In This Episode
Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton joins Tommy Vietor to discuss the threat of nuclear war, his time in the Marine Corps and the need for a new generation of leadership in the White House.
Learn more about Seth Moulton here.
- ABC News: Democrat Rep. Seth Moulton to run for president in 2020: ‘I’m not a socialist. I’m a Democrat.’
- WBUR News: Presidential Candidate Moulton Knows He’s Not Very Well-Known
- WMURG: Democrat Moulton promises to run presidential campaign based on patriotism, service
- NPR: More Democrats Call For Impeachment Proceedings Against President Trump
- The Root: Newest Presidential Candidate Seth Moulton Says White People Need to ‘Look Ourselves in the Mirror’ When Dealing With Racism
- NBC News: Seth Moulton: Presidential hopeful offers burger-and-beer plan for space alien invasion
- Fox News: 2020 Dem Seth Moulton blasts Trump for ‘dereliction of duty,’ dings Pelosi on impeachment stance
- Boston Globe: On Day 1, Moulton takes a quiet approach to presidential campaign
- New York Times: Seth Moulton Joins 2020 Race for President
- New York Times: Seth Moulton on the Issues: A Marine Veteran Eyes Foreign Policy
- FiveThirtyEight: How Seth Moulton Could Win The 2020 Democratic Primary
- Center for Public Integrity: 9 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT SETH MOULTON
- OpenSecrets: Seth Moulton enters 2020 race with impressive fundraising pedigree
- Politico: Generals Love Him. Top Democrats Despise Him. Can He Be President Anyway?
- Des Moines Register: Let Green New Deal serve as a jobs and civilian-service program
- Defense One: Trump Gives 2020 Democrats a National-Security ‘Opportunity,’ Says Rep. Moulton
- The Atlantic: The Only Democrat Running to Challenge Trump on National Security
- The Brookings Institute: THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION FALK AUDITORIUM A CONVERSATION ON DEFENSE POLICY WITH REP. SETH MOULTON
- Politico: Moulton dings Dems right out the gate for single-payer health care push
- Boston Globe: The failed weight-loss company behind Seth Moulton’s time as a ‘successful’ entrepreneur
- CNN: Rep. Seth Moulton calls for wholesale electoral reform as he inches toward a 2020 run
- Washington Post: Abolish the filibuster and the electoral college
- The Root: Newest Presidential Candidate Seth Moulton Says White People Need to ‘Look Ourselves in the Mirror’ When Dealing With Racism
- Civilized: Here’s Where 2020 Presidential Candidate Seth Moulton Stands on Cannabis
- Politico: The Pathetic Pelosi Putsch Seth Moulton and friends said they would take down the first female speaker of the House. Here’s what went wrong.
- CNN: Nancy Pelosi should step aside
Pod Save America: Tommy Vietor interviews Seth Moulton
Tommy Vietor [00:00:13] I am honored to have in the studio Congressman Seth Moulton from the 6th District.
Seth Moulton [00:00:18] Tommy I’m honored to be here.
Tommy Vietor [00:00:21] In the interest of transparency, I should say you are running for president and you invited me to go for a run this morning at 0 600 which I declined because I’m soft and lazy. But you did it. That’s impressive.
Seth Moulton [00:00:34] Not really. It was just a run.
Tommy Vietor [00:00:35] There’s a generation of people who work in New York and think I’m an asshole right now. OK let’s start at the top. So it’s April 26 right. You’re the 19th candidate jump in. Biden’s the 20th. What did you see in the other candidates in the field running for 2020 president–the Democratic nomination–that didn’t do it for you. What made you make this tough decision?
Seth Moulton [00:00:57] We have got to be willing to take on Donald Trump not just as President but as commander in chief. And I think this is actually where he’s weakest. I mean he has let us down across the globe. He has bastardized the meaning of patriotism. His vision of making our country strong and safe is the exact opposite of what we need to do to achieve that. And so I’m going to take him on on those issues and I’m going to add that to the debate. And I think ultimately taking him on where he is weakest is what we need to do to beat him.
Tommy Vietor [00:01:31] So I find this very interesting because I’m a former National Security geek. So let’s definitely start there. So you have this background where you enlisted in the Marine Corps after graduating from Harvard but shortly before the 9/11 attacks. You served four tours in Iraq. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what you did in Iraq, like where you served, the kinds of missions you were working on and if they’re a big take homes from that time.
Seth Moulton [00:01:56] Yeah sure. I mean first of all you should know that I just wouldn’t be here at all if not for that experience. I didn’t grow up interested in politics. Maybe I should’ve but I wasn’t. You know I don’t come from a political family. As I point out that the first congressman that my parents met was me. I’m still paying my loans. My college loans, a member of Congress, there’s certainly no family money here. But I decided in college that I wanted to serve and I was really influenced by the greatest mentor I’ve ever had in my life who was the minister in my college church. But more than that he was this larger than life moral guideposts at the University and he talked a lot about the importance of service, about how it’s not enough just to believe in service or support others who go serve, you got to find a way to give back yourself. And sitting in this Church in Harvard Yard with the names of the people who lost their lives in wars, you know, that the church was dedicated to. It made me really think about serving in that way. I had so much respect for these 18 year old kids who put their lives on the line for the country. So I wanted to sign up. I knew I wanted to be in the infantry to be on the ground and little did I know that 9/11 would happen. I’d go through a year of training thinking that we all thought we had just missed the war right because Afghanistan would be over a few months and then that would be it in 2002 and then… And then I came home for Christmas in December 2002. And on Christmas Eve my future betian executive officer called me and said, “When are you coming out to California?” I said, Well I’ve got a month of leave. I’m hanging out Massachusetts for a month, probably gunna do a little skiing.” He said, ” Nope, no you’re coming out next week. Pack your bags, get a will and…”.
