Interview with Tim Russert on NBC News' "Meet the Press"
RUSSERT: Governor Romney, welcome to MEET THE PRESS.
ROMNEY: Thanks, Tim. Good to be with you.
RUSSERT: You gave a speech about the Mormon faith, religion and politics recently, and I want to ask you about a sentence in that speech that caused some discussion around the country. Let's watch.
ROMNEY: Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.
RUSSERT: "Freedom requires religion." Can you have freedom without organized religion?
ROMNEY: Well, I was paraphrasing and underlining, if you will, a quote that I'd just read from John Adams, who said that our constitutional form of government in this nation would require morality and freedom to be able to survive. And, of course, George Washington said virtually the same thing, that we were a nation that required a level of morality and religion in order to be a great nation and survive. And I think there's truth to that, that the--that the great experiment of democracy, the experiment of America's freedom has, as its basis, a sense of morality and a recognition that religious foundations are part of that, that morality.
And so I believe that long-term for America to remain a great nation and to lead the world, we must have a recognition of our religious base. Now, that's, of course, not a particular denomination. But the, the founders of the nation, coming from different faiths and different persuasions, nonetheless all believed that the, the creator was an instrumental part of the founding of this nation. And I believe that that part of history should be taught, I believe that we should recognize the divine with everything from celebrations in the town square, with menorahs and nativity scenes, as well as in our history books, talking about the fact that the creators did believe in a fundamental sense of, of the divine. And, and recognizing that that gives us a moral code, a suggestion of what is right and wrong, that is--that is, in many respects, unique in the world.
We, we believe, as a nation, from the founding of this nation, that God gave the individual certain inalienable rights. That's not a constitutional guarantee, that's not a policy guarantee, it's a guarantee from our creator. And, of course, the corollary is that, that if we're all children of the same God, that we have a duty to one another, to care for one another, Americans first and the people of the world second. And, and finally, that freedom is something which is--which is of a, an eternal nature. And so all of these things, I think, are part of what makes America unique and part of what gives us confidence that freedom can ring forever in, in this--in this land.
RUSSERT: But when you say freedom requires religion, can you be a moral person and be an atheist?
ROMNEY: Oh, oh, of course. Oh, of course.
RUSSERT: And participate in freedom?
ROMNEY: Oh, of course. Yes, this...
RUSSERT: So freedom doesn't require religion?
ROMNEY: Well, this--the, the context was talking about the, the founding of the nation and the, the sense in this case of John Adams describing the fact that our constitutional form of government and this American experiment required morality, which in turn required religion. And, and yet, of course, on an individual basis, you have many individuals of great morality and--that, that don't have any particular faith.
RUSSERT: So if you determined that the most qualified person for the Supreme Court or for attorney general or secretary of education happened to be an atheist or an agnostic, that wouldn't prevent you from appointing them?
ROMNEY: Of course not. You, you, you look at individuals based upon their skills and their ability, their values, their intelligence. And there are many who are agnostic or atheist or who have very different beliefs about the nature of the divine than I do, and, and you evaluate them based on their skills. But I, I can tell you that I, I myself am a person of faith and, and respect the, the sense of the common bond of humanity that comes from that, that fundamental belief.
RUSSERT: But there'd be no litmus test?
ROMNEY: No, no. There's no litmus test of, of that nature.
RUSSERT: I want to ask you about an interview you had with Sam Stone--Sunstone magazine. Here's it on the cover. It's a Mormon-based magazine. This is from November of '05, and it says, quote, "Romney sought advice from the man he admires most in this world, Mormon President Gordon Bitner Hinckley. The conversation eventually turned to whether a run for the presidency would be good for him and the church. The specifics of the conversation are, of course, known only to people who were there."
Should voters be concerned that you were seeking input from the leader of the Mormon church as to whether or not you should run for president?
ROMNEY: Well, the decision about running for president was one that I made entirely by myself, and I got a lot of advice from a lot of people, some solicited, some not solicited, as you might imagine. And the decision was made by my sons and daughters-in-law and my wife and myself in December of last year. And I got, I got the kind of support that, that I guess a lot of folks would hope that they'd get from their family, each of them recognizing that there was a downside for them personally and potentially for me, but that these are such critical times in our nation's history with the threat of radical jihad, the, the new competitive threat that we face from China and, at the same time, our domestic problems--overspending, overuse of oil, failure in our schools and so forth--that it was time for someone that had experience outside government to finally take the reins in Washington to get us on the right track. But I'm, I'm happy to get as much advice as I can from as many people as I can.
But I, I also pointed out in my address, as you know, in, in College Station that, that I would accept no guidance or, or input of an inappropriate nature from anyone in any religion. The, the leaders of a faith have their responsibility and authority in the sphere of their faith, but in the sphere of public, of the public domain, they have, they have no authority.
RUSSERT: So if President Hinckley told you it would not be in the best interest, in his judgment, for you to run for president, you would still run if you'd made that decision?
ROMNEY: I would have listened to a lot of people on a lot of topics, but the decision was mine, and the nature of my faith is not to have church officials tell you what to do. I believe very firmly in the principle of, of free agency, people making their own decisions and doing what they think is right.
RUSSERT: Did he encourage you?
ROMNEY: He didn't offer any advice on, on, on a run for office whatsoever.
