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Special Report

Ohio Gov. John Kasich takes Center Seat

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," July 7, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Tonight we welcome Ohio governor and prospective presidential candidate John Kasich to our Center Seat tonight. Joining him on our panel: John Goldberg, senior editor of National Review; A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill; and syndicated columnist, Charles Krauthammer.

Governor -- thanks for being here.

GOV. JOHN KASICH, R-OHIO: Glad to be with you.

BAIER: We know the decision --

KASICH: This is like the firing line. I mean --

BAIER: Yes. The old "Meet the Press."

KASICH: Yes.

BAIER: I know the decision is yet to be made officially. July 21st is the date we all have on our calendar, apparently. But I want to ask you about some foreign policy things happening now. The Iran deal is in extra overtime. Apparently the administration is striving to get this deal.
What would you do as president with this deal? Would you sign it as you see it developing now? We don't know all the particulars.

KASICH: Well, look, I feel that it's very dangerous to fall in love with your own idea. And I think the administration has probably fallen in love with the fact that they want to get an agreement. And when people are hyperventilating and unable to get one, sometimes they go and they sign something they shouldn't.

Just remember Reagan in Reykjavik where Gorbachev said, look, get rid of all nuclear weapons. And I remember Reagan getting back in the car and saying no, we're not going to do that. So you have to have the strength to walk away.

The problem, Bret, on all this is just listen to our Arab friends who say if you give the Iranians all this cash by lifting the sanctions they are going to fund Hamas, they're going to fund Hezbollah, who is the enemy to the Arab nations that we have things in common with.

And beyond that, you know, the proliferation of these weapons is really kind of unthinkable and the consequences of that. So I don't think this is a good agreement. I would leave the sanctions on until I saw determined change in what Iran is all about. And so I think -- I'm very concerned about this.

BAIER: You have some supporters. We asked for Twitter and Facebook questions. One of them, Robert Avery, though, has a question. He says he thinks you've done a great job as governor in Ohio, but what foreign relations experience would you bring to the presidency?

KASICH: Well, I have a unique resume in this whole field. I served on the defense committee for 18 years. And I was what you would call a cheap hawk. I believe in a strong defense but I also believe it efficient defense. I was involved in procurement reform. I limited the productions of the B-2 so we could use those resources to build standoff weapons we saw in the first gulf war. And in addition to that, I was very involved in Goldwater-Nichols which got the services to work together so they could fight together and really be effective together.

So having spent 18 years being in the Gulf before the first Gulf War with soldiers out in the desert, I mean, I was in many places around the world. But there's no substitute for working with some of the greatest defense minds in our history. And those are people like Stenison Tower and Sam Dunn. These are all folks that I learned from and worked with them.
It was great.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: The other thing we learned today, the other news was the Defense Department announcing in hearings on the Hill that we have trained exactly 60 Syrians to go after ISIS. It's not exactly going to be a good fight.

KASICH: ISIS in Syria or ISIS in Iraq?

KRAUTHAMMER: That's my question. If you're president, do you go after ISIS? Where is your priority? ISIS in Syria, ISIS in Iraq? And what is your strategy depending on which of these approaches you take? Do you go through the Iraqi government? Do you try to train a real force? Do you work with the Kurds? What would be the Kasich policy?

KASICH: Well, the first thing is the Kurds are great. We hope to support them and have them become even stronger as a people.

Secondly, I called John McCain many months ago saying we needed to support the opposition in Syria. And I called John Boehner and I said, anything that I can do so we can begin to arm the opposition to Assad to drive him out of power for a variety of reasons, including geopolitical, which I know you know vis-a-vis Iran, the Soviet Union, I believe that was important.

A couple months ago, maybe five months ago, I said we should be part of a coalition even if it means putting boots on the ground, because as it relates to ISIS you either pay me now or pay me a heck of a lot later. I would probably -- I've listened to what the commanders would say on that.
But at the same time, my inclination would be to go to Iraq. I would not be asking all this permission. I would go in there with a group of people, our allies, and I would begin to literally destroy ISIS.

And the minute you begin to beat that caliphate, which is what it is, the minute they're no longer, quote, "10 feet tall" in the eyes of people, you begin to degrade their ability to be strong. And I think we can get on the offense.

