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Boris Johnson rebukes CNN talking point that American democracy is dying: ‘Grossly exaggerated’



United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson rebuked CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday’s "State of the Union" after the anchor pushed him to agree that American democracy is on "life support."

During an interview centered around the G7 summit, Tapper referenced former President Donald Trump’s unfounded stolen 2020 election claims and the ensuing Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

"When I talk to friends in Canada, the U.K., Australia and elsewhere, people express concern about the United States in terms of our ability and our institutions to thrive and continue after what happened with the election of 2020. They worry that democracy is on life support in the United States," Tapper said.

He then asked Johnson if he was worried about the state of American democracy.

"Noooo," Johnson replied, cutting Tapper off mid-question. "I want to say to the people of the United States, I’m not. Let’s get back to what I’ve been trying to say to you throughout this interview. I think that reports of the death of democracy in the United States are grossly, grossly exaggerated."

Johnson went on to describe America as a "shining city on a hill" and "the greatest global guarantor" of democracy and freedom. The U.K. leader also briefly alluded to the 2020 election, which Tapper again pressed him on. 

"I think that the mere fact that Joe Biden has stepped up to the plate in the way that he has shows that the instincts of America are still very much in the right place," Johnson continued. "Yeah, there were some weird and kind of unattractive scenes back in the--"

"People died," Tapper said. "It was pretty serious."

"It was pretty weird," Johnson replied. 

"It’s worse than weird, I mean--" Tapper chimed in. 

"It was pretty weird," Johnson reiterated. "Looking from the outside it was pretty weird. But I don’t believe that American democracy is under serious threat. Far from it."

Just after the Capitol riot in 2021, Johnson quickly reacted to the situation on Twitter, calling it a "disgraceful scene" and added it was vital for there to be a "peaceful and orderly" transfer of power.

Just weeks ago, Johnson survived a no-confidence vote that could have resulted in him being ousted from office.

TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper live from the G7 summit in Krun, Germany.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is stepping on the world stage today with his standing at home weakened after COVID-related scandals prompted a no-confidence vote in his leadership, a vote that he survived.

I spoke with him earlier this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: So, you had a very strong reaction when you heard about the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade.

You called it a big step backwards.

JOHNSON: Yes.

Look, I want to stress that this is not our court. It's not our jurisdiction. So, in a sense, the -- anything I say is -- it's for the United States. It's not for the U.K.

But Roe-Wade -- the Roe v. Wade judgment, when it came out, was a huge -- important psychologically for people around the world. And it spoke of the advancement of the rights of women, I think.

[09:30:08]

And I regret that -- what seems to me to be a backward step. But I'm speaking as someone looking in from the outside, and...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Do you think it hurts the United States as a representative of rights and freedom?

JOHNSON: No. I want to be very clear about that. I think that the United States is a -- for me, it remains a shining city on the hill. And it's an incredible guarantor of values, democracy, freedom around the world.

You know, we're going to talk about G7 in a minute, but if you look at what Joe Biden is doing to stick up for people's rights in Ukraine, it's quite extraordinary. So I don't see -- I don't see it that way at all.

But what I -- just on the -- a woman's right to choose, which I have always backed, and which we back very much in the U.K., it seems to me to be a step backwards.

TAPPER: So, we're here for the G7 summit, where addressing skyrocketing inflation and energy costs is going to top the agenda.

Inflation in the U.K. just hit 9.1 percent, the highest of any G7 member. But, obviously, inflation is high across Europe and the United States. Do you think that we are headed for a global recession?

JOHNSON: Look, I think that we've got a lot of headwinds right now.

And if you think back to the last G7 in Carbis Bay, we were coming out of COVID. Everything was looking a cautiously positive. We could see a way for the world economy to grow. We've now got a big problem with -- what Putin has done in Ukraine is driving prices of commodities, energy, obviously. And that's driving food and fertilizer as well.

And that's causing problems around the world. And we need to fix those things. And I don't think there's any -- any point focusing on how bad things might get. Let's look at what we can do to address it.

So, we need to be working together to ease problems in global supply chains, fix those inflationary pressures, fix pressures in labor markets, and do what we can to help people through tough times. I think it will get better. I think that inflation will start to abate.

But, right now, we've got to use the fiscal firepower we have in the U.K. Particularly, we have got -- I'm focused on helping people with the cost of energy. We're using the cash we have to tide people through, 1,200 pounds for eight million of the most vulnerable families.

