Rep. Taylor: The Straight-Talking Navy SEAL
WASHINGTON – Few Members of Congress share Representative Scott Taylor’s (R-VA) background. Raised by a single mother in Hebron, Maryland, Taylor enlisted in the Navy SEALs when he was only 18 years old. Serving in Latin America, the Virginia lawmaker attained fluency in Spanish. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Taylor returned to the Navy and worked as a sniper in Baghdad and Ramadi during Operation Iraqi Freedom, where like many other servicemen, he lost close friends in battle.
After fighting years abroad for his country, Taylor is not afraid to speak his mind even if that entails challenging his own party on LGBT rights. As a Virginia House Delegate, the former Navy SEAL co-sponsored a bill with Democrats that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace and in housing. Explaining his backing of the LGBT cause, he told Jewish Insider, “I think it’s a freedom and liberty thing, perhaps generational. It is actually a good cause for the Republican Party to get involved with in terms of making sure that vulnerable populations feel protected.” When asked about some Evangelical Christians who oppose legalizing gay marriage, Taylor replied, “Under that religious logic, we shouldn’t be getting involved in marriage, well then why are we, the government, getting involved in straight marriage?” While emphasizing his religious faith during the campaign including listing on his website where he worships, the Virginia lawmaker said that America should value co-existence “I am pretty sure Jesus would be ok with it.”
On Israel, the 37-year old Congressman expresses skepticism regarding the two state solution, once considered a cornerstone of American policy among both Republican and Democratic administrations. “From a military standpoint, the West Bank and Golan Heights, that land that Israel took in 1967 — from a tactical standpoint — there is no way in hell, I would give it back.” He explained that the current facts on the ground make an independent Palestinian state nearly impossible. “Most people think, there’s the Jews and there’s the Arabs. It’s just not like that because when you are actually in Judea and Samaria, the West Bank, you are seeing Arab village, Jewish village – it’s just all over the place.” While few Members of Congress refer to the territory as Judea and Samaria, when asked why he uses this term, Taylor promptly responded, “Because that’s what it is.”
The Virginia lawmaker did not feel the need to contrive an overly idealistic story for why he enlisted in the military. “I’m from a very small town: single parent, no money, grades were poor because I just cared about sports and I wanted to get out of the small town and I wanted to see the world. I felt that the military was the best way to do it.”
After his service in the Navy SEALs, Taylor worked in Yemen as a security consultant while also dabbling in the public speaking sector. He recounted speaking before the New York Giants, where he focused on applying his military experience of debriefing to the football field. “In the military, you do debriefing after everything and it’s nameless and rank-less because you may be the best pilot in the room, but you may have missed something,” he noted. “I could tell immediately the non-superstars were intimidated by the superstars and they didn’t say anything. Their communication was terrible.”
Based on his many years of service abroad, Taylor remains committed since entering Congress to enact a new Authorization of Use for Military Force (AUMF). The legislative branch last passed an AUMF in 2001 after the September 11 attacks launched by Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan while the Pentagon is currently fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. With Republicans continuing to dominate both the House and Senate, the former NAVY Seal does not spare his criticism. “I am blaming Congress because the notion that it is ok for these administrations to operate in perpetuity off of authorization of military force is bullshit.”
Jewish Insider: Why did you run for Congress?
Congressman Scott Taylor: “I want to solve problems. I want to help people. I want to use a little bit of power to assist people who don’t have it. I didn’t like the direction of the nation where we were going and I wanted to contribute and help people. I was in state house for three years and then the Congressman retired. This opportunity popped up and I think I have something to contribute.”
JI: You spent years serving in the Navy SEALs overseas. Can you please describe the most powerful and impactful moments?
Taylor: “I spent years in South and Central America. I spent years in the Middle East. For me the most powerful incidents in my service are from other people and the people who I served with. Both the good and the bad: everything from good operations that went completely smoothly with my peers as well as the bad: burying peers. Both of those things are very impactful on both sides. But, I don’t like to talk about my stuff. I’m just very honored to serve with the best people I will ever know.”
JI: What lessons did you learn from burying your colleagues after battle?
