The Last Word | February 16, 2012
O'DONNELL: The last statement you just heard about putting aspirin between the knees for contraception was from Foster Friess , the guy who is the single biggest contributor to the super PAC that supports Rick Santorum 's candidacy. With that statement and the first session of an absurdist hearing on contraception in the House of Representatives this morning, that did not include any female witnesses, the politics of contraception is once again today vying with the Santorum surge as the lead political story of the day. Joining me now for an exclusive prime-time interview is the man who was at the center of both of those stories, Foster Friess . Mr. Friess , thank you very much for joining me tonight.
FRIESS: Lawrence , it's an honor to be on your program. I'm delighted you asked me.
O'DONNELL: I'm going to play the tape now of what you said to Andrea Mitchell , that I don't know if you realized it when you said it, but it has set the political world on fire since you spoke these words. Let's listen to it again.
FRIESS: And this contraceptive thing -- my gosh, it's such inexpensive. You know, back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraceptives . The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly.
O'DONNELL: Mr. Friess , what were you talking about?
FRIESS: Well, I love the expression, it's not so much what people say, it's what people hear. And obviously a lot of people who are younger than 71 didn't get the context of that joke. Back in my days, they didn't have the birth control pill . So to suggest that Bayer Aspirin could be -- I'm sorry, that aspirin could be a birth control was considered pretty ridiculous and quite funny. So, I think that was the gist of that story. But what's been nice, it gives an opportunity to really look at what this contraceptive issue is all about.
O'DONNELL: Well, tell us what you think it's all about.
FRIESS: Well, I think it's about religious liberty . I think here you have Rick Santorum , who everybody knows he adheres to the Catholic teachings on contraception , but yet he has done nothing to take his personal views and take it into the public arena of policy. So, in six years in the Senate , there was never a whisper of banning contraceptives . He's publicly said I don't want to ban contraceptives . And someone said if two states -- there's a couple of states that might propose that, he said he'd vote against it. And the irony is, he actually voted to fund contraceptives to fight aids in Africa . I think this will give us an opportunity for the women to believe that he's on their side and believes in religious liberty . Now, contrast that to President Obama , who took his personal views and superimposed on the Catholic Church and made them do what they didn't want to do. It's a little bit like asking a Muslim soup kitchen to serve pork or a kosher delicatessen, they have to serve ham.
O'DONNELL: Do you know any women who have trouble or cannot afford contraception ?
FRIESS: I do. I do. And I think that's available to them. I believe there's no way they cannot get contraceptives if they need it. There's public health clinics, I believe, that distribute it. So it isn't so much an issue of not making it available, it's just an issue of forcing people to make it available. You can get contraceptives any place. If you honor religious liberty and don't force Catholic institutions to provide contraceptives , that doesn't mean anybody's not going to get contraceptives , does it, Lawrence ?
O'DONNELL: It doesn't mean anybody's not going to get them, but it does mean some people won't get them. It turns out there are plenty of ways to fall through the cracks in this thing, and we have not set up a full safety net on that.
FRIESS: Well, who won't get contraceptives ?
O'DONNELL: Look, there are plenty of people who don't have access to Planned Parenthood where you live. There are plenty of places you can be in this country where it's very difficult to get. But I don't want to get bogged down in that. You have been married for a very long time. You only have four children, so I assume you did not ascribe to Rick Santorum 's personal beliefs on contraceptives .
FRIESS: Well, I have been blessed by contraceptives . But I do have 12 grandchildren. And I think it's reasonable thing that contraceptives have blessed a lot of people. It's an important thing for many women. It's allowed them to advance their careers and make their own choices. And see, that's what's special about America . People can choose. That's what 's so annoying about this idea that President Obama forcing people to do something that is against their religious beliefs . And that's what the issue's about -- where Rick Santorum , as I said earlier, you know what his position is, but yet he's never had any attempts, in fact, has even funded contraceptives to fight AIDS in Africa .
O'DONNELL: Yes, he has done that. He's also said -- he's also said in the past that he thought that contraception could be a state issue and if a state wants to ban contraception , that would be perfectly OK with him.
FRIESS: Well, I don't -- no, he didn't say it was OK with him. He said he'd vote against it. See, people --
O'DONNELL: Not, just -- again, I don't want to get trapped into this, but he said, as a state issue, if a state wanted to ban contraception , he would not have any problem with that. He is a -- he has been a federal legislator in the Senate , and he's running for president. And as president, he would have no interference with a state trying to do that.
