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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript

Interview

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BLITZER: Mr. Speaker, thanks very much for joining us.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good to be back.

BLITZER: We got some new polls, and I know you've seen those numbers and you're doing remarkably well, double-digit leads in South Carolina, in Florida, in Iowa. You're moving up even in New Hampshire.

But your critics say you, Newt Gingrich, are fully capable of imploding, if you will, making a mistake, a blunder that could turn things around. Are you worried about that?

GINGRICH: Sure. That would be a bad thing to do. I mean, is it possible? I guess. On the other hand, I've had a very long career, and I have a very public record. And I think people are coming to decide that they like substance and they like somebody who actually has balanced the budget, reformed welfare, cut taxes, gotten it done for real.

So, I think there's probably a little more resilience in my support than in some of the earlier folks who made a run at this.

BLITZER: I have been surprised, and I don't know if you have been. Some of the Republican congressmen who worked with you in the 1990s, Contract with America, the Republican revolution, and you know these guys like Joe Scarborough, for example --

GINGRICH: Sure.

BLITZER: -- or Peter King of New York, Tom Coburn. They've suggested, used words like erratic, undisciplined, a train wreck. And they know you well, these guys. Why are they saying that?

GINGRICH: Look, I think, if you are a very aggressive leader and you drive to get things done -- I mean, we drove to get welfare reform, we drove to balance the budget for four straight years. I think in a legislative body, there's sort of a go along to get along collegial attitude.

I wasn't there in a collegial job. I was there as the leader, and my job was to drive through change on a scale that Washington wasn't comfortable with.

And, you know, if you are a genuine outsider forcing change, you're going to have, at least, some bruise feelings. And I don't apologize for that. I think I've probably learned some more. I think I'll probably be more effective this time.

But you look back, you know, we switched the fiscal condition of the United States by $5 trillion in a four-year period.

BLITZER: But you worked with Bill Clinton closely on that.

GINGRICH: I was able to negotiate with the president, but --

BLITZER: You couldn't have done it without him.

GINGRICH: Oh, no. Look, if I didn't pass it, he couldn't sign it, and if he didn't sign it, it didn't matter that pass, so we had sort of balance -- this is exactly the Constitution supposed to do.

But I do think there were times when the pressure of getting things done or, you know, frankly, making a compromise to get Bill Clinton's signature.

There were some of the guys who were further to the right and said don't compromise, Wolf, then you wouldn't get welfare reform.

BLITZER: Why would Tom Coburn say something and I'm paraphrasing, you know, Newt Gingrich, when he was the leader, he had one standard for himself and another standard for others?

GINGRICH: I don't know. You would have to ask Tom Coburn.

I mean, look, I wish everybody had loved me, but I'd rather be effective representing the American people than be popular inside Washington.

BLITZER: Can you taste this Republican nomination right now?

GINGRICH: No. I think it's -- look, remember, I was way down here, and now I'm up here. So, I know you can go way back down here.

We still have a lot of work to do. With the next four weeks in Iowa, then a real rush in New Hampshire, then on to South Carolina, then on to Florida and Nevada.

I mean, all of those within about a month. So, I think if we have a little interview right after Nevada we'll have a better sense of how real it is and what's actually --

BLITZER: Is it too early to say that it's yours to lose?

GINGRICH: Yes, I will. I mean, it's either Romney or mine. We're the two --

BLITZER: What about the other candidates?

GINGRICH: We're the two frontrunners. I think, it's a fair thing to say without diminishing anybody. The both of us haven't -- you know, have different kinds of strengths, but Romney is a very formidable opponent.

BLITZER: Obama-supportive Democrats, White House officials, Obama campaign officials, they say -- they look forward to running against you. They're nervous about Mitt Romney. They think he might be more electable. Independents might go to him a little bit more than you, but you, they look forward to fighting.

What goes through your mind when you hear that?

GINGRICH: You know, it's probably a sign of my age, but I remember in 1966, Governor Pat Brown, Jerry Brown's father, was really concerned about a moderate mayor of San Francisco named George Christopher, and he really wanted to find some right-wing actor that he could beat easily.

