Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Town Hall Meeting with Senators Graham and McCain. Aired 9- 10:12p ET
Aired March 1, 2017 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BASH: Live from the George Washington University in the nation's capital, this is a CNN town hall with Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Dana Bash.
Just 24 hours ago, President Trump stood before Congress and made the case for his presidential priorities. Now two leading Republican senators will take this stage and take audience questions on issues facing the country. We have reviewed these questions to ensure that we cover a variety of important issues and perspectives. There is no subject that is off limits.
Now please welcome U.S. Senator John McCain from Arizona and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina.
BASH: Thank you, sir.
And we're off.
GRAHAM: Is this court-ordered community service? How did you get so many people here?
MCCAIN: It's good to be on the most hated channel on television.
BASH: We're just hoping that you can keep that going. Senators, thank you so much for doing this. I want to start with you, Senator McCain, about the address...
GRAHAM: We're doing it by age, right?
BASH: Age. He said we're doing it by age.
MCCAIN: I translate Senator Graham's remarks into English.
You'll see why. BASH: Senator McCain, in all seriousness, President Trump went to Congress last night and he laid out a really ambitious agenda that he'll need you and other Republicans to pass. What did you make of what he said?
MCCAIN: Yes. Well, I think he laid out a positive agenda. Frankly, I think it was different from his inaugural address, and I think it was well received by the American people. I think that, obviously, his comments about our fallen hero were very moving to all of us.
I would have liked to have heard about Afghanistan. We have 8,400 American troops in Afghanistan who are fighting in what has been described to me as a, quote, "stalemate."
I would have liked to have heard a lot more about Russia. Russia is the country that tried to change the elections in the United States. I don't think they succeeded. Right now, they're affecting or trying to affect the elections in March. They've dismembered Ukraine. They've invaded Georgia. The list goes on and on. Vladimir Putin is hell-bent on the destruction of the European Union. So that I would have appreciated hearing about the president's views on these pressing national security issues.
BASH: And you mentioned the moving moment where the president paid tribute to Navy SEAL Ryan Owens and his widow, Carryn. Owens was killed in a raid in Yemen in January, and the president quoted Defense Secretary James Mattis who said the raid generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to future victories. Senator Graham, you said today that you thought the president needed to be careful not to oversell. What did you mean by that?
GRAHAM: Well, number one, Ryan's a hero, don't you think?
So -- but anybody who's willing to do that is a hero. The outcome of the mission doesn't make you a hero. The fact that you're willing to go in and fight these bastards over there makes you a hero.
I can promise you, there have been a lot of raids in this war that were dry holes, that the enemy left an hour before we got there and some of our guys were killed. To me, they're every bit the hero not because of the outcome of what happened, because the fact they would try.
Here's what I would encourage the president to be careful of. Remember when we were told, it's just a few dead-enders in Iraq? Remember when we were told, you know, ISIL's the JV team? Don't go down that road. I don't know if this was a game-changer in the war on terrorism. In terms of Ryan, it doesn't matter one bit. He's a hero, so -- I'm sure the president's watching. You did really a good job last night. We need more of that guy and less of the tweeting guy. That guy can govern the country, but don't oversell. We'll see if this changed the course of the war. But whether it did or not, Ryan's a hero. MCCAIN: Let me just finally add to what Lindsey said. Missions
succeed and fail. There's a thing called fog of war. But those who serve and sacrifice, that doesn't affect their courage and what they've done for our nation by putting themselves in harm's way. So somehow to equate a success or failure of a mission to the courage and sacrifice of those individuals who are involved in it, it's not a connection.
MCCAIN: It's not a connection.
BASH: Are you saying that the president made that connection?
MCCAIN: I'm saying that you do not -- I do not make that connection. I can't speak for the president. But I -- I do not make that connection.
Let me just give you a best example I know. My friends, long ago, I was in a prison camp in North Vietnam. And there was an attempted raid on a camp in North Vietnam. Unfortunately, that camp had just been evacuated a couple of days before. But it was an incredible act. And when we heard about it, what do you think it did for our morale, that they were willing to come get us?
The mission failed. But what those -- those brave -- they were Green Berets, as we called them at that time -- were willing to risk for us was one of the most wonderful things that had happened. So you can't ever deny the fact that we have these incredible men and women who are serving our country in uniform to keep the rest of us safe.
GRAHAM: And I just want to stress, it's not about the outcome. It's about the effort. Sometimes missions don't work out. The enemy gets tipped off, on and on and on. I guess the point I'm trying to say, aren't you tired of being told things about war that don't pan out?
MCCAIN: And finally, finally, could I say, in the Vietnam War, 5 o'clock every afternoon they used to have a thing called the 5 o'clock follies, and they would talk about body count and they would talk about missions flown and they would talk about all the great things that were happening. We weren't winning. So along comes the Tet Offensive, and the American people decided they'd had enough.
BASH: Senators, I want to get to some questions from the audience.
BASH: OK, sit down, audience.
MCCAIN: Not this audience of commie liberals.
GRAHAM: What do you want to do, cancel the show? (LAUGHTER)
BASH: I want to start by bringing in Jamiel Shaw, who was President Trump's guest at his speech last night. His 17-year-old son was shot and killed in 2008 by an undocumented immigrant. Jamiel?
QUESTION: Yes, good evening. My son was a high school football star that was murdered by an illegal alien. He had everything going for himself. He was doing good, getting recruited by Stanford, Rutgers. He is not with us today because of the sanctuary city that protected someone who doesn't deserve protection.
What will you do, Senators, to make sure we end sanctuary cities? For example, in L.A., where I am from, they won't comply with the plans to end sanctuary cities. What will you do to make them comply? What will you do to make this the law?
BASH: Senator McCain?
MCCAIN: Obviously, I hope you'll accept the sympathy of all Americans for the loss of your son, and I cannot imagine what it would be like as a father of sons. So please accept our deep and profound sympathy.
I happen to believe it's simple, and that is that when laws are passed, federal laws that apply to the United States of America, municipalities cannot exempt themselves. If we had a system of government that we pass certain laws and towns and cities sprinkled across the country decided, well, we're not going to obey that law, then obviously that would be a breakdown of government.
