February 1st, 2015
11:19 AM ET

McCain: "I thought [Romney] was going to run"

Today on CNN’s State of the Union, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) joined Dana Bash to discuss the 2016 Republican election, the Obama-Netanyahu relationship, and the protesters during Henry Kissinger’s congressional hearing.

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS

On Sarah Palin:  "MCCAIN:  She's very popular with a lot of people.  She - I think if she wants to run, she can certainly - that's her choice.  She still has a strong base of support.  I love her.  I'm grateful to her.   And I will say again, I thought the treatment that she received when she was my running mate was still the worst that I've ever seen any politician receive.  But, you know, that's over and done.  And my life, and I'm sure Sarah's, you move on.

BASH:  Do you think Sarah Palin should run for president?

MCCAIN:  I think that she ought to do whatever she feels that she would like to do.  And I'm very supportive of anything that she does.  Obviously Senator Lindsey Graham the person I'm supporting.  But I hope she - I wish her every success.”

On Mitt Romney: “I thought he was going to run, to tell you the truth, when I had heard all of the rumors.  I had talked to him on the phone about it.  And I think he seriously considered it.  And then I think he decided that it was not in his best interest.  I'm a great admirer of Mitt Romney.  I think there's going to be many ways he can continue to serve this country.  But he may have, frankly, spared his family from the ordeal, which we all know is a very difficult one.”

On Israel: “I think because the president had very unrealistic expectations about the degree of cooperation that he would get from Israel, particularly, on the Palestinian issue, as well as the nuclear issue with Iran.  And it - I'm not putting the entire blame on the president of the United States, but I will say this, no other president has had such a difficult relationship with the state of Israel since it became a country. “

On the protests during Henry Kissinger’s congressional hearing: “These people were physically threatening Henry Kissinger.  I'm used to people popping up at these hearings and yelling, and then they're escorted out.  That's at least some version of free speech.  These people rushed up.  They were right next to Henry Kissinger, waving handcuffs at him.  He's a 91-year-old man with a broken shoulder who is willing to come down and testify before Congress to give us the benefit of his many years of wisdom.  Of course I was outraged.  And I am still outraged.  It's one thing to stand up and protest.  It's something else to physically threaten an individual, particularly an individual who has served so much to his country, whether you agree or not, as I happen to believe he is one of the great statesman of my lifetime or maybe of the whole 20th Century.”

Full transcript after the jump.

TRANSCRIPT

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

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: And joining me now is Senator John McCain, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Thank you for joining me, appreciate it.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Thank you, Dana.

BASH: Let's start with 2016, politics. Mitt Romney deciding at the end of the week he is not going to run. You know him. He was your competitor, and then your friend. Does that surprise you?

MCCAIN: I thought he was going to run, to tell you the truth, when I had heard all of the rumors. I had talked to him on the phone about it. And I think he seriously considered it. And then I think he decided that it was not in his best interest.

I'm a great admirer of Mitt Romney. I think there's going to be many ways he can continue to serve this country. But he may have, frankly, spared his family from the ordeal, which we all know is a very difficult one.

BASH: You said that you thought he was going to run. What did he say to you that made you think that?

MCCAIN: Well, when we talked on the phone, he made it very clear to me that he was seriously considering running again. And I'm sure that he spent a lot of time with his family and friends and came to the decision that he made.

And, again, I have great respect and affection for Mitt Romney. And I think he ran an honorable campaign.

BASH: Do you think he could have won, the primary, even?

MCCAIN: I don't know, because - the reason why I don't know is because, you know, you have so many chances at the brass ring. And then people say, well, it's somebody else's turn.

There's no education in the second kick of a mule.

(LAUGHTER)

BASH: Another person who you knew from those days, Sarah Palin. She was in Iowa this past weekend. I'm sure you saw. And she is taking some heat from some conservatives about the speech, the way she spoke and the content of it.

Let's listen to some of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR (Clip from Iowa)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: What do you make of that?

MCCAIN: She's very popular with a lot of people. She - I think if she wants to run, she can certainly - that's her choice. She still has a strong base of support. I love her. I'm grateful to her.

And I will say again, I thought the treatment that she received when she was my running mate was still the worst that I've ever seen any politician receive. But, you know, that's over and done. And my life, and I'm sure Sarah's, you move on.

BASH: Do you think Sarah Palin should run for president?

MCCAIN: I think that she ought to do whatever she feels that she would like to do. And I'm very supportive of anything that she does. Obviously Senator Lindsey Graham the person I'm supporting. But I hope she - I wish her every success.

BASH: After the speech in Iowa, even some of her conservative supporters said, what was that all about? Byron York, for example, wrote that it was rambling and no one understood what she was doing, but also specifically the Republican Party needs to figure out what her place is going to be in 2016.

Do you think she could be an asset in 2016?

MCCAIN: I think so. I did not see her speech, so I can't comment on that. But she still has a strong base of support around the country. And, again, I think she has still a degree of popularity.

If she did not give a good speech, she's not the first politician that didn't give a good speech from time to time, including me.

BASH: You had her come and campaign with you during your last re-election campaign for the Senate.

MCCAIN: Yes.

BASH: You're on the ballot again.

MCCAIN: Yes.

BASH: Will she come and campaign for you?

MCCAIN: Oh sure, I'm confident of that, absolutely.

