Governor Mitt Romney clarifies War Powers after the debate last night.
HH: We begin as we try to do after any major event in the Republican campaign with one or more of the candidates. Governor Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts joins me now. Governor, always a pleasure to talk to you.
MR: Thanks, Hugh, good to be with you.
HH: You’re taking a lot of heat over your lawyer talk last night in Detroit. What did you mean to say and what do you make of the criticism?
MR: You know, I haven’t seen the criticism yet, but I’m happy to take a look at it. I think I made it very clear that the issue of when you involve Congress is a legal matter. But the issue of protecting the American people is something obviously a president does immediately.
HH: Do you have an opinion on whether or not the War Powers Act is Constitutional, Governor Romney?
MR: You know, I don’t have a scholastic opinion. I’ve not done a Constitutional law evaluation as to whether the War Powers Act is Constitutional or not. It is the law, and that…this matter is something for a thorough legal evaluation. But there’s no question I think some of my friendly competitors are trying to suggest that the question is not one of a legal matter. But in this case, as to when you involve Congress, it is a legal matter. And the question is how is the law interpreted, and when and how would it be applied. But clearly, the responsibility of the president, as I pointed out, is to protect the American people. That’s the first duty.
HH: I’m going to talk to Solicitor General Ted Olsen after the break, and I’m quite sure he was involved in consultations before Grenada and Panama, and all the other ones, as was probably Mayor Giuliani. But this underscores something we’ve talked about before, gotcha politics. People are attempting to take one line out of the debate yesterday and turn it into a referendum on it. Any chance of changing that dynamic in this cycle, Governor Romney?
MR: You know, I don’t know that that’s going to change. I don’t know that it gets as much traction as candidates hope. You try and make a big deal out of each word, but in reality, I don’t know that anyone has any disagreement, which is the question about when you would involve Congress as a legal matter. The question about protecting the American people is something the president will do immediately, and that’s what I indicated, and I don’t know that I have a differing view in that regard.
HH: If you take office after President Bush has left, and Iran still has its nuclear ambitions to obtain weapons of mass destruction that are nuclear, what’s the policy of the Romney administration going to be vis-a-vis Iran?
MR: Well, I’ve indicated all the things that I would do to tighten sanctions on Iran to keep them from pursuing that course. And I think we have a lot more that we can do on that front. But the option of military action is an option I would take off the table and put in our hand by having a consensus built with our leadership in this country, as well as with our friends in other countries, so that Iran recognizes that they are a lone, rogue element, and that the world is prepared to act. And America has to recognize that it is very much in our interest to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon, and that military options are not just on the table, they’re in our hand.
HH: Governor Romney, as we speak, the UAW is on strike against Chrysler. And obviously, this is not a company that’s got a lot of flexibility in there. It’s not as bad off as Ford. What’s your assessment of the wisdom… I mean, you come from a long line of dealing with UAW leaders. What’s your assessment of this action?
MR: Well, you know, I think the UAW reached a responsible agreement with General Motors, and made some progress, although I think that the result of the General Motors agreement was that GM will not be more competitive with Renault, but still not competitive with the Chinese and the Japanese and the Koreans. And I think, you know, I think it’s incumbent on the leadership of the UAW to recognize that if they squeeze too hard, that the golden goose will lose its breath and die. And this is going to be worked out between the two parties, I hope in a very short time period. But we just can’t saddle our domestic manufacturers with massively higher costs than those of the transplant manufacturers and the imports.
HH: Now you were talking about what Michigan has engineered for itself, which is a one state recession. And obviously, that got some play in Michigan, I’m sure, not so many kind words from Governor Granholm up there. Can a president do anything about a state that’s gone off the deep end on taxes like Michigan has?
MR: Well, you can’t necessarily stop them on taxes. The people ultimately have to stop the leadership from doing things that are harmful. But you can say that the federal government is going to work together to make sure that we protect the manufacturing sector, that we strengthen our technology, that we invest in the future of a state that’s having some real difficulty, and that we don’t, for instance, with our CAFÉ requirements, that we put them in place in such a way that we kill domestic auto manufacturers, to the benefit of the imports. So you’ve got to work in a collaborative manner with major industries that are massive employers, and may well be a bellwether of what’s going to happen for the entire country.
