ABC "This Week With George Stephanopoulous" - Transcript


Date: Feb. 18, 2007
Issues: Abortion

ABC "This Week With George Stephanopoulous" - Transcript

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We begin today on the trail with Mitt Romney. The former governor of Massachusetts launched his presidential bid Tuesday in Michigan.

MR. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) I always imagined that I'd come back to Michigan someday.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: A battleground state where Romney's dad was governor before his own White House run in 1968. That pedigree is not the only asset Romney brings to this race. Movie star handsome, with a Harvard MBA, Romney made his fortune as a management consultant who turned around troubled companies. And he solidified that reputation by saving the Salt Lake City Olympics from scandal.

MR. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) May the fire we see within you light a fire within each of us.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: In 2002, he won the Massachusetts State House as a pro-choice centrist.

MR. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose.


MR. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) I believe in the sanctity of human life.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: In his run for the White House, Romney is taking conservative positions that clash with his past beliefs and facing questions about his religious beliefs. Romney would be America's first Mormon president. When I sat down with the governor and his wife Ann in Jacksonville on Friday, that's where we began.

How does your faith inform your politics?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, I think religion is a separate sphere in terms of a particular brand of faith but I think the principles of all faiths have as their foundation the idea that there is a supreme being, that this supreme being is a heavenly father and that all the people in our country and in all countries are sons and daughters of the same supreme being. I think we are, if you will, one family of humanity. That informs very dramatically my sense of what our relationship should be in the world, our need to care for the very poor, and the diseased, and the brutalized, our need in this country to provide opportunities for a of our citizens. But the particular doctrines of the church, I don't think are a major part of it in the political sense.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But your Mormon faith has been a big part of your life. You were a bishop in the church, you were president of the Boston area parishes, you spent more than two years in France as a missionary and described it as a watershed experience. How so?

MR. ROMNEY: Oh, absolutely. It taught me that there is a great deal to life besides just what's living in my little community back in Michigan. I was in a pampered home with great advantages. I went to France and lived on a far more modest, humble basis. We made about $100 a week, we drew out of our savings to live there. That was food, clothing, transportation, housing, the whole bit. And I recognized that the opportunities we have in this country are absolutely extraordinary.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It can't have been easy to try to convert people in a Catholic country.

MR. ROMNEY: It's hard. It's real hard being a missionary in France.

MRS. ROMNEY: I think the conversion happens from within, to tell you the truth. I've sent five sons on missions, as well. And when they leave, they're 19-year-old boys. They come home 21-year-old men. And they've learned to step outside of themselves, they've learned what it means to truly care for someone else and they come back so much more compassionate and so much more caring and it changes their lives. And I know see them as fathers and husbands.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: While he was gone you actually converted to Mormonism back here in the United States from, you were Episcopal, I believe.

MRS. ROMNEY: I was Episcopal, but we went to church about once a year, so I guess . . . (Laughter)

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So what was the biggest leap of faith for you?

MRS. ROMNEY: There was no huge leap of faith for me at all. When Mitt left, I really just studied it on my own. It was not something I did for him or, you know, planning on some other life plan with it. It was an internal thing that motivated me just for my heart, as well.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You told Kate Snow that you think the governor should give one of these JFK-style speeches like the one John Kennedy gave in 1960.

MR. ROMNEY: No one can do what JFK did. (Laughs)

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not exactly. But --

MRS. ROMNEY: I'd like -- I don't like all the emphasis that's being put on it. I don't like -- because I, you know, I see it as being a little unfair. He is a man of faith. And he has amazing principles, he's a good father and husband, he's, you know, I'd like them to look at the measure of the man and stop focusing so much just on his faith.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But this is part of what makes us human beings. And, you know, John Kennedy, when he gave that speech, he said that he believed in the absolute separation of church and state.

FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY: (From videotape.) Where no Catholic prelate would tell the president, should he be Catholic, how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote. Where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that what you believe?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, we have a separation of church and state in this country. And we should. And it's served us well. I don't believe, for instance, we should take "Under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance. I don't think we should take "In God We Trust" off of our coins. There's a point at which we take something which is a good principle to an extreme.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: How about funding faith-based institutions?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, we don't fund faith-based institutions other than when they're performing a non-faith role. So right now we have faith-based initiatives in our state. Ann happens to lead that effort, and some of the faith-based institutions, particularly in the inner city, are doing a lot better job helping the poor, helping kids, helping families get on their feet than some government social service agencies. And so helping them in their secular role is, of course, fine.

