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PBS "NewsHour" - Transcript


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JEFFREY BROWN: And that brings us to our interview with Michele Bachmann, the sixth in our series of vote 2012 conversations with the Republican presidential contenders.

Representative Bachmann is a three-term Minnesota congresswoman and founder of the House Tea Party Caucus. Her new book is called "Core of Conviction."

Welcome to you.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, R-Minn., presidential candidate: Thank you, Jeff.

JEFFREY BROWN: Why don't we start right with that subject of last night and immigration? You got into a little bit with Newt Gingrich.

You're against a broad amnesty for illegal immigrants. But what of his specific point? He was -- that example of someone who's been in the country for 20 years, has children, perhaps grandchildren, paid taxes, lots of local ties. Does that person have to be sent back to his home country?

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: Well, that's the extreme example. That isn't the typical illegal alien that is in the United States.

This is a real cost to the American taxpayer. It's $113 billion every year. And that breaks down to $1,000 per household. It's a very real cost. And when we don't have the Southern border secure, we have a narco-terrorism war. And it's even more important than that.

We have 59,000 other than Mexicans that came across our border last year, some of whom come from countries that are state sponsors of terror. We have to solve the problem.

Regarding people who are in the country, there -- we need to uphold the laws of the land. And I think what Speaker Gingrich has said in his prior comments are this. And I think that's why he has a D-minus on his report card. He has said that we should make the 11 million illegal workers that are in this country legal. And he's also said that he's a backer of the federal DREAM Act, which is taxpayer-subsidized college benefits for children of illegal aliens.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: Those are powerful magnets. And he probably has the most liberal position on illegal immigration of any of the candidates in the race.

JEFFREY BROWN: But you wouldn't draw any distinction among these 11 million? And, sometimes, the extreme example is useful just to think about where distinctions should be drawn.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: Well, I think that we will deal with this issue as it comes forward, but we know what Speaker Gingrich's position is. He said quite clearly he would make legal 11 million illegal workers. No other candidate goes that extreme.

JEFFREY BROWN: Another subject last night was terrorism and civil liberties.

You said of President Obama -- quote -- "He has essentially handed over our interrogation of terrorists to the ACLU. He has outsourced it to them. Our CIA has no ability to have any form of interrogation for terrorists."

Now, do you mean that literally? Because the CIA is able to talk to terrorists, right?

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: Well, all we have available to us today is the Army Field Manual. That's posted online.

People who are potential terrorists or terrorists have the ability to read ahead of time exactly what will happen to them if they are captured on the battlefield. That's all we have. We don't have any other interrogation that's available through the CIA. That is like putting handcuffs on the United States when it comes to our intelligence.

Not only that -- we don't have jails the way that we used to. Here we are on the battlefield. So, if we capture -- if we capture an enemy combatant, we have two options. We can either kill them or we can release them. What we need to do is have the ability...

JEFFREY BROWN: But what of Guantanamo Bay? Isn't that a place where we take many of the terrorists?

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: Not anymore. We aren't using Guantanamo Bay anymore to take additional terrorists. That was the perfect facility to be able to use to extract information from people to keep the American people safe.

That was the whole purpose, to gain information. And that's what -- that's my fallback, because I believe we have got to do whatever it takes. This is a real war. The terrorists see this as a real war. We have to be serious about our safety. If we haven't learned that from 9/11, I don't know when we will learn that.

JEFFREY BROWN: Would you not give the president credit for in some ways giving the CIA more power than in the past through, for example, the drone attacks in Pakistan, including some that have killed Americans and that were heavily criticized by civil liberties groups like the ACLU?

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: Well, remember, it was the president who wanted to prosecute our own CIA interrogators for doing their job, which is gaining information that would be useful to our military.

That was incomprehensible, that he'd want to do that. He also wanted to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the admitted mastermind who said he is guilty of planning the 9/11 attacks. He admitted his guilt. He wanted to give him a civilian trial in Lower Manhattan, essentially across the street from where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed realized his dream and killed 3,000 innocent Americans. Shocking.

JEFFREY BROWN: But the drone attacks, do you support those?

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: Well, I admit -- I agree the president has made tactical -- good -- some good tactical decisions. He made a good decision on the use of drone. He has also made a good decision to take out bin Laden and also Awlaki, who was the chief recruiter of Major Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter.

And I appreciate that. But he's made powerfully strategic blunders that will be felt for years into the future. That's the problem.

JEFFREY BROWN: Today -- switching subjects here, domestic -- today was the original deadline for the so-called supercommittee.


JEFFREY BROWN: They did not reach a deal. You criticized the president for lack of leadership on that.

What would President Bachmann have done to force a deal?

