On The Scott Sands Show, Portman Discusses Situation in Afghanistan, Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, and COVID-19

August 24, 2021 | Portman Difference

Yesterday, in an interview on WSPD Toledo’s The Scott Sands Show, Senator Portman discussed the situation in Afghanistan, the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and the importance of getting a COVID-19 vaccine, especially in light of Pfizer getting full FDA approval this week.

Excerpts of his interview can be found below and you can also listen here.

PORTMAN ON THE SITUATION IN AFGHANISTAN

“It's tragic. And Scott let me just say, I just cannot believe that the administration continues to put false claims out there. Saying that Al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan is just wrong, and it's wrong based on their own military analysis. And the Biden administration, for him to say that the Taliban is letting everybody through if they're Americans, that's not true. And we are working on about 50 cases right now in our office. Casework that has come up from people in Ohio who are concerned about what's happening to Americans over there or mostly it's to people that helped Americans over there. These are a lot of people from the military who have worked with interpreters or others. And what he is saying is just not true.

“To say he has heard no criticism from our allies that just is not true. They are all upset, and for good reason. This is just really tragically poor planning. And the result lowers our prestige around the world, significantly. In Afghanistan, it puts people at huge risk, and puts their lives in danger who have stood by us. So I’m really discouraged by this.

“I think there was a way to do this, which is to keep our military there for a period of time during a transition, keep our air power there during a time, during a transition. So the Taliban knew we had leverage. But to basically pull out our military assets and then to say okay now we are going to start a withdrawal puts so many people at risk – it didn’t have to be this way… I was for keeping the troops in there, all 2,500 troops. We had about 7,000 NATO troops that were there, and because of our 2,500 troops that were there, frankly, our air power was providing protection for all of them.

“We hadn’t had a single causality for 18 months – that’s what I’m told. In other words, it was almost like a peacekeeping force. And I think that was the right solution, but having decided to pull out, you can argue whether that should have been done or not, but you can’t argue that the way to pull out was to do it in this hectic, haphazard way where it was a precipitous pull out without any transition. Again, I would have said to the Taliban, look you’ve got a couple months here, we are going to keep our troops and our air power there and you just need to get out of the way, because we are going to be pulling out but we are going to be doing it in a safe and orderly fashion. That’s what could have happened. The fact that we don’t even know where some of those weapons are, which is one of the pushes I’ve been making — where are they, how can we get them out?

“By the way we hear stories today that the UK, France, Germany are sending their troops in to get their people out, they are leaving the perimeter of the airport to do that and apparently we are not doing that – I mean, come on. We should be doing what we have to do, and telling the Taliban, don’t mess with us, if you do, there will be serious consequences, and it will be something that will make their lives very, very difficult as they try to control a country with the troops that they have. Ultimately, their interest is to not have us be their enemy right now because we can do things on a military basis that they cannot do, including air power. So we have got to be tough and have to get our people, and we have to get them out safely.”

PORTMAN ON WHAT CONGRESS CAN DO TO ADDRESS THE FAILURES IN AFGHANISTAN

“We have to and I have sent some messages out on that. Both because of the disaster of this transition and to also to learn lessons and to let our allies know that we understand that we made a mistake here, and this is not how America acts. We are a nation that takes care of our friends. And if somebody is going stand with us and risk their life for us, we have to be sure that we treat them property. So I think it’s important to have hearings immediately to bring these people who made these decision – and frankly some of these people who made these decisions ought to be held to account.”

PORTMAN ON LEADING NEGOTIATIONS ON INFRASTRUCTURE

“Well I disagree with you because I think it’s just the opposite. Remember, what we were faced with was a bill from the Democrats, a proposal from the Democrats, for $2.65 trillion in what they called an ‘infrastructure package’. And I put infrastructure in quotes there because it really wasn’t. What a bunch of us did was to go to some Democrats and say, ‘hey, do you like this thing? Because it’s full of a lot of huge new social spending that has nothing to do with infrastructure. There is core infrastructure in there – roads and bridges.’

