Transcript: Face to Face with Sen. John McCain

(CBS News) Bob Schieffer: And this is Face to Face our mid-week web edition from the folks who bring you Face the Nation on television. Our guest today of course, Senator John McCain. Senator McCain, day after Super Tuesday, what do you think?

John McCain: Well first off, thanks for having me on the web and congratulations to see old geezers up to speed on technology. I think it's a wonderful thing --

Bob Schieffer: We might even tweet this out

John McCain: We should, in fact we will on mine. I think it's -- it clearly was a victory for Romney, but maybe not enough at least in the view of some observers. And as a person who wants to win the presidency this November, the longer this goes out the worse our chances are because it drives the unfavorables up, these are facts. These aren't opinions of John McCain. The unfavorables are driven up and it makes it harder. You have been an observer of many elections. You know that every single day of a campaign is a day you can never do over again. So every day between now and November that is devoted to winning the primary is lost on winning the general election. And that, I have to tell you it makes me very worried about our chances of winning in November.

Bob Schieffer: Well let me ask you, now you have endorsed Romney and have been a strong supporter of his -- he simply does not seem to be connecting with a certain part of the Republican party. What's that about?

McCain: I don't know, because it's curious to me that quote "conservatives" are supporting Santorum or Gingrich, who were earmarkers and porkbarrelers, which is corruption. I saw the corruption here, you saw the corruption here, you used to work here too. And it's corruption. It's what Tom Coburn calls a gateway drug to corruption, and they were in it up to their eyeballs. The K Street Project where they worked with the lobbyists on K Street, and all of that unsavory stuff that led Duke Cunningham, and the guy from Ohio, Ney from Ohio, to be imprisoned. So that's what I don't get about this. Mitt Romney was a Governor who was very effective with an overwhelming Democratic legislature.

Bob Schieffer: Do you think it is time for one of the conservatives to get out of the race? Where do you see this going because I don't see anybody leaving...

John McCain: I don't either, but for me to tell people to get out of the race -- look, I just criticized both Gingrich and Santorum but I do respect anybody who's willing to get into the arena. And frankly, it's not up to an old has-been like me to tell them whether they should get out or not.

Bob Schieffer: What do you think your man Romney needs to do? How can he find a way to connect with people and tell them who he is?

John McCain: I think he probably needs to focus a little bit more, I think, on what he's going to do on the economy and jobs. What most voters want to know, maybe not those on the far right and far left, most voters want to know: what are you going to do about jobs and the economy? You and I know that right now we're embroiled here on the Syria issue, Iran, but still you ask the voters on the exit polls what's their most important issue, it's understandable: jobs and the economy. Maybe sharpen the message on jobs and the economy is the advice I might have for him. But look, that's the cheapest commodity there is.

Bob Schieffer: Your old running mate Sarah Palin told somebody today -- she was asked: if you get to a contested convention, and nobody has the nomination would you be willing to get into it again? And I think she said something to the effect of, well I'm not going to rule anything out. What would be your reaction to that?

John McCain: I think that Sarah, if it motivates her at any point in time and she wants to seek public office again, way to go Sarah. I encourage anybody who wants to serve this country to serve.

Bob Schieffer: Do you think that Romney can get, or will get the nomination by the time of the convention...or do you think that it will wind up that it's contested?

John McCain: I think it's inevitable. How many times and how many campaigns have you and I heard that it's going to be a brokered convention and it never is, because the system is rigged not to have that as you know. So I don't believe that's going to happen. But there are some that speculated that this thing will go way into May, June. Every day, as I said, is lost in focusing on the objective of the nomination race and that is to run for president.

Bob Schieffer: And you really believe that the longer it goes on the more it hurts the Republican party and the candidate.

John McCain: Look, look at the unfavorables, of all three of the remaining candidates in the last two months. All of them have gone up and up and up because of the nature of the campaign. Now that we have this obscene decision by the United States Supreme Court called Citizens United, then we have this unlimited amounts of money, most of the negative ads, not all of them, most of the negative ads come from, guess what, Super PACs. One casino mogul has already invested 20 -- over $20 million. I mean it's obscene.

Bob Schieffer: Let's talk a little bit about some of those big issues. You had the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs I guess up here today before your committee, and Leon Panetta. You are saying that the United States ought to find some way to help these rebels in Syria, but you're not satisfied with the administration's position and what they're doing on that.

