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Public Statements

Remarks by Republican Presidential Candidate Senator John McCain (R-AZ) at the Conservative Political Action Conference

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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(Cheers, applause.)

SEN. MCCAIN: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. (Continued cheers, applause.) Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. (Continued extended cheers, applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you. Okay. Thank you. Thank you. (Continued extended cheers, applause.) Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Thank you. (Continued extended cheers, applause.)

I think maybe what -- I think maybe what I would like to do and maybe you would like for me to do is after what Tom said just sit down. (Laughter.) Thank you, Tom. Thank you. Thank you and George. Thank you very much, and thank you for inviting me.

It's been a little while since I've had the honor of addressing you, and I appreciate very much your courtesy to me today. You know, we should do this more often. (Laughter, cheers, applause.) I hope you'll pardon my absence last year and understand that I intended no personal insult to any of you. I was merely preoccupied with the business of trying to escape the distinction of pre-season front- runner for the Republican nomination, which I'm sure some of you observed I managed to do in fairly short order. (Laughter, scattered applause.)

But now I again have the privilege of that distinction, and this time I would prefer to hold on to it for a little while. (Cheers, applause.)

And I say -- I know that you were addressed earlier by a great governor, Governor Romney, and I had -- (interrupted by cheers, applause). And I say -- (interrupted by cheers, applause). May I say -- may I say that I had a phone conversation with Governor Romney.

I congratulated him on running an energetic and dedicated campaign. We agreed to sit down together, and we agree the importance to unite our party.

All of you who worked so hard in the support of the millions of people in our party who supported Governor Romney, I congratulate you. You did a fine job. And you are welcome to join my campaign, and it'll be a campaign based on conservative principles in a consequential election about the country's future.

I'd also like to say a word about our friend Governor Huckabee, a great and fine man -- (cheers, applause) -- who has also -- I also know that he's injected from time to time some much-needed humor in the campaign. And I would like to again congratulate him as he continues to run a very strong campaign. And I congratulate him on his success Tuesday night.

My friends, I'd be honored and deeply humbled to receive the nomination of my party as we continue moving forward in this campaign. (Cheers, applause.)

My friends, I know I have a responsibility, if I am, as I hope to be, the Republican nominee for president, to unite the party and prepare for the great contest in November. And I am acutely aware that I cannot succeed in that endeavor nor can our party prevail over the challenge we will face from either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama without the support of dedicated conservatives whose convictions, creativity and energy have been indispensable to the success of our party that it has had over the last quarter century. (Cheers, applause.)

Many of you have disagreed strongly with some positions I have taken in recent years. I understand that. I might not agree with it, but I respect it for the principled position it is. And it is my sincere hope that even if you believe I have occasionally erred in my reasoning as a fellow conservative, you will still allow that I have, in many ways important to all of us, maintained the record of a conservative. Further, I hope you will grant that I have defended many positions we share just as ardently as I have made my case for positions that have provoked your opposition.

If not, thank you for the opportunity to make my case today. Thank you. (Cheers, applause.)

I am proud to be a conservative, and I make that claim because I share with you the most basic of conservative principles: that liberty is a right conferred by our Creator, not by governments and that -- (interrupted by cheers, applause) -- and that the proper object of justice and the rule of law in our country is not to aggregate power to the state, but to protect the liberty and property of its citizens. And like you, I understand, as Edmund Burke observed, that "whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither is safe."

Well, I have long worked to help grow a public majority of support for Republican candidates and principles. I have also always believed like you in the wisdom of Ronald Reagan who wanted and warned in an address to this conference in 1975 -- he said, "A political party cannot be all things to all people. It must represent certain fundamental beliefs which must not be compromised to political expediency or simply to swell its numbers."

I attended my first CPAC conference as the invited guest of Ronald Reagan, and long after I had returned -- not long after I had returned from overseas, when I heard him deliver his shining city upon a hill speech. I was still a naval officer then, but his words inspired and helped form my own political views, just as Ronald Reagan's defense of America's cause in Vietnam and his evident concern for American prisoners of war in that conflict inspired and were a great comfort to those of us who, in my friend Jerry Denton's (sp) words, had the honor of serving our country under difficult circumstances.

I am proud, very proud to have come to public office as a foot soldier in the Reagan revolution, and if a few of my positions have raised your concern that I have forgotten my political heritage, I want to assure you I have not and I am as proud of that association today as I was then. (Cheers, applause.)

My record in public office taken as a whole is the record of a mainstream conservative. I believe today, as I believed 25 years ago, in small government, fiscal discipline, low taxes, a strong defense, judges who inform and not make our laws, the social values that are the true source of our strength, and generally the steadfast defense of our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- which I have defended my entire career as God-given to the born and the unborn. (Cheers, applause.)