MRS. ROMNEY: It's not a proselytizing thing that's happening, the way I see it, with the inner city, the faith-based initiatives that I've been working with. They're there to help. They're there to make a difference in children's lives. I feel as though we need to give them a hand, as well.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You've met with a lot of evangelical Christians who are especially skeptical of the Mormon faith. What do you say to them?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, you know, it's really quite easy. Because they agree. Our theologies are different, the doctrines are different between the different faiths, but we don't debate doctrines, we talk about values and where should America go on the values that Americans care about? So the leaders of the evangelical movement I've spoken with have by and large said "Look, we're not worried about your religion, we're happy with your values. And if we can be on the same page on issues that we care about, then we can be supportive down the road.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I just have one more question about this, and it has to do with the Muslim world. In your faith, if I understand it correctly, it teaches that Jesus will return probably to the United States and reign on Earth for a thousand years. And I wonder how that would be viewed in the Muslim world. Have you thought about how the Muslim world will react to that and whether it would make it more difficult if you were president to build alliances with the Muslim world?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, I'm not a spokesman for my church. I'm not running for pastor-in-chief. I'm running for Commander-in-Chief. So the best place to go for my church's doctrines would be my church.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But I'm talking about how they would take it. How they would perceive it.

MR. ROMNEY: I understand, but that doesn't happen to be a doctrine of my church. Our belief is just, it says in the Bible that the Messiah will come to Jerusalem, stand on the Mount of Olives and that the Mount of Olives will be a place where there's the great gathering, and so forth. It's the same as the other Christian tradition.

But, that being said, how do Muslims feel about Christian doctrines? They don't agree with them. But the values at the core of the Christian faith, the Jewish faith and many other religions are very, very similar. And it's that that common basis that we have to support and find ability to draw people to rather than to point out the differences between our faiths.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But your church does teach that Jesus will reign on Earth for the millennium, right?

MR. ROMNEY: Oh, yes. Uh-huh.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me talk about your political journey. You were an independent, registered independent in the 1980s. You voted for Paul Tsongas, a Democrat, in the 1992 primaries. Now you've described yourself as a Reagan Republican.

MR. ROMNEY: Kind of a mischaracterization. In Massachusetts, if you register as an independent, you can vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary. When there was no real contest in the Republican primary, I'd vote in the Democrat primary, vote for the person who I thought would be the weakest opponent for Republican. In the general election --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So that was a way of supporting President Bush, is that what you're saying?

MR. ROMNEY: Look, I've taken every occasion to vote against Ted Kennedy, he's a good friend, but Ted Kennedy, and Tip O'Neill, they're my Congressman and Senator. I go in their primary, just like a lot of other folks, and voted against the person who I thought was the strongest Democrat. Now, that happens in America today. But let me tell you, in the general election, I don't recall ever once voting for anyone other than a Republican. So, yeah, as an independent, I'll go in and play in their primary, but I'm a Republican and have been through my life. I was with Young Republicans when I was in college back at Stanford. But a registered independent, so I could vote in either primary.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You've also described a change of heart on the issue of abortion. You were pro-choice then.

MR. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I have since the time that my mom took that position when she ran in 1970 as a U.S. Senate candidate.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But pro-life now. So do you now believe that abortion is murder?

MR. ROMNEY: Abortion is taking human life. There's no question but that human life begins when all the DNA is there necessary for cells to divide and become a human being. Is it alive? Yes. Is it human? Yes.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So if abortion is the taking of a life, should women who have abortions and doctors who perform them be jailed?

MR. ROMNEY: Now, what my view is that we should let each state have its own responsibility for guiding its laws relating to abortion.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But if it's killing why should states have leeway?

MR. ROMNEY: You know, that's one of the great challenges that we have. There are a lot of things that are morally very difficult and in some cases repugnant that that we let states decide. For instance, Nevada allows prostitution. I find that to be quite repugnant.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But murder is illegal in every state.

MR. ROMNEY: And so -- and so we let states make some of these very difficult decisions. That's one of the difficulties here. We also -- I feel a gray empathy for women who have difficult decisions in this regard. I don't want to impose my view on the lives of women and yet this is one of those points where --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But if it's killing, you have to, don't you?

