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CNN Live Event/Special

CNN Town Hall with Nikki Haley. Aired 8-9:30p ET

Aired June 04, 2023 - 20:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to Iowa, home of the first Republican presidential contest in the 2024 race for the White House. We are live here at Grand View University in beautiful Des Moines for CNN's Town Hall with former South Carolina Governor and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.


TAPPER: I'm Jake Tapper. Ambassador Haley has been a trailblazer throughout her career in public service, and now she is hoping to make history again as she challenges her former boss and current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, among many others, for the chance to take on President Joe Biden.

Now, if elected, Ambassador Haley would become the very first woman and the very first Asian American to hold the nation's highest office. This evening's event is about the voters and the issues that will help determine who wins the Republican nomination for President.

And tonight, the voters will have the opportunity to question Ambassador Haley directly. I'll have a few questions of my own. This Town Hall is part of the Republican primary process, and so by design, in the audience tonight are voters who say that they plan to participate in the Iowa Republican Caucuses, both Republicans and also independents who plan to register as Republicans.

The audience comes from all over the State of Iowa and is representative of Iowa Republicans. To find tonight's questioners, we reached out to Republican affiliated groups as well as business groups, so farm associations and parent groups and young professional organizations and religious groups and various advocacy organizations.

Separate from the audience asking questions are guests of the Haley campaign and the university. We have asked our live audience to be respectful to each other and to the candidates. So voters in the room and you at home have a chance to hear directly from ambassador Haley.

And now, please welcome Ambassador Nikki Haley.


TAPPER: Thank you very much.



TAPPER: So we consider standing, I think you prefer to stand, right?

HALEY: I'm better if I stand, but you're welcome to sit if you want.


TAPPER: And I'm going to -- I'm older, so -- do you prefer to be called Ambassador Haley or Governor Haley?

HALEY: You know, those are moments in time. It's Nikki. So I'm comfortable with Nikki, if you want to do that.

TAPPER: I'm going to call you Ambassador Haley. But people here can call you Nikki if they want.

HALEY: If you're going to pick them, then go with Governor.

TAPPER: OK. So, Governor Haley, you've been in the race for almost four months now, and you're just days away from getting some more competition in the Republican contest. Several candidates are launching their bids this week, but tell the people of Iowa and those at home, why are you the best Republican to take on President Joe Biden?

HALEY: Well, you know, we welcome anybody else in the race, but I will tell you that the reason that we got in when we did is I didn't care who else was getting in. I didn't care what other issues were at play. We've got a country to save, and that's all I was thinking about. I am a two-term governor. They took a double-digit unemployment state and turned it into an economic powerhouse.

I was at the U.N. I didn't deal with one country. I dealt with 193. And I took the kick me sign off of our backs. It is time for a new generational leader. It is time for us to leave the baggage of the past, the negativity to the past, and start thinking of our families and the families across America.

If you look at all the challenges we have, look at inflation, look at the lack of transparency in education, look at what's happening with crime, look at our border, look at the idea that we had a Chinese spy balloon flying over our country. We deserve better. You deserve better than what we have right now. And I'm determined to make that happen.


TAPPER: All right, so the economy is consistently the number one issue for voters. And so tonight, we're going to start on that issue with our audience. I want you to meet Steve Casteel. He's a small business owner from Urbandale, Iowa who serves on the Iowa Restaurant Association Board. And he's a Republican. Steve.

HALEY: Hi, Steve.


HALEY: Good evening.

CASTEEL: Thank you for being here in Iowa.


HALEY: Of course.

CASTEEL: So my question is, small business owners have seen skyrocketing costs over the last couple of years. What policies or incentives will you put in place to help curb these rising costs?

HALEY: Well, first of all, small businesses are the heartbeat of our economy. And if you take care of your small businesses, you do take care of your economy. But the problem is, Washington, D.C. hasn't taken care of any of us.

You know, I will say that it's easy for us to go and say, oh, Biden did that to us, and Biden did do a lot of harm to us. But I've always spoken in hard truths, and I'm going to do that with you today. Our Republicans did that to us, too.

The idea that they passed a $2.2 trillion COVID stimulus bill with no accountability whatsoever, expanding welfare. Now, we have 90 million Americans on Medicaid, 42 million Americans on food stamps. If that wasn't enough, they doubled down and opened up earmarks for the first time in 10 years. They pushed through 7000 of them in December. Want to know how they're spending your money? $30 million on an honors college in Vermont. 10 million to bring down a hotel in Alaska. $7.5 million on a courthouse in Colorado.

That's not how we want to spend our money. All while one in six American households can't pay their utility bill, 60% of Americans are in credit card debt. And then you've got Social Security, which is going to go bankrupt in ten years. Medicare is going to go bankrupt in eight years.

We've got to make sure that we go back to being fiscally responsible. What does that look like? What that looks like is let's start by clawing back the $500 billion of unspent COVID dollars that we know are out there.


HALEY: Instead of the 87,000 IRS workers going after middle America, let's go after the hundreds of billions of dollars of COVID fraud that we know exist. Let's make sure that if we understand that 8% of our budget is interest, quit borrowing, cut up the credit cards.

When I was Governor of South Carolina --


HALEY: When I was Governor of South Carolina, I had to balance the budget. You have to balance a budget? Why is Congress the only group that doesn't have to balance a budget? When I am President, we will stop the spending. We will stop the borrowing. We will stop the earmarks. And I will veto any spending bill that doesn't take us back to pre-COVID levels. That's how we'll take care of things.


TAPPER: So let me just ask you on the subject of the economy. The economy just added 339,000 jobs last month according to BLS. Inflation has been high, but it is showing signs of slowing. Wages have continued to rise. Do you think President Biden deserves any credit for any of that?

HALEY: Well, I think look at the cash infiltration into our economy, everybody saw that. I mean, you basically paid people to sit on the couch. You've got all of this money that was spent with no accountability. So yes, is the unemployment coming down? But ask those small business owners, because they're not feeling it on their bottom line. Costs are still high. And you can ask families. You know it when you go to the grocery store. You know it when you have to get something repaired on your car. Everything has gone up.

So the unemployment rate, that's great that we can say that we've got a lot of people working, but what good is that when you can actually see that 50% of Americans are saying that they're worse off today than they were a year ago and they're not making as much money. That's the problem. That's why it's important to understand -- I'm not a lawyer, I'm an accountant. And I think it's time we had an accountant in the White House.


TAPPER: So, obviously, your most recent prominent job was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. So I do want to turn to foreign policy. Ukraine is on the precipice of launching a counter offensive against Russia. Now, on that topic, I want to bring in Brett Barker. He's a pharmacist. He's the Mayor of Nevada Iowa. He's also the Chair of the Iowa Young Republicans and the chair of the Story County Republican Party. Brett?

MAYOR BRETT BARKER, (R) NEVADA, IOWA: Welcome back to the great State of Iowa, Ambassador.

HALEY: Hey, Brett. Good to see you.

BARKER: Many Americans may question the value of supporting Ukraine against the Russian invasion. What are our national interests here? And why should it matter to Americans?

HALEY: You know, it's been controversial on what we do with this Russian Ukrainian war. But I'll tell you this. This is bigger than Ukraine. This is a war about freedom. And it's one we have to win. You look at those Ukrainians, and what did they do when Russia invaded their freedoms? They moved in there, went to the front lines, and fought for their country.

The women said, we're not going to stay back. They made Molotov cocktails to defend their country. Everybody gave them five days to survive. But yet their passion and their will push them forward. What we have to understand is a win for Ukraine is a win for all of us, because tyrants tell us exactly what they're going to do.

What we heard. China said they were going to take Hong Kong. They did it. Russia said they were going to invade Ukraine. We watched that happen. China says Taiwan's next. We better believe them. Russia said Poland and the Baltics are next, if that happens, we're looking at a world war.


This is about preventing war. And so the way you prevent war is not that we give cash to Ukraine, not that we put troops on the ground, but that we get with our allies and we make sure that we give them the equipment and the ammunition to win.

