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Prisoner Swap a Bad Deal?; Cut Pollution, Kill Jobs?

Aired June 2, 2014 - 18:28   ET


S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: Wolf, there are a lot of serious questions about President Obama's prisoner swap with, of all people, the Taliban.

VAN JONES, CO-HOST: But the deal actually did get our last captured U.S. soldier out of Afghanistan. I think some Republicans want to send him back. The debate starts now.


ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, the president trades five U.S. enemies for an Army sergeant.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States of America does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind.

ANNOUNCER: Republicans accuse Obama of breaking the law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Obama administration didn't notify anyone in this process.

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Van Jones. On the right, S.E. Cupp. In the CROSSFIRE, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat. And senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican. Did the president set a dangerous precedent or bring home a hero? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


JONES: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Van Jones on the left.

CUPP: I'm S.E. Cupp on the right. Two U.S. senators are in the CROSSFIRE.

Tonight, U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is free, but there are too many serious questions to ask before we can all celebrate his return. Why did President Obama leave Congress in the dark? Why would we release five high-level terrorists to exchange for a guy who many in the military consider to be a traitor? What assurances does the United States have that these terrorists. who are dangerous enough to be held in Gitmo. are suddenly safe enough to be released? And finally, is our centuries-old policy that the United States does not negotiate with terrorists a thing of the past?

JONES: Look, those are all good questions, but as for me, I'm just happy that we got this guy back home. We do not leave people behind, and we didn't leave him behind. So in the CROSSFIRE tonight, we're going to talk about this. We've got Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Republican Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota.

Senator, let's start with you. I've been hearing Republicans saying, "This is a horrible thing. We're setting this horrible precedent, and now we're encouraging terrorists."

Do you think Israel encourages terrorism when they do these prisoner swaps? You know, in 2011, they did a swap of a thousand prisoners. Do you think that they're encouraging terrorism?

SEN. JOHN HOEVEN (R), NORTH DAKOTA: No. And everyone knows that Israel takes a very tough line when it comes to terrorism.

JONES: What's wrong with us doing it?

HOEVEN: Well, we have to do the same thing. Look, we're all glad that Bowe Bergdahl has been released. But let's establish that right up front. The question is, was this the right way to do it? And I think there are real concerns here.

JONES: I really want to nail you down on this. I've been hearing all day long that this is some horrible thing, that we're setting this horrible precedent. At the end of wars, as wars wind down, you do exchanges of prisoners. Israel has done these prisoner swaps. Do you think that they are setting a bad example? Is Bibi Netanyahu encouraging terrorism when he does this sort of stuff? And if not -- and if you don't think he's wrong, if Bibi's not wrong, why is Obama wrong?

HOEVEN: Well, first off, I think Israel takes a tough stance on terrorism. We all recognize that.

Now, in this case, why didn't the president notify Congress? That's the law. I voted for that law. I'm guessing that Senator Whitehouse did, too, and the president signed it. Why didn't he follow the law?

The other thing is we need some more information here on what are all of the -- you know, the details of the agreement here?

CUPP: Yes, Senator Whitehouse, the president, I think, set a truly terrifying precedent today by putting a price on the head of every American soldier. Are you concerned that the 33,000 soldiers we still have in Afghanistan have just been endangered by this president?

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: It's no precedent at all. We have been doing prisoner swaps, humankind, for as long as there has been warfare. We did prisoner swaps in Europe through the Wars of the Roses. We did -- the Peloponnesian War probably had prisoner swaps. So there's nothing new about this.

The commander in chief had a soldier in enemy hands, and he engaged in a prisoner swap in order to bring an American home. To me, that kind of ends the story. CUPP: So you're not concerned about returning these five high-level terrorists back into the theatre and the danger that they might cause both there and at home?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, the Bush/Cheney administration released 500 prisoners.

CUPP: That doesn't answer my question, senator. Are you concerned?

WHITEHOUSE: And they didn't get a single prisoner back. So...

