McCain: 'This administration should be ashamed'

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 11, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: From the World Trade Center site, to the Pentagon, to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Americans today paying tribute to the victims of the September 11 terror attacks.

We spoke with Senator John McCain about his memories of 9/11 and the national security matters our nation still faces.


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

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

    VAN SUSTEREN: Today, a very solemn day for America, and actually for people around the world -- where were you on 9/11?

    MCCAIN: Right here. Right here where we're speaking. And I saw it there. And then, of course signal for us to evacuate the building took place. To this day, you know, we'll never know where the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania was headed.

    And then everybody evacuated and we stood for a long time outside of the Capitol here, on the grounds here. And fortunately, there was a staffer of mine who had an apartment a couple blocks away and we went over there and spent time over there until I could get to my residence.

    But it was -- you know, I don't know an American who will ever forget where they were that day. The other day, you know, you always, my age, remember where we were when Jack Kennedy was shot.

    VAN SUSTEREN: It's funny. When I was growing up, my father would talk about Pearl Harbor, and I thought, Why are you talking about that old news? As a child. You know, and now, you know, every 9/11, you know, who can forget the sight of those planes going into the World Trade Center and of course, how -- everything that happened here in Washington.

    MCCAIN: And you know, it was the worst of times and the best of times because the best of times was what people did, those that went into the buildings, those that carried out and risked their lives to save that of others, so you know, those people, those, quote, "first responders" who are the best of America, and I'm very pleased to note that we continue to honor them.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Well, these are very turbulent times, have continued to be so, most notably what's going on at least in the Middle East. Prime Minister Netanyahu was hoping to get a red line, trying to delineate, you know, when action will be taken against Iran and what action.

    Secretary of State Clinton says that there aren't going to be red lines. Today, reported -- Netanyahu is reported to have said, "Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel."

    And then later today, a report that Prime Minister Netanyahu, who will be here to speak before the U.N., wanted to come to Washington to speak with President Obama. It's being reported, at least right now, that President Obama says he has a tight schedule, can't meet with the prime minister. So now what?

    MCCAIN: Well, first of all, there have been times where we've rocky relationships between the United States and Israel. I go back to the Reagan administration and Secretary Baker and other times. But I'm not sure there's been rocky relations at a time when there's a threat to Israel as serious as that that Iran's nuclear capability would pose to Israel.

    So here's the dilemma the Israelis have. They have a certain capability, which is not as large as ours. So we can allow the Iranians to go further in their progress towards a nuclear weapon than the Israelis can. They can't depend on us, though, once it passes the capabilities that the Israelis have.

    Second of all, we all know that there -- information is not always exact in intelligence. In fact, the United States had an intelligence estimate back in 2007 that the Iranians had stopped. I think you might recall that.

    So the fact that we have not established a point where the Iranians have reached a certain capability, i.e., the capability to in a very short period of time put together a nuclear weapon, assemble it, then the Israelis feel that with no red lines, then it could just progress on and on and on.

    And that has contributed to the understandable, in my view -- I don't know if the word is irritation or anger or dissatisfaction -- on the part of the prime minister of Israel about the United States of America.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Well, there are two problems, though. There's one is the frosty relationship that seemingly -- that the administration has with Israel. That's number one.

    Number two is, you know, where is Iran on getting a nuclear weapon? As you noted, we've had bad intelligence before. It's curious, though, Iran doesn't want -- they don't want nuclear fuel from us at 20 percent enrichment, which would be for peaceful. They want to do their own, so that makes us, of course, suspicious.

    But bottom line is, you know, how close are they? I mean, how good is the intelligence? How much can we rely on it?

    MCCAIN: I think that it's very clear, according to the IAEA and our own intelligence estimates and all of the nations that -- estimates that they are progressing fairly rapidly towards a point where they could assemble a nuclear weapon.


    VAN SUSTEREN: Coming up, more with Senator John McCain. He has a warning. Senator McCain will tell you next.


    VAN SUSTEREN: Once again, Senator John McCain.


    VAN SUSTEREN: Sequestration -- deeply troubling, at least to me, is that when was budget deal was cut, there was a super-committee created. They didn't come up with a deal in November of last year, so automatically go to the sequestration. And in spite of that, that even since November, December, January, February, all the way until now, nobody's done anything about it. And members of Congress and the president have not been handcuffed in the basement where they couldn't do anything about it. And now we come to this draconian situation.

    MCCAIN: By the way, that's the best short description of it that I have heard. What we're facing is draconian measures that will cut defense spending by half a trillion dollars, on top of already $460 billion of cuts, which have already been mandated, which the secretary of defense and our uniformed chiefs have said will devastate our national security. In fact, the Marine deputy commandant said we couldn't respond to a crisis after these kinds of draconian measures are taken.

    I support further cuts in defense, but they've got to be done with a scalpel and not with a meataxe.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Whose fault is it that it's not been being done today? That is, waiting to the lame duck. Whose fault is it? Is someone -- is someone -- because you know what? It could be -- it -- no one seems to be working on it today.

    MCCAIN: If -- actually, someone's been working hard, but we haven't had much success. I'll take the blame for it. You want to blame somebody? Blame me, OK? I'm ranking member on...

    VAN SUSTEREN: Well, no, I mean ...

    MCCAIN: ... Armed Services Committee, but...

    VAN SUSTEREN: I know you've been -- I know -- Senator Lindsey Graham and there are a few people on Capitol Hill. But the bottom line is there's no progress since last November.

    MCCAIN: We need the president of the United States to call us over and say, OK, we need to fix this, and how can we do that...

    VAN SUSTEREN: Why isn't he doing that?

    MCCAIN: He's not -- I don't know why he's not doing it. Maybe he's not as concerned as the secretary of defense and the uniformed service chiefs are. I don't know.

    But I know this, that if he called us over in the face of what's going to happen to our nation's security, that I think all of us would be willing to cut some kind of a deal. And by the way, there'll be loss of a million jobs, $1 trillion, and layoffs that would have to be made that would be huge in magnitude -- as I say, loss of a million jobs.

    VAN SUSTEREN: The thing that is particularly bothersome, I think, is the fact that how the American people have been played on this because in the event no agreement was met last November, and none was -- and even though something could have been done since then -- these cuts don't go into effect until after the election into January. And that was deliberate. You know, that was deliberate so that no one had to make the hard decisions now, facing the electorate.

    MCCAIN: That's why the American people are cynical about us. That's why the approval rating is 10 or 11 percent, whatever it is. And as I've often mentioned to you, I haven't met anybody in the category that approve of us. I'd like to ask them what they like about us.

    But -- so yes, we have not done what the American people expect us to do. But I do believe that the president, as commander-in-chief -- that's his title -- and responsible for our national security does -- should -- must play a leadership role and sit down with us and get this resolved.

    These defense industries have to make plans. Our Pentagon has to make plans. And as we get closer and close to the first of January, they're basically in a quandary.

    VAN SUSTEREN: What do you think the president would say if he were here and I asked him why -- you know, why isn't someone working on it? I mean, I realize that you're -- why isn't he working on it now?

    MCCAIN: I don't know the answer to that, except to say that I believe that the president is not carrying out his responsibilities as commander- in-chief. If the sequestration has the effect that the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and our uniformed service chiefs have said it will -- I believe them.