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Fox News "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace" - Transcript

Interview

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BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: I'm Bret Baier, in for Chris Wallace.

Mitt Romney looks to lock up the nomination. But many key tests remain.

We'll talk with the GOP frontrunner about the primaries ahead and get insight to do his policy solutions for America.

Mitt Romney, a "Fox News Sunday" exclusive.

Then, actor George Clooney brings awareness of a war-torn region to Washington. He opens up about what he saw along the border of Sudan and South Sudan, about how people there need help. Chris Wallace sits down with George Clooney and the Enough Project's John Prendergast.

Also, the president and vice president both hit the campaign trail hard. We'll ask our Sunday panelist if the timing is right for the White House to ramp up reelection efforts. And we'll take a look how the candidates are scrambling for delegates on the trail.

All right now on "Fox News Sunday."

(MUSIC)

BAIER: And hello, again, from Fox News in Washington.

It's another a busy campaign weekend, Missouri continues the process of selecting delegates, Puerto Rico votes today. Then, on Tuesday, all eyes will be on Illinois.

Joining us is now from Moline to talk about where the race stands now is Mitt Romney.

Governor, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."

MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thanks, Bret. Good to be with you.

BAIER: Let's start with Afghanistan. Tensions in the U.S. and Afghanistan appear to be very high at this point. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has accused the U.S. of stonewalling the investigation into the killing of 16 Afghan civilians. In fact, they even suggested there might be more than one shooter.

He angrily said Friday, quote, "This has been going on for too long. This is all by means the end of the rope here." Thursday, he demanded all NATO troops get out of the villages and stay on the major bases there.

President Obama, as you know, has publicly said to stay the course until our withdrawal at the end of 2014.

Would President Romney do anything different? And if so, how?

ROMNEY: Well, first of all, I would exercise leadership. And by that I mean I would speak with President Karzai. I would speak with President Karzai regularly, day-to-day. We have troops in harm's way. We have almost 1,800 men and women who have been killed in Afghanistan. We have real interest in making sure that this ends well and that our mission is successful there of having a Afghanistan that is able to maintain its sovereignty against the Taliban, against ultimately al Qaeda as well.

Look, what's happening right now is an example of failed leadership. The president put out a specific time table for withdrawal for our troops, a time table for the end of combat operations. That is leading Mr. Karzai to take action that is self preservation in nature.

The president needs to be more engaged and interacting with -- not only our commanders there but also with leadership in Afghanistan.

BAIER: But would you exercise the withdrawal?

ROMNEY: Well, the timing of withdrawal is going to be dependent about what you hear from the conditions on the ground. That you understand by speaking with commanders, as well as, of course, the people of Afghanistan and their ability to maintain their sovereignty and to have the capacity -- to have a military that can stand up to the challenges they face.

The timetable, the guidelines that continue to be in effect, unless, of course, there are changes and conditions to suggest a faster withdrawal.

But recognize that, ultimately, the independence and security of Afghanistan is going to have to be secured and maintained by the Afghans themselves. We're not going to stay there forever.

BAIER: Your Republican opponents have a different tone they have been sounding. Speaker Newt Gingrich said we're risking lives on a mission that may frankly not be doable. Rick Santorum said we either have to make a full commitment which he said this president has not done or we have to decide to get out sooner. And Ron Paul, of course, has maintained his long held position of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan immediately.

So, are you taking a stand here while much of your party is souring on Afghanistan?

ROMNEY: Well, before I take a stand at a particular course of action, I want to get the input from the people who are there. General Allen is going to be coming to Washington and testifying this week about what the conditions are. I think it's very plain to see that the conditions are not going very well.

And the -- and I lay part of the blame on that on the lack of leadership on the part of our president, both in terms of his interaction with Karzai and with leaders there, as well as his relative detachment from our military commanders there and the fact that he published a specific date for a withdrawal, published a date for withdrawal of our combat operations there, did not oversee elections in Afghanistan that would have convinced the people there that they had elected someone that they could have confidence in, did not put enough troops into the surge, as what's requested by the military. He certainly takes part of the blame for the failure there, and we're going to get our troops out soon as we possibly can.

But this does have the indications of a similarly failed withdrawal or fail would completion effort on the part of this president, just like we saw in Iraq. He likewise failed in the way we left Iraq. And this is a president simply does not have experience in tough situations -- not negotiating experience, not leadership experience -- and it's showing once again the result that one might have expected from lack of leadership.

BAIER: Let's talk about Iran. What you are seeing and hearing, where do you put the chances that Israel will strike Iran in coming months?

ROMNEY: Well, I can't begin to speak for what Israel will do. I think they recognize that Iran's nuclear weaponry presents an existential threat to them. Ahmadinejad has said that he would consider Israel a one bomb nation. So, Israel's timetable may be different than our timetable.

