2020 Exchange Forum: GOP Presidential Primary Candidate Bill Weld

Oct 7, 2019

Former Mass. Gov. Bill Weld, a Republican presidential hopeful, on The Exchange Candidate Forum on Oct. 8, 2019.
Credit NHPR

In the first in our series of New Hampshire Primary 2020 Candidate Forums, we sit down before a live audience with Republican presidential contender William Weld to get his views on domestic and foreign policies. 

Weld served as Republican governor of Massachusetts in the 1990s and was the Libertarian Party's Vice Presidential nominee in the 2016 election.    

This interview aired Oct. 8, 2019 at 9 a.m.  Scroll down to watch, and read a transcript of the interview. 

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The former Governor of Massachusetts entered the race for president in April, calling for his party to return to the "principles of Lincoln." 

In April on The Exchange, Weld told host Peter Biello that if elected president his first order of business if would be to show some "economic conservatism." Weld said Congress has lost the political will to work in a bipartisan manner and that as Governor of Massachusetts he had a "very diverse cabinet" and met socially with Democrats. 

This Business Insider piece explains Weld's positions on issues ranging from immigration and climate change to education and criminal-justice reform.  

In September, Weld joined fellow Republican candidates -- former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and former U.S. Congressman Joe Walsh -- in writing an op-ed piece criticizing four states for cancelling their Republican primaries. 

Although trailing President Trump and barely registering in several polls, Weld insisted in this September 2019 Boston Globe piece that there's still plenty of time between now and the Primary for him to gain traction. 

Transcript

This is a computer-generated and may contain errors.

Laura Knoy:
I'm Laura Knoy, and this is The Exchange.

It's a special broadcast of The Exchange today, the first in our Primary 2020 Candidate Forums. We begin with former Massachusetts Republican Governor William Weld and a live audience here in Studio D. We received many questions in advance from you, our listeners, and we'll be including those throughout the hour. So thank you for your contributions. I'm joined by NHPR political reporter, Lauren Chooljian. She and I will both question the governor. And so let's begin.

Laura Knoy:
Governor Weld, welcome and thank you for being here.

Bill Weld:
Thank you so much.

Laura Knoy:
Well, let's start with foreign policy, Governor, given what has been happening in the news. Just yesterday, the White House announced the U.S. has begun withdrawing troops from Syria's border with Turkey. As you know, there is a lot of concern about this, that the departure could have dire consequences for the battle against ISIS, make way for war between Turkish and Kurdish forces, as you know, fighting with American forces. President Trump has said it's time to bring American soldiers home, Americans are tired of these endless wars. What's your view of the situation?

Bill Weld:
My view is that the Kurds have been our strongest allies in the Middle East for a long time, with the possible exception, of course, of Israel. But they fought with us in in Iraq and in Syria.

Turkey, on the other hand, has been pretty cozy with Nusra, who were on the other side of the deal. And I can't imagine why the president decided to essentially betray the Kurds on no notice. You know, people say that in the telephone call he had with President Erdogan that he had first took a strong line and said, no, no, we're going to stick with the Kurds. And Erdogan rolled him and forced him to change his mind. He said, oh, OK.

Bill Weld:
I don't know whether it's because he has investments in Turkey. I don't know what it is, but it doesn't speak well. Then after being rolled, the president then, you know, waved the shibboleth and said, I'm going to ruin Turkey's economy here if they go ahead with this. Meanwhile, the Turks have announced that they've prepared their attack. So, you know, the Kurds are trying to figure out should they just dig their own graves and prepare to die? It's just it's not something that's going to resonate well either in the Middle East or anywhere else where people have to rely on America as an ally.

Laura Knoy:
Americans are tired of wars in the Middle East, tired of conflicts there. There is a sentiment in some quarters to bring troops home. So what is the bar for you, Governor Weld, of when you would put American service members' lives on the line and when you would say, no, that's not our fight?

Bill Weld:
I do not believe in sending boots on the ground into another country just because we see something there we don't like. You could almost argue that that was the situation in Iraq in 2003. On the other hand, the betrayal of the Kurds, who have been a strong ally, leaving them to be overrun in a day by the Turks who really hate the Kurds - they regard them as secessionists- is just too strong a medicine. That's not non-interventionism, that's betrayal.

Laura Knoy:
In addition to Syria as president, Governo Weld, what would your top two foreign policy priorities be, recognising there are a lot of foreign hotspots, but pick two please.

Bill Weld:
Well, my my number one priority would be to start being good to our allies again instead of regularly insulting them and cozying up to dictators, and alt-right leaders of whom Erdogan certainly is one.

Bill Weld:
But Mr. Trump so often figures out, what's the wrong thing to do and then does it and then doubles down on it, like cozying up to Putin, and he had first didn't like Kim in North Korea. Then he found out that Kim had killed his uncle. So what a strong kid. Then he found out that Kim had killed his own brother, the one who was poisoned at the airport by the two young women. He said, well, that kid, I just I fell in love with this kid.

Laura Knoy:
What about you, Governor though? What would what would your top foreign policy priorities be? Obviously, you disagree with the president. You wouldn't be running against me if you didn't. But how about you? What would you pick as a top priority?

Bill Weld:
Well, I think climate change is a foreign priority. You have to deal with China and the rest of the world. And that's something that has to be done. And that's an existential threat, not just to part of our country, but to the planet. So that would kind of have my full attention.

Bill Weld:
Then, the relationship with China would be front and center in my thinking. That's the most important bilateral relationship in the world. And, you know, it lies in my mind that Xi Jinping, when he came in, said of the United States, we have a thousand reasons to be friends. I agree with him. We intersect on entirely too many planes to try to make foreign policy through tariffs and threats and sanctions all the time.

Bill Weld:
The president's foreign policy is entirely negative. And he doesn't rely at all - his policy doesn't rely at all on soft power, on diplomacy, and in preparation for meetings. He flies into these meetings blind. So I would pay a lot of attention to the relationship with China, and I think, could be across, you know, a multitude of issues.

I think the best way to solve the North Korea issue might be with the participation of China and South Korea as well, a regional solution. And that would obviously take some negotiation and some doing. But it's a heck of a lot better than just making your foreign policy by saying I just slapped another huge tariff on China. Now we're losing that war. Are our consumers are paying those staff? They're not being paid by the Chinese.

