Behind the Headlines – April 21, 2017

Behind the Headlines – April 21, 2017


– [Female Announcer]
Production funding for Behind the Headlines
is made possible in part by the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you. Thank you. – Senator Bob Corker tonight
on Behind the Headlines. (dramatic music) I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of the Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. I am joined tonight by
Bob Corker, US Senator. Thank you for being here. – Yeah, good to be with you
here, you and Bill both. – Yeah absolutely, absolutely. Also Bill Dries, senior reporter
with the Memphis Daily News. Well again, thank you
very much for being here. I guess where we are,
we’re actually taping this on Tuesday I should say,
so this will air on Friday but we’re give or take 90, 100
days into Trump’s presidency and it’s, you know, he’s an
unconventional candidate, an unconventional president. Your thoughts on
this first 100 days and what’s been
unexpected, your thoughts. – So I saw him yesterday
briefly and what I would, the administration is
evolving a great deal. I mean you had a candidate
who was at rallies and really didn’t have a
lot of institutional support if you will, and developed
a lot of his positions based on responses during
that period of time. And now he’s coming into office and he’s having to deal
with the world as it is with all the complexities. And from a foreign
policy standpoint where, I’m chairman of the foreign
relations committee, so that’s obviously
a major focus. I’ve seen him evolve
in a very positive way. I was somewhat concerned
about some of the campaign statements
relative to foreign policy but on every front
I’ve seen him evolve to a very, very, much
more positive place, all around the world. So I actually have
been gratified by that. He’s got a really crack,
great national security team around him, and they’ve
been a little slow putting personnel in
place, let’s face it, and have gone through it, it’s not like he came there
with this host of people that he’d served with
as a governor or senator or something like
that, so, you know, but again, on the
foreign policy front, I’d say I’m very, very pleased
with how they’ve evolved. – And we’ll dive
into some of that foreign policy, those
issues, but again, just reflecting a little
on his presidency, he’s even starting to
get a little criticism that he’s moderating, because
he had a very conservative, very right wing in many
positions, anti-NATO, we’re gonna get
disengaged from the world, so is that just
part of the process? You’ve been a
senator for what now, 10-plus years give or take, is it part of the process
that Washington does moderate? And even almost limit on how
extreme a view you can have, left or right? – No, I think, look,
if I were to run for that big
office, if you will, I know exactly where I stand. I’ve been around these
issues for years, and ask me a question,
I’ll answer it, and usually it’s
based on a decade of understanding national issues. I think that with
the President, again, it was just an evolution
that was taking place, and I don’t think
it’s moderating him. As a matter of fact, having
spent some time with him as potential Secretary of
State or potential VP person, I knew from day one he
was not, if you will, a right-wing person in any way. But I think what’s happening is, he’s having people
come in the scene from other parts of the world, he’s beginning to
understand these issues are much more complex
than a soundbite or something said at a rally, and I think it’s a good thing. I mean, he’s developing
a depth of knowledge that wasn’t there, obviously,
before he was elected. – Before we go to
Bill, how seriously did you consider going
into the administration? – The Vice President thing I
very quickly shared with them that I didn’t think it
was the right role for me. I mean, just early
on in the day of, I spent an entire day with him, but early on in that day,
as was publicly documented, I just didn’t feel like it
was the right thing for me. For them, for me
to do it either. Secretary of State,
that was interesting. I’ve spent time
in foreign policy and have traveled
the world extensively and just came from Uganda,
there on some refugee issues, and so that was interesting, but at the same time I
had a role in the Senate as chairman of the foreign
relations committee that was also, so. In that particular
case, had I been asked, that would’ve been
something that would’ve strongly considered
and done, okay. But I think the Tillerson
nomination was really for him, pretty inspired, I mean,
here’s a guy that’s had a company all
around the world, the President respects big companies and
business like that, and I think allowed him to
come in in a very good way. Rex and I have a
great relationship, and I think all’s worked well. – Bill? – Senator, where do you
think our foreign policy is on Syria in the wake of the
administration’s strikes in Syria in retaliation for
