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CNN Live Event/Special
CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall With Former Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC), Presidential Candidate. Aired 9-10:10p ET
Aired January 18, 2024 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Good evening, and welcome to New Hampshire, where we're just five days from the first Republican presidential primary of 2024.
We're live here at New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire, for CNN's town hall with Republican presidential candidate former South Carolina Governor and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.
I'm Jake Tapper.
And, right now, the stakes could not be higher, as the three remaining Republican presidential candidates make their final pitches to win over Granite State voters. Governor Haley has made New Hampshire a top priority. She secured the endorsement of the state's popular governor, Chris Sununu.
But after finishing in third place, 32 points behind Donald Trump, in Iowa, the big question, can she come from behind and shake up the race here in New Hampshire, as previous candidates have done?
Tonight, Governor Haley will answer questions directly from New Hampshire voters on the issues that will help determine who wins the Republican presidential nomination. I might have some questions of my own.
In the audience tonight are voters who say they plan to participate in the New Hampshire Republican primary, both registered Republicans and undeclared or independent voters who are not registered with either major party, but are still allowed to participate in the primary elections here in New Hampshire.
To find tonight's questioners, we cast a wide net, soliciting help from various organizations, including universities, business groups, parent groups, young professional organizations, religious groups and conservative advocacy organizations. Guests of the Haley campaign and New England College are also in the audience tonight, but they will not be asking questions.
We have asked everyone here to be respectful to each other and to Governor Haley, so that voters in the room and voters at home, you, have a chance to hear from the candidate herself. So, now, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome former Governor Nikki
TAPPER: Hello. Good to see you again.
NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.
Good to see you everybody.
TAPPER: So, Governor Haley, we're going to get to the audience in just one second.
But you know me. I'm an annoying journalist. I have to squeeze in just a couple questions of my own.
Every presidential candidate who's won both Iowa and New Hampshire has gone on to win his party's nomination. Trump had a historic victory in Iowa. Does this race for the Republican nomination now come down to what happens here in New Hampshire?
HALEY: Look, I have said from the beginning, we wanted to be strong in Iowa, we wanted to be stronger in New Hampshire, and we want to get even stronger in my sweet state of South Carolina.
So you named the past and all of the he's. I'm talking about the she and how she's going to go forward and finish this race. And so I think we're going to continue to do what we did. We were very pleased coming out of Iowa, because we were strong. We started at 2 percent. We ended up with almost 20 percent. That was a good win for us.
And now, coming into New Hampshire, we want to go in even stronger. And I think we have got great momentum in New Hampshire, but we're not going to stop until we get to that last vote. And so we're excited.
TAPPER: So, Governor Sununu is predicting a win for you here in New Hampshire, but he's also saying a strong second-place finish would be, in his words, great.
Would a strong second-place finish be great for you?
HALEY: What I want to do is be strong. We're not going to know what strong looks like until those numbers come in. But you guys will all say whether it's strong or not. So, I'm sure that you will do that.
But, look, I mean, we want to do better than we deny with. That's my personal goal, is to make sure we do better than we did in Iowa.
TAPPER: All right, let's get to the audience.
Our first question comes from Benjamin Grayzel,. He's an undeclared voter who voted for Joe Biden in 2020, but he says he's currently supporting you. Benjamin.
HALEY: Hi, Benjamin.
BENJAMIN GRAYZEL, COLLEGE STUDENT: Hi, Governor. Thank you so much for being here tonight.
Why won't Trump debate you? And what would you say to him if he did?
HALEY: Well, I think, you know, what we have seen is, he does tend to throw a temper tantrum when there's not a reason for me to respond back to it.
I would love for him to debate. That's what I have said this whole time. I think it's good for voters to be able to see what their options are. But this is the similarities you're seeing with Trump and Biden. Neither one of them will debate their opponents.
And I think it's very telling that we're dealing with more of the same, more of the same, where you have got these incumbent presidents that think they don't have to show you the differences between them and their opponents. I think that's the problem. I think that's exactly why we need new, generational leaders.
This election is very much going to be, are we getting more of the same or do we want to go in a new direction?
More of the same being that 70 percent of Americans have said they don't want to rematch between Trump and Biden.
The majority of Americans have very low -- have very high disapproval numbers for both Trump and Biden. Trump and Biden both spent trillions of dollars that put us in debt that our kids are never going to forgive either one of them for.
You look at the fact that we want to get them focused, but right now, do we really want to have two 80-year-olds running for president, when we've got a country in disarray and a world on fire?
And then you look, finally, at the fact that they are so distracted by their own investigations and by their own grievances. That when I think about my kids, I want a president who's going to be focused on what we need to do to fix the economy, what we need to do to secure the border once and for all, what we need to do to make sure we get our kids reading again and going back to the basics in education, what we need to do to make sure that our country is safe.
Those are the things. We don't need people that are distracted. We need people who love America and realize, if your time has gone, move out of the way and let a new generational leader come in and start to fix things.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So, Governor, in recent days, Trump has waged some particularly personal attacks against you. He's promoted the idea that because your parents were not U.S. citizens when you were born, they're immigrants from India, you aren't eligible to be president.
To be clear, that's not true. You are eligible. And he's also highlighted your given first name, Nimarata, which he misspelled. But beyond that, you've gone by Nikki your whole life. It's your middle name.
How do you respond?
HALEY: Well, first, I am the proud daughter of Bamberg, South Carolina, so I love my sweet town and I'm proud to say I'm from there. So that's the first question. We can throw that out the window.
And look, the name calling, I know President Trump well. That's what he does when he feels threatened. That's what he does when he feels insecure. I don't take these things personally. It doesn't bother me. I know him very well. And this is what he does. I know that I am a threat. I know that's why he's doing that.
So it's not going to waste any energy for me. I'm going to continue to focus on the things that people want to talk about. And not get into the name calling back with him.
TAPPER: I want you to meet -- OK. I want you to meet Lindsey Suprenard. She's does administrative work in the government and she's a Republican from Lee, New Hampshire. She says she's undecided in the New Hampshire Republican primary. Lindsey.