Taylor: “Not just burying folks. When you look at the War in Iraq, for example, and you look historically speaking, occupying and nation building, to me that doesn’t work that well. I think there was a different way to do it. Of course, it’s easy for me to say now in retrospect, having lost lots of friends, even close ones, it just gives you a completely different perspective on everything. In the position that I am in now, where I am in the power to vote yah or nah to send people in harm’s way or to at least authorize war it makes you more cautious and you actually understand what the law says. You are more cautious and more deliberate in what you say. It is easy to chest pump when you are up in your air conditioned office in Congress or in the White House. When you truly understand the cost of losing people and burying people, what the families go through, over and over again, understanding and hearing the stories of women who get woken by people in uniforms letting them know that their husbands have died or vice versa, you really understand that. I was with the President recently, unfortunately, to receive Ryan Owens body in Dover. The President was there and it’s good, he has never experienced anything like that. We were marching afterwards and everyone was really quiet. I heard him say, ‘this is really tough’ to himself out loud, which is extremely important to me. It’s good that he saw that for our families and our communities, but he sees the costs really early on of the decisions.”
JI: Why did you enlist in the military?
Taylor: “I’m from a very small town: single parent, no money, grades were poor because I just cared about sports and I wanted to get out of the small town and I wanted to see the world. I felt that the military was the best way to do it. I was going to be a Marine initially. But, then I read a Dick Marcinko book, watched the cheesy Charlie Sheen movie Navy Seals and said I want to do that. I also wanted to test myself and do the toughest thing that was out there.”
JI: Do you think President Trump is the most qualified Commander in Chief to be sending American soldiers into harm’s way and making these life or death decisions?
Taylor: “He’s the President of the United States: whether you like it or not, he will be making those decisions.”
JI: But, is Trump the best choice?
Taylor: “I am as confident with him as I would be with Barack Obama. Both of them have zero idea and military experience. I was also at Dover one time in 2011 when we lost 31 folks in a helicopter crash including my best friend. President Obama was there and that is when I think it became real to him. I watched his body language. I’m confident in the current president and the people he has around him. I’m confident with General Mattis and Kelly. Those folks understand the loss and the costs that we have had over the past 15 years. They are not going to be beating their chests because they understand that is B.S.”
JI: In contrast to many of your party, you have taken a more progressive approach to LGBT rights. Why do you see this issue differently than many Republicans in Congress?
Taylor: “I think it’s a freedom and liberty thing, perhaps generational. If you are in the LGBT community, it is easier for you to live happy and live your life openly than it was 25 years ago. You have some older Members who don’t understand that. You have some people who are legitimately religious and don’t believe in that. I don’t think that makes any sense. I think there are people who are as gay as Scott is white. I think it is actually a good cause for the Republican Party to get involved with in terms of making sure that vulnerable populations feel protected. When you are speaking about gay marriage, everybody should be equally as happy or miserable as everybody else.”
JI: Some Evangelical Christians argue that legalizing LGBT marriage is an affront to their faith?
Taylor: “Under that religious logic, we shouldn’t be getting involved in marriage, well then why are we, the government, getting involved in straight marriage? Look, I’ve put my life on the line for freedom of religion, and I would happily do it again, but I am pretty sure that we can co-exist. I am pretty sure Jesus would be ok with it.”
JI: With approximately 400,000 killed and 4.5 million refugees, Syria is the Middle East’s most dangerous crisis. What is President Trump’s plan to deal with the ongoing war?
Taylor: “Syria scares me. Syria is the most dangerous thing in the world right now. Unlike any other time that I know of since World War II, you have so many powers playing in the same sand box. Israel, Russia, Turkey, Iran, and us. There is tremendous potential for flash points and the inability to de-conflict. I don’t know exactly what the President’s plan is right now. I understand that there are more troops moving in there. The perceived (Iraqi-Syrian) border should not stop us from doing what we need to do. At the same time, I am worried about increased forces in Syria. What the plan is? What the goal is? And I want to hear those things.”
JI: There have been a number of reports about US airstrikes causing the deaths of over 200 Iraqi civilians in Mosul. Are you concerned with this new development?
