MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
And we're going to start this hour with Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney. The former governor of Massachusetts has invested lots of time and money in Iowa, the state that holds the first caucus a month from now. He has run strong in the polls there, but has recently been overtaken by Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas.
Huckabee is a Baptist minister and he appeals to many Christian conservatives. Romney appears to be conscious of the challenge. He has scheduled a major speech on faith this Thursday.
Before he made that announcement, he spoke with my co-host Robert Siegel over the weekend.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
First, this was not a face-to-face interview as we had planned. Governor Romney was snowed in in Des Moines. Some of the things he said on Iraq - he invoked the wisdom of management consulting when a situation is chaotic, give it some time. On immigration, Romney says no special path to legal status for people here illegally and a system of good, verifiable worker ID cards would let employers know that all the people they hire are legal.
I asked the governor about the Massachusetts health care plan that he championed. It mandates health insurance coverage. Everyone's obliged to get coverage. The plan that he's proposed as a presidential candidate does not include mandates. He says it permits states to do what Massachusetts did or to do otherwise.
Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Republican Governor, Massachusetts; Presidential Candidate): I can't begin to tell you what the bright program is for Texas. It may well be to include mandates. My expectation is that you're going to find different states trying different options. We'll see which ones work the best. And on the basis of that, develop a plan that is applicable across the country. But at this stage, for me to say, gee, we passed something in Massachusetts, it's about six months into its implementation and it seems to be working. Now, let's make the whole country do the same thing.
That doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Let's, instead, use the states as they always have been used as laboratories of democracy and develop plans state-by-state that work state-by-state, and ultimately we can learn from one another and perhaps find a model that works best.
SIEGEL: You've also invoked federalism on the issue of abortion, and said that you think that's something that states should have the right to either legalize or make illegal. At the same time, though, you've expressed this aspirational support - I think it was your word - for a constitutional amendment to protect the rights of the unborn. Aren't these two ideas absolutely irreconcilable?
Mr. ROMNEY: Actually, it's the same view that the president has proposed in the past and that he supports, and I think many in my party recognize. Even the author of that provision, the Republican platform, Jim Bob, follows the same course, which is that the right next step for America would be to remove the one-size-fits-all pronouncement from the Supreme Court, which took away from the states and the elected representatives of the citizens the ability to guide abortion policy, and instead, mandate it a single standard.
In my view, it's time to overturn Roe v. Wade and that would, of course, return to the citizens and to the states this authority. Ultimately, I would welcome in America where there were such consensus around abortion that we ended the protest altogether, but that's frankly not where we are right now. And, therefore, the right next step is to overturn Roe v. Wade.
SIEGEL: But isn't support for the constitutional amendments support for a one-size-fits-all national ban on abortion?
Mr. ROMNEY: It's a recognition that would be a wonderful state for this country to be in, where there was a massive, national consensus that abortion should not be a practiced at this country. But that's not where we are now, and where we are now is in a setting where I believe the court should return to the states the ability to make these decisions and to our elected representatives in Washington.
SIEGEL: What do you say - I mean, there are people who get very cynical about what you've described as your own personal evolution on the issue of abortion or, for that matter, on your view of your own health care plan for Massachusetts that looking now for a more conservative electorate to support you, you have evolved in ways that are convenient.
I'm curious, first of all, are there any ways in which you've evolved that aren't convenient? Do you find that there are ways in which you're more than were today than you used to be on some issues in the 1990's and that's just the way you've grown in that direction?
Mr. ROMNEY: Well, first, it's my health care plan. There are a lot of conservatives, as you know, from the Wall Street Journal to the Cato Institute that do not like my health care plan, and I like my health care plan.
SIEGEL: But you're not running on your health care plan when it comes to your…
Mr. ROMNEY: I - you have to be wrong, sir. I am running on my health care plan. And my health care plan I would like to see adopted in other states. I'm going to put in place carrots and sticks to encourage states to adopt provisions which I think you're going to find are very much like my health care plan. And yet, I don't impose my plan at every other state given the differences between different states. But I do believe we should move towards every citizen becoming insured. And that's a position which a lot of conservatives aren't happy with.
Likewise, on No Child Left Behind, I have been an ardent supporter of No Child Left Behind. I continue to be and, as you know, many conservatives in my party are adamantly opposed in No Child Left Behind. I also believe that the Department of Education - which once upon a time, I said, should be eliminated - I actually believe it serves the usual function.
And finally, I'd say that with regards to a number of social issues, I'm certainly not the most conservative on these issues. On some, I'm quite conservative. On others, I'm - if you will - a click to the center. And I - and I finally tell you that my record with regards to abortion was something which was demonstrated over four years as governor. This is not a change which occurred simply as I began running for president, but rather the first time as governor. I faced a bill relating to the sanctity of human life. I came down on the side of life and I've been consistently pro-life throughout my service as governor and since then.
SIEGEL: One last point. In the CNN-YouTube debate, there was a moment when one of the people who submitted a question, asked all the candidates whether they believed in every word of the Bible. And two of your rivals - Mayor Giuliani and Governor Huckabee - both made a point of saying, well, in some parts it's allegorical, in some parts it should be interpreted, but yes, I believe in the Bible. And you seemed, if I read you right, to make a point of saying it's the word of God and even when considering some modification, you back up and said, no, I'll just stick with that. It's the word of God.
Left the impression - and I want to ask you, do you hold a literal belief, say, in the Genesis version of creation?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ROMNEY: You know, I find it hard to believe that NPR is going to inquire on people's beliefs about various parts of the Bible in evaluating presidential candidates. And, actually, I don't know that that's where America has come to. That you want to have us describing our particular beliefs with regards to Genesis and the Book of Revelations. So…
SIEGEL: I raised Genesis only because creationism is a national issue in a variety of ways and…
Mr. ROMNEY: Well, but then you can ask me a question and say, do you believe that we should teach creationism in our schools, in our science classes and so forth, and I'm happy to give you an answer to that. But I don't know that going through books of the Bible and asking, well, do you believe this book and do you believe these words that that's terribly productive. Particularly, when we face global Jihad, when we have 47 million people without health insurance, when we have runaway costs in our entitlements, to be asking presidential candidates about their specific beliefs of books of the Bible is a, in my view, something which really isn't part of the process which we should be using to select presidents.
My point is the Bible is the word of God and I try and live by it. I don't accept some commandments and reject others. I accept the commandments of the Bible as being applicable and do my best to try and live by them, although frankly, there's a big gap here and there. I - there are a lot of things I need to improve.
SIEGEL: Well, Governor Romney, thank you very much for talking with us just the same.
Mr. ROMNEY: Thank you so much.
SIEGEL: That's Republican presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, speaking this weekend from Des Moines, Iowa.
Tomorrow, the Democratic candidates take part in NPR's Iowa presidential debate. That's at 2:00 Eastern Time.
BLOCK: By the way, we followed up on the question of teaching creationism or intelligent design, the Romney campaign drew our attention to this statement from May. Governor Romney welcomes decisions by local school districts interested in teaching intelligent design as part of a religion or a philosophy course. He does not think it should be required as part of a science curriculum.
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