Interviews with Sens. McConnell, Paul & Reps. Kucinich & Ruppersberger

Interviews with Sens. McConnell, Paul & Reps. Kucinich & Ruppersberger

By John King, USA - June 15, 2011

So let's explore the changing politics and the strange bedfellows' aspect of that shift with two members of Congress at the forefront. Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. Congressman Kucinich, I want to start with you because you filed this lawsuit over Libya.

The president sent up a packet of information tonight including a legal memo asserting the administration is not in violation of the war powers resolution. He says what's happening in Libya does not meet the bar for hostilities abroad. Do you agree?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO: No. Our lawsuit, by the way, addresses Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution and the War Powers Act and we assert that the president has violated both the Constitution and not coming to Congress and the War Powers Act and not getting approval from Congress within the requisite 60 days.

KING: And so you're not swayed tonight at all.

KUCINICH: No. I mean I've seen the argument already, John. It just -- it doesn't pass legal muster. And I think that when we get to court with this if we can get standing, we will win.

KING: Senator, do you share that opinion? Is the commander in chief of the United States in violation of the law?

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Yes. I agree completely with Congressman Kucinich and I think people on the left and the right can both believe in the Constitution and our founders were very specific. They wanted the initiation of war to be by Congress. They say Congress shall declare war, but they didn't want the president to be able to go to war unilaterally without any congressional authority. In fact, candidate Barack Obama said exactly that in 2007. We wish the president would act more like the candidate Obama.

KING: Any concern to each of you gentlemen, Senator, you first on this one -- any concern at all that by publicly talking about your position right now when some believe the military operation is near a tipping point that you could embolden Gadhafi? That he could think the president of the United States has a political problem back home, I should hang on?

PAUL: No and I have never been a fan of Colonel Gadhafi. In fact I think we shouldn't have been sending him money. Many of the people who now want to attack and get rid of Gadhafi supported the bank bailout which sent the Libyan national bank money through AIG. So we've been sending foreign aid and money to Libya and I think that's been a mistake for years. And now we are going to fight a war against him but most specifically we cannot and should not fight war unless we do it through congressional action as the Constitution intended.

KING: Any concern Congressman Kucinich that Gadhafi could make the case I'm going to hang on, America is getting soft.

KUCINICH: Listen, there are lot of people in the world that we would prefer weren't presiding over their governments. But our first challenge is to abide by our Constitution and when we fail to abide by the Constitution everything else that follows is going to be poison. So we must go back to the founders' wisdom, which was to separate the war power from the executive and to -- and to have it firmly reside in the hands of the Congress. And that's what -- why we went to court today, John, and I'm hopeful that we will get a decision that once and for all we will establish that the founders intended for Congress to have the war power that no president can take this country into war on his own instance.

KING: We're having new pressure on Afghanistan as well. Senator Paul you are among 27 senators who wrote a toughly worded letter to the president today saying Mr. President, bin Laden is dead. The Afghan government is corrupt. Nation building is an idea that will not work. It is time to accelerate the drawdown of U.S. troops. Secretary Gates was on Capitol Hill today. He said he understands the frustration that you have, the frustration the American people have nearly a decade into this war, but he said there is a but involved to coming out so fast and he says it is a big but. Listen.


GATES: I know people are frustrated. The country has been at war for 10 years. I know people are tired. But people also have to think in terms of stability and in terms of the potential for reconstitution, what's the cost of failure.


KING: That was George W. Bush's defense secretary, Senator Paul. Should you listen to him when he says he needs a little more time?

PAUL: Well I think when you go to war you have to have objectives and I agreed with going to war with Afghanistan and had I been here I would have voted to go to war with Afghanistan, but our objectives should be to disrupt the terrorists' bases, to annihilate al Qaeda, and to eliminate their leadership. I think we have largely succeeded in those objectives. There is another reason why you have to reconsider.

