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MADDOW: The Afghanistan war is our war. It`s the longest war in American history. In the last campaign, the same opposition party, the Republican Party for president and vice president nominated candidates who not only had zero foreign policy experience between them, but who had no coherent policy whatsoever about what to do about the war and who preferred not to mention it, even in their major speeches about things going on in the country. While we`ve got 66,000 Americans in that war right now.
We have serious things to make serious decisions about as a country. How do we turn down the nonsense enough to hope that our political process can be the means by which we make these grave and serious decisions? Joining now is Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. He`s the chief sponsor of the amendment that passed today calling for an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
Senator Merkley, thank you very much for being here tonight. And congratulations on the success of that amendment today.
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: Well, thank you very much, Rachel. It`s an incredible amount of things happening around the world today.
MADDOW: Yes. And I feel like this is one of those moments when I
have very high hopes and very high wishes for what our political process will be capable of doing, and I have to say, seeing your amendment passed today in such a bipartisan fashion with so much Republican support made me have some hope that some of the biggest foreign policy challenges that we`ve got might be tackled in a way that is at least less partisan, if not less nonsensical.
Do you feel that way about it?
MERKLEY: You know, this was a very bold and bipartisan moment. It`s the first time in 11 years that a chamber of U.S. Congress has said we need to end this war in Afghanistan and bring our sons and daughters home and to do it by nearly a 2-1 margin and tell the president, not only should you stay the course in transferring responsibility to the Afghan military and getting our troops out of a combat role, but you should do everything possible to move more quickly. That was a tremendous statement to make, and very different than what we had two years ago.
MADDOW: And this is essentially phrased as advice from the Senate. It`s the sense of the Senate. It`s not a binding --
MADDOW: -- requirement that you`re putting on the Pentagon or the president.
What are you hoping is going to be the practical effect of this proposal?
MERKLEY: Well, let`s compare this to what the House has in their language. They say there need to be 68,000 American troops at a minimum through the entire next two years. So they`re talking about basically indefinite war at large numbers.
And the Senate has responded tonight and said, no. This war must come to an end. We have lost thousands of Americans. We have spent half a trillion dollars.
We have spent 11 years. The nation building is not working. Our primary missions on the training camps, our primary mission on taking out those responsible for 9/11 is completed. Let`s get our sons and daughters home.
It`s an incredible rebuttal to the case the House has made for indefinite high levels of war in Afghanistan.
MADDOWE: The executive branch and the Congress obviously are separate and co-equal branches of government. I have to ask, though, if you`ve had feedback from the executive branch, from the White House, about how they feel about your amendment and the Senate expressing themselves this way. Are you getting any sort of pushback or any sort of encouragement?
MERKLEY: I haven`t heard any specific feedback, but largely we`re endorsing the president but saying do it faster. And so, I suspect that the president would very much like to hear that we think he`s on the right track but hope that the circumstances enable him to move even more quickly. This is a very different message than the House is sending.
MADDOW: And, you know, and within the 2014 framework that the president has laid out, he has described the pace at which he wants to bring Americans home from Afghanistan as a steady pace. He hasn`t said anything about how many troops he wants there over that time period. It seems like the president would not have to change any statements that he`s previously made about the war in order to go along with your language. Is that your sense?
MERKLEY: No, not at all. We`re really reinforcing the vision the president has laid out and to have a bipartisan endorsement of the president`s vision, along with calling for an acceleration of his vision, is really just the right message to send. It says you`re on track, but do it more quickly. This war needs to come to an end.
We -- compare this to two years ago when we had a resolution that Russell Feingold put forward and I assisted him in it. It simply asked the president to set out a timeline. That`s all it asked. Just set out a timeline. We only had 18 votes for that.
But tonight, we said, not only do we enforce a timeline for getting out, but we want you to accelerate it. And we had 13 Republicans join with the Democrats and say, enough is enough, we need to end this war, we need to get home.
MADDOW: Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon -- thank you very much for your time tonight, sir.
MERKLEY: You`re so welcome.
MADDOW: Congratulations again on this amendment. I really appreciate your time.
MERKLEY: Thank you.
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