Because when Ukraine wins, that sends a message to China with Taiwan. It sends a message to Iran that wants to build a bomb, sends a message to North Korea testing ballistic missiles. And it sends a message to Russia that it's over. That's what we have to do.

And keep in mind, everybody wants to know, well, how does this war end? It would end in a day if Russia would pull out. If Ukraine pulls out, then we're all looking at a world war.

TAPPER: So this is a real issue that distinguishes you from some of your opponents. Former President Trump has refused to say whether he believes Russia should win the war or if Putin is a war criminal. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis referred to Russia's invasion of Ukraine as a, "territorial dispute." What do you think of that?

HALEY: I think that that's a mistake that too many have made. That's exactly what got the Europeans in this position with Russia in the first place, is that they're too trustful. You can't be trustful of a regime that goes in and tries to take away people's freedoms. What we need to understand is that Ukraine has the ability to win. But we have to think bigger than that. And for them to sit there and say that this is a territorial dispute, that's just not the case. To say that we should stay neutral, it is in the best interests of America. It's in the best interests of our national security for Ukraine to win. We have to see this through. We have to finish it.

TAPPER: If I misspoke, I meant to say that, Trump refused to say whether he believes Ukraine should win the war. But you obviously knew what I was talking about. You have called Putin a, "evil tyrant, and you've said he cannot be trusted." How do you deal with a foreign leader that you cannot trust?

HALEY: Well, first of all, let's look at where we are. So you've got Russia invading Ukraine. You've got North Korea testing ballistic missiles. You've got Iran trying to build a bomb. We've got chaos everywhere, right? But none of that would have happened had we not had that debacle in Afghanistan. The idea that we left Bagram Air Force Base in the middle of the night without telling our allies, who stood shoulder to shoulder with us for decades because we asked them to be there, think about what that told our friends.

More importantly, think about what that told our enemies. So now you have this happening. None of this should have happened. Biden had a whole year to prevent that war in Ukraine, and he didn't do it. Russia surrounded Ukraine. Where was everybody? There was an opportunity to stop it. That's what we have to make sure of.

So when you're dealing with Russia and China, I'll give you an example. The Russian plane knocked down our U.S. drone a couple of weeks ago. Remember that? What do we do about it? Nothing. You know what I would have done if I was president? Put two drones up there in a fighter jet and put our naval fleet back in the Black Sea because it never should have left in the first place.


TAPPER: Let me ask you this because you brought up the Afghanistan withdrawal, did you disagree with the peace treaty that was negotiated by Secretary Pompeo and President Trump that set the stage for the withdrawal in 2021?

HALEY: You can never trust the Taliban. They are terrorists. They are terrorists. And part of what it means to keep America safe is to know who your enemy is. And when your enemy -- this is what they did with the Iran deal. When they went and gave all of that cash to get into the Iran deal, they thought that Iran would stop. This is a regime that says, death to America, death to Israel every day, no amount of money changes the way they think.

So when you go to the Taliban, yeah, they wanted all of that money. And by the way, Biden left them $7 billion worth of military equipment while they hauled out of there in the middle of the night. But when you pay terrorists off, all they do is more terrorism. That doesn't ever keep anyone safe. Those are the lessons we need to learn. Those are -- we can't keep repeating these same mistakes over and over again.

TAPPER: Yeah, I think they left the equipment. It's a distinction without a difference. They left the equipment for the Afghan military, within the Afghan military to solve.

HALEY: The Afghan military had already fallen.

TAPPER: Right.

HALEY: We knew there was no -- they had hauled it out of Afghanistan.

TAPPER: So you were the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. under President Trump. As I've noted on Friday, Mr. Trump congratulated Kim Jong-un. Because North Korea had ascended to a leadership role in the World Health Organization. What was your reaction to that? And were you uncomfortable with how Mr. Trump dealt with and how his attitude was towards Kim Jong-un while you worked at the U.N.?

HALEY: I mean, Kim Jong-un is a thug. And if you see what he has done to his own people in North Korea when money went to North Korea, it didn't go to feed their people. It went to feed their nuclear program. There's nothing good or decent about Kim Jong-un.


There's no reason we should ever congratulate the fact that they are now Vice Chair of the World Health Organization. And it goes to the fact that, also, the World Health Organization is a farce to start with. We saw that during COVID.


TAPPER: So it did bother you, and you didn't like his congratulating of Kim Jong-un, and you didn't like how he dealt with him when he was...

HALEY: I don't think we ever should congratulate dictators. Congratulate our friends. Don't congratulate our enemies. It emboldens them when we do that.

TAPPER: So I want to go to...


TAPPER: ... another Iowa voter, Ruth Haus from Urbandale, the president of Living History Farms, an agricultural museum. She's also worked on Republican campaigns and in George H.W. Bush's administration. Ruth?

QUESTION: Thank you for being in Iowa so often already. We appreciate it.

HALEY: We're going to keep on coming back.

HAUS: My question is, please share your views and approach to U.S.- China relations and its impact on trade for Iowa farmers.

HALEY: Great question. So China, without question, is our number one national security threat. And let's go back in history. For too long, Republican and Democrat presidents thought that, if they were nice to China, China would want to be like us. That's narcissistic. China -- bless you -- China does not want to be like us. They want to be Communist China. We have to change the way we treat them.

So if you know that, let's look at where China is now. They've built up their military. They have the largest naval fleet in the world. They have more air defense systems than we do. They just came out with a fifth-generation fighter jet.

How'd they do it? By stealing our intellectual property that we handed them on a silver platter. They steal $600 billion worth of intellectual property from us every year. President Xi started a commission that he personally chairs that says any company that does business in China has to cooperate with the Chinese military.

Think about our tech companies. Think about all of our financial data. Think about all of your health care data. Think about your children's lifestyle data. And now know that the Chinese military has all of that. President Xi has said whoever owns the data owns the world, and that's why they're sending spy balloons. That's why they're buying up 400,000 worth -- acres worth of farmland near our most sensitive military installations. That's what they're doing.

Now, having said that, how do you deal with China when you know we've got an economy that's so intertwined?

You do it through a national security lens -- strictly through a national security lens. So I don't care if Americans buy T-shirts and light bulbs from China, anymore than I care if the -- of the Chinese buy agricultural products from our farmers. I welcome that.

What I do care about is if it's a national security risk. When you saw we had COVID, they told you to put on a mask. The masks were made in China. They told you to take a home COVID test. You turned it over, it was made in China. You go down to your local drugstore, all those medicines are made in China.

What I -- bless you -- what I will focus on is, when we -- when I become president, the very first day, you look at it and say, "If China pulled the rug out from under us tomorrow, would we be ready? Would we be safe?" That's what we need to do.

So I don't want us exporting any tech equipment to them. I want us to make sure we're focused. And, by the way, for our farmers, I don't want our farmers to just sell to China. I will be their ambassador. In South Carolina, when I was governor, I sold South Carolina to every one. I will sell our Iowa farmers and all of their products to Japan, to Australia, to South Korea, to Israel.


We can sell it to other countries.


TAPPER: So you mentioned Taiwan earlier, about Ukraine and Russia being -- Russia invading Ukraine could embolden China to invade Taiwan. That's one of the biggest flash points, as you know, in the U.S./China relationship. And President Biden has repeatedly said that U.S. forces would defend Taiwan if China invades. Would you make that same commitment?

HALEY: Well, I think he's looking at this the wrong way. It's about preventing war. So what will prevent China from even going into Taiwan in the first place? There are two things that China and Russia never wanted us to have. They never wanted us to have a strong military, and they never wanted us to be energy independent. We need to do both of those things. Strong militaries don't start wars; strong militaries prevent wars. That's the first thing that we have to know.



HALEY: The second thing is... TAPPER: OK.

HALEY: The second -- hold on, I'm getting there.


