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Interviews with Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Tammy Duckworth

Interviews with Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Tammy Duckworth

By The Situation Room - January 23, 2013

BLITZER: So, there's work to be done, but that's good reporting by you. Chris Lawrence over at the Pentagon.

Let's get some reaction now from a woman who did seek combat, the newly elected United States Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot. She was one of the first women to fly combat missions in Iraq. Then in 2004, her helicopter was hit by ground fire. She lost both legs in the explosion. She was awarded the purple heart.

Congresswoman Duckworth is a Democrat now from Illinois. Thank so much, congresswoman, for coming in. Thanks so much for your service to the United States of America. Let's get your immediate reaction to the news that the defense department will announce tomorrow. Go ahead.

REP. TAMMY DUCKWORTH, (D) ILLINOIS: I think this is a great announcement. I think it's good for our military, Wolf, and I think it's great for our nation. You know, we have an all volunteer force, and I think that this opens up a pool of folks who could serve in these positions.

And, any time that we've opened up our military to performance- based service, whether it was with African-American units and Japanese-American units in World War II or with gays in the military, we've benefited as a nation and we've benefited as a military. So, this is good for the nation.

BLITZER: Another freshman congressman, Tom Cotton from Arkansas, also a veteran, a veteran from both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he disagrees with this decision. He says that there'd been study after study, in his opinion, to show that only men can really do what is necessary in real combat because it's the nature, the upper body strength, the physical, the speed, and endurance, and so forth. He doesn't believe women really have those kinds of qualities. What's your respect to Republican Congressman Tom Cotton of Arkansas?

DUCKWORTH: Well, he's certainly welcome to his opinion. There are many different combat jobs, tank commanders and armor, artillery, those are combat jobs as well as so are infantry. And you know, there was study after study after study during World War II before we allowed African-Americans to fly air planes because people thought that African-Americans did not have the mental capacity to fly aircraft.

Yet, look at the heroism of the Tuskegee airmen who never lost a bomber (ph) aircraft that they were escorting. So, you know what, let's just open it up, make it based on performance. If the women can't meet the standards, then they don't get to graduate from the program to do the mission. But if they can meet the standards, then we've just gained another soldier who is willing to serve this nation and willing to lay their lives down in a combat role. And that's good for our military.

BLITZER: Good to get your reaction, congresswoman. Thanks very much for coming in.

DUCKWORTH: Thank you. BLITZER: This has certainly been a hotly disputed issue over so many years for a closer look at the politics of what's going on, women in combat. Let's bring in our national -- our chief national correspondent, John King. John, this is a sensitive matter for a lot of Republicans and some Democrats as well.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a sensitive matter, Wolf, but added to the list of what we've heard from this president since he began his second term, women in combat, groundbreaking language in his inaugural address on gay rights, the return of climate change to the agenda, the return of immigration reform for his agenda, also gun control will be a top priority in his second term.

I want you to listen here to something the speaker of House, John Boehner, before the women in combat announcement, listen to the speaker of the House here what he thinks the president is trying to do in the second term. This is the speaker speaking to a Republican group.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: Given what we've heard yesterday about the president's vision for his second term, it's pretty clear to me and it should be clear to all of you that he knows he can't do any of that as long as the House is controlled by the Republicans.

And so, we're expecting over the next 22 months to be the focus of this administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party. And let me just say, I do believe that is their (ph) goal to just shove us into the dustbin of history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Pretty strong words, shove us into the dustbin of history, annihilate the Republican Party. Is that the president's goal or the White House would say no. They want a thrive a two-party system and they're winning at the moment.

But Wolf, if you go through these issues, what the president is doing, women in combat, equal pay for women, groundbreaking gay rights language, gun control, immigration, climate change, he's embracing not only the demographics of the coalition he just used in winning the election, but also their desires.

If you look at their policy agenda and let's remind people about the election. The president won 55 percent of the women's vote in the last election. He believes he can build on this coalition use this coalition to support his agenda now. Look at his support among non- Whites. This is off the charts. The Republicans have a crisis when it comes to African-Americans, but not only that Latino-Americans and Asian-Americans.

Look at the numbers increasingly now voting for the Democrats. And the president here, especially women in combat, gay rights climate change, younger voters want action on these issues and look at the president winning off the charts among younger voters.

As he was -- after his inaugural speech, I'm told by a top Democrat that Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago and his former chief of staff asked the president, where did that come from? That the president was so far out there on some of these issues and the president turned to him and said, I just finally decided to say what I believe in.

So, they see in the Obama White House a chance to put pressure on the Republicans. These are all issues that cause pressure under a conservative Republican base. That's what John Boehner is talking about. And the White House says the president is happy to pick these fights. We'll see if he follows through.

But Wolf, one of the things you watch, the Republican Party is a white aging party. If they fight the president so much on all these issues, there are some Democrats who think there's a chance to turn the Obama coalition into a lasting Democratic coalition. That's we're going to watch play out over the next four years.

BLITZER: To use those words that John Boehner used, if the president wants to annihilate the Republican Party, that's about as strong as it gets, a direct accusation against the president.

KING: It's a very strong language by the speaker, but the speaker also is one of Republicans who understands the tough politics of this and understands the Republicans need to be careful. If you have a bunch of older, White men coming out and deposing the president on each of these issues, what does it do? It plays to the president's favor.

