OTR Interviews

Gingrich Admits 'Mistake' Over Ryan Medicare Comments, But Vows Not to Play Washington 'Trivial Pursuit' and 'Gotcha' Games

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," May 17, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Newt Gingrich taking fire for something he said about Congressman Paul Ryan. Now, the former Speaker of the House is getting pounded by fellow Republicans.

Here's what he David Gregory about Congressman Paul Ryan's Medicare plan on NBC's "Meet the Press."


DAVID GREGORY, MEET THE PRESS: You think Republicans ought to buck the public opposition and really move forward to completely change Medicare, turn it into a voucher program where you give seniors some premium support and -- so that they can go out and buy private insurance?

NEWT GINGRICH, R-GEORGIA, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think right wing social engineering is any more desirable than left wing social engineering. I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.


VAN SUSTEREN: And now, Republicans, well, they're fired up.

Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer told Fox's Bret Baier Mr. Gingrich, quote, "didn't have a big chance in the beginning, but now it's over."

And Rush Limbaugh had this to say.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I am not going to justify this. I am not going to explain this is -- the attack on Paul Ryan, the support for an individual mandate in health care? Folks, don't ask me to explain this. There is no explanation. What do you mean if I don't explain it who will? There is no explanation for it!

I mean, it's -- first off, it cuts Paul Ryan off at the knees. It supports the Obama administration in the lawsuits the 26 states have filed over the mandate. I know that -- I guess we are back in 1993, Newt supported an individual mandate that everybody should buy insurance. I am befuddled as anybody else is, is what I'm telling you.


VAN SUSTEREN: So, does Speaker Gingrich want a do over? Well, he called Congressman Ryan earlier today and apologized for calling his Medicare proposal radical. But is that enough to snuff out the flames?

Former Speaker of the House and Republican presidential contender, Newt Gingrich, joins us.

Good evening Mr. Speaker. And I go out of the country for a week and I come back and you have blown up the Republican Party. So, what happened?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, I think that's exaggerated on every front.

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm teasing you. I'm teasing you.

GINGRICH: I know. But I want to start down the road since you opened with three, four things. If Charles Krauthammer had been with me yesterday in four different cities in Iowa, where we had huge crowds, sometimes three times as many as they expected, I think he might reconsider.

In Rush's case, he had two different things. One of them was just plain wrong. I do not support a mandate. I am opposed to Obamacare. I'm in support of the 26 attorney generals who have filed suit.

The Center for Health Transformation that I supported, that I helped found has been actively opposed to Obamacare for 2 1/2 years -- that was a clip from 1993, when in fact, the conservative position was to have individual insurance in opposition to Hillarycare because she wanted everybody -- let's get that out of way, OK?

Now, let's go to what I'm --

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me ask you, so I understand this. So, I'm sure to understand, so are you saying in 1993, that there was some sort of hybrid of mandate or whatever supported by the Republican Party. And now, that was in response to the Clinton administration. And now, you've changed, is that it?

GINGRICH: No, no. I'm saying that 18 -- imagine this in your own case. I'm saying that you see a 22nd clip from 18 years ago when you were fighting "Hillarycare" and when virtually everybody in the conservative movement was united in trying to stop "Hillarycare."

Now, nobody at that time was talking about the 10th Amendment. Nobody at that time was talking about this kind of constitutional issues. But to jump from that and say, gosh, if Newt said this in 1993, he must be for Obama -- skipping, by the way, 2 1/2 years of active consistent opposition to Obamacare? I mean, I think the kind of amnesia that Washington gets into is, frankly, silly.

But let me put that to one side because I want to set a precedent for a new kind of presidential campaigns. And I thank [Heritage Foundation founder] Ed Feulner and Bill Bennett for helping me walk through what people were hearing, which is not what I intended to say.

I made a mistake. And I called Paul Ryan today, who's a very close personal friend and I said that. The fact is that I have supported what Ryan has tried to do on the budget. The fact is that my newsletter strongly praised the budget when he brought it out.

And the budget vote is one that I'm happy to say I would have voted for. I will defend and I will be glad to answer any Democrat who attempts to distort what I said. And I made a simple mistake --

VAN SUSTEREN: When you say you made -- when you say you made a mistake, are you saying that you chose the wrong words or that's not what you thought? Or I'm not sure I understand. Are you speaking about using the words as right wing social engineering, because that seems to be what has really sort of lit your party on fire?

GINGRICH: Look, I made two mistakes. First of all, if you back and listen to the question David Gregory asked me, I should have said I'm not going to answer it. It's a hypothetical baloney question that had no hope of happening.

The Republicans don't control the Senate. They don't have the White House. They can't do what Obama did. And I should just dismiss it. So, that was a mistake.

The second was some of the words I used. But I was trying to say something that's really important. We are at the beginning of a process of solving the entitlement problems of the United States. These are enormous challenges.

I believe deeply, that the American people have to be an integral part. I think that what Paul Ryan has done is he's started that process. He has begun the opportunity -- something which President Obama failed to do -- to have a honest conversation, to go to the American people, to share with them his current ideas, and he agreed and said publicly.

