Senator John McCain recently sat down with the Foothills News political writer Jim Nintzel and publisher Steve Pope to talk about Supreme Court appointments, illegal immigration and the propositions on minimum wage and recreational marijuana that voters will decide in the Nov. 8 election. Here’s a condensed and edited Q&A with Arizona’s senior senator, who is facing Democratic U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick as he seeks a sixth term.
How do you feel about recent reports about the apparent rapid advance of the middle class economically over the last year?
What I saw was some improvement in the economy but we still have a smaller middle class than we had prior to 2008. This has been the slowest recovery since the end of the Great Depression. And we’ve seen the disposable income of middle America being reduced because of government regulation and Obamacare. So the wealthiest Americans have become wealthier and the number of poorer, lower income Americans has become larger. And 19 million Americans have stopped looking for work. That’s not good. It’s the first time in modern history that we’ve gone without at least one year of 3 percent GDP growth.
What sort of policies do you think would turn that around?
When Ronald Reagan became president in 1981 the first thing he did was declare a moratorium on all government regulations. There has been a flood of government regulation. Talk to any small businessman or woman and they will tell about these government regulations that have really restricted their ability to grow their businesses and I believe that is one the biggest factors.
One of the things you’ve said in this campaign is that you would act as a check against a Clinton administration, especially when it comes to Supreme Court appointees. You’ve voted against confirmation of Obama’s previous appointees. Would you support his latest pick, Merrick Garland, for the Supreme Court if Clinton were to name him?
From what I’ve seen of his record, he is too far left. They’re portraying him as a moderate, but I’ve seen a couple, three decisions of his I do not agree with. If Hillary Clinton is elected, then it will depend on who has a majority in the United States Senate. If we have the majority then that nominee would have to be acceptable to us. If they’re in the majority, then it’s much harder, but it would still require 60 votes. And I align myself completely with my dear, beloved friend Joe Biden, who in 1992 took to the floor of the Senate and said, by God, let the people decide. We’re not going to have a lame-duck Congress decide a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
If it were the last year of your presidency, would you say, “I’m not going to appoint somebody”?
I’m sure I’d like to appoint as part of my legacy. But that’s our system of government. There are three co-equal branches. So it’s not where you stand, it’s where you sit. As a member of the Senate, my priorities and my responsibilities as a legislator are very different from my responsibilities and authority as an executive.
What’s your position on illegal immigration these days?
I still feel the same way. We have 11 million people living in this country illegally and we have to address that in some way. Seventy-three percent of Republicans say there should be a path to citizenship. Tough, hard, expensive path to citizenship. Those people who say the Gang of Eight plan was some form of amnesty need to read the bill, to start with. Our bill was going to require 20,000 additional Border Patrol agents. So all I can say is, sooner or later, we will address this issue. It has to have border security, but equally important, it has to have E-Verify. Forty percent of the people who are living in our country illegally never came across our border illegally. They came with a visa and that visa expired. That’s why E-Verify is a vital part of it. Anybody who hires someone without that document that shows they are in the country legally, the person who did the hiring should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. That’s the only way you’re going to dry up this magnet.
Do you think that’s politically acceptable?
We passed it through the Senate with a very significant, overwhelming vote. Border security would stop 60 percent of the people who come into the country illegally, but E-Verify would take care of 40 percent, so to leave out E-Verify would be crazy. There’s airplanes landing every day with people with visas, so you’ve got to turn off that spigot.
Where do you stand on the proposition to raise the minimum wage in Arizona, and efforts on the federal level?
I’ve seen several studies that show that if you raise it to $15 an hour, as they have in some places, they just automate. Twice I’ve talked to groups of franchisees here in Arizona, Taco Bell and McDonalds, those places that give you the first rung on the ladder. They said, ‘Fine. The next time drive up to a window, you won’t be talking to a person. The next time you they hand you a hamburger and French fries, it will come out a slot. They have a certain profit margin. They cannot raise their cost of their product too high or people will stop purchasing it. So what are they going to do? They’re going to automate. So somebody is going to have to convince me that it’s good for employment in America, and I don’t think it is. I will respect, just as with the marijuana initiative, the verdict of the people of Arizona. But I believe that marijuana is a gateway drug and I also believe that raising the minimum wage will harm our ability to create jobs rather than help it.