Improving National Security and U.S. Leadership Abroad: A Conversation with Republican Congressional Leaders

Improving National Security and U.S. Leadership Abroad: A Conversation with Republican Congressional Leaders

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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Mike McCaul, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rob Goodlatte, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Intelligence Comittee Devin Nunes, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce, and Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Mac Thornberry speak with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell about the current state of U.S. foreign policy, what challenges they believe confront the next administration, and what they see as the necessary steps to improve and strengthen U.S. foreign policy. The members discuss what they deem to be the biggest threats to homeland security, the current rhetoric around foreign policy in the presidential election, and the crucial importance of maintaining strong cybersecurity.  They also examine the role the U.S. Agency for International Development and the United Nations has in U.S. foreign policy. 

MITCHELL: Good morning. Thank you all for being here. I’m Andrea Mitchell, chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News. And I usually anchor a program on MSNBC at noon every day, but I’m here instead because this is such an important moment in our history. I have been out doing really dangerous things. I’ve been involved in serious combat in the last nine months, I would say, in dangerous places, facing extraordinary challenges. Unlike national security, I’ve been covering the 2016 presidential campaign. (Laughter.) So it is a relief to be here talking about terrorism and homeland security, and what should we do about making our economy secure, because I think that is also a national security issue.

We are incredibly honored today to have the leading House chairmen, of course, by the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. So it’s my great privilege to introduce Paul Ryan.

I want to thank you for permitting me to moderate this. This is our discussion on improving national security. Speaker Ryan will give opening remarks. He was, just to briefly reprise, of course, elected to Congress in 1998. He has been representing the people of Wisconsin’s First Congressional District ever since. He has served as both the chairman of the House Budget Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, where he has long advocated for fixing the nation’s tax code, for reforming entitlement programs. In 2012, of course, he ran as the Republican nominee for vice president.

He took over as speaker of the House less than seven months ago. In April he made his first foreign visit as speaker, leading a bipartisan CODEL to Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

Upon taking over this position last fall, Speaker Ryan and House Republicans created six different task forces to develop an election-year agenda to show how Republicans would govern if the party takes back the White House. They have dubbed this “A Better Way.” Today he is unveiling the national security agenda.

Earlier this week he unveiled their domestic agenda. And appropriately, for those of us who have some memory, he went to Anacostia in the District of Columbia and unveiled a program trying to invoke the memory of Jack Kemp, who was a great friend and mentor to the speaker, and to many of us in journalism as well.

So please join me in welcoming Speaker Paul Ryan to the podium. Mr. Speaker. (Applause.)

RYAN: Thank you, Andrea. Appreciate it. (Comes on mic.) Well, thank you very much, Andrea. Appreciate it.

And I want to thank the CFR for hosting us. It’s very kind of you to take the time out of your day and to give us this beautiful facility. I really appreciate that.

I don’t want to take up too much time today. All of our members you’re going to be hearing from, they’re the ones who put in the long hours and the hard work for this. So I’m eager to hear from them, as I know you are.

This plan was so necessary. In January, we came together at our retreat in Baltimore and discussed what is it that we ought to do to offer the country a better way, to take the problems of the day and offer people real solutions. And in one of those areas where we thought this was so sorely needed was in the area of foreign policy.

So we just heard the prime minister of India at Capitol Hill yesterday. It was a great day. He spoke before Congress. And it was a great moment for the growing friendship between our two countries.

The main reason I think this moment was so notable is that nowadays it’s so rare. In the past seven years, our friendships have frayed. Our rivalries have intensified. It’s not too much to say that our enemies no longer fear us, and too many of our allies no longer trust us. And I think this is a direct result of the president’s foreign policy. He drew a red line in Syria, and then he backed away from it. He vowed that Iran would never get nuclear weapons, and the deal he negotiated all but ensures it. He shrugged off ISIS until it threw off the Iraqi government. And his response to Russia’s aggression has been timid at best.

All he did was create a void, or really he created many voids around the world. And now our enemies are stepping in to fill those voids. This is what happens when America does not lead. Do we think our allies have to do more? Of course we do—absolutely. But they will not do more to defend our shared interests if they think America will leave them in the lurch.

America has to set the standard. It has to show the world, by words and by deeds, that diplomacy, trade, and cooperation are in all of our interests. Otherwise, other countries will pursue their own narrow short-term interests. That means less safety for all of us, less prosperity.

What I’m saying is we need a confident America. That is what will keep the peace. That is what will keep us safe. And that is what this plan will do. In here we lay out four objectives: keep Americans safe at home, defeat the terrorists, advance America’s interests abroad, and renew our national security tools.

We lay out 67 policy steps that we will take to put this plan into action. That means securing our borders. That means stopping cyberattacks. That means taking the fight against terrorism to the enemy. It means building a 21st-century military, revamping the veterans’ affairs for our veterans and strengthening our law-enforcement tools. It means expanding America’s influence, which means expanding free enterprise and expanding the community of free nations. That is what will restore confidence, and that is what we pledge to do. This is what we are seeking with our policies.

I’m so proud. I am so proud of the work our members have put into this. This is just the second part of our six-part agenda, which we will be unveiling over the next few weeks. You want to learn more about this? Go to our website, Better.GOP.

And with that, I would love to get this conversation started. So thank you very much. Appreciate it. Thanks, Andrea. (Applause.)

MITCHELL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Sorry. I thought I would introduce them here. We have joining us now the chairman of the House homeland security committee, Mike McCaul, and Chairman Rob Goodlatte as well to talk about homeland security as the first piece of this foreign policy agenda.

Chairman McCaul, thank you very much. This is a controversial time. And you have talked about the borders. You’ve talked about the airplane—the airport problems that we have, the intelligence-sharing problems that we’ve had. I’ve interviewed you many times on this. How will this agenda that you’re putting out improve our intelligence sharing in the—in the first instance given what is now the failure that we’ve seen in Cairo and other airports?

MCCAUL: Well, this is a very important document, not just for Republicans but for the nation. National security I think is the number one responsibility under the Constitution.

I would say we’re in the highest threat environment I’ve seen since 9/11. And as you mentioned, the airports, last point of departure airports, are of serious concern. I just returned from Cairo, Egypt, to look at that airport. We have daily flights into JFK. That concerns me. There are many last point of departure airports that are not secure. And we know that al-Qaida and ISIS are very intent on putting bombs onto airplanes, as we saw with the Russian jetliner. We don’t know for sure now about the Egyptian airliner, but we know al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is still very focused. So what our blueprint calls for is a beefing up of security at last point of departure airports, better vetting, better screening at the airports.

You know, homeland security is really about a couple things. It’s identifying the threats and keeping them outside of this country, whether it’d be bad people or bad things: terrorists or potentially weapons of mass destruction. And so this is highly important. You mentioned the border. I think the border applies as well. We need a secure border to stop potential terrorists from entering the nation. We know ISIS in Dabiq magazine talked about taking a Pakistan nuclear weapon and smuggling it across the U.S.-Mexican border. So all these components are vitally important to protecting Americans here at home. And I think this document that we worked very hard on gives a good blueprint to protect Americans, lead as a superpower.

And I think, if I could just add, we’ve had so many terrorist sanctuaries pop up overseas and safe havens, and from those safe havens, they can conduct external operations. That’s my greatest concern, whether it’d be Yemen; whether it’d be Sinai Peninsula where I just returned from; Tunisia; Libya has become a failed state—6,000 ISIS strong; and of course, Iraq and Syria where we saw what happened in Brussels and Paris—we don't want to see those type of active shooter plots and suicide bombers happening here in the United States.

