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Talks About His Support for George W. Bush and His Crusade for Campaign Finance Reform (Interview)

Location: Meet the Press


MR. RUSSERT: Senator John McCain, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS. You just heard Charles La Bella. Your reaction?

SEN. McCAIN: Well, first of all, I'm grateful that we have Americans who are willing to serve, as Mr. La Bella did. Second of all, after hearing, again, what he had to say in a very succinct form, it makes me want to lose my temper again, because, clearly, an independent counsel was called for. A cloud will remain over this issue until such time as there is a full and complete investigation. And if the vice president is, indeed, sincere about his desire for campaign finance reform, then he should absolutely demand that a full and complete investigation takes place by an independent counsel if he wants to have any credibility on this issue.

MR. RUSSERT: How likely do you think it is Al Gore will make such a call?

SEN. McCAIN: I think it's very unlikely, but I hope it's not impossible. I hope he realizes that these things—you know, I remember the Twinkie defense. Now we have the iced tea defense. I mean, some of this is so bizarre that it's—that if it was a novel, nobody would read it. And I agree with Mr. La Bella about the FEC, by the way. Republicans have just put up a name of a nominee for the FEC who doesn't believe in any kind of campaign finance reform whatsoever, believes direct contradiction to a recent United States Supreme Court decision about the legality and constitutionality of campaign finance contribution limits, and, obviously, he is exactly correct about the ineptitude, or at least the inconsequentiality, of the FEC.

MR. RUSSERT: That Republican nominee, Bradley Smith. You have stated your opposition. Will you block the appointment of Bradley Smith, the confirmation of Bradley Smith, even if it means a filibuster?

SEN. McCAIN: I can't do that, Tim. I mean, everybody talks about how, you know, one individual senator can do that. Well, you really can't. But what I have asked for is a full debate. Give me a couple of hours on the floor of the Senate and a recorded vote. That's really what I am asking for, and I believe that there's enough out there about Mr. Smith that we could probably get 51 votes, because, you know, there are Republicans who are very uncomfortable with this nominee, as well.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that there is still time for Janet Reno, the attorney general, to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the '96 campaign irregularities?

SEN. McCAIN: Yes, and, yet, from the clip that you just showed I saw where the rationale that she used is just incredible. And, in a very polite way, Mr. La Bella, obviously, asserts that. How can you know someone's motivation unless it is completely investigated? This is just a terrible thing, and when the president of the United States says that he was appalled at what went on, and then did not support the appointment of an investigation, obviously, his words are very empty.

Look, you're going to ask me later on some of the things that I learned on the campaign. And among them are that young Americans are incredibly cynical. They're incredibly cynical and even alienated from the process. And when you—those that viewed this program and your interview with Mr. La Bella have every reason to have that cynicism. And I would hope that the attorney general and the vice president and the president would understand that if we want to continue the democratic process and restore faith and confidence on the part of young Americans in the political process, there has to be a full and complete investigation.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. La Bella said that he does not believe that people at the Justice Department or the attorney general were politically motivated.

SEN. McCAIN: And I respect that. And I'm not alleging that they are either; nor am I alleging guilt. I don't have any way of assessing that. But none of us anywhere in the political spectrum will be able to know that unless there is a full and complete investigation. I mean, 18 people left the country, and 23 refused to testify, or vice versa. That's remarkable, over a single incident—over an event that the vice president of the United States first said he didn't know where he was.

MR. RUSSERT: Will the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill come before the Senate for a vote again this year?

SEN. McCAIN: The McCain-Feingold or a portion of it will be brought up. Now if—last time the Democrats blocked it, as well as the Republicans. Whether it'll be blocked or not, I don't know. But the American people need to know where every senator stands on this issue, and we already know how the House of Representatives stands. They've already passed it.

MR. RUSSERT: During the campaign, the Wylie brothers of Texas ran some commercials about you, very negative commercials. They were an independent expenditure, not tied officially to the Bush campaign. Will you take steps in the future to try to outlaw such independent expenditures by such committees?

SEN. McCAIN: Yes, beginning with full disclosure. It took a very zealous and professional media to uncover that the Wylie brothers were the ones who had actually paid for it. Unfortunately, that's not the case in many other campaigns. And as Mr. La Bella said, we've got to start with full disclosure, and then I think we have to look at other avenues as well. This soft money issue—the soft money is exploding. They found another loophole, as we know, that doesn't even require the disclosure of donors. And Republicans are mining that new vein, as well as Democrats are. And it's got to be fixed. And, by the way, I think with what's happened during this campaign and the Supreme Court decision, it's not a matter now of whether we'll have campaign finance reform. It's a matter of when.

MR. RUSSERT: Al Gore says he now is a convert. He has learned from his mistakes. He has embraced McCain-Feingold and he's gone further to say that we should create a democracy endowment where you would raise contributions from businesses, individuals, unions, anyone, to give anonymously to a $ 7 billion endowment which would pay for the general election campaigns for the Senate and the House.

