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Talks About His Campaign and Answers Callers' Questions (Interview)

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Location: CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

SHOW: CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER 12:00

BLITZER: Joining us now from the Town Hall in Peterborough, New Hampshire is Arizona Senator John McCain. Senator McCain, welcome back to LATE EDITION.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's get right to what George Bush said earlier today. He was on Fox News Sunday and he said that your tax cut plan is very much like AL Gore's plan and Bill Clinton's plan. Listen to what George Bush said about you earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I don't believe he comes from the school of thought that says cutting taxes encourages economic growth. I believe he comes from the school of thought that says we better leave money in Washington, D.C. To me that's a frightening thought.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you say about that accusation from Governor Bush, Senator McCain?

MCCAIN: Well I say several things, including I've got feedback in my ear which makes it a little harder. Maybe we can fix that.

But one of the things I'm saying is that my tax cut is double that of President Clinton. Second thing I'm saying is conservative - that when we have additional money that it's time to take care of the obligations that we've incurred in the form of the Social Security Trust Fund, which is $7 trillion, $5 to $7 trillion under funded. A national debt of some trillions of dollars we've accumulated over the years. And giving working families the tax cuts that they need.

First of all, as I say, my tax cut is double that of President Clinton's and Vice President Gore's. President Clinton gave a long laundry list of spending proposals.

But the real question here is - that Governor Bush really isn't addressing. Is, what do you do with this surplus? I want to give it to working families: tax cuts, Social Security, Medicare and pay down the debt. All of his goes to tax cuts. I don't think that's conservative or smart. And I think when you don't have one penny - Governor Bush has not one penny to pay down the national debt, not one penny out of - out of the non Social Security surplus and not one penny for Medicare. I think that the way to approach this situation - and most Republicans agree with my by actual polls, that we should have a very measured and cautious approach, including paying our obligations.

I'll be - I'm about to have my 114th Town Hall in Peterborough. Someone will stand up and say, Senator McCain, don't you think we ought to pay down the debt and relieve our children of this obligation? And I'll say yes.

BLITZER: And so when Governor Bush runs commercials, TV ads, saying that you're basically a mimic, a shadow of Al Gore and Bill Clinton, does that - how does that make you feel?

MCCAIN: It makes me feel that if he's saying that then he's spinning like Bill Clinton. And I don't think the American people like that anymore.

BLITZER: Now as you know, this past week, Governor Bush did pick up several major Republican endorsements. A few, Senator Orrin Hatch, who dropped out of the race, Jack Kemp, as you know, John Sununu, the former governor of New Hampshire, John Warner, the senator, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He seems to be aligning the leadership of the Republican Party behind him because they presumably think he has a much better chance of winning than you do.

MCCAIN: Well first of all I note an NBC poll that shows Governor Bush about tied with Al Gore. I'm the guy that can beat Al Gore, to start with. This campaign is about the grass roots versus the establishment. The establishment in Washington knows that I'll break the Iron Triangle of lobbyists, big money and legislation.

But—and reform is the theme here. And the fact is that, as I told Governor Bush last Wednesday night when he says that campaign finance reform is unilateral disarmament, I say that it's a clear path to victory. Because when I'm in the debate with AL Gore, I'm going to say, you and Bill Clinton debased the institutions of government in 1996 and your conduct was disgraceful.

MCCAIN: You said there was no controlling legal authority. I'm going to give you a controlling legal authority and a controlling ethical authority. And I'm going to make what they did illegal.

When George Bush is in the debate with Al Gore, he's going to have nothing to say, nothing to say because he's defending this system. He's saying that campaign finance reform, getting the special interests and the big money out of Washington will hurt the Republican Party. I'm saying what's good for the country is good for my party.

BLITZER: And even if the specific campaign finance reform that you want could result in some problems for the Republican Party, you say go forward irrespective of the damage to the Republican Party. MCCAIN: I'm saying it has no damage to the Republican Party because we were able to win elections with President Reagan in 1980. We were able to gain control of both Houses of Congress in 1994, when we were at a financial disadvantage. We won the battle of ideas and not the battle of bucks.

Right now, organizations are being set up by both Democrats and Republicans to funnel undisclosed, huge amounts of money into the presidential campaign. It's got to stop. The American people are sick of this corruption that is bred by it.

And that's - and how - how Governor Bush can defend a system that led to millions of dollars of Chinese money coming into the last presidential campaign and the compromise of American national security is something I simply can't comprehend.