CUPP: Are you concerned about releasing these five high-level terrorists?

WHITEHOUSE: I think...

CUPP: Back into the theater.

WHITEHOUSE: Well, they're not. They're being released into Qatari custody.

CUPP: For a year. For a year.

WHITEHOUSE: We have programs that have been deployed already and fairly successfully, although there are no guarantees in this business for kind of re-acclimating people. And I'm sure they're going to go into that program.

CUPP: As long as we have your assurance that you're sure...

WHITEHOUSE: I didn't say that.

CUPP: ... that they're going to go into that program.

WHITEHOUSE: Oh, I think they're definitely going into that program. Will they misbehave later?

CUPP: Misbehaving, I think, is putting it, probably, lightly.

HOEVEN: Again, we want to get our people home. We all agree on that. But we need to find out all the ramifications of what was done here. What is this going to be mean for Americans in the future? And is there an incentive now for terrorist groups to actually abduct Americans or American soldiers because they want to trade for prisoners?

CUPP: Right.

JONES: This is something I've been hearing, and I think it's a valid thing to talk about. But I've got a bigger concern here.

I've been really shocked to see how aggressive people have gone after the president for bringing an American soldier home. And it seems like there's a narrative forming. I want you to tell me if I'm wrong.

The narrative is let's take this guy, this soldier that we got home, diminish him, turn him into some kind of a caricature. We don't know if he's a traitor, say these negative things about him, insult his family. And then take the five that were released and build them up into this mega threat against us. And then say that the president of the United States is a traitor who turned in a traitor to let out our enemies. Is that the kind of Benghazi-zation of this that you think is appropriate for Republicans?

HOEVEN: It's not. We need to deal with the facts, but you have to ask the question, why didn't the president work with Congress? Because a lot of this could have been covered. And I think those questions would have been answered upfront. That's the right way to do it.

CUPP: In fact, Senator Dianne Feinstein also said today that she wishes the president had gone to her. Senator Whitehouse...

WHITEHOUSE: As do I. I think that it would have been appropriate for the administration to go to the chairman and ranking members of the intelligence and armed services committees on the House and Senate side. And I don't -- I haven't been read into how very delicate these negotiations were and why that -- why they felt that was not appropriate.

CUPP: Right.

WHITEHOUSE: But as a general proposition, I think they would have saved themselves a fair amount of grief if they had read some of our colleagues who had the appropriate committee position into what was going on.

HOEVEN: So that we agree.

CUPP: Yes. So if we all agree, then, that the president probably went about this the wrong way in not informing at least some members of Congress to this, and we agree, I think, that we just released five high-level terrorists. No one -- no one argues that these are not great guys that we just released. And I think we can agree there are some questions around Bowe Bergdahl's commitment to service and commitment to his unit. I'm not really sure...

WHITEHOUSE: I'm not sure those are fair yet. I think that it's way too early...

CUPP: It's fair to have those questions.

WHITEHOUSE: ... to turn (ph) on an American in uniform who's been in enemy hands for five years and start trashing him. The military has a way of sorting through these details. If he's to be subject to military discipline, let's have that work itself out.

CUPP: Sure, but Senator, I'm not trashing him. The military -- members of the military are talking publicly about their concerns that Bowe Bergdahl...

WHITEHOUSE: Not people in the official chain of command who are responsible for this. They're just voices. JONES: You respect the military chain of command here. The military -- this soldier is in good standing with the military. He's actually been promoted while he was captive. Do you respect the military's ability to make this determination, or do you think that the random people trashing him should be giving the...

HOEVEN: This goes back to the point you were making earlier, Van. I think we have to be very careful just to deal with the facts here. And so that's why I'm focusing on what is this agreement? I mean, and is it something that was done in the right way? And what are the ramifications for Americans, the security of Americans, both civilians and our soldiers in the future?

Now, the issue that S.E. brought up, that's a secondary issue that will need it be dealt with.

