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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript

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BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

BLITZER: Got to have a little sense of humor in this kind of a situation.

Thanks very much for that. Mitt Romney, certainly, he's been a very vocal critic of the White House's approach to the unemployment crisis that's ongoing. Just ahead, I will speak live with him. I will ask him about a key part of the president's jobs plan, what he would do differently. We have got lots of questions for Mitt Romney. He's standing by live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Mitt Romney was among the earliest candidates to begin laying the groundwork for the 2012 presidential campaign, and he enjoyed front-runner status until the Texas governor, Rick Perry, jumped in last month. The former Massachusetts governor is joining us now live from Los Angeles.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Good to have you back here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Let's start with issue number one, the economy, jobs, jobs, jobs, as we like to say.

President Obama's jobs bill, he wants to create jobs in part by investing lots of money in infrastructure development. Are you with him on that?

ROMNEY: Well, infrastructure enhancement in this country is a positive way to long-term improve the job prospects in America. But, look, a stimulus approach has not worked. The idea of item by item looking for a quick solution, throwing a little gasoline on the fire, that hasn't worked.

The first stimulus of almost $800 billion didn't create private sector jobs. This stimulus won't work. It's not going to get passed. The president needs to put aside stimulus plans and instead work to restructure the foundation of America's economy, to make America the most attractive place to invest long term, not just over the next six weeks, but over the next 60 years.

BLITZER: Because four years ago, we did some checking on infrastructure, and I'm going play a clip of what you said back on January 30th, 2008 during one of the CNN Republican debates on the issue of infrastructure and jobs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: There's no question but to investment in infrastructure makes enormous sense for our country. It's good for business. It's good for the economy.

And as the governor that watched the completion -- well, almost the completion of the big dig, I think that was -- I don't know how many governors watched that $15 billion project, they do create a lot of good jobs and they help our economy. They're great things.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right, so what's the difference between what you have in mind and what the president has in mind when he talks a lot about infrastructure and jobs?

ROMNEY: Well, I said the same thing a moment ago, which is that infrastructure is good for jobs and for the foundation of our economy, but it's not a short-term, quick fix, put in a few million dollars or a few billion dollars.

This is the kind of project that's going to have to be part of a very comprehensive effort to restructure our infrastructure in America, and that's going to require a new financing setting. We have to look to see whether we use toll roads public/private partnerships.

We have thousands and thousands of structurally deficient bridges, we have roads that are in terrible disrepair, we have choke points across the country that are affecting commerce. An infrastructure plan is going be needed, but to suggest that spending a few tens of billions of dollars is a stimulus plan is going to get America back to work is just silly. That's just not the case.

The president needs to sit down and look at a major re-haul of our entire economic foundation, and I don't think he has in within him. I mean, I think he's gone from stimulus to stimulus.

What we really have to do is restructure our corporate tax rates, our regulatory structure, energy policies, our trade policies, our labor policies, and he's got all of those wrong.

BLITZER: The Republican -- let's call him the front-runner -- Rick Perry, at least according to a lot of the polls, he just spoke to our sister publication "Time" magazine and he made this statement, I'm going to play it for you and then we'll discuss.

Listen to Rick Perry.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I still believe they are socialist. I mean, their policies prove that almost daily. I mean, look, when all the answers emanate from Washington D.C., one size fits all, whether it's education policy or whether it's healthcare policy, that is, on its face, socialism.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's talking about the Obama administration's policies.

You agree with him?

ROMNEY: Well, you know, words have a lot of unintended meanings, and calling people socialists probably goes on the fact that it is true that President Obama's team and the president himself seem to believe that government has a better approach to our economy than does the private sector, and I disagree with that approach. I believe we have to have a government that's a partner, that is encouraging the private sector, encouraging freedom, encouraging free people. What they've done instead is add regulation, add taxation, add burdens to the free enterprise system, which does tend to make us more European. And Europe isn't working in Europe; Europe is not going to work in this country.

I don't use the word socialist or I haven't so far, but I do agree that the president's approach is government heavy, government intensive, and it's not working.

BLITZER: You use the word more European than socialist, is that what you're saying?

ROMNEY: I -- I just say, government heavy, Washington heavy.