HALEY: Hi, Lindsey.
LINDSEY SUPRENARD, WORKS IN GOVERNMENT ADMINISTRATION: Hi. As a Christian assisting those in need is a priority. However, it is concerning to see American citizens struggling with basic needs while our taxes are directed towards non-contributors to the economy.
How would you regain Americans trust as president when they face high grocery, gas, and housing prices?
HALEY: It's a great question. And, you know, look, it's why I think we need to have an accountant in the White House. I've said this over and over again.
You look at the fact that we're $34 trillion in debt. We're having to borrow money just to make our interest payments. China owns some of that debt.
But when you look at what the average American is having to go through, it's not just at the grocery store. It's not just at the gas station. Mortgage payments have gone up. Insurance payments have gone up. Everything that we have to spend, it's all gone up.
And so Americans are feeling that squeeze. And so what we have to do is, first of all, acknowledge the fact that Republicans and Democrats both did this to us. There are no saints in D.C. when it comes to spending.
And so what we have to make sure we do is we stop the spending, stop the borrowing, eliminate the pet projects and earmarks that they open back up. And I'll veto any spending bill that doesn't take us back to pre-COVID levels.
The second thing we want to do is 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 education, think health care, think welfare, think mental health, if all of those resources were down on the ground.
And then we want to open up the middleclass. We want to make sure we eliminate the federal gas and diesel tax in this country. Let's cut taxes on the middleclass and simplify the brackets.
And let's make 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 need to start acting like it. And then we'll focus on the actual spending of each agency.
Government was intended to secure the rights and freedoms of the people. It was never intended to be all things to all people. And these agencies are way too bloated.
What I will tell you is, Americans are tired of working for government. It is now time that government starts serving the people again. That will happen when we get our fiscal House back in order. And that will be a priority from the very beginning when I first get into office.
Governor, on the topic that Lindsey raised about assisting those in need, there's a bipartisan group of lawmakers trying to expand child tax credits for low-income families.
Your political group, Stand for America, called the previous version of the child tax credit, which helped cut child poverty in half. They called it, No Strings Attached Welfare Handouts.
Are you against expanding child tax credits to help more low-income families?
HALEY: I am for child care tax credits for everyone. If you're going to do it, do it across the board and make sure that it's fair. Look, when you look at the welfare system, and you look at all of those other things, when you look at those programs, the goal that I want to look at is what are we doing to lift them up? What are we doing to make life better for them?
So I'll give you an example. When I was governor in South Carolina, we had thousands of people on welfare. And what we did was I went and took those people that were on welfare, which in a lot of cases was generational welfare, and I matched them up with businesses. And I told businesses, if you will take this person and train them, I will pay for them for X number of weeks. And at the end of it, you decide if you want to hire them or not.
We moved 35,000 people from welfare to work. We had family parties so that we could celebrate the fact that they were now contributing members of society. Don't just give handouts. What are you doing to lift them up too? And if you're going to do tax credits, do it for everybody. Don't play favorites. Don't pick winners and losers. That's not what we do in America.
What we do is we focus on making sure that people aren't dependent on government but that we're doing the part that we need to do. I'll give you one more. When we had our prison systems, I wanted to know how we could lower the recidivism rate in the country. We reformed the entire prison system to make sure we were doing quality classes when they were in prison. Now in South Carolina -- we also put equipment behind the fence so that they learned a skill.
Now in South Carolina, when someone leaves the fence, they've got a job to go to the next day. We have the lowest recidivism rate in the country. When you lift up the least of it -- these, that's when you're doing sustainable progress. When you just throw out a tax credit and say we're going to give it to these people or give it to these people, that's not sustaining anything. That's actually harming them. Instead, let's do the harder work and say, what can we do to get them into a better situation?
TAPPER: So let's turn to Lukas Washco. He's a student here at New England College, originally from the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He's a Republican who says he's currently undecided.
HALEY: Hi, Lukas.
LUKAS WASHCO, NEW ENGLAND COLLEGE STUDENT: Hi. I grew up in Philadelphia and have seen my city go in a bad direction with drugs running rampant through the streets and criminals feeling like they can do anything they want. Not only in Philadelphia, but other great cities like New York City and Chicago. What will you do to stop this and return these places to their former glory?
HALEY: It's true. And my son goes to school not far from there. And I worry every time he goes into the city. The first thing we need to do is we have got to defund sanctuary cities. You can't have safe havens for all of this lawlessness that's happening. It's not just illegal immigrants. It creates lawlessness throughout the city.
The second thing is, our law enforcement is demoralized, not just because you have this, you know, defund the police situation, but because they go and sacrifice their lives to keep us all safe. And do you know how frustrating it is for them to arrest someone who committed a crime and have them just let back out of jail the very next day?
We need to make prosecutors prosecute according to the crime. You have to hold people accountable. Until they start to pay a price for committing a crime, they're going to continue to do it. And in the meantime, that way we can start to get stolen guns off the street. We can start to get drug dealers off the street. We can start to clean up our cities because people will know they're not going to get away with it anymore.
That is happening throughout our country. I was in California several months back. And it was shocking, if you went into a drugstore, you had a security officer there, but people were literally just throwing things in a bag and walking out because they knew there was no price to pay.
We are a country of laws. The second we stop being a country of laws, we give up everything this country was founded on. We've got to get back to where we were.
TAPPER: On the matter of -- of illegal narcotics, marijuana is currently classified in the top category of -- of the most dangerous drugs in the country, alongside heroin and LSD. Last week scientists at the FDA said that marijuana should be moved to a much lower risk classification. Would you support that?
HALEY: I mean, I think I'll go with the scientists on that. I think it's obviously not in the same class as heroin. But I also think when you're looking at the legalization of this, I want states to be able to decide that. That's something that should be as close to the people as possible.
Some states are all for it and want to see that happen, and some states want nothing to do with it. But I do think that should be a state decision on whether they legalize it or not.
TAPPER: I want you to meet Kavya Nivarthy. She's a college student originally from New Jersey. She's an undeclared voter who's currently undecided between you and Ron DeSantis.
HALEY: Hi, Kavya.
