OTR Interviews

McCain: The sooner the GOP can focus on Pres. Obama, the better

Ariz. senator says U.S. should consider arming anti-government protesters in troubled nation. Plus, his take on the 2012 latest


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," February 7, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: A big night for Senator Rick Santorum. He wins the Missouri primary, and right now the results are still coming in from Colorado and Minnesota. And so far, Senator Santorum is leading in both of those states, too. But it's not over yet. We're going to keep you updated.

Senator John McCain says he would like to see the primary process end as soon as possible. Why does he say that? We spoke with Senator McCain earlier tonight.


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

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ: Thank you, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you surprised that the Republican primary is where it is right now in terms of we're going to probably go into March and Super Tuesday, or is it what you expected?

MCCAIN: I think it's kind of expected, particularly since the process has been strung out. And also, there's a number of primaries where it isn't winner take all, like it used to be. But from a pure partisan standpoint, I'd like to see it over as soon as possible. The adversary is President Obama, and the sooner we focus on that, I think the better off we're going to be.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, you've endorsed Governor Mitt Romney, but you've taken issue with his self-deportation stand on his immigration, have you not?

MCCAIN: Well, I think that -- look, what I think Mitt was talking about was that there are some people who may want to return. But he also is emphasizing, and I'm very happy to say, the humane side of this issue, that it is a humane issue and we've got be humane about it.

But I also -- and I tell you this. I feel very strongly that I'm tired of the drugs coming across the border and up across through the mountainous area of my state into Phoenix to be distributed around the country. I'm tired of people being held in drop houses and held for ransom by these coyotes, who are the cruelest. So when you hear all this about immigration, sometimes you don't hear that side of the story, too, which is gross violations of human rights and drugs being brought into our country, which is killing our American citizens.

VAN SUSTEREN: So how do you be humane? How do you capture the vote? And how do you be tough and protect the country?

MCCAIN: I think that you have to, obviously, place the priority of getting our borders secure. And there have been improvements, significant improvements. You've also got things like "Fast and Furious," where a border agent is killed with a gun that is -- well, you know all about "Fast and Furious."

So we also ought to embark on an effort to try to have a guest worker program, which is -- by the way, you'll never hear the liberal Democrats talk about because of the power of the unions. We need a guest worker program. We need to address the issue of 12 million people who are in this country illegally in a humane fashion.

But we also have to give the American people the confidence that it's not going to happen again. During Ronald Reagan, we gave amnesty to three million people and said we'd secure the borders, we never have to bother about it again. Obviously, we've now got 12 million. I don't want to have to revisit this issue 10 years from now.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, you endorsed Governor Mitt Romney. What's with Senator Santorum, Speaker Gingrich and Congressman Ron Paul? What -- why didn't you endorse any of those instead?

MCCAIN: Well, in the case of Ron Paul, obviously, we have strong differences on national security issues. That's very plain. In the case of both Senator Santorum and Speaker Gingrich, we have a strong disagreement on earmarks. Earmarks are the gateway drug to corruption. That's Tom Coburn's phrase.

And there was a dramatic increase in earmarks under Speaker Gingrich. There was the corruption that ended up with members of Congress in prison, Ney and Cunningham and others. And I fought against it. And Speaker Gingrich called me and those of us who fought against it, quote, "the perfectionist caucus." I'm proud of being a perfectionist.

VAN SUSTEREN: Will Governor Romney carry out your view on earmarks?


VAN SUSTEREN: You're positive?

MCCAIN: I'm positive.

VAN SUSTEREN: He's told you that?

MCCAIN: Yes. And by the way, I want to say I respect anybody who's running. I know how tough it is, so I respect Senator Santorum and Speaker Gingrich and Ron Paul. I just have a strong belief that Mitt Romney's background, knowledge, experience, and I believe, vision of this nation's requirements both economically and national security-wise qualify him to be president.

VAN SUSTEREN: It seems like the president is now more interested in Super-PACs, or more -- you smile!

MCCAIN: Well, you know, the president back in '08, when he first ran, said he wouldn't -- he was going to take matching funds. Well, I did. He didn't. We're still being audited, by the way, our campaign, from 2008. So he flip-flopped there. And of course, he has been trashing Super-PACs until he finds out that maybe he needs them. And now the word is out, all his cabinet people and his supporters to go out there and crank up the super-PACs.

