Senator Kelly Ayotte is among the best-informed of the United States Senate on national security issues across the board. Support her re-election (crucial to holding the GOP Senate majority) via http://www.kellyfornh.com/ She joined me on Wednesday’s show:
HH: I’m so pleased to welcome back one of our favorite guests to the program, United States Senator Kelly Ayotte of the great state of New Hampshire. Senator Ayotte, good to talk to you. You’re still probably enjoying the Villanova win, your law school, alma mater.
KA: I am. Thanks, Hugh, that was a great game. Boy, so…
HH: You know, you’re still…
KA: Oh, I’m glad that they had such a great year.
HH: You’re still on Cloud 9. Hey, look, we haven’t got a lot of time, so I want to get to important stuff. The National Defense Authorization Act, in which you are critically involved, is going to move, I think, this week in the United States Senate. First of all…
KA: Yeah, so at least we’ll begin the debate. I don’t know if we’ll finish it, but definitely.
HH: Now that has never not passed, right? That will get done.
KA: It has gotten done for decades, so I can’t say never, but it really is a bill that’s bipartisan and has gotten done every year certainly since I’ve been in the Senate. But it’s really been for decades, and it’s important, because it is a bill that really defines, obviously, all kinds of issues – force structure, weapon systems for our troops, pay/benefits, all kinds of issues that obviously impact dramatically our military and our readiness.
HH: Let’s talk about a few of those. One of those is Gitmo and who guards the terrorists at Gitmo. You’ve got a special waiver on the NDAA this year about that. Tell people about that.
KA: I do. Unfortunately, what happened is the 9/11 terrorists, they actually challenge in the military commission the ability of our women guards at Guantanamo to guard them, claiming that on religious basis, they couldn’t have women guard them. But by the way, Hugh, talk about a bogus claim, they were contesting the women being able to transport them to our their court proceedings, but for everything else, it was okay, including feeding them, etc. And so I filed an amendment, because this is an issue that I’ve been really outraged about. The military commission actually for a period had barred our women guards from handling these 9/11 terrorists. And recently, there was a military commission opinion that basically said well, we don’t find a Constitutional issue. We’re going to, for a period, not have these women guard them. And I said give me a break. We’re not going to allow, you know, radical Islamist terrorists to determine what our women in the military do.
HH: That is ridiculous.
KA: These women are very, very good. They are fully qualified, and terrorists aren’t going to decide certainly who’s going to make these personnel decisions when the women at Gitmo do an excellent job.
HH: You know, my friend, John Ondrasik of Five For Fighting, has been down and played for the Gitmo folks at Cuba, and he’s told me about their remarkable sacrifices. One of my law partners, Robert O’Brien, has been an observer of these proceedings, and he talked about the remarkable sacrifices. I cannot believe that happened, and kudos to you for correcting that. I hope that passes on the NDAA.
KA: Well, thank you, and I’m glad you recognize the sacrifices of our men and women who serve at Guantanamo. They do do an excellent job. I’ve been there to visit, and we’re proud of what they do.
HH: All right, on the veterans issue, I also want to talk about the VA. I just talked to Joe Heck about this. And VA Secretary McDonald issued the biggest non-apology I’ve ever heard about comparing wait times at the VA to Disneyland. He hemmed and he hawed, and he said he’s sorry if he’s misunderstood. What do you think of this?
KA: I think that he should stop digging this hole and he should apologize. I mean, Hugh, this is so wrong. First of all, I know it’s happening with our veterans, because I hear it. They are waiting, they are on the phone waiting for an appointment for too long. And the people that we should put in front of the line are often in the back of the line. So the wait list issue is very significant, because we know obviously with instances in Arizona and other places across the country, veterans literally died waiting for care. So for him to diminish this issue, in some way, I think it shows, what worries me most is that instead of taking the view that we need to be accountable to our veterans, this is the opposite of what we want.
HH: I’m talking with United States Senator Kelly Ayotte. You should be supporting her for reelection, American, www.ayotteforsenate.com. Follow her on Twitter @AyotteNH, because this is one of the three keys. I’ve talked about Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Hampshire. These are the three keys for the Republicans. Kelly Ayotte is also one of our great Armed Services experts, and to that, I turn next. At Breaking Defense this morning, there’s a picture of Ash Carter up at Electric Boat touring the Virginia Class assembly process. There have been some problems in the program, but Senator Ayotte, you’ve got oversight on this. You’ve got their back, and I think they fix the boats in your state, don’t they?
