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Special Report

Rick Perry talks immigration reform, fixing the economy

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," July 1, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Tonight we welcome former Texas governor Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry to our "Center Seat." Here with questions ready is our panel, Nina Easton, columnist for Fortune magazine, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Governor, thanks for being here.

FORMER GOV. RICK PERRY, R-TEXAS: You're welcome. It's an honor.

BAIER: Today we had more e-mails from the State Department, the Hillary Clinton situation as it continues to develop. Your thoughts first before we move onto other issues.

PERRY: The honesty issue is going to be front and center with this candidate. Obviously with the history of this even before you get into issues like Benghazi, just the pure honesty of whether or not the secretary is being forthright in whether or not she gave all this information out, and obviously it's not the case. So I think the American people are really going to be pushing back on this to some degree.

BAIER: We asked people on Facebook and Twitter to write in some questions. Larry Miller on Facebook, "What will be your first action and how will you make it happen?"

PERRY: Obviously getting this country back to work. And one of the ways to do that is through energy policy, North American energy policy. Opening up the XL pipeline, that will be one of the first things we'll do right after we get through taking up -- tearing up any agreement that this president does with Iran.

BAIER: Nina?

NINA EASTON, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: So governor, I want to really turn to immigration and the border since you're very much -- you're the border guy among all of these candidates. You have said that you won't pursue immigration reform until the border is secure. But what specifically does that mean? I mean, you've got a two decade low inflow of illegal immigrants. What would a secure border look like? How much would it cost? And do you worry politically that you may be turning off Hispanics who are waiting for immigration reform as it kind of goes down the Republican agenda?

BAIER: Let me address the last issue first, because I think it's very important. Hispanics in this country want to live in safe communities. And to know that they're living in safe communities you've got to have a secure border. And I think that is really at the core of this. Americans don't trust Washington to deal with immigration until that border is secure.

And I do, as you rightfully said, know something about the border. I've been dealing with it for 14 years as the governor of that state that's got a 1,200-mile border with that international -- with an international border. And you put the boots on the ground. You have the personnel in place. You have strategic fencing. And in most places it's already there.

The third thing that's missing and the one that I think that can have the biggest impact is aviation assets from Tijuana to El Paso to Brownsville flying 24/7, looking down, making decisions about whether or not actions, activities are legal or suspicious and having fast response teams to go address those. That's the way you secure the border. Once you get the border secure, then you can have a conversation about immigration, but not until. The American people will not trust Washington to deal with it.

EASTON: The inflow number, what is a secure border look like beyond --

PERRY: You do everything you can. The idea that you're going have zero people crossing the border is unrealistic. But today we know that's not the case. Today we know we've got a porous border and people are coming in, and we don't know who they are. So secure the border then we can have a conversation about it.

EASTON: And your views of Donald Trump's description of Mexican immigrants?

PERRY: I wouldn't have said that, obviously. Mexico is our number one trading partner in the state of Texas. It's very important to this country. And, frankly, getting Mexico economically headed in the right direction with good energy policy -- Canada, the United States, and Mexico have more known energy reserves than Saudi Arabia and Russia. So developing those and I think you'll see a major movement of people back into Mexico when that occurs when these prices get back. You're going to see a substantial development of the energy business in Mexico and Canada, domestic as well.

BAIER: A.B.?

A.B. STODDARD, THE HILL: Governor, despite what's happening in Greece, I don't hear a lot of conversation on the campaign trail on the Republican side about our potential coming long-term debt crisis. And I'm interested in what you would do as president to avert it. How you feel about the sequester, defense cuts, and what needs to change with Medicare and Social Security?

PERRY: Well, there are two things that need to occur. Obviously you can't cut your way out of this, but it's one of the issues you have to address. In Texas we had two major turndowns in our economy back in 2002. And we addressed it in 2003, and again in 2011 as a result of the national recession. We had to make major cuts, and we did. And they're not easy. They're hard to do. But you've got to make cuts and you've got to stand up to the American people and say we are going to reduce, and you can and you must.

But the other side is growth. If you don't have a pro-growth policy to lay out, that's one of the reasons that I happen to think it's inextricably intertwined with our energy policy, North American energy policy. Canada, the United States and Mexico, we developed these energy reserves that we have in this North American region. And you can see a not only driving down the cost of electricity but a major manufacturing boom in this country. Couple that with tax policy, reduction, reducing the corporate tax rate, and that I think a renaissance in manufacturing like we've never seen in this country and really drive the economy.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Governor, in 2012 you got into a bit of a tussle over your support for in-state tuition, meaning lower tuition for in-state illegal immigrant children who came here, as you said, through no fault of their own. And you said if you didn't support that you didn't have a heart, and you regretted having used that phrase. But on the policy itself, I assume you still support it. Do you also support the Dream Act? Do you think that illegal immigrant children ought to be given essentially the rights of citizenship?