BASH: So the whole question of 2016 seems to be settled with you, because your dear friend Lindsey Graham is running. Are you happy he made this decision?

MCCAIN: Oh, I'm happy that Lindsey has decided he wants to at least explore it. He's smart. He has got a great American story of a young man whose parents died, raised his sister, serves in the military.

And he also - there is no one in America that knows better than Lindsey Graham about the threats to this country. And his knowledge and depth on national security are unmatched by anyone.

BASH: Do you really think Lindsey Graham could win the Republican nomination?

MCCAIN: I think Lindsey Graham will do very well in debates. In New Hampshire he will shine in the town hall meeting.

BASH: I asked him about you, but specifically about whether he would run a kind of maverick campaign like you did in 2000. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: John is a dear friend. One of the highlights of my time in politics is for him, and he - I know he loves me dearly. We are truly friends. But he wouldn't say to anybody that I should be president if he didn't really mean it and believe it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Commander-in-chief, I would point out, that he has served as active duty in Iraq, in Baghdad, and in Kabul. He knows the men and women in the military. He knows what they're going through in these foreign places in a way that no one standing for the presidency does as Lindsey Graham does.

And I'm proud of his service to the country.
BASH: Let’s turn to Israel and the prime minister being invited to speak before Congress. The speaker did so without informing the White House, which is traditionally protocol. Was that a good idea?

MCCAIN: I think that given the way that relations are between the president and the speaker and the majority leader, Senator McConnell, it's not surprising. Obviously we would want everybody to work together.

But there's a real crisis going on. And that is these negotiations with Iran, which many of us believe are already fatally flawed, that the speaker felt the overriding concern was to have him appear before the American people and tell them about the dangers of a very bad agreement with Iran on nuclear weapons.

BASH: I know you are someone who reveres institutions. And you are an institutionalist. Would you have done it a different way, though, I mean, and informed the White House about it, because it has certainly caused a diplomatic rift?

MCCAIN: Obviously I would have talked to the White House. But I may have - and I hate to put myself in these leaders' place, but I might have at least informed them, but I certainly agree that you don't need their permission, given the state of relations.

BASH: What about the relationship between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the president, which is, you know, widely to be known as not great?

MCCAIN: It's poor, as we know. And it's the worst that I've ever seen in my lifetime. And that in itself is a tragedy because it's the only functioning democracy in the entire Middle East.

BASH: Why do you think it's the worst that you've seen in your lifetime?

MCCAIN: I think because the president had very unrealistic expectations about the degree of cooperation that he would get from Israel, particularly, on the Palestinian issue, as well as the nuclear issue with Iran.

And it - I'm not putting the entire blame on the president of the United States, but I will say this, no other president has had such a difficult relationship with the state of Israel since it became a country.

BASH: Bush 41 didn't have the greatest relations at times.

MCCAIN: No, he didn't. But at the same time it never reached this level. I agree with you about Bush 41. I remember when Jim Baker testified before Congress, "if they want to call me, my number is 202." I remember that.

But the relations with Israel have not always been excellent. But I think any observer would argue they've never been worse.

BASH: This past week you had a widely covered moment at - when you were chairing the Armed Services Committee hearing with Henry Kissinger where protesters called him a war criminal and worse. (SOT)

And you used some language that was also pretty intense. (SOT) Now that we're past that, past the heat of the moment, did you think that that was the way you would handle it again?

MCCAIN: Dana, these people were physically threatening Henry Kissinger. I'm used to people popping up at these hearings and yelling, and then they're escorted out. That's at least some version of free speech.

These people rushed up. They were right next to Henry Kissinger, waving handcuffs at him. He's a 91-year-old man with a broken shoulder who is willing to come down and testify before Congress to give us the benefit of his many years of wisdom.

Of course I was outraged. And I am still outraged. It's one thing to stand up and protest. It's something else to physically threaten an individual, particularly an individual who has served so much to his country, whether you agree or not, as I happen to believe he is one of the great statesman of my lifetime or maybe of the whole 20th Century.

BASH: You called them "scum." That name-calling, you think…

MCCAIN: I think they're terrible people, OK? I think they're terrible people that would do that to a 91-year-old man with a broken shoulder, that - to physically threaten him. That is beyond any norm of behavior that I have ever observed. I said at the time…

BASH: So from your perspective, it wasn't what they said or the fact that they were protesting, it's the way they handled it and who they were talking to?

MCCAIN: The way they literally surrounded him and were physically so - in such proximity to him that he was in danger of being harmed. That's what I object to. I don't object to them - I don't particularly like it when they stand up and yell, but this is far different.

Look at the video. There's a person who is waving handcuffs right over his head. And if it hadn't had been for a couple of people, including my colleagues, I've never seen this before, came down from the dais and to stand with Henry Kissinger and - between him and those people who, in my view, and I think the video will corroborate it, were physically threatening him.

No one deserves that, much less Henry Kissinger.

BASH: On a much lighter note, the Super Bowl is in your state, in your hometown later today. Who is your team?

MCCAIN: I have reason to dislike both teams because they've beaten the Arizona Cardinals. But this - if there was ever as close a game where it's going to be a toss-up, and we're going to see it right to the very end. These are two very closely-matched teams with two great quarterbacks.

##END##

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