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Corker Discusses Syria Strikes, New AUMF Proposal, Pompeo Vote, and North Korea

WASHINGTON – During interviews on CNN “New Day” and MSNBC “Andrea Mitchell Reports” today, U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, discussed U.S. precision strikes in Syria, his proposal to update authorities used to fight terror abroad, the upcoming committee vote on Mike Pompeo’s nomination to serve as Secretary of State, and U.S. relations with North Korea. This week, Corker and Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) led a bipartisan group of senators in proposing legislation to replace the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs with an updated authorization for use of military force (AUMF) against al-Qaida, the Taliban, and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Excerpts of both interviews follow.

On U.S. relations with North Korea: “I think all of us want to make sure that the meeting is set up well and that the professionals who prepare the way are highly involved in a lot of precursor meetings. That’s one of the reasons I was glad Mike Pompeo was there. I think you know, because of what you do every day, that our back channel to North Korea has always been through the C.I.A., and so Mike was exactly the right person to begin the conversations… It seems to me that the White House is taking seriously the preparation. I hope there will be many other individuals there meeting in advance. And, look, I think all of us need to know, look, we need to approach this with skepticism and caution. Kim Jong Un has developed these weapons that he hopes will be deliverable to the United States in order to get a ticket towards dying as an old man in his bed. It’s his survival. And so I don’t think we should think that [after] a meeting, if you will, all of a sudden he’s going to give that up. It’s going to take a lot of work over, to me, probably a long period of time.”

On the need to confirm Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State: “Mike Pompeo was at West Point, top of his class, Harvard Law Review, served in the military patrolling the Iron Curtain, understands the importance of diplomacy, has built a great culture, which we need at the State Department, at the C.I.A. Look, Secretary Clinton and Secretary Kerry were both confirmed with 94 votes. You don’t think they said things when they were running for president that Republicans disagreed with? I mean, come on… Who could know more about what’s happening around the world than the director of the C.I.A? No one. He knows more about what’s happening around the world today than anybody in Washington… [A]nd there’s nothing in Pompeo’s past that, in any way, could possibly disqualify him from getting an up or down vote on the floor. And it should be overwhelming…I would just say to you and to everybody listening, and certainly my Democratic friends, are you kidding me? You don’t want someone like Mike Pompeo to go in with somebody like Secretary Mattis and ensure that the right kind of advice is given to our president… ?... We need to get him confirmed. And people on both sides of the aisle should want someone like him sitting with the president, making sure that the president has the right kind of input before he makes decisions.”

On U.S. precision strikes in Syria: “I thought what the president did was appropriate in that regard. I did. A surgical strike. I told him that on Thursday morning when he called before the attack… One of the lowest moments in my foreign relations career here was when [the Assad regime] crossed the [Obama administration’s] red line in 2013, in August, and we did nothing. The opposition had momentum. It was at a time when it would’ve made a huge difference. And, instead, we invited Russia in, and, of course, they’ve taken the country over. The strategy for us and all western nations has been terrible in Syria. But today it would take almost our entire military to really try to shape things on the ground. So, where I'm concerned is that we leave too soon before we’ve done the complete job with ISIS. And as you know, Turkey is really making life miserable for us and certainly for those Kurds who have given 4,000 lives to fight the fight for us, if you will, against ISIS.”

On his bipartisan proposal for an updated AUMF to fight terror abroad: “This AUMF would really be to replace the ‘01 and ‘02 AUMFs and would have nothing whatsoever [to do] regarding the fight against the Syrian regime if one were to occur. That would take a new AUMF. So, this is only relative to our fight against al Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS. Many people here have cried out for years that we need to weigh in again, that we need a new AUMF. I agreed with President Obama when he said he had all the authorities he needs. I agree with President Trump that the ‘01-‘02 [AUMFs] give them legal standing to pursue these terrorists. But as chairman of the foreign relations committee, I'm trying to, you know, adhere to the fact that there are people who want to weigh in. And so I’ve crafted something with Tim Kaine and Jeff Flake and other members of the committee… that I think strikes a middle ground that hopefully can attract Republicans and Democrats, that doesn’t constrain the president’s ability to fight terror, but does keep Congress involved when we go to new countries, when we add new groups.”