Politics & National Security

National Security Highlights from the Fourth Democratic Primary Debate

By Vishnu Kannan
Friday, December 20, 2019, 6:19 PM

On Thursday, PBS Newshour and Politico hosted the sixth debate of the 2020 Democratic primary campaign, moderated by Judy Woodruff, Amna Nawaz, Yamiche Alcindor, and Tim Alberta. We’ve combed through the transcript from the debate to present the national security-related exchanges. These excerpts are organized both thematically and chronologically.

A complete transcript is available through the Washington Post here.


WOODRUFF: To the candidates -- last night, at this hour, the House of Representatives voted for only the third time in American history to impeach a president. Every one of you was in favor of this action. But unlike 1974 and President Nixon, congressional Democrats have, so far, not convinced a strong majority of Americans to support impeachment of President Trump.

Why do you think that is, and what can you say or do differently in the coming weeks to persuade more Americans that this is the right thing to do?

I want to ask all of you to respond, but to begin with Vice President Biden.

BIDEN: You know, Judy, it was a constitutional necessity for the House to act as it did.


You know, we need to restore the integrity of the presidency, the office of the presidency, and it's about time we get that underway. My job … is just to go out and make the case why he doesn't deserve to be president of the United States for another four years.

WOODRUFF: Senator Sanders, why do you think more people are not in support of impeachment and what else can you do?

SANDERS: Well, Judy, what I would say is that we have a president who is a pathological liar. We have a president who is running the most corrupt administration in the modern history of this country, and we have a president who is a fraud, because during his campaign, he told working people one thing, and he ended up doing something else.

I believe, and I will personally be doing this in the coming weeks and months, is making the case that we have a president who has sold out the working families of this country, who wants to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid after he promised he would not do that, and who has documentedly lied thousands of times since he is president.

And the case is to be made is -- yes, certainly, I disagree with Trump on virtually all of his policies, but what conservatives, I think, understand is that we cannot have a president with that temperament who is dishonoring the presidency of the United States.

WOODRUFF: Senator Warren, ... why do you think more Americans don't agree that this is the right thing to do? And what more can you say?

WARREN: So, I see this as a constitutional moment. Last night, the president was impeached, and everyone now in the Senate who has taken a constitutional oath to uphold our Constitution -- and that doesn't mean loyalty to an individual, it doesn't mean loyalty to a political party, it means loyalty to our country -- and that vote will play out over the next several weeks.

But the way I see this is we've now seen the impact of corruption, and that's what's clearly on the stage in 2020, is how we are going to run against the most corrupt president in living history.

You know, this president has made corruption originally his argument that he would drain the swamp, and, yet, he came to Washington, broke that promise, and has done everything he can for the wealthy and the well-connected, from tax breaks to ambassadorships.

We have to prosecute the case against him, and that means we need a candidate for president who can draw the sharpest distinction between the corruption of the Trump administration and a Democrat who is willing to get out and fight not for the wealthy and well-connected but to fight for everyone else. That's why I'm in this race.

WOODRUFF: Senator Klobuchar -- Senator Klobuchar, what argument can you make to persuade more Americans this is the right thing?

KLOBUCHAR: Let me make the case to the American people. As a wise judge said, the president is not king in America, the law is king. And what James Madison once said when he was speaking out at the Constitutional Convention … he said the reason that we have these impeachment articles in the Constitution, that the provisions are in there, is because he feared that a president would betray the trust of the American people for a foreign power. That is what happened here.

Watergate -- this is a global Watergate. In the case of Watergate, a paranoid president facing election looked for dirt on a political opponent. He did it by getting people to break in. This president did it by calling a foreign leader to look for dirt on a political opponent.

And I would make this case: as we face this trial in the Senate, if the president claims that he is so innocent, then why doesn't he have all the president’s men testify? Richard Nixon had his top people testify.

We should be hearing from Mulvaney, who is the one under oath. Witnesses have said that Mulvaney is the one that said, OK, we're going to withhold this aid to a fledgling democracy to get dirt on a political opponent.

We should hear from Bolton who told his own staff to go see a lawyer after they met with the president. That is the case.

If President Trump thinks he should not be impeached, he should not be scared to put forward his own witnesses.

WOODRUFF: Mayor Buttigieg, what additional argument can you make to the American people?

