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FOX News Channel "FOX News Sunday" - Transcript


Location: St. Paul, MN

FOX News Channel "FOX News Sunday"

MR. WALLACE: I'm Chris Wallace, reporting from the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. And this is "FOX News Sunday." (Intro music plays.)

(Sounds of cheering crowd.) John McCain chooses a running mate.

GOVERNOR SARAH PALIN (R-AK): (From videotape.) The women of America aren't finished yet and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all! (Cheers, applause.)

MR. WALLACE: Now, can the Republican nominee refocus the nation's attention from the Democrats to his campaign? We'll get answers from the man himself in an exclusive interview. John McCain, only on "FOX News Sunday."

Then, Barack Obama. Did his convention put him in a position to win the election? We'll ask our Sunday Regulars: Brit Hume, Mara Liasson, Bill Kristol, and Juan Williams.

And our Power Player of the Week has left his mark on Republican conventions for decades by make sure no one knew he was even there.

All right now on "FOX News Sunday."

(Intro music ends.)

And hello again, this week from the floor of the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, site of the Republican National Convention, an event that may have to be cut back because of Hurricane Gustav, now expected to reach category four status and hit the Gulf Coast on Monday.

We'll talk with John McCain about that in a moment.

But on Friday, McCain rocked the world of politics, choosing the little-known governor of Alaska, 44-year-old Sarah Palin, to be his running mate.

It immediately raised questions about her fitness to be president and whether she can help McCain reach out to women, especially supporters of Hillary Clinton.

Well, yesterday we caught up with John and Cindy McCain on the campaign trail in Pittsburgh, and before sitting down for an interview with the senator, we asked Mrs. McCain about her separate meeting with Governor Palin just before she was offered the job.

(Video clip begins.)

MRS. MCCAIN: (Inaudible) -- our mothers and that's very important to me, as it is to her, and we share a great deal in those respects. (Inaudible) -- for her.

MR. WALLACE: Did you want to get her approval before --


SEN. MCCAIN: Very necessary.

MR. WALLACE: And you gave her the thumbs-up?


(Video clip ends.)

MR. WALLACE: Senator McCain, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."

SEN. MCCAIN: Thanks, Chris. Thanks for having me back.

MR. WALLACE: Let's start with your choice of a running mate. Of all the people you could have chosen, of all the Republican leaders you've known for years, straight talk, can you honestly say that Sarah Palin is the best person to put a heartbeat away from the presidency?

SEN. MCCAIN: Oh, yeah. She's a -- she's a partner and a soul mate. (Chuckles.) She -- she's a reformer. I don't particularly enjoy the label "maverick," but when somebody takes on the old bulls in her own party, runs against an incumbent governor of her own party, stands up against the oil and gas interests, I mean, they really are so vital to the economy of her -- of the state of Alaska. I mean, it's remarkable. It's a remarkable person.

And I've watched her record and I've watched her for many, many years, as she -- as she implemented ethics in lobbying reforms, and I mean she led on it. She didn't just vote for it. She led it. I've seen her -- take on her own party.

Look, one thing I know is that when you take on your own party in Washington, you pay a price for it. You do. You pay a price for it. And she's taken on the party in her own state. She take on -- she took on a sitting governor and defeated him.

And so I've -- I'm so pleased and proud, because this -- this is a person who will help me reform Washington and change the way they do business, and that's what Americans want.

MR. WALLACE: But let me ask you about the concerns that a lot of voters who have never heard of Sarah Palin before yesterday are asking.

SEN. MCCAIN: Sure. Sure.

MR. WALLACE: Compared to, say, Tom Ridge or Joe Lieberman, why is Governor Palin superior in dealing with national security and foreign policy?

SEN. MCCAIN: Look, those people you talk about -- Joe and Tom Ridge and Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee -- they're wonderful people and I'm grateful for the opportunity that I've had to know them and work with them.

But look, what this brings is a spirit of reform and change that is vital now in -- in our nation's capital. Eighty-four percent of the American people think the country's on the wrong track. In our party, we have corruption. We have former members of Congress residing in federal prison.

