OTR Interviews

A Glimpse at a Mitt Romney Presidency

GOP presidential candidate gives a glimpse of what his presidency would be like in a wide-ranging interview


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," December 16, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight, Governor Mitt Romney goes "On the Record." And he has big news, news that has the other Republican candidates green with envy! Romney picked up the endorsement of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and she is also here tonight to go "On the Record." Governor Haley will tell you why she says Governor Romney is the Republican candidate to beat President Obama.

But first, here's Governor Mitt Romney.


VAN SUSTEREN: Governor, nice to see you, sir.

MITT ROMNEY, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thanks, Greta. Good to be with you.

VAN SUSTEREN: I see you brought some friends.

ROMNEY: I have a few friends here in South Carolina. This is ... Very exciting.

VAN SUSTEREN: I've been talking to them. They're very excited to see you, especially with the news of the governor here in South Carolina.

ROMNEY: Big news. Having Nikki Haley come out and endorse my campaign sent a shock wave through the political circles here in South Carolina. I am delighted. It's a piece of very good news this week.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, all of us in the media have had our Blackberries and iPhones buzzing because earlier today in Iowa, you said something to the effect -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- that until you got involved in government, that you didn't know what Medicaid is. Do you want to explain that?

ROMNEY: I didn't know the ins and outs of how the system worked. Actually, back in the 1980s, I was working in a health care consulting practice, so I, of course, knew how Medicaid exists and Medicare. But the particulars of how much the state puts in, how much the federal government puts in, how that works state to state, why, that takes getting -- well, frankly, when I was running for governor, I learned a great deal more about it, but even when I ran in 1994. But the programs generally, of course, I'm quite familiar with and was for quite a while.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is it a little bit difficult that we seize on every single word, and we try to read something into it that someone doesn't know something or someone's slighting someone. Does that bother you at all?

ROMNEY: You know, it's part of the process. I understand that. In some cases, it's a little silly, where people try and focus on a word and say, Oh, does this -- is this meaning something much greater than what the person intended? And then it gets cleared up and the -- I don't think the public focuses on those things as much as perhaps the 24-hour news cycle makes it appear.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Everybody here is interested in the economy, across the country. So let me start first with what you would do about China. Day one, you say that you would declare China a currency manipulator.

ROMNEY: Yes. Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Now, that would then empower you -- or the government to put tariffs on products coming from China, right?

ROMNEY: Yes. That's right. It's very clear to me that China by virtue of having manipulated their currency, as well as having stolen intellectual property, designs and patents and technology, from America, as well as hacking into corporate and government computers -- is not playing by the rules.

And we can all be worried about what they'll do as a response to our cracking down on them, but you just can't have people cheat year after year after year. And so at some point, you got to make sure that we protect our industries and protect our jobs and expect them to play on a level playing field.

VAN SUSTEREN: But there are enormous costs in almost any decision a president makes. If we put tariffs on products coming from China, products in Wal-Mart, for instance, and products across this country -- they're all going to go up in price because we have to pay the cost of the tariff when we buy the product.

Plus, we've got the problem that we owe China so much money, and they have a little bit of their foot on our throat. Plus, we need China in dealing with North Korea and nuclear weapons because we're friends with South Korea and Japan and we don't want another -- another situation with nuclear weapons in that country. So how do you balance all those issues?

ROMNEY: Well, China hasn't been really helpful on the major issues geopolitically that we'd like to see their help in. They've stalled and held off on tough sanctions on Iran, for instance, and the great challenge of this time is a nuclear Iran. They belly up to some of the most reprehensible characters in the world, whether it's North Korea, Kim Jong Il, or whether it's Venezuela with Chavez, whether it's Burma, or Myanmar. They've tended to go with their own path, and that's their right, of course, but it's not like they're working with us in a highly collaborative way.

But putting that aside, but if we say, Gosh, we're willing to lose American businesses and we're willing to lose jobs year after year after year because we're afraid of what China might do, that's an admission of extraordinary weakness, and we're not a weak nation.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about the prices going up?

