United States Senator John McCain joined me to discuss the Iran deal today, as well as last week’s debate:
HH: Joined now by United States senator John McCain. Senator McCain, always a pleasure. Welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
JM: Thanks for having me back on Hugh. What’s going on? I just finished a couple of town hall meetings and. . . I think town hall meetings are the best way I know of to take the temperature–although the temperature is really high here, I’ll tell you that–to take the feelings of my constituents and conversation–lot of it. Lot of questions. Lot of comments about the Iranian deal. That issue has penetrated and my constituents are not really happy about it.
HH: Well, this was not off-the-record so I can tell you this. In the green room in Meet the Press yesterday, your colleague, Claire McCaskill, sat down and I said, “Senator, what are you hearing about the Iran deal because my objection to the debate last week is that it didn’t come up.” And she said, “Not one Missourian has walked up to me and said anything about it” and I’m shocked by that, Senator McCain! It’s the issue of our time!
JM: Well, I agree and I don’t know–I don’t that much time in Missouri–but I can tell you that town hall meetings that I’ve been having and people on the street and everywhere I go people bring it up to me so. . . maybe there’s more concern in Arizona but frankly, I kind of doubt it. I think it’s nationwide and I think the polls indicate that and maybe some of them who are in growing numbers opposed to this deal, they didn’t want to bring up to Senator McCaskill. I don’t know.
HH: The first thing I want to ask you about is the president’s comment that those who are opposed to the deal are making common cause with those who shout “Death to America” in Iran.
JM: I think the president has demeaned and cheapened the Office of the Presidency by that kind of comment on–it seems it is immorally as to attack to those who disagree and characterize their opposition which I believe is the correct political arena is all about. People with different opinions–debating and discussing it before the American people. I think he is obviously paints us people who are likely hard-liners in Tehran who sang “Death to America. Death to Israel.” That’s not presidential. I would ask you Hugh, if you heard any president–either Republican or Democrat–sink to that level?
HH: No, I think it was the low-point in presidential rhetoric, appropriately reflective how desperate he’s become because the details–I mean, Soleimani flew to Moscow. They broke the deal already!
JM: I know, and by the way, to–I know many of our listeners know this–the Soleimani that flew to Moscow is the same guy who sent the copper tip to IED’s into Iraq with General Dunford and the general is–Joint Chief of Staff–and so killed at least five hundred soldiers and marines–God knows how many were wounded are now have prostheses thanks to Soleimani who, by the way, the Europeans are going to lift any sanctions on and, by the way, the same Soleimani that has been orchestrating the attacks against ISIS with the Shia militia and taking selfies in Baghdad with the Shia extremists so, man, you cannot make this stuff up Hugh.
HH: Yeah General McChrystal sat across from me in my studio and said he’s the most dangerous man in the Middle East. There’s a guy in Yemen as well–Abdullah. But Soleimani has become a cult hero McChrystal said and we are empowering him, Senator!
JM: And a body–the prime minister (chuckles)– of Iraq is now relying on the Shiite militia who are trained and equipped by Qasem Soleimani and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and equipped by them because the Iraqi military is completely shattered. The other group–as you know–that are effective are the Kurds, but as far as Baghdad is concerned, the only people they can rely on are the Shia militias so long that General McChrystal, General Petraeus, and others fought against during the surge. The Battle of Sauder City was against–guess who–the Shiite militias. And I tell you, now it’s become so convoluted in Syria, you can’t tell the players who are in our program except to know that America is sending sixty fighters and a bunch of them were captured. . . (laughs). . . I don’t mean to laugh–but were captured, and this is a result of five hundred million dollar expenditure of taxpayer’s dollars. It’s more absurd that it been anything that I have ever seen in my life.
HH: When we come back from break, Senator McCain, I want to ask you the details of this, but the very quick question is, do you have sixty votes to stop it in the Senate Round One?
JM: Not right now, but I will be glad to talk about it. The fight’s not over.
HH: Don’t go anywhere, I’ll be right back with United States senator John McCain because all of you have to listen. All of you have to give calls to your United States senators. You have to bring them around to the recognition that this is a terrible, terrible deal. I’ll be coming back with Senator John McCain about the vote-count in the Senate.
