Transcript: Univision interview with Mitt Romney

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Key

MOD: Moderator
JR: Jorge Ramos
MR: Mitt Romney
Q: Audience Question

MOD: Thank you Chamber of Commerce, Miami-Dade College, and Univision Television. I want to thank you for joining us in our discussion with Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney. We will have 20 exclusive minutes with the former Governor of Massachusetts in light of the current presidential contest. The 20 minutes will be streamed live in English at univision.com and content from the event will also be broadcast throughout our several news properties as well as in our exclusive Sunday talk show Al Punto. Award-winning journalist Jorge Ramos will be conducting the first part of the discussion. We will then move on to questions from our online viewers as well as from you, the audience.

I want to remind you to please silence your cellular phones and that there will be no flash photography during the event. In order to begin, I want to welcome renowned journalist Jorge Ramos on to the stage. [Applause.] And without further ado, Republican Presidential Candidate Governor Mitt Romney. [Applause.]

MR: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you. Hi, how are you? Senator, Mr. President. [laughter] Thank you, thank you. Thanks, guys. Some of my closest friends.

JR: I know.

MR: Thank you.

JR: Thank you. You get to talk with them a lot, right?

MR: That’s true. The worst thing that happened is now we have cameras that don’t have film in them. They’re digital. So they can take a limit – an unlimited number of pictures.

JR: It’s not a Kodak moment, right?

MR: It’s not, that’s exactly right. It’s a Microsoft moment, I think.

JR: Yes.

MR: Yeah.

JR: Okay. Ready?

MR: You bet.

JR: Let’s do it. Thank you so much for coming. Thank you so much for talking to Univision.

MR: Thanks, Jorge. It’s good to be with you.

JR: Let me ask you first about the economy, but your economy. You just released your tax returns. In 2010 you only paid 13 percent of taxes while most Americans paid much more than that. Is that fair?

MR: Well, actually, I released two years of taxes and I think the average is almost 15 percent, and then also, on top of that, I gave another more than 15 percent to charity. When you add it together, all the taxes and the charity, particularly in the last year, I think it reaches almost 40 percent that I gave back to the community. One of the reasons why we have a lower tax rate on capital gains is because capital gains are also being taxed at the corporate level. So as businesses earn profits, that’s taxed at 35 percent. Then as they distribute those profits in dividends, that’s taxed at 15 percent more. So all total, the tax rate is really closer to 45 or 50 percent.

JR: But is it fair for you to pay 13 percent while most pay much more than that?

MR: Well, again, I go back to the point that the — that the funds are being taxed twice at two different levels, and people who are in middle income also can pay a 15 percent tax rate on their savings, capital gains, interest and dividends, but I have a proposal for those –

JR: Mm-hmm.

MR: — in middle income. Anyone earning under $200,000 a year, I would propose them to pay no tax whatsoever on their savings. I think the people that have been most hurt in the Obama economy should be able to save money tax-free.

JR: Governor, how much money do you have?

MR: Well, you tell me and I’ll tell you. I’m kidding. Actually, I –

JR: I’m not running for president.

MR: Yes. No, I understand. I actually — I actually disclosed in a financial disclosure statement all of the assets which I own and — and I think the estimate in there is — is a pretty wide range, it’s been widely reported, and my — my net worth is within that number and, frankly, it’s not something –

JR: Within 250 million?

MR: Well, it’s — it’s between a $150 and about $200 and some odd million. I think that’s what the estimates are, and — and, by the way, I didn’t inherit that. When — when — my parents gave me a lot of great things. They gave me the privilege of being born in this country, the privilege of having a mom and a dad that cared for me and taught me values, I’m a man of faith, as well, but — but when they passed away, what they sent to me I — I gave to charity and to my children. What we have –

JR: So you inherited no money?

MR: Well, I inherited no money. What — what my wife and I have, we earned, and — and we earned it by helping start businesses, by being successful in the businesses that I ran, and I’m proud of the fact that we were able to contribute in some small way to creating tens of thousands of jobs, actually over a 100,000 jobs for middle income Americans.