BUTTIGIEG: At the end of the day, this is beyond public opinions. This is beyond polls. This is beyond politics.

The president left the House with no choice, and I think a lot of us are watching this process, watching Washington go through the motions, and not expecting much but a foregone conclusion when it gets to the Senate.

We cannot give in to that sense of helplessness, because that's what they want. They want us to be taken in by that cynicism to where we give up on the process altogether.

WOODDRUFF: Mr. Yang, what more can you say to the American people?
 — I'm sorry, Mr. Steyer. I'm sorry.

STEYER: Well, let me remind everyone that I'm the person who started the Need to Impeach Movement over two years ago because I … because I believe what counts here is actually the American people's opinion. Over eight and a half million signed that petition and dragged Washington into the idea that, actually, the most corrupt president in American history -- it's not a question of political expediency, it's not a question of political tactics, it's a question of right and wrong.

So, now, when we look at what's going on, I actually agree with Senator Klobuchar. The question here is, if we want the American people to understand what's going on, we need to have the administration officials testify on TV so we can judge.

The court that counts here is the court of public opinion. The American people deserve to see the truth of these administration officials testifying under oath so we can make up our mind. If we want Republican senators to do the right thing, we need their constituents to see the truth on TV and tell them, get rid of this guy or we'll get rid of you.



YANG: It's clear why Americans can't agree on impeachment, we're getting news from different sources, and it's making it hard for us even to agree on basic facts. Congressional approval rating, last I checked, was something like 17 percent, and Americans don't trust the media networks to tell them the truth.

The media networks didn't do us any favors by missing a reason why Donald Trump became our president in the first place. If your turn on cable network news today, you would think he's our president because of some combination of Russia, racism, Facebook, Hillary Clinton, and emails all mixed together.

What we have to do is we have to stop being obsessed over impeachment, which, unfortunately, strikes many Americans like a ball game where you know what the score is going to be, and actually start digging in and solving the problems that got Donald Trump elected in the first place. We have to take every opportunity to present a new positive vision for the country, a new way forward to help beat him in 2020 because, make no mistake, he'll be there at the ballot box for us to defeat.

Climate Change

ALBERTA: Candidates, good evening. We're going to talk about climate now. Senator Klobuchar, many scientists say that even if the U.S. reduced its carbon footprint to zero by the year 2050, the damage will have been done, that climate change will have made certain places in the U.S. unlivable.

So knowing this, would you support a new federal program to subsidize the relocation of American families and businesses away from places like Miami or Paradise, California, perhaps, Davenport, Iowa, because we know these places are going to be hit time and time again?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, I don't -- I very much hope we're not going to have to relocate entire cities, but we will probably have to relocate some individual residents.

And the problem right now is that this climate change is an existential crisis.

So what I think we need to do, get back into the international climate change agreement. I will do that on day one. On day two, bring back the clean power rules. On day three, the gas mileage standards. I see the governor of California, who's been working so hard to get those done, defied every step of the way by the Trump administration. And then introduce sweeping legislation to put a price on carbon and build a fridge to the next century, which means we must upgrade our buildings and our building standards.

Mr. Steyer, would you support such a new federal program, again, to help subsidize the relocation of these families?

STEYER: Look, I am hoping that we, in fact, will do what I'm suggesting, which is declare a state of emergency on day one of my presidency. I have made this -- I believe I'm the only person here who will say unequivocally this is my number-one priority.

But what I know is this: Not only can we clear up the air and water in the black and brown communities where our pollution is concentrated, this is also the opportunity to create literally millions of middle-class union jobs, well-paid, across the United States of America.

Our biggest crisis is our biggest opportunity. And if we don't declare a state of emergency on day one, I don't understand how we go to the people around the world to lead the coalition that has to happen and that only America can lead.

ALBERTA: Mr. Buttigieg, 45 seconds to respond.

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I've made clear that this will be a topic of day one action. And this is not theoretical for me. I live in one of those river cities that you're talking about. Not only that, I live right by the river. My neighborhood flooded in the second of two once in a millennium floods that we had in two years. Do the math on that. So I know what's at stake.

And it's why I insist that we act with a carbon tax and dividend with massive increases in renewable research, on renewable energy, energy storage, and carbon storage. But bigger than that, we have to summon the energies of the entire country to deal with this.