And so I would say that we ought to look at ways that would help convince these cities to observe federal law. And that may mean through the -- how we use federal funds.
GRAHAM: Well, sanctuary cities is a symptom of a greater problem. The best thing we could do to honor your son is to fix a broken immigration system. For 10 years, along with Senator McCain, and I've been trying as hard as I know how to get it fixed rather than yelling about it.
In our bill that got 68 votes in the Senate, that died in the House, you get increased penalties if you come back into the country once you're deported. If you're a felon, you can never come back into the country. So all of us get it. Nobody wants the bad guys. Everybody wants to make sure that our laws are respected.
There's a lady holed up in a church right now with two kids. Do you want her deported? I don't. What I want to do is keep the people who killed your son from ever coming back to our country, identify them and kick their ass out, and give that lady a chance to stay here by learning our language, paying taxes, and getting to the back of the line. That's what I'm for.
MCCAIN: And we can enforce our -- we can secure our borders. We can do it through technology and drones and towers and more Border Patrol. So we have to have a secure border. But until we have genuine immigration reform, which means that if you
go to -- to work and you don't have verification that you're in the country legally, and that employer hires that individual, then that employer pays a huge penalty for doing so.
MCCAIN: So secure the border, and we can have -- I was glad last night that the president of the United States made reference to the need for immigration reform. We're all with him.
BASH: Senator McCain, Senator Graham mentioned deportation. I want to bring in another audience member, and it comes from Angel Rayos- Garcia. His mother, Guadalupe, was deported in January after 21 years in the U.S. during a routine check-in with immigration officials. She's now the center of a high-profile immigration case. You know, in 2008, she was convicted of using a false Social Security number, but she had reported to ICE every year since. Angel and sister, Jacqueline, attended President Trump's speech last night. They were guests of Democratic Arizona Congresswoman Ruben Gallego.
QUESTION: It's been four weeks since I watched my mother be deported, and now Trump is promising new agents to do that to other families. Do you, individually, and does your party support the new policies at DHS? And if not, what are you doing to help keep families from being separated?
MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I believe that we have to understand that there's a category of people in this country who were brought to this country as children, and that was not their doing. They were brought to this country, and I think that those young people ought to have a chance to become citizens.
And I believe that we should deport anyone who's committed a serious crime in the United States. And I do believe that when someone is killed, as this individual's son was, then that's wrong. So we have to have comprehensive immigration reform, which gives people a path to citizenship, but it's a long, hard, tough path, pay back taxes, fines, get in line behind everybody else, but have an opportunity to become citizens of this country.
BASH: Senator Graham, can I just ask you? You both now have talked about comprehensive immigration reform. The president told news anchors yesterday that he is now open to...
MCCAIN: That's what I said.
BASH: Yeah, but not...
GRAHAM: It's encouraging.
BASH: But -- but not path to citizenship, legal status.
MCCAIN: Well, you know, let's start negotiations. BASH: But can I just add -- can I just add one -- but I just want to add one thing, because today, a White House official characterized the president's remarks as, quote, "a misdirection play." There's mixed messages. What do you make of that?
GRAHAM: Well, he's going to be...
MCCAIN: Is this the first time there's been mixed messages?
I'm shocked. I'm shocked.
GRAHAM: He's going to be judged by whether or not he can solve this problem. I think Donald Trump has an ability to solve the problem unlike anybody in recent times. We always pass the bill in the Senate like 68 votes. It goes to the House. My Republican colleagues in the House, it always dies. I think Trump has the ability to tell the right, you know, this is a good deal, take it.
Here's what I think. Most Americans want the man who killed your son to be deported yesterday and never come back. I think most Americans want your mother not to have been deported. I can tell the difference between your mother and the person who killed his son. Don't you think most Americans can see that difference?
So what Trump is doing is a good thing in terms of getting the bad hombres out. His mother is not a bad hombrette. The bottom line here is that the Republican Party and the Democratic Party have a chance here to secure our border, control who gets a job, and tell the difference between a repeat offender, a rapist, a drug dealer, a bad hombre, and his mother. And finally, have you ever wondered why we're not being overrun by illegal Canadians? We got two borders, one with Canada, one with Mexico. I've never met an illegal Canadian. They may be out there. I'll go look for them.
GRAHAM: This is an economic issue.
People come in from poor countries to work here. They come to Myrtle Beach, Canadians do. They enjoy themselves, they go swimming in March, and they go home. We're glad to have them. Nobody else swims in March.
MCCAIN: Fourth of July 2005, Lindsey Graham, Joe Lieberman, our beloved third amigo, were asked by David Petraeus to preside at a re- enlistment ceremony in Saddam Hussein -- excuse me, yeah, Saddam Hussein's old palace. Two hundred were re-enlisting. And then there was 96 that were becoming citizens because green cardholders who join the military, you can have accelerated path to citizenship.
We were asked to speak. We're sitting there. In the front row are two empty seats with boots on them. I said to General Petraeus, I said, what is that? He said those two were killed in the last 24 hours. My friends, they know what it means to be a citizen of the United States.
BASH: So I want to stay on this subject. A little bit of a variation, generally about the travel ban. I want to go to Assal Rayandi. Assal is an Iranian-American Army veteran.
BASH: Who has a question for Senator Graham. Assal?
QUESTION: Senators, I was born in a Muslim country. My family and I, along with my brother, we emigrated to the United States as refugees over two decades ago. I'm also a combat veteran of the United States Army. My brother is a Navy combat veteran of the United States.
MCCAIN: That's better.
GRAHAM: Maybe one day you'll have an Air Force person.
QUESTION: Probably. The refugee we banned from coming to the United States today could potentially be tomorrow's service member, civil servant, or an influential member of our American society. How would you ensure that we do not hold America's potential hostage by banning certain individuals through new regulations?
BASH: And, Senator Graham, as you answer that question, I should say that we're waiting for a revised travel ban from the president any day now.
MCCAIN: And I'm told that Iraq will not be one of those seven countries. That's vital, because the Iraqis now, we have Americans fighting in Iraq against ISIS, and we need the cooperation of the Iraqi government.
BASH: But Assal is Iranian-American.
MCCAIN: Right, yes.
BASH: And what's the...
