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Talking with Tim Pawlenty

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I interviewed Tim Pawlenty on today’s program, about Afghanistan, General Petraeus as a possible Veep, whether he left Minnesota with a deficit and the campaign. The transcript:

HH: Pleased to welcome back Governor Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota. Governor, good to talk to you again.

TP: Hugh, it’s good to be with you.

HH: Tonight, President Obama is going to give a speech on Afghanistan, in which he’s probably going to call for a drawdown of troops there. To begin with, how many times have you been to Afghanistan, Governor Pawlenty?

TP: Three times, most recently late last summer/early fall, and it was a really moving trip.

HH: So what do you think of the press reports about what the President’s going to do tonight?

TP: Well, I want to know more about the size, but also the nature of the drawdown in terms of what kind of troops they are, over what period of time, and what his rationale is, Hugh. We’ve been there a long time, and there’s been a lot of sacrifice and lost lives, and commitment made on behalf of this mission. And I want to make sure we complete it successfully, and don’t have the United States leave, head for the exits just because people are weary or there’s some concerned about the financing of it. We’ve got to make sure that this mission ends successfully, and we define it in large measure by have we built up sufficient Afghan military and security forces to make sure they have the capability to do most of the identification and defeating of security threats in the future? And we made great progress in that regard in terms of the number, and now also the quality. And I don’t want the President to take us down prematurely and jeopardize that progress. It can be done, but it needs to be done with, based on conditions on the ground, not based on some arbitrary political set of deadlines or motivations that he may have. [# More #]

HH: Governor, when you were last there, did you have conversations with commanders on the ground about how long this deployment might have to last to secure the peace?

TP: Hugh, I did. I spent some time with General Petraeus, of course the commander, and soon to be the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. But at that time, and again, this is late summer/early fall of 2010, he said it was going to take about two years from then. He said the insurgency had been stopped in terms of its progress, plateaued, but it’s going to take about two years to get to this level of security infrastructure that I just described a minute ago. And since then, publicly, he said he thinks it could be done even a little faster. So we need to listen to people like General Petraeus, and we need to listen to people like Secretary Gates and others. In the end, the commander-in-chief makes the decision, but I would want to see what the President has to say tonight, but I sure hope he’s not doing this prematurely or according to arbitrary or political deadlines.

HH: You know, Governor, I watched a DVD last night, the Lt. Dan Band, about Gary Sinise and all the USO efforts, and it’s absolutely true that the country is weary of the war, and the toll on the soldiers has been extraordinary, and on the Marines. But when even, and you know that, having deployed a lot of National Guardsmen from Minnesota to the war. But if it takes ten more years out, will you be prepared to stay there ten more years?

TP: Well, we need to define it based on what our mission is, and we need to finish it successfully. You know, when America goes to war, America needs to win, and America needs to be successfully, and that we shouldn’t head for the exits just because of weariness. We should head for the exits because our job is completed successfully. And I think again, we’re not that far off from being able to achieve that, and I really applauded the President when he did the surge in Afghanistan. But he should not have simultaneously picked an arbitrary withdrawal deadline and announced it at the same time. It sends mixed signals, and he was just trying to cover his left flank in his party. I hope he’s not doing that again with this exercise. Hugh, we’ll see. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, because we haven’t seen the speech yet, or heard the speech yet. But I believe we should stay as long as it takes to get the job done as I described it just a few minutes ago.

HH: Now Governor Pawlenty, you just mentioned General Petraeus about to come back to the…stateside, to take over the CIA. If you are the Republican nominee as you’re seeking to be, would General Petraeus be on your short list of potential vice presidential nominees?

TP: Well, he’d be on the short list for a lot of things. He is a remarkable leader, exemplary leader. He’s somebody I think the country owes a debt of gratitude to, he’s knowledgeable, strong, he’s served his country so well. He could serve in any number of positions, and I think he’ll be on many people’s list for vice president, and could certainly serve in that position well. We’re going to have a wealth of riches in that regard, Hugh. You look at the governors and the senators around the country, and the business leaders around the country, we’re going to have lots of people to consider in that category.

HH: So the fact that he’d served as CIA director would not be disqualifying in your opinion?

TP: Not at all. It would be enhancing.

HH: All right, let me ask you now about David Axelrod. I brought this up when we were together in Des Moines this past weekend, and you answered it to that crowd, but I’d love the radio audience to hear it. You obviously have Axelrod worried, because he’s pinging on you whenever he shows up on TV, and he says you’re leaving Minnesota a $6.2 billion dollar deficit. Tell people your response to the Axelrod-Obama attack on you.

