"Look, if you can't handle the heat in this little kitchen, the heat that's going to come from Obama’s kitchen will be a heck of a lot hotter."
Gov. Mitt Romney appeared on "The Daily Rundown" (weekdays 9-10a ET) where he discussed negative campaign ads, Scott Brown’s recent comments on the payroll tax cut fight, and domestic and foreign policy issues. Clips/transcripts are below.
CHUCK TODD, HOST: Well, Mitt Romney is here with me now. Governor Romney, so, Newt Gingrich not happy with the Super PAC ads. Let me get you to respond. He says that he doesn't believe your explanation about the coordination.
GOV. MITT ROMNEY: Well, you're not allowed to coordinate with these independent committees, these Super PACs. It's a strange part of American law. I don't like the way the law was written. I think a campaign ought to have all the funds and run its own ads as opposed to these independent expenditure committees being set up. We can't coordinate that. At the same time, I know the speaker thinks that all negative ads should end, but this is, after all, a campaign, and campaigns do point out differences between candidates, draw out those distinctions. It’s important they be accurate, tell the truth. But, you know, I’ve been the subject of some pretty tough attacks that have come both from the speaker but also President Obama’s Super PAC. We have to make sure what's going to fight what comes from him.
TODD: You can't coordinate, but you have appeared at some events for Restore Our Future. You spoke to some donors a few months ago. A former associate of yours is involved with Restore Our Future. I know you’re not violating the letter of the law, but doesn't that not violate the spirit of it?
ROMNEY: New York City you -- no, you actually -- there was what you can do. They can help in terms of fundraising but cannot in any way communicate a course of advertising, suggest when ads run, where they run, what's in the content of the ads. Those are things that are prohibited so we're being very careful in that regard. I know that the speaker would like to say, look, we shouldn't have any negativity. Look, if you can't handle the heat in this little kitchen, the heat that's going to come from Obama’s kitchen will be a heck of a lot hotter. We need to show that we can stand up to the barrage that's going to come from the Obama world.
TODD: Do you think the decision by the Supreme Court which essentially created this landscape was a bad decision?
ROMNEY: Well, I think the Supreme Court’s decision was following their interpretation of the campaign finance laws that were written by Congress. My own view is now we tried a lot of efforts to try and restrict what can be given to campaigns, we'd be a lot wiser to say you can give what you'd like to a campaign. They must report it immediately and the creation of these independent expenditure committees that have to be separate from the candidate, that's just a bad idea.
TODD: Bad decision, though, or no, the Supreme Court?
ROMNEY: I'm not going to criticize the Supreme Court, I’m going to criticize Congress for passing a law that limits what campaigns can receive and opens the door to these Super PACs and to PACs which have now been around for a while. This is where I think the most damaging allegations arise.
TODD: If you ever thought Restore Our Future went over the line, would you publicly tell them not to do it?
ROMNEY: I'd have to check with what the law tells me.
TODD: You can publicly critique them.
ROMNEY: What I am allowed to say and not allowed to say. But obviously the key to me is making sure people tell the truth.
TODD: What we're seeing going on in Washington right now, this is what your senator, Scott Brown, he called what the House Republicans are doing with the payroll tax holiday irresponsible and wrong. Charlie bass is going to be on your bus trip. He voted against the republican bill that essentially killed the Senate compromise. What say you in this?
ROMNEY: Well, we're deep in the weeds. Should it be a two-month extension, one-year extension, which element should be involved. I hope that both the House and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats, are able to get this resolved as soon as possible. I’d like to see the payroll tax cut extended. Two months is not very long.
TODD: Nobody seems to want the two months but if this is all you can get done, do you want to see it done?
ROMNEY: You'd like to get as much done as possible. You’d like to see it go a full year. You’d like to recognize at the same time that this is not going to turn the economy around. It’s a very helpful feature for a number of families and that's why we don't want to raise taxes on people, particularly in the middle of an Obama economy. But let's hope that these guys are able to get the job done.
TODD: So you don't agree with Senator Brown's irresponsible and wrong comments?
ROMNEY: Look, come together. I’m not going to throw gasoline on what is already a fire. What we really need is a president that's a leader that can stand in with the members of both parties and work together on finding a common solution. But this president has been intent on attacking, and attack mode is not the way a leader tries to get people to work together.
