McCain: Christie can move past scandal
Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) also spoke to Crowley about violence in Iraq, the Iran Deal, NSA surveillance, and Robert Gates’ memoir.
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A transcript and videos from the interview are available after the jump.
CROWLEY: Joining me now, Senator John McCain, Republican from Arizona.
Senator McCain, thank you for joining us.
I want to start out with Iraq, where the violence, much of it certainly in Fallujah, driven, apparently, by al Qaeda, that is pushing this country toward, it looks like, a civil war between, again, once again, the Sunnis and the Shia.
How do you see the U.S., quote, “involving itself in this?”
MCCAIN: There’s none. And that’s why we are paying such a heavy price.
The president of the United States said the surge wouldn’t succeed, and it did. And he wanted out of Iraq. We’re out. And now you’ve seen increasing Iranian influence. You’re seeing Maliki being very — persecuting the Sunni minority. The Iraq/Syrian border is now becoming a haven for al Qaeda. And now, of course Fallujah.
You know, the battle of Fallujah — the second battle of Fallujah, Candy, we lost 95 American soldiers and Marines, and 600 wounded, the bloodiest battle of the war. Now we see Fallujah, vehicles driving down the main street with al Qaeda flags.
It’s very distressing to those veterans who fought so hard.
And this president wanted out. We got out. They would never say the number of troops that they wanted to have there, so Maliki decided to go his own way. And we are now seeing dramatically increased Iranian influence there in Iraq.
CROWLEY: I want to see if I have this correctly. Watching what’s going on in Iraq now, you think there is absolutely nothing the U.S. can do that might help purge, certainly, the al Qaeda members out of Iraq?
You think that is a lost cause?
MCCAIN: No, we can — we can — no, no. We can — I apologize if I gave you the wrong impression.
First of all, no combat troops, obviously. Let’s get that out of the way. But we could provide him with assistance. We could provide them with logistic support. We can provide them with Apache helicopters.
But at the same time, Maliki has got to have an Anbar awakening. He’s got to reach out to the Sunni. He’s got to have reconciliation.
And when we left and the Iranian Shia influence dramatically increased — and, by the way, we could have kept a residual force there and anybody who tells you that we could have is not telling the truth.
MCCAIN: But you know we need — I would suggest perhaps sending David Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker back over there. Maliki trusts them, and try and get this thing sorted out, because it is not just Iraq. When you look at Iraq-Syria, you are seeing an Al Qaeda enclave there and that is very dangerous to American national security, not to mention what’s happening in Syria, of course, where, again, the United States is disengaged. Thank god for the Saudis and Prince Bandar, we’re starting to see a little bit of reversal there, thank god.
CROWLEY: And when you look — as you know, former defense secretary Gates has a book out now that we’ve seen the excerpts and will soon be up for sale. In which he describes pretty vividly, both Hillary Rodham Clinton, the secretary of state, and the president talking about the political influence on their decisions about a surge in Afghanistan or — a surge in Iraq. Is this the appropriate time for a member of the president’s cabinet to put things like this out there, which is a criticism of the president, frankly, while we’re still at war in Afghanistan? Was the timing of the Gates book appropriate?
MCCAIN: I’m a great admirer of Secretary Gates. And he and I have disagreed from time to time. But I think he’s one of the finest public servants that I’ve known. He’s obviously very frustrated and felt – which by the way surprised all of us who know him — and he’s decided to really kind of let loose. And by the way most observers who would say that Hillary Clinton’s vote for Iraq versus Barack Obama’s against it was a determining factor in who gained the Democrat nomination. I’ll never forget Hillary Clinton saying she would have to have a willing suspension of disbelief in order to think that the surge would work. But I think that Secretary Gates is frustrated. I’m a great admirer of his. The question–
CROWLEY: Right. But was it appropriate?
MCCAIN: I think, frankly I might have — if I have giving him advice, I would have waited. But as far as waiting until it is over in Afghanistan, I wouldn’t have done that. But maybe retrospect of a little longer than now. But I also respect his ability to voice his views any time he wants to.
