On this “Face the Nation” broadcast, moderated by Margaret Brennan:
- Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Independent of Arizona
- National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan
- House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Mike Turner, Republican of Ohio, and Rep. Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut
- Retired Gen. Frank McKenzie, former head of U.S. Central Command
Clickto browse full transcripts of “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: I’m Margaret Brennan in Washington.
And this week on Face the Nation: The U.S. intensifies its airstrike campaign in the Mideast, and a bipartisan group of senators finalize a border security deal. We will speak exclusively with Kyrsten Sinema, one of the chief negotiators.
The U.S. retaliates following last week’s attack on a U.S. base in Jordan that killed three service members, the deadliest of 167 attacks on our forces since mid-October, and launches more strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen. We will have the latest from the region, and we will hear from White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.
Plus, the heads of the House Intelligence Committee, Ohio Republican Mike Turner and Connecticut Democrat Jim Himes, will also be here. And we will talk with the former head of Central Command General Frank McKenzie. Until recently, he oversaw U.S. forces in the region.
But, first, in a rare television interview, Arizona’s independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema makes her case for a bipartisan immigration and border security bill. She’s got all the details of the Senate proposal.
It’s all just ahead on Face the Nation.
Good morning, and welcome to Face the Nation.
We have got a lot to get to with the escalating tensions in the Mideast, but we begin with another challenge facing this country, how to secure the nation’s borders and improve our broken immigration system.
There is near-universal recognition among Americans that the current immigration process is broken, and Congress has struggled for years to come up with a solution that will gain enough support to become law. The House has passed a bill that is a nonstarter in the Senate, and we spoke with Speaker Mike Johnson about that earlier this year.
But a bipartisan group of senators is expected to unveil their proposal later today. That bill would allow the president to shut down asylum processing during spikes in illegal crossings. It also gives the Department of Homeland Security the ability to expedite deportations.
The proposal limits access to asylum and requires cases to be reviewed within six months. Right now, there is no time limit, and many cases languish for years before they’re processed.
Joining us now from Scottsdale is one of the chief negotiators of that deal, Arizona independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema.
And, Senator, we want to note this is your first official appearance on a Sunday show, and we thank you for being with us today.
SENATOR KYRSTEN SINEMA (I-Arizona): Well, good morning, Margaret. It’s great to be with you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you are one of the very few people who know the intricate details of this deal, since the text is still not public?
But to execute this plan, are you going to need more than the $14 billion that President Biden has asked Congress for?
SENATOR KYRSTEN SINEMA: Well, that’s really a question for the heads of our Appropriations Committee, who are in the final stages of putting this bill together this afternoon.
My job was to lead the negotiations for the border policy changes that we so desperately need. And that’s why I have worked with Senator Lankford and Senator Murphy over the last four months to create workable policy that makes dramatic, but needed changes to both our asylum system and border policy.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You will need likely more personnel or funding to execute this.
But in going to the specifics, you have said publicly you are ending catch- and-release. That’s that practice of detaining migrants and then releasing them with the promise of a future court date. How will your plan work?
SENATOR KYRSTEN SINEMA: Well, I’m so glad you have asked that question, because, look, we have all seen the images on television of what’s happening in Lukeville, Arizona, and in Southern Texas, where large numbers of migrants are approaching the border and being processed and kind of released into the country, sometimes with a piece of paper called a notice to appear, where they may see a judge in five, seven, 10 years.
No one knows. Our law changes that and ends the practice of catch-and- release. So, when people approach the border and say they want to enter our country to seek asylum, they will go into one of two situations, first, short-term detention, which means we take them into custody, and we actually do an interview right then and there to determine if they meet the standard for asylum.
For individuals who do not meet that standard, which, by the way, Margaret, is most of the migrants who are coming to our country right now…
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-hmm.
SENATOR KYRSTEN SINEMA: … they will be swiftly returned to their home country.
And for folks that we can’t detain, like families, for instance, we will ensure that we’re supervising them over the course of just three months, and conduct that interview with that new higher standard, requiring them to show more proof early on about whether or not they qualify for asylum, and return them to their country if they do not have the evidence or the proof that they qualify for asylum.
So we will no longer have people just entering the country and maybe going to court in the next seven or 10 years. Instead, we will make swift justice. Folks who do qualify for asylum will be on a rapid path, six months or less, to start a new life in America. And those who do not qualify will quickly be returned to their home countries.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, for those who are impoverished, for example, and say they’re just coming to America to have a better life, they’re in search of the American dream, they won’t qualify, right? They will be turned away.
SENATOR KYRSTEN SINEMA: That’s right, Margaret.
Right now, individuals who want to come to America just to get a better life or to seek the American dream, to find work, those are what we call economic migrants. They are not permitted to enter the country whenever they would like.
