In an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, Senator-elect Mitt Romney (R-UT) expounds on his controversial op-ed that attacked President Trump.
"What I did in my op-ed was not just talk about the president and my relationship with him and how we’ll work together, but also I laid out my perspectives and priorities on a very broad basis on everything from trade to China to our allies around the world, immigration and so forth," Romney said.
Romney told Tapper while he is "not looking for the next election," he has not decided who will endorse in 2020.
"I haven’t decided who I’m going to endorse in 2020. I’m going to wait and see what the alternatives are," Romney said.
"You may have heard I ran before," he said. "I’ve had that experience. And by the way, I acknowledge the president was successful, and I was not. He did something I couldn’t do. He won, and I recognize that and appreciate that. But no, I’m not running again, and we’ll see whether someone else does in a Republican primary or not, but time will tell."
"I’m really not looking for the next election and the next spot," Romney said. "I’m looking to try and represent things I think our country needs at a critical time, and I do believe that a president like any leader in a home, in a church, in a school, in a business, a leader has an impact not just on policies, but also on the character of the people who get to watch that person. And I think that scenario the president needs to focus more attention and hopefully make some changes there. And by the way, I expect people will have some suggestions for how I could do a better job, too, and I’m open to that."
Romney also promised not to seek the camera for attention.
"I don’t intend to be a daily commentator, to be someone who stops every evening in the hall of the Senate and looks for the nearest camera and says what I think about the president’s tweet or the fault of the day," he said.
TAPPER: Joining me now exclusively is Utah’s newest Republican Senator-elect, Mitt Romney, who will officially be sworn in tomorrow. Senator-elect, thanks so much for being here.
ROMNEY: Thanks Jake. Good to be with you.
TAPPER: So why write this op-ed and why do it now?
ROMNEY: Well, I actually wrote a very similar op-ed before I got to the primary in Utah and laid our my views with regards to the president and his presidency and noted that I’ll work with the president as I would, frankly, with any president which is on those areas where I’m in agreement we’ll be able to work together. Where I disagree, I’ll point that out. But in matters that relate to the divisiveness that’s been part of our political environment, I’ll speak out if I feel a need to if there’s something significant. And I think it’s important as I begin this new job to make it very clear where I stand, and I also note that the departure of Secretary Mattis and the decision to pull out of Syria in the abrupt way it was done was a precipitating event for my finally going on this record.
TAPPER: I want to talk about Syria in a minute, but I do want to focus on the op-ed for a second. A senior White House official told me today that the president was disappointed that you, even before you would sworn in – you were sworn in would go after him instead of joining him and going after Democrats and the shutdown. What’s your response to that?
ROMNEY: Well, with regards to the shutdown, I’ll be with Republicans on that front, which is I think it’s important for us to secure the border. At the same time, what I did in my op-ed was not just talk about the president and my relationship with him and how we’ll work together, but also I laid out my perspectives and priorities on a very broad basis on everything from trade to China to our allies around the world, immigration and so forth. So I think it’s important as you begin a new job to describe exactly what you hope to accomplish and that’s what I did.
TAPPER: The president mentioned you in his cabinet meeting today. Here’s just a little bit of what he had to say.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wish Mitt could be more of a team player, you know? I’m surprised he did it this quickly. If he fought really hard against President Obama like he does against me, he would have won the election.
TAPPER: What’s your response? What is your thought when you see that?
ROMNEY: Well, the president, of course, is entitled to his perspectives, his own views, and I respect his right to express those things just as I do. And we’ll work together on things that I think are in the best interest of the country and my state, and where we disagree, why, we’ll just have to disagree.
TAPPER: He seemed to note that other senators who had come before you to criticize him – Jeff Flake from Arizona, Bob Corker from Tennessee – suddenly aren’t in the U.S. Senate anymore even though they wanted to be there forever. It seemed to be like a vague threat. Not that he would necessarily get rid of you but that the base would abandon you if you’re not with him.
ROMNEY: You know, I think if people come to Washington with the express hope of staying at the job forever they’re making a huge mistake. The idea of this democratic republic is that people would come representing the people that elected them and also representing the views and values that they have. And I come to Washington with that perspective. And I’m really not looking for the next election and the next spot. I’m looking to try and represent things I think our country needs at a critical time, and I do believe that a president like any leader in a home, in a church, in a school, in a business, a leader has an impact not just on policies, but also on the character of the people who get to watch that person. And I think that scenario the president needs to focus more attention and hopefully make some changes there. And by the way, I expect people will have some suggestions for how I could do a better job, too, and I’m open to that.
