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McCain talks about the issues (Interview)

Location: CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not running for president to be someone. I'm running to do something. This is your country my friends, and I'm running for president to give it back to you.


BLITZER: Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain on the campaign trail earlier this summer. Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Joining us now from Omaha, Nebraska is Senator McCain. Senator, always good to have you on LATE

EDITION. Thanks for joining us.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: I want to get to some substantive issues in a moment. But I'm just interested in getting your take on this whole controversy surrounding George W. Bush of Texas and whether or not he should answer questions about rumored cocaine use in his past. What's your take on this?

MCCAIN: My take is that he has a right to privacy. But I also understand that the media and the American people set the standard as to where that level of privacy is. And I'd like to see his privacy preserved, but I also understand that this is a very difficult business that we're in.

BLITZER: Two of your colleagues, your competitors for the Republican presidential nomination were on other Sunday morning interview programs today. They had a little different take. Let me play to you what they said and get your reaction.



GARY BAUER ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that we're all going to have to answer questions that go to law breaking. I think anything that involves a felony, I don't see how you can get away with.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think he at this point should answer it, get it behind him, because the polls show that most of the American people are forgiving.


BLITZER: Senator Hatch and Gary Bauer suggesting that it'd be wise just to get it over with and answer the question. You don't see it necessarily that way.

MCCAIN: I think he has a right to privacy. And I certainly wouldn't presume to tell the Bush campaign what they should be doing. They've been doing pretty well so far.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on. Let's talk about some other issues involving this race, which seems to be heating up a little bit. You skipped the Iowa straw poll, but I take it you still have not made a 100 percent decision on whether or not you'll compete in the Iowa caucuses early next year. Have you made a decision on that?

MCCAIN: No, I have not. We'll be deciding in the next few weeks. I understand how important the Iowa caucus is particularly in comparison to the straw poll. But I have to make a decision based on whether I think that there's—that it's a good enough process for me to devote our time and assets as opposed to New Hampshire, the real first secret ballot, South Carolina and of course California.

And this is a very compressed season, so the allocation of time and assets is far more critical than it has been in the past.

BLITZER: You know, we have two new polls that have just come out. There's a New Hampshire poll which shows that among the Republican presidential candidates, you're second. You're up at 16 percent compared to Governor Bush at 40 percent, Pat Buchanan down at 8 percent, with Elizabeth Dole at 7 percent.

But if you compare that with the national poll that CNN/Time magazine just took, Governor Bush is at 56 percent, Elizabeth Dole at 12 percent, Dan Quayle at 6 percent. You're at 5 percent. What do you have to do to get that number up higher?

MCCAIN: I think I have to win in New Hampshire. As you know, the New Hampshire voters who will make a great—have a great impact on this decision, as well as South Carolina. And I think that on March 7th, when we have California and 15 other states, that decision will be made. I don't expect to move up too much nationally until Americans begin to focus, probably in the late fall. I expect us to make some progress. But focusing on New Hampshire where there's going to be the first real secret ballot and then again on South Carolina is our strategy. And it's not very complicated.

BLITZER: And there's the talk that if for some reason Governor Bush should stumble, you would be sort of the moderate Republican, or at least one of the moderate Republicans who might be willing to—who might be anxious to step in along with Elizabeth Dole. What do you say to that—to those political pundits who suggest that?

MCCAIN: I say that I'm proud to be a conservative. I am running my own campaign. We are not gauging this campaign on how any of the candidates performs. At this time in 1995 in New Hampshire, Bob Dole had a 35 point lead and Pat Buchanan was at three and he ended up winning the primary. Most Americans will start focusing late in the fall.

And I think it's kind of a disservice to the other campaigns to say somebody's trying to position themselves as an alternative.

What I think is we're all competing and when Americans start focusing on the candidates and their vision that we'll have a very competitive race. And if history proves true, which it always does, there'll be a lot of surprises.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about some substantive issues. China being first on the agenda.

BLITZER: Last week on our "EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS," Governor Bush was not necessarily all that forceful in saying the U.S. would use military force if China invaded Taiwan.

If you were president and that occurred, would U.S. military force be used against China?

MCCAIN: It depends on what the aggression is. It depends on the level of it. But most importantly, we must tell the Chinese that it will be far more expensive for them if they commit aggression against Taiwan than any possible gain they might make.

I would be very specific privately. I would be very general publicly. But I would first of all state unequivocally our commitment to the one-China policy. But an integral and vital and essential part of that policy is the peaceful reunification of China, and if the Chinese intend to act aggressively in violation of that policy, the consequences are severe. And we have shown—and history has shown us—that acts of aggression, if left unresponded to, provoke further acts of aggression.

BLITZER: I know you are going to be delivering a speech in the coming days on China. The Chinese ambassador in Washington, Li Zhaoxing, did make a statement earlier this week, suggesting that Republican candidates should be very careful in talking about this kind of issue. He said this: "We believe this is a very dangerous statement. Taiwan is part of China. Taiwan is not Florida, Hawaii or Guam. The issue of Taiwan is entirely China's internal matter, brooking no foreign intervention."

What do you say in response to the Chinese ambassador?

MCCAIN: That if China decides to revoke a pledge that they made back in 1973 and have kept ever since that China would be reunified peacefully, then there are serious consequences which would ensue.

