Interviews

Mitt Romney on problems at the VA, foreign policy issues

Former GOP presidential candidate speaks out

 

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," June 12, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: All right. Well, here is how bad this VA mess is getting. Now the FBI is getting involved. Holy cow.

Welcome, everybody. I'm Neil Cavuto.

The agency launching a criminal investigation of the VA, as the scandal over these wait times and worse gets worse.

To former presidential candidate Mitt Romney on what we need to know right now and what he wants to see right now, former presidential candidate holding one of his big summit events in Utah.

And he gets a who's-who crowd at that one, including, Governor -- I'm looking at this -- Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Rand Paul, Rob Portman.

I mean, did you guys have food tasters there or what?

(LAUGHTER)

MITT ROMNEY, R-FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it's a good group of people that are coming to talk about where the country is and where America's going to be throughout this century.

The people of the country, I think, deserve to understand how we're going to lead the world. And we're going to hear different viewpoints, including some Democrats. Former Governor Brian Schweitzer, a liberal Democrat, is coming to offer his views as well.

CAVUTO: And, by the way, he's among those mentioned as a possible candidate for president himself, regardless of how Hillary Clinton is doing in the polls.

On -- back to this VA mess, Governor, now the FBI involved -- how bad do you think this is going to get?

ROMNEY: Well, I think it's pretty bad, because you recognize that someone had to have directed people to falsify medical records.

So it's not just the people who actually did the fudging. There's been some direction to do that, because it's such a widespread problem. And I think the people who have served our country deserve better than this. As a matter of fact, as you may recall, during the campaign, I suggested we ought to give veterans vouchers.

If they want to go to a regular public hospital, regular private hospital, they ought to have that opportunity. Some people just aren't able to get the care they need from our VA system, and that's got to change.

CAVUTO: Did any of the participants, particularly the Democratic ones at your forum today, Governor, say we should go a little slow on that sort of talk because it does get in the way of public union workers and this notion that it's -- you can't willy-nilly fire them?

ROMNEY: Well, you can't go slow. You can't slow-roll an issue like this.

We're talking about America's veterans. They deserve the very best. And if people have directed individuals to falsify medical records, that's problem. It has to be investigated. And people have to pay some consequence. Look, we have watched this administration deal with everything from the IRS scandal to reporting irregularities in terms of providing information to the press, as well as this VA scandal.

This is going on and on. It's time to finally get to the bottom of who's responsible for the kinds of failings -- failings we have seen and expect people to take accountability.

CAVUTO: Two things, Governor. Your name had popped up among a number of people, but Democrats and Republicans, to take over the VA, given your administrative experience, your Bain Capital experience, your overseeing the Olympics here in the U.S., that you would be the perfect guy for it, and that your name came up.

Did it? And did anyone offer you the job?

ROMNEY: I haven't been offered that job, but I think I made it pretty clear, that's not the job I was after, that's not the job that I'm going to keep on fighting to do, which is to get America strong again and provide a better future for our families and for our kids.

But there are some good folks that have run large hospital organizations, large organizations of various kinds. We ought to tap one of them who has got a good solid record, preferably someone who has spent their life in the private sector.

CAVUTO: Well, they're all turning it down. They're all turning it down. Yes, but they're all turning it down.

And a lot of them have turned -- turned it down or expressed disinterest because they don't think that they would have the power to fire or the power to reprimand or to make the kind of changes they think they would have to make. And a lot of these changes and ideas that have come up in House and Senate versions to fix the VA do little to allay their concerns.

What do you think of that?

ROMNEY: Well, I certainly understand someone who is considering becoming a chief executive officer looking at the kind of authority and power they would have. And if they don't have the authority necessary to clean up the mess, of course they're going to turn down the job.

And, ultimately, if the people with the skills required aren't willing to take the job, you got to fix the job. You got to give them the authority to make things right. And I recognize in a lot of cases, things run by government don't run very well.

And that's one reason why you do your very best to find ways to put these kinds of services in private hands, to the extent possible. And in the case of our veterans, I think they ought to have a choice moving outside of the VA system if they want to get better care.

CAVUTO: You know, if I could switch gears, as you know, Iraq is back to being a mess. Insurgent groups are moving in on Baghdad, we're told, after taking two key cities, Mosul and Tikrit.

A lot of them are coming from Syria. Should we have really followed up on cracking down on Syria when we had the chance, or is this bigger than just Syria? Is this just an insurgent wave that we could not have controlled even if we wanted to?

ROMNEY: No, no.