I've seen politicians in Washington saying the right thing about climate change as long as I've been alive, all these plans we have to get carbon neutral by 2050. And I think most or all of us have one. Their impact is multiplied by zero unless something actually gets done.

And that is why I want to make sure that our vision for climate includes people from the autoworker down the block from me in South Bend to a farmer a few minutes away so that they understand that we are asking, recruiting them to be part of the solution, not beating them over the head and telling them they're part of the problem.

ALBERTA: Three consecutive American presidents have enjoyed stints of explosive economic growth due to a boom in oil and natural gas production. As president, would you be willing to sacrifice some of that growth, even knowing potentially that it could displace thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of blue-collar workers in the interest of transitioning to that greener economy?

Senator Sanders?

SANDERS: Tim, in all due respect, your question misses the mark. It is not an issue of relocating people in towns. The issue now is whether we save the planet for our children and our grandchildren.

The issue, as you should know, what the scientists are telling us is they have underestimated the threat and severity of climate change. You're talking about the Paris agreement, that's fine. Ain't enough. We have got to -- and I've introduced legislation to do this -- declare a national emergency.

The United States has got to lead the world. And maybe, just maybe, instead of spending $1.8 trillion a year globally on weapons of destruction, maybe an American president, i.e. Bernie Sanders, can lead the world, instead of spending money to kill each other, maybe we pool our resources and fight our common enemy, which is climate change.

Senator Warren, a new question to you, Senator Warren. Many of our Western allies rely heavily on nuclear energy because it's efficient, affordable, and virtually carbon-free. And many climate experts believe that it's impossible to realize your goal of net zero emissions by the year 2050 without utilizing nuclear energy. So can you have it both ways on this issue?

WARREN: So I see right now is we've got to get the carbon -- we've got to stop putting more carbon into the air. We've got to get the carbon out of the air and out of the water. And that means that we need to keep some of our nuclear in place.

I will not build more nuclear. I want to put the energy, literally, and the money and the resources behind clean energy and by increasing by tenfold what we put into science, what we put into research and development. We need to do what we do best, and that is innovate our way out of this problem and be a world leader.

ALBERTA: Mr. Yang, 45 seconds, on the issue of nuclear energy.

YANG: Well, first, we should obviously be paying to relocate Americans away from places that are hit by climate change. We're already doing it. We relocated a town in Louisiana that became uninhabitable because the sea levels rose. And we know that town is not alone. That's playing out in coastal areas around the country.


On nuclear power, I agree with the research. We need to have everything on the table in a crisis situation, which this is. Other countries have had success with nuclear power. And the next generation thorium reactors have a wealth of potential. Thorium is not radioactive the way uranium is. It doesn't last as long. And you can't make a weapon out of it. If we're going to innovate our way out of this, as … Elizabeth is saying, then we have to have nuclear on the table.

ALBERTA: The last word climate to you, Mr. Steyer.

STEYER: Look, the point about nuclear power is, it's not at the stage in the United States where it's competitive on price. It has a lot of risks to it in terms of disasters. And we have no ability to store the toxins that come out of it and last 100,000 years.

We actually have the technology that we need. It's called wind and solar and batteries. So, in fact, what we need to do, we can do. We've got to stop taking a look at this as something that we can't do, because we can do this, and we can do it in a way that creates, rebuilds this country on an accelerated basis, creates millions of union jobs, and we come at it from the standpoint of environmental justice.

Foreign Policy

Israeli Settlements

ALCINDOR: Thank you, Senator. Let's now turn to the issue of foreign policy and the Middle East. Senator Sanders, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently declared that the United States believes Israeli settlements in the West Bank do not violate international law. That broke decades-long U.S. precedent. How would you respond to Israeli expansion of settlements? Would you link that to foreign aid to Israel?

SANDERS: Israel has -- and I say this as somebody who lived in Israel as a kid, proudly Jewish -- Israel has the right not only to exist, but to exist in peace and security.

But what -- but what U.S. foreign policy must be about is not just being pro-Israel. We must be pro-Palestinian, as well.

And whether, in my view -- we must understand that right now in Israel we have leadership under Netanyahu, who has recently, as you know, been indicted for bribery, who, in my view, is a racist -- what we need is a level playing field in terms of the Middle East, which addresses the terrible crisis in Gaza, where 60 percent or 70 percent of the young people are unemployed.