These are my beliefs. These are my beliefs, and you need not (sic) examine only my past votes and speeches to assure yourselves that they are my genuine convictions. You can take added comfort from the positions I have defended during this campaign. I campaigned in Iowa in opposition to agriculture subsidies. (Applause.) I campaigned in New Hampshire against big-government-mandated health care and for a free market solution to the problem of unavailable and unaffordable health care. (Applause.) I campaigned in Michigan for the tax incentives and trade policies that will create new and better jobs in that economically troubled state. I campaigned in Florida -- I campaigned in Florida against the national catastrophic insurance fund bill that passed the House of Representatives. (Applause.)

And I defended my opposition to the prescription drug benefit bill that saddled Americans with yet another hugely expensive entitlement program. (Applause.) I have argued to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, to reduce the corporate tax rate and abolish the AMT, that threatens 25 million American families. (Applause.) I have defended my position on protecting our Second Amendment rights, including my votes against waiting periods, bans on the so-called assault weapons, and illegitimate lawsuits against -- targeting gun manufacturers.

I have proudly defended my 24-year pro-life record. (Cheers, applause.) Throughout -- throughout this campaign, I have defended the president's grave decision to increase troop levels in Iraq -- (applause) -- to execute a long overdue counterinsurgency -- (cheers, applause) -- a long overdue counterinsurgency that has spared us the terrible calamity of losing that war.

I hold these positions because I believe they were in the best interests of my party and country. Surely, I have held other positions that have not met with widespread agreement from conservatives. I won't pretend otherwise, nor would you permit me to forget it. (Laughs/laughter.)

On the issue of illegal immigration, a position which -- (boos) -- which -- (cheers, applause) -- a position which obviously still provokes the outspoken opposition of many conservatives, I stood my ground, aware that my position would imperil my campaign.

I respect your opposition, for I know that the vast majority of critics to the bill base their opposition in a principled defense of the rule of law. While I and other Republican supporters of the bill were genuine in our intention to restore control of our borders, we failed, for various and understandable reasons, to convince Americans that we were. I accept that. And I have pledged that it would be among my highest priorities to secure our borders first -- (cheers, applause) -- to secure our borders first. And only after we have achieved widespread consensus that our borders are secure would we address other aspects of the problem in a way that defends the rule of law and does not encourage another wave of illegal immigration. (Applause.)

My friends, all I ask of any American conservative, moderate, independent, or enlightened Democrat, is to judge my record as a whole and accept that I am not in the habit of making promises to my country that I do not intend to keep. (Cheers, applause.)

I hope I have proven that in my life, even to my critics. Then vote for or against me based on that record, my qualifications to the office and the direction where I plainly state I intend to lead our country. If I am so fortunate as to be the Republican nominee for president, I will offer Americans, in what will be a very challenging and spirited contest, a clearly conservative approach to governing.

I will make my case -- (interrupted by cheers, applause) -- I will make my case to voters, no matter what state they reside in, in the same way. I will not obscure my positions from voters who I fear might not share them. I will stand on my convictions, my conservative convictions, and trust in the good sense of the voters and in my confidence that conservative principles still appeal to a majority of Americans -- Republicans, independents and Reagan Democrats. (Cheers, applause.)

I know -- I know that you know that often elections in this country are fought within margins of small differences. This one will not be. We are arguing about hugely consequential things. Whoever the Democrat nominee is, they would govern this country in a way that will, in my opinion, take this country backward to the days when government felt empowered to take from us our freedom to decide for ourselves the course and quality of our lives; to substitute the muddled judgment of large and expanding federal bureaucracies for common sense and values of the American people; to the timidity and wishful thinking of a time when we averted our eyes from terrible threats to our security that were so plainly gathering strength abroad.

It's shameful and dangerous that Senate Democrats are blocking an extension of surveillance powers that enable our intelligence and law enforcement to defend our country -- (cheers, applause) -- to defend our country against radical Islamic extremists.

My friends, this election is going to be about big things, not small things.

And I intend to fight as hard as I can to ensure that our principles prevail over theirs.

Senator Clinton and Senator Obama want to increase the size of the federal government. I intend to reduce it. I will not -- (interrupted by cheers, applause). My friends, I will not sign a bill with earmarks in it, any earmarks in it. (Cheers, applause.) And I can assure you Senator Coburn will hold me to it. (Laughter.)

I will fight for the line-item veto, and I will not permit any expansion whatsoever of the entitlement programs that are bankrupting us. I will not. I will not. On the contrary -- (interrupted by cheers, applause). On the contrary, I intend to reform those programs so that government is no longer in that habit of making promises to Americans it does not have the means to keep. (Applause, cheers.)

