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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript - Immigration Reform and Syrian Civil War

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ACOSTA: And joining us now is the Republican senator from Arizona and member of the Gang of Eight on immigration reform, John McCain. Senator, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Let's get straight to this new breakthrough in immigration reform up there on Capitol Hill, this amendment being brought forward by Senators Corker and Hoeven that would deboost security on the border. It would create 700 new miles of fencing and double the number of border patrol agents, if I understand, some of the, I guess, parts of this amendment.

I guess, what do you make of this, first of all? And do you think this is going to add up to a significant number of Republicans signing on to this initiative?

MCCAIN: First of all, Jim, I think it will increase the numbers rather significantly. And as you know, it's very important to send a bill to the House of Representatives that has very strong bipartisan report -- support. I think that this legislation, this amendment, can achieve that. It calls for increased border security and I would remind you that back in 1986, we gave amnesty to three million people.

We said we'd secure the border and we did. Several years ago, we passed other legislation that said we would increase border security. And although border security has been increased, it's still not enough. We hope and believe that this Corker-Hoeven amendment will give people the confidence that we have a secure border.

ACOSTA: And senator, as it turns out, you were ahead of your time on this. Let's play a clip from an ad that you ran back in 2010 where you talked about that dang fence. Let's play a clip of that and talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Have we got the right plan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Plan's perfect. You bring troops, state, county and law enforcement together.

MCCAIN: And complete the dang fence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will work this time. Senator, you're one of us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And senator, I know you love seeing that one again or hearing that one again.

MCCAIN: That's a great ad, isn't it?

ACOSTA: It is a good ad. Very effective as it turns out. That dang fence, is it going to get finished this time? Probably not, but a significant part of it will be completed, but who is going to pay for all of this?

MCCAIN: We'll be paying for it through fees and through some fees imposed on the visa system, in the legal visa system. So -- but it won't be any increase in taxes or add to the deficit.

ACOSTA: And let's get to Syria, because earlier this week as you know, senator, President Obama sat down in that interview with Charlie Rose and he was asked about Syria and he sort of threw cold water on this whole idea of a no-fly zone. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you haven't been in the situation room poring through intelligence and meeting directly with our military folks and asking what are all our options and examining what are all the consequences and understanding that, for example, if you set up a no-fly zone, that you may not be actually solving the problem on the ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Senator, it sounds like you're not getting your no-fly zone or even something close to it. Does that mean that the rebels are doomed in Syria?

MCCAIN: I don't believe the rebels are doomed, but I don't think there's any doubt that on the battlefield the advantage is clearly with Bashar al-Assad. Why wouldn't there be? Tons of Russian equipment coming in, the Iranian Revolution Guard, jihadists from all over the region, 5,000 Hezbollah fighters and he's still calling it a civil war. What is turning into as a regional conflict and the deciding factor on the battle field is air power.

And we have got to and can just as the Israelis have shown with standoff missiles. They are able to hit targets that they want eliminated. It's shameful.

ACOSTA: Would you like to sit down with the president and talk about this?

MCCAIN: I have. I have.

ACOSTA: To make your case.

MCCAIN: I have already. I have already.

ACOSTA: And what's his response when you make that case to him?

MCCAIN: He said he understands my points and he respects it, just as I respect his position but obviously he has not agreed. And the influence --

ACOSTA: Is it just that he's maybe an anti -- he's just an anti-war to some extent? He came into the White House being the anti-war candidate. As you know, he was very much opposed to the Iraq war. He said in Germany that he's a president who is all about ending war, not starting wars, made that comment.

Is he -- is he just philosophically opposed to ratcheting things up in Syria do you think?

MCCAIN: No, I think he has beliefs that are genuine and sincere and they're obviously different from mine and many -- most other experts. Look, the Middle East is about to erupt. This is -- this is turning into a regional conflict. Lebanon is destabilized, Jordan can't -- the king of Jordan can't last. The conflict is spreading throughout the region. Hezbollah is all in.

This is becoming a Sunni-Shia conflict, Iran -- Saudi Arabia, Russia- U.S. and it's an unfair fight.

ACOSTA: So what about that video of that rebel fighter that -- we've seen it on YouTube. It shows a rebel fighter -- what appears to be a rebel fighter eating a heart of a Syrian government military service member. Why would -- why would we want to get involved in something like that?

MCCAIN: I think -- I think it's terrible. I think it's horrible. And I think civil wars are probably the bloodiest and worst of all. The difference between that individual and that atrocious act is that that was an individual act by a deranged individual. Bashar al-Assad has a strategy of rape, of torture and murder. There's mass graves that have been found all over Syria.

And so it's -- his people and Hezbollah and others are trained to inflict torture and to indulge -- engage in mass rapes in order to cow the population and to commit mass murder. That's the difference here. We're talking about 93,000 people dead. The president said, well, now we know that chemical weapons have killed 100 hundred people. What about the other 92,800 and whatever it is.

Look, this is an unfair fight. It's shameful. If Bashar al-Assad stays in power and the Iranians are able to make that happens, imagine the position of power that Iran has in the region. And look what happens if Bashar al-Assad fails. It's a great blow to Iran. The greatest in 25 years. And they're cut off from Hezbollah, which would mean that Hezbollah would die on the vine.

That's why they're all in in this conflict. And now we're talking about giving them light weapons. Light weapons do not do well against scud missiles and tanks. And it's just -- it's just shameful.

ACOSTA: Well, Senator John McCain, we do know where you stand on this issue. We appreciate your time very much. And we'll be talking to you soon. Thank you, sir.

MCCAIN: Thanks for having me on.

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