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Transcript: 2024 GOP presidential hopeful Nikki Haley on "Face the Nation," Jan. 21, 2024

Haley: Trump "tried to buddy up with dictators"
Nikki Haley says Trump "tried to buddy up with dictators" while in office 09:38

The following is a transcript of an interview with 2024 GOP presidential hopeful Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., that aired on Jan. 21, 2024.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Good morning and welcome to Face The Nation. The New Hampshire primary is just two days away. Can anyone stop the Trump steamroll towards the Republican nomination? We go now to former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, who is hoping to be the one to stop him. She's on the campaign trail in Derry, New Hampshire. Good morning to you.

NIKKI HALEY: Good morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: As you know, our CBS polling shows that you are the Republican candidate with the best chance at beating Joe Biden in a head-to-head race. And yet, Donald Trump is the party's frontrunner. Why do you think, Ambassador, that the Republican establishment isn't doing more to help you?

NIKKI HALEY: Well, I mean, this is what primaries are all about. This is about the fact that, you know, people get to decide which way they want to go forward. What I have said, as you can either pick more of the same, or you can go forward with the new generational leader. More of the same is, you know, the fact that you've got 70% of Americans don't want to see a Trump-Biden rematch. More of the same as the fact that both of these presidents put us trillions of dollars in debt. And our kids are never going to forgive us for it. More of the same is the fact that we're gonna have two presidential candidates in their 80s. That's not what our kids want. That's not what we should want. You know, more of the same is the fact that we can't be a country in disarray and have a world on fire and go through four more years of chaos. We won't survive it. We've got to get a new generational leader. I'm making my case to the people of New Hampshire. New Hampshire sees it for what it is, they know that responsibility, and we're going to try and bring this home in two days.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well 26 Republican senators at this point and all of the House Republican leadership have lined up behind Donald Trump. Why? Are they afraid of him?

NIKKI HALEY: Not surprised at all. And I'll tell you why. You'll see a lot of the South Carolina legislature line up behind him too. And it's because I've never really taken care of elected officials. You know, I've forced South Carolina legislature, they had to show their votes on the record. I made them pass ethics reform. I vetoed half a billion dollars worth of their pet projects. You look at Congress, what have I done? I said I want term limits. I said that I don't think they should get paid if they don't give us a budget on time. I've talked about mental competency tests. I call out elected officials because I think they need to be accountable to the people. I call out Republicans and Democrats when they don't do the right thing. So it's not surprising that that set is going towards Trump because he's going to take care of them. I'm not going to do that. I'm going to take care of the taxpayers. I've always done that my entire career, and I'll keep on doing it. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Can you win in North Carolina- and excuse me- can you win in South Carolina?

NIKKI HALEY: I won twice as governor.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, as you just laid out, the South Carolina establishment is lining up behind Donald Trump. I want to ask you about something-- 

NIKKI HALEY: -- I mean, I'll remind you I was a tea party governor at the time, so I didn't have the establishment when I ran for governor the first time. I ran against the Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General, and a very popular congressman and I still won. And so it's about being down on the ground with the people and I plan on doing that again.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. Former President Trump on Friday, repeatedly and wrongly said that you were in charge of the January 6 security response at the Capitol, and he said your name four times. I want to play this for our viewers.

DONALD TRUMP: They never report the crowd on January 6, you know, Nikki Haley, Nikki Haley, Nikki Haley. You know, they- did you know, they destroyed all of the information, all of the evidence, everything deleted and destroyed all of it. All of it. Because of lots of things like Nikki Haley, is in charge of security.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It's unclear what he's talking about as being deleted. But you said yesterday, hearing this made you question Donald Trump's mental fitness. Is that the first time you questioned his mental fitness?

NIKKI HALEY: If you look, recently, there have been multiple things. I mean, he's claimed that Joe Biden was going to get us into World War II. I'm assuming he met World War three. He said that he ran against President Obama. He never ran against President Obama. He says that I'm the one that kept security from Jan- from the Capitol on January 6. I was nowhere near the Capitol on January 6. But Margaret, you don't be surprised if you have someone that's 80 in office, their mental stability is going to continue to decline. That's just human nature. We know that. What I'm saying is, first of all, you're talking about somebody who's only going to be in office four years. Secondly, you're talking about someone who continues to- I mean, look, I don't know if he was confused. I don't know what happened. But it should be enough to send us a warning sign that if you look, Joe Biden, he's very different than he was two years ago. Are we really going to go into a situation where we have wars around the world, and we're trying to prevent war, and we're going to have someone who we can or can't be sure that they're going to get confused?
It's a real issue. That's not being disrespectful. It's just a fact.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why do you think Trump's voters care about that? And when you worked in his Cabinet, did you ever question his mental fitness?

NIKKI HALEY: When I worked in his Cabinet, I called him out if he was doing something wrong, I mean, I would show up, I pick up the phone and say "you can't do this. Instead, you could do X, Y, or Z," you know, so I always told him what I thought was in the best interest of the country when I was in his Cabinet. But this is different. I mean, we're seeing he's just not at the same level he was at 2016. I think we're seeing some of that decline. But more than that, what I'll say is, focus on the fact that no matter what it is, chaos follows him. Rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: -- Does he cause it? 