MITCHELL: Now, Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte, how will this document—I mean, the task force says, “to protect the American people by developing an overarching vision for national security based on a Republican blueprint for a strong America that can decisively confront the foreign and domestic threats of the 21st century.” How would that be different going forward, let’s say under a Republican president, let’s say under a President Trump, your nominee, your presumptive nominee?

GOODLATTE: Sure. First of all, let me join the speaker in thanking you and the Council on Foreign Relations for offering us this forum today.

And I want to thank my colleagues, Michael McCaul and the four chairmen who will be on the second panel, for the work that we’ve all put in, and our committee members have put in as well, because this is—you’re going to hear a lot of criticism today of the current administration, including from me. But what this is about—and we’ve entitled this “A Better Way” because we think there are a lot of things that are not being done by this administration that should be done by a new president who would sign into law bills that we’ve been working on in the Congress for the last few years.

And one of those major areas is, in conjunction with the Homeland Security Committee, the Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over immigration policy and the enforcement of our immigration laws in the interior of the country. So we’re a nation of immigrants. There is not a person here in this audience who can’t go back a few generations or several generations and find someone in their family who came to the United States to better their lives for themselves and their family.

We are also a nation of laws. And I believe this administration has lost sight of that. So the first thing we call for is enforcement of our current laws. And that means that when people show up at the border, some of them enter the country illegally, and we’re not doing as much as we could to apprehend them. But others come and turn themselves in. Some have dumped their documents in Mexico before they turn up at our border and say they don’t have any documentation. They’re admitted into the country. They’re given a date to appear for an asylum hearing. And then a great majority of them don’t ever show up for those hearings. So that is a decision that this administration has made to not detain people on a much higher percentage basis or find some other way to assure that they’re going to return to be adjudicated properly.

We also have the problem with people entering the country and claiming political asylum or refugee status and not being held until that determination is made.

So we have bills that have passed out of the Judiciary Committee that we think should be utilized to make sure that Americans are kept safe by making sure that people do not enter the country who may perpetrate terrorist attacks or simply violate our laws.

We’ve also found, however, that we have problems with our legal immigration system as well. Probably 30 to 40 percent of the people who are here illegally entered the country legally, on student visas, visitor’s visas, business visas, visa waivers, and then overstayed their allotted time and not left the country voluntarily. And we’ve had problems with the processing of people into the country: Tashfeen Malik, the woman who, with her husband, perpetrated a horrific terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, the evidence is very strong was not properly vetted when she applied for her fiancée visa to come here to the United States and join her husband.

So we have an agenda of bills, some of which have already passed and been signed into law by the current president, like the visa waiver modifications; others that have passed the House of Representatives with a strong bipartisan vote, like tightening up on refugees coming from certain war-torn countries or countries dominated by terrorists in the Middle East like Syria and Iraq. These are a part of our agenda to keep Americans safe.

The other role that the Judiciary Committee plays in this process is in terms of making sure that our law enforcement and our intelligence-gathering organization have the tools they need to gather the information and keep Americans safe at the same time that we have to make sure that we are protecting Americans’ civil liberties. Just last year the Congress passed into the law the U.S.A. Freedom Act, which stopped the government from gathering huge quantities of metadata, not just telephone metadata but your financial information, your health information, whatever, and then taking that information and using it for ostensibly good purposes, but having the government store large quantities of data is foreign to what most Americans think the government should be—we stopped that. At the same time, we gave additional tools to law enforcement and intelligence organizations to be able to track terrorists more effectively while they are suspected terrorists in the United States.

So we have a couple of important roles here, and we have made I think an important contribution to a better way forward to keep Americans safe while our next panel is going to talk about how to address these foreign policy and national security issues going on offense; the defense has got to be strong as well.

MITCHELL: In terms of the defense, how does a ban on Muslims contribute to our national security?

GOODLATTE: Well, we wouldn’t—

MCCAUL: Well, if I—look, and I’ve said this before, you can’t ban an entire race or religion from coming into the country. What you need is a proper vetting system. And you need, as we tighten up the visa security standards, very important. The SAFE Act was a good example as well, a bill I introduced. Passed bipartisanly in the House.

So I think what we have to do is target the threat and properly vet and make sure they don’t come in. I just marked up a bill yesterday out of my committee that deals with tightening up these standards, using social media, which was not done in the San Bernardino case. And I think, you know, this is a document that we hope the nominee will read and take attention to. There are ways to properly vet and protect threats from coming into the United States without just a swath of a ban against any race or religion from coming into the United States.

MITCHELL: And do you think that that kind of rhetoric hurts our national security in terms of your interactions with foreign leaders?

MCCAUL: Well, we’re going to have a—we’re going to advise. And this is—a better way forward is a document to advise our House Republicans, hopefully some Democrats will read it too. And we hope the nominee will read that as well. I’ve always said that we have to be careful in our rhetoric because that can inflame the Muslim community, and can in fact help their recruiting efforts, in some respects.

And so I—you know, look, I see this from a homeland standpoint, but I have to look at the threats out there too. And I think going on the offense to take out the threat—for instance, being in Libya, a failed state, and we’re holding back our military strikes that could take our large training camps of ISIS within Libya. We have the same problem in Yemen and ISIS in the Sinai and Iraq and Syria. We’re now finally—after three and a half years—finally starting to ramp up our military operations. But that alone is not going to solve the problem. It’s going to be a political, diplomatic solution.

And finally, if I can mention, the counter-narrative is so important here. We do not have—we have not been effective, whether it be State or Homeland Security, at developing a counter-narrative message to the ISIS propaganda. It’s a war of ideology, at the end of the day, that cannot be won just by drone strikes alone. And we have failed miserably at this. And I tasked the Department of Homeland Security to make it a priority and a focus, and the State Department. And you can’t do it with just the United States flag. You have to do that through community leaders, religious leaders, and win the war of ideas.

MITCHELL: How do you win the war of ideas? I’ve covered the State Department since 1994. And I’ve watched Democratic and Republican administrations and secretaries of state of all description unable to use our public diplomacy in a truly effective way against this kind of propaganda. And ISIS is so much more adept at social media than anything that we’ve ever been able to do.

MCCAUL: The difference is bin Laden was all about primitive communications—caves and couriers. We have a new generation of terrorists that are very effective on the internet, that have radicalized enough people to recruit 40,000 jihadists into Iraq and Syria, the largest convergence in history, which now they do the external operations out of. Same with Northern Africa. So we have to counter that message. Some private companies, Google, Facebook, they’re all stepping up to the plate to counter that message. But I think the United States government can do a more effective job leveraging the local communities. And at the end of the day, these are—the Sunni Arab community needs to step up to the plate, protect their own backyard, and protect their own religion.

GOODLATTE: And as they do this, it’s important to understand that legislation coming out of the Judiciary Committee as well advises the State Department, when they had just announced a policy of not examining publicly available social media, that that’s important to do, because it can give you leads and clues to the background of the person applying to come to the United States. Tashfeen Malik, according to the FBI today, had already been radicalized before she applied for her visa. And she went through three interviews and it was never determined that she was this kind of threat to the United States. But if they had done background checks like social media, or checking with the madrassas in Middle Eastern countries where she was educated, they might have had a more informed body of information to determine whether or not she should have been admitted to the United States.

