Watch CBS News

Transcript: Chris Coons on "Face the Nation," December 23, 2018

Sen. Coons: Pulling out of Syria is "handing a great big Christmas gift" to Putin
Sen. Coons: Pulling out of Syria is "handing a great big Christmas gift" to Putin 05:58

The following is a transcript of the interview with Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, that aired Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018, on "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to Delaware Democratic Senator Chris Coons. He joins us from Wilmington this morning. Welcome to "Face The Nation." I know there was a lot that you want to respond to there, very quickly on the shutdown White House says they will accept less than five billion Democrats offering one point three for this border wall. How does this end?
SENATOR CHRIS COONS: Well, it ends when President Trump recognizes that the bipartisan agreement we came to just last Wednesday that the Senate voted unanimously on is the agreement that ultimately he's going to have to accept. It's President Trump who two weeks ago said, "I will cheer on a government shutdown. I will champion a government shutdown. I will take responsibility for a shutdown" -- and here we are with a government shutdown. There is frankly no path towards his getting five billion dollars in American taxpayer money to meet his campaign promise of a big, beautiful wall with Mexico. There is a path towards our responsibly appropriating about one point three billion for border security. Margaret, I'll remind you the administration hasn't spent yet the one point three billion we appropriated for border security this year. I think the president simply needs to hear, "yes." And we all need to move forward.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We will see what happens in the New Year and possibly the new Congress there. Back to foreign policy. I know you heard a lot from Senator Paul there.
SEN. COONS: Yes, I did.
MARGARET BRENNAN: How do you respond to what he laid out, which is just the president is doing what he was elected to do - these are forever wars?
SEN. COONS: I could not disagree more. I think by abruptly withdrawing from Syria, President Trump is handing a great big Christmas gift to Vladimir Putin of Russia and to the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran. And it's a pretty clear guidepost for me when there is a foreign policy decision that's cheered by Vladimir Putin and Rand Paul, that's a pretty good sign it's a terrible idea. On a bipartisan basis members of the Senate are pleading with President Trump to reconsider. To think that possibly his most senior generals and most experienced military leaders might be right. We shouldn't fumble the ball on the five-yard line. The mission against ISIS where the United States built a coalition of dozens of countries is on the verge of winning, of completely shutting down ISIS in Syria. And for us to withdraw right now and abandon our Kurdish allies paves a highway for control of Syria for either Iran and Russia or Turkey - none of which is a good outcome - and profoundly disorients our allies who came into this fight alongside us and weren't consulted and weren't given enough of a heads up. I'm concerned about the security of Israel and what it does to Israel to have Iran strengthened on its immediate border. I'm concerned about the message this sends about how reliable an ally the United States is. And I'm concerned what it says about our ability to stick to a fight until it's won. The fight against ISIS is not won, and Brett McGurk's resignation and Secretary Jim Mattis' resignation and his dramatic letter of resignation make that very clear.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well you talk about that letter of resignation - the defense secretary saying it's not just pulling out--
SEN. COONS: That's right.
MARGARET BRENNAN: --it's this broader principle of abandoning alliances, the broader principle he says of being clear eyed and recognizing threats from Russia and China for any new nominee who steps into that role potentially. What are you going to do if the defense secretary nominated agrees with the president?
SEN. COONS: Well, one of the things that was most striking about Secretary Jim Mattis was how broadly he was supported on a bipartisan basis. Someone who spent 40 years both in combat commands and in policy commands. And was at the most senior and seasoned level of the American armed forces. If the president instead chooses an :America first" defense secretary we will have confirmation hearings, we'll hopefully get the chance to ask him or her probing questions. But if it's someone who doesn't believe in the importance of our alliances as Secretary Mattis did - if this is someone who doesn't have a clear-eyed view of the very real threat to our security posed by both Russia and China then they won't get my support and they won't enjoy this sort of broad bipartisan support that Secretary Mattis has for so long.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Coons, I also want to ask you about something I know you've raised a red flag about. We have seen a real rough year lately for stocks, certainly a rough week and markets were rattled by some of these reports that the president is considering trying to fire the chairman of the Federal Reserve. I know the Treasury secretary and chief of staff both say he does have the power to do it. You have warned about the dangers of any kind of interference. Is there anything that Congress can do to stop this?
SEN. COONS: Well, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, my friend and a Republican and conservative, joined with me in sending a letter to the president directly a few weeks ago saying please don't criticize Jay Powell and The Fed, their decision making. That's an abrupt change in practice by the president to publicly criticize their decision making. Now he's reportedly considering an even bolder and less wise move in considering firing Jay Powell or demoting him. That got a very sharp response from the markets. This was the worst week for the American stock markets in a decade and that is as strong a signal as I think you can get from our economic policy leaders. I think it would be just a terrible idea. Senator Flake and I have visited and worked with countries in the developing world in Africa where the president can pick up the phone and demand the central bank print more money or change their monetary policy in order to help the president's re-election prospects. Those countries have economies that are very unstable and not as secure and as prosperous as ours. The independence of The Fed is a key linchpin of American economic security. And I just- I plead with the president to reconsider what is a very dangerous course in economic policy.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Senator Coons thank you for joining us.  

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.