Sunday’s political talk shows were dominated by discussions about U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been imprisoned by al-Qaida for the past five years, and the implications of the negotiations that led to his release. Also up for debate was the continuing scandal over mistreatment of U.S. veterans by the VA.
National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made the Sunday show rounds to respond to critics of the prisoner exchange with the Taliban that led to Bergdahl’s release. The American soldier was turned over to U.S. forces after five Guantanamo detainees, including two senior militant commanders, were released by the U.S. government.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said that the Obama Administration has set a troublesome new precedent by negotiating with terrorists.
“If you negotiate here, you’ve sent a message to every al-Qaida group in the world that says … there is some value now in that hostage in a way they didn’t have before,” Rogers said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The lawmaker also criticized the White House for not notifying members of Congress before going forward with the plan.
“I just don’t understand why you wouldn’t engage with people [in Congress] who have done this for a long time,” he said.
On NBC’s “Meet The Press”, Hagel said that the Defense Department notified the appropriate members of Congress on Saturday.
Rice said that the Administration had fulfilled “a sacred obligation” by ensuring that the Nation didn’t “leave a man or woman on the battlefield.”
On ABC’s “This Week”, she said, “Sgt. Bergdahl wasn’t simply a hostage, he was an American prisoner of war, captured on the battlefield.”
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said that because of the negotiations “every other terrorist has an incentive to capture more soldiers.”
The Texas Senator argued that the U.S. should have secured Bergdahl’s release with military force.
Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) joined CBS’s “Face the Nation”, expressing concerns that the newly-released Guantanamo detainees will orchestrate future attacks against the U.S.
“It is disturbing that these individuals would have the ability to re-enter the fight,” he said.
Rice and Hagel both argued that the prisoners do not pose a threat to Americans.
“[T]hese prisoners will be carefully watched, that their ability to move will be constrained,” Rice said on CNN.
And on “Meet the Press”, Hagel offered, “I will not sign off on any detainee coming out of Guantanamo unless I am assured, unless our government assured, our country can be assured that we can sufficiently mitigate any risk to American security.”
Discussing VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s Friday resignation, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America founder Paul Rieckhoff said that it is hard to believe the VA’s former top official was unaware of the veterans’ care problems.
“We’ve been trying to tell him, there have been congressional testimonies. Me personally, every other veterans group in the country had been trying to warn him, trying to warn the President. The IG report has been supported by dozens of other IG reports, GAO reports – they didn’t listen,” he said on “Meet the Press.”
On “Face the Nation”, McCain offered Obama some advice about finding a replacement for Shinseki.
“I would ask Tom Coburn, if there [is] anybody in Congress that knows more about health care. Then Tom Coburn should be the next secretary of the Veterans Administration, in my view,” he said.
Coburn, a renowned Senate budget hawk, is slated to retire from Congress at the end of the year.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent with Democratic leanings, unveiled a broad proposal to revamp the how the Nation handles veterans’ healthcare during an appearance on “Face the Nation.”
“The truth is that when people get into the VA, the quality of care is good. The problem that we have to address is access to the system and waiting lines,” Sanders said.
Among the provisions in the lawmakers’ bill are changes that would expand coverage for veterans with certain types of injuries, make it easier for veterans to seek care outside of the VA system and require the VA to implement software that would more effectively process patients and monitor wait times.
A hearing on the legislation, which does not yet have a price tag, is scheduled for Thursday.
Clinton and Benghazi
Also featuring prominently in this week’s political talk shows was former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and her role in the 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya, which are still under GOP scrutiny. Last week, Clinton accused Republicans of attempting to use their investigation for political gain.
The former top diplomat came under fire for her remarks and for including a chapter on Benghazi in her forthcoming memoir.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus described mentions of Benghazi in Clinton’s book as an “organized political defense” on “Fox News Sunday.”
“I think she gets an ‘F’ as Secretary of State. Whether it is Russia, Iran sanctions … and now obviously Benghazi,” he said.
On “This Week”, Cruz noted that Clinton is more interested in criticizing Republicans than taking responsibility for her failures.
“[S]he’s more focused on blaming the so-called vast right-wing conspiracy than on the terrorists,” he said.