RUSSERT: Let me ask you about one of your supporters, a Dr. Bob Jones III.
RUSSERT: ...an evangelical leader, and this is what he said about your faith. He said it was a "cult," an "erroneous religion." How can you accept the support of someone who would trash your faith in that way?
ROMNEY: Well, you know, religions are in a competitive battle. They're competing for souls and adherence. And the good news is that Bob Jones may not agree with my faith--and obviously he does not--but he does believe that I'm the right person to be president of the United States, and that's because he believes that a person of faith should lead the nation, an individual who's pro-life, who's adamantly in favor of traditional marriage, an individual who has the skills and background to get America back on track internationally and domestically. So we have, we have very common ground when it talks--when, when we talk about what's needed for the country. I mean, I think he and I would agree that our church needs pastors, but, but the, the White House needs a president. And he backs me as a president, not as a pastor. And I'm not running for pastor in chief, I'm running for president of the United States. And I believe, and he believes that my values, my experience through the private sector at the Olympics and then in government, as well as my vision for America is right for America. So I'm delighted to have his support and some say when all this is over, we'll probably talk about religion, too.
RUSSERT: He went on. He said this: "I'd be very concerned if he tried to make it appear in any" way--in any "of this statements that Mormonism is a Christian denomination of some sort. It isn't. There's a theological gulf that can't be bridged." He's saying cult. He's saying erroneous religion. He's saying you're not a Christian. How can you accept the support of someone who's so dismissive of a faith that you treasure?
ROMNEY: Well, people have differing views about faith, as you understand, and, of course, as I indicated there are, there are competing faiths in this nation. But the, the great thing, of course, is that our values are the same. We have Christians and Jews for instance. They don't have the same faith, but we certainly have the same Judeo-Christian foundation, and it's those common values that allow us to select people regardless of their faith for, for positions of secular leadership.
RUSSERT: But you wouldn't call Judaism a cult or erroneous religion, would you?
ROMNEY: Well it's--I certainly wouldn't. But each of us has their own approach to how we're going to describe other people's faiths. At the same time, I, I think you recognize that to, to someone like Dr. Jones, the, the term Christian means something different than it does to other people. To some folks the term Christian refers to a certain group of evangelical faiths that adhere to the Nicene Creed and so forth. And if that's the definition of, of Christian that they have, why, that's their right to define it that way. There are others who say, "No, if you believe as I do, that Jesus Christ is the son of God, that that makes one Christian." And so people have different definitions, but in, in the realm of religion, which is separate in this sense, in the, in the realm of doctrines and differences and histories between churches, that's very separate that the--than the affairs of state.
But fortunately, in the affairs of state, values, values that come from our religious foundation, values that come from our common belief that we are descendants or children of God, that we are brothers and sisters, that we have responsibility for one another, that liberty is a gift of the divine, those values are common throughout this great land. And, of course, the great experiment of America initially was to bring people here for religious liberty. They got here and began to be just as intolerant here as they'd been at home. But the brilliance of what happened at Philadelphia was that the founders recognized that we could be a land which welcomed the diversity of faiths and we could therefore promote people in business, in, in secular life, not based upon what they believed, or even based upon the color of their skin--ultimately it took us a while to figure that one out--or their gender or their sexual orientation, we would promote people in our society based on their ability and that has made all the difference in the world. We lead the world because of that, that power and greatness associated with that recognition.
RUSSERT: You, you raise the issue of color of skin. In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court, Brown vs. Board of Education, desegregated all our public schools. In 1964 civil rights laws giving full equality to black Americans. And yet it wasn't till 1978 that the Mormon church decided to allow blacks to participate fully. Here was the headlines in the papers in June of '78. "Mormon Church Dissolves Black Bias. Citing new revelation from God, the president of the Mormon Church decreed for the first time black males could fully participate in church rites." You were 31 years old, and your church was excluding blacks from full participation. Didn't you think, "What am I doing part of an organization that is viewed by many as a racist organization?"
ROMNEY: I'm very proud of my faith, and it's the faith of my fathers, and I certainly believe that it is a, a faith--well, it's true and I love my faith. And I'm not going to distance myself in any way from my faith. But you can see what I believed and what my family believed by looking at, at our lives. My dad marched with Martin Luther King. My mm was a tireless crusader for civil rights. You may recall that my dad walked out of the Republican convention in 1964 in San Francisco in part because Barry Goldwater, in his speech, gave my dad the impression that he was someone who was going to be weak on civil rights. So my dad's reputation, my mom's and my own has always been one of reaching out to people and not discriminating based upon race or anything else. And so those are my fundamental core beliefs, and I was anxious to see a change in, in my church.
I can remember when, when I heard about the change being made. I was driving home from, I think, it was law school, but I was driving home, going through the Fresh Pond rotary in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I heard it on the radio, and I pulled over and, and literally wept. Even at this day it's emotional, and so it's very deep and fundamental in my, in my life and my most core beliefs that all people are children of God. My faith has always told me that. My faith has also always told me that, in the eyes of God, every individual was, was merited the, the fullest degree of happiness in the hereafter, and I, and I had no question in my mind that African-Americans and, and blacks generally, would have every right and every benefit in the hereafter that anyone else had and that God is no respecter of persons.
RUSSERT: But it was wrong for your faith to exclude it for as long as it did.
