Sen. Levin; Dede Scozzafava & Dick Armey on "Face the Nation"

Sen. Levin; Dede Scozzafava & Dick Armey on "Face the Nation"

By Face the Nation - November 29, 2009

SMITH: Today on FACE THE NATION, more troops for Afghanistan but at what price victory? President Obama is expected to announce an increase in troops for the war in Afghanistan Tuesday, but who will foot the bill of a million dollars per soldier per year? And just how does President Obama finish the job there? We'll ask Senator Carl Levin , chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Then we'll turn to divisions within the Republican Party. Is there room for moderates? We'll talk with former Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava, former House majority leader Dick Armey and former Republican chairman Ed Gillespie. But first is the war in Afghanistan winnable on FACE THE NATION?

Good morning. And joining us now is Senator Carl Levin , the chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Good morning, sir.

LEVIN: Good morning, Harry.

SMITH: This new report from your committee that basically confirms Osama bin Laden was within the grasp of U.S. military at Tora Bora in December of the year of 9/11. Had he been killed or captured at that time, do you think we would still have U.S. forces in Afghanistan?

LEVIN: Maybe not. I would say there would be a good chance we would not have forces or need to have forces there. But this has been kind of well known for some time. We took our eye off the ball instead of moving in on him at Tora Bora, the previous administration decided to move its forces to Iraq. It was a mistake then. And I think this report of the Foreign Relations Committee just sort of reinforces that.

SMITH: President Obama is going to call for 30,000 or 35,000 more troops on Tuesday night at West Point to go to Afghanistan. Will he have Democratic support for this move?

LEVIN: I think a lot depends on two things. One is the mission for those troops. If the mission is, as I hope, trying to very quickly build up the Afghan army both in size and in capability and in equipment, if the mission is to give them the capacity to take on the Taliban -- and I believe that will be the principal mission stated -- that would be one important thing to happen for Democratic support. But the second thing which I think there's greater question on is why the additional troops would help increase the size of the Afghan army. When I was in Afghanistan, I was told that the greatest need in Afghanistan is for more Afghan troops.

SMITH: Right.

LEVIN: General Conway, the commandant of the Marine Corps said if there's one thing he would get in Afghanistan, it would be more Afghan troops. The marine captain says that the Achilles heel in Afghanistan is the shortage of Afghan troops.

SMITH: Aren't these Afghan troops, per se, traditionally very difficult to train and difficult to bring up to speed? It's very different from a surge in Iraq where the population was more educated. There's widespread illiteracy there. Is this a do-able mission, if it is, to be to spread the mission to the Afghans?

LEVIN: It's very do-able. The Afghans are known to be fighters. And there's not that kind of ethnic division that existed in Iraq. But what is so critically -- the question, it seems to me, is not whether we should send more mentors and trainers. We should. The issue is how would additional combat forces, additional marines, for instance, in Helmand Province, increase the speed of the build-up of the Afghan army? That's what I think the president is going to need to explain because the key to success in Afghanistan is the Afghan army taking on the Taliban.

SMITH: It sounds to me just from the surface or your explanation that at least initially you're not inclined to go along.

LEVIN: I favored additional trainers. I have favored a real surge in equipment. But the key here is an Afghan surge, not an American surge. And if the president lays out the case for why our combat forces that are going particularly to the south will increase the speed-up of the Afghan army, it seems to me that that would be very, very important.

But we already have more troops in Afghanistan than there are Afghan troops being partnered in Afghanistan. In other words, the shortage in Afghanistan now in terms of partnering which is the key element here, with the Afghan forces is not a shortage of American troops, it's a shortage of Afghan troops. The ratio in Helmand province, where we were, were five Americans for each Afghan soldier. It should be reversed.

SMITH: And speaking of partners, the Obama administration has tried to put the hammer down on the Karzai government. Do you think the Karzai government, a not good partner right now, will -- is getting the message?

LEVIN: I think that the president has done an important job of looking at the relationship between the confidence that the Afghan people have in Karzai government, and success of the Afghan people over the Taliban. He has made that an important point in meetings with Karzai. His secretary of state has done that.

And so I think that a comprehensive look at Afghanistan, which the president is going to obviously make Tuesday night, will include pressure on the Karzai government to end the corruption that is there.

SMITH: Part of the other part of this equation is the declining support from the American people for this effort. The fact is is the al Qaeda is very much not in Afghanistan anymore. If it's any place in the neighborhood, it's in Pakistan. They're all over different parts of Africa. There are plenty of places they can go and find safe haven.