MITCHELL: I wanted to ask you about cybersecurity, because we’ve seen a complete failure throughout the government of protecting even government sites, OPM, which initially did not even acknowledge the extent of that hack. We’ve seen the hack of the State Department by, we believe, Russia. China has also been—(inaudible). How do you deal with hacking by state actors—

MCCAUL: Well, and we passed a bill last December that helps with information sharing of the malicious codes. You know, we talk a lot about the active shooter, suicide bomber with ISIS. Cyber, when you look at the consequences and the potential damage are far graver and more of a threat, I think, in many ways. And so when you look at the—what Bob looks at in terms of criminal theft of IP, to espionage of China—I mean, China stole 20 million security clearances from the United States government with absolutely no consequence to it. This administration did not respond to that kind of attack. We have to have a better proportionate response when they attack us like that.

And then the cyberwarfare piece is what keeps me up at night, because it’s the ability to shut things down—whether it be power grids, financial institutions—cause utter chaos in the nation, economic damage, but physical in terms of what can be done offensively that we need to do a better job on the defense to protect this nation.

GOODLATTE: We do need to provide more resources to our military and intelligence organizations, and law enforcement, by the way, to be able to combat cybercrimes of all types—from identity theft up to cyberwarfare. But we also need to recognize that encryption technology is a good thing. It causes problems for us, but when it’s done well and done right, is the most effective stop at hacking into government agencies, into retail businesses, into banks, into all of the different types of ways that we have seen people made vulnerable due to various types of cyberattacks. Encryption is a good thing and we should be working to make sure that it is stronger and stronger while working with law enforcement and intelligence organizations to make sure that they have tools to try to address that.

That’s why the Judiciary Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee work together to create a working group on this very subject to come up with proposals based upon our work with intelligence and law enforcement organizations, with technology companies, with civil liberties organizations, to make sure we find the appropriate way to advance this technology. We’re not going to stop it. We don’t want the bad guys to have access to us. And we have hindered our own use of it. But at the same time, find ways to make it possible for law enforcement to do their job.

MCCAUL: If I could add to that, though, I think one the greatest challenges to federal law enforcement now is—encryption is a positive thing for us, but the terrorists have learned how to exploit it.

MITCHELL: The end-to-end encryption that the FBI director has been—

MCCAUL: The end-to-end encryption. So you look at the Paris attacks, Brussels. What I don’t want to see is that happen in the United States. And it worries me that they can communicate in darkness now and we can’t see what they’re saying. As a federal prosecutor, if you can’t see what they’re saying in advance, it’s hard to disrupt that plot. We know individuals in Syria, in Raqqa, Syria, are talking to individuals in the United States as I speak and we cannot see what they’re saying. This is one of the biggest threats. And I think, you know, we need—Congress needs to deal with this issue as well as tackle this, because if, God forbid, an active shooter attack occurs, like Paris, and they’re using end-to-end, which they will, we need to fix this problem. But it’s very highly complex, as Bob knows. But it’s one of the greatest challenges that we have.

MITCHELL: Now, I want to bring our members in. And please identify yourself, stand, give your name and affiliation, and direct—real directed questions, you know, not comments and speeches, because we want to get to as many of you as possible.

Right here. We have microphones, obviously.

Q: Thank you for being here. I’m Mitzi Wertheim with the Naval Postgraduate School.

I’m struck by a number of things. The incredible complexity and interdependency the world is today, and the number of things that one needs to know. By the way, I think democracy is very hard to do. And when we go into Iraq and decimate all the leadership, and expect it to miraculously turn into a—we have to understand these countries, first of all. But I guess the thing that I’m asking is: What does the U.S. have to offer these countries? I have a good friend who’s an Egyptian who is now living in Saudi Arabia doing terrorist work. And he was on a CSIS program here last fall. And he came for lunch. There were 17 people in the group, five American, and he was practically shaking. He said Americans don’t understand why people become terrorists. And he said you don’t recognize these are young men with no opportunities, have no purpose in life. They’re offered $2,000 a month, a gun and a truck, and a reason. He said you can’t—you can’t deal with that.

I mean, I—none of this has easy answers. And if you’ve got easy answers, please share them with all of us.

GOODLATTE: We don’t have easy answers, but we can’t simply ignore the reality that exists there. So the United States—the best thing we have to offer is the example. And I know and I’ve read pretty widely about how societies that are predominated by a Muslim culture that has a very close interrelationship between the government and religion—that is in the United States different because we have a Constitution that protects religious freedom in ways that are—is simply not respected in these countries.

Nonetheless, I believe that making people aware around the world that freedom is a very precious thing and worth having will eventually win the day, even in some of these most difficult countries, like countries in the Middle East. In the meantime, we have to deal with this terrorist threat. We cannot simply say go ahead and do whatever you’re doing over there; it doesn’t affect us over here. We learned that lesson on 9/11.

MCCAUL: And if I could add, that is an important question, because I just came back from the region and many hot spots. We have to deal with it offensively, taking out the threat so they cannot attack the homeland. We all understand that, ramping up our military. But the political and diplomatic resolutions, like in Iraq it broke down. It imploded. That’s how ISIS was—the formation of ISIS began. Now we’re seeing it in Sinai, Tunisia, and Libya.

But there are also the conditions on the ground that help promote terrorism. And that’s where the counter-narrative and the war of ideas and the war of ideology. We have to do a much better job at this. And I don’t think we’re doing as good of a job as we could. And we’re looking—I know Ed Royce will talk about foreign affairs and some economic assistance packages we’re looking at. But it’s really a combination. It’s not just all about drone strikes.

MITCHELL: Jane Harman, Congresswoman Jane Harman, former member from California, ranking on Intelligence.

Q: Thank you. Hi.

I was elected with you, Rob, and I worked very closely with you, Mike, on the Homeland Committee.

My question is this. A Republican agenda is a good thing to have in an election year. And there are lots of things on this agenda that I strongly agree with. If a Democrat is elected president, will you work with her to enact parts of this agenda and hopefully, as compromise occurs, try to put the country first? Because all of us are going to be victims of terror attacks, not just people in one party.

MCCAUL: Well, Jane, as you always said, the terrorists don’t check our party affiliation, right? They don’t care if we’re Republican or Democrat. I’m hopeful this document—it will be the House GOP blueprint. But as I mentioned at the outset, I hope this is a document for all Americans, because I think these principles are correct and it is a better way forward. And so obviously we’re going to work with whoever the president is on trying to advance this agenda.

GOODLATTE: Many of these items are in here that we’ve already been working on in a bipartisan way in the Congress. There have been some things that have been very positive, signed into law by the current president. So the answer—the Congress has a responsibility to the American people to work with whoever the chief executive is.

I will say that I hope it is somebody other than the lady that you’re referring to, because the track record of the current president in working with us, to not take his pen and his cell phone and bypass the Congress but actually work with the Congress, has not been good. And we’re looking for leadership that says I want to work with the Congress and I want to get things done. And that includes foreign policy and national-defense issues, where it’s especially important that we have a coordinated effort to represent the United States before the rest of the world.

HARMAN: Well, I strongly agree and hope we have that.

MCCAUL: My concern as well is that I think, not to get too partisan, but I think the administration and Mrs. Clinton and the foreign policy—she’s the architect of much of this after the Arab spring—it has created—my concern, from a homeland standpoint, is so many terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens from which they can operate out of to attack Americans in the homeland. That’s one of my biggest concerns. We want to change that course.

MITCHELL: Thank you.

Yes, a question back there. Thank you, Jane.

Q: Thank you. I’m Richard Downie from Delphi Strategic Consulting. Great comments. Thank you very much.

Chairman McCaul, you opened your remarks by saying that we need to secure the border. There are a lot of people who say that the border is more secure today than it has ever been. And my question is, what is the criteria that will let us know that we have a secure border? Donald Trump’s going to build a wall. Is it zero migrants coming across? Is it a percentage? Is it zero flow of drugs? Is it some percentage? What’s the criteria that will finally let us know when we have a secure border? Thank you.

