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South Carolina Republican Debate

Location: South Carolina

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: China is obviously a place where this—one of the signal failures of this administration. Although there are certainly many failures throughout the world.

But I would also look very—revise our policies concerning these rogue states: Iraq, Libya, North Korea - those countries that continue to try to acquire weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. As long...

MCCAIN: I'd institute a policy that I call "rogue state rollback." I would arm, train, equip, both from without and from within, forces that would eventually overthrow the governments and install free and democratically elected governments.

As long as Saddam Hussein is in power, I am convinced that he will pose a threat to our security. "The New York Times" reported just a few days ago that administration officials worry that Saddam Hussein continues to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Congress passed a law a couple of years ago, called the Iraqi Liberation Act; the administration has done nothing. We should help them with arms, training, equipment, radio and a broad variety of ways. Until those governments are overthrown, they will pose a threat to U.S. national security.

MCCAIN: I'm not sure that would be necessary. It might be an interesting experience, because I know what's going on in Russia. So do an a whole lot of my friends.

MCCAIN: But the fact is—well, we know that he was an apparatchik. We know that he was a member of the KGB. We know that he came to power because of the military brutality and massacre that's been taking place in Russia today—I mean in Chechnya today. We know that he worked a deal with Yeltsin, so that Yeltsin would have immunity, and he would be assured of the presidency, rather than basically a contested—I'm very concerned about Mr. Putin. I'm afraid Mr. Putin might be one of those who wants to make the trains run on time.

So, yes, I would meet with him as a candidate, but I think that what I would really like to do is send a message to Mr. Putin, that we expect certain behavior out of the Russians, and particularly what's going in Chechnya today, a cessation of that brutality.

And that is a very important strategic part of the world for us.

MCCAIN: That's not encouraging when he cut a deal with the communists rather than the reformers in order to consolidate his power.

MCCAIN: I'm concerned. A guy who's name was Adolf Schicklgruber was born there, was a corporal in the German army in World War I, and obviously caused us great problems.

But this was a free and fair election, Larry. This was a free and fair election by a sophisticated electorate.

MCCAIN: I was going to say, there's—your interpretation of history. But the point is that this was a free and fair election. We have to watch it, we have to pay close attention to what's happening in the middle of Europe in what is viewed by most people as one of the most sophisticated countries in Europe. Obviously we need to keep an eye on it.

But I don't think the United States of America right now is prepared to overturn a free and fair election. And I'll tell you what:

When the European Union started weighing in, they got a negative reaction from the Austrian people and gained more support for this guy than he otherwise would have had.

MCCAIN: I just want to say, it's not that simple. It's not that simple because we are driven by Wilsonian principles as well as others. There are times when our principles and our values are so offended that we have to do what we can to resolve a terrible situation.

If Rwanda again became a scene of horrible genocide, if there was a way that the United States could stop that and beneficially affect the situation—by the way, we couldn't in Haiti. We spent—sent 20,000 troops and spent $2 billion. Haiti is arguably worse off.

Obviously, it's the last resort. But we can never say that a nation driven by Judeo-Christian principles will only intervene where our interests are threatened because we also have values. And those values are very important...

MCCAIN: You know, I'm not interrupting you, Alan.

So I think that it's important that we always have some complex challenges as to where we must intervene. Because sometimes we find that if genocide is allowed, the consequences of inaction later on in history are far more severe.

MCCAIN: Obviously we have too much deployment. We should have our troops coming home from Bosnia. We shouldn't have gone into Kosovo—or shouldn't have stumbled into Kosovo. There was no need to intervene there. But look, there's only one superpower, and that's the United States of America.

And there will be times when the superpower has to do things that other nations don't have to do. And I am convinced that the best way to prevent the loss of blood certainly—certainly the lessons of the last century showed us is that there may be times when we have to come in early so that we will prevent a recurrence of what happened with the rise of Nazi Germany...

MCCAIN: ... which is a classic example of that.