Tommy Vietor [00:03:40] Get a will?
Seth Moulton [00:03:41] Yeah. And we’re getting on a ship to Kuwait.
Tommy Vietor [00:03:44] Jesus.
Seth Moulton [00:03:45] And so we did and we got to Kuwait. The lieutenant of my battalion took bets on whether we’d actually invade. I was on the side of no. There’s no way Bush is actually going to do this but we did. And so my first job over there was as a platoon commander in the invasion just fighting our way to Baghdad.
Tommy Vietor [00:04:03] And so you fly away to Baghdad, you probably went home for a little bit. You signed up to go back. I mean in 2003, 2004 Nasiriya and Najaf– that was some of the more intense fighting of the whole war. Right?
Seth Moulton [00:04:20] It was. And we had no idea how much worse it had gotten since 2003. I mean the summer of 2003 was actually great. I mean the Iraqis were thrilled that they’d been liberated from Saddam but we clearly had no plan for after the invasion. That’s why I got this crazy job of working with the Iraqi media and had my own TV show.
Tommy Vietor [00:04:41] Yeah. ‘Moulton and Mohamad.’ I having to talk about that at all. Do you want to talk about that at all?
Seth Moulton [00:04:43] I mean, I met an Iraqi literaly a few hours ago, today who was a translator worked for the press and and come over to the United States. And I walked in and he looked at me and his eyes brightened and he’s like, “I know you, I know you. I’ve met you.” I said, “it probably was a TV show.” He said, “Yes that’s it that’s it.” So it was like a super popular TV show was crazy.
Tommy Vietor [00:05:03] And you guys were doing like investigative journalism?
Seth Moulton [00:05:04] Yeah. Sort of like a mini version of 60 Minutes. We’re really just trying to teach the Iraqis how to have a free press. And we found one of the best ways to do it which was to just have our own show that they could watch us put together produce report on and everything. But yes crazy to have to sign autographs in the street I mean nobody asked for my autograph in the street as a U.S. congressman.
Tommy Vietor [00:05:23] It’s an incredibly important thing. The Free Press. It’s a very cool roll. Doesn’t feel like something that you should ask a Marine infantryman to do…like Where is the State Department?
Seth Moulton [00:05:34] And that’s the point. And at that point no plan whatsoever for what happened after the invasion. Not nearly enough resources for the State Department or anyone else. And so one of the stories of Iraq was a bunch of young men and women in the military just stepping up and doing a whole bunch of jobs that they weren’t trained to do that, we weren’t prepared to do. But we needed to do to to try to get the country on track. But at the end of the day we left Iraq in the fall of 2003 hoping that things would stick together and we came back about six months later, eight months later, and it was a mess. And we saw far worse fighting in Najaf in 2004 than we’d seen in the whole invasion.
Tommy Vietor [00:06:15] So for your for your service in Iraq, you won the Bronze Star which, for those listening who don’t know, is the nation’s fourth highest award for heroism under fire. You won the Marine Corps Commendation Medal for valor but you went through this whole primary campaign where you didn’t tell anybody about this. I believe the Boston Globe was going through your military record. They figured this out. They called your office and you finally agreed to talk about it. Your parents didn’t even know. I mean I would read from the citation but I think you probably punched me. I’m just curious like why didn’t you want to talk about that time or that citation?
Seth Moulton [00:06:54] Because it’s not about the awards. You know we were just doing our job serving the country and that’s what matters. And I think there’s sort of a healthy disrespect among veterans for people who just come back and tell war stories. And frankly I’d seen a lot of Marines do incredibly heroic things that they were never recognized for. So I think it’s just the right thing to do.
Tommy Vietor [00:07:18] Do you think there’s a middle ground between–I respect the hell out of that answer and appreciate it–But I also think that people in America don’t know what happens overseas. I don’t think they know a real war story. They don’t know what our soldiers and sailors and marines are doing day to day. And I’m wonder if there’s a way that you think we all as a body politic should better educate people on the reality of war? But is not the movies. It’s not the the the bullshit you see coming out of Hollywood.
Seth Moulton [00:07:46] I think that’s good point Tommy and you know I have tried to talk a little bit more about some of the stuff that we went through as a platoon and some of the things I saw other guys do and I’m incredibly proud of it. You know even in the midst of this war I disagreed with. I was proud to go there and I was proud to go there four different times so no one had to go in my place and I did see incredibly heroic things. People just, you know, there’s nothing more powerful in your life than when you you see a fellow young American someone who might have not too much in common with you, come from a very different background, different experiences growing up, just be willing to literally put his or her life on the line for you. And I saw that all the time over there. I felt I saw the best of America in the worst of circumstances and there was a day in 2004 when a young Marine in my platoon looked up at me and he said, “you know sir you ought to run for Congress someday. So that this shit doesn’t happen again.” Now he didn’t convince me right then and there to run because I used G.I. Bill went to business school and in the first job I took was in Texas. So obviously you don’t move to Texas if you’re planning to run for office–not the right path. But when this opportunity to run came up and I was approached by this group that’s trying to get veterans to run for office I thought back to that conversation and I decided that you know if no one is willing to step up and challenge the system and make some changes then we’re gonna keep making mistakes like the ones that got us into Iraq.
Tommy Vietor [00:09:22] So let me ask you about that vote and that mistake. I mean Vice President Biden announced his candidacy yesterday. He voted for the Iraq war. He’s one of many people who did. I mean do you think a vote like that is disqualifying at this point?
