Senator Rand Paul was my guest today. The transcript will be posted below later.
I remain mystified how so many key figures in Washington with some portion of authority over the war have not read The Looming Tower and the much more recent The Triple Agent (this has only been in bookstores for a few weeks, so not having read it is more understandable, though given the debate over the drone program, it should be on every nightstand in D.C.). This unwillingness to do the basic work of familiarity with the best writing and analysis on the war is a bipartisan problem, and it extends across all three branches. My Washington Examiner column from earlier this week makes this same point, and hopefully the various staffs/clerks/handlers start putting the key books into the key hands.
HH: I begin with a very special welcome to Senator Rand Paul of the great state of Kentucky, first time on the program. Senator Paul, it’s great to have you.
RP: Good to be with you, Hugh.
HH: Let me start by asking you a question that’s prompted by Chris Christie dropping out today of the presidential speculation, Senator Paul. If your father were to drop out, would you consider getting in?
RP: (laughing) I tell people, and I’ve told them from the beginning, you know, one Paul in the race at a time. So no, I don’t think there’s any danger of him dropping out. I did say in the beginning, when he hadn’t made his decision, that I was interested in it, because I think we really need some leadership in our country. But no, I think my dad’s doing a great job, and I think this is his year. [# More #]
HH: Now I’m a very fierce critic of his foreign policy, and I don’t believe he can get the nomination. I’m just telling you this for full disclosure. My question is if he decided I can’t really do this, I can’t get this, but Rand, my son is over here, and he could actually make a pretty good run at this thing, and he took you aside and said you want me to step down, you want to get in, what would you tell him?
RP: Well, you know, it’s kind of hard to go through a hypothetical that I don’t think’s going to happen. I do want to be part of the national debate, and to be someone who can propose some national solutions. Just since I’ve been here, you know, in the last eight months, I’ve been part of proposing Social Security reform that would fix it for 75 years. We’re getting ready to introduce Medicare reform that would fix it for 75 years. I do think that there are solutions up here to our problems. I’ve been a big part of the balanced budget amendment crowd, so I think there is a lot I can do. But I think my plate’s full right now in the Senate. And then time will tell. You know, whatever happens in this next election will tell whether or not there’s ever an opportunity for me for anything else.
HH: Will you support whoever is the Republican nominee, Senator Paul?
HH: Let me play for you your father’s comment, and talk some foreign policy with you, and then we’ll get to Ben Bernanke and other domestic policy issues. But this is your dad in New Hampshire telling a press gaggle that killing al-Awlaki was a mistake. Cut number 11:
RP: No, I don’t think that’s a good way to deal with our problems. He was born here. al-Awlaki was born here. He’s an American citizen. He was never tried or charged for any crimes. Nobody knows if he ever killed anybody. We know that he might have been associated with the underwear bomber. If the American people accept this blindly and casually, we now have an accepted practice with the President assassinating people who he thinks are bad guys. I think it’s sad. I think what would have people have said about Timothy McVeigh? We didn’t assassinate him? They were pretty certain that he had done it. They put him through the courts and they executed him. But to start assassinating American citizens without charges, we should think very seriously about this.
HH: Senator Rand Paul, what do you make of your father’s critique of the action last Friday?
RP: You know, I’m kinda of two minds. I think there is a quandary here, and maybe a difference between whether or not an American citizen is here or whether an American citizen is in a battlefield. I think that there is some difference on location, where you are, and that for example, people captured in Afghanistan or killed in Afghanistan don’t really get due process in U.S. courts, even if they are U.S. citizens. So I’m not sure being a U.S. citizen in another battleground is the operative problem. But on the other hand, I understand my dad’s point that there is a precedent here, and it is the first time that we’ve had an assassination we’ve had of a U.S. citizen. We did have rules against assassination of anyone for quite a while. And the question is, and I think this is the point he tries to make, is that should there be checks and balances, or should you allow, it’s sort of like the idea on Libya. Should we allow a president to go to war with a U.N. resolution as opposed to Congress voting on it? Should there be some check and balance to making the decision on who’s going to be assassinated? And I think that’s what he’s worried about. It’s not that al-Awlaki, or, I’m not sure I’m pronouncing it correctly, that anybody considers him to be anything other than a despicable human, and probably got his just dessert here. But the question is should we have checks and balance, or some kind of adjudication? You know, the President is now saying that he is not going to reveal even the process, not any secret details of what he did, but the process or the justification for how it was done. And I think sometimes, even when we take out somebody really bad, there should be some rules that we obey.
