As Shutdown Ends, NBC Invites GOP Moderates to Bash Conservatives

As the government shutdown was nearing it's end Wednesday evening, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams conducted a live interview with John McCain, urging the Arizona Senator to slam fellow Republicans over the budget showdown: "Senator, let's talk about the damage in order, to the country, to your party, your profession, and how much of this do you lay at the feet of Senator Cruz from Texas?" [Listen to the audio]

McCain began by noting political damage for both parties in the wake of the stalemate but then quickly obliged Williams, launching into an rant against conservatives in Congress: "The problem with their strategy was that it was a fool's errand. We were not going to de-fund ObamaCare. That's why we had an election in 2012. That's part of what that was all about. So it was a terrific mistake. We inflicted pain on the American people that was totally unnecessary....We Republicans have a hole that we've got to come out of."

Williams was still not satisfied, insisting: "Well, what about Mr. Cruz? That one member of the U.S. Senate who's getting so much of attention."

McCain again attacked conservatives: "But it wasn't Senator Cruz alone. Part of it was a selling the American people by a lot of organizations that somehow if we held out long enough that we would be able to do away with ObamaCare....And so it was a fool's errand."

Williams then fretted that conservatives were responsible for the contentious atmosphere in Washington: "Is this the way we do business now in Washington? Is consensus dead? Is compromise dead? And how about decorum? You have very nicely passed it off, but recently Congressman Gohmert of Texas called you an Al Qaeda supporter and it hardly made a blip in all the talk."

McCain replied: "...sometimes those are – comments like that are made out of malice, but if someone has no intelligence, I don't view it as being a malicious statement." He then declared: "But yes, there's polarization here and there's a lack of civility. I intend to maintain civility and I intend to respect the views of others."

What Williams and McCain failed to mention was the vitriol coming from the left during the shutdown, routinely labeling conservatives as "terrorists" for simply standing on principle.

On Thursday's Today, co-host Willie Geist touted McCain as one of the "voices of reason who are talking about the long-term damage that was done." Geist also lamented that "unfortunately" President Obama "doesn't have the only say" in deciding the nation's budget and raising the debt ceiling.

Earlier on the Thursday morning show, fellow co-host Matt Lauer talked to former Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and former Bush communications director – and advisor to McCain's 2008 presidential campaign – Nicolle Wallace. Lauer asked Wallace: "What did Republicans walk away from – walk away with after all this?"

Wallace provided this condescending answer:

Well, I have a toddler and a wise dad on the playground once told me that laughing leads to crying. And I think that applies to the situation that Republicans find themselves in....I think a lot of establishment Republicans really never thought it would come to this, a two-week government shutdown. But the fact that it did, I think, sends a very clear signal to all Republicans to listen very carefully to what the Tea Party is complaining about, what they're angry about, because they have no, I think, limits to what they're willing to do.

Lauer reiterated: "But did the Republicans walk away, as a party, with anything?" Wallace sneered: "I think what they walked away with is an understanding of how far the Tea Party wing of our party is willing to go, that there is nothing sacred."

Moments later, Lauer implored: "Nicolle, take me to January 15th and February 7th. We're out of money and the debt ceiling comes up again, what is the Republican strategy going to be at that time? The shutdown strategy was a disaster." Wallace agreed: "Well, it was."

NBC didn't bother to talk to conservative senators like Cruz or Utah's Mike Lee, let alone having on any Tea Party members from the House to discuss the shutdown.

Here is a full transcript of Williams' October 16 interview with McCain:

7:00PM ET TEASE:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: The deal to avert an economic catastrophe and reopen the federal government. But is this any way to run a country? Tonight, late details on the deal and Senator John McCain joins us live.

7:08PM ET SEGMENT:

WILLIAMS: And we are joined here tonight by one of the Republican veterans in the U.S. Senate, a man who has expressed deep regret and anger over the damage this has done, Senator John McCain of Arizona. Senator, let's talk about the damage in order, to the country, to your party, your profession, and how much of this do you lay at the feet of Senator Cruz from Texas?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN [R-AZ]: I – it's not – we have damaged our credibility very badly. And all of us. The President's numbers have gone down. Democrats' numbers have gone down. Republicans' numbers have gone down, only greater. And it has eroded the confidence – you just showed – eroded the confidence on the part of the American people.

Remember that many of the members of the House were elected in 2010 promising to repeal or de-fund ObamaCare. The problem with their strategy was that it was a fool's errand. We were not going to de-fund ObamaCare. That's why we had an election in 2012. That's part of what that was all about.

So it was a terrific mistake. We inflicted pain on the American people that was totally unnecessary. And we cannot do this again. We Republicans have a hole that we've got to come out of. And obviously we're gonna have to do a lot of work.  

WILLIAMS: Well, what about Mr. Cruz? That one member of the U.S. Senate who's getting so much of attention.

MCCAIN: Mm-hmm. Well, he's entitled to his views. He's entitled to his – to what he wants to do. And he's responsible to the voters of the state of Texas. But it wasn't Senator Cruz alone. Part of it was a selling the American people by a lot of organizations that somehow if we held out long enough that we would be able to do away with ObamaCare. And that's not how the American government works when you only have a majority in the House of Representatives and Democrats governing the Senate and a Democratic president.

And so it was a fool's errand. And that's why some of us became so angry. Look, I'll do everything I can to fix ObamaCare and to de-fund it. I campaigned on that. But you can't do it when the situation is as it was. And so you deceived a lot of Americans and that adds to the cynicism.

WILLIAMS: Senator, more broadly, is this the way we do business now in Washington? Is consensus dead? Is compromise dead? And how about decorum? You have very nicely passed it off, but recently Congressman Gohmert of Texas called you an Al Qaeda supporter and it hardly made a blip in all the talk.

MCCAIN: Well, on that particular issue, sometimes those are – comments like that are made out of malice, but if someone has no intelligence, I don't view it as being a malicious statement. And you know, you can't respond to that kind of thing. But yes, there's polarization here and there's a lack of civility. I intend to maintain civility and I intend to respect the views of others.

But I also intend to make it clear that we cannot do this kind of thing to the American people. You gave the numbers on billions of dollars. And our system of government has got to perform better. Now some of us, 14 of us, worked together on a bipartisan basis and we came up with a solution. So I think the lesson from this is there's a lot of us in the Senate, and I believe in the House, that know that the best way to address these issues is not what we just put the American people through.

WILLIAMS: And what about the fact, Senator, that the solution now kicks the can down the road? Puts off this crisis to create a possible other crisis after the first of the year?

MCCAIN: I hope we've learned a lesson not to do it again. And sit down together and work out compromises. We can do it. I've seen it. I've done it. And that's what the American people want from us. I'm not giving up, I still have faith in the American people and faith in these institutions. And I enjoy the good fight, but the time comes when you have to do what's right for the American people.

WILLIAMS: On that note, our thanks to Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, for being with us on yet another momentous day in the U.S. Senate.

— Kyle Drennen is News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.