CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: We are live on ABCnews.com and Yahoo news for a special segment called Newsmakers, a special live event. I'm Christiane Amanpour here in Austin with the Texas Governor Rick Perry. Thank you for joining us.
RICK PERRY: Christiane it's an honor to have you in Texas.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: It's (TAPE SKIPS) great to be here. Let me ask you first, when precisely did you know that you wanted to be President of the United States?
RICK PERRY: Well, precisely, I'm not sure I can put a finger on. But the-- the summer of-- this year. I'm gonna say June, late June would be about as close as I could get to saying that the decision-- was made both in my heart and my mind and my family.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Well, now we're well into the campaign. The first major contests are coming up in under two months. Let me ask you about another campaign that's rather beleaguered. Herman Cain has had many allegations against him right now. If they were proven true, do you believe that something as serious as sexual harassment should be serious enough or would be to disqualify a candidate from the presidency?
RICK PERRY: I think trying to-- make theoretical calls about-- issues that are-- dogging a particular campaign is not of great interest to me.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Just asking your opinion on that.
RICK PERRY: Right, and I'm giving you my opinion that-- I-- I don't have-- an interest in getting off of my message on how we create jobs in this country. A lot of allegations and "he said, she said"--
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Do you think they've been answered well?
RICK PERRY: I-- I-- again-- I've been focused on my business and-- haven't paid a lot of attention. And I'm sure that campaign will appropriately-- address them. I'm very focused on my campaign and how we talk to Americans about getting this country back to work. It's the reason I laid a plan out two weeks ago-- to cut and to balance and to grow this economy.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: On those issues, we have obviously asked a lot of people who go to ABCnews.com and Yahoo news to ask for their questions that they might put towards candidates. And a lot of them, of course, came up with the issue of taxes. Let me read you a question. One man wonders, quote, "With the majority of Americans in favor of additional taxes for the rich, why is the Republican party opposed?" And Governor, roughly 75 percent of Americans believe that the rich should pay higher taxes to help pay down the debt. Do you not think you're out of touch with the American people if you're opposed to that?
RICK PERRY: As the Governor of the state that's created more jobs than any other state, (LAUGH) in the-- in the last decade-- as a matter of fact 40 percent of all the jobs created in this country since June of 2009 have been in my home state, I-- I know a thing a two about how you entice entrepreneurs into-- putting their capital into play in creating jobs.
And-- and that's very, very important. And one of the ways that we did it was make sure that we don't overtax those job creators out there. So-- the idea that-- some would want to-- get in the business of dividing Americans, pitting this group against that group-- I'm just not gonna engage in that.
What I'm all about is the environment where entrepreneurs are comfortable that they can risk their capital-- have a return on their investment, that's how jobs are created. That's how we've done it in-- in the State of Texas. And I'll suggest to you it will work for this country. So focusing upon the environment that's created for job creation is what the President of the United States should be doing rather than dividing this country.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: We'll talk a little bit about what you're talking about-- division in a moment. But first, you concede that your flat tax would bring in less revenue than the current tax code. And you've basically said that you're proposing that some way to s-- you know, to bridge that gap would be to do a lot of budget cuts.
Given the fact that new figures are coming out practically daily on the level of poverty in this country is something like 16 percent live in extreme poverty. The disparity of income, how will you ensure, with all these cuts, that those who need the help the most, those who need the government programs the most will not be left out in the cold?
RICK PERRY: Well, safety nets are important. But the best-- safety net for an American is have access to a job. And again, that goes right back to our focus upon making sure that we put policies in place. Tax policy, regulatory policy in particular, that entices, if you will, gives incentives, to the job creators to create jobs.
I don't think there's anyone, or I haven't met many people that run up to me and say, "Gee, we want a government to take care of us from cradle to the grave." Most people really understand government is in the way, both tax wise and regulatory wise from the standpoint of how we get this country back workin' again. And people want the dignity to be able to take care of their family with a job. And that's what we're focused on.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: One of the ways to get jobs, most people say is by being more and more educated. At least that stands you in much better stead. And obviously you have-- cut quite a lot from the education budget, some $4 billion. Even though 80,000 more people are coming into the school system. How do you square the need for education with the massive cuts in the education budget?
