The following is a transcript of an interview with former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, a 2024 GOP presidential candidate, that aired on “Face the Nation” on September 3, 2023.
ROBERT COSTA: Good morning, Ambassador Haley.
NIKKI HALEY: Good morning, Bob. Great to be with you.
ROBERT COSTA: Ambassador, let’s begin with Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader who appeared to freeze up before cameras in recent days for the second time in two months. His doctor then issued a statement saying McConnell, who was hospitalized earlier this year after a fall, is able to continue to work. “Occasional lightheadedness is not uncommon in concussion recovery,” the doctor wrote. Ambassador, you said this in recent days, the Senate is “the most privileged nursing home in the country.” And McConnell needs to “know when to leave.” Do you believe it’s time for McConnell to step down from his leadership position?
HALEY: Bob, I am completely for term limits. I’m completely for mental competency tests for anyone over the age of 75. And I’m not saying that to be disrespectful. Here you have Mitch McConnell, who’s done great service to the country. You have Dianne Feinstein who had a great career. You’ve got Nancy Pelosi, who’s been there a long time. At what point do they get it’s time to leave? They need to let a younger generation take over. We want to go and start working for our kids to make sure we have a strong national security, to make sure we have a stronger economic policy, to make sure that America is safe. And we can’t do that if these individuals refuse to give up power. This is not just a Republican or Democrat problem. This is a congressional problem. And they’ve got to know when to leave it, it’s time to pass this down to a new generation of conservative leaders that want to take our country to a better place.
ROBERT COSTA: So just to be clear, when Republican senators come back to Washington, should they have a leadership shakeup on the table? And should they talk about potentially having somebody else come in as the leader in the Senate?
HALEY: I want this for Republicans and Democrats. I want to make sure that they all know it’s time to go. There’s a reason the American people want term limits. It’s because they don’t want people staying there forever. They don’t want people drunk on the power. They don’t want people to think they’re the only ones that know how to run Congress. Because right now, what has Congress done for you lately? We have an open border that’s out of control, they’re spending like drunken sailors. We’ve got continued issues, whether it comes with education, whether it comes with the debt, whether it comes with how we’re going to have national security. We need people at the top of their game. We have too many issues on the table that need to be dealt with. We can’t continue to have these people who think they know better than the American people, the American people are saying it is time to go. If they would approve term limits, the American people would show that. But until then, they’ve got to know that, look, we appreciate your service, but it’s time to step away.
ROBERT COSTA: So you’ve talked about competency tests. But let’s dig a little deeper on that. There are age requirements for serving in the house, 25 years old, 30 for the Senate, 35 for the presidency. Should there be an age limit on the presidency in your view, and maybe a constitutional change or legislative change?
HALEY: I think there should be mental competency tests and I don’t care if they’re for everybody 50 and older. I don’t care if they’re for the entire Congress. These are basic tests, Bob. These are tell us where you were born, name four words that start with the same letter. How many grandchildren do you have? These are basic questions that anyone should be able to answer. And the way you do that is just when a candidate files to run for office, incumbent or newcomer, they have to give their financial disclosures. They should also give a notice from the doctor that tells about their mental capacity. I think that we need that. We can’t stand watching Dianne Feinstein sit there and be told by an aide how she should vote. We can’t worry about Mitch McConnell being frozen at a podium. We can’t have Joe Biden forget where he is. Our enemies are watching all of this. And every time they have an instance like that, America is less safe because our enemies think we’re out of control. And that’s gotta stop.
ROBERT COSTA: You talked about spending. In just a few weeks there’s an important spending deadline in Washington, a potential government shutdown looms if they don’t come up with a spending agreement to keep the government funded. Do you believe Republicans should take a hard line and what exactly should they do with this looming?