Seth Moulton [00:09:36] No I don’t think there is, I don’t have a litmus test like that but but I do think it’s time in our politics for the generation that went to Iraq and Afghanistan to take over for the generation that sent us there. I think it’s time for generational change in our politics and it’s something I’ve been fighting for ever since I got elected. It’s something I talked about in my my first campaign and I think it’s time that we really lay out how we as Democrats are going to lead this country forward both here at home to meet the challenge of the new economy, to make a better health care system, but also abroad. You know how are we going to lead in the world. There’s a lot of people right now talking about going back to the way things were before Donald Trump like putting NATO back together because he’s worked so hard to tear it apart and that’s OK… I mean I don’t disagree I mean I think NATO’s really important but NATO was founded with a 1949 rationale. It’s not 1949 anymore. We do need to put NATO back together. But we’ve got to give it a 2020 rationale. We’ve got to make sure NATO is relevant to the fact that Russia’s conducting cyberattacks on our allies, not rolling tanks through the fulda gap. So we got to modernize all these institutions and really take a totally fresh look towards foreign policy and our national security and a lot of these issues, these issues about being strong abroad and being a moral leader for the world, they have a lot of effect on on what we’re doing back home too. I mean just look at our foreign policy in Central America: that can affect whether or not we have an immigration problem at the southern border.
Tommy Vietor [00:11:10] Absolutely.
Seth Moulton [00:11:11] I mean Trump’s doing the exact opposite of what we should be doing. He’s pulling aid out of the Central America. We should be doing what we did in Colombia, which turned a narco state into a tourist destination for Americans in about 15 years. That’s the approach we should take to Central America. Is there a problem with migrants coming in in unprecedented numbers at the southern border? Yeah. And Democrats need to be willing to admit that. But let’s also with a plan to fix it. And we have we have experience with this.
Tommy Vietor [00:11:34] You have a road map in Columbia.
Seth Moulton [00:11:35] We have a road map. It’s hard but it’s doable. And that’s exactly what we should do to strengthen our national security industry and our security back here at home.
Tommy Vietor [00:11:44] I totally agree with you. So this is an interesting race there are a couple other veterans in the race: Mayor Pete was a Naval intelligence expert, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard served in the army. How do you like your experience in the Marines is different from theirs or is that something you think about?
Seth Moulton [00:11:58] Well first of all I really respect their service. I respect anybody who’s willing to stand up and serve the country whether it’s in the military, the peace corps, here at home, AmeriCorps, program like City Year. We need more people to do that and that’s actually going to be a big part of my platform I’ve been talking about national service for four years I’ve been promoting it in Congress and and I can I can talk about how we can get more people to serve our country especially in civilian service programs back home but the experience I had was actually leading Americans in combat. And fundamentally the job I had was getting an incredibly diverse group of Americans, people from all over this country–different states, different backgrounds, different religious, beliefs, different political beliefs– all united behind a common mission to serve our country and in a lot of ways I think that’s exactly what we need from the next president of the United States. These are terribly divisive times the most divisive certainly in my lifetime. And we need to have a president who understands how to bring people together in very divided times and get them to believe in our country. Get them to believe in America so much that they want to work every single day to make it better.
Tommy Vietor [00:13:11] Agreed. I’ve heard you talk in the past about how we went into Iraq and ultimately left too quickly and then had to go back in because ISIS came back. I think you’ve expressed some concern about leaving Syria too quickly for the same reason. Can you help me and help us understand how President Moulton would define success in someplace like Iraq, in Syria so we can understand from that analysis like when it would be appropriate to bring our men and women home?
Seth Moulton [00:13:38] Yeah I mean I spent three years on the ground in the Middle East. There’s no one who wants to bring the troops home sooner than I do. But the worst thing is to bring them home so quickly that then a year later you have to turn around and send them back and more Americans die because we’re going over ground that we fought over once before. And that’s the mistake that we made in Iraq. And and we’ve got to confront that reality in Syria today. Now I think Syria is a mess. I think that the troops don’t know what they’re doing we’re not clear about the mission. We’ve got to clarify that. We’ve got to make it clear what they need to achieve to come home. But then we’ve got to do that. We’ve got to make sure they actually achieve what what needs to be achieved so that they can come home for good. Same thing in Afghanistan. You know I think our our mission has just gotten too expansive in Afghanistan. I would love to see a democratic Afghanistan but I don’t think many people think that we’re really willing to make that commitment, that it’s just a little bit too far too much the United States to do. We do have a real counterterror mission there. And it’s still, I mean, the Sri Lankan bombings show that that is still an issue in the world today and we cannot let Afghanistan become a terror training ground as it was in 9/11. So let’s have a narrowly focused counterterror mission in Afghanistan. Reduce our footprint dramatically. Support the Afghan government through the State Department but not be dependent on their success not be dependent on talks with the Taliban or anything else. Just be clear why we’re there to protect our national security and bring everybody else home.
Tommy Vietor [00:15:10] One of President Trump’s signature diplomatic efforts is these negotiations with North Korea that are ongoing. When you look..
Seth Moulton [00:15:17] Quite thediplomat.
Tommy Vietor [00:15:18] Yeah, quite the diplomat. He’s a very very diplomatic individual. Do you think those talks have been successful and would you…
Seth Moulton [00:15:23] Oh my gosh they’ve been an abject failure.
Tommy Vietor [00:15:25] You think they’ve been a failure? Would you continue them as president?
Seth Moulton [00:15:27] Absolutley.
Tommy Vietor [00:15:27] How do you view that that process?
Seth Moulton [00:15:29] You you need to have talks with North Korea but you do it from a position of strength. You don’t do it by going over there giving up our exercises with one of the most important allies we have. South Korea is under daily threat of annihilation. I mean name another ally like that in the world today and we under Donald Trump just gave up exercises with them that are critical for their national security and for our ability to work with them and support them. And what do we get in return. Nothing. Nothing absolutely nothing other than just embarrassing ourselves in the face of a brutal dictator.
