Governor Mitt Romney reacts to MoveOn.org and the immigration debate.
HH: Pleased to welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show Governor Mitt Romney, formerly Governor of the Commonwealth [of Massachusetts]. Governor, always a pleasure, thanks for being there.
MR: Thank you, Hugh, good to be with you.
HH: It’s been a very busy week for news, and I want to start with a general reaction from you to the testimonies of General Petraeus, Ambassador Crocker, and the President’s speech last night.
MR: Good news met, progress being made in Iraq, and perhaps on the most important of all fronts, which is greatly reducing the threat that al Qaeda is going to be able to use Iraq as a safe haven. Frankly, it is unacceptable, I believe, to our country to have a safe haven status in Iraq for al Qaeda or Hezbollah, or the other major jihadist terror groups. And the surge has emboldened the Sunni leadership, particularly in the provinces, to work together with us, and to eliminate and to go after al Qaeda. That is a very important change, because if that had not happened, frankly, if Barack Obama had been president of this country over the last nine months, and we’d have pulled all our troops out, we would be thinking about having al Qaeda as a dominant player among the Sunni population.
HH: Given that the news is good, let me play for you what the President had to say last night, talking about his successor in the Oval Office, whoever that might be:
GWB: The way forward I’ve described tonight, for the first time in years, for people who have been on opposite sides of this difficult debate, to come together. This vision for a reduced American presence also has the support of Iraqi leaders from all communities. At the same time, they understand that their success will require U.S. political, economic and security engagement that extends beyond my presidency. These Iraqi leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America, and we are ready to begin building that relationship in a way that protects our interests in the region. And it requires many fewer American troops.
HH: Governor Romney, you are one of the three or four, at most five people to whom that actually might be addressed, the successor to the President. When he says we’re going to have to anticipate engagement beyond this presidency, do you agree with him?
MR: Yeah, I think it is most likely that while we’ll continue to reduce our troop strength in Iraq, not only from January through July, but thereafter, but that there will certainly be ongoing involvement beyond the end of this 2008 year. It would be wonderful is everything worked out fabulously faster than that, but that’s not extremely likely. And I think fundamentally, we can’t allow there to be a safe have for al Qaeda there, so that’s something which is going to be important to us. The amount of troop support, and other support that we’ve provided the country is going to depend on a number of factors: how successful they are in making political advances, how successful they are in standing up their military capacity. We obviously want our troops home as soon as we can have them home, but we don’t want to have them home and lay behind us a safe haven that could become a huge threat to the entire world, and us in particular.
HH: Now Governor Romney, you’ve turned around a lot of organizations, institutions, but nothing like a shattered Iraq with thirty years of dictatorship followed by this tumultuous and terrible war. What’s the most important thing, assuming internal military security, that follows after that?
MR: Well, you know, there are a lot of things you want to have happen in Iraq, and part of this is a definition of what success means to us in Iraq. At the minimum level, we want to make sure that Iraq does not become a place from which attacks are launched by terrorists. So that’s one level. At the highest level, we talked about this being a shining example of democracy in the Middle East. I think that’s something which most people consider to be a goal which well has far lesser prospects than we thought initially. And so you’re trying to get as much as you can. The key thing, of course, is to keep the safe havens from occurring. Secondly, you’re hoping to maintain a central government with a central military that can protect its borders, and that can establish a degree of stability in the country so that you don’t have a massive civil war breakout that might even involve nations in the neighborhood. And so step by step, you’re looking to see stronger political leadership, and the standing up of the kind of military capacity that would allow a central government and a central military to preserve the peace, and not be overrun by the militias.
HH: Now Governor Romney, the second major story of the week was not just the testimony by General Petraeus, Ambassador Crocker and the President’s speech, it was the attack on General Petraeus by MoveOn.org. What was your reaction to that?
MR: Well, a reprehensible and disgusting attack by MoveOn.org, and I was immediate in calling for each of the three leading Democrat contenders to repudiate that ad, and as you know, they have not done so. And I think it suggests that MoveOn.org is a powerful force in the Democratic Party. It does not represent the rank and file of Democrats across this country, but I think Democrats across this country are recognizing that their party has been bought by MoveOn.org, and that the dollars behind MoveOn.org, and the ability of MoveOn.org to put money behind one candidate or another, is silencing Democratic candidates. And it’s a frightening development that a party of such stature as the Democratic Party is kowtowing to something like MoveOn.org and their reprehensible and outrageous attacks that they made on a person who is putting himself in harm’s way, who’s…and that’s a phrase we use. It means that he is at risk of being killed. And this is a man who’s an American hero, who’s integrity is unimpeachable, and it’s unacceptable to have the kind of comments that were made, and to have the Democrats be so silent on it.
