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CNN Live Event/Special

CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall With Former Amb. Nikki Haley. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired January 04, 2024 - 22:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Good evening, and welcome back to Iowa tonight.

We are live at Grand View University in Des Moines for a special night of these back-to-back CNN town halls. There are only 11 days to go until the Iowa caucuses.

So, good evening everyone. I'm Erin Burnett.

Now, of course, you just heard from Governor Ron DeSantis moments ago. This hour, the former South Carolina governor and former U.N. Ambassador, Nikki Haley joins us.

And, tonight, Governor Haley comes here in the midst of a heated rivalry with Ron DeSantis. It's just days before their first one-on- one debate, which will be right here on CNN. And, tonight, Governor Haley will answer questions directly from Iowans. I will have some questions of my own as well.

But in the audience are voters who say that they plan to participate in the Iowa Republican Caucuses, both registered Republicans and voters who plan to register as Republicans, which, it's important to note, is allowed as late as caucus night right here in Iowa.

So, to find tonight's questioners, we cast a wide net. We reached out for help to various organizations, including business groups, farm associations, parent groups, young professional organizations, religious groups, and conservative advocacy organizations.

Now, guests of the Haley campaign Grand View University are also in the audience tonight, but I do want to note they will not be asking questions. We have asked everyone here to be respectful to each other and to Governor Haley, so that everyone here in this room and everyone watching at home has a chance to hear from the candidate.

Now please welcome Governor Nikki Haley.



(APPLAUSE) HALEY: Thank you.

BURNETT: It's good to see you. Thanks for coming out.



BURNETT: All right, so I want to start today. We were getting ready this morning for this town hall, Governor, and something crossed our wires, a shooting, a school shooting.

And here we are with kids back a day or two days, and another horrific event in this country. A sixth grader was killed. People were injured. And we did receive from people in this room updating their questions, asking questions about what had had happened about this.

So I want to start with Matt Triplett, because I know you have a specific question about what happened today in Perry. You're a senior project manager from Des Moines, a Republican, and I know you have said, you indicated that you support Governor Haley.

Go ahead.

MATT TRIPLETT, SENIOR PROJECT MANAGER: Thank you for being here tonight, Governor.

HALEY: Thank you.

TRIPLETT: Before I answer -- or ask my question, I'd like to just give my condolences to the community in Perry tonight, as well as the state of Iowa.

So, with that, Governor, with the school shooting that happened today in Perry, how do you plan to address the school shooting issue? Enough is enough with politicians skirting the issue on this, and it must be addressed.

HALEY: I mean, it's heartbreaking, right? I mean, our -- our hearts go out to the parents of all of them. Our hearts go out to the kids that are going to have to deal with this for a few years.

So much thanks to law enforcement, to the chief, who did a great job, to the principal, who really has come out as such a hero in this. But, look, I have a mom heart. My daughter works at the children's hospital and I worry about something happening there. My son is a senior in college. I worry about something happening on his campus.

My son-in-law is a fifth grade teacher at a school. I worry about something happening there. Every day, the first thing I do when I wake up is think of my kids, and the last thing I think of when I go to bed is my kids. And so I know the concerns that everybody has.

But it is time that we deal with this in the way that we should deal with this. Instead of living in fear, let's do something about it. We have got to deal with the cancer that is mental health. We have to. One in three people have a mental health issue. But, if treated, they can live a perfectly normal life.

What we see is, 80 percent of mass shooters are in some sort of crisis at the time that they do that. We have got to do better. The problem is, we don't have enough mental health therapists. We don't have enough mental health centers. And if you don't get treated, you can fall into an addiction. We don't have enough addiction centers.

And if you happen to be lucky enough to get one of those three, insurance doesn't cover it. So, we have got to start doing that. The second thing is, we have to secure our schools the same ways that we secure our airports and our courthouses.


And that means we make sure that we have whatever we need to, to make sure nothing comes through bullet-wise or otherwise.

We need to have a security officer at the front of every school. We need to have one point of entry, no side or rear entries. And then, we need to make sure that we have someone on staff, not a guidance counselor, but a mental health counselor that does nothing but look to see which kids may be in crisis. And let's start there. That's at least doing something. But, we have to do something.

This is heartbreaking. I will tell you what I saw this morning before anybody could even think about these lives and what we do. You have to really think of the families. I had, when I was governor, a school shooting at Townville Elementary. And we had a shooter come in and he shot basically at a playground.

And we had little Jacob Hall, who was six-years-old, who died that day, or who died a couple of days later. He was shot that day. I was at the hospital with his parents the night he was shot. The gravity of what that was is something I will never forget, because the prayers that they had, and I knew in what condition he was in.

We have to start really focusing on what we're going to do to do this. And everybody thinks, oh, mental health, mental health. We have to stop. Mental health is a serious issue. But, if we know it, we can treat people. What are we doing, losing Americans every single day because we refuse to deal with this issue? And the national media has done what they always do.

They're wanting to talk about race. They're wanting to talk about gun control. They're wanting to talk about all these other issues. So, my advice to the people of Perry, give them the respect and let them deal with the families and the sorrow and everything. But, when the time comes, let's have that conversation on mental health. When I am President, we will treat it like the crisis that it is.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: And governor, just to be clear, you're being very clear on what you would do there. You want to focus on mental health that you think that's important. You talked about hardening schools, much like courthouses, right? You were very clear. But, just to be clear on gun restrictions themselves, do you favor any additional gun restrictions or not?

HALEY: I'm a concealed weapons permit holder myself. And I will tell you that we could go and take away a certain kind of gun today, and that would make you feel better today. But, a week from now, there'd be another shooting. Let's talk about the hard truth. That's the reality of it.