So what my foreign policy will be about is human rights, is democracy, is bringing people together in a peaceful way, trying to negotiate agreements, not endless wars with trillions of dollars of expenses.

Mayor Buttigieg?

BUTTIGIEG: What we are seeing in the Middle East and around the world are the consequences of this president's failure, this president's refusal to lead. It's particularly disturbing in the case of Israel because he has infused domestic politics, making U.S. foreign policy choices in order to effectively interfere in Israeli domestic politics, acting as though that somehow makes him pro-Israel and pro-Jewish, while welcoming white nationalists into the White House.

But it's not only in the Middle East that we see the consequences of the disappearance of U.S. leadership. We see among our allies and among our adversaries case after case where the world is making plans on what to do, ignoring the United States, because we're no longer considered reliable.

It's not just the mockery at a cocktail party on the sidelines of a conference. It's the looks on the faces of the leaders at the U.N. as they looked at the United States president with a mixture of contempt and pity.

As an American, I never again want to see the American president looked at that way by the leaders of the world. The world needs America right now. But it can't be just any America. It has to be one that is actually living up to the values that make us who we are: supporting peace, supporting democracy, supporting human rights, and supporting stability around the world.

Guantanamo Bay

ALCINDOR: Senator Warren, President Obama pledged to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay but could not. Forty prisoners remain there. Last year, U.S. taxpayers paid $540 million to keep Guantanamo open. Would you pledge to finally close the detention facility? And if elected, how will you do it?

WARREN: Yes. It is time to close this detention facility. It not only costs us money, it is an international embarrassment.

We have to be an America that lives our values every single day. We can't be an America that stands up and asks people to fight alongside us, as we did with the Kurds in fighting ISIS, and then turn around in the blink of a tweet and say that we're turning our backs on the people who stood beside us. After that, who wants to be an ally of the United States?

We have to be an America that understands the difference and recognizes the difference between our allies, the people who will work alongside us, and the dictators who would do us harm.

And we need to treat our allies better than we treat the dictators. That needs to be our job as an America.

We have -- we have the finest military on Earth. All three of my brothers served. And we have people on this stage who have served, and I am deeply grateful for that. Our military is strong and important, but we need to be an America that relies on our State Department, that relies on diplomacy, that relies on our economic power and that relies on working together with the rest of the world to build a world that is sustainable environmentally and economically for everyone.

Vice President Biden, why couldn't you close Guantanamo Bay? Why couldn't the Obama administration close Guantanamo Bay?

BIDEN: We attempted to close Guantanamo Bay, but you have to have congressional authority to do it. They've kept it open. And the fact is that we, in fact, think it's greatest -- it is an advertisement for creating terror.

Look, what we have done around the world in terms of keeping Guantanamo open or what Trump has done by no longer being an honest broker in Israel, there's no solution for Israel other than a two-state solution. It does not exist. It's not possible to have a Jewish state in the Middle East without there being a two-state solution.

And he has played to all the same fears and all the prejudices that exist in this country and in Israel. Bibi Netanyahu and I know one another well. He knows that I think what he's doing is outrageous.

What we do is, we have to put pressure constantly on the Israelis to move to a two-state solution, not withdraw physical aid from them in terms of their security.


WOODRUFF: I want to turn to another part of the world, and that's China. Mayor Buttigieg, you have said that you think China presents more of a challenge than do your fellow candidates believe. The U.S. clearly wants China's cooperation on human rights, on climate change, on North Korea, on terrorism. And yet Americans are appalled by China's record on human rights, including the detention of over a million Muslim Uighurs. Should the U.S., is my question, do more than protest and issue sanctions? Should the U.S., for example, boycott the 2022 Beijing Olympics?

BUTTIGIEG: I think that any tool ought to be on the table, especially diplomatic, economic, and social tools, like what you're describing.

Look, for the president to let it be known that his silence, whether it's on the rounding up of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, putting them into camps, or the aspirations of the people of Hong Kong for democracy, for him to let China know that his silence can be purchased is trashing American values.

The reality is that there's a lot more to the relationship with China than who's selling more dishwashers. Yes, we need a much smarter trade policy. We also have to acknowledge what's going on over there: the use of technology for the perfection of dictatorship.

