Jeb Bush was the latest potential Republican presidential candidate to face the grilling of Hugh Hewitt, on the Hugh Hewitt Show— okay grilling isn’t really Hugh’s style but that never stops him from asking tough questions. Jeb supports the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana and showed himself to have a good knowledge of foreign affairs. His best line of the night was when he said of Hilary Clinton’s tenure at state, “I think she can’t do the Heisman on the first four years of the Obama foreign policy.”
Below is the full transcript of the interview along with a few sound bites of the key sections:
Hewitt: All right, now let’s turn to the serious stuff. I want to start with the attack on the NSA today. We don’t know much about these two people, probably terrorists, obviously. It’s a terrorist attack when you attack the NSA. How great a threat of lone wolf terrorism do you see right now? And what should the country do about it?
Bush: I think it’s a serious threat in a world where we’re so connected with the rest of the world. We have people moving in and people moving out. People get their information now, not everybody gets to listen to your show to get all their information. People get their information in different ways. They get disaffected, disillusioned, preyed upon, and so yeah, I think that this is an ongoing threat, and I hope that our counterintelligence capabilities are always vigilant. I’ve always been nervous about the attacks on the NSA, and somehow that we’re losing our freedoms by keeping the homeland safe. I think we need to be really vigilant about that.
Hewitt: That’s where I was leading. There is an element within our party, and I’m a Republican, you’re a Republican, that has grown Snowdenesque in certain ways, and very, very anti-surveillance, but in a world where people are attacking the NSA, I don’t know that we have an alternative. So how do you balance those two things out?
Bush: Well, first of all, I think the President has to lead, has to explain to people. He’s actually enhanced the intelligence capabilities, in many ways, because technology has gotten better. But he never defends it. He never explains it. He never tries to persuade people that their civil liberties are being protected by the systems we have in place. If people knew that, I don’t think there’d be any doubt that they would want to have the ability to identify people from the outside that may be trying to coordinate with some people in the inside.
Hewitt: All right, now I’m going to go abroad in a moment, but first, I want to do a domestic political story. Earlier today, I watched Peter Hamby on CNN, which is on over your head, say that, and I want to quote him correctly, you don’t see a lot of Republicans rallying to Mike Pence’s defense right now. That’s a direct quote from Hamby. He’s a great reporter talking about the Indiana Religious Freedom Act. What do you make of the controversy? Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, great company, had a blast at it in the Washington Post yesterday. What do you think?
Bush: I think if you, if they actually got briefed on the law that they wouldn’t be blasting this law. I think Governor Pence has done the right thing. Florida has a law like this. Bill Clinton signed a law like this at the federal level. This is simply allowing people of faith space to be able to express their beliefs, to have, to be able to be people of conscience. I just think once the facts are established, people aren’t going to see this as discriminatory at all.
Hewitt: You know, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed in 1993. It’s been the law in the District of Columbia for 22 years. I do not know of a single incidence of the sort that Tim Cook was warning about occurring in the District in the last 22 years.
Bush: But there are incidents of people who, for example, the florist in Washington State who had a business that based on her conscience, she couldn’t be participating in a gay wedding, organizing it, even though the person, one of the people was a friend of hers. And she was taken to court, and is still in court, or the photographer in New Mexico. There are many cases where people acting on their conscience have been castigated by the government. And this law simply says the government has to have a level of burden to be able to establish that there’s been some kind of discrimination. We’re going to need this. This is really an important value for our country to, in a diverse country, where you can respect and be tolerant of people’s lifestyles, but allow for people of faith to be able to exercise theirs.
Hewitt: Okay, now let’s go to what I think is probably the most important story. That’s an important story to a lot of people, but the Iranian nuclear deal, it was announced over the weekend by their foreign minister, deputy foreign minister. They’re not going to send their enriched uranium to Russia. We didn’t get up and leave at that point. What has gone wrong here? And what do you think of these negotiations?
Bush: I think they should have stopped a long time ago. If the purpose of the negotiations established by President Obama at the beginning, and by, by the way, by his predecessors of not allowing Iran to enrich uranium to be able to build a bomb, if that was the purpose, fine. But now, we’ve negotiated downward to the point where we’re now talking about breakouts, we’re talking about vague assurances of verification. We’re talking about allowing them to enrich uranium inside, and store it inside their own country. There are places that, facilities that don’t have the same, they’re not open places that this is all taking place, fortified so as to protect themselves from attack. I think this is wrong. All the while, and this is the part that’s most amazing to me, all the while that the Iranian government, through its resources and its surrogates, is destabilizing the region. They have influence or control over four capitals while we’re negotiating with them. This is the part that’s most troubling, is that the President and his administration seems to be more interested in cutting a deal with Iran, who has marches calling for the death of the United States, or the annihilation of Israel, and treats friends in the region, particularly Israel, with incredible disrespect.
Hewitt: Now General Soleimani is said to have been in Tikrit last week and Yemen this week in support of the Houthis. They’re all Shiia-aligned, Iranian-aligned militias. If you’re the president, what’s the line you’ll draw with Iran about projecting force outside of their country’s border?
