Ep. 135 - Sen. John McCain

Update: 2017-04-02


Senator John McCain talks with David Axelrod about the threat Russia poses to Western democracies, why he is more worried now about America than he has ever been before, what he misses most about his early days in the House and Senate, and why Donald Trump is no Ronald Reagan.

Following script is auto-generated by Speech to Text Technology:

and the the and now from the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN The X Files with your host David Axelrod the the there is an iconic figure in American politics today it's John McCain his career has spanned four decades is history as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam well known and his role as a crusty maverick in the United States Senate well established I had a chance to sit down with Senator McCain the other day in Washington for a conversation that also aired on the X Files Center thank you for having us I and I don't know few people mention this to you but I was not I was on the other side in two thousand it was for the other guy very generous have us to have me here today but I recall and could I say that to speak to her institute as well which is a wonderful organization I appreciated into politics versus Chicago and talk about that because institutions are important right now but I want to tell you one thing about that camp campaign back in two thousand and eight the guy worked for Senator Obama when he's considering running said and written about this so this is not just for your benefit said I think I can win the nomination I just don't know if I can beat John McCain and the reason he said that was because he watched you in the Senate watcher campaign in two thousand the new to take on silliness and both parties and any admired you for one thing that stood out to me in that campaign one moment that spoke to the quality of yours was a moment in Minnesota that you late in the campaign when you can see it was a Townhall meeting and you confronted a number of people or they confronted you with their fears about Obama you were very very firm and you say I have to tell you Senator Obama is a decent person and person you don't have to be scared of his present United States a woman said she didn't trust him but he was an alien ship you said No ma'am he's a decent family man citizen that I just haven't had disagreements with on Fenton fundamental issues and that's what this campaign's all about seems like that moment was more than just a flash in the pan but a harbinger of things to come in we've seen a boil over in two thousand and sixteen what's going on in our politics and what were you thinking at that moment when all that happen first though when that happened made the statement I knew Barack Obama I had worked with him in the Senate in fact Ted Kennedy is to have been short of our guru for both of us at Anna and I knew it was an honest and decent man and so lesson wasn't a planned response it was just as a town hall environment it I responded and as I also set a fundamental disagreements with Barack Obama but this business of destroying people's reputation and integrity are David honestly it's not good for America just give you an example right now we're talking about that for the CPI state Supreme Court about sixty votes being required because that's the rules of the Senate now we're talking about breaking those rules now Harry in the Democratic leader broke those rules but I wish and farm fifteen twenty years ago in join together with Democrats to stop that because that's what makes this an unique arm and shoulder situation today as I see it frankly there's no group of Democrats that I could sit down with right now you mentioned Ted Kennedy before and I know that you work closely with Democrats for some time when you came to the Congress you've already known and worked with a lot of Democrats you'd been the liaison from from the Navy but what was your food in that room that night by your own supporters for what you said what and and and friend you running mate spoke very cheap po powerfully to that constituency and now I'm trying to understand and I'm wondering if you understand what is driving of that what is driving was driving the sense of disenchantment a part of it is that we have not recovered from the meltdown of two thousand and eight my own state park that had very hard because the importance of housing you've got these blue collar white middle age workers good honest citizens who never did anything wrong that have now found themselves with no economic future and those were the people that were missed by the pollster says in the last election so I believe economic had a great deal to do with it I also think that media honestly let's be frank there are certain levels of that the extreme right extreme left that you just have different versions of the car until the day and I think that that has has had a polarizing effect but I would save more than anything else it is the disappointment that so many Americans the auto worker that now watches a automobile put together by a robot rather it's so you mentioned you know you mention the robots President Trump brand very much on an anti trade platform but it feels like in today's times the real danger for the middle class and for the middle class worker comes not from Mexico or China so much as robots and computers which they portray and believe this because of foreign competition you're right it has been technology that caused these jobs to disappear a lot more than trade has on if I could mention that issue I've always been very friendly with Hillary Clinton have admired her we've had a very we travel together and Hillary Clinton abandon the TPP that in my view was very harmful for the future because that basically gave the economy over to China and in case you missed in the last couple of days New Zealand is now a trade deal with China China will be going