KA: Yeah, absolutely. So at the Ports and the Naval Shipyard, where thousands of folks from New Hampshire work, it’s the very best shipyard in the world, Hugh. But essentially what they do there is they maintain our attack submarine fleet, and they do work on our Virginia class submarines. And I have to say I’m bragging about that shipyard, but literally, they have been getting the submarines back to our fleet below budget and ahead of schedule. So they do incredibly important work, and here’s the problem we have with our attack submarine fleet. We have more, so at this point, we’re only meeting 60% of the requests of our combatant commanders for the support from the attack submarine fleet. We know what China’s doing in the South Pacific, and presence is so important, so we need to continue to build two Virginia class submarines each year, because we’re going to see a trough in the size of our fleet at a time when China’s building up, Russia as well, and we have the best attack submarine fleet, but we have to contain. You know, obviously, dominance in the ocean is very important as we look at threats around the world.
HH: Now Senator, I talk about this a lot, and people kind of get a chuckle out of it when I bring up the Ohio class replacement program, the Virginia class submarine. But it really is the tip of the underwater spear, and we have a lead. We have to keep that lead there, and a lot of that depends upon Groton, Connecticut. A lot of it depends upon Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
HH: But do you get, do your colleagues get this? Do they buy into the submarine fleet’s necessity, both the boomers and the attack subs?
KA: Well, I can tell you that there’s been, I think, universal support in the Armed Services Committee on the need for the attack submarine fleet, and to obviously continue to, frankly, our fleet is too small, to continue to build on it. I mean, we’re obviously focusing on making sure that costs, for example, on the Ohio replacement are where they need to be, and oversight over that, but I think the Armed Services Committee is very focused. The question I have is obviously beyond the committee, if you’re not familiar with the ins and outs. I think my colleagues, for the most part, understand the importance of a strong Navy, but maybe not all the specifics on the attack submarine fleet, which is a very important component of the overall fleet that we have.
HH: Are you satisfied that we’ve still got the tech edge, Senator Ayotte? You’re one of the people who study this. I mean, New Hampshire voters have got to understand how critical you are to this. But very few people, I read about it, I’m a civilian, I don’t get into it, I don’t get the classified briefings. Do we still have the edge that we need under the water?
KA: We do still have the edge. I’m very proud we do have the technological edge. But Hugh, as you know, this is something you can’t, you can’t just rest on where you are. You have to constantly be doing research and development on new technologies, updating your fleet. And so yes, I feel confident that we have the edge underwater, but are others researching and trying to catch up with us? Absolutely. And so this is a race we just have to continue to stay on top of, and that means, obviously, not just maintaining our workforce that is focused and our experts on building and maintaining these submarines, but also the research and development on new technologies.
HH: Let me close by talking about Iran with you, because also this is another area where you lead in the United States Senate. And the Iranian deal is a nightmare, and I talk about it all the time.
KA: It sure is.
HH: But their ballistic missile tests continue. And the White House ignores these ballistic missile tests. Don’t they breach the agreement?
KA: Yeah, Hugh, I’m, first of all, the ballistic missile situation is very, very dangerous. Just to put it into perspective, Iran tested ballistic missiles both in October, November, this is post-agreement being signed. Then, they tested again, they fired more, just recently March 8th, March 9th, and on one of the missiles, they wrote Israel must be wiped off the face of the Earth in Hebrew.
KA: And so they have continued. I actually have been really upset at the administration’s lack of response. They put some very weak, tepid sanctions in place in January that were ignored by Iran. We know that, because they continued to test. So I have what’s called the Iran Ballistic Missile Sanctions Act that has real sanctions with teeth. I’ve got 17 sponsors at this point. So I just think the administration would like everyone to believe don’t look at what’s really happening post-agreement with Iran, everything is great. But unfortunately, what we have actually seen is worse behavior, in many instances, not just on the ballistic missile program, but also in their support for terrorism. And by the way, Hugh, if their, their claim is that we only want peaceful nuclear power, then guess what? You don’t need ballistic missiles.
HH: Amen to that. Kelly Ayotte, Senator from New Hampshire, thanks for joining me. Come back early and often.
KA: I look forward to that, Hugh.
HH: And American, support her.
KA: Thanks so much.
HH: Thank you. I love having people on from the Senate who actually know about the military and who actually care about the National Defense Authorization Act. Support Kelly Ayotte, www.ayotteforSenate.com, and www.kelly4NH.com. I got it wrong there. Her Twitter handle is @AyotteNH, www.kelly4NH.com is the best website where you can go and contribute, www.kelly4NH.com. Got to keep her in the Senate. Ayotte in New Hampshire, Portman in Ohio, Toomey in Pennsylvania. Those are the big three. On that turns, I think, the security of the United States. Can’t give the Senate to Chuck Schumer. Simply can’t be done.
End of interview.