Turning Points Coming in Afghanistan and the Health Care Debate

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," November 24, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Expect the official announcement Tuesday night. Now, that's when President Obama will announce his war strategy for Afghanistan. Of course, the big question is, Is he making the right decision?

Earlier, Senator John McCain went "On the Record."


VAN SUSTEREN: Good evening, Senator.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R - ARIZ.: Good evening, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: It's always nice to see you, sir.

MCCAIN: Nice to see you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, the news is -- tonight, we are hearing that President Obama is going to speak on Tuesday about his decision in Afghanistan. What we are hearing tonight is a decision has been made of about 34,000 boots on the ground. Is that the information that you're hearing? Maybe not officially, but are you hearing that, as well?

MCCAIN: I'm hearing that as well. But from the same source as you are, the media.

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you think about that? Is that a decision that -- that you think is a wise one or do you want the full 40,000 that was originally requested?

MCCAIN: Well, I'm not so much concerned about the number because I understand that it may be additional allied troops to help out, too. I'd like to look at the overall strategy. I would like to see the emphasis on succeeding, not on an exit strategy.

Greta, the exit strategy takes care of itself once you succeed just as it did in Iraq. But I'd like to hear the whole thing. I hope the president will make the right decision here. And I would like to support him if he does.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. It is not just a question as you know it sir of the boots on the ground but the strategy is also important. What's the strategy you would like to see and that you would hope the president would say on Tuesday night?

MCCAIN: Well, the surge strategy which was to clear and to hold and then work on the other aspects of a free and independent nation, clean up the corruption, allow the social and economic and political process to move forward. We've got other problems. I have great concern about what we're reading in the media about the ambassador in Afghanistan saying we don't need a surge, and obviously General McChrystal's recommendation, I would like to see those reconciled.

Governance is a vital part of it as well. Ambassador Crocker in Iraq is one of the unsung heroes of recent American history. He and General Petraeus worked together like brothers. I'd like to see that same kind of relationship as we move into the governance face of Afghanistan.

VAN SUSTEREN: When a general like General McChrystal makes a recommendation of 40,000 is it -- does the commander in chief, should he just automatically accept that amount and accept what his commanders on the ground say or should the commander in chief step back and, you know, rethink this himself?

MCCAIN: I think the commander in chief should think about it himself. But at the same time, I think you should give great weight to the recommendations of your military commanders. That's why they are in the position they're in. And I think that during this delay, unfortunately, we have made our allies question our steadfastness and our troops question whether we're doing it quickly enough.

Because as General McChrystal said, the situation is deteriorating and American brave men and women are in harm's way and have been killed and wounded.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't mean to put salt in the wound for anyone who's in charge of a war like the president. But you used the term "delay." The one thing that I've wondered about, is I assume there's strength in numbers and you have a higher chance of being safe in war if there are more people there than less. Has there been a delay since August? Is this a delay that is not one that you can in any way support? Should this decision have been made earlier?

MCCAIN: Well, a strategy was announced in March. Obviously this whole process with constant leaks with the back-and-forth and questioning of all kinds of things and leaks of cables from the embassy in Kabul and some ways, I have sympathy for the administration. Because leaks were not invented in this administration.

But at the same time, but I'm afraid that it has created an impression amongst our allies as questioning how steadfast we're going to be and amongst our troops as to whether we're really going to do the right thing. But I also know that the president is very eloquent. He has many -- most Americans like him. And I believe that he can deliver a strong message. I would like to see that, and I'll wait for Tuesday night.

VAN SUSTEREN: In worst case scenario let's say eight months from now, General McChrystal says still not enough troops. Then what?

MCCAIN: I don't -- Greta, one it's a hypothetical and two is if we implement the right strategy, there's no doubt in my mind that six or eight months a year from now, a year from now to 18 months, that we will show success. I'm confident of that. So I'm not sure what I would say if it was failing, if it failed I would examine what we're doing in the meantime. Because I know that the same strategy adapted in very different conditions in Afghanistan that we used in Iraq can and will succeed.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Health care, tell me if this is correct that you've been quoted as saying that the health care bill that was passed by the Senate is a scam. Is that a word you used and if so, why?

MCCAIN: Well, suppose that you were going out to buy a house. And so you sign the contract, and you start making the payments for the house. And the realtor then says wait a minute. It's going to be four years before you can move in. Well, that's what this scam is. The cuts in Medicare, which are undoable, and the tax increases, now begin immediately on January 1 if Congress passes the bill and the president signed it, than four years later, the benefits would kick in. It's a scam because it distorts the numbers, Greta.

It not only distorts the numbers but Americans would expect some benefits out of another $1trillion or $2 trillion added to the national deficit. And so that part of it is really a scam. And it's a scam when you tell people that it won't be rationing of health care. Look at the bill. It says commissions will make decisions and no funding will be made available as a result of those decisions.

VAN SUSTEREN: Where do we get the money for this? I assume if we're going to spend 35,000 more troops to Afghanistan, I assume that's a cost to us. And now the cost for this, for the health care bill if it goes through. If it ultimately goes to the president's desk. How do we pay for all this?

MCCAIN: That's the problem. That's the problem. We're talking about a half a trillion dollars in Medicare "savings." That's not savings, that's cuts. And we don't cut Medicare in the way that would deprive people of their Medicare benefits. Of course, there's fraud, abuse and waste. Of course, there's all of these problems with -- that are going to be made bigger if you give government a much larger role as envisioned by in legislation.

But what they've lost sight of, what the Democrats have lost sight of is the problem with health care in America is not the quality, it's the cost. And we could have many cost savings measures that could be taken which are not -- which don't have to do with government intervention. Best example, medical malpractice reform, not only the costs of legal fees but also defensive medicine which could be as much as $200 billion worth.

But there is no in any way meaningful addressing of medical malpractice. Why? The power of the trial lawyers.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Tonight, we've had Governor Palin on for part two of our interview. So I've got to ask you a Governor Palin question.


VAN SUSTEREN: We went on the road with her; she's drawing thousands for book signings. What do you make of this sort of Palin-mania so to speak?

MCCAIN: I think it's fantastic. I think, you know, I'm so proud of her and can I say I'm entertained and sometimes a little angry when I see this constant, vicious attacks by people on the left that, you know, tell them to calm down. I've never seen anything like it in all the years that I've been in politics.

The viciousness and the personalization of the attacks on Sarah Palin. But I'm very proud of her. I'm proud of the job she's doing. And I believe that she will play a major role in the politics in America. Americans like her. Whether "The New York Times" and others happen to like that or not.

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

MCCAIN: Thanks a lot.


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