MCCAUL: Well, it’s when we can gain operational control. And you can define that in many ways. But right now we’re catching less than half of what’s coming in. And, you know, what Bob and I worry about is what’s coming in that we don’t know about? We do know we’re apprehending, other than Mexicans, special-interest aliens from countries of interest that concern us. We’re apprehending them. But how many have already gotten into this country? And I think that’s one of the biggest concerns.

I believe—and I had a bill that we got out of my committee—that is a multi-layered approach to basically create a barrier to prevent illegal aliens, but also potential terrorists, from coming into the United States. That involves not just fencing, although fencing is important, and infrastructure, but also technology and aviation assets and manpower, boots on the ground, to respond.

One important program we passed was the Department of Defense transferring excess surplus property, like aerostats, from Afghanistan to the Southwest border so we have that visibility. Right now we can’t see 100 percent what’s happening on the ground. If you can’t see what’s happening, it’s very difficult to respond to it. So I think the answer is when we achieve operational control. We’re far from that right now.

GOODLATTE: And I agree with all of that. But the other piece of it, you have to have the will to enforce the law. And when you have policies now where Border Patrol agents and ICE agents are on a very frequent basis complaining about instructions from their superiors to not turn people away, to not detain people, to let people in even without documentation, that part of people being admitted to the country not because they evaded detection but because they said here I am, I want in, and an administration finding more and more reasons to let them in, as opposed to turn them away, and not enforce the law once they have overstayed their presence in the country, is an equally important component of that. The 9/11 hijackers and the San Bernardino killing all took place with people who were at least initially lawfully present in the United States.

MCCAUL: And Bob and I worked on the U.S. exit program, which deals with visa overstays.

GOODLATTE: That’s right.

MCCAUL: Forty percent, as Bob mentioned, of the hijackers. It’s the political will that’s missing. We can get this done. It’s achievable. But we just don’t have the political will to do it.

MITCHELL: Barbara Slavin.

Q: Thank you very much. Barbara Slavin from The Atlantic Council. I look forward to reading your report.

How are you going to muster the financial resources to pay for the barrier, the additional personnel, also the additional visa people that would be required to do a better job of vetting? Is that specified in this document? What would you take from in order to pay for this? Thank you.

MCCAUL: We don’t specify what account has to change from where, but it’s all about what is your priority. I think Bob and I agree this is—should be a priority for the nation, because the number one principle under the Constitution is providing for a common defense, whether it be our military hitting ISIS overseas or protecting our borders at home, to protect bad people and bad things from coming in. We haven’t talked about the drug cartels and the damage that they do.

You know, in my bill we looked at potentially, you know, the OCO funding. There’s emergency funding—it’s an emergency situation—to potentially pay for that. But, you know, where there’s a will, there’s a way. And the problem again is the will’s not there.

GOODLATTE: Yeah. And when you express that will in a way that says to people in Central America and other places, if you come to the United States, you’re not going to be admitted under the terms that they’re now being told they’ll be admitted, there are actually savings to be achieved by not having people make that long, dangerous journey across Mexico to show up at our borders because they’ve been given a promise and they’ve paid a lot of money themselves to coyotes, who are often very much a part of the entire organized crime syndicates in Mexico. We are creating this problem by sending the wrong message about what will happen when you arrive at the U.S. border.

MS. MITCHELL: Yes, sir. There’s a microphone right by—

Q: Yes, thank you. I’m William Hauser, Seminar on Armed Forces and Society.

You gentlemen are students of history. How can you support a candidate whose movement may, four years from now, come back to threaten our democracy?

MCCAUL: Bob, do you want to take that one? (Laughter.)

GOODLATTE: That’s a very general statement. I look for more specifics. For example, I am very encouraged by the list of Supreme Court nominees that the candidate that you refer to, Mr. Trump, has put forward as potential replacements for Justice Antonin Scalia. And his death was a tremendous loss, from my standpoint, in terms of somebody who respects the United States Constitution and the rule of law, and I believe those are 10 potential nominees who reflect that.

I am encouraged by a candidate who says that he wants a vice presidential nominee who understands the legislative process so that he—meaning Mr. Trump—can work better with the Congress, something that would be a vast improvement over the current circumstance that we find.

So these are things that you have to look to, to determine who would make the best president of the United States. And I agree with Mike. You also have to look at the track record of the person who was our secretary of state, and I think a lot of the problems that we have now exacerbated during her leadership or lack of leadership in working in the Obama administration.

So this is going to be a great presidential debate. I look forward to hearing more, but I like what I’ve been hearing lately from that candidate about who he would want to see involved in positions of leadership in our government.

MCCAUL: And, Bill, if I could answer that too, I think it’s important that our nominee has good advisers and good advice, particularly on this issue, which is the most important issue facing the nation, I believe—and so good foreign policy advisers, good national security advisers.

I’ve had discussions with Mayor Giuliani about, you know, trying to get advisers. You know, Reagan, that wasn’t his strength, but he made it a strength because he surrounded himself by good people and good advisers. And one, I think, exercise by producing this report is not only to educate our own members moving forward but to advise and support the nominee.

MITCHELL: Chairman Goodlatte, do you have any concerns, in a separate way from the 11 potential Supreme Court justices that he might nominate, when he talks about a federal judge and says, you know, affirmatively, that he does not think that a federal judge can be unbiased because of his ethnicity? Does that raise concerns about the judgment and about his respect for the separation of powers?

GOODLATTE: I think we have a long tradition in our country and in our party of respecting people’s rights under our Constitution. And I hope that our candidate does surround himself with the type of people that Mike described that will encourage him to look at it from that vantage point.

There’s no doubt that we have a very outspoken candidate, and we’ll have, I’m sure, a lot more to hear from him. (Laughter.) I’m looking for lots of different ideas from him that will cause me to believe that he’s going to surround himself with good people and that—

MITCHELL: And listen to them? (Laughter.)

GOODLATTE: And listen to them and follow their advice and exercise good leadership.

MITCHELL: More questions. Yes, sir.

Q: Thank you. My name is Mark Rodenburg. I’m with the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

I wanted to thank you, Andrea, for raising the issue of the OPM data breach, and you, Mr. Goodlatte, for your leadership on the encryption issue. We worked on this for many years.

It seems to me that part of the cybersecurity threat facing the United States is not only the vulnerability of government agencies and U.S. business but actually the personal data of U.S. consumers and U.S. citizens that’s being stored by these large organizations. And Americans seem to reflect a common concern that a lot of this data about them is not receiving adequate protection. So my question is simply this: To what extent do you think data protection should be an issue in this election season?

GOODLATTE: Well, I very much believe it should be and is an issue in this election. And I think that’s driven primarily not by government, not by business, but by individuals who understand that the way their information is stored and the value of information that is intangible that is stored in the cloud and other ways has changed dramatically over the last 20 or 30 years.

And therefore, their expectations with regard to what protections should be provided for that information has changed a well. And I think the Congress and the administration need to reflect and respect that change of attitude, understanding all the while that Mike McCaul’s concerns and my concerns about national security and about keeping people safe from people would abuse this technology is important.

It is also important to understand that the technology itself can be used in a positive way to advance and protect people’s lives. That’s why we passed, unanimously, 419-to-nothing, the ECPA reform legislation just recently, that’s now over in the Senate, and I hope the Senate acts upon it because that is an enhancement of the protection of people’s privacy that I think they want and expect.