MCCAIN: Well, let me tell you what happened. There was an ad run against me, we ran a counter-ad in New Hampshire, Governor Bush took the ad down. And then I was beat up very badly by all of his surrogates, called Clinton, called Clinton-lite, called every—a hypocrite. I mean, you've seen...

MCCAIN: No, here in South Carolina. You've seen it—turn on the radio, turn on the television, and unfortunately now pick up the telephone and you'll hear a negative attack against John McCain.

But let me tell you what really went over the line. Governor Bush had an event, and he paid of it, and standing—and stood next to a spokesman for a fringe veterans' group. That fringe veteran said that John McCain had abandoned the veterans.

Now, I don't know if you can understand this, George, but that really hurts, that really hurts.

And so five United States senators, Vietnam veterans, heroes, some of them really incredible heroes, wrote George a letter and said, Apologize, you should be ashamed...

MCCAIN: You should be ashamed. Now if you want...

MCCAIN: Well, this same man—he stood next to him, it was his event. This same man had attacked his father viciously.

MCCAIN: So I'd be glad to tell you the rest of the story, if you'd let me, when it's appropriate

MCCAIN: You should be ashamed—you should be ashamed of sponsoring an event with that man there whop had attacked your own father.

MCCAIN: He was at your event.

MCCAIN: He's listed as your (inaudible)

MCCAIN: George, he's entitled to his opinion on that issue.

MCCAIN: You paid for an event...

MCCAIN: You paid for your...

MCCAIN: You paid for an event...

MCCAIN: You paid for an event and stood next to a person. And when you were asked if you would repudiate him, you said, no.

MCCAIN: So, let me tell you what happened—let me tell you what happened after that effectively.

MCCAIN: Let me just finish up, OK?


So, so...

MCCAIN: ... so here's what happened. We ran an ad that was a response ad. At a town hall meeting a mother stood up and she said, "Senator McCain, my son was 13 last year. We had a lot of trouble of explaining things to him that went on in Washington." She said, "Now he's 14. He's told me not long ago, 'John McCain is my hero.' He's the man I want to be like.

"Well, last night he came into her room," she said, "and he had tears in his eyes because he had answered the phone and the phone call, even though he told the caller that he was 14, said, 'Do you know that John McCain is a liar, and a thief and cheat?'" Well, that night I called my people together. I said, Take down our response ad. We're running nothing but a positive campaign from now on. I committed to that, I promise that.

MCCAIN: I hope George...

MCCAIN: Let me just say...

MCCAIN: I don't know who was responsible for it. But I know that the attacks go on.

MCCAIN: I know that the attacks go on.

MCCAIN: I told you I pulled them all down.

MCCAIN: Yes, I did.

MCCAIN: Yes, I...

MCCAIN: That is not by my campaign

MCCAIN: It is not by my campaign.

MCCAIN: That's not—that is not by my campaign.

MCCAIN: I pulled them off.

MCCAIN: But you're putting out stuff that is unbelievable, George, and it's got to stop.

MCCAIN: And your ads have got to stop.

MCCAIN: My ads have all stopped.

MCCAIN: We've pulled all ours down. There's nothing negative on the air and we have insisted that there not be a mean point.

MCCAIN: The phone calls...

MCCAIN: His phone calls...

MCCAIN: I think...

MCCAIN: I did not abandon the veterans. You should have...

MCCAIN: You should have repudiated your guy...

MCCAIN: It's ended

MCCAIN: Of course not, because there's a $1 billion...

MCCAIN: Yes, there's a $1 billion loophole in it.

MCCAIN: And it's called individual contributions. Mr. Bernard Schwartz, who is the head of Loral Corporation, gave $1 million individually to the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1996. A series of events then took place. The transfer of technology to China that allowed them to improve the tech—their missile accuracy.

MCCAIN: Under his plan, Mr. Schwartz could walk down there and give that $1 million check tomorrow. And that's the reason why this is...

MCCAIN: Yes, you—he can give...

MCCAIN: He can give $1,000 to the RNC, the DNC or anybody else.

MCCAIN: That's what it's all about.