All of this blood, all of this treasure, more U.S. troops lost this year in Afghanistan than at any point since 2001, is it worth the price?

LEVIN: It's worth it providing our mission is to get the Afghan army and the Afghan people in charge of their own future. We cannot by ourselves win a war. We can help the Afghan army and the Afghan police to prevail. But that's the key is whether our mission is to go in there and take on the Taliban ourselves. And then as the Marine commandant put it in this morning's paper, we end up being on the street corner of these villages which is not effective.

What is effective is if an Afghan soldier is on the street corner of these villages.

SMITH: General McChrystal actually asked for about 40,000 troops. The sense is that President Obama will try to get the other 5,000-10,000 from NATO. Do you think he will be successful?

LEVIN: He is sure working hard at it. It's one of the keys here, is not just to Afghan-ize this war, but also to NATO-ize this war. And I know he has made a major effort with NATO countries to get some additional troops. And I think he'll have at least some success and that's critically important.

SMITH: As we said at the top of the show, the estimated cost to keep a soldier in Afghanistan right now is $1 million a year. How should this be paid for?

LEVIN: Well, in the middle of a recession, we're probably not going to be able to increase taxes to pay for it. There should have been, as far as I'm concerned, tax increases long ago on upper bracket folks who did so well during the Bush years. That's where the tax increases should have taken place. But that should have happened some time ago.

But in the middle of this recession I don't think you're going to be able successfully or fairly to add a tax burden to middle-income people.

SMITH: David Obey has talked about a war tax, taxing the rich for this. You think it's a no-go.

LEVIN: I think you could tax the upper brackets, $250,000, for instance, or more, but I don't think middle income America is in a position now where they can pay additional taxes because the economic stress is so great here.

SMITH: And the upper income level is expected to pay a significant cost if, in fact, the health care reform is passed. Do you think there are 60 votes in the Senate in the days and weeks to come to pass health care reform?

LEVIN: I think there's a decent chance that we'll be able to get 60 votes. The leader here, Harry Reid , has done a really good job of getting 60 votes to jump that first hurdle which was a procedural hurdle. But I wouldn't underestimate his capability to get us to 60 votes on final passage.

SMITH: With a public option?

LEVIN: With probably a public option that the states can opt out from.

SMITH: And as long as we're talking about money issues, there is increasing talk now about, especially with unemployment over 10 percent, an economy that seems slow to be creating new jobs even though technically the recession may be over. Should there be a second stimulus package?

LEVIN: If it would work, yes. But I don't think there's a lot of evidence that it would succeed. We have some TARP money that's still available in the tens of billions of dollars which many of us think ought to be put to appropriate stimulus. That is where the stimulus should come. A lot of lending by banks has not occurred, particularly small businesses.

TARP money should be used to insist that the banks that -- particularly that have already received TARP funds, use that money to lend to businesses that are good risks. And there has been some real failure, I believe, on the part of the Treasury to insist upon that, and on the banks to carry out that purpose.

SMITH: I just want to wrap up and just get one thing clear because -- of this big speech on Tuesday night -- should the president tell the American people how this surge should be paid for?

Should he outline Tuesday night?

LEVIN: I think he ought to address that issue, but mainly the mission is critically important and the relationship between the mission, which is to add Afghan troops, the relationship between that and adding American combat forces, if they're not going to be partnered with Afghan troops in the field.

But the answer to your question is yes, he should address that in a very forthright way.

SMITH: And for him to be able to say "mission accomplished" in Afghanistan, what will it mean?

LEVIN: It will mean, I think, greater security for the United States, but it's the Afghans that have got to succeed, and we've got to help them succeed.

SMITH: Senator Levin, we thank you so much for your time this morning. Do appreciate it, sir.

We'll be back in one minute.


SMITH: Joining us now to talk about the Republican Party, former majority leader Dick Armey, Dede Scozzafava who is a moderate Republican and former congressional candidate, and Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Good morning to you all.

The headlines out of the GOP this week, this notion, the Republican National Committee considering a list of 10 principles. Some have called them the GOP 10 commandments, which include things like support for the surge in Afghanistan or opposition, for instance, to the Obama health plan.

As a candidate, if you agree with the eight out of 10 -- with eight out of 10, you'll get support from the national GOP, and if you don't, you're out of luck.


Dick Armey, is this litmus test a good idea?

ARMEY: First of all, it's not a litmus test. Secondly, it is being offered for consideration in the party.

SMITH: Right.

ARMEY: And I think, thirdly, it is seven out of the 10. But if you -- if you read the list, at least five of the 10 are right at the center stage -- center post of the big 10 of American politics today, fiscal conservatism.