the gassing of the town. Has it changed our
foreign policy? – Well, I talked to the
President that night, he had just left
the leader of China and the strikes had occurred
just momentarily before, I think it was some ways
transformative for him. I think when he saw the
gassing of people there and its effect, I
think these things, sometimes when you’re running, I’ve been to these
refugee camps, Bill, and I know these,
many of the Syrians, they call me, believe it or
not, from the conflict areas, they come visit
me in the offices, so I had a visceral, a real tie
to what was happening there, I know Assad, I met him
before the conflict began. I think for the President,
it made a personal connection to what was happening there,
and in some ways I do think, quickly, he realized
what it meant to be the President of the United
States and Commander-in-Chief on issues like that,
so in many ways, yes, I do think it affected
his foreign policy. I thought the response that
we gave was exactly right, it was surgical, it was
tied to what had occurred, it was at the airport
where the chemical weapons had taken off and where
they had been stored, so I thought he did
exactly the right thing. I think people, Bill,
there’s actually a minimum of two things going on in Syria, there’s the Assad regime
and what he’s doing to his own people, in the western
part of the country mostly, and then you’ve got
what’s happening with ISIS in Raqqa and other areas, and then all the
various groups that are on one side or another. So there’s actually two
different things, in many ways, that are happening there. But I thought his
response to what Assad did was perfectly appropriate
and the right thing to do. – So then does our
response on that, should it change our
policy to refugees? Should it change our
outlook on the travel ban or the administration’s
outlook on the travel ban, having seen this problem
that can cause people to flee from an area like that? – Yeah, I think, Bill, where
we blew it in Syria was, we had great conversations
that were taking place between Turkey and us
to create a no-fly zone along the border and
also to deal with flights over the northwest
triangle of Aleppo, and there was an
opportunity at that time to keep refugees from
flooding into Europe by creating a place for them to
stay within their own country, and our former president
just never could get to that decision process, and I’m not sure that
Turkey wasn’t continuing to move the bar, can’t speak
to what was happening there, but I think that the
real solution to Syria, refugee-wise, would’ve
been to figure out a way for them to be able to stay
within their own country, but when we would not step
up with others to help make that happen, it created
a flight out of the country. As it relates to the
travel ban, it’s my hope that they’ll go through
this in a very speedy way, they’ll realize that,
they’ll put things in place to make sure that Americans
feel safe about what’s happening and we can move on and
normalize our policies. – So is it possible,
in your view, for us to work for
the elimination or neutralization of ISIS and also work toward a day
when Assad is not in power, and a day soon when
Assad is not in power? Can those two be pursued
at the same time? – They can, I mean, in fairness, there was an interesting
Tom Friedman editorial just in the last few
days that I read, the fact is that we’re actually
helping Assad in some ways by trying to rid Raqqa of
ISIS and other parts of Syria. At the same time, the
reason we’re doing that is they’re a threat
to us, I mean, this is where many of
the efforts against Western civilization, against
our allies in Europe and us, that’s where they’re
planned, is out of Raqqa, so you end up in these
complex situations. So the answer is yes, you
can try to deal with ISIS, in a way, for Assad
it benefits him, because we’re dealing
with one of the problems within the country,
but on the other hand, yes, I think we can work
with the world community to try to rid the country,
over time, of Assad, who’s lost his legitimacy. My hope is he’s gonna
end up behind bars, I mean, this guy’s a war
criminal, there’s no question, there’s no doubt in my
mind he’s a war criminal, he’s tortured people, I
don’t know if you’ve seen the Holocaust Museum exhibit
of Caesar, who’s gone in and photographed the
torture of his own people, it’s beyond belief that
in 2017 this is happening. And again, I hope we’re
able to work with others in a constructive way
to move him on out. – Do you worry, we
look back at, I mean, no one at this table
and I don’t think many people in the United
States would defend Assad. But do you look back at
Afghanistan, at Iraq, at Libya, and the destabilizing
of dictators, however horrendous they are, they then destabilize
that country and what comes next, we
haven’t really mastered, and this refugee crisis
is in part driven, all kinds of terrorism
is driven in part, the immigration ban, so
