FULL EPISODE: 2/28/21 Senate Intel Chair Mark Warner on the Khashoggi report; Sen. Bill Cassidy on the COVID bill

Updated: Feb. 27, 2021 at 10:43 PM EST
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Washington, D.C. – Greta Van Susteren interviewed Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) for Gray Television’s “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren” airing Sunday, February 28, 2021.

When asked by Van Susteren about the U.S. intelligence report on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and why the Biden administration was not punishing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Sen. Warner answered: “If we don’t see a different approach [from Saudi Arabia] and a more basic respect for human rights, I think that the administration can move to the next step, which would obviously include sanctions on MBS.”

On President Biden’s authorization of airstrikes in Syria Thursday night, Sen. Warner said “the President of the United States … has a responsibility to come before Congress as soon as possible and lay out the reasons” and that it was time to revisit the Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) put in place after 9/11.

Sen. Cassidy said he would not vote for President Biden’s Office of Management and Budget director nominee Neera Tanden, Health and Human Services secretary nominee Xavier Becerra, or assistant secretary of health nominee Dr. Rachel Levine.

“Everybody’s partisan to an extent, but you want to keep it within guard rails,” said Sen. Cassidy of the controversy surrounding OMB nominee Tanden’s tweets. Additionally, the Senator from Louisiana, who is also a medical doctor, said HHS nominee Becerra “does not have any of the knowledge base needed to run that agency” and expressed disappointment in Dr. Rachel Levine’s testimony, stating: “I asked her some questions that a physician should know … And I got the worst word salad as an answer.”

On whether he would support Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee in 2024, Cassidy answered: “I don’t think he will be the GOP nominee … and I think that the judgment of his actions after the last election will be among the factors that voters will find to disqualify him.”

Cassidy also told Van Susteren he was concerned the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package before Congress would ignite inflation and hurt middle and working-class families. He criticized “the money for schools” in the bill as a partisan appropriation that could not be spent this year. “This is not about COVID,” said Cassidy. “It’s about rewarding a Democratic constituency, which are teacher’s unions.”

And of the fences still surrounding Capitol Hill as a result of the January 6 insurrection, Cassidy said: “I want those fences gone yesterday. We can protect the capital without those fences.”

Sen. Mark Warner Highlights

On the intelligence report on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi

Greta Van Susteren

Senator, an Intel report released on Friday showed that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the killing of the Washington Post journalist Khashoggi. What are we going to do about it, and why are we just learning about it now?

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

Well, a number of members have been asking for the release of this intelligence for a number of months. Jamal Khashoggi, who was a Virginia resident when he was living in this country, I think his brutal murder is a stain on Saudi Arabia. I think the Saudis, while they are important key allies, have to respect basic human rights and that is not happening right now. So we’ve seen the Biden administration sanction a number of the individuals around MBS, the Crown Prince. I think they are on notice and we will have to see what additional steps are taken and that may need to be taken if we don’t see changes in the performance of the Saudi government.

Greta Van Susteren

But the Biden administration is taking steps about people around the Crown Prince, but it’s the Crown Prince who actually approved of it. He’s the one. So why not some sort of direct punishment of the key culprit in this?

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

I think what the Biden administration is doing is to see whether the sanction of all these other individuals, this public exposure of this report, will change behavior in the Saudi government. If we don’t see changes in policy, if we don’t see a different approach and a more basic respect for human rights, I think that the administration can move to the next step, which would obviously include sanctions on MBS.

Greta Van Susteren

So what’s the explanation to the American people? We’ve been selling about $11 billion a year weapons, American weapons to Saudi Arabia. Now that we learned that the Crown Prince did the most unthinkable thing, a grisly murder of this journalist, and now we’re punishing around him. And we continue to do business with Saudi Arabia, because there are important allies in that region against Iran.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

Well, Greta, I’d say let’s step back and remember how we got here. We got here because the previous administration, I think the very first trip that President Trump made was to Saudi Arabia, commending that leadership, saying the most important thing is for the United States and Saudi Arabia to do business. These grotesque actions took place on President Trump’s watch, and he did not allow these kinds of intelligence findings to be released. And now you’re seeing the Biden administration release this information of a murder that took place years ago, and is starting to ratchet up the pressure that should have been ratcheted up under the last administration.

