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The Situation Room

Interview With Mitt Romney; Romney Surging in Ohio

Aired October 09, 2012 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, by the way, for the first time, CNN has dominated the Religion Newswriters Association Awards. The four first-place RNA awards represent the work of dozens of fellow staffers. Our congratulations to all involved.

Happening now: a network exclusive, my interview with Mitt Romney live this hour.

A dramatic shift in Ohio, the new big poll numbers from a crucial swing state.

And the Supreme Court tackles its biggest case since health care.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

If Mitt Romney wins the White House in November, history may record these last six days as the turning point of his campaign. Romney is now tied in the polls with President Obama nationally and seeing a dramatic surge in the crucial battleground state of Ohio, all following a very strong showing in the first presidential debate last week.

The Republican nominee is joining us now from the campaign trail in Cuyahoga Falls, in Ohio, that critical battleground state.

Governor, thanks for taking some time out.

Thanks for joining us.


Good to be with you again.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Let's begin with foreign policy. You gave a major foreign policy speech yesterday. Here's what jumped out at me.

In Syria, you said you'd identify members of the opposition and ensure they obtained arms to defeat Bashar al-Assad's tanks.

So how do you make sure those weapons don't get into the hands of terrorists or al Qaeda? M. ROMNEY: Well, Wolf, this is a part of making sure that we're shaping events as opposed to just being at the mercy of events. It means that we would have intelligence resources. We would also be working with our friends in the region, particularly the Saudis, as well as the Turks, that are very closely involved in Syria. We'd work together with them to identify voices within Syria that are reasonable voices, that are moderate voices, that are not al Qaeda or any Jihadist type group.

We'd try and coalesce those groups together, provide them, perhaps, with funding. Some other kind of support would include, as you indicate, weapons, so they will be able to defend themselves.

Those weapons could come from -- from the Turks or from the Saudis.

But -- but the key thing here is not just to sit back and hope things work out well, but to recognize Iran is playing a major role in Syria and we, to our friends in the region, must also be playing a role to help shape what's happening there and make sure that we rid ourselves of Mr. Assad and don't have in his place chaos or -- or some kind of organization which is as bad as he is or even worse, take his place.

BLITZER: Speaking of Iran, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as you know, he was at the United Nations recently. And he literally drew a red line as far as Iran and its nuclear program is concerned.

Here is the question -- is there any daylight between you and the prime minister?

M. ROMNEY: There's no daylight between the United States and Israel. We have coincident interests. We share values. And we're both absolutely committed to preventing Iran from having a nuclear weapon.

My own test is that Iran should not have the capability of producing a nuclear weapon. I think that's the same test that Benjamin Netanyahu would also apply. I -- I can't speak for the president in this regard, but I think that there has to be a recognition that there are boundaries that the Iranians may not cross.

Let's also recognize that we have a long way to go before military action may be necessary. And, hopefully, it's never necessary. Hopefully, through extremely tight sanctions, as well as diplomatic action, we can prevent Iran from taking a course which would -- which would lead to -- to them crossing that line.

BLITZER: Because Prime Minister Netanyahu, at the U.N., spoke of the spring or summer as some sort of deadline.

If Israel were to launch a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities and you were president of the United States, would you back up Israel? M. ROMNEY: We have Israel's back, both at the U.N., but also militarily. I would anticipate that if I am president, the -- the actions of Israel would not come as a surprise to me.

But I would meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I would speak with him. I've indicated that my first trip as president would be to Israel.

So, what -- what would happen there would not be something that would be a -- a shock to me.

But I -- but I can tell you this, that -- that crippling sanctions do have an impact. They're having an impact on -- on Iran's economy right now. They will have an impact on the public there in Iran. And there's -- there's great hope and -- and real prospects for dissuading Iran from taking a -- a -- a path that -- that leads in -- into -- into a nuclear setting.

But this is a -- this is going to require real strength on the part of -- of America. And it's also going to require showing no daylight between ourselves and Israel. We're going to have to have Iran realize they can't play one off against the other, that we're both absolutely committed to a world which does not include a nuclear- capable Iran.

BLITZER: Let's move to issue number one here if the United States, the economy.

The Obama campaign flatly says you're lying -- lying about the cost of your tax plan, your proposed tax reforms. So far, you haven't released a lot of the specifics about eliminating various deductions or loopholes or whatever. You've said that your tax cuts would be revenue neutral, you wouldn't add to the deficit.

So let's go through how you would do that, specifically, home mortgage deductions, charitable contributions.

Are you ready to remove those?

What's going on?