Laura Knoy:
What about Afghanistan, Governor? We noted that it's been 18 years this week since the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan. Would you be the president that gets the U.S. out?

Bill Weld:
Yes, I would in year one. I say that with a heavy heart because, you know, right now, the troops that are over there, I think of them as sitting duck nation builders. And it's not a country where you're gonna go build a nation. When we went in there 18 years ago, we, the CIA, called up Moscow because we didn't want to start World War Three there. We said, we just want you to know we're going into Afghanistan. They're very close to you. We want to be sure we don't start World War Three. The Russia almost died laughing. He said, we want to wish you a lot of luck in Afghanistan. And whatever you do, don't read about what happened when we went in there. Don't read about what happened when the British went in there. It's a sink. It's a swamp.

Bill Weld:
And, you know, I know the Taliban are not nice people, to put it mildly, but just talk about a land war in Asia. This is a land war in mountainous Asia as opposed to jungle Asia.

Laura Knoy:
Did you support the invasion of Afghanistan back in 2001?

Bill Weld:
I wasn't on one side or the other. Matter of fact, I can't even remember it.

Laura Knoy:
One more question on foreign policy, and then I want to turn you over to my colleague, Lauren Chooljian. We've got a question from a listener, William, who asks, "How would the Weld administration contribute to ending the war in eastern Ukraine? And would Weld support the NATO entry of Georgia and Ukraine?" And William, it's a great question. Thank you for contributing.

Bill Weld:
Well, right now, Ukraine is EU. It's not a NATO ally. Yeah. I would support Ukraine, going into NATO. It would drive the Soviets nuts, but it would have to be part of a larger company.

Laura Knoy:
You mean the Russians, not the Soviets.

Bill Weld:
Yeah, sorry, dating, dating myself.

Bill Weld:
But I think as president, I would tell Ukraine that I'd be there with this much military aid as they need to deal with the Russians in eastern Ukraine. No limits to that. And Ukraine is kind of an informal buffer between Russia and the rest of Eastern Europe, and that's very important. So I would be major military ally of them. I'd be for them in NATO.

Bill Weld:
And that would not go down well with Russia precisely because Ukraine is a buffer between Russia and the rest of Eastern Europe. And Russia very obviously wants its boundaries to be the boundaries of the pre end of Cold War, Soviet Union. And that's not something we can sit still for. We have to worry about the Baltics, too. And I would go to Belarus and try to pry them away from Putin so that the security of the Baltics was not further endangered.

Laura Knoy:
Go ahead, Lauren. I'll turn to you.

Lauren Chooljian:
Good morning, Governor Weld. So turning now to your campaign, I don't think I'm making any news here that this is a longshot bid. You've acknowledged as much yourself when you've come to New Hampshire.

Bill Weld:
It's getting less longshot.

Lauren Chooljian:
It's getting less? So, okay. We'll get to that. So the president is polling extremely well among Republicans. You know this. And so one listener, Jessica, asked us, "what is Governor Wild's strategy to defeat an incumbent president?"

Bill Weld:
My strategy is to spend a lot of time here in New Hampshire and other key states. There are 20 states that permit crossover voting where Democrats and independents can take a Republican ballot. I think the president's strategy is to try to have the electorate be as narrow as possible. Have it consists of the Republican state committees, which are the Trump organization in each state. That's where you get these polls that say it's 100 to nothing for Trump. They have a very narrow screen.

Bill Weld:
My feeling is that Democrats and independents have a slightly different view. Millennials who are going to suffer from the trillion dollar deficits, they're going to suffer from Trump's inattention to climate change because he thinks it's a hoax, which, by the way, is ridiculous. And have those people vote in those primaries.

Bill Weld:
So, you know, in New England, I frankly hope to win all six New England states. I've been on Boston TV for a long time and that covers many of those states. Vermont, Massachusetts are Super Tuesday states, as is California, as is Wisconsin. So those would be early ports of call.

Bill Weld:
But I go where the action is. I've been to a number of forums and debates that included Democrats and I've been the lone Republican there. And frankly, I've done pretty well there at the NAACP meeting in Detroit, at the Association of Black Journalists in Miami, and three or four of them. And so I've met all the Democrats and I've been out there with them on some of those occasions.

Bill Weld:
I think you'll find the press has reported that I did better than the Democrats did. So I think I can hold my own with anybody. And now increasingly, it's become apparent that that the president is, he's jangled up, you know, at this point, I'm not sure why he would want the job he has. He doesn't seem to enjoy it. And, you know, he could make such a deal for himself if he had anything like an exit scenario. You know, make way for Mike Pence. Make way for the Governor of South Carolina.

Lauren Chooljian:
So we've got your strategy now. You've been pretty clear that the end goal, of course, is to win, but also to weaken President Trump. But you know the history here: incumbent presidents face challenges from within their own party, don't often win re-election. But if a Democrat ends up in the White House in 2020, are you cool with that?

Bill Weld:
Well, I'm not cool with Mr. Trump ending up in the White House in 2020. And under no circumstances would I ever support him for any office, federal or state. I just think the guy is cut loose from his mornings. He doesn't have a sense of right and wrong. He's absolutely heedless of any restraint of law or custom or the Constitution.

Bill Weld:
People who've worked with him in business in New York say he thinks law is an opponent. It's an obstacle to be gotten around and tricked into not applying with his, you know, fleets and battalions of lawyers. So he's got exactly the wrong mindset, the wrong head on his shoulders for someone to come in and take over the highest office in the land. And I think he poses an existential threat to our American democracy.

Bill Weld:
So I think the stakes could not be higher.

Lauren Chooljian:
But you are running as an "R," as you call it. So that would be handing the White House over to the opposing party. You don't feel any discomfort with that?

Bill Weld:
Well, who knows what's going to happen? You know, some third party might come in. It wouldn't be me. I'm not going to run as an independent or third party. But if Mr. Trump, I see now the economists poll-a majority of the country thinks he should be not only impeached, but removed and some much smaller percentage, but between 20 and 30 percent of Republicans think he should be removed, which means convicted in the Senate.

