Transcript: McCain on Airport Security

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Following is a transcript from Fox News Sunday, November 4, 2001.

TONY SNOW, HOST, FOX NEWS SUNDAY: President Bush may be enjoying high popularity ratings, but he has come under criticism for his war strategy and his approach to airline safety.

Joining us from Arizona to discuss those issues and more is Senator John McCain.

Also here my Fox News colleague, Mara Liasson of National Public Radio.

Senator McCain, the House and Senate obviously disagree pretty vehemently on airline security. There's some talk of a deal, however, in which federal employees would be able to do the checking at major airports, and private contractors at smaller airports. Is that a deal you'd support?

U.S. SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Well, that was pretty much the proposal we had in the Senate: The top 142 airports would have federal employees; in the smaller ones there could be contracted out, or other ways of supplying those security measures.

So I hope we — I know we will go to conference quickly. I hope we can reach an agreement. It's very important to provide this — take these measures to ensure the security of the airlines as well as — aircraft, as well as the passengers. So I hope we'll move forward very quickly.

SNOW: Now, after the Senate passed its version, you had a press conference with House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. And that seemed to inspire a lot of House Republicans to say, "You know what, we don't like that particular visual, we're going to vote against John McCain."

Do you think you got problems with House Republicans?

MCCAIN: I know that Congressman Tom Davis, who is the chairman of their campaign committee, said that I was responsible for keeping the House in Republican hands in the last election because of the intensive campaigning that I did for them.

I don't believe that any member of Congress would vote on an issue of this importance on the basis of their like or dislike with any colleague, whether they be in the House or the Senate. But I'll leave that to others to judge.

MARA LIASSON, FOX NEWS: Senator McCain, do you think that House Republicans are going to hurt themselves in the next midterms if they insist on blocking the federalization of airport security?

MCCAIN: Well, as I said, I hope we can come to an agreement, but overwhelming majorities of the American people believe that it's now a law-enforcement function, and law-enforcement functions like the Border Patrol and other functions to ensure security are federal responsibilities.

I've urged my colleagues, if they believe that it's appropriate to contract out a law-enforcement function, then perhaps we should contract out our security functions in the Capitol, which we're not going to do.

SNOW: Well, Senator, you think looking at the baggage is a law- enforcement function?

MCCAIN: Oh, I think that, if someone's trying to smuggle a something that would destroy an airliner and kill hundreds of people, absolutely.

SNOW: So do you think that...

MCCAIN: Just like I believe that people on the border who check the trucks and check the individuals who come through the border — I haven't heard us contracting out the Border Patrol.

SNOW: So you think baggage screeners ought to be paid the same as police?

MCCAIN: Oh, I think they ought to be paid a lot more than they're paid now. They can go and work at McDonalds in the same airport for higher salaries.

And clearly, these foreign-owned companies are not paying them, they're not training them. And as recent as last week, there have been further breaches of airport security.

SNOW: All right. So you are willing — how long is it going to take to find, train, hire and equip the people you're talking about? This is not a short-term proposition, is it?

MCCAIN: Well, I would think it would be about the same time as it is to upgrade and train and qualify the people who are doing it now, including checking on whether they are felons or not, which is — one of the major companies that — foreign companies that now runs the screening was just accused of two weeks ago, of hiring felons.

So I think it's going to take some time, and I think that — however, it's important to send the message to the American people by having the president sign a bill saying, look, we're taking every measure as quickly as possible. And I'm confident we can come to an agreement.

SNOW: OK, Senator, you made your point about foreign-owned companies. What the president has said is, he wants to make sure that the people who do not do their jobs in checking baggage, who let things through, that they ought to be fired, they should not have the protection that civil servants normally enjoy.

Do you agree? Are you willing to grant him that?

MCCAIN: Sure. That's why we put in the bill, notwithstanding any other provision of law, that these people can be removed from their office immediately, positions immediately without cause.

LIASSON: Senator McCain, I want to move to the war on terrorism abroad.


