Think Progress is one of the online hubs of the left. Its founder and editor Judd Legum joined me this morning:
HH: First live broadcast of 2017, and I wanted to make sure we included a member of the left on that broadcast, and that would be Judd Legum. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of Think Progress, Georgetown Law grad. Judd, welcome, great to have you, thank you for joining me this morning.
JL: Thanks for having me, Hugh.
HH: As a prize gift, we’re going to send you a copy of my new book, The Fourth Way: The Conservative Playbook For A Lasting GOP Majority. I assume you will review it favorably or unfavorably for Think Progress?
JL: I will definitely take a look.
HH: All right.
JL: I’m going to be looking for that, for the move to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics, which I’m sure is the first step of your plan.
HH: I actually believe wholeheartedly in that, because I’ve dealt with them, and it’s an unconstitutional due process-breaking star chamber within the Congress. But that’s for another day.
HH: This is an interview about you, Judd. And first time on, I don’t debate people. I’m just trying to get, I hope you’ll come back often. I love having lefties on.
HH: So first, give us a little background. Where are you from?
JL: I’m from Annapolis, Maryland.
HH: Oh, very cool. Were you a Navy kid?
JL: I wasn’t. My family’s just from that area, lived there for many years.
HH: All right, now Georgetown Law. How about your undergrad?
JL: I went to Pomona College in California.
HH: Oh, you came out here in the five college area. You were out in my neck of the woods for a while.
HH: All right…
HH: My first two questions which I ask of every first time guest, they are my GPS, was Alger Hiss a communist spy?
JL: I think so.
HH: Very good.
JL: I’m not an expert on Alger Hiss.
HH: But you think he was?
HH: All right, have you read The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright?
JL: No, I haven’t done that.
HH: How about Joby Warrick’s Black Flags?
HH: Which books on ISIS have you read that inform you about ISIS?
JL: I don’t think I’ve read a lot of the books on, I know there’s a lot of good books out there. You know, I definitely follow, I definitely follow the news. I don’t think I’ve really read any of the books, yet, to be honest with you.
HH: All right, then let’s switch to domestic policy.
HH: You remember the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the $831 billion, right?
JL: Yes, I do remember that. Of course.
HH: Can you name for me one thing that it built?
JL: Well, there’s a number of projects right here around in D.C. The bridge that goes when you’re coming into the city and going down New York Avenue, I know that was an ACA project. I know there are a lot of road projects all around the country that were financed by it.
HH: Can you name any building?
JL: A building?
HH: Yeah, like I went to work in a WPA building, a Niles, Ohio Waddell Pool building that was built by the WPA in 1936. My buddy went to the new Ramsey High School, which was built by the WPA. Did it build, you mention a bridge. I’ve never heard of the bridge. I don’t know the name of the bridge. But at least you come up with a bridge.
JL: Well, I don’t think it’s like, I don’t think it’s like a named bridge, you know, but if you’re coming into the city on New York Avenue, you know, they had big, I just know because they had big signs that said this is an, you know, project for recovery act. And you know, I do think that some, there were some federal buildings around DC that were renovated, but I don’t know if there’s any that were built. I mean, there may have been buildings built. I didn’t follow each, you know, project.
HH: That bridge on New York Avenue…
HH: Was it a new bridge?
JL: No, it was like a renovation.
HH: Okay, so anything new that was not there beforehand?
JL: Not that I, I mean, I don’t know all the projects, but…
HH: All right.
JL: I can’t name it off hand.
HH: Now testing, this is a foreign affairs quiz. How many ships do we have at sea in the United States Navy?
JL: I don’t know exactly. I know it’s like a much smaller number than it was in, you know, the 1800s or something, and that’s some area of controversy, but I don’t know the number.
HH: How about the number of carriers? Have you got that down?
JL: You mean that are actually out?
JL: I don’t know, I don’t know the exact number, no.
HH: Do you know how many are at sea right now and where they are?
HH: Let me ask you the famous question I asked Donald Trump.
HH: Which part of the triad would you refurbish first?
JL: Part of, which part of the nuclear triad?
JL: I mean, I would probably go, you know, the other way. I think that you know, the efforts that were sort of bipartisan efforts to reduce the nuclear stockpile were positive and helped engender peace over a number of decades, and I would, you know, I think I would try to continue those efforts.
HH: But arms control aside, modernization of the triad remains an objective on both sides of the aisle. Which part would you modernize first?
JL: I don’t think I would pursue like aggressive, I mean, I’m not the president, obviously, but I don’t think I would pursue like an aggressive modernization of our, you know, like nuclear weapons capacity.
HH: Do you know the parts of the triad, Judd?
JL: Like can I, could I, I mean, I know that there’s the , you know, the things that we have in, I don’t think I could name them as like a quiz, but I know there’s like the things that we have at sea, submarines and the things that we have on land. Are those the three parts?
HH: No, but close enough.
HH: You wouldn’t win Final Jeopardy.
HH: Let’s talk about what is your understanding of the aim of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
JL: I mean, I think they’re trying to establish a caliphate in the Middle East.
HH: Do you think they have an end times vision that makes them uniquely dangerous in terms of people on a quest for nuclear ambition?
JL: I do think they have like, I do think they’re uniquely dangerous, yeah. Yeah, I think they’re…
HH: Did you approve of the deal that we did with Iran?
JL: Yeah, I think that was, I do think that was a good deal, yes.
