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Special Report

Santorum on GOP field, foreign policy challenges, 2016 race

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," July 20, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum is with us tonight in our Center Seat. Joining him on the panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, Juan Williams, columnist with The Hill, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Senator, thanks for being here.

RICK SANTORUM, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Bret. Good to be back.

BAIER: First, this Trump situation has taken a lot of air time, a lot of ink in papers. What is your reaction to this weekend, and what do you think of all the hubbub around it?

SANTORUM: You know, I issued a statement within a few minutes after he made the comment about John McCain, said that John McCain is a war hero, period. John McCain and I have disagreed on a lot of things over the years, but knowing what that man went through, if that's not a hero, I don't know what a hero is.

What I haven't done, and I've been criticized by many in the media, is I haven't decided to jump into the food fight. I think when a Democrat says something stupid, which I think something recently has been said that I think is not a very good thing, the other side isn't told, well, how do you feel about that, and then to beat up on the other person. It's OK that I'm going to criticize Donald Trump or anybody else I disagree with, but just because someone says something that's wrong or doesn't mean that they're stupid or they say something that's mean doesn't mean they're mean, and I'm not going to engage in personal attacks.

And that's what's going on here is that unless you attack him personally, you're not tough enough. You're backing off. You're not going after him. I was in the race four years ago, and I saw what that kind of food fight ends up in. And it ends up with a weaker candidate, and I'm not going to play that media game.

BAIER: Isn't this race different, a lot different, with all these candidates? And now he's topping the latest polls. What are you learning from that? What does that tell you?

SANTORUM: Well, you go back four years ago, and the two top people in the polls I believe were Michelle Bachman and Rick Perry, and neither of them ended up winning a delegate. And one had a lot of money and one had a lot of grassroots momentum. And what I find is these presidential races, I'd rather be an airplane than a rocket. Rockets don't have usually soft landings. And airplanes take off slowly and reach good heights. And that's what you want to do.

BAIER: Steve?

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Switching to domestic policy if I can, you have proposed an increase in the minimum wage, something that set you apart from most other Republicans. What do you say to a small business owner who says to you, if you make me, if the federal government makes me increase my wages, I will have fewer employees?

SANTORUM: What I would say is we're going to put a package together that's going to cut tax rates probably roughly in half. We're going to make it a simple, fair, flat tax. We're going to allow expensing for capital and equipment. We're going to remove regulations that the president has put in place that kills jobs.

And in order to get that passed, I'm actually putting ideas out there that could actually attract bipartisan support for an economic plan. And so a 50 cent an hour increase per year for three years, when less than one percent of workers make the minimum wage now is something -- I was able to have a long list of accomplishments in Washington D.C. because I was able to figure out ways to pull things together so we can get things that grow the economy and still provide some basic protections that make the other side feel you're taking care of those being left behind. And so I would say if you want a 20 percent cut in your taxes, if you want less regulation, if you want to be able to expense things, I think maybe you'll see a lot more growth in wages, and this little minimum wage increase you're not going to have to worry too much about.

HAYES: So this is mostly good politics, not good economics?

SANTORUM: It's both. I think providing basic worker protections is something that Republicans for a long, long time were for. To go out there and argue that we don't need a minimum wage increase when nobody makes the minimum wage is in effect an argument that we don't need a minimum wage and we shouldn't have a minimum wage. I think most people think that we should have some floor of wages that doesn't have a profound impact on inflation and doesn't cause businesses problems. When virtually nobody is getting paid, I think you're pretty much at that level.

BAIER: Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS, THE HILL: You made some news this week when you said the United States government should not only be about curving illegal immigration but legal immigration, you said cut it by 25 percent. A lot of thought apparently behind that I think is you want to increase opportunities for working people in this country, but wouldn't it have the consequence, senator, of also increasing the push for illegal immigration in the country?

SANTORUM: Well, it comes with a plan to make it harder to come into this country illegally at the border, and also a plan that is going to track visa overstays, which, as you know, Juan, is the principle reason people are now in this country illegally.

WILLIAMS: I'm glad you said that.

SANTORUM: No, It's true. And also with an e-verify system that enforces the law.

What I do want, if you look at the fact that in the last 25 years, we've seen 35 million people come into this country both legally and illegally, and during that time, wages have flat lined. And 74 percent of Americans don't have a college degree. They're seeing their wages and the opportunity they think to rise hurting, and we're continuing to bring more almost exclusively unskilled workers in.

And as you know from the H-1B controversy, the highly skilled workers we bring in are replacing people who have good paying jobs right now and are being brought in to replace them. So I think people are frustrated that no one looks at immigration as what's in the best interest of the American worker. We look it more from a human rights perspective, or whatever. I think you need to look at it when you have wages flat-lining, when you have median income declining, when you have the American dream seeming too far away from people, we have to start looking out for the interests of workers, and that's why we proposed this change.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: To follow up on that, would you say that immigration, legal immigration in addition to illegal immigration has been a negative for the U.S. economy?

