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Mitt Romney on Libya, Syria, S&P’s Warning, Gas Prices and the Debt ceiling

Thursday, April 21, 2011  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt
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Mitt Romney is shown. | AP Photo
Mitt Romney joined me on the program today. The transcript:

HH: The President of the United States is driving around Los Angeles, tying up traffic and raising lots and lots of money for campaign 2012, millions from the big buck, hyper-liberals in Hollywood. Joining me now is the man who leads the Republican race to challenge the President in 19 months, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Governor Romney, great to have you back.

MR: Thanks so much, Hugh, good to be with you.

HH: When last we spoke, it was about Libya. And today, the Secretary of Defense announced that the President has authorized the use of armed drones in Libya. Your reaction?

MR: Well, it’s pretty clear that the mission for our military that was outlined by the President at the outset, which was a humanitarian mission with a no-fly zone to prevent a disaster of some kind, is obviously a different mission today. The President has authorized attacking Libyan troops and tanks. We have A-10 Warthog airplanes, we have Predator drones and so forth engaged. So I think it’s time for the President to level with the American people, and with the Congress, to describe what mission he intends to employ, and why it is that we see the expansion in military involvement that we’re witnessing.

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HH: Do you think he needs to go do a Congressional session? The last speech he gave on the deficit ended up being divisive and disastrous, really.

MR: Well, I think you’re right, but I think the President owes to the people and to the Congress a description of the mission which he is undertaking, with full analysis as to who it is that we’re supporting there, what will happen if in fact we bring down the Libyan military, who will be taking over the country, who will be running it, what involvement we would have then. I mean, this is another front that the President has opened, and he needs to describe exactly what he intends to do with our military, with our other resources. But when he says that we will not be successful unless Gaddafi is removed from officer permanently, why that’s very different than simply saying, as he did at the outset, we’re going to prevent Gaddafi from attacking his own people from the air. So let’s understand what the new mission is, and describe it honestly to the American people. And it’s conceivable that people would support it. It’s also conceivable that it’s ill-conceived, and not fully thought out.

HH: Let me turn to Syria, Governor Romney. Tomorrow is being called Great Friday by human rights activists in Syria, and hundreds of thousands are expected in the street. But there is silence from the President himself. Should the President at least be vigorously urging Bashar Assad, the dictator, to stop at least killing his own people? He’s been doing that for the last two weeks.

MR: Well, it is hard to understand exactly how it is that we’re as actively engaged militarily and politically and diplomatically in Libya as we are, when at the same time, saying very little, if anything, about Syria. And of course, the President should speak out against Assad, should…in the same way he should have spoken out in favor of the voices of dissent in Iran when they took to the streets. He is remarkably silent when our most adamant foes are under attack by voices of freedom and dissent and democracy. But he gets very, very active in other settings.

HH: Let me switch to domestic issues, Governor Romney. On Monday of this week, Standard & Poor’s lowered its outlook for U.S. debt from “stable” to “negative”. What’s the significance of this?

MR: Well, that’s the first time in four, since 1941 that Standard & Poor’s, and independent rating agency, has had that negative outlook on America. And it is clearly a statement about the Obama presidency. And I believe it’s a statement about the President’s speech that he gave, describing his long term vision for government spending. It was pretty clear to anybody who was listening to that speech that it was divisive, disingenuous, and intellectually dishonest. The President did not lay out a plan to get America’s fiscal house in order. And I think it’s prudent on the part of independent agencies that have to rate the bonds of all nations to stand up and tell the truth. And this is what Standard & Poor’s has done. They haven’t always got it right in the past, as we know from the huge collapse in our financial markets. But it’s time for them to stand up and tell the truth now. And it’s unfortunate that the President and his people have pooh-poohed the word that is coming out from this independent agency.

HH: You mentioned the speech the President gave. He did it again yesterday at the Facebook town hall, where he’s just calling for tax after tax after tax as a response, or at least a speech about the debt crisis. Can that policy possibly work?

