COTTONWOOD - Senator John McCain stopped by the Verde Independent office Thursday morning to share his views on multiple issues.
During the discussion, McCain discussed his connection with the Verde Valley, his election, the presidential election, congress, immigration, terrorism, healthcare, the economy, and Arizona's unique environmental challenges.
Connection with the Verde Valley; local
Safeway support base
I have a very strong base of support that is located at the Safeway here in Cottonwood, a group of not-so-young men, next to the Starbucks counter. If you arrive early enough in the morning, they are all gathered there to discuss the issues of the day. And I arrive, and there are even a couple of Korean War veterans there. It's really a nice group of older guys I always have a chance to exchange jokes with.
How often he visits and his home at Page Springs
All the time. We have a place up at Page Springs. And we've been here for 30 years. We raised our kids here.
I believe that is one of the reasons why our children have turned out so well - we spent so much time with them here.
Whether it be hiking, or camping, or rafting where the creek is high enough, we would just spent so much time as family, and it really has been the best times of my life. The very happiest times of my life have been there at our place at Oak Creek.
The initial draw to the Verde Valley
When I was first elected to Congress, a district down in the valley, I met with the Farm Bureau. And the guy who was the head of the Farm Bureau at the time, I said "look, if you ever hear of a place that's on the water, and kind of apart, let me know."
About a year later, he calls me, "there's a place called Hidden Valley." Cindy did come up, she bought the place, and that's basically how we were so fortunate.
We've improved on the place, we really have - as I say - have been incredibly happy there. It's a wonderful place and the people are wonderful, the community and Cottonwood is wonderful, Verde Valley is wonderful, so, that's basically how we got here.
Winning the Arizona Republican Primary Election
I feel good. I was glad of the size of the victory. It was important to give us momentum going into the general election. It wasn't easy. We worked hard in every campaign. We had to work hard in this one. We had a lot of volunteers, including about 200, mostly college students, who were our interns. Together, over a period of time, they made over 3 million phone calls. So we were able to identify our voters, and get our voters out. It was one of the major factors in the size of our victory. We feel fine.
Never take anything for granted. We hit the ground running as soon as we were declared the winner.
Solutions on Immigration and Border Security
Gang of 8
We had solutions, in the so-called "Gang of 8" which was very much criticized. But obviously -- major provisions are obvious -- that we have to have a secure border. That's why in that bill itself we voted for 20,000 additional border patrol agents. Border security is a top priority.
Another major factor is E-Verify. Anyone who is in this country legally has to have a document when they go to get a job that shows that. Now if an individual employs someone without that, then that person is subject to violation of the law. That turns off the magnet that draws people here.
Path to Citizenship
There's also provisions for a path to citizenship. Which means, at least 10 years of paying back taxes, learning English, paying fees, getting behind everybody else with a green card, and an eligibility for citizenship.
Some people call that amnesty. I think it's a very long, hard path. A recent poll shows that percent of republicans, not just Americans, believe that there should be a path to citizenship. Not amnesty, not automatic, not what Ronald Regan did when they gave amnesty to 3 million people - I think it was 1986. But a long, hard, tough path to earn citizenship.
One other thing I would emphasize; if someone has a green card today, and joins the military, there's an accelerated path to citizenship.
Trump's trip to Mexico
I think that the message of that - that they are going to pay for the wall - I'm not sure if that's progress because obviously, the Mexicans made it clear that they are not paying for the wall. I don't know frankly, if I've been wrong in predicting every single thing that's happened so far this election cycle, so why would I be departing from that perfect record?
I'm not sure it changes very much. I don't think there was agreement between Donald Trump and the president of Mexico.
Supporting the Republican Nominee for President
I was at Andrews Air force Base and met the families of those sons who were taken off the plane in flag-draped coffins. I was there when Hillary Clinton walked up to families of those brave young men and lied to their faces. Said "I'm going to get the guy that made that hateful video." How could I possibly - how could I possibly support someone who would lie to the grieving parents of a dead American?
