Gavin Jackson sits down with Nikki Haley.
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Gavin Jackson: Welcome to This Week in South Carolina. I'm Gavin Jackson. Almost three months ago, former Governor Nikki Haley launched her campaign for president, and we were there in Charleston on that historic day. Haley joins me in studio to discuss her thoughts on several issues, including abortion, competency in office, and much more, but first, here's a look at her life on the campaign trail.
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): Our people, our moment is now. Our mission is clear. Let's save our country and secure our future, and let's move forward together toward our destiny in a strong and proud America. Thank you. God bless you and God bless America.
Gavin Jackson: That was former Governor Nikki Haley at her formal presidential campaign announcement in Charleston on February 15. Since then, SCETV has followed Haley on her initial swing through the early voting states of New Hampshire and Iowa, where voters got to meet Haley for the first time.
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): Well, hello, Manchester. It's great to be here. I will tell you, you have a beautiful state, but I've told everybody you have a more beautiful motto. I love the fact that you live free or die, because that's really, truly at the heart of America. That's not just New Hampshire.
Gavin Jackson: Haley was the second major candidate to announce her bid following former President Donald Trump, and since then, several more have entered the race, including former Arkansas Governor, ASA Hutchinson, and biotech entrepreneur, Vivek Ramaswamy. Since then, Haley has continued to regularly visit the states that precede South Carolina in the primary process, which will play out in January and February of 2024, including Iowa, where Gloria Mazza is the chairwoman of the Polk County GOP, which hosts candidates ahead of the caucuses.
Gloria Mazza: She has a great message. I thought Nikki Haley was when she was in the UN, I was just, you know, really impressed with her and I know she, you know, was in South Carolina. So, her name is known. A known name is a lot easier to start with. Now where how it comes at the end, it can be totally different, because we know Trump was not a politician, but people knew his name.
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): Alright, Bob thinks about that for a second. (Crowd laughs) How well do you think it would go over if I called President Trump and said do you want to be my VP? (All laugh) Look, let me tell you, I- President Trump is my friend. I called him before I did this. We had a good conversation. He was the right president at the right time. He broke the things that needed to be broken. and he worked to fix them. The reason I'm running is we got to move forward. We got to move forward. We can't keep dealing with these issues in the past and I think that we need a young generation of leaders. I mean, look at Washington, DC. You will see me say all day long, we have got to have term limits in Congress. We've got to have them, (audience applause) and yes, we have to have mental competency tests for everyone over the age of 75. (Audience applause) That’s not personal. We've got seniors who can do many things. The reason why I’m saying that we need that is you should have transparency. Government's supposed to work for the people not the other way around. Bernie Sanders lost his mind because I asked for that. He's exactly the reason we need it. (Crowd applause)
Gavin Jackson: Haley has also been campaigning in South Carolina.
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): ...is that we should try and save as many babies as we can. We should try and support as many women as we can, and you know, whether it was in the legislature when, you know, I supported allowing mothers, you know, to be able to see an ultrasound before they made the decision or whether it was a half a dozen bills that we signed into law, that really protected the lives of babies. That was something that was always very important.
Gavin Jackson: Haley has raised $8.3 million in the first six weeks of her campaign. That money has helped her staff up and travel regularly to early voting states and press the flesh as she works to gain traction, something she also needs to do in her home state as well, where she's running in a close third, according to Scott Huffman’s Winthrop poll.
Scott Huffman: Well, she's got to pick up a little bit of the vacuum that Trump is leaving. DeSantis was trying to fill that vacuum as the Trump culture warrior without all the baggage, but DeSantis has been losing a little bit of ground lately. He's stepping over a few too many lines, doing things that some of the Republican faithful think, “You're not focusing on the right issues." Now, the interesting thing about nationally there is a narrative that Nikki Haley is a moderate, and I really think a lot of that comes from the Confederate flag coming down off of the Statehouse under her tenure and her supporting that, but if you look at her term as governor, she's absolutely not a moderate. She was the queen of the Tea Party in South Carolina, endorsed by Sarah Palin. That's how she got into the governor's mansion. She kept conservative during that. She is extremely conservative, but with less baggage than Trump has, and she is leaning more into the culture war issues than for example, Tim Scott is. So she might be ready to pick up some of the oxygen that’s escaping from the room as people look at Trump and think this might not be the best choice.
