'Will Biden make 'unhealthy America' great again?': Mick Mulvaney [VIDEO]
Video by Lee Min-young, Kim Kang-min
Washington had a dynamic year with the historic inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
To get an insider's look at what Trump's presidential legacy will be and what Biden's handling of domestic issues and foreign policy would look like, The Korea Times had a video interview with Mick Mulvaney in collaboration with the American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) in Korea.
Mulvaney was one of the longest-serving officials of the Trump Administration. In addition to acting Chief of Staff, he also served as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland. He was widely considered one of the most influential and trusted advisors to President Trump.
Mulvaney says there are two issues Biden must deal with right away: the economy which has been greatly hurt by COVID-19 and the deep, profound political division in the country.
* Below is the transcript of the edited video interview with former White House Chief of Staff to Donald Trump, Mick Mulvaney, on Feb. 19 at AMCHAM Korea's headquarters in Yeouido, western Seoul.
Question: Mick, we have seen a great divide in U.S. politics throughout the last administration with former President Trump and the media being engaged in an endless war, so some believe much of Trump's achievements during his term have been overshadowed by this troubling relationship. Tell us about the most common misperception people have about the last administration and the achievements that we know less about.
Answer: Wow, that's a great question. Common misperception. You know, there's hundreds of them. I got asked one time, you know what, tell me something, press asked me, tell us something about the president that no one knows. And I just was trying to struggle for the right answer, like, he really likes his family. When you learn about the president through the media you think that his wife hates him, he doesn't like his kids, and the answer is, it's not true. He actually likes the family. I remember the first time I was in the air, helicopter with him as I was chief of staff. I bet he called Baron who at the time was 10 or 12 years old four or five times during the trip including from the helicopter saying, "daddy's going to land in the backyard, I know mom doesn't like it when I tell you to get out of bed but come out of the bed and watch the helicopter land. And the human side of Donald Trump I think is what people miss the most.
I don't think that we're going to have much luck in telling the story of a legacy. But for the riots, I think we would have the ability to argue that we had tremendous successes in the first four years. We had the lowest rate of unemployment in this country in a long time, lowest rate of minority unemployment ever, no inflation, great experience with judges getting nominated and confirmed to our judicial system and no new overseas wars for the first time in a president's term, in my lifetime. Tremendous successes. And as much as the press would love to have beaten that down, before January 6th, I don't think they would have been able to do it. January 6th changed that. The riots in the Capitol change that. And I think it really makes it hard, really hard for folks to focus on anything about the Trump presidency other than that.
It's really disappointing and saddening to those of us who worked so hard in the administration for four years to get those achievements to know that the first line of the history books about Donald Trump will be something about the January 6th riots and that's unfortunate for a variety of reasons not the least of which is that it clouds what we were able to accomplish.
Q: I guess you were the one who was really in charge of the task force for COVID-19. So knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?
A: I do think we made a mistake or he made a mistake on the masks. For some reason, we politicized masks that you know if you're a republican you didn't wear a mask, if you're a democrat you did. I think that's stupid. Again I ran the coronavirus task force before Mike Pence took over and I was at the meeting when Dr. Fauci told us, including me, to go on television and tell people don't wear masks. I did that because that's what Dr. Fauci said to do. So the President was getting that information so I understand why maybe it happened but it would have been very easy for everybody to just say, 'go out and wear a mask.' The testing was very poorly handled. I think by now it's been well documented. The Center for Disease Control, the USCDC mishandled the early testing to the point where it wasn't more readily available and wasn't as reliable as you wanted to be so there were some early hiccups.
That being said, I think the project Warp Speed, the things that we did to encourage the private sector to develop the vaccine in a record time will be one of those shining stars of this. In fact, I even think that many Democrats who are extraordinarily critical of the President will applaud the fact that we were able to come up with a vaccine in less than a year but it is interesting that the media here excoriated the Trump administration for several months, almost a year, about how we're handling COVID-19, we weren't doing as good a job as our European allies and friends and that we are far in advance of where the Europeans are right now in terms of the percentage of people that we have had vaccinated so it's a joint effort here. It's a bipartisan effort.
I wish the Biden administration very well. I got asked a question the other day as to whether the Biden administration was taking it more seriously than the Trump administration. No, they're taking it just as seriously as we did and that's what it takes and that's why you see the results. We could do better. We could always do better but hopefully we'll turn the corner on this thing in the next couple of months.
Q: You played a leading role in directing spending for the entire U.S. government so what is your view of the economic policy set out by President Biden, of course including the coronavirus relief package.
A: I am really concerned. I wrote three budgets for the president of the United States. I've sort of wrote four but I really wrote three and the budget, the budgeted expenditures, the stuff that we actually controlled was between 1.1 and 1.4 trillion dollars every year when I ran the place. That means that this corona virus bailout bill, the stimulus bill, is more money in a couple of weeks than we would spend in a year and that bothers me. It really does. It bothers me not only because the size of it, because it's cumulative. This is the third or fourth, I've lost track, COVID-19 stimulus bill. By the time this one is passed, we will have spent over six trillion dollars dealing with COVID-19. That's just a bizarre sum of money. And I worry about inflation. I do. A lot of folks watching this, including probably you two, don't remember what it's like to live in inflation. I'm older than most people watching this. And when the government prints six trillion dollars and believe me, that's what it's doing without any increase in the number or the amount of, the quantity of goods to buy. It sets the stage for inflation.
