OTR Interviews

Pawlenty: Romney 'Absolutely Committed' to Repealing 'Obamacare'

Former 2012 hopeful breaks down the Tea Party debate, explains his support of former rival


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 13, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Minnesota's former governor, Tim Pawlenty, wanted to be president. He announced. He campaigned. He debated, said some harsh things about his Republican competitors, and then the Iowa straw poll. He hated those results, so he jumped out of the race for the White House. But he's back with a surprise. Governor Tim Pawlenty joins us. Good evening, sir.


VAN SUSTEREN: So the big surprise is you are now a co-chair?

PAWLENTY: Of Governor Romney's campaign for president. And you know, look, the next president of the United States is going to have to lead at a historic level on jobs and the economy. Mitt Romney has unmatched skills and experience when it comes to private sector job growth and leadership and turning around the economy. And boy, does our economy need that. And I think he's the right candidate for the job of President of the United States.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do I believe you, that you really think that? Because I'll tell you, I mean, let me just pull out one of your statements. You said -- this was during the campaign. This was about Governor Romney and his health care in Massachusetts. You said things like, "I don't think we can have a nominee that was involved in the development and construction of `Obamacare' and then continues to defend it." That was in -- that was in July.

You said -- you called him a "co-conspirator" to President Obama. I mean, you've said -- I mean, you've linked him so much with this health care that how -- I mean, how can you now say that he's your candidate, when you said this was so important and he's so intricately involved with this health care?

PAWLENTY: Well, a couple of things. One is I talked to Mitt and he shared with me directly, as he has repeatedly with the nation, that he's absolutely committed to repealing "Obamacare." And on day one when he's in office, he'll issue an executive order to allow states to opt out and to waive "Obamacare" for those states to the fullest extent possible. That's number one.


VAN SUSTEREN: He was saying that since and he said that stuff and -- you know, before -- before you got out of the race, and you didn't buy it then.

PAWLENTY: Well, I believe fully with my heart, and Mitt Romney is good to his word in terms of saying that he will repeal "Obamacare." And for most Republican primary voters, that's a very important commitment and he's made it. And take him at his word and I know he's committed to it. I've talked to him about it directly.

VAN SUSTEREN: But he still defends the -- he still -- I mean, the Republicans are saying he still defends health care in Massachusetts.

PAWLENTY: Well, we agree on this, Greta. Mitt and I agree on this. Each state can try their own thing. And Massachusetts tried its own way. But he agrees and I agree it is the wrong program, the wrong direction for the country. And he's committed to repealing it.

And Mitt Romney, though, beyond that, you look at that debate last night. Look at his skills! I mean, steady, smart, engaged, informed, presidential. But importantly, his background is about turning around bad economies, bad economic situations. And that is precisely the talents that we need for the next president.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, if you listen to Governor Romney, you hear -- I mean, not Governor Romney, Governor Perry -- he says that he can do a better job, that he created more jobs than Governor Romney. I mean -- I mean, it's, like -- you know, we're hearing it from Governor Perry something different.

PAWLENTY: There's no candidate in this race who can match Mitt Romney's private sector experience -- starting businesses, growing businesses, providing jobs, forming capital, investing...

VAN SUSTEREN: But he took some businesses apart didn't he?

PAWLENTY: If you look at his record...

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, what -- I mean, if you look in the '80s, wasn't -- I mean, and correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't he, as part of Bain Capital, that they'd go out and they'd get businesses and they'd disassemble them, and actually, as a result of -- you know, destroy jobs not create jobs?

PAWLENTY: If you look the total scope of his business -- private sector business record, it is about incredible economic investment and job growth overall. Were there some companies that didn't do as well? Of course. But you look at his total record, it'll be unmatched in this race, not as a politician, not as a -- somebody in government. He did that, too, but he did it in the private sector.

And we need a president -- as we painfully have learned with Barack Obama, you put somebody in that Oval Office who's not served in a leadership position, executive position, ideally now in the private sector, and you've got yourself a problem. And that's part of the reason we've got a problem now.

Barack Obama is disassociated, disconnected, disrespects the private sector, doesn't understand entrepreneurs, doesn't understand the formation of capital, doesn't understand and respect private sector job growth. Mitt Romney does. He's lived it and he's walked it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did he call you or did you call him?

PAWLENTY: Oh, I think we swapped phone calls over the course of...

VAN SUSTEREN: Who made the first phone call?

PAWLENTY: Well, when I dropped out of the Ames straw poll, he called me. I was driving home to Minnesota. He called, as others did, too, but he called and then we talked several other times since then.

VAN SUSTEREN: And so what -- what was it that he said, I mean, that - - I mean, how did it go? Like, you know, Gee, I'd like to have you come join me as co-chair, and you say, Well, you know, we've said some mean, rotten things about each other -- I mean, how does it work?

PAWLENTY: Well, look, all these candidates, including me, by the way, they all have strengths. They all have some weaknesses. So you got to factor in the whole thing. I have no question he's the strongest candidate to be the Republican Party's nominee, unite the party and also go on to win this election.

But I've known Mitt for years. He and I served as governors for a long time. Our time overlapped. We faced many of the same issues. I have a high regard for him. He's the most capable, he's the most knowledgeable and he's the most electable candidate.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is it hard after you've said bad things about each other to become sort of colleagues at this point, or is that...


VAN SUSTEREN: ... party unity. (INAUDIBLE) Secretary of State Clinton and Barack Obama are a good example.

PAWLENTY: You compete. Just like in sports. You know, you're a football fan. I played hockey. You go compete hard. You compete against each other. But at the end, if you're a good sportsman or woman, you shake hands, you look each other in the eye and say, you know, hard fought, well played. You know, tip the cap to the winner. And...

VAN SUSTEREN: I guess -- I guess (INAUDIBLE) I think I hold grudges! I think you're probably a better person than I!

PAWLENTY: No, you don't.

VAN SUSTEREN: Anyway, well, Governor, nice to see you. Good luck. It's going to be a long race and it's going to be exciting to watch. Nice to see you, sir.

PAWLENTY: Thanks for having me on.