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: Well, last summer, when we were looking at raising Congress' ability to borrow more money, I would have drawn a line in the sand, and I would have sat down with the 535 members of Congress, and I would have said, look, we're in a lot of trouble.

What we need to do is pay the interest on the debt and let the ratings agencies know we will not default on our debt, but we're going to prioritize our spending now. We're not going to borrow any more money. We're going to prioritize. We're going to repair our entitlement programs now, not later, because the problem is now. And we're going to prioritize the spending. This is why we have to.

I came into Congress four-and-a-half years ago. When I came in, the national debt was at $8.67 trillion. Today, the debt is $15 trillion. It took us 219 years to acquire $8.67 trillion and only four-and-a-half more years to get to $15 trillion.

The super committee, all they had to do is pull back on a -- we were going to have an estimated $8.5 trillion in debt. All they had to do is back off of $1.2 trillion of that increase in debt. We are looking at an economic collapse in our future if we don't get our debt problem under control.

JEFFREY BROWN: But, with due respect, everybody comes in and says, I would sit down with all the members of Congress.

Why would you...

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: But President Obama -- President Obama didn't do that. President Obama had no plan last summer to solve the debt. He was AWOL.

With all due respect to the president, it was like, "Where's Waldo?" He was missing in action last summer. He was out of the country in Asia when the supercommittee had to make their decision. He's failed to show up and exercise leadership. And he's blamed everyone. He's very good at that, but he's failed to exercise leadership.

I'm very different. I would be engaged. I would be involved and I would have a plan.

JEFFREY BROWN: You use some very strong language and rhetoric in your speeches -- and now I have had a chance to go through your book -- speeches and in the book, very charged language sometimes.

You're not the only one, but I want to talk about it with you.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: I think that could easily be said of the president as well.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, you have -- but let me ask you. If I have him here, I will ask him.

You refer to gangster government -- I'm just using some phrases -- bailout socialism. There's a line in here referring to the last election. You say, "I didn't favor Hillary, of course, but I could see that she seemed less leftist revolutionary than Obama."

Now, what I want to ask you about is a sort of values question about political and civil discourse. How do we talk to one another if we use that kind of language at a time when it seems people are so wary and upset about Washington politics?

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: Well, because I think those statements are accurate.

I use the term gangster government because President Barack Obama, through the automobile task force, sent 3,400 pink slips to privately owned automobile dealerships and effectively said, you have lost your property rights and your dealership, and you will no longer have your franchise within 30 days.

That's shocking that, in the United States of America, someone who owns a business is told by the federal government you're out of business? That's a gangster action on the part of our government. And I called it for what it was.

That's not the first action that the federal government has taken. It's only one of many. And I think Solyndra is probably the poster child of crony capitalism, where you have a president of the United States putting one of his chief fund-raisers in the Department of Energy for the specific purpose of pointing out which of the loan applications belonged to one of its political donors. Then literally hundreds of millions of dollars are given to that political donor's company...

JEFFREY BROWN: But when you use...

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: ... in exchange for giving donations to the president.

This is a huge scandal. And that's -- that's -- that is something that we can't have in this country, it is corruption.

JEFFREY BROWN: But you're not using -- you're not going to the policies. You're suggesting by that kind of language the motive, actually, of the president and...

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: Well, it's corrupt. It's absolute corruption.

You can't take money from the taxpayers out of the treasury to give it to pay off your political donors. That's corruption to do that.

JEFFREY BROWN: Let me ask you, before -- before we leave, you have a viability question, I guess, hanging around you. You started with a lot of support. It went down in various polls. It's 4 percent, 5 percent, 6 percent.

Why do you think you can still get the nomination, and then how important is Iowa, a win in Iowa, for that?

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: Well, I absolutely believe that we can win in Iowa. That's on Jan. 3. And we have identified already more supporters than even Mike Huckabee had when he won on caucus night. Now our plan is to mobilize and get them out to caucus night.

But what we also know is that 70 percent of the voters are undecided. They don't make their minds up until the end. And it's been like a stock. The stock market has been up and down. This has been a political stock market. Candidates go up; candidates go down.

But I think, at the end of the day, they're going to come home because they're going see that I'm the only true, consistent constitutional conservative in the race, and they want someone who hasn't flip-flopped. I have a core of conviction, just like the title of my book.

And I want to urge your viewers also to go to to learn more about who I am, what I stand for in an unfiltered voice. And buy my book. You can get it at my website, You find out really what my true motivation is and why I have the best plan to be the next president of the United States.

I think it would be a good idea to have a mom in the White House.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Michele Bachmann, thank you for joining us.


RAY SUAREZ: So far, we have brought you interviews with Texas Congressman Ron Paul, businessman Herman Cain, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. You can see all those conversations on our website.

And we hope to talk with the remaining Republican presidential contenders in the coming weeks.

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