August 18th, 2013

McCain on State of the Union: U.S. has ‘no credibility’ in Egypt

Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Sen. John McCain, Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Justin Amash joined the program to discuss the latest from Egypt, NSA surveillance programs and the battle over Obamacare. A full transcript of those interviews is after the jump.

Full Transcript


CROWLEY: After days of deadly violence across the country, Egypt’s interim government is asking the world to listen to its side of the story. Members of the foreign ministry released video today of the recent chaos and blamed terrorists for the unrest. But supporters of ousted president, Mohamed Morsy, say Egypt’s security forces are responsible for the violence that has claimed hundreds of lives since Wednesday.

I want to bring in CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh from Cairo. Nick, give me the latest from the ground.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It’s comparatively quiet here. First day of the working week and there are protest marches called by the Muslim Brotherhood for the hours ahead which will go towards to key government buildings. Remember, the military promised to respond to any move towards state institutions with live gunfire. So, concerns about potential violence in the future here.

Politically, we have seen Mohamed ElBaradei, the former vice president for foreign affairs resignation now accepted, heads to the airport here in Cairo, bound, as reported, for Vienna. No comments as yet from him of the and continuing now international condemnation. The EU saying that they’re reviewing their relations with Egypt and the United Kingdom saying that they would like to see all sides refrain from violence.

But bear in mind, we’ve seen potentially a thousand people killed in the recent crackdown. And so far, rhetoric from most western capitals has been threatening future action rather than strongly moving to punish Egypt for what many of them see as gross human rights violations and killings.

CROWLEY: Well, Nick, on that score, let me ask you, because it does seem that the Egyptian military is pretty immune to any kind of pressure. What might cause it to back off?

WALSH: It’s very unclear at this point. They appear to have made the calculation which seems to be mirrored, in fact, by decision makers in Washington that the Washington/Cairo relationship is too strategically important for the United States for something like this, grave and horrifying as it’s been, to necessarily derail it.

We’ve seen cursory cancellation of a military exercise and potential moves in the future, but no stark measure to suggest a fundamental change in the character of the relationship, Candy.

CROWLEY: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you.

WALSH: Thank you, Candy.


OBAMA: While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets.


CROWLEY: The president canceled next month’s joint military exercises with Egypt, but did not cut off U.S. aid, not yet. His equation is this. However popular, a military coup ousting an elected government followed by a deadly crackdown on protesters run counter to the values the U.S. spouses to the world. Still, so much rides in the balance of what happens next. For decades, Egypt has been an imperfect, undemocratic but critical U.S. ally in the Middle East.

The first Arab state to make a cold peace with Israel for which Egypt was rewarded with U.S. aid. The Egyptian military, where U.S./Egyptian ties are strongest, has helped fight extremism in the Sinai, buttressing Israel Southern Boarder. Egypt has been helpful in the U.S. fight against terrorism, a counterweight to Iran, and in many ways, Egypt, the most populous Arab state, is the heart of the Middle East. Many analysts believe as Egypt goes, so goes the Arab spring for the rest of the region.

Joining us now is Senator John McCain. He recently traveled to Egypt at the request of the president. Senator, you came back a changed man, at least, on the issue of whether the U.S. should cut out — should suspend aid to Egypt. What made you change your mind?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I wanted to give them an opportunity to do the right thing after the coup had taken place. And it was pretty clear, to say the least, that they have not only not changed, but they have orchestrated a massacre, as you mentioned. We don’t know, a thousand or many thousands wounded.

We have no credibility, Candy. That’s the problem, because we know that the administration called the Egyptians and said, look, if you do a coup, we’re going to cut off aid because that’s the law. We have to comply with the law. And we’re — in this administration did not do that after threatening to do so.

And we are not in compliance with the law about a coup, which is clearly what it is. And then, we thought there was possibly a deal to be made where they would release a couple of the Muslim Brotherhood, including a former speaker of the parliament, and in return for reductions in numbers of demonstrators, a dialogue, move forward with the constitution and elections.

Obviously, the General al-Sisi decided not to pursue that and rejected it and decided to use force as we saw today, in the last few days. And with apache helicopters flying overhead, nothing is more symbolic of the United States of America siding with the generals. We have no credibility.

We do have influence, but when you don’t use that influence, then you do not have that influence. We could be cutting off the aid, the spare parts and maintenance of this military equipment that we’ve given the Egyptians is important to their capabilities.


MCCAIN: Tourism, economic assistance, business, the IMF loan. There are many areas where we could exercise influence over the generals, and we’re not doing any of it, and we’re not sticking with our values.