And our new law will ensure that they can’t get into the country, that they won’t get that notice to appear, they will not be allowed in through the border ports of entry or between ports of entry, like we see down in Lukeville. They will be turned away and sent back to their home countries, because they currently are exploiting the asylum system that’s being really managed by the cartels.
We’re ending that system. We’re ending that loophole, and ensuring that they cannot enter through that manner.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, there is some concern about Democrats – from Democrats that those individuals turned away would then in turn be exploited if they’re pushed back into Mexico and somehow mistreated.
How are you going to alleviate Democratic concerns about that?
SENATOR KYRSTEN SINEMA: Well, that’s an important question, Margaret.
The reality is, is that, for the last several years, cartels have used this loophole to exploit the system, telling folks from Latin and South America and really all over the world that they can come to America, claim asylum, and then gain access to the country.
We are going to end that process by ending catch-and-release and requiring folks who do come to claim asylum to actually have their asylum claims determined quickly and fairly. And that will provide a disincentive for individuals to come to this country, really sacrificing so much in their lives, for a path that no longer can be exploited.
So we believe that by quickly implementing this system, individuals who come for economic reasons will learn very quickly that this is not a path to enter our country and will not take the sometimes dangerous or treacherous trek to our border.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you have said previously that the Biden administration does bear some responsibility for this crisis and they should be held accountable for not implementing existing laws.
So what actions are you asking the president to take independent of Congress and if you – as you say, wasn’t implementing existing law, what would be different with your new version of the law?
SENATOR KYRSTEN SINEMA: Well, Margaret, our law actually requires the administration to implement these tools.
So much has been talked about with the – as you know, the number of 5,000 people a day, right? We have all heard misinformation and, frankly, just kind of rumors saying, well, the administration doesn’t have to shut down the border until you get to 5,000 crossers a day.
Well, that’s not true. First of all, our law ends catch-and-release. But when too many people approach the border, asking to come in seeking asylum, we’re now mandating that the government actually shut down the border if those numbers get to 5,000 a day.
But we’re permitting the government to actually shut down the border when it only gets to 4,000 approaches a day. And the reason we’re doing that is because we want to be able to shut down the system when it gets overloaded, so we have enough time to process those asylum claims, whether it’s through detention or whether it’s through supervision, like for families.
We want enough time for the government to be able to process these asylum claims and then turn folks away who do not qualify, while settling people who do qualify. So we have placed provisions in the law that mandate the enforcement of each of these provisions of our law…
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-hmm.
SENATOR KYRSTEN SINEMA: … and require the Biden administration and any future administration to actually implement this. So, we’re requiring it, not permitting it.
And that’s a key difference from existing immigration law.
MARGARET BRENNAN: OK.
And you just – I want to underscore your fact-check there, because the claim has been repeated, including by Donald Trump, that there would be a minimum of 5,000 people let in per day. And you just explained why that is not factually accurate.
But it has also been echoed by the speaker of the House, Mike Johnson. I know you have said you have a line of communication open with him. He said on another network this morning: “Individual senators call, give me tips and offer things that are going on in the room.” But he says he was left out of this entire process.
Has he assured you that he’s going to put this bill on the floor?
SENATOR KYRSTEN SINEMA: You know, I don’t know what Speaker Johnson will do when this bill gets out of the Senate.
But what I do know is that, for five months, my Republican colleagues have demanded, and I think rightfully so, that we address this border crisis as part of a national security package. I agree. The crisis on our border is a national security threat.
And this week, the Senate will begin to take action on a large national security package that includes a realistic, pragmatic, and the strongest solution to our border crisis in my lifetime. Now, as you know, Margaret, I was born and raised near the border here in Arizona. And so, more than anyone, I know how important this is to securing our national security.
So I feel confident that, when our bill passes through the Senate and gets to the House, members of the House, including Speaker Johnson, will have had ample opportunity to read, understand the bill and ask questions and watch our debate in the Senate.
And then they get to make a choice. Do you want to secure the border?
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you believe Mike Johnson can be persuaded? In other words, I hear you saying he hasn’t told you no.
SENATOR KYRSTEN SINEMA: I think everyone has an opportunity to be persuaded.
And by persuaded, Margaret, I simply mean, read the legislation. Understand how it works. These are powerful new tools that allow any administration, this one and future administrations, to actually gain control of the border by changing the asylum system, so that cartels can no longer exploit it, and by giving a powerful new tool to the government that requires them to shut down the border during times of high traffic, when too many people are asking to come into the country to seek asylum.
We are giving tools to this administration and future administrations to actually gain control of the border. This is an incredibly powerful tool.
And I believe that, when folks have the opportunity to read the legislation and hear from groups like Border Patrol agents, ICE agents throughout the country, they will see how important this tool is for our administration to have.