America is the leader of the free world. America has the potential to shape events, to help guide history in the way that's most fortuitous for the people of the world and for America. And, unfortunately, the president has not taken the action necessary, has not had the foreign policy necessary to protect our interests overseas or in various parts of the world.

And, obviously, his red line in Syria, then walking away from it, saying that Assad must go, then three years later doing nothing really to make that happen, in Iraq failing to get a status of forces agreement so that we could have a group of 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers there, all these decisions made in the past puts us in a very difficult position now, frankly, with very poor options.

This is the consequence of a president that did not take the right actions at the time opportunity presented itself.

CAVUTO: So what do we do now? We're told, sir, that at this point, the U.S. is not considering helping Iraq with a strike at the militants, as the government had requested, although we're not sure of that, because we got different reads. All options are on the table, the president says, and then we hear out of the White House spokesman no ground troops are considered, so mixed messages. What would you do?

ROMNEY: Well, first of all, before you assess what action you take as president of the United States, you have got to have a lot of intelligence, which I haven't seen yet.

So, I'm going to -- I'm going to hold off on making that call. But, clearly, you have to keep, as the president said, all options on the table. The sad thing is, the limited options we have are the result of poor decisions made in the past. You have got to act at the right time, at the time when opportunity is presented.

And this president hasn't done that. His foreign policy is what has led to these crises all over the world. And trying to recapture the lead and keeping these kinds of things from happening is going to be a real challenge. And, gosh, I hope the president is able to do that in his last two years.

I don't know how we can go on with a country not having the kind of leadership that it needs. You have somebody like Lech Walesa, Lech Walesa, a hero in the world of democracy, saying that America is no longer a world leader.

This is the result of the president's missteps over the past several years.

CAVUTO: Hillary Clinton on her book tour, Governor, has talked about Afghanistan and said that she could see the possibility of keeping troops there beyond 2016, which is beyond what the Obama administration has said. What do you think of that?

ROMNEY: Well, you know, Hillary Clinton has been a bit all over the map and so I -- I don't know how to weigh that particular comment.

I thought the most disturbing thing I saw from Hillary Clinton was when she was asked whether releasing the five commanders from Guantanamo back to the Taliban was a threat to the United States, and she said, no, it's not a threat to the U.S. It's just a threat to Afghanistan and to Pakistan.

Well, that may be one of the most clueless responses I have heard in a long time, because, of course, you don't throw our allies under the bus. You recognize as well we have soldiers who are in Afghanistan. And the reason we're there in the first place is to protect United States' interests and our security needs.

So I don't know where she's coming from. I, frankly, think this is a continuation of a pattern of the Obama/Hillary Clinton foreign policy and it hasn't worked. And we will see what she actually plans to do in Afghanistan. We will get a chance, I think, in this upcoming presidential campaign to hear more.

CAVUTO: Governor, speaking of Hillary Clinton, in an earlier interview, after her book tour began, she talked about being dirt broke when she and her husband left the White House. And, of course, they have earned millions since in speaking fees and books, et cetera.

But she, by and large, seems to have gotten a pass on the wealth thing that you never did. Many people made a big deal of your wealth, of Bain Capital and how you secured it, before public office, I might add. But let's -- do you think there was and is a double standard between treating rich Republicans vs. rich Democrats?

ROMNEY: Gosh, Neil, I can't imagine that the mainstream media has any bias. That strikes me as being impossible.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: But I can say that, at least in my own view, the place that Secretary Clinton is going to have the greatest difficulty is defending her record as secretary of state.

I mean, there's almost not a place in the world that's better off because of her leadership in the State Department. And, I mean, look at what's happening in Nigeria, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Libya. Look what China is doing in the South China Sea. I mean, all over the world, a policy of weakness and accommodation that came from the Obama and Hillary Clinton team is one that's led to very serious and negative results, and she's going to have to account for that.

I think that's by far the biggest issue.

CAVUTO: Well, those issues will come up -- those issues will come up, but her wealth will not. And is that just the way it is? And is there a double standard that some of your colleagues in the Republican Party feel exists when everyone go after the Koch brothers and they're the personification of evil, but no one really takes the same heat to go after a billionaire who provides a hundred million dollars to address climate change or George Soros to address anything?

ROMNEY: Well, there's no question in my mind but that we ought to talk about the one percent on both sides of the aisle.

If there's a concern about the 1 percent, recognize they're not all Republicans. As a matter of fact, someone could do a calculation and see how many are in both parties.

I frankly think that dividing the nation based on wealth is a mistake. Look, we come together as a nation, whether wealthy or poor, whatever religion, whatever ethnic group or -- I mean, this is not a time to divide the country. We're facing real challenges at home and abroad.

