On November 7th, less than 24 hours after the midterm election, President Trump requested and received Jeff Sessions' resignation as Attorney General. The President then announced the appointment of Matt Whitaker as Acting Attorney General. Whitaker is a former U.S. Attorney from Iowa, who sought the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in 2014. He was interviewed as part of IPR's coverage of the primary election. The conversation is transcribed below, and provides some insight into Whitaker's opinions on a number of issues still relevant today.
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Give an example of an experience you’ve had as a public leader that you believe has prepared you to be a member of the U.S. Senate.
I served for five and a half years as the presidentially appointed United States Attorney, where I put thugs and predators in jail as a federal prosecutor. I’m also a small business owner and entrepreneur. I own several small businesses. That means, for me, those experiences mean the big issues today are not talking points. I’ve lived them. I look at the folks that are getting important things done in Congress today; Whether they’re Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Mike Lee, who’s a former federal prosecutor, or even Congressman Trey Gowdy, who’s leading the Benghazi investigations; he’s a former federal prosecutor. They share similar backgrounds to me. They’re holding this administration accountable and advancing the conservative agenda nationally. This is how we will win this election – by articulating our philosophy that the Constitution is freedom; It’s what is going to win the hearts and minds of independents. That’s why I believe my experience is unique in this race. It’s real world experience and it has prepared me to be the next U.S. senator from Iowa.
What is the one thing you can do in the Senate to create jobs in Iowa?
It’s a national challenge in the Senate because unemployment is way too high in every state. One thing we can do immediately, and why our GDP didn’t grow, it shrank in the first quarter, is because of the Affordable Care Act. We need to completely repeal that. We also, I think, need to eliminate the tax code and start over. It’s too complex, no one understands it. It contains five times the amount of words in the Bible but none of the good news. It is causing uncertainty for all Americans. I would support a national sales tax because that would end the process of double taxation. Every dollar would be pre-taxed. Individual families would be able to decide whether to save their money or spend it. Most individuals would then be able to save for the future and increase their financial security through saving.
A recent Iowa poll by the Des Moines Register shows 65% of those polled support an increase in the minimum wage. Would you support a minimum wage increase?
As a small business owner, I uniquely understand this issue. What I know is that common sense tells you that when you raise the minimum wage you’re actually going to hurt the people you’re trying to help. The lower-skilled worker who needs an entry-level job to move their way up through the economy and get those skills through work are going to be priced out of the market. So it’s going to actually harm those people. I have a sixteen-year-old son who had a minimum wage job at the state fair over the last two summers. That experience was invaluable. The main skill right now is killing internet zombies. Real job experience for the minimum-wage is going to qualify him and similarly situated teenagers and low-wage workers for their next job where they can move up and earn more.
The proposed changes to the renewable fuel standard seem to signal that the [Obama] administration may move away from grain-based alternatives to conventional fuels. What would you do in Washington to work in a bipartisan manner on the energy policy that would benefit Iowans and still have national appeal?
I am an all-of-the-above energy advocate. I think everything should compete on its own. Consumers should have the lowest price energy choice; whether it’s electricity or fuel for their cars. I have called for rethinking the renewable fuel standard. I would like to see a reasonable glide path to free markets because I believe that free market is not just words that conservatives say. We have to believe it. I’ve taken a bold stand and in that I’ve taken on the special interests that are preventing free markets and free people.
Even with a former Iowa governor heading up the Agriculture Department, farmers were kept in limbo for years over new farm policies. How will you represent the interests of agriculture and rural communities in an environment that is heavily urban?
I believe in the Iowa farmer. I know they can compete with anyone in the entire world when it comes to agricultural products. Farmers want nothing more than a fee market where they receive a check from a co-op or somebody else who’s receiving their product in a free market. One in every three soybeans is exported. So, we need to make sure that we have free trade agreements with any other country that’s willing to reduce barriers and encourage free trade. I believe that we should not have subsidies and mandates that pervert markets and don’t allow farmers to compete in a free market where they can get the highest, best price for their crop or livestock.
You’re campaigning to join Congress at a time when its approval ratings are some of the lowest in history, depending on what poll you look at, where ratings are in the low to mid teens in most cases. How did we get to this point?
We’ve gotten to this point where we have hyper partisanship in Washington D.C. Recent history shows that in 2009 and 2010 when democrats controlled all the major branches of the legislature and the president, they passed really dramatically liberal ideas and legislation with very little Republican support. I think that turned a lot of voters off as to how Congress gets things done. We’re seeing those policies implemented now and it’s hurting our economy. It’s causing our economy not to grow. It’s keeping American workers and people in Iowa looking for a job unemployed because of these liberal policies from the democrats.
When do you think it’s appropriate for a Senator to block a presidential nominee? In what cases would you do so?
I believe in the filibuster rule. The Senate is a unique body that is supposed to advise and consent on presidential appointments. I was a presidential appointee, who went through the advise and consent process when I was appointed U.S. Attorney. I think it should be very rare. I think the president owes it to the Senate to put up well qualified candidates who are not on the fringe of any particular issue; whether it’s judges or leaders of any particular administration. At the same time in any particular case, I would look at the background and experience of the individual nominated and reserve judgment so there was a particular person in front of me to evaluate whether they are well qualified for that position.
Nearly every candidate, especially in this GOP primary, says they want to cut down government waste and bring down the deficit. Name a program or a department that you would cut and why.
I don’t believe in a federal role in education, so I’ve been outspoken in that we need to eliminate the Department of Education. The Department of Commerce is another I would look to. There are over 40,000 employees in the Department of Commerce. As a small business owner I haven’t interacted with one, so I would like to see significant trimming at the Department of Commerce. It’s a broader issue, too – it’s not just eliminating or reducing departments. We need to start looking at aid to the countries that don’t like us very much. We need to start looking at aid to the U.N. I would propose small, incremental cuts across all departments year over year and make our managers manage. That’s what I did in the Department of Justice when I was a U.S. Attorney. I had to eliminate and end the practice of baseline budgeting. But fundamentally, I’d like to see a balanced budget amendment to our United States Constitution.
Are we spending enough on national defense?
I think we’re spending too much. We need the strongest military in the world, but it is a massive part of our budget. We know how government works. There is plenty of waste in there. For too long republicans have liked to say that it is too big and wasteful, but we can’t do anything unless we open up all departments and reconcile – including the military budget. I think that should be on the table. I don’t think we should be the world’s police force. I don’t think we should engage in nation building. Afghanistan is a prime example. We spent too long in Afghanistan. We followed Colin Powell’s pottery barn rule. We believed we broke it, but we just needed to go into Afghanistan, eliminate Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and let the Afghani people manage their own affairs.
Immigration reform is an issue important to Iowa, but it has stalled in Congress. What immigration reforms could you support?
As U.S. Attorney, I enforced the border laws. I visited the borders in Texas, California, and even the state of Washington, the Canadian border. I saw a border that is not secure. First, we need to secure the border. I do not support amnesty or a path to citizenship. I think it’s necessary that we address this important issue, and it is an important issue. I don’t support giving any status to those that have violated our laws. They need to get in the back of the line, and we need to make sure that we encourage legal immigration. That being said, I’m going to be the champion of the American worker and I just don’t think it’s fair to immediately put 11, 12, or 15 million people in direct competition. I know it’ll lower wages of people who have done everything right. I don’t think the government should bail on them by increasing competition for those jobs. I will work every day and night to make sure that the American workers have a strong economy that grows jobs and allows them mobility.
Matt Whitaker's website (11/8/2018: this URL has been removed, as his campaign website no longer functions).