ROMNEY: I've told you exactly where I stand. My view is that there--there's, there's no discrimination in the eyes of God, and I could not have been more pleased than to see the change that occurred.
RUSSERT: Let me talk to you about your campaign. This is how it has been described in numerous cartoons, editorials, news articles: "A Changed Man. Many candidates change. Romney seems to have given himself a makeover. Which has prompted more than a few people to ask: Who is this guy?" Some of your opponents passed out these flip-floppers, that Romney flips and flops on the various issues. And it's become a real issue for you in Iowa. The Des Moines Register asked Republicans who aren't supporting you what's the major factor for not supporting Romney? And look at this: Shifting his position on issues like abortion, 51 percent of Republicans say that's why they haven't embraced your candidacy.
I want to take abortion first. I participated in your debate in 2002 when you ran for governor of Massachusetts. I asked you about that issue, and this was your response. Let's watch.
ROMNEY: My position has been the same throughout my political career, and it goes back to the days of 1970. There was a woman who was running for political office, U.S. Senate. She took a very bold and courageous stand in 1970, and that was in a conservative state. That was that a woman should have the right to make her own choice as to whether or not to have an abortion. Her name was Lenore Romney, she was my mom. I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose and am devoted and dedicated to honoring my word in that regard.
RUSSERT: "Devoted and dedicated" to honoring your word. When you ran for the Senate against Ted Kennedy, you were asked the same question. This was your response.
ROMNEY: Many, many years ago I had a dear close family relative that was very close to me who passed away from an illegal abortion. It is since that time my mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter.
Offscreen Voice: Thank you, Mr...
ROMNEY: And you will not see me wavering on that.
RUSSERT: You--will not see you wavering on that issue. You now have said you support the 2004 Republican Party platform, which says this: "We say the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We" suggest "a human life amendment to the Constitution." Such amendment would ban abortions all across the country. Why such a dramatic and profound change after pledging never to waiver on a woman's right to choose?
ROMNEY: Well, you know, Tim, I was always personally opposed to abortion, as I think almost everyone in this nation is. And the question for me was, what is the role of government? And it was quite theoretical and, and philosophical to consider what the role of government should be in this regard, and I felt that the Supreme Court had spoken and that government shouldn't be involved and let people make their own decision. And that all made a lot of sense to me.
And then I became governor and the theoretical became reality, if you will. A bill came to my desk which related to the preservation of life. In this case, it happened to be a, a bill that would authorize cloning, which was--as well as embryo farming--which would be creating new embryos for the purpose of, of research and then destroying them. And, and I brought in people from across the country to talk about this bill, from theologians to scientists, provost of Harvard University and others, and, and talked about it. And, and I, I recognized, as I went through that effort, that I simply could not be part of an effort that would cause the destruction of human lift. And I didn't hide from that change of heart. I wrote an op-ed piece in The Boston Globe, described my view that I am pro-life, described why I had changed to become pro-life. I recognize it's a change. You can, you can find, you know, many, many instances of my indicating my position previous to that time of being effectively pro-choice. I didn't call myself pro-choice, but my position was effectively pro-choice. And, and, and that position changed. It changed at that point. And every piece of legislation which came to my desk in the coming years as the governor, I came down on the side of preserving the sanctity of life.
RUSSERT: Do you believe life begins at conception?
ROMNEY: I do. I believe, I believe from a, from a, a political perspective that life begins at conception. I, I don't, I don't pretend to know, if you will, from a theological standpoint when life begins. But...
RUSSERT: You didn't try to change the Massachusetts abortion laws.
ROMNEY: I'd committed to the people of Massachusetts that I would not change the laws one way or the other, and I honored that commitment. But each law that was brought to my desk attempted to expand abortion rights and, in each case, I vetoed that effort. I also promoted abstinence education in our schools. I vetoed an effort, for instance, to give young women a morning after pill, they call it, who did not have prescriptions--young, very young girls, without age limitation. So I took action to preserve the sanctity of life. But I did not violate my word, of course.
RUSSERT: But when you say you support a human life amendment to ban all abortions across the country, what would--form would that take? If a woman had an abortion, would she be perceived a criminal? Would a doctor who performed it be perceived a criminal? You talked about your family relative who died from an illegal abortion, and yet President Romney is saying ban all abortion. And what would be the legal consequences to people who participated in that procedure?
ROMNEY: Well, let's do two parts to that. First of all, my view is that the right next step in the, in the fight to preserve the sanctity of life is to see Roe v. Wade overturned and then return to the states and to the elected representatives of the people the ability to deal with, with life and abortion on their own. And so...
RUSSERT: But, Governor... allow abortion, others wouldn't.
ROMNEY: So that...
RUSSERT: But, Governor, play that out. Some states would allow abortion, others wouldn't.
ROMNEY: Right. Yes.
RUSSERT: So back to your relative.
RUSSERT: They cross the border into another state...
RUSSERT: ...or they stay in their own state and have an illegal abortion. What would be the consequences? Would they be...
ROMNEY: Let me get, let me get that. I'll get to the consequences.
ROMNEY: I promise.
ROMNEY: But I want to point out that the first step, in my view, is that Roe v. Wade be overturned. And ultimately, as, as an aspirational goal, I would love it if America came to a point where we're not today, where the people of America would, would welcome a society that did not have abortion. But that's not where we are, and so I'm not promoting or fighting for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion in all 50 states. I am fighting for an overturning of Roe v. Wade.
