Interview with Senator John McCain

Interview with Senator John McCain

By The Situation Room - October 14, 2011

BLITZER: Is the alleged Iranian plot to kill is Saudi ambassador part of a murderous pattern?

David Ignatius writes in today's "Washington Post" that intelligence has linked Iran to the murder of another Saudi diplomat gunned down in July in Pakistan.

Let's talk about what's going on with Senator John McCain.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. So, if we believe and I do, what David Ignatius writes, he's an excellent reporter. He was here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday. It looks like a pattern is emerging.

Do you see a pattern of Iranian authorities wanting to kill Saudis?

MCCAIN: Yes, and maybe larger than that, Wolf. We've seen a pattern now of two decades of terrorist attacked orchestrated by the Iranian and the Quds Force in particular orchestrated attacks in other capitals.

They are -- obviously, they're exports of the most lethal IEDs into Iraq killed young Americans. They are supporting terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. They are trying to orchestrate events in Bahrain as we speak and also meddling in Afghanistan.

So, there's a long pattern here of attempts to exert Iranian influence in the region and around the world and the thing that surprises me very quickly, is one, the hand-fistedness of it because they're usually pretty efficient in these activities. And second of all, to think that they could get away with it. And that's kind of disturbing when you think about it.

BLITZER: But do you have a good understanding why they would want to kill Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir here in Washington presumably as this indictment says at a restaurant and a lot of Americans could have been killed in the process?

MCCAIN: Well, there's the competition and tensions in the region between the two countries, Saudi Arabia and Iran, has been there for a long period of time. I mean, good evidence of that is Bahrain today. But there is across the board competition and tensions between the two countries and the Iranians view Saudis, in particular their money, as a great impediment to their ability to exert their influence in the region, and they want that and they're willing to -- obviously do whatever they can to achieve it.

And by the way, what about when they get nuclear weapons, Wolf? They probably wouldn't launch one at the United States, but don't you think there's a great risk that they might provide a nuclear weapon to one of these terrorist organizations that they support?

BLITZER: What do you think the United States should do about all of this right now?

MCCAIN: I think the president should go on national television and tell the American people, give them the chronicle of the acts of terror of the -- that the Iranians have carried out, their interference in other countries, their responsibility for the deaths of young Americans.

And then I would do probably what the president is doing. I'd call General Petraeus, our new director of the CIA over at the White House and others and say what kind of covert activities can we engage in here? What can we do? And I -- and frankly, I don't know what they are, but I certainly would be exploring those options.

And, of course, going to the U.N. for the sanctions against their central banks so that anybody who does with Iranian central bank cannot do any business with us, probably, maybe expecting more from Russia and China in the way of strong action in the U.N. And it's obvious that the Iranians need to be disciplined before they achieve nuclear status in my view.

BLITZER: Here's what surprises me, Senator, I'll let you weigh in before we move on to some other subjects.

The Saudi reaction, or should I say lack of reaction, they haven't severed diplomatic relations with Iran. They still have their ambassador there. They haven't, as far as I can tell, other than issuing a statement, done anything in terms of the commercial relationship, the economy relationship. They haven't done anything assuming they believe this U.S. allegation that the Iranians wanted to kill their ambassador here in Washington.

Does this surprise you at all?

MCCAIN: A little bit. But you know, the Saudis do business in different ways than we do.

For example, they are -- financing a lot of activities in the region, which are directly counter to the Iranian -- to counter Iranian ambitions, and they have engaged in other operations which would cause discomfort or difficulties for the Iranians in the region.

So you know, it's a very kind of a Byzantine situation over there, but I am sure that they are contemplating some kinds of actions.

BLITZER: I think you're probably right, but we haven't seen anything yet. We'll stand -- we'll be on standby for that.

Before I get to jobs and some other political issues, what do you make of the Obama administration's decision to send 100 U.S. combat troops to Uganda to deal with a crisis unfolding in central Africa right now against some warlords there, ground forces, if you will. You're the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee.

MCCAIN: Well, the Lord's Resistance Army is one of the most atrocious and barbaric organizations in history. As you know, they have carried out unspeakable acts, and they are destabilizing the region. And it's -- you know, it's so terrible, it's hard for us to even talk about.

But so, I think that actions need to be taken to help these countries combat, particularly Uganda and its neighbors, to combat this LRA.

But I also want to be very careful that we don't get into another Lebanon or another Somalia. And I'm not saying we will, but we've got to be very careful. And I think it requires more consultation with Congress and with the American people again. You don't want to get into something you can't get out of.

