Behind the Headlines – May 12, 2017

Behind the Headlines – May 12, 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. – Congressman David Kustoff
tonight on Behind the Headlines. [dramatic music] I’m Eric Barnes, Publisher
of The Memphis Daily News, thanks for joining us. And I’m joined tonight by
Representative David Kustoff. Thanks for being here. – Thank you so much,
good to be here. – Absolutely, along with
Bill Dries, Senior Reporter with The Memphis Daily News. Again, thanks for being
here, we’ve been trying since I think even
before you took office and finally schedules
worked out, so it’s great to have you here,
and we have you here in a week of huge news
at the federal level, so let’s get your
first reaction. We’re taping this on Thursday, and it’s a quickly moving
story, so this will air on Friday and beyond that,
but your first reaction when Director, FBI
Director Comey was, you found out he was fired,
what was your first reaction? – I think I, like
a lot of people, a lot of people were
surprised by the, not necessarily the
decision, but the timing. Because you heard folks say,
Democrats and Republicans, frankly, that Director
Comey should be discharged at the start of the
Trump administration. I felt like, I’m probably
over-answering your question, I felt like that the Director
made two major missteps, and then a third one last week. The two, going back to July,
when the Director announced that there would not be a
prosecution of Hillary Clinton, I found that to be wrong
and even a little offensive. As a former United
States Attorney, I know that the Department
of Justice, number one, is not supposed to
interject itself into an election
during an election. And clearly in July we were
in the heat of the election. But secondly, that decision
was not his decision to make. The decision to
prosecute is left to the Department of Justice,
left to the Attorney General. Now, whether Director Comey
didn’t have confidence that Loretta Lynch could
or would make a decision or whatever, there were still
people within the Department, Sally Yates, who could
have made the decision. I also think that the Director
made a crucial mistake making the announcement
in October, just a week or so
before the election that there had been new evidence
regarding Hillary Clinton. I felt Republican,
Democrat, felt it was wrong because he did interject
himself in an election. – How long were you
a U.S. Attorney? – A little more than two
years, from ’06 to ’08. – So, you come at it
from, obviously there’s a political element to
this, you’re a Republican. I can’t imagine you
supported Hillary Clinton. That, a lot of people
said, including Clinton and her campaign people,
said that hurt her. She actually I think has even
said that swung the election Trump’s way, but
you nonetheless wish and thought it was inappropriate that Director Comey made
those announcements. – Yeah, and I don’t know
that it swung the election. I think it had to have
some effect, but yes, Republican, Democrat, I felt
that Comey was wrong in July, felt he was wrong in October. And then last week when he
testified before Congress, made the statement,
probably the remarkable line out of that is that he
was mildly nauseated about what he had done or
what he might have done, but he made statements
about emails of Huma Abedin and how many emails had
been transferred between, from her to her husband, her
ex-husband, Anthony Weiner. And then the FBI
earlier this week came out and made a statement
that said that Comey had made misstatements,
which I thought was remarkable coming from the FBI about an
acting, of a Director rather. – But there are, so
with all that said, there are, though, all
kinds of investigations of, connections to Russia, Russia
email hacking, of hacking of the election, connections
between Michael Flynn, the former NSA Director, what
is the appropriate next step? Is it time for people
that, people are calling for a special prosecutor,
an independent prosecutor, is there enough mud and
lack of clarity about this? You’ve got Jeff Sessions,
the Attorney General, who’s had to recuse
himself, is it time for some sort of
independent investigation of what’s going on? – No, I think we know that
there are three tracks of investigations, we know
the FBI is investigating. And the FBI’s gonna
continue to investigate whether James Comey is
the Director or not. – (Eric)
You’re confident of that. – Absolutely. – That a new Director couldn’t
come in and stop that from happening?
– No. And to pull back for a
moment, James Comey is a political appointee,
he was an appointee of Barack Obama, had
previously been an appointee as Deputy Attorney General
to the Department of Justice by George W. Bush, so
he’s had it both sides, but still he’s a
political appointee. My point is, there are
enough career minded men and women at the FBI, they
just want to do their job. They’re gonna pursue justice. We know we’ve got the FBI,
we know we’ve got the House investigating possible Russian
influence in the election, we know we have the Senate. And frankly, there could
be other intelligence or law enforcement agencies
that are also investigating. Let them run their course,
let them trade information as they see appropriate,
but I’ve got enough, I’ve got confidence in the FBI that they can conduct
the investigation. – (Eric)
Alright, Bill. – Congressman, does there
need to be some kind of special or
independent prosecutor who is appointed or overseen
by Congress to this? – I think at this
point, at this point, Rod Rosenstein, who’s the
Deputy Attorney General, is in charge of handling
the prosecution, if there is a prosecution, an
investigation, by virtue of being number two
in the Department. Jeff Sessions, who is the
Attorney General, recused himself. Rosenstein also is
a Bush and Obama and now Trump appointee. He was a U.S.
