Central Arkansas’s Congressman French Hill talks with KUAR’s Jacob Kauffman about Brexit and Trump, a Benghazi report years in the making, yet another pass at gun control, and the Pentagon lifting a ban on transgender troops.
KAUFFMAN: The United Kingdom is preparing to chart a new course, leaving the European Union, and conventional wisdom from many economists is this could lead to some trouble – certainly a disruption of a sort. What’s your take?
HILL: Far be it for me to tell the British what to do with their election. I think we have to respect the outcome. I do think there will be short term ramifications of their decision that will be difficult for the British people.
I think it will affect small businesses who export to the 28 countries of the EU. I think it will affect the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. It could have ramifications regulatory wise in the city of London from a financial point of view.
But these are things that can be worked through. In my view, America will still have the United Kingdom as a good trade partner and ally for economic and national security issues.
KAUFFMAN: The issue of trade between the UK and EU has spilled over into the American presidential race….Donald Trump – your party’s nominee – is using the opportunity to denounce the TransPacific Partnership, generally calling for more restrictions on international trade, including NAFTA. You voted for trade promotion authority, are you feeling any disconnect here with your presidential nominee?
HILL: Good question, Jacob. I did support trade promotion authority because that’s how the Congress oversees the executive branch and how they can negotiate a trade deal. The trade promotion authority passed by Congress last year was the most strict oversight of the executive since trade promotion authority started back in the Depression era.
When it comes to trade, I think Mr. Trump argues that we should make sure we negotiate deals that will favor the United States and that in open markets, our exporters and participators are treated fairly. Hard to argue with that point of view.
For us here in Arkansas, trade is important. We have well over 50,000 jobs tied to trade in this state and a lot of exports go to Canada and Mexico - the two largest countries that Arkansas companies export to. This is an important topic that needs to be handled in the right way.
KAUFFMAN: Trump of course styles himself as a businessman. It's always at the center of his campaign - you too have spent decades in the business world, establishing and running a successful bank…what do you think of Trump’s business acumen? Based on your businesses sensibilities does he strike you as a good deal maker?
HILL: Well, Donald Trump spent a lifetime in the New York real estate business. There’s probably no more competitive, cut throat business environment than to be in New York Real estate so I’m sure he’s got quality negotiating skills. The key is that when it comes to thinking about public policy ideas, do you want to think about them form a business persons point of view – that is some common sense, the ability to cut through complexities and come up with a common sense solution, that leads to a faster economy. Certainly I’ve tried to do that when I’ve been in Congress. I’ve tried to bring those hands on business skills, negotiating skills, common sense skills and apply them to the positions I have to make in public policy.
KAUFFMAN: On the other end of the presidential field, Hillary Clinton has fallen under familiar scrutiny from your leadership in the U.S. House. After two years, a House committee came out with its Benghazi report. Based on the information presented do you think then Secretary of State Clinton could have done things differently.
HILL: I think the Benghazi report when it came out, and I’ve read a summary of it I haven’t read the entire document, but what it confirmed to us is that it was a tragedy in which Americans including our Ambassador were killed. The real question for me was, where was the National Security Council, where was the President during these now famous 13 hours?
What it confirmed to me about Secretary Clinton is two things, one she participated in covering up the true story. It was a planned terrorist attack on the compound. Secondly it opened up the whole scrutiny over her email server in her home. But the real question I took away from the Benghazi report was, where was our national leadership, the Pentagon, the National Security Council, and the Central Intelligence Agency during those 13 hours? I look forward to studying the whole report but that remains to be the real question for me, that critical time.
KAUFFMAN: As early as next week, Speaker Paul Ryan says the House could vote on a counter terrorism package that includes some gun control ideas. The most popularly discussed one, would have new limitations for people that are on the no-fly list from buying firearms. Have you thought about that type of idea or how you’d vote?
HILL: I have, I’ve started looking at that. Senator Cornyn of Texas (R) proposed a similar provision in the Senate a few days ago. Effectively, it would fine tune any name that’s been added to the no-fly list or the much, much bigger terror watch list which has over 500,000 people. By the way, most are not Americans. It would allow them to have some due process, so people would know why their name’s on the list.
My gut is that’s something I can support. I think it fine tunes the list. There are no Democrats or Republicans I know of that want terrorists to be able to acquire firearms of any kind. To me it is a good idea, I want to see the legislation when I get back to Washington and we’ll see what we can do.
KAUFFMAN: It sounds like you’d be opposed to any automatic, outright ban just because somoene is on one of these lists. But you are open to, it seems, that if you’re on this list there needs to be some sort of further investigation if the government wants to then ban firearm [sales to those individuals].
HILL: I think that can be structured. Because these terror watch lists and no fly lists are not lists that are known or overseen by Congress.
KAUFFMAN: And it doesn’t mean you’re guilty of anything to be on the list.
HILL: That’s correct and there have been a lot of mistakes including John Lewis, who led the sit in, was on the list at one time as was former Senator Ted Kennedy. This should give Americans pause that there’s a list that has so many potential problems. I think the Cornyn idea gives due process, gives oversight to that list to make sure that it’s more accurate and therefore can be used if someone’s on it for a terrorist related reason they can’t purchase a firearm.
KAUFFMAN: Are you worried when you vote on gun control issues, that if you vote for any kind of gun control – no matter how invasive or not invasive – that you’ll get pressure from groups like the NRA or constituents seeing any type of gun control as a cave in?
HILL: I don’t think the NRA wants terrorists or dangerous people, people who are mentally ill to have firearms. I really think there’s consensus on this if we protect the 2nd amendment and the 4th amendment concept to privacy and due process. I think that’s something Mr. Cornyn is working on and I look forward to seeing the language.
The other point that’s of some importance is that most gun deaths in this country are suicide and a lot of mass killings have a behavioral health aspect, it’s the preponderance to have some sort of diagnosed behavioral health issue.
I’m a big supporter of a comprehensive approach to mental health which we have not had in this country for 35 years. I’ve encouraged the Speaker and have some encouragement back from leadership that we will be able to vote on a mental health bill in the coming days. I think that’s at the core of some of these mass shootings. If people get the mental health treatment they need, they’re not on the streets or in a jail cell.
KAUFFMAN: I got an e-mail from your Democratic opponent Dianne Curry on the issue of the Pentagon ending its ban on transgender troops in the military. She supports the move. Have you got a chance to think about that decision to lift the ban?
HILL: I think Secretary Carter has reviewed the planning from the uniform services secretaries and the joint staffs to lift the ban. I think that will be done in a provisional way and be subject to oversight in Congress to see how that’s being done and under what circumstances. I think between the leadership in the Pentagon and the House and Senate Armed Services Committee they’ll sort through what the right way and right time frame is to do that.
KAUFFMAN: Do you think it’s a good idea to try to be exploring though? To try to include transgender people in the military?
HILL: I think people that are qualified to serve in the military, you know, subject to the uniform command's approval and engagement of just what those rules and capabilities are, is...that’s why we have our joint chiefs and our civilian control of the military to decide that, who is physically and mentally able to serve our country in uniform and to do that in a fair and equitable manner? I think that’s what the whole issue is, can that be done in the right way in this particular instance.