GRAHAM: Well, how about thanking you for your service? How about that?
QUESTION: Thank you.
GRAHAM: So there are 3,500 American Muslims in uniform. And every time you talk disparagingly of the faith, not only do you denigrate those fellow citizens who are trying to protect you, you make it impossible to have partners within the faith. You're never going to win this war by killing people. You need partners.
And let me tell you who your partners are going to be: The vast majority of Muslims who do not want to turn their daughters over to ISIL. I've been to Iraq and Afghanistan 40 times, mostly with John. And I can tell you, most people in the faith are not buying what these nut jobs are selling.
So refugees can be infiltrated by terrorists. I don't blame the president for wanting more vetting in countries that are becoming failed states. But the executive order was a huge misstep, because it was rolled out and it included everybody, including the girl who is a PhD student from Iran at Clemson. She was visiting her mother -- go Tigers -- she was visiting her mother. They took her off the plane in Dubai. She graduated, the PhD in Clemson, is working at a start-up company. The Iraq translator who braved the enemy to help our soldiers was detained 17 hours in an airport.
Here's what I hope the president understands. When you do something like this, if it's perceived as declaring war on the faith, we're all going to lose. If it's perceived as making us more safe and not a Muslim ban, we're all going to win. So I hope this new order understands the difference between threats abroad and the fact that Muslims not only are great patriotic Americans, they're the key to winning this war.
BASH: Senator McCain?
MCCAIN: I thank you for your service, and I was especially interested in our interpreters. Our interpreters, my friends, who literally put their lives on the line to help us in the vital mission of translating between Iraqis and our members of the military. And, again, to lump Iraq and Iran in the same category, I think, was a terrible mistake, and I'm glad the news seems to be that Iraq is not going to be part of those countries that are listed.
BASH: Senators, thank you. Hold those thoughts. Everybody in the audience, stand by. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back with more of CNN's town hall with Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
BASH: Welcome back to the CNN town hall with Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Senators, thanks again. I want to turn to an audience question to start off this block. Christopher Harlig from Scottsdale, Arizona? Senator McCain, this one's for you.
MCCAIN: Hey, Chris.
QUESTION: Good evening, Senators.
QUESTION: Senator McCain, as a constituent of your state, I want to know if you are doing everything in your power to investigate any claims of foreign interference in our electoral process or in our government itself. And if you are, what do you recommend to those of us who are very concerned about this issue?
MCCAIN: Well, first of all, the areas of responsibility that I have as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, we're looking into certain military aspects of it.
I have argued that because of the gravity -- if -- of the situation, if the Russians had succeeded in determining the outcome of our election, that is the deathblow to democracy. And so I believe that we needed a select committee in order to investigate that.
Now, on the other allegations, the intelligence committees are looking at it. And I'd like to give them a chance to examine the facts and come up with some conclusions before I leap to the need for a whole new special committee. When you set up a special committee, there has to be -- it's a long process. And so I'd like to give this a chance.
But have no doubt, what the Russians tried to do to our election could have destroyed democracy. And that's why we've got to pay a hell of a lot more attention to the Russians and the things that they're doing in Europe. And right now, they're trying to affect the outcome of the French election, and they're using cyber. Which, by the way, brings up cyber. We are way behind in cyber.
BASH: Senator, that is obviously one area that the intelligence agencies say that they're confident that Russia tried to meddle in U.S. elections. But there's...
MCCAIN: Yeah, but we need to know how, we need to know the methods they used, we need to know how we can counter, there's a whole lot we need to learn about what they did.
BASH: No question. But the second sort of area of investigation is whether or not there was any discussion, collusion, and so forth between the Trump campaign and the Russians. I want to tell you, Senator Graham, that the Washington Post has new reporting out just a few moments ago that Jeff Sessions, former senator, now the attorney general, also a campaign adviser to Donald Trump, spoke twice last year with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., encounters that he did not disclose during his confirmation hearing. If true, is a special prosecutor needed now?
GRAHAM: Well, number one, don't worry about John and Lindsey Graham and others looking into Russia. Because Russia's not our friend. Trump, President Trump I want to help as much as I can, because he's got a mess on his hands. He seems to get Iran right, he seems to get ISIL right. This nut job in North Korea, he understands the threat. When it comes to Russia, he has a blind spot.
The bottom line is that Putin is disrupting democracy everywhere. Democracy's an enemy to every strong man in the world, including Putin. If there were contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, they may be legitimate, they may be OK. I want to know what happened between the Trump campaign, the Clinton campaign, and the Russians. Because today it's the Russians. Tomorrow it could be the Iranians.
And to my Republican friends, we should have no joy in our heart that the Russian efforts hurt Hillary Clinton, even though they didn't change the outcome. I promise you, we could be next when it comes to the Iranians and to the Chinese. So I'm on the Judiciary Committee with Senator Whitehouse. I promise you, we're going to look at everything Russia. If there were campaign contacts between the Russians and the Trump campaign, I want to know about them.
BASH: Senator, you say you're on the Judiciary Committee. Your committee and, of course, the full Senate supported Jeff Sessions.
BASH: He's now the top law enforcement official in this country. If he didn't disclose what he apparently did during the campaign, what do you make of that?
GRAHAM: Well, you know, I don't know. It may be an innocent contact. I don't know if he has to disclose everybody he's ever talked to. A special prosecutor...
MCCAIN: I think we have to know more about it before we can make a judgment.
BASH: Special prosecutor meaning there should be one?
GRAHAM: OK, here's the deal. I don't know if there's anything between the Trump campaign and the Russians. I'm not going to base my decision based on newspaper articles.
The FBI, if they're looking into this, and they make a -- Comey shouldn't decide whether or not to prosecute. I've never understood why the FBI director in the Clinton case made the decision not to prosecute. That should be a prosecutor's decision.
If there is something there, and it goes up the chain of investigation, it is clear to me that Jeff Sessions, who is my dear friend, cannot make this decision about Trump. So they may be not -- there may be nothing there, but if there's something there if the FBI believes is criminal in nature, then, for sure, you need a special prosecutor. If that day ever comes, I'll be the first one to say it needs to be somebody other than Jeff.
