Senator Toomey, I’ve been following your archbishop in Philadelphia, Charles Chaput’s response, and Cardinal Dolan’s response, and Archbishop Gomez’ response. It seems to me the Roman Catholic Church is simply not going to put up with this.

PT: I think that’s exactly right. And much to their credit, the bishops, but also parish priests, the cardinals, I mean, the entire Church, as best I can determine, at least an overwhelming consensus within the Church is that they will not allow this government to force them to violate their own core convictions. Much to their credit, they’re going to stand up, and they’re going to win. By standing strong, by standing together, I think they’re going to win this fight and eventually the administration is going to back down.

HH: And withdraw these regs. I think only full, complete and immediate withdrawal is acceptable to the Catholic I am talking to. And I was afraid that some kind of legislative compromise was going to sail through, because that’s absurd. It’s like compromising press freedom.

PT: I agree. I don’t think there’s… I just don’t see that happening. I think again, to their credit, the Catholic Church leadership realizes this is a matter of conscience. You can’t compromise on this. And frankly, they don’t need to. This administration is going to back down.

HH: Senator Toomey, turning to politics, have you endorsed in the presidential race yet?

PT: I have not endorsed in the presidential race.

HH: Now that strikes some people as unusual given that Rick Santorum is a former Senator of the Keystone State, and you’re both poor, misguided Steelers fans. What’s your thinking there?

PT: I’m actually an Eagles fan. So there you go.

HH: Oh, well that explains it.

PT: (laughing) No, you know, look. I think Rick has a conservative voting record in many ways. Governor Romney has advocated some very conservative principles. It’s a field where I’m going to let the voters sort this out. I’m not going to weigh in. I’ve been learning a lot by watching closely how these guys perform. And you know, Rick Santorum had a tremendous night just last night, so I think it’s going to be an interesting race.

HH: Now there’s a disagreement between you and Senator Santorum on tax policy. I have the same. I’m with him on this. I believe in the child tax credit and the home mortgage interest deduction. And when you were on the Supercommittee, you pushed for the compromise. Is that what makes you hesitant to sign on with Team…

PT: No, look, I mean, I have differences with Senator Santorum that go beyond that. I have differences with Governor Romney. I have differences with Newt Gingrich. I’ve got differences with everybody. There’s no one issue that keeps me out of this race.

HH: Well, I was thinking it might be earmarks, because there’s a front page story about earmarks in the Washington Post today, and your campaign to end them. And of course, Team Romney is saying that Senator Santorum was a fan of earmarks.

PT: Well, I think that’s true, but again, there’s, every one of these candidates has his flaws. Everyone’s got their baggage. But I’ll tell you, I think we’ve got a real shot at banning earmarks, and I think it’s long overdue. And I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to get it done.

HH: When you were in the House, as opposed to the Senate, Senator Toomey, did you have the same position vis–vis earmarks as exist today, because it’s a rather late arriving consensus in the Republican Party.

PT: Well, it certainly is. Now when I first arrived in the House in 1999, so 13 years ago, I got there, and I asked for some earmarks. That’s what everybody seemed to be doing. I wasn’t even aware of the process. Pretty quickly, I figured out the way this all works, what a terrible process it was, and I decided then when I was in the House that this really needs to end. And I stopped seeking earmarks, and I advocated an end to them. So that was a long time ago that I saw the light on this, and I’ve been fighting against them ever since.

HH: Now Senator Santorum has said the earmarks he is being criticized for, like the Bridge To Nowhere, were part of the culture of serving your state. Is he accurate in that? And is it part of the culture of serving Pennsylvania today?

PT: Here’s the problem. For too long, members of Congress measured their worth by how much money they spent back in their districts. We need a different culture in Washington. We need to measure the worth of a member of Congress by how much money they save. We’re running trillion dollar deficits. So many of these programs are completely indefensible – a bridge to nowhere, $50 million dollars for an indoor tropical rain forest, money spent to study wood utilization? I mean, you can’t make up the kind of ridiculous projects, every year, hundreds of them, it’s billions of dollars, and they’re used to grease the skids for bloated, wasteful legislation that we just shouldn’t be passing. So I just think it’s an indefensible, non-transparent, really unfair way the taxpayer dollars get spent. And I’m going to push as hard as I can to end it.

HH: Last question, Senator, you were on the Supercommittee, and the sequestration for Defense has not been avoided. This would be disastrous for the United States. Will those cuts be postponed by the Congress?