JONES: Tough question: would you have left him there? You're the commander in chief. It's on the table for you right now. You don't have the 30 days. Yes or no, would you leave him there or bring him home?

HOEVEN: We always have to do everything we can to bring our people home. No question about it. But you've got to do it the right way, and you've got to...

JONES: You would have left him over there, brought him home?

HOEVEN: You've got to follow the law.

WHITEHOUSE: Everybody would have brought him home.

HOEVEN: And I said at the outset, we want him home. We agree on that. But there's a lot more to it that needs to be evaluated.

JONES: Listen -- listen, all these issues are important issues. I would never discount any of it, especially the president needs to follow the law. Let's just -- I want to push you on this, you know. Would you have -- if you didn't have the 30 days, would you have let him die there or brought him home?

HOEVEN: I would have done everything in my power to bring him home. I want the information on what happened here. We all need to get that.

JONES: Well said.

CUPP: In 2011 Congress agreed, in a bipartisan opposition, to the idea of releasing any Gitmo prisoners. What has changed?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, we've been releasing Gitmo prisoners for as long as we've had Gitmo. As I said, President Bush and Vice President Cheney released 500 of them. So -- and we have to eventually close down that facility. So we've been moving them out into various forms, either for prosecution or to other countries that can contain them. That's just a fact. This doesn't change. JONES: Well, let's -- I think we're at the beginning of this debate, not the end of it. And Republicans aren't just mad at the president about the prisoner swap. They're also mad at him because he's fighting against pollution.

I'm going to ask Senator Hoeven why he already has a knee-jerk response to President Obama's administration's big announcement today about carbon, which brings us to today's "CROSSFIRE Quiz." Going to ask you this. Which president set up the Environmental Protection Agency? Was it Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, or Richard Nixon? We're going to give you those answers when we get back.


JONES: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Now, let's debunk two myths the Republicans are pushing after today's big announcement that President Obama wants to cut carbon pollution by 30 percent.

Republican myth No. 1: Obama is doing an end-run around Congress. No. He's enforcing existing law. Which by the way brings us to our "CROSSFIRE Quiz": Who created the EPA? It was radical socialist Richard Nixon -- uh-huh -- Richard Nixon, who also signed the Clean Air Act.

And today's Supreme Court says that it's Nixon's agency and Nixon's law that gives Obama the power to address climate disruption. That's myth number one.

Myth number two, this will kill the economy. Now, look, big polluters say that about every pollution control measure. And then once the rule is in place, American businesses do what they always do -- they adapt, they innovate, they clean up the problem and they keep making money.

So, in the CROSSFIRE tonight, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and John Hoeven.

I want to start with you. Isn't it the case that we need to look at acid rain, look at any of these big pollution issues that we've had, this is kicks and screams, this is terrible, going to kill the economy. As soon as the rules are in place, American business out- innovates, outcompetes, solves a problem, and keeps on moving.

Why can't that be the case with carbon?

HOEVEN: That's just the point. We need to have a regulatory environment that empowers investment rather than preventing investment. This is going to shut down coal plants. So, instead of developing and deploying the technologies, not only produce more energy with better environmental stewardship, we're going to bring that to a screeching halt and it's a de facto tax, a regressive tax on low-income people in this country.

JONES: You agree with that, Senator? WHITEHOUSE: No, not even close.

JONES: Where is he wrong?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, for starters, the coal industry always looks at only one side of the ledger. They look at only the jobs and the fossil fuel industry. Only the effects in the fossil fuel industry. They completely overlooked that if you actually diminish your investment in coal, you actually may be investing a lot more in wind, solar, in efficiency, in things that create American jobs with American products.

So, you could have reduced coal and enhanced economic investment and growth.

CUPP: Well, Senator Whitehouse, that's hard to tell the thousands of North Dakotans invested in lignite jobs and there are thousands and thousands of them.

