OTR Interviews

Rove: Obama's making it easier for people to stay on welfare

Karl Rove takes on Obama and Romney's jabs on welfare reform, 'dirty' campaign ads and tactics by president's advisers and more


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," August 8, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Is President Obama taking the work out of welfare? Governor Mitt Romney says so, hammering President Obama on welfare reform, and today on the campaign trail, Governor Romney highlighting that in 1996, then Illinois state senator Obama said he was opposed to the Welfare reform law. Its centerpiece is welfare to work.


MITT ROMNEY, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Then Senator Obama was opposed to putting work together with welfare! Now he's president, and just a few days ago, he put that original intent in place with a very careful executive action. He removed the requirement of work from welfare! It is wrong to make any change that would make America more of a nation of government dependency! We must restore and I will restore work into welfare!



VAN SUSTEREN: Karl Rove joins us. Karl, nice to see you.


VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, in connection with this dispute over this welfare-to-work battle between the two candidates, both candidates are getting hammered for being less than candid, or essentially, being a little bit loose with the facts and smearing each other. Your thought?

ROVE: Well, look, here's the deal. The welfare law has a provision called Section 407, which sets out limitations on how long you can be on welfare and the requirements, spells out the requirement that you've got to work in order to receive welfare.

The writers of the law in 1995 and 1996 were worried about having this being watered down in the future, so they put in Section 407, that it could not be waived by the executive branch of government in any way, shape or form.

Now, the administration -- the Obama administration has used authority under another section, Section 402, which mentions 407, in order to claim that the authority under 402 gives them the right to ignore that part of the statute. And they say that they are going to, in essence, issue approvals of policies -- and I'm quoting from their -- from their own paper, that involve, quote, "definition of work activities and engagement, specified limitations, verification procedures and the calculation of participation rates."

That's exactly what 407 is all about. So they're using authority in one part of the law in order to basically say, We're going to find a way to do what we can't do under the statute, and that is waive these tough rules that require people to work in order to get welfare and limit how long they can be on welfare.

And in a further indication of what the administration is going to do, they said that they were not -- they're not likely to approve any policy waivers that are, quote, "likely to reduce access to aid." In other words, nothing that'll save money, they'll only approve a policy that either keeps aid at the current level or increases it.

So yes, clearly, I think the administration is wrong here. I think Romney was right to ding them on them. And again, I -- where has the administration got the statutory authority to do something that Congress explicitly voted in a bipartisan fashion to say could not be waived by executive action?

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, it seems to me that -- just if I could shorten this -- there really is sort of two issues. One is the allegation that it's an improper power grab from the executive branch of the government, issuing executive orders, not going back to Congress to see what Congress has to say about it. That's the first issue. Is that a fair -- is that a fair description?

ROVE: I think that's a fair description, yes, Where do they get the authority to do this?

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. And there's been -- and there's been other objections by Republicans that President Obama just uses his pen and writes executive orders and does things that he's not -- that he -- that he doesn't have the authority to do, other objections. All right.

The other is sort of the substantive issue about these waivers. And here -- I must say that I'm perplexed. The memorandum that started this from HHS says, in part, that "HHS will only consider approving waivers relating to the work participation requirements that make changes intended to lead to more effective means of meeting the work goals of the legislation."

Now, I've read that probably 10 times. That is, like -- I still can't figure out for the life of me what in the world that means. What are they substantively trying to do with this memorandum?

ROVE: Well, this is a cute way to weaken welfare because what you can do is you can make things look better by, in essence, changing the definition of what constitutes work. You can expand the definition of what you're willing to count as, quote, "work" to include a lot of things that we ordinarily wouldn't consider -- I mean, you know, staying at home and recuperating -- that -- they could consider that to be work.

There's also a technical issue called "exits (ph)" and you can by playing around with what the definition of, quote, an "exit" from welfare constitutes, you can take credit for things that would have otherwise happened through economic growth.

So what they're trying to do is to make it easier for people to stay on welfare longer by jimmying around with the definitions, which are very tough in 407, on describing exactly what constitutes work and an exit.

Remember again, in the original memorandum, they talked about that they would have authority over the calculation of participation rates. That's one of the key elements in 407 that's designed to keep people from jimmying around the system and keeping people in the system longer than they should be and making it look good, like they're getting people off welfare when they really aren't.

VAN SUSTEREN: So if I could shorten this one, too -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- I always have to try to get it down so that, you know, just simple terms -- I can understand it -- is that what they are doing substantively -- forget the power grab -- that's the other allegation -- is substantively, they are almost changing the intent of Congress by diluting sort of -- by diluting the definition of certain words, so that we're getting away from what the Congress agreed to in terms of the welfare-to- work principle. They're diluting it, so they're changing the intent to some degree.

ROVE: Well, let me make it even crisper. They are making it more difficult to reduce welfare. They're making it easier to increase and lengthen and keep people on welfare. That's exactly right.

