tv Newsmakers CSPAN May 3, 2015 6:00pm-6:31pm EDT
>> next, newsmakers with represent thornberry. and part of the spotlight on 2016 presidential hopefuls from new hampshire tv station wmur. and at 8:00, our conversation with "the washington post" columnist walter pincus on "q&a." >> joining us on newsmakers is the republican from texas, he is the vice chair of the house armed services committee, also a member of the house intelligence committee. this week he presided over the review of the 2016 defense budget 612 billion including $90 billion for war funding and 18-hour marathon session that lasted until 4:39 in the morning. thank you for being with us this week.
there are provision nts bill but comes out with widespread bipartisan report. >> let me introduce two reporters asking questions this week. megan scully and kevin barren, executive editor of defense one and, kevin starting with your question. >> thank you for being here brfment we get to that, i thought we would start big and head small. for me the main focus is where we are fighting now, middle east and giant conflict, singular conflict that stretches from north africa across the middle east towards afghanistan and pakistan. you're on the chair of the armed services committee. your chair is oversight of the military and wars. do you think the rest of the congress is adequately focused on what's come oug of the united states and in the interest in
the region right now? >> adequately, probably not. but much more focused than they used to be. i think it's not just members on the armed services or foreign affairs that are focused. i think the american people and most all of the representatives in congress have some appreciation for the seriousness of what's happening and i'm getting more questions at home in my district about what's happening around the world than i ever have gotten before, other than right after 9/11. but i think the american people have a lot of interest and therefore there's more focus in congress on it. you can get distracted by the day to day, of course, issues. but there's a lot more interest in the world. >> is that something you worry about or american people worry about? i ask because there was a survey in the fall, 70% of the
workforce, part of our readers including troops, that thought congress was not qualified to -- or not enough members of congress were qualified to perform the oversight function of the military and the intelligence community. and that's the workforce in the federal government. let's talk about that. seems like a trust deficit there. >> maybe. except several years ago there was a study that c.s.i., local think tank in washington performed, that talked about congress being the critical link between the american people and the federal government, especially on issues of national security. does congress need to have the same intelligence as an operator in afghanistan? no. we come from all sorts of different background, all sorts of different experiences. but our job is to oversee those
efforts. and being that link in between the american people and the people with more specialized knowledge, more technical knowledge, et cetera, that's our job, providing that oversight. i think it is a fair criticism to say there are times that congress micromanages too much and by my row managing neglects the broad picture. i think there's some truth to that. but especially what's happening all around the world today so many complex, diverse challenges all at the same time. i think we are doing better at trying to keep that bigger picture in mind and to be that link oversight of the professionals who serve our country, but also to communicate, educate, persuade the american people and just help explain what's happening.
it's hard to make sense of russia china iran, north korea, cyber, outer space, diseases, not to mention terrorism, all swirling around at the same time. >> the last follow on that, how often do you get to have conversations with the leadership? or are you in conversations with leadership about these national security issues and armed services issues that you're in charge of? >> often. so, for example, there's a meeting once a week of all of the committee chairman where you can breet up anything you need to bring up. obviously, there's a lot more meetings these days, not just because we have some bills moving but because of what's happening in the world. and also i think there is better coordination among the various committees, intelligence committees, armed services committees, foreign affairs and corporations demitty, than i have seen in the last 20 years. so we're doing a little better
and the times demand us to because it is so difficult and complicated. >> magesnean, i wanted to focus a bit on your bill and specifically some of the funding levels in the bill, measures in mind with the house budget resolution. so it shifts about $38 billion from the base budget to the overseas contingencies operations accounts. critics have called it a gimmick and said it's an end run around the budget caps existing on defense and nondefense spending. you yourself said it's not an ideal way to fund the department. i'm curious whether you believe there are long-term effects of paying for the military this way and also whether there's any hope for possibly having an actual bipartisan pudget deal by the end of this year? >> i've always got hope. and, o. there are long-term effects of doing things kind of
