Sunday, September 24, 2023

Takeaways from CNN’s town hall with Nikki Haley | CNN Politics

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Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and 2024 Republican presidential contender, sharply criticized the party’s top-polling candidates in a CNN town hall in Iowa on Sunday.

Former President Donald Trump, Haley’s former boss when she served as ambassador to the United Nations, was wrong, she said, to defend the actions of his supporters at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 – which she called a “terrible day.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, she said, is hypocritical to spend taxpayer dollars on a legal battle with Disney over what started as a policy agreement.

“All this vendetta stuff? We’ve been down that road,” Haley said, in a two-for-one swipe at both rivals.

She made a forceful case for the United States’ involvement in Ukraine’s war with Russia, a break from both Trump and DeSantis.

And she referred frequently to her time as South Carolina governor, touting her efforts to remove the Confederate flag from the state flag, voter identification laws passed on her watch and more.

Haley said she’ll support whoever wins the Republican presidential primary. But, she said, “I don’t play for second. I never have; I’m not going to start.”

Here are eight takeaways from Haley’s town hall:

While Trump and DeSantis have made headlines with their wobbly positions on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Haley made a clear case for continued American involvement in the war, arguing that victory for Russia would set off an even more deadly global crisis.

“This is bigger than Ukraine,” Haley said during the CNN town hall, “this is a war about freedom and it’s one we have to win.

Haley’s comments represented a clear break from Trump, who appointed her ambassador to the United Nations, who has often touted his good relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin – a man she labeled a tyrant.

“For them to sit there and say this is just a territorial dispute, that’s just not the case,” Haley added in a barb aimed for DeSantis who initially labeled the war that way before backtracking.

Haley also called out Trump for congratulating North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last week after the hermit kingdom was elected to the World Health Organization’s executive board.

“Congratulate our friends, don’t congratulate our enemies,” Haley said, while also calling the WHO a “farce.”

Still, Haley’s sharpest words on foreign policy were directed at Biden, whom she blamed for setting the stage for Russian aggression by mishandling the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

“We’ve got chaos everywhere and none of that would’ve happened,” she said, if not for the clumsy – and deadly – departure from the country the US invaded in 2001.

Haley breaks with Donald Trump on Putin and Ukraine

Haley said she believes there is a “federal role” in restricting abortion rights. But she wouldn’t directly answer questions about at what point in pregnancies she would seek to outlaw abortion.

Instead, Haley said she would seek a consensus that could clear the House and the Senate’s 60-vote threshold to end a filibuster.

She said she believes such a consensus measure would include banning late-term abortions, encouraging adoptions, making contraceptives more widely available and making clear that women who have abortions would not be jailed.

“Can’t we start there? Because what the politicos and what the media have done is they’ve made you demonize the situation when it’s so personal that we have to humanize the situation,” Haley said. “Our goal should always be, how do we save as many babies as we can, and support as many mothers as we do it.”

She said she is “unapologetically pro-life” because her husband was adopted and she “had trouble having both of my children.”

But, Haley added, “I don’t judge anyone for being pro-choice any more than I want them to judge me for being pro-life.”

video thumb haley town hall abortion

Hear Nikki Haley answer questions about abortion

Haley for the first time on the trail came out against gun restrictions known as “red flag” laws, which allow officials to temporarily take away firearms from people determined by a judge to be a threat to themselves or others.

The laws, which have become popular in Democratic-run states, have angered many Republicans and gun rights advocates.

“I don’t trust the government to deal with red flag laws. I don’t trust that they won’t take them away from people who rightfully deserve to have them,” Haley said. “Because you’ve got someone else judging whether someone else should have a gun or not.”

As the number of mass shootings in the US approaches record numbers, and with Republicans blocking efforts to change laws at the federal level, Democrats have increasingly sought to restrict gun access at the local level.

Supporters of the measures argue that, in a sharp contrast with Haley’s point of view, they actually put more power in the hands of regular citizens – especially those who are most likely to be victims of gun violence.

Red flag laws or “extreme risk protection orders,” as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently said, “have been proven to reduce suicides, save lives, and keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and violent criminals.”

Haley accused Trump and DeSantis of failing to level with Americans about the sustainability of popular programs like Medicare and Social Security, arguing that big changes need to be made to keep both solvent.