ROMNEY: We have to do...

VAN SUSTEREN: What about the prices going up on the products? Because we already are a very China product-consuming nation. I mean, we're up to our eyeballs in buying products from China already. So what do we say about that when all the prices go up and people are now squawking that they're paying more?

ROMNEY: You know, if Chinese TVs cost more money as a result of saying to them, You got to play by the rules, then that's just the way it's going to have to be because I -- I'm not willing to lose American jobs so that we can buy tchotchkes or TVs from China. I want to make sure that we have China playing on a level playing field.

Right now, they're discounting their products on a very dramatic basis, and in doing so, closing down American businesses, killing American jobs. And we can say, Oh, it's great, we're getting these -- these products cheap. It's little like saying, We're paying the cannibal to eat us last. It doesn't make sense. That's paraphrasing Winston Churchill, by the way -- his line, not mine.

But we just can't keep on going or recognizing that China is not playing by those rules. We can win on a level playing field, but we can't have them hollow our manufacturing and our economy.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about North Korea? Do -- what's your -- how would you handle North Korea? And I guess that sort of folds in the issue of China, as well. I mean, what would you do differently than the current administration or even the prior Bush administration?

ROMNEY: Well, we've had very little progress over the years in dealing with North Korea. From time to time, they decide to negotiate with us. And in the negotiations, we promise to give them certain things they want, they promise to forebear from nuclear ambition. And then of course, we give them what they want, and they go ahead and pursue their nuclear ambition.

I don't see that there's been a change in pattern. They'll want to negotiate with us again to get more free stuff from America. I think we have to recognize they have no interest whatsoever in giving up their nuclear weaponry. They're selling their technology around the world and -- their nuclear and missile technology. The facility in Syria that was bombed out by the Israelis was almost certainly a North Korean-designed and supported facility.

We have to do everything we can to isolate them, to make them feel the pain of being one of the world's worst actors.

VAN SUSTEREN: But what would you exactly do? Because we have tried to isolate them in the past. I mean, there have been times we've given them food, not given them food, given them fuel, not given them fuel. I mean, what exactly would you do? Because as far as we can see, they're going full speed ahead, and they're also the Wal-Mart of nuclear technology around the world. It's happening right no.

So is there anything your administration would do different or would you sort of continue what's being done now?

ROMNEY: Well, the best thing we can do with regards to North Korea is to have tough economic sanctions on them by virtue of their policies, make sure that their technology is not exported to places around the world that can use that technology against us or against our friends in the world.

And then, finally, get China to act as a responsible neighbor. China represents about two thirds of their foreign trade -- pressure on China, encouraging China to act as a responsible member of the world community, recognizing that North Korea's not playing by the rules. That's something which would also help.

VAN SUSTEREN: So how do we get back to handling China, to get China to do that? Because China hasn't done it. I mean -- I mean, there we're back to square one. I mean, how do we get these countries to actually do these things, to be responsible?

ROMNEY: You know, we really can't tell everybody in the world what to do. We can tell them what we believe is in their best interest and what's in our best interest and we can encourage them by virtue of our interests and finding places of mutual interest to act in a way that's responsible.

China right now has everything they want. They have full access to the U.S. markets, and yet they have no consequence of violating the trade rules that should exist between us, of standing next to Iran and allowing them to pursue their nuclear weaponry without tough sanctions. They're getting the best of both worlds.

And at some point, you have to have someone that's willing to stand up to China and other people in the world that are not acting in the interests, I think, of a global community.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Housing market here in the United States -- people can't sell their houses. People who are unemployed may find a job in another community, but they can't sell their house in order to that other community.


VAN SUSTEREN: A President Romney would do what for the housing community? And how fast would anyone see any relief from it?

