Representative Mike Pompeo, West Point and Harvard Law graduate, joined me today to fact check the “fact checker” at the Washington Post, Michelle Ye Hee Lee:
HH: Joined now by Congressman Mike Pompeo from Kansas’ 4th Congressional District. There was something playing in my ear there, but it wasn’t Mike Pompeo. Hello, Congressman, how are you?
MP: It’s good to be with you, Hugh. How are you today?
HH: Great. I have got to talk to you specifically, in hour number three, I’m going to have on a Washington Post reporter, Michelle Ye Hee Lee, who wrote a piece today, The Zombie Claim About Navy Ship Numbers Returns To The 2016 Campaign Trail, in which she blasts Lindsey Graham and Scott Walker for talking about how our Navy has declined in size and capability. Now you’re a West Point grad, but you know this stuff. Do you think it deserves three Pinocchios, that Lindsey Graham and Scott Walker and every other Republican is out there talking about Reagan had 600 ships, and we’re down to 273?
MP: Well, them’s the facts. So I don’t know how you get three Pinocchios when there’s a fact. What they really mean is they try and say well, we don’t need that many anymore. I can assure you, we are beginning to see this need, right? The Chinese are building an island in the South China Sea. We’ve got Iranian ships sailing through the Gulf of Aden, and we’ve got enormous problems where the Russians are beginning to move their fleet into places they’ve not moved it before. I can assure you, our naval power is going to be called on in the next month and years in a way that the three Pinocchios that that comment was given, doesn’t do justice to.
HH: Let me, for the benefit of the audience, read her conclusion, the Pinocchio test, and this is what she writes. “This is a cautionary tale to 2016 candidates putting together their talking points. We have been through the ship counting comparison in the last presidential cycle. And fact checkers agreed it is a poor way to depict the country’s naval fleet needs. Gunboats of 1915 and aircraft carriers of 2015 are not the same. Military budget, fleet needs and sartorial circumstances are much different in 2015 than they were in 1915 or the 1980s. The current fleet is smaller than what combatant commanders report they need, and their figure would be a more responsible one to use. We gave Romney three Pinocchios, and we will repeat the same rating. It is time to put this zombie comparison to rest.” What say you, Mike Pompeo?
MP: It is the case that not every ship is exactly the same, and can’t be counted identically. I think that much of what she says is true. But to begin to think that having half of the number of vessels that we had when we were a true naval power begins to approach what our national security needs are going to demand is a silly statement on her part, and I wish I could rate her. I have a number of Pinocchios I might provide for her as well.
HH: Yeah, I actually think the more important, it’s dangerous.
HH: It misleads the public. We’ve got an entire, and I’ll ask her about this, Ronald Reagan introduced the Ohio Class submarine, God bless him, and he deployed a new strategic asset. And those are all going to be gone, Mike Pompeo, by 2030, because you can’t extend a nuclear submarine’s shelf life.
MP: That’s right. Look, there are multiple issues that do in fact go beyond just the mere number of things. But make no mistake what Senator Graham and Governor Walker are talking about, is a president who has refused to create the new assets and upgrade the technology and provide the people and the skills and the training, and the resources so that you don’t have, right, you’ve always got a third of your equipment that’s either out of operation or in training. He has refused to provide naval forces with the power to project American power. And you see what happens when the vacuum is created. You see the Chinese and the Russians and the Iranians move in to fill that void.
HH: Now I want to ask you specifically, and I’m aware and I always remind the audience you’re on the Intelligence Committee. You have to be careful what you say. But we’ve got the Theodore Roosevelt steaming towards Yemen right now, and we have Iranian ships that are saying they’re bent on resupplying the Houthis. And we’ve got a White House and a State Department, a Department of Defense that have got three different choir books that they’re singing from, and it doesn’t make a harmonious noise. What is going on, Mike Pompeo?
MP: The Iranians feel empowered to move about the cabin freely. And you see them doing that. They are convinced that they can take over large swaths of land using the Houthis as their proxy in Yemen, that they can begin a battle against the Saudis there. And they think for very good reasons that this administration is going to be very unlikely to stop them. We’ll issue demarches, we’ll tell them we wish that they wouldn’t do it, but the likelihood that this administration will actually intervene in a way that will stop them from doing this is something I can tell you the Iranians don’t believe.
HH: So when the Pentagon says we’re serious and we’re sending our flotilla there, what do you think that flotilla’s rules of engagement are vis-à-vis the Iranians, if you can say? I don’t know if you can say that or not.
MP: I can’t say, but you know, in these kinds of things, Hugh, it is always the case that almost as important as the rules themselves are what your enemy believes the rules to be. To the extent…
MP: …the Iranians think this will be just like our red line against Damascus, or our threat to stop Putin in Russia, the Iranians are going to make this a very difficult situation, one that’s much more dangerous that it would need to have been if we had a president that demonstrated that when he said something, he actually meant it.
HH: What is your latest assessment of the deal with Iran, which is not yet a deal, because it’s not in writing, and I know that we’re going to get Corker-Menendez, and we’ll get a chance to see a deal, maybe, somewhere down the road. But what’s your assessment of its vulnerability to Congressional defeat or its likelihood of actually entering into authority?
MP: Very worried about it. I think this president is intent on getting an agreement. And it is the case that this framework is largely fictional. I hope that Congress, both the Senate and the House will get an opportunity to review whatever document it is that is ultimately created, and they’ll, I think they’ll have to actually finally write something down and get both parties to sign it. I hope when they do that, we’ll get that opportunity. If we do, I am convinced that both the House and the Senate will reject a deal that looks like what has been outlined to us orally by Secretary Kerry and this president. This is not partisan. There are enormous numbers of members of Congress from both parties who understand putting Iran on a trajectory for a nuclear arsenal is dangerous for the United States.
HH: I was just going to ask that, and that’s my last question, Mike Pompeo, and I’ll tell the audience my number, 1-800-520-1234. A lot of friends of Israel, a lot of friends of Egypt, a lot of friends of Jordan and Saudi Arabia are worried about this deal. Do you think there are enough numbers to solidly turn back what is in essence our Munich moment?
MP: I’m counting on it. It’s necessary. It’s necessary not only to help our friends, the Israelis and all the other countries that think this is a bad idea, which in fact is almost every country, there will be enormous pressure on Democrats to support their president. I hope they will do the right thing. I hope they will see this as serious a threat to America as I do, and as so many of us do, and they’ll do the right thing and they will reject this deal, and we will ultimately make sure that Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon without resorting to giving away the store and releasing sanctions that will permit Iran to continue to kill Americans.
HH: Congressman Mike Pompeo from Kansas, always a pleasure, thanks for talking with me.
MP: Thank you, Hugh.
HH: Be well.
End of interview.