So, in a time where we're seeing a lot of lawlessness on our streets and in our cities, we can't go and take away people's rights to protect themselves and protect their families. Instead, why don't we do the hard work and deal with the mental health? If we start to do that, I know that we will see a reduction in what's happening, but you don't take away from good people, because you see something like this happening from other people who commit crimes.

BURNETT: There are a lot of issues on the minds of voters here. And of course, with 11 days to go, one of the big ones is actually the state of this race and where things are. Josh Lemon is a portfolio manager, I know, at a local bank. Josh, you're an independent and you voted for Joe Biden in 2020.

But, you've said you plan to vote for a GOP candidate this time around. And as I was telling everybody watching at home, you're allowed to register right up until caucus night. Right? So, that's the way it works here in this state. So, you're deciding between Governor Haley and Governor DeSantis. Go ahead.

JOSH LEMON, BANK'S PORTFOLIO MANAGER: Correct, and thanks for taking my question.

HALEY: Thank you.

LEMON: What is your strategy to overtake Donald Trump in the polls?

HALEY: You know, I think that what you're saying is we've got momentum. We've got momentum in Iowa. We've got momentum in New Hampshire. You're going to continue to see us be strong in South Carolina. And really, what it's been is it's been about, let's talk about where this is.

I personally think President Trump was the right President at the right time. I agree with a lot of his policies. But, the reality is, rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him. And we all know that's true. Chaos follows him. And we can't have a country in disarray, and a world on fire and go through four more years of chaos. We won't survive it. And you don't defeat Democrat chaos with Republican chaos.

Now is the time we need to have a new generational leader, one that's going to leave the negativity and the baggage behind and start focusing on the real issues that we have in the future. But, more than that, Americans don't want another nail-biter of an election. And that's what we'll get.

Look at any of the polls head-to-head against Joe Biden. Ron doesn't beat Biden. Trump head-to-head with Biden, on a good day, he might be up by two. [22:10:06]

The Wall Street Journal had him up by four. I am in every one of those same polls. I defeat Biden by 17 points -- 17 points. That makes it bigger than the presidency. That's governorship; that's House; that's Senate; that's down to school boards. But more than that, you win by double-digits, you're going into D.C. with a mandate -- a mandate to stop all the wasteful spending and get inflation under control, a mandate to get our kids reading again and take education back to the basics, a mandate to secure our border, no more excuses, a mandate to bring law and order back to our country, and a mandate of a strong America that we can be proud of.

That's what we're doing. That's what I think we need to do. It is time to move past President Trump, and it is time to start focusing on how to strengthen America, and do this for our kids and our grandkids.


BURNETT: There was one thing you said there, and I know you've talked about him being -- the chaos following him. But you did say something there I wanted to follow up on, as people face this decision. You said rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him. Is it rightly or wrongly?

HALEY: It's both.

BURNETT: Is he the one who causes that chaos or is he just the unwitting victim?

HALEY: It's both. I mean, you see a lot of these cases they've brought against him are political in nature, and there is no basis on it. And then you see some that he is going to have to answer for. But, look, I'm not telling you anything -- I used to tell him. I used to tell him he is his own worst enemy. And so, I think at the end of the day, we don't need anyone who's getting in their feelings. We don't need anyone who is getting personal about anything.

We have a country to save, and that means no more drama, no more taking things personally. I mean, you look at the situation, the differences I have with him is, first of all, I'm an accountant. We have got to get our economy back on track. And everybody wants to talk about the economy they had under Trump. But at what cost? At what cost? $8 trillion in four years. Our kids will never forgive us for that. We are having to dig out of it.

So you may have had a good four years, but look at what we're paying for now. As of now, in a couple of years, we'll be paying more money in interest payments than we are in our defense budget. You know who notices that? Russia, China, and Iran. That's what happens here. The second thing is you look at how he deals with dictators. I think it's completely wrong. He praised China's President Xi a dozen times after China gave us COVID. You don't do that.

He congratulated them on the 70th anniversary of the Communist Party. We don't do that. When Israel fell to her knees, you're going to go pick a fight with Israel's Prime Minister because of some issue, personal issue you had with him before, and you're going to praise Hezbollah? It's just not what we need to do. We need to do this without emotion. We need to do this with a sane sense of how we're going take America forward.

BURNETT: All right. So we're going to -- and you mentioned the economy, and I want to come back to that in a moment. But first, I do want to bring another audience question. Dave Holm is the Executive Director of the Iowa Institute for Cooperatives, a Republican from Ames, and he does say he is supporting you. Go ahead, Dave.

HALEY: Hi, Dave.


HALEY: Thank you.

HOLM: Many of our ag co-ops use foreign labors now, and we would like to use more, but the process is very daunting. And yet, we have thousands of foreigners crossing into our U.S. daily on our southern border. What is your comprehensive border policy that would address both those that want to contribute and work in this country, and still maintain our border security?

HALEY: And Dave, you're exactly right. You can do both, and we have to do both. So the first thing is you look at the illegal immigration, all the illegals that are coming to the border. It is truly a dereliction of duty what Biden is allowing to have happen. And to now think that Governor Abbott of Texas is trying to do everything he can to save Texans, and he is putting barbed wire up. And Biden is trying to go against him to cut the barbed wire? Are you kidding me?

Like you can't go and risk people's lives. America right now is acting like it's September 10th. We better remember what September 12th felt like, because it only takes one. So, you have eight million people that have come to the border, and they've only sent 140,000 back. That's it. And so, we're left with taking care of the health care of them, the education of those kids, law enforcement having to deal with them. What we will do is -- I passed one of the toughest illegal immigration laws in the country when I was Governor of South Carolina. We'll take that national.

