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Newt Gingrich did something a bit unusual during the CNN Tea Party Republican presidential debate. He chose not to attack Rick Perry's stand on Social Security, going after President Obama instead. Listen to some of his most attention-grabbing lines last night, including the answer to my question about whether opponents are scaring senior citizens.
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FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not particularly worried about Governor Perry and Governor Romney frightening the American people when President Obama scares them every single day.
BLITZER: How do you do that? How do you protect seniors, balance the budget so much, so much goes for Social Security, Medicare?
GINGRICH: But that's just a Washington mythology. And anybody who knows anything about the federal government knows that there's such an enormous volume of waste that if you simply had a serious all- out effort to modernize the federal government you would have hundreds of billions of dollars of savings.
BLITZER: If you were president, would you work with the Democrats assume ling they were the majority in the House or Senate? Would you compromise with them on some of these gut issues?
GINGRICH: When I was a young congressman, Ronald Reagan taught me a great lesson if you have Democrats in charge. And that is to go to the American people on principle. Have the American people educate their congressman. He used to say, "I try to turn up the light for the people so they will turn up the heat on Congress." When we passed welfare reform, half the Democrats voted yes because they couldn't go home having voted no. And on a principle basis, I'd be glad to work with Democrats on any office. But I'd do it on principle, not on compromising principles.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right, let's go to Tampa, Florida. Right now, joining us live, the Republican Presidential Candidate Newt Gingrich.
Mr. Speaker, good to have you back in THE SITUATION ROOM.
GINGRICH: It's always great to be back with you. You did a great job last night.
BLITZER: Oh, thank you very much.
Let's talk a little bit about last night, because I want to go through some of the issues and see where you stand.
I had this exchange with Ron Paul, the congressman from Texas, on a sensitive subject. Let me play the clip and then we'll discuss.
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BLITZER: Let me ask you this hypothetical question.
A healthy, 30-year-old young man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides, you know what, I'm not going to spend $200 or $300 a month for health insurance because I'm healthy, I don't need it. But, you know, something terrible happens, all of a sudden he needs it.
Who is going to pay if he goes into a coma, for example? Who pays for that?
REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In a society that you accept welfarism and socialism, he expects the government to take care of him.
BLITZER: Well, what do you want?
PAUL: But what he should do is whatever he wants to do and assume responsibility for himself. My advice to him would be have a major medical policy, but not be forced --
BLITZER: But he doesn't have that. He doesn't have it and he needs -- he needs intensive care for six months. Who pays?
PAUL: That's what freedom is all about, taking your own risks. This whole idea that --
PAUL: -- you have prepare and take care of everybody --
BLITZER: But, Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes! PAUL: No. 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.
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BLITZER: All right, Mr. Speaker, Rick Perry today said he was taken aback when he heard some in that audience say, yes, society should just let this hypothetical 30-year-old die.
Did -- what went through your mind when you heard that exchange?
GINGRICH: Well, I thought it was a missed opportunity to make a very important case, which is that historically we had charity. We had places that said, if you're down on your luck, if you failed to be responsible, we will take care of you. But that doesn't mean that you're necessarily going to get a private room. It doesn't mean you're necessarily going to get everything somebody would get who's been prudent and who took care of themselves.
So I would start and say that that young person, if they're totally improvident, if they refused to buy insurance, if they've done nothing to be mature adults, yes, we're going to make sure that they're taken care of, but they ought to understand that's charity. They haven't earned it, they're getting it because we care and we're sympathetic and we're compassionate. We're (sic) not getting it because they've earned it.
BLITZER: But that money should come from charitable organizations, not from taxpayers, is that what you're saying?
GINGRICH: Well, I think -- I personally favor the tax deduction for charitable donations. I would prefer to see it come from charitable organizations. Clearly, with Medicaid, we've provided all sorts of money for the poor.
