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John McCain Shows His Nice Side (Interview)

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Location: CNN Larry King Live

HEADLINE: John McCain Shows His Nice Side

BYLINE: Larry King, Jeff Greenfield

BODY:
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, he's a war hero running for the White House and he's George W. Bush's top GOP rival: Senator John McCain of Arizona joins us. We'll take your calls.

And then we'll map the latest political landscape with bestselling author Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, correspondent Steve Kroft of CBS's "60 Minutes," and CNN's own senior analyst Jeff Greenfield: all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

We begin with Senator John McCain. He's with us from our studios in Denver, Colorado.

We'll start right at the top. In the current issue of "Newsweek" out today, Howard Fineman interviews George W. Bush, asks him about international organizations. And the governor says: "They're important to a limited extent. They're not important to win wars. They're important for humanitarian reasons. If you're referring to the U.N., we should never submit our troops to U.N. command and we won't so long as I'm president."

What are your thoughts on that, John?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think Governor Bush is correct. UNPROFOR was an abysmal failure in Bosnia. I don't think there's any doubt about that.

But I do believe there's a number of international organizations that can help with the peace process, can mediate disputes, can be either on an ad-hoc basis, or like the CSCE, they can play a very important role.

The organization that's been put together for peacekeeping in East Timor is an example of how regional efforts can be made as well.

KING: So, that means you would not have gone to Korea?

MCCAIN: Oh, I would have—you mean to fight in Korea.

KING: That was a U.N. command, though. It was a U.N. mission.

MCCAIN: Oh, but I think the situation was very different in those days. The United States, obviously, played the dictating role, if I may be so blunt, and got—it was important to get the U.N. behind us.

KING: So generally, you agree with that statement?

MCCAIN: In general, except that I think there are international organizations and international bodies that can do more than just provide humanitarian help.

KING: Latest polls indicate that you're attracting—your significant attraction is among older voters. Does that surprise you?

MCCAIN: I don't—we're getting a lot of younger people. It seems to me it's very young and very old. After the debate that we had a couple of weeks ago, we had 400 Dartmouth students show up at a restaurant afterwards. So I'm pleased with it, but I think also from a pure pragmatic standpoint, older voters vote in more proclivity. And so I think that's probably helpful. But I'm not attempting to particularly appeal to them.

KING: Are you enjoying this?

MCCAIN: I'm loving every minute of it. It's the most fun I've had in a long time.

KING: Do you really?

MCCAIN: It's the most fun I've had. We're traveling around, town-hall meeting after town-hall meeting. I had a guy the other—the other day, Larry, that said he'd been to my fifth town-hall meeting. I said, my god, it shows how I have trouble closing the deal.

New Hampshire people examine you. People want to see you. They want to listen—they want to hear your views, but they also want to question you.

Some of these places I haven't had so much fun since my last interrogation. It's fun. They're good people.

KING: How's the family dealing with it: the wife, the kids?

MCCAIN: Oh, I think pretty well. There's some separation involved. But March 7th, this nominating process will be decided. So it's not that far away. And I think they're kind of into it a little bit, but they're very young, as you know.

KING: Do—do you have any umbrage with the Arizona press taking off on your temper concept, they keep bringing that up? They did a series of articles referring to it.

MCCAIN: Yes. I have a very good relationship with the Arizona media with the exception of the major newspaper, "The Arizona Republic." I can't do anything more about it. I have to move on. We're running a campaign. There's no doubt that I will carry my home state of Arizona. But these things happen when you get into the game and you get competitive. Things are tough. There's the same bean bag.

KING: Does temper matter? Does temperament matter?

MCCAIN: I think it's important to have passion and to get angry when you see injustice and when you see wrong. I have said on several occasions when I see 12,000 enlisted families—brave, proud young Americans on food stamps—meanwhile Congress pork barrels to billions and billions of dollars buying equipment we don't need and home-town projects, sure, I get angry. And I've had a lot of young American servicemen and women come up to me and say, thanks for fighting for me.

But obviously, the question is, is it something that's uncontrollable or would cause someone to do something wrong? And that is absolutely not the case, and—whereas I'm concerned.

KING: Now some other areas. What right—what areas of your private or personal life do we have the right to? Governor Bush and Bill Bradley have been asked about drug use. Do we have the right to ask candidates, yourself included, about prior drug use? Is that our business?

MCCAIN: I think that's a decision you and the American people make. I think that both Senator Bradley and Governor Bush have the right to privacy. And I would respect that. But I'm not the one that makes that decision.

The media asks the questions. The candidates decide what to answer and what not to answer. And the American people decide what's appropriate.

But that...

KING: Do you think we should know whether you ever used drugs?

MCCAIN: I—I think again that's up to you and the—the American people. The answer is no, but I do think that I have the right to privacy at—the same as—as Senator Bradley and Governor Bush do, and I respect their right to privacy. They're both good, decent, honorable men who have served this country with distinction and would make fine presidents.

KING: So your answer is no, though?

