CNN Late Edition-Transcript
BLITZER: Welcome back. This week, an already crowded race for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination grew by one. President Bush's former secretary of Health and Human Services, the former governor of Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson formally announced his candidacy. Governor Thompson is joining us now from his home state. He's in Madison.
Governor, thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition."
TOMMY THOMPSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, thank you so very much, Wolf, and thank you so very much for putting me on your program.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the overriding issue facing the American public right now. I think it's fair to say that would be the war in Iraq. We've spoken on several occasions.
Correct me if I'm wrong, your suggestion is that the U.S. work for an effective partition of Iraq into Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni sectors, and that they find a way to distribute the oil wealth fairly among all the various groups of Iraq, is that right?
T. THOMPSON: Well, that's partially correct, Wolf. First off, I have four positions, four propositions, that enable me, I think, to put out a very visionary Iraq policy.
First, we have to protect our troops who are in harm's way. I think we have to give them the resources necessary. You just had a program on regards to the needs and effectiveness of our armed forces. We need to make sure that they're protected and have the resources necessary.
Beyond that then, I believe that it is absolutely necessary for the al-Maliki government, which is a duly-elected government, to have the responsibility of voting, as a parliament, as to whether or not they want the United States in their country.
If they vote yes, which I think they will, that immediately gives the United States a legitimacy they don't have right now. And, secondly, if they vote that we should leave, we should leave.
Third, I really believe we have 18 territories in Iraq, just like we have 50 states in America. Why not have those 18 territories elect their own leaders? You will find that the Shiites will elect Shiites, Sunnis will elect Sunnis, and Kurds will elect Kurds.
There are 18 territories. Let's let them elect their leaders and you will get away from this internecine civil war because Shiites will gravitate to territories that are operating and controlled by Shiites.
BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a moment, because I know your fourth point involves the oil revenues. Let's talk about the notion of these independent or autonomous regions of Iraq. The Iraq Study Group rejected that notion.
I want to read to you what the Iraq Study Group concluded: "All 18 Iraqi provinces have mixed populations as do Baghdad and most other major cities in Iraq. A rapid devolution could result in mass population movements, collapse of security forces, strengthening of militias, ethnic cleansing, destabilization of neighboring states or attempts by neighboring states to dominate Iraqi regions."
Those are pretty ominous fears.
T. THOMPSON: Well, they are ominous fears by individuals in America that really, I don't think, have spent much time in Iraq. The truth of the matter is, is that the 18 territories are pretty much dominated by one religious sect. The Shiites dominate a lot of the southern territories, the Kurds dominate the northern territories, and the Sunnis dominate the central territories pretty much.
And if you elect those leaders, you will find a gravitation of the people to the territories that are absolutely governed by their religious theocracy and you'll get away from this civil war. And instead of breaking it down, you'll increase the opportunity for peace and tranquility in Iraq.
BLITZER: They did make at least one visit to Iraq, members of the Iraq Study Group. I guess they would come back and argue, Governor, did you go to Iraq?
T. THOMPSON: Yes, I have. I've been to Iraq. And I've studied Iraq just like a lot of people have. And the 18 territories were set up after the First World War by the British protectorate. And you know that the Shiites are going to be gravitating towards territories that are controlled by Shiite theocracy. The same with Sunnis.
And you do that, Wolf, you are going to get away from this internecine civil war. And that is what is necessary for people in that country who are afraid of the centralized government to be able to have a stake in their country and a stake in their territory that they live in.
BLITZER: All right. The other point you make, which is clearly significant, involves Iraq's major export, if not its only export. That would be oil, the huge amount of oil that is in Iraq right now -- not all of it, obviously -- being exploited. Your proposal, very briefly, is what?
T. THOMPSON: One-third of the oil proceeds go to the federal government, one-third go to the 18 territorial governments, and one- third go to every man, woman and child. We do that in Alaska and it works out very well. If you did that in Iraq, every man, woman and child would be making sure that the oil wells continued to flow, expand, and as you said, Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world next to Saudi Arabia.
And if you get a steady stream of income, you will be able to build small businesses, be able to enhance your opportunities and really give every Iraqi an opportunity to have stake in their country. And that's what's badly needed to build that country.
