Senator John McCain, the Republican Party’s 2008 presidential nominee, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that he’s willing to campaign for Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi, who’s facing a primary challenge from Republican Liz Cheney, a daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the program with Arizona Senator John McCain, who’s practically running the Senate these days. Senator, you were - you did really orchestrate the deal that avoided a nuclear showdown, the nuclear option showdown. And there were votes on the Obama nominees.
Just look ahead a little bit. Are there going to - we know this doesn’t apply to judicial nominees, but how about other executive branch nominees? For instance, could the nominee for Fed chairman to succeed Bernanke be filibustered?
JOHN MCCAIN: I think it could, Al, but, first, could I just back up a second? I was in constant contact, and it was a collective effort. People like Bob Corker and Hoeven and my beloved Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte and Susan Collins, I mean, it was a large number of us that were discussing this. Also, Chuck Schumer, whose word is good and - and Harry Reid. And Mitch McConnell was very heavily engaged.
Look, what we got to have is a tone and an environment in the United States Senate. We didn’t change the rules, so therefore, if all of a sudden there’s an uprising and we want to block things again, then we can do that. And Harry Reid can react.
HUNT: But do you think this changes the environment when -
MCCAIN: I believe it does. I believe our success on immigration reform - I believe that this - we just did a student loan bill, which is a significant step forward. There’s a real desire out there to - to work together, I’ve always proceeded on the one principle that elections have consequences. And unless there’s a reason to override, there’s got to be - well, the deal we made on judges, extraordinary circumstances.
HUNT: You have been very critical of the administration’s handling of the Russians, as they’ve been playing games with Edward Snowden. Lindsey Graham has suggested we ought to consider boycotting the Winter Olympics. What specific actions should we take to show Putin that this is unacceptable?
MCCAIN: Expand the Magnitsky bill. For those of our viewers who don’t know, that was the result of Sergei Magnitsky, who was a man who was tried, imprisoned, beaten, cruelly, and murdered, basically, in prison. We passed a bill that put many sanctions on individuals that had to do with his death and other human rights abuses.
The State Department and the Treasury Department interpreted it very narrowly. Only 18 people. We could - because there are so many human rights abuses going on in Russia, you could easily expand that number. They hate it, because it prevents them from doing certain things that they want to do.
The second thing is, remember we said we’d scale back our missile defense, which was aimed at Iranian, defense against Iranian missiles anyway? Say we’re going to - we’re going to reinvigorate our European missile defense systems. It’s defensive. It’s not offensive to the Russians.
There are several other - and we ought to be speaking up more, you know? You and I are old enough to remember there was a guy named Ronald Reagan. He used to speak up for people. There was a woman who was -
HUNT: And Obama ought to do that more?
MCCAIN: He should do it more. It was Jeane Kirkpatrick at the UN. We just made a wonderful nomination to be our UN ambassador in Samantha Power. She’s going to - she says she’s going to speak up for Americans, speak up in these international forums.
HUNT: Let me turn to immigration, speaking of speaking up, because you said the other day that, boy, the pro-immigration forces have got to be more active. What do you want to see? What should the president do? And what are the consequences for Republicans if it dies?
MCCAIN: I think the president has been handling it right, because if the president interferes too much, then obviously it alienates some of the people we need to support it. We need to have - the broadest coalition I’ve ever seen is behind this bill, business, labor, the evangelicals, Catholic Church, high tech, ag business, ag workers -
They have to be contacting their elected representatives that they are important, that they - that their representatives represent, and say, look, we want you to look at this issue. Don’t we agree that 11 million people in the shadows is de facto amnesty? Don’t you think we ought to act?
HUNT: And the consequences for Republicans if the House kills it?
MCCAIN: Oh, I think they’re - they’re - they’re terrible. But the consequences for the country are worse. Are we going to sit around - 11 million people? Do you know how some of these people are exploited, Al? You know, pick up a guy on the corner and have him work all day, and then say, “To heck with you, I’m not paying you. Call the cops if you don’t like it.”