in a just patch it together sort of way. and that's what this is. i think it's important for a member however, whatever category the funding may be under, when you add it together, the house budget meets the president's request within a billion dollars. so we put -- we categorize the funding a little differently but the net effect is the same level that the president asked for for national defense. i think that's important and really that's the key issue. more important than what category various funding comes under. is there a down side to doing it the way we did? yes. partly it makes it harder for the pentagon to mr. clinton for the future. -- to plan for the future. the rest of the story is there's a broader debate that's bigger than defense about fiscal responsibilities, about whether you can save money through the
mandatory spending or entitlement programs or two-thirds of the federal budget is about what needs to happen to the other domestic programs and so that's where the differences are going to have to be ironed out. i still have hope that there are can be an agreement. even if you take the enyou tilet titlement -- entitlement reforms president obama proposed in the past and apply some of those savings to defense and nondefense digscregsarry programs, i think you can get a huge number of people on both sides of the aisle to support that. question is, does the president want to do that or does he want to play chicken and hope he can get more spending on his domestic programs? i think it will be interesting, i have to say, if we send the president a defense bill at exactly the level he asked for, is he going to veto that because he wants to increase spending on other programs? i don't know but i hope we can give him that chance.
>> as someone who held -- and we saw this play out on the first appropriations measure that came to the floor yesterday, that are worried this kind of gives defense an unfair advantage, they have this account they can tap into that isn't subject to the budget cap, where as on the domestic side they don't have that luxury, that sort of extra funding that they can put programs into, is that discussed at all? >> yes it's discussed. it's also discuss fundamental you just remove the caps, then we get back into runaway spending and ballooning deficits like we had before. i think it's important for perspective to remember the deficit has come down substantially in the past few years. unfortunately, a lot of that has come at the expense of the deficit budget, which has been cut if you count inflation about 21% over the past 4 years. so i understand the arguments about trying to be fair to this,
that and the other account. where i come down is the first job of the federal government is to defend the country. that vladimir putin and isis and a variety of other actors don't really care about these other accounts of the government. they're doing what they're doing and we're sending men and women out to defend the country and try to deal with these threats and they deserve to be fully equipped fully supported, fully trained and that's what the defense budget does. just because we met the president's level on defense doesn't mean there are a lot of extra money. there's still tough choices that had to be made just to get through this year. so it's a dangerous world out there and we need to remember that. >> on some of the tough choices your committee didn't just go ahead and endorse the president's requests, though the funding levels are the same. there are significant changes made particularly to some of the cost-saving proposals that the pentagon proposed,
retirement of the a-10 war hogs, another base closure riped and changes to the tricare system. i'm curious, clearly congress has the power of the purse. but how do you reconcile kind of rejecting some of those long-term cost-saving initiatives? and giving what essentially the pentagon believes is a bill that it can afford with the current off-gear spending environment? >> i think every year congress makes different judgment calls than whatever administration it is in power on various weapon systems, on fees for -- to charge our military and all of these other issues. that's our job under the constitution. now, sometimes congress probably makes the wrong call but if you look back over history, there's a pretty good track record of having made the right call. and as a matter of fact one of the first speeches i gave after becoming chairman was harkening
back to one of my predecessors, chairman carl vincent who insisted on putting down some big-hold shifts in the 1930's that ended up being aircraft carriers that won the battle of midway wlfment it's aircraft carriers or predator, which started out because of congress because of congress at that time resisting the program, sometimes we make different judgments and it turns out ok. so we kept the a-10, for example, because our judgment was if you have a platform that we just sent 12 more over to iraq for today's fighting, that pulling the plug on that probably didn't make a lot of sense. >> a lot of people looked at that as disingenuous because we also sent f-22 to fight isis in iraq and they were not designed
