Transcript: Sutherland’s 2020 Congressional Series event with Sen. Mitt Romney

August 17, 2020

 

The following is an unedited transcription of remarks delivered by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) during Q&A: Senate Updates & 2020 Priorities. Watch the full video here.

Sen. Mitt Romney:

Happy to join you and I’ve been fortunate to be in Utah the entire week, getting around the state, catching up on local affairs and giving people a perspective on what’s happening back in Washington.

Rick Larsen, Sutherland Institute president:

Perfect. Well, listen, there is a there’s a great deal to talk about and we probably ought to jump right in knowing that COVID-19 is on everyone’s mind. Should we begin there?

Romney:

Of course.

Larsen:

Okay. So Senator a pandemic is not a common occurrence and it’s predictable that there would be mistakes made, especially at the federal level, but as we look especially around to [inaudible], the partisan nature of the debate is becoming fairly obvious. Can you describe in your objective view, what’s some of the more consequential mistakes have been at the federal level, not from a blame standpoint, but how do we avoid repeating those mistakes in the second round of COVID aid?

Romney:

Let’s begin with those things which were a long time in not getting right. We really should have, as a nation, had a more expansive supply of protective equipment for our healthcare workers than was existing in our national stockpile. And that was something that’s been the case for a long, long time. And frankly, every Congress and every President deserves their share of the blame. Perhaps even more important was the fact that we didn’t preserve the manufacturing capacity for those items. Face masks were being manufactured in China. Essential drugs are being manufactured in India and China. And so those were mistakes, we should have had face mask manufacturing capacity here. Even if the machines weren’t going full bore, they should have been kept here. And again, any one of the Presidents could have done that.

You can’t blame one, you really have to blame all of us. So that’s the long term. Short term I think it’s fair to say we really have not distinguished ourselves in a positive way by how we responded to the crisis when it was upon us. And the proof of the pudding of that is simply that we have 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s deaths due to COVID-19. And there’s no way to spin that in a positive light. Why is that? I think it’s fair to say that from the outset, there was a tendency on the part of the administration to dismiss COVID-19 as a threat not to consider how serious it could become. And there was not immediate action to if you will, ring all the alarm bells, have the federal government take responsibility for assuring that the distribution of personal protective equipment would be done in a fair and equitable basis state by state, that we would undertake immediately the manufacturer of essential supplies and equipment and the federal government would really take charge of the response to COVID-19 as well, in addition to providing that equipment providing guidelines for how businesses should operate and so forth.

So that was really unfortunate and the health impact of COVID-19 on our country and our response to it was really very, very disappointing. I will say that from at least one person’s perspective, the response, the relief effort, if you will, the financial relief, the family suffering, the financial relief to a small businesses that were struggling to stay open, we moved pretty quickly on that basis. The President, Secretary of the Treasury, Congress came together, we actually voted on a unanimous basis for the First Cares Act. I mean, that’s really unusual for the Senate and there were a lot of mistakes made. There was no question with regards to the distribution of funds, about $2.2 trillion was approved. You may recall that with the last great financial distress that occurred back in 2007, ‘08 and ‘09 we spent some $700 billion. A lot of people criticized how much money that was. Well, this was $2.2 trillion and passed unanimously to help families and small businesses. So that I think was something for which the administration and Congress deserves credit. But overall from a health standpoint certainly the numbers speak for themselves.

Larsen:

It may be premature and even naive to look for silver linings at this point, but as I’ve listened to you describe the situation, is it possible that this crisis has revealed some areas where we’ve been lax for too long, and then it possibly may serve to help us prepare? I think of manufacturing, for instance, that we can come out of this stronger and better prepared for a future crisis.

Romney:

Well, I think you’re right that we have recognized that if we rely on vital supplies, not just personal protective equipment, but medicines as well, if we rely on those things from a nation which is acting on a pretty hostile basis these days, China, that we are threatening our national security as well as our health. And that probably applies not just to those medical supplies, but also to certain military supplies and, and technologies. Our telecommunication systems, our various elements of our national security, if they are really being provided for by nations that are authoritarian in nature, we put ourselves at some risk. And I think that’s something which concentrates the mind for instance, of the folks in the UK. They’ve decided that they’re not going to be bringing Chinese products into their telecommunications network in part because of the recognition that they may not be able to depend on those things were there to be some kind of an international crisis.

