McCain: It's Time for Egypt's Mubarak to Step Down

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," February 2, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Senator John McCain makes it plain and simple. He tells Egyptian President Mubarak he has to go now, not later, but now. If President Mubarak does leave now, what does it mean for the United States? Arizona Senator John McCain went "On the Record."


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


VAN SUSTEREN: Lots of unrest in Egypt. Now the military's firing apparently into the air to try to dispel the crowds. What should we be doing about Egypt?

MCCAIN: It's very -- obviously a very difficult situation. And the - - it is changing literally by the hour in many respects. The only force for stability in Egypt is the army, and we want to make sure that the army maintains that position of respect by all its citizens.

I am very worried that with Mubarak not stepping down that it could cause the people to turn against the army and you could see the army acting in a way that could alienate the population. I respect President Mubarak. He took a major role after Anwar Sadat was assassinated. He's been a good friend of America. He's been a stalwart friend of Israel. He's been a force for peace in the region.

Unfortunately, he stayed too long, and he did not get the process of democratization moving forward in any way. In fact, a consolidation of power. And I'm afraid and I regret to say that it's time that he stepped down and we do everything we can to stabilize the situation in Cairo and in the rest of the country.

VAN SUSTEREN: Should President Obama tell him flat-out, "Leave now"? And if so, is a risk that he's going to essentially turn on us or even that pro-Mubarak forces are going to see that the United States is interfering, meddling in the Middle East in that way?

MCCAIN: I think all those are risks. I'm not sure if the president should say it publicly or convey it privately to President Mubarak. I think that would be a decision the President of the United States should have to make. But I think it needs to be said either publicly or privately.

And second of all, again, the only chance we have for setting up elections in September with a free and open process is for the army to really control all of these events and make sure that a free and fair election is held. And one additional point. Our military-to-military relationship with the Egyptians is very good. We've had an excellent relationship with them for years. I wish we had such a good relationship with the Pakistani military outside of General Kayani. But -- so I think that our military and the Egyptian military can continue this close cooperation. We don't want the people of Egypt to turn against the army.

VAN SUSTEREN: Suppose that we do communicate that to Mubarak, President Mubarak, and he says no?

MCCAIN: I don't -- it's hard to predict events. I'm very worried about the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, deeply concerned about them hijacking any election. We've seen what happens when Hamas was elected in Gaza. But at the same time, I think we have to take this risk and count on Suleiman and others in the Egyptian army to urge President Mubarak to take the proper steps to ensure that his country doesn't descend into chaos.

VAN SUSTEREN: I read the newspapers of the different regions, the English-speaking ones, and I realize that I'm not reading in the native language, and English papers tend to be more pro-American in many instances. But even when I read the Israeli newspaper, it's so dispassionate in how they report the facts. But Israel must be completely on edge because this is one of the two Arab countries that recognize them.

MCCAIN: Yes. And the other Arab country, Jordan, is -- the president has just had to replace the whole government. He wouldn't be -- excuse me, the king, King Abdullah, has had to replace the whole government. This virus is spreading throughout the Middle East. The president of Yemen, as you know, just made the announcement that he wasn't running again.

This, I would argue, is probably the most dangerous period of history in -- of our entire involvement in the Middle East, at least in modern times. Israel is in danger of being surrounded by countries that are against the very existence of Israel, are governed by radical organizations. Jordan has been a fast friend of ours, a fast friend of Israel, has helped us in more ways than I can describe publicly. And yet the majority of the population of Jordan is Palestinian, not Hashemite, as the king is.

So these are very, very tenuous times and requires a steady hand and measured and mature leadership from the United States of America. And so far, I think the president has handled it pretty well.


VAN SUSTEREN: The warning was issued, but was it ignored? In minutes, Senator John McCain continues with strong words.

Plus: At this point in the game, does Senator McCain think Republicans have a shot at repealing the health care law? Or is this just a political dance?


VAN SUSTEREN: This is a Fox News alert. New information just in from our State Department. In a statement they say "All remaining United States citizens who wish to depart Egypt on a United States government flight and who are able to do so should plan to do so immediately." The State Department says citizens should not delay evacuating the country.

Now here is Senator John McCain.


VAN SUSTEREN: Have you met President Mubarak?

MCCAIN: On numerous occasions, yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: What is he like?