TAPPER: When you say that you have issues with his character and you talk about his integrity and honesty with the suggestion being that he lacks integrity and honesty, what specifically has he done that has bothered you? What is the rhetoric that has come from his mouth, his actions that trouble you the most?
ROMNEY: Well over the course of the last two years, I have put out a number of statements that relate to things that were of a great concern to me. The Charlottesville response by the president was something that gave me great concern. The support for Roy Moore in the Senate race was something I was very, very concerned about. His attack on the media, I wrote an entire piece about that. So I’ve laid out time and again places where I disagree with the president, and I think it’s very important for a president to demonstrate the qualities of integrity and honesty, forthrightness, empathy, and respect for this institutions for our democratic republic. I think those are all parts of the job. And while I agree with him on a lot of policy fronts and salute the work that’s been done by the Republican leadership in Washington, there are places that relate to the, if you will, forming of national character that I think we could do a better job.
TAPPER: Well, you’ve called him a fraud. I mean, in 2016 you gave a very strong speech in the – it was in Utah or Arizona, calling him fraud. Some people who are allied with the president some people who are not allied with the president say, hey, you know, the president endorsed you in your Senate race and you accepted the endorsement. The president pointed that out today. You interviewed for a job with him to be potentially Secretary of State. What changed? Why were you willing to talk to him and accept his endorsement when you have all these reservations about him?
ROMNEY: Well, you know, after he was elected president it was very much my hope that he would rise to the occasion, rise to the mantle of the office. After all, becoming president of the United States is quite an elevation for anybody. And he has said during the campaign that he could be extraordinary presidential. When I hear that I think of Washington and Lincoln and Jefferson and Roosevelt and Kennedy and Eisenhower, and I think of those qualities. And I think while he spoke of that, and while that was my hope, I don’t think he’s followed through on that front the way he’s followed through on some of his other promises.
TAPPER: Do you regret accepting his endorsement when he sent that tweet during your Senate race?
ROMNEY: He was endorsing me. I wasn’t endorsing him. And I haven’t decided who I’m going to endorse in 2020. I’m going to wait and see what the alternatives are.
TAPPER: So you’re not on board? Because the Senior Senator from Utah, Mike Lee, said he is likely going to endorse the president.
ROMNEY: I think it’s early to make that decision and I want to see what the alternatives are, but I’ve pointed out there are places where we agree on a whole series of policy fronts, but there are places that I think the president can, if you will, elevate his game and do a better job to help bring us together as a nation.
TAPPER: Is there any chance that you might emerge as an alternative to President Trump and run against him for president in the primaries in 2020?
ROMNEY: No. You may have heard I ran before. I’ve had that experience. And by the way, I acknowledge the president was successful, and I was not. He did something I couldn’t do. He won, and I recognize that and appreciate that. But no, I’m not running again, and we’ll see whether someone else does in a Republican primary or not, but time will tell.
TAPPER: You said in March of 2016, because there was a whole big thing in 2012 – kids out there might not remember this – but when you ran for president, Donald Trump wanted to endorse you. You wanted him to endorse you. And there was an event in Las Vegas and you accepted his endorsement. And then in March 2016 you wrote in a tweet, “If Trump had said four years the things he says today about the Klan, Muslims, Mexicans, disabled, I would not have accepted his endorsement.”
Now some people point out, OK, he hadn’t said those things, but he was the nation’s leading birther pushing the lie that Barack Obama, the first African American president, was born in Africa. Again, a lie, and you accepted his endorsement even though that was his political claim to fame. Was that a mistake?
ROMNEY: You know, I’m sure I’ve made a lot of mistakes and –
TAPPER: Is that one, though?
ROMNEY: – I’ll let the people make the assessment of which things were mistakes and not, but when the President of the United States, frankly, of either party were to say “I’m endorsing your candidacy,” I think you’d say thank you very much. But I’ve pointed out I think pretty consistently throughout the years the places where I’ve disagreed with candidate Donald Trump and now President Trump, and I’ll continue to do so. And hopefully there’ll be fewer of those occasions.
