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Press Conference: Failure of McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Bill

Location: Washington, DC




SEN. MCCAIN: Thank you for your patience. I know you have been entertained in our absence.

Russ and I just have a couple brief comments, and then we'd like to respond to any questions or comments that you have.

Obviously, we are encouraged to have received the votes of three additional senators; Senator Roth, Senator Hutchison and Senator Brownback. And that, I believe, is an important step forward.

I guess as importantly, if we could have gone through this amending process, we believe that we could have had additional votes, as well. For example, Senator Hagel had wanted certain amendments considered and perhaps adopted, and he then could have supported a cloture motion. There were others who were going through a similar mental exercise.

That's why I was so angered to see on both sides of the aisle, obfuscation and delay; you know, basically a running-out of the clock. So as the opponents of campaign finance reform articulate their commitment to, quote, "First Amendment and free speech," Senator Feingold and I were not allowed our free speech as United States senators, and our ability to have this issue ventilated.
Therefore, Senator Feingold and I intend to do whatever we possibly can, exercising our rights as senators, to see that this issue is properly addressed in the fashion that was agreed to some months ago by Senator Lott.

I will be glad to have anyone here—give anyone here a copy of that unanimous-consent agreement, which said that he would have five full days of debate. And it also said that we would spend four hours on each amendment; and if the pending amendment were not tabled, in other words was not set aside, then it would be aside so that additional amendments could be considered. That's the only reason why Senator Feingold and I agreed, some months ago, to delay the process or desist in our shutting down the Senate.

So how do we feel? I feel just fine. I think that it was good to have picked up three votes. This fight will go on. No one thought it was going to be easy. And I am convinced, as I said on the floor of the Senate, that we will prevail sooner rather than later. And we continue to maintain a majority of the members of both houses of Congress. Eventually, that will have a salutary effect.

SEN. FEINGOLD: Thanks, John.

I am very encouraged by what happened today. I am even a little surprised that we, I think, of course thought we were going to pick up Senator Brownback on this key vote because he announced it publicly, but we were not absolutely certain that we would have additional support. I was hoping for another one; we ended up getting two more.

And all I can say is what I said on the floor: All this complicated procedure in the last couple of days, all this game- playing, was all about the fact that Senator McConnell's ability to control the opposition is slipping; obviously, he is losing charge. And he has staked just about everything in terms of his reputation on this, unfortunately, but he is slipping.

And I have always felt that this thing has to be won one senator at a time. John and I are committed to that. If you can have a day when three additional senators, who—frankly a couple of years ago, I wouldn't have thought I could any of them—come on board the notion of at least banning soft money, it certainly confirms our strategy, which was that we decided, as painful as it was for us, to simply put up the question of whether you are for or against soft money; that's the tough vote. And that's why we had an additional group of senators join with us.

At some point, I think this just breaks open. And the only way to break it open is to get as close as you can. I think we now have 55 senators who would vote for a reasonable bill.

The bill would be, perhaps, a ban on soft money. I think a lot of us know that there are other senators—as Senator McCain said, such as Senator Hagel and others—who are interested in being on the bill. I think they'd come on the bill, but they need a chance to offer their amendments. And that's how we get the additional five votes.

So I am encouraged. I think that we should just stay at it; we should keep this on the floor. And the good news is that, unlike last year, where everybody said the House vote was sort of a free vote because it was so late in the session, the House has done its work. And we are doing this in the first year of the Congress; we are not even done for this year. That, to me, is a sign of a very good position, when we have 55 senators who have voted with us one way or another.

SEN. MCCAIN: Could I mention one—make one additional point?

I am convinced we will prevail because, if we don't, there will be more scandals. We know what soft money did and its effect, in the 1996 election. We know the scandals that it created. That money is now dramatically increased. So unless we bring this under control, there will be more and more scandals because this huge amount of money makes good people do bad things.


Q (Inaudible.)

SEN. MCCAIN: No, I respectfully disagree.