HH: Now your father brought up Timothy McVeigh. Do you see a distinction between Timothy McVeigh and al-Awlaki?
RP: Well, you know, they’re both terrorists, I guess. The difference is you know, location, I guess. If al-Awlaki had been in the United States, and conspiring to bomb us in a terrorist fashion, then I think you would see a similarity or the same thing with Timothy McVeigh. The fact that they’re in different location is a different circumstance. The other question, ultimately, on this, and this is the difficulty of it, I understand and agree that we have to be concerned about process, whether we have some kind of process, and not one person unilaterally deciding someone’s guilt. But at the same time, we are in an age where is there a question of whether or not we’d rather have drone strikes rather than land war. And if it’s the choice of sending in 20,000 troops into Yemen versus having a more limited fashion…you see, I think if it were put this way, and this is what some people don’t understand about my father, is if there had been a motion in Congress on a letter of mark and reprisal against al-Awlaki, he would have probably voted for it.
HH: Actually, I have interviewed your father on the subject of letters of mark and reprisals. And so yes, this audience has heard that before.
RP: Yeah, so it’s a somewhat obscure topic.
HH: Don’t you think that’s, isn’t that absurd, though, the idea of letters of mark and reprisals in this day and age?
RP: Well, I mean, if so, you’d have to say the Constitution’s absurd. It’s still, you know, for those of us who are sort of strict constructionists, we still believe in the whole document and not selectively.
HH: Well, you can’t get to the right of me on that. I’ve been teaching it for 15 years. But it is something that has never been used in modern times.
RP: (laughing) You’re right, and I think there is an argument to be said not for giving a letter of mark and reprisal to a private agency, that obviously our military has much greater intelligence capacity and ability to go in and get someone like bin Laden. So I think the argument could be made. I think really, the only question, and where I’m sort of in the middle on this, is that should there be a check and balance, or should a president get to decide someone’s guilt. And in all likelihood, all the stuff is true about him. But should there be some sort of check and balance, because you know what would happen…you know, I don’t think there’s any distinction. Is he only saying that he can assassinate people on foreign soil that he thinks are conspiring to attack us? But you know, what if a guy was in a remote area of Arizona that we’re not patrolling well, because the Mexican border has become unsecure? Would we have drone attacks in Arizona? I think people would be aghast at that. And so…
HH: Interesting question for a White House press conference, absolutely.
RP (laughing) Yeah, really.
HH: Let me ask you, have you read Joby Warrick’s new book, The Triple Agent, yet, Senator?
RP: I have not.
HH: There’s…it and Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, are the two bookends on this war. Have you had a chance to read The Looming Tower, yet?
TP: I have not, but I’ll make a note of those.
HH: Yeah, these are like the key books on al Qaeda. How do you assess, you, Rand Paul, not your father now, but you as a Senator in the United States, how do you assess the threat from al Qaeda right now?
RP: Well, I think in some ways, we’ve done a pretty good job, you know, over the last ten years at cutting off the serpent’s head, so to speak. I think we’ve done a great job of disrupting them. And that’s another thing that’s sometimes lost even on my father, is that he did vote to go into Afghanistan. So he did say we can’t be attacked on 9/11 without repercussions. We can’t let this continue to happen. So I think we have done a pretty good job at disrupting their bases in Afghanistan. I think in most of the countries around the world, there’s not really, I don’t think, an accepting nation-state that’s accepting al Qaeda at this point. I mean, Iran might be debatable, but I think in Yemen, and it’s hard to tell if there is a government in Somalia, but where there is sort of a government, I don’t think any of the existing governments that have any strength other than perhaps Iran are accepting of al Qaeda.
HH: Do you think, then, we can withdraw from Afghanistan without threat to the mainland? I don’t agree with that, but I’m curious if you do.
RP: I don’t think there’s anything we can do or not do that you could ever say that there’s no threat. I think there can be an argument made that the threat from al Qaeda is no longer an isolated geographic threat, that it’s a worldwide threat, and that having a mobile military that can react at a moment’s notice anywhere in the globe is the defense, rather than land war or nation building. And I think there’s something that’s consistent with conservative philosophy that we tell our folks in our country that self-reliance is ultimately something the individual has to be done, to do for themselves, that I think foreign countries ultimately can be seen somewhat the same way, that people who are dependant on government here are, that they have to ultimately become self-reliant. And I think after ten years of rebuilding Afghanistan, I think the cost is enormous, and we have a lot of problems in our country that we’re not able to face. And we have a deficit of $1.5 trillion, so I do think yes, we’ve been there long enough. Does it mean that, you know, I would be for leaving a smaller mobile force there, but I wouldn’t be for continuing to I guess patrol every village. I think after ten years, the Afghans need to step up. When I talk to our soldiers, we have two bases in Kentucky, and I asked them about it. I say are you tired of getting out of the Humvee first? Are you ready for the Afghans to start patrolling their cities? And to a man, these young men and women, who are brave, and who do our fighting for us, they’re ready. They’ve been there four and five times, many of them, and they are ready for the Afghans to step up and do more.
