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Andrea Mitchell interviews Susan G. Komen's Nancy Brinker

NBC's Andrea Mitchell today interviewed Nancy Brinker, founder of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which has decided to end much of its funding for Planned Parenthood.

Mitchell also interviewed Democratic Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who disagree with the foundation's decision.

In her first interview since the decision, Amb. Nancy Brinker explains why the Susan G. Komen Foundation chose to halt funding to Planned Parenthood. Sen. Barbara Boxer and Sen. Patty Murphy then join to respond.

A transcript is below...

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC HOST:  Women and men across the country are expressing anger and outrage over the Susan G.  Komen Foundation's decision to end funding to Planned Parenthood.  That funding provided breast screening and other breast health services for low-income men and uninsured women.  And the backlash has been fierce online and on the streets.  Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards spoke earlier today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CECILE RICHARDS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, PLANNED PARENTHOOD:  We were very shocked and really surprised.  I really hope that they will rethink this decision and that we can become partners again. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MITCHELL:  Richards was on with Alex Wagner in the earlier hour.  Ambassador Nancy Brinker is the founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure and joins me now. 

Well, the storm has exploded, and you've been in this for a long time.  You started Susan G. Komen in 1982 after the death of your sister and in her name.  And you have raised more money than any other group for breast cancer research. 

Which is why I have to tell you this is shocking for a lot of your long-time supporters.  I want to give you a chance to answer -- let me just tell you what I was confronted with at the gym this morning.  A woman came over to me, I had not met her before, gray-haired woman, probably in her 60s, she was wearing a gray T-shirt, and she said,  "Look at my T-shirt.  It's inside out.  I put it on by accident today.  I'm not going to wear it anymore.  I've torn the label out.  It's a Komen T-shirt." 

These are longtime supporters who have run with you, who have supported you financially and otherwise.  So they're asking, how could this have taken place? 

NANCY BRINKER, FOUNDER AND CEO, SUSAN G. KOMEN FOUNDATION:  Well, Andrea, I frankly think, I don't know, it's a mischaracterization, of certainly, of our goals, our mission, and everything that we do.  In fact, we haven't defunded Planned Parenthood.  We still have three grants that we've committed to, at least for another year, through the end of the grant cycle, and we’re going to --

MITCHELL:  But that's just through the end of the grant cycle.  Let me just put out there first of all, that I have been very identified, an outspoken supporter and participant in the races over the years long before I, myself, ended up being diagnosed with breast cancer.  So I want to just put that out there.  We've known each other a long time as well, both when you were a diplomat at the State Department.

But I come to you today, you know, expressing the anger of a lot of people -- 

BRINKER:  Sure. 

MITCHELL:  Channeling through them, you see it on Twitter, you see it everywhere.  And the fact is, a lot of people are tracing this back.  My colleague, Lisa Myers, reporting last night on "Nightly  News," a lot of people are tracing this back to what some found the surprising hiring of Karen Handel, who ran for governor. We've seen her statements and her strong support.  She said when she was running for office, "I am staunchly and unequivocally pro-life.  Let me be clear, since I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood." 

So, the question is, for a bipartisan organization such as yours, which has a broad-based advisory group, why hire a key staff person who is so strongly, fiercely identified against Planned Parenthood, one of your grantees? 

BRINKER: Well, let me just for the record tell you, Karen did not have anything to do with this decision.  This was decided at the board level and also by our mission, Andrea.  Everything that we get up and do every day is about the mission.  To provide women, vulnerable populations, with care, treatment, and screening. 

And let me just take a step back for a minute. We are not defunding Planned Parenthood.  We have three grants that will go on this year, and they will probably be eligible for the next grant cycle -- 

MITCHELL: But you've said that this is the one group out of 2,000 grantees, Planned Parenthood is the only group that comes under the rubric of this new policy, which is to not fund any organization that is under investigation.  And their investigation, from Congressman Sterns, many believe is trumped up. 

BRINKER:  Well, but there are other investigations in states, number one.  Two --

MITCHELL: They're always the target of an investigation.  That's the way --

BRINKER:  The investigation isn't the only issue, Andrea.  In 2010, we set about creating excellence in our grants.  Not just in our community grants, but in our science grants.  Putting metrics, outcomes, and measures to them so that we can translate all of the science we funded over 30 years. 

Now, part of that includes taking these grants into communities and being excellent grant givers. Many of the grants we were doing with Planned Parenthood do not meet new standards of criteria for how we can measure our results and effectiveness in communities.  That is not to say that if they did meet those criteria, they would not be --

MITCHELL: Their supporters say they are the only ones that have been singled out among these thousands -- 

BRINKER:  No, that's not true.  That's not true. 

MITCHELL:  -- and that their grants for breast screening have nothing to do with any contraceptive or abortion counseling. 

BRINKER:  It's not --

MITCHELL:  That they separate this funding completely. 

BRINKER:  The issue -- that's not the issue.  Because that's not our issue.  Our issue is grant excellence.  They do pass-through grants with their screening grants.  They send people to other facilities.  We want to do more direct-service grants.  You know, we contacted them in the fall, because we've been a longtime partner of Planned Parenthood, almost 20 years. 

MITCHELL:  I know. 

BRINKER:  We've given them over $9 million.  Many of our grants worked for a long period of time. 

