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MSNBC "The Rachel Maddow Show" - Transcript

Interview

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Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri -- thank you very much for joining us tonight. I appreciate the chance to talk with you about this.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: Thank you, Rachel, for having me.

MADDOW: Is your objection that it is a bad idea to even try to build infrastructure in Afghanistan, that`s not the sort of thing we should be trying? Or do you think it`s an OK idea but it`s just not working?

MCCASKILL: It`s -- both. We can go to Iraq, and the landscape is littered with projects that we built with taxpayer money, empty health care centers that are crumbling, water parks that are twisted piles of rubble.
And now, we`re going down the same road in Afghanistan.

These large major infrastructure projects, we cannot secure them while we`re building them. And the country can`t sustain them after we have gone.

And that`s why this is a tremendous waste of money. We`ve never been able to show that it has any positive connection to our mission in Afghanistan. It`s time for to us pull that big infrastructure money out of Afghanistan and put it in the United States, where we desperately need it.

MADDOW: Now, I know road building is not a core part of the U.S. military`s mission, but I imagine that the military might not want to give up this pile of money if only because it`s a big pile of money. Is the Pentagon against this move you`re trying to make here?

MCCASKILL: Well, we haven`t heard from the Pentagon today. And I`m sure they won`t like it. But this is the bottom line. We`re spending next year in Afghanistan over $100 billion. And most of that money is for
personnel on the ground that are training the Afghanistan military, the Afghanistan police department, doing -- you know, fight against Taliban and the enemy in Afghanistan.

This is a small amount of the money we have there. But it`s being wasted. I`ve spent five years looking at contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And frankly, I mean, we can`t keep doing this over and over again and saying, you know, it will get better. It`s not getting better. And we need the money here. It`s time for it to come home.

MADDOW: When I think about the expanded role of the U.S. military since 9/11, and it`s not just counterinsurgency, it`s just that we`ve asked the military to do so many things, and you and I have talked about this before -- it makes me think about what other parts of the U.S. government have -- conceivably have responsibilities overseas.

I mean, normally overseas development projects would be something that the State Department would do, USAID. Why is this something the military has been doing? I mean, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars? As you say, it`s a small proportion of the overall military funds that we`re spending there, but why military at all?

MCCASKILL: Well, it happened because they began with something call CERP, the Commanders Emergency Response Program, which was supposed to do little projects, the broken glass window in the storefront, you know, doing a little humanitarian aid for a family. And then it got bigger and bigger and really this year for the first time, they actually requested an Afghanistan infrastructure fund to get at these larger projects so they don`t have to abide by the limit that we have in that initial program. So this is like the son of CERP.

And we`ve never done this before. Ever. Our country has never turned over major reconstruction projects to the United States military.

It`s unprecedented. I don`t think it`s healthy. I don`t think it`s working.

And I think we need to be honest about that and move forward.

MADDOW: If the State Department did decide that building something in Afghanistan was in America`s interest, would your bill affect the State Department`s ability to do something like this? Or would you be
effectively returning this to the way it used to be, which is this is something USAID should handle?

MCCASKILL: It would, in fact -- there`s nothing in this bill that limits the State Department`s ability to build projects in Afghanistan.

Having said that, I can give you a couple of projects. I can give you a power plant in Kandahar that has cost hundreds of millions of dollars, built by the State Department, that is sitting there not working right now
because it`s too expensive to operate. And, frankly, the Afghanistan people don`t have the expertise to do it.

So, they`re buying cheaper electricity from Uzbekistan rather than run this multi-hundred-million-dollar plant that the United States taxpayer billed.

So, I`m going to warn the State Department. I`m not going to ignore the mistakes you`re making in terms of sustainability of projects, but I want to get at this first because frankly I think this is a road we
shouldn`t go down with the military handling this kind of work.

MADDOW: Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri -- of all the times I speak to you, you never let me forget you that used to be the auditor of the state of Missouri.

MCCASKILL: There you go.

MADDOW: I can hear it in your approach here, ma`am. Thank you very much.

MCCASKILL: That`s exactly right. Thank you, Rachel. Thanks.

MADDOW: Thanks.

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