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Talks To Sam Donaldson From His Home (Interview)

Location: This Week


DONALDSON: Senator McCain, thanks for letting us come into your home.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican Presidential Candidate): Thank you, Sam. And before we go on, could I just mention that today is Ronald Reagan's birthday and...

DONALDSON: Eighty-nine.

Sen. McCAIN: Yes. Our best wishes go out to him and to Nancy Reagan. And we love them very much.

DONALDSON: You talked to Mrs. Reagan, what, yesterday?

Sen. McCAIN: Last night.

DONALDSON: How did—how did she say he was?

Sen. McCAIN: Well, she always has a very upbeat attitude, and—and she obviously has—has no—we all know that he's going through a very difficult time. But she obviously does not like to talk about that.

DONALDSON: Well, Senator, you are the man of the hour—I hate to coin a phrase. Take a look at the covers of Newsweek and Time magazine, two of the big "weeks." Do you recognize the fellow there?

Sen. McCAIN: Maybe the man of the minute.

DONALDSON: Yeah. That—that's the question, because, as you know, the next battleground is South Carolina.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: People say, 'Now, you've got to do well there. You've got to win there.' And I'm going to talk to you today about some of the issues there.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: Let's start with taxes.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: And I'm going to show you a portion of an ad...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: ...that Governor Bush is running.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

(Clip from George W. Bush campaign ad shown)

DONALDSON: OK. "McCain's economic adviser says he'd support Bush's plan."

Sen. McCAIN: First of all, Vin Webber is a good friend, he's not my economic adviser. And he says that he was—that was taken out of context and he would vote for—for my ad. I—I guess the second point here is really what we're going to do with the surplus. Now, Governor Bush takes the surplus and puts it into tax cuts, a lot of it for wel—very wealthy Americans. I want to take the surplus, close a bunch of loopholes—corporate wealth and corp—corporate benefits—give a modest tax cuts to working families, put money into--62 percent of the surplus into Social Security, put money into Medicare and also to pay down the debt. And in all candor, the Bush problem right now is that 60 percent of the American people—surprisingly to many experts—favor a balanced approach, as I have, rather than putting it all into massive tax cuts.

And finally, let me say that—that the way I learned this was in town hall meeting after town hall meeting where people stood up—working people—and said, 'Senator McCain, I think we ought to pay down the debt.' And that's where our differences really are.

DONALDSON: Well, Senator...

Sen. McCAIN: And the ad that he refers to was run about a month ago, which, by the way, did not mention his name or his plan.

DONALDSON: Well, Senator, Vin Webber, of course, did say to the Washington Times that if the Bush plan was presented to Congress and he was still a member of Congress, by Republican president he would vote for it.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. That—I think if you'll talk to Vin Webber, he'll tell you that he was quoted out of context and that's not his position. And he's not—he's a great friend and adviser—but he's not a—he himself would be the first to tell you he's not an economic adviser.

DONALDSON: All right, Senator, you used the word, 'all candor.' Let's take a look at one of your ads that's now running in South Carolina.

Sen. McCAIN: Sure.

(Clip from John McCain campaign ad)

DONALDSON: Now, Governor Bush said that's unfair because he takes $ 2 trillion that's going into Social Security and sequesters it just as you do. Is it fair to say that he would let them use every dime for the surplus?

Sen. McCAIN: Sam, Social Security—there's two streams that go in. One is the regular surplus. The other is—it goes into Social Security in the form of payroll taxes. What I said is accurate. The surplus that we're talking about goes—in my plan, goes--62 percent of it—into the Social Security system. The surplus that is non-Social Security in Governor Bush's plan, goes all entirely to tax cuts—including, by the way, 38 percent of his tax cut goes to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. And by the way, I'm not running that ad in South Carolina. I ran it a month ago in New Hampshire. But it—that's not—not too important.

DONALDSON: Well, he's complaining about it. Now he is...

Sen. McCAIN: Yeah. I wonder why he didn't about a month ago.

