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National Journal Interview-Transcript

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National Journal Interview-Transcript

National Journal Contributing Editor Marc Ambinder interviewed Mitt Romney last Saturday in Covington, Ky. The former governor of Massachusetts was in the state for a Republican fundraiser in Louisville.

A full version of the interview follows.

NJ: I have noticed in your stump speech, you occasionally don't mention health care as one of your significant accomplishments. And when you do, you don't refer to it as "universal health care." Do you still consider that one of your primary accomplishments?

Oh, absolutely. And the amount of time we spent talking about health care depends in part on the audience. For instance, the day before yesterday, I was in New Hampshire ... and spoke to the Dartmouth Regional Hospital, and I spent probably 40 minutes talking about our health care plan. In the remarks I make to audiences, I have about an hour and a half to two hours worth of things I'd like to say, and so I have to decide, depending on the audience, which things will they find most interesting.

In some audiences, they are very interested in health care and I go into it in some depth and in others I just touch on it lightly, but there's no question I consider the accomplishment of bringing market-based reforms to health care an enormous step forward for our state and potentially for the nation. The fact that a number of other states are experimenting with the same philosophy we brought to bear is also encouraging. Now, I don't use the words "universal coverage," because it typically conjures in people's mind the idea of a single payer system, and that is not what I have proposed or would support. And so when people say, 'are you for universal coverage,' let's make sure we understand what each other is saying. Do I think every American should have insurance that's portable and affordable? Yes. Do I want the government to take over health care? No.

NJ: Is it the primary responsibility of the states or federal government to get there?

The states are the laboratories of a democracy, and I think we're going to see states experiment with the market-based approach which we pioneered, and they will improve on what we came up with. I'm convinced that some other state will do better than we did. They'll take it a step further. Our experience was, even after we passed the bill, we knew it was filled with problems. We've already passed a corrective bill -- 70 pages long. It's going to need to be constantly updated and corrected. I happen to think the legislature made several significant mistakes. And they think I made mistakes, and they corrected my mistakes, and I didn't get the occasion to correct theirs....

For instance, they leave mandates on insurance companies, and that will result in premiums that are too high for the system to be cost-effective. They also expanded Medicaid. That's not something I think is a good idea. So, the net-net is, we'll learn from one another. When we finally come to the point where we have the right model, we can have our citizens in this country have affordable, portable health care.

NJ: Should the federal government provide incentives for states to provide health care?

There's already sufficient incentive, and that is that states want to get their citizens insured, hold their rates down, and take advantage of federal funding....

The federal government can help. One of the ways the federal government can make this happen is through what President Bush proposed the other night, during his State of the Union, which is that people who buy insurance on their own ought to be able to do so using pre-tax dollars. I agree. We found a very convoluted way to achieve that result, through a Section 125 plan that the Department of Labor approved. But it would be a lot easier if we just said, "Individuals should be able to buy their insurance in pre-tax dollars."

NJ: On Iraq, you have said you are not going to second guess President Bush about Iraq because you didn't have the information that he had at the time. At this point, based on all the books that have been published, there's a lot of information about the decision-making process. I'm wondering if you've had any chance to evaluate that, and how you would go about making a decision in a similar situation -- when we're facing what appears to be a national security threat but there's some equivocal intelligence.

My experience is that every leader or manager has a different process for making decisions. My process grew up through both the law school and business school background and then a consulting background, ultimately responsible for starting and managing an enterprise. That has led me to follow a formula which is different in some ways than other people's.

I begin by wanting to assemble a team of very smart people with different backgrounds and experience, who are aggressive proponents of their views. I like the debate, almost a case method, where people come in with different views and argue back and forth.

Number two: I like data. I don't want to sit in a room where people just talk about their opinions. I want to see data and analysis of that data which backs up opinions.

Number three: The process of having people debate, with data and analysis, allows all of us in the room to generally reach a consensus about the risks, the upsides, the downsides, the ways to alleviate risks, the opportunities we have, the full range of consideration. With receipt of that information, we can act. Clearly, the decision to deploy American military might and put our men and women at risk is a decision that can only be reached after a very extensive deliberative process.

NJ: Do you think that there was a very extensive deliberate process?

I wasn't there. I can't possibly imagine guessing the process that went on.

I do believe that the conduct of the war following the collapse of Saddam Hussein suggested that there had not been sufficient planning, that there had not been sufficient preparation for what the rules of engagement would be once the government fell and it was left to Ambassador [Paul] Bremer to develop these policies without the benefit of a great deal of forethought and analysis and debate and consideration. And that led, you mentioned books, to a combination of "Assassin's Gate," "Cobra Two," "Looming Tower"... and others... it led to a number of errors on our part.

NJ: You read those books?

Yeah. It led to a number of errors on our part. And that in turn, has contributed to the difficult sit in which we find ourselves.