SEN. FEINGOLD: Well, I think he has also said, and Senator McConnell has said, "It's dead forever," on a number of occasions. All I can say is, again, you plant a tree, if it isn't fully grown at the end of the first year, you don't say it's dead.

This is growing, and we are—it is certainly not done for this year. I am prepared, and I think Senator McCain and I are both prepared, to keep it on the floor, to offer it to other bills. We're not done for this year, let alone next year.

Q (Off mike.)

SEN. MCCAIN: I know on the (kit ?) you can consult those two Republican Senators, but the rationale that I understood from Senator Chafee was that he wanted to propose amendments and make further changes. As far as Senator Specter is concerned, I don't know the logic because I didn't have a chance to talk to him. But three up and two down, obviously, is progress, albeit slow.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: And let me say, with regard to those two senators, they are strong supporters of reform and I think, obviously, on this individual vote they had their reasons, but I'm confident if we had an open amending process that they would be with us on the critical votes in the end. So I frankly believe that we can count 55 strong supporters of the kind of bill we're looking at.

Q Senator McCain, how would you vote on the motion to -- (off mike)?

SEN. MCCAIN: I will vote against the motion to proceed to partial birth abortion because all of us have agreed that they could move under unanimous consent to partial birth abortion, which would then place—which would keep campaign finance reform on the calendar after we've left the—resolved the issue of partial birth abortion.

Q (Off mike.)

SEN. MCCAIN: We're still technically on the issue of campaign finance reform. What Senator Lott would like to do is have a motion to proceed and a vote on that so that we could go to partial birth abortion. The reason why we're saying you can go to partial birth abortion if you want to is that after it's finished, you automatically come back to campaign finance reform. If you have a motion to proceed to partial birth abortion, then on its completion, campaign finance reform is going back on the calendar somewhere and isn't automatically the pending business before the Senate.

Q (Off mike.)

SEN. MCCAIN: No, no. But I don't think we're going to be in a situation where we prevent him from having a vote, but there are numerous senators who would still like to speak and I'm sure that they'll speak before—

(inaudible word). My sense is that he will have a vote on the motion to proceed tomorrow morning. That's my sense.


Q (Off mike.)

SEN. MCCAIN: I have not. I have not talked with him.

Q Will you be -- (off mike)?

SEN. MCCAIN: Yes. But, I don't—on this issue, I don't urge people. On this issue, I don't lobby anybody. I present the facts, I present the argument, and then I let them make up their minds. They are educated on the issue.

Q Senator Feingold said a moment ago -- (Off mike.)

SEN. MCCAIN: We have—as senators, our agreement with Senator Lott was that we would have this opportunity of five days to debate, amendments, a thorough ventilation of the campaign finance reform issue and then we would abide by the results. That unanimous consent agreement was not adhered to by Senator Lott and Senator McConnell, nor was it adhered to by the Democrats, because they filled up the tree on their side, making amendments meaningless. So we found both sides, in my view, gridlocking us on this issue. So I want us to move forward and I don't think we've received the kind of consideration that was due us according to that unanimous consent agreement.

So our rights as senators are, when a bill is—amendable piece of legislation is before the Senate, campaign finance reform or banning of soft money or some other amendment may be in order for debate and a vote.

SEN. FEINGOLD: There is no justification—let me just say there is no justification for bringing this bill down now, either on the grounds that we've fulfilled the agreement or on the basis of its being amendable. Tomorrow would be the fifth day, unless you're willing to count the Wednesday night 7:30 as a day, 7:30 p.m. Secondly, you know, we didn't get cloture. This bill is freely amendable. It's an absolutely bogus argument by Senator McConnell that you can't amend this thing. It's freely amendable at this point. Q Are you going to bring it up again this year?

SEN. MCCAIN: We intend to do whatever we can to have this bill considered in its fullest this year.

Q So you're going to make your best effort to bring it up -- (off mike)?

SEN. FEINGOLD: Or not let it come down.

SEN. MCCAIN: It may come down, for various reasons, but we would like, to start with, not have it come down. Second of all, we will continue to try to have the issue addressed this year and next year and the year after and the year after for as long as it takes.

