Atlantic Council

NATO Engages 2019

“Congressional Conversation: The U.S. Role in NATO and Enduring Value of the Transatlantic Bond”



Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH),

Co-Chair, Senate NATO Observer Group,

United States Senate


Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA),

Chair, US Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly,

United States House of Representatives


Representative Mike Turner (R-OH),

Member, Committee on Armed Services,

United States House of Representatives



Jane Harman,

Director, President, and CEO,

Wilson Center


Location:  Washington, D.C.


Time:  2:30 p.m. EDT

Date:  Wednesday, April 3, 2019


ANNOUNCER:  Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the director, president and CEO of the Wilson Center, Ms. Jane Harman.  (Applause.)

JANE HARMAN:  Well, good afternoon, everyone.  This is going to be the fast panel, because I’m standing between you and Secretary General Stoltenberg.  I’m also moderating a conversation with two members of Congress who have votes pending.  A third member may show.  But welcome to Congress in action. 

Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Congressman Mike Turner are here.  And we’re waiting for Congressman – we’re not waiting.  We’re just welcoming Congressman Gerry Connolly when he shows.  But I thought you should see what one Democrat and one Republican standing next to each other look like.  (Applause.)  And also, Jeanne and I dressed like twins.  I think the point of that is – (laughter) – that we just have good taste.


HARMAN: Yes. I think that’s what it is.

So these are two of the best members to talk about the issues at hand.  You should know that I got to moderate a panel like this, Mike was on it, at the Munich security conference a month ago, which I attended for the 20th time.  This panel, set up by Wolfgang Ischinger, was at 10:30 at night.  And I said, Wolfgang, nobody will come.  This is the dumbest idea ever.  So it was mobbed.  Shows what I know.  But also, everyone wanted to know what Congress knows.  So that’s the point, quickly, of this little, teeny, fast-moving panel.

Jeanne Shaheen is the senior senator from the state of New Hampshire.  As a Democrat, she is in her second term and is the first senator from New Hampshire – dot, dot, dot – who happens to be a woman.  She also was the first governor from New Hampshire – dot, dot, dot – who happens to be a woman.  She also has great credentials for the conversation we’re about to have.  She and Senator Tom Tillis, who’s a Republican from North Carolina, revived the NATO Observer Group, some of you may know this, which monitors and informs senators outside of national security committee – good idea – about the alliance, its evolving capabilities, and its future.  She’s also a member of the Helsinki Commission, as well as the only woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, go figure.  How does that make any sense?  It doesn’t.

And Mike Turner was on my panel in Munich.  He can’t get enough of panels like this.  And he is in his ninth term in Congress.  That’s how long I lasted in Congress.  So, Mike, that’s not a warning, but it’s just saying there is life after Congress.  Serving since 2003, he’s a Republican.  Represents Ohio’s 10th District, which is based in Dayton.  And he’s a member of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees and is ranking member on the Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces.  And is a marvelous, informed voice in the House.  That may contrast to a few other voices in the House.

So let me ask you both:  We were all there.  I assume we were all there.  And some of you watched it live.  At the Stoltenberg address this morning which, to remind, was as part of a bipartisan invitation from Leader McConnell, the Senate majority leader, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  I thought it was spectacular.  I saw bipartisanship break out.  Actually the standing ovations he got were bipartisan.  I saw very few people not standing up.  How did that happen?  And is that some harbinger of some good news?

Let’s start with Jeanne.

SEN. SHAHEEN:  I’m going to stand, so I can see everybody, as this is a round – theater in the round.  First of all, I thought the secretary general gave an excellent speech.  And he laid out very clearly the case for why NATO is not just in Europe’s interests, but it’s in America’s interest.  And he pointed out not only is it a military alliance, it’s also an economic alliance and a political alliance.  And I think, as you point out, the response to the secretary-general’s speech was very strong, bipartisan.  It was not like the usual addresses we see in Congress where the Democrats stand up on one thing and the Republicans stand up on another.  Everyone stood up and applauded. 

And I think that’s consistent with the message that has been coming out of Congress in support of NATO.  It has been bipartisan, it has been bicameral, and it has been very strong.  We have had more votes in support of NATO in the last two years than we’ve had at any time since the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

So I think the message should be clear to everyone that NATO is supported in the United States.  And we reflect the views of our constituents.  It’s not just that I’m there in support of NATO, but the people of New Hampshire support NATO.  I think it’s true in Ohio.  The people of Ohio support NATO.  And that is a unified message that our adversaries should take very seriously. 