NJ: As you know, in your speech to the National Review Institute, [National Review editor] Rich Lowry criticized you for not discussing Iraq. He called it "almost insulting."

I discuss different matters in different speeches. In that one I happened to discuss Iran. In other speeches I don't discuss Iran at all; I only discuss Iraq. So I don't speak about all important topics in every speech.

NJ: Are you planning to offer at some point in the campaign, specific policy proposals for Iraq?

Well, I have already. And will continue to do so as we continue to see the results of the current strategy, which is designed to expand the mission of the American military, to provide for the security and safety of the Iraqi citizens, infrastructure and the like in the Baghdad area and the rest of the country. That expanded mission requires additional personnel. And I have indicated the morning of the day of the president's speech in this regard that I supported bringing additional troops into Baghdad and al-Anbar, and my view is that approximately 30,000 troops brought in at one time would have a reasonable probability of bringing stability to Baghdad and al-Anbar.

I can't say I'm highly confident in that result. I can say, as long as there is a reasonable probability of achieving stability through a central government in Iraq, that is a lower-risk option or outcome for us than having the country divide into three parts or more, or having the country fall into complete and utter chaos.

NJ: Is it the responsibility of the U.S. to stay in Iraq until there is stability?

It is in our best interest as a nation to keep certain very unfortunate circumstances from developing, such as Iran reaching across and trying to have either territorial sovereignty or significant influence over the Shia south, such as having al-Qaida take a more significant role in the Sunni portion of Iraq, such as having the Kurdish north destabilize in some way -- the Kurdish population in Turkey -- so there are possible directions which are not in our national interest.

I believe it is the responsibility of our leadership to protect our national interest, and those national interests at this time convince me that we should make every effort to stabilize Iraq within the bounds that I described. We will see whether we're making progress or not. It will not take years to find out about whether this process of having expanded our mission to include the security of the Iraqi people is working.

NJ: If we're not making progress?

Then we'll have to consider other options.

NJ: Which might include...

I'm not... that's as far as I'm going to go. The other options that are being discussed today are either dividing the country or walking away. Both of those have very substantial risks to our interests, which are severe and which we would not choose as long as there is a reasonable probability of an alternative strategy -- which is there is today. The alternative strategy we have today is one of providing security to the Iraqi people and stability to the government and that is what we're pursuing. You want to ask a hypothetical question, if this doesn't work?

NJ: I do.

And I say, we'll consider additional options. You want to ask, "What happens if the D-Day invasion doesn't work?" What happens if D-Day doesn't work? Well, we don't talk about that. We talk instead about what's before us: a strategy that has a reasonable probability of success.

NJ: I take it that one of the options you would not consider is redeploying the troops.

I'm not sure exactly what you mean.

NJ: Bringing the troops home.

Well, turning around and bringing the troops home is not an option I would consider in the current circumstances, where there is a reasonable probability of a strategy that leads to the ultimate stability of the country. It is in our interest to have as our objective the stability of the country and the central government, where the risk of regional conflagration and territorial incursions by the Iranians or the political leadership or al-Qaida in the Sunni portions of country.

NJ: Let me put on my Pious Reporter hat. Don't the American people have a right to know whether their presidential candidates, if you are in office, will keep troops in Iraq or bring them home?

I've indicated precisely what I would do, which is as long as there is a reasonable probability of success, then we will pursue that because it's in our best interest. What I will do is identify what is in the national interest of the American people and get our troops home as fast as we possibly can. We don't want to be there one day longer than we have to be there.

But at the same time, we don't want to precipitate a circumstance that would cause us to have more troops ultimately have to be involved, or massive loss of life at a cost to our interests, and to those of our friends and allies, that would be incalculable.

NJ: Have you watched the tape of yourself in the 1994 debate with Ted Kennedy?


NJ: Who was that gentlemen who was standing against Ted Kennedy there? When you watch that, what goes through your mind?

I was in a different place in that point in my own thinking. I wasn't a Ronald Reagan conservative at that point. There are a number of elements there the editor of that tape takes some liberty. So for instance he says, "Here's Romney on affirmative action." Well, that's not me speaking about affirmative action. Affirmative action means different things to different people. But I made no suggestion that there would be quotas or that the government impose standards on hiring by private enterprises or by the government. I indicated my suggestion at that time for a private, information oriented approach to seeking diversity. But the editors of the tape -- you can imagine who they might be -- had a message to send.

But I did change my view on abortion. And that happened, as you know, about two years ago. I wrote an op-ed in the Boston papers as I described that. And as you also know, that is something about which I have very deep feelings, something that crystallized in my consideration and my review of stem cell research, which is related in some way. Which is when does life begin from a political and scientific standpoint? And that is where I am. And I have no apology for the fact that I am pro-life.

