Transcript: Mitt and Ann Romney's Interview With Diane Sawyer

The Romneys open up about the campaign, their family and religion.

ByABC News
April 16, 2012, 3:47 PM

April 16, 2012— -- DIANE SAWYER: Is it finally sinking in?


DIANE SAWYER: It had -- this is it?

MITT ROMNEY: We're getting-- we're getting very close at this point. And -- and so we're beginning to do the things you need to do to prepare for a general election and--

DIANE SAWYER: Do you wake up with a smile?

MITT ROMNEY: --it's very exciting. You know, I'm-- I-- I have both emotions. Once-- one, I'm delighted, we've been apparently successful so far the-- in the Republican nomination process. But I also feel an enormous-- sense of responsibility to make sure that-- that I can-- lead this effort in such a way that we can replace President Obama. I think he's a nice guy. I just think he's misguided and over his head. And-- and America needs to be back on track creating jobs and putting people-- in-- in jobs that pay-- pay more money.

DIANE SAWYER: One of the very important rituals for the nominee, I believe, Saturday Night Live. You've been asked, are you going to do it?

MITT ROMNEY: I-- I hadn't heard that-- that we were asked until I read about it over the weekend. So-- I'll take a look at that. That sounds like a lot of fun. Why not? I-- I haven't made a decision on that, just-- just heard about it. And of course it would depend on the nature of the skit. I want it to be funny. But--

DIANE SAWYER: Who's funnier? You or President Obama?

MITT ROMNEY: I have no idea how funny he is in-- in real life. And people don't me terribly well from the-- you know, the kinds of pranks we play and what's like in a home with five boys. But most of our dinner table-- events were-- involving humor of one kind or another most of which can't be repeated on the air.

DIANE SAWYER: So you watch it? You watch Saturday Night Live, you see Jason Sudeikis doing you?

MITT ROMNEY: He's p-- it's-- he's very good, Jason's very good. Yeah, I watch-- I watch the skits that include me now 'cause we-- you know, we Tivo those or DVR them and get a chance to see them. But-- but from time to time, particularly in the past we watched-- SNL. Right now we've been kind of busy. We don't get to see a lot of TV.

DIANE SAWYER: Moving on. President Obama threw down a kind of gauntlet to you over the weekend. And he said, "Release 12 years of your tax returns. I'm releasing them. Release 12 years. If you have nothing to hide why not release 12 years as your father did?"

MITT ROMNEY: Well, the president is going to try and do everything possible to divert from the attention being focused upon his record as president and the failure of his economic policies. So he's going to try and make this campaign about the fact that I've been successful, that I've made a lot of money. So he wants to be able to get all the details on each year and how much money I made this year and that year. I'm not going to get into that.

I'm going to focus on getting America strong again. And we've released all the information required by law and then some. And both John Kerry and John McCain and-- and President Obama-- they released two years of r-- of records. I'm happy to release two years of records-- and that's-- plenty for people to understand how I paid my taxes and-- the fact that I've been highly successful.

DIANE SAWYER: And John McCain said they gave him 23 years of tax returns when he was considering you for the vice presidency. If John McCain can get 23 should-- for transparency's sake the rest of the American public get 23 years?

MITT ROMNEY: Well, actually the American public has through legislation determined that we need a extraordinary dis-- set of disclosure of financial records of people running for president and I have complied with all that and then in addition put out two more years of tax returns. And exactly as John McCain and-- and-- John Kerry had, and-- I know the Obama people want to get us to do something that will cause a lot of attention to be drawn to the fact that I've been successful. John McCain wasn't worried about diverting from the issues of-- of the-- of the day, but I understand that the Democrats are going to try and do everything in their power to keep this election from being about the failure of President Obama to turn around our economy.

DIANE SAWYER: We asked for questions online at Yahoo and there were two big sets of questions that came in. But a number of them came in basically asking are you too rich to relate? And they cited the speaking fees, the Cadillac, the story out now that there's an elevator for your cars in the new house you're planning in La Jolla. Is this a relatability problem?

MITT ROMNEY: You know, we don't divide America based upon-- success and-- and-- and wealth and-- other dimensions of that nature. We're one nation under God we come together. This is a time when people of-- of different backgrounds and different experiences need to come together. I happen to believe that I'm by far the best qualified in this race between myself and President Obama to help the America people get good jobs and rising incomes and eliminate the massive deficit that America's facing. That-- that is the issue, I think. And those issues are the ones which I think will be defining in this race. This president has failed to get this economy turned around. He said just after he was inaugurated if he couldn't turn around the economy in three years he'd be looking at a one term proposition. Well, he hasn't got the job done. 92%-- 93% of the jobs lost have been lost by women during this president's term.