when you say removing Assad, do you worry about what
that next step could be? – Yeah, you said remove Assad, I said work for a
future towards that. So look, yeah, for
that very reason, I thought what we did
in Libya was actually, what we didn’t do
in Syria in 2013, from my standpoint,
public service-wise, was the lowest
moment of my career, when we had an opportunity, the moderate rebels actually
had momentum near Damascus, things were moving, and
these were people who were really moderate people
who just wanted a country, like ours if you will. When we didn’t
take those actions, and since 500,000
people are dead, half the country displaced, that was the low moment. But let me go back
to the Libya issue. I thought that was a
terrible mistake on our part. Here we have a guy, Gaddafi,
who’s a terrible person, who had rid his country of
weapons of mass destruction. So we killed him. So, I mean, what kind
of signal has that sent the leader of North Korea? The leader of North
Korea’s basically saying, “If I can have nuclear weapons, “I’m gonna die an
old man in my bed, unlike what
happened to Gaddafi.” So that was a terrible
thing for us to do. In Iraq, no doubt, we
went in, we had no plan and thought we were
gonna turn this country into a mirror of United States, and I’ve been there I
don’t know how many times, I’m just telling you, Iraq
is not gonna be governed exactly like the
United States, so no, we’ve made a lot of mistakes, and therefore with
Assad, it can’t be just going in and
crumbling the regime. The fact is, the
Alawite population, which is about 10% of the
people who used to live there, it’s even greater now, right, but they’re the
folks that are the, they’re the more secular
oriented, I might add, and they protect Christians, we need that institutional
group of people to be there in the country, but Assad himself as a leader, it’s my hope we’ll
try him for war crimes and put him in jail. – Just briefly, there was talk, an unsourced article about
the Trump administration talking about
putting more troops, tens of thousands of
US troops into Syria, are you aware of
that, are you in favor of more troops going in? – No, not at all. I think there are some
additional special operators that have gone in,
it’s amazing to see what these guys are able
to do as far as directing drone attacks and
those kinds of things, but as far as infantry
on the ground, nobody, I don’t know of anybody
that’s interested in that. There might be a
couple of senators. – Right, (laughs)
a couple senators. You mentioned North Korea,
and I should say again because it’s a pretty
quickly moving situation, we’re taping this on Tuesday,
it will air on Friday. Your thoughts on where,
what next with North Korea? The tension is building,
a lot of pressure, different kind of talk from
the Trump administration than the previous
administration, and yet no administration,
Republican or Democratic, has figured this one out. What do you think the
direction should be? – Part of the failure of
dealing with North Korea was Bush 41, Clinton,
Bush 43, Obama, and now, now they’re on the brink
of getting, they’re really, in another couple years
it’s beyond return. They’re gonna have the
ability to deliver an ICBM on the continental
United States. Open source reporting
would say that they’ve got 20 to 30 warheads now. And so it’s got
to be dealt with. And China, this is
almost a cliche to say, everyone knows this but China
is the most important partner, I think the President
and their leader had a very good meeting and
beginning relationship building, and I think turning
the volume up right now is an important thing to
do, with the acknowledgement that what you could bring
in is Russia, China, South Korea, Japan,
into a conflict, so you’ve gotta be careful
as to how you do that, but I think this
is an issue that we’ve got to go
ahead and address, otherwise you’re gonna
be beyond return. – Bringing it back
home a little bit, we talked about immigration
and the travel ban. When the first ban went in
and then it was rescinded, a second went out there, all this pressure on
immigrants and travel, did you hear from
companies in Tennessee? From FedEx to Nissan,
the universities, I mean there was some talk
of people being stranded, the impact on students
and employees and so on. Did you hear from your people? – I don’t know if you remember, but I sent out a
very terse response, within 20 minutes heard
from the White House, but no, it was just
poorly crafted, people with green
cards were in the air, when they landed,
they had no idea, the position changed I think
three times over the weekend as far as what authorized
holders of the ability to be here in our
country were able to do. So they got that more
right, they dropped Iraq, I was in Iraq about the
time they were crafting it, just about a month
or five weeks ago, and communicated with
him, “Look, here we are fighting side by side,”
and basically saying– – [Eric] Translators and
