Bill Weld

Bill Weld

Former governor, Massachusetts

Bill Weld is a lawyer and politician who last served in public office as the governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997. He ran for vice president on the 2016 Libertarian Party ticket, and he is focused on reducing taxes and government debt, supporting free trade, and promoting stronger U.S. leadership abroad. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Originally from Long Island, New York, he attended Oxford University and received his law degree from Harvard University in 1970.

China

Weld has criticized China for being an aggressive and disruptive actor on the world stage, along with Russia, but he opposes President Donald J. Trump’s confrontational stance toward Beijing.

  • Weld has said China, like Russia, is not a democracy, “though they pretend to be.” He says both countries pursue authoritarian rule at home and seek to exercise veto power over neighboring states’ decisions.
  • He calls China “inimical to the cause of international law and order,” but opposes Trump’s trade war. He says American consumers and businesses are paying for Trump’s tariffs, “with China simply acting as the tax collector.”
  • He argues that U.S. diplomats at the United Nations and other international bodies must push China to make greater financial contributions.
  • He told CFR that if he is president, the United States “will not intervene in China’s domestic affairs” but will continue to defend its “friends and allies” throughout Asia.
  • He criticizes China’s “thuggishness” in Hong Kong, saying it “bodes ominously for Chinese intentions elsewhere” and calling for U.S.-China talks on the subject.
  • He also said that “we are getting our brains beat in by China” in Africa because U.S. policymakers don’t make the region a high priority.

Climate and Energy

Weld says he has an “intense dedication” to environmental issues and says there is a “pressing need” to act on climate change, criticizing Trump’s dismissal of the scientific consensus. 

  • Weld told CFR that dealing with climate change will be “at the top of my list” as president.
  • He calls Trump’s climate change denial “antithetical to every principle of conservatism.” He likens the climate to the national debt, saying that the burden will fall on younger generations unless solutions are found.
  • He pledges to rejoin the Paris Agreement, which Trump withdrew from, and to adopt stricter emissions-reduction targets. He supports expanding nuclear power and using natural gas as a transitional fuel until cleaner solutions are found. 
  • He backs putting a tax on carbon in order to “let the market decide” how to best achieve emissions reductions. 
  • As governor, he pushed a number of environmental initiatives, including a 1996 law to protect the state’s waterways and expand its protected wildlife areas.

Counterterrorism

Weld has criticized recent administrations for focusing too much on terrorism at the expense of other foreign policy areas, and he has championed privacy and civil liberties. 

  • Weld opposes military measures against American citizens suspected of terrorism, including indefinite detention and targeting for air strikes, which happened under the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. He says these actions were based on “contorted legal reasoning.”
  • He has criticized the wiretapping of Americans’ communications by the National Security Agency (NSA) as a violation of the agency’s legal authority.
  • He previously called for a special FBI task force to pursue domestic terrorists, and he has criticized the FBI for missing warning signs before the 2016 mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub.
  • He has long called for the United States to repudiate torture as a counterterrorism technique.
  • He told CFR that Washington needs to step up the fight against al-Qaeda and its offshoots in Africa, where terrorist groups “pose a threat to the entire continent.”

Cybersecurity and Digital Policy

Weld has recognized cybersecurity as an area of growing importance and says the United States must retaliate against cyberattackers when necessary.

  • He says the United States is under “sustained cyberattack,” pledging to “harden” critical infrastructure like the U.S. electrical grid. 
  • He warns against cyber “infiltration and sabotage” waged by U.S. adversaries, pointing to Russia’s interference in U.S. elections and China’s efforts to “own the world’s communications infrastructure.”
  • He has emphasized the importance of penalizing countries that launch cyberattacks on the United States, arguing that “we need to disrupt the operations of these actors in any way we can within the limits of our free society.”
  • He has singled out North Korea as a country that undertakes cyberattacks “all the time.”

Defense

Weld has called for more modest defense budgets and a reduction in U.S. military engagements around the world while maintaining U.S. military supremacy.