Larsen:

Okay. I want to talk about China a little bit more down the road, but I want to follow up on this immediate unity around aid and where we stand now. Can you explain to the viewers a little bit about your reasoning behind your approach to unemployment benefits and why there’s so much division around that?

Romney:

Well, a number of Republicans proposed ideas to get unemployment benefit help to people that are out of work and it’s fair to say that all of us proposed ideas that we thought might be able to get support and were not weighted to any one idea. And when the President came out with his executive order that says each state can get $300 per week, per unemployed individual, we all coalesced around that. So there’s no further, if you will, pull to put in place a different program, the President has a stop gap, a temporary program would last five or six weeks to get $300 of supplemental unemployment insurance support for each individual out of work. That’s something which will help the families here in Utah, families across the country. And that was something which was of an urgent need when the unemployment insurance system ran out, if you will, a couple of weeks ago we recognize that while we’re negotiating on a larger relief package, these individuals that are out of work really do need help. They gotta be able to pay their rent or their mortgage. They’ve gotta be able to pay for food and medicines. And, and so the President acted and I think there’s pretty much full support for that that that action he has taken.

Larsen:

Senator, we’re talking to a national audience, but just to turn local for a moment, how would you rank or grade Utah’s response? State by state the response has been very different. There are calls for state supplements to whatever ongoing benefits package there may be. How would you rank Utah in terms of its response?

Romney:

Well, we’re in the top group of States in terms of response, of course, we had a little longer than states like New York and California, because it took a while before COVID-19 really affected us to the same degree. It affected some of the other states that were if you will, inland ports. But the response has been pretty effective. I think actually the governor was right not to shut down the entire state at the same time, but instead to have county officials determine what was right county by county. And that was because some of our more rural counties had very few cases, in some cases none at all, and to shut them down or to require masks in places where there were no cases, wouldn’t make a lot of sense. I know that the national media tried to put a lot of pressure on every state that did not have a statewide shutdown, but I think Utah kind of got it right.

And at this stage each community, each county is doing its very best. The numbers are improving. The number of new cases is going down. The number of hospitalizations is going down, ICU bed occupation by COVID-19 patients also coming down. So I think you have to say that Utah has done a relatively good job. Oh, I just know one other thing with regards to unemployment insurance, there are 13 States which have contacted the federal government to say, Hey, we want to get that $300 for our unemployed. Utah’s one of the 13.

Larsen:

Interesting. Let’s talk to voters for a minute who have already had years of caution about federal deficit. And this is a little bit of a no-win because aid is warranted in this situation. But what do you say to a voter saying, “Hey, wait a minute. I thought the deficit was so out of control it was consuming all tax revenue and now we’ve added at least 2 trillion and counting.” How, how should a voter look at that?

Romney:

Well, I think a voter should be concerned about the debt, obviously. You know, in the days of Ronald Reagan we were concerned about the deficit then and the amount of debt we had. The national debt was roughly $1 trillion. At the end of this year it’s going to be $28 trillion. This is a real problem. This is a threat to our security and it’s a threat to our financial prosperity as a people. So it’s a real problem. At the same time, when you have a crisis like COVID-19, or you could go back in history, the second world war, well, that’s the time when you do borrow. You borrow at a time when there’s an unusual and unexpected expense. You don’t want to be borrowing during good times. And what I find inexcusable is during the last few years, when the economy was operating at record successful levels, we were still borrowing roughly a trillion dollars a year.

And so when I speak to people in the marketplace, actually I spoke several weeks ago with the former secretary of the treasury, Hank Paulson, who used to be top person at Goldman Sachs. He said, look, the markets will accept the borrowing that’s going on now, recognizing it’s of a temporary nature, but the markets are not going to accept forever this annual borrowing the United States is doing roughly a trillion dollars more every single year. Because in good times, you ought to be creating a surplus, not having to go out and borrow. Now, the funny thing is politicians, Presidents, and senators and Congress people, they want the economy to be doing real well and if they can borrow from the future to make the economy do better today, that’s something they’re inclined to do. They want it, they say, let someone else worry about the debt. Well, frankly, that’s just wrong. And it puts us all in danger. And that’s one of the reasons that I continue to fight to make sure that when we come out of the COVID crisis, that we finally take action, which will put us on track to have a balanced budget. I just think there’s no excuse for the continued deficit spending and the massive debt that we’re racking up.

