Senator John McCain

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Arizona Senator John McCain will discuss the latest in current events from his perspective as a U.S. Senator.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," Arizona senator John McCain joins us in studio to discuss a variety of issues. Senator John McCain, next on "Arizona Horizon."

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. A Supreme Court vacancy, the closing of Guantanamo and an alarmingly unusual presidential primary season. Those are among the issues top of mind among Arizonans and Americans, and Senator John McCain, who joins us in studio. Good to see you again.

John McCain: Thank you, it's good to be back.

Ted Simons: It's been a while. How are things?

John McCain: Very interesting. Very complicated and very dangerous.

Ted Simons: And we'll get to all of those. Let's start with the replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia. The Senate majority leader says no confirmation, no hearing, no consideration, no nothing. What do you think about that?

John McCain: Well, I think I agree with then-senator Joe Biden who went to the floor in 1992 and spoke strongly that there is no reason to have a Supreme Court Justice considered in an election period and that the people should speak and we should wait until after that. So I'm with Joe Biden. And by the way Schumer said basically the same thing. And it was then-senator Barack Obama who wanted to filibuster Judge Alito. So that's the classic example of Washington, it's not where you stand, it's where you sit.

Ted Simons: But were they talking more about hypotheticals as opposed to what is now a realistic situation?

John McCain: They were worried that it might come up. When you say hypothetical, not with judge Alito. Judge Alito was up for a vote and Barack Obama wanted to filibuster it. So I don't think -- that's their response. That's their only response to say well, we were talking about hypotheticals. Well suppose you were talking about hypotheticals! You're still saying the same thing that you don't want to consider a Supreme Court Justice in an election year. You want the people to decide.

Ted Simons: In this case, what if President Obama comes up with someone who is eminently qualified, someone deep in your gut you know this is going to be a good Supreme Court Justice. Still no consideration?

John McCain: I would hope that that same person would be nominated after the next election. By the way you know they were floating the governor of Nevada's name and, of course, he's a very smart guy, he said I'm not getting into that one!

Ted Simons: He said adios pretty quickly on that one. So if we have an empty seat on the Supreme Court for a year.

John McCain: 4-4 tie and it wouldn't be a year. It would be about eight or nine months I guess but there's a 4-4 tie. There's been 4-4 ties before. It's not ideal. But again, I really do believe that we should have a vote of the people and let them decide and, as you mentioned it is a roll of the dice. Suppose Hillary Clinton were elected and we lose the Senate, there's the scenario where that could happen. Then you would get a much more liberal judge but I would like to leave it up to the judgment of the American people.

Ted Simons: Critics, Democrats in particular, but critics say that you have the responsibility to consider nominations.

John McCain: And that is exactly what I said to Joe Biden when Joe Biden said there's no way we should consider -- look this is just rank hypocrisy on their part. It was fine to delay it when the Republican president and it's not fine to do it when you've got a Democrat president. This is not something that is really the most honorable.

Ted Simons: Let me give you another argument, from the Democratic side, this is what we're hearing. That they're wondering at what point does the president in his term or her term need to stop making these kinds of appointments and nominations.

John McCain: Maybe about the election year. That's what Joe Biden's argument was.

Ted Simons: So what, January 1st?

John McCain: Roughly. Roughly. Maybe a little later. But I don't think you have to have an exact date. But we are not that far away from a national election, obviously.

Ted Simons: If this were a liberal Justice that had for whatever reason left the court and the appointment were made to replace that, would the scenario be different?

John McCain: I don't know the different scenarios, honestly. I just think that seriously that this is so important, this isn't an appellate court, this isn't 10 or 15 or five-year position. This is a lifetime position which will frankly probably a person who making decisions and very importantly you've got a 4-4 makeup of the Supreme Court. I mean, this is really -- this person will be the swing vote.

Ted Simons: Last question on this. Are you concerned that the actions by Republicans in the Senate could hurt Republicans in November?

John McCain: I don't think so. I think our base feels very strongly about it but I also think with all the other issues facing the electorate in November, it will be an issue but it certainly, the transcendent issue in my view will be the normal ones, it will be the economy and it will also be what's happening in the world. We are in more danger than we have been since the end of World War II.

Ted Simons: And I want to get to that too especially what's happening on the Korean peninsula; we talked about whether or not this would hurt Republicans in November. Donald Trump. Why is he succeeding?

John McCain: You'll have to explain it to me. You're a very wise commentator and observer because I sure as hell can't.