JR: Governor, let me ask you about immigration. Newt Gingrich called you anti-immigrant. This morning, he told me that you have shown no humanity for the people that are here, meaning undocumented immigrants, and he called your self-deportation plan for undocumented immigrants a “fantasy.” Now, how are you going to convince millions of undocumented immigrants to go back to poverty and violence?

MR: Well, let’s go back piece by piece, Jorge.

JR: All right.

MR: First of all, it’s very sad –

JR: He called you anti-immigrant.

MR: — yeah. It’s very sad for a candidate to — to resort to that kind of epithet. It’s just inappropriate. There are differences between candidates on important issues, but we don’t attack each other with those kind of terrible terms. I am not anti-immigrant. I’m pro-immigrant. I like immigration. Immigration has been an extraordinary source of strength in this country. As you, I’m sure know immigrants form more businesses than do domestic-born Americans. The immigrant population in this country has created great vitality in our economy as well as in our culture.

JR: He was referring to undocumented immigrants; that you’re not for immigration reform. You’re not for the Dream Act.

MR: So number one, — well, number one, I’m — I’m pro-immigration and pro-immigrant. That’s number one. Number two, you said he made another comment –

JR: He said — he said about showing –

MR:– about –

JR: — no humanity for the people who are here.

MR: Yes. I’ll get to that, but he also said something about — about the self-deportation.

JR: He said –

MR: Actually, — actually, –

JR: — it’s a fantasy.

MR: Yeah. Actually, he was asked on the Laura Ingraham Show whether he supported self-deportation and he said yes, and his spokesman also indicated — said that the Speaker supports self-deportation, the concept of self-deportation. So, unfortunately for him, these are things he’s already spoken out about and he spoke out about them in favor. Now, I recognize that it’s very tempting to come into an audience like this and to pander to the audience and to say what you hope people will want to hear. But, frankly, I think that’s unbecoming of a presidential candidate, and I think that was a mistake on his part.

JR: But how would you convince, again, the question is, how would you convince millions of undocumented immigrants to go back to their country of origin? In Mexico last year, more than 12,000 people were killed. They have 40 million people living in poverty. So, how is that going to work?

MR: Well, very simply, which is that you have identification for those people who come here legally, which allows them to work in the United States and to get jobs from employers here. Then you have in place a very effective eVerify system that allows employers to check that documentation immediately, see if it’s legitimate or whether it’s been falsified. And you severely sanction employers that hire people who have not legal documentation and legal authorization to work here. On that basis, over time, people will find it less attractive to be here if they can’t find work here. Some refer to that as self-deportation. And what it says is, I am not in favor of going around the country trying to round people up and put them in buses and take them across the border. I, instead, believe that we are wise to enforce immigration laws by having those people who are here legally have identification to that extent, and have an eVerify system that actually works.

JR: A few days ago I had a conversation with a DREAMer. Her name is Lucia Ajain [phonetic]. I think you met her in New York. She was brought here when her parents — when she was only 10 from Peru. And she wants to go to college. But if you become president, she wouldn’t be able to go to college. Why are you punishing her? What has she done wrong?

MR: Well, actually, I’m not punishing her. I don’t think that she should get –

JR: Oh, you would, because she wouldn’t go to college. No?

MR: — well, she can go to college. There’s no requirement that she goes to a college that provides an in-state tuition break. That –

JR: She can’t pay for that.

MR: — well, there are many colleges in the United States, and there are some that are relatively inexpensive. And one can go to a college that is not as expensive as others, and shop to those that have a better deal. I’m not sure what the price is here at Miami Dade, but my guess is it’s not terribly exorbitant. And so, people can choose a college. And so, the idea that we have to provide an in-state tuition break to people to be able to allow them to come to college, I just — I reject that idea.

JR: But her parents brought her here. I mean it’s no fault of her own. Right?