MCCAUL: And I will say, in the cybersecurity bill we passed we met very closely with the privacy advocates. That was very important to me that we protection personally identifying information as we try to share these malicious codes, to protect not only the federal government—and the OPM breach was really an assault on the country, an act of espionage by China—but also to protect the private sector critical infrastructures by getting these codes, to be able to lock the door so that networks can’t be penetrated and intruded by criminals, espionage and nation-state actors.

MITCHELL: That concludes our time with this first panel, but I want to thank Chairman McCaul and Goodlatte for participating. And we have a lot more to come, but thank you for starting the conversation.

GOODLATTE: Thanks for having us.

MCCAUL: Thank you, Andrea. (Applause.)

MITCHELL: And while we change places here, our next speaker is the House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

Leader McCarthy was first elected to Congress in 2006, representing California’s 23rd District. After serving his majority whip, Leader McCarthy was elected as the majority leader in 2014. Following the Paris terrorist attacks in November last year, Leader McCarthy was tapped to lead a newly created Chairmen’s Task Force on Counterterrorism and Homeland Security to address critical security gaps here at home and abroad, as well as tackling the foreign fighter flow to Iraq and Syria.

He stays in regular contact with our allies around the globe and has been very involved in creating this “better way” agenda. So please join me in welcoming Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to the podium. (Applause.)

MCCARTHY: Well, thank you all very much, and thank you for coming out today. This is part of Speaker Ryan’s plan of changing the House. The House becomes the house of ideas, provokes debate, and lays out an agenda.

You know, a lot has changed in the last few years. There was a time not so long ago when America stood with its allies and against its enemies, and when America’s strength and engagement led to peace and prosperity, not just here but around the world. But under the current administration’s direction, America took a step back from the world and allowed others like ISIS, Russia, and China to fill the void.

History has shown us time and again that the world can only be a safer place when America leads. And we need American leadership again. We need American leadership in the Middle East to stop the rising tide of terrorism in the region that threatens our allies and has already spilled over into American and European soil.

But it’s not just Sunni-sponsored terrorism. Iran’s destabilizing regional and global activities has only increased since the signing of the Iran deal. The Iranian government has proven what we always knew: They had no intention of changing their ways.

We need American leadership in Europe to support our alliance structures and to ensure that our allies are holding up their end of the bargain. Then we can present a unified and hardened front against Russian expansion that has increased tensions to the heights that have not seen since the Cold War.

We need an American leadership in Asia to defend freedom of navigation and to stop a shift in the balance of power that would threaten our allies and interests in the region. China’s illegal land reclamation and Korea’s rapid military advancement pose strategic threats to the region.

What our Task Force on National Security has done is outlined a different path than the one that the President Obama has led us down for the last for the past seven years. It is a path that recognizes America can only be safe if we proactively engage abroad, rather than hide behind our oceans and leave the most challenging problems for others to deal with. It is a path that demands we invest, invest in our unmatched military capabilities. That means cyber defense, our active duty and reserve forces, and our veterans, so that every part of our defenses had the resources that it needs.

Unfortunately, America has lost significant standing on the world stage in the most recent years. And that respect can only be regained with strong investments, firm resolve, and proper leadership. The House, deliberating through this Task Force on National Security, has shown what it will take to keep America safe and regain our standing in the world. We have the resources and the will. The question we bring before the American people: Will we make the right choices? I want to thank the Task Force, the chairman, and all the members within Congress who participated. This is the question of what America and the world will look like in the future. The world is safer when America leads. Thank you. (Applause.)

MITCHELL: Let me first of all thank Leader McCarthy for his comments. We’re now joined on stage by four other committee chairmen. We have the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Jeff Miller of Florida. Chairman Miller, thank you. And the chairman of House Intelligence, Devin Nunes, of California. The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, also of California. Thank you. And finally, the House Armed Services Committee chairman, Mac Thornberry of Texas. OK, so thank you all. All of these chairmen are also, of course, on this Task Force on National Security. We’re going to have a discussion about how we advance our interests abroad, renewing our national security tools.

Let me start with North Korea, just to take an easy subject. (Laughter.) It was confirmed this week that North Korea restarted their production of plutonium fuel, showing that they plan to proceed with their nuclear program, in defiance of all of the international sanctions. Let me ask you, Chairman Royce, what is the best way to try to deter North Korea, aside from trying to rely on our efforts with the Chinese? It doesn’t seem to have slowed this young leader down at all.

ROYCE: And I’m not so sure, Andrea, that the Chinese are that serious about slowing them down. I think that there’s only one thing we’ve tried in the past that has worked, and that was the sanctions on Banco Delta Asia. If you think about it, if you think back to, what, 2006, 2007, when that was tried we actually shut down their missile production line, he couldn’t pay his generals. And that’s the one point in time when things were really desperate in North Korea. Our Treasury Department had done that because they were caught counterfeiting $100 bills. The State Department convinced the administration to lift the sanctions at that time.

Now, I passed legislation in December, it was signed by the president, that set up a sanctions effort on North Korea to do exactly what we did then—exactly what was successful. So at this point in time, and we have also pushed that through in the United Nations, we have an initiative that cuts off the flow of hard currency that North Korea needs both to pay its military and to carry out its missile program and its nuclear program. What we have to do is stick with that policy.

We need tough enforcement on that policy. And the new chapter is that it is now impossible for financial institutions—anywhere that deal with North Korean currency—to be part of the international banking system, or to bank with the United States. That’s a tough decision for them to make, but they will cut off now their work with hard currency in North Korea. I believe that that is the way to get them to the table.

MITCHELL: Chairman Nunes, what about our intelligence efforts in this regard? Is this one of the hardest targets we have? And how are continuously surprised by what Kim Jong-un is doing?

NUNES: Well, I don’t think us, the folks that are in the intelligence community or watch this closely, were every surprised. I actually have felt for a long time that there was—the administration downplayed the youth of the new leader of North Korea, and I think misjudged how he would act. And if you look at what they’re doing, this is similar behavior that they’ve had for many decades now.

What’s happening in North Korea is absolutely—just it’s—you know, there’s probably 5 million people or more that are living like animals. You know, I’ve been on the border of North Korea before, on the South Korean side, and I’ve never seen anything like is—just, you know, hillsides with not a weed, not a stick, anything. So I don’t think we’ve—I don’t think we’re surprised. I just think, as Chairman Royce said, this is going to take the Chinese working with the new administration if we’re going to get something done there.

MITCHELL: Chairman Thornberry, how concerned should we be about Chinese militarily in the South China Seas? I thought it was pretty remarkable a couple of weeks ago that our fleet was denied port access in Hong Kong for one of our carrier groups. It just seems that this is escalating, not de-escalating, at a time when you’ve got Secretary Lew and Secretary Kerry in Beijing this week working on other aspects of the relationship.

THORNBERRY: It is escalating. And I think we should be very concerned. Despite what the Chinese have said in the past, they are clearly building military bases out of the ocean in the South China Sea. And part of their objectives is to control key shipping lanes and to push us out, so that they have essentially dominance in that region.

I do think even—kind of on a broader point, which is even connected to the North Korea question you were asking—the world is watching what happens. So they see the Russians take provocative action, not just in Crimea and Ukraine but in buzzing our ships. The press reports today are that the Chinese did a similar thing with one of our airplanes. But the world watches. They see how we respond, if we do. And that informs the Chinese, and North Koreans, and Iranians, and others of what they can get away with. One book recently described it as a probing action.

And I think you see these aggressors all around the world testing us, which is part of the reason one of the fundamentals of this proposal that we’re putting out today is military strength and leadership, engagement in the world, not trying to lead from being but being strong. And that is essential. It doesn’t automatically solve all these issues we’re talking about. But it’s essential. And if we don’t do that, then you’re going to see the Chinese be more aggressive, Putin be more aggressive, as well as North Korea, Iran, and others.