M. ROMNEY: Well, I've made it pretty clear that my principles are, number one, simplify the code; number two, create incentives for small businesses and large businesses to grow; number three, don't reduce the burden on high income taxpayers; and, number four, remove the burden somewhat from middle income people.

So I don't want to raise taxes on -- on any group of Americans. Those are the principles.

At the same time, how we carry them out would be lowering the rate, the tax rate, across the board and then making up for that both with additional growth and with putting a -- a limit on deductions and -- and exemptions, particularly for people at the high end.

Those are principles which form the basis of what I would do with our tax proposal.

I -- what I want to do is to make it simpler, fairer. I want to encourage the economy to grow again. It's pretty clear that the economy is not growing at the rate it should under the -- the president.

And I can tell you, with regards to the deductions you describe, home mortgage interest deduction and charitable contributions, there will, of course, continue to be preferences for those types of expenses.

BLITZER: So even wealthy people would -- would you put a cap on how much they could deduct, for example, as far as charitable contributions are concerned?

Because I've heard you mention the $17,000 cap, if you will, for some folks out there. And I'll -- I'd like you to elaborate, if you don't mind.

M. ROMNEY: Well, I'm not going to lay out a piece of legislation here, because I intend to work together with Republicans and Democrats in Congress. But there are a number of ways one could approach this.

One would be to have a total cap number. It could be $25,000, $50,000. And people could put whatever deduction in that total cap they'd like. Or, instead, you could take the posture that Bowles- Simpson did, which is going after specific deductions and limiting them in various ways.

There are a number of ways we can accomplish the principles which I have -- lowering rates for middle income people, making sure high income people don't pay a -- a smaller share and simplifying the code and then encouraging growth.

So as to how we a -- approach the various deduction limits, what I do know is, we're going to have to re-reduce the deductions pretty substantially for people at the high end, because I don't want to make the code less progressive.

I want high income people to continue to pay the same share they do today.

BLITZER: And so they will pay exactly the same, even though you're going to lower the -- the income tax rates for people making, let's say, more than $250,000 a year, but you're going to eliminate some loopholes and deductions, expectations, tax credits.

Is that what I'm hearing?

M. ROMNEY: That's right. I -- I -- I'll bring the rate down across the board but eliminate or limit, rather, deductions or credits and exemptions and so forth, particularly for people at the high end, because you have to do that to make sure that -- that, distributionally, we -- we continue to have the high income people still pay the same share, the high share, that they pay today. BLITZER: Would that add up to the $4.8 or $5 trillion that's been estimated your tax -- or your -- your comprehensive tax reductions would cost?

M. ROMNEY: Well, actually, the president's charge of -- of a $5 trillion tax cut is -- is, obviously, inaccurate and wrong, because what he says is, all right, let's look at all the rates you're lowering and then he ignores the fact that I say, we're also going to limit deductions and credits and exemptions. He -- he ignores that part.

Obviously, that was corrected by his deputy campaign manager, who said that she stipulated that, in fact, the $5 trillion number was wrong.

It's -- it's completely wrong. The combination of limiting deductions and credits and exemptions, as well as growth of our economy, will make up for the reduction in rate.

The reason for lowering the rate, by the way, let -- let's make it very clear. The reason for lowering the rate, both for individuals, as well as for corporations -- and the president's plan also lowers the rate for corporations. The reason for doing so is to make sure that America is a more attractive place for small business and for large business to invest and to add jobs. This is about economic growth. This is about getting more jobs.

We're not seeing the kind of job creation America ought to see following a recession. And we're not going to see that growth unless we have a tax policy which encourages businesses, small and large, to make investments and to hire people.

That's why I want to put in place the plan I described. And, by the way, it's been scored by people at Rice University as creating about seven million new jobs. The president's plan, on the other hand, cuts 700,000 jobs.

BLITZER: Everyone now agrees, at least I think almost everyone agrees, that your debate performance in Denver last week was very strong. The president's performance was weak.

Here's a question that I'm curious about, because you prepared, obviously, a lot.

Senator Rob Portman, was he a tougher debater in those practice sessions that President Obama turned out to be?

M. ROMNEY: Senator Portman is very effective. I think President Obama and I both had a good chance to describe our respective views as to how we'd do a better job.

And I, frankly, think I benefited from the fact that rather than having people learn about me from ads prepared by my opposition, they got to actually hear what I would do from myself.

And -- and I think that helped me. I think the president also got to lay out his plans and people were able to make a comparison.

But as for Rob Portman, he's -- he's a pretty effective guy.