Attorney in Maryland under George W. Bush
and Barack Obama, was just appointed or
nominated by Donald Trump to be Deputy Attorney General,
was confirmed 94 to six. I think that’s important. Going back to your
question, Bill, because we’ve seen
so many, or a number of President Trump’s
nominations that have kind of gotten mired in the mud,
whether it’s Neil Gorsuch or Cabinet appointees
that have been confirmed with 50 something votes. Rosenstein, both sides of
the aisle, to get 94 votes in this highly-charged
political environment, he’s aptly able to
handle the investigation. – Let’s talk about that
highly-charged environment. You have seen a lot of
things happen politically at the local and state level. You were the state
campaign director for George W. Bush’s
campaign in 2000, so you’re running the same
year that we have this historic presidential race. Did you think at
that outset of that that you would win the
election and go to Washington in this kind of environment? – It’s interesting, that’s
a very interesting question. Number one, I thought
that I would win or I wouldn’t have run. But the media and the
pollsters, I think, had everybody convinced
that, two things, there was no way that
Donald Trump could win, and secondly, there was no way that Hillary Clinton could lose. And frankly, the pundits
and what not on cable and in the media, I’m convinced
was just a vacuum chamber. They all talked to
themselves, they didn’t do what David Broder,
the famed reporter from The Washington
Post would do, and that is get out and talk
to the people in the heartland. When I campaigned,
and I arguably, I campaigned in a red district
in rural West Tennessee. But that’s changed a
lot, because you know going back six, eight, ten
years, it was not that way. It was mostly Democratic,
it was blue dog Democrat. But it’s flipped,
but what I got, and I think it’s consistent
with what, obviously, happened across the nation
is, people were tired of the same old, same old, they
wanted something different. Now, Donald Trump is
truly something different. He is not politically correct,
he doesn’t weigh things or measure words, he
says what he says. So then you go in
and I’m elected with the majority Republican
House of Representatives, majority Republican Senate,
and now a Republican President. And I’ve really seen
first hand in these first four months or so
since I’ve been in office how much you can do when
you’ve got all three lined up, the President, the
Senate and the House. Obviously, Barack Obama had
that in his first two years, but those last six
years he didn’t have it and Republicans wanted to
do more than they could do and Barack Obama, I’m
sure, wanted to do more than he could do and
it all got mired up. – On that real quick then
I’ll go back to Bill, but people have been
frustrated, Republicans have been frustrated certainly, that
not as much has gotten done in this first 120 days or so
of the Trump administration as expected given that
the Republicans control three branches of government. Have you been surprised that
more hasn’t gotten done so far? – It has at the committee level. Of course, we all know
about and I’m sure you want to talk about healthcare, we
know that the healthcare vote was taken in the House
last week, and it did pass. And it was a big lift and
there was a lot of work. I’m on the House Financial
Services Committee and we have been focused
on major legislation that finally came out of
our committee last week called The CHOICE Act,
which is gonna roll back a number of provisions
of Dodd-Frank so that essentially banks
can start lending to people in West Tennessee and
people can start borrowing– – Dodd-Frank, which
were regulations put in post-crisis in what, 2009, 2010, post-the big great recession. – That’s right, my argument is, in West Tennessee I drive
around parts of my district, and they don’t
look much different than they did when I was
United States Attorney 10 years ago with the
start of the recession. Partly, partly
because of Dodd-Frank, because people have had
troubling borrowing money. We’ve had good
banks in this area that were not the cause
of the financial crisis, but they’ve been burdened. So that came out of our
committee last week. It will come to
the floor sometime in the next 45 to
60 days, probably. If that passes the
House, that’s a big lift. And then you talk about the
speed that the next big thing is tax reform, which has
started to be worked on at the committee level. I think if we can get that
out of the House in 2017, it’s gonna be huge. – We’ll come back to some of
this, let me go back to Bill. – Let me talk, then,
about healthcare reform. First of all, lay out for
us why you voted for this. Where was your mind
at, what do you think that this legislation does? – I’ll talk about
the Memphis area and then I’m gonna
talk nationally. Obamacare is failing, we’ve
seen on the exchanges here that we’re gonna be
left with one insurer. In Knox County, they
were gonna be left with no insurer, it looks like
that Blue Cross Blue Shield may go there, but in over
70 of the 95 counties in Tennessee, if
you’re on the exchange, you get the choice of
one health insurer. That’s true in a lot
of places nationally. There are some places where
there are no health insurers. We’ve seen premiums and
deductibles rise dramatically since the implementation
of Obamacare. And the promise that we
heard President Obama say that you can keep your
doctor if you wanted to, that’s not true. I’m concerned from that
patient’s standpoint, frankly, from the
provider’s standpoint. Think about all the
doctors in this community that have had to either sell
their practice to a hospital over the last six, seven years, have had to merge
with other practices, or just fold because
