By Alex Bregman
In a wide-ranging conversation with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric, former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon, who now serves as the administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA), refused to criticize President Trump’s recent tweets and spoke of a need for more civil discourse when discussing a controversial comment Bill Maher made recently on his HBO show. She also had some advice for Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, if he decides to run for president — something she said she’d be open to seeing.
On President Trump’s tweets criticizing the London mayor in the wake of the weekend’s terrorist attacks, McMahon told Couric, “President Trump really has taken his message directly to the American people through his tweets, and I think he’ll continue to do that. I also believe he sent his sincere condolences to the people of London and promised the support of the United States in investigations and anything we can do. So I think he is doing the right thing.”
McMahon agreed with President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord. She told Couric, “Well, President Trump certainly campaigned against the Paris accord, and I think he was fulfilling a campaign promise. He’s also said, ‘Look, I’m willing to go back and renegotiate this, but this is just not a good deal for the United States.’”
When asked how the accord would impact American jobs, something citied by President Trump, McMahon said, “I think there were impositions, you know, that are part of greenhouse gases, and there were mandates that would be put on them then that does reduce the opportunity of jobs here in our country.”
On the question of why Trump didn’t change the U.S. commitment rather than pull out, something that’s possible under the voluntary agreement, McMahon said, “He could have, but, again, I think he was making a statement that we’re going to look at what’s good for America first.” She continued, “I think it was a good decision to be bold, if you will, and to come back to the table to negotiate further.”
McMahon did not dispute the existence of climate change, something the administration has not been clear about when it comes to the president’s position. She told Couric, “I do think climate change is real, and I do think that man has some contribution to climate change. As to the extent of the science, predictions as to what might happen 20, 30, 40 years from now, I’m not sure we have that totally decided, but I do respect the science behind a lot of it.”
On the subject of any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, she told Couric, “I think what we’ve heard already is there is no proof of that collusion, and I don’t they’re going to find it.”
McMahon discussed her role at the SBA and the concerns she’s hearing from small business owners as she makes listening tours around the country. Among the concerns she citied: high taxes, regulatory reform and health care.
On taxes, McMahon said, “There was a recent study that said small businesses will spend $1,500 per employee just to comply and file all the different tax returns that are required. That’s a lot of money for a small-business person per employee.” On regulatory reform, she said, small-business owners “talk about the volume of regulation. A small-business owner … a small-business operator is often the CEO and the janitor. It doesn’t have time to comply with a lot of regulations if he or she even knows what they are, and they can’t afford to hire a lawyer to go through them all and let them know that they’re not being compliant. What often happens is a regulator will come and visit them from a different agency, find that they’re not compliant, and there’s no grace period. They’re just fined. The dollars hit them right away.”
McMahon urged small-business owners to visit SBA.gov, which is being revamped under her leadership, to get a sense of how the SBA can help.
When asked about how the president’s travel ban and border wall might impact the growth of new businesses, something recent studies have found are driven by immigrants, McMahon told Couric: “When you think about it, aren’t we all immigrants? So all businesses are really started by immigrants.” However, she continued, “I think what we have to look at is we want immigrants in our country. We want those businesses started. We want our economy to flourish, but we are a nation of laws and we want those immigrants who are here to start their businesses to be legal here in our country.”
McMahon and her husband, Vince, were big donors to the Trump Foundation. When asked about Washington Post reports of misuse of funds by the foundation, McMahon said, “We donated our money to that philanthropy. We were making it because we were a friend of then Mr. Trump. We knew a lot of the good works that he had done, so we gave the money to do as they saw fit, and I was not aware of any of the supposed misuse.” She continued, “We gave the money in good faith, and we gave it for projects that I think maybe not necessarily got reported, so that’s how I’m going to think about that.”
Couric also asked McMahon about the possibility of her former employee, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, running for president in 2020. Her advice for Johnson: “Dwayne, do your homework really, really carefully so that you’re up on all the things you want to talk about. He’s a very bright, smart, I can still call him a young man.” McMahon added, “He’s very passionate about what he does, and he’s had some great success, and from what I’ve heard I think he wants to give back. Now I’m not sure what all the different roads that would take, but if he were to decide to do this I think he’d be all in.”
She indicated she’d be receptive to a presidential bid by Johnson: “Wouldn’t you need to be open to anyone who is willing to run for president and who wants to do a really good job for your country? I think you have to be open.”
In closing, Couric asked McMahon about whether, if Bill Maher worked for her, she’d fire him after his controversial use of the N word on HBO. She said, “A lot goes into firing someone on the spot for doing something.” She continued, “Totally inappropriate, over-the-top, for me personally, it would be intolerable.”
When asked if she was surprised by the comment, McMahon said, “I didn’t hear it live. I thought that it was just extreme. One of the things, Katie, that we’ve lost in our country over the past, I do believe, is respect for civility, not only for our fellow man, but for offices, especially for the office of the presidency.” She continued, “First of all we have to have personal respect, but we have to have more civility in our society, and from business to business, whatever it is, I think we’ve just lost a lot of our civility. I would like to see a lot of that come back. And I try to instill that within my grandchildren.”
When asked whether the president demonstrates that civility, McMahon said, “I’m not so sure I agree with that. I think this president was hired as a disrupter, and I think he’s given a lot of straight talk. So you’d have to take the measure of that, and I think every person has to have within themselves how they digest information that they receive.”
When asked if there’s “a difference between being a disrupter and a disrespecter,” McMahon said, “Clearly I do, but I’m not necessarily saying that that’s what our president is. I do think he has great respect for the laws of our country, for the institution of our country, and he wants nothing more than to see it succeed.”
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