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HH: Senator Paul, you may have heard as we went out in the last break, I’m helping Hillsdale College publicize their great series on the Constitution for laymen, led by Larry Arnn and Charles Krauthammer and Paul Ryan and a bunch of other great people talking about it. I am curious, and people can sign up for that at Hughhewitt.com. It’s still ongoing. They can get the archived lectures. But I’m curious about what you think is the level of Constitutional literacy among your colleagues on the Hill?
RP: I would say pretty low, but one interesting thing we got out of the Tea Party movement was I had people coming up to me and saying when you get there, why don’t you try to have continuing education courses? Why don’t you say that every Congressman, once elected, needs to have a Constitutional continuing education course like doctors and lawyers have, and I said what a stroke of genius, what a great idea. And we haven’t gotten Harry Reid to let us do that, yet, but it is something I’m interested in, because you know, some of these guys don’t know the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. And most of them believe that we live in a democracy. Most of them think that enumerated rights are sort of some fiction of the past and not important, and that really what government can do is whatever the majority says. And so whenever I go into any youthful audience, like I spoke to my nominees that are aspiring to go to our military academies recently, and I had 120 people there, and I said you know, look, we’re not being taught this, but I want you to leave here knowing one thing. We are not a democracy. We are a Constitutional republic. And this is an important distinction, and we’re supposed to operate under enumerated powers. And that, to me, I think is not being taught in our schools. It’s not being taught anywhere.
HH: Well, I hope if you do that, you can get Larry Arnn from Hillsdale and others to come along. Eastman and myself will do it. Let me also ask you, Senator, since you’re from Kentucky, which I believe is a right to work state, my friend, Rick Berman, is running the Unionfacts.com, where they’re talking about the Employee Rights Act, introduced by your colleague, Orrin Hatch. Do you support that act? And are you familiar with Unionfacts.com?
RP: I’m a big fan of right to work. I have signed letters for them, and did a phone call for them this last week. I’m the sponsor of the National Right to Work law. Unfortunately, Kentucky’s not a right to work state.
HH: Oh, I’m surprised by that.
RP: And I’m always lamenting that Tennessee, next door, is. Tennessee has no income tax and is right to work, and they’re cleaning our clock every year with businesses. Texas is doing tremendous at creating jobs, and it’s a right to work state with no income tax. So these right to work states are doing great. South Carolina, another right to work state, so yeah, I’m a big fan of the right to work laws, both at the state and the national level.
HH: how about Senator Hatch’s Employee Rights Act? Have you had a chance to review that, yet?
RP: You know, I’ve seen it, but to tell you the truth, I can’t remember the details of it right now.
HH: All right, back to politics for one more question, and then to Ben Bernanke. I don’t think your father has a prayer of winning the nomination. I think he’s outside of the Republican mainstream. So I’ve repeatedly urged that the RNC ban him from the debates. Just…if they did that…
RP: You know, Hugh, that’s not very nice, is it?
HH: Well, but I’m telling you to your face. I’m not going to say it behind. I’ve told your, one of your dad’s supporters, and by the way, they are legion in calling this program.
RP: Nevertheless, you’re not working to get a bigger party if you’re trying to exclude people.
HH: I want to ask you, if they did that, because his foreign policy views are so outside of the mainstream, how would you react? The Republican Party is a private organization. They can make any rules they want. So would you stay in the party if they were to limit the debate?
