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McCain: 'I Don't See How Any Veteran Who Cares About Their Fellow Veterans' Can Back Hillary

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) is demanding that Hillary Clinton apologize for suggesting that that Veterans Administration backlog and patient deaths weren't as serious as represented.

"You know, I don't understand why we have such a problem, because there have been a number of surveys of veterans. And overall, veterans who do get treated are satisfied with their treatment," Clinton said Friday on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show.

"Now, nobody would believe that from the coverage that you see, and the constant berating of the VA that comes from the Republicans, in part in pursuit of this ideological agenda that they have," she continued.

Clinton argued that the scandal is "not been as widespread as it has been made out to be."

Her press secretary, Brian Fallon, tried to walk back the remarks in a statement to CNN. "Even now, too many of our veterans are still waiting an unacceptably long time to see a doctor, or to process disability claims and appeals," Fallon said, adding that as president Clinton "will work to further reform the VA to make sure it truly works for our veterans, and will demand accountability and performance from VA leadership."

McCain joined House Armed Services Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) on a call with reporters this morning.

"I don't know what Hillary Clinton's view of widespread is but facts are stubborn things," McCain said, noting recent reports that 500,000 appointments are pending with extended wait times and the VA inspector general found 800,000 records stalled in the system.

"If that's not 'widespread,' I would like to know what Hillary Clinton's definition of widespread is," the senator reiterated.

On Clinton's charge that Republicans "made it political," McCain noted that the Veterans Affairs committees in both chambers "have always worked in a bipartisan fashion," such as on a VA reform bill with then-VA Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). "There was no partisanship in that negotiation."

"Now Hillary Clinton, in her blind ambition, has now injected partisanship into the VA issue and that is disgraceful," he added, stressing "she owes an apology," especially the families of dozens who died waiting for care at the Phoenix VA hospital.

PJM asked McCain if Sanders would be a better leader on veterans issues than Clinton. McCain stressed that he didn't want to "engage in favoritism" in the Democratic presidential primary.

But, he noted, "Bernie Sanders worked very hard when chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee." They had "many disagreements but were able to come together" -- negotiations for which, McCain quipped, "my reward will be in heaven not here on earth for that exercise."

"He does have a record of advocacy for our veterans," McCain said of Sanders, adding that he knows "of no activity, legislative or otherwise, Hillary Clinton was engaged in as U.S. senator" on behalf of veterans.

Miller said it "goes without saying that Hillary Clinton proved she has no idea what she's talking about when it comes to veterans issues."

"Anybody who can claim anything different than that just can't be paying attention," Miller said, adding, "I can say the VA problems are still not fixed."

The chairmen noted that two people involved in the Phoenix VA scandal are still on paid administrative leave, and system-wide the VA only fired three employees over the wait times. The IG report recommended criminal charges for two VA executives.

McCain didn't agree with Donald Trump's plan to "fire everybody" at the VA.

"People who are liable," the senator said, "must be removed from their positions" but there are "people who work at the VA, tens of thousands, who are good, decent."

"To fire everybody obviously is violation of everyone's constitutional rights," he added, noting that you have to "give credit and praise to thousands and thousands of hard-working people" working for veterans and not responsible for the failed VA system.

"It sounds good like so many other things Mr. Trump says," McCain noted, calling it a  "classic Trumpism."

Veterans affairs should be one of the "top 2 or 3 or 4 items on the campaign trail," McCain opined.

Miller noted that Clinton did not use the word "veteran" in the first Democratic presidential debate.

"If Hillary Clinton really believes the comments that she made I don't see how any veteran who cares about their fellow veterans... could support her quest for commander in chief," McCain said.

"A veteran who really looks at her comments should really question her qualifications to be commander in chief."