MR. ROMNEY: -- mature men and women have to come together and say, what's the right course?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But personally, what do you believe the punishment should be for an abortion?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, I'm not about punishment. That's not what I'm considering. I'm saying that in my view we should let the states make that decision and I'm in favor of life and in favor of choosing life.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're not going to say what the punishment should be?

MR. ROMNEY: I don't begin to have any idea for what a particular state's decision should be. I think the --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, but you've been governor of a state, you have to have some idea.

MR. ROMNEY: Well, our state is overwhelming a pro-choice state and Massachusetts would surely, under the construct I suggested, remain a pro-choice state. This is not about punishment. This is about allowing states to make a decision of an issue of great moral significance to a lot of people and I think, state by state, we should allow a federalist approach as it relates to the issue of abortion.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me move to the issue of gay rights.

When you ran for senator in 1994, you supported the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military, which you called it "a first step" that will ultimately lead to gays and lesbians being able to serve openly and honestly in our nation's military. Is that still the goal, that gays and lesbians should be able to serve openly and honestly in the military?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has worked well. We're in the middle of a conflict. Now is not the time for a change in that regard. And I don't have a policy posture as to allowing gays in the military to serve there openly. But I can tell you that I'm against discrimination, against people who are --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't understand that, that you don't have a policy posture. Before you thought they should be --

MR. ROMNEY: I'm not in favor of changing it. I'm in favor of leaving it as it is.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That current policy labels homosexuality as a "defect." Is that what you believe?

MR. ROMNEY: You know, I'm not going to suggest that I'm in any way a psychologist. That's a decision a psychologist would have to tell you and I'm not going to weigh in on that. What I can tell you is I oppose discrimination on the basis of race, gender, but also sexual preference, and so I'm not in favor of discrimination in that regard. But I do favor and have always favored traditional marriage.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I was just going to get to that.

MR. ROMNEY: And I oppose same-sex marriages. At the national level we should define marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. And this isn't about adult rights. A lot of people get confused that gay marriage is about treating gay people the same as treating heterosexual people. And that's not the issue involved here. This is about the development and nurturing of children. Marriage is primarily an institution to help develop children and children's development, I believe, is greatly enhanced by access to a mom and a dad. I think every child deserves a mom and a dad. And that's why I'm so consistent and vehement in my view that we should have a federal amendment which defines marriage in that way.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I was going to ask you about that because in 2005 in South Carolina you actually seemed to mock the idea of gays and lesbians adopting and bearing children.

MR. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) Today same-sex couples are marrying under the law in Massachusetts. Some are actually having children born to them. We've been asked to change their birth certificates to remove the phrase "mother" and "father" and replace it with "parent A" and "parent B". It's not right on paper, it's not right in fact.

MR. ROMNEY: No, that wasn't my intent. I don't mean to mock them in any way and I know we have gay adoption in Massachusetts, other states do. It's a decision made state by state.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you for it?

MR. ROMNEY: And there are gay couples that are having children of their own. And that's, obviously that's their right. But my belief is that the ideal setting for a child is where there's a mom and dad.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about guns. You were supportive of the Brady Bill, the handgun waiting period in the past. You signed an assault weapon ban into law, and you said in the past, "I don't line up with the NRA."

MR. ROMNEY: On that issue.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, you're a member of the NRA.

MR. ROMNEY: Yes, and I know the NRA does not support an assault weapon ban, so I don't line up on that particular issue with the NRA, either does President Bush. He likewise says he supported an assault weapon ban. Today, we don't have the Brady Bill because we have instantaneous background checks, that's no longer an operative or needed measure. But I'm a strong proponent of Second Amendment rights. I believe people under our Constitution have the right to bear arms. We have a gun in one of our homes. It's not owned by me, it's owned by my son, but I've always considered it sort of mine.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: When did you join the NRA?

MR. ROMNEY: It's about, well, within the last year. And I signed up for lifelong membership. I think they're doing good things and I believe in supporting the right to bear arms.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: This gets to, I think, the core question. You've had changes on many issues, many different kinds of issues --

MR. ROMNEY: Certainly not that one.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, but joining the NRA. All going in the same direction. How do you combat the charge that these are conversions of convenience?

MR. ROMNEY: Actually, not all going in the same direction. There are other -- you know, as you get older, and you have experience -- I ran for office the first time, never having been in politics, 13 years against Ted Kennedy. And since then, I've learned a few more things. I proposed at that time, for instance, that we eliminate the Department of Education. A lot of conservatives thought that was a great idea. I don't think that's a good idea anymore. I think we need the Department of Education. I think "No Child Left Behind" is performing a useful function in providing for testing. It has a lot of errors in it and I would like to change it, but I like the fact that we're testing our kids.

