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

Interview

By:  John McCain III
Date: Feb. 24, 2013
Location: Unknown

CROWLEY: Joining me now is Senator John McCain of Arizona. I want to talk to you about these sequester, these budget cuts, automatic budget cuts. You heard transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, talking about them. Here's my question for you. Everyone thinks this is a -- bad things are going to happen when these forced cuts go into effect.

You know, the military says that the training is going to suffer, that they're not going to be able to get ships to the Persian Gulf. You know, we can't inspect meat. The planes are going to slow down. If it is this dire and everyone agrees it is this dire, what happens? Congress goes on recess and the president goes golfing.

Why isn't somebody in a room somewhere, in a shirt they've had on for three days, ordering takeout pizza with a bunch of people trying to figure it out if it's that bad?

MCCAIN: That's exactly what we should be doing. And I won't put all the blame on the president of the United States. But the president leaves. The president should be calling us over somewhere, Camp David, the White House, somewhere, and sitting down and trying to avert these cuts. Let me just say a word about the cuts really quickly.

We have already cut $87 billion out of defense Under Secretary Gates. We are on track to cut another $487 billion already out of defense. Now, you lay on top of that these enormous reductions as well. Then -- and by the way, defense is 19 percent of the overall discretionary budget. Defense has taken 50 percent of the cuts.

And if we don't believe our military leaders, then who in the world do we believe? And I think that what we are doing now to the men and women who are serving is unconscionable, because they deserve a predictable life in the military, and also, these federal employees who don't know whether they're going to be laid off or not, not to mention these contracts --

CROWLEY: Doesn't that make my point? Shouldn't somebody somewhere --

MCCAIN: Absolutely. And I stand -- (CROSSTALK) MCCAIN: Senator Levin, and Senator Graham, and Senator Ayotte and I and Senator Reid tried a year ago. A year ago. Senator Graham and I, Senator Ayotte went around the country to these various places, including Norfolk, Virginia, where the president, I understand, is going this coming week, warning of the effects of these cuts.

And I say to my Republican friends, if you want to just give the president flexibility as to how to enact these cuts in defense spending, then why don't we go home and just give him the money? I am totally opposed to that. We spent too long on defense authorization and finding out what this country needs to secure this country without saying, hey, well, we'll just let the president have the, quote, "flexibility."

That's not the answer. The answer is to prevent these reductions. We are already cutting defense. I can find lots of waste and mismanagement, but, by God, across the board cuts are the worst and most cowardly way to approach this situation.

CROWLEY: And yet, we're headed there.

MCCAIN: Yes, we are.

CROWLEY: I mean, you know, again, it's so frustrating because you think somebody ought to pick this up and do something about it.

MCCAIN: And again, Republican leaders should be saying to the president, along with Democratic leaders, let's sit down and work this out. That's way we've avoided crises in the past.

CROWLEY: What do you make of Secretary LaHood, a Republican, blaming Republicans for this?

MCCAIN: Shame on Ray LaHood.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN: No, listen, I understand, but, you know, I think there's a Bob Woodward piece in "The Post" this morning that gives the tic-tac about who really the idea for sequestration was, and we know who now it was. It came from the White House and the president's aides. Despite that, the president said --

CROWLEY: Congress went for it.

MCCAIN: The president said during the campaign, won't happen. I said during the campaign, and so did others say, we got to stop this from happening. The president has now said it was Congress' fault. We know the president wasn't telling the truth about that.

CROWLEY: Fifteen of your colleagues -- I want to switch to Chuck Hagel -- nominated to be defense secretary. Fifteen of your colleagues, including Jim Inhofe, sent a letter to the president saying, withdraw this name, there is just many reasons why he should not be secretary of defense? Why didn't you sign that letter? MCCAIN: Because I do not believe Chuck Hagel, who is a friend of mine, is qualified to be secretary of defense. But I do believe that elections have consequences, unfortunately, and the president of the United States was re-elected. I believe that when the questions are answered, and I believe they will be by this coming week that the president deserves an up or down vote.

Now, Democrats will say, well, we've never done that before. Well, they had. And they did with Bolton and with John Towner (ph) and with others, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't give Chuck Hagel an up or down vote. And I think we should.

CROWLEY: As far as you know, is there anything standing between Chuck Hagel and that vote? A hold? Anybody willing to do that? You think this will happen?

MCCAIN: I think it will happen, barring some additional revelation concerning his comments about Israel and all those other really unfortunate things he said in the past.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about John Brennan, nominated to be CIA director. You have wanted certain information about Benghazi, about that. How far are you willing to go to delay the Brennan vote in order to get the information you want?

MCCAIN: I think it depends on his answers, to start with. But second of all, we still don't know who was rescued from the consulate in Benghazi. We still don't know who made out the talking points. We still don't know -- Mr. Brennan said that he was opposed to waterboarding and torture, but at the same time, he has said it has saved lives.

I'd like to know what lives were saved, because the information that I have is it saved no one's life. In fact, it was a lot of misinformation.

CROWLEY: If you don't get answers, would you put a hold on that? Would you try to slow down?

MCCAIN: I think you examine your options when you decide on -- when you -- on the information, but he needs to answer these questions. And they say why now? It's the only time we have the maximum leverage. That's just a fact of life around Washington. But, look, I don't want to put a hold on anybody, but the American people deserve answers about Benghazi.

There are so many questions that are still out there, including what was the president doing the night Benghazi happened?

CROWLEY: And let me turn you finally to a domestic issue here and that is immigration. You had quite the town hall meeting or series of them when you're out in Arizona. I just want to show our listeners a little bit of what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're going to be on Medicare. They're going to be on welfare. They're going to be on food stamps --

MCCAIN: Again --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know it. And what's going to happen --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you don't -- why bring 30 million people into the United States? Cut off their welfare and all their stuff and they'll go back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: So, lots of echoes here of previous elections.

MCCAIN: Yes. But you know, people -- some people say, oh, look at that. That's what town halls are supposed to be about. That's why they're always packed, as you notice. I've had town hall meetings for 30 years, and sometimes, they become very spirited. I enjoy them. We don't screen anybody who comes to our town hall meetings and it gives the people of Arizona a chance.

Now, I didn't believe that that person was correct with his facts. So, I fired back at him. And people said, good, that's what we want to hear. This is a debate we want to hear. So, I'm proud of that. And if anybody doesn't like it, then, you don't have to come to the town hall meeting.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: What does it tell you about the base of the Republican Party? Does it tell you that you've got a problem here in selling immigration reform?

MCCAIN: Actually, the majority of Americans and I believe the majority of Republicans, as long as they -- one, that the borders is effectively controlled and, two, that the people who are here illegally get in the line behind everyone else who came here legally because they broke the law. But just because they broke the law doesn't mean they're condemned forever to a twilight status.

So, I think that most Americans, if these people who have come here illegally, pay back taxes, pay a fine, learn English and get in line behind everybody else, that that's a key element of it. And most Americans now realize we can't have 11 million people sit in the twilight -- in the shadows of America forever.

CROWLEY: You know, most Americans don't vote in Republican primaries. What do you think the effect is going to be next year?

MCCAIN: I think it's going to be OK as long as they are satisfied that we have effective control over our border and we don't make the mistake of 1986. We gave amnesty to three million people, and then we ended up with 11 million here illegally. We can't have a third wave.

CROWLEY: Senator John McCain, good to have you.