SEN. McCAIN: Well, I appreciate his commitment to campaign finance reform. But, again, if he wants to have legitimacy with the American people in this epiphany, then I believe that he has to call for an independent counsel and do everything in his power to see that one is appointed, because we can't fix a system that we know is broken unless we know how it's broken. And we're not going to know exactly how it's broken until we examine what happened in the election of 1996. This idea of the trust fund has been kicked around for years. The problem is, how do you get corporations and unions or anybody else to donate to a fund for which they receive no credit? I don't believe that's going to happen anymore than we see many Americans check off the little box that would contribute $ 1 or $ 2 to the presidential campaigns. I think free television time is an area that we should explore. The broadcasters receive $ 70 billion worth of—excuse me, $ 7 billion worth of free digital spectrum. In return for that, I think they owe the American people at least some public service, and that would be, I think, best implemented by some free television time for candidates, and there's a lot of other ways we can explore. But I don't think this trust fund idea—I just think it's a non-starter.

MR. RUSSERT: The vice president also broke new ground and distanced himself from the president by saying that Elian Gonzalez should stay in this country and should be granted citizenship by the Congress. One, why do you think the vice president do that—did that? And, two, do you believe that Elian Gonzalez should be granted citizenship?

SEN. McCAIN: Well, again, a remarkable epiphany on the part of the vice president, but I do not question people's motives in politics. And I think we do too much of that. I share the vice president's view. I'd like to see young Elian Gonzalez receive the full protections and appeals process, which, to some degree, I think he may be deprived of.

And, second of all, I just don't think he should be sent back to a land where a—young women are forced into prostitution and the freedoms are—fundamental freedoms are denied every one of its citizens. And I don't think he could grow up in an atmosphere that any of us would want our children to grow up in.

MR. RUSSERT: President Clinton weighed into the Rudy Giuliani—your friend, the mayor of New York—race against Hillary Clinton, saying that Rudy Giuliani is tapping into the right-wing venom machine in raising money against Mrs. Clinton.

SEN. McCAIN: Well, I just—you know, Rudy Giuliani is many things, but being the darling of the right wing is not one of them. I think that Rudy is trying to show, and is showing, more sympathy concerning the victims of these terrible tragedies that have taken place and to their families. I think some would argue that perhaps he was not at the time. But as far as raising money is concerned, this race has galvanized more Americans than any other Senate race in history, and it sure is a lot of fun to watch. And I'm looking forward to going up and campaigning for Rudy, who I think would make an enormous impact on the United States Senate as a senator because he has knowledge and ability to affect issues that are important to every major city in America.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator, we have to take a quick break. I want to come back and talk about some more political issues, some events in the world and some reflections on your campaign. Right after this, a lot more of John McCain.


MR. RUSSERT: What does the future hold for John McCain? We'll be back in 60 seconds.


MR. RUSSERT: We're back with John McCain.

Senator, Ronald Reagan was elected president. He was 69 years old. You're only 63. If things don't work out for George W.
Bush, four years from now, would John McCain at 67 give it another shot?

SEN. McCAIN: I'm still in recovery, Tim. I'm still in step two of the recovery program. I haven't contemplated such a thing.

And, obviously, there are too many factors that would impact that. I fully expect Governor Bush to be elected and being up for re-election in the year 2004.

MR. RUSSERT: Will you campaign hard for George W. Bush?

SEN. McCAIN: I will campaign—I will support the nominee of the party. I had a good conversation with Governor Bush. I'm sure we'll have conversations very soon, and I look forward to discussing the reform agenda with him. And in the interest of straight talk, some of that enthusiasm—or lack of it—will be directly related to that, because I have an obligation to the millions of Americans, many of whom who had never voted before, who turned out to vote in support of that agenda.

MR. RUSSERT: So the—you'll work—the harder you work depends upon his reaction to your reform agenda?

SEN. McCAIN: Understandings that we have about those priorities. I'm in no position to—and would never contemplate demanding anything or negotiate about anything. Governor Bush won; I lost. But I do need some understandings about his commitment to reform—a lot of which he displayed in the primaries—in order to campaign as enthusiastically as I can for him.

MR. RUSSERT: Would you like an opportunity to speak in prime time at the Republican Convention about your reform agenda?

SEN. McCAIN: Oh, I think every politician would like to do that, but that's a decision that Governor Bush and his people will have to make.

MR. RUSSERT: You're still insistent you will not, under any circumstances, accept the vice presidency?

SEN. McCAIN: Under no circumstances.

MR. RUSSERT: Last week there was discussion on this program of perhaps John McCain being designated during the campaign as Governor Bush's choice to be secretary of Defense, Colin Powell as secretary of State, and the two of you could go across the country campaigning in that regard.

SEN. McCAIN: That scenario is hard to contemplate, although I believe that General Powell would serve in any way with great distinction, but I don't think that would be a very viable option once the initial headlines wore off. But it's an interesting proposal. I had not heard it before.

MR. RUSSERT: Trent Lott said that even if you became secretary of Defense, you would still approve his aircraft carrier, the LHD8, down in Mississippi.