This is not -- this is about the restructure of our grant program.  Now, as an NGO and as a leader in the breast cancer space, we have an obligation to the community we serve, to donors, and to this country to translate cancer care in the way we know how. 

MITCHELL:  What do you do about the fact that donors are pulling back?  Some people would say that -- I mean, the anger that's being expressed is going to hit you in the pocketbook.  You have worked so hard to create a bipartisan organization.  Look at your Facebook page.  Your Facebook page has people cutting pink ribbons in half. 

BRINKER:  Well, Andrea --

MITCHELL:  Your branding is at stake. 

BRINKER:  -- all I can tell you is that the responses we're getting are very, very favorable.  People who have bothered to read the material, who have bothered to understand the issues -- again, we work for a mission, every day of our lives.  And our job now is to translate cancer therapy into usable types of therapies that can be accessible for people --

MITCHELL:  Aren't the most vulnerable women going to be affected by this?  Planned Parenthood --

BRINKER:  We are not giving less money in the communities where we're giving money.  Let me just set the record straight: where we are giving money in these communities, we are not taking it back.  We will, with some of them, go to direct service providers. 

But we still have these grants in place with Planned Parenthood, in places where there aren't direct service providers, and they are good grants and they work with us. 

But unless we have a way, again, to measure grants, to create metrics, outcomes in ways that we can say, this works in this community with this vulnerable population, this is what will work.  These are the barriers, this is how it works.  That is our only mission to cure breast cancer. 

MITCHELL:  Are you going to put out the evidence that you have that there's been anything flawed in the way they've delivered services to --

BRINKER:  All we're doing is explaining, again, to our mission, what the criteria for new grants and community-based grants are, for our organization, for the time we are. 

Many of the grants were education-oriented.  We don't need to do that kind of education anymore.  We've done it for 30 years.  Now we need to translate this care into usable clinical care in communities.  That means that if a person's screened, we need to follow.  We need to follow-up the screening.  Did something happen.  Once they go through the Planned Parenthood program, they also have to come to us for additional therapy and care. 

We are trying to advise our community grant program.  And we're doing it, and they've been a longtime partner of ours.  We've notified them of this change, and frankly, we've been very private about it.  And we have not said that we won't accept grants who meet our criteria. 

MITCHELL:  Ambassador Nancy Brinker, thank you very much. 

BRINKER:  Thanks, Andrea.
 
MITCHELL: And now we are joined by Democratic senators Patty Murray of Washington and Barbara Boxer of California. Senator Murray, can you respond. From your information about Planned Parenthood, what is the flaw in the way they are providing services and what are you planning to do about it?
 
SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D-WA): Well, look, this is really a sad day for many of us who have been proud supporters of an organization whose mission has been to save women’s lives, who also know that Planned Parenthood’s mission is to save lives. And the tremendous work they do across this country in providing preventive services so women don’t miss out on their screenings for mammograms and diseases, cancer that can take their lives. So it’s a very sad day and Susan G. Komen has put in place a policy that says directly that they will not provide funding for organizations like Planned Parenthood because of a partisan witch hunt in the House against Planned Parenthood, an investigation. I would ask all the members of Susan G. Komen to reconsider that policy because it’s dangerous for women and it’s dangerous for organizations. If Susan G. Komen comes under partisan investigation here in Washington, DC, they are going to be in violation of their own policy altogether. So we’re putting out a letter along with Senator Lautenberg and 22 senators to ask them to reconsider this terrible decision.
 
MITCHELL: Senator Boxer, why don’t you speak out as well as to where you think we should go from here?
 
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CA): Sure, I listened to everything Ambassador Brinker said and I have to say this is a complete revisionist comment that she’s making about why suddenly Planned Parenthood lost this funding. Which, by the way, has served 170,000 women over the past 5 years, giving them the absolutely life-saving screenings that they deserve to have. And, you know, if you just go back a day ago, two days ago, the official spokespeople for that organization, Susan G. Komen, said the reason was an investigation in the House. Well, could I say this. I was not born yesterday as most of your viewers can tell. And the fact is I’m reminded of the McCarthy era, where somebody said: ‘Oh,’ a congressman stands up, a senator, ‘I’m investigating this organization and therefore people should stop funding them.’ What’s next? Are they going to attack the American Lung Association? The YMCA? The YWCA? This is so sad, as Patty Murray has so eloquently stated, because it’s about women’s health. And we do hope that they will reconsider. But to change the story is not going to work. People know what they said and this means that – unwittingly or wittingly – they’ve put themselves in the middle of a political witch hunt. And that is very very sad.
 
MITCHELL:  Well, it's certainly troubling -- this whole debate is troubling for people on all sides of it.  And Nancy Brinker is still here.  Let me just ask you -- I know we're out of time, but is there any chance that you would respond to the senators and change the policy? 

BRINKER:  Well, yeah, I'm troubled that it's been labeled as political.  This is not a political decision.  We operate from one set of standards every day, and it is to our mission.  And if we don't advance and revise and make grants that meet the mission and bring real care to vulnerable populations, we won't be doing our job.  Again, these grants --

MITCHELL: I think there's a lot of communication --

BRINKER:  There's a lot of communication –

MITCHELL:  that needs to go back and forth --

BRINKER:  -- that needs to go back and forth, you bet. 

MITCHELL:  We will follow up with you, the senators.  Twenty-two senators have now signed that letter, and we will continue to report this story and there'll be more throughout the day on NBC and MSNBC as well.  And we'll be right back.