SANTORUM: I would say 35 million people coming here over the last 20 years, more people in this country than ever in the history of this country living here who were not born here, that can be a good thing or it can be a bad thing. What you have to do is you have to look at the numbers. And if you look at the numbers, you see people who are lower skilled workers not rising. I don't think anyone argues that that is a problem in America today is the ability for people to be able to rise. I put forth a plan that highlights manufacturing and to try to bring back jobs for unskilled laborers to get those skills. But we also have to make sure that the labor pool is such that people can get better paying jobs.

KRAUTHAMMER: But then isn't the solution not to go after the gross number but to go after the composition of the legal cohort? And would you favor what Canada and Australia do, which is to favor skilled labor, people with education who bring stuff to the United States that is less advantageous -- more advantageous to the country than would be low-skilled?
But would you then still want to restrict the numbers?

SANTORUM: I think you have to look at both. I don't know what's magical about 1,050,000. By the way, that's the number. We bring in 1,050,000. That's been the case for the last 20 years. The previous high was from 1880 to 1920, which was about 750,000. So we're at the highest level we've ever been. What's magical about that number? In fact there's really nothing magical about that number. What we do know is the number we're bringing in is having an impact on low skilled wages.

So the answer is we need to do both. We need to look at changing the composition of who we're bringing in and reducing that number. We can always increase it if we have labor shortages and we need those.

KRAUTHAMMER: One last point. Wasn't that immigration of 1880 to 1900 overwhelmingly unskilled labor?

SANTORUM: Yes.

KRAUTHAMMER: That was the wretched refuse.

SANTORUM: Yes, but that was a different economy than what we have today, a very different economy, and also a very different government. We didn't have government benefits like we have today that people can avail themselves to.

My grandfather came in in 1923. And to my knowledge, there were really no government benefits out there. So you had to go to work, and we had an economy that was an industrial economy that was booming. We needed a lot of unskilled workers. It's a very different -- I don't think anyone is making the argument, Charles, that there's a lot of unskilled worker jobs being created with good pay for people to be able to rise in society.

BAIER: Do you want to have any more Center Seat?

(LAUGHTER)

BAIER: OK, let's go to the next panel back with Center Seat with
Senator Santorum after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BAIER: Former Pennsylvania senator and current Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum back in our "Center Seat" tonight.
Senator, we want to talk foreign policy, but I want to get to a couple of things. Well, first of all, you wanted to make a clarification.

SANTORUM: When I was talking about highly-skilled workers, the H-1B visa program is not highly skilled. They're bringing in mostly computer programs to replace people who are high-skilled but not highly skilled.

BAIER: That's what Juan wanted to follow up with.

EMS-Midi42 asked this, "What are your plans to reduce the national debt?" Tom gets a little bit more specific. He says "The federal debt is currently at $18.3 trillion. What is your plan to get it done to zero?"

SANTORUM: Real quick, growth. That's the most important thing. A flat tax that is strongly pro-growth will increase revenues, reduce outlays. Secondly, means testing entitlement program, particularly for food stamps, Medicaid, all those programs -- not mean test. Excuse me.
Means test Social Security, and we need to do something on creating generational equity respect to age. We need to index the -- after it turns to 67, we have to index the age to life expectancy. That way every generation pays basically the same amount, we create generational equity and social security.

On means tested entitlement programs, work requirements and entitlement. We did that when I was over there at the capital and managed the welfare reform bill, got President Clinton to sign it. We did it for cash benefits. We didn't do it for food stamps. We didn't do it for the other means tested entitlement programs. That's going to be a big deal.

And obviously, repeal Obamacare. That's a huge cost that's sitting on the federal government. And replace it with the same type of system that we're talking about with medicare, which is a premium support model.
Help employees who don't have employer provided insurance be able to buy insurance to they can have the guarantee of some basic level of insurance.

BAIER: Foreign policy, Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Today the Security Council supported unanimously the deal Obama struck in Vienna on Iran's nukes, which means that within 90 days it will become international law, and by the end of the year when the IAEA reports, all sanctions are going to be lifted. So if you were to become president, you'll be a year late into the game. No matter what Congress does, the U.S. will be committed under the Security Council to stay within the lifting sanctions regime. What do you do?

SANTORUM: Well, first off, I have every confidence that Iran will be violating that agreement by then because they've violated every other agreement that they've ever entered into. Number two, I have no doubt that Iran will be even more a fomenter of terrorism into the world. So what we'll have done by lifting those sanctions, giving them more resources to cause more trouble.

Now, in the pipeline to lift the sanctions on weapons and ballistic missiles, hopefully we will begin to ratchet back some of this agreement based upon Iran's behavior, which I have no doubt will be wrong. And also go out and say even in spite of this agreement, we're going to look and assess Iran, and if in fact, they are moving, which I believe they will be, to a nuclear weapon, we will bring other things to the table above and beyond sanctions, if necessary.

KRAUTHAMMER: You mean the military?

SANTORUM: We will bring whatever is necessary to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

KRAUTHAMMER: It's not going to be economical because the world is not going to go along with what you say.

SANTORUM: Of course the United States can do things on their own, and we can recruit others who are willing based on Iran's behavior, which I suspect --

BAIER: Like Scott Walker, would you tear up the deal on day one?

