Interview with Senator John McCain

Interview with Senator John McCain

By The Situation Room - June 14, 2011

BLITZER: Meanwhile, a leading Republican voice on military matters is warning Congress to be very careful about undermining the U.S. message that Moammar Gadhafi must go.

BLITZER: Joining us now from Capitol Hill, Senator John McCain.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Should the president formally notify Congress and seek authorization for committing troops to deal with the crisis in Libya?

MCCAIN: I think he should. And I hope that the majority leader can schedule a vote on a -- on a resolution. Two months ago, Senator Kerry and I had one and I think it would have passed rather easily at the time. Since then, obviously, there's been a lot more tension about the issue, the fact that it's been -- the situation has dragged out.

But I think it would be entirely appropriate to do so. But again, the majority leader controls the schedule of the Senate.

BLITZER: That would be Harry Reid.

Are you in agreement with some of your Republican colleagues and even a few Democrats who are suggesting he's violating the law right now by not seeking such formal authorization?

MCCAIN: I think that you could make that argument. But it's also true that other presidents have ignored the War Powers Act in one way or another. And I hope that we can get some more information over to the Congress.

I think one of the mistakes that the administration has made is that there hasn't been enough meetings with Congressional -- members of Congress, enough information. There is understandable resentment that we go to the Arab League and to NATO, but not to Congress. A lot of that is understandable.

But let me make one point very clear here, Wolf. I think that a prohibition on ground troops is not only not appropriate, I think it's -- it's unconstitutional. And I believe that if the Republicans continue to push such a thing, it could be viewed as partisanship, in my view, because no one -- no one believes that we are going to send ground troops into Libya.

So to have a, quote, "prohibition" for that could only mean that we are somehow taking shots at the president.

I would hope that we would, in a resolution, approve of the president's policy, which is not to send ground troops into Libya.

Do you see my point?

BLITZER: I -- of course I understand your point.

But are you expecting the White House to try to remedy this issue in the coming days or weeks and -- and get that kind of resolution before you?

MCCAIN: Well, my -- my understanding is that the White House will be sending over a report and lots of information about what we have done. And although it's very late, they're going to send over, I understand, detailed information. And then I think it would be perfectly fine if we moved forward with a resolution.

But I can assure you, it's going to be much more difficult with a lot more amendments and a lot more debates than if we had done this a couple of months ago. And a lot of it is understandable frustration on the part of members of Congress. But that does not mean that we act in an unconstitutional fashion, which, in my view, the only way that Congress can act is to cut off funding. That's what we did after the -- to end the Vietnam War, as you remember. And that's the only power that Congress has.

Congress cannot dictate the com -- to the commander-in-chief.

BLITZER: Compare and contrast, if you will, Gadhafi and Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Because, arguably, what Bashar al-Assad is doing in Syria is at least as bad as what Gadhafi was doing in Libya, if not a whole lot worse. Yet, the U.S. still has an embassy in Damascus, still has full diplomatic relations. Yes, sanctions have been imposed.

But do you think what Bashar al-Assad is doing is even worse than what Gadhafi is doing?

MCCAIN: I think it's equally as bad. The difference is that in Libya, we had a rebel force that had control of certain parts of Libya. We risked an outright massacre in Benghazi when Gadhafi's forces were at the gates of Benghazi. We had the Arab League, NATO and other organizations solidly behind us and NATO acting.

In Syria, it is terrible and atrocious what Assad is doing. Clearly, the administration and some members of Congress were way behind in saying we can still deal with him, he's a reformer, etc.

But the best we can do in Syria, I'm sorry to say, the best we can do is sanctions, imposing those sanctions, making sure that they're rigidly enforced and understanding that this is now, to some degree, significant Iranian involvement, which makes the situation perhaps even worse in some respects than Libya.

BLITZER: Because the U.S. could go to the U.N. Security Council, could seek NATO involvement similar to what the U.S. and NATO are doing in Libya. But you're not recommending that, at least not now?

MCCAIN: I don't know how you would do it, Wolf. That's -- that's the problem, in my view. I don't know exactly how that would -- could be accomplished. And, as I said, in Libya, they had an area that was controlled by the rebel forces or the liberation forces and we knew how we could be of assistance.

In Syria, it's town by town, city by city. It's atrocious and outrages. And I think that the best way we can handle them is to give them all our -- handle this situation is to give them all our moral support, all our condemnation, sanctions as much as possible and other punitive measures that -- that are non, you know, non-military, try to assist them. I'm very worried that Bashar will repress these freedom fighters and with the utmost brutality.

BLITZER: On Libya -- on Libya, would you support using some of the $33 billion or $34 billion in frozen Gadhafi assets in the United States to give -- give them to the opposition in Libya for humanitarian purposes or an idea that I have had over these last several months, reimburse U.S. taxpayers for what it's costing the United States to liberate Libya?

MCCAIN: I would give them all their money, because it is their money. They are the legitimate voice of the Libyan people. I would give it all to them. But they have made no bones about the fact that they would be willing and perhaps even glad to reimburse the United States and our allies for the expenses that were incurred in helping them achieve their freedom.

There's not only the $30 billion. As you know, this is a country of five million people with vast oil reserves. So they -- they want to be able to get a hold of this money for a whole variety of reasons, including the fact that Gadhafi subsidized the -- the commodities and they have got to continue that for the benefit of the Libyan people.

And, by the way, Gadhafi is crumbling. There's no doubt about that. And for us to engage in a debate whether to prohibit ground forces or not, again, is -- is a foolish exercise, because I know of no one who wants to send ground forces in.

You see my point?

BLITZER: Of course.

And let me just ask one final question.

When will the White House make its case to you, to the Congress, about Libya?

When do you expect that formal notification to come forward?

MCCAIN: I would hope that there is some information coming forth in the next day or two. I would hope. I have urged them to do that. And then, obviously, it's in coordination with the majority leader, if we want to take up another resolution. And Senator Kerry and I are working together to try to have a resolution that would satisfy everyone.

It would have been a little easier a couple of months ago, my friend.

BLITZER: Senator McCain, as usual, thanks very much.

MCCAIN: Thank you.


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