Q Senator Feingold, you just said that -- (off mike)?

SEN. FEINGOLD: Well, that may be in their belief, but the fact is that the bill is amendable in a number of different ways, especially in light of the fact that surely if we had gotten cloture, that even wouldn't have completely blocked the tree completely. There are other avenues for amendment, which I could go through with the chart.

SEN. MCCAIN: I think you'd have to ask those two senators why they voted against it. But it wasn't necessarily because the bill wasn't amendable. It had not been amended to their satisfaction, I think.

Q Do you believe that (Senator Daschle's maneuvers ?) last Friday blocked the amendment procedure in some way and—

SEN. MCCAIN: Yes. It blocked the amendment procedure, yes.

SEN. FEINGOLD: In some way, not in every way. Not in every way, in my view.

Q Obviously, there's a little disagreement. You said it did fill up the tree -- (off mike). Could you—

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, yes, because—I mean, I don't want to put anybody to sleep here, but there's one side of the tree and there's the other side of the tree. The left-hand side of the tree, even if you pass an amendment to it and the underlying legislation goes down, then that goes down with it; the underlying amendment goes down, that goes down with it. So Senator McConnell was correct, to the extent that even if we had debated and passed amendments, those amendments could have fallen as a result of other parliamentary action.

If it was on the other side of the tree which was filled up, those that were passed would have been part of the bill itself. Do you see my point?

Q But senators others didn't come forward. What happened?

SEN. MCCAIN: Senators did come—

Q No, I mean Senator Hagel.

SEN. MCCAIN: Because senators believed that it was not meaningful to have amendment on that side of the amendment tree. Did that bore you?

SEN. FEINGOLD: I respectfully disagree with whether—the significance of it on the other side of the tree. But where we are right now, what is indisputable is that this is freely amendable, and that's what the issue is. The question is should the bill come down now? And the answer is why—the answer is no, why should it, if it's freely amendable?


Q Senator McCain, do you have any hope of prevailing on -- (off mike)?

SEN. MCCAIN: I don't know because I haven't had a chance to talk to my Republican colleagues. But obviously this is a very difficult issue for some of them—the issue of partial-birth abortion, and they want to make sure that they could explain to people that they voted against a motion to proceed, but were still agreeable to moving to the legislation.

But look, we'll be done with—if the motion to proceed carries, Senator Feingold and I will still be able to amend the next piece of legislation that comes to the floor. We will still—there will not be an unamendable piece of legislation that comes to the floor of the Senate between now and the time of our adjournment.

Q Senator McCain, Senator McConnell said that the American people, and by implication, are not really aroused by this issue; that he, McConnell, could have been defeated had it been really something that resonated with the American people. And he suggested by implication that you two have misread the feelings of the American people. How do you respond to that?

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, I'd urge Senator McConnell to come with me on the campaign trail. It's clear to me that the American people care, they care deeply. A research poll two weeks ago showed that 69 percent of Americans between 18 and 35 say they are disconnected from their government. The reason given? Special interests. We had the lowest voter turnout in history in the 18-to-26-year-old vote in the last election.

Everyplace I go, people are cynical and even alienated from the political process because they believe they're no longer represented anymore. And guess what? They're right; they figured it out.

SEN. FEINGOLD: If Senator McConnell is right about that, why is it there are 55 Republicans, but he has not been able to prevent 55 people from voting against him? Clearly those senators understand their states, and I guarantee you they know that it's a serious issue with people and he's whistling past the graveyard on that.

Q (Off mike.)

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, when I look at all that money—I have mentioned this before—when I look at all that money, I am reminded of the words of Chairman Mao, who said, "It's always darkest before it's totally black."

But the fact is -- (laughter) -- but the fact is that Americans have not really focused on this campaign. They are beginning to focus in New Hampshire, where I am up to 21 (percent) and the governor is at 40 (percent). I think that there will be a time for debates and comparison.

I think, three weeks ago, there was a poll that showed that 46 percent of the American people didn't know that Vice President Gore was running for president. Most Americans are not focusing on this campaign. I believe they will, and I believe that we'll have every opportunity of being competitive at that time.

