Former New York Governor George Pataki joined me to talk 2016 today:
HH: I am beginning this hour with Governor George Pataki, former four term governor of the Empire State, the great state of New York. Governor Pataki, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, it’s always good to talk to you.
GP: Good morning, Hugh, nice talking to you again.
HH: You have saved my perfect game. I have talked to every would-be Republican presidential nominee except you in 2015. And so now that I’ve got you up at the plate, I’ve at least got a perfect game, so thank you.
GP: Hey, you have a perfect game so far, but who knows, there might be more.
HH: Now I’ve got to ask you, it appears as though you’re running, and I just sort of want to confirm that. Is that the case?
GP: Well, I’ll tell you, I’m closer to making that decision than I’ve been in the past. And I kid up in New Hampshire that every four years, there’s the World Cup, the Olympics, and I show up thinking of running. But this time, I’ve taken a lot more aggressive steps, and I think the reason is very simple. I think the situation in the world and in Washington is worse than it’s been before, and I think the need to change things dramatically has never been greater.
HH: I have a lot of very specific questions about that run.
HH: But when will you make your final decision by, Governor Pataki?
GP: No decision as to timing.
HH: Okay, and have you ruled out running, though?
GP: No, not at all. In fact, I’m leaning strongly towards doing it.
HH: All right, so when is the New York primary, by the way, because obviously, a lot of people are beginning to think in terms of open convention, and I pointed out to someone today if George Pataki is on the ballot in New York and they vote on March 15th, he’s going to get all the New York delegates.
GP: Yeah, it’s probably going to be in March, but at this point, you know, the legislature has to set it officially. And you need both parties to do that. So they’re still negotiating.
HH: All right, so Governor Pataki, I want to begin with a very straightforward question. You were the governor on 9/11. People remember you and Rudy Giuliani rallying the city and the state and helping the country, and President Bush rallying. Is this country more susceptible, more vulnerable to a mass casualty style 9/11 attack today than it was six and a half years ago?
GP: We certainly are more vulnerable than we’ve been since September 11th, in my view, Hugh, and it’s very tragic. But you know, we learn, we should have learned the lesson that because you have radical Islamists engaged in violence thousands of miles away, it doesn’t protect us. We have porous borders, and look at the difference between ISIS’ capability today and al Qaeda on September 11th. al Qaeda was isolated in Afghanistan. They had virtually no money, no sophisticated weapons, no Westerners. ISIS has hundreds of millions of dollars, social media capability, thousands of people with Western passports, advanced weapons, and a commitment to attack us and try to destroy us here. So yes, I think we are more at risk than we’ve been since September 11th.
HH: And has it gotten worse under President Obama? Or was it just getting, has it been on a downward spiral since 9/11?
GP: No, I think it’s gotten far worse under President Obama. First, we have a porous border, and we know that it’s not just people coming for opportunity. It’s drug dealers, it’s criminal gangs, it’s Islamic terrorists who would love to use the opportunity of a porous border to bring their hatred and violence here. And we also have a weaker military and a stronger radical Islamic component. You know, look at ISIS now and its affiliates. They’re in many different countries. Look at al Qaeda, and look at Iran. Look at the Iranian expansion of their hegemony throughout the Middle East. So there’s no question that these six and a half years have dramatically hurt our standing in the world, and our confidence in our safety at home.
HH: How do you assess the emerging outlines of the deal with Iran, Governor Pataki?
GP: It sounds more dreadful every single time this president speaks. You know, initially, we weren’t going to remove sanctions immediately upon signing. Now, there’s apparently a $50 billion dollar signing bonus the minute they say that they’re going to take certain action. We’re not going to know their baseline activities. They’re still going to be able to maintain every single centrifuge. They won’t be able to operate them all, theoretically, and we won’t have no warning inspections. So I think this is a horrible deal that looks more like a capitulation on the part of the Obama administration than it does as a negotiated deal with the Iranian government.
HH: If it remains as you understand it to be, and if you are elected president, would you revoke it on the first day that you were in the office?
GP: I think anybody who is concerned about our security and the security of our allies like Israel, when they take a look at this, is going to say it needs to be revoked.
HH: Now Governor Pataki, next hour, I’m going to talk with Michelle Ye Hee Lee, reporter of the Washington Post, who today gave three Pinocchios to Lindsey Graham and Scott Walker for their comments about U.S. naval strength. And I’m going to challenge her on that article, because I believe their comments are accurate. They’re not arguing for a 600 ship Navy as Ronald Reagan had. They’re arguing for a dramatic increase in naval strength. What do you think on that issue? And do you think people who are worried about the 273 ship Navy that we have right now deserve three Pinocchios?