TAPPER: Is there realistically anything serious that Western countries can do to bring down inflation and energy costs, as long as the war in Ukraine, as long as Russia keeps attacking, continues?

JOHNSON: I think that OPEC plays a role.

I think that the -- there is an opportunity for other sources of supply to come forward. And I think, if there were to be -- the taps were to be turned on by some of our other partners around the world, that would unquestionably help.

But, in the meantime, what we've got to do is find the alternative suppliers ourself. So, in the U.K., we're making huge progress towards more wind power. I mean, we are the -- one of the biggest producers of offshore wind power the world, I think, if not the biggest.

We're going to be building a nuclear reactor every year, rather than every 10 years. And you've got to do that.

And I think that, here in the G7, I think what we're all realizing is that the party's over for Russian hydrocarbons. So -- and everybody's finding new ways of adapting. In the short term, we're going to have to find hydrocarbons from elsewhere.

And I think some countries are being heroic in what they're -- in what they're doing. But, in the long term, we've got to work together on the green solutions that we all believe in.

TAPPER: You were in Ukraine last week. You met with President Zelenskyy, yes?

And you -- it was -- you warned against what you call Ukraine fatigue...

JOHNSON: Yes.

TAPPER: ... in the West.

How do you combat Ukraine fatigue at a time when so many Western nations are struggling with real issues at home? And do you worry at all that the tying of the war in Ukraine with higher energy prices might cause people in the U.K. in the United States to say, you know what, it's not worth it?

JOHNSON: But it is.

And I would just say to people in the United States and -- that this is something that America historically does and has to do. And that is to step up for peace and freedom and democracy. And if we let Putin get away with it and just annex, conquer sizable parts of a free, independent, sovereign country, which is what he is poised to do, if not the whole thing, then the consequences for the world are absolutely catastrophic.

It means he -- we're legitimating further acquisition by him by violence of other parts of the former Soviet Union. We're legitimating aggression in other parts of the world. And you can see the read across in East Asia. You can see the consequences, the lessons that will be drawn.

[09:35:03]

And that would be...

TAPPER: Taiwan? Hong Kong?

JOHNSON: Correct.

TAPPER: Yes.

JOHNSON: And that is -- that is what is ultimately disastrous, not just for democracy and for the independence of countries, but for economic stability.

So, remember what America -- you remember when America came in -- in 1941, 1942, the United States came in, in the middle of last century, it came in twice in the last century, as the arsenal of democracy.

And what Joe Biden is currently spending, I think $46 billion to help Ukraine, I would argue that that is a price worth paying for democracy and freedom, because when you think about the postwar period, when that argument was conclusively settled in favor of democracy, against the violent changing of borders by aggression, think what that achieved, the decades and decades of peace and freedom.

So, all I'm saying to people is, sometimes, America is asked by the world to step up. Again, getting back to your first question, I think America is still the last, best hope of peace and freedom.

TAPPER: But are you worried about what's happening in Ukraine right now?

JOHNSON: Yes.

TAPPER: The Russian defense minister just visited for the first time in the five-month war. There are reports that key cities in the east are falling to the Russians.

JOHNSON: Yes.

TAPPER: Are countries like France and Germany doing enough to help?

JOHNSON: Look, I think if -- both of those countries have done an astonishing amount, when you consider where they were before the conflict began.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Ukrainians complain about that they're not doing enough, though.

JOHNSON: Yes, but you've got to look objectively at where the -- how far Olaf Scholz has moved his country, to much bigger defense spending.

Never in my lifetime did I expect to see direct German military contribution to supporting another European country in the way that they're doing right now.

And that's coming at a -- don't forget also the price that the Germans are paying in terms of moving away from Russian oil and gas. So, could we all do more? Yes, we could all do more. And we're going to do more. But, right now, I think the most -- the most effective thing that the G7 have brought to this thing has been our unity.

TAPPER: So, you've long advocated for a stronger economic and business relationship with China.

Do you worry at all that you're making the same mistake that Europe did with Russia 20 years ago, thinking that you can use economic ties to bring a partner in and influence their bad behavior, and, ultimately, it doesn't work? Because that's what happened with Russia.

JOHNSON: The United States has a free trade deal with China, which we don't have, so, you know, just...