HH: Senator Clinton went beyond silent. She actually looked General Petraeus in the eye and said your testimony requires “the willing suspension of disbelief,” which is about as close to you’re lying as you can come without saying you’re lying. What’s your reaction to Senator Clinton’s statement to General Petraeus?
MR: You know, it’s so disappointing. This is such an important time for our country, and there are really important issues that relate to the war against violent jihad globally, the fact that this Iranian conflict is now a front in this war. And so you’d like to have people who have different viewpoints to express them in a way which is dignified, and is up to the standard of the importance of the issue that we’re dealing with. But our Democratic leadership has instead chosen to try and politicize this, and use it to gain political office. And it’s very, very disappointing and disgraceful.
HH: And if you’re the nominee, Governor Romney, will this be an issue in the campaign, assuming as I do, that Hillary Clinton is going to be the Democratic nominee?
MR: Absolutely. There’s no question but the great foreign policy issue of our time, is the threat of global violent jihad, the desire on the part of the Iranians which was also a topic which General Petraeus raised, the Iranians to develop nuclear weaponry, to continue their attacks on us. Of course, it was Hezbollah that went after our Marines in Lebanon. They have been after us for a long time, and we respond by saying, at least with one of our task forces, the Baker-Hamilton commission, that we should meet with them and see if they’ll help us. My goodness, they are an antagonist, they are attacking us, and it is time for us to have a comprehensive assertive strategy to pull them back.
HH: The Germans announced this week, it’s been reported by Fox News and others, that they will not support additional sanctions, indicating that the sanctions regime against Iran has failed. Is that how you read it, Governor Romney?
MR: Well, if that is in fact their position, it means that we have to do a lot better job talking to our friends around the world, and making sure that we stand united if we do not stand united. And I know the German banks have been with us in that, and have pulled back credit, which is an important sanction. But if we do not stand united against Iraq, Iraq will become a nuclear power…
HH: I think you mean Iran, don’t you?
MR: Excuse me, I mean Iran. Excuse me. Iran would become, in that vision, a nuclear power, which would threaten Europe at least as much as it would threaten the rest of the world. That’s got to be unacceptable to the German leadership just as it is to us.
HH: When you see reports that Israel has struck deep in Syrian territory, some people suspect North Korean shipment, others Hezbollah resupply, what’s your initial reaction? One that gives the benefit of the doubt to the Israelis?
MR: Yeah, I do give the benefit of the doubt to the Israelis. They are our friends, they have an interest in preserving their country. You have, just within the last few days, Ahmadinejad of Iran saying that Israel should not be allowed to exist. They obviously have a right to exist and to preserve their country. And so yeah, you start off by believing our friend, and learning more about it as you get a chance to speak with them.
HH: Now I’d like to switch to politics. Yesterday, Mayor Giuliani was my guest. I raised the subject of his comments on illegal immigration on the Glenn Beck show, and on a Washington Times story the day before. Let me play for you sort of the short version, unedited, but it’s not the whole conversation, and get some reaction from you. Here’s Mayor Giuliani on my program yesterday:
RG: Pete King and I are good friends, and he is a big supporter of my campaign. The simple reality is Pete would agree with me that it’s not a crime. He tried to make it a crime. It’s not. I mean, I’m a lawyer. I know politicians do all kinds of pandering, and they make all kinds of statements. And I’m not particularly good at that kind of thing. I just tell people the truth. I mean, the truth is crossing the border is a misdemeanor, being an illegal immigrant is not a crime, and Congress tried to make it a crime, I think it was a year ago, or two years ago, and it didn’t pass both Houses.
HH: Should it be a crime, Mayor?
RG: It shouldn’t be, because you wouldn’t be able to prosecute it. It would be 12 million people? You know how many people we have in jail, every jail, if you used up every jail in this country? About 2 million. So you would have a crime which didn’t get prosecuted, which would lead to disrespect for the law.
HH: Does that logic follow over into the war on drugs, Mayor, to say simple marijuana possession?
RG: No, we actually have the resources to deal with it. If you look at the number of people we prosecute for drugs, you know, it’s hundreds of thousands. It’s not 12 million people.
HH: Governor Romney, your reaction to that?
MR: Well, first of all, I’m surprised to hear an effort to try and justify, or stand up for illegal immigration in any way, shape or form. Look, it is against the law. I don’t care whether it’s a misdemeanor or a felony, it is illegal. It is against the law, and as a result, if we would enforce the law we have in this country, we will be able to ultimately eliminate it. And I was in San Diego just about three weeks ago, and met with Border Patrol agents there. The head of the Border Patrol union agent was saying to me look, we really can’t stop the flow of illegal aliens into this country unless we turn off the magnets that draw illegal aliens into the country, and I said which magnets. And he said well, employers that hire people that are coming here illegally, and sanctuary cities, these cities like Mayor Giuliani’s New York that say hey, you’re welcome here if you’re illegal, we’ll protect you here if you’re illegal. That’s the wrong message to send. We’ve got to have an employment verification system that identifies who’s here illegally, so that employers could be sanctioned if they hire people that are here illegally.
