Transcript: Sens. Thune, McCaskill on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a partial transcript of the June 27, 2008, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: And hello again from FOX News in Washington. Well, with Barack Obama back last night from his trip across the Middle East and Europe, it's time to review where the presidential campaign stands now.

For answers, we turn to two key supporters who are both on the list of possible running mates — Senator John Thune, who supports McCain, and Senator Claire McCaskill, who's backing Obama.

And welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."

SEN. JOHN THUNE, R-S.D.: Nice to be with you, Chris.


WALLACE: Obama's trip highlighted the differences between him and McCain on Iraq, especially on the question of the troop surge. And here's how McCain described that difference this week.


JOHN MCCAIN: I had the courage and the judgment to say that I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Senator Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.


WALLACE: Senator McCaskill, what did you think of that comment?

MCCASKILL: I think it's a little over the top. And frankly, I think John McCain knows it's over the top. Barack Obama has had a very constant and consistent message on Iraq, and that is in order to keep our nation secure, we have to have a broader view. It's not just about what's going on in Iraq.

And the interesting thing is the American people agree with him. The Iraqi people agree with him. This week we learned that the leader of the Iraqi government agrees with him. And even President Bush is beginning to sound like he's ready for a timetable for us to get out of Iraq.

At this point, only John McCain is out there almost by himself in terms of the leadership of the two countries.

WALLACE: Senator Thune, we're going to get to this question of timetables in a minute, but I want to go back to that statement.

McCain is saying and has repeated that, in effect, Obama is putting his own personal political ambition over the nation's security. Whatever happened to the politics of civility?

THUNE: Well, John McCain has his own way of saying things, but I think he was putting a fine point, Chris, on this pattern that Senator Obama has of making decisions that are predicated on political conditions back here at home rather than security conditions on the ground in Iraq. And I think what you saw this week were some examples of that.

And I don't — I think his positions have been anything but consistent. He is evolving now — there's a story as we speak running right now that Senator Obama is now saying that any residual force that's left in Iraq will be based upon security conditions on the ground, the very exact position that Senator McCain has been taking for some time.

And I think that it points to a lack of judgment and experience when it comes to dealing with these types of important issues.

And Senator McCain's leadership on this issue — going out, supporting the surge — Senator Obama opposed it, opposed funding it, and as recently as this week had a hard time explaining to people why he couldn't be for it even though he acknowledged the great results and progress that it's achieved.

WALLACE: Senator McCaskill, that's exactly where I wanted to go with you. Obama said on this trip that even knowing what he does now, he still would have opposed the surge 18 months ago. Here's how he explained it.


BARACK OBAMA: You don't know what would have happened if I — if the plan that I put forward in January 2007 to put more pressure on the Iraqis to arrive at a political reconciliation, to begin a phased withdrawal — what would have happened had we pursued that strategy.


WALLACE: Why can't Obama just admit he was wrong about the surge?

MCCASKILL: Well, first of all, he has said that he salutes the troops and our military leaders for what they have done tactically.

But in terms of a strategy, you know, he was against this war when it was not politically expedient to be against the war. He was against this war when, in fact, it was politically difficult to be against this war. He has been constant.

We have two mindsets. One is let's get out as carefully and as quickly as we can. The other is let's stay regardless of what the Iraqi government says, regardless of what the American people want and regardless, Chris, of the other considerations around the globe.

WALLACE: But, Senator McCaskill, let's look at what Obama said on January 10th, 2007, and we're going to put it up. That's the night that President Bush announced the surge.

"I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse." Clearly, the surge didn't hurt. It helped.

MCCASKILL: Well, we — first of all, there are some things about the surge that did help, but there were other considerations, Chris, as John McCain freely admits.

The fact that the Sunni "awakening" occurred up in Anbar — that happened before the surge, and that was a key ingredient to the additional security that we see in Iraq.

WALLACE: Let me just ask a simple question. Did the surge help?

MCCASKILL: I think the surge helped, but it wasn't a silver bullet, because you know what? We've got more troops in now than we had before the surge. We're still borrowing $2 billion a week from China. We still do not have the troops we need in Afghanistan.

We still have domestic needs that are going unmet because of this myopic view and the fact that we're pinned down in Iraq. And Barack Obama is going to get us out of there. John McCain will not.

WALLACE: Senator Thune?

THUNE: Well, I think that what you have to make here, Chris — there is a critical distinction between ending a war and winning a war. And Senator Obama has been intent on ending a war no matter what the consequences.