HH: Joined now by United States Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Arms Services Committee. Senator McCain, I asked you about a vote-count on the Iran deal before we went to break. You said we’re not there yet, but we could get to sixty that would buy more time to rally more people. Angus King really disappointed me. I though he was a genuine independent and I know he knows some marines and some friends of mine up in Maine. He knows better than to vote for this deal, but how do you get to sixty? With Chuck Shumer, you got fifty-five, right?
JM: We can get to sixty. The key now–of course–I am confident we’re gonna get to sixty, Hugh
JM: . . .the key will be the override of the presidential veto. That’s where we gotta get thirteen Democrats and I also was disappointing. But just one second return to the Soleimani thing and that is–Tom Cotton asked John Kerry in the hearing before the Arms Services Committee about Soleimani and the deaths of five hundred marines and soldiers who under General Dunford served and Tom Cotton asked John Kerry what do we tell the gold-star mothers–obviously, John Kerry had no response. Back on the Iranian deal. . . We’ll have sixty easily. The question then, is when do we get to sixty-seven and then that’s where we got to put the pressure on it and I’m glad you are placing this to your listeners at the highest priorities. I guarantee you, if this thing goes through, you will see a nuclear Middle East right away and you will see right away the Iranians–not only have a patchwork bomb–but as you know, after five years, a conventional weapons ban lifted and the missile ban which will bend over time and not too long, the Arab continental ballistic missile capability to strike the United States of America. The security of Israel is at stake here, but so is the security of the United States of America.
HH: So Senator McCain, the president says the critics of the deal made up their minds without studying it and they have no alternative–the alternative is war. To which you respond, what?
JM: He always sets up straw-men and it’s so unfortunate because he may have an argument to make and I’m sure he does as to why you should support it but instead he sets up straw men, compares us to the hard-liners in Tehran, says that there’s only two options. Whereas the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs who was asked in this hearing are there other options, said “Of course, there are other options. Of course, there are other things we can do besides being set up–having the straw man set up by the president that it’s either this or war.” And that means that–I believe that probably, those are along the lines of the argument that Neville Chamberlain used when he returned to England after Munich.
HH: I agree with that–but, the key is when he says that– “What is the alternative?”–I think the alternative is to hope for another Green Revolution to keep the pressure and if they move forward to break-out to strike their sites without going to war. Is that the alternative?
JM: Absolutely! And the reason why we came to their negotiating table to start with, Hugh, as you know, is because of the effect on their economy of the sanctions. It wasn’t the sanctions–they have not abandoned their ambitions for hegemony in the Middle East, and all of their actions–whether it be in Yemen or Syria or Iraq or Lebanon, and–by the way–their even now giving weapons to the Taliban in Afghanistan–their out of tooth and their behavior hasn’t changed. They need this as a good deal and when you free them to latest world’s largest sponsor of terror, you give them fifty, seventy, eighty, or–whatever it is–billion dollars. Do you think that they’re really going to as the Administration would suspect spend it on domestic priorities. Yes, if you believe that, Hugh, I’ve got some desert prime property here in Arizona.
JC: . . . beachfront property here for you in Arizona. . .
HH: I had former ambassador Oren in the studio as well and he points out Hezbollah is already armed to the teeth and Israel is already facing an existential threat. But if you add in billions more of the latest armaments and Syria, Hezbollah, Iranian access run by–General McChrystal gave Soleimani his due–he’s one helluva commander, right? He’s a terrific military leader. He’s just deadly for our side. It’s almost unimaginable that people are voting for this. So what’s the hope? Why are they doing it, John McCain?
JM: Well, I think one reason is that a lot of people buy this idea that somehow we will have–to understand this, you have to understand the president’s delusions since he came to office. It’s the same reason why people are rioting and dying in the streets of Tehran in 2009 in a corrupt election and refuse to say a word on their behalf while they are dying. He believes that there’s gonna be this new relationship with Persia with the Iranians just as there was with Nixon with China. And there is no relation to Nixon to China, but therefore, then you understand many of the things he’s done, including refusing to train people to fight against Bashar al-Assad. A man who has butchered two hundred and thirty-thousand–at least–Syrians and millions of more into refugee situations. By the way, you know there are more Syrians in school in Lebanon today then there are Lebanese children–
HH: I did not know that.
