Romney: We do well in a world where there is freedom and democracy

Senator joins Inside Utah Politics for a conversation on foreign policy and preventing the spread of bird flu virus

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), joined ABC4 Utah’sInside Utah Politics with Brian McElhatten to raise the importance of American leadership in global affairs—including providing support to Ukraine and competing strategically with China. Senator Romney argued that providing military aid to Ukraine is in the United States’ best interest because it will help deter Russia from invading other countries, including NATO members, which could draw the U.S. into greater conflict. The interview concluded with the Senator’s efforts to push federal agencies to take greater action to understand and contain the outbreak of the bird flu virus (H5N1).

Parts of Romney’s exchange with Brian McElhatten can be found below, and video can be found here.

Brian McElhatten: I want to ask you about foreign policy. That’s our first topic today. You were recently at the McCain Institute’s Sedona Forum. You were moderating a discussion with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and I want to play a clip to tee up my first question for you so our audience can hear. Let’s roll that tape if we could.

Romney (CLIP): … I got to be honest, I do not understand how anyone can argue that we shouldn’t provide weapons to Ukraine. I can’t. They’ve changed their argument over time from one, you know, “The Europeans should do more!” Well, the Europeans are doing more. “Oh, well, we don’t have enough [resources].” They go from argument to argument, but more recently it is that there’s no way for Ukraine to win.

McElhatten: Okay, so to your point there, Senator Romney, we know there’s been a lot of pushback from some in your party, your colleague, Senator Mike Lee, particularly on aid to Ukraine. What do you make of that opposition?

Romney: Well, I respect other people’s points of view. That’s the nature of our political system. I find it hard to understand an argument that suggests that we would not stand with a sovereign nation that we have committed to help support their sovereignty. We agreed to do that back in the 1990s when they gave up their nuclear weapons. For us to walk away from that and to walk away from the defense of freedom strikes me as being a very bad miscalculation on the part of our nation if we were to do that, in part because we do well in a world where there is freedom and democracy and where people can buy our goods and services. We’ve done well, as a nation over the last 25, 30, 40 years, and walking away from like-minded people would be a mistake.

McElhatten: Well, you’re on the Foreign Relations Committee. You watch these international events happening all the time. You’re briefed by experts. I’m curious about your opinion here. There’s an expected Russian offensive this summer. Are you concerned about how Ukraine might perform then?

Romney: Well, there’s no question but that Ukraine is going up against a massive superpower and as an underdog—there’s no question about that. I think a lot of people, even in our own government, felt that Ukraine would collapse in the first few days of the Russian invasion, but they have performed extraordinarily well. Their leadership was strong. Their people were determined and courageous. And all they’re asking for from us is the weaponry, that in many respects, we promised we’d provide. And it’s in America’s interest to see Vladimir Putin get the message: “You can’t invade your neighbors. And if you do invade, there will be consequence.” I can’t tell you that the battlefield will be won by Ukraine. But I can tell you that if we were to shrink from providing support to a nation that wants to defend itself, then no nation in the world would believe us anymore. And Russia would invade their neighbor, another neighbor, Poland—a NATO nation. We’d be committed at that point to send in troops to help defend Poland and other NATO nations that Putin might invade. So, keeping our own troops out of harm’s way is a high priority.

McElhatten: I want to widen our attention now around the world. And we’re watching the U.S. push out of Niger. The Russians are now filling that vacuum there. We’re seeing the Chinese increase their presence in Africa and across the Pacific as well. What do you make of America’s position in the world? And do you worry that we’re losing influence?

Romney: Well, there’s good news and bad news, which is we’ve not been paying as much attention to Africa and Latin America as we could have and should have. And China has been making inroads there. They’ve invested roughly $1 trillion in the so-called Belt and Road Initiative, and they’ve done that to gain influence. And that’s been successful for them. We haven’t been making that kind of investment in those nations, and we’re certainly not going to. So, we have to fight with our beliefs and our principles, and in some places, we’ve done well doing that. So, for instance, our friends in Europe are much stronger than they were before. Our friends in Asia, in the Philippines, in India, in South Korea, in Japan—these nations have come together in ways that many people hadn’t expected they would. They’ve become stronger. They’re making bigger investments in their own militaries. That’s a good thing. They’re depending less on us as a result of making those investments. So, in some respects, the cause of freedom has gained strength over the past few years. But certainly, in places in Latin America and in Africa, we’ve seen some backsliding as people have fallen into the easy path of authoritarianism and dictatorships.

McElhatten: I want to now turn our attention to the H5N1 avian flu. And there’s a tweet that I want to show our audience who tweeted this a few days ago, critical of the federal government’s response so far. You said, “Federal agencies have been caught flat-footed in understanding and containing the bird flu virus outbreak. The Administration needs to move swiftly to get ahead of this situation and reassure Americans that they—and our food supply—remain safe.” Where do you take issue with the government’s response so far, and what would you like to see happen?

Romney: Well, first of all, you would have expected that the lessons that we learned with COVID, as well as the lessons on the baby food shortage, would have led various government agencies to say, “We need to be able to collect better data, look at trends in data, identify threats before they become severe.” But that hasn’t happened to the degree I’d like to see it. So, with regards to the so-called bird flu, we have the Department of Agriculture that’s doing some work. We have the CDC which is doing some work, and other agencies as well. But the coordination of their data gathering has not been as extensive as I would like to see it. They haven’t been able to communicate yet to the American people that they’re fully on top of this terrible condition. And as a result, a lot of people are frightened. And fear, of course, can create challenges and harms to American people. So, you know, I want to see the federal government come back to us with a complete report on what they’re doing to make sure that we’re gathering the information we need from ranches, from states, from communities across the country to make sure that any threat from bird flu has been identified early enough that we can prevent it from a spread or, heaven forbid, entering into our food system…

I just want to make sure that we’re gathering the information early enough and on a sufficiently comprehensive basis—that we don’t make the kinds of mistakes that were made in the early days of COVID. I mean, we remember being told, “Hey, everything’s fine. Only five people have it. This isn’t going to go any further.” That kind of misinformation obviously caught us flat-footed in a lot of ways. The American people are more prepared and more willing to trust their own instincts.