Tommy Vietor [00:16:07] So I’m just trying to think. I mean I agree with you. And then I look at what Obama did in terms of the sanctions and there was a pressure campaign that was effective. I think there was important diplomacy through the six-party talks but the outcomes are the outputs are the same right. I know you’re like a data driven guy and we all look at output since like well they still have a bunch of nukes and a bunch of ICBMs. So I’m just wondering how do we shake up this system?
Seth Moulton [00:16:31] Well first well just to be clear the outputs are not the same because we didn’t give up exercises under Obama.
Tommy Vietor [00:16:35] True we didn’t give up.
Seth Moulton [00:16:36] They are not as, they were not as far along then as they are now in their nuclear weapons and their rocket development. But this is one of the reasons why I’m calling for really rethinking how we’re approaching things in the Pacific. I think it’s time for a Pacific version of NATO to actually get our allies which don’t all agree on every issue but to get them united in a formal arrangement to help contain China and North Korea and in the same way that NATO has been so successful in Western Europe in uniting us not just from a national security perspective but from an economic from a cultural perspective really as a bulwark against the expansion of Russia into Europe. We need to do the same thing in the Pacific that means some tough talks between allies like South Korea and Japan that don’t always get along. But hey we did that between Germany and France and I mean it can’t be harder than that right?
Tommy Vietor [00:17:30] They were not entirely friendly after world war two.
Seth Moulton [00:17:32] And there’s a lot that we can do there to really strengthened our alliances. You know my division motto in the 1st Marine Division under then General Mattis was “No Better Friend No Worse Enemy; The United States Marine.” That should be our motto for the United States of America: “No better friend no worse enemy than the United States.” That means if you’re an ally we truly stand with you. That means if you’re an enemy we don’t cozy up to you and go have a nice little chit chat and then and then give up exercises with an important ally. We stand up to you. We get together with our allies and we’re firm. It doesn’t mean we’re not willing to talk. I mean even Reagan talked to Russia and got some significant arms control agreements out of it. But but we have to be willing to stand up strongly against North Korea. The one thing that has worked with them is sanctions. The other thing that’s worked with them is pressure from the Chinese. These are all things that we can do and it’s not what Trump has been doing at all.
Tommy Vietor [00:18:27] Yeah. You mentioned General Mattis and I think you worked with Petraeus, Mattis, General McMaster in Iraq, I assume maybe ‘with’ is the wrong word–‘for’ all of them right. Like they were leading combat commanders, are leading parts of Iraq. I mean did it surprise you to see some of them go into the Trump administration? Did it disappoint you?
Seth Moulton [00:18:48] No because I know why they did it. They did it to try to keep this ship afloat. And you know there are others. I think that General Kelly was more of a disappointment. He seemed to be towing the party line. But McMaster stood up to it I know as best as he thought he could. Mattis certainly did. These were people who were trying to do the right thing for the country. Now I know other military leaders who were asked to go into the administration and and thought it was not the right thing to do and did not go in and I respect that decision as well. But I know why Madison and McMaster, and you know, and Petraeus was not part of the administration by know why they, why they did this. And I respect them for that because they certainly took a lot of personal hits. But it was amazing when Mattis resigned. The sense of dismay in Congress on both sides of the aisle because we were losing one of the last people that we thought was there to do the right thing at the end of the day. It was palpable. And it and it’s frightening. You know we don’t like to talk about this much but I I think one of the points here is that the stakes of having Donald Trump as our president are much higher than people realize. And the most frightening day that I’ve ever had as a member of Congress was the afternoon that a few members of the Armed Services Committee went up and rode around the doomsday plane.
Tommy Vietor [00:20:17] Can you explain what that is?
Seth Moulton [00:20:17] So it’s literally like from the 1950s, it’s this big plane that that flies around in the event of nuclear exchange. And allows, gives the commander in chief and the U.S. Air Force the ability to fight back to to shoot nuclear weapons at you know Russians or whoever else in the event that were attacked. And it’s a frightening experience. But you do walk into this plane you think, “OK this is like the 1950s,” because it looks like the 1950s, I mean we’re still using eight inch floppy disks to manage our our nukes which is pretty pathetic although it does make it difficult to have.
Tommy Vietor [00:20:58] I was gonna say, yeah. That is the side benefit I guess.
Seth Moulton [00:21:03] And so you’re in this thing and you’re kind of expecting when they say, “okay we’re gonna walk you through an exercise,” you’re expecting like OK the Soviets are sending two hundred missiles our way. Instead we put on the headsets and sat down for this exercise and you know it’s classified so I can’t say exactly what it was but it was frighteningly real. I was like, “wow this could happen tomorrow and it could quickly escalate into a nuclear war.” And there was one point when an Air Force colonel was talking about how you can’t hack the system because obviously that would be the worst thing imaginable someone could hack the system and and fire off a missile by mistake. He said yeah it’s basically foolproof. And I thought to myself unless the guy at the top is a fool.
Tommy Vietor [00:21:47] Which, yeah which he is.
Seth Moulton [00:21:49] And so the stakes here are really high and that’s why that’s why I’m in this race because we’ve got to confront Trump where he’s weakest. We’ve got to confront Trump on these issues. We can’t just cede leadership, foreign policy, national security making the country safe and strong and fundamentally defining what it means to be a patriot. We cannot cede that to Donald Trump. For too long Democrats have kind of let Republicans run with these issues and we shouldn’t. We have the most reckless commander in chief in American history. So let’s let’s confront him where he’s weakest. That’s what I’m going to do. And I think at the end of the day if there’s one thing I hear from Democratic voters across this country is they want to beat Donald Trump. And so sure this might not be the top issue on people’s radar right now. And look I’ll talk to you about health care and I’ll talk to you about how…
Tommy Vietor [00:22:34] I promise I’ll get there. I promise only to more foreign policy questions. So like look, if he put on the headphones and be scared by the exercise is when he starts talking about Iran because it does feel like the administration is trying to lay the groundwork for war with Iran. Secretary Pompeo refused to confirm that the 2001 AUMF, the authorization for the use of military force didn’t give him the authority to go to war with Iran. This is a vote taken in response to 9/11. So when you see that and hear this this tortured rationale years and years later do you think we should repeal that AUMF?