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): Then you go, and you look at crime on the streets of America. It's bad, but you know what, that’s what happens when you don't have the backs of law enforcement. That's what happens when you have district attorneys that refuse to prosecute, prosecute anyone that does something illegal. That's what happens when you let lawlessness roam. Look at the border. Look at the lawlessness on the border. We are a country of laws. The second you stop being a country of laws, you give up everything this country was founded on. I still stand by. I've never lost a race. I'm not going to stop now. (Crowd cheers)
Gavin Jackson: Before her rally in Greer this week, former UN Ambassador, turned Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, visited us at South Carolina ETV studios for a wide ranging interview on such issues as abortion, the debt ceiling debate, immigration, the economy, and how she feels about Senator Tim Scott entering the presidential race later this month. Former Governor Nikki Haley, thank you for joining us.
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): It’s great to be here.
Gavin Jackson: So, running for president has been on your list of things to do. It seems like for some time now. It's been about three months on the campaign trail at this point. How's it going? Is it meeting your expectations right now?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC):...first of all, it’s a great day in South Carolina. It's great to be home. It's been great. I mean, you know, this is about touching as many hands as you can. This is about letting them know that I’ve been a two term governor that took a double digit unemployment state and turned it into an economic powerhouse that I was at the UN and I didn't deal with one country, but 193 and took the kick me sign off of our back. So it's not about what I say it’s about what I've done and what we think we can do going forward, and you know, whether it's Iowa, whether it's New Hampshire, whether it's being back in South Carolina, it's good. It's...making sure that we earn their support, and we're going to work hard to do that.
Gavin Jackson: You've been making a lot of waves with your call for mental competency tests for politicians over 75. You've reiterated this call this week with the Fox News op-ed. This would include former President Donald Trump, President Joe Biden, and other folks. Should this be for all politicians? Or why just over 75?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): No, I would be happy if it's 50 and above. I think everybody needs to know whoever they send in office; they need to be at the top of their game. These are people deciding our national security. These are people deciding our children’s economic future. This isn't about a party or a person. This is about the fact that you should be able to take a simple mental competency test without question. I mean, you look at Biden recently, he needed to have a child tell him what country he was in the week before. He didn't know how many grandchildren he had. You look at Dianne Feinstein, like she's 89 years old. She's missed office the last two months. At some point, people deserve to know whether their elected officials can handle the job or not. That's being transparent.
Gavin Jackson: How do you get around the Constitution on this? Because it's a requirement.
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): No, no. I think what you do is basically when you file to run for office, you should submit a mental competency test from your doctor. It's very simple to do. These aren't drawn out tests. This is like naming words that all start with the same letter. This is like, what city you're in? What town, you know, you were at yesterday. What, year it is. These are basic things. People should want to do this, if they're going to run for office.
Gavin Jackson: Have you done one?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): I’m happy to do one.
Gavin Jackson: Because the world’s hard enough for me every day.
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): I mean, look, I'm happy to do one, and I think any elected official that has a problem with it says more about them than it does about the tests themselves.
Gavin Jackson: Governor, you’re taking a lot of heat for saying this about Joe Biden, “If you vote for Joe Biden, you’re really... "you really are counting on a President Harris “talking about Vice President Kamala Harris, “because the idea that he “would make it until 86 years old, “is not something that I think is likely." Do you stand by that? Do you think that's a little harsh?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): Well, first of all, people thought that I said he was going to die. That's not what I was saying. I was saying he wasn't going to finish out his term. I'm saying what everybody’s thinking, I’ve always spoken hard truth. That's a reality. You look at the decline, he’s had just since he’s been President, do you really think he's going to make it to finish that second term? He's not, and so we really are looking at a President Harris. That's just a fact. Anybody that disputes that is not dealing with reality.