BLITZER: Were you surprised by the president's performance?

M. ROMNEY: Well, I actually thought he -- he described pretty appropriately and pretty effectively his -- his policies. I just happen to disagree with those policies.

And when we talked about the economy, he really is not proposing anything he hasn't talked about for the last four years, which is another stimulus, hiring more government workers, picking winners and losers in -- in industries that he favors, raising taxes.

These are ideas he's had for some time. And, frankly, we've tested those ideas over the last four years and they have not led to the kind of job growth Americans want.

But, you know, I -- I think the -- the challenge that he has is -- is that his ideas are -- are just not demonstrating the kind of results he would hope for and people recognize that.

BLITZER: Are you confident, Governor, that Paul Ryan will take on Joe Biden Thursday night the way you took on the president?

M. ROMNEY: You know, I -- I don't know how Paul will -- will deal with his debate. Obviously, the vice president has done, I don't know, 15 or 20 debates during his lifetime, experienced debater.

This is, I think Paul's first debate. I may be wrong. He may have done something in high school, I don't know.

But it'll -- you know, it will be a new experience for a -- for Paul. But I'm sure he'll do fine. And, frankly, Paul has the facts on his side. He has policy on his side. And we also have results on our side.

So I think he'll -- I think you'll find, in the final analysis, that people make their assessment on these debates not so much by the theatrics and the smoothness of the presenter, but, instead, on whether they believe the policies being described, the pathway being described, will make their life better or not. And I -- I just think the American people recognize that the president's policies are not something we can afford for four more years. We just can't afford more of what we've gone through and they want something new.

BLITZER: That 47 percent comment that you mentioned that's caused you a lot of grief, as you know, there's been a change in your position over these past few weeks. It went from, you were initially saying, once that tape came out, that you a -- a -- you weren't exactly elegantly stating your position.

Later and more recently, you said you were completely wrong. I'm curious, Governor, how did that evolution in your thinking go on, from the initial reaction once that tape came out to what you said the other day, that you were completely wrong?

M. ROMNEY: Well, what I'm saying is that what words were that came out were not what I meant. And what I mean, I think, people understand, is that if I'm president, I'll be president of 100 percent of the people. My whole campaign is about helping the middle class have rising incomes and more jobs and helping get people out of poverty into the middle class.

That's what this whole campaign is about.

The wealthy are doing fine right now. And they'll do fine, most likely, regardless of who's elected president. It's the middle class that's having a hard time under President Obama. And my campaign is about 100 percent of the American people.

And so that -- that's a -- that describes why, you know, what was stated in the tape was not referring to what kind of president I would be or who I would be fighting for. Instead, it was talking about politics and it just didn't come out the way I meant it.

BLITZER: If you -- if you had a do-over, Governor, and you mentioned 47 percent, what would you -- what should you have said about that 47 percent?

M. ROMNEY: Well, Wolf, as you know, I was talking about how do you get to 50.1 percent of the vote. I -- I'd like to get 100 percent of the vote, but I figure that's not going to happen. So I was trying to tell contributors how I'd get to 50.1 percent.

I think it's always a -- a perilous course for a candidate to start talking about the -- the -- you know, the mathematics of an election.

My campaign is about talking about how to get 100 percent of the Americans to have a more bright and -- and prosperous future.

BLITZER: A -- a quick question on Big Bird.

Was that a mistake to bring it up in the debate?

M. ROMNEY: You know...


M. ROMNEY: -- I think -- I've been watching these last several days. And, you know, a lot of Americans are really -- are really hurting. We've got 23 million Americans out of work or -- or struggling to get a -- a full-time job. And -- and we've got one out of six Americans now in poverty, 47 million on food stamps. And the president is spending his time talking about saving Big Bird.

I'll spend my time talking about saving jobs, creating jobs, helping people get back on their feet, getting rising incomes again. So I -- I think people understand that we can't keep on spending like there's no tomorrow. We can't keep on borrowing and spending massively more than we take in every year.

And Big Bird is going to be just fine. "Sesame Street" is a very successful enterprise. I don't believe CNN gets government funding, but somehow you all stay on the air.

And I -- I just think that -- that PBS will be able to make it on its own, just like every one of the other stations. And it does not require us to go to China to borrow money to keep PBS on the air.

BLITZER: I've got one final question and I know you've got to go, Governor.

Your wife, Ann Romney, she had a moving story she told our own Gloria Borger in a recent interview about your ritual, as you go into a debate.

Let me play this little clip for you, because I -- I want to see your reaction and I want to get your reaction on the other side.


ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: You know, it's -- it's a cute thing that he does, almost every answer. He finds me in the audience. As soon as he sit -- gets on stage, the first thing he does is he takes off his watch and puts it on the podium.


A. ROMNEY: But then he writes "dad" on the piece of paper. And that's amazing because he loves his dad, respects his dad. He doesn't want to do anything that would not make his father proud.


BLITZER: All of us who lost a father can relate.

But give us -- give us a little addition.

What -- what do you think about that?

M. ROMNEY: Well, you know, every debate -- she's right, I write my dad's name at the top of the piece of paper to remind myself of all that he sacrificed to give me the opportunities I now have. I think about his passion, his passion for the country. Dad was devoted to ideals that that motivated him.

I mean the guy was born in Mexico with -- with nothing when he came to this country, rose to be head of a car company, a -- a governor. I mean my dad was the real deal. And -- and his life and his memory inspires me.

So I, yes, I write his name there and -- and, of course, I look at Ann every chance I get. She's usually looking down. She's -- she's a little nervous during the debates. But I look to her to see if -- see if she feels like I've done a good job.

BLITZER: Governor, I know you're very busy.

I really appreciate your taking some time and joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

M. ROMNEY: Thanks, Wolf.

Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

And up next, we're going to have full analysis of my interview with Governor Romney.

Plus, we're going to be breaking down some of the new polls that show a clear shift, not only in Ohio, but some other battleground states as well.


BLITZER: Kate Bolduan is joining me here in THE SITUATION ROOM, of course.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Of course. Thank you for having me here.

And we want to go inside that interview that Wolf just did with Governor Mitt Romney.

Wolf covered a lot of ground with that interview, and we have our own political experts standing by, analysts.

BLITZER: And they're excellent analysts as well.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is out on the campaign trail, as is our chief national correspondent, John King. They're both in Ohio, by the way.

And our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here as well.

Let me play a little clip of what Governor Romney said about the debate and then we will discuss. Listen to this.


M. ROMNEY: I think President Obama and I both had a good chance to describe our respective views as to how we'd do a better job.

And I, frankly, think I benefited from the fact that rather than having people learn about me from ads prepared by my opposition, they got to actually hear what I would do from myself.

And -- and I think that helped me.

I think the president also got to lay out his plans and people were able to make a comparison.


BLITZER: Gloria, let me start with you.

You did that excellent documentary, "Romney Revealed," that all of our viewers remember. What did you think of basically his answer to that and some of his other answers?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he wasn't going to come out and say, look, I was really terrific at the debate.


BLITZER: There was no gloating.


BLITZER: He didn't gloat.

BORGER: There wasn't any gloating here.

And, politically, that's the right thing to do. What he was saying, as he said about Paul Ryan, well, Paul has the facts on his side. Clearly, he thinks he had the facts on his side.

But the kind of candidate I just saw here, it's clearly somebody who to me seems a little bit more secure, a little bit more on the uptick here. I mean, he knows he's got the wind at his back, whatever cliche you want, and he seemed like a very confident candidate when you were asking him about foreign policy, because he gave a speech this week, when he talked about our relationship with Israel and arming the Syrian rebels.

So I think that this is somebody who feels like he's probably finding his stride a little bit.

BLITZER: Yes. Both of those questions on Syria, he had a specific answer. He gave a pretty good answer on that. And he said, he made it clear, as far as Israel's prime minister and him, there's no daylight between the two of them.

BOLDUAN: And I want to get your take on that, Wolf.

But I want to go to John King.

And, John, what's your take on kind of your -- how Mitt Romney answered all of these questions? As Gloria said, I also got the sense that this is a guy who feels some momentum.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you can both see, Kate, and hear his confidence.

And if I had one word to describe that entire interview, it would be measured. Governor Romney studies the data. He understands the state of the race. He says, we have got Israel's back, but, whoa, whoa, whoa, we can resolve this through sanctions, we probably don't need military action.

So he's trying to stand up to a strong ally, play to his conservative base, but also address the concerns of more moderate voters, who say, well, is he being too muscular here? Is he going to get America involved in another military conflict in the Middle East?

Wolf asked about his tax plan, and he said, I'm going take the money from the rich. The rich will keep paying taxes and I'm going to help the middle class.

On every issue, he tries to sound more measured without walking away from the conservative base to reach out to those who especially -- I'm in Columbus -- we spent a lot of time in the suburbs here today. It's interesting.

Even some of the suburban women, they mostly care about the economy. They have brought up these foreign policy questions. And they were a little nervous about him. So, clearly, he has studied what's happening in the polling data. Clearly, he's more confident right now. And this is a guy who thinks he's got a little breeze at his back and he wants to keep it there.