KRAUTHAMMER: That's a large number of troops on the ground. Are you prepared to do that?

KASICH: Well, I wouldn't say you have to have such a large number. I wouldn't go alone, Charles. See, I think part of the problem is we have seen an eroding of our relationships with our friends who are our European allies. These relationships have gotten weaker. They need to be strong.
We speak in some ways with a fractured voice while our enemies speak with a unified voice.

And by the way, we have common cause now with the Saudis who want to get to stop funding the madrassas and the radicalism that that promotes.
But we have common cause with them. We have common cause with Jordan. Who would have ever thought we would see the Saudis beginning to understand the plight of the Israelis? We've got a lot of potential if we're able to communicate and lead from the front.

One administration official said we ought to lead from the back.
America should -- I've never heard of anybody leading from the back. So I think it requires a group, a coalition. NATO ought to be flexible and it needs to be -- we need to really strengthen all of NATO, Charles, in my opinion.

BAIER: A. B.?

A. B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: If there is no deal with the Iranians and the negotiations just drag on and they continue to be sanctioned, and you become president in January of 2017, they will be fast on their way to the bomb. What do you do when you get in the door at that point if they haven't been slowed down?

KASICH: Look, I think you keep the sanctions on. Do I fear that the Russians and Chinese will weaken the sanctions? Yes. It's a concern. But yet the western world ought to hang together. We ought not let them get this money as quickly as they can.

I'll tell you what I'm concerned about. OK, so we do this deal, right? We lift the sanctions. They get a lot of cash to support people who want to destroy the things that we believe in, and at the same time they get the bomb.

STODDARD: Right. But what if they don't get sanctions relief and they don't get a deal? Their one goal --

KASICH: It would be harder. It's harder and harder for them to do this as long as these sanctions are on.

STODDARD: But they will make progress between now and January.

KASICH: I think they're going to make progress, anyway, A. B. I just don't trust. I mean, turn this over to the U.N., turn this over to inspectors -- let's see what the deal is at the end of the day, OK? But my sense is you leave the sanctions on, you keep the economic pressure on them. You will begin to build additional disgruntled people inside of Iran who are young people just like you who say I want a better tomorrow. But to lift the sanctions and to release the pressure, I'm not convinced they're not going to get advanced centrifuges. So I would keep the pressure on.

BAIER: Jonah?

JONAH GOLDBERG, SENIOR EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: Governor, you mentioned earlier about your role as a cheap hawk when you were on the hill. Today the Pentagon also confirmed are going to cut 40,000 troops from the U.S. army. Do you think that there's a lot more room to cut out of the defense budget?

KASICH: No, Jonah, actually, look, I have a lot of people that I talk to. I don't get tutored by them, but the people that I bounce ideas off.
And I just was in a meeting the other day with Dick Allen, who is a former national security adviser to President Reagan and Mr. Snyder and John Lehman was in attendance at this. I'm very concerned that we have seen an erosion of our naval power. Cutting more people in the armed forces I don't think makes sense.

But what I will tell you is -- I'm sure you would agree with this.
There needs to be some dramatic and significant reform inside the Pentagon.
You have 900,000 people who act as bureaucrats inside that building. Do you know how long it takes to field a weapons system? We need to deal with the infrastructure we don't need in this country anymore. We shouldn't have weapons systems that are outdated.

And at the end of the day, we have to be able to project power, and the ability to project power means you have mobility and lethality. Now, these are not things I studied the other day. These are things I lived for
18 years, and, frankly, I've stayed in touch with all these kinds of issues even when I've been out.

This is not something -- fixing the national security, helping with our allies, being able to have lethality and mobility, being able to operate in Asia, in the South China Sea, being able to arm the Ukrainians, being willing to strengthen the Israelis, these are not things you learn on the job training. These are things you better have been working on for a very long time, because commander in chief is a serious job not to be occupied by people who are going to learn. We've just done that for eight years, and how has it worked?

BAIER: With that, we will go to our second panel after the the break.
Governor Kasich, more with the panel.

KASICH: I started to shout a little bit there.

BAIER: Strong letter to follow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BAIER: Welcome back. Ohio Governor John Kasich is in our Center Seat tonight. Governor again from our Twitter questions, Facebook questions, Philip Miles types in, "Why do you support Common Core? As a teacher and a conservative I see it destroying education."