for that purpose at all. so it looks like they're trying to justify their existence. >> it's absolutely true in a world the threats are changing as fast as they are now, sometimes you end up using platforms in ways or for purposes for which they were not designed. but we ought to ask that question when we're buying platforms, because i guarantee however much we think we know about the future, we're wrong and we're going to use some of those platforms in different ways and under different circumstances than they were originally intended. so in this case you have troops operating on the ground, the u.s. is helping provide air support, and the airplane that we chose to send over was the one the administration propose it's to cancel. so my point is there are different judgment calls here. history may prove us right or wrong on different ones but it is our job under the constitution to make those independent calls. we're not called to be a rubber stamp for any administration of
any party. and i think the system functions best when congress remembers that it's an independent branch of government and we have those independent responsibilities under the constitution. the president's the commander in chief but if you look, there are six to eight different provisions under article one that says it's congress's responsibility to provide and maintain armed forces and rules and regulations of the military and so forth. we've got to be serious about those independent responsibilities. >> before we leave this topic megan specifically in her question referenced another round of base closures. can you address that and resistance to that? that's not decision. it's a decision to have a process. >> it is. part of the reason there's been resistance is because the last round was in 2005 and it's not yet broken even. in other words, 10 years later it still cost us more than money than it saved. some people argue oh that was a
different round, it was really realignment. but it's left a bitter taste in people's mouths. i think under any reckoning another round of base closings cost more in the early years, the savings are over time, but we're 10 years later on that one and it hasn't yet started sieving money. it still costs more. however, we often hear we have 20% excess infrastructure. so i have in the bill a provision asking the secretary to give us an assessment of appropriate forestructure for the world we live in, inventory of all of the bases we have around the world, put the two together, look at what you might need for a surge capacity. you know, how much we might need for a little extra margin. and then come back to us with your assessment of what areas we have extra infrastructure, extra capacity in. so we can start from a place of
real numbers not just pulling a number out of the air. now we set a base closing this year but are trying to get better analysis to look at that for the future. >> we have nine minutes left. >> before this question, you said your six to eight provisions for congress to have control of the military over war. the biggest one of all war power has been debated earlier in the year. where are you on that now? why hasn't congress moved to take up war powers? >> the president set a proposal and we, in our committee, had hearings on it, even though our committee is not the primary one of jurisdiction but we wanted to understand the practical implications for the war fighters if the president's proposal had been in effect. and the bottom line was it was too restrictive, too legalistic because it would only authorize
military action where it was not enduring offensive ground combat operations. and the definition of each of those words got very problematic. >> does it frustrate you? is this a salon debate back in washington that has nothing to do with the war, or is it something that is kept in mind -- >> i will tell you, one of the eye-opening experiences for me personally was to be in afghanistan in one of our headquarters while the fighting is going on and see the commander who is erecting that fighting have to consult with his lawyer for every step of the way, while the bullets were flying. so the words we put into law make a big difference in how wars get fought and how troops in the field are commanded and the rest of their -- risk to their lives. so this is a big deal. so i think where we are, there's not much support for what the president asks for. the next question is, can there
be support for another version of a operation to use military force against isis? i think we need to try. it is our job under the constitution. in addition to that, i think we have a moral obligation to the men and women we send out on these dangerous missions to have the full cloak of constitutional authority and moral backing of the country in supporting their missions. so i think we have a responsibility to try. i had conversations today about maybe next steps going forward. and i want to try to contribute to that debate, as i said even though it doesn't technically come out of our committee. >> what are those next steps coming forward? >> to it see if there is a version of an authorization to use military force that would work in the field that could get the support of republicans and democrats now pass in the house and the senate. i think there may be more discussions about that. i can't tell you all of the
steps in the legislative process. it is my opinion however we need to really try to do this for the reasons that we just have been talking about. it's our job under the constitution. >> how do you think it should be drafted? >> i'm working on that. and part of the question is what you include -- and we probably don't have time to get into all of this but we still operate under a 2001 aumf, authorization to use military force, drafted a few days after 9/11. does that really fit isis, not to mention al shabab or al qaeda in yemen? i have my doubts. so my preference is try to clean this up in a way that makes sense. i don't know what the administration opinion on that would be or even many of my colleagues. we need to have this conversation. >> the bottom line people think that members just don't want to vote on this because they don't