Bill Weld:
You know, when I started this, the pundits were saying, well, if Weld can create a problem for Trump with 20 percent of the Republicans, you know, that would weaken him and probably will happen for the sixth time in a row that an incumbent president who's challenged in a primary in their own party does not win re-election. Well, now you've got 20 percent want him removed. Not just not reelected, but removed. So that's a deep feeling. And you know, in The Economist poll, it was 51 percent of the country that wanted him removed. That's really remarkable.

Lauren Chooljian:
Well, there will be some states where that feeling may not be able to be enacted on by some voters. You know this well, you wrote an op-ed with the other two Republicans who are running in the primary. We've got a listener question about these states like Nevada, South Carolina, where Republicans have canceled the primary. So you called this a critical mistake. So we know you're obviously not happy about it, but do you plans to challenge this decision in court? Like, what can you do and what do you think this says about the state of the party?

Bill Weld:
Well, you know, those decisions by those state parties will be challenged by individual voters claiming correctly that it's a violation of equal protection.

Lauren Chooljian:
But not you?

Bill Weld:
No, I'm not going to file lawsuits. I don't have to. They'll be filed by individuals and we don't have to underwrite that. But they're going to pay, you know, they're going to waste all the money in litigation that they thought they were going to gain by not holding a primary.

Bill Weld:
P.S., you know, to say, oh, we're gonna cancel these elections because we'll save money on the expense of holding the election. I would have said that holding elections was pretty essential to the functioning of our democracy.

Bill Weld:
And their other excuse, doubtless supplied by the Trump organization in Washington was, well, it's it's not unprecedented for a party in a state to not hold a primary when there's a president of their own party running without opposition. We have two two-term Republican governors and a congressman from Illinois, who I must say is showing a lot of spunk, all running against this president. So their stated reason for canceling these primaries doesn't apply. That's what makes me think it came out of Trump's central.

Lauren Chooljian:
I'm laughing about you saying that they have a lot of spunk, because I've seen you on TV with them and you don't... I don't know, it doesn't seem like a normal opponent. You don't really like take jabs at them. I mean, do you see them as your opponents? And why should someone in New Hampshire choose you over the two?

Bill Weld:
Well, I must say, I got a big kick out of Joe Walsh. He's full of spirit and he's a real long, cool glass of water. I did say the other day that I don't agree with my good friend Mark Sanford, who said he's not in favor of impeachment. He's not sure whether he would vote for Mr. Trump over Mr. Biden. He said he would support Mr. Trump if he's the nominee. None of those things are true of me. So there are differences. There are policy differences.

Bill Weld:
Both of those men are social conservatives. I'm a distinct not social conservative, not a movement conservative. I led the fight for pro-choice and for LGBTQ since the 1990s. In fact, I was out there nationally, sort of by myself, for 20 years on both those issues. I said the one time I got to address a Republican National Convention, I said, I want the -my theme song was I want the government out of your pocketbook and out of your bedroom. That's a very succinct statement of my political philosophy and it's not theirs.

Lauren Chooljian:
Well, speaking of your political philosophy, you had to answer a lot of questions about this. You were the libertarian vice presidential nominee. You've endorsed Democrats. You're running as an "R," as you call it. And we got a lot of questions about this. I mean, you've argued you want to make the Republican Party great again. Well, how are Republicans supposed to trust you've got their best interests in mind?

Bill Weld:
Well, I've always had the same mix of positions. I'm socially open, supportive. I'm a huge outreach to all ethnic groups, when I was governor, to make them feel part of the, you know, part of the situation. So please give me names of people who you would like to have appointed to high state office. Please tell me anything you might need. Is there an industry that needs a tax credit, whatever. And I put them in my cabinet and appointed them as judges.

Bill Weld:
And when I was governor in Massachusetts, everybody felt like they had a stake in the enterprise. And that's the way it should be for the United States. And that's why, to me, it's so unfortunate that the president calculates it's in his best political interests to divide, to stir up resentment, to get everybody's teeth on edge. It's straight out a Breitbart News and they think the more that people are upset and resentful and hating other people. Now, that's Mr Trump's definition of a nationalist.

Bill Weld:
The most important thing to a nationalist is that your people hate other countries. The most important thing to a patriot is that you love your own country and the people in it. And Mr Trump wants to roll back the tide of history and pretend that America never was a melting pot. You know, Adolf Hitler said the United States isn't a nation, it's a hodgepodge. And what he meant by that was it has people in it that are not white. Unfortunately, we've heard echoes of that recently with the white nationalists, somewhat supported by Mr Trump and his administration.

Laura Knoy:
Very quickly, Governor Weld, you have been critical, as we just heard, of the president's temperament and behavior, calling his conversation with Ukraine's president treason and saying on MSNBC that the penalty for treason under the U.S. code is death.

Bill Weld:
It is.

Laura Knoy:
We received a question from Richard, a listener, about that who says, "do you regret your inflammatory remarks about the president, about treason?" Quoting Richard here, he says, "Seems like the sort of crazy thing Trump would say." So what do you think? You sort of jumping in the same pit?

Bill Weld:
No, I mean, I was head of the criminal division, the Justice Department. So I'm very familiar with U.S. Criminal Code under Title 18 of U.S. Criminal Code, the penalty for treason is a one word sentence. The penalty for treason is death. And I make that point to show that treason is serious.

I also think that the president's attempt to induce the head of Ukraine to dig up dirt on his political rivals for his own political benefit under threat of the president withholding 400 million dollars of military aid, which the president of Ukraine was well aware of, it happened five days before their phone call, and then saying, we've done a lot for you and we can do a lot more for you. I need a favor, though. Though.

Laura Knoy:
And that's a perfect segue way that we will pick up on the whole impeachment discussion after a short break. We'll continue with former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, a Republican presidential primary candidate, in just a moment. You're listening to The Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.

This is The Exchange. I'm Laura Knoy. Today, it's the first in our Primary 2020 Candidate Forums And we're talking with Republican presidential hopeful William Weld. He's a former governor of Massachusetts. NHPR's Lauren Chooljian is also here asking questions of the governor. And let's return to what we started talking about before the break, and that is impeachment. And Governor Weld, how strong a case do you think House Democrats have in beginning this process?