A nation which is free and dependent upon free enterprise as ours is doesn't need Washington telling businesses how to they can do every aspect of their business, how people can get their education, how they can get their health care.

Look, government is playing too heavy handed a role in America today and people want to see the government pulled back, as it should be, and allow free American people to pursue their own path in life rather than having the government dictate that for them.

BLITZER: I know you stand by the health care reform you passed, you got enacted when you were the governor of Massachusetts, and you differentiate between who what you did in Massachusetts as opposed to what President Obama did on a national scale. But some other news organizations have done some research, and I'll give you a chance to respond to this.

They have taken a look at your book, the book entitled "No Apology," the hard-cover version, in that book you this, you wrote, "It's portable, affordable health insurance -- something people have been talking about for decades," referring to your plan. "We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country, and it can be done without letting government take over health care."

Now in the paperback, more recent version, it was changed to say, "It's portable, affordable health insurance -- something people have been talking about for decades. And it was done without government taking over health care." The line, "we can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country," was taken out.

Explain why.

ROMNEY: You know, Wolf, we updated the book because it came out almost a year after the first book, and, of course, the president's plan was then put in place.

I was in asked when we put our plan together by Dan Balz of "The Washington Post," is the plan in Massachusetts something that, if you are president, you'd have the entire country adopt. And I said no. I said that very clearly. I've said it throughout the campaign in 2008. The Massachusetts plan was crafted for Massachusetts, for the needs of 8 percent of our population that didn't have insurance, not for the 92 percent that did. Obamacare is a plan that takes over 100 percent of the people in the country and their health care, and that's one of the reasons why people don't want it.

So our plan was a model for other states to copy, some states have copied parts of it, others say no way, they'll do something else, that's their right. But it is not a plan to have a one-size-fits -all approach, I said that from the beginning, continue to say it.

By the way, it works pretty well in Massachusetts, but there's some flaws in it, I'd like to see them changed.

BLITZER: You remember the exchange I had at the debate with Ron Paul when I asked about the hypothetical 30-year-old who has a good job, healthy, makes a good living, but decides he doesn't want to buy health insurance, he wants to do something else with that money, but he gets into some sort of accident, needs life support for six months, costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. What do you do with some -- who pays for that kind of care?

You heard the exchange I had with Ron Paul, but what do you say?

ROMNEY: Well, as you know, what I say is that states have a responsibility for caring for their own poor, this should not be a federal responsibility.

And there are two ways that states have traditionally done that. One is to give out free care at the hospitals, and that gets paid for either by other insured individuals or by taxpayers. In my state, it was paid for by taxpayers. Or you can have inferior care given to people, in which case their live or health may be in jeopardy.

We said look, we're going to insist on people taking personal responsibility. We're not going have people dying or have their health care in jeopardy. We're going to come up with a system that gives people the care they need and if they can afford their own care, we're going to insist they pay for it as opposed to looking to government.

Now, other people have come up with other ideas. I would like to see those ideas in different states. But, you know, in Massachusetts now about 98 percent of the people have insurance, and I'm proud of the fact that we're seeing better health outcomes as a result.

BLITZER: Were you taken aback like some of the other were when the audience, Tea Party supporters, when I said would you let the young man die and some of them screamed out, yes. Were you take aback by that response from some in the audience?

ROMNEY: I sure was. I was very disappointed by that response.

Look, we're a people that care very deeply for one another. We respect the sanctity of human life, whether an unborn life or someone in the middle of their life or at the end of their life. And I tried very hard as governor of my state to come up with a plan that would care for people in our state in a thoughtful and compassionate way.

You know, in our state, less than 1 percent of our children don't have health insurance. Over 99 percent of our kids have health insurance. There are other states where the uninsured kids are as high as 20 percent.

You know, I look to find a solution to problems and to try to help our people, and I think that's the role of those that have responsibility.

And incidentally, there may be better way to do it than I came up with. And as Ross Perot used say, I'm all ears. I'm happy to see what other people come up with and if they come up with something better than we did, I'm happy to have states be able to adopt that.

But a federal takeover with the federal government telling states how to do it, that's a mistake and that's one reason I'd repeal Obamacare.

BLITZER: All right, we have more to talk about, Governor. Please stand by for a moment, we're going to continue this conversation, including some lessons learned from four years ago that you're applying now. We have some national security issues we want to discuss as well.