want to have to say they're were for the war before election day. are we getting a vote this year? >> don't know the answer. i think it depends whether or not you can get some sort of consensus around one of the proposals. in addition to the reasons you mentioned, i think there's a lot of doubt about the president as commander in chief and whether he really wants to win the war or not. all of those doubts make it harder to get a majority of the house and the senate to support an authorization to send troops into a fight if the commander in chief is -- >> wait, set the charge, do you believe president obama does not want to win the fight against isis? >> i'm sure he does. whether he's willing to do what he takes to win, that's what i have more doubts about. so the constraints that are put for example, on our trainers in iraq have caused a fair amount of question. so there's a list of these constraints and a variety of other things that cause doubts about whether whether he's
willing to -- again, you have lives at stake here. and we are being asked to authorize the risking of those lives for these national purposes. that's part of the reason this is a tough debate. and a tough decision for members of the house and senate to make. >> we have just three minutes left. another question? >> i wanted ask you switching topics a bit on the pentagon released its annual sexual assault report today and it indicated sexual assaults have decreased from the high levels of two years ago but they are still quite high at over 20,000. and retaliation rates remain around two-thirds of those who report the crime feel as though they have been retaliated against. congress and your committee in particular passed a number of provisions over the last several years aimed at this problem. what more do you think congress and the white house need to do to address this problem? >> i think you're right. we passed a number of provisions and i think the spotlight has really shown on this problem.
which is absolutely unacceptable for everyone. so what more we need to do i think this was part of the debate this week in our committee, is we have done so many things in the last two three years, we have to give them a chance to take effect and begin to work. now, while we're doing that, we need to stay on top of it and watch the implementation of these things to see if they're having the desired effect and not let it slip off, you know, to the back corner somewhere. but to keep the spotlight on this issue. so we definitely will be doing that, if as we find improvements that need to be made, tweaks to the law, we will absolutely want to pursue those but the key is stay on top of it and make sure what we try to do is having the desired effect to reduce and eliminate sexual assaults. >> the last question. >> sure.
this week there was a letter sent to leaders from about 38 experts across the think tank land. you may have seen. part of that was a criticism that the civilian workforce had grown too big in comparison to the size of the troops. can you respond to that? >> i think you're right. we put provisions in the bill to begin to reduce it. a couple years ago secretary hagel at that point announced a 20% reduction in headquarter staff. the provision in the bill says, ok, we will do what you say, just less do what you said but we're going to hold you to it. each of the items in that letter you talked about from 38 different folks are addressed in some way in the bill the armed services committee pass sd. >> can you give us a quick read on ash carter's tenure as defense secretary so far? how is he doing? >> i think he's doing well. he comes into it very well qualified, especially for the sorts of reforms that need to be
made. if i have got one concern just to be a little selfish when other things happen in the world, he will be distracted to deal with this crisis and his expertise on procurement and the other sorts of reforms that we need to work on together are going to be harder. but he's been very good about reaching out to us in congress on both sides of the aisle. and so i'm optimistic about the ability for us in congress and secretary at the pentagon to work together over the next year and a half. >> senator thornberry, thank you for your time this week. "newsmakers" is back with megan scully, kevin barren of defense one. after our conversation with the chairman of the house armed services committee mafment thornberry. we covered bill philosophical questions as well as specifics over the defense budget just passed out of the committee last week. let's start with the process for the defense budget. it's a lot of money $612
billion. and he does mention philosophical and programmatic differences with this white house. what are the prospects for getting through the senate before it gets to the white house? >> sure. they have said over in the senate that it is a priority this year, that they will get the bill done. the past two years they have been unable to. the two chambers managed to conference a bill and push back the floor. the bill passed every year for more than 50 years at this point. the senate itself has not debated the bill in its entirety in two years now. we will see how that shapes up. there will be a lot of friction though, with the white house. both over how the committees have decided to fund the department, and they're both in line with the budget resolution relying on the overseas contingency accounts and also policy issues that they continue to battle over including guantanamo bay. there are new restrictions in the house version on the guantanamo that the white house