MCCAIN: Well, again, it's a decision you make. I'm the—I'm the guy that's watching, you know. It's a decision that you make. Your panel I think will ventilate this issue a lot better than I can, because I'm on the receiving end.

KING: Warren Beatty says—he calls you a hell of a guy, would probably hurt you if he came out and supported you publicly. Would you agree with that or would you like Beatty's support?

MCCAIN: I like him a lot. We don't agree on practically any issue. He's been involved. He's a serious person as far as American politics is concerned. He started with Bobby Kennedy, and he's a good guy, and I enjoy being around him.

KING: Bill Bradley has also praised you. Is this kind of strange to see praise from the opposite quarters? Last week, former President Bush was very praiseful of you.

MCCAIN: I think that we're conducting this campaign on a high plain, which is what the American people really want to happen. I—I have pledged that I wouldn't say anything negative. We've got good candidates in the race. And I'm glad we have them. And I don't think the American people want negative campaigning. And they're sure not going to get it from me.

And I'm glad we're—so far this campaign has been at the elevated status that it's maintained.

KING: We'll ask you in a minute when we come back how you win it. You're way behind in the polls, although you're getting close in New Hampshire. South Carolina looks like a key. Your thoughts on the political aspects on this. We'll take some calls for John McCain. Then our panel will assemble too. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: By the way, Governor Bush was invited to appear on this program and declined.

All right, polls show you running neck and neck in New Hampshire but way behind nationally. What's your read, Senator McCain?

MCCAIN: Well, this is not a national primary. We have to go through New Hampshire, South Carolina, and then Michigan and Arizona, and then Washington and Virginia, and then on March 7th, California and 15 states.

So I'm very happy with where we are. The progress has been really phenomenal. But we've got a long way to go. We have to raise more money. We have to continue doing what we're doing.

But we're having a great time. There's wonderful people with me. We're not worried about losing. And so far, we have had more—achieved much more than anyone ever expected, including us, at least this early. (LAUGHTER)

KING: Are you playing by all the rules of campaign finance as they're currently established, or are they the rules you would have them be if you were elected and legislation passed?

MCCAIN: I'm playing by both, actually. And I have committed that when I am the nominee, I will have nothing to do with soft money. I will not and I will urge the Democrat nominee to do the same. That's what—that's when it gets pernicious. After you win the nomination, all the soft money comes pouring in. This is what was so corrupting by the Clinton-Gore campaign when they auctioned off every institution of government in '96, and that's what we can't have a repetition of.

KING: Senator Specter said today that in the current squabbles over the budget, the president probably won. Would you agree?

MCCAIN: Sure, yes. I would—yes. I would...

KING: Why did you fellows lose?

MCCAIN: The president is very talented, very clever. He—we had a shutdown of the government once before, which the Republicans wanted to avoid. He demanded and got more spending. We spent the surplus. We spent money from the Social Security trust fund, and we busted the caps that were agreed to in 1997. It's all very, very regrettable. And we may pay a heavy price in not being able to make Social Security whole among other things.

KING: Are you surprised that the Republican Congress is held in low esteem in national polls, the Republican majority in the Congress itself? It's a small majority, but are you surprised that they're held in low regard?

MCCAIN: I am very saddened, and I am very disappointed, but I can understand some of it, because we won't address the issues that affect men and women, and we're gripped by special interests and their influence over us, such as we can't come up with an HMO bill of rights. We need to pass the legislation on gun control. It was passed through the Senate. We need to do things that the American people want us to do rather than being gridlocked by the special interests, and we're gridlocked on both sides.

KING: And some people say, Senator, your problem is that you would do better in a general election than in you're own party's primary, because you go against your own party's principles often. How do you respond to that?

MCCAIN: Well, I'm doing very well with average Republicans. I don't do very well with the inside-the-Beltway crowd and the top people in the party, but I think I am doing very well and will continue to do well with average Republicans who think they have been disconnected from government. I want to give the government back to them. I want to eliminate the pernicious influence of special interests on the legislative process in order to reform government.

KING: Back to politics, let's see a clip of that now-famous George W. Bush pop quiz asked of him a couple of weeks ago about international trouble spots and their leaders, and then your response. Let's watch.

MCCAIN: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you name the president of Chechnya?

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, can you?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you name the president of Taiwan?

BUSH: Yes, Lee.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you name the general who is in charge of Pakistan?

BUSH: Wait a minute. Is this a—is this 50 questions? The new Pakistani general who has just been elected— not elected. This guy took over office. He appears he's going to bring stability to the country, and I think that's good news for the subcontinent.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And you can name him?

BUSH: General—I can name the general.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And it's?

BUSH: General. The new prime minister of India is—no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Was that fair?

MCCAIN: No, it wasn't, Larry. This isn't "Jeopardy" or "Do You Want to Be a Millionaire?" The important thing is how you articulate your vision for the future of the country, how you're going to conduct America's foreign policy. And pop quizzes on name aren't what the American people want to hear about. They want to hear about your vision. They're going to be able to hear about that in both in informal settings and in debates, and that's where I think they should make their judgment.