The reality is, Margaret, that, while the current administration does bear responsibility…
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
SENATOR KYRSTEN SINEMA: … for mishandling the border, we have to give new legal tools to the administration and hold them accountable to implement them…
MARGARET BRENNAN: By March?
SENATOR KYRSTEN SINEMA: … in order to stop this crisis.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What’s the timeline? By March? Because Senator Graham said, this isn’t going to happen quickly.
SENATOR KYRSTEN SINEMA: You know, I don’t control the timeline. That’s a question for the leadership in the Senate.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-hmm.
SENATOR KYRSTEN SINEMA: What I do have the ability to control, is what I have done over the last four months…
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
SENATOR KYRSTEN SINEMA: … which is work in good faith with Senators Lankford and Senators Murphy to craft a real solution to the border, the first one in my lifetime.
And that’s what I will be focused in on, is making sure that colleagues in both the House and the Senate understand what this law will do and see the difference it will make for our border security.
MARGARET BRENNAN: When we last spoke back in May, you told me that immigration was one of the most important issues for you potentially in a second term.
You have until April to decide whether to run for reelection. You would need about 42,000 signatures to qualify for that three-way race. Have you decided? What’s holding you back, if you haven’t?
SENATOR KYRSTEN SINEMA: Well, I understand you have to ask that question, Margaret.
But I think folks across Arizona and the country know that, when I decide I’m going to work on something that’s important for our state and for our nation, I stay focused on it. And I think that the endless questions about politics and elections are really exhausting.
And it’s what makes Americans really hate politics. So, what I have committed to my constituents is to stay laser-focused on the policy, on actually solving real problems. And that’s what I have shown that I do in the work that I do in the United States Senate. And it’s what I will stay focused on in the coming weeks, as we seek to pass this legislation and make a real difference for the lives of Arizonans.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
SENATOR KYRSTEN SINEMA: You know, Margaret, each time I visit border communities in my state, and I hear from folks, whether it’s in Bisbee, or Yuma, or down in Lukeville…
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. Mm-hmm.
SENATOR KYRSTEN SINEMA: … they’re not asking about elections. They’re asking about their everyday lives.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
SENATOR KYRSTEN SINEMA: Because this crisis faces us every single day. It’s not just a television show for us. It’s our daily lives.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Understood.
Senator, thank you for walking us through the details. And we hope you’ll be back with us.
All of you, stick with us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’re joined now by White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.
Jake, it’s good to have you back here with us.
The White House described Friday’s response as a multitiered plan, not one- and-done. Is this an open-ended military campaign? And how are you going to define success?
JAKE SULLIVAN (U.S. National Security Adviser): Well, it’s true, Margaret, that what happened on Friday was the beginning, not the end, of our response, and that there will be more steps, some seen, some perhaps unseen, all in an effort to send a very clear message that, when American forces are attacked, when Americans are killed, as three service members tragically were at Tower 22, we will respond, and we will respond forcefully, and we will respond in a sustained way.
I would not describe it as some open-ended military campaign. We have a concept of how we intend to respond. I’m not going to telegraph it on the show. But we will execute that concept with the kind of professionalism that only the U.S. military can bring to bear.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, the U.S. officially has not assessed that Tehran directed the attack, but has Tehran done anything to rein in the militias that they fund and arm?
JAKE SULLIVAN: Well, we know that Iran is behind these militia groups. They train them. They fund them. They arm them, as your question suggests. And they do have influence with them.
And I can’t sit here today and tell you that Tehran has shifted its policy. What I can tell you is what the United States’ approach is going to be, which is that if we continue to see threats and attacks from these militia groups, we will respond to them, and we will hold those responsible accountable.
MARGARET BRENNAN: There are reportedly civilian casualties in Iraq and in Syria as a result of these strikes.
Does the U.S. assess that any of those hit in these strikes were actually Iranian Al Quds Force personnel? Or did the fact that this was so telegraphed in advance give those personnel time to go to ground?
JAKE SULLIVAN: Well, first of all, Margaret, on the telegraphed point, President Biden has been saying for months that he would respond to attacks. We have responded to previous attacks.
And when three service members were killed, of course Iran knew that the United States would respond. So the idea that somehow this was telegraphed, I think, is a bit more of a political talking point than – than a reality.
Secondly, the targets that we hit, we believe with conviction, were valid military targets. They were ammunition depots and command-and-control centers. They were the instruments that Iranian-backed Shia militia groups were using to attack American forces. We are looking at the casualties, who precisely was killed.
I don’t have anything to report to you this morning publicly on that. But we will continue to make our assessments.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But no one, for example, in IRGC leadership, in Iranian leadership, no one of significance was targeted?
