NPR's Mara Liasson spoke with Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann in New Hampshire on Tuesday. The full transcript of that interview is below. Read the edited version of the interview.
MARA LIASSON: You're now a top-tier candidate. How do you build on the momentum that you clearly have in Iowa so that you don't end up like Mike Huckabee, who came out of there like a cannon and then didn't have the resources to go further?
MICHELE BACHMANN: Well, we observed the last race, and we wanted to make sure that we laid groundwork in South Carolina, New Hampshire and Iowa. And we've spent about equal amount of time in all three states. Now, we did the launch in Iowa because, of course, that's where I was born and grew up, and those were the sensibilities and values I was given. But now today we're in New Hampshire, and then we're on to South Carolina later today for the bus tour. We will be running a 50-state race, and that's what we'll have to do. But again, we have to get through the first hurdles, which are these first three states and then Florida. But we're extremely grateful, because here we are about 24 hours after the first launch, we're polling about second across the country. We're second in Iowa. So we're — I'm sorry, second in Florida. So this is actually — we're very happy with where we are. And so we launched our brand-new website, MicheleBachmann.com for President, so people can go to MicheleBachmann.com, join up on Facebook, join up on Twitter, and all that will do is help to expand the message.
LIASSON: And do you think the Tea Party is strong enough to carry you all the way to the nomination?
BACHMANN: Well, they are — they are part of the nomination. They were really the verve and the vibrancy, I think, of the 2010 election, and they will be a force to reckon with in 2012. But this is a very broad message, and this is the misunderstanding I think people have of the Tea Party. The fact that many people, especially the liberals, want people to think that the Tea Party is the right-wing fringe of the Republican Party, and it isn't at all. I think the reason why the left fears the Tea Party so much — and they should — is because it's actually disaffected Democrats, independents, libertarians, people who've never been political a day in their life. So you put that coalition together, together with traditional Republicans and very conservative Republicans, and you have a tremendous coalition. And part of that voice is what I've been bringing into the halls of Congress. And that same voice now I'm trying to take to the White House.
LIASSON: The rap against you is that you're an activist, not a legislator. That you're a bomb-thrower, you're not a chief executive. How do you convince people that you should be president, and not just a strong, passionate voice for what conservative Republicans believe?
BACHMANN: Well, I think I've demonstrated a lifetime of achievement and work. I'm 55 years old. Both my husband and I came from very modest backgrounds. We worked our way through school. I became a federal tax lawyer. I have a law degree and a postdoctorate degree in federal tax law from William and Mary. And I worked — I have a scholarly background, but I also worked substantively in the U.S. federal tax court. But we're also entrepreneurs. We're business people. I'm a businesswoman. We started our own successful company, we've created a lot of jobs — plus, I have a very long history of educational reform. That's how I got started. We had 23 foster children. We'd started a charter school for at-risk kids, and I was very concerned what I was seeing in education. So we were able to accomplish something no one thought was possible, which was the repeal of an anti-academic excellence oriented program in Minnesota, and instead created academic excellence. I saw that you really can fight city hall and win, so to speak, and I took that spirit to Washington, D.C.
And from the first day I entered Washington, I landed on my feet, and I started fighting against the corruption and the waste in Washington, and I think one thing people know about me is that I do what I say, I say what I mean, I have a backbone made of titanium. I'm not a part of the good ol' boys club. But that's something I'm proud of. I'm not ashamed of that. I think that's part of that common sense. People want to get into the White House. We need really bold reform, but we need someone who gets the private sector. And I have that background of having not only just the background legally, then the background experientially with creating jobs, but I also have the activist background of how to reach people, pull people together for a cause and for a movement. But also, how to work legislatively in Washington, D.C. I think I bring a very unique skill set that's needed right now in 2012 to turn the economy around, get on the right track and create jobs. Plus, I'm committed to the repeal of Obamacare, and that's something that people want to see.
LIASSON: What's your greatest legislative achievement? You just mentioned that, and people say your legislative record is pretty thin.
BACHMANN: Well, you know, I think a person needs to consider that I served in the minority in Minnesota, and also in the minority in Congress. So therefore, my party wasn't controlling the agenda, so it's rather unlikely that my legislation would make it to the front burner. However, one thing I've been able to work on lately that we're extremely excited about, I have one of the longest unfinished bridge projects in the history of the United States in my district. And for the first time, I think I've been able to bring together a Democrat governor and a Republican governor — in two states. And Republican senators and Democrat senators from two states. And Republican and Democrat members of the House. And I think together, I think we're finally going to get this bridge project built. That's a tremendous achievement. And I'm thankful we could do that.