MITCHELL: I have to ask you about the—Donald Trump’s suggestions that we get out of alliances like NATO, that we let South Korea and Japan on their own arm themselves, that we don’t work in concert with our allies. How does that fit with the agenda that you lay out today?

THORNBERRY: Well, I can’t comment on this worldview, or anybody else’s. The agenda we lay out today talks about the importance of alliances. As frustrating as it can be to work with allies—and we encourage, for example, our European allies to do more, to contribute more to our joint defense efforts. But whether we’re talking about the Pacific, the Middle East, Africa, or Europe, alliances are essential. But we’ve got to be a good ally. And as you heard the speaker say at the beginning, there are more questions than ever about how reliable we are as an ally. And we have got to turn that around because we will not attract people who have—or countries who have doubts about us.

MITCHELL: Chairman Miller, I think you have been advising the nominee in some regard on national security issues. What do you see as the prospects if he becomes the commander in chief, President Trump?

MILLER: A strong commander in chief.

And you asked the question as it relates to NATO. The truth is, our NATO partners are going to have to pay more—their fair share. And that’s what Mr. Trump has been talking about: much of the GDP that some of our allies have been spending it on, programs other than what’s required as a NATO partner. So I don’t see anything wrong with asking them to step up and do what they’re supposed to do, the United States always does and does more.

But as my colleagues have all said, part of the problem that exists out there today certainly is one of trust with our allies. We have allies that will say, we don’t know whether we can trust the current administration—and then the vacuum that is created where countries like Russia, China can probe and will continue to probe until we finally push back and say enough is enough. And that hasn’t happened yet, so they’re going to keep doing it.

MITCHELL: Let me ask you about Syria and the ongoing civil war. We have seen an explosion of not only migration but of casualties, civilian casualties. We’ve seen the challenges of trying to stand up any kind of resistance force. Chairman Nunes, what do you think the possibility is, based on what you know—and you have far greater information than all of us in the audience—of actually reaching the kind of diplomatic solution with Russia as engaged as it is, which is the policy that Secretary Kerry has been trying to engage in with the allies?

NUNES: Well, I think it’s almost a fool’s errand to believe that you’re going to truly end this quickly. The Russians are on the offensive. They have very few rules of engagement, so they’re killing people most likely into the thousands. Just yesterday there was even more attacks on Aleppo, and it looks like almost indiscriminate attacks. And so I think it’s almost—the administration’s kidding themselves—if we’re going to continue with the rules of engagements that we have now in Syria and Iraq and we’re continue to downplay the growth of ISIS and al-Qaida—leads you to bad decision-making.

And so if you’re asking me, you know, what does—what do we promote as a Republican Party? Look, let’s identify the problem. To try to say that ISIS or al-Qaida is only in Syria, that doesn’t—you know, that’s not a policy—if you even include Iraq. Well, that’s not a—that’s not a grand strategy. You have to look at North Africa, which, quite frankly, is where a lot of this problem began in the first place because a lot of the weapons and the fighters originally came—transferred after Libya collapsed, began to transfer across into Syria, joined all the groups, and then you started the civil war. So a true plan to actually go after ISIS and al-Qaida and ultimately fix the problem in Syria has to be all-encompassing. And that’s what—I think you just need a fresh set of eyes and fresh leadership to do that.

MITCHELL: And Chairman Royce, when we’re looking at what’s happening in Iraq right now, you’ve got an attempt to go back and try to take back Fallujah, concerns that Mosul really should be the first priority but that Abadi feels domestically pressured to do Fallujah first. Increasing role of the Iranian-backed militias. What is the possibility that Iran is going to end up having more influence in Iraq than even we after all of the blood and sacrifice that we made there?

ROYCE: Andrea, this goes to the original blunder on the part of the administration, which was we needed a tilt to Iran, but we needed a tilt toward the people in Iran and at the point in time when the—when the election was stolen and the people in Iran were crying out for U.S. engagement; the polling, as you know, shows that two-thirds of the people want a Western-style democracy without a theocracy.

Instead, the administration made the decision to engage with the ayatollah, made the decision to go forward and negotiate and, in so doing, empowered, enabled that revolutionary regime in many ways and subsequently has become so—has bought into this idea now that they can’t offend the Iranian regime. And we’ve seen this in a whole slew of decision-making—you know, giving them access to the dollar, the attempt to do that, the heavy water subsidy and so forth. But you also see it in the policy decisions of allowing Iran to exert ever-more influence in Baghdad. When we pulled out the U.S. presence in Baghdad, the Iranians moved in in terms of their influence.

MITCHELL: Doesn’t that really go back to the previous administration’s support for Maliki? Wasn’t it Maliki’s cracking down and discrimination against the Sunni leaders that led to the growth of Iranian—

ROYCE: And we pushed on that; we in Congress pushed on that issue. But the situation you have today is one in which Iran is dictating terms. So when I move legislation, or try to, to arm the Kurds, or we try to arm the Sunni tribes, or we try to arm the Yazidis, or we try to reach out to the Christians, no, no, no comes the retort out of Baghdad, you’ve got to go through us—which means you’ve got to go through the influence that the Shias and especially Iran have here. So instead of seeing on that 650-mile front in which the Kurds and others are battling, are battling, for example, ISIS, instead you see a situation where it’s the Shia militias coming in from Iran, where the influence and the decision-making is empowering fighters from Iran to go into Fallujah—can you imagine the situation where you bring Shia into a Sunni area, where you’ve allowed the tribal leaders to be pushed out that want to do the fighting, that want to take their villages back—no. The solution here should’ve been to assure that the Christians, the Kurds, the Sunni tribes be given the weapons directly or sold those weapons from the United States to take their villages back.

It’s the movement of Shia militia into those areas that is compounding all of these problems. And again, that goes to the deference that we’ve giving the Iranian regime in all of this in order to not offend. We’re walking on eggshells. And that makes it impossible for us to have a grand strategy here to eliminate ISIS and do some of the other things we need to do.

MITCHELL: Chairman Thornberry, when we look at North Africa and what Congressman Nunes referred to as the growth there of some of these terror groups, how expansive can our military be in this area, Libya and other areas? And how do you—how do you reconcile the—what some have called neo-isolationist groups within the Republican coalition who want less engagement, not more engagement? Because there are in the Republican Party two strands of thinking about how engaged we should be. Should we be helping Libya right now to prevent it from becoming a totally failed state?

THORNBERRY: I think actually what you see is a lot of frustration at military engagement with our hands tied. And just going back to some of the questions you were asking about Iraq and Syria in the past, our engagements have had severe constraints about them, which have made them less effective than they might otherwise be. So there is—

MITCHELL: You’re talking about Syria in particular?

THORNBERRY: Well, no, I’m talking about Iraq as well, and certainly the red line in Syria, the limitations on where we can drop bombs, the limitations on where our people could go.

Now, it turns out over the past several months the administration has been loosening those restraints somewhat. You see somewhat more effectiveness, at least in territory.

But my point is that you’ve had 7 ½ years of trying to force this narrative that the terrorists were on the run, we don’t really have to be serious about it. And there is a lot of frustration—I don’t think it’s just Republicans—at engagements that are half-hearted or have these sorts of constraints on them.

Now, having said that, you remove all constraints, are we going to be able to solve Libya tomorrow? Of course not. But I do believe our military folks who have gotten very good at working with others trying to build up indigenous forces to push back against these terrorists is a way forward.

But the other one gets back to what we were talking about a while ago. There are other people, other countries, who are willing to be much more engaged, but they’re not going to do it on their own. They got to see U.S. leadership. And that’s why the central thrust of this document is strength and engagement.