And I thought it was interesting that one of the points that the secretary-general hit the hardest in his speech was Russia – Russia’s annexation of Crimea, how that is outside of international norms, and the threat that Russia still poses to the West. 

HARMAN: Mike, let me ask you the same question and then I’ll split them up. Let’s hear if it’s true – uh-oh, here she’s going to get pulled out, vote –

SEN. SHAHEEN:  They’re telling me that I have to go vote now.  So thank you all very much.  (Applause.)  Have fun.

HARMAN: Well, it is what it is. Actually, she’d doing her job, and she does her job very well, I want to volunteer.  And so it’s good that you’re going back.

This morning – let me ask some other questions; please express agreement if you have it with what Jeanne said – there were some things that Stoltenberg didn’t say.  Didn’t mention a five-letter word.  C-H-I-N-A.  And a number of people were commenting on that.  Why didn’t he mention China? 

You know, he focused on agreement.  He didn’t focus on disagreement.  He mentioned energy as a category, but he didn’t mention the Nord Stream 2 and Germany’s arrangement with Russia on energy.  What did you think?  You know, if you were rating the speech, what’d you think?

REP. TURNER:  Well, I’ll follow Jeanne’s example and stand.  I think it was a 10.  I think it was absolutely an extraordinary speech.  Here’s a man who is speaking at a joint session of Congress and he’s not a leader of another nation.  He is a leader of an alliance where there’s the NAC that actually governs its actions.  And he had a message I think that was excellent.

Now I want to begin also by saying, when you talk about bipartisanship, I have to begin by acknowledging that Jane Harman and Senator Shaheen are two of the great leaders on bipartisanship – not only just reaching across from the aisle, but actually having positions and speaking positions that I think everybody can support, and being great advocates on the issues of national security.  So I want to thank both of you for that.

I think another thing that was extraordinary about his speech is he began by talking about what we’ve done together.  I mean, he reminded everybody that NATO really is the organization that came together for the defeat of the Soviet Union.  And sometimes we forget that, you know, the Soviet Union didn’t voluntarily take down the Berlin Wall.  They just merely decided not to shoot the people who were doing so.  But it was the wind, the breath of democracy that really was the bedrock that came from the alliance of NATO that was able to accomplish that.

He did not mention China, but at the same time he did, I think, give us all the challenge of this is an alliance that works on our joint security.  And I love the fact that he went through the INF Treaty violation with Russia and called on Russia to dismantle those missiles because he saw not our calling out Russia as the destabilizing effect, but the fact that they have deployed missiles.  This is not an accident.  They intentionally violated the treaty, and you can’t have just one side be bound to a treaty.

And the other thing that he did that I thought was consistent with what he’s been saying in front of both NATO and of course the NATO Parliamentary Assembly – there are a number of NATO Parliamentary Assembly delegates that are here – is that he has credited the Trump administration’s focus on the 2 percent of actually having an effect on increased spending in Europe.

HARMAN: And he got a standing ovation that was bipartisan – not totally; not everyone stood – but he did get a bipartisan –

REP. TURNER:  It took a little while for Nancy Pelosi to stand, but she did.  Because I think in the end it’s something that, bipartisan, we do support.  I think it a took a while for everybody to catch up to exactly what he was saying.  But in this, we want people to spend more because in spending more we’re all going to be safer.

HARMAN: And he also said the INF Treaty, the door is still open to Russia. If Russia wants to comply and come back in, NATO would welcome Russia to come back in. 

And I would just add that this morning the Wilson Center, which I hope all of you know is the living memorial to Woodrow Wilson, our only Ph.D. and our first internationalist president, hosted a breakfast for our star ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison and a lot of her colleagues.  And we were talking about the INF Treaty, and some of them said there was good information about Russia’s violations.  It may have appeared in our press that it was a sudden decision, but they disagreed with that.  And if the door is still open, that’s an interesting development, I think.

REP. TURNER:  Right.  And Sandy Vershbow, who’s here, the deputy secretary-general for NATO.

HARMAN: Hi, Sandy.

REP. TURNER:  He made the point in front of Congress recently that when the INF went in place, there were actually missile systems that had to be dismantled.  Russia actually took things apart.  So calling on them to come in to compliance is not out of the realm of action.  They’ve done it before.  They could do it now.

HARMAN: Well, and I think that’s to be applauded.

