SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom sparred with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Monday night, insisting President Joe Biden is physically fit for a second term as president while refusing to say whether supporters have urged him to run against Biden on the 2024 ballot.
Asked if he believes Biden is “cognitively strong enough to be president,” Newsom said yes, adding that he talks with the president “all the time” and has traveled with him aboard Air Force One.
‘You never answered my question directly,” Hannity responded. “How many times does your phone ping a day, people saying you need to get in this race because they agree with me that he’s not up to the job.”
Newsom stammered somewhat before responding: “I’m not answering.”
Newsom has repeatedly said he has no interest in running for president, saying he completely supports Biden’s reelection campaign. In April, Newsom raised money for Biden during a fundraiser in Washington shortly after the president announced his reelection campaign.
But Newsom has continued to raise his national profile, fueling more speculation that he is laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign beyond 2024. After coasting to reelection as governor in 2022, Newsom took the millions of dollars left over in his campaign account to start a new political action committee.
Newsom said he plans to use the money to support Democrats running for office in Republican-dominated states like Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi. Last week, Newsom said the committee would campaign for a 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution to harden federal gun laws.
Fox News said Monday was Newsom’s first interview on the network since 2010, back when Newsom was the mayor of San Francisco. Since then, Newsom has often joined the chorus of criticism against the conservative news outlet from Democrats who object to its coverage of guns and how some of the network’s hosts have embraced former President Donald Trump.
Last year, Newsom conceded that Republicans were “winning right now” in part because he said Democrats were too timid, giving conservatives the most compelling narrative over the airwaves. He has since opted for a more confrontational style — which includes Fox News. Newsom has said he is a regular viewer of the network. Last year, his campaign paid for an ad on Fox News in Florida and urging residents there to “join us in California.”
“We need more of these kinds of conversations, and we need to not just accuse each other of misleading the American people, but I think confront each other in the context of providing opportunities to address some of the facts that are often omitted in terms of the conversations and topics we choose to pick up,” Newsom said.
Monday’s interview had plenty of confrontation, with Hannity and Newsom often talking over each other. Hannity noted California lost population for the first time in its history as a state while Newsom was in office, offering that as evidence that the policies of Newsom and his fellow Democrats have failed. That includes California’s income taxes, with a top rate of 13.3% that is the highest in the nation.
Newsom pushed back that only the wealthy pay that 13.3% income tax rate. He said that top tax rate was established before he was governor, emphasizing that he has opposed new tax increases on the wealthy, including campaigning against a proposal on the 2022 ballot that would have raised taxes on the wealthy to pay for more zero-emission vehicles and to help fight wildfires.
“I’ve never been a profligate Democrat. I’ve balanced budgets. We make the hard choices. I’m a business guy,” Newsom said.
The interview was recorded previously in Sacramento before airing on Monday night. Hannity defended Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ use of taxpayer funds to fly migrants to California.
“You are an open sanctuary state! Why don’t you embrace them,” Hannity asked
“We embrace everybody here,” Newsom said. “I sat down with these migrants. I talked to every single one of them. They were lied to, they were misled.”
But it wasn’t all criticism from Newsom. The governor said he had a good relationship with former Republican President Donald Trump during the coronavirus pandemic, saying Trump “played no politics during COVID with California.”
“I’ve got a lot of critique from the left by saying that,” Newsom said.
While the interview took up the full hour of Hannity’s show on Monday, the two men still had more to talk about. Hannity said the rest of the interview will air later this week.