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Former Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly Speaks at Drew Forum

Offers insights into key issues facing America

February 2020 – Former White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly outlined his concerns for America in an appearance at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown as part of the Drew Forum speaker series.

Beginning his talk with his entry into the political arena, Kelly said he originally had no interest in going to Washington, D.C. His wife changed his mind, telling him, “(President Donald Trump) needs you and people like you,” after receiving a call to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

After a bit of history, including an anecdote about asking that his vision and flat feet be ignored when he first tried to join the military, Kelly outlined several issues facing the nation today.

A free press and an informed voter

Gen. Kelly expressed his strong feelings about the need of a free press, saying “they are not the enemy of the people.”

He did, however, note that some news outlets have taken clear partisan sides, and warned citizens to not get stuck in one outlet’s bubble.

“If you only watch Fox News because it’s saying what you believe and reinforcing what you believe, you are not an informed citizen. If you only watch Morning Joe or Rachel Maddow (on MSNBC), you are not going to be informed enough on issues, in my opinion, to make informed choices when you go to the ballot box.”

Foreign powers

Gen. Kelly touched on several foreign countries of varying threat levels to the United States. In China, Kelly found “incredible competitors” rather than an enemy, and was impressed by the country’s attaining world economic and military power.

Regarding Russia, Gen. Kelly referenced their comparatively small economy, a crumbling society and a leader in Vladimir Putin who is most concerned with restoring Russia to its glory days of the Soviet Union.

“Putin is not necessarily a rational actor,” he said. “He’s much more unpredictable than China’s leadership, which is a fact that makes him more dangerous because things could go wrong. He’s much less calculating.”

When it came to North Korea, Kelly was at a loss. “What do you say?”

He referenced on the citizens’ “gulag” living conditions and noted that Kim Jong-un’s nuclear weapons are “what gives him relevance,” lamenting President Trump’s attempts to have the leader give up the weapons. “He played us for awhile, and he did it fairly effectively.”

"Politics is not supposed to be a lifestyle. A member of congress is not supposed to go there and stay there forever."

The future of U.S. politics

Expressing concern over “the people we send to Washington,” Kelly suggested that voters look at the character of candidates first and their politics second.

“Are they willing to go there, if elected, to represent all of us and not just the people who voted for them?”

He hoped voters would end the cycle of automatically voting along party lines without consideration of the candidate and referenced term limits as a potential solution to the partisan atmosphere in congress.

“The most important thing (George Washington) did for our country—and he did it twice—is he went home,” said Kelly, referencing Washington’s decisions to neither seek the presidency nor exceed the two-term limit.

“Politics is not supposed to be a lifestyle. A member of congress is not supposed to go there and stay there forever.”

“Until they decide to retire, their number one consideration is, What’s good for my reelection?”

Immigration

Kelly disagreed with President Trump’s dismissing all Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers.

“They’re overwhelmingly good people,” said Kelly, adding “the vast majority are coming (to America) to work.”

He also noted that there is a crisis on the border when it comes to drugs coming into the country “in immense quantities that are coming up to poison our people.”

While he suggested strategically-placed physical barriers can help mitigate the problem, Kelly noted, “It doesn’t mean a wall from sea to shining sea.”

Infrastructure

Kelly noted the poor and potentially dangerous infrastructure in the NY-NJ-CT region and the Gateway Project aimed at addressing it.

In a familiar refrain, he lamented the partisan politics that played a role in working against the American public, in this case through greatly diminished federal funding to fix the transportation corridor.

“We were very, very close,” he said, to coming up with a “good, though costly program to fix the transportation corridor.”

“Politics got into it. They all argued like children and it wasn’t accomplished.”


Following his speech, Kelly took questions from admiring, inquisitive and opposing voices during a 30-minute Q&A.

Stay tuned to updates on the rest of this spring’s headline speakers.

Earlier this season, Drew Forum welcomed The NPR Politics Podcast, Sen. Jeff Flake and renowned educator and scholar Cathy N. Davidson.

This event was supported by the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation

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