Bill Weld:
They have an overwhelming case for impeachment. I've said many times it's 10 times the case for impeachment that existed in the instance of Richard Nixon, the obstruction of justice alone, as detailed in the Mueller case, 10, 10 felonies, trying to obstruct an investigation into himself. That would be enough. But the the Ukraine, you know, inviting foreign interference is much stronger even than that.

Bill Weld:
The two things that the framers of our Constitution were most worried about, as you can see from the debates in Philadelphia in 1787, were foreign interference in our affairs and corruption of public office by using it for private gain. You have both of those wrapped up with a nice bow in the case of Ukraine.

Laura Knoy:
In the 1970s, you served as staff counsel to the committee investigating Richard Nixon. I believe, I read you worked with Hillary Clinton on that.

Bill Weld:
That's correct.

Laura Knoy:
What similarities do you see, Governor Weld, between then and now?

Bill Weld:
Well, the one similarity in the case against the two presidents is obstruction of the investigation and refusal to comply with subpoenas. And in the Watergate case, we subpoenaed all kinds of documents from the White House, different parts of the White House, and it came back. We have six copies of the same document come back in the inculpatory the bad material would have been airbrushed out of three of them and still left in the other three. So we knew they had monkeyed with the evidence and destroyed evidence. And that was Article 3 of impeachment. And I would suspect there's going to be an article like that in the Trump impeachment as well.

Laura Knoy:
Republicans on Fox News this week have been saying this is all Democratic psychotic hatred, using their words against the president and hatred against the people who voted for him. They say it's just part of an ongoing campaign of hate and hysteria and that Democrats have never gotten over the fact that Donald Trump won. What's your message to your fellow Republicans, including those who are watching Fox News and saying this is just all one big anti Donald Trump effort?

Bill Weld:
I harbor no ill will towards the guy. Personally, I'm in this because of the effect that I think his presidency is having on the country.

Bill Weld:
I think it's ruinous effect, but I'm very happy to see him return to expanding his business empire within for the benefit of his family. That's something he really seems to enjoy doing. And I think that would be better for anybody. But there's no personal animus there. There's a political concern that the country is being dragged under.

Bill Weld:
You know, I go all over the country. Everyone in this country is tired. In a matter of fact, they're exhausted. And they shouldn't have to put up with that. They should be able to go about the business of their own lives. But I talk to people on the street and, you know, they they do not want to talk about the impeachment or the conviction or the removal or Mr. Trump at all. They frown and they go like that with their thumbs. But they'd like to get about the business of their ordinary lives, and they can't because of him.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and in a few moments, we'll also talk about some of those issues that voters tell us, too, that they want to talk about - climate change, health care. But one last question on this. Governor Weld, please. Back in April, you called impeachment politically impractical. Do you still feel that way? Doesn't sound like it.

Bill Weld:
No, I think it's now the duty of Congress. We know a lot more than we did in April. You know, and I would not have entered this campaign back in 2017 right after the president was elected. We didn't know enough then, but now we know how he comports himself in office. And he's got a long track record. And it's, in my opinion, quite threatening to the institutions of American democracy.

Laura Knoy:
Lauren, I'll go back to you.

Lauren Chooljian:
To get to your point about this exhaustion that people are feeling. We had a survey that we put out earlier this summer to ask New Hampshire primary voters what we should ask candidates when we're out on the trail. And we got an overwhelming amount of responses about civility. So I found one that I think really captures it. So we had a listener ask, "how do you plan on bringing the country together? Includes specific plans for overcoming the partisan bickering among leaders, as well as concrete plans to create a unified vision to move the country forward." So specific and concrete, if you please.

Bill Weld:
Well, I would do exactly what I did in Massachusetts on my first week in office. I would reach across the aisle to the Democratic leadership and to anybody else who's in Congress or had a stake in the enterprise of governing the United States. And I'd say let's all get together once a week for coffee and cookies.

Bill Weld:
If you're going to be having a social friendly meeting with somebody within the next seven days, you're less inclined to stab them in the back or run to the press and say what a jerk they are. And that worked so well during my two terms in Massachusetts that every governor, every speaker, every Senate president since then has done exactly the same thing.

Bill Weld:
So people say to me, how are you going to reach across the aisle, by which they mean everything so poisonous in Washington. The R's and the D's hate each other so much, they're locked in this death spiral embrace. How are you going to reach across the aisle? The way you reach across the aisles, you reach across the aisle. It doesn't cost anything. It's like cutting spending. People say, how are you going to balance the budget? How are you going to avoid the trillion dollar deficit? The way you avoid the trillion dollar deficit is by cutting spending.

Lauren Chooljian:
So that speaks to this listener's specific plans about partisan bickering. What about the concrete plan request for a unified vision for moving the country? So outside of Washington, what could you as president do to bring people together?

Bill Weld:
Well, I think you can appoint bipartisan commissions. You can hold hearings on the approaches that people around the country think best.

Bill Weld:
You know, if I get there, I'm going to have a bipartisan cabinet. It'll have Republicans. It'll have Democrats. It'll have independents. It'll have unenrolled. It might even have a libertarian or two believe it or not.

Lauren Chooljian:
Potentially, from you. And what about GOP lawmakers who are going to be very happy, very pro-Trump lawmakers in- you know, as well as anyone- there are a lot of people in the party who are very happy with the president. How do you work with them?

Bill Weld:
Well, I think, you know, I've always been an economic conservative, not only on cutting spending, but in emphasizing pro-growth policies. I cut taxes 21 times.

Bill Weld:
I never raised them. I'm a supply sider in economics, like my friend Larry Kudlow, who is one of the president's top economic advisers, Steve Moore, also, I've been close with ideologically over the years. So, you know, I would have in common with them wanting to maximize aggregate national wealth, which I do think is important. I might have a little bit more of a sneaker for doing something about income inequality than some of the very most conservative of those folks. But I've always been able to get along with the Republican National Committee until now, because I was a economic conservative and I produced and before me know there were no Republican governors for 20 years. And after me there were four in a row. So people liked what they got. So the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Bill Weld:
But people like Haley Barbour, who is a longtime chairman of the party. He and I got along like ham and eggs. And I will say also that I've known the senior Republicans in the Senate for quite a while and I've raised a lot of money with them. And after, you know, the Republicans took both houses in in 94, Newt Gingrich invited me and a couple of other governors down to essentially lecture the troops that you could take tough choices and still get re-elected. And I worked with every single committee chair on economic issues and how to position the Republican Party. So I've got kind of a long, a long history there.

