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September 27th, 2013
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Mitt Romney speaks exclusively to Jake Tapper on Iran, Syria, Obamacare

Today on The Lead with Jake Tapper, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney sat down for an exclusive interview on a wide-range of topics, including U.S.-Iran relations, Obamacare, President Obama’s handling of Syria, and the biggest mistake he made in his 2012 presidential campaign. A transcript and video from the interview are after the jump.

Exclusive content from The Lead with Jake Tapper may be found at CNN.com/thelead.  Follow The Lead on Twitter @theleadcnn and @jaketapper; and on Facebook The Lead with Jake Tapper.

Additional Embeddable Video:

Exclusive: Romney disagrees with GOP ‘tactics’ on Obamacare in D.C.

Exclusive: Mitt Romney on Syria policy 'vacillation': It was not the president's finest hour

FULL TRANSCRIPT:
Please credit all usage to CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper

THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PART ONE:

ROMNEY: We’d like to see ObamaCare go away.  Now the question is what's the best tactic?  What's the best vehicle to try and make that happen?
So my tactic would be different.  But that doesn't mean I don't respect and honor the fact that other Republicans are choosing other tactics that they think are effective because we agree on the objective.  The objective is to stop ObamaCare because it is going to hurt the American people.  That's the message that Ted Cruz got out with his quasi-filibuster –

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER:  (Inaudible) millions of Americans who didn't have insurance who now do, the ones who (inaudible) Medicaid rolls have been expanded.

ROMNEY:  Let's go through and look through it.

First of all, a lot of people who don't have insurance still have health care because they go to the emergency room to get health care and are not denied health care.  We had that in my state before we had the plan we now have.

TAPPER:  (Inaudible).  That means that I end up paying for their health care (inaudible).

ROMNEY:  Now you're raising the question of who pays for it.  And I so I think there are better ways than having you pay for someone else's health care. Coming back to the question of ObamaCare, the issue that Ted Cruz got out and the - I think virtually all Republicans, elected Republicans, agree on, is that ObamaCare is going to be hurtful to a lot of families.  It's going to raise their premiums.

In many cases, they're going to lose the insurance that they wanted to have.  They're going to get a new plan they don't particularly like.  And you see a number of folks losing a 40-hour-week job to getting a 29.5-hour-week job so the companies won't have to buy the mandate.

This is going to hurt a lot of American families and the Republicans are saying, hey, we got to stop this.  We got to help the American people.

TAPPER:  How is it different from what you did here, though?  This is a state that a lot of people consider to be a model for ObamaCare because of the law you passed.

ROMNEY:  Well, there's some wonderful differences.  First of all, we don't have in my state people losing jobs, 40-hour-week jobs, going down to 29.5-hour-week jobs as a result of the bill that we passed.

We didn't have to raise new taxes on providers and device manufacturers, which the president's does.  We didn't have the kind of increase that you're seeing in premiums that many families are facing.

TAPPER:  You brought up Ted Cruz. There are Republicans in the establishment of Washington who look at Ted Cruz, look at the House Republicans who have (inaudible) Tea Party caucus who are perceived as forcing Speaker Boehner's hand, and some people call them the suicide caucus. Are you concerned about this forceful group of Republicans in Washington?

ROMNEY:  Well, again, they're all - we're all fighting for the same thing, which is finding a way to repeal or replace or repair, slow down ObamaCare.

TAPPER:  Those are all many different things.

ROMNEY:  So those are - so we're - we don't like ObamaCare and would like to see a different course taken.  And there are differences of opinion as to which tactics will be most effective.

I look at Senator Cruz and say, look, you give him credit for extending and speaking for 20-plus hours.  You give him credit for bringing attention to a very important issue.  I have a harder time seeing where a shutdown leads because I don't know that you're going to get a Democrat Senate and a Democrat president to say, OK, fine; we'll get rid of ObamaCare.

I think there's a better way of getting rid of ObamaCare - my own view - and that is, one, delaying it by at least a year.

The other would be potentially working hard to get Republicans elected to the House and Senate and they'd be able to do in a  traditional way.

