Rahm Emanuel, Senator Kerry, Senator Cornyn on "Face the Nation"

Rahm Emanuel, Senator Kerry, Senator Cornyn on "Face the Nation"

By Face the Nation - October 18, 2009

JOHN DICKERSON: With us now, Rahm Emanuel , White House chief of staff.



DICKERSON: I want to start with something Senator Kerry said, which we're going to play later in the show in an interview. He said that he didn't think the president should make a decision whether he adds troops or not in Afghanistan until there's stability in the government. Is the president going to delay his decision?

EMANUEL: Well, it's not a matter of delay. The review will continue. He has had a meeting just yesterday with his national security team or parts of his national security team. And the review will continue the next week and the following week. So there will not be a delay in the review. Obviously what I think Senator Kerry was pointing to, which is absolutely correct, which is the essential part of the strategy or a key component or a leg on the stool, is an Afghan partner that is ready to take control of both the security situation in Afghanistan, and the civilian side of that.

DICKERSON: But the problem is, that partner may not be ready by the time the president is done with his thinking.

EMANUEL: You have got to notice what we noticed, John, which is that is a very important point. And even then, I mean, look, you will have an Afghan government. There are two roads here. One is obviously a run-off election or a negotiated settlement. But what's most important about that process is that there's a credibility and a legitimacy to the government at the end of that process. So which road they choose, that's up to them. It must have -- be legitimate and credible in the eyes of the Afghan people.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you...



EMANUEL: Go ahead.

DICKERSON: The run-off question. A lot of people are concerned it has gotten too cold there. It's too late for a run-off. What's your view?

EMANUEL: Well, there is -- well, I've not been to Afghanistan or -- but what people are clearly pointing to is that it becomes more difficult to have it. You could do it. I think weather is a factor. The most important factor though is credibility and legitimacy. What I wanted earlier to say is what I think Senator Kerry is pointing to, which is important, is the strategic review on whether to send more troops is only one piece of the puzzle, important piece.

But the puzzle is much more complicated than that. Because when you're creating -- what the American force would be expected to do is -- in General McChrystal's report, is create a space and an opportunity for the Afghans to fill. And the question is, do you have a credible partner that could then fill that space that we're asking the American troops to create?

And what is I think clear after the five meetings and the review is that basically this war for eight years was adrift. There really wasn't any build-up of the army, the police, or the civilian side of delivering services to the different parts of the region.

DICKERSON: But let me...

EMANUEL: And so we are starting literally from scratch on that key component.

DICKERSON: From scratch on that key component.

But let's go back to the partner because the partner -- is in our American national interest what happens in Afghanistan, and therefore, are we putting pressure on Karzai to take one of these two roads? This isn't just about the Afghan people. It's about our national security.

EMANUEL: Oh, right. But what would be -- as you probably know, what would be worse is if the Afghan people thought that the course that was chosen was done by the determination of the United States. And then it would lose the legitimacy and the credibility to the Afghan people.

And you are right about that piece. I would add the second point is that -- that, in fact, in Pakistan, you know, they have a different view about whether we should add troops. So there's a -- a decision about Afghanistan has ramifications to the region which is why we have a strategy that's comprehensive in its review.

DICKERSON: Final question, quickly, on our partner here. Is the president going to make his decision on the strategy, including all of those little many legs of the stool, before we have some kind of answer about the government?

EMANUEL: Well, as I said when you asked the first question, the review is going to be ongoing. I think we're getting closer and closer to where the president wants to be. But the review will go on. The Afghan -- obviously the parties will decide which course of action. The most important there, get a government that is seen as legitimate to the people and has the credibility to be a partner in the effort to secure Afghanistan so it's not a haven for al Qaeda or other type of terrorists or international terrorist organizations.

DICKERSON: OK. So I don't hear a notion that there is going to be a delay. Let me move on to this question of having General McChrystal testify. The Republicans really want this to happen. after the president makes his decision on the strategy. Will you encourage McChrystal to testify in front of Congress?

EMANUEL: Well, when the president is going to -- you know, that question we'll get to, the first question is getting the policy and the review correct and then being able to explain to the American people what the president is asking of the country and its armed forces -- and not just the armed forces, but the country, and also what we're expecting to achieve there in a sense of Afghanistan, and then the entire national security team will obviously be available to walk the Congress and the American people through that.

DICKERSON: Including McChrystal?

EMANUEL: If that is necessary, of course.

DICKERSON: Let's move to health care.

EMANUEL: But I think it's the president's view the most important place for General McChrystal to be is in the theater of battle.

DICKERSON: In Afghanistan. Let's move to health care.