And the consequences? They would be like the consequences associated with the bill relating to partial birth abortion, which, of course, does not punish the woman. You, you wouldn't--I don't think anyone is calling for--maybe some of them, but no one I know of is calling for punishing the, the mother, punishing the woman.
RUSSERT: How about the doctor?
ROMNEY: But in, in the case of the doctor, the kinds of penalties would be potentially losing a license or having some other kind of restriction. In the case of partial birth abortion, as I recall, the penalty is a--possibly a prison term not to exceed two years. But generally, of course, the medical profession would immediately follow the law. That's not going to be an issue. And there would be a, a recognition that, that one's, one's license was at risk if one violated the law.
RUSSERT: You talked about this issue of stem cell research and embryos and yet you seem to have changed your position on that as well. Here's the way it was reported in the papers back then: "Romney faces another 'flip-flop' question. In August of 2004, Governor Romney appeared to express support for expanded federal backing of embryonic work." Your spokesman said to "The Boston Globe that the governor 'wants to encourage and support scientific research and the discovery of new cures.
"'For that reason'" "'he supports stem cell research on new and existing lines, in both private and federally funded settings.'"
You, yourself, issued--at a news conference, said this: "United States House of Representatives voted for a bill that was identical to what I proposed. They voted to provide surplus embryos from in vitro fertilization processes being used for research and experimentation. That's what I said I support."
These are embryos, these are, in your mind--words, human beings because they are--as life begins at conception, and these are surplus embryos from in vitro clinics that are used for research. They are destroyed. Do you still support that?
ROMNEY: I, I have the same position--let me describe it, because there are two parts to it. One is what I think should be legal in our society, and the other is, where should we devote federal funds. With regards to what should be legal in our society, as you, as you know, embryonic and stem cell research generally is a very broad term, and so we have, of course, the adult sources of embryonic cells, we have so-called surplus embryos from in vitro fertilization, and then we have new development of, of stem cells through cloning or through embryo farming. And from a legal standpoint, I would outlaw cloning to create new stem cells and I would outlaw embryo farming. I would allow, on a private basis, the use of surplus embryos, so-called surplus embryos from in vitro fertilization, and likewise the existing lines. So from a legal--and I faced that in Massachusetts. I, in the bill there, I said I would continue to allow the use of surplus embryos from IVF.
In terms of funding, I think the best source of our funding application should be in what are known as alternative methods. And this just recent. I've been, as you know, fighting for this for some time. But this recently saw a major breakthrough with direct reprogramming of, of human adult cells to become stem cells that can be very potent cells applied to help cure disease and, and serious conditions. Now, interestingly, Hillary Clinton voted for these alternative method technologies when she was first faced with it. But then as she became a presidential candidate, she was one of 28 to vote against alternative methods. She put politics ahead of people. And the, the source of great cures in this country is going to come from this, this, this alternative methods of creating stem cells without having to create new embryos, but instead focusing on taking adult cells, turning them into stem cells just as we've seen with this great breakthroughs by Asian and American scientists.
RUSSERT: But to be clear, the embryos that are so-called surplus in vitro clinics are destroyed...
RUSSERT: ...for research, and you support that.
ROMNEY: The term support is perhaps not the exact word I'd choose.
RUSSERT: You wouldn't outlaw it.
ROMNEY: I would, I would not outlaw it. I would allow, I would allow private laboratories and private institutions--as we currently do, and as the president does as well--to use these so-called surplus or embryos to be discarded.
Let me note as well, Tim, in that regard, that, that I think before we, we move too far down that road that we establish a provision for parents to have authority over their own embryos and to have adoption procedures so that they might be able to provide these embryos, as some call them, snowflake babies to allow them to be adopted by others and to be implanted and become human beings. That's the, that's the course I'd prefer. But I would not outlaw the use of these, of these surplus embryos if the parents so directed. And, at the same time, for federal dollars I would focus it on the, the alternative methods.
RUSSERT: Let me turn to gun control. Here's the headline: "Romney retreats on gun control. Romney, who once described himself as a supporter of strong gun laws, is distancing himself from that rhetoric now as he attempts to court the gun owners who make up a significant force in Republican primary politics. In his '94" Senate race, Romney backed two gun-control measures strongly opposed by the National Rife Association and other" guns rights "groups: the Brady Bill, which imposed a five-day waiting period on gun sales, and a ban on certain assault weapons. 'That's not going to make me the hero of the NRA,' Romney told the Boston Herald.'" "At another campaign stop" "he told reporters, 'I don't line up with the NRA.'" Suddenly Romney decides to run for president and signs up for a lifetime membership in the NRA.
ROMNEY: You know, it's, it's wonderful, and you'll appreciate this. There is a great effort on the part of, in some cases, my opposition, in some cases, just folks that are interested in writing an interesting article to, to try and find any change at all. And my position on guns is the same position I've had for a long, long time. And, and that position is that I don't line up 100 percent with the NRA. I don't see eye to eye with the NRA on every issue. I...
RUSSERT: You're still for the Brady Bill?
ROMNEY: I supported the assault weapon ban. I...
RUSSERT: You're for it?