RP: Oh, I guess the problem, Hugh, is that they’d have to ban Robert Taft. Robert Taft is one of my dad’s intellectual heroes. They called him Mr. Republican. And he was one who believed in less intervention. He believed that we couldn’t be everywhere all the time. And so I think it’s interesting, the debates are a little more complicated than I think some make it out to be. For example, I think several others on the stage are now really saying some of what my father’s saying. Rick Perry said that we needed to beware of military adventurism. That could be right out of my father’s speeches. Michele Bachmann said we shouldn’t be in Libya without Congressional authority, that U.N. authority is not something we should be fighting wars under. You had Mitt Romney now saying that maybe we had been in Afghanistan long enough, and that we did need to be coming home. So really, you’re seeing healthy debate. In the Senate, there are 47 Senators. I would say that there’s a pretty healthy debate. I introduced a resolution, which I think simply reiterates the Constitution, and this was the President’s resolution from when he ran in 2007, and he said no president should unilaterally go to war without the authority of Congress. I only got ten votes, but I got ten Republican votes from some of the good conservatives in Washington, and got no Democrat votes. But it’s simply restating what the Constitution says. And I think that if people don’t understand on some level what my father’s talking about, or what the founding fathers talked about, they were very much non-interventionists, against entangling alliances, and the fiscal consequences of being everywhere all the time, and also the unintended consequences of, you know, for example, the Iran-Iraq war went on for eight years, and we had American fighter planes on both sides of it. And yet we were allied with someone who we came to say was one of the greatest dictators on Earth, Saddam Hussein.
HH: I would argue, Senator, that the closest to the anti-federalists, President Jefferson, dispatched armed forces against the Barbary pirates. Staying out of every war, of course, makes sense, but they would defend the United States. Where I’m quarreling with your father is the debate in which Rick Santorum rebuked him for appearing to buy into the al Qaeda line that 9/11 was a justified reaction to our occupation of Arab lands. And your father reeled off the bases that we’re in. Do you believe his argument that we are provoking al Qaeda, and that somehow, and jihadists, generally, and…
RP: Well, I think what gets misinterpreted from what he’s saying is that he’s never, ever said there’s any justification. So there’s no justification for murder.
HH: Agreed, but he said we provoked it. And we just don’t…that’s not how al Qaeda works. If people read The Looming Tower…
RP: But he’s never said what’s sort of being misinterpreted by some, that there’s justification. There’s no justification for the murder of 3,000 innocent people in New York on 9/11.
HH: 100% agree. I heard that. But he does believe we provoke it. Do you believe we provoke it by our foreign policy?
RP: I would say that if you want to know why people attack you, you would have to read some of what are the reasons that they write down for why they attack you. But that doesn’t justify their reasons.
HH: Agreed, but The Looming Tower, which is the most complete detailing of al Qaeda theory, going back to Sayyid Qutb and his works and his writings in the Egyptian prisons, if you haven’t read that, I don’t know if your father has read it, how can you guys know what they believe?
RP: Well, because they do and have detailed what their objections are. And some of their objections are, and these aren’t justifications. No one’s saying these justify the attacks. Nothing justifies the attacks.
HH: Hear you. I hear you.
RP: But they do say that they’re unhappy with our presence in the Middle East, and they’re unhappy with our support of Israel.
HH: But going back further than that, there is a great body of work that absolutely identifies this as having nothing to do with us, and having nothing to do with Israel, but having everything to do with their interpretation of the Koran, and their interpretation of Wahhabism.
RP: Well, I think it’s multi-factorial. I think there are deeper and longer historical reasons why they dislike us. But I think it’s also simplistic for some on the other side who would say well, it’s because we’re rich and we’re free, because if that were true, they’d be attacking Sweden or Switzerland as well. They attack us, really, because of multiple reasons.
HH: They do attack Sweden and Switzerland. They attack wherever they can get. Now of course, sometimes it’s Germany, sometimes it’s…
RP: They do, but I think America is their primary, is their preeminent, probably, target among other targets. They target a lot of folks in the West, and they…
HH: Do you think our support for Israel triggers some of these attacks, Senator? And would you argue that we ought to reduce our support for Israel as a result?
RP: What I would say is that they say that our support for Israel is part of their justification. That’s not me saying this, this is just what they say. And I think you have to read their writings. I mean, bin Laden has a lot of writings. None of this is a justification for him or what he did. That’s where the misinterpretation is. But now I think if you read their writings, he’s had writings throughout the last ten years. And all of them basically say that Israel’s part of the problem.
HH: I have. If I can keep you, let me keep you six more minutes, Senator, because I’ve got to talk to you about Bernanke.
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HH: Fascinating conversation with Senator Rand Paul. I’m so grateful that the Senator’s willing to do this. That’s why I love this country. I can talk to a United States Senator and pushback on al Qaeda and what they believe. And let’s leave it here so I can get to Ben Bernanke, Senator. When you’ve read The Looming Tower and The Triple Agent, let’s debate why al Qaeda is what it is. Is that fair?
HH: All right, now Ben Bernanke was on the Hill today. And here is a little bit of what he said that I need to get your reaction to.
