March 22nd, 2015
12:48 PM ET

Sen. McCain: "Get over your temper tantrum, Mr. President"

 

Today on CNN’s State of the Union, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke to CNN’s Gloria Borger in an exclusive interview about the events shaping current domestic and global politics including the Israeli election, the Iran nuclear talks, the terror threats throughout the Middle East, and the nomination of Loretta Lynch for Attorney General.

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS

McCain on President Obama’s reaction to the Israeli election: “there was a free and fair democratic election, the only nation in the region that will have such a thing.  The president should get over it.  Get over your temper tantrum, Mr. President.  It's time that we work together with our Israeli friends and try to stem this tide of ISIS and Iranian movement throughout the region, which is threatening the very fabric of the region.  The least of your problems is what Bibi Netanyahu said during an election campaign.  If every politician were held to everything they say in a political campaign, obviously, that would be a topic of long discussion. But the point is, is the J.V., as the president described them, is just moving over into Yemen.  We see this horrible situation in Libya.  We see ISIS everywhere in the world.  We see the Iranians now backing the Shia militias in Tikrit, where they're going to - where they're going to massacre a number of Sunnis. And it is - the guy in charge is a guy named Suleimani, who - who imported - excuse me - I will catch up here - Suleimani moved thousands of copper-tipped IEDs into Iraq and killed hundreds of American soldiers and Marines.  And the president of the United States is praising the mullahs and their behavior in the region.”

McCain on President Obama’s message to the Iranian people: “I wish he had spoken to the people of Iran in 2009, when they rose up against a corrupt election and he refused to speak out on their behalf while they were chanting ‘Obama, Obama, are you with us or are you with them?’ Again, does anyone - does he believe that anyone in Iran is able to speak up?  Are they able to speak up for anything that the mullahs disagree with?  They're either jailed or killed.  Again, this is a view, a world view the president has which is totally divorced from reality.”

McCain on Loretta Lynch’s nomination and the issue of race: “My response is that you can't erase history.  These same Democrats led by Senator Durbin filibustered Janice Rogers Brown, the first African-American to the seat on that court - on that court.  They filibustered Miguel Estrada.  This has nothing to do with race.  It has everything to do with trying to get legislation through which would prevent - or help prevent this horrible issue of sexual trafficking that is going on.  And also I will add to that, I will not vote for her because she has said she would uphold the president's unconstitutional executive orders concerning immigration.”

TRANSCRIPT

THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN ANCHOR: Unchartered territory. Is there a break in the U.S./Israeli bond? And is Senator Ted Cruz about to green-light a 2016 White House run? This is STATE OF THE UNION.

Senator John McCain on escalating tensions between Israel and the U.S. Congressman Steve Israel on religion and politics. New fears about the reach and influence of ISIS. And Ted Cruz, he's all in for 2016.

Good morning from Washington. I'm Gloria Borger.

The U.S./Israeli relationship at a crossroads. First, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the possibility of a Palestinian state during his reelection bid, but after he won, he walked back his comments. And now President Obama says the U.S. is evaluating its options.

Joining me this morning is Senator John McCain of Arizona.

Senator, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

The president says he's reevaluating. He clearly was unhappy with what Bibi Netanyahu said about the Palestinian state during his campaign. Let me play for you something the president said to The Huffington Post.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... at his word when he said it wouldn't happen during his prime ministership.

And so that's why we have got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don't see a chaotic situation in the region.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: Senator, are we at a dangerous point here in relations between U.S. and Israel?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, I think that's up to the president of the United States.

Look, there was a free and fair democratic election, the only nation in the region that will have such a thing. The president should get over it. Get over your temper tantrum, Mr. President. It's time that we work together with our Israeli friends and try to stem this tide of ISIS and Iranian movement throughout the region, which is threatening the very fabric of the region.

The least of your problems is what Bibi Netanyahu said during an election campaign. If every politician were held to everything they say in a political campaign, obviously, that would be a topic of long discussion.

But the point is, is the J.V., as the president described them, is just moving over into Yemen. We see this horrible situation in Libya. We see ISIS everywhere in the world. We see the Iranians now backing the Shia militias in Tikrit, where they're going to - where they're going to massacre a number of Sunnis.

And it is - the guy in charge is a guy named Suleimani, who - who imported - excuse me - I will catch up here - Suleimani moved thousands of copper-tipped IEDs into Iraq and killed hundreds of American soldiers and Marines. And the president of the United States is praising the mullahs and their behavior in the region.

This is one of the more Orwellian situations I have ever observed.

