Transcript: Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney on 'FNS'

Written by Chris Wallace / Published February 27, 2006 / Fox News Sunday

The following is a partial transcript of the Feb. 26, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Even though the presidential primaries are two years away, our next guest has been racking up frequent flyer miles to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Joining us here, the Republican Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney.

Governor, good to have you with us.

MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR MITT ROMNEY: Good to be with you, Chris.

WALLACE: For people who don't know much about you, where do you stand on the political spectrum?

ROMNEY: Well, I'm a conservative Republican. It's kind of unusual to be in Massachusetts, the bluest state in America, and be a conservative Republican, but that's something that I fought for in my campaign, and people supported me.

We have good conservative Democrats in Massachusetts, and I was able to pull some of them over to my side of the aisle.

WALLACE: All right. Let's do a lightning round on specific issues — quick questions, brief answers. You say that there are places that you differ with President Bush on Iraq. Such as?

ROMNEY: Well, I don't think we did an adequate job explaining to the American people all the reasons for entering Iraq. There were obviously intelligence failures. I think the prison abuse scandal is something which has been unfortunate.

I think also that we haven't had sufficient troops following the period of major conflict, and so those are not new or novel observations. I think the president would agree there's a benefit that comes with hindsight.

And yet I supported the president at the time that he entered into Iraq and believed that he had the kind of information he needed to have to make that decision.

WALLACE: You also say that the president missed an opportunity when he, along with Congress, created the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Explain.

ROMNEY: Well, I think we have a great advance in our health care in the country by providing prescription drugs to seniors. But I think that we cannot afford a major new entitlement. In fact, we need to find a way to reduce our entitlement burden, particularly as the baby boomers get ready to retire.

The president has fought long and hard to see reform in Social Security. He's going to do the same thing in Medicare and Medicaid. And I didn't want to see a huge increase in entitlement cost without, at the same time, a reform in Medicare and Medicaid to help pay for that improved benefit.

WALLACE: So you would have been willing to see the Medicare prescription drug benefit but you would like to have seen scale-backs in other parts of these entitlements?

ROMNEY: I'd like to see a holistic program that says OK, what are we going to do for people who are retiring in Medicare and those that are poor on Medicaid, how do we make sure that this doesn't become an overwhelming burden, let's include prescription drugs but keep it from growing at such an outrageous rate.

WALLACE: How has the Bush administration handled this whole ports deal?

ROMNEY: Well, it's been a real tough situation, without question. It's unfortunate that it wasn't raised to the top level in the White House much earlier.

Clearly, people in America have real concern and, you know, we as a nation take very seriously matters about which technology we're going to send overseas, who's going to own certain assets, infrastructure in the United States. That's why there's a committee that evaluates those things.

And I think post-9/11, we're going to have to take a very careful, close look at the decisions we've made, and I think we're going to see a full review. And I think that's appropriate.

WALLACE: You have come under fire for allegedly flip-flopping on the issue of abortion. You've faced questions about that, so let's talk about that today. When you were running for governor of Massachusetts back in 2002, you said — and let's put it up on the screen — "I believe women should have the right to make their own choice."

But now that you're considering a race for president, you say you're a pro-life governor who wishes the laws of the nation could reflect that view. Governor, why the change?

ROMNEY: Well, we had a major issue in Massachusetts, and it surrounded stem cell research. I spent a lot of time talking with people scientific in background as well as religious and spent a lot of time understanding when it was that as a society we needed to respect human life and came to the conclusion that it's time to be very clear on that, that when conception occurs that human life has begun.

I'm not talking about religious definitions, but scientific definitions — and that to respect human life, we have to do so from conception. And therefore, I indicated I am pro-life and will respect the rights of human life.

WALLACE: But I don't understand, Governor. I mean, the stem cell question, which often deals with the question of harvesting of eggs or fetuses to be used for stem cell — that isn't why most women get abortions. I mean, there's a division there, isn't there?

ROMNEY: Well, there is a division there, and I'm happy to talk about stem cell research.

WALLACE: Well, no, but I'm asking about abortion. I mean, the vast majority of women aren't getting an abortion so that they can sell their fetus.

ROMNEY: No, this is about when respect for life begins and when we as a society — and I believe fundamentally in a society there has to be respect for human life.

