Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, welcome to the program.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, it’s great to be with you. I hope you’re doing well.
QUESTION: I’m doing well, sir. Thanks so much for joining us. I made reference to your five-nation Asian tour last month, and then today you made the comment that the U.S. is not finished when it comes to getting tough on China. What did you mean?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So there’s still a great deal of work to be done, and this work will continue in this year and next. It’ll be ongoing. The challenge presented by the Chinese Communist Party, whether it’s the terrible human rights abuses, whether it’s the absolute failure to allow anyone to practice their own religious beliefs, whether that’s in Tiber or in northern Mongolia or the Falun Gong or the Christians or Catholics, the challenges they present in the South China Sea, and then the fact that they have destroyed tens of millions of jobs here in the United States through their intellectual property threat presents the greatest challenge, I think, to American sovereignty and American national security of our time.
QUESTION: Well, I watched your press conference earlier today. I’ve been affected by corona so I’m now watching everything on computers. I was watching your press conference, and you again stated, when you went through the litany of accomplishments of the Trump administration, that religious freedom has been at the top of the list. And when you look at China – obviously one of the greatest abusers, but they’re not the only one.
SECRETARY POMPEO: No. Sadly, too many of God’s people are not permitted to practice their faith in too many parts of the world. There are restrictions on that. We’re very blessed here in the United States. We have challenges of our own. But we sometimes take for granted our ability to be protected by our First Amendment, our capacity to worship as we so choose and not to have a state religion.
And President Trump has made it a real priority around the world to recognize this as the most – one of the most fundamental rights that each of us has by nature of our humanness, or the fact that we are made in the image of God, and we have worked diligently on this all across the State Department, all across the world, to increase the likelihood that every human being will have that same chance to worship as they so freely choose.
QUESTION: And I’ve witnessed that. I’ve seen it firsthand from my capacity both as an advocate here at the Family Research Council but also as the chairman, past chairman, of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, how this administration has leaned in like none other when it comes to religious freedom, and gains have been made. But I want to ask you about this: This – and you pointed this out today in your press conference that this was the first administration to prioritize religious freedom. What happens if America pulls back from this fundamental human right?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, my goodness. On a personal level, it will just be an enormous reduction in the ability of human beings to live the way God wants us to live, and that’s just – when nations oppress, when governments oppress in that way, the reduction in human dignity is of staggering proportions.
It’s also the case that there is a direct connection between religious freedom and the capacity for tolerance in nations to build out and create prosperity for their own country. And so you’ll see not only a reduction in human wealth but in humanity’s conception of the way that every one of us must be permitted to exercise our own conscience.
QUESTION: You and I both avoid controversy. That was a joke. The —
SECRETARY POMPEO: I thought so.
QUESTION: Yeah, a little tongue-in-cheek here. When you look at religious freedom – and there is now a growing body of research that underscores what you just said – that with religious freedom comes economic freedom and prosperity. With prosperity comes stability, which becomes a winner for the United States in terms of our national security. In fact, I would venture to say there is more evidence to show that religious freedom being advanced and protected is a much bigger issue in determining global stability than addressing climate change, which seems to be the banner of the left which they march under. So I am concerned if there is a pulling back that we will see – in an already unstable world, even greater instability.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think the science on that front is very clear. I think the capacity for human beings to exercise their own God-given freedoms enhances prosperity, it enhances security. To your point about stability, it makes nations more stable. We’ve seen this in countries in Southeast Asia. We’ve seen this in countries in the Middle East where advances in religious freedom leads to a more prosperous people and a nation that is more stable.
Those are good things for America to have that around the world. That makes Americans more secure as well. And so I hope that whoever is leading this country forward will continue to keep this work that we’ve done here at the State Department on religious freedom at the top of their agenda.
QUESTION: Let me ask you this, Secretary Pompeo. When you look back over – before coming to the State Department, you were at the CIA as the director there, so I think you’ve had a little over – well, a little less than three years, I think, in your post here at the Secretary of State. What would you point to as your greatest accomplishment at the State Department?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh goodness. You know, Tony, I haven’t really had a proper chance to reflect on that a great deal. I’ve worked under a president who has permitted our State Department to do the things that we’ve just talked about. We’ve talked about working on religious freedom. We have fundamentally reordered the world’s attention to the challenges presented by the Chinese Communist Party, but we’ve done good things for the people of China. We have made advances for the people of Iran, trying to tear their – tear them into a position where they can get what it is they so richly deserve instead of the kleptocracy that has foisted so much harm upon that country and put Americans at risk.
I could go around to different places in the world, and I think what President Trump has done – a policy of realism, right? Moving the embassy to Jerusalem, acknowledging that the Golan Heights was a proper part of Israel – these are things that made sense. They were common sense, but no president before him has chosen to do those things. And I think each of those has made America – the American people more safer – more safe. It gives us a better opportunity for prosperity here at home as well.
