Interview with Rep. Joe Sestak

Interview with Rep. Joe Sestak

By CNN Newsroom - May 5, 2009

Let's bring in Congressman Joe Sestak. He's a Pennsylvania Democrat and a retired U.S. Navy admiral.

Congressman, thanks so much for being with us again, sir.

REP. JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Good to be back, Rick. Thanks.

SANCHEZ: Well, what do you expect to come out of these hearings today that we have been telling our viewers about where we're finally going to hear from the crew?

SESTAK: I think we're going to have much of the same. And, actually, I'm a little surprised and disappointed.

Rick, I have been in government down here two years after I left the Navy, after 31 years. And I find that government tends to -- always seems to shoot behind the rabbit. It doesn't seem to get ahead of the problem. You know, whether it's Afghanistan that now we're putting our weight behind, or whether it's the bailout up in Wall Street, here's my concern.

They say we don't have enough capacity for the U.S. Navy to do this. Today, on the Navy's Web site, there's 104 ships it says that are forward-deployed overseas. We have got four off the coast of Somalia. What are our other ships doing? What are they fighting?

What are they supporting that we can't have more heft there? One way to do this, for example, might be just to convoy the 50 ships that go north once a day and 50 ships that go south.

I'm worried that I know that in the testimony today they said that less than one-half of 1 percent of the 33,000 ships over a year that go near there are ever suspect to a pirate attack. But think about this.

SANCHEZ: Say that -- give me that number again. Say it again.

SESTAK: Less than one-half...

SANCHEZ: Less than one-half...

SESTAK: ... of 1 percent of the 33,000 ships that go north or south have a pirate attack on them.

But think about aircraft. I know this is not a perfect analogy. But there's 10 million aircraft, U.S. aircraft that do a flight every year. Only three were hijacked in 2009. That's 0.00004 percent. And look at how our government reacted.

If we now have pirates doing mischief without crushing them, think if al Qaeda eventually gets involved here.

SANCHEZ: Well, yes, you know what we're doing is, they're getting the upper hand in this situation.

By the way, hey, Congressman, let's look at this person who's testifying. I recognize him. He was one of the shipmates. In fact, this is one of the fellows who came out and talked about how -- just how brave -- oh, now, look, they're showing the video now. They're showing -- Let's dip into this just a little bit, Claude. Let's just see what they're talking about.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And they begin an evasive course. And they're yelling over a voice-activated phone to the engine control room, where the vessel is being steered from.

SANCHEZ: OK. This is the video we just showed our viewers a little while -- did you see that video, Joe? What did think of that? Did you think that crew reacted properly?

SESTAK: I thought -- the portions that I saw, I they were, as normal, a stoic mariner force and crew.

I thought they did the best they can. But, again, soon, it may not just be gunfire. It could be rocket-propelled grenades.


SESTAK: How far does it ratchet up before you say crews -- as I'm hearing the senator over there, interagency of the government, come out with some definition of what type of armed force do we want the private industry to have on this?

In my mind, we're beyond that.

SANCHEZ: Yes. It's about time.

Let's see what these guys are saying again. My producer is telling me this thing is starting to get interesting. Let's go ahead listen in, you and I, and talk about it on the other side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay on the phone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You keep somebody on the phone, so when I pick it up, I'm talking to somebody. You got that? You stay on this phone. Yes, rudders right 15.

SANCHEZ: Oh, that's different audio. That's not the one...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Left 15. He's commanding a rudder movement. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Just keep the right 15. Keep...




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Left 15 rudder. Left 15.




SANCHEZ: For those of you at home, you're hearing a pirate attack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point, they have already been hit by the four RPGs. They have been signaled by the pirates to stop,and they continue sailing and ignore them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) We got another one out here.

SANCHEZ: Chris in the control...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now they see a second pirate boat that they see.

SANCHEZ: Chris in the control room, get me a name on the fellow testifying here, if you would.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know, but, look, we got this one. We got one out here. We got two. They got one -- midships, midships, midships, midships.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the same problem I had.