Seth Moulton [00:23:11] I mean Bolton said that we were on the ground in Syria to counter Iran right? I mean I was the one who called this out on on the Armed Services Committee and made them admit that yes they are they are legally in violation of the AUMF from 2001 just by what they said the rationale is for staying in Syria. So yes we should repeal the AUMF and we should put in place another one that that’s tailored to the world today. Now the truth of the matter, and this is something that that that some people don’t want to hear, is that terrorism remains a threat. But the other reality is that our war on terror since 2001 has been an abject failure. I mean there are more terrorists in the world today, I think by a factor of four or five, than there were on 9/11. So how can you look at ourselves and say, “OK this war on terror has been great.”?
Tommy Vietor [00:23:58] I agree. I agree.
Seth Moulton [00:23:59] But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a war on terror. It means you’ve got to totally rethink it. We can’t have another terrorist attack at home. We’ve got to have a foreign policy. It doesn’t mean that we become isolationists and just withdraw from the world. But we’ve got to have a smarter next generation foreign policy that will actually keep us safe.
Tommy Vietor [00:24:17] So, I agree with you, but you know, that the 2020 budget request from Trump includes I think seven hundred and fifty billion with a B dollars for national defense. When you hear the the track record you just talked about right four times more Sunni extremists in the world than pre 9/11 and you hear those numbers it sounds obscene to me. I mean we’re creating a fuckin Space Force while we’re zeroing out the special olympica, right. What are we doing?
Seth Moulton [00:24:45] Well I mean look…
Tommy Vietor [00:24:46] I know you dug into these budgets.
Seth Moulton [00:24:48] I mean to give Trump credit I mean we all know that he got five deferments from the Vietnam War but maybe if he could have been a space cadet…
Tommy Vietor [00:24:54] Yeah right. That’s right. That’s right. I mean look you, this is part of you job being on Armed Services, you dig into these budgets. Do you think they’re too big? And would you try to cut the defense budget as president?
Seth Moulton [00:25:04] I do think they’re too big. But most importantly they’re just investing in the wrong things.
Tommy Vietor [00:25:08] Like what?
Seth Moulton [00:25:08] Like why are we still building as many aircraft carriers as we’re building? When the Chinese for the price of one aircraft carrier can build about 2000 anti-aircraft carrier missiles. Don’t tell me that one of those two thousand couldn’t take out an aircraft carrier. So there are a lot of tough decisions we need to make about our defense budget that not only involve investing in new technologies like actually building a cyber wall to protect us from China and Russia like making the commitment to being the world leader in A.I. and artificial intelligence that China has already made. And we’ve seem to, we refuse to make. Every time I ask the Trump administration officials about it, they won’t make that commitment that we’re going to be the world leader. We’ve got to invest in these new technologies. But we also have to cut the old legacy systems that are just too expensive too much money. I think there’s this interesting paradox where because China and Russia have lower defense budgets they’re not going to compete with us by just building as many aircraft carriers as we have. They’re just trying to figure out ways to defeat these systems that we have now and build the next generation of weapons. We need a new generation of arms. We need a new generation of arms control. And like I was discussing with the Pacific NATO we need a new generation of alliances.
Tommy Vietor [00:26:28] One of my big lessons from government is that prioritization is key. You kind of, odds are you get one big thing done especially to do it via reconciliation. Right. So Obama chose the Affordable Care Act. Trump chose a tax cut for billionaires. What’s your day one plan? What’s your big thing you want to get done?
Seth Moulton [00:26:46] Well we had a lot of work to do in this country and the first thing we have to do is just restore moral integrity to the office, is to actually show that we can bring Americans together. So I’ll get to like a big idea but I think this is the most important thing. When you sign up for the military, when I went to Marine training one of the first things I learned was that I could fail a test and they’d let me retake the test. I could drop out of Iran and I probably get to do it again the next day. But if I lied about anything, I’d be gone that afternoon. We need a commander in chief. We need a president of the United States who we can trust. It doesn’t mean it’s gonna be someone that we always agree with but the most fundamental failure of Donald Trump is that you cannot trust him. You cannot trust anything he says as commander in chief of The United States so we’ve got to restore moral integrity and credibility to the office. But you want a moonshot?
Tommy Vietor [00:27:42] Please.
Seth Moulton [00:27:43] I think we should develop fusion energy.
Tommy Vietor [00:27:45] OK. You’re a physicist, you have a physics degree.
Seth Moulton [00:27:49] The science degree, yes, I didn’t get the best grades in physics but I got out of there with a degree.
Tommy Vietor [00:27:55] I couldn’t open a book.
Seth Moulton [00:27:56] So there is nothing that will do more for climate change than carbon free energy and nuclear fusion which is much safer than fision. It’s something that’s actually within reach if we put you know the tens of billions not hundreds of billions but just tens of billions of dollars into it we can probably get there within the decade. And that’s the kind of investment that we need to make in the future of our country and in the future of our world. But we also need to be putting a lot of money into health care. We need to make sure that everybody in America has access to quality affordable health care. And I don’t think we do that by forcing everyone onto a government one-size-fits-all programs designed in 1963. Medicare is great. Medicare can be better. And it should be an option that Americans have. But it shouldn’t be the only way to go.