allies, people who’ve been– – Yeah, these guys have
risked their lives, and this is just
not appropriate. So I think they fine-tuned it, here’s what I hope and what
I think everyone hopes, is that they’re gonna
go through this process of understanding the
vetting, how it works, get to a place where
we feel like we have all the appropriate
steps in place and then we’re gonna
normalize our policy. – Well, segue a little
bit with immigration to illegal immigration from
Mexico and South America, and that’s been,
obviously the wall, and I don’t really
particularly need to talk about the wall
per se, but in terms of, you were mayor,
Mayor of Chattanooga, mayors across the country,
cities across the country, started to feel a lot of
pressure from the administration in terms of whatever a
sanctuary city means, and not enforcing
immigration custom actions. I think Mayor Strickland’s
been on the show and talked about how, look,
we’re not in the business, the Memphis police department
is not in the business of breaking down doors and
rounding up illegal immigrants. You don’t have to comment
on Memphis policy, but your take on
what the appropriate, what should cities be doing? How should cities work with
the federal government, with undocumented
illegal immigrants? – Yeah, like on one
hand you’re right, I used to be a mayor and
your local police department is not the customs service
or the immigration service, you don’t want that
to be the case, you don’t want to
nationalize what’s happening in the local level. On the other hand, there are
cities that actually advertise and try to create a situation
where they lure people, that’s inappropriate,
and so I think there’s, I do think that when
that is taking place, when there’s an obvious
obfuscation if you will of our US immigration policy, then that’s got to be dealt
with in the appropriate way. – [Eric] Bill? – So talking about
something like the rollout of the travel ban and things that
went wrong with it, was that a function of
a new administration finding its legs or do
we have something deeper going on, a fight for views
within the administration, competing ideologies
in the White House? – Course I wasn’t sitting
in that meeting, okay, or the meetings that took
place leading up to that, my sense is it was a rush
to get something out there that was stated was gonna be
dealt with during the campaign without crossing all
T’s and dotting all I’s, and I think it was
probably part of the first part of your question, it was they’re new, they’re
wanting to have impact. I think, again, the
longer they’re there, the more is realized
that hey, these issues, healthcare for instance,
are a lot more difficult than we ever thought, but
I think it’s the first, I don’t think it was,
I know there have been some competing views on things, but I would rack it
up to the first point. – So when we were in
the primary season, you and Senator Alexander
talked a good deal about this, at the time when Trump was
not the nominee apparent, and your point at that time was, if he gets the most votes, how do you deny
him the nomination, how do you go against that? And he wound up being
the nominee, so. When you’re President, though, it seems as if once
you win the election, that all changes and doesn’t
count for a whole lot like it did when you were
going for the nomination. Do you think that Trump
has been accepted, given the closeness of
the general election, the popular vote in it? – Oh, you know, look, I just
came from a town hall meeting, and I can assure you that
not the entire country has accepted, and there’s
a lot of division, you think about the
country was on a trajectory under President Obama and
people on the Democratic side thought that Secretary Clinton would continue that trajectory and all of a sudden
the trajectory’s in a very different
direction in many ways. So no, I think the country,
just the type of campaign that took place, it
really, if you look at the Western world in general, we’re seeing this happen all
round the world right now, it’s not just happening
here in our own nation, and what you see is a
population of people who generally speaking feel very insecure about
their futures. You think about what’s
happening with technology, you look at people who
may be 55 years old, who’ve worked hard
all their life, maybe they didn’t get the
highest education level but they’ve done
all the right things and they’re looking
at their future as being different
than they ever thought. And then you’ve got
a group of people who have a whole
different set of concerns. So right now, no, the
country continues to be, there’s no question, divided, and just the nature of
the election itself, I think helped make that occur. Now it’s his job,
regardless of that, he’s President of
the United States, it’s his job to understand
that and figure out a way to bring people
together because we’ve got some huge issues
that need to be solved. – During the campaign,
