CNN EXCLUSIVE with Senator Dick Durbin
Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), the number two Democrat in the Senate, joins Candy Crowley for an exclusive an first post-election interview to the big loss for Democrats. Senator Durbin shares his opinion on sending ground troops to fight ISIS, the Keystone pipeline, and how President Obama can make a comeback in the minds of Americans.
Senator Durbin on sending troops to fight ISIS: “I think we learned a lesson and paid a bitter price when we put troops on the ground on a long-term basis in Iraq and Afghanistan. Let us support a homegrown, indigenous and locally inspired effort to bring stability to the region.”
Senator Durbin on the Keystone pipeline: “Every indication is, the president will veto an attempt to preempt the regular process of reviewing the permit for this pipeline. I think that it should go through the orderly process. The Republicans believe that the president’s power should be taken away, it should be moved on a fast track. But, remember, the oil that is going to flow through that pipeline is not going to be used in the United States or reduce gas prices in the United States.”
On President Obama’s leadership: “This president is not going to go gently into his last two years. He’s going to lead, as he is expected to as our president. And I hope that John Boehner and the Republicans will understand at least the message of the last election was, solve problems. Don’t just go to a political standoff. Do something. If they fail to do it, if the Republicans fail to do it, the president will act, and I will support him.”
Full transcript of the interview is available below.
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CROWLEY: I want to bring in now Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. He is the number two Democrat in the Senate. And I want to start with ISIS, Senator. We now have either there or on their way about 3,000 U.S. troops to serve as advisers. We have also heard this week General Dempsey before Congress saying, you know, we may need to put Americans on the front lines, you know, near the border with Syria, near the border with Turkey to help out. How would you feel about that?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MAJORITY WHIP: I can just tell you, Candy, that this video that we have seen here, if verified, is a tragic reminder of the savagery and — of ISIS and the complexity of our challenge.
We have to look at this, as I see it, as a common enemy, but two different battlefields, dramatically different battlefields. We are seeing progress in Iraq because we have new leadership. The country is coming together. They are leading the charge, the Iraqi army, with the direction and support of the United States, and making real progress.
Now look at Syria. It is a charnel house which has been for more than three years just a scene where countless numbers of militia and different forces are at work, a much more complex challenge.
I will tell you, many of us feel, I think the American people feel it would be a serious mistake for us to make a commitment of land troops into these theaters. We have to think long and hard about the best way to defeat this terrible terrorist group.
CROWLEY: So, you — you would be opposed to U.S. troops accompanying troops of Iraq or Kurdish soldiers or Syrian rebels? You would be opposed for front-line activity with U.S. troops?
DURBIN: I want to draw this line carefully.
We need to provide support to those that are fighting ISIS. And we can provide that support, logistically, training, intelligence, air cover. There are many things we have already accomplished successfully. But the notion of sending in rotational troops, as we saw in Iraq in the past, and in Afghanistan, I think we have learned our lesson.
The president has the right course here. He is gathering a coalition of Arab and Muslim states and others who are going to try to help to defeat ISIS, but it has to be homegrown, regionally supported, diverse enough so that it’s not just a United States operation, but an international operation.
CROWLEY: But, Senator, if that were not enough — if that were not enough, as certainly the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff a little bit implied when he said perhaps we need some folks to accompany these troops to where the fight is, if it were not enough, then what?
DURBIN: Well, I can tell you there are many who are anxious to send troops forward. I am not one of them.
DURBIN: I think we learned a lesson and paid a bitter price when we put troops on the ground on a long-term basis in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Let us support a homegrown, indigenous and locally inspired effort to bring stability to the region.
And just one last question about this. Do you think the president ought to be asking Congress for consent for this under the War Powers Act? It’s been 90 days since he sent the first troops back to Iraq. And that’s the — you know, the trigger for the War Powers Act. He hasn’t asked for congressional consent.
Why aren’t you all asking for him to come and ask for permission to conduct what is a war?
DURBIN: Candy, last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at least the Democratic Caucus, sat down with Senator Menendez and spelled out an approach to this, an authorization for the use of military force that is more explicit and timely, considering the threat that we face.
