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ABC "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" - Transcript


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MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And after a quick change of seats, we are joined by Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts - former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.

You heard Governor Huckabee there. He's not backing away from his criticism of the Bush administration foreign policy and he stands by his assertion that he was supporting the surge before you. (Laughs.)

GOV. ROMNEY: Well, you saw very clearly that wasn't the case. Actually, in the interview it was pointed out that John McCain and Mitt Romney supported the surge and then they were asked - then he was asked, do you also support the surge? And he expressed his concerns about the surge, and it's legitimate to have concerns, but it was very clear that I supported it before he did as opposed to the way he described it in the debate last night.

I think more fundamental, however, was his mistaken approach in saying that the president or the president's administration is an arrogant, bunker-mentality administration. That I think is simply wrong. To say that there have been mistakes, to say that the war has been not conducted perfectly is totally appropriate. Military historians are quick to point that out, as is the president. But to say that this president acted out of arrogance or out of a bunker mentality it's simply wrong. He listened to alternative voices and he took the course which he thought was best for America and he kept us safe.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You and John McCain also went at last night on the issue of immigration, again, and whether or not his plan is a plan that includes amnesty. Here's what you said last night.

GOV. ROMNEY: (From tape.) I don't describe you plan as amnesty in my ad. I don't call it amnesty.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But here's your ad.

ADVERTISEMENT: (From tape.) On immigration, McCain supported this year's amnesty bill, higher taxes, amnesty for illegals. That's straight talk for being in Washington too long.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Had you not seen your own ad?

GOV. ROMNEY: I hadn't seen that one and my staff told me afterwards. It does say amnesty and I said well, it's not supposed to.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, two ads. Both of them say it.

GOV. ROMNEY: There's a man-on-the-street one that says amnesty as well and I was simply incorrect. He does not technically under the term support amnesty because he says, well, it makes them pay $5,000 and technically that's not amnesty. And I guess that's true. You could say to somebody if you pay $5, then it's not amnesty. But the reality is -

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So is it amnesty or not?

GOV. ROMNEY: Well, you're going to have to define the word for me.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You're running for president, not me.

GOV. ROMNEY: Okay. (Laughter.) When you asked the question, you want a specific answer -


GOV. ROMNEY: - based on your definition. My definition is this: if illegals are able to all stay in this country and thereby get an enormous advantage over everybody else, that is a form of amnesty.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So you do believe his plan is amnesty then.

GOV. ROMNEY: Not under the legal definition, but under the normal colloquial definition.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't understand the distinction.

GOV. ROMNEY: But let me tell you this. Why don't I just tell what his posture does. What his posture does is it says that every alien in this country who's here illegally gets to stay here for the rest of their life and that is wrong.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He denies that, of course.

GOV. ROMNEY: But look at the bill. Look at the bill. He tries to turn and twist. The bill that he came out with - the last bill that he stood up with Senator Kennedy and the others and said, this is our bill, it provides for a Z visa, a temporary visa for everyone here illegally and it says it's renewable indefinitely. That is a permanent right to stay in America.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So I'm going to take that as a yes and move on.


MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It really did seem last night like you -

GOV. ROMNEY: And by the way, the good news - let me just underscore something else. For me, the good news is - see he's been talking out there about how now he's learned his lesson, he wants to secure border, he wants to secure the border first. He's been diverting from the fact that he continues to believe that the aliens that are here illegally should be able to stay.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're standing by your ad; you believe it's amnesty.

GOV. ROMNEY: Absolutely. That's right.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's move on because last night you seemed to take hits from just about everyone on that stage. I just want to -

GOV. ROMNEY: Wasn't that great? It was terrific. (Laughter.)

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't believe you believe it was great and terrific, but -

GOV. ROMNEY: It puts me - it's like the guy with the ball is the guy people are trying to tackle, so I'm delighted to have everybody talking about me, it's like that old joke, I'll talk about me. When I get finished, why don't you talk about me?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But let me show you. You didn't look so delighted last night. (Laughs.)