MR: I’m not suggesting it’s fault. I look at, really, three groups that I care very deeply about. One of those, the families that have come here illegally, their children in particular, they have no fault by having been brought here, of course. That’s one group I am concerned about. There is another group, which are people who come here through coyotes or others, who are brought here and are abused in the process of coming here, abused as they stay here. And then there’s another group, the four to five million people who are in line legally to come here, many of whom are separated from their families, who want to come here legally. Our responsibility, I believe, as a nation, is, first and foremost, to those that want to come here legally and have family here that they want to bring in, and then secondly to those that are being abused here by these coyotes. These are people I feel we have a responsibility to try and help. My compassion extends to all three. But I really want to protect legal immigration, and encourage a more transparent legal process for legal immigration. I would like to see more legal immigration in this country. And to protect legal immigration, I think it’s important for people to recognize that illegal immigration has to stop, or there will be an effort to stop legal immigration, or to slow it down, or to hold it down, which is a mistake. I want more, not less legal immigration.

JR: The mother of former governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, she was born in Mexico, and he calls himself Mexican-American. Your father was born in Mexico. So the question is, are you Mexican-American? Could you be the first Hispanic president?

MR: I would love to be able to convince people of that, particularly in a Florida primary. [Laughter.] But I think that might be disingenuous on my part, because, in my case, my dad was born in Mexico, and I am proud of my heritage. But he was born of U.S. citizens who were living in Mexico at the time, and was not Hispanic. He never spoke Spanish, nor did his parents. So I can’t claim that honor. But he lived in Mexico until he was five or six years old. And then, with the revolution in Mexico, his parents and he, as a young boy, came back to the United States and settled in the western part of the country.

JR: So you wouldn’t call yourself Mexican-American, even though he is Mexican by definition. I just read the Mexican constitution, and they would say that he is.

MR: I don’t think people would think I was being honest with them if I said I was Mexican-American. But I would appreciate it if you’d get that word out. [Applause.] And, by the way, we haven’t recognized someone in the audience here today, who is one of America’s great heroes, and that is the first Hispanic senator, Mel Martinez. I just want to have Mel Martinez be recognized. [Applause.] Mel? Thank you. I think Mel actually is Cuban-American, right? [Laughter.]

JR: Let me ask you another thing. I just came from a trip to Venezuela and Mexico. And they were surprised by one of your statements. You said that God created the United States to lead the world, that God did not create this country to be a nation of followers. You said that, right?

MR: Mm-hmm.

JR: With all due respect, how do you know that? [Laughter.]

MR: Well, what I believe is that the principles of the Declaration of Independence, the idea that the Creator endowed each human being with the right to life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that is a message which has, if you will, providential foundations. That concept was not something dreamt up by man but, in fact, is a principle of eternity and significance.

JR: I know, but –

MR: And this –

JR: — he created the United States to lead the world?

MR: And this nation, by having adopted the Declaration of Independence, and the men who signed their name to the Declaration of Independence and pledged their life and their liberty and their sacred honor to that concept were doing something which I think helped make this nation a leader in freedom and in the free world. And I believe that’s a mantle that still rests on the shoulders on the United States of America. And rather than simply presume that we are one of many nations that’s free, that we have a responsibility, an exceptional responsibility, to cherish and promote freedom around the world.

JR: We are going to open it up to the audience. Let me just ask you. Would you consider Newt Gingrich as your running mate?

MR: At this stage, if he were the VP and I was the President, why, that’s something I would consider. But I have to be honest with you. I haven’t made any considerations as to who would be my VP at this point. I think it would be presumptuous. I’ve got to become the nominee, first. And then I have to defeat President Obama. And then I’d get the privilege of having a vice president. So I’ve got a ways to go before I get to that point.

JR: We just released a poll, a Univision poll, that says that if you were to run against President Barack Obama he would beat you easily with the Hispanic vote. You wouldn’t even get 25 percent.

MR: Just wait.

JR: You would lose the general election, no?

MR: Just wait. We will get that quote out there, where you say I’m Mexican-American. I’ll do a lot better. [Laughter.] [Applause.]

JR: We have –

MR: Shall I stand?

JR: If you want to. We have the first question from the audience. Stephanie Salazar.

MR: Hi, Stephanie.

Q: Good afternoon, Governor.

MR: Hi.