PT: Well, here’s what I hope we do. I hope we find alternative substitute cuts. We need to cut the spending. I agree it’s way too much that would have to come out of Defense. But one of the silver linings of the work on the Supercommittee is we identified hundreds of ways to save a lot of money. So some of us are going to be making a serious concerted effort to find better, smarter ways to cut spending so that we don’t weaken our defensive capabilities.

HH: Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, thank you, Senator.

End of interview.

E.J. Dionne transcript

HH: So pleased to welcome back now E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post. If you look for an American liberal Catholic, the first name you’ll find is E.J. Dionne. His wonderful Book, Souled Out, we spent eight weeks talking about in 2009. E.J., welcome back, good to have you.

EJD: It’s good to be back. I still appreciate those eight weeks you gave me. Thank you.

HH: Well, it was a great series, and now I am sad to say we have to talk at a moment where I think we’re in agreement on the awful nature of these HHS regs, and what they do to the Roman Catholic Church. Would you summarize for people what your January 29th column in the Post said?

EJD: Yeah, well, I presume your listeners understand that HHS issued a rule which requires broad contraception coverage, and they only exempted religious organizations that essentially serve and hire people of their own faith, essentially they exempt churches, is what that amounts to. What they don’t exempt are organizations such as universities, social service agencies, and hospitals, of which the Catholic Church, but not only the Catholic Church, have quite a lot of. And my view on this all along was that the administration had to give at least some strong signal, maybe not everything the Church wanted, but some signal that they did respect the religious autonomy of these institutions. I think the Religious Freedom Restoration Act gives them some rights to have, to pursue their own policies on certain moral matters. In this case, the Catholic Church opposes contraception. And a lot of people say, and I agree with this, that most Catholics don’t agree with the Catholic Church position on contraception. You don’t see a lot of Catholic families of 11 or 12 anymore. But that doesn’t really matter on this, that on this, the Church had a legitimate claim to some exemption from these contraception rules. Now what I have been pushing for, and with my friend, Melissa Rogers, who’s a fellow here at Brookings, and also teaches at Wake Forest University, is at least some kind of compromise which I think would have been easier to do at the beginning than it will be now, along the lines that the State of Hawaii has, where you would figure out a way so that the Church would not have to pay for something that it regards as immoral, but that people who work at these Catholic institutions would have a way to access contraception coverage either at low cost, little or no cost, but get the Church out of it, so the Church is not in a position of violating its own religious principles. I think religious liberty, our religious liberty requires some accommodations to religious institutions. The last thing I’ll say is it would seem to me that if you’re a liberal, you would not want to require a Quaker college to have a ROTC program. And I think it would be legitimate for a Quaker college to say we should have a religious exemption from that. And I think this is not exactly, nothing is ever exactly the same, but I think it’s along those lines.

HH: That’s a very good analogy. It is a free exercise issue. It’s not a statutory one. I want to play for you, E.J., a little excerpt of my conversation with Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix from yesterday at the end of it. Here’s that conversation:

HH: Last question, Bishop, could you personally, as Thomas Olmsted, Bishop Olmsted, could you vote for someone who stood behind this policy?

TO: I could not vote for someone who’s in favor of any intrinsically evil thing.

HH: And this policy is intrinsically evil?

TO: Well, this policy means that we are forced to subsidize things that are intrinsically evil.

HH: Now E.J., this is, he’s also said we cannot, we will not comply with this law, as has Cardinal-designate Dolan, as has Archbishop Gomez, Archbishop Chaput. The bishops are unified on this. They are not going to comply with this unjust law.

EJD: Well, first of all, I don’t think they’re unified on the question that you asked the bishop in terms of voting. I mean, we can, on another day, we could extend this argument. There are those of us who are liberal Catholics who do agree with the Church that they had a right to an exemption. But especially because this involves contraception, I don’t think we are talking about an intrinsic evil in the same way that we would be talking about abortion. And secondly, where again, you and I can disagree on what the health law actually does, but I believe it has, it does not finance abortion. And there was a disagreement on that between the bishops and the Catholic Health Association. But I believe that you have, I am more a seamless garment Catholic, and I think there are a lot of other areas, notably, in providing health care for poor people who don’t have it now in lower middle class people, that that’s also part of the Church’s Catholic social teaching. So I think there will be bishops who disagree with Bishop Olmsted on how to read this in terms of the 2012 election. Having said that, I still don’t understand why the President chose to create this problem for himself when I honestly don’t think he had to create this problem for himself.