So it's not surprising to me that we've seen an incredible invigoration around our party and around the nation, not just Republicans, but Democrats.

And by the way, in the last day and a half, or whatever it's been, we have raised $4 million on the Internet. I wish I'd have taken her a month ago. (Chuckles.)

MR. WALLACE: But you have said that the existential threat we face, the threat to our existence, is from Islamic terrorism. Foreign policy is job one for the commander-in-chief.


MR. WALLACE: You have criticized Obama as being, quote, "dangerously unprepared" to be president.

In the sense of national security and foreign policy specifically, isn't Sarah Palin even more dangerously unprepared?

SEN. MCCAIN: Oh, no. Look, she's got -- she's got the right judgment. She's got the right judgment. She doesn't think, like Senator Obama does, that Iran is a minor irritant. She knows that the surge worked and succeeded, and she supported that. Senator Obama still -- still to this day refuses to acknowledge that the surge has succeeded.

She's been commander-in-chief of the Alaska Guard that has served back and back. In fact, as you know, she's got a son who is getting ready to go.

But she's had the judgment on these issues, and that Senator Obama has not had in the -- he's had all the wrong judgments. And Governor Palin understands these issues, and she understands the challenges that we face.

MR. WALLACE: But you say she's --

SEN. MCCAIN: So she's had 12 years of elected office experience, including traveling to Kuwait, including being involved in these issues.

And look, I'm so proud that she has displayed the kind of judgment, and she has the experience and judgment as an executive. She's run a huge economy up there in the state of Alaska.


SEN. MCCAIN: Twenty percent of our energy comes from the state of Alaska, and energy is obviously one of the key issues for our nation's security.

MR. WALLACE: But Senator, you talk about her, her years of experience. Ten of those years were as a city councilwoman and mayor of a town of 9,800 people. And in terms of foreign policy, in March of 2007, after -- two months after the surge had started, she was asked about it. And she said, I've been focused on state government. I haven't focused on the war in Iraq.

Understandable for a governor. Not understandable for a vice president.

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, by the way, also, she was a member of the PTA. (Chuckles.) I think it's wonderful.

But the point is she's been to Kuwait. She's been over there. She's been with her troops. The National Guard that she commands, who have been over there and had the experience. I'm proud of her knowledge of these challenges and issues. And of course, as governor, she has had enormous responsibilities, none of which Senator Obama had.

When she was in government, he was a community organizer. When she was taking tough positions against her own party, Senator Obama was voting present 130 times in the state legislature on every tough issue, whatever it was, while she was taking them on. That's the kind of judgment that I'm confident that we need in Washington.

MR. WALLACE: For people who aren't persuaded, at least initially, in the first 24 hours, about her experience, especially on foreign policy, doesn't this raise even more concerns about your age?

SEN. MCCAIN: I don't know. (Chuckles.) Look, it was an issue in the primary, as you know. I've got to show them the bigger -- I've got to show them the energy. I've got to show them the judgment. I've got to show them that my experience and knowledge qualifies me to lead.

And what we are finding out in recent days and couple of weeks is increasingly dangerous world -- but most importantly, and I know how to get jobs back and get our economy going again. But I've got to show them that; I understand that.

But I also think that you've got the next generation of leadership of America who is committed to good government, to ethics, a wonderful family, a belief in the future of America. I --

Look, I'm so excited about this -- this person, Governor Palin, I can't tell you. And her family is marvelous also.

MR. WALLACE: The choice of a running mate is the first presidential-level decision that you make. Why shouldn't we think that this is really about politics, about reaching out to women, especially to Hillary Clinton supporters?

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, I think that I had to do what I think is best for the future of the country. That's the point here. And I think by any parameter of judgment, given the economic difficulties that we're facing today, especially on an -- on jobs and health care and insurance, these are issues, health insurance and education. These are the issues that, really, Americans are most concerned about.

Americans are concerned about our nation's security, and I think she has exercised and shown the judgment to address those issues. But she also understands the fact that people in America are sitting down at the kitchen table this morning, as we speak, and saying, how are we going to stay in our homes? How are we going to get -- keep our health insurance? How are we going to educate our kids? And some of them have just lost their jobs.