around filling that was created by this American America first years honestly did anybody who studies history knows the lessons of this mohair how Holly Tara facts we come back in the thirties which lead to protectionism which lead over time too it was not the only factor but it was a major factor in a global economic collapse but it strikes me a senator that you're you're you're fighting an uphill battle on that today Hillary Clinton changed her position because she sensed the politics and were not with her on ast and alt Roper and that he wrote he wrote that tired so I understand that but Hillary it also stood strong for a long time in favor of it so when she switch but you're right of course America first what was the name to Charles Lindbergh Henry Ford and Chevrolet that spring to mind that we're well guess what America first or Shia the fascists exactly tension in the nineteen thirties yet you know you raise that isolation you I was sitting in a stand for CNN watching the inaugural ceremonies so I didn't see you or your face when the president spoke but he spoke about America first time I was thinking your slogan was Country First those things mean something entirely different don't they say do country First means do what you can to help your country and our fellow your fellow countryman America first means whatever America has got to be first in all things and the difference between isolationism frankly and international exam is just those one word country America and which side is winning right now I think that the isolationist are probably still winning but I also think that some of are are becoming a parent for example in my state will the finance minister of Mexico told me that Mexico does more business with Arizona it does with Spain if you cut off that trade cross border between Arizona Mexico I'm telling you you would have a sheet serious and deep recession there's a couple hundred thousand jobs that are directly indirectly directly related to our trade with Mexico and by the way if we continue poisoning between United States and Mexico the intellect the far left president and you think we got problems from Mexico now the election next year check have you communicated this to the present of you had discussions with the president about this though I tried to have discussions with the present no but I have talked with the people around him his national security team is the strongest I've seen you could have appointed absolutely I would to have had this master McMaster Kelly Kelly Dan coats who we respect is Director of National Intelligence and I do talk and write spree vessel was my chairman in two thousand and eight in Wisconsin I have conversations with them all the time the vice president I have conversations with all the time as well I just have not had to phone calls with the president and they were relatively brief mum just came back to this issue of climate when I I'm old enough to remember young John McCain the senator was a young reporter at the time and you are so the face of the new conservatism you were the Reagan the Reagan Republicans are the prime example of that and you are very close to President Reagan talked to me about him and what he represented because everybody tries to ex procreate him now you hear politicians say I'm Republican or the Reagan tradition what is the Reagan tradition as you see it as someone who knew him well present was very good to me he and Nancy were both very had a great sentimental streak and when the presenters a boar came back and he was governor of California it was amazing the way their hearts went out to us and so therefore I spent more time over at the White House and the average freshman congressman and senator Ron Reagan was the most inclusive of any conservative that I've ever known who is his palette he used to have drinks with tip O'Neill the liberal Democrat so they had built a relationship he would he would spend a lot of time with Democrats both senators and congressman he's the one that said if a court if a fella is with me eighty percent of the time I'm with him when Social Security was about to go bankrupt that relationship with tip O'Neill paid off both walked down into the rose garden shed we're going to save Social Security made an ad tough medicine that only both of them together could have administered was was Ron Reagan partition was he a proud Republican was he a conservative of the In my most legitimate I've ever known but he understood the necessity of us working together now I think it's important to note that Obamacare just collapsed why did it collapse because he was no Republican attempt to get to know what repeal and replace it but back in two thousand aid the Democrats rammed it through and so now in two thousand and six to seventeen we want to Ram it through on a partisan basis there has been no entitlement ever connected wasn't done in a bipartisan basis and that's what Ronald Reagan did he stood for what he also believed in relationships with God not probably should waste time with this but one time O'Neill with speaking to the Democrat caucus member that Democrats won the majority of the first couple years in this one Young Democrats Club why he always going a trench with Reagan while you go over them and tip O'Neill said because I like them you know they liked each other can we get that back well you know Ted was one of the last of those Ted Kennedy because there was Bob Dole that said Ted Kennedy could this Rachel on the floor in his speech and then come in the cloak room and conviction that he wasn't talking about you but you know the thing about Ted Kennedy the reason you as much missed each other prided fight and we would and then we would finish the fight would put her arm around each other and never forget each and we did pretty good only you know I mean he was because he divorced personal relationships and personality from the issues so