QUESTION: Welcome back, America. It’s Hugh Hewitt, the Mandalorian of the radio, joined by United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. Good morning, Mr. Secretary. How are you and your family?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re all good, Hugh. I hope your family is good, too. It’s great to be with you this morning.
QUESTION: Thank you. My mandatory two disclosures: My son works at State – that’s about the hundredth time I’ve said that – but the new disclosure is that after you and Mrs. Pompeo bought a jigsaw puzzle and put it on Instagram, the fetching Mrs. Hewitt bought one, so I have a grudge against you now.
SECRETARY POMPEO: (Laughter.) Yes, I understand that’s not your favorite pastime, so I apologize for that.
QUESTION: First, bravo to the men and women of State around the world holding the line in some countries where the virus is on a rampage, not blinking. It’s like your old CIA colleagues and your old comrades-in-arm in the military. Just thank you and to everyone at State.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hugh, thank you. The team has responded in a way that’s in the finest tradition of American diplomacy. Our team is out there taking care of Americans, keeping our own team safe, and we’ve now brought over 10,000 Americans back home from places where they were stranded through no fault of their own.
There’s still a lot of work to do. We’ve got a lot of people who are trying to get back this way, and with travel shut down in many of these countries without any notice or little notice, there’s still a major undertaking. But the team has marshalled the resources. It’s an airlift back home like we’ve not seen in an awfully long time, and I’m really proud of the way our team has responded.
QUESTION: No, it’s a major story within a story that no one is covering but I’ve heard about. Congratulations. Thank you for their courage to all of them.
Your trip to Afghanistan: Is the deal with the Taliban holding, in your opinion?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So like every effort at peace after now a couple decades of fighting, with Americans – 40 years all in all in Afghanistan – we knew it would be a rocky path. We’ve made some progress. It looks like there’s going to be the first prisoner release. That was a key part of getting the parties back to the negotiating table.
That’s our mission set, to get the Afghans to resolve this thing. We all know there’s not an answer through the continued fighting. We need to reduce the risk, to protect American interests, make sure there’s not a attack on America from Afghanistan – that’s the mission the President has set out for us – and at the same time, to reduce the risk to our men and women there. I think we can accomplish both of those. We’ve made some progress, but it’s going to be – it’s going to be a big challenge and one that the State Department team is up to.
QUESTION: Topic two before we get to China is Iran. We see what is happening in Iran. The regime is apparently adopting a sort of theocratic fatalism about its people. Who knows how many will die because of this savage indifference? I am curious: Do you believe that the previous American administration could possibly not have known the nature of this regime, or were they simply appeasers and afraid of it?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hugh, it’s difficult to know what they were thinking, but it is absolutely clear that the approach that the United States took to the Islamic Republic of Iran in the previous administration set up America for risk, set up the world for a pathway to a nuclear weapon there. You see the way they’re treating their people, the way the regime is treating their people in this time of enormous crisis. You see the way that they continue to spend money. Even overnight, Katusha rockets fired inside of Iraq by militias trained, assisted, support provided, by the Iranian regime.
So there’s the – there are demands that somehow Iran be provided with more resources, more money. I have to tell you, until they conclude that they are not going to spend money on things like their nuclear program, things like the Shia militias, and I can’t fail to mention – you saw the statement by the Levinson family last night. This administration is committed to making sure we get Mr. Levinson home.
When you see the kind of things they’re doing, still taking Americans, holding them hostage, this is a rogue regime and one that I, for the life of me, can’t understand the previous administration’s policy of appeasement with respect to them.
QUESTION: Neither can I. Let me move to China. Can you confirm the report that the G7 disagrees with you over your belief we ought to call this the Wuhan virus?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So different countries take different approaches. I will say this: I was actually pleased yesterday. The EU countries that are part of the G7 made very clear, as did my Japanese counterpart, that the Chinese disinformation campaign that the Chinese are actively engaged in even as we speak, trying to defer blame, trying to claim that they are the solution to this and in fact they weren’t the nation that, at the very beginning of this, had the – one country that had the opportunity and the data set that could have put this virus in a much better place than we are today and failed to do so.
The G7 countries yesterday were unanimous in saying we understand that this is a risk, that this is a problem both to the EU and to the United States and the world, and they agreed to jointly work alongside us to push back against this disinformation campaign.