So I think Governor Palin is uniquely -- as a governor; she's had executive experience. She didn't sit in the state legislature. She didn't vote just with her party and go along and get along. Senator Obama has never taken on the leaders of his party on any issue. You tell me a time when he had.

She's -- she's been an independent spirit that's taken them on at every opportunity.

MR. WALLACE: Whether this was the reason or not, do you think she will help you with women and especially with disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters?

SEN. MCCAIN: Oh, I think she's going to help me with all Americans. I think that the response that we're getting from men, women, young, old -- because they want us to change America. They want us to change it. They're -- they're sick and tired of business as usual, and -- inside the Beltway kind of thing.

You know, one -- one commentator said, well, she's never been on "Meet The Press." Well, I hope she's --

MR. WALLACE: I didn't say that. (Chuckles.)

SEN. MCCAIN: I hope she's on your -- I hope that she's on your program first.

No, she doesn't live inside the Beltway. She doesn't -- she and her husband don't go to the Georgetown cocktail parties. But they do live a life of a wonderful family. He's a -- they've had a small business.

That they are -- they're just really good, down-to-Earth people who understand the challenges that we face.

So in all due respect to my friends that say that she's never been on some of the inside-the-Beltway activities, I say thank God.

MR. WALLACE: Let me see if I've got the chronology straight, because people are interested in this.


MR. WALLACE: As I understand it, you met her for the first time at the governors' conference in -- in February.

SEN. MCCAIN: We had breakfast, yes. Yeah.

MR. WALLACE: You talked to her on the phone last Sunday, and you met with her face-to-face -- face-to-face for the first time to discuss the vice presidential pick Thursday morning, and then you offered her the job. Must have been a heck of a meeting.

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, the fact is I've been watching her. I mean, look, what she's been doing in Alaska, let's have some straight talk, has affected the representation in Washington, D.C. We've fought against, frankly, the same adversaries, the same challenges.

Look, we couldn't get the "bridge to nowhere" out, although we tried. People like Tom Coburn and the --

MR. WALLACE: This is the big pork barrel project.

SEN. MCCAIN: Yeah, the pork barrel project, $233 million bridge in Alaska to an island with 50 people on it. She, as governor, stood up and said, we don't need it, and if we need it, we'll pay for it ourselves.

Now, that's -- that's guts. I saw that, and I said, this -- this is what we need in Washington.

MR. WALLACE: Senator, I want to turn to the Democratic Convention. First of all, did you watch much of it?

SEN. MCCAIN: I didn't much, really, because I was traveling a lot.

MR. WALLACE: You won't be surprised, your ears would have been burning, because they were going after you pretty good.

SEN. MCCAIN: (Laughs.) Yeah. Yeah, I heard that.

MR. WALLACE: I want to give you this first chance to respond to it directly.

Senator Obama, in his acceptance speech, quoted you as saying that the fundamentals of the economy are strong, that it's made great progress under President Bush. And then he said this:

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): (From videotape.) It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it.

SEN. MCCAIN: I -- understand, and I did watch excerpts from Senator Obama's speech. As we all expected, he gave a great speech. I even heard that some members of the media were cheering. (Laughs.)

But anyway, the -- I knew he would. And he's a very gifted speaker, and I admire and respect what he's accomplished.

Look, I've said for a long time America's in trouble. As I've been talking all across America, including the Heartland. These are tough, tough times, and we need changes.

Now, what Senator Obama wants to do is raise people's taxes; wants to basically sort of redistribute the wealth. I want to keep everybody's taxes low, and I want everybody rich. Just like Cindy's dad, who came home from World War II, an Air Force person with a Distinguished Flying Cross that sold his car to start a business and became very, very successful.

I want -- I want Americans to have lower taxes. You'll see states right now --


SEN. MCCAIN: You'll see states right now with a bad economy that raised taxes and it made their economy worse. He wants to raise taxes.

MR. WALLACE: But, if I may, Senator --

SEN. MCCAIN: Yeah, sure.