“Think of the stuff in Northwest Ohio that needs to be fixed. I was up there, as I said, recently, talking about some of the interchanges that you guys want fixed. They are expensive. There are bridges, rail, broadband, that sort of stuff. So what we did was, we pulled out core infrastructure out of the $2.65 trillion package, and that was about $500 billion. It’s a little less than that now, but let’s say $500 billion. And then we said let’s take all of the taxes out because it had huge tax increases, the biggest tax increases in American history. That was the alternative, you do under what’s called reconciliation a huge infrastructure package with a lot of social spending and huge tax increases or do you pull out just the core infrastructure, the stuff that really is hard assets to be funded over time?

“By the way, every President in modern times, as you know, has called for a huge infrastructure package. President Trump's was $1.5 trillion, and this is $500 billion just to give you a comparison. So it's been generally viewed Republicans and Democrats alike, that we've got a real problem with our infrastructure right now because we're following behind, and we're falling behind in terms of our freight rail, in terms of our ports, in terms of our bridges and our highways and so on.

“So that's what this is. It has nothing to do with the now $3.5 trillion tax and spend extravaganza the Democrats want to do. It has nothing to do with it. In fact, it allows some more moderate Democrats to say, okay, I can be braver in standing up to that because I can support real infrastructure without any new taxes. And I think that's how it's going to turn out.”

PORTMAN ON OHIO PRIORITIES IN INFRASTRUCTURE BILL

“The infrastructure bill is different because, think about it, I can give you an example of this I-475 and U.S. 20A interchange that everybody wants to fix up because it's causing real backups and traffic jams and so on. It's about $100 million project, and they don't have the money to do it. They want the Feds to help, which the Fed should. That's going to be done over a period of several years. It's not going to be something that's done next year.

“The big bridges in Ohio that need fixing, like the Brent Spence down where I live. That's a 15 to 20 year project. So this money does not go out the door. Almost none of it would go out the door next year. It would be more in the planning stage. It's not shovel-ready projects. This is for long-term capital investments to make the economy more efficient. So what the economists say is, it's not going to add to inflation on infrastructure. It's actually going to be counter inflationary because you're investing in long-term assets to make the economy more efficient, more productive, leading to more revenue coming into the government, as opposed to the spending in $3.5 trillion one, which, as you rightly, say, it's just a lot of new social spending that's going to be going into people's pockets. And think about the high inflation that come from the $1.9 trillion they already did in the so-called COVID bill, which most of it was not about COVID. That's what this is about.”

PORTMAN ON THE IMPORTANCE OF GETTING A COVID-19 VACCINATION

“We are finding that these breakthroughs are happening all over the country and you’ve probably heard this, but three of my colleagues in the Senate were diagnosed with it the day before yesterday and I think they had all been vaccinated because Members have been offered the vaccinations. In fact, I think all of them said that this was a breakthrough so it’s really frustrating. I thought we were out woods but we’re not quite. I do think that if you are vaccinated the chances of you getting real sick is very slim and certainly the tragedy of the fatalities that we’ve seen almost none are people who are vaccinated, so it does help to get vaccinated, no question about it.

“Well I’ve got some friends who were hesitant until they got that approval. They were looking for that approval and so I think they’ll be more comfortable now getting the Pfizer vaccination. I would guess that Moderna is right behind it because they are very similar. I don’t know about J&J. But look, I hate the fact that people are talking about mask mandates again and close downs of hospitality, restaurants, entertainment – we’ve got to avoid that and the best way to avoid it is to get people vaccinated so that we don’t have these serious illnesses and the hospitals aren’t filling up again. I was in Northwest Ohio, as you know, late last week and what people we’re saying was you’ve got to be careful about the hospital beds again because the ICU units are starting to fill up again. So, that’s what you don’t want to have happen.”

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