“I think they’re not being honest with the American people,” Haley said of her GOP primary rivals, who have both promised not to touch entitlements.

On the trail, Haley has called for raising the retirement age for people currently in their 20s and limiting Social Security and Medicare benefits for wealthier Americans.

Recent comments aside, the Trump administration’s budget proposals included cuts to such social programs and DeSantis previously expressed support for privatizing Medicare and Social Security during his first campaign for Congress in 2012.

“We can’t keep kicking this can down the road,” Haley said. “And I know that Trump and DeSantis have both said we’re not going to deal with entitlement reform – well, all you’re doing is leaving it for the next president and that’s leaving a lot of Americans in trouble.”

In a statement, the Democratic National Committee’s rapid response team accused Haley of “shamelessly campaigning to end Social Security and Medicare as we know it — which would hurt hard working families and seniors across the country.”

Haley said her former boss, Trump, is wrong to defend the events of January 6, 2021, when his supporters rioted at the US Capitol as Congress counted electoral college votes.

“He thinks it was a beautiful day; I think it was a terrible day. I’ll always stand by that,” she said.

Haley did not repeat the wild conspiracy theories that Trump and his supporters have spread about the 2020 election, and she acknowledged that “President Biden is the president.”

She said, though, that while it wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the 2020 election, efforts to expand voting access during the pandemic in 2020 were problematic. And she endorsed “election integrity” laws such as voter identification requirements that many Republican-led states have enacted since then. Many critics have said those laws will make it more difficult for some people, especially marginalized groups, to cast ballots.

“I think it’s important that voters want to have election integrity. That’s the biggest thing,” Haley said. “There’s nothing worse than when a country and their citizens don’t trust the election system.”

As DeSantis’ clash with Disney heads to a courtroom, Haley described the Florida governor’s fight with the entertainment company as a sign of “hypocrisy” and criticized him using public funds to pursue a private grudge.

Noting DeSantis’ once-clubby relationship with Disney and its top executives, Haley said his sudden reversal – following Disney’s opposition to his so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation – was petty and a waste of resources.

“Because they went and criticized him, now he’s going to spend taxpayer dollars on a lawsuit,” Haley said, before adding a jab that might as well have been aimed at Trump too. “All this vendetta stuff, we’ve been down that road,” she said, “we can’t go down that (road).”

“Pick up the phone, settle it the way you should,” Haley said.

The former South Carolina governor did not fault DeSantis over the law itself, saying she would have gone further than Florida Republicans did in the original bill, which forbade “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity (for young students),” as its authors wrote in a preamble.

“They should not be talking to our kids about gender, period,” Haley said of educators. “That’s what parents talk to our kids about.”

Haley staked out a tough approach to China, saying the country “without question is our No. 1 national security threat.”

She said she would not seek to restrict trade with China on consumer goods and agricultural products. But she said she would seek to stop U.S. exports of tech equipment to China.

She also said the coronavirus pandemic revealed the United States’ over-reliance on Chinese goods.

“What I will focus on is when I become president, the very first day you look at it and say, if China pulls the rug out from us tomorrow, would we be ready? Would we be safe?” Haley said.

Haley said she would sanction China for its role in supplying fentanyl that arrives in the United States, often via Mexican cartels.

“There’s nothing that they dislike more than when we hit their wallet,” she said.

She stopped short, though, of endorsing President Joe Biden’s position that US forces would defend Taiwan if China invades.

“No, what I will tell you is, we are going to make sure they have the equipment, the ammunition and the training to win themselves,” Haley said.

Haley on Sunday spoke about her husband Michael’s coming deployment overseas for the first time since it was announced last week, joking that “he seems to find really interesting times” to be called to serve.

“We’re so proud,” Haley said, noting that her husband, a major in the South Carolina Army National Guard, was also deployed during her time as governor. “Deployments are never convenient, but they’re necessary.”

Haley also directed a message at fellow military families, praising their resilience, and saying it was their – and her – job “to keep all well on the home front.”

Of her own relationship, Haley described it as mutually supportive and a model for other military families.

“I’m blessed because I have always supported every way he wants to serve his country, and he has always supported every way I want to serve my country. So I’m a lucky girl,” Haley said, adding: “To every military spouse, we can do this.

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