JM: . . .in schools. So, it’s all based on this delusion that somehow he’s going to change–meanwhile, before our very eyes–the Iranians continue–whether it be in Yemen where they are training and equipping the Houthis whether it be in Syria where obviously they’re propping up Bashar al-Assad. The only reason Bashar al-Assad is still in power is because of Hezbollah. The thousands of them that came in. . . We can go on and on on the list of what Iran is doing and showing not the slightest sign of a modification of their behavior.
HH: Does it really matter, Senator, when people call offices of Senators to say vote no on the Iran? Does it actually change behavior?
JM: I think it matters and I also think it matters in votes and I think it matters in contributions to tell you the truth (laughs), so–
HH: Of course it does!
JM: I think it matters. I think it matters. And I think it matters and if we ignore our constituents and their strong voices, then frankly, we better make a strong case for ignoring the people’s wishes particularly where the very security of the United States of America is at stake. You better be able to respond and frankly–I’ve asked these members of Congress to go to town hall meetings and see how their constituents feel. I just came from a couple.
HH: If I can keep you for one more quick segment, Senator McCain.
HH: It’s Hugh Hewitt, talking with United States senator, John McCain. Senator, you’ve been the GOP’s nominee. You’ve been on a thousand debate stages. You’ve watched [the] Thursday night. My big beef as I said on Meet the Press yesterday is that they spent very little time on the Iran deal. I get to ask questions at the next debate. What would you frame the question on the Iranian deal to the Republican would-be nominees. What’s your advice to me?
JM: Um, do you support the deal and if not, what actions would you take as President of the United States to make sure that the Iranian Republic–the Islamic Republic of Iran as the President likes to call them–will never acquire a nuclear capability. I think that’s the first question that I would ask and I would ask for some specifics because one of the things we’re going to have to do, in my view, because of ISIS as well as Iranian attempts at hegemony is to send more troops in the form of air controllers and some trainers and others over there if we’re ever going to defeat ISIS. That would be my second question–is how to defeat ISIS.
HH: Now, I know your friend Lindsey Graham has your endorsement. In the second debate with the ten, did you see anyone that stood as a potential commander-in-chief clearly in your eyes?
JM: Well, obviously, Carly Fiorina, made a favorable impression on our list. I thought that Marco did a good job. He presents himself very well. I thought that Bush did pretty well. I actually think–you know the problem with it, Hugh, as you pointed out a couple of time is of the oxygen is sucked out of the room because of all the attention being on Trump that we don’t really get to examine the positions of the other candidates and what’s going on at the issue before us in this Iranian deal and continued successes of ISIS throughout the Middle East and now in Africa, we should be talking about those issues. National security, I believe, will be the number one issue in this campaign because by a year from November, my friend, things are gonna get a lot worse than before they’re gonna get better under this president.
HH: And about Donald Trump–it’s reported this afternoon, he’s considering taking a pledge to support the GOP nominee. Would that be a step in the right direction for him, Senator?
JM: Oh yeah. I think so. Let’s fight it out, but also–can’t we get on to these issues. Most Americans now view, after seeing Americans beheaded on the Internet, after seeing that poor Jordanian pilot being burned to death, by hearing about how these horrible people treat women–and by the way, Kayla Mueller, a young woman–was murdered by them from Prescott, Arizona. That’s what we should be talking about! Let’s get on to the issues. How are we going to lead in what Henry Kissinger described as the greatest number of crises since the end of World War II and the UN has said the largest number of refugees since the end of World War II. My friend, that’s what I believe should be the focus of this campaign.
HH: Senator John McCain, I appreciate the time. The leadership on the issue. Good luck on finding sixty-seven votes. I’ll be right back America. Your phone calls next on the Hugh Hewitt Show.