Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld said he’s “not a fan of the Republican Party in Washington, D.C. today,” but he’s running for that party’s nomination for President. Weld spoke on The Exchange about his platforms as well as his distaste of President Trump. He has made a number of comments, sometime contradictory, about whether he’s running to win or to weaken Trump among Republicans. In an interview with Peter Biello, Weld said he “would never support Mr. Trump” and believes impeachment is unrealistic given the current makeup of Congress.
Weld hasn’t held public office since 1997 when he stepped down as the chief executive of Massachusetts to pursue a pending nomination to be then Democratic President Bill Clinton’s Ambassador to Mexico. Ultimately his confirmation to that role was blocked. As a young lawyer, he worked as counsel for the House Impeachment Committee investigating President Nixon in 1973. He was U.S. attorney for Massachusetts from 1981 to 1986 and later the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division from 1968 to 1988. He’s sought the Oval Office before as the Libertarian party’s vice presidential nominee in 2016.
Weld answered questions on policy and his philosophy on challenging Trump for the Republican nomination. Read some highlights edited for clarity below.
Listen to the full conversation with Weld here.
Weld was the Libertarian vice presidential nominee in 2016, and declared at the time that he was a Libertarian for life. Weld says that while he still holds certain Libertarian philosophies, directly challenging the president as a Republican made more sense to him this time around.
Given your 2016 pledge that you are a “libertarian for life,” why are you choosing to run in 2020 as a Republican?
Weld: I've self-identified as a small “l” libertarian since I was in law school and discovered Friedrich Hayek. After I decided to challenge President Trump directly, run as an “R,” rather than a capital “L,” most of my friends in the Libertarian Party said we're with you all the way, we know your principles and we know they haven't changed.
So you're saying you're philosophically a libertarian?
Weld: Yes and I'm still in touch with the people who I met during the libertarian state party conventions during the ‘16 campaign.
Were your comments in 2016 meant to be understood as a commitment to be “philosophically libertarian,” regardless of how you're affiliated?
Weld: They were probably thinking about party registration in context. But you know I'm the same guy I was both before and after the '16 campaign.
How would you describe the difference between the Libertarian Party and the Republican Party today?
Weld: Well, I'm not a fan of the Republican Party in Washington today. I think they're almost an authoritarian party in the administration of President Trump. I rather like the Libertarian mix of ideas. You know they are fiscally responsible, as am I. I was rated the most fiscally conservative governor in the country when I was in office. I cut spending in real dollars. I want to do that in Washington. President Trump has not vetoed a single dime of spending. His last budget, a multi-year budget, would add another $7.9 trillion to the deficit. So libertarians do pinch their pennies and they do balance their checkbooks and we need that in Washington D.C. We should have a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget in Washington. If I were elected would be to show some economic conservatism. I don't think the president is at all an economic conservative.
Polls show that President Trump has a great deal of support among Republicans. What would you say about the people who like the Republican Party as is?
Weld: The president has got rock solid support among the Republican state committees. In fact, his campaign has issued instructions to Republican state parties to try to make sure there is no primary. More broadly, the majority of the people I come into contact with think all is not well in Washington and indeed, there is a low grade anxiety throughout the country. I think a lot of that traces to the president's decision to be divisive. His entire 2016 campaign was premised on trying to scare everyone that we were in terrible danger from other countries and we had to band together behind him or we'd all be involved in an irretrievable peril. I think that might have been a code for economic insecurity. And I think it was a cynical move on the president's part but it certainly had some success.
It seems like what you're saying is that one of the biggest dangers that we face right now is the president himself?
Weld: I think that's right. I thought the Mueller report was highly illuminating as to his decision making process. It seemed the president's first way of analyzing it was "how am I going to get out of this? I know! A lie” and beyond that “I'm going to instruct other people to lie, that way they'll never be able to catch up with me." So the report is replete with instances where he instructed senior officers including Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, and former Deputy National Security Advisor, K.T. McFarland to lie and they would say "well, no Mr. President, I can't say that." They would say "because that's not true." And his reaction was essentially 'what's your point?' You know he's amoral when it comes to the truth. And you just can't have that in the Oval Office.
Question from caller: Do you plan to work with Democrats and Republicans on bipartisan legislation?
