Interview with Presidential Candidate Jon Huntsman

Interview with Presidential Candidate Jon Huntsman

By The Situation Room - July 29, 2011

BLITZER: And joining us now, Republican presidential candidate, Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, the former U.S. ambassador to China. Governor, thanks very much for coming in.


Delighted to be here.

BLITZER: All right. Let's imagine you're president of the United States right now. You have a divided Republican Caucus in the House of Representatives, a Senate majority, a Democratic majority in the Senate and you're president. And you've got three or four days before the debt ceiling runs out.

What do you do?

HUNTSMAN: Use the bully pulpit in ways that speak to clear-cut and defined goals that the people of this country want to achieve. They want cuts. There's a cancer growing in this country And it's called debt. And everybody knows it. And some people are trying to hide from it.

So first and foremost, there's got to be serious cuts associated with whatever we do with the debt ceiling.

Second, we have to be very clear about meeting our obligations as a country. We're 25 percent of the world's GDP. We're the most significant financial services country in the world. And the eyes of the world are on us, as well.

Use the bully pulpit for things other than DNC talking points. Use the bully pulpit to get very specific about where you want to take this debate. And then you've got to work both houses of Congress.

BLITZER: All right. So if it comes down to this issue three, four days before the debt ceiling runs out, a second vote sometime next year, early next year, in the middle of presidential elections, campaigns, all of that, or a longer raising of the debt ceiling so you don't have to deal with this crisis again in the middle of 2012, you let it continue on until 2013, what do you do if that's the final issue that could avert default?

HUNTSMAN: Well, as president, I would look at the plans, and the dialogue is devoid of plans. Nobody seems to have a plan. There's a Boehner plan which I like, and that takes care of our immediate needs. It then pushes into next year some very important aspects --

BLITZER: But the White House says that's dead on arrival.

HUNTSMAN: Well, that's totally political. I mean, the fact that they're trying to push it out beyond 2012 is totally political.

BLITZER: It's not necessarily completely political. I'll tell you why. Because if the country has to go through a wrenching debate like this again next year, the whole word, the credit rating agencies, they're all watching.

HUNTSMAN: But the country needs this debate, is the point. This is the most important issue of our time. It's the cancer that I referred to earlier that is metastasizing in this country.

It needs to be radiated, it needs to be excised, it needs to be cut out. And the only way we're going to get there is by the people of this country speaking out in specific terms about how deep and what our priorities, the size and role of government, ought to be going forward. So having that as part of the 2012 election cycle I think is a very healthy thing for this country.

BLITZER: Even right now, at this critical moment, with the whole world watching, the AAA rating of the United States -- you're a businessman -- the AAA rating in the United States could go down. If it's AA, interest rates could go up. That would be a hidden tax, in effect, for almost all Americans.

HUNTSMAN: Maintain the AAA status. I come from a state, one of very few, where we maintained our AAA status. That was very important to the people of our state because it controlled the cost of capital. You first and foremost have to address your obligations.

Second, I think we push a lot of this debate into next year and make it part of the overall presidential debate.

BLITZER: So you want this debate to continue next year, including letting the debt ceiling hang over this entire election?

HUNTSMAN: Absolutely. I think that's not a bad thing at all, for the people to be part of continuing a deliberation about the most important policy issue of our time.

BLITZER: You wrote a letter to the president and called him a remarkable leader. Do you think right now he's still a remarkable leader?

HUNTSMAN: He put a Republican in his administration. I thought that was pretty remarkable. He was getting off in the early days of his administration, which is when I wrote that note. I was raised to be gracious and raised to write thank you notes. And so that's what I said back then.

There is no leadership today. Times have changed over the last couple of years. And I've got to say, the one thing that is missing in this whole debate is presidential leadership.

Using the bully pulpit, using the weight and the power of the presidency to define in specific terms where this whole debt ceiling issue goes, that's one of the reasons we're in this fix. You know, we're 25 percent of the world's GDP, the most powerful financial services sector in the world right here in the United States. And the fact that we've let it come down to the 11th hour I think is evidence of lack of leadership.

BLITZER: Because he has used the bully pulpit. He's giving addresses to the nation, he's going out on television almost every day. He is using the bully pulpit.

HUNTSMAN: They're broad, generic, ill-defined talking points. I don't see specifics, I don't see anything on paper that he's sharing basically with Congress, with the American people. This is a time to get serious.

BLITZER: Michele Bachmann says the country does not need to raise the debt ceiling right now. Do you think she understands what's going on?

HUNTSMAN: She's an elected representative. She has her point of view. I would only say that we have obligations to meet as a nation. I think we should take those obligations seriously.

We've had a AAA bond status for almost 100 years in this country. It impacts the cost of capital, which means it impacts every family in this country. And I say it's important that we step up and meet those obligations.

BLITZER: So you disagree with her on this issue. You believe the nation needs to raise the debt ceiling?

HUNTSMAN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And so she's wrong from your position? HUNTSMAN: In exchange for cuts. Let's be very clear. We've got to cut in a way that's commensurate with whatever you're going to raise the debt ceiling.

BLITZER: And are you also insisting on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution?

HUNTSMAN: That's going to be the most important debate I think we have next year.

BLITZER: Do you believe that there needs to be a balanced budget amendment?

HUNTSMAN: As governor, I had a balanced budget amendment. Most governors do.

BLITZER: But as president, would you want --

HUNTSMAN: Absolutely, I'd want a balanced budget amendment. I think for the next year or two, for our country to be having that discussion, it's extremely important. I think it's the will of the people to get there.

BLITZER: Use this opportunity to address Michele Bachmann and tell her why she's wrong.

HUNTSMAN: Well, I think I just did. The country has had a AAA bond rating for 100 years. It impacts the cost of capital, which means increases on every family in America. It's not a wise thing to be doing right now, to say nothing of our credibility in terms of the financial marketplace.

BLITZER: President Obama's political adviser, David Axelrod, recently tweeted this about Mitt Romney, arguably the front-runner for the Republican nomination right now, suggesting he's MIA in this whole debate. "Anyone heard from Mitt Romney lately? Where is he on the McConnell plan, on the debt talks, on the impact of a default? Why so quiet?"

All right. Is David Axelrod right?

HUNTSMAN: Well, he's a political consultant. All I would say is this is a time for people to stand up and show real leadership.

If somebody wants to be president of the United States, this is a time to stand up and actually lead out on one of the most important issues of our time. If you're not willing to lead out during a time of this debt ceiling debate, that should raise some questions about when you are, in fact, going to take a position and lead out.

BLITZER: And Mitt Romney's not standing up and taking a leadership role?

HUNTSMAN: I see no evidence in any of my opponents stepping up and taking a position on it.

BLITZER: Any of them?

HUNTSMAN: I haven't seen -- it's one thing to wish the whole debate away and just say we'll crash and burn. I don't consider that to be a position.

BLITZER: You don't like Grover Norquist's no new tax pledge. You have refused to sign that. Is that right?

HUNTSMAN: I have refused every pledge. I pledge allegiance to my country. I have a pledge to my wife. But beyond that, I don't do pledges.

I don't think it's fair to tie somebody up once they do get elected in ways where they can't properly serve the people who got them there in the first place. So I started out as governor from the very beginning basically saying, look at what I do. I mean, actions ought to speak louder than anything else.

We had record tax cuts in the state of Utah. Record tax cuts. I refused to sign the no new tax pledge. We never raised taxes. We cut historically.

I don't need to sign things in order to prove a point. Actions should speak a whole lot larger than pledges.

BLITZER: But would you say you have no intention if elected to raise taxes?

HUNTSMAN: Not going to raise them.


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