The second thing is we should be supplying the Taiwanese military what they need to do to defend themselves. So I hosted the Taiwanese ambassador several months ago and brought her to the South Carolina Army National Guard so she could see how we train up our citizens, what we do, what they need to be doing in Taiwan to defend themselves.

You go and make sure that you lift them up so that they can do for themselves like the Ukrainians are doing for themselves. But when China sees that Taiwan has got the backing of their allies and when China sees that Ukraine just beat Russia, they won't even move into Taiwan. That should be our goal.



TAPPER: So one of the things about the United states vis-a-vis Taiwan is there used to be a thing called strategic ambiguity, where the U.S. president -- I know you know this -- where the U.S. president would not say directly one way or the other would U.S. forces defend Taiwan if China invaded. And President Biden broke with that. And I'm wondering if you would, too?

HALEY: No. What I will tell you is, we are going to make sure they have the equipment, the ammunition and the training to win themselves.

TAPPER: I want to turn to an issue you've talked about at length on the campaign trail, especially here in Iowa. This is Rebekah Haynie. She's a mother of six and a podcaster from Ogden. She owns a security company. She serves on her county Republican committee. She's worked for conservative advocacy groups such as Personhood Iowa.


HALEY: Strong woman, and I love it.


HALEY: Keep it up.


QUESTION: I can see that we're two of a kind here.


QUESTION: Thank you for answering real questions from real Iowans. I appreciate that.

HALEY: Thank you. QUESTION: And I, as Jake mentioned, I'm one of a huge contingent of pro-life voters in Iowa. And we just really want to know, what is your plan for effective protection for pre-born lives? Could you share your plan with us?

HALEY: Absolutely. So I am unapologetically pro-life.


But I'm not pro-life because the Republican Party tells me to be. I'm pro-life because my husband was adopted. I'm pro-life because I had trouble having both of my children. So I am surrounded by blessings. Having said that, I don't judge anyone for being pro-choice, any more than I want them to judge me for being pro-life.

If you look at the situation of the life-abortion story that we have today, how did we get to where we are?

First of all, prior to 1973, you had 46 different state laws that dealt with life and dealt with abortion. And the people decided what those were going to be. Roe v. Wade came in and threw out 46 state laws and suddenly said abortion any time, anywhere, for any reason. And all Americans had to succumb to that.

We don't want unelected justices deciding something this personal. This is a personal issue for every woman and man in America, and it should be treated with the respect that way. So now that the unelected justices are out there and it's back in the hands of the people of the states, which is where it should be, there are some states that have become more pro-life, and I welcome that, and there are some states that have been more on the abortion side. I wish that wasn't the case, but that's what happened.

The question that everybody is talking about is, is there a federal role for this?

And I think that there is a federal role for this. But if we're going to do that, you have to be honest with the American people of what it takes to do that. In order to pass anything, you have to have a majority of the House; you have to have 60 Senate votes; and you have to have a signature of a president. We haven't had 60 pro-life senators in over 100 years. We might have 45.

So if you look at it from that standpoint, don't let anyone in the media; don't let any political party tell you that a Republican president can ban abortion laws in our country because they can't anymore than a Democrat president can ban our state laws. So what can we do with consensus?

That's exactly what it is. We come through with consensus and say, "What can we all agree on?" I think we can all agree on banning late- term abortions. I think we can all agree on encouraging adoptions and making sure those foster kids feel more loved, not less. I think we can agree on doctors and nurses who don't believe in abortions shouldn't have to perform them. I think we can agree on the fact that contraception should be accessible. And I think we can all come together and say any woman that has an abortion shouldn't be jailed or -- or -- or given the death penalty. Can't we start there? Can't we start there? Because what...


Because what the politicos and what the media have done is they've made you demonize a situation when it's so personal that we have to humanize the situation. Our goal should always be how do we save as many babies as we can and support as many mothers in that process as we do it?



... just over a week ago, your successor and former lieutenant governor in South Carolina signed a bill to ban nearly all abortions after six weeks in South Carolina. You say that you would support a federal ban in theory, but there aren't the 60 votes. Because there isn't a national consensus.

HALEY: I think we have to say where are they all going to come together? What can we get 60 votes on, and then go forward?

TAPPER: So it's -- I mean, do you have an opinion, though?

I mean, would a -- if a six-week ban theoretically came to your desk, would you sign it?

HALEY: But why -- why -- I will answer that when you answer -- when you ask Kamala and Biden if they would agree to 37 weeks, 38 weeks, 39 weeks. Then I'll answer your question.


No one asked them that. No one asked them how late they're willing to go. What I'm saying is why go and put the American people through that? Why do that? Why not talk about what's the truth?


And the truth is where can we get 60 votes? I just gave you the consensus about where I think we can come together.

TAPPER: I think Biden and Harris have been pretty clear that they don't support any restrictions. I mean, that's -- that's their...

HALEY: They said abortion up until the time of birth, right?

TAPPER: I don't think that's the language they used, but, yes, I mean, they -- theoretically, they don't support restrictions. They say it should be up to a woman, her doctor and her God. That's -- that's what they say.

HALEY: And I think that's the conversation we need to have, is that they agree with abortions up until the time of birth, and most Americans do not agree with that.

TAPPER: So Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, he tried to steer a path for the Supreme Court of about a 15-week ban, which is originally what Mississippi was proposing. And then Mississippi realized they could get Roe v. Wade overturned, and, you know, they moved forward even more aggressively.

Is that where you think a national consensus would be?

I understand you're saying it's up to the -- where you can get 60 -- 60 votes, but in your view -- you must have an opinion. Is 15 weeks where it would be, theoretically?

HALEY: I haven't talked to the senators. I don't know where 60 votes are. What I will tell you is I want to save as many babies as we can and support as many mothers as we can. I'm not going to throw out a number because, if you don't talk with those senators and know where their head's and know what they're really willing to do, then we're having a false conversation and having a debate that's only dividing people, and it's not bringing people together.

TAPPER: So let's talk to an Iowan.


TAPPER: This is Teri Kallem. She's a work-from-home mom, entrepreneur, and -- this sounds like the greatest job in the world -- she's a wine consultant.


HALEY: You and I need to sit down after this.



TAPPER: I'll join that conversation.

She's a Republican from Ankeny. Teri?

QUESTION: All right. Hi, Nikki.


QUESTION: I have an adopted child as well, so thank you for sharing your story.

HALEY: Oh, God bless you. God bless...

QUESTION: I'm tired of the division in our country and what politics has become since 2020. I have specific beliefs for why I vote, but I don't look down on friends and colleagues who have different views. In fact, some of my best friends vote on the opposite side of the aisle. And I long for America to be more like that again because we're one country. HALEY: That's right.

QUESTION: It seems to me so many of the issues are because of the divisive politics of Trump and Biden. How can you do better?

HALEY: I think Americans are tired. I mean, when I go, whether it's Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina, Americans are tired. They want to see a government work for them again. They want to see results happen. They don't want to see congressional members go on TV and talk about how awful everybody else is. They want to see a government that works for them. And we have to do that.

And that tone starts from the top. You know, I'll tell you, we had that horrific shooting in Charleston that killed nine amazing souls. And it happened at a time where it was on the heels of Ferguson, and I was so worried our state was going to fall apart. And the national media came in and they wanted to make it about race; they wanted to make it about the death penalty; they wanted to make it about guns. And I strong-armed them at the time and I said, "There will be a time and place we can have those debates, but right now we need to put to rest nine amazing souls." And I tried to protect that.

And I didn't have that luxury, because a couple of days later the murderer came out with his manifesto, holding the Confederate flag. And at that time, I went and I called my staff and I said, "I want you to set up four meetings, one with the Democrat leadership, one with the Republican leadership, one with the federal delegation and one with community leaders."

And I said, "Don't tell them why I want to meet," because I knew they wouldn't come. And when those meetings happened, I said to them, "At 3:00 today, I'm going to ask for the Confederate flag to come down. If you will stand with me, I will forever be grateful. And if you won't, I'll never tell anyone you were in this room. And I'll never tell about who dissented."

