CNN aired McCain's floor statement on Iraq, but no one else's

››› ››› ROB DIETZ

During the 11 a.m. ET hour of the July 10 edition of CNN Newsroom, anchor Tony Harris went live to Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) floor statement on the Iraq war and aired it uninterrupted for more than 11 minutes. During the speech, McCain asserted that "the progress our military has made should encourage us" in Iraq. CNN did not air excerpts of statements by any Democrats or other lawmakers critical of the war. In fact, a Media Matters for America survey of CNN's July 10 programming found that the network did not air any other live floor statement all day, despite speeches from Democratic Sens. Carl Levin (MI), Joseph R. Biden Jr. (DE), and Jim Webb (VA).

Later in the afternoon, CNN host Kyra Phillips went live to a press conference by McCain. Phillips subsequently aired a portion of a live press conference held by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

Moreover, during his floor statement, McCain frequently claimed that the U.S. military in Iraq is fighting "Al Qaeda," thus conflating the Sunni insurgent group "Al Qaeda in Iraq" with the group responsible for the 9-11 attacks. Yet after airing the clip, Harris failed to note that, according to McClatchy Newspapers, such assertions have been "rejected" by "U.S. military and intelligence officials," as Media Matters for America noted when CNN host Wolf Blitzer failed to challenge Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-CT) on a similar point on the July 10 edition of The Situation Room.

From the 11 a.m. ET hour of CNN Newsroom:

HARRIS: Right now let's take you to the floor of the Senate. Senator John McCain speaking on Iraq.

[begin video clip]

McCAIN: -- the chairman of the [Senate Armed Services] committee, Senator [Carl] Levin [D-MI]. I think we have crafted a excellent piece of legislation. I think a testimony to his leadership is that the committee voted unanimously to report the bill. And it fully funds the president's $648 billion Defense budget request.

It provides necessary measures to try to bring under control waste, fraud, and abuse in defense procurement. And it makes, frankly, members more accountable for their spending in the earmark process.

Again, I'd like to thank chairman Levin, the subcommittee chairs, and all the committee chairmen members for their work in bringing this issue to the floor.

Very briefly, Mr. President, we've authorized a 3.5-percent across-the-board pay raise for all military personnel. We've increased Army and Marine in strength to 525,400 and 198 -- 89,000 respectively.

The committee also approved $2.7 billion for items on the Army chief of staff's unfunded requirement list, including $775 million for reactive armor and other Stryker requirements; $207 million for aviation survivability equipment; $102 million for combat training centers; and funding for explosive ordnance, disposal equipment, night vision devices and machine guns. The bill also authorizes $4.1 billion for mine resistance ambush protected vehicles known as MRAP, for vehicles for all the service's known requirements.

The committee has come up with the money to support our troops, and I have no doubt that the full Senate will follow step.

Money and policy statements are not all that's required at this moment in our national history. Courage is required -- courage. And not the great courage exhibited by the brave men and women fighting today in Iraq and Afghanistan, but a smaller measure, the courage necessary to put our country's interest before every personal or political consideration.

In this light, I'd like to discuss America's involvement in Iraq. But finally, I'd like to make several points.

Final reinforcements needed to implement General Petraeus's new counterinsurgency tactics arrived just several weeks ago. Last week, I had the opportunity to visit these troops in theater. From what I saw and heard while there, I believe that our military, in cooperation with the Iraqi security forces, is making progress in a number of areas. There are -- there are areas where they are not.

I'd like to outline some of their efforts. Not to argue that these areas have suddenly become safe. They have not. I want to emphasize, the areas have not become safe, but illustrate the progress that our military's achieved under General Petraeus' new strategy.

Last year, it was -- Anbar province was believed to be lost to Al Qaeda. On the map, we see that U.S. and Iraqi troops cleaned out Al Qaeda fighters out of Ramadi and other areas of western Anbar.

Tribal sheikhs broke with the terrorists and joined the coalition's side. It is a fact that some 16 out of the 24 sheikhs in the Sunni area of Anbar province have now joined with U.S. forces in their commitment to destroy Al Qaeda in Anbar province.

Ramadi months ago was Iraq's most dangerous city. Now one of its safest. A considerable political risk.

