Talks Ukraine aid, China threat, government spending, national monument designations & more on KSL’s Sunday Edition
SALT LAKE CITY—Senator Romney (R-UT) this week joined KSL Sunday Edition with Boyd Matheson for a wide-ranging interview to discuss the issues impacting Utah, as well as some of the biggest challenges facing our nation—both at home and abroad.
A full transcript of the interview can be found below, and video can be found here.
Boyd Matheson: Welcome to Sunday Edition. I am Boyd Matheson. Each Sunday we attempt to divide the rage from the reason, elevate the conversation, connect the dots and make the news make sense. We have conversations with great thinkers, great leaders, and great people who make a difference. We talk politics so we can discuss society. We talk about society, so we can discuss the principles and the people in America who actually live them. We bring the best and brightest to Utah and we send the Utah model to our nation’s capital and beyond. We begin this week with Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who’s been in the middle of the middle of some crucial conversations relating to America’s foreign affairs, as well as grappling with a host of issues that impact citizens right here in the state of Utah. And, Senator Romney, welcome to Sunday Edition.
Senator Romney: Thank you, Boyd, good to be with you.
U.S. Support for Ukraine:
Matheson: It’s always good to have you in the state. But I actually want to start on the foreign front. You have a unique perch in your chair on the Foreign Affairs Committee. President Biden recently asked for more funding for Ukraine, sending more arms and weapons and dollars to Ukraine. Give us an update in terms of where you think we are and what should we be doing to be most helpful in that space?
Romney: Well, I begin by saying that instead of thinking about, well, if Biden requests it, it must be wrong—there’s my team and his team—and instead saying, what’s in the best interest of the national security for the United States of America? And our biggest global threat over the coming century certainly comes from China. China has one major ally, well, more than one when you consider North Korea, but one major ally, and that’s Russia. And so weakening Russia is very much in our interest if we’re concerned about China. And of course, Russia itself has 1,500 nuclear warheads aimed at the United States of America. So seeing Russia struggle in Ukraine, having its military decimated without any American loss of life—it’s really quite extraordinary. So for the last two years, we have been spending about 5% of our military budget by sending weapons to Ukraine to help them in their battle against Russia. It is very much in our interest. We spend about $750 to $800 billion a year on our national defense. That’s to protect us from people like Russia, to take 50 of that each year and use that to strengthen Ukraine is the smartest thing we could do and probably the most cost effective and certainly life effective way. We could weaken someone who has a potential to become an enemy.
Matheson: Yeah, I think it’s so important and I’m so glad you framed it in terms of this is not a red and blue issue. This is a freedom, a national security issue, both for ourselves and for critical allies in Europe. Many have started to criticize the Administration in terms of the pace of what they’re doing, that they’ve been a little slow to get those things into Ukrainian space. What do we need to do to not just help them defend against Russia, but actually to win?
Romney: Yeah, there’s no question but that it’s in our interest to have them win. If Russia wins there and is seen as winning there, Russia and Putin will without doubt attempt to move in other places which are even less defended than Ukraine. They will be NATO nations and under our treaty agreement, we will be required to go in with our own troops. So we don’t want that to happen. So having Ukraine win is very much in our interest. We probably went too slowly. We probably held back on some tanks and F-16s and held back too long. We should have moved more aggressively to allow Ukraine to win. Hindsight is 2020. I think, initially, the feeling of our military was Ukraine didn’t stand a chance. Ukraine was going to be run over in a couple of days or a couple of weeks by Russia, and it was hopeless. And then we began thinking, well, they’re holding off pretty well, but you sure don’t want to attack Russia and get the bear angry. Well, now we’ve learned, you know, Russia’s a lot weaker than we thought. And I think benefit of hindsight, we should have moved more aggressively, more quickly, given Ukraine more support militarily early on, such that they might have been able to knock Russia out from the outset.
The Continued Threat of China:
Matheson: Now, let’s pivot to that China question now, which is the big one. Obviously, there are ways that China is flexing its muscles around the world economically, militarily, even diplomatically. How do you see the China threat at this point?
Romney: Well, China has challenges of its own right now. Its economy is struggling. They have overborrowed, over leverage themselves, particularly at the provincial level. And their economy is growing more slowly. Their demographics are challenging. All that being said, China is a juggernaut, all right? They have been growing their GDP. When they reach a point, when their output per person, their output per worker—productivity—that’s called. When that’s equal to ours on an output per person basis, their economy will be four times larger than ours. All right. So, we face a growing challenge. Their military will also be substantially larger than ours. It’s about equal to ours in some respects today. So it’s a real challenge for us. President Trump was wise to go after China aggressively. President Biden has done the same and pushed even further, which is a good thing. I’m very pleased that Senator Menendez and I crafted a bill saying, you know, State Department and Department of Defense, it’s time for you to write a strategy. Doesn’t have to be public, but laying out how we are going to confront China throughout the world because they’re making progress in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean. They’re having a global impact, which is designed to isolate us. And they feel they’ve been isolated over the last century. They feel it’s now our turn to feel that. And a world where China writes the rules and dominates is a very frightening world I don’t want our kids to have to live through.
Matheson: Just 30 seconds before we take a break, Senator, just to round out that China conversation, what’s the one thing we all ought to be thinking about as it relates to China, especially when it comes to the economy?
Romney: We can’t allow China to play by its own rules and not play by the rules that the rest of us have. So they have monopolized key minerals, key resources, and they dominate in the world of batteries, solar panels. They’re going to dominate in automobiles because they’re going to have batteries. We’ve allowed that to happen. Chips, for instance, that’s one place where there’s a battle going on. But Taiwan makes 70% of the world’s chips, which is right next door to China. They claim it is their own. So we’ve got some work to do to make sure they’re playing on the same level field we are.