JL: Because I think that in the absence of that, you would just have them basically, you know, developing whatever they wanted. Now, you have inspections, you have, they took apart a lot of the centrifuges, and I think they’ve set themselves back on how quickly they could develop nuclear capacity, if that’s what’s their aim.
HH: What is your understanding of the amount of sanctions relief they received in terms of cold, hard cash and precious metals?
JL: Well, I know that there’s like $150 billion dollars number that’s been thrown around. I don’t know if, you know, all of that is in cash. I think it’s probably a little bit of an overstatement. But yes, I know they received, you know, sanctions relief.
HH: Do you think they are a state sponsor of terror?
JL: I think that they, I do think that they have supported, you know, terrorist groups in the, you know, I do think that’s the truth. I do think that’s the case.
HH: Do you know who General Soleimani is?
HH: Neither did Donald Trump. That’s why, but a lot of liberals were mad at him because he didn’t, he’s the head of the Quds Force. Do you know what the Quds Force is?
JL: To be honest, I’m not an expert in foreign policy, so I don’t, I don’t purport to be. But you know, I’m, I know some things, but I don’t know others. So I don’t know the answer to that.
HH: All right, so let me run down the key controversies and get your opinion of how President Obama handled them. He was known for “leading from behind.” Was that good or bad on his part?
JL: That was an anonymous quote in the New Yorker, so I don’t think that’s really a fair assessment.
HH: I trust Ryan Lizza. I think Ryan Lizza has good sources, don’t you?
JL: Right, but I mean, I know Ryan as well, but I just think that you know, the idea that like one person says that’s what, that’s how they would describe it, you know…
HH: Okay, fair enough. Fair enough.
JL: I don’t think that’s necessarily, I don’t think that necessarily is an accurate description of, you know, his policy.
HH: We can’t debate that President Obama unilaterally cancelled the missile defense deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic. Good or bad idea?
JL: I don’t think, I don’t really, I’m not really informed enough to give you an answer on that. Yeah.
HH: He ordered, he approved Secretary Clinton giving the reset button to Lavrov. Was that a good idea?
JL: That seemed like a pretty big debacle from what I recall.
HH: Yeah, it was.
JL: It was misspelled and et cetera, et cetera. And also now, we know what’s happened with Russia, too, so maybe it wasn’t a good time to reset.
HH: And that leads me to this. Who is responsible, how much responsibility does President Obama bear for the invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea?
JL: Well, you know, I think ultimately, the United States is one of the world’s superpowers. I think ultimately, the president has some responsibility for everything that goes on. So I’d say in that sense, you know, clearly, they, you know, Russia felt emboldened enough to do so. So I think, you know, you have to bear some responsibility. Obviously, it’s a very kind of complex situation, and you would have to do, you know, there’s probably a variety of people to blame, including Putin himself and the Russian government as well, yeah.
HH: Of course, of course. What did you make of the President’s decision to unilaterally withdraw American troops from Iraq in 2011, despite the suggestions of his generals that we retain a residual force of at least 10,000?
JL: Well, I don’t think it was unilateral. You had, just as the Bush administration was trying to do, you had to negotiate a status of forces agreement, which they weren’t able, which you know, President Bush wasn’t able to do. And then President Obama wasn’t able to do.
HH: Actually, President Bush…
JL: So I don’t think you…
HH: Judd, President Bush did negotiate one that expired in June, 2011.
JL: Right, so it expired, well, it expired.
HH: And President Obama…
JL: But I think, I don’t think…
JL: …I don’t think you can keep troops there, you know, without, you know, obviously a lot of these status of forces agreements are making sure that like the troops are being treated properly and aren’t going to be, you know, subject to criminal prosecution or you know, other things that are going on in the country. So you can’t keep troops there absent a status of forces agreement.
HH: But we have troops there now. We have probably 10,000 troops there without a status of forces agreement. So how does that work?
JL: I mean, I think, I mean, I think it works, because you’re trying, I mean, I think you’re trying to do, you know, I assume that they’ve made some sort, they have some sort of understanding about those troops.
HH: But we don’t have a status of forces agreement.
HH: So the reason he said he took them out in 2011 is still the reason they ought not to be there now. Doesn’t that indicate that maybe that wasn’t a real reason for taking them out in 2011?
JL: I think it was a real reason, because I think that you know, it’s important to have the consent of the country, especially after you’ve established a, you know, purportedly, you know, you’ve kind of established a new state, effectively, once Saddam Hussein was deposed.
HH: Okay, subject for a future day. Got to get two more in.
JL: Yeah, okay.
HH: What did you make of his calling ISIS the jayvees?
JL: I don’t, obviously, I don’t think that holds up very well.
HH: And what did you make of his red line decision not to enforce it?
JL: In Syria?
JL: Yeah, I think it’s, you know, I don’t think there are many good answers in Syria.
HH: Did he achieve anything in foreign affairs?
JL: Well, I mean, he got bin Laden. I think he reduced the footprint in Afghanistan and Iraq, which I think is a positive thing. There were many trillions of dollars spent in…
HH: Okay, we’ll come back and do Obamacare another day. That’s such a collapse, I’ll give you time to prepare for it. But Judd, keep coming back. Think Progress is welcome here. It is an open show, and I appreciate you coming on. Thank you, Judd, Think Progress editor-in-chief.
End of interview.