BLITZER: Yes, he certainly did seem more confident to me as well. I'm anxious to see what Jim Acosta, who covers him every single day, what he has to say.

We will take a quick break. We will go to Jim Acosta out in Ohio right after this. Lord,



M. ROMNEY: This is, I think Paul's first debate. I may be wrong. He may have done something in high school, I don't know.

But it'll -- you know, it will be a new experience for a -- for Paul. But I'm sure he'll do fine. And, frankly, Paul has the facts on his side. He has policy on his side. And we also have results on our side.


BLITZER: Let's bring in Jim Acosta. He covers Romney and Ryan on a day-to-day basis.

I guess he was maybe a little bit lowering expectations, although the pressure is certainly going to be on Paul Ryan in that Thursday night debate against Joe Biden, Jim.


And I think you heard Mitt Romney say just before that clip that Joe Biden has been in a whole number of debates, in excess of, I think, a dozen. I think he's had 15 to 18 debates over the years, and then went to say that Paul Ryan, that may be his first debate. I'm sure -- I -- we would have to go back and check, but I would be amazed if Paul Ryan had not done any debates during his congressional career over there in Congress.

And just to pick up on what you were talking about just before the break a few minutes ago about those loopholes and deductions, Wolf, I can tell you that I think that your interview there made some news on that front, because what we heard Mitt Romney say that he would help -- that he would pay for those tax cuts in part through what he called -- quote -- "additional growth."

Wolf, that is very similar to what he told the editorial board for "The Des Moines Register" earlier today, when he made a campaign stop in Iowa. And that might be an opening for the Obama campaign, for the president, at their upcoming debate to insist that Mitt Romney offers some specifics as to how he would pay for those tax cuts. But, of course, as we've heard from the Romney campaign, several advisers have said this to be on this very issue, where are the president's specifics for lowering the deficit? They say he hasn't presented any either.

BLITZER: Good point.

BOLDUAN: Gloria, this is exactly the element that also caught your attention. Did it sound like a more moderate Mitt Romney trying to thread the needle on this tax plan? Because, I mean, he did say, as you pointed out, high-income -- high-income people will pay the same rate as they do today. He made a point to say that.

BORGER: Right. And he also made a point of saying that the middle class would get the benefit from his tax plan. You know, it depends on the way you look at it. If you want to reform the tax code, if you want to lower rates, well, then you're going to change the amount of deductions the wealthy can take, for example. So as he said, it depends on how you work it out in Congress.

But it's very clear as a candidate right now that Mitt Romney doesn't believe he's talking to wealthy voters, because he's got them, he believes. The people he's talking to are the people in the state of Ohio who are the middle-income voters, who really want to hear that he's not the big, bad guy who's going to raise their taxes.

And Jim Acosta's right. That's where the fight is really going to be.

BLITZER: And this battle, let's go back to Ohio. John King is standing by.

John, it's getting closer and closer in Ohio and to my surprise, it's even getting closer north in Michigan. You would think that after the president saved Chrysler and GM, that he would have a bigger advantage right now, but it's shrinking. What's going on?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Governor Romney's getting a bounce out of that first debate. We've seen it in the national polls. He's now a point or two ahead in some of them. Essentially a tie in the national polls after being down three or four. And now we're looking at these battleground states. Our brand-new poll here has him 51-47 among likely voters, the president leading slightly. That's within the poll's margin of error, so you call that a statistical tile. That new Michigan poll you mentioned had them within the margin of error, as well.

I'm a bit dubious about Michigan. He did get a post-debate bounce. We'll see if it sticks. You mentioned the auto bailout, one of the reasons the president has been pretty strong there.

But look, that's why you heard a more confident Governor Romney. Just a week or so ago, Republicans were saying, how can we possibly pull this off? We're going to lose Ohio. We can't live without Ohio. We haven't been able to put Michigan into play. How can we win if the president's not on defense in some of these states? Are we going to take a beating down ballot in the House and the Senate race? That one debate performance turned the mood of Republicans around.

Now, it's just one debate. There are two more debates to go. But you hear Governor Romney, his tone and his tenor. Senator Obama stumbled many times back in 2008. He has stumbled here in that first debate in 2012. The true test, Wolf, of any campaign, any campaign -- Senator Obama stumbled many times back in 2008. He has stumbled here in that first debate in 2012. The test is how do you recover?

