Former Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers spent four years chairing the powerful House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), providing oversight to the country’s 17 intelligence agencies.
But speaking to a group of New Hampshire Republican women this week, his top concerns weren’t just the state of U.S military readiness or counter-espionage.
It was the condition of America’s classrooms.
“We have a literacy crisis in America,” Rogers told the New Hampshire Federation of Republican Women at a roundtable in Manchester on Tuesday.
“Half of high school seniors when they graduate can’t read past the sixth-grade level,” he said. “If you talk to colleges, they’ll tell you they’re trying to reclaim that first year for students because they’re so far behind.
“This is something we are doing to ourselves.”
Rogers was in the Granite State talking about his work with Leadership to Ensure the American Dream (LEAD), an initiative seeking to reignite optimism in the founding principles and promises of America. He was also testing the waters for a potential 2024 presidential run.
“We’re having conversations with people who will be very important in the next election,” he acknowledged.
Rogers is best known for his work on intelligence and foreign policy, and he took the opportunity at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics event this week to talk about the threats posed to America by China’s ascendancy and the need to support Ukraine’s effort to expel its Russian invaders.
But he also spoke at length about the state of schools and the young people they are teaching and shaping, connecting the poor quality of education they provide and the hostility toward American values they often impart to a crisis hitting the nation’s defense organizations.
“The Chinese are teaching their eighth graders quantum mechanics,” Rogers said. “Meanwhile, two-thirds of eighth graders in the United States of America could not read at the eighth-grade level last year.
“Three-quarters,” he corrected. “This isn’t just a school problem. This is all of our problem.”
He noted that lackluster education outcomes are making it difficult for the military to find recruits. The result was a 15,000-strong shortfall in the Army’s recruiting goal in the last fiscal year, a full 25 percent of its target.
It is not just a lack of education, Rogers said. Obesity and drug abuse are also taking a toll. But another reason is the lack of interest in serving. Rogers said this issue starts with parents.
“We have to get Americans believing that military services a good and positive thing,” he said. The percentage of parents “even thinking their kids should [consider] military service is at its lowest rate. It used to be in the high sixties just ten years ago. Now it’s below 40 percent.
“We have to get parents believing in America.”
Notably, Rogers said he wasn’t likely to support the federal “Parents Bill of Rights” passed by House Republicans last week, arguing that expanding federal power over local education is the wrong strategy, even if it’s for a good cause.
“This can also work against you. This thing flips, and then it’s Democrats telling you what you can do in your local schools.”
The NHFRW members asked Rogers about education, parental engagement, and the economy. But Terry Negron, who chairs the group’s Armed Services and Veterans Committee, told the former Intel chair she is worried about the current state of the U.S. military.
Rogers said her concerns are well-founded, particularly under the leadership of President Joe Biden.
“Think about the last three months,” Rogers said. “The Chinese sent a spy balloon — that the Biden administration said ‘no harm, no foul.’ Then it just came out this week, ‘Just kidding, they [the Chinese] actually got a lot of stuff.’
“The Russians downed an American aircraft — unmanned, but an aircraft nonetheless — in international airspace, and we apparently sent a strongly worded memo. And the Iranians killed five Americans — deliberately. They went after our soldiers in Syria, who, by the way, are pushing back against ISIS.
“It turns out when you ignore the bad guys, you end up with more bad guys.”
Like many of his fellow Republicans, Rogers said he believes this week’s indictment of former President Donald Trump smacks of politics. At the same time, he also believes it’s time for the party to move forward, focusing on results rather than re-litigating the past.
He criticized what he deemed a “sugar-high” style of politics that feels good but doesn’t bring about progress.
And, Rogers said, the international threats — particularly from China — won’t wait for America to get its political act together.
“If you want to win the peace, you’ve got to prepare for war,” Rogers said. “We are soft and self-absorbed — that’s what the Chinese call us. I argue we can change that and get America back on track. We just don’t have four more years to do it.”
Asked about his reference to “four years” and if he had something he wanted to announce to New Hampshire, Rogers demurred, though his answer was potentially telling.
“I do have an announcement: We’ll be back.”