The clear, I think, lesson from this are that, one, the president should have put in place crippling sanctions from day one instead of waiting three and a half years. Two, he should have spoken out when the dissidents took to the streets in Tehran. Instead, he was silent. And three, he should be less worried about Israel taking military action to stop Iran from having a nuclear weapon and more worried about Iran actually having nuclear weapon and have fissile material.

And he should make it very clear that the United States of America will not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons, and that we will take action, including military action if necessary, to prevent that from occurring.

BAIER: The president said two weeks ago that you and Speaker Gingrich and Senator Santorum are speaking casually about war with Iran, saying, quote, "If some of these folks think that it's time to launch a war, they should say so. They should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk."

Your reaction?

ROMNEY: Well, it's quite clear that the president wants to avoid in any way a discussion about a military option. But, of course, we have to recognize that if all else fails -- and he's failed on so many dimensions, it's possible that all else will fail. But I hope not.

I hope that crippling sanctions will now that they're finally beginning to be employed there will have an impact. I hope that if we aggressively support dissident voices in Iran, that will have an impact. And I hope that showing a military commitment on our part, and a recognition that we have a military option, that that will change the minds of the Iranians towards their nuclear program. But there is nothing casual about Iran having a nuclear weapon. There's nothing casual about Iran having fissile material they can give to Hamas or Hezbollah. And Hezbollah is now in many parts of South America. Look, they are in our hemisphere. Fissile material in our hemisphere with Hezbollah able to potentially bring it into this country? There's nothing casual about that.

The president needs to recognize this is a very serious threat to America and to the world. And that, of course, we have to have military options. Israel has obviously developed those options. I hope our president is listening to our military and developing those options as well.

BAIER: Governor, obviously, volatility in the Middle East affects oil prices. Do you believe President Obama is to blame for high gas prices?

ROMNEY: Well, there's no question. But when he ran for office, he said he wanted to see gasoline price go up. He said that energy prices would skyrocket under his views, and he has selected three people to help him implement that program. The secretary of energy, the secretary of interior and EPA administrator.

And this gas hike trio has been doing the job over the last three and a half years, and gas prices are up. The right course is they ought to be fired because the president is apparently suffered election year conversion. He's now decided that gasoline prices should come down.

While the gas hike trio is going in the other direction, time for them to go, probably hand in their resignations if he's really serious about and start drilling for energy here. That's, of course, our oil, our natural gas, take advantage of our coal resources for power generation. It's a very different policy that he's now talking about, and I hope it's a real conversion. Time will tell.

BAIER: You obviously feel that the president is vulnerable on this issue. Looking at the headlines over the past few days, you've been hitting this hard. A number of different headlines suggesting that you've been talking about it a lot. This has obviously become a focus now of your campaign.

But less than a month ago, in your speech at the Detroit Economic Club, you didn't have one word about energy policy. And same was true in your victory speeches in New Hampshire and Florida and your speech in CPAC. Why not a word about that and those speeches? And does it talk to a change in message and the power of this issue?

ROMNEY: You know, I've been speaking about energy policy I think pretty consistently throughout all of my stump speech. Maybe not every single speech I give. But I've been talking about the need to develop our coal, our oil resources, our natural gas resources.

ROMNEY: But the reality is that as I've gone across the country in the last several weeks in particular, I'm seeing more and more people, particularly women for instance, that say to me, you know, it's hard getting kids to school and to soccer practice when you don't know if you can afford to fill up the car. I spoke with a teacher in St. Louis who was out of work and she's staying on unemployment because she said in part, the cost of getting to and from work at a temporary teaching assignment was just so expensive, given gasoline. She couldn't afford to go back to work.

Look, these gasoline prices are hurting American families, and that pain and the result of president's policies to turn down the pipeline, the Keystone pipeline from Canada, and at the same time put $500 million into Solyndra, these policies are not working. His policies are hurting the American people. And they want to have someone that will finally take advantage of our energy resources and I will.

BAIER: Governor, one of the standard lines in your stump speech is on spending and the test that you would apply in a Romney administration is a program so critical that it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it. At the FOX/Google debate in September, you said without qualification, quote, we need to get the federal government out of education. Does this mean eliminating the Department of Education?

ROMNEY: Not necessarily. It may be combined with other agencies. There will be a rule, meaning that, for instance, the federal government provides funding to local school districts for care of disabled children, that will be maintained.

But the reach of the Department of Education into the states has to be pulled back. Education has to be managed at the state level, not at the federal level. Will there be any flow through of funds to the states? Yes. But the role I see that ought to remain in the president's agenda with regards to education is to push back against the federal teachers unions. Those federal teachers unions have too much power, in some cases, they overwhelm the states, they overwhelm the local school districts. We have got to put the kids first and put these teacher's unions behind.

