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Dick Durbin, Roy Blunt, Dutch Ruppersberger, & Tom Price On "State of the Union"

Dick Durbin, Roy Blunt, Dutch Ruppersberger, & Tom Price On "State of the Union"

By State of the Union - November 18, 2012

CROWLEY: It was testimony that seemed to challenge White House explanations of who knew what when about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed four Americans.

Joining me is Missouri Senator Roy Blunt and Maryland congressman Dutch Ruppersberger. Thank you both so much for joining us.

Let's just start off with the last point, and that is when you all listened to General Petraeus, was he saying something different than the White House was saying in the days after Benghazi about what it was, what the attack was about?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, when he came before our committee, he said really the same thing that he said September the 14th. I think on September the 14th, though, when you walked away from that hearing, you felt that it was more based on a protest. He did say when he communicated to us, but he felt that there were terrorist involved and there could be an al Qaeda-type link. He then reiterated this at that time.

But there's no question that the impression to the American public was that it was a protest, but at this point that was changed, intelligence evolved, and the administration did state that it was not a protest.

CROWLEY: So at this point we know it was not a protest. We still don't know if it was planned or not. But we know it went on for hours.

The point here for people who may be confused as to why is this all important is that folks on the Republican side believe that the president and his administration deliberately didn't tell the truth about what went on because they were using the storyline in the election that they had all but taken care of al Qaeda and that this seemed to be al Qaeda connected.

Do you believe that?

BLUNT: That seems to be the case for me. I mean, you have this discussion about, well, we have classified material and unclassified material. I think that really -- you have to have a really good reason why you don't give the American people the information you had unless you think you're somehow going to really endanger the people that are in other parts of the world.

I mean, we had the people out of Benghazi that survived that attack on September the 12th. No reason they couldn't have been talked to. This idea for days until somehow we get the surveillance film we, don't really know for sure that there's not a protest. It's clear from the surveillance film there was never a protest. We had people out of there the next day.

It's also clear that there had to be some planning. I mean, the first people are killed really early at the mission, but it's six or seven hours later before the other two people are killed a mile and a half away. That clearly was something that intended to happen. It wasn't seven hours later. People get excited again. We knew that. And we knew that from the very start.

CROWLEY: So, you basically think that it was put out there because they didn't want to have the direct conversation about this being a terrorist attack.

BLUNT: Well, I think until you hear a better explanation that's the only conclusion you could reach.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about the attack itself because we still don't know. Do either one of you feel that you know exactly what happened and who did it?

RUPPERSBERGER: From what I know, and the information that we received, is that the first attack was more of a chaotic type of attack. There didn't seem...

CROWLEY: This is the one that killed the ambassador.

RUPPERSBERGER: The ambassador, who died of smoke inhalation. It wasn't gunfire.

And that at that point that it was more chaotic. Fires were set. You had people looting.

But then seven hours later the attack at the compound was a lot different. That was well organized. You had people who knew how to shoot mortars. There seemed to be command and control. And that was a lot more planning, in my opinion, and they were a lot more effective, And that's when we had our other two Americans who were on the perimeter protecting the citizens.

Remember, we had people from the first attack who worked for the State Department. They were all taken, and their lives were saved thanks to the security, taken to the second compound, and the people who were killed were in the perimeter while they were being put on planes or helicopters or whatever to get them to safety.

BLUNT: And Candy, I think Dutch and I saw the same compilation of surveillance video. Even the first attack, while more chaotic and maybe not as well planned, these are people who suddenly get through the gate with weapons in most cases, and they start doing bad things from the very first moment. And I would agree totally that the second attack where you had relatively good use of the weapons that had to fire the mortars, precise hits, this is several hours later. Clearly, somebody who knows what they're doing is behind that attack and the first attack, again, was not in any way you could look at it coming out of the spontaneous demonstration because there wasn't was one. CROWLEY: Were there calls for help? Were they denied? Do we know the answer to that? RUPPERSBERGER: Absolutely they were not denied. There was an issue that appeared in the media that when the State Department -- the State Department was at the first location. When they called out for the CIA for help, immediately within, I believe, 20 minutes they were getting their ammunition together, they were getting together, and they did come. And they also received firepower when they got there.

So they almost had to fight their way in. And once they got there, they were able to get all of the people, Americans, to the area of safety at the second location. Other than the ambassador, who decided to stay, and his press person. And he died of smoke inhalation.

CROWLEY: Senator, let me have you pause here a second because I want to take a quick break, and I'll let you answer that on the other side.

But we also want to focus on the Middle East right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: I'm back with Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger and Senator Roy Blunt.

Senator, just the last word, if you will, before we get to the Middle East on whether there were calls for help and whether they were denied. Congressman says no.

