U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) today joined NBC’s Meet the Presswith Chuck Todd to discuss Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine, voting rights, and the Biden Presidency.
A transcript of the interview can be found below the video.
Chuck Todd: Let me start with the current situation [with Russia and Ukraine]. It looks like talks failed. I guess my question is, I know you’re probably somebody who says don’t give up on diplomacy, but is there a point where we’re rewarding Putin by keeping the talks up?
Senator Romney: I think it’s fine to continue to talk, but I think the most important talk we have is with our allies and making sure that Russia understands that if they take action to overthrow the government in Ukraine or to invade Ukraine that there will be consequences of a severe nature. We didn’t do that as effectively as we should have after the invasion by Russia of Georgia, after their prior invasion taking Crimea. They’ve got to understand that there will be extraordinary consequence. And military options are things we don’t talk about, but other consequences we can align with our allies and make sure that the Russians understand that this time it’s going to make a real difference.
Todd: What does that look like and why should Putin believe it if he’s somehow made it through all these tough sanctions before and he’s probably calculated, probably correctly, that there isn’t a political will for the U.S. to engage militarily? So, what is it that the U.S. could do that could really convince Putin he should back down?
Romney:Well, the clearest thing we can do is to make sure he doesn’t have the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. As you know, that’s a gas pipeline that provides extraordinary wealth to Putin and to Russia. It bypasses Ukraine, and the big mistake we made is to allow him to build that to bypass Ukraine, as we should have. We should let him know that North Stream 2 pipeline is not going to operate. He’s not going to have that wealth if he does any action to overthrow the government in Ukraine, that’s getting shut down.I’d shut it down now, as a matter of fact, a huge error not to have done so already. And then I think the type of sanctions we put in place have to be of a different nature than those we’ve had in the past. And he has to understand that it’s not just the U.S., but it’s Germany and it’s the UK and France and all of the EU are going to come together on a collective basis. Look, we recognize Vladimir Putin wants to reestablish a type of the Soviet Union. [Senator] McCain used to joke that Russia is a gas station parading as a country. No one buys anything from Russia other than military hardware. Their population is what, 1/10 of what China’s is going to be? And so he’s trying to reestablish what he had before. That can’t be allowed to happen. And that’s something we’re going to have to come together and strengthen NATO. He’s trying to take NATO apart—to weaken it. We need a strong NATO not just for Russia, but for the emergence of China.
Todd: Look, if he goes into Ukraine, are you supportive of this idea—that we’ve been very public saying we do, which I think is part of the warning shots to Putin—of us supporting an insurgency? Basically, what we did to the Soviets in Afghanistan, and, arguably, what others may have done to us in Afghanistan?
Romney:Absolutely. I think he has to understand that the consequences are going to be significant. And will there be insurgency there? Yeah, the Ukraine people are proud, and they know how to fight for the things they believe in and for their independence. And that and other features are going to be affected by virtue of Russia’s malevolent action.
Todd: You know, in your opening op-ed as a senator, you wrote that “in order for America to reassume its leadership in world politics, the country had to repair failings in our politics at home.” It was obvious what you were pointing to at the time. Frankly, things look worse than it was when you penned that op-ed in 2019. But I am curious, where do you think we stand? I mean, if you just read the New York Times op-ed page this week, I think there were two columns in civil war, one about “America is coming apart at the seams.” Is that where you are? Where do you think the nation is right now?
Romney: Well, there’s no question that the nation is severely divided. President Biden said he was going to try to unite the country. Obviously, as you pointed out in the last segment, his comments in Georgia did not suggest he’s trying to pull us back together again. He’s got to recognize that when he was elected, people were not looking for him to transform America. They were looking to get back to normal. To stop the crazy. And it seems like we’re continuing to see the kinds of policy and promotions that are not accepted by the American people. Look, James Carville just said that, you know, he’s had a bad week but not a bad year. No, no, as a matter of fact, he’s had a bad year. He’s had 52 weeks of bad weeks. I mean, people are 7% poorer now because of Biden inflation. Gasoline prices are, what, 50% higher than they were when he took office. The border is a mess. COVID was resurgent but he didn’t have in place the tests people needed to keep themselves safe. And then of course, there was a disaster in Afghanistan. Russia is now threatening Ukraine. Things are not going well. And the President needs to stop and reset and say what is it he’s trying to accomplish? And if it’s to try and transform America, he is not going to unite us. Bringing us together means finding a way to work on a bipartisan basis. He had one success, the infrastructure bill, and that was done by Republicans and Democrats in the Senate working together. Build on that kind of success.
