In an exclusive interview with Breitbart News on Friday, Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY) had harsh words for President Joe Biden, calling him “heartless” and a “political hack,” as well as for former President George W. Bush, who she accused of suffering from “Trump derangement syndrome,” all while slamming Secretary of State Antony Blinken for “toeing [the Biden administration’s] line like Baghdad Bob” in claiming the Afghanistan withdrawal was an “extraordinary success,” and urging the formation of a commission to investigate the failed pullout.
Last week, as Blinken testified before Congress, Tenney pressed him on several issues, including his failure to evacuate all Americans from Afghanistan.
Speaking with Breitbart News, the Republican congresswoman from Central New York called the encounter “really frustrating.”
“To only have five minutes when such an important issue is before us — and we want to get everybody [who] has an interest in asking him questions — has been a real struggle for my office,” she said.
“We’ve been helping, trying to get people out [of Afghanistan], so it’s been very very frustrating,” she added. “It’s just been a ton of anguish dealing with these people and so I just really wanted to hear from them.”
Tenney, who is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also described feeling “put off by the arrogance of some of the Democrats” on the committee during the hearing, accusing them of “dismissing us and this whole situation.”
“I just spent a weekend with Gold Star families who are livid, they’re furious over this whole thing, and these are all people who lost their children in Iraq and Afghanistan at age 20 and 21,” she said.
“For [Rep.] Barbara Lee or [Rep.] Karen Bass [to say] ‘Oh, this is all just histrionics and what a wonderful job you did,’ is offensive,” she added.
She also noted that Blinken reminded her of the Iraqi information minister renowned for his inaccurate Iraqi news briefings shortly before coalition troops reached Baghdad in 2003:
When we moved into Iraq it was very aggressive, it was very startling. The shock and awe — that’s what they called it — we just moved right in and took over and there was a guy — they called him Baghdad Bob — up there saying, ‘We have the infidels surrounded’ and they’d be showing US tanks in the background moving into the airport as he was just totally towing this party line to the bitter end no matter whether it was wrong or not.
“Blinken is probably a smart guy,” she added. “But he was just toeing this line like Baghdad Bob.”
She then noted, “He also seems very weak and he effectively filibustered me out of being able to ask my questions the way that I wanted them. He didn’t answer anything and a lot of people debated just reading a statement.”
Claiming to have sought Blinken’s admission that the presence of U.S. troops would have made the evacuation of U.S. citizens and other eligible individuals from Afghanistan easier, she recalled his placing the blame on former President Donald Trump in response.
“At one point he does say ‘yes’ it would have been easier, but then placed the blame on former President Trump,’ and then he kept saying that on our calls that we had with him,” she said.
Claiming that Blinken is “doing what he’s supposed to do,” she then criticized his attempts to shift blame to the former president.
“He’s a bureaucrat, he’s just trying to spin it the way it has to be spun, and they’re spinning this as Trump’s fault and he really blamed Trump for the fact that the Trump vetting process and Trump’s SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) program had a backlog [when] they took over,” she said.
“What I wanted to get to was if there was a backlog, why didn’t they wait to make sure everyone got out? Isn’t that important?” she asked. “But no, I guess it isn’t important.”
“What they wanted was to have a slogan so they can say we ended the war before 9/11,” she continued, adding that it was incomprehensible.
“I don’t understand why that would be something they would want,” she said. “To just memorialize putting the Taliban back in power and just saying, ‘Oh yeah, this is what we want.’”
Claiming that she knows Blinken is “in a tough spot,” Tenney placed the blame largely on the president.
“My sincere belief is [President Joe] Biden is calling the shots and I think Biden is ignorant and I think he’s arrogant,” she said. “I think he’s a career politician who’s never had to be held accountable.”
“He really never has had to be held accountable for anything,” she added.
Accusing the president of acting irresponsibly, Tenney said she does not believe consequences concern him.
“I just don’t really think he really cares what’s going on,” she said. “I think he’s really callous and heartless with all this because I don’t think he really grasped it because he’s just been a jaded politician for so long.”