On President Biden ordering airstrikes in Syria

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

We’re still operating in that region on an authorization of use of military force that I believe came up in 2002. So the idea that Presidents Bush, Obama, Trump and now Biden are relying on something that Congress passed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 doesn’t make very good policy.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

I think the President of the United States obviously has the ability when there is imminent danger to our country or our national interests to act. But I think the President of United States also has a responsibility to come before Congress as soon as possible and lay out the reasons and the fact that you’ve got this loophole in the AUMF of 2002, it is so large that any President and Bush, Obama, Trump and others have driven through that loophole. And I think we frankly need a new set of ground rules going forward.

On the fences still surrounding Capitol Hill

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

I’m not just a guy coming in from the outside. I live in this community. I hate the idea of that fence being there. But when you have domestic violent extremists who are not just here on January 6th, but continue to launch plans, and some of the plans that have come out in public today, that public reporting saying that there were some plans to see if the Capitol could be threatened when President Biden comes to give the State of the Union.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

Until we get our security regime in place, until we start to acknowledge that this has nothing to do, frankly, with one party or another, but the number of anti-government extremists that are willing to resort to violence, this is a national security threat

I also know the images of what happened on January 6th when those thugs and insurrectionists were vandalizing our Capitol, there was no better gift to Vladimir Putin in Russia or Xi Jinping in China, our adversaries, then to say, “Look, there’s nothing special about American democracy.”

On COVID relief legislation

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

I frankly think some of the provisions in this bill could be better targeted, particularly those folks most in need, poorer Americans, Americans who’ve lost their jobs, Americans who are in real economic duress. So I’m still working with the Biden administration to see if we could target it better.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

In terms of the minimum wage, I support an increase to $15, whether it’s phased in over four years or five years. The current level of $7.25 of a national minimum wage, and we still haven’t fully raised ours in Virginia, you can’t live if you work 40 hours a week on $7.25. So phasing that in over a period of time, whether it’s four years or five years, is a series of valid debates.

On protecting the U.S. supply chain

Greta Van Susteren

Just recently you met with President Biden and a bipartisan group of senators to talk about protecting our supply chain. Naturally, when the chairman of the Senate Intel Committee goes over to the White House to talk about the supply chain, I get a little bit nervous. Is there a heightened concern about our supply chain for any particular central goods or critical goods?

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

Well, Greta, we should be nervous. We should be nervous because 70% to 80% of our generic drug’s basic materials are exported from China. At the beginning of COVID, it was North of 90% of the PPE, the masks and gowns, where it’s all imported? From China. We should not be dependent upon Chinese materials, whether it’s our drugs or PPE. The issue that I particularly wanted to raise, along with my friend, Senator Cornyn from Texas, something that we’ve actually passed legislation, but now he needs to get funding for, is the supply of microchips.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

There are so many of these chips, semiconductor chips in our cell phones, in our televisions, in our appliances, in our automobiles. And unfortunately the manufacturing of those semiconductor chips, again as in so many things, migrated to Asia, China specifically, and now we may have even layoffs at our auto manufacturing facilities because they can’t get a supply of the chips. You can’t make a car without semiconductor chips in it.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

If we see that kind of delay, that is a national security, as well as an economic security issue. And what Senator Cornyn and I, we’re proposing, and I’m glad to see President Biden accepting this, is that we need to make the kind of investments, and it’s going to cost us real dollars, we propose $36 billion to make sure that we can continue to build the fabrication facilities that make these semiconductor chips in this country.

Sen. Bill Cassidy Highlights

On whether he would support Trump in 2024

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

“I don’t think he will be the GOP nominee. You’re asking me a theoretical, which I typically don’t respond to, but I don’t think he will be the nominee for different reasons. You can pick them. His age, you can pick another, but that said, I don’t think that he will be.

Greta Van Susteren

But has he been disqualified in your mind based on your vote during the Senate trial?

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

You’re again asking me a theoretical, but I do not think that he will be and I think that the judgment of his actions after the last election will be among the factors that voters will find to disqualify him.

On OMB director nominee Neera Tanden

Greta Van Susteren

Are you going to vote for her or not?

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

I am not. I’ll tell you the most important position that no one has ever heard of in the government is OMB. You have to go to OMB and say, “Listen a hurricane just hit my state and we need some help in this regard.”

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

If you have a personal animus, if you just clearly don’t like people, that’s a job where you actually have to be objective. You have to put aside your personal kind of dislikes and likes and come up with something which is good for the country and good for this constituency.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

If you put somebody who is inherently partisan there, you have to be concerned about it. Now it’s up to the president to pick the person who the president wishes to pick. But if I have a choice and there’s somebody who has been dinging Republicans pretty vociferously, I have to admit, I’m not sure that that is the... Sure, everybody’s partisan to an extent, but you want to keep it within guard rails. And you want to have some reassurance that that animus will not continue. And so I’m just not sure that we see this in this nominee.