Laura Knoy:
Governor Weld, I'd like to turn back to climate change, which when we're talking about foreign policy early, you said this would be a top down policy priority for you. So specifically, what are two or three actions that a President Weld would take on climate change?

Bill Weld:
There's one action that needs to be taken, and that's to put a price on carbon.

Laura Knoy:
So a carbon tax.

Bill Weld:
No, I would call it a carbon fee because I wouldn't want to tax where the government keeps the money. Either by legislation or by executive order. And I think this is a sufficient emergency, unlike a 200 long, 250 foot high wall at the southern border, which is perhaps not an emergency. It's a pipe dream for the president. But but this would be an emergency. And so I think the president could even roll this out himself or herself. You say, look, we're going to have a price per ton of people putting carbon into the atmosphere. Could be $25. Could be 40. Could be 50. And then they can they can imagine they can decide how much carbon they want to put in based based on that price.

Bill Weld:
And that would be upstream, meaning it would be applied at the wellhead for oil and gas companies at the mine shaft, for mining companies, at the loading dock, for loading dock, for LNG importers. Even agriculture would have to pay a little bit because they do introduce a lot of carbon in the atmosphere. And then with the money that was collected there, which would be about $200 billion dollars a year at $50 a tonne, you would then remit that to the taxpayers.

Bill Weld:
And it could be by repealing the gas tax and the diesel tax, which is aimed at the same objective. It could be by giving everybody a check for payroll tax relief. It could be by giving payroll tax relief aimed at lower income taxpayers. That's probably what I would do to get a free shot at reducing income inequality. And that gets you to where you need to be.

Bill Weld:
The outcome you need is to have so much less carbon in the atmosphere that our atmosphere temperature does not rise by more than 1.5 degrees centigrade between now and 2050. That's the outcome. So any anything that's not aimed at that outcome to my way of thinking is not on point. And I've looked at, I think, virtually all of the Democratic plans and they're all about inputs. Senator Sanders says he's going to spend sixteen point three trillion dollars. He's number one. Senator Biden. Vice President Biden, 1.7 trillion dollars. He's in last place. They're all talking about how much money they're going to spend, which is how they approach the budget, which is why they can't balance the budget either.

Laura Knoy:
So, Governor Weld, we did receive a question from Gerald who asked specifically about "do you support placing a fee on carbon to reduce CO2 emissions?" Sounds like you did.

Bill Weld:
Yeah. That's my plan.

I've heard a lot of people talk about this. If you impose this fee or tax rate, we want to call it on oil companies, on natural gas companies and so forth, how does that not come back to the consumer, though? I mean, those companies aren't going to eat the costs. They're going to pass it on to you and me and everybody else.

Bill Weld:
Yeah, it does come back to the consumer and it's regressive. That's one of the problems. The only problem with this plan, which is why you address the regressive-ness by when you're giving the money back so it collects only, you know, 200, $200 billion a year. And yet, you know, the payroll tax collects thirteen point five trillion. So there's plenty of room to give all that back to taxpayers. So it's revenue neutral.

Laura Knoy:
So you give me back the money that I might have to spend because of that.

Bill Weld:
Or you could target it at lower income taxpayers so that it would address the question of regressiveness.

Laura Knoy:
So I could just decide to take that money and, you know, buy less fuel efficient car. I mean, I could just take the money and use it to spend it on more carbon. You see what I'm saying? I'm not sure how that reduces overall carbon consumption.

Bill Weld:
You could. Except as an individual, but you're not a major emitter of carbon into the atmosphere. And the fact that your carbon footprint may not be neutral, that that's not as much a part of the problem as the amount of carbon that the coal and oil and gas companies put in the atmosphere.

Laura Knoy:
One more question on this and then I'll throw back to Lauren. What about nuclear power, Governor Weld? We did a show on this last week. It was real interesting. Would your administration push for more nuclear? Because as you know, the federal government has a major role in this since it has oversight through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Bill Weld:
I absolutely would. I think nuclear should be about 25 percent of the base in our grid. And I'm not talking about gigantic nuclear plants. I'm talking about vest pocket nuclear plants. And people are nervous about nuclear because they think of Fukushima in a huge, horrible accident there. Well, that was a ginormous plant, more than one plant built on a barrier reef. How stupid is that? So the first big wave comes in and they're all washed away and corroded and it's a disaster.

Laura Knoy:
What's vest pocket nuclear?

Bill Weld:
Small, small, so-called generation four. And some of these, they consume, they eat their own waste. So you don't have to worry about the problem of nuclear waste. But you know, Alexandria Occasio-Cortez, her first draft of the Green New Deal had nuclear in it. And then all the extremely beautiful people said, you can't do that because nuclear is dirty, because it makes waste. Well, that's a problem that we could solve with Yucca Mountain. Now that Harry Reid isn't the majority leader in the Senate anymore. I myself think it's gonna be solved by technological developments and carbon capture and sequestration. Probably the bottom of the ocean is going to be the end or maybe these Gen 4 and Gen 5 nuclear plants that consume their own waste somehow so that that problem is well on its way to being solved.

Bill Weld:
And people have been saying for a long time, if only they could invent something that had zero carbon emissions and could generate an infinite amount of power. They did. It's called the atom and we just have to change our mindset. And that would be a place for the president to use the bully pulpit and the appointments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Nuclear Regulatory Commission to get people who are not skittish about nuclear power.

Laura Knoy:
Well, it's interesting because the Pilgrim Nuclear Plant in your home state recently shut down. Now there's only two plants left online here in New England. So we could talk about this for a whole another hour.

Bill Weld:
Well. Just one point. I mean, I know a lot of counties that are wide open that even have a nuclear plant already. Upstate New York comes to mind at Sego, Oswego counties. They would love a nuclear plant, another one because they know it's a great neighbor, great employer. Really no problems, no risk. It's just it's just I'm sorry, it's a myth that these ...