RICK PERRY: Well, over the course of the decade that I've been-- the Governor of Texas, we have increased our spending by (LAUGH) substantial amounts.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: But Texas is still very close to the bottom when it comes to education in the country.
RICK PERRY: Well, depends on how you want to look at that. Our fourth and eighth grade African-American and-- Hispanic-- in math-- are some of the highest in the country. So, you know, people will pick and choose. We're putting more of our young people into college. We're giving them more opportunities.
We're expanding-- our grant programs where young people who might not, five years ago, thought they had a chance to have-- opportunity to go to college, they're being able to have that opportunity. So Texas is actually making, I would suggest, as good a progress, or better than any state in the nation from the standpoint--
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Are you satisfied with it?
RICK PERRY: You're never satisfied with it. You always want more kids in college, more of them doin' well. But we've made great progress in the decade since I've been the governor. And-- but the issue that you talk about is-- making sure that we have-- those opportunities. And making sure that that's a value.
And in the State of Texas, I do think that we have a good value from the standpoint of-- what it costs to go to our universities. Can it be better? Absolutely. And we should always be looking for those ways to make it better, more affordable, and more accessible.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: One of the issues that is on many Americans' minds from all the-- questions we've had from our online community is about the paralysis, the gridlock, the partisanship in Washington. And you have talked about coming to Washington, quote, with, "If you're looking for-- someone who's kumbaya, I'm not your guy. I'm coming with a wrecking ball."
Many people sent us questions worrying about the tone of government right now. One asked, "I've never seen the country so divided in my lifetime. The divide is becoming vitriolic and hateful. What will you," they ask, "do to unite an increasingly divided America?"
RICK PERRY: And what I mean by the--
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Wrecking ball?
RICK PERRY: --wrecking ball I'm talking about the taxes, I'm talking about the regulations. I've dealt with Democrats and Republicans-- as the-- in the last decade. And passed some very sweeping, and big legislation here in the State of Texas including tort reform where we required Democrats to come over and vote with us to put it on a constitutional amendment election. And-- and-- and we did that. It passed. So the idea that I'm-- don't know how to work with-- my friends on the other side of the aisle-- is just incorrect.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Do you think that's what's required in Washington?
RICK PERRY: I think it would be very helpful if we have a President of the United States that is not about dividing this country. And I think President Obama is about dividing this country-- with, frankly, no thought about what it does to the future of this country.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Can you name a single Democrat on Capitol Hill that you could work with, who you have worked with perhaps?
RICK PERRY: You know, I think there are-- are-- a number of-- of-- of Democrats that we would set and work with. I mean, I can sit down and talk to Joe Biden. I-- I think Joe Biden gets it. I think he's probably a loyal Vice-President, but I think he understands that you cannot take this country forward by increasing taxes.
You cannot take this country forward with passing pieces of legislation like Dodd-Frank that strangles our small community banks. You cannot take this country forward, frankly, with Obamacare that we know is going to bankrupt the states. And at the end of the day, access to healthcare is gonna be worse.
I-- I get it about, you know, this was a president who came into office-- with great-- expectations. His policies have failed. They have failed miserably. His foreign policy has failed miserably. And I think there are a lot of demo-- he can't even get enough votes in the Senate to pass his jobs bill today. I think that gives you an idea. This isn't about Democrat versus Republican. This is about ideas. This president's ideas are bankrupt.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: You've seen, obviously, so many people talk about obstructionism in-- in Congress. And that's why we're getting so many questions about how you can unlock that. But I want to move on to national security. As president, would you reinstate Don't Ask, Don't Tell?
(BREAK IN TAPE) CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: --or any kind of morale?
RICK PERRY: I think you go back and-- and sit down with your commanders in-- in the field and have that conversation. I think Don't Ask, Don't Tell-- worked very well. And--
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: So you would reinstate it?
RICK PERRY: I think it worked very well. I think the i--
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: But would you reinstate it?
RICK PERRY: --I think the idea that the President of the United States wanted to make a political statement using our men and women in-- in the military as the tool for that-- was irresponsible.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Do you think it was-- a political statement?
RICK PERRY: Absolutely.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: There are so many allied governments, whether it's Israel, whether it's-- England, or France have done that and they say they have strengthened their armed forces. And you remember during the Iraq War, there was so many gay people who couldn't serve in desperately needed-- positions. And that harmed national security. You would really reinstate it?