Gavin Jackson: So you'd like to see mental competency tests as a requirement. What about primary debates? Do you think that should be you know, if candidates meet certain polling qualifications that they should be on the debate stage?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): Well, I think that's for the parties to decide. The RNC has always decided the rules. The DNC has already decided...always decided the rules, I mean whatever they are, I look forward to being on the debate stage and letting people see who we are, what we're made of and what we're ready to do.
Gavin Jackson: But do you think people should be hearing from everyone who’s considering this high office?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): I think everybody that runs for office should want to be on the debate stage. They should want to earn the right and support of the American people, and the best way to do that is to see somebody on a debate stage.
Gavin Jackson: So Senator Tim Scott, who you appointed, to fill Senator Jim DeMint’s seat in 2012, is set to jump in the presidential race on May 22nd. How does a Tim Scott candidacy affect a Nikki Haley candidacy?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): I mean, welcome to the race, you know, there’s going to be people in there, I think, at the end of the day, people are going to look at what someone has done and what they think they're capable of doing, and so I think you'll have to make that case to the American people as well.
Gavin Jackson: Have you spoken with him at all? Have you talked with him? Are you guys friendly? How do you describe your relationship?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): I’ve not heard from him.
Gavin Jackson: You're going to reach out to him and say, welcome to the race when he jumps in?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): No. I mean, I think that, look, he has every right to run, and you know, we wish him well just, you know, like we wish everybody else well, but at the end of the day ...it's about showing, are you capable, to run the country in a way that's going to get our economic policy back on track that's going to deal with foreign policy issues, and make sure that we make America strong and proud again? I'm determined to do that. I'm not worried about anybody else in the race. I'm just focused on me and my communication with the American people.
Gavin Jackson: I heard your stump speech five times between your announcement in Charleston on February 15, and then your swing through New Hampshire and Iowa over that next week, and then I also heard Senator Tim Scott, give a speech at Drake University. There are a lot of similarities between the both of you, just from your narratives, your experiences and your vision for America. So, how do you stand out from someone like Senator Scott?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): I mean, I think again, I was a two-term governor that took a double digit unemployment state and turned it into an economic powerhouse. I didn't deal with one country I dealt with 193. It's the experience that you have, but more importantly, it’s the results. Look at what we did when I was governor of South Carolina. Not only did we put jobs in every county, but we also moved 35,000 people from welfare to work. We put systems in place in our prisons, so that we trained inmates, so now we have the lowest recidivism rate in the country. We became the beast of the southeast. When I left South Carolina. We were the most patriotic state, the friendliest state in the country. We were named the number two state in the country, people were moving to. We passed voter ID. We made sure that we passed the toughest illegal immigration law in the country. I mean, I think my record speaks for itself. The South Carolinians were very good to me, and we're looking forward to showing our record and what we can do to the American people.
Gavin Jackson: So I know it’s early still, but South Carolina polling shows you in a dead heat against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, for second place. You're both still trailing former President Trump. This Winthrop poll shows Trump at 41%, DeSantis at 20%, and you at 18%. So right within that margin of error, Senator Scott's at 7%. What do those numbers tell you at this point? How do you break through where you are at this point?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): They don't say anything. You can look at any presidential race, and it's a fact, the polls you see today will not be the polls you see a year from now. We are the only candidate right now that are really going to Iowa, New Hampshire and doing the hand to hand combat, making sure we do full townhalls, answering any questions they have. They want to see your multiple times. You can't do a rally and then leave. They want to make sure you earn it, just like South Carolinians want to see that you earn it, and so we’re not taking any shortcuts. We're doing it the hard way. No one will outwork me, but we’re going to make sure that people understand why I’m doing this. I'm doing this because my parents moved here 50 years ago to an America that was strong and proud. I want them to know they made the right decision. I'm doing this for Michael and his military brothers and sisters. They need to know their sacrifice mattered that we do love our country. I'm doing this for my daughter because she and her husband, she just got married, I see how hard it was for them to buy a home, and on top of that, I raised her to have a good credit rating, and now she's getting hit for that too. I'm doing this for my son because I see him writing papers of things, he doesn't believe in just to get an A. That's not us, and when 78% of Americans think their kids won’t have as good of a life as they did. I don’t trust anybody else to fix it. It's time for us to get to work and make people proud again.
