PHOENIX — Arizona Sen. John McCain refused to say whether he trusted Donald Trump with the nation’s nuclear codes during a debate, a moment that came after he repeated his decision to withdraw his support from the Republican presidential nominee.
The exchange in Monday night’s debate with his Democratic challenger, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, came after she criticized him for sticking with Trump for months despite his comments about immigrants, a disabled reporter, and even former prisoners of war like McCain.
The breaking point, McCain said, was the release last week of a 2005 tape where Trump is heard making lewd comments about women.
“All of those things I thought were very wrong,” McCain said. “But then when Mr. Trump attacks women, and demeans the women in our nation and our society, that is a point where I just have to part company.”
Kirkpatrick pressed the point, repeating her assertion that “he’s been trying to run from Trump’s disparaging remarks for the last year while at the same time endorsing him over 60 times.”
“So senator I just want to ask you – do you trust Donald Trump’s finger on the nuclear arsenal?” Kirkpatrick asked.
“Isn’t that kind of a nonsense question? I have said I don’t support him,” McCain responded. “I do not see a scenario where the finger would be on the button.”
Trump himself went after Arizona’s senior senator in a tweet on Tuesday.
“The very foul mouthed Sen. John McCain begged for my support during his primary (I gave, he won), then dropped me over locker room remarks,” Trump’s tweet said.
McCain’s campaign didn’t return calls seeking comment.
McCain withdrew his support for the billionaire businessman over the weekend, saying he would write in the name of some “some good conservative Republican,” on his ballot.
“I think I might write in (South Carolina Sen.) Lindsey Graham,” McCain said Monday. “He’s an old good friend of mine and a lot of people like him. The fact is … seriously I cannot vote for either one.”
McCain is seeking a sixth term in the Senate, and Kirkpatrick is trying to upset the 2008 Republican presidential nominee.
McCain slammed Kirkpatrick’s backing of President Barack Obama’s health overhaul law and said it needs be completely scrapped, arguing the idea that young people will buy insurance and their premiums help pay for older people’s coverage was fatally flawed.
“We can’t fix the health system because it was based on a faulty premise,” McCain said.
Kirkpatrick acknowledged serious problems with the law but says McCain and other Republicans need to work with Democrats to help fix the problems. And she slammed McCain and other Republicans for repeatedly trying to repeal the health law instead of working to fix what problems it has.
“I’ve always said it wasn’t perfect and we needed to work together to fix it,” Kirkpatrick said. “This is an example of something we could have been doing over the last six years instead of voting to repeal it more than 60 times.”
Kirkpatrick took some shots at McCain, especially over his foreign policy positions.
“John McCain’s solution is to send in more troops — every problem we have, it’s send in more troops,” she said.
McCain pushed his opposition to the foreign policies of Obama, saying terrorism is heading to the U.S. because of the president’s policies.
The candidates also sparred over the Senate’s failure to hold hearings on Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court.
“John McCain once voted for Merrick Garland — now he won’t even meet with him,” Kirkpatrick said. “We’re tired of that kind of obstructionism in Washington.”
McCain said a Clinton presidency and losing the Senate’s GOP majority would be bad for America, and defended the Senate’s decision not to confirm Garland.
“I would much rather have eight Supreme Court justices than a justice who is liberal…” he said.