JAKE SULLIVAN: As I said, we are continuing to assess the battle damage. And when we are prepared to share that publicly, we’ll do so. I am not prepared to do that with you today.
MARGARET BRENNAN: OK.
Jake, half of U.S. adults, according to the AP, say Israel’s military campaign in Gaza has gone too far. And 31 percent approve of Biden’s handling of the conflict. At what point is this open-ended Israel conflict in Gaza not just a political problem, but a national security one for the United States to be so closely associated with the Netanyahu government’s war, with the civilian casualties that we’ve seen to date and the starvation of women and children in Gaza?
JAKE SULLIVAN: Well, first, Margaret, I’m glad you put the question in those terms, because we don’t design our policy towards Israel or Gaza or the Middle East based on politics. We do it based on the national security interests of the United States.
And we’ve been clear from the beginning that we believe that Israel has a right to respond to the horrific attacks of October 7 and to deal with the threat that Hamas continues to post Israel, as it asserts that it wants to conduct another October 7, and then another one, until Israel no longer exists.
But we’ve been equally clear that we have to look out for and respond to the immense and terrible suffering of the Palestinian people. And that means pressing Israel on issues related to the humanitarian assistance that we have helped unlock and get into the Gaza Strip, and there needs to be much more of it.
Secretary Blinken is on his way to the region as we speak, and this will be a top priority of his when he sees the Israeli government, that the needs of the Palestinian people are something that are going to be front and center in the U.S. approach and that we want to…
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
JAKE SULLIVAN: .. ensure that they are getting access to lifesaving food, medicine, water, shelter. And we’ll continue to press until that is done.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But it’s still not the degree to which you are asking for.
Today, Prime Minister Netanyahu said Israel will not agree to a deal that is related to the release of terrorists. His national security minister, Ben-Gvir, gave an interview to “The Wall Street Journal” saying he’d oppose any deal with Hamas that would end the war or free Palestinian prisoners, and said Donald Trump would be better for Israel than Joe Biden.
Does Benjamin Netanyahu have control of his government? And are these right-wing ministers risking blowing up a hostage deal that the United States is trying to put together?
JAKE SULLIVAN: Look, I’m going to let the Israeli government and Israeli politicians speak for themselves. They certainly have no trouble doing so, as you just related.
We’re only going to speak for ourselves. And from our perspective, a hostage deal that brings out the hostages, including the American hostages, that gets a sustained pause in hostilities so that lifesaving assistance can more easily get to the Palestinian people, this is in the national security interest of the United States.
And we’re going to press for it relentlessly, as the president has done, including recently in calls with the leaders of Egypt and Qatar, the two countries that are – are central brokers in this effort.
So it is a paramount priority for us. The Israeli government can answer whether it’s a paramount priority for them. And depending on that answer, they’ll also have to answer to the Israeli people.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, do I understand you saying there then that Israel’s government has not signed off fully on the proposal that the U.S. is backing? I know Qatar has said they’re waiting on Hamas.
JAKE SULLIVAN: No, no, you haven’t – you didn’t hear me correctly.
Israel has, in fact, put forward a proposal. And, as Qatar has indicated publicly, the ball is in Hamas’ court at this time.
MARGARET BRENNAN: OK, because this minister was threatening politically the prime minister in regard to a hostage deal and saying he would vote against it.
JAKE SULLIVAN: Well, right.
There seems to be obviously an ongoing debate spilling out in public within the Israeli government. And, again, I’m not going to speak to that debate. They have to decide for themselves, and they’ll have to work through their own political system.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And do you stand by your statement you made on the show previously that Palestinians in Gaza have a right to return to their homes? That’s also an issue of conflict right now.
JAKE SULLIVAN: I do stand by my statement.
It’s not Jake Sullivan’s statement. That’s a statement of administration policy. Secretary Blinken has laid it out now in full. We do not want to see a circumstance in which Israel occupies Gaza or where there is an effort to permanently displace Palestinians from their homes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Jake Sullivan, thank you for your time this morning.
And we will be right back with a lot more Face the Nation. Stay with us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Still to come, the heads of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Mike Turner and Democrat Jim Himes.
Stay with us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’ll be right back with a report from Iraq on the tensions in the Middle East, plus former CENTCOM Commander General Frank McKenzie.
Stay with us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION.
We turn now to our Holly Williams in Erbil for more on the escalating conflict in the Mideast.
HOLLY WILLIAMS: The U.S. says the strikes on Yemen last night targeted Houthi missile systems and launches, as well as weapons storage and radars used by the group. A spokesman for the Houthis, who are supported by Iran, say the strikes will not deter them. The group says its assault on commercial and naval ships in the Red Sea, which started in November, is an expression of solidarity with Palestinians under bombardment in Gaza.
