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CBS "Face The Nation" - Transcript


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MR. SCHIEFFER: Today on "Face the Nation," an exclusive interview with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and Republican frontrunner John McCain.

On Tuesday, more than 20 states will vote in the biggest primary day of the year. John McCain is the Republican frontrunner now, but can he convince conservatives he's the man to win? We'll ask him.

And what does Democratic candidate Barack Obama have to do to catch frontrunner Hillary Clinton?

It's all ahead, plus a final word on traditions. But first Obama and McCain on "Face the Nation."


MR. SCHIEFFER: And good morning, again. Joining us in the studio this morning, Senator John McCain.

Senator, thank you for coming. You find yourself being in the position of being a frontrunner. Can you handle that?

SEN. MCCAIN: (Laughs.) Might be hard to do, Bob. We've been here before. But look, I'm very happy with where we are. I know that Tuesday is going to be hotly contested, but I'm very pleased where we are. I'm pleased at the gathering support from all parts of the party that we're gaining. But you know, we'll wait until the votes are counted.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, I must say, some of the right wing seems to be aghast that you're the frontrunner. Rush Limbaugh says you're an imposter. The author Ann Coulter says she'd get out and campaign for Hillary Clinton if you get the nomination. What do you say to that?

SEN. MCCAIN: (Laughs.) Whoa! I say that, look, I'm proud of the conservative support I have, people like Jack Kemp and Phil Graham and Steve Forbes just signed up, Bill Simon Jr. We're gathering support. I understand that primaries are tough, Bob. You've seen them, and sometimes there's some bruised feelings. But I have a strong conservative record that I'm proud to run on. And I know that I can unite the party once we get through this primary. And again, I'm proud of my record, and I know that we can unite and move forward and win in November.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Mitt Romney seems to be trying to fan this revolt on the right. He says, and this is his quote, you're not in line with the mainstream of the party. What do you say to conservatives who see Mitt Romney out there saying that he's the firewall against you taking over the conservative Republican Party.

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, first of all, if you examine my record, it's more conservative than Governor Romney's is. I respect Governor Romney, and I understand the politics of this thing. But the fact is, in this last campaign, I went to Iowa and told them that I was against subsidies for ethanol. He was for them. I went to Michigan and said the old automobile jobs aren't coming back, new ones are but old ones aren't. And he wants to give them $20 billion to Detroit over four years. We went to South Carolina, same kind of deal. So look, I am proud of my conservative record, and I will run on it, and I'm proud of the supporters that I have, people like that I just mentioned, and will unite the party. But if you look at my record and you look at Governor Romney's record, particularly as governor of the state of Massachusetts, it's very different, and I'm far more conservative.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Where are you -- I mean, let's just kind of settle this this morning.


MR. SCHIEFFER: Where are you on tax cuts? Let me just show you something that Senator Obama said the other day.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) I respect that John McCain in the first two rounds of Bush tax cuts said it is irresponsible, that we have never before cut taxes at the same time as we're going into war. And somewhere along the line, the Straight Talk Express lost some wheels -- (laughter) -- and now he is in favor of extending Bush tax cuts that went to some of the wealthiest Americans who don't need them and were not even asking for them.

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, I'm always pleased to have so much attention from the nominees or the two contenders for the Democratic nomination. Look, I have a clear record of supporting tax cuts going back to the Reagan revolution. I supported those tax cuts, but it had restraint of spending. I have voted twice to keep those tax cuts permanent, and we need to do it, otherwise the American families and businesses will experience a tax increase. But I had a proposal in 2001, and it had significant tax cuts, but it also had restraint of spending. Now, they may have been skewed a bit differently, but if we'd have done what I wanted to do and restrain spending, we would now be talking about additional tax cuts.

Bob, we can't have spending on the part of government. We need spending on the part of the consumer, and that way we're going to restore this economy. And by the way, one of the ways is to get the stimulus package done, eliminate the AMT, make the tax cuts permanent and give corporate America a tax reduction. Corporate America has the second-highest tax rate of any country in the world. And businesses and jobs leave this country when that happens. So let's go ahead and move forward with tax cuts and restraint on spending, and let's simplify the tax code.

MR. SCHIEFFER: But do you think that rich people need a tax cut?