This is-- this is a campaign about getting a president that can get America on track again, make sure our kids have a bright future and we stop spending money we don't have. But I know that there will be some who try to make about-- make it about anything else but that and --DIANE SAWYER: So you think it's a relatability question-- or that matters?

MITT ROMNEY: I think-- I think people want to have a president who knows how to lead, who knows how to create jobs, who can get our economy creating the jobs it should so we can see rising incomes again. They want a president that'll stop the massive deficits that threaten the future for their kids.

DIANE SAWYER: A lot has been made about the Buffett Rule-- going to come up for a vote-- and the fact that your tax plan would give an additional $147,000 by some estimates to the top wage earners in this country. And we understand that last night you talked about maybe HUD would go. You said you may not see that again. Are you going to get rid of HUD? Are you going to reduce the size of the Education Department?

MITT ROMNEY: Well, let me talk about-- first-- the first part of your question which is on taxes. My tax plan, I said key principle is the highest income-- individuals in the country would not pay a lower share after my tax plan. So I'm going to limit certain deductions and exemptions for high income individuals so that even as we lower the rates for all Americans we're not going to shift the burden from-- middle income people to higher income people.I want to help middle income people the most, so that's part one. My-- my plan will not in its final plan reduce the burden paid by the highest income people in the country. I'm not looking for tax cuts for the rich. The democrats always want to say that. But in this case I've made it very clear. My plan will not reduce the burden that's-- that's-- taken by the top few percent 1% or however you want to categorize those of higher income. Secondly, with regards to government agencies, I'd like to streamline, combine--

DIANE SAWYER: But get rid of HUD?

MITT ROMNEY: I-- I'm not proposing any eliminations at this point. But I want to streamline and combine agencies. We'll do-- a great deal of analysis to see which agencies could be combined. Because you know what? There's-- there's too much overhead in Washington. There are too many bureaucrats, there are too many government workers. We've got to cut back on the size of government. And if we do that we'll save a lot of money and make life a heck of a lot easier.

DIANE SAWYER: Do you still face a fairness question as about envy, fairness is concern about envy?

MITT ROMNEY: Well, I think it's unfair that this president's been in office three and a half years and 93% of the people who have lost their jobs have been women. I think it's unfair in this country that-- that we have 50% of our kids in-- in our-- in our-- in our-- 50 largest cities that won't graduate from high school.

I think it's unfair in this country that people-- don't feel there's equal opportunity given the education failures and the fact that the Democratic party is so dominated by the teachers unions they're not putting the kids ahead of the interests of this special interest group. That's what's unfair.

DIANE SAWYER: I want to talk about a couple of issues relating to women. This 19 point difference between you and the president on women. Here are some specific questions. If you were president-- you had been president-- would you have signed the Lilly Ledbetter Law?

MITT ROMNEY: It's certainly a piece of legislation I have no intend-- intention of changing. I wasn't there three years ago--

DIANE SAWYER: But would you have signed it?

MITT ROMNEY: --so I-- I'm not going to go back and look at all the prior laws and say had I been there which ones would I have supported and signed, but I certainly support equal pay for women and-- and have no intention of changing that law, don't think there's a reason to.

DIANE SAWYER: And on the question of abortion I think a number of people writing us on Yahoo have said we understand how he changed and decided that repeal of Roe v. Wade was going to be his decision. However at one point you said that women should have the right to make that decision, that you would never impose your views or the government's views on the woman's right to that decision and that you will not waver on that. We understand the story of how you got here, but to the women who said we've had the legal right for 40 years what do you say to them about no longer having that legal right if you repeal Roe v. Wade?

MITT ROMNEY: You know, this is a very difficult issue as you know. And it-- and it touches to the heart of-- of many, many people. And it involves two lives, the life of the woman, the mother, and the life of the unborn-- born child. And-- and I simply believe that we have to consider both of those lives and believe that the-- the right course would be for our Supreme Court-- not something the president does-- but I would love the Supreme Court to say, "Let's send this back to the states," rather than having a federal mandate through Roe v. Wade, let the states again consider this issue state by state rather than having this-- the setting that we have now with a federal mandate being imposed in all the states.

DIANE SAWYER: But to the women who are saying as they write us in for questions for you, they're saying, "Is he as concerned about a return to the day of illegal abortion? Is he concerned about basically taking away something that women have-- have lived upon for 40 years?"

