November 9th, 2014

Senators Thune & Murphy talk post-midterm politics

Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Senator John Thune (R-SD)  and Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) join Candy Crowley to discuss President Obama’s decision to double US troops in Iraq, the appointment of Loretta Lynch as attorney general, and the post-midterm cooperation in Congress.

Text highlights, video, and a transcript of the discussion are below.


Senator Murphy on President Obama’s decision to double US troops in Iraq: “[T]omorrow, I would argue, the 60-day War Powers Act clock expires. Tomorrow is 60 days since the president announced his initial strategy. Congress has a constitutional responsibility to authorize this. I do not think the president has the ability under current authority to authorize 1,500 troops without Congress acting.”

Senator Thune on the confirmation of Loretta Lynch: “I think it is in the best interest of the country and Congress to wait and do this under regular order, there’s a process, there’s hearings”.

Senator Murphy on the confirmation of Loretta Lynch: “But I would like to see us move forward. I think this is an important post. And I think we should have somebody on the ground there sooner, rather than later.”

A full transcript of the interview is available after the jump.



CROWLEY: I want to now bring in two top lawmakers.

Senator John Thune, he is a member of the Republican leadership in the Senate, and senator Chris Murphy, Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Thank you both for — for joining me.

I want to get to the consequences of the election, but, first, I want to ask you about something else that broke this week. And that is the president deciding to send 1,500 more U.S. advisers and trainers to Iraq to help in the battle against ISIS. This pretty much doubles the number of U.S. folks on the ground.

Senator Murphy, what do you think?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, I think what we know is that, ultimately, your military operation there is only necessary insofar as it’s giving you the ability to achieve some political reconciliation on the ground.

And my worry is, is that we’re not seeing the kind of progress that we would like from the Iraqis when it comes to actually creating the political preconditions upon which Sunni populations inside Iraq are going to choose to move away from ISIL and back towards the Baghdad government.

And so these 1,500 troops are ultimately just going to be a temporary Band-Aid if there isn’t a fully inclusive government inside Baghdad. What’s maybe more important is that, tomorrow, I would argue, the 60-day War Powers Act clock expires. Tomorrow is 60 days since the president announced his initial strategy.

Congress has a constitutional responsibility to authorize this. I do not think the president has the ability under current authority to authorize 1,500 troops without Congress acting. So, my hope is that when we get back, we’re going to have a full debate on this. And I think a lot of us are going to be very reluctant to support this kind of infusion of ground troops, absent some suggestion, some evidence that the Iraqis are doing what’s necessary politically to complement this major infusion of American military resources.

CROWLEY: Senator Thune, do you worry about mission creep at this point, and do you agree with Senator Murphy that the president needs to ask Congress about this?

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: I think the president will — at some point, we’re going to be debating an authorization — authorization on the use of military force, Candy. That could happen in this — in the context of this request.

We have got a defense authorization bill that’s pending that we have to dispose of before the end of the year. But I think the recognition here is that airpower alone is not going to accomplish the mission. Now, we already have, as you mentioned, a number of troops on the ground in Iraq. This increases trainers. The intention here, as I understand it at least, is to try and get the Iraqi security forces, the Syrian rebels equipped and ready to be able to accomplish what we need to accomplish on the ground there, so that we don’t have to put combat troops in.

And it strikes me at least that we would much rather have them carrying the battle on the ground than having American troops be there on the ground. So, I think it does need be debated in the Congress. I think, ultimately, it will. I guess the question is one of timing.

But, clearly, we’re not going to get the job done with the current plan. And I think the administration recognizes that and I think most members of Congress do as well.

CROWLEY: Senator Murphy, you sound a little bit like you would oppose any more sending of troops, and if the president came up and — with the War Powers Act, you would — you would vote no. Is it mission creep you’re worried about? Is it — what is your basic objection?

MURPHY: Well, I think we have to recognize the facts, which are that we had hundreds of thousands of troops inside Iraq over the course of a decade trying to train the Iraqi armed force.

They got overrun in a period of weeks by a relatively unorganized force in ISIL. And so the idea that we’re going to be able to complete with a couple hundred troops what we were unable to do with several hundred thousand troops, I think, strains credibility.

I want to make sure that this is a realistic mission. And I do worry about mission creep. I do worry about the fact that 1,500 could become 3,000, could become 5,000. And what we know is that the massive deployment of American military forces inside the Middle East is not the solution.

In fact, over the course of 10 years, it made the situation worse, not better. Now, if there’s evidence that the Iraqis are really willing to share oil revenues with the Sunnis, to partner militarily with them, to push the Shiite militias off to the side to allow the professional Iraqi military to do the fighting, then I think that I can support an authorization.

But absent that political progress inside Iraq, then we’re just a temporary solution. And I’m just not sure that the experience that we have over the last 10 years tells us that this kind of big deployment of U.S. forces on the ground is going to work.

CROWLEY: Senator Murphy, Senator Thune, let me ask you to stand by.

When we come back, I want to ask if you think gridlock is really the only common ground here in Washington.


CROWLEY: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. We’re here with Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota and Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

Let me start with the elections and with you, Senator Thune.

Elections have consequences. You all had a terrific election. You are going to be in the majority on the Senate side, already in the majority on the House side.

I want to let you hear something that Senator Rand Paul, a very visible member of your Republican Caucus, said on the night that Mitch McConnell won his election about what’s ahead.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: It will be two long years until we get to replace this president. Until then, we can and we will send him legislation. Under Mitch McConnell’s leadership, we will send the president bill after bill, until he wearies of it.


CROWLEY: Senator Thune, is that the Republican — the plan for the Republican leadership, is to just keep sending the president bills? He didn’t say it, but the implication was bills that he probably won’t sign.

