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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript

Interview

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CROWLEY: Joining me here in Washington, Senator John McCain, ranking member of the Armed Services Committee and the Republican nominee for president in 2008.

So I want to... SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Thanks for reminding me.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: So I want to take advantage of that experience of yours and ask you what do you make of the Gingrich ascendancy now in the party?

MCCAIN: You know, I have not commented on these different rises and declines of various candidates because I just don't think it's appropriate to do so.

I -- I did weigh in on the issue of waterboarding, which I am convinced is a moral issue. And also, I'd like to extend my thoughts to Mr. Cain. Thank you for serving. Thank you for willing to get into the arena, and we wish you luck in the future and a -- and a good life.

CROWLEY: You've got to be sitting back there watching this...

MCCAIN: Oh, yeah, sure.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: ... with some form of opinion.

MCCAIN: Relief -- with relief.

CROWLEY: With great relief, no doubt.

(LAUGHTER)

I mean, when you look at the field as it is now, anything -- anyone there bother you in terms of I just don't see this as president; I don't see this person as winning?

MCCAIN: No, I respect the views of the voters. The people of New Hampshire play a very big role and they are aware of their -- of the role they play. And so I put a lot of emphasis on New Hampshire, obviously.

But, look, it's a tough process. If I had, frankly, a criticism of the process, is that I think maybe we're really getting a little too heavy on the debates. There's a lot of other suspects of campaigning besides the debates. They have so many of them.

But, look, it's a process we go through, and I'm proud of it and I'm sure that whoever we select will be the -- will be the next president.

CROWLEY: Well, that was my next question. How vulnerable -- just politically looking, how vulnerable do you think the president is?

And I ask that against the backdrop of a really pretty good week for him in terms of, you know, how the economy is going, consumer confidence, new home sales, as you saw the drop in unemployment. This strengthens the president's hand, does it not?

MCCAIN: Oh, I think that improving economic news is obviously very important to his re-election chances. I mean, that's very obvious. But it's still very high.

There's -- one of the reasons why the unemployment numbers dropped is that so many Americans left the -- stopped looking for a job so they weren't counted. There is a long way to go in this -- in this economy and all of us want it to improve.

Look, everybody wants it to improve. And so to say that we want the economy to continue bad because it would increase our chances of beating President Obama, I'd rather have us beat President Obama on the issues, on the future of the country. And also, national security, at some point, I hope, will play some role in the presidential debate.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about your home state of Arizona, which Democrats, you may or may not know, are beginning to eye as maybe doable for President Obama simply because you have an increased number of Hispanics who are registering...

MCCAIN: Absolutely. CROWLEY: ... a big drive to get them out, and because, by and large, that's a community that looks at the Republican Party as anti- immigrant.

Do you worry about the image, the imagery of the Republican Party as it relates to some of the issues that are going on up on the Hill right now? And I want to talk to you about the payroll tax.

But does the Republican Party need to refigure its imaging?

MCCAIN: I think that the Republican Party has to discuss this issue in as humane a way as possible. By the way, I would remind you that...

CROWLEY: Yes, but Newt Gingrich tried to do that and everyone jumped all over him.

MCCAIN: Yes, that's, you know, I still maintain that position.

But, look, also, the enthusiasm on the part of Hispanics for President Obama is dramatically less than it was in 2008 because he has not fulfilled his campaign promises, either.

So I view the Hispanic vote up for grabs. And I think that we are going to have to discuss this issue in a humane fashion. I still believe that most Hispanics agree that we need to secure the borders, if for the drug issue alone. We talk about people coming across the border, I'll tell you, Candy, the coyotes mistreat these people in a terrible fashion. The drug cartels, who are moving drugs across our border, that are killing our Americans by polluting our society with drugs. And we have an obligation to secure our borders.

But we also need to talk about how we need to treat people humanely... CROWLEY: Who are here.

MCCAIN: Who are here, who have been here for a long period of time.

CROWLEY: Paid their taxes, have a family.

MCCAIN: But the fact is, we don't want to trigger another flood of illegal immigrants by believing that if they can get across our border, they would be, therefore, home free. In 1986, we -- our beloved Ronald Reagan, we gave -- under him, we gave amnesty to three million people who are here illegally on the promise that we would secure the borders and we'd never have to address the issue again. Well, now there are 12 million people that are here illegally. So people have to have some confidence that it just won't trigger another third wave, as well. It's a careful balance of addressing this issue, which I think the majority of Hispanics would appreciate.

And drug trafficking and drug cartels and the existential threat of the government of Mexico, which spills over into the United States of America in many ways. Look at this Fast and Furious issue. It has to do with drug cartels.

So, look, I think we have to have empathy. We have to have concern. And we have to have a plan.

But at the same time, to say that we are going to have insecure borders and anybody can come across, if they can get across, then they're home free, that's not what -- the message we want to send, because it's unfair to people who live further away from this country and want to have the opportunity to come here.

CROWLEY: Quickly, because I want to move you...

MCCAIN: Sure.

CROWLEY: -- move you to some foreign policy issues...

MCCAIN: In other words, the long answer was too long.

CROWLEY: I'm sure -- but...

MCCAIN: The answer was too long.

CROWLEY: Oh, OK.

Yes or no, is Arizona doable for the president?

MCCAIN: I think it can be up for grabs. I think that's true of New Mexico, Colorado, Texas even, although maybe not this time. But the demographics are clear. The demographics are clear that the Hispanic vote will play a major -- be a major factor in national elections.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about Pakistan.

MCCAIN: Right.

CROWLEY: The U.S. and Pakistani relations are terrible. The latest has been this unfortunate NATO attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

How does this get smoothed over?

MCCAIN: I'll try to make this answer as short as possible, but you really asked a complicated question.

First of all, our sympathy is with the families of those Pakistani soldiers that were killed, with our deepest sympathy and sorrow. But the fact is, there have been previous occasions where Pakistani military or others have fired across the Pakistani border into Afghanistan. This is a fog of war situation. An investigation is going on. But, also, the fact is that the ISI, the intelligence arm of the Pakistani Army is still supporting the Haqqani network, which is killing Americans. They had -- that is unacceptable.

There are two fertilizer factories where that -- the materials for which are used for IEDs that are killing Americans. Now we tried cutting of all relations with Pakistan for 10 years. It didn't work. But we have to address it in a realistic fashion and aid has to be -- has to be gauged on the degree of cooperation that they are showing us in helping us prevent the needless deaths of young Americans. That's our first obligation.

So I would gauge our aid, particularly military aid -- and we've given many billions, as you know, directly related to the degree of cooperation they show us. And we have to explore all alternatives. And but I can tell you, there's not a good answer to this.

CROWLEY: Senator John McCain...

MCCAIN: Yes.

CROWLEY: Sir, it is always -- there's always never enough time to talk to you.

I hope you'll come back.

MCCAIN: Thanks for having me on.

CROWLEY: Thank you.

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