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2020 Candidate Rep. Seth Moulton On Mental Health, Marines Service, More17:09
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Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., shakes hands with veterans at campaign event held at Liberty House in Manchester, N.H., Tuesday. (Cheryl Senter/AP)
Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., shakes hands with veterans at campaign event held at Liberty House in Manchester, N.H., Tuesday. (Cheryl Senter/AP)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

In 2001, Seth Moulton was a college student at Harvard University. Inspired by a quote about service adorned on the wall of the campus church, he found a calling: to join the Marines.

A few months after he began his paperwork, the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred. Moulton was deployed to Iraq four times. When he came home, he became a vocal critic of the war in Iraq and found a new calling: politics.

Now, the Democratic representative from Massachusetts is running for president. Last week, unveiled a mental health care proposal for his campaign, and spoke at length about his combat experience.

Guest

Rep. Seth Moulton, Democratic congressman from Massachusetts and candidate for the 2020 presidential nomination. Member of the House Armed Services and House Budget Committees. (@sethmoulton)

Interview Highlights

On his conversation on CNN with Jake Tapper, one of the first times he's publicly spoken about his experience in the Iraq War and PTSD.

Why is he choosing to open up about it now?

"I've talked about these issues in general for a long time, and I've advocated for mental health care, especially for veterans, in Congress. But now I'm applying for the top leadership position in the country, and one of the first principles you learn about leadership is to lead by example. And I just felt that it was time to share my own story, that it was almost disingenuous to continue talking about these issues and advocating for them without sharing how I have gone through them myself."

On the experience from Iraq that has stayed with him

"The story I shared on CNN this Sunday was one that I have never shared publicly before. But we were on the road to Baghdad, Day 3 or 4 of the invasion, and pressing northward came upon some vehicles heading south. And the Marines just ahead of me thought they were full of [former Iraq President] Saddam [Hussein's] forces that we knew were up ahead, and we'd already been hit several times by them. And it turned out that one of the cars was a family undoubtedly trying to flee Saddam's troops. And they ran right into our column.

"The car was shot up, and as we came to it, it was obvious that the parents were dead on the side of the road. But there was a young boy who had been thrown from the car and was lying in the middle of the road, still alive and writhing in pain. And when I came to him, with my platoon in our armored vehicle, I made one of the most difficult decisions of my life, which was to keep going, to keep pressing the attack, because to stop and try to take care of that boy would have endangered the lives of my entire platoon. It would have stopped the entire battalion's advance, and I just had to hope that the medics behind us would take care of him. But there's nothing I wanted to do more at that moment than start my vehicle, stop everything we were doing, and just get out and pick up that boy and try to save his life."

"I just felt that it was time to share my own story, that it was almost disingenuous to continue talking about these issues and advocating for them without sharing how I have gone through them myself."

Rep. Seth Moulton on mental health

On the mental health help that he's been able to get, and expanding that access to other veterans

"I think I should start by just kind of talking about what happened next in my my own experience, because there were days when I got back from the war when I just couldn't get through a day without thinking about that boy. And it's obviously still emotional to think about it today, but now I can choose when to think about it.

"And that's because when I got out of the Marines and went to school on the GI Bill, I was talking to a professor of psychology one day — and I guess I was fortunate to be in a place like Harvard where I ran into someone like that — and I explained that I would sometimes have bad dreams ... there were times when I just felt so withdrawn from school and my classmates — sitting in the back of the classroom at a great place like Harvard Business School but feeling so purposeless in my life, compared to the great sense of purpose I had in Iraq — even in the midst of a war I disagreed with, every single day our work impacted the lives of other people.

"And I explained these symptoms, but also explained that this seems so minor compared to what many of my fellow vets were going through, because I wasn't feeling suicidal, I didn't drive down the highway at home worried that I'd get blown up by an IED, like often happened in Iraq. These are some of the experiences, or some of the symptoms, that many of my fellow vets were having. So I didn't even know if I really had post-traumatic stress disorder.

"But that psychiatrist said, 'You should talk to someone,' and and so I decided to do it, and I actually went through a couple of different therapists before I found someone who I could really connect with, but it made all the difference in the world because now I can control those thoughts. I can decide when to think about them. And I've been able to use this experience to try to encourage others, especially fellow Marines I served with, to get help themselves."

"At the end of the day, the Democratic National Committee and their debates, they're not going to decide who's our nominee. It's the people on the ground."

Rep. Seth Moulton

Rep. Moulton is one of two candidates who hasn't yet crossed either of the two qualifying thresholds for the Democratic debates. According to a CNN poll released Tuesday,  he's polling at less than 1%.