I would like to see us move on it now, now, before the new Congress comes in. We should have a bipartisan agreement giving the president express authority using our constitutional responsibility, putting a time frame and some limitations on what we are doing in the Middle East.
CROWLEY: OK, let me — let me move you to some domestic things that have happened post-election.
First of all, the Senate has — Senate Democrats have added a new position to its caucus, Senator Elizabeth Warren, well-known as a leading progressive voice. Is this a signal that Democrats feel they have not been progressive enough, that they have not confronted Republicans enough, and, therefore, you create a whole new position for a progressive voice?
DURBIN: I think it’s something else. I think it’s a recognition that Elizabeth Warren, and I might add Amy Klobuchar, who have been added to our leadership team, are two extraordinary people who can articulate the Democratic position and really go toe-to-toe in the debate, so that we move forward on the issues.
I think that Harry Reid, all of us have confidence that Elizabeth Warren is a great spokesman for our caucus and for our party on a national basis.
CROWLEY: Two specific issues coming up right now, one of them immigration, we expect that the president — the president certainly says that he will very soon move to protect some of those who are in the U.S. without documents from deportation. The Republicans have made it known that this is going to — quote — “poison the well,” that this is not a good thing to do. Why shouldn’t the president step back and say, hey, you got until March, pass something by March, or I’m moving on this?
DURBIN: I can tell you the Republicans can’t have it both ways.
For over a year-and-a-half, we have left on their table in the House of Representatives a bipartisan immigration reform bill to address our broken immigration system. They refuse to call the bill or any aspect relating to the bill. And now they say to the president, we don’t want you to lift a finger to solve the problem.
This president is not going to go gently into his last two years. He’s going to lead, as he is expected to as our president. And I hope that John Boehner and the Republicans will understand at least the message of the last election was, solve problems. Don’t just go to a political standoff. Do something.
If they fail to do it, if the Republicans fail to do it, the president will act, and I will support him.
CROWLEY: So, put you down as, you think the president should just go ahead and act, not give Congress any time to pass something?
DURBIN: Well, unless there — I have given up on Mr. Boehner on this issue. If he wants to step forward and make some explicit promise that the House of Representatives is going to move on comprehensive immigration reform now, while we’re in this lame-duck session, then it’s another story. Without that, the president should move.
CROWLEY: And let me talk a little about the Keystone pipeline, this sort of transmission pipeline from Canada down to the Gulf.
The House has passed it. The Senate’s going to act on it this week. Will it pass?
DURBIN: It’s within a vote or two. As a whip, I have done the counts and I can tell you that it appears it may succeed or fail on a procedural vote, with one or two senators making a difference. I believe the president should…
CROWLEY: So the 60 — you’re short of the 60?
DURBIN: Well, we were one vote short as we left last week. But I know they’re burning up the phone lines and e-mails trying to find that vote to support the procedural move. I don’t know how successful they have been.
CROWLEY: And if it should pass with the 60 votes and get to the president’s desk, would you tell him to sign it?
DURBIN: Every indication is, the president will veto an attempt to preempt the regular process of reviewing the permit for this pipeline. I think that it should go through the orderly process. The Republicans believe that the president’s power should be taken away, it should be moved on a fast track. But, remember, the oil that is going to flow through that pipeline is not going to be used in the United States or reduce gas prices in the United States.
It will head to the Gulf and be exported to other countries. So, I think the president should use his authority in a timely way so that we make a decision on this pipeline soon.
CROWLEY: As you — and you emphasize timely. This has been quite a while this has been going through — quote — “this process.”
DURBIN: It has been.
CROWLEY: So, you would like that to speed up still?
DURBIN: And of course it’s — yes, I would, but, of course, it’s been quite a while, with litigation in states like Nebraska…
DURBIN: … over whether we’re moving forward on this.
So, give the president the opportunity to use his authority on a timely basis.
CROWLEY: Senator Dick Durbin out of Illinois for us today, thank you for joining us.
DURBIN: Thanks, Candy.