On Friday, NRO’s Jim Geraghty chatted with Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia.
GERAGHTY: The ultrasound bill that attracted national attention, the presidential primary, the governors’ meeting. Just another slow week, huh? You must feel as if you’ve been through the wringer just with the coverage of the Virginia legislature.
MCDONNELL: If you just read the papers, you have no idea what’s going on in the legislature because the reporting has been so poor this session. There has been inordinate focus on about three or four bills, to the exclusion of the other 1,000 bills — especially on big stuff such as higher ed, K–12, energy, veterans, pension reform, and a lot of other things that are very significant and are getting virtually no attention. It’s been pretty poor overall.
GERAGHTY: One of the facts that came up during the ultrasound debate was a report from Planned Parenthood that indicated administering ultrasounds was standard procedure before performing an abortion. Why did so much controversy get generated by a bill requiring something standard or commonplace? Did all of this come down to the position of the ultrasound monitor, because some clinics performed the ultrasound but did not want to show it to the woman?
MCDONNELL: I think the medical and legal facts were a casualty during much of the media coverage of the issue, unfortunately. My understanding of the clinical practices, according to the standard of care that was already in place, is that the law already required that the probable gestational age of the child be determined. In the overwhelming majority of cases, some sort of ultrasound was already being used to make that determination.
Under Virginia law, as in most states, there are certain types of requirements for a first-trimester abortion, but different legal requirements for a second-trimester abortion. So the practitioner, the doctor, has got to know, with certainty, whether you’re talking about the first or second trimester. And the only way to know with certainty is with an ultrasound. So, yes, in the great majority of cases, it was our understanding from clinics that they already were doing this.
The real impact of the bill is the second part, which virtually no one is talking about, and that is the requirement that once the ultrasound is done, that it be shown to the woman, so that she would know the probable gestational age. And she could actually view her child, so she could have all of the information necessary to make an informed decision.
Back when I was in the legislature, I carried the original bill, not the ultrasound, but the informed-consent statute. We’ve always called the bill “the woman’s right to know” bill. Despite the rhetoric of opponents, this was about empowering women with more medical and legal information that previously they were not required to get in order to give informed consent.
Informed consent is required for every invasive medical procedure, from getting your ears pierced to having an abortion. All this said was that the doctor is required to offer you, verbally, an opportunity to view the ultrasound, not just a still photograph. It could be real-time, it could be subsequent video, but you actually get to see the video of your child and then to ask questions and to make your final decision.
To me, it’s about empowering women with information. I think, unfortunately, a lot of that got lost in the discussion.
Here’s the other thing: About nine other states have laws like the original bill that mandate an ultrasound but don’t say what type. Another 15 states have laws that don’t mandate the ultrasound, but say you have to offer it, and if they accept the offer, they have to be able to see the ultrasound. Virginia will now join nearly half the states in America that have some kind of ultrasound law. You wouldn’t know that from the coverage; you would have thought Virginia was doing something that had never been done.
GERAGHTY: Just to clarify, women would have the option of looking at it, but if they prefer to not look at it, they don’t have to look at it.
GERAGHTY: So really, your opponents oppose choice.
MCDONNELL: Well . . . [chuckle] they oppose the choice of looking at an ultrasound, and they also oppose requiring doctors to give women all of the available medical information before making informed consent. That’s wrong. That doesn’t empower women.
GERAGHTY: Perhaps this is an aspersion you would rather not cast, but do you think opponents of this legislation might not want women to back out of a decision to have an abortion for financial reasons? That they may see it as a lost business opportunity?
MCDONNELL: I don’t think the objective of an abortion clinic is to try to talk women out of having the procedure. That obviously would not be positive for their bottom line. Doctors have an ethical duty to follow the practices and standards of care. I will say this just codifies what should be the prevailing practice anyway, giving people the ability to have all of the information to be able to give legally binding informed consent.