Bush: I think we have to tighten up the sanctions, if possible. This is, the danger of this agreement is what I described and much more, but it also is the loosening of the sanctions very fast, in which case it would be very hard to put the genie back into the bottle. The one leverage point we have over Iran is tightening sanctions rather than loosening them. And if we were in that position, I think we could get a better deal that would contain Iran’s interest in destabilizing the area. In the interim, we also have ISIS. You know, our disengagement has created this dual threat that is, the one solution, I think, that is clear to me, at least, is that we need to rebuild our relationships with the traditional Arab nations, for them to have confidence that we’ve got their back. We’re providing some intelligence support apparently in Yemen, but when we pulled back, these voids are being created, and they’re being filled by people that want to create great instability and harm to the United States, and to those that believe in freedom.
Hewitt: You know, Governor Bush, I have a piece in the Washington Examiner today about who’s winning the Putin primary, and that’s the person that Vladimir Putin would least like to see become president. And I point out you’ve got foreign policy experience and old hands around you. How would you go about dealing with Putin? Your brother told me on this show he misjudged him at the beginning. He looked into his eyes, that whole mistake that he made in assessing him. How do you assess Putin? How would you deal with him?
Bush: I think he’s a ruthless pragmatist. I think he tries to undermine or underwrite the risk on every action he takes. And if the risk is low relative to the advantage that he seeks, he’ll continue to do it. and so a weak America, an America that is, that’s not clear about what our intentions are, will we support Article 5 in NATO? Will we forward lean troops? Will we provide defensive weapons to Ukraine? Will we announce in advance that there are additional sanctions that our country and the countries of Europe will impose on Russia if they take certain actions is a far better strategy than trash talking the guy and doing nothing.
Hewitt: Should we lean forward on Article 5 with the Baltic states?
Bush: Yeah, absolutely. And the President has done a small amount of that, but I think there needs to be clarity in Moscow that we’re serious about protecting the one alliance that has creates enormous amounts of security and peace in the post-World War II time.
Hewitt: Are you, Jeb Bush, saying that if Putin makes a play on the Russian population areas of the Baltics, that that’s an occasion for war in Europe?
Bush: What I’m saying is that if we’re not serious about Article 5, then we ought to have shut down NATO. And I think shutting down NATO would be a disaster. The Baltic states are counting on the United States to be a leader in this regard, and it’s not just the Baltics. It’s also Poland, it’s Eastern Europe, it’s a lot of countries. The Baltics are the most vulnerable, because they, as you point out, there’s high percentages anywhere, what, 25-40% of the population are Russian speaking. But sure, the new threats aren’t necessarily invasions. It can be creating a cyberattack and then creating, taking off the emblems and coming in and destabilizing countries as has just occurred in Europe.
Hewitt: We’ve got about a minute to the break. Should we have done more for Ukraine? Should we do more for the Ukrainians right now?
Bush: I think we should. I think we should provide defensive support for Ukraine, and we need to get the Europeans back in the game as well.
Hewitt: I’ll be right back with Governor Jeb Bush, former Florida governor, probable candidate. You’re not official, yet, are you?
Bush: Not today.
Hewitt: Not today. You know that Marco Rubio is said to be announcing on April the 13th. Did you catch that today?
Bush: I did.
Hewitt: And so you’re going to beat him to the punch? Or are you going to wait a little bit?
Bush: I’m going to ponder it for a while.
Hewitt: I want to get a couple of hard ones in first. A real tough one – how’s your dad? America loves him. How’s he doing?
Bush: He’s hanging in there. He’s actually, he’s in great spirits. He can’t walk, but he’s enjoying life, and he’s really recovered from some of the illnesses he’s had. And my mom as well, I was with them last week. They look spectacular.
Hewitt: And you brought him around to the presidential campaign business?
Bush: She, you know what? As she described it to me, she was sick and tired of her remaining friends, I guess those are the ones that are still alive, giving her so much grief. So she’s totally on board.
Hewitt: Now I also read the cover story in the National Journal by Tim Alberta about you. And I didn’t realize you had actually gone, I’m a Roman Catholic. I’m an Evangelical Roman Catholic Presbyterian.
Hewitt: But that means I go to Mass on Saturday night, and I go to the Presbyterian on Sunday. But you went through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, RCIA.
Hewitt: …which is close to water torture.
Bush: No, no.
Hewitt: And that is, it goes on forever. It’s like 100 years long.
Bush: Well, to be fair about it, I started the week after I lost an election in November, so I skipped October, I think. So I skipped maybe the first five weeks, did a little tutorial. And I found it really important. I found it, hanging out with normal people, loving, Godly people, sharing their faith, excited about new people coming into the faith. It was a great anecdote to a pretty tough campaign, to be honest with you.
Hewitt: Are you pro-life thoroughly and completely?
Bush: Yes. Yeah.
Hewitt: And does that extend to end of life, because it’s beginning to fray at that end as well.