Taylor: “It’s important to always be concerned by civilian deaths. That is a tragedy and should never happen. In the military, no one is trying to kill civilians. That is B.S. If they are, there is a problem there and they should be held accountable to the highest extent. The rules of engagement from before that had been loosened, I actually support. My own SEAL community and wives calling me: Can you speak out against this because their guys couldn’t shoot unless they were shot at. That’s insane. I think every service member should never question the ability to defend themselves. In terms of operations and raids, I am of the mindset if you send people into harm’s way, don’t send them with one hand tied behind their back. Get in there, get it done and get the hell out of there. But, you should be very cautious and deliberate, whether you do that or not. No one wants civilian casualties. In a warzone, does it happen? It always has. Mosul is a very complicated thing. Does it warrant an investigation? Absolutely. There always should be lessons learned so it doesn’t happen again.”
“You have the second administration operating off of a third administration’s authorization of military force from 16 years ago. That’s bullshit. We need to have a bipartisan debate in Congress on where we are with that and what we are willing to authorize and what we are not. I represent a district that has more military and veterans than anywhere in the nation. Every time there is something that happens in the world, our people are there. Period. There is a small percentage of the population of the US who has sacrificed, over and over again, for the last 15 years. There is a divide. There is a respect for the military, which is awesome and should be there. But, the reality is there is not an understanding of the true sacrifice by the mass. I believe Americans should be involved in that. Whether it is personally or via their representatives in Congress. It is important that the Congressional leaders – all of them — are in the grass, that they are out in front, representing their people, have this debate on where we are right now in terms of war, authorization of military force. I am blaming Congress because the notion that it is ok for these administrations to operate in perpetuity off of authorization of military force is bullshit.”
JI: Can you please describe your relationship with Israel?
Taylor: “I’m very pro-Israel. I believe that Israel, much like the US, should always have an unfair advantage militarily speaking. I spent years in the Middle East, mostly in Yemen. I understand from the Arab perspective and it makes me support Israel even more. Israel is the only liberal democracy in the region. It is a beacon there. Not just strategically for us but they are our closest ally there for sure. What’s happening in the UN with them, when you have these laughable countries speaking about human rights, which is extremely hypocritical. I have been to many of those countries who are saying that. It is insane to me.
“I was in Judea and Samaria looking out on the mountains: talking to Palestinians working in factories in Judea and Samaria, the West Bank who don’t want the Palestinian Authority to speak for them because they make three times as much and the conditions are much better. You hear about the two state solution. I don’t see how it’s done practically. In the west when they hear the two state solution – which AIPAC I think is an advocate for – I just don’t see it. Most people think, there’s the Jews and there’s the Arabs. It’s just not like that because when you are actually in Judea and Samaria, the West Bank, you are seeing Arab village, Jewish village –it’s just all over the place. From a military standpoint, the West Bank and Golan Heights that land that Israel took in 1967, from a tactical standpoint there is no way in Hell, I would give it back. There is just no way. I am not even speaking about the politics because you see how small Israel is and you see any artillery which is up on that, all the population is at risk, underneath there from both of those things. I don’t see Israel domestically –whether the left or the right – giving that back. I don’t see a two state solution either.”
JI: Most Members of Congress don’t say Judea and Samaria. Why do you use this term?
Taylor: “Because that’s what it is.”
JI: You appeared before NFL players. How was this experience?
Taylor: “I spoke with a company that was Special Forces and pilots. We spoke to fortune 500 companies and NFL teams. We spoke to the New York Giants in 2011 when they won the Super Bowl. Not that I am claiming credit, but we did. When we spoke with them, they weren’t even set to make the playoffs. They were having really tough times communicating: the coaches blamed the players and the players blamed the coaches. We went and spoke to them on leadership but also debriefing and strategic communications. You could tell very quickly, a couple of their biggest problems were for example their debriefing. In the military, you do debriefing after everything and it’s nameless and rank-less because you may be the best pilot in the room, but you may have missed something. I could tell immediately the non-superstars were intimidated by the superstars and they didn’t say anything. Their communication was terrible. We worked with them and they got together and won the damn Super Bowl.”
JI: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Taylor: “I am a natural networker and relationships matter. I am the guy in the SEAL platoon who found the guy in the Amazon to get us what we need. I’m the guy in Yemen, as soon as I got there, I knew everyone – not just the security people in the embassies – but in the companies as well. The Russians alerted me to a potential al-Qaeda attack on our compound, not the Americans, but the Russians. We have done the same thing here. We have already hit the ground running. We have made relationships all over the place because we want to be as impactful as possible.”