And Governor Romney is more confident and he's trying to address his weakness, as Gloria just noted, reaching for the middle, saying, "I want to govern. I'm not going to lay out my entire tax plan, because I'd have to negotiate with Democrats and Republicans. But let me give you my principles."

The Big Bird, trying to make it not just about Big Bird, but we can't keep borrowing from money to pay for things we can't have. Trying to make that 47 percent go away. Because Wolf, I will tell you, in my travels, in Michigan a couple of weeks ago, and in Ohio here, working-class people, middle-class people who have struggled the past few years were deeply offended by that. So Governor Romney's smart to try to make it go away.

BLITZER: All right, guys. I want everybody to stand by. We have much more to assess what's going on. Mitt Romney made some news on a number of points. Up next, Republican congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Democratic strategist Bill Burton, former deputy White House press secretary for President Obama, they're getting ready to debate what we just heard.


BLITZER: Let's dig a little bit deeper and get some more reaction to my interview with Mitt Romney.

BOLDUAN: Wolf went one on one with the Republican presidential nominee at the top of the hour, with Mitt Romney joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM from the campaign trail in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

BLITZER: Let's talk about it with two guests right now: Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah. Welcome back from Libya. We're not talking about that now.

And also, Democratic strategist Bill Burton is joining us. He's with the super PAC, Priorities USA Action. Also, a fellow Buffalonian. Good to have a fellow Buffalonian on this set.

Listen to this little comment that we just heard from the Republican nominee.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I'm not going to lay out a piece of legislation here, because I intend to work together with Republicans and Democrats in Congress. But there are a number of ways one could approach this. One would be to have a total cap number. It could be $25,000, $50,000. And people could put whatever deduction in that total cap they'd like.


BLITZER: All right. So he's trying to explain how he would pay -- how he would pay for the across-the-board tax cut that he wants to see implemented for all Americans, rich, middle class, everyone gets a tax cut, but he would pay for that by eliminating some loopholes, deductions, exemptions, credits. And he said maybe there would be a cap, $25,000, $50,000. That would be it. What do you think about that?

BILL BURTON, PRIORITIES USA ACTION: Well, I think if you listen to that interview, Romney undercuts his whole economic argument. He says that what you need are tax cuts across the board in order to help the economy. But then he says, actually, the wealthy won't get a tax cut. It's all going to be revenue neutral. And that will go to the middle class then.

Well, first of all, does Grover Norquist know that wealthy folks aren't going to get a tax cut? And second of all, the numbers don't add up. Because if you're saying that the middle class gets a tax cut, the wealthy get a tax cut, but then there's deductions that make it all even out. But then the middle class is still getting a tax cut, where's the money to pay for the middle class?

BLITZER: What's the answer?

BOLDUAN: That's a lot of the criticism that Governor Romney's getting is the devil's in the details and he's not providing enough details.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Oh, I think Governor Romney has provided more details than most do. And I think what he's very smartly doing is saying that he's going to work with the Congress.

I can tell you firsthand, President Obama has not worked with the Congress. When the president presented his budget and his plan, it was defeated overwhelmingly in favor of nothing. That is nobody, not a single Republican, not a single Democrat in the House or Senate, ever voted in favor of the president's plan. Mitt Romney comes from the experience of being governor, where 87 percent of his state legislature was Democrats. He's used to working across the aisle, working with Congress to figure this out. And he wants to put a pro-growth plan in place. That's his overriding principle. I think he articulated that in the debate, in front of 70- some-odd million people. And he said it here on your show.

BLITZER: But is that enough to pay for all those across-the- board tax cuts, eliminating a lot of these deductions, for example. Is that going to be enough?

CHAFFETZ: Well, despite what you hear from the 30-seconds ads from the Democrats, what the governor said is, as a proportion of the revenue to the treasury, he's not -- he's not excited or proposing to cut the responsibility that the so-called upper middle class has.

What he wants to do is focus on the middle class and create economic opportunity for everybody. That's going to create jobs and economic opportunity in this country. That's what we need more than anything, is growth.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BURTON: Well, it's just not credible for Mitt Romney to have spent the last entire year and a half out on the campaign trail, talking about how every single person is going to get a tax cut and then suddenly at the debate say, "Well, actually, the wealthy are not going to get a tax cut. This is just..."

CHAFFETZ: He said he'd do the math...

BURTON: ... in order to make sure the middle class gets a tax cut. And it undercuts his economic argument.

CHAFFETZ: It's exactly what he's been saying for the last 18 months. I've been to more than 100 meetings with Governor Romney. This is exactly what he's always been talking about. He's always talked about broadening the base, lowering the rate, creating more economic opportunity for this country, so that our economy can thrive and we can get people back to work.

