Sen. John McCain on Building Border Fence

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," May 17, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: The Senate voted Wednesday to build a triple-layered fence along 370 miles of the Mexican border. Senators also voted in favor for a plan to give the millions of illegals already here a chance at citizenship.

Joining us now is Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona. Senator, thank you very much.

First of all, this immigration bill that the Senate voted on: The triple-layered fence is important. The number of legal immigrants has been raised slightly from 175,000 to 200,000. Does this make sense to you?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Oh yes. All of it makes sense, John. In the case of the fence, in populated areas we need a fence. There are some trackless areas through the desert that we can probably address it more effectively through use of radar sensors etc., but that's kind of a decision that the experts give us the right advice.

Look, I live in a border state, but I am not sure exactly which area is best protected by building a physical fence or having the kind of virtual fence that may be more effective. But certainly in the populate areas and near them, we need a fence.

GIBSON: How about the number of legal immigrants from Mexico? You were pushing for, I think, 325,000 a year. It has been dropped to 200,000. Is that enough?

MCCAIN: We want it based on the need. And the Labor Department can give us the statistics and the information as to how many workers are needed in order to fill jobs that are available or necessary to be filled.

I think probably in a very good economy like we have now with very low unemployment that a larger number is needed. If, God forbid, we have economic times which are more difficult, than those numbers would be smaller.

GIBSON: What do you think about the chances of getting a plan like this passed in what seems to be an intractable House of Representatives?

MCCAIN: Well, the president's leadership means a great deal, obviously. I thought he gave a superb speech the other night. My friends on the House side recognize that we need to resolve this issue. We may have different views, but the status quo is something that none of us feel is acceptable. It is a result, as you know, of 40 or 50 years of failed government policies.

But I am optimistic that — I have heard good things from the speaker on this issue. The American people expect us to resolve this issue because the status quo is just terrible, as you know.

GIBSON: Senator, I can't let you go without asking you about something that must have given you something of a pang today. The USS Oriskany, the aircraft carrier you flew off during the Vietnam War, was sunk off the coast of Florida where it is going to be a reef now. The Navy put 500 pounds of explosives, blew it up and sank it. What do you think about that?

MCCAIN: Well I am a bit nostalgic. I am glad they did not make razor blades out of it. But I would have liked to have seen it, of course, as a museum, such as we have with the Intrepid and the Midway and other carriers and ships and Missouri and others. But that didn't happen and so at least it will be a place of great recreation and maybe a place where a lot of wonderful fish can live. I look forward to diving on it.

So it does, of course, bring back memories of my dear and beloved comrades that I had the great honor of serving with on a very gallant ship.

GIBSON: Senator, that was the ship you flew off on the mission in which you were shot down and then held prisoner all of those years. It must be a bit more than nostalgia.

MCCAIN: Well, I loved the brave men I served with. It had very high losses because at the particular time in the Vietnam War he had very intensified air campaign. I lost some very beloved and dear friends, who I will never forget, but at the same time I cherish the memory of those wonderful and brave people, the finest people, those and my fellow POWs, the finest people I have ever known in my life. And I consider it a privilege and an honor to have been in their company.

GIBSON: Sen. John McCain's ship, the Oriskany, now a reef off the coast of Florida.

Senator, good of you to come on. Thank you very much.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

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