I don’t intend to be a daily commentator, to be someone who stops every evening in the hall of the Senate and looks for the nearest camera and says what I think about the president’s tweet or the fault of the day. But if there’s a matter of great significance, I’ll speak out on that. And sometimes it’s a difficult call about how –
TAPPER: Yes, how do you decide that?
ROMNEY: And you have to make that decision. And people will say, well, this is different than the last time. It’s like well, you make your decision as best as you possibly can, but I know what my principles are, what I think is right for the country, and I know that right now the country is as divided as I’ve ever seen it. People in many respects are angry and resentful, and they want to see leaders who can unite us and push through those things and deal with the challenges we have with our excessive spending, the budget being out of alignment, the immigration mess we have, our education challenges, our healthcare needs. There are so many things they want to see us do that these other things get in the way, and I’d like to be able to focus on the things that are most important and remove some of the divisiveness and anger and bitterness that exists in politics today.
TAPPER: I want to move onto some of the substantive issues, but I do have to ask you the Chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, Ronna Romney McDaniel, who is your older brother Scott’s daughter, she tweeted about your criticism. And she wrote, quote, on Twitter, “For an incoming Republican freshman senator” – that’s Uncle Mitt – “o attack @realdonaldtrump as their first act feeds into what the Democrats and media want and is disappointing and unproductive.” Were you surprised? I know you gave her a heads up that the op-ed was coming, but were you surprised that she publically criticized you?
ROMNEY: No, she’s the Chairwoman of the Republican Party. She has the responsibility. I respect her right to express that to that viewpoint. It’s probably more, if you will, civil than it might have been across the dinner – Thanksgiving dinner table because we, of course, have disagreements in our family, but she’s a very loyal Republican, loyal to the president, and she’s doing what she thinks is best for him and for the party.
TAPPER: One of the criticisms – this is my last Trump question – one of the criticisms about people who have come before you, Republican senators, consciences (ph) of the party, Jeff Flake, Bob Corker is that generally speaking there would be tsk-tsking (ph) but no action. Up until there’s one – a couple exceptions, Bob Corker pushed forward some sanctions against Russia as the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations bill – Committee, and Jeff Flake stopped voting for judges until Mitch McConnell would bring forward the bill to protect Robert Mueller, which Mitch McConnell never did. So he ended up putting a hold on judges indefinitely. Are you prepared to take actions as opposed to just expressing dismay if the moment calls for it?
ROMNEY: Well, the answer is I will support those positions that I agree with and I will oppose and vote against things I disagree with, but I don’t think you go to Washington saying well I’m actually going to cut off my nose despite my face. I’m going to vote against people who I actually would support just to be tough on the president. That doesn’t make any sense.
TAPPER: No, but if there’s a moment if you want the Mueller protection bill to be voted on, if you want sanctions against Russia passed –
ROMNEY: Well, you look at items that you actually think are right as opposed to things that are just symbolic or punitive to the president. There’s no reason to poke anybody, Republic or Democrat, in the eye just to make a statement. We’re in Washington after all to try and make a difference for the American people and just doing things symbolically that hurt someone that you’re opposed to doesn’t make any sense in my opinion. I could express my viewpoints, but if there are places that the president wants one thing and I think that’s wrong, well, vote with my conscious, not with his.
TAPPER: All right. The substance is coming up. We’re going to take a quick break. You have a lot to say about the president personally, but you agree him -- with him on policy. We have the border wall, pulling American troops out of Syria. We’re going to get into all of that next. Stay with us.
TAPPER: And we're back with Republican Senator-Elect of Utah Mitt Romney, only the second person in the history of this nation to have been the governor of one state and the senator of another.
Sam Houston from Texas, you were saying.
So we're in the middle of a government shutdown right now. President Trump is insisting on $5.6 billion for a border wall. Democrats are refusing to give it to him.
Tomorrow, Democrats in the House are going to offer a clean government funding bill, $1.3 billion for border security, not for the wall. The shutdown is now in its 12th day, nearly a million federal workers going without pay.
Do you want the House bill to go to the floor of the Senate, so you can vote on it? What's the path out of this?
ROMNEY: Well, there's the substance, and then there's the symbolism.
And, clearly, if the president were able to get a $5 billion check to build the wall, that would look like a huge win for Republicans and a big loss for Democrats.