Tommy Vietor [00:28:44] So let me ask you about that. You get your health care from the V.A. which is the single payer system. You said you know sort of the day you announce that it leaves a lot to be desired. What what what is the problem day to day in terms of that single payer care that you receive?
Seth Moulton [00:29:01] Well maybe it’s best illustrated by a story. So I was lifting and got a hernia. Right? Right before us sworn in as a member of Congress and so I was like, “OK. Well I made this commitment, got to put it to the test,” and so I was moving down to D.C. I went to the Washington D.C. V.A. just you know I usually go to the V.A. up in Boston but it was a D.C. V.A. gave them my name, social security number to check in and they said that after 20 minutes they said, “well we don’t have any record of you. We can’t prove that you’re a veteran. So we’ll consider taking you as a humanitarian case.” I mean I wanted to say, “well I mean I just won this election. Like maybe you can google me” but I was not playing the congressman’s card. That’s that’s not why I was there. So I just sat down in the waiting room next to a fellow veteran. He had served in Vietnam, who said, “I’ve been waiting here for five hours” just to see someone. Now fast forward a day or two later I got my surgery. Great surgeon was was working there because she believed in vets and wanted to help them. She was, normally worked at GW but she did time at the V.A. hospital. She did a great job but but as she was there putting me under anesthesia she said, “Yeah I don’t trust half the people who work here.” And I was like “whoa time out. Maybe we should stop here!” But before I knew it I was out and woke up that afternoon…
Tommy Vietor [00:30:28] ‘And that’s why my left arm is attached to my right now.’ That’s that’s such a horrible thing to say.
Seth Moulton [00:30:34] Yeah. Didn’t exactly give me a lot of confidence. But here’s the best part: I woke up and went back to Capitol Hill with my little baggie of medicines and they said you know when the anesthesia works out, wears off, this is gonna hurt a lot. So they gave me some powerful painkillers. They said you can try taking one you probably two. I didn’t take any when I got back to Capitol Hill because we had votes that afternoon. So I wanted to remember how I voted, but then but then it was really starting to hurt. And so I took a pill, and like a half hour later, I’m in this meeting I’m like “geez this is killing me.” So I went back to take a second pill and I looked more carefully at the bottle and they sent me home with the wrong medication sent me home with Advil.
Seth Moulton [00:31:14] So that story is insane and everyone who treated you should be fired. Except for the surgeon. Do you think that that’s… I mean unfortunately infuriatingly despite many pledges to fix it the V.A. is historically fucked up and Obama committed to doing it. We weren’t able to achieve it. There’s a lot of extenuating circumstances, I’m not making excuses but like it’s a it’s a notoriously mismanaged organization. Do you think that your challenge is unique to the V.A. or do you think that it’s a real parable for a broader single payer system?
Seth Moulton [00:31:48] Well I’m afraid it might be a parable for a broader single payer system because it’s the only single payer system that we that we really have in America and despite constant pledges to fix it it hasn’t been fixed. And that’s why I think that actually tapping into the age old American System of a little bit of free market competition would be good for health care. Not to the extent that it is now where insurance companies run rampant and a lot of people are priced out of health care but healthy competition between a public option, between a single payer option and private payer systems or private payer options. And that means you’re not going to kick people off their private health care if they like it. But it also means that those private health care plans are going to have to compete with the public option and that makes everybody better. Competition makes everybody better. There are also some things the V.A. does really well. I think it’s important to acknowledge that too. Not just that surgeon but they negotiate drug prices. Medicare doesn’t do that. That’s actually one of the big problems with Medicare. They do not negotiate drug prices. The V.A. does. It’s a great prescription system. You know if I needed if I had a medicine I needed a refill I could just go online you know check the box it shows up in the mail two days later. I mean it’s brilliant. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t do that throughout our entire health care system. But the point is that if you just force everybody onto onto Medicare I don’t think it’s going to, I don’t think everybody is gonna be too thrilled.
Tommy Vietor [00:33:11] A lot of your message is about generational change and you know the new generation of leaders you talked about you know stepping up and serving. I think a lot of people probably hear that and they think about the effort you were a part of to unseat Pelosi as speaker.
Seth Moulton [00:33:26] It wasn’t just Pelosi. It was the top three.
Tommy Vietor [00:33:28] Well that’s fair. The top three. In hindsight do you still think that was the right decision; going after you know the folks at the top who maybe you thought had been there too long?
Seth Moulton [00:33:37] We’ll look at the end of the day, you can’t just talk about generational change, you got to be willing to fight for it and the compromise that we got as a result of of that debate of having a actual Democratic debate in the Democratic Party about who our leaders should be what should be what we all expect is we got the Voting Rights subcommittee, we got the Climate Change subcommittee, and we got an agreement on term limits that did two things. First of all it gave Pelosi the votes she needed to become speaker without forcing all the freshmen who only got elected because they promised to vote against her to change their to change their promise to break their promise. So that was a big win both for her and for those freshmen and it got us an agreement on term limits, that means that this new generation the historically diverse class that just got elected to take back the House will actually have a chance to lead in the future. And you know in some ways if we had just succeeded in that fight by getting three new leaders at the top but then they were there for 18 or 20 years then I don’t think that would have been a win. So I think we actually came out pretty well. And where does that put me in this presidential primary? Well frankly we’re not going to be able to beat Donald Trump if we don’t have a nominee who’s willing to take on the Washington establishment, who’s willing to fight for change, who’s willing to talk about how our party is going to lead the country forward not just how we’re going to stand up to Trump as Speaker Pelosi by the way is doing a fantastic job of standing up to Trump. And she deserves a lot of credit for that. But we also need leaders that people look to and say “that’s the future of the Democratic Party. That’s the future of our country.”