We will do a national e-verify program that requires businesses to have to prove to people that they hire in this country legally. We will defund sanctuary cities once and for all. No more safe havens for illegal immigrants.


We'll put 25,000 border patrol and ICE agents on the ground and let them do their job. That's not happening right now.

We will go back to the Remain in Mexico policy so that no one even steps foot on U.S. soil.

And instead of catch and release, we'll go to catch and deport. That's how we will close the border and get that to stop.

But legal immigration, our legal immigration system, is completely broken, too. It shouldn't take someone 10 years to become a citizen. And we need to be smart about how we do it.

Presidents in the past have always said, set quotas. I'll take this many this year, this many next year.

Instead, look at what does our economy need? I came from an agricultural state and a tourism state. Our farmers needed workers. We need to make sure we are focusing on the businesses that they are not struggling to find workers.

And that's the part. When you do it on merit, and that's how we need to bring people in. Based on merit, not just a random quota, then you're building up your economy. You're supporting your businesses. You're making sure that we can all grow together. But we've got to make sure we deal with that.

I mean, think about it. We have students that come from overseas. We educate them, and then we send them back home. I mean, that's lunacy. We've got to start using some common sense when it comes to that.

BURNETT: You mentioned Governor Abbott. And I wanted to ask you something specific that he's done, but also Governor DeSantis has done. And that is busing migrants from Border States up to sanctuary cities. 90,000, according to the tabulation, from Texas alone to New York, Chicago. And obviously, Governor DeSantis has sent migrants to Martha's Vineyard as well as Sacramento.

Do you support Governor DeSantis doing that? Would you do that as Governor?

HALEY: Well, I'll talk about Governor Abbott, because I think he was courageous. He was the first one to do it.

But look at what he's done. You know, today, I was watching Governor Abbott and Mayor Eric Adams kind of having different things to say.

Governor Abbott, if the president won't secure and give security to the people of Texas, a governor has a job to protect your citizens. So he's busing them, but where is he busing them to? New York City is a sanctuary city.

So you can't say we're open. We're accepting of everybody. And then when they come to you, say, oh, I didn't mean it. Never mind.

BURNETT: So do you think it's been effective, the busing?

HALEY: I think it's been hugely effective, because all of a sudden, the rest of the country is feeling what Texans have had to deal with for so long.

And I went to the border. And truly, what they deal with is unimaginable. Those ranchers having to look and see if every morning, if someone died crossing the fence, having to pick up kids and turn them over to border patrol.

You look at what the sheriffs go through and the idea that they go and round up whatever illegal immigrants they can find before 7:00 A.M., take them to border patrol, border patrol documents them, and releases them until their court date years from now.

We can't keep functioning like that. We are a country of laws. The second we stop being a country of laws, we give up everything this country was founded on.


BURNETT: You brought up the economy earlier, and I promise we would get to it, and I want to get to it now with you, Molly.

Molly Hohner is a college student, a Republican who says she will support any Republican other than Donald Trump. So go ahead with your question.

HALEY: Hi, Molly.

MOLLY HOHNER, COLLEGE STUDENT: Hi, Governor Haley. So I'm going to be graduating from college soon, and I'm worried about the economy. What do you plan to change to make our economy strong?

HALEY: Congratulations.

HOHNER: Thank you.

HALEY: But, you know, what Molly is saying is the same thing my son is saying, is the same thing that every young individual coming out of college is saying. And think about it through their eyes. Bless you.

First of all, think about the fact that they went through COVID. Then think about the fact that they watched our country go $8 trillion in debt in four years under Trump. And now we're saying, oh, we're going to have to pay it back, and they didn't do anything to cause it.

Then look at the fact that, one, they have to find a job. Two, they're having to say, how am I going to afford to live?

What used to be the American dream of buying a home? The average home buyer in America is now 49 years old. So that's so out of reach for that.

And so they're worried they're not going to be able to afford a place to stay, rent. They're worried they're not going to find a job. They're worried about the debt that the country is in, and inflation that's gone up, that everything's more expensive.

From their standpoint, they're looking at a country, and they're wondering how they're going to get through.

And what we owe it to them is to get the economy back on track. The way we get the economy back on track is to first acknowledge that there is a spending problem in D.C. And it's not a Republican problem or a Democrat problem.


Both of them did that to us.

I mean, you look at that $2.2 trillion COVID stimulus bill that they passed with no accountability, they have now left us with 80 million Americans on Medicaid, 42 million Americans on food stamps. That's a third of our country.

And then Republicans opened back up earmarks and pet projects for the first time in 10 years, pushing through 7,000 of them last December. We can't afford things like that.

So when it comes to our economy and getting inflation under control, the first thing we need to do is claw back the over $100 billion of unspent COVID dollars that are still out there.

Instead of 87,000 IRS agents going after Middle America, let's go after the hundreds of billions of dollars of COVID fraud. One out of every $7 was spent fraudulently.

If 8 percent of our budget is interest, quit borrowing. Cut up the credit cards. You have to balance the budget every day. I had to balance the budget as governor.

Why is Congress the only group that refuses to balance the budget?

So we'll stop the spending. We'll stop the borrowing. We'll eliminate the earmarks. And I will veto any spending bill that doesn't take us back to pre-COVID levels. That will save us trillions.

And then we're going to go and take as many federal programs as we can and send them down to the states. That will reduce the size of the federal government, but it will empower people on the ground.

Think health care. Think welfare. Think education -- if we started doing that.