Ted Simons: Any ideas? What does it say about the Republican Party?

John McCain: My ideas are there's many Americans out there who are very frustrated. There's millions of Americans who have stopped looking for work. There are millions of Americans who have not seen any real improvement in their lives and their income and there are millions of students out there that are flocking to Bernie Sanders that are carrying student debt loads that some of them will carry it for years. People are unhappy with the status quo. And that means that their frustration they feel with Washington and people that move there, and Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have both struck very responsive chords, even though Hillary Clinton won the Nevada caucuses, with young people, he beat her overwhelmingly. And in Donald Trump's case, he is appealing to older American men who have not seen their jobs do any better, they have seen the loss in their view of jobs overseas, which is a chord he has struck, and he is a very astute person. He is able to strike chords. But obviously, he would be the most different president we've seen in history.

Ted Simons: Can anyone on the Republican side catch him?

John McCain: I don't know. I have heard pundits predict that someone or another was going to catch him, that hasn't happened yet. We've got an election next Tuesday that according to the polls now that he wins most of those states. If he wins most of those states, I would surmise that it would be very hard to not have him as a nominee.

Ted Simons: If he were the nominee, would you support him?

John McCain: I'll support the nominee of the party. And there's no doubt he and I have very strong disagreements. But he will be picked by the vote of the Republicans and that's a legitimate process.

Ted Simons: I know that his supporters say he's a true leader, he speaks his mind, he's business savvy, and he certainly speaks his mind. Is that what we want to see in the White House? To that extent?

John McCain: Well, you've got to hope that the office makes the man, which has happened in previous history. As I said I disagree with him on a number of issues but in this world, in this dangerous world we're in today, I will do everything I can to help him, because believe me, there will be attacks on the United States of America. The Director of National Intelligence testified before the Armed Services Committee a week before last, there will be attacks. We are facing direct challenges to the United States of America. I've got to do what I can to work with whoever it is to prevent those.

Ted Simons: Last question regarding the campaign and Trump. His comments about you bordered on -- just unintelligible, that you're not his kind of hero. How do you take stuff and what do you make of that?

John McCain: I'm in the arena. And so a lot of things are said but what I resented and continue to resent is he said I don't like people who were captured. If he wants to attack me, fine. A few weeks ago there was a 92-year-old man that was a veteran of World War II that was in a German prison camp, marched for the last 30 days, he didn't have all of his medals, his wife contacted us, we had a wonderful ceremony presenting him with the medals that he had earned and the P.O.W. medal and he said to me, he said tell me, Senator, he's 92 years old, he said why does Donald Trump dislike us? I didn't have a good answer for that, for a man who had sacrificed in the way that he had. So do I resent what he says about me? I'm in the arena. But when he says that and it affects other people who have fought so bravely and fought and died, I just can't accept that.

Ted Simons: And again, you're saying, though, that you would support this man if he were the nominee.

John McCain: I would support the nominee of the party.

Ted Simons: Guantanamo, President plans to close Guantanamo. Your thoughts?

John McCain: For 7 ½ years, he's been telling me personally that he'll have a plan to close Guantanamo and there has never been a plan and what they just sent over, the Washington Post editorialized, it's not a plan. Seven pages of rehashed things and one page where they give us -- it's a Chinese menu, 13 options as to what place they want to send them. No comments about under whose jurisdiction. The whole thing is just -- they just punted on it, and frankly, the Congress will not approve of something that is that amorphous.

Ted Simons: Will the Congress approve of something that is far more targeted?

John McCain: Sure. I think they would at least consider it but this thing is D.O.A.

Ted Simons: And you still, you campaigned on this, you want to see Guantanamo gone.

John McCain: I would like to see it closed, but I also want to make sure that the facility is what it is, where it is, under whose jurisdiction? Are they going to read these people their Miranda rights? That's not acceptable. And what about those who have been deemed too dangerous to ever release? And a big question is we're going to apprehend more terrorists, okay, what do we do with them? And under what circumstances? So there's a myriad of questions that need to be asked and they have not been answered and by the way, the environment was badly poisoned, particularly by people like me when we had a law that said before they release somebody, they have -- 30 days ahead of time, they have to notify the Congress. Now that was the law. He released five high-profile terrorists in exchange for Bergdahl without notifying the Congress of the United States so when the President of the United States violates blatantly law, then I'm telling you we have nothing to do but react because we have to preserve our system of government.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, what do you want to see done with those?