Sometimes we put the elements of informed consent in a statute as we do with abortion and about ten or twelve other medical procedures; sometimes we just leave it up to the normal standard of care such as for gall-bladder surgery or eye surgery. There are existing protocols for what kind of information you have to give.
It’s all about empowering the person before they say yes to the surgery, so that they know everything about it, the alternatives to the procedure, the recovery for the procedure, exactly what the procedure does, what the complications and risks might be. This is standard within the medical community. Giving women more information about the nature of the procedure, of the gestational age, of the fetal development. It empowers women with medical information, and that’s why I think it’s good policy. And that’s why half the states have similar policies.
GERAGHTY: The relentless focus on the ultrasound bill reminds me a bit of your gubernatorial campaign, when for a couple of weeks there, the attitude was, the only thing that mattered was your master’s thesis. I suppose any Republican goes into office knowing that the media will be hostile some days, but does the intensity of the coverage surprise you? Is it worse than you expected? Not as bad as you expected? Getting worse over time?
MCDONNELL: While we know the media has its documented bias to the left, for the most part, we’ve been doing things and engaging them in a way where we get generally reasonable treatment.
But the last couple of weeks is probably overall the worst batch of reporting I’ve seen in my 21 years up here, particularly in creating a false representation in the public’s eyes about what is happening in Richmond. For some to conclude that we’re only focusing on social issues is patently inaccurate.
I gave my State of the Commonwealth speech and outlined about 135 bills that I was advocating, none of which was on social issues. We’ve been commended for our leadership on economic development, jobs, higher ed, veterans, pension reform — all of these other issues that are really what people care about. When you get virtually no coverage for three or four weeks, and all of the coverage is on two or three bills, it tells you that there is a bias.
It doesn’t surprise me, but the length of time when the reporting has been out of whack with the reality of the legislative session is what surprises me. It’s been weeks.
GERAGHTY: I can’t help but notice that the timing of the worsened coverage in recent weeks aligns with your new role as a Romney surrogate and your status as a potential running mate on the Republican ticket. How’s life in the fishbowl?
MCDONNELL: A couple of weeks before the discussion of one or two abortion bills came up, you had the Obama administration’s policy regarding religious liberty, and the use of contraception became a very heated national discussion. That was followed by some discussion of social issues by Rick Santorum. So there was already this national buzz about social issues, and then came the coverage of our bill. The press was sort of primed for it.
To some degree, the fact that I’ve been actively supporting Romney for a couple weeks, and I’m chairman of the Republican Governors Association means I’m a natural target for the Democrats. And so even though the bills that they criticized were not part of my legislative package, they found a way to make me the target of anything they found wrong about the bill. It doesn’t surprise me. I’ve been doing this for 21 years. I expect some of that.
It is a little different this time. I’ve not been involved with a presidential campaign to this degree before. In 2008, I was a surrogate for Fred Thompson and chairman of his campaign in Virginia. But that was relatively short-lived, and this one has certainly been higher profile. . . .
I think a lot of Governor Romney. I think he’s a good, decent person — the right leader at the right time for America. I think what’s wrong in the White House is a lack of positive leadership, blaming everybody else for not getting results — not doing anything about the debt or deficit. No real plan on jobs.
Governor Romney’s résumé is chock full of evidence that he can be a very positive and strong leader to fix these fiscal and economic problems. I consider it a treat. I’ve been to four or five places around the country for Governor Romney, and I’ll continue to campaign for him.
GERAGHTY: Turning to the Virginia primary, Virginians will be seeing a very limited menu of options because of the ballot rules. Some campaigns didn’t submit signatures to qualify for the ballot. Some submitted signatures, but not enough of them checked out with the current voter rolls. What are your thoughts on how that played out?
MCDONNELL: I wish everybody had qualified. I wish we had a robust primary with all four of the candidates on the ballot, so that Governor Romney would win outright with everybody on the ballot. We would have more people come out to the vote and get more names of people who care about Republican primaries.