Q (Inaudible) -- and technically, you have been on the right side -- (inaudible) -- that really someone needed to play to them -- (inaudible)?

SEN. MCCAIN: I didn't choose to do that because I thought they were right. Senator Feingold doesn't think they are right. I didn't think they were right.

I mean, I thought they were right. I thought they should be allowed—I said the Democrats should not have done the -- (Reed/Reid ?) -- and Daschle amendment both. There should have been room on the right side of the tree, and Republicans should have been allowed to amend. That's what I said on the floor at the time.

And the one time I was in agreement with Senator McConnell during this debate, "I said I regret this, that the Democrats have tied it up."

I regret it when Senator Torricelli says that the only acceptable campaign finance reform is complete McCain-Feingold. I am entertained and interested when Mr. Rendell, the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee, says that "without soft money, the Democratic Party is dead." So—I believe that was his word, quoted by one of the more mediocre journalists in this town.

So—that was a joke, please -- (laughter) -- is Mr. -- (inaudible) -- coming out of -- (inaudible)? Anyway— (laughter) -- the fact is -- (laughter) -- so the fact is this is a very cynical business we're in; very, very cynical.

On "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Senator Torricelli said that I had caved in to the right wing. That certainly was news to me because the right wing, the NRA and Right-to-Lifers and Pat Robertson and others, have been increasing their intensity of their attacks on me rather than decreasing. There's a lot of cynicism in this whole thing, and that's why sometimes it's rather disillusioning.

SEN. FEINGOLD: Let me just take this—

SEN. MCCAIN: Could—let her follow up, eh?

Q I thought you said earlier that you accepted the blame and the responsibility for—

SEN. MCCAIN: I accept—because I'm the sponsor of the legislation! Of course I should be responsible for its failure and the voters will judge me accordingly. I mean—what am I supposed to say? I'd love to say it's Russ's fault. I'd love to blame him, but I don't think I can. (Laughter.)

SEN. FEINGOLD: Let me just take this opportunity to thank the 45 Democrats who voted to ban soft money. It was not an easy vote for all of them. And I respect the senator's views on the procedure, but I am grateful for the unanimity on both the Shays-Meehan alternative that many Democrats supported, but also the soft money ban. That's the way we were able to get the best vote total we've had in a long time, and I'll leave it at that.

(Cross talk.)

Q Isn't it true that some Democrats had -- (off mike) -- not ban soft money in their heart of hearts without—(off mike)?

SEN. FEINGOLD: I don't know about their heart of hearts, but I can guarantee you that some have expressed the view that they're not necessarily sure this is the right thing to do. But I believe that every one of them, in the end, if the question was simply banning soft money, as it just was, would vote to ban soft money. It's not their preference, it's not my preference, it's not John McCain's preference that we do that, but I'm confident that in the end, if we actually didn't get to the point that that was the question that we would continue to have the unanimous support. But there are some qualms.

But I, again, want to thank my colleagues for being there on this key vote that gave us this unusual level of support.

Q Senator Feingold, you were fully endorsing this -- (off mike) -- by Senator Daschle—you were okay with that?

SEN. FEINGOLD: I was comfortable with the idea of offering the amendments the way we did because I thought it was an opportunity for us to get the vote we just had, which was the vote on whether you're for or against soft money. I disagree with the notion that it prevented amendments; in fact, here we stand today in a position where it's freely amendable. So I don't know what the problem is. We can go forward and amend it right now.

Q (Off mike.)

SEN. MCCAIN: I'm grateful for them, but I think the important point is there were other Republican senators who would have liked to have proposed amendments. For example, the hard-money issue is a big issue with a lot of Republican senators—understandably, because $1,000 is not a $1,000 in 1999 that it was in 1974. So I think there could have been other Republicans who would have come around, as well.

With that, thank you very much. Thank you for your patience.

SEN. FEINGOLD: Thank you.

SEN. MCCAIN: (To Senator Feingold.) Thank you for maintaining your sense of humor—


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