But I think the even bigger legislative accomplishment is what I've been able to fight in Washington, D.C. And I've brought together a tremendous coalition across the country to fight against the implementation of Obamacare, and also for American energy production, and against the out-of-control spending. And so I think the very biggest issues that our nation has been facing, I've been leading the charge on all of them. And people know that, again, this is where I'm coming from. They don't have to guess. I'm not a typical politician who puts their finger in the wind. People know who I am, what I stand for, and what I'll do as president of the United States.
LIASSON: You know, you've struck a new tone, slightly less strident tone, since you've been a candidate for president. You've said you regretted saying that Barack Obama had anti-American views. Do you also regret saying that he's running a gangster government?
BACHMANN: Well, I've said that I believe that our president is patriotic. I do believe that this is a gangster government. It's gangster when you have the federal government deciding which car dealerships can stay in business and which can't — when they literally pull the rug out from people and they have family-owned businesses for 70 years or more. That's wrong. That is not what our federal government should be doing. Instead, what our federal government should be doing is trying to help and enable the private sector so we can have greater job growth. You know, the president promised us that if we'd borrow a trillion dollars that we don't have and spend it, we wouldn't see unemployment go above 8 percent, and yet today it's at 9.1 percent. That's what people are worried about. They don't see that President Obama has delivered results. And as a matter of fact, President Obama set a high bar for himself. He said if he can't turn the economy around by the third year of his presidency, then he would likely be a one-term president. I agree with President Obama. I don't think he deserves a second term. People want someone with a business background, who understands the economy, and will actually make their lives better.
LIASSON: But in terms of your tone, you've said that there are a lot of things that you would have said differently. Do you have to kind of change your style in order to run for president?
BACHMANN: Well, there are things that I've said that I wish I would have said better, and some facts that I've gotten wrong. And I think that can happen with almost anyone when you're speaking in public. But, of course, I do need to make sure that what I'm saying is accurate, and I'll do as well as I possibly can to do that.
LIASSON: May I ask you a question about Mitt Romney — of course he's running really well here in New Hampshire; he's a neighboring state governor. And on social issues, the choice would be pretty clear between you and Romney. But why should someone who's concerned about jobs and the economy vote for you instead of him?
BACHMANN: Well, because I have a real proven track record of coming up from having next to nothing, my husband and I. And again, we understand the basic sense of entrepreneurship and free-market enterprise that built the country. We're small-business people. We, like I said, we both of us got ourselves educated, we got doctorate degrees. And we scrimped and saved and figured out how to pull capital together. We started a business, we turned it to be successful, we created jobs, and we've turned a profit every single year. That is —
LIASSON: Why is that better than Romney? He's a big-business man, turned around the Olympics, he's been governor of a state. You're trying to do something that no one since James Garfield has done, which is go from the House of Representatives to the White House. What's —
BACHMANN: Well, we've defied — I've defied odds a lot of times. Every time I've run for office, people have said, "She'll never win." Every time, we've been able to do it. My very first race was the school board. That one we didn't win, but every subsequent race, we have. In this particular race, again, I think what people are looking for is someone who says what they mean and means what they say. I have a very consistent record, as a legislator, through my life experience. Again, I get entrepreneurship. Small business is the backbone of our economy. I'm for big business, too. But small business is where the jobs are generated. In a normal recovery, that's where primarily most of the jobs come from, is small business. With that background that I have, that new generation innovation where small business occurs — that's what we need to have someone who gets. And that's what I want to bring.
LIASSON: When you say you mean what you say and you say what you mean, are you suggesting that Romney doesn't do that?
BACHMANN: What I'm saying is that I'm very consistent. And people know that they can look at a very proven record that I've demonstrated — both in the business world and legislatively. And they will see a consistency and a parallel. And that's something that I think people need to know when they put someone in the White House — they'll be able to count on that president.
LIASSON: Can you — um, you voted for a Libya resolution with Dennis Kucinich the other day. That was strange bedfellows —
BACHMANN: Well, that did give me pause, I must admit. But I have opposed President Obama's intervention in Libya from the inception.
LIASSON: What about Afghanistan? Do you think the president is pulling out too fast? What would a President Bachmann do about Afghanistan?