The so-called "Cadillac plans" -- one of the things the president supports is taxing very expensive insurance plans. He's getting hit from the left and the right. Republicans say this will mean essentially a tax on the middle class, as insurers pass on that tax. And unions are very angry with you because a lot of them have those "Cadillac plans."

Is the president going to stick by this?

EMANUEL: The president, as you know, addressed subject in the joint session. Because one of the most effective ways of putting downward pressure on health care premium increases is a disincentive to ever-expansive and expensive plans.

And that was seen by the Congressional Budget Office as an important piece of controlling health care costs. I find it ironic because some of the critics on the right were the people that called for, in fact, eliminating the tax exclusion. Now they've become the biggest defenders, which, you know, is -- tells you something about Washington and the debate.

There is a very important way you can design this to protect working families. But it is important to do it in a way that you also achieve the objective that disincentivize health insurance industries from continuing to offer plans that basically just run up costs and premiums.

And it gets to a point -- and a little noted study that was done just this week by -- requested by the Business Roundtable, done by (inaudible) Associates, that showed, next year, no matter what, health care premiums will go up 10 percent, the largest increase in over a decade.

So if you do nothing; if you defend the status quo, you're guaranteed to see health care costs go up by 10 percent, the largest increase in over a decade.

DICKERSON: One of the ways to get those premiums down, some people say, is a public option, create competition. The president has been a little vague on this question. He's for it. But you've got a problem in the Senate, where they say a public option cannot be a part of health care reform. In the House, they say it must be.

The president -- when's he going to start leading and saying, "This is exactly what I want?"

EMANUEL: Well, first of all, John, two points. One is, he spoke to the issue of a public plan and why he thought it was important for competition. Because, in many parts of the country, where a single industry -- a health care company, rather, dominates 80 percent. That's where the largest premium increases are. The public option brings that type of competition and then therefore downward pressure on prices and cost.

Second is, he thinks it's important but it doesn't define the entire process of health care.

Third, to your question about whether in fact we've been involved, and the fact is, you know, as you know, the president's been actively involved, been calling members....

DICKERSON: On the (inaudible) question?

EMANUEL: On the entire process of health care. How else do you think, for a moment -- health care has been debated for -- by five presidents over the last 60 years.

You're at this historic moment, where all committees reported. In the coming weeks, we're going to go to the floor, which has not happened in any previous health care debate. That has happened because of the efforts by Speaker Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Reid, and also the efforts of the White House to continue to move that process forward.

And we're at this historic juncture because the White House, for literally eight months, has been working the process and offering guidance and counsel.

And, lastly, each of the bills, while different in major areas, are very similar, which also tells you why this -- we couldn't have gotten to this point if it wasn't for the efforts put in by all the parties.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you another question off of health care, which is, you cannot have liked this headline in the New York Times: "Bailout Helps Fuel a New Era of Wall Street Wealth."

Bonuses are back on Wall Street. The president has called in bankers in March, and he also talked to Wall Street and said, basically, stop doing this. They haven't listened.

EMANUEL: Well, you've -- you've seen what we've seen. And what is very frustrating, John, is, literally about nine months ago to a year ago, when all Wall Street froze up and the -- and, with it, the economy froze up, they came and the only people that could help them were the government, i.e., the taxpayers, to help bail them out, number one.

Number two, we did that to stabilize the situation. And what's worse is that they literally, after they've gotten a sense of stability and came -- requested the taxpayers to bail them out, they are now literally lobbying against the very reforms that would prevent this very issue.

DICKERSON: So is the president helpless in this case? Can he do nothing?

EMANUEL: As you know, Congressman Barney Frank and the chairman of the Financial Services Committee, a committee I used to work on, has marked up the bill. This week they'll be marking up the consumer protection which is essential to protecting consumers.

The entire effort here is to do two things. Protect consumers from financial fraud and irregularities and from hidden costs and second is to make sure that the financial sector does not take on the reckless type of risk that takes over and literally takes the economy over a cliff.

DICKERSON: Will the bonuses stop?

EMANUEL: Well obviously some companies, it can't. In other companies we can do what we can do within the law. The bonus is an issue because people are frustrated that Wall Street is back to behavior having just basically four months ago been in a different situation and the only way they got out of it is through the good graces of the government and the tax payers. What is most frustrating and I want to get back to this point is.

DICKERSON: We have to leave it there, we've got to go, I'm sorry, Rahm. We've run out of time. Rahm Emanuel , thanks very much.