KAVYA NIVARTHY, COLLEGE STUDENT: Hi, Governor Haley. As a college student and a young American, a key priority of mine in this election is the free expression of ideas and bridging the political divide in this country. You've campaigned on being a president for all Americans. Now it seems that in the past two decades, as college campuses have become increasingly left-leaning, Republicans were the voice of centering the dialogue and inviting disagreement.
I'm concerned, however, by the rhetoric that's come from Republicans like yourself since October 7, that we should vet and shut down ideas that we deem harmful.
You floated the idea of social media companies verifying all users by name. And one of your opponents, Governor DeSantis, has sanctioned pro-Palestine student groups on public university campuses in the state of Florida. So my question is, will you commit to being principled on free speech?
Meaning supporting even that speech that you disagree with. And if yes, what's your plan to do that?
HALEY: So I will always fight for freedom of speech.
What I was referring to when it comes to our tech companies is there is a responsibility that our social media companies have. What I think they should do is they should show us their algorithms. They should be completely transparent so that you know why they push what they push, why you see what they -- what you see, all of that. That's a business transparency situation.
When it comes to disclosing who you are, I'm not saying that Americans have to disclose their name. What I'm saying is you have millions of foreign bots, where there are no people behind them.
When I was at the United Nations, Russia, China and Iran knew and said it was the cheapest form of warfare. There are millions of bots that are spreading disinformation, that are sowing division in our country, and they're doing this to spread harmful things to our younger teenagers. And what I'm saying is those social media companies have to do something with the foreign bots.
I will always fight for Americans' freedom of speech, but I am not going the fight for Russians and Iranians and Chinese freedom of speech. And that's what's happening. That's the part we have to take care of.
Now as a mom, do I wish everybody would put their name next to their comment? I think it would be great. I think it would be more civil. I think we would have less, you know, of the child pornography. I think we'd have less of the other things.
But I'm not going to saying government should make anybody do anything. What I do think is this is a national security risk when tech companies know that there are millions of foreign bots and they're doing absolutely nothing about it.
If you go -- it's another reason why I think we have to ban TikTok. India banned TikTok because it was causing so much social disruption. Nepal did the same thing.
Why are we continuing to have a social media platform that is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party that we know is doing harmful things to us? Like putting Osama bin Laden's letter up there and all those things. That's what I don't want.
I want you to have as much freedom of speech as possible. I do not I want those that hate us to be able to have freedom of speech and cause division in our country.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN MODERATOR: I want to bring in Doug Howes. He's the founder of Financial Planning Firm from Atkinson, New Hampshire. He's a Republican who says he supports you.
HALEY: Hi, Doug.
DOUG HOWES, FOUNDER OF A FINANCIAL PLANNING FIRM: Hi, Governor Haley. Thank you for being here, and a sincere thank you for the effort and time you've put into our state. Appreciate it.
HALEY: Thank you.
HOWES: So, your campaign has brought in some meaningful contributions from some rather wealthy Democrat support, and many of us are anticipating that next Tuesday, you're going to perform very well here in New Hampshire. However, some of that may be fueled by Democratic voters who are participating in our primary.
My question for you is: how does that help or hurt us, especially if these voters revert back to party lines?
HALEY: Well, first of all, I will tell you, we have always -- we've been here for 11 months. We've had over 75, 80 town halls, answering every question, shaking every hand on the last person to leave. I don't ask people when they come in the door if they're Republican, Democrat, or independent.
What we do is find out -- I go and tell them what I think we need to do with our country, the direction we need to go, and how we go about that.
I know that we have, right now, we have General Don Bolduc's support. He's -- he's been a pro-Trumper for a long time. He's a hardcore conservative. He's with us.
I know we have Governor Chris Sununu. He's a moderate Republican. We have him with us.
I know that we've had some independents come our way and yes, we've had some Democrats say they want to support us because they're not happy with Joe Biden.
What I want everybody here to remember is, Republicans have lost the last seven out of eight popular votes for president. That is nothing to be proud of. We should want to win the majority of Americans.
The problem is, if you're going to win the majority of Americans, you have to make sure as a leader, you don't decide who's good and who's bad, who's right and who's wrong. You bring out the best of people and get them to move forward.
What I am doing is telling people what I'm for. If independents and conservative, and moderate Republicans like that, I love that. If conservative Democrats are saying, I want to come back home to the Republican Party because they left it, I want them back.
We're not trying to target progressives. They're never going to be for me.
I -- I know that we have differences. But what I will do is I want the younger voter. I want those moderates. I want those independents. I want them to come back home to the Republican Party. Because that's how we win.
And that is why, if you look at any general election poll, Trump and Biden are even. On a good day, Trump will be up by two points. I defeat Biden by 17 points in The Wall Street Journal poll. When you do that, that's a double-digit win that take you into D.C., that's a mandate to get the wasteful spending under control and get our economy back on track. That's a mandate to get our kids reading again and go back to the basics on education. That's a mandate to secure our border, with no more excuses. That's a mandate for law and order back in our country. And that's a mandate for a strong America we can be proud of.
And so let's remember, it's the problem I've had with the Republican Party. They want to push people out of the party. I want to bring people into the party. Because, at the end of the day, we have to heal and unify as Americans, if we are going to go and get this country out of disarray and if we're going to make sure we have a strong America going forward.
TAPPER: So Donald Trump is not willing to debate you, but he is very much the elephant in the room. And I want to ask you about something he posted on his social media at 1:59 a.m. this morning...
TAPPER: ... on Truth Social, continuing his assertion that he should have blanket immunity for anything he did as president, including the events surrounding January 6, 2021.
He wrote, quote, in all caps -- just in case...
HALEY: Of course.
TAPPER: Yes. He wrote, quote, "Even events that cross the line must fall under total immunity," unquote.
What are your thoughts on that?
HALEY: No. I mean, it should be common sense, right? Common sense. Obviously, if a president is doing something and it's related to, you know, whether it's terrorist threats or something like that, and people die; that's one thing.
But do you get just total freedom to do whatever you want? No. That's never the way it was intended to be. There needs to be accountability. No one is above the law.