So, Speaker Boehner, as he tries to -- he's trying to rally his base saying the president is coming after us so we need to fight back, but he's also trying to tell them, as we fight back, we better be careful because if you overplay your hand on these sensitive issues, you could make what is already politically a very tough climate for Republicans especially nationally worse.

BLITZER: Tough rhetoric going on right now. John, thanks very much.

He told the secretary of state, HILLARY CLINTON, today he would have, quote, "relieved her of her post in the wake of Benghazi." Up next, the Republican senator, Rand Paul, a member of the foreign relations committee. He's standing by live right here in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN MCCAIN, (R) FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: The American people deserve to know answers, and they certainly don't deserve false answers.

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R) FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Had I been president at the time and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post.

REP. JEFF DUNCAN, (R) FOREIGN AFFAIR COMMITTEE: When you said what difference at this point does it make? I tell you what difference it makes. It makes a difference when Americans think they were misled.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ, (D) ACTING CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN RELATIONS CMTE: During your tenure (INAUDIBLE) us to economic crisis in Europe, changing relations with Asia, regime change in the Arab world, a momentous transition in Libya.

REP. JUAN VARGAS, (D) FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: You're a hero to many, especially women, and you seem to bring out these deep aspirations.

REP. ENI FALEOMAVAEGA, (D) FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: I salute you and I look ahead to 2016.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

We noticed an interesting pattern in today's House and Senate hearings, Democrats gushing over Hillary Clinton and Republicans tossing hard questions, not mincing any words. One of the Republicans who was most critical of the secretary of state, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. He's joining us now live from Capitol Hill. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

PAUL: Thank you. Surprise, surprise. Republicans and Democrats had different viewpoints on this.

BLITZER: No, I'm not surprised. I was surprised a little bit about how tough you were, not just a little bit. One of the lines jumped out at me, specifically, and I'll read it to you. You said, "Ultimately, with you leaving, you accept the culpability," and then you said "for the worst tragedy since 9/11 and I really mean that." What do you mean the worst tragedy since 9/11?

PAUL: I think the words diplomatic and security and intelligence tragedy, you know, excluding the wars, of course, but I think it was really a judgment failure on her part and she's in charge of the state department. I think this problem's not over. I think in Libya, the defense department should be in charge of security.

I think a military commander should be in charge, and this is not the same as the embassy in Paris or the embassy in Vienna. This is a war zone, and I think it was a mistake in judgment on her part and it was also a mistake in judgment on her part not to read the pleas for help, the pleas for more security, and then to have the state department turn down that security, error upon error.

But really, I think this precludes her and should preclude her from being in a position where she can make these judgment calls.

BLITZER: But I've interviewed you on many occasions. I think you will acknowledge that this can't can compare to the intelligence blunder which I think you agree with, the intelligence blunder that led the U.S. to go to war in Iraq resulting in, what, nearly 4,500 American troops killed, thousands of others injured, maimed, and I think that was -- with no weapons of mass destruction, no connection with al Qaeda. You can't compare these two intelligence blunders, can you?

PAUL: Yes -- no, I agree with you. I think there's no comparison to the beginning of the war in Iraq, as well as the war in Afghanistan. The tragedy of those wars is of a different scale. And I guess we're talking more about a diplomatic mission than we are talking about the beginning of the war.

BLITZER: Because I remember during those years, did you call on the president, President Bush, or Secretary of Defense Cheney or others to give up their duties, to be relieved of their duties because of that blunder?

PAUL: Yes, I was always opposed to the war in Iraq and have spoken out against the war in Iraq and I've spoken -- out against the intelligent failures. So I think I've been somewhat equally critical of both parties on these things but I really do think that we've missed the boat on Benghazi because we've been talking about whether or not it had something to do with a film afterwards.

My complaint has always been about in the year in advance of these attacks, why wasn't there -- significant security provided and why were the requests, repeated requests for more security turned down? And I think those were serious judgment errors on Secretary Clinton, and I think on her part, and I think she really has to accept responsibility and I'm glad she has.

BLITZER: She had a very tough exchange with your colleague from Wisconsin, Senator Johnson. I'm going to play her reaction to what he was asking her about what was going on. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: With all due respect, the fact is, we had four dead Americans.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: I understand.

CLINTON: Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: She was pretty angry. She was pretty passionate in responding to this senator. What is your reaction when you heard her say that. You were sitting there during that exchange. What went through your mind? PAUL: Well, I think she has a little bit of a valid point. It's not so important whether or not it was a movie or what it was. I think what's important, though, in going forward is it not happen again and I think the Review Board still doesn't get it. I think that we need to have a military commander. We need the Department of Defense in charge of security for embassies in a war zone and nobody has recommended that and I think that's where the ultimate failure is.

So she has a point about the movie and all of that. I think it doesn't matter so much but what we do forward on security for Libya or for other war-torn countries, I don't think we can treat them like an embassy in Paris. And I still don't think that realization has sunk in at the State Department. I'm fearful this strategy could be reproduced or could happen again.

BLITZER: Are you ready to appropriate more funds for diplomatic security?

PAUL: Yes. And in fact, in my budget I do propose more funds, $55 billion increase in the baseline for the military included in among that is more money for Marines that are -- regarding embassy security and I would expand their role particularly on war-torn countries for not just protecting documents. I would expand their role to actually be protecting embassy staff and the ambassador.

BLITZER: Senator Paul, thanks very much for coming in.

PAUL: Thank you. 

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