John King, USA

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March 2nd, 2011
09:19 PM ET

Will Santorum run for president?

(CNN) – Former Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum appears unfazed by a Fox News decision to suspend him as a contributor while he mulls a presidential run.

In his first media appearance since the suspension, Santorum told CNN's John King on Wednesday, "I think they made their call and I respect it."

Brett Baier, the anchor of Fox News' Special Report, announced on-air Wednesday that the suspension of Santorum and fellow Fox contributor and presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich was effective immediately and for 60 days "unless they notify Fox that they are not running for president." Their contracts will be terminated on May 1 if they decide to run.

Santorum, who said the company did not ask whether he was running for president, said that he has been "very up front about this, that I've been exploring it." He also opened up about his relationship with other Fox contributors who are likely contenders for the GOP 2012 presidential nomination.

"Even though there's a rivalry, there's a camaraderie that comes with it," Santorum said of his interactions with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Speaking about his terms as a congressman and senator, Santorum touted his conservative values and experience on issues such as national security and controlling government spending, indicating the latter showed his alignment with the Tea Party movement.

"I've been a consistent conservative on all the issues I think people care about when it wasn't cool to do that," he said. "I was out there fighting the reform battles that a lot of the Tea Party people are fighting right now."

He also defended a statement he made during a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last month, in which he criticized President Obama's view of America as exceptional. During the speech, Santorum said, "The president of the United States – let's just be very clear – he doesn't think America is exceptional."

Asked about the statement by King during Wednesday's interview, Santorum said, "Look, America at points in time in our history – it's always had problems, but that doesn't make the foundational principles of America anything but exceptional."

"And so when your belief in American exceptionalism depends on how we're doing today, then you don't understand what America is all about, and you don't believe at its core America is exceptional."

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