NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: After a cardinal all but raised a holy war on this very show yesterday, signs the President of the United States has seen the light. Today, talks of waivers for Catholic institutions that do not want in on that birth control coverage plan.
Today, Mitt Romney on what could be a big presidential about-face, then Paul Ryan on what we already know will be a big presidential budget. Then, completing our power hour today, Joe Lieberman on what is shaping up to be the president's biggest threat of all, Iran. Today, out of control, big time, today.
Welcome, everybody. I'm Neil Cavuto.
And indications this hour that the president is ready to at least partially dial back what Mitt Romney calls his biggest overreach, telling religious employers to cover birth control in their employee health plans.
Now, it might not be enough, and, no pun intended, the devil is in the details, but Governor Romney telling me just moment ago it's too little too late.
MITT ROMNEY - R, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the White House has shown its hand already.
They began with an assault suggesting that the government should determine who a minister is, and not a religion making that choice on their own. The Supreme Court turned them down on that one 9-0. And of course this effort with regards to contraception and the day-after pill, and sterilization is an outrageous assault on religious conscience in this country.
They've clearly suffered enormously at the hands of not just the people in the Catholic Church who are affected directly, but by people of all faiths. And they're going to have to retreat, or suffer enormous consequence. And ultimately they will retreat as forced by the Supreme Court or by the next election if they don't retreat now on their own.
CAVUTO: Do you think, Governor, that your nearest opponent right now, Rick Santorum, seized on this and maybe built a head of steam on this in Colorado, in Missouri, in Minnesota, not only because he protested this as a Catholic, but he has made social conservative issues such a linchpin of his campaign?
ROMNEY: I can't tell you the center of -- Senator Santorum's campaign, but I certainly can tell you that the assault on religious liberty on this country is an area that has great support and energy and passion behind it.
It is something I share. When I was governor of my state, the legislature passed a bill saying emergency contraception was going to be provided through Catholic hospitals and other institutions. I vetoed that bill. We have found from liberals across the country an effort to impose their will on religious organizations and on the population at large, and that is something we have to fight at every turn.
CAVUTO: Were you surprised that -- you mentioned liberals, Governor - - that, even there, a good many of them, at least, are taking the administration to task on this?
ROMNEY: You know, I am happy to see that individuals recognize that there is more than one part to the First Amendment, and that the protection of religious liberty is also there, not just the freedom of the press.
And I appreciate the fact that people on both sides of the aisle, and even the Supreme Court when it related to determining who was a minister, that liberals on the court sided with the Constitution. It's a good sign. I think the administration has way overstepped the bounds here. And I think they're going to have to retreat.
CAVUTO: You mention, Governor, how -- there is a way to distinguish what you did in Massachusetts with your health care plan and what the administration has been doing nationally with its, and this issue is key there.
Do you think that this has actually given you a chance to differentiate , or no?
ROMNEY: Well, there is always an effort on the part of some to confuse and to try and obscure.
Actually, the legislation in our state that related to providing contraception and sterilization, those kinds of things, in insurance occurred before I was governor, and my effort as governor was to try and remove those things. I was unsuccessful in removing them. My legislature was 85 percent Democrat.
But the White House can't point to my record because this occurred before I became governor, and my effort was to get it out of the legislation going forward.
CAVUTO: But are you worried that they could come back and say, well, you know, he ended up with a reform effort that was just a mini-version of what we did nationally, including this, to some, onerous provision?
ROMNEY: And I can just point out, yeah, I fought on every basis I possibly could for life and for religious tolerance and liberty, and sometimes I could not win those battles in a legislature that was 85 percent Democrat.
This is a president who is promoting the very things I was fighting against. So, he can try and draw the parallel, but I can draw my distinction, which is, I fought against the very things this president is trying to do. I fought successfully in some cases. But, in each case, I fought for religious liberty and for the respect of individuals making their own choices.
CAVUTO: There was another financial headline today, Governor. I am sure you are familiar with this the mortgage rework program. It comes to about $25 billion.
The idea is to get at least a million homeowners who are underwater right now to refinance, in simplistic terms here, but again $25 billion for a lot of them to maybe, at best, lop $25,000 off their principal.
What did you think of the plan, what you know of it?
ROMNEY: Well, we have not seen the details on the plan.
And what I don't want to have is a bailout for banks, a way of crushing institutions that invested in various forms of mortgages. So I want to look at the particulars here. I would love to see greater flexibility exercised by banks in renegotiating loans with homeowners, where that is in the best interest of the lending institution and the homeowner.
And I see that a lot. I see circumstances where you have got a couple where one or two of them are both working, they can't afford the current mortgage because either their wages have gone down or they may have seen a layoff, but they can't afford payments. I want banks to be able to be willing to renegotiate in terms that help the bank and help the homeowners.
In many respects, what has happened with Dodd-Frank has so frightened the banking community that they're just holding off on renegotiations which otherwise would help homeowners. The best way to get people help on their mortgage is to get rid of Dodd-Frank and let bankers go back to renegotiating in many cases loans that do not need to go into foreclosure.
