Santorum gets a grilling on ‘Meet the Press’

at 12:10 PM ET, 01/01/2012

Rick Santorum on Sunday defended his 2008 support for Mitt Romney for president and his record on abortion and earmarks in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The former Pennsylvania senator, who for the first time in the 2012 presidential race is in the spotlight, got the grilling that comes along with it from “Meet the Press” moderator David Gregory.

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Santorum got a little tripped up a time or two, most notably when he tried to square his current campaign’s message with his 2008 support for Romney and his support for laws that allow exceptions for abortion in the cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother.

Asked about his endorsement for Romney, Santorum said he was merely saying Romney would be better than Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). He noted that he waited until the race came down to those two candidates.

“What’s changed is who he’s running against,” Santorum said. “I made the political judgment – right or wrong – that he had the best chance to stop John McCain…”

Pressed on his praise at the time for Romney’s “conservative principles,” Santorum appeared to suggest that he didn’t really mean those words.

“Of course I’m not going to say ‘compared to’ [McCain],” Santorum said. “I was saying it relative to John McCain, and that’s what I meant then.”

Santorum was also confronted with a quote from his 2006 Senate reelection campaign in which he appeared to support exceptions to a ban on abortions that included rape, incest and the life of the mother.

“Today I would support laws that would provide for those exceptions; but I’m not for them,” Santorum said. “Yes, I support laws that provide those exceptions, because if we can get those passed, then we need to do that.”

Asked if that violated his pledge to oppose all abortions, Santorum said no. He noted that he supported the partial-birth abortion ban and the Hyde Amendment, which both allow for those exceptions, because they represent progress on the issue.

“I’ll support laws that move the ball forward,” Santorum said. “That doesn’t mean that’s my position and that’s where I’d like to go, but that’s exactly the direction that we need to go in.”

Santorum has also come under attack by Texas Gov. Rick Perry for seeking earmarks while in Congress.

Santorum said earmarks by themselves are not bad, but that they were being misused by Congress and that they needed to be eliminated at a time of exploding budgets.

“Your role as a member of Congress, if you look at the constitution, is to appropriate money,” Santorum said. “I don’t regret going out at the time and making sure that the people of Pennsylvania who I was elected to represent got resources back into the state…”

Santorum also said he would bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities if the country does not open them up to inspection.

“Iran will not get a nuclear weapon under my watch,” he said.

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