  • He has argued that it is “tremendously important” for the United States to have “demonstrated military supremacy in both air and naval power” in order to influence world events.
  • However, he has opposed military interventions in Iraq and elsewhere and opposes “nation building” missions. He told CFR he would withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan in his first year.
  • He says that the United States “must carefully conserve our strength, using force only where it is necessary.”
  • He says pulling back on overseas troop commitments can lead to savings and that the Pentagon itself believes it has too many bases.
  • He says that the president launching military missions without specific congressional approval is an “evisceration” of the “Constitution’s unambiguous assignment of war-making powers to Congress,” citing 2011 operations in Libya and 2017 and 2018 strikes on Syrian regime targets.
  • He has called nuclear proliferation “the number one threat to the security of the world.” He condemns Trump’s “breezy suggestions” that allies like Japan and South Korea develop their own nuclear weapons, arguing that nuclear proliferation “must be a taboo.”
  • He has raised concerns over Trump’s interest in defense matters, arguing that the president doesn’t pay attention to his briefings.

Diplomacy and Foreign Aid

Weld accuses Trump of “retreating into isolationism,” sharply criticizing him for alienating U.S. allies and not wielding diplomacy and soft power to their full potential. “Allies are force multipliers,” he says.

  • Weld has accused the president of shredding the long-standing alliances that allowed the United States to win the Cold War, calling their value “incalculable.” He says modern challenges, like terrorism and climate change, “demand multilateral cooperation.”
  • He says Trump “openly praises and encourages despotic and authoritarian leaders abroad, while going out of his way to insult and even humiliate our democratic allies.” 
  • He says that “robust engagement in foreign policy and robust use of soft power and diplomacy” are hallmarks of the Republican Party, and that by ignoring those traditions Trump is a Republican in name only.
  • He has emphasized the importance of maintaining allies, such as Japan and South Korea, to help the United States “keep the sea lanes and the air lanes open” as China rises. He has likewise highlighted Western European countries as a bulwark against Russia.
  • He has also supported maintaining foreign aid to developing countries, which Trump has sought to cut, and has consistently defended the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other aid organizations. 

Economic Policy

Weld defends the tenets of fiscal conservatism and small government, pushing for lower taxes, less government spending, and a reduced national debt. 

  • He warns about the growing national debt, calling it “completely crazy” and sharply criticizing Trump and Republican lawmakers for allowing the federal deficit to increase to nearly $1 trillion per year. 
  • He advocates for slashing government spending and the federal bureaucracy. He proposes a “zero base” approach to the federal budget, in which all spending must be justified anew each year.
  • He calls the 2017 tax reform championed by Trump, which cut both corporate and individual income taxes, “pretty good,” saying he’s “never met a tax cut I didn’t like.” He says he would prefer some measures to help the working poor, such as an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit.
  • He also says the United States must “restructure our entire tax system,” and suggests moving toward a 19 percent flat tax on income.
  • He says that automation, rather than globalization, will threaten jobs and wages in the coming years, and he argues for expanding federal job-retraining programs for displaced workers.

Immigration

Weld wants to expand both low- and high-skilled immigration to the United States, which he calls an economic opportunity, and has harshly criticized Trump’s immigration rhetoric as un-American. 

  • Weld backs increased immigration, which he says provides the “human power” for agriculture and construction industries.
  • He advocates for “more and longer” work visas and an expanded guest worker program. He opposes a path to citizenship for the country’s estimated eleven million undocumented residents, but says he would not try to deport most undocumented immigrants.
  • He also criticizes the fact that international students are often required to return to their countries of origin after they have earned degrees at U.S. schools, saying, “We are educating our competition.”
  • He says he would end family separations at the border, a policy implemented under the Trump administration.
  • He criticizes Trump’s proposal to withdraw aid from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, saying that reducing aid will push more people there to migrate.
  • In 2016, Weld called then-candidate Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country “ludicrous.” He later compared it to the policies of Nazi Germany.
  • He argues that Trump’s immigration policies are rooted in racism, saying the president “would prefer an Aryan nation.”

Middle East

Weld has opposed many of the United States’ recent military interventions in the Middle East and he favors diplomacy with Iran.