BASH: I just want to ask a follow-up on a related issue. The New York Times is also reporting tonight that in the final days of the Obama administration, some White House officials, Obama White House officials, scrambled to spread information across the government about Russian efforts to undermine the 2016 election, including information about possible contacts between Russians and associates of Donald Trump. Was that appropriate?
MCCAIN: From what you're telling me, and it's really kind of hard to make judgments...
BASH: I understand. I understand. MCCAIN: Then that also deserves further scrutiny. But, again, it's
hard for me to reach conclusions when you're just quoting from the latest news...
GRAHAM: Yeah, communist sources, by the way.
BASH: It's understandable. On that note, let's go to another audience member. I want to bring in Ania Lyubarskaya. She's a student here at GW and a staff sergeant in the United States Air Force with a question for Senator Graham. Ania?
GRAHAM: Hey, air power.
QUESTION: For Senator McCain, as well.
QUESTION: Good evening. As someone from the former Soviet Union whose family lived through the uncertainty of the Cold War and the nuclear arms race, I would like to ask you, Senator, to make the best case for us tonight for why the United States should consider Russia a foe, especially in matters concerning the war on terror and arms control. Thank you.
MCCAIN: Was this...
BASH: You can start, Senator.
MCCAIN: Vladimir Putin wants to restore the old Russian empire. He's invaded Georgia. He's invaded Ukraine. He is now attempting to affect the outcome of elections. He's putting enormous pressure on the Baltics. One of the greatest men I've ever known, Boris Nemtsov, was murdered in the shadow of the Kremlin. He was in my office. I said, Boris, do not go back to Russia. They're going to try to kill you. He said I have to go back. A month later, they shot him and killed him in the shadow of the Kremlin.
Let's know what Vladimir Putin is. He's a thug. He's a KGB agent and he's a killer, and treat him as such. And what does he understand? Strength. That's why we have to rebuild our military, and that's why, frankly, we are not doing enough to rebuild that military and its capability. So all I can say is: Peace through strength. And I think that that's one thing that Vladimir Putin would understand.
GRAHAM: Here's the case to the American people. If you let Putin get away with this, then we're opening ourselves up for endless attacks by foreign entities. Let us make our own decisions about who we'd like to be president.
Putin hates democracy. Two critics have died from plutonium poisoning. I don't know how many of your friends have died from weapons-grade plutonium in their drink. But these people in Russia play really hard. The Duma is a joke. The independent judiciary has been lost. He wants to break the back of the European and NATO. He hates coalitions of democracy. He dismembered the Ukraine. He's affecting the Baltics day in and day out. The democracies in his shadow are under threat.
I just got back from France and Germany. He went to Syria, I went to France and Germany, which shows I'm a lot smarter than he is. The French and the Germans are scared to death about the Russians playing into their elections. The Russians are openly helping right-wing parties in these countries who want to withdraw from NATO and the European Union.
Vladimir Putin is not a friend to democracy. He is a crook. I don't know what you make as president of Russia, but he's estimated to be worth between $40 billion and $60 billion. Either he's the best money manager in the world or he's a crook. I think he's a crook. And I wish our president, who I want to him, would stand up to Putin and say that an attack on one party in America is an attack on all of us.
MCCAIN: Ronald Reagan dealt -- Ronald Reagan dealt with Brezhnev and other men, Soviet Union leaders, but he dealt from a position of strength. And for the last ten -- eight years, we have let our defenses decline. We have cut spending on defense. We are not ready. We have one-third of the aircraft.
Half the F-18s in the Navy can't fly right now. Marine Corps pilots are flying fewer hours a month than their Russian and Chinese counterparts. Air Force maintainers are stealing parts from museums in Tucson, Arizona. Two of the 60 Army brigade combat teams are at the highest level of readiness. That's the result of eight years of Obama.
And I'm glad the president is committed to rebuilding our military. What he said last night was not true. That is only a 3 percent increase. We need a much larger increase in defense spending.
BASH: Senators, I want to bring in another member of our audience. George Salo from Ohio, he owns a Ukrainian restaurant that his father started after emigrating here from Ukraine. George?
QUESTION: Senators, good evening. President Trump said recently that he expects the Russian government to de-escalate violence in Ukraine and return Crimea. The Budapest memorandum on security assurances signed under the Clinton administration in 1994 was to protect Ukraine, including Crimea. If my father...
MCCAIN: And guaranteed -- and guaranteed Crimea to be part of Ukraine.
QUESTION: Correct. If my father were still alive, he would wonder, will our government fail to keep its promises about our security to its citizens the same way it's failed to keep its promises with Ukraine? And what is the United States' plan to help Ukraine now?
MCCAIN: A couple of months ago, I went with President Poroshenko to Mariupol, and we met with the front-line troops. He gave out medals to some of these brave Ukrainian marines and soldiers that are fighting, and he gave a medal to a mother whose son had just been killed by a Russian sniper. I'll tell you, that's pretty moving.
And we're not doing enough about it. And we need to help the Ukrainians. And the first thing we could do that President Trump could do is give the Ukrainians defensive weapons so they can defend themselves against superior Russian equipment. They're slaughtering Ukrainians with superior equipment. And the Obama administration wouldn't give them lethal weapons to defend themselves.
GRAHAM: And your question is a good one. I hope people are following this. After the Soviet Union fell apart, there was -- all hell was breaking out. So we went to the Ukraine, where there were, I think, 1,200 nuclear weapons stationed in the Ukraine. And basically, we said, if you'll turn those nuclear weapons back over to Russia -- at the time, sort of an ally -- then we all, including the Russians and the United States, will guarantee your territorial integrity.
What did Putin do? He stepped all over that. So why would anybody trust us in the future? And the last time somebody in Europe reached out and grabbed territory by force not belonging to them, it led to World War II. So not only should we never forgive the sanctions -- relieve sanctions that exist on the Crimea, we should impose new sanctions.
Don't you want Russia to pay a price for interfering in our election? I want the Russians to be sanctioned more for interfering in our election. And the last thing Trump should ever envision is relieving sanctions to reward them for taking Crimea by force, because Putin will not stop until somebody makes him stop.
BASH: Senators, we have another...
We have another question over here. Kelly Bennett, her husband is in the Army and works closely with the intelligence agencies. Kelly?