MITT ROMNEY: Diane, there are huge concerns that are involved in two lives. I'm concerned about the women and I'm concerned about the unborn child. Both of those lives have to be considered. And-- and I believe that-- that-- that the right course for-- for the nation would be for individuals to be concerned with both those lives. And I know people come down on both sides of that issue and feel very deeply about it. But I'm pro life-- that's my view.

I believe that there is a sanctity to human life which should be considered and would like to see the states be the place where these decisions are made from a governmental standpoint as opposed to having the federal government-- read that into the federal constitution.

DIANE SAWYER: A quick question if I can about Afghanistan because--

DIANE SAWYER: The Taliban has apparently begun a spring offensive. Do you still believe we should not negotiate with the Taliban?

MITT ROMNEY: You know, I believe in negotiating from a position of strength. We had one negotiation with the Taliban. It turned out not to be the Taliban. Do you want to talk with other people? I have-- I have no difficulty in sending message back and forth. We-- I'm sure we-- we communicate to the media-- to one another. But w-- we're in a position where we've told the Taliban when we're pulling out our combat troops, which is coming up very soon. We told the Taliban we were bringing out all of our troops. What possible reason would they have to negotiate with us other than to say, "Give us a sign of good faith, release some people from prison". This is the kind of thing the Taliban asks for. My own view is th-- that we should do exactly what we set out to do which is to provide to the Afghan people a military that can defend themselves and preserve their sovereignty from the Taliban--

MITT ROMNEY: And they-- and they will then have the responsibility of securing their own-- freedom and independence from the Taliban.

DIANE SAWYER: But if you can establish they are indeed-- the leadership of the Taliban, you think--

MITT ROMNEY: I'm sorry?

DIANE SAWYER: I wanted to make sure I heard you right, that if they are indeed confirmed the leadership of the Taliban you have no problem with sitting down and talking to them?

MITT ROMNEY: No, that's not what I said. What-- what I said was that there was an effort to meet with the Taliban, it turned out not to be the Taliban. So I was pointing out that that prior effort was failed. I would not negotiate with the Taliban. I don't think we're in a position-- to advance our interests or the interests of the Karzai government or for that matter for the people of-- of Afghanistan. I think the time-- for negotiation with-- with-- a part-- a foe as in the case of the Taliban is now when they're attacking and feel that they're succeeding. And when they see us leaving the country what-- what possible reason would they say, "Oh fine, we're-- we're willing to give you the things that you, America, would like. But you're leaving anyway, America."

The-- the time to negotiate is when people are concerned that if they don't negotiate they might lose something. And we unfortunately by-- this-- this president has made it far more difficult for our troops in Afghanistan by announcing the day that our combat troops will come out, by announcing the day that all of our troops will come out. In a setting of that nature why would the Taliban do anything besides say, "Oh well, fine, I'm just going to wait for that date."

DIANE SAWYER: So is this the happiest time of the campaign so far for you?

ANN ROMNEY: I-- probably I'd say that's a yes. Yes, it's-- it's-- it's a hard thing for families to go through which is again why I said after-- four years ago I said I would never do this again-- was pretty emphatic about that. Because it is a stressful time and my hearts go out to anyone that participates in this event. It is a very stressful thing and you put your heart and soul in it. And you believe in yourself and you believe in the person that you're supporting. And so it's-- it's a very tough thing.

DIANE SAWYER: The last few days have catapulted you right into the center of the spotlight. Do you think President and Mrs. Obama are biased against mothers who work at home?

ANN ROMNEY: You know, I-- I don't. I think there was a comment that was made-- and it was-- an unfortunate comment and I believe-- a lot of women are responding to that because it was an unfortunate comment.

DIANE SAWYER: We heard that MSNBC apparently taped last night at a fundraiser that-- and you said it was a birthday gift to you to criticize you as a mom?

ANN ROMNEY: That wasn't how I meant it. It was a birthday gift to me because I love the fact that we're talking about this. Because I have been on the trail with Mitt for a long time, nearly a year. We've been to 35 states and the thing that happens, Mitt goes in the-- on the rope line and he gets mobbed. And then I go to the other side of the rope line and I go and talk to people. And I'm-- there's so many women that are there and I'm like, "Why are you guys here? What is-- what's motivating you? What are you talking about? What are you thinking? What are you feeling?" And it's really interesting the response I get. Number one which is so fabulous for me and it's so endearing to me is they say they praying for me which is so touching to me, it nearly makes me cry. The other thing they say is I am so worried about the deficit spending and the economy and my husband's job, my job, my child's job. That's all they're talking about. And I have been hearing this now for a year. And I've been-- after all of this and all this time when everyone else is talking about everything else. And I'm like, "Wait a minute, I know what's going on. I know what's happening. I know what people care about. I know what women are talking about."

