The following is a transcript of an interview with Sen. J.D. Vance, Republican of Ohio, that aired on Oct. 29, 2023.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to Face The Nation. Ohio Republican senator J.D. Vance joins us now, in-studio. Good morning, and good to have you here face to face.
SENATOR J.D. VANCE: Thanks for having me.
Senator, there is a lot I want to get to with you. But I want to start on- on one of the big themes we’ve been talking about, which is all the national security threats facing the United States right now. Present Biden asked for $106 billion in aid from Congress: Ukraine, Israel, the border and countering China. I’m surprised as a Republican that the issue you’re talking the most about is not the U.S. border. Why?
SENATOR J.D. VANCE: Well, we care a lot about the border, of course, but what I’m saying is that we should divide the packages and actually have distinct debates on each one of these questions, especially the Israel issue for a couple of reasons. First of all, Israel needs the aid and they need it immediately. Second of all, there’s broad bipartisan consensus that we should be supporting Israel. And third, and most importantly, we’re stretched way too thin. The President’s budget request betrays a fundamental misunderstanding, I think, of the challenges in the country. We cannot support a three pronged conflict in the war. We don’t make enough weapons, our manufacturing capacity is too weak. We need to pick and choose- to pick and choose,Congress has- needs to have a real debate, not collapse these packages together and pretend we can do everything at once. We can’t.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So let’s unpack some of what you said there. Because you are talking about the exact same amount for Israel, that President Biden is talking about, roughly $14 billion. But you’ve removed humanitarian assistance to Gaza. Leader McConnell was on this program last Sunday and he supports the package. Here’s what he said.
SEN. MITCH McCONNELL, MINORITY LEADER OF THE U.S. SENATE: Well, we want to make sure we’re not sending money to Hamas. I can tell you that. But there are genuine humanitarian needs of the people in Gaza, who are not Hamas, who’ve been thrown under the bus by what Hamas did. Innocent people.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Half of the population of Gaza are children. Why don’t you think the United States can do what Leader McConnell talked about there and provide aid to them?
SEN. VANCE: Well, first Leader McConnell is right, of course, that there are a lot of innocent people in Gaza, we certainly don’t want to cause any harm to them. We also have to be, again, reasonable about what we can accomplish. Who delivers the humanitarian assistance? Fundamentally, Hamas is in control of the entire territory. So if you deliver a large amount of humanitarian assistance, who is it going to go to, the children in Gaza, or to the Hamas fighters on the front line? I fear it’s going to go to Hamas–
MARGARET BRENNAN: –Well, the United Nations or The Red Cross. All the international organizations who have been there and administering and, frankly, stepping up because the government has failed the Palestinian people, in the words of a lot of analysts on both sides of the aisle.
SEN. VANCE: Stepping up, but I think there’s still a lot of evidence with a lot of these international organizations that when we send aid into Gaza, a lot of it goes into the wrong hands. And that’s what those of us who are critical of the President’s posture are really worrying about. We don’t want to basically fund two sides of the exact same conflict. Fund Hamas, fund Israel. It seems like a really bad deal for American taxpayers. Most of all, it’s just stupid.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, it’s not aid to Hamas. It’s aid to the Palestinian people.
SEN. VANCE: Sure, and look–
MARGARET BRENNAN: — A million of which are children.
SEN. VANCE: And if I could wave a magic wand and give aid to the Palestinian children, I will but given the realities on the ground, I think if we divert resources to Gaza, it’s going to fall in the wrong hands.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you don’t trust any of the international organizations that are doing that, right now?
SEN. VANCE: I don’t trust Hamas on the ground. And I certainly think the international organizations, look, some of them are good people, some of them actually have some compromised positions. We can’t assume that just because it flows to international organization, it’s gonna go to the kids and not to the fighters.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You’ve been very critical of President Biden’s response to Iran and its proxy forces and the threats they pose to our troops. So spin that forward for me, you’re in the Senate, would you authorize the use of force by the president against the State of Iran?
