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Former Gov. Mitt Romney Goes 'On the Record'

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," January 8, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Tonight, Governor Mitt Romney right here, right now! Welcome Governor.

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS.: Hey Greta. Good to be with you.

VAN SUSTEREN: It's nice to see you, sir. Well, the whole city of Washington and the country is sort of abuzz about the fact that President Obama promised on tape seven, eight, nine times that the health care debate, discussion, negotiation would be on C-Span. If you were president of the United States would it be on C-Span? Do you agree with that?

ROMNEY: Well, he made the promise, and if you make a promise like that, you got to keep it. But there have been a lot bigger promises he's made that he's not kept, and perhaps the most important of which was that he would have this process, an open process. There'd be a bipartisan effort, that there'd be a new style of politics in Washington. And the style that he's brought has been far more of a back room, if you will, bribery type of arrangement that we've seen in many, many years.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why? Why, if he made those promises about having it open, and you know, that people — everybody'd have a seat at the table, for instance — why, in your opinion, since you don't think that he kept those promises, didn't he, or hasn't he?

ROMNEY: Well, I can't guess as what to his own motivation was, other than the fact that he has been very, very unsuccessful in his first year, has not been able to accomplish virtually anything, Greta. And as a result, he's really pinning all of his hopes on seeing something happen with health care. And what's occurred, of course, is he's created a monster. This health care bill that's being fashioned by the two houses right now doesn't make any sense at all. And it really ought to be scrapped and they ought to start over again. But he's got to get some success, so he's pushing so hard. He doesn't want people to see just how ugly the process is and how bad this bill is.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, in 2006, when were you governor of Massachusetts, they passed the health care in Massachusetts that you signed. Is there anything that you learned from the Massachusetts bill and what has transpired there, good or bad or indifferent, that makes — that would be helpful to the process here for the nation on a national health care?

ROMNEY: Oh, there's no question there are a lot of lessons to be learned from the Massachusetts experience. The first is, issues like getting everybody insured should be solved at the state level, not at the federal level with a one-size-fits-all plan that's put together by Congress. That's No. 1.

No. 2, you don't raise taxes on people to put it in place, which they're intent on doing.

No. 3, you don't put a mandate on businesses. That's not going to create jobs at a critical time like this.

No. 4, you don't cut Medicare. You don't put the cost of this system on the backs of our senior citizens.

Everything about this bill is wrong-headed, and that's why I think the American people are going to reject those that are the sponsors of it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, when you talk about that — we've had the discussion many times here on "On the Record" (INAUDIBLE) is that people think that the — the people think that this bill is lousy, say that next November, in the midterm elections, and I suppose two years later, is that the voters will take it out on those who voted for it.

Here's the problem though, is that we will have the bill at that point, unless we try to make it better now. Do you have any recommendation to try to — to try to — try to fix it, try to persuade some of your ideas into this new bill, or are we just stuck with whatever's going to be handed us?

ROMNEY: There's no question but that if Republicans were invited to sit down at the table with Democrats and take enough time to do this properly, you could improve the bill. There's been a lot that's been learned not just in Massachusetts but other states, by the way, problems to avoid and opportunities that exist.

Look, there's a real need for health care reform in this country, but that isn't what's going on right now. This is all about politics, not about helping the American people with a better health care bill. But if people were serious about focusing on health care and improving it, we could achieve some great things here. But that's — I don't think that's in the cards right now. This is something which is being so aggressively pushed.

Today, Paul Kirk, for instance, who's the temporary senator from Massachusetts, said that if a Republican is elected in the special election in Massachusetts that's replacing Senator Kennedy, that he, Paul Kirk, will stay in office in order to cast the deciding vote. He won't let the voice of the people decide what should happen with health care reform. They're pulling all the stops in one of the most ugly partisan processes I think Washington has seen in a long, long time.

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you make of the tea party movement?

ROMNEY: I think it shows a great deal of energy and passion on the part of the American people to say, Stop, we're going the wrong way, enough already, let's get things right in America. And America is headed in the wrong direction. This growing government, the increase in taxes, the more intrusiveness of government has made a lot of people very angry and they want to see change in Washington. They want to see the Washington politicians that have been voting for this kind of intrusive government thrown out of office. And I think it's a good thing. I think Washington politicians need to understand there's a lot of focus and energy around what's happening, and people aren't going to take it a lot longer.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you worry, though, that it's more of a problem for the Democratic (sic) Party, much like in '92, with Ross Perot and George Bush 41, President Bush 41, is that it might, in the end, be something that hurts the Republican Party because it shaves off votes in that direction or people won't go to the polls because they want tea party candidates, not the Republican Party, or there will be a third party candidate?

ROMNEY: Well, if there were a third party and a real intent to create a strong third party, that would obviously be very damaging to whichever party it drew the most votes from. And if it were a tea party party, why, that would certainly be from conservative Republicans. But I don't that's going to happen. I think people recognize right now we're not talking about politics, we're talking about the country.

