Sen. Ron Johnson: “Our Greatest Strategic Failure”

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Frank Gaffney: I have come to admire greatly a man who is in the forefront of the war of ideas in the United States Senate. He is Senator Ron Johnson. He represents the people of the state of Wisconsin in the Senate and has been doing so now with considerable distinction, including in his role as the Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. He is also a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, and in both of these capacities he’s played an incredibly important role on several topics that we will be talking with him about today. Senator Johnson welcome back, it’s great to have you with us sir.

Sen. Ron Johnson: Frank, you can be sure it’s a mutual admiration society here. I’ve been listening to you for a long time and learning a lot from you so certainly appreciate your efforts.

FG: Thank you. Well, let me start with Iran. You played an incredibly important role in the fulminations, I guess is a better way to describe it really than a debate, about the deal that President Obama struck with Iran, I call it the ObamaBomb Deal. You were trying to have it considered, as it should have been, as a treaty. You subsequently also tried to make sure that the Senate didn’t fall pray to this idea that the President has been complying with the alternative, the Corker-Cardin Bill. Talk a little bit about the process as it worked out and where you think we go from here on Iran.

RJ: Well, I think our greatest strategic failure there was that we didn’t spend a lot of time driving home the point that President Obama, in his arrogance, was just treating something so important, so consequential, as a near executive agreement. Requiring absolutely no input from the American people through their elected representatives. This from my mind certainly was a treaty. Now we did get a vote on my amendment that would have deemed it a treaty, but that was called up almost without notice, it failed immediately. Unfortunately not even every Republican even voted to deem this a treaty, which really did surprise me. Senator Corker is trying to get at least some congressional involvement in this deal and he’s succeeded, but the problem is the only involvement we have was this vote of disapproval that the Democrats would agree if it was such a bad deal, that we would have removed President Obama’s waiver authority under congressionally backed sanctions. Now, I realize that’s complex and convoluted and that was my point. We need to provide clarity of this and fortunately the only thing President Obama and the Democrats would agree to would be incredibly convoluted and very weak, and let’s face it President Obama did not even comply with the deal that he signed just a few months before that to turn over all the parts, all the side deals, all the annexes. We never did get the full information. It’s bad enough with what we know.

FG: Indeed, and Senator, the difficulty that seems to me has now been compounded by the way this thing played out is that the President is now talking about climate change agreements in the U.N. and in Paris, he’s talking about perhaps some kind of cyber agreement with the Chinese. I have the feeling that the Senate isn’t going to be allowed to be a quality control device on either of those as well. Should that be of concern to all of us, but not least you and your colleagues?

RJ: Well absolutely, you know I think when you have an executive that knows and recognizes no constitutional constraints we’ve got a real problem in this country, and of course when you don’t have a Senate that’s willing to stand up for it’s rights on a bipartisan basis, I mean that’s what shocking to me. They all say on the floor how important this deal is, this is the most important consequential vote of their careers, and yet they weren’t willing to stand up and say it’s so important, that you really should go through the constitutional process of advice and consent, and allow the American people, through their elected representatives, to have a say as to whether or not this is a good deal or a bad deal. By the way, have that happened, this deal would not be moving forward.

FG: Senator Johnson let me turn to another topic that I know you’ve expressed concern about and that may well again have a similar kind of course to it, namely President Obama’s announced decision to meet with Vladimir Putin next week on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly. You have been a close student of what Putin is up to. What do you expect will come of those conversations?

RJ: Well, I’m afraid what’s going to happen is even more capitulation, and it has always concerned me how this administration just refuses to acknowledge reality. I mean there’s a reason this President called ISIS the JV team. He didn’t want to deal with this, and it’s always concerned me how this administration keeps talking about how they want to offer Vladimir Putin off ramps, where I think any intelligent observe of his behavior will say he’s not looking for off ramps, he’s biding time to look for his on ramp, and now we know where his next on ramps are. It’s going to be in Syria and it’s going to be in Baghdad itself, so you know Frank what really surprises me is when you take a look at the combined economic power of the West, over $30 trillion dollars in GDP, versus Russia and Iran, less than $3 trillion dollars, they have less than 10 percent in terms of our global economic strength, and yet look who’s pushing who around. It’s Iran and Russia whose influence is growing in the world because of President Obama’s strategy of peace through withdrawal, we are becoming more and more weakened and less and less relevant, which is not a good thing for the world.

FG: It certainly isn’t, you add into the mix, as we’ll be talking about in the course of the program, the ascendancy of China in parts of the world that are very much of interest to this country as well, and it’s open season it seems for dangerous sorts and a problem for us as you say. Senator Johnson before we run out of time let me just salute you for your leadership in the Homeland Security Committee of the Senate on a matter near and dear to our hearts, as you know we’ve talked about it before on the program: that is to say the vulnerability of our electric grid. You’ve of course had an important hearing on this subject recently, and subsequently moved out of the Committee something called the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, and I wanted to thank you for that. Where do you think that stands now with respect to the national agenda and most especially the Senate’s agenda?

RJ: The first thing we have to do is trace a profile so that people understand this is a very real threat. You know we not only had the hearing, where we had Doctor Richard Darwin, someone who worked with Enrico Fermi, referred to him as one of the only true genius he ever met, testify before our Committee, but then I was talking to Secretary Moniz in the hearing on Iran, asking because he’s the Secretary of Department of Energy tasked with implementing the recommendations of the EMP Commission, and I was basically ridiculed for even raising the point. So you know that’s our problem, we do not have the public awareness, but what I’m trying to do is we’re also working on a bill where basically I want this bill to subcontract, or be the general contract, for providing the capacitors and installing the capacitors in the two-to-seven hundred very vulnerable transformers. We need to just maintain and protect our basic electrical infrastructure. So I’m actually trying to work forward and figure a solution to this thing, at the same time trying to raise the public awareness.

FG: Well both are absolutely required, we’re doing our level best on the public awareness piece, but what you’re doing to try to actually move things towards solutions is critically important. I’m very pleased to say you have a utility up in Wisconsin that’s taken the initiative in trying to protect some of those critical transformers in their inventory. But this is the kind of thing I’ve got to believe, especially the more we see of the Iranian nuclear ambitions and learn about their desire and capabilities to threaten the grid – to say nothing of Russia, China, North Korea, and others – that your colleagues will resonate to, it’s really just a question of do we get to that point in time; and as I say your leadership on all these matters Senator Ron Johnson is deeply appreciated. Do you have a sense of timing on the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act as sort of a first step? It’s an opportunity of course to be teaching our American citizenry about this problem, but also to get something done.

RJ: Well my hope is we can just report to the Senate and have nobody object to it so we can (inaudible) House Bill and get this signed into law, but you know from my standpoint, everybody needs to understand there are two threats here. It’s a high altitude nuclear blast would be an EMP effect but you also have geomagnetic disturbances, both of these are threats, and here’s the good news Frank, this was just words from Dr. Richard Darwin, he said for about $100,000 per transformer we can protect these things from both threats. Now as we’ve looked into this I’ve heard estimates could be as much as a half million dollars per transformer, but that’s still seventy to three hundred fifty million, with an M. You don’t even hear federal government projects in millions anymore they are all billions, so this is something that would be reasonably priced and would go a long way toward making our electrical grid survivable in the event of either of those threats.

FG: And as you understand so well Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the costs to the country of failing to take these steps should one of the other things eventuate, to say nothing of physical sabotage or cyber attack, we would find that money very minimal indeed. Sir, we have to let you go I know, thank you very much for your time today and for your leadership on all of these issues in the United States Senate. Keep it up and I hope you’ll come back to us again very soon.