This idea, you know -- what's happened is modern liberalism has 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 we ought to look at whether free clinics are actually 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 -- see the case you used, a 30-year- old has a job, perfectly healthy refuses to be an adult, refuses to be a good citizen. I'm not sure we owe them 100 percent of what we owe somebody who has done everything right and worked hard and paid their taxes and bought their insurance. BLITZER: Let's move on to another sensitive subject that came up, Governor Perry's defense, if you will, of that decision he made as governor of Texas to force young girls, 11-year-olds, 12-year-olds, to get this vaccine to avoid a sexually transmitted disease that could lead to cervical cancer.
He defended that decision, although he regretted the fact that he did it through executive order instead of growing through the legislature. Do you have a problem with the point he was trying to make?
GINGRICH: Well, I think Governor Palin later last night had a very powerful point. As governor of Alaska, she looked at the same program as a mother with daughters. She looked at the same program. She rejected it.
I think she thinks that if parents want it, that's one thing, but to impose it, unless parents opt out, she thought was going much too far. And I'm very sympathetic to that.
I think we don't need big government dictating to the rest of us and then saying, well, you always had a chance, sorry you didn't know about it. So I think that Governor Perry has a little more explaining to do on that project, and I'm sympathetic to the point Rick Santorum was making last night that we ought to be very cautious about big government intervening on things like this, particularly when you're talking about a 12-year-old girl. I think that we really have to think about whether or not we want government mandating things like that.
BLITZER: What about his decision to allow in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants in Texas? That wasn't popular in the audience there, the Tea Party supporters, but what do you think? Does he have the point there?
GINGRICH: You know, I thought there were two parts to that, and I was a little sorry that I didn't have a chance to get involved in that, because in a sense, it also goes back to the earlier conversation about the 30-year-old that you asked about.
First of all, the idea that you either have to have in-state tuition or you can't educated is nonsense. There are private universities. There are for-profit institutions. There's Phoenix University. There are dozens of way to solve this.
Second, you could have said, well, you pay out-of-state tuition. There are a variety of things you could do, so it's not an either/or situation.
I'm very sympathetic to somebody whose parents brought them here at 3 years of age, they've been here 16 years, they're now a 19-year- old, they don't even speak any language except English. Clearly, there has to be some path to get them to be part of America. I think that's got to be part of what we approach with reform, but I'm not sympathetic with the idea that, therefore, we owe them the same tax break that we give somebody who is here legally, who is a resident. I mean, after all, if you're a resident of Oklahoma, and you show up in Texas, you're not going to get the same break even though you're a legal American citizen. Now, we don't say to Texas, you have to take care of Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico. We say it's your decision. But I don't think it's quite as clear as the governor tried to make it last night.
And by the way, it's not about somebody's last name. That's baloney. I mean, that particular line I thought was slightly goofy.
The question is whether you are legal or not legal, your last name can be Smith, or in my case, Gingrich. And if you're not legal you're over here, if you're legal you're over here. It's not about your last time. It's about the status of legality in the United States.
BLITZER: You and I last night did talk about what to do with the 11 million or 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Assume, Mr. Speaker, the border is secure, no problem with the border. What do you do with the 11 million or 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States?
GINGRICH: Well, I think if you have a secure border, if you've established that English is the official language of government, if you have a requirement for learning history in order to be an American, and American history to be an American citizen, and if you have an effective guest worker program, which means it's probably been outsourced to American Express, Visa or MasterCard, because they know how to stop fraud, at that point, I think you've got to look at a new and much more creative solution for the people who are here.
I've suggested looking at the World War II Selective Service boards. Some people here ought to go home. Some people here, frankly, are engaged in criminal activity and they ought to go home immediately. Other people, day workers, no ties to the U.S., probably should go home.
But you have somebody who's been here 20, 25 years, they've been obeying the law, they've been paying taxes, they're married, they've got three kids, two grandkids, they're a member of your church, I think the local community's going to say -- not give them citizenship, that would be wrong, but we need to find a path to enable them to be engaged legally in working and living in America within a framework that does not jump over everybody else who has been waiting, but that does recognize that that person has real ties here, and that there be a greater human cost to tearing them out of the fabric of a society in which they've invested 20 or 25 years.