PERRY: I think state by state these decisions are going to be made which we did in the state of Texas. Charles, 14 years ago it passed overwhelmingly in the state of Texas. This was in 2001.

KRAUTHAMMER: Tuition issue?

PERRY: Yes. And out of 180 votes, 31 senators and 150 House members, there were only five dissensions, five dissenting votes. So it was an overwhelmingly supported piece of legislation.

Every state's got to make a decision how they want to deal with this. But that's just a symptom of the real problem. The real problem is obviously a border that is porous, that poring people in and in these days in particular. And addressing this border, you've got to cure the disease before you can --

KRAUTHAMMER: Let's assume you cure it and you're the president. At that point what do you offer the 11 or so million who are here illegally?

PERRY: No. I think there is an appropriate way to deal with folks who have come into this country. But to hand out amnesty is not one of them.

KRAUTHAMMER: What would you do?

PERRY: Well, again, I think we lay that out as the campaign goes along. But as I've said, you've got to secure that border first.

BAIER: But Senator Perry would have voted for the Dream Act or not?

PERRY: No. No. Listen, I think these are issues that the states have to deal with. This wasn't a national issue. It shouldn't be a national issue. I think when this country really starts respecting our constitution and gets back and respects the 10th amendment where the states are the ones that come up with the novel approaches, the experimentations, as Louis Brandeis called them, this country will not only be more competitive, I think this country will be happier.

BAIER: More with Governor Perry and the panel after a quick break. We'll talk foreign policy next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BAIER: Republican presidential candidate former Texas governor Rick Perry is in our "Center Seat" tonight now talking foreign policy. Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: You're in the White House. You're president. You're faced with situation in the Middle East where we have two main problems, Iran expanding, aggression, infiltrating, destabilizing, and on the other hand ISIS expanding, destabilizing, threatening the homeland. They happen to be enemies. Which is the number one priority for the United States? You've got to make choices. Which one is the bigger threat? Which one do you concentrate going after first?

PERRY: I think you can multitask. Obviously Iran is a huge problem, allowing them to get a nuclear weapon. So that has to be at the top of your list. Putting a coalition together to deal with ISIS, the Jordanians, the Saudis, the Turks, the Israelis, all of those together, you can put a coalition together to, both using your beefed up intelligence and also the military aspect of it, to stop ISIS there. But again, keeping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon has to be number one on the list.

KRAUTHAMMER: What about Iran's expansion on the ground into Iraq controlling Syria, Lebanon, now Yemen? What would you do about its -- what the Arab states see as extending their control and hegemony in the region?

PERRY: And I think that coalition that you could put together with the Saudis, with the Jordanians, Turks, Israelis, all of those, the Egyptians, all of those together have grave concern about what they're seeing with Iran. So I think a coalition of those Gulf States in particular is the way to deal with that.

BAIER: Today the president came out and said it was time to turn the page on Cuba. If it's President Perry, what do you do in regards to Cuba?

PERRY: The real issue, we've seen this president not being able to connect the dots often. We see it in Iran. We see the same approach in Cuba, and how we're dealing. The Cuban people are not any better off with this deal at all. As a matter of fact, I would suggest to you that this was just throwing the Castro brothers a lifeline. Venezuela was there, was propping them up at this particular point in time, I would suggest to you. And I think we had the opportunity to stop the Castros finally, and this president steps in and basically normalizes relationships with them.

BAIER: But now is this over? I mean, is this --

PERRY: I don't necessarily think so. I think that the next president of the United States obviously has an opportunity to come back in, and using the sanctions and other types of diplomatic ways to deal with the Castro regime. And until you see the people there getting the freedoms that they deserve, then I wouldn't -- I wouldn't try to normalize anything with them.

BAIER: Nina?

EASTON: Governor, you, like other candidates, you've criticized Obama for being soft towards Putin and weak towards Putin. But what specifically would you do to stand up to a nuclear arm tyrant to get him to change his behavior?

PERRY: Well, here's the problem is that we have fewer options now because this president hasn't used his bully pulpit if you will and used the ability. We should have used our military, being able to deliver lethal weapons to the Ukrainians when they needed it. They could have pushed back in a substantial way, continued the sanctions using the swift banking rules against Putin at that particular point in time.

And I suggest one of the strongest tools that we had that this president used was American liquefied natural gas and signing those contracts to be able to absolutely flood the European market with American L and G. At that particular point in time I think you could have really brought Putin to his knees.

EASTON: What about now? He's obviously a threat beyond Ukraine. There's other countries in the region that are nervous. What would you do now?

PERRY: Well, I think our again sanctions will work against him. They are obviously in tight financial conditions there. What's happening in the oil and gas side of things is really hurting them. And I think that you put our military forces in with NATO to clearly send a message that we're not going to allow him to have these types of just free reign and go where you want to in that part of the world.