Calling Biden “out of touch,” she then noted the anguish of Gold Star families.
“We have a patriot walk where we honor the Gold Star people and it was extremely heart-wrenching and every one of them was furious over what was going on and they were upset that Biden apparently talked about his own son as if it was comparable,” she said.
“And those types of things just show that he is callous and tone-deaf,” she added. “He may not be totally with it, but everybody knows he’s not going to go back and question himself.”
Tenney then questioned the president’s cognitive state.
“I think he’s slow,” she said. “His reactions aren’t as fast but I think he has hardened beliefs and core political positioning that he’s taken for all these years as a politician and transmitted in a very phony way.”
“He’s probably my least favorite politician,” she added.
She also accused him of creating a “false narrative of being a regular guy.”
“I look at him as a career politician who has really just parlayed that position into wealth and benefits for himself and his family,” she said. “He hasn’t fought the hard fight.”
“He’s never had to really work, make payroll, or really understand the profound difficulties that the average person goes through other than through the lens of a politician where his paycheck is always there,” she added. “I just feel like there’s a callousness about him.”
Stating that the president has also never had to “have a consequential race,” or have “any kind of accountability for his decisions and political positions,” the congresswoman contrasted that with her own experience.
“I’ve had to make decisions with firing people, where to go with my company, where to go with cases, representing my clients in court, and then having millions spent against me in campaigns and being confronted constantly by the other side and having to have answers that I feel are legitimate and well thought out and researched,” she said.
“But he doesn’t seem to have any interest in that and there are politicians that can get away with that kind of stuff,” she added.
Asked whether she saw any potential for accountability, whether through a commission or through the inspector general, Tenney expressed little hope.
“I don’t know how we’re going to get it to happen,” she said. “The Democrats aren’t going to let it happen.”
However, she expressed support for the creation of an Accountability Review Board (ARB), similar to that which had formed following the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, to investigate the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan which also led to the deaths of 13 U.S. marines.
“We should be pushing for an ARB,” she said, “If we can get them to do it.”
Stating she was “tired of hearing Republicans say ‘wait till we take back the House,’ Tenney said time was of the essence.
“We can’t afford to wait until we take back the House, we need to be pushing and pressing them now,” she said.
“I think Republicans should be firing on all cylinders, on everything we can go at because that’s what the Democrats do when they’re in power,” she added. “They never let up.”
She also noted that when she looks at the faces of those who’ve lost children in battle, “we can’t look at people and say ‘wait till we take back the house,’” she said. “We can do something.”
“I think we need to put pressure on the Democrats and I think some of them realize that they don’t want to stand up, and that’s what concerns me,” she added.
Asked about the evacuation and airlifting of 120,000 people from Afghanistan in what was dubbed an “extraordinary success” by the Biden administration, Tenney raised concerns over the evacuees’ backgrounds.
“Oh my God, who are the 120,000 people we got out?” she asked. “Are there 120,000 people that are interconnected with the U.S. at that point that need to be evacuated?”
“That’s a real concern,” she added.
She then contrasted Biden’s handling of the pullout with former President Trump’s approach.
“I feel like it’s Biden doing this without a care in the world, not really worrying about it,” she said. “And I know they love to blame Trump, but one of the things about Trump is that he makes bold decisions.”
“When Trump got in there he realized that there was more to the story than just the sloganeering and I think that’s one thing about Biden — he’s such a political hack that it’s all about the sloganeering,” she continued.
“There’s no depth with him,” she added. “You scratch the surface and you just get more surface. He’s just a politician whereas someone like Trump gets in there and he’s very practical.”
Praising the former president’s ability to make quick decisions, Tenney also noted Trump’s ability to accurately assess situations.
“Sometimes you have to know what you don’t know,” she said. “[Trump] had more of a sense of the gravity of the situation and the consequences because he was a business person.”
“I just don’t feel like Biden grasps any sense of responsibility for anything,” she continued. “He’s in the political gristmill: just move on and the cycle goes on.”
“Look at what’s going on in the southern border,” she added. “This is such a disaster and they just ignore it.”
President George W. Bush
Asked about former President George W. Bush’s comparing January 6 Capitol protesters to the Islamic terrorists who viciously attacked America on 9/11 during a speech commemorating the attacks’ 20th anniversary, Tenney attributed Bush’s remarks to “Trump derangement syndrome.”
“I don’t understand Trump derangement syndrome,” she said. “These people that get it are triggered and then they become broken and then they become incurable.”
“People like [Sens.] Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul were able to get over themselves,” she added. “Then I look at some of these other people like [Reps.] Liz Cheney or Adam Kinzinger and others who you wonder if it’s just all about them because they can’t get over themselves.”
“Don’t they care about the party and everything else?” she asked.
According to Tenney, Bush’s comparing the January 6 riots to the “diabolical, absolutely evil act of 9/11” demonstrates “a lack of regard or respect for Americans who are unhappy with our system going down this terrible communist kind of road that we’re on with authoritarianism and other things.”
“I get why people feel frustrated, but to compare them to 9/11 on 9/11?” she asked.
Noting that many desire politicians who “stand independently” for citizens “and not as a cabal,” she described feeling as though she is never “one of the insiders” in her district.
“I’m always the outsider,” she said. “I’m elected to do a job. I’m professional, and I’m cordial. I want to get as much using our collaborative efforts that we can for our district, but my job isn’t to be friends with [other elected officials].”
She also stated she could not comprehend why Bush would turn on his own party’s supporters.
“I don’t know why George Bush would get caught up in attacking so many people in the Republican Party, especially my supporters who feel like there’s this career politician cabal that both parties are in it against them,” she said.
“I don’t understand why these people want to attack the heartland of America where people feel like they’ve been ignored,” she added.
Claiming that these Americans wished to see more leadership, Tenney stressed the disappointment felt as a result of Bush’s comments.
“I think to see Bush do that was really disappointing for a lot of people, especially when you look at the horror of what the Taliban, or what al-Qaeda did and the horror of 9/11,” she said.
”How you could ever compare that to the situation in the Capitol?” she asked, adding that she condemned the January 6 riots, noting, “They have a right to peacefully protest, which they should have done.”
Gen. Mark Milley
Asked about claims by authors Bob Woodward and Robert Costa that Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley made secret calls to his Chinese counterpart which included a promise that he would alert China to any planned attack by America, Tenney expressed doubts, though she noted she considered China to be “our biggest enemy.”
“Anything coming from Bob Woodward, I immediately think has an element of exaggeration in it and an element of stretching the facts to fit a narrative that he may have,” she said.
“That’s who he is,” she added. “He’s a sensationalist and he’s trying to get a sensational response.”
She also noted the severity of the matter, if the claims turned out to be true.
“I think that if it’s proven to be true and the intent of what was said and the circumstances around what we said: that he’s undermining the President of the United States, then obviously it’s really shameful and we have a huge problem,” she said. “But I think right now I haven’t seen anything.”
The Middle East
Asked about the impact of the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Tenney called it a “disaster.”
“As we project weakness in the Arab world, we have not shown the level of confidence that we need to show towards Israel,” she said.
“And to those people who have now been part of the Abraham Accords and other peace deals in the Middle East, we need to give them the confidence that they need and I don’t think that the Biden administration is projecting strength,” she added.
Arguing that “policy in Afghanistan” shows the U.S. is “really not reliable,” she claimed the matters in the Middle East would only get worse.
“I think obviously the situation in Iran is not getting any better and as they have [climate envoy John] Kerry and others just talking about how they’re going to continue to negotiate and Kerry, even though he’s the climate czar, apparently occupies a large part of the State Department so that’s apparently a State Department issue according to Democrats,” she said.
She also expressed worries over the lack of support for Israel as well as Iran’s nuclear progress.
“I think [Kerry] has a lot of influence in there and I just worry about their lack of support for Israel and the lack of decisiveness and leadership coming out of the White House and the State Department,” she said.
“I think I would be worried with Iran getting so close and the fact that we haven’t been able to put any pressure or stop it in any way,” she added.
Follow Joshua Klein on Twitter @JoshuaKlein.