That is going to require a stronger than ever response from the U.S. in defense of democracy. But when folks out there standing up for democracy hear not a peep from the president of the United States, what message is that sending to the Chinese Communist Party?

The message I will send is that if they perpetrate a repeat of anything like Tiananmen Square, when it comes to Hong Kong, they will be isolated from the free world, and we will lead that isolation diplomatically and economically.

WOODRUFF: Mr. Steyer, many Americans have been moved in the last months by the protests of the people of Hong Kong. It is Chinese territory, but what could you, would you do as president if the Chinese government moved in militarily?

STEYER: Look, there is a temptation, particularly for this president, to try and answer that on a bilateral -- in a bilateral way. The way the United States should be reacting in Hong Kong is by gathering our coalition of democracy- and freedom-loving partners and allies to push back.

In fact, when we're making moral statements around the world, it should not be us threatening and trying to be the world's policeman. It should be us leading on a value-driven basis with the other people who share our values and want to change the world.

We actually can't isolate ourselves from China. In fact, we have to work with them as a frenemy. People who disturb us, who we disagree with, but who, in effect, we are linked to in a world that is ever getting closer. And, in fact, if we are going to treat climate as the threat that it is, we are going to have to partner with the Chinese. They are going to have to come along with us. They're going to have to trust us. And together we're going to have to solve this problem.

So the ability to say what's off the table -- we need a good relationship with them and we're going to have to work with them going forward under all circumstances.

Vice President Biden, on China, we now know that China is engaged in an unprecedented military build-up. They have just launched a new aircraft carrier. There are new signs of their disturbing espionage campaign here inside the United States. There are a number of disturbing signs from the Chinese.

National security scholars have long warned about the historical precedent that when there's a ruling power and a rising power, there's likely to be a war. Is the U.S. on a collision course with China? … What steps could you take as president?

BIDEN: It’s on a collision course with China, but not for war. What we have to make clear is that we, in fact, are not going to abide by what they’ve done. A million Uighurs, as you pointed out, Muslims, are in concentration camps. That’s where they are right now. They’re being abused. They’re in concentration camps.

And what we started in our administration that Trump stopped, we should be moving 60 percent of our sea power to that area of the world to let, in fact, the Chinese understand that they're not going to go any further. We are going to be there to protect other folks.

Secondly, we, in fact, should make sure that we begin to rebuild our alliances, which Trump has demolished, with Japan and South Korea, Australia and all -- and Indonesia. We, in fact, need to have allies who understand that we're going to stop the Chinese from their actions.

We should be going to the U.N. immediately and sought sanctions against them in the United Nations for what they did. We have to be firm. We don't have to go to war. But we have to make it clear, this is as far as you go, China.

And in terms of their military build-up, it's real. But it would take them about 17 years to build up to where we are. We're not looking for a war. But we've got to make clear, we are a Pacific power and we are not going to back away.

WOODRUFF: Mr. Yang and then Senator Klobuchar.

YANG: I have family in Hong Kong. I spent four months there and seeing what's happening on the streets. It's shocking. They banned face masks in Hong Kong. Why? Because they have AI technology that now is using facial recognition to identify protesters if they so much as do anything on the street so they can follow up with them and detain them later.

This is the rivalry that we have to win where China is concerned. They're in the process of leapfrogging us in AI because they have more data than we do and their government is subsidizing it to the tune of tens of billions of dollars.

I have sat with our leading technologists and they say they cannot match the Chinese resources. China just produced its first major smartphone that does not have Google apps and it is now trying to export its technology to the rest of the world.

What we have to do is build an international coalition to set technology standards, and then you can bring the Chinese to the table in a very real way, because this is their top priority, and this is where we need to outcompete them and win.

WOODRUFF: Senator Klobuchar?

KLOBUCHAR: When it comes to foreign policy, I think we need to keep our promises and keep our threats. And this president has done neither. In a country like China, their leaders, they watch that and they know. He has stood with dictators over innocents. He has stood with tyrants over free leaders. He does it all the time.

And I have a little different take than some of my colleagues when it comes to what happened at that conference with NATO. Yeah, they were making fun of them, some of the foreign leaders. I've heard senators make more fun of other senators than that.

The point of it was that he couldn't even tolerate it. He is so thin-skinned that he walked. He quit.