QUESTION: Good evening, Senators. Thank you for your service. President Trump's open disdain for the intelligence community, possible ties to Russia, and his off-the-cuff manner in dealing with foreign policy issues and leaders is troubling. My husband serves very proudly, but we worry that he and others may be needlessly sent into dangerous situations due to a combination of those factors. What will you do to help avoid that type of situation?
MCCAIN: First of all, I'd like to thank your husband for his service to our country. I would like to point out that the national security team that President Trump has assembled, I couldn't have picked a better group of people.
General Mattis is revered by all who served under him. General...
MCCAIN: -- yeah, McMaster is one of those who really was key in the Iraqi conflict in the early days. General Kelly is also great. And so we -- he's assembled an outstanding national security team. And I'm hoping -- I'm not positive -- but I'm hoping that he will rely
on them for the advice and counsel, because they have the respect of all of us who know anything about the military. So I'm not sure -- and I can't look you in the eye and say that that's going to happen -- but I am optimistic that President Trump will listen to these really brave and seasoned individuals.
BASH: And Senator Graham, as you respond, I think what Kelly was getting at was the idea that she's concerned about some of the statements that President Trump has made that could potentially put her husband in harm's way.
GRAHAM: Well, so, number one, the intelligence community, those in uniform and those who serve in the shadow, are really brave. Can you imagine what it's like to be a CIA person on the ground somewhere over there? So the bottom line is, they don't get much credit, because we can't talk about what they do. So I would beg the president to recognize them as the heroes they are.
This team around President Trump is outstanding. The guy I saw last night can govern this country. The guy I saw last night we can all do business with. But there's one thing that we haven't talked much about. This seems to be military night.
I've been to Iraq and Afghanistan with John McCain in -- 40 times. What have I learned? You're never going to win this war through military force alone. The budget the president's proposing cuts the State Department by over 30 percent. That is soft power.
And I will tell you, Mr. President, Obama made a mistake by leaving Iraq too soon. We begged him to leave troops. When you draw a red line, you better enforce it. When you let Assad get away with it, all hell has broken loose.
So, to President Trump, if you destroy soft power, those diplomatic tools that lead to holding and building, we'll never win this war. If you take off the table building a small schoolhouse for a poor young girl in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria, to give her an education, we'll never win this war, because an education to a poor young girl is far more damaging to radical Islam than any bomb. That's got to be on the table.
MCCAIN: After Gadhafi...
After Gadhafi was killed, we went to Libya again, and we came back and said, look, the hard part begins. You've got to clear the weapons. You've got to enforce the borders. You have to start building democracy. We walked away. Look at Libya today. That's the example of not using the soft power after the hard power has already been used.
GRAHAM: Can I just follow on that? In 2006, we went to President Bush, this is not working. I made mistakes.
MCCAIN: You're talking about Iraq.
GRAHAM: Yeah, Iraq. I didn't appreciate Iraq would be as hard as it was. Blame me. But after about the fourth visit, the first time John and I went, we were in a SUV. We went downtown and bought rugs and walked around. The second time, we were in a convoy. The third time, we were in a tank. This is not getting better.
So it wasn't a few dead-enders. And Senator McCain, to his credit, during the presidential campaign for our party was a lone voice for saying we need more troops in a war that everybody was tired of, because he understood you couldn't lose it and if we don't have more troops we're going to lose it. President Bush, to his credit, adopted the surge, and the surge did work.
To President Trump, if you take soft power off the table, if you dismantle the State Department, and we don't have any tools other than military force, you'll be making the same mistake the other two presidents made.
MCCAIN: We also told the President Bush he had to fire his secretary of defense.
BASH: On that note, we're going to have to take a quick break. Stand by, everybody. We'll be right back with more from CNN's town hall with Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
BASH: Welcome back to the CNN town hall with Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Gentlemen, we have another audience question. This one comes from Sunnie Adams of South Carolina for you, Senator Graham.
QUESTION: Good evening. This is for Senator Graham. As a Republican from my beloved state of South Carolina, I feel, as many, that you have done much to undermine the president, his administration, as well as his calls to safety. And I would like to know when and how you would answer to the nearly 62 million constituents who voted Republican and want his protection and his changes.
GRAHAM: That's a really good question. You know what I hear a lot from Republicans? "Help the president more." I hear from Democrats and independents, "Save the country."
Here's what you can expect from me: What you've gotten for the last 20 years. I want to help President Trump, but when I don't agree with him, I'm OK with saying I don't. I think his plan for immigration is becoming more realistic. I want to help him win a war we can't afford to lose. My biggest fear is not losing my job. My biggest fear is not standing up and speaking out when I know it's right.
MCCAIN: Lindsey Graham and I have a record on national security policy, and I'll go all the way back to Ronald Reagan. I said don't put Marines in Beirut, because they're bombing the Beirut barracks and 134 Marines died. When we saw the war in Iraq going badly, we said you've got to fire the generals, you've got to fire the secretary of defense if you want to win this war in Iraq. And we started the surge, and it succeeded. And then when Obama pulled the plug, when he pulled the plug, we said don't do that, otherwise, Iraq is going to go back to hell in a handbasket.
And I could go on, example after example, where, with our experience and our knowledge and our background, we think we are qualified to make judgments. And for us to just go along to get along with any president, whether it be Republican or Democrat, is an abrogation of our responsibilities to the men and women in uniform and the people we represent.
GRAHAM: And could I just talk about the -- to my Republican friends, we have a unique opportunity, once in a lifetime. We've got the White House, we've got both houses of Congress, and here's the best way to succeed, is put the country ahead of the party.
When I voted for Sotomayor and Kagan, I got the crap beat out of me at home. Now that I'm going to support Gorsuch, I'm a hero. Here's the deal. I thought Sotomayor and Kagan were qualified, even though I wouldn't have picked them. Now, all of a sudden, the people who were beating me up are going to say, why don't you do what Lindsey did as a Democrat? The best way to serve the Republican Party, I think, is putting the country ahead of everything else and it all works out.
MCCAIN: My favorite story was when Social Security was about to go bankrupt, and two old Irishmen got together in the White House, and they came out in the Rose Garden together, Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan, and they said, we're going to save Social Security, and it's going to be tough and hard.