And I know a lot of conservations who disagree with me on that. On immigration, for instance, I think everybody who's not a legal resident of this country should have a card, an identification card. Some people don't like that idea.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But on immigration, let me stop you on immigration because just a year ago you were saying that that illegal immigrants here in the United States should have a path towards citizenship.

MR. ROMNEY: Boy, I don't recall that particular language. I didn't say they should be rounded up --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, you said those that are here paying taxes and not taking government benefits should begin a process towards application for citizenship, reported in "The (inaudible) Sun", March 2006.

MR. ROMNEY: Well, what I said is that those people should go to the back of the line, that those people who are here illegally should not get any benefit by being here.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But they should have some path to citizenship?

MR. ROMNEY: No. They should get -- everybody in the world has a path to citizenship. Everyone in the world can go apply to the United States and apply for citizenship. But those that are here illegally should not have any advantage over somebody who's in Bolivia today that wants U.S. citizenship.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So they have to go back home first?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, they don't have any advantage by being in this country illegally in terms of applying for citizenship and should not.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You'll be his number one character witness on the campaign trail. How do you convince voters that some of these changes are sincere, coming from conviction?

MRS. ROMNEY: I've been with him for a long time. I've known him since he was 18 years old. I know his heart. It was not an easy decision to come here and to make the decision to run. It's put a strain on, you know, on lots of different points in our life. It would be a lot easier not to. But I, in my heart of hearts, I know he's the best person.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay, national security, you're a management consultant, you come into the United States looking at the Commander- in-Chief. Do you keep him or let him go?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, you have to look at Iraq. And Iraq was superbly executed in terms of taking down Saddam Hussein's government. But I think everybody recognizes from the president, to Tony Blair, to Secretary Rumsfeld that post the period of major conflict we had major problems in the way we managed the war in Iraq and that has contributed to much of the difficulty we have today. It was underplanned, underprepared, understaffed, too low a level of troops, undermanaged.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you explain why all that planning wasn't done? President Bush is a Harvard MBA, too.

MR. ROMNEY: Well, everybody has their own management style and their own approach and I respect enormously the approach of other people. Mine is just different. And if you read Cobra II and Assassins Gate and Looming Tower and some of the reports of events leading up not only to 9/11 but to the conflict itself, there's a sense that we weren't ready for the post-major conflict period. And that has resulted in a blossoming of the sectarian violence, of insurgents within the country and from without. And a setting which is a very troubled, difficult --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet you support the president's decision to send more troops right now.


MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: How much time do you give it to work?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, it's not years. I think you're going to know within months.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Mayor Giuliani said the other night he's not confident it's going to work. Are you?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, you know, I think it's hard to predict whether this troop surge will work, but I'm absolutely confident it's the right thing to do.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The president announced a nuclear deal with North Korea this week. Is it a good deal?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, I'm hopeful that the key to the deal which is additional inspectors by IAEA -- inspectors, will let us determine whether or not they're cheating. Because I think the experience we've had with North Korea is, just like the last time that President Clinton entered into an agreed framework, that the North Koreans cheat.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But because of that history, others like John Bolton, the president's own former U.N. ambassador, say it's a bad deal. We're actually rewarding North Korea for bad behavior when we know they've cheated in the past.

MR. ROMNEY: Well, I want to see the final agreement, I want to see how the T's are crossed and the I's are dotted. I'm not going to tell you whether right now it's a good agreement. But I know what the problem is in the agreement, and that's unless the IAEA has the kind of inspections that we could be sure they're not cheating, then it would not be a step forward. And that's going to be critical.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You were joking in St. Louis the other day that what sets your husband apart in this field is he hasn't been divorced. (Laughter.) Both John McCain and Rudy Giuliani have been divorced. Is that something voters should take into account? MRS. ROMNEY: Well, I was really joking about just the Mormon thing and only having one wife. (Laughter.)

MR. ROMNEY: This is a Cato thing. Cato Burn (sp) wrote that joke and you know, you're always, when you start a speech, you're always looking for something funny to say and she quoted that joke that she put forward. No, I'm not going to suggest people's marital lives should be part of a campaign. And I should tell you, I respect enormously both of the men you mentioned, both are American heroes, in different ways for different things. I've become friendly with John McCain over the years. He's helped me in my campaign. Mayor Giuliani is an American hero. We're proud of the way --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So that's not an issue.