But I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know what the limits are. But I think we should be using common sense when it comes to that.
TAPPER: Well, on accountability, if you become president and Donald Trump's trials are still ongoing, would you pre-emptively pardon him, without waiting for a conviction, the way that Gerald Ford did for Richard Nixon?
HALEY: No. I think everything needs to play out. I think it's important that that happens. And I honestly think President Trump would want that to happen. If he wants to defend himself and prove that he has been treated, you know, the wrong way, or whether it's political, I think he would want to fight for that.
You know, you only want to talk about a pardon after someone has been convicted. So I would assume that we'd let that play out. And I would think he would want that to play out.
TAPPER: If he were convicted, would you then pardon him?
HALEY: I said I -- I would pardon him, with the simple reason of, you know, when you talk about a pardon, someone's already been found guilty.
But for me, the last thing we need is an 80-year-old president sitting in jail, because that's just going to further divide our country. This is no longer about whether he's innocent or guilty. This is about the fact, how do we bring the country back together? And I am determined to make sure all of this division, all of this chaos goes away. And I think a pardon for him would make all of that go away, and I think it would be healing for the country.
TAPPER: We'll be right back with more, from Republican presidential candidate Governor Nikki Haley.
TAPPER: Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's Republican presidential town hall. We're live from New Hampshire with former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.
A couple of questions that I need to ask about your family, if I can. Your father was hospitalized, and you took a quick break from the campaign trail this week to visit him. How is he doing?
HALEY: Thank you for asking.
He is doing -- doing well. He is now back home. I -- Michael and I take care of my parents. They live with us. And so, when something like that happens, I need to go and put eyes on them, make sure they're OK. But they are now watching tonight. I love you, mom and dad.
And he's doing much better.
TAPPER: That's great. And...
TAPPER: ... speaking of your husband, Michael, he's in the military, and he's currently deployed. He's in the Horn of Africa.
And you said you weren't able to connect to him the day of the Iowa caucuses. I assume you have been able to since, I hope. How he's doing?
HALEY: It was probably about two or three days that he had no connection. And so that's always tough, because you're kind of holding your breath, and you can't.
But I have since -- yes, we got a chance to talk. And so all is good on his front. It's -- when you have a loved one deployed, it's that -- your lone prayer that they just come back home to you safely. So we're incredibly proud of him and his military brothers and sisters that are serving. And God bless them for what they do.
TAPPER: Yes. One of the...
TAPPER: One of our team members backstage, her son just got home from Iraq. I mean, like, it's...
HALEY: Oh, God bless. I mean...
HALEY: ... they go through a lot.
And it's the reason why we have to remember you can't just love our men and women when they're gone. We got to love them when they come back home too.
HALEY: And so, when our veterans come back, you got to love them for the long haul, because, sometimes, they come back and times are tough.
TAPPER: Yes. No, absolutely. Absolutely.
I want to -- I want you to meet Scott Townes. He's from Weare, New Hampshire. He works in customer service. He's a Republican who voted for Joe Biden in 2020, but he says he's currently supporting you.
HALEY: Scott, good to see you. SCOTT TOWNES, WORKS IN CUSTOMER SERVICE: Good to see you too, Governor
How would you address the Houthi rebels in the Red Sea and the provocations without expanding the war in the Middle East?
HALEY: So, again, the frustration that I have with why we're in this situation is, all of this could have been prevented.
And what we saw is, after the debacle in Afghanistan, all of our enemies felt empowered. And, keep in mind, there would be no Houthis without Iran. There wouldn't be Hamas without Iran. There wouldn't be Hezbollah without Iran.
And what truly fueled Iran was when Biden fell all over himself to get back into the Iran deal. When he lifted the sanctions on Iran, it was the most dangerous thing he could have done. When he lifted the terrorist label off the Houthis, again, that was another thing he never should have done.
What we know about Iran and all of their proxies is when they get cash, it doesn't go to take care of the Iranian people. It goes to fuel terrorism, and that's what's happened.
And now we have that area of the Red Sea. That's a dramatic part of our global supply chain. And so now that they have started causing trouble there, you know, what we're seeing Biden do is now he's like, uh-oh, we're going to go put the terrorist designation back on them. And now even if he put the sanctions back on Iran, it's going to take a while to do that.
And so our goal should always be, how do you prevent war? That's the number one thing. How do you prevent war?
And the best way you prevent war is to deter it in the first place. That doesn't mean putting your head in the sand. It actually means showing strength. So when Iran started shooting at our men and women in Iraq and Syria, why did it take 130 times for Biden to do something about it?
If he had hit hard one time where all of the supplies were of the missiles that were going to shoot at them, he had done that once they would have backed off.
We've seen this with Iran over and over again. Reagan did this. Trump did this. When you go and you punch him hard, whether it's where those depots are that it's happening or whether you go after the Iranian regime's military commanders, that is what they respond to.
And so now we've got to go back and find our strength again. And that's the one thing I'll tell you is when I was at the United Nations, I told country what America was for and what America was against.
I didn't care if they didn't like me, but I wanted them to respect America. We've lost that respect. We've got to get it back again.
TAPPER: So I want to ask you, you mentioned the tragic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. And I wanted to ask you a follow on that because I've seen criticism of that withdrawal that faulted both the Biden administration for how it was done. And also the Trump administration for negotiating the agreement to leave to begin with.
And we all remember president Trump wanting to bring the Taliban to Camp David. I think it was near the anniversary of 9/11 and the rest. You worked for Donald Trump at the time or around that time, so I'm sure your criticisms were internal, not external.
HALEY: I wasn't there at the time that happened.
TAPPER: But tell me what you thought of the deal that he was -- that he ultimately negotiated with the Taliban, that then the Biden administration inherited. And, again, I'm not trying to exempt them from the withdrawal, but Trump played a role here too. What did you think of that?
So I think that there's a little bit of fault to go around to all sides. The first thing is, I think that, you know, this pressure by the American public to get out of wars was important. We had been in Afghanistan way too long.