Executive Overreach in National Monument Designations:
Matheson: Yeah, absolutely. Senator, I want to bring a little closer to home now. President Biden made a little swing through the state and on his way declared another big national monument that not only will impact the people of Arizona, but will definitely impact farmers and ranchers here in the state. Give us a sense of where we are, these things that seem to be done by executive order, done and undone by executive order creates a lot of uncertainty for our farmers and ranchers.
Romney: Well, all of these national monument designations by the president and by former presidents, as well, flow from something known as the Antiquities Act. It’s been stretched well beyond what its intention was. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will step in because you’re supposed to only be able to designate areas where there are actually antiquities, as opposed to taking huge swaths of land and putting it under federal auspices and preventing mining. And the reality is, if we’re going to have the materials we need to power our economy in this century—and these are materials that are needed for batteries and solar panels and semiconductors and the like—we’re going to have to develop those ourselves. And right now, China dominates all of them. Basically, all the critical minerals are either owned by China throughout Africa or processed by China throughout the world, and we’re miles behind. When the president comes in and designate huge swaths of land that can’t be mined, it puts ourselves further and further behind China and makes us more and more beholden to China. Of the roughly 35 critical minerals that are needed to power our economy, 28 of them can be mined here in Utah, and yet these monument designations keep us from being able to take advantage of those resources. It’s a tragedy for our economy globally, but it’s also a real tragedy for the people who make a living mining and ranching and so forth, not to be able to use these lands in the public interest way they were designated originally.
Matheson: It seems to me that these big designations, again, by presidents of both parties, they actually keep us a safe distance from having the conversation about how we can be good stewards of the land and provide for the economy and create a future that’s a little cleaner, a little greener.
Romney: Well, you know, sometimes the enviros and I love environmentalists, except they can go a little extreme and they want to have basically everything designated as a national monument, so you can’t have any minerals of any kind. But at the same time, they want everything to be electrically powered. It’s like, well, you have to be able to have solar panels and windmills and minerals to be able to do these things—nuclear power and so there’s a bit of a schizophrenia here. They want it both ways, and we’re going to have to be realistic and say, what can we do? What can we accomplish? And take the steps to actually use the resources we have. Either that or we’re going to have to depend entirely on China. They will be the, if you will, an OPEC with only one member—China—and we will be in real trouble economically and militarily if we allow that to be the case.
Reining in Federal Spending and Tackling Entitlements:
Matheson: Let me get something that I know is always on your mind that you’re always focused on in terms of our spending when you when you get back to Washington after Labor Day. There will be one more shutdown showdown on the horizon to fund the government. One of the few things that Congress is actually supposed to do in the Constitution. How do you see that playing out as we mark into September and actually funding the government and having a serious conversation about our spending?
Romney: Well, I’ve become a little cynical here because my experience in Washington now is that there are some people who’ve gone to Washington to make noise and there are others who went to Washington to make law and to get things done. And the noisemakers are becoming larger and larger. And interestingly, they seize on anything to make a lot of noise, whether or not it’s really going to make a difference. And so, for instance, with regards to spending, when President Trump was president, you didn’t hear anything from Republicans about how we were spending too much and trillion dollar deficits. You know, quiet as little lambs. Now, President Biden as president, all we’re going to shut down government if we don’t rein in spending. Well, we do need to cut back on spending. But, you know, a little less hypocrisy would be a good thing. The challenge in our spending is really on entitlements. And two-thirds of our spending is automatic—two-thirds. believe I’m the only senator with a piece of legislation that’s been introduced to deal with our entitlements and to bring them into balance such that we don’t have to be creating one and a half trillion dollar deficits every year. That’s absolutely essential. And what’s going to happen on the one-third that’s not entitlements. My guess is that we will have a lot of screaming and shouting, and we’ll end up shutting down the government and a lot of people will be inconvenienced or hurt as a result of doing that. But we’ll do it. And by the way, we’ll shut down government and then we’ll open it. It’s not like that means we win. No, no, we just shut it down to show that we’re fighting and making noise.
Matheson: And we are equal opportunity offenders on this program.
Romney: Yes. I mean, it goes both ways.
Matheson: It does go both ways. And in the end, you actually can’t get $31 trillion in debt through conflict. It’s only through collusion. And that takes both sides playing along when they’re in power to move that spending.
Romney: Don’t forget, there was a period of time when we Republicans had the House, the Senate and the White House. And had we been focused on this issue, we could have dealt with it then. So, by the way, our Democrat friends, of course, they’re always willing to spend. All right. Their view is spend. They’re never going to say no to spending. They just want to add tax revenue and raising taxes on people at the same time. And that’s not the answer either. Somehow we’ve got to come together and have a little less noise and have a little more lawmaking that’s in the national interest.
Visits Around the State:
Matheson: So, so important. And I think it is one of those things where if we don’t get to the real conversation and I’m so glad you’re raising the entitlement component because that is the component. If we don’t have that conversation, everything else is sort of window dressing. Senator, you get to spend a few weeks traveling around the state of Utah. What are you hearing? What are you sensing from the people?
Romney: Well, I’m very pleased that a number of the things we did accomplish on a bipartisan basis over the last few years is actually now being seen on the ground. So I was able to go to UDOT and to see the projects that have been brought in as a result of the infrastructure bill that we’ve put in place. I’ve been able to go to a number of different defense related industries in our in our state that get the funding necessary for the programs at Hill Air Force Base and the Dugway Proving Ground. These are absolutely essential for Utah, but also for our national security. And then broadband. And we got about $200 million that came to expand broadband in Utah. So I’ve gone to some of the sites where this is being developed and expanded, and it’s pretty encouraging to see.
Matheson: Fantastic. Utah Senator Mitt Romney, thank you so much for joining us on Sunday Edition.