HH: I’ll give you a theory on that after the break, E.J. I’ve got, in fact, an email from Cambridge from an investment banker on Harvard Square who proposes an answer to that question which I’ll give to you when we return to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

– – – –

HH: E.J., here is what a fellow Harvard grad emailed me today about the question why did the President do this. Hugh, I think the White House political operation picked up polling data that saw negative reaction by women voters to Santorum on his earlier remark on contraceptives. This helps explain the ABC-Stephanopoulos trying to plumb Romney’s depth of feeling and thinking on Griswold at a recent debate. The White House is seeking a big and pervasive advantage with women whom they must be losing in several demographics. Current White House talking points and the aftermath of the anti-Catholic insurance decision are consistently pushing the point that “most Catholic women” use birth control. So the White House already had polling on the question. What can explain that coincidence? And then decided that this policy issue was an excellent political wedge issue to help split women in all age and economic groups away from Republicans. I think they don’t understand the culture of Catholicism or Christianity, and evaluate it much as Obama, as a superstition to which one clings, especially if bitter. What they don’t know about religion, and how and why people practice it, is a lot. What do you think, E.J?

EJD: I think there’s something there, but I wouldn’t, I don’t take it exactly the way he does. What I do think is the case is that a lot of progressive women want, including people in the Senate like Senator Boxer, Senator Shaheen, really did not want any compromise on the contraception rules. I think secondly, the White House did think because most Catholics do not seem to live by, and I think the polling suggests they not really publicly support the contraception rule, that the reaction among Catholics would be different than it is. And so there was, I think, you know, I think that in an election year, the White House considers the politics of everything. And that’s true of every White House. And so as a political matter, I think they thought they had the better of this trade off. And they didn’t count on quite a few liberal Catholics, people like me, saying wait a minute, even though we don’t agree with the Church on contraception, we think there is a religious liberty issue here. But what complicates it from what the gentleman said is I happen to know there were a lot of people in the White House who did not want this to come down the way it did. And it’s already been publicly reported that Vice President Biden did not want it to come out this way, Bill Dailey, the former chief of staff, didn’t want it to come out this way. And while this is often cast as men and women inside the White House, I know some women in the White House, including people who work on religious issues who didn’t want it to come out this way. So I think it was more complicated than the gentleman suggests, but I do think that the White House is looking to build a big margin among women. I think they already are ahead. Where I’d part company is if you look at the recent polling, I think they’re already ahead among women, and they want to expand that lead.

HH: Now E.J., any doubt in your mind the President signed off on these regs personally?

EJD: You know, I am not sure, yet. There are holes in my reporting, and that I’m trying to figure this out myself, because I have a strong sense that this was moving a different way, and then something happened. And I haven’t figured out what exactly that something was. And as I say, the White House might not have moved all the way over to where the bishops want to be, but I think they would have moved to a place where it could not be said by conservatives like you, or for that matter, liberals like me, that they gave no accommodation at all to the bishops.

HH: Oh, I’m much harder. I think he’s anti-Catholic. I think it’s a Blaine Amendment-like hostility that the President knew about.

EJD: Oh, I absolutely don’t believe that.

HH: I know, I know.

EJD: I think you, unless you think he was absolutely lying in the Notre Dame speech, this is a guy who worked out of Catholic churches when he was a community organizer. The Church basically paid his salary, or indirectly through the campaign, for human development when he was an organizer. I think he has a lot of feeling for Catholics. So I don’t think he’s anti-Catholic, but I do think that some of the fights with the bishops may have hardened a view in there that if they had made this concession, they weren’t going to get anything out of the bishops anyway. I think that’s a real possibility.

HH: We disagree, but I want to ask you…

EJD: But to say he’s anti-Catholic, I think it’s wrong to say that he’s anti-Catholic.

HH: We disagree. I think he’s profoundly anti-Catholic. But I want to ask your view of a couple of things. One, did you know the bishops have cited you in their fact sheet today?

EJD: Oh, no, I did not know that.

HH: Yes, you are one of the Catholics of all political persuasions are unified in their opposition to the mandate. So…and they linked to your column on a hyperlink. But right before that, point number three, and I want to make this point, E.J., because you’re gliding over it. You’re not denying it, but you’re gliding over it. The mandate forces coverage of sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, and all, and devices, as well as contraception. I think to honestly confront the issue here, and I think what is driving the enormous negative reaction is it cannot be denied that Kathleen Sebelius, with White House support, and I think the President’s support, is mandating every Catholic hospital, every Catholic elementary and secondary school, every Catholic college and social service agency to pay for the morning after pill for all of their employees.