Tommy Vietor [00:35:10] I mean one thing we can tease out what the what the younger generations leadership looks like. Right. Because I look at the recent battles against Trump and the shutdown and I’m thinking if I’m president Moulton I want Nancy Pelosi breaking arms and getting me all the votes I need because she’s pretty fucking good at it. You know?
Seth Moulton [00:35:26] I don’t think she’s the only one who can do this. I think there’s some amazingly talented leaders in our party and you see some of them rising up today. Cheri Bustos is doing an amazing job with the D Triple C. And she actually understands what it means to fight for the districts we need to win because she comes from a district that voted for Trump. Hakeem Jeffries is a rising hot shot in the house. He has the potential to be the first African-American speaker of the house and he’s doing a great job as a chairman of our caucus. There are a lot of very very talented people in the Democratic caucus and I think it’s important that we give them a chance to lead as well. They’re gonna take us forward into the future and that makes for a stronger party.
Tommy Vietor [00:36:06] Let me talk process for a minute.
Seth Moulton [00:36:07] Process? No one wants to talk about process.
Tommy Vietor [00:36:10] So come on, I want to know how you’re gonna win, right, because there’s a lot of folks in the race. I think there’s some I’m not saying you that are in to highlight an issue or to sort of build a personal profile. I want to know like, Are you planning to compete in Iowa? Are you gonna go to neighboring New Hampshire? Do you have paid staff on the ground? Was there a fundraising goal? What’s what? What kind of things you guys working on to to win this thing?
Seth Moulton [00:36:31] So obviously on day four we have this all figured out. Yeah. It’s literally day four. But it’s going well so far. First of all we’re starting on the ground. This is a grassroots campaign. A lot of people have actually pointed to the John McCain model literally just go into you know VFW and sometimes you meet with small groups but you build up a steady base of support.
Tommy Vietor [00:36:49] And John Kerry did the same strightforward effort, yeah.
Seth Moulton [00:36:53] Some people point to the Gary Hart campaign too. But but the point is that you start by just building trust in the ground. And we literally started by doing service events because I’m applying for a job of national service.
Tommy Vietor [00:37:04] So tell me. So you’re, day one you’re in New Hampshire in your pouring mulch for two hours.
Seth Moulton [00:37:09] Well we’re not… It’s not just mulch. We’d be terrible mulchers if it took us two hours to do that.
Tommy Vietor [00:37:15] What else are you guys doing? The service project.
Seth Moulton [00:37:17] So we were stocking a food pantry, we’re organizing clothes for the veterans and it’s at this amazing place called Liberty house in Manchester New Hampshire that helps get veterans back on their feet after they’ve had some hard times you know they serve the country but came back many of them had post-traumatic stress got addicted to opioids some of them had been in prison but they’re such inspiring stories because they’re getting back on their feet. They’ve got jobs. They’re sobering up. They’re doing really well. And the point is that I want people to know that this is a mission driven campaign. And we are about service. That’s fundamentally what we’re all about. It’s what I did in my first campaign for Congress back in 2014 too and people would say why why why why why you just going to a food pantry? I want people to know and remember what this is about– why we’re doing this: we’re doing this to serve the country. And that should be evident in everything we do. So we cleaned up a beach in South Carolina. Going tomorrow to meet with some veterans in Nevada, met with Junior ROTC cadets in Iowa. And it’s been an incredibly energizing experience. So we’re going to compete on the ground. Of course I’ll spend a lot of time in New Hampshire. In fact there’s actually no state I’ve spent more time in time in my entire life other than Massachusetts than New Hampshire and so, so I’ll spend a lot of time on the ground there. But we’re going to start with veterans and students and we’re going to work up from there and we’re just going to build the grassroots support for this campaign. And if there’s one thing that I hear from voters everywhere I go it’s “we need to beat Donald Trump. We needed a nominee who can stand up to Trump and win.” And that’s why I think it’s so important to be willing to confront him on these issues. All these issues I’m talking about that amazingly no one else in the field is really hitting him on. We’ve got to take him on on his job as commander a commander in chief. It’s shocking to me that the Mueller report just came out. You’ve got a Kushner out there saying, “oh it’s not a big deal.” That’s unbelievable. But I mean and fundamentally this is a story of dereliction of duty by the commander in chief of the United States because he, his number one job is to keep us safe, his number one job is to keep us safe. And he refuses to do that because it might harm his reputation. So after an after Pearl Harbor they had a pearl harbor commission and it was actually quite critical of the Roosevelt administration. After 9/11 there was a 9/11 Commission, it was actually quite critical of the Bush administration but you never saw Roosevelt or Bush out there saying “oh no no no no we shouldn’t look into this. We shouldn’t investigate this because it might look bad for me.” But that’s exactly what our president today is doing and we’re not calling him outabout that. We’re not calling him out on it. And we need to as a party if we’re going to win.
Tommy Vietor [00:39:52] Agreed. The big debate coming out of Mueller Report has been about whether we should impeach Donald Trump. We’ve been fighting about it here at Pod Save America.
Seth Moulton [00:40:01] But Tommy I mean yeah. And so I’ll answer your question I know you’re going but it shouldn’t be the debate. The debate should be ‘how do we as Americans not as Trump supporters or Trump haters, not as Democrats or Republicans but as Americans protect ourselves when we were attacked by the only power on earth that could literally wipe out all life in America in about 20 minutes?’
Tommy Vietor [00:40:22] Look I agree. I mean look at the New York Times story about how the former head of Homeland Security being unable to even raise the issue of efforts to protect us from another hacking by the Russians. It made me break out into a cold sweat and feel nervous about 2020 all over again.
Seth Moulton [00:40:40] Well just to be clear, they absolutely are going to hack the 2012 course. Yeah I mean they’re they’re probably listening to this podcast right now.
