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July 21st, 2013
11:42 AM ET

Sen. McCain on State of the Union: Stand Your Ground "needs to be reviewed"

In an exclusive interview today on CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Arizona Republican Senator John McCain spoke on a wide-range of topics including: race in America and the Stand Your Ground law; the Rolling Stone magazine cover; the U.S. role in Syria and Russia; and Liz Cheney’s challenge of Sen. Enzi in the Republican primary. Highlighted excerpts are below and a full transcript is after the jump.

Highlighted Excerpts

McCain on hope for  a post-racial era with the election of President Obama:
"I think we were probably too optimistic. I think that old prejudices die hard"

On Stand Your Ground:
"I can also see that stand your ground law may be something that needs to be reviewed by the Florida legislature or any other legislature that has passed such legislation… I'm confident that the members of the Arizona legislature will and - because it is a very controversial legislation.”

On the Boston bomber on the cover of Rolling Stone:
"I thought it was stupid and I thought it was inappropriate”

EMBEDDABLE VIDEO: McCain: Rolling Stone cover "stupid"

On Syria:
"The fact is there's no United States leadership in the Middle East. There's a vacuum there. And when there's a vacuum, bad people fill it…
A year from now, there'll be another 100,000 who have died, and we sit by and watch this happen and don't think that lesson is lost on all the other countries in the region, and it's a disgrace.”

On Liz Cheney challenging Sen. Mike Enzi in the Republican primary:
“I'm pleased to see that most people who have served with Mike Enzi have expressed our strong support because he's a good, solid, hard-working workhorse."

On Gen. Dempsey:
"Senator Levin and I have sent over additional questions. I hope he will answer those. They are required and agree to give their honest opinion even if it disagrees with the administration's opinion. General Dempsey didn't do that. I'm confident that we can work this out.”

On Russia:
"it's time to get tough with Russia… It has to have some effect, and right now, we are showing no response."
Full Transcript

THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CROWLEY: I’m Candy Crowley. And this is STATE OF THE UNION.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (on-camera): Since the not guilty verdict a week ago, the issues of race, justice, and guns have dominated the public conversation. In more than 100 cities, thousands took part in justice for Trayvon rallies. His father offered his thoughts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRACY MARTIN, TRAYVON MARTIN'S FATHER: This sends a message to the nation that we're not going to sit back and let our children be killed and don't say anything about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: The subject of race is not always front burner, but it always simmers. Joining me now is Arizona senator, John McCain, who ran against then Senator Obama in a presidential contest where race was often a subtext and sometimes a headline. After your gracious speech, everybody sort of thought and even talked about a post-racial era. What has happened?

MCCAIN: I think we were probably too optimistic. I think that old prejudices die hard, especially in hard economic times when some of the competitions were exacerbated. And I think the good news is, when you look at the military, when you look at the fact we have a president who is the first African-American president in history and we have made significant progress, but I think that recent events have obviously highlighted the differences that remain.

What I got out of the president's statement, which I thought was very impressive, is that we need to have more conversation in America. I need to - I, as an elected official, I need to talk more to my Hispanic organizations in my state. I need to talk to more African- American organizations. I need Americans to talk to their friends and neighbors, not just those on their block or their circle of friends.

CROWLEY: I feel like we always say stuff like that, and then it dies down, and we don't do it.

MCCAIN: I think we continue to make progress, but there are events like this that highlight and emphasize the fact that we still have a long way to go. We cannot be complacent in our society when we still have a dramatic disparity between Black youth unemployment and non-Black youth unemployment when we have these still contradictions in our society.

When we see the city of Detroit in the largest bankruptcy in history. It's a wasteland. Basically, the city of Detroit is. What's the majority of the population in the city of Detroit? And that is - who suffers the most now in Detroit? Obviously, we know the answer to that. So, do we have to continue and emphasize affirmative action programs?

Yes, without quotas. Do we have to do a lot of things in America? If you can salvage anything about this national - debate isn't the word - national clash of ideas, of thoughts about this Trayvon Martin case, it is that we've still got a long way to go, and I think the president very appropriately highlighted a lot of that yesterday as only a president of the United States can.

CROWLEY: Did you think that Trayvon Martin got justice?

MCCAIN: I trust the judgment of a jury, of his peers, of individuals. I can't second guess - no one that I know of has said that this case was flawed, that it was corrupt, that there was anything wrong with the system of justice.

CROWLEY: But you understand how it could be seen as the president talked about through a prism of the history of injustice in the system?

MCCAIN: Absolutely, I can see that. I can also see that stand your ground law may be something that needs to be reviewed by the Florida legislature or any other legislature that has passed such legislation. Obviously, a lot of things need to come up for review, but to somehow condemn the verdict of the jury, you would have to show me where the jury was corrupted by any - in any way. CROWLEY: Do you think that stand your ground - the stand your ground law in Arizona is worth looking at again?

MCCAIN: I think that, yes, I do, and I'm confident that the members of the Arizona legislature will and - because it is a very controversial legislation.

CROWLEY: Senator Cruz has said that he thinks this talk about changing stand your ground legislation is just the Obama administration's way to get at gun control. What's your reaction?

MCCAIN: I don't draw that conclusion. I just don't draw that conclusion.

CROWLEY: And let me just switch up subjects quickly and that is to show you the cover - go ahead, of course.

MCCAIN: And one addition. Isn't this time for us to try to come together? Isn't it time for America to come together in light of several weeks of what is really exacerbating relations between elements of our society? I'd rather have a message of coming together and discussing these issues rather than condemning.