TP: Well, it’s just not accurate. Minnesota, like 49 other states, has a constitutional requirement that the budget be balanced every budget cycle. And in our case, they’re two year cycles. Every budget when I was governor was balanced and ended in the black every time. And the last one of those ends this summer. It ends July, or June 30. So it’s not even over yet, and when it ends, it’s going to end with a surplus. It’s going to end in the black. And so it’s just not accurate. My time as governor is going to end in surplus. Now what they’re talking about is a projected deficit two years from now, but that’s based on assumptions of a 20-plus percent increase in spending that I never would have allowed as governor, never would have allowed it, and that’s like me saying after I bought your car, Hugh, I crashed it up and then blamed you. And by the way, using the same argument that Axelrod is using, most other states in the country would have a deficit according to his methodology, with the exception, I suppose, of North Dakota.

HH: So given your success with avoiding deficits in Minnesota, right now the debt and deficit reduction talks are underway on the Hill. The debt ceiling’s coming up to a vote. There’s this big move for cut, cap and balance, which looks like a smokescreen to me. Do you think the Republicans ought to agree to raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances?

TP: Well, I do not, but I think if you did get a Constitutional amendment to balance the budget, and it was limited to a specific percent of GDP like the historical average of around 18%, and you could also get significant and meaningful immediate spending cuts, those are the kinds of things that Republicans should be shooting for in this debate, and down the road. So I support the Jim DeMint pledge and approach to the three things I just described. But overall, I don’t think they should raise the debt ceiling.

HH: Now do you have confidence in Speaker Boehner and Leader Cantor? They got rolled on the continuing resolution, and I’m afraid they’re going to get rolled in these conversations.

TP: Well, I’m hoping and praying. I know they’re under a lot of pressure, but I’ve been in those circumstances before as a governor, and with a government shutdown and a record-setting vetoes, and allotments, and a lot of things like that, but I hope they stand strong. And I’m rooting for them to do that, and we’re counting on them. But we need to come out of this, I think, with significant, a significant victory.

HH: Now if, in fact, they don’t, do you think that the House freshmen, you’ve got a great one up there in Chip Cravaack, and you’ve got other freshmen from the region in which you’re campaigning. Do you think they ought to look at changing up the leadership if we get rolled again?

TP: Well, I think it’s premature to get into all that, Hugh. I think we should be, we’ve got leaders in place, I think they understand their directives, and they’re going to try to achieve it, and we’ll assess that and judge it after they’ve had a chance to swing the bat here.

HH: All right, now let’s talk politics a little bit. You gave a big interview to Politico yesterday. By the way, Hohmann, their young guy, knows everything about Minnesota politics, because he’s from Minnesota. That’s got to be a little interesting to have a home towner running around covering your campaign.

TP: (laughing) It’s terrific. Yeah, no, it’s great, and the more, the merrier. So in Minnesota, any attention we can get for conservatives and conservative causes is moving the needle in the right direction.

HH: Well, James Hohmann reports that you and Michele Bachmann have never really gotten along, and you’re in this knockdown now. How are you going to recommend to the Tea Party movement, to whom you’re both appealing, that they decide whether or not to go Pawlenty or Bachmann as Iowa approaches?

TP: Well look, I don’t know where this stuff comes from that I don’t like Michele, or something like that. I’ve campaigned for her, I’ve always said positive things for her, I respect her. Now we’re not exactly close social friends, but I’ve gotten along with her and worked together well. So I don’t know where that’s coming from. I think it’s people just fanning the flames, and I think my proposition, without commenting about any other candidate, is look, you want people who’ve accomplished these things, not just talked about them. You want people who’ve held executive positions, who’re seasoned, tested leaders if they’re going to be in the Oval Office, who’ve led big organizations in crisis, and got stuff done. And you look at my record on taxes, spending, health care, public employee pension reform and the like, and it’s the best in the race. Not about speeches, but about getting the results done. We’ve had enough of high rhetoric from Barack Obama. It doesn’t work. We now need to get this country fixed and get it back on track. And so those are some of my strengths. And other candidates will bring their strengths to the table, and we’ll see. But I think we also need somebody who can not just do well in Iowa, which I think I can, but we’ve got to have somebody who can win the nomination and defeat Barack Obama.

HH: I’m talking with Governor Tim Pawlenty. His website is www.timpawlenty.com. Governor, you served eight years on the Republican Governors Association with Rick Perry, governor of Texas, who is now exploring whether or not to make the run that you’re embarked upon. What’s your reaction to Rick Perry thinking about getting in?