GP: Not at all. I think our Navy, it’s just emblematic of what has happened under this President. And I think our Navy is not what it should be. It’s not just the number of ships. It’s the aging nature of many of those ships. And you know, I’m a great believer in the need to dramatically reduce and scale back the size and the cost of the government in Washington. But I’m also a believer that we have to invest more in our military going forward, more in things like the next generation of technology, more ships, more troops, and it’s the one area, or one of the only areas where I would recommend increasing government spending, not less.
HH: Governor Pataki, there are two particular kinds of ships which are emblematic of our international ability to project force. One is the aircraft carrier and the other is the ballistic submarine. We have currently ten aircraft carrier groups that surround them. We’re supposed to be at eleven. Heritage says we should be at thirteen. Chuck Hagel talked about taking it down to eight. And we have the Ohio Class submarine, which Ronald Reagan commissioned, and we got up to I think a couple dozen of them. We’re down to 18 now, and they’re all going to be out by 2030. What do you think about those particular categories of ships and where the United States has to be vis-à-vis carriers and ballistic submarines or the Ohio Class sub?
GP: I mean, our carrier task forces are absolutely critical for our ability to project power around the world. And just look now. We’ve had one that’s been sent to, in theory, perhaps, intercept Iranian ships off Yemen. And I think reducing it from ten makes no sense. Whether it’s eleven, twelve, thirteen, I think you’d have to have a full assessment of the capability, and also look at the changes that surface to surface missiles have done, and perhaps driving our carrier fleets to where they have to stand off further offshore, but certainly don’t reduce it in all likelihood. It would be somewhere between that ten and thirteen number. And on the subs, I know they’re aging out. It is a critical part of deterrence. And while the Soviet Union is gone, we see an emerging China that is far more aggressive and expanding its military capabilities enormously. And so we would have to, I know we can’t extend the lives of those submarines because of their nuclear nature, but we certainly should be investing in having a nuclear deterrent in our submarine fleet going forward.
HH: Now Governor Pataki, I’ve also asked everyone who’s running or thinking about running for the Republican nomination about the Putin primary, and by that I mean…
GP: Boy, Hugh, Hugh, forgive me for interrupting, but wow, this is like being on Jeopardy or something.
HH: I know.
GP: This isn’t like, you know, what are you going to do and why would you make a great president. My God, you’re nailing me to the wall here. But that’s okay.
HH: That’s okay. I just ask people who do they think Putin would least like to have be president, and then I ask the candidates or would-be candidates how they’d do against Putin. What do you think – Putin V. Pataki? How would that go?
GP: Yeah, I don’t think it would go real well. I mean, I’m a great believer first of all in the importance of keeping our word. And we actually signed an agreement with Ukraine, as did Russia, guaranteeing its sovereign borders when they gave up their nuclear weapons. We’ve just basically ignored that. So I would do far more to assist Ukraine, including sending military weapons, sending, training their troops and providing every bit of assistance short of getting involved in military action there. And the other logical, Putin is already saber rattling in the Baltics, and in Sweden and Scandinavia. And we have a treaty obligation as part of NATO that if any NATO member is attacked, we are obligated to respond militarily. It’s far better to show to Putin our strength, our commitment, our willingness to put troops on the ground in our allies to avoid war. You know, I want to rebuild our military not so we can use it, but so that we don’t have to use it. And whether it’s Poland with the anti-ballistic missile deterrent system that this President pulled the rug out from under, or taking whatever necessary steps to let Putin know that one step into the Baltics against our NATO allies means war. And I think what it means is we would not have war. You know, strength begets peace. Ronald Reagan proved that. Weakness creates chaos, and we’re seeing that in the world today.
HH: Governor Pataki, I didn’t get the Sweden reference, though. I’m unfamiliar with that.
GP: Oh, no, no, Sweden, I know is not in NATO, but they’ve, Russia’s been sending ships into its sovereign space and doing other things just to send a message.
HH: Got it.
GP: They don’t have any qualms about sending aggressive messages to our NATO allies or to neutral nations like Sweden. We have got to send a message to Putin, cut this out, we are serious, we’re going to uphold our treaty obligations, and we’re going to stand with those who are on our side.
HH: Now Governor Pataki, I want to change to domestic very quickly and a couple of political issues and I’ll let you go. First of all, I think you’re 69. Am I right about that?
GP: That’s correct.
HH: Now former Secretary of State Clinton is 67, I believe. She’d be 69 when she became president. Some people think age will be an issue. Is 69 too old? I think I know you’re answer to this, but tell me what…
GP: You know, I think the answer to the question is the last time that question was raised, our candidate was a guy by the name of Ronald Reagan. And somehow, he managed to turn his wisdom and experience to good use.
