The following is a transcript of an interview with Rep. Michael McCaul, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, that aired on Nov. 12, 2023.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’re joined now by the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Texas Republican Mike McCaul. He is in Tel Aviv this morning. Good morning to you, Congressman.
REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL: Oh, good morning. Thanks- thanks, Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I know you’re wrapping up what has been a pretty quick and busy trip to Israel. You met with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Did you get a sense that his government is close to wrapping up this military operation?
REP. MCCAUL: No, I don’t think so. I think it’s, you know, the air’s for ice. I think the ground game is just now starting. And I will say, Margaret, when we walked in, the first thing we saw was the horrific Hamas video showing the gruesome killings of these barbaric terrorists. And it was a very intense, kind of powerful, moment. You know, the Prime Minister was in tears, really teary eyed about what happened. And you remember, this is sort of like their 9/11. And they- they want to eliminate the threat, as they should. And I think we talked a lot about the ground game, operations, humanitarian. And we also met with the Minister of Defense as well.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You just raised humanitarian aid. I know, the US is the largest donor to the UN Relief Agency that operates inside of Gaza. Many in the Republican caucus do not support any aid going to them or to Palestinians, even Palestinian civilians living in Gaza. Do you believe that the aid package going through Congress needs to include this kind of help?
REP. MCCAUL: Well, I do and I think the Israelis do as well. I think, you know, I talked about this with the Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, and what they’re doing essentially, Margaret, is in the military sense, surrounding the city of Gaza, to bring them out of the tunnels and eliminate the threat, rescue hostages, innocent civilians. They have put a buffer zone in the middle of Gaza to create this humanitarian zone in southern Gaza. They opened up the Rafah gate, that’s Egypt, about 100 trucks a day are coming in, but it has to be like food, water and medicine. It can’t be fuel, because Hamas can use that to light their tunnels and operate them. The Israelis are bringing in fuel for the hospitals. And I think as this thing progresses, you’re gonna see more of a secure humanitarian zone in the south of Gaza. And I hope the Gulf states that have the wherewithal can also help in this effort. I think they bear a great responsibility as well.
MARGARET BRENNAN: There are still roughly 400 Americans stuck inside of Gaza, according to the State Department. Did you get any update on how they’re doing?
REP. MCCAUL: We did. Very sensitive negotiations with the Qataris – they’re kind of the lead broker, if you will, of this negotiation. You know, I’m meeting with, right after this interview, with a bunch of families of the hostages. And I met with them in the United States. Very dicey issue. I think what Hamas wants would be a swap of prisoners in Israel, of Palestinians in exchange for these hostages, both Americans and Palestinians in- in the Gaza. That’s an ongoing thing. I hope it can happen. A ceasefire will be very difficult without an agreement to release all hostages. So I don’t envision- you know, that- that would be a staged effort. But it is under intense negotiation right now.
MARGARET BRENNAN: To be clear, are the Palestinian-Americans who are trapped in Gaza being included in that hostage negotiation? Is that what you’re saying as well?
REP. MCCAUL: Now this is a- No, I’m sorry, it’s the Palestinian Palestinians in in prison in Israel, that are being negotiated, in exchange for prisoners of both Israelis and Americans held kept captive in in Gaza.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Understood, so that Hamas proposal is being entertained. Interesting to know that I want to ask you about what Congress can deliver in terms of aid to Israel. Do you think that the new Speaker of the House has the clout necessary with your caucus to move through a package that includes Israel aid, Ukraine aid and other national security items?
REP. MCCAUL: Let me just say, walking out of these meetings with the Prime Minister Netanyahu to the Minister of Defense. Our aid to Israel is urgent, and time is of the essence. We have to deliver this package. Now I know that we have offsets. And that’s fair. But I don’t think we can play political games with this, to support our ally. Because, you know, if they fail, and we fail, it would have a very bad effect across the Middle East. Into Ukraine, that’s vitally important as well. So is Taiwan, and so is the last line of defense, the southern border. So really, if you think about all these threats, are really tied together. Now, whether we handle it all together, or separately with, say, Ukrainian, border security, all that has yet to be figured out. But I do know that we have to address this because, you know, time is of the essence on all parts. And lastly, you know, the stage two, if you will CR that the speaker is trying to implement, I think will actually move the process forward. So we can go in regular order. You know, our debt is at $34 trillion. Yeah. And then once we get that done, we can really focus on the emergency national security supplementals.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, that – that deadline in terms of government funding is next week, November 17. Yesterday, the speaker made this proposal, it’s kind of an unusual way to do it called “the laddered short term funding deal.” The White House says it’s just not serious. And it’s a waste of time. Are we going to see a government shutdown?
REP. MCCAUL: Well, you know, we have the power of the purse. And look, we need- we need more time. The CRs always hurt the military, always hurt our national security. And so the first CR until January, could resolve the four- last four appropriations bills that we can’t pass to date. So we could pass those and then have until February to negotiate with the Senate to get this done and put it on the president’s desk. That will also–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, but first you need the votes to actually pass this. So can Republicans vote together to pass this proposal, this short term funding agreement?
REP. MCCAUL: We’re gonna have to. I mean, there’s no choice here. I mean, the world is on fire from where I sit. It is too, you know, urgent. We can’t sit back and do nothing. And talking to Prime Minister Netanyahu, they needed this yesterday in his words. Ukraine needed it yesterday. The border for certainly needed it yesterday. We know that Chairman Xi is threatening Taiwan in the Pacific. Yeah. So you know, I think what the Senate is going to do, they’re going to come up with a package, probably after Thanksgiving, that they will send over to the house.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. And we’ll see if that government funding proposal can get passed by next week to avoid that shutdown. Congressman, thank you for joining us from Israel this morning. We’ll be right back.