TP: Well, I don’t know if he’s going to get in or not. I know Rick. I like Rick a lot on a personal level. I’ve traveled internationally with him. He and I were in Iraq and Afghanistan together, I think it just was last year on that last trip we were talking about earlier. So I don’t know if he’ll get in. But my race, my message, doesn’t rise or fall depending on who else gets in or gets out, or doesn’t get in. We’re plowing ahead, and Rick will have to make his case just as we’re making our case.

HH: Are there any significant ideological differences between you and Rick Perry?

TP: Well, he’s got a long record. I haven’t studied it closely. I think he’s in his fourth term as governor, longest serving in Texas history, and I think before that, he was a state commissioner of agriculture. So I’m not familiar with his long record of public service to be able to comment on the details of that, Hugh.

HH: All right, now Governor, you’ve been renewing your criticisms of Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts care plan, calling it Obomneycare again after John King scolded you, and I thought silly conversation about that. But what are your criticisms about Massachusetts care?

TP: Well, I don’t like the government telling people they must buy a good or a service at any level, whether it’s the federal level, the state level, or the local level. I think it’s a dramatic overreach. I think the way to do health care reform is to move it to markets and to individuals, give them good information about price and quality, and let them choose in a marketplace. And this idea that we’re going to centralize more of our private economy by bringing it into government, whether it be a state capitol or the nation’s capitol, and create limited options, top-down systems, centralized systems, regulated systems where we have to tax people more, and limit their choices and their freedoms, I don’t buy that at all, Hugh. So I think I rejected that type of approach when we did health care reform in Minnesota, and we did it in a different direction – you know, no individual mandates, no government takeovers, just a different view of it. And I think as I said during and after the debate, it’s very difficult for somebody, I think, to take on Barack Obama when one of the top few issues is going to be health care reform. You can’t make the political case against him if you were one of the people who co-conspired to create the charge to begin with.

HH: Now in response to that question in the debate, Governor Romney responded look, mine was a state plan, his was federal, I didn’t raise taxes, he did, I didn’t cut benefits, he did. I might add as well, his was bipartisan, Obama’s was a jam down. Do you really think it’s sort of that lineage that from Romneycare came Obamacare?

TP: Well, the President himself has said he used the Massachusetts health care plan as a blueprint, or words to that effect, and that the two are similar. So he has admitted and acknowledged that he patterned Obamacare after Massachusettscare. And look, there may be some differences, but you can’t be fair-minded and comprehensive, and look at the two plans, and conclude that they’re fundamentally different. They’re very similar.

HH: Okay, are you going to be in a knockdown at this? You know, Jon Huntsman gave his announcement yesterday, and he said he’s going to go the high road, and he’s not going to…I don’t know that high road works. I think that people have to get into the details and argue it out. What does Tim Pawlenty think?

TP: I think we should make sure we stay focused on Barack Obama primarily. He’s the one we have to remove, and he’s the main problem. If there are some legitimate issue and policy differences between Republican candidates, we should discuss those, particularly in the context of a debate. But I don’t think we need to get into any personal stuff and the rest of it. Let’s have a debate on the issues, initially, amongst Republicans, and then ultimately, towards Obama.

HH: Now I’m talking to Reince Priebus tomorrow about whether or not the Republican National Committee is going to sponsor some debates in addition to those that are already scheduled by mainstream media. Do you want them to do that, Tim Pawlenty? And if the RNC puts them forward, will you participate in those?

TP: Yeah, we’ll participate in most of the major debates, particularly the ones that are going to be, have a media component to it. So we’ll see what the Republicans come up with. I’m not familiar with the details of the RNC’s plans, but I have great regard for Reince Priebus, and he’s a great leader for the party, and I’m sure he’ll put together something that’s attractive.

HH: Last question, Governor Pawlenty, again, the website is www.timpawlenty.com to get involved in Governor Pawlenty’s campaign. Let’s close by talking about President Obama. There’s a big debate about whether we’re in trouble because he’s an ideologue, or because he’s incompetent, that he intended us to go here, Alinskyite fashion, or he just doesn’t know what he’s doing. What’s Tim Pawlenty’s view on that division of opinion?

TP: My view is Barack Obama knows precisely what he’s doing. He’s a movement liberal. He is moving the country in a philosophical direction, a worldview that is the opposite of conservatism, and he’s doing it intentionally, and he’s doing it strategically, Hugh, and it’s the wrong direction for the country. And those of us who know that, those of us who see it, have to rise up and fight to get this thing back on track. America is drowning in debt, sinking in problems, and we need to have a hopeful, strong leader who sees it, to get America back to a better place. I can do that.

HH: Tim Pawlenty, always a pleasure, www.timpawlenty.com. Thank you, Governor, talk to you again soon.

TP: Okay, Hugh, thank you.

HH: Thank you.

End of interview.

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