LIASSON: Do you think that the U.S. is now pursuing this war as vigorously as you think it should be?

MCCAIN: I do. I'm very encouraged by the actions of the last few days, particularly the increases in bombing on the Taliban lines, many of the other operations that are going on. I'm very encouraged.

LIASSON: Now, you've said that it might take up to 100,000 ground troops to accomplish our...

MCCAIN: No, I never — no, I've never given a number of troops that may be required. I don't have that kind of expertise.

LIASSON: Well, it's...

MCCAIN: I've said it may take troops on the ground in order to protect a base of operations that may have to operate for a period of time.

LIASSON: OK. Well, if you could give us your assessment of the Northern Alliance and whether you think we're relying too heavily on them to be our proxies on the ground.

MCCAIN: Well, I think we have to obviously help them more. I think the training and equipment and use of our special forces — by the way, I think the declaration of the Turkish government that some Turk soldiers will be there is marvelous. They're some of the best soldiers in the world.

But I think that obviously they're a force that had been beaten for a long period of time, but I think they're improving. And I think the extensive airstrikes, particularly B-52s, will help reduce the Taliban resistance. And I think over time they'll do well.

But it will obviously require some additional American assistance, which I think is being provided now.

LIASSON: How important is it that we take certain towns in Afghanistan soon, so that we can have a base of operations for our forces or our forces plus the Northern Alliance, to start hunting for Al Qaeda operatives?

MCCAIN: Well, I would think your first two experts are much more qualified than I am, the generals, to describe that specific tactics.

But, obviously, we have to have some success on the part of the Taliban, we have to establish bases.

I was very pleased that Secretary Rumsfeld seems to have achieved some agreement as far as Uzbekistan is concerned and the bases there.

But it's very important that we have the latitude to move around the country, to hunt down and get rid of these networks and bin Laden.

SNOW: Senator, General Myers on another broadcast today is saying that one of the things the Taliban's doing is using human shields, putting them near mosques and women and children, and we will not strike those targets.

Do you think it is wise to rule out any targets when you're going after a foe?

MCCAIN: No, I don't think you should rule out any targets. One of the great tragedies of war is that civilians are killed and injured. We ought to do everything we can to avoid it. We ought to not in any way indiscriminately bomb, which, by the way, we did during the Second World War.

But at the same time, we have to understand, and all Americans and all people have to understand, we're not the ones that intentionally killed thousands of innocent civilians. The people we're after did. And, unfortunately, one of the terrible byproducts of a war is that civilian casualties ensue.

We'll do everything we can to keep them from happening, but they're going to happen.

SNOW: Mara mentioned taking cities. If we do not take some cities sometime soon, what do you think the reaction is going to be of our allies in the region, and also of Osama bin Laden? Will we give them heart?

MCCAIN: No, I think the president has rallied the American people. They're strongly supporting him. He's doing a great job. He's told the American people that this is going to take time, it's going to be difficult, and we're going to take casualties.

I think the American people, unlike other times — Somalia, the Persian Gulf War, Grenada, et cetera — are fully prepared to accept casualties and to show a great deal of patience as we go through this.

MCCAIN: I hope we can take cities soon and show progress soon, we all do. But I think our enemies, the more they're convinced that we're in this for the long haul, the shorter this thing may be.

SNOW: Senator, I'm going to change topics.


SNOW: There's a World Series game near you tonight. Who's going to win? What's the final score going to be?

MCCAIN: I think the Diamondbacks, three to one. And this — you know, on the front page of our newspaper here this morning, the front lead line was "Our little town blues are melting away." And we've had a great, great series, and it's been a marvelous thing both for New York City as well as the state of Arizona. And I'm proud to have been able to observe it.

SNOW: And if the Diamondbacks win, what are you going to do to show your good grace to Rudy Giuliani?

MCCAIN: I'm going to thank him for the horse that's going to be donated to the Imus Ranch.


SNOW: All right. Senator McCain, thanks for joining us.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

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