NIKKI HALEY: -- and America's tired. In some cases, he causes it. In some cases, he doesn't. But regardless, he's like a magnet to it. And so what happens is that puts the rest of America in chaos, and people are tired, and they're worried. I mean, kids right now in their 20s, they don't know if they're ever going to be able to afford a home. They don't know how this debt is gonna get paid down. They don't know if they're gonna find a job. You see people living- 60% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck. People talk about the economy that Donald Trump had us in, it was good, but he put us $8 trillion in debt in just four years. That's not what you do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about an ad that you have released that includes video and testimony from the mother of Otto Warmbier, who was an American student from the University of Virginia, who was taken prisoner in North- North Korea and died, as you know, after the Trump administration did bring him home. Pundits say national security does not matter to voters. Why do you think this story is one you need to tell?

NIKKI HALEY: I think this really does show the contrast. So I worked with Cindy and Fred Warmbier. They're amazing people. And I will tell you as a parent, no parent wants to see their child returned to them the way they saw Otto returned. This was a happy, smart kid, he went to North Korea. And I mean, the thugs in North Korea tortured him and returned him back in a state that- that is unconscionable. And the difference is I told Fred and Cindy, speak up, get loud, make sure I will help you, let's partner. We're gonna call North Korea out. I passed the largest set of sanctions against them in a generation by pushing China and Russia to do it. But what did Trump do? Instead, he talked about love letters going back and forth to Kim Jong-Un Cindy would contact me she was so upset. And he went and said, "Oh, but Kim said that he wasn't aware of any torture that happened to Otto." All you had to do was look at Otto when he was returned back to his parents. But this goes back to a pattern. I mean, we saw this over and over again. It's not just that he congratulated China's President Xi, a dozen times after China gave us COVID. He congratulated the Chinese Communist Party on their 70th anniversary. We don't congratulate the Communist Chinese party. I remember at the United Nations, I had to sit him down and tell him to stop this bromance with Putin. I mean, you can't have someone who's trying to buddy up with dictators that want to kill us. Instead, you have to let them know what we expect of them. That's the difference. And when you've got wars all over the world now, and the instability that we had, our goal is to prevent war. And we can't do that by trying to buddy up with them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about clarifying your position here, because you've spoken about the complexity of the abortion, abortion issue personally for you. And you've said there's no national consensus, so there won't be a federal law. But you've also said if there were one passed, if it were six weeks, it was 15 weeks, or it was restrictions after 20 weeks, which you signed when you were governor, that you'd be okay with that. When we spoke yesterday to Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, she said that you would sign a national abortion ban. Would you?

NIKKI HALEY: You know, it's so interesting, because this is a- you can't say that to the American people because all you're doing is putting fear and judgment in them. Yes, I'm unapologetically pro-life, but I don't judge anyone for being pro-choice. I've said I'm fine with a federal law. But the thing is, in order to get a federal law, you have to have a majority of the House, 60 senators and a signature of the President. Margaret, we haven't had 60 Republican senators in over 100 years. So no Republican president can ban abortions, any more than a Democrat president can ban any state law. What we can do is let's find consensus. I think we can find consensus to ban late-term abortions. I think we can find consensus to encourage adoptions and good quality adoptions. I think we can find consensus that doctors and nurses who don't believe in abortion shouldn't have to perform them. I think we can find consensus that contraception should be accessible, and I think we should find consensus that any woman who has an abortion, no state law should say she's going to jail or getting the death penalty. I will not demonize this issue. It's too personal. We have to start doing that. Democrats use fear and Republicans use judgment. This is too personal of an issue to use fear or judgment and I won't be a part of any of that. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay, but you're not taking a ban off the table, which allows for Democrats to say that, that you would be on board. Can you say– 

NIKKI HALEY:–You are not– 

MARGARET BRENNAN: –You will not –

NIKKI HALEY: 60 senators- 60 senators would never approve a ban on abortion. That's a fact. That's a fact. So why put out something that's implying something's going to happen to the American people that is a lie. That's never going to happen with that–

NIKKI HALEY: You're not going to get 60 senators to agree to a ban


MARGARET BRENNAN: -- But you know democrats are using this as a way to motivate voters. Democrats are using this as a way to motivate voters -- 

NIKKI HALEY: -- Democrats-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: –so that they do get the math to add up one day. So if the math does add up-- 

NIKKI HALEY: -- No -- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: -- one day, would you sign a ban?

NIKKI HALEY: This is the problem with Democrats. Democrats put fear in the American people. The American people don't need fear. They need confidence. They need security. They need to know that everything's gonna be okay. When it comes to the abortion issue, I will never put fear in the American people. I will tell them the hard truth. The hard truth is 60 senators will never agree to a full ban on abortion. That's a fact; Republicans or Democrats. 60 senators are not going to agree to that. I don't know what 60 senators are going to agree to. Right now they don't even agree to 15 weeks. So we've got a long way to go. Our goal should be how do we save as many babies as we can and support as many moms as we can. I had a roommate in college who was raped. I would never wish on anybody what she went through, wondering if she was pregnant. Everybody has a story. Let's be respectful of that. Stop putting fear into people thinking something's going to happen. That's not going to happen.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Governor, we have to leave it there. Thank you for your time. Face the Nation will be back in one minute with Michigan Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer. Stay with us.

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