When you issue a thing saying, We're not going to -- we're not going to approve policies that are, quote, "likely to reduce access to aid," what you're saying is, We want to -- we want to keep welfare as big or bigger than it is.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, leave it to government anyway to try and make things very difficult to understand.

All right, let me go to something that I posted on Gretawire today. And going back to 1980 and according to some research I did, the -- more women have voted in presidential elections than men. Women's vote has always been very important in these presidential elections, more -- moreso in recent presidential elections.

In going through the swing states of -- the typical ones, like Colorado, Governor -- or President Obama's up by 8. Virginia -- these are likely voters -- President Obama's up by 14. Wisconsin, President Obama is up by 23. North Carolina, President Obama's up by 19. Florida, he's up by 7. President Obama's up 21 in Ohio, 24 in Pennsylvania, 16 in Nevada, 16 in Michigan, and in New Mexico, he's up 11, Iowa he's up 17 and in New Hampshire he's up 19, all pretty recent polls.

And I realize polls are fluid, but -- but not one of those states is the margin small and not one of those states is Governor Romney even close or even within the margin of error. That's a serious problem, I think, for the candidate.

ROVE: Well, a couple of things. First of all, there has been in modern times a gender gap, with men overwhelmingly favoring Republicans, Democrats receiving the advantage among women. That's historically been accurate. For example, in 2004, President Bush narrowed the gap among women. He got 48 percent of the women's vote, John Kerry got 41. But that was an increase from 53 percent for President Bush in 2000, in the 2000 election.

The second thing I'd say is, look, you went through a bunch of polls. I've checked some of those polls out. We're talking about a lot of Quinnipiac polls and a lot of PPP polls. PPP is a Democrat polling firm in northern -- in North Carolina that uses an auto-dialer. The Quinnipiac polls are run in combination with CBS, New York Times, whose methodology makes them more Democrat.

I'd rather step back and rather than looking at individual states, look at the entire nation as a whole because, you know, individual states will -- will -- will be one way or the other, but you get a sense of it...

VAN SUSTEREN: Even if -- even if...

ROVE: ... nationwide.

VAN SUSTEREN: Even if those polls are mistaken by 5 points -- I mean, even -- even if those are Democratic polls and let's say they're mistaken by 5, these margins are still huge margins.

ROVE: Well, remember, if you went and looked at the men's vote, you'd see the mirror opposite for Romney. Now, here's the point. In 2008, in the exit polling, Barack Obama won the women's vote by a 13-point margin, 56 to 43. In the latest Gallup tracking, issued at 1:00 o'clock this afternoon, President Obama is leading among women by 8, 50 to 42. So he is wining women this time around, but by 50 percent less than he got last time around. And he's running even worse among men than he is last time around, hence the race is -- in today's Gallup tracking 47-46.

Now, look, there -- if you go inside these numbers, yes, the Democrat will win the women's vote. The question is, by how much? The Republican will win the men's vote. The question is, by how much?

And inside women, if you're looking at the women's vote, younger single women tend to vote overwhelmingly Democrat. Women who are married tend to vote Republican and older married women with children tend to vote very Republican. And the question is, what's the level of enthusiasm? What's the composition of that block on election day? And how much enthusiasm is there overall among women?

President Obama succeeded in 2008 in part by driving up the percentage of women from its historic 51 or 52 to 53 percent of the vote in 2008. I doubt that he's going to be able to do that this time around. And certainly, if he's running 50 percent, you know, getting a third fewer votes, running 50 percent behind where he ran in 2008, you know, he's got a problem among women, and particularly when you look at how he's running among men.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, if you look at how he's running at least today, it certainly looks like he is focusing on the women. He had a campaign event today where he's got women's -- signs behind him that talk about women. He's introduced by a young woman who recently graduated from Georgetown and has become somewhat of a -- a representative of young women and -- and fighting certain things having to do with health care law, who's very symbolic. So he is running heavily, at least today, on this women -- on this women issue.

ROVE: And why? It's because he's looking at the same numbers I shared with you. He knows that he won them by 13 points in 2008, and that in Gallup and other public polls, that nationwide, he is running about 8 points. So he's running well below his trend mark in 2008, and he's worried about that. And he thinks he's got the issues, women's reproductive rights, for example, that can get -- that can get women to vote for him.

I wonder, however, if those concerns are trumped by we got a lousy economy in which women have born a disproportionate number of the job losses since January of 2009. We've got household income down. We've got home values plummeting. We got an anemic recovery. I wonder if all those don't trump the issue of reproductive rights.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you saying that the reason that he's down to 8 points from where he was, the 13 points in 2008, that is reflective of the economy and women's concern about the economy? Is that your hypothesis, that that's why...


VAN SUSTEREN: ... larger margin?

ROVE: I think so because if you take a look at people's views on the economy -- do they think his policies are working or not -- there's not much of a gap. There is a gap, but there's not much of a gap between men and women. They both disapprove of his handling of the economy. They both think that the economy is not doing well. They're are very concerned about the deficit.