BLUNT: Well, I'm not sure yet. And there are really two questions here. One is the level of security at the temporary mission and why it wasn't better. Dutch is -- my understand is exactly right, once people in Benghazi were called, they got there pretty quickly within -- they had left their location within 24 minutes of the call, but my other question would be there was nobody anywhere in the world that we could get there in six or seven hours to save those last two lives and potentially other lives that could have been lost in that attack that occurs hours after the ambassador is killed and the mission statement -- the mission itself has been abandoned to the second facility.

CROWLEY: OK.

Let me move you on to the Middle East, because tensions, to put it mildly, are high. You have this confrontation between Israel and Hamas over the Gaza, and you have added on to that the Arab Spring, which gave us new leadership in Egypt. How scary is this at this point, how confident are you, that President Mohammed Morsi is going to be a force for good in calming this down?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, the first thing I think clearly Israel has a right to defend itself. And they have to do whatever they have to do to protect their citizens. We have to remember the United States it's as if Washington, D.C. was being attacked from the state of Maryland. So it's very, very serious what's happening there.

I think as far as the Arab Spring, clearly the dynamic has changed. And I think that the United States now is looking to Morsi to use his influence with Hamas to get them to stop shooting the missiles. Hopefully you could take advantage of this negative situation and start talking about peace. History shows that is unlikely at this point.

But Israel has to stand -- protect their citizens at all costs. And you cannot continue to have these rockets sent in. CROWLEY: But President Morsi has his own problems at home, too, in terms of trying to be tough on Hamas, which, after all, is part of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Palestinian sense. Do you think he can be helpful? Has he been helpful?

BLUNT: I don't know that he has. Clearly we've benefited from almost 40 years now of having peace partners between Israel and Egypt even though the Egyptian government never told the people of Egypt how important this was to maintain this peaceful relationship. And we don't have that right now.

I think the prime minister of Egypt -- not Morsi, but the prime minister went to Gaza, high-ranking person went to Gaza last week, met with them. They've expressed all kinds of sympathy. Certainly the senate passed a resolution last week unanimously that's in line with what the congressman just said about the right to defend yourselves. But we've got people who have traditionally been our allies in trying to maintain the peace in Turkey, in Tunisia, in Egypt that now are encouraging the things that clearly will not keep the peace if Hamas is allowed to continue to do what Israel can't, frankly, allow it, Candy, to continue to do.

CROWLEY: Let me add in the other element here, and that's Iran. Is Iran arming Hamas? We know where these weapons are coming in. Iran says they're not. But is there evidence to the contrary, is Iran involved in the arming of Hamas and what seems to be a little bit at least of increased capacity with these missiles coming from Gaza?

BLUNT: Well, they're coming in, and they're getting there from somewhere. My guess is Iran is involved. My guess is there has to be some tacit involvement in Egypt and the border or these things wouldn't be getting in to Gaza. And there's all kinds of public encouragement of what we would consider terrible misdeeds perpetrated on innocent people in Israel coming out of Gaza.

RUPPERSBERGER: I think Iran is a very dangerous country, very dangerous to Israel, to the Middle East and also to the United States. They export terrorism. And they also have the ability to manufacture rockets and missiles.

I have had a conversation with the ambassador to Israel. Clearly the rockets that were sent in are Iranian rockets. They support Hamas. And I think that they're very serious. And by the way, to answer your question, you talked about Morsi. I think a bigger player here is Erdogan, President Erdogan of Turkey. They've become very powerful. They have a lot more influence in the Arab area. And I think Erdogan is going to be a key player if there's going to be any issue of calming down the hostility as it relates to Hamas.

CROWLEY: In the last 20, 30 seconds we have that President Obama as far as we know doing everything he can. Are you satisfied with what the U.S. has said and done so far as regards to...

BLUNT: His statements yesterday I thought they were helpful. They are in line with what the congressman and I have said here today, and I hope we're aggressively pursuing that idea that Israel has a right to protect itself. But people all over the world have a real interest in trying to stop this violence from being initiated by Hamas and Gaza.

CROWLEY: Because the president has also said apparently said apparently, please don't equate Gaza to Israel.

RUPPERSBERGER: I think president after president has always stood behind Israel. We always will. They're our ally there. And we have to do whatever we can help them to protect their citizens.

CROWLEY: Congressman Ruppersberger, Senator Blunt, thank you both so much for being here today.

When we return, solving the financial crisis before it's too late. And, later, the political fall-out of the Benghazi investigation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: If only for a moment, they seemed like friends.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We do want to wish him a happy birthday.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: Thank you. Thank you.

