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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript

Interview

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BLITZER: Newt Gingrich got some good reviews for his debate performance in Tampa this week. The former House Speaker often seem to be trying to teach the audience and his rivals a thing two.

I asked Gingrich about many of the key moments of the debate including Rick Perry's stand on the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

PERRY: It's time to bring our young men and women home as soon and obviously safely as we can. But it's also really important for us to continue to have a presence there. And I think the entire conversation about how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military, who have a target on their back in Afghanistan, I don't think so at this particular point in time.

BLITZER: It sounds like, correct me if I'm wrong, Mr. Speaker, he wants to get out of Afghanistan a lot more quickly than you would recommend.

GINGRICH: Well, think we have to ask the military what is the most rapid rate at which we could withdraw from Afghanistan safely. I think we're drifting towards the most dangerous period in the Middle East since the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

The Turkish/Israeli confrontation could become extraordinarily dangerous. The developments in Egypt, in the last week, have been very, very dangerous. Iranians I think yesterday announced that their first nuclear reactor had gone online. I think people underestimate how many different problems they're building very rapidly.

Frankly, I think that the administration's decision to keep 3,000 troops in Iraq is extraordinarily dangerous-and indefensible. So I think there are a lot of things going on simultaneously across the region. And we need to review all of our in the region, not just Afghanistan or Iraq. I think this is going to become a very serious and very dangerous region.

BLITZER: I had this exchange with Ron Paul the congressman from Texas; a sensitive subject. Let me play the clip and then we'll discuss. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He doesn't have it. He needs -- he needs intensive care for six months. Who pays?

PAUL: That's what freedom is all about. Taking your own risk. This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody --

BLITZER: Congressman, you are saying this society should just let him die?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes!

PAUL: No.

PAUL: Yes!

PAUL: I practiced medicine before we had Medicaid in the early 1960s when I got out of medical school. I practiced at Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio. And the churches took care of them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What went through your mind when you heard that exchange?

GINGRICH: This idea, you know, what's happened is modern liberalism said if you don't have insurance you can't be covered. That's not true. We could provide health care for the indigent, for much less money than we can provide free health insurance. And I think there are times when you ought to look at whether or not free clinics are less expensive than a universal insurance program, whether or not having a charitable program and charitable hospitals is less expensive-and delivers first-rate care.

None of the doctors who work in free clinics are bad doctors. None of the hospitals that historically are charitable hospitals are bad hospitals, but it's a recognition that if you refuse to be responsible, you refuse to take care of yourself.

A 30-year-old has a job, perfectly healthy, refuses to be an adult, and refuses to be a good citizen. I'm not sure we owe them 100 percent of what we owe somebody who's done everything right and worked hard and paid their taxes and bought their insurance.

BLITZER: What about his decision to allow instate tuition for children of the illegal immigrants in Texas? That wasn't popular in the audience there, the Tea Party supporters. But what do you think? Does he have a point there?

GINGRICH: First of all, the idea that you have to have instate tuition or you can't get educated is nonsense. There are private universities. There are for profit institutions. There's Phoenix University. There are dozens of ways to solve this.

Second, you could have said well, you pay out a state tuition. There are a variety of things you could do. So it's not an either/or situation.

BLITZER: One final political question before I let you go, Mr. Speaker. Our latest CNN/ORC poll had Perry at 30 percent, Romney 18 percent. Palin is not even in 15 percent, Ron Paul, 12 percent and you and Herman Cain at 5 percent. What is your campaign stand right now? Where do you assess your position in this race for the White House?

GINGRICH: Well right now, we're exactly where George McGovern was at this stage before he got the nomination, where Jimmy Carter was at this stage before he became president. That's where Bill Clinton was at this stage before he got to be president.

And by the way at this stage in 2007, John McCain wasn't in the top two either. So I'm pretty comfortable. We're talking about substance. We're talking about things that matter to the American people starting with job creation.

Every week that goes by, I think we gain strength in every debate we've been in. We have a lot more folks showing up at newt.org. and volunteering to help so I feel pretty good about where we are and how it's developing.

BLITZER: I never thought I'd hear Newt Gingrich making comparisons between himself and Jimmy Carter and George McGovern, Mr. Speaker. That's not every day you hear that, right?

GINGRICH: They got the nomination. They got the nomination as did Bill Clinton and John McCain.

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