Today CNN's Jim Acosta spoke with Rev. Robert Jeffress about his earlier comments on the Mormon religion. This interview ran in the 4 p.m. ET hour of CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer on CNN. Please credit all usage of the interview to CNN’s Jim Acosta
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED
JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I was able to pull aside here just for a few moments Dr. Robert Jeffress. He's the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas. He also gave a speech introducing Rick Perry earlier this afternoon. And if you don't mind me saying, Pastor Jeffress, you created a bit of a stir coming out of that speech because in talking to reporters, you said in pretty strong, plain language what you think of Mormonism.
You described it as a cult and you said that if a Republican votes for Mitt Romney, they're giving some credibility to a cult. Do you stand by that comment?
DR. ROBERT JEFFRESS, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF DALLAS: Oh, absolutely. And that's not some fanatical comment. That's been the historic position of evangelical Christianity. The Southern Baptist Convention, which is the largest Protestant denomination in the world, has officially labeled Mormonism as a cult.
I think Mitt Romney's a good, moral man, but I think those of us who are born-again followers of Christ should always prefer a competent Christian to a competent - to a competent non-Christian like Mitt Romney.
So that's why I'm enthusiastic about Perry.
ACOSTA: But what do you say to those voters who say that religion as Mormonism shouldn't be an issue in this campaign? He's just as American as anyone else.
JEFFRESS: I agree he's just as American as anyone else. And Article Six of the Constitution –
ACOSTA: And Mormons do say they are Christians. They say that. They believe in Jesus Christ.
JEFFRESS: A lot of people say they're Christians and they're not, but they do not embrace historical Christianity. And I, again, believe that as Christians, we have the duty to prefer and select Christians as our leaders. That's what John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court said.
And again, when I think we've got a choice, as Evangelicals, between a Rick Perry and a Mitt Romney, I believe Evangelicals need to go with Rick Perry.
ACOSTA: Well, you started an issue here. This is not going to be the end of it.
But Dr. Jeffress, we appreciate your time.
And we just want to also mention that I had a chance to talk to upstart insurgent presidential candidate Herman Cain about Dr. Jeffers' comments as he was coming in to this event.
Here's what Herman Cain had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HERMAN CAIN, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some - some - no comment. Some people feel that way. You know, I respect - I respect everybody's, you know, religious beliefs and Mormonism's been around a long time. So no comment. Not going to get into that.
ACOSTA: Do you think that's appropriate to say?
CAIN: I don't think it's appropriate to say, but he said it. OK? He said it, but I don't want to get into that. I want to focus on growing the economy, creating jobs.
ACOSTA: What did you think about the jobs report today?
CAIN: I think it's another indication that this president has had failed economic policies, period. And what some - what some people have done is they've tried to create a distraction with this whole Wall Street thing. The policies - they shouldn't be –
ACOSTA: Shouldn't some people on Wall Street be held accountable for what happened during the financial crisis?
CAIN: Wall Street didn't write the economic policies. The White House did. What happened on Wall Street is part of the problem, but it didn't create this high unemployment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: And that was Herman Cain on the economy, but this issue of Mitt Romney's faith is certainly taking center stage here at this summit, Wolf.
And I had a chance to talk to Tony Perkins, who is the head of the organization hosting this event, and you know him well. He said Mitt Romney's faith should not be an issue in this campaign. It should be the issues that all Americans will be voting on - the economy, how to get the economy moving again. On the economy, he thinks that'll be the central part of this campaign, Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM” I just want to be precise, and I want you to relay this question because I know he can't hear me, Rev. Jeffress.
BLITZER: But is he saying that because Mitt Romney is a Mormon, people shouldn't vote for him for president of the United States strictly because of his faith? Is that what he's saying?
ACOSTA: Wolf is asking me to ask you, are you saying that because of Mitt Romney's faith, that people should not vote for him? That people should not go into the voting booth and flip the switch for Mitt Romney because of his faith? Should that be held against him?
JEFFRESS: Look, I think if it came down to a contest between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, I would hold my nose and hope for Mitt Romney. I would rather have a non-Christian who at least supports biblical principles than a professing-Christian like Barack Obama who embraces unbiblical positions.
But we're in the primary season right now and because of that, I believe that Christians ought to select Evangelical Christians. That's my point.
ACOSTA: And just really quickly, nobody from the Perry campaign asked you to bring this up today?
JEFFRESS: Oh, absolutely not. I have no reason to believe that Governor Perry shares my views at all. He probably doesn't. But I'm speaking at a pastor, not as a politician or a pundit.
ACOSTA: As you heard, Wolf, this issue is coming up here. It is an issue that Mitt Romney thought he dealt with in the 2008 campaign. You'll remember, he gave that big speech at Texas A&M. It appears that issue is now back in the 2012 campaign, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, going to cause a lot of stir.
One quick question. If you could ask him how he feels about this hypothetical. What if there's a non-Christian like Eric Cantor, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, the majority leader, who's Jewish. He's not Christian, he's Jewish.
Could he support a Jewish Republican conservative like Eric Cantor if he were running against an Evangelical Christian?
ACOSTA: Pastor Jeffress, Wolf has another question for you. And that is because a lot of people have talked about Eric Cantor as a potential presidential or vice presidential nominee, would you hold his faith against him, the fact he is a Jew?
Would you be OK with seeing a Jewish president in the White House? Should his religion be held against him?
JEFFRESS: No, I don't think it ought to be held against him. I think, again, given the preference of having a Christian versus a non-Christian, it was John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court, said we should prefer and select Christians as our leaders.
Look, when it gets down to it, we need to remember this. In 2008, 30 million Evangelical Christians sat at home and didn't vote. Barack Obama won by 10 million votes. Whether you like it or not, Mitt Romney will not energize Evangelical Christians. The fact is they may –
ACOSTA: Not everybody agrees with that.
JEFFRESS: Well - and I know –
ACOSTA: Tony Perkins says that that's not the case.
JEFFRESS: And I understand that, but also understand that people don't always tell the truth to pollsters, especially when it comes to issues like this. They don't want to appear to be bigoted.
But what they say to a pollster and what they do in the voting booth sometimes are two different things. And I believe for a significant number of Evangelical Christians, they would prefer a strong Christian like Rick Perry to a Mormon.
ACOSTA: Wolf, there you have it. This is going to be an issue that Evangelical Christians will be talking about. It makes folks uncomfortable to talk about it as an issue, but it is coming up in this campaign.
BLITZER: Yes, well, Jim Acosta, thank you very much.
###BREAKING: Pastor to GOP: Don't vote for Romney because he's Mormon