Why is he having trouble gaining traction?

"I just got in. I mean, I haven't even been in the race for a month and a half yet. I knew that getting in late was a risk and frankly planned to probably miss the first debate, which I probably will. But that's OK. The first debate is going to have so many people, folks are hardly going to get a chance to talk. And I knew that having a five-month-old daughter home at the time, there was no way I was going to get in the race any earlier than I did. So that's a calculated risk.

"But at the end of the day, the Democratic National Committee and their debates, they're not going to decide who's our nominee. It's the people on the ground. And I can't tell you how much I've been resonating with people as I go and talk to folks. And especially being willing to talk about issues like [mental health], that affect so many Americans, but that no one else was addressing. And by being the only candidate in the race who is actually willing to take on Donald Trump not just as president, but as commander in chief, because this is where he's weakest. And I'm a Democrat who thinks that he's going to be a lot harder to beat than many people seem to think. I think that he has a lot more support in the parts of the country that we need to win back, if we're going to win this race, than many folks in places like Boston and New York or San Francisco want to believe."

More on Moulton's vision for leading as commander in chief

"I've come forward with a whole national security policy, a clear vision for the future of how Democrats can make this country safe and strong and secure. And what patriotism really means to me, as someone who served four tours in the Iraq War, who served on the front lines. Who said, 'I don't want to be sitting in an office or riding in a truck when there are 18-year-olds slogging through the mud,' and that's what I did. That's what I signed up to do. And we have a president right now who doesn't have any of that credibility, who dodged the war himself, who chose to let someone else go in his place."

On opposing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's return to leadership of the Democratic Party

"First of all, it wasn't just about Pelosi. It was about the top three leaders who combined have been in Congress for almost 100 years. And I do believe it's time for a new generation of leadership in our party. And unlike some folks, I don't just go out and say that, I actually fight for it.

"I worked for two years to get an amazing number of new freshmen elected to Congress, to help take back this house — 21 of the 40 seats that we flipped were candidates that I personally supported and campaigned for and raised money for and everything else. And I want to make sure that this generation actually has a chance to lead. So as a result of this Democratic debate we had about who our next leaders would be, we got the voting rights subcommittee, we got the climate change subcommittee and we got an agreement from Pelosi on term limits that will actually give this new generation a chance to lead in the future."

"We just have a constitutional duty — that oath that I swore to protect and defend the Constitution, both as a Marine and as a member of Congress — to have this debate before Congress and the American people."

Rep. Seth Moulton on impeachment

On how Speaker Pelosi is handling the question of impeachment

"I think it's important to note that Speaker Pelosi is doing a great job of taking on President Trump. But I do disagree with her on how she is handling impeachment, because I think we have a constitutional duty to have this debate, regardless of the politics. And I understand the politics may be tricky — she makes a good point about that. But we just have a constitutional duty — that oath that I swore to protect and defend the Constitution, both as a Marine and as a member of Congress — to have this debate before Congress and the American people."

From The Reading List

The Hill: "Tapper presses 2020 Democrat Seth Moulton over 'cop out' on Biden's Iraq War vote" — "CNN host Jake Tapper pressed Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), a 2020 White House hopeful, on Sunday on whether he thought then-Sen. Joe Biden's vote for the Iraq War was good or not, calling Moulton's response a 'cop out.'

"'You fought in Iraq even though intellectually you opposed the war. Joe Biden was in the Senate at the time, he voted to go to war in Iraq, was that a mistake?' Tapper asked during the network's 'State of the Union,' referring to the former vice president who is also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

"'I have a lot of respect for Joe Biden, he's a mentor and a friend, but I do think that it's time for the generation that fought in Iraq and Afghanistan to step in,' Moulton initially responded.

"'But was it a mistake for him to vote to go to war in Iraq?' Tapper asked again.

"'Well, I wasn't in the Senate at the time so I'm not going to say that, but,' Moulton began to answer before Tapper cut him off.

"'I'm sorry, but that's a cop out. You were in the front lines, you have more of a right to make a judgement about that vote than anyone I've interviewed who is running for president,' Tapper said.

"'OK, fair,' Moulton relented, 'It was a mistake, because we should have been a lot more careful about going into Iraq, we should have questioned the intelligence.' "

NPR: "Rep. Seth Moulton Announces Mental Health Care Proposal By Sharing His Experience" — "Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., Iraq veteran and presidential candidate, revealed at a campaign event Tuesday that he was treated for PTSD after his deployment and he continues to see a counselor monthly."

Grace Tatter produced this segment for broadcast. Alex Schroeder adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on June 5, 2019.

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