CAVUTO: So, you are no more encouraged that this initiative will fare any better than other mortgage rework programs, at least on the surface?
ROMNEY: Well, so far, the programs in the past have not worked terribly well.
ROMNEY: And things like cash for clunkers did not work terribly well.
So you have this effort on the part of the president to show that he is -- quote -- "doing something," but in the final analysis, nothing really happens. Homeowners are not helped and the housing market continues to decline. And so I don't want to prejudge this without looking at the particulars, but based on the president's track record so far, I am not terribly confident this is going to help much.
CAVUTO: Governor, after your defeats -- again, these were nonbinding states -- still, the Colorado-Missouri-Minnesota sweep for Senator Santorum has put renewed attention and pressure on states up to now we might not have focused on, on the 28th of this month, Michigan and Arizona.
In Michigan, Rick Santorum is working very hard to, maybe, surprise and win in your hometown. You had a speech originally scheduled for Detroit on February 24. They have moved it to Ford Field to deal with the sellout crowds that in this case were all accounted for in less than two hours.
Do you think you can pull this out? Is it important, if for no other reason than it is your home turf, that you win Michigan?
ROMNEY: Well, I would like to win Arizona and Michigan, because, of course, there are a lot of delegates at stake in both states.
And I will be campaigning hard to win in those states. I can't make a prediction as to what will happen. Last time, I won, but I think I won by two points. So, it was pretty darn close. And so, I am not expecting a landslide.
I don't -- I can't tell you 100 percent that I will win, but I am planning on it. I'm going to work hard for it. And I think the people of Michigan understand that this is a chance to select as our nominee a person who was born and raised in Michigan, who understands Michigan values, and who will do everything in his power to get Michigan working again.
It is beginning to show signs of progress, but there is a lot more we need to do to get Detroit and Michigan on track again.
CAVUTO: But are you worried, Governor? Even people who like you a great deal -- Jim DeMint, who supported you four years ago, said what happened a couple of days ago is a signal, saying about you, sir, "Playing it safe, as Romney tends to do, is not going to get it done."
What do you make of that?
ROMNEY: Well, actually, we played pretty hard in Florida, as you probably know, a lot of delegates at stake there, worked almost around the clock, made a real effort in Florida, and I think surprised a lot people, who expected Newt Gingrich to win there. He was ahead I think by double digits after South Carolina in Florida. So, it was a come-from-behind, worked like crazy, and won that. And then we went to Nevada. And we were concerned that Speaker Gingrich, with the support of his friends in Las Vegas, would be able to be successful there, of course, delegates at stake in Nevada as well.
We worked tirelessly there. In the three that just happened, as you point out, they were nonbinding, but we would like to have won those. We didn't, came closer in Colorado than the others. But we're going to focus our efforts on Michigan and Nevada.
And when it comes to working hard, I have not been home since Christmas, Neil.
ROMNEY: So you can't work -- I have not been in my bed since Christmas. So we are working pretty darn hard. And I think people in Michigan and Arizona are going to give me their support. Sure hope so.
CAVUTO: My family would welcome if I didn't come home since Christmas.
CAVUTO: But your point is well-taken.
Governor, I would like to conclude, then, with just a sense of the math, the delegate math. I know you try not to get into the intricacies of this, but many have been arguing to me -- pundits all, so take it with a grain of salt -- that it is statistically possible that you could get to the convention without a majority of the delegates, without the 1,144 you will need.
Do you think that is possible?
ROMNEY: Well, anything is possible. I think it is unlikely.
And I expect that one or the other of us will be able to garner the kind of support necessary to become the nominee. And that will allow us, of course, to begin raising money for the general election and to begin to campaign against President Obama.
CAVUTO: But do you worry that the later it -- I'm sorry, sir -- that the later it goes, that the less, I don't know, instantly inevitable you seem, that it ups the ante and the pressure on you?
ROMNEY: Well, the table is set the way it's set. And I will get the delegates I get.
I hope I get -- I hope I win all the remaining contests. But I remember, last time around, John McCain, I think he lost 19 states on his way to getting the nomination. You don't win them all. And, so, I expect I will lose a number of states before we actually get to a point where I get the 1,150 delegates I need.
But I must admit, I would be a little surprised if we went all the way until, what, August or September until we had a nominee. That would be unusual. Is it mathematically possible? Yeah. But usually one or the other candidates runs out of money, runs out of support, and someone else is able to garner the delegates needed for the nomination.
CAVUTO: So, you're not worried that the party then goes outside and says, well, Mitt just doesn't get to the finish line? ROMNEY: Well, I don't know what is going to happen. I think I'm going to be the nominee if I do my job right.
But maybe it is the other guy who becomes the nominee. I think it's kind of unlikely it would be someone else altogether. I think, most likely, it will be Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, or myself.
CAVUTO: All right, we shall see -- Mitt Romney.