The following is a transcript of an interview with 2024 Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., that aired on Feb. 11, 2024.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to begin today with the last candidate standing between Donald Trump and the Republican nomination. That is former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. She’s on the campaign trail in North Augusta, South Carolina and joins us this morning. Good morning to you.
NIKKI HALEY: Thanks, Margaret, for having me.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So Ambassador, you have made mental acuity a signature issue for your campaign for the better part of the past year, you’re handing out paper copies now of a cognitive assessment? When do you plan to take it in? Are you at all concerned that you might turn off some older voters?
NIKKI HALEY: I have no problem taking it. And what I’ve said is we need to have mental competency tests for anyone over the age of 75. I don’t care if we do it for 50 and up. But what happened with Joe Biden this week, and what we’ve seen with Donald Trump is another example of why. We have to face the reality of the fact that when you get to those ages, you get diminished. These are people making decisions on our national security. These are people making decisions on the future of our economy. We need to know they’re at the top of their game. When I say this in front of seniors or anyone, they all agree there’s a reason 70% of Americans don’t want to see a Trump Biden rematch. We can either have more of the same, which is chaos, and dealing with people who are more focused on themselves or we can focus in a new direction with a new generational leader. It’s important that we do that. We’ve got a country in disarray and a world on fire. We need someone who can serve eight years, uninterrupted, without any chaos or distractions and focus on really getting our country back on track.
MARGARET BRENNAN: This morning NATO, the Western alliance, issued a statement responding to remarks Donald Trump made last night at a rally. And they warned it puts U.S. soldiers at risk. Here’s what he said.
SOT DONALD TRUMP: One of the presidents of a big country stood up said, “Well, sir, if we don’t pay, and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?” I said, “You didn’t pay? No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: If elected, would you adhere to the premise that an attack on one is an attack on all?
NIKKI HALEY: I mean, absolutely. NATO has been a success story for the last 75 years. But what bothers me about this is, don’t take the side of a thug, who kills his opponents. don’t take the side of someone who has gone in and invaded a country and half a million people have died or been wounded because of Putin. Don’t take the side of someone who continues to lie. I dealt with Russia every day. The last thing we ever want to do is side with Russia. What we always need to remember is America needs to have friends. After September 10, we needed a lot of friends, we can never get into the point where we don’t need friends. Now, we do want NATO allies to pull their weight. But there are ways you can do that without sitting there and telling Russia, have your way with these countries. That’s not what we want. If you notice, Russia has never invaded a NATO country. They’ve invaded Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. They are actually very intimidated by, by NATO. NATO allows us to prevent war. We need to always focus on preventing war.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And yet some Republican leaders, including one of the top intelligence committee members, Marco Rubio is saying Trump’s not serious when he says that. I want to ask you about another comment that Donald Trump made that was personal, about your husband, Major Michael Haley, who is currently deployed with the South Carolina National Guard. Trump said this about you.
SOT: DONALD TRUMP: Where’s her husband? Oh, he’s away. He’s away. What happened to her husband? What happened to her husband? Where is he? He’s gone.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I know you’ve said this is disqualifying. But during his first presidential campaign, Donald Trump mocked former POW John McCain and a Gold Star family. He was still elected, you agreed to work for him. Why do you think that’s disqualifying now?
NIKKI HALEY: Well, I agreed to serve our country and I’m proud that I got to serve our country. There’s- there’s nothing- no more higher honor than to serve the people of this country. But what I can tell you is look, it’s just, it’s insulting to military members. It’s insulting to military families. And the part that bothers me is he continues to do this. This isn’t personal about me and Michael, this is about what it says to every member who sacrifices for us. This is about what it says to every military family who sacrifices alongside of them. We can’t have someone who sits there and mocks our men and women who are trying to protect America. It’s a pattern. It’s a pattern of chaos. It’s a pattern of irresponsibility. It’s a pattern of just saying things that are- that are not helpful in Strengthening America. And this is a chance America’s gonna get to decide. I mean, we have the chance to decide who we want. And do we want two men where all they do is talk about themselves where it’s all about their job and their role and how they’re the best person, or do we want someone who’s really going to go and serve the people. That’s what this is about. We know what Donald Trump is, you could watch that whole rally yesterday, and it’ll tell you all kinds of things. But the thing is, do you want it again? We know what Joe Biden is. You can see the press conference, you can look at the special investigation that says he’s diminished. But do you want it again? I mean, the one thing we need to understand is for Republicans with Donald Trump, he lost in 2018. He lost in 2020. He lost in 2022. And if you look at after the New Hampshire election, he went on this unhinged rant. And all he did was talk about revenge. And then you look, he said anyone that supported me was barred permanently from MAGA. Then he pushed the RNC to name him the presumptive nominee. Then he lost his court case and he went on a rant again, the problem with all of that, is that no point is he ever talking about the American people. He’s never talking about the fact that we have wasteful spending and we’re $34 trillion in debt. He’s not talking about the fact that only 31% of eighth graders in our country are proficient in reading. He’s not talking about an open border, where all it takes is one to have a 9/11 moment.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well–
NIKKI HALEY: He’s not talking about the lawlessness in our cities. And he’s not talking about anything about the wars that are happening around the world. That’s the problem. That’s what we’re facing when this decision comes down in the election.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, he did talk about the border. In fact, he encouraged Republicans to kill the bipartisan deal that was brokered. And last night he was also talking about, at this very critical moment for Ukraine when the Senate is this weekend debating military aid, he came out and criticized the nearly $100 billion aid package. Given what you know, would you encourage Republican lawmakers now to back this nearly $100 billion security supplemental?