And I have never have done that. I have kept my promise on that. When we got together, we had everybody, Republicans, Democrats, whites, blacks, come together for the flag to come down. But that's when the hard work happened. We needed two-thirds vote of the House and two- thirds vote of the Senate, which is an impossible feat, almost. But what we did is we went back and we didn't fall into the fear of that situation. We turned away from fear and we turned toward God and the values that make our country great.

And that's what we have to do again. We were able to get two-thirds vote of the House and the Senate. We were able to go and show that we didn't have riots; we had vigils. We didn't have protests; we had hugs. And at that point in time, South Carolinians showed the entire world what strength and grace looks like. But it starts at the top. It starts with a tone. It starts with results. And it starts with having respect for the people you serve that they don't deserve any more drama than they're already having to deal with.



TAPPER: So one of the reasons why that was interesting was because previously you said you thought that the -- the flag was important to many South Carolinians, it was a symbol of their heritage. And so your decision to do that came from that place, which probably made it more effective. But how difficult was it? Because some people thought you were going to protect the flag?

HALEY: It truly was the hardest time of my life. I mean, it was a very emotional, difficult time because you saw what so many people in South Carolina do on a Wednesday night, they went to Bible study. But on that night, someone else showed up. He didn't look like them. He didn't act like them. He didn't sound like them. And they didn't call the cops. They didn't throw him out. Instead, they pulled up a chair and they prayed with him for an hour. And when they bowed their heads in that last prayer, he began to shoot.

These were people like Ethel Lance. And she would go around Mother Emanuel Church singing "One day at a time sweet Jesus, that's all I ask of you, give me the strength to do every day what I have to do." Our youngest victim, Tywanza Sanders, who had just finished college, had the world in front of him, and on that night he stood in front of his 87-year-old great aunt Susie and told the killer you don't have to do this, we mean no harm to you.

Or it was people like Cynthia Hurd, whose life motto was simply to be kinder than necessary. That's who these people were. They weren't famous, but they loved their families. They loved their church. And they loved their community. And we had an obligation to make sure that we got it right.

The problem was, in the senate, it passed pretty quickly because the pastor of the church was a senator. And I'll never get over the night of the murders. I called him and I said, Pastor Pinckney, I'm so sorry about what happened. I will be there first thing in the morning. Anything your congregation needs, we will take care of them.

And what haunts me to this day is that his cell phone was in his pocket and he was at the church. And he was one of the people that was murdered. So the senate passed it through very quickly, because their brother had been killed. It was the house that was so difficult.

And the house, I remember, they came back and said, let's put a different flag up. And I said, no, I want the flag to come down. Then they came back and said, OK, they will take the flag down but don't want to take down the pole. Well, I had been in the South Carolina legislature, I knew what that meant. That meant that as soon as the flag came down, another flag was going to go up after the national media went away.

And they said to me, you could do this. This would be a win for you. But I didn't want any other governor to have to deal with what I was having to deal with. And finally they said, we can't do it, they won't pass it. And I went to them, to the Republican caucus, and I said, I want to tell you a story. I said when I was growing up, my dad would sometimes let me ride with

him to Columbia. And he would love to buy produce from farmer stands. He liked buying produce directly from farmers rather than in the stores. And one day we stopped by a produce stand, and the owners, I saw them start to talk, my father wears a turban. And the next thing we knew, a police car drove up. And the police stood next to the owners. And my dad grabbed his produce and he went to the register and he thanked them and he paid.

When we got in the car, he didn't say another word to me all the way home. He was hoping I didn't notice what just happened. But I knew exactly what happened. And I told the house caucus that day, when I go to the airport, I have to pass that produce sign -- that produce stand, and I still feel pain.

I don't want a single child to drive by this statehouse and feel pain. Take the flag, take the pole down. And we were able that night at 1:00am, the flag and the pole came down.


TAPPER: So you have talked about growing up in South Carolina as a, quote, "brown girl in a Black and white world." What was that like to you in addition to that story you just told?

HALEY: I mean , it was a small rural southern town, 2,500 people, two stop lights. You couldn't think about doing something wrong without somebody telling your mom. It was difficult at first. You know, we were the only Indian family. They -- we weren't white enough to be white. We weren't Black enough to be Black. They didn't know who we were, what we were, or why we were there.


And I remember when I would get teased on the playground. I would come home and my mom would say, your job is not to show them how you're different, your job is to show them how you're similar. And it's amazing how our country should take my mom's advice right now.


TAPPER: We're going to have more with presidential candidate Governor Nikki Haley when we come back after this quick message.


TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's Republican Presidential Town Hall with former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. I apologize for my voice. I have a little scratchy throat this evening.

Ambassador Haley, your husband of 26 years, Michael, who is here in the audience, where is he?

HALEY: He's right there.

TAPPER: There's -- there's Michael. (APPLAUSE)

TAPPER: He's with us tonight. He's about to begin a year-long deployment to Africa with the South Carolina Army National Guard, the National Guard announced that last week. How are you and your family feeling about him going overseas for a year?

HALEY: We're so proud. I mean, we love him so much. You know, this is -- it's not our first rodeo. You -- he did this when I was governor. He seems to find really interesting times.



HALEY: You know, but what you realize is deployments are never convenient but they're necessary. And, you know, this is the start of what, my and my family, will be a year-long prayer that they are effective and that they're strong and that they come home safely. But we all know when they answer the call, I mean, how blessed are we as a country that we have people willing to go and defend and protect all that (inaudible)...


TAPPER: So, as you note, this is not your first rodeo. What advice would you give military families who are about to go through this for the first time?

HALEY: You know, military families are incredibly resilient. They are incredibly strong. I'm proud to stand with every military spouse because our job is to keep all well on the home front. We make sure that they don't have to worry about anything back home because we've got it taken care of. And I'm blessed because I have always supported every way that he wants to serve his country. And he has always supported every way I want to serve my country. So I'm a lucky girl.

And to every military spouse, we can do this, we can do this every day.


TAPPER: So veterans issues are obviously very important to your family. I reported and I actually came here to Des Moines. I reported on a veteran here Des Moines, who I'll never forget, his name was Richard Miles. He went to a local VA to get mental health treatment. He basically was not admitted and he died by suicide, Richard Miles. And Senator Ernst has his picture on her desk in her office. We're losing an average of 17 veterans a day, a day to suicide.

What would you do as commander-in-chief to fix this problem?

HALEY: First know that, you know, we always say -- my parents always raised me and they always said take care of those who take care of you. And America hasn't done that. Thirty-three thousand of our heroes are homeless right now. One in three suffer from PTSD or suicidal thoughts. Like Jake said, 17 of our heroes die from suicide every single day.

When they want to get a doctor's appointment at a VA, it takes them 29 days. Why 29? Because if it goes into 30 days, they can go see any physician they want. So what happens is somewhere during that 30 days, they get a call and say, oh, we need to reschedule, so that the clock starts all over again. We don't have enough telehealth to deal with these mental health services. We don't have enough addiction centers to deal with what happens if you don't treat mental health and they go into addictions.

And I am telling you, the fact that we're treating our best in this way is a travesty. And so my way of fixing this is I think every member of Congress should have to get their health care from the VA.


HALEY: I'm telling you, Jake, that would fix it right away. Because no one else would put up with what these veterans are having to put up with. And they deserve better than what they are getting.


TAPPER: I want you to meet Jeff Ortiz. He's a Republican and operations manager from Ames. He's the co-chair of the Story County GOP. Jeff?

JEFF ORTIZ, CO-CHAIR, STORY COUNTY, IOWA GOP, : Welcome back to Iowa, Nikki.

HALEY: Thank you. It's great to be back.

ORTIZ: It's great to have you. I have a short question but it's a very complex one. What is your comprehensive plan to fix our crisis at the border?