One, we are not very good at building nations. It is very expensive and our infrastructure in our country is crumbling. We have bridges we need in Louisville. We have bridges we need in Cincinnati. And we can't afford to be building bridges in Afghanistan. So we do have to reconsider our policy and it is also how conservatives and liberals can come together to say how can we balance this budget. You can't do it with a foreign policy that's everywhere all the time. We need to obey the Constitution and we need to think about some of our interests here in our country.

KING: Congressman Kucinich, you have been an anti-war member of Congress for quite some time. What do you make of this shift? There is a significant shift. I wouldn't say it's passed any tipping point, but we do see a significant shift of a number of Republicans questioning whether they question the policy or whether they question the financial aspect. What do you make of what's happening on Capitol Hill?

KUCINICH: Well I want to agree with Senator Paul, what he just said, and the shift that you are witnessing is a very significant shift. And it is going to change the outcome of 2012 elections. Because what's happening is that in the Republican Party you have members who are committed to the Constitution and in the Democratic Party you have members who are really concerned about the rising cost of these wars.

And we have people coming together on the Constitution and the issue of the cost and I think what happens as you see that confluence happening, John, it is going to change the outcome of Libya and of many other equations, Iraq, Afghanistan. Listen, we're spending trillions of dollars at war as our domestic economy is falling apart, bridges, roads, water systems, sewer systems need repair. We have to start taking care of things here at home.

And I think that more and more members have that awareness and they just see these wars as being -- as being dangerous to our national security. Not enhancing our national security because they are eroding our ability to deal with things here at home.

KING: Senator Paul, let me close on that point. Congressman Kucinich just mentioned he thought this would impact the 2012 campaign. A lot of Republicans share that opinion, but not in a positive way. Senator Lindsey Graham, the conservative senator from South Carolina, was referring to something Governor Romney said in our debate the other night about getting troops out of Afghanistan as soon as possible.

Your father, Congressman Ron Paul has made that case for quite some time. Jon Huntsman, another Republican candidate for president, says it is time to get out of Afghanistan. Here is what Lindsey Graham says about that. He says quote "From the party's point of view, the biggest disaster would be to let Barack Obama become Ronald Reagan and our people become Jimmy Carter." Senator Graham thinks the Republicans will look soft and weak here.

PAUL: Well I think the interesting thing is that since 2008 a lot of candidates are actually coming the way of Ron Paul. Michele Bachmann also said on television that we shouldn't go to war in Libya without congressional authority. Haley Barbour talked about -- a little about some of the troops coming home from Afghanistan. There may be varying degrees but many Republicans are having questions now --

KING: Are John McCain and Lindsey Graham, are they wrong? Are they out of the mainstream?

PAUL: I think we have a difference of opinion. And the Republican Party, there are some who believe that the president should have unlimited or inherent powers to commit war and then there are those of us who think the president should be restrained by the Constitution that Congress should declare war as was intended. This is just a difference of opinion.

But the Republican Party is not monolithic and there's a growing movement within the Republican Party. "The New York Times" this week had a poll that had 46 percent of Republicans saying we need to have a reduced footprint in Afghanistan, so I think you will see candidates coming towards Ron Paul and I think that's what you saw in the debate the other night.

KING: Senator Rand Paul, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, remarkable just to see the two of you together nodding your heads in agreement so much. Appreciate your time tonight, gentlemen. We will stay in touch in the days ahead.

And still ahead here tonight Pakistan angers the White House by detaining the informants who helped the United States find Osama bin Laden. But next, does the president's legal argument on Libya hold water or do his public statements, his own public statements undermine the White House case.



Let's dig deeper on this latest test of U.S./Pakistan relationships with the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, C.A. Ruppersberger, and "The New York Times" reporter who broke this story, Eric Schmitt.

Congressman, I want to start with you. You were in Pakistan just last week. What was the government's explanation --- when you met with our military, when you met with the ISI officials, what was their explanation for arresting, detaining five people who helped the United States find bin Laden?