Right now, 70 percent of federal employees are still working from home three years after COVID. Seventy-five percent of most of our agencies are sitting empty. We're paying for that.

We've got to start getting the waste out of government. This is not them coming to us saying we need more money. This is us going to them saying you did this? Now we're going to have to go and make the hard decisions to get us out of it. And we can do that.

And then I think we need to open up the middle class. We're watching an America, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

And what we need to do -- it's why I want to eliminate the federal gas and diesel tax in this country. I want to cut taxes on the middle class and simplify the brackets. And then let's make the small business tax cuts permanent. They made

corporate tax cuts permanent, but they made small business tax cuts temporary.

Small businesses are the heartbeat of our economy. We can't just say it. We have to prove it. And that's what we'll do to get our economy back on track.

BURNETT: So, you mentioned, you talk a lot about spending and you were talking about taxes there a bit. So, when you ran for state senate, it was interesting, you were asked to sign a pledge never raise taxes.

And other people running against you did. They went and they signed it and they did it. It was -- they all did it.

You told the state newspaper, quote, no one wants to see taxes raised, but I think it would be close-minded to sign a pledge. Would you sign that pledge now?

HALEY: I would sign that pledge now, simply because -- I've always been the type don't -- don't handcuff yourself. But I will tell you now, government has way too much money. It's -- there's waste in every agency. There's waste in the way we govern, every bit of it.

And we have to -- the first thing I want to do is go to every single agency, pull down all the bureaucracy, the red tape, the programs we don't need to have. Government was intended to secure the rights and freedoms of the people. It was never meant to be all things to all people.

And we are seeing a bloated government that needs to go on a diet. And I think the only way we do that is we sit there and tell them it is now time for them to show the taxpayer return on investment. It is not time for the taxpayer to continue to have to work for government.

BURNETT: So I want to ask you about something that's been challenge for your campaign over the past week, and this, of course, is referring back to New Hampshire where you were asked to explain the cause of the Civil War. You obviously did not mention slavery.

And afterwards, you came up, you said that was the mistake. In fact, it should have been the first thing that you said. So you did come out and say that.

Chris Christie, though, came out and said that you gave that answer not because -- in his -- you're in his words dumb or racist, but because you're, quote, unwilling to offend anyone by telling the truth.

What do you say to that?

HALEY: No one has ever said that I'm unwilling to offend. I offend plenty of people because I call people out when they do something wrong.

What I will tell you is Chris Christie is from New Jersey. I should have said slavery right off the bat.

But if you grow up in South Carolina, literally in second and third grade, you learn about slavery. You grow up and you have -- you know, I had Black friends growing up. It is a very talked about thing. We have a big history in South Carolina when it comes to, you know, slavery, when it comes to all the things that happened with the Civil War, all that.

I was over -- I was thinking past slavery and talking about the lesson that we would learn going forward. I shouldn't have done that. I should have said slavery. But in my mind, that's a given, that everybody associates the Civil War with slavery.


BURNETT: So when you talk about slavery being a constant point of discussion, being a point in where you got -- my children growing up in New York, you know, they learn about slavery in first grade, too.

Can you share what the discussions about slavery were like in your household? You've talked about experiencing humiliating discrimination when you were a little girl, things you remember. What were the discussions about slavery like for you mean?

HALEY: I think that no different than anyone else in South Carolina. I mean, you know, we had the time that I came and grew up. We were the only Indian family in a small, rural southern town. We weren't white enough to be white. We weren't black enough to be black. They didn't know who were, what were, or why were there.

So we dealt with our own challenges. And I remember when I would get teased on the playground and I would come home, my mom would always 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 that lesson on the playground played throughout my life, because whether it was in the corporate world or as governor or as ambassador, when you're first faced with a challenge, if you talk about what you have in common, people let their guard down, and then you can get to a solution.

So when you talk about slavery, it was not just slavery that was talked about. It was more about racism that was talked about. It was more about, you know, we had friends, we had black friends, we had white friends. But it was always a topic of conversation, even among our friends. And in the south, we're very comfortable talking about it, because we know that's what it is. But the goal was always to make today better than yesterday.

And even though that there was, you know, a lot of hardened thoughts on that there. I mean went through it. I had -- I dealt with my share of dealing with race issues. We had the tragic shooting of Walter Scott. He was an unarmed black man that was shot in the back seven times by a dirty cop. And this was on the heels of Ferguson, South Carolina. Could have caught on fire, but we didn't do that. I talked to the Walter Scott family, I talked to law enforcement, and

a month to the day at the bill signing, we had them both there, and we signed the first body camera bill in the country. A month later, we had the horrific shooting at Mother Emanuel Church when a white supremacist went into a bible study and took nine amazing souls.

The entire national media came in wanting to make it about gun control and racism, and death penalty. And I said at the time, there will be a time and place we have those conversations, but right now we have nine souls we need to lay to rest. And I didn't have that luxury because two days later, the killer came out with his manifesto and he was draped in the confederate flag.

And the confederate flag had always been either on top of the state house or right in front of the state house since the year 2000. And it is incredibly sensitive and a personal issue in South Carolina. And I focused that next day, I said, I want to have four meetings. I want to call republican leadership, I want to call Democrat leadership. I want to call the congressional delegation, and I want to call community leaders. And I told my staff, don't tell them what this is about because I knew they wouldn't show up.

And when they came, I said, at 3:00 today, I'm going to call for the confederate flag to come down. And if you will stand with me, I will forever be grateful. And if you won't, I'll never let anyone know that you were in this room.

And it was a tough thing, Erin, because we had to have two-thirds of the House and two-thirds of the senate and to bring a divided state together and avoid riots and protests the way we did that was I knew half of South Carolinians saw the confederate flag as heritage and tradition.

