OTR Interviews

McCain: Obama Has a Pattern of Ignoring Military Leadership, Americans Tired of Speeches

Senator takes on reports of sharp troop reduction in Iraq and Obama's jobs plan speech


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 7, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Now Senator John McCain about President Obama's big speech tomorrow night and also about troop withdrawal.


VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, nice to see you, sir.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Nice to be back, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Big night tomorrow night. The president's going to speak to a joint session of Congress on jobs. What do you want to hear from him?

MCCAIN: Well, I know what we're not going to hear, stimulus.

VAN SUSTEREN: You're not going to hear stimulus?

MCCAIN: That word is now, we've heard, is verboten. We're going to hear infrastructure. We're going to hear investment. It's all down to spending again. But stimulus -- you can understand -- I wrote this down. According to the CBO, the last stimulus package, $228,055 for every job created. That's a Congressional Budget Office estimate. So you can see why they want to use the word "stimulus" again.

I think you're going to hear some -- the president's going to say some things that we probably want to hear. I certainly would support a tax break for employers, as well as employees. I think that there are going to be some other areas of tax reductions that we could probably support.

But overall, it's going to be kind of old wine in new bottles, but spending, infrastructure, setting up a bank that will look hauntingly like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. So I think it's going to be more of the same.

VAN SUSTEREN: So it really is going to be stimulus, to a large extent. If you're talking about spending -- just going to call it something else.

MCCAIN: Yes. Yes. They just won't use the word "stimulus." Seriously. We read that the White House has said, Don't use the word "stimulus." Use "investment," use "infrastructure" and all that. So it's going to be, I think, pretty much more of the same.

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm not going to be so bold as to speak for the American people, but I suspect while pundits may be dazzled by the new words, if you are unemployed, you are going to see through just sort of new words. I mean, the unemployed are really desperate and they are really looking for new ideas and fast ideas. So this is -- I mean, they're not going to just like rehashed old ideas.

MCCAIN: No. And I think that most Americans have grown a little tired of speeches. The president has given lots of speeches. I think what they want to hear is reductions in taxes. I think that the American people clearly want us to get on the path to a balanced budget. I think that it's -- we could do some things like -- a moratorium on new federal regulations would be very important to businesses to make investments.

I think that if we said -- look, a trillion dollars that's parked overseas that corporations hold and say, Look, if you'll give us a plan, you're going to invest, create jobs in America, you can bring that trillion dollars back. If you tell businesses and corporations that are sitting on a trillion and a half, Look, we're going to cut corporate taxes, we're going to close the loopholes, and we are going to provide you with a certainty in the future, which means a moratorium on new federal regulations, then I think you could see some optimism.

Look, business and corporations are sitting on lots of money. Why are they not investing? Every one of them will tell you that it's because they have no, no idea of what the next regulation or the next tax increase is.

VAN SUSTEREN: I have less sympathy for those big businesses that are sitting on the cash because I think, you know, in many ways, a lot of them have a lot of responsibility, especially the big banks -- you know, a lot of them have a lot of responsibility for the mess we're in. But it -- the small businesses don't have a lot of cash parked someplace. And they're supposedly the engine of our economy.

So I take it that there's going to be some effort by the president and also by the Republican Party to think of how to help the small business, not just these giant corporations or these job training programs.

MCCAIN: Well, if we had a tax code that they could understand, maybe one that thick, three brackets and do away with all the loopholes and all the special deals for (ph) that have been gotten by lobbyists that they can't afford, that small businesses can't afford but large corporations can.

Look, let me just make one comment, Greta. It was the housing crisis that started this terrible recession we're in. And we, both Bush and Obama administrations, took care of the financial institutions. In case you missed it, we have new information that Bloomberg reported $1.2 trillion went to these financial institutions. We didn't take care of the community banks, who do the lending. And most of all, we didn't do anything for the home owners. So until we stop the continued decline in home values and start keeping people in their homes, I don't think this recession or whatever you want to call it is going to end.

And I also, again, think we should give them a tax code that they can understand and that's simple and straightforward and give them the chance and the certainty for a future. It's really outrageous that we have community banks all over my state that are still in trouble. Those are the ones that do the lending.

We have over half -- nearly half of the homes in my home state still underwater. Huge unemployment problems. And yet Wall Street seems to be doing very well, at least when you look at their pay and bonuses and profits. It's really disturbing to my citizens in Arizona.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I think that's -- what I meant is the big ones don't bother me so -- I mean, they're doing OK. It's -- it's...

MCCAIN: Look at the...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... the small ones -- the small ones.

MCCAIN: ... salaries and the bonuses. Yes, I mean, it's incomprehensible. We put middle America in a pretty serious squeeze here.

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm going to switch gears for a second. The report is that the president is thinking of drawing down, leaving about 3,000 troops in Iraq by the end of the year. I know that you are opposed to it. Senator Lindsey Graham doesn't like it. And Senator Lieberman doesn't like it. Why are you opposed to it?

MCCAIN: In Iraq, we have several obligations, or I think missions, that need to be accomplished in order to ensure the stability of Iraq. The area of tension between Kurdistan and the other -- in southern -- in the other -- northern Iraq and the Kirkuk area, they have no air assets and we should be helping them with that. Most importantly, counterintelligence capabilities that would counter some of these remaining organizations that are still engaged in violence.

And 3,000 troops is not -- will not do the job. In fact, we may be putting 3,000 troops in danger if that's the level that we're sending. I know of no military leader that didn't recommend as much as 10,000 to 15,000 or more in order to complete our mission in Iraq.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think that no military leader has said to President Obama, This is a good idea?

MCCAIN: Oh, I'm sure that no military leader has. I've been over there too many times...

VAN SUSTEREN: So this is his own idea?

MCCAIN: I don't know who came up with this idea. It's part of the leading from behind. It's part of this withdrawal from areas that -- like the president announced with -- about Afghanistan against the recommendation of the military leaders to keep us from another fighting season.

But I worry a great deal. If we left just 3,000 troops in Iraq, I think their force security would be an issue, as well. And I also -- we are going to have or are planning to have lots of Americans, State Department civilian personnel, and something has to be done to provide for their security if they're going to remain there.

I think this is a very serious mistake, and I really believe that 3,000 -- it may be better not to have any than to have just 3,000 there.

VAN SUSTEREN: Just so I'm clear, is there any military person you've spoken to or heard about who thinks 3,000 is OK to do, 3,000 -- because one of the thoughts I have -- you always hear the president say, "I'm going to talk to my generals." Is there anyone you've heard any place or heard of who said maybe 3,000 might be an OK idea?

MCCAIN: I have never talked to a military leader that thought -- that said that 3,000 is a good idea. I have heard -- talked to many military leaders who have specifically said around 13,000 would be a minimum.

And I think that the President of the United States is -- has a pattern now of ignoring or not adhering to the recommendations of our military leadership. Now, I don't question the president's authority to make his own decisions, but I do question that -- whether those decisions or not are good for America's national security.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you, sir.

MCCAIN: Thanks for having me on.