OTR Interviews

Romney: Obama Has Been Trying to Learn on the Job, But the Learning Has Been Too Slow

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," April 25, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: If the contest were held today, he would clobber President Obama in New Hampshire, the home of the first 2012 primary. Former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, joins us. Good evening, sir.


VAN SUSTEREN: Governor, the problem that people are talking about from coast to coast is the price of gasoline. If you were president, what would you do about gasoline, and how soon would you get those prices down?

ROMNEY: Well, you get the prices down by convincing people who are investing in gasoline futures, so to speak, the speculators -- you let them understand that America is going to be producing enough energy for our needs. And that means we're going to start drilling for oil. We're going to use our natural gas resources, which are now extraordinarily plentiful, given new technology. We're going to use our coal resources. Of course, we're going to pursue all the renewables, but you have to have oil and gas to power America's economy.

VAN SUSTEREN: So how long, though, because, you know, it's $5 a gallon some places here in Washington? Does that -- is there anything that you could do as president, get those prices down by Memorial Day to the -- how about $4 a gallon?

ROMNEY: You know, it would be nice if we could make magic happen. But the decisions that the president is making on energy and he's been making since the beginning of his administration has made it very clear that America is not interested in developing our own energy resources. And that, of course, has lead to a position where we're highly vulnerable to the imports that come into the country, highly vulnerable to the cartels. And when there are disruptions, as there are now in the Middle East, prices go through the roof. You have to have an energy policy that says that America is going to develop our own energy resources, as well as developing those renewable resources that, frankly, are important to us but simply can't power our cars.

VAN SUSTEREN: The IMF is predicting that China's economy is going to surpass our own in the year 2016. First of all, how does -- what does that mean to us? What does that mean to the average American? How do we feel that? And secondly, why is China able to surpass us?

ROMNEY: China is able to surpass us in part because over last couple of decades, American policy has been so relaxed towards China. We've allowed them to manipulate their currency to make our products more expensive than theirs. And that has allowed them to come into our country and replace a lot of jobs in this country. At the same time, they make it very difficult for our intellectual property products, whether that's software or other technology, from being able to go into their country. They steal that technology.

We, frankly, have been turning a blind eye to China's policies with regards to our economy for far too long, and America has to get serious about saying, We want to make America the most attractive place for business in the world, not China. And the consequence of not doing that would be potentially seeing our standard of living decline and over time, seeing China build a military that could rival any in the world.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do we actually, though, turn that around? China is our bank. We owe them, you know -- you know, so much money that it's almost breathtaking. They hold more of our debt than any other nation. You know, what do we actually do to sort of turn that around so that they don't take our jobs, so that our dollars aren't going there to get their cheaper goods?

ROMNEY: Well, you know, if you got a banker that you've -- that's been lending you money, there are two ways to dealing with them. One is to say, Well, I can't make them mad, I'm just going to keep on borrowing and borrowing. That's the answer that you've seen in this administration that's borrowing just record amounts of money around the world. That can't go on. You have to cut back on your borrowing so you're not dependent upon their lending us money.

And number two, you have to make it very clear that to trade with America on the most favored basis that you have to honor our laws. You have to allow your currency to float. You have to make sure that the products that come into the U.S. have not been, if you will, pirated through technology that's been stolen by various companies in China. We're going to have to be serious with China about enforcing our laws, enforcing agreements that are fair and free and not giving them the kind of free ride that they've had so far.

VAN SUSTEREN: I think when people look at -- Governor, at the different candidates who might run for president, they think of you as the businessman. You're the one with the business background, and I think that even in your op-ed today you talk about Standard & Poor's and that's -- you know, that sort of is what you talk about a lot. I'm curious, how does a Governor Romney's business background differ from a Donald Trump business background when we evaluate potential candidates for the nomination?

ROMNEY: Look, he's a terrific guy and I wish him the very best and hope he gets into the race. The water's fine. Come on in. But I can tell you that in my own view, that in order to get America's economy going again and putting Americans back to work, which is our highest priority -- we got 20 million Americans today that are either out of work or stopped looking for work -- you have to have somebody who understands how jobs come and go and why jobs go overseas and why it is that America is not as competitive as we could be.

And the answer is government. Government is too big. It's got in the way of America's entrepreneurialism and innovation. Government is smothering the spirit that allows us to create jobs. And if we want to have a strong economy, if we want to be able to protect ourselves, if we want to create jobs for all Americans, we have to have a leader who understands how the economy works and how to compete with other nations and companies around the world!