TAPPER: The debt ceiling debate is going to be even bigger, probably, than the government shutdown debate. Where are you on that? You're somebody who invests money and has built a very successful career doing that.You know what the debt ceiling really means.  It's not just a tactic.  It's something that could harm the economy, did last time, when our bond rating went down and we've ended up, the United States has ended up having to pay higher rates because of what happened.

ROMNEY:  Well, the reason the United States had a credit rating downgrade as interest rates were affected was not because of that issue.  The reason was of course that Congress and the president continue to steadfastly more than we take in.  And we're printing money like crazy to try and get this economy  (inaudible).

TAPPER:  (Inaudible) - didn't they say that it was - that one of the reasons was because the political dysfunction they didn't think there would be a solution?

ROMNEY:  There's no question that the political dysfunction is that the cause of many of the problems of the country.  And leadership is what is able to break through the kind of dysfunction you're saying, and unfortunately we haven't seen the kind of leadership in the White House.

The president spends his time attacking the opposition party.  And a (inaudible) intent to their values and their purposes.  That's my opinion, an enormous mistake on his part.  You've got to reach across the aisle.

TAPPER:  The 2016 Republican presidential nominee comes to you and says what's the biggest mistake you made that I can learn from?

What do you tell him or her?

ROMNEY:  Well, I think our biggest strategic error - I mean, I made a lot of personal errors that a human being is going to make.

But the largest strategic error was not investing sufficiently, particularly in Hispanic TV and Hispanic outreach to help Hispanic voters understand that ours is the party of opportunity, that ours is the party that will help them have a brighter future, better jobs, better teaching for their kids.

We didn't do that as well as we could have, and we didn't encounter some of the very effective, you know, attack ads that came through Hispanic TV.  They ran more effective ads and they made a bigger effort with the Hispanic voters than we did.  And we need to fix that.

TAPPER:  But on the Latino vote, wasn't one of the problems was Republicans and you were seen as against immigration reform, against the bipartisan comprehensive effort.  And they understood the policy.  They disagreed with it.

ROMNEY:  Well, I think our position was mischaracterized by the opposition. Look, I want to see immigration reform.  I said that during the campaign. I  have thoughts about how do to that.  I think Republicans and Democrats have to come together in Washington with presidential leadership to say, with the president pushing his own party, not just pushing on Republicans and say, oh, you did - you're the bad guy.  No, pushing his own party to say, look we've got to come together here because people in both parties want to see immigration reform and the people of America deserve to have.

PART TWO:

TAPPER:  Your name has been mentioned a lot in recent weeks and months, a lot by your supporters, who say remember when Governor Romney was mocked for saying Russia was our number one geopolitical foe? And remember when Vice President Biden went after him for wanting to start a war in Syria? And I think there's a feeling among some supporters that you've been vindicated to a large degree. How have you looked at the events regarding Syria and Russia in the last few weeks?

ROMNEY:  Well, I don't spend time looking back and I'm vindicated in my own mind from the beginning. I think we recognize increasingly that Russia is not an enemy; it's certainly not a military combatant foe.

But it is a political foe.  The world's worst actors, whether it's North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Iran, are all supported and protected to some degree by Russia.

TAPPER:  So are you skeptical of this U.N. Security Council resolution?  Or do you think there's potential there that it could work when it comes to Syria's chemical weapons?

ROMNEY:  Oh, I think there's real potential that Syria will be able to eliminate their chemical weapons, catalog them.  That, I think, is a positive outcome from this whole effort in Syria.  But what I place my life upon it without verifying it?  Of course not.  This is something which is going to have to be thoroughly vetted and evaluated and assured that neither Syria nor Russia does anything to allow these weapons to escape, for instance, to Iran, to ultimately be brought back and to be used there.

TAPPER:  Do you think President Obama did the right thing by threatening to use force against Syria?

ROMNEY:  I think it was very clear that once he had indicated there was a red line that we would not go beyond without some kind of retaliation or some kind of effort that there had to be, in effect, a follow-through on that commitment.