The strikes in Yemen come just one day after the U.S. says it hit 85 targets here in Iraq and in neighboring Syria that are used by Iranian forces and militia groups backed by Iran. There’s been an uptick in those militia groups targeting the U.S. military in this region since the Israel- Hamas war began with around 170 attacks using rockets and drones. The U.S. strikes reportedly killed around 40 people, including both fighters and civilians and were retaliation for the deaths of three American soldiers in a drone attack a week ago at a military outpost in Jordan.
There are around 2,500 U.S. Troops based here in Iraq and around 900 over the border in Syria. Iran called America’s response a, quote, “strategic mistake.” But the question now is whether the militia groups it backs will ratchet things up even further.
When we interviewed Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, in November, he claimed the militia groups in Iraq and Syria make their own, independent calculations and decisions.
There have long been fears that the Israel-Hamas war could widen to a regional conflict likely involving Iran’s proxies.
Ironically, just a few years ago, U.S. and the Iran-backed militia groups were essentially on the same side in a different conflict, the war against ISIS. Now, the U.S. appears to be trying to carefully calibrate its response. On the one hand it doesn’t want a further escalation of violence here in the Middle East, but on the other, it doesn’t want to risk emboldening its enemies.
MARGARET BRENNAN: That’s Holly Williams in Erbil.
We turn now to the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Mike Turner, who’s in Dayton, Ohio, this morning, and Democrat Jim Himes, who’s in Stamford, Connecticut.
Welcome to you both.
REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER (R-OH): Thanks. Thank you for having us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Chair Turner, the speaker of the House criticized the Biden administration for public handwringing, excessive signaling ahead of these strikes, saying that it undercuts the U.S. ability to put a stop to the attacks. Do you accept the explanation that you heard from Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser?
REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: Right. So – and, Margaret, I think that they have confusion among their goals and objectives. They keep shifting as to what they’re trying to achieve with the attacks and really what their policy is with respect to response. You know, Secretary Austin, the secretary of defense, said that when Americans are attacked, we will respond. However, that’s not true. They’ve tolerated over 160 of these attacks. And certainly these attacks –
MARGARET BRENNAN: They’ve been carrying out strikes against some of them.
REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: The – well, in – in minor areas. Nothing to actually counter what is occurring here. And that’s the issue.
What you also heard with Jake Sullivan then he said, when – when there are attacks or deaths of American service members we will respond. He was – he was coupling it to both, which is what they’ve done here.
But this is a problem, Margaret. They keep saying that they want to, you know, retaliate, but then they say it’s about deterrence. Then they say it’s about diminishing capabilities. Those are all different goals and objectives and they’re not doing any of those.
We all know that this is just about Iran. These are all franchises of Iran. And the administration has no policy with respect to Iran how to diminish their capability, diminish these attacks and diminish their nefarious acts in the Middle East.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Congressman Himes, how do you respond to that? And I know you have said that you hoped these strikes would cause significant pain to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Jake Sullivan says they – they still don’t know if they were able to take out any personnel from the IRGC.
REPRESENTATIVE JIM HIMES (D-CT): Yes, yes, look, Margaret, you know, I respectfully disagree with Chairman Turner. What needs to happen here is exceedingly clear. There are two things that must happen. Number one, we must make it very clear to the Iranian and to the Iranian-backed militias that attacks on U.S. troops, on U.S. assets, will be enormously expensive, enormously expensive, and I think we are in the process of doing that.
And, number two, the other objective, of course, is we don’t want to go to war with Iran. That, by the way, is an objective that Iran shares. They don’t want to go to war with us. So, there is a certain amount of ambiguity in this. And what you do is, you listen to what the other side’s red lines are. The Iranians, I think, would regard, for example, an attack on their territory. Certainly the killing of civilians inside Iran as a red line that they would then be forced to react to.
The chairman was just not right when he said that they hadn’t responded. The administration hadn’t responded to the many, many attacks, 160 attacks. Those attacks were proportional. The Iranians, in a dark way, got lucky in – in their ability in Tower 22 to take out three Americans. That, obviously, requires a much more dramatic response than the earlier attacks in which we didn’t suffer casualties. And that, of course, is what their militias in Iran – in Syria and Iraq have experienced over the course of the next – the last 24 hours and will continue to experience, I think, for the next couple of days.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I think you’re referring to the strikes on like January – – I think it was January 3rd or January 24th that were militia – militia people targeted by the United States, but not the kind of B-1 bomber mission we just saw carried out on Friday.
Chair Turner –
REPRESENTATIVE JIM HIMES: That’s right, the B-1s come out when –
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
REPRESENTATIVE JIM HIMES: When Americans are killed.
MARGARET BRENNAN: That’s right.