Laura Knoy:
No risk might be stretching it a little bit, but.

Bill Weld:
Well, if it's done, if it's small plants and with the new technology, really it's it's not going to have much risk.

Laura Knoy:
Let's turn back to you, Lauren.

Lauren Chooljian:
Yes. Switching gears now to guns. I have to say, I'm a little confused about your position on guns, because on the one hand, as governor in the 90s, you proposed some of the tightest gun control laws in the country. But then on the other hand, you indicated recently when you're in New Hampshire that the Second Amendment, you see it as a way for the public to protect itself against government overreach. So help me thread the needle here. Where are you on these things?

Bill Weld:
I do think it was my time with the libertarian ticket that brought it home to me that the gun issue involves self-defense and not just hunting.

Bill Weld:
But as far as what we should do now to address the mass shootings, I think the best ticket is the red flag laws that give either a family member or coworker or anyone else the right to go to a judge and say, this person has six guns at home. They're carrying around a list of people they'd like to kill. They have a history of violence that may be domestic violence. But there's evidence they have a screw loose. They have expressed support and sympathy for Islamic Jihad, whatever. And this is not a made up example. And several of the shootings a few years ago, not even under Mr. Trump. The FBI had investigations of the shooter and they had to close them. And so they couldn't pursue them. But, you know, and I would probably have more FBI agents so they could work on the pool of these people

Bill Weld:
And so that's that's calculated to keep a weapon - and all weapons are dangerous. It's not just rifles. Anywhere you can you can get killed just as dead with a derringer as you can with a 30 ought 6 rifle. And keep them out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them.

Lauren Chooljian:
You see what I mean, though? You're in a lot of buckets. I mean, how hard is it gonna be when you're talking to Republicans, libertarians, very different views, especially in New Hampshire on, you know, the ability to own a gun. How do you have those conversations?

Bill Weld:
No.

Lauren Chooljian:
I know you're a hunter.

Bill Weld:
I'm not saying go after gun ownership. There are 300 million rifles out there in private hands that were lawfully acquired. And, you know, if the government says we want all those to be licensed and you have to come in and show it to the police chief every year down the road, year three, four or five, I wouldn't be surprised if the police chief says, Harry, it's nice to see you. But this year that that rifle, you know, that 22 rifle is staying with us. It's been done in other countries. And what usually happens is people who are opposed to the regime get slaughtered.

Bill Weld:
Hitler made it impossible for the Jews to own firearms. So when they're not came in to door in the middle of the night, they got sent to the camps that they couldn't resist. Joe Stalin in Russia. Even worse.

Lauren Chooljian:
So what about in the 90s? Some of the other things that you proposed was a ban on assault weapons. Where are you on that now?

Lauren Chooljian:
Is that something as president you'd bring back?

Bill Weld:
If assault weapons means an automatic weapon or something with such force that it obviously has no sporting use? Yeah, but, you know, a rifle, a regular rifle doesn't, in my view, become an assault weapon because you take a picture of it with a tripod underneath it so that there is a definition of assault weapon. I think in the 1994 crime bill, we might need to go back and look at that.

Laura Knoy:
Well, coming up, more of our 2020 Primary Candidate Forum with former Massachusetts Governor William Weld. We're going to talk about health care and a couple other issues. And we'll keep folding in questions that listeners submitted in advance. More of The Exchange is coming up in just a moment on New Hampshire Public Radio.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. Joining me today, NHPR's Lauren Chooljian with a special broadcast, the first in our Primary 2020 Candidate Forums, this time with Republican and former Massachusetts Governor William Weld. And Governor, let's turn to health care. A listener, Sue asks very simply, "how would you fix health care?"

Bill Weld:
Well, I wouldn't repeal the Affordable Care Act. You know, it added 20 million people to the rolls of the insured. And that was a major blow for truth, freedom and justice in terms of lowering costs. So you don't want to throw the baby out with the bath. I do think there's too much government in the in the structure of the regulatory system as it now exists.

Bill Weld:
I would want to put, as usual, power in the hands of individuals and say that individuals could have could have health savings accounts and they could put away money on a tax advantaged basis like retirement accounts, which we already have. And they could set aside as much money as they wanted to guard against a potential catastrophic health event in their family. That where you wouldn't have to have the government telling everybody, as is now the case, you need a Cadillac plan. Everybody has to have a Cadillac plan under the ACA if they want to have a Chevrolet plan.

Bill Weld:
They should be able to do that. And people make that kind of decision for themselves all the time if they're buying insurance.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah. The Affordable Care Act, as you know, includes the exchanges. This is a private option. We can go on a marketplace, get a subsidy if you're have moderate to low income. So that sounds kinda like what you're talking about. Governor Weld, a Cadillac plan or a lower tier plan. So how is what you're suggesting different from what is already offered?

Bill Weld:
No I'm saying you should have a tax advantage for people putting away money in these private personal savings accounts. So they're making the decision and starting to say people make that kind of decision all the time. If they're buying insurance, you know, somebody who can't take a hit wants no deductible. Somebody who wants to pay less for the insurance wants a high deductible. And there's a bunch of other sort of government restrictions in the current system that I don't understand. I don't understand why we can't buy health insurance across state lines. I don't understand why people can't go to Canada to buy prescription drugs of late.

Bill Weld:
I have been coming around to the view that Medicare should have the ability to negotiate prices with Big Pharma. Big Pharma did not acquit itself satisfactorily, in my view, when they testified before the house and really were not able to explain why they're charging us three times as much in the United States as they do in Germany,.

Laura Knoy:
Talking about selling plans across state lines, as you know, insurance commissioners around the country oppose this idea. It could erode state consumer protections, lead to skimpy coverage, higher premiums. So the insurance commissioners don't like this idea, but what's your response?

Bill Weld:
But they're defending their kingdoms. It's like the guild mentality. You know, people who got in there and established their trade and a guild, they didn't want anyone else getting in there and qualifying to join their guild because they wanted to divide up the profits themselves.

Laura Knoy:
Importing drugs from Canada, I'd love to talk to you about that a little bit more. Canada has said, first of all, just very specifically, if this were to happen, they'd be overwhelmed by demands from the American market.