CROWLEY: And yet, when you argued earlier, trying as you say to give the military leaders a chance, you argued that to cut off U.S. aid to Egypt might harm Israel. Others also add that once you cut off aid, you’ve lost any kind of leverage. There is nothing after you’ve cut U.S. aid.

MCCAIN: Well, again, we thought that at that particular time that it was not the right thing to do, because we wanted to give them an opportunity to get back on the path to democracy. And obviously, that’s not the case. Look, as I say, our interests, our values, there are consequences of failure — consequences of any action we might take. But for us to sit by and watch this happen is a violation of everything that we stood for.

And when we threaten something, as we did that we would cut off aid, the administration did, and then not do it, then you lose your credibility and your influence. In other words, the generals now are acting with confidence that we will not take any — CROWLEY: That the U.S. won’t do it.

MCCAIN: Right.


MCCAIN: There will be no reprisals, right.

CROWLEY: But is it still, do you think, at the risk for Israel if the U.S. cuts off that aid as you once argued?

MCCAIN: I think there’s a risk to Israel. There’s more increasing unrest in the Sinai. But I also would point out the Mubarak regime and this regime is stoking anti-Americanism to a large degree and anti-Israel rhetoric is very high. I believe that Israel can defend itself, although, it may be — may be at some cost to them. But look at the cost to American credibility.


MCCAIN: When the president — when the president of the United States says that if Bashar al-Assad uses chemical weapons, he crosses a red line. When the president of the United States says that Iran’s path to nuclear weapons is unacceptable.

When we see the al Qaeda coming — rising across the Arab world, particularly now, Iraq unraveling, Iraq, Syria returning to al Qaeda influence to a large degree, we are losing all across the region, and one of the reasons is, is because there’s no credibility on the part about the United States actions.

CROWLEY: So, you think that the president has been weak when it comes to dealing in the Middle East, has not followed through? You know, what is your sort of description of U.S. policy?

MCCAIN: There is no policy. And there is no strategy. And, therefore, we react and we react poorly. Again, one of the best examples is Syria where the president said if Bashar al-Assad uses chemical weapons, it will cross a red line. He’s used them and we have done virtually nothing in response to that.

The centrifuges in Tehran continue to spin. Iraq unravels. Tremendous uncertainty about Afghanistan and what our forces remaining will be there. We can go through country after country and compare that to the president’s vision for the Middle East in his speech in Cairo in 2009. We are much — we are much more hated and much less respected —

CROWLEY: Senator, quickly —

MCCAIN: — than we were in 2009. Go ahead.

CROWLEY: I’ve got two quick questions for you. The first is, there is talk now that the U.S. — that the Egyptian military, the Egyptian government might outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood. What will be the net result of that? MCCAIN: An Algeria. It won’t be a Syria situation, because they have the capability to repress. But when a third — roughly a third of the people of Egypt support the Muslim Brotherhood at least, and by the way, they would lose a free and fair election. You’re going to see insurgency all over Egypt.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been underground for years. They know how to behave. And, I can see a long period of unrest in Egypt and repression. And again, a violation of United States values, and our values and our interests.

CROWLEY: And senator, I quickly have to ask you about the NSA story this week. We have learned that mistakes were made, as they say. They don’t seem to be intentional, but there was some spying on innocent American citizens through some clerical errors mostly. Your quick reaction to that?

MCCAIN: Why do we have to keep finding out this information by revelations from Mr. Snowden? He’s giving credibility, particularly amongst young people, that he is sort of a Jason Bourne character. We need better Congressional oversight. where was the Congress in this? Was the Congress informed? We know that Mr. Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, made a false statement to Congress in open hearing, in a Senate hearing.

So, we need more Congressional oversight. We need more information. And can’t we find these things out from somebody besides Mr. Snowden, who I believe was violation of his oath to the United States of America?

CROWLEY: Senator John McCain, thank you so much for getting up early for us.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Members of congress are getting an earful about the NSA back in their home districts this summer. What to do about a spy agency many believe is out of bounds? With Democratic congressman, Chris Van Hollen, next.



OBAMA: A general impression has, I think, taken hold not only among the American public but also around the world that somehow we’re out there willy-nilly just sucking in information on everybody and doing what we please with it. That’s not the case.


CROWLEY: That was the week before last. Now, according to an internal audit published by “The Washington Post,” the NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times, accessing or saving details about domestic e-mails and phone calls of U.S. citizens. “The Post” report said four months the NSA used a method that a judge later ruled unconstitutional and that officials did not report the full extent of their errors.

