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Public Statements

Discusses the Presidential Race (Interview)

Location: Face the Nation



BOB SCHIEFFER, host: And we're pleased to have Senator McCain in the studio with us this morning.

Well, Senator, let's get right to it. Your campaign was really sailing along, and then all of a sudden, someone accuses you of writing a letter to the FCC, asking them to settle a case that involved one of your major contributors. You said you were doing what any committee chairman would do, but both The Washington Post and The New York Times had editorialized and said maybe you should have known better, that you should have thought about how this might look. Now this weekend, you have released hundreds of letters that you've written. I've got a big stack of them right here. That you've written to federal agencies over the years on behalf of constituents, sometimes with other senators and so forth. But this story continues to bubble. Is there anything else you can do to get the focus back on what you want to talk about?

Former Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Well, first of all, thank—thanks for having me on. I like always to be a warm-up act for Governor Ventura. You know, I was a mediocre high school and college wrestler, so we have...

SCHIEFFER: There you go.

Mr. McCAIN: ...a lot in common. Well, first of all on this issue—and we haven't always been sailing along. This—this particular con—controversy is better than being asked whether I'm nuts or not, which was the last time that we—I was on this program, was the subject. Look, I've—I've always had two principles. One is make bureaucracies react on behalf of the—of the taxpayers, and second, do whatever I can to increase competition and lower costs in telecommunications. Those are the guiding principles I've had. Today, we are asking the federal government to release all correspondence that I've had with every government agency. But finally, let me remind you, I'm the chairman of the co—of the committee that is designated by the Congress to oversight the FCC. And it's my responsibility to try to see and make them act. And so I believe that the record will be clear that I've done that on behalf of the consumer.

SCHIEFFER: Let me just go back and underline...

Mr. McCAIN: Sure.

SCHIEFFER: ...what you've said. If I understand what you said, you're going to ask all federal agencies to release every letter that you've ever written to them on any subject.

Mr. McCAIN: Yeah. And I'm not sure we should force them to go back more than about 10 years, but, yeah, yeah. Yes, I would like to do that, just to make sure that people know that there is a clear pattern of my acting on behalf of my constituents and—and the consumers. And I feel very strongly about this telecommunications issue. Perhaps the most important bureaucracy now is the FCC because of telecommunications' importance to our economy. And they have been incredibly slow in making decisions which will help the consumers. And that's one of the reasons why I and many other members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, have been—have been somewhat critical of them. And also, as I say, it's our oversight responsibilities. And—and may I just finally say, 'Look, these things happen in campaigns.' It's very intense. There will be other, quote, "bumps in the road." This—this ain't beanbag we're playing.

SCHIEFFER: Well, I—I must say—and this may underline what sort of life I lead—I spent last night, Saturday night, going—going through the letters that your committee has released so far. And I must say, in all fairness, I've been in Washington a long time, they look a lot like letters that most committee chairmen write to the government. I can understand why the FCC may be a little upset with you because you seem to be on their case pretty good, telling them to make decisions. And—and most of the letters I see here seem to be—be along that line. But we'll wait and see...

Mr. McCAIN: Sure.

SCHIEFFER: ...what some of these other letters—you're confident that you haven't written a letter in the last 10 years that would be seen as anything improper?

Mr. McCAIN: I certainly am confident of that, adhering to those principles—and by the way, in the case that—that surfaced, waited 700 days to make a decision. I thought after 700 days, they should make a decision. And I asked them simply to make a decision, but, you know, life isn't fair.


GLORIA BORGER (CBS News): Very—very quickly...

Mr. McCAIN: Sure.

BORGER: ...would you challenge other candidates to release letters just like you're doing?

Mr. McCAIN: No.


Mr. McCAIN: I—they—they can—you know, sort of like the medical records...


Mr. McCAIN: ...when I released all those, they asked me and I said, 'No, they can—they'll—they'll make the best judgments.'

BORGER: Let's talk about Cuba. Republicans in the House have subpoenaed a six-year-old little boy to appear before their committee to try and keep him in this country. What do you think about that?

Mr. McCAIN: Well, I'd like to see efforts made to keep this young boy in America. We seem to forget that the young boy's mother gave her life so that he could—as we say on the Statue of Liberty, bre...

BORGER: But do you think—do you agree with the subpoena?

Mr. McCAIN: ...breathe free. If the subpoena's purpose is to keep the boy in the country, I would certainly support that and any other effort including petitions for asylum, etc. If it's to make him testify before Congress, I don't think that we want to do that with a six-year-old boy.

BORGER: But would you be in favor of Congress granting this boy dual citizenship?

Mr. McCAIN: Sure. Sure I would. I would be glad to. And again, his mother gave her life. We all know what the government is like in Cuba. We don't want to send that boy back to an oppressive regime. And I'm told the only people that have ever been sent back to Cuba are criminals. This is going to be the first time a non-criminal was ever sent back. I don't think that's right.

BORGER: OK. Gays in the military. Vice President Gore initially got himself in some hot water this week and he said that he would use that issue as a litmus test when choosing members of his Joint Chiefs of Staff. In other words, they would have to agree with him on that. Then he backed off of that to a certain degree. So now is his position OK with you?

Mr. McCAIN: Well, I don't know what he's backed off to. I guess it's depend—but his initial statement showed to me an incredible lack of understanding of the role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is to give his best military advice and counsel, honest counsel, to the president of the United States.

So what the vice president was saying, basically, 'I won't accept the best counsel and advice of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.' That—that could be a terrible—have a terrible effect on the the—civilian-military relationship.