KING: How about military takeover bringing stability in Pakistan?

MCCAIN: Well, it may have brought some semblance of stability, but we only want the institutions of democracy that—to prevail in this and every other country in the world, and to have to resort to a military coup is not something the United States should support. The—I think the governor's point was that this was a very corrupt government that was overthrown, but it's—in my view, it's still not a reason to overthrow it. It's a reason for us to do everything we can to help clean up that corruption and have the rule of law prevail in Pakistan and every other country in the world.

KING: I am paraphrasing now, but the governor says when he's asked to compare himself to you is that he has had leadership experience and that he's led a state and you've never led anything. You certainly were a war hero and you have been in the Senate, but you have never had executive responsibility. How do you respond?

MCCAIN: Well, I was privileged to command the largest squadron in the United States Navy at one time. I have had a great deal of experience in a lot of things, and I'm proud of my experience, but I'd also add that I don't think people judge you on your experience. I think they judge you on how you articulate your vision for the future of the country. I believe I can do that and do that well.

KING: Take a call for Senator McCain. Our panel will be joining us shortly. Tallahassee, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Larry. Hello, Senator McCain.

KING: Hi.

MCCAIN: Hi.

CALLER: Senator, you have been very specific talking about the issues. However, it appears that the Republican Party and the press and the nation at large seems to be content with a candidate who says virtually nothing about issues. Why do you think that the public, the Republican Party, and the press, to some respects, are willing to accept what seems to be the inevitable nomination of someone who has virtually no opinions on issues?

MCCAIN: Well, I don't think that's fair to Governor Bush. He has given several major speeches. He has several major policy speeches coming up on a variety of issues, and we're going to have debates early in December. Unfortunately for me, most Americans still are not focusing on the presidential campaign. But I also believe that there's a desire on the part of many Republicans to win. We haven't had the presidency in eight years, and I understand that. But we're about to upset all of those expectations, because I think we're going to do very well in the primaries, and I think it's going to be competitive. And whoever wins, I think it's going to be good for us and the process to go through it.

KING: You have praised him so much. If he won and asked you to run with him, would you?

MCCAIN: Under no circumstances would I.

KING: Under no circumstances?

MCCAIN: Under no circumstances would I. I'm 63 years old. I enjoy my life. I enjoy Arizona, and I enjoy being a senator. And by the way, I just—we have other good candidates in this race as well, Gary Bauer and Steve Forbes, Alan Keyes and Orrin Hatch. And I think all of them deserve a good opportunity.

KING: So if George W. Bush got the nomination and said as John Kennedy said to Lyndon Johnson many years ago, "John, I need you."

MCCAIN: I would respectfully decline. There are many others. Thank you.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Senator McCain, take a few more phone calls, then our panel. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back.

By the way, who were you thinking about to run with you? MCCAIN: Well, Elizabeth Dole would be one who would deserve very serious consideration. We have some wonderful governors. I have colleagues in the Senate. I think we're blessed with a large number of people. Obviously, I have great affection for the Doles, both, and I would like to see Bob Dole as the first man—vice president.

KING: Senator, as you look at all of this—and we'll be seeing a lot of you. We'll be seeing you in the debates and in New Hampshire, and we expect John McCain to be a very familiar figure here, so in a couple of more minutes—you were in a prison camp all of those years. You obviously never thought you'd be thinking about running for the presidency. What's this like for you?

MCCAIN: It's very exciting. It's a lot of fun. We're around a lot of good people around me—we joke a lot.

KING: Surprising?

MCCAIN: Well, I'm a little...

KING: You think about it.

MCCAIN: I'm a little surprised that we're doing as well as we are as early as we are. We didn't expect to come on until later. The only thing that's surprising to me is the real warmth and affection that I'm greeted with and the respect. Even those who disagree with me and will vote for someone else, Americans are very decent and fine people. And it's been an experience that I'll never repeat, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. And fasten your seat belt, because I think it's going to be a heck of a ride between now and March 7th.

KING: Do you also think that the general election, no matter who—let's say among Gore, Bradley, McCain, Bush will be issue-oriented?

MCCAIN: Yes, and my devout wish that if I'm the nominee that the Democrat nominee and I could do what Jack Kennedy and Barry Goldwater pledged they'd do, and that's get on a plane and fly from one city to another in America, have a debate and get on the plane again and go to another one. Americans would love that.

KING: That's true. Barry Goldwater told me they had planned to set up do that, cut costs. They would just get on co-share the plane and go to different cities and hold debates.

MCCAIN: That's what I'd love to do with a Democrat nominee, and I guarantee you the American people would love to know about it, attend it, and you would see for the first time in a long time an increase in voter participation.

KING: Thank you, Senator. We'll see you along the—along the trail, as they say.

MCCAIN: Thanks a lot, Larry.

KING: Senator John McCain.

When we come back, what a panel. They'll be with us the rest of the way, Bob Woodward, Steve Kroft and Jeff Greenfield. Don't go away.

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