Updated at 8:45 a.m.: Denis O’Hayer of WABE (90.1FM) has posted audio of the entire session with the senators.
Original: U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was in Atlanta this afternoon for as the keynote speaker for a fund-raiser aim at pursuing a GOP majority in that chamber this year.
Twenty-three Democratic seats are up for grabs this year, as opposed to 10 Republican ones. Until the last few weeks, GOP control next year was a presumption – made less so by Democrat Bob Kerry’s entry into the race in Nebraska, and the decision by Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine not to seek another term. Not to mention the extended presidential contest.
After the fund-raiser, Cornyn and his hosts, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, met with reporters to discuss the Senate contests, Syria and Afghanistan. (The Keystone pipeline, which had been Cornyn’s favorite recent topic, wasn’t discussed.)
On the domestic front, Cornyn mentioned Romney as the Republican presidential frontrunner. The names of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum failed to pass his lips. I asked Cornyn about recent remarks by RNC member Henry Barbour of Mississippi, who said that a Gingrich nomination might cost Republicans not just the Senate, but the U.S. House as well.
I asked Cornyn if Senate Republicans had a candidate they wanted to run with. He replied:
”Someone who could win is my personal preference….It’s important that we have a strong nominee who can run well across the country. Particularly where there are large electoral votes. Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Missouri — just to name a few — Ohio. We need a strong candidate who could run a good race in those, to help lift – or certainly not burden – our Senate candidates.”
It was pointed out that, with the exception of Missouri, which was won by Santorum, and Pennsylvania, which hasn’t yet voted, the states that the Texas senator mentioned all had primaries won by Romney. Cornyn said he didn’t disagree with the observation.
On Syria, all three senators said the United States needed to intervene in Syria, but weren’t ready to say how – whether with sanctions or armed force.
“ I do think America as the leading democracy in the world, can’t stand by and see innocent people slaughtered in Syria, which is taking place right now. When it happened in Bosnia, we intervened. When it happened in Kosovo, we intervened. When it happened in Rwanda, we intervened.
“That being said, how do we intervene? If sanctions would stop the slaughter, that certainly would be the more preferable course. If it doesn’t, you can’t rule out military intervention.”
Chambliss said it wasn’t clear who the U.S. would be aiding should it enter the fray opposite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “That’s becoming more and more clear. I don’t think we’re at that point yet,” he said.
As for as force goes, Chambliss sounded like he wasn’t eager to see U.S. boots on the ground. “If sanctions would stop the slaughter, that certainly would be the more preferable course. If it doesn’t, you can’t rule out military intervention,” he said.
Isakson, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he had attended two secure briefings on Syria in the last 10 days. It’s not an ethic uprising comparable to Iraq, he said.
He expects Assad to topple, ultimately, but still has the support of the Syrian business community, the government bureaucracy and the army. But he, too, characterized intervention as likely. “Exactly how we do it and exactly when you pull that trigger is going to be a combination of a number of factors coming together,” Isakson said.
Cornyn had one key point worth passing along. Syria is a proxy for Iran in the region. Iran and Russia supply its military hardware. “The single biggest blow short of a regime change in Iran would be regime change in Syria,” the Texas senator said.
None of the senators were willing to rush for the exit in Afghanistan, rejecting the mass killing of Afghan civilians on Sunday, allegedly by an American soldier, as a reason to leave. In that, the senators were agreeing with White House policy.
Chambliss again took the lead:
“We know that there are less than 50 al-Qaeda members in Aghanistan today, and if we were to pull out they would return in a heartbeat….
“What happened yesterday is a terrible tragedy. But it has nothing to do with the attitudes of the Afghans toward America. We don’t know what caused the soldier to snap, but obviously he did. And that’s a whole separate issue that’s got to be dealt with – as opposed to the issue of withdrawal from Afghanistan.
”To go into Afghanistan, to go after al-Qaeda, we had to rent the Kyrgyzstan airport because of the infrastructure available to us. The American taxpayers have invested a lot of money there and other places, and so I think there should be a presence to remain in the area, given the investment that’s been made….
“There is a horizon coming where we will, but when we do pull out, it should not be entirely. I think we should have a presence at the air base, and probably a special operations presence as well.”
So, no, they do not agree with Newt Gingrich’s assessment that it may be time to go.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider