June 21, 2019

Liz Cheney

Rep. Liz Cheney, the highest ranking House Republican woman ever, joins Firing Line to discuss how she thinks the United States should handle Iran, North Korea and Russia. She makes the case that America is safer under the Trump administration, and says she still believe the promotion of democracy and freedom around the world should be a pillar of U.S. foreign policy.

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She has more than just a famous last name.
She is the highest-ranking Republican woman in the House of Representatives ever.
This week on ‘Firing Line.’

There is one man in particular we all know who certainly has taught me what it means to have the courage in your convictions.
You know who I’m talking about.
[ Cheers and applause ]
She rose to prominence defending the legacy of her father, Vice President Dick Cheney.

Your father said it yesterday.
Liz, your father said yesterday that 14% of them went back —
Waterboarding is not torture.

Now, Liz Cheney has become a national figure in her own right.

If you are for the people, that has to start with being for the most vulnerable among us.

The number-three Republican in the House of Representatives is known for her strong views…
I’m sorry that there are so many anti-Semitic members of the House Democratic Caucus.

…sharp messaging…
I see every day a Speaker of the House who is increasingly losing her grip on the leadership of her conference.

…and hawkish foreign policy.

Why not bring the troops home?

You do not end a war by withdrawing from the battlefield.

Many think she’s just getting started and could be the first Republican Madam Speaker or the next senator from Wyoming.
What does Liz Cheney say now?

‘Firing Line with Margaret Hoover’ is made possible by… Additional funding is provided by… Corporate funding is provided by…
Representative Liz Cheney, welcome to ‘Firing Line.’

Great to be here, Margaret.
Thank you for having me.

It’s a delight.
You came to prominence I think first in this country defending your dad, Vice President Dick Cheney’s reputation in the context of the Obama administration.
But you yourself had served in the State Department in the Bush administration.
You have also followed your father’s footsteps to the House of Representatives, where you have the same job that he had as conference chair.


Which makes you the highest-ranking Republican woman in history in the House of Representatives.
You’re also one of the party’s strongest voices on foreign policy and national security.
And it’s not a theme that is new to you.
I delighted in discovering that you wrote your college thesis on presidential war powers.

We’re going that far back?
[ Laughs ]
Tell me, as you look at the national-security position of the United States today, do you believe that we’re safer today than we were 2 1/2 years ago when President Trump was elected?

Well, I think there’s no question.
I think if you look at the world that President Trump inherited, it was really a world where President Obama and those around him had decided that the problem in the world was America and that we needed to somehow limit America, and he took steps to tie America’s hands, and I would say, for example, when you look at the Iranian nuclear accord.
That was an example of a situation where he really did give tremendous benefits to the Iranians, including cash, that they used to further their terrorist aims and purposes, and so President Trump inherited a situation where a lot of rebuilding was necessary, and he’s done that.

So, people will hear you say that, and they’ll also look at the headlines today, and the headlines today reveal a more bellicose posture that Iran is taking towards the United States.
They reveal, frankly, a more belligerent posture than North Korea is taking towards the United States.
And the headlines, frankly, aren’t great when it comes to Russia or, frankly, China.
So how do you explain to people who feel that the world was safer under the Obama administration, that President Trump has taken steps to make it more secure?

We clearly had a situation during the Obama years where you had cuts in our defense budget, both because of the policy of the administration, also because of action in Congress, and our adversaries, the Russians and the Chinese, used that period of time to develop weapon systems, in some cases, that we can’t defend against to make advances that we haven’t yet made.
And President Trump came in and he said, ‘Look, I’m not gonna go down the path anymore of cutting the defense budget in ways that are unsustainable and forcing our men and women in uniform to operate without the resources they need and of allowing our adversaries to continue to make advances.’
You look at something like what’s going on in Iran.
You know, what you have in Iran is a situation where they have been at war with us ever since 1978, and they’re in a situation where we know that they have continued to support terrorism around the world, continued their ballistic missile development, continued their nuclear weapons programs.
People look at the joint — the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear agreement — and they say, ‘Oh, my gosh, somehow that made us safe and kept us stable, and the instability is President Trump pulling out,’ what that agreement did was essentially give benefits to Iran in a situation which they were not required, for example, to allow inspectors into any of their military facilities.
This president is making clear that he is gonna stand up for our interests.
He’s gonna stand up for American security.
And we’re not gonna be in a position where we are, frankly, appeasing our adversaries in the hope that their behavior will change because we know that won’t keep us safe.

So, we’re gonna get more to Iran, but first I’d like to go back and talk about your role during the Bush administration at the State Department.
You were the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs in the Department of State, and one of the areas of focus was on democracy promotion as a tool for peacekeeping around the world.
And I wonder if you still support and believe that the promotion of democracy is an important tool for securing American peace and support what the Bush administration called the freedom agenda.

I do.
I do believe, absolutely, that those fundamental values of freedom and liberty on which we were founded are morally right and that those are values that we ought to do everything we can to help to support and defend.

And the critics of that, especially in the context of the last administration, will point towards the Middle East and say that there are just some cultures that are culturally inhospitable to the ideas of democracy or the institutions that are prerequisites for democracy.
What do you say to that?

I think that’s racist.
You know, I think if you look at — it’s not just democracy.
Democracy is a very important part of human freedom.
Women’s empowerment is a very important part of freedom, I believe, economic empowerment.
What we know is that all of those elements of free societies are the ones that are successful and the ones that create progress for human beings, and I believe we have a fundamental obligation to help to not just defend those in the United States but our freedom and our success and our economic prosperity depends upon free societies around the world.

Did you think it’s possible for democracy to flourish in the Middle East?

I do.
I mean, I think you have examples of that.
I mean, certainly Israel is an example of that.
So I don’t believe that somehow there are only people of certain races that want to be free.
I think that that, as I said before, I think that’s a racist way to look at it.

Could democracy flourish in Saudi Arabia and in Iran?

I mean, I certainly think that people have the right in all places and at all times to be free.
And I think that when you look today at our relationship with Saudi Arabia, a lot of it — it helps us to block Iran.
It helps us in terms of stability in the region.
But I certainly think — and when I was at the State Department — spent a lot of time talking to the Saudis about how important it was that women not be treated as second-class citizens.
And I think those things still matter, and I think there are many societies, including the Saudis, that have a long way to go in that regard.

Let’s talk about Iran.
You wrote a book with your dad in 2015, and one of the arguments you made about Iran was that the next president, whoever he or she was, should immediately rescind the JCPOA, the nuclear deal with Iran.
Fast-forward to today.
The President has recently decided to send an additional 1,000 troops to the region.
We’ve seen fiery flames on the sides of oil tankers, and Iran has announced that it’s about to break the uranium stockpile, and it’s set by the nuclear deal.
First of all, do you believe Iran is behind the attacks on the oil tankers?


Do you believe that the thing to do is to strike military targets as retaliation?

I think the President ought to be considering that and a number of other options.
When you look at what the Iranians are doing, the sort of bottom-line message of all of this, from the United States and from our allies around the world, has to be that they will not be allowed to continue their support for terror.
They will not be allowed to continue to pursue the kind of military action that results in attacks on commercial shipping in the Straits of Hormuz.
That those kinds of behaviors, that kind of activity is not something that the civilized world will stand by and accept, and so the President, I think, has done the right thing.
Look, what we want is to have maximum pressure, including through sanctions, as you’ve seen, so that the Iranians recognize the behavior has got to stop.
And I do think it’s very important for the Iranians to know that we will defend those shipping lanes, that we will defend freedom of navigation, that we understand the kind of activity they’re engaged in and that it won’t be tolerated.

On May 19th, President Trump tweeted, ‘If Iran wants to fight, that will be the end of Iran.
Never threaten the United States again.’
Is there a risk of using bellicose rhetoric and not acting?

Well, I think that President Trump is, in many, many ways, has demonstrated his willingness to act.
And I think that you see that both with respect to the nuclear deal.
You see that with respect to his decision, for example, when he was meeting with the North Koreans to say, ‘You know what?
I’m gonna walk away from the table.’
I think he’s been pretty clear in terms of the extent to which he is gonna defend this nation.
So I’m — I think actually the bigger risk for the United States comes if our adversaries miscalculate and they believe they can attack us without a response.

What would a hot conflict with Iran look like?

I guess I shy away from saying a hot conflict, a cold conflict.
I think you have to deal with each individual situation as you find it, and the situation we’re in with Iran today is one where they have American blood on their hands.
So the Iranians have been engaged in what looks to me like a hot conflict with us for decades.
We’ve got to ensure that they don’t develop nuclear weapons.
We’ve taken the agreement that basically said, ‘You’ve got a pathway to nuclear weapons in a few years,’ was one, as I’ve said before, that I think was very irresponsible, and I think it’s good that we’ve stepped away from that.

So, is the — What should be the strategic objective of the United States vis-à-vis Iran?
Is it regime collapse?
Is it regime change?

Our strategic objective is to get the behavior to change.

Regime behavior change.

I think the behavior needs to change.
Iranians need to stop their support for terrorism.
The Iranians need to stop their activities that result in the death of Americans and our allies around the world.
The Iranians need to recognize that we won’t be blackmailed into lifting the sanctions.

General Petraeus was on this program a couple of weeks ago, and he said the same thing.
Regime behavior change is what the strategic objective should be.
But General Petraeus wasn’t sure that the objective is achievable based on what he’s seen of the Iranians.
Based on what you know of the Iranians, especially what you’ve written about in your book, that for 20 years, 40 years — the Iranians have never negotiated in good faith — is it possible to change that regime’s behavior?

Well, I think we’ll find out.
And the security of the United States and of our allies around the world depends upon the Iranians not obtaining a nuclear weapon and recognizing that we won’t continue to sort of stand by while they support terrorism and their ballistic missile development and the other malign activities across the region.

Let’s go to North Korea.
North Korea is, after 500-plus days, back to testing ballistic missiles.
I want to show you a clip of what President Trump has recently said.

Do you think he’s still building nuclear weapons?

I don’t know.
I hope not.
He promised me he wouldn’t be.
He promised me he wouldn’t be testing.

So you still trust him?

Well, look.
I couldn’t tell you that.
It would be very insulting to him.
But the answer is, yeah, I believe that he would like to do something.
I believe he respects me.

When he says that, when he says, ‘He promised me he wouldn’t be testing, that he respects me,’ what is your reaction?

Well, I think my first reaction was to a separate part of what he said, which was basically, ‘Why would I tell you, George?’
The President is obviously engaged in an effort to get the North Koreans to stop developing their nuclear weapons, and so the last thing I would expect the President to do would be to sort of lay all of the cards on the table for George Stephanopoulos, with all due respect to George Stephanopoulos.

Is there any part of it, though, when he says — that rings true to you, that President Trump actually means it when he says, ‘Well, he told me he wasn’t gonna test, so I’m gonna take him at face value’?
Look, I think the President is negotiating.
I think that it’s really important, with President Trump and with every president, to judge based on action.
I think at the end of the day that’s what matters, and what President Trump has done is to say, ‘I’m not gonna go down that path.’

So do you think that messaging is a decoy and actually the administration is pulling a hard line behind the scenes?

I think that President Trump, very wisely, is not sharing his negotiating strategy with George Stephanopoulos.

I mean, it’s not just George Stephanopoulos, but what should the administration do, then, to resolve the — this question of a nuclearized North Korea?

Yeah, I think that it’s crucial that we understand that the North Koreans understand that we are demanding complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the peninsula.
I think that it’s important for the Chinese to recognize that it’s not in their interest for a nuclear North Korea to continue on the path that it’s on.
That will cause destabilization in the region.
I think it’s important for the South Koreans to know that the United States will stick by its commitments in the region.
The Japanese, the same.
I think we do need to be able to work with our allies in the region, all of whom recognize that a North Korea that is armed presents a grave danger to all of us.

Is there anything they should be doing differently, the administration?
Because I mean, what you’ve outlined is essentially what the Bush administration tried to do with the six-party talks, and yet we still are in this position where Kim Jong-un is testing missiles again.

I think that the difference is not being so anxious to get a deal that we accept a deal that doesn’t actually accomplish that goal.
And I do think that’s what happened too often.
And I think that’s where the President was right to say to the North Koreans, ‘I am walking away.’

To walk away.

Really, the most important lesson, if you look at the history here, is how much damage it does when the North Koreans convince the United States and the rest of our allies to accept a deal that accomplishes less than that, and then they get the benefits and they get the concessions, but they haven’t actually delivered on what we need to make us safe.

I want to move on to Russia.
And a lot has been made about President Trump and Vladimir Putin and the words they have for each other.
But I’d like to back up to the previous administration because there was wide criticism of the Obama administration from many, including you, about the Obama administration’s Russian reset policy.

So, I think that the Obama administration and Secretary Clinton at the helm at the State Department really sort of fell into this idea that if we somehow extended a hand, that that would fundamentally change the course of that country and of that regime.
And I think the problem is that Vladimir Putin — he’s KGB.
Vladimir Putin is what he is, and he is running that nation with an effort to try to rebuild the Russian empire.
He’s been quoted saying that one of the worst tragedies of the 20th century was the fact that the Soviet Union crumbled.
And so, I think it’s very important for us to recognize they very clearly are adversaries.

So, against that backdrop of President Putin’s aspiration to reassemble Russia as a major geopolitical force, do you think about what would happen if Russia tried to mimic the actions of the invasion of Crimea and Ukraine but with a NATO ally, like Estonia, and what would you support the administration doing in that case?

Absolutely we invoke Article 5.
NATO is the single-most successful military alliance in the history of mankind.
And it is an alliance that depends very much on the Russians recognizing that we will, at all times, come to the aid of NATO members if they’re attacked.
I think that it’s important for us to make sure that the Russians understand that message so they don’t make a miscalculation.

Do you think that there is a risk that they might not understand that because of some of the softer rhetoric that has come from the President towards Russia and towards President Putin?

I think that the policy is clear.
And obviously being in the House of Representatives now, we hear a lot from the Democrats, on an hourly basis, it seems, about allegations that the Trump administration has somehow colluded with the Russians.
But what I see — I sit on the Armed Services Committee, and we worked very hard last week to be able to ensure that the United States would be able to deploy low-yield nuclear weapons on our submarines, which is a technique that the Russians have, that they’re able to deploy.
And the Democrats voted no.
When they have the opportunity to actually arm the United States, they choose instead to help the Russians.

Why do you suppose there’s a disparity between the administration’s actions against Russia and some of the language that the President uses about Russia?

I think Vladimir Putin’s a thug.
I think the Russians have clear intentions.
I think we’ve seen what their intentions are.
I don’t think he’s gonna change.
That’s my view.
And I think that when you see the policy that this President has carried out, it’s policy that I support.

I can tell you don’t want to say it, but would it be helpful if the President had tougher rhetoric towards Vladimir Putin?
Would you like to see him agree with you that Vladimir Putin’s a thug?

Look, I think the President has carried out the policies that are important to keep us safe with respect to Russia, and I think that he ought to be judged based on those actions.

In 1978, William F. Buckley discussed how to balance our national interests with our allies who share our values.
And I’d like to show you a clip from this program when William F. Buckley discussed this dynamic with the Pahlavi dynasty of then-allied Iran.
Let’s take a look.
As we approach our allies and our strategic interests, how do you balance our values and human rights?