Weld: I think the way I governed in Massachusetts makes it pretty plain that yes, I reach across the aisle. Every week Lieutenant Governor Paul Cellucci and I, both Republicans, would meet with the Democratic President the Senate and Democratic Speaker of the House for an informal meeting. And I didn't summon people to my office. I said ‘let's have the first meeting in the speaker's office, and the second meeting in the Senate President's office.’ I was saying “we're coequal partners in government.” And it worked very well. So much so that they repeat that to this day. So that's illuminating of how I chose to work across the aisle and did so for two terms.
If you do not emerge as the winner in this Republican primary, will you support the Democratic nominee?
Weld: I'm not prepared to say that. I would never support Mr. Trump as you can tell from my remarks. I think he's way out of the mainstream in terms of performance in office and I think he lacks the moral authority to govern in the first place. But I'm not sure what I do. I might sit it out the way my successor Charlie Baker said of the election last time.
What are your thoughts on the 2017 GOP tax cut?
Weld: I liked the tax bill. I should say I've never met a tax cut I didn't like because I think government should be smaller. I've never seen any level of government big or little that wasn't at least 10 percent bigger than it needed to be.
My motto when I was governor is there's no such thing as government money, there's only taxpayers money. Specifically, they had a provision for accelerated depreciation which I think is very wise policy because that incentivizes business to either build or to buy expensive equipment. And those have a turbo charging effect on jobs.
I think tax cuts should be scored not on a static basis, but on a dynamic basis because they do have an impact on the economy. So [in Mass.] I cut taxes 21 times. I also cut spending but I cut taxes 21 times and I never raised them. When I came in Massachusetts had the highest unemployment rate of any industrialized state in the country. After two and a half years, it had the lowest. So we got 71 % of the vote when we ran for re-election me and me and my alter ego Paul Cellucci, rest his soul.
If you were elected president what would you do to ease the burden of student debt?
Weld: The first thing I would do is repeal that damn provision in federal law that says student debt cannot be renegotiated. It's as though Congress wanted to pass a law saying 'we hate students.' It's totally discriminatory. But the cost of college education would be high on my agenda for issues to tackle. So many kids are leaving college with debts of $160k, even $200k. And it is just a monkey on their back throughout their early earning years and it means that they can't take risks.
As president what would be the first thing that you would do to address climate change?
Weld: I would rejoin the Paris Accords and adopt standards for 2050 in terms of CO2 emissions that would be consonant with what other industrialized countries have done. I think President Trump has it absolutely backwards. He says that coal and oil are the future of energy in this country. Baloney.
What about nuclear power?
Weld: I'm all in favor of nuclear power. I'm all for the you know the renewables and wind and solar and hydro increasingly but I think nuclear has got to be part of that base as well.
Are you in favor of legalizing marijuana on the federal level for recreational use?
Weld: Not as federal policy. I'm in favor of the so-called STATES Act, co-sponsored by by Senator Cory Gardner who's a Republican of Colorado and by Elizabeth Warren which would essentially leave that up to the states. But it would get the federal government out of the middle of it. Right now we've got cannabis scheduled as a Class I narcotic in Washington by the federal government, which is ludicrous. That's supposed to be only things that have no medicinal value and are very, very dangerous. And research in other countries where they don't have this provision of law, particularly in Israel, has shown that cannabis can be very useful in treating a range of afflictions, among others pain, which is why in the states that have legalized cannabis [including] topicals and creams, the elderly who suffer from pain have have flocked to make use of that. And I haven't read about any adverse experiences as a result of that.
Question from caller: How do you stand as a Republican on abortion and gay marriage?
Weld: I've never agreed with the Republicans formal position on either abortion or gay marriage. I was an early champion of LGBTQ rights from the time when I entered office as governor. I appointed the woman who wrote the opinion Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts holding that gay marriage was constitutionally required under both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. I was out there frankly by myself for more than 15 years on that issue. No other national or state politician would touch that issue. So I think I can say I was ahead of the game on that one.
On abortion, I've always been pro-choice and didn't care who knew it. But I didn't rub anybody's nose in it. It's not because I love abortion, I don't. It's because to me it was a power question. And I want the decision to be made by individuals, and not by some big fat congressman 500 miles away who had no knowledge of the circumstances that the woman and her family might encounter. I'm not a fan of the recent issue about late third trimester abortions. Years ago the word was "oh, that almost never happens and when it does it's always because the woman's about to die unless she has this abortion." I've received some conflicting contrary information on that that maybe it's not quite so rare. So I'm, let's just say I'm for Roe v. Wade and protecting it.