Transcript: Sen. Angus King on "Face the Nation"

CBS News

The following is a transcript of the interview with independent Sen. Angus King of Maine that aired Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, on "Face the Nation."  

MARGARET BRENNAN: Turning now to the war in Ukraine, we are joined by Maine's independent senator, Angus King, who just returned from a trip to Kyiv. Good morning to you. Senator, I understand you just got back last night.

SENATOR ANGUS KING: Last night.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you met Friday with President Zelenskyy. What was the purpose of this visit?

SEN. KING: I once did a visit overseas and an old man in Pakistan, as a matter of fact, said, I know why you are here. And I said, Why is that? And he said, Because one day of seeing is better than 100 days of reading. And I believe you've got to see you got to be there and meet the people in person. And we had a very informative trip. There's a lot to learn and a lot to be able to communicate back here about what's going on in Ukraine.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, as you were over there, here the White House announced it was releasing roughly 3 billion in security aid to Ukraine, it was the biggest one time package, it included for the first time tank busting armored vehicles. Why such a surge now? Is it to get ahead of what may be a pretty serious spring offensive? What are we preparing for?

SEN. KING: Well, there are two factors. And the the Ukrainians, particularly, the first thing is their defense. I mean, they're just being pummeled. That's too mild a word in terms of their energy infrastructure. So air defenses part of it, Patriot missiles. But also what's going on in the east is essentially trench warfare. It's almost World War One. It's horrible. And these these armored vehicles are designed to deal with it. That kind of situation to give the Ukrainians a fighting chance against this invasion that's going on. And to put it in perspective for Americans. It's as if our East Coast, from Maine to Florida and then west to Houston, Texas, was being occupied by a foreign power. That's the entire eastern edge of Ukraine is occupied. And that's where this fight is going to be. And that's why these maneuver- maneuver vehicles are going to be so important.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But this drawdown, which is what they call it, technically presidential authority, allows for an immediate or close to immediate delivery of some of this weaponry. And I am hearing increased concern here in the United States that sending weapons there is depleting U.S. stockpiles in a way that's concerning to some officials. How concerned are you about that? And how does- how do you and Congress get ahead of that to make sure the U.S. isn't hurt?

SEN. KING: Well, part of it is replenishing our stockpiles. But you're right. That's- and that's a decision that the Pentagon, the Defense Department has to weigh when they're doing these drawdowns. And by the way, a lot of this equipment is coming from other countries. It's not just coming from the United States. So some of the fighting vehicles are coming from France, Patriot battery from Germany. So that is an issue. But it's one that I know in the deliberations about what the drawdowns are going to look like. Stockpiles is part of the issue.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And it also makes me think of the two of the conversations we just had in this program in terms of potential slash to defense spending that could potentially happen if this House proposal actually gets approved.

SEN. KING: It would be it would be catastrophic to cut off aid to Ukraine at this point. I would just ask those people that are making those noises to read a little history. Google Sudetenland in 1938, Rhineland in 1936, when Hitler could have been stopped. When he wasn't stopped, we ended up with 55 million deaths worldwide. This is a moment where we know that Putin wants to take over Ukraine. He wants to rebuild the Soviet Union. Maya Angelou says, if someone tells you who they are, you should believe them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

SEN. KING: And who he is as a guy that wants to rebuild the Soviet empire. And this is a place where he can be stopped. They the Ukrainians, are fighting for us, for our values, for the aid that we're providing to them isn't charity. It's it's self-interest.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you believe there is enough accounting for what is being given?

SEN. KING: I'm so I'm so glad you asked that, because that was part of my mission. I spent a lot of time in Kyiv on accountability and, in fact, sitting across from President Zelenskyy, just as you and I are. I asked him point blank, what's the status of accountability? If there's a scandal, it's going to kill our ability to support you. He understands that. And then later, we had a meeting with many of their defense officials and privates, their finance people. They're developing they're working with Deloitte, the accounting firm. They're working with SAP software. They're accounting for every spare part that's coming into the country. Plus, we have an inspector general from the Pentagon who's going over, I think, next month. I was very impressed by the level of accountability. And so this argument that somehow the money's being wasted, I don't think holds water.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Let me ask you about things here at home and the conversation about the U.S. border that we have been having. There are Republicans who want to get something done in this new Congress. You've got a Republican held House. You've got a 51-49 Senate. Is there any possibility of getting legislation on immigration or anything?

SEN. KING: To me, there's an obvious deal on immigration, which is heightened border security, which is very complicated. And I want to talk to the congresswoman that you just had on talking about what the ideas that she has, Republicans along the border, the Republican Congressman Gonzalez, I want to learn and there are a lot of people working on how do we figure out the border. But the deal is increased border security, a path to citizenship for Dreamers and workforce. I'm hearing from businesses in Maine all the time about a shortage of workers. It's one of our biggest economic problems after inflation. So we've- we've got to work on legal immigration for workforce. So I think, as I say, there's a package. And border security is where it starts. And I believe I'm delighted the administration's president's gone down there today. They should have gone sooner, in my view. But let's let's work on this because we can't have the chaos and the humanitarian crisis that we have. Let's- let's find that. But then put together a package involving Dreamers and involving workforce. That's where I think we can move. And we ought to be able to move in in a bipartisan way.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, well, you're a centrist. You're an independent, you caucus with Democrats. So you can- you can say you want to work with everyone. But the politics right now are just so divisive. I read something you told The New Yorker last year where you said you have never been so worried about the future of the country because the structure of our system is at risk. Do you still still feel that way? Is it improving?

SEN. KING: Well, what happened in the House this week wasn't reassuring because what you had was 20 people, I did the math, 3.7% of the membership of Congress held it hostage for a week. And I don't know what- what that foretells for the future. Yes, that is a concern. On the other hand, since I had that that quote, which I certainly think has some validity, we've had one of the most productive Congresses in the last 25 or 30 years, almost all on a bipartisan basis, not all, but the infrastructure bill, the CHIPS Act, the PACT Act for the veterans. All of those bills were done on a bipartisan basis, and they started, interestingly, from the ground up. They started organically from a few members getting together, working from the middle out. The leadership blessed it. They allowed it to happen. But that's the path. And I'm hoping I think immigration is a great opportunity to do the same thing.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Well, we'll end on that optimistic note. Senator, thank you for joining us. We'll be back in a moment with Ukraine's ambassador to the United States, Oksana Makarova. Stay with us.

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