ABC "GOOD MORNING AMERICA" INTERVIEWS WITH SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ) AND SENATOR BARACK OBAMA (D-IL) INTERVIEWER: CHARLES GIBSON
MR. GIBSON: For reaction from both sides of the aisle, we're going to start on the Republican side, Senator John McCain. Senator, as I was riding home after the speech last night I thought to myself, how does a headline writer sum up what the president did last night? You want to take a crack at it?
SEN. MCCAIN: Yeah, the president calls for sanctions -- serious addressing of Iran, stick to the war in Iraq, and independence from foreign oil.
MR. GIBSON: Well, let's start with Iraq. He says we have a clear plan for victory. Do you think military commanders know what that is? Do you think the public has any idea what that really is?
SEN. MCCAIN: I think the military leaders clearly understand that the whole goal is to train up and equip the Iraqi military and security forces so they can take over the responsibility that Americans are carrying out. Americans, I think, understand the rationale. I think the president gave four excellent speeches a short time ago. They clearly understand, but they are also frustrated and we need to have some success, and that is the formation of this government, and a functioning government, an improving economy, an improving security situation.
MR. GIBSON: Presidents, when they get toward the last third of their term, begin to think about history. Is his presidency, historically, a captive to what happens in Iraq?
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, to be honest -- very frankly, most presidents are judged by their conduct of national security issues, so whether we succeed or fail in Iraq will have a big impact on how historians view him. This latest threat from Iran, though, in my view is the greatest single threat -- single issue -- since the Cold War. This Iranian nuclear equipped country that's bent, in their words, on the extinction of the state of Israel is a major challenge.
MR. GIBSON: And yet he had almost nothing to say about it other than we want to keep the pressure on.
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, I don't know if he said enough in the view of some. But we are taking steps with the Europeans, as you know, working closely with the Europeans. We're going to go to the U.N. to see what the Russians and the Chinese do. But this is a very, very serious challenge we face.
MR. GIBSON: Talking about energy, talking about reducing dependence on Middle East oil by 75 percent in 20 years, pipe dream?
SEN. MCCAIN: No, I think that -- look, Americans have proven what we can do when we put our minds to. We've done it in the past. One of the aspects of this is we're going to have to do a better job of educating the American people on nuclear power. Nuclear power is safe, the technology is improved, it's there now, and a lot of the hydrogen and others are five, 10 years away. Nuclear power is an important element in gaining oil independence.
MR. GIBSON: And the deficit. Says he'll cut it in half by 2009, but did you hear any spending cuts in that speech?
SEN. MCCAIN: No, but I sure was glad to hear him mention earmarks.
MR. GIBSON: You were the one guy who stood up and applauded.
SEN. MCCAIN: (Chuckles.) We've got to stop this earmarking. It's obscene. It's the cause of the corruption around here with the really terrible spending practices. There are other areas that are obviously vital -- Medicare, Social Security, all the entitlements that are out of control -- but unless we go to the American people with clean hands -- i.e. clean up this pork-barrel practice which has spiraled out of control -- it's going to be hard for us to convince the American people to make some sacrifices.
I thought the president did a good job last night.
MR. GIBSON: Senator, thanks very much.
SEN. MCCAIN: Thanks.
MR. GIBSON: That a conversation with Senator McCain just a few moments before we went on the air.
I'm joined live now by someone from the other side of the aisle, Democratic Senator Barack Obama from the state of Illinois. I gave John -- Senator McCain -- a chance to give me a headline because that's a hard speech to sum up. Got a newspaper headline on last night?
SEN. OBAMA: More of the same. I think the president had the opportunity to set out a bold agenda. He identified the challenges that are leading two-thirds of the American people to say we are moving in the wrong direction. He identified health care, our overdependence on foreign oil, education, and making sure our kids need to be competitive in this global economy. But what you didn't see, I think, were serious initiatives.
Let's take the example of oil. Reducing the dependence on oil by 75 percent, but nothing concrete or specific that would really be a call to action. So I think that is a little disappointing.
MR. GIBSON: You think the idea of using alternative sources to reduce the dependence on Middle Eastern oil 75 percent in 20 years is a pipe dream?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, no, I think that we have the technology. You know, I come from Illinois; we're doing some fascinating things with ethanol, for example, that allow us to run clean energy on our cars. But it would require significant steps on the part of Washington to free up those resources, and we haven't done it so far.
MR. GIBSON: I was very struck -- this is your second State of the Union address that you've heard --
SEN. OBAMA: Yes.
MR. GIBSON: I was very struck by the contrast between last year and this year. There really isn't enough money to be talking about major new initiatives.
SEN. OBAMA: Well, you know, obviously we're in a strapped situation. We spend enormous sums in Iraq. We have a growing deficit. I was surprised that the president didn't give more details about how he would deal with the growing deficit.
Perhaps it's a situation that he does not have a good handle on right now.
I do think that -- John McCain mentioned the issue of earmarks, the issues of ethics reform, and the direct link between the problem we've had with prescription drugs or overdependence on foreign oil and some of the lobbying that takes place here in Washington is something that we're going to have to deal with.
MR. GIBSON: His passion -- the president's passion in the speech seemed to come in the first half, as he talked about national security issues and the war on terrorism.
SEN. OBAMA: Well, I -- obviously Iraq weighs heavily on the country as well as the president. I just came back from there. The troops are doing a magnificent job, but what's clear at this point is there's no military solution to the problem. It's a political issue among Iraqis. The Shi'as, the Sunnis and the Kurds have to make a determination that they want to live together. And that's going to be the challenge for us, trying to encourage that political process.
MR. GIBSON: I asked Senator McCain, presidents, they get to the end of their terms -- and he has three years to go, but as they get to the end of their terms, begin to think about how history will see them. Do you think this presidency is now essentially a captive of what happened in Iraq?
SEN. OBAMA: I think that largely the president's going to be judged on whether or not Iraq's successful, but also on what's happening in Afghanistan. We've seen some significant problems of late, given the focus on Iraq and what Senator McCain mentioned, the issue of Iran. The other thing I think people will judge is how well did the president balance our genuine security concerns with our concerns on the domestic front, and our preservation of the civil liberties that make this country so great.
MR. GIBSON: He talked about the terrorist surveillance initiative, as he now calls it, and got applause when he said I have the right to do that. Is Congress so united on that issue?
SEN. OBAMA: I don't think they are. This is an area where John McCain and I agree; that, in fact, Congress passed a piece of legislation, a statute specifically outlining what the president could and could not do. He has circumvented that. We're going to have hearings in the coming week, and my hope is that we can have a sensible, bipartisan, non-political discussion about the tools that the president needs. So far, at least, they've been wielding this as a political football. They think it's a winner.
MR. GIBSON: Non-political discussions around here would be refreshing and different.
SEN. OBAMA: It is possible. Look, in January we had a couple of 50-degree days, and that's unusual, too.
MR. GIBSON: All right. Senator Obama, thanks very much.