And when I ran for governor, I said very clearly I do not support abortion, I do not favor abortion, but I will maintain a moratorium on any change in the laws of Massachusetts relating to abortion.

One of the big issues in our race was whether there was going to be a reduction in the age of parental involvement in abortion from 18 to 16. I said no, no change in abortion laws. But I didn't call myself pro-life or pro-choice. But after...

WALLACE: But you did say, as I said in the quote, women should have the right to make their own choice. I guess the question I have is are you saying that you only came to the conclusion about when life begins — this has been an issue for 30 years, 40 years — in the last three years?

ROMNEY: Chris, what I'm saying is that my position has evolved and it changed from where it was before. And I said — and the time of the change came as we were involved in the discussion of stem cell research, and I said at that point I am pro-life.

I've never used either title, pro-life or pro-choice, in the past. I said I don't favor abortion. I wouldn't change the laws as governor because I believe each state should have the right to make their own choice. But I'm very firmly pro-life.

WALLACE: I want to ask you about another area of possible controversy and it involves something very personal, your religion. You are a Mormon. As you well know, a number of evangelicals say that could be a problem for you in Republican primaries because they say Mormonism is a cult. Your response.

ROMNEY: Well, I think people in this country want a person of faith to lead them as their governor, as their senator, as their president. I don't think most people care what brand of faith they have. And I don't believe that that's been an issue for me in my race for governor.

It wasn't an issue, I believe, serious, for John Kennedy when he ran for president. People said oh, gosh, Ronald Reagan, he's been an actor who's been divorced, you can't elect him. Those things, I think, get swept away as people get to know the individual, understand their character, their vision, their values, and I think that's true regardless of a person's faith if they are a faithful person.

WALLACE: You know, it obviously is a very personal area, but I do want to pursue it a little bit, because, as you pointed out, in 1960, John Kennedy had to go before a group of ministers and talk about the fact that he wasn't going to take orders from the pope.

So let me ask you about the specific concerns that evangelicals have. They say that you believe in books of scripture that are outside the Bible, that the founder of the Mormon church, Joseph Smith, said that his was the only true faith.

So let me just ask you a couple of specific questions. Do you believe in the Book of Mormons and do you follow the tenets of Smith's religion?

ROMNEY: You know, I'm never going to get into a discussion about my personal beliefs and about particular doctrines of my church, and so forth. I'm very proud of my church. It was the church of my father, and his father, and his father before him.

But what I can say is this. And I go back to a speech that Abraham Lincoln made when he was 28 years old, the Lyceum Address, when he said that America has a political religion and that people who are elected to office subscribe to this political religion, which is to place the oath of office, an oath to abide by a nation of laws and the Constitution, above all others.

And there's no question that as I take the oath of office as governor, and have, that I make that my primary responsibility. And you know, I don't think getting into any particular religion makes any sense for somebody who's serving the public.

WALLACE: All right. Let's take a look at one of the religions here in Washington, which is polls, and here's the latest poll. Let's put it up. It shows you at this point in the Republican horse race in fifth place behind Condi Rice, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.

In less than two years, and that's what we're talking about between now and when the primaries and caucuses start, how do you beat Republicans who are so much better known than you are?

ROMNEY: Well, I certainly don't intend to announce any plans at this point, so I don't have, you know, any willingness to respond to a hypothesis about my running.

However, I can say that people who fall very low in the public opinion polls at this stage have emerged to be at the top of the pile. I know you just talked with Senator Biden. I think he anticipates that as he gets better known that he'll rise.

And as I recall, Bill Clinton probably had about a 1 percent poll figure at this stage in his career. And as people get known, and people take a close look at who the folks are, I think you'll see changes. But I can't predict that I'll be one of them or that I would rise rather than fall.

WALLACE: And finally, some political insiders say — and you've got to know, we don't have — we have too much time on our hands here, sir. They say you're really running for vice president.

ROMNEY: Oh, I can't imagine anybody doing that. I've got a much better job. I love the job that I have. It's great being governor of Massachusetts. It's a great state.

WALLACE: If you're given that option...

ROMNEY: It's a great state. I'm having great fun. You know, I'll keep the option open of running for national office, but I wouldn't get into something if I didn't plan on winning.

WALLACE: Governor Romney, we want to thank you so much for coming in. It's a pleasure. Please come back.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Chris. Good to be with you.

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