On this week’s Meet the Press, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) defends press freedom

FULL TRANSCRIPT

NBC News – Meet The Press

2.19.17


Many Republicans have been largely reluctant to criticize President Trump, but not my next guest. Senator John McCain, who appears on the cover of this week’s New York Magazine, has taken plenty of incoming from Mr. Trump, and has been willing to give as well. Here’s what he had to say on Friday at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, an event essentially founded to confront the threat posed by this old Soviet Union during the Cold War.

JOHN MCCAIN:

They would be alarmed by an increasing turn away from universal values and toward old ties of blood, and race, and sectarianism. They would be alarmed by the hardening resentment we see towards immigrants, and refugees, and minority groups, especially Muslims. They would be alarmed by the growing inability and even unwillingness to separate truth from lies.


CHUCK TODD: Well I talked to Senator McCain yesterday from Munich and I began by asking him whether, in that speech, he was referring directly to President Trump.

JOHN MCCAIN: I was certainly referring to the threats that we are now facing with this, stated goals of this administration, which would upset the last 70 years of a new world order which was established after World War II. Seventy years based on human rights, respect for the law, free trade. All of the things, aspects of this world order that took place after one of the most horrific, terrible wars in history. And I’m for maintaining it. And I’m afraid that it’s under assault from a variety of forces including, by the way, the Russians.

CHUCK TODD: You say a variety of forces. You’re being careful here. Do you think the president agrees with you about the world order or not?

We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital. If you want to preserve– I’m very serious now– If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.

JOHN MCCAIN: I think many of his statements have been contradictory. Some of them have indicated that. I am very pleased with the national security team that he has around him, who are here in Munich, by the way, in General Mattis and General Kelly. I think that– and the vice-president gave a very good speech today. But I worry about statements which upset our friends at a time when the strains on the European Union and Europeans are greater than they have been since any time since the end of the Cold War.

CHUCK TODD: Let me ask the question this way. How much confidence do you have in the current commander-in-chief?

JOHN MCCAIN: Well, I worry. I worry about the president’s understanding of some of these issues and his contradictory articulations. And I think the rollout of the, quote, immigration reform was an example of a need for an orderly decision making process in the White House. And that I think is probably what’s plaguing them more than anything else right now.

CHUCK TODD: You know, you’ve been– you’ve taken extra care to say how much you like the president’s national security team. Does that include what you’ve seen out of the National Security Council?

JOHN MCCAIN: I worry about the membership. There has never been a political advisor as a permanent member of the National Security Council. And in Mr. Bannon’s role as both political advisor and member of the National Security Council, I’m very worried about. Former Secretary of Defense Gates has said he’s deeply concerned. So has Leon Panetta and many others who view the National Security Council as apolitical and should not be influenced by any political influences.

CHUCK TODD: It’s interesting you bring up Mr. Bannon. He calls himself an economic nationalist. When you hear that– or how about this? When Europeans hear that, what do they hear?

JOHN MCCAIN: They feel uncertain about our trade relationships. They saw that we abandoned the TPP. They’re facing the Brexit problem right now.

All this business with Vladimir Putin is very disturbing to all of us. To equate Vladimir Putin and the United States of America, as he was asked, you know, I guess it was Bill O’Reilly who said, “But Putin is a killer.” And he basically said, “So are we.” That moral equivalency is a contradiction of everything the United States has ever stood for in the 20th and 21st century.

CHUCK TODD: There’s a lot of members of Congress it seems this week that do want to get more involved into an investigation into what Russia did, what role did Russia play in the 2016 election.

JOHN MCCAIN: There are so many questions out there that we first of all need to understand the parameters of what’s happened here. And so I would hold off and wait and see what happens. One thing that you and I know from being around this to– being around Washington, there’s probably going to be some more shoes to drop.

CHUCK TODD: That’s true, but let me ask you this. Can be Americans be confident that a Republican-controlled Congress can investigate this president thoroughly if necessary?

JOHN MCCAIN: I hope so. And I have to believe so.

CHUCK TODD: And then before I let you go.

JOHN MCCAIN: More hope than belief.

CHUCK TODD: More hope than belief? Before I let you go–

JOHN MCCAIN:  Both.

CHUCK TODD: I’m curious of your reaction to a tweet that the president sent Friday night. “The fake news media, failing New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American people.” You believe the press is the enemy? You believe any group of Americans are the enemy of another group of Americans?

JOHN MCCAIN: I was talking about the period as, you know, of the new world order. A fundamental part of that new world order was a free press. I hate the press. I hate you especially. But the fact is I, we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital. If you want to preserve– I’m very serious now– If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.

CHUCK TODD: That’s how dictators get started, with tweets like that?

JOHN MCCAIN: With– No. They get started by suppressing a free press. In other words, a consolidation of power, when you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press. And I’m not saying that that’s, that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I’m just saying we need to learn the lessons of history.

CHUCK TODD:  Senator McCain, I’m going to leave it there. You are a student of history. That’s for sure. I always appreciate you sharing your views no matter how much you hate me. That’s all right.

(END TAPE)

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