Let's come together. And I'm not one of those that is saying we ought to attack Hillary Clinton based on her wealth or anybody else, for that matter. Let's come together as a people and let's look at people's records and their qualifications and their accomplishments to determine who ought to be leading the country.

CAVUTO: One thing we know right now, Governor, is Eric Cantor won't be among those leading the country. He's out in a surprising, lopsided, stunning defeat.

What happened to him? What do you think of what happened?

ROMNEY: Well, first of all, you know, congratulations to the new individual, Mr. Brat, who's going to be a strong campaigner, I'm sure.

I -- I like Eric Cantor. I respect his years of service. I think you're seeing a number of things there. One is that the American people are sick and tired of seeing our immigration mess, and they want something to happen there that will clean up the mess. The president's not enforcing our laws.

They thought in some respects that Eric Cantor wasn't doing what was necessary, but this immigration issue is a big one and it needs to be resolved and resolved soon. That's part of it. And, you know, I can only hope that Eric Cantor is absolutely right when he says he's going to keep on fighting for conservative values. And I -- I welcome him to that fight, even though he and I will both be out of office.

CAVUTO: So, you don't think that this opened up a schism in the party that many had tried to avoid, with a lot of mainstream Republicans winning and - - and kind of preventing Tea Parties or the like from beating them? You don't think there's something bigger going on here?

ROMNEY: Oh, I think there are different candidates with different positions. And, in some cases, like Mr. Brat, he laid out some positions which were very popular in that district.

But you have also seen Republicans that are -- I will call them practical or mainstream Republicans, like John Cornyn, John McCain, Mitch McConnell and others who have been very successful. So, you will have folks of different persuasion within our party that are successful.

And I don't mind the -- if you will, the competition of ideas that you're going to see over these coming years.

CAVUTO: At your summit, I'm just curious whether Rick Perry's name had come up. He's in some hot water trying to equate homosexualism to alcoholism, that you can treat it. What did you make of that?

ROMNEY: Well, I'm not a psychologist, and so I try and stay out of the psychology of various things. I'm not going to weigh into that.

Look, individuals who are same-sex couples deserve respect, and we certainly don't want to discriminate against them in any way, shape, or form.

CAVUTO: Do you think he just doomed his presidential chances?

ROMNEY: Oh, I certainly wouldn't count anybody out until the process goes a lot further.

As you know -- I want to clarify that last comment -- I don't believe in discrimination. At the same time, I believe in traditional marriage between one man and one woman.

CAVUTO: At this summit, you do manage to attract a who's-who of prominent players, both in the world of business and, of course, those who could be entertaining runs for the White House.

Do they all say yes to you? Do you envision yourself as like a modern-day kingmaker? What? A lot of the candidates you backed this year went on to win. You had a pretty good percentage. What is the role of Mitt Romney today?

ROMNEY: Well, as somebody who cares very deeply about the country, as I do, I'm going to keep on battling for the kind of ideas and values I think will make a difference.

I will be speaking tomorrow about foreign policy and my own ideas about foreign policy, where I think the country has to go and why I think we have to be involved in the world. I think others among the group will take a different tack.

And I want leaders of our countries to hear these ideas and to be engaged and to get behind those candidates who they think can make a real difference. That's why I ask people to come together.

By the way, not everybody's schedule allows them to be here, but I'm pleased that many people find this a compelling conference where we can exchange ideas and hopefully have an impact.

CAVUTO: Maybe you're more than a kingmaker. Maybe you're a future king. Maybe you run for president again.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: No, no thanks, Neil. And I'm far from a kingmaker. I'm just one of those that wants to keep the conversation going and fighting for things I think will make a difference for my 22 grandkids.

CAVUTO: So you're saying -- my goodness.

So, you're saying definitely no to running again? Nothing would do it? Because we get a lot of e-mails every time you're on: He should run again. The time is right for him. Everything he said would happen has happened, very prescient. His moment is now.

You say?

ROMNEY: Neil, I'm not running.

I can tell you, I think our best prospects of taking back the White House will be with one of these people that's on the field getting heard now. We're going to listen to them, and I anticipate getting behind the person who I think can ultimately take back the White House and can finally get America strong again internationally and strong at home.

CAVUTO: All right.

ROMNEY: You know, you can't be strong internationally unless you have a strong core.

CAVUTO: There you go.

ROMNEY: And we have got to fix ourselves here as well.

CAVUTO: Thank you, Governor, very much.

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

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