What he plans to accomplish in this term if elected
The world is more dangerous than it's ever been since the end of WWII. Millions of refuges. ISIS all over the world. China aggressively active in the Pacific. Russia dismantling Ukraine. The turmoil in Syria, Iraq, where we are losing. I believe that being Chairman of the Armed Services Committee - that my experience and background and knowledge makes me very qualified to address these challenges with a new president.
This president has been a total and dismal failure. Responsible for chaos and turmoil and the hundreds and thousands of innocent people who were killed by Bashar al-Assad. This is the president who believes that America should lead from behind. This is a president who proved that leading from behind - somebody else leads from in front.
The best description of the president's failure, was the picture on the front page of every major newspaper in America. The little boy. Covered in dirt and blood. That's the result of Barack Obama's failed policies and he will go down in history of one of the worst presidents of modern times.
Whoever his successor is - I want to work with that successor. But if that successor continues his policies, I will continue to fight.
International terrorism strategy
First of all we should have a strategy. This president has none. And that's a view from people I respect like John Bolton, and General Jack Keane. First you have to develop a strategy.
The second thing you have to do, or in integral part of that strategy, is go to Raqqa and kill them there before they come here and kill us here. We could do that with a 100,000 person force. Ninety thousand of it being Sunni Arab countries. Turkey. Saudi Arabia. Ten thousand Americans to provide the technical expertise. We could do that in a matter of weeks.
For example, there's a chemical weapon factory in Raqqa today. Baghdadi is calling in young men and giving them encrypted apps, and saying "get into the refugee flow, and call us." The director of the CIA, and the director of national intelligence have both said there will be more attacks on the United States of America. So we've got to kill them there.
Leadership to fight terrorism
And then of course, comes a long struggle against this virulent - what the president refuses to call - Islamic Terrorism. Radical terrorism. That's going to be a long fight. Because right now, not only is Baghdadi sending out these guys - but as we speak - there are young men on the internet, in a secure internet site, that are self-radicalized. Who are now motivated strongly to the degree where they will go out and take people's lives in exchange for theirs. It's going to be a long struggle. But it can't succeed without American leadership. And this president refuses to lead.
ISIS is the JV. We are leaving behind the safest, most prosperous, most democratic Iraq in history - 2011- when we pulled everybody out. It's disgraceful.
Safeguards for domestic terrorism
Screening and refugees
I think we have to do a better job of trying to identify these people. I think you have to have very strict screening of anybody who comes from that part of the world. I'm not saying we shouldn't allow any of them, but I am saying that we should be absolutely sure that they are not one of those that I mentioned earlier - that Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, sends. I think that we have got to go to the source. As long as ISIS is doing what they are doing, there will be a flow of refugees. There was no flow of refugees 8 years ago. There was none of this going on. Until Barack Obama's failed policies.
We are starting to lose in Afghanistan as well. Taliban are on the rise there. All I can say is that we are still the best, strongest nation on earth, we still have the best military, we still have the best leaders, and we can do this. But we need a president who will lead. And this president won't lead.
What he'd like to see congress accomplish in the next session
I'd like to see us work together more. I'd like to see us do everything - ranging from properly addressing our national security challenges - through our arming, training, and equipping our men and women in the military - and giving them what they need in order to defend this nation. This is probably our number one priority.
I'd like to see us sit down together on issues such as tax reform. I'd like to see us seriously address the deficit. I'd like to see us on the Zika virus - another classic example. In other words, we have to have a bipartisan approach to some of the challenges we face. Unfortunately, that hasn't been happening, which accounts for a very low approval rating of Congress.
Opposing the Affordable Care Act
Well, I think the best and most compelling example is Pinal County. Pinal County now has 10,000 honest citizens who are going to be without any healthcare provider. Everyone has bailed out. Eight other counties in Arizona are only going to have one.
Criticism of the Affordable Care Act
There's going to be at least, well Blue Cross Blue Shield, is asking for a 65 percent increase in their premiums cost, making it unaffordable. Deductibles going up into the $1000s, and this is the same president who said, "If you like your health care policy, you can keep your heath care policy. Period." In his own inevitable style. It was based on the precept that we would take money from younger healthy Americans to take to older, less healthy Americans. It doesn't work.
So, we are going to have to repeal and replace it. And I know that my opponent (Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick) said that it was the proudest vote that she has cast. I wonder how well that goes over in Pinal County.
