Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on “Face the Nation,” Dec. 3, 2023

The following is a transcript of an interview with Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, that aired on Dec. 3, 2023.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to the co-chairs of the National Governors Association, Utah’s Spencer Cox and Colorado’s Jared Polis, and their Disagree Better initiative, which is an effort to encourage civil dialogue among American leaders. Good morning to you both.

GOV. SPENCER COX: Good morning, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we- we like trying to- we like trying to bring civility back- back to politics. Although I have to say, a lot of what’s happening in the world makes that challenging, I think, at times for people. And one of those things I want to dive right into, first with you, Governor Cox, and that is that the conflict in the Middle East right now has inflamed tensions in this country, arguments, and we’re seeing it often play out on college campuses, for example. I know you told state colleges in Utah to remain neutral and stop commenting on current events. You said, I don’t care what your position is on Israel and Palestine. I don’t care what your position is on Roe vs. Wade, we don’t need our institutions to take a position on those things. That just sounds like agreeing not to disagree at all.

GOV. COX: No, no, it’s the exact opposite. In fact, if you look at it, what we actually put out that was voted on unanimously by the Board of Higher Ed in our state, the institution’s themselves need to be neutral so that we can have these disagreements. We want actually more disagreement on campus, there’s a better way to do that. We can disagree without tearing each other apart. That was part of a free speech initiative that we’re working on in this state. We want more students on campus to engage in this type of dialogue. We want more politics on campus. What’s happening, sadly, across the United States is too many of our universities have not followed the Chicago principles that were put out many years ago. They come out with very strong statements, that are very political statements, and end up silencing dissent or disagreement on campuses. We want campuses to be a place of robust discussion. It’s how it was when I was growing up. I think all of us had these wonderful experiences, and we want less cancel culture on campus. So, free speech means that you have to allow for other people to disagree even if those are very unpopular opinions.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Governor Polis, is that how you handle things in Colorado around this issue?

GOV. JARED POLIS: Yeah, well look, the other- the other part of that. The second part is no matter what your beliefs, you should be safe, whether it’s in a campus, whether it’s in a city, regardless of how you express your opinion, you shouldn’t be afraid to walk from one side of campus to another wearing a Jewish star around your neck, or if you happen to be a Muslim American. So, there’s an affirmative responsibility that, of course, our universities have, but also our cities and others. For instance, we just had a major Jewish conference, Jewish National Fund in Denver, major efforts, city of Denver, the state, to keep the conferees safe. And there was also room for people to demonstrate, and they were able to express their free speech, and no one was injured. And hopefully it led to a few conversations.

MARGARET BRENNAN: With- some would argue that there is a moral imperative to speak out. You know, in the college town of Burlington, Vermont, we saw those three young men brutally shot, one may not walk again, Palestinian Americans, we’ve seen the spike in antisemitism well before October 7, but even more so it seems like a deluge afterwards. So how do you balance that in your messaging to the heads of the universities in your state?

GOV. COX: I think it’s very important. And what Governor Polis said is exactly that. It is about keeping people safe. What- you just gave an example where that did not happen. We absolutely should speak out about protecting and keeping people safe on our campuses. That’s very different, Margaret, than- than taking a position on a political issue, which is happening all over the country. And it’s ridiculous what- what has happened- happening on our campuses, when it comes to- that you saw it all the time in fact. You saw university presidents that were very eager to speak out on all the issues of the day, as long as they were leaning one political direction. But then, as soon as Israel and Hamas happened, there was silence across- across campuses, because well, if we speak out in support of Israel, then- then we might offend, you know, a very vocal part of our campuses. That’s- that’s embarrassing, and it shouldn’t happen. It’s better that the institutions themselves stay neutral on the- look, this is not new. This is a longtime thing on our campuses, it should be happening to protect our students so that they can have those robust debates. We want this debate to be happening on our campuses.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, two pro-Israel groups, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Brandeis Center wrote to 200 different university presidents asking them to investigate a group called Students for Justice in Palestine, arguing it’s rhetorical support for Hamas and Governor DeSantis of the state of Florida ordered the removal of support in state universities. That’s- that’s triggered an ACLU lawsuit. Governor Polis, what are your thoughts on that?

GOV. POLIS: So, Margaret, thank you by the way for drilling in on one of the most divisive topics we face today, because if we can disagree better about Israel and Palestine, we can disagree better about everything. And this is a great example and lens to view it through. Part of what the goal is is to get people to stop shouting at another. Whatever the issue is, whether it’s- whether it’s abortion, whether it’s Israel, Palestine, whether it’s the border and immigration, stop shouting, start talking and listening. And that’s the same with this issue. Right? So, there are a lot of people shouting at one another. And now that’s their right, as long as they don’t engage in violence or intimidation. That’s- that’s their right. But I think everybody can have a more productive conversation if we try to get in the same room. What does a post- post October 6th Gaza look like? Who governs it? How can we have security commitments to the Palestinian people, the Israeli people? I think, almost everybody who’s pro Israel cares deeply about the Palestinian people. A vast majority of people that are pro independent Palestine do believe that there should be a Jewish state and the Jews have some role in being in Israel. So how do we have these conversations rather than shouting past one another over what is absolutely one of the most divisive issues of our time, both on campuses and in the broader community?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we’ll see what- where that specific lawsuit goes. On- you brought up the border. That’s certainly also- I’m challenging the premise and I want- I want more civility, but tell me how to do it on some of these things. Because I know that the President was just in Colorado this past week, you are concerned in your state about the spike in migration. I understand you have also bussed migrants to some cities in New York and Chicago, which earned you some harshly worded letters from those mayors there. How was that different from what Governor Abbott was doing in Texas? And how do you get along better with your fellow governors on this one?

GOV. POLIS: Yeah, again, happy to discuss it on policy. Our role in Colorado was helping people get where they want to go. We’re just north of- of Texas, people come up through and obviously we’re not going to detain them in Colorado. We’ve had about 2,000 or 3,000 Venezuelan refugees that have settled in our state. We’ve had tens of thousands that have moved on to where they’re going. But again, I think, you start with, how do we have a conversation about better security at the border? Democrats want that, Republicans want that, President Biden has proposed it. I hope that Congress acts and actually funds better border security. Now, the flip side is it’s not easy. It’s not a soundbite. It’s not a flashy wall. It’s a thoughtful, high-tech approach to border security, asylum reforms, and immigration reform generally. There’s a lot of common ground. In fact, with Governor Cox, we’ve been able to successfully start, through the National Governors Association, an immigration task force of governors. Six Democrats, six Republicans, we are agreeing on principles around border security and immigration reform that will hopefully serve as an example for Congress.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Governor Cox, quickly, has- have you gotten a response to some of those proposals from Congress?

GOV. COX: Yeah, we’ll be putting those out shortly, putting those out publicly. But- but that’s- this is the perfect example, again, a very divisive issue. We put Republicans and Democrats in a room together and we start hashing it out. It doesn’t- this is not about agreeing on everything. It’s not about being nicer to each other, although we certainly need that. It really is about disagreeing in productive ways and finding common ground. We found an immense amount of common ground. We’re still working through some of the- some of the details, but it’s getting very close.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We’ll watch for that. Governors, thank you for disagreeing better. We appreciate it.

GOV. COX: Thank you, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we’ll be back in a moment.

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