CROWLEY: I want to ask you about the National Security Agency. The president this week will begin the talk about the restrictions he wants to place on U.S. surveillance. Do you think any restrictions are needed and what would you go for?
MCCAIN: Well, I would go for a thorough review by Congress, too, because we’re going to most likely have to pass legislation to implement or not implement the president’s recommendations. Let’s face it, when one guy who works for a contractor is able to reveal all this information — and supposedly there’s much more that he hasn’t — then there’s something wrong with the system right there. Second of all, there have been overreach, it seems to me. Sometimes these agencies have done things just because they can. I think we need a select committee in Congress to go over this whole scenario because it does overlap many committees and we should have a select committee working with these, among other things, these commission’s recommendations and see what we can come up with. Is there anybody that believes that this system is not broken in many respects? I think not.
CROWLEY: Domestically, one of the things that we knew from the exit polls in the last election, that when people felt that the premier quality of a president should be that he cares about people. President Obama won that vote 81 — by 81 percentile. 81 to 18 with Romney. The most important quality. Now the Republican Party is facing votes on extending jobless benefits for the long term unemployed and, b, raising the minimum wage. Is there any way from a purely perceptual standpoint that Republicans will not take the hit for looking as though they, “don’t care about people”?
MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I think it is a very clever strategy on the part of the Democrats anything but Obamacare. Second of all, we Republicans have to be better in our messaging. For example, Senator Reid will not allow us a single amendment on the unemployment insurance. We think we know ways to make it better. Not a single amendment is allowed in the United States Senate.
CROWLEY: Right. I think he’s changed his mind on that, has he not? And said he will allow some amendments?
CROWLEY: Well, he changes from day to day. We’ll see. I’ve had numerous conversations with him about it. We should have amendments on — we’ve had four Republican amendments in the last several months in the United States Senate. People don’t believe that. So we have to be careful how we message. But this is a system that needs to be fixed. It needs to be modified. We needed to have it reviewed. We need to have it paid for. All of those things. And if we could have open debate in the United States Senate and amendments, then maybe we could make it better in the long run. There are negotiations going on as we speak. Instead, it is being rammed through, cut off debate, no amendments, and that’s not the way the Senate should function. Now have we got that message across well enough yet? No. But I think we can.
CROWLEY: Finally, Chris Christie, a man I’m sure you know, the New Jersey governor, who is facing a political crisis, I think we can say, about what he did or didn’t know about a traffic jam that some of his aides kind of cooked up out of revenge for a mayor. One of the things that Chris Christie said was, look, I didn’t know anything about this, about the involvement of my staff, until a couple of days. It had been four months actually since the traffic jams. So my question to you is, does that pass the smell test do you think politically? “I didn’t know anything about it,” you know, been talked about for four months. And do you think there is more work for Governor Christie to do to get over this?
MCCAIN: I thought he did an excellent job by the very lengthy press conference. Having gone through this, I know that you’ve got to answer every question. You can’t leave any question unanswered. I think that he can now move on as long as another shoe doesn’t drop. Too often, Candy, we have seen these things that it’s not the end of the story. But I’m a great admirer of Governor Christie. I thought he handled himself extremely well in that press conference and now we’ll have to wait and see whether there’s any more to the story.
CROWLEY: You run a staff. Do you think it is feasible that senior members of your staff could pull something like this off without you really knowing about it?
MCCAIN: Well, being the governor of a state, as you know, is dramatically different. He points out that he has 45,000, I think, employees. Although obviously these weren’t average employees. I think he stated very clearly, he should have known. I think he stated very clearly and very openly and honestly. And that’s why he has to answer every single question. Is this a blow to him? Obviously. How permanent it is I think is — we will know in the days and weeks ahead. But I don’t think he could have handled it any better than he has so far.
CROWLEY: Senator John McCain from Phoenix for us today, thank you so much.
MCCAIN: Thank you, Candy.
CROWLEY: When we return, more on that explosive memoir from the former secretary of defense and how it could affect the next presidential election. The political panel is next on STATE OF THE UNION.