I start the show today with Senator John McCain talking about the VA scandal and the recent budget deal voted in the House of Representatives.
The audio: 10-28hhs-mccain
HH: I begin today’s program with United States Senator John Mccain whose friend Lindsey Graham will be shortly on every national issue doing the preliminary [debate]. Senator McCain, thanks for joining me at the start of this debate.
JM: Well thank you Hugh, and my friend Lindsey Graham is the guy I think understands national security the best, and if you heard about the hearing we had yesterday with our Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs (laughs), you will think we need a leader that can handle national security.
HH: I did hear about that. I played some of that. I want to talk about that. First, though, I need your comment on former Secretary of State Clinton’s comment on the VA on Friday after an Benghazi hearing. Here’s what she said about the VA scandal, Senator McCain.
HC: It’s not been as widespread as it has been made out to be.
HH: What do you think of that?
JM: I think she did two things. One, she showed a total lack of knowledge of the seriousness and tragedies that have resulted from these massive failures in the VA and second of all, she politicized the issue. She went on and said Republicans are using it for political reasons. I can tell you there’s one issue up until what she said and what she has now done that was not partisan and that was Republicans and Democrats worked [together]. I negotiated with Bernie Sanders a VA reform bill. I worked with Democrats on a suicide prevention act. We have 8,000 veterans that are committing suicide very year, and she thinks that’s not a problem? That there’s hundreds, the VA deputy secretary admitted, there are nearly 500,000 appointments with extended wait times. You know of the story of the 50 veterans who died waiting on a phantom waiting list in Phoenix, Arizona. This is not only insensitivity, but it is abrogation of responsibility of the commander-in-chief. I think it was Lincoln, if I may paraphrase, “Take care of the wounded and the widows” – that famous line.
JM: Well obviously, she doesn’t feel that. And to degrade both the Congress and veterans and their challenges, I think is unacceptable for a commander-in-chief.
HH: She was in the process of doing a victory lap on MSNBC when she did that. It was late in the interview and she may not have focused, but she has not apologized for this, Senator McCain, and everybody who follows this story – you, Lindsey Graham, I follow the VA story because of its impact on the military – everyone’s expecting her to come out and say, “I’m sorry, it is widespread, and I will fix it,” but she won’t do that. Is she that stubborn?
JM: I don’t know the answer to it, but I have made numerous mistakes. In fact, several of them you have pointed out from time-to-time.
JM: . . . Very appropriately. And the one thing that I have found is that when you make a mistake – I misspoke the other day on another issue about whether the terrorists had come across the Canadian border or not. For some reason, I had thought they had. I said on a talk show that they had, and I was wrong. And I immediately tweeted, I was wrong, and there was no more talk about it. And I would like to point out to you a lot of the other mistakes I’ve made, okay (laughs). But the point is, this is worse than misspeaking. This is a fundamental abrogation of our [responsibility] – who do we owe the most in our society? We owe all of our citizens a lot of things, but our veterans – to have a scandal that has a long way from being fixed – and by the way, small item, a VA hospital in Denver, I’m sure you probably heard, $1.7 billion cost overrun.
JM: How many veterans could we save on that little fiasco? So there’s a lot to be done and by saying Republicans are exaggerating the extent of the scandal, she’s either partisan or ignorant.
HH: Now I got one last question on this. She also said that Republicans want to end the VA and I’m paraphrasing there. People can go read the whole article if they want, the transcript, but that’s what she said, and she was encouraged by Rachel Maddow to say that. I don’t know any Republican who wants to end the VA. I know a lot of Republicans who want to fix or make a second system available to vets if they can’t get into the VA. Do you know of any Republicans who are calling for the abolishment of the VA?
JM: No, but I do know a lot of veterans and legislatures, including me, absolutely want to give our veterans a choice card so that if they think they can get the best treatments someplace else besides the VA, then they should go to that healthcare provider.
HH: Yes, yes.
JM: Then they don’t have to worry about a waiting list. Look, the VA is great at many things: prosthetics, traumatic brain injury, PTSD. They’re great. There are other areas where you can get as good or better, and there’s no waiting list and so I’m for the universal choice card. I had to negotiate with Bernie Sanders, now if you’re outside of 40 miles of facility or have had a waiting list that’s in inordinate length of time. Now I want to make it for everybody and every veteran I’ve talked with this choice card has said, “Thank you, Senator, now I can go to the provider of my choice and I don’t have to wait to get on a waiting list.”
HH: Okay, now let me turn to the budget deal, Senator. It’s coming your way. The House passed it an hour ago, and I am in favor of this, I want the audience to know, because it raises the cap on defense spending even though it’s not a perfect deal. But where’s John McCain and what about Rand Paul saying he’s going to filibuster it?
JM: I think it’s fine if Senator Paul wants to go the floor and speak for a number of hours. That’s his right as a senator. My deep and abiding concern has never been greater about the security of this nation and the cuts under this president, this administration, and frankly, with some of my dear and respected friends who are just deficit-hawks. All of our uniform military leaders are telling me and the world and the armed services committee they cannot defend this nation unless the y get an end to this sequestration on defense which is mindless and a restoration of the money that has already been cut. We live in a terribly dangerous world and I think our national security has to come first. If you and I had written this bill, obviously it only would have been to increase spending on defense but the security of our defense is our first priority and it is in jeopardy.
HH: So you will be supporting this bill?
JM: Yes sir, I’ve been fighting to get this defense money restored because every uniformed military leader that has come before our committee says they cannot defend the nation adequately, and when you can’t defend the nation adequately, you put the lives of the men and women in uniform who are serving it in greater danger. We can’t do that.
HH: I would join you in voting for this. I might try and plus it up a little bit if it’s possible, but tell me, when they’re doing things as they did allegedly with Delta Force – we saw the video of the ISIS raid, thank God we got 40 people away before ISIS cut their heads off – that’s got to cost money. Do we have enough money to actually wage war against ISIS.
JM: Well, we do under this bill barely, but also I’d point out, and you and I could spend a whole program about the acquisition reform that we have in this bill and it’s just the first step. We have these cost-overruns that are outrageous, disgraceful, and makes it hard for you and me to defend defense-spending when you have a $2.4 billion overrun on an aircraft carrier that’s supposed to cost $10 billion. I promise you, it’s my second-highest priority. We have reforms, and we have to have more reforms because the costs of these weapons systems is out-of-control and the F-35 is the best example of it.
HH: Does the program save the A-10? I know the A-10 is near and dear to Arizonans, it’s also near and dear to anyone I’ve ever talked to that’s been in ground combat. Does this bill save the A-10?
JM: Yes it does, but remember, we can only do it year-to-year. We have A-10s now that are flying over in the Middle East and actual missions, the Air Force has no replacement for it. It’s really shameful that the Air Force, they love the new toys, and I love teh Air Force, but right now, there is no replacement for the A-10 unless you think that we’re not going to be in any more combat, then fine, retire it. If you think we’re going to be in conflict with ISIS and possibly with Iran, confrontations with Russia, we better have the best close air support weapon in the world and that’s the A-10.
HH: Senator John McCain, always a pleasure to talk to you. I know you want to watch your friend, Lindsey Graham, and I appreciate your taking time at the start of the debate to have that conversation with me.
JM: Can I say I see you on the Sunday show, you’re doing great. The “Voice of Reason.”
HH: Well, if you say that, people are going to call me a RINO, Senator. Be careful about that.
HH: Donald Trump’s got me endorsed and you got me endorsed, I’m going to be in trouble with everybody.
JM: I’m in trouble now. See you.
HH: Thank you.
End of Interview