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Aired February 22, 2012 - 21:30   ET


FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM, R-PA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would say that if you're looking for a president to be elected in this country that will send that very clear message to Iran as to the seriousness of the American public to stop them from getting a nuclear weapon, there would be no better candidate than me because I have been on the trail of Iran and trying to advocate for stopping them getting a nuclear weapon for about eight years now.

I was the author of a bill back in 2008 that talked about sanctions on a nuclear program that our intelligence community said didn't exist and had the President of the United States, president bush oppose me for two years.

And, by the way, so did Joe Biden on the floor of the Senate, and Barack Obama. I always say if you want to know what foreign policy position to take, find out what Joe Biden's position is and take the opposite opinion and you'll be right 100 percent of the time.

But they opposed me. He actively opposed me. We did pass that bill eventually at the end of 2006, and it was to fund the pro- democracy movement, $100 million a year. Here's what I said -- we need to get this -- these pro-American Iranians who are there, who want freedom, want democracy, and want somebody to help them and support them.

Well, we put -- we put some money out there and guess what? Barack Obama cut it when he came into office. And when the Green Revolution rose, the pro-democracy prose, we had nothing. We had no connection, no correlation and we did absolutely nothing to help them.

In the meantime, when the radicals in Egypt and the radicals in Libya, the Muslim Brotherhood, when they rise against either a feckless leader or a friend of ours in Egypt, the president is more than happy to help them out.

When they're going up against a dangerous theocratic regime that wants to wipe out the state of Israel, that wants to dominate the radical Islamic world and take on the great Satan, the United States, we do nothing. That is a president that must go. And you want a leader who will take them on? I'll do that.

JOHN KING, DEBATE MODERATOR, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Congressman Paul, all three of your rivals here make a passionate case that -- all three of them make a passionate case that this is a vital U.S. national security interest. But you disagree.

REP. RON PAUL, R-TEXAS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I disagree because we don't know if they have a weapon. As a matter of fact, there's no evidence that they have it. There is no evidence.

Israel claims they do not have it and our government doesn't. I don't want them to get a weapon. But I think what we're doing is encouraging them to have a weapon because they feel threatened. If you look at a map of -- if you look at a map of Iran, we have 45 bases around their country, plus our submarines.

The Iranians can't possibly attack anybody. And we're worrying about the possibility of one nuclear weapon. Now, just think about the Cold War. The Soviets had 30,000 of them. And we talked to them. The Soviets killed 100 million people and the Chinese, and we worked our way out of it.

And if you want to worry about nuclear weapons, worry about the nuclear weapons that were left over from the Soviet Union. They're still floating around. They don't have them all detailed. So we're ready to go to war. I say going to war rapidly like this is risky and it's reckless.

Now, if they are so determined to go to war, the only thing I plead with you for, if this is the case, is do it properly. Ask the people and ask the Congress for a declaration of war. This is war and people are going to die. And you have got to get a declaration of war.

And just to go and start fighting -- but the sanctions are already backfiring. And all that we do is literally doing the opposite. When we've been -- were attacked, we all came together. When we attacked the -- when we -- when we put them under attack, they get together and it neutralizes that. They rally around their leaders.

So what we're doing is literally enhancing their power. Think of the sanctions we dealt with Castro. Fifty years and Castro is still there. It doesn't work. So I would say a different approach. We need to at least -- we talked -- we talked to the Soviets during the Cuban crisis. We at least can talk to somebody who does not -- we do not have proof that he has a weapon. Why go to war so carelessly?

KING: Let's stay on this theme. We have a question from, a question -- you can see it up on the screen here. In regards to Syria, should the United States intervene and should we arm the rebellion?

Senator Santorum, let me start with you on this one. The American people have watched these videos that started months ago and has accelerated in recent days. What is the role for the United States today?

SANTORUM: Syria is a puppet state of Iran. They are a threat not just to Israel, but they have been a complete destabilizing force within Lebanon, which is another problem for Israel and Hezbollah. They are a country that we can do no worse than the leadership in Syria today, which is not the case, and some of the other countries that we readily got ourselves involved in.

So it's sort of remarkable to me we would have -- here again, it's -- I think it's the timidness (sic) of this president in dealing with the Iranian threat, because Syria and Iran is an axis. And the president -- while he couldn't reach out deliberately to Iran but did reach out immediately to Syria and established an embassy there. And the only reason he removed that embassy was because it was threatened of being -- of being overtaken, not because he was objecting to what was going on in Syria.

This president has -- has obviously a very big problem in standing up to the Iranians in any form. If this would have been any other country, given what was going on and the mass murders that we're seeing there, this president would have quickly and -- joined the international community, which is calling for his ouster and the stop of this, but he's not. He's not. Because he's afraid to stand up to Iran.

