WATCH: John McCain Does a 180 on Jobless Vets

On exclusive audio last month, the hawkish senator called jobs for vets priority No. 1. Wait till you see what he said this month.

Will Seberger/ZUMAPRESS.com


Sen. John McCain—Naval Academy class of 1958, Vietnam prisoner of warhas long enjoyed a reputation as a straight-talking protector of the troops. But yesterday, he joined 39 Republican colleagues in blocking a bipartisan bill that would have provided federal jobs for up to 20,000 out-of-work ex-service membersand in doing so, he went back on a verbal promise he made to a veteran weeks ago.

Mother Jones has obtained exclusive audio of an interview McCain conducted with military vet and citizen journalist Meg Lanker-Simons at the Republican National Convention in Tampa last month. In the exchange, McCain said getting vets back to work was job No. 1. (The jobless rate for former service members is up to 31 percent higher than for civilians.) “The fact is, it’s a national disgrace that veterans’ unemployment is 14 percent,” McCain said. “That’s a national disgrace. And we’ve got to try to find more ways and better ways to hire veterans. And that has got to be our highest priority.”

Listen for yourself:

But last week, in floor remarks criticizing the now-dead Veterans Job Corps bill, McCain took a dramatically different stance. He declared that fiscal austerity trumped joblessness among former soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. “We already have six veterans job-training programs, but what the heck? Let’s, ah, let’s have another one,” he said in a sarcastic tone:

McCain went to attack the bill as “a piece of legislation that somehow will enhance the majority leader’s ability to maintain his position as majority leader.” Perhaps that’s because few bills this congressional session had been as popular as this measure. It would have set up a corps “to match veterans with available jobs based on the skills the veterans acquired as members of the Armed Forces,” from homeland security to law enforcement to national parks. Not only that, it would have been cost-neutral: It was to be funded over the next decade with $1 billion of new revenue in the Department of Veterans Affairs—and of that, at least 95 percent had to go directly to the vets’ benefits, rather than administration.

Besides the entire Democratic caucus, the bill got votes from five Republican senators: Scott Brown (Mass.), Susan Collins (Maine), Dean Heller (Nev.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Olympia Snowe (Maine). But 58 senators out of 100 were not enough to overcome McCain and his colleagues, who filibustered and argued that the bill was election season politicking that still didn’t meet their budget standards.

Lanker-Simons, a Navy veteran and freelance reporter based in Laramie, Wyoming, provided Mother Jones with the tape of her interview with McCain after hearing his justification for blocking the Veterans Jobs Act. She’d corralled the senator at a GOP convention party for Got Your Six, a nonprofit campaign to help vets transition into civilian life. “Honestly, I’d just interviewed him as kind of a softball thing,” she says. But this week, she adds, “I saw that he had voted against [the bill], and then I replayed the interview, and I was like, ‘Holy shit!'” In the complete two minute clip (embedded below), McCain expressed faith that all senators could reach bipartisan agreement on caring for troubled former service members. Says Lanker-Simons: “It’s the exact opposite of his vote, basically.”

A spokesman for McCain sent Mother Jones a statement by the senator, noting, “While I support many of the items within this bill, and I am firmly committed to eliminating the unemployment crisis faced by our veterans, we cannot continue to add to our debt and deficit.” The statement continued:

Successful, common sense legislation requires bi-partisanship and compromise. Our returning heroes deserve nothing less. I am committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that America’s veterans have every opportunity for a happy and successful life.

Mother Jones followed up, asking whether McCain now considers the deficit a higher priority than veterans unemployment, and what sort of compromise he’d support on joblessness, if not this one. The senator’s office did not respond.

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate