Politics & Government

Sen. Kay Hagan says US should not bear brunt of conflict in Syria

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan on Thursday said she supports the military airstrikes in Syria but thinks Congress needs to approve any further escalation of the president’s plan to fight Islamic State militants.

She also called on her Republican challenger, Thom Tillis, to say how he thinks the United States should handle the threat, since Tillis has criticized President Barack Obama’s response as sluggish. Last week, Congress approved arming and training moderate Syrian rebels.

“My question to Speaker Tillis: Why is he not supporting that? And then what in the world does he suggest that we do?” Hagan said during a meeting with editors and reporters Thursday at The News & Observer.

“Personally, I also think that the president needs to send us more information,” Hagan said. “We need further authorization. I think we need to have a complete debate on the Senate floor, and we need to have a vote on it.”

Tillis, in a phone interview Thursday afternoon, said he would have voted for the bill authorizing arms for the rebels, but mainly because it was tied to a resolution keeping the federal government funded and running. He reiterated his recent remarks that the United States doesn’t yet know enough about who the moderate rebels are, and whether it’s a good idea to arm them.

“I actually don’t know if we should or shouldn’t,” Tillis said. “I would have to know that these arms would not get in the hands of people who would want to take over the Middle East.”

Hagan’s comments came as U.S. warplanes began hitting key targets such as oil refineries this week, in response to the beheading of hostages and other atrocities. Obama addressed the United Nations on Wednesday, and called for a coalition to defeat the militants.

On Friday, Tillis and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham are scheduled to hold a news conference in Charlotte on national security issues, including the Islamic State, which is often referred to as ISIS or ISIL.

Hagan spoke extensively about Syria in Thursday’s meeting. She said she had no doubt that immediate military action was necessary.

“They’re evil, they’re jihadists, they’re barbaric,” Hagan said of the militants. “It was a direct attack on us, and we have to take action.”

Hagan said the military action had to be part of a coalition that spares the United States from bearing the brunt of the costs and keeps American ground forces out of the conflict. America’s continued effort should be to contribute intelligence to help identify targets, she said.

Hagan covered a variety of other topics in the hourlong interview. Here are excerpts.

Affordable Care Act: She defended the federal health care law as a good idea that could use improvement. She said Tillis’ position to repeal the law is not what people she talks to want.

“They want us to improve it and to fix it,” she said. “They don’t want to go back to a broken system. They don’t want to go back to a time when if they get sick, they lose their health insurance.”

Asked how she would fix it, Hagan listed three things to consider: changing the definition of full-time work from 30 hours back to 40 hours as it was before the law; offering a cheaper plan for young people; and selling insurance plans across state lines.

Medicaid expansion: She criticized Tillis and the General Assembly for not expanding Medicaid coverage to more people last year because of persistent shortfalls of hundreds of millions of dollars, as allowed under the Affordable Care Act.

“There’s a political reason they won’t do that,” Hagan said. “I think that in the first six months of next year, the state of North Carolina will expand, because it doesn’t make any economic sense not to.”

She said North Carolina taxpayers were paying for Medicaid expansion in 28 states.

Earlier this month, state health secretary Aldona Wos told legislators her agency will provide the governor possible ways that Medicaid coverage could be expanded because of improvements in the state department’s system.

Asked about whether the state would change course and expand Medicaid, Tillis said he would leave that to future legislators.

“We inherited a mess,” Tillis said. “With the circumstances changing, then the decision may be different. Our Medicaid costs are becoming more predictable. I wouldn’t oppose it if, in fact, we’ve gotten the waste, inefficiency and abuse under control.”

Campaign finance: Asked whether she knew who was behind a charitable nonprofit organization called Patriot Majority USA, Hagan said she didn’t. The organization, which by law doesn’t have to disclose where its money comes from, has spent $1.7 million against Tillis on Hagan’s behalf.

A Hagan spokesman said all the campaign knows about the charity is what’s in its federal finance reports. Patriot Majority USA was founded in 2005 by Craig Varoga, a Democratic strategist who, according to his website, has worked on the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry.

Hagan said not knowing who was behind that group is one reason she supported a bill that has languished in Congress that would require disclosure of anyone who pays for political ads.

“What you’ve seen is a proliferation of a very very small number of very, very wealthy people dictating what 315 million Americans see and hear on TV and radio,” she said. “Nobody understands who’s footing the bill.”

Hagan said nearly $30 million has been spent against her this year.