HH: To discuss setting that up is former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty joins me now. Former Governor Pawlenty, welcome back. And what do you hope the President says tonight, Governor?
TP: Well, I hope he articulates from his perspective, Hugh, why we’re in Libya, and why we might be involved in other situations. I think his case tonight is going to be focused mostly on Libya.
HH: What do you want him to say? What do you hope, specifically, he articulates?
TP: Well first of all, I think we should step back and remember we’ve got brave men and women in harm’s way, and they’re risking their lives because our country’s asked them to do that now in and around Libya. And we only have one commander-in-chief at a time, so at least in these early days, we should try to be as supportive as possible. I, for one, supported the no-fly zone in early March when the rebels had Gaddafi on the ropes, when he was openly talking about leaving voluntarily, when they had him in a position to be able to manifest an opportunity to take over the country themselves without much involvement or intervention. And he didn’t act decisively then, unfortunately. So now we have what we have, which is a three or four week delay from that, and a more challenging situation. But I hope he looks the American people in the eye and says this is what we’re doing, and this is why we’re doing it. And from my standpoint, the no-fly zone is justified. Muammar Gaddafi is a known terrorist and killer of Americans. Ronald Reagan tried to kill him. He has American blood on his hands. And when the people of Libya provided the prospect of being able to take over the country and rid the world of him, giving them some modest assistance, I thought, was a reasonable step, but it should have done earlier.
HH: Governor Pawlenty, if he had not dithered, if President Obama had not dithered, do you think Gaddafi would be gone today?
TP: We’ll never know for sure, but that’s my belief, Hugh.
HH: Now what do you think we ought to be doing vis-à-vis Syria, where again tonight, there are reports of massive demonstrations, and massive violence from the dictator, Assad, in response?
TP: Yeah, and thank you for calling him what he is. Bashar Assad is a dictator. His father killed thousands, tens of thousands of people. He’s also a killer, and we have an individual there who many people in the United States have been duped into thinking have been as a reformer. Hillary Clinton came close to referencing him as that on the Sunday talk shows. I think the President should do the following. Number one, speak strongly and clearly to the people of Syria that we hope and believe and support their drive towards freedom and getting rid of Bashar Assad. Number two, I would recall our ambassador. President Obama made the mistake of sending an ambassador to Syria, legitimizing that country and his regime in ways that I think weren’t appropriate. Recall the ambassador. Number three, move to invoke further sanctions, both economically and otherwise. Number four, make sure that people in Syria know where we stand, and communicate that to the world, and pressure the EU and our allies to do it as well. Our interests, by the way, in Syria are at least as strong, if not stronger, than in Libya. Here, you have a country that enabled and accommodated people to go into Iraq and kill American soldiers, they housed Hamas and allowed them to exist in Syria as they continue to be a terrorist organization in Israel and elsewhere, and the list goes on and on about the problems that Syria, and specifically, Bashar Assad has caused the region and the world, and the United States of America.
HH: There’s also great evidence that Israel had to move to remove a weapons of mass destruction threat from Syria not long ago. And so I was stunned when I read in the New York Times this weekend a story that clearly indicated the Obama administration believes that Syria is a partner for peace in the Middle East. Is there any circumstance under which…
TP: I think that’s a crock, Hugh.
HH: It is.
TP: I think that’s a complete crock, and it shows the naiveté of the Obama administration. And to have the Secretary of State on a Sunday morning talk show implying that he’s a reformer, to have his administration essentially now be embracing in any manner or degree Bashar Assad and Syria as a peace agent, or an agent for reform and stability in the region, is either ignorant or frighteningly misguided.
HH: Well now, is it possible that it’s just political, Governor Pawlenty, that they don’t want to have to follow through on a policy of doing vis-à-vis Syria what they did vis-à-vis Egypt, which is support democratic reform?
TP: Well, that may well be possible. We don’t know. And he should explain himself on this as well. I would hope that he would take time tonight to speak not just about Libya, but about these issues as well. But in Syria, in addition to what I described earlier, you’re exactly right. This is a country, they won’t admit it, but it appears Israel, of course, demolished a nuclear production facility that was inspired, allegedly, by North Korea helping Syria to get nuclear weapons. And thankfully, Israel took it out.
HH: Now Governor, I want to switch to politics. Last week, you announced your exploratory committee for the presidential run. Today, you announced a very deep bench on the fundraising side. Have you accepted the Politico debate and NBC debate in May at the Reagan Library yet?