HH: Now Mayor Giuliani went on to say look, we need a border that’s a virtual fence and a real fence, and we need the national ID card and employer verification, many of the same things, but indicated that the middle ground was after we get enforcement in place, then we can worry about the 12 million, and I think he was suggesting regularization, though he didn’t use that word. People can read the transcript at Hughhewitt.com. What do we do with those 12 million, Governor Romney?
MR: Well, the Mayor has indicated that in his view, and I think it’s almost an exact quote, he says if you work hard and pay your taxes, then we’ll sign you up. And I disagree with that. I think if people have come here illegally, and they’re not here legally, then they should get in line with everybody else that wants to come here, but there should be no special pathway for those that have come here illegally to become permanent residents, or to become citizens. So I do not agree with amnesty, either technical amnesty or amnesty in fact. I think that’s the wrong way to go. So with regard to the 12 million who are here, in my view, that last Senate bill could have been enhanced enormously. Instead of saying they all get to stay here forever, legally, I would have said look, make that a temporary visa. Let people stay temporarily, and then ultimately, they have to get back in line to apply for permanent residency or citizenship. But again, no special pathway for those who have come here illegally.
HH: Now Governor Romney, we talked ten days ago after the debate in New Hampshire, and talked about the political schedule that sees you going to Michigan after New Hampshire. Does this issue of illegal immigration matter in either Iowa or New Hampshire, or even in Michigan and then Florida and Nevada, the first five states?
MR: You know, I think you’d be surprised, as I was. The first time I made a trip to Iowa, and I asked Iowa voters in a Republican meeting what’s the biggest issue, and a hand went up and said immigration, and then another hand went up and said immigration, and around the room, people said immigration. And there is a very strong feeling among voters across the country that we are a nation of laws, and that it is unacceptable for us as a party to simply look the other way to establish sanctuary cities, or sanctuary employers, and to say we’re not going to enforce the law. Republicans like legal immigration. We welcome legal immigrants to our country. We have visa programs that let immigrants come on a temporary basis. We allow people to become citizens. We’re a great and generous and welcoming nation. But we do not want illegal immigration. And that’s where in my view, Mayor Giuliani and Senator McCain are going to encounter a very strong reaction from our voters as they recognize their position on illegal immigration.
HH: Now to some closing questions, inside politics stuff. Since Fred Thompson has declared, have you noticed any defections in your Iowa organization? Has anyone said thank you, Governor, but I’m a Thompson guy?
MR: I don’t recall anybody on my team who’s changed sides. We have 99 counties in Iowa, and I have a county chair in every county. We’ve got a great, strong organization. I think our team, including all of our finance team, have stayed together. Some time ago, a Congresswoman from Tennessee, who had been my supporter, indicated that she was going to support Fred Thompson.
HH: Sure, Marsha Blackburn, yeah.
MR: Yeah, but I think Congresswoman, Blackburn, that’s the only one I can recall. There may be one or two others out there.
HH: So the Iowa effort continues, you’ve got a lead, you think you’ll still have a lead after this jumbling of the race?
MR: You know, it’s going to go up and down. I do think I have a lead now, but you know, I recognize this is very early. We’ve got three months to go before the primaries and caucus, and so I’ll go up and down. But I’m pleased with the fact that somebody who’s not terribly well known nationally, that means me, is able to get a lead in Iowa, a lead in New Hampshire, and a lead in Michigan. And I know I’m going to take a lot of incoming missiles, but I’m going to keep on fighting, and I believe my message, which is a strong America, a strong military, a strong economy, and strong families, that message is connecting with people. And despite who comes in, I think I’m going to keep on building strength.
HH: Last question, Governor. About two weeks to the end of the third quarter, another fundraising report due. Are you making your marks?
MR: We’re going what we need to do. There’s no question, we’re not doing as much fundraising this quarter as one or two of the other guys are. I don’t know how much money we’ll all end up with, but I spent a lot of time in Iowa and New Hampshire, and as you know, won the straw poll in Ames, Iowa. Some of the other folks pulled out of that so they could do their own fundraising efforts. That’s fine. I thought it was more important to see people and win the straw poll. But we’ve got the money we need to run a campaign right through to the end of the primary season.
HH: Governor Mitt Romney, look forward to talking to you again soon, thanks for spending time with us today.
MR: Thanks, Hugh, good to be with you.
End of interview.