They've got different concerns about "Obama care," but they're both concerned -- both men and women are concerned. Men believe that we can't afford it. Women believe that it will adversely affect their family's health.

But all of these work to the president's disadvantage. And when you get to the meta-question, for example -- Do you think the president's policies have helped or hurt -- there is little difference between men and women. They both -- roughly two thirds of them think that the president's policies have, at best, not hurt, and more likely have actually -- excuse me, not helped, but most -- at their best have not -- have not helped, and at worst have actually hurt the economy. And there's not much difference there.

So the question is whether these issues of reproductive rights and access to contraception are going to trump the issue of jobs, prosperity, deficits, debt, spending and "ObamaCare."

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, I'm -- I'm -- tomorrow, your op-ed comes out in The Wall Street Journal, in which you say, in part, that both sides have pushed up their opponent's negatives. Where does that leave both of them.

ROVE: Well, if you take a look at Pollster.com from mid-May, when Barack Obama began his TV blitz to today, his negatives have gone from 45 to 46. Romney's have gone from 46 to 48.

But if you look inside the negatives, they're much different. President Obama's negatives are on the handling of the economy primarily, to a lesser extent on that he's is turning in to be a conventional politician, not the, you know, figure of hope and aspiration that people had in 2008.

Governor Romney's are questions of, Does he -- does he -- is a rich guy who's got concern for the middle class? Does he have a plan? Is he strong enough and presidential enough to get it done?

If I were -- if I were a candidate, I'd rather have Mitt Romney's problems, which are solvable by a strong plan, strong campaign, great convention speech, rather than President Obama's, which are not going to solved by a deeply improved -- you know, a radically improving economy.

Just we are not going to get the kind of jobs and economic growth that are going to rescue him. We're going to be in October and November essentially where we are today, with 13 million people unemployed, unemployment above 8.2 percent, home values low, family income down, people worried about the future.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, please play this silly game with me in Washington because we cant' stop ourselves right now, and that's about the vice president. I know that you've given me a reading assignment --

ROVE: Greta!

VAN SUSTEREN: ... before...

ROVE: Greta!

VAN SUSTEREN: ... I've read it before...

ROVE: Get ahold of yourself! Get ahold of yourself!

VAN SUSTEREN: I know. I read the article, which -- I read the historic article that you gave me which showed that the choice is relatively not important -- is not important. But I'm just curious. If you were to give it any sort of credence that the choice is really important, tell me strategically who would -- in light of where we are, in terms of the nation, what would be for this candidate the best choice right now for vice president?

ROVE: Well, let's take it. We got two ways to approach that. Let's look at the political perspective first. Pick a battleground state, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, and pick somebody from a battleground state because if a vice presidential nominee has impact, it's in their home state. The last time a vice president was dispositive in a presidential election was 1960, when if Lyndon Johnson were not on the ticket, the Democrats would have narrowly lost Texas rather than narrowly won it, in all likelihood, and JFK would not have been president.

The second way to look at it, though -- and this is what makes it complicated, is as a governing choice. The candidate chooses somebody whom they think will make -- will be a more effective vice president and help them govern effectively, and you know, like Dick Cheney choice in 2000. I mean, he didn't -- you know, look, with all due respect, no vice presidential candidate really has a big impact out of their home state. He did in his home state, Wyoming, but it was already locked up in the Republican column.

So it says something about the mindset of the candidate that they're looking forward to, What do I need to do once I get into the office? And that's what make this all complicated. We -- we -- there are two big questions. Is Mitt Romney looking at this as a political choice or a governing choice? And then if he chooses one of those, is he looking at it bold or is he looking at it...

VAN SUSTEREN: All right...


VAN SUSTEREN: All right. So if you were recommending to him that he take one for political choice and one for governing, give me who you think...

ROVE: I refuse...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... and maybe not necessarily -- OK...

ROVE: I refuse to answer the question.

VAN SUSTEREN: Refuse? Come on!


ROVE: This is premature vice presidential...

VAN SUSTEREN: This is the fun part of Washington!

ROVE: You need to get help. You need to get help for this!


ROVE: Look, after I lost the office pool on Palin and Biden, and after I lost the office pool on Cheney and Lieberman, of course, everybody knew who the...



ROVE: Everybody knew. Everybody...

VAN SUSTEREN: I just want to know -- I just want to know if there are any pools, not to pick the one that you're suggesting. That's what I'm -- Who's Karl Rove picking? So I make sure if there's ever a pool, I don't pick that one.

ROVE: If you're going bold, I say, go Greta. If you go governing, I say go Hannity. So there you go.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, Pat Buchanan once told me when I was at CNN that if he ever were elected president that he would make me an ambassador in some far-away nation nobody -- no one heard of, so I couldn't hurt the country. So...

ROVE: Greta, I'd send you to a country that needs to have a strong representative of America and would benefit by seeing Wisconsin values in action.

VAN SUSTEREN: There you go. Go Pack. Anyway, thank you, Karl. Always nice to see you.

ROVE: You bet. Nice to see you.