RICK PERRY: I-- I don't necessarily agree with your-- your premise. What I agree with is that the President of the United States changing a policy that was working well-- and to do it while we were at war in two different theatres, I think was irresponsible. And I truly believe that he did it to respond to his political base.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: You were in the Air Force. Would you have been uncomfortable serving with openly gay members of the Air Force?
RICK PERRY: I don't ask that question. And I don't think-- I think that's the-- the issue right there. If an individual in-- in their private life makes a decision about their sexuality from the standpoint of how they're going to practice it, that's their business. I don't think that question needs to be asked. That's the reason Don't Ask, Don't Tell was in fact-- a workable policy. And that's where I would be comfortable-- with our country going back to that.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Let me turn to another issue of national security, more news is coming out this week, right now, about Iran's nuclear capability. You indicated that you would support an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear operations. Would you support, as president, a preemptive American strike on Iran's nuclear facilities?
RICK PERRY: Well, here's where we find ourselves with two really bad-- positions. We're either going to allow this madman to have become-- in control of a nuclear device or we are going to have a nuclear strike, or excuse me-- a military strike-- to keep that from occurring, either the Israelis unilaterally, or-- in a bi-lateral-- or multi-lateral way-- with their allies.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: What about--
RICK PERRY: Those are--
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: --a unilateral American preemptive strike?
RICK PERRY: I-- I never would take a military option off the table when it comes to dealing with this individual.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: What would you precisely do? I push you because both President Bush and President Obama have had, obvious, major frustrations with Iran despite sanctions, despite all the diplomacy they have rallied. This program continues. What would you do differently than either of those presidents?
RICK PERRY: Well, in '09-- I would have done a substantial amount differently than what this president did from the standpoint of-- he was naively having conversations with the Syrians and the Iranians rather than using-- both diplomatic, and economic, and overt, covert, or even civic-- opportunities to overthrow this oppressive regime. He missed a great opportunity. But that's--
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: So you think the U.S. should overthrow the regime?
RICK PERRY: I think the U-- United States needed to be actively involved in taking-- that oppressive regime out of control of Iran. We had an opportunity, we missed it.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Do you believe-- just before you announced your candidacy, you held a big, evangelical prayer meeting. Would you do that kind of thing as president? And do you believe that there is either too much or not enough religion in American government and public life today?
RICK PERRY: Well, I'd suggest to you that I can no more remove myself from my faith, then I can remove myself from the fact that I grew up in Paint Creek, Texas, the son of two tenant farmers.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: So you would?
RICK PERRY: It is part of my life. And how I live my life is a reflection of my faith. So-- I-- I don't have a problem in the world of exhibiting my faith. Just as I don't have a problem in the world with you exhibiting your faith. That is one of the great things that our founding fathers-- created a country where people were free to express their opinions, and to also practice their faith.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: So we're about out of time, but we want to ask you a couple of quick, what we call lightening round questions, because this is for a slightly different audience than a normal political interview. It's going online. So, very quickly, sort of one word answers. Worst job you ever had?
RICK PERRY: Oh, gee-- I think-- that was building fence in-- with a jackhammer.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: When was that?
RICK PERRY: It was back in the-- mid 1970s.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: TV guilty pleasure?
RICK PERRY: I don't have one. I'm not much of a TV person.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Favorite junk food?
RICK PERRY: Mine is sausage and crackers.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Oh my goodness. Happiest you've ever been apart from your marriage or the birth of your children?
RICK PERRY: Oh, gee whiz. There's nothing that gets close to those two. So-- the happiest I will be-- is when, as my son-- has found the perfect mate in his life, when my daughter finds her perfect mate.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: What do you think is your personal theme song?
RICK PERRY: Oh, my goodness. It had to be something that Beethoven wrote.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Beethoven? That's good. And name the fifth president who you think should be on Mount Rushmore?
RICK PERRY: I think there's enough presidents on Mount Rushmore already.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Governor Perry, thank you very much indeed. And we want to thank you for joining us.
RICK PERRY: Your welcome.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: And to say to-- our audience that if you missed any part of the live streaming of this interview, you can turn at any time to ABCnews.com and to Yahoo news to catch it whenever you like. I'm Christiane Amanpour. Thank you very much for joining us Governor.
RICK PERRY: An honor, thank you.