But an alternative to coal, of course, is natural gas. It's cheaper, it's cleaner, so why aren't you, like, a fanatic for fracking?

WHITEHOUSE: I'm actually -- I've said publicly that natural gas I think is a very important bridge if it's not leaking. If it's leaking, the methane does more climate damage than carbon.

So, you got to make sure it's not leaking. But if you're actually getting it to the burner and burning it, then it is a relative advantage.

As for the folks who are in the lignite industry, for North Dakota, if I understand the standards correctly, they've got to reduce by 10 percent their carbon output by 2030. They can do that. That's very simple. That is not a job killer. That's --


HOEVEN: Senator, the truth is in our state, we're developing all sources of energy. We not only have oil and gas, we're now the second largest oil-producing state in the nation. We're doing incredible things with natural gas. That's been part of the reason for the reduction in GHG over the last ten years. As you know, it's gone down over the last 10 years.

But we also have wind, biofuels, all of the above because we've created an environment where you can invest and deploy these technologies. The president is going to bring it to a grinding halt. That's a big --

WHITEHOUSE: He's not going to bring it in a grinding halt. He's just going to move it to other technologies that do less harm to my state.

HOEVEN: This is a global issue. We can't export our regulations but we can export our technologies if we develop them here.

JONES: Hold on a second. First of all, under this president, the cost of solar has come down by 60 percent. Under this president, the price of wind has come down by 30 percent. This president had an $80 billion commitment in the stimulus package to get green energy going.

We are leading on technology. But are you telling me that it's perfectly OK for us to spend money as a country to try and develop clean energy and do nothing about the dirty energy?

HOEVEN: My whole point is, if you create that environment, you will get the investment. You talk about those statistics. Most of that in terms of what we've done in oil, gas in these areas, and you, yourself, said gas is an important part of the future --

WHITEHOUSE: In transition, absolutely.

HOEVEN: -- has been in spite of the president because the regulatory barriers he's created and the cost he's imposed.

WHITEHOUSE: Well, there are very few regulatory barriers and very little cost in the formation of this rule. It allows the states to come up with a plan to figure out how they're going to reduce their carbon emissions. They can do it in all sorts of ways. They can do it by investing in wind, which is investment like investment in coal. They can do it by investing in alternative technologies by putting their utilities on to having multiple sources of fuel and not just coal. They can do it with efficiency, making houses and businesses more efficient, which by the way also saves money.

There is an estimate that this on balance will actually increase jobs.

HOEVEN: Fifty-one billion dollar reduction in annual GDP. Loss of almost a quarter million jobs a year, $300 billion-plus in higher costs including to low-income people, $600 billion in lower disposable income. That's a study --


JONES: The Chamber of Commerce is excellent at giving those kind of talking points. Here's the problem. They said that every time there's been carbon control, every time that's been pollution control, and they're always wrong. You know why? Because they underestimate the ability of the American business to innovate.

Why don't you believe --


WHITEHOUSE: They may not even be telling the truth from the get-go.

HOEVEN: We are going to export our higher electricity cost, which not only burdened the families and business. We're going to export our manufacturing and we'll make not even a dent in global greenhouse gas emissions. We need to develop those technologies and the world will follow. That's the right approach.

WHITEHOUSE: It will help them better if there's a market incentive --

HOEVEN: You're just going to shut them down?

CUPP: Senator Whitehouse, don't have to take it from me or Senator Hoeven, you can take it from fellow Democrats.

Alison Lundergan Grimes who's running for Senate in Kentucky had this to say, "I will fiercely oppose the president's attack on Kentucky's coal industry because protecting our jobs will be my number one priority." She's a Democrat like I said.

And a number of unions have come out today against this new plan.

Why is the president really throwing Democrats and his base under the bus to push this on behalf of probably special interests?

WHITEHOUSE: Because he's the president of the United States and not the president of the coal industry. And because states like mine get very little benefit from coal.


CUPP: What about states like Kentucky and North Dakota, do they count?