Inflation is a really, really, really bad thing. Again, most people don't remember it. I am not really, really pleased with the way that my own party is looking at the stimulus bill, not pleased with the way the government's looking at it and I hope that, at some point, we realize that we can spend too much money and it could really, really hurt us.
Q: So Mick, you've also mentioned during a recent media interview about the lack of bipartisanship in the Biden administration, especially when the new administration is trying to make bold moves to get the economy back on track. So tell us more about that.
A: Joe Biden would really, really want to be the kind of person to reach across the aisle, to sort of create bipartisanship and to unite the country. I don't think he's going to be able to do that for a variety of reasons. Again, not for lack of will. He wants to do it. Number one, Joe Biden does not have a lot of political capital. As nice a man as he is, as much as everybody wants to like him, and I want to like him, he didn't win this election. The other guy lost the election. That's rare in our system by the way. In fact, it's the only time I can remember it happening in my lifetime but most people who voted for Joe Biden weren't voting for Joe Biden. They were voting against Donald Trump so he doesn't have the ability to sort of push things. Secondly, I think he's dealing with a circumstance that it's highly unlikely he's going to run again. I mean, he's already the oldest president. He'd be, I think 82 or 83 if he runs for re-election or wins re-election. There's already discussion about him not running again so you add those two things to the third thing which is this, the Democrat party doesn't want to compromise right now. By the way, neither does a lot of the Republican party so I'm not being partisan here but the left wing of the Democrat party wants to beat up on the Republicans. It's going to be really, really hard to be bipartisan.
Q: I think people have a perception that the Biden administration is going to be less business friendly than, let's say, a Republican administration.
A: Again, we talked about the successes of the Trump administration. I think the deregulation initiative was one of those things. Democrats hated it and they've already taken steps to start to undo it. The anti-business vitriol was real. There are folks in the Democrat party who believe that capitalism is unfair and unjust and unequitable. The word equity really concerns me because I don't know what it means. It means different things to different people. I know what equality means but I don't know what equity means. That's what the Democrat party right now is pushing.
So, yeah, taxes are going to go up and I guess taxes will go up at the state level as well. What else do you expect? If we spend this much money, taxes should go up, right? I mean, other than that you're just printing the money so one way to dampen inflation is to raise taxes. It just is. That's the way economics works. As much as I don't like it and wish that folks would look at what the Trump administration did as a model for prosperity, they're not going to do that. Elections have consequences and that's one of them.
Q: At the end of the day, how do you view the bilateral relationship between U.S. and South Korea?
A: The general consensus is the relationship is obviously very, very strong. In fact, the President loved his visit. He did. He struggled with his relationship with President Moon and he was concerned about the amount of money that we spend in that, in the bilateral defense agreements. That is not to say that he questioned the underlying alliance and friendship. In fact, he loved the trip. I remember him, we talked, he talked about the trip all of the time so I don't think the relationship is going to change.
Will the temperature change? Will the language change? Will Joe Biden be a nicer person to work with? Probably. That's just his personality. Donald Trump is a very combative individual. Believe me, no one knows that more than I do and I think it's probably going to continue to be strong. Look, the economic ties are great. Yes, President Trump always focused on the trade of automobiles and so forth. Consumers benefit from a strong Korean automotive market, just like you would benefit from a strong domestic U.S. automotive market, especially when it comes to innovation.
One thing that's bipartisan right now in Washington D.C. is antipathy towards China and Korea plays an important role in that. Balance today is a good thing and if we can figure out a way to work together to bring some balance to China and Asia, I think that benefits everybody including the Chinese. So I would just encourage everybody to continue the dialogue and recognizing that democracies are different than communist dictatorships and then we have a lot more than we do in opposition.
Q: Joe Biden right now has a lot on his plate so what are Biden's greatest challenges as he settles into office?
A: Well the economy is going to be one because clearly things have hurt. There's no question, but really the bigger issue is the division in the nation. It's not healthy here right now. It's the point where people of one political persuasion are trying to prevent folks of another political persuasion of getting jobs. That's not what we do. You know we have a tradition here of fighting like hell during elections and then once a president is elected we sort of put that aside for at least a couple of months, good it's gracious, certainly a couple of years but politics has invaded everything right now.
I cringe and every time I give this example, people sort of roll their eyes and wonder if I'm being hyperbolic but if we had a similar event tomorrow to what happened on 9/11 with the terrorist attacks in New York city, I'm not sure how our nation would react. I'm not sure we would be able to react in a united way like we did, what is it now, 20 years ago and that I think is a big challenge and again I think Joe Biden wants to fix it. It's a very difficult time.