Senator Clinton and Senator Obama will raise your taxes. I intend to cut them. I will start by making the Bush tax cuts permanent. (Cheers, applause.) I will cut corporate tax rates from 35 to 25 percent to keep industries and jobs in this country. (Cheers, applause.) I will end the alternate minimum tax, and I won't let a Democratic Congress raise your taxes and choke the growth of our economy. (Cheers, applause.)

They will offer a big government solution to health care insurance coverage. I intend to address the problem with free market solutions and with respect for the freedom of individuals to make important choices for themselves. They will -- (interrupted by cheers, applause). They will appoint to the federal bench judges who are intent on achieving political changes that the American people cannot be convinced to accept through the election of their representatives.

I intend to nominate judges who have proven themselves worthy of our trust, that they take as their sole responsibility the enforcement of laws made by the people's elected representatives. (Cheers, applause.)

Judges -- judges of the character and quality of Justices Roberts and Alito, justices who can be relied upon to respect the values of the peoples whose rights, laws and property they are sworn to defend. (Cheers, applause.)

Senator -- Senator Clinton and Senator Obama will withdraw our forces from Iraq based on an arbitrary timetable designed for the sake of political expediency and which recklessly ignores the profound human calamity and dire threats to our security that would ensue. (Cheers, applause.)

I -- I intend to win the war and trust in the proven judgment of our commanders there, and the courage and selflessness of the Americans they have the honor to command. (Cheers, applause.)

My friends, we share the grief over the terrible losses we've suffered in the prosecution of this war. There is no other candidate for this office who appreciates more than I do just how awful war is. But I know that the cost in lives and treasure we would incur, should we fail in Iraq, will be far greater than the heartbreaking losses we have suffered to date, and I will not allow that to happen. (Cheers, applause.)

AUDIENCE MEMBERS: (Chanting.) John McCain! John McCain! John McCain! John McCain! John McCain! John McCain! John McCain! John McCain!

SEN. MCCAIN: Those senators won't recognize and seriously address the threat posed by an Iran with nuclear ambitions to our ally Israel in the region. I intend -- (applause) -- I intend to make unmistakably clear to Iran we will not permit a government that espouses the destruction of the state of Israel as its fondest wish and pledges undying enmity to the United States to possess the weapons to advance their malevolent ambitions. (Applause.)

Senator Clinton and Senator Obama will concede to our critics that our own actions to defend against its threats are responsible for fomenting the terrible evil of radical Islamic extremism, and the resolve to combat it will be as flawed as their judgment. I intend --

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hear, hear!

SEN. MCCAIN: I intend to defeat the threat by staying on offense and by marshalling every relevant agency of our government and our allies in the urgent necessity of defending the values, virtues and security of free people against those who despise all that is good about us.

Those are but a few of the differences that will define this election. They are very significant differences, and I promise you I intend to contest these issues on conservative grounds and fight as hard as I can to defend the principles and positions we share and to keep this country safe, proud, prosperous and free. (Cheers, applause.)

We have had a few disagreements, and none of us will pretend that we won't continue to have a few. But even in disagreement, especially in disagreement, I will seek the counsel of my fellow conservatives. If I am convinced my judgment is in error, I will correct it. And if I stand by my position even after benefit of your counsel, I hope you will not lose sight of the far more numerous occasions when we are in accord.

I began my comments today to you by assuring you that we share a conception of liberty that is the bedrock of our beliefs as conservatives. As you know, I was deprived of liberty for a time in my life. And while my love of liberty is no greater than yours, you can be confident that mine is the equal of any American's.

It is a deep and unwavering love. My life experiences and service to our country inform my political judgments. They are at the core my convictions. I am pro-life and an advocate for the rights of man everywhere in the world because of them, because I know that to be denied liberty is an offense to nature and nature's creator. I will never waver in that conviction. I promise you. I know in this country our liberty will not be seized in a political revolution or by a totalitarian government, but rather as Burke warned. It can be nibbled away for expedience and by parts. I am alert to that risk and will defend against it and take comfort from the knowledge that I will be encouraged in that defense by my fellow conservatives.

You've heard me say before that for all my reputation as a maverick, I have only found true happiness in serving a cause greater than my self-interest. For me that cause has always been our country and the ideals that have made us great. I have been a her imperfect servant for many years, and I've made many mistakes. You can attest to that, but need not, but need not -- (laughter) -- for I know them well myself. But I love her deeply, and I will never, never tire of the honor of serving her. I cannot do that without your counsel and support, and I am grateful, very grateful that you have given me this opportunity to ask for it.

Thank you, and God bless you. (Cheers, applause.)


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