BLITZER: That, according to the Iraq Study Group, though, is easier said than done. Here's what they concluded on this notion. They said "There is no institution in Iraq at present that could properly implement such a distribution system. It would take substantial time to establish, would have to be based on a well- developed state census and income tax system which Iraq currently lacks." Do you want to respond to the Iraq Study Group on that?
T. THOMPSON: I certainly will, because everybody, you know, can sit back and find out that there's something wrong with everything anybody says. But the truth of the matter is, I'm the only candidate out there, Wolf, that has come up with an attractive, visionary plan. Many parts, and with many opportunities. And what is really lacking in Iraq is the fact that every man, woman and child doesn't believe they have a stake in their government or a stake in their country. By giving them an oil proceed check every single year, they're going to have the feeling they belong and they have really a stake in that country. And that's what's badly needed and will help to build a country.
And that's what's badly needed. And that's why my plan has more opportunities and more chance for success than anything out there. Because there really is nothing else out there except my plan.
BLITZER: One of your Republican presidential rivals, John McCain of Arizona, has a piece in The Washington Post today in which he writes this, among other things: "For the first time since 2003, we have the right strategy," referring to what's going on in Iraq. "In General Petraeus, we have a military professional who literally wrote the book on fighting this kind of war. And we will have the right mix and number of forces. There is no guarantee that we will succeed, but we must try."
Is Senator McCain right?
T. THOMPSON: Well, there's no question we've got to support the president, and we've got to support our troops in Iraq. I said it at the beginning. But nobody has looked beyond that. How do you build a country?
And that's where my plan differs from the president and all the other candidates. It looks beyond just trying to defend Baghdad or some of the major cities in Iraq. This is trying to build Iraq, make it really a functioning democratic country, as well as states, just like we have in America. And that's why I think my plan is far superior than anything else that's out there.
BLITZER: The other major Republican challenger or rival you have is Rudy Giuliani, who does very, very well in the polls. He's raised a lot of money. He spoke out this week on the issue of abortion. I want to you listen to what he says.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Of course I'm opposed to abortion. Don't like it. Hate it. Would advise that woman, have an adoption rather an abortion. I'll help you find the money for it.
But it's your choice. It's an individual right. You get to make that choice. And I don't think society should be putting new jail for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He also reiterated that he would support federal funding for abortion for poor women, women who need that kind of federal funding, as long as it's seen as, it's being constitutional. You agree or disagree with that? T. THOMPSON: Well, I disagree with Rudy Giuliani on abortion. I'm pro-life. I've advocated that. I signed a partial-birth abortion bill into law when I was governor. And I'm pro-life and I'm proud of it. And I think, you know, that's a different issue that different candidates are going to have different positions.
I'm not criticizing one person for their position. I hope they don't criticize me for my position. I just happen to be pro-life.
BLITZER: I want you to clarify one other issue that's come up in recent weeks, the whole issue of smoking and nicotine. I want to read a quote from The Des Moines Register. This is what you said: "Nicotine killed 443,000 thousand Americans last year. I don't think you'll make tobacco illegal, but I want to see nicotine regulated."
Now, you speak as a former secretary of health and human services. You understand the whole health issue in this country very, very well. What do you mean by wanting to make nicotine regulated?
T. THOMPSON: Well, we regulate baby aspirins. And I take one. I know the president of the United States takes one every day for cardiovascular circulatory assistance. And it's a very healthy drug, and that doesn't kill anybody.
Nicotine, which is not regulated, killed 443,000 Americans and costs $155 billion against the $2 trillion we spend on health care. I want nicotine regulated by FDA. FDA should regulate it. It regulates everything else as it relates to medicine and drugs. I think nicotine needs to be regulated.
BLITZER: Governor Tommy Thompson, the former secretary of health and human services, the former governor of Wisconsin, thanks very much for coming in.
T. THOMPSON: It's always a pleasure. Good luck to you, Wolf. Thank you.
BLITZER: Thank you, and happy Easter to you. Coming up, we'll get insight from the best political team on television. We'll be right back.