WHITEHOUSE: They do count and that's why there's so much flexibility built in for them to be able to achieve this without that hard hit to their coal industry.

CUPP: Democrats in states like this don't agree with you.

WHITEHOUSE: But in Rhode Island, it's a cost that the coal industry always forgets or pretends isn't real and I will submit and I will agree that in John's state and in Joe Manchin's state, and in Alison Lundergan Grimes' state, there is a need to go in and be prepared to help the coal industry with this transition. I accept that.

What I don't accept is them pretending is that ten inches of sea level rise along the Rhode Island shore isn't real. The four degrees of warming in Narragansett Bay isn't real. That affects livelihood in my state --


HOEVEN: But the issue is how you solve the problem, how you can effectively --

CUPP: OK. Stay here, we want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question.

Do you think President Obama made the right decision to trade five Gitmo detainees for Sergeant Bergdahl? Tweet yes or not using #Crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.

We also have the outrages of the day. I'm outraged about why the daughter of a famous Hollywood couple is going around topless.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CUPP: Welcome back. It's time for the outrages of the day.

Did you happen to catch Scout Willis, daughter of Bruce and Demi Moore, walking around New York City topless last week? No?

Well, many were puzzled by the stunt, but, thankfully, she's finally laid out her rationale on She was protesting Instagram's policy against posting topless shots of women. She says, quote, "Matters like the taboo in the nipple in the 21st century, public breastfeeding, slut shaming, fat shaming, breast cancer awareness, body positivity, gender inequality, and censorship have found their way into mainstream discussion. And she hopes that walking around topless provides an opportunity for dialogue about Instagram's, quote, "prejudiced community guidelines."

I can just see them now, Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony gazing into the future after their hard-fought victories for equality, hoping that one day, someone, hopefully the kid of famous Hollywood celebrities, would fight the unjust prejudice -- prejudice against emancipating one's nipple in public.

Good work, Scout, keep fighting the good fight.

JONES: I -- I --


JONES: I'm just going on to mine.

I am outrage of (INAUDIBLE) alarm, seriously, this year's annual migration of monarch butterflies has hit an all-time low. Now, the question you should ask is, who is killing his butterflies and why should you care?

Well, first of all, monarch butterflies are actually pretty neat. They are beautiful, they do that cool metamorphosis thing, and they're critical for pollinating our crops, so humans can eat food. OK? Humans eat food. No butterflies, no crops, no food.

What's killing them? Man-made herbicides are actually wiping out butterflies food source which is milk weed. Here's the problem -- today's crops are genetically modified to with stand massive amounts of herbicides. But nobody modified the milk weed for the butterflies. So, they're starving to death. And if these big pesticide butchers don't do something, the rest of the us could soon be starving, too, and that's outrageous.

CUPP: Let's check back on our "Fireback" results, do you think President Obama made the right decision to trade five Gitmo detainees for Sergeant Bergdahl? Right now, 39 percent of you say yes, 61 percent say no.

JONES: You're wrong.

CUPP: Senators, what does it say to you that at least according to our poll, the American public is not with President Obama on how he went about doing this?

HOEVEN: I would rather him being with the Bergdahl family and with the soldier, and I think he was with them in the most important way in our lives. I'm proud that he made the decision that he made.

CUPP: Senator, why do you think the American public opposes --


HOEVEN: Again, we're glad for the family, but there's a real concern about how this deal was done and we need to get all the facts.

CUPP: Yes.

JONES: Well, fair enough, I am really curious, though, when you hear what he's saying, you do have this human side of it. Do you think Republicans are making a mistake by not speaking more forcefully to the human side to this reunited family?

HOEVEN: I think we all understand the human side, and we have to speak to it. But we've got to get the whole story, and understand the ramifications for our Americans and our military.

JONES: Well, look, I want to thank you both, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and John Hoeven.

This debate is going to continue online at, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Van Jones.

CUPP: From the right, I'm S.E. Cupp.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.