America doesn't quit. So if we want to send a message to the Chinese, we stand with our allies. We stand with them firmly. We have a very clear and coherent foreign policy when it comes to human rights.

Press Freedom

WOODRUFF: Mayor Buttigieg.

BUTTIGIEG: I'm actually not worried about the president's bad sense of humor when it comes to being made fun of. I'm worried about the fact that he is echoing the vocabulary of dictators around the world.

When the American president refers to unfavorable press coverage as the product of the "enemy of the people," democracy around the world gets weaker. Freedom of the press not just here at home but around the world gets weaker. It's one more reminder of what is at stake, not just here at home, but for world history in the imperative that we win this election.

KLOBUCHAR: OK. I just want to make very clear, Mayor, that the freedom of the press is deep in my heart. My dad was a newspaperman. And I am the one that asked every attorney general candidate we've had under Donald Trump, both of whom I opposed, about their respect for the First Amendment. And they have refused, they have refused to follow the rules that Attorney General Holder put in place when it came to protecting our journalists.

They would not commit that they wouldn't put a journalist in jail for doing their job. So this is not just talking points to me. This is the real world. And I think that experience that I will bring to the White House, with protecting the First Amendment, is worth more than any talking points.


NAWAZ: I want to turn now to an issue that's been in the headlines quite a bit, and that is immigration. Mr. Yang, we have a question here from a professor right here at Loyola, Marymount. There are nearly 200,000 DACA recipients, so-called Dreamers, in the state of California, more than any other state, including several students right here at LMU. If you win and you reinstate DACA through executive action, another president could just overturn it again. So will you move on a permanent legislative fix for Dreamers in your first 100 days, if elected?

You pledged to move -- you pledged to move on a permanent legislative fix in your first 100 days. Dreamers say that they are frustrated by Democrats' failure to prioritize their status in deal after deal. So why should Dreamers trust Democrats now?

YANG: I believe everyone on this stage would do the right thing by Dreamers in the first 100 days. I would make it a top priority. I'm the son of immigrants myself. The fact is, almost half of Fortune 500 companies were started by an immigrant or children of immigrants. Immigrants make our country stronger and more dynamic.

And immigrants are being scapegoated for issues they have absolutely nothing to do with. If you go to the factory in Michigan, it's not wall-to-wall immigrants. It's wall-to-wall robot arms and machines. We have to send the opposite message of this administration.

And as your president, I think I could send a very clear message, where if you are considering immigrating to this country and I am the president, you would realize my son or daughter can become president of the United States. That's the opposite of the current administration, and that's the message I would love to send to the world.

NAWAZ: Senator Sanders, a related question to you.

… there are estimated to be as many as 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., more than 2 million right here in California. If you have a chance to forge a bipartisan immigration reform plan, would you insist on a path to citizenship for all 12 million or just a segment of that population?

SANDERS: This is what I would do. Day one, executive order, restore the legal status of 1.8 million young people in the DACA program.

Day one, we change border policy so that federal agents will never snatch babies from the arms of their mothers.

Day one, day one, we introduce bipartisan legislation, which will, in fact, be comprehensive, which will result in a path toward citizenship for all of the 11 million who are undocumented. That is what the people of our country want.

NAWAZ: Mayor Buttigieg, a new question to you, Mr. Mayor. You said last month that the U.S. owes compensation to children separated from their families at the southern border. The consensus among child welfare experts is that those thousands of children will likely suffer lifelong trauma as a result of that separation. Are you committing as president to financial compensation for those thousands of children?

BUTTIGIEG: Yes, and they should have a fast track to citizenship, because what the United States did under this president to them was wrong. We have a moral obligation to make right what was broken.

And on the larger issue of immigration, my understanding of this issue isn't theoretical. It's not something I formed in committee rooms in Washington. It begins with the fact that my household, my family, came from abroad. My father immigrated to this country and became a U.S. citizen.

It comes from the fact that I'm the mayor of a city where neighborhoods that were left for dying are now coming back to life, largely because of the contributions mainly of Latino immigrants. And I've seen those same neighborhoods shut down, families huddling in church, panicking just because of the rumor of an ICE raid. That did not make our country safer.


NAWAZ: Vice President Biden, let's turn now to Afghanistan. Confidential documents published last week by the Washington Post revealed that for years senior U.S. officials misled the public about the war in Afghanistan. As vice president…what did you know about the state of the war? And do you believe that you were honest with the American people about it?