HH: All right, second thing has to do with Secretary of State Clinton. How do you view her record and her vulnerabilities? And how do you match up against her, given that she was your senator and you were the governor at the same time?
GP: Well, what record? You know, I mean, you look at her four years as Secretary of State, and it seems everything she touched went sour, beginning with the reset with Russia, and not just Benghazi, but the catastrophe in leaving and driving out Qaddafi and then leaving Libya a complete shambles largely controlled by Islamic terrorist radical jihadist groups. So I don’t know that she can point to any of her record with pride. And of course, she ends up leaving the Department of State by destroying 30,000 emails in a way that could very possibly be illegal. And I think we cannot let this go by. We can’t just say it’s yesterday’s news as much of the media will do. I think there is a very good case to look at a special prosecutor investigating whether the destruction of those emails in the face of a likely Congressional investigation constitutes obstruction of justice.
HH: George Pataki, do you match up well with her? Can you beat her?
GP: Oh, I think so. I mean, you don’t run to lose. I haven’t lost, yet, and I think the things that I could run on, having been an executive, having run and changed the government, having cut taxes, having reduced the size of government and replaced dependency with opportunity, and creating jobs are things that she can only talk about, because the only things she’s done is her four years as Secretary of State. When she was asked a question directly what is your proudest accomplishment, she couldn’t think of anything. Well, I can think of a few, but they’re not accomplishments.
HH: Let me ask you about a question that Mr. Ramos asked Marco Rubio a week ago Monday, and I’ve subsequently asked a number of Republicans, because he asked it first, which is would you attend a gay wedding. Now I think the preface of that is I think it’s a disproportionate amount of emphasis on that as opposed to the fact that ISIS are throwing gay people from towers to their death.
HH: But the quick question, would you go to a same sex wedding?
GP: I’d be pleased to attend a same sex wedding. I’ve been invited, but I haven’t had the chance. But when I’m invited again, if they’re friends and I have the opportunity, of course I will go.
HH: Second question has to do with it splits the Republican Party on drug policy. And Colorado and in Washington State, the sale of marijuana is now legal. And the federal government isn’t prosecuting that, though they could. If you’re the president, would you crack down on those states using your federal authority?
GP: Well, first of all, the fact that we have a Justice Department that just ignores the federal law just undermines completely the people’s respect for the rule of law. Whether you agree with it or not, the law is the law. The President took an oath of office to uphold it, and he has to do that. Now having said that, though, Hugh, I’m a great believer in the 10th Amendment. And I believe in both states there were referenda where the voters approved. So I would be very strongly inclined to change the federal law to give states, when they’ve had a referenda, the opportunity with respect to marijuana to decriminalize it, except for two factors. One is we have to know that neighboring states or the rest of the country are not being subjected to illegal marijuana because of the free selling of it and marketing in those states, and second with respect to young people. And in particular, I think Colorado went way too far in allowing marijuana to be placed in things like cookies or sweets that are obviously attracted to kids. So the bottom line is we uphold the law. I would not be adverse to changing the law if we could guarantee there was no spillover to, three things actually – no spillover to adjacent states, protection for minorities that are ironclad, and the third is there’s no increase in dependency as a result of that. You know, if all of a sudden we see states like whatever the state that legalizes it is resulting in much higher dependency costs that the federal government has to pay for, then I think the federal government has the right to say you can’t do that.
HH: Governor, let me borrow from the old Monty Python routine – four things, four things we come up. What if we find out that the increase in crime and the cartels are moving in, as is believed is happening in Colorado? Then what do you do?
GP: Well, then you have to do everything in your power to make sure you shut down the border, prosecute the cartels, convict them, and not allow that to happen. I mean, states have varying levels of crime. I’m a great believer in states’ rights. I think you uphold the federal law. If you think it needs to be changed, you change it, but not so that you allow minors, dependency, criminality or spillover to other states to have an impact.
HH: Last question, you got a superPAC that’s going to back George Pataki with big dough?
GP: I do.
HH: How much?
GP: Well, I don’t know about the big dough part. You know, I’ll leave that to some of the others like Hillary and Jeb. But we have a superPAC that has allowed me to make some of my travels and work to get the message out.
HH: So you think the money will be there if you decide to run?
GP: You certainly hope so, but you know, I think the most important thing are ideas, vision and the ability to say you’ve done something about those ideas as opposed to just talking about it.
HH: Governor George Pataki, great to have you, hope you’ll come back early and often before the primaries start.
GP: Thank you, Hugh, great being on with you.
End of interview.