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Interview with Senators John McCain & Lindsey Graham

Interview with Senators John McCain & Lindsey Graham

By State of the Union - February 26, 2012

CROWLEY: Joining me now is Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary and a senior campaign adviser for President Obama -- re-election campaign adviser, I guess I should say. I want to just continue a little bit in this talk about Afghanistan, what's going on there, and play for you something that Newt Gingrich said on Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH, R-GA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Candidly, if Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, doesn't feel like apologizing then I think we should say goodbye and good luck. We don't need to be here risking our lives and wasting our money on somebody who doesn't care.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Now I imagine that, in a lot of ways, Gingrich is voicing what a lot of people are thinking at this point, the Koran was burned, we think inadvertently, by U.S. personnel and in response four U.S. military personnel are dead, including two sitting in an office in an Afghan interior ministry. Doesn't that capture the public mood, like what are we doing there, let's just get out?

GIBBS: Well, I think it's important to understand why we went, and that is to, as Ambassador Crocker said, make sure Al Qaeda doesn't have a safe haven.

CROWLEY: We were told Al Qaeda's is gone. They said they're in Yemen and --

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS: But, Candy, let's be -- let's be clear. So they don't have a safe haven by which to plan a terrorist attack like on 9/11, that killed 3,000 Americans. We disrupted and dismantled a large amount of Al Qaeda's network.

As you know, and your viewers know, Osama bin Laden is dead. And what the president's trying to do now is get us to a point where we can hand off the security of Afghanistan to the Afghans and that we can bring our troops home.

I think what he's trying to do now is diffuse the tension that's there. And you know, quite honestly, I'm not sure many people are looking to Newt Gingrich for foreign policy advice. If there's a problem on the lunar colony, he'll be among the first we call.

CROWLEY: OK. There you go. Back at him. Let me move you to some domestic issues. Right now gas prices. And the president has said, and a lot of economic advisers and gas experts agree, there's very little that a president can do to immediately effect what's going on at pumps. It doesn't mean it doesn't go out on the campaign trail, I just want our viewers to take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM, R-PA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Under our administration we will drill for oil in Alaska.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Anybody who tells you that we can drill our way out of this problem doesn't know what they're talking about.

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the easiest decision this president has faced was whether or not to build the Keystone pipeline, and he flunked that easy question, it's unbelievable.

OBAMA: There is no silver bullet. There never has been.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: OK. So it's clearly on the political agenda. A lot of the economists I talked to this week said $4 is kind of the magic number, that once the national average gets to $4 a gallon -- it's already there in some places -- it begins to affect the economy.

People have less money in their pockets, and businesses, their overhead goes up, so they don't really want to hire. So we're looking at a fragile economic recovery that might get hit fairly soon. Does the president have anything left in his quiver that he can use to try to bring some of this down?

GIBBS: Well, look, as you mentioned, Candy, oil is a global commodity. It's at the whims of a world using more and more oil and, because of that demand, pushing the price up. What the president talked about this week is we have to employ an all-of-the-above strategy.

We cannot have 2 percent of the world's oil use 25 percent on a daily basis and think that the only thing we can do is drill. That's not going to solve our problem.

But yet you just had Rick Santorum mention drilling in the Arctic. About a week or so ago the president approved more permits to explore drilling in the Arctic. We just signed an agreement with Mexico to develop areas -- excuse me -- in the Gulf of Mexico that span the two countries' borders. So --

CROWLEY: In the immediate --

GIBBS: -- we're doing all that we can because we're using less foreign oil than we have in the past 16 years and we're drilling more and producing more than we have in the past eight years.

CROWLEY: Some of the Republicans argued that all of those things were sort of set long before the president came to office.

GIBBS: Don't they always say that, Candy?

CROWLEY: Beyond that --

GIBBS: Those are the same people, I'm sure, that when gas hit a record high in 2008 were blaming George Bush. Don't look hard for that video because it's not there, because there are a series of people that want tell you that there are very easy magic bullet solutions to the problems that we face. We know that's not true.

CROWLEY: It isn't true. But the president last year, when gas prices got pretty high, did let loose some of it that's in the strategic oil reserves. Do you see him doing that?