Improving healthcare for veterans
We have to do a lot of things, but primarily in my view, we have to give veterans a choice, the same way people on Medicare have a choice. A veteran should be attracted to the VA on PTSD, traumatic brain injury, a prosthesis, but on other health care requirements, that veteran should be able to go to any health care provider of his or her choice, get immediate care, and have the VA pay for it. Unfortunately, the VA is resisting every step of the way. And unfortunately - unbelievably - some of the veterans organizations are opposed to it. That to me is unbelievable.
One of the reasons why there is such dissatisfaction in America is because what we know of as the middle class is shrinking. We know that the wealthiest are getting wealthier. There are more people who are below the poverty line. Nineteen million Americans have stopped looking for work. This has been the slowest recovery since the great depression. The Affordable Care Act has played a role in this and a flood of government regulations.
As far as the minimum wage is concerned - I think we ought to have that be a decision made by the states to start with - but second of all, if you raise the minimum wage too high, many economic studies have shown that employers will stop hiring. And they will go to automation. For example, right now in San Francisco, they passed to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Do you know what the franchises are doing now? That used to hire people for McDonalds and Taco Bells, etc.; they're automating. They're automating. Instead of you seeing a person at the window, you see a device at the window. Instead of somebody handing you their hamburgers, that comes out a shoot. You've got to be careful. If you raise the minimum wage too high, you choke off the employment. And a lot of these, like for example fast food chains, they are the first rung on the ladder of employment. So you don't remove that rung. So those who have the simplistic view that "well, all we need to do is raise the minimum wage," that's not the reaction of the employers.
Pros and cons of online economy
I think the good news is, is that goods and products are less expensive for the average consumer. I've been to an automotive factory, and where if I would have gone 15 years ago, you'd see people working all around the car, putting it together.
You go to one today, you see a few people standing around watching robots putting their cars together. The overall impact of technology is tremendous advantage - but, it also has a real, significant effect on employment.
There's a group of Americans - blue collar workers - most of them are white, male, over 45, who know they will never see another job. That is sad. So how do we adjust to that? One - and primarily - education.
Education and the economy
Whether it be our universities and colleges. Or a major role, I think, community colleges. Yavapai Community College does a great job. They provide a lot of technical training. Embry Riddle and their aviation school; it isn't just for pilots - it's for technicians and maintenance - people like that. We've got to give them the education to compete in this new environment.
Arizona's environmental challenges
Verde Valley water supply
Fire and water are the challenges in the 21st century for Arizona. It's also a challenge for the Verde Valley and the Verde River. I have - for years - urged that all the mayors and city council and county supervisors get together and look at this whole issue of Verde Valley water supply. Down in Santa Cruz County, we have the San Pedro partnership, where they have gotten together - including the military because of the base there - and they have discussed ways to save the San Pedro. They've done a pretty good job. I have argued with the mayors of the valleys - ranging from Prescott to Cottonwood, to Clarkdale, to Camp Verde - that we join together, and start working in concert, on the issue of water.
Thinning our forests
We have to thin our forests. Twenty percent of Arizona's national forests have been consumed by fire in the last 10 years. We need to thin the forests. We've gotten some new airplanes moved over for retardant, we have freed up more land for thinning. We've worked with the Native Americans to thin their forests.
We've got to get rid of the Saltcedar. One Saltcedar will drink 200 gallons of water a year. You could save 800,000 acre feet of water by getting rid of the Saltcedar on the Colorado (River). We have to address it from a whole lot of different aspects. If you go down to Yuma, they have this place called the Yuma Heritage Crossing. It's about 100 acres - along the Colorado - between the Cocopah tribe and Yuma; they've cleared it. They pulled all the Saltcedar. They've planted native grasses, mesquite, and all of that. There's an endangered species there that they haven't seen in 50 years. If we could do that, along the Colorado, and along the Verde, we would have a tremendous change.
But if we don't do something - status quo - our children will not live the lives that we have, or our grandchildren. They will not. You can do the math on forest fires.
So if I had a message for the (Verde) Valley, it would be "Let's all get together, county, and mayors, and city councils, and we will be there all the time."