Tommy Vietor [00:40:46] With any luck. We need the downloads. But I agree that that’s that’s the more important issue. But I think it’s a distinct one. I mean there’s a question of whether when you read what you read them all report and you see these efforts to obstruct justice whether there is a moral obligation from Congress to begin impeachment proceedings and then I think there’s a question of whether it’s smart politics. I’m curious if you have a take on that.
Seth Moulton [00:41:05] Yeah. So I think that those are both good questions but the one that matters for the oath that we all swore as members of Congress is to uphold the Constitution and that’s to do the right thing on principle which is to have this discussion. I mean you can’t look at the situation we’re in right now where Trump and his associates very clearly committed crimes and not be willing to have this debate. That’s why I actually voted last year to start this debate. I mean I think that the majority of our party was wrong to wait until now to even bring this up for a question. We had a vote in the House last year about whether to go forward with impeachment debate and I voted and I voted in the minority to do so and I think now we realize ‘maybe we backed ourselves into a corner by waiting for the moolah report.’ Now that’s separate having that debate is separate from voting. Congress has two things. We debate issues and we vote on them. It’s not the time yet to vote on impeachment we don’t have all the facts. We don’t even have the full unredacted Mueller report but we absolutely should be having this debate and frankly we should have been having it for a while.
Tommy Vietor [00:42:07] Biden in his announcement video called President Trump an aberration. Your colleague Elizabeth Warren has a very different take. She doesn’t believe he’s an aberration. She thinks he’s the sort of part of a natural disconcerting progression of a system that’s rigged in a Republican Party that’s gone crazy. Do you have an opinion on the subject?
Seth Moulton [00:42:27] I do. It’s basically whether you think Trump is a symptom or a cause. And it’d be great if he were a cause because then that’s an aberration. We just get rid of Trump and this all goes away. And sadly I don’t think that’s the case. I think he’s a symptom of a very divided America. America where a lot of people feel left behind. With the economy is changing so fast that jobs are being taken not by immigrants but by robots. They’re literally being automated out of existence. And a lot of people who used to have a good paying jo, who used to be able to support their family and maybe even go on vacation once or twice a year. They can’t make end’s meat. What do you do when you can’t make ends meat, your kids are addicted to opioids? You know that their chances of success in life are worse than your own. The first time in American history that that’s happened when the next generation chance next generation’s chances are worse than ours. And you just don’t see any hope. And then you look to Washington and they’re doing nothing to help. I mean that’s a real sense of betrayal. It really reminds me when I go to these districts like I did to support all these Serve America candidates that I endorse and support in the midterms. You know the 40 seats that we flipped 20 of 21 of them were endorsed and supported by my serve America organization including a lot of really inspiring veterans and they all won tough moderate districts and they won them by putting country before party and saying that they were gonna go to Washington to actually get something done because when you talk to people in these districts they’re like “Washington didn’t do anything, they’re not doing anything to help,” and it actually reminds me of the feeling I felt in Iraq where I just felt totally left behind by the people in Washington who were playing politics and I had no idea what my experience was like as a Marine infantryman on the ground.
Tommy Vietor [00:44:20] Yeah Paul Bremmer wasn’t dialed into the reality…
Seth Moulton [00:44:23] Hard to believe but he and his combat books, but probably a lot of your listeners don’t even know who he is.
Tommy Vietor [00:44:28] No no absolutely not clue but they should [the worst of the Bush administration] all read Fiasco by Tom Ricks.
Seth Moulton [00:44:33] But here’s the thing I also saw in the midst of that war the best of America, the best of America shows up in the worst of circumstances. And that’s exactly what we need now. We need Americans to start believing in this country again and believe in it so much so that they’re willing to go out and serve it. That they’re going to make it better because I understand that we’ve got a lot of problems. I mean you know 50 years ago poor and middle class people in America couldn’t afford health care. Well today in 2019 a lot of poor middle class Americans can’t afford health care. Eighty years ago, schools were segregated throughout much of the country, segregated by race. Well today schools are still segregated by race. It’s just driven by economic inequality. You know we haven’t gotten voting rights right. [No.] You know 60 years ago people black people weren’t given the right to vote. They were scared from the polls. And look that’s happening again today. So on so many issues we still haven’t gotten it right. But at our best we’re a country that doesn’t think we’ve figured it all out. We’re a country that thinks that we might and we’re a country where people stand up to serve the country every day to make it better. My sister goes to school every day not because she thinks the education system is perfect but because she knows she can make it better. I went back to Iraq three times after my first deployment not because I thought it was a perfect war but because I thought I could help make it a little bit better. And that’s exactly what we should be looking for in our leaders in Washington: people who go there not to advance their own careers, not to support themselves as Trump is doing in the office now, but just to make the country a little bit better.
Tommy Vietor [00:46:09] That’s a great place to leave. Congressman Seth Moulton, thank you so much for coming in. Best of luck.
Seth Moulton [00:46:13] Thanks. I hope people will go to my Website www.Seth Moulton.com S-E-T-H M-O-U-L-T-O-N dot com. Check out the video. Check out the video. That explains a little bit about why we’re running. And then if there’s anything that you’ve heard today that you think should be a part of the Democratic debate in June then just put in five dollars, ten dollars, even one dollar to help get me to that debate stage at the end of June.
Tommy Vietor [00:46:38] He needs Sixty five thousand donation.
Seth Moulton [00:46:39] Sixty five thousand donations it’s a it’s a steep hill to climb. I mean I’ve got a six month old at home so I couldn’t get in any earlier than this, it’s a short period of time to make it there. But I hope you’ll be a part of this mission and I’d be proud to have your support.
Tommy Vietor [00:46:52] All right. Thank you again.
Seth Moulton [00:46:54] Thanks.