But yes, I do think the ballot rules are fair. We have a high standard in Virginia. I met it twice. It took some organization, but it wasn’t that hard to do. We have had numerous people — Republican, Democrat, Libertarian — who have made the ballot. And I would say this: If you can’t get organized in Virginia to get 10,000 good signatures to qualify for the ballot, how are you going to run the greatest country on earth? I think the rules are fine. There are some pieces of legislation to tweak some of the requirements, but I think that the standards will remain high. I’m just disappointed the other candidates didn’t qualify.
GERAGHTY: Virginia has had nonpartisan voting for a long time, making it a de facto open-primary state. On presidential-primary day 2008, I asked for a GOP ballot, and the guy behind the desk asked, “Why?” almost in disbelief, because I live in Alexandria, and there are almost no Republicans here. Do you ever see nonpartisan voting registration changing in Virginia? Are there some flaws to nonpartisan registration? Conceivably, Democrats can vote in Tuesday’s primary and vote for the candidate they think is less likely to beat Barack Obama.
MCDONNELL: There was some legislation this session to have party registration. I believe it’s been killed. I would support that, because I do think we’re at the point now where, while I want a big tent — and I want people of all conservative stripes to come in and be a part of our party — if a party doesn’t have the ability to control its nomination process for its candidates, it loses its ability to maintain itself as a party. You have seen efforts such as this in other states, and even by the Obama administration this time, knowing that Romney would be its strongest opponent, to try to have Democrats come in and vote for other candidates. That’s what happens. Now I have to say, those efforts are rarely successful. It’s hard to do, and it’s embarrassing when you get caught. But I do think the cleanest way to do that is to have party registration.
That’s what you do when you have a [state nominating] convention: You clearly are only going to have Republicans showing up at that. When you have people coming in who might actually be interested in undermining the process, that’s probably not good for the political parties on either side.
GERAGHTY: We’re days away from the primary, and yet it doesn’t feel as if it’s close to a presidential primary. Is enthusiasm down because only two candidates are on the ballot? Do you think turnout will be lower?
MCDONNELL: Absolutely. It is disappointing. I wish all four candidates were on the ballot. I want to have a good, vibrant democracy, and I want my candidate, Mitt Romney, to be able to beat the best candidates out there. Congressman Paul’s going to get his regular 20, 30 percent maybe. Because Speaker Gingrich and Senator Santorum won’t be on the ballot, their supporters will, I imagine, stay home. I do expect a lower turnout. We’re doing our part to make everybody in the Republican base knows there is a primary. We’d like them to come out and vote for Mitt Romney.
Unfortunately I do expect turnout to be lower, and unfortunately that means fewer self-identified Republicans who we can ask to get involved in our party process and be a volunteer in November.
GERAGHTY: Newt Gingrich not qualifying for the ballot in his home state — do you marvel at that? It still seems kind of unbelievable.
MCDONNELL: Somewhat. It just goes to show that there are many aspects to running a presidential campaign. Being a good candidate with a good message is one of them, but having money, organization, and a small army of volunteers to do all of the important tasks — from getting signatures to putting up the signs to manning the polls — is another very critical aspect. President Obama’s success in 2008 was in part due to his political operation; he had very significant financial resources and a very good ground game, matched with an enthusiastic candidate. If he hadn’t had all of those elements, he might have lost to Hillary Clinton or John McCain.
I think it is disappointing. If you can’t get 10,000 signatures, it’s hard to make the case you’re going to be able to run a government with millions of employees. Ten thousand signatures is not that hard.
GERAGHTY: Any predictions for Tuesday?
MCDONNELL: It’s hard to say. Congressman Paul has a very enthusiastic group of supporters. In most states in the country, that has ranged from 10, 12 percent to about 30 percent. I don’t know what that base number will be in Virginia. We just feel very confident that Governor Romney will do very well. The lieutenant governor and I are his leaders here in the state, and the organization is pretty good. At the end of the day, I believe Governor Romney is the right guy at the right time to solve the problems that this administration has failed to solve.
— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.