DONALDSON: He has a $ 483 billion tax plan over five years. Yours is 237 billion—of course, by the time you take some of the things that you get back, it's even less. But that isn't every dime of the surplus originally projected. But as you know, Senator...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: ...the Congressional Budget Office says that there may be as much as almost $ 1 trillion more.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: So it's not fair is it, using those projections, to say he's—he would spend every dime?

Sen. McCAIN: Governor Bush has—has articulated no plan as to what to do with that. I have. Let's pay down the debt. And by the way, on Social Security—it's also deceiving to say there's $ 2 trillion there because there is unfunded mandate—a liability there of between 5 and $ 7 trillion. So if you got to $ 2 trillion, that's wonderful. You're only three to $ 5 trillion short.

DONALDSON: Well, Senator, you certainly convinced one person. I wonder whether you like the fact that Bill Clinton says—talking about you and Vice President Gore—and I quote him in Business Week this week, "What they both have in common is they think for themselves." And the president went on, "He," meaning you, "has got it about right when it comes to the tax plan. He and Gore can argue about the details."

Sen. McCAIN: Well, first of all, I'm glad that—that President Clinton supports me. He's supporting me on welfare reform. He has supported me on several other issues. It's a movement on the part of President Clinton. This is the same president that, in 1993, proposed and obtained a huge tax increase which I virulently and with every fiber in me opposed. So—the fact is, though, more importantly, is that over 60 percent of Republicans think that I got it right. That's the important thing. Those are the ones that are going to be voting in the South Carolina primary. Over 60 percent of them say we need a balanced approach and not put it all into tax cuts.

DONALDSON: Senator, let's look at another hot-button issue in South Carolina that's dogged all the candidates during this campaign—abortion.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: I'm going to show you what you said to the San Francisco Chronicle last August. McCain said to them, "I'd love to seek a point where it is—see a point where it's irrelevant and could be repealed," meaning Roe vs. Wade...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: ..."because abortion is no longer necessary. But certainly in the short term, or even in the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe vs. Wade"...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: ..."which would force X number of women in America to illegal and dangerous oppos—operations."

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: Is that your position today?

Sen. McCAIN: No. And I've—I almost know that quote by heart because of the thousands of times I have spoken on this. I clearly misspoke there. I'm a person who's made mistakes in this campaign, and I'll continue to make mistakes. My voting record is clear, of 17 years of pro-life. I continue to hold that position, and I in—contin—continue to believe that Roe vs. Wade was a very flawed decision, as in the opinion of most experts.

DONALDSON: Senator, when you say you misspoke...

Sen. McCAIN: Sure.

DONALDSON: ...I mean, that—that can cover a number of things.

Sen. McCAIN: Sure.

DONALDSON: Someone inadvertently makes an error...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: ...and says, 'Gee, I said the wrong thing.'

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: Or, as your critics complain, you took a look and said, 'Whoops! I can't be in that position,' and you change your position.

Sen. McCAIN: Well, that—that would assume, then, that I believe that all communication stopped at the California border. I'm very aware that whatever I say spreads throughout the country. I misspoke on that, and—one time—and yet my 17-year voting record is, as I say, is that. But also, Sam, I take...

DONALDSON: There's a—one exception, Senator, of fetal tissue research.

Sen. McCAIN: Yes, sir.

DONALDSON: You promised the people of Arizona in a letter you would oppose it in January of 1992. And then, in April, you began a series of votes and you voted for it.

Sen. McCAIN: Yes, I did. And I changed my position on that issue, and I'll tell you honestly—it probably shouldn't have been—but it was driven by the—watching the spectacle of my dear friend, Morris Udall, dying of Parkinson's disease. His daughter, Ann Udall, and others came to me and said, 'Look, we got a way that we may be able to find a cure for this terrible disease.' I publicly announced that I was then supporting fissal—fetal tissue research. I'm not supporting abortion to provide it. I'm not—I'm adamantly opposed to the sale of it. But the fact is that I've been convinced that it's promising in a way to find a cure for a terrible, terrible disease. And I made no secret of my changing my position. And I've changed my position on several other issues when I've been convinced of it. So I—I misspoke in San Francisco, but I still think that I—most Americans—and by the way, it's like 93-to-4, Senator Thurmond voted for fetal tissue research and so did many others. Connie...

