Rachel Maddow: ….Joining us now is Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill. She’s a member of the Armed Services Committee. She’s chair of the Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee. Senator McCaskill, thank you very much for being here.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): It’s great to be here Rachel.
Rachel Maddow: Um, you and I, um, have had a lot of interesting conversations over the years about national security, in part because we have some differences of opinion on it. Did I say anything there that struck you as, um, either misstatement of the facts or just contrary to the way that you understand this.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, I think it’s important to point out that the enemy of today is a much different enemy than the enemy that our country worried about when we were very young, when my parents’ generation and their parents’ generation. Now, this is an enemy that is all over the world. Um, they have the ability to strike at us as we saw on nine eleven, and, so the necessity that our government be able to have eyes and ears everywhere, learning where terrorists are. Now, having said that, we have to marry that with our constitutional principles and make sure that we stay true to our constitutional principles. And therein lies the challenge. How do we deal with an enemy that doesn’t necessarily represent a country, that represents a philosophy? How do we deal with a group of people that are spread around the world with the technology of today, with the ability to strike at us at any moment in a way that has fundamentally hurt our country. So, I think that’s the debate that you’re referencing. And, yes, I think it’s healthy for us to have that debate.
Rachel Maddow: See, I, I feel like the eyes and ears part of it, everybody’s on board with. Like, the eyes and ears part of it, the idea that what an intelligence does and why they have the kinds of power that they do, where policy makers disavow what they do and so much of it is kept secret, is because they are supposed to be finding out things in the world. That’s why after nine eleven, for example, it was the CIA that had unarmed drones out there, not the Air Force that had them, because the CIA was out collecting information about forces in the world that might want to do us harm. I’m all for that. The thing that I felt like just started happening that we didn’t debate was the CIA being used essentially as a branch of the military, the CIA being used for, not just looking, but for killing.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, I, I really think that, um, why, I can’t go into some details here, um, by and large the decisions to use drones to take out our enemies still rests primarily with our military. Um, in fact, in Missouri, at Whiteman Air Force Base there is a, actually, one day I was there they were saying, um, there’s some guys going to fly a mission [Rachel Maddow: “Hmm.”] and it was guys going into these things that look, you know, like temporary buildings and they were flying drones in the whole effort to help along the Turk, with, with the Turkish government, um, with some of the efforts we were making right then as it related to some of the conflicts in the Middle East. And, so, there is still primarily, I think, um, and I think there is cooperation, but, also keep in mind that some of these drone strikes were effective and they did it without harm to civilians. And sometimes when you go in with traditional warfare it is more dangerous to innocents in the area than highly sophisticated drone strikes. So, while I think we’ve gotta have the debate about drones and who’s using them, we have to make sure we stay to our, true to our constitutional principles, we also need to know that, um, we’ve got bad guys out there that really want to bring harm to our country and they aren’t all in uniform and they’re not all on a military base somewhere.
Rachel Maddow: With, with the defense authorization bill getting a ninety-eight to zero vote in the Senate, what gets a ninety-eight to zero vote anymore? That was sort of amazing to see in itself. But looking at some of the amendments there, ba, uh, the passage of an amendment to urge the President to speed up the withdrawal of the, of troops, um, from Afghanistan before his ultimate end date, uh, for the end of combat operations at the end of twenty fourteen. Um, a vote on a somewhat controversial amendment concerning changes to indefinite detention and some other, I feel like some of the partisan divisions that we expect and that we remember from the George W. Bush era and the post nine eleven fights about security and liberty, I feel like some of those partisan divisions are getting blurred. And you can’t necessarily predict a person’s position in these debates based on their party anymore. Do you feel that way?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): I think that’s true. I think D versus R is less prominent in the, in this space than some of the other spaces, um, you know, obviously the vote we had today on the disability treaty was painful for many of us. That was clearly a right wing R verses all of the Democrats in the Senate. Um, but, you know, there are lot of things in the defense authorization bill. As you know, we’ve talked about this before, I’m very proud of the sweeping contract reforms that we got included in that bill. I hope that all of your listeners who know the kind of money we’ve wasted on war profiteering and abusive contracts in the war space, that they, uh, stay on the members of Congress to make sure it stays in the bill. Because it’s not in House version, so it’s going to be a conferenceable item. All of these reforms in war contracting, they could really make a difference going forward that we are holding contractors accountable to a standard that I think Americans would feel much better about.
Rachel Maddow: As we have finished the war in Iraq and as the end game in Afghanistan is starting to become more clear, although we still don’t know the pace of withdrawal there, do you feel like this is the time when we establish new norms for things like contracting, for things like oversight, and for things like what gets debated and what doesn’t, what’s on the President’s plate and what’s on Congress’ plate moving forward? I mean, national security challenges are always going to evolve. We’re always going to have something on the horizon. Is there a sort of template of lessons that we ought to have learned from these twelve years of war now, moving forward, that we should get in place now?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Well, we, we need to be very careful and thoughtful about the cuts to our military because we have to maintain readiness. But anybody who says that we can’t cut anything out of the Pentagon has not spent the time in the weeds in the Pentagon that I have. Um, there has been a lot of money wasted, um, through very wasteful practices, particularly in the space of contracting. If we don’t get this fixed now we will be right back repeating the same mistakes the next time, um, that we find ourselves, uh, putting men and women’s lives at risk on behalf of our nation far, far way.
Rachel Maddow: But you feel like the constructive discussions that are happening right now around the defense bill and some of these other things that you have worked on, you feel, you feel like it’s, it’s potentially ground to move forward? Do you feel like [crosstalk] constructive work is being done?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): I do. [crosstalk] I do. And the main thing is to not, not go on to the next shiny object. [Rachel Maddow: “Right.”] We need to stay in this space, make sure we debate these issues fully, make sure we set policy clearly, and then, hold ’em accountable, hold their feet to the fire and make sure that we don’t go back to bad habits, and that some of the decisions you’re talking about, everyone understand what the ground rules are.
Rachel Maddow: I think that this is an incredibly important time in national security and it’s, it’s times like this when you have to actually be focused on having the best debate. Uh, not times when, uh, things are starting, but times when things are [crosstalk] ending, so.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): That’s exactly right. [cross talk] That’s exactly right.
Rachel Maddow: Senator Claire McCaskill, congratulations on your win.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Thank you very much, Rachel.
Rachel Maddow: Uh, in this hard fought Senate race. [crosstalk] And it’s nice to see you. Thanks a lot.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Thank you. [crosstalk] Nice to see you. Thank you….