Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan joined me this morning:
HH: I am joined on the Hugh Hewitt Show by Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan. Senator Sullivan, welcome back, great to have you.
DS: Hey, Hugh, great to be on the show. Good morning.
HH: Good morning. Now you’re a Marine Corps officer, a National Security Council veteran now in the Senate. What did you make of the Singapore Summit?
DS: Well, look, I thought it was an important first step, obviously many more to come. And you know, the President and his team deserve credit for getting us this far. There’s a lot of critics out there who have already forgotten how we got there. And the way we got there was abandoning the Obama administration policy of strategic patience for the maximum pressure campaign, which was diplomacy, sanctions still, but importantly, Hugh, backed up by credible military options, rebuilding our military strength, and missile defense, something you know I’ve had a couple of bills on that have passed, rebuilding our missile defense. And I think it was important that the President the maximum pressure campaign will continue. And yet at the same time, he’s working on some trust-building measures. I think one that hasn’t gotten a lot of press which I think matters a lot is the MIA cooperation. But I do have concerns about the idea of cancelling military exercises with South Korea, and I think the administration needs to explain that much better. There’s a lot of confusion on that.
HH: Congressman Tim Ryan, Democrat running for president, obviously, an old friend of mine from Northeastern Ohio, was on last hour and said, did the same thing. They’re trying to flank the President on the right by saying that cancelling exercises, and Tim went, did the Democrat thing. He said he’s cancelling a lot more. He’s not cancelling naval operations in the South China Sea that would go close to these artificial islands. He’s not cancelling cooperation with India, but that’s what Tim was suggesting. He’s cancelling, and he’s actually not even cancelled it, the March-April major exercises which we just completed. Is there not enough time, Senator, to put that back in if they screw around with us?
DS: Yeah, and you know, exercises have been cancelled before, right? So the President’s clearly trying to give Kim Jong Un a little bit of negotiating room. So what they need to do, though, Hugh, as I mentioned, and it is interesting to see some Democrats, and I don’t know Congressman Ryan, but it is really interesting in the Senate to see these normal doves who aren’t, who you know, were supportive of Obama cutting Defense spending by 25% from 2010 to 2016 now becoming hawks, right? That’s a little ironic, of course. But what’s important is explaining exactly what this means. I’ve deployed over to South Korea as a Marine. And you do exercises all the time. And the one thing, and look, the President, you do a press conference. People pick at your words. But words do matter. You know, these exercises, from my perspective, they’re not provocative. They’re actually focused on deterrence. They’re focused on readiness. And these exercises deter aggression. They don’t provoke it. so to what degree we are going to cancel things, I think, needs to be explained better, but I certainly would imagine we’re going to continue to do the basic blocking and tackling interoperability of our work on the Korean Peninsula, which we’ve been doing for decades, which has been the lynchpin of security not just on the Peninsula, but in the entire region.
HH: You know, I listened to the press conference live and played most of it, Senator Sullivan, and the President was talking specifically about the B52’s from Guam, which is the big operation in the spring that always spooks the North Koreans, because these are, that’s the sound of doom coming at you, right?
HH: And you can hear them coming. We have plenty of time if they cheat to say sorry, B52’s are coming back, don’t we?
DS: We do. And there’s a bigger issue where I think the President in his press conference was clear on, and that’s the issue of trading legally deployed U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula for illegally obtained nuclear weapons, right? And what the President said, hey, we’re not doing that. That’s not part of the negotiation. Mattis has said the same thing. I led a Senate delegation over to Singapore the week before the summit at a big defense ministers’ conference there, where Secretary Mattis was there. And I actually have a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act right now that we’re debating that says hey, it should be non-negotiable to trade in these negotiations U.S. military forces on the Korean Peninsula for some kind of reduction or elimination of the nukes. That’s just not a negotiable item. The President essentially said that in the press conference. Mattis said that at the defense ministers conference in Singapore two weeks ago, and we are backing it up in the Senate with a provision that I authored that’s in the Defense Authorization Act already that we are debating on the Senate floor as we speak.
HH: Here is what the President told Bret Baier last night about the 32,000 troops in South Korea, cut number two:
DT: No, it’s not drawing down at all. In fact, honestly, it was never discussed. I’m sure he’d like that. It was never on the table. It was sort of understood. That was never on the table. With that being understood, and you know, you asked me a question like that, I would love to get the military out as soon as we can, because it costs a lot of money, a lot of money for us. We don’t get paid fully for that military, which you know, I’ll be talking to South Korea about. But we have 32,000 soldiers in South Korea. I’d like to get them home, I would like to, but it is not on the table right now.
HH: Now Senator Sullivan, not on the table is good, but getting them home is not, because I don’t think we’re going to get them out of there any time in my lifetime.