MR. WALLACE: -- the Democrats pointed out at the convention that you have voted 17 times against raising the minimum wage. They say the only reason you voted for it in 2007 was because it was linked to war funding.

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, the point is that I have voted to keep taxes low and to cut taxes, and Senator Obama has voted to raise them consistently --

MR. WALLACE: But why vote against the minimum wage?

SEN. MCCAIN: -- even on people as low as $42,000.

I'm for the minimum wage increases when they are not attached to other high -- big-spending, pork barrel -- the practice in Washington is attach a good thing to a bad thing, and that way, then you have to vote yes or no.

The energy bill. The energy bill had a lot of good things in it and it had billions of dollars of pork and good deals for the oil companies. Senator Obama voted for it; I voted against it. Because we've got to start giving people a straight choice.

Now, you watch this September. Harry Reid will say, okay, we'll let you vote on offshore drilling.

MR. WALLACE: The Senate Democratic leader.

SEN. MCCAIN: Yeah. The Senate Democratic leader will say, well, let's vote on offshore drilling, but you've got to have A, B, C, D, and E. You can't just have a straight up-or-down vote.

When I'm -- when I'm president, I'm going to veto every bill that doesn't have straight or up-or-down votes on the issues that are important to the American people.

MR. WALLACE: So you would have been for, alone, increases in the minimum wage, even though you voted against it?

SEN. MCCAIN: No. I'm certainly --

MR. WALLACE: I said 17; it was actually 19 times.

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, or 29 or 49 or whatever it is. The fact is that I am for a living wage for all Americans, and I'd like to see them get it, but the key is to get them jobs and get them the kind of good educational opportunity and affordable health care.

So I -- I am committed, and my record clearly shows that I've done everything I can -- and to keep their taxes low, to get them available and affordable health insurance, and to secure a good education. And give them a choice -- not be governed by the teachers' union.

MR. WALLACE: Obama also said that you are dipping into the old partisan playbook, questioning character and patriotism. And then he said this to you directly:

SEN. OBAMA: (From videotape.) So I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.

SEN. MCCAIN: Oh, I have no doubt about Senator Obama's patriotism. I have grave doubts and concerns about his judgment, whether it be on saying that Iran is a tiny problem; about saying that the surge wouldn't work, that it was due to failure and still, incredibly, saying that the surge has not succeeded.

To every -- to his first --

MR. WALLACE: But Senator, when you -- but to -- if I may --


MR. WALLACE: When you say he doesn't think it matters whether we win or lose, when you say he'd rather lose a war to win a political campaign, isn't that questioning his patriotism?

SEN. MCCAIN: No, it's questioning his judgment. He -- he -- he went out to run for the nomination of his party and took the far left position, In fact, when ran an ad in the -- full-page ad in The New York Times saying "General Petraeus or General Betray-Us?" and we had a resolution on the floor of the Senate condemning that, this great man, this terrible aspersions on his courage and his reputation, he refused to vote. He was on the -- he was in the Senate at the time. Refused to on it.

Well, obviously, he went to the left of his party on the war in order to secure the nomination of his party. So I think that's very clear.

MR. WALLACE: Senator McCain, we have to take a break here, but when we come back we'll have much more for the senator, including the charge from a former president that he is milking his status as a POW for political gain.

Back in a moment.


MR. WALLACE: And we're back now with Senator John McCain.

Senator, former President Carter said this week -- his words, not mine -- that you have been milking every possible drop of advantage from your five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

The president said that -- at the Saddleback Forum with Rick Warren, quote, "John McCain was able to weave in his experience in a Vietnam prison camp no matter what the question was."

Your response?

SEN. MCCAIN: Oh, I have great respect for former President Carter, but it's not the first time we've disagreed. His statements about Israel and the Palestinians and the way he conducted his presidency I respect. But I vigorously disagree with -- and many of the things that, activities that he's had since.

I think he's a man of very good heart and very --

MR. WALLACE: But are you offended by his suggesting that you're milking your POW --

SEN. MCCAIN: Oh, no. Look, I have respect for President Carter, and I don't think most Americans share that view. In fact, most of my supporters say talk more about your experiences. And they were formative experiences.

