Seeking to further erode Newt Gingrich’s declining support, Mitt Romney used a pair of nationally televised interviews on Monday to criticize his rival’s call for getting tougher on activist judges while also explaining his views on abortion -– an issue on which conservatives regard him suspiciously.
Appearing on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, the former Massachusetts governor said Gingrich’s proposals for taking on what he regards as excessive judicial activism -- including abolishing whole courts -- are unconstitutional.
“The assertion that a judge is out of control is not to tear up the Constitution and say the Congress of the United States becomes the now ultimate power in this country.... In the Constitution, there is a method for removing a justice. There is also a method for reversing their decisions,” said Romney, who until recently has campaigned largely at arm’s length from the news media.
Romney also said his handling of abortion was probably the biggest mistake he made as governor. At that time, he decided not to change provisions in Massachusetts’s abortion-rights laws based on the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
“When I ran for office, I thought, 'Well, I can say and can understand the idea of leaving the law the way it is. The Supreme Court has made its decision -- I'm just going to say I will support the law and preserve the law as it exists. That was somewhat naïve, it turns out, because when I became governor, I found out you can't just support it the way it is, that the law changes over time.”
Romney said he is adamantly opposed to abortion rights. Unlike Gingrich and several other GOP presidential candidates, however, Romney earlier this year declined to sign a pledge, sponsored by the Susan B. Anthony List, promising to nominate judges and appoint executive branch officials who are opposed to abortion. The pledge also required signers to push legislation to end all taxpayer funding of abortion and sign a law to “protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain from abortion.” Romney said that the pledge was overly broad.
Although he said he has become more conservative over time, Romney on Monday strongly disagreed with the perception he was a moderate as the Bay State’s chief executive.
“Go back and look at my record as governor,” he said. “I cut taxes 19 times in my state, balanced the budget every year, put in place a rainy-day fund, insisted on English [language] immersion in our schools. The positions I took are entirely consistent with a conservative view that America is best when we invest in individuals the responsibility for their own lives.”
On his most controversial action as governor –- his push to create a health-care program that was a model for President Obama’s national policy –- Romney said his effort was an attempt to slow the prevailing policy of having indigent people show up at emergency rooms and receive free, government-paid treatment.
“That was what was going on in my state,” he said. “I said, gosh, this is a problem. We are giving to people based upon the premise that government owes these people health care for free. That doesn't make sense. Personal responsibility makes more sense, where people should take responsibility for getting their own insurance rather than showing up at the emergency room and expecting government to pay for them.”
In another interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose, Romney reaffirmed his support for the payroll-tax extension pending in Congress. "It's an important Band-Aid, particularly for those who need extra funds right now," he said.
Romney took Obama to task for, as he has alleged before, instilling a kind of class warfare that pits the haves against the have-nots.
“That notion that some people are doing too well is not a notion that is an American notion,” he said. “America has always welcomed and heralded success. Did Thomas Edison make too much? Did Henry Ford make too much? Did Steve Jobs make too much? Does Bill Gates make too much? No, these are people who did not make the nation poorer by them having done well. They made the nation richer. They made the middle class better off.
“If your course in life is to say, 'How do I keep those top people from doing so well?’ -- you'll find a nation that's poorer. If the right course is to say, 'How can I get more people to do well, how can I encourage more risk takers?’ -- that's the answer: better education, job training, more investments.”
Asked for his views on having slipped in recent polls, Romney pointed out that he's been "either number one or number two for an entire year -- I'm the only guy that's been able to do that."
Rose pressed: "Do you ask yourself, 'Are we missing something so that we haven't been able to break through that point?'"
Romney responded, "Well, you know, let's look at the last campaign [in 2008]. Did anyone break above 25 percent until the caucuses or primaries? No. John McCain was right at that level. Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, myself were all battling. There was no one that got up to 40 or 50 percent."
Contrary to those who believe that Romney has had his eyes on the White House for decades, he told Rose that he has only wanted to be president for a "very short period of time, actually."
On North Korea, Romney argued that given China's proximity to the country, the United States should immediately be "on the phone" with the Chinese to "make sure they understand what our mutual interests are in this arena."
That being said, Romney stood by his campaign pledge to label the Chinese government as currency manipulators on his first day in office.
"There's no question but that they have wiped out industries in this country in part by virtue of these practices. And we have to say that can't continue,” he said. “At the same time, China needs access to America's market. We're enormous trading partners. We want access to their market. But don't forget that, you know, they sell us this much stuff. We sell them that much stuff. They don't want to have that go away. We don't want that to go away, either."
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