BLITZER: Senator McCain, you've said, including on this program about a month and a half or so ago, that you have to win New Hampshire in order to be a viable candidate. Is that still your position?

MCCAIN: Sure. I think we've already won, Wolf, in this respect. In July I was at 3 percent and Governor Bush was at 61. Now the polls bounce up and down. I think it's going to be a very close race. I think we may be up late on Tuesday night. But we've won because we've put giving the country back to the people and out of the hands of the special interests as a major theme. We've made the Town Hall meeting a technique that has been incredibly powerful. And the message of reform is what's resonating here and will resonate throughout the country.

But yes, in order to do well, we have to have a quote, "win". But I think I've already won by where we are. But I'd sure love to see a couple of point victory on Tuesday night.

BLITZER: One of the controversial issues that has come up, not only on the Republican side, the Democratic side as well know, is the whole issue of abortion. Very clear differences between the Republican candidates who oppose abortion as opposed to the Democratic candidates who support a woman's right to have an abortion.

I want to try to be as specific as possible with your position on abortion since it's become such a controversial issue in these primaries - in this primary here in New Hampshire, before that the Caucus in Iowa. Do you believe that the 1984 Republican Party platform should be in the 2000 Republican Party platform as stipulated in 1984, meaning no exemptions for an abortion?

MCCAIN: No. I would like to see an exemption for rape, incest and the life of the mother. I believe that's the generally held opinion. Our leader in the House of Representatives, and perhaps nationally, Henry Hyde, the Hyde, so-called Hyde Amendment has that provision. And I would like to see that provision in our platform.

BLITZER: I know also you've - you speak about the need for alternatives for abortion and you also promote parental notification. But what if there is a case - and this is an argument that's made by those who oppose parental notification. What if there's a case where there's an abusive father? And if he is told that his young daughter got pregnant, he might take very, very stern, if not very forceful, violent action against that girl. What would you do in a case like that?

MCCAIN: I would make sure that the young women has the recourse of going to court and a restraining order from a judge. But obviously that is a hypothetical - probably never happen or almost never happen. What I'm more concerned about than that is the fact that any daughter who has any medical procedure performed that it requires the permission and notification of parents. Except for one procedure in America, and that's the taking of a human life. I don't get that.

And that's really what the overwhelming majority of the cases are about. And this is why it is - it is inconceivable to me that I as a parent, and other parents in America shouldn't be notified when - and give their consent, when something of this nature is about to take place. Particularly since it's an issue that would be very, very - I would want to have an incredible negotiate - discussion in a very private way on this issue. And I think parents deserve that right.

BLITZER: All right. Senator McCain, correct me if I'm wrong. You believe the Republican Party should be a big tent, inclusive party. And that Republicans who disagree with you on abortion should be leaders in the Republican Party. And you're not ruling out inviting some of those Republicans who support abortion rights to be, not only members of your cabinet, but perhaps even being judges and a running mate.

MCCAIN: I'm saying that I would use no litmus test for any of those positions you talked about. And of course I welcome pro-choice Americans into our party. That's the party of Abraham Lincoln. Let's have a dialogue. Let's work together to improve adoption in America and make it easier. There's thousands of children without parents and vice versa. Let's work together on foster care.

Overwhelming majority of Americans want to ban partial birth abortions. So do I. I think it's a gruesome procedure. There are areas that we can work together on and not be driven by the two polarized ends of the spectrum on this issue. Both ends of this issue are - have turned the cause into a business. They're not interested in us working together on issues that could help children. They're interested in polarizing issues and making more money. And that's an unfortunate part of his debate.

BLITZER: All right, Senator McCain. We have to take a quick commercial break. But we have more to talk about, including your phone calls for the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain.

LATE EDITION from New Hampshire will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: AL Gore would have written your plan, Mr. Senator. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor...

MCCAIN: If you're saying that I'm like Al Gore, then you're spinning like Bill Clinton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Republican presidential candidate John McCain and George Bush skirmishing in last Wednesday's televised debate.

Welcome back to this special LATE EDITION from New Hampshire. We're continuing our conversation with Senator McCain. He joins us from Peterborough, New Hampshire.

Senator McCain, let's take a quick caller from New York state. Please go ahead with your question for John McCain.

CALLER: How do you do Senator McCain?

MCCAIN: Fine, thank you.

CALLER: My name is Max Vanimberogen (ph) and I'm from New York. And I would like to know whether of not you would make it mandatory for your Supreme Court Justice appointees to be pro-life?