BAIER: Do you still support No Child Left Behind?

ROMNEY: I support the principle of having states test their kids, and one of the things President Bush did that I supported, and I did support No Child Left Behind and do support continuing to test our kids. I want to know which school districts are succeeding and which ones are failing and where they are failing. I want there to be action taken to get the teacher union's out and to get the kids once again receiving the education they need.

So, I like the idea of testing our kids. No Child Left Behind needs to be changed, I think in some pretty significant ways before it's reauthorized. But I do support the testing that's been associated with that program, and I'm glad that President Bush pushed for that.

BAIER: Governor, on the stump, you criticized Rick Santorum for his answer in a recent debate, taking one for the team. That was casting his vote for No Child Left Behind. But you have been on that team?

ROMNEY: Well, I have no problem supporting things I agree with, right? So, I'm not -- I wasn't criticizing Senator Santorum for supporting No Child Left Behind. I'm criticizing Senator Santorum for saying that he opposes it, that it's against his principles, but he voted for it anyway. That in my opinion is not the kind of leadership we need to have in this country.

Look, we have a couple of guys running against me in this contest who spent their life in the legislature. Nothing wrong with that. This is not the kind of executive leadership we need to have in Washington today. I actually think this campaign is going to come down to whether we have someone who can go up against President Obama who has real experience as a leader, who understands how the economy works because -- not because he's debated in Congress or in a subcommittee, but because he's lived it in the private sector. And I have.

I think that's going to be the fundamental difference between me and President Obama. And I hope that's why people continue to vote for me in this process and give me the nod to be the nominee.

BAIER: In this race, you pointed out many times that you've received a lot more votes. In fact, you've received more than 1 million more votes than you're nearest competitor, Rick Santorum, and there you can see the break down on the screen. Your campaign has reportedly raised about $63 million, spent about $55 million. That means in a cost per vote on campaign spending, you've spent $15.83 per vote, Newt Gingrich $7.76, Rick Santorum, $2.28. And if you also add the spending from the super PAC that supports you, you've spent roughly $26 per vote, Newt Gingrich $15.5, and Santorum $5.14 per vote.

So, you've recently criticized Rick Santorum for being an economic lightweight. But clearly from the business perspective, Governor, is he getting a lot of votes for his money?

ROMNEY: There is no question. But in a campaign, one of the things you recognize from day one, is that you need to organize a financial operation to make sure you can run the campaign. By the way, I've also had Herman Cain to battle, Rick Perry to battle, Tim Pawlenty to battle. It's been a long, long process, and ultimately, if I become the nominee, I may be going up against President Obama and he's put together an organization he says will raise a billion dollars.

We have to have a nominee who has the capacity to -- and the organization necessary to raise money to be competitive. I intend to be very competitive with President Obama, to make sure that we get our message out, we defeat him. This is -- this is not about a shoestring operation. This is about an operation that could be competitive with the president of the United States and beat him, because, by the way, we've got to get him out of office.

BAIER: Your campaign --

ROMNEY: His failed policy on energy, on the economy, internationally. We've got to get him out. And that's one of the reasons we've organized such a strong campaign

BAIER: Last thing, Governor, your campaign has been aggressively pointing out that it's becoming mathematically very difficult for Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich to get to the 1,144 delegates needed to get the nomination. But they -- you need to get 48 percent of the delegates left to get to 1,144. They are talking about preventing you from getting to the number.

What do you make of that strategy and what happens if they succeed?

ROMNEY: Well, I think the people of our party want to make sure we have a nominee that can beat Barack Obama. And I know a lot of people will talk about delegates and strategies and math and that's all very interesting to the insiders. But I think the American people want to see someone who has the leadership, skill and experience to beat the president, and a vision of conservatism that will get America on track again.

I want to restore the values that made this country great. President Obama is transforming us into something we wouldn't recognize. So, you know, I can't tell you exactly how the process is going to work. But I bet I'm going to become the nominee, I sure hope I'm going to become the nominee. And if I am, I'm going to be a strong nominee and I believe defeat President Obama, get American back on the track of creating jobs, seeing rising incomes again, gasoline prices that are more reasonable, and an America that's respected around the world.

BAIER: Last thing. My NCAA bracket is toast, almost as much as my voice from this allergy.

But do you have any favorite teams in the NCAA tournament?

ROMNEY: I'm afraid I have not followed the contest as closely as I have in the past, so I'm not going to make any guesstimates here. You know, I rooted for my alma mater Brigham Young University but we haven't made it as far as I'd like in the last years.

BAIER: OK, Governor. Governor Romney, thanks for talking with us. Safe travels, we'll be watching to see what happens in the coming days.

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

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