ROMNEY: I assigned--and I--let me, let me describe it.
RUSSERT: But you're still for it.
ROMNEY: Let's describe what it is. I signed--I would have supported the original assault weapon ban. I signed an assault weapon ban in Massachusetts governor because it provided for a relaxation of licensing requirements for gun owners in Massachusetts, which was a big plus. And so both the pro-gun and the anti-gun lobby came together with a bill, and I signed that. And if there is determined to be, from time to time, a weapon of such lethality that it poses a grave risk to our law enforcement personnel, that's something I would consider signing. There's nothing of that nature that's being proposed today in Washington. But, but I would, I would look at weapons that pose extraordinary lethality...
RUSSERT: So the assault ban that expired here because Congress didn't act on it, you would support?
ROMNEY: Just as the president said, he would have, he would have signed that bill if it came to his desk, and so would have I. And, and, and yet I also was pleased to have the support of the NRA when I ran for governor. I sought it, I seek it now. I'd love to have their support. I believe in the right of Americans to bear arms...
RUSSERT: How about the Brady Bill?
ROMNEY: The Brady Bill has changed over time, and, of course, technology has changed over time.
RUSSERT: But the idea of a waiting period.
ROMNEY: Well, we have, we have a background check. That's the key thing. I support background checks to, to--for people who are going into a store or whatever and buying a weapon, I want them to have a background check to make sure...
RUSSERT: But you stand by your support of the Brady Bill.
ROMNEY: ...to make sure, to make sure that the, that the crazies don't buy guns.
The, the current Brady Bill is, is a different measure than the original. The original had a waiting period because it took a long time to check on people's backgrounds. Today we can check instantly on backgrounds. I don't want to cause a waiting period that's not necessary based upon today's technology. But my position is we should check on the backgrounds of people who are trying to purchase guns. We also should keep weapons of unusual lethality from being on the street. And finally, we should go after people who use guns in the commission of crimes or illegally, but we should not interfere with the right of law-abiding citizens to own guns either for their own personal protection or hunting or any other lawful purpose. I support the work of the NRA. I'm a member of the NRA. But do we line up on every issue? No, we don't.
RUSSERT: Immigration, an issue that is very important in this country and to the Republican primary voters. The Boston Globe interviewed you two years ago, and there's a tape of that conversation where you expressed support for the policies of George Bush and John McCain on immigration. Let's watch and listen.
ROMNEY: I think an amnesty program is what, which is all the illegal immigrants who are here are now citizens,
Unidentified Man: Mm-hmm.
ROMNEY: ...and a walk up and get your citizenship. What the president has proposed,
ROMNEY: ...and, and what Senator McCain and Cornyn have proposed, are, are quite different than that.
ROMNEY: They require people signing up for a, a, well, registering and receiving, if you will, a number, a registration number, then working here for six years and paying taxes...
ROMNEY: ...not taking benefits--health, Medicaid, food stamps, and so forth--not taking benefits, and then at the end of that period, registering to become a citizen or applying to become a citizen and paying a fee. And, and those are things that are being, being considered, and I, I think that that's--that those are reasonable proposals.
RUSSERT: Reasonable proposals.
RUSSERT: The Lowell Sun, your home--one of your hometown, state home papers, said this. "Governor Mitt Romney expressed support for an immigration program that places large numbers of illegal residents on the path toward citizenship.
"'I don't believe in rounding up 11 million people and forcing them at gunpoint from our country. With these 11 million people, let's have them registered, know who they are. Those who've been arrested or convicted of crimes shouldn't be here; those that are paying taxes and not taking government benefits should begin a process towards application for citizenship, as they would from their home country.'"
This is George Bush and John McCain.
ROMNEY: Now let's, now let's look at those very carefully, OK, and you're, you're a careful reader. In the interview with The Boston Globe, I described all three programs that were out there, described what they were, acknowledged that they were not technically an amnesty program, but I indicated in that same interview that I had not formulated my own proposal and that I was endorsing none of those three programs. I did not support any of them. I called them reasonable. They are reasonable efforts to, to look at the problem. But I said I did not support--and I said specifically in that interview I have not formulated my own policy and have not determined which I would support. And, of course, the Cornyn proposal required all of the immigrants to go home. The McCain proposal required most of them to go home, but let some stay. And the Bush proposal I, frankly, don't recall in that much detail. But they had very different proposals. My own view is consistent with what you saw in the Lowell Sun, that those people who had come here illegally and are in this country--the 12 million or so that are here illegally--should be able to stay sign up for permanent residency or citizenship, but they should not be given a special pathway, a special guarantee that all of them get to say here for the rest of their lives merely by virtue of having come here illegally. And that, I think, is the great flaw in the final bill that came forward from the Senate.
RUSSERT: But they shouldn't have to go home?
ROMNEY: Well, whether they go home--they should go home eventually. There's a set per--in my view they should be--they should have a set period during which period they, they sign up for application for permanent residency or, or for citizenship. But there's a set period where upon they should return home. And if they've been approved for citizenship or for a permanent residency, well, thy would be a different matter. But for the great majority, they'll be going home.
RUSSERT: The children they had born here are U.S. citizens, so do the children stay here and the parents go home?