TP: I have not, Hugh. There’s a great back and forth about whether that should in fact be the first debate, or whether it should be the Fox debate, which I think takes place in the Carolinas, in North Carolina if I’m recalling correctly, a day or two later.
HH: Aren’t both of these too early, Governor? I mean, we’ve got this huge Congressional debate going on right now. What benefit does it to have the good guys shooting at each other in the middle of the Congressional stand down?
TP: Yeah, it probably is too early, although it’s interesting, when these presidential races started in December of the year before, or early the year before, they said these races are too long and they started too early. And now some of us made a little later decision, and the criticism is they’re starting too late. But yeah, I don’t think the world would be any worse off if they pushed the debates back a little while from this spring into the summer or fall.
HH: Have you accepted the Fox debate in the Carolinas?
TP: You know, I’d have to check with my campaign. I certainly an open to doing it, would be inclined to do it. It wouldn’t be one that I would skip.
HH: Okay, let me ask you about the Congressional showdown, because today, Dick Durbin said everything’s on the table except Social Security. Should Social Security be on the table, Tim Pawlenty?
TP: Of course. And if you look at a pie chart of federal outlays, Hugh, there’s no way you can solve the financial problem that this country faces, and it’s mammoth, and it’s real, and it’s of crisis proportions, without addressing entitlements. And the trick is, address the American people, but show them not just the problem, but show them a way out, and they are reasonable. And let me give you a couple of examples. It’s okay, and a majority of Americans will support, saying because of increased life expectancies, for new entrants into the program, we’re going to gradually raise the retirement age over time. That will solve part of the problem. It’s okay to say even though I don’t like means testing, it’s okay to say we’re going to means test not the whole program, but the cost of living adjustments. So if you’re wealthy, you’re going to get a smaller cost of living adjustment than if you’re middle income or lower income. That’ll help, too. There’s a number of those that while people don’t want to touch Social Security, if you explain to them there are reasonable steps we can take to get this thing back on track, be constructive and positive about it, we have to fix it. And I would say, Hugh, on the debt ceiling limit and the government shutdown, we need dramatic moments to put these politicians back up against the wall, to force them to make tough decisions, because they never do. They always talk about making the tough decisions, but they never do unless you put their backs up against the wall.
HH: Are you encouraging Speaker Boehner to, if necessary, allow a partial shutdown in order to get to real budget cuts and real reform?
TP: Well, you want to use that as a last resort, not a first resort. But we’re at that point. The hour is later, and I don’t mean on your radio show, for the country, than people realize. I had a government shutdown in Minnesota over tax and spending issues. Was it dramatic at that moment in time? Yes. Was it difficult? Yes. Six months later, did people remember it or think it was that big a deal? No, they didn’t. And by the way, I got reelected the next year, so this notion that the Republicans will blow themselves up politically if they have a government shutdown, I don’t buy. And by the way, Harry Reid and Barack Obama own part of the problem, too.
HH: Now Governor, I’m in New York and have been for the last few days where the hundredth anniversary was observed of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, where I think 148 young women were killed a hundred years when a fire swept through their working conditions. And organized labor really took off them to protect people in the workplace. But it seems a hundred years later. We have a very different situation with organized labor. What has happened to this movement? And what kind of reassessment has to undergo, has to be undergone right now in order to get them back into the responsible mode?
TP: Well Hugh, as you know, I came from a meatpacking town. And I was in a union myself for seven years. I come from a union family. But you’ve got to separate what was then the old industrial unions of meatpacking plants and coal mines, and dangerous places that employed children or others under difficult working conditions from the government unions of today. The issue in front of us is the government unions of today. And they are amongst the best compensated, best benefited, most coddled employees in the country, and they’re getting a better deal, this isn’t about basic industrial safety or any related issues. This is about people who were once the exploited, namely the private sector industrial unions, now morphing into government employee unions that are better paid and better benefited than the people paying the bill, namely the taxpayers. And the gig is up. The taxpayers have figured this out. We did this early on in Minnesota before it was cool or popular. But the people are fed up of paying for better benefits and pay than the folks who are paying the bill, and that’s what’s going on. And the public sector unions have overreached. They need to be dialed back.
HH: Governor Pawlenty, what’s the committee? Is it www.timpawlenty.com? Where do people find the information?
TP: www.timpawlenty.com. And please go on and check it out. We’ve love to have you on board.
HH: Thank you, Governor. Talk to you again soon on the Hugh Hewitt Show.
End of interview.