That's because they had a relationship, those two old Irishmen. They used to get together and have drinks and tell old Irish jokes, because Ronald Reagan established a relationship with Republicans and Democrats alike. Don't you think the American people want us to work together?
BASH: Do you think President Trump has that capacity?
MCCAIN: I think he has that capacity, I do.
GRAHAM: I think he's a deal-maker's deal-maker. And I'm going to meet him soon. You know, we're getting closer. I haven't given him my cell number yet.
MCCAIN: He's going to bring his cellphone.
GRAHAM: I've given him the area code, but not the whole number.
BASH: So -- the new one. We already know he ruined the old one.
GRAHAM: So here's the deal. He beat me and 16 other people. He beat the former first lady and the secretary of state. What he did was an amazing thing. We should all honor his victory. I do. And I want to help him as much as I possibly can.
But I am not going to change my view of the world. I'm not going to tell people in South Carolina all of a sudden you can deport 11 million people when I never believed you could to begin with. There's a difference between his mother and the man that killed his son. I've seen that for decades. If the president sees that, then he'll have the best friend in Lindsey Graham and John McCain.
Let me tell you about Senator McCain. Name one person who's suffered more for his country than John McCain. If you want to rebuild the military, you're going to need his help.
BASH: I want to bring in another questioner.
MCCAIN: He lies. Go ahead.
BASH: Dr. Dan Dirkson from Arizona with a question about health care for Senator McCain.
MCCAIN: Hey, Doctor.
QUESTION: Senator McCain, Arizona has done really well the last couple of years. We're in the top five for job growth. We've almost halved our uninsured and we're hoping for a Final Four appearance with the Wildcats. Go Cats.
As a family doc, though, I'm very concerned that some of the talk and some of the plans around capping and cutting Medicaid will just shift the risk from the federal government to states, to rural hospitals, and to the physicians and the 70 million Americans who currently depend on Medicaid for coverage. Senators, how will you work to make sure that we don't return to the days of 48 million uninsured in our country and that we don't punish cost-efficient, effective states like Arizona who responsibly run their Medicaid program through caps and cuts in Medicaid?
MCCAIN: Well, thank you, Doctor, and thank you for all you do. In case our other audience members don't know here, we were probably the hardest hit of any state in America. We had premiums that went up by 150 percent. Every one of our counties had only -- got down to one provider. For a while, we had one county that had no providers. So nobody was hit harder than our state was.
And when you've got deductibles in the thousands and copays in the thousands, it becomes -- and it's still unraveling. It's our job now to do what we promised the American people in the last election, and that is to repeal and replace. And the first priority is not to leave anyone without the opportunity to have health care. That has to be, I think, the underpinning of any reforms that we may make.
And I would like to give states that have experimented in a different way an opportunity to follow those experiments. What works in Arizona may not work in Massachusetts. And by the way, Massachusetts has got a pretty good program, as you know. It's the first nice thing I've said about Massachusetts in years. But -- the People's Republic of Massachusetts -- I apologize, it was just a joke. I apologize.
So let's give the states the funds and let's let them do some experimentation as to what is best for those states. But there has to be an underlying principle, and that is, we're not going to throw anybody off of health care to not be able to have the opportunity to get it. As long as that fundamental principle is there, we'll be fine.
BASH: But doing that, Senator Graham, as you come in here, has proven to be pretty hard. Republicans, as you said, control everything, and even deciding amongst yourselves, despite the fact that you've promised for repealing Obamacare for the past, you know, three, four election cycles, you're not -- it doesn't seem like you're even close to getting there.
GRAHAM: Well, we'll get there, I hope. If we don't, we'll pay a heavy price. We're the dog that caught the car. So the bottom line is, I hope Democrats will help us. I remember voting for -- against Obamacare on Christmas Eve, the year it passed, jammed down our throats. The best thing we can do is try to get Democrats to help us.
Obamacare, when we passed it, Congress was excluded, right? Listen, I'm going to be noble and I'm going to live like the average person in South Carolina, so I went into the state program. I got whacked. And I'm like 58 years old, short white guy, no kids. My premiums tripled. My deductible went up to $6,250.
This is not health care reform, sir. This is just taking money from one group of people and giving health care free to another group of people. Health care is outcomes. If you really want to change Medicaid, make sure that a Medicaid patient doesn't have to run to the emergency room when they get sick, they actually have a doctor. To a Medicaid person out there, if you smoke, you ought to pay a little bit more.
What I want to do is tie our outcomes to our own behavior, reward outcomes. Medicaid and Medicare by 2042 will consume all the money you send in taxes. So we're expanding a program that is unsustainable. When you add up the unfunded liability of Medicare and Social Security, promises made that we don't have the money for, you need $72 trillion in the next 40 years. If you want us to get out of debt, we need to deal with entitlements.
To President Trump, I hope you're watching. Put something like Simpson-Bowles on the table. You can't take entitlements off the table and run this country. Seventy percent of the money that we spend in Washington is interest on the debt, Medicare, and Social Security. Here's how you fix it. Younger people, you're going to have to work a little bit longer because we all live longer.
GRAHAM: People in my age group, you're going to have to pay a little more and take a little less.
BASH: Hold that thought. We have a lot...
GRAHAM: Hold that thought.
BASH: Hold that thought. We have a lot more to discuss with Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. CNN's town hall will be right back.
BASH: Welcome back. CNN is live tonight at the George Washington University. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham are our guests. Senators, thank you again for doing this.
GRAHAM: Clap or die, right?
BASH: You earlier mentioned North Korea. And, Senator McCain, I want to turn to the growing threat from North Korea. North Koreans say that they're closer than ever before to being able to launch a nuclear missile at the United States, and just last month, they successfully tested a long-range ballistic missile. So I want to now bring in Mike Lee. He is a graduate of John Hopkins University. And his family came to the U.S. from South Korea when he was a child.
QUESTION: Good evening, Senators. I just wanted to ask, for the two of you, is there a red line past which you would be willing to consider military intervention in North Korea?