The other thing that Stoltenberg said that I don’t think is widely known in the U.S., and should be, is that NATO invoked Article 5 after 9/11.  Only time it involved Article 5 – without even being asked to do so.  Nick Burns, then our ambassador to NATO, said it was an amazing circumstance where he was basically told we’re doing this.  And one of the things Stoltenberg said – and for any of you who missed it this morning – is that there are two monuments at the front of the new NATO headquarters in Brussels, and one of them is a big shard of steel from one of the towers on 9/11.  And the point of that is to remember and to resolve to prevent that again.

Let’s go there.  He was talking about different challenges, and he certainly talked about the challenge of Russia.  But he also talked about the challenge of terrorism.  What are your thoughts about that?

REP. TURNER:  That was great symbolism, because in his speech when he talks about the two monuments, he said the Berlin Wall and pieces of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.  And in saying that, he’s saying, well, those have been our two major challenges, the Soviet Union, threats of Russia, and of course terrorism.

And he made the point – which I thought was also interesting – when he was talking about Russia and the past, is that Russia’s actions of invading Crimea are the first time since World War II that another nation has invaded another and changed its boundary.  And I think putting it in that context makes it that much more condemning.

HARMAN: Let me go to Congress itself, because I think a lot of people who don’t live here and either watch media – oh, here we go. Oh, Gerry Connolly.  (Applause.)  Welcome to Congress. 


HARMAN: This is the roadshow. Let me just introduce you and hit you with a question.

REP. CONNOLLY:  Somebody should do something about traffic around here.

HARMAN: Traffic. Oh, well, is the House taking votes in the next five minutes?


HARMAN: No, okay. Well, have a glass of water and sit down.

REP. CONNOLLY:  Thank you.

HARMAN: So Gerry Connolly is another one of the well-informed House members on international and foreign policy. He’s the chairman of the U.S. delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.  He’s in his sixth term.  That’s pretty far up there.  I knew him before.  A Democrat, he’s represented Virginia’s 11th District since 2009, and the district is close to here.  You were the county, the manager –

REP. CONNOLLY:  The chairman.

HARMAN: The chairman of the – no, before you were elected.

REP. CONNOLLY:  I was chairman of Fairfax County.

HARMAN: Chairman of Fairfax County. That’s a really big job, and not partisan.  Before he was elected –

REP. CONNOLLY:  Actually, it is partisan.

HARMAN: OK, I have something to learn.

REP. CONNOLLY:  Our country offices we run on a partisan basis in Virginia and in the city offices generally we don’t.

HARMAN: But I know from the way you behave in Congress that you care about solving problems more than you care about scoring points.

REP. CONNOLLY:  True.  Hardly anyone knows I’m a Democrat.

HARMAN: Gerry’s a member – Mike didn’t know either – of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chairs the Oversight Subcommittee on Government Operations.

OK, so we were talking about the Stoltenberg speech this morning.  We were talking about the things that he did, didn’t do in the speech.  Mike gives it a 10.  I would agree.  Would you agree with that?

REP. CONNOLLY:  I would.

HARMAN: You would.

OK, so now we’re talking about why Congress doesn’t get a 10.  Does Congress get a 5?  And I’m saying that people who don’t live in this country watch media and wonder if Congress does anything.  You’ve just heard from some well-informed members who really care about this alliance and spend time educating themselves and others.  But since you haven’t gotten to answer a question yet, Gerry, what is your current comment on how Congress functions, and if you could wave your magic wand and do a couple of things, what would they be?

REP. CONNOLLY:  On the big stuff, Congress does not function well at all and that is because the country is – I mean, members of Congress did not arrive in Congress with their partisanship by immaculate conception.  Voters elected them, and they represent the partisan divides and the polarization of the country at large.  You know, most of us have to win a primary to win an election and it is in primaries where that kind of very intense partisanship occurs and that gives you very little latitude often in terms of straying from orthodoxy.

HARMAN: So if you could wave your magic wand and do one thing or two things, what would they be?

REP. CONNOLLY:  One thing I would try to do is, frankly, change the gerrymandering pattern so that we make districts more competitive and we loosen the partisan – the ultra-partisan control – in the nomination process because now – and I used to represent a very swing district – you got to listen to everyone.  You can’t discount anybody.  If you’re in an 80 percent district of one party or the other, you know, for your own health you’re going to pay attention to your partisans and a lot less attention to everybody else and that’s not healthy in the long run, and I think that’s really created some very unnecessary partisan divide in Congress.