therefore if you are friends with Ted Kennedy that friendship work and also a like with Reagan and O'Neill when you had an issue you could sit down and work it out because you had a personal relationship taught you about your your your own life I was looking at a one dollar bill the other dentists a decade looks awfully familiar to me that George Washington I found at your second cousin so many times removed of George Washington your entire family every generation has has served in the military or your father and grandfather are both four star Admirals it's an incredible legacy it's also something of a burden is it not I mean when you're a kid also moving day and the burden of just carrying that legacy forward yes so typically of to this day I rebelled sell when I went to the Naval Academy I tried to break every rule that was in existence and they reward by putting you right at the bottom of the bottom of the class by pro I didn't break every rule that the Naval Academy but there's very few that I'd missed and I always came very close I get up to the maximum number of the merits and then and I behave for a while until the next cycle but I love the Naval Academy the friends I'm a hero to you you knew you belonged there and you'd read it go yes and I ever since I'd been he's gone to the Naval Academy and that carried over into my is a devil may care Navy pilot but I made friends it was a wonderful life some of them happiest times in my life isn't being in the Squadron with twelve airplanes and sixteen pilot and you know that togetherness and camaraderie that's the same kind of thing that developed with my fellow P O ws you think that dumb to think that part of what's happened here in the Congress is that you don't have people who serve together we had the greatest generation about goals who would serve together was there nothing that sort of brings people together in the way that you know That is absolutely true because I saw particularly with Dolan and in no way there was a bond there both of them ended up terribly hospital dress and senator let cat who just lost his own term and that it was something unspoken air between them so I do think that that mattered some but by the way have now a generation of senators and House members who were veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and that's good for the institution we're going to take a short break and we'll be right back with Senator John McCain you will wrote Hughes said something beautiful in your speech in two thousand it when you accept the nomination of your experience as a prisoner of war which has been well which is well known but I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here I loved it for its decency for its faith in the wisdom justice and goodness of its people its a beautiful sentiment and I think some people would say My God you spent six years being tortured in solitary confinement in it physically abused in every potential way and this is the lesson that you drew why did why did you come out of that with this extraordinary sense of what America is well is that you just quoted been deprived obviously one of the factors but also the bonds that were forged amongst us even confinement for three years wasn't communicating with each other keeping each other's spirits up to resisting don't break and don't make a confession like they were trying to get us that it made us appreciate one love of country love of our fellow prisoners and frankly it was lit time of my life that I then gave me a certain quality don't think I would have ever acquired to recognize that if you do the right thing it saw its gonna be alright and by the way I haven't done the right thing but when I forgot that lesson I've always paid a price for what I've tried to remember that and I'm the most I feel most fortunate person you will ever know when you think of the planes I crashed when we think of the fire on board if our stall one airplane was hit by a missile hundred and thirty four brave young sailors died that afternoon sunny afternoon in the Tonkin Gulf and then she threw down the ladder I mean I've been so fortunate to experience inform you are kind of worldview inform look at the world today I really believe that it means that America has to leave David and we really believed that more than anything the twentieth century American Century the early part to the early part of it the two most horrendous wars in history when we look at encompassing wars took place and then America came along and lead in the New which is now enormous strain you also you clearly believe that America on human rights needs to take a leadership role even if it means intervention overseas you know it's a careful balance but we are the exceptional nation we are city on hill I do travel a great deal and still the for America and want to be like us they want the one the fundamentals of the United States of America is our belief in human rights that's why wood that's how we were founded at the people deter determine their own future and sometimes maybe I'm too committed to it get too emotional but when I'm in Mary Opal with the president of Ukraine and a is there any sentimental her son had just been killed the day before by Russian sniper and tears flowed down her face I'm guilty guilty I get I would you Would you be so fervent about it had you not have experiences you know you said something else about your your captivity to the thing I missed most was information free uncensored and distorted abundant information that seems to be under assault today to you kind of reference to earlier how big a concern is that huge concern I think it's one of the major challenges that this information some story gets into the legitimate media stories that are just a look at some of the stories I know there was a sixty Minutes piece just Sunday night when um was about a guy who just put out all our stuff Hillary Clinton is dying