I mean, as my husband served in Afghanistan. I mean, they will tell you, you can't go and recreate a culture. You can't go and build a new country. You should never try and turn a country into something it's not. And I think that was a terrible mistake.
What we should be doing is always just making sure we're protecting Americans. So Afghanistan went too far.
But when you know you want to pull back, you do it in a way that's smart and sensible.
And I think, you know, what Trump did, we never want to see Taliban on U.S. soil ever. No agreement, no anything. I don't want them at Camp David anywhere. I think it was a mistake to even try and negotiate with the Taliban because this is a group that you can't negotiate with.
Biden wanted to play politics and hit it by a certain date. He wanted to do it by September 11. And so he rushed. And I know what happened then, because I was in the same room when Trump wanted to do that.
And we were sitting in the National Security Council. And when that happened, his general said to him, if you want to get out of Afghanistan, you can do it. But you got to send 5,000 more troops over there to do it the right way. And what happened is Biden didn't want to do it the right way. And look at what happened.
I mean, if you look at the cash that they left, the equipment that they left. What was heartbreaking for me is I watched my husband watch the news that day. And he saw them driving in the Jeeps and he goes, those are our vehicles.
And then he saw them and they were waving like flags and all those things. So you're already feeling demoralized. But then he saw them wearing the American uniforms and making fun of our American soldiers. Like, I mean, think about from everyone over 20 years that served in Afghanistan to see the image of that.
And for me, who I went to Afghanistan, while I was at the United Nations, the level of improvement of the quality of life for the women there, was you had women working for the first time. You had them where they didn't have to be draped. You had them to where they could actually go to school. All of that's gone.
For what? To hit a political deadline?
That's what we have to stop. It's not about theatrics at Camp David. It's not about a political deadline with Trump or Biden. What it's about doing it is, are you keeping Americans safe? And are you looking at the best interests of our national security? And that didn't happen from either side.
TAPPER: I want you to meet William Streeter. He's a college student and Republican who's volunteered with Governor DeSantis's superpac. He says he's leaning towards either DeSantis or Trump.
HALEY: Hi, William.
WILLIAM STREETER, COLLEGE STUDENT: What would be your response between the -- the rising tensions between China and Taiwan after the recent Taiwanese election?
HALEY: So great win for the Taiwanese election. It was a win for freedom. It was a win for democracy. And it happened really on the heels of China doing incredible amounts of intimidation with drone tactics, with trying to spread misinformation. So it really was a win for -- for freedom and democracy. A setback for China for sure.
But what we have to remember is, and I saw this every day at the United Nations, dictators, terrorists, and thugs always tell us 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. It happened over COVID. Russia said they were going to invade Ukraine. We watched it.
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. What we know is, first of all, I don't think that we should ever give cash to any country, friend or foe, because you can't follow it, you can't hold it accountable. Really important.
The second thing is we don't need to put troops on the ground anywhere. As the spouse of a military combat veteran, you don't ever want to see your loved ones go to war. But what you do have to do is deter it. There's a reason the Taiwanese want the U.S. and the West to support Ukraine. Because they know if Ukraine wins, China won't invade Taiwan.
There's a reason that Ukrainians want the U.S. and the West to support Israel. Because they know if Iran wins, Russia wins. Iran, Russia, and China are connected in an unholy alliance and connected in their hatred for freedom, democracy, and of all things the United States of America.
So we need to look at all three of them together. Don't ever separate the three of them because they are working together. We need to look at them the way they look at us. And when we start to do it from a level of prevention of war, of national security, and of protection of Americans, that's when America will be strong again.
TAPPER: You brought up Israel, Governor. Saudi Arabia wants Israel to commit to a path to a Palestinian state in exchange for normalized relations with Saudi Arabia. Earlier today Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to reject the establishment of any Palestinian state after the war while he is prime minister.
Would a President Haley end the longstanding U.S. commitment to a two- state solution?
HALEY: When I was at the U.N., I mean, they were -- the two-state solution came up over and over again. And Israel always showed up at the table. The Palestinians always rejected the two-state solution. And the reason they rejected the two-state solution is because they want a one-state solution. The Palestinians don't want Israel to exist.
We saw that over and over again. Any discussions we had with them, the Palestinian Authority doesn't want to negotiate with Israel. So all the heat always goes to Israel and people always forgive the fact that the Palestinians are saying no at every breath.
Israel is a bright spot in a tough neighborhood. They are 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 what we have to remember is on that horrific day of October 7th, when they beheaded those people and burned those babies alive and took those girls from 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. That's what we have to remember.
So when the Palestinians demand anything, Israel has every right to demand security. Israel has every right to say we don't want terrorists on our border. And so will there ever be a two-state solution? Maybe. But Israel has to defend themselves first. And as long as there are terrorists off of their border, I totally understand why they don't trust the Palestinian Authority and why they know they have to protect their people.
TAPPER: I want you to meet...
TAPPER: I want you to meet Lizabeth McLaughlin. She's a retiree from Marlborough, New Hampshire, who used to work in the insurance industry. She's a Republican who says she's currently undecided.
HALEY: Hi, Lizabeth.
LIZABETH MCLAUGHLIN, RETIRED FROM INSURANCE INDUSTRY: Good evening, Governor Haley. And welcome to my alma mater.
HALEY: Ah, thank you.
MCLAUGHLIN: Congressional term limits have been asked for by the people of this country. Are you a candidate that will bring forth term-limit legislation of the House and Senate?
And what would that legislation look like?
HALEY: Absolutely. I mean, I have been a term limit proponent for as long as I can remember. The reality though -- I've always spoken in hard truths -- the reality is, Congress has never going to vote for term limits, right?
But that doesn't mean we don't try. What we do instead and what you will see me do is I will have a Haley term limit's pledge. And everyone, when they file for office, incumbent or otherwise, has the option to either sign the term limit pledge or not.
And then I'm going to put all of that out for you so that you know exactly which candidates are for it, and which candidates are not. And that way you are empowered with the information.
And when we get enough of those individuals to sign the term limit's pledge that get into Congress, then we will go and say, it's time to vote on it and hold them to account on that.