BB: To be sure, fiscal policy makers face a complex situation. I would submit that in setting tax and spending policies for now and in the future, policy makers should consider at least four key objectives. One crucial objective is to achieve long run fiscal sustainability. The federal budget is clearly not on a sustainable path at present.
HH: He goes on to say the economy is weak, in danger of going back into recession, and we have to be careful about cutting spending too quickly. What’s your reaction, Senator Paul?
RP: Well, you know, cutting spending too quickly, cutting spending is exactly what we need to be doing. That’s sort of the Keynesian belief that borrowed money somehow produces jobs. And I think borrowed money makes you further indebted. So I think he’s wrong there. The only thing I would agree with is that the course we’re on is unsustainable. And Larry Lindsay has written about what happens if you continue to grow at 1%. All the modeling for our Congressional baseline and for our budget is estimating 3.5% growth. If you grow at 1% over the next ten years, you add nearly $7-8 trillion dollars more to the debt because of lessened growth. If you add 1% in interest to what we pay on our debt, you add $1.3 trillion. There are a lot of unknowns that we may be facing, and all of them are bad news if they occur. And we have to get entitlements, we have to fix the entitlements, we have to balance our budget, all of the things that this president has steadfastly opposed to.
HH: But what Bernanke was arguing, and I don’t believe it, but I want to hear your argument, is that if we do cut spending in the short term, we’ll slip back into recession, which will cycle us towards a terrible period of backwards growth.
RP: I think that’s a false Keynesian notion that you can get growth, and that growth depends on a stimulus from government. The problems is, is that the stimulus from government comes from borrowed money or printed money. And we’re borrowing money at $40,000 dollars a second. So it’s not the way to go. And it’s actually, there are some economists who say that we’re currently losing a million jobs a year simply because of the deleterious effects of the debt.
HH: All right, now our friend of this program, Mark Steyn, who wrote a great, new book called After America, has a chapter in it about bridge building. You went to the Kentucky bridge with the President, and you kind of argued with him to reprioritize the bridge business. My question to you, Senator Paul, is should the federal government have anything to do with which bridges get built and by whom, and with states? Mark’s argument is we were doing fine before federal transportation dollars flew into this system.
RP: Well, yes and no. I mean, we had a long debate back in the 19th Century about internal improvements. You know, the Whigs were big fans of it. The strict Constitutionalists back then didn’t believe we should have any federal dollars flowing into infrastructure. Like so many other things that have come along, we sort of have decided that debate, and there’s not a whole lot of debate about whether the federal government should be involved. Bridges, you know, for example, the one in Kentucky, go across a river that separates states. And what I’ve simply said is that the 10% of money that is being set aside for beautification things like turtle tunnels and squirrel sanctuaries ought to be put into a bridges fund that we wouldn’t dictate which bridges are fixed, because that would be an earmark, but that we should have a priority, and say things like if a bridge is closed, if a bridge is on an interstate, if a bridge has X amount of cars going across, or if the civil engineers that run the highway transportation deem it to be in need of repair, we rank our bridges. The problem with fixing a bridge is sometimes, it can be a billion dollars or more, and most of the budgets of most of the states are more in the $400-500 million dollar range.
HH: But why not bloc grant money back from the transportation tax back to the states, and let Ohio and Kentucky worry about their bridges, as opposed to federal bureaucrats down there on C Street, who have no clue about bridges?
RP: Yeah, you could. The only problem is there hasn’t been enough money to bloc grant back. Kentucky gets $420 million dollars in one year for highway transportation. The bridge along is going to be $500-600 million in repair.
HH: Well, Ohio is there, too. They’ll pay a little bit. I mean, Kentucky should pay most, but…
RP: They do, but most of that money’s going to just routine upkeep of roads, and isn’t built in for building bridges. Now I think Kentucky and Ohio should be saving for these bridges, but I think ultimately, there’s not enough. But I would argue, though, that like the $500 million that we gave to Solyndra, to some campaign contributors of President Obama, that’s more than Ohio and 35 other states get in highway funds, and that money would be better spent, put into an emergency bridges fund, and for replacement of bridges. But you probably will not get enough money if you keep dividing it up fifty ways, because by the time you divide the highway money fifty ways, there’s not enough to build big projects.
HH: Senator Rand Paul of the great state of Kentucky, thanks. I look forward to our next return conversation when you have a chance to read The Looming Tower and The Triple Agent. I would love to have that conversation, Senator. Thanks for being here today.
End of interview.