Q: My name is Stephanie Salazar from Miami-Dade College West. And this is my question for you. With the national debt reaching $16 trillion, how do you envision America meeting its commitments on foreign policy, while at the same time balancing the budget, when military spending makes up the majority of discretionary spending?

MR: Well — and you used a very important word there. You said, “discretionary spending”. And, frankly, all spending is discretionary. Congress can decide each year where to spend its money. We call some things mandatory, but in fact, they’re discretionary. The way we structure Medicaid, for instance, one of our entitlements, one of our mandatory spending programs, actually could be changed from year to year.

And so, if you look at all federal spending, our military represents about one-fifth of that total amount. I don’t believe we should cut that spending. I believe that about four percent of our economy should be devoted to protecting America’s freedom and helping others know that the seas and the air and space will be free, as well. How do I get our budget balanced? There are three things I do, and I’ll be quick with this. Number one, I will eliminate programs I don’t think we have to have. My test is: Is a program so essential it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? On that basis, I’m going to get rid of a lot of programs. Two, I’m going to take some programs that I like, but that are getting completely out of control. I’m going to send them back to [the] states and say, “You run a program like Medicaid in the way you think best for your own poor.” And number three, I’m going to take what remains of the Federal Government, I’m going to shrink the employment by about 10 percent, through attrition, and I’m going to link the pay of government workers with the pay of workers in the private sector. I don’t think government workers should get paid more than the people who are paying for them. You do those things, and we take $500 billion out of federal spending, and do so by my fourth year in office, if I get that job. And that’s how I get the budget on track to be balanced, and at the same time maintain our military commitments.

Q: Thank you so much.

MR: Thank you.

JR: The next question is from Univision. Mariana?

Q: Yes. This is a question from Spaniard USA. How [do] you stimulate more investment in small and medium-sized businesses to create more jobs, and by the same token, lessen the consumption of cheap Chinese goods in favor of locally-produced goods?

MR: Yes. And by the way, I salute people in the Hispanic community for being among the most entrepreneurial in our country. Hispanic-Americans start more businesses and are more entrepreneurial, and are obviously adding a great deal to our economic vitality. The concern, of course, is that, over the last several years, we’ve become very anti-investment, anti-entrepreneur, anti-job creator, and we talk about dividing America between rich and poor. What we really should be doing is talking about how we can lift all of America, and – and so, I look at – at how I can help small business, and think there were several things I could do. I won’t take a long time, but I’ve got a list of seven. One, our corporate tax rates are too high. We’re taxing small business too much, and big business. We ought to be competitive with other nations. Two, we’re regulating them to death. You need regulations, but you can’t have regulations that are so burdensome you crush the ability of a small business to get going. Number three, we have to have trade policies that open markets to American goods, and there’s an enormous market right next door to us. We’re all talking about China and all the big opportunity of China. Look in Latin America. Look in Central America, in the Caribbean, in South America, huge markets, growing fast. We have an enormous opportunity to open up markets there. The Colombia Free Trade Agreement, Panama Free Trade Agreement — those were good things. Why the President stalled for three years, I don’t understand. More trade in Latin America. Number four, take advantage of our energy resources. Number five, stop crony capitalism. That’s a president that pays favors to his friends through the actions of government. Number six, better schools, institutions of higher learning and job training. And finally, number seven, get a government that stops spending more money than it takes in. It’s going to kill America’s economy if we don’t rein that – that particular fault in. Thank you. [Applause.]

JR: Next question, Don Salazar.

Q: Hello, Governor.

MR: Hi.

Q: I’m Don Salazar, board member of the USHTC. We are, indeed, honored and thankful to have you here today.

MR: Thank you.

Q: Millions of Hispanics are concerned about going bankrupt from personal or family illness. What will you do to ensure that Hispanics have safe, affordable health care access, and that the burden of providing such care isn’t placed on small business?

Thank you.

MR: Yeah. Thank you.

