Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan joined me this morning:
HH: Joined now by United States Senator Dan Sullivan of the great state of Alaska. Though Dan Sullivan is from Alaska, he like Condoleezza Rice who lives in California, and I, who live in Virginia, are Cleveland Browns fans. We could spend the entire 13 minutes Senator Sullivan, bemoaning the quarterback situation. We’re going back to DeShone Kizer. What do you think?
DS: You know, Hugh, great to be on the program again. I’ve been saying this, and you know, I think I’ve said on the show many times, we just need a franchise quarterback, you know?
DS: We need another Bernie Kosar or somebody. But 0-6? You know you’re a hard-core fan when you’re still rooting for a team that, I don’t know, hasn’t won a game in, what, a couple of years now?
HH: No, we’ve won 1. We’ve won one in two years. But I want to go with Kizer and just give him the ball and see if he’s the guy by the end of the year. That’s all I want to see, so…
DS: Well, it’s all about a franchise quarterback.
DS: I mean, we’ve been talking about this for two decades.
HH: All right, let’s get to the Senate.
HH: Is the Alexander-Murray…
DS: Hey, by the way, I appreciated your article the other day in the Post. It was spot on.
HH: Oh, thank you.
DS: Yeah, absolutely.
HH: It was about moving the Senate forward. It was about getting untracked, because the Democrats are not going to help us. But we need to go 24/7, and I think the Leader is doing that. Is that what’s happening?
DS: Well, look, you know, it’s, you never want to come on the show and pat your own back, but me and a couple other senators, David Perdue and I in particular, have been encouraging both publicly but privately strongly for the last several months to go 24/7, right? We wanted to cancel the August recess. We held a press conference on that. We wrote our leadership, and then we did take, we cancelled two weeks of the six week recess. I thought we should have cancelled all six weeks. And you know, when you just do a little bit of that, just a little bit, the Dems cave. And Schumer caves. And what I think we should be doing is saying we should stay from now until Christmas to get our big to-do list done, and stay on weekends if we have to, because you know, we’ve got a lot of work to do. And people say well, we’re running out of time. My point is then let’s make more time. Let’s stay here, and the leadership in the Senate is now starting to move that way, and I think it’s positive. But we’ve got a heck of a lot of work to do as you know.
HH: I do. I don’t believe there should be a single judicial nominee unvoted on by one year anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration. And that’s not going to happen unless you guys do go 24/7. And so I’m glad to see that you’re beginning…
DS: We are pressing it, and it’s a lot of the newer senators, and it’s kind of a generational issue. And I think we’re starting to finally make the case, and get listened to, and I think that’s important. But I agree with you 100%.
HH: I just talked with your colleague, Ron Johnson, about this. It is hard to demand that the Democrats not obstruct when Senator Bob Corker has holds on eight ambassadors, including Estonia, Germany and France when he’s worried about World War III. Have you talked to Senator Corker about you know, that is the example that shows why the Senate’s dysfunctional. You can’t do that to our executive branch. It’s irresponsible.
DS: Well, look, I don’t think it’s helpful. What I’ve been saying is if you don’t like someone, get them to the floor, you can vote against them, right? But don’t, you don’t have to do that in a blanket way. There’s always reasons occasionally for the occasional, I would call, tactical hold. I’ve done it. I did it a lot with President Obama. I’ve even done it a few times with President Trump. But the bigger issue here, but then you have discussions, and you move on. The bigger issue here is the obstruction from Chuck Schumer, right? I was on the floor, gave a speech a couple of weeks ago with a chart laying out that at this time eight years ago, Hugh, with regard to President Obama’s nominees, almost 70% of them at this time in the Obama administration eight years ago had been confirmed by the Senate. The number with President Trump is about 33%. They are blocking every which way they can. The press won’t write about it. If Republicans had done this to Obama, it would have been a front page story on the New York Times every single day. It’s a non-story here, and it’s a huge story for America, because the Democrats are just blocking people for a whole week, and then they’ll vote for them 95-1, like you know, in recent circumstances.
HH: Now you can invoke, you can invoke the Reid Rule, which is that the rules of the Senate can be changed by a simple majority. That’s the Reid Rule. Why not change the amount of debate for nominees to, as Ron Johnson just suggested, five minutes? Why not do that? If they’re going to play this game, let’s play the Reid Rule card.
DS: Well, we have been discussing that option. And the other option is, which I like even more, because you know, changing the rules can take some time, the other option I really like that we’ve already talked about is fine, you want to do that? Let’s stay 24/7. Let’s stay seven days a week. I guarantee you we’ll break their will. We just have to have a stronger will than they do.
HH: I hope you are right. You’re a Marine, though, so I think, I hope you can get your colleagues. I know Mitch McConnell is the best leader of my lifetime, and so I expect to break the logjam.
DS: Look, I think Mitch agrees. I think Mitch agrees with this, which is the important thing, and that’s why he’s moving in that direction. There’s some other members of our conference who have needed more convincing, and I think they’re getting convinced. So my view is let’s just outwill them, right? These guys want to go home. They have, what, 26 senators up for reelection? They need to get home, do their fundraising. Let’s keep them here 24/7, and make them stop obstructing.