HALEY: That is a very complex issue. And I will tell you I am the only candidate that has not just talked about it, I'm the only candidate this cycle that has actually gone to the border. I went to 400 miles of that border. You're not ready for what I saw. When you get up in the morning, you get your coffee, and you watch the news. When these ranchers get up in the morning, they get their coffee, and they go see if anybody died trying to cross the fence. They pick up whatever little kids were left behind and they turn them over to Border Patrol.

I met with multiple sheriffs. And they said, before 7am they round up illegal immigrants, the ones they can capture. They turn them over to Border Patrol. And Border Patrol documents them and releases them until their court date years from now. And then when I asked Border Patrol about their job, they said, you want to know what our job is? We are glorified babysitters. They don't let us do our job. Five million illegal immigrants.

We had enough Fentanyl cross that border that would kill every single American. Number one cause of death of adults 18 to 49? Fentanyl. Don't think for a second China doesn't know what they're doing when they send it over.

So the way we would deal with that is, when I was governor, I passed one of the toughest illegal immigration laws in the country.


We did a mandatory E-Verify program that made businesses prove that the people they hired were here legally. We will do a national E- Verify program. We will defund sanctuary cities once and for all.


HALEY: We will stop giving the hundreds of billions of dollars of handouts to illegal immigrants. We will go back to remain in Mexico because guess what, nobody wants to remain in Mexico. We will keep the provisions of Title 42. And instead of catch and release, we will go to catch and deport. That is the way we will stop the bleeding on our border. We have to do this.

And when it comes to the cartels, we treat them like the terrorists that they are. We get our special operations, military, and we go in and we capture them just like we've gone after terrorists before and we wipe them out.

We've got to realize we are losing Americans by the day. And we've got to stop whether it's the fentanyl coming across whether it's illegal immigrants coming across, we've got to close the border.

TAPPER: So just a point of -- on the fentanyl issue because it is such an important issue. Most of the fentanyl and this is not an excuse for, but most of the fentanyl that comes into this country illegally from Mexico, a lot of it from Chinese supplies to Mexico, comes through ports of entry and it's smuggled by American citizens.

I mean, the immigration crisis notwithstanding the Fentanyl crisis is about 90 percent if it's irrelevant to that, what would you --

HALEY: Which is why you sanction China immediately. China knows what they're doing, sanction them. There's nothing that they dislike more than when we hit their wallets. And you sanction them and you let them know that we're on to them. We make sure their cartels know that we're on to them and we start to deal with it.

We have to underweight the number one. We've lost more people to fentanyl than the Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam wars combined. Think about that. That's a terrible thing. Standing by not doing anything is unacceptable. We've got Americans dying every day. So we have to do that. And it's important to know these are not druggies that are taking fentanyl.

In some cases, these are kids that just ordered Adderall online to help take a test. I talked with some parents a month ago. And they basically that's how they lost their son. He just took a pill from someone else before a test. We've got to get that under control. TAPPER: Congressman Ted Deutch, former congressman Ted Deutch, Democrat from Florida, he lost his nephew, a student in Washington D.C. who ordered an herbal supplement. So he thought it was legal and everything like that it was laced with fentanyl. Just important for the kids out there to know.

HALEY: That's exactly right.

TAPPER: Don't trust it. It's too dangerous. I want to move on to a different domestic issue. Jacob Underwood is a Republican from Des Moines. He works in construction. Jacob.

HALEY: Hi, Jacob.

JACOB UNDERWOOD, IOWA VOTER: Hello, Mrs. Haley. Thank you for coming in Iowa. My question for you would be, what meaningful steps would you take to prevent mass shootings and soft target areas such as schools, shopping malls, and other areas where responsible citizens can't really carry their firearm?

HALEY: It's an important question for our country because I have a mom heart. I know there are a lot of parents in the audience that realize that we worry about our kids. My daughter works in a hospital. I worry about something happening there. My son is in college. I worry about something that could happen on campus.

But I think in order to deal with this, we have to be honest. We have to have an honest conversation about how we deal with this. First of all 80 percent of the shootings that happen in schools, they have stolen that gun from family members. Understand that.

Secondly, more murders are caused by street crime than anything else. So let's start focusing on what we can deal with. First of all, let's get illegal guns off the street. Let's have the backs of law enforcement. Let's get illegal guns off the street.

Secondly, let's make sure when it comes to our schools, secure our schools. There should be one point of entry. There should be a law enforcement officer at every school. We should make sure there's the clear bulletproof tape that we have at courthouses and airports. We should have that on our schools to protect them. And we should have a mental health counselor at every single school, not a guidance counselor but a mental health counselor.

Then we need to make sure that the Feds actually vet properly. When I talked about the church shooting that we had, that murder when he went to go buy a gun, because the Feds didn't do it in the time allotted. They gave him the gun anyway. He should never have gotten it. It would have been -- it would have been flagged that he wasn't supposed to have one.

So, first, let's have the Feds do the job they're supposed to do already. And then let's deal with the cancer in America that no one has dealt with and we have to deal with and that's mental health. One in four people have a mental health issue, but if treated, they can live a perfectly normal life. The last 17 of the last 18 mass shootings are all mental health related, yet, and now past COVID, you've got more teenagers that have issues with mental health and we've ever seen, stress, anxiety, depression, but yet, if someone needs help, there aren't enough therapists.


If you go to a therapist, you've got to pay cash. Insurance doesn't cover it. There aren't enough mental health facilities. When people don't get treated for mental health, they get addictions. We don't have enough addiction centers. And so we have to treat this like the crisis it is. We have to make mental health a number one priority because we are losing Americans every day to a lack of care. And that's why we're going to continue to see these.

You know, everybody wants to say, oh, but why can't you get rid of -- let's get rid of AR-15s. The reality is, even if you did that, it might make you feel good today, there's going to be another shooting next week.

The reason a lot of these happened, and you mentioned that shooting at the schools, you need to end gun-free zones, gun-free zones. When you look at -- killers always look for a place that's a gun-free zone, because guess what, nobody else is going to be able to protect themselves.

I'm a concealed weapons permit holder myself. We don't want to take away the constitutional right for someone to protect and defend their families in America. And when you've got crime at all-time highs, you've got illegal immigrants crossing the border, you've got mental health crisis that's as much as it is, the last thing I'm going to do is take away the ability for someone to protect themselves in event.

TAPPER: You know, the intersection of the gun crisis, the gun violence crisis with the mental health crisis, and about two-thirds of the gun deaths are suicide or people who are troubled, and they -- and they choose to do this and it's horrific.

Some states have been experimenting with red flag laws, which enables law enforcement and the courts to temporarily either remove guns or block people from being able to purchase guns, individuals who have been adjudicated in some way from posing a threat to themselves or others. Is that something that you might support?

HALEY: No, I don't trust government to deal with red flag laws. I don't trust that they will -- that they won't take them away from people who rightfully deserve to have them, because you've got someone else judging whether someone should have a gun or not.

It is a constitutional right that people can protect and defend themselves. What I want is the Feds to do their job. What I want us is to take illegal guns off the street. What I want us to do is deal with mental health the way it deserves to be dealt with. And what I want is for us to have the backs of law enforcement so that they can do their jobs. That's when we'll start to get safety back on our streets. TAPPER: So we're going to have more with presidential candidate governor Nikki Haley when we come back.



TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's Republican Presidential Town Hall with former South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley.

I want you to meet Marsha Aldridge. She's Vice President of an insurance company. She's an adjunct professor here at Grandview. She's a Republican from Johnston. Professor.


HALEY: Thank you.

ALDRIDGE: You've been very successful overcoming this systemic sexism that permeates politics and all employment and keeps women from serving in critical roles. Do you anticipate the same roadblocks on the road to the first woman president?

HALEY: It's interesting. When I was elected to the State House, in my first run, I ran against a 30-year incumbent and a primary. When I got elected, South Carolina was the lowest in the country on women elected officials.

And then when I became governor, I was the first female governor in South Carolina. And when I went to the U.N., I was the only woman on the Security Council at the time. So none of my jobs have ever had a line going to the women's bathroom, ever.