And Pastor Rick Warren wanted to know not only our positions on the issues, but what our makeup was and why we feel that we think it's important to serve this country in the highest and most responsible position, the most powerful position in the world. So I'm pleased to have been able to talk to so many Americans in a straightforward fashion and tell them about why I am the person I am today.

If we'd had this conversation a month ago, we wouldn't have been -- had a word about -- Georgia, a tiny country a long ways away. So we don't know what's around the corner of history, and we have to judge people's character, and my character, a great part of that formation of that character, took place in a prison camp.

MR. WALLACE: As we sit here today, on Saturday, Hurricane Gustav is bearing down on the Gulf Coast.


MR. WALLACE: Are there any circumstances under which you would consider suspending the Republican Convention if the hurricane really bashes that part of the country?

SEN. MCCAIN: I'm afraid, Chris, that we may have to look at that situation, and we'll try and monitor it.

I've been talking to Governors Jindal, Barbour, Riley, Chris. I've been talking to all of them. But, you know, it just -- it wouldn't be appropriate to have a festive occasion while a near- tragedy or a terrible challenge is presented in the form of a natural disaster.

So we're monitoring it from day to day, and I'm saying a few prayers, too.

MR. WALLACE: But what would you do?

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, I think we would have to -- we're looking at various options, and so I don't know exactly what we would do because you don't know how severe it is, where it's going to hit.

MR. WALLACE: No, I mean, are you seriously talking about suspending the convention, not holding it for a day or two?

SEN. MCCAIN: At least some of the activities or maybe devoting some of the activities to bringing American people's attention to trying to help its victims. But right now, it's too early, frankly.

All we're doing right now is exploring the various options.

MR. WALLACE: In the wake of Katrina and a perception, at least, of Republican failures, would it look bad for your party to be conducting business as usual while people are really suffering on the Gulf Coast?

SEN. MCCAIN: Oh, I don't think so. I think, again, we don't want to appear in any way festive when you have that kind of tragedy possibly revisiting itself on the city of New Orleans and areas around it. So we'll be judging it day by day, and looking at the options.

But right now, our prayers are that it doesn't hit in -- at least in heavily populated areas. It's pretty clear, at least at this moment, that it's going to hit somewhere. And so -- and also, might I say, I think that we are far, far better prepared than we were the last time.

MR. WALLACE: Just four months ago you talk Shepherd Smith on FOX News the kind of campaign that you intended to run. You said this:

SEN. MCCAIN: (From videotape.) Americans want a respectful campaign. Now, people say, well, negative ads move numbers. They may, but do we have to go to the lowest common denominator? I don't think so.

MR. WALLACE: Senator, in the last two months you've run ads comparing Barack Obama to --

SEN. MCCAIN: (Chuckles.)

MR. WALLACE: -- you're laughing as I say this -- to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. You've run an ad charging, perhaps accurately, that he got help buying his home from a convicted felon.

What happened to your pledge to run a respectful campaign?

SEN. MCCAIN: Oh, I think it's respectful. But first of all, I also, at that time, asked Senator Obama to go to town hall meetings with me. We could appear in front of the American people, the way Barry Goldwater and Jack Kennedy had pledged to do.

I'll tell you, that changes the tenor of a campaign. I know, because I've done them in the past. And unfortunately, Senator Obama refused to go to a -- town hall meetings with me and appear before the American people so we can both answer their questions (in common ?).

Second of all, I thought, one, that those ads draw differences between our positions. He's against offshore drilling; he wants to raise taxes.

But the other thing, I though they were pretty humorous. And for those people who have lost their sense of humor, turn off your computer. Go out, get a breath of fresh air, and get your humor back.

So --

MR. WALLACE: So there's a big laugh about Tony Rezko, a convicted felon, helping him --

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, I think that they should laugh when they see Charlton Heston -- (chuckles) -- and --

But look, there are serious issues.

MR. WALLACE: You don't think your campaign has gone negative in the last two months?