DONALDSON: He's from South Carolina.

Sen. McCAIN: Connie Mack and—and others. And—and they did that because of the information that we received that this would help in a dre—in trying to find a cure to a terrible disease.

DONALDSON: Senator, George W. Bush said he would not change the 1996 platform on abortion...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: ...which clearly calls for an amendment which does not include any exceptions.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: Now, you have said you are for the exceptions of rape, incest and the life of the mother.

Sen. McCAIN: Yes, I have.

DONALDSON: Do you think the platform should be changed to reflect that?

Sen. McCAIN: I'd like to see that. I'd like to put Henry Hyde in charge of that. Henry Hyde is the author of the well known Hyde Amendment, which has exemptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother. And I think it's highly appropriate.

But let me just—let me just pause here a second on this issue, OK?

DONALDSON: Take whatever time you need.

Sen. McCAIN: Because it's a very, very difficult issue. I want, and I'm committed to, having pro-life and pro-choice people work together on the issues that we agree on. I'm tired of this polarization on this issue. Both ends of the spectrum have attacked me, and they—they—they've turned their cause into a business. I'd like to work together to help adoption—make it easier in America. We're adoptive parents. It took us a year and a half to adopt our baby. I would like to improve foster care in America. I'd like to eliminate partial birth abortion, which most Americans think are terrible. I'd work for parental notification and parental consent—areas where we can work together instead of this polarization at both ends of people who have turned the cause into a business.

DONALDSON: Senator, there're other issues we want to talk about...

Sen. McCAIN: Sure.

DONALDSON: ...and we'll get back to them in just a moment.

Announcer: From ABC News, THIS WEEK, with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts, brought to you by...

(Commercial Break)

DONALDSON: Senator, you talk a lot about campaign reform and the need to get away from these special interests. You use a line on the campaign trail, and I quote you, "break the Washington iron triangle of big money, lobbyists and legislation."

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: Yet, Senator, this Thursday night you're going to sit down with the fat cats at a dinner to raise money, organized by some of the biggest lobbyists in Washington.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.


Sen. McCAIN: Well, actually I'm—actually I'm doing this fund-raiser by satellite. They're going to be doing it to about 30 different locations all over the country. We've got a—got a lot of money to raise if we're going to compete...

DONALDSON: Well, is there something a little hypocritical in this?

Sen. McCAIN: South Carolina. Oh, I don't think so. I'm—I welcome the support of anyone in the form of thousand dollar contributions. But they know clearly where I stand. They know clearly that I want to break their triangle. And by the way, a lot of these people that are going to be contributing, that work, they're tired of this system, too. They're tired of being done for 50, 100, 200,000, to have to go to five and six receptions a night. They're tired of it, too, because they know that it's wrong. If...

DONALDSON: But you and they are going to do it just one more time, is that it?

Sen. McCAIN: No. No. They—I'm asking people all over America—we've received now nearly $ 2 million—"M"—million over the Internet, just have come in since last Tuesday night. We want to—we want to get money from everybody in America, and if someone who has a special interest wants to give to my campaign and they're interested in reform, that's fine. But the message is clear. The message is clear. There's going to be a change in Washington. I'm going to break that iron triangle, and if you want to support me in that effort, God bless...

DONALDSON: Well, Senator, your critics point out that many of these lobbyists have business before your committee.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: You're the chairman.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: Vin Webber—we talked about him.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: He represents AT&T, Microsoft...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: ...Ken Duberstein...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: ...Tim McCune of SBC Communications, Gary Lytle—Ameritech, and Rick Davis—your campaign manger, took a leave of absence from his lobbying firm. Now, is it proper for you to really have all of these people in bed with you at the moment—although you say the purpose is to kick them out of bed...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: ...when they come before your committee with very important interests?