REP. C.A. "DUTCH" RUPPERSBERGER (D), MARYLAND: Well, to begin with, they told us that they felt that these individuals were working against their own government.

KING: What did you say back?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, the first one thing, what we said back and we were going to acknowledge -- if they were working for us at all. We know why we cannot do that. What we said to them, though, was -- that these were individuals that were attempting to help fight the war against terror, to try to help Pakistanis and to help them in fight the war against terror.

And my issue was -- what we also communicated to them, why are you looking for people to help bring bin Laden to justice? Why aren't you looking for people who had knowledge that bin Laden, the top terrorist in the world, was living in Pakistan very close to your capital? The response back to them.

KING: Well, Eric Schmitt, that raises a big question here. What is the top priority of the Pakistani government, especially intelligence service, by detaining five people who helped the United States?

They are sending a pretty chilling message to anyone out there who might be asked by the United States for help in the future.


And what this shows is how fractured relationship there is right now between the United States and Pakistan, the security services. Here you have the Pakistani spy agency detaining these individuals, clearly, concerned about what ties these individuals might reveal to the United States, that the Pakistanis have to these militant groups, perhaps, even connections with the spy agency and the military to bin Laden himself in this compound.

KING: And, so -- Eric, to you first, and then to you, Congressman. What's the impact? What's the impact to this? If you have the Pakistani intelligence, the Pakistani military looking for people who helped the United States -- and, Congressman, you made the point, instead of looking for people on the other side of the war on terrorism -- Eric, how does the impact affect continued intelligence operations, maybe cooperation on drone strikes or military strikes?

SCHMITT: Well, John, it's not good. That's for sure.

I mean, again, what this shows is right now this relationship is really teetering on the edge. And when you have a situation now where the informants for -- a raid of -- on somebody as big as bin Laden can be detained, this undercuts much of the other type of cooperation that Leon Panetta, the CIA director, was in Islamabad just on Friday to try and reinforce. They are trying to -- the United States and senior officials are trying to salvage this key part of the relationship, the intelligence sharing and counterterrorism aspect which is still essential right now for the United States.

KING: And so, Congressman, can it be salvaged?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, the reason that Chairman Rogers and I went to Pakistan was to try to salvage the relationship. And we pointed out to Pakistan that we need to work together because we both have the common enemy of terrorism. And we cannot continue the way the relationship is now.

Chairman Rogers and I also pointed out that Congress controls the money. And we're not sure whether or not Congress can continue to give money to Pakistan when, in fact, that money isn't being used where we think it should go.

KING: And so, are you going to put strings on that money now?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, at this point, we had let it be known that we want more accountability of where the money is going to be going. And that was the -- that was the purpose of our visit and our communication with them.

KING: And, Congressman, let me stick with you for a minute.


KING: It's a simple question. If you are -- Americans sitting at home in the living room watching this, should the United States government, should an American citizen, trust the Pakistani government right now?

RUPPERSBERGER: I would say that from past actions, that probably shouldn't. But let me say this: we need Pakistani government to work with us because as long as we are in Afghanistan, we take our munitions and we take our supply through Pakistan to go to Afghanistan.

We pointed out to Pakistan that you must work with us. You have people who are being killed by terrorists also.

But this -- the fact that they were so upset we did not tell them about the bin Laden raid, this is an opportunity now to reset that relationship.

But as members of Congress, we are going to hold them more accountable especially as it relates to money.

KING: But, Eric, if they are detaining people who helped the CIA, helped the United States, find bin Laden, that certainly raises suspicion, if you will, on the bigger question. How high up in the government did somebody know bin Laden was there in the first place?

SCHMITT: Exactly, John. And that's exactly what American officials are still looking at right now. They repeatedly say they have no evidence so far to indicate any senior Pakistani military intelligence officials knew about bin Laden and bin Laden living there. But I think they are -- quietly, they are piecing together the information that they are getting. We are -- it was included in the documents, they took away from the compound and from other types of intelligence they are collecting. They are building a case right now.