SEN. MCCAIN: No. No. We have certainly drawn the differences, and we will continue to draw those differences.

And I might add and -- that the negative ads that were begun long ago by the Democratic National Committee, that continues to this day by the Obama campaign, are something we understand. I'm a big boy.

But we will continue to draw the differences between ourselves -- myself and Senator Obama, particularly since he has a tendency to shift those positions.

MR. WALLACE: Obama and the Democrats continue to try to wrap President Bush around you.


MR. WALLACE: Big question: How do you assess the Bush presidency?

SEN. MCCAIN: I think history will judge that. I do think it's a fact that America has not been attacked again since 9/11. I think the president deserves credit for that. I think history will judge the president.

As is well known, I was adamantly opposed to the spending spree that we went on and predicted that we would be in the difficulties as far as our fiscal sanity is concerned if we continued the largest increase in government since the Great Society. And I urged vetoes.

I believed strongly that we needed to address the issue of climate change in a comprehensive fashion. I obviously don't want to torture any prisoners. There's a long list of areas that we were in disagreement on.

But I also think --

MR. WALLACE: You're not suggesting he did want to torture prisoners?

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, waterboarding, to me, is torture. Okay? And waterboarding was advocated by the administration and, according to published report, was used.

But the point is we've had our disagreements, and I've been called a, quote, "maverick." And I'm not the most popular person in my party. And -- nor do I believe, is Governor Palin, the most popular with some in her Republican Party in the state of Alaska, and that's why I'm so glad I found a soul mate and a partner for this campaign.

MR. WALLACE: So step back, and in less than in programmatic terms and more in sort of conceptual terms, give us an overview.

How would the McCain presidency be different from the Bush presidency?

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, the first thing we'd do is rein in spending. I mean, we've got to veto all these pork barrel bills. We would eliminate pork barrel and earmark spending.

We would seriously and comprehensively address the issue of climate change. We would also absolutely, absolutely make sure that I address the issue of Afghanistan and our nation's security and build a coalition of nations in an attempt that I think we can succeed on in reining in the Iranian weapons, development of nuclear weapons.

But most importantly, a comprehensive, immediate plan of action to fix our economy and create jobs and get people back to work again and get our economy going again. That's got to be the first priority.

And I'll work with the Democrats. I'll reach across the aisle. And we've got to keep taxes low and we've got to have a job creation program which alternate energy and nuclear power are a big part of.

MR. WALLACE: Finally, Senator, what do you hope to accomplish at the convention? If there's one or two central messages that you want to get across to voters about the choice between you and Barack Obama, what would they be?

SEN. MCCAIN: Reform, prosperity, and peace. We'll reform the way that Washington does business. Senator Obama has never taken on his party or had any real reform agenda.

Prosperity, get jobs back, keep taxes low, invigorate our economy and get it moving again. And peace, I know how to secure the peace. I hate war. I hate war. Most veterans do. All veterans that I know do. And we can secure the peace. This is a very dangerous world we live in, and I know how to do that.

Senator Obama has been consistently wrong on national security issues. I have been consistently correct.

MR. WALLACE: Are you going to carve up Obama at your convention?

SEN. MCCAIN: Oh, I think we'll try to draw the differences. But I think the message of hope and that America's -- and restoring trust and confidence in our government and our best days are ahead of us.

I am convinced that America's best days are ahead of us in these very difficult and challenging times.

MR. WALLACE: Senator McCain, thank you for talking with us.

SEN. MCCAIN: Thank you, Chris.

MR. WALLACE: See you in St. Paul.

SEN. MCCAIN: Okay. Good to see you.

MR. WALLACE: Senator McCain and Governor Palin are traveling to Mississippi today to visit an emergency command center preparing for the hurricane. There are reports President Bush is likely to skip the convention to oversee relief efforts. And Republican officials are discussing a possible fund raising drive for the victims of the hurricane during the convention.

Well, coming up is McCain's vice presidential pick, a stroke of political genius, or a very risky gamble? Our Sunday Regulars will have plenty to say when we come right back, from the Republican Convention in St. Paul.


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