Transcript: Mike Huckabee on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a partial transcript of the Dec. 9, 2007, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: We continue our series "Choosing the President" today with two of the frontrunners for the Republican nomination. First, perhaps the biggest story in politics right now, Mike Huckabee.

Take a look at this new poll from Iowa where the former governor of Arkansas has soared to a 22-point lead over Mitt Romney. Well, joining us now from the campaign trail in Florida, the Cinderella man of the GOP race, Mike Huckabee.

And, Governor, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."

REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE MIKE HUCKABEE: Thank you very much, Chris. Great to be back.

WALLACE: As you rise in the polls, I don't have to tell you that your past is becoming more of an issue.

It now turns out that when you ran for the Senate back in 1992, you called for quarantining AIDS patients, you opposed increased federal funding to find a cure, and you also said that homosexuality was a, quote, "sinful lifestyle that could pose a dangerous health risk."

Do you stand by any of that now, Governor?

HUCKABEE: Chris, I didn't say that we should quarantine. I said it was the first time in public health protocols that when we had an infectious disease and we didn't really know just how extensive and how dramatic it could be and the impact of it, that we didn't isolate the carrier.

Now, the headlines yesterday started saying that I called for quarantines, which if you'll go back and read my comments, I did not.

I had simply made the point, and I still believe this today, that in the late '80s and early '90s, when we didn't know as much as we do now about AIDS, we were acting more out of political correctness than we were about the normal public health protocols that we would have acted — as we have recently, for example, with avian flu, which — I spent hours and hours, and months, in fact, as a governor dealing with a pandemic plan that we were looking at which called for isolating carriers if they contracted that disease.

WALLACE: But, Governor, forgive me. I don't think that's right. All the way back in 1985, this wasn't political correctness. The Centers for Disease Control back in '85, seven years before you made your statement, said that AIDS could not be spread by casual contact.

HUCKABEE: There was also the case of Kimberly Bergalis, who testified before Congress in 1991. She had contracted AIDS from her dentist.

We didn't think that there was a casual transmission. There were studies that showed that. But there were other concerns being voiced by public health officials.

Now, would I say things a little differently in 2007? Probably so. But I'm not going to recant or retract from the statement that I did make because, again, the point was not saying we ought to lock people up who have HIV/AIDS.

I knew people who had AIDS. I had a close friend who died of it in the 1980s. He was a hemophiliac. He contracted it through a blood transfusion. I had other friends of mine, one of whom passed away — he was, in fact, homosexual.

But my point is that I was trying to talk about the different public health protocols that we were dealing with. I think what it really does show, though, is that when people are digging back into everything I've ever said and done — and I understand that, it's part of the political process.

But what I'm not going to do is to go back and now try to change every story I've ever had. I'm going to simply say that that was exactly what I said. I don't run from it, don't recant from it.

Would I say it a little differently today? Sure, in light of 15 years of additional knowledge and understanding, I would.

WALLACE: Mitt Romney talked about his faith this week, and conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote a column this week under the title "Huckabee plays the religion card."

He accused you of seeming to take the high road of tolerance by refusing to declare Mormonism a cult; indeed, declaring himself above the issue, yet clearly playing to that prejudice by leaving the question ambiguous while making sure everyone knows that he, for one, is a Christian leader.

Governor, Krauthammer says that you're exploiting religious differences for political gain.

HUCKABEE: You know, Charles is probably one of my very favorite columnists. I don't know of anybody who I love to read more than him, and I love almost every column he writes except the ones he writes about me.

In this case, he's just mistaken. I've not tried to say anything about Mitt Romney or anybody else. In fact, I've done everything I can to say I'll be happy to talk about my faith. I'm not going to evaluate someone else's.

In fact, if people will look through the entire record of my comments, they'll see me defending Hillary Clinton and her faith in this campaign. Several months ago when asked to sort of make a comment when she had talked about her Methodist faith, I defended her.

I said I have no reason to doubt her sincerity. In fact, I said that, you know, her faith may be practiced a little different in the Methodist church than mine is in a more almost charismatic Baptist church where I attend. But I said just because some people eat their soup louder than other people doesn't mean the soup tastes better.

Now, if I had defended Hillary Clinton and said let her defend her religion, let me defend mine — I've done the same thing with Mitt Romney and the same thing I've done with any other candidate.

I think it's my responsibility to answer questions when they're posed to me if they're reasonable and in a context of being president. But I'm not going to go out there and start taking apart every other candidate's faith and trying to evaluate their theology.

WALLACE: I want to come at this a slightly different way, because this raises the whole question of prejudice and, as Krauthammer seemed to be saying, that you were playing the religion card.

Do you think it's intolerant — do you think it's prejudice — for voters — I'm not asking you; for voters to consider the tenets of Mormonism in judging Mitt Romney?

HUCKABEE: I do think that's inappropriate. I think people should judge Mitt Romney on his record. Is he consistent? Does he say and believe the things now that he said and believed before? That's what ought to be the criteria.

I don't think his Mormonism ought to be a factor in it. And I wouldn't vote for or against somebody because they were Mormon. It simply wouldn't be that big of an issue for me.