BORGER: But you called the president's response to Bibi Netanyahu a temper tantrum. Why is it a temper tantrum if Netanyahu ostensibly rejects during his campaign the very basis for decades of American policy heading towards some kind of a peace process? Should the president just sort of pay no attention to that?

MCCAIN: I think the president maybe shouldn't like it, but thousands are being slaughtered by ISIS. And the Iranians have now taken over the major capitals of Lebanon, Syria, Beirut, and Baghdad. There - and it pales in significance to the situation which continues to erode throughout the Middle East and it puts America at risk.

Bibi's rhetoric concerning an election campaign pales in comparison as to the threat, the direct threat, to the United States of America of ISIS. This is - the president has his priorities so screwed up, that it's unbelievable.

BORGER: Well, he's also apparently considering signing a U.N. resolution calling for a Palestinian state. What would be your reaction if he did that? And should he even be considering that?

MCCAIN: Of course he shouldn't be considering it. And, second of all, if he does that, then - and it would be approved by the U.N., then the United States Congress would have to examine our funding for the United Nations.

It would be - it would be a violation because of the president's anger over a statement by Bibi, by the prime minister of Israel. It would be - contradict American policy for the last at least 10 presidents of the United States.

BORGER: So you think this is something the president in no way, shape, or form should do?

MCCAIN: Which is more important, Gloria, a statement made by a politician in the heat of a campaign or the wholesale slaughter that is going on throughout the Middle East?

The president at the same time is praising the ayatollahs. At the same time, he has got this idea of this Faustian bargain with the Iranians, who are on the march. About a few days ago...

BORGER: I'm going to...

MCCAIN: Could I mention, a few days ago, David Petraeus said that Iran is a greater threat in the Middle East than ISIS is.

BORGER: Right. I'm going to get to Iran.

MCCAIN: And I agree with him.

BORGER: I'm going to get to Iran. I'm going to get to Iran in one moment.

MCCAIN: Sure.

BORGER: One more thing that angers the president about Bibi Netanyahu, before we get to Iran, is the way he campaigned and said that the Arabs are coming out in droves.

And the president told The Huffington Post that this gives ammunition to folks who don't believe in a Jewish state. Do you think that statement by Netanyahu was kind of over the line?

MCCAIN: I think that politicians make statements.

BORGER: OK.

MCCAIN: I know that Israel is our most reliable ally. It is the only place where you will see a campaign where statements are made by one side or the other.

You have to put it in perspective of this incredible threat to the entire Middle East with ISIS on the march, with the Iranians on the march, with thousands of people being slaughtered and killed, and young women being...

BORGER: So, you think the president - you think the president is letting his personal feelings toward Netanyahu get in the way of important policy issues?

MCCAIN: I am convinced of it.

BORGER: OK.

MCCAIN: I am convinced of it, because, either that, or he is delusional. I am not sure which.

BORGER: OK. Well, let me get to Iran, which we need to talk about, because there is - there are nuclear negotiations going on, some movement over the weekend.

Senator Kerry said that - sorry - Secretary of State Kerry said there has been some progress, as did Iran's president. From what you know about the progress, is this something that you think is getting towards a deal you might be able to live with?

MCCAIN: I don't think they will reach a deal that we can live with, because, as Henry Kissinger testified before our committee, we have gone from eliminating Iran's capability to develop a nuclear weapon to delaying it. And that, of course, is unacceptable to most of - to most of us.

And I would imagine it may be enough to have enough votes in the United States Senate to not approve of it. And we will insist on approval and not going to the United Nations.

BORGER: Well, let me - let me ask you this. This week, I'm sure you know that President Obama himself sent a New Year's message to the Iranian people, which spoke a little bit about this pending deal. Let me - let's take a look at it, and then I will have you comment at the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The weeks ahead will be critical. Our negotiations have made progress, but gaps remains.

And there are people in both our countries and beyond who oppose a diplomatic resolution. My message to you, the people of Iran, is that, together, we have to speak up for the future we seek.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: What do you think about that message? Was he referring to people like you when he said there are people who oppose a diplomatic resolution?

MCCAIN: I'm sure he was. And I wish he had spoken to the people of Iran in 2009, when they rose up against a corrupt election and he refused to speak out on their behalf while they were chanting "Obama, Obama, are you with us or are you with them?"

Again, does anyone - does he believe that anyone in Iran is able to speak up? Are they able to speak up for anything that the mullahs disagree with? They're either jailed or killed. Again, this is a view, a world view the president has which is totally divorced from reality.