KING: Congressman Ruppersberger, how high does it go?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, let me say this. We do not have evidence or intelligence at this point that shows that the leadership and Pakistani intelligence or army had knowledge of the -- that bin Laden was living where he was. But it seems to me that somehow, some way, people within the government or the military knew he was there. That's what we're investigating. That's what they're investigating.

But we need to reset this relationship because it has gone south and we are trying to bring it back right now. We need it more accountability from them if we are going to continue to fund Pakistan and especially the area of intelligence.

KING: Eric, so the sense is going forward. You hear the congressman make the case. This is a frustrating relationship. At times, people on the United States, on this (ph) relationship, get quite angry and disappointed.

But as he also noted, it's a necessary relationship. When you talk to your sources in the intelligence community, how do they think? What do they think needs to be done to fix it?

SCHMITT: What they're talking about are setting benchmarks. That is small things that the Pakistanis can do, in terms of helping in intelligence sharing on specific cases. One of these cases that they tried the other day was to give the Pakistanis some intelligence on some IED factories. By the time Pakistani forces got to those factories, however, they had cleared out. So, there was concern that that information had leaked all the way around.

So, even the small little test cases that they are trying right now seem to be going awry. So, it's going to be very small steps right now to rebuild some of the confidence and trust.

KING: Not much trust at all on a very critical relationship.

Eric Schmitt of "The New York Time," Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger -- appreciate your time, both of you, gentlemen.

Next here: why a top senator says why a pair of prisoners shouldn't be put on trial in his home state and should instead immediately go to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.


KING: Since the beginning of the Obama administration, there has been a heated debate about where to hold trials for 9/11 terror suspects currently at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Now, a leading Senate Republican says he wants terror suspects arrested in his home state transferred to Gitmo and tried there.

The Kentucky Republican and Senate Republican leader Mitch O'Connell joins from us Capitol Hill.

Senator, why? These two suspects were arrested here in the United States. The track record is arrested here, tried here. Why do you think they should go to Gitmo?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Well, you know, a few years ago, John, we set up military commissions, statutory process, for trying foreign terrorists -- typically captured overseas. These are not American citizens. Their offense occurred in Iraq against Iraqi citizens.

You can put foreigners in U.S. Article III courts, but the question is: should you? The answer is: you should not, for a whole variety of reasons.

Number one: You bring the war on terror to Bowling Green, Kentucky. You have security problems with regard to the judge, the prosecutor, the jurors. You have security problems at the local government, ends up having to pick up related to the transferring of prisoners back and forth between the jail, if you will, or the prison, and -- the court system. There's no reason for American communities to be subjected to this.

You remember the administration thought about doing it with KSM, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11. He is at Guantanamo. They were going to take him to New York and be tried there. You saw the reaction of New York to the possibility of this foreign terrorist being tried in New York.

You're going to have the same reaction in Bowling Green, Kentucky. This is not a place for these cash characters.

KING: I think the administration would argue KSM is a higher profile than these two guys.

But let's focus on the Justice Department. You mentioned the possibility of security problems, retaliatory strikes. The Justice Department says they simply see no evidence of that.

Here's their statement. They said, "Since 9/11, there have been hundreds of defendants convicted in our federal court system of terrorism or terrorism-related violations in none of these cases has a judicial district suffered retaliatory attacks."

Why are you worried about Bowling Green now?

MCCONNELL: Well, that's precisely what happened in Alexandria. They got it wrong once again. Over in Alexandria, Virginia, it created enormous problems when one of terrorists was tried over there.

The Justice Department is simply wrong here. This ought not -- these are not American citizens. They are not entitled to the protections of the Bill of Rights. The focus ought to be on interrogation and detention, not prosecution.

Maybe after interrogation and detention occurs at an appropriate place like Guantanamo, off of U.S. soil, some kind of prosecution might be in order. And the way to do that, of course, at that point, would be military commissions, which were set up specifically for the purpose.