TODD: I want to talk about Newt Gingrich for a minute. You’ve used some tough words about him, zany, unreliable, inconsistent, loose cannon; you believe he might be tearing up the Constitution about this idea about judges. Just this morning I got my usual daily email now with the headline on Gingrich called unreliable leader. Do you think he's fit to be president?
ROMNEY: Of course I think Speaker Gingrich has the qualifications to become president. I’ve said before that I think anybody on the stage would be a better president than the one we have. I happen to think that I’d be better than Speaker Gingrich. If not, I wouldn't be running. I think he has proven that when the big issues of the last decade or so came to the fore, the cap and trade issue he sat down with Nancy Pelosi on a sofa to argue about it. When Medicare was brought forward by Paul Ryan, he larked out and said this was right wing social engineering. He has been unreliable in his support of conservative initiatives, such as those. Pointing out distinctions and differences in a campaign is not something which is unusual or something I’m afraid of. The Speaker, by the way, has been pretty critical of me and has laid a whole series of attacks on me. That’s the nature of a campaign, point out those differences. The American people are pretty good at sorting out what's real and not real and they'll come to know us based on the things we say about ourselves and the things others say about us.
TODD: Does he possess the qualities that you would look for in a vice president?
ROMNEY: I haven't thought about the vice presidential nominee. If I’m lucky enough to get the nomination myself, I’ll give that a lot of thought. For me is this a person who could be seen as a person that could take over if necessary.
TODD: I assume you wouldn't want somebody that was a loose cannon.
ROMNEY: I'm not going to characterize anybody's qualifications for vice president. Obviously if I think the people on the stage could currently do better than the current president, I sure as heck they could do a lot better than the current vice president.
TODD: After the break I want to get into some issues, some foreign policy, some domestic policy. We’ll have much more with Governor Mitt Romney after the break. He’s sticking with us here at Keene, New Hampshire. You’re looking at a shot outside the restaurant here. More of my live interview with Governor Romney ahead next.
Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., explains his stance on killing Osama bin Laden, the Iraq War, and health care.
TODD: And we're back here in Keene, New Hampshire, where we've joined former Governor Mitt Romney on the campaign trail. He starts a three-day bus tour today. Governor Romney, let's talk policy. You said something interesting to Chris Wallace about the bin laden decision by the President. You said any president would have made that decision. What did you mean by just any president? It seemed a little whimsical. Maybe you didn't mean it to sound that way.
ROMNEY: I just mean that -- and I went on to say but I give credit to this president for actually having made the decision. I don't think it's unusual on the part of this president to have finally taken out Osama bin laden. After all, we had been looking for him for some time. Intelligence finally gave him a good indication of where he was. He gave the order. I do think prior presidents would have done the same thing had they been in the same position.
TODD: Are you comfortable with a policy of this sort of unilateral -- you know, four years ago this became a debate an issue. Do you act unilaterally in Pakistan? Are you comfortable to act unilaterally without maybe telling an ally like Pakistan that you might be firing drones in their country?
ROMNEY: I think in a setting like this one where Osama bin laden was identified to be hiding in Pakistan, that it was entirely appropriate for this president to move in and to take him out. I have no compunction about that at all. That was the right course for him to take. I supported that at the time and do now. In a similar circumstance, I think other presidents and other candidates like myself would do exactly the same thing.
TODD: Let's talk about Iraq. You wouldn't -- you wouldn't answer the hindsight question, and I understand that. You don't have all the information at the time. But the way you answered the question about whether if you knew everything then that you know now, that maybe the war would have gone differently or maybe history will judge this war badly. Is that your sense on this?
ROMNEY: Well, if we knew at the time of our entry into Iraq that there were no weapons of mass destruction, if somehow we had been given that information, obviously we would not have gone in.
TODD: You don't think we would have gone in?
ROMNEY: Of course not. The President went in based upon intelligence that they had weapons of mass destruction. Had he known that that was not the case, the U.N. would not have put forward resolutions authorizing this type of action. The President would not have been pursuing that course. But we did not know that. Based upon what we knew at the time, we were very much under the impression as a nation that they had weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam Hussein was intent on potentially using those weapons, and so he took action based upon what he knew. But to go back and say, well, knowing what we know now would we have gone in. Well, knowing what we know now, they did not have weapons of mass destruction, there would have been no effort on the part of our president or others to take military action.