BIDEN: The reason I can speak to this -- it's well-known, if any of you followed it, my view on Afghanistan -- I was sent by the president before we got sworn in to Afghanistan to come back with a report. I said there was no comprehensive policy available. And then I got in a big fight for a long time with the Pentagon because I strongly opposed the nation-building notion we set about.

Rebuilding that country as a whole nation is beyond our capacity. I argued from the very beginning that we should have a policy that was based on an antiterrorism policy with a very small footprint that, in fact, only had special forces to deal with potential threats from that territory to the United States of America.

The first thing I would do as president of the United States of America is to make sure that we brought all combat troops home, entered into a negotiation with the Taliban. But I would leave behind special forces in small numbers to be able to deal with the potential threat unless we got a real good negotiation accomplished to deal with terrorism.

That's been my position from the beginning. That's why I think Secretary Gates and some members of the Pentagon weren't happy with me.

NAWAZ: In that Washington Post report, there's a senior national security official who said that there was constant pressure from the Obama White House to produce figures showing the troop surge was working, and I'm quoting from the report here, "despite hard evidence to the contrary." What do you say to that?

BIDEN: Since 2009, go back and look. I was on the opposite side of that with the Pentagon. The only reason I can speak to it now is because it's been published. It's been published thoroughly. I'm the guy from the beginning who argued that it was a big, big mistake to surge forces to Afghanistan, period. We should not have done it. And I argued against it constantly.

NAWAZ: Senator Sanders, you had your hand up.

SANDERS: Well, in all due respect to my -- Joe, Joe, you're also the guy who helped lead us into the disastrous war in Iraq. What we need to do is, I think, rethink -- and the Washington Post piece was very educational -- what we need to rethink is the entire war on terror.

We have lost thousands of our own men and women, brave soldiers. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people have been killed abroad or forced to leave their countries. It is time right now that we bring this world together to try to end these endless wars and address the root causes which are causing these wars.

NAWAZ: Senator Sanders, you do often point to your vote against the war in Iraq as evidence of your judgment on foreign policy, but you did vote for the war in Afghanistan. And as recently as 2015, you said you supported a continued U.S. troop presence there. Was that support a mistake?

SANDERS: Well, only one person, my good friend, Barbara Lee, was right on that issue. She was the only person in the House to vote against the war in Afghanistan. She was right. I was wrong. So was everybody else in the House.

But to answer your question, I don't think you do what Trump does and make foreign policy decisions based on a tweet at 3 a.m. in the morning or desert your long-time allies like the Kurds. I think you work with the international community. You remove all troops over a period of time, a short period of time, within one year.

NAWAZ: Thank you, Senator. Mayor Buttigieg, you served in this war, but I want to ask about your decision-making if you were elected commander-in-chief. You have pledged to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan within your first year as president, but the Taliban today control or contest more than half the country.

So should you as president still withdraw all those U.S. troops if the country could once again become a haven for terrorists?

BUTTIGIEG: We're going to leave one way or the other. The question is to make sure we do it well and not poorly. And of course, that has to respond to the conditions on the ground and the need for a political settlement.

But, you know, the other day, I was reunited with somebody that I'd served with over there. And the thing we were marveling at is how long it's been since we left. I thought I was one of the last troops turning out the lights when I left years ago, and we're still there.

There may need to be some kind of limited special operations and intelligence capacity, the exact same kind of thing, by the way, that we actually had in Syria holding the line before the president yanked it out, leading to the road to chaos.

But what we know is that we cannot go on with these endless wars. And I'm glad that the name of Barbara Lee was mentioned, not only because of what she's talked about years ago. I believe that we had no choice but to go to Afghanistan after 9/11. But right now, she is one of the leaders of the effort to repeal and replace the authorization for the use of military force and the folks that I served with deserve that. They deserve the clarity of members of Congress being able to summon the courage to take an up-or-down vote on whether they ought to be there in the first place.

And when I am president, any time, if I am forced to deploy troops into war, any time we seek an authorization, it will have a three-year sunset, so that if there really does have to be a conversation about extending it, it has to be brought to Congress, brought to the American people, and those members of Congress have to take that tough up-or-down vote.