And it's very hard to get Democrats to vote for something like that. So there has to be some kind of deal done where the Democrats get something and the Republicans get something. That's the way things are done in Washington. At least that's what I have read...
ROMNEY: ... about things getting done in Washington.
ROMNEY: I haven't been here long enough to know. But I think that has to happen, or find some other way to get things open again, and then look for some kind of a deal, where, again, both sides get something.
It has to be a win-win. You have a hard time getting a win-lose going through the Senate, where you need a number of Democrat votes to get something to become law.
TAPPER: One of the big problems -- and I suspect that you will discover this as you become a deal-maker in the Senate -- is that President Trump's team will try to negotiate and then they will be undercut by President Trump.
Vice President Pence offered Democrats $2.5 billion for the border wall, and then President Trump -- I don't think the Democrats were going to go for it anyway, but President Trump undercut it. Earlier, Vice President Pence told Republicans in the Senate, just pass a clean funding bill, the president will sign it. And the president didn't sign it.
I mean, that's going to be a problem.
ROMNEY: Well, I'm not going to step in and say, OK, here's how the president should negotiate his priorities.
That's something which he's going to do on his own and he's going to do in the way he thinks is most effective. He has his negotiating style. I'm sure other people have theirs.
But I will go back to the basic premise, which is, it has to be win-win. And you go back and look at the history of great pieces of legislation that moved the nation forward, it took Republicans and Democrats coming together to make that happen, unless one party was lucky enough to have 60 votes in the Senate all by itself.
ROMNEY: And then you could do something like Obamacare. But other than that, you have to come together.
TAPPER: Republican Senator Bob Corker, who is retiring, or has retired, told me a few days ago that this border wall is not about national security; it's about the president trying to look tough politically.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: This is a made-up fight, so the president can look like he's fighting. But, even if he wins, our borders are going to be insecure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Corker's whole argument was, this entire shutdown is unnecessary, this is not about securing border, this is about the president trying to look tough, and people are now going without paychecks.
ROMNEY: Well, I think it's unfortunate that the government is shut down.
This has an impact, obviously, on a lot of people that aren't getting paychecks, but also a lot of others that are planning on going to a national park, businesses that house people going to national parks. People that are inconvenienced here in Washington that want to get to the Smithsonian will find that closed.
So, it has a big impact. It's very unfortunate. But I think the president is very sincere when he says he wants to secure the border. And how you get there is a real question. It's going to have to be worked out on a bipartisan basis.
But, clearly, we have to have a more secure border. And I think that really should focus on the E-Verify system, which basically penalizes employers if they hire people that are here illegally.
TAPPER: Do you think the shutdown is worth it for the president's border wall?
ROMNEY: Well, he's got to make that own assessment himself.
TAPPER: But what do you think? You now represent people who are not getting paychecks.
ROMNEY: Yes, let me tell you, I would vote for the border wall. I have made that part of my platform for many, many years.
I think we should have a border wall on our southern border, and whether it's a wall or a fence or technology and perhaps in some cases the natural landscape prevents people from coming in easily. But we ought to secure our border.
But that's necessarily, but insufficient. We have to do a lot more in terms of our E-Verify system, in terms of our visa tracking systems and so forth. And we need to make it easier in some respects for people to come here legally and work temporarily and then go home, particularly in the agriculture industry.
In Utah, we rely on a lot of people coming in to harvest crops and so forth. We ought to let that be guided by what the states need, as opposed to what the federal government imposes on them.
TAPPER: You said that you were dismayed by President Trump's decision in December to pull troops out of Syria, which resulted in the resignations of both the defense secretary, Jim Mattis, and the special envoy to the global coalition to defeat ISIS, Brett McGurk.
The president says, we need to get out of these foreign entanglements. And that's what he ran on. Why is he making a mistake?
ROMNEY: Well, the reason that we're in involved in the world is to make the world safer, which is good for the world and good for us, because we trade with places throughout the world.
We sell products throughout the world. People come and go into our various countries, and we share not only culture, but education, technology, innovation. And so having a stable world where we can conduct trade is a very good thing for us and for the world.
And so we're in Syria with a very small footprint, about 2,000 people, to help our allies there, the Kurds and, in some respects, to provide some stability to that region, so that Assad or Erdogan or the Russians or the -- you know, the Iranians don't rush in and slaughter people, slaughter our allies.
So, pulling out on a precipitous basis, without interacting with them and coordinating this with them and getting the input, for instance, from Secretary Mattis is something which I think is very troubling to me and to a number of others.
TAPPER: I hear you on the precipitous nature of it all and not consulting with allies. But what do you make of the general argument that the United States can't be the policemen of the world, and we're now involved in this never-ending war?
We have been in Afghanistan since 2001. It is now -- what year is it, 2019? We're approaching the 18th year of this war. That means that there will be people who were born before 9/11 before long who will be fighting in Afghanistan.
When does it end? What do you tell your constituents when they say, we can't do this forever?
ROMNEY: And the answer is, you can't be everywhere forever. But you do place our troops and our military might in places where hopefully they're not involved in conflict in a kinetic way, but they are able to provide stability in a region, which is good for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people.
And, at the same time, it's good for us. And so we're involved in the world. We have hundreds of thousands of fighting men and women. We're not going to have them all just sitting home, hoping nothing happens. No, we actually station them in various places to keep bad things from happening.
That's why they're in the DMZ -- or next to the DMZ in South Korea. And that's to make sure that we keep stability there, because we don't want to have someone rush in and create a war, which throws the entire economy and a lot of people into pain.
So, that's one of the reasons we have troops around the world. But are we going to be the policemen? No. But we part of an effort to make sure the world is stable and is that in our interest? Yes, it's in America's interest.
It has been our strategy. The Bretton Woods idea was that we would help encourage free trade throughout the world and stability in the world and that we had the might to be able to do that. That's why we have our aircraft carriers that are going in some of these oceans, is to provide stability. It's good for us, and it's good for the world.
TAPPER: I want to turn to Russia.
The president today said that -- quote -- "The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there" -- unquote.
That's a view of the Soviet invasion that is false. It's just not what happened.
But, beyond that, what do you make of the divide between the president's pro-Putin, pro-Russia rhetoric in many ways versus his argument that he has done more than Obama in other ways, such as arming the Ukrainians and imposing sanctions? Whether or not he wanted to do it is another matter, but those sanctions are being imposed.
Do you think he is being tougher on the Russians, as tough as you want him to be?
ROMNEY: Well, I think it's important to be clear-eyed with regards to Vladimir Putin.
And Russia has a real problem. Their population is shrinking. Their workforce is shrinking. John McCain used to say that they are a gas station parading as a country. And they're in trouble.
And, as a result, Putin is looking around for how he can get more population and get more of an economic industrial base. And so he's looking at the former satellite states of the Soviet Union.
And America has to make it very, very clear in our communication and in the things we do that that is unacceptable to us and to the world, that he can't go invading other nations.
There's -- since World War II, there's only one major power that's been invading neighbors. And that's been that's been Russia going into Georgia, going into Ukraine. And this is simply unacceptable.
I think that President Obama didn't handle it as well as he could have. And I think it's very important for this president to make it clear to Vladimir Putin, we will not accept forays and adventures in grabbing a territory and population from sovereign nations around Russia.
TAPPER: You wish he was tougher on Russia than he's been?
ROMNEY: You know, I'm going to call it as I see it with regards to actions that occur.
I would have been, I think, probably inclined to a more aggressive rhetoric opposing Mr. Putin. I think it's important for the leader of the free world to point out that nations that kill members of the media, that do not tolerate dissent are not the nations that we're going to align with, and that Vladimir Putin has been a very unfortunate and awful leader.
TAPPER: Before I let you go, a lot of people out there want to know how you're doing.
You battled prostate cancer not long ago. Obviously, your lovely wife, Ann, has had her issues with multiple sclerosis over the years. How are you two doing? How is your health?
ROMNEY: Well, fortunately, we're doing very, very well, so...
TAPPER: That's not wood. But we will get you some over there.
ROMNEY: Close enough, yes.
We're doing very, very well. And Ann in particular, she keeps very healthy and very strong. And I'm doing just fine as well.
TAPPER: Senator-elect, I hope that you will continue to come here and talk to us. We really enjoyed it. Thank you so much.
ROMNEY: Thanks so much. Thanks.
TAPPER: Appreciate it.
ROMNEY: Thanks. Good to be with you.