Having said that, women know the challenges that women face, but we don't whine about it. We don't complain about it. We work hard. And that's what I've always done. I work hard, I show results. I get the job done. I don't take -- I don't pay attention to it. What challenges I may have, someone else may have other challenges. But to me, we've got a country to save and I'm just going to keep on doing everything I need to do.

TAPPER: What would it mean to you to be the first woman elected president of the United States?

HALEY: For me, I don't think about that as much as it'll be nice to have that out of the way. You know, that's what I thought when -- I thought that when I became the first female governor of South Carolina, I was just kind of relieved that everybody would quit talking about it. Because I think that we have -- women are amazing at a lot of things. I'm a big fan of women, we balance, we prioritize. We know how to get things done. I mean, honestly, we've let guys do it for a while. It might be time for a woman to get it done, so. TAPPER: I do want to ask you about your relationship with your former boss and current political rival, former president Trump. After January 6, you said this about him, "We need to acknowledge you let us down. He went down a path he shouldn't have and we shouldn't have followed him and we shouldn't have listened to him. And we can't let that ever happen again."

Do you still feel that way?

HALEY: Yes. He thinks that was a beautiful day. I think it was a terrible day. I'll always stand by that.

TAPPER: And Trump continues to lie about what happened in the 2020 election. He continues to say it was stolen. And a huge number of Republican voters believe -- no, I know you have issues with the ways some states change the rules to help people vote during the pandemic. I get that. You have acknowledged that that didn't have an impact on the outcome of the election.

But I'm talking about debunked wild conspiracy theories claims rejected by Republican governors and election officials, more than 60 failed legal challenges. After January 6, he said about voters who believe Trump's conspiracy theories, "We've got a lot of work to do. They've been lied to by everybody."

How clearly are you going to state this to voters on the campaign trail?

HALEY: I think it's important that voters want to have election integrity. That's the biggest thing. And I've seen -- when I was at the United Nations, there's nothing worse than when a country and their citizens don't trust the election system.

So when you look at what happened, you know, you had mail out balloting that we know was happening. We know that there was harvesting that was happening. And then you had secretaries of state that did things without approval from their legislature. Those are pretty serious. And so what we've seen happen in states is they've started to pass election integrity laws, which we need to have. And I think that's really important.


And I've said, all of what happened, none of that would have changed the results of the election. We know that President Biden is the president. But I do think it goes to say, we need to continue to have election integrity laws. When I was governor in South Carolina, we pushed for a on-the-record -- I'm sorry -- we pushed to make sure that we had transparency in voting.

And when we did, we had voter ID. And when we did, they said we were disenfranchising voters. I was vilified by the media at the time. And I said, if you've got to show picture ID to buy Sudafed; if you've got to show picture ID to get on a plane, you should have to show picture ID to protect the integrity of the election contest.



TAPPER: So, just for the record, a lot of states changed voting rules during the pandemic, including states that Trump won, like North Carolina, Kentucky and Arkansas. Utah has exclusively had vote by mail for years and years and years. I'm not talking about that. And I'm not talking about debates over voter ID or whatever, normal -- normal things in the context of political discourse.

I'm talking about the insane stuff we heard about the Italians hacking into satellites and -- and, well, you know what I'm talking about -- and the lies that Trump continues to say, the people's lives that were put at risk, Democrats and Republicans. And I'm wondering how willing you are to talk to the people, Republican voters, to say "That wasn't true; that didn't happen?"

HALEY: I've been on the record to say that, while I think that we had issues, I don't think that any of them changed the election. I have also said, when he said it was a beautiful day, January 6th, I think January 6th was a terrible day. I will say whatever is my truth. And I've always done that. And I've done that on both of those things.

TAPPER: So let's get back to our audience. This is Jo Kline. She's a retired attorney. She's an advocate for healthcare access and patients' rights. She's an independent who says she plans to participate in the Republican caucuses. She lives in West Des Moines.


HALEY: Hi, Jo.

QUESTION: Hi, Governor.

And you touched on mental health and you touched on veterans' health, so I really appreciate the opportunity to ask this question. The United States is experiencing historic growth in its aging and its chronically ill populations. And at the same time, our healthcare workforce is disappearing.

So I wonder how would you address this life-threatening crisis of access in healthcare?

HALEY: It's very true. You know, my parents -- I take care of my parents. They both live with us. We take care of them. And I watch basically what they have to go through. I watch how expensive healthcare is. I watch how hard it is for them to get their medicines that they need, all of those things. So we have a big health care issue. And our healthcare system needs to be broken. And the way you break it is you do it from a transparent situation. And that's from the insurance companies to the hospitals to the doctors to the pharmaceutical companies. When they suddenly have to show us everything, all of a sudden we're going to get to see exactly what's happening.

The idea that my parents, when they go to the hospital and they come home, the idea that the bill they get was negotiated on between the insurance companies and the hospital and they had no say in it is the first problem that's wrong. We've got to start having healthcare that's based on outcomes.

Why is it that you should go to a doctor and they just give you a medicine to keep you symptomatically a little bit better? Shouldn't we want doctors that go and actually cure you, that heal you, that work together with other physicians to have that happen?

When you go get your car fixed, what happens? They say, "Well, we could do fix it -- like, we could do a temporary fix for this much, or we could give you a really permanent fix for this much."

Shouldn't you get that in healthcare? Shouldn't you get the option to decide how much you want, what you need to do, whether you want the Tylenol in the hospital or whether you don't?

The second thing is we have to -- doctors don't give you those nine -- you know, those 10 tests out of the fact that they want to. They give them to you for the 90 percent chance they're going to get sued. We have to have tort reform throughout this country to stop this reckless lawsuits that are driving health care up.


The next thing is these certificate of need bills, we have to get rid of those. Those basically say there's no competition in healthcare. So a hospital can say, "I don't want any other hospital near me for X number of miles because it will lower the quality."

No, when I was growing up in our family business, my mom used to always say the best thing that could happen to us is if our competitor went across the street because our quality would go up; our prices would go down; and our service would be better." That's what we need in hospitals as well.

And when you deal with all of those things, you can focus on access and making sure we've got professionals. My daughter is a nurse at the children's hospital. I see the pressures and the strains that they have. They are now telling them they no longer can get paid more for overtime. They're now telling them that they're not going to get any raises, all while having a massive nursing shortage.


Our priorities are all wrong. Why are the insurance companies making all this money, yet the professionals we need to give the care are not getting any? It's twisted and it's messed up, and it's why we have to start fixing it and answer it the way it needs to be answered.

TAPPER: So, Jo raised the topic of...


TAPPER: ... the aging population that we have. I want to ask you about Social Security. The program is expected, as you noted earlier, to run out of money to pay full benefits in 2034. And if nothing is done, that will prompt automatic cuts.

In order to address that, you said that you have wanted to raise the future -- future retirement age for people who are young right now. What retirement age are you proposing?

HALEY: So I think that, first of all, we need to understand that, yes, Social Security will go bankrupt in 10 years; Medicare will go bankrupt in eight. But we shouldn't take away from anyone who's put into the system. We should keep our promises. Everyone who's been promised should get it.

My kids are in their 20s. They're the ones we go to and we say, "We're raising -- we're raising the retirement age to reflect life expectancy." We limit benefits on the wealthy. Instead of cost of living increases, let's do increases based on inflation. And let's expand Medicare Advantage plans. That's what we need to do to start really taking on entitlement reform. We have to do it, because we can't keep kicking this can down the road.

And I know that Trump and DeSantis have both said we're not going to deal with entitlement reform. Well, all you're doing is leaving it for the next president. And that's leaving a lot of Americans in trouble.

TAPPER: So for them to say that, DeSantis and Trump...


I mean, is it even a viable option? And what would you say about the leadership of those two individuals if they say they're not going to do anything?

HALEY: I think it's important to be honest with the American people. We are in this situation. Don't lie to them and say, "Oh, we don't have to deal with entitlement reform." Yes, we do. Yes, we do. It's the reality.