MCCAIN: That's what it's all about.

MCCAIN: Sure. Ask any—ask any...

MCCAIN: ... ask any ex-senator, Larry. Ask any ex-senator, they'll tell you, they'll tell you.

MCCAIN: Arizona.

MCCAIN: All right, thank you.

MCCAIN: I don't think I'm allowed in Texas.

MCCAIN: Well, it's fair to say that I did not win, again this year, Miss Congeniality in the United States Senate. So I have to admit that to you.

MCCAIN: No, because I've taken on the iron triangle—special interests, money, and legislation—which we've been grid locked by in Washington, D.C. We've taken government away from the people.

And young people are being turned off in droves. And the fact is that I've been involved in lobbying gift—lobbying ban, gift ban, line-item veto. I've attacked pork-barrel spending and wasteful spending, which is now worse than it's ever been.

In fact, George said that he would have—he supported and would have signed a bill, Citizens Against Government Waste—it was the worst, most wasteful spending bill in history. And I fought against it. And I didn't make a lot of friends, because I point out these pork-barrel spendings, these wasteful spendings.

MCCAIN: And I'll fight for reform until the last breath I draw so that we can get the American people back connected with their government.

I'm trying to change this party to bring it into the 21st century as a reform party in the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt.

MCCAIN: I've had 234 major pieces of legislation and amendments passed when I've been in the United States Senate and Congress. One of the most successful records, whether it be in the area of reform, whether it be in the important issues of telecommunications, such as it be Y2K product liability, whether it be Internet tax moratorium, or whether it be in every major foreign policy issue that has confronted this country. My credentials are well know.

But I'll tell you what, the Republican Party has lost its way. They have selected an establishment candidate. I don't blame them for doing that. But they lost the last two presidential elections.

They lost the last two congressional elections. And unless we open up this party, unless we do what I did in New Hampshire, and that's get thousands and thousands of young people out to register to vote Republican, unless we get independents, reconstitute the old Reagan Democrats—I'm being criticized now because Democrats may like me. I want to reconstitute that governing coalition. I can do it. I can lead and I have had experience in a lot of ways that will...

MCCAIN: Could I make a quick comment? Look, the job that I want to take is to inspire a generation of young Americans to commit themselves to causes greater than their self-interest; that's what the great presidents in history have been able to do.

On election day in New Hampshire, thousands of young people went out, registered Republican and voted and voted for me.

Cindy and I got on a plane, arrived at the airport in Greenville at 3:00 a.m. There were 800 college students out there.

Now, I'll admit there was not a mosh pit, but there was certainly an enthusiastic group of young Americans out there. And that's the enthusiasm we're generating and that's what inspirational leadership is all about and I can do that.

MCCAIN: You know, that's quite a commentary on those young people.

MCCAIN: Well, Alan, I've been taking a few risks in my life and I'm proud of those risks. Some of them are proudest points of my life.

Look, I was not invited to attend Bob Jones. I understand that it's a fine academic school. If I had been invited I would have gone and I would have started by saying, as I have gone to other places that people are not in favor of me, and I would have said, Look, what you're doing in this ban on interracial dating is stupid, it's idiotic and it is incredibly cruel to many people. I also happen to have an adoptive daughter who's from Bangladesh, and I don't think that she should be subjected to those kinds of things. In fact, I will stand up and fight against those. And so, look...

MCCAIN: If I'd have been—if I'd have been invited, of course, because you've got to bring the message to get these people up into the modern times.

MCCAIN: I have no—no knowledge that they have made a commitment to my campaign.

MCCAIN: It doesn't mean...

MCCAIN: Before we leave that issue, can I say—look, I met with the Log Cabin Republicans. I think Republicans and presidents should meet with every group. We should meet with every group of people. They don't have to agree or disagree.

And to say somehow that some people are excluded from our party who identify themselves as Republicans—I disagree with the Log Cabin Republicans on gay marriages, on the "don't ask/don't tell," on a broad variety of issues. But I agree with them on a stronger defense, lower taxes, less regulation. So we're in agreement on some issues.