Laura Knoy:
So how feasible is that really?

Bill Weld:
I don't know. I think they could probably get get more drugs to sell if it looked like a very lucrative venture for the Canadians.

Laura Knoy:
There's a systemic issue in addition to what they have the supply. Drugs are cheaper in Canada. As you know, because people have universal health coverage and the government regulates prices. So to say let's import drugs from Canada, that comes with a whole different system attached. Governor Weld, it's not just about the drugs. You're a free market guy. So are you saying let's import the Canadian health system writ large?

Bill Weld:
No, no, not at all. I don't like I don't like those wait times. I'm just saying this is a commodity and people should be able to buy it.

Bill Weld:
I'm not talking about importing a system.

Laura Knoy:
But the drugs are cheap because of the system.

Bill Weld:
But the drugs are cheaper.

Laura Knoy:
Okay. I don't know if we're gonna be able to get out of this one. But lastly, as you know, the pharmaceutical companies have said, look, we charge full price in America to cover those important research and development costs.

Laura Knoy:
And if we can't charge those costs and we have to charge at reduced rates like we do elsewhere, we'll never be able to invest in important cancer drugs and so on and so forth. Governor Weld, I'm sure you've heard this before for every successful drug. There's lots of drugs that never make it to market. Pharma is not going to like your idea to import drugs from Canada. They say they need that profit margin.

Bill Weld:
Well, I don't think it's that big a dollar item.

Bill Weld:
And if they're saying we have to charge U.S. consumers for the costs of research worldwide, not sure why that should be just U.S. consumers.

You mentioned health savings accounts and certainly that is a feature in today's health care system. They help you pay, Governor Weld, but they don't really help you - they don't lower the overall cost. So it's still expensive. I've just saved up for an expense that many Americans say is too much. So how does health savings accounts really help to the bigger problem, lowering health care?

Bill Weld:
They help you pay. Sure.

Laura Knoy:
But pay something that is incredibly expensive.

Bill Weld:
Well, if you want to lower costs as opposed to helping you pay, then you don't have the government telling everyone they have to have a Cadillac plan, which is the current system.

Laura Knoy:
Let's move on to the opioid crisis again, this is kinda like nuclear power, we could talk about this for a long time. I did want to ask you about drug policy. You support marijuana legalization, including serving on the board of a marijuana and cannabis investment firm.

Bill Weld:
States rights.

Laura Knoy:
OK, that's why?

Bill Weld:
Alabama doesn't want to legalize it, Alabama shouldn't have to legalize it.

Laura Knoy:
So you're not in favor of federal legalization, but state by state?

Bill Weld:
I am in favor of taking it off Schedule 1. So it's not a complete felony and you can't even study it. I have taken it on myself to study the research that's been done in Israel over the last 30 years with essentially a twenty thousand person human trial. And the health benefits, as disclosed by Hebrew University in Jerusalem are staggering when they introduce CBD with other side of toxins which are cancer, killing a tumor, killing agents into cancer patients, they make the the tumor killing agents three times as effective. That is not just addressing the pain of cancer victims. That's curing cancer, killing the tumor cells. So.

Laura Knoy:
So you're saying the research for the health benefits of marijuana are promosing?

Bill Weld:
It's just it's been illegal to study cannabis in this country forever. It's kind of a hangover from reefer madness in the 30s and 40s. In my view, you know, the only place that's allowed to even grow it is the University of Mississippi until recently.

Laura Knoy:
Well, here in New Hampshire, Governor, we're in the midst, as you know, of an opioid crisis. And many people in recovery from substance abuse have said don't legalize pot. That'll make our state's addiction problem worse. You'll be easing access to yet another drug.

Laura Knoy:
What's your response to those people that you've spoken to?

Bill Weld:
Well I don't agree with that. I mean, I think it's been improved so much that that CBD, for example, of cannabis as a whole...

Laura Knoy:
Well, CBD is legal. So we're talking about marijuana. The THC, not CBD, which is perfectly legal.

Bill Weld:
But so for, you know, PTSD of veterans, why they should not be able to smoke cannabis, which absolutely addresses their ill - right now, the V.A. Veterans Administration laws, if they do and reported to their case agents, so to speak, they get bounced out of V.A. and can't even go to a V.A. hospital. And there's a lot of people who have abused it for pain. It addresses any disease or spasticity, childhood epilepsy, Parkinson's, M.S. It's just I think it's madness not to take advantage of the curative properties of this substance.

Laura Knoy:
One more quick question for you...

Bill Weld:
I think it's political frankly.

Laura Knoy:
-About opioids. The federal government has invested a lot of money in treatment here in New Hampshire, where in the first year of a two year, $46 million grant. So lots of money now going out to expand treatment, prevention and recovery. These are largely federal dollars. Governor Weld, how much say should the federal government have over how these dollars are spent?

Bill Weld:
Well, I don't know. I think the states can be laboratories of democracy. It's been one of my themes in public life. Governor Charlie Baker, who succeeded me in Massachusetts and is now the governor, I thought did a great job on addressing opioids. He got everybody in a room, including the manufacturers, the doctors. He cracked heads. He said, OK, you doctors, you have to accept protocols now for what and how much you can prescribe based on condition A, B and C.. And he really had an impact.

Bill Weld:
And I think as so often, that can be a national model. We did it with welfare reform and education reform. We created national models when I was in office. So I would allow the states to experiment and be creative.

Laura Knoy:
Lauren, go ahead.

Lauren Chooljian:
And so moving from the opioid crisis, I mean, that crisis has devastated many economies around New Hampshire. And so I want to ask you specifically how as president, you would help some more rural economies across the country. We've got a question from Mary Lou, who says, "Recent census information shows 38 percent of New Hampshire children under five in a female headed household live in poverty." And she wants to know what's your plan to reduce poverty?

Bill Weld:
To reduce poverty. Oh, I was going to say a couple of days ago I isited a community health center in New Hampshire, which does marvelous work for disadvantaged families. The whole panoply of of curative and preventative measures for poverty.

Bill Weld:
I mean, one of the first things I did when I got into office was to quadruple the earned income tax credit, which is kind of like a negative income tax for people at the bottom wage earners. But at the bottom of the bottom rung of the ladder, and it's an obsession with me to make sure that the door to the middle class is not slammed shut in the face of the working poor.