EJD: Here’s what I think, is that the compromise proposals that I have heard floating around would use the Hawaii law, and probably exclude those drugs that the Church regards as abortifacients altogether. I think that is where a plausible compromise could go, because yes, there is, if you will, moral disagreement on the nature of those drugs. And that is clearly a roadblock for the Church.

HH: E.J., that is not plausible. Let me ask you why you think that’s plausible, given the fact that you and I don’t disagree what the Church believes with regards to contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. They have doctrinally been opposed to all three since time immemorial, and certainly since Popes our time. And therefore, just making them give in on one of those three things is as much a Constitutional assault on the Church as making them give in on all three.

EJD: But I think if you get the Church out of financing these, I mean, right now, Medicaid finances a lot of family planning, and we don’t hear a cry about it. 28 states have laws just like this, and I have not heard my conservative Catholic friends make as huge a deal out of that as they are doing it now that President Obama has signed off on these rules. Now as I say, I think they should not have issued these rules. But on contraception, the Church has itself shown more flexibility. There are a lot of Catholic institutions that provide contraception coverage for their employees already.

HH: E.J., hold on, I’ll come right back…

EJD: We’re not talking about, and I agree, there’s one that you’ve got to carve out. There is an issue with the morning after pill.

HH: I’ve got to come back after the break with E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, America.

– – – –

HH: I want to thank E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post for joining me. His book, Souled Out, is a wonderful reflection on a liberal’s view of his Catholic faith. E.J., Belmont Abbey College has got the Beckett Fund suing on that state law, so it is very easy to see why some Catholic institutions and bishops are waiting to see that come down. So I don’t think that applies, but I want to give you the last three minutes to mount the best defense you can of what the President did, because I want to be fair to him. I just think he’s genuinely anti-Catholic.

EJD: Yeah, well, first of all, I’m not the best person to have defend this decision, because I don’t support this particular decision as you know. And I think he made a mistake here, and I would still like him to revisit it. So that’s number one. But I would defend him against charges that he is anti-Catholic. If you look at the amount of cooperation between the administration and Catholic relief services, the amount of cooperation between the administration and Catholic charities, the amount of money that the administration has supported putting into projects with the Roman Catholic Church, yes, there have been scratchy points. Yes, there have been moments of disagreement. But you can’t look at their whole record, and at their record of cooperation with the Church on a lot of matters and say this is an anti-Catholic administration. I think it’s very unfortunate that they made this decision, which I think some who want to make that argument are going to use to make it.

HH: Did you go hear Eric Metaxas, E.J., at the National Prayer Breakfast?

EJD: I did not.

HH: Oh, he was talking about Bonhoeffer. This is a Bonhoeffer moment. It’s not a scratchy moment. It’s a direct assault on a central teaching of the Catholic Church that will make Catholic institutions close or pay fines. It is, I don’t…you didn’t minimize it.

EJD: Bonhoeffer moments, when you, we’re talking about the Holocaust and Adolf Hitler with Bonhoeffer.

HH: No, no, no, we’re not.

EJD: And I think it’s…

HH: We’re talking about early on in the 1933 era where he thought that the German church was being co-opted by the state and made to minimize its moral beliefs, not late in the era.

EJD: Okay, just want to make clear that there are two Bonhoeffer eras here.

HH: And this is an important one. This is the moment where the Church says either they will accept the state’s dictates regarding their conscience, or they won’t. What do you think they should do if the Obama administration doesn’t change its mind?

EJD: Well, here’s what the tragic thing is. What I don’t want to see happen is that we shut down all these extraordinary Catholic institutions. And it’s one argument that I made to fellow liberals, which is one of the most honorable things the Church does is its service to those who aren’t Catholic, to people in homeless programs, to people in the universities and the hospitals, and Catholic relief. And we don’t want to tell the Church that is has to think about shutting these things down. And I’m afraid we’re going to start having a debate about that. And I pray that we find a solution before we get there.

HH: I pray they revoke these unconstitutional and awful regulations. E.J., I appreciate your column very much. I appreciate you took the stand that you did, and I hope you call up your friends in the White House and get them to back down, because it’s wrong. It’s very wrong.

End of interview.



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