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Discusses a Variety of Issues (Interview)

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Date:
Location: TODAY Show

SHOW: TODAY (7:00 AM ET)

HEADLINE: SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN DISCUSSES VARIETY OF ISSUES
ANCHORS: KATIE COURIC; MATT LAUER

BODY:
KATIE COURIC, co-host: Now to presidential politics. With the nation's first state primary less than two weeks away, New Hampshire polls show GOP candidate Senator John McCain leading Texas George W. Bush.

Senator McCain, good morning. Welcome back.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Thank you, Katie.

COURIC: I...

Sen. McCAIN: May I point out when I first came on, that same poll had me at 3 percent. And that had a 5 percent margin of error, so we've come a long way.

COURIC: Yeah. Well, are you feeling pretty confident?

Sen. McCAIN: Oh, I'm feeling good. But I think we've got a long way to go. I think a lot of people in New Hampshire...

COURIC: A lot can happen in 13 days, right?

Sen. McCAIN: Sure, absolutely. It's getting very intense. And a lot of people in New Hampshire will change their minds three or four times between now and the 1st of February. But, of course, we're very happy with where we've come.

COURIC: Talking about things getting intense...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: ...George W. Bush has a new ad out...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: ...in New Hampshire...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: ...that takes some pretty subtle digs...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: ...at you.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: Let's take a look and then we'll talk about it.

(Clip is shown of George W. Bush's TV commercial)

Governor GEORGE W. BUSH: There's a debate in 'new sham hire' on taxes critical to America. We can cut taxes for working families and protect Social Security, but it takes leadership. Washington politicians want to keep your money in Washington, not me. I believe taxes are too high. The people of New Hampshire understand that you deserve your money back and cutting taxes helps keep the economy growing. On February 1st, you settle the debate, tax cuts or bigger government. I'd appreciate your vote.

COURIC: Gee, Washington politicians. Who could he be talking about?

Sen. McCAIN: And bigger government. I'm renowned for my—for my advocacy of bigger government. This is a sign, obviously, that they're behind in the polls, and these kinds of things happen. Really, what this debate is all about, Katie, is what do we do with this surplus? First time we've had a surplus in all these years. Governor Bush puts it all into tax cuts. I put it into middle-income tax cuts and to Social Security, Medicare, and paying down this $ 5.6 trillion debt. Governor Bush does not have a penny in the nonsocial security surplus for health care—for Medicare, for Social Security or paying down the debt. That's really the debate here.

COURIC: This has become really the battleground for the two of you.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: And the last couple of days, Senator, as you know, there are new reports that the federal surplus...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: ...might be even huger...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: ..than anticipated, and stories...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: ...about that note that, given that fact...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: ...these projections, George W. Bush's tax plan might, in fact, be much more doable. Do you think that those figures might affect what you would like to do with taxes...

Sen. McCAIN: Oh, I'd like to...

COURIC: ...and might you amend your plan as a result?

Sen. McCAIN: Well, if we have more surpluses. And, by the way, the same people that are predicting these surpluses a couple years ago predicted deficits. Sure, we ought to put more into flattening the tax code so we can put more and more Americans in the 15 percent tax bracket. Pay more money on the national debt, pay—put more money into Social Security to make it solvent. Sure.

COURIC: But does a bigger surplus make George W. Bush—Bush's tax plan more doable, in your view?

Sen. McCAIN: I don't know what you mean by doable. I don't think right now that the top 1 percent need 38 percent of the tax cuts. That's what his plan calls for.

COURIC: In fact, you've derided his plan by claiming that more than one third would benefit the richest 1 percent of America.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: You say it's geared toward the elder—toward the wealthy, rather. And many people are saying this is class warfare rhetoric...

Sen. McCAIN: Well...

COURIC: ...that could have been written by James Carville, not by a conservative Republican.

Sen. McCAIN: Class warfare is when you want to take from the rich and give to the poor. I have tax cuts...

COURIC: Isn't it just putting classes against each other?

Sen. McCAIN: Oh, I don't think so. I think that the wealthy people in America have the same sense of obligation that I do. Everyone in America knows, the studies in the last two days, there's a growing gap in America between the rich and the poor. That's not good for America. We ought to help those people that are—that are not being lifted. I think every American appreciates that. If we were in a downturn, I would—I would certainly cut rates for the rich, and capital gains, and all of those so we could stir the economy. Right now, we have a problem that the lower-income Americans need a lot of help. I'd like to cut their taxes and save them their Social Security.