So, we'll do it from the outside, and I always think the best way to move reforms forward is when you work with the people to push it from the outside in and force Congress to do the right thing.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN MODERATOR: We'll be right back with more from Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley.
(APPLAUSE) TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's Republican presidential town hall. We're live from New Hampshire, at New England College, with former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.
I want to ask you about a comment you made earlier this week. You said that America has, quote, "never been a racist country," unquote.
Protections for the institution of slavery were written into the U.S. Constitution. The White House was built with slave labor. Your home state of South Carolina seceded from the Union, fought a war to defend the enslavement of black people.
I understand you don't think America is a racist country now. But we're here at a college. Do you really think, as a -- as a historical matter, America has never been a racist country?
HALEY: I mean, think about what you're -- first of all, I will tell you, when you look at, you know, the Declaration of Independence, it was that, you know, men are created equal, with unalienable rights, right? That was what we all knew.
But what I look at it as, is I was a brown girl that grew up in a small rural town. We had plenty of racism that we had to deal with. But my parents never said we lived in a racist country. And I'm so thankful they didn't. Because, for every brown and black child out there, if you tell them they live or were born in a racist country, you're immediately telling them they don't have a chance.
And my parents would always say, "You may have challenges and, yes, there will be people who are racist, but that doesn't define what you can do in this country."
And so I think it's important that we tell all kids that, "Look, America is not perfect. We have our stains. We know that. But our goal should always be to make today better than yesterday." It's hugely important.
And that's the problem I have, is we have too many people with this national self-loathing. It is killing our country. We have got to go back to loving America. We are blessed. Because that little brown girl in that small rural town in South Carolina, she grew up to become the first female minority governor in history. She then went on to be a U.N. Ambassador. And now she's running for president of the United States.
I want every brown and black child to see that and say, "No, I don't live in a country that was formed on racism. I live in a country where they wanted all people to be equal, and to make sure that they had life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
TAPPER: OK, but just to...
TAPPER: ... just to push back a bit, because I was a history major in New Hampshire, you're talking about the ideals of America. But America was founded institutionally on many racist precepts, including slavery?
HALEY: But when you look, it said, "All men are created equal." I think the intent, the intent was to do the right thing. Now, did they have to go fix it along the way? Yes. But I don't think the intent was ever that we were going to be a racist country. The intent was everybody was going to be created equally.
And as we went through time, they fixed the things that were not "All men are created equal." They made sure, women became equal, too. All of these things happened over time.
But I refuse to believe that the premise of when they formed our country was based on the fact that it was a racist country to start with. I refuse to believe that. I have to know in my heart and in everybody's heart that we live in the best country in the world, and we are a work in progress. And we've got a long way to go to fix all of our little kinks. But I truly believe our founding fathers had the best of intentions when they started. And we fixed it along the way. And we should always look at it that way.
TAPPER: I want you to meet Stephen Cardi. He's a sales associate from Concord, New Hampshire. He's an undeclared voter who says he plans to vote in the Republican primary, and he's currently undecided.
HALEY: Hi, Stephen.
QUESTION: Thank you. Hi, Ambassador Haley.
Hi, Jake. And to quote another member, welcome to my alma mater.
Thanks. Ambassador Haley, what is your plan to deal with the loss of jobs that are being replaced by AI?
HALEY: It's interesting, because when you look at artificial intelligence, don't look at it as good or bad. See it as opportunities, but also see it as a warning. When you look at artificial intelligence, a lot of good could come from it, innovations, whether it's in health care, whether it's in education, whether it's in, you know, creating what the next new industry is going to be. There's a lot of great things that can come out.
But there are some warning signs that, if we don't deal with it the right way, it could be incredibly dangerous. So, to me, the first thing is, let's look at the security perspective. I don't think you regulate AI. I am not a fan of government regulating anything. I think they tend to -- to break more than they fix.
I do think we need to put laws in place to protect Americans, laws that say, if you use A.I. to steal a person's identity, that's against the law. If you use A.I. in a harmful way in health care, that's against the law. If you use A.I. to do a military act without a general commander, that's a -- you have -- you're breaking the law, if you use A.I. to affect -- to disable the democratic process.
Let's put hard laws in place to protect Americans. But the other side of it is, let's see artificial intelligence for the opportunity that it is. When you create a platform like that, it always creates more jobs along the way. Our goal should be, how do we make sure those people have the skills to fit those new jobs?
You know, in South Carolina, when I came in, we had 11 percent unemployment. All of the jobs in South Carolina had been in the textile industry. And when the textiles went overseas, so went our jobs. And so we started to recruit. And by the time I left, we were building planes with Boeing, more BMWs than any place in the world.
We brought in Mercedes-Benz. We brought in Volvo, five international tire companies. But our South Carolinians knew how to make textiles. We went and got them reskilled so that they could do the new jobs. That's the key is, don't leave anybody hanging. Anybody that has had a job that they're watching it go away by artificial intelligence, let's make sure they have the ability to get trained for new jobs that are coming in.
That's how you make sure that you're lifting them up along the way, and you're empowering them to go forward. We don't leave anybody behind. We put opportunities in front of everybody, so that they can always see a way forward.
TAPPER: I want you to meet Isaiah Menning. He's a college student who founded his school's chapter of the American Conservation Coalition. He's a Republican who says he's leaning towards supporting you in the primary.
HALEY: Hi, Isaiah.
ISAIAH MENNING, COLLEGE STUDENT: Thank you for being us -- with us, Governor.
HALEY: Thank you.
MENNING: Governor Haley, in the first debate, you were the only candidate who acknowledged the reality of climate change, encouraging many young conservatives like me.
You also pointed out the significance of emissions from countries like China and India. How will your administration help reduce global emissions, and how can priorities like American energy dominance support that goal?
HALEY: You know, it's interesting, because I think that this has been made to be a partisan issue. And it shouldn't be.
Without knowing where any of you stand, we all want clean air. We all want clean water. We all want a world for our kids that we know is going to be strong and healthy for them. And so, if you look at that, then it's, how do we get there, right? I do think climate change is real. I think that's acknowledging a
fact. We need to acknowledge our facts to know where we go. The problem is, we have seen extremes. So we have seen some people who say, oh, climate change doesn't exist. And then we see others who say, like Biden, we have to have as many electric cars -- everybody's got to drive an electric car by 2033.
