The U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grennell joined me this morning to discuss the announcement of Chancellor Merkel’s announcement this morning:
HH: As always, breaking news comes first here on the Hugh Hewitt Show. And the news out of Germany is long-serving German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced she will not remain the party chair, and thus chancellor of Germany into 2019. Joining me to discuss what has happened is the United States Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell. Ambassador Grenell is no stranger to our program, a long-time friend. Good morning, Mr. Ambassador, thanks for joining us this morning.
RG: Hugh, thanks for having me. We’ve got big news here in Berlin.
HH: It is. Fill us in on what has happened and what precipitated Chancellor Merkel’s announcement.
RG: Well, there has been several elections, a couple of elections recently, one yesterday, where her party, the CDU, the Christian Democrats, have really lost a significantly amount of support. And so I think there’s a growing frustration in her party. It’s still the largest party in Germany, and yet their numbers are dropping fast. And so she seems to be reading the tea leaves and has announced that in the December convention of her party that she will not seek the chairmanship of the party. Now technically, what this means is she can stay as chancellor for a short amount of time. She is saying at this point that she will do that next year for a little while. She’s not giving a time frame. And I think that remains to be seen whether or not the party will you know, allow that, so to speak, if they’ll give her a transition period as chancellor. But giving up the party leadership is a clear signal that someone is coming.
HH: She has been the chancellor since 2005, so she joins such figures as Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan as being sort of extraordinary impacts on their country’s culture and government. Her biggest choice, whether it’s a mistake or not depends on what you think, was to allow in the refugee tide. Do you think she would be retiring had she not made that choice?
RG: I think it’s clear that not only that decision, but more importantly, the follow-on policies of how you deal with a massive increase in migration, you know, whether the government agencies and the party structures, the social fabric, can handle that, and how it’s implemented clearly has frustrated a lot of the CDU voters. But it’s not just that. I think, look, she’s been chancellor, as you said, for 13, almost 14 years. She has been a stable force. I mean, she still has managed the largest economy in all of Europe. They have huge surpluses. You know, she’s been chancellor for a very long time and has had great success.
HH: Now one of the things that’s most interesting about this is President Trump and she have a very good personal relationship, but they have been at odds over things like the German defense budget. And you are continually urging them to up their GDP and on the NATO contribution to 2%, and on a number of different things. Do you think a change at the top will increase the cohesion between Germany and the United States or increase the division?
RG: It all depends on who is next. I mean, I can tell you from being in meetings with President Trump and Chancellor Merkel that they really do speak the same language when it comes to jobs and the economy. The Chancellor has been very good with the German economy. And President Trump recognizes that. He looks across the table and he sees somebody who has managed a behemoth economy, largest economy in Europe with lots of surpluses. And so there is an incredible respect. I think that after 13 years, there’s always time for, you know, someone else to come in with more ideas and different ideas. And I have to say that the bench underneath the Chancellor is quite wide. The Germans have done a very good job of building up a bench, despite the fact that she has been chancellor for 13 years. I think there’s an uneasiness in Germany. Many voters, many Germans are watching Brexit. They’re watching the NATO reform efforts of paying more. All of those things have created a very uneasy atmosphere in Germany. And so the next chancellor, I think, is going to be a very important person to bring perspective to this change.
HH: There’s also the question of the gas line with Russia. There’s the question of the Iranian sanctions snapping back this week. I talked to Secretary of State Pompeo about that last week. But the question becomes who are the two or three names we ought to begin to study, because I assume whoever becomes the chairman of the party will replace the chancellor early in 2019 at the latest.