HARMAN: Mike, agree?

REP. TURNER:  You know, I agree with Gerry that the big things are difficult, and if you look – you know, let’s just take one, for example – immigration.  The country is divided and instead of Congress being able to come together and do a bipartisan panel to address the things that we need to address, it becomes a partisan debate for the purposes of advantage in one constituency or another and, you know, we’ve – and I say this knowing that, you know, through three presidents – Bush, Obama, and Trump – we’ve been unable to do an immigration reform package, although everyone knows that we need to do one.

HARMAN: Well, I, obviously, strongly agree with that. So gerrymandering, big things difficult.  You two travel.  You go to international fora.  I see my brother, Wolfgang Ischinger, back there.  I mentioned that I’m a 20-year veteran of the Munich Security Conference.  This year, 54 members of Congress showed up.  That was at least twice the number that came before and, oh, by the way, very appropriately, there was a – the first-ever awarded prize to some scholars in memory of John McCain, who was the ringleader who, I think, very impressively educated generations of members of Congress on foreign policy.

So here’s my question.  Not just about sophistication – how many members, given the partisanship and the – and the focus on primaries, how many members of Congress even care about foreign policy?  How many know even the basics about the NATO Alliance and why it matters?

REP. CONNOLLY:  Well, I would say there are lots of members of Congress who care about foreign policy.  That’s a different number than those who can afford to spend time on it.  You know, depending on your district, the expectation may be you’re on some other committee that’s really relevant to the needs of your constituents and, in that case, foreign policy kind of takes a back burner because it’s almost a luxury.  We admire your involvement but you better take care of bread and butter back home.

On the other hand, there are districts like mine where, frankly, being involved in foreign policy is rewarded, appreciated.  They like it.  I’m never going to get in trouble because I spend time on these issues.

HARMAN: So, Mike, Dayton, Ohio – what does Dayton think about your focus on security, intelligence, and foreign policy?

REP. TURNER:  Well, in my community, we have Wright-Patterson Air Force Base that has nearly 30,000 people inside defense and 20,000 people outside defense that work on issues of national security. We were also the site for the Dayton Peace Accord negotiations and so my community is twinned in sister cities and cultural exchanges in the Balkans.  So, unusually, in community discussions I’ll have somebody even ask me a question about Bosnia.  So we’re a community that is focused on those issues and they see it as something that’s both important and that advances the agenda of the community. 

But I wanted to say something about what Gerry had said.  You know, I do think that personal relationships really do matter in really helping bipartisanship, and I want to give Gerry incredible credit because we work together as a(n) unbelievable team in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.  When we work on issues, it doesn’t matter what the issue is, we work together.

Now, I’m going to credit that to the fact that we both come from local government and just, you know, on a – on a prejudiced basis say everyone should, because I was a mayor and he was a county administrator.  But I do think it really does take the personal relationships to break down some of these barriers.

HARMAN: I just got praised too, Gerry, so you’re not alone. But –

REP. CONNOLLY:  Absolutely, Jane.  Well, Jane, you’re a model for all of us.


HARMAN: But you two are a model. And you know, there is bipartisanship.  That’s what I want people who don’t live here to see.  These folks are in different parties.  They for sure don’t vote the same on every issue.  They don’t vote for the same leadership.  But they agree, and Jeanne Shaheen did too from the Senate, on the incredible importance of this alliance.

So we have, because – it’s blinking red.  We have 22 seconds left.  Ten seconds each:  What do you want this audience to know that they don’t already know?  Mike.

REP. TURNER:  I think this has been a great celebration for NATO’s 70th anniversary.  And we’re at a great point for the alliance and I think this celebration shows it.

HARMAN: That was impressive; that was 10 seconds. Gerry.

REP. CONNOLLY:  Congress is not often accused of being subtle.  But if you watched what happened this morning with the secretary-general of NATO, you saw many layers of significant communication on a bipartisan basis from the United States Congress.  And I would hope all of our NATO partners don’t miss that subtlety because it’s powerful and it was intended.

HARMAN: And I would just add that in addition to Congress coming together, which is spectacular, the think tank community works together, too – the Atlantic Council does, the German Marshall does – Fund does, and others who are all active and interested in your visit here. And I – you know, congratulations to those who organized this conference and happy 70, NATO.  May you even thrive more in the next 70.  Thank you all.

REP. CONNOLLY:  Thank you, Jane.  (Applause.)  Great job.