TAPPER: I don't represent the United States.

JOHNSON: I know that.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: So, look, the -- every country in -- China is a gigantic fact of our lives. China is a massive and growing economy. Every country gathered here today at the G7 does a huge amount of business with China.

The question is, can we continue to do that? Can we continue to advance projects of mutual economic benefit, whilst, as G7, protecting our values, protecting our critical national infrastructure -- and you remember all the arguments about Huawei -- and making sure that we stand together and stick up the democracy and freedom?

And I think -- I think we can. I think there is a balance to be struck. You may be right. It may be difficult, but that's what we've got and try to do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Much more in my interview with Prime Minister Johnson coming up, including the pressure he's facing back home in the U.K. and his take on the state of the U.S. democracy, after this quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:43:33]

TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper live from the G7 summit in Krun, Germany.

Here's more of my interview with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: So while you're here at the G7, as you know, there's a lot going on back home for you, some scheming going on perhaps by Tory M.P.s.

You're the first sitting Prime Minister found to have broken the law, because of the parties at 10 Downing that broke your own government's pandemic rules. You narrowly survived a no-confidence vote, and your party just lost two critical elections.

What is your message to members of your party who say you're a drag on your ticket? JOHNSON: I think the great thing about democracy is that leaders are under scrutiny and that I do have -- you say I have got things going on back home. That's a good thing.

I've got people on my case. I've got people making arguments. I'm -- by the way, I've got a new mandate from my party. And I'm very happy to...

TAPPER: You survived, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: Yes, I got a higher percentage of the parliamentary votes than I did the first time. So I'm very happy. We will move forward.

But the positive thing is that it means you have a government that has to respond, has to think about what the public wants.

And if -- just make a serious point about the G7 countries vs. the -- or contrasted to the autocracies. Both of -- both China and Russia, I think, make big mistakes because they don't have those democratic checks and balances.

[09:45:07]

Do you really think that Vladimir Putin would have launched an invasion of another sovereign country if he had had people to listen to probably, arguing, if he had had a committee of backbenchers, the 1922 Committee on his case?

And he did it because he is so -- his ego was so personally invested in the project, and continues to be so personally invested. And there's absolutely nothing to stop him. That's the problem.

Second, look at the zero COVID approach in China. And whatever the arguments, it's clear it's a very, very difficult and burdensome policy. But it's being driven by the president, because that's the policy that he's invested in, without checks and balances.

So, you know, what I'm saying to you is, it's the...

TAPPER: That criticism is good. Democracy is good.

JOHNSON: It's the worst system in the world, apart from all the others.

TAPPER: Right. Well, you don't have to convince me that democracy is good.

But let me just ask you, because...

JOHNSON: Well, it's not -- whoa, whoa. I mean, we...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: No, but as part... JOHNSON: But it's a point that needs to be made.

TAPPER: You were recently asked about criticism from your party about Partygate, and you said that you were not going to undergo a psychological transformation. That's a quote of yours, psychological transformation.

Some Tories are upset. They say that it -- that suggests you don't get how much there are members of the public that feel betrayed by the parties that are going on during the strict COVID rules, and that it shows that you're out of touch.

JOHNSON: Yes.

I think -- when you're taking your country through a tough time -- we went through a tough pandemic. We've now got obviously serious economic headwinds. You're bound to come in for a lot of criticism and a lot of scrutiny. And that is fine.

But I have to decide what is the stuff that I need to change and the stuff that will make a real difference to people. And the stuff we need to change that really matters is the way our energy markets work, the way our housing markets work, the cost of our transport systems, the burden of taxation that people face.

That's where the change is coming. That's the program that we've had. It's our plan for a stronger economy. And I think that's what people want to see. So we've got some good things going for us right now. We've got unemployment very low. We've got huge investments coming in. There's lots of reasons to be confident.

TAPPER: Right.

JOHNSON: But I think the thing people need us to focus on and to change is the way things work for them.

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about that, because Thursday marks six years since the U.K. voted to leave the European Union. That was a cause that you were right on the forefront of.

The U.K. is grappling the skyrocketing inflation, low unemployment, but skyrocketing inflation, cost of living crisis you alluded to, labor shortages, supply chain disruptions, slow wage growth.

Is the U.K. better off than it was six years ago, when you left the E.U.?