MR. ROMNEY: No. We like them both.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Your father was the frontrunner for the Republican nomination back in 1968 and then he made that famous comment after returning from Vietnam about brainwashing.

ROMNEY: (From archive videotape.) I just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get when you --


ROMNEY: (From archive videotape.) When you go over to Vietnam, not only by the generals but also by the diplomatic corps over there.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That must have been a tough blow for your family.

MR. ROMNEY: It must have been, but I wasn't around. I was lucky. I was in France. I was serving my church at the time. And so I saw from afar the statement and I must admit it didn't impact me as having such huge impact moment.

MRS. ROMNEY: I was more involved and Mitt's father was sort of taking care of me or watching over me as Mitt was away. He was very fond of me and it was great to have that relationship with him. And I got very close to him during that time. So I did see it up close and it was extraordinary. He was an extraordinary man, completely unaffected by stepping out of the race. He said, and I will never forget, because years and years later, I would ask him, "Doesn't it bother you, seeing what's going on in the country now and you could have had this impact or you could have been there, you could have done that," he said, "I never look back. Isn't life wonderful? I never look back." I said, "Don't you have any regrets?" "None."

MR. ROMNEY: The man was unique.

MRS. ROMNEY: He was so fabulous.

MR. ROMNEY: My dad, I mean, I am a small shadow of the real deal. My dad was extraordinary.

MRS. ROMNEY: I don't agree with that. (Laughter)

MR. ROMNEY: Thank you!

MRS. ROMNEY: But it's, I think, the same kind of attitude that you have to take when you approach something like this, because the race is going to be tough. There's only going to be a few people left standing. You don't go in thinking -- you're ego, of course, is going to get bruised. It's going to be tortuous, it's going to be hard. But if you have the attitude Mitt's father had, at the end, which is, "Life is good. I was there, yeah, it didn't work, off we go," that's the attitude that I hope we bring to this, as well.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Your sister, Jane, says you have lived a charmed life. What's the toughest personal crisis you've ever had to face?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What's the toughest personal crisis you've ever had to face?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, the charm in my life is that I fell in love young and you can't imagine what a blessing it is, in my opinion, to find your soul mate so young, to raise five kids together, and to see them get married and have children of their own. It's an extraordinary blessing. But without question, the most difficult time in our life was when Ann was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

MR. ROMNEY: In 1998.


MR. ROMNEY: And we were in the doctor's office and she was going through a series of neurological tests. She had --

MRS. ROMNEY: I was flunking everything.

MR. ROMNEY: Her right side wasn't working and we were thinking it could be Lou Gehrig's disease. And we said to each other, "As long as it's not fatal, we can live with anything."

MRS. ROMNEY: Well, he thought that.

MR. ROMNEY: Yeah, you weren't sure about that.

MRS. ROMNEY: No, I was really, really troubled by the disease. It was really tough for me. It was, obviously, hard for Mitt emotionally to have to support me during that, but for me, I am a physical person that loves action and loves to be involved in sports and I was a tennis player at that point, and I, interestingly enough, had thought, "My gosh, I'm at the end of my 40s, almost 50 years old, I've made it through that period of life where people get diagnosed with MS. I mean, I was thinking these thoughts and then to actually have that diagnosis was just such a stunning blow to me.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You're healthy now.

MR. ROMNEY: She's healthy.

MRS. ROMNEY: I am now.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you worried that the stress of the campaign may inflame the MS?

MRS. ROMNEY: Yes, I am. Yes, that's a worry. That was part of the decision process that was difficult. And my health obviously is very important to both of us, and so I've got to learn -- I've learned already what to do to keep myself healthy and to try to balance my life and try not to over-fatigue myself. But I clearly don't have enormous reserves of energy and I really do hit empty pretty quickly and I've got to learn how to manage that.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You're in all the way?

MR. ROMNEY: Oh, yeah, we're in all the way. We've given this a lot of thought. We had a family meeting, we don't have a lot of those, but all of us got together Christmastime and every son, every daughter-in-law went around and talked about their views. They were all concerned, they had their own drawbacks, concerned about the grandchildren, the impact on them of a presidential race, concern for me, for Ann. Every single one was unanimous in their view that I should run and they know our heart. So they said, "Do it," and so we're doing it.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you both very much.

MR. ROMNEY: Thanks, George, good to be with you.