The other half of South Carolinians saw it as slavery and hate. My job wasn't to judge either side. My job was to get them to see the best of themselves and go forward. And South Carolinians showed what true strength and grace looked like because we didn't have protests, we had vigils, we didn't have riots, we had prayer. And South Carolina led the way.

But that is the way we have to work on issues that try and divide us is don't go and pick who's right and who's wrong and who's good and who's bad. That's what leaders are doing now. And it's caused us to be completely in political disarray. A leader doesn't decide who's right. When you serve the people, you serve everybody. And your job is to give them all the information you have and let them know where you want to going forward.

BURNETT: Carol Elde is a teacher. She's from Ames here in Iowa. She's a Republican and is undecided. So go ahead with your question.


HALEY: Hi, Carol.

CAROL EIDE, TEACHER: Governor Haley, you are a very strong supporter of Israel.

Do you believe the IDF operations in Gaza are disproportional to the October 7 attack on Israel -- on Israel, reprehensible as that was?

HALEY: You know, I'm haunted by what happened on October 7.

And the reason I'm haunted is because, five years ago, I gave a speech to the entire world at the U.N., and I told them that we knew there were maps, and these maps were held by Hamas. And it showed that, if they could break through the barrier, it was how they were going to kill as many Jews as fast as they could. And it happened.

And when you look at the situation that happened -- and for anybody that says, why should we care about Israel -- and my opponents have said it's Israel's issue. No, it's our issue too, because 33 Americans were butchered that day. We have American hostages now as we speak.

But Israel is a bright spot in a tough neighborhood. They're the tip of the spear when it comes to defeating terrorism. It has never been that Israel needs America. It has always been that America needs Israel. And on that horrific day, when they beheaded those people, and burned those babies alive, and took those girls out of the concert, and raped them, and dragged their naked bodies through the streets of Gaza, what did they say?

"Death to Israel, death to America." We have got to do three things when it comes to Israel. We need to give them whatever they need whenever they need it. We need to eliminate Hamas, finish them, so they can never do this horrific stuff again. And we need to do whatever it takes to bring our hostages home.

In order to eliminate Hamas, it requires them to go into Gaza. Hamas does not care about human life. They use women and children as human shields. There's a reason that they have all of their areas underneath hospitals and schools. I have been there. I have been in those tunnels. They're very sophisticated.

That's probably where the hostages are being held now. Gazans would be so much better off without Hamas. But I know and I trust that Israel will do whatever it takes to make sure they save as many people as they can. You have to know the difference between terrorists and civilians. That's what civilized countries do.

America is a civilized country. Israel is a civilized country. Hamas is not civilized. They don't value human life. And they keep trying to put people in harm's way because they don't want it to happen.

What I will say is, when everybody is putting the onus on Israel and on America to do something with helping the people of Gaza, where's Egypt? Where's Qatar? Where's Turkey? Where's Iran? Where are all the pro-Hamas countries that say they care? Why is it on Israel? Why aren't they getting Hamas to stop? Why are they forgiving that brutality?

Let's put the accountability where it needs to be. Don't put it on Israel. Israel watched their people get butchered that day. If that was us, do you think we would do a cease-fire? Do you think we would stop? We would do whatever it takes to make sure that Americans were taken care of and that we had our say.

And so I will tell you, I think Israel is doing what they have to make sure it doesn't happen again, because what did Hamas say? They're going to go back and do it again. They're not finished.



BURNETT: And, Ambassador -- I know, obviously, you were ambassador to U.N., and that's in the capacity you went into the tunnels.

Obviously, what's happening in Gaza, though, there's a horrific loss of civilian life going on as well and a huge, stratospheric loss.

Two Israeli Cabinet members came out this week, and they actually advocated for relocating people from Gaza out of Gaza, basically, Palestinians out of Gaza, and that there are some in the Israeli government that support that.

Would a President Haley support that? Would you support removing Palestinians from Gaza?

HALEY: I don't think you have to remove Palestinians from Gaza. I think you have to remove Hamas from Gaza.

But I think you also need to make sure that Israelis can feel safe again. And the way Israelis will feel safe, they're not opposed to Palestinians being in Gaza. They're opposed to terrorists being in Gaza. They're opposed to terrorists being at their doorstep.

And so Israel doesn't want Gaza. I mean, if you look at what Hamas has done to Gaza, Israel doesn't want Gaza. But the Palestinian Authority has proven they have an inability to lead. And the reason they have an inability to lead is, they allowed Hamas to come in and do all of this to the people of Gaza.


So, I don't think we remove Palestinians, but I think they have to have some sort of leadership that ensures to Israelis that they don't have to worry about terrorists living on their doorstep.

BURNETT: All right. Marsha Arens is a retiree from Urbandale. Marsha, we're glad you're here tonight, a Republican, and I know you also say you're supporting Governor Haley. Go ahead.

HALEY: Hi Marsha.

MARSHA ARENS, RETIREE: Hi Nikki. I just want to thank CNN and Erin and Kaitlan for having this town hall tonight in Grand View, for hosting it. Also, Nikki, thank you so much for all your time in Iowa. I really appreciate you.

HALEY: It's been fun.

ARENS: Good. I am wondering, how you would reach voters that are concerned that you are more of a war hawk versus a peace through strength leader?

HALEY: It's a great question. You know, first of all, I am the wife of a combat veteran who is deployed now on a year-long deployment. Any military family will tell you, the last thing you want is for your loved one to go to war. My number one goal has always been preventing war. And let's talk about what's caused this. The rest of my opponents think that we shouldn't be in Ukraine. Don't need to do anything with Ukraine. Trump, Ron, all of them has said, let's leave Ukraine. Let me tell you why Ukraine is important.