KASICH: Well, look, again I can only talk about Ohio. In my state we're raising standards. And the curriculum to meet those standards is being set by local school boards with advisory councils from parents. So we don't have anybody from the White House, from Washington, telling people what to do. And I don't even tell schools what to do. But we want high standards.

A couple reasons. One is before Ohio did not raise its standards and we fell farther behind compared to other states. Secondly, we need high standards in America because we need to compete in the world. And we see in math and in English when they measure us vis-a-vis the world, we're not doing very well. So high standards, but also local control.

BAIER: So when you hear people like Philip and others and this wave of concern about Common Core you think it's what, a misunderstanding?

KASICH: Well, in my state, I'm just telling you what we're doing.
And we have the higher standards and the local control. We may ultimately not have the test that measures how kids perform. But, you know, a lot of schools now have been moving forward on this. And I'm not going to back up for high standards. We're not going to have lower standards. Lower standards so everybody is more comfortable? No, no, no, no, no.

BAIER: A. B.?

STODDARD: So governor, immigration has divided your party for a long time. It is obviously the source of headlines right now because of Donald Trump's comments and people trying to distance themselves. This is an issue for Hillary Clinton that she's going to take to the bank. She said today that the Republican Party is on a spectrum of begrudging --

BAIER: Let's listen to Hillary. We have it.

STODDARD: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I hear the Republican candidates, and it's not only the ones who are the most vitriolic. None of them any longer support a path to citizenship. All of them would basically consign immigrants to second-class status.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STODDARD: Can the nominee of the Republican Party win the general election without being, without supporting a path to citizenship?

KASICH: First of all, if she wants to talk about me, let her call me to figure out what my position is, OK? And as you know, I've ruffled feathers even in my own party.

Here's my view on immigration. First of all, seal the border. We can use modern technology to do it. I met with a Republican immigration expert. I've talked to them a number of times. There's probably only 10 percent of the border that is not controllable and needs to be controlled.

Secondly, if you've been here for a length of time we're going to legalize you and let you stay here, but you'll pay a penalty.

Thirdly, if you're sneaking in recently we ought to ship you back so that we're not saying everybody the border is open, come here.

In addition to that we ought to modernize the immigration system, maybe even lift the caps so that people who have employment or family here can come to America. I mean, I don't think you can ship these people back.
But I don't like the fact that they jump the line.

Now look, I was here in '86 when Reagan actually had amnesty, OK? And everybody joined together. Our problem was we didn't get the border fixed.
And I'll tell you another thing. We also need an expanded program so that people want to come into this country, work on a temporary basis, they can get here and go home. Now they get here and they stay. They hide.

So just get it fixed. As I told Republicans, just get this done. I mean, stop putting your head in the sand and stop arguing. Let's have a rational immigration policy. You know, America's a place where we invite people but we want them to come legally.

STODDARD: So that legalization is probably -- going up against Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee it's probably important you think politically for the Republican nominee in terms of facing a general electorate --

KASICH: A. B., A. B., look, I don't base my position on polls, focus groups, or anything else. It is not practical to think that -- FedEx couldn't ship 12 million people out of here. Let's find out who they are.
Let's make sure if they're criminals we deport them or put them in prison.
If they're law-abiding people and good families and if they're working, all those things, they can stay.

As to whether they should have a path to citizenship, I don't favor it. But we're not going to take any of that off the table at this point.
And then fix the border. Control the border. And take a look at the overall immigration system as it relates to people who have skill who want to come into this country and work and be law-abiding. I don't see what's so complicated about this.

You know, the problem gets to be in politics, those people who yell the loudest, those people who yell the loudest seem to get the most attention, but they don't represent the majority.

And by the way, I'm glad to see Hillary is actually talking to a few people. I want to compliment her.

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDBERG: Governor, so when you agreed to accept the Medicaid expansion under Obama care, one of your explanations most famously was that when you go before the pearly gates you want to be able to explain what you did for the poor to St. Peter. First of all --

KASICH: That's not what I said. I advised somebody who said "When you die and get to heaven St. Peter is not going to ask you did you balance the budget," although I balanced the budget more than anybody.