ROMNEY: Well, that's a choice, of course, the parents would, would make. But my view is that those 12 million who've come here illegally should be given the opportunity to sign up to stay here, but they should not be given any advantage in becoming a permanent resident or citizen by virtue of simply coming here illegally. And likewise, if they've brought a child to this country or they've had a child in this country, that's, that's wonderful that they're growing their families, but that doesn't mean that they all get to stay here indefinitely. We're fundamentally a nation of laws. And let me underscore something here that I think's awfully important, because this immigration debate can sound anti-immigrant to a lot of people. It's not intended to be that by myself or, I believe, by the vast majority of others that talk about it. We value legal immigration. We welcome people coming here with different cultures and skill and education, but we are a nation of laws. And our freedoms and our liberty are associated with following the law. We have to secure our border, we have to make sure there's an employment verification system to identify who's here legally and who's not. And then for the 12 million who've come here, welcome them to get in line with everybody else, but no special pathway.
RUSSERT: Your views have been complicated by your own situation. This was The Boston Globe back in December of '06. "As Governor Mitt Romney explores a presidential bid, he has grown outspoken in his criticism of illegal immigration. But, for a decade, the governor has used a landscaping company that relies heavily on workers like these, illegal Guatemalan immigrants, to maintain the ground surrounding his pink Colonial house." That was a year ago. A year later, The Boston Globe came back and the same company and illegal immigrants doing the same work. Did you report that company to authorities saying--a year ago--saying they're using illegal immigrants?
ROMNEY: Oh, it was, it was on the front page of The Boston Globe; a reporting was not necessary. But I have to clear up the most egregious error in that article. It said my house is pink. I would not have a pink house, I assure you. In an effort to--let me, let me describe the circumstance. And that is the very issue I just mentioned, which is we need an employment verification system in this country. I hire a landscaper to take care of my leaves and, and mow the lawn, and, and the landscaping company hires people to work for them. We're certainly not going to have an America where a homeowner is expected or even thought of going out and saying, "Gosh, I see some workers here who have an accent. I want them to bring papers so I can inspect them." As a matter of fact, I think that's against the law in this country. And so, in this case, the, the landscaper, or the contractor has a responsibility to ensure that their workers are legal.
So after the first story came out, I met with the--excuse me, my son met with the landscaper and sat down with him and said, "Look, you're a good person, and you're a friend, and--but we can't possibly have someone working at my dad's house that's not a legal alien, and so you have to be absolutely certain anybody working here is legal." And he assured us that he, he would do just that. And he failed in that effort. He, according to the paper, he tried, he got documents, apparently, from all the people who, who he had work at our property. Apparently one or two of them had falsified their documents. That's the very reason why we so desperately need in this country an employment verification system, so that an employer who's hiring people can know who's here legally or illegally. If we don't have that, what it's going to say to an employer is, you better not hire someone that has any accent because if you do, it's possible they've counterfeited their documents and you're going to get whacked and the people you work for are going to get whacked.
RUSSERT: Would you then be in favor of a mandatory prison term for any employer who hired an illegal immigrant?
ROMNEY: Of course not.
RUSSERT: Why not?
ROMNEY: Well, a mandatory prison term? No. But here's what I would do. I'd say once you've put in place an employment verification system--and that's a big phrase to describe something pretty simple. I'd say to anybody who's coming here legally, they get a card with their name, biometric information, a number and their work status, and you--once you have those cards in place--that the only ones that can get them are people that are here legally--you then say to employers, "If you want to hire someone that's not a US citizen with a valid Social Security number, you ask for the card. You then verify it on the computer, and you can hire them if it's a valid card if they have a card. If they don't have a card and you hire them anyway, then you're going to be subject to the same kind of sanctions you get for not paying your taxes. And that's typically fines, very substantial fines, they get larger and larger. But a first offense employer hiring someone who's not legal, putting them in jail, I, I doubt that's...
RUSSERT: But if you wanted to end illegal immigration, if you...
ROMNEY: Well, I'm sure, I'm sure, I'm sure...
RUSSERT: ...came down hard on employers.
ROMNEY: I'm sure capital punishment would come down hard as well, but I'm not, I'm not suggesting that kind of penalty. But I do believe that, that sanctioning employers with substantial fines--and potentially worse if, if they were egregious, continuous offenders could be called for. But what employers tell me, and I, and I talk to a lot of people in small business, they say, "It is almost impossible for us to know who's here legally and illegally." In fact, there's a federal law--you'll find this interesting--a federal law prohibits an employer from, quote, "discriminating against a document that's given to them by someone applying for work." So if they look at something that looks like it's a forgery, they're not allowed to discriminate against that document. This puts them in a real catch-22, typical government work. And what we have to do instead is say, "We're going to allow you, as employers, to finally have access to an employment verification system that says who's here legally and who's here illegally. If you hire an illegal, now we're going to whack you hard with fines and penalties," and potentially even worse if they're repeat offenders.
RUSSERT: We're going to take a quick break. More of our discussion with Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. He's running for the Republican nomination for president of the United States. We'll be right back.
RUSSERT: More of our Meet the Candidates 2008 series with Governor Mitt Romney, Republican candidate for president, right after this.
RUSSERT: And we're back with Governor Mitt Romney.