Senator McCain has said consistently that we need to win this war, which is why he advocated the surge, which was an unpopular position in this town at the time, and we've seen now incredible gains, incredible results, all of which could be reversed if we don't do this right.

But I think if you look at the recent stories that have been out, it's been a remarkable success. Civilian casualties are down 80 percent. Senator Obama still refuses to acknowledge the basic fact of the success and result and progress and gains that have been made as a result of the surge.

WALLACE: On the other hand, Senator Thune, let's pick up on what Senator McCaskill pointed out. All sides do seem to be moving in the direction of Obama's timetable of getting combat troops out by 2010.

Prime Minister Maliki endorsed that idea this week. President Bush is talking about time horizons, when he refused to talk about dates, and let's take a look at what John McCain had to say about this question just on Friday. Here it is.


MCCAIN: I think it's a pretty good timetable as we should — or horizons for withdrawal. But they have to be based on conditions on the ground.


WALLACE: Senator Thune, going — isn't — going forward, isn't there a consensus forming around the Obama timetable of 2010?

THUNE: I think what there's a consensus forming around, at least with Senator McCain, with General Petraeus, with a lot of the Iraqi leadership, is that it needs to be conditioned-based.

We wouldn't be having this discussion today were it not for the fact that John McCain, against a lot of popular and public opinion in this town, took the position that we needed to get additional troops on the ground and advocated for the surge.

The reason we're having...

WALLACE: But he wasn't even willing to talk about any timetable or any dates at all. Now he's saying 2010 sounds like a pretty good timetable.

THUNE: Well, I think — I think the reason he's able to talk about that, the reason we're even having this discussion, and that Senator Obama can have this discussion, and that President Bush can have this discussion, is because it's been so successful.

And the conditions on the ground now permit a discussion about, OK, when can we start withdrawing U.S. troops. It has been a masterful success for our men and women in uniform. But more importantly, it gives us an opportunity now to actually talk about drawing down some of our troop levels there.

WALLACE: Senator McCaskill, what about this idea of conditions- based? How flexible is Obama about his 16-month timetable? Is it set in stone or are those basically — 16 months — goals?

MCCASKILL: As he has said over and over again, it is a goal. But he will set the mission as the commander in chief.

And you know, it's interesting, Chris, that his judgment on foreign policy seems to not only be leading the pack in terms of a timetable in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan.

And here you have him coming out and saying, "We've got to move more troops into Afghanistan. The threat is there. We took our eye off the ball. We must get 10,000 troops back in Afghanistan." And watch what happens. He makes that pronouncement, and everyone begins to coalesce behind his judgment.

I think what he has shown this week is not only does he have the judgment necessary, he also has the confidence to lead our nation on the global stage.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about another question of judgment, Senator McCaskill. Did Obama make a mistake in canceling his trip to visit the wounded soldiers at Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany?

Let's take a look first, before you answer, at the new television ad McCain has put out going after Obama.


NARRATOR: He voted against funding our troops, and now he made time to go to the gym but canceled a visit with wounded troops. It seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras. John McCain is always there for our troops.


WALLACE: Senator McCaskill, the Pentagon says Obama could have visited those troops in the hospital at Landstuhl if had just gone by himself as a U.S. senator and not brought any campaign staff. Why didn't he do it?

MCCASKILL: Barack Obama chose to be on the Veterans Committee when he came to Washington. He could have been on any committee he wanted to be on.

He was the first senator to file the wounded warrior legislation to take care of our wounded at Walter Reed. He goes to Walter Reed, Chris, without cameras. He doesn't take cameras.

He made, I think, a very wise judgment when he decided once he left the congressional delegation part of his trip, it was a political trip. And he wanted to make sure that he never played political football with wounded soldiers.

Now, the most disappointing thing about this ad is that it's beneath John McCain, because he's playing political football with wounded soldiers, and I think he's caught the disease that sometimes rages around here, and it's called "I'll say or do anything to be president," including an unnecessary character attack.

This is not fair to those wounded soldiers. Barack was told that because he was no longer on the congressional delegation part of his trip, it would be considered political, and there's a very bright line...

WALLACE: Well, no. He was told he could go by himself.

MCCASKILL: He could go by himself, but it would still be political because he was there as a candidate, not as a senator, and he wanted...

WALLACE: That's not what the Pentagon says, Senator.

MCCASKILL: Well, no. It was definitely political because he was — the trip was being paid for by the campaign.

WALLACE: I understand, but they said his plane could land at Landstuhl and that — or Ramstein and that he could go in by himself.