SEN. McCAIN: Well, I've tried to make that helicopter carrier famous as an example of the wasteful and unnecessary spending while we have 12,000 enlisted men and women in the military on food stamps. It's just an egregious example of hundreds, literally hundreds, of pork-barrel spending projects that are put on defense bills while we have men and women in the military who are living lives that are really not acceptable in America. So I'll continue to fight against that project and any other that I think is wrong, and not only just my opinion but in those of objective observers.

MR. RUSSERT: Your governor there in Arizona, Jane Hull, was for George W. Bush. She lost. You won the primary. She now wants to head the delegation to the convention in Philadelphia. Will you, in a magnanimous gesture, allow her to head the delegation?

SEN. McCAIN: I don't think so, but it'll be up to the delegates. We have a system, as you know, that is in most states, where the delegates are elected by the party people. We'll be glad to discuss a role in the delegation for Governor Hull, and obviously she is the governor of our state and the head of our party in many respects, and so we'll be glad to have discussions with Governor Hull and her people.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to a couple other issues that confront you as chairman of the Commerce Committee. Microsoft could not reach a compromise with the government. Do you believe there's a possibility Microsoft could be broken up?

SEN. McCAIN: I don't know enough about it to know whether they could be broken up or not. But, obviously, without any agreement, there's going to be an event, probably unmatched by any other event in recent history since the breakup of AT&T. But I've tried to stay out of this because, as a judicial proceeding is going on and I'm the chairman of the Commerce Committee, I think our job of oversight is for me not to take sides on it. But it's—I think that whatever happens is going to have incredible repercussions, but it's also an argument for us to update our laws, to get in consonance with the information technology that's driving our economy because there really is a mismatch between present laws and this information industry which is having such profound effect on the country and world.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe Americans should fill out their census forms?

SEN. McCAIN: Oh, sure, and I think we should take the time to do it. I think if we had to do it over again, probably the long form should be made a little better, and it's kind of entertaining, some of the questions, but we need to have the census, and that's what our Founding Fathers wanted us to do, and their concerns are as valid today as they were when they decided we should be doing that.

MR. RUSSERT: The Supreme Court ruled that the FDA cannot control tobacco. There is now suggestions of legislation in Congress to allow the Federal Drug Administration to, in fact, control tobacco. Will you support that legislation and will there be a vote this year?

SEN. McCAIN: I don't know if there'll be a vote. I wish there would be. Part of the tobacco legislation which failed, there was a very detailed part of that legislation which gave the FDA the ability to regulate tobacco, and I thought it was a very good provision. Now we find ourselves in a situation where there are literally no controls over what most Americans view as a very pernicious substance as it affects young Americans. So I would like to see it. But the tobacco companies are incredibly powerful. We found that out time after time. They just gave $ 7 million to the Republican Party. So I'm not overly optimistic about our chances, but they should—FDA, in my view, should have the ability to regulate that.

MR. RUSSERT: The president just returned from India and Pakistan and he had this comment to say about senators, including you, who oppose the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Let me put it on the screen and read it for you, Senator. And it says, "'I lost all the leverage I had when the Republican Senate defeated the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty,' Clinton said. 'That is real gall.' Laughing, he continued—and this is President Clinton talking about the Republicans. 'One of their great strengths, by the way, is they have no guilt, no shame. I mean, they'll say anything.'"

SEN. McCAIN: That's just unfortunate language for the president of the United States to use. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was not verifiable. Everybody knew that, and it did not have the kind of bearing on the issues that he was trying to address that—it's just an unfounded allegation, but the point is, that this president did what very few presidents have ever done in American history in the conduct of American foreign policy. He didn't predetermine. He and his administration didn't predetermine the outcome before they sent him out, sort of in a freelance kind of an activity, which really yielded no results. I don't think there's been a time in recent history where a president has embarked on a foreign tour in the extensive way that he did and come up totally empty-handed. Whether it be in his negotiations and conversations with Hafez Assad or whether it be in Pakistan and India, or whatever he was doing, and, frankly, it, again, emphasizes a need for a steady hand at the tiller, a person who is interested really in foreign policy and doesn't view it as a photo-op, which apparently this trip was primarily motivated to achieving.

MR. RUSSERT: Before we go, Senator, you gave a comment to Salon magazine where you said that you will always forgive, but you will not forget.

SEN. McCAIN: Well, I think, you know, our Judeo-Christian principles drive us toward forgiveness and I will always do that. But one of the reasons why you shouldn't forget is because you should, obviously, try to repair or fix things that happened which were not appropriate or fair. But for me to look back in any anger or remorse, even, would be inappropriate. I had the greatest experience of my life. I miss it. I'm so happy that we were able to get to know so many people all over this country and motivate young Americans, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity, and that's what I want to emphasize.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator John McCain, we thank you for getting up early and joining us this morning from Arizona.

SEN. McCAIN: Thank you, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: And we'll be right back right after this.

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