has already said it is not happy with. >> is this because of the prisoner transfers? >> it's in reaction to that and also just every year we have seen a little bit more, a little bit more in terms of restrictions on transfers. this year it restricts transfers to combat zones specifically to places like afghanistan and yemen. >> you asked some fiff sol cal questions -- philosophical questions of the chairman. what was interesting because it was an exchange about the president's commitment doing what's next to fight the conflicts that are arising in the middle east through africa. what was your reaction to that conversation? >> i think any time i hear complaints that the administration or u.s. isn't doing enough overseas or enough to fight terrorism, to be involved in the world, it's all about people want more military interveng sooner to end conflict. that's usually what it boils down to. i think that's the same thing here. he's right to say congress is an independent branch and they can
have different opinions and the president may want the same ends but different means to it. this is a case where i think even ends might be different, where this president, being barred from -- the bar from military intervention has been incredibly high since he took office. it has not come down. this is the same president that loves drum stripes and certain type of combat and way to use the military community and intelligence community to track down bad guys but it's not the same as we saw coming out of iraq and afghanistan. it's not massive ground troops. it's not early intervention into syria. it's not training and providing armed. it's not adding things to make the region can worse or getting united states involved. i think there's a big difference where a lot of folks between -- not just the white house and congress it's left and right. it's across the sprecktrum, within the national security community. there's a difference of how much does the united states even need to be involved in the middle east and beyond into north africa? how much do we need to stay out of it, does the united states need to stay out of it, so it forces those country to start to
take on these fights for themselves finally? which what was supposed to be the hope after iraq, after nenn. train forces and let them do it themselves. the reality is people are dyeing every day by the thousands and how much the united states gets involved is what it really boils down to. >> need to move on to other topics because our time is short but you asked questions about the aumf, authorized use of military force, which has gotten this congress stymied. what did you hear about the way he's taking the direction? also interesting about the description of needing to have it because officers are consulting with lawyers while bullets are flying. is that what you heard in your reporting? >> i -- it's not new that there are lawyers. there are lawyers for eisenhower back in the day. every drone strike and strike goes through the dod before it goes to the white house. at a much higher level i think most watchers of this debate think about what we talk about
to end the conversation, does congress have the political will to put themselves on the line to vote, yes or no, i'm for continuing this fight under these parameters and do it and face their own electorate. >> and the end issue is trying to figure out what should be in it. it's not you just need same many majority. 60 votes in the senate to get something through on that. two chambers might come up with something very different, even though they're both under republican control. even within the republican party, there's a lot of friction over what level of leeway should you give the president in order to wage this war? >> and something has to change that i think is important, this is the con flaket will go on by the pentagon's prediction perhaps 30 years. this is the global war on terrorism for lack of better term it's not a singular war. if that's going to be the case, if congress will have any say in it, they've got to get in the game >> 30 seconds on the just released report on sexual harassment in the military and levels not changing all that much. you're going to see a lot of reaction from the hill on that
particularly senator rand who's out front and center. perhaps it might revise the debate inside the commain of command, outside of chain of command. it's interesting the chairman mentioned congress packs hundreds of provisions in the last several years to adeless specific problem but there's not a lot of times for it to make root. they said, let's still give this time sm time to see if this can make progress before we take more drastic measures. >> will that be sufficient for them? >> no, probably not. >> probably not. those in favor for taking the decision for prosecution out of the chain of command, which is the >> of gillibrand, the leave that is the only way this problem can be seriously addressed. there is also a broader issue of change of culture within the military. it seems like retaliations are not common if you do report these crimes. >> secretary carter said even