Larsen:

Perhaps another painful lesson learned. I know we as a conservative think tank, we’re always looking for that conservative fiscal responsibility and have come to a similar conclusion that you can have that discussion now, but the discussion needs to go back to decisions made prior and what we will do after. You’ve sponsored a bill called the Trust Act and this addresses financial problems with federal trust funds, which includes social security. You’re working with a bipartisan commission of lawmakers. Can you explain a little bit about what this bill will do to help ensure and drive outcomes that are better than past by supposedly bipartisan fiscal commission efforts?

Romney:

Yeah, and I think it’s important for people just to have a perspective on how we spend money at the federal level. I know we all perhaps intellectually know this, but I just want to let people think about it before I describe how the Trust Act would work. Two thirds of federal spending isn’t even voted on by Congress or signed by the President. Two thirds is automatic. They call it non-discretionary, it’s not even part of the federal budget. So two thirds of what we spend is automatic. What is that? Social security, Medicare, highway trust fund. These are programs, they’re so-called entitlements, where the money goes out the door and based upon how many people are eligible for the programs. And that’s why they’re called entitled. You’re entitled to the funding if you reach certain age and qualifications and these particular programs are spending massively more than they take in.

There are trust funds that support each one of them, but those trust funds are running out of money. And the law is written that says that when the trust fund is out of money, there will be an automatic dramatic reduction in benefits. I think it’s as much as 30% reduction in social security benefits when that trust fund runs out and it’s projected to run out in 10 or so years. So we need to take action today. One to make sure that we get those trust funds on a solvent basis so we never have to worry about people seeing it cut in their payments and their benefits. That would be outrageous for current retirees. And at the same time, we got to make sure that we don’t keep on spending massively more than we take in. And so if we’re going to deal with our deficit spending, you got to go after the two thirds of what our spending is and that’s social security and Medicare, Medicaid, and so forth.

So my Trust Act is designed to tackle two things, one the deficit spending and two preservation of our trust funds for those programs, social security and Medicare in particular. And the approach is very similar to Simpson-Bowles. There are little differences though. With Simpson-Bowles, they took all of the spending of government, put it in all in one bucket and said let’s vote on a package to solve the whole problem. Well, it turned out that was such a big bite that they just couldn’t get it across the finish line. And so what I’ve said is instead, how about we take each of the trust funds individually and see if we could solve any one of them or perhaps all of them, but do it individually. So there would be a special rescue committee that looks just at social security disability.

There’s another one that looks at social security, old age. There’s another one that looks at Medicare. There’s another one that looks at the highway trust fund. So each one of those trust funds would be evaluated by a separate independent committee. Each committee would have an equal number of Republicans or Democrats and an equal number of people from the house and the Senate. Now if one of those subcommittees, let’s say it’s the one on social security, old age, if they can come to a bipartisan solution that people in both parties agreed to on that special committee, then it would go to the floor of the House and the floor of the Senate for an expedited vote and it’d be up or down. And for it to pass is going to require 60 votes in the Senate, meaning it has to have Republicans and Democrats to support it.

So it’s gotta be truly bipartisan. And that’s the approach, which I think has a shot of finally dealing with the excessive spending that we do in good times. It causes more borrowing and good times. And at the same time, it preserves the long-term viability of social security, Medicare, our disability programs and so forth. I know we get a lot of criticism from people saying, “Oh, you’re going to cut social security.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Some of these groups that are saying, “save social security,” look, if we solve the social security problem and make it permanently solvent, those groups are going to go out of business. These lobbying groups won’t have anything to complain about. So you know, you have to take with a grain of salt, those people that don’t want to see a solution.

I want to see a solution and I’m open to any proposal, it’s going to have to be supported by Republicans and Democrats. So it’s not going to be a one-sided program. So that’s where we are and, and I can’t tell you whether it’s gonna change the landscape for our country or not. But I do know that the leading Democrats and Republicans support it. There were 30 Democrat Congress people and 30 Republican congress people that wrote a letter to speaker Pelosi and said, “Please include the Trust Act in the next COVID rescue package.” And on the Senate side, we have five leading Democrats, as well as a number of Republicans that have signed on as well saying, this is something we’ve got to do. So I’m hopeful, I’m optimistic, but I’m far from certain.