And I, as president of the United States, and I as the nominee of my party, will meet with—and not necessarily agree with, everyone in the Republican Party.

MCCAIN: I'm sure that all that is true.

MCCAIN: ... but the fact is—but the fact is that those gays were people, as is today in the military, "don't-ask, don't-tell" situation. I strongly support that policy. I think that George does as well.

MCCAIN: When you have people like General Colin Powell, General Norman Schwarzkopf, our most respected military leaders who tell us that that's the policy that works, that that's the best way we can have the finest army in the world—which we don't for other reasons—then I have to support a policy that the most respected people in America would support.

MCCAIN: I don't mind being criticized by Alan Keyes. It's getting to be a regular kind of routine in these debates. But I really do question his comments about our military leaders.

General Colin Powell is one the finest men I've ever known in my life.

And to somehow infer that General Colin Powell was coerced, or forced to adopt a policy that he didn't believe in is a great disservice to one of the greatest men in the history of this country.


MCCAIN: That's one thing I'm sure we'll agree on.

MCCAIN: Oh, he'd be marvelous.

MCCAIN: There's a few outstanding men I've had the chance to know in my life. He can serve anywhere he wants to in my administration.

MCCAIN: Anywhere he wants. He's the 800-pound gorilla.


MCCAIN: George, do you believe in the exemption in abortion, case of abortion, for rape, incest and life of the mother?

MCCAIN: Then, you know, it's interesting, you were talking about printed material that's mailed out.

Here's one that says that George W. Bush supports the pro-life plank. The pro-life plank...

MCCAIN: Yes. So in other words...

MCCAIN: ... your position is that you believe there's an exemption for rape, incest and the life of the mother, but you want the platform that you're supposed to be leading to have no exemption.

MCCAIN: Help me out there, will you?

MCCAIN: Thank you

MCCAIN: It doesn't have...

MCCAIN: ... the exemptions in it

MCCAIN: And you know that very well.

MCCAIN: If you read...

MCCAIN: ... the platform, it has no exceptions.

MCCAIN: Then, you were...

MCCAIN: ... contradictory...

MCCAIN: ... you were contradictory in...

MCCAIN: I told you this once before, Alan, and I'm sorry I have to tell you again; I've seen enough killing in my life, a lot more than you have. I know—I know how valuable and precious human life is, and I will not listen to your lectures about how I should treat this very important issue of the sanctity of human life. So, I hope you'll give me the respect that I give you and do not bring, please, my daughter into it.

It's a family decision. Thank you very much.

MCCAIN: Thank you very much.

MCCAIN: Hold it. Thank you very much. Let's leave my daughter out of it please.

MCCAIN: We have two surpluses, one that goes into the Social Security trust fund. There's $2 trillion there. If George Bush or Alan Keyes, or Donald Duck were president of the United States, there would be $2 trillion in there because that's the payroll tax that people pay. Then we have the other non-Social Security surplus.

I want a balanced approach. A working families tax cut—Governor Bush has 38 percent of his tax cut go to the wealthiest one percent of Americans—pay down the debt, Social Security and Medicare.

If we're going to save Social Security, we've got to take a bunch of the non-Social Security surplus, pump it into the Social Security system, because we all know that it's going broke. If we do that, then people can then invest part of their own payroll taxes in investments of their choice.

The difference between Governor Bush's proposal and mine, is that I put a whole lot of money into Social Security, Medicare and paying down the debt. He puts a whole lot of money into tax cuts.

And that's the difference.

MCCAIN: Because we'd lay this obligation on another generation of young Americans -- $3.6 trillion. At town hall meeting after town hall meeting, I have average Americans stand up to me and say to me, Senator McCain, all these years of running deficits, we've accumulated this debt. We're paying more interest—as much interest, almost, on it as we are in spending on national defense. We ought to pay down that debt, and not saddle the next generation of young Americans with it.

MCCAIN: Look...

MCCAIN: Look, Alan Greenspan just recently said we shouldn't have these massive tax cuts like Governor Bush is proposing.