John McCain: Well they've done nothing, except condemn Syria and try to get a resolution through the United Nations Security Council, which the Russians and the Chinese obviously have vetoed. Massacres are taking place as we speak. Apparently Assad's forces have just cleared homes. In other words they've killed off all the people, or -- and those who have survived have left. They're using tanks, they're using artillery, they are using Iranians according to the Washington Post. They are using Russian arms. And what have those who are trying to gain their freedom have? Not a lot, so I think it's reached the point as I've said foreign air power, not the United States alone, not United States' boots on the ground, not the United States acting unilaterally, but a coalition including the United States with foreign air power to take out some of these tanks and artillery. Establishment of a sanctuary zone where they can train, equip, organize, and resist which would be no-fly, no-movement on the part of the Syrians. We can do that. In Bosnia, I hate to recall past times, but you and I were around when President Clinton said that we have to stop the massacre and the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia; it is an obligation of the United States of America. A lot of my Republican colleagues were adamantly opposed to that. Bob Dole with his leadership, and I worked with him, we fought for the resolution that authorized to go Bosnia. Kosovo, the same thing. So it's not -- a great regret, we didn't stop the genocide in Rwanda. So here we are with a clear case, and -- of human rights massacres and ethnic cleansings, and finally could I say, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, actually General Mattis, Central Command said, if Assad went, it would be the greatest blow to Iran in 25 years. So there is a national security component to this as well.

Bob Schieffer: Let's talk a little bit about Iran. What should we be doing there that we're not doing? Should we be taking a tougher line? I mean it looks like these sanctions are beginning to, as the President said yesterday, bite.

John McCain: There's no doubt that the sanctions are biting. There is also no doubt, according to the testimony of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Head of Central Command that it has not changed Iranian behavior in the slightest. So here we send Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the President's National Security Advisor to Israel to plead with him not to attack Iran and then leak it to the media. Who does that help? That helps the Iranians. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says that Iran is a, quote, "rational nation." Rational nation are nations that commit themselves to quote, "wiping Israel off the map?" Said that they haven't decided whether to use a nuclear weapon or not. Well, they're assembling one. They're digging into mountains to conceal what they're doing. So there's a robber outside your house that says he wants to rob you and he's putting together a gun. You wait until he gets the gun? So what we need to do is make it clear to the Iranians that if they reach a certain point, a red line, and we agree with the Israelis on that red line, that what the President has called unacceptable, that we reach that point, and then obviously we have to examine all of our options.

Bob Schieffer: What do we do if the Israelis just decide to strike out on their own?

John McCain: You know Bob, I'm not sure what we do except that...because we'd have to look at the circumstances. If they had a compelling case and that they are...look, it's their survival that's at stake. There's a threat to the United States of America, but not the direct threat that a nuclear armed with missiles Iran has... by the way, there's other ways like getting a weapon to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, so I think it would depend on the circumstances. What I'd hope we would do is sit down with the Israelis and say okay, we agree on a certain set of facts, if these facts dictate that Iran has reached a point where it is a threat to the existence of the state of Israel then we will act together. It seems to me that you could do that.

Bob Schieffer: Do you think that's going to happen? I mean do you think that this is going to continue on...

John McCain: I hate to speculate, except that it is very clear in testimony of the smartest people and our military leadership as well as the Secretary of Defense, that the Iranians have not been moved from the path that they're on. In other words they are continuing this step-by-step acquisition and assembly of a nuclear weapon. I don't know -- this is very, very serious business we're in.

Bob Schieffer: The president did say yesterday, look it's really easy out there on the campaign trail to say things he said, but you know, I'm the one who has to go to Walter Reed and I have to think about what all of this really costs, not just in money but in human lives.

McCain: You know I really don't, and he also said, quote, "I don't bluff." Since when does a president of the United States have to tell anybody that the United States doesn't bluff. I was very disappointed in that kind of comment, he said people are quote, "popping off," I think there's a lot of us that understand what our responsibilities are. There are a lot of us that have had some experience in warfare, and so for him to treat our views with disdain...I treat the president's views with respect. I may disagree with them, but I'm not being disrespectful. I hope he would give us the same respect that I think some of us have earned.

Schieffer: I noticed Mitch McConnell says he thinks the Senate will pass a resolution giving the President the right to use force if he thinks it's necessary. Do you think that?

McCain: Yes, but I'd like to see the President request it. I think Lindsey Graham has a resolution where the Senate would be on record as saying that there's a point where containment is not an option anymore. And I think maybe we could act that way first.

Schieffer: Senator John McCain, Senator, thank you. You always answer the questions.

McCain: it's always good to be with you, Bob, and thank you for having me on this new technology and we'll see if we can't increase the viewership 100 or so.

Schieffer: Alright and this is Face to Face and don't forget to watch Face the Nation this Sunday on television.

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