Larsen:

So just to be clear, there is a distinct possibility that will be included in the next round of the Cares Act?

Romney:

If there is a next round of the Cares Act, it’s a distinct possibility that it will be included in that package. If not, why it could also be taken up by it on an individual basis later.

Larsen:

Interesting. Thank you. Thank you. That’ll be fascinating to watch. Well, let’s jump to a topic that is possibly beyond all comprehension. From your view, would you explain to the audience, would you characterize the threat that you see in China today and why you’ve chosen to prioritize this threat?

Romney:

I hope people recognize as something which, which the administration also is making a very clear. Secretary Pompeo has been speaking recently about the threat that’s faced by an emerging China. But let me note this, China will have a bigger economy than ours. Substantially larger than ours someday. It will have a much larger military than ours someday, and I’m not talking 25 years out. I’m talking much, much closer than that. And the reason is very simple. They have 1.4 billion people and we have, you know, 330 million people. And, and just given the difference in size as their people get a higher standard of living over time, they will have a larger economy. They will make a larger investment in the military as a result of having that larger economy. As a matter of fact, based on a calculation that Heritage has done, they’re already purchasing about the same amount of military hardware every year we are.

So even today, they’re making an investment in procurement that equals our own. So militarily, they’re going to be a very, very powerful nation economically, they will as well. Now with that as a backdrop, they have made it very clear that their objective is to become the world’s dominant player to replace the U.S. as the leading nation on the planet. To replace the U.S. economically, militarily, and geopolitically. They intend to become the world’s superpower. Now you might say, well, who cares if they become the superpower and the answer is, I care, a lot of people should care because they have a very different view about how a nation should be run. They believe in an authoritarian state where there’s not two parties, where there’s not free press, where opposition leaders are jailed or worse, where citizens… I hope people understand this. People are given a social score in China, which is you’re given a score of, let’s say 700 points when you’re born. If you go to a church, you lose points because they believe that people who go to churches are not as reliable as people who don’t. So you lose points. If you go to a political rally in favor of the administration, why you gain points. If you go to a rally, against the administration, you lose a lot of points. If you’re seen speaking with a dissonant, you lose points. And if your point number gets low enough, you can’t get a job. So this is the way they intend to manage their people. It’s the way they manage their country. And this is something they’re promoting to other nations around the world. They represent a dramatic departure from the principles of liberal democracy that have characterized the great nations of the earth until this point. And their intent on achieving their objective of world leadership world domination through means which would be illegal if they were done in our country.

And we’ve never faced anything quite like this. Economically they are using their capability to basically run Western companies out of business, to take over industry after industry, to impoverish if you will, other nations and by virtue of their economic might, be able to exercise geopolitical might and of course, fund their military prowess as well. And we as a nation and the West have been sitting back not worrying much about China, thinking about them as a developing country, without recognizing that they are already the second most powerful economy in the world, that they’re investing as much as we are in military hardware. And we’ve got to get serious about this and insist that in order for China to continue to have access to the markets of any free nation, they’re going to have to abide by the rules the rest of us abide by, and we have not done so at this stage. Now I applaud the President for getting tough on China on the basis of the U.S. alone, but the U.S. alone can’t get China to change its ways. We need the U.S. plus our allies and free nations all over the world to come together to confront China. That’s the task ahead of us if we’re going to prevent the threat, which China has vocally expressed to the world.

Larsen:

I think I have a follow-up to that. I want to remind the viewers we’ve collected quite a few questions. If you have a question you’d like me to ask Senator Romney, you can email your question to SI@SIfreedom.org. So please feel free to send questions. Senator, there’ve been a number of things beyond the virus that have drawn focus on China. One being the transition of Hong Kong. Would you characterize our relationship with China today as a cold war, and whether you do or don’t, how are we then left to respond to situations like Jimmy Lai? Where do we step in? Where do we stand back? What do you see as a game plan?