they couldn’t make it. Healthcare has been
dramatically re-landscaped, if you will, over these
past several years. I saw it, when I
came in, that we had to replace a system
that is failing and may fail within the
next two to three years. So what we passed
out of the House, I understand is not perfect. And obviously we’ll see
the Senate take and do what they’re gonna do to it. We’ll have to see
what that looks like once it comes out of the
Senate later this year. – Proponents of
Obamacare will say that there are lots of problems, and I think there are few
people who don’t think changes should be made
to the way it works. But in Tennessee, I think
it’s some two hundred and almost fifty-thousand
people are on the exchanges. And the critics of the
bill that was passed, AHCA that was just
passed in the House, are that many of those people
will lose their insurance. So we go from an
imperfect situation to people being
kicked off insurance, particularly people with
pre-existing conditions, if Tennessee chooses
to allow insurers to exclude people with
pre-existing conditions, that can happen as the bill
that was passed is formed. And whole lot of money, federal
money, I think it’s what, $800 billion, less
going into healthcare from the federal government. And you might say that
the federal government can’t afford that,
and that’s fine, but how do
Tennesseans’ insurance, how does their
insurance get better under the bill you passed? – Well, a couple things, one is, if the pre-existing
conditions were not included in this bill, in other words,
if there weren’t protections for people with
pre-existing conditions, I don’t know that I
would have voted for it. I feel strongly about
it because we all know that once you get to an
age, you’re gonna have some condition that qualifies
as a pre-existing condition. I want to answer it, but
I do want to go backwards to answer the question. What Obamacare envisioned
was that older people, sicker people, would
buy health insurance. And, of course,
everybody was mandated to have health insurance,
that younger, healthier people would buy health insurance. But the latter part
did not happen. We did not see people,
28, 29, 30 years old, healthy people buy the
insurance, I guess, because– – The penalty, some say the
penalty wasn’t high enough, it was easier just
to pay that penalty or they’re getting away with
not even paying the penalty. – And they may have not been
able to afford the premiums. Some people, when you’re,
you’re not much older than 29 or 30, you
think you’re Teflon, that nothing’s
gonna happen to you. You go to the doctor
maybe once or twice a year and that’s it, so financially
it didn’t make sense from the beginning, it wasn’t
practical from the beginning. People are not gonna lose
their health insurance, what happens is, if a state
decides that they want to opt out of the
pre-existing condition clause, there is a federal backup. I can’t see Bill Haslam as
Governor asking the state for a waiver to exclude
pre-existing conditions. In fact, I can’t really
see any state doing that. But there is a backup
at the federal level, if a state were to
decide to do that. – Is part of what’s going on
here, and then we’ll go back to Bill, there’s about
nine minutes left, is part of it, and I
can’t remember who it is, but a number of Conservative
writers have pointed out that fundamentally Republican, many Republican politicians
are afraid to say this, that the government
shouldn’t be in the business of providing healthcare
and that people should be responsible for
their own healthcare. So if people can’t pay
for their own healthcare, that’s unfortunate, but
it’s not the government’s responsibility to step in and
back stop those people who, for whatever reason, can’t
provide it for themselves. Are you in that camp that
it’s just too difficult to say that fundamentally it’s too
expensive and it’s too unwieldy for the federal government to
cover everyone in the country? – Well, I don’t think that
we should be providing subsidies for people to
buy health insurance. What we’ve done, what we’ve
proposed in this bill is to give people tax credits,
and the tax credits for a family can up
to $14,000 a year, which is pretty generous
in terms of premiums. But I am concerned
that our federal debt is approaching $20 trillion. In fact, in my House Financial
Services Subcommittee, or committee rather, we
have one of those clocks that keeps ticking as it
approaches $20 trillion. So we can’t afford it,
but I do think everybody should have health
insurance, they’re entitled to health insurance
from the standpoint that it’s not something the
government should mandate, but it’s something that people
should take advantage of and they’ve got
plenty of options in this bill so that they
can have health insurance, no matter their age, no
matter their health condition, no matter their income level. – (Eric)
Okay, Bill. – We were both at the Greater
Memphis Chamber meeting where Senator Lamar
Alexander spoke and basically said, he
said it several times, the Senate is going
to write its own bill, on its own timetable,
and he said that he would not be
willing to set any limit on when this is
going to get done. Senator Bob Corker, our other
Senator, on MSNBC was asked about the House version of this, and said there’s zero chance
that this is going to pass. How much is the House
bill going to change in this process and
how much do you think it should change and remain true to what you wanted
to do with this? – The answer to the first
part of the question is, I don’t know, Senator
Alexander chairs that health committee
in the Senate, the Health and
Education Committee, so he’s gonna be responsible
for a substantial part of what comes in and