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, if that's the criteria, I mean, in comparing (INAUDIBLE), I've interviewed Donald Trump a number of times. I mean, he likewise says many of the same things you're saying on China. He talks about creating jobs, talks about how he created jobs. I know you've talked about you creating jobs. I'm trying to think, like, how are you different? I mean, how does -- you know, when someone's sort of beginning to look at the -- you know, the lay of the land, how is your business background different or your dream for the United States different than a businessman like Donald Trump? Both of you have been very successful in business.

ROMNEY: You know, I'm going to spend my time talking what I've done. And I don't know that I want to spend a lot of time talking about what other people's records are. There are a lot of folks that are looking at the race. The terrific folks that are going give an opportunity to be heard will have different positions on different issues, will have different track records. And I'm probably not going to be the guy that inspects everybody else's track record, but I sure can tell you about my own.

And I'm proud of the things that I was able to accomplish as a businessperson. I'm also proud of the fact that I was able to take the reins of the Olympics and get them back on track. And frankly, my leadership in Massachusetts, where we balanced the budget every year, where I was able to restore a rainy day fund of over $2 billion, help keep our schools as the number one in the nation -- those kind of elements I think are the things I should be talking about, and my vision for America to get jobs again back in this great country,.

VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of a poll in New Hampshire -- if the contest were held only in New Hampshire and it is tomorrow, you would be the president because you beat President Obama in the poll. No other Republican potential candidate beats President Obama in the poll. But I'm curious, is that this birther issue has gotten so much traction. Does it distract from you? Does it create issues for you as you go around the country with your message? Does it in any way distract from you?

ROMNEY: You know, I hear very little about that. What I hear as I go across the country really falls into two things, which are related. Number one, how do we create more jobs again? How do we make America the most attractive place in the world for entrepreneurs, for innovators, for job creators?

And number two, how do we scale back the size of the federal government? It's gotten too large. It's taking too much money out of our pockets. And people are talking about the squeeze that they're feeling by virtue of rising prices, rising gasoline prices, wages that are stagnating. All those things are related. Government is too big. It's too intrusive. It's making it hard for the private sector to grow and thrive. And people are feeling the pinch. And that's what people want to talk about.

VAN SUSTEREN: So that I never have to ask you again, let me ask you now. Do you believe President Obama was born in the United States or not?

ROMNEY: Sure, I believe he was born in the United States. And frankly, I think that the way forward, to have him retired after one term in office is to make sure the people in this country understand how bad his policies have been. This is a person who had no experience in the private sector, no experience with jobs and job creators, no experience really as a leader. And he took over the reins of the country at a time when we were going in a recession. He's been trying to learn on the job, but the learning has been too slow. And he has cost a lot of people a lot of jobs for a long period of time. And that's why I think you're going to find the American say, "A nice guy, well-spoken, attractive, but frankly, we need somebody who understands how to get America back to work."

VAN SUSTEREN: Another controversy in the country is illegal immigration. Some believe we should do a comprehensive program, deal with the problem in one fell swoop, whether it's the -- you know, it's the security of our borders, as well as the people who are here in the United States. Other people say, No, let's deal with our borders first and we'll deal with that problem later. What is your view on how to best address the issue of illegal immigration and the borders?

ROMNEY: Well, certainly, you have to begin by securing the borders. You have to make it very clear that we're not going to have a huge flow of people coming into the country illegally. At the same time, for that to happen, you got to crack down on those employers that hire people who come here illegally. And for that to happen, you've got to have a system for identifying who is here illegally and who's not.

Once we have a system like that in place, with an identification card for those who come legally, you can finally get tough on employers that hire illegals because those employers are, if you will, like a huge magnet drawing people to come here because they can get better jobs here than they can at home.

As long as that's the case, you're going to have an insecure border. So let's secure the border and make sure that we crack down on those that are hiring people illegally.

VAN SUSTEREN: Would it all be done, though, in one -- would you do a comprehensive program or would you do it sort of in a step-by-step, first deal with the borders and then deal with the second one? Or would you do - - or would you, like, you sit down and say, OK, let's resolve this all at once now comprehensively?

ROMNEY: Well, I must admit, I'm kind of inclined to take problems sort of a bite at a time. And you know, if somebody wants do something comprehensively, why you can sit down and have that conversation. But you look at some of the legislation that's passed over the past couple of years, and you're talking about legislation of a couple thousand pages or more. I find that very difficult to deal with, both as a person who is supposed to read something like that and express an opinion on it or vote on it, but also as somebody who's being regulated or being affected by the legislation.