Well, you raise a good point, because what’s going to happen if we have Obama-care is the burden will be placed on small business. One of the reasons that – that small businesses are reticent to hire right now is because of the fear that Obama-care is going to cause them to have to pick up huge health care costs that they can’t possibly hold. They’re also concerned, of course, about the actions of the National Labor Relations Board and an effort to try and push unions into enterprises where the employees don’t want them. Those things being said, how do you help people, is your question, that need to know that they’re going to have health care? We found a solution for my state that works in my state. Different states, however, have different needs and – and different considerations. What I would do is return to the states the authority we’ve always had, until Obama-care came along, to care for our own people in the way we think best, and I would return to Florida, for instance, the money that the Federal Government gives to Florida through Medicaid. I’d take those dollars, block grant them to Florida, and say, Florida, you craft your own program for your own poor in the way you think best. Let Floridians choose elected officials that will craft a program they like best that meets the needs here. I am a strong believer in the capacity of states to craft programs that work for states, as opposed to the Federal Government telling us that their ideas have to be adopted by everyone. I like what we did in our state, despite its flaws, despite its mistakes. It can be improved upon. I want to let Florida craft its own program for its own people. Thank you.

JR: We have a last question from Javier Figueras, a student.

Q: Corporate entities can create more jobs if constraints are placed on the practice of exporting jobs for cheap labor, but when jobs are lost here for the sake of profit, it undermines the national economy and forces more national debt and further borrowing. As president, what would you do to create more jobs here and address this concern?

MR: Actually, it’s very interesting. I listened to the President last night in his State of the Union address. He said if we have these incentives, these tax incentives, we’d give tax breaks to companies that take jobs offshore. I know we have a number of business people here. I’d like to have the President explain which tax breaks those are. I’ve been in business for 25 years. I didn’t know of any tax breaks that gave me a tax advantage by moving jobs offshore. What I find, instead, is that our government makes it harder to do business here, and an anti-business environment here is causing some companies to go elsewhere. If you want to get jobs here in America, we can spend all of our time thinking that business people are bad people and are just interested in profit. By the way, our whole free enterprise system is driven by a profit motive that encourages people to be more efficient, more productive, and ultimately to be able to pay all of us better wages. So, how do you make America a more attractive place to invest and to grow and to have businesses say I’d rather be in America than go elsewhere? It’s my list of seven that I just pointed out a moment ago. Make America the most attractive place for enterprise in the world, the most attractive place for investments, for job creators, for innovators. Have people want to come here to build their facilities. When the head of Coca-Cola, an American icon, when he says there’s a more attractive business environment in China than in the United States, you’ve got a problem. When the head of a large chemical company I met with — he said, Mitt, we just announced a $20 billion factory in Saudi Arabia, and he said we would have rather built it in the United States, but the regulations in the U.S. by the EPA on the use of natural gas — they use a lot of natural gas — are so uncertain, we can’t count on getting the natural gas we need to run our facility, so we’re going elsewhere. This administration talks about being business friendly. It’s the most anti-business, anti-investment, anti-job creator administration I’ve ever seen, and so, what I’ll do — I’ll get America to work again. I spent 25 years in business. There are other good people running for office on the — on the stage with me, running for president, on the stage — three other guys at this point. They’ve never spent time in the private sector. I spent 25 years there. I know what it takes to make America the most attractive place for jobs again. I want to do that not because I’m worried about the 1 percent. The 1 percent is doing fine. I want to help the 99 percent. I want to help middle Americans get jobs that pay good wages, and I’m going to go to work to do that. Thank you. [Applause.]

JR: Before you go, I wanted to ask you about Puerto Rico. As you know, there are many Puerto Rican voters here. Do you think that Puerto Rico should become the 51st state? And do you think Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico should be allowed to vote in presidential elections?

MR: I think that Puerto Ricans should have the right to determine whether they want to become a state or not, and it should be left up to the people of Puerto Rico.

JR: What’s your choice?

MR: My choice is to let them make their own choice. I’m not going to – I’m not going to argue one side or the other. I think this is a right for the people of Puerto Rico to decide.

JR: Should they be allowed to vote?

MR: If they become a state, then they would, of course, have the right to – to vote in our elections.

JR: Thank you so much for coming.

MR: Thank you. Good to be with you. [Applause.]

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