And so I certainly applaud the goal. I would like to know more and I think the American people should know more as to exactly how we're going to do it. Remember, we've sent peacekeepers into places before that ended in tragedy.

BLITZER: All right, we'll have more on this story coming up at the top of the hour. Let's move on to some other issues.

As all of our viewers remember, you beat Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination four years ago. You're looking at this race from the outside right now. What's his weakness right now? What do you see?

MCCAIN: I don't know, Wolf. I think he's been running a very good campaign. I ran a better campaign in 2008 because of the experience I had in 2000. After I won the nomination in 2008, no one helped my campaign more than Mitt Romney did. He was there every time we asked him to be there.

I think he has run a very intelligent campaign. I think he has a very strong position in New Hampshire. But if you and I had been chatting two or three weeks ago and I would have said Herman Cain is up there now, ahead in some polls, you would have thought I was smoking something fairly strong.

(LAUGHTER) MCCAIN: So there's a lot of things that can happen between now and probably the Florida primary or after that to determine who our nominee is. But I think that the Romney campaign has been maintaining a steady strain and it's put him in a pretty good position. But I'm not predicting.

BLITZER: Are you ready to endorse?


BLITZER: Not yet.

All right, let's talk a little bit about the conservatives, some of the Tea Party activists. They don't think he's a real conservative. If he gets the nomination, will he be able to unit all the base of the Republican Party?

MCCAIN: Oh, I think he will. I don't have any doubt about that.

I'm very confident of that, not only because of his qualities, but the fact is, you know, this country is very, very dissatisfied and they're not just dissatisfied with the president, they're not too happy with Congress, in case you noticed the 13 percent approval rating. If we work a little harder, maybe we can get it down to single digits.

BLITZER: We've noticed that as well.


BLITZER: Let's talk about jobs.

You and some fellow Republican senators introduced legislation to create millions of jobs. Are you -- do you really believe what you introduced yesterday has a chance in this gridlock of Washington, D.C. right now to get passed?

MCCAIN: Well, I think the first thing it does is that it hopefully would remove the president's line from his rhetoric that Congress doesn't have a plan. All of the Republican senators and outside groups and House members I'm confident the overwhelming majority will support this legislation.

Second of all, the president's jobs plan is more of a same. It's stimulus two. You noticed the deficit is second highest in history was announced today, and that is another ample proof that the president's ideas of government creating jobs instead of business creating jobs is not successful, never has been and never will be.

And so as some of us said when we introduced this legislation, Senator Rand Paul and I and others said, this should be a reason for us to sit down together, at least work together to some degree, for example, reforming the tax code.

I've met no one that doesn't believe we ought to reform the tax code. Now, there's a lot of differences in how, but at least we should find common ground on some of these issues, for example, repatriating this $1.4 trillion that's overseas. There's so many -- I think there's areas we should find agreement on, and I think the American people are really demanding that.

BLITZER: Are you liking or not liking so much Herman Cain's so-called 9-9-9 plan?

MCCAIN: Well, I haven't examined it carefully, but at one examination of it it appears that it is a tax increase for some middle income or lower income Americans, and I look forward to hearing his explanation. I'm not condemning it, but I certainly wouldn't favor that.

BLITZER: Any final piece of advice as far as the next debate is concerned for Rick Perry, the governor of Texas? He seems to be having some trouble, as you well know, at those debates.

MCCAIN: It sounds rather simplistic, Wolf, but my one bit of advice to be -- two, two things to do.

One, get some rest. When you're tired, every time I made a serious mistake -- and I've made a serious politically, and I've made them, it's been when I'm tired.

And the second thing is get somebody in there who will give it a good scrubbing, who will play these individuals, who will play Romney, for example, and really put it to you so that you're prepared for any question that comes up.

I think both of those probably would help him.

BLITZER: Excellent advice. Practice, practice, practice.

MCCAIN: And by the way, since I lost, I'm not sure how good my advice is.


BLITZER: Well, you may have lost the general election, but you did win -- you came from nowhere. A lot of people were writing off your campaign, as a lot of us remember, and you went on to win the Republican presidential nomination. That's obviously rather impressive. So I'm sure he would be grateful if you had good advice for him. I don't know if you want to do that, but we'll wait and see.

Senator, thanks very much.

MCCAIN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Senator John McCain joining us from Phoenix. 

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