OBAMA: We're not going to embarrass him with a cake because we didn't know how many candles were needed.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: The speaker turned 63, but the number that may be resting more in his mind and the president's is 43, the number of days left before the U.S. economy falls off the fiscal cliff.

They are far from a deal, but if you listen carefully, you can hear the faint sounds of compromise. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We're both going to have to give up some of the things that we know are a problem.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Most of my members, I think, without exception, believe that we're in the dilemma we're in not because we tax too little, but because we spend too much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: OK, maybe it doesn't sound like much, but when congressional leaders left the White House that day, they were talking about getting a deal, if only in the nick of time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOEHNER: We can do this and avert the fiscal cliff that is right in front of us today.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: We should have a deadline before Christmas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: High stakes deal-making in the season of goodwill. The possibilities are endless. Not all of them are good. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, and the House Republican Policy Committee chairman Tom Price are next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me now, Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman Tom Price.

Gentlemen, thank you so much. I want to start out by playing two bits of sound from both Speaker Boehner and President Obama on staking out what they would like to see in a deal to get rid of this fiscal cliff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOEHNER: Raising tax rates will slow down our ability to create the jobs that everyone says they want.

OBAMA: What I'm not going to do is to extend Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent that we can't afford.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Gosh, that doesn't sound like you all are anywhere closer to a deal now than you were prior to the election.

Congressman Price, where is there room for compromise here?

PRICE: Well, there certainly is room for negotiation on a real solution, and a real solution includes both revenue increases and spending reductions.

The reason we have concern about what the president has talked about and what my friends on the other side of the aisle have talked about is that it doesn't solve the problem. If we take the president's deal that he has brought to the table, you know how many days that pays for the federal government? Eight days. Not eight months. Not eight weeks. Eight days.

So we need to look at increasing revenue through pro-growth policies as well as tax revenues.

CROWLEY: But not through tax hikes, correct?

PRICE: Tax revenue, which means broadening the base, lowering the rates, closing the loopholes, limiting the deductions, limiting the credits, and making certain that we identify the appropriate spending reductions so that we have, indeed, a balanced approach.

CROWLEY: OK, but we're still at the place where everything gets hung up. No increases in tax rates. That is still the position of House Republicans, correct?

PRICE: Well, again, we would be happy to look at that if it solved the problem. The problem is, it doesn't solve the problem. We want a real solution, which means increasing tax revenue through pro- growth policies.

CROWLEY: OK. Let me just try to get the senator in here.

So the answer is no, they don't want to look at tax rate increases. And, yet, we kind of have the president saying he would veto something that didn't have tax rate increases for the wealthy. Where do we go from here?

DURBIN: Candy, you have got to listen closely, and I have been listening for a long time since I was on the Simpson-Bowles Commission. And what I hear is a perceptible change in rhetoric from the other side, and what it is is an invitation for our side to basically sit down and say, what can we do for this country?

Push the special interest groups to the side for the moment, and what I hear the president saying is, we're not going to solve this by asking the wealthiest to pay their fair share, but it will be part of the solution.

And what I hear from the Republican side is, well, what is the rest of the solution? That is the beginning of a negotiation. It's an indication that the election had an impact on all of us. The American people are sick and tired of all the obstruction and all the rhetoric on both sides. And I can tell you that the fiscal cliff is focusing the mind.

We are really trying our best now to at least come up with an understanding of an agreement before the end of the year.

CROWLEY: OK. So we have had -- Senator, let me just stick with you for a second. We've had the president meeting with the top leadership. What is going on now? I mean, we have 40-plus days left before this happens. Who is doing what where?

DURBIN: I think the negotiation is continuing at various levels, but it's between the White House and the congressional leadership. They are sitting down now to try to map out a way to avoid sequestration, the automatic spending cuts that were going to take place over the next 10 years. They're also now going to sit down and talk about the revenue side.

The president has made his position clear. He has called on the House Republicans to pass what we passed in the Senate to protect middle income families. All of those making less than $250,000 a year, take them off the hook and tell them, no, your taxes are not going up. Let's get that done before we leave.

CROWLEY: So, Congressman, are you going to get that done...

DURBIN: So we are moving toward at least I think an agreement.

CROWLEY: Are you going to get that done before you leave?

PRICE: Well, again, if that would solve the problem, we would be happy to look at it. It doesn't make any sense. When I talk to my constituents and folks across this country...

CROWLEY: Can I just -- I'm sorry to interrupt you, but can I just get -- just sort of directly, is that something that you all would do? And it sounds to me like your answer is no, because you don't think it will work. Is that a correct translation of what you are saying?

PRICE: Tax increases to chase ever higher spending is a fool's errand. What we need to do is have that balanced approach that we've all been talking about, which, again, is increasing revenues through a process of tax reform, and then spending reductions.