THUNE: Candy, the plan is to try and get the Senate opened up and working again and have some votes.

You know, the House has sent almost 400 pieces of legislation to the Senate that have been collecting dust on Senator Reid’s desk. And 40 of those deal with jobs and the economy, which is where we think the focus ought to be. And so I guess what I would argue is that we can do big things in a time of divided government.

That’s been true in the past, Social Security reform, tax reform, welfare reform, balanced budgets. There have been lots of examples where you have Democrats and Republicans, a Democrat in the White House or Republican in some cases working with the other party in Congress to do some big things. And that would be my goal and my objective. We will be sending legislation to the president.

CROWLEY: Can you name me something big that you think you can do?

THUNE: Well, I would love to see us do something in the area of tax reform.

I would love to see us do something in the area — I think initially at least coming out of the gate things on jobs, trade policy, energy policy. Energy gives us a very competitive edge. It’s very important to the economy.

CROWLEY: Senator… THUNE: And that’s something, I think, that the president I hope would sign into law. We know that, to get anything done, we have to get a presidential signature.

But we got to get the Senate and the House moving again and actually producing legislation that we can send to the president.

CROWLEY: Senator — Senator Murphy?

THUNE: He’s going to have to make a decision.

CROWLEY: Senator Murphy, do you hear anything there? You think there’s some commonality there that you all could get done and get to the president something that he might sign?


And, of course, the reality is that under the way that the rules are constructed in the Senate today, you can’t actually get anything to the president’s desk without some members of the now minority Democratic Caucus supporting it. So it’s got to be bipartisan in nature to begin with.

But, yes, listen, there’s been bipartisan agreement there to be had for a number of years. And I think tax reform is a perfect example, infrastructure improvement. And there are Republicans and Democrats that want to move forward on a major infrastructure bill. And there’s some good bipartisan ideas out there, like an infrastructure bank.

I have legislation with Senator Corker to put more money into the trust fund. So I absolutely am optimistic about our ability to move something like tax reform, something like infrastructure to the president’s desk.

And I’m not necessarily worried about the Senate Republicans. We have been able to work together in the past. It’s really a question of whether John Boehner is going to be able to convince the Tea Party crowd in the House of Representatives to go along with some of the compromises that we may be able to forge in the Senate.

CROWLEY: OK, but this has sort of always been the problem, hasn’t it, is that Republicans have said there’s all these bills passed by the House that are stacked up on Harry Reid’s desk and he won’t take a vote on them, and the Democrats say, you know, boy, the Republicans can’t pass anything over there? You all don’t want to consider the same bills.


MURPHY: Go ahead, John.

THUNE: Well, at the end of the day, I mean, you do have to figure out how to find that critical mass to pass legislation. And the House has done it. In some cases, they have been bills with pretty big bipartisan support. And, as Chris mentioned, there are a number of things on which there’s pretty broad bipartisan support in the Senate. We ought to focus on those things, try and move those things. Let’s put up some legislative accomplishments which I think will help build trust to enable us to do some bigger things down the road.

Tax reform, entitlement reform, things that would really jump- start our economy are things that we ought to be focused on. But there are things right now coming from the House, sitting, awaiting action in the Senate that enjoy a considerable amount of bipartisan support.

CROWLEY: Senator Murphy, do you think that your Senate leadership, which will be in charge of the lame-duck session coming up, will want to do the confirmation process of the attorney general?

MURPHY: Well, I can only speak for myself. I hope that we do move forward on that confirmation process. And, in fact, we have a long backload of other presidential appointees and ambassadors and judges that…

CROWLEY: Even though Republicans want to wait until the next session?

MURPHY: Well, I think it’s important that we have an attorney general. And so I would like to see us move forward.

I have not spoken to Senator Reid about his intentions. But I would like to see us move forward. I think this is an important post. And I think we should have somebody on the ground there sooner, rather than later.

CROWLEY: And do you want Senator Reid to remain minority leader of your party?

MURPHY: I do. I do.

I ultimately think that Senator Reid can work with Senator McConnell. And, really, I think John identified the issue. The issue is whether Republicans in the House and the Senate really want to work together moving forward.

If I was a political consultant for Republicans, I would advise them to compromise with Democrats and move some pieces of legislation through the process. With the exception of 2012, every political election that I have been a part of has been a change election because people are just sick and tired of nothing getting done.

If nothing gets done over the next two years, well, then Democrats are going to be swept back into power in 2016. So, I think it’s in the interest of Republicans to sit down at the table and get some things done. That will actually help them.

CROWLEY: Senator Thune, talking about the confirmation process coming up for the attorney general, I’m not — I can’t remember if there’s a way for Republicans to block the confirmation process, but your leadership has already said they want to do this in the next session of Congress. Is there a way to block it? Should it be blocked in the lame-duck?

THUNE: Well, since the Democrats changed the rules, it’s very hard. But I think it would be in the best interest of the country and the Congress to wait and do this next year under regular order, Candy.

Loretta Lynch will get fair consideration, but there’s going to be — there’s a process. There’s hearings and everything that goes with that. We have got to move a funding bill. We have got to — we have got to prevent some tax increases, a number of things that have to be done before the end of the year.

And Eric Holder has said he’s not going anywhere soon. So, it’s not like the position isn’t going to be filled. It’s an important position. It’s one that needs to be filled. And we will give the president’s nominee every consideration.

But we would like to do that, consider that next year, when the new Congress is seated.

CROWLEY: Senator Thune, Senator Murphy, thank you both so much. Come see us in studio next time, when you’re back in Washington. I appreciate your time.

MURPHY: Thanks, Candy.

THUNE: Sounds good. Thanks, Candy.