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On Today: NBC's Vieira Hits Tim Pawlenty for Daring to Call Obama a Fiscal Chicken

NBC's Meredith Vieira, on Thursday's Today show, challenged former Minnesota Republican Governor and potential presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty for daring to call Barack Obama a fiscal "chicken" as she (citing his Democratic successor Mark Dayton) accused him of not being a fiscal conservative. After Vieira initially questioned if Pawlenty had the requisite "star quality" to run for President, she then threw the words of the current Democratic governor of Minnesota in his face, as seen in the following question:

VIEIRA: Let's talk about, you know you're a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative and you criticized the President after his State of the Union Address. You basically called him a chicken, that's the word you used, for failing to address real fiscal issues in this country. But your successor in Minnesota, Governor Mark Dayton, has criticized you for leaving a $6.2 billion deficit. Last night in his State of the State Address, he said that he was left with a horrendous fiscal mess and state agencies poorly managed. So what makes you better-equipped to run the nation's economy, if you left your own house in such disarray?

For his part, Pawlenty responded that the Cato Institute had just given him a grade of "A" for his financial stewardship of Minnesota, to which Vieira followed up by asking if the GOP was in need of reconciliation because of the Tea Party's demands for "even more severe budget cuts."

VIEIRA: Finally, Tea Party supporters in Washington put a lot of pressure on the Republican leadership to make even more severe budget cuts than the leadership had planned. It's an indication that they may be trying to run the agenda in Washington. You are emerging as a Republican leader. How would you reconcile those two sides of the party?

The following is a complete transcript of the segment as it was aired on the February 10 Today show:

MEREDITH VIEIRA: The annual Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC, gets under way in Washington today, and it features a who's/who of presidential contenders, including former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Governor Pawlenty, good morning to you.

[On screen headline: "Conservative Voice, Pawlenty On Palin, Obama And 2012"]

TIM PAWLENTY: Good morning to you, Meredith.

VIEIRA: C-PAC is sort of the unofficial start of the 2012 Republican presidential nominating contest. And you have made it clear that you're seriously considering running. You've said that you're gonna make up your mind between now and maybe March, April time. But at this point, what would keep you from running?

PAWLENTY: My wife.

VIEIRA: Is she hesitant? Is she saying, don't do it?

PAWLENTY: No, really I'm just teasing. But it comes down to two things, really. What are the needs of the country and what do I bring to that?

VIEIRA: Well you've figured that out by now, right?

PAWLENTY: Yeah, and secondly, it is a deeply personal decision, because the burdens it places on a family are not insignificant and she is fully supportive. I love her very much. But it is, it is a burden on a family.

VIEIRA: So, again, what would keep you from running? If she supports you and you know what you need to do?

PAWLENTY: Well we're just making sure we've got everything in line, get the ducks in a row, so to speak. And that's not an easy thing to do. There's a lot of work there. And we've been traveling around the country, working for conservative candidates and we'll finalize the decision in the next month or so.

VIEIRA: Okay. Here's the rap on T.Paw, as your friends call you. You're, you're a nice guy. You're considered maybe too nice. Maybe don't have the star quality of some of your potential GOP challengers like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. So how are you gonna emerge from behind those headline-grabbers?

PAWLENTY: Look a number of things. First of all, I think a number people are probably tired of the hype and the big speeches filled with false promises. And I've got a record of actually delivering the product and the goods. And so-

VIEIRA: You think those three are making false promises?

PAWLENTY: No, no. I'm just talking. You know we, we elected a president who had soaring rhetoric and a lot of great speeches, but a lot of people are disappointed in his performance. So if you look at the record that I have as governor, when you talk about cutting taxes, reducing government spending, reforming schools, market-based health care and the rest, I've actually done all of that and it lines up pretty well with the needs of the country.

VIEIRA: But, again, how do you emerge from behind those headline-grabbers? Those people that have the star quality?

PAWLENTY: Well, first of all, I'm not well known outside of Minnesota, but I think as people get to know me, I tend to get support. I got elected and reelected in probably the most liberal state in the country as a Republican. So as Frank Sinatra would sing about in New York, if you can do it there, you can do it anywhere.

VIEIRA: Let's talk about, you know you're a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative and you criticized the President after his State of the Union Address. You basically called him a chicken, that's the word you used, for failing to address real fiscal issues in this country. But your successor in Minnesota, Governor Mark Dayton, has criticized you for leaving a $6.2 billion deficit. Last night in his State of the State Address, he said that he was left with a horrendous fiscal mess and state agencies poorly managed. So what makes you better-equipped to run the nation's economy, if you left your own house in such disarray?

PAWLENTY: Well, 49 of the 50 states have a budget deficit. And so if the disqualifier is any governor who has a budget deficit, currently no governor could run for anything. And it's the result of course, largely, of not particular policies, but the worst economic collapse since World War II.. And as to Governor Dayton, and any other governor facing those challenges, it's the, that assumes, by the way, the deficit in Minnesota, a 27 percent increase in spending. That's the forecasted increase in spending. That's preposterous. So I could take care of that deficit as I did for my eight years as governor and he should, too, by reducing spending. But there's outside groups that have looked at all of this. I'm only one of four governors, in the country, that got an "A" from the Cato Institute for the best fiscal discipline and management in the United States of America.

VIEIRA: Finally, Tea Party supporters in Washington put a lot of pressure on the Republican leadership to make even more severe budget cuts than the leadership had planned. It's an indication that they may be trying to run the agenda in Washington. You are emerging as a Republican leader. How would you reconcile those two sides of the party?

PAWLENTY: Well the good news is, and this is, I think the story for CPAC and for conservatives more broadly - reducing government spending and dealing with the deficit and the debt is now mainstream. And so the fact that the Tea Party and others are pushing for more cuts, deeper cuts, faster reform, that's a good thing, Meredith. I don't discount that. I applaud it.

VIEIRA: Okay, Governor Pawlenty. Thank you so much. Good luck to you.

PAWLENTY: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

VIEIRA: Do you want to make an announcement while we got you here? Get it over with?

PAWLENTY: Absolutely. No, I don't, I'm just teasing.

VIEIRA: No, he said absolutely! Congratulations! You're not gonna squirm out of this one.

-Geoffrey Dickens is the Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here