Sen. Bill Hagerty, a freshman Republican from Tennessee, is a businessman who served as U.S. ambassador to Japan during the Trump administration.
Hagerty joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to describe how former President Donald Trump stood up to China. He also predicts what’s in store for the U.S.-China relationship under President Joe Biden.
“China has made its intentions very clear,” Hagerty says. “They’ve got their 2025 plan. One of the most nefarious things that you’ll see, and we’ve got to continue to be very diligent [about], is China is constantly pushing to get their technology into the infrastructure of the rest of the world.”
We also cover these stories:
- Senate Democrats say they have the 51 votes needed to pass their $1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill, which Biden is expected to sign.
- Vanita Gupta, Biden’s pick for associate attorney general, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
- The Biden administration asks the Supreme Court to throw out a case involving Trump’s policy on illegal immigration.
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Rachel del Guidice: I’m joined today on “The Daily Signal Podcast” by Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee. Sen. Hagerty, it’s great to have you with us on “The Daily Signal Podcast.”
Sen. Bill Hagerty: It’s very good to be with you. Thank you.
Del Guidice: Well, you are a new Republican member of the Senate. Can you tell us a little bit about your story and your life before you were a senator?
Hagerty: Certainly. I’m a small-town kid from Tennessee. Grew up without a lot, but I had great, loving parents. My mom was a career schoolteacher. My dad worked road construction.
I started working, I guess when I was 13 years old, outside of the house. I raised cattle pigs. I was the president of my FFA chapter. I was an Eagle Scout when I was a boy, always patriotic. I’m very fortunate to be the first male in my family to graduate from college.
And from there, I had an incredible blessing of having a job that I could have never imagined that allowed me to work all over the world.
It really gave me a lot of great exposure to business, and it gave me a foundation to go start my own business, which is what I did and I’ve consistently been now for the past 20 plus years, investing in and building small and medium-sized companies. Some of them [have] grown to be New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq traded companies now.
So a businessman all my life. The first opportunity, though, that I had to serve in government really was when the 2010 election took place. And we had a transition from a Democrat to a Republican administration in my state.
The governor reached out to several people in the business community, me included, and asked us to come in and help him with his administration. So I came in and ran the Department of Commerce in my home state.
And we went from a situation where our state was in the bottom half of economic metrics in a very short time to becoming one of the best performers in the nation. We did it at a time when we had a huge budget deficit.
I came into my department, went first and I cut the staff by over 40% and saved millions of dollars on a recurring basis for Tennessee taxpayers and at the same time restructured. So we’ve got much better performance.
These are conservative values. This is how you can approach government differently, by taking those sort of solid tried and true business principles and applying them to government. Got a lot of resistance, as you can imagine, but it worked.
And when I left that position, Tennessee had become the No. 1 state in the nation for creating jobs before an investment. And we remain one of the best economic performers in America.
After that, I went back to the private sector and then heard President [Donald] Trump talking about China in his election. I thought, “This is somebody that’s finally seeing China for what it is.” And I decided to go in and volunteer full time for six months during the 2016 election. …
I was the victory chairman for Tennessee, but I also helped him in other parts of the country. And when the transition occurred, I came in to run the presidential personnel component of that transition, helping the president put in place a Cabinet. From there President Trump asked me if I would go and serve as U.S. ambassador to Japan.
I mentioned earlier that I had a job when I was much younger that took me around the world. I actually lived for three years in Tokyo, Japan, as a young man. And that foundation helped me tremendously, as I arrived in Japan at a time when the world and that region were significantly under threat.
You remember Kim Jong Un was launching rockets? After I arrived with my family, North Korea launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles over Japan and detonated a hydrogen bomb.
The tension was amazing. But I was able to work very closely with the Japanese to put in place three consecutively stronger economic sets of sanctions on the North Korean regime. We brought them to the table. President Trump saw the opportunity and used our economic might to our advantage.
The bigger part of my job, though, was standing up to China. President Trump called them out and he continued to pressure. He put economic pressure on China. He put military pressure on China. He put diplomatic pressure on China.
Think about President Trump’s move to pull us out of the World Health Organization more recently when he found out that all they were doing was parroting the Chinese propaganda.
