Interview with Rep. Anthony Weiner

Interview with Rep. Anthony Weiner

By The Situation Room - January 27, 2011

BLITZER: In Egypt right now, the opposition leader and Nobel laureate, Mohammed ElBaradei, says that "the barrier of fear is broken" -- a direct quote. The anti-government uprising there may only get more intense after Friday prayers. And officials here in the United States will be watching all of this very closely.

The stakes are enormous. Indeed, the future of the Middle East and Israel, for that matter, could be dramatically impacted.

Let's talk about this with Congressman Anthony Weiner, a Democrat of New York.

Congressman, I know you're a strong supporter of Israel. How worried are you right now that a partner in the peace process with Israel like Egypt, that the government of President Mubarak could collapse?

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: Well, you know, there's no doubt about it that Mubarak has been indeed a partner with Israel, but there's also no doubt about something else. Conditions in Egypt were getting worse and worse, and it was almost just a matter of time before the popular uprising started. You know, all of these Middle Eastern countries are to some degree or another pyramids on their point kind teetering there and you wonder how they stay afloat.

What's going on in Israel's north is also interesting. You know, many of us have always thought that Hezbollah in many ways controlled that government anyway, but now perhaps this tumult has led many of the Sunni citizens of Lebanon to say, you know what, I'm not crazy about all this intervention coming from across borders from Iran. Maybe -- frankly, maybe our neighbors to the south in Israel aren't so bad after all.

But this is certainly a remarkable moment in the civic life of the world where these little sparks are setting off changes that none of us thought even possible a year ago.

BLITZER: Because the Tunisia, Lebanon, Egypt, now Yemen, it could spill over, who knows, to Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, other countries. Is this good for the U.S. or bad for the U.S.?

WEINER: Well, look, we always make the mistake in the United States of America in Democratic or Republican administrations alike is we tend to embrace the despot that's least troublesome to us. That should not be the way we view things. I think, in this case, Ronald Reagan was right, that we want to have freedom in these countries and that will ultimately work out to the benefit of the United States.

I thought what Secretary Clinton said yesterday about Egypt was very telling. She was pretty tough. She said to the Mubarak government listen to these protests.

Because ultimately, the more Democratic the Middle East is, the less likely it is we're going to have conflagration and conflicts between countries. That's my view. I hope that turns out to be right.

BLITZER: Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, the new senator, a Tea Party favorite, he told me this week that the U.S. should end all foreign aid, including humanitarian assistance to deal with problems in Africa, including foreign aid to Israel as well.

Do you want to respond to him? What do you think? At a time of great deficit, he says the U.S. simply can't afford to start shipping money abroad.

WEINER: Well, first of all, it's a tiny amount of money, it's less than 1 percent of our budget. And the foreign aid that we provide in places to do things like dealing with drought, to do things like improving stability, to get civil governance up and running winds up being a very smart and inexpensive thing for us to do.

Every dollar that we send in State Department aid or humanitarian aid that saves us from having to get involved with very expensive military actions is a good investment. And frankly, helping Israel fight terrorism in the Middle East is much cheaper than us fighting it here on our shores.

BLITZER: Cause when you add up all the foreign aid, it's still billions of dollars, Congressman.

WEINER: That's certainly right, and I'm not saying that it's no money at all. But I'm saying compared to when we have to -- when we wind up having to get involved because diplomacy is broken down and our military has to be dispatched to keep two sides from warring with one another, foreign aid turns out to be a very inexpensive thing.

I'll tell you something else, it's also very important in Latin America. If we can deal with the drug problem there, some of their strife there, it's less likely we have immigration problems here.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader in the Senate. He's really distancing himself from President Obama on the issue of earmarks.

Listen to this.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: He should just back off. He's got enough to do without messing in what we do. This is an applause line. It's an effort of the White House to get more power. They've got enough power as it is.


BLITZER: Not every day you hear the Democratic leader in the Senate going after the president on this issue.

What do you say?

WEINER: Listen, I'm not in love with earmarks. If they disappeared tomorrow, I wouldn't mind. But harry Reid has a good point and I like the way he said it.

Look, the bottom line here is if the Congress is empowered with the idea that we're supposed to represent our constituents in deciding how money is distributed.

It's funny, all these Tea Party guys and all these new Republican members of the House majority, they express their fidelity to the Constitution, but they want to cede an important part of congressional authority back to Obama. They seem don't like President Obama except in this case where they want to give him more authority to spend money and Congress less.

You know, look, there's no doubt about it, earmarks are not very popular. There are good earmarks and bad earmarks. The good earmarks are the ones I get for my district.

BLITZER: What did you think of Michele Bachmann's replay to the president's State of the Union address? How would you grade her?

WEINER: Well, I have to tell you something. I think it should be taken seriously. I know in some corners some people criticized CNN for taking her live. Let's face it, when the Republicans come to Washington as they do, riding this wave of Tea Party anger with a campaign that's devoid of real serious ideas of what they want to do next, you've got to treat Michele Bachmann like she's a serious voice of the Republican Party.

Now, some of her ideas are just loopy and I disagree with them and I think she personally has her things, but I do think you've got to take that wing of the Republican Party seriously, because if the Republicans are going to govern, it's going to be their ideas that are going to carry the day. They want to privatize Social Security, want to make Medicare a voucher program. You heard Rand Paul wants to slash funding for the National Institutes of Health where we do research into diseases. So I think she needs to be taken seriously.

BLITZER: One final question, very quickly. It was date night Tuesday night. You sat with Peter King, the Republican congressman from Long Island. You've had some feuds with him in recent months. How did that date work out?

WEINER: I can't wait not to do that again.

BLITZER: What does that mean?

WEINER: No, look, I was glad to do it. You know, Peter King and I have common interests in helping out New York, but we disagree on things and to some degree, sitting at a -- it didn't matter as much where we sat at that State of the Union, I think frankly this got a little bit too much attention. The fact of the matter is he's wrong on most things and I'm right on most things.

BLITZER: We'll have him -- let -- we'll get his reaction to that date as well.

Congressman, thanks for coming in.

WEINER: Thank you.


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