what doesn’t come in. And I do have faith in him,
he’s a very thoughtful man, he’s been at this
for a long time, that the bill that he
helps produce is gonna be a thoughtful,
considerate bill. I don’t know what
will be in the bill that came out of the House,
but I think that simply we need to make sure that we
have the pre-existing condition provision in the Senate
bill, and the other thing that I have not talked
about and I think we’ve hinted at it is that
folks who are 26 and under be allowed to stay on their
parents’ health insurance. – In terms of, switch gears
here with just six minutes left, sanctuary cities
and immigration, there’s a lot going on that are kind of
interrelated to things that Trump has
tried to introduce. Some have been
stopped by the courts, his executive orders and so
on, but first question is, is Memphis a sanctuary city? And should Memphis be
doing more to round up, find undocumented immigrants
who are here in Memphis? – I think all cities have
an obligation to do that. My concern is, and again, I’m
over-answering your question, but I’m gonna take Mexico
and Central America and South America for example. I come from a law
enforcement background, and during my recess
weeks I’m doing, meeting with certain groups. One week I met with
all law enforcement, and one thing that
is of great concern, probably the drug of
choice is the opioids. We’re seeing a lot
of trafficking, not only in the Memphis area, but throughout West Tennessee
and rural West Tennessee. A lot of those drugs are
coming through the Texas border by way of Mexico, Central
America, South America. We have to do our part
to stop that trafficking from coming in, because
we’re seeing a lot of deaths. And I know you wanna– – I think, my question is,
and I think it’s a huge issue. I mean, it’s an under reported
issue, the opioid problem. – It’s actually an
under reported issue. – So I’m glad you brought
that up because I think that it is critically
important and it’s frightening. Somebody who has teenage kids
and the stories and so on, but in terms of immigration
and undocumented worker, I’m talking more about
the guy who is here, who has kids in one
of the public schools, who works construction
or works at wherever, that someone who
is here illegally, they’re not supposed to be here, should the Memphis
Police Department be rounding those people up
because they are here illegally? – Well, I think the
police have an obligation to help enforce the federal
law as determined right now. And that is what the
President has dictated. – Just because I’ll go
a little quicker here because we only have
a few minutes left, should funding be cut off
to cities like Memphis that don’t want to participate? Because I think Mayor
Strickland has said MPD does not have
a role in that. – I know what the
President has said. At the same time,
he is tough on law, he is a pro-law
enforcement president. That’ll be a debate
between Mayor Strickland and President Trump, I’d hate
to see all funding cut off, but I do think that law
enforcement has an obligation to help enforce that law. – Have you talked
to Mayor Strickland? Your former law partner,
if some people don’t know. Have you all debated that issue? – Well, we talk about a lot
of issues to better Memphis. I mean, he’s truly committed
to seeing a better Memphis. I am too, but we have not talked
about that specific issue. – Three minutes left, Bill. – Let’s talk about where
the Republican party is. As I mentioned before, you
were the Tennessee Chairmen of the George W. Bush
campaign in 2000, and former Chairman
of the County party. Talk about the
ideological journey that the Republican party
has been on during that time. – Well, I came in
in the early 1990’s and chaired the local
Republican party from the mid ’90s to the
late ’90s, as you know, because you covered me,
you covered me as a child. (laughing) Back in the day, you
were at every event and you’re still at
every political event. Certainly, the Republican
party is a conservative party. It’s become more
conservative in this county and across the state,
but it’s interesting because a moment
ago we were talking about rural West Tennessee. I remember campaigning
for George W. Bush all over the state
in 1999 and 2000. Finding like minded
people who wanted to support George W. Bush
over Al Gore that year, to me one of the main issues
was that Second Amendment that people were concerned
that Al Gore was gonna take away their guns,
and I truly believe that that’s one reason that
George W. Bush prevailed in the State of
Tennessee that year. But in 2008, the Democrats
had a real ideological head-to-head between Hillary
Clinton and then Barack Obama. And after Barack Obama won,
you saw a lot of counties in Tennessee that had been
traditionally Democrat that started flipping
because the party moved, the Democratic party
moved so far to the left and the Republican party was
there to help convert people. – Are you anxious about
the mid-term elections for the party’s
national prospects? Because this is something
that happens not just to Democratic
presidents, it happens to Republican
presidents as well. – Yeah, I think your
point is that in years, off years, which 2018
would be an off year, that traditionally
the party in power loses seats in the
House and in the Senate. And so I’m a history buff,
I follow these trends, but at this point in time,
we’re not at the election. There are gonna be a
lot of other issues that we’re gonna see
come to the forefront. – I’m sorry to cut you off,
but we’ll have you back and we will talk more
because we didn’t get to a whole lot of things,
thanks for being here. Thank you for joining us,
join us again next week.

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