I mean, they have no protections of our law and our society. I’m no bleeding-heart liberal; you know that. But, my God, we need to resolve this issue.
HUNT: Speaking of things that you think are awful, the sequester. The sequester, it is rather universally agreed is bad, it’s bad for the military, it’s bad for NIH, it’s bad for a whole lot of things, but there does not seem to be the political will to change it. You say you want to be active in the budget talks. Everybody thinks you will be. To change it, you have to do some tough stuff, don’t you? You have to really address both entitlements and higher revenues to replace the sequester.
MCCAIN: Sure, you do. Sure, you do. We all know you do. And on sequester -
HUNT: Is that possible?
MCCAIN: And on sequestration, it’s the worst. At least when you make budget cuts, you can give the agencies the choice as to what cuts they can make. This is - this is the meat ax, if there ever was one. And what it’s doing to our military is really terrible. I talk to -
HUNT: Do you think we can change it?
MCCAIN: I think we can. I think we have to, again, get together and have negotiations with the White House, with - you know, I think I’m confident that we can, because it’s devastating.
Small example. We just had 19 of our brave, wonderful people killed in Yarnell, the forest fire there. Do you know right now, the way the sequestration is going to act, it’s going to cut our ability to suppress forest fires by some $140 million? We’re not going to be able to fight forest fires? What’s that all about?
HUNT: Senator, you have served in the Senate with another westerner for 18 years, Mike Enzi of Wyoming.
HUNT: This week, Liz Cheney, the vice president’s daughter, announced that she was challenging him, saying it’s time for a new generation of senators. Your reaction?
MCCAIN: My reaction is, if someone wants to run for office, that’s fine with me. I will never, ever tell someone they shouldn’t run for office, and that’s Liz Cheney or any other American citizen who’s qualified. But I - I have grown to admire and respect Mike Enzi.
I’ll tell you, he’s one of these solid guys. You know the old line that Carl Hayden, our own senator from Arizona, said workhorses and show horses. If there is ever the epitome of a workhorse, it is one Mike Enzi. Do you know there’s nobody in the Senate that knows more about health-care issues than Mike Enzi? There is nobody who has worked harder on many of our taxation issues and others. I don’t know a person in our conference that doesn’t admire, respect, and have great affection for Mike Enzi.
HUNT: You’re supporting him, I guess?
MCCAIN: And - and - and by the way, I - I wish I were as well respected as Mike Enzi, and certainly I have - I know nothing that Mike Enzi would do that didn’t deserve re-election, but it’s up to the people of Wyoming. But if he wants me out there talking to our veterans how he’s really taking care of them, I’ll look forward to it.
HUNT: Final question. Nothing’s been more interesting in Washington in the last five or six years than the John McCain-Barack Obama relationship. Give us the sense of how you think it is today and how it’s evolved.
MCCAIN: First of all, could I say, there are a lot of people named Al Hunt and others that when I was going against President Bush, I said that Rumsfeld ought to resign, I voted against the tax cuts because they weren’t paid for, I was great, the brave maverick. Then, now, it’s President Obama and McCain fights him every step of the way on Obamacare, oh, he’s the angry, bitter, old man. Yeah, he’s all done. He’s a - I’m the same guy. I had to get that plug in.
The president of the United States is an honorable man. The president of the United States is looking at his legacy. We have been working together for a long time now on - on a variety of issues. And I want to work with him on issues that will help the country. We have profound differences on many issues, but on the areas that we agree on, I want to do everything I can. This country’s too divided -
HUNT: So it’s a really pretty good working relationship now?
MCCAIN: Oh, sure. Yes. Yes. It’s one of mutual respect, which I believe we’ve always had, but the president of the United States looks at his legacy, as every president has who’s in two terms, and I think that he - issues that he has taken a different attitude than when he came to the presidency with 60 votes in the Senate, overwhelming majority in the House, where he really didn’t have to worry about Republicans, as you remember.
HUNT: Well, I’m glad to see that he’s not an angry old man anymore.
HUNT: John McCain, thank you so much for being with us.
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