Let's turn now to Senator John Cornyn . Welcome, senator. You've written a letter to the president. You wrote a letter in September in which you said you found his strategy review puzzling. But given the unstable nature of the government in Afghanistan, isn't it -- shouldn't the president be taking a little bit of time before he goes forward with this troop request just because our partner there is so unstable?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Well, deliberation is a good thing when it comes to fighting wars. But of course we've been at war for eight years in Afghanistan following 9/11. We know that we've got young men and women on the ground now. We've got our blood and treasure at stake there already.

And so at some point, deliberation begins to look more like indecisiveness which then becomes a way of emboldening our enemies and allies and causing our allies to question our resolve. So we shouldn't let one component of this determine our national security here which depends on providing an Afghanistan which denies a safe haven to terrorists as well as stabilizing Pakistan. Those are our two national security interests at stake in Afghanistan.

DICKERSON: Senator, to make sure I'm hearing you right. You say there's the possibility we could embolden our enemies. Do you think that's happening yet?

CORNYN: Well, I think, you know, the problem is, you have to look at Afghanistan also in a global context where we've canceled basically our missile defense system undercutting the Czech Republic in Poland. We've I think not dealt with Iran with the kind of resolve that would show that we understand the nature of that threat.

I think all of these are data points that begin to create a narrative or begin to create a picture that shows a lack of resolve when it comes to our national security. So that's my biggest concern.

DICKERSON: Senator, should President Obama make a decision on Afghanistan if there's not an established government in Afghanistan?

CORNYN: Well, I don't think our national security should depend solely on that. But clearly that's an important part of it. I hope President Karzai understands that our national security interests don't depend entirely on his decision there whether to allow a recount. Obviously the legitimacy of that government is an important component of it. My point is it shouldn't be the lynch pin for us deciding whether we're going to protect our national security interests in that region.

DICKERSON: Turning to health care, you're on the Finance Committee which voted out the health care bill this week. Olympia Snowe, a Republican, voted yes for that legislation. Do you think Republicans will support the final bill and will there be more than just Olympia Snowe?

CORNYN: Well John, we're still waiting for the president's plan. You know, he gave a joint session speech to Congress where he repeatedly talked about his plan, said if you like what you have, you can keep it.

It won't raise taxes on the middle class and it will actually make health coverage more affordable. None of the proposals we see now do that. In fact, all of them raise taxes. They will raise premiums on people that have coverage now. And they will explode the deficit which was recently reported at $1.4 trillion.

In fact, this week, Majority Leader Harry Reid is scheduled to vote on a first installment of health care reform which will violate the president's promise not to raise the deficit by one dime. In fact, it will raise the deficit by $250 billion.

DICKERSON: Do you think it's unstoppable, the health care process as it moves forward? What can Republicans do?

CORNYN: Well so far we've been largely shut out of the process. Almost every amendment we've offered to try to improve the proposals has been voted down along party lines. And what we see now is the democrats who hold the filibuster-proof majority, 60 votes, they're finding differences between themselves.

But I think clearly we could find a way to work on this on a bipartisan basis. But so far the president has let Democratic leaders in Congress basically run the show to the exclusion of any constructive Republican suggestions, which I think could be a way out of this in a way that would actually reduce the costs and make health care more accessible to more people, which ought to be our focus.

DICKERSON: Final question is a political one, senator. You are in charge also of making sure Republican senators get elected. CBS had a poll last week that said 61 percent of Americans want something to pass. Only 29 percent don't want something to pass. Are you worried about being in the category where you only have 29 percent on this question of health care?

CORNYN: Well I think they want something good to pass. If you ask more detailed questions, some of the components of the president's proposal or I should say the leadership's proposal in the Senate and the House are very unpopular. And when people realize it will raise taxes, raise their insurance premiums cost and explode the deficit, they think twice about it.

DICKERSON: All right, Senator John Cornyn from Austin, Texas, thanks very much for being with us.

CORNYN: Thanks, John.

DICKERSON: We'll be right back.


DICKERSON: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry is traveling in Afghanistan and Pakistan this weekend. We spoke to him yesterday during his stop in Kabul. He met with General Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan and I asked him what questions he put to the general.


KERRY: Well, I asked him as many questions as I could in a few hours. I wanted to test his own assumptions and predictions about what is possible here. I think the most important thing for us to make judgments about is what can we really do? What can we achieve?

And in order to achieve what we need to here, we don't just need the fabulous troops we have and their extraordinary ability -- and we have that. What we really need in addition is the government that has the capacity to be able to deliver at a local level as well as do some of the rebuilding of both the national army as well as the police.

And then we need a construction, civilian program, at a level yet to be determined. That's part of why I'm here. I want to know what it's going to take to be able to support the fundamental mission that the president has defined. And I think there are a lot of questions still outstanding about that.

DICKERSON: General McChrystal has essentially said escalate or fail. Does he make that case compellingly in person?