Democratic congressman, Chris Van Hollen, voted against an amendment that would have ended some of the NSA surveillance capabilities. Congressman, any second thoughts here now knowing that mistakes were made?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, not on that particular vote. But no one should misinterpret that vote. That was on the Amash amendment. I have serious concerns about what’s going on at the NSA. I think, obviously, we need more oversight, as senator McCain said. But I think we need to change the underlying Patriot Act and the FISA amendments of 2008.

Hey, I voted against the reauthorization of the so-called Patriot Act because I believed it was too loosely written. There was room for abuse. And so, I think we need to undertake lots of reforms. The amendment, I don’t think, did the trick, frankly. I think there are much more important things we need to be doing.

CROWLEY: So, are you comfortable with the fact what we know now, which is that the NSA does take in every phone call number in America on a daily basis, brings it all in, keeps it in case they need to go look at it, they’ll need a judge’s OK for that, and now, we’re learning that, yes, they did make mistakes, some of which were in violation of the constitution, a judge later found out.

And yet 3,000 instances, 2,000 instances not big, except for some of those instances involved 3,000 Americans whose e-mails or phone calls were then monitored.

VAN HOLLEN: Right. And I think we need to make reforms to prevent that from happening. In fact, I’m working on an initiative to do exactly that. So, there’s a distinction to be made between the collection of raw data, right? NSA having exactly what the phone companies have. And, what’s the test? What’s the standard for the NSA being able to search or query that data?

Right now, you have to have a reasonable suspicion that that phone number was involved in terrorist activity. My concern is, NSA can reach that judgment unilaterally. You do not have to get advance notice from the FISA court. So, I propose that before they do any kind of query, any kind of search, they have to go to the FISA court.

And, at that step in the process, we also have what’s considered a citizen’s advocate to take the adversarial position before the FISA court. So, you have that give and take. Those are important reforms. i think most people are concerned that NSA is willy-nilly getting content or doing searches. And I do believe we should make sure that that can never —

CROWLEY: Even if they’re not getting content or searches, they’re getting a heck of a lot of information as everyone who knows what that phone data is should someone choose to misuse it. Let me —

VAN HOLLEN: That’s the key point.


VAN HOLLEN: Should they choose to misuse it. So, if somebody has — if you had reasonable suspicion that a phone number was involved in terrorist activity, I would want you to be able to query that quickly. I would want you to be able to figure out who that person is calling. My concern is that the official at NSA gets to make that judgment by themselves without going to the court, and before the court, you don’t have an adversarial proceeding.

CROWLEY: Right. Pretty much, because one of the FISA judges that listens to these, hey, can we go look further into this. U.S. district judge, Reggie Walton, had this to say recently in “The Washington Post.” The FISC, meaning the court, is forced to rely upon the accuracy of the information that is provided to the court.

CROWLEY: So, the NSA brings all its information to the court and says, hey, here’s our information. And they’ve got no way to independently know whether that information is correct or complete. And let’s face it, spy agencies want to spy. It’s what they do. They want to keep us safe. And the more the better for them, we understand that.

VAN HOLLEN: That’s right. And sometimes, the NSA folks come after the fact to the court and say hey, court, here’s what we say happened. Here’s what we believe happened. Just approve it retroactively. So, here’s what I’m saying. You need to get advanced approval for even a query. Certainly, you need to get probable cause for any kind of content information.

But even querying a phone number, what number did it call? You should have to go to the court first. Second, to your other point, we should have somebody at the court whose job it is, whose responsibility it is to make sure that they’re putting forward the counter argument. After all in, a court of law, you have two parties — the court itself should not be — they should be the person who makes the decision between the two arguments.


VAN HOLLEN: Right now, they’re hearing only one argument. So, I think that’s really important.

CROWLEY: Let me quickly ask you about health care reform. It is kicking in this fall in a major way. Senator Reid, who is the head of the Senate majority Democrats, suggested recently during a panel discussion that Obamacare is just kind of the interim step. That in the end, he believes that the next step will be something close to single payer, that is the government. Something like Medicare for everybody. Is that where Obamacare is going?

VAN HOLLEN: I don’t think so. Look, my view, Candy, is let’s see how this works. Right now, we’re in the process of setting up these exchanges. So, finally, millions of Americans who had no access to health care will be able to get affordable care. We need to make sure that that process works, that system works. We can look at ways to modify it down the road, possibly, but let’s get that in place.

And I am very concerned you have many Republicans in Congress now saying that they’re prepared to shut down the government if we continue to move forward with Obamacare and with establishing these changes. That will be a huge mistake. CROWLEY: Right. And those Republicans would want me to add that there are also many Republican that say we’re not going to shut down the government —


VAN HOLLEN: We’ll see who will prevail.

