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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript


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I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

All that coming up, but, first, a campaign triple-header right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I will interview three Republican presidential hopefuls today. The front-runner, Mitt Romney, is on deck, Rick Santorum will follow in the next hour.

But stepping up to the bat right now, the Republican presidential candidate, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich.

Mr. Speaker, thanks very much for coming in.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is quite a show you have today. I'm impressed.

BLITZER: I'm impressed, too, I must say.

Let's start with you. Everyone seems to agree, I assume you agree as well that getting to the magic number of 1,144 for you right now before the convention is impossible. Do you agree with that?


Look, I think the front-runner's clearly Mitt Romney. Out of 10 million votes cast so far, he's only gotten four million. So he's the weakest front-runner in modern times. If he can get to 1,144, he's the nominee. But if he can't get to 1,144 on the 26th of June, the last primary, then it is going to be a wide-open electronic convention for 60 days of talking among the American people. And I think generally believe I'm the person who could best debate Barack Obama. And at that point, if Romney can't clinch it, I think it becomes pretty wide-open.

BLITZER: So you have absolutely no intention of dropping out of this race any time between now and the end of June, is that right?

GINGRICH: I think the morning that he gets 1,144 that are locked down, then I think he can claim to be the nominee. But until then, he's not the nominee.

Remember, I'm from Atlanta, where we were ahead by 10.5 games last with only 28 games to go, and the Cardinals didn't quit. Everybody wanted them to, but they just kept coming and they ended up winning. I think this is not over until it's over.

And, obviously, if he does become the nominee, I will support him. Beating Barack Obama is very, very important for this country. But if he doesn't win the nomination, then it's going to be wide-open and then we will have a discussion for those 60 days for who ought to be the right person to beat Barack Obama.

BLITZER: Some of your supporters, as you well know, Mr. Speaker, they're not happy that you're emerging as an almost spoiler candidate right now.

Let me play a little clip from one of your supporters who told us this. Listen to this.


CRYSTAL WRIGHT, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST: Just because I'm a Newt delegate does not mean that I'm not a realist. Newt Gingrich is going to have to step aside because he's only won two contests. The delegates aren't there for him. The math isn't adding up. And he's going to go down looking like a spoiler.


BLITZER: Some other of your supporters have said to me, given the legacy, given the history and what you have accomplished for the Republican Party in the United States, especially when you were speaker, they don't like this what they would see a demeaning of what they're doing right now in challenging Mitt Romney to the bitter end.

What do you say to these folks?

GINGRICH: I say to them the same thing that Hillary Clinton would have said in 2008 when she was taking on Barack Obama.

That ran all the way to mid-June, and only when he had finally the votes did he have the votes. This is a contest. Governor Romney spent six years, $40 million of his own money. He has outspent the rest of us by huge margins, and he's gotten four million out of 10 million votes. There is no obligation to concede it to him. If he can win it, more power to him. If he doesn't win it, then June, July and August become very interesting months.

BLITZER: But you will concede that Rick Santorum has a better chance than you do?

GINGRICH: But he doesn't have a guaranteed lock anymore than I do or Romney does. You have a whole new conversation if we end up on the 27th of June with no one having 1,144 votes.

BLITZER: Are you at all worried about your legacy, your reputation?


Look, first of all, I wasn't worried last June, which you remember well, Wolf, when almost everybody in the media said I was dead. It didn't worry me a bit because I knew it wasn't true.

I represent a number of very big ideas, an American energy policy to make us independent so that no Saudi king ever again has an American president bow to him, $2.50 or less for gasoline, personal Social Security savings account for young people, replacing the Environmental Protection Agency with a brand-new environmental solutions agency.

There are a number of big ideas. And just as I have in my whole career, I'm in the position of Reagan trying to develop big solutions that I think will really solve the country's problems. And frankly I think if you look at the president for the last few weeks, we have done a pretty good job of getting him answering me on energy, a better job than either Romney or Santorum has done.

And I'm going to continue going after the president on his energy party because it is going to dramatically hurt the American people and it dramatically weakens the U.S.

But I'm also going to go after him about this new tape you have today in which the president, in a very cynical way, says to the Russians, why don't you wait until I get reelected before I sell out our missile defense program? I just need to get past the election and then I have a lot more flexibility.

I'm curious, how many other countries has the president promised that he will have a lot more flexibility the morning he doesn't have to answer to the American people?

BLITZER: We're going to get to that later.

But let me ask you this question, because you have clearly irritated the White House and the Obama reelection campaign with these comments you made the other day after the president himself showed some empathy for the Trayvon Martin family when he said that if he would have had a son, he probably would have looked a little bit like Trayvon Martin. This is what you said. Listen to this.


GINGRICH: Is the president suggesting that if it would have been a white who had been shot, that would be OK because it wouldn't look like him? That is just nonsense dividing this country up. It is a tragedy this young man was shot.


BLITZER: David Plouffe, the president's senior adviser, was on Candy Crowley's "STATE OF THE UNION" yesterday and he responded to your comments with these.


DAVID PLOUFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Those two comments are really irresponsible. I would consider them reprehensible. I think those comments were really hard to stomach really and I guess trying to appeal to people's worst instincts.


BLITZER: I'm going to give you a chance to respond.

What was wrong with what the president actually said, showing some empathy for that family?

GINGRICH: I think he should show empathy for that family. I think he should show empathy for any family that loses a child.

I think every single American of every background is endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, which is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We should be concerned -- my only point was we should be concerned about any young American of any background who ends up getting killed.

I think all of us should reach out with our heart for any young American. And I think's my only point in response to that. I stick with what I said. I am concerned.

You know, Callista visited a cancer ward at the Tulane Children's Hospital the other day. She was dealing with very young children. She came back and she was describing to me 3-year-olds with leukemia. She didn't describe them by any kind of background. They were children. They were children suffering from a terrible disease and our heart went out to every child.

That's the only point I was making, that I think we should be concerned about children of every background, and all too often we're not.

BLITZER: On the news of the day, the arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the health care law and the mandates, at one point, and you well remember, way back in the '90s, you supported those kinds of mandates after the Heritage Foundation came out with a study.

I assume at that time, you thought federal mandates requiring people to buy health insurance was in fact constitutional.

GINGRICH: Well, I always said that there had to be an opt-out clause for people who felt that it was inappropriate, that they had to have other ways of meeting their financial responsibilities and you could not require everyone -- I always felt strongly that there had to be a libertarian opt-out clause.

There is no such opt-out in Obamacare. It is an effort to coerce every single American. I think that in that sense, it is -- my guess is they're going to find it unconstitutional. And the only question will be whether they recognize that there's no severability clause because it was rammed through without any kind of amendments in conference because they had lost Teddy Kennedy's seat in the Senate in a special election.

If the court holds to the strict ruling and they decide the mandate is unconstitutional, with no severability clause, that would make the entire bill unconstitutional. That would truly be a historic decision.

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

GINGRICH: Thank you. Good to be with you.


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