Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
QUESTION: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of CPAC Live. What a great show we have for you today. We’re going to have with us our great Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and then after what will hopefully be a really interesting conversation with the Secretary, a follow-up with Katie Pavlich, who has been covering the Secretary’s really historic work very closely, and we’re going to have a conversation about what’s going on in the world and how President Trump and his policies are changing the way we think about globalism and our approach to our allies overseas.
But first, we want to immediately bring into the conversation the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. How are you, Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Matt, I’m great. I hope you’re doing well. Thanks for having me on today. I’m looking forward to our conversation a great deal.
QUESTION: We are doing great, and – but the world is still obviously a troubled place. We’re so happy that you’re there at the State Department implementing the President’s approach to how we should rethink some of these big questions around the globe, but first I have to ask you: A lot of people don’t realize how grueling the job of Secretary of State is. You’ve got to get on that plane and go everywhere all over the world at a moment’s notice all the time. You have to keep your diplomatic cheer even when you really don’t want to. And you’ve been doing it for a long time. What motivates you every morning to get up and do this job?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, Matt, it’s a great question, and I think you know; you’ve had the chance to serve in a presidential administration. Every day I get up with the intention of – quite clearly of executing on what the American people have asked us to do. They elected President Trump, who has a fundamentally different understanding of making sure that American people are safe, that we’re taking care of America’s commercial and economic prosperity. President Trump took a very different view.
Our policies have changed dramatically from the previous eight years, and I get the chance every day to go around the world and not only talk about that, but provide assistance helping other countries understand how, if they partner with America and do it in the right way, their prosperity, their lives of their people will be better, and that’ll redound to the benefit of us right back here at home in the United States.
QUESTION: Now, we’ve had a lot of different kinds of people, obviously, have this important job; obviously, Thomas Jefferson on down. What is unique about you is you come to the job as Secretary of State – yes, you were elected to Congress and you had a conservative voting record in Congress, you were at the CIA. But you have a lot of business experience which is unusual in this post. How has that helped you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, it’s true, Matt. I turn to that all the time. Your folks know too; the President has a lot of business experience.
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ve got – our entire national security team, right – Secretary Mnuchin, Attorney General Barr came from the business world too, spent a lot of time there. It’s important because in the end, our foreign policy is as powerful as the American capacity for innovation, creativity, all the things that have really been at the center of America’s exceptionalism. We have a set of values and principles founded in our Constitution, but our capacity for creating prosperity around the world gives me an enormous leg up.
I think about what President Trump has unleashed in the energy space, and now when I travel to the Middle East or to Europe, they know that America is self-sufficient with regard to its energy needs, and we have the capacity to deliver them affordable energy so their people can have electricity and the things that every person around the world is crying out for. That opportunity that President Trump has created here domestically for our innovation and creativity and productivity gives me enormous leverage as I try to make sure that we protect Americans all around the world.
QUESTION: So it’s like a mirror image when I think of the communist government of China. In America, what you’re saying is our foreign policy is – one of the foundations of it is making sure that we have a vibrant free market economy. China is really involved in business too; the difference is the communist government seems to own all these state-owned enterprises and these big corporate entities in their country. Give us your perspective about how their system is so much different and so problematic.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So President Trump, when he campaigned, talked about the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party – I remember it so well – back in 2015 and 2016. And we set about changing what’s really now coming on four decades of history where the idea was that if we engaged, Americans would be better off. And while there have certainly been commercial benefits that have flowed from that, the risk to the American people is significant.
And so President Trump has essentially told the Chinese Communist Party, look, we welcome the Chinese people being successful, we want them to have good lives too, but not at the expense of America, not at the expense of American farmers, American businesses, not at the expense of having our intellectual property created by – Matt, you know these people who go to work every day and then come up with a good idea, a business practice, a policy, some kind of intellectual property, and then have it stolen by the Chinese Government. President Trump has simply said we’re not going to tolerate that anymore, the Chinese Communist Party denying basic freedoms to their own people has a upstream impact on freedom all around the world.
And you see it with the software that China has put here in the United States; all these things impact us here at home, and President Trump has said enough. And so we have shifted. We have shifted from a policy of appeasement and engagement to one that says, look, we want to find places to work with you, but we’re going to distrust but verify. We’re going to make sure we protect the American people from the challenges that the Chinese Communist Party has presented across the broad range of activities that they’re engaged in.
They have a different ideology, Matt. You know this, right? Communists have a different view of how the world ought to work, and I want and I know you want and President Trump wants to make sure that this next century is not a century that is governed by authoritarian regimes emanating from China.
QUESTION: I love how you say we tried appeasement for four years, we thought we’ll be nice, we’ll invite them in, they’ll change, come our way. After you give that a whole lifetime to work and it doesn’t work, you get tougher. And you guys very specifically have gotten tougher. You put sanctions out there, you’ve taken stronger steps. Are there any specifics you want to kind of highlight to our CPAC community of the things you’ve done and the things you’re thinking about doing?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Matt, it’s important to understand that the activity that we’ve taken with respect to them is founded in our constitutional principles, right? This is where it all begins for President Trump and our foreign policy, the central underpinnings of America and our prosperity and security. And so whether that is the trade agreement that the President entered into demanding that China behave in a way that’s fair and reciprocal, whether it’s the work we did – and you saw the other day that we demanded that the Chinese close down a facility in Houston where they were spying on us here from the United States. We’ve known about it for too long, and we simply didn’t want to push back, and President Trump said fine, this is the time.