Stand by, more of my interview with Mitt Romney when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Governor, thanks, once again.

I want to get to some national security issues. How far would you go to stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb?

ROMNEY: Well, Iran has to be convinced that we would go all the way. That we would take military action, that military action is on the table.

I think our president has communicated, in various subtle ways, that there is not a military option that would we consider. I think that's a mistake. I think you to have crippling sanctions against Iran. I think you have to have covert action in Iran to convince the people there of the folly of becoming a nuclear nation.

But I think the Iranians have to believe, as well, and particularly their leadership believe, that America would consider taking military option. That has to be on the -- on the table and plans have to be in place, and that's something which clearly you have to consider.

We cannot endure a world where Iran has a bomb because then, of course, the Saudis will and Turkey will and you go around the world, the Syrians will, and you'll have all sorts of people with nuclear weapons and ultimately, fissile material will find the way into the hands of terrorists and the consequence for the world and for America is unthinkable.

BLITZER: If you were president and you had to deal with a United Nations General Assembly vote in the coming days that would call for the creation of a Palestinian state, what would you do about that?

ROMNEY: Well, you start a long time ago. This vote and the course pursued by the Palestinians and others by others in the United Nations is another testament of the president's failure of leadership. This would have been avoided, or could have been avoided, in my view, had the president made it clear from the very outset we stand by Israel, that we lock arm and arm. Instead the president tried to communicate to the Palestinians and to others that support their effort that, well, there may be distance between us and Israel.

Look, you stand by your allies, you show that you're united, that's the best way to keep people taking adventurous activity.

BLITZER: I want you to explain something you said yesterday, it's got a little buzz out there. I'll play the clip and then we'll discuss.

Unfortunately we don't have it. But it was basically a comment praising the former vice president, Dick Cheney. You were saying something along the lines of, I listened to him speak, and said whether you agree or disagree with him, this is a man of wisdom and judgment and he could have been president of the United States. That's the kind of person I'd like to have, a person of wisdom and judgment.

It's causing a little controversy. What did you mean by that?

ROMNEY: I think that's pretty straightforward. I listened to the vice president speak the other day, and his thoughtfulness and his deliberation and his intelligence shown through.

I remember watching the debates, the vice presidential debates and between Joe Lieberman and the vice president, Dick Cheney, and I thought both of those men were men of substance and thoughtfulness and experience.

Dick Cheney served in the Department of Defense, he served with prior presidents. You know, I know he's criticized by many, many people, but you do want in the vice presidency an individual who has the confidence of the American people that that person could be president, and I think Dick Cheney was certainly a man of that character.

BLITZER: We got a question from -- on Facebook from Joshua Worthheim. He asks this: "If you got the nomination would you distance yourself from the Tea Party so you could appeal to moderates and Independents? If not, how would you expect to win the general election? ROMNEY: You know, what I intend to do is what I've been doing, which is continue to talk about my vision for America. And I know a lot of Tea Partiers who believe government's too big and is borrowing to much they agree with me. I -- there's almost not a day that goes by that I don't have Democrats come up to me and say, you know what, I'm a Democrat but I'm going to vote for you.

I was on a flight this morning, a Southwest flight from Phoenix to -- let's see -- to Burbank, and -- no, it was to Orange County, and a person came up and said, look, I'm a Democrat, but I'm going to vote for you.

And I believe if you talk to people what you honestly and fundamentally believe that you'll get the kind of support you need.

BLITZER: What's the most important lesson you learned four years ago in your unsuccessful bid to win the Republican nomination that you're applying now in this current campaign?

ROMNEY: Well, you know, last time I spent a lot of time answering all of the question on all of the topics that came up, and you frankly have no choice but to respond to the questions that come along, but you want to make sure your message gets through and you communicate why it is you're running day in and day out. You want to be known for something.

In my case, I spent my life in the private sector for 25 years. I understand how this economy works at the fundamental level. I haven't just watched jobs get created, I've created jobs. That's a message I want to get through. I didn't get that through as well last time as I should have. This time I'm going to try to do a better job, making sure in every effort that I have meeting with people they know I'm the guy who knows something about the economy and I can get America strong and get jobs created again.

BLITZER: Good luck, Governor. We'll stay in close touch.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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