RG: Yeah, there’s, and there’s quite a few names that are being floated. There’s certainly, you know, the current CDU general-secretary is a woman very close to Chancellor Merkel, is considered to be the closest person to Chancellor Merkel. Her name, her first name is Annegret. Her last name is Kramp-Karrenbauer. She goes by the initials AKK. And she certainly could be, I think, if Chancellor Merkel had a chance to pick, she would pick AKK. She would pick AKK, and they both work very closely together. So she’s one name. I think Jens Spahn, who is the current health minister, who has been kind of the conservative wing of Chancellor Merkel’s party, he’s been a thorn in her side trying to get her to move closer to the conservatives. He’s been the leader of the young CDU movement. I think he’s got a very real chance. Certainly, the defense minister, Minister von der Leyen, Ursula von der Leyen, she’s a very impressive person, has been a member of the CDU for a long time. She’s done well at the Defense Ministry. So I think she’s got a chance. One of the issues, I think, in German politics is they tend to look for somebody very young, because they want somebody to be around for a long time. I’m not sure that that’s going to happen this time. There have been some talk about just getting somebody who can do a really good job for a couple of years and not have to have somebody who’s looking for, you know, a 10-15 year span. That’s very kind of un-German. They usually want somebody who is going to bring stability for a very long time. If they went with someone who you know, really knows how to run the country, has been in the power seats, you could look to Wolfgang Schäuble, who is the long-term finance minister, and now he is the president of the Bundestag.
HH: You see, we’re going to want…
RG: He’s 76 years old, and he’s a little bit older, but I think the business community really looks at Wolfgang Schäuble and says this is a guy who really knows the system and knows how to carry us through.
HH: We’re going to want stability in Europe. That’s, to me, I hope whoever emerges from this, and that you are working with as our ambassador, provides for stability in a post-Brexit EU. I have to ask you, Rick Grenell, as ambassador to Germany, a neo-Nazi attacked and killed 11 people in Pittsburgh, and we have been grieving that. But I look up and I see my friends at MSNBC with a chyron that says, “How Trump ‘Sets The Tone’ for anti-Semites.” And my heart just fails, because the President is the least anti-Semite, I’ve got my problems with him. I always have. But he has not got a lick of anti-Semitism in him. It’s outrageous, and you know him better than most.
HH: What do you think of a chyron that says “How Trump ‘Sets The Tone’ For Anti-Semites”?
RG: It’s completely outrageous. It’s completely divisive. The President has made key policy decisions and really focused the U.S. government on a number of issues that really are not only pro-Israel, that are pro-Jewish community, but that have really set the bar, I think, unlike any other president in trying to make sure that tolerance and diversity is celebrated. Look, it’s no secret I’m gay. And I’ve seen some of the same types of arguments about the President when it comes to gay rights. And I have to say just from my personal experience I’ve waited a very long time to have a president who would embrace me, embrace the community, and really send a very strong message of diversity and tolerance. And I think this president does it.
HH: A similar smear that spread yesterday was against GOP House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who had criticized George Soros and others for spending lots of money on Democrats, which they have done. And the meme began he used those names because they are Jewish names. He’s implying that Jewish money is attempting to leak into our politics. Of course, the Koch Brothers spend a lot of money, and Sheldon Adelson, who is also Jewish, spent a lot of money on the Republicans. I think it’s just an outright smear, Rick Grenell. You’ve been around. You’re in diplomacy now, but you’ve been around American politics a long time. Is there no limit to how low the left will go to smear people?
RG: Well, let me just say this, because you know, I am in a diplomatic position, and I want to be very careful. I want to say unequivocally that Kevin McCarthy is my friend. I know him from California. And that’s an outrageous charge against Kevin. It’s wrong. It’s outrageous, and we should not have politics of destruction like this.
HH: That is exactly, you and I both know McCarthy. And the idea that he’s talking about Soros and Bloomberg and Steyer giving money, that that is somehow anti-Semitic when in fact it is simply an objective look at who is funding, just like Adelson and Koch are funding us. Rick Grenell, let me close by asking you this. How soon will it be when we will have clarity as to who the next German chancellor will be?
RG: Well, first of all, we will know in December who the next party chair is. And that will be largely the signal. So I would say in December we will know how the transition will go and how quickly it will be. I appreciate you joining me on short notice, Ambassador Richard Grenell, the United States Ambassador to Germany, always a very powerful and effective voice for America abroad and in Germany. Good luck in keeping us posted and keeping our interests represented well in Berlin as he has done for the past year.
End of interview.