This is a really critical time for the country both globally, in terms of our safety and security, but also economically. And if we divide the conservative vote and therefore hand over to the Democrats more years of single-party rule and Barack Obama another four years, we would have a very different country at the end of eight years of Obama rule. And I don't think, in the final analysis, that anyone is going to put their personal political aspirations above the needs of the country.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, you mentioned security. If it were a President Romney, would you have responded differently than President Obama to this December 25, Christmas, underwear bomber on flight 253?

ROMNEY: Well, I think almost anybody who's looked at how the president has handled this has been very, very dismayed. His initial reaction, which was to say this was apparently an individual acting on his own, that was wrong. That was the wrong thing for him to say. And then, of course, he came out and attacked the intelligence community in an aggressive way. And of course, they needed a talking to, particularly the secretary of Homeland Security.

But that's not the sort of thing you leak to the press. The president should have stood up, as JFK did, and said, This was my fault, I'm responsible, I'll do a better job, and then deal with your people one by one.

But perhaps the biggest fault that I have is that instead of taking this would-be bomber and interrogating him so we could learn the very intelligence that our intelligence community so desperately wants to have - - instead of doing that, they decided to lawyer him up and quiet him down so that he can't give us the information we need. The president is more intent on having the people at the ACLU happy than he ought to be. And he should be focused instead on helping the intelligence community in every possible way.

Even talk about bringing legal action against members of our intelligence community for the action they took during the Bush years — all these things has put a chill in the capacity of our intelligence community to carry out its job. And I think the president is making some very serious errors in protecting the country.

VAN SUSTEREN: Would you have fired anybody? I mean, you know, the thing that sort of stands out — and obviously, we don't have all the information on the outside. It's very different than being — sitting in the Oval Office and having the information on the inside. But on the outside, it seems appalling that someone got information at some embassy in Nigeria and that for some reason, it never made its way to wherever it should have gone to keep this man off the plane because that was the most appalling information. Would you have fired somebody or asked for resignations?

ROMNEY: Well, you know, I don't look for scapegoats, and I don't think you just fire someone just to make it look like you've done something. If there has been somebody who...

VAN SUSTEREN: But not for that. Not — not for that. Not for that necessarily because that person — whoever messed up, whoever didn't have the vision for something that seems quite obvious, unfortunately, that person's still there and can do another round, can do it again. So it's not to punish, but it's to remove someone from this very important job who might put us at risk again. We got lucky this time. No one was killed.

ROMNEY: Yes, there's no question. If in doing the analysis, you find out that there were some people who just weren't doing their job or made serious errors in judgment, they shouldn't be in that job. They should be finding another employment where they could be more effective, but they shouldn't be trying to protect the country. So you — you'd have to look at that carefully, and if someone needs to be fired, you fire them.

But I must admit that the secretary — the secretary of Homeland Security has been really disappointing in this, and I was surprised that the White House would let her be the spokesperson dealing with this issue as it first came out. She did a very ineffective job of convincing the American people that our government was on top of the security breach.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, money, jobs — we've had a dismal report this morning that nobody wanted to hear about the job problem in this country. Is there anything you would do differently at this point? And not even going back to the stimulus bill. The stimulus bill has been passed. It's a done deal. But right now, today, what would you do?

ROMNEY: Well, I can't help but say they told us the stimulus bill would keep us from hitting 10 percent unemployment. We spend almost a trillion dollars and still hit the 10 percent. It was a failure. It did not create any net new jobs other than in government. And the right answer today is to encourage the private sector, and you do that by reducing the burdens on businesses and on job creators and employers of all kinds. That means you, for instance, lower the payroll tax or you put in place a more robust investment tax credit so that you encourage businesses to grow and add capital equipment. These are the kinds of things you do if you want to create jobs.

But the president has not done that. He has scared the employment committee — excuse me — employment community. I mean, they're scared witless. They see their taxes going up. They see a health care mandate coming down the road with new burdens being placed on them. They see talk about compensation limits for executives. They see GM and GMAC and AIG under government control. They're worried. They're concerned. He has — the president has not taken the kind of action you need to really stimulate the private sector, he's frightened it.

VAN SUSTEREN: If — if you — if you did what you say, is it — let me strike that again. Is what the president is doing, is that going to hurt the economy or it's just going to be a slower recovery than you would like to have or any of us would like to have?

ROMNEY: Well, slow is hurt. When you have an extra 2 percent of people...

VAN SUSTEREN: But I mean is it totally the wrong direction? Is it totally the wrong direction or is it just not — you know, it's just not as effective or efficient means to achieve a goal?

ROMNEY: Well, when you throw money out of an airplane window, are you going to stimulate the economy below the airplane? Yes. But the problem is, you have to pay it back in this case with interest. And so what he has done, he is not going to net-net help the economy. It will have hurt American people who will have lost their jobs needlessly and will delay their rehiring. And that is hurting American people.