Gavin Jackson: Similar, along those lines, a CBS News poll of likely GOP voters found that voters prefer a candidate who challenges woke ideas, opposes any gun restrictions, says Trump won 2020 It makes liberals angry. Are you that candidate? Do you believe that?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): I think I’m the new generational candidate that’s going to get all the distractions out and start focusing on results. People need to know government is there to serve the people not the other way around. Government's gotten too bloated. The spending has gotten too much. We feel it in our wallets. Why is Congress the only group that doesn't balance a budget when everybody else does? Why don't we have term limits? Why aren't we energy independent? Why don't we have a strong military? There are so many things we need to get to work. All of these distractions are killing us. We've got to get back on track for the sake of our kids.
Gavin Jackson: Do you think talking about the 2020 election as being stolen is a distraction.
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): Right now, it’s in the past. Let's talk about the future. You know whether that comes up again and again. It's not doing any of us any favors moving forward, and when America’s distracted, the world is less safe, and we're seeing that play out right now.
Gavin Jackson: Governor, we’re talking about abortion being a big issue right now. Of course, it's legal up to 22 weeks in South Carolina that they rarely happen after 15 weeks in our state, but should it be more restrictive than that, in your opinion?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): I think that what I'm very happy about is that once Roe was overturned, it took it from unelected justices, and it put it back in the hands of the people. Now, we're seeing that consensus play out in multiple states, and we'll see it play out at the federal level. What I will tell you, I’m strongly pro-life, not because the party tells me to be but because my husband was adopted. I had trouble, you know, having both of my children. I would love it if every state was pro-life, but they haven’t been some have erred on the side of being more pro-abortion. I wish that wasn't the case. Some have erred on the side of being more pro-life. I love that, but we’re allowing the people to decide, and I think that’s what’s most important.
Gavin Jackson: But there's not a consensus in South Carolina right now, it seems like there's a near total abortion ban bill that can't get through the Senate, and there's a Senate approved six week abortion ban bill that's in the house. What would your message be to the house right now, if you were still governor?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): That’s democracy. That's democracy. That's what I love is finally it's the people’s voices and their representatives going and debating out what's in the best interest of South Carolina. That's exactly what should be happening.
Gavin Jackson: But is a six week ...ban better than nothing at all at this point?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): You know, it’s not for us to sit there and point on which weeks are better. You know, this played out Gavin, when, you know, when we moved to bring the Confederate flag down. The reason that we were able to get two thirds vote of the house, two thirds vote of the Senate, is because we didn't judge either side. We brought out the best in people and got them to see a way forward. That's the key is don’t start judging people on what weeks they're for, or what exemptions they're for. Why don't we talk about how do we save as many babies as possible, and support as many moms in the process? That should be the overall goal. and consensus should be the way we get there?
Gavin Jackson: When you talk about the Confederate flag, is that something you...rarely talk about on the campaign trail? Or how often do you feel like you need to bring that up? and is that something that you usually do just to talk about unity or moving things forward? I mean, how do you, gauge when to bring that story up?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): It was painful. It was painful. It was painful for me. It was painful for our state. It's...you know, I'm so proud of how the people of South Carolina stood up and showed the world what strength and grace look like, but you know, it was a sad moment, and I think so I'm very respectful about when I talk about it and how I talk about it, because I know the pain that it caused, but I also know that we didn't, you know, this was on the heels of Ferguson. We didn't have riots and protests. We had vigils and hugs. How amazing is that? And so, I don't want to ever trivialize it. I want to make sure people remember the good in it, and not sit there and politicize what happened and the bad of it.