  • Weld told CFR that he is in favor of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but that outsiders cannot impose a resolution. 
  • He backed the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and told CFR that Trump’s decision to withdraw was “a colossal blunder.” He says the withdrawal makes it harder for Washington to stop Iran’s nuclear development and has committed to rejoining the agreement without any changes to it.
  • He says that Trump’s withdrawal provoked Iranian escalation, including attacks on ships in the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities. 
  • He has been critical of intervening in Syria’s civil war, previously arguing that U.S. weapons were ending up in the hands of the self-proclaimed Islamic State and warning that a 2016 proposal to institute a no-fly zone in Syria risked a broader war.
  • He has criticized Trump for his favoritism toward Saudi Arabia, among other “anti-democratic” countries. “Business as usual with Saudi Arabia has to be over,” he told CFR.
  • He says policymakers have ignored the “rippling effects” of interventions in the Middle East and North Africa. He was an opponent of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

North Korea

Weld’s statements on North Korea have been critical of Trump for an overly warm relationship with leader Kim Jong-un.

  • He says Trump’s “most outrageous performance” has been his “mock bromance” with “cold-blooded murderer” Kim. 
  • He says this is part of Trump’s pattern of “cozying up to dictators.”
  • He told CFR he would be open to some sanctions relief in exchange for the partial dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Russia

Weld sees Russia as a challenger to the rules-based international order, and argues that Moscow is aiming to redraw its borders to “match those of the former Soviet Union.” He criticizes Trump for “ingratiating” himself with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • Weld says Trump’s friendly relations with Russian officials and the Russian state media demonstrate that his foreign policy is based on “anti-American values” and “pro tyrannical dictator type regimes.”
  • He condemns Trump for questioning the value of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), saying, “Putin in his wildest dreams could not imagine hearing that from a senior American official.”
  • He told CFR that failing to help defend Ukraine from Russian aggression would weaken U.S. credibility and divide the European Union. He promises as much military aid “as necessary” for Ukraine and more support for east European defense.
  • He criticizes Trump for pushing Hungary’s Viktor Orban “out of the Western orbit into the arms of the Soviets.”
  • He opposes Trump’s decision to terminate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which limited U.S. and Russian nuclear missile stockpiles, saying, “We have a president who has set out to unravel, rather than promote, arms control agreements.”
  • He accused Trump of “treason” in the wake of reports that Trump pressured Ukrainian officials to investigate Biden family business dealings in the country.

Trade

Weld is a proponent of reducing tariffs and other barriers to international trade, and he opposes Trump’s trade war tactics. He supports U.S. free trade deals and is skeptical of Trump’s attempts to renegotiate them. 

  • “I stand for free trade,” Weld told CFR. He says Trump’s decision to withdraw from Obama’s signature Asia-Pacific trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), was a “huge mistake,” and he pledges to reenter the agreement.
  • He criticizes China’s trade practices but opposes Trump’s tariff escalation against Beijing. He says American consumers and businesses are paying for Trump’s tariffs, which cover hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Chinese imports, “with China simply acting as the tax collector.”
  • He advocates for a return to an international “regime of free trade,” warning that the imposition of tariffs in the 1930s led to the Great Depression. He has said that Trump’s penchant for “huge unilateral tariffs” will likewise hurt the global economy.
  • “Most of the world prefers to do business with America. Why not let them? Free and fair trade benefits all Americans,” he says.
  • He touts his work “rounding up votes” for the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and says Trump’s proposed renegotiated deal, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, is “almost identical.”
  • As governor, Weld led trade missions to Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America.

Venezuela and Latin America

Weld urges renewed diplomacy on Venezuela, where the United States has joined most European and South American countries in recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as the rightful president. He has been involved in policy toward Latin America for several decades.

  • Weld told CFR that the United States should host multiparty talks to resolve the Venezuelan crisis with the governments of China, Cuba, and Russia, which he says are the real decision-makers there. He says he would also bring in Colombian President Ivan Duque.
  • He says the United States should maintain aid to Central American countries after Trump said he would cut it, arguing that the funding will help reduce migration from those places.
  • He served as co-chair of a 2005 CFR Task Force that urged the establishment of a North American economic and security community, with a common external tariff and shared security perimeter.
  • Long a supporter of the NAFTA trade deal with Canada and Mexico, Weld was nominated to be U.S. ambassador to Mexico in 1996, though his confirmation was blocked by conservatives in the Senate. 

This project was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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