Romney:

Well, at this stage, I don’t see much of a game plan from our nation or from other nations. I raised that with the secretary, secretary Pompeo just about a week ago and said, look, I applaud your most recent addresses describing the threat that’s posed by China, but I don’t see the kind of collaborative strategy worked out by ourselves and our friends around the world. Instead, I see an administration, our own, which has been attacking our allies and being abusive in some respects, pulling troops out of Germany in a way that’s offensive to Germany. We’re doing the opposite of what we need to be doing, which is coming together with our allies. And he said, well he called me Senator, because this was a public hearing. He said, “Senator look, the first stage,” he said, “First, I agree with you. But the first stage is to let our country and other countries know that China really is a threat and that we need to take action together.” And he said, “So we’re now in an awareness campaign.” And he said,you know, he’s part of that campaign and of course I am too. And a lot of others, Tom Cotton and other senators are speaking out which I think is appropriate. But you know, this is just the first stage and where we have to go from here is to, in my view, to link arms with Japan, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, all of the EU Canada, Mexico, Latin America, we need to link arms with these nations and confront China and say, we have a collaborative strategy to determine how we’re going to deal with the outrageous of arresting an advocate for democracy, how we’re going to deal with the militarization of the South China Sea and how we’re going to deal with the economic predation, which China is carrying out.

And we really haven’t done that at this stage. I mean, this is a for instance, if an American company, let’s say an American steel company, when there were a lot of American steel companies, we’ve lost a lot of them, but let’s say back in one of those days, U.S. steel or national steel would have gone around the Midwest and bought up all of the iron ore mines, bought them all up, and then announced “we’re going to only keep iron ore for ourselves. None of the other steel companies can have any.” Why that would be a monopolization effort, which under the Sherman Anti-Trust act would be illegal and it would not be allowed. And there would be fines and sanctions, and people would find themselves behind bars. All right. So we have laws to prevent that, but that’s precisely what China is doing, and we don’t have any way to deal internationally with the fact that China is moving around the world, locking up key materials necessary for manufacture and particularly necessary for national defense.

So as an example, to make stainless steel which obviously is a critical ingredient for national defense, as well as other parts of our economy, to make national steel requires nickel. You have to get nickel and 80% of the world’s nickel is in Indonesia. Well, China has gone to Indonesia, bought their stainless steel company, and now Indonesia has announced that no nickel will be sent out of Indonesia. So guess what? The stainless steel companies around the world are now in extreme distress because they can’t get the nickel they need to manufacture the product. China does this industry after industry and we, the rest of the world, sit there with our mouth hanging open, not knowing what to do. And the answer is what to do is don’t allow China to sell those products into our marketplace. You can’t allow predatory action, which is outlawed by virtually every developed country in their domestic markets you can’t allow it to occur on China’s basis around the world.

So you know, I don’t know that I can tell you how to deal with every single one of these issues, but we faced with China something very different than we did with Russia, which is Russia and the old Soviet Union they were going to be weak forever because they believed in socialism. They believed in government owned enterprises where the government would tell the economy what to do. And that was a failed system. It was a disaster for them. It impoverished them. And it finally collapsed. China has caught on that capitalism works, and they’re now cowboy capitalists applying principles that are effective, but illegal in most developed countries. And we’re sitting here not taking action to stop it, and that we have got to awake to and change

Larsen:

Senator, I can’t help it ask when you stated that way and I appreciate that distinction between the former Soviet Union and China. What then do you make of calls for socialism in the United States?

Romney:

Well, socialism classically is the government ownership of the means of production. I don’t know that that classical form of socialism has been proposed by anybody taking over various companies and so forth. So I don’t think we’re headed in that direction. I do recognize that the democratic side of the aisle, there’s an effort to spend more money and to have government play a larger and larger role in our economy. Some call that socialists and perhaps with a small S and you know, I happen to think that that tends to be less effective. I believe that if we have more and more of our economy run by government or dominated by government, that that will make us less productive. We’ll have an economy which creates fewer jobs and an economy which can afford a smaller and smaller military capacity.

And I don’t know what would happen or what will happen if China is the dominant military player on the planet. But I can’t imagine it would be a good thing because we’re seeing what happens in a place like Hong Kong, what happened at Tibet, the oppression of the Uyghurs. I mean, it’s extraordinary. You’ve got a million people that are basically in concentration camps, in forced labor who were having people come into their homes, forced sterilizations, forced impregnation by people of another race. I mean, it’s extraordinary what’s going on. And yet the world doesn’t know how to respond. And one of the reasons the world doesn’t respond is China’s been so smart. I mean, they spend massive money going into some of the countries that otherwise would respond. Some of the Muslim nations, they spend massive money.