SANTORUM: You can tear up the deal, but the deal has already been executed. So you can say I'm tearing up the deal, but the sanctions have already been removed and you can't put the genie back in the bottle. So, yes, I would tear up in the deal in the sense that I think it is a deal that's not worth the paper it is printed on. You have sanctions that allow for inspections after 24 days. And I wish my mom gave me 24 days to clean up my room. I can hide anything in 24 days.

So the idea that this is an effective treaty is wrong. I will treat it that way and we will go and implement a policy hopefully not unilaterally. Hopefully we will get others to join us. I think the Israelis will join us. I think the Saudis and others in the region will join us. I think they'll be a lot of people who will be looking for leadership to try to stop Iran to progress as a more terrorist nation.

BAIER: Steve?

HAYES: Should we talk to our adversaries in the first place, our enemies?

SANTORUM: It all depends.

HAYES: What does it depend on?

SANTORUM: If they're terrorists, the answer is no, we don't. They're terrorists. They're a terrorist organization.

HAYES: So would you have done this? Would you have entered into these negotiations at all even with preconditions?

SANTORUM: The answer is, would we have negotiated a dismantling of their -- yes, I would negotiate a dismantling under certain circumstances.
You bet we would.

HAYES: But if they're terrorists, then you would be negotiating with terrorists?

SANTORUM: But, again, if you're negotiating in a sense surrender, that's one thing. If you're negotiating how they can go forward and keep basically everything that they have and not have to dismantle everything, they can go forward and keep their military sights open -- so you have to have terms that are commensurate with the degree of evil that you're dealing with. And that means complete capitulation. And if you don't get that, then the answer is no.

HAYES: Does this make war more likely, this deal?

SANTORUM: This has made a nuclear arms race in the Middle East more likely. This means terrorism is going to expand. The difficulty in fighting ISIS, now we've made a partner in peace, according to the president, radical shite Islam. How easy is it if you're a Sunni sitting in Anbar province that now you're going to work with Iraqi government that is now controlled by Iran and a partner in peace. You've made ISIS a much more difficult burden to get out of Iraq because of this.

BAIER: More with Senator Rick Santorum. We'll start with Juan, talk some politics, and looking forward when the panel comes back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BAIER: And we're back with our panel Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. Senator, in the latest FOX poll you are tied for 10th place at two percent. In the RCP average you are actually ninth place, tied with John Kasich who gets into the race tomorrow. If you don't make the top 10 in Cleveland, will you go to the forum and take part in that?

SANTORUM: I mean, I came to the Center Seat. I will go.

BAIER: You are ready.

SANTORUM: I'll go wherever they ask me to go.

BAIER: What about your trajectory here? Even in Iowa there is a poll that has you three percent in a place that is essentially home for you.

SANTORUM: I would just say that, you know, four years ago I was at one percent. Two weeks before the election in Iowa in the national polls I was at two percent. You know, we're running a campaign like we ran last time. It's just the way you win in Iowa. You go out there. I have been to 48 counties so far. We're going to keep working it. A lot of people are still kicking the tires and testing it out. These national polls don't really mean anything to me. They mean a lot to the media, they focus a lot to on it. But I don't think they don't mean much to the voters at Iowa.
And we're concentrating on winning there and going from there.

BAIER: Juan?

WILLIAMS: Senator, why is the Pope wrong and Ronald Reagan right about trickle-down economics. How do you reconcile it in your mind when the head of your church says that the central plank of so much of your party's economic philosophy is just dead wrong? In fact Hillary Clinton this weekend said trickle-down is wrong. It's not fair to the working man and women in this country.

SANTORUM: If you read a lot of Catholic doctrine, which you might imagine I have. And certainly the writings of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict and others, they are very, very about how important capital markets are and how important the free enterprise system is and how dangerous communism and socialism is.

And so I would just say if you look at the great body of thought and you look at the reality of what's going on in the world, you have a Pope that comes from a place in Argentina where capitalism is not practiced quite the way it is here in the United States. And as a result, you might have a little bit more jaundiced view as to the crony capitalism that gets practiced in Argentina. The sad part is that's becoming the norm in the United States because of this president.

WILLIAMS: So that's what he is speaking to is trickle-down economics and some that is so central to your campaign which is speaking up for the working man and woman.

SANTORUM: I will continue to speak for the working man and woman.
And part of that is getting rid of the crony capitalism that we see. And one of the reasons that we're going for a flat tax that eliminates all these bells and whistles in the tax code is to get rid of those special interest provisions and have much more fairer tax system.

BAIER: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Senator, you won Iowa last time. How well do you have to do in Iowa to stay as a viable candidate?

SANTORUM: I think we have to finish either number one or very close to those. And we have to be -- if there is a small group at the top, we need to be in that group. We have to do well. I would say that that will be a big springboard for us into primarily South Carolina and Nevada.

BAIER: Biggest challenge in Iowa?

SANTORUM: You know, at the end of my campaign in Wisconsin, I really enjoyed the time and I used to commune with the folks and I said everybody should run for president.

BAIER: Look at what they did.

SANTORUM: They took me up on it.

BAIER: Senator, thank you very much.

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