HALEY: Well, I think Congress needs to do their job. You know, Biden has pushed us into- into socialism light. He’s spending on every single thing and they’ve forgotten the role of government. Government was intended to secure the rights and freedoms of the people. It was never meant to be all things to all people. So as we go into this, I have said that Biden has spent already $5 trillion in his term, but Republicans have spent too. We’ve watched them open up earmarks for the first time in 10 years, we’ve watched the 2024 appropriations bill has 7.4 billion in earmarks. Democrats have 2.8 billion in earmarks. So all of them are spending like drunken sailors and it’s our tax dollars that they’re spending. What we’re saying is, I had to balance a budget when I was governor of South Carolina, Americans have to balance their budget at home. Why is Congress the only group that refuses to balance a budget? They need to go in there and do the hard work. They need to make sure that they are giving money back to the taxpayers, they must make sure that money is not being wasted. So I think they need to do their job.
ROBERT COSTA: The question though, Ambassador, is what exactly should they do in terms of the negotiating position they take? For example, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has just said in recent days, that Republicans should not vote to fund the government unless an impeachment inquiry begins against President Biden inside of the House of Representatives. Is she right? Or Is she wrong to take that position?
HALEY: She’s one of many that are going to throw things on the table like that. What I’m saying is Congress needs to do their job. Balance a budget. I have said I will veto any spending bill that doesn’t take us back to pre-COVID levels. The only group that talks about closing down the government or playing these games are members of Congress. The American people aren’t talking about that. The American people are telling Congress, do your job, balance a budget, stop the spending, stop the borrowing, eliminate the earmarks, clawback the hundreds of billions of dollars of unspent COVID dollars. Go after, instead of 87,000 IRS agents going after middle America, go after the hundreds of billions of dollars of COVID fraud that we know exist. These political games, the American people have no- no use for it. They just want them to do their job, it’s not that hard. It’s why I continue to say we’ve got way too many lawyers in Congress. We need an accountant. I’m an accountant. That’s why I want to put an end to this and start having government work for the people again.
ROBERT COSTA: Over the past week, former President Donald Trump, the front runner in the race, he pleaded not guilty to criminal accusations in Georgia. When you were on that debate stage in Milwaukee, which has earned you some good reviews inside of the party- inside of the Republican party, you raised your hand and said you would still support him if he was convicted of a crime and the nominee next year. Do you stand by your decision to hold up your hand on stage and back Trump? Should he be the nominee and be a convicted felon?
HALEY: What you saw were candidates on that stage said that they would do exactly what they signed and pledged to do which is support the Republican nominee. That’s what we are saying. I don’t think President Trump’s going to be the nominee. I think it’s going to be me. But I will tell you that any Republican is better than what Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are doing.
ROBERT COSTA: Even if they’re convicted of a crime?
HALEY: We know that a vote for Joe Biden is a vote for a President Kamala Harris. It- first of all, he’s innocent until proven guilty. But you are implying that the American people are not smart. The American people are not going to vote for a convicted criminal. The American people are going to vote for someone who can win a general election. I have faith in the American people. They know what they need to do. And so, I think that, yes, I will support the Republican nominee always and I will make sure that that person, we’re going to pick someone that’s going to beat a president Kamala Harris. Because we can’t have a President Kamala Harris or we’ll never get our country back.
ROBERT COSTA: How are you going to consolidate quickly the non-Trump vote in this primary? We’re at now in September just months away from the early voting.
HALEY: It’s not about consolidating a non-Trump vote. It’s about consolidating where Republicans want to go. I believe Republicans want to stop the crazy spending. I believe Republicans want to bring crime down and go back to law and order. I believe Republicans want transparency in schools. I believe Republicans want to secure the border. And I believe Republicans want to prevent war and have a strong national security. That’s what we’re talking about. It’s not about a person, it’s about a country. And it’s not just about Republicans. It’s about independents. It’s about conservative Democrats that know that we’re going in the wrong direction.
ROBERT COSTA: Ambassador Haley, we’ll see you soon on the campaign trail. We really appreciate you taking the time on a Sunday morning. Thank you.