SEN. VANCE: Right now? Absolutely not. I think that we should be trying to de-escalate the situation. Of course, we need to have red lines, though, if the Iranians attack American troops, if they play an escalatory role in the- the conflict–
MARGARET BRENNAN: — They have. Multiple times.
SEN. VANCE: — If they play an escalatory role in the conflict, we need to be willing to respond. They have attacked, certain militia groups have attacked and I think we’ve done the right thing, a proportionate response. If they hit us, we have to hit them back. But if you’re talking about an attack on the Iranian mainland, I think that would be a significant escalation. Right now, it would be a mistake.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So on the portion that you are supporting for aid to Israel, the prime minister said last night that this is going to be a long war, but you just heard Jake Sullivan, the National Security Adviser, say they still have to ask specific and hard questions of the Israeli leadership like what exactly are you doing next? What is the end game here?
SEN. VANCE: Sure.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Doesn’t that trouble you? Because there are people who would say maybe there should be strings attached to some of this aid. Do you have an open checkbook for Israel?
SEN. VANCE: Well, certainly it’s a troubling situation. It’s a troubling situation, of course, because 1,500 Israelis were slaughtered by Hamas. I think what we have to have is some respect for our allies. They’re not asking us to send ground troops, all they’re asking us really is for weapons. And we should have some respect for their strategic imperative. And also the fact that they know what they’re doing within their own country.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Within Gaza.
SEN. VANCE: The goal here is not to have an unlimited response- an unlimited response here. The Israelis themselves, I think, have scoped the operation, they seem to be targeting a very narrow thing, which is degrading Hamas. I think we have to have some respect for our Israeli allies that they know what they’re doing in their own country.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, they haven’t explained it yet to the U.S. government is what the national security adviser was- was saying there. So you’re giving them the benefit there, I want to talk about one place, you’re very clear that you aren’t giving them the benefit of the doubt. And that is to Ukraine. We just heard the new House Speaker, you have some similarities with him in terms of separating out Israel aid from Ukraine aid. He did say though, “we can’t allow Putin to prevail in Ukraine, because I don’t believe it would stop there. We’re not going to abandon them.” What part of that statement is objectionable to you?
SEN. VANCE: Well, nothing is objectionable in the sense that if I could wave a magic wand and throw Putin out of Ukraine, I would, but what we have to accept is there’s a difference between what should happen and what can happen. America has limited capacity. Just in the Israeli conflict, for example, there are 300,000 artillery shells, the Israelis would love to have access to. They don’t have access to them. Why? Because we sent them to Ukraine. We have a rising threat of China, in East Asia, there are weapons the Taiwanese need that we can’t send because we sent them to Ukraine to tear up the focus. That’s-that’s all I’m saying.
MARGARET BRENNAN: On that portion of it, though, Leader McConnell spent a good amount of time talking about, of the $60 billion for Ukraine, it’s actually kind of mislabeled because $45 billion of it is for some of this industrial policy, including artillery manufacturing in Ohio.
SEN. VANCE: Sure.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You’ve got a tank manufacturer in Ohio. A combat vehicle manufacturer there, General Dynamics. So if that- are you against that, if it benefits your state?
SEN. VANCE: Look, I’m good for benefits of the state. But this particular policy, we have to be careful, Margaret, we have to remember that we cannot flip the switch and turn back on America’s industrial might overnight, it takes years–
MARGARET BRENNAN: — So you do want the investment in all that industrial buildup?
SEN. VANCE: I want investment in the industrial buildup for America’s national security interest, not to throw billions of dollars in Ukraine before that industrial buildup even happens.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So why not prioritize that first?
SEN. VANCE: Well, we should. That’s exactly my point. We should prioritize the build up of America’s industrial base, and we should devote it to our true allies like Israel, and of course, the rising threat in East Asia. My whole point here is that even if we strike to rebuild the industrial might of this country, we don’t have enough capacity to support a three front war. We’ve got to focus and I think we should be focusing on Israel and Taiwan.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator more to talk about with you but we have to take a break. So I have to leave it there. We’ll be right back.