Live from Music Row Friday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Congressman David Kustoff (R-TN-08) to the newsmaker line explain what influence if any could he be on whether or not the US should transfer jets from Poland to the US and to Ukraine.
Leahy: We are joined on our newsmaker line right now by our friend, Congressman David Kustoff, who’s a Republican representing the 8th Congressional District. Welcome, Congressman Kustoff. Glad to have you on the show.
Kustoff: Good morning. Thanks for having me. I’m in Washington, D.C. I’ll give Nancy Pelosi your best wishes.
Leahy: (Laughter) You read my mind. Thank you so much for that. I want to ask you a general question and then a very specific policy question with regards to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Here’s the general question. You are a minority member of the House of Representatives. Republicans are in the minority right now, I guess what 221 Democrats and 213 or so Republicans? I think more or less 212, maybe.
But the question that I have for you is, as a member of the GOP in the House of Representatives, what influence can you have on the foreign policy of the United States specifically as it relates to the actions of President Biden, the secretary of state and the Department of Defense?
Kustoff: Well, I think quite a bit because as you pointed out, I mean, you talked about the House of Representatives, the Senate is 50/50. It doesn’t get much closer than that.
And the fact of the matter is Republicans in the House, I think, have really pushed Democrats in the House, if you will, to be more supportive of Zelensky and the Ukrainian people than Biden and the administration wanted.
In other words, Republicans in the House have pushed Democrats in the House of Representatives and the House of Representatives, and toe to toe on a number of these policies have led where Biden has followed.
And ultimately Biden has adopted a number of the policies that we’ve pushed for. Like the removal of trading status for Russia. That’s one example.
The transfer of equipment and aid. Republicans in the House of Representatives led on that issue that pushed the Democrats to want to come on board, which ultimately pushed the Biden administration.
Leahy: Let me ask you this very specific policy question. On March 10th, 42, Republican US senators, including Tennessee’s own Marsha Blackburn, sent a letter to President Biden in which they specifically stated they wanted the United States to transfer airplanes from Poland on May 29, about 27 of them, I guess, it was to Ukraine.
Marsha Blackburn signed that letter, but Senator Bill Hagerty did not sign that letter. We asked him on Monday why he didn’t sign it. He said there were a couple of reasons. Number one, because he didn’t trust the Biden administration to execute properly.
Number two, he was confused about the Biden administration policy. They were first in favor of that transfer, then they were opposed to it.
He’s asked for a security briefing on that. Do you have a position on whether or not the US should transfer MiG-29s from Poland to the US and to Ukraine? And if so, what is your position and why?
Kustoff: Yes. Well, we should transfer those big planes to the Ukrainians. A number of things. One is we all know time is of the essence. You look back three weeks ago when Putin started the invasion.
The Ukrainian people and their military, frankly, have been strong. They’ve been much more resilient than I think anybody could have imagined. Just the fight that they’ve put up.
And one thing that hasn’t been widely reported is that there have been four Russian Brigadier generals that have been killed in action in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian people have been nothing but strong. So time is of the essence. And I do appreciate what Senator Hagerty says. I understand his concerns. But you don’t want to look back in the rearview mirror three weeks from now.
And if we had transferred those planes or had not, that could have prevented further death, further damage, further victories from Putin. You don’t want to be in that position.
Leahy: Let me throw you a little bit of a curveball on this. You probably haven’t seen this, but I read this morning, of all places, NBC News. There’s a guy by the name of Jacob Isaacman, who’s 39, who is a billionaire or close to it. He actually owns and flies a MiG-29.
He bought one. Soviet-era MiG-29. Let me just read what he says about it and then get your reaction, On a purely technical level, I don’t know how the good could outweigh the bad of bringing in those MiG-29s.
Are people thinking through the implications? He said Russians could eliminate the jets from the battlefield in a single shot.
What a momentum swing that would be for Russia, what a morale boost it would be for them. And it’s been so publicized by now that the Russians could just be waiting for the moment those jets come across the border.’ Your thoughts, Congressman?
Kustoff: Anything could happen. But the fact of the matter is that we’ve got the President of Ukraine, Zelensky, who has made impassioned pleasing, including the impassioned plea that he made on Wednesday when my colleagues in the House and the Senate gathered to hear him and everybody else watched them on TV.
I think we have to trust that he knows what the Ukrainians need in order to defend themselves. And this is something that he’s asked for.
And frankly, a number of my Republican colleagues who serve on the House Armed Services Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee, they’ve analyzed it.
They think it’s the proper thing. So I still advocate that we need to do what we need to do to transfer those big planes and to do it now.
Leahy: Crom Carmichael our original all-star panelist is in studio with us and has this question for you.
Carmichael: How quickly will the javelins and the stingers that the Biden administration has promised to deliver, how quickly will those be delivered to the Ukrainians?
Kustoff: I think that’s a really good question. We have to assume that it’s being done expeditiously. But the House oversight and Senate oversight will make sure that that gets done. But obviously, it needs to be done. It needs to be done now.
Leahy: Now, if these MiG-29s, in fact, are transferred from Poland to Ukraine through the United States, how will Vladimir Putin respond?
Will he consider this an act of war by the United States? And will he escalate his response, possibly using tactical nuclear weapons?
Kustoff: Those are a number of really good questions. I think what we know right now is that Putin is isolated. That he has isolated himself from some of his political leaders. He’s isolated himself from his military leaders.
The reports are and these are public reports that frankly question his stability. So the answer is there’s always the possibility. So far in these three weeks, for the most part, the tactics that he’s engaged in have been conventional.
And I think most people understand conventional. So you asked about nuclear, you did not ask about cyber. You did not ask about chemical. And those are all possibilities.
The questions I’ve got are what are we doing and what are our allies doing to promote further political instability in the country?
We know that the sanctions that we’ve imposed and our other allied nations have imposed have inflicted substantial damage to the Russian economy. What we don’t know is sanctions-wise, how much of that has affected Putin personally?
Leahy: Here’s a final question for you. Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, in effect, called for the assassination of Vladimir Putin. Do you agree with him? Was it wise or unwise for him to say that?
Kustoff: I don’t advocate that publicly. Don’t advocate that privately. I don’t know that that’s appropriate to talk about. The fact of the matter is that we need to look for ways to give Putin an exit ramp, whatever that is.
Whatever he can claim his victory short of capturing the Ukrainian capital and put pressure inside Russia to either thwart Putin for making these decisions or hopefully, the Russian people will make the decision on their own.
Leahy: Congressman David Kustoff, thanks so much for answering the tough questions. And next time you’re in Nashville, come in studio, please.
Kustoff: I will do that. I appreciate the invitation, and I appreciate being on with you.
Listen to the full interview:
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