MITCHELL: Let me ask you, all of you, about trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We’ve heard from both presumptive nominees criticisms of these trade deals. How would you leaders in the House approach these trade deals, actually in contrast to what we’re hearing from both of the nominees?

ROYCE: One of the things I think the American people maybe are not aware of is that Beijing has got an initiative under way for trade agreements all across Asia to sort of supplant U.S. influence throughout that region. And those trade deals, Andrea, are based on a concept of trade, free trade, but with no standards, no rules.

What the United States needs is free-trade agreements with high standards, with rules that protect intellectual property. And we discuss this in this document. This is what is in the interest of U.S. jobs, but it’s also in the interest of U.S. national security, because I guarantee you when you have a situation where Europe is coming to us and saying we’re willing to give you market access, but we need to set standards so that the predatory actions being taken in Beijing—no individual European state can stand up against that. But if we all are together in agreement with very high standards, this can reassert basically the rule of law.

We need agreements also that ensure that on these disputes that they go to arbitration so that we’re not locked into some legal system, let’s say, overseas, in Southeast Asia. But all of this requires an understanding that this is not happening in a vacuum, that Beijing is on the march selling something that tries to supplant across the entire Pacific Rim the influence of the ideals which we have advanced and which have created the engagement with allies that frankly share our concepts, in most cases our democratic ideals, with a very different competing agenda. And I think that is what we need to articulate.

MITCHELL: Any of you other want to comment on trade?

NUNES: Well, I would just say that I serve on the Trade Committee and have worked on TPP for a long time, and clearly the administration dragged their feet. Finally, they got engaged in getting TPP moving forward. But as it stands right now, it can’t pass the Congress because there’s not the votes. So the deal is going to have to be changed.

But I agree with what Chairman Royce is saying is you can sum it up to either we with our allies write the rules of trade or you let bad regimes write the rules of trade. And so we’re going to have to, as a Congress, work with whoever the next president is to make sure that this TPP deal ultimately gets done, but it’s a better deal for the American people at the same time.

MILLER: And I know you talked about specifically TPP. But when you look at a country like China that steals hundreds of billions of dollars of intellectual property from the United States, we have got to stop China from doing that. And again, I think we’re all free traders, but we’re all for fair trade. But you certainly don’t want to be trading with somebody that steals your intellectual property from you as well.

MITCHELL: Before we go to questions from our members, I wanted to talk about Vladimir Putin and the way you would foresee in the future dealing with Vladimir Putin. We’ve heard from Mr. Trump praising Putin as a strong leader, going forward with Ukraine, with his increasing role, Russia’s increasing role in the Middle East in the past year in particular with the air strikes that took place in September, right after his meeting with the president and him becoming involved in the air strikes in Syria. I’m just wondering if we could go down the row and talk about how do we deal with Russia.

THORNBERRY: On a tactical level, I think there is huge bipartisan support on both—in both houses of Congress to provide more assistance to Ukraine to be able to defend itself. And it is a prime example of what I was mentioning earlier. It’s not just the weapons, but even the training that we are providing Ukraine is restricted for fear of aggravating him or—you know, and I think that does lead to frustration.

I would just say, for my part, the key with dealing with Putin and Russia is we have to do so from military strength. I mean, there’s—this is just a base line. You can negotiate here or there. You can have sanctions. You can do this or that. But he’s also watching and listening to the status of our military. Lots of things are in trouble in Russia, but their military modernization, including their nuclear modernization, is advancing at a pace far beyond ours. And so military strength is the key base line from which we can deal with them.

ROYCE: And more backbone rather than backing down.

I took a delegation of eight members into Dnipropetrovsk, eastern, Russian-speaking Ukraine, and spoke to the communities there, the different minority groups. The message from everyone is that, look, we can catch the Russian agents that come in here. Their Russian is a little different than ours. We’re holding them in the brig. We can’t stop the Russian armor. And to Mac Thornberry’s point, they say why, why won’t you give us, sell us, the anti-tank weapons so that at least we can stop the armor? You see these citizens there filling sandbags, taking up positions. They’re on the front. And they’re asking us for the ability to defend themselves.

Our relationship with Russia is partly a policy failure of this administration, going back to the restart with Russia. When you think about it, at that time the administration made the decision to pull out of Eastern Europe the very anti-missile defense system, intercept system, that we were deploying in Poland and in the Czech Republic in case there was ever a launch from Iran towards Europe or towards the United States. In exchange for doing that, Putin sensed weakness. And on and on it went with our red line in Syria, and then into Ukraine, weakness and no push-back.

So I think that we see what the takeaway was, not just for the Russians. Why aren’t we broadcasting into Russia in the same way that Russia uses RT Television? Why don’t we have an effective policy today? Reform the BBG. I have legislation to do that, we put in the NDAA bill with your help. And as a consequence, why aren’t we up on the air, not with National Public Radio for Russia, but with what Reagan did in Eastern Europe, using social media, using television, using radio, to tell the Russian people the truth? We know that was effective in the past. But if they only hear one side of the story and we’re not pushing back, you end up where we are today. And I think there’s a big takeaway from that.

NUNES: I’d just add quickly that not able—not being able to understand Putin’s plans and intentions has been the largest intelligence failure since 9/11. You know, all—you asked the question about Trump and being willing to talk to Putin. I mean, look, every president has—since Putin’s been in there has tried to meet and work with Putin, so this is really not a change from any of the previous presidents.

MITCHELL: But the praising him is what I was referring to, but—

NUNES: Well, I’m not sure that the other presidents haven’t praised and resets and, you know, tell Vladimir that I’ll meet with him after the election. I mean, let’s, you know, be honest here. So—but without force, Putin’s not going to come to the table. And so you’re going to have to do—you’re going to have to do both. You’re going to have to have force. You’re going to have to be willing to do influence, like what we talked about in Ukraine and other places. And then you might be in a position where you can actually deal with Putin.

And, look, the best way for this to be fixed is for us to actually be able to talk to, you know, one of the world’s nuclear powers. But it’s just not going to happen right now while he thinks that we’re weak and not willing to do anything.

MITCHELL: Congressman Miller, anything to add?

MILLER: Well, I agree with what my colleagues have said. And it wasn’t that long ago that the key phrase was trust but verify. And that’s what we have to do.

MITCHELL: And we want to bring our members into this. Again, just raise your hands and we’ll get the microphone to you.

Yes, sir; if you could identify yourself.

Q: Uwe Semander (sp) with Qorvis MSLGROUP.

Mr. Chairman, Congressman Royce, first of all, thank you so much for everything you’ve done on behalf of the freedom agenda in the Middle East.

My question to you all is would you be open to options that haven’t been considered in the past of working with our Arab allies in the region to provide Syrian rebels MANPADS or modified MANPADS that could potentially take down these Russian gunships and these horrible warplanes that are dropping these barrel bombs on Syria on a regular basis, that are causing the chaos that ISIS needs to thrive?

ROYCE: Well, if we were to do that, let me say that we would—we would want to put timers on those that would scuttle the ability to use those after a certain period of time. We have the capability to do this. But we also have the capability of sitting down with Turkey and other neighboring states that have probed the idea of a safe zone for the civilian population all across the north. And as you know, the Jordanians have urged this across the south. Provide an area where we can at least allow the civilians to be fed, to be—to get medical care and so forth. The fact that we are so determined not to make a decision—look, avoiding a decision is a decision in and of itself.