We should pay down the debt. But working families need the tax cut.

MCCAIN: What Alan Greenspan said, is if it's possible to discipline Congress to pay down the debt, that's fine. But short of being able to discipline Congress—which I don't think we can do—that we ought to have a tax cut. That's exactly what Alan Greenspan said.

Now my plan is this. There is a $4 trillion projected surplus. $2 trillion of it goes, as John mentioned, to Social Security— which by the way, pays down debt in the Social Security system. We retire $2 trillion of debt. I spent about have of that—the remaining—on tax cuts, and half of it as a cushion, perhaps more debt repayment, perhaps emergency spending.

The difference between our plans is, I know who's money it is we're dealing with. We're dealing with the government—we're dealing with the people's money, not the government's money. And I want to give people their money back.

And if you're going to have a tax cut, everybody ought to have a tax cut. This kind of Washington, D.C., view about targeted tax cuts is tax cuts driven by polls and focus groups. If you pay taxes in America, you ought to get a tax cut. Under my plan, if you're a family of four in South Carolina, making $50,000, you get 50-percent tax cut. I've reduced the lower rate from 15 percent to 10 percent, which does this—and this is important. There are people on the outskirts of poverty, like single moms who are working the toughest job in America. If she has two kids, and making $22,000, for every additional dollar she earns, she pays a higher marginal rate on her taxes than someone making $200,000.

You bet I cut the taxes at the top. That encourages entrepreneurship. What we Republicans should stand for is growth in the economy. We ought to make the pie higher.

MCCAIN: It's $50,000

MCCAIN: See, that's what he took offense of when I talked about Bill Clinton.

But let me just make one comment. It's not—it's not the Washington mentality, it's the grown-up mentality. It's the grown-up mentality that recognizes that we have obligations and we've got to pay them off.

Again—again, George says that if it come in Washington, Congress might do something about it—assume it might spend it.

Assuming that the president of the United States is a hapless bystander.

Right now Bill Clinton is forcing the Congress of the United States, with threats of veto and shutdown of the government, to spend more money. I, as president of the United States, will force with vetoes and threats of shutdown, the government to pay less. And I believe that's what a president can do...

MCCAIN: And I—if they override my veto, I'll make them famous.

MCCAIN: Because I can stop it. I won't be a hapless bystander. I won't say Congress will just spend the money.

MCCAIN: How surprising.

MCCAIN: Oh, I think that the new technology of DNA would, I think, provoke a review, clearly, of cases that may be questionable, but I certainly wouldn't abandon the death penalty. But if there is evidence that maybe there is some controversy where a DNA, with this new technology, could help authenticate the fact that the person was guilty of the crime committed, there's nothing wrong with that.

But I think it's important that we recognize that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for some crimes.

MCCAIN: Of course, of course, but let me point out now that we had some people come across our—or try to come across our border—that were terrorists. If you can specifically identify a suspect, and have the drawing that—the description then clearly, you will want to stop people that fit that description.

MCCAIN: But you don't stop—you don't stop everybody just for any reason. But let's be clear. The security of our borders was nearly violated a short time ago, and we have to be far more vigilant than we've been in the past.

MCCAIN: George is right. Some bad things have happened. They should be stopped.

MCCAIN: Because we all...


... we don't like to go around portraying ourselves as liberals.


That's number one.

MCCAIN: I believe that...

MCCAIN: Please call me Senator.


Or Your Highness. Look, George Bush is a good man. Alan Keyes is a good man. We have some differences of opinion. This campaign spiraled down. I want the negativism out of it. The people of South Carolina deserve better than what they're getting, and we want to lift up America, and not tear down people.

But let me just say, I'm a proud conservative.

I believe that my two opponents are proud conservatives. But what this is really all about is articulation of a vision for the future of this country and how we'll lead it. No one knows what challenges we face, both foreign and domestic, as we go into the next century. And I think this campaign is all about vision.

MCCAIN: Well, I've been labeled everything except—I think they missed fascist.