I'm always going to tell the truth. Is it going to hurt? Yes. But for our kids, they know they're not going to get it anyway. So why not go ahead and change it for them in their 20s? Why not go and put people that are in their 60s and 70s and 80s at peace so that they know, "Look, you're not going to have to worry about it." But, yes, we're going to go to our 20s and we're going to go tell them "Times have changed." I think they're not being honest with the American people.

TAPPER: So time for some honesty from Nikki Haley. If the retirement age is 66 or 67 right now, what are you talking about raising it to for the people in their 20s?

HALEY: Well, we'd have to go -- we'd have to do the calculations. We'd have to figure out...

TAPPER: You're an accountant.

HALEY: I am an accountant.

(LAUGHTER) HALEY: And you know what accountants do? Accountants do their homework and they make sure that, when they do something, they do it right or they don't do it. So I'm not going to give you a false number.


TAPPER: All right. So she has some homework to hand in to me later.


I want you to meet Bryan McQuide. He's a political science professor from Grimes who says he's a Republican who voted for Joe Biden.

Professor McQuide?

HALEY: Hi, Bryan.

QUESTION: Welcome here to Grand View University. It's an honor to have you here with us.

One of the concerns that many of my students express about Democrats and Republicans, both sides, is about climate change, our future environment, which will lead to my question.

Environmental issues are really a serious concern here in the Midwest, from the effects of hotter summers on our farmers to water quality issues, more frequent flooding on the Mississippi. And we're also concerned about the regulatory power of the EPA as well. So what would be your environmental policy? And how can this help the Midwest?

HALEY: I think it's -- the environment's important. And I think that climate change is real. I've always said that. But I think it's important, again, to be honest about where we are. I think you've seen a lot of these green deal policies that Biden has put into place that are not actually going to move the ball. They want to suddenly subsidize -- they're using, you know, gas-produced cars for subsidizing electric vehicles without realizing we don't have the infrastructure to handle it.

And I'm not just talking about charging stations. That's one of the issues. I'm not just talking about rural areas. That's one of the issues. I'm talking about electric vehicles are so heavy that our roads and bridges aren't capable of handling that. So, that's -- all of these things that they're doing in the name of saving the environment are actually going to hurt us down the road. And we need to be honest about that.

But if we do care about the environment, which I believe everybody here does -- we want clean air; we want clean water. I want my kids to have an Earth that's healthy and going to carry on for -- for future generations. But if we are that serious, then let's be honest. The United States is very good when it comes to emissions.

[21:10:02] If we want to really fix the environment, then let's start having serious conversations with India and China. They are our polluters. They're the ones that are causing the problem.


HALEY: The reason I pulled us out of the Paris Climate Agreement was not because I don't want us to have a good environment. It was because what had happened under the Obama administration, they had put so many regulations on our businesses that we were suffering. And that was the promise in the Paris Climate Agreement. You know what China's promise was? That they would deal with it in 10 years. And I dealt with the Chinese enough to know 10 years never comes. We need a fair playing field. We're not the problems. The Chinese and Indians are the problem.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I want to ask you about the legal battle between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Disney. You said you would happily welcome Disney to South Carolina if they wanted to move. What do you think of Governor DeSantis' leadership when it comes to the back and forth with Disney?

HALEY: Look, it's the hypocrisy of the whole thing. What I said was, first of all, this all started with the don't say gay bill, right? And it basically said you couldn't talk about gender to any child before the third grade. I have been on record saying, I don't think that went far enough. They should not be talking to our kids about gender, period. That's what parents talk to their kids about, not in school.


HALEY: So let's put that bill away and put that to the side. I totally agree with the bill and think that it needed to go further, and I think they've done that since then. What I'm talking about is the fact that here you have a woke company. They've been woke for years. I remember when Disney went after President Trump for immigration. This is nothing new. So here you have DeSantis, who accepted 50,000 in political contributions from Disney.

He went and put their executives and their lobbyists on prominent boards throughout Florida. And he went and basically gave the highest corporate subsidies in Florida history to Disney. But because they went and criticized him, now he's going to spend taxpayer dollars on a lawsuit. It's just like all this vendetta stuff. We've been down that road again. We can't go down that.

Businesses were my partners in South Carolina. We didn't always get along. And I -- you know, luckily, South Carolina is very anti-woke. But when you have a company like that, don't bring the citizens taxpayer dollars into it. Pick up the phone, deal with it, settle it the way you should. And I just think he's being hypocritical.

(APPLAUSE) TAPPER: So, woke, the word woke used to be used by progressives to talk about an awareness of inequities and historical inequities, but obviously it means something else to conservatives criticizing it. What does it mean to you? How do you define woke?

HALEY: There's a lot of things. I mean, you want to start with biological boys playing in girl sports. That's one thing. The fact that we have gender pronoun classes in the military now, I mean, all of these things that are pushing what a small minority want on the majority of Americans, it's too much. It's too much. I mean, the idea that we have biological boys playing in girls' sports, it is the women's issue of our time. My daughter ran track in high school. I don't even know how I would have that conversation with her. How are we supposed to get our girls used to the fact that biological boys are in their locker rooms? And then we wonder why a third of our teenage girls seriously contemplated suicide last year. We should be growing strong girls, confident girls.

Then you go and you talk about building a strong military. How are you going to build the morale in a strong military when you're doing gender pronoun classes? Why is it that --


HALEY: Why is it that you have, you know, kids undergoing critical race theory where if a little girl's in kindergarten if she's -- goes into kindergarten if she's white, you're telling her she's bad. If she's brown or black, you're telling her she's never going to be good enough and she's always going to be a victim. All of these things have gone to where they are pushing, you know, and transgender, the whole issue of the transgender, it's not that people don't think in America you should live the way you want to live. I want everybody to live the way they want to live, but stop pushing your views on everybody else. That's the problem, is there starting to push everything on the rest of us.


TAPPER: OK, so there was just a lot that you said. But let me --

HALEY: There's a lot wrong in our country when it comes to that.

TAPPER: So, you talked about a girl suicides, and I think one of the reasons why when you talk to educators, what is going on with all of this embracing the pronouns and embracing of trans kids, et cetera. According to the Trevor Project, half of transgender and non-binary young people have seriously considered suicide in the past year. And a lot of these efforts and I'm not defending any specific effort, but a lot of these efforts are about trying to stop that. And I'm wondering, is there room for the humanity of these young people in this debate?


HALEY: There are absolutely -- we need to take care of these kids. And that's why in South Carolina, when we had the issue of -- you know, they were transgender kids, when I was Governor. TAPPER: Yeah, the bathroom bill, yeah.

HALEY: we didn't have the bathroom bill.

TAPPER: Right.

HALEY: Because I didn't have the bathroom bill come into South Carolina because I knew that if we had a transgender child, they would come meet with the principal. The principal would give them their own private bathroom so that they were safe. And the majority of the student body didn't even have to deal with it. So I didn't want us to say, OK, you go to this bathroom, you go to that one, you just deal with them individually. That was the safest way for everybody. We do need to be humane about it.

But now what about the idea that this girl in New Hampshire that I talked to, she's a senior in high school, and she said, every class, they talk about transgenderism, and she said, I feel like I'm walking on eggshells because we'll be canceled if we say anything about it. That's what I'm talking about. It has overtaken the entire conversation, and that's not fair to the rest of our kids. So I think there is a humane way to do it. Let's get them the help, the therapy, whatever they need so that they can feel better and not be suicidal, but don't go and cause all these other kids to feel like that pressure is on them. They don't deserve that, and they don't need that, either.


TAPPER: So we're going to have more with Presidential Candidate Governor Nikki Haley when we come back.



TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's Republican Presidential Town Hall with former South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley. We're here at Grand View University with our audience of Iowa voters who say they plan to participate in the Republican caucuses.

I want you to meet Jody Jacklin. She's retired account credit manager from Johnston. She's a member of Capitol Region Republican Women. Jody.

