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South Dakota Senator John Thune agrees any negative resolution against the President’s plan would be a huge mistake.

Thursday, January 25, 2007
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HH: Now joined by Senator John Thune from the great state of South Dakota. Senator Thune, always a pleasure to have you here, welcome.

JT: Always good to be on, Hugh.

HH: Now Senator, you’re a member of Armed Services, so you had General Petraeus in front of you on Tuesday. Am I correct about that?

JT: That’s correct, yup.

HH: And did you understand him, as I did, as Tony Snow did, to affirm to Senator Lieberman that the Biden resolution and the Warner resolution, and any resolution undermining the plan are in fact encouragements to the enemy?

JT: He did. He answered that question in response, and gave that answer in response to several questions from several members. But he was very clear that this would not be helpful in terms of the morale of the troops, and I agree with him. I think what we’re doing here is very dangerous in terms of the signal it sends, and the message it sends to our troops in the field, and to our enemies.

HH: Now yesterday about this time, I began an effort to engage the Republican base and pro-war people, pro-victory people, in a conversation with Republican Senators. More than 10,000 people have now signed up online saying that they will not support Senators who support the Warner resolution. Has word of that gotten back to your colleagues, Senator Thune?

JT: Well, I’ve had some Senators…a couple of my colleagues that you’ve I think talked to, Hugh, I’m hearing a little bit of feedback from them, but I’ve not…that’s an amazing number of people that you have engaged already. And I think it’s…hopefully, that’s the sentiment that is shared by a majority of Americans. I think a majority of Americans want us to win, and they want us to stand with our troops, they don’t want us to send these mixed messages that somehow, oh, we’re supporting the troops, but we’re not supporting their mission. I just think that is a very, very confusing signal to send to our troops, and it does nothing but, I think, undermine their morale, and give hope to our enemies.

HH: Now given all that, has there been movement from Senator Warner? Is he rethinking his resolution? Have some of the people who thought it might be a good idea decided no, that’s not a good idea?

JT: I think that…it’s still very fluid around here in terms of what resolutions are going to be put on the floor. There are several…I know of two others from members of the Armed Services Committee that I’ve seen that we’re working on, that we might put on the floor. To my knowledge, I don’t think that Senator Warner has indicated he’s not going to offer his resolution. You’re going to have a vote on Biden, which passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. I think Warner is still planning on moving forward. It would be nice if we could get he and some of the other Republicans on a resolution that we can all support, rather than putting his resolution up there. And so I hope at the end of the day, we’re successful in that effort, because I think this is a very, like I said before, this exercise that we’re going about here in Washington, although some would argue largely symbolic, since none of these resolutions have the force of law, they do send a message, and they send a message, I believe, a wrong message, to our troops and to our enemies.

HH: Now on the program yesterday, Senator Kyl, with whom you align very, very closely on many issues, stated flatly there aren’t 60 votes to bring Biden to the floor, so it will not be getting a vote. Do you think there’s 60 votes to bring Warner’s to the floor?

JT: Well, that’s the question, and do I think there are more Republicans that will peel off and vote for Warner than might vote for Biden. But it’s still, I think, perceived at least by the media as a victory for the Democrats, and that’s why I think that we’re trying to construct a way that Republicans can vote for something that is supportive of our troops and their mission, in hopes that these other alternatives are out there…I’m not…I wish I was as certain that Biden doesn’t have the votes. I’d like to believe that there’ll be enough Republicans that will not move over and vote for that, but based on what we’re seeing today, it’s, like I said, it’s a very, very fluid environment, and I hope that a lot of our guys will come to their senses and realize that this is not something that they want to do. This is not a message that they want to send to our troops.

HH: Does communication from the base to individual Senators matter?

JT: Absolutely, absolutely. And to the degree that you’ve gotten people engaged, that makes a huge difference, I think. And the country needs to be heard from on this, and I hope, as I said, a majority of Americans want to see our troops succeed, understand the stakes at work here, and what the consequences of our failure would be, and want to send a message to our troops that we want to do everything we can to support their mission and them, and make sure that they are able to accomplish it.

HH: Now we’re going to have Senator Ensign on here in a couple of segments, good guy, and in a tough spot, because from what I’ve seen, the overwhelming sentiment of Republican donors and activists is that they simply will not support any Senator who supports Warner, and they won’t support the NRSC. Are there wide-ranging discussions, John Thune? Has the caucus sat down and banged this around, because I just don’t want them to proceed ill-informed about what I believe is the very, very solid weight of opinion against the Warner resolution.

JT: Yeah, there have been…and there hasn’t been at least in the last couple of days that kind of a wide-ranging discussion, although a couple of days ago, we did have a luncheon where a lot of the Republican Senators were there, and we got into a discussion about this, and there were smaller groups who are talking about it all the time. But I do think that our Senator in the Republican Conference need to understand at the grass roots level, with the people in this country, what our actions mean. And sometimes around here, we think that this is a non-binding resolution that doesn’t have the force of law, and therefore, it’s not all that meaningful. But it is symbolic, and it does carry weight with our troops, who want to see a public, a country, and their politicians, their elected representatives, stand behind them. So I think this is a very important and very dangerous slope we’re on, if we do the wrong thing here in Washington.

HH: Now how does the caucus get together? Does the minority leader summon it? Because I hope you guys spend the weekend talking to each other about this.

JT: Well, there are certain points throughout the course of the week where we do, we can get together, and we can have more of a fuller debate about this. But you’re right. These conversations need to be going on, because I think we run a risk next week when this gets put on the floor, if we’re not organized and don’t know specifically where we’re headed with this, of allowing the Democrats to have a victory, which they might perceive to be a political victory, but which would be a huge setback, I think, for our troops, and again, a real encouragement to our enemies, which is just absolutely the wrong message to send.

HH: All right, now I want to switch back to General Petraeus, your estimate of him and his testimony?

JT: He’s very impressive, he’s not only extremely smart, but he’s a battle tested commander, and I first met him a few years ago when he was commanding the NATO mission over there, trying to train Iraqi security forces. And I’ll tell you what, this guy is somebody that we need to give him a chance. He’s a great tactical commander, and he was very good in front of the Armed Services Committee the other day. I think he will bring an infusion of new leadership, and somebody that we can really place our confidence and trust in, knowing that he’s got a tough job ahead of him, and that there are no guarantees of victory. But if we don’t give it this shot, I think we’re going to regret it, and future generations are going to hold us responsible.

HH: Any doubt in your mind, Senator Thune, as we’ve got about 45 seconds, that he supports the President’s reinforcement plan, and the possibility, and believes that success is doable?

JT: There’s no question about it. I mean, he was clear about that in front of the committee. I met with him for about an hour privately last week, and like I said, he’s very impressive. He believes profoundly that this can work. And if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be taking on the responsibility and the challenge. So I just think that we’ve got to give this guy and the young men and women who are serving under him our support.

HH: John Thune, thank you. Please tell you colleagues who are for the Warner resolution they have fundamentally misjudged the party on this, and in profound ways. I’m sure you will.

JT: We will pass that on. Appreciate it, thanks, Hugh.

HH: Thank you, Senator Thune.

End of interview.

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