QUESTION: But on a name they cannot agree?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Everybody’s got a different theory. My theory is we should always be accurate with respect to how we identify something. This virus began in Wuhan; I’ve referred to it as the Wuhan virus. It is important that the world understands how this began because we need transparency to save lives, Hugh. It’s that simple. We need facts and data. China has a special responsibility to be transparent because the outbreak started in China, in Wuhan, and the Chinese Government was the first to know about it.
QUESTION: Does General Secretary Xi owe the world an apology and an explanation?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ll leave that to him. What I can tell you are the facts. You’ll recall, Hugh, that at the very onset of this, when America first learned about this, we did our best to make sure that we had transparency and information. We offered to send our expert medical providers in. We offered to make sure that we could provide whatever support they needed. And instead of cracking down on the virus in a timely fashion, they cracked down on information flow. They kicked journalists out. They punished those who were speaking about this inside of their own country.
When you have challenges, when you have crises like this one, the most important thing at the onset is to make sure that the world gets access to the data that they need to prevent this, to prevent the spread of this, and the Chinese Government did not act in a way that’s consistent with that global need, that global demand.
QUESTION: I wish to play for your Dr. Fauci on CNN last night, a quick clip, cut number 23: “Italy got hit very badly because they had a large number of importations from China by Chinese tourists.” Do you agree with that, Secretary Pompeo?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I do. That’s factually accurate. I think if I heard the clip right, that was Italy he was referring to.
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s also the case in Iran that there were many flights between China and Iran, and we think that there are, in fact, many nations that had their outbreak begin with transit from China. And it’s important to know, too, it was the case at the onset of this there were countries that wanted to close their doors to Chinese travel, to the Chinese, and the Chinese Government pushed back against them, asking them to keep their airports open in an effort to protect China from the stigma that might be attached with having transportation closed down.
President Trump made a very different decision. He made a decision early on that we were going to protect America by reducing transit from China into the United States. It was a really good decision that gave us some window, some opportunity, to save lives here in the United States. I regret that other countries weren’t as quick and as responsive to that risk.
QUESTION: I regret that at the time, Vice President Biden and others denounced that as xenophobic and racist.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It was a sound policy based on good data and protected American lives.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, your friend and mine, Senator Cotton – as well as Admiral Stavridis, also your friend – early to the bell on this virus, as you were, as the President was. Now, Senator Cotton and Congressman Gallagher want dramatic action on dependence on Chinese-manufactured pharmaceuticals, not only for us but for the free world. Secretary of Energy Brouillette, my friend Dan Poneman, who was the deputy secretary of energy under President Obama, they want America to lead on nuclear again, because China and Russia are taking away that from us. We’ve got to get back our mining, processing, enriching cycle.
Do you and the President share these goals about pharma and nuclear power and getting off of the China and sometimes Russian dependence?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Absolutely. There – in fact, Hugh, I would go further in the sense of I think those are absolutely critical things. I’ll say two more things about this.
When it comes to important material things that the United States needs for its own security – you identified pharma, you identified nuclear material – I would add rare earth minerals, I would add a host of other things that are really central to American security. We need to fundamentally review our supply chains and make sure that we know those supply chains and have control over them for moments just like this.
And second, Hugh, I have to tell you I’ve heard from lots of businesses, big American companies, medium-sized American companies, who are doing business inside of China. I think they can see this, too. You know this, Hugh. Companies can deal with commercial risk. They can deal with economic risk. They can’t deal with political risk. And I think they now all see – I think they knew it, but I think they can now all see more clearly the risk from doing significant business having their supply chains depend on the Chinese Communist Party. And I think you will see coming out of this, I think you’ll see businesses make decisions that are very different from the ones they were making before this event.
QUESTION: The Senate passed a $2 trillion bill last night. It will pass the House tomorrow. There is very little, if anything, about a strategic response to China. Should a phase four bill address this strategic competition and particularly these supply chain issues head on?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I hope that they can do that. Look, I have enormous sympathy for what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to move quickly, trying to resolve the immediate problem that America faces. So I applaud them for doing that.
There will come a day and when the responsibility that each of us has as a leader here in the United States to take on these threats, to secure the American people, to protect American lives, will be very real. And I hope that the Congress will, on a – in a bipartisan way, and I expect that can happen – in a bipartisan way take a hard look at these supply chain issues, ensure that we’re getting – doing right by America. Whether that can be part of phase four or needs to wait a little longer I’ll leave to them, but it’s something we need to turn our attention to just as quickly as we can.
