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Senator McCain On President Obama’s First 100 Days, The End Of Spending Limits In Presidential Campaigns, the Destination of Gitmo Detainees, and Tom Ridge

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Senator McCain opened today’s program and covered a lot of ground, including the fact that he has encouraged Tom Ridge to seek the Senate seat currently occupied by Senator Specter. Here is that transcript.

HH: What better person to begin a day broadcasting from Phoenix with than the senior Senator from Arizona, Senator John McCain. Senator McCain, always a pleasure, welcome back.

JM: Thank you for having me back, Hugh, and I hope you’re having a great time.

HH: It’s wonderful. Now you and Senator Graham posted a very important op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal on detainee policy, which everyone should go and read. One question it doesn’t answer, though, is do you think there is an appropriate place in the continental United States where the Gitmo detainees could actually be safely and effectively held?

JM: Well, I think probably we could build one if there isn’t one, but the point is that should have been decided before the announcement to close Guantanamo Bay. The easy part was to announce that you’re going to close it. But what you do about the detainees that are enemy combatants, so you can’t bring to trial, what you do as far as the actual trials are concerned, where you keep them… You know, so the easy part was done, which got the applause of our European friends, et cetera. But the questions that are tough ones are still not answered. But the point is until you have a suitable place to keep these detainees, and by the way, two of them are high-ranking al Qaeda individuals who are in the fight, one in Yemen and one in Southern Afghanistan, who were detainees, then you’re ducking the question. You see my point, Hugh?

HH: Yes. You also point out that Congress must be involved in crafting detainee policy, and the Supreme Court has said that. Have any of your colleagues across the aisle come to you or Senator Graham, or any other ones who are skilled or deeply involved in this and said let’s take another crack at war tribunals and at detainee policy, Senator?

JM: No. No.

HH: You see, that’s not responsible, is it?

JM: No, it’s not, particularly, again, and I don’t mean to keep harping on this, but back there with all the trumpets and all the fanfare that we’re going to close Guantanamo, well, and…? And so…and they’ve got a year timeframe. And if anyone is suffering under the delusion that our European friends will take them, I (laughing), it was one country, was it the British that said they would take one? [# More #]

HH: One. Actually, Germany said they’d take one.

JM: Got them one, so if anybody is…now Yemen, I understand, says they may want to take them, and detainees that have gone back to Yemen have gone back into the fight. So obviously we don’t want to do that.

HH: Well, I urge everyone to read that. It’s a very important piece. Since we’re talking about the aftermath of the election of President Obama, do you think we’re getting what he campaigned on, Senator McCain? Do you think we had full faith in advertising when the campaign was underway?

JM: I think there’s been numerous positions that he has changed since the campaign, but I think that what has been happening here, the most alarming thing in a hundred days, and I do recognize, and you do, too, his effectiveness and his communications skills and all that, but committing the kind of generational theft, frankly, was not something that I, that we are committing, is not something I ever anticipated. We are talking trillions, trillions of dollars of debt laid on future generations with no provision for ever addressing an unsustainable debt. And then what follows is inflation and printing money and unemployment, and the biggest people who suffer the most, the biggest majority of Americans who suffer the most are middle income Americans.

HH: Now Senator McCain, you lived it. I can recall it pretty well, but you lived it every day. I don’t recall the media focusing on his spending plans, or at least discovering what he had in mind, these trillions and trillions of dollars of debt. Do you think the media served the United States very well in the last campaign?

JM: Well, for me to complain, Hugh, would be, you know, it would create the appearance of being a sore loser, so I have never complained about the media coverage. But I can point out numerous places where the President took certain positions, for a good example, the North American Free Trade Agreement. Whether any of our listeners agree with it or not, he said he would unilaterally renegotiate it. And obviously that’s gone by the boards. So there’s many, many cases where on tax treatment of employer-provided health care, obviously his administration is changing on that. But I do know that he has changed his positions since, that he based his campaign on, and Americans will figure that out.

HH: Senator McCain, you just mentioned health care. I want to spend some time talking about that…

JM: Yup.