I think it's -- if the Republican Party is going to win any future elections, it has to be presented as an alternative to the Democrat Party's fiscal spending. And -- and in fact, it's a very reasonable thing to say, if you want the support of the Republican Party, demonstrate some allegiance to the primary positions taken by the party.

That's not a litmus test. That's just saying, if you want us to give you our money, our support, our -- our troops in the field, our endorsements, then demonstrate that you're someone like us.

SMITH: Ed Gillespie, some have called this pact, or the idea of this pact, because the -- apparently, the GOP will have a -- serious conversation about this over the next couple of months to decide whether or not to adopt it.

Some have called it a suicide pact. Is it a good idea?

GILLESPIE: Well, look, Harry, I think good, vigorous debate inside the party about our principles and our policies is a healthy thing for an out-of-power party trying to make its way back.

I suspect, if you look at those 10 things that a Republican running in a primary for Congress against another Republican, the Republican who agrees with nine out of, you know, those 10 will beat the Republican who agrees with seven out of those 10.

The question for me is, you know, in terms of the -- as a former chairman, as I look at it, what if you have a Republican who agrees with seven out of those 10 things running against a Democrat who agrees with zero out of those 10 things and you want to put some money into a race to try to win back the House and you're constrained from doing that?

I'm not sure that would be in the best interest of the party at the end of the day.

So I think a vigorous debate over these things is healthy, but I also think, as a party, we need to be careful to make sure that we don't constrain our ability to win back the majority.

When I was working for Dick Armey when he was majority leader, we had a lot of Republicans in New York, New Jersey, I think of folks like Sherry Bullard (ph) or Chris Shays in Connecticut who didn't agree necessarily with everything. But we were debating tax cuts and balanced budgets and welfare reform and today you look at the Democratic majority, they're raising taxes, they have government takeover of health care. So I think getting back the majority is important and we ought not constrain our ability to do that.

SMITH: Because in the end, this is what this is really all about. Let me ask Dede a question. Have you had a chance to see this list.


SMITH: And would you have been able to at least agree on seven or eight out of 10?

SCOZZAFAVA: I would have been at seven out of 10 on the list. I had the opportunity the review the list this past week. I would have been at seven out of 10. If people looked at my record and understood how I felt about a lot of the federal issues, I think they could see that I was for lower taxes, lower government spending. I was not in favor of repeal of the 2003 tax cuts. I am not in favor of an estate tax. There were many things in that platform that I would be OK with. And if you look at the "Syracuse Post Standard" and the editorial review board that I went through in Syracuse, and you read the editorial conclusion, you could see they arrived at the conclusion that I was a fiscal conservative. And that's after a two-hour editorial board.

SMITH: Right. At the same time...

SCOZZAFAVA: Cap and trade.

SMITH: Which is also on that list to oppose, cap and trade.

SCOZZAFAVA: Right which I would have been a no on cap and trade. I would have been a no on the health care bill as it's currently presented.

SMITH: Yet a conservative insurgent in your district, you ended up ceding the nomination to him. Is this kind of a list a do or die list in the end counterproductive because in your district, in the 23rd district, which I'm familiar with, if somebody would have suggest add year ago a Democrat would have been elected there, they would have been laughed at. There's a Democrat who's going to Congress now.

SCOZZAFAVA: Well, I think you've got to look at the predecessor. John McHugh's served this district very well. He was a moderate. Some of the positions that I got criticized for taking were positions that John already had. I think it's important that sometimes there are regional differences even as Mr. Armey represented Texas. There are certain things that he voted against that are right on the litmus test, the 10 steps.

So I think there's got to be some understanding. The most important thing we can do as Republicans I think and the leadership can do as Republicans are driving a message that brings us together. I absolutely agree with Mr. Gillespie when we talk about things like fiscal conservatism, lower taxes, less government spending, the pocketbook issues are the things that are most important to people today.

SMITH: Mr. Armey, did it work, the push by conservatives, to try to seize control by the people to seize control which is a sort of one of the ideas of the tea party movement. Did it work in the 23rd district?

ARMEY: Actually what happened in the 23rd district was the Republicans lost that race when they nominated Dede. And my activists on the ground contacted me and said that. The conservative party stayed out of the race until they saw that despite the fact that she has the full and enthusiastic and generous support of the Republican Party, she was losing the race.

She was already clearly falling, dropping like a brick, before the conservative candidate got in the race. So the fact of the matter was even the Democrat was running against her as a big spender. She was a bad fit for that race. Had there been an electoral primary process, she wouldn't have won the primary. She wouldn't have been the candidate. And the Republican would win the race.