GIBBS: You know, Candy, I'm no longer in those meetings. I know that the White House is going to look at every available option in the short and the long term. But, again, we're not going to magically make this problem disappear.

We're going to have to increase our domestic oil production, increase our exploration for natural gas. This president is the first in 30 years to approve a new nuclear reactor. We have once-in- a-lifetime fuel efficiency standards. All of these things are what we're going to need to make progress on a problem that's been with us for decades.

CROWLEY: On the campaign trail, I want to -- and this is a brief sound bite -- I want to play something that President Obama said this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: My presidency's not over. I've got another five years coming up. We're going to get this done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: So, you guys sitting back at the re-election thing, it's done.

GIBBS: Look, I'm glad the president thinks we're going to win. I'd be worried if he didn't. But obviously, look, this is going to be a close election, Candy. There's a lot of people working very hard to make sure that the president gets back.

CROWLEY: Listen, we asked -- Quinnipiac had a poll out, asking, do you think President Obama deserves to be reelected, which may be why this five more years may be a little premature. Right now 45 percent, only 45 percent of people say, yes, he deserves to be reelected, 50 percent say no. It really hasn't changed since November, why is that? GIBBS: Well, look, they're going to be -- there's 100 different polls that will tell you 101 different things, Candy. I think virtually every poll I've seen in the last three months shows you the terrific damage that the Republican primary is doing to the Republican candidates.

CROWLEY: Their numbers have gone down.

GIBBS: People like Mitt Romney are watching their approval ratings and their favorable ratings with independent voters, their unfavorable ratings skyrocket.

You know, in his home state of Michigan, a public poll just a week ago showed him trailing the president, in what should be a battleground state, by 16 points. It's because they're rushing to the right to try to convince conservatives that they're conservative.

CROWLEY: Democrats and the reelect -- and the DNC have been taking a little time looking at Rick Santorum. Size him up for me as a possible rival to President Obama.

GIBBS: Well, look, I think, you know, I don't think Tuesday's going to be a clarifying event in the Republican primary. I think because of the way delegates are apportioned, this is going to go on for weeks and weeks, and I think he's got a legitimate chance to be the Republican nominee.

He's clearly somebody who has a very different economic background than Mitt Romney. He's somebody that is, you know --

CROWLEY: (Inaudible) he's blue collar.

GIBBS: -- blue collar, he's from Pennsylvania. He's not worth $250 million and I assume his wife doesn't have several Cadillacs.

So I think he clearly brings a little bit different challenge, but I will say this, if you look at their economic plans and you look at the economic plan that Mitt Romney put out this week, in many ways they are very much similar, in the sense that they have tax cut plans that would add trillions and trillions and trillions of dollars to our debts and our deficits. Not one of those candidates is serious about controlling government spending.

CROWLEY: So at least you won't have to change your message regardless --

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS: No, it's more of the same from them.

CROWLEY: Robert Gibbs, senior adviser to the reelect campaign, thank you for joining us.

GIBBS: Happy to do it.

CROWLEY: After the break, President Obama does seem pretty confident about his re-election chances, but do rising gas prices get in the way? Certainly we'll be continuing to talk about that with our next up, and that in fact is Senator John McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me to talk about the state of the Republican presidential race as well as the latest developments in Afghanistan, former Republican presidential candidate and Romney supporter, Senator John McCain; and Senator Lindsey Graham, who has yet to pick a horse in this horse race.

Thank you, gentlemen, both, particularly after your long trip for joining us this morning. I want to play something for you that Jeb Bush, who, you know, lots of people think he ought to get into the race, here's something he said about the race itself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA: I think, though, it's important for the candidates to recognize, though, that they have to appeal to primary voters and not turn off independent voters that will be part of a winning coalition.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Basically, Senator McCain, let's start with you, what Jeb Bush has said and is saying is that he thinks these candidates have been pushed too far to the right to actually appeal to independents. And we see that in a fallout of the number of independents that have moved back to President Obama. Have they moved too far to the right?

MCCAIN: Well, I think that these continuing debates and the tenor of the debates, which have turned into mud wrestling, have certainly raised the unfavorables of the candidates. I don't think there's any doubt about that.