Gavin Jackson: Obviously, that came after the horrific massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church, but before that, you always said, you know, no CEO would ever talked to you about bringing the flag down, but talking about CEOs, we're looking at the fallout from Disney, the don't say gay law in Florida. You said, you know, if Disney wants to relocate to South Carolina, they can do so. How do you...mesh that with folks saying, well, if it's harmful for Florida, why would it be beneficial for South Carolina?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): So first of all, South Carolina is not an anti-woke state. I mean, we know that. We hopefully never will be, but this is the fact that look, it started with the don’t say gay bill, right, basically, where they said that you couldn't talk about gender before third grade. I had been public to say, I don't think that went far enough. I don't think the role of government bureaucrats in schools should be telling kids about gender. That's something for parents to have that conversation with them on. So if that was the case of what started it, you know, here you've had Disney, who went and criticized the governor for it. The governor took $50,000 in contributions from Disney prior to that, the governor went and passed the largest like, benefit, state benefits for a corporation in Florida history before that, and suddenly when they go and criticize the governor, he wants to waste taxpayer dollars getting in a lawsuit, why not sit in a room and hash it out? I had worked with all of our business leaders as partners, because I knew if you gave a person a job, you took care of families. If we had - I had business leaders criticize me, I picked up the phone and I called them I got in a room. I didn't sit there and have taxpayer dollars for lawsuits. I think that's what needs to happen when this goes forward, and I think once the governor talks to the executives, and they come to terms with things, I think things will be better, but look, that is, you know, $70,000, 70,000 jobs and billions of dollars. I've always sold South Carolina. So, you know, if a company wants to come to South Carolina, we'll take them.
Gavin Jackson: So you think DeSantis really bundled this up pretty good?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): I think he could do better. I think that this is one of those situations where don't take it personally. Instead, do what's in the best interest of Floridians, and make sure that one, best use of taxpayer dollars. Two, make sure that you work it out with the executives on what legislation passes and what it means and don't take it personally and get into lawsuits. That doesn't- nobody wants with that.
Gavin Jackson: So, would you call it a business like BMW or Boeing, if they had some sort of advocacy for some of the policies?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): That happened? You know, I mean, I think I remember many of our tire companies, they criticized me because I wouldn't raise taxes on gas, and you know, but I picked up the phone, and I called them and they had the right to say what they thought that's freedom of speech and freedom to do what they want. I had the right to defend the fact that I didn't think we needed to raise taxes in this state, and we talked it out. We didn't play it out in lawsuits.
Gavin Jackson: Let's talk about the debt for a minute, or I should say, sorry, immigration. Department of Homeland Security has requested 1500 troops down to the border to support its mission down there. This is because of the expected surge from the Title 42 being repealed. You've been down to the border, what needs to be done to secure it, and how do you make the policy reforms necessary if Congress is so divided?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): I didn't go show up and do a picture and leave. I went along 400 miles of that border, and Gavin, what I saw was immoral. I mean, the idea that we get up in the morning and you drink your coffee, and you turn on the news. Those ranchers get up in the morning. They get their coffee, and they see if anyone died crossing that fence. They see if there were any kids that were left behind. I spoke with the sheriff’s and they said that they get before 7am, they rally up illegal immigrants, take them to Border Patrol, border patrol documents them and releases them for two to three years before their court date. I talked to Border Patrol and they said you know what our jobs are? We’re glorified babysitters. They don't let us do our job. This is a national security threat. When I was governor, we passed one of the toughest illegal immigration laws in the country. We did a mandatory Reverify that said no business could hire anyone here illegally. We need to do that across the country. We need to defund sanctuary cities. We need to fire the 87,000 IRS agents and hire 25,000 Border Patrol and ICE agents and put them on the ground. We need to make sure we go back to remain in Mexico because no one wants to remain in Mexico. and we need to keep Title 42, and more than that, instead of catch and release, we need to catch and deport. That's how we will go and stop the flow of illegal immigration.