And they were thrilled that Ronald Reagan was running. Reagan beat him by a million votes.

I am perfectly happy for the Obama people to decide they want to beat up on Romney. This is a little tough on Romney, but that's fine with me.

When I get to the general election, if I'm the nominee, after the president has those seven, three-hour debates, we'll see how they feel about it. BLITZER: I'm old enough to remember Jimmy Carter in 1980, when his aides heard that Ronald Reagan was going to be the Republican nominee. They were doing some high-fives at that time.

GINGRICH: That's exactly right.

BLITZER: So, you got to be careful what you wish for.

I want to get to some foreign policy issues, but we've got some questions from Facebook. We asked our viewers to send us some questions for you. Let me go through a few of them and get your answers.

"You've said on occasion that it is OK for politicians to change their view if new information is available. Can you recall the most important position you've changed and why you decided to make the change?"

GINGRICH: That's a really good question without getting hung up on the most important. I'll give you an example that's a little awkward nowadays. Trent Lott and I used to kid that we were the last two decisive votes for the Department of Education. In retrospect, it was a mistake. I think it is way to --

BLITZER: To create the Department of Education?

GINGRICH: Yes. We voted in 1979 to create it. I think, in retrospect, that was an error, and it hasn't worked. So, that would be an example.

BLITZER: What else?

GINGRICH: I think that the --

BLITZER: I'll give you an example. You've been criticized for the healthcare mandates. You supported them, and now, you say you oppose them.

GINGRICH: Yes, that would be a good example in the sense that when Heritage Foundation and mostly every conservative was trying to stop Hillarycare, we used the mandates as a way of blocking her, because we thought they were less damaging.

In retrospect, we were wrong, because what happens, once you go to a mandate, you have turned so much power over the government that the politicians rather than the doctors end up defining healthcare. And so, it was a mistake.

BLITZER: Let me ask you the question I asked Ron Paul at that debate I moderated in Tampa with the Tea Party Express.

You're a 30-year-old healthy young man. You know what, you're making a living. You got a good job. You could buy health insurance, but you decide not to. You'd rather go to ball games or whatever.

But then you get critically ill for whatever reason. You're in intensive care. You have no health insurance.

Who should take care of you?

GINGRICH: John Goodman probably has the best answer to that in a book called "Patient Power" where he says what we ought to do have a refundable tax credit to help people buy insurance. You don't want to boy the insurance, fine. Your share of the tax credit goes into a charity pool. Something happens to you, you're taken care of by that charity pool so that there is -- so that you are taken care of.

BLITZER: The charity pool, taxpayer money or private individuals?

GINGRICH: It's taxpayer money. It would be the tax credit that you would have used to buy the health insurance. And the result is that you may not get a private room. You may not get everything you want, but you are taken care of.

And I think it's important to look at that and to try to figure out, are there practical ways we can help people who don't insure themselves without automatically making them eligible for everything everybody else gets who's paying the price, you know, writing the check every month and --

BLITZER: But you know, you're a 30-year-old. You know, you know what -- they're going to take care of me. I could be in intensive care for a year. It could cost a million dollars. They'll take care of me.

What's the incentive to go ahead and buy the insurance?

GINGRICH: But the fact is we do that.

BLITZER: What I'm asking, is that appropriate, because you're supportive at one point mandate?

GINGRICH: No, I don't think it's appropriate. And I think that it is, frankly, cheating all of your friends and neighbors. But I also think that the price of getting to a mandate is too great in the constitutional liberty to do it.

BLITZER: So, the state -- and a state mandate was wrong and a federal government is wrong?

(CROSSTALK)

GINGRICH: Because it politicizes the system.

BLITZER: Mitt Romney stands by his decision in Massachusetts.

GINGRICH: Yes. And I think he was wrong. The difference in Mitt and I is that I think I was wrong and I changed. I think down deep, he thinks he's wrong, but he's being stubborn.

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