These are the kinds of activities – I’ll give another example. In our schools, you’ve seen the Department of Justice and the FBI begin to take action that says it’s fine if there’s a Chinese student that wants to come study here, but they can’t be connected to the Chinese state and the People’s Liberation Army, and when they are, we’re going to find out if they lied, and if they committed a crime, we’ll prosecute them, and if not, we’re going to just ask them – tell them they need to get back home.
This is the way we protect American educational institutions. All of the things that people all across America know are right, President Trump is actually delivering on, and our State Department is working to implement on behalf of the American people.
QUESTION: As an aside, if a – I won’t make you comment on this, but if some of our universities doesn’t think a ROTC program is appropriate on a campus, it’s hard to see how someone attached to the PLA is appropriate. But that’s my comment, not yours. But I applaud that policy.
Then you have this question about fundamental freedoms, and I think we all woke up with the horrific news about Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong, who we consider to be a great freedom fighter. I think you know that he invited CPAC into his home in Hong Kong, and we had a delightful meal that ended early in the hours with a firebombing of his house because we had been there. What’s your – obviously you’re trying to make sure that there’s a better result in Hong Kong, but you’ve taken some steps. What should the American people think when they look at this news this morning?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Really sad. Jimmy Lai was nothing more than a patriot who wanted good things for the people of Hong Kong. He wanted basic freedoms. These were the freedoms, Matt – you know, you had a chance to meet him there; I had a chance to meet him here in the United States – these are just the basic freedoms that every human being, because they’re made in the image of God, is entitled to. And that’s all they were asking for and it’s all, frankly, that they wanted. The Chinese Communist Party had promised them that they would have that when they entered into the agreement with Britain, and now the Chinese Communist Party has decided no, Hong Kong’s going to just simply be another communist city.
So what we have tried to do is create a set of incentives for the Chinese Communist Party to rethink how they’re approaching this. I’m not optimistic, given what we saw this morning and what we’ve seen over the past week, that they’re going to change what they’re doing. But what we can be sure, and President Trump has said, is that to the extent the Chinese Communist Party treats Hong Kong as just another communist-run city, the United States will do the same. We’re not going to allow Beijing to benefit from the harm they’re imposing on the people of Hong Kong.
Our United Kingdom counterparts have done great work. They’re going to allow people from Hong Kong who want to come to Britain to come there, people who have denied these just fundamental, basic freedoms. I hope that the Chinese Communist Party will reconsider and allow the promises they made to the Hong Kong people to come through, but you saw – goodness, it was last week now, I think, when they declared that they were going to delay their election. They would have been crushed. Freedom would have won in the election, Matt, and the Chinese Communist Party couldn’t permit that to happen. I fear that we may have had our last democratic election in Hong Kong. I hope that I’m wrong about that.
QUESTION: Well, you’re being a realist, which we very much appreciate. And one of the things that they’ve also announced is they’ve actually barred several senators from travel to China and taken other steps. I read through the list this morning, it was interesting – all Republican senators and a Republican member of the House of Representatives. Is there truly no bipartisan consensus that when China does these – takes these horrific acts against human rights, like arresting Jimmy Lai, is there not a bipartisan consensus to push back? Or should I be more hopeful?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m actually more hopeful on this, Matt. When the legislation was passed, the Hong Kong Democracy Act, it was passed near unanimously, both parties. When the issue in the West about how religious minorities are being treated in the western part of China – this is truly tragic, over a million people living in conditions that remind us of what happened back in the 1930s, right – forced sterilizations, imprisonment, internment, a really disastrous scenario that when legislation came up in Congress to sanction individuals involved in that, it was bipartisan. I think nearly every member of Congress from both parties voted for it.
I think with respect to the challenges that the communist party’s presenting in China, I actually think there’s good overlap, but it’s the case this policy was driven by President Trump. He was the one who was prepared to rip the band-aid off, acknowledge that the policies of the past decades had not been successful, and demand that the Chinese Communist Party behave in a way that is consistent with simple things like the rule of law and transparency and reciprocity. Those fundamental principles are inescapable demands that we intend to impose upon the Chinese Communist Party. We hope they’ll do it, and if not, we’re going to demand that they do.
QUESTION: The – we talked a lot about in this country facing the threat of radical Islamic terror post-9/11 and changing a lot of policies in the government. The Trump administration continues to keep its eye on these terrorists and terrorist organizations and terrorist regimes. Tell us, give us the status of what a threat the regime in Iran is to peace and stability around the world.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So Matt, Iran sadly remains the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. President Trump came in and recognized that underwriting that regime was a bad policy.