As you campaign around the country, you talk about your record in Massachusetts with budgets and taxes and so forth. The Cato Institute, a conservative think tank, gave you a C as governor of Massachusetts. And they say, "His first budget, presented under the cloud of a $2 billion deficit, balanced the budget with some spending cuts, but" "$500 million increase in various fees was the largest component of the budget fix." The AP says it this way: "When Romney wanted to balance the Massachusetts budget, the blind, mentally retarded and gun owners were asked to help pay. In all, then-Gov. Romney proposed creating 33 new fees," "increasing 57 others." The head of the Bay State Council of the Blind said that your name was "Fee-Fee"; that you just raised fee after fee after fee. That's a tax.
ROMNEY: Well, let's, let's step back and get all the numbers right. First of all, it was nearly a $3 billion budget gap that we faced as we came into office, my team and I. Secondly, we raised fees, and we generated about $240 million worth of increased revenue. So of a $3 billion budget gap, we raised fees of about $240 million. Now, these were not broad-based fees. I said I'm not going to go after driver's license fees or automobile fees for registration because these apply to everybody, and any...
RUSSERT: Duplicate driver's license fee.
ROMNEY: Because, because if they're broad, broad-based, they, they have the--they have a sense, a feeling like a tax. But a fee is different than a tax in that it's for a particular service. And we had some fees that hadn't been changed in over a decade. For instance, people who had signs on the interstate pointing out where a gas station was or where McDonald's was, McDonald's might pay us a fee of $200 a year for such a sign. We upped that pretty dramatically. And so, of the roughly $3 billion of shortfall, we raised fees by about $240 million. We were able to balance our budget in a very difficult time without raising taxes...
RUSSERT: A fee's not a tax?
ROMNEY: A fee--well, a fee--if it were a tax, it'd be called--it'd be called a tax. But...
RUSSERT: Governor, that's, that's gimmick.
ROMNEY: No, it's, it's reality. It is. But--and I have no--I'm not trying to hide from the fact we raised fees. We raised fees $240 million.
RUSSERT: I think what people try to get at is that when you were governor of Massachusetts, you were a moderate Republican, and that's the way you won--on abortion, on stem cell research, on gun control and immigration, on raising fees. When you debated Ted Kennedy for, for the Senate, it, it's--well, let me show you what you said last Friday about Ronald Reagan. This was Friday night, Ronald Reagan according to Mitt Romney.
ROMNEY: The right way for America to proceed when we face the kind of challenges we face is to pursue the strategy which Ronald Reagan pursued when we faced the challenges of the last century. He brought our taxes down a lot. That caused our economy to take off.
RUSSERT: That's a full embrace. When you ran for the Senate, here's Mitt Romney on Ronald Reagan.
ROMNEY: Look, I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I'm not trying to return to Reagan-Bush.
RUSSERT: People see that.
ROMNEY: OK, Tim, let's go back and let's, let's--I'm going to reject the premise, to begin with because, when I ran against Ted Kennedy, I realized the shot was a long shot, to beat Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts. But I was tired of his liberal policies. And as you'll recall, I fought for the death penalty, I said secure the borders, I said at the same time we're going to completely redo our welfare system and get rid of the old welfare system. I ran as a Republican and a conservative. And when I ran for governor in Massachusetts, you were there. First question you asked me in the debate, "Tell me about the death penalty." I was for the death penalty. I was for English immersion in our schools. I said, I said...
RUSSERT: Could you, could you be...
ROMNEY: Let me keep--wait, hold on. I said...
RUSSERT: No, no, no. This is a fair question.
ROMNEY: See--yeah. Yeah.
RUSSERT: Could you be elected governor of Massachusetts on your current platform, the one you know espose--espouse about abortion, gay rights, gun control, stem cell research, immigration?
ROMNEY: There's one what I changed, and that's with regards to abortion. And, and with my position on abortion was--I was effectively pro-choice and I became pro-life. I did the same--I made the same--had the same experience that Ronald Reagan had...
ROMNEY: ...that Henry Hyde had.
RUSSERT: ...you look at those comments and quotes all--on every one of these issues, there has been an--a--an evolution, an intellectual journey on all these issues.
ROMNEY: That--Tim, I'll reject that. And--because we just talked about stem cell research.
RUSSERT: All right.
ROMNEY: And I described what my position was.
ROMNEY: I just talked about, about guns. I told you what my position was, and what I, what I did as governor; the fact that I received the endorsement of the NRA. And so...
RUSSERT: You say you'd be a more effective leader on gay rights than Ted Kennedy.
ROMNEY: And, and let me--let's, let's do them one by one. OK, Tim? Let's just go through them one by one. And, and here's my view. I don't believe in discriminating against someone based upon their sexual orientation. And so I would be effective in trying to bring greater recognition of the, of the rights of people not, not to be discriminated against. Let me...
RUSSERT: You said--you said that you would co-sponsor the...
ROMNEY: Tim, Tim, Tim...
RUSSERT: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. This is important.
ROMNEY: OK, fine.
RUSSERT: You said that you would sponsor the Employment Nondiscrimination Act. Do you still support it?
ROMNEY: At the state level. I think it makes sense at the state level for states to put in provision of this.
RUSSERT: Now, you said you would sponsor it at the federal level.
ROMNEY: I would not support at the federal level, and I changed in that regard because I think that policy makes more sense to be evaluated or to be implemented at the state level. And let me describe why.
RUSSERT: So you did--you did change.
