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Mitt Romney: "It kills me" to not be in the White House

Shortly after the election, Romney made the case to donors that the Obama administration's "gifts" to various constituencies had helped secure his reelection. Critics saw echoes of Romney's "47 percent" tape, publicized during the heat of the general election, in which he characterized Obama voters as "victims" who felt "entitled" to government services. Romney apologized once more for the "unfortunate" remark about the "47 percent" but did not back down one bit from the thrust of his "gifts" argument.

"The presidency had the power of incumbency," he explained. "Obamacare was very attractive, particularly to those without health insurance."

He was considerably more contrite about his earlier remarks, admitting: "It was a very unfortunate statement that I made. It's not what I meant.

"When you speak in private," he explained, "you don't spend as much time thinking about how something could be twisted and distorted."

Ann Romney, for her part, seemed to bristle still at criticism of her husband. "I'm like a she-lion when it comes to defending Mitt," she said. "I know his heart, I know his abilities, I know he would have been a fabulous president."

Asked whether she thought the Obama campaign's attacks on her husband were fair, she responded with a quick and decisive "no."

"And I mourn the fact that he's not there" in the White House, she said. "I totally believe, at this moment, if Mitt were there in the office, that we would not be facing sequestration right now."

Ann was asked about rumors that she and eldest Romney son Tagg, dissatisfied with the tenor of the debate, pressured the campaign to "let Mitt be Mitt," and she said: "Of course it's true, but it's not just the campaign's fault, I believe it was the media's fault as well."

"I'm happy to blame the media," she explained, because "there's more bias in favor of the other side...that's a pretty universally felt opinion."

Romney said that he had renamed his foundation the Romney Foundation for Children, which will focus on helping "the very poorest kids in the world." He is also scheduled to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference, a gathering of conservative leaders in Washington, D.C., next month.

Going forward, Romney signaled a desire to continue advising the GOP but recognized that his opinion may not be of paramount importance to a party struggling to retool in the wake of his loss.

"I recognize that I lost, so I'm not going to be the leader of the Republican Party," he said. "But I want to have influence on getting our party to a position where we can be successful."

In the future, Romney said, "we have to do a better job bringing minority voters into voting for Republicans."

He still disagreed with one solution being embraced by some Republicans seeking a stronger foothold among minority populations like Latinos - immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents

"People who have come here illegally," he said, "should not be given a special pathway to citizenship or permanent residency in this country."

Ultimately, Romney said, his concern is about the future. "I care about my 20 grandkids and what kind of America they are going to have," he explained. "And sitting on the sidelines when so much is at stake is just not in my nature."