Obviously, things are going to change some. We are going to look for improvements. We're going to look for alternatives. We're going to try to make sure the country feels comfortable. That is the opposite of what David Gregory asked.

So, I, this afternoon, called Paul because I thought it was the only practical thing to do. I'm a big fan of his. I've spent 33 years of my life trying to help grow and strengthen the House Republican Party. I want to make sure every House Republican is protected from some kind of dishonest, Democratic edge.

So, let me say on the record: any ad which quotes what I said Sunday is a falsehood and because I have said publicly, those words were inaccurate and unfortunate. And I'm prepared to stand up -- when I make a mistake and I'm going to on occasion, I want to stand up and share with the American people, that was a mistake, because that way, we can have an honest conversation.

VAN SUSTEREN: What did Congressman Ryan say to your apology?

GINGRICH: Well, we had a good private conversation. And we agreed that we're going to work together, both to make sure that the Democrats can't misuse information and can't lie about where we are, and also to make sure that we work together.

Because I did help create the Center for Health Transformation, there are a lot of things we can do together that is going to enable us to have an even better program to make sure that we get a better Medicare system that people want to have, that they voluntarily want to see voted for, and that they are prepared to support politically and prepared to support in implementation.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me tell you, I mean, I just read the transcripts. I said I was gone, so, you know, I don't have the benefit of hearing it.

But here's what struck me. You referred to Ryan's bill as too big a jump. When I first thought that, I thought that, well, we know it's not going to get passed in the Senate. I mean, that's not just happening, at least not with the existing Senate. So, it seemed like, you know, as much as people want to seize upon it in the Republican Party and love it, that it might, quote, "be too big a jump" because you can't get it passed.

And reading what you said, I mean, what I thought, is that a lot of the things you were focusing on are actually things that I've wondered about, and that's the tremendous amount of waste and inefficiency in the system. So, I was somewhat sympathetic, that was what you're pointing out.

And so, I sort of walked away from it, that you were -- you probably don't want to hear this, but that you were far more moderate than people may have typically thought on a topic like this. That may be not something you want to hear.

GINGRICH: Look, as I said, I think the way that particular thing came out was not as clear and not as decisive as it should have been. I think that we can do a number of things like stop paying the crooks, which would save $70 billion to $120 billion a year. I think we can do things like give senior citizens the right to choose and the right to have a series of choices, which the liberal Democrats don't like to give seniors the right to do.

And I think we can design a program -- the only point I was making was, when you tackle something the size of Medicare, and I've done this before, I helped reform welfare, the largest entitlement reform in our lifetime, two out of three people on welfare went to work or went to school. In '96, I helped reform Medicare.

And I think it is possible to talk with the American people, to get an enormous level of support, and to make it actually a political advantage to have offered a better Medicare program with better outcomes and with greater choices for seniors. I think that can be done. I think this is the beginning of that process.

And I shouldn't have allowed -- you know, it's not David Gregory's fault, you know? I should not have accepted his offer to answer a hypothetical question. I should have shrugged it off for the very reason you just said.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right.

GINGRICH: The Republicans can't impose anything.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. In looking at -- this is not a hypothetical question. This is based on the Ryan bill. What don't you agree within the Ryan bill?

GINGRICH: I think that the -- there's a process to start with. The country has look at it. The country has to ask questions about it. I would frankly, one of the places that Paul and I talked about for six or eight weeks is, I would like to see sooner, the opportunity for current seniors to choose a plan comparable to his.

And with it have the right to private contracting and the right to spend their own money, because if -- it's a choice, not a requirement, because I don't see why you'd want to keep senior citizens trapped in a government program and tell them they have no right to choose? We don't tell them they have no right to buy a car. They have no right to buy a house. They have no right to go on vacation. Why shouldn't they have some freedom to be able to have more choices?

And I think I would want to tart that earlier, because you'd want the experience of seeing what happens, and the experience of implementing, which would then help you operationalize larger changes down the road.


GINGRICH: Look, these are things that friends can agree on.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. But you're talking about -- when you are talking the sort of Medicare part, I sort of thought that most Americans like Medicare. They may want to improve it, but people, you know, people are glad that their parents have Medicare. They're taking care ,that the real problem who are the people who are not of Medicare age and who don't have health insurance. And that was the whole -- that was the whole design of the health care, is to try to figure out what to do with them.

GINGRICH: But that's a totally different issue and that didn't come up at all. And, frankly, Medicare is so important to so many people that you do have to look at it and you have to ask: can we modernize it and improve it in a way that people will be comfortable with and that they will like. I think the answer is yes, we can. I think we can give seniors many more choices.

I also believe and I've talked to people at IBM and at American Express and at Visa, I think we could literally save $70 billion to $120 billion a year by having a dramatically more effective method of managing Medicare and Medicaid, because we are paying the crooks literally that amount.

We wrote a book two years ago called stop paying the crooks. And it's amazing how much money your government wastes that ought to go to doctors or ought to be saved, but it sure shouldn't be going to professional crooks.

