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CBS "Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer" - Transcript - Budget Cuts and Sequester

Interview

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BOB SCHIEFFER: And good morning again. Yes, we are FACE THE NATION. And our lead guests this morning, not exactly strangers to the broadcast. But the first time we've ever had both of them here in the studio together, Republican Senator John McCain and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, both in the studio. Senator Graham, I am just going to start off--

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (Armed Services Committee/R-Arizona): Next sequester we're including you. All right.

BOB SCHIEFFER: I want-- I want to start off, Senator Graham, with something-- part of that speech you said on the Senate floor--

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (Armed Services Committee/R-South Carolina): Mm-Hm.

BOB SCHIEFFER: --because it seemed to really kind of sum up the week that Washington just went through.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: To me, this is pathetic leadership by the commander-in-chief. This is an abandonment of the Republican Party's belief in peace through strength. This is the low point in my time in the United States Congress.

BOB SCHIEFFER: And Bill Kristol, who is the editor of the Weekly Standard kind of the voice of establishment Republicans, he said the Republicans have now, quote, his words, not mine, "...joined the President on the road to irresponsibility." He says, history will judge both your Republican Party and the President harshly saying "They were weighed in the balance and found wanting." So where do you go from here, Senator McCain?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Well, first of all, Bill Kristol is right and the fact is that we have now reached a point where if you believe our military leaders and if there's anybody that's credible in America today, it is our military leaders, where we will not have the proper training, readiness, equipment in order to defend our national security issues, and requirements. The centrifuges in Tehran are spinning. North Koreans are testing nuclear weapons. The Mid East is in-- is in period of varying degrees of upheaval. Al Qaeda is spreading. So we are going to cut back on the training and readiness and capabilities of the men and women who are serving. We have an all-volunteer force. They deserve better. And to my Republican friends as well as my Democrat friends, if you think that's the right way to go, then you don't know what's going on in the world. And this sequester, it requires a President to lead and for us to sit down. If he will stop going out and-- and running campaign events and then-- and bashing Republicans and coming back to Washington, why not take a day and invite us all over and work this out, because American national security is at risk. I can find billions in cuts, defense spending that are absolutely necessary and appropriate, not this way. Not when our chief of staff of the Army says that he's not going to be able to replace those who are fighting in Afghanistan with qualified and trained people.

BOB SCHIEFFER: So what do Republicans need to do, Senator Graham?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, I think we need to get off the sequestration highway. Two-thirds of the federal government's exempt from sequestration. The thing that bothers me the most is that we had this construct that you try to cut 1.2 trillion over decade. And if you failed the penalty clause, would be to take six hundred billion out of defense, six hundred billion out of nondefense, but you'd exempt two-thirds of the government. So, we've already cut four hundred eighty-nine billion out of the defense. So the way forward is a big deal. This is an opportunity for Congress to look at getting off the road to becoming Greece. So what I would like to see happen is that the President and Republicans and Democrats re-- reengage where they left off with Boehner, that we, as Republicans, put six hundred billion dollars somewhere in that neighborhood of new revenue on the table by flattening the tax code, eliminating deductions, and exemptions, take that money to pay down debt, and lower rates and we go to where the real money is over time, entitlement reform to save us from becoming Greece, and find a substitute for sequestration in a big deal, not a small deal.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Do you all feel that your party is somehow being held hostage? The President has talked about kind of a commonsense caucus, and we hear reports this morning that he started calling around, calling some Republicans to see what can be done. Are people on the extreme ends of your party holding the rest of you hostage here?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: I don't think-- frankly, it's the extreme ends of the party. I think a lot of it is just people who don't understand. We-- we put up a proposal and most Republicans voted for a, quote, "flexibility" for the President of the United States. I spent hundreds of hours with Carl Levin shaping a Defense Authorization Bill. So, now we're supposed to just give all of that over to the President of the United States. That's a violation of my constitutional responsibilities. So, I say in respect that it isn't so much to the extremes as much as it is a lack of appreciation of the world we live in, and this has been manifested at other times and other ways as well.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Have you all been called by the President? We hear from his people this morning that, yes, he is starting to call Republicans and I guess that's kind of the state of where we are when it's news that we hear the President has called members of the other party.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, we met with the President about immigration. We talked a little bit about sequestration, little bit about Benghazi. And it's good to talk. Why can't we solve the nation's problems? You can blame both groups because at the end of the day it's going to take both of us to do what Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill did. What will Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill able to do? Save Social Security from bankruptcy by talking to each other, getting smart people together, taking their ideas and voting on them. That's exactly what-- Mister President, you've played the role of Ronald Reagan, we'll keep Tip O'Neill. You just change the roles around. We can do the big deal if-- if we have some leadership.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Why not just keep the cuts, okay? You've got the cuts that sequestration ordered. Why not keep those cuts but write some legislation that says you'll give the President the flexibility to decide where within each of his departments those cuts will come. What would be wrong with that, Senator McCain?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Well, first of all, as-- as Lindsey just gave you the numbers, disproportionate cuts to defense. Defense is nineteen percent of the discretionary spending, the non-Medicare, non-Social Security. It's taken fifty percent of the cuts. And then you put that on top of four hundred and eighty-seven billion, it's already in train. Eighty-seven billion was already cut by secretary gates and you are talk about a, quote, "Hollow army." If you deprive the military of the ability to train, the ability to have flight hours for our pilots and air crews, the ability of our people to have the right kind of equipment to fight with, then you are putting us in danger, in my view.