They’re looking at spending a half a trillion dollars in Iran. So of course, Iran is going to be a real friend, and they do this in Pakistan and other places. So these Muslim nations don’t cry out and say, this is an outrage what you’re doing, the Uyghurs, our fellow Muslims. And so it falls to people like the U.S. to talk about that. They’re acting in a way which is brilliant. They’re a lot smarter than the old Soviets were. They may have learned from the lessons of the Soviets. And frankly, we’re not looking as smart as we need to be. And that’s got to change in a hurry.

Larsen:

Thank you. Very interesting. I’d like to stay on China, but I’m mindful of the clock and I want to get in at least a few questions that have been sent in. Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, the information’s come to light. Is it credible? How should we be responding?

Romney:

Well, our intelligence community first has a high degree of confidence that Russia has been supporting the Taliban. And the Taliban of course, has been killing Americans. So that we know and have known for some time. The second element, which is a bounty on the heads of certain people killed, that’s something which the intelligence community says is likely, they believe that is the case. They don’t know that with a perfect degree of precision, of course. If something is known as a fact and is fully verified, it’s no longer intelligence. All right. So intelligence is saying, this is our best estimation based upon our spies and are our interceptions of communications and so forth. I was pleased to see that the secretary of state made it very clear to his counterpart in Russia, that if this turns out to be the truth, that the consequences will be extreme and severe. And I’m glad that message was sent by our secretary of state.

Larsen:

Thank you. A question takes us back to China, but in a different vein and an interesting question for you, given your experience. China is scheduled to host an upcoming Olympic games. Is that a good idea? Should that be used as leverage? What do you see coming on that?

Romney:

You know, having been part of the Olympic movement, I put aside the politics of the host nation and focus on the sacrifice of the athletes around the world that prepare and get their body in a condition to compete at an Olympic level as of a specific date and either canceling an Olympics or changing a location is simply unfair to those athletes. So I would have far preferred China not being chosen as an Olympic site. I think that was a mistake on the part of the IOC, but once that decision is made look, I’m willing to go there. And in my view, our intelligence community, as well as nations around the world ought to do our very best while we’re in China to communicate to the Chinese people that we stand with them in their desire for freedom, that we stand with them and their desire for a free press, for the absence of oppression of the Uyghurs and so forth. So let’s take what is a bad situation and see if we can make it a more positive outcome.

Larsen:

Thank you. I can see a uniquely informed response. Thank you. Here’s a topic ripped from the headlines, mail in voting. So evidence suggests that Utah does a pretty good job with mail in voting and has for some time, and yet other States, admittedly have no infrastructure and would face significantly different problems. Do you share the President’s concern that voting by mail may increase voter fraud?

Romney:

I don’t know of any evidence that voting by mail would increase voter fraud. My biggest concern, frankly, with regards to voting fraud has been that there would be some kind of hacking of our voting electronic systems and that voting machines or tabulating equipment would be hacked either by an American or hacked by a foreign entity. There have been efforts to do so in the past, if that were successful, we would really have no way in some States to know what the right number was because there would be no physical evidence that would be remaining. Now in the case of voting by mail, the good news is that if there were some allegation of impropriety, you’d be able to get the physical ballots and look at them and see if the signatures match the people who were supposedly the voters, whether the person was still alive and so forth, whether people had voted on a multiple basis, these kinds of potential fraudulent actions could actually be evaluated.

It could take some time, but you could do that analysis. So I think voting by mail is probably more secure, at least in my own view, than just electronic voting. But I would prefer us providing additional funds to States that don’t have as effective voting systems as we do here and Utah for voting by mail. I’ve heard some people say they think that the reason the President doesn’t want people to vote by mail is that polls show that people who want to vote by mail tend to vote for Vice President Biden. People who tend to want to vote in person tend to want to vote for President Trump. And so this is a political calculation. Look, my own view is we want people to vote. It is essential in my view for a nation which is the leading nation of democratic nations in the world – the leader of the free world – for us to show that elections can be held in a free and fair manner.