NJ: You would favor a constitutional amendment banning abortion with exceptions for the life of the mother, rape and incest. Is that correct?

What I've indicated is that I am pro-life, and that my hope is that the Supreme Court will give to the states over time or give to the states soon or give to the states their own ability to make their own decisions with regard to their own abortion law.

NJ: If a state wanted unlimited abortion?

The state would fall into restrictions that had been imposed at the federal level, so they couldn't be more expansive in abortion than currently exists under the law, but they could become more restrictive in abortion provisions. So states like Massachusetts could stay like they are if they so desire, and states that have a different view could take that course. And it would be up to the citizens of the individual states. My view is not to impose a single federal rule on the entire nation -- a one-size-fits-all approach -- but instead allow states to make their own decisions in this regard.

NJ: In 1994, during the Kennedy debate, you presented yourself as an advocate for gay rights. Would you say that you are advocate for gay rights now?

I am an advocate for treating all people with respect and dignity, and for the absence of discrimination.

NJ: What does that mean, specifically?

What that means is, in my administration, I didn't discriminate against someone on the basis of their being homosexual. And I think that it is appropriate for private citizens and government entities to take their personal care to ensure that we do not discriminate in housing or in employment against people who are gay.

NJ: So, employers should not be allowed to fire someone...

Wait, wait. You have to go back and listen to what I just said, and not say something I didn't say. I didn't say there should be a law... I said that employers should take care... this is not a law. I'm not proposing a law. I am not proposing a federal mandate, or I'm not proposing that there is an act of Congress of this nature. I'm saying that as a society, I think it is appropriate for us to avoid discrimination and denial of equality to people who make different choices and decisions including gay people.

I do not support creating a special law or a special status. I've learned through my experience over the last decade that when you single out a particular population group for special status, it opens the door to a whole series of lawsuits, many of them frivolous and very burdensome to our employment community, and so I do not favor a specific law of that nature. What I do favor is people doing what I did, or what I tried to do, and not discriminate against people who are gay.

NJ: You remember, though, in 1994, you said you'd be better for gay rights than Ted Kennedy?

And then I explained why. And that was that Ted Kennedy was a Democrat and a liberal and that I was a Republican, and therefore that I would be able to be a voice for equal treatment and non-discrimination. Let me make it very clear: I am not a person who is anti-gay or anti-equal rights. I favor the treatment of all our citizens with respect and dignity. I do not favor creating a new legal special class for gay people. And I do not favor same-sex marriage, but as I've demonstrated through my own record, I have endeavored not to discriminate in hiring... one, in my administration, and second, in my appointment of judges.

I've appointed approximately 60 judges, one or two of whom... one of whom I'm quite confident is gay, the other may be gay as well. I think he probably is, and there may be more for all I know. But I've never asked a judicial candidate, "are you gay?" and discriminated against them on that basis. Nor, if I look in their resume and there's an indication of their being gay, I don't then delve into it and say, "Gee, are you gay yourself, or are you in support of gay issues?" I believe that in America, we should not discriminate against people on the basis of our differences. But that doesn't mean that you create a law for every difference that exists between people. It opens the door to lawsuits.

NJ: In a Romney administration, Romney as president in the White House, there would be no discrimination against gay people? You'd hire people who happen to be gay?

That's been my record as governor. I would not discriminate against people on the basis of their physical and personal decisions or differences.

NJ: You say "decisions" -- does that mean you believe homosexuality is a choice?

I'm not a psychologist. I don't try and delve into the roots of differences between people.

NJ: Should the federal government control the emissions of carbon dioxide that cause global warming?

I believe that there are no-regrets approaches to reducing our use of energy and reducing our CO2 emissions that we should pursue aggressively. I'm not a sufficient scientist to decide exactly how much human intervention or human emissions have caused global warming, but I believe they have contributed to it, and so there is a very good reason to help reduce global emission of carbon dioxide. A no-regrets policy allows us to also find ourselves using far less oil and buying less oil from people who are not our friends.

NJ: President Bush ran on a tax cut in 2000. You've signed Grover Norquist's pledge. Are you going to be proposing any new tax cuts?

You're going to have to wait and see.... I'm going to come out with policy positions through the year, and I will reveal pieces one by one.

NJ: Is China currently a national security threat to the U.S.?

China can be a partner for world stability. There is no reason to think of China as we did of the Soviet Union that wishes to bury us. China wants to see us be a successful thriving economy, and they're of course building their military might. They will continue to build their military strength; they want to protect the Straits of Hormuz and the Straits of Malacca to protect their oil flow. But obviously, any nation that has a military is a nation we're going to have to watch very carefully. But China does not have to become a Soviet Union-type enemy, but instead can become -- and increasingly has become -- a trading partner with convergent interests.

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