I point out that I visited with Senator [Lindsey] Graham [R-NC] downtown Ramadi, where the shopping areas were open. I did not visit without protection or without security forces with me. But the fact is that a short time ago it was one of the most dangerous cities in all of Iraq. Attacks are down from 30 to 35 a day in February to most to zero in most days now.

In Fallujah, Iraqi police have established numerous stations and have divided the city into gated districts. Violence has declined, and local intelligence tips have proliferated.

Throughout Anbar province, thousands of young men are signing up for the police and army, and the locals are taking the fight to Al Qaeda. All 18 major tribes in the province are now on board with the security plan. A year from now, the Iraqi army and police could have total control of security in Ramadi, allowing American forces to safely draw down.

South of Baghdad, Operation Phantom Thunder is intended to stop insurgents present in the Baghdad belts from originating attacks in the capital itself. A brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, which I visited, is operating in Baghdad belts that have been havens for Al Qaeda.

All soldiers in the brigade are living forward. That means they are in outposts away from the headquarters 24-7, living, working, and fighting alongside Iraqi military. And commanders report that the local sheikhs are increasingly siding with the coalition against Al Qaeda.

Southeast of Baghdad, the military is targeting Al Qaeda in safe havens they maintain along the Tigris River. In Baghdad itself, military, in cooperation with Iraqi security forces, continue to establish joint security stations and deploy throughout the city. These efforts have produced some positive results.

Sectarian violence has fallen since January. The total number of car bombings and suicide attacks declined in May and June. The number of locals coming forward with intelligence tips has risen.

Make no mistake, violence in Baghdad remains at unacceptably high levels. Suicide bombers and other threats pose formidable challenges and other difficulties abound. Nevertheless, there appears to be overall movement in the right direction.

Mr. President, I have no doubt how difficult suicide bombers are to counter. Ask the Israelis. Literally had to seal their borders with Gaza and the West Bank because of the way that people were willing to sacrifice their own lives in order to take the other -- the lives of others, are able to get through and do these horrendous acts that unfort -- that we are exposed to quite often on our television screens and in our newspapers in America.

In Diyala province, Iraq -- Iraqi and American troops have surged and are fighting to deny Al Qaeda sanctuary in the city of Baquba. For the first time since the war began, Americans showed up in force and did not quickly withdraw from the area. In response, locals have formed a new alliance with the count -- with the coalition to counter Al Qaeda.

Why are some of these people now turning against Al Qaeda, Mr. President? One reason is, is because the extreme cruelty that is practiced by Al Qaeda on a routine basis which has caused many people to reject that kind of extreme violence and cruelty inflicted on the local people. Diyala, which was a center of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's proposed Islamic caliphate, finally has a chance to turn aside the forces of extremism. I offer these observations not in order to present a rosy scenario of the challenges we continue to face in Iraq. As last weekend's horrific bombing in Salah ad Din province illustrates so graphically, the threats to Iraqi stability have not gone away. Nor are they likely to go away in the near future. And our brave men and women in Iraq will continue to face great challenges.

What I do believe is that while the mission to bring a degree of security to Iraq and to Baghdad, and its environs in particular, in order to establish the necessary preconditions for political and economic progress, while that mission is still in its early stages, the progress our military has made should encourage us. It's also clear that the overall strategy that General Petraeus has put into place, a traditional counterinsurgency tactic that emphasizes protecting the population and which gets our troop off of the bases and into the areas they're trying to protect, that this strategy is the correct one.

Some of my colleagues argue that we should return troops to the forward operating bases and confine their activities to training and targeted counterterrorism operations. That's precisely what we did for three and a half years. And the situation in Iraq got worse.

Over three and a half years, we had our troops from operating bases going out -- search and destroy, as we used to call it during the Vietnam War -- and go back to their bases. A failed strategy from the beginning.

I'm surprised that any of my colleagues would advocate a return to the failed Rumsfeld-Casey strategy. No one can be certain whether this new strategy which remains in the early stages can bring about greater stability. We can be sure that should the United States Senate seek to legislate an end to the strategy as it is just beginning, then we will fail for certain.

Now that the military effort in Iraq is showing some signs of progress, the space is opening for political progress. Yet, rather than seizing the opportunity, the government of Prime Minister Maliki is not functioning as it was -- as it must. I will repeat -- the government of Prime Minister Maliki is not functioning as it must.

We see little evidence of reconciliation and little progress toward meeting the benchmarks laid out by the president. The Iraqi government can function. The Iraqi government can function. The question is whether it will.