First of all, you should know, at the United Nations, Ukraine was one of our good friends. They voted with us on almost everything. They supported all of our initiatives, whether I asked them to or not. But, here you have this pro-American freedom-loving country that was invaded by a thug. Half a million people have died and been wounded because of Putin. Now, I don't think we should give cash to any country, friend or foe, because you can't follow it. And you can't hold it accountable.

I don't think we need to put troops on the ground in Ukraine, and the Ukrainians don't want it. They want to win this themselves. But, I think we need to give them the equipment and the ammunition to win. Why should we care about Ukraine? Anybody thinking that, that's a legitimate question for you to ask. And I am sorry that Biden and no member of Congress is explaining that to you, but I will because you deserve it.

When I was at the United Nations, I saw that terrorists, dictators, and thugs, always tell you what they're going to do. They're amazingly transparent. Hamas said they were going to go into Israel. They did. China said they were going to take Hong Kong. We watched it. Russia invaded Ukraine. They told us they were going to. China says Taiwan is next. We better believe them. Russia said, once they take Ukraine, Poland and the Baltics are next. Those are NATO countries, and that puts America at war. This is about preventing war. It has always been about preventing war. We don't want our men and women to go have to fight. And so, supporting Ukraine is actually preventing war, and seeing it for what it is.

And Putin has hit rock bottom. We know that. He has lost 87 percent of the troops that started the war. They've raised the draft age in Russia to 65. They're getting drones from Iran and missiles from North Korea. We know they've hit rock bottom. But now, let me tell you something else. It's really important, Erin. I told you about that brutality on October 7 in Israel. Right? October 7 is Putin's birthday. Who is the happiest man in the world right now? Putin. Why? Because the U.S. and the West took all our eyes and our resources off of Ukraine. And what we do? We started looking at Israel. And did Putin go and call Netanyahu in Israel? Nope, not for 10 days. You know, he did call? Hamas. Invited them to Russia and they held hands and said they were friends. See this for the connection that it is. China and Russia held hands before the Olympics and named themselves

unlimited partners. There is an unholy alliance of China, Russia and Iran, bound together in their hatred against freedom, democracy, and above all things, United States of America. Our job is to always prevent more and protect Americans.

BURNETT: All right. Governor Haley, we're going to be right back. We're going to take a very brief break. Everyone watching at home, stay with us. We'll be back in a moment with the Republican presidential candidate.





BURNETT: Welcome back. CNN's Republican Presidential Town Hall here in Iowa with former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. So ambassador, I want to ask you about something you said at a Town Hall in New Hampshire. You talked about the importance of New Hampshire and Iowa. We're here in Iowa. But you said about the primary process that while Iowa goes first, New Hampshire "corrects it."


HALEY: Oh, my gosh!

BURNETT: Ron DeSantis said that was incredibly disrespectable to Iowa.

HALEY: Of course, he did.

BURNETT: And of course, we're here in Iowa. I'm just looking around at people's faces. OK, so is there anything else you would like to say?

HALEY: Look, we have done 150-plus town halls. You got to have some fun too. So we're at this town hall, we had 700 people in New Hampshire. We're cutting up, and yes, I said that. But, keep in mind, I'm from an early state. South Carolina always knew that Iowa is going to be the first caucus, New Hampshire is going to be first in the nation, and South Carolina wanted to be first in the south. It was a pact, it's still a pact that the three states, at least on the Republican side, had that we were going to take that.

But we banter against each other on different things. New Hampshire makes fun of Iowa. Iowa makes fun of South Carolina. It's what we do. So, I mean I think the problem in politics now is it's just like too serious and too dramatic. If we're having fun -- I don't live, eat, and breathe politics all the time.


I like to have fun too. And so if I'm hanging out with 700 people and we're trying to make jokes and have a good time, like you should be able to do that without...

BURNETT: So that -- would that reflect the lack of confidence in how you thought you would do here?

HALEY: I would not sit here and -- in the cold, because it's cold here.


HALEY: I have been coming here for months, going to every part of Iowa, shaking every hand, answering every question, being the last person to leave at every one of these town halls. You are going to see me fight until the very end on the last day in Iowa. And I'm not playing in one state. I'm fighting in every state, because I think everybody's worth fighting for.

And so, yes, we're going to continue to be here. I mean, I've told people, get used to this face. And I've been here over and over again. But if I didn't love Iowa, I wouldn't keep coming to Iowa. So, but if we're going to have fun, I'm probably going to say something funny in Iowa tomorrow about South Carolina or New Hampshire. It's the way to just kind of not make everything so serious.


BURNETT: All right, Denise. Denise Hague is the director of human resources at a local art center here in Iowa, a Republican from Waukee who says she is undecided.

So, Denise, go ahead.

HALEY: Hi. Hi, Denise.


HALEY: Nice to meet you.

HAGUE: In the spirit of fun, I want to tell you I'm loving your dress, by the way.

HALEY: Oh, thank you.

HAGUE: My question is, do you see any inherent challenges to being president as a woman, or do you feel like we've evolved?

HALEY: Do you mean globally or do you mean domestically?

HAGUE: As -- as a country.

HALEY: As a country, I think America has been ready for a woman. But it has to be the right woman, right? I'm one of those, I don't think -- and I think a lot of women will agree to this. We don't support women just because they're women. I mean, we love to see women do well. I love -- I think women are rock stars. I love to see women do well.