That's not -- you don't live in extremes. Instead, yes, we acknowledge that China and India are a massive emitter when it comes to that and that we need to call them out on it. But you also look at, what's the transition? Rather than demonizing producers, partner with the producers, because you will find a lot of the energy producers want to do innovation.
We see this nuclear fusion that's happening now. There's some real opportunities there to go and look with that. But you -- if you go and partner with them, that's when it happens. You look at what Biden did. And by passing all of that stimulus money to go get everybody into an electric car, what did he do? It didn't even make sense.
We don't even have the infrastructure -- bless you -- if everybody went to electric car. And I'm not talking about charging stations. Electric vehicles are heavy. Our roads and bridges wouldn't be able to handle electric cars on -- like that.
Let's do -- and not only that. Americans don't all want electric cars. Quit telling them how to live. I love the fact that this is the Live Free or Die State. I want it to be the live free or die country. That's what I want to see happen.
Let's do it in a way that the transition makes sense. We never stop trying to make today better than yesterday. But we don't do it in a way that misses the whole point that 70 percent of the batteries in electric cars are made in China, which is our number one national security threat. There was no logic to how he did that.
TAPPER: We will be right back with more from Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's "Republican Presidential Town Hall." We're live from New Hampshire with former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.
So you've said -- this is a -- this is a sillier question. But you've said one of your biggest role models is Joan Jett. For all the college kids here who may not know that she is. She was... HALEY: "I Love Rock 'n Roll." They all know who that is.
TAPPER: ... a big rock star -- I wasn't referring to you when I said college kids the audience.
TAPPER: It's all right, I'm just kidding.
HALEY: So wrong, so wrong.
TAPPER: I'm older than her. Joan Jett was a huge rock star in the 1980s. Huge. What is it about Joan Jett that you admire? Why?
HALEY: You know, what I love about her is here she was, she was one of the first rockers, like true rockers. And the industry didn't like the way she looked, didn't like the way she acted. They didn't look at the talent. They just automatically pushed her aside for things that she -- that were just who she was.
And she never gave up. And she kept pushing, and she kept pushing no matter how much they discounted her and made it like she was never going to make it, to the point that they're selling albums out of the trunk of her car. And finally, when no record company would sign her, she and her agent came out with their own record label.
And that was the one that had the songs like "I Love Rock 'n Roll", "Crimson and Clover," "Bad Reputation." All these songs came out because of it. And when she got into the, you know, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, like, what a lesson that is, right?
That don't let people -- people will discount you all your life. But the fact that she persisted, the fact that she continued to go forward, and the fact that she just was a badass, I love every bit of that.
HALEY: I do. I do.
TAPPER: That's a good...
TAPPER: That's a great lesson for all the college kids here and anybody watching at home.
TAPPER: I want you to meet Rip Holden. He's a former New Hampshire state legislator and former political consultant. He's a Republican from Manchester who says he's currently undecided.
Rip. RIP HOLDEN, FORMER NEW HAMPSHIRE STATE LEGISLATOR AND POLITICAL
CONSULTANT: Thank you, Governor.
HALEY: Thank you.
HOLDEN: First, let me say I'm glad your father's doing well.
HALEY: Thank you for saying that. I appreciate it.
HOLDEN: Which leads me into this question. You have an ad that says, I will tell you, Joe Biden is too old. Even this damn Yankee thinks that's rude.
So is that the kind of image that you or a presidential candidate should project, rather than issues?
HALEY: You know, what I'm always going to do is tell...
HALEY: Or are you not done?
HOLDEN: Remember -- remember the age median of the state before you answer that question.
And it's -- I have always spoken in hard truths, because I think Americans deserve the truth. I always want the truth, and I think they want it back. I don't sugarcoat things, because I don't think we have time for that.
I have said, both Biden and Trump would mean that our options would give us an 80-year-old president. We have a country in disarray and a world on fire. I am acknowledging what everybody else is thinking. They're just not saying it.
I'm going to say it, because our families are on the line. We need someone who's going to be at the top of their game. We need someone who's going to be -- these are people making decisions on our national security. These are people making decisions on the future of our economy.
We need to be honest. With ourselves. Congress has become the most privileged nursing home in the country. And you ask any of our young -- ask any of our college students, they don't want that. I don't want that for my kids. I appreciate anybody that goes in for service.
But the problem is, Joe Biden refuses to leave. And all of these people who are in their 80s, they need to know, for the good of our country, know when to walk away, because you can look at Joe Biden from two years ago, and you look at him now, and you know what I worry about? How Russia sees him, how China sees him, how Iran sees him, because
every one of them see what we see. And if no one else will say it, I'm going to say it. We don't need to have our options be two 80-year-olds running for president. We have got too many issues. We need to have a new, generational leader.
That's not being disrespectful. I'm from the South. That's speaking the hard truths.
TAPPER: ... one of those elderly gentlemen you just referred to is on a different channel. And since he's not here willing to debate you, I did want you -- to give you an opportunity to rebut something he just said.
He said, you have no chance, you have no hope, MAGA is not going to be with you.
I'm obviously talking about Donald Trump.
HALEY: Yes. No, I figured.
TAPPER: Your response?
HALEY: Yes, I mean, I think, if he thinks I have no chance and I have no hope, then why is he running millions of dollars of ads against me?
If he thinks I had no chance and I have no hope, then why then, when I served in his Cabinet, did he say I was tough, the best U.N. ambassador he ever had, and no one could even move me?
I mean, he gave me all this praise until I decided to run against him. This is not personal for me. I don't hate Donald Trump. I voted for him twice. I agree with a lot of his policies. But, rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him. And everybody knows I'm right.
And we can't continue down this path and go through four more years of chaos. We won't survive it. You don't fix Democrat chaos with Republican chaos. So he can say everything that he wants, that I don't have a chance. He wouldn't say it if he thought that that was true.