MCCASKILL: After the specter of the fact that he was politically campaigning at that point in time of the trip, after that was raised, he wanted to be ultra-cautious.

There is a bright line about using wounded troops for political purposes. And let me just tell you this, Chris. I'm confident of one thing. Had he gone, they would have criticized that. They would have said, "How dare he use wounded troops as a political prop?"

So no matter what he did — it's like, you know, for months, "Go to Iraq." He goes to Iraq. "How dare he go to Iraq?" I mean, this is really the game that's being played and, frankly, it shows that the McCain campaign is having trouble.

WALLACE: Let's bring in the McCain campaign.

Senator Thune?

THUNE: Well, look. It was his first trip to Afghanistan. You talked about Afghanistan. McCain's been there four times. Senator Obama's never held a hearing on Afghanistan even though he chairs the relevant subcommittee.

And with respect to the trip to the military hospital, that could have occurred. He could have gone by himself. I mean, this was a flashbulb-type tour, a photo-op tour, if you will.

And if he had wanted to visit the troops, he certainly could have done that, and he could have done it without the entourage of press that was accompanying him.

I think it is a distinction that can be made. Senator McCain, when he's traveled over there, has visited that hospital. I visited that hospital when I've been over there.

I think it's a — it's an important point about this trip that people need to take into consideration when they evaluate the trip. You know, it's getting lots of great — there was great photos, great imagery and that sort of thing, but at the end of the day, you had a trip where Senator — David Petraeus disagreed with Senator Obama.

You had a trip where he was trying to explain why he couldn't now — before the surge, even though it had been effective and worked, and you have a trip where he neglected to visit the — our wounded warriors.

WALLACE: Let me ask you real quickly, because we're beginning to run out of time, respond, if you will, to Senator McCaskill's charge that it is McCain now who is using the wounded soldiers for politics.

THUNE: Oh, come on. I mean, get serious. John McCain has generations of service to this country. John McCain has sacrificed enormously, as has his family, for this country. To suggest for a minute that he is — that just — that is just — is laughable.

I think the important point here is this is about judgment. It's about experience. It's about how you make decisions.

Senator Obama made a decision not to visit the military hospital, and I think people, when it comes to the election this fall, are going to evaluate these candidates based upon their judgment and based upon their experience.

WALLACE: All right. With the time left, we have to play the vice presidential game, because both of you have been mentioned by the, quote, "Great Mentioner."

Senator Thune, if John McCain asks you to be his running mate, what will you say?

THUNE: Hypothetical question. I'm not going to — I'm not prepared to answer that question. I don't think that's going to happen. I think that you've looked at the...

WALLACE: But if he asks you, you'd say yes, wouldn't you?

THUNE: Well, obviously, you don't rule anything out in this profession. But it's certainly not anything I aspire to. I like the job I have. I'm trying to solve energy problems for the country right now in the United States Senate, which is...

WALLACE: Simple question, not a hypothetical — have you been asked to turn over personal information to the campaign?

THUNE: I have not.

WALLACE: Senator McCaskill, if Obama asks you to run with him, what will you say?

MCCASKILL: Well, I'm honored to be mentioned. Let me tell you, I'm going to do something that people don't do around Washington very often. I think you're not supposed to do this. I think anybody in Washington would be thrilled to be asked to be vice president.

WALLACE: So you'd say yes.

MCCASKILL: Well, you know, I would like to meet somebody who wouldn't. If they're saying they wouldn't, I don't think that they are being as candid or as up front with the American people as probably they should be.

WALLACE: I hope you'll be as candid as Senator Thune was. Have you been asked to turn over personal information to the campaign?

MCCASKILL: I have not.

WALLACE: Finally, would it cause problems within the Democratic Party for Obama to pick any woman other than Hillary Clinton?

MCCASKILL: Oh, I — you know, listen. Here's the bottom line. If you look at all the polling, the much vaunted problems that Obama was going to have with working-class people, with people that don't have a college education, with women, with Hispanics, you don't hear a lot of talking heads talking about those issues anymore because it's simply not true.

Hillary Clinton has done a wonderful job helping unite our party. She gets all the credit for doing the right things, saying the right things. I think we're going to be fine with women.

WALLACE: With or without Hillary Clinton.

MCCASKILL: With or without Hillary Clinton.

WALLACE: Senator McCaskill, Senator Thune, thank you both. Thanks so much for coming in. Please come back, both of you.

MCCASKILL: Thank you.

THUNE: Thanks, Chris.