GOV. ROMNEY: (From tape.) Don't try and characterize my position. Of course, this war has -

GOV. HUCKABEE: (From tape.) Which one? (Laughter.)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): (From tape.) I just want to say to Governor Romney we disagree on a lot of issues, but I agree you are the candidate of change. (Laughter.)

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It seems like this flip-flopper charge has stuck.

GOV. ROMNEY: I think the McCain campaign from the very beginning did a masterful political job of trying to tag me with that and it keeps on being promoted and promulgated and that's just the way it is. I have to live with that. I keep on describing how my positions are entirely consistent with the actions I took as governor. I was a governor four years, every aspect of my presidential campaign follows entirely from the actions I took as governor. But, you know, they'll pull back a quote from 1994 when I was running against Ted Kennedy, and on the issue of abortion I did change my mind on that. And I know there are some who just will never forgive you for becoming pro-life, but I'm not going to apologize for that.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There seemed to be something else going on the stage last night. I just wonder what you think about it. I watched Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, all of them jumping on and it seems like they have almost a visceral dislike of you.

GOV. ROMNEY: I think people recognize I'm in a pretty good position. And frankly, I think people who watch the debate had to say to themselves, what is it about these politicians that are more focused on insults than on issues? It's what's wrong with politics. We have extraordinary challenges in America right now, but Washington is unable to deal with the challenges because they're so consumed with score settling and attacks on fellow Republicans or Democrats. We've really got to have somebody who just doesn't care about all the attacks and the insults, who's focused on getting the job done for the American people.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You say you're in a pretty good position, yet your entire strategy was called the kindling strategy: Iowa and New Hampshire are the kindling, they spark a wild fire that carries you through the whole primaries. You lost Iowa. You're behind here in the polls right now. If you lose in New Hampshire, isn't it the end to the line?

GOV. ROMNEY: Well, let's get the record entirely straight here. I won Wyoming last night.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You did win Wyoming.

GOV. ROMNEY: I won Wyoming. And number two, at the poll this morning, the Zogby tracking poll has me in the lead in New Hampshire. They must have liked the debate last night and I'm planning on winning in New Hampshire. It may not happen. But there was something else that happened along the way: the need for getting those early primary states was conditioned on the idea that Rudy Giuliani was the powerhouse I'd be facing in Florida at the end, so I'd better get -

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's not a powerhouse anymore?

GOV. ROMNEY: He doesn't look like the powerhouse he was. As a matter of fact, in the national polls he's not leading anymore, so the dynamics will change. I'm not a political pundit, but I can tell, all I can do as a candidate is describe the things I believe in, fight for them. I am a candidate that will bring change to Washington. I don't care about who gets the credit, who gets the blame, I'm going to change Washington to solve our immigration problems, education problems, get healthcare for all our citizens, take the tax burden down for middle-income Americans, and put together a comprehensive strategy to defeat global Jihad not just militarily, but with our non- military resources as well. And that's something which Americans are looking for and, you know, how the chips fall, how they settle, that's out of my control.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: One final question: you did spend a lot of time and spent a lot of money in Iowa and we saw this huge turnout by evangelical born again Christians, 60 percent of the voters in Iowa and they broke heavily - more than 30 points - for Mike Huckabee. Did you Mormon faith defeat you in Iowa?

GOV. ROMNEY: Probably played a role for some people. I don't think for the majority of people it played a significant role. I think more likely that Mike Huckabee was a Baptist preacher was able to draw on a lot of people very comfortable with a member of their faith and that drew a huge support for him. He ran a good campaign. Congratulations for doing that. But it's an entire nation with differing views and I anticipate that issues and vision and experience will trump those things in the final analysis.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Romney, thanks very much.

GOV. ROMNEY: Thanks, George. Good to be with you.

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