That's what I predict will happen in the fall. Probably the most heartbreaking thing of that event was as she found herself falling so far, so fast despite all the support she had, when she dropped out, she endorsed the Democrat. That makes it very difficult for her to come back in this primary that will be opening up for next year and saying I want to run as a Republican. I think she burned a bridge there that will probably not be one that can be rebuilt even with massive federal funds.

SMITH: Let me ask Ed Gillespie this question. Is moderate a dirty word now in the Republican Party?

GILLESPIE: No, I don't believe it is. The fact is that as Leader Armey knows, you know, the 26th district of Texas what it takes to get elected as a Republican where he was from is different than what it might take in New England to get elected or in California. And as Ronald Reagan said, someone who agrees with me 80 percent of the time is my friend.

I think the important thing is we have seen the Democrats elect, you know, moderates who don't agree with every platform, every plank in their party's platform. And in the process, the Democratic Party hasn't moved to the right. If anything it's moved to the left, Harry. If you look at the agenda they're trying to pass. So I think that we can be a party that gets the majority, 218 seats in the House. That has some folks in New England, California, other places who may not agree with Leader Armey or me on everything.

GILLESPIE: But we have an agenda where we're cutting taxes, not raising them, where we're giving people power, not taking it away.

SMITH: Well, let's talk about Lindsey Graham is a frequent guest on this program. His ratings from the conservative union are 90 percent. He's under fire, it was a big piece in "The New York Times" today in South Carolina because he is not conservative enough. Can someone with that kind of credentials be not conservative enough?

GILLESPIE: Well, Lindsey Graham , as you know, has been elected statewide in South Carolina twice now I'm pretty sure. I think he's in his second term in the United States Senate. Very popular. Look, we have a lot of internal discussion in the party right now. And that's a healthy thing.

The fact is because there's a sense of opportunity in the Republican Party that we can win House seats and Senate seats, we have vigorous primaries going on. That is the right problem to have. It's also not constrained, by the way, to the Republican Party.

If you look at the Democrats, you have and some left- wing groups now attacking Democrats who voted against a government-run health care system. So that vigorous debate goes on inside both parties. But I think that if we're doing it in a way where it's healthy and respectful and there's an open process, we're best as a bottom-up party, I think what Dick Armey was saying about New York 23, we had 11 people choose a nominee as opposed to an open transparent primary, that's better for us.

SMITH: Basically the county chairmen.

Dick Armey, some people suggest that the Republicans are fighting a demographic battle that they can't win. That this is going to end up being exclusionary and you'll end up in a position of not being able to take back the seats you want to take back in this next year.

ARMEY: I don't think that's true at all. In fact, the party that responds to the energy that is found in the public -- and right now that energy is found in the small government conservative movement that is looking at some sense of fiscal responsibility. That party that captures their attention will be the party that will win massive terms.

I think the Republican Party is in a great position. Look at the more moderate Republican that won the governorship in New Jersey on a margin of votes provided by the small government conservatives who abandoned their candidate for him because he had a chance to win.

Watch Governor Castle as he runs for the Senate. There is plenty of room for the more moderate people to win elections if they fit their district. But if in fact you nominate a person who can't win in their district, then you should expect that person will lose the election.

SMITH: Dede, let me ask you this question. Do you think you were too moderate?

SCOZZAFAVA: Sure -- no, I don't. And to Mr. Armey's point, I was up by 7 percentage points mid-October. And there was a lot of Washington that all of a sudden -- and the Club for Growth, and the right side of the party that all of a sudden flooded the market, distorted my record, and was very difficult to counter that.

I think it was very difficult for leadership at the RNC not to cave in to the pressures that they were receiving from the right. Listen, at the end of the day, I know my record. I know my district. I've worked closely with John McHugh. And it's unfortunate what happened. And at the end of the day I think I made the decision that was best for the assembly district that I represent, the constituents that I represent here, and the importance of Fort Drum to this area.

I would hope -- in the end, I hope what we can have is an inclusive Republican Party that's focused on fiscal principles. And I'm hopeful that we can do that.

SMITH: And perhaps that is one thing you all can agree on.

Ed Gillespie, I want to wrap up with you. Will the Republicans get a majority control in the House of Representatives in this next election? I have 20 seconds.

GILLESPIE: Harry, three months ago I would have said not likely. Three months from now I think I'm going to say very likely.

SMITH: All right. Ed, thank you so much. Dede Scozzafava, thank you very much for your time this morning.

SCOZZAFAVA: Thank you.

SMITH: Dick Armey, appreciate your input as well. Thank you all.


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