MCCAIN: He's a military man. He was, as you know, close to Anwar Sadat. He was a steadfast friend of ours. Of course, he did some things that we may not have totally agreed with. But he sealed off Gaza. He has been staunch opponent of Al-Qaeda, has helped us in our fight against them and terrorism, to his own benefit as well as ours.

I think for the first 10, 12 years of his presidency of Egypt he was very good. Power corrupts. Power intoxicates. And I'm afraid that he lost touch with the people of Egypt and also, made fundamental mistake of not moving towards a more free and open society and democracy in his country, and now, obviously, they are paying the fiddler.

VAN SUSTEREN: I try to put myself in the shoes of the people on the street, and think if Mubarak steps down, he may be seen as having been a puppet of the United States because he's been so agreeable with the United States, so cooperative with the United States. So I guess I fear the people on the streets of Cairo or Egypt are going to turn on us.

MCCAIN: I think that if they believe that we are propping up Mubarak, then that anti-Americanism could rapidly accelerate.

There's no good answers here Greta, but the best answer is to do what we can to assist the only institution that's capable of doing so, the Egyptian army, to bring about a period of calm, to start a free and fair election process and democratization process that will in the long run lead to a stable Egypt.

I again, worry a great deal about the Muslim Brotherhood, an Iranian scenario or one of those where radicals hijack an election. But as compared with what is going on now, it is the only good -- it is the least bad option.

But look, I and others have warned for a long time about Egypt had to move forward with democracy. Russ Feingold and I had a resolution calling for more democratization and human rights in Egypt. Madeleine Albright, who is the head of the National Democratic - NDI, and I'm the chairman of the IRI, International Republican Institute called for observers in the last election. The Egyptians rebuffed that. And unfortunately, our government has not been strong enough on the issue of human rights and democracy in Egypt.

VAN SUSTEREN: But the problem is democracy in Egypt may get us a result that is very regrettably to us in the long run. That's the thing we are focusing on. We think of democracy we are going to get a democracy like ours. We could get a democracy with someone we don't like and who doesn't like us.

MCCAIN: That is a great risk. But you can't go backwards. You can't install another Mubarak. And so the risk is obviously, a radical Islamic group or person rule Egypt, and that's the big threat. But that's the real only option we had.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is that why we supported Mubarak so long, because we feared what might come down the path?

MCCAIN: I think we supported Mubarak for so long because he was our steadfast ally. He helped us in Middle East, in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He was helpful against our fight against Al-Qaeda. There are many reasons why he was a close ally.

But we left out the fact that he continued to have an autocratic rule. Sooner or later, whether it be in the streets of Tehran or whether it be in Egypt or Tunisia, human yearnings are universal. And sooner or later particularly in these days of instant communication and spread of knowledge and information, that's going to happen. You cannot keep the lid on without it blowing off.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me switch to back home. Health care, that certainly is something that is a fierce topic here in the United States Senate. What is going to happen?

MCCAIN: Well, we are going to lose a vote. We lost a vote today on repeal of "Obamacare." Now we are going to go at it piece by piece. Still a majority of the American people don't like the bill. I was very pleased to see the president's state of the union saying he's ready to work on medical malpractice reform. I was stunned, because we tried that for so long and were rejected by the Democrats.

So, I think that over time, we will probably have a pretty good shot at dismantling Obamacare. And this latest court decision I think has impacted the process already. And most experts I know think it may be upheld by the United States Supreme Court.

VAN SUSTEREN: Here's the big fat lie about the Supreme Court. They could decide that case in 30 or 60 days and put all of us out of our misery one way or the other, whether it is constitutional or not, and this is going to drag on for years and cost lots of money, no matter what preparations we make whether for it or it, depending on the ruling.

The Supreme Court has a rule where they can reach down and grab it now and decide this once and for all. And yet this is going to drag on.

MCCAIN: Let's hope the Supreme Court, as in Gore-Bush case and others realize this is an issue that they should take up on an expedited process. Given everything that is at stake, I would hope they would consider that. But they've done things that I don't understand in the past.

VAN SUSTEREN: It would be so much more efficient, because we know everyone agrees that's where going to be decided. And why do we want to spend years going in a particular direction that could be wrong for whatever the ruling would be. Why don't we use old fashioned common sense and let them decide it?

MCCAIN: Next time I see one of the Supreme Court justices, I will convey your message. And I'm in total agreement.