Todd: You know, here’s the thing with that, and this is what the White House would push back on you on, and they would say this, 147 House Republicans basically don’t accept the idea that he won fair and square. You, yourself, thought he had a really tough challenge to bring unity together when you have half the country not believing the results. There are only a handful of you willing to work with him. So, what do you do?
Romney: Well, actually, there are a lot more than a handful that are willing to work with the President. We’re willing to work on issues that we care very deeply about. And so, we care, for instance, about family security and making sure that our kids have the resources they need to be able to have a bright future.We care about education. We care about health care. We obviously care about infrastructure. There’s a lot that we can do together. We care about immigration. These are things we can do together. And the President’s been in the Senate. He knows what it’s like and how you have to work on a bipartisan basis. But the idea of saying blow up bipartisanship and just let whosever got the slight majority to do whatever they want, that’s not the right way to get things done in America. And it’s not the way to unite America. Uniting America finds a pathway in bringing people together and working on a collaborative basis.
Todd: The President calls you up tomorrow and says, “Senator Romney, I’d like to figure out something on voting rights. Can we sit down and have a conversation?” You heard Jim Clyburn about the Electoral Vote Act. Look, it may not be what some want on the left, but is that a place to begin, and would you participate in that process?
Romney: Yeah. And, Chuck, I already am. The group of about 12 senators, Republicans and Democrats, that are working on the Electoral Count Act will continue to work together. Sadly, this election reform bill that the President has been pushing, I never got a call on that from the White House. There was no negotiation bringing Republicans and Democrats together to try and come up with something that would meet bipartisan interest. Sure, we can work together on almost every issue where there’s common ground. I would note on this, that on the bill they put together they want a real dramatic change, which is they feel that instead of elections being run at the state level, they should really be managed and run at the federal level. And recognize the founders didn’t have that vision in mind. They didn’t want an autocrat to be able to pull the lever in one place and change all the election laws. Instead, they spread that out over 50 states, I think in part to keep autocracy from finding its root here in this country. So, we’re going to—we could work together, and I think it’s important to reform the Electoral Count Act to do so.
Todd: Look, I understand you don’t want to federalize elections. Are you comfortable with creating, sort of, floors, you know, that you’ve got to offer—that you shouldn’t—take Jim Clyburn’s complaint that basically African Americans spend longer in line than other voters. If you have a state that has that issue, are you for a baseline that says, “Hey, you can’t have those discrepancies. You’ve got to—we’re not going to tell you how to fix that discrepancy. But you have to fix that discrepancy”? That’s what the Voting Rights Act, some believe, is for. Are you in favor of things like that?
Romney: Well, the answer is of course, and that’s what exists in the 1965 voting rights legislation. That is still the law of the land. And that is, you cannot have practices which discriminate against people based upon their ethnicity. And that’s why the Justice Department is using that act, actually, as we speak, to go after one state that has apparently, according to the Justice Department, gone across that line. So we have laws that prevent discrimination based upon race and that should be the case. But what I think we have to point out here is that a state like Georgia—which everybody’s talking about because the President went there—it’s easier to vote in Georgia, even under the new legislation, than it is to vote in Delaware, or to vote in New York, or to vote in New Jersey. And no one is saying that “Oh, New York has discriminatory practices.” New York’s practices are more stringent, more difficult to vote there than Georgia. So this is clearly a political play, to appeal to a base in the Democratic Party, and an effort to really work at a bipartisan basis hasn’t happened yet.
Todd: Senator, two quick questions before I let you go. Senator Lindsey Graham said he couldn’t support Mitch McConnell if he doesn’t develop a working relationship with Donald Trump. Is that a litmus test that you think is fair?
Romney:Oh, I think there’s full support for Mitch McConnell, no question about that. I haven’t heard anything other than a solid support for his continued leadership. People are always trying to placate Donald Trump. I don’t fall in that camp, of course.
Todd: And the January 6th Committee, what you’ve seen with its investigation, do you believe what they’re doing is legitimate?
Romney: Well, there’s no question but that they are finding things that we didn’t know. And I think that’s appropriate. Look, there was an attack on the United States Capitol. There was an effort to try and prevent the peaceful transfer of power. That’s unacceptable. And we need to understand why there was not a rescue effort launched well before what finally came. And they’re delving into that. I think it’s an important and legitimate effort.