QUESTION: Now, Mr. Secretary, just a few more questions. The President has unleashed a Marshall Plan along with the Congress for ourselves. We have strategic partners in India, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, all around the South China Sea. Are we going to be able to help them? Because they are simply not as equipped as we are to deal with this pandemic.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, we’re certainly going to make sure that we do right by America and make sure we have the resources that we need here, but the people all across the country should know the State Department is out doing what you just described even today. So we have already provided support to many, many countries. We have experts on the ground in Central Asia and in Africa, places where the health care infrastructure is very weak.
You talked about Southeast Asia. Some of those countries have done remarkably well on their own. Singapore has done a fantastic job. We are there trying to help some of the other nations where they need assistance, technical assistance and the like, to ensure that we can provide that.
And as we come out of this, I know Americans, in the way we always are, Hugh, will be incredibly generous and willing to make sure that the people of those countries have an opportunity to move out of this crisis in the same way that I am confident that America is going to in the coming weeks as well.
QUESTION: Harvard’s Graham Ellison has written about the Thucydides Trap, Michael Pillsbury about the Hundred-Year Marathon. Do you think we have clarity about the People’s Republic of China yet as an adversary, hopefully one that does not lead to war but certainly will be in positions of conflict with us for generations to come?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m counting on it. The American people have always risen to meet challenges. There are real opportunities with the Chinese people, but the direction that the Chinese Communist Party has begun to take that country does present enormous challenges for the United States.
And I’m very confident, Hugh, like we have always done in America, that we’ll rise to meet those challenges. We’ll do so in a way that’s in the finest traditions of America. This won’t be about war. This will be an America marshalling its fundamental ideas about freedom and liberty and hard work and risk-taking and entrepreneurs, all of those things that have always made America the nation that every country in the world looks to. I am confident that will be the case and that the Chinese Communist Party will find that their authoritarian direction that they are taking that country doesn’t serve their people well, nor does it place them well in the community of nations.
QUESTION: Two final questions. One’s country specific. Venezuela was already on the brink. When the virus arrives there, and it probably already has, they will not be able to cope. What is the plan for that shattered country?
SECRETARY POMPEO: In countries like Venezuela – North Korea would be in a similar situation – we’re doing our best to ensure that humanitarian assistance can make its way in. As we’ve seen before, Hugh, in some of these countries, when humanitarian assistance is offered – we have offered assistance for Iran – they’ll often reject it. I think it’s indicative of these leaders who care so little about their people they execute plans that are corrupt. They take care of the leadership but don’t take care of their own people. I hope that we can do better in each of these three places to help those people make their way through this challenge as well.
QUESTION: It’s pretty clear President Trump is in command, comfortable being so. Did the impeachment folly hurt him or just the country?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, Hugh, I watched the President work his way through that impeachment trial. He did so in a way that made sure that the data set was available and that we were clear about the things that mattered to the American people. I think you saw, as the impeachment wound down, I think you saw President Trump make clear to the American people, “This is why I ran for President. These are the things I’m going to deliver for you.” And these are the reasons that, as far as the national security team, we’re going to deliver on the American security imperative the President laid down even when he was campaigning.
QUESTION: Now finally, last night it was reported that some networks are considering not carrying the task force briefings and the President. State-controlled media is awful. We denounce it as freedom-loving Americans. But now we have a media trying to control the state. What would you say to a foreign government where a freely elected government is holding briefings and the media decided not to carry it?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hugh, I’ve watched this as this has unfolded in the Chinese – in the Chinese Communist Party, where they kicked out reporters from The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. We need more information; we need good information; we need information that is accurate. I’ve watched as nations have responded to this Wuhan virus in different ways. What the United States needs is a media that will help tell this story in an accurate way to the American people, and allowing the President to speak directly to them is a very fine way to do that.
QUESTION: And a very last question: Any message for our enemies, Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, they should know that even in this time of a crisis associated with the Wuhan virus that the United States, its military, its State Department, are still watching all the challenges around the world. We’re not taking our eye off the things that protect the American people around the world. We’ll never do that. We’re very focused on pushing back against the challenge here inside the United States, but we remain vigilant and are standing ready to make sure we protect America’s interest all across the world.
QUESTION: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, always a pleasure. The best to the Pompeo family and every person at State.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Hugh. So long, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you.