Bush: Absolutely. In fact, tomorrow is the anniversary of the death of Terri Schiavo, which I was governor. People might not remember this, but this was a fairly controversial time. And we extended her life through legal means for a year, and the law that we got passed then was ruled unconstitutional. The federal government came in. Congress passed a bill as well that was overturned. So this was the last day of a 14, as I recall, 13 day period where this woman was being starved to death, because she did not receive sustenance. It was one of the most difficult times in my life, to be honest with you.
Hewitt: Now being a Catholic, obviously there’s an appeal to be made to Catholic social teaching. And some people worry your immigration policies might be informed by Catholic…and my buddy, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia wants your immigration authority to be informed, he wants me to be informed by that. How does the interplay – Catholic social teaching and domestic policy?
Bush: Well, I’m going to get my economic policy from Milton Friedman and others like that, not from the Pope. And as it relates to social doctrine, I do think where my faith comes into play is most as it relates to the most vulnerable in our society. I think that’s the proper place for conservatives to act. There are certain people – the developmentally disabled, families that worry more about whether they’re going to outlive their child and have no support, unborn children, the frail and the elderly, I think it is legitimate for conservatives to have sympathy for the plight of people that are in that position. Now that doesn’t mean we’re going to dramatically expand government, but acting on our sense of conscientiousness for those that are suffering is attentive of our faith, right?
Hewitt: You mentioned earlier about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Preserving the freedom of churches to be able to do that is vital in the United States.
Bush: Completely, and unique to the United States, unique to the United States, which is the part of this that is quite dangerous, that this administration more than any other is reaching way beyond where governments have gone before to I think infringe on people’s faith, and infringe on their rights of conscience to be able to express their faith as they’ve always done. So these are, you know, important times for people of faith to engage in a loving way. It doesn’t have to be in a hostile way. In fact, the better, the more effective way of communication in these kinds of things, I think, is not the way where you’re haranguing people that may not agree with you. But there’s got to be some space for people of faith to be able to act on it.
Hewitt: Now I want to go back to the President. On the last Wednesday of your brother’s tenure in office, he had a half dozen talk show hosts, I was among them, into the Oval Office. And it was off the record, but I can paraphrase it. A senior administration official looked us in the eye and said you’ve got to give the new guy a chance. And he’s getting daily briefings, he’ll be good on these issues. That senior official, who will go unnamed, was wrong. He’s not good on these issues. What is the President’s compass here, Jeb Bush?
Bush: Well, I think whoever briefed you was right to give the new president a chance to able to disprove or prove whether he was, what his policies were. I think he started in office thinking all of the adulation was actually a policy. I think he actually thought the sheer force of his personality could change the world, that the speech in Cairo, the Nobel Prize, all of these things kind of validated the need, I don’t need a doctrine that guides and create a consistency in foreign policy. I can just do this in a nuanced way. I also think that he honestly believes that America’s presence in the world needed to be pulled back, because it was not a force for good, that American power in the world was not a force for good. And what he’s learning is that voids are filled. And now they’re filled not necessarily by nation-states. They’re filled by barbarians. They’re filled by nation-states using surrogates. They’re filled by evil doers that now have technologies a their fingertips to be able to undermine not just the neighborhood in which they are, but undermine the world.
Hewitt: One of the voids is being filled by President al-Sisi, formerly General al-Sisi.
Hewitt: I think that’s a good void filler.
Bush: Well, but it’s a void that was created, his need to take charge partially related to the fact that we undermined a friend and ally over many, many years, and then, you know, we were 0 for 3, in effect. In each one of the changes, we were on the wrong side of what actually happened. Now, we’re making it hard to develop a relationship with General al-Sisi, President al-Sisi, and he’s the one leader in the Arab world who’s standing up and saying that it’s the responsibility of Arab governments to fight the barbarians, to fight Islamic terrorism, and to fight, as we’re now learning, he’s joined the coalition with Saudi Arabia as it relates to Yemen. So those kind of leaders need to be supported by the United States. Look, we have values in our country for sure, and freedom, democracy are values that we’re not, you know, we always need to stand for. But we also need to be supporting people that believe in security, because there’s no way that a country like Egypt or any other country is going to be democratic and free until their security situation is improved.
Hewitt: Will it be fair if you’re the nominee and campaigning against Hillary Clinton to argue you broke it, you bought it with regards to Libya and all the other chaos that swirls around the region?
Bush: Yeah, no, I think she can’t do the Heisman on the first four years of the Obama foreign policy. She’ll try. I mean, she’s going to, look, this is very Clintonian, I think, to figure out a way to get out of a mess. But she was Secretary of State of the first administration. And while some of this disruption and then all the stuff playing out right now didn’t exist in the first four years, its roots were there. The pullback began then. The reset with Russia, the discussions with Syria, the red line, all these things created the beginnings of what we’re now seeing. And so…
Hewitt: We’ve got one minute left, and I promised your people a half hour, so I’ll let you go. What about her server and wiping it clean? Or you can stay around if you want to talk about that longer. But what about that?
Bush: I don’t know. I don’t know. I put my money on Trey Gowdy, for starters. That guy is a superstar. He respects the rule of law. He’ll be a gentleman about it, but he’s not going to give up on this notion that she needs to come clean with what she knows about that information and other things for sure.