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Rep. Joaquin Castro On Syria Airstrikes


Mueller, Cohen, Ryan. Even as the president launched an attack on Syria, his problems at home have kept multiplying at a dizzying pace. We'll hear in a moment from a former prosecutor on the legal issues before the president and his associates. But first, the politics and what Democrats are thinking and doing while so much is happening from the White House to Syria. Joaquin Castro is a Texas Democrat in the U.S. Congress, and he joins me now. Good morning.

JOAQUIN CASTRO: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Our pleasure. What is your reaction to this weekend's strike on Syria's chemical weapons program?

CASTRO: Well, you know, we faced a terrible choice. On the one hand, we could've done nothing, which meant watching as children were gassed. And you risk, in doing nothing, inviting other leaders in other places to do the same thing, to use chemical weapons against their people. So that very much feels like a moral failure. But on the other hand, by taking military action, you risk American lives. You risk getting into an escalating war, perhaps a - what feels like a perpetual war. And so those choices were very, very tough. Hopefully, this limited...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you agree with the action that the president took then?

CASTRO: Yeah. Hopefully, this limited strike will keep Assad from further using chemical weapons. But it's not a long-term solution. This strike alone or the strike last April, obviously, is not going to solve this entire conflict. So it's important that it be leveraged to get Assad and the Russians to the table so that we can come up with a longer-term solution.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How effective do you think these three strikes were, though? They were limited, as you mentioned. And, ultimately, we've seen both the Russians and the Assad government basically shrugging them off.

CASTRO: Sure. Well, I think that assessment is still being done. I don't think we have a clear picture yet. It depends how much we were able to degrade their capabilities, how much we were able to affect their ability to carry on future, basically, use of chemical weapons.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you think the future here is for this conflict? I mean, we've acted now twice under the Trump administration to deter the Assad government from using chemical weapons. And yet, it seems the Assad government is firmly and increasingly in control of his country. Where do we go from here?

CASTRO: Well, the future has to be that the nations have to sit down and negotiate this so that you can come to an end - you can bring the civil war to an end. It's something that the United States alone is not going to be able to do, but I think that it's possible in the long term. But the key is with diplomatic strategy. That's been difficult for us because we have major pieces of our diplomatic infrastructure that just aren't in place. We don't have a confirmed secretary of state, for example. There are many other pieces of our State Department that are missing right now. We have a new national security adviser. But, ultimately, all of this has to be met to get people to the table.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think President Trump and Defense Secretary Mattis have a strategy in Syria?

CASTRO: They've not demonstrated a comprehensive strategy. No. And I think that's why you see a lot of reaction in Congress. While many people understand the purpose of the strike and believe after seeing that video and how these children and others were gassed that we should do something, we also feel as though there's been no clear or comprehensive strategy put out there by the administration.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As you mentioned, the Trump administration is fighting its own battles on the home front with the Mueller investigation and now the case against his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. There's also the James Comey book. As a Democrat opposed to the president but who's also a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and wants America to succeed on the global stage, are you offering advice, or are you sitting back and letting the scandals play out?

CASTRO: Well, I don't know that the president would listen to my advice, but you're right. As Americans, we hope that the president's successful on the world stage and that he's successful in terms of our international affairs. But these revelations have been very troubling. I sat through hours and hours of basically testimony from witnesses about Russian intrusion into our 2016 elections and the possible connection to any Trump associates. And so some of the latest revelations this past week have been quite troubling.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I'm curious. A number of senators have come out, even Republicans, saying there should be legislation protecting Mueller from being fired. What's the prospects for something like that in the House, and do you think there should be legislation protecting Mueller?

CASTRO: I do believe there should be legislation protecting Mueller, keeping him in place. I think the prospects are growing. We saw this past week that there is now bipartisan effort in the Senate to get that done. Hopefully, in the House, the same kind of bipartisanship will emerge.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: My last question is about Paul Ryan retiring. There has been, as we mentioned, so much news this week. And I want to get your take on that. What does it mean, do you think, for the GOP in the midterms, and what has been the effect in the House?

CASTRO: I think from Paul Ryan - I mean, it really was a signal that the Republicans are expecting a very, very bad midterm. Presidents' parties often get hit in the midterm. But I think they're expecting a wave. And I saw Paul Ryan's retirement as an indication of that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Democrat Joaquin Castro of Texas joining us from his home. Thank you so much, Congressman.

CASTRO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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