Right now, I want to see them kept there until there is a plan that is workable and viable that my colleagues would also agree to.

Ted Simons: What would that plan look like?

John McCain: It would have -- one, location. Two, who's in charge as far as what agency of government? Three, what are their rights of appeal? Four, what are we going to do with new detainees? And under what circumstances are they going to be there? And there's five or six other questions beside that. None of those were addressed in what they sent over.

Ted Simons: All right, I'm guessing that if executive action is used in this case, you would not be pleased.

John McCain: Well, the courts have already said his immigration action is unconstitutional, it had to be stayed, the courts have already stayed his EPA regulations. This president is flaunting the Constitution of the United States. When he takes executive actions, which the courts determine are not constitutional. And I can't tell you that those of us who care about the Constitution are deeply offended when the Constitution is violated.

Ted Simons: We hear from Democrats, though, who basically say he has no choice, that the Republicans on Capitol Hill simply will not work with him.

John McCain: Hasn't there been throughout our history divided government? And you know one thing, I've had this thought for him, why doesn't he do what Ronald Reagan used to do, what Bill Clinton used to do, you know what they used to? He would call people over to the White House, have them for dinner, have them for meetings, have them for a social occasion. Do you know this president never does any of that?

Ted Simons: He played golf with Boehner didn't he?

John McCain: He is simply -- there's no outreach to Congress. There has not been. Look, in 2009, he had 60 votes in the United States Senate and an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives. Now he got things done but he rammed them through on a pure partisan basis. The chief executives that are successful and I'm talking about both Republican and Democrat, are those that get things done in a bipartisan fashion. This president does not do that.

Ted Simons: Last point on this. Could Republicans on Capitol Hill be a little more amenable to work with the president? If he's difficult to work with, we get that. But, you know, we've heard that McConnell has said from the beginning he does not want this president to succeed.

John McCain: But you know when McConnell said that, it was in 2009 after the election. And he was talking specifically that he didn't want Obama to succeed on Obamacare. And that has been taken all out of context in my view. If the president, for example, came up with a proposal to bring these corporations back to the United States where they would pay taxes, there's a couple of trillion dollars parked overseas that they won't bring back because of our taxes that they don't want to pay, we have the highest corporate tax rate in America. If he called Republicans over there and said hey, let's fix this program, let's get that money back in the United States and build highways and bridges and infrastructure and all that, we would be glad to.

Ted Simons: You might be glad to. Do you think --

John McCain: I speak for my fellow Republicans, yes.

Ted Simons: All right. You mentioned the National Intelligence Director and what he was saying a couple of weeks or so ago. He said a lot. He said he can't recall a more diverse array of challenges and crises. Do you agree with that?

John McCain: Absolutely and remember the person that said this was a guy named General Clapper who has been in the intelligence business for 53 years and he said he had never seen crises like this that we're facing, and more diverse. When you look at China and their aggressive behavior, when you look at Vladimir Putin's behavior in Ukraine, when you look at the Middle East which is now -- we are basically selling out the moderate opposition with this horrible Faustian bargain they've made with Vladimir Putin, we've had a conditional ceasefire while Vladimir Putin with iron bombs is bombing hospitals and schools. And now, the quote ceasefire is supposed to take place, and I think that you will see fighting continue, but at some point, if Assad who, by the way, was on his way out when the Russians and the Iranians came in, if he's able to consolidate enough geography, then he might agree to a ceasefire, as long as Assad stays in place, he has his base and he's a major player in the Middle East. That's what he's been able to achieve.

Ted Simons: Does Syria simply need to be reformed? Is that a single country that simply cannot exist any longer?

John McCain: You know, when we say those things, it sounds easy but then when you get into the details of who would get what part and where populations would be etc., it gets very, very complicated. Look, here's the fundamental facts. The people rose up against Assad, Assad has now killed 250,000 of his own people, driven millions into refugee status, the crisis in Europe today, many observers have said what Vladimir Putin now is dismembering the E.U. by driving all of these hundreds of thousands of refugees into Europe. Already you're seeing the strains within the European Union. Meanwhile, he maintains a major role, meantime, you will see him start up more activities in eastern Ukraine, and all of it while this President and this Secretary of State seek their favor. The obsequiousness of this is unbelievable.

Ted Simons: What should they do?