BLITZER: Do you buy this notion that, if the economy grows more quickly, that will help pay for those across-the-board tax cuts, because that's one of his arguments?

BURTON: Well, if the economy grows more quickly, everybody does better and obviously there will be more tax revenue. But the problem is, the reason that Mitt Romney won't lay out exactly what -- where he's going to find the money to pay for this tax plan that doesn't actually cut taxes for the wealthy, but it does, is because it's not good for the middle class. He won't lay it out, because it is not something that the middle class will benefit from.

BLITZER: We're going to pick up that thought. Everybody stand by. We'll take a quick break. Much more of our conversation. We're getting reaction to my interview with Mitt Romney right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



ROMNEY: Big Bird is going to be just fine. "Sesame Street" is a very successful enterprise. I don't believe CNN gets government funding, but somehow, y'all stay on the air. And I just think that -- that PBS will be able to make it on its own, just like every one of the other stations and does not require us to go to China to borrow money to keep PBS on the air.

BLITZER: All right. We're back with Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah, and Democratic strategist Bill Burton. He's -- they're both here to talk about Big Bird.

BOLDUAN: Big Bird!

BLITZER: Who would have thought?

BOLDUAN: Congressman, the Big Bird comment has gotten a lot of attention. Is it -- was it a mistake for Mitt Romney to target Big Bird? Because he's taking a lot of heat for it now from the Obama campaign?

CHAFFETZ: Look, what Mitt Romney is trying to highlight is the fact that we've got to make some financial decisions on what the priorities of this nation are. Under President Obama, we have put up $1 trillion deficits year after year. We spend more than $600 million a day in interest on our national debt...

BOLDUAN: But what people hear is that he's attacking Big Bird. You know that we work in a sound-bite society these days.

CHAFFETZ: That would be an oversimplification. What people do hear, is exactly what Mitt Romney -- Mitt Romney trailed off with is, every financial decision we make in this country should be one, is it worth going to China to borrow money in order to pay for it? We're going to have to make some hard decisions. We're going to have to prioritize things in order to get our financial footing back in order. That's how we project ourselves so we can be the economic and military super power.

BLITZER: You've seen these polls that have been coming in over the past 24/48 hours. National polls showing this is tight -- look at some of these numbers. We'll put them up right now. Our CNN poll that's coming in.

BOLDUAN: Fifty-one percent to 47 percent in Ohio right now.

BLITZER: It's really tightening. Ohio, Ohio, Ohio. What's going on here?

BURTON: Well, this is a close race. It was always going to be a close race. When the president was at his highest, I was still saying this was going to be a close race. Keep in mind, the president won Ohio by four points. And I think at any point during this last year to know that we'd get to October 9 and it would be a four-point race with the president over 50 percent in Ohio, you'd think it was a good thing.

And the reason Mitt Romney has such a disadvantage there is because of the things that he said about the middle class, the 47 percent. The things he's said about cutting taxes for the wealthy just don't wash with the voters there.

BOLDUAN: He's very much talking about the middle class. You heard that in Wolf's interview today. I mean, how do you think -- what should the Romney campaign be thinking about these numbers that just came out today?

CHAFFETZ: I want the country to get past all the ads and just watch the debate. Watch 90 minutes of just one on one, mano-a-mano, and I think the country will see why that Mitt Romney could and should be the next president of the United States. He's got the right message on the economy, on jobs. I think he has command of the issues. I think he was very presidential, but of course that was the most objective viewpoint.

BOLDUAN: I was going to say, you've got your talking point in there. I was going to ask you, politically speaking, in terms of the Big Bird fight, isn't there a risk that the Obama campaign could overplay their hand on this, and look as if they're playing small ball, while Mitt Romney can say, "Look, they can talk about Big Bird, I'm going to talk about the big issues that matter to America."

BURTON: Well, there's a credibility issue that came from that debate. And I think that's actually the thrust of what the conversation has been from the Democratic side, about what Mitt Romney had to say in that debate.

And while Mitt Romney may have gotten some momentary energy and a little bit of a boost, the thing that people will probably remember in the long term from this debate was that he didn't tell the truth about his positions, and he attacked Big Bird.

BLITZER: When you say he didn't tell the truth about it, you're basically calling the Republican presidential nominee a liar.

BURTON: What I'm saying is that he went out on stage and suddenly all the different things that he had been fighting for for the past year, for the tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, his -- what the president's done on trade, on and on and on, it was just not true. And it didn't represent who he was...