CROWLEY: So, you think Senator Cruz's argument at this point about gun control is inappropriate?

MCCAIN: No, no. I just respect his view, but I don't frankly see the connection.

CROWLEY: Let me show you the cover of the "Rolling Stones." This got a lot of play this week. This, of course, is one of the Boston bombers, one that's still alive. Lots of complaints. Stores pulled the cover. Inside is an article about how does a young man, you know, basically, who's been in the United States for some time, turn into a terrorist. When you see that cover, what did you think?

MCCAIN: I thought it's stupid. It thought it was glorifying an individual that represents a great threat to innocent lives and was responsible for the taking of innocent lives. And I thought it was stupid and I thought it was inappropriate, but for me to tell them to pull their magazine from the book shelves at newsstands, it's not up to me to do that. I think most Americans surrender to judgment on that. And, but - also, "Rolling Stone" probably got more publicity than they've had in 20 years.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. And there is freedom of speech and freedom of pictures and all those things. Senator, i want you to stand by for me.

When we return, among other things, the former vice president's daughter is making a play for the Senate seat in Wyoming. Senator McCain is standing by his man. We'll find out why next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: With me again, Republican senator, John McCain. The deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency said at the forum yesterday that al Qaeda affiliated groups are gaining strength in Syria. They've grown in size, capability, and effectiveness. Does that change your argument, which has been very fierce for more U.S. help to these rebels since now the most effective rebels appear to be al Qaeda?

MCCAIN: Al Qaeda is coming back throughout the Middle East region and North Africa. Look at what's happening in Iraq and unraveling there. You can only judge this on the basis of the facts. The fact is there's no United States leadership in the Middle East. There's a vacuum there. And when there's a vacuum, bad people fill it.

And that's what's happening all over the Middle East. Now, is Syria specific? Of course. Jihadists are flowing in from all over the Middle East, and by the way, from Europe –

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: - to stay out?

MCCAIN: Well, if you think that doing nothing, that the situation will improve - and no one that I know that knows the Syria believes that - and I would argue that our failure, our failure to assist these people who are struggling for things we stand for and believe in has exacerbated this problem dramatically. Look, this brings us a little bit to Russia, but it's an unfair fight, Candy. It's an unfair fight.

CROWLEY: A lot of unfair fights sort of take place across the nation - world.

MCCAIN: Russians are all in. Hezbollah with 4,000 or 5,000 troops. Iranian revolutionary guard. It is now erupting into a regional conflict. It was not that at the beginning. In 1930s, we had a thing called the Spanish civil war that - when it came to become a proxy fight. This is now becoming a proxy fight between different interests in the Middle East and outside the Middle East, including significant involvement by the Russians, while we sit by and watch these people being massacred.

A year and a half ago, I asked when we were going to intervene when 7,000 had died. Now, a hundred thousand have died. A year from now, there'll be another 100,000 who have died, and we sit by and watch this happen and don't think that lesson is lost on all the other countries in the region, and it's a disgrace.

CROWLEY: I want to ask you, move you on to Russia, but I also want to ask you if you have any reason to believe that the administration is coming around to your very forceful opinions on this?

MCCAIN: Well, I had a meeting with the president, Senator Graham and I, this week, and it gave us an opportunity to engage in a discussion on the issue. And I hope that at least the options are being explored. But believe me, Candy, this - the Middle East is erupting into conflict which will sooner or later - sooner rather than later, affect American national security interests.

It is a huge problem. And you see Iraq unraveling, Afghanistan, we have huge problems there. All across, not to mention Egypt. The heart and soul of the Arab world is now in a situation which could lead to chaos for a long period of time.

CROWLEY: Let me turn you to some domestic politics. Liz Cheney, daughter of the former vice president, has decided to take on Republican senator, Mike Enzi, who currently hold the seat, in a primary for that Senate seat. What does this speak to inside the Republican Party? Does it not say that there is a faction of the Republican Party that is going to challenge longtime sitting senators from the right?

MCCAIN: Well, I think that may happen, and it's a free country and a free party, in my view. If people want to run for office, they can. If Liz Cheney wants to run for office, but I'm pleased to see that most people who have served with Mike Enzi have expressed our strong support because he's a good, solid, hard-working workhorse.

And all the old line about show horses and workhorses, Mike Enzi is the epitome of a workhorse in the Senate. Everybody is free to run, and I do not want to exclude anyone.

CROWLEY: But you're on team Enzi at this point?

MCCAIN: Absolutely.

CROWLEY: And finally, you had sort of a set to (ph) with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about what he was willing to say in public. Have you, in private, gotten from General Dempsey what he would like to see happen vis-a-vis the U.S. and Syria?

MCCAIN: No, but Senator Levin and I have sent over additional questions. I hope he will answer those. They are required and agree to give their honest opinion even if it disagrees with the administration's opinion. General Dempsey didn't do that. I'm confident that we can work this out. One final word on Russia, it's time to get tough with Russia.

It's time that we speak out on these human rights abuses, on these convictions, on this autocratic KGB colonel that continues to oppress the Russian people in a way that we need to at least respond to, including expanding the Magnitsky law.

CROWLEY: And also on Snowden, I would - of course –

MCCAIN: It has to have some effect, and right now, we are showing no response.

CROWLEY: Senator John McCain, thank you for coming this Sunday.

MCCAIN: Thank you for letting me squeeze that last one in.

CROWLEY: Absolutely.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Thank you so much.

###

McCain calls for review of 'stand your ground' laws
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