MCCAIN: I would not - I would not impose a litmus test on any Supreme Court Justice nominee. I would insist that they adhere closest to the concepts of our founding fathers and to the Constitution of the United States.

And by the way, from New York, I hope you'll call up Governor Pataki and the party boss, Mr. Powers, and tell them to let me on the ballot. And call Governor Bush, tell Governor Bush to tell Mr. Pataki and Powers to let me on the ballot in New York. Stalinism is dead. And they - I'm a viable candidate and they should not block me from being on the ballot in your state so that Republicans in your state can choose whether they want me to be the nominee for the presidency of the United States.

BLITZER: Senator McCain, Governor Bush addressed that issue earlier today, whether or not you should have that access on the New York state ballot. Listen to what he specifically said. And I'd love to get your reaction.

MCCAIN: Sure.

BUSH: All the candidates knew exactly what the rules were. And so I worked hard to get - and my team worked hard to get on the ballot, as did another candidate. And now here we are getting ready to have the primary and evidently John couldn't get on some of the ballots and he wants to change the system.

BLITZER: Senator McCain.

MCCAIN: The system - the system died when the Berlin Wall came down. The fact is that everybody knows that I'm a viable candidate. Even Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of New York, Alfonse D'Amato, former senator, Congressman Peter King, who are all Bush supporters, said that I should be on the ballot.

All Governor Bush has to do is acknowledge that I am a viable candidate. And I think everybody knows that. He's finding that out here in New Hampshire. Let me on the ballot and let the people who are Republicans in New York make a choice. And that isn't too hard.

The system is rigged. Everybody knows it and everybody has known that for years. We're going to be in court. We're in federal court and if not, we're going to go to the floor of the convention because this is wrong. And I'm curious why Governor Bush might convey the impression that he doesn't want me on the ballot?

BLITZER: All right. Well let's take a caller from the home of the Super Bowl later today. Atlanta, Georgia, please go ahead with your question for Senator McCain.

CALLER: Senator McCain, good afternoon. The reason most people on both sides of the aisle are so excited about you election - your candidacy is because we believe you're a man of principle. Now to watch you dance around the issue of the flag in South Carolina is so shattering to some of us. How can you ever again position yourself as a principled candidate in this election?

MCCAIN: Sir, I am very clear on my positions on all the issues, including the flag. And I will allow the American people to make their judgments beginning here on Tuesday night. And I thank you for your call and I thank you for your view.

BLITZER: Senator McCain, President Clinton, in his State of the Union address proposed having gun licensing. Arguing that if you need a license to drive a car, why shouldn't you need a license to shoot a handgun. Do you think that's a good idea?

MCCAIN: I don't think that's a good idea. I don't think it's necessary. I wish President Clinton would have said, I and my Justice Department are going to enforce existing laws, which they have utterly and miserably failed to do, before we take additional action. Although I would certainly support some additional action such as safety locks, instant background checks and development of technology that allows only the owner of a gun to fire a gun.

But as usual, the president has avoided the responsibilities which he's not carried out and that is to enforce the existing laws of the country. And then maybe he - he has the right to propose other measures.

BLITZER: He - well, we won't get into an argument over whether the president's enforcing the existing laws.

MCCAIN: I think the facts is clear.

BLITZER: He does have a proposal in there to increase funding to enforce some of those laws. But let's move on to ...

MCCAIN: Well that's seven years later I - seven years later I welcome that.

BLITZER: On the minimum wage, do you believe there should be an increase in the minimum wage as he's proposing?

MCCAIN: As long as we allow small business people the kinds of tax incentives and breaks that it doesn't cause them to go out of business, yes.

BLITZER: So you would vote for that. And as far as a potential debate that would be in the presidential contest between Vice President AL Gore, assuming he's the Democratic nominee, and Governor Bush as the Republican nominee. Would you feel comfortable as a Republican with Bush going into that kind of debate with Al Gore?

MCCAIN: Sure. But I feel that he'll be at a great disadvantage because he will be standing mute over the issue of the great scandal of 1996 with the debasement of every institution of government by the Clinton-Gore campaign, which was devastating. Including the possible compromise of American national security. Because Governor Bush is defending the system that bred that kind of corruption, which is really still a dark stain on American political history.

BLITZER: OK. Senator John McCain, unfortunately we are all out of time. I know you have to go to a Town Hall meeting in Peterborough. But it's always good to have you on LATE EDITION. Thank you so much for joining us.

MCCAIN: Thank you very much, Wolf. It's great to be with you.

BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.

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