CHAFFETZ: I totally disagree. I have watched Mitt Romney up close and personal for 18 months. It's exactly the same Mitt Romney that I saw in town after town after town. There's a reason why -- he went through 19 debates, plus, on the campaign trail, getting the primary, getting the Republican nomination. He's thoughtful, he's compassionate, he's commanded the issues. He's -- I mean, he's a president. BLITZER: I think you're going to vote for him. I have that feeling.

CHAFFETZ: I think Utah will deliver.

BLITZER: We're glad you're back safe and sound from Libya. And we'll have a conversation about that on another occasion. My dad used to say good to go, good to come home.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, thank you. We're not going to talk football right now. Gentleman, thank you both very much.

Still ahead, Dr. Sanjay Gupta travels to the place where the tainted medicine came from as the meningitis outbreak gets work.


BLITZER: A sentence in the Penn State child sex abuse scandal. Kate has got more on that and some other top stories.

BOLDUAN: A lot of people -- a lot of people have been tracking this story, of course.

Thirty to 60 years in prison. That's the equivalent to a life sentence for 68-year-old Jerry Sandusky. The former Penn State assistant football coach was convicted of sexually abusing ten boys over a period of, I think, 15 years. Sandusky called his situation, quote, "the worst loss of my life." And in a jailhouse statement, he said he's innocent and the victim of a conspiracy.

The death toll in the fungal meningitis outbreak is now up to 11, and 119 people are sick. All the cases have been traced back to a contaminated steroid injected -- injection used to relieve back pain. Dr. Sanjay Gupta went to the facility where that's made.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They literally are telling us to leave the parking lot, not even be here. We know people from the FDA are inside. Obviously a lot of cars in the parking lot. People are working here in some capacity. But this is another example of just how ridiculous it has been to try and get any information whatsoever.

They wouldn't let us in the building, but behind the building, this is what it looks like. Over there, that's the NEC. See the compounding facility? Back here, it's a recycling facility, essentially looks like a dump.


BOLDUAN: Dr. Sanjay Gupta discovered that recycling facility is owned by the same people who own the center where the steroid was made, Wolf. A scary story definitely that's definitely not over yet.

BLITZER: Not over by any means, but very scary indeed. BOLDUAN: Yes.

BLITZER: Thank you.

It's the name the candidates can't stop saying: Big Bird.


BLITZER: For more on Big Bird here is Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When we last left Big Bird...

ROMNEY: I love Big Bird.


MOOS: ... he had just been mentioned in the presidential debate. Since then, Big Bird has only gotten bigger, appearing on "SNL."

SETH MEYERS, CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": How did you find out that your name had been mentioned in the debate?

BIG BIRD: Oh, I got a million tweets.


MOOS: He's the second animal to rock the presidential campaign, the first being Mitt Romney's dog on the car roof.

But Big Bird has big-footed the pooch in PhotoShopped photos and editorial cartoons. And now he's made it into an Obama campaign commercial, full of sarcasm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One man has the guts to speak his name.

ROMNEY: Big Bird.

Big Bird. Big Bird.

BIG BIRD: It's me, Big Bird.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Big, yellow, a menace to our economy.

MOOS: But the Republican National Committee is striking back with The Count from "Sesame Street."

THE COUNT, VOICED BY THE LATE JERRY NELSON: The number of the day is four.

MOOS: The Republicans are keeping count how many times President Obama mentions Big Bird versus, they say, zero mentions of Libya, and zero plans to fix the economy. The Obama campaign says its Big Bird spot was meant to run during comedy shows, though it might be hard to tell the commercial from comedy show content.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mitt Romney, taking on our enemies, no matter where they nest.

MOOS (on camera): But Big Bird did not approve this message. His creators, Sesame Workshop, say they're nonpartisan, and they want the Obama Big Bird ad taken down.

(voice-over) Obama supporters have taken to showing up at Romney/Ryan events dressed as Big Bird.

(on camera) We're even seeing Big Bird in cereal.

(voice-over) Portrait artist Jason Messier is known for using pills to make Whitney Houston's portrait, pot to make Snoop Dogg's, and beef jerky to make President Obama's and Governor Romneys.

Now NBC reports the debate inspired the artist to spend 25 hours gluing Cheerios and Froot Loops and Lucky Charms onto a canvas to create Big Bird.

Some of us are starting to O.D. on Big Bird as he flits from Jon Stewart to Conan. Get the kiddies out of the room.

BIG BIRD: What's that?


MOOS: Bye-bye Big Birdie.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Bye-bye, Birdie.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: That's it for us. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.