NIKKI HALEY: Well, the first thing I’ll say is, you know, I think that Biden and Congress have done a poor job telling Americans why they should care about Ukraine. And so you can’t blame the American people if they say, why are we doing this? The way we need to look at it, I don’t think we should give any country straight up cash–
MARGARET BRENNAN: That’s not what this is.
NIKKI HALEY: Because you can’t follow it, you can’t hold it accountable. But I do think we should support Ukraine. And I do think we should give them the equipment and ammunition to win. Because listen to Putin’s own words. He said once he takes Ukraine, Poland and the Baltics are next, those are NATO countries, and that puts America at war. This is about preventing war. That’s the important reason why we have to support Ukraine.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So are you saying there that you would shave off aid to Ukraine that is not specific to military aid? That’s one of the things Republicans are quibbling about right now.
NIKKI HALEY: Well, Republicans, we’ve got a faction that doesn’t want to give Ukraine aid at all. I think we need to give them the equipment and ammunition they need to win. That is what they have asked for. They are great military–
MARGARET BRENNAN: And to keep their government functioning.
NIKKI HALEY: They are not asking us to put troops on the ground. Well, but that’s not for us to do. I think the Europeans need to keep their government functioning. That’s not America’s role, America’s role should be to give them the equipment and ammunition they need to win.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay, so you do want to see some changes to the supplemental. We’ll talk about that later with Senator Murphy. I want to ask you about Israel. Half of U.S. adults polled believe that the military response from Israel in the Gaza Strip has gone too far. That’s according to the latest AP poll. That’s up from 40% in the month of November, do you think half of Americans are wrong on this issue?
NIKKI HALEY: I don’t think- I will never say that any American person is wrong. It’s not for a leader to say whether they’re wrong or right or good or bad. That’s the problem that we have in America now. I think what’s important is just to explain and communicate why this matters. I have been in Israel multiple times. I’ve been on the border and seen all the threats that face Israel. But when you look at what happened on October 7, 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–
MARGARET BRENNAN: That’s what Hamas said.
NIKKI HALEY: After 9/11,did we want anyone- Yes. After 9/11, did we want anyone to tell us what to do? No. We wanted to make sure that we destroyed the terrorists. Israel wants to destroy the terrorists. We all care about the people in Gaza. We all do. The problem is Hamas is holding them hostage. They always have. But Margaret, where are the Arab countries? Where are the Arab countries saying- going to Hamas, saying we need to protect the people of Gaza?
MARGARET BRENNAN: They’re trying to help negotiate a hostage release, many of them –
NIKKI HALEY: Because Israel doesn’t want to do this to the people of Gaza–
MARGARET BRENNAN: – right now, but are you saying you disagree with President Biden when he says Israelis have gone over the top in referring to the civilian casualties?
NIKKI HALEY: Hamas has said they’re going to do this again. Israel needs to do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t happen again and that means eliminating Hamas. They have tried working with all of the Arab countries to go and help the people of Gaza. If the- if anybody worries about the people of Gaza, ask the Arab community, why aren’t you stopping Hamas? Why aren’t you stopping Iran? They have the ability to do that. Why are you going to Israel? I’ve seen many times–
MARGARET BRENNAN: You do know there are diplomatic efforts underway to do that.
NIKKI HALEY: –where everybody runs to Israel’s defense when she gets–
NIKKI HALEY: Yeah, but the point is don’t go and blame Israel for this. I’ve seen many times where Israel gets hit and everybody supports Israel. But when Israel hits back, everybody condemns her. That is wrong. They went through a horrific time. You’ve got to go to Hamas. Why are we not putting the pressure on Iran and Hamas? That’s where the pressure should be. Why would you put it on the one that was hit? That’s not what we do. We should have the backs of Israel and force the Arab countries to tell Hamas they’ve got to stop. That would end this war immediately.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Ambassador Haley, thank you for your time this morning. Face the Nation will be back in one minute so stay with us.