He opposed the sanctions in Iran against the -- against the central banks until his own party finally said, "You're killing us. Please support these sanctions."

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a president who isn't going to stop them. He isn't going to stop them from getting a nuclear weapon. We need a new president or we are going to have a cataclysmic situation with a -- a power that is the most prolific proliferator of terror in the world that will be able to do so with impunity because they will have a nuclear weapon to protect -- protect them for whatever they do. It has to be stopped, and this president is not in a position to do that.

KING: And the question of Syria...


... Mr. Speaker, then Governor Romney, if you were president today, what would you do differently from this president tomorrow?

FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH, R-GA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, the first thing I'd do, across the board for the entire region, is create a very dramatic American energy policy of opening up federal lands and opening up offshore drilling, replacing the EPA.


We -- the Iranians have been practicing closing the Straits of Hormuz, which has one out of every five barrels of oil in the world going through it. We have enough energy in the United States that we would be the largest producer of oil in the world by the end of this decade. We would be capable of saying to the Middle East, "We frankly don't care what you do. The Chinese have a big problem because you ain't going to have any oil."

(APPLAUSE) But we would not have to be directly engaged. That's a very different question.

But, first of all, you've got to set the stage, I think, here to not be afraid of what might happen in the region.

Second, we clearly should have our allies -- this is an old- fashioned word -- we have have our allies covertly helping destroy the Assad regime. There are plenty of Arab-speaking groups that would be quite happy. There are lots of weapons available in the Middle East.

And I agree with -- with Senator Santorum's point. This is an administration which, as long as you're America's enemy, you're safe.

You know, the only people you've got to worry about is if you're an American ally.


KING: Governor?

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I agree with both these gentlemen. It's very interesting that you're seeing, on the Republican platform, a very strong commitment to say we're going to say no to Iran. It's unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

And -- and Rick is absolutely right. Syria is their key ally. It's their only ally in the Arab world. It is also their route to the sea. Syria provides a -- a shadow over Lebanon. Syria is providing the armament of Hezbollah in Lebanon that, of course, threatens Israel, our friend and ally.

We have very bad news that's come from the Middle East over the past several months, a lot of it in part because of the feckless leadership of our president.

But one little piece of good news, and that is the key ally of Iran, Syria, is -- has a leader that's in real trouble. And we ought to grab a hold of that like it's the best thing we've ever seen.

There's things that are -- we're having a hard time getting our hands around, like, what's happening in Egypt. But in Syria, with Assad in trouble, we need to communicate to the Alawites, his friends, his ethnic group, to say, look, you have a future if you'll abandon that guy Assad.

We need to work with -- with Saudi Arabia and with Turkey to say, you guys provide the kind of weaponry that's needed to help the rebels inside Syria. This is a critical time for us.

If we can turn Syria and Lebanon away from Iran, we finally have the capacity to get Iran to pull back. And we could, at that point, with crippling sanctions and a very clear statement that military action is an action that will be taken if they pursue nuclear weaponry, that could change the course of world history. KING: Let's try to get another question.


PAUL: John?

KING: Congressman, quickly, please?

PAUL: No, I get a minute to go quickly.


You know, I -- I've tried the moral argument. I've tried the constitutional argument on these issues. And they don't -- they don't go so well. But there -- there's an economic argument, as well.

As a matter of fact, Al Qaida has had a plan to bog us down in the Middle East and bankrupt this country. That's exactly what they're doing. We've spent $4 trillion of debt in the last 10 years being bogged down in the Middle East.

The neoconservatives who now want us to be in Syria, want us to go to Iran, have another war, and we don't have the money. We're already -- today gasoline hit $6 a gallon in Florida. And we don't have the money.

So I don't believe I'm going to get the conversion on the moral and the constitutional arguments in the near future. But I'll tell you what, I'm going to win this argument for economic reasons. Just remember, when the Soviets left, they left not because we had to fight them. They left because they bankrupted this country and we better wake up, because that is what we're doing here. We're destroying our currency and we have a financial crisis on our hands.


KING: Let's take another question from our audience, please.

Identify yourself and ask your question.

(UNKNOWN): I'm Marsha Crossen (ph) from Scottsdale, Arizona.

What is your stand on education reform and the No Child Left Behind Act?

KING: This came up a bit earlier in the debate. Some of you mentioned it in a general way.

Senator Santorum, to you first. Specifically, what do you do about No Child Left Behind today if you're president?

SANTORUM: Well, you know what? I supported No Child Left Behind. I supported it. It was the principal priority of President Bush to try to take on a failing education system and try to impose some sort of testing regime that would be able to quantify how well we're doing with respect to education. I have to admit, I voted for that. It was against the principles I believed in, but, you know, when you're part of the team, sometimes you take one for the team, for the leader, and I made a mistake.