John McCain: They should be training the free Syrian army, they should be going after ISIS, they should declare a no fly zone so these refugees would have a place to go and we need to send troops on the ground, about 10,000 of them, with about 90,000 Turks, Sunnis and other countries and take Raqqa. If we don't kill these people in Raqqa, they are going to attack the United States of America. As we speak, there are people coming out who are committed to committing and trained and ready to commit acts of terror in Europe and the United States of America.

Ted Simons: How do we get the Turks who seem to care more about the Kurds than they do ISIS, how do we get the Sunnis who seem to care more about Iran than they do ISIS, how do you get this coalition together when everyone seems like they've got their own particular enemies.

John McCain: It requires American leadership and a failure of American leadership is exactly what has resulted in this complex situation as you just described. Yes, the Turks are worried about the Kurds because of the Kurds' ambition to have their own state. The Kurds are the largest ethnic group in all that part of the group that don't have a country of their own. And so Erdogan is attacking the same people that we are training and equipping. But the worst thing is that Russia is carrying out incredibly indiscriminate bombing against the people, the free Syrian army folks, the moderate forces. So the people in the moderate forces are driven to the more extreme Islamic groups like al-Nusra and it is a classic example of a failure of American leadership. A foreign minister of one of the Gulf States told me, he said we believe now that it's better to be America's enemy than its friend, and it all goes back to when the president said the Syrians had crossed the red line with chemical weapons and then didn't act.

Ted Simons: Last point on this. Saudi Arabia, they are friends?

John McCain: They are friends. And they have their flaws but the Saudis are very necessary right now. They are incredibly necessary. The Iranian-backed group called the Houthis were about to take over Yemen. If you look at where Yemen is on the map, it's next to the world's busiest waterway. If the Iranians had taken control of that, then they would have had control of the world's energy supply. The Saudis had to go in themselves. And they're in a hell of a fight and they're taking casualties. But we're standing by and watching. Just one more item. The American sailors were humiliated by the Iranians in violation of all international rules because they strayed into their waters. It is against international law to board those ships and they humiliated Americans, putting them on their knees, huge propaganda, and that's bad enough but the Secretary of State thanked them. Thanked them for returning them. The Secretary of Defense said, the Vice President said this is standard nautical procedure. It's not! It's humiliating Americans.

Ted Simons: I can see -- and I'll get e-mails later, McCain wants to get us into a war, he's sabre rattling.

John McCain: I will look my dear friends in the eye. You're going to fight them here or you're going to fight them there. You have two choices. When the Director of National Intelligence says that there will be attacks on the United States of America, you can believe him. You can believe that Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS is now sending young men in this flow of refugees to attack the United States of America. You can count on it.

Ted Simons: We can't leave without what also the National Intelligence Director said, the top nuclear threat to the U.S., North Korea. Do you agree with that?

John McCain: I agree. And remember, Clinton made this deal that was going to end that ambition, using the same people to negotiate the ones that negotiated the Iranian deal which gave the Iranians $100 billion to spend. But the North Koreans are very dangerous. And this rotund young ruler in Pyongyang is very, very dangerous and the last test that they made possibly over time and I'm not saying immediately, could carry a nuclear weapon to the United States of America, intercontinental ballistic missile. They're not there yet but they are on the path and the Chinese are the key to North Korea.

Ted Simons: Well, and that's what I was going to ask. What is the reason that the Chinese seem to be beholden or propping up this dictatorship?

John McCain: It used to be for years they didn't want to have a united peninsula on their borders. Now, it's that they are worried about a flood of refugees out of North Korea and frankly, I think sheer stupidity. But the Chinese are acting in a very aggressive fashion in the region. Everybody thinks the Chinese see around the corner of history. The Chinese have scared to death Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, all these surrounding countries as the Chinese attempt to reassert what they believe is their rightful role in Asia, which is dominance, and by the way our new best friends, the Vietnamese.

Ted Simons: Isn't that something? All right. Well, before we go, even someone who's eminently qualified, you're not going to give them a hearing for the Supreme Court?

John McCain: It's not a matter -- the question is not a matter of the person. It's a matter of principle.

Ted Simons: If it's a yahoo, you consider him a yahoo but someone who's going to help the country, I don't know.

John McCain: It is the principle is we want the people to decide, the voters to decide, but I respect your view, my old friend, and it's nice to be with a communist socialist.

Ted Simons: Always a pleasure. Good to see you again.

John McCain: It's great to be back. Thank you.

Ted Simons: And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us, you have a great evening.

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

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