So, the answer to Justice Department is: you can make these trials occur in Bowling Green, Kentucky. But you shouldn't. And there's no reason to.

KING: I want to shift your subject to other issues. You are the leader of Senate Republicans. One of the big debates on Capitol Hill is: does the president have the legal authority to continue the military operations in Libya?

The White House has just sent up this memo. I have it right here, making the case the United States is not acting alone. The United States does not have ground troops on the ground, and the president, therefore, is not subject to the War Powers Resolution. Is he?

MCCONNELL: Well, you know, there are different points of view in the Senate Republican Conference about the president's authority in a situation like this.

KING: What does the leader think?

MCCONNELL: Well, I have a lot of members in a lot of different places. And I'm not going to announce to you tonight my view of that. We all agree that there won't be any American soldiers on the ground. That's good.

We all agree it's better for the Americans to be in a supporting role. That's good.

We don't have a unified conference position on the question of whether or not the president has the authority to do it.

KING: This memo says $1.1 billion just for the Defense Department. There are some additional costs for the State Department; $1.1 billion for the Defense Department through the end of September. Is that a price worth paying for the American people right now?

MCCONNELL: Well, Senator McCain, who has been to Benghazi and Libya, advises us that the rebel group, the group we obviously hope will take over the government here at some point, believes that the U.S. government should be reimbursed for its expenses. We think that's a good idea. Apparently, Libya has a lot of money -- as a result obviously of their oil revenue and we would hope and expect we would be repaid.

KING: Let me ask you on that issue. One of reasons this comes up is that a lot of negotiations, a lot of political pressure to do something about the deficit and then the long-term debt. You are part of those negotiation was the White House right now, which wants Congress to give it the blessing to raise the government's ability to borrow, to raise the debt ceiling.

Some see a potential opening yesterday. You were among the senators who voted with your colleague, Senator Coburn, to try to eliminate ethanol subsidies. And what a lot of people are saying that was Republicans right there saying, some tax increases, taking some tax benefits away, which ultimately is a tax increase, are OK if the goal is to reduce the deficit.

Is that now on the table, tax increase?

MCCONNELL: Well, you have a problem -- if you do tax reform, broad tax reform, which I'm in favor of doing, it's a complicated process. We've got about a month to six weeks here to work out some kind of agreement to cut spending in connection with the president's request of us that we raise the debt ceiling.

I don't think that we have the time to do comprehensive tax reform which we ought to do. But I don't think we have the time to do that in connection with this particular event right ahead of us, which is his request of us to raise the debt ceiling.


KING: But what about some limited -- Leader McConnell, excuse me -- what about some limited tax increases, like maybe a revisit on the ethanol, maybe the oil industry subsidies the president has talked about?

MCCONNELL: If I may answer -- we're not doing tax increases in this discussion related to raising the debt ceiling. This is about spending too much. We have this problem because we spend too much, not because we tax too little. We're willing to look at the issue of tax reform, but that cannot be done in the next month.

KING: Cannot be done in the next month. What do you hope to be done in the next month, lastly, on the question of Medicare, which some Republicans believe has become a bit of a political liability as we begin, not only at the presidential level and congressional level to get into the 2012 cycle -- a cycle which you very much hope to emerge from at the end as not the minority leader but the majority leader?

MCCONNELL: Well, all I can say is what it would take too get my vote to raise the debt credit. We'd have to something very credible to get our annual discretionary spending in the next couple of years and in the out years, on a continued declining path and we would have to do something about entitlement reform, and that certainly would include Medicare.

It's a huge problem. The president's on cabinet, the trustees of Medicare and Social Security have said it's in trouble now. You can't have a credible deficit reduction package and leave Medicare out of it.

KING: Leader McConnell, appreciate your time tonight.

MCCONNELL: Thank you.

KING: Take care, sir.


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