Bill Weld:
And Charlie Baker and I, he was my top finance guy. We used to spend endless hours worrying about the person who has a job that pays twenty nine thousand dollars a year and has a family of four. That person is living below the federal poverty level. And I think we have tens of millions of people in this country right now living below the federal poverty level. And if you, you know, if you give them payroll tax relief, if you increase the earned income tax credit, you can make a start there.

Lauren Chooljian:
And I hear you're sensitive to this idea that you don't want the federal government to be overreaching too much. But is there a role for them at all here, or in other issues that we deal with your New Hampshire like affordable housing?

Bill Weld:
Sure. I mean, Claire Monier, one of my advisers here, has taught me a lot about the low income housing tax credit. By the way, the two things I mentioned, the earned income tax credit. Those are federal. That's federal.

Lauren Chooljian:
Right.

Bill Weld:
Absolutely. So, no, I think there's a big role for the federal government. And, you know, historically, I wasn't leading the parade on equality. Everybody's got to be equal because everyone doesn't have to be equal. On the other hand, you know, I now support measures to directly address income inequality for reasons of social cohesion. And it partly goes back to the extent to which the country is now divided. And people, you know, as I say, have their teeth set on edge and they resent other groups. Partly that's because of the vitriol that's spewing out of the White House and the Oval Office. But it's not good for business. So, you know, you can support income redistribution and greater income inequality on moral grounds. And I would agree with you, but I would add, I would add that it's good prudential grounds to guard against further ripping of the social fabric. And the social fabric is something we've kind of turned our backs on in the last three years.

Laura Knoy:
We just have a couple of minutes left. Hard to believe. And I did want to ask you, what do you think President Trump has done well?

Bill Weld:
Well, he and I have sort of the same take on the economy. As I say, I'm a supply sider and a pro-growth guy. And I think he is, too. He says he is. And some of his economic advisors are people who I've been making common cause with over the years. So. And, you know, the unemployment rate is in a good, good spot. And that's a very important thing. You know, the best social program is a job.

Bill Weld:
And I would, you know, whether or not his policies have been pro employment, and I think they generally have, I would certainly continue and even adorn that.

Laura Knoy:
Sounds like you're on par with the president in terms of economic policy. We did receive several questions from listeners about the deficit and concern that it is growing too much under this president.

Bill Weld:
No, not on par with the deficit.

Laura Knoy:
Because of the tax cuts and so forth.

Bill Weld:
Well, no, that's a national security issue. We can't allow ourselves to depend on foreign governments to buy our treasury bills. And if you keep running these deficits and by the way, I was rated the most fiscally conservative governor in the United States when I was in office. So I did the opposite of running deficits. I've long been a champion of a balanced budget amendment, constitutional amendment at the federal level.

Bill Weld:
So, no, really, the first thing I would do is to close the trillion dollar deficit. And someone who doesn't recognize sacred cows in the budget because of not being a creature of Washington can do that very quickly. I did it in Massachusetts because I was new to state government, so I didn't know there were sacred cows. That's what you. That's what you've got to have. It's just a question of political will. It's not it's not hugely complex economics to balance the budget.

Laura Knoy:
Go ahead, Lauren, I'll throw it back to you.

Lauren Chooljian:
Okay, we're ending on a fun note, I've got two quick questions for you. First is, I understand you're a huge fan of the Grateful Dead. Which live recording do you listen to the most?

Bill Weld:
American Beauty and Grateful Dead are my two two favorites. But there's some long riffs between Jerry and Bob. Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir,.

Lauren Chooljian:
I recognize their names, yes.

Bill Weld:
Which are probably my favorite individual live recordings.

Lauren Chooljian:
All right. I understand you're an author, you've written three novels, I believe. So let's say you're president. You decided to start a book club a la Oprah. What book would you suggest that we all read?

Bill Weld:
Well, I don't think you'd like it, but my taste runs to Ford Madox Ford and Parade's End, which is a tetrology of novels set in World War One. If you want to have a good time, reread The Great Gatsby. That's that's a real that's a real upper.

Lauren Chooljian:
So what would we all get out of The Great Gatsby as citizens?

Bill Weld:
Fun!

Lauren Chooljian:
Fun.

Bill Weld:
No, I'm the one who wants to put the fun back and everything, including even fundraising.

Bill Weld:
That that's how much that's how much I like fun.

Lauren Chooljian:
You heard it here first.

Laura Knoy:
Governor Weld in terms of fun. What would you do to make the White House more fun? You bring in pets. You mentioned the cookie parties that you used to have.

Bill Weld:
Well, we still have our ginormous Australian cattle dog as first pet. But I think probably the thing you would notice is we would have lots of musical concerts.

Bill Weld:
My wife and I are both just totally music junkies and we would bring in bands from all over it. Matter of fact, you may see that during the campaign. I've heard that there are a number of tribute bands, you know, Rolling Stones addicted or Grateful Dead addicted in New Hampshire. And I think you may see speaking a vest pocket, some vest pocket rallies with us and local bands.

Laura Knoy:
What's your thought? Governor Weld that you want to leave fellow Republicans with, again, you are running in a Republican primary. Here's your chance to say to Republicans, I'm not going to spoil it for you, losing the White House. I'm gonna win it. And you should vote for me. Republicans.

Bill Weld:
Right, well, I think I've shown that I can do the job that needs to be done. I think I could start Monday. I think I'm more grounded on foreign policy than people who are running the show now. Certainly in terms of experimentation, having been a governor for two terms is a really good start.

Bill Weld:
You see a lot of different approaches and I would take great joy in it. And I you know, I'm doing this not to feather my own nest, not to, you know, help my hotels around the world. I'm doing it to improve the lot of the United States, the country I love.

Laura Knoy:
All right. We'll have to end it there. Thank you, Lauren, for being with me today.

Lauren Chooljian:
Thanks' Laura.

Laura Knoy:
And a special thank you to our guests. Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor William Weld. Governor, thank you.

Bill Weld:
Thank you, Laura. Thank you, Lauren.

Laura Knoy:
And thank you for our audience for joining us. This is The Exchange on NHPR.