BAIER: We're going to talk politics in "Center Seat" with Governor Perry. We'll start with A.B. and the panel continues after a short timeout.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BAIER: We are back with our panel and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry in "Center Seat." Governor, the latest FOX poll out nationally has you at two percent, tied for 11th in the national poll. The latest Quinnipiac poll in Iowa just out has you tied for ninth at four percent. Slipping Jimmy on Twitter writes in, and he is pretty blunt, "Your poll numbers are low and not increasing. Why no traction, governor?"

PERRY: Well, we have plenty of time. So we are headed to New Hampshire and Iowa and South Carolina. We have had a strategy from the get-go that we go and build a really good foundation in those first three states. That's where the action is going to be. So I feel very confident that nobody has what you would consider to be an overwhelming lead at this particular point in time.

I remind people from '07-'08, Mayor Giuliani was leading in all the polls, and by the time Florida rolled around he wasn't there, or not competitive anyway. So plenty of time to go get the message out in all of those first three states because they are important.

BAIER: Governor, if you don't make the top 10 for our debate in Cleveland, will you come to the candidate forum earlier in the day?

PERRY: We intend to make the top ten. So we'll see you there.

BAIER: A.B.?

STODDARD: I have actually heard you say before that there's plenty of time, there's no front-runner with a really good market share, but you'll ran out of time. It's a month from Monday. How important it is to your candidacy and others to be in the top 10 on that debate stage?

And my second follow up question is, when we look at updates from 2016 candidates we often don't see anything from Governor Perry. You have a lay low strategy, I have noticed. It's very anti-Rand Paul. You don't try to pop yourself into the news often. Can you tell me why? And do you have to be on that debate stage?

PERRY: Well, I think we'll be on the debate stage. So to answer your question, we are in places that we feel like we need to be, and that's Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, because that's, you know, we are going to be in the debate. We are going to be in the discussion and we're going to be talking about our record. Nobody on that stage has the record that we have when it comes to job creation. Nobody with the exception to Lindsey Graham has worn the uniform of the country. I think we have a very unique place in this field. And once the American people really start focusing on this race -- and, again, I think it's a little early. So I'm very comfortable about where we are and what the strategy is.

BAIER: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: It is early, but let's jump to early next year. You say your strategies are to get the early states, Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Where do you have to shine? Where do you have to succeed in order to become a frontrunner?

PERRY: I think you do well in Iowa. When I talk about doing well, I think you're in the top three in Iowa. I think you have that same strategy for New Hampshire and win South Carolina. I think that is a strategy that you put that together and that launches you for the rest of the primary system.

KRAUTHAMMER: That's the first time I have gotten a straight answer.

BAIER: He's asked that three times.

PERRY: Asked it to me?

BAIER: No, no, to other candidates.

(LAUGHTER)

KRAUTHAMMER: They say "I have got to win everywhere" and the usual stuff.

BAIER: Yes. To Nina's question earlier, you said that you wouldn't have said what Donald Trump said. Do you think Donald Trump is good for the Republican Party?

PERRY: Listen, I'm not going to judge Donald Trump on anything other than what he said about Mexico and Mexicans. And I think that was a statement that I certainly would have made. Mexico is an important trading partner, it's the number one trading partner for the state of Texas. We have had dealings with them, shared a border with them. We have had our challenges, but at the end of the day we want a good relationship with Mexico.

I will suggest to you what Mr. Trump may have been talking about is a bigger problem in Washington than it is in Mexico and Washington not doing their job of securing our border. We've known there is a challenge down there for decades. And Washington failed its constitutional duty to secure that border.

BAIER: Quickly, Nina.

EASTON: There is a great fear from the Trump remarks that it hurts the brand of the Republican Party. What is the health of the Republican Party, more people saying they are liberal than before in recent history. Fewer people saying they are conservative. A lot of people worry about figures like Donald Trump hurting the brand. What is your sense of the health of the brand?

PERRY: I think the Republican Party is healthy. If you want four more years of Barack Obama, then you are sure not talking to the people I'm talking to. I think that's what Hillary Clinton would give is four more years of the same old, tired policy. I think the American people are looking for somebody that can give them hope for the future.

And that's going to be my message. I'm going to give hope for the future. I'm going to share a positive story of how to get the country back to work, how to create a secure country. And that's what the people I talk to out there, those are the two things they care about. Who can get the country back working? Who's got the record to do that? And who can secure our border and keep this country as secure as it can be?

BAIER: Governor, thanks for being here on our "Center Seat." We are told you can stay around a little bit for the online show. Are you good with that?

PERRY: If you are told that, I'm good to go with that.

(LAUGHTER)

BAIER: Well, we're going to go with that. That's it for the panel.

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