SEN. MCCAIN: I think everybody needs a tax cut. I'm for lower taxes for everybody. And I think what you just got from Senator Obama was this redistribution of the wealth, rich versus poor, exacerbating, quote, "differences" between the wealthy people and poor. I want every American to have tax cuts. I want every American to have an opportunity in this country. And I think across-the-board tax cuts and reductions in taxes is good. But I also think government spending has to be brought under control.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Let's just say that you do become president and a Democratic Congress raises taxes. What would you do? Would you veto it?

SEN. MCCAIN: I'd veto it, sure. Sure, I'd veto it. I think if we're going to be in some shaky times -- and by the way, I believe the fundamentals of America's economy are still strong -- then the worst thing you can do is increase taxes at that time. And so I think we'll be able to reduce our spending on the war in Iraq as we continue to succeed. And by the way, I still think it's long and hard and tough. And I think that with spending restraint -- look, the president signed into law in the last two years bills that had $35 billion work of pork barrel spending.

Everybody says, well, that's not a big deal. Well, let me put it in a different fashion for you. It would be a $1,000 tax break for every child in America, so it does matter. It does matter whether we're going to do all this pork barrel spending, and I'm glad the president said he's going to not allow these, quote, "committee reports." But I would do it for last year's bills as well as this year's.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Can you win in November if conservatives decide to sit it out?

SEN. MCCAIN: Oh, I would doubt that, but I am confident. We are already seeing many of the conservatives. And in the state of Florida, we carried Florida in a Republican-only primary. We got very large percentage of the, quote, "conservative vote." And I'm confident that electability and I'm confident that once they examine my record and as we unite against a common opponent that we'll do fine with them.

MR. SCHIEFFER: There's a big meeting of conservatives coming up here, CPAC. Do you plan to go and talk to them?

SEN. MCCAIN: Yes, I do, if I have the opportunity to speak to them, of course. But I want to speak to all parts of my party. I want to speak, as I have, to the environmental wing of our party, old Teddy Roosevelt tradition. I want to talk to a lot of our party. We've got to unite the party. And I think you can reach out to all parts of the party and not, quote, "pander." You can have discussions with them, find common ground and move forward, and that's what happens after every primary. And I understand, as I said, primaries aren't bean bag, as you well know.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Romney out on the stump talks about how you have co-sponsored legislation with Democrats. He talks about McCain- Feingold which was about campaign finance, McCain-Kennedy which was about immigration, McCain-Lieberman which was about energy. Are you proud of that?

SEN. MCCAIN: I am proud of being able to go to Washington and get things done. Might mention McCain-Lieberman that established the 9/11 commission and the legislation that we passed implementing that. We might talk about the work that I've done with Democrats on defense and national security issues. Look, I've been able to keep my conservative principles and reach across the aisle and get things done. I think that's what people want. When you look at polls of the American people, they are very frustrated with us in Congress, because we don't work together on issues that are important to them. I have a record of knowing how to do that and at the same time maintain a very conservative record.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Senator Obama, here's what he said about you. He's coming after you on the broadcast this morning. But to accommodate his schedule, we taped an interview him just a while ago. I'll tell you what he said. He said, "There's a vast difference between me and John McCain. He wants to continue the Bush economic policy. He's staked his presidency on following the Bush agenda on foreign policy. There's a sharp contrast between my and his candidacy."

SEN. MCCAIN: I couldn't agree with him more. And the same thing applies to Senator Clinton. I could not agree with him more. I believe we will -- if I can win on Tuesday -- and you know, I'm superstitious -- but if I can win on Tuesday, looking ahead, which I hate to do, I think we're going to have very respectful but very sharp differences. They want to raise taxes, and I want to lower taxes. They want to have the government run the health care system in America. I want the private sector to do it. On the issue of national security policy, there are very sharp differences. In my view, they want to withdraw from Iraq. And if we do that, al Qaeda wins and we see chaos and genocide in the region. So I think there are going to be sharp differences. But I can assure you we will be respectful, but I'll be campaigning for every single state in America if I win the nomination of my party.

MR. SCHIEFFER: All right. Senator McCain, thank you so much for joining us. We'll be back with that interview with Senator Obama in just a minute.


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