GOLDBERG: But you all did it in defense of your expansion of Medicaid. And my question is, for those governors and other candidates and other Republicans who oppose the expansion of Medicaid, are they putting their eternal souls in peril?

KASICH: Well, you know, I've already told you, Jonah, earlier today that that's not the issue. I was talking to a friend of mine, here's what I would say. We brought Obama money back to Ohio to treat the mentally ill. I don't think you want to lock them up in a prison because they're schizophrenic and they talk wrong to a cop. I don't think they ought to be in prison. I think it's immoral and it costs us a fortune.

I think the drug addicted ought to be rehabbed. I don't think we ought to lock them up, then they come out, they go meet the drug dealer on the corner and they're back in prison. We are rehabbing them and our recidivism rate is 10 percent.

And the working poor, instead of them showing up in the emergency room sicker and more costly, we give them healthcare so that it can be rational.

Now, maybe some people want to lock up the mentally ill in prison.
Maybe some people want to throw away the drug addicted. But we're all made in the image of the lord, and I think that by us bringing those resources back, our people -- there's no money in Washington. It's our money. We brought it back to Ohio and we're fixing vexing problems. And, Jonah, our Medicaid growth rate in Ohio is growing at less than four percent. Check that out with other --

BAIER: You're making a leap from someone opposing Medicaid expansion to that person wanting to jail Medicaid --

KASICH: No. I'm saying -- here's what I'm saying to you, Bret. If we didn't have these resources to be treating the mentally ill and helping the drug addicted, they're likely to stay where they are at $22,500 a year for that person. And what I'm saying is, if I have a choice -- this was my choice. Do I leave them in the prison or do I try to rehab them? Do I treat the mentally ill? We made a promise to them that we would treat them in the community. Now, if somebody chooses not to do it that's up to them.
That's on their conscience. But for me I'm not going to ignore people who live in the shadows. And you know what, this country needs a lift.

BAIER: And we need to take a commercial break.

(LAUGHTER)

BAIER: We have one more panel. We'll start with Charles right after a quick timeout. Governor Kasich in Center Seat.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BAIER: We're back with our panel and Ohio Governor John Kasich in our Center Seat. Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Governor, you know the first debate is coming up. It's going to be in Ohio. The rules as of today are that the top 10 will get to the debate. The others will be in an earlier forum. Right now you are at
the RCP average 13th. So help us out here. You used to be at FOX.

(LAUGHTER)

KRAUTHAMMER: How would you decide who gets in and who gets out other than what FOX is using, which is an objective number? And what would you do if you aren't in the top 10? Would you participate in the forum?

KASICH: Well, Charles, we got a long way to go before that debate.

BAIER: We have 30 days.

KASICH: I will have a big announcement on the 21st. We'll see what people say. Part of the reason why I have low poll numbers is because I took care of Ohio. I wasn't traveling around the country trying to build a national following. I was just trying to fix Ohio. And, you know, we have gone from $8 billion in the hole to $2 billion surplus. We're up 360,000 jobs. We cut taxes by $5 billion. And I wouldn't exchange that for all the name I.D., because that was what I was elected to do. We will see how it works out. We will see how these things go. That's nothing I can worry about in terms of telling FOX how to do this?

BAIER: No, no.

KASICH: What, are you kidding? I used to work here.

KRAUTHAMMER: I was asking for advice.

KASICH: Yes. I hope that you guys need my advice.

BAIER: The rules are set. Cynthia Bostic.

KASICH: Hypothetical.

BAIER: "What exactly distinguishes you from the rest of the GOP pack?"

KASICH: I think it's resume and record. You know, it's not just things I say I want to do, it's things I have done. Having the national security experience, being chairman of the budget committee when we balanced the federal budget for the first time since man walked on the moon. I was one of the chief architects. And we haven't balanced it since. And then going into the private sector for 10 years and then running Ohio and turning things around. It's a unique resume among those who are talking about running, and we will see what the people have to say.

BAIER: Just to clarify, if you don't make the top ten, are you going to be at the forum in Cleveland?

KASICH: Bret, what if you start off with three triple bogeys next Saturday.

(LAUGHTER)

BAIER: Just pack it up.

KASICH: I don't think about stuff like that. We have got a long way to go. You know, a month is like an eternity in politics and in life sometimes. So we'll see.

BAIER: We thank you for the time.

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