And finally—look, the don't tell—don't ask, don't tell policy is a very—handles a very difficult and sensitive issue. In the view of everybody I've talked to that are military leaders, yes, it's tough but it's working. And there are cases that need to be reviewed. There are ca—there are policies that need to be reviewed. But it's working and it's appropriate.

And if we're going to change it, I don't think we talk about that in a political campaign. We talk about it after we become the president and say, 'I'll have a review of the policy.' And by the way, I'm convinced that until people like General Colin Powell and others give me advice to the contrary, I'll support it.

SCHIEFFER: Let's get back to the campaign...

Mr. McCAIN: Sure.

SCHIEFFER: ...and things we do talk about during the campaign. You were down in South Carolina this weekend. I—I must say the most raucous debate amongst the Republicans that—that I've seen thus far. Were you satisfied with that debate?

Mr. McCAIN: Well, the acoustics were bad. I—I think that some of the questioners were not treated with respect. But, you know, this was a party function. I would like to see per—perhaps, a more—less participatory—I love to have audiences at these debates, but I—I thought it—the whole set-up would—wasn't conducive to getting a real good debate accomplished.

SCHIEFFER: One of the things...

Mr. McCAIN: Those things happen and we'll have lots more.

SCHIEFFER: One of the things that came up down there is—obviously, that local issue that's so controversial. Should the Confederate flag fly over the state capital? Governor Bush was given several opportunities to—to say what he thought about that and he simply wouldn't take a position. I don't want to ask you that question. What I want to ask you is what does the Confederate flag mean to you?

Mr. McCAIN: The Confederate flag is offensive in many, many ways, as we all know. It's a symbol of racism and slavery. But I also understand how others do not view it in—in that fashion. My forbearers from Mississippi fought under the Confederate flag. They were not slave owners. And I'm sure that they considered their service—one I believe died at Shiloh—I bet—was honorable. So I—I—I—I, obviously, understand why many Americans find it very offensive.

I was talking with one of my supporters who's a legislative leader in South Carolina. They're working very hard on a—on a proposal that may resolve this issue. It's painful to all of them, and I believe that there's a good chance that they could get this issue resolved pretty soon.

SCHIEFFER: Well, do you stand with President Bush and, 'That's something they ought to decide and that outsiders shouldn't take a part in'?

Mr. McCAIN: We had a huge controversy in my state about the recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King as a holiday. I worked very hard to achieve that recognition of Dr. King. And I did resent it when people parachuted in from other parts of the country to try and tell us what to do. So I do think that they should make that decision. But I also believe that a lot of us can work very hard to try and urge them to make a decision on this and come to some reasonable conclusion.

BORGER: Let's talk taxes. You're about to announce your new tax plan this week. It's apparently going to be half the size of Governor Bush's and you're going to expand the bottom 15 percent tax bracket. What else can you tell us about it?

Mr. McCAIN: Well, it's going to take a—give tax relief to about 25 million Americans, low and middle income. It's not gonna give a lot of relief to very rich. We're gonna pay for it not out of the surplus, but out of co—closing corporate loopholes—partially out of the surplus—co—corporate loopholes and benefits such as ethanol subsidies. And—and also, we're going to eliminate some wasteful and unnecessary spending.

I worry about doing—using the surplus completely for tax cuts. We've got a ticking time bomb out there called the Social Security Trust Fund. And I believe that we've got to pay down the trust fund, start paying down the debt. Governor Bush said that Washington is awash in cash. We've got a $ 5.6 trillion debt.

BORGER: Governor Bush also said last week, not only no new taxes, but tax cuts 'so help me God.' Would you take that pledge, too?

Mr. McCAIN: Oh, sure. I—I have voted against every tax increase in the 17 years I've been there. Lower- and middle-income Americans need tax cuts. Lower- and middle-income Americans are...

BORGER: So you'd say? What would you say?

Mr. McCAIN: I—I—I'd say that I am in favor of tax cuts for lower- and middle-income Americans. We need to have that family that's paying so much in the form of payroll taxes in—in addition of other taxes to have some kind of relief.

Look, there's a growing gap in America between the haves and the have-nots. We all know that. And we better get those have-nots a lot of opportunities—education, tax breaks, economic opportunities, etc.

SCHIEFFER: The tobacco industry apparently is getting ready to funnel an enormous multimillion-dollar contribution to the Republican Party through kind of that backdoor of soft money.

Mr. McCAIN: Yeah.

SCHIEFFER: Should the Republican Party accept that money?

Mr. McCAIN: The Republican Party should accept no, quote, "soft money," no uncontrolled contributions. I understand that there's a new loophole that's been created that's got--$ 100 million or so is going to be funneled into these campaigns. The people I talked to believe they are disconnected from government and they understand when I talk to them that the big interest and big money is depriving them of their government. That's the theme of my campaign. I want to reform the tax code, the military, education. We can't do it when Washington is in the gridlock of the special interests.

This thing is spiraling out of control, Bob. I mean, we're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars now unaccounted. There's a—there's a group in Washington running ads attacking me—morphing my—Bill Clinton's face into mine. I wish they'd at least get a better picture. We don't know where the money came from. At least we ought to know where the money came from.

SCHIEFFER: OK. At that point we have to le—leave this, Senator McCain.

Mr. McCAIN: Thank you.

SCHIEFFER: Good luck to you out on the trail. We'll see you again.

Mr. McCAIN: Thanks for having me.

SCHIEFFER: We'll be back in a minute to talk with Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura.

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