That’s what shocks me so much, that the Biden administration would just on a knee-jerk basis rejoin the WHO after we’ve seen right before our eyes the Chinese government handpicks the WHO investigatory team that went in to look at the Wuhan virology lab.
This is something that we need to see massive reform before American taxpayers are ever asked to fund it, if the Biden administration has jumped back in. Same for the Paris climate accord, they jumped right back into that while getting nothing.
China is laughing all the way to the bank. Canceling the Keystone XL pipeline, canceling the ability to drill and frack here in America on federal lands, China is loving this.
Where do you think that oil from Canada is going to go if it can’t hit the Keystone XL pipeline? It’s going to be sold to China at a discount. Our oil prices are already going up. Look at the prices at the pump.
And this notion that John Kerry, [President Joe Biden’s envoy for climate,] says, “Well, you can leave your great job working on pipelines and go work at a solar factory or a wind turbine factory.” Do you know where the solar panels are made? Do you know where the wind turbine panels are made? They’re made in China. China is loving this.
We have got to be realistic in our policies. And my job in the United States Senate is going to be to stand up to this and push back and let my colleagues in the Senate know what a threat this is, to let the United States citizens know what a threat China poses, and to let the rest of the world know that that’s the case as well.
Del Guidice: On that note, we’ve heard in the past … now-President Biden talk a lot about China and that it really isn’t a threat. And President Trump did a lot to hold China accountable, but it doesn’t seem like we’re going to be seeing the same thing in the Biden administration. So what are some things you foresee that could happen if China isn’t held accountable?
Hagerty: Well, China has made its intentions very clear. They’ve got their 2025 plan. One of the most nefarious things that you’ll see, and we’ve got to continue to be very diligent [about], is China is constantly pushing to get their technology into the infrastructure of the rest of the world.
Our 5G technology needs to be clean. We can’t afford the risk of having Chinese companies inside of our 5G infrastructure. President Trump saw that and blocked them.
In 2017, the Chinese Communist Party passed a law that says any Chinese company is obligated to turn over any information in their possession when the Chinese Communist Party asks for that. That should concern all of us.
Our 5G grid will not only be a telecommunications infrastructure, we’re going to have our energy grid tied to that. Think about autonomous vehicles. They’ve got to operate off of that grid.
Could we have a back door to China? Could we allow that? Absolutely not. The Japanese saw it the same way. I worked my heart out with them to get them to the same place. Now, Japan has got a clean network. They’re keeping these Chinese competitors out.
Australia’s followed suit. New Zealand has followed suit. I’m hopeful that we’ll see that happen in the U.K. as well. Our allies need to have clean networks if we’re ever going to be in a position to continue to share intelligence information with them.
These are the types of threats that China poses. They continue to advance militarily. They’ve crushed coral reefs or millions of tons of cement into the ocean in the South China Sea to build up these artificial military islands. They’ve armed them. They positioned them right along one of the busiest sea lanes in the world.
We have to be pushing back with our military, continuing to do free and open operations in the Pacific.
We’ve got a great strategy called the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy that brings India into the fold, that brings Australia into the fold, that brings Japan and our own military. That puts pressure on China from every corner. We talked about that today in my conference, the quad, we’ve got to continue to keep that pressure on China.
Del Guidice: [Before we] wrap up, you’ve talked a little bit about China and all that there is to do there. What are some other issues that are top of mind for you that you want to work on now that you’re in the Senate?
Hagerty: Well, the biggest issue that’s confronting us right now is getting this pandemic in our rear-view mirror.
And what we’re going to see next week unfold is a $1.9 trillion package that is nothing more than a wish list of socialist programs that we see the Democrat Party trying to push through. I’ve seen an analysis that says less than 10% of it even addresses the pandemic.
What we need to be doing right now is getting shots into people’s arms. We need to be getting our kids back to school and we need to get our parents back to work.
That’s what the focus needs to be. Not on bailing out blue states. Not on adjusting and doubling the minimum wage and making it even harder for small businesses to reopen.
What we need to be focused on is getting this pandemic in our rear-view mirror as quickly as we can and getting our kids in school and our parents back to work.
Del Guidice: Well, Sen. Hagerty, it’s great to have you on “The Daily Signal Podcast.” Thank you so much for joining us.
Hagerty: Wonderful to be with you. Thank you so much.