DS: I agree, Hugh, and look, actually, I talked to the President about this provision in the NDAA. And what he just said there was exactly what the provision said. Hey, we didn’t even talk about it. It’s not on the table. That’s good, right? The idea of later getting them all home, I disagree with that. Now there’s one issue that I think the administration, there’s a little bit of confusion on. Let me just give you one example. The South Koreans, the administration is negotiating more of the kind of payment, cost sharing on the Korean Peninsula. So the President wants to have the South Koreans pay more. That’s fine. They do already pay a substantial portion. Let me give you one example. Right now on the Korean Peninsula, we are consolidating our Army forces to one major camp. It’s called Camp Humphreys. It’s south of Seoul, and we’re shutting down a lot of bases and bringing all the U.S. forces, U.S. military forces, mostly Army, to Camp Humphreys. I’ve been to Camp Humphreys. It is an incredible military base built from the ground up. It cost $10.8 billion dollars to build. And the South Koreans, this is a U.S. military base, paid $10 billion of the 10.8. And the part they didn’t pay for, under the law, they weren’t allowed to, because it deals with SCIFs and secure facilities.
DS: So essentially on Camp Humphreys, the South Koreans are paying almost the entire thing, over 93%, of a U.S. military base. So it’s not like in Europe where they’re not doing their share. I think they’re doing a lot. But right now, the President’s correct to say that this is not on the table. Longer term, you know, I think we’ve got to be very, very careful. These troops, our troops in Japan, have been the lynchpin of security in the Asia Pacific for decades, and, this is really important, Hugh, the Russians, the Chinese, have made it for decades their goal to get American forces out of Korea, out of Japan, and that should tell us something. We shouldn’t give them that gift.
HH: I had a chance to have a meal yesterday with retired Vice Admiral French, who was in charge of all naval installations, including Atsugi, Iwakuni, all the, you know, everywhere that the Navy and the Marines are, he had all that stuff. We’ve got airplanes all over that place, and we’ve got to keep, and we’ve got ships in ports all over the place, and we’ve got to keep them. I mean, that is just, that’s basic conservative sound policy. Let me go to what Secretary of State Pompeo said overnight. He said that there will be no sanctions relief for North Korea while it maintains nuclear weapons. He also said it will take two to two and a half years to denuclearize, and he was adamant that complete denuclearization included irreversible, verifiable denuclearization. What do you make of the Secretary’s statements? Are you surprised by them, because I just viewed the agreement as very Spartan, but also the press conference’s elaborating on it?
DS: Well, look, I think Pompeo shows what’s a real strength of this administration, which is they’ve got a great team. They’ve got serious people. I know Pompeo well, Secretary Mattis, Bolton, General Kelly. These are top notch, serious national security officials. And I think it shows the importance of learning the lessons from the Iran nuclear deal, right? One of the big problems, as you and I have discussed, I was one of the major opponents against that deal, but one of the big challenges with that, one of the big flaws, in my view, we lifted all the leverage as soon as the deal came into effect. We lifted all the sanctions’ leverage before the Iranians did anything. And we should learn that lesson. I know Secretary Pompeo believes that. The other lesson that I think is going to be important, and they’ve already talked about it, if there is a major agreement, bring that to the Senate. Bring that to the Senate as a treaty. Don’t try to bypass the Congress of the United States the way Obama did, and John Kerry did, because what that’s going to lead to is something that’s not durable, and you can quickly walk away from it like the President rightfully did, in my view, with regard to the Iran nuclear deal.
HH: I talked to Leader McConnell about, and I mean, I’ve talked to everyone about this, and Leader McConnell and Senator Cotton and Senator Graham, and everyone says the same thing. Are you convinced that the President agrees that any agreement with North Korea has to go to the Senate?
DS: Yes, I am.
HH: That’s good.
DS: And we’ll see. I hope that they, I certainly hope that that’s their view, but I’m pretty certain it is. And you know, there’ll be a lot of concerns in the Senate if it isn’t.
HH: Last question, Senator Dan Sullivan, I have said Leader McConnell became the longest serving GOP leader in the Senate in history this week. I have told people he’d been the best Congressional leader of the GOP in my lifetime in both Houses. What’s your assessment of Leader McConnell’s record and stewardship of our majority and just generally the Republican cause up there?
DS: Well, look, you know, I’ve only been in the Senate, Hugh, for three and a half years. So as a matter of fact, I was part of the big wave election that brought Leader McConnell into the majority in 2014. I’m proud to have been part of that wave election of young, new senators. But since we’ve gotten here, and he became the majority leader, you know, I think we’ve accomplished plenty with this administration. You know, Leader McConnell likes to talk about if you believe in right of center politics and accomplishments. We’ve done more in the last year and a half than in his 30 years in the Senate. And that’s major tax reform, that’s opening ANWR and unleashing American energy, that’s rolling back regulations, and very, very importantly, and something I know you care a lot about, changing the fact and structure of the 3rd branch of government, the judiciary. We’ve had 21 federal Court of Appeals judges confirmed since President Trump came into office, and that doesn’t include an outstanding Supreme Court justice. And Leader McConnell had a lot, a lot to do with that hugely important record for America that’s going to last for decades. Most of these judges, and I meet with most of them, even though I’m not on the Judiciary Committee, are under 50. They’re smart, they’re focused on reading the text of the Constitution and statutes the way most Americans want them to be, and it’s going to be a really important legacy that he’s largely responsible for.
HH: Well said. Senator Dan Sullivan, good to see you, great to have you, come back again early. Safe travels to Alaska.
End of interview.