KERRY: Well, I don't interpret that exactly as what he has said, frankly. Escalation is different from a request for additional troops to do a different mission. I think what he's doing is trying to recalibrate the mission here according to what the president has appropriately defined it.

We need to deal with the problem of al Qaeda, make sure that they can't have a sanctuary in Afghanistan and guarantee that we have regional stabilization and particularly focused on Pakistan. The question is, you know, what is the Afghan mix going to be in our ability to be able to do that and how fast?

KERRY: So the general was asked for additional troops to be able to make all of those components work. But it isn't going to be just troops that make them work. The Afghans themselves have to deliver. And in whatever they deliver, they will create the atmosphere for the civilian sector to be able to deliver.

We still have a lot of questions to answer about our capacity to do both of those parts of the mission.

DICKERSON: Speaking of the partnership with the Afghan government, the president is going to make his decision probably in the next couple of weeks.

Is there anything we're going to learn about a government that's been called corrupt and a lot of other bad descriptions?

Is there anything we're going to learn in those next couple of weeks that's going to help the president make his decision?

KERRY: Absolutely. The fact is that, as I am sitting here today, we do not have a decision yet on the election with respect to how the president here, President Karzai, is going to respond. And we don't know what shape the government here is going to take. That's going to be determined over the course of these next weeks.

I don't see how President Obama can make a decision about the committing of our additional forces or even the further fulfillment of our mission that's here today without an adequate government in place or knowledge about what that government is going to be.

So there's some very fundamental questions that have to be answered about the status of the Afghan government.

I think this is a moment for President Karzai to frankly step up and help to share with the world a better vision for how the government here is going to deliver and be a full partner. And -- and so there's a lot that we have still to see unfold with respect to the many components of this mission.

DICKERSON: Senator, people have been calling for President Karzai to step up for months and months. And he doesn't seem to be doing it. What exactly does stepping up mean? What does he have to do?

KERRY: There has to be a reform within the government that is tangible, that we can actually measure and that we have confidence is going to provide some of the differences that I think are essential to our troops to be able to carry out their mission and to the longer- term interests of our country.

You know, as General McChrystal will tell you often, there are three critical components of any counterinsurgency strategy.

One is the security component. Our troops are the best in the world. I have absolute confidence in the ability of the troops who are here, or additional troops, to do their part.

What I'm not yet convinced of is our ability to be able to deliver on the civilian side of this, as well as whether or not President Karzai and his government are prepared to make some of the changes necessary for them to deliver.

Those are absolutely essential ingredients in the ability of the United States to be successful here. And the last thing that I want to see us do is ask more and more of our troops without guaranteeing that we're providing more and more of what's necessary to make the mission successful.

DICKERSON: Senator, do we need to change the counterinsurgency strategy that's been the heart of our strategy in Afghanistan so far?

KERRY: I do think we need to make changes in the kind of counterinsurgency strategy we've been pursuing, yes. And that came out in my discussion with General McChrystal. It has come out in other discussions that I've had here.

I think that, you know, every country presents its own particular challenges, different cultures, different histories, different religions, different people. And different ethnic make-ups in those countries present different challenges.

So I think indeed our response on counterinsurgency needs to be finely tuned to the needs of Afghanistan. This is not Iraq. We don't have a Sons of Iraq here. We don't have the same divisions here that we had between Sunni and Shia.

So we have a very different challenge. And I think General McChrystal is well aware of that. We had a very, very good discussion about some of the ways in which we can recalibrate to that. And I think he's got a pretty good sense of what the challenge is.

DICKERSON: But, Senator, just very quickly there, you're not suggesting scrapping counterinsurgency; you're just suggesting modifying it?

KERRY: That's correct. I -- I do not believe that a counterterrorism strategy all by itself, without a sufficient level of counterinsurgency, will work. Because, if you don't have a presence on the ground that's effective, it's almost impossible to collect the kind of intelligence that you need to be equally effective in your counterterrorism.

(CROSSTALK) KERRY: And, obviously, one of your components of counterterrorism is avoiding collateral damage, civilian casualties. So knowledge and relationships and intelligence are really critical components of that kind of a mission.

I think there's a lot I've learned about how we can recalibrate that part of it. But that's not the whole mission. Counting the numbers of troops is not going to define our success here.

There is no military success, ultimately, to Afghanistan. The Afghans themselves are going to define what happens here. And we have to convince ourselves that we have a strategy in place that empowers them to do that and that is realistic in what our expectations are from them and on what schedule.

DICKERSON: OK. Senator Kerry, thanks very much. We'll have to leave it there.


Face the Nation

Author Archive

Follow Real Clear Politics

Latest On Twitter