We've had four straight years of trillion dollar-plus deficits. You can't continue this and have economic vitality, which is what we actually need, Pro-growth policies to get this economy rolling, get jobs created again.

CROWLEY: Senator, again, you're hopeful because you think people have listened to what the American people said. And, yet, I'm not sure I'm hearing it here. Are you hearing it elsewhere in the halls of Congress that, in fact, Republicans will look at specifically the tax -- raising taxes on those making $250,000 or more?

DURBIN: Candy, you have to be careful. If you talk about taxes they run for the hills. But if you talk about revenue and tax reform, they'll sit still for that conversation. I would say to my friend the congressman, he said that sparing the middle income families doesn't solve the problem. Well, it solves the problem for middle income families in America.

What it does say is that when it comes to tax increases, let's go to those who can afford to pay. They should pay a little more. They've been blessed with success. They live in the greatest nation on Earth. Paying a little bit more to solve this national problem, part of the solution, is not unreasonable.

But we do have to cut spending. We do have to look at entitlement reform that doesn't threaten the existence of important programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

CROWLEY: Congressman, let me...

PRICE: I'm pleased to hear that...

CROWLEY: Go ahead.

PRICE: If I may, I'm pleased hear the senator talk about spending reductions, because there haven't been specifics put on the table by the other side. And that's exactly where this negotiation process is right now.

The two sides have identified the tax revenue that we're willing to discuss, and now it's time to talk about the spending reductions, and that's the prescription for moving forward. Because, again, if we pass something that doesn't solve the problem, then the American people are going to be as irritated in the future as they are right now.

CROWLEY: Congressman, let me ask you, have you sensed within the new caucus -- now, it's the old Congress that's going to deal with this between now and the 31st of December, but you have had a chance to see and meet what your new caucus will look like, the majority on the House side.

Do you sense a difference in that group hand than in the group prior to that, which was seen as unwilling to make a deal, sort of more hard-line conservative? Is this new caucus different?

PRICE: Well, I think the difference is that every member of our caucus appreciates that this fiscal crisis, this challenge that we have, is ever closer. And that's why we need to negotiate through this process and make certain we come up with a solution, a real solution, that will actually solve the problem.

Kicking the can further down the road, which is one of the things that we hear out of Washington all the time, will no longer be acceptable to either the American people or to the challenges that we have to get this economy rolling again and get jobs created.

CROWLEY: Senator, there has been some thought on your side as well that perhaps $250,000, that if you could get the House to go along with something, that perhaps $250,000 is too low to be raising taxes, that maybe you could make it a genuine millionaires tax that would be more palatable. What about something like that?

DURBIN: Candy, we're carping on a trifle here. If we want to protect the middle income families, $250,000 income for a family is a reasonable number. To go up to a million, I'm not sure what we're proving with that. There has to be revenue on the table.

And those 2 percent or 1 percent of highest wage earners in America who are doing well should pay a little bit more. And I think most of them that I speak to are willing to do it if they know it's part of an agreement that will generally reduce the deficit.

Keep in mind, our goal here is not just to reduce the deficit and debt, but to spring this economy so that it moves forward creating jobs and expanding businesses. I think that's going to happen if we have this bipartisan agreement.

CROWLEY: Congressman Price...

PRICE: Candy, the...

CROWLEY: Go ahead.

PRICE: Yes. The increased tax rate that the senator just referred to doesn't only hit individuals, it hits nearly a million small businesses, and if we're increasing taxes on small businesses, guess what won't be created? Jobs.

And small businesses are always the linchpin to getting jobs created when we come out of a recession. And so why would we adopt a policy that punishes job creators? Ernst & Young said it would end up in about 700,000 jobs being lost. That doesn't seem like a wise idea.

So, again, we want to solve the problem with real solutions, not just political rhetoric that we have tended to hear on the campaign trail. It's time to get down to work.

CROWLEY: Senator Durbin, the last word is yours. I take it you're going to disagree, this sounds a lot like the arguments I heard before the election...

DURBIN: Candy, it sounds like the...

CROWLEY: ... from you both.

DURBIN: ... debate that you moderated between Governor Romney and President Obama. Ninety-seven percent of small businesses are spared with a $250,000 limit in terms of tax increases.

What we're talking about are people who are making a lot of money, lawyers and investment bankers and those who are in subchapter S corporations on who can pay a little more for goodness sakes, if it means moving the economy forward.

It's time to take these old arguments and set them over here and talk about a new day, a new approach. That's what the election was all about.

CROWLEY: Senator Durbin, Congressman Price, thank you both so much for joining us this morning. Appreciate it.

PRICE: Thanks, Candy. DURBIN: Thank you. 

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