And I love the fact that women are talking about deficit spending and the economy, I love that. And for her to make a comment that because I am a stay-at-home mom I don't know anything about the economy, that's where I think it was an unfortunate-- an unfortunate--

DIANE SAWYER: But she of course said what she meant was the that the circumstances in which you were able to stay at home were a lot different from--

ANN ROMNEY: Of course they are--

DIANE SAWYER: --from many--

ANN ROMNEY: --and you know-- and I will say for me financial security has not been a huge issue. But that does not mean I'm not compassionate. It does not mean that I have not had different challenges. Everyone in life has their challenges, mine have not been financial. I'm grateful for Mitt for that and grateful for the blessings that that's brought in my life.

But I've also had very serious challenges in my life. And for me you can't go through life without being scarred and we're all scarred. And I have been given that in my life and for me, I-- I take it as a place where I can understand people that are suffering, understand people that are going through difficulties. You don't have to go through everyone's specific difficulty to understand that people are having trouble. And I-- and I have a different perspective on that from the struggles I've gone through.

DIANE SAWYER: As we move away from this primary campaign into the next phase-- again, on Yahoo, we got two questions most often, first about Seamus-- which as you know is out there forever-- would you do it again?

MITT ROMNEY: Certainly not with the attention it's received.

DIANE SAWYER: You said it was the most wounding thing in the campaign--

ANN ROMNEY: It's crazy.

DIANE SAWYER:--so far.

ANN ROMNEY: The dog loved it. The dog was, like--

DIANE SAWYER: But the dog got sick, right?

ANN ROMNEY: Once, he-- we traveled all the time and he-- he ate the turkey on the counter. I mean, he had the runs. But-- he would see that crate and, you know, he would, like, go crazy because he was going with us on vacation. It was to me a kinder thing to bring him along than to leave him in the kennel for t-- in-- in-- in a kennel for two weeks, so.

DIANE SAWYER: But the other thing that we got online is more serious-- which is-- seriously intended. And I noticed that even a supporter of yours in Ohio said, "Will you talk more about being Mormon? Will you talk more about the fundamental role that that plays in your life and what it means to you to help everybody else learn more about it?" Is there more you want to tell people about it and why and how it's been central to you?

MITT ROMNEY: Well, I'm not running for pastor-in-chief. I'm running for commander in chief. But as people want to know more about my personal life and my faith and the fact that I served as a missionary for my church which is--

DIANE SAWYER: And a bishop.

MITT ROMNEY: --expected-- is expected for-- young men in my church and many of the young women, as well-- served as the pastor of my congregation for a number of years. I'm happy to talk about those experiences and do. And-- and so I'm-- if you'd like to ask-- ask questions about those things I'm happy to respond to them. And you know, in long--

DIANE SAWYER: Would you sit down sometime--

MITT ROMNEY: --in longer interviews.

DIANE SAWYER: --and really talk, the two of you, about something that-- holds a lot of-- of curiosity for people?

ANN ROMNEY: You know, I think for me the perspective that people need to understand is when Mitt was serving as bishop it was a very busy time in our life where we had all these young children, Mitt had a very demanding job. And for me it meant that I actually had more responsibilities in the home and I was doing more, but I never, ever regretted a minute that he spent. Because what he was doing most often was counseling people and helping people.

And I think that for people to understand that again we have maybe not walked in everyone's shoes, but we've been caring and we've been there and we've been concerned. And for me I loved what it did for Mitt as a human being and as-- as a person for him to be able to have to counsel and worry and just pray with them and care for them and love them in a way that you would never have the opportunity to do. And as a mother so often we have that opportunity to really, really love someone and care for someone. For me I loved the fact that Mitt was doing this and helping others. And so I was never a person that was upset about, like, how much time was it taking and, you know, this is taking away from us. It was enriching our lives.

DIANE SAWYER: Well, do the people think you're reluctant to talk about being a Mormon?

MITT ROMNEY: Of course not. I don't think there's anyone particularly in the Republican primaries that doesn't know that I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon church and happy to talk about my experiences-- working as-- if you will, a pastor. In my church as you know they're not full time-- positions. It's a voluntary position, it's part time, I had a job at the same time. But I-- I'm happy to talk about that experience and do. We have town meetings as you know where I get asked questions from the audience and-- people ask-- and occasionally they do, "What was it like? What did you do--"

DIANE SAWYER: Are you surprised by the interest?

MITT ROMNEY: There's actually not much interest in the town meetings. The-- the questions I normally get are around issues like--

ANN ROMNEY: The economy.

