Interview with Representative Barney Frank

Interview with Representative Barney Frank

By The Situation Room - June 15, 2011

BLITZER: President Obama's been getting serious flak from both parties over the U.S. military operation in Libya. But in the fight over the so-called War Powers Act, some Democrats have been especially tough on the commander in chief.

BLITZER: And joining us now Congressman Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts.

Congressman, as usual, thanks very much for coming in.

FRANK: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, the White House now says the War Powers Act does not apply to what's going on in Libya right now. You're familiar with their arguments, what say you?

FRANK: I'm very disappointed. I'm disappointed that the president has been debating it. There's this thing where you become president and they tell you you're the commander in chief of the free world and your judgment erodes.

They ought to understand, committing American military forces is enormously expensive, it has all kinds of implications. I do not understand why presidents continue to think that they should do this without bringing in the broader sector of the electorate through the Congress.

And apparently, from what you read me, they're saying these aren't hostilities because we're only shooting people and they're not shooting back. That's just an embarrassing degree of evasion. We are in there engaging in war-like activities, and, yes, there's a chance that people are getting hurt.

And what I don't understand is why this office accepted this view that a president ought to be able to do whatever he wants with the military without any regard of what the rest of the government wants. And that's a terrible doctrine.

BLITZER: What about the substance -- forget about the War Powers Act for a moment, do you agree that the U.S. should be protecting civilians, Libyan civilians, from Gadhafi's forces?

FRANK: No, I think that England should and France and Italy and Germany and Spain. Gaddafi is a thug, and I hope he is thrown out, but you cannot have the American taxpayers to be the ones to do everything everywhere.

We are bearing the brunt in many parts of the world. And I am for America taking that leadership role, but the notion that -- and Secretary Gates got it right last week when he talked about NATO, in my words, being almost a sham -- the notion that if there was any evil anywhere, it's the American military and the American taxpayer's job to deal with it is -- is terribly mistaken.

We spend more than twice as much as a percentage of our gross domestic product on the military as any of our NATO allies, three times as much as most of them, and there is a time when it's their turn.

And so the question is twofold. Should somebody go after Gadhafi? Yes. Should it always be America? Should we be doing Iraq and Afghanistan, and should we be the ones protecting Western Europe from the no longer existent communist threat?

The single biggest thing driving our budget deficit is not Medicare. We spend about $568 billion a year on Medicare. We're spending $700 billion on the Pentagon, much of it on things that are not directly related to our security and are being done to let our wealthy allies off the hook from doing their own responsibilities.

BLITZER: I know you disagree with the president as far as Afghanistan is concerned, as well. He wants U.S. troops to stay there through the end of 2014 at a minimum. You know it's costing well over $100 billion a year to maintain 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

What would you tell him?

FRANK: That he's gravely mistaken, that the good we are doing is not nearly worth it, that you cannot -- look, we are not defeating an enemy over there anymore. We are trying -- we are told we're there to contain terrorism.

Well, if Afghanistan was no longer the refuge for some terrorists, then it would be Yemen, then it would be Sudan, then it would be Somalia. We cannot, with American troops, plug every rat hole in the world.

And I am not going to be told that I can't have police officers on the streets here or that we've got to cut medical care. Or, by the way -- I'm no isolationist -- that we can't stop children from starving in much of the rest of the world, that we can't fight terrible disease in most of the rest of the world, because we're spending such an enormous amount of money in Afghanistan, where we have, I believe, a corrupt regime and a regime that's not prepared to cooperate with us.

So I think he is gravely mistaken in staying in Afghanistan, even more gravely mistaken in not immediately withdrawing from Iraq. The thing about staying in Iraq so that the American military can referee religious and political disputes, it's not a good job for our military.

And again, you cannot tell me seriously that you want to reduce the deficit and spend $150 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan, and another $550 billion elsewhere, when we are doing unnecessary things unwisely throughout the world.

BLITZER: At the Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire the other night, Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker, a man you know, he said this about legislation that you co-sponsored. Let me play the clip.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Obama administration is an anti-jobs, anti-business, anti-American energy, destructive force. And we shouldn't talk about what we do in 2013. The Congress, this year, this next week, ought to repeal the Dodd/Frank bill, they ought to repeal the Sarbanes/Oxley bill. They ought to start creating jobs right now, because for those 13 million Americans, this is a depression now.


BLITZER: All right. Go ahead and respond to the former Speaker.

FRANK: Well, Mr. Gingrich would forget that under his leadership, we totally deregulated all sorts of financial activity. We had the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, rivaling it if we hadn't taken steps, because we had total deregulation.

And here's what he's talking about. Do not have an independent consumer bureau, let the Federal Reserve be in charge of consumer protection. Do not do anything about speculation. The position Mr. Gingrich is advocating -- we put legislation on the books last year to be used this year to say that speculators cannot go up and buy oil futures, hold it off the market until the price goes up, and then sell it.

We want to put an end to the speculative impact on oil prices, which many believe is at least $20 a barrel. He wants to undo this.

He wants to go back to exactly what happened that caused the terrible crisis. So the notion that by trying to restrain derivatives, trying to restrain mortgages that shouldn't have been granted -- part of this bill says you can't get a mortgage if you are not going conceivably going to be able to pay it back. What Mr. Gingrich apparently says is that those policies that led to this terrible economic crisis were OK and let's go back to it. And he's apparently defending the rights of the large financial institutions, the banks and investment houses, to do whatever they want as long as they make money, regardless of the negative consequences on the economy.

BLITZER: One final political question, Congressman, before I let you go. It involves Mitt Romney, arguably the Republican front-runner right now for the Republican presidential nomination. Back in June, 2007, you told New England cable news this about your former governor: "The real Romney is clearly an extraordinarily ambitious man with no perceivable political principle whatsoever. He is the most intellectually dishonest human being in the history of politics."

Do you remember saying that?

FRANK: I do. And he's confirmed it since.

But I have a little sympathy for him. Apparently, he has spent so much of his money, that he can no longer afford ties. Poor Mitt has not been seen in a tie in several months. So I am going to take up a collection to buy some ties for Mr. Romney.

And he's cut all his ties to his past policies, but I would like to see if we could get him a tie to put around his neck, because he's going around without any tie. He kind of looks a little bit underdressed.

BLITZER: I'll take that as you stand by those earlier comments.

FRANK: Oh, there's no question. No, he has made it worse. He's flip-flopped even more.

This is a man who in 1994, said he would be a better gay rights advocate than Ted Kennedy, a total reversal. He's flipped on abortion. He's been back and forth on the question of a health care mandate.

I cannot think of a public policy -- the only consistent principle of Mitt Romney is he thinks he should run the world.

BLITZER: Congressman Frank, thanks very much for coming in.

FRANK: You're welcome.


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