Gavin Jackson: When you talk about closing the borders too, what does that entail? I mean, does that mean curtailing the flow of commerce, curtailing illegal immigration, asylum? How do you...close the border?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): Two different issues. So illegal immigration, you deal with it because we're a country of laws. The second you stop being a country of laws, you give up everything this country was founded on. Legal immigration, we need to make sure we take the bureaucracy out of it. You vet people and you approve them quickly, or you deny them quickly, but we don't do it based on quotas and numbers. We do it based on merit. What do we need in our country that will make our economy stronger? What do we need that will improve us? When we start looking at legal immigration in terms of merit, that's when we'll actually become a stronger and better country.
Gavin Jackson: You're talking about the economy. We're wrapping up here in a moment, but the debt ceiling debate is obviously one... everyone's paying attention to because we're going to reach the debt ceiling on June 1, apparently. So markets are getting edgy, previous debt ceiling fights have hurt the economy. Where do you stand? Should they bring negotiations over this? Should this just be a clean bill? Where do you stand on this?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): First, let's look at how we got there. It wasn’t just Biden that did that. Our Republicans did that to us too. The spending is out of control. The idea that, that we passed a $2.2 trillion COVID stimulus bill and Congress passed that 419 to 6 in the House, 96 to 0 in the Senate. It expanded welfare, 90 million people on Medicaid, 42 million Americans on food stamps, and then they double down and start opening up, Republicans opened up earmarks again. You know, seven and a half million for horse racing in Arizona, 30 million for an Honors College in Vermont. Stop the spending. Stop the borrowing, and let's get our fiscal house in order. I don't think they need to allow, you know, the debt limit to expire, but I do think that they need to put measures in place that are actually going to pay down the debt and reduce the spending.
Gavin Jackson: What about the House Republican plan cutting $4.5 trillion in cuts? That's about 22% reduction in domestic spending? Is that the way to go about this now? Or is that something that happens later after we make sure we don't default?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): I mean, I think it's a start. We need to put measures in place that not only show what we're going to cut in terms of the frivolous spending that we have, but also how are we going to reduce the debt? Our kids are not going to forgive us for this if we don’t fix the economy.
Gavin Jackson: Really just wrapping up here. ...You're big on transparency, obviously, right? Because of getting all the record votes in the House when you were in the statehouse, and you talked about that on the campaign trail a good bit, too. So, should there be greater oversight when it comes to the US Supreme Court? We're talking about these folks that are not elected, but they hold a lot of power, and there's been a lot of controversy over some recent reporting involving some of the justices. How do you see that playing out? Should there be stronger ethical guidelines? Should Congress have oversight?
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): Transparency cures all things. You know, I made our budgets transparent. I've, you know, made all of our agencies go online so that taxpayers could see them. I think everybody that represents the American people in any way whatsoever should be as transparent as possible. I think the American people deserve that.
Gavin Jackson: Last question. Is there any federal agency that you would cut? I know some presidential candidates have proposed that before but anything that comes to mind for you.
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): I would send a team into every single agency and tell them to cut regulations, cut bureaucracy, take out any people that are problems in there and make sure that we go back to where people who work in agencies can only serve five years in one job. They have to rotate into other jobs. We can't have any fiefdoms or power structures there. I did that in South Carolina. We gutted some of our agencies. We propped up the others. We've got to go in and really fix this. Instead of politicizing agencies, they need to start working for the American people again.
Gavin Jackson: Former Governor Nikki Haley, thank you so much. We'll see you on the trail.
Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): Thank you. Great to see you.
Gavin Jackson: For South Carolina ETV. I'm Gavin Jackson. Be well, South Carolina.