BACHMANN: This was a major move on the part of President Obama. And clearly, it seems to me, the president said that this was a war of necessity in Afghanistan. Now it seems to be the politics of necessity. And it appears for President Obama that he is acting more on political strategy than military strategy. That's very concerning, because it also seems that this is more the Obama-Biden plan for early withdrawal, as opposed to the Petraeus plan. Gen. Petraeus, who's in charge of winning the war effort in Afghanistan, understands that we need to win the war on terror. We must never forget that 9/11 was hatched in the caves and the mountains of Afghanistan. The Taliban has a presence there. Al-Qaida has a presence there. We must defeat them in their backyard. And it's important that Gen. Petraeus and Gen. Allen have the resources that they need to be successful in southern Afghanistan and then also in eastern Afghanistan, so —
LIASSON: So you think he's pulling out too fast.
BACHMANN: I think that the president needs to follow what the advice is to be successful. Let me tell you this: As president of the United States, I would — knowing that we have a war hero like Gen. Petraeus — I would call Gen. Petraeus into my office. We would have a very short conversation. It would be something like this: It would be, "General, how quickly can we conclude the war in Afghanistan?" No. 2, "What do you need?" And I would, I would trust his judgment. He wrote the book on counterinsurgency. He turned around the war effort in Iraq. We need to trust him on Afghanistan. Simply because he's demonstrated results. With the resources he's had, he's demonstrated positive results, particularly in southern Afghanistan. But let's remember, if we pull out now, we could cause all of the advances we've made to collapse. And we have to remember, the greatest treasure we've expended in Afghanistan has been the blood of our soldiers. Not to mention the resources of the American people to be able to provide the assets required. So let's be as successful as we possibly can in Afghanistan. Let's not undermine those efforts — Gen. Allen's job is far more difficult now, I believe, because of President Obama's early withdrawal timeline.
LIASSON: Can you clear up something? I know you were pressed this morning about the minimum wage. Does the minimum wage hamper job creation, in your view?
BACHMANN: Well, I think what we need to do is look at all regulations that hamper job creation. The biggest one of all, of course, would be Obamacare. There is nothing that has impeded job creation more than Obamacare. I'll give you one example: I was in my district in Minnesota for three consecutive weekends in restaurants. I stood at the cashier of a small businessman's restaurant, and a 17-year-old girl walked in and asked for a summer job application to work in the restaurant — very normal. And the man was standing there saying, 'Sorry, Dear, we're not hiring this summer. I have 60 people on my rolls. I have to pare down at least 10 if not 12. I can't do any hiring this summer." I'm seeing this all over the country. Small-business people do not want to have more than 50 employees, because that's when all the regulatory burden of Obamacare kicks in. And that's when huge fines have to be paid to the federal government by small-business people. If you —
LIASSON: You mean in 2014 when the law goes into —
BACHMANN: In 2014. And so, business people know this is coming. This is the uncertainty, and this is the fear that's feeding into small business. You cannot believe the number of business people that are planning that they permanently cannot go above 50 employees. So they're looking for ways to have automation and increase productivity so that they can't hire.
LIASSON: So even though they got tax credits — businesses with few employees got tax credits — you're saying they didn't make a difference.
BACHMANN: They are not hiring because they know that Obamacare is still being written. Even though it was something near 3,000 pages when it was first written, that isn't the bill. We have over 6,000 pages of rules that have already been written. And it's just the beginning. And then, of course, we know that Secretary Sebelius will have untold powers in that area, as well as IPAB, the Independent Payment Advisory Board, that will be making those bureaucratic decisions over health care. So, employers are sitting back, particularly small-business people, saying, 'What next? What are they going to do to me next?' And so, they're holding cash, because they don't want to be in a situation where they have higher taxes are due, or maybe regulatory burdens that they have to pay for, and they don't have that reserve. So, No. 1, they're not hiring. No. 2, they're holding cash. That's not helping the economy to turn, and I think that explains, in part, why we should be seeing a recovery right now, but we're not to the level that we should.
LIASSON: I just want to clarify this one thing about the minimum wage. But is the minimum wage one of those things that you would reconsider? You're saying you would look at everything that impedes job creation. Is the minimum wage one of those things?
BACHMANN: I would bring in the best economists in America to let us know what impact that has on creating jobs. That's really the bottom line. I think that all of our regulations, all of our tax code, we need to look at with new eyes. Because clearly the system we have now isn't working, so we need to look at it with new eyes.
LIASSON: Thank you very much.
BACHMANN: Thank you.