On HHS nominee Xavier Becerra

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

He does not have any of the base knowledge needed to run that agency. For example, he hasn’t been a governor who has run programs like temporary aid for needy families.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

He’s not been a healthcare executive or someone whose run health systems like Donna Shalala. He’s not been involved in pharmaceutical industries as was Alex Azar.

On assistant health secretary nominee Dr. Rachel Levine

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

I will vote against Dr. Levine. I asked her some questions that a physician should know, like a doctor should be able to answer. And Vivek Murthy, the other doctor who was up there for CDC, Surgeon General answered them.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

They weren’t leading questions. They weren’t prejudicial. They weren’t trap questions. They were just something I expect a doctor to know. And I got the worst word salad as an answer.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

If that hearing was to reassure me that Dr. Levine has the ability to answer a question in a reasonable way, I walked away thinking, “Wow, I certainly wasn’t very reassured on that one.”

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

That was the most disappointing hearing because I actually expect someone with her background to be able to get a decent answer as to what are risk factors and what is the relative importance of risk factors for dying from COVID.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

How are we going to deal with COVID if the doctor who will be involved in this can’t give me a straight answer on what the risk factors are and their relative importance. I was very disappointed with that area.

On increasing the minimum wage

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

I would be in favor of gradually increasing the minimum wage. This is about workers. This is about prosperity for the American people. The $15 minimum wage being proposed.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

The congressional budget office estimates would kill about 1.4 million jobs. Boom, gone. Those workers are out of work. "

On school funding in the COVID relief package

Greta Van Susteren

Is there anything you identify in the House bill that’s just simply pork or not related to COVID and it’s just something that a particular party wants for the country and thinks is good for the country?

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

The money for schools, one example. I could pick several, but one example. I think it’s 130 billion for K through 12. The CBO says that money can’t be spent this year, so much money that has already been appropriated has yet to be spent. This money in this Bill cannot be spent.

On immigration policy and reopening border facilities

Greta Van Susteren

Let me turn to the White House and immigration. They have reopened some border facilities to house, migrant teenagers, highly controversial, even Congresswoman AOC objects to it. And it’s something that President Trump took a lot of heat for during his administration. What’s your view on that?

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

I think a lot of what every president does regarding people coming across the border is dictated by events. It’s very easy to criticize until the events confront the next president.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

I went down to the border, by the way, when President Obama was the president and they had set up centers that used chain link fence to separate people. And everybody said, “Oh my gosh, finally we’ve got facilities in which we can house folks.”

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

Trump used the same facilities, pictures were taken. And then it was sent out as if Trump was being inhumane. Some of those pictures, as it turns out, were taken when Obama was president. And so I think every president finds there are certain things that events demand they do. And so I think we’re going to find that to be the case with this administration too.”

On the fences still surrounding Capitol Hill

Greta Van Susteren

Is there in your mind a real urgent need for those fences and the military to be protecting our capital right now?

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

I want those fences gone yesterday. We can protect the capital without those fences and we can go into detail but I think right now, and by the way, I so thank the National Guard and the Capitol police for the job they’re doing. But I think that the fences could be gone.

Greta Van Susteren

Why are they still there? Do you think someone has some information that you and I don’t have? Or why are those fences and the military still there?

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

Someone has made the decision that they wish them to be there, but I’m told that there is a schedule to remove them. And sometimes it just takes such things a while to occur.

Greta Van Susteren

It’s quite a sight to see in Washington to have those fences and the military.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

And it’s not a good sight. It’s a bad sight. We need to get rid of that bad sight.

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About Greta Van Susteren:

Greta Van Susteren is the Chief Political Analyst for Gray Media and host of Full Court Press. Ms. Van Susteren is a veteran of Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and CNN. Her prime-time Fox News Channel Show, “On the Record,” was number 1 in its time slot for 14 1⁄2 years. Before joining Fox News, she hosted CNN’s prime-time news and analysis program, “The Point with Greta Van Susteren,” and co-hosted the network’s daily legal analysis show, “Burden of Proof.” Her legal analysis for CNN’s coverage of Election 2000 earned her the American Bar Association’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Journalism. She continues to host the weekly 30-minute program “Plugged In with Greta Van Susteren” on Voice of America, which broadcasts exclusively outside of the United States.

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