But this is—listen, ask observers, this is probably the nastiest campaign that people have seen in a long time. But look, I'm enjoying it. This is a great and exhilarating experience.

MCCAIN: I'm Luke Skywalker getting out of the Death Star.

MCCAIN: I'm having a lot of fun this campaign. And I'm enjoying it very, very much.

MCCAIN: You remember who made the first ad that said I was going to raise taxes by $40 billion, George.

MCCAIN: I explain it because we are in such incredibly prosperous economic times. But there are also polls that show, for example, 54 percent of the American people are suffering from, quote, "Clinton fatigue." And as fast and as far as the vice president wants to run away from him, there's an old saying that you might remember about Joe Louis said about Billy Cohn (ph), and this is true about Al Gore: He can run, but he can't hide.

MCCAIN: Jefferson, perhaps.

MCCAIN: Immediately. And that'll make the peace process much simpler.

MCCAIN: Sure. Because as soon as the Palestinians and others know exactly where that capital is, then it'll be off the table.

MCCAIN: I give Senator George Mitchell and the Clinton administration credit for a fine job in Northern Ireland.

Not any place else in the world that I can think of. But sure we should.

And again, I want to point out that being made world's number one superpower has great luxuries, it also has great responsibilities and we have to understand those.

MCCAIN: As president of the United States, on a foreign policy issue, I will never take a poll. If in June of 1950, when North Korea attacked South Korea, if Harry Truman had taken a poll, we'd have never gone; that was an important chapter in our winning the Cold War.

I will never take a poll. In the most obscene chapter in recent American history is the conduct of the Kosovo conflict when the president of the United States refused to prepare for ground operations, refused to have air power used effectively because he wanted them flying—he had them flying at 15,000 feet where they killed innocent civilians because they were dropping bombs from such—in high altitude.

No, I will never, ever take a poll on a matter of national security.

MCCAIN: No, because we need to continue the triad. Before we break one of those legs, we'd better be pretty sure that they're not necessary. But we do need to pursue weapons—we do need to pursue ballistic defense systems.

And I want to say, I'm going to call some admirals and generals over, and some civilian secretaries over to the White House, and knock some heads together. We need more progress on this missile defense system.

MCCAIN: As president of the United States, I will veto any bill that crosses my desk that reinstitutes the sales tax.

We've got to make it permanent so these people that are making huge and massive investments in the Internet will have the confidence that it won't be taxed.

Look we can't choke this baby in the cradle. I don't care about these governors. We're talking about the engine of America's...


... economy. And they ought to understand that. They're running surpluses. They ought to get their greedy hands off it so that

American economy can grow and develop as it should...

MCCAIN: No state tax...

MCCAIN: We've learned enough...

MCCAIN: Every American should have access to health insurance. But we've got a big problem in America right now, and that's seniors who can't afford prescription drugs. And we've got to address that right now. And if it requires a government program, then I'll support a government program to do that.

MCCAIN: We're going to do just fine. I think, we're going to do just fine.

MCCAIN: I think we're probably going to win. I think it's going to be close.

But really, you know, when you talk about reform, the key to reform is getting the government out of the hands of the special interests. And you've got to have a real campaign finance reform plan, not one that leaves a $1 billion loophole.

MCCAIN: I want to thank the people of South Carolina for their wonderful and warm reception, and friendships that we have made here—the town hall meetings, the trips all around the state have been truly marvelous.

I want to reform the government, obviously. I want to reform education, the military, health care. I can't do that unless we get the government out of the hands of the special interests. Some have come lately to the reform agenda. I've been there for years, and I've been fighting it and we'll win as we've won on other reform issues.

But most of all, I'd like to end up by recounting a story that happened at my 100th town hall meeting in New Hampshire. A lady stood up and she looked me in the eye and she didn't have a question. She said, Senator McCain, it's vitally important to me that the next president of the United States always tell me the truth. I promise you as president of the United States, based on my life, my principles and the caution of my old dear friends, I will always tell you the truth, no matter what.

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