FRIESS: Lawrence , I think that gets back to people hear what they want to hear, and you check what he actually said. As I understand his position, and in fact, I just kind of verified that today, he said he would vote against any state that wanted to ban contraceptives . Now, maybe there's a -- maybe the issue was asked, is the Constitution legal for a state to do that, and maybe ask President Obama , who's a constitutional lawyer, if it is or isn't. I think there's two different issues. I don't know if --
O'DONNELL: Sorry. Did you talk to Rick Santorum about that today?
FRIESS: No, I did not.
O'DONNELL: When's the last time you talked to Rick Santorum ?
FRIESS: Oh, it's been probably maybe four or five days, a week.
O'DONNELL: And do you talk to him frequently?
FRIESS: No. He's -- those guys are jumping around like you can't believe. They're so excited and so geared up and they're working very hard to create this idea of a free America , where people can choose where they want to choose and not be forced by the government to do something they don't want to do. I think maybe the Muslims ought to get behind them, because they don't want to serve pork at their soup kitchens , do they?
O'DONNELL: Now, you hedged your bets last year when this thing was getting started. On May 23rd , you started off with $2,500 to Rick Santorum 's campaign . The very next day, you gave $1,000 to Mitt Romney 's campaign . A few weeks after that, $2,500 to Tim Pawlenty , and then $2,500 to Newt Gingrich . What made you zero in on Rick Santorum ? What's the most important issue that Rick Santorum champions that makes his candidacy the most important candidacy to you?
FRIESS: Lawrence , I think it's what we're just talking about here today -- authenticity and honesty. He'll tell you exactly what you believe. He doesn't have a bunch of consultants, hey, guys, how can I say this and phrase this so I can get the women's vote? He just tells it like it is, and I think people -- well, women admire that in him.
O'DONNELL: Well, that's a quality -- I mean an issue, not so much a personal character quality. Is there a single issue that is your most important governing issue that has brought you to the Santorum campaign ?
FRIESS: Yes. I would say his love for America --
O'DONNELL: Again, that's, but that's just -- that's not an issue. What I mean is taxation, or in this case, contraception , or abortion, or some foreign policy issue. I don't mean to cut you off, but I don't mean something general. Everybody in the campaign really likes America a lot. So, I mean something specific about governing.
FRIESS: Well, he -- I would say, I don't know if any one of those sticks out more than any others, but I guess the whole idea of religious liberty is important to me. And also the idea of getting the working people back to work. As you know, he's been able to win elections, where there's 1 million more Democrats , because he appealed to the blue-collar worker. So I would say the jobs issue and getting people back to work, not only just because it puts food on the table, but there's a spiritual quality we have in a job. It makes uh feel like we're contributing, we're part of the solution, and it feels good to contribute to others. And I think -- so from those both sides of the spiritual aspect and the economic aspect, getting the people back to work and his idea of getting rid of the income tax on manufacturing and processors -- and I think that issue probably would be a very important one. Maybe there's other ones, but contraception sure ain't one of them. I think that's not an issue.
O'DONNELL: The biggest backer of Gingrich super PAC has reached out to the Romney campaign and assured them that he will be with them when the time comes. Have you made similar assurances to the Romney campaign , that if the Santorum star sinks, that you will jump over to the Romney campaign ?
FRIESS: Well, my opinion all along, Lawrence , is I think Romney , Mitt , would make a terrific vice president. So it's a little too early to make that conclusion. But I do say Mitt Romney is a national treasure. He's a great man. I think the reason Rick Santorum is doing so much better is he just has a magic to him. He's the grandson of a coal miner. He loves this country. And his motivations are sort of as a calling, actually. He's not in it for the ego or the money. And I believe his policies are what's resonating with America . But more than anything else, his personality is someone who's honest, authentic, and tells it like it is. I think that's really resonating with American people .
O'DONNELL: Foster Friess , thank you for joining us tonight and thank you for clarifying that you weren't actually giving medical advice this afternoon on Andrea 's show.
FRIESS: I don't have a license, they'd put me in jail. You cannot believe that some of the people didn't get the joke.
O'DONNELL: Oh, I can believe that. Thank you very much for joining us.
FRIESS: OK, thanks, Lawrence . God bless you.