of you know just just trash and all the sun gets picked up and to the point where guy believes that there's human trafficking going in a Pizza Place and Washington D C amigos and fire shots I knew you well know obviously this is mixed in now the story about Vladimir Putin I want to ask about a friend of yours Boris them soft who was killed to tell me just tell me who he was dumb stuff was in the Yeltsin presidency is a prime minister he of the key individuals and then of course when Putin took over she was basically the leader of the opposition and he continued to work in Russia and in the opposition and he was working on a Expos day of the corruption in the pool regime and he was in my office and I met him on several occasions and I said to him I said Morris I don't think you should go back twice I told him I don't think you should go back he said I have to go back to my country it was like a month later was murdered in the shadow of the Kremlin he was a lovely man and he that he was going the teeth of danger and sense then of course that the killings go on by Latimer people with very little response fair to say you despise Putin and you've made that very clear what you think when you saw the president with Bill O'Reilly when O'Reilly called Putin a thug and the president said well you think we are so innocent killer what O'Reilly said it stands have my memory said he is a killer and the president said well aren't we killers to that was so appalling to me to have equivalency between this fellow who is I don't know how many you guess who is responsible for for example in Chechnya where he put down any opposition with Greg there are several assassinations just last week one guy was thrown out of the fourth story window so to state that there are some moral equivalency between an imperfect nation actually unite States of America and Vladimir Putin is his appalling president at some of his supporters even he himself likes to delegate the whole Reagan legacy to him Do you see him as a way Reagan Reagan like figure no I don't and I think it's pretty clear that there's a difference between well aren't we killers to Durham said to Gorbachev take down this wall he spoke out for the captive nations he spoke out for the people that were behind curtain after the Iron curtain fell the thousands who said I heard I listen the voice of America Radio Free Europe to give us hope that's pretty big difference it's been it's now clear everyone seems to agree that the Russians did interfere in our shed election campaign you said this morning I think it's an act of destruction that is certainly more lethal than dropping some bombs because if you destroy a democracy that the fundamentals of democracy there are certain fundamental rule respected et-cetera But one of them is Frida is freedom to elect a legitimately leadership that's the fundamental principle and if you destroy that then destroyed democracy so it's one thing to destroy a with a bomb or to inflict damage but if you destroy the fundamental the free and open society which is what democracy is all about you inflict incredibly heavy and the Russians are doing that matches here else in France their plan right now heavily and they're also going to play in Germany they tried to overthrow the government of this beautiful little country called Montenegro in a coup and the pressures are put in on the Baltic countries are intense so if someone is an American citizen were complicit with the Russians and trying to interfere in our elections with that in your view be tantamount to treason I think you would have to gauge exactly the circumstances you a conversation it's another thing plot together but ah I think it would be it would be something that that individual have to be held accountable mom and I obviously know what I'm referring to because you have ongoing investigations here do you have confidence in the Congress to be able to investigate this and in an open and clear way with integrity well I think it's pretty obvious that the chairman the House Intelligence Committee has to describe what happened who should play into the camera I was thinking about that when that story broke he went down to the White House on his own gave the present and I'm thinking what what number on the Richter scale would John McCain of hit is if s ranking member of a committee whose chairman had done that I would especially without involving the other party one of the reasons why an Armed Services Committee we produce a bill that signed by the present United States every year is because you work in a bipartisan fashion it's always overwhelming that we pass that legislation out of committee you've got to work together and I'm happy to say that from what I can tell Senator Burr working together Intelligence Committee we're going to take another break and we'll be back with Senator McCain do you you mentioned earlier you know the survivor occasion of the administration of all those people you have confidence in national security around its Tea banh who is sitting at the elbow of the president who has a wholly different view about the role of American the world much more akin to the speech that you heard the inaugural speech who's who's who's making the decisions here who's who's has the president's ear on these issues I don't know because I know that the president has great respect for these former military people given the most important national security posts but on the other hand I also know that everybody tells me that Mr. Ban has his ear constantly so there's a there is a contradiction within this administration I know that both general madness and General McMaster have of the role States that is very different from much been articulated by Mr. Bennett you but you just got back from overseas you're traveling concert
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Ep. 135 - Sen. John McCain

The Axe Files with David Axelrod