The United States of America is driven by Wilsonian principles, and that is that we will do what we can to help the furtherance of democracy and freedom, and we will not tolerate the snuffing out of a free and democratic nation in—with the use of aggression on the part of China or anybody else. This is a very serious issue.

I hope the American people focus their attention on it, and I hope the Chinese realize that this is just not an internal issue. And if they commit an act of aggression against Taiwan, they would be breaking their pledge in not doing so. And whenever nations violate their pledges, it always has serious consequences.

BLITZER: All right. Senator McCain, we have to take a quick break.


BLITZER: When we return, more questions and your phone calls for Senator John McCain. LATE EDITION will be right back.



STEVE FORBES ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm the only candidate that has as much substance and principle out on the table today. I have more out there than all the other candidates put together. And that's they way I'm going to win the nomination.


BLITZER: Republican Presidential Candidate, Steve Forbes earlier this week. Welcome back to LATE EDITION.
We're talking with Arizona Senator and Republican Presidential Candidate, John McCain.

Senator McCain, you just heard Steve Forbes, say he is the only one talking about substance, talking about the issues. You obviously have been speaking about substance and issues as well. Let's talk about one of those issues, abortion.

I know in the past some of your Republican colleagues have criticized you for saying you wouldn't rule out possibility of picking a vice presidential running mate who supported a woman's right to have an abortion. Can you clarify your position on all of this?

MCCAIN: Sure. I think you should pick a running mate on the basis of their overall qualifications for office, and there should not be a litmus test. And I feel that way also about Supreme Court justices.

I am proud of a 17-year voting record of pro-life positions. And I adhere to that position. I believe this issue of the repeal ofRoe v. Wade is important. I favor the ultimate repeal of Roe v. Wade. But we all know, and it's obvious, that if we repeal Roe v. Wade tomorrow, thousands of young American women would be performing illegal and dangerous operations.

I want us to be a party of inclusion. I think that we can all be members of the Republican party whether we are pro-choice or pro-life because we share the same goal and that is the elimination of abortion. Because it is an unpleasant and terrible procedure.

We think—I think that we must go back to the party platform of 1980 and '84. We include people who have specific disagreements who share our same goals. Ultimately, I would like to see the repeal of Roe v. Wade, but to do it immediately I think would condemn young women to dangerous and illegal operations. And we Republicans must send this and other issues that we are the party of Abraham Lincoln, of inclusion and not of exclusion. And I hope we can all work together and maintain a dialogue within our party as we help try to resolve this very difficult issue that affects America in such a grievous way.

BLITZER: Would you work as president to get a constitutional amendment that would ban all abortions?

MCCAIN: I would as long as we can move forward in a way that abortion is not something which is—which would then as the same way with Roe v. Wade, repeal of Roe v. Wade, if we stop this dangerous operation then obviously I would. But until such time I think we ought to work to eliminate abortion as a part of American life and do everything we can do to do so.

BLITZER: OK, let's take a caller from Philadelphia. Please go ahead with your question for Senator McCain.

CALLER: Hi. First of all, thank you very much for take my call, and Senator McCain I admire you very much. I'm very honored to speak to you.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

CALLER: I hope that your planning—my question is are you going to run to the end? Do you—are your finances in a good position to where you will be able to fight it out to the end because I want you for the next president. I think you are the best one for the job.

BLITZER: All right, Senator. You know that there is talk already that Governor Bush may have as much as $50 million raised before the end of this filing period.

MCCAIN: The money that we have in our contributions are coming in at the level we hoped that they would, which is second place, a distant second, but we'll have sufficient funds. And I'm in this thing until, obviously I think it is going to be decided on March 7th when the California primary and 15 other states take place.

I'm certainly in it. We have been having a lot of fun and things have going very well in this campaign. I'm very happy where I am and how we are able to get support, so I can assure you my friend in Philadelphia, and by the way, come and travel with me I appreciate your comments. I can assure you I'm in until it is decided.

BLITZER: All right, Senator, there has been some suggestion lately that you may be moderating your views on gun control.

You may be prepared to support these background checks at gun shows, move a little bit closer to President Clinton on that issue. Is that the case?

MCCAIN: I think we need to address this issue. There is a terrible tragedy after tragedy ensuing. I have been spending time in California in the last couple weeks. It is a very important issue there. I would like to see us pursue this technology that allows only the owner of a gun to fire a weapon. I would like to see the Senate- passed bill pass through House as quickly as possible.

I believe we ought to have Congressional hearings and debate on further proposals.

But I also want to point out that to say that it's only the guns that are the problems that are causing these things, ignores the inundation of violence that our children are being subjected to including hate and racist web sites, including web sites that teach kids how to make pipe bombs. And I think we need to address the issue in entirety, including asking the media to adhere to a letter that Colin Powell, Norman Schwarzkopf, Joe Lieberman and I and others signed asking them to impose a code of conduct on what they manufacture and what they're sending that's hurting the minds of young Americans.

MCCAIN: But I'd like to see us focus a lot of attention of the issue, Wolf. It's very important.

BLITZER: OK. Senator McCain, always good to have you on LATE EDITION.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you so much for joining us on this Sunday.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you. And when we return, a conversation with the U.S. Senate's top Democrat, Tom Daschle. We'll ask him about the looming budget battle and campaign 2000, including whether politicians deserve a zone of privacy. LATE EDITION continues right after this.

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