ROMNEY: Oh, Tim, if you're looking for someone who's never changed any positions on any policies, then I'm not your guy. I, I do learn from experience. If you want someone who doesn't learn from experience, who stubbornly takes a, a position on, on a particular act and says, "Well, I'm never changing my view based on what I've learned," that, that doesn't make sense to me.
RUSSERT: But it seems to be a lot of issues. Let me give, give you an example. Healthcare, something that you worked on very hard as governor with Ted Kennedy, compromise. And you talked about if you have automobile insurance, you need health insurance. A human being is more important than an automobile. And if you don't have buy health insurance--if you're too poor, we'll help you. But if you don't buy it, there's going to be a penalty. You're going to get fined, in effect, a couple hundred bucks.
Mitt Romney runs for president. Healthcare plan. No mandate. No conversation about health insurance, auto insurance. No fine if you don't sign up. Why, if it's good for Massachusetts and it's working in Massachusetts, wouldn't you apply it to the rest of the country.
ROMNEY: I would.
RUSSERT: A mandate?
ROMNEY: No. Let me tell you what I would do, just exactly as I described. I like what we did in Massachusetts. I think it's a great plan. But I'm a federalist. I don't believe in applying what works in one state to all states if different states have different circumstances.
So let's look, for instance. The plan we put together in Massachusetts I think is working in Massachusetts. I sure hope so. We're going to get more information about how well it's working, of course. But Massachusetts has roughly 7 percent of our population uninsured. Texas has 25 percent. Given the kind of differences between states, I'm not somebody who's going to say what I did in Massachusetts I'm going to now tell every state they have to do it the same way. Now, I happen to like what we did. I think it's a good model for other states. Maybe not every state, but most. And so what I'd do at the federal level is give to every state the same kind of flexibility we got from the federal government, as well as some carrots and sticks to actually get all their citizens insured. And I think a lot of states will choose what we did. I wouldn't tell them they have to do our plan. Governor Schwarzenegger, for instance, in California, has his own healthcare plan. He's going about it in a different way. I like mine better than his; he likes his better than mine.
RUSSERT: So if a state chose a mandate, it wouldn't bother you?
ROMNEY: I, I, I think it's a terrific idea. I think, I think you're going to find, when it's all said and done, after all these states that are laboratories of democracy get their chance to try their own plans, that those who follow the path that we pursued will find it's the best path, and we'll end up with a nation that's taken a mandate approach.
RUSSERT: Bottom line: All the positions you laid out today as a presidential candidate, can you assure the voters who won't flip back to some of the positions you had when you were governor of Massachusetts?
ROMNEY: You know, when I--of course--when I was--when I ran for, for governor of Massachusetts, I put together at the end of my campaign, asked my traveling adviser and the first person who helped me in my debate prep, to write down all the promises I made as governor. And there were 92 or 93 and just to round it up to 100, I added some more at my inaugural address. I honored all of those promises. I fought for them, and I'm very proud of that. I ran as an individual who would not raise taxes and I didn't. I ran as an individual...
RUSSERT: Fees, you did.
ROMNEY: ...and I raised fees on--for 8 percent of the budget shortfall and acknowledged that. I also said I'm going to fight for the death penalty and I did. I said I was opposed to same-sex marriage and I fought same-sex marriage. I said I was for English immersion in our schools. Got English immersion in our schools. I got all of our citizens on a track to have health insurance. I'm proud of the things I accomplished as a governor. Took on real tough problems, got the job done.
RUSSERT: Mike Huckabee said that the George Bush presidency's foreign policy is arrogant and a bunker mentality.
ROMNEY: That's an insult to the president, and Mike Huckabee should apologize to the president.
RUSSERT: This is what Mitt Romney said about Iraq, however, in September this year. "OK, well, first of all, it is a mess."
ROMNEY: Well, it is a mess. There's no question, if you, if you...
RUSSERT: That's no reflection on George Bush?
ROMNEY: If you're, if you're, if you're suggesting that, that, that it's equivalent to say that we made a number of errors and that we have a very difficult situation in Iraq, that's the same as saying the president is arrogant and bunker mentality, that's, that's where he went over the line. I've been saying for months, and I think all the Republican candidates, in fact, have been saying for months, if not years, that, that following the collapse of Saddam Hussein our policy was, was unprepared, unplanned, understaffed, undermanaged, that we made a number of errors and that much of the difficulty we face today is due to those errors. But it's very different to point out the mistakes that have been made--and the president's pointed out the mistakes as well--and then to say that the Bush administration, our president, is arrogant with a bunker mentality, that's a completely different statement for which Mike Huckabee owes the president an apology.
RUSSERT: You going to beat him in Iowa?
ROMNEY: I sure hope so. I'm working hard.
RUSSERT: This--31 times in MEET THE PRESS history, there has been a parent and a child on MEET THE PRESS--the Kennedys, the Fords, the Jacksons, the Gores. And with your appearance today, you join your dad--there's George Romney, governor of Michigan, ran for president--the Romneys now enshrined in MEET THE PRESS history, and we thank you very much for sharing your views and hope you'll come back.
ROMNEY: Well, touches my heart. Thanks, Tim.
RUSSERT: Thanks, governor.
Mitt Romney, Interview with Tim Russert on NBC News' "Meet the Press" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/278239