MCCAIN: That's a very tough question, obviously. And that's why it's such a tough job to be president of the United States and commander- in-chief. I would argue that if we have conclusive evidence that the North Koreans are about to or have achieved the ability to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile that would hit -- with a nuclear weapon on it -- that would hit the United States of America, given the ruler of that North Korea and that regime, you would have to seriously consider a preventive strike.
But before that, I believe that we should have THAAD, these air missile defense systems in South Korea, and I think we should move through that situation expeditiously. But we could spend a half an hour on it. But right now, there's a lot of political turmoil in South Korea, as you also know, and that also contributes to the challenge.
But this, my friends, is of immediate danger. And we're going to have to use our best capabilities and senses in order to prevent what could be a catastrophic event. Because they do not think like us.
Finally, China is the only country in the world that has a significant influence on North Korea. We should expect the Chinese to break the activities of the rotund ruler in Pyongyang.
BASH: Senator Graham?
GRAHAM: I would tell the Chinese to tell the North Koreans, if you go toward developing a missile that can hit America, you're going to regret it, and we're going to stop you. And let me tell you why. Do you know anything much about North Korea? This guy is nuts.
He just killed his half-brother. Shot his uncle with an antiaircraft gun. He's got plenty of family issues.
His grandfather claims to have beaten the Japanese single-handedly, born inside of a volcano. His father claimed to have shot 38 under in his first round of golf with 11 holes in one. That's where they lost me as a regime. So here's what I think.
I think we would be nuts to allow a crazy man the ability to develop a missile to deliver a bomb he already has to our homeland. I don't want conflict any more than you do. But the best way to avoid conflict is to intervene before it's too late. If you are so afraid of conflict, you're going have it.
So the Ayatollah is a religious Nazi. What should we do about the Iranian missile program? I got a -- here's a bet. Here's a promise. Anybody that's got a missile that writes on the side of it "Death to Israel," I don't want them to have it.
We live in crazy times. President Trump has got North Korea right. What I would do if I were him, I would tell the Chinese, if you don't tell this guy to stop his missile program, that's a provocative act against our country, and he will regret it, and mean it when you say it.
MCCAIN: And there will be repercussions with China because of their failure to act...
MCCAIN: ... to break the North Koreans.
BASH: Senators, I have another question from Noah. He is a student at GW. He asked us not to use his last name because he has a family member in the military. He has a question about ISIS.
QUESTION: Thank you. Senator Graham, our attempts to defeat ISIS, obviously, have not succeeded thus far. And some have suggested that we will never defeat ISIS unless we commit troops to the war-torn regions. As a military kid, this idea -- it brings back memories and -- that were less than pleasant and just fears for the safety of family members who are in the military. So my question is, are boots on the ground necessary to defeat ISIS? And if so, how do we complete our objectives while keeping our troops safe?
GRAHAM: Great question. Absolutely, they're necessary. We have 5,200 in Iraq today. John McCain and Lindsey Graham said three years ago on CNN, apparently nobody was listening, that you need 10,000 U.S. forces to help the Iraqis to destroy ISIL, not 100,000. You need about the same amount, maybe less now, to take Raqqa back from ISIL inside of Syria.
Has anyone ever told you what winning looks like in the war on terror? We knew what winning looked like in World War II. We took Berlin and we took Tokyo.
So here's what I want to tell you. If you're in the military, I cannot promise you that you will not be redeployed. We need more troops in Afghanistan, not less, because if we lose there, we're all going to pay a heavy price because that's where the war started.
About the enemy -- you may be tired of fighting them, they're not tired of fighting you. In September the 10th, 2001, we didn't have one soldier in Afghanistan, we didn't have an embassy, not one dime of aid, and we got attacked anyway. Why? Because radical Islam is compelled by God in their own warped way to kill everybody in this room.
So if I could think of a way not to send soldiers over there, I would, but I choose to fight the war in their backyard and not ours. And I choose to have partners. So that's why it's so important when we speak of the war that it's not a war against Islam, it's a war against nut jobs.
So the bottom line is, sir, your family members may have to go back because I can tell you, the only reason 3,000 of us died on 9/11 and not 3 million, they couldn't get the weapons to get 3 million of them. And the best way to be safe here is to have an insurance policy over there.
BASH: Senator McCain, I just want to ask you briefly about CNN reporting today, learning that the Pentagon is considering changes in how counterterrorism missions are approved, that military commanders could greenlight the missions without President Trump's approval. You're the chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Briefly, are you OK with this?
MCCAIN: I'm not only OK with it, I think that if we trust these individuals with command, then we should trust their judgment, particularly in quickly evolving situations.
I had a lot of criticisms of the Obama conduct for the last eight years, particularly the micromanagement of military and its operations. And you have to -- if you give these people positions of responsibility, then you hold them responsibility -- responsible. But I really believe, Dana, that we have to have more latitude in the field if we're going to succeed. And honestly, when Afghanistan, after all these years, is a, quote, "stalemate" according to our military commander there, and when we still don't have a really good strategy in Raqqa, we got to give our military leadership the latitude to act what's in their best judgment.
BASH: Senator, thank you. I want to bring in retired Colonel Gregory Gadson over here. He served in the Army for 25 years, and his service included every major conflict, including Kuwait, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. And it was in Iraq where he lost both of his legs above the knee and normal use of his right arm during an IED attack. Colonel? QUESTION: Good evening. And thank you, Senators, for the opportunity to ask you these questions. I want to thank you also for your service. Given the past 15-plus years of war, how do we assure our military has the resources to institutionalize the lessons that we've learned, particularly with wounded servicemembers and their families?
MCCAIN: Well, sir, thank you for your service. You are what America is all about. And I cannot tell you the admiration and appreciation that your fellow citizens have for you. You have made us and kept us safe and we thank you.
It was micromanagement from the National Security Council staff, most of whom had never heard a shot fired in anger. And that was one of the reasons why we have a stalemate today in Afghanistan.
We have to give the military what they need, also. The military has been cut by some 21 percent in the last six years. My friends, there's planes that aren't flying, there's ships that aren't sailing, and there's guns that aren't shooting, because we have shorted the military, and we've got to give them what they need.
And second of all, I think you would share my view of this leadership we have now in the military and our national security apparatus are those that were tested as you have been and as you were. And they really have the experience and the knowledge and the background that we can have great confidence in their leadership. Thank you again.