REPRESENTATIVE JIM HIMES: When they’re not killed, the response is, obviously, going to be less dramatic.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. But – but to the point, it hasn’t deterred the continued tit-for-tat attacks, which, by the way, Chair Turner, you would acknowledge, those – those were going on before October 7th. Those have been going on for years.
REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: They’ve been going on for some time and this – this administration has – has – has responded incredibly poorly. You know, one is a result of another. If you tolerate attacks, you are going to tolerate that you’re going to have casualties. And the problem here is that the administration, back to goal and objectives, has no goal and objective.
Iran pays no price when militias are attacked. The militias don’t care. And when you diminish their capability for the – the moment that you’ve struck them, you haven’t diminished their overall capability. These attacks are still going to happen.
The administration needs two things, a real plan with respect to Iran and countering Iran in the area, but, secondly, diminishing capacity to stop these attacks. We can’t play defense forever.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: Our systems to protect our troops and our ships cannot continually respond to these attacks with 100 percent success. Tolerating the attacks tolerates casualties. We need to diminish their capability and we need to take this problem to Iran.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Let me ask you, Congressman Turner, Speaker Johnson said he’s putting forward a standalone Israel security bill for about $17.5 billion. You’ll need 219 Republicans in the House, and one of them has already said he’s not on board with this. This does not look like it has an easy path forward. What does this do to complicate all the other significant national security priorities that I know you support, like Ukraine? Isn’t this just a political statement?
REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: Well, I’m very concerned about that strategy. I was very concerned when we did it last year and they brought up an Israel bill that was paid for. This one reportedly does not have a pay for.
I think that we – we really have four significant national security threats. We’ve had Asia. We have Ukraine. We have Israel and what’s going on in the Middle East. And, of course, we have our border. And right now we’ve been proceeding on negotiations on those four. Ukraine has to be funded. It has to – we have to respond to Russian aggression or we will have a broader war there. And also, you know, the atrocities that Russia has been undertaking in Ukraine need to be responded to. Of course, we have to respond and support Israel.
And, again, back to our activities in the area, we need to make certain that we’re responding to the nefarious actions of Iran in the region. And so I do think that all these are coupled.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And so that – that would suggest you don’t like the stand-alone bill strategy.
REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: I’m – I’m very concerned about this process. Now the –
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: The speaker has said openly that he fully supports the funding for Ukraine. We have to make certain that there is a path to do that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: The Ukrainians are getting to the point where it’s critical that the funding come through. And I certainly am looking forward to the speaker describing, if he’s going to piecemeal this, how each of these pieces get accomplished.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
And, Congressman Himes, Democrats may end up having to essentially deliver the votes to allow that to pass. I know you have said on another network referencing these very – this very thin majority that the Republicans have, and threats by some of the Republican members to oust the speaker, you linked his survival to whether he works with Democrats to pass Ukraine aid. Are Democrats offering Johnson protection here from his own party?
REPRESENTATIVE JIM HIMES: Well, the move he’s taken to offer an Israel-only deal is very dirty pool. It’s an act of staggering bad faith. Why do I say that? Because – and Mike and I were in the situation room when the brand new speaker laid out for the national security adviser the way we’re going to do this is we’re going to do a border deal as a condition to doing Ukraine aid and then we’ll do – you know, we’ll – it will be a package with Ukraine, with Israel money, and with Indo-Pa Com money, that’s for East Asia.
Before the wording of a bipartisan border deal was even available to anybody, at a time in which Mitch McConnell was saying, we will never get a border deal that is better than this one, Mike and I both heard him say that in the cabinet room, the speaker said, it’s dead on arrival. It will not happen.
So, I don’t have quite Mike’s optimism here. I think what’s happening here is that the speaker is taking a move to get Israel aid done, which we all support, most of us support, I shouldn’t say all, but that will allow him to ultimately not do a border deal because there are Republicans, Mike Turner not amongst them, who would rather that problem be an issue in November and that it not be solved. And there are roughly 50 percent, we know this from the votes, of Republicans who oppose Ukraine aid.
So, as much as it is important for us to provide aid to Israel, this is the first step in getting aid to Israel at the expense of any aid to Ukraine and the expense of a generational opportunity to actually get a border immigration deal done.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, your offer essentially to protect Speaker Johnson from a motion to vacate is off the table?
