QUESTION: Let’s bring in the Secretary of State for the United States of America. Mike Pompeo joins us from the State Department. Mr. Secretary, good morning to you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Steve, good morning. You tucked me in between Paula Deen and Kane Brown. That’s a good morning. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: That’s right. It’s good to have you. Hey, listen, so we just heard Jack Keane referring to this story that the President says is not true, he never said it. And one of Jack’s – the general’s – observations is that isn’t it unusual that they would sit on the story, which is composed of a number of anonymous sources, sit on it for a couple of years, essentially 60 days before the election, for maximum pain.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, Steve, I think that’s right. I haven’t read the whole piece, but if I’m tracking correctly, I think I was on that trip as well. But what I can say for sure is I’ve never heard – I’ve been with this President now for coming on four years. I’ve never heard the President use the language that assertedly is said in that article about him calling the military suckers and losers. I’ve never seen that. Indeed, just the contrary; he has always had the deepest respect.
I’m a veteran too. I care deeply about these young men and women. I’ve watched the President honor them in every situation that I’ve been in with him as well.
QUESTION: Well, if you were on that trip, why did he not make the – a visit to the cemetery? Because at the time, we heard that it was the weather, the choppers wouldn’t fly, the Secret Service wouldn’t drive him. The President says that this conversation never happened. So you were there. Why didn’t he go to the cemetery?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Steve, I don’t know precisely what the decision making was inside. I do remember there was weather. I do remember there was lots of discussion about whether they could fly out there or not. I don’t know what – you’ll have to ask someone who was involved in that decision-making process. I simply wasn’t.
But I can tell you I was with him for a good part of that trip, if I’m thinking about this visit and the timing right, and I never heard him use the words that are described in that article. Just I never saw it.
QUESTION: Secretary, another topic we’re looking at this morning is China. The President, as we know, is on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania, and while there he talked about China as it relates to COVID-19 and also talked about what a Biden administration would mean with respect to our relationship with China. Let’s take a listen to what he said, and then we’ll get your reaction:
PRESIDENT TRUMP: “Never has anybody ripped off our nation like China. We never took in 10 cents from China, and I gave 28 billion – right? – 28 billion to the farmers because they were targeted unfairly. We’re reversing decades of the Biden betrayals that decimated Pennsylvania jobs. You know that. This state lost – listen to this – one in three manufacturing jobs after the twin disasters of NAFTA and China’s entrance into the World Trade Organization. Joe Biden’s agenda is made in China. My agenda is made in America. (Cheers.) We are finally rebuilding our country. It’s called America First.”
Your thoughts, Secretary?
SECRETARY POMPEO: When this administration came into being in 2017, the previous decade had allowed the Chinese Communist Party to walk all over us, destroying millions of jobs here in the United States and costing us a fortune. President Trump reversed that.
And so in every dimension, whether it’s the economic matters that the President was speaking about, whether it’s our capacity to defend America against the Chinese military threat, or our efforts just to make sure that American citizens are treated appropriately by the Chinese Communist Party, this President has taken that responsibility seriously. And that authoritarian regime, General Secretary Xi’s authoritarian regime, understands now that they have a President prepared to make sure that Americans and America are treated fairly and that we’re protecting our national security.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the President arrived on the scene to challenge a lot of conventional thinking, China being one of them in the way that he has stood up and said they’ve taken advantage of us. Another is across the pond in Europe in the way that he looks at NATO – of course, formed to provide collective defense after World War II. But ultimately, a lot of people feel like these European countries have outsourced their security to the United States, and the President has called them out.
Now there’s a New York Times headline of our allies and former U.S. officials saying they fear the President could seek NATO exit in a second term. Were the President to get a second term, what’s his stance on the future of NATO? Is it worth American involvement altogether?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ve been involved in nearly every one of the discussions about NATO and the U.S. role in that. The President has simply said look, you can’t free ride, you have a responsibility to participate – frankly, to honor the promises that the European countries all made that they’d spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on their own security, and he’s demanded it.
The good news is he’s been successful. I think General Secretary Stoltenberg, the leader of NATO, said there is now $400 billion more that will be invested into NATO. It’s a direct result of President Trump’s leadership. NATO is stronger under President Trump than it has been in previous administrations. I’m proud of the work we’ve done there. I’m proud of the work we’ve done to counter the threats that emanate that NATO has responsibility for, and I’m confident that the second term of the President Trump team will lead to continued strength and security for the American people.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, before you were Secretary of State you were a congressman from the great state of Kansas, so you understand how elections work. You know exactly how everybody who’s up for re-election feels right now. Do you share the President’s worries about mail-in voting? Because when you were running out of Wichita, Kansas, I’m sure there were a number of people in far-flung parts of the state who were voting in that particular election, probably did absentee or mail-in voting. Did you have problems back then?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think I’ve voted absentee a couple times, Steve. The big worry – it’s just a matter of logic. It’s a little out of my lane as Secretary of State, but it’s a matter of logic. If states change their rules and try on the fly in this election, where we expect there will be enormous turnout, and on the fly change the rules and for the first time just mail ballots to people that are on the mailing list, on the voter rolls, there is real risk.
And the American people deserve to have an election that they can have confidence in, and I just want to make sure that every secretary of state and every election processing person knows what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, executes it appropriately. What we want and what the Attorney General and all of our team wants are making sure that this election is free and fair and that every ballot is counted appropriately.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you now have Pennsylvania Democrats being concerned about this particular issue. They recently had an issue in the primary, in the state primary, where ballots took two weeks to count, deep concerns about their ability to do that. We actually have a quote from the Philadelphia City Commissioner Lisa Deeley I can read to you now from Politico: “Even with all that equipment, with nearly 400,000 ballots that we expect to receive, it’s physically impossible that they will all be opened and scanned before the polls close on Election Day. The new reality is winners and losers are not going to be known at the end of the night.”
So this is now not just a concern being brought forth by Republicans but being brought forth on both sides of the aisle. Does that change the conversation?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s really important that we get this right. I’ve seen this all across the world. When the State Department tries to make sure that other nations have free and fair elections, we need to make sure that ours is done well, professionally, technically right.
Every citizen needs to know that if they choose to go and vote in person or they vote the day before the election at a polling place that’s designated by their state, they need to make sure that their vote is counted. I hope that we get this right. It is essential for American democracy that we conduct this election in a way that not only leads to the outcome that the people determined through their votes, but it’s perceived as such by them as well.
And so when I hear these concerns expressed in states, it causes me great consternation as well. We need to get this right. We have to have an election that the people have confidence in. I hope that we can pull that off. I think that we can. America always has.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, real quick we’ll bring it back into your lane for the final question here. The Pentagon is now warning that the Chinese, the communist Chinese, have the world’s largest navy. Part of effective diplomacy is, of course, having the biggest stick or one that you know you could use if necessary. Are you concerned about how quickly China is developing its military capability?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Absolutely. This is something that’s been going on for a long time. It’s accelerated. The good news is President Trump has made sure that we have the capabilities that we need, whether it’s the designation of the Space Force so that we have the capacity to compete there, the work that we’re doing to make it more difficult for China to use Huawei and its technology to pose threats to us as well, they’re connected in their civil and military efforts, or simply the fact that we have now spent more than $700 billion two years running to make sure that our military has the capability that it needs.
I do worry about the Chinese Communist Party increasing military capacity. I am confident that President Trump will put us in a position to make sure that we can keep America safe.
QUESTION: All right. The Secretary of State for the United States of America, Mike Pompeo from the great state of Kansas. Sir, thank you very much. Have a great holiday weekend.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thanks, Steve. So long. You too.
QUESTION: Hope you’re able to grill a steak or two.