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NBC "Today" - Transcript


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NBC "Today"

MS. VIEIRA: As the Democratic presidential candidates battle on, Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, is on what he is calling "It's Time For Action" tour, reaching out to so-called forgotten Americans.

On Thursday I spoke with McCain shortly after he toured the devastated Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, and I started by asking him what he told residents of that city who are still angry about the government's botched handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

(Begin videotaped segment.)

SEN. MCCAIN: I'm telling them never again will such a mismanagement of a national or a natural or a man-made disaster take place in America when I'm president.

MS. VIEIRA: The Democratic National Committee has said, "Don't believe the rhetoric. The fact is, McCain has a history of denying the Gulf Coast aid when it needs it most and a record of outrageous votes to show for it. Instead of helping the area rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, McCain actually voted to deny emergency funding to the area, voted against giving victims of Katrina access to Medicaid and unemployment benefits." And then it cites your voting record. What do you say to that?

SEN. MCCAIN: The fact is the governor will attest, and others, that I have been helpful. I've been down here. I've supported every effort that I could.

MS. VIEIRA: You know, Senator, the DNC also began running an ad this week that questions your judgment when it comes to the economy. They're beating up on you, sir.

SEN. MCCAIN: (From DNC advertisement.) We have had a pretty good, prosperous time with low unemployment, low inflation. I think we are better off overall.

MS. VIEIRA: We're hearing that the same week that gas prices are inching up to $4 a gallon, food prices through the roof. We're seeing rice now being rationed. So how is the average American to believe that we are better off?

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, I've said repeatedly American families are hurting in America. We're in a recession. I have a plan of action and change, and it's not increases in taxes, which Senator Obama and Senator Clinton want.

MS. VIEIRA: So, Senator, you do not believe we are better off by any means than we were eight years ago.

SEN. MCCAIN: Oh, no -- no.

MS. VIEIRA: Okay, I want to switch gears here and talk about the latest controversy. It's over an ad in North Carolina, coming two weeks before the Democratic primary.

ANNOUNCER: (From North Carolina Republican Party advertisement.) For 20 years, Barack Obama sat in his pew, listening to his pastor.

REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT: And they wants us to sing, "God bless America." No, no, no.

MS. VIEIRA: The ad says Obama's, quote, "just too extreme for North Carolina." Now, you have called this ad degrading and you've asked the state party to pull it. But so far they've refused to do that. Why do you think they're not listening to you, A? And why do you believe they would continue to raise questions about Senator Obama's patriotism?

SEN. MCCAIN: They're not listening to me because they're out of touch with reality and the Republican Party. We are the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. And this kind of campaigning is unacceptable. I have said that. It will harm the Republicans' cause. And I've done everything that I can to repudiate and to see that this kind of campaigning does not continue. I have engaged in and will continue a respectful campaign with either Senator Obama or Senator Clinton.

MS. VIEIRA: Senator Obama said that if you wanted to, you could get that ad pulled, because you are, after all, the nominee and the standard bearer. So if you can't get the ad pulled, does it raise any questions about your leadership?

SEN. MCCAIN: I don't know exactly how to respond to that, except that I would hope that Senator Obama would repudiate and apologize for his remarks concerning the heartland of America, where some kind -- where his elitist remarks indicated that people who are hard-working dedicated people who harbor traditional values and principles and value their religion and the Second Amendment of the Constitution would not be treated in an elitist fashion. I hope he will apologize for that.

MS. VIEIRA: I know that you have questioned his comments about small-town voters being bitter and clinging to their guns and religion and called that remark elitist. You obviously know the senator through the Congress. And because he --

SEN. MCCAIN: They are. They are.

MS. VIEIRA: And because he may be the nominee, I assume that you sort of looked into his record, working within the inner city of Chicago and also as a state legislator. Anything that you have seen that gives you evidence that as a member of the public service that he was out of touch with real Americans or is out of touch with real Americans?

SEN. MCCAIN: I think the fact that he wants to raise taxes on capital gains that 100 million Americans have investment in is out of touch. I think it's also a fundamental -- he fundamentally doesn't understand economics, including the needs of our national security. I think that to want to sit down and talk directly with the leader of Iran, who wants to wipe Israel off the map and denies the existence of the Holocaust, is certainly not someone who's prepared to be commander in chief.

MS. VIEIRA: I know you said that you're neutral in the Democratic race. But the longer this drags on, everyone and their mother has an opinion about whether this helps you or hurts you. So I'm going to go right to the source. What do you think?

SEN. MCCAIN: I don't know. I don't know. I'm running my own campaign. And I can do nothing about it, so all I'm doing is running a hard campaign. I'm privileged and humbled to have the nomination of the great party of Abraham Lincoln.

MS. VIEIRA: Senator John McCain, thank you so much for joining us, sir.

SEN. MCCAIN: Thank you, Meredith.

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