MR: You know, it works politically. There’s no question but that saying hey, look, all we have to do is tax the rich people some more money, as he always says, the millionaires and billionaires, why if we just tax them some more money, everything will be balanced. He continues to say that, but as the Wall Street Journal pointed out to a financial analysis earlier this week, if you took all of the income, if you taxed 100% of the income of the top 1%, that doesn’t begin to close the budget gap. There is going to have to be a reduction in federal spending. And the right answer to America is not to raise taxes on anyone, particularly not on people that are working hard, that are job creators. And in a time of recession, you don’t raise taxes. The right course is to cut back on federal spending. And Congressman Paul Ryan has put forward a reasonable opening plan. If the President doesn’t like it, he should come out with his own. But just attacking Paul Ryan, attacking Republicans, and not being serious about the spending problem is playing chicken with the American economy. And I know we have a vote coming up with regards to the credit limit. Instead of focusing on getting our house in order, the President is focusing on raising money for his campaign, which my goodness, is what, a year and a half, almost two years off.

HH: He is, in fact, in L.A. today, and there is a lot of people caught in traffic snarls as a result of this, idling and counting how much money they’re going to have to put in the gas tank as a result. I want to ask you about gas prices, and preface it by playing you a little bit from the President on April 6th, I believe, talking about gasoline and oil production. Here’s that clip.

BHO: We have about two, to maybe three percent of the world’s proven oil reserves. We use 25% of the world’s oil. So think about it. Even if we doubled the amount of oil that we produce, we’d still be short by a factor of five. So we can’t just drill our way out of the problem.

HH: Governor Romney, do you think the President understands anything about the impact on prices of additional production?

MR: Well (laughing), frankly, Hugh, you have in the President a very likable individual who’s well-spoken and a handsome fellow, but frankly, he’s had no experience in the private sector, no experience as a leader and as a negotiator. And as a result, he makes some monumental errors. And virtually everything he’s done with regards to our domestic economy has tended to make this recession deeper and last longer. And his comments with regards to energy are also misplaced. He’s ignoring some other sources of energy that we have in addition to oil. We also have a lot of natural gas. New drilling technology has freed up massive new resources of natural gas. Would it have been nice if some of this stimulus money he spent would have been used to put in place a series of infrastructure and pipeline capabilities that allowed us to use natural gas for our fleets? Look, we can be energy independent. It is not essential that we buy the amount of energy that we buy, particularly from the cartels. And when I say independence, I mean independent of those cartels. That is something we can do. And the amount of proven reserves is another indication of how much we can provide of our resources immediately.

HH: Now Governor, I’ve got to ask you, you can’t find what you don’t look for. He is encouraging exploration off the coast of Brazil, but he’s like ten miles right now from an ocean of oil that hasn’t even been fully explored in years, in decades in California. And now we’ve got, it’s the one year anniversary of the BP spill. Do you think that that permit moratorium that he has on right now is hurting us at the gas pumps right now? And what would your policy be as President, vis–vis exploration?

MR: Well, without question, the President’s policies have tended to increase the cost of energy, and to make it even more bold on the part of the cartel members that America is going to be highly dependent upon their energy. And the right course is to say that America intends to explore our resources, to develop our resources, to use them as necessary to moderate prices and make them stable, so that our industries can predictably determine what their costs will be, and therefore invest in this country, and so that people who are buying gasoline and other energy for their homes don’t get overwhelmed by the whipsawing of prices that occur by virtue of a cartel guiding the world energy market. So what would we be doing? We’d be drilling for more oil, we’d be taking advantage of our natural gas resources, we’d be using our coal, in some cases, liquefying our coal for purposes of transportation, as well as developing our renewable resources. But don’t forget, those renewable resources, even at their most full capacity, don’t begin to get America energy independent.

HH: Let me close by asking your about the debt ceiling and the negotiation underway right now. You mentioned it earlier. What is your advice to the Congressional GOP on what they’ve got to get out of this negotiation, and perhaps on how to go about it?

MR: Well, Speaker Boehner, I think, is taking a wise approach, which is to say look, we’ve got several bites at the apple. We’re going to keep on pushing the President one time after the other. First, with the continuing resolution, then with the credit limit, then with the next budget, we’re going to keep pushing and pushing, and require the President to finally get serious about the economy, and about federal spending. And that’s something which should have happened in the first weeks of the President’s term, but of course, he had Democrats in both the House and the Senate that didn’t put any pressure on him. But finally, Republicans are. So I’m not going to tell the Speaker exactly how to do it, but I mean to say look, tell the President he is not going to get his way unless we also see him become seriously responsible about balancing the federal budget.

HH: Governor Mitt Romney, always a pleasure. Thank you, Governor, Happy Easter to you.

End of interview.

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