BOB SCHIEFFER: But wouldn't that be a way-- way to start, though?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: No.

BOB SCHIEFFER: I mean because you can say, okay, you got to cut X number of dollars out of defense, but I'm going to let you, Mister President, you, Secretary of Defense, decide where those cuts come in. You could-- you could keep the spending-- the money that goes for training and those critical things and cut military bands or something like that.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Well, go ahead. I'll-- I'll let Lindsey go ahead. But the fact is we spent three weeks on the floor of the Senate, hundreds of amendments, hours and hours of debate shaping a defense authorization which authorizes the President how to train, equip, and man the military of the United States of America. So we're supposed to just say forget all that, you-- you do whatever you want, Mister President. That isn't the-- the way the Constitution dictates that we behave.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Here's why it won't work. We're taking forty-two and a half-- forty-five billion dollars a year out of the Defense Department over the next decade. At the end of the decade, we're going to have the smallest Navy in the-- since 1915 two hundred and thirty-two ships. No amount of flexibility will avoid that. We're going to have the smallest Air Force in history; the smallest Army since 1940. Our defense spending will be below three percent of GDP. We will have a hollow force. Personnel costs are exempted from sequestration. We're not taking military pay and sequestering it. So you take all the systems, except military pay, and over a decade, you destroy the Defense Department. There is no amount of flexibility in the world will fix this. Leon Panetta is right. We are shooting ourselves in the head as a nation and this is the dumbest idea he's seen in his time in government.

BOB SCHIEFFER: What if-- go ahead, Senator.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: All right. And-- and we'll be glad to sit down, Republicans, Democrats. We know that-- that what this requires is just as you pointed out, a way of avoiding what is-- again, in the words of our chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff a catastrophic effect on nation-- our nation's defense. And tell me a higher priority than national security and look at the world today.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: But the question is how you fix it. I'm not going to do anymore small deals. I'm not going to raise taxes to fix sequestration. We don't need to raise taxes to fund the government. We need to raise taxes to get our nation out of debt. We have 16.7 trillion dollars in debt. We need to clean up our tax code to create jobs by flattening it out, not fixing sequestration with more money.

BOB SCHIEFFER: What if the--

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: We have-- we had a bill, we had a proposal to cut spending to pay for this year's reductions in defense spending. It was not allowed to have a vote on the floor of the Senate by both Democrat and Republican leaders.

BOB SCHIEFFER: One of the things and I want to shift just a little bit.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Mm-Hm.

BOB SCHIEFFER: You said before you would be willing to vote for John Brennan to be head of the CIA.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Right.

BOB SCHIEFFER: You wanted more information about all these emails and there were hundreds of them, I guess, that went back and forth between members of the administration during that week after the attack on Benghazi.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Right.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Emails concerning what the administration spokesman who turned out to be Susan Rice would say that following Sunday on the Sunday broadcast, including this one. Have you gotten any information? I understand the administration has released some emails.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: The administration-- they have released some. One, her story is completely collapsed under scrutiny, and I mentioned this to the President. Here's what I want. I want the FBI interviews with the survivors, two days after the attack. They were turned over to the Intelligence Committee and everything was blacked out. They are now taking another chance to providing the FBI interviews so you actually can read what they say. The emails around (INDISTINCT) changing the talking point, there is a big gap. I want to know who the survivors are so we can go interview them. The cut-- the transmissions from Benghazi to Washington in real time on the night of the attack, what were people asking for, what were they saying. All of that information was given to the committee completely blacked out. And I told the President, this is to learn. I think Benghazi is Exhibit A in a failed foreign policy. Leading from behind is not working, and we're trying to find out what happened on that night so we won't have other Benghazis and I'm not going to vote for Brennan until the CIA, who said they did change the talking points, lets us know who did it and why and we have a picture of what happened in real time in Benghazi.

BOB SCHIEFFER: You're not going to vote for him but will you try to hold up?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: I will stop. I think John and I are hell bent on making sure the American people understand this debacle called Benghazi. The FBI and the CIA never talked for weeks. We're going back to the pre-9/11 model. We don't know what the interviews of the survivors tell us. There was never a video that spawned a riot. That whole story has just been debunked and we're going to get to the bottom of it.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Senator.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: I've had questions, written questions for Mister Brennan for nearly three weeks now. We've not received a single answer. I think that we deserve at least an answer to those questions and I have some questions about torture.

BOB SCHIEFFER: So you intend to join Senator Graham in blocking this from coming to a vote?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: You know I-- I hate to threaten. We hate to-- to say, wow, the story tomorrow will be McCain and Graham threaten to. Why don't we just get the answers to these questions? They're not-- they're not tough questions and they're legitimate questions.

BOB SCHIEFFER: But until you get the answers, you're not going-- going along with it?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Well, we certainly think we deserve the answers, and, I think, again, it's our responsibilities on advice and consent to get answers to questions about nominees to important positions.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Bob, it's a time-honored tradition in the U.S. Senate that when an administration-- any administration puts somebody forward, the senator has concerns or questions or information that they would like, that there is a give and take and I'm going to insist on that time on-- I'm not going to vote on a new CIA director until I find out what the CIA did in Benghazi.

BOB SCHIEFFER: All right. Gentlemen, it's always a pleasure to have you, thank you.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Sixty thousand dead in Sy-- Syria and we still haven't acted. Thank you.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Thank you very much. Well, for the Democratic response to all of that, the assistant Senate leader Richard Durbin joins us now from Chicago. Senator, the floor is yours.


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