But a president is a big deal. And it's a serious issue. And I think what we've seen in politics for -- for, really, a lot lately is they look at a label and they say, oh, we're going get this label, or we need this label. Well, that's what's gotten us into this mess. And trust me, like I think you look at what Biden has done, and he said I want this kind of Supreme Court justice, or I want this kind of vice president, that's a mistake.

I do think America is ready for a female president. I do think that America has been ready. But it's got to be the right one. And they want to know it's somebody that's going to have fight. They want to know that it's going to have somebody that has moral clarity. They want know that it's someone who has experience.

I have been a two-term governor that took a double-digit unemployment state and turned into it an economic powerhouse. I dealt with Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Israel every single day that I was at the U.N. And I took the "kick me" sign off of our backs. And America was respected again there.

So is America ready for a female president? You bet they're ready for a female president. And I'm going to be the one that makes them proud.


BURNETT: Zachary Van Waardhuizen is a law student from Newton. He is an independent. He voted for Biden in 2020 but says, I believe, that you plan to support Governor Haley in the caucuses. We'll see. I don't know what you've heard tonight. But go ahead with your question, Zachary.

HALEY: I knew I liked you.


ZACHARY VAN WAARDHUIZEN, LAW STUDENT: Thank you. Governor Haley, you have taken a vocally anti-Chinese stance in many of your campaign ads. Do you plan to continue this stance if elected, or will you try to work with China to solve the problems that have prompted such a stance?

HALEY: At the United Nations I dealt with China every day. And what frustrates me is you see Biden and Yellen sitting there trying to tell us that China's a competitor. China never saw us as a competitor. They always saw us as an enemy.

And all you have to do is look at what China has done. They have completely infiltrated our country. They bought 400,000 acres of U.S. soil, most recently near Grand Forks Air Force Base, where our most sensitive drone technology is. They've poured millions of dollars into our universities, stealing our research, spreading Chinese propaganda. You go and you look at there are certain technologies we never want China to have because it builds up their military and threatens America. Yet the Biden administration approved 70 percent of it last year. The

Trump administration approved more than that. Everybody got upset about this Chinese spy balloon, right? And rightfully so. What about the fact that 90 percent of our law enforcement drones are Chinese? You've got Chinese police stations throughout our country. You've got a Chinese spy base going off our shores in Cuba. And you've got China building up their military at a scary pace.

They now have 500 nuclear warheads. That's 100 more than they had last year. They have the largest naval fleet in the world. They have 370 ships. They'll have 400 ships in two years. We won't even have 350 ships in two decades.


They're doing artificial intelligence. They're doing cyber. They're doing space. They're doing hypersonic missiles. We've barely gotten started.

And now, China's the lead developer of neuro-strike weapons, weapons engineered -- bless you -- to change the mental capabilities of military commanders and segments of the population. That's who we're dealing with.

So, yes, we're going to be tough on China. But do you stop talking to them?

No. You actually keep your enemies close so you know what they're doing all the time doing all the time. But you do let your enemies know what we expect of them, and the way we will deal with China is, no more selling them any U.S. soil and we take back the land they already purchased.

We make sure that we go to all the universities and say, you either take foreign money or you take American money. But the days of taking both are over.

And we tell them, we're going to end all normal trade relations with them until they stop murdering Americans with fentanyl.


HALEY: They're the ones sending it over.

BURNETT: Now, Ambassador, on this, and you, as governor -- I'm just looking at the number here. We were looking at more than $1.4 billion in Chinese investment came into South Carolina while you were governor. That time you wanted -- you were courting investment, you wanted that money to come in, but, you know, you just mentioned the drones being bought by the police stations.

But you were actively courting that as well. There's a Chinese fiber glass manufacturer, with Chinese -- ties to the Communist Party, that opened a factory in your state while you were governor. So, do you regret any of that? Was that worth it? HALEY: Well, I think you -- look, every governor in the country was

trying to recruit Chinese companies 10 years ago. Every household has Chinese products in it. It shows how intertwined it's all become.

But now we know what the threat is. And so, yes, it was less than 1 percent of whatever I recruited. I recruited a lot. We were known as the beast of the southeast. Less than 1 percent was Chinese.

BURNETT: So you're not saying it's a mistake. You're just saying that your view of the situation has changed?

HALEY: Well, now, look at what we know about China that we didn't know 10 years ago. It's drastically different.

When the reality is, presidents, Republican and Democrat, for too long thought that if we were nice to China, they want to be like us. China's never wanted to be like us. They want to be communist.

They never should have gotten into the World Trade Organization back in 2001, when -- when the U.S. helped them get in. But now, let's not keep going down that path. Let's stop it.

I fought China every day at the U.N. We need to continue to do that now until we put them back in their place.

BURNETT: All right. We're going to take one more brief break, and we'll be right back with more from Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley right after this.





BURNETT: Welcome back to Iowa. It's CNN's Republican Presidential Town Hall with former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

So Governor, you know, you've talked about being a mom even here. And I know it's a crucial part of your identity and who you are. You've got two children.


BURNETT: Last year, your daughter got married. And just recently, you dropped your son off for his final year at Villanova. You posed --

HALEY: Yeah.

BURNETT: OK. So you posted a picture of that moment that I saw, actually a "People Magazine" article. And the hashtags were, "when did my little one grow up?" and "proud mom." And you know, I'm a mother myself now. And you know, you can look at anyone, right? You see your little child, and then boom. And you just -- it just happened so fast. I was wondering, as you think about being President of the United States, what makes you the most proud as a mother?

HALEY: Ugh, I mean, like I get emotional thinking about my kids. You know, when my daughter was walking down the aisle, I still see her in pigtails. So when I say, "when did they grow up?" I mean, so much of it, they're just good kids.