GRAHAM: To the veterans, every veteran out there who's seeking health care should have two choices, the V.A. system, and if they don't like it, go to the local doctor and hospital and the rest of us will pay for it. Competition is the best thing that could happen to you. If a veteran is not well served by the V.A. -- and there are a lot of great people in the V.A. -- you should have a card to go anywhere you want to go and get the services available in your local community. And the rest of us, who've been sitting on the sidelines, we're going to pay for it, and we shouldn't complain about it, because they deserve it.
Now, about the military, we're headed to the smallest Army since 1940. Does that make a lot of sense to you? We're going to have 278 ships in the Navy, the smallest since 1915. How do you pivot to Asia with a Navy that small?
The bottom line is, I applaud President Trump for understanding the needs to rebuild the military. Here's what I would suggest: $603 billion is not going to cut it. John McCain has a plan for $640 billion. You need to talk to John.
But I want to end with this thought. As hawkish as I am, and I'm not hawkish, I'm just realistic. We're dealing with crazy people and we'd better get it right. You're never going to win the war through military force.
If you take Mosul tomorrow and Raqqa tomorrow from ISIL, if you don't have a plan for the day after, it's going to fall apart again. If you don't have a governance plan, a way to deliver services to people, the terrorists are offering a glorious death. You know what? We've got to offer a hopeful life.
And this is the hardest part about being a politician in war. People get tired. The bottom line is, we've got to stick with it on the military side, but the foreign assistance, the State Department, the soft power in the key to winning the war. President Trump, do not destroy soft power, because we cannot win through military force alone.
BASH: Senators, you began to do this, but we also want to formally recognize Colonel Gadson, and also there's another member of our audience here, a Medal of Honor recipient, Kyle Carpenter.
BASH: Kyle Carpenter is right here. We thank them for their service. Kyle was awarded the Medal of Honor for rushing towards a hand grenade launched at him and his fellow Marines in 2010. He spent two-and-a- half years in the hospital for rehabilitation. And President Obama honored him with the medal in 2014.
MCCAIN: Well, I would like to say thank you. And you are a role model and our inspiration. I would also point out that I'm one of the aviators you'll know that -- whose number of landings don't match the number of takeoffs. So, very happy to see you.
GRAHAM: Can I just say one thing?
GRAHAM: I was a military lawyer, proud of my service. The only people who wanted to kill me were my clients. I'm just sort of honored to be in room with three people like this. Thanks.
BASH: Before we go, I have to ask you, Harry Truman famously said, if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. But you two found each other.
GRAHAM: His dog ran away.
BASH: So many people leading up to this town hall asked me, how did they become so close? And more importantly, what is it about this friendship between the two of you?
MCCAIN: Well, I think it's common interests, common ideals, common goals for our country. We mentioned my war experience. This guy for 23 years spent every time on active duty in Afghanistan or Iraq.
BASH: And is that how you got to know each other?
MCCAIN: We really got to know each other when there -- there was the impeachment. And Lindsey was one of the stars of the impeachment.
GRAHAM: If there is such a thing.
MCCAIN: And he said -- he was presenting the case for the House of Representatives that the Senate should do the -- should decide whether they're guilty or not guilty. And he was reciting a passage where there were numerous phone calls made from the White House at 2:00 a.m. to try to get a hold of Monica Lewinski, because the word was out that maybe she was going to go public the next day.
And Congressman Graham, with the most solemn occasion, said, you know, where I come from, any man calling a woman at 2:00 a.m. is up to no good. I knew right then that Lindsey Graham was the guy I wanted to spend time with.
Because he's entertaining, he's dedicated, and -- by the way, his beginnings were rather humble, as many of you may not know, including the fact that he raised his sister after his parents died. It's quite -- it's quite a great American success story. So it's common interest, common values. And...
BASH: A sense of humor?
MCCAIN: A sense of humor. And I just wish our beloved friend, Joe Lieberman, were here. They called us the -- Petraeus called us the three amigos. Another wonderful person that we've enjoyed the pleasure of his company for 20-some years.
BASH: Senator Graham, what do we not know about John McCain?
GRAHAM: That you can say on TV?
BASH: Yeah, we're cable. Say anything.
GRAHAM: You know, I think what you see is what you get. There's not the private side of John McCain that is much different. He's cantankerous, can be a complete jerk to his closest friends and hug you dearly next.
Here's what started all this. John asked me to support him for president. You know why I did? Because he asked. No one ever asked me before.
So over that, between then and now, I've been all over the world with him, in the worst -- let me tell you, if he reads in the paper 5,000 people slaughtered, he said, "We've got to go there." I said, "Why do we have to go there?" But John, to me, has one quality that is really special. He will
fight for his friends. And 2014, I had six primary opponents from mildly disturbed to completely crazy. John came down and stood by me because I dared worked with people on the other side to solve an immigration problem. I'm a good conservative, I think, but I don't mind working with the other side. John was going to be up for election. And I wasn't the most popular person on talk radio. He stood with me and followed me around everywhere I went.
When I ran for president, most of you missed it...
John was with me. The bottom line is, folks, that the people that he served with in jail will tell you the same thing -- in prison -- that I will tell you. He is loyal to his friends. He loves his country. And if he has to stand up to his party for his country, so be it. He would die for this country. I love him to death.
BASH: That's a very nice note to end on.
MCCAIN: Could I just...
BASH: Very nice -- do you want to say one more thing?
MCCAIN: Yeah, I just wanted to say that we've talked about some very tough issues tonight. And I still believe in America. I still believe we're the greatest nation on Earth. I still believe that we have the best military and by far we're still a shining city on a hill as Ronald Reagan called us.
And if there's one thing I would urge all of our friends on both sides of the aisle, to look at Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill. Look at a time when Republicans and Democrats sat down together for the good of the nation. It's not an accident that we have low approval ratings. The American people want us to get things done for them, and we need to do it in a bipartisan fashion. And that's what we are dedicated to trying to do.
BASH: That is a very nice place to end. Senators, thank you so much. We wanted to thank Senators McCain and Graham for being here, our partners, at my alma mater, the George Washington University, and our audience, those asking questions and sharing their stories, and also those watching around the world.
Don Lemon picks up right now.