And so the president needed to do something but, gosh, helping the group that's associated in some way with Al Qaeda didn't look right.  And helping Assad certainly wasn't right.  So we had no good choices.  That's what comes with not being involved at the critical moment and not being able to see what is the critical moment.

And I'm afraid that we missed that opportunity.

TAPPER:  The president was criticized a lot, not only by Republicans, but by Democrats and independents and analysts for zigzagging a few weeks ago. What was your reaction, watching him that Saturday when he came out and said that it was his desire to strike, but he wanted to go to Congress first, which I think threw a lot of people for a loop?  They didn't see that coming.

ROMNEY:  I think it was not the president's finest hour.  Dealing with the Syria development and the use of chemical weapons there, he looked like he hadn't thought it through and hadn't considered the right course in advance. And I think we lost some respect in the region and certainly lost respect with friends and allies around the world.  When you have Great Britain for instance say, look, we're not going to get behind this.  That's quite a shift from the kind of support we've seen from Great Britain over the years.

TAPPER:  But do you think that's a manifestation of President Obama's leadership? Or does the very war-weary British public, in the same way we have a war-weary American public here that doesn't support action in Syria?

ROMNEY:  Well, I think the President of the United States as he plans what action he thinks is appropriate needs to think through all the options from the very beginning, settle on the one he considers to be the most effective and then communicate that aggressively with whatever audience he thinks needs to hear it.

And that was not done; it was not done with our friends in Great Britain.  It was not done here.  And there was vacillation here.

TAPPER:  Let's talk about Iran, because that's also a situation going on right now. Do you think that Rouhani, the new president of Iran, could be legitimately ushering in a new era?  He came out very openly, said we don't want nuclear weapons; we only want nuclear power and that's all we've ever wanted.

ROMNEY:  Well, first of all, you have to be skeptical when people say we're just looking for nuclear power when their nation is on a lake of oil.  All right.  So that's part one.

Part two:  he really doesn't set the nuclear policy of his nation.  That's done nothing by Ayatollah Khomeini.  And so he doesn't actually have the capacity to call those shots.

Is he a moderate voice?  Perhaps.

But let's pursue this course as aggressively as we can, but recognize again that there's a great deal of skepticism with regard to Iran's intentions in part because of their energy wealth and the likelihood that what they're trying to is to become the superpower in the Middle East with dire consequences for the nations in the region.

TAPPER:  Even before the Syrian crisis, people were questioning Russia and the relationship with the United States because they granted - because Russia granted asylum to Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower or leaker, whatever your view.

If you were president, is the NSA surveillance a program that you think is worthwhile?

ROMNEY:  Well, there have clearly been errors made in the way the surveillance was carried out and policies that were not followed.  I read this morning a story about individuals having followed their love life –

(CROSSTALK)

ROMNEY:  - and so these kinds of things are unacceptable and have to be (inaudible) punishment associated with that.  And you have to follow the rules, procedures of an organization.  That being said, do you want to have an organization which is - has computers looking at millions of emails and tweets and phone calls, looking for patterns in words to suggest there may be terrorist activity going on?

And the answer is, in my view, yes.  You want to have that information; you want to protect this country against terrorist attack.

TAPPER:  As a major party nominee for president, you would see security and national security briefings and because you ran the Olympics, do you know things that reaffirm (inaudible).

ROMNEY:  You're right, Jake, which is that after I became the nominee of the Republican Party, the intelligence community provided me with the kinds of briefings that are provided the president so that in the event I became elected, I would be prepared to move forward with whatever decisions had to be taken. I came away with the recognition that we face very substantial security threats from terrorist organizations –

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER:  Worse than you thought before?

I mean, obviously you had a realization –

ROMNEY:  Yes.  Yes.  The answer's, of course, a great deal worse than I thought in that I was given more specifics as to the types of technology and the types of organizations that pose a potential threat, either here or to our friend and to our citizens living abroad.  And that continues to be the case.Look, we only have to look around us in the world to see that there are very dangerous things occurring.  And the idea that somehow we can stop them with a magnetometer at the entrance to a mall or the entrance to a stadium or the entrance to an Olympics is not real. The only and by far the most effective way of preventing terrorist attackRomney foreign news is intelligence.

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