DS: And we’ll win that. We will win that. We’ve just got to show more tenacity and will than they have.
HH: Substance – is Lamar Alexander-Patty Murray’s deal dead?
DS: Look, I have the utmost respect, I had a long chat with Lamar Alexander yesterday, and he has been working it so hard. And you know, the key issue there has been how much more authority and flexibility can we get to states, which is something in the health care debate I believe fully in. You know, the Democrats weren’t budging on that at all. I think what President Trump was saying, hey, we’re going to cancel these CSRs, that that gave Lamar some leverage. I just don’t know if it went far enough in terms of getting the authority back to the states. I’m studying that bill right now, but it’s looking like it’s teetering a little bit. And I don’t know where it is in the House, but there’s a lot of criticism on the House side.
HH: Yeah, it looks like it’s dead, and I mean clarity before agreement, as Dennis Prager likes to say. I’m very clear about this. There is no Senate bill that’s going to get to conference after a day of looking at this. And I think we ought to just put it aside until next year, because nothing has got a majority in the Senate. Am I right or wrong on that?
DS: Well, look, right now, I think you’re right. But here’s the bigger issue that I think is a really critical one. We’re at this huge crossroads in America on health care. Think about it. Obamacare is failing, but then what are the directions that the two parties are looking at? I was a fan of Graham-Cassidy, more power, more authority back to the states, federalism, 10th Amendment. And then look where the Democrats are. Bernie Sanders, government run, government takeover of health care two years ago had no co-sponsors. Right now, he got 16 co-sponsors, one-third of the Democrats in the Senate, are for a government takeover of health care. That’s the direction that we’re at. I think we need a really, really big debate on this early next year, because I think we can win this debate. The vast majority of people, Democrats and Republicans, don’t want a system where the government takes over and kicks 170 million Americans off their private insurance.
HH: So the reality is there isn’t going to be health care legislation this year. That’s just the reality. But there is going to be a tax bill, and are you going to vote for the budget today, by the way?
HH: And do you expect, there is a story this morning, it makes no sense to me, but there is this story that President Trump has been urging House members to simply vote for the budget that you pass, thereby enacting tax reform. It doesn’t work that way. I don’t think the President is asking that, because you don’t have enough detail in this budget, do you?
DS: No. What the budget does is it’s a resolution. It’s a broad framework, and then it provides instructions to the key committees, and this budget resolution provides two instructions to the Finance Committee to work on more detailed legislation on tax reform, and importantly, from my perspective, and I know you support this, Hugh, to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to come up with additional revenue for America in the energy sector, which is one of our great strategic advantages. Those are the two instructions in this budget resolution. Those committees will work on more specific legislation, and then we come back and vote on more specific legislation. But no, moving forward just on a budget resolution, we don’t have enough detail on the tax reform or the energy legislation to make an impact.
HH: That’s what I thought. And so that story is misplaced. So the House actually has to come up with a bill that is detailed. What is your advice to Kevin Brady, Majority Leader McCarthy and Speaker Ryan about the state and local income tax deduction?
DS: I’m supportive of it.
HH: You want to keep it?
DS: I mean, that…
HH: You want to keep it? You want to keep it?
DS: Yes. I mean, one of the things that we’re trying to do here is not only, you know, broaden the base, right, but then lower the rates. And one of the biggest ways you bring in more revenue is through that deduction. That’s about $1.3 trillion.
HH: Oh, so you want to get rid of it. I want clarity.
DS: Oh, I’m sorry. I want to…
HH: You want to end it.
DS: …I absolutely want to get rid of it.
HH: Okay, would you give a transition period so that people who have relied upon it, you know, it will devastate California, New York’s economies. It just will.
DS: What I want to do is work, Rand Paul’s raised a good point on this one, which is you have to look at that to make sure that you’re not impacting people in such a way that it’s going to cause a middle class tax increase.
DS: So there are ways that you can dial that different ways, and also, there are ways that you can stagger who and what income levels that impacts. But I think the broader policy behind it is really good policy. Why should you know, different states in the United States subsidize through the federal tax code the big spending, big taxing states like Massachusetts, California or Illinois? It doesn’t, I don’t think it’s fair policy. And I think we need to address it.
HH: There are two reasons for that. There are two reasons for that. One is that people relied upon it when they made life decisions that they can’t easily alter, and secondly, by taking it away, and I’m no longer a Californian, so it doesn’t concern me, you trigger economic instability such that it would cause recessions in those states with ripple effects into other states, because it will have an enormous impact. Now transition rules change that.
HH: And so transitions, that’s why you work on transition rules. But now to the bottom line. There is no tax, I don’t know when we’re going to see a plan, because you know, you’re running out of time. Talk about 24/7 on nominees, Kevin Brady is a great guy, and they need to put the details out of a plan so that this can move forward.
DS: Well look, I do think what’s been happening, and I agree with you on the transition. You want to make this as least disruptive as possible, and that point I made earlier. You don’t want the impact of this somehow creating a middle class tax increase. You want that to be a decrease. But we can, I’m very confident we can do that. People are working on that right now. To your other point about time, I agree with you. It’s the reason we need more time, but also, there’s been a lot of work for months that’s been going on, on Ways and Means, on Finance. So it’s not as if everybody’s waiting for the vote today to get going on it. We’re going to hold hearings. Hopefully, we get through the vote today. But the Finance Committee, Ways and Means Committee are going to be holding hearings soon, regular order, which is what people are asking for, on the specifics of the tax plan. So there’s a lot of simultaneous work going on in those key committees that do the tax writing. And so that’s what’s happening. We’re not starting from scratch just now.
HH: So do you believe we will have a tax bill by the end of this year passed and on the President’s desk, Dan Sullivan?
DS: That’s certainly my goal. And that’s why I’ve been encouraging all of my colleagues to say we’re not going to leave here until that happens.
HH: All right, last subject for you. You’re one of the few combat veterans in the United States Senate. The gold star family controversies don’t seem to stop. Whenever I have talked to gold star families, I’m a civilian and I try just to listen, and I do not have commentary on what they want to say. What is your advice to everyone about talking with gold star families about their losses, from the President to the civilian behind a microphone to every member of the media, to everyone? What’s Dan Sullivan’s advice?
DS: Just what you said. Hug them, thank them, and listen to them, and that’s it, and honor them. And that’s about as simple as we can do. And it’s what every American should do, regardless of party, regardless of where they are in their, you know, professions. Those families have given their all, and most of us can never, ever even comprehend the grief that they’re going through. So just listen to them, hug them and honor them.
HH: Yeah, and then the last question, Raqqa was liberated yesterday. Our Special Forces were there, but they weren’t there. It’s a huge victory. No one is paying attention to the destruction of the capital of the self-propelling caliphate. I believe, Mike Gallagher said yesterday, it’s a result of tactical changes adopted by this President and secretary of Defense, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Centcom commander, but I think the fact the media doesn’t want to give any credit to President Trump is the reason people aren’t celebrating it. What do you think, Senator Sullivan?
DS: I agree that it’s a story that’s enormously important, and nobody’s picking up on it. Chairman Dunford and Secretary Mattis testified in front of the Armed Services Committee just two weeks ago. I started my questioning with them, of them saying great job on this. I know no one’s talking about it, but great job. And you talk about a change in tactics, Hugh? Let me give you just one of a whole number of examples from the previous administration, which by the way, they never even acknowledged that our troops were in combat. The Obama administration never acknowledged that our troops were in combat. As a matter of fact, their White House tried to deny that troops were in combat, even troops that had gotten killed. But one, let me just give you one example in terms of tactics. You remember during the Obama years, if you were a truck driver delivering oil or fuel for ISIS, you had a free pass. Nobody was going to touch you. Trust me, right now, with the new tactics, particularly implemented by Secretary Mattis and General Dunford, mostly Mattis, if you were driving any kind of vehicle that was delivering oil or any kind of refinery that ISIS was in control of, and by the way, that’s tens of millions of dollars to finance their terrorist operations…
DS: Those have all been up in smoke. Any guy driving a truck full of fuel has a very, very short life expectancy in that part of the world. And during the Obama years, those guys had a free pass. So that’s just one example of tactics where it was serious. What Mattis talks about, our goal is annihilation of ISIS, annihilation. That’s what he says. And that’s what’s happened. The media doesn’t want to talk about it, but it’s an enormous victory, I wouldn’t say, for just the Trump administration, it’s for America.
HH: For America.
DS: But you know who really, really deserves the credit is our troops on the front lines risking their lives in combat, yes, they’re in combat, and they’ve done a phenomenal job with good Pentagon leadership. And I think every American should be proud.
HH: 30 seconds, General Soleimani from Iran was in Kirkuk over the weekend. And now, Kurdistan is under attack from Shiia militia. Should we be stopping that? Should we send our troops to Kurdistan to stop this?
DS: Look, as you know, it’s enormously complicated. The Peshmerga are critical allies of ours. But you know, your point on General Soleimani, I mean, this is one of these elements of the Iran nuclear deal. The implementing U.N Security council resolution 2231 for the Obama nuclear deal, had all these provisions and annexes, one of which was terrorists on the list of individuals who are not supposed to travel would be a violation of that U.N. Security Council resolution. Guess who’s on that list? Soleimani.
DS: Soleimani goes to Russia, Soleimani goes to Syria.
DS: And somehow, people say that the Iranians are in compliance with the deal? They’re not in compliance with the deal.
HH: They’re not.
DS: They’ve violated the elements of the U.N. Security Council resolution dealing with conventional weapons, dealing with missile testing, and dealing with the traveling of terrorists like Soleimani.
HH: Thank you for that point, Senator Sullivan, always a pleasure, thank you.
DS: Hugh, great to hear you.
End of interview.