Sen. McCAIN: If they're interested in reform, if they're interested in my agenda, if they want to clean up the mess in Washington which they are sick and tired of as well, I welcome them. Also, these people have been involved in many other political campaigns and they're very wise people in that respect. They're friends of mine. I've known them for years. I'm honored—I'm honored by their support and the fact that they would volunteer their time—most of those names you just mentioned are not being paid by me. Come on board voluntarily to support this great crusade that we began last Tuesday night, that went from a campaign in New Hampshire to a national crusade.

DONALDSON: Senator, let's turn to civil rights. Nineteen eighty-three you voted against making Martin Luther King Jr.'s, birthday a national holiday. Do you regret that vote?

Sen. McCAIN: Yes. It was a wrong vote, and I had an opportunity here in Arizona on the issue of the recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King to be part of the fight to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King, and I announced my chan—obviously—my support of Dr. King's being recognized here in Arizona. And it was a very difficult and painful process we went through here in Arizona. And we didn't like outsiders coming in and telling us what to do, how we would conduct this effort to get the majority of Arizona to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King as a holiday.

DONALDSON: Yes, but certainly you voted at the time because you thought it was the right thing to do.

Sen. McCAIN: Sure.

DONALDSON: You didn't vote because you thought outsiders were somehow coming to Arizona?

Sen. McCAIN: No—I voted the way that I did, Sam, because I felt—I thought that it was not necessary to have another federal holiday, that it cost too much money, that other presidents were not recognized. I did not fully appreciate in 1983, in my first year in Congress of the United States, the absolute importance of recognizing Dr. King and his contributions to this country. And that's why, later on, in '86, '87, whenever—whenever it was—seven years later, when it became a big issue in my state, that I was one of those who said we should recognize Dr. King. And we succeeded in that effort.

DONALDSON: Senator McCain, let's come to 1999.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: When you signed Richard Quinn on in South Carolina to be one of your top strategists...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: ...were you aware that he was a editor of Southern Partisan magazine—has been for 15 years—a magazine which espouses racism?

Sen. McCAIN: No. And I did not know that. And what I do know about Richard Quinn is that he's a—a man who is very intelligent, a man who has done a great job for me in the state of South Carolina. And I do not believe that he is a racist.

DONALDSON: Well, let me show you some of the things—just a couple of the quotes...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: ...and there are dozens of them...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: ...over the years...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: this magazine that we have.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: This is from, I believe, 1996. Now, he didn't write this.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: But he was the editor of the magazine. Abraham Lincoln is "a consummate conniver, manipulator and liar," the South is still the CSA, blacks are still "Negroes", Union forces are "the Yankee invaders."

Abraham Lincoln is "a consummate conniver manipulator, and liar"; the South is still the C.S.A." (Confederate States of America); blacks are still "Negroes"; Union forces are "the Yankee invaders."

DONALDSON: Let me show you another quote, Senator, from the same magazine. "Slave owners did not have a practice of breaking up slave families. If anything, they encouraged strong slave families to further the slaves' peace and happiness."

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: Surely you don't subscribe to those sentiments.

Sen. McCAIN: Nor do I, nor do I know that Mr. Quinn does either. I think that...

DONALDSON: He was the editor of the magazine, Senator.

Sen. McCAIN: People—people publish things in magazines that—and they're supposed to agree with every opinion that's voiced in their magazine? I haven't—I've not seen any of those quotes before, but I would like have Mr. Quinn explain whether he agrees or disagrees. The—I mean, the—the New Republic has printed, which you just quoted from, some very interesting comments and ideas.

DONALDSON: We checked it for ourselves, Senator.

Sen. McCAIN: But does this mean—does this mean that the editors of the New Republic support every opinion that's voiced in their magazine?

DONALDSON: Excuse me, sir...

Sen. McCAIN: Sure.

DONALDSON: ...this is not just a—a occasional opinion.

Sen. McCAIN: Uh-huh.

DONALDSON: The editor: 'Well, I didn't know that was there.'

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: This is a pattern in this magazine.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: And Mr. Quinn has been associated with this magazine and has espoused this for all these years.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: Surely, do you want that man to continue to be on your team?