TODD: Let's talk about Syria. Given the role the U.S. and NATO played in protect civilians, do you think at some point NATO or the United States and some coalition of the willing is going to have to go in there and protect civilians in Syria?
ROMNEY: You know, I don't want to speculate as to what the conditions might be and raise alarm bells. I am, after all -- I'm not a president, but I'm looking for that job. I do believe that we should act very aggressively to try and encourage the dissidence within Syria, to remove Assad and to bring a more representative form of government.
TODD: Support them militarily if that's what's necessary?
ROMNEY: Certainly support them covertly. We should support Turkey and Saudi Arabia as they're putting pressure on Syria. I won't rule out military support of some kind but I don't want to describe exactly what we might do because the circumstances can change. But Syria is very different than Libya. It is the only key ally for Iran, its route to the sea. A key satellite to Iran. Its link also with Lebanon. So Syria plays a key role for Iran. Any action we might take will certainly be met with an opposite reaction from Iran. And Iran at the current time is almost assuredly involved in Syria trying to protect the status quo.
TODD: All right, on health care, it's ground that's been plowed a lot with you, I understand that. Do you still believe in the idea of a mandate as a conservative idea? One of the defenses you've made of this is saying, hey, this was a conservative idea in 1993, that the heritage foundation and then Speaker Newt Gingrich-- or actually he was not yet speaker, were touting as a conservative alternative to what then the Clinton administration. Do you still believe a mandate is a conservative idea, the idea of the personal responsibility aspect?
ROMNEY: We, there were two options in my state. One was to continue to allow people without insurance to go to the hospital and get free care paid for by government, paid for by the taxpayers. And so that is a government-dominated, government-provided free service. The alternative that we had as an option in our state is people who can afford to buy insurance themselves should do so rather than relying on government. Given those two options, the option that we chose was a more conservative approach. At least that's my view. Personal responsibility is more conservative in my view than something being given out free by government.
TODD: Is there another conservative idea out there that you think can cover 30 million Americans?
ROMNEY: Well, the best –
TODD: For people that can afford it?
ROMNEY: The best idea is to let each state craft their own solution because that's the heart of conservatism is to follow the Constitution, the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution gives this responsibility to states. Now, states could look at what we did and maybe improve on it. I noted in my book, for instance, that one way to encourage people to get insurance who can afford it is to give a break to people, a tax break to people who do have insurance. Mathematically that creates the same incentive as a penalty. I think Republicans tend to be inclined to giving breaks to people who have insurance.
TODD: Are you concerned, though, that that could create, and i know this is an awkward term to use, sanctuary states, where some states are going to just cover more people than other states? Massachusetts versus a Mississippi, say?
ROMNEY: Well, that's something that would be worth looking at for any state to consider. People have to look at Massachusetts and to see what the record has been of its experience. But my own understanding is that under federal law, people are able to get covered. Virtually in any state in America, someone that is seriously ill can go to the hospital and get treated even if they can't pay for it. In my opinion that's a big government solution.
TODD: So how do we stop that? That's how the mandate came in, right?
ROMNEY: That's how it arose, how do we get individuals to take responsibility for their own care. There are a lot of different models. One is to have clinics where people are treated at low cost or no cost. The other is to do as I suggest, which is to have, if you will, tax breaks given to people who have insurance. There are a number of ways of encouraging personal responsibility.
TODD: Speaking of taxes, that's something I want to tackle when we go on the bus trip. But one final question, is there something about you that you think the public doesn't know yet, that you wish they did?
ROMNEY: Well, my guess is they're going to come to know me on a more personal basis as time goes on. So far most people have only seen me in debates. Debates are fine but they're a series of 60-second answers. As you get to run a campaign and people really focus on what you're doing and you get chances to speak with people like you, they see you in a setting where you're not confined to 30-second or 60-second answers but you can instead speak on a more extensive basis, so I think people get an understanding of why I’m running for president. Very fundamentally, I want to restore the greatness of America. I’m concerned this president has put us on a path of decline and is making us more like Europe. And that's a choice America faces. And I believe that my experience and background will help America become stronger again, creating good jobs and good incomes for the American people.
TODD: Well, that debate is going to be ongoing and we will continue to talk later on the bus tour. Governor Romney, thanks for doing this.
ROMNEY: Thanks everybody here, very nice hosts.