And that’s been part of the problem since the outset, when you saw people on the streets of Damascus. That first day CNN was covering as they were marching saying peaceful, peaceful. And we saw the automatic weapons fire open up from the regime. And you just knew there was going to be a problem. But there was effort to just put it off, don’t engage. There was no—the red lines—they blew right through the red lines. And so as a consequence, now when you have Arab states, and you have Turkey, and you have others in the region that are urging you forward with the idea of the humanitarian gesture of trying to put up, you know, this area of protection, at least we should be engaged in leading on that front. Leading from behind is not working in terms of stability in the region. And it’s got to be reversed.

MITCHELL: All right, back there on the aisle. Yes, sir.

Q: Hello. I’m Mark Jacobson. I’m with the Department of Defense, but I’m speaking here today in my capacity as a Council member.

I noted in the document that came out this morning there was a paragraph regarding the U.S. Agency for International Development. And it noted specifically that USAID must keep pace with innovation, that programs in the workforce, quote, “have failed to keep pace with the rapidly changing development landscape.” I don’t completely disagree with that, but my concern is it points directly at the executive branch. And I’m more concerned about Congress being able to provide the authorities needed to build upon those successes at USAID. And really, for Chairman Royce but also for Chairman Thornberry because of the overlap of DOD and USAID activities, what do you have in mind for increasing the flexibility of USAID to build upon their successful programs, and also recruit and retain the type of talent that’s needed for this 21st century development approach?

ROYCE: Yeah, I think it’s an excellent question you’ve asked. And I’ve had an opportunity overseas to see where USAID has had the flexibility to be successful. And I’ve watched, for example, when they have that flexibility, the capability of working with some of the NGOs that maybe came out of Central Asia, where you have doctors here in the United States, you have business people here who have been successful. They want to put their money back. They want to help the teaching colleges, or they want to help set up schools for young women and so forth. And with a little bit of partnering with USAID, this can be a force multiplier in terms of offsetting what’s coming out of the Deobandi madrasas, all right?

But again, you need to build that flexibility in so that we’re dealing with those that really know those villages, the Americans that are from—originally from those areas, that are now investing their dollars, their contributions in it. But with a little help, a little partnering with USAID, in that kind of an effort, you’re much more effective than going through the government, for example. These are the types of things we have in mind.

THORNBERRY: I don’t think we’ve had a secretary of defense testify in front of our committee in recent years who has not emphasized the importance of having a State Department and AID becoming more effective. And so I do think one of the most important things that we could do that are in this document—the sections that specifically talk about updating, modernizing our aid programs, the State Department, and its diplomacy. We talk about, for example, the Millennium challenge account, and how providing incentives for aid, for countries to move in our direction, can be a useful thing. It hasn’t been done very well in recent years but, you know, we talk a lot about updating the military for the 21st century. Certainly the State Department and AID need it just as much.

Finally, I noticed it this morning, Admiral Stavridis and General Kelly recommended allowing counterterrorism partnership funds be spent by AID in those situations where the military judges that it would help protect our people. Now, that sort of flexibility across agencies, where it helps accomplish an agreed-upon objective, is absolutely something that I think we should pursue. And that’s just kind of a small, technical example. But we need to look at that sort of thing.

MITCHELL: Yes, over here. Let’s get this side of the room engaged, sorry.

Q: Hi. Thank you for this really thoughtful discussion and for your leadership in support of our national security.

There have been suggestions that in the fight against terrorism we should resort to waterboarding and worse, and the killing of family members of terrorism suspects. As you know, Chairman Thornberry, as part of the defense authorization measure last year, the Congress on a very strong bipartisan basis passed an amendment by Chairman McCain to prohibit waterboarding on the recommendation of military leaders, such as General Petraeus. As a result, the CIA director and the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have said that they would refuse an order to conduct waterboarding. Would you advise whoever the next president is going to be to abide by the law and the advice of military leaders and refrain from waterboarding and other controversial interrogation tactics?

THORNBERRY: I would advise the next commander in chief and all people who serve in the military to abide by the law. And I do not believe the military will carry out an order that goes contrary to the law. I would also advise the next commander in chief, and all people in the military to keep talking about it. Quit saying what we’re not going to do, whether it comes to interrogations or military activities or whatever. We have gone overboard in ruling out all sorts of options which only simply the enemy’s calculations. So I am not for putting a bunch of things in law that we’re not going to do. I’m for leaving them guessing. And I think that is more effective.

MITCHELL: And, yes, the woman on the aisle. Yes. Can we get a microphone to the center aisle, please? Thank you.

Q: Thank you. Ashley Orbach, from the State Department. Firstly, thank you very much for the time. We greatly appreciate it.

You talk a little bit about the United Nations in your vision statement. And you talk a little bit about what you don’t see as the appropriate role of the United Nations. And I was curious, what role do you see the U.N. playing, specifically in areas like peacekeeping? How do you think through issues related to allowing other countries onto the Security Council? And who would you like to see as the next secretary-general of the U.N.? (Laughter.) If not a name, character traits. Thank you.

ROYCE: Yeah, I think the key here is to have the United Nations operate in a way with respect to peacekeeping that we have more contributions from other members of the United Nations. The United States has carried a very heavy load in all of this. Now, look, at the end of the day we have got the veto power that we can exercise at the United Nations. But I think there’s an expectation on the part of the American public that others are going to carry their share.

And especially with peacekeeping around the world, and we just had the prime minister of India here yesterday. India makes a contribution in terms of peacekeeping. We’re urging all our—all the member states, step up your effort. You can do more. The United States has provided an umbrella to protect the world throughout the Cold War. Today it’s going to be necessary for us to lead the war on terrorism against ISIS and affiliated groups. So we have certain expectation. And that expectation is that other states are going to step up and play their fair role and share here in terms of peacekeeping.

In terms of the politics within the United Nations, I’ll pass on that question. But thank you. (Laughter.)


Q: Yeah, Jim Slattery from Wiley Rein.

First, let me say that I agree with my former colleague, Jane Harman, that there’s some very interesting and productive ideas here. And I appreciate the conversation we’ve had today. But I know these ideas are going to cost a lot of money. And I know we have a huge national deficit, huge debt problem. And the military even acknowledges that this debt problem is a national security issue. And I’m just curious, how do we propose to really pay for this? And you know, where are the resources coming from? And are we going to have a thoughtful debate with the American public about just paying for the kind of leadership that you all envision, that many of us support globally?

NUNES: Well, the answer—the quick answer is that, yes, there’s a plan. And that’s part of what this is about. So we’re unveiling this week two of our proposals. This first one earlier in the week was to fix the poverty programs. This is about national security. You’re absolutely right. The debt’s 20-some—19 trillion (dollars) going to 21 trillion (dollars). And so what you’ll see in the coming month is you’ll see us unveil ways to fix health care and also ways to fix the tax code so that you can grow the economy, because the bottom line is we’re not going to get out of this mess that we’re in unless we get above 4 percent growth. And we have to get above 4 percent growth for several years in a row.

And that’s what our policies are driving to do. So when the speaker talks about a better way forward, he’s talking about in six different areas, because our debt is being driven by lack of growth because of a bad tax code, and then entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security that are not on stable ground right now. And so those have all got to be fixed. And the sooner we get to them the better. And that’s what we’re trying to present here today.

MITCHELL: And I think we’ve just started the conversation, which is really good, because we’re going to have to leave it there. All of these chairmen have very busy congressional schedules. I want to thank the speaker and Leader McCarthy and, of course, Congressmen Goodlatte and McCaul, and our congressmen here, Chairman Thornberry, and Nunes, and Miller, and, of course, Ed Royce as well. Thank you all. Thanks to the Council. Thanks to you for being such a great, great group. (Applause.)



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