Sen. McCAIN: Obviously I do not believe that Mr. Quinn is a racist. If I determine that he is a racist, then obviously I would not want to have anyone supporting me who is a racist because that would be wrong—in direct contradiction to my ideas. But I haven't—do not believe Mr. Quinn is a racist. And I would like for him to have an opportunity to speak for himself rather than quotes from his magazine.

DONALDSON: I think that's fair. I think you're absolutely right.

Sen. McCAIN: That's what I think.

DONALDSON: But, Senator, it is said Richard Quinn was one of your advisers when, on January 9th, speaking about the Confederate flag and the flap in South Carolina about flying it over the Capitol, you said that it was "offensive, and a symbol of racism and liberty."

Sen. McCAIN: To some.

DONALDSON: One of your advisers who helped you form the next the day your view that "personally, I see the battle flag as a symbol of heritage."

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: So you don't think it's offensive and a symbol of racism?

Sen. McCAIN: I think it's very offensive to many people. I think to many others it is a symbol of heritage.

DONALDSON: Well, what about to you? You said it's the symbol of heritage to you.

Sen. McCAIN: My—my family fought under that flag. I believe that my family believed that their service was honorable. I believe the best thing for me to do is not to tell the people of South Carolina what they should do on this issue, because just as we resented people coming into South—into Arizona to tell us what to do about Dr. Martin Luther King, I don't think we should be telling people what they should do in South Carolina about a very difficult issue that they are trying to work their way through.

DONALDSON: Senator, you aspire to be the leader of this country.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: President of the United States.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: Are you telling me that if you were the president, you would not speak out because you would say, 'Well, I don't want to tell the people of Texas or South Carolina'...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: ...'what to do'? That you would not provide strong leadership of a moral character?

Sen. McCAIN: That's the essence of what I am all about.

DONALDSON: Then why don't you commit now, sir?

Sen. McCAIN: And that is that when people have—no, no. The essence of what I am all about is that I believe that state and local people can best make decisions for themselves on issues that directly affect them. That's what being conservative is all about. And I believe that these people in South Carolina or wherever there're issues that are very difficult can be settled within the community and the state.

DONALDSON: Senator, a couple of other things, now.

Sen. McCAIN: Sure.

DONALDSON: We're over the heavy stuff, I think. The Reform Party—it's interesting. Some people say that if you become the Republican nominee, perhaps they'll ask you to also run on the Reform ticket. Would you do that?

Sen. McCAIN: Well, I would not seek their endorsement. If someone—anyone—if the vegetarians and the Libertarians said that I was their candidate, I would welcome it. The fact is that this is the essence of Ronald Reagan's campaign and his presence, what we used to call the "Reagan Democrats." People from all over the political spectrum want to support me because—not because they agree or disagree on a specific issue, but they think that I'm best qualified to lead America. And we saw that in the New Hampshire primary.

DONALDSON: Final question, we're eating into Cokie's time and Mayor Giuliani's time.

Sen. McCAIN: Sure.

DONALDSON: But there—there's said to be a third party cabal in South Carolina working with the Bush camp now to try to team up on you. Do you know anything about that, or what's your reaction?

Sen. McCAIN: I just know that they're coming at me from all sides. The national pro-life people are attacking me, the tobacco companies are attacking me, everybody's attacking me. I'm like Luke Skywalker trying to get through the Death Star. And we're going to do it, but fire's getting intense. It's coming from all sides, and I'm loving every minute of it.

DONALDSON: Luke made it. Are you—when you started this campaign you said, 'I don't know whether I can win the nomination'...

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

DONALDSON: ...'but I'm going to try.' At this point, are you convinced you are going to win the nomination?

Sen. McCAIN: No, no. No, no. We've got a long way to go, but we've had a great ride, and we've already made history because we're changing the Republican Party and the—in the—and the shape of the debate in America, and it'll never be the same because we're going to bring out a new Republican Party that'll regain its majorities and the support of the majority of the American people.

DONALDSON: Senator McCain, thanks very much for letting us come into your home...

Sen. McCAIN: Thank you.

DONALDSON: ...and for sitting down with us on THIS WEEK.

Sen. McCAIN: Thank you, Sam.

DONALDSON: And we'll have more of THIS WEEK from New York City in a moment.

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