SANCHEZ: You know, this is -- this is different from the one that we -- we don't know if this is the Maersk or if -- Joe, do you know by chance if this is the Maersk or the Liberty attack?

SESTAK: I do not. I'm assuming it's the Liberty one, because when I saw the portion, not this portion, the other portion, they talked about maneuvering. So, I'm assuming it was that one, although both maneuvered.

MATTHEWS: Was he -- was his description that he gave to the committee there appropriate -- or, pardon me -- not appropriate, but correct as to what they were doing? And they were taking some kind of fire. I think he described it as what?

SESTAK: Yes. They were taking rocket-propelled grenades he actually said. So, there were grenades in this one, not just bullets, they were taking on board. SANCHEZ: So, that -- when he said RPGs, he was referring to the rocket-propelled grenades?

SESTAK: That is correct.

And next time, it could be shoulder-held missiles that could be coming in. This is some mischief they're doing.

SANCHEZ: Does that up the ante, if it...

SESTAK: Yes, it does. Each one can up this.

Look, in warfare -- and I know people -- this is criminal activity, but even here at home you go from a pistol to an assault rifle. It's going to ratchet up if we don't get control quickly.

SANCHEZ: What is the purpose of showing this video to these guys on the Senate there? To...

SESTAK: I think -- the purpose that I heard when I have heard the bits of testimony is that the senators believe that more needs to be done in a direction by the U.S. government, placed in a responsibility of private guards on these vessels, or the Navy is to place guards on these vessels.

You know, we tend to have a layered defense in the Navy, aircraft way out there, then a long-range missile and short-range missile. We shouldn't just be thinking put guards on the ship and wait until they come close.

We need to think about a navy as a ring, and then you have the close-in protection. There's -- and the other question I have as I read the testimony also is, what else is our wonderful, and I mean peerless Navy, doing that we can't move our ships around?

Because, again, I come back to the issue that we maintain navies from the very first day in order to keep the global commerce going. We can't permit a perception of weakness on our part to ever prevail. And if a bad accident happens out there, if something had gone amiss with that incident where our SEALs were so wonderful, maybe we would have a lot more ships there today. Let's not shoot behind the rabbit.


SANCHEZ: Yes, you know, that's interesting. Sometimes, you tend to take successes for granted and then think that the problem is solved, when in fact it's not.

Hey, I would be remiss if I didn't ask you this one more time. And if it's -- if I'm getting to be a pain about asking this question, let me know. Are you going to continue to breathe down the neck of Arlen Specter to make sure that he acts like a proper Democrat? And if not, will you still run against him for that Senate seat?

(LAUGHTER) SESTAK: I think that's Arlen's responsibility to act how he thinks is right. It's our responsibility as Pennsylvanians to judge his actions.

Look, you know, you just saw some brave mariners out there.


SESTAK: I learned in the military you don't run from a fight when it gets tough.


SANCHEZ: Well, what about the -- what about the Free Choice Act or the union vote that he seems to be saying he's going to vote with the Republicans for? If he votes with the Republicans on that, will that sway you to vote -- to run against him?

SESTAK: It won't be that alone.

Look, it's more than just a vote on labor. It's about the working family. What is his -- what's his policy, for example, on education, where Pennsylvania is now right up there with Florida as the oldest state in age of its populace in America? What's he do? What does he want to do for education? How about health care that he derailed in the '90s? How's he going to work for that?

But, more than that, Rick, it's reliability. Will he be with us in 2016?


SESTAK: This isn't -- this appears to me to be, unfortunately, more of the political Democratic establishment that made a understandably, but I think shortsighted decision for expediency here in Washington. What's in it for Pennsylvanians is the question in the long term?


SANCHEZ: Yes, it -- you know, you're on the record. You're watching the guy. You're putting the pressure on him. I think he's hearing you and we will see how this things turns.

Congressman Joe Sestak, always a pleasure.

SESTAK: Thanks for having me, Rick.

SANCHEZ: Good talking to you.


CNN Newsroom

Author Archive

Follow Real Clear Politics

Latest On Twitter