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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds special session with Liberty University Debate Team

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo joins the Liberty University Debate Team in a virtual session on Tuesday, Oct. 13. (Photos by Joel Coleman)

United States Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo joined Liberty University’s Debate Team virtually from the Department of State on Tuesday.

The team gathered in the Liberty University School of Law’s Supreme Courtroom for the livestream conversation, which lasted about half an hour. Pompeo gave a brief address to the team before a question-and-answer session.

Secretary Pompeo was originally scheduled to address the Class of 2020 at Liberty’s main Commencement ceremony in May, before the event was postponed and eventually canceled due to COVID-19. He had tentatively planned to meet with the Debate Team during his visit.

In the livestream on Tuesday, Pompeo centered his introductory remarks around the team’s topic for the current competition season, which deals heavily with foreign affairs — “The United States Federal Government should reduce its alliance commitments with Japan, The Republic of Korea, The North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states and or the Republic of the Philippines by at least substantially limiting the conditions under which its defense pack can be activated.”

Pompeo outlined some of the current alliances and partnerships he has been working with during his time as Secretary, including coalitions formed to respond to threats from the Chinese Communist Party.

“I have not found a single alliance structure that is 100 percent, every day, working solely for the benefit of the United States of America,” the former CIA director said. “The very reason one enters into partnership, alliances, agreements, is because there is a solution that is cumulatively better for all of the members. There are always costs and benefits. One has to start with what’s in it for the security of the American people — there’s always a second-order impact attached to that which is what are the costs associated with it for the American people, and finally, there are reputational issues … that are separate and apart from the alliance itself.”

In his address, Pompeo reminded the students that their debate experiences at Liberty will benefit them in various ways later in life.

Liberty Director of Debate Michael Hall then invited students to ask questions, which ranged from how his time in the CIA prepared him for his current role to how Russia factors into America’s foreign policy toward Europe.

One student asked how personal relationships with global leaders can affect international relations.

“Every leader that I have met has as their primary mission of making sure they take care of their own people,” Pompeo said. “The President talks about America First, but we also encourage leaders of other countries to put their country first — we think that’s the right way for nations to interact. We have the central understanding of nations as sovereign, that is, designed to promote and preserve their own interests. We think that can actually lead to a safer, more stable world, and a more prosperous, peaceful world, when nations can protect their own sovereignty.”

Debate Team member Justice Wallenmeyer poses a question to Pompeo during the session.

Sophomore Justice Wallenmeyer posed a question specifically about current relations with the Philippines.

“The reason I asked that question is because I have been doing a lot of research over the Philippines-United States Visiting Forces Agreement (an agreement in support of a treaty to provide mutual support in case of foreign attack),” he said. “It was a great experience just being able to talk with someone that important but also because we have been debating this topic for months and to hear his knowledge on it was very cool.”

Pompeo’s thoughts and expertise advice will be something the Debate Team will be able to carry with them as they continue on with what is so far another successful season. Pompeo was aware that Liberty Debate has a winning tradition as the top debate program in the country and wished them well in the remainder of their season.

Liberty Debate has consistently ranked among the top collegiate debate programs. The team completed a sweep of all three major national titles during the 2019-20 competition season, marking the 10th time the team has done so in the last 14 years. No other university has accomplished the feat even once.

The team travels the country competing against teams from Harvard, Dartmouth, Cornell, Emory, UC Berkeley, the US Naval Academy, Wake Forest, and many more, in tournaments sanctioned by the American Debate Association, the Cross Examination Debate Association, and the National Debate Tournament.

“Over the course of our season, our debate team will debate in three-day tournaments against students from some of the best schools in America,” Hall said. Since 1995, the team has finished first in the national rankings more than any other school in the country, he said. This season, they are looking to continue that pattern and have already landed as the top-performing team in multiple competitions, which have all been held virtually.

“Our teams are doing pretty well,” junior Natalie Robinson said. “We have won two out of three JV tournaments and all three Novice tournaments, so our team is kind of killing the game right now.”

Pompeo previously served as Director of the CIA (January 2017 to April 2018) and was sworn in as Secretary of State on April 26, 2018. Before joining the Trump Administration, Pompeo was serving in his fourth term as congressman from Kansas’ 4th District. Pompeo was the founder and CEO of Thayer Aerospace and also served as president of Sentry International, an oilfield equipment manufacturing, distribution, and service company. He is a former U.S. Army officer, having served as a cavalry officer patrolling the Iron Curtain before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Pompeo is a graduate of Harvard Law School. He is married to Susan Pompeo and has one son, Nick.


Director of Debate Michael Hall and members of the Debate Team greet Secretary Pompeo.