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s what the JCPOA had done; it essentially allowed businesses to operate there, allowing the regime to continue its corrupt theocracy. President Trump said no, we’re not going to do that. We walked away from the JCPOA, and then we began to impose real costs on the regime. And it’s had an impact. It’s reduced the capacity for them to conduct terror around the world. I could spend a lot of time talking about the Shia militias in Iraq and what’s taking place in Syria and Hizballah. They are diminished; it’s harder for them to pay their soldiers, pay their people around the world.
There’s still work to do, and we aim to do it. One of the true tragedies of the JCPOA was that it was very limited in time. A major provision expires now on October 18th, so just a couple months off, where Iran, under a deal that President Obama and Vice President Biden signed off on, can buy and sell weapons all around the world – on October 18th of this year. We’re going to try and stop that. We’re trying to extend that arms embargo. I’m hopeful that we’ll be successful, but this is the kind of terror risk that the previous administration simply refused to take on, and President Trump has been clear: We killed Qasem Soleimani, took down Hamza bin Laden, we took down al-Baghdadi. This administration’s been most serious about protecting the American people from terrorism. We’ll continue that effort.
QUESTION: The biggest threat to peace and security around the globe is not global climate change. Under President Trump, it seems like you are clear-eyed, wide-eyed about what our threats are – a aggressive regime in China, radical Islamic terror regimes around the globe. We appreciate very much you kind of resetting that – those ideas. Mr. Secretary, you’re also a well-trained lawyer – you probably don’t want to say that too loudly but it’s the truth. And when you look at the American experience with democracy – this idea of federalism, of individual rights and separation of powers – and you go around the globe and you see all these authoritarian regimes and all of these strongmen and all of these governments that too easily trample on the rights of the individual, and you come back and you look at this conversation in America about is America a good place, is America a rotten place, is America a place of hate or is America a place where the individual really can live their beautiful American life, give us a – more of a philosophical overview. Is this a moment when America really needs to stand up and be proud of its history or is it a different time?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Matt, when I came to the State Department, I recognized the centrality of the question that you just asked, so I undertook a couple things. One was to put a woman named Mary Ann Glendon in charge of a commission to look at human rights issues around the world and how America should think about these unalienable rights. They came back with a report a few weeks ago now, and it reminded me – it reminded me of the importance of the fact that this is the most exceptional nation in the history of civilization. And whatever challenges we may have on any given day, there’s no nation that has the capacity to protect the freedoms that matter to every human being.
And so we – the commission wrote about this. They talked about our Declaration of Independence and our founding. They talked about our Constitution and how it was drafted, right. The Soviet Union had a bill of rights, too. It was worthless because it didn’t have a structure around it, it didn’t have a system. It didn’t have, as you described, right, bicameral legislature, federalism, all the elements that drive us ever closer to that more perfect union. As the Secretary of State, it is imperative that these things continue here in America.
We were not a nation that was founded on the central idea of slavery. We’re not a nation that says when the left takes to the streets that they can destroy the First Amendment and say no we’re not going to let certain people have their voices be said. This is a challenging time, which demands us to hew even more closely to the things that our founders knew. This Judeo-Christian foundation for our nation is so central to the work that I do around the world and my capacity to be effective, to convince others of the importance of respecting the rights of their people, that I am – I’m very, very much hopeful that the American people will see this, they will come to understand that they live in this special place. I promise you, all around the world when people are deciding where they want to go if they leave their own country, they want to come to the United States for the very reasons that you and I both know, Matt.
QUESTION: Yeah. And the final question, as we let you get back to settling all these really important issues – what we found with our kind of humble and meek aspect of global travel, where we had these CPACs in five different important parts of the globe last year. Unfortunately with the virus we’re not doing that travel, but we will again next year. What I’ve – with – the big take-away I got is when people overseas who are freedom-loving see America in a conflict about what America stands for – will America still stand for the freedoms it has always stood for – it really jars them, it worries them. Because even in places that we don’t always automatically think love America, they actually love a strong America more than we’ll ever know. Do you have the same type of reaction at a much higher level than we have it?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Matt, I do. You should know that the people of every nation watch closely what we do here in the United States. And we’ve had conflict before. We’ve often had vigorous debates here in the United States. It is very important that we demonstrate to the world for all the right reasons that America remains strong, that America remains committed. We’ll get right our commitments around the world. We’re not going to think about them the way we did for the past 20 years, but America as a leader, as an exemplar on the world stage, will remain. And that is vital for people all across the world. It’s exactly the same thing you’re hearing when you meet with people as you travel around the world. I see it every day.
QUESTION: And I want you to know we appreciate you making time for us. Our CPAC community is very proud of what you’re accomplishing. They’re – been proud of you – you have accomplished great things throughout your public career, and I want you to know, having just come back from Wichita, Kansas, having just had prime rib at the Candle, that when you’re done with this work there’s a good meal waiting for you there, okay?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ll meet you at the Candle. That sounds great, Matt.
QUESTION: That’s a deal, Mr. Secretary. Keep up the great work.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you.