REPRESENTATIVE JIM HIMES: Well, no. Step – step back to that question. First of all, I didn’t offer to protect the speaker. I made the point in the cabinet room that we were all agreeing on the importance of Ukraine aid and the importance of a good border deal. The president said he will shut down the border and he will do a big deal. So, the challenge becomes, how do we position the two congressional leaders who matter in the House, Hakeem Jeffries and Speaker Johnson, who I pointed out was in a very precarious position.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
REPRESENTATIVE JIM HIMES: How do we position them to get to yes? And the reality is, that with a whatever two vote majority, anything that gets done in the House of Representatives, anything, will get done with some Democratic help. So, how do we tee up the position to move forward in a bipartisan way? And here’s the challenge for the speaker, any bipartisan activity, certainly activity that requires a lot of Democrats, puts him in great peril. And, of course, he thinks about that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
Chair Turner, you called the border the most significant present national security threat in previous interviews.
REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I know you haven’t seen the text, but you just heard Senator Sinema lay out in great detail what she has helped put together. Did you like what you heard?
REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: Well, I – you know, I think those are certainly important elements, and we have to – I mean in any instance we have to see the bill. And I just want to compliment Jim Himes one more time. You know, we work on a very bipartisan basis. And, you know, despite our disagreements on the administration’s Iran policy.
But you heard him say, this is really a very difficult process to get all of this done. The – over 300 members have always voted for these – these funding packages. Everyone recognizes these are national security threats. And we need to find a path to get these done.
Now, on the border, you know, FBI Director Wray has said that we have the highest threat right now for the possibility of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil as a result of the open border and the people who have come into the United States, we don’t know where they are, some of which who have allegiance to international terrorist groups and organizations. The FBI director himself has said that. I think that, you know, that certainly should be part of the impetus for everyone to look to, how do we resolve this issue.
MARGARET BRENNAN: In other words, you can’t wait for the election to be over, there should be a bill voted on and you’re open to voting for this one?
REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: Yes. I mean, absolutely.
MARGARET BRENNAN: OK.
REPRESENTATIVE MIKE TURNER: This is an issue that needs to be addressed now. And I look forward to reading the text and seeing what’s in the bill. And this certainly is one of the highest priorities.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And, Congressman Himes, there are some congressional Democrats, including from the Hispanic caucus, who are already complaining about this even though the text is not out. Do you think Democrats will ultimately come out to support this bill the White House negotiated?
REPRESENTATIVE JIM HIMES: I do, Margaret. And – and you’re exactly right. And I’ve – I’ve – I’ve heard, you know, we have a general sense of what’s in the bill. And, yes, there is dramatic concern in the – let’s call it the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. But the president has said, and Mike and I heard this three times in the cabinet room, that he will go big. It is clear, on a bipartisan basis, if you have eyes, you understand that we have a crisis at the southern border, and it needs to be fixed.
And so the challenge here is, and I go back to what I told you previously, how do we put the two leaders in a position to do a very hard thing, because immigration border deals are very hard. There’s a reason we haven’t done one in 40 or 50 years. They’re very, very hard. And again, I’m not looking necessarily to protect Mike Johnson, but Mike Johnson is a very precariously situated speaker of the House. And so the question is, how do we get instincts like Mike Turner’s to prevail in the Republican Party and how do we get enough Democratic votes on the left to make sure that we take advantage of this truly generational opportunity?
Again, don’t listen to me about this. Mitch McConnell, in the cabinet room, said, if we had Donald Trump as president, a Republican Senate and a Republican House, we would not get this deal.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
REPRESENTATIVE JIM HIMES: So, my hope is that the two parties can come together to get it done.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we will see. And, gentlemen, we appreciate you speaking in this bipartisan fashion and joining us both today.
We’ll be right back.
MARGARET BRENNAN: For some analysis on the situation in the Middle East we turn now to the former head of U.S. Central Command, General Frank McKenzie. He was in charge of U.S. forces in the Middle East for three years under the Trump and Biden administrations.
GENERAL FRANK MCKENZIE (Ret.), (Former Commander of U.S. Central Command): Good to be here, Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: General, how would you assess the impact of the strikes so far which you just heard National Security Adviser Sullivan say is just the beginning?
GENERAL FRANK MCKENZIE: I think that’s pretty accurate. I don’t think we know yet. I think it’s going to require more work and I think we do need to have an understanding of what we want as an end state. For me, as the operational commander when I was in command, it would be that they cease attacks on our bases and operating positions in Iraq and Syria. That’s a pretty clear end state.
You know, the problem is, there’s a lot of talk about Iran actually not giving the order for the specific attack. And there’s some truth to that because around 2020 Iran began to give blanket clearance to these groups to attack United States positions in Iraq and Syria. So they now operate under a – sort of procedure where there’s no mother may I. They have the opportunity to generate these attacks without directly going back to Iran. And while Iran is certainly ultimately complicit because they provide the weapons, they provide the training, they provide the funding, in some cases they probably provide some targeting assistance. It’s hard sometimes to find that track back for a specific attack because of the way Iran has ingeniously designed their command and control process.
MARGARET BRENNAN: That is important context on the question of whether they have control or not.
