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Public Statements

CNN "Piers Morgan Tonight" - Transcript

Interview

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MORGAN: Let's get right to tonight's big story, with Senator John McCain, the Arizona senator and former presidential candidate, joins me now.

Welcome to you, Senator.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Piers.

MORGAN: We are going to come to the debate in a moment. You've had one of those -- you're one of the only people who actually who's debated both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. So you're in a unique place to tell me what you made of the new style Romney and indeed, Obama.

Before we get there, though, today's big news on the jobs front. Whichever way you spin this from the Republican side, this has to be good news not only for the president but also America, that the number's now gone down to 7.8 percent for the first time, going below 8 percent in his presidency.

MCCAIN: Well, I think that's bound to be good news but I also think you have to take it in the context that 7.8 percent is, of course, still unacceptably high. But it is good news, and I think it's going to be of some help to the president. But certainly with the numbers of unemployed Americans, we have now 23 million -- I guess it is -- it's still an unacceptable situation. I think the president will concede that.

MORGAN: Jack Welch has said today, "Unbelievable job numbers," he tweeted, "The Chicago guys will do anything, can't debate so they change the numbers." Is there any merit to the argument that these numbers aren't quite what they seem?

MCCAIN: I would be very cautious about saying that, Piers, unless I had some kind of substantiation to it. And, of course, we don't want to sound like sour grapes over what is good news for America. So, somebody would have to show me the facts and then I would be glad to make the argument.

MORGAN: Do you think that either of these things, in the last 24 hours, Barack Obama's very lackluster, surprisingly poor debate performance, or these job numbers today, do either of them constitute in any form a kind of game change moment?

MCCAIN: I think the debate certainly does. Americans watched those debates that may not watch the next two, that saw a Mitt Romney that was a direct contradiction to the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of attack ads, especially in swing states, that the Obama campaign has spent painting Mitt Romney as some kind of insensitive, clueless, bank accounts at the Cayman islands kind of guy, and he wiped all that away.

And also, I think it was pretty clear that for the first time, the president was put on the defensive as far as his record is concerned. And that's because of this bubble he's been in for the last four years and he obviously couldn't defend it.

And, finally, Piers, I thought one of the seminal moments in that debate was near the end, when Jim Lehrer talked about the lack of bipartisanship, the lack of sitting down together and averting this fiscal cliff that most Americans know we're headed towards, and Mitt talked about being governor of Massachusetts, reaching across the aisle, having to negotiate, et cetera.

The president's responses, sometimes you have to say no to people. Is that -- you know, and the fact is first two years, as Mitt pointed out, first two years of his presidency, they just rammed things through without a single Republican vote.

So I think those were -- that makes it probably one of the really more important debates in American history and perhaps I'm exaggerating because I'm so happy.

(LAUGHTER)

MORGAN: I can't blame you. I can't blame any Republicans because it's been a very bruising few weeks for the Republicans and Mitt Romney and then suddenly everything seems to have turned on its head.

You're in a very interesting position as I said earlier because you have debated against both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Interestingly, Romney is believed from the latest polls to have won 67 percent to 25 percent against Barack Obama this time. When you went head-to-head with Obama in 2008, the polls said 51 percent Obama, 38 percent McCain.

Do you think you would have done better against the Obama that was debating this week?

MCCAIN: I think so, Piers, but you know, it would sound like I am now trying to rewrite history or I would have done better. You know, I never tried to do any of that looking back and certainly not in anger or bitterness.

But I think it is true that during the 2008 campaign, the president or then Senator Obama had no record to defend, and one of the reasons why Mitt did so well in this debate was because Mitt was -- I think very legitimately, attacking his record, whether it be the $90 billion in subsidies for energy or a number of the other things that he pointed -- the failure of Dodd-Frank.

And so, the president had a record to defend this time. But one, do not underestimate the president of the United States, he will come back strong. I think Mitt has to be prepared for that. And also, as you mentioned, these job numbers will give him a bit or something of a boost today.

MORGAN: We've got the V.P. debate coming up. You said about Joe Biden, he's the gift that keeps on giving. Are you hoping that he's going to be giving some sprinkling of presents back to you guys?

MCCAIN: I don't know but I hope he repeats this latest one, where the middle class America has been buried for the last four years. Right, Joe. In fact, you might use that in your opening statement.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN: By the way, personally, I've got to tell you something, Piers. Personally, Joe Biden and I have been friends for many, many years. I enjoy his company. He's a very good guy, personally.

So it's not as if I -- but honest to God, he still is a heartbeat away from the presidency and when some of the things he says, you know, you're slack-jawed.

But I think he'll be -- I think he'll be well-prepared for this debate. I would remind you, he didn't do that well against Sarah Palin, so -- but also, Paul Ryan is a real policy wonk. He knows all the details.

So if I were advising Paul Ryan, and I am not, I mean, they just haven't asked for it, I would say be careful that you don't come across as somebody who gets down into the weeds about OMB numbers and CBO and sequestration -- you know, a lot of these things that the average Americans are really not familiar with. He wants to be clear.

Joe is a very -- excuse me, the vice president is a very attractive guy and if I were him, I'd be playing on that as well.

MORGAN: Senator, two things, if I may. One is the ongoing situation regarding the death of ambassador Christopher Stevens in Libya -- lots of vagueness about what really went on in the days leading up to this and indeed, afterwards.

What is your assessment of where we are now?

MCCAIN: Well, let me tell you what's not vague, and that is five days after, five days after what was very quickly determined by the intelligence committee as a terrorist attack, they trotted out our ambassador to the U.N. to every major news outlet saying that this was a spontaneous demonstration because of a hateful video. That's probably one of the worst things that I have ever observed in my life.

And obviously, there were warnings, and obviously anybody who believes that an attack with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades and a very sophisticated attack is the result of a video is -- I mean, it's just ridiculous.

And finally, Piers, it's not the video that's stoking these demonstrations. As you know, it's the radical Islamists that are using the videos as a means of inflaming passion in the Middle East and I'll be damned if I'm ready to abandon the freedom of speech because it might offend the Prophet Muhammad.

MORGAN: I've -- we've heard calls for Ambassador Rice to resign. Are you in favor of that?

MCCAIN: No. I think that's shooting the messenger. She was told to go out and do that. I blame the secretary of state, I blame the operatives in the White House and I blame our national security advisor.

If the president didn't know exactly what happened, he sure as hell should have.

MORGAN: Finally, a border agent called Nicholas Ivie was killed in your home state of Arizona. Mexican authorities arrested two suspects in the shooting. It's been suggested this may have been as a result of friendly fire.

Do you have any information on that?

MCCAIN: I have no information on that. I've heard that rumor and I certainly have no information. That is a known drug corridor. We in Arizona have the terrible misfortune of being the major drug corridor across our Sonora-Arizona border, up to Phoenix and being distributed throughout the nation.

We have made improvements in our border security, but we still have quite a ways to go.

MORGAN: Finally, Senator, I can't let you go without asking you the burning question on everyone's lips in America. Would you or would you not kill Big Bird?

MCCAIN: Actually, I love and cherish Big Bird. Maybe we could have an earmark, pork barrel project, do away with all PBS but have an earmark for Big Bird. I'm not a Big Bird -- I mean, I'm not an earmark fan, but maybe it would justify.

MORGAN: Senator, always good to talk to you. Thank you very much.

MCCAIN: Thanks, Piers.

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