We certainly don’t live in a world where we can ensure our security by saying we will only have alliances with other liberal democracies.
But I think that it’s important that, in all of the conversations we have with our allies, we make clear that human rights, women’s issues, democracy, freedom across the board are things that are important to us, things that matter, and they matter fundamentally because it’s right.
Those are fundamental values that are enshrined in our Constitution because we believe those rights come from God.

I’d like to move to the House of Representatives, where you are the highest-ranking Republican woman in the history of Republicans in the House of Representatives.
There are only 13 women in the House of Representatives that are Republicans.
Why do you think there are so few Republican women?

It’s no accident.
Nancy Pelosi was very effective and very targeted and it was a very concerted effort to defeat Republican women.
I think we have to do better.
We’ve got to elect more women.
I also think it’s very important for us to make sure that we are attracting more women voters.

One of the things that distinguishes you is you’re also a mother of five, and we know in the Republican Party that they’re facing a massive generational challenge as well, and as Democrats talk about student debt and issues that have become sexy issues for youth to talk about and engage in, how is the conference chair of the Republican Party thinking about offering alternatives that are attractive to a rising generation?

First of all, we have to make sure that people of all ages, but young people in particular, understand what it means.
When somebody says to you, ‘The government is going to give you a job, guarantee it, the government is gonna make sure that you can go to school for free, the government is gonna make all your decisions for you, you don’t have to do anything,’ what that means fundamentally is you’re gonna lose freedom, whether it’s a Green New Deal or Democratic takeover of healthcare.
Those all come with a huge cost, and that cost is loss of freedom.
And so you have to make a decision.
Are you willing to give the government and some faceless bureaucrats who sit in Washington, D.C., the authority to make those choices for your life?
Fundamentally, that is a system that makes slaves out of people.
So what we have to do is explain to people and make sure people recognize and understand the cost of socialism and the cost that comes and the fraud of socialism.

As you think through all the issues that you and your dad have advocated for together, are there any that you and your dad disagree on?

Yeah, but I’m not gonna tell you what they are, Margaret.

Gay marriage?
Where are you?
Seriously, now that gay marriage has been the law of the land for four years, have you changed your mind about gay marriage?

It’s the law of the land, and there are a huge number of really important issues where we still have open issues that we’ve got to talk about and discuss, and those are the ones that I’m focused on.

So you consider it settled.
You consider it settled.
I always think of your father as having said, ‘Freedom means freedom for everyone,’ and that that really became a rallying cry for conservatives who were in favor of the freedom to marry.

Well, I think, too, what he was talking about was states’ rights, and I think that’s an important issue.
But I think the challenges that we face today are ones that have to do with, you know, the existential nature, and those are really the issues that we’re focused on.

Some suggest that if you stay in the House of Representatives, you could be the first Madam Speaker on the Republican side.
Though there is an open seat in Wyoming, it’s hard to imagine a Liz Cheney, with the policy chops and the robust savvy on world affairs, would not take the opportunity to take a seat in the Senate or run for a seat in the Senate and influence foreign affairs.
When do you suspect that you’ll make a decision about whether you’ll run for the Wyoming Senate seat or stay in the House?

I don’t have a specific deadline.
I’m really busy and focused on what we need to do to combat so many of these issues we’ve talked about.
And right now, really, in so many ways, the House of Representatives is sort of — is ground zero for a lot of these battles, and they’re battles we wage every single day, particularly when it comes to socialism, when it comes to national security.
So that’s what I’ve really been focused on.

Are you conflicted about it?

I am.
I love the House of Representatives and love what we’re able to accomplish there.
The Senate presents a different set of challenges and opportunities, so I haven’t made a decision.
But it’s something that, again, I’m focused on what I’m doing on a daily basis to help make sure that we win the House in 2020 and that we keep the Senate and keep the White House.

Liz Cheney, thank you very much for coming to ‘Firing Line.’

Thank you, Margaret.
Great to be with you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

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