You, before this devastating attack that killed three American service people, you were on the record in a “Wall Street Journal” editorial saying, the U.S. – you referenced the president saying the U.S. doesn’t want to escalate. And you said, unfortunately, it is the U.S. that is being deterred not Iran and its proxies. To reset deterrence, we must apply violence Tehran understand.”
What would that look like?
GENERAL FRANK MCKENZIE: Margaret, and I – yes. I – first of all, I still stand by those words. I think this particular campaign we’re on, we’ve done two things that I think undercut us. First of all, there’s a continual reference in our policy statements about not wanting to escalate. Look, I agree, escalation is dangerous, but if the greatest fear is escalation, we should leave. We can reduce the danger of escalation to zero if we leave. Clearly, we have higher priorities than preventing escalation. So, we – we should recognize that.
The second part is, we have explicitly taken Iran itself off the list of potential targets in this campaign. I am not advocating for striking Iran. I am advocating that they need to be in the space of possible targets so that they – so that they’re held at risk. What happens when we say, well, we’re going to strike targets in Iraq and Syria? We’re not going to strike targets in Iran, at least kinetically targets in Iran. That gives them aid and comfort. That’s not a good thing to do.
And what we want to do is induce in their minds, in their cognitive space, a concern about continuing on this path and what it might mean to them. Look, Iranian foreign policy is built on three things. It’s built on preservation of a theocratic region, number one, above all others. Number two, the destruction of the state of Israel. Number three, the ejection of the United States in the region. Number one is a point of strength for them, but also a point of weakness. And I believe we are consciously neglecting it in this campaign.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Four years ago there were forces under your command who killed Iran’s Quds forces commander, Qasem Soleimani, when he was in Iraq from Iran. His successor doesn’t seem to be quite as influential. And there are some pointing to the leader of Hezbollah now as choreographing the militias. Is this the outcome you expected when the Trump administration decided to take Soleimani off the battlefield?
GENERAL FRANK MCKENZIE: Well, Margaret, it’s important to understand, we took Soleimani off the battlefield because he felt – we felt he was preparing an imminent attack on the – on our embassy and other locations in the Middle East. So, certainly there were long-term considerations, but he was a clear and present immediate danger. And we took steps to remove him from the battlefield because of that.
Now, what’s developed after that, you’re right, the – the IRGC, Quds force, has not been able to get into Iraq and bring people together, as Soleimani was, because his successor is a much weaker military leader than Soleimani.
I – it’s unclear to me that Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanese Hezbollah, is filling that space. I think the most interesting thing about Lebanese Hezbollah and Nasrallah is the fact he has not chosen to engage in large scale conflict with Israel right now as of what’s going on down in Gaza. And I think that’s – that’s important to look like. It’s like the dog that doesn’t bark in the night. That can be important.
He’s, instead, chosen to hold back, to observe the situation. And I think that’s an important thing that we should continue – we should continue to take a look at because they’re the largest non-state military entity in the world, with thousands of weapons that could cause great pain to Israel.
On the other hand, Israel has vast resources they could apply against Lebanese Hezbollah should this war ensue. And I don’t think LH wants that war. Now they may be – they may be influencing events in Syria and Iraq. That’s just not known to me at this time.
I think it’s more of a hodge-podge of efforts there, but I do believe ultimately Iran is clearly behind it.
MARGARET BRENNAN: U.S. intelligence estimates Israeli forces have killed about 20 to 30 percent of Hamas fighters since October. That is far short of destroying Hamas. How do you judge the level of success of Israel’s campaign?
GENERAL FRANK MCKENZIE: Well, it’s very limited so far. You know, I think they set themselves a goal of removing the political echelon and the military leadership echelon of Hamas when they went in. They have not been successful to date at doing either.
And these campaigns are non-linear, so they don’t necessarily go from day to day. You could have a big breakthrough here and things could change suddenly on the ground. But I think the larger issue, at least for me looking at it is, you have to have a theory for what it’s going to look like when it’s over. You know, what’s – what’s going to happen in Gaza. And we’ve had some people that have talked about it earlier on the show today. And I think it’s important to consider that. You need – you need a vision of an end state when you begin a military campaign because everything you do then subtracts or adds to your ability to get to that point. And I would argue that needs to be something like a two-state solution. You’re going to need help from the Arab nations in the region to go in there and do something in Gaza.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
GENERAL FRANK MCKENZIE: I think Israeli occupation would be the least desirable of all outcomes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: General McKenzie, thank you for your expertise.
We’ll be back in a moment.
MARGARET BRENNAN: President Biden won the South Carolina primary yesterday with over 96 percent of the vote in the state that helped revive his campaign four years ago.
That’s it for us today. Thank you all for watching. Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I’m Margaret Brennan.