JOHNSON: It is.

And we've got -- look, we've -- what we've been able to -- let me give you an example. Thanks to the position that we took, we had an independent medical agency that was able to make sure that the first COVID vaccine in anybody's -- first approved COVID vaccine in anybody's arms in the world was in the U.K.

We then had the fastest vaccine. And that was because we were outside something called the European Medicines Agency, which is...

TAPPER: So...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: ... you couldn't have done if -- otherwise?

JOHNSON: Correctamundo.

TAPPER: OK.

JOHNSON: Yes.

TAPPER: Correctamundo?

JOHNSON: Jake, correct.

TAPPER: You're quoting Fonz?

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: That is right.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: Secondly, we've been able to do a lot of free trade deals around the world.

We're able to change some of our regulations. We've taken back control of our borders. We have -- we're no longer spending shedloads of money on projects that we couldn't control. And...

TAPPER: So, it was a good decision?

JOHNSON: Yes.

And I will give you one other result, back to Ukraine for a second. I don't think that the U.K., within the European Union and within the kind of matrix of the common foreign policy and security policy that we then had, I don't think that we would have been out in front as the first European country to arm the Ukrainians, to give them the wherewithal to protect themselves.

And I think that speaks to a country that is thinking about things differently, that is thinking about the world with a more global perspective, and is ambitious. It doesn't mean we're less European.

TAPPER: Right.

JOHNSON: We're still European. But I think we have a more global -- a more global approach.

[09:50:00]

TAPPER: So, we're here at the G7, a gathering of the world's leading democracies. When I talk to friends in Canada, the U.K., Australia and elsewhere,

people express concern about the United States as...

JOHNSON: The United States?

TAPPER: About the United States in terms of our ability and our institutions to thrive and continue, after what happened with the election of 2020. They're worried that democracy is on life support in the United States.

People might not know this about you, but you were born in the United States. And until recently, you...

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: I was.

TAPPER: And...

JOHNSON: I was. I was born in New York City...

TAPPER: As was I.

JOHNSON: ... a fantastic place.

Jake, where you were born? Where you were born in New York?

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Where was I -- Staten Island.

JOHNSON: All right. I was born in New York General Hospital.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Are you worried at all? Do you look at...

JOHNSON: No.

TAPPER: You're not?

JOHNSON: I want to say this to the people of the United States. I'm not.

I think that -- I just get back to the -- what I have been trying to say to you throughout this interview. I think that reports of the death of democracy in the United States are grossly, grossly exaggerated. America is a shining city on a hill.

And, for me, for my -- and it will continue to be so. And I think that the mere fact that Joe Biden has stepped up to the plate in the way that he has shows that the instincts of America are still very much in the right place.

And, yes, look, I mean, there were some weird and kind of unattractive scenes back in the -- you know, back in... TAPPER: People died. I mean, it was pretty serious.

JOHNSON: It was -- it was pretty weird. I won't deny that.

TAPPER: It was worse than weird. I mean...

JOHNSON: Looking from the outside, it was pretty weird.

But I don't believe that American democracy is under serious threat, far from it. I continue to believe that America is the greatest global guarantor of democracy and freedom.

TAPPER: Joe Biden talks about the world in terms of autocracies and democracies, and it's -- this is the big struggle. You talk about it that way as well.

He also talks about the United States is going through that, that struggle, and he sees Donald Trump as autocratic, as somebody who didn't respect the will of the people, who -- there are hearings going on right now. I know you're familiar with them, bipartisan hearings, about all the ways to Donald Trump -- Trump tried to undo the election...

JOHNSON: Yes.

TAPPER: ... undo democracy.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: Jake, I'm going to -- I'm going to take the Fifth on this, because this is -- the convention in...

TAPPER: You don't have a Fifth. That's...

JOHNSON: Well, OK. Well, OK. I was born in New York. But I had to give up my citizenship because it was just so expensive.

But, look, the fact is that we, as friends and partners -- and there are no two closer friends and partners than the U.S. and the U.K. -- we don't talk about domestic -- in principle, we shouldn't talk about each other's domestic politics. And it's -- that's for the people of U.S.

TAPPER: Thanks so much for your time today.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

TAPPER: I really appreciate it.

JOHNSON: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

TAPPER: Nice to meet another New Yorker.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: Yes. (END VIDEOTAPE)

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