And that's the problem with this stimulus. It's going to be a burden on the economy for many, many years to come. And the right course is, instead of passing a new stimulus, which would just add an additional burden on our financial markets and on the employment community, the right action right now is to reduce the burden on the employment community and to encourage them to invest in new capital equipment, new hires, new people. That's the right way to go.

VAN SUSTEREN: Governor, if you'll stand by because in two minutes, we're going to ask the governor that 2012 question. And if you think you know the answer already, wrong!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, there's big political news just out, and our guest, Governor Romney, wants to hear it. So here it is. According to a National Journal poll of Republican insiders, Governor Romney takes the title of most likely to become the GOP nominee in 2012. That's not all. Democratic insiders put Governor Romney on top, as well. They say Governor Romney would be the strongest nominee for the GOP in 2012. Well, governor, you must like those numbers, that information?

ROMNEY: Well, it's better than a kick in the teeth, but haven't made any decisions yet about what we might do in 2012. Really, this is really a critical year right now, getting ready for the 2010 elections to see if we can't bring some balance and reasonableness to Washington again. So that's what I'm focused on, but the future will take care of itself.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, what's the criteria you look at? Because, I mean, you've got to — you've got think out in the future. I mean, what is it that would tip your decision either way? What are the things that you're considering?

ROMNEY: You know, my wife and I and kids, we'll sit down when the time comes and talk about a whole host of considerations, where the country is, what the implications would be for ourselves for a race and what the personal implications might be and whether I'd be the right person or whether somebody else might do a better job. These are the kinds of things we'd have to discuss, but we haven't given that a lot of thought this time. We did last time, obviously, go through that process, so I'm kind of forecasting based on what happened then. But we really won't begin a discussion like that until after the November elections and maybe not until sometime in the next year.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you have a new book, "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness." That's usually sort of the tip-off that you're sort of heading that direction. So why the book?

ROMNEY: Well, actually, it's been in the works for a long time. I've done a lot of travel when I was in the business world and I've been very, very concerned about the direction our country is headed compared to other nations in the world. And I'm afraid that Washington politicians have put America on a road to decline. And this is, in effect, a wake-up call. I don't expect it to sell hundreds of thousands, millions of copies, but I expect opinion leaders to pick it up and take a read, and hopefully, we can get America on a course of greatness again. And I think — I think that's in the cards. I think that'll happen. But we're going to throw out some of the ideas that are currently in ascendancy in Washington today.

VAN SUSTEREN: Who do you admire in the Republican Party right now, and why?

ROMNEY: Oh, a lot of — there are a lot of terrific people that I admire. And John McCain, for instance, somebody who is a national hero, ran a terrific campaign and continues undaunted in Washington right now. Mitch McConnell, who's the leader in the Senate, is somebody who I respect. He's been able to do a great job standing tall and fighting some of the worse things that have come from the Democratic side of the aisle and put forward a whole series of Republican plans on everything from the stimulus bill to a health care plan. In the House, John Boehner has kept his team together, remarkably, working hard in a common cause. And you have to look at someone like Sarah Palin, who really galvanized a lot of energy and passion in our party. She continues to do that. You know, I respect people across the party. I think we're doing a good job at getting our message across.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, so what's going on in your home state? You've got a pretty aggressive Senate race there for Senator Ted Kennedy's seat. January 19 is the voting day. What's going on? What's — it's a tough race for both of them.

ROMNEY: Yes, I think this is surprising a lot of people. Most people expected that a Democrat would just roll into Ted Kennedy's seat, as Ted Kennedy has year after year after year. But Massachusetts is not as monolithic a liberal state as people think. Massachusetts voted for Ronald Reagan twice, elected the Republican governor 16 straight years. And right now, there's a lot of anger in Massachusetts, among independents in particular, about the Obama health care plan. And I think what you're seeing is people are flocking to Scott Brown. He's narrowed the race. It's a single-digit race now. And he's raising money from across the country. I think he's — he's a guy who very well could win this thing. And he's an independent-minded Republican. He's not just a, you know, rubber stamp kind of guy. But he brings an energy and a passion and some experience to this race that I think is galvanizing support in Massachusetts.

VAN SUSTEREN: And so it's so interesting because should he win on January 19, suddenly, the Senate isn't filibuster-proof, so it's so much more profoundly important to the nation. It's not just important to Massachusetts. Whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, you've got to be watching this race.

ROMNEY: It would really say that Massachusetts would be in the catbird's seat. The senator from Massachusetts would be able to make the key calls on some of these key pieces of legislation, and with regards to health care, to make sure that the lessons about the good in the Massachusetts plan and the bad is accommodated and understood before it's dealt with in a national plan. It would make all the sense in the world for the people of Massachusetts to elect Scott Brown, and frankly, for people across the country to send him a check for 25 bucks or whatever to say, Look, we care about that 41st vote.

VAN SUSTEREN: Governor, thank you very much. Say hello to your family for us. Thank you, Governor.

ROMNEY: Thanks Greta. Good to be with you.

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