My daughter is a pediatric nurse at the Children's Hospital. You know, my son, like I said, is a senior in college. And they're just good kids. And you know, they've grown up in a public life. And the one thing Michael and I always wanted was for them to feel very normal.

And that's what I'm most proud of. We always -- even when I was governor, we had dinner together five nights out of the week. I wanted the kids to know that we were having family dinner. And Sundays were, you know, our special days. And Fridays were Haley family fun nights.

We always tried to keep it very normal. I never told my kids, I always said, you don't have to do anything but go to the Christmas tree lighting and The State of the State address. And make everything else, they could decide if they wanted to go.

And so, having them grow up as normal and as grounded as they are, they're humble, they're respectful, they're hardworking, and they're just good people.

And my husband and I always said, if we can make sure they have a faith and a conscience, we will have done our job. And we have done our job. I'm incredibly proud of them.


BURNETT: Kathryn Duffy is a professor of music here at Grand View, and it's been great to be here these past couple of days in your school. A Republican from Ankeny who says that she supports you. Katherine, go ahead.

HALEY: Hi, Kathryn.

KATHERINE DUFFY, MUSIC PROFESSOR: Thank you for being here --

HALEY: Of course.

DUFFY: -- Ambassador Haley. Could you please explain to us your rationale for pardoning Mr. Trump when he's been associated with so much division and chaos in our country?

HALEY: When you talk about a pardon, the person has already been found guilty. You know, when it comes to President Trump, he still has to face and we'll find out whether he's guilty or not. But if we're talking about a pardon let's -- you're assuming he's guilty because nobody gets pardoned if you're not guilty.

For me, it's not about guilt or innocence. It's about what's in the best interest for the country. And I don't think our country will move forward with an 80-year -old president sitting in jail that allows our country to continue to be divided. We have to move on past that. And so I honestly do believe, just like

they did with Nixon, you've got to say what's in the best interest of the country. And I think pardoning Trump and moving on is in the best interest of our country if we're going to heal and if we're going to get back together, and get out of the chaos.


BURNETT: Jeff Courter is a lawyer at Iowa's largest law firm. I said, what an appropriate name you have when I saw this. So, I mean, Jeff Courter. OK. From West Des Moines, a Republican who says he's supporting you. Jeff, go with your question.

HALEY: Hi, Jeff.

JEFF COURTER, LAWYER: Ambassador Haley, great to see you again.

HALEY: Nice.

COURTER: And great to see you last Saturday in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, watching the Iowa Hawkeyes win the --

HALEY: So much fun. So much fun.

COURTER: And bonus time with Ambassador Branstad, so --


COURTER: So my question for tonight to wrap this up is, as president, how will you work to better unite America after the past 16 years of such divisive politics? Thank you.

HALEY: It's a great question. And the tone at the top matters, right? You know, when I talked about how we could have been completely devastated in South Carolina with the shooting of Walter Scott. How we could have been completely devastated in South Carolina with the murder of those nine amazing souls at Mother Emanuel Church.

How we could have been divided on so many other things. South Carolina always held strong and held together. And it was because I knew I served and represented all of them, not just a select group, all of them.

And that means I didn't think of any of the South Carolina as good or as bad or as right or as wrong. I just knew I needed to over communicate, tell them everything I knew. And that's how I'll be as a president. You'll know more than you want to know because I think it's important that you know everything. And then tell you about where we go and move forward.

But more than that, on my first day, you start by controlling what you can control first. And that is, I will focus on my agencies. We'll replace the head of every agency, whether they're doing a good job or not, to freshen it up. I did this as governor. The second thing I did was I sent people into every agency to clean it up, pull down old programs, pull down any old regs, pull down bureaucracy, get it working again, and mission focused so that it's not too big.

In some case, and get rid of problem children. Trust me, agencies have problem children. In some cases, we tweaked agencies. In other cases, we gutted agencies. And then I required them to start doing 90-day benchmarks. I wanted them to show a return on investment to the taxpayer, so that they saw what it was like to work again.

And then we saw that they were spending money because they thought they weren't going to get the same amount the next year. So I put all the spending online for every taxpayer to see. And then I incentivized them to give money back to the taxpayers. And magic happened because they started to compete to see who could be the most effective and most efficient.

And then I went to my legislature and said, it's your turn. And I started by giving them a couple of things that were easy so they could remember what it was like to win again. We need to do that with our congress. They need to know what it's like to win again together. And then you give them things that are harder and harder.

That's important. We have to get government used to producing and giving results again. And I'll do it by starting with myself and starting with our agencies and getting them to work for the people again. And then going to Congress and saying, you know what? No more peacocking on TV. No more sitting there and pointing fingers to anybody else. The buck starts here and it's time to get things done for the American people. And it's an amazing thing. I have called out Republicans. I've called out Democrats.

I've praised Republicans. I've praised Democrats. Legislators love to be praised and they hate to be called out. It's a magic tool that has always worked for me. Whether I was calling out China or Russia at the U.N., they didn't like to be called out. No one does. But when you do it for the right reasons and you know who you serve, that's when you get things moving again.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Governor Haley, thank you so much for being here in this room and, of course, speaking to the voters here in Iowa. Thanks so much to all of you for sitting here through this evening and being part of these town halls. And thank you so much to our hosts at Grand View University.

Governors Haley and DeSantis, of course, are going to be back for the final Republican primary debate before the Iowa caucuses. Jake Tapper and Dana Bash will host right here on CNN, January 10 at 9:00. And right now, Abby Phillip and Laura Coates will take it away.