VAN SUSTEREN: So, to understand, the discussion, I mean, right now, is basically that it is something we're going to run out of money for? Not that it's necessarily a program that people don't like right now, but we're going to run out of money.

OK. All right. Now -- all right -- now, we handled the Paul Ryan problem. So, I mean, you put that aside. You've done at apology. He's a good Midwestern guy, so I'm sure he's accepted it.

Then you wake up to "The Wall Street Journal" and they hit you pretty hard today. And they said, "Gingrich to House GOP: Drop Dead." And they -- it's really blistering editorial. I know, it's -- you know, one day in a long campaign, but it ends with Mr. Gingrich speaks loudly, which brings some hard choices: who is the radical and who is the real leader? So, now, how do you recover from this?

GINGRICH: By laughing at it. I mean, look, anybody who knows my career knows I've spent 16 years helping create the first majority in 40 years. I, then, as speaker, led the House Republicans to the first reelection as a majority, since 1928. During that period, we reformed welfare, had the first tax cut in 16 years, balanced the budget for four years in a row.

I'd be glad for any of those editorial writers to show us what they've accomplished. The fact is, I have accomplished large things as part of a team. The House Republican team did a great job in the '90s. We made this country healthier. We brought the unemployment rate down from 5.6 percent to below 4 percent. We did it in a bipartisan way with President Clinton. I think that's a pretty good sign that you can be for bold change.

You don't think two out of three people leaving welfare to go to work and school is a pretty big change? And so, I would suggest to you, our record of achieving real change and getting it done in a way that the people rewarded us by reelecting us because they liked it is a good standard to set. And I'd be happy sometime to chat with editorial writers and they can share with me, the things that they've accomplished before they decide that I'm too timid because I think these are pretty large changes.

And my campaign is going to offer a lot of large changes, including a 10th Amendment implementation bill which enforces the 10th Amendment of the Constitution and takes a great deal of power out of Washington and sends it back home.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. It seems that in the last day or two since (INAUDIBLE) -- you know, since you've launched your campaign, the thing that you are fighting against is sort of the allegation within your party that you are a bad Republican, and seems like you're going to have to win back that one. Is that a sort of blunt description?

GINGRICH: Look, I think, in terms of the Washington news circle, that's absolutely right. And they are all talking to each other.


GINGRICH: If you want to come out to -- I'll be in Iowa for 13 more cities this week. If you want to see two, three crowds in Iowa, let them ask the questions and watch the questions asked, they ask about jobs, they ask about the price of gasoline, they ask about what we're going to do about housing. They ask about a whole series of practical questions that affect the real lives of normal Republicans.

And, remarkably, few of them have asked about the kind of thing that seems to fascinate the Washington literati.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Well, I debated whether to ask you this question, because, you know, that sort of feeds into, I guess, a little bit of your thought and I want to, you know, hand this one to you.

GINGRICH: Go for it.

VAN SUSTEREN: But there's a report today, and I'm not sure the relevance, maybe I'll figure it out later. But everyone is sort of, you know, seizing often, that you had a bill at Tiffany's in the range from $250,000 to $500,000 and it became known because Callista, your wife, when she worked in the House in the mid-2000s, she had to report some debt.

What's with the bill between $250,000 and $500,000 to Tiffany's and has it been paid?

GINGRICH: Now, later on, I want you to watch this particular segment, Greta.


GINGRICH: Notice I talked about jobs. I talked about the price of gasoline. I talked about all sorts of real problems for real Americans.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I brought this one up and I brought this up.

GINGRICH: In presidential campaign, we could talk -- we could bring out and I think it sort of fit in perfectly. And my answer to you is: I'm not commenting on stuff like that. I'm perfectly happy to talk about what we need to do for America and what we need to do help Americans. But I frankly don't want to play the gotcha games in Washington and I'm just not going to participate.

VAN SUSTEREN: (INAUDIBLE) gotcha -- I can't figure out why this is out there in a little bit. So, I mean, it piqued my curiosity.


GINGRICH: It's out there because people bring it up.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I'm bringing it up because I think it sort of, I don't - - you know, whatever. I guess others will chase it down and figure it out. I can't figure it out, but I brought it up and whatever.

GINGRICH: Part of running for president is that everything you ever did, every person you ever knew, name it -- sooner or later somebody somewhere is going to run across it. You know, and it will show up. I just decided, if it doesn't relate to a better future for America, if it doesn't relate to helping the American people, if it doesn't relate to solving our problems, from here on out, my answer is going to be I'm not commenting on it and then people can decide if you want to play Trivial Pursuit -- that's fine. But I'm going to play trivial pursuit. I'm going to try to help this country get back on track.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Speaker, thank you, sir. And I'd love to come out to Iowa and follow you around. If indeed you'll let me -- anyway, after asking the question about Tiffany's.

GINGRICH: It's not quite -- it's not quite North Korea, but come and see what it's like in the Midwest, OK?

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm from Wisconsin, I know. It's a great place. I love it. I like every chance I get to get out there.

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, thank you, sir.