And then you throw in these quote "super PACs" where one casino mogul will inject $20 million into a political campaign, most of it in negative campaigning, then it is predictable.

And by the way, the United States Supreme Court's disgraceful decision on Citizens versus United (sic) has made this possible. And the United States Supreme Court displayed a level of ignorance and arrogance that I don't think is with precedent.

CROWLEY: Senator Graham, let me put up for our viewers a graphic here, these are head to head polls, President Obama against those in the race. Basically it's President Obama 51, 52 percent, and everybody in the race right now, Santorum, Gingrich, Paul, and Romney, are all around 42 and 43 percent.

Is this not a sign, since they were polling better before, that this long race and the tenor of this race that Senator McCain is talking about, have come to hurt the Republican Party? GRAHAM: I think the number to look at is the president's re- elect number that you were mentioning before. But yes, primaries you do bruise people up and your negatives go up. But eventually there will be a one-on-one contest to talk about the president's pathetic budget, the budget he's going to send to Capitol Hill got no votes last year. It's not going to fare much better this year.

And every time you go get your car filled up, it's going to be because of President Obama's inaction. From 2012 to 2017, his offshore drilling plan by the Obama administration opens up a whopping 3 percent of offshore drilling, areas that are subject to offshore drilling, and they take off the table 50 percent of areas already leased for offshore drilling.

So this will be a big issue. I like our chances, we just need to get the primary behind us.

CROWLEY: Senator McCain, and then to you the same question, Senator Graham. Do you -- I know you support Governor Romney, but do you foresee the possibility of a brokered convention or a knight in shining armor that comes in next month or the next to kind of wrap this all up? Do you see either of those two scenarios, Senator McCain?

MCCAIN: No, I don't. Could I just mention also the pipeline? Once the president canceled the pipeline, the prime minister of Canada said they would be selling their oil to the Chinese. Interesting.

I don't see a brokered convention. Almost every time there has been contested primaries, people predict it. The system doesn't lend itself to it. I'm confident that Mitt will do well on Tuesday night in Arizona and in Michigan and hopefully that will move this process forward so we can concentrate on the real adversary.

CROWLEY: How about new entries in March or April, somebody that can come in...

MCCAIN: No.

CROWLEY: ... everybody will love?

MCCAIN: There are only, I think, 10 states left where you can still have your name on the ballot. These things are always talked about but I have -- the system is really set up so that it almost precludes that entirely. CROWLEY: Senator Graham, do you see any possibility of a brokered convention? And while I have you here, would you like to pick a horse in this horse race?

GRAHAM: Well, I appreciate the invite. But, no, I don't. If Romney had lost Michigan, and he's not going to lose Michigan, that would have thrown things into the ditch. But I think he's going to win both states.

And let me tell you, Governor Romney is a better candidate today because of the primary process. In South Carolina, Newt beat Romney. He beat him bad. He just dominated the state. And he dominated the debates.

But by the time Florida came around Romney really took it to the field and he's getting better and better. So the upside of the primary process is our front-runner, Mitt Romney, really has sharpened his skills, and I think that will pay dividends if he gets the nomination.

CROWLEY: Senators, I want you both to stand by. After the break we are going to turn to Afghanistan, the burning of the Muslim holy book and the fallout that has followed. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called for calm. Has the U.S. mission there been jeopardized?

And later, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has some choice words for President Obama's critics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: We are back with Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Let me start off, both of you, on the subject of Afghanistan.

We are now in a situation where the U.S. does not want its personnel in ministry buildings of the very government that we're working with, the Karzai government, because we think it's not safe for U.S. military personnel. How does that bode for these agreements that we need to get with Karzai in order for U.S. forces to begin moving out?

Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: Well, the strategic partnership agreement that we're trying to negotiate with the Afghan government is very important. It's the last card to be played. What we're trying to do is have an enduring political, economic and military relationship.

The hope is after 2014 to have somewhere around 20,000 troops, several air bases with Special Forces units and air power so the Taliban can be permanently defeated. The Afghan security forces will always have the help of the U.S. American military to ensure that Afghanistan never fails.