CROWLEY: September will be interesting.

VAN HOLLEN: That’s true.

CROWLEY: Congressman Chris Van Hollen, thank you so much for coming by.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.

CROWLEY: When we return, the fight to define the Republican Party and two things that play into that battle. The secret spying on Americans and the push to defund Obamacare. Republican congressman, Justin Amash, is up next.


CROWLEY: Joining me now, the man who led the fight to defund the NSA surveillance program that collects telephone records of people in the United States, Republican congressman, Justin Amash of Michigan. Thank you, congressman, for getting up this morning. Do you think —


CROWLEY: — that your bill, which was defeated by a fairly narrow margin might have passed had folks heard about the mistakes that have been made at the NSA in spying on the e-mails or the phone calls of innocent Americans?

AMASH: Well, I certainly heard from a number of my colleagues directly and through the media that they feel differently about the amendment now that if they had a second chance, yes, they might have voted yes on it.

CROWLEY: Are you going to give them a second chance?

AMASH: Well, I’m hopeful that we’ll have another opportunity. It might not be exactly the same amendment. This was an amendment to an appropriations bill so it had to be written in a very particular way. And I’m hopeful we’ll have a way to amend some kind of policy legislation in the future.

CROWLEY: The NSA reported its mistakes. It did an internal audit. That’s how they found out about all of this, about the mistakes that were made. Isn’t that a sign actually that the system is working? That they, you know, looked and said holy cow, we really messed up on this and we messed up on that? AMASH: No. The system is not working. Americans were told by the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee that there were zero privacy violations, and we know that’s not true. Americans were assured by the president and others that the FISA court had significant oversight, and we’ve heard from the chief judge of the FISA court who says that’s not true. And Americans have been told that their records have not been collected, that they had no data collected by the director of national intelligence, and we found out that wasn’t true.

And, it’s important to understand that even if all of the procedures had been followed, there would still be a government violation of people’s rights, a government violation of people’s privacy under the Fourth Amendment of the constitution because the records of every American in the united states are being collected without any suspicion.

CROWLEY: Let me move you to the president’s health care law. It is now the law of the land. There are complaints that Republicans are certainly not helping their constituents and some may in fact be kind of purposely unhelpful when it comes to getting folks to sign up for health care. How do you think — should that be true, how do you think this plays going into the next election?

AMASH: I don’t know if that’s the case or not. Certainly, my office always helps our constituents in any way we can, even if we disagree with the law. But there are a lot of concerns. I’ve had town halls this week. Not every member of Congress has been having town halls, but we’ve certainly had town halls.

And, the number one concern of Americans remains Obamacare. So, it’s something that has to be addressed. And, I can tell you if there was a popular position at my town halls, it’s that Obamacare shouldn’t go forward.

CROWLEY: Congressman, I want you to stand by. I want to weave in our studio folks to this conversation. Around the table with me, Mo Elleithee, communications director of the DNC, brand new job; Cheri Jacobus, a Republican strategist, CNN commentator Donna Brazile and Grover Norquist, who is president of Americans for Tax Reform.

Let’s start with health care because I feel like saying what’s going to happen and my feeling is nobody knows what’s going to happen and we won’t know until those exchanges open up in October and we see who signs up.

GROVER NORQUIST, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM PRESIDENT: What we do know is that the president has looked at what he thinks is going to happen and decided that some of his friends shouldn’t have to be in it.

CROWLEY: Capitol Hill.

The larger businesses — well, Capitol Hill, government workers, but also the larger businesses that won’t have the mandate apply to them. Remember they handed (ph) out (ph) in the beginning (ph) — CROWLEY: It was a year delay, right? The delay on businesses, right?

NORQUIST: Oh, yes, yes. But that’s not in the law. Big businesses will not have a year delay. Everybody else will have the year delay. Other people put right in. Of course we already had about 1200 special exemptions that were put in quite a while ago. Largely to labor unions but also to businesses. And one wonders how and why some people get those. When you’ve got a law that has to have so many special exemptions, I think there’s a problem. What I argued for is a one-year delay on everything. Not just for the president’s friends and campaign contributors, but for everybody. And then let’s look at it we have the head of the Senate finance committee saying it’s a train wreck. We have the head of the person in charge of this in Connecticut for Obama saying he’d like another year to get it ready. It’s not ready, why not do it (ph)?


DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The last two years is the Republican Party attempt to repeal the law. They have forgotten that they want to at times replace the law. What we know about Obama care, the affordable care act, is that it saved lives. It will reduce the deficit. And that these market places or exchanges will give access to people who right now do not have access to health care. And the notion that we’re going to tell parents of kids with pre-existing conditions that this law is bad for them, that’s not going to fly. This is political blackmail. That’s what they’re doing. They’re threatening to shut down the government unless they can, you know, completely defund this program.

CROWLEY: Which is something the president is not going to sign anyway. But does this put Republicans in a vulnerable position, to have to tell folks who currently are enjoying some of the benefits at any rate, we know the taxes haven’t hit and the exchanges aren’t up, but there are lots of people enjoying the benefits of, for instance, kids up to the age of 26 being allowed to stay on their parents insurance.

CHERI JACOBUS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well the problem for the president for Democrats who support him on this is as people learn more about this, he’s going to have to answer to it and they’re going to realize they have been sold a bill of goods, particularly young people who really aren’t quite aware what this is going to mean for them. Now there’s a new study out from the national center of public policy that say young people 25 years old, making $24,000 or less a year actually are going to do better by paying the penalty for not going into these exchanges. Once they find that —

CROWLEY: The penalty is not very high.

JACOBUS: Well — no. Look, I think we all remember when we were 25 years old a $1,000 is a lot of money. Which means they’re basically going to be paying an Obama tax for using vitality. And once that information –


CROWLEY: Mo, let me just – I’m going to stop because I have something that’s right up your alley. Because I want to shift gears a little bit. Congressman, I want to read you something that Newt Gingrich, who is now a CNN commentator, but you know he’s a former speaker of the House, something he said up at the RNC summer meeting. He said I would bet for most of you, talking to Republicans, you go home in the next two weeks while your members of Congress are home and you look at them in the eye and you say “what is your positive replacement for Obamacare?” and they will have zero answer. Can you respond to that?

AMASH: Well, that’s not true and I’ve had an answer. We need to bring costs down by increasing competition. You can’t bring costs down by having a mandate so you have to have a competitive marketplace and you can’t have the regulations in place that mandates specific type of insurance policies are available and no other types of policies. If you had that in any other industry, you’d see costs go up. If you told fast food restaurants they have to provide particular types of burgers on their menus, you’d see prices skyrocket and you have less access for people to fast food. The same thing is true in health care.


MO ELLEITHEE, DNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Forty times now, 40 times now the Republicans in Congress have voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. People don’t want that. That is not where — that’s not where we are. People are open to a discussion about how to strengthen it, where it needs to be strengthened. The president is open to a conversation about how to strengthen it where it needs to be strengthened. People do not want to see it repealed and replaced by an overwhelming margin. And the best way to ensure that the Affordable Care Act does not succeed is to keep people out of the program. This program succeeds the more people get into the program. That’s one of the reasons why the Republicans keep trying to defund it. They don’t want more people to enroll in this program, which is the way it would fail. That’s why the administration and Democrats are working so hard to educate people and get them to buy in.

NORQUIST: Wait a minute, nobody is keeping anybody out. The question is can Obama force young people into a program they don’t want to pay even with threats of taxes. That’s what he’s trying to do. There have been 40 votes in the House. Three were to repeal Obamacare. The others were to amend it and fix it. Six of those, which repealed pieces of Obamacare that were clearly not functioning, Obama actually signed. So the idea that the Republicans have not been trying to help is wrong. They have been trying to take away some of the destructive pieces of this. The Democrat Senate doesn’t want to do it. We learned today that Reid, the leader of the Senate, wants to move where he said he didn’t want to move to, which is to a single payer. To a government monopoly post office-style government health care system. For years they denied that’s what they want. At least now they’re telling us the truth. They believe this will fail systematically into single payer.

CROWLEY: Let me —

BRAZILE: What most Democrats want is single payer to begin with. Before the president, other Democrats tried to accommodate Republicans by giving them policies that they once supported, like the individual mandate.

CROWLEY: Congressman, I’m going to let you wrap up this section of things and just ask you, I heard very clearly what you say your alternative to this will be. But what’s the alternative to those who now find that their pre-existing conditions don’t matter, they can still get insurance? What do you say to the 25-year-old that still needs to stay on his parents? What happens to them if Obamacare goes away?

AMASH: Well pre-existing conditions can be covered. In fact they are covered by some insurance policies.


AMASH: But you have to have a competitive — you have to have a competitive marketplace that allows those products to be offered. And the way we have insurance now, you’re required to provide a particular insurance product. It creates a monopoly in the system and prices go up. So if you want to increase access to health care, you have to have competition.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much, Congressman Amash, for joining us from Michigan. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.