JODY JACKLIN, MEMBER, CAPITOL REGION REPUBLICAN WOMEN: Welcome. And first off, I want to thank your husband for his service.

HALEY: Thank you.

JACKLIN: And also to you for your service as a spouse of a serviceman.

HALEY: Thank you very much. Thank you.

JACKLIN: My question is, how do we manage the growing age of artificial intelligence? HALEY: Artificial intelligence is happening whether we like it or not. So I think the first thing is you have to acknowledge this is real, and it can be a source for good, right? This is something that's going to move us over to the -- you know, to the next level when it comes to all types of things.

What we need to do is not heavily regulated, but we need to have guardrails, right? And so if you look, the Europeans are already on to it, the Chinese are already on to it. What we don't want is for them to leave us.

And so Biden has been very -- he's been slow on wanting to do anything about it, but that's the wrong way to look at it. We should be bringing in the private sector to tell us exactly what we need to watch out for with AI, how we can best use AI, and just to establish basic guardrails, and then let the private sector work because there's a lot of good innovation that's going to come from this, whether it's from healthcare, whether it's from tech, whether it's from all kinds of creativity that we can have, we don't want to suppress it. We just want to make sure that we're making sure it doesn't become dangerous.

TAPPER: Have you used ChatGPT at all?

HALEY: I have not, but I've had it used on me.

TAPPER: Is that right?


And did you see the ad that Donald Trump Jr. tweeted out? It was a scene from the office where Michael Scott from The Office was accidentally wore a woman suit. And everybody was making fun. But they had deep faked Ron DeSantis' face and voice into it. And it was funny. It was obviously a spoof, but I wondered, boy, where could this go? And I'm wondering how much that might worry you personally.

Politically a lot, because, you know, I mean, look, politics is a blood sport, and I come from South Carolina, so I know how dirty it can get. So when you look at that, you do worry that is there an image that's really not you that they go and put out there. But, you know, I don't think that means you just stop all AI in the process. That's kind of -- but the guardrails are what we should figure out to keep those things from happening. But, you know, it is what it is. Once you open that door, you can't close it. We saw it with social media. We're going to see it with AI as well.

TAPPER: What did you mean when you said you'd had ChatGPT used on you? What does that mean?

HALEY: Someone read an intro of me and they had used ChatGPT to get it.


HALEY: And they asked me how accurate it was.

TAPPER: And what was it like, 50/50?

HALEY: It was pretty accurate. Yes.

TAPPER: It was pretty accurate. Yes. OK.

I want you to meet David Engel. He's retired community college professor and the co-chair of the Marshall County Republicans. He's from Marshalltown. David.

HALEY: Nice. Hi, David.

DAVID ENGEL, CO-CHAIRMAN, MARSHALL COUNTY IOWA REPUBLICANS: Hi. I would like to thank the University of South Carolina for my graduate degrees. So I --

HALEY: I'm a Clemson Tiger, but I love you anyway.


ENGEL: Ambassador Haley, in the unlikely event of you not receiving the presidential nomination for the Republican Party, will you pledge your support to whoever does win the nomination and work to help elect our nominee and other Republicans running for the House and Senate?

HALEY: Well, first of all, I don't play for second. I never have. I'm not going to start. I'm in this to win it. And so to talk about anything other than that is not something I'm going to entertain.

Having said that with the debates, we have all said that whoever wins the primary, we're going to get behind that person and support him. I fully intend to do that. But right now, we've got a country to save I'm going to put every ounce of hard work into it to make sure we earn the people of Iowa support and earn the people of New Hampshire and South Carolina support, so we're going to fight hard to do that.

TAPPER: I'm a big believer in people in the media correcting themselves when they aired, and I aired earlier. I had described the Biden-Harris position as basically no restrictions and that might be the Harris position, but actually Joe Biden, President Biden, last fall was asked would he support any restrictions. His answer was -- that he did, and his basic position, President Biden's, is to codify Roe v. Wade which would mean abortion legal until, what, first 20 -- I think it's 20 weeks of pregnancy. So I was wrong about that and he was asked just to make that note, but I'll let you respond.


HALEY: Well, I was saying, have you asked about 35, 36, 37 weeks? Because everybody loves to ask us about six, eight, and 10 weeks, or 12 weeks. And so I was just saying, you need to ask Biden and Harris those same things.

TAPPER: Well, when I get Biden, I'll ask him.

But let me ask you this, when you see the practical effect of some of these laws passed in Florida, passed in Texas, where women who have fetal abnormalities, and with a child that will not live and they're forced to carry the child to term and the like. You've seen these stories in the media, I'm sure. Does that ever bother you? Does that ever make you think, we're not writing these laws correctly, or they don't know what they're doing? Even if they're trying to protect the baby, they're going too far. Does that ever -- do you ever think of that?

HALEY: I think in the legislatures, most of them, we see exceptions, whether it's rape, incest, or life of the mother, we've seen some other things. But this is what -- you know, in the situation, that's what South Carolinians decided. And I know that South Carolina is very pro-life. And so it's very representative of who they are. There are some other states that have gone more of the abortion side. And I -- like I said, I wish that wasn't the case, but that is who they are. And I think that that's what we're seeing Democracy at work. That's what we need to have.

TAPPER: I think this is our last question. And it's one that I think will tee you up to an ending of sorts, if you would like. This is John Palmer. He's a retired pastor, and he's a Republican from Grimes. Pastor

HALEY: John, make it a good one.

JOHN PALMER, IOWA VOTER: Thank you, and welcome. Thank you for your positivity, thank you for all that you represent, then you are a breath of fresh air, and we really (inaudible).


So what are the core values that serve as the foundation and the underpinnings for you, your family, and your political leadership?

HALEY: Thank you for that question. Thank you. I think that so much of who I've been, as I grew up, my parents very much taught us the importance of faith and a conscience. That's above all things. That's what it was. And it was the basic standards of, take care of those that take care of you. Do for those, do for the least of these, you know, don't wait for something just because you're going to get something out of it, do it because it's the right thing to do.

And my parents would always say the best way to appreciate God's blessings is to give back. And so I feel like I've lived my life that way. And I feel like Michael and I have raised our kids that way, is that we want to make sure that they know that we're a family of service, and you do for others. And when you do for others, it comes back to you.

But about of all things with our kids when we raised them, we wanted them to have a faith and a conscience. And we knew if we did that, that everything else would be OK. Thank you. I appreciate it.

TAPPER: You want to say good night to the audience, if you could make it really (inaudible)

HALEY: You know, someone asked me why I was running for president. And I said my parents came here 50 years ago to an America that was strong and proud and full of opportunities. I want them to know that America again. I'm doing this as a military spouse for Michael and his military brothers and sisters, because they need to know their sacrifice meat something, that we do love our country.

I'm doing this for my daughter who just got married, and I saw how hard it was for her and her husband to own a home. And I'm doing this for my son who's a junior in college, and I'm watching him write papers of things he doesn't believe in just to get an A. That's not us. That's not American.

For the first time in our country, 78 percent of Americans have said, they don't think that their children will live as good of a life as them. We can't have that. I'm not going to have that. We've got a country to save. That's why we have to have a new generational leader. We've got to go and fix this country and go back to the values that have made us great.

And when we do that, when we really focus back on faith and family and country, and the idea that America is the best country in the world, that's when our best days sort to come. Go to

TAPPER: Governor Haley, thank you so much for joining us here tonight. And thank you to our audience and to our host, Grand View University. Be sure to tune in Wednesday at 9:00 P.M.

For our next CNN Presidential Town Hall, Dana Bash will moderate with former vice president Mike Pence.

CNN's coverage continues with Dana Bash and Kaitlin Collins. Thank you so much, Governor Haley. (inaudible). Thank you so much. Thank you, everyone.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: You have been watching Nikki Haley making her case about why she should be the Republican nominee for president of the United States. The former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador was pressed by Iowa voters and Jake Tapper on abortion, guns, Ukraine, China, her former boss, Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis versus Disney, and the GOP issue.