CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Jon Huntsman, Jr.
Date: Aug. 3, 2011
Location: Unknown

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BLITZER: Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman is in the midst of a five-day campaign swing through New Hampshire. He's strongly defending his status as the only major Republican contender to support the debt legislation signed by President Obama yesterday. It's a sore subject for many Tea Party activists who fiercely oppose the compromise.

I spoke with Huntsman recently about the Tea Party and his opponents.

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BLITZER: Does the Tea Party have too much power in Washington right now?

JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The power that the Tea Party has is commensurate with the voice of the people who put them there. The voice of the people who elected members of the Tea Party caucus are outraged at where we are in terms of our fiscal situation, as well they should be.

So they elect people, send them to Congress, send them to the Senate, and folks are now, I think, expressing the aspirations and the goals of the Tea Party voters who put them there. I think it's an expression of our democracy. People are outraged and members of Congress who were put there by Tea Party voters I think are right in expressing that outrage, as well.

BLITZER: But do you see yourself as an advocate of the Tea Party?

HUNTSMAN: Listen, on the financial and economic side, when you look at cutting, when you look at tax reform, when you look at balancing the books, I think we're all together on that.

BLITZER: I want to get to a little politics right now. I'm going to name three Republican candidates, three of your rivals, and you tell me why you're more qualified to be president than them.

Mitt Romney.

HUNTSMAN: I have a real record as governor. We were number one in terms of job creation in this country as a result of record tax cuts, regulatory reform, getting back on our feet. I think Massachusetts was about number 47 in terms of job creation. I think that's material.

Also, we live in a very unpredictable world. I think having some knowledge of how the world operates and having some knowledge of our largest trading partner, our most significant challenge in the years to come, which is China, I think is very material to the voters.

BLITZER: Michele Bachmann.

HUNTSMAN: Well, I have been governor, I've been a chief executive, I've got international experience, and I think people will compare and contrast and see that we're both good people, we're both willing to serve our country, but in terms of the background we bring to the table, there will be some clear differences.

BLITZER: Texas Governor Rick Perry.

HUNTSMAN: He's a good man. I've got real business experience that I think is absolutely needed in today's environment.

You have got to understand the environment in which jobs are created. It helps having been governor, and Rick's been a good governor. And he's a good friend on top of that. But it also helps to have been in the private sector, where you actually are working with the banks and customers and supplies and making a company go. And that I have, and I don't see a whole lot of other people in the field who can say that.

BLITZER: We're getting ready to wrap this up, but three issues. Quickly tell me your stance so viewers out there and voters know where you stand. Abortion rights for women?

HUNTSMAN: I am pro-life, have been from the very beginning. If you look at our record in the state of Utah, you'll see I signed legislation that backs that up like few other elected officials.

BLITZER: Would you agree with Rick Santorum that doctors and nurses who perform abortions should be criminally charged?

HUNTSMAN: I wouldn't go that far.

BLITZER: How far would you go? Are there any exemptions as far as abortion rights for women, life of the mother, for example?

HUNTSMAN: If you look at the legislation that I signed, which gives education to those who would seek an abortion, that puts in place a trigger -- if ever Roe v. Wade is overturned, which I hope is the case some day, that the state of Utah can immediately back out, those are the kinds of policies I'm interested in as it relates to life. But I have got a firm, solid, commitment to life. I have unwaveringly so from the very beginning.

BLITZER: Gay marriage?

HUNTSMAN: I believe in traditional marriage. I don't think you can redefine marriage from the traditional sense.

I'm for civil unions. I came out for civil unions a while ago. I think we can do a better job as it relates to overall equality, specifically as it relates to reciprocal beneficiary rights.

BLITZER: But you agree that states like New York or Iowa should have the right if they want to have gay marriage? They should have that right?

HUNTSMAN: Of course. That's absolutely their right. This is an issue more and more that should be driven at the state level.

BLITZER: Comprehensive immigration reform?

HUNTSMAN: As it relates to immigration reform, I would do one thing before even taking on the 12 million or 13 million who are here illegally. I would simply secure the border. We can't have a legitimate conversation about this issue -- people are too fired about it -- until we can prove that we can secure the border.

BLITZER: And then would there be a pathway to citizenship for the 12 million or so illegal immigrants in the United States? HUNTSMAN: Well, then you have to deal realistically with the fact that you have got 12 million people here who have broken the law. I think fines are in order. I think coming up with a process whereby they pay fines, they learn English, other criteria must be met. But there would be some sort of legitimate pathway that brings them into some safer status and out from the shadows.

They're a big part of our workforce today. In the state of Utah, you can see some of the legislation most recently that they did very pragmatically recognizing that you have got a whole lot of illegal people in the state who are part of the workforce. You just can't wish them away and expect the economy to continue succeeding.

But first and foremost, we've got to secure the border. It's an 1,800-mile border. You have got to work with the four border governors in terms of getting their verification that, in fact, you've secured the border.

It's probably $2 million per mile in order to get it fenced. I think you can fence a whole lot of it, using technology as well for gaps here and there. And then you've got the National Guard that probably can supplement that, as well. We have got to prove the point that we can secure the border.

BLITZER: So, the pathway to the nomination for you doesn't necessarily run through Iowa, but really starts in New Hampshire. Is that what you're saying?

HUNTSMAN: We love Iowa, we love the people of Iowa. I don't have a geographic advantage there.

I'm not a supporter of ethanol subsidies. You have limited financial resources, limited people you can deploy in these early states. And I say we want the best return on investment.

If you look at it as a business proposition, so if we deploy in the early primary states of New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, I'm here to tell you, based upon what I see today, we have got an excellent presence on the ground, we've got terrific people who have signed up and who are endorsing us. We can get there, and it starts in New Hampshire.

BLITZER: I don't know if you -- we have some video of what happened yesterday when you were on Capitol Hill. A lot of Chinese tourists spotted you, they saw you, and they were pretty excited.

There it is. You can see it right there. You can see some of that video. They were pretty happy.

You had a good time in China, huh?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I've lived in Asia four times, and the last two years, of course, in China, seeing the rise of China to the world stage. But I had someone yesterday comment on your name recognition needs to go up in some parts of the country. And I say, that's interesting you would say that, because I'm only known by a quarter of the world's population -- about 300 million people who know who I am.

But we've got work to do here. We're doing it diligently and enthusiastically, and there's a pathway toward getting to victory.

BLITZER: Good luck.

HUNTSMAN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Governor Huntsman, thanks.

HUNTSMAN: An honor to be with you.

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