You know, politics is a team sport, folks. And sometimes you've got to rally together and do something. And in this case, you know, I thought testing was -- and finding out how bad the problem was wasn't a bad idea.

What was a bad idea was all the money that was put out there, and that, in fact, was a huge problem. I admit the mistake and I will not make that mistake again. You have someone who is committed.

Look, I'm a home schooling father of seven. I know the importance of customized education for our children. I know the importance of parental control of education.


I know the importance of local control of education. And having gone through that experience of the federal government involvement, not only do I believe the federal government should get out of the education business, I think the state government should start to get out of the education business and put it back to the state -- to the local and into the community.


KING: Governor Romney, when you were governor, you had to deal with this law. So weigh in. And as you do, it's designed, like it or not, to help the public school system, which has struggled. Senator Santorum, just the other day, called public schools in this country factories.

ROMNEY: Well, I'm not going to comment on that unless you'd like to.

With regards to your question, I came into a state where Republicans and Democrats had worked to -- before I got there to make some very important changes. They said that they were going to test our kids every year.

They said to graduate from high school, you're going to have to pass an exam in English and math. I was the first governor that had to enforce that provision.

There were a lot of people that said, oh, no, no, no. Let people graduate even if they can't pass that exam. I enforced it. We fought it. It was hard to do.

We added more school choice. My legislature tried to say no more charter schools. I vetoed that, we overturned that.

With school choice, testing our kids, giving our best teachers opportunities for advancement, these kinds of principles drove our schools to be pretty successful. As a matter of fact, there are four measures on which the federal government looks at schools state by state, and my state's number one of all 50 stays in all four of those measures, fourth-and-eighth-graders in English and math. Those principles, testing our kids, excellent curriculum, superb teachers, and school choice, those are the answers to help our schools.

And with regards to No Child Left Behind, the right answer there -- President Bush stood up and said, you know what? The teachers unions don't want school choice, I want school choice to see who's succeeding and failing.

He was right to fight for that. There are things that should be changed in the law, but we have to stand up to the federal teachers unions and put the kids first and the unions behind.


KING: Mr. Speaker, on that point, this is a conversation about what is the proper role of the federal government in the education issue? To the point the governor just raised about teachers unions, you have complimented President Obama to a degree on that issue, saying he had some courage to stand up to the teachers union. You went on tour with Al Sharpton and this president's education secretary in support of the multibillion-dollar Race to the Top program that essentially -- I think they used stimulus money for it, but incentives to states, to schools that perform, and that enact reforms.

GINGRICH: What we did is we went around, including Tucson, in this state, and we talked about the importance of charter schools, which was the one area where I thought the president did in fact show some courage, being willing to go into Philadelphia or into Baltimore or in a variety of places and advocate -- we were in Montgomery, Alabama, for example -- and say charter schools are an important step in the right direction.

There are two things wrong with the president's approach. And the reason I would, frankly, dramatically shrink the Federal Department of Education down to doing nothing but research, return all the power under the Tenth Amendment back to the states.

And I agree with Rick's point. I would urge the states, then, to return most of that power back to the local communities, and I'd urge the local communities the turn most of the power back to the parents. And I think the fact is --


We have bought -- we bought over the last 50 years three huge mistakes. We bought the mistake that the teachers unions actually cared about the kids. It's increasingly clear they care about protecting bad teachers.

And if you look at L.A. Unified, it is almost criminal what we do to the poorest children in America, entrapping them into places. No Nation Left Behind said if a foreign power did this to our children, we'd declare it an act of war because they're doing so much damage. The second thing we bought into was the -- the whole school of education theory that you don't have to learn, you have to learn about how you would learn.

So when you finish learning about how you would learn, you have self esteem because you're told you have self esteem, even if you can't read the words self esteem. And the...


GINGRICH: ...and the third thing we bought, which Rick eluded to, which is really important. We bought this notion that you could have Carnegie units and you could have state standards and you could have a curriculum everybody -- every child is unique. Every teach is unique. Teaching is a missionary vocation. When you bureaucratize it, you kill it. We need a fundamental re-thinking from the ground up.


KING: Congressman Paul?


PAUL: Newt -- Newt's going in the right direction, but not far enough.


PAUL: The Constitution is very, very clear. There is no authority for the federal government to be involved in education.


PAUL: There's no -- no prohibition in the Constitution for the states to be involved in education. That's not a bad position and we can sort things out. But once -- once again the Senators for -- was for No Child Left Behind, but now he's running for president, now he's running to repeal No Child Left Behind once again. But -- and he calls it a team sport. He has to go along to get along and that's the way the team plays. But that's what the problem is with Washington. That's what's been going on for so long.