If it is for others, they'll have to explain that. It isn't for me, and it shouldn't be for anyone.

WALLACE: Let's turn to immigration, because you put out a new immigration plan this week. You called for building...


WALLACE: ... a border fence, for cracking down on employers, for telling illegals to go home.

But last year in an interview, you said something somewhat different. You said this, "I think that the rational approach is to find a way to give people a pathway to citizenship."

Governor, in your new plan, the only path is to go home and to get on the back of the line, which, of course, would mean years of waiting. Why the change?

HUCKABEE: Well, I don't think there's an inconsistency. When I said a pathway, I didn't say what the pathway was.

I now believe that the only thing the American people are going to accept — and, frankly, the only thing that really makes sense — is a pathway that sends people back to the starting point.

But this idea of the waiting years — no, I don't agree with that. In fact, look, if we can get a credit card application done within hours, if we can get passports done within days, if we can transact business over the Internet any place in the world within seconds, do a background check instantaneously — it's our government that has failed and is dysfunctional.

It shouldn't take years to get a work permit to come here and pick lettuce. So part of the plan that I have is that we seal the borders. You don't have amnesty and sanctuary cities. You do have a pathway that gets you back home.

But that pathway to get back here legally doesn't take years. It would take days, maybe weeks, and then people could come back in the workforce.

Let me tell you why that's important. Two reasons. Number one, the American people say, "Do something. Do it now. We don't want to have this country ignoring the illegal problem." I get it.

Secondly, I want people who are in this country to hold their heads up high. You know, right now there are a lot of people who really are here because they're trying to feed their families. I don't begrudge them that.

I say every day I thank God I'm in a country people are trying to break into, not break out of. But let's give them a means by which they can get here through the door legally, and when they're here they don't have to hide, they don't have to keep their heads down and hope nobody catches them, they have their heads held high.

Everyone living within the borders of the United States ought to do so with dignity and with a sense of pride, not a sense of fear.

WALLACE: Governor, you got touched up this week when it turned out that you didn't know about the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran more than 24 hours after it was released. You said you'd been too busy on the campaign trail.

But it reinforced doubts that some people have about your foreign policy experience. And let me ask you about that larger question.


WALLACE: This week you came out against waterboarding and you also came out for closing Guantanamo Bay because you said that it had become a, quote, "symbol," that it represents to the rest of the world about something bad about America.

As president, how important would foreign policy be — rather, foreign opinion be in your determining your policies?

HUCKABEE: Well, I wouldn't let foreign opinion determine our policies, wouldn't let it dictate it. But we do have to make sure that we live in such a way as Americans that we have friends, not enemies, across the world.

And over the past several years, it seems as we've made even our friends our enemies. We've got to change that.

I don't want to ever give up one ounce of U.S. sovereignty. Our soldiers would never march to the orders of somebody else's generals. I wouldn't give up our territory. I wouldn't give up our rights. I wouldn't give up our strength.

In fact, I'd want to strengthen this country. I think the greatest way to export democracy is not to force it, but rather to build the best possible version of it right here so people are attracted to it.

But I also want to make clear that there is an important role that the United States has as the most powerful nation on earth militarily and economically, to act in such a way that people respect us and that people also realize that we are a great nation, not one that wants to push ourselves on others.

As it relates to that NIE report, it actually, I recall, was released at 10 o'clock that morning, and it was late that afternoon that I sat down with some reporters. You know, there's been a lot of talk about it.

There were 16 different intelligence agencies that contributed to that report. What I think it shows more than anything is not what I didn't know. It shows what our own intelligence community didn't know. They were confused. They had conflicting reports from 2003 to 2005.

One of the things that I would do as president is clearly try to make sure we get some better intelligence-gathering, and that we have more consistency, and that we have intelligence with greater credibility than we obviously have now.

WALLACE: Governor, we've only got a couple of minutes left. What do you make of the CIA destroying the tapes of those two investigations — or those two interrogation interrogations? And as president, what would you do about it?

HUCKABEE: Well, it goes back to this whole issue whether or not we should have torture. You're about to have a guest on this program for whom I hold in high esteem, and that's Senator John McCain.

I think it's absurd, and I've said this many times, for anybody running for president to think they know more about torture than John McCain.

One of the reasons that I came out this week — and I had said so earlier, but nobody was paying attention. Now people are paying attention to what I'm saying. But I don't believe that we ought to torture. I think it's a policy that is beneath us. It is obviously unproductive.

And every single military person with whom I've spoken, people who actually have been trained and who have been on either side of this issue, either being tortured or being asked to do it — I've got to tell you, I can't find anybody who says that ought to be the policy of the United States.

So when we start destroying documents, what are we destroying them for? Are we doing it for security purposes or to cover somebody's rear end?

If we're covering somebody's rear end, we need to expose their rear end and kick their rear end for doing something that's against the best interest of the United States and the responsibility and the respectability of this country.

WALLACE: Governor Huckabee, we're going to have to leave it there. I want to thank you for joining us, as always, for giving us some straight answers, and we'll see you along the campaign trail, sir.

HUCKABEE: Chris, I look forward to it. Thank you.