Look, if you put all the money into tax cuts, and these surpluses don't materialize, you've got a payroll tax staring in the face of lower and middle-income Americans. We don't want to do that to them. We've got to—everyone knows that Social Security is a ticking time bomb.

COURIC: Let's move on and talk about...

Sen. McCAIN: Sure.

COURIC: ...the South Carolina primary...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: ...for a moment if we could, Senator. It's February 19th.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: You've spent a lot of time and resources...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: ...in South Carolina. And let's talk about the Confederate flag.

Sen. McCAIN: Sure.

COURIC: You discussed it briefly on "Meet the Press" on Sunday and some point to that interview and say you tried to straddle the issue.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: Because you did say that it was a symbol of slavery, and also of heritage, which is a code word...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: ...for those who think the Confederate flag should remain. So, which is it? Where do you stand? Should it be up or should it be down?

Sen. McCAIN: It is a symbol that is offensive to some, obviously, and a symbol of heritage to others. My forefathers fought under that flag. I'm sure that they believed that their—that their service was honorable that day.

COURIC: But if you had to make a choice, which should it be, should it stand...

Sen. McCAIN: I would choose...

COURIC: Are you saying it should stand?

Sen. McCAIN: If I were—if I were a South Carolinian, I would make a choice. In Arizona we had a big fight over the Martin Luther King holiday. I didn't like it when people came in and told us what to do in Arizona when—about the Martin Luther King holiday.

COURIC: But you've weighed in on other...

Sen. McCAIN: And I think so...

COURIC: ...you've weighed on other state issues in the past.

Sen. McCAIN: On this issue, I've not weighed in. And this issue is not going to be helped by me weighing in on it. I mean...

COURIC: You've said—you said in the past...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: ...when you were asked about it on "Nightline"...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: ...if you were president, what would you say? And you claim that Bill Clinton had not told the people of South Carolina what to do.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

COURIC: But yesterday in Boston President Clinton said...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: ...he thought the flag should be taken down.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: Given that...

Sen. McCAIN: I understand that he would say—he would say that. And I appreciate that. I—my view is that I think that the people of South Carolina are best qualified to make the decision.

COURIC: Let me ask you about another thing you said...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: ...in the last couple of days...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

COURIC: ...that got you into some hot water.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: You were chatting with reporters about...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

COURIC: ...gays in the military.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: And you said that you could tell a person was gay by, quote, "behavior and attitudes." What did you mean by that?

Sen. McCAIN: They said, 'How did you know—did you know'...

COURIC: People in the military were gay.

Sen. McCAIN: ...'a person was—did you know a person was gay?' I said, 'Yes, I know a person who was gay.' That was the initial thing. Then they said, 'How'd you know?' Well, the—the main way that I knew was after that person got out of the Navy, he told me that he was gay. That was the main way that I knew that. And...

COURIC: But you also said that sometimes you can tell by behavior and attitudes?

Sen. McCAIN: No. They said, how did I know that person? And I said, 'Well, it was—I could tell that.' But the main reason is because that person told me that they were gay after they got out of the Navy. And I'm not really quite sure what all that has to do with presidential politics. But I'd be glad to—to discuss it.

COURIC: Well, David Smith who is spokesman for the Human Rights campaign...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

COURIC: ...said that you were making assumptions based on stereotypes. It's a form of prejudice, and it's wrong.

Sen. McCAIN: What...

COURIC: Given that the comments you made about...

Sen. McCAIN: My record...

COURIC: ...attitudes.

Sen. McCAIN: My record in my life and in the Congress is to oppose discrimination of any kind. I met with the log cabin Republicans at their request. I've worked with them on a variety of issues we agree on.

COURIC: If you were president, would you, Senator McCain, have a special liaison to the gay and lesbian community as—as Bill Clinton does?

Sen. McCAIN: I don't think that's necessary, because I would be open to all Americans, whether they're gay and lesbian, no matter who they are. In fact, I think you might view them in some kind of special status, which I'm not sure is necessary. I'm working towards a society where no one needs a, quote, "special liaison."

COURIC: All right. Well, Senator John McCain, as usual we crammed a lot in...

Sen. McCAIN: Thank you, Katie. Thanks for having me on.

COURIC: ...in a little time.

Sen. McCAIN: We're having a lot of fine.

COURIC: All right. Nice to see you again.

It's 7:19. Once again, here's Matt.

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