MITT ROMNEY: --how are you going to fix the economy?

ANN ROMNEY: The economy and jobs.

MITT ROMNEY: What-- what are the-- yeah, it-- it's-- what are you going to do about-- about energy independence, are we going to do about encouraging legal immigration, what are we gonna do about getting good jobs--


MITT ROMNEY: --why are incomes not rising.

ANN ROMNEY: And Diane, what I sense too- and I really-- I really sense this from people is that they recognize that Mitt is competent and that he's compassionate at the same time. And they want someone to fix this. They want someone that's had the experience. They-- they-- they are begging, like, can you please go in there and straighten this out? And so that's what we're hearing when we're out there on the trail.

DIANE SAWYER: I wanted to ask just one final thing if I could about your dad. In this moment in this campaign when it seems clear you will be the nominee, what would you most like to say to your dad about this moment?

MITT ROMNEY: Say to him? I-- I'm not sure there's a lot I want to say to him. I wish I could hear him. I-- I wish I could have the chance to get his perspective and-- and his vision and his ideas about what should be done to get America-- on track again, how-- how we could help the most-- people in the country. My-- my dad had-- extraordinary capacity to-- to establish-- a vision and to-- and to know where America needed to move. He was a man of-- of-- of great wisdom. I'd love to have the wisdom of my father, of my mother-- great leaders of the past.

I remember speaking with-- President George W. Bush and-- and he spoke about being in the treaty room in the White House (I think it was called the treaty room, but-- on the second floor), and-- and he said he-- he would occ-- occasionally go there and-- and-- and wonder what prior presidents would say, what their counsel would be. I mean, there's nothing you would enjoy more than hearing the counsel of-- of people of-- of wisdom and experience.

ANN ROMNEY: We would not be here today if it were not for George Romney because he set a pattern of how you serve and what you do. And I-- I just-- I know we-- never would have even occurred to us to run for political office if it had not been for George Romney.

DIANE SAWYER: What's the thing he said to you you remember most?

ANN ROMNEY: You know, he loved me. And-- I'll never forget that, how much he cared for me. And he was a great example for me. He made me a better person. He made me try harder. He made me work harder. He made me reach higher--

MITT ROMNEY: Tell her-- tell her when you asked Dad when he was what, 88--

ANN ROMNEY: Yeah, I said, "You know-- Dad, you've been so many-- you've done so much amazing-- so many amazing things in your life. You've been president of American Motors, you were Governor, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and you ran for president. What was, like, to you the crowning achievement in your life?" And he turned to me and in all seriousness he said, "Being a father." And I love that because really when you look back on your life and you think of what gives you the greatest satisfaction and what gives you the greatest purpose and where you feel like you made the greatest-- accomplishment, and that was as a father. And that was a great thing to hear from him.

DIANE SAWYER: So in this moment, as it begins toward November, what would each of you say to President and Mrs. Obama?

MITT ROMNEY: Well, start packing. That's what I'd like to-- like to say. Obviously we have a very different view. The-- the president I'm-- I'm sure-- wants another four years. But the first years didn't go so well. And-- and I'd say, "Mr. President, focus on your policies and ask did they make it more likely for businesses to start? Did your policies make it more likely for businesses to hire people? Did your policies make it more likely for people to have rising wages?" And if he looks back honestly and looks at his policies he'll say, you know what? His policies have not helped the American people. They have not helped get jobs, they have not helped raise incomes and they've added trillions of dollars of debt. He has guided America in the wrong direction and it's time for us to return to the principles of freedom and opportunity that got this nation where it is today.

I understand America's economy because I've lived in it. I can connect with America's economy because I know it. I don't connect with President Obama because he doesn't understand the economy. He doesn't understand what it takes to get jobs for the American people. I do, and I want to use that experience to get America right again and to make sure that I can look at the-- the faces of moms and dads and say, "I can make your life better and I'm going to make the life of your kids better. So when they come out of college or out of high school they know there's a good job waiting."

DIANE SAWYER: And you would say to them?

ANN ROMNEY: You know-- I got to know Michelle, she's a lovely person. I've never-- met Barack Obama, but I-- I believe it's-- Mitt's time. I believe that the country-- needs the kind of leadership that he-- is going to be able to offer. And I believe he is the person that can turn around this economy. So I think it is-- it's our turn now.

DIANE SAWYER: Thank you both so much. Thank you for letting us come and be with both of you, especially at this incredible crossroads. Here it goes.

MITT ROMNEY: Thank you, Diane. I'm glad you came to Boston.

Note: This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.