HH: …because there are secret negotiations underway on the Hill, they’re detailed in Politico today, I’ve talked about that with a number of reporters this week. Are you a party to those secret negotiations with Senator Schumer and Senator Baucus?

JM: I am not, and let me just tell you, it’s funny you mentioned, because, and I don’t often talk about meetings, but I just came from a meeting in Senator McConnell’s office, and he and I and a number of others, we’ve got to come forward with not only principles, but also details of our Republican proposal to keep from destroying the health care system in America as we know it. And it’s time we did it, and we need to all work together and come forward with our alternative. And I’m confident that we can do that. But I’m in no negotiations.

HH: Now I do believe that that’s what they’re proposing, which is the wholesale radical restructuring towards a single payer. Am I alarmist in saying that’s what they’re pushing?

JM: No, you’re exactly right. That’s the ultimate goal, and it will be done in a way that you really have no alternative but to turn to government health care system. And I think if people think that’s a good option, they should visit some of our friends and neighbors in Canada, and some friends of ours like the British and others that have government health care systems where there’s unconscionable and unacceptable delays in treatment, because basically what you have when government-run health care systems is health care rationing.

HH: And where it the AARP and the AMA, Senator? Have they been active on the Hill?

JM: No. I’m sorry…well, the AMA has been a disappointment, and AARP, as you know, has in many ways supported a government-run health care system. All I can say is that there are also organizations that I would otherwise rely on that are just lining up to see if they can’t get a better deal, a better part of the deal. You see what I mean, a larger piece of the pie?

HH: Yup.

JM: And it’s very disappointing.

HH: Let’s turn to politics, Senator McCain. Obviously it was a tough year because of the financial panic and the collapse, and Senator Obama raised a billion dollars, which people overlook. Is campaign finance reform dead as a result of his breaking of the pact that he had made with the American people?

JM: Could I remind you that the famous McCain-Feingold did not in any way touch presidential, financing of presidential campaigns?

HH: Yup.

JM: But the, when then-Senator Obama abandoned his pledge, and he made a pledge that he would take public financing if I did, that’s the end of public financing of presidential campaigns. There is no reason why anybody should constrain themselves, and again, I do not want to complain, Hugh. I’m proud to have been the nominee, I’m proud to have had your good words over that campaign, I’m proud to be of the party of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. But a good example was in Florida. The Obama campaign outspent ours by $28 million dollars. That doesn’t count the contributions of labor.

HH: Yes…

JM: That’s a pretty good advantage.

HH: It’s a dead letter now, I think. Now let’s talk very parochially of the Senate. Senator Specter’s crossed the aisle.

JM: Yeah.

HH: Do you…what was your reaction to that?

JM: Oh, I think David Broder probably said it best when he wrote his column, as you know, which said Specter the Defector.

HH: Yup.

JM: You know, I can’t think of any other better description of it.

HH: Do you want Tom Ridge to enter the primary, Senator McCain?

JM: Yeah, I’d like for Tom to be in the primary. He’s a good friend, he was a good governor of the state of Pennsylvania. There may be some specific areas that we are in disagreement, but he’s a Vietnam war veteran, he won in a Congressional district that was Democrat, he did a very good job as governor of the state, and I think he can win. But I also understand that there are other candidates in the race as well. I just happen to be very close friends with Tom Ridge.

HH: Have you reached out to him to urge him to do so?

JM: I had a conversation with him, and I’ve had several conversations with him over the years. I don’t know if he’s going to run or not, and you know what? When I say that I’d love to see him run, I say that in the sense that he’s a friend and colleague, and we came to the House together many years ago, and so a lot of my support of him is based on the close friendship and relationship we’ve had.

HH: Quick last question, Senator.

JM: Yeah.

HH: Do you want Rudy to run for governor of New York?

JM: I’d love to see that. I want Carly Fiorina to run in California, I want Mike Castle to run in Delaware, I want Mark Kirk to run in Illinois. We may have a very good set of candidates to run that can win this time. We may surprise a lot of people, my friend, and you and I have seen the cycles. The Republican Party is a right of center party, the nation is right of center, we’ll come back.

HH: Senator John McCain, always a pleasure.

End of interview.


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