ROMNEY: You know, in my first four years, if I'm lucky enough to become president, I will go to work to get the economy working again. And there are a whole series of things that have to be done to make our economy the powerhouse that we need to be for this 21st century and the powerhouse we need to put people back to work.

And I've laid out those steps. They relate to taxes, regulation, energy policy. They relate to trade policies, the rule of law, our education system and workforce training, immigration, and finally, balancing our federal budget. You do those things, this economy starts to grow again.

We add about 11.5 million jobs over my four-year term, first term. if I'm lucky. And that allows people see folks having higher incomes, more people employed, more homes are being purchased and trading hands. That helps lift up the housing market.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, that...

ROMNEY: But I'm not going to go out and say, Let's bail everybody out and have the government buy homes, or something of that nature. This bailout approach that this president's taken has been an abject failure. He tried to say, We'll pay you cash for your old cars, cash for clunkers. That was a total waste of money. It was not effective. And trying to stop the market from foreclosing and allowing the market to reboot and start over again and see housing prices rise has also been unsuccessful.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Every single thing that you laid out is dependent on getting Congress to work with you. Unless you have you 60 Republican senators and Republicans keep the House, you're in a situation where you have a divided Congress, and all those things you want to do, you're going to run right into a wall.

What makes you different as a president you can work with a divided Congress than every other president who's come along who said he could?

ROMNEY: Well, you know, I had the misfortune and also the good fortune of being elected in a state where my legislature was 85 percent Democrat. And so I knew from the beginning that I had to have the speaker of the house and the senate president understand me, know me, respect me, and I them. We came together every week for an hour or longer, talked about the issues of the state behind closed doors. I rotated in different offices to meet with them, show respect to them.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is President Obama not doing that? I'm sorry to interrupt you.

ROMNEY: Absolutely. He is absolutely not doing that. He has not made the effort to open himself to the input of the Republicans. I remember at the very beginning, when the stimulus was being fashioned, he said he wanted Republican input. On the first day of the Republican hearings on their plan, Nancy Pelosi introduced the Democrat plan.

He didn't even want to listen to what Republicans had to say. He had good rhetoric, but the actions showed he, by virtue of having all the House and Senate votes he needed of his own party, didn't listen to Republicans, created a one-party atmosphere in Washington, D.C. And now that there are two parties, he doesn't know what to do.

VAN SUSTEREN: Would you listen to Democrats?

ROMNEY: Of course you listen to Democrats. You have to...

VAN SUSTEREN: How would you be different -- how would you be different listening to Democrats than President Obama is listening to Republicans? I mean, how deep would you be willing to listen to Democrats?

ROMNEY: Well, he doesn't listen. I mean, he doesn't listen. And he doesn't lead. He doesn't sit down and say, OK, what do you need? And what does this group need? And then look for ways to say, Is there some common ground here? Can we find something that works for both of you? And then use his leadership to encourage, particularly, his own party, to make necessary adjustments, to come to a meeting point, without violating their principles, and the same thing with Republicans, use his influence to try and pull them towards issues that don't violate their principles.

And that's the nature of leadership. Ronald Reagan did that with Tip O'Neill. Dwight Eisenhower did that. You look over the experience of great presidents, they found ways to work with people in both parties because they had to.

VAN SUSTEREN: You have said, and so have all the other Republican candidates, you want to repeal health care, the national health care that President Obama has enacted with the help of Congress, of course. Explain how you're going to do this. Because unless you get a Republican Senate, you're not going to get -- you're not -- you need 60 senators in the Senate to do it.

So you're going to come to Washington, if you're elected president, and you're going to run right into that wall. You're not going to convince those Democrats to back down on it. So how do you intend to repeal health care?

ROMNEY: Well, there are a couple of ways. First, I can take some actions initially. The original legislation left an opening which allows the president to provide waivers from "Obamacare." I will direct the secretary of Health and Human Services to provide waivers to every state in America from "Obamacare."

VAN SUSTEREN: So you do it through the back door.

