HH: I begin today with Joel D. Kaplan. He’s an assistant to the President, deputy chief of staff for policy. And. Mr. Kaplan, welcome to the program, it’s good to have you here.
JK: Good to be with you, Hugh.
HH: Now Joel, the…I want to talk FISA with you, but first, before we do that, I’ve got to talk to you about the award of the Airbus contract from the Pentagon. I mean, I was stunned last week to find out that all of America’s fleet of supertanker refuelers are going to be made by Airbus. Did that strike you as crazy, given that Boeing is in the hunt?
JK: Well, Hugh, those kind of decisions are made by the Pentagon. I know they have a process that’s supposed to look at these types of contracts on a competitive basis. So each contractor submits their proposal, and the Pentagon’s job is to pick the one that gets the best value for the war fighter at the lowest cost. And they’ve made their decision, and they’ll defend it.
HH: Isn’t there a value, though, in having those jobs in America, $20 billion dollars worth of contracts, and a necessary infrastructure industry sort of tethered to our national security?
JK: Well, as I understand it, and again, it’s something that’s handled out of the Pentagon, but as I understand it, a pretty significant proportion of the jobs for the company that did get the contract are right here in America. In fact, most of them are in Alabama, I think, at Northrup Grumman. So I think that’s a little bit of a red herring. It was, most of the Boeing jobs would be American jobs, and most of the Northrup Grumman jobs are American jobs.
HH: Okay, I’ll let it go, but I’ll get you back at some point, because I’ve been reading in the U.K. press about the wing manufactures in Bristol and Broughton and North Wales, and other components of this, and it just struck me as very odd. But you’re saying the White House has nothing to do with this?
JK: That’s right, and you want these kind of decisions made at the Pentagon by the military experts, not by political types like myself.
HH: Well, I don’t know about that. You might want national security issues broader than dollars and sense with an eye over it from the NSC and you guys. But let’s go to FISA. That’s the important…
JK: Oh, by the way, I think their argument is not just dollars and sense. When I said value to the war fighter, I meant capability. And I think their assessment concluded that it had greater cargo capacity, greater personnel capacity, and so would actually provide better service to the guys who are flying the planes. But like I said, that’s for them to defend, decide and defend.
HH: So you’re read up on it, at least. I mean, you’ve been following it.
JK: Well, I read the American newspapers and not the U.K. ones, but I’m up to speed a little bit.
HH: (laughing) All right. Let’s go over to the question of FISA. I cannot believe we are here a month into this, partially blind as to what the enemy is doing. What’s the situation on the Hill, Joel Kaplan, and what’s the White House doing about it?
JK: A pretty extraordinary situation on the Hill. You’re right, it’s been about a month since the protect America act was allowed to expire by the House Democratic leadership. They’d been saying, you know, well, we just need a little more time, we need a little more time. It turns out they’re finally going to bring a bill to the floor, but it’s not the good, bipartisan Senate bill that passed overwhelmingly, and that would protect the country. It’s a purely partisan affair that they know will not pass the Senate. They know the President would veto it. And most importantly, they know it doesn’t protect the country. So it’s a pretty disappointing and partisan end before they head out of town on their recess. And right now, the House Republicans have actually demanded a secret session of the House, which hasn’t happened since 1983, so that they can review some of the classified information and make the case as to why the House Democrats ought to let the Senate bill come to the floor for a vote, since it has a majority support in the House. It’s really the right thing to do, and I’m pretty disappointed that the House leadership isn’t doing it.
HH: If you’re just tuning in, I’m talking with Joel Kaplan, assistant to the President, deputy chief of staff in the White House. Now Joel, the fact of the matter remains, though, that we don’t have a capacity that we had a month ago. The left is putting out the word that that doesn’t matter, that all of the surveillance authorizations that we needed had been gotten, and they’re in pace, and it doesn’t…we can afford this debate, we’re not at risk. What’s your response to that?
JK: Well, my response is that they ought to listen to the experts. Here’s one where I think you would want to listen to the military and intelligence community and the Attorney General, who have told the Congress over and over and over again what they need to protect the country, and why we are less safe today since the Protect America Act was allowed to expire, and why we would be less safe tomorrow if they don’t do the right thing and pass the Senate bill. This House bill is terrible, it puts, it gives protections to foreign terrorists overseas that were intended for U.S. citizens in this country. It does not provide the liability protection for the carriers that stepped up and came to the government’s assistance in the days and months after 9/11 to protect the country. In fact, just to add insult to injury, they create some new commission to investigate the past uses of surveillance that have successfully prevented attacks instead of doing what they need to do to make sure we can prevent attacks in the future. It’s really a disgrace, and hopefully, the House, members of Congress will not follow through on what their House leadership has proposed here.
HH: Now just this week, I finally found something nice to say about trial lawyers. I was complimenting them on what they will do with the Heparin problem, and how Baxter has got to be brought to account for putting Heparin out there that’s got bad ingredients in it. So I’ve actually said nice things about trial lawyers. But not these trial lawyers. The House bill protects these strike suits against telecommunications companies. Is that really what we are arguing about, Joel Kaplan? It’s just to get the trial lawyers their billions of dollars?
JK: Yeah, I’ll say something nice about the trial lawyers. They’re pretty damn effective at getting what they want in bills on the House floor, excuse my language there.
HH: That’s fine.
JK: You know, this bill is exactly what the class action trial lawyers would want. Instead of providing liability protection for the patriotic corporate citizens who helped after 9/11, they make it easier to sue, and more likely that the litigation would require the disclosure of state secrets that could lead to the public release of highly classified information that our enemies could use against us. It’s a trial lawyer’s dream. The losers here are the American citizens who expect their government to do better, and to do what it takes to protect them, not put them at greater risk.
HH: This will not get out of the Senate, correct?
JK: No, and it’s already…both the Senate Democrats and Republicans have said it’s dead on arrival, which tells you that this is a partisan game, not a serious effort to address an important national security concern.
HH: I thought there had been enough blue dog Democrats to pass the Senate version. What happened to them? Are they getting put under the thumb of Pelosi?
JK: Well, we’ll see what happened to them when it comes to a vote, either later tonight or tomorrow morning. I’m hopeful that they will do as they suggested they would when they wrote the Speaker a letter saying they supported the Senate bill. You know, I think part of what’s going on is their leadership is putting a lot of pressure on them, and they’re saying this isn’t the end of the road, there will be more opportunities later to fix some things, and just vote for this so we can get out of town and say we did something. And it’s really shameful, because getting out of town and doing something, in this instance, means further delay and further vulnerabilities for the American people.
HH: One last question, Joel Kaplan. The Senate voted today, as did the House, a sense of both institutions that they would not extend the Bush tax cuts for middle class and upper middle class Americans after the President leaves office. Does that weight heavily on the markets and the economy, in your opinion?
JK: It sure does. I mean, that kind of uncertainty at a time like right now, where we’re going through a difficult economic period, it just creates further turbulence in the markets. It creates uncertainty for investors, and for businesses who need to decide what kind of business purchases and investments to make. It’s just exactly the wrong signal to send when what we’re trying to do is strengthen the economy and encourage confidence in America as a good place to do business and invest.
HH: Well, I thank you for your time. I’d like you, though, to go back and look at that Airbus deal with that in mind. I think it sends the wrong signal at exactly the wrong time, Joel. And it’s one of those times when the President leaves some of us, the administration, shaking our heads. I just cannot understand it. But I guess it’s the Pentagon I have to go pursue for that one.
JK: I’m sure they’d be glad to talk to you, Hugh.
HH: (laughing) Joel Kaplan from the White House, thank you.
End of interview.