Trump won in no small part because of Rust Belt,
exactly what you describe, that insecurity and
people feeling like, “Hey, I’ve been left
behind in this new economy” and the death of
manufacturing jobs there. A lot of people talk about, not so much that
they went to Mexico but automation and just
changes in the economy, but a lot of those
jobs came to the south. If you talk about auto makers
and go back to Volkswagen, when you were, I think
that started when you were, I might get my timing wrong, but you were very
involved in getting the Volkswagen plant
into Chattanooga. Is some of this just, I mean, no one would want to say
this to an individual, the 55-year-old
person you described, but as a whole, is
it just a matter of the economy shifts, jobs
move, technology changes, and they’re just painful choices
that people have to make? – Look, a big part
of it is that. It’s the way our
society is changing. At the same time, I will say, there are some things in
these trade agreements that need to be altered. And the interesting thing
is, despite all the rhetoric, the President of Mexico
understands that, is more than willing
to make some changes. We have some other ones
that need to be looked at. – Short of throwing
them out the door and starting from
scratch on NAFTA. – No, I think
you’ve already seen the statements that
are being made, it’s gonna be tweaked, it’s
not gonna be thrown out. There’s a whole supply
chain that’s been built up around that
that benefits Tennessee, – [Eric]
And Memphis, absolutely. – It really does, no question. So I think that,
though, we have, again, the Western world,
and I’m gonna include Europe and us collectively, we have a challenge that
people, I think, lesser so, feel the opportunity to
achieve and aspire to be what they thought they were
gonna be earlier in life and it’s something we gotta
deal with as a society. – Some of that comes from, and we gave you 26 minutes, we
have two or three minutes left, some of that comes
from healthcare, and Trump ran on, and many
many Republicans ran on repealing and replacing,
getting rid of Obamacare. In the House at least
that died pretty publicly. Is reform or
replacement of Obamacare dead for this
year, does it seem? – I don’t think it’s dead…
I don’t think it’s dead. I sense there’s some
movement on the House side, they wanted to start first. The Senate was gonna
make changes, okay, different sensibilities
on the Senate side than on the House
side in some cases. And senators have a
little bit more ability to singularly express themselves just because of the
smaller numbers of people. But look, I hope we
will deal with it, I think you know Lamar
and I have offered a piece of legislation
that will grant Tennesseeans who
don’t have a choice, there’s no plan for
them to go into, the ability to use that
same subsidy or tax credit to buy plans that
are off the exchange just as a stopgap measure. But look, it’s gotta be
dealt with appropriately and we’ve gotta make sure that
people have opportunities, real opportunities to
purchase healthcare that is useful to them. – But do you hear, is
it just an accepted fact that Obamacare as the foundation
is the law of the land and it’s really gonna
be about tweaking now, about additional things,
versus a complete repeal of it and a whole new system
being put in place? – Yeah, I even think the
words that people are using– – [Eric]
Just the practicality of it. – The words that people are
using are “replace” or “reform,” and it deals with
three things, really, it deals with making sure that the ten essential health
benefits are altered to give people
flexibility so that Washington’s not telling
you the kind of policy that you can buy, so
that’s a big factor and really what affects
people in a big way. It’s about giving
states the ability to really do Medicaid in
a more flexible way and our governor would
love to see that happen, governors all across
our country would, and making sure that these
tax credits or subsidies are actually appropriately
done so that people, especially
lower-income citizens, really have the opportunity
to buy healthcare. – With just a few,
30 seconds left, do you want to make
any news today, you mentioned the
governor is termed out, people have talked about you
being interested in that job, are you interested in running
for Tennessee governor? – I’m not really interested
in making any news. I’m here in the state to
travel, it’s a huge honor, I think I told you
I’d been in Uganda and seen just the devastation
there just a few days ago, 270,000 people in
a refugee camp. We have a lot of issues here in our state and in our country, it’s still the greatest
country on earth, Tennessee with the
greatest citizens, and thank you for
letting me be here. – All right, well thank you
very much for being here, thank you Bill, thank
you for joining us. Join us again next week. (dramatic music)

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