ROMNEY: That's a bit of a back door. Then I take the front door, which is look for actual repeal and replacement. And I do intend to replace "Obamacare" and to -- to allow states to be the home where we're able to care for those that don't have insurance or that are poor.

And in that setting, I will take Medicaid dollars and return them to the states. These solutions -- I believe I will be able to find good Democrats, like good Republicans, that will say, OK, I can along with this. This meets my principles, and will work for the American people.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, negative ads work. You -- your Super-PAC has done them. I don't know if you directly have done it. But do you feel comfortable with the negative ads? And I realize everybody does it. All the candidates do it. But do you feel comfortable doing that?

ROMNEY: You know, our campaign hasn't put up negative ads at this stage...

VAN SUSTEREN: But your Super-PAC has. Your Super-PAC has.

ROMNEY: And as you know, by virtue of the law, I can have no involvement whatsoever with our Super-PAC.

VAN SUSTEREN: You can tell them not to. I think...

ROMNEY: No, actually...


ROMNEY: Actually, I can't. That's the funny thing.

VAN SUSTEREN: You could disavow them.

ROMNEY: Oh, you know what? The idea that somehow negative ads are this new phenomenon...

VAN SUSTEREN: They aren't. I know they aren't. They are not new.

ROMNEY: Then let's not make a big media deal out of it. I'm a big boy. There are attacks against me. There'll be attacks against all the candidates. When the Democrats come in with billion dollars, they'll be attacking all of us. If I can't handle a few attacks coming my way and the other guys can't, well, then, we're not going to get ready for Barack Obama. I've got broad shoulders. I'm able to handle it and...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, what about the others? I mean, I'm just saying is that, like -- I mean, the citizens complain about that, and of course, citizens pay attention to them. I mean, that's the terrible thing about negative ads. Everyone says, Oh, I don't like negative ads, but everybody has -- but they have an impact on everybody and everybody watches them. But they never seem to stop. Should they stop?

ROMNEY: Well, of course not. That would be -- go back to the very founding of the country and look at the campaigns back in the days of Washington and Adams and Jefferson. People are talking about contrasts between one another and describing those differences. That's the nature of the political process and people sort through those things.

Trying to -- to suggest that we're going to move into a nirvana-style political world just doesn't make a lot of sense. On the other hand, there are people who in their ads don't tell the truth, or misrepresent, and there are some ads that have gotten, you know, Pinocchios awarded by...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, your -- yours got one, though. There was an ad where you were supposedly quoting President Obama and President Obama was really quoting John McCain.

ROMNEY: We put that out, as you know. On the day the ad came out, we released a press release pointing that out.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, why would you -- why would you even put that ad out to begin with?

ROMNEY: Because we wanted to make it very clear that what he said about John McCain was now true about him. That was the purpose, and we pointed that out in our press releases, like, Look at this ad, what's saying was once said about John McCain now is being said about him.

VAN SUSTEREN: You don't think that was misleading. You're satisfied with that.

ROMNEY: We put that out very clearly in the ad -- or the press releases. We talked about it. Everybody heard that story umpteen times.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Your strategy this year compared to four years ago -- any thoughts on it? Has it changed at all?

ROMNEY: Well, if I haven't learned anything in a second campaign, I'd be embarrassed. There are probably some differences. You're probably better at guessing what they are than I am because for me, it's real time.

You know, I guess one of the important things for me is to make sure that people understand that I am in this campaign because I'm very concerned about America. I think we're on a track to becoming Greece. I think we're on a track to becoming almost a European-style nation, an entitlement society where government takes from some to give to others and where we crush the American Dream.

I want to keep America an opportunity society, a merit-based system. That's the choice we have in this country. I've spent my life in the real economy in America. I know what it takes to get the economy going. I know how we create jobs in America. It's an extraordinary distinction between me and President Obama, and actually, between me and the other guys on the stage. They spent their life in politics. Nothing wrong with that. I spent my career in the private sector. I think that gives me a real advantage.