HH: Now going back to yesterday’s debate, going back over the ground of whether or not it really comes down to this, would Mitt Romney pull the trigger if you thought that the United States was threatened in whole or part by anyone? Would you…or as Ted Olsen is going to talk about, worry about whether or not it was right to send a cruise missile after a terrorist sitting in a cave somewhere?
MR: Well, of course I, and my guess is, others, everyone else other than Ron Paul, would take action and protect the American people. That is, of course, their responsibility. But the question I was asked, Hugh, was when do you involve Congress. And that’s a matter that’s a legal matter. But the president of the United States is going to take the action necessary to protect the American people.
HH: Governor Romney, this week, or last week, Dr. James Dobson of Focus On The Family put a New York Times op-ed in saying that the Republican Party must nominate a pro-life candidate, or Evangelicals will stay home. What’s your reaction to that piece?
MR: Well, you know, I think Ronald Reagan made the same point, which is that the way the Republican Party wins the White House is by having a combination, a coalition of conservatives, national defense conservatives, economic conservatives, and social conservatives. And if you lock out the social conservatives with a series of policies that are not pro-family, you’re going to end up fracturing a coalition which has led to our being successful in Washington.
HH: And so how do you persuade skeptical voters who look at Republican presidents who’ve been fooled again and again on David Souter, and other justices, that you know what you’re doing when it comes to nominating judges, especially Supreme Court justices?
MR: Well, I think you look at the example of those that have been done successfully, and you say let’s follow that same process. And you also make sure that the process you follow includes a thorough vetting by people that you have a lot of confidence in. And I’ve put together a strong team of individuals who have a good background in Constitutional law. They’re perspectives are ones that I would seek as I evaluate potential candidates, and I certainly want to make sure that we don’t have a pig in a poke like we got with Justice Souter. I want to have somebody who’s record is clear, who will not legislate from the bench, and who will protect the Constitution and the voice of the people.
HH: Now when you got into it yesterday with Mayor Giuliani over the line-item veto, he responded that the Supreme Court has spoken and this is over. What’s your response to that in a more leisurely fashion, because it really did get mixed up yesterday when you two were going back and forth with each other.
MR: Well, Justice Scalia said that the Court had taken the wrong direction, that in fact, the line item veto is Constitutional. I mean, I think Mayor Giuliani’s just wrong on that. I mean, if his view is to follow a more liberal interpretation, or a liberal bent of the Supreme Court, he can say yeah, they ruled this unconstitutional. But we also have seen that President Bush has introduced a piece of legislation that would give the president the line item veto in a way that would pass even this Court’s Constitutional test. And likewise, Senator Libby Dole put such a provision out as well. So there are ways of accomplishing a line item veto without running afoul of the Constitution. My particular reading of the Constitution suggests that the Court in the first case erred, but that’s my view. I agreed with Justice Scalia on this and not the majority. But surely, the question is not one of a Constitutional matter, it’s do you believe in the line item veto or not. And I think it was a mistake for Mayor Giuliani to fight the line item veto all the way to the Supreme Court. And the amazing thing is he said when it got a victory over Bill Clinton, well, this was Bill Clinton fighting for the line item veto. He was doing what Republicans stand for. Even a liberal like Bill Clinton was on our side on this. Mayor Giuliani took away a very key power that the presidency needed.
HH: More generally, Governor Romney, yesterday, there was some talk of taxes, but not a lot, as Chris Matthews is clearly uncomfortable with the concept of tax cuts. What’s the Romney plan on the tax cuts which are already in place, and which ones need to be extended, which ones need to lapse, which ones need to be new?
MR: Well, I’d keep the current tax provisions in place. I’d put a stop to the creep to the alternative minimum tax. And I’d finally put in place a program to really encourage Americans to save, and to give them a real benefit for doing so. Every family earning $200,000 dollars a year and less would be allowed to save their money tax free. That means interest, dividends, capital gains, tax free. And that’s the course, I think, that’ll get the kind of economic vitality that we need, and allow our middle income families to save for retirement, or for the down payment for their home, for their education for their children. That’s just common sense.
HH: Last question, Governor. Mayor Giuliani made the unfortunate error of being against the Indians. I trust you’re not going to throw in with the Red Sox as we come up to the American League championship series.
MR: (laughing) I’m a big Red Sox fan, let me tell you that. I’m pulling for the Sox.
HH: Gosh, I hope you do better in the primaries than the Red Sox are going to do on Friday. Governor Mitt Romney, always a pleasure. Thank you, Governor.
End of interview.