QUESTION: I also think it has changed America’s reputation of being strong, bold, courageous, and whether you like it or not, they’ve – America has followed through on the promises that President Trump made.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It truly has. Look, when President Trump came into office, America’s reputation around the world was for one of appeasement. If the members of NATO didn’t want to spend the money to defend themselves, well, so be it. If we were going to be – if there was a problem, America would be prepared to go engage around the world by putting its military there. President Trump said no, there is a better solution. We’ll build out real likeminded alliances. We will urge other nations to do their fair share. We will demand reciprocity in our trade relationships and in our security relationships.
And each of these countries has – many of these countries have embraced that and they welcome that. They want American leadership, they want us to be there alongside them, and they recognize that partnering with the United States of America, whether that’s Japan or India or South Korea or the Philippines, all of these countries that have worked with us on these core problem sets, I think would say today that they are far more appreciative of the model that President Trump has chosen vice the one that was here in place in America before his time.
QUESTION: I know the leaders that I have met with, that has been the sentiment. Secretary Pompeo, you are the nation’s top diplomat. You work for the President carrying out American priorities overseas, but you interact with the world’s leaders. How are the world leaders reacting to our own election drama that’s playing out before us?
SECRETARY POMPEO: No, I have talked to a handful of them about it. The topic comes up. I think they’re encouraged by the fact that we’ve had an election. We’re now going to go through a process where we ensure that the rule of law was followed, that our Constitution was followed, that those who were lawfully voting have the chance to have their ballot counted and those who were voting in a way that was inconsistent with law won’t have their ballot counted. I think they see that. They see our thoroughness, our transparency, the rule of law. They’re perfectly fine with us extending on for a few more days or a little more time so that we can get to the right answer. Tony, we work on elections all around the world. This is what we demand of other countries too.
SECRETARY POMPEO: That they follow their rules, their processes, and to get to a conclusion that their people can accept as valid. And it’s what we’re doing and it’s what I think leaders around the world have an enormous amount of respect for, that the United States does this every time and always.
QUESTION: I think that is an extremely important point. I don’t know that the average American understands the role we play in ensuring free and fair elections abroad, encouraging the transparency – one person, one vote. And then if we’re not living up to that same standard here, it undermines our credibility abroad.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Amen, Tony. That’s certainly true.
QUESTION: Let me go back to the press conference today. You were asked a question about whether or not there would be a smooth transition to a Biden administration, and I saw a smile on your face. You said that there would be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I was asked a question about was there going to be time for an adequate transition, and having come in as CIA director in a previous transition from one administration to another, the – your listeners should be highly confident that there will be a full, capable transition. Our adversaries should know that we’re ready, we’re continuing to work, we’ll work all the way through January. And then on January 20th, we’ll have a transition, whether it’s to a Trump administration – a second Trump administration as I spoke about today – or to an administration led by former Vice President Biden. The American people understand that our transition will be complete and thorough and that if we spend a few more days validating that we have this process right, ensuring that we’ve protected every American’s lawful right to vote, it’s the right thing to do and we need not worry that there won’t be an adequate time for transition, which was frankly what the question was suggesting.
QUESTION: I mean, I think it is important to every American, to both political parties, that we have confidence in our system and that every election is a fair, transparent election, and we know with certainty who the winners are. Because without that, we cannot have confidence that – in our system, which upholds our republic.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, it’s absolutely true and it’s important too. As the Secretary of State, it’s important that the world can see that we did it in that way, that we conducted this way. They’re counting on America to be stable, secure, prosperous, to do the right thing, to follow our rules. They’re counting on us to do this. If we don’t demonstrate our capacity to do that, then we will have not only done something egregious here at home but we will not have set a good example for the world.
QUESTION: Well, Secretary Pompeo, I know you’re going to be back on the program again in the future, but I do want to take the – this opportunity to thank you for your leadership, both at the CIA and at the State Department. It’s been remarkable to see what has happened at the State Department, which I’ve joked before is really ground zero when you talk about the swamp in D.C. It is Foggy Bottom. And you have – you’ve led those people who I think needed strong leadership. You’ve provided it, working alongside President Trump. It has been remarkable to see what has happened internationally on so many fronts – the sanctity of human life, religious freedom – and I just commend you for not in any form or fashion backing up from the values that you hold and that I believe are central to America’s greatness.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, Tony, that’s very kind. You know me. I’m always up for working hard to make sure we deliver on behalf of President Trump and what the American people asked us to do when he was elected. I appreciate your kindness.
QUESTION: And as always, first and foremost, always a tank driver, right?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Amen. Long time ago. (Laughter.) Have a good evening, my friend.
QUESTION: All right. Secretary Pompeo, thanks so much for joining us.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, sir. So long.