Sen. Barrasso on ‘epic failure’ of Afghanistan exit, ‘reckless’ $3.5T spending bill

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was on Capitol Hill Tuesday, appearing again before a congressional oversight panel about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Blinken was peppered by both Democrats and Republicans about the Biden White House strategy and planning. Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, is a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations and joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as we reported, was on Capitol Hill today, appearing again before a congressional oversight panel with many questions about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

    Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Blinken was peppered by both Democrats and Republicans about the Biden White House strategy and planning.

    Here with me now is Senator John Barrasso, republican of Wyoming and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

    Senator Barrasso, thank you very much. We appreciate your joining us again.

    And right before I get to that, I want to ask you about the revelation we have learned about today in the Bob Woodward and Robert Costa book that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, contacted his Chinese counterpart in the final days of the Trump administration to reassure the Chinese that there was not going to be a military strike, that he was so worried about President Trump's instability.

    What is your reaction to this news?

  • Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY):

    Well, I haven't seen the book, haven't read it.

    I know from the beginning of the "NewsHour" tonight on your show, you have had some folks commenting on it. I don't know how much is hearsay or what is true or not true at it. So I don't really feel comfortable to make a decision about a book that I haven't read, haven't seen, and don't know really what's in it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we can respect that.

    I do want to ask you. Your colleague, Republican colleague Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, is already calling for General Milley to resign. Are you prepared to do that?

  • Sen. John Barrasso:

    Well, not on this matter.

    But I will tell you, based on what happened in Afghanistan, the American people want accountability, and that's from the military, it's from the State Department, and it's from the president. And that was a lot of what we talked about today in the hearing after this disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I do want to ask you about that, Senator, because, as we reported, very tough questions today and yesterday for Secretary Blinken.

    Your own comments have been, frankly, blistering in criticizing the administration. But, as you know, the secretary is saying that they inherited a timetable that was negotiated by President Trump. The secretary said — quote — "We inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan."

  • Sen. John Barrasso:

    Well, a couple of things.

    First is, this is the first time in American history that we have left people behind. We can never again say America will leave no one behind, because, based on the testimony today from Secretary Blinken, we still have 100 American citizens behind enemy lines in Afghanistan at the mercy of the Taliban. And they are people that are not known for showing mercy.

    And the president of the United States, President Biden, on national television said he would extend the time that the military would stay in Afghanistan to make sure we got out every American. And the president went back on his word.

    Now, President Biden has had a number of things that — policies that came out of the Trump administration that he has reversed, like the Iran deal, the Paris accord, the World Health Organization and rejoining that, the remain-in-Mexico policy at the border. He threw — he's reversed all of those things.

    He could have done things with regard to Afghanistan, if he wanted to. But I will tell you that I think the president has been wrong time after time. He said very little chance that Afghanistan would fall to the Taliban. He said under no circumstances would we see helicopters on the roof of the embassy. But all of those things turned out to be the president was wrong.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How long do you believe the United States should have stayed in Afghanistan, and how long do you think 2, 500 troops, which is what the U.S. had there at the end, could have held off the Taliban?

  • Sen. John Barrasso:

    Well, 2, 500 troops is a very light touch, and we hadn't lost any soldiers in combat in over a year in Afghanistan.

    And yet, just a couple of weeks ago, we had the biggest loss of American life at war in Afghanistan in, what, for a single day in over a decade. And one of those soldiers, Rylee McCollum from Wyoming, 20 years old, left behind a pregnant wife, Gigi. I was with her and her — the rest of the family on the tarmac in Wyoming on Friday when we brought home to Wyoming for the last time Rylee's remains in his flag-draped coffin.

    So, the price of this decision by the president to act, which what I believe was a reckless matter, he's called a huge success — an extraordinary success, he called it. I believe it was an epic failure. And America has paid a price for the decisions of this administration to be more focused on the calendar on the wall than on the conditions on the ground.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, with regard to Americans left behind, as you mentioned, we think less than 100, the administration is pointing out but we did evacuate thousands of Americans, perhaps as many 6,000, and the U.S. — the Biden administration also evacuated as many as 120,000 Afghan citizens.

    Is — are — is your state of Wyoming prepared to accept some of these Afghan refugees?

  • Sen. John Barrasso:

    Well, a couple of things there.

    One is, I asked Secretary Blinken how many of these refugees were vetted before they were loaded up on planes in Afghanistan? He said he didn't know. It sounded like anybody who could get to the airport, whether they were a terrorist or whatever, could get onto planes and be flown to another location.

    So they were not vetted. And you have got to make sure people are actually vetted.

    When you talk about the fact, almost in a cavalier manner, that there are still 100 Americans behind enemy lines, I mean, America was held hostage in Iran by the Ayatollah Khomeini with 41 hostages being held hostage. So this is more than twice that number.

    The American people want two things. And I have heard this in Wyoming and I have it all around the country in talking to people. American people want to know, what are we going to do to get our 100 citizens out, and how are we going to make America safe at a time when the Taliban have taken over the country of Afghanistan and it is now once again a safe haven for terrorists?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Two other quick things I want to ask you, Senator.

    But I just want to clarify, is it — are you prepared — do you think it's a good idea for Wyoming and other states to accept Afghan refugees?

  • Sen. John Barrasso:

    People need to be 100 percent fully vetted. We need to make sure these are people that have helped our soldiers when they were on the ground.

    I have people that I have talked through the University of Wyoming who's lived in Afghanistan, worked with people there, trying to get folks out. We still don't know who's gotten out, who has gotten vetted. We have a long way to go.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Different subject, Senator, and a big one.

    And that's President Biden's $3.5 trillion spending bill, which is moving its way through Congress right now. As you know, the Democrats are looking at ways to pay for this. And among other things, they're proposing raising the individual — the top individual tax rate, the top capital gains rate, although still less than what it was before, and to add a surtax on those earning over $5 million a year.

    What is your take on this?

  • Sen. John Barrasso:

    Every Republican is going to stand together in the House and the Senate and vote against this reckless tax-and-spending blowout that the Democrats are proposing.

    We think it will harm the economy, it will add significantly to the debt, it will tax just about everyone. We went through a list today at our conference lunch. It looks like there were about 30 different taxes that are being proposed. You mentioned a couple there. The Democrats haven't decided how they want to do it.

    The concerns that the Republicans have and why we're standing united is, this is not the right move right now for our country, more taxes, more spending, more big government. We need to get our economy, which is recovering coming out of COVID, to recovery fully.

    This is the wrong time for the kind of taxing and spending, when inflation is running rampant, prices of food is up, prices of fuel, gasoline, heating oil, all of those things are up. So they're going to need every Democrat in the Senate.

    I talked to Joe Manchin this afternoon. And it sure doesn't sound like even he is on board for this $3.5 trillion blowout.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, just in a couple of words, Senator, the argument by Democrats that there is now massive inequality in this country that's been made worse by the pandemic.

    The top 1 percent earns far more than the bottom 92 percent.

  • Sen. John Barrasso:

    We need to do more to get the pandemic under control. We need to get the economy growing.

    And just remember when Joe Biden, right — well, before the pandemic hit, we had the best economy that we have had certainly in my lifetime as a result of Republican tax cuts, regulatory relief, U.S. energy dominance, as opposed to right now, where Joe Biden is going to hat in hand to Saudi Arabia and Russia, saying, please produce more oil because I have shut it off in the United States, and prices are going up and my poll numbers are going own.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator John Barrasso, Wyoming.

    Thank you, Senator.

  • Sen. John Barrasso:

    Thank you, Judy.

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