Look, the Citizens United decision of the United States Supreme Court will go down as one of the worst in history. It has unleashed this non- transparent huge amounts of money that are flowing into these campaigns. And I predict to you there will be scandals. There will be scandals. There's too much money that we don't know where it came from.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is the president being a hypocrite on the Super-PACs?

MCCAIN: Of course. Of course. He said he was against them, and now he's for them.


MCCAIN: I don't know where that phrase came from!


VAN SUSTEREN: I've heard it someplace. All right, it looks like you and other senators were snubbed by some Egyptian generals this week. They were in the United States. And of course, 19 Americans -- or 19 citizens are facing trial in Egypt. What -- why were you -- were you snubbed by these Egyptian generals?

MCCAIN: I'm not sure the word "snubbed" is right, but they canceled a meeting. And I think it's because they realized that the situation has now reached a crisis level.

Egypt is important to us. Egypt is the heart of the Arab -- and cultural and every -- historical center of the Arab world. And this crisis we're in is not in our interests or theirs. But our first responsibility is to our U.S. citizens. These people that work with these, quote, "NGOs" -- National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House -- they do good. They go in and they tell people how you can run a campaign, how elections are held, how you have a constitution. They're just basically mechanics. They're not -- they're not...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, they're being...

MCCAIN: ... trying to interfere.

VAN SUSTEREN: They're going to be tried. So had you met with the generals, what you would have told the generals?

MCCAIN: I would have told them that there's $1.3 billion in U.S. aid, military aid, that is in jeopardy here. And they need to get their act together. Now, I was in Munich over the weekend. Their foreign minister said, Well, it's matter for the judiciary. Well, it may be a matter for the judiciary, but in the minds of the American people, this is an issue which, frankly, is not tolerable. And I hope that they will reverse their position very quickly and defuse what can be a very serious rift in U.S.- Egypt relations.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, as a coincidence, you're going to Egypt in the next 10 days or so. Is this something you're going take up with them? And what if our Americans aren't free to leave by then?

MCCAIN: Well, I hope that I don't have to take it up. I hope it's resolved by then. But if so, obviously, we will tell them that what the American Congress and the administration feels. Obviously, the members of Congress are very upset about it, and they have every right to be.

You know, I've been over to Egypt so many times. I've known these military leaders. I've known the field marshal and others, and I frankly do not understand how they would let this situation literally lurch out of control, which it is today.

VAN SUSTEREN: How's the White House and State Department handling this?

MCCAIN: I think pretty well. I think that I might have been a little more forceful than they have been, but I think they're working hard. I really think they're working on hard on behalf of those 19 Americans, and the entire idea that these people should be arrested or prosecuted for what is clearly furthering democracy. They should be glad that they're there, to be honest with you.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, in Syria, the military is massacring their own citizens, and you have been quoted or -- that perhaps we should arm the citizens who are rebelling against them.

MCCAIN: I think we should explore a range of options, including with other countries in the region. That means providing these people resisting with intelligence, providing them with medical supplies, supplying them -- the Turkish foreign minister told us in Munich that they will welcome any Syrian refugee. That is an excellent statement on the Turks' part. And obviously, the use of weapons, supplying them with weapons needs to be examined.

But it's hard to do. Libya, we had Benghazi, which was the center of resistance. This is widespread. So I wouldn't rule it out, but you've got to find a way to get the weapons to the people in the right way and used in the right way. That's a real challenge.

But we can provide medical aid. There's all kinds of assistance that we can provide working with the Arab League, which I'm very impressed by, and also with other nations in the region, including the Turks and the Russians. I guess we just keep -- have to keep pounding that reset button.


VAN SUSTEREN: All right, sanctions -- yes, the reset button. Sanctions in Iran -- and over the weekend, there as the veto by -- in the national -- or in the Security Council by China and Russia. Sanctions working?

MCCAIN: I think they are causing grave difficulties to the Iranians, but it has not deterred the Iranians from the path to acquisition of nuclear weapons. I met with the Israeli foreign minister this morning, Mr. Lieberman, and he believes, as we do, that they are still on that path to the acquisition of a nuclear weapon. But they are feeling some pain now with these -- many of these sanctions, so that's some good news.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you very much. And you have a big party to go to tonight.

MCCAIN: My mother's 100th birthday tonight, and it's an amazing and wonderful thing and makes me so happy and so proud of her.

VAN SUSTEREN: And we all wish her happy birthday. Nice to see you, sir.

MCCAIN: Thank you.