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CNN "American Morning" - Transcript

Interview

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CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

President Obama is expected to announce plans to send more troops to Afghanistan -- 34,000 more is the expected number. We know that some Democrats in Congress are not happy about it. But what do Republicans want to hear from the president tomorrow night in order to put their support behind him on this issue?

Congressman Tom Price just returned from Afghanistan with a Georgia delegation where they had a chance to meet with General Stanley McChrystal and he joins us this morning from Atlanta. Congressman Price, good morning. Thanks for being here.

REP. TOM PRICE, (R) GEORGIA: Good morning. Glad to be with you, Kiran, thank you.

CHETRY: Sure, glad you're with us this morning. What are the most important things you heard from General McChrystal and others on the ground when it comes to defining success in Afghanistan? PRICE: Well, we were over with the troops on Thanksgiving Day and had an opportunity to have Thanksgiving dinner with a number of troops from Georgia and elsewhere. It was just wonderfully heartening to be with them.

We had a chance to meet with General McChrystal, and General McChrystal's words were that this was doable, that the mission was accomplishable, but what he needed were more troops, and recognized the challenge that the president has.

I think the take-home message that we would give is that when the president talks tomorrow night, if he says that he's going to commit 32,000 or 34,000 more troops and maybe it will work or maybe it won't, that's not the message we need to hear, it's not the message that the world needs to hear.

What the world needs to hear is he's going to commit the number of troops necessary and he's going to accomplish the task, accomplish the mission of keeping the American people safe. That's the most important thing.

CHETRY: Well the president has spoken about that, and he has said that it is very important to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda, to send a message to the world that it's the war that we need to fight. That's been his argument since the campaign trail.

What is he going to say tonight that is going to determine whether or not Republicans throw their support behind the president when it comes to his plan for Afghanistan?

PRICE: Well, I think the tone of his message, the tone of the president's message is incredibly helpful, because if he talks about an exit strategy only and if he talks about benchmarks in terms of calendar timelines, then that's where the challenge is, because the Afghan people are just sitting on the fence. They're hedging their bets right now. They are not certain America is committed to prevailing in this mission.

If the president is very resolute, if he's very specific about what he believes the mission is and what can be accomplished, then I think we'll be fine.

If however he hedges his bets and plays to his political base, then there are real problems to be had because then the Taliban and others who are interested in making certain that we don't accomplish our mission, those folks then just wait us out.

CHETRY: The bottom line though is the president is going to announce tomorrow, according to our reporting, that he's going to add an additional 35,000 troops, almost as much as General McChrystal wanted, and he's going to let the general get what he wants and win this war.

The Republicans are supporting the president, right?

PRICE: Well, if indeed -- if that's what he says, then, yes, absolutely. General McChrystal's message was very clear, and that is that the mission is accomplishable.

And remember what the mission is. It's to degrade Al Qaeda forces and it's to make certain that the American people are safe. And as long as we make certain that we keep our eyes on that mission and make sure the president is resolute about accomplishing that mission, then I think the support of the Republicans in Congress will be there.

However, if, again, the president hedges his bets and says that maybe we will, maybe we won't -- the tone is so important in this message. He has got to, make certain that he delivers a message to both the American people and to the world that the Americans are committed in making certain that we degrade the resources that Al Qaeda has and the ability of them to harm the American people again.

CHETRY: It certainly shapes up to be an interesting dynamic. Our Democratic president getting the support of Republicans in Congress when some in his own party are very opposed to our presence and our continued presence and in this case a ratcheting up of our presence in Afghanistan.

REP. TOM PRICE (R), GEORGIA: It really is. But remember the president has said this was the right war. He campaigned on this as much as he campaigned on anything else. And so hopefully what we will hear once again is a resolute that's a resolve on the part of the president to make certainly that the mission is accomplished.

General McChrystal, Ambassador Eikenberry and others who are over there who met with many generals on the ground, they are confident, they're confident if given the appropriate resources that they'll be able to accomplish the mission. And that's what we need to hear. That's what the American people need to hear...

CHETRY: Right.

PRICE: ... the importance of this strategy, the importance of this engagement. And again, the mission to be accomplished is the preservation of security for the American people. And as long as we stick to that mission, stick to that goal, then we'll be fine and I think the American people will be appreciative.

CHETRY: Well, you added your name to a letter to the president basically criticizing him for taking as much time as he did to decide on a strategy. You know, critics will say, look, even in Afghanistan for eight years, what's a couple more months to make sure we're getting the strategy correct?

PRICE: Well, a couple more months is important because at the end of August, General McChrystal submitted his report to the president. When we talked to the troops on the ground in Afghanistan just last week, what they said is that they didn't see the need for this three-month delay.

Now in hindsight, it may have been the appropriate thing to do. However, the most important thing is to make certain that our troops are safe and that we accomplish our mission. The president took an extended period of time. General McChrystal described it as a thoughtful process, and that's important, yes. But the most important thing is to make certain that our troops are protected and that they're able to accomplish their mission.

This delay from my perspective and from many of us in Congress's perspective was not absolutely necessary to be the length of time that it has been. However, if that's what is necessary, was needed to rally the support of those folks necessary in Washington, and the American people for this challenge, then so be it. We don't want to look back. We want to look forward.

CHETRY: Right.

PRICE: But I think it's important that the president comes out and is very, very resolute and very strong in his message tomorrow night.

CHETRY: Looking forward, are you supporting a war surtax that one of your fellow congressmen is going to put forward. People pay one percent to go towards fighting the war?

PRICE: No, I think that's as cynical as it is irresponsible. The fact of the matter is the protection of the American people is the number one challenge, the number one task for the United States Congress. It ought to be a priority in our budgeting process.

There's all sorts of money that has been ill-spent to date. I would propose to the president that he begins to decrease spending in non-defense areas, non-defense discretionary areas in Washington where you can save significant amounts of money. A penny on the dollar will get us hundreds of billions of dollars in order to accomplish the priorities that we ought to have for the American people. And one of the priorities absolutely has to be and must be the protection of our land and degrading the resources that Al Qaeda has.

CHETRY: Congressman Tom Price, thanks for joining us this morning.

PRICE: Thank you, Kiran.

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