The reason he's throwing these temper tantrums is because he knows I do have a chance. The reason he's doing this is because he knows he's not able to defend his record, he's not able to talk about why he wasn't tough enough on China when he should have, and he allowed fentanyl to come through, and them steal our intellectual property and build up our military.
He's not talking about the fact that he put us $8 trillion in debt over four years, and we're digging out of it, unable to figure out how we're going to pay that now. He's not talking about the fact that he didn't stop the fentanyl flow that's affected this state and all over the country when he had the opportunity to do it.
He's not talking about, why did he go and praise President Xi a dozen times after they gave us COVID? Why would you do that? There are a lot of things he doesn't want to answer. So he can say I'm not going to win. I don't care about that. What I am going to do is say, we need answers. The American people need answers.
And if he's not giving it, that should worry every single one of you.
TAPPER: I want you to meet Claire Gruenfelder. She's from Concord, New Hampshire. She's the H.R. director here at New England College. She's an undeclared voter who is undecided in the primary.
HALEY: Nice to see you.
CLAIRE GRUENFELDER, NEW ENGLAND COLLEGE HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTOR: Thank you. Hi, Governor. Nice to see you. Thank you for being here.
I'm actually a brand-new U.S. citizen, although I have been here...
GRUENFELDER: Thank you.
I have been in the United States for 23 years, and I have been in my hometown of Concord for eight. And a problem that I see that really does concern me is that of homelessness. I understand my town does a lot to try to combat the issue, and I understand there's some local responsibilities and really good work that's going on.
But I'd like to understand what you would do to tackle the issue if you were to be president.
HALEY: Well, we're seeing homelessness is up 12 percent. We now have 650,000 Americans who are homeless; 35,000 of them are veterans who are homeless.
It's shameful. This is not their fault. It's the fact that inflation is up. We're seeing a lot of families get squeezed. It's the fact that America refuses to deal with the cancer that's mental health. America refuses to deal with addictions, which we have to deal with. And there are answers to this.
This is why I want to move as many programs from the federal government down to the states, because, right now, a lot of it's tied up in D.C. You have got over $300 billion that's spent on things like mental health and behavioral services in D.C. Only one billion of it gets down to the states for states to decide how to use it.
Let's release those resources, so that every state can do what they need to, to get the mental health therapists they need to have, to have the mental health facilities that we need to have in our states, to have the addiction centers.
It doesn't need to be tied up with D.C. bureaucrats. It needs to be on the ground, where we can lift people up, because we're losing so many Americans to mental health issues, to fentanyl issues, the economy. We can get them back on track, but we have got to get them well first, and then we get them trained, like what I said we did with our welfare recipients, what I said we did with our prison inmates, is getting them trained.
But we need to start bringing these resources down, because what you're seeing is, the federal government is assuming that one size fits all for all the states, and that's not true. I would much rather have those resources go to Governor Sununu and him say, this is where we need this mental health facility. This is where we need this addiction center.
That's what I want to do. And presidents typically meet with governors once a year. I will meet with our governors once a quarter, Republican and Democrat, with the sole purpose of, when we move those programs down, showing them the best ways that they can go about serving their people, so that they're more empowered by that process.
GRUENFELDER: Thank you.
TAPPER: I want you to meet Marie Mulroy. She's a retiree who worked in public health. She's an undeclared voter from Manchester who supported Joe Biden in 2020 and now says she's planning on voting for you in the primary.
HALEY: Yay, Marie, thank you.
MARIE MULROY, RETIRED PUBLIC HEALTH WORKER: Oh, thank you, Governor.
And I also want to thank you for taking the time to visit and get to see as many voters as you have. And so my question is kind of in that regard.
And so, with all the town halls, all the debates, all the conversations with individuals, can you share a little bit of how that experience has refined or shaped any of your policies?
HALEY: All right, look, I think that -- and I was like this as a governor. I was like this as ambassador.
I really love to be out with people, because, no offense, Jake, but, like, the media is not real life. And you -- but you...
HALEY: But you go to a town hall, and they will tell you everything. I will give you an example. I had this woman come up to me. And before
she came up to me, she was crying. So I knew something was wrong. And she came up to me and she said: "I saw you last week at X-town." And she said: "This is a picture."
And she showed me a picture, and she was in the audience, and she had herself circled. And I said: "Oh, how nice."
And she said: "At the moment that I was sitting in that town hall, my son died of fentanyl." And she said: "I need to know that that was -- that meant something. I need to know that me being there is OK."
You don't forget things like that. That sits with you in a way that nothing else can. I mean, talking to that person, talking to a veteran that comes and says, everything you're saying about how veterans need telehealth and mental health care, or a veteran's military spouse, when you hear those things, it makes it very real.
What I have found out from New Hampshire is, we don't talk enough about the northern border. The southern border is in terrible shape, but 500 people on the terrorist list, terrorist watch list, have come through the northern border.
You look at the fentanyl and all that. I learned that from you, because you have been affected by it every day. When I look at how New Hampshire really focuses on single moms, we were at a great center that helps single moms that go and get -- that have babies to get back on track.
Learning about the addictions that New Hampshire has had, learning about the veterans issues that New Hampshire has had, listening to the story of that mom, where she dealt with a fentanyl issue, talking about the importance of school choice and why parents want that so much, or the fact that they want to know that the economy continues to squeeze them.
No matter how much Joe Biden says the economy is good, nobody in New Hampshire feels that.
But those are the things I will take away with me, because those stories and those faces and those people, that is what makes you a good leader, because you can read all the books that you want, and you can watch all the news that you want, but if you don't hear what real people are saying and what real people care about, you will never truly lead in a way that lifts up everybody.
TAPPER: Our thanks to Governor Haley.
TAPPER: And thanks to our audience here at New England College.
Make sure to join us next Tuesday, January 23, starting at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, for CNN's special live coverage of the New Hampshire primary. Stay right here. Kaitlan Collins and Abby Phillip have analysis of
this town hall. That starts right now.
And thanks to you. Thanks to all of you. Really appreciate it.
TAPPER: Great job.
HALEY: Thank you so much.