PAUL: So, I don't accept that form of government. I understand it. That is the way it works. You were with the majority. You were the Whip and you organized and got these votes all passed. But I think the obligation of all of us should be the oath of office. We should take -- and it shouldn't be the oath to the party. I'm sorry about that, but it isn't the oath to the party, it's the oath to our office.


PAUL: To obey the law and the law is the Constitution. (APPLAUSE)

KING: Gentleman, thank you. One more break. When we come back, the final question of what could be the final Republican debate.


KING: Welcome back to the Mesa Art Center, our Arizona Republican presidential debate, the four contenders on stage tonight.

Gentlemen, our time is short, so one last question.

Nine states have voted so far. We talked a bit earlier about the volatility in the race. The people of Arizona vote Tuesday. Michigan, on Tuesday. Wyoming and Washington State, then Super Tuesday, beyond that. Fourteen states over the next 10 days or so.

Republican voters are clearly having a hard time.

I want to close with this question: Help the voters who still have questions about you. What is the biggest misconception about you in the public debate right now?

Congressman Paul, we'll start with you, sir.

PAUL: I would say the perpetuation of the myth by the media that I can't win.


And the total ignoring some statistics that show it to be the opposite. Just recently, there was a poll in Iowa, and it matched all the four of us up against Obama. And guess what? I did the very best.


PAUL: So I would say that is been the biggest myth. But let me tell you, though, public perception is one thing, but when you go around and talk to the American people and we have our rallies, that misconception isn't there. And I think that's the biggest misconception that I have to deal with.

KING: Mr. Speaker?

GINGRICH: I think that the fact is that the American public are really desperate to find somebody who can solve real problems. I think that's why it's been going up and down and why you have got all sorts of different folks as front-runners.

And all I can say is that my background of having actually worked with President Reagan, then having been Speaker, if there was one thing I wish the American people could know about me, it would be the amount of work it took to get to welfare reform, a balanced budget, a 4.2 percent unemployment rate, and that you've got to have somebody who can actually get it done in Washington, not just describe it on the campaign trail.


KING: Governor Romney?

ROMNEY: We've got to restore America's promise in this country where people know that with hard work and education, that they're going to be secure and prosperous and that their kids will have a brighter future than they've had. For that to happen, we're going to have to have dramatic fundamental change in Washington, D.C., we're going to have to create more jobs, have less debt, and shrink the size of the government.

I'm the only person in this race --

KING: Is there a misconception about you? The question is a misconception.

ROMNEY: You know, you get to ask the questions want, I get to give the answers I want. Fair enough?


And I believe that there's a whole question about, what do we need as the person that should be president? What is their position on this issue? Who can be the toughest going after Obama?

What we really need, in my opinion, is to say who can lead the country through the kind of fundamental change we have in front of us? And we have people here who all different backgrounds.

I spent 25 years in the private sector. I worked in business. I worked in helping turn around the Olympics. I worked in helping lead a state.

I believe that kind of background and skill is what is essential to restore the American promise. If people think there's something else in my background that that is more important, they don't want to vote for me, that's their right, but I believe I have the passion, the commitment and the skill to turn America around, and I believe that's what's needed.


KING: Senator Santorum?

SANTORUM: I think the thing I hear I have heard from the very beginning, can you defeat Barack Obama? And if you want to look at the people on the stage, we're going to be running against the president who is going to have the national media behind him, he's going to have more money, a lot more money, because he isn't having to spend a penny in the primary. So he's going to outspend whoever it is. He's going to have the national media on his side.

Maybe you want a candidate who is not going to be able to win an election by beating the tar out of his opponent, spending four or five to one in order to win an election in a state, but actually can run a campaign based on issues and ideas and a vision that's positive for America, to be able to be outspent and yet cut through because you have a strong vision, you have principles and convictions that is going to convince the American public that you're on their side in making a big difference in our country and keeping us safe and prosperous.

So we're looking for someone -- I think people, they're looking for someone who can do a lot with a little -- run a campaign on a shoestring and win a bunch of states and rise in the polls. You're looking for someone who can take what's going on in Washington and look at what went on in my campaign and see someone who can do a lot with a little.

That's what we need in Washington, not just after the election, but we're going to need to have that before the election, and I'm the best person, from a state which is a key swing state, from a region of the country which is going to decide this election, right across the Rust Belt of America. We've got the programs; we've got the plan, and we can win and defeat Barack Obama and govern this country conservatively.


KING: Gentlemen, I want to thank you. I want to thank all of our candidates tonight. We also want to thank our partner tonight, the Republican Party of Arizona, and we'd like to thank our hosts here at the Mesa Arts Center, a beautiful venue here.