BORGER: Well, let me - some could say that you and other senators were interfering in a way with the president's negotiations when you were one of 47 senators who signed the letter to Iran's leader saying that Congress needs to approve any deal that Iran enters into.

Did you feel in any way, shape or form before you signed on the dotted line - you have run for president yourself - that this was undermining the commander in chief before you even knew what - what he might be thinking of?

MCCAIN: What - what triggered it, Gloria, was the president's announcement that, no matter what Congress voted as far as ratification of this agreement - and, clearly, it's so important it deserves the approval or disapproval of Congress - he immediately announced that he would veto any resolution from Congress. That's what triggered the letter and the events that took place.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Should it have been written to the mullahs? Yes.

MCCAIN: Well - well, I think that the mullahs ought to know that Congress will play a role. And we will do everything in our power to make sure we do play a role because we think that's our constitutional obligations.

BORGER: I mean, but you criticize what Obama did with the video. Isn't what you guys did the same thing as Obama did, trying - talking to different segments in Iran, to a degree?

MCCAIN: Well, we were talking to the leaders who are hanging people every day who disagree with them. And he was supposedly speaking to people who have a voice in Iran. And they don't. And no human rights observer will tell you that they do.

BORGER: Well, let me change subjects on you for a moment, because you were also in the news this week.

MCCAIN: Sure.

BORGER: We have a fight in the United States Senate over the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be attorney general. It's in limbo now. It's in procedural limbo. It's now part of an unrelated fight over abortion.

And now there's an open brawl, I would have to say, on the Senate floor about whether the delay was racially motivated. Let's take a listen to what your colleague Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said, and have you talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MINORITY WHIP: Loretta Lynch, the first African-American woman nominated to be attorney general, is asked to sit in the back of the bus when it comes to the Senate calendar. That is unfair. It's unjust.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: Senator, it wasn't just Dick Durbin. The head of the Congressional Black Caucus joined him in saying that this delay was racially motivated.

What's your response?

MCCAIN: My response is that you can't erase history. These same Democrats led by Senator Durbin filibustered Janice Rogers Brown, the first African-American to the seat on that court - on that court. They filibustered Miguel Estrada.

This has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with trying to get legislation through which would prevent - or help prevent this horrible issue of sexual trafficking that is going on. And also I will add to that, I will not vote for her because she has said she would uphold the president's unconstitutional executive orders concerning immigration.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: But what did you expect her to say? Senator, what did you expect her to say? You know, she's a nominee of the president.

MCCAIN: Yes, sure.

BORGER: She said that it was reasonable. Wouldn't you expect the president's nominee for attorney general to have looked into what the president did and then say it was reasonable? I mean...

MCCAIN: Gloria, I'm very quaint and old-fashioned. I expect people to tell the truth when they testify before a congressional committee when their nominations are there for congressional - senatorial approval.

I expect her to tell the truth.

BORGER: Well, maybe...

MCCAIN: And if the truth is that she supports - she supports it, then - and she calls them reasonable - then I cannot support her nomination, because they are not constitutional.

BORGER: So, why not have just a vote and have it not tied up in all these - this other rigmarole that it's tied up with? Why not just call for a separate vote on the Senate floor and have it either stand or fall?

MCCAIN: I totally agree. And we offered - Senator Cornyn offered a very reasonable compromise, which I will - that has to do with shifting the funding to the Appropriations Committee. And that was turned down.

BORGER: OK. We won't - yes.

MCCAIN: Yes.

BORGER: OK.

MCCAIN: It's a little arcane, but it - we have offered compromises.

BORGER: OK. OK.

Well, let me - I'm going to have to do one last switch of subjects on you...

MCCAIN: Sure.

BORGER: ... because CNN has confirmed this morning that Senator Ted Cruz, a colleague of yours from Texas, is going to announce his candidacy for the presidency tomorrow morning at Liberty University.

Do you think Senator Cruz is somebody who could lead the Republican Party to victory against Hillary Clinton?

MCCAIN: If the Republican Party nominates him, I do. He is a valued member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He and I are friendly, and I think he is a very viable candidate.

BORGER: That's not an endorsement though, is it, Senator?

MCCAIN: No. You know, Lindsey Graham is my - is my - the one I think that knows best about national security.

BORGER: OK.

Thanks so much, Senator McCain. Thanks for being with us from Arizona this morning.

MCCAIN: Thanks for having me on.

BORGER: And next: Is the strained relationship between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama dividing American Jews?

Congressman Steve Israel is here to talk about that up next.


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