Let's look at things piece by piece. That's the approach that I prefer, which would suggest let's go after securing the border and making sure that those who come here legally are able to work here and those that come here illegally are no longer able to.

VAN SUSTEREN: With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, the February '09 stimulus bill -- how's it been doing for us?

ROMNEY: Well, it's been extraordinarily weak and it's has failed in its objective. The idea of a stimulus was to try and encourage the private sector to add jobs. What the stimulus did instead was to create government jobs, 127,000 new jobs at the federal government created by that stimulus. Look, it was supposed to get the economy going. It did not. And the president said it would hold unemployment below 8 percent. That's the test. It hasn't been below 8 percent since. The president's stimulus, frankly, failed the American people. And in part because it did so, you have a lot of people suffering today unemployment that shouldn't have to be unemployed.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, we see some of this money has been -- has helped people on the upper end of the income scale. But then you go to these inner cities and you see unemployment levels that are staggering, 25 percent, 30 percent, I mean, just terrible in some of these neighborhoods. Could you help the people who are in these inner cities? Could you understand the problems? You've been very hard-working. You've been very successful. But could you inspire them, could you help them, could you bring a future for them different from what's happening now?

ROMNEY: Greta, it just breaks my heart that in a country that is the productivity leader of the world, the innovation center of the world, that we have millions of people out of work. There's absolutely no reason for that to continue. And this administration has failed and they're trying to divert attention. The President says he's about winning the future. Well, people are losing the present. You got people suffering in this country. Unemployment is not a statistic. Unemployment is people who can't find work. Unemployment is college kids that can't complete their education. Unemployment is seniors that don't know whether they can retire.

This unemployment crisis that's been going on is an extraordinary failure. It's part of what I call the Obama misery index, and it's why, in my view, this man is going to get tossed from office. He's a nice guy, but he just doesn't understand what it takes to get the economy going to make America competitive globally, to rein in the size of the federal government and to allow the American spirit of entrepreneurialism and innovation to put Americans back to work.

VAN SUSTEREN: But would you agree that when he came into office, he picked up quite a horrible situation in terms of our economy? Would you not -- would you disagree with that?

ROMNEY: Oh, you're absolutely right, Greta. He did not cause the downturn. And if you find yourself in a situation where you got a real problem on your hands, the first, second and third rules are pretty straightforward. They are to focus, focus, focus on that problem. But instead, he delegated the problem to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. They put together a stimulus of all their favorite pet projects. And then he went to work on his pet projects, which were cap-and-trade to make energy more expensive, card check to force unions in places where the workers didn't want them, "Obamacare," which is perhaps his worst decision of all, his financial regulatory reform, 2,000 pages of new law and regulation that affects our financial services industry.

Look, what he did was scare the dickens out of the private sector, make it far less likely for entrepreneurs to want to begin businesses and to hire people. He did exactly the wrong things in a tough economy. Now, he didn't create the downturn, he just made it worse and lengthened it.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let me go back to the other question. How do you inspire people who haven't had, you know, a day of good luck in their lives in some of these cities and come from horrible situations? How do you inspire them to sort of reach for the job and to do better? Because you know, there are a lot of these things we know -- a lot of these communities are being left behind.

ROMNEY: You know, this is the greatest country in the world. You know, I know there are some in the liberal world and perhaps even the president's team that believes America is not exceptional, that we're just another place on the map with a flag. I don't believe that. I believe this country has led the world in innovation, creativity, pioneered a system of economic vitality which has allowed us to have the highest standards of living in the world. And yet right now, we've got tens of millions of people who are really suffering because this administration has not managed the economy properly.

And the answer to the challenges of despondence and despair is to let people know that America and the principles that made America America are still the principles that will keep us strong. It is time once again to believe in America, believe in free enterprise, believe in capitalism, believe in freedom and opportunity. And with a leadership that understands how the economy works and is willing to actually lead, with people who've been leaders and have a demonstrated record of leadership, we can bring hope to people. The last president talked about hope and change. He didn't bring either one. What we need is to have someone who can finally convince the American people that we believe in America and America is good for everyone!

VAN SUSTEREN: Governor, thank you very much. And I hope you'll come back soon. Please say hello to your wife for me. Thank you, Governor.

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