We caught up with Mitt Romney for a few moments this morning to talk housing and about the now-struck Newt Gingrich ad that blasted him for being "anti-immigrant."
What do you think of the ad?
Romney: "Outrageous. Outrageous. My dad was born in Mexico, came here at age 5. It’s an outrageous charge from Newt Gingrich. I’m pro immigration. I’m pro-legal immigration."
You've criticized Dodd-Frank, but Democrats say it was needed to keep people in their homes and make banks more accountable. What's wrong with it?
Romney: "Talk to community bankers and homeowners. Things aren’t becoming easier. They’re becoming more difficult." Romney said banks need to hire hundreds of lawyers to understand the regulations. "Community banks can't afford to do that."
Do you believe there needs to be regulation?
Romney: "Of course you need regulation. Of course you need people looking at mortgage bankers to make sure loans aren’t given in circumstances where they won’t be repaid.... You have to have regulation. It has to be updated."
What are some specific policies you want to implement to help homeonwers?
Romney: Why don’t we give you a policy white paper? We'll get you one."
Romney: "We had government encouraging -- through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- people to take loans being given to people where there was virtually no prospect of being repaid... We weren’t asking people for their income. Those were called 'liar loans.' We had interest-only mortgages with no down-payments or principle payments. Those kinds of abuses were driven not by regulation but by politicians driving an agenda that is at the root of the stress that America has been under."
Q: But the run-up in mortgages started during the Bush years.
Romney: “Absolutely. Part of it was Republicans. Part of it was Democrats. This idea that everybody has to own a home – that we’re going to give mortgages to people who can’t pay them back – that is a primary reason that we got in the economic stress that occurred within the housing market… It’s not that there wasn’t regulation of banks."
Romney: "The president is looking for someone to blame beside himself. He and his party – and my party as well – share a great deal of responsibility for the excesses that existed in the housing industry."
You had said before that the market should hit the bottom. Democrats and critics have said that makes you look out of touch, hearless. Your response?
Romney: "Markets work. The idea of the pres trying to stop the markets from moving forward and allowing the process to lead to homes being purchased and being filled with renters and by new owners – that’s a fool’s errand in my view.
"We need to get homes filled with individuals. We need to move the process along. If we can help with options and refinancing and banks can do that and re-negotiate loans in an accelerated basis without fear of having government regulators tell them that they now have to write down their entire balance sheet, that will help."
On to your tax returns, you were beaten silly for not releasing them. Now you're not releasing a number of years. There's going to be a drip-drip-drip of criticism to get you to release more. Are you ready for that?
Romney: "I'm the only candidate for president on the Republican side that has put out two years. I have put out more information than any other candidate. That's my view. There's plenty there. I think there's some 800 pages. Take a look. And enjoy the experience. And I think that gives people an ample view of my personal finances."
Which Mitt Romney will we see on the debate stage, the feisty one Monday or the staid one from last week?
Romney: "Wait and see."