I think we need local boards that apply a human approach to trying to deal with this with some sympathy, but that's also very tough with criminals and very tough with people that have no ties to the U.S. and should go back home immediately.
BLITZER: It sounds to a certain degree that we're talking about -- or at least you're talking about -- a form of amnesty. GINGRICH: No, I'm talking about a form of legality which recognizes the reality that some folks are here. And I don't think when you get down to it, if you go out to talk to people who are very hard-lined, and you say to them, "Now, how many folks in your church are you prepared to go in and tear out of their families and ship out of the United States?" I think you're going to find people suddenly say, OK, let's find a human, commonsense, intermediate step. Not citizenship, but not explosion.
Maybe it gets involved with paying a very substantial penalty because they have broken the law. And maybe that penalty is a function of how long they've been here, and therefore a function of how much they've got to pay over time. But I think you want to find a practical, commonsense solution within a framework of controlling the border, having a guest worker program, and immediately expelling criminals, and requiring people who have no ties to the U.S. to go back home.
BLITZER: Mr. Speaker, I don't know if you have to run, but if you have a second, I want to take a quick commercial break. There's another question I need to ask you about national security. Can you stay with us?
GINGRICH: I'll stay with you.
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BLITZER: Governor Rick Perry last night at the CNN/Tea Party debate.
It sounds like, correct many if I'm wrong, Mr. Speaker, he wants to get out of Afghanistan a lot more quickly than you would recommend.
GINGRICH: Well, I think we have to ask the military, what's the most rapid rate at which we can withdraw from Afghanistan safely? But I think we are drifting towards the most dangerous period in the Middle East since the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The Turkish-Israeli confrontation could become extraordinarily dangerous. The developments in Egypt in the last week have been very, very dangerous. The Iranians, I think yesterday, announced that their first new nuclear reactor had gone on line.
I think people underestimate how many different problems are building very rapidly. And 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 our posture in the region, not just Iraq and Afghanistan. I think this is going to become a very serious and very dangerous region.
BLITZER: Do you think Governor Perry has the background, the knowledge to deal with these issues if he were president?
GINGRICH: Look, I think Governor Perry is a very smart man with a very long period of being the head of the Texas National Guard. He had military service. He is somebody who takes very seriously understanding the military. He has many friends. Remember, there are places the size of Fort Hood in Texas.
I think he's a competent guy. He happens to have a strong view about Afghanistan, but he's a very competent person. And if you ask me, if I had to choose between Governor Perry and President Obama, it would be like 99-1 that Governor Perry knows more at a practical level about national security than President Obama does. I am very worried, and I believe that President Obama's decision about Iraq, leaving only 3,000 troops there, is utterly, totally indefensible and extraordinary dangerous.
BLITZER: If you had to choose between Governor Perry and Governor Romney, who would you like?
GINGRICH: Listen, I like all of my Republican friends. I'm happy to choose any one of them versus President Obama, but I'm not choosing any of them against each other. They're all my friends, and I hope to work with all of them in the future.
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, who's not even in, 15 percent; Ron Paul, 12; you and Herman Cain at five percent.
Where does your campaign stand right now? Where do you assess your position in this race for the White House?
GINGRICH: Well, right now, we are exactly where George McGovern was at this stage before he got the nomination. It's where Jimmy Carter was at this stage before he became president. It'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 are talking about substance. We're talking about things that matter to the American people, starting with job creation.
And every week that goes by, I think we gain strength in every debate we've been in. And 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 here 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.
GINGRICH: They got the nomination, as did Bill Clinton and John McCain.
BLITZER: Mr. Speaker, good to have you back here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
GINGRICH: Good to talk to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Good luck there out on the campaign trail.
The former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.
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