To encourage political progress, I believe --

[end video clip]

HARRIS: Well, as you know, Senators [Pete] Domenici [R-NM], [George] Voinovich [R-OH], and [Richard] Lugar [R-IN] are parting from the president's view slightly on the surge as a strategy. Those senators looking for a new way in Iraq, a new plan.

From the 2 p.m. ET hour of CNN Newsroom:

PHILLIPS: Hala [Gorani, correspondent], forgive me. Stay with me, Hala, we've got to go to Senator McCain, because we haven't heard from him yet, and I'm told he's speaking now on Capitol Hill. Listen for us, Hala. I'll come back to you.

Senator McCain.

McCAIN [video clip]: -- security provided, but also political progress.

The men and women who are serving there obviously are doing a magnificent job. And on the Fourth of July, Senator Graham and I were privileged to witness the re-enlistment of some 688 young soldiers and Marines and airmen as they re-enlisted, and 128 others who received their citizenship.

On this -- on the issue of the debate, very briefly, I think the Webb amendment is encroachment on the constitutional rights of the president of the United States and the presidential authority of the president of the United States, in that he alone is the commander in chief and will set deployments. Obviously, the so-called Reid-Levin amendment calling for dates of a withdrawal, we've seen this movie before.

And I regret that we have to do this on the authorization bill for our nation's defense since we almost always -- in fact, every year I've been here we've passed a defense authorization bill. Now this could cause a presidential veto. I think that would be a great disservice to the men and women in the military for whom we have things like a 3.5-percent pay raise and other vital items to our security.

We all know that September is a time when this issue is going to be reopened again, and of why we have to go through it again in the month of July is frankly a puzzlement to me, unless somehow politics may be a part of this debate we're having, which I hope that it's not.

PHILLIPS: All right. Senator John McCain, responding there with other leaders on the Hill to the president's speech that he just gave there at a roundtable in Cleveland, Ohio.


PHILLIPS: It's straight to the Hill. Senator Harry Reid responding to the president's speech just about 20 minutes ago. Let's listen in.

[begin video clip]

REID: We're going to do that. Our first two amendments are extremely important. Number one: the Jim Webb amendment. Doesn't it make sense that if you're in a country for 15 months you should be out of country for 15 months? And with the Guard and Reserve, of course, you need a longer time than that because it's the militia at home.

We're going to continue pushing that, and we're going to continue pushing Levin-Reid with 120-day redeployment guideline and a deadline of the first day of May of next year, that all troops need to be out of Iraq except for counterterrorism, force protection, and training Iraqis. That's where we are, we think, with the American people.

The surge is not working. No matter how many different ways you explain it, it hasn't worked. Six months, 600 dead Americans, $60 billion. Questions?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do [inaudible] for Democrats if you can't agree on [inaudible]?

REID: I'm sorry. I don't understand your question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- [inaudible] strategy that does not involve withdrawal [inaudible] --

REID: Collins isn't a Democrat issue.


REID: Oh, well, I think you're going to find that the Democrats are going to be together on Levin-Reid. I think virtually all Democrats will vote for that. I mean, when I say virtually all, there may be two, maybe three that won't, but virtually all Democrats will vote for Levin-Reid. We've already been told that there is a number of Republicans who will vote with us, so that sounds like a majority to me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to need 60 votes [inaudible] Republican tactic here [inaudible] not get 60 votes on these Democrat amendments will you agree to do some bipartisan amendments?

REID: It's hard for me to comprehend how on a Defense Authorization Bill -- a bill that comes about every year to fund the troops, that is, it sets guidelines for how much their pay increases are going to be, what new equipment will be purchased, what weapons systems are going to be initiated, some of which won't go forward. One of the most important bills we deal with all year is the Defense Authorization Bill.

We have a couple of amendments up, and as I've said before, this is untoward. This Republican minority so envious of the elections that took place last November, are making it so that everything that we bring up, they obstruct, they block. What we'll do, if, in fact, they're going to try to make us get 60 votes on Webb, we're going to bring it to their attention. We'll have a cloture vote on that. And we're going to make sure the Defense Authorization Bill passes. It would seem hard for me to comprehend --

[end video clip]

DON LEMON (correspondent): Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Capitol Hill, responding to the president's comment about Iraq.

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National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
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