And we should make every effort to assure that who want to vote, get the chance to vote. And that’s more important even than the outcome of the vote. We have got to preserve the principle of democracy or the trend we’re on is going to continue to get worse. Let me just note something. When China went into Hong Kong and brutally repressed the people there, violated the agreement that they entered into to allow Hong Kong to operate in a separate political system. They violated that, they brutally repressed the people there, I think it’s 54 nations combined to write a letter saying, “We disagree with what you have done, China,” but almost twice as many nations wrote to China and said, “We agree with what you’ve done.” That tells you how China has changed the dynamics on the planet.

The idea that a sovereign nation would say, “We agree with your repression of your own people and violating your own agreement.” Think what that says about what China has been able to do with their spending around the world. Their Belt and Road program, where they put money in countries around the world, of the major choke points for ocean commerce around the world. They have ports in almost every single one of those choke point areas, which they put in with their own money. I mean, they’re being very, very smart and we’re sitting back not counting the tea leaves here. So I’m sorry to get back on that topic, but we got to wake up to this and it’s so important for us to preserve the institutions of democracy. I think we had thought for a while that, you know, if people can vote, why do they have a democracy? Well, voting is part of a democracy, but there are institutions which are essential to democracy. A free press is one of them. The rule of law is one of them and independent judiciary is one of them. And when politicians attack a judicial system, attack a voting system, these things, if you will, threaten the attack of free press, these things threaten the foundation upon which not only our own democracy rests, but democracies around the world rest. And many of those democracies around the world are far more fragile than we can imagine.

Larsen:

That’s a stunning report Senator, because with that kind of an approval rating came toward China regarding Hong Kong, that means our allies are among those approving, which is interesting because these are allies who we’ve supported over decades with probably a higher level of magnanimity, magnanimous gesture and you know, China has come in with this intelligence that you’ve cited and the strategy that you cited, where the funds and the assistance they offer other countries does buy a level of support if not turning a blind eye to human rights violations.

Romney:

No question about that. And I mean, I know we’ve helped a lot of countries over many, many years, but if you’re the newly installed authoritarian leader in a country and America has helped that country over decades, but China comes in with a check of a $50 billion to build a new court for you or to build a new airport for you or a series of hospitals, who are you going to pay attention to? The country that has agreed to put in $50 billion in your country, and you’re the new elected authoritarian leader, or the nation that is saying America first, we’re pulling out of the world? And so, you know, as America retreats and China pushes forward, why the nations of the world will line up behind China. I mean, even the Philippines distanced themselves from our military arrangements, the Solomon Islands decided to recognize China’s, if you will, claims over Taiwan. Taiwan, obviously a very sovereign entity but you know, China’s money speaks.

And by the way, so does their military power, which is if you’re in the Pacific and you look at the investment China is making in the Pacific and compare that with our own, you have to say, wow, China’s becoming the power, at least in the Pacific. And you know, if you’re a neighbor there, that’s going to concentrate the mind. I mean, you know, in the South China Sea, Xi Jinping said to President Trump, “We will never militarize, we’ll never put a military base in the South China sea.” And then of course, they went right ahead and did. Got a massive military installation there. I mean, they will proceed in a very brutal and aggressive way. And I note this not to suggest that they’re terrible or bad people.

They have a very different view about how the world should be run. What’s a superior form of government and they’re pursuing their dream in a way that we’re letting them pursue. They will take whatever we let them take. And it’s not just America alone. That’s one of the weaknesses where I criticize our own administration. I applaud the administration getting tough on China, but one nation of 330 million is not going to stop China’s predation. We need all of the free nations that live by the rules to combine if we’re going to be successful in getting them to change course. I’m not expecting us to go to war with them or to be in a cold war, a battle against them. Instead, I want them to be a player in the world. I want our economies to interact and so forth, but I want them to play by the rules. And as long as we tell them they don’t have to play by the rules, that’s what they’ll do.

Larsen:

It’s really fascinating. It’s one of the reasons we at Sutherland hold respect for our elected officials, because they’re asked to step between state interests as elected representatives and geopolitics cannot be ignored. So thank you for being educated on those issues. Watching the clock and this may well be the last question, but I just want to touch on Utah priorities. So a recent survey of Utah voters found that the top three priorities are healthcare costs, K-12 education and jobs and economy. Not surprising giving some of the things we’re dealing with right now. Is there anything you want to report to us about the work you’ve been doing for Utahans in those areas or others that we can look for your leadership in the future?