This episode with the Koran burning is terrible to watch. Ambassador Crocker has got it right, keep your eye on the ball. Is it very sad that four Americans would lose their lives because of an inadvertent burning of the Koran. I do my reserve duty in that prison (ph), Candy, there is a lot of sensitivity to Islamic religion but it's a dangerous place. They're a lot of -- they're not choir boys being held there.

And Karzai, President Karzai's insisting that we turn over all 3,044 prisoners to the Afghan legal system as part of the strategic partnership agreement, I cannot agree to that. The legal system in Afghanistan is very immature and porous.

And he's also insisting we stop night raids. We're putting Afghans in the lead in night raids. But that's how we're catching and killing these people. It's a very successful military operation. General Allen says continue night raids. So I will be backing up Allen. We're not going to turn over everybody in that prison to the Afghans at this moment. They're not ready for that.

But we need a strategic partnership agreement. And this Koran burning shows the world in which we live, a world in 2012 where people can lose their lives because of inadvertent burning of a holy document. And things have to change in the Mideast.

CROWLEY: Senator McCain, though, can -- looking at it, I think most Americans sort of, as I asked Ambassador Crocker, they wake up and there's this inadvertent burning of the Koran by U.S. personnel on the base. And then there are riots and protests, violent protests for six days, and two Americans are murdered inside the interior building.

Can you see why Americans go, speed up this withdrawal and let's get the heck out, it's been half a trillion dollars, 2,000 lives and 11 years. Like, when is enough enough?

MCCAIN: I can certainly understand the anger and frustration and sorrow that the American people feel. And this is a terribly unfortunate situation there.

I also think we have to take the long view and that is that a strategic partnership agreement -- by the way, the original idea for that was Senator Graham's -- is the way that we can leave Afghanistan, but in a secure environment, and a chance for a democratic government to remain in power.

Look, they just saw the United States leave Iraq completely and Iraq unraveling. If we'd had a strategic partnership agreement there and a residual force -- which this president did not want -- things would be a lot different. They watch what happens in the Middle East and they are starting to make their own arrangements because they have to remain in the neighborhood.

And we still continue to have this very looming problem that Ambassador Crocker pointed out and that is sanctuary in Pakistan for the Haqqani network, Taliban and others. But have no doubt, that if Afghanistan reverts to a chaotic situation, you will see Al Qaeda come back and it again be a base eventually of attacks on the United States of America.

CROWLEY: I have two more countries I want to cover here, if I can, in the couple minutes we have left.

Senator Graham, first to you, I want to talk about Egypt, which is not allowing, I think, about seven Americans to get out of there because Egypt, the Egypt military government has wanted to try them. These are NGO folks, non-government organization, including Secretary LaHood's son.

When will we -- when will this come to some fruition? And the administration says we're talking, we're talking, we're talking. When is this over?

GRAHAM: Well, I'm hoping it will be over soon. They're being charged under NGO law, a holdover law from the Mubarak administration, that kind of clamped down on any efforts to spread democracy. The Army did not bring this case. It was brought in the judiciary, and it's a politically motivated case with no foundation at all. The NGOs have done a great job over there helping the Egyptian people. But here was the breakthrough on the ground. Senator McCain and myself and our delegation met with the Muslim Brotherhood. They got a large number of votes.

They're going to be conservative, Islamists judge will them by what they do, not by what they say.

But here's what they did do. While we were there they issued a statement condemning the NGO law, promised to reformed it -- to reform it in the future and that was a very positive sign because the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest block in the new parliament, basically said they don't like this law, they think it's unjust and unfair and they want to change it. That should give everybody the political cover they need to let our people come home.

CROWLEY: Senator McCain, I've got 30 seconds left. I wanted to ask you about Benjamin Netanyahu, who is coming over here next week. And I'm wondering whether you believe that the relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu is complicating the U.S. longstanding relationship with Israel.

MCCAIN: I think so. And I think the prime minister has every reason to be upset. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that calls Iran a rational country and the American -- and the national security adviser go to Israel and then leak that they are trying to urge the Israelis not to attack Iran, that clearly weakens the Israelis' position vis-a-vis Iran, and in a region where they have numerous enemies dedicated to wiping them off the map.

CROWLEY: OK.

MCCAIN: So I can understand why relations are in very bad shape right now.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much. Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham, thanks for joining us. 

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