Romney:

Well, perhaps the most immediate action relates to the next relief effort for COVID-19, which is, will there be a new package or will there not be a COVID relief second package. The package that we on the Republican side, and that I’ve been part of negotiating and crafting, our side has provisions that relate to healthcare and education and certainly jobs. So for instance, our package calls for more money going into hospitals to make sure those hospitals and healthcare systems, which have had a severe financial impact by virtue of stopping elective surgeries. We want to shore up those hospitals, particularly in rural Utah and around our state. That’s number one, number two, in education, we proposed $105 billion going to schools and higher education such that they can provide the technology which our students need.

If they’re going to be remote learning, as well as the social distancing, that’ll be going on for schools that we’ll have in person learning. And then with regards to jobs, we proposed another round of PPP. PPP has been a program that’s helped a lot of small businesses. We proposed extending that with another round this time exclusively to businesses which had had a revenue decline of at least 35%. But all three of those things are designed to help if you will, healthcare, education, and jobs. Now I’ll also note there’s some long-term priorities, which I’ve been working on to help in those arenas. I’m one of those that’s working with regards to something called surprise billing. Individuals sometimes go to a hospital and maybe a hospital inside their system, their insurance system and after they come out of the hospital, they nonetheless get a bill and they don’t know why as well, because perhaps the anesthesiologist that you didn’t even know about was not in your system and they get a bill from the anesthesiologist. So we have proposed legislation to prevent that practice and to make sure that the individual’s insurance company picks up that cost. Likewise, on medicines, I am fully supportive of the President’s executive order that the medicines that are being purchased for Medicare and Medicaid the price we pay is no more than is being paid by other nations around the world. We have got to make sure the prices for our medicines in the U.S. are not so substantially higher from the prices that are being charged in other nations.

Larsen:

Thank you. Thank you. Important topics, all. Senator I’m watching the clock. We have a commitment to keep within a timeframe and so I’m prepared to wrap up our conversation and I’m prepared to give you the final word. If there’s anything you’d like to say to the state of Utah knowing we have a national audience joining us as well.

Romney:

Well, for the national audience, I’d note that people should take a look at Utah because the state of Utah is doing pretty darn well and conservative principles work and we’re seeing that in Utah. If you look at how our economy is fairing, we’re adding jobs at a record level, our state is growing very quickly. It’s growing almost 3% per year, has been over the last decade. It’s growing so fast that a number of us are saying, we need to slow down the growth, and we need to meter who is allowed to bring a facility into Utah because it’s just growing too fast. And we want to make sure that people who come in are bringing the best jobs, not just any jobs. So people should take a look at Utah. Some of the principles are these, one, Utah balances it’s budget every year. Number two, Utah has a low tax rate. Number three, Utah invests in education. I don’t believe I know a single state that invests a larger share of the state budget in higher ed than does Utah. We have a lot of people in higher ed. And then next, with regards to higher ed, we have a massive investment in technical training and technical education. We have institutions across the state that are training people, not just to become investment bankers and lawyers but also to be, to be welders contractors, plumbers, all of the traits, which in many cases are getting better pay than the people who’ve gone into some of the so-called professions. So we’re making those kinds of investments in education of all kinds.

We also are a state that is committed to the preservation of our natural beauties and resources. 70% of our state is federal land. We have five major national parks, more national parks than any other state in the country. These things draw people to our state, so conservative principles work and our state is evidence of that. And I hope in a time like this, that as America struggles with how we proceed and how we go forward, that we don’t jettison the very principles that made us the powerhouse of the world, but instead we embrace them. If there are things that need correction, we correct those things. And there are things that need correction. That’s always the case. I mean, for instance, with regards to free enterprise, I believe in free enterprise, but we have to have antitrust laws or free enterprise doesn’t work. Likewise, I want to have free trade around the world, but you have to have people all abide by the same rules or you don’t have free trade.

So look at the principles that are working and that have worked, improve upon them as necessary. And please be involved with elected officials who are making these decisions let them know what you think. So thanks for the work that you’re doing and appreciate the Sutherland Institute and the contribution you make to our state and to our nation, all the best to you.

Sutherland Institute is pleased to present content from our Congressional Series and other events. Perspectives expressed by guests and participants may not reflect those of Sutherland. The Institute does seek to provide a civil forum to express those views.

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